Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Lost Chord: Chapters 46 & 47

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, instead of interrogating Dr. Kerr, Tr'iTone wants to play chess with him which becomes the background for a lively if unexpected discussion about American attitudes toward the arts and the rules of tonal harmony. When Tr'iTone breaks the chess rules to win the game, mentioning Warnsdorff in his defence, Kerr has an epiphany: Warnsdorff - the Knight's Tour - the markings on the base of the Beethoven statue. It's a map!

= = = = = = =

Chapter 46

Tied to the coffee table, Fictitia tried to avoid the repulsive, skinny ex-rock star she'd inadvertently helped send to prison, but he was determined to torment her as much as inhumanly possible. Dragged off to his room down the hall, she had no choice: Scricci had her completely in his control. Gagged and bound, she would choke to death on her own vomit if he so much as touched her. What evil did he have in mind, opening up his violin case?

How would she ever manage to get out of here, get back to the old castle to rescue Cameron? What dangers could possibly lurk there that would be worse than this? There was nothing she could do but endure whatever torture he planned. Who would show up to rescue her?

Scricci began by turning the lights down low but she doubted he'd play soft music to set a romantic mood. He plugged the violin into a laptop but didn't bother to tune. From there, he proceeded to take off his clothes with suggestive movements, striking hideously seductive poses with his violin.

Did he really think that could possibly turn her on, she wondered? Well, yeah, maybe, with the right guy. Never afraid of some pain, it's just this guy was so old...

"Paybacks are a bitch, bitch," Scricci whispered hoarsely in his drug-ravaged voice, leaning forward with this presumably threatening bravado which he thought sounded either sexy or revolting, depending on your preferences.

"Your own private concert with the great Skripasha Scricci," he added, bowing.

(Okay, definitely revolting...)

He started to play.

Her fingers itched to be tweeting this, to somehow snap a pic if only she could reach her phone. Then it dawned on her: they hadn't taken her phone from her!

And wait a minute, her hand's loose, obviously not tied that tight – her feet, too, she realized, twisting them. Was it possible this idiot couldn't even tie up a hostage right?

She pretended to writhe to the music, keeping her eyes tightly closed and started thinking she might enjoy this.

Skripasha Scricci, once the world's most famous cross-over violinist, stripped to his boxers, swayed, strutted, gyrated and thrust his hips, lurching back and forth across the room playing his famous 'Infernal Dance,' his adaptation of Bach's curiously popular Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, which had long been his trademark finale.

He could imagine the light show going off around him, bathing him in flashes of shocking reds and purples, the crowds cheering him on with each blast burning brighter and higher.

It probably sounded better with the amplification and all the computer-generated sound effects that covered his evident technical weaknesses, but still, he had to admit, he sounded "mighty damn awesome, yo!"

He would seduce her with his talent, rape her with his genius...

"Eat your fucking heart out, Frederick Pope!"

The door burst open and Kunegunde Nacht stormed in, her pistol drawn, catching that profusely sweating pig, Scricci, completely unaware.

"What the hell...?" Kunegunde demanded.

Scricci's eyes bugged out, staring at her.

Kunegunde aimed her pistol at the coffee table where Fictitia should've been, then at Scricci who begged for mercy.

"You ass-hole, the bloody bitch has fled!"

Finally, she turned it on the blasted violin and pulled the trigger.

"One small step for a music lover..."

The violin exploded, shards everywhere.

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

The first thing racing through my mind, once Tr'iTone shut the door, considering that last threat he'd just made, was, "how long is it going to take someone like him to pee?" because that's how much time I had to figure out something I've been trying to figure out all night.

Night – knight... the Knight's Tour. "What does the Knight's Tour have to do with Beethoven?" was my next thought. After that came, "why had we wasted so much time playing chess?!"

Reading Perec's Life, a User's Manual disappointed me until I'd gotten past the ambiguity of his non-linear narrative style: it was like reading random vignettes from a day in the life. Interesting but with no easily apparent continuity, it became short-term memory, bedtime reading, a few pages here and there.

Unfortunately, first of all, I'd ignored reading his 'preamble' with its explanation of the art of the jigsaw puzzle maker, later reading how the novel's structure was based on this chessboard concept. And the epigram taken from Paul Klee: "The eye follows the paths laid down for it in the work."

It was the ever-present struggle of every artist trying to balance the creative concept with the individual's unique perception, combining the basics of craft with the essence of the intuitive response.

But what could Georges Perec and Paul Klee – or even Warnsdorf – have to do with Beethoven, much less Tr'iTone's fountain? Nothing, of course – it was all part of an ancient creative endeavor, but what they reminded me of, in their own ways, applied here, if I had time to follow them.

There was a path laid down here, something inherent in the work, if I could somehow only see it. The True Believer could approach Beethoven's world by following the knight's path.

What dim light there was in the booth, the numbing music aside, glinted off the inscription along Beethoven's thigh. We hadn't figured this out: I assumed it was still more code.

A series of letter and number pairs: then it dawned on me.

It was, in fact, all about chess!

