Monday, October 13, 2014

The Lost Chord: Chapter 7

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 Harty, Rob Sullivan's cousin, is settling in at Schweinwald when she is interrupted by a call from a British musicologist, Rothbart Girdlestone, about the old family journal Sullivan had offered to loan him. Dr. Dhabbodhú (a.k.a. Tr'iTone) is settling in at the old Schweinwald Castle when Lionel Roth arrives with a letter. Out on the Festspielhaus Plaza, Kerr talks to D'Arcy about Zeitgeist's death, Cameron meets an internet counterculture reporter named Fictitia LaMouche who knows about the e-mails from dead guys, and Captain Schäufel runs into an old lady in the unfinished lobby of the new building. Schweinwald's board president Barry Scarpia receives a strange phone call and N. Ron Steele's news this time isn't as good as before.
= = = = = = =


It had been a love match that saved the family, her father, Oliver Costello Harty, told her as a child, one of that repertoire of stories associated with sitting by the fire. Without the admiration of Grandmother Penelope, a devoted music-lover, who knows what might ever have become of the Hartys? This was a romance like those ancient legends one read in books, and whenever her father began it, LauraLynn would sink back with a smile and let the tale enfold her.

His grandfather had been an aging composer, born in Ireland, of no particular or lasting repute though his famous cousin, once he came of age, outshone him in everything he’d tried. When people heard Harrison’s name, they asked, “You must be related to Hamilton Harty,” then thought better of him.

She thought it must be awful not being known for yourself. “What if his cousin were a criminal?” she asked.

“Well,” Father chuckled, “back then in Ireland, that could’ve been entirely possible.”

Truth was, he explained, there were criminals who didn’t particularly like the idea of having musicians in their family.

The only thing that saved the Hartys was leaving Ireland, as beautiful a land as it may be: Hamilton Harty made his way to London as Harrison had come to Indiana.

What a blessing Harrison, already close to retirement, had met their future grandmother then, the still unmarried middle daughter of Glutius Pintscher, a Chicago tycoon whose money was in railroads, mostly, and that she had been swayed by her love of music to find herself attracted to Harty's faded being. Otherwise, Harrison Harty would have been nobody’s great-grandfather much less hers, and LauraLynn thought that was a horrible fate. Surely, Penelope Pintscher would have been worthy of sainthood for such kindness.

But sainthood was not to be in her lifetime for after she gave birth to twin boys – Cuthbert and Norbert (“The Berts,” as everyone called them) – her health would never recuperate. When she (alas) died and Harrison was unable to care for them, Penelope’s sister, Nicola Deimler, took them in.

Penelope, according to the family photographs, may have looked frumpy and disagreeable, but it was money that made her beautiful. Growing up in a privileged society, she never lacked for suitable suitors. Harrison, handsome in middle-age, was successful by a musician’s standards but to a tycoon, he was almost a pauper. Whatever love existed between Grandfather Harrison and Grandmother Penny, the rest of the Pintscher clan did not share it, regarding it an unfortunate mismatch made beyond the pale of Heaven’s comprehension.

If one twist of fate – Penny’s falling in love with Harry’s music – brought them about, another had rescued them, bringing the twins up in luxurious potential, a far more promising future. How “the Berts” came into money was, for Oliver, the real romance; love had nothing to do with it.

The Deimlers received a box of books once Harrison Harty inevitably died, placed in the attic at their country estate. When the twins came of age, neither showed interest in this legacy. It remained unopened until Oliver and his brother Stanley, his inseparable side-kick, were playing in the attic one afternoon. Finding no cash, no stocks nor bonds, nothing but books and scores and manuscripts, they sealed it up again. On the Deimlers’ deaths, Norbert unwillingly became the keeper of the box.

Oliver, Norbert’s oldest child, considered tossing it out rather than dragging it around once another home had to be found: it was big, awkward and heavy but most of all absolutely useless. A successful businessman in one of the Pintschers’ subsidiaries, what did he need with a box of old music?

When his younger brother George's oldest daughter Melanie wanted to start taking piano lessons, she became the obvious keeper: like a Christmas fruitcake, it ended up being dumped on her doorstep.

