Monday, February 16, 2015

The Lost Chord: Chapter 42

The Lost Chord

(a classical music appreciation comedy thriller by Richard Alan Strawser: you can read it from the beginning, here.)

The previous installment turns from wondering how music history might have changed had the fate befalling Hans Rott happened instead to Mahler to observing how Lionel Roth is dealing with the man he knew as DhabbodhĂș but who is now calling himself Tr'iTone and how he is treating his newly arrived guests, Dr. Kerr and his assistant, Cameron Pierce. Leahy-Hu's stake-out, in the meantime, is not going well and concludes with some unwelcome news. N. Ron Steele contemplates some future SHMRG projects. 

= = = = = = =

Chapter 42

"Here," he snarled, tossing the tote-bag at the sniveling Roth, "take this! Might as well make yourself useful, my minion."

Lionel Roth was cowering in the corner like a scared little baby.

"Honestly, his weakness is enough to make me sick," Tr'iTone thought dismissively. "I couldn't find a better lab assistant...?"

He told him to go through these papers and see if there's anything worthwhile. "If there is," he said, "maybe you'll get a reward," a smile curling oddly around his lips.

Already disappointed in Dr. Kerr's unexpected arrival, he still didn't have the solution to the clues on the artifact and where was the journal that had cost him so much time? He had chased Sullivan's cousin all over the Festspielhaus with no luck, nearly getting himself killed in that explosion.

"Why can't these people keep up their end of a simple bargain," he complained, his glance sweeping around the room. "Isn't it the least they could do, since Sullivan's no longer around? All I'd asked was for Kerr to find the fountain for me: is that such a big, freakin' deal?"

The art he will create would, after all, enrich all their lives, the contract between the artist and society.

"When will people realize that geniuses like me require minions like them?"

He noticed Roth's eyes kept shifting nervously over to the laboratory table where Kerr's young assistant lay writhing half-naked, bouncing around to the rhythms and looping overlays created by Ravel's Bolero.

"Perhaps he disapproves," Tr'iTone sneered, since it didn't matter if he did. "What are critics against my superior accomplishments?"

Dealing with criticism was something for novices, for the weak-willed lacking confidence – "in fact, like Lionel, yes?" Tr'iTone chuckled – because, once attaining his level, he knew it was only pointless posturing.

Speaking of critics, it was time to pay Dr. Kerr another visit, to see if he'd reached any conclusions. He'd given him a more serious conk on the head than necessary. If he had a headache, it wouldn't help his clue-solving gray cells and that would set him back more.

"But everybody has their adversaries," he continued, walking over to Kerr's booth. "Simply by being successful, one automatically creates adversaries. Simply by making a decision, in fact, you invite people to disagree. For poets, it's finding the right rhythm; for authors, the perfect word; and painters, the right shade of red. I write the climax of a phrase on a pitch – say, 'G' – someone else says it should be F-sharp! If I'd wanted it to be 'F-sharp', I would've written an F-sharp!"

Several old-fashioned practice rooms hugged the walls, vestiges of a long-distant past, considering the dungeon already had built-in sound-proofing, designed to keep sound in, not out, less annoying to other students. Tr'iTone fed broadcast audio into Kerr's room because who could think in complete silence, easily distracted by stray thoughts.

Dr. Kerr, unfortunately, was being most unaccommodating, complaining about every little thing, typical of someone who's not a team player. A litany of unabashed negativity, it did little to engage Tr'iTone's empathy. The music – as beautiful as it was – did not let him concentrate, plus he needed deskspace, maybe a computer.

And how could he work with his hands tied to the chair, unable to hold or turn the statue?

"A poor craftsman blames his tools, doctor," Tr'iTone shouted. "One more hour!"

Annoyed by Old Kerr's uncooperativeness, Tr'iTone's mind raged – "How am I supposed to get any work done under these conditions?!" – as he stomped back to Cameron's table and checked the electrodes. Given the boy's reaction to the music, he could be in danger as bad responses only made things worse. Designed to take the body's physical responses from the enjoyment of music and turn them into further neurostatic impulses, the machine would not know when to cut off its own transmission.

If mice discovered they received pleasant sensations by controlling the flow of electrical current wired directly into the brain, Tr'iTone's apparatus by-passed the need to activate the lever delivering the stimulation. By using music piped into the brain, he found pulse, breathing and other involuntary reactions increased the initial response.

