Monday, December 29, 2014
The Lost Chord: Chapter 27
(a classical music appreciation comedy thriller by Richard Alan Strawser: you can read it from the beginning, here.)
In the previous installment, a young student attending the FRED lecture on composers and creativity Rob Sullivan had given years ago decides he wants to study with Sullivan or else. In London, N. Ron Steele attends a fund-raising cocktail party for SHMRG's latest project, a pageant to identify future child prodigies, before heading to Schweinwald, telling his secretary Holly Burton that tomorrow's rehearsal of Sullivan's opera, Faust Inc., must not take place.
= = = = = = =
"What the hell happened, here?" she wondered, coming to and looking around the dark space where she found herself. Fictitia LaMouche felt her badly battered shoulders and especially her aching head. Had she been attacked by some thug who didn't like her journalism? "That Scarpia guy? – no, not his style...”
She noticed her hips also felt like they were black and blue – "Ah, right," she grimaced, closing her eyes. She remembered something about rolling around in the back of somebody's van.
"Not like that," she quickly corrected herself, after realizing she'd been blushing. "Usually, that'd sound like a lot more fun..." She tried to sit up and promptly cracked her skull on something. "Bloody hell!" She reached out – an overhanging shelf she must've rolled under, apparently loaded with lots of heavy boxes.
The floor she lay on was hard, metallic – that shelf was, too – but at least she had stopped rolling around. "Maybe he'd reached his destination," whoever he was, wherever he was going. She remembered sneaking into the van, hiding from someone – escaping, wasn't it? – just as the thing suddenly drove off.
"Holy crap," she shouted, covering her mouth. "Now I remember! The explosion!" It all started coming back to her. Out behind the opera house, then that... that creature, the old castle...
"Jesus God..." A whole string of would-be expletives suffocated in her throat, remembering something else before she'd lost consciousness: explosives – the van she was hiding in was packed full of explosives! How long had she been lying there, passed out on the floor, tossed around like a sack of potatoes?
She had no idea where she was, whether it would be safe to get out of the van now, or where she'd go to get help to find her way back.
"Damn, my phone – where's my bloody phone?" thinking she'd tweet for help, or, you know, maybe check her GPS, send a distress call to... well, she reconsidered – maybe not the police...
She started feeling around the floor with her hands, carefully at first, her Lowden Kleer hearing enhancer also missing.
Fictitia had not a clue how long she might have been unconscious, despite the massive pounding beneath her skull, like she'd been bouncing along every back road through the Bavarian Alps. Hey, she felt sore enough, she could be in Italy by now: was her visa even good for Italy? It would be her luck, she sighed, to find some backwoods Italian policeman who'd take one look at her, then lock her up in some moldy rat-infested prison overlooking Lake Como.
For all she knew, it could be the middle of the afternoon on the next day, which would make it... except, no, she'd be ravenous by now if it was, wouldn't she? Since she'd thought about it, food would taste pretty good right now; copious amounts of beer wouldn't hurt, either.
Did the driver – her accidental abductor – discover her, then leave the van abandoned on the side of the road somewhere, maybe too scared to kill her outright, having something 'accidental' in mind?
Had he rigged up a bomb that would blow the van up, detonating the moment she'd open the doors?
Holding her breath a moment, she listened while imagining her own obituary – "I mean, who would even write it?" – but she couldn't hear any audible ticking, so far a good sign.
Fictitia also knew it'd been a while since she'd last tweeted anything: did her fans miss her, she wondered? They'd probably assume she'd just gotten distracted ("yeah, you could say that!"). With considerable effort, she dragged herself slowly out from under the shelf, every joint in her body screaming murder.
It annoyed her, being without her phone: it must be here, somewhere! Everything she needed was on that phone! The last thing she wanted was to roll over and crush it.
She couldn't post anything on Twitter if she didn't have her phone, take pictures and show them to her friends much less post them on Facebook or Flickr without her bloody phone. She couldn't text anybody or find directions or for that matter even check on the time without her phone.
Her foot hit something small and sent it skittering across the floor, knocking it up against the opposite wall – "Crap!" – ricocheting away in some other direction before she could get to it.
She found a few small things in her way, useless other stuff – like tools, bits of wire and cable.
