Tuesday, June 05, 2012

The Doomsday Symphony: Chapter 34

Only 200 more shopping days left till the End of the World as We Know It! (of course, you have to go to Central America to redeem your coupon points.)
In the previous installment of The Doomsday Symphony, Sebastian and the Trespassers return to the library and take off to foil Klangfarben's next plot - this one, to eliminate Richard Wagner and his music just as the newly-arrived conductor Rogers Kent-Clarke is working his way across Harmonia-IV when he discovers a particularly interesting shop is still open.

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Chapter 34 
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Stumbling along in the dark, he eventually found a street that led further into the city, away from the empty field where he’d suddenly found himself. What was that he'd fallen through, he wondered. He had an idea what that was he'd slipped in just before he fell, but there was no need to go there.

Rogers Kent-Clarke had no clue where he was and no idea how he might get back. It took a while before it occurred to him how he'd get back, much less if.

"Take it one step at a time."

And let's hope, he prayed, for a better step than the one that sent him spiraling down that giant... well, "rabbit-hole" was the closest thing he could come to describing it. It took only seconds to find himself standing in that field, but it was a very different field from the one he'd been standing in a moment before.

Where did those cars go, the ones that were parked there before he arrived? What happened to the moon? It was full, a minute ago. Or the stars, for that matter? He looked up and could see nothing that remotely resembled the sky he'd been looking at so recently. It's like they'd all regrouped themselves into very different patterns.

What time was it? His checked his phone but nothing was working – he couldn't even text anyone to let them know. And if this was a city, where was everybody? He felt lonely – and terribly, terribly screwed.

The further he went, the bigger the buildings got. Not taller – nothing looked to be more than four stories high – but grouped into larger units, massive somehow, with bulkier entranceways, flights of steps instead of stoops, little patches of garden in front, bigger trees along the street. It was very quiet yet windows were lit so he figured the city wasn't empty – or abandoned. Surely, he wondered, this wouldn't have been New Coalton as it existed before it was deserted and torn down? This didn't look like any American city he knew, nor did it even resemble any typical European city he had ever visited. He figured if he saw a sign somewhere, would he be able to read it? What language could it be in? He was fluent in four languages – five, if you counted American Teen-ager – but what were the odds he was in France or Germany? Certainly not Italy or Russia.

Walking along like a tourist both enthralled with what he was seeing for the first time and alarmed that he was hopelessly lost, he admired the old-fashioned street lights, for instance, which gave off a pinkish radiance covering a surprisingly wide area. How they did that, he had no idea: they didn't look like they had light bulbs of any kind, just carved stone with flecks that glowed.

He wished he had a tour-guide he could reference or pen and paper to jot down his own observations that would help him remember things. He forgot his phone wasn't working – none of the pictures he tried taking "took" – some “dead zone,” he figured, no place you’d really consider "normal."

"Normal," he thought. Now there was an interesting concept. For those who lived here, this was normal, their everyday experience. For him, it was a strange if not exactly exotic place. He was the stranger, here.

Opposite a large park, he saw a shop, a light in its front window.

"Kind of late to be open," he said to himself. "Who'd be shopping at this time of night?" Cautiously, he went over to check, thinking "if I were back home, this could be a break-in!"

But instead of burglars, there was a well-dressed man leaning against the counter, drinking a cup of coffee and smoking a cigarette while paging through a newspaper. Kent-Clarke could recognize this man anywhere. The name ornately painted on the glass was unnecessary. It read "Puccini's Haberdasheria."

He was aware, finally, there were other people on the street, walking in the park – he was not alone, after all. Looking around like Scrooge on Christmas morning, it occurred to him, "if it's July 24th, why isn't it as hot here as it was in Collierville?" Feeling definitely under-dressed, what better place to be than a clothing store?

But the man at the counter saw him standing there and motioned for him to go away. "We're closed," he mouthed and went back to reading his paper. Kent-Clarke continued waving until the man eventually relented.

Puccini figured the man must be having a fashion emergency. Given his condition, checking him up and down with a practiced eye, while any store-clerk in a discount retailer could probably help, the man would certainly benefit from an expert's advice. Besides, Puccini figured, he wasn't doing anything else, so he opened the door to let the man in.

"Welcome to Puccini's," he said graciously with a slight bow.

Kent-Clarke wondered if he'd be able to afford the prices, here, but maybe he could find a light jacket or sports coat fitting his budget. That way, he might engage him in more personal conversation. A blazer would be a wonderful souvenir, but that wasn't why he was here.

