Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Lost Chord: Chapter 11

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, Lionel Roth checks out his room at the old Schweinwald Castle and confronts past memories, especially the time he met Dhabbodhú. LauraLynn, meanwhile, confronts something else entirely in the basement of the Schweinwald Festspielhaus as Fictitia attends the opera with Scarpia and begins texting with a fan. D'Arcy and Kerr find what they hope is refuge in the Festspielhaus scene shop and make an interesting discovery, an inscription on the Mozart 'gizmo' that reads "From the heart, may it go to the heart."

= = = = = = =


Escorted by two new uniformed agents in their futuristic military gear – the others resuming the chase – Cameron marched silently along, given a wide berth by what wide-eyed passers-by the little entourage encountered. His stomach growled in indignant protest over his now confiscated butterscotch crumpet, so close but yet indeed so far. Undoubtedly, he was being regarded as a dangerous terrorist finally in custody. Excessive treatment, he thought, for stopping at a vending machine: was it enough to gain Dr. Kerr some time?

They trooped down long, seemingly aimless corridors and through panels of doorways, turning around corners leading to more corridors and panels of doorways like they somehow knew where they were going, none of this looking even vaguely familiar considering the route he and Dr. Kerr had dashed through minutes before.

Eventually, they reached a bank of elevators and waited several minutes before it opened onto the edge of the lobby, not far from that ancient door with the Ricercar clue on it. There was a sharp gasp as many of those streaming toward the staircase stepped back, making room for them.

Down another hallway, through more banks of doorways and around similar corners, Cameron shortly found himself being pushed outside, met by more plainly dressed security guards and the ominous-looking Yoda Leahy-Hu.

With equal ominousness, Director Leahy-Hu dismissed her agents with a curt nod and, turning with precision, they disappeared inside. Captain Schäufel took Cameron roughly by the arm and marched him forward. Some minutes later, they reached a trailer on the edge of the back parking lot, Festspielhaus Security’s temporary headquarters.

Leahy-Hu was disturbed by the cramped quarters compounded by the presence of several IMP agents assisting on the case. Worse, having no space available for interrogations left only the single restroom.

With little ceremony, she pointed the way, then, nodding, followed him in, courteously inviting her prisoner to sit down. With even less ceremony, Cameron lowered the toilet seat and sat down. Even without the presence of seat belts, he was pretty confident this was going to be a bumpy ride.

After ascertaining his full name and why, basically, he was in Germany, Director Leahy-Hu took a breath before beginning. Giving Cameron a moment to gather his thoughts and steel his courage, she leaned so close he noticed how her hastily applied lipstick bled into the cracks and wrinkles around her lips.

“Why, exactly,” she wanted to know, “did you bolt from the former director’s office, despite being told to stop?” Her voice was eerie as it creaked, an old man’s smoke-ravaged voice.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I guess I was scared, kind of.”

“Kind of?” She cocked her head inquisitively.

Cameron shrugged his shoulders unconvincingly.

Just then, someone tried the restroom door.

“I’m holding an interrogation, here,” she announced.

“Yes, sir,” the voice said, “whatever you want to call it, sir.”

She carefully lit a cigarette. “Please, hand me your phone, Mr. Pierce.”

Cameron, looking at the floor, shook his head.

“Is there a reason, Mr. Pierce, you’re unable to follow direct orders?”

Leahy-Hu leaned in a little closer, leaving Cameron nowhere to back up. Again, he looked down, shaking his head.

Cameron winced. Her breath was really sour, turning his stomach.

“I’d loaned it to Dr. Kerr – he has it.”

“Ah, then in that case, could you give me your phone number?”

Cameron tried sitting back in resolute defiance but it was impossible to appear dignified while sitting on a public toilet: the best he could do was to scowl and look mildly petulant. Being a college student it was something that came natural to him, hoping it might buy him some time.

Leahy-Hu, however, wasn’t rising to the bait, staring at him, occasionally tucking back a stray wisp of gray hair. She waited patiently then, nodding deferentially, excused herself and left the room.

Now, it seemed, he had plenty of time but no real ideas. Since there was no plan, he knew nothing about what was going on, at least in any real sense. Would what little he did know jeopardize whatever Dr. Kerr was doing, now apparently up against Dr. Sullivan’s killer?

