Monday, November 03, 2014

The Lost Chord: Chapter 12

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, the Chief of the IMP's Special Forces, Yoda Leahy-Hu, begins interrogating the recently captured Cameron Pierce in the only available space, the rest room of the security trailer in the Festspielhaus' back parking lot. D'Arcy and Kerr discuss their limited options, cornered in the darkened scene shop. LauraLynn recalls a recent wedding reception, the one where her Aunt Katie was killed, and realizes Rob had said something about a 'gizmo.' Meanwhile, Dr. Kerr comes to a realization of his own.

= = = = = = = 


“Oh – my – gosh, look at this?”

Officer Ondine Martineau – ‘Onde’ to her friends – finally accessed the footage recorded by the few working security cameras on the underground parking garage’s dimly lit margins.

Other agents in the Festspielhaus’s cramped temporary Security Headquarters looked over at her workstation with varying degrees of curiosity.

“It seemed weird these files wouldn’t open until I realized no one had upgraded the software in, like, months?” Her voice invariably swooped upwards, annoyingly turning each statement into an interrogative.

“Captain Schäufel,” she asked, “would you take a look at this, sir?”

Damning their temporary congestion, he had to crab-walk down the crowded aisle between lines of cubicles and file cabinets.

“I think you’ll find this very interesting?” After fiddling with some frames, she quickly enlarged it to view full-screen.

And there it was, a well-dressed man who must have been a good six and a half feet tall or more, meeting a woman Martineau identified as Robertson Sullivan's former assistant, Heidi.

“Where is this footage taken?” Schäufel leaned in for a closer look.

“Near the lady’s room just outside Niebelheim?”

After a bit of conversation, the two grainy figures moved out of the light, headed toward a storage room.

“You’re asking me or telling me, Onde? Who’s the big dude – anyone?”

It didn’t surprise him no one responded but if anybody'd seen this guy, they’d be sure to remember him, especially if he were sitting in front of them at the movies.

“Must be lost and asking for directions,” Officer Barbara Seville suggested confidently.

“Somehow, I’m thinking that’s unlikely,” Schäufel said.

“Now... look?” Martineau added, scooting ahead, “this is where it gets interesting?” She stopped the film just in time.

After the two disappeared into the room, she fast-forwarded another several minutes.

Then a large-built figure appeared in the doorway, too deep in the shadows to be seen with any clarity, wearing a towering wig, a waistcoat and what looked like harem pants.

“I kept fast forwarding, sir? That other man never makes another appearance?” Her voice swooped lower. “Neither does Heidi?”

Something was definitely not right, Schäufel concluded, thinking what these cameras cost: for one thing, the angle was all wrong and looked like an old ‘50s television show on some cheap retro-channel. What he couldn’t see was where this creature was going from here. Enlarging the image only made it worse.

“Perhaps we should send somebody down to check on Ms. Gedankgesang, sir,” Officer Seville hinted, “see if she’s okay.”

“Hmm? Oh yeah, sure – sure,” Schäufel responded, waving her on her way.

“What’s going on, here,” Leahy-Hu barked, back from her recent men’s room interrogation, smoothing down stray wisps of hair. She peered up at the computer with pursed lips and studied indifference.

“So from there,” Schäufel suggested, “that thing can only go out onto the plaza or up into the lobby?”

“The thing is, sir?” Officer Martineau mentioned, pointing to another screen next to her computer, “you’ll notice a minute later? – well,” she added, “making allowances for the faulty time-stamp on the camera? – someone accessed Niebelheim via the parking garage entrance with an ID badge? A badge number belonging to Heidi Gedangkesang?”

IMP Special Agent Kaye Gelida Manina leaned down to Director Leahy-Hu’s ear to tell her they’ve managed to track down the GPS location for that cell phone in Dr. Kerr’s possession.

“Looking at some earlier security accesses, sir, it seems there’s been lots of activity around the scene shop this evening?” Officer Martineau dropped to a confidential tone, mentioning Heidi’d used it earlier. “And Mr. D’Arcy” – she pointed to a different read-out window – “entered through the other entrance not long before that?”

“That would explain why he missed his back-stage interview and never showed up at the major-donor reception,” Schäufel muttered, “but what the hell is he doing running around in the basement?”

“And that dratted professor’s with the tall guy, Mr. D’Arcy,” Leahy-Hu squeaked. She was immediately suspicious of anyone tall. “Those bastards! Give my agents immediate access to Niebelwattzit,” she shouted triumphantly.

