Friday, July 29, 2016

The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben: Installment #26

In the previous installment of The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben, we entered the world of Snaffingham's popular pub, the Dog & Pony, and meet Auntie Jen, her two “nieces,” and a few others (some may be familiar to fans of 'Peter Grimes') as well as Piers Hobson, the snowplow-man, and Constable Conan Drumm. It seems Danny Caron the Cabby may be missing in the blizzard. After locating his cab and finding him still alive, Hobson and Drumm manage to take Caron up to Phlaumix Court where Dr. Kerr proves singularly ineffective. Oh yeah, and then there's Abner Kedaver, about to make a come-back. 

(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 SIX begins...

The Great Hall at Phlaumix Court: moments later

The ambulance finally arrived after following Hobson's path through the still-falling, still-drifting snow but quickly got the cabby onto a gurney and off to the hospital. Unfortunately, he didn't regain consciousness but given the possibility of shock and hypothermia, the emergency medics thought his condition was worsening. The question, however, still remained what he meant by the two words he did manage to get out: "big" and "violin." Nor could the medics answer what had caused him to go into shock.

Though it technically wasn't a crime, Constable Drumm, being the good bureaucrat, felt he needed more information for the accident report. Obviously, in addition to medical issues, there would be insurance forms and all.

"What do you think happened to his fare? Had he dropped her off? Or," Drumm wondered, "had the crash happen before?"

Drumm checked with the other guests and servants but nobody recognized the name he had been given: some woman named Mumwidge.

"If she'd left from Umberton," Sidney said, "you might try the Public Wing."

Vector explained with considerable reserve that a private event was being held there and many involved were staying nearby at Umberton.

Had she made it safely to the house or did she abandon the cab after the accident, possibly also in shock? Was it possible she was still out there, lost somewhere in the snow?

As other guests filtered back into the house and Vector begrudgingly oversaw the clean-up of the mess in the foyer (again), Constable Drumm went over to the door Vector indicated but found it locked. He knocked vigorously on the door but when no one bothered to respond, he felt uncomfortable about maybe breaking it down.

Drumm heard loud music off in the distance and a lot of yelling.

"Open up in the name of the law!"

Eventually a shabbily dressed man opened the door, peering through with obvious disdain.

"We rented this place for our event, dude, so your lords and ladies should take it up with the Trust, okay?"

"That's Constable Dude to you, bub," Drumm snarled. "Someone named Mumwidge – she here?"

"Yeah, she's one of ours – hasn't shown up yet either, the stupid cow."

"There's been an accident – she may be missing."

Constable Drumm disappeared into the house's Public Wing, after handing him a telegram, and the Great Hall then quickly cleared out, especially once Sidney and Lisa headed back downstairs after mopping up the snow.

Cathie Raighast, glad the commotion has died down, wandered into the empty hall and took a seat next to the fireplace.

"It feels so nice here," she told herself, "and I've been so lucky, everybody so wonderful, I'll really hate to leave." She looked around and smiled meekly, pulling her shawl closer over her shoulders.

After leaving Dr. Kerr's room, Cathie decided the stairs would be too much, but not wanting to trouble anyone for help, she walked down the hallway to take Frieda's elevator to the ground floor. It was unfortunate that she arrived too late, once the ambulance had left, but at least she knew everything was okay.

She liked sitting alone in this vast space and watching everything go by, the great activity of the house swirling past. A guest (an insignificant one), she knew how easily she could be ignored. Occasionally, a well-meaning servant may notice but they'd gotten used to her presence after realizing she liked to be left alone.

It was a pleasant change from her room, which was spacious and comfortable, but here she could observe everything going on. Like many older ladies with nothing to do, observing was something she enjoyed.

"I'll not sit here much longer," she thought, quietly scanning around the room. "Besides, dinner will be ready soon – at 8:00." She glanced at her watch for a moment with a sense of anticipation: she planned on coming down to dinner tonight – a first since her operation – an occasion for her, a surprise for Frieda.

