Thursday, January 01, 2015

The Lost Chord: Chapters 28 & 29

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, Fictitia comes to in the back of the stolen van and can't figure out where she is; but Security Agent Agitato does - somewhere outside Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Meanwhile, Zenn continues the discussion with his unexpected guests about inspiration and that Inner Chord that reverberates to some extent within each of us.

= = = = = = =
Chapter 28

Zenn once again picked up the artifact, regarding it from different angles. It weighed heavily in his frail hands. "It's things like this that make me think about people like Sechter. He understood the craft, how it worked, communicating that to his students, yet couldn't make it work for himself. If the man wrote a fugue a day most of his career, that's, what – 5,000 fugues in his lifetime? Does it matter that not even one has ever entered the repertoire?

"It makes you wonder what his reputation must have been based on if he was a craftsman with no genius, unless his genius naturally lay in teaching, his understanding of the craft. You would have to admit, very few geniuses have made great teachers – no guarantee their students will become geniuses..."

Paging through Harrison Harty's journal, glancing over several pages past the beginning, Cameron stopped occasionally when he noticed Sechter's name, several references that he had once been headmaster at the Schweinwald Academy.

"Sechter still seemed to be regarded with considerable reverence by the teachers, even by Brahms, when Harty was there."

Then Cameron asked a very good question: do we know who made this statue and, for that matter, why? "It was found at Schweinwald – did it have any association with Sechter?"

Other than lacking its head, the statue was basically in good shape, a porcelain figure of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in a silk shirt, turquoise-colored frock coat and beige satin knee breeches, his last name written like an autograph across an outline of Malta or perhaps some abstract, unidentified Malta-shaped country.

Written around the edge of the base was a barely legible inscription, painted on by hand in ornate letters, one phrase stretched out over the top, the second cramped in below.

"Il tutto sará... trovato... something..." Cameron traced the inscription with his finger. "It's Italian but what does that mean?"

"'All will be found...' but in what? In the course of time?”

"This medallion," LauraLynn said, pointing to the heart-shaped emblem on his chest, "does this belong to some famous order?"

Mozart had been given the Order of the Golden Spur in Rome, it was true, back when he was 14, and it's quite possible this particular medallion was some secret composer's brotherhood, so maybe we'd be looking for something hidden in the rituals of an arcane musical equivalent to the Masons.

"I'm thinking there's more to this music scratched in along the spine," I said, carefully turning the artifact over. "See, this line of pitches with numbers underneath it – like figured bass..."

"But it's not figured bass", Cameron replied, "not with all these numbers," referring to the numerical code underneath bass notes which Baroque musicians used, specifically filling in a chord's missing pitches.

"No, you're right," I added, looking more closely with the magnifying glass. "But it might help crack the code."

Zenn, reaching into one of his desk drawers, pulled out another sheet of blank paper and handed me a pen since I assumed the pitches themselves were some kind of secret message.

As a bass line, the notes didn't make a lot of sense, even if it's substituting pitches for letters.

"But if you look at these numbers and write them out linearly, that first one is '24,' not '2-over-4.' Also, you'll notice no pair of numbers in the string is repeated."

After I scribbled the notes and all the numbers onto the paper and started working toward some kind of solution, Zenn reached over and began to pat the statue with his hand.

"Isn't it amusing to consider," he said, "how our little artifact might be a way of transmitting secret knowledge?"

Cameron also touched the statue. They began bouncing around in their seats, as if affected by some electrical current.

"Zzzzzt! Zzzzzt! There,
" Zenn laughed, "I've just transferred my genius to you!"

"Oh, please, boys..." LauraLynn was not amused. "If that's all it took! You're back to the quick-fix magic pill! And undermining all my foundation's scientific research with your mystical conjuring mumbo-jumbo."

"Ah, but if somebody deeply believed that, it could be," Zenn replied, "a very powerful reason to obtain it."

Changing his tone, Zenn looked at my paperwork and asked if I'd been able to make sense of anything yet.

"Not in so many words," I admitted, "nothing that looks very promising."

