Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Doomsday Symphony: Chapter 12

In the previous installment of The Doomsday Symphony, the police arrived and began questioning everybody about the evening's events when Mary Rowberson goes into a trance and receives a message for T. R. (the narrator, Richard Kerr) from Sebastian Crevecoeur, mentioning the town of New Coalton which turns out to be an old abandoned mining town not far away. This chapter begins with a flashback to the morning of Sebastian's suicide when his wife Alina discovers his body.

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Chapter 12
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There was a break in the heat that morning. Alina woke up feeling refreshed for the first time in over a week. The sun was shining and, best of all, it wasn’t as sticky as yesterday. At first, she thought Sebastian had gotten up early, already in his study catching up on work that hadn’t been going well lately. She remembered hotter summers but they weren't as enervating as this one had been, one heat wave after the other without relief, the kind where you sat around in a stupor, wanting to do absolutely nothing.

But then, as she got up and put her night-gown on, she realized the other side of the bed hadn't been slept in, the cover hadn't been pulled back. Why would Sebastian not have come up to bed last night? Even with the day-bed in his study, it wasn't like him to prefer sleeping downstairs, especially in this weather.

Her brows furrowing more in consternation than anxiety, she stretched and shuffled off down the steps to see what was going on. She figured, if anything, he'd just fallen asleep at his desk or maybe while he was thinking, as he likes to do, stretched out on the old damask day-bed that had been a gift from his grandmother.

She wondered how often he did fall asleep in there, letting her think he was hard at work when he was "hardly working." But things had become so difficult for him, recently, she could hardly blame him.

First, she went to the kitchen as much to get herself that necessary first cup of coffee as to see whether Sebastian had already gotten himself his usual breakfast of orange juice, some toast and oatmeal.

There was no sign he’d been there other than having carelessly left the back door standing open, the screen door not even latched.

"Really," she’d thought, "I know we’re not in New York any more, but still." Muttering against mice or bugs, she latched the door, then wandered back to the study, noticing – “that’s odd” – the door was ajar.

"Sebastian?" She wrapped quietly on the door with her knuckles, half afraid of disturbing him but knowing, if he didn't want to be disturbed, the door would not have been left open.

There was no sound.

He’d left the light on but everything was neatly put away, not like he’d just gotten up to get some coffee or something.

Alina quickly looked in the parlor, checked the powder room, poked her head into the dining room before returning to the kitchen. Had he gone out for a walk, maybe dozed off on a bench somewhere? After all, the screen door had been left unlatched. He hated hearing it slam shut whenever anyone stepped out onto the back porch. Maybe he needed to clear the cobwebs out of his head last night – he enjoyed sitting out on a night when the moon was full – careful not to let the door slam behind him, waking her.

With her night-gown wafting around her slip, she felt indecent walking outside but nobody else was around for at least a mile. She hurried past the little garden once she realized he wasn't on the bench. It was unlike him to walk into the woods at night.

"Sebastian..." She sounded more annoyed than alarmed: this was very unlike him.

The pond was not far from the house. The path wound through the field with a bend where you lost sight of the house. This morning, she felt it was taking her forever to get there. Some willow trees and wild olives she'd wished they'd cut down before they’d gotten too big shaded the side closest to the house. There was a picnic table out in the open, some old stone benches under the willows. A few water lilies and some cat-o-nine tails managed to keep a footing there.

And that's when she saw him.

"Sebastian!" She screamed and rushed into the shallows, struggling to turn him over but she knew he had been there a long time. There was no response: she was too late.

How could this have happened?

Alina had no idea how she got back to the house, or how she explained to the police what she feared had happened. She’d become hysterical slowly realizing what had happened, amazed how she'd managed to remain so calm, finding his body, calling the police. She remembered how she started screaming at the poor dispatcher, “Why did this happen?”

Nor could she remembered how she found the presence of mind to change out of her muddy slippers and wet night-gown, putting on blue-jeans and an old shirt before wondering if maybe she should look a little more presentable. Funny, she thought later, how certain social expectations kick in automatically when you least wanted them, fitting into predictable patterns.

The two policemen arrived quickly though it felt like ages, waiting for them, sitting on the front porch like she’s expecting company. Should she have coffee ready for them? It was early, still, not yet 7:00. The next events swirled into a haze of memories, their pulling him from the pond and finding several stones in his coat pocket. After they began asking if he’d been depressed lately, she started realizing this wasn't an accident, his slipping and falling into the pond.

