Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Lost Chord: Chapter 37

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, N. Ron Steele is delighted that Widor has brought LauraLynn Harty right to his hotel room (even though he thought he'd kidnapped Fictitia LaMouche). Kerr and Cameron steal a car and head out to the old castle on a hunch followed by Fictitia on her newly stolen bike. And meanwhile, in New York City, a former time-traveler begins a new phase of her lives...
= = = = = = =

CHAPTER 37

At least that muddle with the professor had been cleared up, finally. Such an annoyance, she thought, sitting there in the helicopter's front seat, barely able to see over the controls. Yoda Leahy-Hu was short enough she was used to not seeing much, aware that many others often pitied her. It gave her an opportunity to focus on "inner things," she explained, if anybody bothered to interrupt her thoughts. Did it matter if at night there wasn't much to see outside?

The helicopter's seat, like most seats, had clearly been designed for people – "normal people," they were called – larger than she, considering normal for her was peering out through her car's steering wheel. The helicopter's hum and steady 'whump whump whump' of the rotor blades proved very soothing after a long day.

That whole thing with this professor-friend of Sullivan's continued to bother her, how she'd let it become such a distraction, how she'd let it get in the way of her main investigation. But the way he had been acting, with all the right people, she would've been remiss not to investigate.

Any normal person – again, that odious word – would have likewise been struck, considering the possibilities of his suspicious behavior, by the fact he could have been yet another dangerous SHMRG operative.

And yet he turned out to be only a self-induced red herring, thinking he was 'smarter' than the police, ignoring the fact that (unlike Miss Marple, a literary character) he wasn't. It was all the Miss-Marple-Wannabees that irritated the crap out of her, despite her enduring love for amateur musicians. It would look bad in her report if she had to admit not only had she fallen for it, but he's the one who'd arranged this trap in the first place.

Of course, they still had to catch Garth Widor in the trap, hoping he would show up to 'negotiate,' but the question remained, she still wondered, was Widor working by himself? This whole bit about lopping off a finger for every hour's delay made it naturally that much more urgent.

It was no stroke of blinding genius, Leahy-Hu would readily have admitted had anyone been there who'd hear her, to tell Kerr to cool his well-meaning heels back at the hotel. The suspect she's pursuing wanted to cancel the premiere of Sullivan's opera, so much that he'd kill for it. What possible interest would this man have in directions to some fountain, especially clues hidden on some old statue, and why would he be searching for it in the first place?

No, substituting D'Arcy for the professor was the logical decision, she realized, because Widor needed assurance of the festival's intent which would guarantee Ms. Harty the continued use of all her fingers. The official announcement the opera would in fact be canceled comes later, after which she would be released unharmed.

Dr. Kerr had created the situation putting the composer's cousin in danger with his misguided obsession tracking down Sullivan's killer, and if he hadn't stolen Widor's van, she would still be safe. If it hadn't been for Kerr's paranoia, SHMRG might have been foiled and the perpetrators already in IMP custody.

But an uneasy thought started forming in the back of her mind: what if the professor was, somehow, right? What if there were some connection with this Dhabbodhú he was chasing?

Her first call, once they were aloft, had been to Schuler Schwergeklopft, the director of the IMP Munich branch. It took a while before he answered, her call going into voice-mail. But when he heard who was leaving the message, he quickly snapped to attention and picked up his phone. It was, after all, the middle of the night, she understood that – he had good reason to sound groggy – but there was, alas, dirty work afoot that would need tending to.

She knew Schwergeklopft was a dedicated agent who'd worked his way up through the system despite numerous setbacks and issues, respected for his quick-thinking as well as his judgment, responding under fire. She also knew there was little he couldn't handle, considering what had been thrown his way over the years.

"We are, it would seem, in the midst of an international crisis, one that's rapidly becoming increasingly dangerous," she explained. "We have reason to believe something major is going to happen tonight. I am going to need you to listen very carefully, Herr Schwergeklopft, then set everything in motion very quickly."

There had been concern among her colleagues how long Schwergeklopft would be able to work – and by extension, her.