I'd written everything into a 6x4 matrix, one block for each pitch, then placing each number underneath its pitch. 

"It doesn't form anything that's very musical, with so many repeated notes."

"Is it something that we should recognize?"

“No, but what if I put the pitches in this numerical order...?”

LauraLynn quickly lost interest in my technical explanation and wandered back to the window looking down on the valley below.

"Do you think this is honestly going to offer some great wisdom?"

"No," I assumed, "nothing more life-changingly philosophical than your typical fortune cookie – or maybe something leading to another clue."

"Great," Cameron said, looking up, "sort of like a musical scavenger hunt... And we're trying to solve this because...?"

"Because", LauraLynn snapped, "someone killed my cousin and tried to kill me!"

I showed Zenn the next version of the pitches in numerical order, no more recognizable than the first was.

"They must translate into some musical alphabet, the way the B-A-C-H motive..."

That was when LauraLynn turned from the window and said, "Better hurry – I think we're about to have company."

"Ah, that's my nephew, Will, back from the clubs – he's back early." Zenn suggested we should put all this away. "I'd rather he didn't get himself involved in all of this stuff."

"Unless he's coming back with lots of friends all dressed in white, then I'm assuming he may already be."

I hurried to the window as Cameron collected the statue and papers, stuffing them all hastily into my tote-bag. I had to agree with LauraLynn's assessment: this didn't look very good.

"Mr. Zenn, it looks like they have your nephew at gun point – they're dragging him out of his car.”

"Dear God..." He struggled to get up.

"I see about a dozen..."

LauraLynn wondered if maybe they were the same agents from the IMP that chased us across the Festspielhaus stage.

"Those were all dressed head-to-toe in black, but these are in white, unless," I added, "they changed into snow camouflage."

"That could mean they're the good guys," Cameron said, sounding absurdly hopeful.

"Really? Who'd know how to find us, or know we needed rescuing?"

Fooled by clichés, Cameron shrugged his shoulders.

"Whatever color they're wearing, guys," LauraLynn said, "nothing's good about all the guns I can see. We'd better go."

"Mr. Zenn," I asked him, "is there some place safe to hide?"

"But who did you say they are? From the IMP?" Zenn asked.

Cameron stepped over to help steady him.

"I've had lots of contact over the years with them, you know."

I was trying to figure out how they'd managed to track us.

"Had I paid my dues," Zenn wondered.

"I'm not sure these are IMP agents," looking down at their weapons. I thought they seemed even more threatening. "And it looks a little more serious than a door-to-door fund-raising drive."

"Well, I have to admit," he said, "I've received several threats from the so-called Style Police in the past, but this is the first I've gotten a house call from them..."

"We won't be able to escape in our van," LauraLynn said, frowning. "Looks like they're going around the front."

While I peered from behind heavy drapes, counting a few snow mobiles, I noticed Zenn shuffle over to a table, an elaborately carved drum table with an equally elaborate lamp on it. Earlier I had admired its stained-glass shade, a scene with the Rhine Maidens holding up a lump of gold. He reached into a drawer and pulled out a small leather box, not large, perhaps a couple inches square, and after weighing it, slipped it into the pocket of his sweater.

Zenn mentioned the whole building was completely riddled with numerous secret passageways, many of them criss-crossing with older ones and connecting with various parts of the older sections of the castle.

"A secret passageway down to the basement?" Cameron could feel the excitement.

I made sure we'd left nothing behind.

"Actually," he explained, "it's beneath the basement, a room beside the garage." He stepped on his scooter, leading the way. "Will has no idea what's going on, he'll assume I'm in bed.

"Once they're all in the living room, you can make your escape, heading through the garage to your van."

Cameron and I started moving off toward the doorway where we'd entered, LauraLynn tearing herself away from the window.

"No, we'll go this way," Zenn pointed, "and take the back elevator..."

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

Chapter 29

Howard Zenn's little Scorrevole, however convenient for a man of his age, had not been designed as a get-away car, sauntering toward the fireplace to what appeared to be a large bookcase. Reaching for an average-sized volume near the middle of the middle shelf, he gently pulled it forward and waited. Gradually, the bookcase began to pivot, revealing a dark space behind it, the classic secret passageway as standard cliché. Once it had opened wide enough, the old man lead the way.

