Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Lost Chord: Chapter 8

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, we learn some family history about LauraLynn's great-grandfather, the composer Harrison Harty and how the journal came to be in Rob's possession. Looking through boxes in Rob's Schweinwald office, she finds the old journal and is surprised by the entrance of Heidi Gedankgesang, Rob's assistant, who can read the code in the journal. Meanwhile, D'Arcy shows Kerr the ancient door they'd discovered in the crypt unearthed beneath the plaza, the one that was in the picture received from Sullivan's phone: it has a secret message which Kerr quickly figures out. Heidi agrees to show LauraLynn how to find the library entrance where she's to meet this Rothbart Girdlestone.
= = = = = = =


“One thing that’s curious, of course, is how very close that rubric is to the dedication of Bach’s ‘Musical Offering’ which goes something like Regis Iussu Cantio Et Reliqua Canonica Arte Resoluta. Considering there’s only two words’ difference – regis and canonica ,” I said, “somehow I don’t think that’s a coincidence.”

“You mean that door is not 14th Century?” D’Arcy said to me, absolutely crestfallen as the elevator door opened.

“Oh, the door’s original – what’s carved on it, maybe not so much...”

It’s possible, I explained as we walked down the hall, this saying might have existed in the literature somewhere, though I’d never heard of it before (which might not be unusual) and that Bach was parodying it, substituting “king” for “reason” – very fitting pun, I thought – and “canonic” for “heart.”

“After all, if your estimation of the door’s age is accurate,” I said, “there was a big argument around 1325 between the adherents of tradition and those writing in the new style.”

“Ars Antiqua versus Ars Nova,” Cameron suggested.

“Exactly, but this doesn’t take sides and curiously avoids mention of God.”

“A monastery would’ve taken the side of the traditionalists,” D’Arcy noted as he unlocked the door to Rob’s office. Then he stopped short, noticing something else: “Somebody’s been in here again.”

Schäufel didn’t think it looked exactly “ransacked,” however, not compared to what Zeitgeist’s office had been before his death.

“It looks neater,” he considered, “more organized than it did this morning.”

“The photocopier is still warm, though,” Cameron pointed out, checking the machine.

“Whoever it was,” Schäufel added, “just left.”

Rather than tossing things all over the floor in haste, someone had taken the time to sort through things and, finding what they were looking for, make a copy of it.

Cameron pointed to a row of busts on the bookcase’s top shelf, nine composers in different styles and sizes: an anonymous-looking monk, Palestrina, Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert, Wagner, Brahms and Schoenberg.

“Yes,” D’Arcy said, “they used to be Franz-Dieter’s. Rob moved them here… You seem quite interested in them – why?”

Cameron wondered if it was significant they were to the left of the desk, some kind of creative feng shui, then corrected himself, realizing, sitting at the desk, they’re on the right. “And Mozart’s the biggest one, the only one out of order, chronologically,” which was true but also quite obvious.

I moved a stool closer so I could get a better look. “But see how they’re all lined up?”

D’Arcy didn’t see any particular pattern and Schäufel was clearly getting impatient.

“No, for Rob,” I pointed out, “it was a very distinct pattern: you see, it’s like a Fibonacci progression. Beethoven is centered, but smaller than Bach and Wagner. Mozart is Phi.”

“He’s the Golden Section of the line-up,” Cameron said, admiring the logic.

“Yes, and I think that’s significant, because…”

“Why the fuss over a bunch of silly knick-knacks,” Schäufel practically exploded. “We’re looking for some clues about a murder. And, might I point out, something a murderer is also looking for!”

“No, think about it,” Cameron pointed out. “Where would Rob hide something someone he could trust would find it?”

I stretched, cautiously moving the Mozart bust. There was something behind it. With great care, I pulled it forward: a beautiful porcelain doll without a head – most likely our missing artifact.

“A headless doll? Behind the only bust big enough to hide something?” Schäufel was not impressed. “I could’ve found that!”

“Yes.” D’Arcy, standing there amazed, agreed with him. “But then, you didn’t.”

About nine inches high, it was exquisite, undoubtedly meant to be Mozart, but standing on a map of Malta.

Across the front of the base, hand-painted in black, was more Latin: Quaerendo invenietis. “Seek and ye shall find.”

“Whatever it is, 'Ricercar' is supposed to be seeking and finding something.”

Schäufel wondered if whatever the killer is looking for was in Malta. “That would be the logical conclusion, right?”

“But I think you’re too far out in right field, Captain Schäufel.”

“You mean ‘left’ field,” D'Arcy corrected me.

“No, in this case, a little too much guessing from the right-brain.”

The statue, I noticed, was quite hefty for so delicate a thing. “The missing head should be hidden around here somewhere and I suspect we’ll need it to unlock the statue’s secret.”

“Giving the killer less of an opportunity… to solve it so easily?”