"Well," she thought, "none of us are getting any younger, are we?"

Her pilot landed in a field near the western edge of town, a few blocks behind Ottobeuren's famous abbey, where they were met by Agent Sue Watt in an unmarked car. Driving through the deserted town, she quickly brought Leahy-Hu up to speed, explaining the arrangements hurriedly put in place.

There were introductions to several additional IMP agents called in from Munich, some she'd worked with before; others, new. One was the recently transferred detective from New York City, Kenny Ketchum.

After calling Schuler at the Munich office, she'd let Dispatcher Aida Lott coordinate most of the immediate personnel details so by the time she arrived, everyone was already in their locations.

She looked up at D'Arcy and nodded, giving him a reassuring thumbs-up. Then she turned, taking up her position.

As Acting Director of the Schweinwald Festival, V.C. D'Arcy knew his responsibility but couldn't help shake the nagging thought that in the past two months, his two predecessors had mysteriously died. It didn't take much for his imagination to conjure up gruesome images of his own death in various ways. Whatever it was that caused their deaths didn't make him any more comfortable knowing he was facing the man who may have been responsible for them, even if only “allegedly” responsible.

Leahy-Hu had coached him carefully on the brief helicopter ride to Ottobeuren – or at least what seemed brief to him, considering everything that he had to memorize, leaving little room for improvisation. The important thing was to get Ms. Harty back alive, he realized, but he was still in considerable danger.

Of course, he knew he was surrounded by dozens of IMP agents but that only meant his killer wouldn't escape. Their protection was largely a reactive measure if the man shot him. D'Arcy knew he had to be careful negotiating with the suspected killer, not spooking him by looking nervously around.

Thinking of it as another press conference focusing on a specific script as he calmly took a deep breath, he moved casually into his agreed-upon location, standing beside the knight's statue.

"Okay, showtime," Leahy-Hu said into her mic, "everybody's in place. Now – we just wait for the Big Guy."

After she lit a cigarette, Leahy-Hu surveyed the scene with studied indifference.

Meanwhile, Detective Ketchum started checking over his list with IMP Dispatcher Lott, since he knew no one by name.

“Right, let's go over which agents have been assigned to which headsets.”

"Ready when you are," the dispatcher said.

Ketchum began. "Okay, so who's on first?"

Lott checked her board.

"Yes."

"No, I mean the agent's name."

"Hu."

"The one on first."

"Hu."

"What's the name on the first headset?"

"No, Agent Watt's on second."

"I'm not asking you who's on second!"

"I told you that: Hu's on first!"

"Tell me! I don't know..."

"Not exactly. You see, Eidonneau's on third!"

Ketchum lost patience. "Wait... what!?"

"I've already told you Watt's on second."

"Okay, you got a fourth headset?"

"Certainly."

"Tell me the name of the Agent assigned to the fourth headset."

"Tamara." She always had a soft spot for the delightful Tamara Baumdier.

Detective Ketchum was about ready to collapse.

"No, I need to know it tonight! Who's on the fourth headset?"

"Surely I've told you – Hu's on first!"

"I dunno! And don't call me Shirley!"

"Okay, but Eidonneau's on third!"

Detective Ketchum sighed. "So, let's move on to the fifth headset, then..."

"I'm sorry, but Ahn's already on number seven."

Detective Ketchum took a slow, deep breath. "Of course. Who's in charge?"

"Right, the agent on the first headset's always the one in charge."

"Who's giving orders tonight?"

"Naturally."

"Who...?"

"Naturally!"

Yoda Leahy-Hu sat back, taking a long slow drag on her cigarette, confident everything was running smoothly, completely under control. There was little more satisfying than realizing the benefit of well-made plans.

From her vantage point, she had a commanding view of the square and the locations of the other agents.

She'd heard good things about these agents Baudmier, Eidonneau and Patty Ahn. Plus Agent Voo should check in soon...

Now, there was nothing more they could do but wait for Widor.

