Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben: Installment #13

The previous installment of The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben introduces one of my favorite villains, Nepomuck and his killer viola. Not only do we find out about his story and his studies with local musician Dr. Franklin Stine, we discover a delightful Italian restaurant, Rossiniana's, near London's famed Wigmore Hall. Meanwhile, backstage at Duke's Hall at the Royal Academy of Music, Dr. Kerr examines a coded message that had been addressed to him by the deceased which suggests he search Arnold Schoenberg's String Trio Op. 45 for a clue. It immediately becomes apparent that Dr. Kerr and Inspector Hemiola are not likely to become friends.

(If you've only just arrived and have no clue what's going on, you might find it easier to start with the introductory post, here.


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CHAPTER TWO, continued...

An isolated booth at Rossiniana's: several minutes later

Nepomuck slipped his phone back into his pocket with a smile of satisfaction as Gioacchino brought him a heaping second serving of the breakfast lasagna special. No words were spoken between them this time – nothing needed to be said – as Nepomuck again tucked in with evident delight. An overnight cook told Gioacchino some big bald guy'd come in before midnight and ordered three dinner specials, one after another. Looking at Nepomuck's obvious enjoyment, Gioacchino needn't imagine who that might have been.

Food was only part of this customer's satisfaction, if the restauranteur only knew, and the ambiance hardly even entered into it. Yet it wasn't just a hard night's work that somehow affected his appetite. The funny thing was playing his new viola for any length of time always made him especially ravenous for Italian food.

Once again, Nepomuck admitted he felt overly warm sitting there in his overcoat, heated up by his breakfast and the coffee, but then he remembered why he was not supposed to take it off: The Serpent had told him if he's seen wearing a tuxedo at 9am, it would only call unnecessary attention to himself.

"No self-respecting free-lance musician would be out playing a gig at that hour," his master had warned him, citing security protocols. "Jazzers might get back from late-night clubs then but they don't wear tuxes."

Nepomuck had left Professor Stine's church after a rather long concert months ago – a wonderful program full of Telemann and Vivaldi – and he'd forgotten to change out of his tuxedo before returning to Dothby. Along the way, he was taunted by some school boys calling him names until he rose up to his full height.

Standing behind them, leaning against the village fountain and completely oblivious to everything, was a drunken bum he'd never seen before. Or at least not someone he'd seen recently until it dawned on him.

Standing in the moonlight, wearing his tux, his viola slung over his back, Nepomuck realized the drunk was calling him names. It was the wheedling voice he recognized first, a pestilence from his past.

He immediately went over and began pounding his fist into the man's face, the man he last saw killing his mother.

Should he murder his own father this way, attacking him on the street? He wanted to, but was it worth it? The police would catch him and then they would throw him in prison. He didn't think they'd let him play his viola in prison – would they? – so he decided there must be another way.

A few days later, Professor Stine showed him a new instrument he'd acquired, a large cream-colored viola brought in for repairs. Aside from a few cracks around the sides, it didn't look too bad.

The odd finish, as if it'd been dipped in a white cream sauce, was without a doubt its most striking feature but not necessarily its worst problem, Stine figured, demonstrating the instrument's 'wolf tone (*1).' This was an acoustical phenomenon that plagued even very fine instruments, he explained, a nasty sound originating from the lower strings.

But Nepomuck's mind wasn't on Stine's scientific demonstration ever since seeing his father and realizing how much he wanted him dead. This man had recently been released from prison but he had changed little. Nepomuck contemplated beating him to a bloody pulp like he'd beaten his mother, perhaps several times before he'd out-right kill him.

There were many ways he could kill him, playing them in his mind, then he'd run away again, escape the police...

"Nepomuck," Stine said with a kindly smile, "have you heard anything I've said?"

This unusual, supposedly 'legendary' instrument, Stine was explaining, came to him quite accidentally, a local businessman hoping it could be repaired, an instrument he'd found in an old cheese shop when traveling through Cremona. It had, he'd whispered mysteriously, a "strange and unusual history going back centuries," rumored to have been made in Stradivarius' workshop.

What Nepomuck most liked about it, more importantly – it was larger than most standard violas and easier for him to play. Too bad about that ghastly finish and those ugly wolf tones, he thought.

The weirdest thing was, after you'd played it and it warmed up enough, the room smelled like a plateful of spaghetti or more specifically like the grated Parmesan cheese he always heaped on spaghetti. Supposedly the result of a lunchtime workroom accident that completely ruined the finish, an apprentice spilled alfredo sauce onto fresh varnish.

Stradivarius instruments are, naturally, valued for their tone, their exquisite, rarely matched sound as well as the beauty of their finish. This poor instrument, set aside before being completed, was basically sold for scrap.

A woman named Ricotta Fontina bought it to hang in her cheese shop where for several centuries it absorbed fantastic aromas.

The fact Antonio Stradivarius made only a dozen violas in his storied career should have added some value to this one: with its odd, white finish and cheesy smell, this became the "Unlucky Thirteenth."

Stine set about over the next few weeks to fix the various cracks and with any luck eliminate the wolf tone though he could do nothing about the finish or its unusually fragrant varnish. He figured the change in climate after all these years aggravated its problems, given England's cooler, damper weather compared to Italy's.

With the help of his newly hired apprentice, a young boy named Silas, Stine took other old violas, discarded and broken, to find the necessary parts that, added inside, might correct the wolf tone.

Then, on a particularly dark and stormy night, Stine had finished his work and played an impromptu performance for young Silas. But the wolf tone turned out to be worse than before – much worse.

Before Stine knew what happened, he saw poor Silas fall to the floor, a horrific expression of fear upon his face.

Nepomuck had braved the storm that awful night to come help his teacher when he called about disposing of a body. The professor tried to explain what had happened but it hardly seemed possible. If word got out his playing could cause a listener's death, no one would ever hire him again – he'd be ruined.

A month later, Nepomuck, sneaking into the church, watched Stine practicing the viola when one of the local delinquents broke in. He watched as Stine marched toward the boy, repeatedly playing the wolf tone.

Immediately, the would-be burglar halted in his tracks, falling to the floor – dead! Even behind glass, Nepomuck knew it sounded awful. Other than the horror on the boy's face, there'd been no visible violence.

Once again, he helped his teacher drag the body down into the crypt and that's when they both figured it out.

There was something about the wolf tone that'd been amplified by Stine's repairs, how both deaths happened around the full moon. Whatever he'd done to it, Stine had turned it into a killer viola. It left not a single mark upon its victims, no sign of murder, and yet somehow the player had remained immune.

"The wolf tone has become even more evil – it's become a Werewolf Tone!" The poor professor, Nepomuck realized, began babbling incoherently. "God, Nepomuck, I've created a monster," Stine wailed. "Here, take it – destroy it!"

The old man fell to the ground, sobbing, when Nepomuck had an idea and threw the viola into its ancient case. Hurriedly tearing the bow from his teacher's hand, he disappeared into the night. Nepomuck would find his father and kill him by hardly lifting a finger but it would still be a horrible death.

It didn't take long to locate the bastard, partly visible in the moonlight, lying there drunk in a nearby back alley.

"Here, old dad," Nepomuck said, "let me play you a nice little song."

What started as Brahms' Lullaby quickly turned into a fiendish shredding of sound once he began violently attacking the wolf tone. The beast who'd beaten his mother to death now shrank back in horror.

Holding his hands to his ears, his father thrashed about, screamed, and fell.

Nepomuck quickly checked the body – "Like a doornail!"

He stood back, delighted with his new discovery. "My god, it really works!" (Then he realized how hungry he felt. Pasta!) At long last, his mother had been avenged and the evil man punished. Here, his father was dead just as if he'd shot or strangled him and with a great deal less effort, too. There was not a single mark on him, no sign of physical attack. The only trauma was visible on his face. Certainly it was quick if not exactly painless and a lot less messy.

Another thing he realized as he put the viola back in its case: "Here's something I can do – and do well." But what kind of career options were there for a free-lance hired assassin? It wasn't like he'd be in big demand plus was there a union? – and then the matter of income and benefits.

At that moment, Nepomuck decided to leave behind the only home he knew, heading off in search of fame and fulfillment. But where would he go, and how would he realize his new dream? He remembered hearing about that speaker from London who'd talked about defending Beethoven, protecting us from musical villains like Arnold Schoenberg.

He would offer his services to the cause, but how to find him? There can't be many bankers named Maurice Harty.

This, Nepomuck knew, would be his true calling: he'd become a serial killer.

On the Tube to Victoria Station: minutes later

"You could've knocked me over with a feather with that news about Frieda. I had no idea she'd still be alive – been over thirty years, now."

"Yeah," Cameron said, "you've mentioned that several times. Maybe we can stop somewhere for lunch soon? I'm feeling like something Italian...?"

"But you have to admit it's still amazing, knowing her all these years, then discovering after you've lost touch with her that she's related to the guy someone you've known forever's going to marry."

The last time I'd seen Frieda was that visit to New York City sometime back in the early-80s – it was October – when Schnellenlauter was on one of those tours with his Twelve-Tone World Series. She had come along to do some research at the Lincoln Center Library, something about being "on the verge of discovery."

Frieda F. Erden could have been a composer to contend with, like many, with lots of talent if only adequate training, but her star never quite rose far enough for posterity to take notice. In her prime, she had received many commissions but very few second performances, and after a while, even those dried up.

Her music was considered "difficult" both to listen to as well as perform but even so she had her loyal followers. And then a young conductor named Hans-Jörg Schnellenlauter began to champion her music.

"But you never explained what Burnson meant by her being Schnellenlauter's 'significant other.' I thought you had said she's his wife." Cameron turned around to check out the rest of the crowded subway car. The traffic above-ground had been bad enough but it wasn't much easier below-ground, more crowded, maybe, like New York only cleaner.

"Oh, they'd gotten married back during the war, shortly after they'd first met, but it didn't work out over the years, so they got a divorce and lived separately but still maintained their relationship."

We'd managed the connection at Green Park Station, feeling like salmon heading upstream (more like salmon with no sense of direction), waiting a few minutes for the line that took us to Victoria Station.

"Considering what Schnellenlauter'd said then in New York, when I last saw her, that would mean sixty years of non-commitment, today."

I took out the copy of the message Hemiola's agent had given me, stuck in between the pages of a book – a book I didn't remember having with me before we'd left the restaurant – and flipped back and forth between the curious address with its vague directive and the message itself which was pure gibberish.

Schnellenlauter always described a new piece of music as a kind of code, something he needed to crack to understand it; then he could help it reach the audience so they could understand it.

There was an old joke he loved to tell, studying Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire traveling from Communist East Germany to the West, how a border guard had confiscated the score and accused him of spying.

"You'd best admit it, comrade" he quoted him, exaggerating his own German accent. "Your friend Schoenberg has already confessed to everything."

There was a time when he would send me the occasional souvenir postcard, its message in the form of a Fib, usually something about the place, their experiences there, or the repertoire he'd performed. Each one consisted of seven lines of text that looked like a poem, each line breaking down to a distinct pattern.

It wasn't meant to be poetic, he explained, just a constant mathematical challenge, how one could create such an infinite variety from nothing more than a sequence of numbers, its invariant word-count spiraling outward.

Then, in the early-80s, he'd devised this 'Schoenberg Code' as he described it, following what he called 'The Rule of 12.' I'd forgotten all about this until Hemiola reclaimed the original card as evidence. The idea was to take every twelfth letter - obvious for a dyed-in-the-wool serialist (*2) - and then place them in a new order.