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

All Klavdia had to do, it turned out, was tell the young man hanging around in front of Alice Tully Hall, checking his phone, that she was a friend of Dr. Kerr's, and if he'd come back to her place – "just a few blocks away" – she would show him the e-mail.

Dylan looked up, surprised by the elegantly dressed old woman with a mass of silver hair standing beside him. Not only did she know his name, she knew Dr. Kerr, too.

"What e-mail," he asked her, trying to overcome his fear of strangers since he never remembered meeting her before. Always bad at recalling faces, he wondered if he should ignore her. Cameron said it was a small world which annoyed Dylan no end. He hated when strangers talked to him.

Dylan looked around uncomfortably, not recognizing anyone else, then explained he was waiting for a couple friends after the concert and kept checking his phone hoping to hear from Dieter or Cameron.

The crowd continued flowing around them like a stream avoiding two stones. Dylan hoped Zoƫ wouldn't take too long.

But eventually his curiosity got the better of him after Klavdia explained how she didn't quite understand the message.

"No," she apologized, "I can't forward it. I am such a Luddite..."

Crossing Broadway, they made it to her brownstone in a few minutes where she offered him some iced tea while they stood around waiting for her old computer to boot up.

Dylan said he couldn't stay long, he only really wanted to know if Cameron and the professor were okay.

Apologizing about how slow her computer was, she noticed Dylan getting very dizzy and helped him into a chair.

Once her e-mail finally opened, the young man had already passed out.

"You can tell our friend Dr. Kerr I have someone very special to his little assistant, here," she typed. "If he fails to cooperate with you, just give me the word."

Klavdia hit 'send' and watched the message disappear from her computer screen.

Meanwhile, Dylan barely felt his phone vibrating.

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

The pairs of letters and numbers on Beethoven's thigh described chess moves – actually, the squares the different pieces moved to – but only a handful, maybe a dozen, enough to start the path. From there, following Warnsdorff's algorithm, the challenge was to continue the pattern, finding each square it would move through.

This would be Lohengrin's Journey, our quest, not finding the Holy Grail but something equally elusive and artistically necessary. By finding it, we'd approach Beethoven's world if we were True Believers.

The problem was the chessboard was nothing but partial images – tiny pictograms – all jumbled up in something completely incomprehensible. Put them in order according to the path, it could make sense.

Was this puzzle a map to help locate Beethoven's Fountain of Inspiration? I needed to find the knight's entrance.

The door opened slowly and Tr'iTone reappeared, the light increasing behind him.

"It's a map," I said, "look at this," holding the statue out to him upside down, pointing to the base.

"The Knight's Tour pattern forms a path starting at the knight's entrance which eventually will lead to the goal."

"But a map, you say?" He roared as he held it aloft. "Let's see if you're correct, Herr Doktor."

After he closed the door, I sensed I was being left behind.

Chapter 47

"Yes," he thought, "it almost does look a bit like a map, lines for latitude and longitude – are these roads?" but beyond that he found himself stymied, unable to see anything more. "I am no idiot, I can figure this out," he told himself. "Everyone always said, 'kid, you're a genius!'"

Suddenly, he was back in his advanced theory class, dealing with serial matrices which they called Schoenberg's 'Magic Squares.' The Rubik's Cube of music – he never managed to unlock their secrets.

"The kid knows the solution, probably brighter than the old man, anyway. Isn't that usually the case," he chuckled. Never putting much stock in broken-down academics, he stomped over to Cameron.

Tr'iTone held the statue above his face and easily got his attention, pointing at it while shouting nasty threats.

The boy continued to writhe, bouncing up and down, sweating even more, his eyes bugged out with rapidly increasing fear.

"He thinks I'm going to bash his head in with it. Sweet!"

Tr'iTone quickly turned all the various control knobs down to almost nothing.

Removing the gag, he growled, "Tell me!"

Cameron, panting in exhaustion, glowered at Tr'iTone.

"Tell me what this means," Tr'iTone barked, showing him the statue's base.

"I never saw that before!"

Tr'iTone cranked the volume up to high.

If this was a puzzle that someone had already filled it in, how was he to deconstruct the process, figuring out where to begin, then following the path to the end? The idea such a reordering could turn this mess into a map challenged his creativity but dampered his imagination.

"Kerr would've figured more of it out," he thought, cursing his impetuosity, "but I was in such a hurry! It would be admitting defeat, going back to demand he finish it!

"I was never good at solving puzzles and this is," he admitted, "almost like some crossword puzzle or Sodhuku." He recalled how he once destroyed a Rubik's Cube, exploding in frustration. It made him the laughing-stock of Grant MacArthur's uppity little private academy. The memory embarrassed him to this day.

Scratching his sweating forehead, Tr'iTone looked up, frustrated to realize his limitations, wondering what he was going to do now. He roared and slammed his fists on the table, making everything bounce.

"Crossword puzzles, the bane of my existence! How dare I consider myself a genius when such skills I lack?"

But it wasn't a crossword puzzle, exactly, it only vaguely resembled one, both squares made up of little squares. Thinking of it more as a chessboard would help: chess, he understood.

