Thursday, March 12, 2015
The Lost Chord: Chapters 51 & 52
(a classical music appreciation comedy thriller by Richard Alan Strawser: you can read it from the beginning, here.)
In the previous installment, Tr'iTone arrives at the Festspielhaus looking for his fountain, Schweinwald Security tracks down the source of Tr'iTone's illegal broadcast, Scricci discovers Fictitia has posted a video of him on-line before she escaped, and Lionel decides his vacation has really been a disaster from the start...
= = = = = = =
Since there were two cars already parked outside the old castle's courtyard, Harper decided it best to park his car facing out in case they would need to make a quick get-away. Fictitia was becoming increasingly impatient while he jockeyed his car into place, hiding it behind some weeds farther away. She thought about jumping out and running into the castle by herself but also figured that would be foolhardy. Who knew what awaited them? Did she want to face it alone?
On the other hand, it was only a matter of time before that maladroit Scricci would discover her escape and alert Kunegunde and the others who'd soon be on her tail. They had very little time and who knew how much to do, so there was no time to waste.
They both knew their friend Cameron was in trouble and needed rescuing, but what kind of trouble he was in or whether they were too late or not, she had no idea. Add to that the place would soon be crawling with SHMRG agents if they hadn't already gotten here first.
The bumpy ride down the winding country road was bad enough in a decent car driving at normal speeds, but in Harper's cool-looking old jalopy, it was a high-speed, bone-rattling nightmare.
Harper grabbed his viola case from the back seat of the car, catching up with her at the door.
"You brought your violin?" Fictitia was dumbfounded.
"It's my viola," he said.
"We're not here for a gig, dude: we need to rescue Cameron." She tried not to sound too ungrateful.
"Never mind," he said, "Lead the way." He pushed the door open.
"I have no idea where we're going..."
All she remembered was someone going inside, then she'd heard them scream.
"No time for doubts," Harper pointed out. Another car joined them in front of the castle, parking him in.
"Aww, crap," Fictitia said, hitting the wall with her foot. "Now, what...?"
She recognized the car: it was Kunegunde, the agent who supposedly rescued her after she'd wrecked the stolen bike.
Kunegunde and Heller had their guns drawn but Scricci, now fully dressed, ran screaming across the courtyard, his arms flailing.
With no time to spare, Harper and Fictitia disappeared inside the doorway.
From outside, Kunegunde heard a loud thunk as the screaming stopped instantly. The two SHMRG agents weren't far behind.
She turned to Rache and motioned with her pistol toward the entrance, approaching stealthily, their flashlights and guns ready.
Kunegunde went in high, Rache ducking low.
"Clear," they both shouted simultaneously.
There was Scricci, flat on his ugly face, sprawled across the floor, blood streaming down his long skanky hair.
In the room in front of them, Fictitia wasn't trying to hide.
At that moment, a wall panel opened up and Fictitia dove inside. She gave them the finger and disappeared.
Kunegunde and Rache both made a dash for her and went flying, a jumble of mid-air arms and legs. Before either of them could raise a gun, Harper tossed an old throw rug over them like a side-show magician, before finishing them off with a deftly placed konk with a candlestick.
Harper, having rigged up a trip wire from some handy fishing line, took some viola strings from his case.
"Well, then," Fictitia admitted, "good thing you brought your viola with you..."
She couldn't resist one more indignity for Scricci as they tied him to the chair, sitting on Barry Scarpia's lap (she promised Harper she'd post the picture only after they rescued Cameron). Aside from waking up with a headache, it will freak Scricci out, finding himself strapped to a dead body. She also took photos of Kundegunde and her partner as Harper gagged them, wrapped up tightly in individual rugs, tied together around the sturdy base of a large brass floor lamp.
From deep inside the wall, they heard a whimpering sound and thumping like someone walking with a wooden leg.
"Cameron!" Fictitia suddenly remembered why they're there. What more trouble lay ahead?
Armed with the agents' pistols and flashlights, Harper and Fictitia tip-toed down the secret passageway, following the plaintive sounds.
Another question on their minds was who else was in the castle? Who had trapped Cameron and also killed Scarpia? Would they be walking into a trap? And what was that music...?
