Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Lost Chord: Chapter 35

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, following LauraLynn's abduction and the battle between SHMRG and IMP agents, Dr. Kerr & Cameron are reunited with IMP Special Forces Director Yoda Leahy-Hu, Fictitia LaMouche and V.C. D'Arcy, and they explain what they've discovered about the former Maltese Mozart which has now turned into a statue of Beethoven. LauraLynn comes to and realizes she's in a helicopter. Tr'iTone begins the internet broadcast of his Symphony for One Whose Time Has Come. Armin Schriebter is working on the program notes for the premiere of Sullivan's opera and is about to open the file of the Skype interview Peter Moonbeam had with the composer just before he died as Moonbeam meets Kunegunde Nacht for a late-night drink that turns out not quite as he had hoped.

= = = = = = =

Standing around behind Howard Zenn, we watched as he slowly scanned the magnifying glass over what turned into five delicate lines of very strange text across Beethoven's back, etched into the bronze.

"He must have been a fine craftsman," D'Arcy straightened up, whispering appreciatively.

Zenn, eyebrows raised, glanced at his nephew.

"With a very tiny knife to carve something in bronze that small," Will, himself a sculptor, added in amazement. "Without today's newest technological skills, I couldn't even imagine doing that, myself."

Leahy-Hu held up her phone and took a photo of the inscription, before sending it off in an e-mail.

"I'm sending it to my chief cryptographer, Dr. Haydn Plainvue, in London."

"With any luck," I wondered, "Beethoven would be wearing a decoder ring."

It looked like gibberish, but familiar gibberish.

"Oh, no need for that," Zenn told Leahy-Hu. "I worked in cryptography during the war for American troops in Germany. It's just a simple substitution code, you see, if I'm not mistaken." Looking around at Cameron and me with a knowing wink, he added, "one we've already seen tonight – and backwards!"


"Hah," Cameron laughed, standing back. "So that's where I've seen this before!"

"In Harrison Harty's coded journal?" I laughed.

Will found some index cards while Cameron assigned us each one line.

As Zenn quickly spelled out individual words, I carefully wrote everything down, one line for each of our committee.

"Find the letter in the top line, then match it to the letter below for the solution," Cameron explained, writing out the code's solution on separate cards and passing them around.

While Leahy-Hu mumbled something sceptically, we managed to complete our assigned lines, hoping they'd make better sense in context.

Des Lohengrins Reise, mein' Nachforschung ist
Steig' zum viertenKreis die Quell' herauf
Tritt, Rechtsgläubige, an meine Welt heran!
Das Merkmal graben des Ritterseingangs aus
O Du, der mein Brunnen des Gedankenblitz bist

Of the five of us, my German was no doubt the rustiest, with Cameron fresh from his first-year course. We read out our lines, one after the other, while Zenn translated.

Of Lohengrin's Journey is my Quest
Ascend to the 4th Circle of the Fountain
Approach, Right-Believers, to my World!
Seek the Sign of the Knight's Entrance
You are my Fountain of Inspiration

"That's the fountain that Rob's killer is looking for," I shouted triumphantly. "He's looking for the Fountain of Inspiration!"

"Ah, the Fountain of Inspiration." Zenn sounded dubious. "You really think so? Like the Fountain of Youth, highly overrated..."

Zenn wasn't the only one who couldn't take such an idea seriously.

"Would composers devoid of intellect," D'Arcy added, "kill someone merely over inspiration?"

"That probably fits our killer's profile perfectly."

D'Arcy was sure the idea of such a fountain was purely metaphorical, but a very powerful one all the same. "Imagine how many artists have looked for such a thing for centuries!"

"The magic pill," Zenn chuckled, "when you've no talent to rely on!"

"While others tried booze, drugs, even coffee..."

"Ours is not to judge but to track down Rob Sullivan's killer, metaphor or not," I said, glancing around, "and if helping him locate this is enough to catch him, fine."

The problem was, naturally, this wasn't enough, making little sense by itself, only raising more questions that needed more solutions.

"In some way," I wondered, "maybe it's just another form of code?"

"Isn't this an unusual rhyme-scheme for 19th Century German poetry?" Cameron asked. "It's a kind of mirror form, right?"

"An arch-form: A – B – C – kind-of-B – A. What's also odd is there's only one line with any end punctuation."