By programming blood pressure readings to affect tempo and pulse to create variables on other parameters like rhythm and dynamics, he found his interactive looping would keep the musical stimuli flowing perpetually. Using a piece of overly familiar music that annoyed a discerning listener could create an instrument of excruciating torture.

Tr'iTone yanked away the ear-buds and gradually turned down the music's volume, allowing Cameron's body to come to rest. His chest glistened with sweat, TriTone noticed; his eyes bulged with fear.

Cameron coughed violently and spat once Tr'iTone finally tore off the gag, hoping to get his breathing under control. He glared at the man in disbelief, trying desperately to shrink away.

"I told you, man, I don't have the journal," Cameron said, panting, "if it's not in the tote-bag, there..."

Tr'iTone looked over at Roth, sifting through a pile of loose pages. The man shrunk back, shrugging his shoulders. Then Tr'iTone banged his fists on the table until it almost cracked.

"The last time I saw it," Cameron said, "you'd just abducted LauraLynn. She'd been holding it. Where is she?"

"What...? I must know what the journal found," Tr'iTone bellowed. "Tell me!"

Slapping him across the mouth, Tr'iTone held up an old, brittle envelope.

"Perhaps this will help change your mind?"

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

The wine we drink through the eyes in the moonlight's pale rays illuminates the crystal flask on the black washstand where a laundress washes out silk lingerie with drops of lingering blood. The mother of all sorrows, death-sick moon, hides from giant black moths, and I've alas unlearned to laugh! Pierrot!

Royal-red rubies, like bloody drops, become a gruesome communion by flickering candlelight, while the scrawny harlot awaits the gallows: the moon becomes a gleaming Turkish scimitar, and poets bleed in silence.

Sweet laments and crystal sighs, despite bald Cassander's air-rending screams, drill deep, her knitting needles in her graying hair. A whitish fleck of moonlight glistens on my shoulder, seeking love's adventure.

A giant bow scrapes across the viola, the moonbeam now my rudder – oh, ancient air from distant times, intoxicating!

With a start, Peter Moonbeam opened one eye, recognized he was still alive, then proceeded to open the other eye. He wondered where he was or what that dream had been about. He wasn't even sure where he was, lying there on the floor, nothing like the hotel room he remembered. The place had been trashed, sprays of bullet holes everywhere he looked. The furniture was riddled, and the walls. If this was his hotel room, he would be in big trouble.

But then, worst of all, he couldn't remember anything about the party. Surely, he didn't do this by himself? Had somebody broken in, ransacking the place? Who else had been here? He had some vague recollection of his getting ready to go out: no idea where or with whom.


Forcing himself to get off the floor, Moonbeam noticed that even his laptop had been blasted into infinitesimal smithereens.

"Why would somebody break in and shoot my computer?" he wondered. "Weird..."

Struggling to adjust himself into some semblance of a largely upright position, Moonbeam pulled himself together, straightening his tie. He sensed discomfort in his left armpit: was he shot, after all?

No, he checked and sighed with relief. His arm had gone numb: only a crumpled washcloth cutting off circulation.

Opening the door with caution, Moonbeam looked up and down the hallway, seeing no sign of anyone in either direction. He made a dash for the elevator and pounded the down arrow.

"What luck," he muttered. It had arrived quickly and it was empty. He was in the lobby in seconds.

"Ah, Mr. Moonbeam," the night clerk said, waving at him. "Back already? Did you park your car around back?"

"Back? What d'you mean, 'back'?" Moonbeam, squinting in the light, looked around.

Trying not to appear confused, Moonbeam asked if his car was ready.

"Ready, sir? You'd left an hour ago."

"I did? I must've forgotten." This came as a surprise. "Hot date..."

"Are you okay, sir? You look pale." The night clerk sounded worried.

"That's okay," Moonbeam said, "I'm fine – F-I-N-E..."

If somebody had tried to kill him and then stole his car, things didn't sound fine at all, he thought. "Who was I dating, some suicide bomber?" His mind was completely blank. He wondered if he should call security when it occurred to him: "that hot babe's from security! Holy crap!"

What was her name? Kunegunde Something-or-other. But how could he report her? They must be after him for something.

Whatever it was, he had to hide.

"Damn," he thought, "where's Schreiber?"

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

"No," she said, trying not to sound belligerent, "it wasn't me that was in danger back at the old castle: it was Cameron and that old professor guy he's with," she continued. "Cameron's this sweet young guy, you know? but I have no idea why either of them was out there."

