Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Lost Chord: Chapter 22

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, Cameron and LauraLynn are on their way to a mysterious rendezvous in a stolen van when Rob's killer tries to contact them on LauraLynn's phone. Fictitia, meanwhile, discovers that the van she had crawled into to avoid the police after not one but two bomb blasts at the Festspielhaus is on the road and makes an ominous discovery just as she's knocked unconscious. The dispatcher for Schweinwald Security (who happens also to be a SHMRG agent) also makes an ominous discovery.

= = = = = = =
Chapter 22

So far, the evening had not been going well, Chief Director of Special Forces Yoda Leahy-Hu contemplated with mounting annoyance, as she strutted around trying to intimidate Schweinwald’s Acting Director V.C. D’Arcy. There was little to build a serious case against him, she knew, but she might find him useful, nonetheless. She knew SHMRG was up to something, had been for some time, and that it involved two recent murders. What she didn't know was the role Professor Kerr played in it.

Was that some priceless artifact Kerr stole and could he be charged with theft under the International Antiquities Law? Could she charge D'Arcy as an accessory beyond obstructing an IMP investigation? Could this item he allegedly stole from Director Sullivan's office have any bearing on the case she was investigating?

If Kerr had stolen something that could prove significant in solving this case, it shouldn’t fall into the wrong hands: it must have been valuable or they wouldn’t have bolted like that.

Whatever it was, did it possess something that might prove significant to SHMRG and help further their long-range schemes? And while D’Arcy had become the consolation prize in the evening’s activities, he might know enough to be useful. What roles did that boy and the woman play, proving so elusive?

It was times like this, recalling her grandmother, she longed to possess even one of those ancient magical powers ascribed to some cartoonish movie character people assumed she was named for (little did they understand that Yoda was an ancient and honorable name in her ancestors' village in central China). So what if, like many Asian women, she was short in build? Her estimable grandmother had been a powerful figure despite her 5'2'' stature, considered comparatively tall in her native village.

"Because I am old and short and do not appear to match your Western concepts of beauty," she thought, "and because my name is that of a famous imaginary movie character, you assume I must say things like 'because old and short I am, to my mind bend you will'?"

"So, Mr. D’Arcy," she began courteously enough after an intentionally uncomfortable silence, "it seems we – as they say – meet again. Is there anything – even the slightest thing – you’d care to tell me?" She turned and looked up at him, realizing uncomfortably even sitting down he was still taller than she was.

"Perhaps you’d begin not at the beginning but with your involvement with a certain American professor-friend of Robertson Sullivan’s?" She thought this wasn't too unreasonable a demand as a conversational ice-breaker.

D’Arcy looked straight ahead, avoiding her directly, his chin up, lips pursed. She walked slowly around behind him, pausing. Suddenly, as if from nowhere, she appeared disconcertingly in front of him

"Or perhaps you’d start by telling us who was that lady we saw you with tonight, hmmm? Your wife?"

D’Arcy furrowed his brow noticeably, mostly at the bad attempt at levity relying on such an old, culturally iconic joke, still more than any kind of response he had cared to offer. Instead, he closed his eyes as if tired of the whole thing, hoping that this would all go away.

"That’s alright," she said, half-heartedly comforting him, "we know you’re not married," her tone leaving open many possible nuances. "It’s not so important we find out who she is, after all."

D’Arcy understood his primary function as prisoner, following his role as decoy, the closest thing he could consider a plan, was to delay his captors long enough to allow Kerr to escape. He could only imagine her extreme crankiness was the result of Kerr’s having somehow managed to do just that. But still, every minute he was able to forestall the inevitable meant Kerr would be that much farther away. The one thing he hoped for was that they find the answers.

Of course, he also knew he needed not to think so much about everything that needed to be done. He knew so little as it was, barely enough to be helpful. Unfortunately, it was obvious that Kerr knew even less than he did, one reason Kerr needed Sullivan's friend’s help.

And as he sensed this annoying imp orbiting like some loathsome gnat, he continued to worry that, everything logical aside, she would manage to read his mind and figure out their destination. What it was he would find there, D’Arcy had not an inkling: the statue, this "fountain" made no sense. He knew his only consolation, whatever she chose to do to him, was there was nothing he could tell. He had no idea where Kerr was much less what needed done.