Cathie was so tired of eating alone in her room all the time, even those nights when Frieda might join her, that she felt a genuine wave of excitement, like going on another adventure.

"Ah," she smiled, sitting back, "going on adventures – what ripping good times we had, my Jack and me," she remembered fondly. Her late husband had died on one of those adventures, an African safari. But now she was old, alone and useless, no longer vital or respected, where going to dinner had become "an adventure."

A door opened – it was hard to tell where, the way everything reverberated – but the voices she heard were not familiar.

"We should look around outside," the one said, "it's possible she got disoriented."

"That was the young constable," Cathie recalled, nodding, "no doubt with the plowman."

"Aye, that." A rougher voice – definitely the plowman.

"Odd, they seemed so unconcerned she hadn't shown up yet," the constable added.

"But how we goin' to find her, sir?"

"Keep calling her mobile, Piers – with any luck, we might hear her ringtone."

She could barely hear what else he said as they opened the door and let in a bitter blast of wind, something about why the cabby looked like he'd been almost frightened to death.

"Well, yes," she thought from her own experience, "having a heart attack while driving in this storm could be frightening enough."

But somehow she gathered from the constable's tone maybe it wasn't that simple. "There is something more that's going on here."

The cabby wrecked his cab, his passenger's missing: what else could this mean?

Before her thoughts could carry her away on even a purely vicarious adventure, the same door opened again – a different voice.

"Mr. Policeman?" It was a young girl's voice.

"I'm sorry, dear, he's gone."

"It's just I've gotten some bad news – ma'am." She held up her telegram.

"My dear, what's upset you? Come, tell me..."

The Port Cochere at Umberton: a moment later

"Of all the rotten luck," the boy said, "mine's like all the rottenest, stuck in a snowstorm in this creepy house with all these creepy people." Jackie Knimble was on his break before they had to get dinner ready. Most everybody was over at Phlaumix Court, taping. He knew all his mates'll be hanging out later at the Poisoned Fish, the alternative club for cool people in Snaffingham (the Dog & Pony was for old farts, over-30 types like his dad).

Maybe that's where this Mumwidge Woman disappeared to before heading off to work, not that it'd be so crowded this early. Not that she seemed to be the type, depending who he's thinking of. Lucky for him he still had enough 'stash' to get through the night. Meanwhile, time to smoke a joint before dinner.

Jackie stepped outside under that port cochere thing assuming nobody could see him – so he might as well take a piss. Standing behind a drift-covered bush, could he write his name in the snow?

"Weird – where's that phone, ringing?" He looked around. "Was somebody else out here?" He continued pissing. "Damn! There it goes again!"

Then he looked down and saw where the snow'd melted away to reveal – "dude, what the hell is that!"

A hand?

"Jesus freapin' Christ!" Jackie jumped back.

"A body!"

Of all the rotten luck!

Just as Knimble finished yanking up his fly, kicking at the yellow snow, he heard somebody running down the hall, yelling. "Jeez, I was only takin' a piss," he thought, "like, no big deal." Then he remembered the body he'd just unearthed – which was a big deal – and wondered how he's going to explain it.

Monty Banks, Director of I.T., was screaming like a banshee, his arms flailing. "Holy crap, I just found Bartowski – he's dead!" He'd been so distracted, he hadn't noticed Jackie outside under the port cochere.

The commotion brought some others wondering what's happened which brought other curiosity seekers. Soon, there must've been a dozen people there.

Jackie stood in the doorway and felt sick.

"Shut that door, you idiot!"

"But," Jackie stammered, "you gotta come see this," pointing out to the drift.

"It's Mumwidge! She's dead, too?"

"Kinda looks it..."

Two dead bodies found at the same time, not far from each other? Well, naturally the buzz reached a horrendous din. Even for SHMRG, this couldn't be a coincidence: something must be going on.

"Did you see any signs of foul play?"

