Thursday, November 13, 2014
The Lost Chord: Chapter 15
(a classical music appreciation comedy thriller by Richard Alan Strawser: you can read it from the beginning, here.)
In the previous installment, a strange creature emerges from a crack in the Festspielhaus wall following the explosion and runs across the back parking lot as Fictitia takes a quick photo and posts it on-line before deciding to follow after it. In the opera house, cast, audience and members of the Festival's security team react to the explosion and Scarpia notices Fictitia is on the move. Who caused this explosion? A terrorist, no doubt, and Leahy-Hu knows just who the terrorist is...
= = = = = = =
Once the noise with its incessant echoes subsided and we found we were not in fact standing among smoldering ruins, whatever that had been and whatever damage it may have done somewhere, V.C. D’Arcy and I distinctly heard the not well concealed conversation coming from the back of the scene shop. It was then we decided, whatever had happened in front of us, it was our only hope to escape, eventually finding the freight elevators that would take us to safety backstage.
That shadow against the wall, barely visible to our left, hadn’t moved, probably some set piece or misplaced prop, arms stretched and fingers splayed like someone trying to sneak past unseen. Then I noticed one of the arms began to slide slowly downward, in toward the body: a living person!
D’Arcy saw it, too, and pointed, stopping only momentarily as we crept slowly toward the front end of the shop. He knew LauraLynn but perhaps he too wasn’t sure this was her. Shrugging my shoulders, feeling a bit uncertain, I wondered if it was somebody we didn’t want to run into.
“Hello?” I whispered cautiously through cupped hands though it sounded like I’d shouted at the top of my lungs. It must be deafening in here when all this machinery was operating.
“Terry?” LauraLynn’s voice was practically a squeal of relief, despite being whispered, and D’Arcy was quick to shush her, mindful of our visitors hopefully still at the back of the shop.
“There’s no time, we have to get out of here,” D’Arcy whispered back to her as she hurried over.
From the various scenery and costume shops, everything funneled into this hallway leading directly to that bank of elevators, D’Arcy’s urgent instructions resonating in the eerie emptiness of this cathedral-like space.
As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I could see how clutter against the walls could afford us safety. But we all knew hiding was not as good an idea as simply getting the hell out of there, making a rapid dash while hoping the elevators were still operating after-hours.
A faint light glowed at the far end where D’Arcy was pointing, a distance that seemed like a mile away. We were going to run down this long, wide-open cattle-chute, completely exposed? One could only hope the agents chasing us were lousy shots like most bad guys were in the movies.
“But what if he’s waiting for me?” LauraLynn had reason not to escape, not wanting to confront her attacker.
“Unfortunately,” D’Arcy replied, “there are several well-armed agents back there. Your call.”
He explained about the sound-proof wall that hadn’t been completely closed, intended to seal the shop from the elevators, all state-of-the-art technology to control the noise level during rehearsals and performances.
“I should be able to close it before they can reach us. It moves almost completely silently. Here goes!”
I saw him swipe his ID-badge through some box in the shadows then realized how this immense wall halfway between us and the elevators had started to glide shut effortlessly and noiselessly, two panels made of thick plates of steel headed toward each other: miss this and we’re trapped – or crushed.
The space we were aiming for was getting narrower by the second.
D’Arcy pushed us out ahead of him.
“Hurry, we’ve only got a few seconds!”
So, off we ran.
* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *
State-of-the-art night-vision goggles, of course, would have made tracking down their prey that much easier for the three IMP agents charged with capturing Acting Director D’Arcy and his friend, Leahy-Hu’s “dratted professor.” Whatever it was he stole, they agreed it must be very important: she’d been adamant about wanting him alive.
Unfortunately, the goggles the agents had been issued were not technically “state-of-the-art,” like most things dealt to the arts, old issue hand-me-downs culled from various world-wide security agencies’ technology clearing houses.
For Special Agents Kaye Gelida-Manina and Wanda Menveaux, both ten year veterans of the agency, this was status quo but Milton Leise, who’d only recently transferred in from Germany’s elite Bundesmusikalischeabwehrdienst, was always complaining about their outdated equipment and consequently always got stuck with the oldest stuff. “Seniority,” they said.
