Thursday, February 05, 2015
The Lost Chord: Chapter 39
(a classical music appreciation comedy thriller by Richard Alan Strawser: you can read it from the beginning, here.)
In the previous installment, Klavdia Klangfarben, feeling 26 years older than the age listed on her birth certificate, thanks to her botched experience with Time Travel, discovers a woman who could be her long-lost twin and hatches a plan. Kerr, captured by Tr'iTone in the castle's dungeon-turned-radio-studio, wakes up to find himself in a not quite sound-proofed room with some awful music playing in the background.
= = = = = = =
It felt like more than thirty years since she last played on-line.
"I wonder how much I can still remember?"
Klavdia sat down at the Countess' computer and logged into her account.
What luck: the Countess du Hicquè was a rather absent-minded old bat, keeping her information taped to the keyboard.
"Elisabeth_CountessFalkenstein86" was her log-in ID, no doubt part of her fantasy identity, and her password was – how funny! – "Heinichen"! Though she'd spelled it wrong, Klavdia was beginning to like her already!
Unfortunately, Klavdia discovered there was very little evidence of an on-line life, nothing that seemed to amount to much: an e-mail account that was primarily spam, no on-line banking, no Facebook. There were only a handful of bookmarks, none that seemed particularly interesting, the internet apparently outside her 'comfort zone.'
Though it was already late the night she 'inherited' her new identity and dumped a comatose body in the alley, Klavdia wandered around the house in utter amazement at what she found. There were several closets full of clothes – granted, mostly old-fashioned, old-lady clothes – but warm, clean and very classy clothes. She'll wear a different pair of shoes every day of the week, picking a brooch from boxfuls of jewelry. There were three different bedrooms, each one more fantastic than the last.
There was one room, overlooking the back, which must've been Strether's office with its Victorian-style desk and matching chair and where Countess Elisabeth looked after her banking and paid the bills. There was one check ready to mail which, conveniently, she'd already signed, a signature requiring some practice to duplicate.
It was the file from her bank accounts that most astounded Klavdia, staring at it for maybe twenty minutes, more money than she had ever imagined – well over three million dollars!
Thinking about it still made her dizzy even almost eight months later, remembering how she'd twirled around the hallway before very nearly tumbling down the steps, barely catching herself in time. Instead, she did a very un-old-ladylike thing, despite being in her 60s, sliding with a whoop down the bannister.
More sobering – if not reassuring – was paging through her tattered address book, practically every name in it carefully crossed out, several obituaries inserted between its pages clipped from newspapers around the world. The old countess may well have had many friends in her time, but things looked very lonely these days. What would she do if an old friend came by to visit? How would she manage to fool anyone? And visits to the doctor? She could end up giving herself away.
Klavdia had one short conversation with her, knew nothing of her story, yet thought she might pull this off. Wouldn't it be better to go on a trip, somewhere far away?
"What was I thinking?" she wondered aloud. "God, I must be crazy! Oh, wait – what if I am crazy?"
It was a long shot, of course, not something taken too lightly, but it might help her with her situation. The countess was, naturally, an old woman and these things sometimes happen.
It was like creating a paper trail covering any of those slips of the tongue or lapses in memory. The trick would be only to have some kind of official record that she's started becoming 'a little eccentric', not like she's developing dementia, just enough to excuse some irrational behavior.
Over the next several days, aside from going out for her meals and the occasional opera she'd had tickets for, Klavdia spent hours sifting through the paperwork found in various desk drawers. She looked for receipts and reports from doctor's visits, copies of prescriptions, but nothing like that was turning up. There were no impending medical appointments listed on the calendar through Spring, with nothing indicating she'd had one recently. Taking no pills for anything, she must've been healthy as a horse.
The countess may have lacked family and friends, but several people Klavdia ran into treated her warmly if deferentially: the doorman, the guy at the newsstand, waiters at her usual restaurants. These were not the kind of people she needed to interact with more than a nod or generous tip.
Klavdia now began thinking maybe she should write down her life story, having finally both the computer and the opportunity – a novel, naturally, since who would believe everything that happened to her? One afternoon, she overheard someone talking about an agent named Iobba Dhabbodhú who lived nearby, so she called him.
