Thursday, November 06, 2014
The Lost Chord: Chapter 13
(a classical music appreciation comedy thriller by Richard Alan Strawser: you can read it from the beginning, here.)
In the previous installment, one of the Schweinwald Security agents discovers the presence of an oddly-dressed figure in the Festspielhaus basement as Fictitia, bored with the opera, decides to slip out for a cigarette break. Garth Widor, busily setting up the first of a series of bombs for an attack on the Festspielhaus, makes a mistake and LauraLynn, feeling the explosion, has a shocking epiphany.
= = = = = = =
He remembered the explosion after the gunfire as people ran around screaming, how he came to in a hospital bed, covered in layers of bandages, surprised that he’d somehow managed to survive. He had lost large quantities of blood, the doctor calmly told him, and there was something about a concussion. How many times had he tried to remember his world before that explosion, the gunfire and all the screaming, anything before all the pain and the long convalescence in the hospital? He always viewed that explosion, whatever it was, bringing down the curtain on the first act of his life and how it seemed like he’d just walked in late after intermission. He had no ID on him, no one knew who he was and he couldn’t even remember his name.
Had his brain been wiped clean in some scientific experiment gone wrong, every cell containing any trace of the past drained from his body along with all the blood that he’d lost? One thing he did remember was waking up from a deep sleep mumbling, they told him, the word “Heiniken.” They asked him if he was thirsty, did he want some beer, was it his favorite brand of beer? But he had no idea what it meant, what significance it had.
They were calling him a hero, having saved several lives including the wife and child of a wealthy businessman who, out of gratitude, was taking care of his considerable medical expenses. The man had visited him several times while he was still unconscious and spoke highly of his apparent valor. A bomb had gone off nearby as they walked in the park, killing several men dressed suspiciously in black. He’d knocked down the wife and son, shielding them with his body.
The nurses told him luckily his grateful benefactor happened to be one of the wealthiest men in New York, a prominent Wall Street banking firm’s CEO named Bernie “the Cooker” Steele, which made him wonder what he was doing in New York City? He spoke with a heavy German accent.
As the long process of recuperation continued, Steele came by to talk, telling him how he’d never have to worry, that once he was ready for it, a job would be waiting. The important thing was that he get better, get back his strength, leave the nightmares – (what nightmares?) – behind him. It was unimportant who he’d been, if he couldn’t remember his past, what he’d done, where he’d come from. Not everybody was given a clean slate, starting over completely from scratch.
Occasionally Steele’s wife, Vanna Mae, came by to see how he was, bringing her son Ronnie who was 10, an arrogant bastard who felt naturally you’d risk your life for his. The wife was a hot blonde with long legs and large breasts. The kid, a spoiled brat, was dangerous.
How would he go about creating a whole new identity for himself? He would need a name, first of all. Not knowing who he had been before, who’d he want to become?
The nurse switched the radio from the country station to the classical, neither of which he found particularly enjoyable.
His room careened from Garth Brooks to the Toccata by Charles-Marie Widor. That was it: he’d become Charles Brooks.
Later, he decided switching the names around sounded more exotic: Garth Widor.
If memories were like snapshots in time, he knew basically he must have a whole album full of them, somewhere. Hidden in a special place he’d forgotten, that ‘somewhere’ was the issue. He kept hoping he could find that room, its door slightly ajar, or be able to pick the lock. Maybe, doctors suggested, if he started imagining some scenes from his past, it would trigger some sense of recognition that would help him unlock everything else, unleashing a flood of memories.
But every locked door, every strongbox he discovered in these imaginary memories, he thought “I could pick this lock” until he wondered maybe he was… well, a handyman, good with tools. It was also curious that while he spoke English with an accent, he didn’t understand a word of German.
For the next thirty years, he worked as a handyman and bodyguard before discovering (or rather, uncovering) some hidden talents, later on becoming the Chief of Security Operations for the Steele Family until the senior Steele retired to his villa in Provence with his Swiss bank accounts and numerous off-shore holdings.
