Monday, December 29, 2014

The Lost Chord: Chapter 27

The Lost Chord

(a classical music appreciation comedy thriller by Richard Alan Strawser: you can read it from the beginning, here.)

In the previous installment, a young student attending the FRED lecture on composers and creativity Rob Sullivan had given years ago decides he wants to study with Sullivan or else. In London, N. Ron Steele attends a fund-raising cocktail party for SHMRG's latest project, a pageant to identify future child prodigies, before heading to Schweinwald, telling his secretary Holly Burton that tomorrow's rehearsal of Sullivan's opera, Faust Inc., must not take place.

= = = = = = =

Chapter 27

"What the hell happened, here?" she wondered, coming to and looking around the dark space where she found herself. Fictitia LaMouche felt her badly battered shoulders and especially her aching head. Had she been attacked by some thug who didn't like her journalism? "That Scarpia guy? – no, not his style...”

She noticed her hips also felt like they were black and blue – "Ah, right," she grimaced, closing her eyes. She remembered something about rolling around in the back of somebody's van.

"Not like that," she quickly corrected herself, after realizing she'd been blushing. "Usually, that'd sound like a lot more fun..." She tried to sit up and promptly cracked her skull on something. "Bloody hell!" She reached out – an overhanging shelf she must've rolled under, apparently loaded with lots of heavy boxes.

The floor she lay on was hard, metallic – that shelf was, too – but at least she had stopped rolling around. "Maybe he'd reached his destination," whoever he was, wherever he was going. She remembered sneaking into the van, hiding from someone – escaping, wasn't it? – just as the thing suddenly drove off.

"Holy crap," she shouted, covering her mouth. "Now I remember! The explosion!" It all started coming back to her. Out behind the opera house, then that... that creature, the old castle...

"Jesus God..." A whole string of would-be expletives suffocated in her throat, remembering something else before she'd lost consciousness: explosives – the van she was hiding in was packed full of explosives! How long had she been lying there, passed out on the floor, tossed around like a sack of potatoes?

She had no idea where she was, whether it would be safe to get out of the van now, or where she'd go to get help to find her way back.

"Damn, my phone – where's my bloody phone?" thinking she'd tweet for help, or, you know, maybe check her GPS, send a distress call to... well, she reconsidered – maybe not the police...

She started feeling around the floor with her hands, carefully at first, her Lowden Kleer hearing enhancer also missing.

Fictitia had not a clue how long she might have been unconscious, despite the massive pounding beneath her skull, like she'd been bouncing along every back road through the Bavarian Alps. Hey, she felt sore enough, she could be in Italy by now: was her visa even good for Italy? It would be her luck, she sighed, to find some backwoods Italian policeman who'd take one look at her, then lock her up in some moldy rat-infested prison overlooking Lake Como.

For all she knew, it could be the middle of the afternoon on the next day, which would make it... except, no, she'd be ravenous by now if it was, wouldn't she? Since she'd thought about it, food would taste pretty good right now; copious amounts of beer wouldn't hurt, either.

Did the driver – her accidental abductor – discover her, then leave the van abandoned on the side of the road somewhere, maybe too scared to kill her outright, having something 'accidental' in mind?

Had he rigged up a bomb that would blow the van up, detonating the moment she'd open the doors?

Holding her breath a moment, she listened while imagining her own obituary – "I mean, who would even write it?" – but she couldn't hear any audible ticking, so far a good sign.

Fictitia also knew it'd been a while since she'd last tweeted anything: did her fans miss her, she wondered? They'd probably assume she'd just gotten distracted ("yeah, you could say that!"). With considerable effort, she dragged herself slowly out from under the shelf, every joint in her body screaming murder.

It annoyed her, being without her phone: it must be here, somewhere! Everything she needed was on that phone! The last thing she wanted was to roll over and crush it.

She couldn't post anything on Twitter if she didn't have her phone, take pictures and show them to her friends much less post them on Facebook or Flickr without her bloody phone. She couldn't text anybody or find directions or for that matter even check on the time without her phone.

Her foot hit something small and sent it skittering across the floor, knocking it up against the opposite wall – "Crap!" – ricocheting away in some other direction before she could get to it.

She found a few small things in her way, useless other stuff – like tools, bits of wire and cable.

Then she heard a familiar sound: her phone started to buzz – it was receiving a text! Somebody missed her!

There was a faint, barely visible glow and she quick grabbed it.

"Yes!" she blurted out into the darkness before toning down her enthusiasm, not knowing if it was safe outside. "What if someone is still out there, waiting for me?” she wondered. Hurriedly, Fictitia opened her phone to see who had just texted her. Receiving something – anything – made her feel better.

"URGENT! Order in the next 15 minutes," it read, "and receive 120 additional minutes free on your payment plan.”

"Argh!," she groaned, snapping it shut then pocketing it. "I hate spam..."

Carefully, she found the cargo door and opened it – "Where am I?" – stepping out onto an eerily moonlit landscape.

Tweeting "Help van broke down," she thought she heard sounds. "Rescue, already?"

No, she realized, staring into the distance: it was only the wind. The place was dark, scary – and empty.

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *

With no sign of the woman who'd just escaped a fiery death from that botched car-bombing called Operation Eternal Feminine, Preston Agitato found it perplexing as GPS trackers moved in opposite directions. Had Eternal Feminine somehow met up with Fictitia LaMouche and stolen Garth Widor's van with all its bomb-making paraphernalia? But what happened, then? Did they split up, Fictitia hitch-hiking south while Eternal Feminine took the van to Munich? That made sense, heading to the airport to get back to London.

He needed to get in touch with Nacht and Rache, since they were closing in on the van's location, but he knew all the IMP agents were completely fluent in German. Worse, he also knew he had to go to the men's room but couldn't risk leaving his monitor unattended.

"Yes, sir, a quiet night, here, isn't it?" Agent Aida Lott yawned from further down the row of computer stations. She barely feigned interest in what little activity there was to monitor. "You think they'd have found some sign of that professor and whatever it was he stole by now, right?"

They were basically working against each other, trying not to let on what their various agents were up to. Lott wondered what Agitato knew but wasn't telling her – and vice versa.

Officer Martineau returned from her break and sat down next to Lott, exchanging some small talk Agitato couldn't hear, before pulling up the hotel's rear-entrance security cam's feed now working intermittently.

"Hey, Agitato," Martineau said, "Officer Martellato crawled up and fixed that camera? Said he gave it some good thwacks?"

There was a young girl in Goth black ("That's probably Fictitia," Agitato thought) and then three people approaching this van. Next was a large man zipping his fly – the van was gone.

"OMG, that's...!" Agitato quickly bit his tongue. "...someone who looks awfully familiar – maybe from some other cameras, I guess."

That was definitely Garth Widor: he must throw them off SHMRG's trail.

"Isn't that the guy they called 'Bandana-Man' who fell into the fountain?" Martineau agreed. "Caught changing into another disguise?"

Agitato felt compelled to alert Captain Schäufel about the new security photos even though he felt they were fairly inconsequential, especially considering it only complicated his trying to contact Nacht and Rache. In minutes, the temporary security trailer was once again teeming with officers, all of them gawking at Martineau's computer.

"See if you can get any better resolution on that second one, with those three," Schäufel wanted to know, but the lighting was too dark and, frankly, the camera too cheap.

Agitato was convinced that's the Eternal Feminine getting away with that professor – the van's missing in the next frame: what kind of rocket scientist does it take to figure this out?

He chose to keep his mouth shut. ("Hey, I'm only the dispatcher.")

Martineau mentioned Bandana-Man in the next frame.

In the ensuing confusion, Agitato managed to connect with Kunegunde Nacht who said they'd just pulled off, following the signal, but saw nothing remotely like the van in the entire parking lot.

"Damn, it has been a waste of time, Agent Agitato, I'm sorry."

But Agitato didn't think so, not yet.

"What if they ditched the van's GPS onto a passing north-bound truck, then Fictitia and the van are south-bound?"

And Fictitia's GPS, he noticed, had now stopped somewhere outside of Garmisch-Partenkirchen...

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *

Curiously, Zenn had twelve different kinds of tea in his kitchen cupboard, making the choice, reaching any consensus, more challenging. I decided, given the hour, something decaffeinated, less exotic, would be preferable. The kettle (a watched pot) took forever to come to a boil – Zenn detested boiling water in a microwave. It surprised me he'd even given into the modern convenience of tea-bags, ugly tails hanging over the cup's rim, but maybe Will had made the substitution and just never told him.

For living in a century-old German chalet appended to a 14th-Century castle, Zenn's kitchen was like any suburban home's, even if considerably more organized and efficient, whether his doing or Will's. I let the tea steep for two minutes before removing the bags, preparing a tray with cookies and crackers.

Cameron had been burying his nose deep in Harrison Harty's mysterious notebook, carefully writing out a translation of the code, progressing more quickly as he gradually became more accustomed to the substitutions. It would be a slow, daunting task under the best of circumstances: what secrets might it yield, if any?

He barely looked up, nodding, as I placed the teacup beside him: I'm sure he would have preferred coffee. He took a sip, then bent over the page, back to work.

"So far, the problem is dealing with something objectively that's primarily subjective," LauraLynn said, continuing her conversation with Zenn, "deriving facts from various series of data, eventually distilling certain common patterns, not like applying inductive reasoning where scientific observation yields consistent facts over frequent repetitions to something that's more deductive. The foundation's spent a few years accumulating lots of data in interviews with various composers from around the world, but we've just started to filter that data to discern specific thought-patterns."

"You're talking about codifying inspiration?" Zenn asked, sounding more amused than argumentative, something of a twinkle in his eye. "Sounds kind of contradictory, applying science to something as mystical as inspiration."

Knowing better than to get involved here, I picked up the artifact, checking out the scratchings on its back.

"What I'm hoping," she said, "is, if we can replicate the process, can we trigger creative responses in someone who's..."

"Perhaps suffering from writer's block? Or," Zenn responded, "uncreative to begin with?"

He nibbled on a cookie before continuing, apologizing for this guilty pleasure. I only assumed he meant the cookie.

"How can anybody create something without any knowledge of what they're creating? Wouldn't they need some kind of set-skills? The language of music is little different than that of any science."

