Monday, June 25, 2012

The Doomsday Symphony: Chapter 51

In the previous installment of The Doomsday Symphony, it's 1765 and Dr. Kerr and Johann Nepomuck Sauerbraten have just arrived in the Hague looking for a child named Mozart and keeping an eye out for a woman named Klavdia Klangfarben. They find both.

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Chapter 51
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Kent-Clarke remembered standing by the table, listening to the conversation as he munched on more of those little sandwiches cut in the shapes of clubs, hearts, spades and diamonds, laid out upon the table like a spread of playing cards. He liked especially the heart-shaped ones with bits of pimento skewered to the top, held in place by tooth-picks.

“From the heart, may it return to the heart,” he said after a reasonable pause, raising his tea-cup as a toast to Mahler who smiled back at him, pleased by the dedication from Beethoven’s Missa solemnis.

Mahler and Schweinwerfer discussed, each with their considerable passions, their thoughts about the inevitable end of the universe – more, Schweinwerfer declared than the mere destruction of Earth. Mahler was disappointed it was not just a cleansing of the Earth, making way for a new world, a new and better society, starting over and this time, eventually, getting it right.

As the party progressed, others wandered by, unexpectedly, people out on a stroll stumbling across Mahler’s little reception quite by accident. Verdi was there, said a few kind but patronizing words, clearly bored with Mahler’s symphonic rhetoric, but spoke, as usual, about his plans for Lear which he continued to toy with more than a century after his death. He lamented how he’d not had great success in his posthumous career, so he often found himself glancing over at Puccini’s shop and envying him his retirement. But still, the idea of Lear gnawed at him unrelentingly.

Even Skryabin stopped by again, drawn by the smell of sardines on rye toast, delighted to find in the middle of his woods a table loaded with zakuski, the Russian repast similar to British “high tea.” All it needed, he said, was a samovar and perhaps a pretty young maid to be pouring out cups of steaming orange-flavored brew.

Schweinwerfer, doffing his battered top hat, greeted Skryabin cordially with dripping sarcasm, asking him how his ecstasy was today – “better than yesterday’s?” Briefly, they discussed their cosmic world-views but refrained from arguing beyond mere superficial statements.

“He’s mad, you know,” Skryabin whispered to Kent-Clarke, pointing at the philosopher with his toothpick.

“I thought that’s what philosophers always were,” the conductor responded, trying to appear as mild-mannered as humanly possible, hiding his excitement. It wasn’t often someone like him had a chance to stand around chatting with the likes of them. (Perhaps it was a dream…)

Kent-Clarke realized this would be his opportunity. Several guests were preparing to leave, offering their farewells. Verdi was long gone when Skryabin woke up poor Lyadov, so bored with the conversation he could barely remain conscious. Together, they wandered off down the path and Kent-Clarke, thanking Mahler once again, quietly followed them, disappearing into the bushes along the trail.

Schweinwerfer nodded after him with a wink and a wave, then warmly shook Mahler’s hand, thanking him for his time and pointing at the score, saying something under his breath, before he, too, turned and left.

Mahler, sipping the last of his tea, gazed out over the empty fields, wondering if anyone else would stop by. Skryabin, he thought, was whacky enough but this Schweinwerfer was a complete riddle all by himself. It was one thing to be passionate about your views and another to be close to incomprehensible not to mention so depressingly irredeemable.

There was a commotion in the distance, something he could barely see. There were several groups of people converging on a couple – hadn’t they stopped by to say hello? Yes, it was, but the police had suddenly charged them from the woods, yelling. The woman with the platinum hair and that cad, Kedaver, turned and ran into the forest.

What did that mean? Why were the police after those people?

When he turned back to get some more tea, he noticed a large blank space where the score had been.

It was gone!

Mahler screamed.

Kent-Clarke heard him all the way down the path: the theft had already been discovered and he’d barely run a few hundred yards. Had Mahler heard him dashing off through the brush, turning around in time to see who it was? No, he probably would have screamed sooner. And who was there nearby who’d answer him and offer help?

The score was large and cumbersome. Hugging it to his chest, he wished he had something to carry it in, something to protect it. What if he dropped it, or tripped and fell in a stream?

But of course he’d had no idea what he was getting himself into when he decided to drive out to New Coalton. There was certainly nothing he’d experienced so far he could have remotely planned for.

Explaining where he found the score and how it had only just been completed – who would believe him? They’d certainly think he’s crazy!

And in a way, maybe he was. How was he going to pull this off? If anything, Rogers Kent-Clarke was certainly not the adventuresome type, regardless how many times he’d watched all the Indiana Jones movies. How far could he run? Considering where he was, did he even know he could out-run a composer dead the past hundred years?