Ahead of them, Harper saw the form of someone in a chair rocking back and forth, scared to death.
It wasn't Cameron but maybe this guy knew what was going on. Harper untied the gag and questioned him. Just to be safe, Fictitia kept the gun aimed at his head.
He explained his name was Lionel Roth, that his friend had only left minutes ago but might soon return.
"He's your friend and yet leaves you tied up inside a wall?"
"Yes – Dr. Dhabbodhú thinks I should force myself to face my fears."
"That's his name, Dhabbodhú? I mean, seriously?"
"Cameron – where is he keeping Cameron?" Fictitia thought they could chit-chat later. "We're here to rescue my friend, okay?"
"Untie me, then," Roth gestured, "and I can take you to him."
After a little while, Roth had successfully led them into the dungeon.
There on a stone slab was Cameron hooked up to a machine, writhing around like bacon in a fry-pan.
Roth hurried to the practice room and opened the door.
Inside was the body of Dr. Kerr.
Fictitia immediately ran up to Cameron and desperately began tugging at him, trying to pull him away from the table. Harper yelled at her to no avail, warning her about electrical current.
The music was too loud, she couldn't hear him – or didn't care. Cameron's bloodshot eyes were wide with fear.
Immediately, Harper started tearing at all the suction cups and the ear-buds. Almost immediately, Cameron's writhing began to stop.
Fictitia, smiling broadly, had to admit she felt very happy right now.
Harper momentarily excused himself, saying he needed to text Dylan right away and let him know Cameron was okay.
"Dylan?" Fictitia asked, massaging Cameron's aching temples.
"Yeah, Cameron's hot little boyfriend."
"Hot little... boyfriend?" Fictitia gulped, her entire world suddenly going very quiet. She must try desperately not to cry.
"Ah, good – okay, there it is," Roth announced. He shut down the audio in the dungeon without interrupting the broadcast.
"Great! Now we don't have to listen to that crap," Harper said.
Fictitia looked down at Cameron's mostly naked body and felt very awkward. This wasn't the first time this'd happened...
"What the hell kind of music was that anyway, Lionel?" Harper said, sending his text. "It was so lame!"
Fictitia heard her mum's voice saying the nicest guys usually were gay.
Roth didn't like the way Harper made fun of Dr. Dhabbodhú's music but instead he decided to remain silent. He didn't like it himself, actually, but who was he to judge? He returned his attention to Dr. Kerr who, in the silence, began to show signs of a slight pulse.
So the professor wasn't dead after all, though who knows how much longer he might have lasted in there.
Harper joked how this gave new meaning to the comment, 'killer piece!'
There was little to be done, now, but let them slowly revive after their equally harrowing experiences, Roth suggested.
Harper was helping Cameron with getting dressed. Fictitia stood by, rather subdued.
"Both of them sustained considerable aural fatigue," Roth said, "but they'll survive."
Fictitia suggested, "Perhaps a cup of tea...?"
"So, how did you guys find us," Cameron, coming to, asked Harper who'd taken up massaging his neck and shoulders. "I didn't think anybody would've known where we were to rescue us."
Roth showed Fictitia where to find the tea things and a microwave, then brought her a jug of water.
"Well, I saw you guys leave from the hotel," she began, "so I grabbed a bike and followed you," disappointed Dhabbodhú didn't have any trendy varieties of tea, only basic decaf.
Explaining how she'd posted about Cameron needing help after he disappeared into the castle and then hearing him scream, Harper continued how Dylan saw that and texted Dieter Pieterieter in Bavaria.
"So, Dieter contacted me and I contacted a chat-friend in Schweinwald Security but then I ran into Fictitia and..."
Dr. Kerr was coming out of it more slowly than Cameron had and seemed to have trouble following the connections. "Funny, that – you tweet for help, Dylan's on Facebook in New York. Then he calls a friend in Germany and here we all are, wherever the hell we are – which is...?"
Cameron mentioned we were in an old castle along with Lionel Roth where we'd been held captive by Dhabbodhú.
"Right... but what was that awful music? And who the hell's Tr'iTone?"
* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *
The tea – as well as the relative tranquility – proved very restorative for both Cameron and me following our long ordeal, after many thanks, questions and explanations among former prisoners and our deliverers. It all seemed so unbelievable, like something you'd read in a book and yet here we were, living it. As soon as we'd be able to walk on our own, though, it was time to resume the adventure: LauraLynn was still a hostage and who knew when Tr'iTone might return.
I had hoped my role in this might finally be over, now, after having solved the clue for Tr'iTone – Dhabbodhú or whatever his name might've been (Roth was little help, here) – knowing I should also follow Leahy-Hu's advice and leave the SHMRG case and solving Rob's murder to the IMP.
Tr'iTone didn't indicate LauraLynn was in his custody, hidden somewhere else in this huge castle, not that that wasn't possible, but Roth hadn't heard his friend mention there'd be any other guests. The raspy, wheezing voice threatening LauraLynn's fingers was not the voice (or one of them) I'd heard from Tr'iTone.
But neither Fictitia nor Harper Roytt had anything to illuminate the questions we had about everything else going on. And if Lionel Roth knew any more, he was keeping very quiet.
Tr'iTone also hadn't returned my phone – well, LauraLynn's phone which I hadn't returned to her – after intercepting that call. There was no way her captor, whoever he was, could reach me. Who was it Tr'iTone had talked to? If it wasn't him holding her hostage, then who else was there?
Cameron, meanwhile, with Harper's help, was looking for something in the stuff near the controls he'd been strapped to, upset he wasn't finding it but unwilling to explain anything to us.
Fictitia had been holding back, more introverted than I remembered from earlier when we met her at the Festspielhaus. But then, after taking a deep breath, she joined Cameron to help.
I thought Roth had left the room when suddenly he spoke up. He said he had something for me.
"Cameron," I said, "look at this, will you?" He came over, looking anxious but curious. "Roth figured out the map." I held up the extra copy Roth just printed from the computer.
"So that was what's on the base of the statue," he said, looking around, "but where is the statue?"
"Dr. Dhabbodhú must've taken it with him – or, I guess, Tr'iTone did," Roth explained, also looking around the room. Not comfortable with that name, he added, "he left in a hurry."
"Did he take anything else with him? Like, maybe, an old letter?" Cameron was trying to hide his anxiety.
"Old letter?" Roth said, suddenly acting uneasy. "He might have, it's possible..."
Roth clearly wanted to change the subject. When I looked back at his map, I noticed something was off.
"Cameron, hand me that map from the hotel. I'm curious," I asked Roth, "how did you realize the Tour's matrix?"
"On this computer," he said, "using iJig." He quickly explained the process.
"I wonder – could you try this again?" After comparing the two maps, there was something wrong with Roth's solution.
This time, he carefully plugged the various coordinates in as I suggested, starting the pattern on the opposite side.
We watched the squares float into place, but with considerably different results.
Checking the new map against the one Cameron found in the lobby, you could see they were almost exact duplicates. The obvious give-away had been how unevenly the roads sometimes matched up. It's possible Roth may have typed in the wrong chess codes initially, more likely human error than technological malfunction.
Cameron remembered he had jotted down several of the coded chess moves in the margin of his journal transcript before we'd decided to leave the hotel: they could hold the answer.
"But I showed Dr. Dhabbodhú your notebook – he said it was worthless, didn't have what he was looking for." Roth began stammering as he held the notebook up to the light.
"No," Cameron explained, "I haven't copied out that much of it to find what they were looking for, either."
"And I thought I'd finally done something right!" Roth fought back the tears and sighed, aware he had failed again. "Dr. Dhabbodhú is going to kill me when he finds this out."
"What, you mean because you've sent him off to the wrong place?" I could have worded that more elegantly.
"If the Festspielhaus – or the old farm that was there back then," Cameron said, "isn't the goal, what is?"
I took a closer look at the newly revised and corrected map.
Harper's phone began to ring, playing a distinctive and rather alarming ring-tone.
"Seriously," I said, "you use the Dies irae?"
"Hey, Cameron, it's a text from Dieter. It's for you – from Dylan."
"Oh my God," Cameron cried, "that's Dylan's safe-word! There must be trouble!"
"What kind of trouble?"
"Serious trouble, unfortunately..."
Cameron explained how, because of Dylan's fears, they have several different safe-words.
"This one's, like, Code Red," he said.
