Monday, December 08, 2014

The Lost Chord: Chapter 21

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, Cameron, recently 'escaped' from the IMP agents, is reunited with Kerr & LauraLynn, fresh from their own escape, but when her car is destroyed by another bomb, they realize, in order to get away from Schweinwald and meet this composer D'Arcy mentioned, they will have to steal something from the hotel's parking lot: this van looks like a good prospect. Once safely on the road, Kerr follows the instructions D'Arcy gave him and makes a call to a mysterious phone number.

= = = = = = =

Chapter 21

“So, if you’re on the A-7,” he began, “just before Kempten, take B-12 east to Marktoberdorf, then B-472 to Schongau. South of Peiting, take B-23 through Unter- and Oberammergau, Ettal and Oberau. Watch that switchback into the valley – nasty! This becomes B-2 – Munich Street – which will take you south to Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Once through the Farchant Tunnel, reconnect with B-23 – that’ll be downtown Garmisch – this becomes Zugspitzstrasse which splits at Schmölz. Bear to the left when Zugspitzstrasse turns off into Pfeiffering.” He paused.

“There’s also Unterpfeiffering and Oberpfeiffering but keep going till you get to Hinterpfeiffering at the base of the mountain, then turn left onto Leverkühnweg and follow it up onto the mountain. My place is at the top of the drive – can’t miss it,” he concluded. “Did you get all that?”

The old man’s voice sounded professional but comforting despite his steady barrage of labyrinthine detail full of dauntingly unfamiliar names. Then I looked back over the notes I’d tried to jot down.

“Not quite,” I told him. “What was that after ‘take B-12 east’…?”

This was followed by a long pause.

“Look,” he suggested, “I’m just outside Garmisch so type that into a phone app for the directions from Kempten, and you can call me again once you get through the tunnel.”

The voice had taken me by surprise, once he’d started to speak: an African-American, an older man, possibly Southern, though why I’d thought that at first, I couldn’t be entirely sure. He hadn’t mentioned his name, nor had he bothered asking for mine. But the voice had sounded awfully familiar. As far as he knew, I was a friend of Rob Sullivan’s and one who apparently needed his help. Anything in return I knew would have to be taken on faith.

“I estimate it should take you between ninety minutes and two hours,” he said, getting ready to hang up.

“Sir, can you tell us,” I began, “why anyone would kill for…?”

“Shhh,” he cautioned, “not a word, please: you’ve no idea who’s listening.”

“But you just gave us directions to…”

However, he had already hung up without so much as saying good-bye, making me wonder what else was going on, what all that “who’s listening” stuff was all about, for one thing, and if he thought the phone-line was being tapped, why give us such complete directions to find his place. I mean, if they’d bugged LauraLynn’s phone, they know where we’re headed and now they could meet us there (though a good part of what bothered me was the “they” part).

Who were “they” anyway, I wanted to ask this mysterious old man, who or what were we up against, what would the problem be if we’d just give them the artifact? And who’s this maniac after LauraLynn’s journal: was this something else entirely, or was there some dark connection here?

The connection, I reminded myself, was that someone had murdered my friend ostensibly for this artifact hidden in his office, and now his cousin is being pursued by someone after that journal. Is it a coincidence all this is happening at the same time? What is it that links them together?

Still, I kept thinking back to that rather uncomfortable moment in the scene shop when it occurred to me perhaps D’Arcy wanted the artifact for himself or for some other villain?

It was something I always tried to get my students to understand, the important role of tension in the music, not just how it built up to the climax of the piece but how it grew from the beginning through the use of harmony, the turn of phrase, the tonal scheme. When Beethoven modulated to a surprising key, there’s a reason for that, though at the time we’re not sure, a sense of tension building gradually between the expected and the unexpected. Later, we might find this explained by the direction the music takes, perhaps during the intensely dramatic development section or maybe it will affect the anticipated resolutions of the recapitulation section. From small beginnings, tension continues to build but more importantly for the attentive listener, how will it be resolved?

