Thursday, December 04, 2014

The Lost Chord: Chapter 20

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, Kerr recalls a childhood visit to Rob Sullivan's summer home in Maine with LauraLynn and their younger cousin, Maurice. Rita Pagliaccio's intermission feature goes more smoothly, everyone gushing about the brilliance of adding such an unexpected twist to the opera's first act finale. Dr. Kerr and LauraLynn take up hiding in Nelmondo's distant dressing room which, despite its isolation, has become a very busy place.

= = = = = = =

Chapter 20

It wasn’t that difficult to imagine Nelmondo using this obscure back exit to avoid the paparazzi and autograph seekers, ready to sneak out with some chorister for a light post-performance dinner.

“He’d said something about making a right,” I said, clutching the tote-bag. “But where do we go from here?”

We had reached the end of the hall beyond that right turn.

Here, other hallways fanned out which took us either left or right, once again thrown back into the maze.

Now I knew how salmon must feel, fighting their way valiantly upstream, once that dressing room door was yanked open: it was barely all I could manage, grabbing LauraLynn and the tote-bag, then swimming against the crowd to clamber our way into the bathroom that led to the adjacent dressing room.

We faintly heard the orchestra tuning up and the sound of applause meaning the second act was about to begin when three Festspielhaus security officers started running down a hall near us. Barely breathing, we continued hugging the wall until the clatter of boots turned and faded around the next corner.

The music reached us from the left which meant the right would take us further away from the stage. In seconds, we pushed opened the stage door onto the back lot.

Crowds of people, security officers and members of the press were standing around gaping at something along the wall but we noticed no one seemed to be looking over toward us. Whatever had caught their collective attention I figured must have had something to do with that explosion we’d heard.

Since I’m directionally challenged at best, it was difficult getting my bearings: I figured, by cutting around to the left, we’d eventually get to the hotel parking lot across the street.

With any luck they’d be guarding all the expected escape routes and leave the most obvious one wide open: “who’d be stupid enough to try that,” I could hear them argue.

Then unexpectedly I heard a familiar voice. “Hey, you guys didn’t see my jacket go by here, did you?”

“Cameron! Wow, where did you come from?” I asked in utter amazement. “I thought I’d never see you again!”

“Likewise, I’m sure,” he said, with a doff of an imaginary hat.

He explained how some creep stole his jacket and his hot dog and then ran off in this direction.

“No, I meant the last time I saw you, we were running through some underground hallways and you disappeared.”

“Oh that, yeah, I stopped at a snack machine and got arrested…”

“Considering we’re being pursued,” LauraLynn interjected, “let’s save the reunion for later?” She started pushing us both toward the road. “We need to get across to the far side of the hotel!”

As we hurried, Cameron explained how he’d been interrogated and then they just left him standing in a hallway.

 “So what happened to the other guy, then, Mr. D’Arcy?” Cameron asked, looking around as we hurried across the road, then dashed between some large bushes near the front of the hotel.

“Ah well,” I said, “he apparently sacrificed himself to the greater good.”

“Oh, that’s awful!” Cameron stopped in shock.

“No, I mean he dropped back to get caught – like a decoy.”

Cameron was visibly relieved, soon catching up.

“Still, it pisses me off about my coat – and the hot dog…”

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

Special Agent Kaye Gelida-Manina couldn’t believe the professor simply vanished like that in the hallway where they’d captured D’Arcy. According to any known information, he simply wasn’t considered all that clever. Especially since the one usher had reported seeing one of the extras escorting two strangers down a different hall.

But Agent Milton Leise had checked, verifying the dressing room was empty and neither of them had been located.

Mumbling something about sending in the rookie, Manina decided to go, herself.

Scanning the room with her thermal heat-sensing device, she found numerous details on the floor, the walls, even the ceiling.

There were also some footprints going against the flow toward the bathroom.

Curiously, they then disappeared into this closet.

She whipped the door open.

“It’s another dressing room!”

And also empty.

Cautiously peering around the door into the hallway, she noticed Wanda Menveaux standing at attention just a few rooms away.

“Agent Menvaux,” Manina asked her, “how long have you been standing there?”

“Just got back a moment ago, sir.”

“And what about the kid?”

“Paul Meary is on the move, sir.”

She asked if he had been alone when he left the building.

Apparently he was, which Manina thought unlikely.

“Because the professor and that woman were hiding in this dressing room...”

