Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Doomsday Symphony: Chapter 29

In the previous installment, the beginning of Part Two of The Doomsday Symphony, Dr. Kerr and Cameron have returned from 1705 and convincing Bach not to sign Buxtehude's contract, thus leaving him free to marry his sweetheart and eventually move to Leipzig rather than being stuck in L├╝beck for the rest of his life. But now they have to face Klavdia Klangfarben's next plan. Instead, they are arrested by Detective Milo Smighley of the Harmonia-IV police and charged with murder. 

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Chapter 29
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The armed officers fanned out and quickly corralled everybody hiding in the 20th Century Room. It was easy to handcuff them, just as their boss had ordered. They moved with an efficiency not often seen in real life, the one thought, but then he considered they'd probably been doing this for a couple hundred years. On the other hand, given their precinct, how often would there have been the need for this much ruthless efficiency in a place where everybody's dead and the crime rate – at least the number of murders – would be fairly low?

Detective Smighley smiled cautiously beneath his gruff, typically frowning exterior. Really, this was pretty easy. A fearsome if short and rumpled presence on the force for the past 146 years, he'd been much respected in London for his keen insights into the criminal mind. Even Charles Dickens had befriended him, presumably using some of Smighley's observations in his novels.

Identifying the victim had so far proven elusive if unnecessary: he knew there would be little sympathy for the fate of another Trespasser. How convenient four more Trespassers appeared on the spot, discovered around the body. Too bad they'd gotten away so quickly: that, he promised, wouldn't happen again, once his men led them off to the downtown jail.

Lurking just beyond the corner were a shapely figure in a black leotard with a big floppy hat and billowing platinum blond hair and a tall figure in a black suit and cravat who couldn't stop giggling.

Granted, there wasn't much to do around here if you were a detective, the crime rate was so low, some years even non-existent. Most of what you had to deal with were people scalping concert tickets or cheating at Scrabble. Except for the Trespassers and those residents who crossed-over illegally, it was easy to get bored, sitting around, waiting. Once in a while, someone got drunk and started making lots of noise but you threw them in a cell and by morning, things were back to normal. It was "all very Mayberry" here on Harmonia-IV.

About forty years ago, it was pretty exciting getting an invitation from his old friend Dickens to visit Prosion-III. Things were always more lively when a bunch of authors started acting out what they were writing. Hanging out with those mystery writers had been a blast, but he liked it where he was. He'd gotten used to the quiet.

On the surface, this case smacked of a heinous family crime: three of the five suspects in custody claimed to be related to him. The one who said that was his son was himself a recent arrival to Harmonia-IV named Sebastian Crevecoeur. The woman said the victim was her father and her son's grandfather, which at least made sense. Here we had four generations of a family involved in what could easily be Harmonia-IV’s worst crime of the year, so far, even if it was only a Trespasser they murdered. Still, it was a crime.

Each suspect confirmed the victim's name was Victor Crevecoeur, not one showing up on any of their databases of likely future residents. The father explained he'd started out wanting to become a musician but "plans changed." It was sad he had exhibited minimal talent as a boy, the father sighed, and so in college he chose to switch majors.

"Yeah," Smighley thought to himself, "I can relate to that, really I can." He'd had fond hopes of becoming a violinist in his youth but figured he'd rather solve crimes than, after a fashion, commit them. Still, it had been enough he could be accepted here on Harmonia-IV. Unfortunately, Victor wasn’t going to be much more than a Zipple.

There was one problem: since Harmonia-IV had no need of coroners, they couldn't determine a Cause-of-Death. Without an autopsy, how could they determine if a crime had been committed? He really needed to talk to witnesses.

Berlioz saw no reason to be intimidated by this detective even if the rumpled overcoat was very cool, reminding him of his days hanging out in Italy, lugging his guitar around the hills outside of Rome. If anything, Detective Smighley looked a little like Napoleon Bonaparte, given his size and build, and that was enough to ignite his antagonism. He knew he'd need to control that: it wasn't his fault if this English detective closely resembled the Emperor of the French, but it brought back bad memories of growing up in those nasty, imperial days.

It had been an inordinately long wait, sitting alone in the conference room while the detective went about his duties, processing a handful of papers and getting cups of whatever this was he suggested was coffee. There wasn't much to say since he saw very little. It riled his spirit to think he was being treated like a suspect.