Then there’s this chord, a perfectly ordinary chord we’re quite used to, but this time it does something different, unexpected, resolving some way that takes us by surprise and we lean forward, wondering which way it might resolve the next time we hear it, so many different ways it could go. But then, at that big climactic moment, we lean forward in anticipation, wondering how it might resolve this time but it does just what we’d expect it to – resolving the tension.

Since the whole point of the classical sonata form is this digression from and return to the tonic key, how composers systematically “organized” their music over a span of several centuries, if that long-delayed anticipation finally brings us back to the D Major tonic of a Symphony in D Major, then we can sit back, our expectations met and our sense of drama relieved by this hoped-for happy ending, something chemically changed by a Bunsen burner that somehow – satisfactorily – changes back.

So far, everything’s started innocently enough, going to Rob’s dinner at Benninghurst before that grisly climax of his murder, how this trip to Germany has turned into nothing but increasing tension. How these individual facts and events – these chords and modulations – eventually resolve would certainly be a comfort to know.

“Up ahead, boss: only a few more miles to Kempten,” Cameron said, pulling me out of my unresolved musical reverie. “Maybe we can grab something to eat before turning onto the B-12?”

“I still think it would be better to wait,” I told him, “until we’ve gotten further away from Schweinwald.”

Though she too was hungry, LauraLynn reluctantly agreed: “The farther, the better. Police may be looking for the van,” she added, “though I wish you had some food in this tote-bag…”

She began to rummage through it again, as if this time maybe a bag of chips would magically appear, or better yet some whole wheat crackers with paté de fois gras, finding instead the same old stuff I’d been carrying around all day – papers, her journal and this headless statue.

“You know, we really should start examining these things,” she said thoughtfully, “maybe discover what’s so valuable about them both that somebody, maniac or not, is willing to kill someone for them.”

I knew she was thinking of her cousin when she said that, having come close to being killed herself.

She carefully reached in, retrieving the artifact, and handed it to me as if to say, “okay, your turn.” Admittedly, we had the time and the opportunity to check them out.

“We’d need to turn the dome light on to read these things. Frankly, I’d rather not draw attention to ourselves,” I said, “driving along at night with the inside light on.”

“But if the glass is tinted,” Cameron mentioned, tapping the driver-side window, “can anybody really see us that clearly?”

Maybe it was more procrastination than caution or the fear of discovering something that would only make things worse, but I just wanted to reach our destination and find some answers.

Yet there was one thing I knew we really needed to do and that was track down Rob’s killer – clarification: I knew someone else really needed to track down Rob’s killer – which wasn’t going to happen if I just kept putting everything off, hoping D’Arcy’s friend would figure it out.

We’d been making good time on the Autobahn because of the speed which Cameron was enjoying, all within legal limits, and it didn’t matter whether I kept my eyes closed or not. Still, just like driving in the States, we were constantly getting passed which only incited him to drive faster.

Soon, Cameron veered off the autobahn and headed east on the B-12 when I heard another thump behind us.

“Relax,” he said, smiling over at me, “they drive faster in Europe.”

“I know,” I said, trying to remain calm, “but I just don’t want to get stopped by the police.”

“Maybe we could stop for some food along here, somewhere,” LauraLynn suggested.

The place was all farmland and woods, not a town in sight.

“There, someplace called Kraft-something not far ahead.”

The sign had sped past so quickly, I had barely read it, but at least there was a town nearby where maybe some restaurant would still be open, serving dinner this late. But I forgot not only did Europeans drive faster, they also ate later, so we could be in luck.

“Terry, you’re worried about more than food and Cameron’s driving, aren’t you?”

“Well, I was wondering about trusting D’Arcy…”

“You think we’re walking into a trap?”

“No,” I admitted. “Driving, maybe…”

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

“Of all the stupid, bloody luck,” Fictitia mumbled, biting her lip so she didn’t scream out loud and attract attention, “I had to pick some freakin’ truck that’d pull out almost immediately. Just wanted to hide from the coppers – now, if they found me, I’d be a suspect for bleedin’ sure!”

After crawling into the van, she’d felt it rev up and move, sharp turns knocking her back and forth before it finally took off, traveling at a high rate of speed.