"Doesn't it sound like a riddle, though – five lines searching for meaning?"

That reminded me of Robert Graves writing about Welsh riddles often needing rearrangement to make sense.

"Let's try this..."

Des Lohengrins Reise, mein' Nachforschung ist
O Du, der mein Brunnen des Gedankenblitz bist
Steig' zum viertenKreis die Quell' herauf
Das Merkmal graben des Ritterseingangs aus
Tritt, Rechtsgläubige, an meine Welt heran!

"Better yet," Zenn quietly suggested, "reverse the rhymed pairs like a mirror – this English translation might make more sense."

O you, who are my Fountain of Inspiration,
Lohengrin's Journey is my Quest:
Seek the Sign of the Knight's Entrance,
Ascend the 4th Circle out of the Fountain.
Approach, Right-Believers, my World!

"The Fountain is Lohengrin's quest," I offered, "so after finding his entrance, ascend the fountain to approach Beethoven's world."

"And the Fountain of Inspiration," D'Arcy pondered, "would be Lohengrin's Holy Grail?"

Picking it up and gazing into Beethoven's face, I noticed the green felt on the statue's base was coming loose, patting it back into place so it wouldn't scratch Zenn's antique table.

"A Lohengrin reference," I said, "a knight's entrance marked by a sign and climbing a fountain with four circles..."

"Didn't Beethoven die some twenty years before Wagner wrote Lohengrin," Cameron asked.

Zenn smiled, looking from one to another.

D'Arcy agreed but pointed out the legend of Lohengrin was quite ancient.

"But the fountain is not the goal of Lohengrin's Quest," I mentioned, thinking out loud, hoping for – ironically – inspiration. "It's the location of what he's searching for, the composer's Holy Grail."

"The fountain with a knight's statue – Lohengrin's statue – in Ottobeuren," D'Arcy exclaimed. "Perhaps it's there, in the statue's base?"

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

"Hell-fire and damnation," the old man croaked, "how will I explain this," dragging the woman's body along with him. "Five of my best agents shot dead and now, geez – my van!" Naturally, she'd gone and fainted on him, hauling her through the rubble, becoming just more dead weight to carry. Widor kept seeing the destruction around him, recalling the bodies left behind, how they'd dropped like flies, caught unaware. Who would've expected the old man to have that many security guards?

"So, that's how they blasted their way through the wall," he realized, "by going and blowing up my goddamn van!"

He could see nothing left but the smoldering shell of the van.

And after going all this way just to get his van back and capture that bitch Scricci desperately wanted.

"Steele is going to be so pissed, losing so many good men. You know, maybe it is time to retire."

He continued struggling with her limp form, next trying a fireman's carry.

"If I don't have a heart attack, he'll probably retire me himself – with a bullet right between the eyes..."

Did Steele know Zenn kept an elite force of bodyguards, he wondered, that it had all been thought out, a booby-trap that would take him out without bothering Steele's feeble conscience?

But Widor was conscious enough to understand this was not the time to engage in such useless philosophical paranoia: Zenn's bodyguards were already streaming toward him, yelling at him to stop. Knowing they wouldn't start shooting because they could possibly hit his hostage, Widor still understood his escape was limited.

Fortunately, they hadn't spotted SHMRG's stealth ATV hidden beyond those tall bushes, lighter now, going downhill, without his crew. Strapping the unconscious woman into the seat behind him, he took off.

Looking in the rear-view mirror, Widor noticed someone rapidly gaining on him, small black forms on small black ATVs. "Geez, this guy's really prepared for anything. Where had they been hidden?"

Perhaps Zenn was gearing up for some final confrontation with SHMRG for control of the world's classical music industry?

Fortunately, Igor still waited for him at the bottom of the mountain, SHMRG's chopper revved up, the cargo bay open, just where they'd artfully hidden it behind a barrier of tall pines. In a flash, they were airborne once Widor explained they'd been ambushed, all the men lost to enemy fire.

They'd no sooner cleared the trees when several black-clad forms surrounded the space where the helicopter stood moments ago: a close one, Widor thought, as bullets whizzed harmlessly past the windows.

He strapped the woman into one of the seats in the back, just before she came to and screamed. His face barely inches from her own, he screamed back at her.

"Where the hell's your phone," he shouted at her above the engines.

"You kidnap me to use my phone!?"