"Once again, what we really need to know, Mr. D’Arcy," she continued, "is not so much who she is but rather what she, the young man and that professor are doing. We have placed you and the professor, at least, underneath the Festspielhaus stage at the time of the explosion."

She stopped to scrutinize his reaction but D’Arcy tried not to flinch. Lips pursed, she continued her steady orbiting.

"My agents said you threw a bomb at them," she added disapprovingly.

Despite claiming not to have all night, she was taking her time.

"The more time," D’Arcy thought, "the better."

She assumed D’Arcy felt the professor played no role in the bombing.

"We also know Kerr was present when Former Director Sullivan was murdered, yet you don’t think he’s a suspect?"

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

It was bad enough things had not been going according to plan but now he had to deal with intruders getting in his way, distracting his concentration, disrupting the universe’s karmic energy. One more delay could lead to disaster and ruin years of preparation. Not tonight, not this of all nights.

“No time,” he growled, still dragging the body, “there is no time,” pulling it through the castle’s great hall, over the drawing room’s threshold just beyond the base of the steps.

The place was dimly lit, a single candle faintly illuminating one corner but light enough for him to see, his mind having attained a level of awareness powerfully enhancing his vision.

“No time,” he continued growling as he hoisted the interloper’s limp body and thrust him forcefully into a chair.

Cobwebs were everywhere and thick dust festooned them like glittering silver in the feeble glimmer of the room’s lone candle. Armchairs, old a century ago, were covered in tattered sheets like shrouds yet several end tables were piled with books as if recently abandoned, along with crystal goblets and exquisite carafes.

The hulk of a man, naked except for one leg of some diaphanous harem pants, looked about with alarm.

“There’s no time,” he told the corpse. “You will have to wait.”

What was this intruder doing, walking into the castle unannounced like that? Who was this dumpling he was expecting? Apparently not the person who greeted him, from the way he screamed. He fell to his knees with a single blow to the throat, a well-placed fist to the Adam’s apple.

It was the rapid twist to the neck, however, that killed him. Nobody would get in his way tonight. He leaned down and found the intruder’s wallet tucked in a pocket.

The hulk called himself Tr’iTone, after the interval of the augmented fourth, known throughout history as “Diabolus in Musica.” He always considered it a wonderful name, powerful but with unstable implications.

Nodding contentedly, he checked the man’s identification and learned his guest’s name.

“Mr. Scarpia, meet the Devil in Music!”

The fountain – he’d forgotten about the fountain!

“I’m running out of time!”

Robertson Sullivan had taunted him, bragged about it.

“Said he’d discovered its existence, that only the lucky ever find it.”

Where was the clue-filled artifact? What was hidden in Harrison Harty’s journal?

“But he had smirked, called me – unworthy!”

Many times he had tried to force Sullivan into giving it up but each time had been a failure. This time, it would have to work: he had planned it well.

It was tragic that, as he found Sullivan to demand the artifact, he also found Sullivan dead, clearly murdered. He’d grabbed the corpse by the lapels, frustrated he would never know.

“See no evil, then neither hear nor speak it,” he taunted him, drawing his knife across in quick gestures.

The problem was finding the fountain’s location, shrouded in time and myth, and Robertson Sullivan had known all about it. Why else had he come to Schweinwald? Yes, it must be here.

He had found the clues but couldn’t understand how to solve them. Yet he knew their importance, understanding intuitively.

Water from this fountain had the power, Tr’iTone roared, to turn him into The Greatest Composer Who Ever Lived.

“I would become even greater as – dare I consider it? – Beethoven's Heir!”

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

"Mr. D’Arcy," Leahy-Hu began again, "I understand you're protecting Mr. Sullivan’s professor-friend but what I’m having trouble understanding is why." She once again commenced her slow and steady orbiting of D’Arcy’s chair.

The room was small enough as it was but with each rotation, D’Arcy felt it was gradually getting smaller.

He had this image of a spider, small but poised for power, able to take down prey considerably larger, twining her thread around him, patiently waiting, until he’d be completely immobilized.

"Though I can’t say if he’s aware of it himself or not, the professor is still considered a suspect," before adding, "so if you're withholding anything, you’ll be an accessory yourself."

"Yes," he thought, "a very persevering spider, ready to pounce, the bitch, and suck out my life’s last blood."