He also asked if there's a distinction between blindly following these set-skills or breaking the rules to create art, wondering if any of her scientific variables could take that into account.

"There's something else Schoenberg said," Zenn added. "A craftsman creates because he can – an artist creates because he must."

It started again, always falling – floating, a flying squirrel not yet Icarus – this dream that invariably began the same way, coming to him unbidden in that indefinable state between consciousness and unconsciousness, where he was most open to inspiration, suspended between Reality and Art: Time stopped, unimportant, what he had most. Lips in the palm of his hand, lips he wanted to kiss but was afraid would bite his face. He splashed through a mirror, past the firing squad, the armless statue...

"No," LauraLynn said, carefully sipping her tea, looking into the valley below, "that's like having one hundred chimps writing Hamlet. We can't take people off the street and say 'Write a symphony!' I'd so much rather have a term we could use that's not quite as loaded as 'inspiration' is, frankly."

She thought a moment before she continued, "Though maybe it's like this: let's say you hand someone a violin, train them to hold it and, eventually, to play a simple tune."

Turning around, she hadn't noticed Zenn was in some kind of trance, not that he was inattentive or rude.

"There're thousands of hours' hard work before she makes her professional debut."

Still, teaching someone how to write a simple tune or a symphony wasn't the point, just a starting place.

"But teaching someone set-skills," Zenn resumed, "and having them compose by rote is not like turning them instantly into composers, though the world's already full of com-poseurs who genuinely think they are. Science," he admitted, "has never explained the difference how creative artists work, defining what made Mozart different from Beethoven.

"Copland told me he saw everything in a flash, everything whole, complete, but not every composer works that way. Sometimes, I can't find the light till I'm well into the tunnel.

"There is, if you'll pardon the philosophic simplification, something each of us possesses that resonates within – but in different ways. Our inner child not withstanding, it's something I call our Inner Chord. For people who are tone-deaf or for whom all music sounds alike, it's either silent or perhaps only impaired."

It was impossible not to listen to him and I found myself putting the artifact down for the moment, just as Cameron chewed on his pen after pushing the journal aside.

"How it resonates, creating overtones, determines our becoming performers, composers, or music-lovers, how we respond, form our stylistic preferences. But we can also lose that connection with it after a time.

"It becomes this thing, then, that we will always be searching for, what has now become our 'Lost' Chord."

= = = = = = =
To be continued...

posted by Dick Strawser

The novel, The Lost Chord, is a classical music appreciation comedy thriller completed in 2013, and is the sole supposedly intellectual property of its author, Richard Alan Strawser.
© 2014

Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Lost Chord: Chapter 26

The Lost Chord

(a classical music appreciation comedy thriller by Richard Alan Strawser: you can read it from the beginning, here.)

In the previous installment, LauraLynn tells Dr. Kerr and Cameron about her foundation's study of creativity particularly in composers. Meeting Howard Zenn, they sit down and discuss Rob Sullivan's creative legacy and what impact that may have on whatever it is the killer seems to be seeking.

= = = = = = =
Chapter 26

"'No new technique in the Arts is created that has not had its roots in the past.' Who said that?"

Robertson Sullivan looked out over his audience, eyebrows raised in rhetorical consideration.

Most of the students I could see looked around with mild interest or scratched their heads at least metaphorically.

If any of them were trying to figure out which great composer might be responsible for this insightful quote, the 'irony' it was attributed to Schoenberg registered with only a few.

"We wouldn't expect something sounding a bit reactionary coming from a composer accused of destroying our musical comfort level," scanning the audience to see if there was any sense of disagreement. As he expected, there wasn't, given the general attitude toward Schoenberg's reputation: how many of them knew his music?

As usual, these lectures sponsored by FRED were only moderately well attended, a smattering of fifty or sixty college students plus a small handful of adults filtering in gradually from the street, the Foundation for Research in Educational Diversity holding its new series on creativity in the arts at Lincoln Center. Arriving just in time, I'd settled toward the back of the hall – characteristically, the golden section of the auditorium – those who came in later sitting mostly in the rows behind me.

If Rob was disappointed by the turnout, his enthusiasm didn't show it, speaking as if to a full house, someone who'd always been engaging in discussion, a respected and mesmerizing teacher, obviously passionate about his theme – his topic, "The Continuity of the Past" – and secure in his knowledge and experience. He had been quite excited at first when they contacted him, offering the opening talk for the new series. Recorded for college distribution nationwide, it would no doubt broaden his reputation.

After introductory remarks, he established a rhythm with a few thought-provoking quotes, then identifying the composers who'd made them, invariably not the ones you would anticipate, in fact often the opposite. It felt like the spoken equivalent of a deceptive cadence in music, the expected resolution replaced by the unexpected.

Even though Schoenberg's whole idea of 'composing with twelve tones' seemed revolutionary, it wasn't something actually coming out of nowhere, normally how we might think of revolutions, breaking completely with the past.

"It might be simplistic, equating the development of art to historical revolutions, but let's consider this, for a moment."

He mentioned the Industrial Revolution, the Bolshevik Revolution, even the American Revolution, serialism being most like the French Revolution, toppling the tyranny of tonality in favor of equality for all pitches.

"Consider the word's derivation – Revolution – from the Latin revolutum, to roll back or turn again ('another revolution in orbit'), not quite the same as we usually define it, 'to change completely.' Even if it isn't the reaction against the past we normally imagine, perhaps it's more of a new start."

He played a few phrases from Schoenberg's Suite, Op.25, a serial work, and then a phrase from a Mozart sonata which, even with an imaginative harmonic twist, sounded quite tame by comparison. Without stopping, he morphed into some Beethoven, starting in the same key, leading into an excerpt from Wagner's Tristan.

He ended back at Schoenberg's Suite again by way of a passage from one of his earlier atonal works and suddenly it didn't sound so 'out-of-left-field' as it had by itself.

"Sorry for the cultural whiplash", he joked, turning back from the piano – the audience offered a smattering of applause – "but in a few seconds, we'd covered 150 years of music history, this Reader's Digest Condensed Version perhaps making this particular point more obvious, going from one end to the other. If we could hear all these otherwise familiar incremental shifts in between, Schoenberg's serialism doesn't sound quite so new. When we let this create some context, maybe it sounds more... 'evolutionary.' As Schoenberg's atonality grew from Wagner's chromaticism, pushing it beyond its limits, Wagner pulled Beethoven's tonal sensitivities into new directions, just as Beethoven's harmonies expanded what Mozart's old-fashioned listeners already considered improper. We imagine the artist either looking for ways to shatter old boundaries or, like a craftsman, creating something marketable.

"Were Beethoven, Wagner and Schoenberg thinking of their music as radically different, a complete break with the most recent past? Wagner, certainly, talked a great deal about his 'Music of the Future.' We assume Schoenberg was consciously out to change the course of music, whether intending to 'destroy' tonality or not. Beethoven was probably the first composer to think about writing for posterity, unlike Mozart's generation writing for the here-and-now – but Schoenberg certainly wasn't the first to hope for some future acceptance.

"There are many people in the world who're subjective or objective about... well, practically everything in their daily lives, though most of us are a mix rather than just one, exclusively."

Rob paused and took a quick glance around the hall before continuing, weighing his hands, his palms held upward.

"Beethoven probably didn't care about whether he was this titanic force, expanding music's horizons beyond anything his contemporaries imagined. Wagner made the conscious decision to become what Beethoven had naturally been.

"Usually, a composer, if he's honest, is merely looking for the way that best suits his inner voice's needs, and very often that 'way' is something somebody else has tried before. However we react to the immediate past, we're still building on this foundation whether we know it or not."

He paused. "Writers describe the creative process dialectically, either as Apollonian for the classical or Dionysian for the romantic though today, scientists use the logical Left Brain or the emotional Right, just as we could mention the Mozart Brain or the Beethoven Brain – the one presumably spontaneous; the other, meticulous."

Rob briefly described how Apollo was the logical, balanced architect of beauty, how the wine-loving Dionysus was emotional, spontaneous. Mozart's works seemed born perfect while Beethoven stubbornly struggled over every phrase.

"Beethoven sounds inspired to us, everything... organic" – again he paused for effect – "how the phrases gradually expand, the harmony unfolds, but it really is this careful working out of all these details. We know this because we have his sketch books, often laborious, indecipherable, probably scribbled down in 'inspired' white heat."

Rob sat down at the piano again, starting with some simple chords which began to sound more and more familiar, not Beethoven, not Wagner, certainly not Schoenberg but like something mundanely uncomplicated – that tune Rachmaninoff wrote for his Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, the one that makes everyone audibly sigh.

"It's really very simple, right?" he asked, breaking off at the climax, "but remember Paganini's original theme, the caprice?" He played it sharply with brusque chords before repeating the Big Tune.

"Paganini's memorable theme – simplicity itself – is made up of little mosaic fragments." He played them in isolation – little blips – before singing them back, continuous, his hands marking subsections of the phrase. His gestures created little arcs in the air, moving between the beats, before doing the same with Rachmaninoff's tune.

"Whether you're conscious of it or not, this big, luxurious tune – perfection – is the exact opposite of Paganini's caprice, the negative image turned positive – with fast, slow; minor, major; upward, downward.

"Looking from an intellectual perspective, this moment of extremely gorgeous apparent spontaneity," he continued, his hands making flip-flop gestures, "is nothing more than Liszt's melodic transformation or Bach's detailed invertible counterpoint. And it's not very different, really, if you examine the technical aspects, from how Schoenberg inverted his twelve-tone rows."

Rob continued, describing how, regardless, it was the surface level of music that we perceived changing from generation to generation, that underneath, music's tension and release (however realized) remained essentially the same, something I remembered from those distant discussions back when we were students, how he initially scoffed at my idea.

"It is this legacy from the past which we, as today's composers, inherit through our teachers, this collective aesthetic whether we subconsciously agree with it or even act on it ourselves."

He admitted never tracing his teachers' genealogy beyond Ferruccio Busoni, his great-grandteacher, knowing the attitudes students accept or reject, though it'd be interesting to see how far back he could go.

