Monday, January 26, 2015

The Lost Chord: Chapter 36

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, Dr. Kerr and his team decode the odd message found inscribed on the back of the Beethoven statue, mentioning Lohengrin's Journey and a Fountain of Inspiration! Widor, annoyed that the death of so many agents will go badly for him at his performance review, confronts the woman he has abducted from Zenn's chalet, then calls Kerr and threatens her if the performance of Sullivan's opera isn't cancelled. Kerr arranges to trade the directions he's looking for for the life of his friend. As they leave, Zenn tells Kerr to "give my regards to Warnsdorff." Widor, looking at the woman, is reminded of someone from his distant past. Cameron discovers that Warnsdorff has something to do with chess - the Knight's Tour puzzle. Schreiber calls Moonbeam with his own discovery but a hail of machine-gun fire cuts his message short.

= = = = = = =

Chapter 36

Skripasha Scricci hadn't felt like skipping around a hotel room since his last world tour with the Siberian Transvestite Orchestra, before all that nastiness happened with the drug bust and prison term, back in the glory days of his career when he was a recovering child prodigy and world-famous cross-over rock-star. Things were finally going well for him after that horrendous rough patch, thanks to the kind folks at SHMRG, and for once he could say the future was actually looking bright.

His MP Project was falling into place after lining up his team – producer Holly Grayle and co-host Rhonna deMille – and negotiations with TV mogul Hugh Brissman were underway and going well. Thousands of prodigies were ready to be tested, the winner farmed out to orchestras and presenters around the world.

But most importantly was knowing something was working, despite all the problems SHMRG was having with its current project, tonight: Garth Widor had made some grievous fumbles but finally he had succeeded. The bombing of the Festspielhaus had failed and the car-bomb's victim survived, but Widor captured his archnemesis, Fictitia LaMouche!

She was the one responsible for those photographs exposing his true identity, revealing his drug lab and distribution ploy, which had briefly landed him in prison – and for that, she'd pay!

Scricci was supposedly overseeing the minute details prepping the Festspielhotel's Presidential Suite, getting it ready for Steele's imminent arrival when they just told him Widor's landed and was bringing a 'guest.' "Someone you'll be very glad to see," was all they would say, but that could be only one person.

Everything was ready – Holly Burton had called to say Steele would arrive in ten minutes – everything was going fine. Scricci continued to dance around, a renewed swivel obvious in his hips.

Widor would hand over the blogging bitch and she'd be all his, taking her downstairs to his own room where he'd teach her a lesson never to mess with Skripasha Scricci!

There was a commotion in the hallway as Basil Carsonoma, another member of the advance team, ushered Widor inside.

The old man stumbled in under the weight of the limp body draped carelessly over his shoulder, nearly dropping her, as he swung around to avoid hitting her head against the door.

A look of horror swept across Scricci's face before turning to anger.

"You bloody idiot, that's the wrong bitch!"

"Hello to you, too," Widor wheezed back as he dumped the woman into the far corner of the couch. "What do you mean, the wrong bitch? She was the only woman..."

"But you told me you had the woman who'd stolen your van," Scricci shouted, waving his arms wildly about.

Widor thought the skinny man in tight clothes resembled a flaming windmill.

"Well, yeah, it was kind of hectic, but if this isn't her," Widor muttered, "then who the hell is...!?"

Just then, Basil Carsonoma opened the door again, leaving in N. Ron Steele with a considerable entourage in his wake. Scricci and Widor immediately stopped their bickering, each bowing with a nod.

Steele waited as Holly Burton took his coat off with another flourish, his minions disbursing luggage around the room.

"OMG," Steele gasped, pointing at the couch. "What is she doing here!" He looked back and forth between them.

"I brought her back from the raid on Zenn's castle," Widor explained.

"Excellent work, Widor," Steele said, enthusiastically rubbing his hands, "most excellent work!"

"What...!?" Widor looked almost as dumbfounded as Scricci.

Looking down at her, Steele continued, "a most unexpected surprise! Well done!"

Holly Burton, already fixing Steele's favorite scotch, deferentially handed him his glass.

Raising the drink, Steele proposed a toast.

"To at least one thing that went right tonight," he said ominously, knocking the scotch back in one gulp. "No, really," he continued, "we have other issues to deal with, Widor."

Scricci, still annoyed that Widor had failed to bring him Fictitia LaMouche, stepped respectfully aside with a self-satisfied smirk, realizing whatever Widor had done wasn't enough to undo everything he hadn't.

