Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Lost Chord: Chapters 43 & 44

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, Tr'iTone complains that Dr. Kerr is not being a team player and threatens Cameron. Peter Moonbeam recovers from the attack in his hotel room as Kunegunda Nacht delivers Fictitia to her old nemesis, Skripasha Scricci. Moonbeam, trying to find Schreiber in the Festspielhaus, listens to his voicemail and overhears Schreiber's message interrupted by gunfire, then silence, as he finds a place to hide.

= = = = = = =
Chapter 43

Though there's no biblical record to suggest it, can anyone doubt Adam wondered what the younger generation was coming to, especially after that nastiness between his sons nearly wiped out the population? Six generations after God had branded him with the mark of Cain, Cain's great-great-great-great-grandson was born and named Jubal. The inventor of the flute and harp, he became the first musician, the symbolic father of all future musicians and, if it needs mentioning, a man descended from the first murderer. Nowhere in the Bible does it mention who the first critic was, though it was probably his brother Jabal. Or maybe it was his half-brother, Tubal-cain, whose name bore Cain's mark. As the world's first foundryman, Tubal-cain forged instruments of bronze and iron but later critics became forgers of words.

Critics might use these words with great skill, wielding them like mighty weapons against performers they considered murderers of art, continuing to avenge Cain's legacy, protecting us from not so original sins. Other times, they preferred merely to wound or annoy their chosen victims with clever turns of phrase and witticisms. Or perhaps show them art's true meaning through which they'd achieve forgiveness and cleanse the errors of their ways, stamping out diversions from the One Path: unfortunately, not all critics agreed.

With their columns in our once-great newspapers, critics became pillars of society by becoming respected intermediaries between the various interpretations of an indecipherable art and those who cannot understand it themselves. People would read their words and shake their heads, agreeing or disagreeing, or, in some middle ground, nodding dimly. It's not only recently mankind became incapable of forming his own decisions, recognizing what is good and what's not. A composition is created and it's performed: somehow, people must be told.

It isn't that this is necessarily limited to the arts, is it? Political divisions existed before there were 'spin-doctors.' Could we develop our own moral sense without the help of priests? I mean, one could imagine God saying "If it had been unnecessary, d'you really think I would've created theologians?"

We often joke, don't we – we creative types – about "artists who create, can, but artists who can't instead become critics," though let's not go any further into the deeper psychological implications, here. The difference between artists and, well... 'normal' people is usually regarded as a very fine line bordering on madness. One could argue, perhaps, for something like Alcibiades' explanation of human love, seeing who becomes either artist or critic, which might justify various critics' particular affinities, their intellectual or emotional preferences.

There are few creative artists who succeeded in their lives as critics, since it must inevitably create inner conflicts. Possibly the most famous was Robert Schumann who died in an asylum. Some think he was schizophrenic, employing his two 'natures' in his articles, the heroic Florestan and the dreamy Eusebius.

Today, the polite term would be 'bi-polar' – today he could be treated, his disorder kept under control through various medications. Yes, his life might have been less tortured and, no doubt, longer. How different Beethoven's music might have been if he hadn't been deaf, but what about Schumann's? – think of that.

If he had not had to deal with his inner demons, would he have become a composer at all? And if he hadn't, what kind of critic might he have been?

Robert Schumann is regarded as classical music's equivalent of John the Baptist, a good if not exactly a great composer, the flawed artist always seeing in younger composers something better coming along, one who would be greater than he, succeeding where he had failed, one who'd become the heir to Beethoven. Brahms was only one such future hero, so many on Schumann's list his colleagues could be forgiven their skepticism. And it took Brahms a long time to fulfill this inescapable prophecy. Without it, would Brahms have been challenged to write as he did, choosing instead what most young composers did, writing before that mature handful several 'training' symphonies which might've become masterpieces? Would twenty more string quartets by Brahms be as good as the ones we know, those three he published?