"I use Elliott Carter's Harmony which I figure nobody'd choose by accident – my autographed copy's over at my desk. He should've called it Chords since it's not about how they work. Fascinating book, though, showing how to build any kind of chordal structure based on every kind of interval combination."

Aside from the knowledge there were evil-looking agents with guns chasing us who were forcing their way into his house, there was no indication of any sense of urgency on our tour. Zenn mentioned how he'd added this elevator along with the other conveniences, though it'd once been used more frequently.

"You see," he continued as the elevator door slid closed behind us, "we're going down to the old dungeon which was a great party space back in the '60s and '70s."

The elevator, which traveled at a pace even slower than Zenn's scooter, gradually descended past a number of floors eventually slowing down a little bit more before coming to a rest. By the time the door slid open, deep down in the mountain, we faced another long and pitch-black tunnel.

"In all," he went on to explain, "there are twelve different levels, from the top down to the bottom," his hands gesturing accordingly as he started up the Scorrevole once more.

After he turned on the scooter's headlight, Zenn mentioned how much of the original castle had effectively been destroyed following all that "nasty witchcraft business" going on back in the 1590s. The townspeople had rebelled against the count over all the brutal executions where he'd tortured many of their relatives.

I was getting uncomfortable at the idea of walking into a dungeon when the basic premise was needing to escape and for a moment my old paranoia started bubbling to the surface. If D'Arcy were working for the killer, were we here as planned? Could Zenn be after the artifact himself?

There was, naturally, no place to run: we're in the heart of a mountain, buried deep inside an Alp! Nobody else would know where we were, nobody would know we've disappeared...

Zenn was saying how Count Onan Aufgeschwitz, back in the 16th Century, had built one of the longer tunnels so he'd stay dry when visiting the chapel dedicated to his namesake.

“It's said monks planted these maze-like gardens, apparently sowing the seeds haphazardly, though like many tales, no doubt allegorical.”

There were also, he continued pointing out, twelve passageways honeycombing the property, several of them intersecting at four different locations. I could imagine how easy it was, losing one's way down here. They used to play hide-and-seek during parties until someone got hopelessly lost: it took five hours to rescue him.

Were the agents breaking in upstairs reinforcements, I didn't want to imagine, called in to help obtain Zenn's goal? Would it help, praying some Deus ex machina, was ready to roll?

"Occasionally, we do get bats down here, I hate to tell you," Zenn said as we finally reached the end of what he said was the longest and deepest of the tunnels. "The windows in this part of the dungeon are a little drafty and open directly into the cliff face."

"I thought you said," trying to hide any misgivings I might have, "this was right next to the garage?"

"Yes, the garage opens to the front: the dungeon faces the mountainside."

It had been quite unique, he snickered. "Not everybody could hold parties and concerts in an old converted dungeon."

"Concerts? In a dungeon?" LauraLynn commented, smiling. "That must've taken some doing..."

"It took a little imagination but it had been so totally ruined, it was impossible to restore it exactly."

As he pushed on an otherwise indistinguishable block in front of us, waiting for this stone wall to start pivoting, Zenn described how he and Bastian renovated the dungeon into a music-room, a large if dark space that had rather surprisingly luminous, cathedral-like acoustics. "Perhaps earlier it had been a chapel."

Certainly, the music they performed there was a far cry, he hoped, from the unimaginable agonies of centuries past.

"Who knew what tortures awaited our audiences, hearing my newest compositions here?"

Leading us into the room, Zenn directed me toward a nearby panel to turn on some of the lights. I jumped back after realizing it was embedded in an iron skull. The first lights to come on resembled flames on ancient, half-melted candles while others glowed inside suits of armor.

Around the room's considerable perimeter stood low crumbled piles of fire-blackened stone once undoubtedly the walls of numerous cells. Another switch lit up two ghostly chandeliers festooned with spiderwebs like gauze.