This had gone through a series of revisions that both simplified the process but in other ways made it more complicated, much as Schoenberg's 'twelve-tone' language had grown more sophisticated and, to many, incomprehensible.

After trying just a handful of letters – "fskfu;x" (did punctuation marks count separately?) – was I really on to something or not? It had been over twenty years since I'd last seen one of these.

I had no idea what might have been applied to it since then: all I could see was the Fibonacci Series.

Burnson had interrupted my dilemma with reality's dilemma, how the storm was increasing and since the concert had now been canceled, as no one seemed particularly interested in us, he thought about leaving early. To delay much longer might mean getting stuck in London with the snow; besides, they could grieve in private at home.

And there was the matter of telling Frieda who, considering the day's events, I wanted to see more than anyone else. So Cameron and I agreed we'd get our luggage and meet them there.

Since Hemiola was busy talking to other agents, we left without interrupting him, the four of us, unnoticed, walking sadly away. I hoped that leaving now wouldn't look like we'd given him the slip. Besides, what more was there we could do without getting in the way if I wasn't needed to solve the code?

Burnson didn't know if Schnellenlauter had any other family who'd make final arrangements and technically Frieda was only the Maestro's ex-wife. Who knew when the funeral might be held, given the inquest and investigation?

Eventually we made it back to the Cheap Bastard Arms, got our luggage and after quickly taking care of our bill, hurried the short distance over to Victoria Station despite the increasingly deepening snow.

It wasn't very long before we were safely aboard the train for Snaffingham, but I was sure we were being watched.


Snaffingham Station, later that afternoon.

The cabby sounded less threatening than we'd first heard him, only moments ago, hiding in the shadows trying to keep warm and somehow knowing our names. Figuring the little-used station might well be closed on a day like this, 'the house' called him to meet us there.

I should have known better than to ask. "You say the house called?"

"Right, the butler up at Phlaumix Court – Vector? Seems their regular chauffeur's been all commandeered by them TV fellows," he added. 

LauraLynn had told us about 'them TV fellows' working on the Prodigy Pageant, the people Burnson also complained so much about, taking over the public part of the house and getting in everybody's way. 

The cabby slid our luggage into the boot then gave us a nod.

"Carron's my name – Danny Carron, at your service.

"They've taken over the Dog & Pony, too," our intrepid cabby told us. Apparently they've gotten the whole village against them. "Nice quiet pub, the Dog & Pony was," he said, revving the engine. "But them's a noisy lot, them poncy ones what with their loud clothes – and the hair! And their birds're even worse! Some of 'em're not too bad," he added, nodding his head in self-agreement, "'cept for one, a bit of a loner. Old girl with a mound of silver hair – downright witch she looks, too."

It was kind of Burnson to have a cab there to meet us, even with our loquacious Carron at the helm, but admittedly I missed the idea of arriving in style in some limousine. It wasn't every day I pulled up to a great English manor house. It would've been great to look the part. Not that Carron's cab was a poor substitute, considerably smaller as it was, but it lacked a certain gentility and charm. At least it was dry and toasty warm as it rattled merrily along. 

"Have you heard the latest forecast," Cameron asked, hoping to change the subject. It looked like the storm was slowing down.

"Old Hugh up at Umberton told me yesterday: a bitch of a storm."

He mentioned how these particular birds were building their nests higher than usual. "Means the snow'll be real deep," he explained.

The snow was deep enough for me already despite what the weatherman said, how the worst part would hit later tonight, and as usual nobody was making specific predictions about the accumulation they expected. Quite frankly, Old Hugh's birds – different birds, I was sure, than the ones hanging out at the pub – might prove right. 

Once Danny got moving and turned left out of the station's minuscule car-park, I noticed we headed away from the village as the snow started to fall more heavily and the sun disappeared completely.

There wasn't much left to see around us once the wind picked up and we'd slipped further out into the countryside. I thought it odd that every road we took was a left turn. That certainly made giving directions a lot easier but Danny explained you didn't take every turn or you'd get hopelessly lost. 

"Now see, you take those first two lefts, then the second left and after that the third and fifth lefts, next. And finally, after a stretch, the eighth left. Lose count, you're a goner. F'rinstance," he continued, "you took that left there," pointing down an invisible lane, "you'd find yourself at the parsonage in Umberton." 

At this point, the road started straightening out and began a slight incline. In the dim light ahead was a clearing. 

"There 'tis," our cabby said, pointing up ahead. "Magnificent place, Phlaumix Court is."

While I was sorry to miss Schnellenlauter's concert, it wasn't a bad idea, not waiting till morning to take the train. It could be days till they opened these roads back to the house. What if this was another one of those annual Storms of the Century, one that took down trees and power lines?

But on the other hand wasn't it possible this could all be hype and blow over leaving behind just a dusting? I'm sure that's what everybody at Phlaumix Court, after all, had hoped for. 

With the wedding only a few days away, there wasn't time for delays no matter what kind of storm it was. With the Christmas holidays right around the corner, they couldn't just postpone it. Everyone and their cousin would have holiday plans undoubtedly made far in advance, guessing the crowd we'd be hanging out with. 

And if you could have your wedding held in a genuine English castle, especially one belonging to the man you're marrying, why move it to some London hotel just because of a little storm? Though I had to admit, as long as I got there safely myself, the other guests, frankly, could fend for themselves.

Getting stranded in a cab in the middle-of-nowhere wasn't a pleasant idea, either, and I had doubts about the cab's blizzard-worthiness. I'll be very happy once we're safe inside no matter what happens next.

And what more could possibly happen, I wondered – of course, as soon as I thought that, wasn't I asking for trouble? – after my friend Schnellenlauter, a friend of the groom's family, had been murdered? What if SHMRG was indeed behind Schnelly's death, another one of their warnings, determined to stop the performance of Rob's opera? 

It stood to reason Steele and his minions might go after LauraLynn herself, especially since she was backing the entire production, and with her wedding in a few days, wasn't she a potential target?

Of course they had to cancel the concert since it wasn't just the conductor's being indisposed but his being murdered, instead. Schnelly's assistant conductor might be young and inexperienced but he's also a suspect. And what if the concert happened as scheduled, even with a substitute conductor: would SHMRG go ahead and kill him, too?

Even after blinking my eyes, I couldn't see anything in front of us, the snow was falling so thick and fast. We could easily have taken a wrong turn, for all I could tell. And, I thought, we could still get stuck, not halfway up the driveway. Brandy by a roaring fireplace sounded pretty good.

I told Danny I'd have to take his word about it for now, but I was sure it looked very grand. 

"Grand," our guide spluttered, huffing into his scarf. "'Grand' ain't it by half! Not that they're much into 'halves' around here. Everything's off-center for my taste. Built to some fancy mathy-matical hocus-pocus, they say."

He'd turned to face us, his brow twitching, but now it quickly passed. 

"Yes, the Golden Section and the Fibonacci Series, that's what Burnson told us." I began re-calculating the tip, increasing it exponentially. 

Looking up, I could almost sense the house lurking behind the swirling snow (reminding me I needed to get new glasses) as we crawled around the bend in the driveway toward the main entrance. Cameron thought the snow on the trees looked like an old Victorian postcard, but all I could see was concealed evil. 

As we got closer to the house where the snowfall started to diminish, the hulking shadow assumed a more recognizable identity once I could see several pinpoints of light pricking cautiously through some windows.

"Bloody hell, wazzat?" Danny yelled, hitting the brakes and skidding to a stop. Two beady pinpoints of light glowered up ahead. 

"Unlike the others," I said, "these are red. See? Evil – I told you..." 

"They look like taillights to me," Cameron said, peering forward into the gloom which hid something looking long, sleek – and ominous. 

"A car? Must be some other guests arriving. Funny how dark it is. Can't see nothing in this crap," Danny muttered. 

"I think we're still yards from the door – doesn't look like they're moving." 

Cameron suggested we could just grab our things rather than wait much longer. "It's not all that far," he pointed out. 

After passing us our bags, Danny looked in the back and saw something. 

"Here," he said, handing me a book, "don't want to lose this, now."

"Couldn't lose this if I tried," I mumbled.

I paid the fare and hoped the tip was adequate to Danny's expectations after being both cabby and local tour guide – he seemed pleased with it, giving us what I assumed was a wave.
Stomping snow off his boots before clambering inside, he revved up the cab, wheeled brusquely around and disappeared into the snowstorm.

Cameron shrugged his shoulders and trudged on ahead, talking back over his shoulder. "I wouldn't worry about him, Doc," he said. "He's probably in a hurry to get back to the Dog & Pony." 

The snow was deep enough to give me serious trouble with my balance as I tried keeping up with Cameron's footprints. Looking ahead, I could barely follow his silhouette once he'd passed the car.

Without warning, I slipped, nearly hitting the car as a door flew open: someone jumped out in front of me, screaming. 

"I know that scream," I thought as I fell backwards into the snow, curious if possibly that wasn't me I'd heard. With any luck, maybe I didn't break anything – or sound like that, either. 

Several other people piled out of the car (I realized it's a limousine) and gathered around the guy who continued screaming. 

Cameron hurried back and helped me stand up, brushing the snow off me. 

"What're you bloody staring at?" the screamer shouted. 

"Isn't he that idiot, Skripasha Scricci?" I thought. Of all the rotten luck...!

= = = = = = = 

To be continued... [the link becomes active at 8am on July 1st...]

= = = = = = =

(*1) Wolf Tone: an acoustic phenomenon where, on some string instruments, a note on a lower string might produce a "sympathetic overtone" which causes a particularly unpleasant "beating" or oscillation of overtones "that has been likened to the howling of an animal," hence the term "wolf tone." It has nothing to do with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

(*2) 'Rule of 12'... serialist: Schoenberg originated a 'method' of composing 'with twelve tones' which is usually referred to as 'serialism' (to get more involved in what that is would take longer than a mere footnote) and therefore the number '12' becomes significant (it should also be mentioned Schoenberg had a fear of the number 13, but that's another story). The pun comes in when Nepomuck, fighting fans of Schoenberg, becomes a serial killer - or a killer of serialists. 

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The usual disclaimer: The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben, which you've no doubt figured out by now, is a work of fiction and as such all the characters (especially their names) and incidents of its story are more or less the product of the author's imagination, sometimes inspired by elements of parody, occasionally by personal experience. Many of the places are real (or real-ish) but not always "realistically used," like the Mandeville Hotel and the Royal Academy of Music's Duke's Hall (my apologies to both the hotel and the concert venue for having murders committed there). Other places like Phlaumix Court and Umberton are purely fictional. Any similarity between characters and real people, living or dead, is entirely coincidental, but then, as Klavdia Klangfarben keeps quoting a former professor of hers, "Perception is everything." Yadda yadda yadda.

©2016 by Richard Alan Strawser for Thoughts on a Train

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben: Installment #12

In the previous installment of The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben, we meet some of the Downstairs staff at Phlaumix Court, like the housekeeper, Mrs. Linebottom; Mrs. French, the cook; the two footmen, Sidney Foote and Rudyard Herring; and the new maid, Lisa Newlife. Backstage at the Royal Academy's Duke's Hall, Inspector Hemiola of the International Music Police is trying to explain to Dr. Kerr why he is being brought in to help find the killer of his friend, Maestro Hans-Jörg Schnellenlauter, whose body has just been found in his dressing room and which he doesn't consider a "routine murder."