He started to explain how he'd just arrived but his luggage hadn't.

"Ah, a tourist," Puccini said, mentally measuring his arms and legs for a new suit. The man was dressed for warm weather, inappropriate for Harmonia-IV. "What part of Parallelia are you from?"

"Parallelia? I've just dropped in from Pennsylvania."

"Pennsylvania? Never heard of it – sounds very quaint, no? And what would the signor be interested in, today?"

"Do you take Visa?" Kent-Clarke checked his wallet.

"Your passport is immaterial to me, signor." But Puccini saw there were many bills in the wallet, American dollars, worth far more on the Harmonian black market than any other currency.

Puccini started humming "Musetta's Waltz" as they began with a blazer, something light bluish-gray, accenting the man's eyes. Meanwhile, Kent-Clarke kept up the small-talk.

Recognizing the tune, he began humming along.

"Ah, you know this music?" Puccini beamed at the recognition.

"Yes, actually – I've conducted La Boheme many times. It's always been one of my favorites." He didn't feel he was lying – maybe gushing too much, but not lying.

Puccini debated whether he should lower the price of the blazer or double it.

The customer said he'd come back for a suit in a day or two – at this point, it was obvious he was lying – but all the same, Puccini offered him some coffee and a biscotti. So they sat, watching the handful of people walking past the shop windows, occasionally glancing in.

And they talked. The visitor was very curious.

Puccini, carefully hiding his wariness, assumed this must be one of those Trespassers he'd heard about. It was flattering to be considered one of the Great Composers worth "killing off," but should he call the police?

He explained he gave up composing – the rat-race was an eternity, now that he was dead – but for any unpublished stuff lying around somewhere, Kent-Clarke should check with his publisher, Ricordi. There were many things they had found and a few things he wished they hadn't. No, there was no full-scale opera, finished or otherwise, waiting to be unearthed.

There was a long silence while both sipped their coffee. Puccini debated telling him about this before deciding it could be fun: what could the man do about it, anyway?

"There was one opera I wrote since I arrived here in Harmonia-IV, after I finished writing Turandot."

"You finished Turandot?" Kent-Clarke's jaw nearly hit the floor with a thud.

"Well, of course: just because I died didn't mean the opera had to be dead-on-arrival. Besides, all good intentions not withstanding, Alfano rather botched it as far as I was concerned." He left the topic dangling tantalizingly.

The new one, La Vendetta di Sposa, was based on a story from his own life. There was this young girl, Doria, working as a maid at his villa. Elvira – his wife – became jealous of her, even tried forcing her into admitting having an affair with the composer.

"Elvira even dressed in my clothes, hoping to trap her in the garden. She spread nasty rumors in the village until Doria's family shunned her and her boyfriend denounced her. Eventually the poor maid committed suicide. At the autopsy, it was discovered she was still a virgin."

Now that he was dead, Puccini figured he could tell that story, how the girl's family sued his wife and won. Elvira eventually opted to live in a different parallel universe and never bother him again, but he'd recently heard the Makropolous Opera Company was taking La Vendetta di Sposa on tour, there.

He chuckled into his coffee cup.

Kent-Clarke began salivating at the idea of taking La Vendetta back to the States. He hoped the part of Doria was suitable for Rosa Budd – with Ron Steele's backing, people might just take notice of him, now.

His stock would surely soar, even if Rosa fell flat on her face. He could take it to other companies, have real sopranos take it on. Yes, his success would be assured.

For a moment, he'd forgotten he still needed to get his hands on the score. How likely was it Puccini would just hand him a copy?

Unfortunately, Puccini continued, wondering about his customer's silence, posthumous scores were not allowed to be taken back to the Other Side. After they're registered with the library, they're kept locked in a vault.

"There is a place where many composers also keep copies of their scores – it’s like a black market music shop but very difficult to get to."

Needless to say, Kent-Clarke was all ears.

Puccini explained it was in an old abandoned mine north of the city, beyond the Bois de Bologna, a fashionable park where many people liked to hang out on a summer day. At the extreme northern edge of the woods, where the paths all came to a stop and respectable people no longer continued, there was an old rusty gate leading to another path.

"About a mile beyond that, you'll find the entrance to the mine – can't miss it. Tell them 'Schicchi' sent you – that's my code-name, there."

= = = = = = =

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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