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

Worried he might have suffered a concussion, knocked flat by that blast, Garth Widor continued cursing his rotten luck, despite managing to get away in his van before anyone noticed him. Besides, now he had to come back and finish the damned job – or, more accurately, start it over again.

So how, he wondered, would he get in there to do that since the place was crawling with cops? He’d need to find some place to lay low for a while.

Maybe that old castle in the woods (“nobody would notice me there”), but one thing couldn’t wait till then: in addition to having a killer headache, his bladder was nearly exploding.

He parked the van behind the hotel to make just a quick dash inside to use the men’s room.

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

The plan, I explained, had been for D'Arcy to drive us to this mysterious composer's chalet somewhere in the mountains but beyond that I had no idea what he had in mind.

"He'd started saying something about a composer Rob might've met with recently – remember that, Cameron? Back in Rob's office."

"That's right, it was just before those damned storm troopers showed up! He never said anything more about it?"

"Well, honestly, we were a little preoccupied, dealing with said storm troopers."

Meanwhile, having no idea what we'd gotten ourselves into anyway, LauraLynn suggested we might as well take her car, a rental she’d parked behind the hotel in case she needed it. With any luck, we’ll be on the road before our pursuers realized, then I'd check D'Arcy's note for instructions.

“It’s a good sign, your running into us, just like I’d run into Terry and D’Arcy in the scene shop,” LauraLynn said, pointing straight ahead, her car about a hundred yards away. Finding her keys, she added, “I’m always amazed how these things work,” pressing the button on the key’s remote.

Suddenly the air was shredded by a huge explosion and her car, its doors flying, turned into a fireball.

“What the hell…?”

“That, I’m gathering, is a bad sign. Now what…?”

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

Festspielhaus Dispatcher Preston Agitato had been listening in on the squawk-box radios while eavesdropping on IMP Dispatcher Aida Lott, working from her post at the other end of the security center, wondering what all this new-found excitement was about somebody named Paul Meary who was now heading north toward Memmingen. Too bad the renovations everybody’s complaining about were so far behind schedule, the backstage security cameras weren’t properly installed. If they’d been operational, they might have figured out this professor’s location.

Looking out the security trailer’s side window, he saw the explosion almost at the same time he felt it.

“What the hell was that??” Martineau screeched, trying to focus the monitors.

Unfortunately, those cameras, though installed, weren't functioning.

Agitato called in the alert.

“Another bomb: back lot at the hotel!”

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

“Holy mother of gods,” Fictitia screamed as this second explosion went off, making her feel maybe she was a carrier. Or – this dawned on her slowly – was somebody out to get her? She’d just run back from that haunted castle, following that horrible beast, wondering what nastiness had befallen old Scarpia. At first she thought she’d need to hide from the police again before they blame her for another bomb but now maybe she needed to hide to protect herself from… – what?

The impact of the blast threw her up against this black van parked right outside the hotel’s back entrance, knocking its back doors ajar like it was offering her immediate sanctuary.

“Well, better than running into the hotel,” she thought, tired and exhausted, crawling inside, closing the doors behind her.

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

Schäufel hurriedly ordered each of his officers to the hotel’s back lot, convinced this professor had somehow planted both bombs and, following his escapades on stage, was no longer in the Festspielhaus. Officer LeVay raised the possibility the professor was sending a definite message, though Agitato knew that wasn’t the case.

After he finished coordinating the calls with Schäufel and the other officers, Agitato pulled a cell-phone from his pocket.

He tapped in a number and waited.

“The Eternal Feminine is short-lived.”

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

"Rob's ashes," LauraLynn was screaming, "I'd left the urn in the trunk! That damned bastard, he's killed him twice!"

Who'd believe it: Rob's ashes had just been scattered to the winds!

It was becoming quite clear whoever was after us – or at least the objects we held – was very serious.

“How’re we going to get there, now?” LauraLynn shouted through the din.

“Remember that train station we’d stopped at?”

“Maybe it connects with Garnish-Partenwhatzit,” Cameron wondered.

“Could we hail a cab?”

Since I didn’t think either would likely be the most viable way, given the absence of D’Arcy’s car or LauraLynn’s, the only thing Cameron saw likely was if we could steal one. Retreating toward some bushes near the hotel’s entrance from the back lot, I asked half-jokingly how he’d manage that.