Unlike Schumann, many older composers seemed intent on eliminating their younger competition, never seeing the potential in their new ideas, never accepting the fact sometimes, like it or not, change is inevitable. Of course, they never liked being viewed as Old Fogeys, did they, their outmoded concepts desperately outliving their worth. Haydn, always an indifferent teacher at best, may have foreseen Beethoven's ascendancy but had no capacity to understand it. What Schumann saw in Brahms, Brahms failed to see in Hans Rott.

Naturally, the argument can be made that Hans Rott was no Brahms, his symphony full of many youthful indiscretions, but was Hans Rott at 20, writing his symphony, all that different from Johannes Brahms who at 20 showed up unannounced on Schumann's doorstep, bringing with him a handful of sonatas? Old Brahms had considered himself art's apex – "after me comes the dungheap" – believing younger composers ignored the necessary skills, having nothing good to say about newer voices like Mahler or Strauss.

That was how Tr'iTone usually remembered studying with the great Robertson Sullivan, never quite gaining approval, receiving only discouragement. "Juilliard be damned," he'd felt, becoming a composer despite his famous teacher. If he'd been more like Hans Rott, just beyond that fine line, wouldn't the world be a poorer place?

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

If we're running out of time as he kept yelling at me, holding me captive in this supposedly sound-proofed booth, why, then, did he continued to jabber on at me like this, forcing me to listen to his music and this manifesto of his if he's adamant about finding this fountain? He had given me an hour's deadline – and meanwhile what about those threats to amputate LauraLynn finger by finger? Cameron was still flopping around like a fish left high and dry.

I wanted to tell him either to let me solve the clues or just go and kill me now, but it didn't seem a good idea to suggest such limited options. I also thought about asking him for a print-out of his rant since I couldn't possibly remember it all.

"That's great," I told him, hoping to get him back on track by mentioning again what I'd already discovered when – "wait, did you just say you studied at Juilliard with Rob Sullivan?"

He looked over at me with what would be hard to describe as either a smile or a sneer.

It took a moment to process this, information I hadn't been expecting and which may prove to be enlightening. It certainly connected two very significant dots – the killer and his victim.

The man standing in front of me, who'd spent some fifteen minutes ranting about critics and unhelpful older composers, was now something more than just a caricature of a hulking monster. Whatever his physical attributes might have been, this made him more human even if it couldn't soften his essence. He became instead a hulking monster with personal issues and a history, maybe some psychological damage from the past. Abuse can be uncovered in different ways and reveal scars left behind.

He was, however, still an overpowering figure I had to contend with, one who already had (allegedly) committed murder and one I imagined who could (allegedly) be capable of further violence. Unfortunately, I couldn't call anyone to tell them about this major breakthrough. Even Cameron wouldn't find it very comforting.

"That's right," my captor said, bending lower to be at eye level, reminding me he's also dealing with hygiene issues. "They don't call you the brilliant Dr. Kerr for nothing, I see!"

It was difficult for me to take that entirely as a compliment but I let it pass for now.

"Allow me to introduce myself, Professor Kerr. I apologize for being impolite." He stood up, leaning against the doorway. He struck a pose I could barely see in the room's dimness.

"Before you stands a composer, poet of pitch and painter of tones, a genius of superior intellect and sensitivity." He held out his arms to symbolically embrace the whole of mankind.

"I am the culmination of the past, the breath of the future, the greatest ever – call me Tr'iTone!"

Once the roar died down and my hearing began its slow return, Tr'iTone's maniacal laugh modulated into a diabolical snarl, inching ever closer as he revealed one more of Rob Sullivan's faults.

Tr'iTone didn't just lack skill or talent: Sullivan told him even drinking from the Fountain of Inspiration wouldn't help.

"And he kept telling me I needed to taste the dragon's blood!"

Oh, please, not that wives' tale again...

"He couldn't teach me this, tell me how to find this fountain?!"