(By Jove, I think he’s got it.)

“He destroyed Rob’s computer,” I said, “shot him dead before horridly disfiguring his face post-mortem, then took his phone. And apparently I’m supposed to help him find something – some fountain, somewhere.”

I asked if they knew anyone Rob might entrust with Mozart’s head and D’Arcy looked thoughtful, hesitating a bit.

“Perhaps his cousin LauraLynn? They’re very close. There’s another composer he’s also…”

Suddenly, the elevator opened and I stuffed the statue into my tote-bag: “I think we can examine this later.”

Our unexpected visitor turned out to be a janitor making his rounds. We probably looked suspicious, staring at him.

He waved and smiled. “You’re going to be late for the opera!”

Once our visitor had disappeared, I asked D’Arcy where LauraLynn was now.

“She’s at this reception – as should I…”

"Cameron, hand me your phone?" Then I asked D'Arcy for her number.

D'Arcy was already calling her. "Hmmm, unavailable. So, what are you thinking?"

“That she might be in serious danger.”

“And why would you think that?”

This last was a low, gravely, indescribably destroyed-sounding voice heard coming from behind D’Arcy.

“Who are you?” I asked. More importantly, I wondered, “where are you?”

D’Arcy turned, revealing someone behind him of indistinct gender in a rumpled off-white trenchcoat standing barely four feet tall.

In the darkened hallway stood two figures, tall, lithe and ominous, dressed in tight black body-suits resembling science-fiction warriors. Schäufel immediately pulled himself up to attention and saluted our latest arrivals.

“Herr Schäufel, if you’d care to do the honors…?” The small figure turned to face him and nodded officiously.

“This is Director of Security Yoda Leahy-Hu of the IMP’s Special Forces.”

“Pleased to meet you, sir,” I nodded. “I am Dr. T. Richard Kerr, former music professor at Klaxon University.”

“The International Music Police is pursuing a case under my direct supervision that now includes the murder of Robertson Sullivan which has become a considerable part of this much larger, on-going investigation. I am here – with Special Agents Manina and Menveaux,” nodding toward the hallway, “to examine a possible crime scene.”

D’Arcy introduced himself and apologized for their not having met before. “I was just showing Dr. Kerr Rob’s office because I’ve just asked him to complete Robertson Sullivan’s opera, Faustus, Inc.”

“What…?! No, sir” I protested, “I’m hoping to find the score I think Rob completed hours before his death.” Noticing Cameron's increasingly anxious signaling, I added, “But that's just conjecture on…”

“Dr. Kerr, while I’m sure your efforts are appreciated, there is no reason for your involvement in this investigation.”

To describe the general tone as menacing would have been an understatement, as was the general scowl accompanying it, especially mystifying once Schäufel added, “Ms. Leahy-Hu is herself a composer.”


“It appears Mr. Sullivan – or someone using Mr. Sullivan’s identity – entered the restricted area of the Festspielhaus twice today, most recently about a half-hour ago, and we’re wondering who and why? So, Dr. Kerr, if you have found anything that might prove helpful, we would appreciate your letting us know.”

At the realization the murderer of Robertson Sullivan may have been in this very office only minutes before we’d arrived, Cameron began backing away from the still-warm photocopier, inching toward the doorway.

Director Leahy-Hu, meanwhile, was inching cautiously toward my tote-bag with a considerable amount of menace for one so short.

But before I knew what happened, Cameron charged down the hall, the two agents and Schäufel in hot pursuit, as D’Arcy grabbed a handy can of roach spray and doused Leahy-Hu.

D’Arcy pushed me out into the empty hallway, past the sputtering and cursing Leahy-Hu just as the elevator opened. We dove in, tumbling over a guide and several equally surprised tourists. As I clutched my tote-bag to my heaving chest, the large and jolly guide introduced himself as Peter Moonbeam.

While the tourists in Moonbeam’s group chattered excitedly about hearing Cora diLetto, I suggested, “Perhaps we should’ve taken the stairs,” but D’Arcy thought this wasn’t the time to worry about healthy alternatives, so I worried about Cameron and what might happen when the agents caught him – or us, for that matter.

"Damn," I said, still holding Cameron's phone. "Why'd he run like that?"

"Perhaps he... saw something else," D'Arcy hesitated.

"Have you lost your group?" Moonbeam asked. "Then why not join mine!"

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

"No, I noticed I’d dropped a call from Mr. D’Arcy," LauraLynn explained, surprised to get me after redialing his number. I explained D'Arcy'd handed me his phone when her call came in. She’d debated about calling him back, knowing he was undoubtedly impatient with her continued absence from this donor reception.

"It’s great to hear your voice, Terry," glad she’d walked over toward the plaza entrance to make the call. "Things’ve been so very difficult. What're you doing here in Schweinwald already?"