"There's no easy fix, no pill, no... gizmo to automatically help you... discover how this inner secret works, yourself."

Considering others sat there waiting for him to impart this collected wisdom, it was an enigmatic point to end on, the spattering of applause slow to increase into anything like an ovation. Eventually, they realized the talk had concluded, Rob taking an awkward bow before the lights came up almost immediately.

As others stood up to leave, I noticed this tall, skinny student, still attentive, sitting in front of me who continued to quietly nod his head in agreement or, perhaps, understanding.

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *

He sat at the lecture long after the lights had come up and the speaker had gathered up his notes, turning to exit stage right in mild perplexity after the applause ended. The two cameramen filming the talk were already taking down their equipment, eager to pack their cables and leave. Everybody else seemed just as eager to be making their hasty exit, streaming toward the doors in the back except for one guy who headed toward the front of the stage.

The student, an intense young man still in his early-20s, sat there, thinking over some of the salient points, occasionally looking at the one-page program as if checking the speaker's name. He was tall, more lanky than skinny, his eyes large and ambiguous, his long hair unexceptional and largely uncontrolled.

Dr. Robertson Sullivan, composer, looked like any ordinary man in his forties when he walked out into the near-empty auditorium and was met by another middle-aged man, probably some friend of his.

The student, standing to his full height, was nervous about going backstage; here, Sullivan would walk right past him.

"This man must know 'The Answer,'" the student said in hushed tones. "The secret every composer needs to discover!" He decided he had to... no, actually, he will study with him.

"It was now or never," the young man thought, "now or never," as he moved sideways down the row, waiting till Sullivan approached with his friend, a rather mousey, inconsequential-looking man.

Stepping forward, he said, "Excuse me, sir, but... oh, man, I'm sorry," realizing he was standing on Sullivan's foot.

"I just wanted to say how inspiring your talk was and I'd really, really like to study with you," modulating his excitement down a notch, trying not to sound overly eager.

"Thanks very much," the man told him, "but I don't teach privately. You'd have to be enrolled at Juilliard."

The student said he'd thought about applying but hadn't mustered the courage.

"Well, apply – if you're accepted, ask about my class – if there's room...?" Shrugging his shoulders good-naturedly, Sullivan walked away.

His large hands swinging by his side gave the impression the student was swimming up Broadway past the Juilliard School where he inexplicably stopped and stared for several minutes before moving on. The crowd automatically parted like a stream hitting against an implacable rock, jostling its way around him, reordering itself.

"He blew me off, the flarking bastard," the student mumbled to himself, using one of his favorite made-up curse-words. "Blew me off like I was nobody," he continued his sing-song rant.

He remembered an old college history professor going on about the Corn King – or was it the Oak King? – speaking of building new ideas on the ancient myths, our collective legacies. How was it, he tried to recall, something about the new king killing the old king – ritually? Literally? Both...?

The student turned down a street four blocks north of Lincoln Center, a long stately row of old aristocratic brownstones though his home, inherited from his parents, was more gray and flint-like. His black cat, Maleficent, greeted him sourly at the door and growled but his mind was on ancient rituals.

"Perhaps," he thought, "Sullivan's secret lies in something akin to the Eucharist, something eaten, then all would be revealed?"

Or was it, perhaps, less transubstantial, this gizmo he mentioned, than metaphorical?

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *

Munching on little sandwiches or crackers with bits of sushi on them wasn't his idea of an evening well spent, but N. Ron Steele understood this ritual kick-off to his latest project. He knew his backers would think him less than confident about it if he didn't even make the reception. These were men (with the occasional woman) of business, powerful financial figures, who could care less about the music: their primary concern would always be the monetary return on their investment. Most of them watched the time waiting for the concert to end, hoping the reception would get underway soon, another concert with another prodigy not yet ready for the big time. She was too young but played fast, looked great in her gown, definitely a shoe-in for the Wunderkind Sweepstakes.

His smile broadening proportionally as he glad-handed those who'd made considerable contributions, Steele looked around and beamed his usual confidence, always his job's hardest part, pretending not to be ruthless and obnoxious. He had not a clue whether the kid was any good as long as everyone cheered at the end. Skripasha Scricci seemed to be genuinely enthusiastic, though he could be as musically stupid as he was financially naïve, why Steele decided that Amanda Hackett's capable hands should oversee this project.

Steele was always impatient with these routine festivities, looking around for anyone he hadn't honored with his thanks and hand-shake, having suckered them into parting with vast quantities of their easily-earned money. That they were grateful for the opportunity he found continuously, amazingly inspiring ("Is this a great country, or what?"). Whether he was in New York, London or Munich, it was all the same, the powerful, all-mighty American entrepreneur. Soon he'd see his company, SHMRG, high on the global 2Big2Fail Index.

"Holly," he said, taking his secretary aside, "great job on the catering, but we'd better get moving right away. I've had bad news from Widor again, some kind of horrendous screw-up. We must hurry to Munich and from there, off to goddamn Schweinwald: that rehearsal tomorrow must not take place."

= = = = = = =
To be continued...

posted by Dick Strawser

The novel, The Lost Chord, is a classical music appreciation comedy thriller completed in 2013, and is the sole supposedly intellectual property of its author, Richard Alan Strawser.
© 2014

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Lost Chord: Chapter 25

The Lost Chord

(a classical music appreciation comedy thriller by Richard Alan Strawser: you can read it from the beginning, here.)

In the previous installment, Kerr has begun to figure out the code in Harrison Harty's 1880 Schweinwald Journal and they realize, at that point, Harty realized if his roommate Gutknaben had been killed, maybe he was also in danger, now? They arrive at a medieval fortress, having followed the directions, and are met at the door by a frail old man, the soon-to-be centenarian, composer Howard Zenn.

= = = = = = =
Chapter 25

LauraLynn had been uncomfortable at Benninghurst after the murder of her cousin, despite their offering us a place to stay so we could be accessible to the police during the ensuing investigation. It had been too much of a daily reminder for us both, looking down that hallway to his room. Instead, we stayed at a quaint inn – the old-fashioned, rustic Wampanaug Inn – just a few miles down the road. Cameron said the Colony was pretty empty, most residents having already left.

The beautiful spring-like weather, sunny and pleasant, didn’t help lighten our mood, overcast by recent memories unwilling to disappear, as we sipped our tea out on the otherwise cheerful garden patio. The other guests stayed clear of us, having heard the awful news with a mix of consideration and curiosity.

There were interviews with the local police, most of them gruesomely repetitive, and plans to be made for a funeral with lots of people to contact, relatives, friends and colleagues to call. I took her into town to buy some new clothes, suitably black, since everything she’d brought was stylishly upbeat. It was only intended to be a few days’ visit from London, meaning there were several calls back home, meetings to be canceled or arrangements with the friend babysitting her dog.

She began telling me about her foundation, the Center for Creative Studies, funding research into aspects of musical creativity, a specialty usually overlooked by most researchers in the field of science.

“A demiurge, for instance, originally meant a 'public worker,' craftsman or artisan before becoming associated with some all-creating deity.”

“Oh, like in Plato’s Timaeus where a demiurge is this benevolent creator trying to create good in a world,” Cameron chimed in, “imperfect because it’s created from indeterminate and chaotic non-being?”

“That’s one sense, exactly,” LauraLynn responded, turning her full attention to Cameron. “In the old Platonic arguments, the material world’s creator is intrinsically malevolent and therefore regarded by nature as evil.”

“Right, but artistic creation is part of the non-material world, therefore good, by re-ordering elements of the existing universe.”

“In ancient Greek,” LauraLynn continued intently, “there is no word for 'create' just as there is no word for 'art.' The closest word they have to the idea for either is techne.”

“Right,” Cameron nodded in recognition, “which implies a set order of rules, a word giving us ‘technique’ and ‘technology’…”

“…the very opposite of what we consider ‘art.’ What we call ‘creating’ something was more like ‘craftsmanship’ to them, taking something already in existence, which becomes something that previously didn’t exist.

“It was only centuries later that Christians began using the term ‘create’ in the sense of a divine creation. No one started writing about man-made creations until sometime during the Renaissance.”

“Which,” Cameron followed, “was either God-given or inspired by the Greek muses. So why are you studying composers specifically?”

LauraLynn looked up at him with renewed interest and shrugged her shoulders. “Perhaps because – like Mt. Everest – it was there. Scientists wrote about a wide range of other scientists – mathematicians, engineers, inventor-types. That’s fine, except in all their research they included very few artists and never came up with anything convincing.”

“They never seem to draw any conclusions, specifically about composers,” Cameron continued. “Most of them only relate anecdotal material but not nearly as much in-depth data as they did with scientists.”

Feeling I was quickly losing control of the conversation I was in, I interjected, “well, that would make sense, really, considering scientists only feel comfortable with facts they can quantify and prove.”

“Not to mention re-create by running the experiment again on other subjects,” LauraLynn added, turned back to face me.

“...where, with artists,” Cameron continued, “they would never reach the same conclusions considering their results would always be different, since every original composer has a different way of solving the issues...”

“…thereby not proving their theory,” LauraLynn concluded, “because the data’s not comparable,” folding her arms defiantly across her chest, imitating some old professor ending the argument more through intimidation than fact.

“Which,” I suggested, “may explain why musicians have always called the study of music’s rules theory rather than fact.”

“I mean, you could hardly,” LauraLynn continued, “slide someone like Elliott Carter into a scanner while he was actually composing to study how much of his work is inspiration versus intellectual technique.”

Cameron imagined studying Schoenberg, considered inspiration’s killer for inventing “serialism,” a mechanical method of composing with all twelve tones.

“Exactly,” LauraLynn added, throwing up her hands. “Rob spent his whole life developing intellectual skills to elicit emotional responses, hopefully achieving what he thought was beautiful even though not everyone agreed.”

Like politics, like religions, like any kind of rational thinking, there was always an irrational and thoroughly equal reaction, those who for whatever reasons disagreed – often violently – with whatever your viewpoint. It wasn’t enough to believe your way while others believed their way, agreeing (in essence) to disagree without opposition. Imagine if there were never any wars, political strife or religious intolerance, but how is the human brain wired? Humans were always egocentric enough to feel everyone should believe their way.