The officer introduced herself as Kunegunde Nacht of the Schweinwald Security Force, wanting to make sure everything was okay.

"No, I'm sorry, but everything's not okay. I saw them go inside..."

Fictitia would never be comfortable around policemen – call it a cultural thing: you're supposed to run away from policemen – then make it a German woman who was a knock-out like Kunegunde... It seemed unnatural a woman like her should join the police force – Fictitia'd give anything for tits like that.

Since the bike might have been reported stolen, she didn't want to mention it was lying just beyond the headlights, and she also decided not to mention anything about Old Man Scarpia. If she'd known he'd been out there since earlier in the evening, would she get in trouble over that?

If Kunegunde was responding to her tweet about needing help at all, why wasn't she going to offer some? Maybe she shouldn't have been eager to mention she was Fictitia LaMouche.

The officer was more interested why she'd followed the professor out there, why a single young woman like herself was walking these back country roads in the middle of the night, and above all what difference was it to her if she had heard someone scream in a haunted castle?

Fictitia realized she couldn't mention having seen IMP agents arresting Cameron earlier, regardless of her assignment as a reporter. What would this have to do with her covering the festival's opening?

And if she knew about that hideous monster she'd seen running away from the explosion earlier at the Festspielhaus, why hadn't she reported that event, either, aside from having been kidnapped?

Oh yeah, kidnapped by the old professor whom she's now tracked down to a haunted castle in the woods?

So instead, she was being branded as uncooperative and considered a suspect, though she had no idea for what reason. Kunegunde's call to the security dispatcher didn't make her feel less uncomfortable. Now, they were headed in the opposite direction from the old castle and Cameron still needed to be rescued.

And the old professor, too, though he had masterminded her being kidnapped; and maybe Scarpia, the horny old goat. Cameron, only an accessory in her abduction, wasn't exactly hitting on her.

Rather than take her to the security trailer behind the opera house, Kunegunde shoved her along into the hotel through the back entrance and into an elevator to the top floor. How long would it take till this was over – or she'd escape – before she'd get back to the castle?

Farther down the hall, Kunegunde stopped to talk with another security guard – she thought the sign translated as 'Executive Suite' – but not one who looked like a Schweinwald cop, from the uniform.

"What's going on? Where're you taking me?"

None of this was going to help her deep-seated fear of police.

The door opened a little and a barely recognizable face peeked out.

"OMG," a high-pitched voice shrieked. "Fictitia LaBitch!"

Fictitia was stunned: Kunegunde delivered her to her old nemesis, Skripasha Scricci.

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

Leaving the hotel behind him, Moonbeam dashed (as much as any guy his size could dash) across to the Festspielhaus, even if, in the middle of the night, the place was empty. He could sneak in through the back: he'd heard about that hole the explosion ripped open in the wall.

Constantly glancing over his shoulder and skirting around past the temporary security trailer – lights on: someone was still there – he discovered the hole was secured only by some yellow caution tape.

Moonbeam hid himself behind a globe arborvitae and pulled out his phone, having missed a call from Armin Schrieber. With any luck, the guy might still be working in his cubicle.

Moonbeam saw the guard was sound asleep, slumped up against the wall. He pressed 'play' to hear Schreiber's message.

"Hello, Moonbeam? You'll never guess..." There was a pause. "Hello? Who's there...!" Peter could hear white noise in the background. Did he think there was somebody else in the office with him?

After another pause, Schreiber whispered, "Look, I can't believe you missed this, but this is really amazing." Another pause.

"Huh... well, in that interview with Sullivan when you'd left the room? Sullivan actually said how the opera would..."

He was cut off by loud machine-gun fire and some breaking glass.

During the long, intense silence that followed, Moonbeam found he couldn't breath. Then he heard another voice, deeper and raspy.

"Where's there a hand towel when you need one...?" it snarled. "Hah...!"

With that, the line had gone dead.

Before Moonbeam realized, he was deep in the basement of the Festspielhaus.

What was it Sullivan said – was it about the opera's new ending? Was it possible he'd already finished it? If he had, why is everyone saying how the opera is incomplete?

And whatever the implications were, did someone kill him because of it?

"Schreiber's been killed... someone's tried killing me..."

Was that a footstep?

"Maybe the killer...!"

This door's ajar!

"What luck!"

Peter Moonbeam ducked into a darkened room and pulled the door shut.

"How long will I have to wait?"

= = = = = = =
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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