It had seemed so opportune, the doors opening so invitingly like that just when she had lost her balance.

Who was setting all these damned explosions? Why was she always nearby?

She needed a safe place to hide, get away from the police, lay low for a while and re-boot.

What a strange night it had been and it wasn’t over, yet, first seeing that cute young guy named Cameron, then getting picked up by that old guy Scarpia at the opera before seeing the young guy get arrested, some monster running off to that haunted castle and now two explosions.

It was time to tweet a call for help but she wasn’t sure how she could best word it.

“Jeez, does that sound like a scam?” she wondered, then hit post.

The only difference between this and hide-and-seek was, whoever’d be seeking her, how would they manage to find her, lost forever somewhere in the German countryside, never to be seen again? She was rarely prone to such over-romanticizing, but this exception seemed warranted: into everyone’s life, some drama must fall.

“Just take a deep breath,” she kept telling herself, “and remain calm. I sure could use a fag, now...”

Then she smelled something familiar, like a distant but decidedly unpleasant memory.

“Bloody hell,” she blurted out as another sharp turn tossed her sideways, “look at all this crap back here!”

She swept her phone across the van, hoping it was enough light.

It looked like any ordinary electrician’s van except for the missing ladders (maybe they were kept on the roof).

Narrow shelves lined the sides and back of the narrow cargo space with tool belts neatly hung up in rows, some of them lined with small plastic boxes of screws and bolts, things her father always waxed eloquently about, rattling off their specific names and sizes as if they were poetry. How ironic would it be to find herself kidnapped by a man no more common than her blue-collar father? Had he come to Germany to find her and take her home?

But of course it wasn’t a matter of kidnapping, she knew that: she had selected this place to hide. She had crawled in voluntarily – such a stupid thing, she realized now.

Over there were boxes holding jumbles of digital clocks, all various sizes, strung up to cables of different lengths.

Things bristling with red and black wires stuck out of boxy crates, made from several kinds of metal or plastic.

Another row of cardboard boxes was marked “C4 – please handle with care.”

“Holy bloody gods-in-the-Ganges – freakin’ explosives! I hid myself in a bomb-maker’s van!”

That certainly killed any urge to smoke...

A series of sharp turns, one after another on a steep incline, sent her rolling violently across the floor, conking her head repeatedly into a steel canister until she passed out.

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

It was no busier than usual early on a beautiful summer evening though business wouldn’t start picking up until midnight, the local police only showing up when the head-bangers got too rowdy. The major problems were airline pilots out getting bombed before their flights – afterward, nobody (police included) really cared much. A typical party night, Manina thought it looked more like a masquerade, not that that was a bad thing because, given their black storm-trooper uniforms, they’d fit in much more easily.

Menveaux knew the Mobius was a popular if not infamous strip club – “dance club,” the management preferred calling it – just off the airport road outside Memmingen, a hangout for younger crowds. Having studied classical ballet as a child, she had difficulty thinking of the people bopping around here as “dancers.”

The strobe lights cut great blinding swaths through the murky smoke-filled space, a converted hangar with different levels, mirrors everywhere, many of them angled to give you a kind of fly-eyed perspective. Consequently, it was difficult to distinguish between the real and the reflected, making it impossible to eyeball a suspect.

When they’d gotten word that “Paul Meary” was heading into The Mobius, the IMP agents thought it very strange but figured, if nothing else, that professor should be easy to spot.

After marching into the club and fanning out across the dance floor, Menveaux shouted she still couldn’t recognize their target, despite the strong signal reporting his presence.

One guy bumped into Manina.

“Which is weird,” Manina shouted back, annoyed, “because according to my sensor, he should be standing right beside me.”

When the guy kept eying her up, Manina tugged at his lapel.

“Nice jacket, man. Where’d you steal it?”

Unfortunately, this guy looked nothing like the suspect Leahy-Hu had her tag.

“Hey, keep yer hands off the merchandise – you a cop or somethin’?” He pulled back, unable to squirm clear.

Reaching into the one pocket, Manina found the GPS bug she’d planted.