She sounded genuinely surprised but hadn't she arranged everything so I could come in early to attend the rehearsals? Of course, she’d been quite distraught over Rob’s murder, so I understood. She’d undergone a serious shock, walking around in a fog for days: small wonder many little things hadn't registered.

“I got here only a little while ago. They invited me to attend the rehearsals for Rob’s opera,” I improvised but didn’t tell her about D'Arcy's surprise request to complete the opera.

“That’s wonderful, Terry – I know Rob would’ve wanted you here,” she said. “And where are you, by the way?”

“At the moment,” I told her, looking around, “D’Arcy and I are at that major donors’ reception you mentioned. I was hoping to find you – where did you say you are?”

“Oh, I know D’Arcy expected me there, but I just couldn’t bring myself to face everybody and their condolences or, worse, not knowing what to say and so not saying anything. Besides,” she sighed, “something else came up, though I’m afraid it’s going to make me late for the curtain.”

Unfortunately, I noticed we started getting some digital distortion on the connection when I heard her mention a meeting and needing to get back since the guy’s probably waiting for her.

Hearing the impatience in her voice, I said I’d been up in Rob’s office looking for something he’d found, trying to figure out how to explain this, some kind of artifact.

“I found the old Harrison Harty journal, if that’s what you mean. Dr. Girdlestone’s supposed to meet me…”


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

Stepping out of the ladies’ room, Heidi Gedankgesang was just as surprised to see the elegant gentleman in the tuxedo as he, standing there looking about, appeared to be to see her.

“I’m sorry,” the man said, bowing elegantly, “but I was expecting Miss Harty. We’d just spoken on the phone.”

She tried desperately not to be flustered: his blonde hair no doubt a toupee, he was otherwise exotically handsome.

“Oh, she was here a moment ago,” she nodded, looking around herself.

There was an awkward silence as she tucked back loose strands of hair, wondering what she should say next. A little older than her ideal choice, still, he was very striking.

“You must be the musicologist she mentioned… uhm, Dr. Grindstone, is it?”

“Quite,” he bowed, “Rothbart Girdlestone – and you…?”

Heidi, introducing herself, couldn’t resist flirting with him. “Such a big, strong man,” she thought, “not like your typical musicologist.”

“I don’t recall your meeting with Robertson Sullivan before,” she purred playfully.

“We’d met over dinner,” he improvised, kissing her hand, then adroitly changed the subject, pointing out some nearby doorways.

“Perhaps Miss Harty’s stepped in here to wait for me,” Girdlestone wondered.

“No, they're just storage rooms – props, costumes…”

It was unfortunate that he’d have to kill her, now, but how…?

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

“That journal could be more fascinating than I thought,” LauraLynn told me. “Hello, are you still there? Damn this connection…” She hit the phone against her palm as if that might help.

“Who’s this Rothbart Girdlestone?” No doubt, she thought I sounded professionally jealous. “Is he some big guy like Dhabbodhú?”

“He’s some famous musicologist Rob was going to give the journal to, maybe deciphering the code and publishing it. But,” she continued, “Heidi knows the code and I thought maybe you…”

“Look,” I said, trying to talk more distinctly, “I’m not sure I can explain what’s going on here, but… I’ve been getting text messages from Rob’s phone – the killer’s in Schweinwald.”

“I’m sorry, Terry, I can’t hear you. It sounds like you just said Rob’s been sending you text messages?”

LauraLynn apologized for the bad connection but said she had to go.

“Look, that must be Heidi. See you later.”

“No, wait,” I argued. “Dhabbodhú is here and he’s using another identity.”

If he’s meeting with her, he’s after something and not that notebook.

“You have to get out of there!”

Just as she hung up, LauraLynn screamed.

“We have to get down to the library,” I told D’Arcy, “ASAP!”

It was then I noticed three black-clad IMP agents entering the reception.

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

For some reason, Heidi found herself showing Dr. Girdlestone the storage room, figuring it’d kill some time waiting for LauraLynn. Besides, he had that naïve curiosity of someone discovering the behind-the-scenes magic.

Heidi apologized, hurriedly pointing out some props. Slamming the door shut, Girdlestone threw her down on an Egyptian divan.

“Tell me what you know about the Maltese Mozart,” he hissed threateningly.

She tried screaming but he overpowered her.

When she whimpered something incomprehensibly, he skewered her with an old spear.

“Moses… Zurich… Rosbaud…”(1)

With that, Heidi died.

“That’s the clue to finding the fountain, an old sled in Zurich?”

He wondered what the hell Moses might have to do with it.

“Damnation! My tux is covered in blood-spatter!”

Then he spied some old costume trunks.

“Time for a new disguise.”

= = = = = = =
(1) The world premiere of Schoenberg's opera, Moses und Aron, took place in Zurich, conducted by Hans Rosbaud
= = = = = = =

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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