Monday, March 09, 2015

The Lost Chord: Chapter 50

The Lost Chord

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

The previous post was the third installment of Harrison Harty's Schweinwald Journal from 1880 in which the friends' excursion to Falkenstein Manor is interrupted as they're caught by evil forces from the academy. Harty and Rott manage to escape, but Mahler is unable to keep up and disappears. Ethel Smyth returns to the academy to tell them about meeting Brahms at the Falkenstein's dinner and about Professor Fabbro's strange composing machine. They then manage to find Mahler, seated on the fountain in the old castle's courtyard and he tells them of a strange vision he'd had. Telling Knussbaum and Böhm about their experience, they are given something that needs to be hidden in the Falkenstein crypt. Reluctantly, they return to the manor house but once again they are surprised. When Harty comes to, Ethel and the object they're to hide have disappeared.

= = = = = = =
Chapter 50

"There is no time," the hulk kept chanting as he ran up to the back of the Festspielhaus, "no time." He was looking for the knight's entrance but any entrance would do. Approaching the building cautiously, he paced impatiently, oblivious to the all-encompassing darkness, past the bushes that passed for landscaping. He was fully dressed, this time, head to toe all in black, from his wool-knit cap to his sneakers. Aside from his black cape, his only adornment was a silver neck-chain.

It seemed like only hours since Tr'iTone managed to escape from here, dazed and disappointed after that inexplicable explosion, nearly naked except for those harem pants ("truly, my worst disguise, ever"). He had left behind a smoldering building but also the all-important journal, something he knew he had to have.

"Perhaps the journal would still be here, somewhere, dropped in the confusion and undiscovered by anyone aware of its significance? Or perhaps it could be buried, inaccessible, lying under tons of rubble?" The potential death of LauraLynn Sullivan was nothing to him, he knew, but the loss of the journal: "priceless!"

More importantly, for now, in the waning hours of this long night, he had to find the knight's goal, the tortuous path's eventual conclusion that will realize his own inevitable destiny.

A lone guard leaned against the wall near the jagged rift that had been ripped open by the explosion, no doubt the worst detail anyone had pulled in security that night. It amazed him they hadn't sealed it up with anything more than a few saw-horses and yellow police tape.

Tr'iTone, looking around, saw only a single light in a trailer over by the edge of the parking lot and wondered how many other officers were still working the overnight shift.

The guard spoke into his phone, complaining about waiting another two hours till someone would come to relieve him. "That babe, Kunegunde," he mentioned, "she'd relieve me just fine," then laughed.

Then he snapped to attention, his laughter suddenly dying on a breath, his joke apparently being taken as 'inappropriate.'

After signing off, the guard peered into the darkness and listened intently. Tr'iTone stood his ground and held his breath. Unless he wore heat-sensitive goggles, the guard would assume Tr'iTone's another shrub. Then he muttered something about "needing relief," given how boring it was, and shuffled over to a near-by bush.

Tr'iTone heard the familiar sound of a fly unzipped and 'running water,' waiting for the moment to approach him. Simultaneously, Tr'iTone kneed the man's back, grabbed his helmet and twisted it.

The guard fell limply to the ground, his neck broken, kidneys bruised. He died pissing on an arbor vitae. Turning him over to take his gun, Tr'iTone saw the man's name-tag.

He stifled a hearty laugh: the name was Ritter – German for 'knight.'

"I believe I've found the Knight's Entrance!"

O you, who are my Fountain of Inspiration.
Lohengrin's Journey is my Quest:
Seek the Sign of the Knight's Entrance,
Ascend the 4th Circle out of the Fountain.
Approach, Right-Believers, my World!

Tr'iTone memorized the poem Kerr translated from the back of Beethoven's statue, unsure exactly what it might have meant.

But he'd followed the Tour – Lohengrin's journey – and found the Knight's Entrance as everything seemed to fall into place. Wasn't it just a matter of time till he'd find the fountain?

Without looking back at Officer Ritter's dead body, Tr'iTone took his flashlight and wandered into the basement of the Festspielhaus. Whatever he was looking for would be found here: he knew it. He thought, from what Sullivan had said about the Fountain of Inspiration, he'd be looking for a literal fountain. But what if the Great Robertson Sullivan, master composer, had been wrong? What if it were a symbolic fountain? Sullivan himself hadn't yet solved the riddle, or even discovered Beethoven's statue!

It's now his responsibility, the Great Tr'iTone, the man who soon would become the Master of the Musical Universe, who would finally uncover the great yet unsolved mystery of creative genius. He would ascend to the Fourth Circle, rising out of the fountain, a True Believer approaching Beethoven's rarefied world.