He weighed the pros and cons but nothing clear managed to present itself, no spontaneous solution, no great clarifying epiphany when suddenly he heard soft music, quietly, almost stealthily pervading the room. It took only three seconds before he was able to recognize it once they’d managed to adjust the volume.

“The cads,” he sighed. “It’s Pachelbel’s Canon…” Things were looking very bleak. “They probably set it on continuous play.”

He wondered if the mirror over the sink was really one-way glass.

Cameron sat there, brooding, wondering how long before they broke him down. Could he continue playing their dastardly game? The longer he lasted, the more time Dr. Kerr had to escape.

Time passed and he lost count how many repetitions he had endured.

Finally, he gave in when Leahy-Hu returned.

Cameron gave her his cell-phone number, knowing Dr. Kerr would be unlikely to answer it when they called him.

“Thank you,” she said, tucking another strand of hair behind her ear.

With that, she smiled then turned once again to leave the room, calling back to him, “Wait here, please.”

Where’d he go in a room without windows, only a ventilation grate?

“I'm hardly that desperate I’d flush myself down the toilet.”

Then, remembering that smile, he added, “or am I?”

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

“What’s that have to do with Mozart,” I asked, breath still gasping, thinking “what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.” I ran my fingers around the medallion delicately painted onto Mozart’s breast-pocket. From the Heart, May It Go to the Heart, however, was the dedication Beethoven inscribed on his Missa solemnis.

“This is no time to go all musicological on me,” D’Arcy advised, whispering as if someone nearby could hear. “If this is what I think it is, there are clues that…”

He was about to continue when we heard someone try the door. He turned the light off and waited, then he picked up the artifact and headed deeper into the gloom.

“Clues to what,” I asked, still trying to keep up with him.

“That’s what I’m hoping you might know.”

“Wait, you’ve seen this before?” I had bumped into a workbench and stopped a moment to rub my aching hip.

“No, let’s say I’ve heard about it – I’ve never actually seen it.”

There wasn’t time to think much about anything, as he moved off to the left, leading me after him. God forbid anything should happen to him and I needed to find my way out of here by myself. After making so many turns, we were like rats in a maze.

If we were looking for a safe place to hide and regroup, this one seemed as good as any, and I could go for a chance to rest up a bit. It was difficult to get my bearings, but I assumed this was the middle of a large, crowded space.

“It’s called Niebelheim, a sound-proofed area around the scene shop,” D’Arcy said. “We’re headed toward the set storage area.”

Large flats loomed over us on either side, creating numerous hidden passageways.

“Many of these, I think, are being built for the new opera. Seems appropriate we should find ourselves here.” Handing me the artifact, D’Arcy suggested I put it in the tote-bag.

I went from being a rat in a maze to Peer Gynt trying to evade the mountain king’s trolls.

“So,” I said, carefully placing the Maltese Mozart back in my tote-bag, “do you have any particular plan in mind?”

“We’re going to go ahead with what he’d already completed,” D’Arcy began.

“That’s fine,” I interrupted him, “but I was thinking something more short term, like getting out of here alive?”

“Oh, that, right… Well, uhm…” He looked around and shook his head. “No, not really,” he eventually concluded. “You?”

“I just got here and that was basically to attend the festival.”

Then it occurred to me: wait, he doesn’t know, yet, does he, about the CD with the final score? I’d asked the police to keep it out of their final report.

He’d only know the computer was destroyed – the score, presumably, with it.

Just then, something else occurred to me.

It seemed very logical to me Rob would’ve made a copy of his sketches even before he finished the orchestration, so I suggested we tell people we’re looking for this back-up CD.

“It’d certainly draw out whoever’s trying to stop the premiere,” I said. “We’ll announce it tomorrow at the memorial.”

“But you don’t know for sure if there is a back-up disc?”

“No,” I lied, “I’m only assuming that.”

“Could the artifact lead us to where he’s hidden a back-up disc…?”

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

Mercifully, the music stopped abruptly and Cameron was left alone for what felt like several minutes, possibly longer, probably less. Unlike many people facing long periods of enforced silence, Cameron enjoyed them. He thought about where Dr. Kerr was, how far he’d gotten once those agents were no longer following him.