Likewise, when their cousin Mabel Sullivan’s boy Robertson showed actual musical talent, playing the piano from an early age, the box passed unceremoniously to them, then to an attic in Maine. Rob couldn’t remember where it came from or how it got there; his mother was a little vague, too.

LauraLynn had never seen the box before, though she’d heard enough about it to recognize it when she, Robertson and Terry Kerr were playing in the Sullivan’s attic that rainy summer afternoon. She’d been delighted to find some piano duets by Clara Schumann. Music by her great-grandfather barely piqued her curiosity.

It wasn’t until the next summer that she and Rob spent more time carefully going through the box’s contents. She found a symphony by Harrison Harty and apparently a travel journal.

This was the oldest thing in the box, its pages yellowed and brittle around the edges, the covers delicate and worn, flaking a bit at the corners, the spine slightly cracked. It started off in a tightly careful script, the ink faded to various shades of brown, sometimes bleeding through. But after the first dozen pages it suddenly changed to printing and what looked like gibberish, for whatever reason. It didn’t make any sense but Rob liked the look of it.

LauraLynn remembered Father telling her his grandfather traveled in Germany as a young man; maybe he studied music, there. The journal opens with him hoping to study music as a child. After he arrived at a school in Germany called the Schweinwald Academy, she realized he’d continued writing in code.

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

It annoyed her, sneaking in through an open stage door at the Festspielhaus to get to the bank of elevators taking her up to the top floor where Rob’s office was located, but she had to avoid anyone who could escort her off to that major donor’s reception on the mezzanine. Let her take care of this one issue first, getting Girdlestone off her back. She chuckled: it sounded funny and she enjoyed the opportunity to find some humor at the moment. The office was as she’d left it, working in the middle of the night, unable to sleep, “jet-lag” aside. She turned on the desk lamp doubting anyone downstairs might notice it. The view was impressive, looking over the lobby seven floors below, then through the glass façade onto the plaza.

She hadn’t checked the boxes Rob shipped over from his house in Connecticut, clearly marked as part of his move: these, she would just have shipped off to her place in London. Mostly what she was working on now meant sorting through everything, separating the personal stuff from the business papers. She would have to ask someone – D’Arcy, perhaps – if those busts on the top shelf were Rob’s or not: they probably weren’t his, more someone’s idea of decoration. They can stay.

In the third of the Connecticut boxes, she found Harrison Harty’s journal lying on top, carefully wound in bubble-wrap. Slicing it open, she slid the book out carefully, with increasing curiosity. When was the last time she’d seen it? She’d been a teen-ager! Somehow, it looked smaller than she remembered.

Her phone rang and she set the book gently on the desk. It was Girdlestone, polite, officious and annoying. Should she tell him she found it – or not and forget it?

“You’ve found the book!” he said. “Wonderful.” It was strange, as if he was telling her, not asking her. “I know you don’t want to risk being late for tonight’s performance. The lobby is too crowded with everyone arriving, you’d never find me. Could we meet by the library downstairs?”

She glanced around the room, wondering if he was hiding somewhere, watching. Even before realizing it, she abandoned the idea of lying to him. “Yes,” she said, “I just now found it.” Then without thinking, she added, “And yes, by the library downstairs would be fine. Give me a few minutes.”

LauraLynn decided she would make a photocopy and show him that instead, maybe giving him just some coded pages to prove in good faith it exists, a topic for later discussion.

The door’s opening startled her, half anticipating it would be the mysterious Rothbart Girdlestone and relieved to find it was Rob’s assistant, Heidi Gedankgesang, whom she’d met over dinner last night.

“Oh, Ms. Harty, you startled me,” the young woman gasped.

LauraLynn laughed. “Not as much as you startled me!”

Noticing that LauraLynn was busy at the copier, Heidi asked to help.

“Oh, I’m almost done, thanks,” LauraLynn nodded. “I was just photocopying a few pages from this old family vacation journal.”

Looking at a page, Heidi wondered how Brahms and Mahler were involved.

“What… you mean you can read this?

“It’s a simple substitution code, fairly basic, going backwards two letters instead of the usual one,” she pointed out. “See these underlined names? ‘WGXQLF’ is Brahms and ‘LXQMTG’ is Mahler. Simple.”

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

Glancing back at this imposing statue of Beethoven we’d been standing under, I asked D’Arcy, looking through the lobby windows, how old it was (speaking of artifacts) and where it stood originally.

