Thursday, October 02, 2014

The Lost Chord: Chapter 4 (Part 2)

The Lost Chord

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

The previous installment begins with Kerr's reminiscences about his and Rob Sullivan's first stay at Benninghurst; Rob, having left the dinner to get something from his room, discovers someone's inside. Meanwhile, it's been a disaster in the kitchen even before Poco, the house mascot, ran through it and charged up the steps. A waitress chasing after the dog discovers something is wrong and screams.

= = = = = = =

CHAPTER 4 (continued...)

“Did you see anything, Mr. Porter, get some idea of the van?” Officer Lennox looked around, sizing up the situation. There didn’t seem to be any new damage and he wasn’t hurt. The old man’s car clearly ended up in the ditch whether he’d been run off the road or not.

“No,” he grumbled, “bastard just came outta nowhere, then here I am. It was either this or get my car totaled and you know my insurance is already too damn high.”

Squirrel Hill Road was bad enough even at the posted speed – locals called it Squirrelyville Road – but you get some out-of-towner barreling down here, she was surprised there weren’t more accidents. She put a call into Duff’s Garage to send a tow-truck out to get Porter back on the road.

“All I know was it was black – and big. Well, maybe dark green or deep purple… looked black, to me.” Duncan Porter was not one to worry greatly about fine artistic distinctions. “New York plates, though.” Getting out of the way in time, he’d seen that much as it sped past.

“Ring, ring, ring,” he gawped, shaking his head, “probably no one in the shop on a day like today.” The phone kept on ringing: she hung up and called the station.

Officer Beth Lennox had her share of stopping Old Man Porter in the past, enough to know she didn’t always need to lean in to smell the alcohol on his breath. This evening, she couldn’t really tell if he’d been drinking or not. “That would be a first,” she thought.

It took several rings before Officer Taylor managed to answer – Porter kept wagging his head to the steady ringing – so she reported what happened and asked him to try Duff’s again.
“It’s not going to get any better out here if that Big City Blow-hard buys up all the land around here and builds that damned resort and casino they’re talking about.”

Officer Lennox put her finger up to shoosh the old man before finalizing her call to the front desk.

She leaned in through the window and tried to take a breath without being too obvious while showing her concern, telling him they’ll have him out of the ditch in no time. She got no whiff of anything beyond the cigars he loved to smoke, and saw no suspicious-looking paper bags.

“Ring, ring, ring,” he started in again when her phone went off, Officer Taylor calling back to say he’d managed to get hold of Duff’s and Mack was on his way.

She wrote up her report and said they’d send it to him if he needed it for his insurance, unsure if these were old dings or not, whatever he might claim.

The tow-truck arrived shortly and this lanky long-haired guy dragged himself out.

“Hi, Mack,” she smiled.

“Hey there, Beth.”

After checking her out (always appreciating a woman in uniform), Mack checked out Porter’s car and said, “Piece o’ cake.” In a few minutes, he had him back up on the road. He looked under the hood, checked the tires and Porter drove it a few yards with no discernible problems.

Mack wrote him up a bill and said it was too bad they couldn’t charge the guy with hit-and-run.

Porter, grumbling about his rates going up, drove off without saying thanks.

Mack joked that Old Man Porter should have Duff’s number on speed-dial – “I already give him a frequent tower’s discount,” climbing back into his truck and giving Officer Lennox a sly wink. “One of these days, he’s going to hit a tree and that’ll be the end of that old clunker.”

“You mean Mr. Porter or his car?”

“Both!” and with a tip of an imaginary hat, he drove off.

She got back in her patrol car to finish up the paperwork.

Officer Lennox liked Mack – they’ve known each other since elementary school – a kind soul always helping out the old-timers, though all business when it came to dealing with the City Folk. Maybe he wasn’t very smart or all that good looking but he sure knew his way around a car.

Things had always been peaceful here in this part of the Poconos until the past decades when more people started coming out from the cities looking to get away from it all. While it might have been more peaceful for them, comparatively speaking, they were ruining it for us, she thought.

They built their fancy homes, their resorts, up-scale restaurants and glitzy bars: the old rural ambiance was fast disappearing. And now there was more crime, more drugs, more violence, more everything…

Feeling hungry, she called in to tell Taylor she was going to take her dinner break – “ring, ring, ring…” She chuckled, remembering Mr. Porter, surprised he had his own cell phone. She was growing impatient, starting the car: does this man never answer the desk phone until the tenth ring?