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

"Either the guy had incredible eyesight or he used some jeweler's magnifying tool to engrave such tiny characters," I said, holding the statue of Beethoven as Cameron drove our freshly purloined car. He'd found a tourist brochure in the hotel's lobby about area attractions which mentioned Castle Schweinwald not far away. All we had to do was take the Old Fricken Road behind the Festspielhaus which turned into the woods. The castle stood on the right at the top of the hill.

The brochure said "the famous Schweinwald Academy, one of the first summertime conservatories in Europe for advanced young composers, closed its doors in the early-1880s after nearly forty years of classes."

"Around the time Harrison Harty was here, writing his journal," Cameron said. "Makes you wonder what made it close."

We needed to know what else was going on with that journal but unfortunately LauraLynn now had it with her. Which meant Dhabbodhú, assuming he's the same guy as Girdlestone, has it. Cameron hadn't translated nearly enough to answer all the questions it raised, requiring several more hours than we had.

The road kept curving back and forth as we climbed the hillside.

"Why did they call this the Schweinwald?"

"Maybe the woods were were full of wild boars?"

"Hmm, no doubt..."

"So, we have chess moves engraved on Beethoven's leg, here," I said, turning the statue around in my hands, "how does that tie in with Zenn offering his regards to Warnsdorff?"

"Well," Cameron wondered, "maybe a Knight's Tour doesn't necessarily imply Lohengrin's Journey, one knight looking for the Holy Grail."

"True, Reise could mean tour or journey... perhaps on a similar quest?"

"Considering all the solutions to Warnsdorff's Rule."

"Depends on the starting place – then with several options going from there."

"But how did Zenn know about Warnsdorff? Did he see something else? What was it we were still missing? If he did see something important like that, why not tell us?"

"I guess rather than telling us what we needed to know, he'd let us discover it on our own."

"That may be fine for a teacher, but it's not like we have a lot of time," Cameron complained.

"Still," I said, "we're a lot further along than we were before..."

"But let's face it," he continued, "if we hadn't gone to Garmisch, we wouldn't have discovered the Beethoven statue."

"If it hadn't been for Zenn," I added, "we would never have managed to crack open the Maltese Mozart. Actually, if it hadn't been for D'Arcy, we'd never have found Zenn."

"Well, to find this Fountain of Inspiration, presumably we'll be looking for a 'Knight's Tour' to lead us to it."

To me, that sounded like a rather round-about way of getting someplace.

The way this Old Fricken Road was winding around through the Schweinwald, it's possible we were already on it.

"But we also need to look for the Knight's Entrance," I continued, "presumably the point where Warnsdorff's algorithm can begin." This algorithm established the recurring patterns touching every square on the chessboard. The problem was finding how all this related to some undiscovered chessboard, how many paths a knight could take.

Just then, breaking through the woods, we rounded another bend which brought us to a rocky clearing up ahead.

And there stood without a doubt the creepiest castle I'd ever seen.

Castle Schweinwald, bathed in the light of the slowly sinking full moon, stood in a Gothic setting atop the hill, no doubt a favorite haunt for the local wolves and vampires. We pulled in beside an empty car, walking cautiously onto the courtyard, its large paving stones overgrown with weeds.

"Man," Cameron asked tentatively, "did that brochure say anything about Old Dr. Falkenstein being a mad scientist or something?"

"Imagine spending your summers here as a student at that music academy!"

It seemed strange to house a prestigious school of music like Sechter's academy in what looked like a haunted castle, but then, maybe the place was less haunted-looking a hundred-fifty years ago.

"This place is nothing but tritones and diminished seventh chords," Cameron shivered.

"Oooh," I joked, "the Devil's Interval!"

"Exactly!"

I kept looking back at the other car. "Somebody else is already here – somehow, I'm guessing that's not Dhabbodhú's car. It'd make more sense he'd park in a more discrete location, right?"

"Shouldn't he be in Ottobeuren with Leahy-Hu? That was the whole idea..."

"Hmm," I thought, stopping to look around.

It was possible someone else had stopped by with a similar plan. Regardless, it appeared we were not alone. We walked carefully across the expansive courtyard, struggling through the weedy overgrowth.