"I haven't been down here in years, I'm afraid," our host explained, "only one more concert after Bastian died..."

A large table stood near the center, chairs piled to one side.

The wall creaked slowly back into place and we were locked in.

"Perhaps we should get back to business...?"

In the midst of the medieval litter – suits of armor on pedestals, what looked like a rack in one corner – LauraLynn cleared the dust from the table while Cameron moved some chairs. In distributing the contents of the tote-bag to resume after our interruption, I noticed our host seemed remarkably calm.

"I was just starting to figure out how these pitches might translate into some kind of secret musical alphabet."

Remembering Rob's connection with him, I hoped Zenn might offer some explanation.

He, for what it's worth, looked just as expectantly back at me. Instead, maybe he was the one waiting. I'd supply him the answers he needed, then he'd seize the artifact.

What could give him enough confidence to think I could solve this, especially when I didn't have any, myself?

I began by writing it out with the most obvious pitch-letter equivalencies, not forgetting in German B-flat=B, B-natural=H and E-flat=Es, musical ways composers like Bach or Schumann often spelled out special names, a tradition continued by more modern composers sometimes with less overt messages whether the listener 'got it' or not.

The two rests clearly must be punctuation – commas, the most logical guess – the bar lines making less sense initially. With many notes being written as half-notes, it lacked any metrical regularity.

"But you said they also used solfege syllables, right?" Cameron reminded me, re becoming D or la becoming A, a technique composers in the Renaissance called soggetto cavato or 'carved subject.'

"Maybe that's the distinction between a quarter-note D and a half-note D: one's D but the other's an R?"

Were the superscripts letters unavailable as pitches, the backward 'N' a 'u'? And the two staccato dots...? An umlaut! A half-note A is 'la' but the A-sharp was 'li' in solfege-speak.

Bit by bit, the message began forming – the order, pitches and symbols – until putting everything together eventually spelled out Du, Geliebte, es drüct mir das Herz ab, with a missing 'k.'

Cameron, looking at it, translated it cautiously but couldn't figure out abdrücken.

"Literally, 'You, Belovèd, it breaks my heart'?"

A short silence follower before Cameron asked, "Any guesses what that means?"

"So then, who broke Mozart's heart?" LauraLynn wondered.

I turned the artifact over and looked closer at the heart-shaped medallion.

"It's not quite a broken heart, is it, but," I asked, "what's this tiny little writing all around it – which translates as 'From the heart, may it return to the heart'?"

"That's the dedication to Beethoven's Missa Solemnis!"

Then I noticed a tiny pin-hole in the middle of the medallion.

"Would anyone happen to have a hairpin?" LauraLynn snorted. "Or a paper-clip?"

"Here's a paper-clip." Cameron quickly unbent it.

I slid it into the heart's pin-hole, giving it a slight twist.

We could hear this very faint crack: was the heart now broken?

But what happened next?

"Hmmm – nothing, unfortunately..."

"I'm assuming you know the term symbolon," Zenn asked, looking at me.

"An orchestral work written by Ellen Taafe Zwilich...?"

"Well, yes, aside from that: I was referring to the original term."

Zenn took this small, square leather-bound box out of his sweater pocket and placed it carefully on the table.

Pushing it over toward me, he nodded, granting permission to open it.

Holding my breath, I lifted the lid.

Wrapped in silk was a small head.


Just the right size!

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

N. Ron Steele never cared for surprises. In fact, surprises annoyed him. It meant something happened he hadn't planned. His family learned fairly early not to give him surprise birthday parties. Any gift he'd receive, every 'new business' item on a meeting's agenda had to be personally authorized in advance. He couldn't imagine submitting some item to his board for a vote if he thought they might not approve. It was the job of his staff to see that they did.

Relaxing in the recliner of his private helicopter, whumping its way from Munich toward the helipad at the Hotel Schweinwald, Steele had to contend with another phone call from Widor – “now what?” Steele knew it would undermine his authority, showing leniency toward Widor he'd have refused any other agent proven incompetent.