Widor, meanwhile, still trying to catch his breath, hesitated before saying anything: seems he'd done something right, but what?

Steele slowly circumnavigated the couch, delightedly regarding his prey from every angle. Like a child, he wanted to poke her.

"Tell me, Widor, how did you capture her when everybody else failed?"

"Well, sir," he began cautiously, "when the shooting stopped, there she was..."

"Ah yes," Steele nodded, "with Zenn's bodyguards..."

"They caught us totally by surprise, sir," Widor explained, shuffling his feet.

"I'm sure they did, Widor," Steele said.

"From there, I grabbed her and ran..."

"...bringing her right to me..."

Steele bent over her, looking down carefully, before glancing up and smiling. He prodded her shoulder, fingering her hair.

"Like a regular Sleeping Beauty," he said, "after escaping the car bomb."

Steele looked around at everyone while nodding at Widor with renewed estimation.

Everyone was happy their boss was happy.

"Nobody else knew what happened to her, but Old Widor found her," Steele continued, smiling warmly, "brought her back..."

Widor stammered about his threat, amputating one finger for every hour's delay.

"Ah, excellent, good," Steele nodded, grinning broadly. Everyone realized he was pleased. "You've been hanging around Scarpia, haven't you?

"And speaking of whom," he glanced around, "anyone heard from him? Bühler?"

The agent named Bühler shrugged his shoulders.

"Enough of Robertson Sullivan's cousin. Now, about the van and those agents..."

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

Agent Voo even walked us to our room at the Hotel Schweinwald after Kimara dropped us off at the lobby. Was she going to tuck us in, locking the door behind us?

"Really, your hospitality is too kind," I protested, trying to sound grateful.

"Kindness has nothing to do with it."

She was adamant about our staying out of the IMP's on-going investigation, specific orders from Security Director Yoda Leahy-Hu.

"So, sleep tight and enjoy playing with your statue, but that's it!"

The lobby, still brightly lit, had been virtually empty except for a few stragglers returning from a night out, where Fictitia had been left on her own and given fair warning. She'd mumbled something about staying with friends in one of the cottages but I didn't believe any of it.

D'Arcy'd arranged one of the posher rooms in the hotel for us, just down the hall from the Presidential Suite, but I wasn't interested in the plush furnishings or the drinks cart. Whichever way jet lag would normally operate – it's mid-evening back home, right? – I was wide awake and completely wired.

"These markings on Beethoven's leg" – Cameron held the statue to the light – "look something like chess moves to me."

"Again, with the chess – wait a minute! Isn't this also in code?"

If Leahy-Hu was in Ottobeuren to catch the killer and rescue LauraLynn, we could check out the old castle, find what Dhabbodhú was looking for and maybe retrieve Rob's stolen CD.

In a flash we took the elevator down to the lobby where the bellhop was complaining to the concierge.

"What's taking Moonbeam so long? His car's been waiting for twenty minutes!"

There it was, parked out front – running!

Before anyone would even notice, we jumped in and quickly drove away.

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

They did not escape unnoticed: Fictitia, hiding outside, saw them take off.

"Wow," she thought, "that didn't take long."

Without even thinking about it, she knew she had to follow them.

"And like, wow," she noticed, "there's a bike waiting to be stolen!"

Hopping on, she was soon pedaling away!

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

So he'd thought it had been going well, having (even if accidentally) captured LauraLynn Harty, N. Ron Steele's current prize-of-the-moment, until Widor was told to locate and negotiate with that other terrorist, the one who had also threatened to blow up tomorrow morning's conference and would then steal all their thunder.

He had no idea who this guy was, where he'd find him or how much he could even offer to convince him to join forces with them, whatever his own cause.

Not only did he not have any more quality bomb-making material left, he couldn't even get a new van. Steele wouldn't trust him with a motorcycle, now, he'd said. How embarrassing.

"And why were they giving me a high-speed racing bike?" he sighed. "Do I even look like Lance Armstrong?"

Trying not to dwell on his increasing years and rapidly deteriorating body, Garth Widor picked up his shiny new wheels.

"It's a hot looking ride, if you were having a mid-life crisis..."

Conscious of his aging bladder, he decided this time, when nature called, not to go back into the lobby.

"What the hell," Widor croaked, hurriedly running out from behind the bushes, zipping up his fly, "where's my bike?"

There went some girl on his bike, pedaling furiously down the road.