After that cell-phone rang and the bomb went off, they heard their dispatcher’s voice in their headsets. “You guys okay?”
“Yeah,” Gelida-Manina responded, “but you said they weren’t armed? What the hell…?”
“We’re checking on that. Apparently some device went off in the ductwork outside your area. Proceed with your mission.”
Agent Aida Lott had once been a member of their elite team, transferred after she could no longer fit into the tight black uniforms making them look like space-age storm troopers.
“Shit,” Agent Leise mumbled under his breath.
“Great, here we go again.” Agent Gelida-Manina cursed the day she got stuck with this new guy on her team. “Now what’s the problem?”
“I think I stepped in some shit. The batteries in these goggles are about shot. Can’t see a thing.”
Whatever it was, it was still tacky.
“Well, it’s not blood,” Agent Menveaux said, checking it with ultraviolet light.
“I didn’t say it was: I thought it was shit,” Leise retorted.
Gelida-Manina, pointing to a paint can knocked off a workbench during the explosion, suddenly heard voices in the distance.
“Not again, Leise.”
“No, look. Straight ahead – there!”
“Three of them?”
Indeed, three shadows dashed toward a wall that was rapidly closing shut.
Like that ever worked before…
* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *
I’d heard the expression “mad dash” before, but this was freaking insane, already winded and, typically, bringing up the rear. As the wall closed in on me, it nearly caught my arm. Fortunately, I was able to get both arm and tote-bag completely through before I heard any nasty crunching sounds. I heard shots being fired, ricocheting off the outside of the wall, meaning our pursuers were getting more desperate. What were the chances this wall would be impervious to their advance?
My knees still quivered from the frightening realization, not only might I have left the artifact behind for them, I might also have lost an arm in the process as well. But there was no time to contemplate the adjustments life would’ve required: we still had to reach the elevators.
A small utility light cast a weak glow from over the elevators, comparably bright enough like being awash in moonlight. D’Arcy reached the elevator first and punched each “up” button in turn.
Pulling the statue out of the tote-bag, I quickly checked the artifact and saw it managed to survive intact.
“Aww, Terry, you broke the head off!” LauraLynn looked over my shoulder. “Maybe there’s some glue in my purse.”
“No, it was already missing it before. Do you recognize this thing?”
After taking a quick glance, LauraLynn had no idea what it was or why anyone found it so important. The evening was full of such confusion, she mentioned with a sigh. There was no logical explanation about Dr. Girdlestone and the journal, either, but yet it must have some significance.
“Whatever,” she said, “he must’ve killed Rob and Aunt Katie trying to get it, and he almost killed me. Plus I have no idea what might have happened to Heidi, either.”
Hearing shots meant “sound-proof” wasn't everything it was cracked up to be. The elevators clanked slowly back to life.
“Where’s this journal,” I asked her. “Do you have it with you?”
She was afraid of losing her purse, so I suggested putting the journal in my tote-bag with the statue.
“I was only going to give him a few pages I’d photocopied, hoping that was enough to keep him happy. Rob had promised to give it to him before… before he died.” She stopped a moment before adding, “at least, that’s what Girdlestone said. Who knows what Rob knew about it.”
I was going to tell her about the text messages I’d been getting from Rob’s cell-phone since I arrived, when there was a great crunch coming from the wall behind us.
Three black-clad agents burst through a crack, firing shots above our heads, hitting the only light we had left. One more time thrown into total darkness, I felt them getting closer.
D’Arcy pushed us toward the elevator that opened, threw something and yelled, “Fire in the hole!”
The agents scrambled.
Of the three elevator doors, D’Arcy wasn’t sure which specifically went where, but since they all went backstage, it didn’t matter which one we’d tumbled into, the door crawling to a close.
“From here,” D’Arcy explained, “then we’ll head out to the back parking lot and get my car.”
“Remember that composer I thought maybe Rob could have given that head?”
“Excuse me, what...? Oh, right, Mozart's head...”
“Well,” D'Arcy continued, “it's important we reach him as soon as possible.”
* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *
It was already well into the evening when the old man decided he should soon be getting ready for bed, sitting back to unwind for a while and take stock of things, a long day under his belt with a lot to show for the hard work he’d put into it. He felt it put him in a good place for tomorrow morning, picking up right where he’d left off rather than spending so much valuable time figuring out where he’d been. When he was younger, he called it “slaving over a hot piano,” though he composed less at the keyboard since he’d “gotten the hang of it,” joking with all those interviewers. Still, he had to keep himself focused or he’d never get this new composition done by the September deadline.
He tried not to think about feeling exhausted at the day’s end, worn down more by physical fatigue than mental, dwelling on aching joints or how his bladder was fit to burst. Careful with taking enough breaks, he discovered his joints bothered him less and the composing kept his mind sharp. Everybody seemed surprised he was still alive – none more than he himself – much less busily turning out new works, coming up on his 99th birthday in January and still going strong.
That’s when he started thinking about his friend, Robertson Sullivan, still dealing with the news of his recent murder. By most standards, Rob, barely in his 60s, was close to retirement. But had he died at that age, much the old man was famous for would never have been written. The arguments were old and tired – older and more tired than he was – about full lives and productive careers. Couldn’t Rob have been granted a few extra years like he’d been?
It was easy to feel a bit smug, realizing you were still “at it” when younger men were gone, not sure it was really with a sense of relief or not, but with so many friends’ recent deaths, especially those still bountifully creative, Rob’s death had affected him more deeply.
“What did you want to listen to tonight,” his nephew asked him, getting some more CDs down off the shelf.
“Oh, well – Mozart, I guess – always Mozart, if I can help it.” He felt the “divine clarity” was something always good for his soul and kept the technical demons at bay.
They decided on Don Giovanni considering it had been a few weeks since the last time he’d heard it.
“Just the last disc, please – pick it up before the Commendatore’s entrance?”
Once the old man started sipping cautiously at his Scotch, his nephew, after checking to make sure the volume was okay, announced he was planning on going out with some friends.
“So late? Almost 9:30.” What was late to an old man wasn't necessarily so late to a younger one.
This was an old joke between them, even if a bit stale, since the nephew was technically a younger man if not exactly a young one himself, already well into his mid-60s.
Suddenly, the nephew noticed a fleeting expression on the older man's face. "Are you okay? Should I stay home?"
"No, no, I'm fine – you go ahead," he said, "really, it's nothing," settling more comfortably into his favorite chair.
"Maybe there's a disturbance in The Force. Not expecting visitors, are you?"
* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *
Not only did I think the door would never close in time, but since the elevator was so brightly lit, we’re like sitting ducks for agents even without night-goggles or heat-seeking weapons. We’d only budged off the ground when I realized that spray of bullets we’d heard would never hit us. D’Arcy’s bomb fake-out with a handy can of spray paint had bought us a few seconds of valuable time, yet it was too early for us to start celebrating our escape.
D'Arcy quickly scribbled something down on a scrap of paper, folding it. "Don't read this unless we get separated. I'm sorry I don't have his number."
"But how are we to...?"
“Well, he lives in a chalet outside Garmisch-Partenkirchen, up in the Alps. If something happens, call Drummoyne, he'd know.”
The elevator was extremely quiet but also unbelievably slow, increasing our anxiety. Taking the stairs would’ve been healthier and faster.
There were so many places I would rather have been, right now.
Rossini’s Barber an old favorite, LauraLynn wondered how the opera was going, where the performance might be, now. “Intermission?”
D’Arcy told her she’d be able to watch it on DVD tomorrow, since it was a live TV broadcast, unless of course security had evacuated the Festspielhaus after the bomb exploded.
It dawned on me what we’d just survived was the first installment of what could well be an on-going series, if Dhabbodhú was after the artifact and Girdlestone was after the journal. Having succeeded in escaping Leahy-Hu’s agents once, what else would we have to go through to catch Rob’s killer?
Besides, what happens if those three agents did take the stairs and would meet us when our elevator opened?
I heard the music, now: the first act finale was just beginning!
But rather than the door opening, the walls around us gradually disappeared, the music not only louder, but closer.
“Where are we?” After the darkness in the shop, this was blinding.
I could barely see, like staring into a wall of brilliant sunlight.
“Uhm, guys…?” LauraLynn sounded hesitant. “Turn around?”
= = = = = = =
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.