"I oughtta slap the living crap out of you, you lousy bitch." No wonder Skripasha Scricci wanted rid of her. He sure as hell didn't want her tweeting about anything, not now.

"Wait," she said, after Widor started rifling through her clothes and hand-bag. "Terry didn't gave it back to me..."

"Oh, yeah? So, what's your number, sweetheart? I'll give him a quick call, then – let him know you're okay."

Somehow he'd assumed she'd be much younger, considering what Scricci told him.

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

Recalling dinner three months ago with Rob and Franz-Dieter at Zeitgeist's favorite restaurant, Die Wolfsschlucht – The Wolf's Glen – in Ottobeuren, two blocks from the Marktplatz at the intersection of Bahnhofstrasse and Ludwigstrasse, D'Arcy described the view through the front window looking onto the square through a couple of picturesque, centuries-old trees.

"It's the Ritterplatz – or the Knight's Square – a fountain topped by an old statue of a knight," he said. "The locals have apparently been calling the statue 'Lohengrin' since the late-1700s."

Zenn perked up, looking over at him. "That's right, I remember, now! Right in the heart of the town!"

"A fountain complete with Lohengrin," Cameron said, "but what about an entrance?"

"If that fountain has four circles, we may have located our goal!"

Just then, a phone began to ring.

Everyone looked around to see whose phone it was before I realized it was mine – or rather, it was LauraLynn's. "Guess I forgot to give it back to her in the excitement."

Assuming it was the killer again, I answered, hearing deep, heavy breathing. The voice was darker than I remembered.

"I have the woman," he said slowly, "and I will start dismembering her if the opera's premiere isn't canceled. We'll start with the fingers, one every hour till your decision's announced."

This was new and drastic: before, it was just finding the fountain. Perhaps now he was getting more desperate. I agreed to convey the message to festival management, glancing at D'Arcy. After all, I thought, why had he murdered Rob and stolen the score if not to ruin the premiere?

"Good," he continued, "but you'd better hurry. If I cut off all her fingers, she will never blog again."

I didn't realize LauraLynn was a blogger but I let that pass.

"If tomorrow's rehearsal goes off as scheduled, what's left of her dies." He stopped talking, only his breathing audible.

The killer not only modified his voice, he was on “high cliché.”

I glanced at Cameron and D'Arcy and they both shrugged their shoulders. No better time to let him know.

"Look, we found the location of what you're looking for," I said. "Meet me in Ottobeuren at the Ritterplatz tonight, at the base of the knight's statue outside the Wolf's Glen restaurant."

There was a long pause. Perhaps he was stunned, an unexpected development.

Certainly, Director Leahy-Hu was, scowling at me.

"Then I can exchange the directions for my friend's life," I added. "That way, you'll have what you want – I'll throw in the journal as well – and you'll let her go."

I could hear only his heavy breathing which was becoming very annoying. Perhaps he was having an asthma attack.

"Do we have a deal?" I pressed. "Your directions for my friend?"

"Very well," he concluded, sounding vaguely disconcerted, "and of course, no police, no IMP. See you in an hour."

Leahy-Hu was furious but she had to admit I was practically delivering the alleged kidnapper and killer into her hands. She called and ordered a dozen agents to meet her in Ottobeuren.

"We'll see how well this works out, but for future reference, I prefer to make all the arrangements, professor."

Leahy-Hu told the agent assigned to us to take us to the hotel and keep an eye on us.

Zenn shook my hand before he concluded, "Give my regards to Warnsdorff."

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

Putting his phone away, Widor looked at this woman with mild contempt. At least, she wasn't lying to him. "That was good," he thought. "I hate it when they do that."

Who this idiot was he'd been talking to, he had no idea, trying to strike a deal with him.

What was this about directions, the Knight's Square, something he's looking for? It all sounded like a trap, anyway. None of that made any sense – well, no more so than usual.

"Let him hang around the square and wait for me," he chuckled, "I've got a lot more stuff to do." She started struggling harder against her bonds, so he slapped her face.

Widor wondered what it was about her that Scricci hated so much, what she could've possibly done to him.

"It's time you got quiet again, okay? We'll see if they're listening." He held up his hand, the fingers splayed. "I'll given them one hour," he said, "then it's bye-bye, index finger." He waved his index finger at her before reaching into his pocket and taking out a small hypodermic needle.