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

The fog was slowly lifting, colors swirling at first in slow motion, then gradually forming into the vaguest of shapes. The sounds became more distinct: conversation, maybe, possibly music, but completely unintelligible. She felt she was someplace warm, comfortable, surrounded by people she knew – or that was the impression it gave. LauraLynn didn't remember drinking that much she'd wake up with a hangover, not like this one was turning into. So far, she couldn't look around much or even open her eyes.

Her body ached liked she'd been dragged and carried and bounced around, things she had no recollection of doing, reminding her she was getting too old for this kind of partying. But that only confused her even more: how many years had it been since she'd danced at a party?

Most of the parties she'd been to recently were fairly staid affairs, everyone standing around smiling with drinks in hand, waiting for someone to announce that dinner was ready to be served. Even the wedding last year – her mother's nephew Martin Lewes marrying Aunt Katie's charming granddaughter Geraldine Shaw-Manders – promised stability.

Rob, though busy working on his new opera, agreed to a holiday and even met LauraLynn at the airport for the long drive up to the Shaw house in the Catskills.

It had turned out to be a beautiful, sunny day that weekend, a mild summer-like afternoon in early autumn, so they'd decided to have the ceremony in the garden after all. The roses may have faded but the garden was ablaze with color, the asters and zinnias attracting numerous butterflies. Her cousin Bernie, Aunt Katie's older son and father of the bride, was delighted to oversee the garden set-up while LauraLynn had agreed to help her mother with the indoor reception.

Images were gradually filtering through the haze, a large room opulently decorated, bookshelves and knickknack tables hugging the walls, a long table loaded with flowers covered with dishes for the buffet. On the walls hung various objets d'art including a magnificent samurai sword from the original production of The Mikado.

But something had happened, something unexpectedly awful – it was painful to concentrate – a large man dressed in black burst in, threatening Rob with a pistol and yelling something about his new opera.

Rob shouted, "is this about that 'gizmo'?" after which the intruder fired off a warning shot and everyone ducked.

The bullet startled the cat who ran across the bookcase and knocked over a statue that hit the sword which fell and struck Aunt Katie across the back of her neck.

Pandemonium broke out as Rob and Bernie chased the man out across the patio and down through the garden as LauraLynn dove to protect Aunt Katie, only to find blood everywhere.

She remembered the big man in black glaring at her, thoroughly pissed.

She'd seen that face again – but where?

LauraLynn opened her eyes just in time to see a big man in black walk toward the door and leave. Was that Dhabbodhú or Girdlestone – or the man who'd killed Aunt Katie?

She screamed and tried to scramble deeper into the cushions of this very comfortable couch she was lying on.

"Ah, my dear Ms. Harty, you're awake." The voice sounded more insinuating than pleasant. "Welcome to my little party!"

Someone handed her a glass of scotch.

"But first, we must talk."

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

The room was so dark – with its thick carpets, rich mahogany furniture, plush chairs and velvet drapes wherever you looked – the old woman sitting by the fireplace felt it was already nighttime. With the curtains tightly drawn against any intrusion from the outside world, it almost always felt like nighttime there. The street noise outside was never bothersome – given her experience these past many years, she was used to it – and the constant sounds from Broadway a block away always sounded distant.

It was like a cocoon in here, compared to her world before, she often thought during these quiet times. She savored the comfort of it all, sitting there watching and waiting. The clock on the mantle had stopped but, not surprisingly, her sense of time had stopped long before it.

She'd had no proof who she was, no ID cards, no copy of her birth certificate, nothing that was viable. She had been, well... traveling then and hadn't brought them with her. Plus, if she had her birth certificate, assuming she could access it, it'd say she's only 36 years old. She had a credit card saying she'd been a member since 1997 but in 1985, that looked rather suspicious. Plus her driver's license was equally problematic, having been issued in 2009.

Hadn't she spent the last twenty-some years watching her childhood-self grow up, living through everything she'd already lived through herself, knowing everything that would happen, and yet could say nothing about it: who'd become President in 2000 long before the Supreme Court told us; how September 11th would change us all?

That nasty little child, her true identity, turned into such a disappointment, as she looked back on her life. Her mother whom she'd rescued had no idea she'd saved her life.

So, unable to return to the present, she became a homeless person, living on the streets of New York. People thought she was crazy and who could say that she wasn't?

"Time travel was a bitch..."

Her real name had been Klavdia Klangfarben.

But then, she smiled, suddenly everything changed.

= = = = = = =
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

No comments:

Post a Comment