Though reluctant at first, he gradually warmed to the idea, especially the time-travel, after a couple rather inauspicious meetings. Unfortunately, as a music lover, he had an overbearing interest in Beethoven.
She thought about canceling their next appointment, thinking she needed more time, when he announced he'd be out-of-town then, something about a dinner he'd be attending at Benninghurst, some composer's colony.
"I only know one composer," she mentioned. "Have you heard of some guy," she added cautiously, "named... Richard Kerr...?"
"Unfortunately, I haven't," he apologized, "but it's a dinner honoring Robertson Sullivan, so who knows, maybe he'll be there? I'll keep my ears open," he joked, "basically, normal for an agent."
Their next appointment wasn't for two weeks, but Dhabbodhú decided to call her immediately after he'd returned from Benninghurst.
"Not only was your friend Kerr there, he has something I want!"
He wondered if maybe she could prevail upon him as a favor?
"Of course! I'd be delighted to help!"
* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *
So, I looked around, hoping my eyes would adjust to the darkness, and tried to take stock of my predicament, bound hand and foot to a chair but neither blindfolded nor gagged. It was not entirely dark as I could see a small window covered to block a pale, glowing light. Nor was it entirely sound-proofed, acoustically dead, as I'd thought at first, since I could faintly hear nondescript music which quickly became annoying whether or not it was actually getting louder.
The room – "it was definitely a room" – wasn't very large, I felt, and made from some prefabricated acoustical material, nothing vast or vaulted like I'd expect in an old stone castle.
"My God," I shivered, "he's locked me in an old-fashioned practice room," something you'd find in college music departments!
There was an unexpected motion at what might be a narrow window like something being yanked away with sudden force, the orangey glow more pronounced behind the silhouette of an indeterminate face. Backing up so it could see better, the face became more defined, the space behind it gradually more visible. I'd spent many student hours cooped up in such prison-like practice rooms where passers-by would peer in like jailers or perhaps curious tourists at a zoo while I played my scales.
But this time, it's a little different, I thought, despite the recollection, since the face glaring in at me belonged to the man who'd killed Rob Sullivan and might kill me. And where were Cameron and LauraLynn, now? Had he already killed them? What the hell was going on, here?
He yanked the door open and the small room was suddenly filled with a wash of pale amber light that reminded me of the color of cheap beer – and the music...!
"What the hell is going on, here," I demanded to know, "and what the hell is this awful music?" I was hoping I might intimidate him with some unexpected macho bravado.
He fixed me with a baleful stare. "But I wrote this music!"
"Lovely, just lovely," I said, "very soothing..."
Standing in the doorway blocking any view, my hulk-like captor glowered unmercifully, quickly deflating what little bravado I had mustered, the glow behind him like an aura transforming emanating evil into light. It was hard to see details, what he was wearing (if anything), the expression on his face merely malevolent. But basically it was easy to assume this was not exactly going to be the most pleasant of experiences though I didn't necessarily need a list to help prove my hypothesis.
"What a surprise to find you here, Dr. Kerr, before I had even extended the invitation," the man said, towering in the doorway as he continued, "though not yet formally introduced."
His voice struck me as better modulated than his physique would imply, but then that wasn't really saying much.
"I saw you at Benninghurst that night," I began with some hesitation, "you and your dinner guest, Mr. Lionel Roth – though I seem to be seeing you every place I turn, lately..."
"I was Mr. Roth's guest, there to meet the great Robertson Sullivan. Alas, I left before it was... over."
Unfortunately, I'd arrived at an inopportune time, he told me, stepping aside. "But, well – as long as you're here..."
There, behind him, was Cameron connected to numerous wires, writhing in pain.
* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *
It was what her new friend wanted more, seemingly, than anything else, calling her after coming back from Sullivan's dinner, but Klavdia didn't really care since it gave her something to do. And better yet, it would be taking something valuable from Dr. Kerr, knowing he wouldn't part with it willingly. What amazed her even more was how, after all these long years of waiting and stewing in her anger, she'd found her new identity and plans for revenge all at once.
"What delicious twist of fate," she sang while dancing around the house, "that led me to find this neighbor who – cha-cha-cha – would unexpectedly meet my old archenemy a few weeks later?"
