Monday, December 15, 2014

The Lost Chord: Chapter 23

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, IMP Special Forces Director Leahy-Hu has begun her interrogation of V.C. D'Arcy and proceeds to show him something, asking him if he recognizes anyone in a video stored on an old phone. Meanwhile, at the old castle, Tr'iTone has eliminated one intruder, Schweinwald Board President Barry Scarpia, but is concerned about the delays if, tonight, he is to become Beethoven's Heir.

= = = = = = =
Chapter 23

The monthly board meeting had long been scheduled for SHMRG’s London headquarters well before the regrettable demise of Robertson Sullivan, Garth Widor arriving in the UK the day after that unfortunate event, but N. Ron Steele, typically punctual, preferred having everything neat and tidy: very little was ever left to chance. Everyone gathered in their corporate inner sanctum, unconcerned at hearing the news since he wasn’t, technically, one of “theirs,” which didn’t mean, however, such news might not appear on their agenda.

The room, spacious and grand as if other people might see their accommodations and would need to be impressed, was a masterpiece of ostentation, huge floral arrangements on the fireplace mantel, and a vast table artfully crafted from the trunk of a single tree of some exotic, nearly extinct species.

They started by going around the table to cover the usual business, starting with Holly Burton’s reading of the minutes from their last meeting held in New York over a month ago. Without comment, Steele moved on directly to the matter of new business, introducing two on-going projects involving their guests.

Barry Scarpia, also the recently elected Board President at the Schweinwald Festival, introduced agents Kunegunde Nacht and Heller Rache, long-time SHMRG operatives recently hired to infiltrate Schweinwald’s understaffed Festival Security Force.

Widor was uncomfortable in what he considered these formal situations, constantly fidgeting. A man who worked with his hands, he kept quietly toying with his cell-phone to keep his nerves calm.

“Mr. Widor,” Amanda Hackett chirped, “I hope you’re not tweeting the meeting?”

They laughed as Widor, rather uncharacteristically, blushed.

The mere mention of tweeting was enough to make Scricci’s skin crawl, retrieving unfortunate associations with landing in prison. To this day, he could barely keep himself under control using Facebook.

For the rest of the board members’ benefit, Hackett introduced Skripasha Scricci, the new director for the MP³ Project, without any mention of his recent release from prison on drug charges. He politely nodded around the table in response to these brief comments, followed by a polite round of congratulations.

Officially called “Marketing Prodigies Making Performance Music Popular,” the MP³ Project, he explained, would identify and train flashy young virtuosos then push them on orchestras as the much anticipated Next Big Thing, convincing managements they couldn’t succeed without them on their under-performing subscription series in their quest to increase ticket sales.

Considering these prodigies were likely to burn out before they were 18, there would always be fresh new talent ready to appease an audience quick to grow tired of familiar faces.

It had, after all, happened to him, washed up at 19 before reinventing himself as a cross-over “rock goddess” before that unfortunate business with a stalker who tweeted those compromising photos.

Looking at it that way, MP³ wasn’t very different from dealing drugs – more practical experience he could point to.

Rumor had it his time in the criminal justice system had been greatly reduced by SHMRG’s lawyers on some technicality to a mere three months despite the severity of the accumulated charges. If those damning photographs hadn’t been posted almost instantly on-line, no one would have ever known what was happening.

At first, Scricci figured it had been that new courier getting caught, running off with all of the evidence. But if he ever caught that reporter posting those photos – look out…

Barry Scarpia had been a reliable, hard-working board member in good standing for most of the past decade at SHMRG, his initial reputation for relentlessly pursuing the Big Picture issues still intact, doubtless better than any of the younger, usually less experienced board members who might be distracted by short-term gains. Widor knew no one on the board was more loyal than Scarpia with his feudal dedication to the cause though, realistically, he also knew such loyalty was traditionally not above suspicion.

He certainly appreciated Scarpia with his reputation for being a smooth operator, how it sometimes got in his way, especially when it came to his unfortunately well-documented weakness for younger women. Still, few on this board could arrange for the “neutralization” of opposition as effortlessly as Scarpia made them disappear.

Garth Widor felt uncomfortable, glancing around the room, bored with the proceedings, and wondered how these new phone apps worked, reminiscing how he’d been with Steele longer than any of these guys. First, he’d been some kind of family handyman, good at picking locks, then a combination childhood nanny and bodyguard. He had always been close to Ronny – “Mr. Steele,” he corrected himself, “even when he called me Ms. Poppins” – as close as one could ever get to so heartless a child.

