Monday, March 30, 2015

The Lost Chord: Chapters 60 & 61

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, exhilarated as if he were flying through the air, realized too late that, in fact, he was, his mind full of recollections as if his life were passing before him, discovering that to be an artist one might need to suffer but wasn't this overdoing it a bit? The man he met turned out not to be Beethoven, whose Fountain of Inspiration he'd hoped to find that would turn him into the Greatest Composer in the Universe, but a man who claimed to be his father, a man who said the woman pictured in this locket - the one with a wisp of hair - was his mother, the mother and father he never knew. he, born Luke van Rhiarden, was the last of the Falkensteins, his father was Garth Widor and his mother, the Countess Lisl von Falkenstein who later married some guy in New York named du Hicquè which rang one last tiny little bell with him as, having crashed onto the floor of the Schweinwald opera house, Tr'iTone gave up the ghost...

= = = = = = =
Chapter 60

For the first time in thirty-some years, Widor recalled his real name – Heinichen van Rhiarden, chief bodyguard to the Falkensteins – years melting away with the memory of his beloved, the Countess Lisl. And now, too late, Old Widor realizes he has found his son, the flesh-and-blood consequence of their mystical love.

It would have made a powerful operatic duet of the highest order, Widor examining the face of his son, a face so like his own, alas unsoftened by his Belovèd's beauty.

"All this," Widor said, turning,"everything – the grounds, the castle, the whole festival – was yours, the Last of the Falkensteins!"

There was a sudden jolt, sending a shiver through the shattered set, the pole impaling Tr'iTone's body listing precariously before it collapsed heavily, hitting Widor across his back, knocking him unconscious.

With the great thud echoing across the stage into the empty theater, everyone who had lurched forward to rescue him suddenly came to a halt realizing there was little they could do.

Widor, his arms sprawled, lay in a crumpled heap on the floor: could they manage to save him, now?

Everyone turned to peer into the shadows before they could see anything, hearing only this strange, pale, sing-songy voice that only gradually became the rotund figure of Peter Moonbeam, completely transformed.

"I gladly view the lovely world and dream beyond the wide horizon –
Shimmering in the east, the green horizon.
Grabbing the bald guy's collar, I will dreamily play upon his skull.
'Drat,' he thinks, 'a fleck of plaster!'
He goes, his pleasure ruined: the moon, that wicked mocker, mimics him.
He leisurely smokes his genuine Turkish tobacco, soaring boldly home to heaven,
Sun slowly sinking, a crimson royal crown.
She strangles him with it, his heart in bloody fingers – like eyes!
'Snowman of lyrics, Serene Highness of Moonlight,
They descend with beating wings, invisible monsters, into the hearts of men!'
He creeps, without thinking, to his beloved: 'Glances of Men avoid you.'
Her moonbeam-woven linens paint his face fashionably
Like in the secret fables – this wine we drink through the eyes."

Having found himself unexpectedly backstage, Peter Moonbeam first knocked against the platform trying to erase the memory of that body then started wiping the blood off his hands, leaving red smears everywhere.

At first he recoiled. "Two more bodies!" It was more than what was left of his mind could bear.

First of all, someone had tried to kill him, destroying his computer, then he overhead someone kill poor Schreiber. Whoever did that had threatened him again. Why was everybody after him?

The next thing he knew he was hiding in a room that already had a dead body in it: "What're the odds," he thought: "what kind of storage room is this?!" He didn't remember killing her, even accidentally. Why would anyone kill her, this Germanic blonde in the red dress?

While her agents pulled the still-breathing Widor out from under Tr'iTone's body, Leahy-Hu officially arrested him for Robertson Sullivan's murder, then announced SHMRG's plot to impede his opera's premiere had been foiled.

"Not quite, you interfering bitch," Steele shouted, holding up a CD case. "The only complete copy of Sullivan's opera!"

"Take a closer look at that label again, Mr. Steele," I shouted, clambering down from far above the stage."

"WTF," he screamed, "Kendra Does Carnegie Hall? A porno film? You scumbags!"

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

Klavdia Klangfarben – until only a few seconds ago, the Widow du Hicquè – ran through the alley behind what had been the only home she'd known since her second time through her childhood. How could the police have found her and, for that matter, why? (Not that they didn't have several reasons...) She barely had time to grab the bag-lady rags hidden in the hall closet for just such an occasion, so she could blend into the back streets of Manhattan – and wait.