He worried about the safety of his phone. “It was expensive, too. I hope he doesn't accidentally damage it.”

How much longer would the others wait without access to their bathroom?

Eventually, Leahy-Hu returned, officiously thumbing her way through a rather lean file, looking up at him briefly with an awkwardly wistful smile before dealing with another strand of hair gone awry, an expression she had assumed might be found comforting but which Cameron took as just the opposite.

“(Soooo creepy.)”

She asked about his being present when Robertson Sullivan’s body was discovered and why they found this “BandanaMan” so interesting.

He shrugged his shoulders and said “I was there. I’ve no idea.”

“Fine,” she said, carefully setting the file down on the edge of the sink, “have it your way, then.”

It was difficult but she found room to pace back and forth.

“You were seen talking to a young woman dressed in Gothic fashion. We’ll verify that, check your Facebook page...”

When Cameron failed to respond, she stopped right in front of him, squinting at him with a malevolent expression.

“Hah,” he thought, “even sitting down I’m still taller than she is…”

She leaned in closer and hissed, “we have ways of making you talk, you know!” Her eyes glared balefully.

When Cameron tried not to wince, she chuckled and sauntered away from him. “I’ve always wanted to say that…”

She said they knew there’s more behind Dr. Kerr’s being in Germany.

“So, what was it he found in Sullivan’s office? What was in the tote-bag when you fled the room?”

There was a knock at the door, probably one of her agents.

“That phone number, boss? Got a signal…”

“Excellent, thank you,” she said, facing Cameron with a slightly triumphant smile.


Leahy-Hu stopped and winced, looking at Cameron. “Excuse me, Mr. Pierce?”

“I mean, I have to use the bathroom – would you mind?” He pretended he was only trying to be polite.

It annoyed him how they’d used his phone to locate Dr. Kerr. He’d forgotten all about the GPS function.

“Certainly,” Leahy-Hu responded with equal politeness, turning to leave. “I'll wait outside. Let me know when the paperwork's done.” Suddenly, a whole nimbus of stray wisps of hair required her attention.

If nothing else, he needed time to think or, barring any ideas even remotely useful, at least to stall. Speaking of stall, it would’ve been nice to have a little privacy. He cautiously pulled his pants down and tried not to think about anyone possibly watching him through the mirror.

But what was there to be thinking about, what plans could he come up with, even if he could escape? He was unaware of any strategy Dr. Kerr may have already devised. Unfortunately, he found himself lacking the raw materials to patch anything together, like man creating art from almost nothing. Hungry for not having eaten since that brief stop on the train, especially having his snack-cake rudely taken away, he sat there feeling woefully, inadequately uncreative, coming up – not surprisingly – empty.

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

In the darkness, D’Arcy checked his phone the way people used to check their watches – furtively, to “see the time,” whatever that meant – then announced they’d be well into the first act. We sighed, both knowing what we’re missing, but I noticed he lingered over something – checking a message? – sighing again.

“Why do you think the Director of the IMPs would have showed up while we were in Rob’s office?” His question sounded more rhetorical than actual: nothing that I’d know, anyway.

He explained they were casually referred to as “IMPs” – like Navy SEALs – at least privately: it drove them wild.

“It was like she knew someone was there, that we’d uncovered something.”

“And we still have no idea what it is we have uncovered,” he said, “but it must be important.”

“Not that we’ve had time – or enough light – to figure that out,” I added, wondering what lurked in the shadows. “Not that more time or light would be a guarantee, mind you...”

All I’d come up with was more questions, starting with “Why me?” Somebody thinks I know an awful lot.

“So far, the killer expects me to help him find a fountain and I’m holding a statue of Mozart – at least, we assume it’s Mozart, since he’s obviously lost his head…”

“And a heavy little statue, for one made of porcelain,” D’Arcy added. “Did somebody clobber someone, breaking the head off?”

“Didn’t look like it was broken,” I said, getting it out again.

D’Arcy groped around to find a lamp. “We need more light than this – maybe there’s a flashlight around here.”