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

It had been several hours since they'd arrived in Germany, hadn't it? – more specifically, at Schweinwald after landing in Munich – and Dylan hadn't heard anything from Cameron since he last texted him. That was the one about that bum who fell in the fountain but that had been, like, hours ago. Dylan followed everything on Cameron's Facebook page – he'd been posting frequent updates – but even those came to a stand-still.

"That was back around 1:30, wasn't it?" Dylan calculated the time-zone difference.

His last activity indicated he'd become friends with someone named Fictitia LaMouche who then posted a self-pic of them sitting on the fountain's edge, smiling at arm's length into her phone. Then there was another pic looking back at this statue of Beethoven with Dr. Kerr and some tall guy.

What began to bother him was realizing, while he was eating dinner, it was already well past midnight in Munich and that Cameron would've posted about the opera after it was over. He wasn't one to interrupt a performance by getting his phone out, but afterward, certainly, some photos and updates...?

"So how was it? Good?" Dylan texted him, hoping for a response. "I'm eating a burger and fries. You?" Dylan was bad at texting: he hated using all those silly abbreviations.

Then he thought he'd call him again, tell him his concert plans, wishing he'd be there to share it (this was the one Cameron's violin teacher, Zoƫ Crevecoeur, was playing in). Sure he'd want him to say hello, Dylan would meet her afterward, maybe go for a bite to eat. Cameron's phone was 'currently unavailable' and Dylan's call went automatically to voice-mail. He figured Cameron forgot to 'juice up,' or maybe Dr. Kerr had borrowed his phone and lost it again.

Just in case, he posted a brief message to Cameron's Facebook wall, figuring he'd read it in the morning. It was really late, there: he must be sound asleep by now.

"Going to hear Zoe play Beethoven's Ghost then meet her after concert. I'll tell her hi from you. Hugs."

Beethoven's 'Ghost' Trio was one of his favorites and Dylan was particularly sorry Cameron had to miss this performance, especially, Zoe's first big break since she'd gotten that new violin of hers. She'd been good to Cameron, such an inspiration over the past years, and he'd been sorry to miss it.

During intermission, Dylan checked his Facebook account and found he'd been tagged: somebody left a comment on his post. "The one on Cameron's wall?" He clicked through, anxious to read it.

"Dylan help Cameron in lots of trouble"

It was from Fictitia LaMouche, that girl he'd met at the fountain.

She'd posted it maybe thirty minutes ago and there'd been nothing since.

"What kind of trouble? Where is he?" then added "pm me, please?"

Then he decided to call a friend.

His screen-name was 'Dieter Pieterieter' and he said he lived in Ravensburg which Dylan knew was somewhere in Southern Bavaria. Dieter was a night owl and they often chatted late at night.

"Hey, Dylan baby, how're you and that super hot boyfriend of yours?" He never liked beating around the bush.

Dylan explained Cameron was in Germany, apparently in some kind of trouble, and asked if he'd call the police.

"Better yet, I know someone at Schweinwald – I'll give him a call!"

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

"Honestly," he said, "if you're the brilliant professor they say you are, why can't you figure out some simple clues and find this Fountain of Inspiration for me? Time is running out!" Tr'iTone pulled the door shut behind him with a hinge-rattling thud. "Idiot!" He looked around but couldn't find Roth. The light in the dungeon became intensely green as the color-wheel turned, giving everything including Cameron an amphibious glow. Tr'iTone paused to listen as a strand spun beguilingly through the cellos.

He was particularly proud how the harmonic details reflected the overall form, mirrored proportionally in the micro-intensive chord sequence unfolding in this long-delayed resolution to the new key of A Major. Anyone with half a brain listening to this would refute Sullivan's assessment: "'Lacking skill and talent'? Sullivan's an idiot!"

The whole world would recognize his genius before the night is out, after all these years of work and preparation, only a little more to be done before his genius is revealed. Yet the final ritual is not complete, not everything is in place.

"Perhaps Mr. Pierce will move things along."

Again, he slowly lowered several of the dials on his biofeedback apparatus as Cameron's spasms gradually became less intense. When his captive stopped writhing, Tr'iTone smiled, then yanked off the gag.