"Wasn't there a break-in yesterday?"

"Do you think it was a murder-suicide pact?"

Soon, Igor Bieber was hurrying down the hall, Lex Luthier right behind him.

"So, what the hell's going on here, guys?"

When told two of their colleagues were dead, both reached for their phones.

"Hey, we can't call the police on this, not without the boss' approval," Bieber said while texting his boss in HR.

"Not calling the police, twit, I'm calling Darke – he'll know what to do."

"Seems weird two people'd die of natural causes," Banks said, "just like that." He checked Mumwidge's body looking for any clues.

Lucifer Darke, tall, dark and awesome, bulldozed down the hallway like a juggernaut, everybody getting out of his way or else. He listened as Banks explained what had happened while examining Mumwidge's body himself.

"No, of course not," Darke snorted, "we've no need of the police, here. We'll run our own investigation," then dismissed everyone.

Darke knew, with Steele being so weak, now, SHMRG could be torn apart by all these different factions that were developing.

It was obvious whoever was responsible for this would only be just beginning.

The Great Hall, Phlaumix Court: a moment later

The girl looked like she was all of twelve or thirteen, Cathie thought, a bit slovenly dressed, perhaps, but who was she to complain about fashion?

"What seems to be the trouble, my child?" Holding out her arms, Cathie tried to sound as comforting as she could.

The child was short and rather dark complected, her hair black and unkempt, but her eyes were dark and deep, penetrating. If she wasn't intimidating enough already, she would become a most formidable grown-up.

"I just got this telegram – well, they couldn't deliver it, with the blizzard," she explained, trying her best to remain calm, but Cathie could tell her eyes were filling with tears, ready to burst. "And I wondered if that nice policeman knew anything more about what happened. You see, it was sent by the police."

The child handed it to Cathie as if she were an old friend who might be able to explain the inexplicable. She unfolded it quickly and read to herself:

= = = = = = =



= = = = = = = 

"Oh, poor dear," Cathie sobbed, enfolding her in her arms. "Such dreadful news!"

"They were on their way home after dropping me off at the airport," she explained between heart-wrenching sobs, catching her breath. "We'd run late and almost missed the flight. How could this have happened?"

After another long hug, the child pulled back and took control of herself. "I'm sorry, I'm Toni Avoir-duBois – but you know..."

Toni explained she'd arrived almost too late to register for the pageant – she's a composer which they weren't too thrilled about. It seems it's only for performers, though nobody bothered to tell her that.

Cathie couldn't comprehend what must be going on in this poor child's brain – and to have heard about it so impersonally.

"Have you not heard from your aunt, yet? She should've called by now."

"That's what's funny: I don't have an aunt – not that I know of. So, no," Toni said, "that makes no sense."

She explained how this conductor had suddenly appeared from nowhere two months ago and said he knew something about her birth-mother.

"He's very interested in the music I'm composing – said I should come here."

It was no secret she'd been adopted but never met her real parents. Cathie thought she took this all rather philosophically.

"Wait, Mom took a picture of us together before he left for London. He said he'd be here after I arrived."

She reached deep into a pocket and pulled out such a tiny phone.

"It's in here somewhere," she said, flipping through numerous images.

"Who is that?"

"Oh, that's my birth-father – he's such a hottie. I'm not even sure where my folks got this – presumably from my birth-mother?"

Next was the picture she was looking for: "Here's the maestro and me."

Toni stood beside someone Cathie knew very well.

"Do you know this conductor? He's a very old man," Toni said, smiling. "His name's Schnellenlauter. He gave me this message, but it doesn't make any sense to me – it's some kind of code? But," she added, "I'm only supposed to show it to someone named Frieda. He said she'd be able to understand it."

"Why don't I take you upstairs and introduce you to my friend Frieda. Then there's something else I must tell you."

Cathie led the way back toward the elevator, unaware someone was watching them.

