Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Doomsday Symphony: Chapter 26

In the previous installment of The Doomsday Symphony, Dr. Kerr and Cameron find themselves looking for Bach in Lübeck in 1705 and, after a bit of a red herring, run into him on Effingsgrube Street, in a hurry to return home. It seems he has other unexpected company, as well - a woman named Klangfarben.

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Chapter 26
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Rogers Kent-Clarke, his brow deeply furrowed, was speeding down White Crow Road, away from his original destination, his pleasant little apartment in beautiful downtown Collierville. Tonight, all he could think about was the strange goings-on at Crevecoeur's farmhouse and now the tantalizingly odd conversation at the bar with that tantalizingly odd detective, piquing his curiosity enough, he had to check it out. Besides, a night owl of long standing, he was wide awake – and what better place for an owl than to be at some mysterious place in the woods during the dark of night?

He admitted the one thing you could expect whenever you picked up your baton and started shaking it in front of a bunch of musicians, whether you knew them or not, was the unexpected. Sometimes, he realized, the unexpected was quite pleasant, even exciting. And then there were experiences like this afternoon's concert with the Chopin and best forgotten.

After the way the soloist had played and then with that crazy old dame going off her rocker at the farmhouse, could anything he'd find at this remote place called New Coalton be any scarier? He just had to know: one thing his teacher, Dr. Lane, had impressed upon him was to rely on his hunches, whatever he expected.

Playing these hunches might be different than selecting a tempo or anticipating a player's phrasing, but was it very different from his usual conducting experience? Facing one group, your back to another, which might be more hostile?

The more he dwelt on it, the easier he found it was to become depressed by it. It was like an undying mantra, especially after a bad concert like the one he'd gotten stuck with today. "Go away, you bitches" he wanted to scream, holding his hands over his ears, "how dare you all destroy my concert like that!?"

Of course, it'll always be viewed as his fault. You can never turn a bunch of sows' ears into a respectable collection of fabulous purses, enough to make the runway light up with everybody's clamorous approval.

What he needed was more beer, but another night alone in that apartment, drunk, wasn't going to help, either. He'd slept with two of the musicians in the orchestra, plus that soprano who'd sung the Schumann recital last week that hardly anybody attended. That detective was beginning to look appetizing but he also knew more beer meant more desperate.

He was tired of always being the mild-mannered assistant conductor, the promising young maestro, the guy stuck doing the run-out concerts or the summer festivals up and down the East Coast. Hell, he couldn't even get a decent gig on the West Coast and instead ended up in freakin' Wisconsin somewhere during a cold snap in August last year.

He was 37, though he kept telling people he was 32 because he thought he could get away with it, too old for subsidiary roles and constantly told he was too young for a major orchestra.

It annoyed him, too, how his teachers were all reluctant to champion him whenever he wanted to audition. Lane, for instance, said he had hundreds of students who expected the same of him. Why, he joked, there was always the chance everyone auditioning for this one job could all be his former students: then where would his allegiances lie?

He knew he needed a special vehicle to help him make a big splash: it wasn't going to be just another Beethoven symphony or a summer festival out in the middle of nowhere. He needed something nobody had ever heard before, but everyone would be excited about hearing without being turned off by the fact they didn't know it. There shouldn't be any available recordings of it so people could go comparing his performance to it and find his interpretation lacking. It had to have a certain celebrity and even more importantly, a verifiable notoriety.

Just then, he swerved coming around the bend, turning right onto Hill Top Road. There was a police car with its lights flashing, apparently the scene of an accident.

His car screeched off the road and landed in a mud puddle left over from yesterday's passing rain storm. This wasn't the kind of splash he wanted a vehicle to make.

"Hadn't they put out a sign to warn drivers? Stupid yokels... That's probably how the accident happened in the first place."

Crawling out of the car, he looked up as the two officers he'd met earlier at the farm hurried over to him.

"Is everything okay?" It was the woman, Schickhaus, the stacked one.

"No, everything's not okay," he bitched. "You should've put flares out to warn drivers – that's a bad bend in the road, there." Kent-Clarke was close to fuming.

"Sorry, sir. You didn't see the big orange sign that said 'Road closed'?"


She and the other officer, the black guy, Tennant, held him up to steady him. He tried to shake them off as he was trying to straighten out his shirt and pants which had gotten humorously skewed when he tumbled about in the car.