She immediately got on her phone and snarled orders to Agent Manina. “And take Agents Menveaux and Leise, too!”

“Someone else accessed Niebelheim?” Martineau continued, “a key-card registered to… Robertson Sullivan!?” Her voice leaped up to its highest register.

Shouts of general confusion broke out from all the assembled security officers.

“Then that must mean,” Schäufel wisely concluded, “Robertson Sullivan’s murderer is here and Mr. D’Arcy must be in danger!”

“Is something wrong nobody can hear me from down here?” Leahy-Hu shrieked. “I want access to that scene shop!”

“Then follow me,” Schäufel said, “because that’s where we’re headed. Let’s go!”

Schäufel contacted Arabesk and LeVay who were still positioned in the lobby. They quickly moved back toward the elevators. Mobilé and the others grabbed their gear, hurrying out of the trailer.

“Captain Schäufel?” Officer Martineau piped up. “Officer LeVay's reporting the parking garage entrance is jammed? – says it won’t open?”

“Listen up, everybody,” Schäufel barked into his phone, “take the West Lobby entrance down to the scene shop, now! With any luck, we’ll catch him before he gets to Mr. D’Arcy.”

“Nothing doing, Captain Schäufel.” Leahy-Hu stepped forward. “Go ahead, take your officers after that refugee from the costume shop. But, to put it bluntly, Mr. D’Arcy and the professor are mine!”

Schäufel had to admit that chasing after maniacs in harem pants was far better than hanging out with Leahy-Hu.

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

It seemed to be taking forever, yet she knew this was one of the quicker paced operas in the repertoire with sparkling humor as close as you can get to a farce. Her father always quoted that famous line some famous author said about opera being “an irrational entertainment.”

Also long.

As much as she hated admitting she liked classical music, it’s always been difficult sitting still for so long, used to TV with frequent commercial breaks or pausing a DVD whenever.

The mezzo was good – nice voice, pretty in an overdone sort of way (too flouncy for her) – the audience certainly enjoyed her, and she definitely had that elusive “star power” quality. She wanted to keep thinking “positive observations,” considering her demographic’s limited interest: she wasn’t here to review the performance.

She liked her big florid song, most of it sung lying on her back, wimping on about this would-be boyfriend. After this drunken soldier came in, the old fart got all arrogant. Anybody with half a brain should see through that ridiculous disguise, anyway. They didn’t call it “irrational” for nothing.

She told Scarpia she was going to visit the loo – he wrinkled his nose at her choice of slang – slipping out as unobtrusively as she could (why’s everybody staring at her?)

Fictitia needed two more things: a chance to post a few tweets – how could you cover an event if you couldn’t tweet during the performance? – and, o.m.g., she needed a cigarette. Sitting there in the dark without lighting up was, like, so stressful! She’d just slip outside for a break. And how could she just sit there, anyway, when she knew something’s going on that was way more interesting: like, what happened to that Cameron guy? Any more texts from DeadGuy?

The lobby was empty, now. She figured she’d slip out the back entrance, hang out on that big patio when suddenly all these security types started running out of that trailer. They ran past her hiding place, including the agents who’d arrested Cameron but he was nowhere to be seen.

Once all the guards streamed inside through the stage door, Fictitia skulked over to the trailer, where an open window let her overhear two women talking, answered by some indistinguishably hoarse voice. She peeked inside as they laughed about the young man under interrogation: not much to see, nothing of him. The trailer wasn’t that big – they couldn’t afford a double-wide? – and there were no windows at the far end, so that was probably the interrogation room where Cameron was locked up.

It wasn’t like she could run in there, pretending her phone was a weapon, tie everybody up and rescue the young man, then ride off into the sunset before anybody’d notice. That would be great if this were one of those comic books, but it was reality and that sucked.

How could she get him out of there? It’s not like it was some fortress but even with three people – well, two-and-a-half, counting the short one – she’d need some kind of diversion. She sauntered through the shadows from the edge of the trailer back to the dark and disquieting stage entrance.

“What to do! Come on, girl, think!” She inadvertently tossed her cigarette butt down a nearby drainage grate. “Damn!” She liked to think of herself as more ecologically sensitive, but hey…

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

On the one hand, with so many people around, how would anyone notice sounds coming from the basement’s heating ducts, though he wished he’d waited until after the place had emptied out. He heard people running back and forth and couldn’t figure out what the hell they were doing down here. On the other hand, with the place empty, his activities might be more easily noticed by any security system. If he’s discovered now, he could always blend into the stage crew.