If you've only just arrived and have no clue what's going on, you might find it easier to start with the introductory post, here.

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Rossiniana's, near Wigmore Hall: several minutes later

A large balding man in a rumpled overcoat carrying a tattered viola case slid into an isolated booth at the back of a popular Italian restaurant. Nepomuck always liked it here, stopping by regularly, enjoying the menu's endless variety, a place famous for its numerous pasta dishes. He also liked that they played nothing but the finest Italian classical music, mostly Rossini (naturally) but also Vivaldi and Verdi, hardly anything more recent than Puccini's glorious melodies except maybe Respighi's “Ancient Airs.”

Young Gioacchino, the owner's son, bustled about, smiling, urging on his kitchen staff, and noticed one of his regulars settling in. He always took time to chat with customers, greeting them like old friends. Lots of his customers liked this easy-going familiarity as much as the food, and usually first-timers would quickly turn into regulars.

But Gioacchino knew this one – the large balding man in the rumpled overcoat – kept to himself, preferring to be left alone. He was always friendly to him, of course, but the man rarely responded. There were all kinds of people, he knew, but basically only two types: out-going friendly people, and then those who weren't.

This guy whom he knew only as Nepo was one of the introverts but he always ate a ton of food. Gioacchino knew he'd lose money on this guy if he ever went "all-you-can-eat."

"Eh, Nepo, my large friend, good seeing you! What'll it be this morning?" Young Gioacchino waited while Nepomuck scanned the specials. Meanwhile, Gioacchino scanned the restaurant as other customers arrived and waved to them.

Nodding his approval, Nepomuck ordered the breakfast lasagna, made with sausage and bacon, which came with scrambled eggs and fried potatoes.

Gioacchino, a spry, wiry man over 80 already, bounded off to the kitchen. ("Young" was a relative term to distinguish him from his father, the owner: Old Gioacchino only worked on Sundays, any more.)

Nepomuck placed his tattered old viola case carefully beside him on the bench and wrapped his equally tattered scarf around it. It was awkward slipping out of his coat, so he left it on. Standing well over six feet tall and weighing a solid, bear-shaped 340 pounds, he had enough trouble fitting into the booth.

He preferred coming to Rossiniana's after a gig, unlike that place on Mandeville: much simpler and less inclined to notice him. It was food he was after, not ambiance, not to mention cheaper prices. He could afford three entrees here, most likely, compared to an appetizer there, and, still a growing boy, that was important. Of course, his being a free-lance classical musician also meant budget was important, and they're very good about "doggy bags" here. He could just imagine asking for a box from the waiters at Mandeville.

It was these unfortunately infrequent special gigs that tired him out the most, made him the most ravenous, especially for Italian. He wondered if anybody here had noticed he'd also been in last night? He had the dinner special, a Florentine lasagna along with some pasta fagiole. In fact, he'd ordered three servings of each.

Last night's had been a particularly exhausting gig with another early this morning, the drawback of a limited window of opportunity, considering Nepomuck wasn't a soloist or even a very good freelance section player. Like most people who were not musicians themselves, his employer never understood artists, especially what it took to develop that skill.

Nepomuck had developed a very good specialized reputation, proving music was fully capable of doing more than soothing the savage beast. If artfully handled, he found he could use his instrument to kill people.

He never remembered much about his early childhood beyond wanting to study music which had become a solace to his reality. Nepomuck loved listening to music, especially the good old tunes of classical music. He found he could lose himself in music, become transported to another world through its beautifully expanding melodies or exciting rhythms. Someone had once handed him a toy drum which he'd thought too pedestrian and he'd beaten the crap out of it. But it was a violin he'd stumbled upon that really captured his imagination.

The only memory he had of his mother, beyond the vaguest of recollections, was watching his father bludgeon her to death after what had started as just another fight (that's when he ran away). After coming up with so many different identities, he'd forgotten his real name by the time he arrived at the orphanage.

It was a janitor there – curiously named Blindt – who had christened him Nepomuck, though why didn't make any sense to him. It's a big awkward name, he thought, and he's a big awkward kid. Of all the other aliases he'd tried on for size over the years, he felt this one maybe suited him best.

But it was hearing the old man play the violin late at night when all the other children should be asleep that made him want to learn to play and give his life purpose.

After weeks of listening in the tranquil darkness, Nepomuck approached the old man and asked if he would consider teaching him. So the long process of his training began on that very same night. He struggled learning how to hold the thing, how to draw the bow, how to produce a sound that wasn't painful.

Blindt told him he must practice each day once he started playing melodies, working eventually toward an hour every single day. "It could take thousands of hours, my boy, maybe even ten thousand hours!"

Mr. Grinder, the director, reluctantly adjusted Nepomuck's schedule despite not seeing the purpose of weekly music lessons and needing to practice. "It's a waste of time," the old worn-out teacher complained, "rots the mind!"

"Ten thousand hours at an hour a day," Nepomuck estimated: "that's twenty-seven years! What kind of idiot would work that hard?"

Maybe life at Dothby's Orphanage was not easy but Nepomuck didn't really notice. It seemed little different from his previous life. Every day was practically the same except for days he had his lessons. Bullying from the other children was one thing, he was used to that, and the abusive adults were like his father. But it helped he quickly began developing as a boy, growing taller and, more significantly, broader across the chest and shoulders. Though not the oldest of the boys there, he'd easily become the biggest.

Eventually he found the others left him alone, meaning there was less fighting, and he realized his size gave him security. He only fought to defend himself, he'd say: he wasn't one to attack. In fact, Nepomuck hated violence which didn't mean he wasn't incapable of it. It's just he didn't care to use it.

So, the bigger he got, the less the older children beat him up, an easy target who appeared to be stupid. Instead, they teased him because he was slow but this didn't bother him. The fact is, he knew he was stupid, everybody always told him that – "slow and stupid, that's our Nepo," they'd say.

Everyone except Old Blindt at his violin lessons where he made excellent progress and was now practicing two hours every day. His only consolation was found in the music. Nothing else mattered to him.

The problem was he didn't have much talent and Blindt had his limitations, a player of little technique and less experience. Plus the boy was physically outgrowing his violin, presenting all kinds of problems. Besides, Blindt grew up as a dance-band musician who played mostly old-fashioned tunes which even the staff at Dothby's couldn't recognize.

These were the popular songs from Blindt's youth, back when life was good, tunes that wafted him into a nostalgic fog, plus the usual bunch of folk songs everyone could recognize but not remember.

But Dothby's was not equipped to teach music beyond Miss Carbunckle's little chorus where students learned to sing some popular pieces. Music existed primarily to entertain them, like recess, and didn't require private lessons.

Director Grinder agreed to send him to the town church for his lessons where he began studying with Dr. Franklin Stine.

Long ago, when Old Professor Stine was a young man everybody called Frankie, he was a jazz pianist with monster chops, plus he played violin in the local orchestra and conducted his church's choir. He listened to classical music quite often and even loved opera, he confessed, building his musical taste from this and that. He had little patience for rap music, though, and even less for what other people considered the "pop music du jour," so he'd stopped listening to it years ago – "there were limits," he'd stressed.

When Nepomuck arrived at the church to meet Professor Stine that first time, the old man was playing the pipe organ, what Nepo later found out was Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. The sounds continued to reverberate around the church even after Stine stopped playing but ricocheted inside his head for minutes longer.

Nepo said he'd never heard such music before, asking him not to stop, so the old man obligingly kept on playing. The sound grew in volume and became faster, flurries of notes cascading everywhere. Once the music roared to its inevitable conclusion, Nepomuck shouted bravo and applauded. Music had always been soothing – this... was exhilarating.

But it would be impractical for him to take lessons on the organ, not having access to one at the orphanage. Besides, solving the violin problem was easy enough: Stine handed him a viola.

As the other orphans were gradually all adopted, soon replaced by new ones, Nepomuck was now the senior orphan at Dothby's on the verge of finishing his allotted time, ready to be cut loose. Then after Blindt the janitor became ill and Nepo substituted for his mentor, he realized, "here's something useful I could do."

Since Old Blindt soon became too weak to return to work full time, Director Grinder agreed to make Nepomuck Blindt's assistant, since he'd essentially finished all his necessary classes and needed an occupation now.

One night Blindt was taken to the hospital after he'd suffered a stroke, Nepomuck going along, playing his viola for him. After the old man died, Grinder asked Nepomuck to become Dothby's chief janitor.

As career paths went, it had been no different for Blindt who'd started there as an orphan himself, never to leave.

Through all this, Nepomuck had kept up with his lessons from Professor Stine, shuffling off each Wednesday for the village church. Sometimes he would go in early, hoping to catch him practicing the organ. Being the janitor kept him quite busy but his evenings were his own when he could practice late into the night.

Being the janitor also meant he had his own room – a cell, really – a little privacy just off the basement steps. There, he could practice three hours every night and not bother the others.

He was making great progress, Stine told him, mastering several popular classical melodies, great tunes from Beethoven symphonies or Verdi operas. This classical music, even older than Blindt's songs, he found new and exciting. On an old radio Stine had left him, one station would play nothing but great hits from two hundred years ago.

Even if he didn't know the themes or what the chords were doing, he pretended he was part of the orchestra, scraping along with the sounds, trying to fit, getting the hang of it.

At first, not knowing what he was doing, he admitted it sounded awful, but with familiarity he could figure it out; rather than playing the melodies, he'd find a note that fit the harmony.

And when it was over, he would laugh and applaud from sheer joy, feeling happier than he had ever remembered before.

Sitting there, waiting for his breakfast at Rossiniana's, Nepomuck felt that same satisfaction, warming to old and pleasant memories nearly forgotten, how the discovery of something new had given him a sense of power. That awareness of satisfaction was something he rarely felt before – felt rarely since – but it was good to feel it again.

Realizing he might become a musician had given his life some meaning, then, rising above the horrible, empty childhood he'd endured. He filled with pride when he was handed his first musician's union card.

Stine trained him well and worked him hard, had him play in church, and included him in the school's student orchestra which no one seemed to mind since there were few other violists around. From there, he was hired for several performances by the local opera company, known for being quiet and a hard worker.

"It's only been a few years," he reminisced, almost breaking into a smile, "but it's like such a long time ago." (The waiter set down a plate heaping with lasagna, scrambled eggs and bacon.) "How much trouble it had been to find a tux that fit me – cost more than the gig's pay, that did."

And now he's attained a whole new plateau in his career, he thought, "one where I shall excel and achieve success. I've been inducted into the Penguins of God! I wear its uniform proudly!"

He recalled that gig Stine contracted him for, but he'd had a cold: they needed a chamber ensemble to play music before a big-time banker from London was going to be speaking about music, some philanthropist whose goal was to preserve the great masterpieces of classical music, a talk he called, "Why You Hate Schoenberg."

They had practiced several hours, getting it right, playing one of Mozart's divertimentos and of course his favorite piece, Pachelbel's Canon. After Nepomuck missed the performance, Stine agreed to tell him all about it.

The speaker described a musical Garden of Eden, a long-sought-for, unfortunately long-lost paradise where there stood two trees with tempting fruit, one full of beautiful simplicity and lovely melodies, the other full of thorns, and how we music lovers should eat plentifully from the Tree of Enjoyment but avoid the bitter, disappointing Tree of Knowledge.

"In every age, there were those who ate too much of Knowledge and pushed Enjoyment beyond the boundaries of good taste, and these composers, their music and their advocates need to be weeded out."