"So we're looking for a chessboard and a fountain within four circles," I suggested, "some pattern in the surrounding pavement. The plaza's design around the Festspielhaus fountain had only three concentric rings."

"Maybe we're not looking for a pattern of rings in the pavement but the levels on the fountain itself?"

"Hmmm, the original site of Beethoven's statue," I said, indicating the fountain, the stagnant smell around it almost overpowering. Barely visible through the weeds, it looked like it had three levels.

Cameron paced across the plaza, announcing it was not a giant chessboard. "In fact, it's actually a 6x6 square."

"Perhaps we're looking for something up there, where the statue once stood?"

Deciding we needed to look for a ladder, we entered the castle.

The door screeched, closing slowly behind us.

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

With his head bowed and eyes closed, hearing his own music being played other than inside his own head was still the same indescribable thrill it had been that first time, back when he was a young teenager and heard someone else play what he'd scribbled down on the page. The amazement had coursed through his brain, from his ears and his blood into every fiber of his body until, for him, the very sense of time had ceased to exist. To say he felt this tingling sensation was to trivialize the miracle, that he could proudly say, "I made this!" taking nothing that existed before to gather something new inside his brain. Like many students, he felt he had done this despite his teachers, by discovering his own the True Path.

Of course, this very sense of wonder itself may no doubt be responsible for the inflated self-worth any creator feels toward anything he or she has managed to create with such difficulty. It is the sense of accomplishment, creating something out of nothing, that blinds us to its true artistic worth. Without it, our self-esteem, our innate confidence would never rise to the occasion to create in the first place or let us sense that, compared to others, our achievement's "not bad."

There are some, of course – those easily daunted by the very presence of a genius like Beethoven (most incomparable master of us all, as we're told) – who'll never amount to anything, who are failures in their minds because they admit to having failed, easily dismissed as amateurs and talentless losers. There are only dozens of great composers, maybe hundreds of good ones and untold thousands who've already been forgotten. How many more – millions, you might think – never even reached the charts?

What thoughts went through his overactive mind as he stood there, listening? That this was "not bad, after all"? How could anyone evaluate his own endeavor unless endowed with supreme confidence?

"Who could not hear this and realize the genius behind this masterpiece, sensing full well his time has come?"

Tr'iTone – Dhabbodhú or whatever he called himself, a genius of constant disguise – never tired of hearing his own music, always surprised to be finding something new, constantly increasing his own amazement. Completing only minutes of music each day, working out the details piecemeal, guessing its total impact had remained inconceivable. Everything was planned to unfold so slowly, each phrase a subtle transformation, it created a soundscape of unbearable enlightenment. Few would be the listeners who could fail to comprehend his brilliance.

The wash of instrumental colors complemented the enjoyment of those with synesthesia, the ability to hear tonalities as specific colors, something otherwise lost on non-synesthetes listening only to this internet radio broadcast. The full impact – of this, at least – was augmented by the slowly rotating color-wheel in the castle's make-shift studio.

Thus it was only a synthetic approximation of what it could be, given even the slightest limitations of modern technology, but the software was by far cheaper than hiring a full orchestra, since, unfortunately, union regulations in America and plain common sense in Europe precluded a single, uninterrupted six-hour recording session.

It took months to put everything together, every note placed 'just so' to create the most perfect realization possible. Despite the distractions, it all came together, part of his greater plan.

The software package he'd uploaded from YouJam, helping internet broadcasters override terrestrial radio frequencies with their own self-produced programming, was probably not nearly as effective as the Tr'iTonic Worm he'd created which turned thousands of infected computers into relay stations circling the globe, transmitting everything uninvited into millions of ears. With a little help from something Lionel Roth showed him weeks ago – who knew he'd be such a technogeek? – he locked the host computer so it couldn't waver from his audiostream.

If YouJam would live up to its expectations, then every radio, every car within a hundred mile radius of Schweinwald was listening to his music, like it or not ("and who wouldn't?"). Of course, he knew it would've reached more listeners during the daytime, but there'd be less government interference overnight.