“Oh, it’s Paul Meary’s jacket, alright,” Menveaux reported, “it’s just not him. And the jacket is, incidentally, otherwise alone.”

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

We had gone about ten miles, maybe, once leaving the Autobahn behind, driving through darkening woods with considerably less traffic, mostly in that meditative silence typical of people recuperating from unanticipated mayhem. It had been the kind of day we’d never expected to experience or, once there, figured we wouldn’t survive. Cameron kept his eyes on the road, thinking, no doubt, of food at the end of the immediate tunnel while I wondered how the larger tunnel might come to an end.

LauraLynn, half-dozing, leaned up against me, her eyes closed and head nodding, the tote-bag held loosely in her lap, its contents momentarily forgotten in a chance to grab a quick nap. It seemed a shame to interrupt either of them at the moment, so I just continued trying to think.

“Are you asleep?” Cameron whispered.

“Yes,” I answered, “unless it’s something urgent.”

“I was just going to tell you there’s a town up ahead – we could pull off and check it out.”

“We might as well,” I told him. “We’re enough off the beaten path not to worry about it, now.”

I figured if I was feeling hungry, it was amazing Cameron hadn’t already passed out from starvation, poor guy. I hoped we could find something open that had stocked enough food.

As he slowed down and veered off into the exit for Kraftisried, I asked if anyone was following us but he said he hadn’t noticed anything, at least nothing terribly obvious. The people driving behind us kept on going once we turned off. Needless to say, that was a relief.

“Still,” I warned him, “we don’t have a lot of spare time. Let’s hope the place will have take-out.”

“Huh,” he said, “let’s hope they’re open.” The view ahead wasn’t promising.

Out of luck, it seemed: Kraftisried must’ve rolled its sidewalks up early, odd for such a beautiful summer’s night. Nothing was open, only a few lights on and no one about. We didn’t even waste time to stop, just turned the van around and headed back out to the highway.

Cameron figured the next town was a dozen miles down the road – Marktoberdorf, a bigger town with a train station – just off the B-12 once we’ve gotten onto the B-472 to Schongau. We might be there in fifteen minutes, according to his rough estimate, his senses dulled a bit by hunger. With luck, we’d find an open restaurant, something passing for a night-life, but also a greater risk of discovery, assuming the local police had gotten any reports about a stolen van.

LauraLynn woke up with a stifled scream, as if she’d found herself back in the basement of the Festspielhaus, trying to shield herself from her attacker by holding out the tote-bag. Getting her bearings took a few seconds: safe in a stolen van, we’re driving through an ominously dark forest.

“We’re driving past Hintermoos, the sign says,” Cameron mentioned, nodding behind us, “not that I can see anything except woods. I guess they’re the Hintermoosenwald – hah, it’s ‘Tales from the Moose-Butt Woods’…”

His attempted levity fell with a thud.

“Let’s hope the van doesn’t break down – place gives me the creeps…”

There wasn’t another vehicle on the road, the perfect scenario for trouble.

Fortunately, our exit was not far away, and the lights of a good-sized town were visible on the horizon.

Finding the center of town turned out not to be a problem since a number of people were walking about as we pulled onto the main street and located the train station. Across the street was a more respectable-looking restaurant than the usual tavern, groups of happy people sitting out front. Cameron, borrowing some German currency from LauraLynn, went to get some take-out while I checked the local train schedule. LauraLynn stayed in the van, wishing she could go change her clothes.

Unfortunately, they told me no trains would go to Garmisch-Partenkirchen from here, needing to connect at Munich for that: it looked like we’ll have to drive the van the whole way. Cameron got back to the van only a moment after I did, loaded down with several bags of food.

Without warning, two policemen sauntered over as we stood by the van and my stomach immediately sank to the ground. Without registration or any documents on us, we would certainly be detained.

“Just want you folks to be careful out here,” the one said. “Rumors about some terrorist on the loose.”

“Yeah,” the other one smiled, “something about bombs at an opera house. Probably that crazy French guy, Pierre Boulez!”

The first one laughed, clapping me on the shoulder, and walked away.

It surprised me they’d know Boulez’ old-time joke, about needing to reform opera by first blowing up the opera houses. They were both friendly, everything sounding innocent, not the least bit suspicious.