This divisive, age-old “us-versus-them” mentality, whether producing political parties or conspiracy theorists, also brought us the artistic “Style Police,” those arbiters of cultural correctness who insist upon one true creative path. Whether it’s Liszt versus Brahms or the Ars Antiqua of medieval France, there was always someone who’d oppose you.

“So is it possible,” Cameron wondered, “a modern version of Style Wars could be behind the murder of Robertson Sullivan?”

We looked back and forth, nodding at each other in stunned silence.

Wasn’t such a thing possible these days when simple arguments might often be settled by someone drawing a gun?

Rob was about to have a break-through premiere, his controversial opera, a very political statement both musically and aesthetically, and clearly someone didn’t want that premiere to take place.

But why...?

We’d assumed the whole point of the break-in in the first place was to destroy his newly completed opera, damaging his computer beyond repair and stealing the back-up disc I’d seen. It was difficult explaining to the police why we felt this stolen disc shouldn’t be mentioned to the press.

But what if stopping the opera’s premiere was not the main reason behind this break-in that went so horribly wrong? What if the motive all along was something more sinister than that? What if someone wanted to kill Rob, eliminating him before he became too powerful a figure of aesthetic opposition?

Was someone in Europe angered that an American interloper had been given an opportunity denied to a German-born composer? Perhaps some conservative tonalist imagined Rob’s success renewing popular interest in complexity?

But that seemed so far-fetched, LauraLynn thought, since Europeans were less divided between the extremes ranting across America’s blogosphere. Beside, Cameron mentioned, the murder had happened here, not over in Europe.

“Yes, at a dinner party,” she mused, “such an operatic thing to….” She gasped and paused, frozen in mid-sentence.

Thinking she was trying to come up with some dramatic opera scenes where violent death happened amidst social frivolity, I waited patiently for her before she cried out, “Oh, my God!”

“The wedding reception,” she gasped, almost speechless, “what if Rob had been the real target there, not Aunt Katie?”

She had been killed after an intruder had broken through the window.

“LauraLynn, can you remember anything about the intruder, any kind of description, something possibly tying him to anybody here?”

“I never got a good look at him – I was too far back in the room, not far from Katie – when I heard glass shatter, the scuffle with Rob, then the shot. When the intruder stood up and went to dive toward the window, I turned to see Katie had fallen. She was complaining about who that man was who’d ruined the party even before she had hit the floor. That was when I saw the blood and started screaming for help.”

All she could picture, piecing memories together, trying to stop the chaos at the frame before Katie started falling, was a blurry image of a man, possibly a big man, muscular. “Dressed in black – masked,” she shook herself, “someone yelling about a… gizmo? I’m not sure – did he say gizmo?”

“What was the significance of the word gizmo,” I asked her patiently, since it seemed to inspire another momentary freeze. “Was it something Rob had mentioned before?” though it sounded pretty generic.

She put her hands over her eyes, as if trying desperately to block out the rest of the world.

“Something in his will he’d mentioned recently, some ‘gizmo’ he’d left blank – what it was or who’d inherit it… But I remember him saying he’d fill it in after the premiere.”

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *

Despite the place’s outward foreboding, while you wouldn’t call the interior “intimate,” at least it was not dank and dismal, the traditional image of a castle keep built so many centuries ago. Just inside the massive door, we stood in a broad entrance hall larger than many of my friends’ apartments. A long row of tall lancet-shaped windows cut into the stone wall stood opposite the stark windowless exterior wall. Pressing a button behind us, Zenn waited as the door swept shut.

He may be a frail old man, a thoroughly wizened, white-haired African-American who hardly looked his nearly 99 years, but he certainly wasn’t the intimidating figure worth inciting my innate paranoia. Dressed in baggy blue jeans and a shabby jacket over a turtleneck, he looked more like the castle’s gardener.

“Some 20th Century amenities make it bearable,” our host said, turning away as he motioned for us to follow him. “Let’s cut… uhm, through there,” he beckoned, “it’ll be much more direct.”

Zenn stood on a compact scooter-like contraption which he called a 'Scorrevole,' rolling ahead at a comfortably steady pace.

“I live up there,” he said, pointing to some vast corner windows as we followed him across the courtyard. “The rest of the place, I’m afraid, is rather superfluous, these days.”

Zenn casually began making some observations about the place he called home, the front part from the original fortress – “yes, in fact, it is 14th Century, completed sometime around the 1320s” – abandoned during the witch-hunting hysteria in 1597 and largely demolished by 1650, only to be rebuilt in the 1790s.

“Walking along, you can see the seams: medieval there, renaissance here, classical – the chalet, then, is the most recent, built between 1891 and 1901 – it’s only a little older than me.”

The Nazis had confiscated it in 1938 but then after the war, Zenn bought it from the Bavarian government. “Bought it for a song – well, as castles went in those days. They weren’t too pleased about me being Black and all, I’m afraid, or that Bastian and I were gay...”

Zenn apologized again for our slow pace once we reached an elevator, an old-fashioned gilded cage with a hand-cranked gate, though quite rapid considering we had traversed six centuries in mere minutes, seven if you bothered counting a few more recently added surface details – electricity, phones and of course the Scorrevole.

The elevator came to a stop at the third floor living quarters – not the top floor: there were others.

“My nephew – well, Bastian’s nephew – lives upstairs. He helps care for me.”

The room was immense, broad and long, actually several rooms combined into one with probably a twenty-foot high ceiling. Everything was vast with sweeping pillars of dark woods and statues everywhere. Windows at either end looked out onto the Zugspitze, Germany’s highest mountain, or down into the valley toward Garmisch-Partenkirchen.

The room was filled with striking shapes reminding me of Aubrey Beardsley, all rounded lines, hyperbolas and arching plant-like motifs, though he said it had been designed by someone named Jürgens Tyll. The stone fireplace, immense at one end, was flanked by naked Rhinemaidens holding aloft fronds of palms and lilies-of-the-valley. Opposite this, a mezzanine level jutted out supported by two trunk-like pillars with stylized branches stretching to the ceiling, covering a lavish workroom with its ten-foot ceiling over a grand piano.

Howard Zenn had become one of the major figures of modern music, less often performed in America than in Europe mostly because he chose to abandon his long-time home in New York, preferring the silence of his Alpine retreat to cacophony in the city, his Manhattan apartment looking out across Broadway.

Initially, he showed modest talent both as a pianist and a composer, graduated with distinction from a mid-western university but later, because of his skin color, found it awkward teaching there.

Moving to New York City, having left Academia not far enough behind, he found it awkward being a composer whose music was expected to be jazz-inspired or based on Negro spirituals.

He served in Europe during the war, then afterward decided to stay, convinced new environments would yield new opportunities.

As a small child, he’d met Saint-Saëns when his parents visited Paris, remembering it more from the old family stories, how Saint-Saëns patted him on the head, wishing him a long life. They’d seen Debussy on the street and heard Ravel play the piano, though his parents didn’t care for Stravinsky.

Little had anyone thought someday he himself would see a new century, yet here he was, pushing a hundred, one of the more respected – if not more frequently heard – living composers.

Zenn remarked how, during the long winters, he usually stayed in Munich, meeting with musicians and giving impromptu interviews, since his isolation here became increasingly worrisome, given his age and frailty.

We followed him across the endless floor, headed toward a large desk by the window overlooking the valley below.

Famously, Zenn always urged composers, regardless how complex others viewed their styles, to “connect” with listeners in some way. “Art is not always necessarily about entertainment but it’s always about communication.”

“It’s like the chicken and the egg,” Rob had heard him say. “Which comes first, the heart or the mind? If music fails either heart or mind, it’s only half the equation.”

Zenn placed himself in his favorite chair and looked directly at us. “So, now: why exactly are you here?”

“Well,” I answered, unsure where to begin, “D'Arcy said Rob recently contacted some composer but didn't say who or why, and then only hinted how we might find how to contact you.

“We had just found this rather odd statue hidden in Robertson’s office,” which I slowly pushed over toward him. “Just then, the IMP agents showed up, pursuing us through the Festspielhaus, intent on retrieving this artifact from us. We only very narrowly escaped because D’Arcy stayed behind, acting as decoy.”

“You know about Rob’s death, Mr. Zenn, his being murdered at Benninghurst?” He nodded at LauraLynn with a frown. “A man we suspect of the murder has followed me to Schweinwald. I’m sure that was the same man who very nearly killed me trying to steal this journal from me.”

Without a word, Zenn lifted the artifact, not surprised at its weight, nodding with the familiarity of an old friend, then turned it around, one hand over where the head should be. He ran his index finger down the length of the statue’s spine, crunching his lips together, deep in thought.

Then he picked up the old journal LauraLynn slid across the table which he blithely started to page through until he got to the coded part, his interest noticeably more intense.

Meanwhile, waiting, I looked around the room and noticed all the busts, some plaster but several of them marble – all composers like Gershwin, Schoenberg, Richard Strauss (former Garmisch resident), even Saint-Saëns – when I realized they were all composers that he had somehow met, even as an infant having met Saint-Saëns. If the child Saint-Saëns had studied piano with a pupil of Mendelssohn’s whose mentor was Goethe who’d met Beethoven, wouldn’t that moment at Teplitz two hundred years ago connect with today? Shouldn’t this historical continuity be tangentially important, connecting the present and past, whether we’re aware of it or not? Didn’t it matter when the great Telemann died, Mozart was already 11? Didn’t it matter that a young chorister by the name of Haydn sang at the funeral of Antonio Vivaldi?

“It’s this whole idea of steady historical continuity which Rob began feeling was increasingly more important to him,” Zenn explained, looking up and telling us about several meetings they’d had only recently. “What can any of you tell me about this almost genealogical legacy which Rob had inherited through his teachers?”

“Rob credited John Corigliano with being his most influential teacher,” I said, sitting back looking off toward the Zugspitze. “How significant an influence his teacher, Otto Leuning, was, I don’t know.”

“It’s not so much style,” Zenn explained, “as the foundation that was built based on knowledge of the craft. And who was Leuning’s teacher?” He waited. “Well, it was Ferrucio Busoni. Now, if we’re going to trace the ‘begats’ even further back, remember: great teachers aren’t always the greatest composers.