A policeman had come out into the yard with a flashlight, looking for signs that someone had been there. Would they find her footprints or sic a dog on her scent? She thought she should just run down to the park and hide: she was well acquainted with the territory.

Somebody must have tipped them off, but who? Was it that sniveling little twit she'd just abducted who loved Beethoven? (The very idea was enough to make her spit on the ground.) Or had the original Widow du Hicquè recovered at the hospital and alerted the police to her true identity?

What if she couldn't return to the house and resume her life? Could she go back to the streets? How, she wondered, could she avenge herself on that dratted professor now?

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

After throwing the disc at Widor's prone form, Steele, cursing the incompetence of his underlings, ran off into the shadows, aided by the confusion that Moonbeam managed to create with his lamentations.

"Do not let that man get away," Leahy-Hu screamed as her agents took off after the disappearing SHMRG contingent.

Cameron returned to the backstage area, assisting the now calmer Lionel Roth, while I helped untie the sobbing LauraLynn. D'Arcy helped Moonbeam, still confused, over to a seat in the wings.

"But the disc you'd seen in Rob's pocket before he was killed and which was missing after his murder...? If this wasn't it," D'Arcy wondered, "what happened to Rob's original disc?"

"Mr. D'Arcy, if you'll take us back to the castle," I said, "I think I know where to look."

Chapter 61

While we gave the police our statements, security canvassed the crime scene and carefully extricated Tr'iTone's body from the set, throwing a tarp over him and the pole (the most likely COD), and D'Arcy helped the IMP set up an emergency interrogation room nearby since Widor almost immediately started regaining consciousness. As soon as he realized Steele left him for dead and hung him out to dry, so to speak, Widor began telling Leahy-Hu everything he knew – including some things he didn't.

On the drive back to the castle, D'Arcy filled us in on what he had learned in the interim and what Leahy-Hu discovered in the unfolding process of closing her case. It appears there were two simultaneous plots, but beyond that, she would call him later to fill him in.

When we pulled up to the castle courtyard, the crime scene guys and forensics were busy dealing with Scarpia's body and didn't notice that one of us slipped off toward the dungeon. Roth became the courteous host and led D'Arcy and me upstairs to the room where Tr'iTone kept his computer. Reaching into one of the desk drawers, Roth pulled out a CD and held it like a consecrated wafer before inserting it into the drive, waiting while it whirred to life.

There it was, its title page barely legible because Rob's software probably wasn't fully compatible with this computer's program, but enough to read "FAUSTUS INC. – music & libretto by Robertson Sullivan." I clicked through to the last page which included a double bar and the text, "completed at Benninghurst Colony."

Ominously, the date, barely visible beneath that, was the one which would be used in all Rob's biographical material, the day on which the composer died only hours after finishing it.

That was when D'Arcy's phone rang, Leahy-Hu calling him with an up-date.

"It seems Mr. Widor may be as gifted as any opera singer."

D'Arcy told me everything Leahy-Hu told him.

Yes, there were indeed two simultaneous plots: the one she was following and the one I was "looking into."

Months ago, Leahy-Hu and the IMP got wind Steele was concerned about the impact Sullivan's opera might have on SHMRG whether you called it "Art Imitating Life" or "Turning Art into Allegory," especially after Sullivan announced he's rewriting the ending of the opera so late it might jeopardize the opera's premiere.

Considering the tight-knit world of contemporary music knew Sullivan and SHMRG were on opposite sides of the musico-political spectrum, everyone would assume Rob's devil was a thinly veiled version of Steele.

When, in real life, Pansy Grunwald, who worked for Steele as he was building SHMRG into a world-wide corporation, died a rather sudden but not entirely accidental-looking death in her office, her boyfriend, a young composer working downstairs in the concert agency's office, was ready to go to the police.

While news of Pansy's and her boyfriend's suspicious deaths never became public, Barry Scarpia, now SHMRG's inside man at Schweinwald, heard that Sullivan was making some changes to his new opera's finale. This new plot-line, he reported, sounded uncomfortably too similar to Pansy's death – the character had even been named Daisy!

The whole idea was to get Robertson Sullivan to withdraw his opera or get Schweinwald to cancel its premiere: was that plot responsible for the murders of both Zeitgeist and Sullivan?

"Widor, Steele's point-man in this project," D'Arcy explained, "was only supposed to scare Rob with these different attacks, Leahy-Hu said – Zeitgeist, too, apparently – but something always seemed to go terribly, terribly wrong. When he broke into that wedding reception, he fired a warning shot but didn't mean to kill Rob's aunt."