Now there were rumors about some copy-cat bomber getting into the act, threatening to blow up the Festspielhaus tomorrow morning (unless Basil Carsonoma had gotten this guy confused with their own project.) Widor admitted he had no idea where this new guy came from, talking firmly over his own helicopter's engines.

"They still haven't canceled that damned rehearsal?" Steele couldn't help sounding amazed. These people were stupider than he thought.

"Apparently, they're holding it on the main stage instead, after the damage..."

Letting him know he was not pleased, regardless who was to blame, Steele sanctioned Widor's contacting this new threat, despite thinking it would be better if Scarpia took over this one.

"By the way," Steele inquired, "have you heard anything from Agent Scarpia?"

"Uhm, no, sir – why do you ask?"

"Never mind. Carry on, then. Operation Hell-Trap must definitely continue," Steele emphasized, "regardless of your unfortunate stumble earlier tonight. Appear to be negotiating with him, Widor, draw him into the trap."

If they haven't gotten Schweinwald's management to give in to their demands, they couldn't risk somebody else taking credit. It's like they couldn't keep their word, or worse, control the competition.

"Either bring him over to our side or, better, just eliminate him: we do have our honor to maintain!"

Widor explained this new player may have been the one responsible for stealing his van with all its bomb-making paraphernalia and they'd just located it near the gates of Howard Zenn's castle.

“In a few minutes we'll have it and that elusive bitch, too.”

“Ah yes, the Eternal Feminine,” Steele sighed.

Widor ignored he had no idea what Steele meant by 'Eternal Feminine.' It was enough to deal with Scricci's bitch and some professor who's apparently in league with this new guy.

Zenn was a thorn in SHMRG's side, working quietly in the background between his considerable reputation and anti-SHMRG mentoring yet too well-known just to be blithely taken out with the opposition. Steele hoped he'd just retire or die, but instead he kept composing, looking like he could go on forever.

"Hmm, though it's totally unplanned, you have my impromptu approval," Steele confirmed, "to effectively eliminate Howard Zenn as collateral damage, especially if it looks like the old man's had a heart attack."

As surprises go, this one, it turned out, Steele found perfectly acceptable, perhaps even favorable for Widor's performance review.

He knew from his own experience in the business the old adage 'it's a dog-eat-dog world' was long out-dated.

"Be a shark or be shark food."

Sharks trump dogs every time.

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

I held the head in my hand, looking at it with surprise: Mozart's head, presumably long missing from the artifact. Two parts broken from a single piece, its message indecipherable without both. And now I held both parts of the artifact – this symbolon reunited: who knew what secrets it might reveal?

Zenn sat there with his enigmatic smile, appropriately amused at my surprise.

"Where did you get this?" I asked.

"Franz-Dieter Zeitgeist had given it to me only last summer, for safe-keeping."

"You had it all along," I said, trying not to sound accusatory. "Was all this some kind of test?"

"Considering two friends were killed over it, I had to make sure."

When Rob visited him some months ago, it was like a premonition, news of his murder hardly a surprise.

Zenn explained how he had been asked to keep the box safe, never having been told what it might contain. He knew that it involved something mysterious, something that needed their protection. What Franz-Dieter and Rob knew about it, he had not a clue but sensed it was somehow musically crucial.

"But what's so special about this statue, to go to such lengths?"

Zenn sat back and shrugged his shoulders.

"This journal Rob had in his possession is equally mysterious," he added.

"But we both knew about that when we were children," LauraLynn stammered, "long before he'd ever heard anything about Schweinwald."

Picking up the artifact, Zenn held his hand out for the head.

"Oh, I have heard many times," the old man said quite seriously, "how fate often knocks on mysterious doors."

With that, he glanced at the head, then put it carefully in place on the neck of the artifact. It fell off, nearly hitting the floor if Cameron hadn't caught it.

Checking the head for damage, Zenn tried again, a little more forcefully, holding the body firmly in one hand, then plunking it with a good whack to set it in place.

We watched as the medallion split open with a loud crack, a series of fissures spreading in every direction.

= = = = = = =
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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