“And Busoni was one who clearly treasured the past,” Zenn looked around. “He studied with W.A. Remy, little known now…”

“I bet ‘W.A.’ stands for Wolfgang Amadeus,” Cameron interrupted with a smile.

“Actually, it’s an anagram of his real name, W. Mayer,” Zenn chuckled, “but, yes, a tribute to the past. Busoni thought highly of Remy, ‘bringing to life points in music’ – I’m paraphrasing here – ‘drawing upon its entire history, giving character sketches of the great masters along with his own observations...’

“In ways that are similar to how this castle exists,” Zenn said, sweeping his arms around in an encompassing gesture, “extensions built from the past may look very different on the surface. There are certain common traits – the same stones, the idea of windows? – characteristics with some continuity from the past. Even if we react against them, we’re still always maintaining their vitality, connecting to them in our own way, building from these same blocks our own solutions to ‘what is art?’

“We know that Mr. Remy,” Zenn continued, “had been born in Prague and studied at the Prague Organ School with someone named O.F. or C.F. Pitsch – the calligraphy’s not very clear.”

“Was he a Dvořák student,” I wondered.

“Professor Pitsch was of Dvořák’s teachers’ generation: maybe he did teach Dvořák.”

Zenn mentioned little was known about Pitsch beyond some colleague’s vague reference to their being fellow students in Sechter’s class.

“Simon Sechter was once head of the Schweinwald Academy,” LauraLynn blurted out.

Pondering over a passing reference LauraLynn showed him in Harrison Harty’s journal, Zenn agreed it was significant, but why?

“Sechter, famous in his day,” he said, “was very much sought after, his most noteworthy pupil being Anton Bruckner. He’s best remembered for giving Schubert one counterpoint lesson before his death.”

Knowing Rob told her very little was known about the Schweinwald Academy despite having been in existence for five decades, it was clear this journal could shed valuable light on its history. But there was another question she considered: was this a coincidence or is this why Rob went to Schweinwald?

“So we have a forestful of composers,” I said, “stretching back generations, yet there is one tree in particular.” There was a similar lineage my principal teacher once discussed with me...

“And what that one tree,” LauraLynn wondered, “might have in common between my cousin Robertson Sullivan and our great-grandfather?” Deep in thought, she looked out the window into the woods below.

“Given a teacher’s legacy,” Zenn answered thoughtfully, “there may well be several: the question, I suspect, is of degree.

“But you have to consider how much further back he could go – Rob could go – to find his teachers’ genealogy. It’s much like researching your family tree, discovering who your great-grandfather was. So we’d found, snooping through archives as well as Wikipedia, that Simon Sechter was the equivalent of his great-great-great-great-grandfather – not exactly discovering he’s an old horse-thief… or an ex-slave,” Zenn added, “but a very significant name, musicologically speaking, and that essentially takes us back to the 1820s, give or take...

“Now, Sechter studied with Johann Leopold Kozeluch – whose cousin Anton originally had the same name before he changed it to avoid confusion, not that it helped – maybe Sechter studied with both? Anton was ‘the Great Contrapuntist’ who probably inspired Sechter to write a fugue-a-day for the rest of his career.”

“Is it really important to take it that far back?” LauraLynn wondered, glancing impatiently from one window to the other. “The sun is going to rise, soon, you know – the killer’s deadline.”

“Yes,” I added, leaning forward with concern, “it’s all very fascinating, really, but we have to locate this ‘fountain’…”

“Okay: Kozeluch studied with Duschek who studied with Wagenseil who studied with Fux, who wrote a book in… 1725…?”

“You mean Gradus ad Parnassum, one of the most significant harmonic treatises?”

“You’re suggesting that could be the ‘fountain’ our killer is talking about, a book as a fountain of knowledge?” Granted, for two centuries it was regarded as The book about harmony. I may have sounded a bit skeptical but any theory about theory was better than anything we’d found yet.

“Mr. Zenn, you’ve been talking about the importance of counterpoint,” Cameron asked, “but what’s so special about learning counterpoint?”

“You can find counterpoint,” Zenn replied, “everywhere: I discovered it through jazz.”

“You see,” I pointed out, “Rob is a direct descendent of the man who wrote the book on harmony and I know Rob would’ve considered that connection deeply compelling, a responsibility.”

“But,” Cameron paused, “shouldn’t a fountain be more than a technical manual? Unless maybe his skills just need sharpening...”

“'Belief in one’s technique as the only salvation has to be suppressed and the urge for truthfulness encouraged,'” Zenn continued, his finger raised in a serious warning undermined only by his smile.

“Who said that? Claude Debussy?” Cameron heard how Debussy supposedly flunked harmony.

“Actually,” said LauraLynn, “it was Arnold Schoenberg.”

“Dr. Kerr,” Zenn said, “you must have the courage of your convictions to see this through to the end, should this statue generates chord progressions resolving or modulating in any direction.

“Another, then: ‘No new technique in the Arts is created that has not had its roots in the past.'”

Cameron, brows furrowed, tried puzzling it out. “Well then, who is... Beethoven?”

LauraLynn sat back and shook her head. “That’s another Schoenberg quote, Cameron.” Was that her first smile this evening?

Holding the statue in my right hand and staring at its back, I knew how Luke Skywalker felt on Dagoba, receiving the wisdom of his Jedi legacy from the diminutive Master Yoda. I started thinking how could this thing – whatever it was: statue, gizmo – ever set any chord progression in motion?

“Is it because you have not yet learned to listen to it?” Zenn looked over and smiled at me.

How'd he do that, I thought, answering something I was only thinking?

= = = = = = =
To be continued...

posted by Dick Strawser

The novel, The Lost Chord, is a classical music appreciation comedy thriller completed in 2013, and is the sole supposedly intellectual property of its author, Richard Alan Strawser.
© 2014

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Lost Chord: Chapter 24

The Lost Chord

(a classical music appreciation comedy thriller by Richard Alan Strawser: you can read it from the beginning, here.)

In the previous installment, Garth Widor discovers he has accidentally recorded a SHMRG board meeting. As Security Dispatcher Preston Agitato tracks down Widor's stolen van and the whereabouts of reporter Fictitia LaMouche, Skripasha Scricci wants the bitch eliminated. Once Cameron decides to toss the stolen van's GPS unit onto a truck heading in the opposite direction, Agitato then realizes the van seems to be heading north while Fictitia is now heading south.

= = = = = = =
Chapter 24

We were now southbound on the B-23, eventually taking us to Garmisch-Partenkirchen and, one way or another, our next destination, a bit unsettling not knowing who we’re meeting or what we’d find. Cameron, who confessed he watched too many high-tech police shows on television, worried if anyone could track LauraLynn’s phone. The question was, did Schweinwald security have access to such sophisticated technology? It would seem, on the whole, doubtful. The IMP, however, was an unknown quantity with who knew what resources.

Clearly the murderer – that is, the guy we alleged was Rob’s murderer – had access to LauraLynn’s private phone number but if he had stolen Rob’s phone, that much would be understandable. But beyond that, could he gain access to her phone’s GPS system to monitor her whereabouts, pin-pointing her location?

After some discussion, we chose not to respond to the killer’s text afraid to activate some connection between their phones, and LauraLynn shut her phone off, tucking it away in her purse. Fidgeting for lack of anything that would help us occupy the time, once again she pulled out the artifact.

“This music that’s written along the length of the spine,” she said, running down the back with her finger, “doesn’t look like any piece of music I can make sense of.”

Looking for something to do, I’d carefully taken out the old journal before I admitted basically the same thing, dealing with page after page of code, all of it written backwards, like some kind of mirror writing, all capitals, with perfectly straight margins, then superimposing some kind of substitution code.

“That’s easy,” LauraLynn said, “Heidi told me,” turning back to the first page where it suddenly turned into gibberish. “She said it’s probably a substitution code using the alphabet in retrograde.”

Suddenly, she raised her hand to her mouth after a sharp gasp. “Oh, my God, poor Heidi!” she sighed. “Here, I’ve completely forgotten all about her – I wonder if she’s okay...”

The last she’d seen her was right before that monster showed up, she explained as she sat back, sobbing.

Forging ahead, hoping it might take her mind off an unfortunate situation, I read over these last words in English, from the bottom of the one page before turning to the next, a passage concerning some argument “holding a mirror to Brahms and Mahler” before switching over the page-turn to code.

Grabbing a pen and paper then reading backwards from the inside margin, I quickly jotted down


Then underneath it, writing it out as LauraLynn watched,


“See, Brahms and Mahler are both six-letter names,” I showed her, “and both include letters AH, M and R. The two names in code contain the letters XQ, L and G. That means B becomes W in the code, and AH becomes XQ – M and R become L and G.”

So after I wrote out the complete alphabet in a single line, placing letters from the code underneath their equivalents, I soon realized, considering A=X, it was the alphabet in retrograde.


With the help of my little cheat-sheet, I was slowly able to translate the first sentence into plausible English:

...that I should proceed cautiously, holding a mirror to Brahms and Mahler before finding myself reflected in its circumstances: if in fact Gutknaben had been murdered, was I also in danger?

There was a bit of a stunned silence after we realized this was not, as everyone imagined, a holiday journal, an account of Harrison Harty’s summer studying at a once-prestigious music school.

Generations of Hartys had assumed all this code was some childhood conceit, like a secret club allowing no admittance. Even if we had read it that summer long ago in Maine, hiding up in the attic with Rob, it might have seemed no more than a student’s tale of adventure.

Frankly, if I'd read it only a month ago, I would've assumed it was the product of his imagination, a young man caught up in a strange place without any friends. But now, given our own recent experiences, I questioned the convenient theory it was only an attempt at fiction.

If in fact old Great-Grandpa Harry had suddenly found himself in danger, wouldn’t this change the family’s impression of him? If he was just telling a story, why write it in code? What was this talk of murder about: what did this Gutknaben know and why was it worth killing for?

Having stumbled ourselves into something by accident, something putting us in danger, I thought each of us could relate, asking the same questions and wondering if our quest wasn’t somehow connected?