Getting ready to pull out, she looked in her mirror – all clear – when suddenly, out of nowhere, came this big black SUV doing ‘fifty,’ ready to rear-end her. “Think fast, girl!”

Just then, Taylor picked up. “Damn it,” she said, “I just got run off the road! What’s going on?”

She couldn’t go after him because she was stuck in a ditch.

“Yeah, a black Toyota Rav4, recent model – driving too fast to see: New York plates, though. Second time tonight!”

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

Something was wrong if Annie M and the headwaiter were so excited, more than Poco piddling on the rug, even considering how expensive that oriental rug in the upstairs hallway was. And the dog was still upstairs, yapping and growling like it imagined itself the size of a German shepherd.

Drummoyne straightened himself up after the collision and pulled them both into the alcove just outside the ballroom’s entrance, trying to calm them down and get a reasonable explanation from them.

It hardly seemed a reason for anyone to panic, the little dog running away from them like that, Sol explained. She was always so well behaved, even when she’s in the kitchen.

“Maybe,” Felice tried to rationalize the dog’s behavior, “with all these people, she just got spooked – too many legs.”

Everybody in the ballroom was standing around – except for Roth still leaning plaintively against the wall, a bundle of insecurities – some looking for answers, others, frankly, wondering what the fuss was about.

Felice was telling Sherry how so many offered to take Poco in that first summer she appeared, a stray.

Otto deLoup, tapping a goblet to get everyone’s attention, urged us to stay calm and let them handle it. “I’m sure it’s nothing which we would need to concern ourselves with.”

“Where’s Rob?” LauraLynn stood close, her concern genuine. I’d been wondering why it was taking him so long but this was the first time I thought perhaps something might be wrong.

Drummoyne pointed first toward the kitchen and then toward the front door, while Nurse Annie pointed up the steps.

Feeling a tug at my elbow, I turned to see Lionel Roth standing there, leaning close to my ear.

“Mr. Sullivan is your friend?” he asked. “Then he’ll need your help.”

Nodding at him, I hurried toward the hallway, telling LauraLynn to stay there, but she insisted on following me.

I asked Drummoyne, “Where’s Rob?”

“It’s his room,” he said. “Broken into.”

Turning back to signal Cameron, I noticed he was busy talking to Sherry but also that Roth had disappeared.

Drummoyne started introducing me to Manuel, the headwaiter, but I cut them short, saying there’s no time for social niceties, motioning toward the steps until they took my lead and hurried ahead. Annie explained, half out of breath, how just as they entered, a man disappeared, rushing out onto the balcony.

“Was it Mr. Sullivan, could you tell?” He might have gone after the burglar, I thought, interrupting the robbery.

“I couldn’t be sure, really – it all happened so quick,” Annie said.

LauraLynn kept looking back down toward the front door, expecting Rob to come back, having chased away the burglar. “Another weird thing,” she muttering, but didn’t elaborate. She didn’t need to.

The waitress, still restraining Poco who continued to growl, said she had seen nothing, afraid to enter the room.

Making quick note of the disarray, even in the dark, I asked Drummoyne if anyone had called the police, yet.

“No, I wanted to be sure there was a reason to, before…”

“Mr. Drummoyne,” I said, “there’s been a break-in and your guests may not be safe. I’d call them, now!”

A small nightlight on the fireplace mantle left most of the room in darkness, difficult to see the mess.

When Annie switched on a lamp so Drummoyne could call, LauraLynn screamed.

The room was clearly a shambles though from a struggle or someone searching the place, it was hard to tell.

What was clear was the body on the floor was Robertson Sullivan. Lying face down in a pool of blood, two bullet holes in his back, he was also clearly dead.

“Yes, correct,” Drummoyne explained to the police dispatcher, “I thought maybe a burglary but we just found the body… one of our guests – I have a mansion full of guests tonight…”

Drummoyne said they were on their way: meanwhile, we should touch nothing. Annie took LauraLynn into the hallway where Poco had gone from growling to whining, wanting LauraLynn to hold her. Annie went to get her a glass of water or perhaps some brandy, maybe a little bit for herself.