Garth Widor knew there were only four bombs he needed to plant, small devices meant to be warning shots, not intended to bring down the whole building like Steele originally proposed. For some reason, it turned out to be more problematic than usual: he’d just finished setting the first one.

Strategically placed in the network of heating ducts, they would collectively blow mildly substantial holes in the walls and ceilings of two rehearsal rooms, the scene shop and the backstage lighting panel, more a nuisance variety of damage rendering them basically (if only temporarily) useless, but definitely impacting the rehearsal schedule.

He could have constructed the kind of bombs Steele had in mind, reducing the entire Festspielhaus to mere rubble, but he felt it wasn’t necessary to go to such extremes – yet.

But as usual with N. Ron Steele, it was “hurry, hurry, hurry,” kicking the whole operation up a notch with so little planning time, right after pulling off that composer’s murder. And since the festival decided to go ahead with the opera’s premiere, it appears they hadn’t gotten the message.

Wanting to do it in the midst of the memorial service the next morning with lots of collateral damage, Steele wasn’t terribly pleased he’d let Widor talk him out of it.

Was he really going soft, Widor wondered, becoming more concerned about others, unlike the ruthless operative he’d once been? It was something he should start thinking about, if Steele wasn’t already.

Should he be serious about this being his last gig for SHMRG, going out in a blaze of glory?

There was no simple pattern to the locations he needed to incapacitate but maybe he should’ve started with the most interior one first, then worked his way back toward the outside wall.

“Have I painted myself into a corner? If the first bomb blows before I’ve set the last…?” He laughed.

Stealthily, Widor started crawling through the cramped ducts toward the next location, getting everything prepped for the second installation.

“Curses – forgot to bring more duct tape! Damn absent-mindedness and old age...!”

He didn’t need another delay, running back to the truck to get more tape, but he had no choice, unless, considering the likely possibility, there’d be some in the scene shop.

Popping the grill off the heating vent, Widor saw three futuristically clad security guards, weapons drawn, scurry past him.

“Now what…?” Scrunching hastily back into hiding, he heard the slightest sound of a crack followed by a soft hiss. He froze, wondering if his golden years would be all that golden.

“What the hell…?” Looking over his shoulder, he realized he’d somehow just released the trip wire. “Oh, holy crap!”

Next he heard a faint ticking sound: the timer’s now been activated. He had one minute to get out.

Plus he really needed to quit dwelling on this “getting older” stuff.

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

Robertson Sullivan joked how the Festspielhaus basement must have been built following the burrows of a bunch of inebriated badgers, hallways in all directions making turns without reference to any perceivable logic. In the middle was this illogical fortress commonly referred to as “Niebelheim” after the subterranean workroom in Wagner’s Rheingold. This area, among further hallways, housed two scene shops, set storage space and various costume shops and storage rooms, older, less timely material relegated to smaller rooms outside the area's perimeter.

Completely self-contained, it was separated from various practice rooms and rehearsal spaces by broad corridors and thick sound-proofed walls except for access to several elevators connecting directly with the theater’s backstage, a connection LauraLynn was desperately searching for until discovering she hadn't dropped Rob’s key-card in the darkness after all.

The once well-dressed Dr. Girdlestone also soon discovered the physical limitations of this inhospitable underworld, darkness aside, without suitable identification, with doors he could no longer open and exits he couldn’t find, wishing he’d jammed the entrance with something more easily sacrificed than the badge ripped off Heidi Gedankgesang’s lifeless body.

Slamming into another corner after once again losing his elusive prey, he made intimate contact with a hot pipe, hearing an ominous hiss that could be steam or perhaps searing flesh.

Not far away, while Girdlestone dealt with the potential for impending pain, LauraLynn managed to locate a security gate that somehow hadn't completely closed, just large enough for her to squeeze through. Sliding the key-card through as carefully as possible, she prayed it would close behind her rather than open wider.

The monster grabbed for her, hoping to pull her back, but the door slid shut barely missing his arm. She broke away just as the door closed on his pants leg.

Then she felt a powerful explosion pound its fists into the wall behind her, knocking her to the floor.

This monster, so desperate to kill her, had been carrying a bomb?

What was it he was really after? She found no reasonable explanation.

Like a falling sandbag, it hit her.

= = = = = = =
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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