Widor had stayed loyally by the junior Steele’s side and been rewarded with increased responsibilities and increasingly familiar tasks which felt almost like some kind of home-coming, back on old turf.
But now, a curtain parting for the first time in thirty years, he saw the face of a woman, a woman who looked at him with expressions of love and tenderness. It wasn’t an attractive face, as faces went, but there was more to this face than just physical attraction.
Was this the long-forgotten face of his mother he was finally looking into after all these years? Perhaps not. There was too much class for someone who might be his mother.
Her hair was long and lustrously blonde, pulled back across the front before spilling in cascades down her back. Rapunzel, he had called her once, as she sat at her window.
Something must have happened – no, something had been discovered (or probably both) – and he was forced to leave her.
Who was she, this Rapunzel whom he found gazing into his face, a look of deep concern in her eyes? Was that a word of hope on her lips or of caution? Her face came gradually into focus, hovering there above him, the soft touch of a hand on his cheek.
“Lisl,” he tried to call out but couldn’t, feeling weak and broken, the taste of blood in his mouth. His legs hurt to move and his head ached, racked with pain.
Once again, he could taste blood in his mouth, his legs still hurt and his head continued to ache. But he remembered he called her Lisl and felt her loving touch. She said something to him like “forget me” and “it cannot work.” Apparently, she was right – he’d forgotten her.
In the darkness as the dust continued settling around him, he scrunched his brows together trying to force his memory.
“So close,” he said over and over, “so close. Come back, Lisl…”
He had no idea where he was, what had happened to him. Was he in the garden, hurt again?
His eyes were uncooperative, refusing to adjust, though it seemed so familiar, lying there on his back, looking up. He’d been discovered, lying underneath a balcony, beside a broken rose trellis.
No, not this time, he realized, sensing it in his aching bones: this is different; that, somehow, was then. There was no face, no loving touch, it was all a memory. This, he remembered, was supposed to be his last job for SHMRG – “too old” – how he’d hoped to retire.
What was that all about, he wondered, sinking back, exhausted and confused. “Stay alert,” he told himself, “hang on.” He wondered who Lisl was, where the garden was, why he’d fallen.
He heard the taunting voices of children calling him “eine kleine Heineken” – was he fond of beer, even then? – chasing him across the school playground and down the alleys toward home.
No, because that was his name: not the beer but like some obscure Baroque composer – who…? Johann David Heinichen?
He knew if he could just name it, he would own it, part of the process toward reclaiming his past. He needed names and now he knew his name and her name. He could hardly imagine who he’d been, those years before the explosion in the park, but who was she? She was older by perhaps a decade, she was lonely and attractive and – oh yes, she was terribly rich. He remembered vaguely that he was working for her brother, wasn’t he?
Lisl had been the younger sister of the old man who ran a music festival at that ruined castle – what was the old man’s name, Frankenstein or something; no, more Falkenstein...? What was her name, he kept trying to remember, thinking of champagne: not Falkenstein – she had been a widow.
That’s right, her married name had been Riesling, just like the fine sparkling wine that suited her personality so well. But his name was Heinichen: everyone knew beer and wine didn’t mix. It had been a running joke in those sweet hours after love-making, what name they would give their baby.
He remembered giving her something, some memento before he was forced to leave her, something to give the baby.
“Wait a minute,” he thought, “there was going to be a baby?”
* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *
It amused her as they worked their way through the soup course – too salty, he winced; too bland, she muttered – how they’d become comfortable with each other like an old married couple, despite the miles between them and the few times they had to spend together, chatting over a pleasant dinner. LauraLynn wondered if they might not be seeing more of each other now that he’d be living outside Munich and she was shedding more of her foundation’s day-to-day work in London. An only child who never married, she assumed Rob had never remarried because those years with Beatrice may well have been enough to put any man off the idea of marriage. She was never quite sure what her own excuse would have been, if he were thinking the same thing.
