Thursday, May 03, 2012

The Doomsday Symphony: Chapter 6

In the previous installment of The Doomsday Symphony, dinner conversation at the home of Victor Crevecoeur runs the gamut from that afternoon's concert to the typical mistrust of anything new as the musicians prepare for the world premiere of Sebastian Crevecoeur's "new" Piano Quintet. We now move to New York City earlier that afternoon as Klavdia Klangfarben leaves the offices of SHMRG to begin her quest.

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Chapter 6
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"That was very clumsy of you, Abner," she said as if talking into thin air once the elevator door closed behind her, followed by the slight sound of childishly muffled chuckling just beyond her left shoulder.

"Mmm, I assure you," a voice giggled, lips smacking, "it was quite intentional. You should have seen the expressions on their faces."

The expression on Klavdia Klangfarben's face did not change as you'd think, considering she's in an elevator with someone – or something – that's invisible.

Even though she couldn't see him, she sensed her trusted side-kick’s presence.

She left the boardroom at SHMRG dissatisfied with the terms N. Ron Steele had offered her. She was amazed how easy it was to convince him – especially his maladroit corporate assistant, Manfred Kaye – to change their little minds. The money they’d offered wasn't what she had asked for – typical corporate pigs – which was why she greatly inflated her fee.

"Very clever, pretending that was not handsome enough to pay you for your services. I could've created some little distraction for them. It might have – mmmm – scared them into offering you a little more, not so?"

Klangfarben glanced casually over her shoulder with a quick scowl as if to say "Good thing you didn't go and blow your cover."

"How long will this take, you know," the voice worried, "fixing four composers' lives," knowing how much they had to accomplish before sunrise. "Not to mention what may happen if the dratted Harmonian Police uncover our plan."

Klavdia Klangfarben was not one to be very worried about the dratted Harmonian Police. She had enough experience in crime to know not to take things like that for granted but not to fear them, either. She also knew they were probably watching her on the elevator's security camera so it shouldn't look like she was talking to someone.

The plan was in place, all duly thought out and researched, she'd picked up her side-kick, and now the funding was settled. The invisible figure behind her, sensing her thoughts in his current state, giggled appreciatively.

Even though she had no choice in the matter, given her project this time, she knew this guy would have to do, since she'd been hoping for one who might have been a little more sinister. Still, they needed to be on their way immediately: no time for stupid banter. Sunrise, like time and tides, waited for no one.

The elevator door opened and the strikingly dressed Dr. Klavdia Klangfarben, PhD FFH, followed by her invisible companion, Abner Kedaver, strode purposefully across the SHMRG Building's empty lobby and out onto New York's busy 6th Avenue. She was not terribly impressed by their corporate headquarters, the board room aside, apparently little of their vast wealth supporting mere physical opulence. Like many people suspicious of Wall Street these days, she'd heard enough about crooked executives, defrauded customers, ridiculous bonuses and off-shore accounts. That was why she decided to become an FFH – a Femme Fatale for Hire.

It's not what she figured she'd be doing, three very rough years after earning her doctorate in forensic musicology from Klaxon College, working in a fast-food restaurant and at WalMart after finding nothing in her field. Once the economy started tanking, universities everywhere were hemorrhaging faculty, both full- and part-time, and who looked twice at a PhD from Klaxon?

Funny, but a few weeks ago, she'd considered investigating SHMRG's shadier dealings if she could find the right client for the project, except now that she was employed by them, it could look like a conflict-of-malevolence. Unearthing some scandal behind SHMRG's CEO could be fun: maybe, once she'd gotten her paycheck, she'd reconsider it, pay-back for short-changing her fee.

It had been a surprise when the call came in from SHMRG's Manfred Kaye. This new assignment was definitely a strange one, no matter how it built on her strengths. "But hey, a job's a job..."

Out on the street, Klavdia checked to make sure Abner Kedaver hadn't gotten distracted by the busy throngs of an unfamiliar town. It was bad enough he was oooh-ing and ahhh-ing like a typical star-struck tourist.

"Stay close to me," she shot back at him. Then, when it looked like she had stumbled, she added, "maybe not that close."

This was the first case they'd be working together and only the second time in her career she'd worked with a colleague. There were many thing still to learn, she felt, not just coordination and patience.

If anyone standing nearby bothered to notice them, they saw a woman in her mid-20s neither short nor tall, svelte nor voluptuous (considered by her friends her biggest drawback in being a femme fatale at all), dressed in a tight-fitting coal-black leotard, despite the heat, her coal-black stiletto heels making her long, platinum blond wig flounce as she walked.