How could that be? How, she began to wonder, could she have missed it?

They looked through the house – nothing left on the kitchen table, propped up by the sugar bowl where he often left notes about going into town if she wasn’t back yet; nothing left on his desk. She remembered mentioning how it always surprised her, peeking into his study, even though Sebastian could be very sloppy in his personal life, how neat he kept his work-space, papers stacked to one side, pens and pencils in an old orange-juice can on the other. The desk drawer was locked: no, she didn't know where he kept the key.

While the police were checking the house, Alina called Victor. He had taken the day off and was getting ready to leave for Paris, dropping Zoe off with his mother-in-law before lunch.

Then she told him.

Victor was silent until she prompted him to respond. All he said was, mechanically, "I'll be there just as soon as I can."


Since they were unable to finish the read-through of Sebastian's quintet, the party (such as it was) began to break up. It was now after ten o'clock and it would be too late now even if Victor returned for them to pick up where they’d left off. Some of the musicians discussed how they'd like to work the piece up for an actual performance – its world premiere – as Kent-Clarke had suggested, but they couldn't do it next week if Zoe wasn't going to be there and they wouldn't do it without Victor's approval, after all.

Packing their instruments into the van, the four of them finalized whatever needed to be done with the police business – depositions, information about where they could be reached if anything new turned up – and they all agreed to keep in touch with Zoe and with Mary. They would all see Kent-Clarke soon enough at the next rehearsal on Tuesday.

Plus they had their own performances to prepare for the week ahead: at least Zoe would be back for the following week. Rafe remarked about playing Sebastian's Violin Sonata if Victor hadn’t... well, come back yet. Devon expressed more concern if Ms. Rowberson would be in attendance. Loni shooshed them, pointing at the old woman’s silhouette in the window.

They all said good-bye to Zoe, reminding her she had all their contact information – e-mail, cell-phones – if there’d be any reason to call. Besides, she’d be back to rehearse Sebastian’s quintet if they decided to program it.

Once the police cars left, we had to jockey some cars around in the driveway so the van could turn around and leave. Dr. Portnoy, the last to arrive, had unwittingly parked everybody else in. Zoe, having parked too close behind the van, needed to give them room but unfortunately, her old clunker wouldn't start, wouldn’t even turn over. The way the car was parked made jumping the battery impossible. Kent-Clarke, after trying to conduct it with an authoritative down-beat, suggested perhaps Madame Rowberson might know what to do. The laughter was more than nervous.

Zoe had spent her whole life, so far, trying to avoid thinking about omens. This whole concert thing in Chicago was already such a pain, Zoe thought, and on top of everything else, now with this. She'd booked a 6am flight out of Allentown, dropping Cameron off so he could catch the red-eye bus into Philadelphia – so, now what?

Rather than have her deal with a cab which she couldn't very well afford, I volunteered to drive her and Xaq to the airport – it was only about an hour away – and then I could take Cameron down to Doylestown, not far from my place, where he could catch a mid-morning train into Center City. That much seemed solved.

The Belle Coeur Bed-and-Breakfast was becoming a reality: Dr. Portnoy was settling in and the musicians accepted Mary’s invitation to stay the night until they could get someone to tow Zoe’s car away in the morning.

Taking Mary's hands in hers, Zoe apologized for leaving her like this, not waiting around until Victor had returned safe and sound, but she and Xaq had to catch this flight for tomorrow’s rehearsal in Chicago. She thought about postponing it, maybe taking a later flight, but she also knew everything would be, as she carefully phrased it, alright.

Personally, it wasn’t so much the long drive home that was making me uncomfortable, taking the detour after such a late start, nor was it just getting home around 3am and dealing with an unexpected houseguest. I had never been the spontaneous type, coping uneasily with the idea of change, and these were not part of my day’s expectations.

Mary told us if there were any developments, she’d call us. Soon, she smiled, Victor’d call home, saying he needed a lift.

If she needed me, I told her I was only about ninety minutes away.

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To be continued

- Dick Strawser

The novel, "The Doomsday Symphony," a music appreciation thriller written between 2010 and 2011, is the sole supposedly intellectual property of its author, Richard Alan Strawser.
© 2012

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