“You think the killer’s after the journal because it contains some information about whatever Great-Grandpa Harry had become involved in?” LauraLynn sounded less skeptical than she might have a few hours ago.

“Guys,” Cameron said, apologizing for the interruption, “but we’re approaching the switchback that guy, Rob's friend, warned us about?”

“If Rob had been killed because of something he knew,” I suggested, thinking of any possible motives we’d considered, “maybe now the killer’s going after us, thinking we know it, too.”

I closed the journal, putting it away, apologizing that I was getting motion sickness, if nerves weren’t bad enough, reading in a car something that often bothered me ever since childhood.

“Fasten your seatbelts,” Cameron warned us, “it’s going to be a bumpy ride. No,” he added, “I mean literally.”

While I was busy, we had been driving down an Alpine valley, passing through Oberammergau with its beautifully hand-painted homes, a quaint village that under normal circumstances I would love to explore. I wondered if the Passion Playhouse would be visible from the road but ended up forgetting all about it.

There were warning signs full of curvy lines indicated a steep switchback made more dangerous by a recent rock-slide, probably within the past half-hour, considering the men swarming over the road.

One of them stepped forward, a big burly guy with a beard, flagging us down for a friendly warning, saying the road was open but littered with smaller rocks and debris.

“Ja,” he laughed, nodding vigorously, then pointing toward the first sharp turn, “so don’t go speeding, it’s no raceway.”

While others finished pushing one last large rock out of the way, he asked us politely where we were headed. Perhaps he figured he had to make pleasant conversation with the tourists.

“Garmisch,” Cameron started before I joined in, saying we’d need to find a hotel if it wasn’t too late.

“Late?” He started laughing again. “In Garmisch, it is never late, ja?”

“Well, that’s good to know,” I said.

“Ah, here, now they’re done: go ahead,” he said, “but be careful.”

Careful sounded like a pretty good idea as the man slapped his hand across the back of the van. Pretty soon, I lost track how many of these turns we made. Each time, whatever was rolling around in the back of the van kept hitting one side, then the other.

Eventually we made it down into the valley and through the tunnel and called the number Drummoyne gave me. Relieved to hear from us, the man gave us the last directions.

Through Garmish and along the Loisach River, we found the various Pfeifferings and the road leading up the mountain. Leverkühnweg also made several winding turns, twisting up through ominously dark pines.

“Chalet,” I said, looking up somewhat stupefied. “It’s more like a fortress!”

“Yeah, right out of the Middle Ages…”

Even in the shadows of the moonlight, it was an imposing edifice, a pile of dark stones, gates and turrets that rose up out of the rocks once you reached the peak. The place, admittedly, gave me the creeps, thinking about writing music, here. Was there a dungeon in the basement?

To live in your very own castle, isolated on an alpine mountaintop: who wouldn’t want to be left undisturbed? But I had to ask, standing there in awe, for what purpose?

Perhaps he’s the big boss, the Maestro, and D’Arcy is his minion. Perhaps he controls Dhabbodhú and the IMP. And yet, here we are, delivering the secret into his very hands.

We could stroll through these doors and never be heard from again, walking right into a carefully laid trap.

“Hello?” I called out, unable to find a doorbell in the shadows.

“Ah, good, you’re here already… hold on, uhm…”

A familiar pale, egg-shell voice must be coming from some unseen intercom.

Slowly the heavy wooden gate creaked open and there was the familiar face of the soon-to-be centenarian, Howard Zenn.

“You’d better hurry: we haven’t much time,” he said, letting us in.

I assumed the obvious, given his age.

“I'd been thinking about going downtown to the bars,” he continued, smiling.

= = = = = = =
To be continued...

posted by Dick Strawser

The novel, The Lost Chord, is a classical music appreciation comedy thriller completed in 2013, and is the sole supposedly intellectual property of its author, Richard Alan Strawser.
© 2014

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Lost Chord: Chapter 23

The Lost Chord

(a classical music appreciation comedy thriller by Richard Alan Strawser: you can read it from the beginning, here.)

In the previous installment, IMP Special Forces Director Leahy-Hu has begun her interrogation of V.C. D'Arcy and proceeds to show him something, asking him if he recognizes anyone in a video stored on an old phone. Meanwhile, at the old castle, Tr'iTone has eliminated one intruder, Schweinwald Board President Barry Scarpia, but is concerned about the delays if, tonight, he is to become Beethoven's Heir.

= = = = = = =
Chapter 23

The monthly board meeting had long been scheduled for SHMRG’s London headquarters well before the regrettable demise of Robertson Sullivan, Garth Widor arriving in the UK the day after that unfortunate event, but N. Ron Steele, typically punctual, preferred having everything neat and tidy: very little was ever left to chance. Everyone gathered in their corporate inner sanctum, unconcerned at hearing the news since he wasn’t, technically, one of “theirs,” which didn’t mean, however, such news might not appear on their agenda.

The room, spacious and grand as if other people might see their accommodations and would need to be impressed, was a masterpiece of ostentation, huge floral arrangements on the fireplace mantel, and a vast table artfully crafted from the trunk of a single tree of some exotic, nearly extinct species.

They started by going around the table to cover the usual business, starting with Holly Burton’s reading of the minutes from their last meeting held in New York over a month ago. Without comment, Steele moved on directly to the matter of new business, introducing two on-going projects involving their guests.

Barry Scarpia, also the recently elected Board President at the Schweinwald Festival, introduced agents Kunegunde Nacht and Heller Rache, long-time SHMRG operatives recently hired to infiltrate Schweinwald’s understaffed Festival Security Force.

Widor was uncomfortable in what he considered these formal situations, constantly fidgeting. A man who worked with his hands, he kept quietly toying with his cell-phone to keep his nerves calm.

“Mr. Widor,” Amanda Hackett chirped, “I hope you’re not tweeting the meeting?”

They laughed as Widor, rather uncharacteristically, blushed.

The mere mention of tweeting was enough to make Scricci’s skin crawl, retrieving unfortunate associations with landing in prison. To this day, he could barely keep himself under control using Facebook.

For the rest of the board members’ benefit, Hackett introduced Skripasha Scricci, the new director for the MP³ Project, without any mention of his recent release from prison on drug charges. He politely nodded around the table in response to these brief comments, followed by a polite round of congratulations.

Officially called “Marketing Prodigies Making Performance Music Popular,” the MP³ Project, he explained, would identify and train flashy young virtuosos then push them on orchestras as the much anticipated Next Big Thing, convincing managements they couldn’t succeed without them on their under-performing subscription series in their quest to increase ticket sales.

Considering these prodigies were likely to burn out before they were 18, there would always be fresh new talent ready to appease an audience quick to grow tired of familiar faces.

It had, after all, happened to him, washed up at 19 before reinventing himself as a cross-over “rock goddess” before that unfortunate business with a stalker who tweeted those compromising photos.

Looking at it that way, MP³ wasn’t very different from dealing drugs – more practical experience he could point to.

Rumor had it his time in the criminal justice system had been greatly reduced by SHMRG’s lawyers on some technicality to a mere three months despite the severity of the accumulated charges. If those damning photographs hadn’t been posted almost instantly on-line, no one would have ever known what was happening.

At first, Scricci figured it had been that new courier getting caught, running off with all of the evidence. But if he ever caught that reporter posting those photos – look out…

Barry Scarpia had been a reliable, hard-working board member in good standing for most of the past decade at SHMRG, his initial reputation for relentlessly pursuing the Big Picture issues still intact, doubtless better than any of the younger, usually less experienced board members who might be distracted by short-term gains. Widor knew no one on the board was more loyal than Scarpia with his feudal dedication to the cause though, realistically, he also knew such loyalty was traditionally not above suspicion.

He certainly appreciated Scarpia with his reputation for being a smooth operator, how it sometimes got in his way, especially when it came to his unfortunately well-documented weakness for younger women. Still, few on this board could arrange for the “neutralization” of opposition as effortlessly as Scarpia made them disappear.

Garth Widor felt uncomfortable, glancing around the room, bored with the proceedings, and wondered how these new phone apps worked, reminiscing how he’d been with Steele longer than any of these guys. First, he’d been some kind of family handyman, good at picking locks, then a combination childhood nanny and bodyguard. He had always been close to Ronny – “Mr. Steele,” he corrected himself, “even when he called me Ms. Poppins” – as close as one could ever get to so heartless a child.

Scarpia drew him out of his reverie with a slightly impatient cough. It was clear he’d been caught daydreaming. With a cautiously raised eyebrow, Scarpia asked if his report was ready.

Widor looked up, stopped fidgeting and put the phone down beside him, taking a deep breath before he began.

He explained an opponent had successfully been taken out, his data compromised and a sought-after object likewise successfully retrieved. Given the regrettable failure of its impact, he would implement Phase 2.

“And this was all done according to plan,” Scarpia, his supervisor, asked.

Widor took another deep breath. “It was.”

Picking up his phone, Widor checked it as Steele suggested moving along.

“Crap,” he realized, slipping it into his pocket as surreptitiously as possible, “I think the damn thing was recording…”

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *

It was bad enough Widor’s van was stolen out from under him, he'd been delayed in reporting it because he’d “misplaced” his recently replaced phone which he assumed was in his van and – can he get any more incompetent? – he was having trouble finding Agitato’s secure line in his back-up mobile.

Whatever happened to Ms. Harty, Agitato needed to eavesdrop on the IMP, find out if they knew her whereabouts: Agitato realized he cannot risk allowing them the opportunity to rescue her.

In the midst of everything else, now, Agitato had to divert two trusted SHMRG agents from Operation Eternal Feminine because he also couldn’t risk turning this over to Schweinwald Festival Security. However Scarpia’s latest stalking victim was involved – much less wherever he was – he didn’t want to alert local police.

Kunegunde Nacht could barely conceal her amusement as Agitato tried to explain Widor’s immediate plight about his various stolen items, and how he required her and Rache to drop the Eternal Feminine to retrieve the van, its contents intact, so Widor could finish planting all the necessary bombs for Operation Hell-Trap.

By the time Agitato sent the necessary codes to their own phones, Rache commandeered one of the Festspielhaus cruisers.

Agitato no sooner hung up from her than his phone rang again.