After he'd listened to Stine tell him this, Nepo wanted to "join up," like the talk ended with an altar call.

Oh, to have missed such an inspiring lecture and join this great army to protect Beethoven from the likes of Schoenberg!

Nepomuck became a committed believer who'd never forget that man's name: Maurice Harty.

But then he remembered, before enjoyment, before fulfillment, Nepomuck knew, even before he could become one with his plate of lasagna, there was a phone call to be made and news to be reported. He had now completed three assignments – so far – with further instructions awaiting him. He reached into his pocket for his phone.

Like his viola, this was a special phone designated for only one purpose, programmed to communicate with only one special person, encrypted to circle the globe to reach someone who might be blocks away.

It was the voice he always heard that now spoke clearly to him, relaying his instructions, requiring confirmation of his success, always speaking in a low, digitally modified voice, the sibilants like drawn-out hisses.

The call was quickly answered by a man known only as The Serpent. The news was quickly imparted: all was good.

Backstage at Duke's Hall, Royal Academy: minutes later

Yes, admittedly, it very much looked like the card was addressed to me, a piece of folded paper with my name in a rather spidery handwriting:


This had been written hurriedly across the front but inside was something making even less sense:

fu Sqygkfu
hr okhh ggutauq
g"sryllv wG dFnh fskfu;x fqauqe
kre ulq ruiM grggglqrsy mguvhuh vhewfkt Qld ffes
kuum hqvl ln lsau k yuu,o aylh' ruaq cyny qfhka eyhf nlowk uulnuuskyfuf

Hemiola coughed politely as if to remind me he was still standing there. "Perhaps you can make something out of this?" The message itself, unlike the address, was neatly written with a calligraphic pen. "It's clearly in some kind of code but since it's addressed to you, we thought you might be familiar with it."

Cameron, looking over my shoulder, thought we might. "Doesn't it look like it could be the same code from Harty's Journal? But then what association could there possibly be between Schnellenlauter and Harrison Harty?" (*1)

"This first word, see? – (Xunkdùv:-) – title or salutation: is that a smiley face? And here – fskfu;x – contains an internal semicolon – strange."

"You've seen this code before?" Hemiola sounded intrigued. "So you know it, then."

"Well, let's say," I hesitated, "we've seen a code similar to this one but I wouldn't say they're actually the same."

It also didn't make any sense how the two would possibly be connected. How could Schnellenlauter know about Harrison Harty's code? After all, that was from 1880 and we only decoded it last summer. Harty had written the account of his Schweinwald adventures using a substitution code but I'm sure that was the only similarity.

"I keep looking at these three interior punctuations, each time a different one, but especially this one with the end-quotation mark." It looked like it ought to indicate the last letter in the message.

"There may be something here in the way he's addressed the card, though, perhaps a clue to figuring out the code: this pun playing off my name, for one, since ricercar means 'to search'..."

"But search what?" Cameron pointed at the card. "Whose Op.45 does he mean?"

"Oh, that's easy: it's obviously Arnold Schoenberg's – A.S.?"

Hemiola frowned, then pointed at the coded message. "I thought this was strange," running his finger along the text's right-side margin, "how the lines' lengths increase considerably with each new line – sort of geometrically."

His observation prompted me to take a closer look at the text itself, broken up into eight lines of varying length.

Each line was divided into distinct, definable words, regardless of their complete incomprehensibility, and I immediately began to count them, line-by-line.

"Hah!" An old memory flickered through my brain. "Guess what? It's a Fib!"

"He's lying?" Hemiola spluttered his annoyance, stepping back, and grabbed the folded paper. "Is he in the habit of telling fibs?"

"No, no," I said, taking the card back from him to show Cameron.

The first line was just a single word – "probably a salutation," I assumed; the next two lines were one word each.

Each following line consisted of two, three, five, eight, then finally thirteen words. (*2)

"It's like haiku with its 17-syllable, three-line structure, only here each line is a number of words in a Fibonacci Sequence."

"That sounds a bit too brainy to be art, for me," Hemiola said.

But what were haiku with their strict formulas?

"Would it be true art
– without some combination – of both heart and mind?"

The age-old argument between intelligence and emotion continued. Hemiola disagreed, frowning in irritation.

– without imagination: – how sad to waste it."

While I explained how Schnellenlauter would send me these Fibonacci poems or 'Fibs' – whether or not they sounded 'poetic' like haiku – a frazzled-looking administrator from the school hurried in and apologized profusely to LauraLynn. He had already been at the crime scene when the police first arrived, unable to control his anxiety at the news.

"I am so sorry, Ms. Harty," he began, trying not to show his curiosity at the view unfolding just behind her as SOCOs were having some trouble putting Schnellenlauter's corpse into a body bag.

Given rigor mortis set in and affected the awkwardly outstretched arm and leg, especially since he'd been lying on his side, the body's stiffening into this rather peculiar position caused the agents considerable effort.

It was impossible not to notice their difficulty which made us all uncomfortable until the coroner ushered us out the door.

Inspector Hemiola interrupted himself to introduce us to the coroner, Dr. Mortimer Rigorian, an elderly and knowledgeable-looking gentleman in white scrubs, and Agent Ben Rubato who hesitated before reaching out to shake our hands.

"So, Mort," Chief Inspector Hemiola asked the coroner, "what can you tell us? Time of death – maybe the cause of death?"

"Challenging to say, you know," the doctor replied with a certain scholarly indifference, "at least not until after the autopsy, certainly. But so far, with no wound, no blood and no obvious blunt-force trauma...?"

"So, in other words," Hemiola said, "you're saying it doesn't look like murder?"

"Come now, inspector, did I actually say that?"

Aside from the odd position of the body, he'd noticed nothing really suspicious.

I considered the position of the body and the coded message they'd found and suspected a good deal of foul playing.

LauraLynn began to sob again as Schnellenlauter's body, covered by a yellow tarp, rolled past us, lying sideways on the gurney.

Was she thinking the same thing I'd thought, that SHMRG was behind this?

Hemiola took the card as I went to slip it inside a book. "Sorry, sir, but I'm afraid this is evidence. I'll have our code squad break it down, if you would not mind?"

"If I can have a copy of this, we'll work on it also – and maybe a score of Schoenberg's String Trio...?"

Hemiola, clearly irritated, looked over at me quizzically. "And why exactly that piece? This is no time for pointless scholarly analysis."

"Oh, not that," I explained, pointing to the message addressed specifically to me.

"Aren't you a composer who'd published a Ricercar as your Op.45," he asked. "No? Then who, may I ask, are you?"

I'd taken an immediate dislike to this inspector even back at the restaurant and it was clear the feeling was mutual. He'd dragged me in here as a consultant yet had no idea why.

"I am an old friend of Maestro... of the... deceased," I corrected myself (it sounded brutally cold calling him 'the victim'). "And he's telling me 'to search' – ricercar – in an Op.45 by A. S. Now, given Schnellenlauter's musical tastes, I'd easily imagine what he'd be referring to was the String Trio, Op.45, by Arnold Schoenberg."

What I expected to find was another matter, conjecture that perhaps could wait, just as the coroner's reports required additional delays. Schoenberg wrote it after the heart attack he'd suffered and had actually died. But a doctor injected Dilaudid directly into his heart which immediately revived him: three weeks later, he began composing this trio.

The music, opening with spasmodic, almost kaleidoscopic gestures, perhaps reflected his 'near-death' experience, sounded like nerve fibers bursting back into life. Did eventually longer lines, even a waltz-like bit, imply a return to consciousness?

If Hemiola would be wrinkling his nose at the sound of Schoenberg's name, imagine how he'd react to hearing his music. Reluctantly, he approached the administrator talking to LauraLynn and asked him a question. While I couldn't hear exactly what he said, he looked back at me, and the administrator nodded, calling over a student.

"Agent O'Rondo," the inspector called to one of his associates, "come here, Axel." A young man approached him immediately and nodded. "This student will take you to the library to find a specific score."

He quickly scribbled down Schoenberg's name with the piece's title and opus number, explaining somewhat dubiously it may have some relevance.

The agent looked at the paper and smiled. "Great piece, sir: right away."

Hemiola growled at him. "Great piece, my arse, and be quick about it." Giving another nod, the young man hurried off.

Excusing himself from the administrator, Burnson came over, wondering what else was happening. "Have you made sense out of anything here? Not that one could ever make sense out of someone killing another person... The Dean's said they've already canceled the concert but they'll wait till the police are ready before making any public announcement."

"They wouldn't be able to keep something as sensational as this," I imagined, "out of the news for very much longer." Besides, I needed to get to work on cracking this code, didn't I?

I showed Burnson the copy of the message Schnellenlauter had addressed to me, but he made no sense of it either. Running his finger across the coded text, he shrugged his shoulders and frowned.

"They've sent someone to find a copy of the Schoenberg trio he'd mentioned," I said, pointing out the reference to Op.45.

"Right, Schnellenlauter was very keen on that, lately – we'd have it at home. There's an extensive Schoenberg collection in our library. Great-Grandfather Rudyard was very interested in new music, and Schoenberg especially," he added. "I'm sure Frieda would know – Oh God, I've forgotten all about Aunt Frieda! I've got to break the news to her..."

"Wait – Frieda? Who is Frieda," I asked him. Schnellenlauter's wife was named Frieda. "You're talking about your mother's maiden aunt, right?"

"I guess you'd call her Schnelly's 'significant other.'"

"Your aunt's Frieda F. Erden?"

= = = = = = = = = = = = =

to be continued... [the link will become active at 8am, 6/29/2016]

= = = = = = = = = = = = =

(*1) Harrison Harty: a cousin of the composer Hamilton Harty, young Harrison was also a prodigy as a composer and in 1880 studied at the summer session of that great music school, the Schweinwald Academy in Bavaria, when Dudley Böhm was headmaster. Harty kept a journal of his stay which, following the unexplained death of a fellow student, broke into a mysterious code. Among his friends were Hans Rott, Ethel Smyth, and Gustav Mahler. It forms the basis of much of the story of The Lost Chord. The last part of the journal was missing.

(*2) ...a fib: In 2006, I found that Greg Pincus, on his blog "Gotta Book," originated a new, haiku-like poetic form based on the Fibonacci Sequence. Instead of Pincus' original syllabic count, Schnellenlauter uses words rather than syllables. It works in with the Fibonacci-oriented word-count of the novel itself (what's that, you ask...?) The reference had originally been used in the earlier version of the story, The Schoenberg Code, which was a free-form, direct parody of Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code; but then I decided to completely rewrite the story while keeping many of the characters' names and, of course, the use of Fibs as clues.

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *
The usual disclaimer: The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben, which you've no doubt figured out by now, is a work of fiction and as such all the characters (especially their names) and incidents of its story are more or less the product of the author's imagination, sometimes inspired by elements of parody, occasionally by personal experience. Many of the places are real (or real-ish) but not always "realistically used," like the Mandeville Hotel and the Royal Academy of Music's Duke's Hall (my apologies to both the hotel and the concert venue for having murders committed there). Other places like Phlaumix Court and Umberton are purely fictional. Any similarity between characters and real people, living or dead, is entirely coincidental, but then, as Klavdia Klangfarben keeps quoting a former professor of hers, "Perception is everything." Yadda yadda yadda.