The Library at Umberton: a short time later

With its vast amount of dark mahogany shelves, chairs upholstered in blood-red leather, deep maroon rugs and a black marble fireplace, the room was suitably oppressive, and that was without considering rows and rows of books, unopened for decades, bound in various shades of mostly dark leather. Only a few people were scattered about waiting for the meeting to begin, waiting for others who might appear or not. In fact, there were more people who couldn't make it than who could.

Any observer would think the weather's the problem but not for today's meeting which already had enough conflicts to contend with. Time being of the essence, Carmen Díaz-Éray decided they had to move forward. She also realized, with the Guidonian Hand now a full subsidiary of SHMRG, she needed to press Steele's agents into action.

Technically, the by-laws stated there should be five board members running the Hand, but Steele (as Divine Thumb) offered her flexibility: without a current Index Finger, Díaz-Éray (as Middle Finger) could run the show. Arthur Lemm (as Ring Finger), busy at Schweinwald, couldn't even attend by Skype; Scricci (appropriately the Little Finger) had his pageant.

It was time to update SHMRG's new recruits, explain the project to them, get them up to speed on the plans. Glancing impatiently at her watch, Díaz-Éray counted heads. "Where the hell's Lex Luthier?"

No sooner had this thought escaped her mind than the door opened up and in hurried a man making effusive apologies, early-30s, curly dark hair and the shadow of a thin beard growing in.

"Sorry – ran into some bodies that needed tending," Lex Luthier said in passing, like an observation one might make about housework.

Irritated, Díaz-Éray began at the beginning with the history of the Guidonian Hand, focusing on the primary goal of its existence: the eradication of every trace of Beethoven's dirty little secret from the world.

"I've just received word we've eliminated another descendent from the present gene pool, killed in an 'accident' in Newark, New Jersey. Unfortunately her daughter wasn't with her as reported, a teenager named Antonie Auvoir-duBois."

Lex thought there was a pageant contestant here by that name – "arrived late. Yeah, let me contact Melissa Fourthought – she'd know."

The Rosette Room at Phlaumix Court: a little later

Maurice Hardy stood by the fireplace savoring the last of his Cuban cigar, not nearly as good as the ones he normally gets himself in London, but since it was free and all that poncy Marquess had to offer, he felt obligated to accept the gift graciously. It was fun, though, he had to admit, trading their childhood horror stories, both growing up the butt of detestable cousins. He hoped he might have given Sir Charles some ideas to think about.

The Marquess was certainly in a good mood when he went to leave, apologizing he had some correspondence to attend to. But he suggested they have "another spiffy little chat soon" before the wedding. An idiot or not, a marquess was always a good acquaintance to have in a world where name-dropping was considered networking.

This was another of those geometrically fussy rooms the house was full of, rosettes all over the floor outlined in mosaics. Each of these rosettes consisted of five smaller circles intersecting a larger circle. At the center, they formed a star like the pips of an apple which had been filled in with blood-red tiles.

With the smaller circles in black and the larger circle outlined in gold, this repeated itself unevenly across the entire floor, making Maurie wish the room had more rugs and furniture to obscure it.

Distracted, he tossed the unfinished, unwanted stump of his cigar into the fire and watched it sputter in the meager flames. Should he ring, he wondered, for a servant to come stoke the fire? How he regretted not staying home in London, instead of arriving so early. How could he tolerate dealing with these people?

His thoughts went back to that dinner he'd had in London last year with N. Ron Steele, the CEO of SHMRG, when Steele had seemed so interested in what ideas he'd had about music.

Curiously, Steele was intent on eliminating Cousin Rob's new opera before its premiere but not necessarily anything by others like him: "What would I really care about a bunch of left-brained, over-intellectualized, under-appreciated composers?" They'd eventually die off for lack of interest – no commissions, performances or recordings – once SHMRG's composers took control of the market.