"Okay, then," Harper nodded, "I'll forward the text to my NYPD chat-buddy."
While Harper explained they'd been chatting earlier – "he's working night-shift: maybe he can help" – I noticed Roth was gone.
Fictitia said she thought he was sneaking back toward the secret passageway.
"And it looks like he's taken the map, too," Fictitia pointed out.
"I suspect he's headed to the Festspielhaus."
"The clue tells me, 'Ascend the 4th Circle out of the Fountain,' but where was the fountain a century ago?" Tr'iTone continued chanting to himself impatiently while pacing around the Festspielhaus lobby. "There's a fountain out front, there was a fountain at the castle, maybe one at the old Falkenstein Farm. They put fountains everywhere in those days: was there more than one? Possibly, but where could they have been? In front of the house's main entrance, maybe over by the barn?"
He knew he needed to find the original plans for the farm as it existed during the late-19th Century but who had time to do research in some dusty old library? He knew instead he must rely on his innate sense of genius and solve the problem through pure intuition.
Tr'iTone turned to face in each possible direction, his head tilted back, his eyes closed, sniffing the air, arms extended, as if some answer would descend from on high, divine or otherwise. He let his thoughts wander, allowing his mind to go completely blank, a clean slate awaiting the slightest inspiration.
"What would be the most logical solution to find the fountain's site? Where was the Festspielhaus' center?" he wondered. "The lobby's focus is toward the plaza." But then he turned around.
Tr'iTone's roar echoed through the empty building as he posed in triumph with legs braced wide, his arms akimbo.
Logic may be one thing, but exposing it usually required the intuitive.
"If there were no levels above the fountain to ascend," he'd pondered, "how then did one ascend 'out of'...?"
Not climbing above the fountain – climbing the ascending path from the fountain: the grand staircase leading into the auditorium!
Pointing his own way forward, Tr'iTone strode grandly up the staircase.
Unfortunately, this imperial procession of one was blocked by the simple fact every door along the promenade was locked. There was no way in. Crestfallen, he hurried back down the steps.
"There must be a door somewhere some idiot left open," he fussed, yanking at every door he could find.
There it was, a wheel-chair entrance to the lower level hadn't latched. One quick yank and Tr'iTone found himself inside. He stumbled up the steps to the main entrance, resuming his stance.
But something suddenly began to bother him: he could steal the prize or achieve the reward as the 'Right-Believer.'
Wasn't there significance in the ritual of being crowned as Beethoven's Heir, earning the honor by accomplishing the goal, as opposed to just seizing his objective, like Alberich and the Rhinegold?
This time, he worked his way backwards, propping doors open so he wouldn't get locked out in the process. In minutes he once again found himself standing knee-deep in the fountain.
His own music pulsing through his brain, Tr'iTone began, with regal pomp, a procession from fountain to goal.
As dimly lit as the auditorium was, he saw only three rings – do you count the lobby as Level One? Then this would become the Second Level; the cheap seats, the Third. If there's no Fourth Level, where would the prize be kept safe, approachable only by the most worthy hero?
The Rhinegold was inaccessible, nearly hidden from view far above the stage.
That's it: Rhinegold – Dragon's Blood! His goal!
The secret is hidden on the fourth level of the backstage wall!
* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *
The IMP team left their Ottobeuren stake-out to return, disappointed and frustrated, to their fourth-floor suite in the Schweinwald Hotel, Yoda Leahy-Hu pondering set-backs one often experienced in difficult cases like this. The agents' van had been curiously quiet on the short return trip, nobody wishing to break the boss's concentration. She was annoyed to find herself stuck in this course of action because of Dr. Kerr's constant, incompetent meddling, even after telling him to keep his nose out of her investigation.
The professor, she thought, was like the classical music audience in general, highly opinionated, self-proclaimed experts and thoroughly self-centered, becoming older, more marginalized, a specialized niche increasingly less attractive to marketing. While concert-goers would gradually die out, hopefully replaced by the younger generations, they might, regarding crime prevention, simply disappear.
There were many things she must consider beyond the annoying Dr. Kerr like the unexpected arrival of SHMRG's chief executive, whatever brought mastermind N. Ron Steele to Schweinwald at this particular moment. The murders of Sullivan and Franz-Dieter Zeitgeist, attributed to a SHMRG vendetta, have apparently become only the opening salvo.