©2016 by Richard Alan Strawser for Thoughts on a Train1

Friday, June 24, 2016

The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben: Installment #11

In the previous installment of The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben, we learn that SHMRG, which once tried to stop the premiere of Rob Sullivan's opera, Faustus Inc., and was responsible for the composer's murder, is producing a reality TV program called "Pimp My Prodigy" at Phlaumix Court where Sullivan's cousin, LauraLynn Harty, is to be married later in the week. Meanwhile, LauraLynn is making plans for the London premiere of Rob's opera and there is some concern SHMRG might attempt something at her wedding in order to undermine the opera's performance. As they are getting ready to leave the restaurant, a man shows up looking for Dr. Kerr. He is Inspector Hemiola of the International Music Police. 

(If you've only just arrived and have no clue what's going on, you might find it easier to start with the introductory post, here.)

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

Downstairs at Phlaumix Court, Surrey: shortly after breakfast

"No, I don't really care what you think: coppers always make me squeamish." Lisa Newlife was the newest and youngest maid currently employed at Phlaumix Court.

"I think what you mean," Mrs. Linebottom said, handing her a fresh tablecloth, "is they make you nervous – they do, me."

Penelope Linebottom had been the housekeeper at Phlaumix Court, the home of Lady Vexilla Regis and her second husband, Sir Bognar, ever since the time Lady Vexilla's son Burnson had been a small boy.

"It's not likely we'd need a visit from the local constabulary this week, what with Master Burnson's wedding and their guests." Mrs. French was bustling about, making sure the breakfast dishes were put away. She may have been the cook at Phlaumix Court for nearly as long, but such events still demanded all her concentration.

It was a grand old house, she knew, that needed to run smoothly, what with all the cleaning and the cooking, where even the slightest disruption jeopardized their schedule, sending everyone into a dither. As Mrs. Linebottom would constantly remind her staff, "Upstairs is the stately swan; Downstairs, the madly paddling feet, keeping it afloat."

Hadn't it been enough with this awful blizzard that was cropping up unexpectedly? Luckily Mrs. French had had everything delivered early. Some may explain it as a second sense, but she considered it genius.

Sidney Foote had been a footman at Phlaumix for only a few years but liked to find the best in everyone. "Now, no one's accusing you of anything, Lisa. I'm sure he meant nothing." Sidney's attempt at being kind wasn't very bright. The constable had not only accused her but clearly threatened to arrest her.

"You can think what you like, Old Sid, but we all heard him: sounds pretty much open and shut, to me." Rudyard Herring, a footman with one year's seniority, rarely bothered with the best.

The problem was, Lisa was the last one alone in the Maid's Room before Mrs. French came in from the kitchen and noticed a small window pane was broken, the window unlocked and open.

"And then who knows, Rudyard, if you hadn't come back in, seconds later?" Mrs. Linebottom pursed her lips. "What about that?"

"But if nothing is missing, what's the fuss?" Lisa helped clear the last of the dishes. "Who could've gotten in, besides? That window's way too small for a normal person to crawl through, innit?"

"Well, we all know you're far from normal, Lisa, and that's a fact."

"That'll be quite enough out of you, Rudyard."

Mrs. Linebottom proceeded to dismiss everybody else except those working in the kitchen. "God knows, we've all got plenty of work."

Mrs. French started bustling about, tossing out orders. "Luncheon will be soon enough."

Lisa, hauling out some clothes that needed mending, then set herself to work, hoping it would take her mind off everything. All this attention was making her increasingly anxious, remembering things she'd rather forget.

"When you have those ready, bring them down to the laundry room, please." Mrs. Linebottom hoisted her anchor and set sail.

Mrs. French began whipping ingredients together as a marinade for the luncheon's salmon and apparently felt the urge to make conversation.

"Did I hear the constable say there was a similar thing at Umberton?"

"Apparently, Mrs. French – happened right before breakfast time, judging from what he said." Lisa thought she'd offer as little as possible.

"Oh, didn't know that place was even occupied: it's been empty for months."

"People with that pageant upstairs must've rented it."

"Coor, what a barmy lot that is, love. Glad they're not our responsibility!"

Mrs. French was kind enough in her own bossy way, as cooks went, aside from treating Lisa like a scullery maid. She was tall, broad shouldered and amply bosomed: 'formidable' could describe her well. Hearing there'd been a break-in, she immediately checked her cupboards for anything missing, then relaxed considerably realizing her things were safe.

Lisa'd never heard anyone but Mrs. Linebottom call her 'Bonnie' to her face – it was like she had no first name – though everyone chuckled whenever Herring called her 'Bonnie Petite' behind her substantial back.

Mrs. French was also quick with sage advice, as her aunt once said: "Never imagine yourself to appear as anything otherwise than that which others might assume you would probably never appear to be."

Of course, it made no sense to her but it impressed her nonetheless: people who talked like that sounded terribly intelligent.

Lisa didn't like being reminded who she was, because she wasn't terribly intelligent – at least that's what people were always saying. Her grades in school had never been stellar, in fact mostly below average. But she liked the idea of working in a great house like this, where people would tell her what to do. Everything must be done on a particular schedule: breakfast was served at 9:00; certain things had to be done by lunchtime. Fireplaces, even with central heating, needed regular tending; every room was cleaned daily.

Dusting, vacuuming and mending were things that required little intelligence, almost mindless work. It was repetitive, boring and therefore pleasantly comforting. One day passed so much like other days, never requiring things like algebra. This very consistency of her duties was satisfying, lacking anything like mental challenges, even when there was never the necessary time.

Watching Mrs. French working in the kitchen, however, where every day was different, was like contending with a perpetual motion machine dressed in a large white, often flour-dusted uniform, bounding from counter to table. From behind, the ends of her white headscarf stuck up like floppy ears, reminding Lisa of a very large white rabbit. But even if the menu changed every day, the schedule was the same.

"Hop to it," she'd cry out to Loraine, her solitary and over-worked assistant, "or otherwise, everything will be burned or late!"

Things had been quieter at her last place where the pace was different because they could afford to hire enough staff. But then they also dealt with a busy schedule of weddings and banquets. Hardly a week went by without some major event filling up the schedule though numerous managers helped keep everything running smoothly. Loseley Park, in nearby Guildford, was still privately owned and a commercial success, unlike Phlaumix Court which was part National Trust – fortunately, the family's downstairs staff didn't have to deal with the public side.

But then those unfortunate incidents had started happening where little things began disappearing from the various bedrooms – mostly jewels and cufflinks – and the police arrested her because she was the one cleaning those rooms. Only after she'd been fired and taken away did anyone discover the daughter's pet mynah bird was actually the jewel thief.

The director of housekeeping dropped the charges but neither apologized nor rehired her, something she deemed totally unacceptable, finding herself unemployed, especially since her family had been servants at Loseley Park since the Regency.

On the other hand, she had stolen one thing they never discovered missing: an old letter she'd found in the library.

Since it had been written by a maid she figured was her great-great-great-great-grandmother, she felt by rights it belonged to her. So while dusting one day, she simply pocketed the letter assuming nobody'd notice.

It was a very curious letter and one that got Lisa to thinking whenever her mind had the time to wander which, truth be told, was naturally quite often, more than Mrs. Linebottom liked. Written in small, awkward script, it flowed fitfully over a page of stationery embossed with the address of Christ Church, Oxford.

Mimsy was in service at Dean Liddell's home and had experienced something strange when visiting her mother's Aunt Dinah, Mrs. Tweedle, then the housekeeper at Loseley Park in Guildford (and who'd later hired her).

While playing with her cousins along the pleasant banks of the River Wey in view of the town's old castle ruins, she noticed a rabbit run toward an old stump followed by a stranger.

Then an even curiouser thing happened when the rabbit dove into the stump: "the air became all blue and shimmery like."

"The curiousest thing of all," she wrote, "was how this oddly dressed Wey-faring stranger dove in after the rabbit and disappeared and the surrounding light immediately ceased to shimmering, leaving only a shoe behind." She left her cousins down by the bank and walked toward the stump "looking about with much caution," retrieving the shoe.

"I held my hand out over the stump, the air became suddenly cool, and turned once again shimmery blue like water – but it didn't feel wet like water does – and I dropped the shoe."

She stepped back in surprise when she heard a thunk from deep underground and a distant voice said something like "donkey-shern." It was the strangest thing she'd ever seen but didn't really scare her.

"Perhaps they did things differently there in Guildford, at least compared to Oxford, but I so wanted to follow them both."

Later in the letter, she writes, "I told this nice Rev. Dodgson who often visited the Dean's children, telling them stories, and him wondering what was on the other side of that shimmering light. So later, I'm much annoyed when somebody named Mr. Carroll takes my story and publishes the thing as his very own!"

Certainly, Lisa thought while sitting at her mending, poor Mimsy deserved some credit. Wondering what's beyond that light, she thought maybe...

Then a voice warned, "Something's going to happen," but it wasn't Mrs. French's.

Duke's Hall, Royal Academy of Music: minutes later

Everything backstage was in a state of chaos by the time we arrived, crowds of the curious, students and faculty, along with various types of police. Inspector Hemiola spoke quietly with an officer at the barricade, showing his badge, then motioned us through and down the hall.

"Is it true that they've canceled the rehearsal?" "What about the concert tonight?" Someone else wondered if the rumors were true. Several others were concerned if the killer was still in the building. “Killer?!"

I didn't even know what the rumors were, much less if they're true, regardless how Hemiola explained it in the car. Everything had happened so quickly, it seemed unreal – and we all had questions.

Several officers with IMP logos on their bullet-proof vests stood outside the room. Then Hemiola, opening the door, motioned us through.

But before all this had started to unfold back there at the restaurant, I wondered what the IMP wanted with me. Who was this strange man and how had me managed to find me? Looking at LauraLynn and Burnson hoping they knew what this was all about, I soon realized they had no idea, either.

Hemiola flashed his badge at us too quickly for anyone to read it, then pocketed it, nodding deferentially in my direction. "Dr. Kerr, I'm afraid we need your help on a rather urgent matter."

He explained he was with the London division of the International Music Police which handled crimes involving music and musicians worldwide.

"Am I being called to testify in Calcium Nightlight's lawsuit against Dennis Coombe?"

"Wait... what?" His brow furrowed into a frown. "That's not why I'm here."

"There was nothing criminal in Howard Zenn's death..."

"No – besides, that would be with IMP's special forces and Director Yoda Leahy-Hu.” (There's a name I didn't need to hear). "No, it's a matter concerning Maestro Hans-Jörg Schnellenlauter – whom I believe you know?"

"Oh, why, yes, of course – I'm so looking forward to seeing him again: it's been years since I last saw him. Why didn't you say so? He's an old friend of mine, you know." I'd last seen him when he conducted at Lincoln Center in the late-1990s, three programs – part of the World Twelve-Tone Series.

LauraLynn told him the four of us were just leaving for the Academy to hear the rehearsal for his concert tonight. "Two minutes later and you'd have missed us: I'd say that's good timing."

"We're having lunch with him," I said as Cameron handed me my coat. "Would you like to go backstage and meet...?"

"Actually, Dr. Kerr, I've been backstage and, well... uhm, I've already seen him." Hemiola stood fidgeting, his hands in his pockets.

"Seen...?" His tone of voice alone had me wondering if all was well. "So, if I may ask, why have you come to ask my help? How did you find me? Is something wrong...?"

I looked at the others and saw they also showed signs of alarm.

"I regret Maestro Schnellenlauter will not be conducting the dress rehearsal this morning."

