(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...
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.
"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."
"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:
= = = = = = =
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
= = = = = = =
"...in 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