“What makes you ask that?” the acting director inquired with a smile.

“It wasn’t created for this new space.”

“We had a wonderful ceremony, dedicating it earlier this evening,” D’Arcy explained. “Unfortunately, you were late and missed it. Originally, it was at the old castle,” pointing off into the distance.

It was very imposing – Beethoven the Genius, staring off into space as if awaiting inspiration, pen poised above paper. But the expression on his face was more wistful than typically fiery. He was standing, concentrating, leaning forward a bit, writing in a notebook, and showing the toll creativity can take.

“We don’t know when it was made or by whom,” D’Arcy continued. “It’s a very human portrait, don’t you think? We know Sechter had it installed at the Academy in the 1840s. But why or what the occasion might have been at the time, there’s no record that we can find.”

“It’s almost as if he’s looking out toward something that’s been lost.”

“You mean, the Lost Chord,” Cameron suggested.

“No,” I said, trying not to smirk, “something much deeper – somebody, perhaps…”

An old groundskeeper discovered the damage in the early 1930s, telling Count Wilhelm – Karl August’s father – it needed restored, but with the castle in such disrepair, no one wanted to bother. Too large proportionally for the courtyard fountain, its pedestal beginning to crumble, it had to be taken down eventually.

As it was too expensive to move the statue very far, either, Karl August later suggested just placing it inside the castle’s Grand Foyer for now, protecting it from the elements.

It looked incongruous even in such a grand space as that, Franz-Dieter said, gazing upon it several decades later, like some giant trying to seek refuge in a peasant’s straw hut. But the decision was made, then, that somehow, sometime, he’d give it pride of place on the Festspielhaus plaza.

“However old that may be, here is something even older,” D’Arcy said, “though no archeologist has ever dated it exactly,” pointing to a large wooden door, dark with age and poorly lit. “Then, too, this was also hell to move even this short distance, two stories beneath the statue’s present location.”

It was kept in a remote corner where a cold fluorescent light could be turned on if need be, next to some elevators taking you to rehearsal spaces and private offices.

The sign posted in front of the velvet roping was simple enough, a few words in four different languages: “Crypt door found while excavating at Falkenstein Hall, quite possibly 13th Century.” But around here, such ancient relics rarely raised much genuine curiosity, considering Ottobeuren’s abbey originated in the 8th Century.

Yet to an American, anything over 300 years old was practically pre-historic, given our status as new-comers in the world, looked down upon by many cultures who counted their legacies in millennia. Still, even before our modern technology, many students today had trouble understanding the fuss over anything no longer new. Cameron could point to his own Persian heritage to one-up us European-Americans, though we knew it wasn’t how old something was but what it stood for, what had managed to endure.

The door was massively thick, standing perhaps about ten feet tall and as wide as a modern average man’s arm-span, two lines of carefully carved text at that same man’s eye level. It took a while, given the lighting, to figure it out:

Rationis Iussu Cantio Et Reliquo
Corde Arte Resoluta

“Literally,” I explained, “it means ‘At Reason’s Command, the Song and the Rest from the Heart Resolved with Art’ but as Rob noted, it does indeed have my name on it.”

While it reflected that age-old aesthetic conundrum – which was more important to an artist’s creativity: the heart or the mind? – it implied art was the product of both intellect and emotions.

“Maybe ‘reason’ has too many ‘rational’ implications: perhaps ‘Art originates in the mind and is realized by the heart’?

“See? The first letter of each word spells RICERCAR – an old musical form from the Latin meaning ‘to search.’ However, it’s likely this carving is not as old as the door: the term wasn’t much in use before, say, 1500, but the question, whatever it is, still needs to be resolved.”

My hand sweeping carefully over each line of text, I glanced back at my uncomprehending friends. “See...?”


Stating the obvious, I shrugged my shoulders: “My name is Richard Kerr.”

Other people had come over to take a look at the door, now that someone else had been standing there, before wandering away because it didn’t strike them as very interesting, either.

D’Arcy, sliding his ID badge through the elevator’s card-access monitor, impatiently pressed the up button, annoyed at its slowness.