Beginning in the middle of a sentence, as if expecting Agitato to immediately recognize him, instantly following his thoughts, the voice went from incoherence to – considering it’s a private SHMRG line – minor confusion, Agitato sorting it out when the guy mentioned on-line photos, the ones that helped put him away.

Scricci explained tracking down Fictitia’s twitter account, reading one posted from Schweinwald about needing help, how she’s been kidnapped.

Then that means, Agitato realized, Fictitia wasn’t the one stealing the van.

Agitato was trying to figure out if LauraLynn Harty stole the van and why she’d kidnap an on-line journalist while Scricci, growling into the phone, did his best to sound authoritative.

“I want that bitch eliminated, Agitato, okay?”

“Which bitch is that, Scricci?”

“What other bitch is there?” he screamed.

Agitato noticed Lott and Martineau were already coming back from their break, so he minimized several windows on his computer.

“Maybe they’ll think I was checking out porn sites,” he told himself.

After hanging up from listening to Scricci, he wanted to call Nacht but that would have to wait, now.

He’d figured Widor’s wayward van should have about a thirty-five mile lead depending on whether Fictitia made any stops. A security cruiser, lights flashing, would make good time on the Autobahn.

Aida Lott had indeed noticed Agitato closing windows and pocketing a phone and found it suspicious given the timing, but she didn’t think on-line phone sex was what grabbed his attention. She had caught the tail end of his conversation about “some bitch” and figured she’d keep her ears open.

Later, Martineau got the call from back-stage: the final bows were underway, no further incidents to be reported from there. Lott alerted her agents to stand by once the theater began emptying.

Officer Nacht called Agitato on Schweinwald's radio frequency and said their perp was preparing to exit onto the B-17.

“Roger, that.”

So where were they headed? North took them to Augsburg and also to a connection toward Munich. South took them toward King Ludwig’s castles and, ultimately, the Austrian border.

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *

“What do you mean, it’s Rob’s killer! How did he get my phone number?” LauraLynn sounded both incredulous and frightened.

We worked our way through the food Cameron got at the restaurant.

Reminding her about the texts from Rob’s phone shortly after we arrived, I was sure the killer was Dhabbodhú.

“Right, the guy from the Benninghurst dinner,” LauraLynn acknowledged, recalling his appearance.

“Does he resemble your guy from tonight?”

She sat back and closed her eyes, startled by the unwelcome memory.

“You think Girdlestone is the same guy as Dhabbodhú?” She shivered uncomfortably. “I mean, they’re both big, nasty guys.”

“Well, I can’t be sure, but you said Girdlestone called you, right?”

“Yes, a few times, maybe, but it wasn’t coming from Rob’s phone.”

“Maybe he used a different phone, then.”

“Oh, my God!” she screamed, dropping her phone like it was infected. “Then, Rob’s killer tried to kill me tonight?”

“They’re both clearly after something,” Cameron said, nodding over at my tote-bag.

“Dhabbodhú wants the Maltese Mozart,” I said, “and Girdlestone’s after the journal: two identities, one person after some fountain.”

“So,” Cameron wondered, “if the guy BandanaMan fell in the plaza fountain, that must not be the fountain, then.”

“But is he looking for a fountain,” LauraLynn asked, “with magical properties?”

“Man’s always wanted the quick fix for everything,” I explained, “a pill that would miraculously cure his disease instantaneously or make him lose weight without dieting, eliminating all the hard work.”

“Or like the Fountain of Youth – everybody wants to stay young,” Cameron said, “though I think that’s highly overrated.”

LauraLynn remembered, first living on her own, how she’d wanted some genie that would do the housework for her, something I thought would be a waste of a perfectly good genie.

“Or maybe some lightening-speed special transport that would get us to Garmisch without having to drive for two hours.” Cameron reminded me he’d need additional directions, noticing the intersection up ahead.

LauraLynn asked, “do you think the killer’s tracking us through my phone?” but I wasn’t sure how he could.

“Okay, how do I enter Garmsich into this GPS unit?” I asked. “I’ve never done this before,” examining it quizzically.

“Luddite! Let me do it,” LauraLynn said, leaning forward, tapping some keys.

“Wait a minute,” Cameron said, looking over at us with considerable excitement. Food had clearly helped revive his spirit.

He explained the killer could follow us, figuring out our exact whereabouts, through the GPS unit in LauraLynn’s phone.

“I’d be more concerned about the police tracking down a stolen van.”

“Exactly,” Cameron said, almost shouting, “the van’s GPS unit, not your phone’s!”

“Should we turn it off?” she wondered.

“Better yet!” Cameron leaned forward, yanking it out of its dashboard holder.

“Toss it out on the highway, then,” I suggested, “let the cars behind us drive over and smash it.”

“No,” Cameron said, “let’s throw it onto that pick-up truck there, instead.”

A clunky-looking beat-up red truck sped toward us.

“With any luck, I can make it across the center lane and...”

He heaved it over the median and watched it arc across into the back of the truck.

“Bull’s eye!”

LauraLynn laughed. “So now they’ll think we’re traveling north instead of south!”

“Those hours of basketball practice weren’t wasted!”

“Great idea, Cameron,” I said, “glad I made you think of it!”

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *

“This is so weird,” he thought, trying to keep from doing anything that might look suspicious and attract Lott’s attention.

Preston Agitato continued sitting at his desk, eyes on his computer monitor.

He felt he’d been watching a race as the gap tightened between the Schweinwald cruiser and Widor’s stolen van.

What was really strange was how everything had gotten so very quiet since the second bomb had gone off, what with that strange creature and then hearing Heidi Gedankgesang’s gone missing.

But now the opera was over, people streaming out of the Festspielhaus, everyone on alert looking for anything suspicious. Martineau returned to her station, checking the security cams for the professor. At least it kept everybody occupied so nobody noticed what he’s doing, given the security force’s inability to multi-task.

More to the point, Agitato wondered about Scarpia’s unexplained “assignation” with Fictitia, whoever this woman was, out at the castle. He knew how Scarpia often labeled many of his conquests as “informants.” But she’s a reporter, possibly working undercover – he chuckled: “under the covers” – so maybe it was legitimate.

“Yeah, right...”

Or did he abduct her, for some reason, steal the van – did he know it was Widor’s? And why…?

Suddenly, he lost signal from Scarpia’s phone.

“That wasn’t a weak battery...”

Kunegunde tried to sound nonchalant despite the high speed of their chase, her report carefully worded as she reported back even if the dispatcher had carefully transferred her onto a unique frequency. That didn’t mean anyone couldn’t still listen in on their private line: they just needed to go find it.

“The perp had just gotten off 472, now heading northbound on B-17. We’re approximately five kilometers behind,” she added.

So far, so good, and no one had interrupted them, wanting explanations.

Busily following conversations of officers keeping their collective eyes open for trouble and finding nothing of significance to report, Agitato was having his own trouble multi-tasking when he noticed something odd.

“Wait, if the van is heading north,” Agitato wondered, watching his monitor, “why is Fictitia’s phone now heading south?”

= = = = = = =
To be continued...

posted by Dick Strawser

The novel, The Lost Chord, is a classical music appreciation comedy thriller completed in 2013, and is the sole supposedly intellectual property of its author, Richard Alan Strawser.
© 2014

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Lost Chord: Chapter 22

The Lost Chord

(a classical music appreciation comedy thriller by Richard Alan Strawser: you can read it from the beginning, here.)

In the previous installment, Kerr, Cameron and LauraLynn are on their way to a mysterious rendezvous in a stolen van when Rob's killer tries to contact them on LauraLynn's phone. Fictitia, meanwhile, discovers that the van she had crawled into to avoid the police after not one but two bomb blasts at the Festspielhaus is on the road and makes an ominous discovery just as she's knocked unconscious. The dispatcher for Schweinwald Security (who happens also to be a SHMRG agent) also makes an ominous discovery.

= = = = = = =
Chapter 22

So far, the evening had not been going well, Chief Director of Special Forces Yoda Leahy-Hu contemplated with mounting annoyance, as she strutted around trying to intimidate Schweinwald’s Acting Director V.C. D’Arcy. There was little to build a serious case against him, she knew, but she might find him useful, nonetheless. She knew SHMRG was up to something, had been for some time, and that it involved two recent murders. What she didn't know was the role Professor Kerr played in it.

Was that some priceless artifact Kerr stole and could he be charged with theft under the International Antiquities Law? Could she charge D'Arcy as an accessory beyond obstructing an IMP investigation? Could this item he allegedly stole from Director Sullivan's office have any bearing on the case she was investigating?

If Kerr had stolen something that could prove significant in solving this case, it shouldn’t fall into the wrong hands: it must have been valuable or they wouldn’t have bolted like that.

Whatever it was, did it possess something that might prove significant to SHMRG and help further their long-range schemes? And while D’Arcy had become the consolation prize in the evening’s activities, he might know enough to be useful. What roles did that boy and the woman play, proving so elusive?

It was times like this, recalling her grandmother, she longed to possess even one of those ancient magical powers ascribed to some cartoonish movie character people assumed she was named for (little did they understand that Yoda was an ancient and honorable name in her ancestors' village in central China). So what if, like many Asian women, she was short in build? Her estimable grandmother had been a powerful figure despite her 5'2'' stature, considered comparatively tall in her native village.

"Because I am old and short and do not appear to match your Western concepts of beauty," she thought, "and because my name is that of a famous imaginary movie character, you assume I must say things like 'because old and short I am, to my mind bend you will'?"

"So, Mr. D’Arcy," she began courteously enough after an intentionally uncomfortable silence, "it seems we – as they say – meet again. Is there anything – even the slightest thing – you’d care to tell me?" She turned and looked up at him, realizing uncomfortably even sitting down he was still taller than she was.

"Perhaps you’d begin not at the beginning but with your involvement with a certain American professor-friend of Robertson Sullivan’s?" She thought this wasn't too unreasonable a demand as a conversational ice-breaker.

D’Arcy looked straight ahead, avoiding her directly, his chin up, lips pursed. She walked slowly around behind him, pausing. Suddenly, as if from nowhere, she appeared disconcertingly in front of him

"Or perhaps you’d start by telling us who was that lady we saw you with tonight, hmmm? Your wife?"