Next, Drummoyne called Ms. Darlinghurst, telling her to make sure no one leaves the mansion until after the police arrive. “The important thing is to keep everybody quiet: there’s been… a problem.”

Manuel calls the chef and tells him to keep everyone in the kitchen, that they should finish cleaning up.

There were papers on the floor, scattered all over the desk – Rob was always very neat about everything – and a laptop, I noticed, smashed up against the side of a chair.

“Look there,” I said, pointing next to the body, “a bloody knife.” It was large, ornate, fine old-fashioned cutlery. Manuel recognized it immediately, going to retrieve it before Drummoyne stopped him.

“Oh my God,” he squealed, “it’s from the old Benning Service. I noticed it was missing earlier this afternoon!”

“Manuel,” I told him, “check on the kitchen staff, make sure everybody’s accounted for. And Mr. Drummoyne, we need to account for two guests – Lionel Roth and his agent, Dr. DhabbodhĂș.”

I explained how Roth was acting, especially when Rob left the room, and also how DhabbodhĂș left minutes before. Roth, I was sure, was clearly aware something was going to happen.

“And,” Drummoyne asked cautiously, “remind me, once again, just who you are?”

“Someone Rob told he’d received some threats.”

We waited in the hallway, closing the door to Rob’s room behind us, and joined LauraLynn as Annie came back with a tray of drinks for everybody, even some milk for Poco. Seeing LauraLynn with the dog, I wasn’t sure who was consoling whom: both, I imagined, received quite a shock.

“There are stairs,” I asked Drummoyne, “from the balcony into the garden?”

“Yes, off to the left,” he said.

“Are they visible from, say, the kitchen?”

“Yes, again – from the pantry.”

Interrupted by the arrival of the police, Sidney Drummoyne went to do his duty as the Director of Benninghurst.

Annie said that was where Poco usually slept or watched for rabbits.

“I imagine, then, that Poco is going to be our star witness.”

“She saw the killer?”

“So it seems.”

Drummoyne introduced us to Detective Phil Noir and Lt. Brent Bundle who said officers were questioning the kitchen staff, first. The dinner guests were all in the ballroom and therefore had alibis. Annie and Manuel told them how they'd found the door slightly ajar, then heard someone stumbling after she knocked.

“The killer – or killers,” I explained, “came in and left through those french doors from the balcony...”

“Why plural?”

“Why would someone shoot him, then stab him, also?”

“Two separate killers…?”

Just then, Cameron barged into the room.

“Hey, boss, check this out: you got e-mail from Rob Sullivan. Where’d…”

Cameron then saw the body on the floor.

“Oh my God, what…?” Up until then, he had been completely unaware what exactly had happened. “When…? I just got this a minute ago!”

“That’s ridiculous.” Det. Noir wasn’t impressed by Cameron’s phone or my theory.

I took a quick glance at it: a jpeg labeled “4RichardKerr.” Odd, I thought – he always called me Terry.

It was too dark in the room to see such a small attachment on a cell phone but I did notice it was cc’d to V.C. D’Arcy, Rob’s assistant in Schweinwald.

Then Lt. Bundle turned the body over. I didn’t think it could get any worse than it already was.

While there were stab wounds to the heart, the knife’s main purpose was to have carved up Rob’s handsome face. An ear had been severed and both eyes were completely gouged out. The tongue was only partially removed, as if the killer had been interrupted when Annie knocked on the door.

“Maybe the stabbing was just a ‘coupe de grass,’” Lt. Bundle suggested, letting the body back, face down, gently.

“’Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.’ But such evil…”

“You mentioned threats he’d received,” Drummoyne asked me. “What kind of threats?”

“We were going to talk after the dinner...”

“So,” Noir said, “he never actually told you who they were from?”

“He also mentioned the previous director at Schweinwald had received some, too.”

“I’m sorry, Swine What…?” Lt. Bundle squawked.

Drummoyne confessed he had also received some threats over the past year, from a corporate robber baron who’s trying to buy up all the land around here, including Benninghurst, for development.

Then I remembered the CD-Rom with Rob’s just-completed opera score on it.

“Check his inside jacket pocket, will you?”

Det. Noir reached in and felt around. “A bullet went through it.”

“But there’s nothing in the pocket, then?”

“No,” he said, looking up.

“Somebody doesn’t want this premiere to happen!”

= = = = = = =
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

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