Cameron struggled for breath once he was released from the Bolero's grip, his head pounding to its complexity of layers, their maddening music all hammering away in different tempos and different keys. He couldn't tell which instrument had the melody now – perhaps the oboe – played with the acuity of a buzz-saw.

"How did you get that letter?" Cameron sputtered hopelessly, staring at him. "How did you even know about it?" He felt exhausted, his brain was fried but here was new danger.

"Loose lips sink more than ships, boy! You can't be too careful." Tr'iTone waved the envelope above his face. "I had help from friends of yours, not that it matters, now."

"What will you do with it?" Cameron asked, hoping to sound defiant.

"Do...? Why – I'm going to burn it!"

Chapter 44

"What did this guy mean, 'I had help from friends of yours'?" Cameron's mind was whirling with countless new fears. "I wasn't, like, telling people, 'Hey, I have a letter from Beethoven!' I mean, the only ones who knew anything about it," he thought, "were Terry, of course, and Dylan. Uh-oh..."

It wasn't like either of them would have told anyone else, right? So who else found out about it? And anyway who would have believed it, a college freshman, like that?

He had no idea where the letter came from – nothing definite, anyway. It all seemed like a strange dream. "I mean, how could Beethoven possibly have handed me this letter himself?" Everything was odd from that weekend last summer at the Crevecoeur Farm, so many things he no longer remembered.

Yet there it was, buried at the bottom of his underwear drawer and this vague recollection how it got there. Terry couldn't tell him much about it, part of some weird dream. He told him to put it in a safe-deposit box and wait a few years, then have it published. Terry even echoed something he vaguely recalled from that dream of his – had he told Terry anything about that? – contacting a particular musicology magazine in Europe after he graduated from college.

He'd been reading about Beethoven for that lit survey class of his – a really good course with Dr. Haar – but it was like his thoughts were frequently interrupted late at night, like Beethoven was speaking directly to him – odd, because Cameron wasn't that familiar with much of Beethoven's music, yet. He'd been startled in class last month when Dr. Haar looked around and asked certain students in the class if they'd felt that Beethoven's music 'spoke' to them, touched their souls...

Then he remembered that thread he'd seen posted on Facebook's Beethoven fan-page about a recently discovered letter from Beethoven, the one where Dylan had tagged him, thinking he'd find it interesting.

The other night, he'd been 'messaged' by some chatty guy named Fred, one of Dylan's handful of Facebook friends.

Fred began, "So what’s this I hear about your letter from Beethoven?"

Cameron answered, "Uh... what letter from Beethoven?" ("Jeez...")

"The one they say you got from Beethoven."


"I know LOL"

Cameron continued, "idk where ppl come up w/this stuff."

Then, a pause.

"hey, post it here," Fred added.


"I could do a paper on it for Haar's 19th Century Survey!"

Was this guy for real? Cameron checked and according to his info, Fred was a music student at UPenn.

Cameron hesitated before answering him. "LOL Sorry don’t have it with me."

He didn't want to seem particularly rude. With any luck, this was going to be the end of it.

Cameron needed to ask Dylan who this guy was, where they'd met. Was he real or some whacko stalker?

Fred replied, "Then where DO you have it?"

"LOL not in my apartment, you can bank on that" ("you jerk...")

Once more, "heh heh so you DO have it, don't you?"


Five minutes later, Fred resumed the thread. "lets def grab lunch soon"

This guy was already long past annoying.

Cameron waited. "leaving in a few days for a trip to Germany"

"Damn," Cameron thought, "shouldn't have said that..."

"Hey then maybe after ur back"


Was that how it happened?

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

She knew it could be a major risk, walking past her old haunts and seeing some of her former friends, street people from her past, what she now called her second life. Most of them had probably drifted away and some no doubt died, so eventually it made going out easier. Last winter she'd thought about inviting two of her closest fellow street-mates to live in the spare bedrooms upstairs, but how could she explain her helping them without giving herself away?