When Rob called and said he was flying back to the States after having attended the funeral for Franz-Dieter Zeitgeist, hoping to put the finishing touches on his opera before rehearsals began, she knew he would want to have dinner with her that night without even mentioning their favorite restaurant’s name. It was just one of the many things left unspoken between them: dinner in London meant Piccoloni’s at seven, a little earlier if there was a concert they’d be going to.
After the entrée – he’d gotten his usual salmon; she, the apricot chicken – Rob started talking about the opera’s plot, something he hadn’t even confided to the Festival board aside from Zeitgeist. Whatever reason he’d kept it to himself, if he’s this close to finishing it, he could break his secrecy. Calling it Faustus, Inc., he knew the basic plot was fairly obvious, joking “the details were in the devil,” an up-dated version of the classic legend set in the corporate world.
Writing his own libretto, based on his own adaptation of Goethe’s setting, Rob apologized he was like many writers uncomfortable with giving away too many details of their new novel’s plot for fear of losing that delicate thread, waking up some foggy morning with no idea where it was going.
All she knew was he’d long been dissatisfied with the original ending and that Zeitgeist had thought much the same, even though most of this second, final act had already been finished. Rob figured he would have to start over again, rewriting all of the text, probably most of the music. The second act was now too long but if he broke it into two separate parts, finding a balance, this new third act was relentless in its drive to the conclusion.
Rob had become more animated as he recalled his old Harvard adviser who'd suggested he look for ways to combine his economic and financial background with his love of music which for years he thought meant creating a corporation antithetical to SHMRG or working philanthropically as LauraLynn had done.
“After those years I’d spent in training, learning my father’s corporate mentality, all those years of working with his company – no wonder he never understood why I wanted to be an artist – not to mention having been married to that avaricious little bitch, Beatrice – I’m combining what I love… and hate.”
Rob laughed, hastily waving away invisible concerns. “I’m sure Dad would disown me completely if he were still alive. So let’s just say it’s ‘very controversial,’ and leave it at that.”
Later, she recalled how surprised she had been at Rob’s sudden outburst which seemed to well up out of nowhere, a man who was usually placid even in the most challenging situations. Very little ruffled him enough to break through that generally calm exterior most people considered to be Robertson Sullivan. She also remembered how, at the wedding reception where Aunt Katie was killed, once the immediate numbness wore off, there’d been this flash of violence about his blaming himself for everything. LauraLynn had no idea why he would feel that or why he was suspicious about his friend Zeitgeist’s death, or what he meant by SHMRG, the reference went by so quickly. (At first, she thought he’d said merde! since he occasionally enjoyed using foreign profanities to spice up his conversation.)
Perhaps it wasn’t some unhinged conspiracy theory coming out of nowhere that he’d suddenly fallen into after all, she wondered. God knows, classical music had enough of its own crazies – but murder? Could he actually be the victim of someone he knew, some rival who would be out to “get him”? Who would have threatened him to stop writing his opera, if they felt it was too close to reality? Someone who knew enough about their family – maybe somebody in their family?
Could this insider be their cousin Maurice Harty? The “family pipsqueak,” they used to call him when they were kids, the one who inherited Rob’s father’s company once he himself declined it? Even as children, Maurie was jealous of Rob’s height and good looks, much less his success as an adult.
Maurie divided his time between London and Manhattan, always keeping his distance, but called her shortly before Zeitgeist's funeral. They’d even had dinner, detestable as it was, in that same restaurant.
Had he, she wondered, planted some kind of bug on her during dinner – wasn't she carrying the same purse? – was that how he might have learned the truth behind Rob’s opera?
Was he intent on eliminating her, now, assuming she knew too much? This unexpected realization practically knocked her sideways.
* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *
It was enough to make Fictitia consider giving up smoking once again – “Ye freakin’ gods! Did I really do that?” – accidentally flicking a still smoldering butt into a nearby puddle of gasoline. The motel erupted into flames reaching sky-high, immediately alerting the fire department followed quickly by a battalion of policemen. Lucky to escape with her tattoos intact, Fictitia was convinced she’d spend the rest of her life behind bars – she could just imagine the tweet, now: “Reporter Turns Arsonist #accident #stupidthingsthatendcareers.”
What she hadn’t realized then, the hot young violinist she was stalking – a blonde bombshell in tight mini-pants named Skripasha Scricci with legions of fans in both pop and classical worlds – was in fact a notorious drug smuggler working for a syndicate of underground musicians, something mysteriously known as SHMRG.
The international police had been trying for most of the past year to pin anything on Scricci they could manage, but she had proven too smart for them with her dazzling technique. Scurrying from the concert hall or the latest club she’d been playing, her entourage easily lost them every time. While fans cheered every pelvic thrust in her Sibelius Concerto on stage, afterward they could purchase her “special” CDs, the ones with synthetic drugs artfully concealed in the jewel-case’s glittery lining.
Glitter, technique aside, was everywhere – her outlandish costumes, her make-up, even in the varnish of what was supposed to be a Strad worth $3,000,000 – the essence of Scricci as total package. Who’d notice a little glitter in the spine of a CD case? And her CDs always proved very popular. Drug agents disguised as concert security looked on oblivious to the distribution, looking instead for the usual clandestine dealing. Nothing seemed odd beyond the higher than normal price for her recordings.
This peculiarity was what tipped Fictitia LaMouche off in the first place, not that trendy teenagers raved about Sibelius but that they’d actually go buy something as antiquated as a CD. While others went to the laptop and downloaded direct to their iPods, there were long lines for the CDs.
It hadn’t been Fictitia’s plan, busting a drug smuggler – far from it. She just wanted to find out why Skripasha’s posse, after each performance, retired to some dreary, flea-bitten, barely respectable motel. A superstar of her magnitude holed up in the classiest digs available, given her image and equally inflated fees. Yet, moments after dropping her off at the local Hilton, the rest of them scurried off to Cheap Sleep, perhaps feeling uncomfortable in this affluent “milieu,” ironically stretching the poshest pronunciation.
This was the kind of tantalizing stuff Fictitia’s on-line followers drooled over, not just tweeting about the concert itself – how many ways can you say “awesome”? – but getting behind the scenes. No one’s seen Skripasha out of costume, what she really looked like: a posting like that’d be Internet Gold.
The motel they’d gone to was in the seediest part of town, dilapidated storefronts and burned-out vehicles littering empty lots, reminding her of by-gone aristocrats slumming like zombies in old-time opium dens. She’d slipped a tiny GPS transmitter into a carton of their CDs – child’s play, really – and followed them easily.
Then she’d set the place on fire – “like, really, an accident,” she mentally protested every time the memory returned. But where the fuck did all the coppers come from, so fast?
The next day, all the newspapers and TV reporters in town touted it as one of their biggest crime raids, blaming the dangerous combination of rock ethos and repressed classical music angst, while the authorities bragged of busting a notorious ring of CD bootleggers using the motel as their ramshackle studio. What irritated the police most were the crime-scene shots perps claimed were photoshopped to look like a drug lab, gone viral all over the internet before they’d even processed Scricci’s mug-shot.
The symphony, meanwhile, had to appease irate audiences with a substitute soloist, an innocent-looking conservatory student who played exquisitely but exasperated fans who knew Scricci’s video with the Siberian Transvestite Orchestra. Legions of rock purists protested loudly, tweeting “U call that teh f-ing Sibelius Cocnerto? Bugger off up-tight tux dudes!”
Skirting around the back of the motel, Fictitia managed to evade police and make a surprising but not unexpected discovery, getting several quick snaps on her phone through the room’s torn curtains. The flames racing toward them, Skripasha’s posse hurried to salvage anything possible, drug paraphernalia scattered across several makeshift tables.