"No seat-belt," the two officers thought as Kent-Clarke realized he hadn't put on his seat-belt.

"What's going here? Why is the road closed?" He was no less combative despite having been at fault, missing that sign.

"There was an accident," Schickhaus explained, "a truck swerved to miss a deer in the road."

The two officers glanced at each other. All the beer cans had been cleaned up by now so they didn't feel the need to mention that.

The truck was just being righted, so Tennant informed him, "fortunately, the tow-truck is still here, so he can help you out of the ditch."

Kent-Clarke grumbled, thoroughly annoyed, "Damn right, he'd better."

The two officers took a subtle whiff around him before asking if he'd step out onto the road a moment. They asked him if he’d walk a straight line between them which made him stiffen up.

"I am not drunk!" But he did as they said and pulled it off.

That was something else he'd learned at the conservatory: how to hold your liquor and get through a concert regardless how much you'd had to drink beforehand.

They said he'd need to wait a few minutes, if he didn't mind. Of course, he did.

Even with only one beer under his belt, Kent-Clarke's mind was a-whir with thoughts and ideas tumbling around in his head like a load of old towels in a dryer. Unbidden recollections of being "terrorized" as an assistant conductor – like the German maestro, the orchestra's guest conductor for a couple of concerts who loved passing on messages like "Please to tell Herr Roger that I have one more degree of temperature" (and my name's RogerS, du grosse Mehlsack) – bounced around with memories of playground bullies from when he was a child – taunted by the sixth grade class's alpha male who'd heard one too many times Little Rogers' talk about becoming a conductor one day, then pulled down the boy's pants in front of a group of girls, hissing at him "you'll never conduct a major orchestra with a baton like that, Rogersssss" – hurtful stuff that sears itself into the brain and never goes away.

But then he recalled a back-stage conversation from just last year with a big-wig Wall Street executive whose company bought out his manager. Meeting N. Ron Steele at a reception, the man casually mentioned looking for something to help his wife Rosa Budd's operatic career. If Rogers could unearth some previously unknown opera by Verdi or Puccini she could handle, it would be the making of his career, too – all the publicity, not to mention the nice fat bonus. People are always discovering early Mozart symphonies in attics, but a whole opera by Verdi? Not likely...

But this whacked-out medium back at Crevecoeur's party might just have some line of communication open with dead composers, maybe even know where they hang out – would that slang term even possibly apply to names like Beethoven, Mahler and Puccini? But maybe she's on to something, crazy as she appears, whether she knows it or not (most likely, "not!"). What was that about New Coalton? Surely, this was no coincidence, Sebastian Crevecoeur's message for that Dr. Kerr guy that just happens to be from not only an abandoned coal town but a haunted one, too?

Maybe he could connect with Puccini, somehow, ask him about anything he'd once put aside without publishing or never quite finished, where he might be able to find it. Would Puccini even want that to happen? Weirder things have happened: wasn't that how they found Schumann's Violin Concerto, through a violinist's séance and the help of a ouija board?

Standing there deep in thought and leaning against his muddy car, Kent-Clarke didn't realize when the policemen and the tow-truck driver came over to help get his car out of the ditch. It didn't take long: in a few short minutes, Kent-Clarke found himself back on the road again, everything opened up and clear of all vehicles and debris.

Without much sense of gratitude, he tossed a cursory word of thanks in their direction – enough, he figured, to impress them with his superiority – before he started up the engine. Time to resume the interrupted plan.

He was thinking how, if that coot Rowberson could in fact get him in touch with Puccini, perhaps she could get him in contact with other great composers. She only ever talked about Chopin and Liszt, but perhaps, if she could channel a message from a nobody like Sebastian Crevecoeur, she'd have access to others, maybe Beethoven or Brahms.

Had Beethoven managed to complete his sketches for that Tenth Symphony they found on his desk when he died and Schindler was such a loser, he had no idea what he had and misplaced it? It's fairly well known Brahms had sketched if not completed a second violin concerto and a fifth symphony. What if he hadn't burned everything?

Looking back, Officer Tennant noticed the maestro turned left onto the Old Coalton Road.

"Thought he was headed to the Crevecoeurs – wonder if he knows where he's going?"

Schickhaus, putting her clipboard away, said, "I doubt it."

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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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