Abner, on the other hand, being invisible, would be harder to describe. In fact, everything about him was pretty hard to describe. I mean, according to his file, he's been dead for over a hundred years. But that was what recommended him for the case: to "kill off" dead composers, who best to help but a dead lawyer, right?

If you're going to snoop around someplace strange, you'd want somebody familiar with the territory (that's what she'd read in her coursework), and where this case was headed was pretty strange. Abner would be her guide.

Since this wasn't going to involve the usual espionage, a couple of break-ins and a few unexplained murders – they're already dead, for one thing – she had to convince these guys there'd be a lot of travel expense. Fortunately they didn't ask her how she could manage all this but then they've certainly created some pretty preposterous sounding proposals themselves. The problem, naturally, had been figuring out how to make that all-important first connection, something her adviser, Dr. Fr√łkken Bohr, hinted at. For a small fee, he could arrange things for her on the Other Side.

Introduced to Abner Kedaver who had once been a lawyer for Brahms and Mahler, Klavdia was surprised the portal was so close. She would have thought Vienna, but in rural Pennsylvania? Abner giggled at her surprise.

Unable to find a cab, she decided they would walk back to the garage, little difference to Kedaver who continued oooh-ing and ahhh-ing.

-*-

The constant curiosity about what musicians really "do" was compounded astronomically for forensic musicologists, annoying Klavdia whenever she was asked to explain herself. Most people assumed the obvious, combining two scientific disciplines to enhance artistic understanding: after all, there were those celebrated cases concerning Mozart's skull, botched for lack of reliable DNA, or Beethoven's hair, unlocking his deafness' cause.

Rather than musicians' bones, her expertise involved their music, particularly tracing any thematic fragments one composer might borrow or steal from another. These days, it mostly involved legal claims about plagiarism between publishers of pop music.

Originally, that's what she thought the call from SHMRG was about: comparing fragments of pop-songs to prove in a court of law that Rock-Band B had stolen a phrase or a particular chord pattern that had been used by Rock-Band A in their big hit, whether turns of phrase or even standard harmonic language could be copyrighted like that.

Whole-sale plagiarizing was one thing, the outright stealing of entire phrases or tunes, but did "micro-plagiarizing" really imply one band's song was going to sell better because some half-deaf listeners could hear some chord progression and recognize it was from some other band's song that had been on the charts years ago, meaning they'll download the recording in droves?

It hadn't struck her as a particularly interesting way of spending her time, pouring over rock songs that, frankly, meant nothing to her. How much of this was just a kind of legal harassment was another issue.

As Manfred Kaye explained why he called, Klavdia was astounded at the plan's audacity. This was much more than just a plot to eliminate the competition and the more she listened, the more intrigued she became. How could she possibly implement this insane idea? Where would she even begin? The basic premise seemed outlandish, the stuff of science fiction. It wasn't that the man from SHMRG knew how it could be done but that he was convinced it was entirely possible. He promised a handsome fee, asking her to call him back by the weekend.

She knew little about the workings of quantum physics, beyond its challenging common perceptions of things as basic as time and space. So, given the go-ahead to "think it over," she began, of course, by googling. Over three million hits later, the only thing she knew for certain was the 'uncertainty factor' was going to be very high indeed.

Like many things you can discover on the internet, Klavdia was astonished when she came across some references to it on Facebook. She chose to "like" one of those faceless accounts hiding behind some famous personality.

This particular account belonged to Richard Wagner, a guy insisting he really was the composer, not just a fan with the same name. What he ended up confiding to her was so wildly unbelievable and amazingly improbable, trying to prove himself with more than book-read facts, that for days it continued gnawing around the edges of her musicologist's imagination.

Much to her astonishment, Dr. Bohr had also heard the slightest rumors of such a thing himself, one of those legends long hinted at, even if it would be madness to contemplate it in this scientific age: "You couldn't be on the fringe of musicological forensics without stumbling upon something that, given the finer points of quantum physics, might exist."

Bohr thumbed through his long-ignored notes, faded jottings made decades ago, detailing different aspects of a bizarre theory he had begun developing after stumbling upon some obscure references in some inexplicable manuscripts found in unexpected locations. After contacting Abner Kedaver, the lawyer behind those century-old letters, Bohr, too old now to pursue it himself, handed everything over to his former student.

Little did Bohr know how she'd use this information, but here they were, off to their secret destination, hoping to arrive by sunset. Whether good or evil, there was much to be done and little time.

= = = = = = =

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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