Lost in this awareness of his limitations and awash in unfamiliar insecurity, he looked up to notice Lionel Roth.

"Speaking of insecurities, what is Roth doing, sitting there in that corner?"

Roth was working on another crossword puzzle, something he'd do for hours.

"Yo, Lionel," he ordered gruffly, "Come here!"

Roth picked up the statue and examined the base, turning it around as Tr'iTone explained what Kerr had told him.

What Roth saw appeared to be a jumble of lines and squiggles. The problem was how to re-order them.

For that, he would first need to download the little-known iJig app.

After turning it into a jigsaw puzzle and carefully numbering each piece according to the squares of a chessboard, he could plot the moves and reassemble them into some logical order.

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

"Ah, order!" – something Roth felt his life had always lacked. He sighed. There was order in math, order in music. These were things he liked and he liked them for having order. Unlike most of his life which, even when he was in school, was always on the verge of chaos.

The other black students always busted on him for liking classical music, something that was foreign to their culture. They called him an 'oreo,' a white man underneath his black skin.

The white kids said he was too smart for his own good, always showing them up in math class, always getting in trouble with those who found him easy to bully. They took it out on him in gym class which he hated, too short and clumsy to play sports.

It was near the end of his senior year one warm evening, going for a walk with his friend, Wes, another gym-hating, science-loving geek wearing thick glasses who played clarinet in band. They'd gone their separate ways after Wes decided to meet some friends near Chez Bullwinkle's, the gay bar downtown.

Three guys caught Lionel walking home afterward and demanded to know where his 'little faggot friend' was headed, something about teaching him a lesson for eying them up in the shower.

He took a moment to contemplate what might happen if he sent them off to the Lesbian bar uptown, knowing they'd get beaten up themselves if they went looking for a fight, rather than sending them downtown to the left and the gay bar where he knew his friend had gone.

Instead, he'd told the truth – isn't that what you're supposed to do? – and Wes had gotten badly beaten up. Roth blamed himself for betraying his friend, but what could he do?

He knew they'd only beat him up once they discovered his deception, taking everything out on the class weakling. If it didn't happen the next day, it would happen some day.

What would happen if he chose to do the right thing now, given he was older and supposedly wiser?

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

She knew it could've become the most horrible experience of her life but fortunately for her Scricci was so self-centered, turning her presumed punishment into performance art (at least in his mind), whatever he was building up to had given Fictitia the perfect opportunity to escape before he would even notice. Fortunately for her, he was one of those performers who played most of the time with his eyes closed. And lucky, also, he had no henchmen or body guards standing around.

As luck would have it, she'd sneaked into the hallway just as she saw Kunegunde getting off the elevator: she was accompanied by several heavily armed agents clad in white uniforms. Fictitia quickly ducked down the back stairs, hoping she could get to the lobby before her escape was discovered.

It was enough she'd overheard that idiot Scricci and the traitorous Kunegunde talking about things they assumed she couldn't hear, mostly taking their attention away from tying her to the coffee table. It's like they pretended she wasn't there but then maybe they assumed she wouldn't live long enough to talk.

But at least she reached the lobby and the coast was clear: there were no white-clad agents in sight. Now, out to the parking lot and – what, steal yet another vehicle?

There was no one at the desk, no one in the hallway, a clear shot to the main entrance. Fictitia walked toward the door, hoping nobody's watching the security camera monitors.


She kept on going though the voice had sounded friendly enough. Fortunately, she noticed he hadn't shouted 'Halt!'

"Fictitia, what's up? It's me," he said, as if the sound of his voice was enough to identify him. "It's me, Harper – Harper Roytt," he laughed, "the Wizard of the Viola?"

"Oh," Fictitia said, turning suddenly. "Sorry, I'm in, like, this huge hurry! A friend's in trouble at the castle." Gesturing urgently, she tried explaining about Cameron being held by evil agents.

"Cool, but my friend Preston Agitato with security here's already on it."

"Your friend's one of the bad guys!"

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

Roth scanned the statue's base into the computer and substantially enlarged it, the iJig software slicing it into individual squares. He carefully numbered each of the squares, then began plotting 'the Tour.' More difficult was figuring out the rest but fortunately he went on-line and found a program for that, too.

The computer then started sliding the squares out to the margins, then back inside as the Tour pattern required. It was good Tr'iTone had left him alone while he did this.

A map took shape as the squares floated into their proper places.

"It looks like a map of... here!"

Though unfamiliar with the region, Roth recognized enough from what he'd seen.

There was the old castle, its courtyard, the old cemetery, forests, winding roads out to the road to Ottobeuren.

Tr'iTone returned, fully dressed now all in black like a cat burglar but one with a splendid sense of style. Roth showed him the completed map he had printed from the computer.

Looking at the trail, Tr'iTone realized he's already at the starting point.

"But where's my goal," he asked impatiently.

"According to the map, Roth explained, it ends at the Falkenstein Farm: unfortunately, the long-sought goal no longer exists."

"That was over a hundred years ago: what’s there now?"

"The Festspielhaus!"

= = = = = = =
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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