Smighley didn't bother to think about Berlioz' demeanor, so typically French like that smirk he’d made, sniffing at the coffee cup. It was easy to feel intimidated by a master like this, after all, one that had been all the rage, if you liked that kind of stuff, when he had been alive in London. But "c'est la vie."

Even Dickens was surprised a policeman with Smighley's experience didn't care for the blood-and-guts intensity of Berlioz' music. What he was writing now was a little more palatable, leaner and not nearly as messy. "C'est le mort."

"Not to put too fine a point on it, Detective, I didn't really see anything. I noticed the man – this man," Berlioz added, pointing at the photograph of the corpse lying on the tavern floor, "sitting at the back booth at Stravinsky's talking very excitedly, waving his hands around a lot, though he didn't strike me as being Italian."

"And who was he talking to, do you remember?"

"Mostly Mozart, but others came up and joined in. He seemed rather popular – I suspected he was an important visitor but never counted him for a Trespasser."

Like many Harmonians, he sneered whenever he said the word "Trespasser," but he admitted he also enjoyed talking with them, finding them breaths of fresh air from before the grave. He felt they kept him "up-to-date."

"But none of these did I see there," he said, pointing to the other photograph, four people he was told were also Trespassers.

He raised his brows and looked intently at them, as if he were trying to hypnotize the photos.

"Very odd," Smighley thought, "but at least he's not the raving lunatic he'd been when he wrote the Symphonie fantastique. That poor Irish actress... what was her name? Red-head, too – quite a beauty. They married, eventually, and lived miserably ever after."

"You know, I wonder, Detective, if you have something else entirely, here. Rather than four people out to kill this one person, are they not perhaps part of a conspiracy – a gang, if you will, hmm?"

Smighley hated it when people he interviewed, suspects or not, started theorizing about the case themselves. Mostly they were so far off-the-wall, it was all he could do to keep from screaming at them, "Stay focused!"

"And what sort of conspiracy would you have in mind, M. Berlioz?" He might as well play along with him, considering his alternatives.

"No," the composer said, shuffling the photos around like a game of penny-ante, "I think we can forget about these two," as if brushing the two young men aside. "These two, on the other hand, would be the leaders, sent to infiltrate Harmonia-IV from the Other Side. I think they bring bad news with them – like terrorists of sorts."

"Terrorists... really?" As easy at it was to dismiss the idea, it never paid to ignore something as serious as terrorism.

"Yes. Are you familiar with predictions about 2012?" Berlioz sat back, looking intently into his eyes.

"2012? Isn't that two years away, according to the Earth Calendar?" He rarely bothered keeping track of current events on the Other Side except when he had to intercept smugglers coming through the Time-Gates.

"According to many, December 21st, 2012, will mark the End of the World, since the Mayans' calendar abruptly comes to an end on that date."

"Doesn't the Earth Calendar abruptly come to an end every December? So what's the difference?"

"Ah, but this is a cosmic cycle of thousands of years which then suddenly – poof! – it stops. Dead. No more time!"

Berlioz explained the sun will rise on that Winter Solstice morning, aligning with a Black Hole whose energy will pour around the Earth, destroying it in a flash. He made an explosive gesture with his hands.

"Okay, that's just weird," Smighley thought.

"Yes," Berlioz said, "I read about it on the internets," proud to be keeping up with technology.

The closest thing Smighley had ever come to a "Black Hole" was going down into his apartment building's basement whenever the landlady complained about the rodents. What this man was talking about was beyond all scientific reason (the same could be said, he had to admit, for his landlady's basement).

"What," he wondered, "has this guy been smoking, lately?"

"Perhaps your concern should be less about the murder of an insignificant Trespasser – pfft! – and more about these four people who might be tying Harmonia-IV or the whole chain of parallel universes into Earth's imminent destruction."

"And how could that possibly happen?" Smighley couldn't disguise the sneer in his voice.

"Why, through all our interconnected Time-Gates, the way we can travel from one to the other to the next and the next. The energy that will destroy the earth will follow the same path the Trespassers take to reach us. We will all explode together!"

One thing Detective Smighley had to admit, however unwillingly, his case about this man's murder was looking pretty weak, especially if there was no clear cause of death he could blame on the other four Trespassers. Suppose they were actually espousing such unsettling theories or even setting up the inevitable calamity: the threat of terrorism was far more serious.

It was worth thinking about but that was all he'd do for now. He decided to conclude the interview without any further discussion.

"You have to admit, it'd make a great story for a new symphony."

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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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