Besides, his Symphony was perfect nighttime music, an ambient flow of beauty but as always elegantly crafted and tightly controlled, the perfect mix of heart and mind, appealing both emotionally and intellectually. Melodies unfolding over twisting harmonies reminded him of the beauty of DNA, embedding its macro-structural complexity into the micro-level.

For some, no doubt, it would be the antidote to their insomnia, calming nerves and allowing tensions to evaporate; for others, it would activate the brain, keeping them alert and engaged.

Sudden motion on the castle security cameras flickered the monitor to life, catching his attention as he glanced up.

Two figures, indecipherable in the grainy darkness, were standing in the vestibule.

"What now, more intruders again, coming already to shut down my broadcast? They cannot be allowed to advance farther..."

Tr'iTone reached for his ceremonial black robe and thought about summoning Lionel to go do the necessary dirty work but reconsidered getting the poor man involved, given his state of mind.

So now he had to interrupt himself and see to another intrusion, as if there were time for this.

"It's been a very busy neck of the woods tonight," he grumbled.

He skewed a portrait to the left and the wall slid open.

Sighing, he disappeared into the dark passageway.

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

If we thought the old Schweinwald Castle looked spooky on the outside, that was nothing compared to the inside. An eery glow from the waning moonlight only made it seem spookier. The place was full of shadows, with heavy furniture and large statues, things we'd bump into in the night. A single small candle – electric, oddly enough – cast a pale yellowish glow through the cobwebs stretching across the vestibule. If someone were living here, certainly no one's been doing housework recently.

"Who's their interior decorator here, Havisham and Company?" The whispering quaver of my voice underscored my true sense of fear.

The next room was slightly less cluttered, everything crammed in without logic.

Over by a table piled high with books was an overstuffed chair.

"OMG," Cameron gasped, "someone's sitting in it!"

A large, rather disheveled man wearing a tuxedo, his neck at a precarious angle to the rest of his torso, leaned sideways across the armchair, placed there precariously like a broken doll. Leaning in to check for a pulse, I noticed Cameron stepped back, bumping into some heavy object behind him.

When he screamed, I said, "Come on, Cameron, is that really necessary?" But when I turned around, he'd disappeared.

A moment ago, he'd been standing in front of the fireplace.

"Crap!"

Grabbing the tiny flashlight on my keyring – why I was even carrying it, I had no idea, but hey – I couldn't see Cameron anywhere, not that it threw much light around. Opposite me was an archway leading into a vast room just beyond, an immense statue looming over a landing.

Beside it stood Lionel Roth, the inconsequential little man from the Bensonhurst banquet who'd been on the Munich train.

He slowly motioned for me to follow him, so naturally I did.

"Where's Cameron? What's happening here?" I whispered.

Roth said nothing, leading the way across the castle's cavernous Great Hall.

My little flashlight barely dented the darkness which dissolved into the distance.

"Walk this way," he said, stumbling forward, pressing against the statue's base.

A panel groaned then quietly swiveled open.

Of course, the castle would be riddled with secret passageways, wouldn't it? Cameron hadn't screamed because the man was dead, but because he'd been grabbed from behind and pulled into the wall.

Whether Lionel Roth was friend or foe, I sensed an insidious trap. How was I going to rescue Cameron?

Armed with a tote-bag carrying only Beethoven's statue and some assorted papers, I was unlikely to be very effective, rescuing both Cameron and LauraLynn, wherever he'd managed to squirrel her away.

There, at the end of the passageway was a rich amber light, a huge man wearing a black robe and a room full of numerous contraptions like a radio broadcast studio.

Cameron struggled as the hulk strapped him down to a large table, his mouth already covered with tape.

"Dhabbodhú!"

Meanwhile, outside the castle, Fictitia LeMouche pedaled furiously up to the courtyard just as two figures pulled open the door.

Seeing the cars, she said, "What the hell's Scarpia still doing here!"

It seemed like only a few hours ago she'd been here and seen Old Man Scarpia disappear inside, too.

And once again, she heard someone scream, but this time she knew: this time it was Cameron who'd screamed.

Quickly turning her bike around, she immediately tweeted a post for help.

= = = = = = =
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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