As we pulled away with a sharp turn back to the highway, there was another thump from the back.

“Maybe the terrorist is in the back of the van,” Cameron joked. “Maybe we should go check it out…?”

We all laughed just as LauraLynn’s phone started buzzing: an in-coming text.

“What the…?” She reached for the phone and looked at the screen. “Oh my God, it’s from Rob’s phone!”

“It’s Rob’s killer – he’s still trying to get in touch with us.”

It read, “Having trouble reaching Dr. Kerr. Are you getting any closer? Solve the riddle by sunrise – or else!”

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

Agent Lott looked over toward Preston Agitato who sounded like he might need the Heimlich maneuver (“been there, done that”), but her Schweinwald Security counterpart waved back giving her an apologetic thumbs-up. He’d spewed coffee all over his monitor, whatever that was all about. She returned to her agents in Memmingen.

It had taken him completely by surprise, another plan tonight that’s backfired. First, Widor’s explosives, then this simple car-bomb! What is it with these incompetent people, complicating his being the messenger?

It was bad enough, Agitato thought, that Ms. Harty was nowhere near the car when the bomb went off, but now The Chief wanted to know why Scarpia hadn’t reported in. To say N. Ron Steele, perfectionist extraordinaire, was steamed put it mildly. He didn’t like when underlings failed him.

“He was supposed to report back to me at half-time,” Steele complained.

“That’s ‘intermission,’ sir,” Agitato corrected.

“Half-time, intermission: whatever…”

Steele wanted to know where Scarpia was and why he hadn’t called.

Agitato, hearing some chatter on the Schweinwald phone, promised The Chief he would do his best to locate Scarpia.

“Also,” Agitato continued, hesitantly, “Agent Widor has run into a… slight snag. Seems Operation Hell-Trap has gone off early.”

Steele’s icy silence meant more than disapproval.

“On it, sir,” Agitato concluded.

With everybody else distracted by the car-bomb, Agitato started typing in the access code to track Barry Scarpia’s phone. He was in before anyone could say “rights to privacy be damned.”

“OK, there’re several recent e-mails to… From SlimTodLX? Really, Scarpia? Cute… Wait, a pic with a tracking bug?”

The signal came in clear but its location didn’t make much sense. Agitato immediately clicked on a higher resolution.

“Huh, he’s at the old Schweinwald Castle. What the hell’s he doing…?”

He’d have to check this out later, but meanwhile he hacked into her phone’s GPS through Scarpia’s tracker bug.

“So, he’s apparently stalking her, but why? Okay, there she is, but…”

Somehow, she was showing up miles away – he took some quick calculations – like, twenty-five miles southeast of Schweinwald.


Officer Martineau, frustrated about the parking lot’s surveillance cameras not being operational, decided to take her allotted cigarette break outside and asked Agitato to keep an eye on what cameras were functional. Agent Lott, annoyed at losing Paul Meary’s trail, decided to join her, keeping her radio on, just in case.

When Agitato’s private phone – his designated SHMRG line – signaled another incoming call, he immediately de-activated Schweinwald’s intercom for privacy (he was always afraid one day he’d forget and blow his cover).

“Widor!” he yelled, suddenly pulling back in case Martineau was in ear-shot. “What the hell’s going on? Everybody’s pissed!”

“Look,” he reported, “my van’s been stolen – with all the bomb-making stuff…”

“Crap! Let me enter your GPS code.” Agitato didn’t want to be Agent Widor at his next performance review…

It didn’t take long for the computer to latch onto its location – there it was, twenty-five miles southeast of Schweinwald...

Agitato did a double take. “Very weird! What the hell’s going on?”

He brought up this Fictitia woman’s location in the other window, side-by-side.

“That’s what I thought,” he mumbled. “Weird…”

What was really weird was, after carefully superimposing each of their coordinates, they were both on the same spot.

Had this Fictitia stolen Widor’s van? Why? And where was she going?

= = = = = = =
To be continued...

posted by Dick Strawser

The novel, The Lost Chord, is a classical 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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