Monday, January 05, 2015

The Lost Chord: Chapters 30 & 31

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, Zenn helps Dr. Kerr, Cameron and LauraLynn figure out some important details about the mysterious artifact they found in Rob Sullivan's office, but when more unexpected visitors show up, Zenn leads them to a hiding place. Once secure in the safety of an old dungeon, Zenn produces another surprise - the missing head from the porcelain figurine. When reattached, it has an even more surprising effect on the artifact. 

= = = = = = =
Chapter 30

"Dhabbodhú couldn't have known I was there! Did he see me watching...?" It was minutes before he could breathe again.

Lionel continued hiding for several more minutes once Dhabbodhú lumbered away, muttering.

"Dr. Dhabbodhú," he thought, shuddering, "my agent, if that's his real name – if he's, like, even a real agent..."

Perhaps the man called Dhabbodhú hadn't actually been responsible for Sullivan's murder, but Lionel saw who killed this man.

"But could this person, this... – this monster – still be the same guy?"

Maybe this is like Jekyll and Hyde, where Dr. Dhabbodhú becomes this... "What'd he call himself? Tritone, was it?" Lionel couldn't remember what created the monster in Robert Louis Stevenson's story.

Maybe Dhabbodhú was running experiments on himself, studying split personalities, clinical schizophrenia – like a therapist, he thought, into self-medicating.

And what was all this talk about a fountain and some gizmo, stuff playing over and over in his mind? Dhabbodhú sounded absolutely obsessed with finding them yet it made no sense. If he was an acclaimed publishing agent, giving up music years ago, what possible rivalry was there with Sullivan?

Lionel wasn't able to figure it out, whether this guy was OCD, schizophrenic, bipolar or maybe just plain delusional, and he'd been reading a great deal about many such disorders on-line.

After several years with therapists as respected (and expensive) as Dr. deMento, it's possible this brief association with Dhabbodhú has set him back decades of treatment, wiping away any real improvement.

“If my bedrock foundation's shattered,” Lionel worried, “what help can Dhabbodhú be? I must somehow get away from him.”

Highlights of his recent years in therapy flashed disappointingly before his eyes, then since his first meeting with Dhabbodhú, when Lionel had one of those epiphanies he found intense and frightening.

Had Dhabbodhú brought him here to Germany to keep him from talking, because he thought he knew too much? Would Lionel just quietly disappear, completely unnoticed, into this spooky, remote castle?

"If Dhabbodhú planned on silencing me permanently, I must never talk again. He must never know what I know."

Lionel cursed the boredom which made him want to explore the castle: what harm could there have been in that? Otherwise, there'd be nothing to do but wait till he fell sleep. He decided maybe improvising at the piano would help calm his nerves.

"Huh – this one has a middle pedal."

Since most pianos he'd played only had two pedals – damper and soft – he started to press down on it only to discover, not surprisingly, it didn't work, so he tried again.

Then the strangest thing happened: he saw the wall start sliding open, revealing a narrow dark hallway behind it and he heard his own voice echoing through his head, "no, don't...!"

Rather than running to hide, his curiosity got the better of him and he disappeared, stepping into the darkness.

He figured he could yell or scream but who would hear him? So he kept going toward a flickering light. That was when he found an opening looking out into the parlor.

There, he saw the man he thought was Dhabbodhú attack a stranger, then drag the body into the room.

It was some time before he realized he'd been wandering around aimlessly, still lost in a labyrinth of passageways.

He snapped out of it when he thought he heard Dhabbodhú's voice.

"Time cannot be rushed, cannot be cheated – only when it is ready: my Symphony for One Whose Time Has Come!"

Someone was roaring from deep inside the castle, a vast hollow-sounding room.

Lionel found two pin-pricks of light, holes, probably eyes in some painting, but looking out he could see everything.

It was like a vast recording studio, electronic equipment and computers everywhere, including a mixer board with twenty-four channels. Tr'itone stood naked, arms aloft, consecrating a CD like a communion wafer.

Arsin, thesin – cantillation.
Frottola, fauxbourdon – mensuration.
Angels of Lucifer, find me worthy:
Prepare me for my Revelation.