"Has he been taken ill?"

"Worse, I'm afraid..."

"Oh, no!" LauraLynn struggled to keep her balance, the news a considerable shock. "But I saw him at last night's rehearsal. It's okay if he can't conduct the concert as long as he's... he's..."

"But you said your agency deals with crimes...?" Burnson hesitated before going on. "It's more than a heart attack, isn't it?"

Burnson reached over and took LauraLynn's arm in his, as if preparing her for something that hadn't quite sunk in, yet.

"I'm afraid I have bad news for you: I'm sorry for your loss."

And now we'd arrived at what was being called simply "The Crime Scene," a prosaic-sounding cliché when it's your friend's body. It was here someone on the stage crew found Schnellenlauter early this morning. Some of the students had come in to check the stage before classes, and noticed the door to the dressing room. They didn't know who'd be in this early unless the Maestro left the door open and the light on last night. Who else could it be? Then they saw the body and called police.

"That's why the IMP has been called in," Hemiola explained in the car, as we crawled through snow- and traffic-clogged streets, "now that Scotland Yard believes this was more than just a routine murder."

"Routine murder." Two words echoed through my brain. How can that be possible? Not just a murder but a "routine" murder.

True, I'd watched enough TV shows to know murder mysteries fit certain patterns. Like I told my students, "if you dig deep enough beneath the surface, you will find some kind of common denominator. Standard forms could be broken down into equally standard clichés, consistently recognizable patterns regardless of whatever stylistic language was involved and..."

"...which is why we hope you can help us identify the Maestro's killer."

"Killer..." I hesitated, my thoughts interrupted. "But how...?"

And I still didn't know how they knew to find me, or where.

Hemiola slowly opened the dressing room door and there was poor Schnellenlauter's body
lying on its side against an overturned table. His left arm and leg stretched outwards at uncomfortable angles which looked odd.

Burnson held her closer as LauraLynn started sobbing, then walked her back outside: it was all so sudden, such a shock.

Hemiola apologized for having to talk to us, questions that still needed asking, but he had to find our friend's killer. One question stopped us cold: was there anyone who'd want to kill him?

Cameron indicated he's positioned like an alto clef – something used primarily by violas. "Perhaps he knew his killer was a violist?"

I wondered, was SHMRG still trying to stop the performance of Rob's opera?

Hemiola carefully took something out of Schnellenlauter's hand and handed it to me.

"Then we found this card – addressed to you."

= = = = = = = = = = = = =

to be continued... [the link will become active at 8am, 6/27/16]

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

The usual disclaimer: The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben, which you've no doubt figured out by now, is a work of fiction and as such all the characters (especially their names) and incidents of its story are more or less the product of the author's imagination, sometimes inspired by elements of parody, occasionally by personal experience. Many of the places are real (or real-ish) but not always "realistically used," like the Mandeville Hotel and the Royal Academy of Music's Duke's Hall (my apologies to both the hotel and the concert venue for having murders committed there). Other places like Phlaumix Court and Umberton are purely fictional. Any similarity between characters and real people, living or dead, is entirely coincidental, but then, as Klavdia Klangfarben keeps quoting a former professor of hers, "Perception is everything." Yadda yadda yadda.

©2016 by Richard Alan Strawser for Thoughts on a Train1

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben: Installment #10

In the previous installment of the novel, The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben, there's bad news for composer Howard Zenn, just shy of his 100th birthday, and good news for Lucifer Darke as he arrives at Umberton, SHMRG's temporary headquarters ("the place looks dead - very nice, I like that"); and Dr. Kerr looks forward to his visit to Phlaumix Court, the grand country home where LauraLynn Harty and Burnson Allan (the heir to the Marquess of Quackerly) will soon be married.

(If you've only just arrived and have no clue what's going on, you might find it easier to start with the introductory post, here.)

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

CHAPTER ONE continues...

Breakfast at the Mandeville Hotel continues: minutes later

LauraLynn announced there was no reason to hurry, glancing first at her watch, then toward the hotel's window now almost completely obscured by swirls of snow. Nobody appeared to be in any hurry to go outside into the cold – the only thing missing was a toasty fireplace. Besides, the after-breakfast crowd was staying fairly constant with very few empty tables since Burnson and Cameron finished their chocolate bread and our waiter came by to refill our cups for a third time.

Rehearsal wasn't set to begin for another hour, leaving us plenty of time, especially if we'd just be taking a cab. That didn't mean it would necessarily be easy but it would beat walking.

"The traffic looks like it's slowing down to a crawl, too," she worried. "At this rate, maybe we should leave now?"

"But there's still the concert tonight," Burnson said, "and my meeting tomorrow morning. Oh – you're talking about getting to the rehearsal. Sorry," he added, "I thought you wanted to leave now for Phlaumix Court."

"We might all end up taking the train, if this continues," she nodded. "Not sure I'd want to be driving, tomorrow."

"I can always have Andropov pick us up at the station," Burnson said. "He's Russian – Mother's chauffeur – and knows his snow." As if that settled it, he sat back to check an incoming text.

Judging from his soured expression, LauraLynn gathered the interruption was not good news.

"Damn – one of my best board members decided he's not going to make it to London for tomorrow's meeting," he said. "Without him there, perhaps I should postpone this till after the New Year. Otherwise, my proposal may well get voted down."

"A casualty of the weather or some other business conflict, do you think? Either way, it doesn't bode well, does it?" It was obvious Burnson was placing considerable importance on this board member's presence.

LauraLynn worried several major donors might not make it to the concert tonight if the weather's going to be this bad. She needed to impress them with the impact of hearing Rob's music live.

"Maybe this snow's been ordered up by SHMRG just to thwart my production. You know," she laughed, "it wouldn't surprise me."

Bringing me up to speed on the latest with London's premiere of Faustus, she said her meetings last week were productive, after bringing a new set designer on board who had some brilliant ideas. She suspected the previous one may have been scared off either by SHMRG or the indomitable personality of her managing director. One of the biggest names in London theater and a force of nature, Willa Verone was difficult enough to work with, but LauraLynn could only imagine what SHMRG'd be up against, dealing with her.

"And the designer, Rowena Martin – she'd won a Tony on Broadway last year – has some great ideas, like the cubicle scene: she has the office staff in rows of boxes suspended over the stage. These doors open and close when they sing, with their heads popping up – it all looks like some giant Advent Calendar..."

It was going to cost a lot more money since they had to design and build their own sets and costumes rather than rent the whole production from Schweinwald, part of the original agreement. That production had been intended to be staged in London and New York, part of LauraLynn's initial underwriting for the premiere.

But after our friend, Schweinwald's acting director, V. C. D'Arcy, had been voted out and replaced by Arthur Lemm, SHMRG's man, it would've been foolish to count on them honoring any earlier contract now.

Was anyone who knew the details of Rob's murder surprised when the rather terse announcement had been released by Lemm's office, how "a small electrical fire in the offstage storage area after closing night destroyed the sets and costumes for the recently premiered opera by Robertson Sullivan, contained before it did any further serious damage"? The only thing that kept this from happening before the premiere was they'd only announced Lemm's appointment minutes before curtain time. It would've been too suspicious if it happened before the final night's performance.

While it nearly burned down the entire stage, it ruined everything associated with the opera, including all of the orchestral parts, every shred of the singers' vocal scores as well as the conductor's score. Following a late night closing down the season, the staff put off distributing everything to the various shops and libraries – “oops.”

When they informed LauraLynn as the producer of the performance promised for London, she said any sense of apology barely registered and she could do little more than register a complaint with their board. So she waited to announce that, despite the loss of the original production, London and New York would still go ahead. Perhaps SHMRG hadn't counted on her having a back-up digital copy of Rob's original files from that CD Widor had stolen and which I'd managed to rescue from the old castle in the end.

Naturally, Lemm responded with a very terse complaint of his own, she explained, undoubtedly scripted for him by N. Ron Steele, how the opera was the property of the Schweinwald Festival which commissioned it. She responded that they might own the production, even though she financed it, but she, as Robertson's heir, owned the music. They might deny her the rights to broadcast or publicly release the recording, they couldn't stop her playing it for friends, nor could they stop another opera company from mounting their own subsequent productions.

That was why performing this suite taken from the opera was so important, to help influence backers and also future producers, keeping both Faustus, Inc. and Rob's legacy alive, that neither would be forgotten. Though they'd already killed Rob, it was the opera they wanted to destroy – which meant LauraLynn was probably in grave danger.

Osmond Goodwood's Room at Umberton, Surrey: minutes later

"If only freakin' Scricci wasn't such a pain in the ass about everything," Steele complained as he began settling various important objects around on his desk. They had to make accommodations for Scricci and his staff at Phlaumix Court because he found everything at Umberton unfashionably dull. Holly worried it was "bad form" having "someone like Scricci" too close to the more nubile contestants without a proper chaperone so they moved his entire production staff over to Phlaumix along with him.

It meant additional expenses with the National Trust people about using the house, already requiring dormitory space for the would-be prodigies, but at least, Steele thought, surveying his desk, Scricci was out of sight. That didn't mean he was "out of mind" as Holly'd been reminding him, given his reputation for being a loose cannon.

As much as Steele hated to admit it, Scricci had some good ideas and the Prodigy Project was one of them, officially called "Marketing Prodigies Making Performance Music Popular," or the MP³. The idea was to identify new child prodigies and market the prize winners, creating new interest in constantly ever-fresh new talent.

This year's winners would play till they burned out in a couple years, so when audience interest in them quickly waned, a whole new crop was ready for sale, keeping SHMRG's income stream fresh.

Turning this into a reality show for PBS stations was actually Steele's idea which, given their preference for not-quite-classical cross-over specials in order to remain competitive, meant they needed some place like Downton Abbey. And Phlaumix Court, especially with its magnificent ballroom as a potential concert backdrop, was the grandest the National Trust had available. Posh, however, wasn't what Scricci was looking for, using slang Steele couldn't comprehend, but in the end Steele finally won out, if only through the force of his being Scricci's boss and chief backer.

The deciding factor had been the news the woman dating Phlaumix's heir was none other than Rob Sullivan's cousin, LauraLynn Harty. What a great chance to be reminding her how easily SHMRG could strike. The news they had become engaged and planned their wedding at Phlaumix Court was an opportunity he could not pass up.

It would be easier, now, with the "Thomas á Becket Doctrine" in effect in which Osmond Goodwood only needed to say, "Too bad something can't be done about this," and somebody saw to it. Just as Henry II got rid of his "meddlesome priest" by wishing it, Goodwood's loyal knight, Lucifer Darke, made it happen.

Darke, as his Chief of Corporate Operations (or, as understood, Clandestine Operations), made the necessary arrangements – and would take the fall. Credit, of course, always belonged to the CEO but blame was somebody else's.

There was a subtle knock at the door followed by a familiar face, his secretary Holly returning with his morning scotch.

"It appears you've arrived just in time, sir," she said, "given this storm."

Unfortunately, one thing the new Becket Doctrine could not impact was the weather.

"Send Lucifer in to see me," he said.

"Amazing what a little tiny suggestion can do," Steele thought, opening another box, this one full of knickknacks for his desk, "even when the family still living at Phlaumix Court resisted my initial offer."

The last of the mementos was a new laser-carved plaque Holly gave him: "The Buck Doesn't Come Anywhere Near Here."


One thing he had learned since he'd relocated himself to Europe was how a corporation was like an old feudal aristocracy.