“It’s the realization that music – or any art, really – isn’t a matter of Classical versus Romantic, Apollo versus Dionysus, or Left-Brain versus Right-Brain, but must be some combination of the two.”

Both elevators opening simultaneously, Schäufel chose the one on the right; we followed him obediently.

“See,” I said, pointing to the doors, “a detective would go with his gut which is more right-brained.”

Once inside, we turned around and D'Arcy said, “See? Now it’s the one on the left.”

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

She was glad when Scarpia, the ultimate in the mundane, went inside, so boring, so smarmy, such a bloody poseur. Fictitia LeMouche, walking through the crowd, sneered as old ladies stepped aside. Her hair, dyed blackest black with a purple streak at the part and greenish tints, cascaded to her shoulders. Her natural complexion she called fish-belly white, enhanced where necessary by make-up, accentuating black eye-liner with deep purple shadows. Black lipstick highlighted her single lip-ring in the corner of her mouth.

She was wearing her traditional concert-going dress – lacy black loincloth over a black leather mini-skirt accessorized with silver chains, seriously torn fishnet stockings, a black t-shirt a few sizes too tight, plus her favorite feathery-looking black scarf that, given some breeze, could look like ravens’ wings fluttering across her back.

She stood under the Beethoven statue, looking out on the plaza as the crowd of Haves filed into the lobby, commenting as the countercultural reporter on the distinct absence of fellow Have-Nots. She could’ve gotten a press pass from the management, perhaps, but sitting next to some bejeweled grande dame? Please... It’s not that she felt any dislike for classical music in general – Symphonie fantastique was pretty kewl and parts of Don Giovanni she’d seen on-line weren’t bad except for the singing.

What she couldn’t get over here was – Scarpia hitting on her, aside – this stuff regarding “texts from the dead” or whatever Cameron was telling her about between BandanaMan and his cell-phone. She thought it was obvious if some murdered dude was still sending you texts, the murderer had his phone. As a reporter, her Inner Goth tingled about being on to something, a scoop of sorts, some unfolding mystery, never mind how hot Cameron was in a geeky kind of way.

Looking around at the well-dressed denizens of the opera world, air-kissing at friends not seen since the last performance, Fictitia wondered if looking down on snobs didn’t make her a snob when she began thinking maybe Cameron and that old duffer he hung around with were walking into a trap.

Growing up in Salisbury, in the shadow of Stonehenge, was one thing, aware of the distant past and the off-the-wall explanations about its relevance; surrounded by the pseudo-hippy, quasi-philosophical freaks, quite another. Most of the tourists she met – crop-circle hunters, New Age crystal strokers – she thought were out of their minds. What she didn’t appreciate at the time was their all being outsiders looking for a place to hang out, just another kind of alien seeking some social companionship and metaphysical justification.

Born Felicity Lychpit (a name she despised) – her parents ran a bed-and-breakfast near the old cathedral (speaking of Gothic) – she liked journalism but hated newspapers (so old-fashioned) and their misogynistic cronyism. She decided she’d become an internet journalist, a free-ranging on-line reporter to the counter-culture, but needed a new name.

Everybody these days claimed to be a counter-something-or-other – counterterrorist, counterintelligence – she even heard some guy claim to be a countertenor. All of this struck her as counterintuitive, for one considered basically preternatural. You risked conforming to some societal norm simply by claiming to be a non-conformist, a useless term like “original.”

Making this up as she went along, “Fictitia” fit her new persona while being cleverly ironic given her profession. On the wall or in society’s ointment, she’d become LaMouche, “The Fly.”

She reached up and stealthily turned off her Lowden Kleer hearing enhancer, the one that looked like a Bluetooth ear-piece, since all she got now was “Darling” this and “Cora diLetto” that. Ironic how she’d focused on Cameron and that guy talking about texts from the dead and artifacts and stuff. That wasn’t what she expected to hear on the plaza as the glittery people gathered for their presumptuous gala and she quickly decided perhaps this and BandanaMan could be more interesting.

Her hits on Twitter and Facebook certainly picked up with those posts, especially the guy falling into the fountain, which you’d expect considering her on-line demographic and their interest in opera. Maybe there was something worth pursuing, here, attracting her more non-conformist followers, eavesdropping on a crime before it happened.