Then Tr'iTone mumbled about receiving no response, some inconsiderate woman, his threat...

Lionel didn't remember the colorful CD jacket sitting beside the mixer board, but recognized the old letter he'd delivered.

Tr'iTone was concentrating intently on his plan, his great project, his debut, the premiere of his newest and greatest work, the critical response positively explosive, his reputation spreading rapidly, an uncontrolled flame! But first, he must find this fountain to ensure his unconditional success or he'd kill anyone who disliked it.

"They are being difficult," he grumbled, trying not to lose his focus. "Does he think he can ignore me? They will pay dearly for this affront! Perfection is the only option!"

Some of the greatest names would be attending this conference tomorrow morning, a tribute to their fallen colleague, Robertson Sullivan. Tr'iTone knew when they heard his masterpiece, they'd immediately comprehend his genius. Only recently had this become his obsession, despite not having been invited, showing them he would outshine his teacher.

"My Symphonie pour celui dont le temps est venu will be revealed, bursting upon them in its celestial glory! It will explode in all its brilliance and everyone will be awestruck!"

But when it would all be over, tipping his head back triumphantly, once all the dust had eventually settled, there was only one name everyone would talk about: not Sullivan's.


He broke out in what could only be called a diabolical laugh then turned his attention to the table.

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

"OMG," we all gasped, sitting back astounded: "It breaks my heart," indeed, afraid at first the artifact had been ruined. Instead, it split open along the cracks, peeling away like a banana. Or more to the point, I reconsidered, like some exotic lotus blossom, revealing inside it some new, unexpected treasure.

There, inside a porcelain statue of Mozart lay hidden yet another statue, a smaller one, apparently made of bronze, this one clearly of Ludwig van Beethoven peering outward, deep in thought.

"No wonder we'd thought the Maltese Mozart was heavier than it looked. Amazing – Mozart was only the outer casing." But what possible significance could this have, interpreting any of the clues?

On the other hand, if Beethoven was supposed to be the focus, the concept of heart-break made more sense.

"Does this look familiar, anyone?" Zenn asked, handing it over to me, pausing to take a closer look at it. Even in the dim light, I could tell Zenn's hands were shaking.

Carefully, I took the statue from him, feeling its heft and substance. Why did it seem heavier than before?

"Recognize? You mean, like, the Beethoven statue at the Festspielhaus?" Cameron asked.

LauraLynn recognized it. "Originally from Schweinwald Castle."

"Part of a fountain there," I recalled, "and Dhabbodhú's seeking a fountain!"

The castle had been deteriorating for generations, no longer the stately academy it had been over a century ago, when Beethoven's statue was unveiled during the stewardship of headmaster Simon Sechter. The crowning glory of a small fountain, for years the courtyard's centerpiece, which Harrison Harty mentioned in his journal!

The statue, removed and stored for safe-keeping inside the castle's grand foyer, spent some seventy years wrapped in muslin until it had been rediscovered when Franz-Dieter Zeitgeist considered resurrecting the school.

Instead of rebuilding the original fountain, though, it was eventually decided to relocate the impressive statue to the Festspielhaus, placed between the new and old wings, facing the plaza's modern fountain.

"If that one wasn't the fountain Dhabbodhú was looking for," I wondered, "maybe it's the castle's fountain he's after?

"Speaking of whom, there's this," LauraLynn said, passing her phone to me. "Just noticed I'd gotten this a bit ago..."

It was another message intended for me and coming from Rob's phone.

“Since you haven't responded to earlier texts, DO NOT, Doctor, IGNORE ME! Maybe now I will have your attention?”

What he quickly described was the first mention of any real threat: fail and he would bomb the symposium. We'd now be working under a deadline with an automatic 'or else.'

I explained to Zenn we'd gotten texts before through Rob Sullivan's phone which must've been stolen by his killer but those came in on Cameron's phone, lost back at the Festspielhaus. If additional texts went to that phone, they were all in limbo which may help explain his increased impatience.