“This ‘artifact,’ as we’ve been calling it, must be significant to someone or else Rob wouldn’t have hidden it. But is it something both Franz-Dieter and Rob would’ve been killed for?”

“Are we even sure it’s Mozart, if that would make any difference?” D’Arcy sounded skeptical. “Couldn’t it be Beethoven?”

“But remember,” I added, “Rob hid it right behind the Mozart bust.”

“You have to wonder,” D’Arcy pointed out, “if the killer knows what it is – perhaps Leahy-Hu does, as well?”

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

The conference room was brightly lit that morning as he’d walked in, facing thirteen reporters and a rack of microphones, as intimidating as the first time he’d done this the month before. It’s not the sort of thing that would ever get any easier, publicly announcing the death of a colleague. Taking a deep breath, he looked around the room, scanning the faces, most of whom appeared passive and unconcerned, covering a story but curious about two sudden deaths (“rotten luck, that...”). He knew they already had the basics but it was his responsibility to give them the official version, the details. They just needed something they can quote under an eye-grabbing headline. “Director of Schweinwald Festival Found Murdered. Second to die in two months.” There wasn’t much more to tell them.

“I’m Virgil D’Arcy,” he began, “once again acting director here at Schweinwald, and” – slight pause – “sadly I come before you…” – (“wait,” he thought, “that didn’t sound right – would 'stand,' maybe, be better?”) – “to announce Robertson Sullivan, recently appointed successor to Franz-Dieter Zeitgeist who died just a month ago, has himself died.” He paused for the expected communal gasp but there was no sound, no pen moved to jot this down. (“No, of course, they already know this: just get on with it.”)

He continued, giving them what few details he knew which was not everything, mentioning that with an on-going investigation, the American police were understandably reluctant to reveal certain bits of information but, yes, he was murdered and Schweinwald would proceed with the festival and the premiere of his new opera. They didn’t know exactly if he’d completed the opera as he planned, at least nothing has yet been discovered, but they’re going ahead with what they have, even without the ending.

“It’s too early to tell if there’s enough to go on for someone else to complete it in time. Besides, early rehearsals are already underway, the sets and costumes nearly ready. Next month, then, Faustus, Inc. will join Moses und Aron, Turandot, and Lulu as operas premiered as incomplete works.”

D’Arcy avoided terms the general media wouldn’t understand – like sitzprobe, rehearsals where singers learn their parts with a vocal coach – but he also wanted to avoid referring to Faustus as a ‘torso,’ given the rumors he’d heard about the ghastly disfigurement of Sullivan’s body, one detail the police hadn’t officially released. More newspapers, here, than the usual arts periodicals attending Schweinwald’s press conferences. Many of these reporters, he realized, were not interested in artistic details or their closed-circle erudition and froo-froo terminology.

His sole purpose, D’Arcy knew, was to present a united, positive, forward-looking front that would tell the arts world Schweinwald would weather this crisis also and, regardless, the festival would continue. This was all business, a strong corporation putting forth its best face, unconcerned with grieving a friend and colleague. Standing there flanked by board members and other staff, D’Arcy was aware the death of a mere composer, an American, even if he’s the Festival’s director, was small beans for the press: a brutal murder, the second Schweinwald director to die in a month – now that, certainly, was the real news.

When an American journalist asked if anyone they knew wanted to stop the production of Sullivan’s apparently controversial opera, Board President Barry Scarpia, leaning forward, nudged D’Arcy aside and said, “No.”

Sitting there in the still and chilling darkness, I carefully listened to my guide through the underworld of Schweinwald’s Festspielhaus describe his impassively announcing to the world the death of my friend. I’d skipped the one the police gave the day after the murder, everything still too fresh in my mind. But I couldn’t help thinking about comments Rob had made, especially concerning the politics he was dealing with, here. D’Arcy was suspicious of Leahy-Hu – but could I, in fact, trust him?

It had been my idea, initially, having discussed it carefully with LauraLynn, to ask the police not to reveal there’d been a disc containing the opera’s finished score which was stolen. Let the murderer – or murderers – think they’d pulled one over on us. It might come in handy, later on.