She’d read that murderers rather than being non-conformists were actually very conventional within their own demographic (“people who commit murder”), no matter how “original” their plan was, always making the same mistakes. She thought it’d be totally rad being an investigative reporter in on some murder that cross-cut her art beat.

Stepping further back under Beethoven’s protective shadow, she tweeted “Something going on here: who’s BandanaMan? Why they after him?” Then she posted on Cameron’s Facebook wall, “be vigilant stay safe #LaMoucheSurVotreMur.”

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

Back at her computer, Agent Donna Mobilé thought, “Captain Schäufel is such a freaking idiot,” shaking her head quietly, and wondered how she’ll write that whole incident up in a report. Her colleagues, after they’d seen it all unfold on the security cameras, were kind enough to ignore the obvious. It was difficult explaining to the Evidence Room guy she was dropping off the soggy disguise BandanaMan left behind. If Schäufel had been concentrating, they might have caught the guy already.

“This is odd,” she noticed, looking at the data on her screen. “D’Arcy recently accessed the Secure Elevator Bank. But is this for real?”

A half-hour earlier, so did Robertson Sullivan.

She looked around, wondering if anyone else had noticed this. Picking up the phone, she made a discreet call.

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

Heidi Gedankgesang, a woman with blondish red hair suitable for pigtails who will soon be saying farewell to her 30s, had initially been hired at Schweinwald to be Robertson Sullivan’s secretarial assistant. He was still the Associate Director then, but after he was named General Director, her responsibilities would increase considerably. Now, however, she was without a boss and no one seemed to know what exactly would happen to her, so temporarily D’Arcy assigned her to assist Mr. Sullivan’s cousin, LauraLynn Harty.

“Where did you learn to figure out code like that, and so fast?” LauraLynn asked her with some bewilderment. Maybe she had worked for STASI before the reunification, she thought uncomfortably.

“Before Schweinwald, I worked for this American writer in Munich – Owen Dalbrin?” The name unfortunately meant nothing to LauraLynn.

He wrote spy novels – this explained LauraLynn’s lack of familiarity – which invariably included secret messages in different types of codes, codes she often had to type out by the pageful as examples.

“After a while, you spot them easily: it almost becomes, how you say?... like a second language? Well, third…”

If the code’s that easy to break, LauraLynn wondered how long it might take the illustrious Dr. Rothbart Girdlestone. Then she figured, given that much, why not just do it herself?

LauraLynn already took a liking to Heidi, looking forward to working with her, however little work that might entail. With this unexpected revelation, she found that she liked her even more. It made up for last night’s dinner, appearing in pigtails and a dirndl after some silly dance for tourists. Convinced Heidi was some stereotypical beer-swilling bar-maid, LauraLynn appreciated seeing her dressed now in this bright red low-cut sheath, her hair, almost shoulder length, worn down and full across her neck.

What a difference a gala makes, LauraLynn realized, observing her new-found friend, looking quite stunning herself in her favorite dove-gray over-the-shoulder cocktail dress with deep purple leaf patterns by Belle Ennui. By comparison, sitting at dinner last night, she’d felt so dowdy in her bulky turtle-neck sweater and blue jeans.

LauraLynn apologized for having had to skip lunch that afternoon and hoped to make it up to her by inviting her on a “girl’s night out” in Munich later in the week. Heidi enthusiastically accepted, glad for the chance to get out of Schweinwald where there wasn’t much night-life beyond work. Lunch had been creepy enough, with that big guy in the corner always eyeing her up while she waited. Then when LauraLynn called and canceled, he'd gotten up and left. Weird…

“Okay, I think I’m done,” she explained to Heidi, slipping the few photocopies and the journal into her purse, deciding against giving it to Girdlestone or even showing him the copies.

She looked out on the plaza, seeing all the children dancing around in their lederhosen, and rolled her eyes.

She locked up. While they waited interminably for an elevator, LauraLynn said, “I’m glad you’re here. I’m to meet this famous musicologist Rob had talked to about this journal,” patting her purse, “but I’m not sure how to find the Library’s temporary reading room – in the basement? Can you tell me?”

“Famous musicologist? I don’t remember him mentioning meeting with anyone like that. But sure, let me take you there.”

Soon, they arrived on the empty level, near the parking garage entrance.

= = = = = = =
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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