Then she heard a familiar sound: her phone started to buzz – it was receiving a text! Somebody missed her!
There was a faint, barely visible glow and she quick grabbed it.
"Yes!" she blurted out into the darkness before toning down her enthusiasm, not knowing if it was safe outside. "What if someone is still out there, waiting for me?” she wondered. Hurriedly, Fictitia opened her phone to see who had just texted her. Receiving something – anything – made her feel better.
"URGENT! Order in the next 15 minutes," it read, "and receive 120 additional minutes free on your payment plan.”
"Argh!," she groaned, snapping it shut then pocketing it. "I hate spam..."
Carefully, she found the cargo door and opened it – "Where am I?" – stepping out onto an eerily moonlit landscape.
Tweeting "Help van broke down," she thought she heard sounds. "Rescue, already?"
No, she realized, staring into the distance: it was only the wind. The place was dark, scary – and empty.
* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *
With no sign of the woman who'd just escaped a fiery death from that botched car-bombing called Operation Eternal Feminine, Preston Agitato found it perplexing as GPS trackers moved in opposite directions. Had Eternal Feminine somehow met up with Fictitia LaMouche and stolen Garth Widor's van with all its bomb-making paraphernalia? But what happened, then? Did they split up, Fictitia hitch-hiking south while Eternal Feminine took the van to Munich? That made sense, heading to the airport to get back to London.
He needed to get in touch with Nacht and Rache, since they were closing in on the van's location, but he knew all the IMP agents were completely fluent in German. Worse, he also knew he had to go to the men's room but couldn't risk leaving his monitor unattended.
"Yes, sir, a quiet night, here, isn't it?" Agent Aida Lott yawned from further down the row of computer stations. She barely feigned interest in what little activity there was to monitor. "You think they'd have found some sign of that professor and whatever it was he stole by now, right?"
They were basically working against each other, trying not to let on what their various agents were up to. Lott wondered what Agitato knew but wasn't telling her – and vice versa.
Officer Martineau returned from her break and sat down next to Lott, exchanging some small talk Agitato couldn't hear, before pulling up the hotel's rear-entrance security cam's feed now working intermittently.
"Hey, Agitato," Martineau said, "Officer Martellato crawled up and fixed that camera? Said he gave it some good thwacks?"
There was a young girl in Goth black ("That's probably Fictitia," Agitato thought) and then three people approaching this van. Next was a large man zipping his fly – the van was gone.
"OMG, that's...!" Agitato quickly bit his tongue. "...someone who looks awfully familiar – maybe from some other cameras, I guess."
That was definitely Garth Widor: he must throw them off SHMRG's trail.
"Isn't that the guy they called 'Bandana-Man' who fell into the fountain?" Martineau agreed. "Caught changing into another disguise?"
Agitato felt compelled to alert Captain Schäufel about the new security photos even though he felt they were fairly inconsequential, especially considering it only complicated his trying to contact Nacht and Rache. In minutes, the temporary security trailer was once again teeming with officers, all of them gawking at Martineau's computer.
"See if you can get any better resolution on that second one, with those three," Schäufel wanted to know, but the lighting was too dark and, frankly, the camera too cheap.
Agitato was convinced that's the Eternal Feminine getting away with that professor – the van's missing in the next frame: what kind of rocket scientist does it take to figure this out?
He chose to keep his mouth shut. ("Hey, I'm only the dispatcher.")
Martineau mentioned Bandana-Man in the next frame.
In the ensuing confusion, Agitato managed to connect with Kunegunde Nacht who said they'd just pulled off, following the signal, but saw nothing remotely like the van in the entire parking lot.
"Damn, it has been a waste of time, Agent Agitato, I'm sorry."
But Agitato didn't think so, not yet.
"What if they ditched the van's GPS onto a passing north-bound truck, then Fictitia and the van are south-bound?"
And Fictitia's GPS, he noticed, had now stopped somewhere outside of Garmisch-Partenkirchen...
* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *
Curiously, Zenn had twelve different kinds of tea in his kitchen cupboard, making the choice, reaching any consensus, more challenging. I decided, given the hour, something decaffeinated, less exotic, would be preferable. The kettle (a watched pot) took forever to come to a boil – Zenn detested boiling water in a microwave. It surprised me he'd even given into the modern convenience of tea-bags, ugly tails hanging over the cup's rim, but maybe Will had made the substitution and just never told him.
