(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...
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.
"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.
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.