"But can we figure this out before the morning symposium," LauraLynn asked, wandering over to one of the narrow windows. "What if he's serious about setting off another bomb at the Festspielhaus?"

I doubted he'd be seriously considering that, trying the same thing again. "But it'd certainly kill many famous composers..."

At the table, Zenn sat very still, looking over the Beethoven statue, paying no attention to what we said.

Then an explosion rocked the castle's foundation with a fiery, percussive blast.

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

Chapter 31

Peter Moonbeam knew there wasn't much time, leaving Schweinwald's opening-night party early, everybody delighted at the outcome despite the blast which nobody had yet managed to explain – was it caused by terrorists? Everyone wanted to meet those six 'spear-carriers' from the production's first finale, but unfortunately they remained a collective absence. He'd had some drinks, paying his respects to members of the cast, especially to his old friend Cora diLetto, waiting for the hot babes in futuristic military costumes who never showed.

"They'd probably all changed out of costume during intermission, anyway" he imagined as he looked around among the choristers, none of them as hot as that security agent he'd flirted with. "Yeah, that bosomy red-head from before the opera – what was her name?" But he would never forget that... face.

Even though he'd managed to bump into her in the crowded lobby, she hadn't seem interested in him at first. But since he was already running late, he figured what the heck. Telling her how ravishingly miraculous she looked, doing her low-cut gown proud, he politely offered her his business card.

"I'm just a big guy," he began, "with a big heart and..." but she interrupted him before he finished.

"Okay, big boy," she said, stuffing his card into her ample cleavage.

She'd been ready to leave almost immediately, saying she's an undercover cop, when he suggested he might need protection, whatever was causing this heightened security presence and considering Sullivan's recent murder, plus how he'd run into this professor accused of stealing something significant, not to mention collaborating with Sullivan's cousin.

She'd seemed quite interested in LauraLynn Harty, his stock apparently rising significantly, asking him if he knew her whereabouts. He didn't, he apologized, then mentioned his interview recorded with Rob Sullivan.

("What was her name – started with R...") When he told her they had taped it right before his death, she seemed more interested, now – ("Or was it an M?" he wondered) – his parting words, "so, call me, maybe!" a tape-loop in his memory. ("That was her name – of course! Kunegunde!)

Moonbeam settled his ample frame in front of the narrow little desk which such hotels universally provided its skinnier patrons and tried to refocus his energies on the urgent task at hand: finishing his notes for tomorrow morning's conference and prepping that video interview, the last one Robertson Sullivan ever gave. They'd recorded it from Benninghurst via Skype a day before his death, having put it off several times already, but so close to the festival's opening, recording it then seemed unnecessary.

Nothing special, just one of many interviews Moonbeam had recorded that week, he hadn't even started editing it yet, adding it to the conference's program only because of its sentimental value: since it was Robertson Sullivan's final interview, it served a different purpose in the context of a memorial service.

Calling up the file in his laptop, making sure it still worked, he opened it in his new editing software, a recently upgraded version of 'Captain Pyque' he used for simple projects. Clipping off the introductory testing and the silence after they signed off, he decided to leave the rest untouched.

He dialed a number into his cell-phone as he prepared the attachment, calling the guy helping with the conference.

"Okay, Herr Schreiber," Moonbeam said, leaning forward, "I'm going to hit 'send'..."

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

"What the hell!?" may not have been even the least offensive accounting of the various expletives voiced at that moment, under the circumstances it will be sufficient, given our state of mind.

Cameron and I quickly scrambled to pick ourselves up off the floor, LauraLynn having been slammed into the wall.

Zenn, for his part, sat unfazed at the table in trance-like contemplation, turning the Beethoven statue in his hands, despite a bomb having just blown a hole in his castle's wall.

A half-dozen heavily armed warriors rushed in, dressed in black storm-trooper uniforms, terror-inducing images I remembered well from before, having chased us through the Festspielhaus' basement and then across its stage.

"We have the situation firmly under control," the one in front said. "He's not going to escape this time!"

There was a squawk from her radio as she menacingly stepped forward, the others aiming their rifles directly at me. I put my hands in the air hoping they wouldn't open fire.