I’d considered letting D’Arcy know but chose not to, since he’d planned on going ahead with the opera, even incomplete. And besides, phones could be bugged and e-mails just as easily monitored. I was planning on telling him in person, now that I’m here, but just haven’t had the opportunity, yet. Whoever said they knew the opera had been finished would only have gotten that information through the murderer, right? But could they be sure there wasn’t another back-up disc around somewhere?

I went to say something but wondered, “What do I call him?” ‘Mr. D’Arcy’ sounded too formal, ‘V.C.’ strange, and using ‘Virgil’ only highlighted the uncomfortable reference to Dante’s underworld guide. Seeing my hesitation, he said, “Just call me ‘D’Arcy’ – everybody else does,” reaching out hospitably to shake my hand.

“Thanks, D’Arcy,” I said, “but is there anybody you’d know on the board or in the administration who’d want to become the next Director who didn’t want the opera premiered here?”

D’Arcy knew he wasn’t likely to get the job, but who’d want to have Rob killed to get it? And who at this point would be moving to cancel the opera? It was widely publicized (especially now) and tickets were selling very well. It was too late to cancel it.

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

The old homestead Richard Shaw's family built on the outskirts of Palenville was at its brilliant best for the wedding, resplendently decorated, blending the colors and textures of autumn inside and out. Aunt Katie – the elder daughter of Cuthbert Harty and Uncle Rick's widow – worked her usual magic with the place. Her granddaughter Geraldine’s wedding became an excuse for her to throw, as she put it, one last family reunion for the Shaws, the Sullivans and the Hartys like the old days.

Katie’s son Bernard never looked happier or his wife Pashmina more exotic. LauraLynn’s mother Lucille, escorted by her brother, Lyndon Lewes, the groom’s father, reminisced with Cousin Ethel, Fred Clarke’s widow, recalling the comedy routines they entertained the family with back in the good old days as Lewes & Clarke.

Martin Lewes, the groom, despite being dean of students at Wembley College, was nervous meeting all his fiancé’s wealthy relatives. Still, Dean Martin and Gerrie Lewes would obviously make a fine couple. LauraLynn almost forget her anxiety when she and Rob had gotten themselves lost after they'd taken the Saugerties exit.

Then, glass flying everywhere, this big guy dressed in black crashed the reception, Rob shouting something about some “gizmo” and before she knew it, out of nowhere, Aunt Katie was dying.

Was that the same guy who’s chasing her through the basement of an opera house half-way around the world? Could this be the same guy who murdered her cousin Rob Sullivan? All these thoughts came crashing into her mind as she tried to find someplace to hide, to protect herself.

What if this “gizmo” he was talking about is Harrison Harty’s Journal which Rob had and she’s now holding? What’s so important about it that someone would kill people for it?

“Is that what he meant?” she wondered, almost aloud. “What secrets does it hold that it’s written in code? Is musicology so cut-throat, scholars commit murder to obtain some pointless manuscript?”

He’s desperate, maybe, but wasn’t this carrying the “publish-or-perish” thing too far?

And what’s he got against her family?

She heard running footsteps behind her but everything sounded so echoey, LauraLynn couldn’t tell how far away he really was. She had to get out of here before he killed her, too. Almost slamming into a wall, she was sure she’d been here before, running around in circles.

“Where’s the exit?!”

Carrying her purse was becoming a nuisance but she couldn’t afford to lose the old journal or her phone. Worried it’ll alert the monster to her location, she retrieved the phone.

Finding the phone number Terry Kerr had been calling from – wasn’t he using D'Arcy's phone? – she hurriedly hit re-dial. The call couldn’t go through: “not available or in a dead zone.”

“What kind of a cheap phone does he have, anyway?” she wondered. “This is no time for technical difficulties!”

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

D'Arcy's phone made an annoying beep and he quickly tried stifling it: that meant he was in a dead zone. He noticed two dropped calls but no indication whom they were from.

Then it dawned on me: if LauraLynn was surprised I was here, who'd made the arrangements for my trip?

D’Arcy hadn’t said anything about it when we arrived at the hotel. Then I started receiving those mysterious texts.

Could that mean D’Arcy might be working with the killer? Unless, maybe…?

= = = = = = =
to be continued...

posted by Dick Strawser

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

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