Indeed, as he'd heard somebody famous supposedly say, "It's good to be king."

Back at the Mandeville Hotel: minutes later

"Willa and Rowena have hit it off splendidly, I'm very happy to report." LauraLynn covered her cup to let Trevor know she wanted no more coffee. (Frankly, if I had any more tea, I could float to the rehearsal, but it was impossible to resist the offer.) "They've both come up with some marvelous ideas which, I'm also happy to report, bear no resemblance to the Schweinwald production." She had promised not to show them the DVD from the world premiere.

Her director, Willa Verone, loved the story, seeing a great deal of potential, even if it was a fairly predictable plot, but she responded well to hearing the music and had some excellent ideas. Rowena Martin, for her part, quickly sketched some wonderful designs during their meeting, and the finale's set was a huge improvement.

LauraLynn wanted to avoid any claims from Schweinwald she was copying the premiere beyond the basic stage directions the composer provided, and was pleased her team had come up with an entirely different look. For her, the premiere's production had been a little too fantastic, too glitzy, relying a little too heavily on special effects.

"Schweinwald's costumes," she complained, "were too extravagant, especially the chorus of office workers who, being company cogs, should've all looked alike. Arachne Webb" – the villain – "looked more like a drag queen than a CEO."

She was also glad the baritone Yolo Belmondo, the premiere's hero, Adrian Faust, had bowed out of the production citing conflicts, probably due to pressure she figured SHMRG had been applying to his agent. Anyway, he was never able to convey the mix of evil and humanity she felt the character needed, dynamic yet vulnerable.

After it turned out most of the original cast began citing similar excuses, LauraLynn realized she must hire all new singers. Apparently Lemm assumed nobody'd want to learn a challenging new role from scratch.

But once she'd been lucky enough to sign Cora diLetto (*1) as Arachne Webb, even though it was a departure for her, the rest of the cast fell into place, especially Tito Ramey as Adrian.

"Opera companies around the world will be salivating to stage this production if those two star-powers are in the leading roles!"

"At least you won't be having problems like this guy's having," Cameron said, noticing an article in the newspaper's arts section. "You know Dennis Coombe, don't you," he added, pushing the paper toward me.

"Problems? What kind of problems? His 'Tempest' Rhapsody?" I knew he had a new piece premiered in California this past week.

For several years, Dennis Coombe, like so many composers I knew – myself included – hoped a big success would reinvigorate a career stalled by lack of confidence as much as lacking public interest and funding.

"'Composer sued for substandard work,' it says here," in a surprisingly lengthy article. "It appears he's being blamed for its failure."

"That doesn't sound like they're being figurative, then," LauraLynn said, shaking her head.

"How can anybody determine the success of a newly created work," Burnson asked.

"In California, it's all about box office. Listen:

= = = = = = =
Like a hoard of angry capitalists expecting an immediate return on their investment, those involved in commissioning a new art work are suing composer Dennis Coombe for failure to provide them with a success.

Calcium Nightlight, the Chamber Orchestra of Silicon Valley, under executive director Grant Pintscher, seeks a refund of their fees plus damages.

The work in question, the recently premiered 'Tempest' Rhapsody composed by Mr. Coombe, did not meet the terms of the contract which was to provide them a "successful vehicle" intended to entertain the audience.

= = = = = = = 

"But... but that's completely absurd," I sputtered, responding to what I'd just read. "How can an artist pre-determine a work's success? If we knew that, we'd produce nothing but successful works, don't you think?"

"And how does one define 'entertain the audience'? Beethoven and Bachrach both entertain," LauraLynn said, adding a quip about Reality TV.

"It has to be more than just its pure entertainment value," Burnson said, "otherwise it would never hold up in court."

"You mean they'd have to prove he failed on purpose?" Cameron sounded dubious.

= = = = = = =
According to Pintscher, the work for piano and chamber orchestra was
'received late, allowing musicians inadequate preparation time before the premiere' –
= = = = = = =

" which case it should've been postponed: they do it all the time..."

= = = = = = =
'but we were already committed to the concert date by the soloist's schedule which precluded our ability to delay the premiere.'

The soloist, acclaimed pianist Allegra Fuoco, complained she made several suggestions to the composer that would have improved her part considerably, but he blatantly ignored these which made her work all the more difficult.

'It's bad enough,' she said, 'having a work written for you that's unplayable.' Fuoco said it's badly written for the piano.

= = = = = = =

"That's really hard to believe," I interrupted myself. "Denny Coombe's a fine pianist: he knows how to write for the instrument."

= = = = = = =
'As a result,' Fuoco continued, 'I'm stuck with a piece that's simply unrealistic.'
= = = = = = =

Then it was the critic's turn, quoting a local writer named Eusebius Dandipratt.

= = = = = = =
'I was totally at sea, subject matter notwithstanding. It wasn't that it was an unlistenable piece: it wasn't worth listening to.'

When asked how it compared to other works by Mr. Coombe, Dandipratt said he was unfamiliar with anything else he'd composed.

'We expected a pleasant work, given the title, The Tempest Rhapsody,' the conductor Simone LeGray told this writer before the performance, 'but instead of being inspired by Shakespeare's story, it sounds more like trigonometry.'

Tray Battuta, one of the orchestra's violinists, mentioned how they had been under-rehearsed and how LeGray admitted to disliking the piece.

Another player, preferring anonymity, mentioned LeGray lost her place twice during the performance.

The management also mentioned Coombe's inability to provide daily tweets regarding the process, mini-progress reports all part of the marketing campaign.

= = = = = = =

I'd met Denny Coombe at a graduate reception my first day at Faber where we were both beginning our doctoral studies. There were probably no more under-confident students in that entire room than us. We both came from smaller schools where we might have been big fish but compared to here, those were tiny ponds. We became good friends – allies, first – even though we had very different styles, actually very different from styles we have today. Curiously, over the years, we merged into having more things in common, now.

The years weren't necessarily kind to either of us after our initial splashes, beyond a 'potential reputation' for about a decade, no big break-through moments, no big-named schools clamoring for us to teach there. Like the majority of composers disappearing from sight, we couldn't even win the status of foot-notes belonging to the Once Famous.

It's not that we were failures, depending on how you'd define that, either: we had our dreams, we both admitted those; and we'd each failed to realize them, and both admitted that as well. There were other things that gave us fulfillment and satisfaction, we eventually discovered, but the failure would have been not trying.

I think every artist must go through this at one time or another, the causes and effects of self-doubts and fears. We continue clinging to that elusive, longed-for dream, hoping for that second chance.

Then Denny, quite out of the blue, got what looked like a second crack at the career he'd always dreamed of, after dropping out of college teaching – like me, done in by academic politics. A fellow undergrad who'd "also seen the light" and went into computers instead managed to arrange a commission through his company.

The younger Dennis Coombe might have had no problem with its time constraints but the older Coombe was much slower, now. His 'process' had become more methodical and cautious; every note became a deliberation.

When he needed more time to finish the piece, they needed him more, flying him out to impress the major donors, not to mention weekly blog-posts and daily tweets when he'd rather be composing.

The semi-confident jokester his friend seemed to remember had become an insecure introvert who still, underneath this, remained a fine composer.

His infrequent postings on Facebook or the even less frequent e-mails I'd received
indicated this had turned into a raging nightmare. Even despite simplifying his style, it was more than the conductor could handle. When he discovered the pianist had no idea what his music was like, it was too late to make any changes.

In the end, he said, the conductor treated him like any dead composer, never once contacting him with questions or reservations. The pianist, meanwhile, peppered him with impossible suggestions, simplifying the piece beyond recognition.

Plus, as the final bars drew toward completion, Denny realized Prospero had lost. Instead of being rescued, he felt like Ariadne. Ferdinand had quarreled with Miranda and the King of Naples fled without resolution.

By the disastrous first rehearsal, Denny had a piece that pleased no one: neither conductor nor pianist, and certainly not himself.

Imagine if Beethoven had been sued because his violin concerto had failed to please its audience (considering the performer was clueless) or because no one could make sense of those last five string quartets?

"This would set an evil precedent," LauraLynn agreed, "if commissioners had legal recourse if their artists 'failed to deliver a hit.'"

"And Denny Coombe's career is certainly over, now: who'd commission him after this?"

"What else does the article say," Burnson asked.

"'The orchestra's lawyer, Sue Iurassov, declined to comment on the pending case's merits.'"

"Not that I'd wish to see any artist dealing with problems like that, but here's one I wouldn't mind," LauraLynn said, pointing out a smallish article next to the one about Calcium Nightlight's lawsuit. "They could be visited by a whole plague of litigation, for that matter, and I doubt I'd feel the least remorse."

"That's pretty strong, coming from you, sweetheart," Burnson said with a broad smile. "Who are the beneficiaries of such guilt-free largess?"

"Those morons with their Prodigy Pageant reality show taping at Phlaumix this week."

"Oh, I'm sorry," Burnson responded, sipping benignly on his coffee with a smirk, "I thought you said 'artist' – they're hardly 'artists.' The only thing missing is a mud-wrestling fight-to-the-death with the finalists' stage moms."

"What are you two talking about," I laughed, looking over at the article. "OMG, a TV show called Pimp my Prodigy?"

Cameron pulled the paper back in disbelief and could barely conceal his amusement: "Max Grifter, well-known producer from 'That's So Cheeseburger,' announced yesterday that taping has begun on his latest project, Pimp My Prodigy."

When I asked why they're using Phlaumix Court, Burnson sighed, rolling his eyes with a long, slow shake of the head.

Judging from the very real possibility of steam escaping from LauraLynn's reddening ears, I gathered this wasn't a topic of amusement, despite Cameron's occasional stifled guffaw as he continued reading silently through the article.

"Many 'stately homes,' to make ends meet, are run by the National Trust which allows families to live in private quarters while the rest of the house is made accessible to the general public. Well, we haven't yet started a safari park, but Mother did establish the annual rock concert on the park's South Lawn. Our agent, Gordon Nott, the quintessential Trust bureaucrat, realized this was very lucrative, and gave this event to the 'Cheeseburger' people who've been producing it every summer while the family escapes to southern France."

He explained ticket sales keep the estate solvent the rest of the year, at least before the economy tanked in 2008 so now they had to look for other special events to help out.

"Not every house can become the star of a show like Downton Abbey, but that's the idea behind Cheeseburger's latest project."

"Yes, I can understand that," LauraLynn sighed, trying her best to stay calm, "but if the premise itself weren't bad enough – much less that horrible name" (shuddering at the suggestion of Pimp My Prodigy) – "must they really schedule it for the same week we're planning our wedding? I mean, that's the real kicker, isn't it?"

"Fortunately," he said, turning to Cameron since the argument was lost on LauraLynn, "most of them are staying at Umberton nearby, even if the prodigy contestants themselves are being housed in Phlaumix's public wing."

"But," I asked, "what exactly is it, this... thing called Pimp My Prodigy?" trying not to laugh at the name's absurdity. "It sounds like some kind of tasteless exhibition on a reality TV show."

"That's exactly what it is, exploiting young performers playing in a competitive environment," LauraLynn emphasized, "but not your standard music competition."

"While they go through the usual variety of cut-throat elimination rounds," Burnson added, "the whole idea is they eliminate each other. While ultimately the judges have the final say, the children become absolutely ruthless."

"The winners all get contracts with Rhonna deMille, Agent to the Child Stars, and they're peddled to orchestras around the world."