For living in a century-old German chalet appended to a 14th-Century castle, Zenn's kitchen was like any suburban home's, even if considerably more organized and efficient, whether his doing or Will's. I let the tea steep for two minutes before removing the bags, preparing a tray with cookies and crackers.
Cameron had been burying his nose deep in Harrison Harty's mysterious notebook, carefully writing out a translation of the code, progressing more quickly as he gradually became more accustomed to the substitutions. It would be a slow, daunting task under the best of circumstances: what secrets might it yield, if any?
He barely looked up, nodding, as I placed the teacup beside him: I'm sure he would have preferred coffee. He took a sip, then bent over the page, back to work.
"So far, the problem is dealing with something objectively that's primarily subjective," LauraLynn said, continuing her conversation with Zenn, "deriving facts from various series of data, eventually distilling certain common patterns, not like applying inductive reasoning where scientific observation yields consistent facts over frequent repetitions to something that's more deductive. The foundation's spent a few years accumulating lots of data in interviews with various composers from around the world, but we've just started to filter that data to discern specific thought-patterns."
"You're talking about codifying inspiration?" Zenn asked, sounding more amused than argumentative, something of a twinkle in his eye. "Sounds kind of contradictory, applying science to something as mystical as inspiration."
Knowing better than to get involved here, I picked up the artifact, checking out the scratchings on its back.
"What I'm hoping," she said, "is, if we can replicate the process, can we trigger creative responses in someone who's..."
"Perhaps suffering from writer's block? Or," Zenn responded, "uncreative to begin with?"
He nibbled on a cookie before continuing, apologizing for this guilty pleasure. I only assumed he meant the cookie.
"How can anybody create something without any knowledge of what they're creating? Wouldn't they need some kind of set-skills? The language of music is little different than that of any science."
He also asked if there's a distinction between blindly following these set-skills or breaking the rules to create art, wondering if any of her scientific variables could take that into account.
"There's something else Schoenberg said," Zenn added. "A craftsman creates because he can – an artist creates because he must."
It started again, always falling – floating, a flying squirrel not yet Icarus – this dream that invariably began the same way, coming to him unbidden in that indefinable state between consciousness and unconsciousness, where he was most open to inspiration, suspended between Reality and Art: Time stopped, unimportant, what he had most. Lips in the palm of his hand, lips he wanted to kiss but was afraid would bite his face. He splashed through a mirror, past the firing squad, the armless statue...
"No," LauraLynn said, carefully sipping her tea, looking into the valley below, "that's like having one hundred chimps writing Hamlet. We can't take people off the street and say 'Write a symphony!' I'd so much rather have a term we could use that's not quite as loaded as 'inspiration' is, frankly."
She thought a moment before she continued, "Though maybe it's like this: let's say you hand someone a violin, train them to hold it and, eventually, to play a simple tune."
Turning around, she hadn't noticed Zenn was in some kind of trance, not that he was inattentive or rude.
"There're thousands of hours' hard work before she makes her professional debut."
Still, teaching someone how to write a simple tune or a symphony wasn't the point, just a starting place.
"But teaching someone set-skills," Zenn resumed, "and having them compose by rote is not like turning them instantly into composers, though the world's already full of com-poseurs who genuinely think they are. Science," he admitted, "has never explained the difference how creative artists work, defining what made Mozart different from Beethoven.
"Copland told me he saw everything in a flash, everything whole, complete, but not every composer works that way. Sometimes, I can't find the light till I'm well into the tunnel.
"There is, if you'll pardon the philosophic simplification, something each of us possesses that resonates within – but in different ways. Our inner child not withstanding, it's something I call our Inner Chord. For people who are tone-deaf or for whom all music sounds alike, it's either silent or perhaps only impaired."
It was impossible not to listen to him and I found myself putting the artifact down for the moment, just as Cameron chewed on his pen after pushing the journal aside.
"How it resonates, creating overtones, determines our becoming performers, composers, or music-lovers, how we respond, form our stylistic preferences. But we can also lose that connection with it after a time.
"It becomes this thing, then, that we will always be searching for, what has now become our 'Lost' Chord."
= = = = = = =
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.