She saw herself as a magnificent lioness, a natural-born killing machine, efficient, stalking the prey she’d separated from the herd, now worrying it into submission before jumping in to administer the death-blow. Circling ever closer, she could sense his mounting fear, the psychological perspiration, disappointed he was weaker than she’d estimated.

This big man, so powerful and secure sitting in his front office, had clearly underestimated her power and cunning. Here, on her own terms, supremely confident, she almost felt like roaring.

"The IMP is investigating the murders of Robertson Sullivan and Franz-Dieter Zeitgeist." She noticed D’Arcy didn’t show any reaction. "So, I take it Zeitgeist’s murder is not exactly news to you?"

"No." He paused, waiting a moment before looking at her. "I’d heard. Dr. Kerr mentioned it earlier this evening."

"Ah." She seemed mildly surprised, stopping a bit before resuming her orbit. "Curiously, nobody outside the investigation knows that."

"He said that Rob – Mr. Sullivan – had told him, something he’d suspected."

"Why do you think Franz-Dieter Zeitgeist and Robertson Sullivan had been murdered?" She was inching closer to his face.

She pointed out the coincidental arrival of Professor Kerr and the bomb.

"What was it," she asked him, "that you helped him to find – and then," waving her hand, "to steal?"

D’Arcy began his slow and thought-out explanation, how he had met Dr. Kerr moments after he’d arrived at the hotel, how Kerr had at that moment started receiving texts from Sullivan’s phone, how almost simultaneously some guy Kerr thought might be the suspect DhabbodhĂș created a scene falling in the fountain.

"Who precisely is this DhabbodhĂș you mention?" She was definitely all ears.

"Someone acting suspiciously before Sullivan was murdered."

"In Pennsylvania – someone who now shows up as Kerr arrives in Germany?"

"Look," D’Arcy argued, beginning to sound defensive, "Kerr never left my side until your three agents captured me backstage. He couldn’t have sent himself those texts, much less set the bomb."

He didn’t mention he’d found this artifact, something dubbed the Maltese Mozart, something overlooked by others in previous break-ins.

"Dr. Kerr is nothing more, sir, than an ill-conceived smoke-screen," Leahy-Hu added, stamping her foot on the floor for emphasis. "Yet he seems to have stolen something potentially crucial to my investigation."

Texts sent from a dead man's phone, a mysterious character lurking about: clearly somebody's after something Kerr may have.

"It's probably safe to say Kerr's bumbled into something he shouldn't have."

What is the professor's role in SHMRG?

"Mr. D’Arcy, perhaps this will enlighten you: let me show you something."

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

Even from the all-enclosing, all-comforting hiding space in the castle’s secret passageways, Lionel Roth could see and hear practically everything, what it was his friend did to the man in the tux, what he was raving about some fountain he needed to find and about what it would do for him. What he had heard him muttering about the death of Robertson Sullivan was what upset and concerned him most, wondering how he could possibly stay here and remain safe from harm.

A half-hour later, the hulk, completely naked, returned to the drawing room, carefully going through the dead man’s clothing, snarling at the things he was finding, piling them on the table.

A cell-phone dropped out of Scarpia’s pocket and skittered across the floor, coming dangerously close to where Lionel hid.

Tr’iTone glanced down, his eyebrows arching inquisitively: it bounced from the wall before coming to rest in front of him. The casing had cracked from the impact, and then it started buzzing.

Lionel froze, realizing he was only a few feet from the phone. He needed to get away from here.

Crushing the phone beneath his bare foot, not surprisingly Tr’iTone never flinched.

“You outmoded, unfashionable piece of ineffectual dreck…”

The naked man looked up as Lionel shrank further into the shadows.

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

Leahy-Hu reached in and pulled a phone from her inside coat pocket – not the same phone she’d been using earlier, but an older, dingier-looking, considerably cheaper model, one long obsolete and out-of-fashion.

She explained Zeitgeist and Sullivan had been murdered by the same killer acting on behalf of a particular agency.

"And you, I suspect," she added, looking up with a wistful smile, "may very well be in danger, too."

With that, she unfolded the phone and did a brief file search.

"I must apologize for the grainy quality of this video, I’m afraid, but it's not your standard surveillance camera."

She held the phone up to him, adjusting its position for him.

"Mr. D’Arcy, please take a very close look at this, will you? Do you recognize anyone in this video?"

= = = = = = =
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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