Cameron continued reading: "'The judging panel had only recently been finalized, Grifter announced, Desi Finado joining Holly Grayle and Destinée Knox.

"'In addition to the well-known director Hugh Brissman, the host is... Skripasha Scricci!'"

"Who?" LauraLynn seemed baffled by the recognition in Cameron's voice. "Is he famous? Burnson thought he was some violin-playing rock star."

"I'm not sure I'd call him 'famous,' but Cameron and I... met him."

"Didn't we tell you about that scrawny washed-up cross-over rock star," Cameron said, "found tied-up and naked at old Castle Schweinwald?"

"Wait, I think you did," LauraLynn recalled with a broad if fleeting smile, "it's just the name never rang a bell. Remember," she said, nodding at Burnson, "I'd told you about the nude dude."

We'd discovered Scricci, his hands and feet bound, naked as the proverbial jaybird, trussed up in the lap of a corpse, the body of Schweinwald's board president, Barry Scarpia, who'd been dead for hours. If that hadn't been enough, under the circumstances, to scar him for life, his body looked like a graffiti artist's playground.

Fictitia LaMouche, an internet counterculture arts reporter who'd befriended Cameron at Schweinwald's Festival, had taken one of those black felt-tip markers and scrawled across his body various nasty comments about his ties with SHMRG, particularly "I'm a drug-dealing, talentless, skanky pervert and also an evil SHMRG ho," covering everything "from his guggle to his zatch." (*2)

Regarded by her many fans across the internet as her career's crowning achievement, Fictitia's photos, though uploaded anonymously for personal safety, turned her into a serious on-line investigative reporter while drastically damaging Scricci's career.

Years earlier, Fictitia had unmasked the then-successful rock violinist and former child prodigy as a drug dealer, sending him to prison. Plotting revenge, Scricci abducted her but she escaped and once again outwitted him. I could only imagine what repercussions those photos must've had on his career: now, he's a host on reality TV. Unreal!

"So," I said, "this guy's at Phlaumix Court, he's a known SHMRG agent, and I think that's something to think about."

"You mean you think SHMRG might be out to kill LauraLynn?" Burnson gasped.

"Arthur Lemm's a SHMRG agent, too, you know, but that doesn't mean he's out to kill me as well," she protested.

"No," I said, "but he's trying his best to mess up Rob's opera."

"Well, still, without a credible threat," LauraLynn said, "I can't see hiring bodyguards. Let's hope SHMRG won't be crashing the wedding..."

I gathered from Burnson's worried frown and LauraLynn's quick shake of the head when she caught my eye – a clear signal – that she had not quite told him everything about our adventurous Schweinwald summer. There was no need to pursue this conversation which was making him uncomfortable, so I should probably change the topic myself. The first thing coming to mind was a flashback to an earlier wedding – the one when her Aunt Katie was accidentally killed by an armed intruder – but I thought another direction might be preferable.

Fortunately, Cameron, once again more quick-thinking as usual, at least in social situations, said he'd never heard how they had met and was curious, as young men often are, how they'd "found" each other.

Burnson looked at me with some cautious surprise. "Hadn't she ever told you?"

"Maybe," I said; "maybe I didn't tell Cameron...?"

Not a naturally romantic person at heart, myself, I usually forgot such details, since passing them along sometimes felt like gossip, part of someone's personal story that I assumed wasn't always necessary to share. Cameron was quick to tell others how he'd first seen Dylan at his violin teacher's concert, meeting him on the subway. I doubt Cameron knew much about my late wife beyond how we'd met at a reception after a premiere of mine, and Sondra admitted she'd been "bewildered" by it – hardly love at first sight.

"Laura said she'd seen me several times in the neighborhood before we met," Burnson laughed, looking thoughtfully into his coffee cup, "but my head was always buried in my phone or over a laptop." Right now, he seemed to be avoiding eye contact as if he were trying to read coffee grounds in his cup. "I'd moved into the neighborhood around Little Venice not long after my divorce and had gone out to clear my head. There were lots of people out strolling around, one of those autumn-like evenings."

"Actually, it was late-afternoon on a mild summery day," LauraLynn started to explain, "the second week of September – on a Wednesday – and a half-dozen people isn't really a crowd," she added with a smile. "Well, he'd just come from a bad meeting with his lawyers, I guess, so even two people would've crowded his space."

"That was the first time I'd seen her, walking her dog along Blomfield, heading toward Warwick Place away from the canal. There was something about her that struck me from that very first glimpse. Then Mrs. Prothero came up to me, all very cheerful, calling my name, convinced I was ignoring her and all that. Dear soul," he continued, "but nutty as a fruitcake most of the time – lived two doors up with her son's family. Anyway, it took a few minutes for me to get away from her."

By the time he'd gotten to the intersection, there was no one around, only an old man standing near the corner. Burnson asked him if he'd seen a woman walking a dog wearing pink.

"'I din't see no dog wearin' pink,' the man snorted, and walked away. 'No,' I shouted, 'the woman – she's wearing pink...'"

Burnson chuckled as he wondered how it looked, trying not to appear frantic yet catch some movement of someone wearing pink: "maybe she'd already reached home and gone inside or turned the next corner." How many people must live in this neighborhood or call Maida Vale home? Would he manage to run into her again?

"Keep in mind," LauraLynn added, "this was the fifth time I'd seen him but only the first time he'd noticed me. How striking could I have been if he'd passed me four times already?"

"Yet, a year and three months later, we're days away from getting married." Burnson sat back, a smile on his face.

"Finally!" LauraLynn laughed, looking relieved. "I thought we'd never get to this point."

"So, what – one of you was playing hard-to-get?" Cameron kept the conversation going. "What was it that finally broke the ice?"

"Well, my ex-wife had been making it pretty miserable for me," Burnson said, "and I admit I was in no hurry. Having gotten out of a relationship like that, you tend to, what – hesitate?"

LauraLynn leaned forward, taking hold of his hand. "Hibernate was more like it, the way you threw yourself into your work. But then I'd been doing the same thing, still grieving after Rob's murder. Neither of us was quite ready to jump into dealing with other people: after Schweinwald, I just wanted to be alone."

Thinking back to the months following my own return from our Bavarian adventure, convinced I had nearly died in that Castle, I couldn't say I entirely disagreed with her about wanting to be alone. However Burnson's marriage had ended, I understood the need he felt to grieve, or why he's reluctant to face another relationship. While I could understand Cameron's hoping he'd never hear Ravel's Bolero ever again – enough torture for some even without his associations – I also realized becoming a recluse was not going to be the solution.

"After nodding to each other if I'd run into him on the street, we finally collided into conversation one rainy night, ending up sharing the cab after a concert we'd both attended at Wigmore."

"Yes, and it was quite a concert, too: Emerson with the Bartók 3rd!"

"Actually, it was the Doric with Bartók 2nd..."

Burnson's brow wrinkled in deep if uncertain concentration. "I loved your lavender sweater..."

"It was gray. The Emerson was weeks later."

Burnson prided himself on his attention to details. "Yes, I remember it well."

She glanced toward the window again before continuing. "That wasn't our first date. We decided to have dinner at the Warrington."

"And, I recall, you wore a turquoise blouse and had braised lamb – excellent."

"Oh, Burnson, you're so sweet: it was maroon. And I had the salmon. Your braised lamb was a bit overcooked – remember?"

"I think I need to spend a penny before we hit the road." I decided LauraLynn could explain that to Cameron. "The tea's more than my bladder can bear, if you'll kindly excuse me." With that, I nodded and went off in search of the men's room, after Trevor'd seen me and pointed the way. The restaurant was now beginning to fill up as more customers straggled in, probably escaping the snow to grab some coffee. It was still only 9:30, plenty of time before the rehearsal would begin.

Heading back to our table from the loo, I ran into Meyer Ivanskoff, the Drang Quartet's cellist, in search of coffee. With his hair fashionably mussed, he looked considerably younger than his thirty-five years. I probably knew him a little better than the more formidable Norman Drang (there's a reason they called him "Stormin' Norman").

"Halloo, hey!" Meyer called over, brightly enough, coming in from the hotel lobby. "I just talked to Norman – he's overslept, naturally." We stood by the doorway as he gave me a warm, welcoming hug. I apologized for missing the concert, explaining about delayed flights and bad traffic, something he said he's all too familiar with.

Their original plan involved going back home to Oxford this morning to unwind, then driving back in for their concert Thursday. "But with the weather like this, I think we'll just stay and rehearse."

"Ah, that reminds me, if you haven't heard – did you see the paper?"

"Oh, no, not another bad review, is it?"

"Actually, I hadn't even looked for a review. No, it's very sad news."

It still came as a shock to him, this news of Zenn's death: they'd premiered his new string quartet last week.

He immediately called Norman up in his room to tell him about it, maybe changing Thursday's program to include Zenn's quartet.

"Well, it's gone into voice-mail – he should be down shortly. That's so sad!"

A large, balding man in a rumpled raincoat, carrying a tattered viola case, pushed past us, nearly knocking me off balance. He didn't acknowledge my sarcasm as I apologized for being in his way.

"Geez, must've been well over six feet tall. That's not your new violist...?"

"Good heavens! Aaron Gobraugh's barely 5'4” soaking wet!"

The man hustled out through the street entrance and disappeared into the snow as Meyer told me about Zenn's new quartet, saying it was one of the most difficult pieces they've ever put together. "It might be good to have a few days to woodshed the piece. He'd given us lots of good pointers, afterwards."

Pointing toward my table where Burnson was already taking care of the bill, I apologized that I would have to go. "We're going up to hear the Royal Academy rehearse Rob Sullivan's Faustus Suite."

"Norman talked about going to hear that tonight, since we'll all be here. The opera was certainly getting some good reviews. I'd read somewhere the completed final act had barely been discovered in time."

"Yes," I said, "I'd heard about that, too. Well, good seeing you, again."

"Come back stage Thursday, if you make it."

When I made it back to the table, Trevor was clearing the cups as everyone hurriedly put coats and scarves on. LauraLynn had called a cab which, with any luck, ought to arrive shortly. "We'll have plenty of time once we're there to get ourselves settled in." She wrapped a voluminous burgundy-colored scarf around her.

A short, balding man in a rumpled raincoat stood two feet behind us.

"Is there someone here named Dr. Richard Kerr?"

"That'd be me, I guess. And you are...?"

"Inspector Hemiola of the IMP."

= = = = = = =

to be continued...

= = = = = = =

(*1) Cora diLetto - the great mezzo-soprano who sang Rosina in the Schweinwald Festival's opening production of Rossini's The Barber of Seville that summer.

(*2) "from his guggle to his zatch" - a reference to James Thurber's The Thirteen Clocks.

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

The usual disclaimer: The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben, which you've no doubt figured out by now, is a work of fiction and as such all the characters (especially their names) and incidents of its story are more or less the product of the author's imagination, sometimes inspired by elements of parody, occasionally by personal experience. Many of the places are real (or real-ish) but not always "realistically used," like the Mandeville Hotel and the Royal Academy of Music's Duke's Hall (my apologies to both the hotel and the concert venue for having murders committed there). Other places like Phlaumix Court and Umberton are purely fictional. Any similarity between characters and real people, living or dead, is entirely coincidental, but then, as Klavdia Klangfarben keeps quoting a former professor of hers, "Perception is everything." Yadda yadda yadda.

©2016 by Richard Alan Strawser for Thoughts on a Train1