Once police arrived, everything drug-related disappeared out the back door past Fictitia, carried by a heavyset man in black. Most disappointing was the discovery Skripasha was really a man in glam-drag.
That big hulking guy, she figured, must’ve been some kind of courier, chosen more for awesome power than sheer speed. More important was getting pictures of Skripasha Scricci led away in handcuffs.
But here again was a discarded cigarette, an explosion and a big hulking guy running away from the scene.
Emerging from the rubble of the explosion, this beast-like figure had clawed its way out through the smoldering hole, glaring right at her as she snapped a pic before stepping back.
The only difference this time was the heavyset man rushing past her didn’t seem dressed in anything at all, naked except for those diaphanous harem pants missing one of the legs.
Whoa, could this be the same big guy as Scricci’s courier – srsly?
This had “WTF” written all over it.
* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *
The noise began sharply, almost hesitantly before reaching a highpoint, then pausing as I found myself holding my breath.
“What the fuck, indeed,” I wondered, sensing my companion’s equally breath-holding trepidation, as we turned to look at each other, our eyes bugged out realizing that neither of us had a clue.
The unmistakable screech of metal on metal shredding through the oppressive silence brought me out of my verge-of-doomsday musings, whatever D’Arcy’s role in these events or if I might survive them.
It was bad enough being alone in this vast empty blackness with a man who possibly could be Rob’s killer, but now it was clear we were ourselves not totally alone. Had the agents who’d been pursuing us finally located our hiding place and if so, what were our options?
D’Arcy pointed up ahead as this metallic swoop resolved into anticipated exhalation, a crunching reverberant downbeat following its prolonged upbeat, itself followed by the distant scream of a man in great pain.
"It appears someone else has entered the shop," he whispered to me. "I just heard the security gate close."
"But the scream was on the outside," I suggested with some caution. "Though I can hear someone breathing inside."
"Could be," D’Arcy observed, "but who screamed? Someone caught in the door?"
More to the point, perhaps, was who’s now inside the shop with us, but I kept this to myself. There weren’t many possibilities to choose from and no time for consideration. Still, for each choice, I calculated there wouldn’t be many useful options beyond getting the hell out of there.
But the question was, whether it was the murderer or the agents from the IMP up ahead of us, I'm here beside a man who may be collaborating with the murderer.
I was pretty sure that wouldn't have been Cameron screaming like that, but what if he'd found our location? What if he was wandering around out there and had found LauraLynn?
It was more likely we'd heard Dhabbodhú scream but what caused that? And where was LauraLynn? Was she safe?
Then there was a slight click off in the distance behind us, a barely perceptible disruption echoing in the silence like a door pulled shut triggering the latch, then someone going “Shhh!”
“Two people,” D’Arcy said, nodding behind us, “but only one this way.”
Not to mention the guy who screamed.
Motioning to start crawling behind him, he whispered, “Hand me your phone,”
“Yours probably works better than mine, here.”
“Not the point,” he muttered, turning toward me. “I need a diversion.”
“I need my phone,” I protested, trying not to sound too defensive. “How would the murderer continue texting me?”
Reluctantly, I handed it to him since it was, after all, Cameron’s.
He tapped my number into his own phone then slid mine down the aisle back toward our latest arrivals.
Something metallic got knocked over onto the floor, a woman cursed under her breath and two people, apparently, shushed her. Turning back, D’Arcy held up his phone and, with determination, hit “send.”
“Look,” I said, barely breathing, “up ahead, can you see that shadow? Looks like a woman – maybe it’s LauraLynn!”
Just as Cameron’s phone began its familiar annoying ring-tone, everything around us was rocked by an ear-splitting, earth-shattering blast.
I never thought he’d booby-trap his phone with an anti-theft explosive app.
= = = = = = =
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.