The closest vehicle was a black cargo van like electricians might use, one without any logos painted on its side, and, as if to demonstrate, Cameron reached under the front left wheel-well to pull out a small magnetic case which, to no one’s surprise, contained what must’ve been the spare key.

Holding it up with a smirk, he said, “an answer to prayer!”

“We can’t just steal this,” LauraLynn blustered.

“And he’s probably bigger than the three of us combined,” I added.

By now, several policemen had begun converging on the hotel’s parking lot, headed for the remains of LauraLynn’s car. Without further argument, Cameron unlocked the door and we hastily clambered in. He went to start up the van, realized the alarm wasn’t set, then punched it into reverse, speeding away.

“Oh look,” Cameron said, nodding at the windows, “tinted glass. How cool!”

“Great, we’ve stolen a drug dealer’s truck…”

I heard a thump coming from the back, something loose, no doubt.

Looking in the side-view mirror, I noticed a large man, seemingly familiar, dressed in black dashing from the hotel in the midst of zipping his fly, looking very perturbed about something.

I almost said, “There’s that guy I keep thinking is Dhabbodhú, again!” Maybe I was just seeing him everywhere...

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

The bomb placed under the Festspielhaus wasn’t supposed to go off yet, not until the memorial service the next morning, so when he heard the second explosion, Rache knew something was wrong, especially after complaints about how Old Widor's been screwing things up recently, calling undue attention to Robertson Sullivan’s murder. It was only a matter of time before his rapidly increasing sloppiness ruined The Chief’s latest project, Operation Mephisto, so maybe it was time Heller Rache started keeping him under surveillance.

As he approached the parking lot, he saw the Schweinwald security officers swarming nervously around a burned-out car’s remains.

“It’s rented to LauraLynn Harty, the cousin of former Director Robertson Sullivan.”

Rache heard a pleasantly sexy, familiar voice: “Was anyone in the car?”

“There doesn’t appear to be,” Mobilé reported.

Kunegunde Nacht, hearing Dispatcher Agitato choke on his coffee, announced she’d been having drinks in the hotel with some friends. “Besides,” she added with a wink, “this was my scheduled night off.”

“Consider this my little contribution to Mephisto,” Nacht purred, pulling Rache aside, “considering SHMRG’s concerned you’re a double agent.”

Motioning toward the hotel, Kunegunde asked, “who’s that over there? Not Widor…?”

Now what’s he up to,” Heller snorted.

“He’s seen us,” she said, turning around. “Careful, he’ll give us away.”

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

Once safely on the road leaving Schweinwald behind, I unfolded D'Arcy's note but found no name and no phone number.

"Call Drummoyne," he'd scribbled down, "re:# in RS file emerg – call that."

RS was obviously Rob Sullivan but what number would Rob list in a personnel file as a Benninghurst fellow?

"Wait, Terry, I have Drummoyne's number in my phone," LauraLynn said. "Here."

"Hey, don't leave that out of your sight." Cameron was still annoyed how I'd let D'Arcy borrow his phone.

Drummoyne was working at his desk and surprised to hear from me. He figured it wasn't a personal call.

"How're things going? Any news about Rob's killer," we asked each other.

When I asked if Rob left some "emergency contact" in his file, Drummoyne was skeptical but agreed to check.

After a few minutes' interminable silence, he returned. "Yes, but it doesn't make any sense – just a series of letters." He started reading them off. "Wait, they're musical pitches: there's an A-flat."

He didn't see it could be helpful – "It looks like some joke." I pretended it may well be one.

"Oh," I added, just as I was about to hang up, "if anyone else calls and asks for this, don't tell them you've talked to me – but leave out the A-flat?"

"Integer notation," Cameron suggested, "substituting numbers for pitches, making A-flat an 8."

"Exactly, Cameron – very good. It's an easy code..."

From what I remembered, Garmisch was about an hour south of Munich, leaving plenty of time for further discussion, but for the moment I had a very important call to make.

While Cameron explained how the substitution worked – C was 0, C-sharp was 1, working on up the chromatic scale – I carefully entered the numerical equivalents of the pitches into the phone.

Once the connection completed successfully, I glanced at D'Arcy's note which contained a further four words, clearly a password.

No sooner had it rung a second time, someone picked it up.

I took a deep breath and spoke tentatively: "What’s the frequency, Johannes?"

A dry but calming voice answered, "Speaking…"

= = = = = = =
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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