Scarpia drew him out of his reverie with a slightly impatient cough. It was clear he’d been caught daydreaming. With a cautiously raised eyebrow, Scarpia asked if his report was ready.

Widor looked up, stopped fidgeting and put the phone down beside him, taking a deep breath before he began.

He explained an opponent had successfully been taken out, his data compromised and a sought-after object likewise successfully retrieved. Given the regrettable failure of its impact, he would implement Phase 2.

“And this was all done according to plan,” Scarpia, his supervisor, asked.

Widor took another deep breath. “It was.”

Picking up his phone, Widor checked it as Steele suggested moving along.

“Crap,” he realized, slipping it into his pocket as surreptitiously as possible, “I think the damn thing was recording…”

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

It was bad enough Widor’s van was stolen out from under him, he'd been delayed in reporting it because he’d “misplaced” his recently replaced phone which he assumed was in his van and – can he get any more incompetent? – he was having trouble finding Agitato’s secure line in his back-up mobile.

Whatever happened to Ms. Harty, Agitato needed to eavesdrop on the IMP, find out if they knew her whereabouts: Agitato realized he cannot risk allowing them the opportunity to rescue her.

In the midst of everything else, now, Agitato had to divert two trusted SHMRG agents from Operation Eternal Feminine because he also couldn’t risk turning this over to Schweinwald Festival Security. However Scarpia’s latest stalking victim was involved – much less wherever he was – he didn’t want to alert local police.

Kunegunde Nacht could barely conceal her amusement as Agitato tried to explain Widor’s immediate plight about his various stolen items, and how he required her and Rache to drop the Eternal Feminine to retrieve the van, its contents intact, so Widor could finish planting all the necessary bombs for Operation Hell-Trap.

By the time Agitato sent the necessary codes to their own phones, Rache commandeered one of the Festspielhaus cruisers.

Agitato no sooner hung up from her than his phone rang again.

Beginning in the middle of a sentence, as if expecting Agitato to immediately recognize him, instantly following his thoughts, the voice went from incoherence to – considering it’s a private SHMRG line – minor confusion, Agitato sorting it out when the guy mentioned on-line photos, the ones that helped put him away.

Scricci explained tracking down Fictitia’s twitter account, reading one posted from Schweinwald about needing help, how she’s been kidnapped.

Then that means, Agitato realized, Fictitia wasn’t the one stealing the van.

Agitato was trying to figure out if LauraLynn Harty stole the van and why she’d kidnap an on-line journalist while Scricci, growling into the phone, did his best to sound authoritative.

“I want that bitch eliminated, Agitato, okay?”

“Which bitch is that, Scricci?”

“What other bitch is there?” he screamed.

Agitato noticed Lott and Martineau were already coming back from their break, so he minimized several windows on his computer.

“Maybe they’ll think I was checking out porn sites,” he told himself.

After hanging up from listening to Scricci, he wanted to call Nacht but that would have to wait, now.

He’d figured Widor’s wayward van should have about a thirty-five mile lead depending on whether Fictitia made any stops. A security cruiser, lights flashing, would make good time on the Autobahn.

Aida Lott had indeed noticed Agitato closing windows and pocketing a phone and found it suspicious given the timing, but she didn’t think on-line phone sex was what grabbed his attention. She had caught the tail end of his conversation about “some bitch” and figured she’d keep her ears open.

Later, Martineau got the call from back-stage: the final bows were underway, no further incidents to be reported from there. Lott alerted her agents to stand by once the theater began emptying.

Officer Nacht called Agitato on Schweinwald's radio frequency and said their perp was preparing to exit onto the B-17.

“Roger, that.”

So where were they headed? North took them to Augsburg and also to a connection toward Munich. South took them toward King Ludwig’s castles and, ultimately, the Austrian border.

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

“What do you mean, it’s Rob’s killer! How did he get my phone number?” LauraLynn sounded both incredulous and frightened.

We worked our way through the food Cameron got at the restaurant.

Reminding her about the texts from Rob’s phone shortly after we arrived, I was sure the killer was DhabbodhĂș.

“Right, the guy from the Benninghurst dinner,” LauraLynn acknowledged, recalling his appearance.

“Does he resemble your guy from tonight?”

She sat back and closed her eyes, startled by the unwelcome memory.

“You think Girdlestone is the same guy as DhabbodhĂș?” She shivered uncomfortably. “I mean, they’re both big, nasty guys.”

“Well, I can’t be sure, but you said Girdlestone called you, right?”