He touched the Beethoven Statue held securely in his handyman's tool belt, along with Lionel Roth's now useless computer-generated map: it had gotten him here but it could take him no closer. Too bad, Tr'iTone thought, he had to leave the loyal Roth behind, unceremoniously tied up in the castle's dungeon.

The sniveling ingrate complained, like Dr. Kerr, about having received unjust treatment, like assistance wasn't enough of a reward. Every genius had his minions, and one word described them all: expendable.

Tr'iTone walked past more damage with its crumbling walls and ceiling fissures, turning down halls vaguely remembered from before. Earlier, it was like being caught in a maze with no exit. Now, he could clamber over the rubble when he found another hole, gaining access to more of the building.

"So the explosion, whoever caused it, had served its purpose after all?" Tr'iTone knew everything happened for a reason.

"As many famous people say, 'there's no such thing as coincidence.' True."

There were footprints in the dust, heavy like boots, probably security officers, and he followed them down the hall. They had entered here, through this doorway. The sign read simply, "backstage."

He carefully opened the door and climbed the stairs, eager and impatient.

"I must hurry. There is no time..."

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

"Damned Ritter," Agitato thought, signing off after he'd phoned in his report, "making off-color jokes like that while on duty. If I told Kunegunde that, she'd snap his neck like a chicken!" He chuckled, because, knowing Ritter and the rumors he'd heard about him, he'd like that – the nastier, the better. "With any luck, maybe she was listening in on the squawk line and then it wouldn't be my fault." Maybe he should call Ritter back, warn him to be more alert.

He hadn't heard from Kunegunde in a while, either, thinking about her. Agitato wondered if she hadn't slipped away. Technically, it had been her night off and she never liked over-time. Agitato glanced down the row of computers, wishing Agent Lott would leave. The IMP was always cramping his style.

He yawned, stretched his arms and yawned again.

"Jeez," he complained, scratching under his nose.

She pretended not to notice.

"It sure is a deadly dull night. How much longer," he asked.

Preston Agitato swiveled around to face her, stretching out his long legs.

"As long as it takes," she replied.

Turning up the volume on her computer hoping to create a distraction, she said, "Hey, Agitato, listen to this."

"Sounds awful," he nodded after a bit. "Why're you listening to that?"

"That's weird," she continued, frowning at him. "I've tried several broadcasting websites and they're all playing the same thing." She clicked on a few other bookmarks. "Yeah, look – even the BBC."

"Come on, it can't be that popular!" He walked nonchalantly over to her workstation to check out her monitor.

Agent Lott quietly laid some blank paper over what were confidential documents and Agitato politely pretended not to notice.

"That can only mean one thing," he said, pointing toward her screen.

"Some pirate has hijacked all their frequencies?"

"And it sounds like a substantial operation, if he's seized the BBC."

The brazenness of it annoyed her enough but the music really sucked.

"It sounds like he used that '' website," he mumbled with disdain, "creating simple instrumental layers, then looping it."

But now this could become a distraction for the IMP, she worried. Time to report it to their Piracy Division.

"Wait a minute," she said, "see this playlist on the audio link?"

Agitato peered over her shoulder and noticed she used a coconut-scented shampoo.

"Symphony for One Whose Time Has Come...?"

She wondered if maybe it had something to do with musical terrorists, perhaps one of SHMRG's more audacious subsidiaries, who might unleash some crippling international cyber-attack before the piece was done.

All her Facebook friends were listening to it on Spotify or TuneFreak.

"That so needs to be shut down..."

Not only was the piece badly produced, the music itself was terrible.

Agitato, though a SHMRG double agent himself if only Schweinwald's lowly dispatcher, questioned whether this was a SHMRG-related project.

While Lott tapped in reams of code, breaking through the broadcaster's firewall, Agitato wondered how he could alert The Chief. He had a bad feeling about this: Operation Mephisto could be jeopardized.

"Hah," Lott shouted, "it's actually quite close! Despite all the precautions he's been taking, it's originating from Schweinwald Castle!"

Agitato did a double-take, standing bolt upright. Wasn't that where he'd heard the professor's little assistant was in trouble? If Kerr was there, too, maybe this was an attack on SHMRG?

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

"Not to say, 'What the hell were you thinking,' Scricci," she said as they raced down the stairway after Fictitia, "but seriously, what the hell were you thinking? My mind is boggled...!"