He heard someone shout – a high-pitched voice, then several others.

“Hey, you!”

Great, there was a posse after him. He ducked his head down and just kept running.

“What are you doing?”

It sounded pretty insistent.

He realized it was a large hollyhock by the path, glaring down at him.

Now he was pretty sure he was crazy – the flowers were yelling at him! Maybe they were chasing him, too.

“Stop, thief!”

What if he ran into a giant Venus Fly-Trap or something – would it be able to catch him? How would he ever escape?

Suddenly it occurred to him he had no idea what direction he’d been running in. Was he on the right path to get back to the field that would get him safely home?

What was that?

Something was rushing toward him, getting ready to cut him off not far ahead of him, something large and very dark – a bear? – but he was so out of breath he could barely focus on it. With no time to stop and nowhere to turn, he hardly got his legs to slow down before he ran right into it.

You’re in a hurry,” the figure said, barely out-of-breath but apparently human – unless bears around here also talk. He effortlessly grabbed Kent-Clarke by the collar, lifting him up in the air while his legs continued running.

It was Schweinwerfer.

Holding his top hat in his other hand, he looked the conductor clear in the face before putting him down.

“What’s that you’re holding so close to your chest, there, hmmm?” Schweinwerfer leaned even closer to his face, snarling malevolently. “A score?”

Despite all the tea he’d had, Schweinwerfer’s breath stank of sardines and goat cheese.

Kent-Clarke gulped and tried hard not to faint.

“Uhm… well, in fact…” His mind was racing while his chest continued heaving, his breath gradually returning until he felt his lungs probably would not explode after all.

He said he’d borrowed it from Mahler and was taking it back with him to premiere it in New York City next season.

“In 2011-2012? No, no, no,” Schweinwerfer protested as he straightened himself to his full height. “No, you can’t possibly do it that soon. Really, there’s so much to prepare. Why would you want to rush it?”

“Because…” Kent-Clarke tried to think of a reason, then said “because I couldn’t imaging waiting any longer to share it with the world!”

“No, my friend,” Schweinwerfer continued, cajolingly. “You must do it in December, 2012, not a month sooner!”

“But, why?”

“Surely, you’ve heard about the Mayan Calendar and the end of the world?”

“Ha! Yes, very clever marketing!”

But Schweinwerfer explained that, before he could leave, Kent-Clarke needed to verify that this was the only copy of the manuscript. If it was already registered at the Central Library’s PMC – their Posthumous Manuscript Collection – then once he made it through the Time-Gate and back to Earth, the score would become invisible and dissolve.

“We must check that, first!”

“But the delay? What if I get caught?”

There were too many reasons to say no, but Schweinwerfer dragged him back into the city where, under cover of darkness, they soon arrived at their destination unnoticed.

Some commotion in front of the courthouse was already subsiding when Schweinwerfer overheard two policemen talking about being called to the Coalton Gate – some thief nabbed Mahler’s score, but they’d catch the Trespasser before he’d return.

If they were looking for Kent-Clarke, they weren’t looking for somebody as large as Schweinwerfer. He told Kent-Clarke to stay within his shadow.

Crossing the square to the library was not easy. One of the policemen looked over, saw them and nodded, but they kept on their way and were soon out of sight. The way was now clear.

Hiding behind Schweinwerfer, they lurked around the side of the library and found one of the doors carelessly ajar.

“This is almost too easy…”

Once inside, it was just a matter of getting into the processing room – no, nothing on the desk, not even in the librarian’s in-box – so now they only had to check the vault to make sure.

Kent-Clarke, wondering what the Emcue Vault was, thought these spiraling hallways would be murder on someone in a wheel-chair. Soon, they found themselves standing in front of Vault #4, labeled “M-Q.”

But someone was already inside.

They could hear people talking – a woman saying something about needing to visit the ladies’ room, a man saying they’ll be right back.

They ducked into the H-L Vault further down and waited for them to pass – a woman and an older man. Kent-Clarke recognized Zoe Crevecoeur, wondering what she was doing here, also. How many more were there?

Schweinwerfer opened the M-Q Vault’s door cautiously and found only two young men, quickly grabbed and overpowered before they screamed.

“Piece of cake!”

Kent-Clarke held onto Xaq while Schweinwerfer tied Cameron up with binding twine and duct-tape.

Finding no new symphony listed in Mahler’s file, he dumped the struggling Cameron into the bin.

Then, taking the boy, they fled.

= = = = = = =

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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