"She could use freshening up and her dress is a little wrinkled, but she really isn't a bad-looking woman." Widor saw her lying helplessly, her long blonde hair already turning gray.

As the woman lay struggling beneath him, once he'd grabbed her arm and jabbed the needle into a vein, she reminded him of another woman in his life from long ago.

"It must be the hair," he thought as she quickly went limp. "Does she look that much like Lisl?"

No, he remembered, looking down at her: Lisl was older than he – the only woman he had ever loved. They had separated them, taking him away – he never saw her again.

Why were these memories so constantly shrouded? What had become of her? If only he could remember what happened! All he heard was the constant sound of the helicopter – whump whump whump.

Had she really borne him a son after he'd been whisked away?

"The saddest helicopter ride of my life..."

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

Two helicopters bearing the IMP logo arrived and parked in the clearing in front of the castle's main entrance – we could hear the "whump whump whump" echoing rhythmically throughout the building – carefully navigating the tight spot between the rocks and tall pine trees and the burned-out ruins of the van. One whisked Leahy-Hu and several agents off to their stake-out in Ottobeuren, hoping to catch Widor in the trap, while the other was loaded with the dead SHMRG militia – and us.

IMP Agent Del Kimara, who'd completed a year of basic medical training before going into the international music security business, checked each of the SHMRG agents to verify they were indeed dead, even determining the cause of death was a flaw in their uniforms: underneath, they were all wearing red shirts.

Agents Milton Leise and Rhonda Voo stacked the bodies in the back like a cord of so much discarded firewood, amazed that, despite their superior weaponry, they'd been easily overpowered and killed. Leise placed dibs on one complex-looking machine-gun, a Todesküss-2000, the infamous "Kiss-of-Death" despite Kimara's mentioning it hadn't helped SHMRG.

Fictitia joined Cameron and me in the back seat while Leise and Voo sat up with the pilot, Kimara, a cozy gathering if you didn't consider the dead bodies behind us.

After flying back over the valleys we'd been driving through earlier tonight, I started shouting under the engine noise, hoping the agents up front couldn't hear what we were talking about.

"Cameron, what d'you think Zenn meant by 'Give my regards to Warnsdorf'? Who is Warnsdorf, somebody we'd meet here?"

Cameron just shrugged his shoulders. "Or maybe it's Ottobeuren's equivalent to Broadway?"

"You think it might be some village...?"

"Maybe he understood more to the clue and is letting us know...?"

Considering I thought she'd been pursuing us because of the Maltese Mozart, I was surprised Leahy-Hu seemed so unconcerned, letting me hang onto the Beethoven statue which she dismissed as inconsequential.

"If it keeps you busy and out of my hair," she'd said, "that will be quite satisfactory for me."

Fictitia had been looking out the window at the dark world below, uncomfortable knowing that somehow we'd kidnapped her, not that she didn't have enough trust issues in her life already.

I'd apologized, that it had been unintentional, but only made matters worse by then sitting between her and Cameron. Plus, the fact she didn't have her phone and was unable to tweet or post anything really bugged her. After all, without her phone, what could she possibly do with herself?

It barely registered with her when I pulled the Beethoven statue out and started turning it around in my hands. Was there something that Zenn had seen but which we hadn't, yet? Was his mention of Warnsdorf, I wondered, a clue to keep looking? What was it we were still missing?

Cameron took out LauraLynn's phone and started to 'google' the word Warnsdorf. A nearby village? There were tons of responses. Maybe the mayor of Ottobeuren or a street near the knight's statue...?

"Whoa," he gasped, "there's over 9,300 hits and many refer to something called 'the knight's tour' – a chess term."

"Chess? What does chess have to do with Beethoven?" I asked impatiently.

"Perhaps Zenn was just making a pun?"

"Or does it explain something? It could mean many things – knight's tour...?"

Agent Voo answered her phone, then kept up a steady lighthearted conversation with friend and fellow agent, Destinée Knox, occasionally yelling to be heard above the noise of the helicopter's engine.

"Hey, what's that," Cameron asked, pointing at something on the statue's side.

In the dim light, I couldn't tell.

Voo's chatter was proving to be more distracting as it went on, starting off business-like before turning more personal.

"Maybe just texture markings along the leg. Or is it more text?"