“Yes, a few times, maybe, but it wasn’t coming from Rob’s phone.”

“Maybe he used a different phone, then.”

“Oh, my God!” she screamed, dropping her phone like it was infected. “Then, Rob’s killer tried to kill me tonight?”

“They’re both clearly after something,” Cameron said, nodding over at my tote-bag.

“DhabbodhĂș wants the Maltese Mozart,” I said, “and Girdlestone’s after the journal: two identities, one person after some fountain.”

“So,” Cameron wondered, “if the guy BandanaMan fell in the plaza fountain, that must not be the fountain, then.”

“But is he looking for a fountain,” LauraLynn asked, “with magical properties?”

“Man’s always wanted the quick fix for everything,” I explained, “a pill that would miraculously cure his disease instantaneously or make him lose weight without dieting, eliminating all the hard work.”

“Or like the Fountain of Youth – everybody wants to stay young,” Cameron said, “though I think that’s highly overrated.”

LauraLynn remembered, first living on her own, how she’d wanted some genie that would do the housework for her, something I thought would be a waste of a perfectly good genie.

“Or maybe some lightening-speed special transport that would get us to Garmisch without having to drive for two hours.” Cameron reminded me he’d need additional directions, noticing the intersection up ahead.

LauraLynn asked, “do you think the killer’s tracking us through my phone?” but I wasn’t sure how he could.

“Okay, how do I enter Garmsich into this GPS unit?” I asked. “I’ve never done this before,” examining it quizzically.

“Luddite! Let me do it,” LauraLynn said, leaning forward, tapping some keys.

“Wait a minute,” Cameron said, looking over at us with considerable excitement. Food had clearly helped revive his spirit.

He explained the killer could follow us, figuring out our exact whereabouts, through the GPS unit in LauraLynn’s phone.

“I’d be more concerned about the police tracking down a stolen van.”

“Exactly,” Cameron said, almost shouting, “the van’s GPS unit, not your phone’s!”

“Should we turn it off?” she wondered.

“Better yet!” Cameron leaned forward, yanking it out of its dashboard holder.

“Toss it out on the highway, then,” I suggested, “let the cars behind us drive over and smash it.”

“No,” Cameron said, “let’s throw it onto that pick-up truck there, instead.”

A clunky-looking beat-up red truck sped toward us.

“With any luck, I can make it across the center lane and...”

He heaved it over the median and watched it arc across into the back of the truck.

“Bull’s eye!”

LauraLynn laughed. “So now they’ll think we’re traveling north instead of south!”

“Those hours of basketball practice weren’t wasted!”

“Great idea, Cameron,” I said, “glad I made you think of it!”

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

“This is so weird,” he thought, trying to keep from doing anything that might look suspicious and attract Lott’s attention.

Preston Agitato continued sitting at his desk, eyes on his computer monitor.

He felt he’d been watching a race as the gap tightened between the Schweinwald cruiser and Widor’s stolen van.

What was really strange was how everything had gotten so very quiet since the second bomb had gone off, what with that strange creature and then hearing Heidi Gedankgesang’s gone missing.

But now the opera was over, people streaming out of the Festspielhaus, everyone on alert looking for anything suspicious. Martineau returned to her station, checking the security cams for the professor. At least it kept everybody occupied so nobody noticed what he’s doing, given the security force’s inability to multi-task.

More to the point, Agitato wondered about Scarpia’s unexplained “assignation” with Fictitia, whoever this woman was, out at the castle. He knew how Scarpia often labeled many of his conquests as “informants.” But she’s a reporter, possibly working undercover – he chuckled: “under the covers” – so maybe it was legitimate.

“Yeah, right...”

Or did he abduct her, for some reason, steal the van – did he know it was Widor’s? And why…?

Suddenly, he lost signal from Scarpia’s phone.

“That wasn’t a weak battery...”

Kunegunde tried to sound nonchalant despite the high speed of their chase, her report carefully worded as she reported back even if the dispatcher had carefully transferred her onto a unique frequency. That didn’t mean anyone couldn’t still listen in on their private line: they just needed to go find it.

“The perp had just gotten off 472, now heading northbound on B-17. We’re approximately five kilometers behind,” she added.

So far, so good, and no one had interrupted them, wanting explanations.

Busily following conversations of officers keeping their collective eyes open for trouble and finding nothing of significance to report, Agitato was having his own trouble multi-tasking when he noticed something odd.

“Wait, if the van is heading north,” Agitato wondered, watching his monitor, “why is Fictitia’s phone now heading south?”

= = = = = = =
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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