"We have the professor, his unidentified lady-friend and – well, well – guess what? Even Paul Meary has turned up, too."

Then LauraLynn remembered the figures she'd seen outside the living room window had all been dressed in white uniforms.

"If you're agents from the IMP," she asked hesitantly, "then who are...?"

Following a deafening burst of frantic sub-machinegun fire, the secret panel we'd recently entered through collapsed with a resounding blast, shards of stone, iron and mortar crashing to the ground flying everywhere.

Once again, Cameron and I were thrown sprawling unceremoniously across the floor as LauraLynn again slammed into the wall.

Behind the clouds of dust and smoke, several figures began to materialize, all but one dressed in white uniforms.

The biggest one, dressed in dust-covered black, stepped forward.

It was him!

I was positive this was The Man, the one I saw everywhere, the guy who'd been on the train, BandanaMan who had fallen in the fountain, the suspected killer from Benninghurst.

"Dhabbodhú!" I shouted at him, "don't shoot!"

"Dhabba-who!?" the man shouted back.

Raising his right arm, guns were drawn.

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

Schreiber answered his phone, surprised Moonbeam was working so late at night, not surprised there was more to be done, commiserating about burning the post-midnight oil the night before a big event. After Schreiber acknowledged he'd received the file, he said he'd upload it into Moonbeam's PowerPoint presentation for the morning.

Moonbeam apologized for another call coming in, adding he'd see him tomorrow, sometime around 8:00 to start setting up. He figured the call was another composer getting ready to bail out.

"The news must be getting out about the bomb blast," he figured, several composers already there expressing their concern. "Seriously, the blast occurred just down the hall from the conference room." Philip Glass and John Adams already decided to Skype from New York until they had realized the time difference.

"At this rate, it'll just be me and the late Rob Sullivan," he sniffed as he answered the in-coming call.

"Hello, big boy," said a sultry voice, "did I wake you up?"

It's that hot security babe named Kunegunde he'd met before the opera.

"Why, no, not at all," Moonbeam smiled.

"Good, so if you'd want to go out for that drink, now, the wine we drink with the eyes...?" She made a noise between a cat's purr and a tiger's growl.

"...flows nightly from the moon," Moonbeam continued, "in springtime flooding the horizon," humming in a trance-like, half-sung, half-spoken voice as sparkling music filtered through delicate pinpricks of light inside his brain.

She suggested she stop by his room. "I could be there in three-times-seven seconds – you're in Room 21, right?"

"The poet, ecstatic, drinks from the holy fountain," he moaned, saying good-bye, "this wine we drink with the eyes..."

Moonbeam called the front desk. "Have the valet bring my car 'round..."

He knew there was still work to be done for tomorrow's conference but then he also knew his material. Schreiber had everything necessary for the presentation plus his CDs were ready.

He'd be back in plenty of time: there's nothing to worry about.

Besides, she's already knocking at the door.

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

As the first shots pounded the air, ricocheting wildly around Zenn's dungeon, it felt like a whole string of explosions that would continue reverberating in my brain the rest of my life: whether I lived to be a hundred or just another few seconds, this was a sound I'd never forget.

Logic aside, it also occurred to me, in one unfortunately lucid moment, the fact these latest guys wore white did nothing to reassure the hope they must be the good guys.

"Why would the killer text us about solving this puzzle for him, threatening us with a deadline," I thought, "then burst in to wipe us off the face of the earth?"

Diving for whatever cover the table offered, I noticed Zenn sitting there, staring at the Beethoven statue, perfectly calm.

After what seemed like minutes of constant bombardment, I was amazed to find myself alive and Zenn still sitting there, assuming I'd gone instantly and completely deaf when the shooting suddenly stopped.

LauraLynn fainted as the killer grabbed her, carrying her off with him then dashing through the wall's gaping hole.

As several black-clad agents pursued the escapee, running off down the mountainside, a tiny figure appeared through the smoke - Leahy-Hu! - lips pursed, shaking her head disapprovingly: "Now, professor – come with me..."

= = = = = = =
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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