"I was thinking, after you're done with that stake-out," Voo asked her, "maybe we could go somewhere for a drink?"

Cameron traded the phone for the statue and took a closer look.

"At the Mobius," Voo repeated, "remember, that really cool club in Memmingen?"

Fictitia looked at the phone and sighed.

"Well, I know I'm going to be too wired after all this, once we're back to the hotel," Voo continued.

I was finding her chit-chat really annoying, trying to focus on reading.

"I have to drop these guys off, then I'm done," Voo shouted.

"Warnsdorff's Rule," I read, "the knight's tour..."

Cameron, having noticed the statue's green felt covering was coming loose again, pressed it firmly back against the base.

"It looks like a series of random letters and numbers," he explained.

Too tiny to figure out in the dim light of the helicopter, the possible clue would have to wait.

"We should be back at the hotel before much longer," Cameron noted.

That's when it occurred to me, if Dhabbodhú's gone out to Ottobeuren, we should check out the old castle.

"Maybe we can find the missing disc with Rob's score?" I suggested, "or check the location for addition clues?"

Fictitia tried to whisper over the roar, "I want to go along!"

Putting her phone away, Agent Voo turned around and brusquely reminded us we should stay out of this, now. "Just let us go and do our job, will you?" she implored.

Once we got closer to landing, Voo handed Fictitia her phone back.

"No more tweeting about the case!"


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

In the darkness of the Festspielhaus offices, well past the midnight hour, Schreiber, his cubicle the only one occupied, finished up some last-minute work in the building's quiet (ignoring the white-noise). He sat back, jaw hanging wide open, not believing what he'd heard before Moonbeam started wrapping up the interview. Robertson Sullivan had made no statements to anyone before his death about the changes made to his opera's conclusion, and yet here he'd laid out a modest outline, a tantalizing hint.

Running his hands through his disheveled hair, his eyes staring in disbelief, Schrieber wondered, "Did anyone else know about this? Apparently even Moonbeam missed this little tidbit," hardly something easy to overlook. Everybody had been saying they didn't know whether he'd finished the opera or not, much less how it ended.

Sullivan gave a quick preçis, only the barest glimpse of an outline, perhaps not enough for someone to reconstruct it, but enough Schreiber wanted to quote it verbatim in the plot synopsis.

"What an incredible discovery," he continued stammering, not believing his own luck. "I must listen to this once more..."

Too amazed to jot down any notes, he let the file play and heard some even more amazing news: aside from a few measures, Sullivan mentioned he'd just finished the opera.

"Well, basically it's finished," Sullivan corrected himself, "just a few things left, the usual proofreading and a little editing. There's a big English horn solo I want to revisit, but yeah..." It was clear he'd paused so Moonbeam could make some brief comment but there was nothing, not even acknowledgment.

"Now I just need to save the whole score to a file I can e-mail to my assistant there and let them extract all the orchestral parts and the vocal score."

Sullivan waited for a response before he added tentatively, "Peter, you there?" He figured that could be edited out.

Moonbeam sounded distant as he apologized for having run into the bathroom.

"He missed the most important bit of the entire interview," Schreiber laughed, "and has no idea what Sullivan said!"

Schreiber reached for his phone and hit redial, determined to gloat a little over what the great Peter Moonbeam overlooked but just as he did, he heard a click and some footsteps. He waited for Moonbeam to pick up, wondering who was interrupting him: the night watchman, maybe the vacuum guy?

It seemed to take forever – Moonbeam answering his phone, footsteps slowly approaching – like time, somehow, was suddenly standing still. When he was deep into his work, facing deadlines, it flew by!

Schreiber called out to the approaching footsteps to let them know he was there, that he was still working. He thought it odd there was no response, no confirmation – no nothing.

Usually the security guy would just say "okay, don't work too late." Nothing stopped the vacuum guy from cleaning...

Figuring the guy would rev up his vacuum cleaner without any warning – undoubtedly, the most annoying sound in the world – just as Moonbeam would answer his phone, he ended up in voice-mail.

During an ominously expectant silence that felt like it was lasting forever, Schreiber whispered, "Hello, Moonbeam? You'll never guess..."

He heard the sound of bullets, a deafening spray of machine-gun fire, as intense pain ripped through his body.

Shots echoed through the white-noise before everything went dark – like, really dark.

= = = = = = =
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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