If Sullivan's cousin, LauraLynn Harty, was now in danger and the late Mr. Sullivan's new opera began rehearsals tomorrow, perhaps there was more at stake here than just solving some murders.
Just as they pulled into the hotel's driveway, Leahy-Hu received a text on her secure line from dispatcher Agent Lott. She explained discovering a suspicious internet broadcast which originated from Schweinwald Castle. Fictitia had already tweeted about Cameron, Kerr's assistant, being in trouble there. Perhaps, then, the professor was also involved?
Her suspicions were increased when Schweinwald's dispatcher, Officer Agitato, insisted on sending out two of his own security officers who were already headed there with Skripasha Scricci, a known SHMRG operative.
Again convinced Kerr's also a SHMRG operative, like some over-active red herring, Leahy-Hu reached the castle in record time, but not the first one to the party, judging from the cars.
Charging the castle door with guns drawn, agents barged into the vestibule only to find their way ingeniously blocked.
* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *
Every time he stepped into an opera house, Tr'iTone was flooded with thoughts about the operas he dreamed of writing. Every play he saw or novel he read taunted him with possibilities. Here, strutting through a darkened house on his procession to ultimate glory, the dream was now stronger than ever.
Every time he banged his shins against the seats in the darkness, he dreamed he was kicking his teacher. How could it possibly be Robertson Sullivan was considered a great teacher?
It was unusually tense, he recalled, that lesson when he and Sullivan sat around near the spring semester's end and discussed ideas for some new projects to start over the summer. Tr'iTone mentioned he was toying with setting the Faust legend as a full-scale opera set in a corporate environment.
But instead of finding the concept appealing, Sullivan broke out in laughter.
"Whoa," he said in that patronizing tone of voice, "let's hold onto that for later – after you've gotten more experience."
Sullivan warned him he hadn't written anything theatrical, not even incidental music: an opera was currently an unrealistic challenge.
So he bitterly put it aside, feeling himself unworthy of the idea and yet Sullivan later used it himself!
"It makes me so angry, I could still kill him," Tr'iTone spat.
The stage was empty except for the single lightstand placed dead center, its dull bulb barely illuminating the space. The curtains pulled back revealed dark shapes, set pieces for tomorrow's rehearsal. It was eerie, even disconcerting, he thought, possibly scary to lesser minds, but to him there was also magic.
It angered him even more, freshly opening these old and bitter wounds, realizing this should be his opera, here!
"Faustus, Inc. is my opera, not his. It will be my success!"
But despite Sullivan's success, he was, after all, dead, his opera unfinished.
"The future will belong to my genius."
Tr'iTone could already taste the triumph marking the beginning of his greatness.
He found the iron circular staircase that lead up the back wall.
"I ascend to the fourth circle! Huzzah!"
* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *
Three New York City police detectives sat around over their late-night coffee discussing details of the murder of Robertson Sullivan, joined by Detective Phil Noir from the Poconos where the murder occurred. They're tracking Iobbha Dhabbodhú who'd skipped town, and Lionel Roth, who's disappeared. Both acted suspiciously at the crime scene.
Detective Charles Noranik got some e-mail, something marked urgent: from his wife? No, it was his 'Ryan Goodcop' account. What a surprise: it's his hot young chat-friend in Germany, Harper Roytt.
Noranik excused himself and checked what Harper had forwarded: GPS coordinates of the phone originating the call for help. It shouldn't be too difficult to find, just to help a friend.
"Whoa, guys, check this out. I got this urgent message from Germany. Seems some kid nearby here needs help."
Noranik explained he's a friend of that guy who's Dr. Kerr's assistant.
"Yeah, so?" Detective Mack Heimer was not impressed.
"It says they're in Germany and held captive by our guy Dhabbodhú."
At this, the others perked up considerably, Noranik noticed, especially Det. Noir.
"Plus his call came from this address."
"That's the place that bag-lady who just came out of a coma said was hers," Detective Patty Larson mentioned.
"The one claiming she's a wealthy widow?"
Noir said, "Well, let's go!"
= = = = = = =
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.