Even when Rob found him that night ransacking his room at Benninghurst, there wasn't supposed to be a confrontation: the gun went off accidentally when Rob tried to take him down.

"Widor said Rob kept going on about some 'gizmo' he didn't have – both times – but it made no sense," D'Arcy went on, reporting what Leahy-Hu told him Widor had just confessed. "It was like Rob kept mistaking him for someone else," D'Arcy guessed, "like he confused one crime with another."

"But that would make complete sense," I said, "if SHMRG was after the opera and Tr'iTone's after Rob's mysterious artifact. So we're looking at two different crimes committed by two look-alike criminals? Look, even I kept confusing the two men when I'd see them. It's like I was seeing him everywhere! No doubt Tr'iTone or Dhabbodhú kept pestering Rob about this artifact's location – which Rob referred to as a 'gizmo' – and which is why Rob thought that's what Widor was after, too."

Ironically, considering these accidental deaths, the life Widor consciously chose to spare, bumping into him there in Benninghurst's driveway, was a man who would turn out to be his long-lost son.

Widor stole Rob's phone, then dropped it; Tr'iTone picked it up, then called me – we assumed he's the killer.

"So," I said, considering these new details, "Dhabbodhú left the dinner to become Tr'iTone and went to Rob's room, looking for some information about this fountain but found him already dead."

"Then Tr'iTone disfigured him in a rage, because, for all those years, he thought Rob told him nothing but lies?" Cameron had just entered, remembering the gruesome image confronting us that night.

"What exactly was Tr'iTone after? Could this Fountain of Inspiration be real?"

"There's only one way to find out..."

Even though most of the music was unreadable given the various incompatibility issues that existed between these different software programs, D'Arcy was too busy paging through the final pages of Rob's score to notice Cameron held an old letter, slightly singed around the edges, then carefully tucked it into his pocket.

"But at least now we know who Rob's murderer is," I said, "and we officially have the finished opera, if there's still time to prepare Act III for its scheduled premiere?"

"Oh, it'll be tight," D'Arcy said, looking up, "but I have to get a rush job on the vocal score for the singers and extract the instrumental parts for the orchestra. He already said there'd be no changes for the sets and costumes, so everything should still work on schedule."

When one of those annoyingly generic ringtones intruded, I was surprised Cameron was the one diving to retrieve a phone, eagerly reading a newly arrived text-message with a great sigh of relief.

Considering the phones we'd gone through tonight, I wondered how and where he might have gotten a new one.

"Good news – Harper and Fictitia texted me that Dylan's okay," he said. "They don't know why she'd abducted him, but the old woman escaped. Still, the good news is, Dylan's safe!"

That's when Roth looked up and spoke at length for the first time in a while – at least coherently. "That's probably the old Countess du Hicquè, one of Dr. Dhabbodhú's clients." He explained how she helped him secure some letter from Cameron's bank, after disguising herself as the family's lawyer.

"So that's how...?" Cameron looked over at him and scowled, checking the letter he'd just hidden in his pocket.

"Wait – didn't Widor say something that du Hicquè was Tr'iTone's real mother?"

Lionel was surprised how obsessed Dhabbodhú had become about Beethoven and about his following in The Master's own footsteps, plus this whole Fountain thing: perhaps he really did need a therapist.

He decided to forget the night Dhabbodhú and the widow got plastered and had celebratory sex on the couch.

Lionel busied himself with playing the affable host, making cups of tea for each of us, as he explained how, himself a master pick-pocket, he had seen this guy on the train who looked so much like Dr. Dhabbodhú – in fact, he thought it was another one of the doctor's disguises.

"When I saw him pull out and admire a CD jewel case, I decided to steal it as a prank, replacing it with some... well, another disc I had with me."

Unfortunately, Lionel realized too late it wasn't Dhabbodhú and he was upset to lose one of his favorite DVDs. "I couldn't go back and exchange the discs all over again, now. That's when you two noticed I was on the train," he shuddered, "before that maniac lit up his cigarette..."

When Security Officers Arabesk and LeVay arrived to arrest Lionel Roth as an accessory to the bombing of the Festspielhaus, D'Arcy explained that SHMRG's Agent Widor already confessed to that, as well. Technically, other than trespassing at the castle, there wasn't much to charge Lionel with beyond being an unwitting accomplice.

D'Arcy, still embarrassed by the apparent ease with which SHMRG managed to infiltrate Schweinwald's board and his security team, suggested instead they question Roth about the murders of Scarpia and Ritter.

= = = = = = =
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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