"You wouldn't understand," Scricci responded, trying to maintain whatever shred of dignity a former rock star could possibly have.

Kunegunde Nacht had radioed to her partner, Heller Rache, with the news: he would meet them in the lobby. But by the time Scricci got dressed, Fictitia was already long gone.

"She and I have a history, okay?" Scricci was having difficulty explaining, still trying to pull up his fly. "I have an old score to settle with her, going back years."

"I'll say that's an old score: how many years have you been playing that thing, anyway? Sounded like Bach..."

Kunegunde was clearly annoyed, convinced that she had every right to be. First of all, it was her night off. She and Heller were having a quiet drink in the hotel bar. It was a low-key celebration for their having knocked off Peter Moonbeam and then eliminating the program annotator, Schreiber.

She was also incensed that, after having captured Fictitia on her own and delivering her to the delighted Scricci, he had managed to bungle everything in minutes, allowing her to escape.

Skripasha Scricci, for his part, was incensed he was being treated like an idiot by a mere corporate agent, considering he was a rock star and also a SHMRG board member. It wasn't his job to chase down back stairwells after escaping misfits, but this was Fictitia LaMouche, after all.

"You did take her phone from her, didn't you?" Kunegunde asked him, "so she can't tweet anything about this?"

"Her phone...?" Scricci, looking even paler, almost came to a complete stop.

"I'll take that as a no, then." Kunegunde opened the lobby door. There was Rache, waiting impatiently for them.

That bitch probably took another photo of him, playing his heart out.

That it would undoubtedly be all over the internet in no time was something that enraged him even further.

Kunegunde's phone began ringing, sounding very insistent, and she answered with reluctance. She had hoped this long night was over. It turned out to be Agent Agitato who sounded very insistent himself.

"There's more dirty work afoot, I'm afraid," Agitato began explaining without ceremony. "Dr. Kerr is at the old castle."

"And what precisely does this have to do with me?" Kunegunde asked. She was unimpressed, letting her impatience show.

"Because it seems he has significant information crucial to Operation Mephisto's success."

Kunegunde felt that didn't really answer her question but knowing The Chief wanted Kerr apprehended and she and Rache were the only agents so far unassigned meant she had no choice.

"We're working on another matter for Scricci," holding up a finger to the anxious rocker, "can this not wait?"

"Oh, then, Agent Nacht, you might want to show Mr. Scricci this." He sent her a brief video of a skinny, aging rock star wildly playing the violin dressed only in boxers.

"It's already gone viral on the internet!" Agitato couldn't help but laugh. "She only just posted it, minutes ago."

And with that, Scricci let out an old-fashioned battle cry before leading the charge through the hotel's front entrance.

"After the bloody bitch," he screamed deliriously, "nothing will stop me, now!"

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

"This is a horrible place to be in," Roth kept telling himself. "In fact, this whole vacation is a disaster." But he knew dwelling on the situation wasn't making it any better. By repeatedly going over it, he could feel his blood pressure rising, but he could think of little else. The 'horrible place,' though, could mean a few different things, he knew, not just the old castle in general. It was creepy enough, here: he was even afraid to go outside.

"I'm sorry I accepted Dr. Dhabbodhú's invitation to stay with him here, as kind as he was about it. It was supposed to be a pleasant break from all the stress." His current 'situation' wasn't that much better, left bound and gagged in some secret passageway behind the dungeon's wall.

Rather than finding himself relaxed and more confident, he'd watched Dhabbodhú become transformed into an evil creature calling himself Tr'iTone who treated him, the loyal friend Roth, like a lowly lab assistant. Now, Lionel was torn apart by doubts, after watching what Tr'iTone did to Dr. Kerr and the young man.

But his thoughts would suddenly become plagued by every sound he heard in the dark passage behind the wall. What if these walls began closing in or became overrun with spiders?

And what had he, loyal friend, done to deserve punishment like this? Was there any possible excuse for such treatment? Why'd he strap him into a chair, leaving him here to die? He had helped him with that computer program which solved his puzzle: he'd been so overjoyed about the map.

Roth had to escape and rescue Cameron and the professor, but how? It was the right thing to do. But Tr'iTone had told him to wait and old loyalties died hard.

"What was that?" Roth held his breath. "Sounds like tiny little feet!" He turned his head back and forth. Had Dr. Dhabbodhú returned to rescue him? It had felt like hours.

"Oh no, Tr'iTone's released thousands of spiders into the passage – maybe millions... Or – OMG – could it instead be rats?"

= = = = = = =
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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