D’Arcy furrowed his brow noticeably, mostly at the bad attempt at levity relying on such an old, culturally iconic joke, still more than any kind of response he had cared to offer. Instead, he closed his eyes as if tired of the whole thing, hoping that this would all go away.

"That’s alright," she said, half-heartedly comforting him, "we know you’re not married," her tone leaving open many possible nuances. "It’s not so important we find out who she is, after all."

D’Arcy understood his primary function as prisoner, following his role as decoy, the closest thing he could consider a plan, was to delay his captors long enough to allow Kerr to escape. He could only imagine her extreme crankiness was the result of Kerr’s having somehow managed to do just that. But still, every minute he was able to forestall the inevitable meant Kerr would be that much farther away. The one thing he hoped for was that they find the answers.

Of course, he also knew he needed not to think so much about everything that needed to be done. He knew so little as it was, barely enough to be helpful. Unfortunately, it was obvious that Kerr knew even less than he did, one reason Kerr needed Sullivan's friend’s help.

And as he sensed this annoying imp orbiting like some loathsome gnat, he continued to worry that, everything logical aside, she would manage to read his mind and figure out their destination. What it was he would find there, D’Arcy had not an inkling: the statue, this "fountain" made no sense. He knew his only consolation, whatever she chose to do to him, was there was nothing he could tell. He had no idea where Kerr was much less what needed done.

"Once again, what we really need to know, Mr. D’Arcy," she continued, "is not so much who she is but rather what she, the young man and that professor are doing. We have placed you and the professor, at least, underneath the Festspielhaus stage at the time of the explosion."

She stopped to scrutinize his reaction but D’Arcy tried not to flinch. Lips pursed, she continued her steady orbiting.

"My agents said you threw a bomb at them," she added disapprovingly.

Despite claiming not to have all night, she was taking her time.

"The more time," D’Arcy thought, "the better."

She assumed D’Arcy felt the professor played no role in the bombing.

"We also know Kerr was present when Former Director Sullivan was murdered, yet you don’t think he’s a suspect?"

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *

It was bad enough things had not been going according to plan but now he had to deal with intruders getting in his way, distracting his concentration, disrupting the universe’s karmic energy. One more delay could lead to disaster and ruin years of preparation. Not tonight, not this of all nights.

“No time,” he growled, still dragging the body, “there is no time,” pulling it through the castle’s great hall, over the drawing room’s threshold just beyond the base of the steps.

The place was dimly lit, a single candle faintly illuminating one corner but light enough for him to see, his mind having attained a level of awareness powerfully enhancing his vision.

“No time,” he continued growling as he hoisted the interloper’s limp body and thrust him forcefully into a chair.

Cobwebs were everywhere and thick dust festooned them like glittering silver in the feeble glimmer of the room’s lone candle. Armchairs, old a century ago, were covered in tattered sheets like shrouds yet several end tables were piled with books as if recently abandoned, along with crystal goblets and exquisite carafes.

The hulk of a man, naked except for one leg of some diaphanous harem pants, looked about with alarm.

“There’s no time,” he told the corpse. “You will have to wait.”

What was this intruder doing, walking into the castle unannounced like that? Who was this dumpling he was expecting? Apparently not the person who greeted him, from the way he screamed. He fell to his knees with a single blow to the throat, a well-placed fist to the Adam’s apple.

It was the rapid twist to the neck, however, that killed him. Nobody would get in his way tonight. He leaned down and found the intruder’s wallet tucked in a pocket.

The hulk called himself Tr’iTone, after the interval of the augmented fourth, known throughout history as “Diabolus in Musica.” He always considered it a wonderful name, powerful but with unstable implications.

Nodding contentedly, he checked the man’s identification and learned his guest’s name.

“Mr. Scarpia, meet the Devil in Music!”

The fountain – he’d forgotten about the fountain!

“I’m running out of time!”

Robertson Sullivan had taunted him, bragged about it.

“Said he’d discovered its existence, that only the lucky ever find it.”

Where was the clue-filled artifact? What was hidden in Harrison Harty’s journal?

“But he had smirked, called me – unworthy!”

Many times he had tried to force Sullivan into giving it up but each time had been a failure. This time, it would have to work: he had planned it well.

It was tragic that, as he found Sullivan to demand the artifact, he also found Sullivan dead, clearly murdered. He’d grabbed the corpse by the lapels, frustrated he would never know.

“See no evil, then neither hear nor speak it,” he taunted him, drawing his knife across in quick gestures.

The problem was finding the fountain’s location, shrouded in time and myth, and Robertson Sullivan had known all about it. Why else had he come to Schweinwald? Yes, it must be here.

He had found the clues but couldn’t understand how to solve them. Yet he knew their importance, understanding intuitively.

Water from this fountain had the power, Tr’iTone roared, to turn him into The Greatest Composer Who Ever Lived.

“I would become even greater as – dare I consider it? – Beethoven's Heir!”

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *

"Mr. D’Arcy," Leahy-Hu began again, "I understand you're protecting Mr. Sullivan’s professor-friend but what I’m having trouble understanding is why." She once again commenced her slow and steady orbiting of D’Arcy’s chair.

The room was small enough as it was but with each rotation, D’Arcy felt it was gradually getting smaller.

He had this image of a spider, small but poised for power, able to take down prey considerably larger, twining her thread around him, patiently waiting, until he’d be completely immobilized.

"Though I can’t say if he’s aware of it himself or not, the professor is still considered a suspect," before adding, "so if you're withholding anything, you’ll be an accessory yourself."

"Yes," he thought, "a very persevering spider, ready to pounce, the bitch, and suck out my life’s last blood."

She saw herself as a magnificent lioness, a natural-born killing machine, efficient, stalking the prey she’d separated from the herd, now worrying it into submission before jumping in to administer the death-blow. Circling ever closer, she could sense his mounting fear, the psychological perspiration, disappointed he was weaker than she’d estimated.

This big man, so powerful and secure sitting in his front office, had clearly underestimated her power and cunning. Here, on her own terms, supremely confident, she almost felt like roaring.

"The IMP is investigating the murders of Robertson Sullivan and Franz-Dieter Zeitgeist." She noticed D’Arcy didn’t show any reaction. "So, I take it Zeitgeist’s murder is not exactly news to you?"

"No." He paused, waiting a moment before looking at her. "I’d heard. Dr. Kerr mentioned it earlier this evening."

"Ah." She seemed mildly surprised, stopping a bit before resuming her orbit. "Curiously, nobody outside the investigation knows that."

"He said that Rob – Mr. Sullivan – had told him, something he’d suspected."

"Why do you think Franz-Dieter Zeitgeist and Robertson Sullivan had been murdered?" She was inching closer to his face.

She pointed out the coincidental arrival of Professor Kerr and the bomb.

"What was it," she asked him, "that you helped him to find – and then," waving her hand, "to steal?"

D’Arcy began his slow and thought-out explanation, how he had met Dr. Kerr moments after he’d arrived at the hotel, how Kerr had at that moment started receiving texts from Sullivan’s phone, how almost simultaneously some guy Kerr thought might be the suspect Dhabbodhú created a scene falling in the fountain.

"Who precisely is this Dhabbodhú you mention?" She was definitely all ears.

"Someone acting suspiciously before Sullivan was murdered."

"In Pennsylvania – someone who now shows up as Kerr arrives in Germany?"

"Look," D’Arcy argued, beginning to sound defensive, "Kerr never left my side until your three agents captured me backstage. He couldn’t have sent himself those texts, much less set the bomb."

He didn’t mention he’d found this artifact, something dubbed the Maltese Mozart, something overlooked by others in previous break-ins.

"Dr. Kerr is nothing more, sir, than an ill-conceived smoke-screen," Leahy-Hu added, stamping her foot on the floor for emphasis. "Yet he seems to have stolen something potentially crucial to my investigation."

Texts sent from a dead man's phone, a mysterious character lurking about: clearly somebody's after something Kerr may have.

"It's probably safe to say Kerr's bumbled into something he shouldn't have."

What is the professor's role in SHMRG?

"Mr. D’Arcy, perhaps this will enlighten you: let me show you something."

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *

Even from the all-enclosing, all-comforting hiding space in the castle’s secret passageways, Lionel Roth could see and hear practically everything, what it was his friend did to the man in the tux, what he was raving about some fountain he needed to find and about what it would do for him. What he had heard him muttering about the death of Robertson Sullivan was what upset and concerned him most, wondering how he could possibly stay here and remain safe from harm.

A half-hour later, the hulk, completely naked, returned to the drawing room, carefully going through the dead man’s clothing, snarling at the things he was finding, piling them on the table.

A cell-phone dropped out of Scarpia’s pocket and skittered across the floor, coming dangerously close to where Lionel hid.

Tr’iTone glanced down, his eyebrows arching inquisitively: it bounced from the wall before coming to rest in front of him. The casing had cracked from the impact, and then it started buzzing.

Lionel froze, realizing he was only a few feet from the phone. He needed to get away from here.

Crushing the phone beneath his bare foot, not surprisingly Tr’iTone never flinched.

“You outmoded, unfashionable piece of ineffectual dreck…”

The naked man looked up as Lionel shrank further into the shadows.

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *

Leahy-Hu reached in and pulled a phone from her inside coat pocket – not the same phone she’d been using earlier, but an older, dingier-looking, considerably cheaper model, one long obsolete and out-of-fashion.

She explained Zeitgeist and Sullivan had been murdered by the same killer acting on behalf of a particular agency.

"And you, I suspect," she added, looking up with a wistful smile, "may very well be in danger, too."

With that, she unfolded the phone and did a brief file search.

"I must apologize for the grainy quality of this video, I’m afraid, but it's not your standard surveillance camera."

She held the phone up to him, adjusting its position for him.

"Mr. D’Arcy, please take a very close look at this, will you? Do you recognize anyone in this video?"

= = = = = = =
To be continued...

posted by Dick Strawser

The novel, The Lost Chord, is a classical music appreciation comedy thriller completed in 2013, and is the sole supposedly intellectual property of its author, Richard Alan Strawser.
© 2014