Now, they're both gone. Zombella, a teenage runaway abused by her parents, a drug addict since she was twelve, had probably become a prostitute or was doing time on possession charges; Crazy Clarice, the one who'd been raped by that lecher called Hannibal, recently died for lack of medical attention.

Could she give some of her money to a foundation or church, maybe set up a center for the homeless – food, shelter, some medical care – something that might help her old friends rather than transplanting them to other neighborhoods where tourists wouldn't see them and people could forget they ever existed?

But she'd wanted to go back in time to rescue her mom from being killed in that horrible accident and look where that had gotten her: best to leave things be.

Her new life – she called it her third – provided her with all the comfort and security her previous lives lacked, but it really was boring as hell, so predictable and totally meaningless. It was great having nothing to do – no job, no responsibilities, nothing to practice (having once been a musician), but you couldn't read that many books and TV sucked big time (“Survivor? Oh, please – been there, done that!") Spending time on the Internet at least kept her off the streets.

She hated Facebook – selfish people posting awful pictures of their dinners when she remembered not having anything to eat – and none of her friends would be on it, now, would they?

Then she saw Kerr's little assistant's boyfriend posted about this concert tonight.

"That could liven up the evening nicely!"

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

How many years was it since I'd last heard that old expression about creative artists "searching for the dragon's blood"! How ironic to hear it from a former student of Rob Sullivan's? For a long time, that phrase had become a wedge between us, driving two old friends still further apart. Over the years, Rob and I had survived any variety of disparities, from childhood growing up in different worlds on into what passed for our maturity, the realization of our potentials.

I had assumed this to be the expected result of our natures, two contrasting personalities, one extroverted, one not, how the advantages of birth could push us along these different paths until we'd reach whatever goals we'd reached by whatever route we'd taken, then finding one successful, the other not.

While growing up, we never discussed money or its role in success since, given both our musical interests and abilities, we considered ourselves on equal footings, the result of training and talent: what accomplishments we would ever achieve were going to be the results of hard work and a little luck. We learned that Beethoven and Schubert might have become quite different composers if they hadn't struggled during their lives, while Mendelssohn's good fortune was not necessarily linked to his family's wealth.

It was on a chilly November day not long after I had started teaching and Rob had married Beatrice when we'd taken a walk around the pond behind his parents' house.

"It was hard work, composing," Rob complained, contending with his family's expectations and the requirements of his father's business.

"It is hard work," I'd said, "everything we do is hard work – your dad, my dad – nothing is easy. We're trying to understand the question hoping we'll find the right answer.

"Music is the perfect metaphor for life, isn't it, difficult to understand and difficult to achieve some elusive success. Everybody wants that magic pill to give them complete and instant understanding.

"Faust sells his soul to the devil; the rest,” I'd added, “after Siegfried, are searching for the dragon's blood!"

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

True to his word, despite the hour, Dieter – Dylan's chat-room friend who may or may not have been from Ravensburg – immediately contacted a chat-room friend of his he knew'd be up late who may or may not have been a musician playing at Schweinwald whose name most likely wasn't Harper Roytt. Regardless of anything remotely akin to reality, they were all connected by this network called the World Wide Web and if a friend could help a friend in need, they did.

Dylan went back inside for the second half to hear the Beethoven – maybe the music would help relax him. He's dwelling too much on Fictitia's comment and why she's not responding. There was nothing more he could do here but sit and wait – and hope Dieter's friend could help him.

Whatever persona Dieter presented to the world, Harper really was a musician, calling himself the Wizard of the Viola Section, a young man who really was as young as his profile indicated. And while other attributes weren't totally truthful, it didn't keep him from calling his friend in Schweinwald's security force.

This friend answered on the third ring.

"Why, Harper, what a surprise. Didn't expect to hear from you tonight."

Harper explained someone's friend was in trouble.

"Preston Agitato, at your service!"

= = = = = = =
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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