As some great writer – she'd forgotten who – said, "There just aren't enough people to go around in the world."
Over lunch the next day, Dhabbodhú explained the details were very sketchy, but he'd overheard Kerr and his young companion – adding that arched eyebrow of suggestiveness and disapproval, putting quotation-marks around it – talking about this letter from Ludwig van Beethoven he had been given which they kept in the boy's bank.
Judging from what they'd said, he'd gotten this letter from Beethoven himself, whatever he might have meant by that, but it sounded like he expected one day to find it'd vanished.
"I figured he meant that it was too good to be true, like pinching yourself after unexpected good fortune."
Klavdia nodded into her soup knowing she knew exactly what he meant.
Dhabbodhú continued recounting what fragments of information he had overheard that night in the banquet hall at Benninghurst Colony.
"I must have that letter – for my collection, you understand," he explained. "I'd pay whatever he wants for it."
Klavdia looked at him nonchalantly. "And they called me crazy," she thought.
Dhabbodhú suggested a friend named Lionel Roth – he'd been there at Benninghurst. "He could help with some on-line research that would help fill in the blanks," he insinuated with a smile.
"So if they're expecting it to disappear some day," Klavdia added lightly, "why not make it do just that?"
Roth, another of Dhabbodhú's clients, turned out to be the perfect hacker, an introvert by nature who spent too much time composing useless music, filling in crossword puzzles and constantly playing Sudoku. By googling Kerr's name, Roth found references to Kerr's assistant, Cameron Pierce, which from there led them to Facebook. Creating a fake account for Frederick Flynn-Stone allowed Roth only limited access since Cameron's security settings revealed little information. He did find, however, Cameron 'liked' Beethoven which gave him an idea.
'Fred' added himself to the list of one of those insidious fan-pages where people shared misguided enthusiasms about music and posted a few comments quickly earning him several dozen new friends. It was now a matter of time waiting for Cameron to surface and he'd gain access to his account.
It didn't take long for someone named Dylan to tag Cameron in a news post about a recently uncovered letter in which Beethoven complained to a friend about money and his health. 'Fred' immediately added a comment wondering how many more letters like this might still be floating around out there.
While others responded, Roth waited for Dylan to engage in the thread and then sent him a 'friend request.' Seeing a fellow student from the university, Dylan accepted – Roth was 'in.'
* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *
Seeing Cameron obviously in great pain not far from where I sat, I screamed, feeling totally incapable of helping him, but it was like my voice died in the air between us.
"What unspeakable things are you doing to him," I demanded to know. It was painful enough to watch him.
Strapped hand and foot to what looked like an ancient stone altar, his mouth gagged, lying there nearly naked, Cameron had numerous electrodes connected like suckers to his chest and abdomen.
"It's nothing serious if you tell me what I need to know," the hulk said, leaning closer to me. "It's not electrical, in case you're worried." He glanced over his shoulder.
He explained how Cameron was listening to music with his entire body, the body's response controlling what he heard.
"It's a biofeedback tape-loop of Ravel's Bolero, manipulated by his internal responses feeding the dynamics, the tempo, even the colors, increasingly overlapping the various repetitions to constantly heighten the listener's ultimate experience," he explained, partially turning toward the table where his poor victim bounced like a fish in a frying pan.
"The more positively he reacts, the more beautiful is the machine's response. Your friend appears not to like it, so it may not take long before his brain explodes."
"Unfortunately," he told me, "the music you are listening to – my music – is not controlled by your blood-pressure and heartbeat, or you'd probably be dead long before you've outlived your limited usefulness."
Turning away, I was nearly overcome by the garlic on his breath. At least we were safe from vampires.
"I'm very disappointed you've been avoiding me, Dr. Kerr," grabbing my shoulder. "You're supposed to find me the fountain!"
"Let Cameron go," I pleaded, "he knows less about this than me!"
"Than 'I', Doctor," he retorted.
"Well, that makes two of us, then..."
That's when I heard a ringing cell-phone.
"What's that," the demon snarled. "I didn't write that, there!"
A call came in on LauraLynn's phone, probably from her abductor.
The monster tore it from my pocket.
= = = = = = =
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.