The only reason Maurie had agreed to come to his cousin LauraLynn's wedding at all was because of some "unfinished business," but to arrive several days early was mistaken, given his general familial intolerance. He knew she'd only invited him because it was bad form not to; and he'd accepted it for the same reason. If he'd waited a few days in London, things might have happened differently, using this inconsiderate snowstorm as a handy excuse. But he wanted no blame laid on him if she postponed the date.

Steele's subsequent calls had pleased him, he knew, unexpected as they had been, meaning he was still a valuable, useful connection. He also realized truly powerful people in truly high places counted for something. And Maurie, a master networker, knew the difference between knowing someone like Steele and this idiotic marquess he had just met.

He'd been glad to help Steele compromise Rob, however extreme that had become, and now he's glad to help "compromise" LauraLynn. Whatever it meant to Steele was not important: his own agenda, however, was. He didn't quite comprehend Steele's deep-seated hatred of Rob's ugly and disturbing music, but he understood how plans must follow through.

Getting rid of LauraLynn's friend Terry Kerr, however, needed his own personal attention (why would SHMRG be remotely interested in him?) and that was why he made another call before he heard voices approaching.

After the curious incident of the cabby who'd gone smash into the snowbank, Cameron and I ran into Burnson and LauraLynn among those who'd come hurrying down the stairs wondering what the commotion was. Once that was cleared up, Burnson told me he'd had news from London and suggested we find a place somewhere private. He offered to show us the Rosette Room since I mentioned we'd already missed any kind of tour of the place and there was clearly so much to see (despite my naggingly vague familiarity).

The room, it turned out, was already occupied, filled with a sulfurous pall which Burnson explained resulted from his cousin's cigars, in the midst of which stood LauraLynn's cousin who'd apparently been smoking one.

With an expression like somebody caught in the midst of lighting a bomb, Maurie folded up his phone and pocketed it.

"Ah, Maurie, nice to see you," LauraLynn said, introducing Burnson. "You remember Terry?"

"Yes, cousin," he said sourly. "I was surprised you hadn't been at the door to welcome me into your new home."

"I haven't seen you since those wonderful summers in Maine," I told him, "eons ago," extending my hand which he ignored.

Apologizing that he had to make a call, Maurie turned to leave with a deferential nod to his cousin and me, joking it was bad luck for her to be seen before the wedding.

"I suspect my cousin doesn't share your fond memories of those holidays, Terry," LauraLynn said once the door was firmly closed. "We must've made his life a living hell," she explained, winking at Burnson.

"So, what's this news?" I said, whispering cautiously. "Is it anything about Schnelly?" Just then, I heard the door open again.

It was the big, bald-headed strolling violist who peeked in and apologized, saying he was looking for a place to practice. The man held up his viola case by way of explanation, then left.

Knitting his brow when I commented about a musician to serenade at dinner, Burnson said that Norman Drang had been found dead in the same hotel where we'd been having breakfast earlier this morning.

As Burnson described what the policeman told him, it sounded all too familiar.

"That's exactly how they found Schnelly," I said.

= = = = = = =

to be continued... [with any luck, this link should become active on Monday at 8am]

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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." 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

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben: Installment #25

In the previous installment of The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben, it turns out the mysterious woman-in-the-library at Phlaumix Court (a.k.a. The Countess du Hicquè and Melissa Fourthought) is really Klavdia Klangfarben [insert ominous chord, here] – but why is she out to destroy Dr. Kerr? Meanwhile, he and Cameron have realized, if the identity of the Immortal Belovéd isn't enough of an enticement, there's the possibility of an unknown Beethoven string quartet at stake: isn't that enough of a reason to kill someone?

(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 FIVE concludes...

The Dog and Pony, Snaffingham: late that afternoon

"Sheltering at the pub" was an age-old village tradition during a winter storm, not just to drink or for the camaraderie, not even for keeping warm, but, as the rest of the world outside one's windows disappeared under snowdrifts, so everyone'd know there was still a world. It may not have seemed like that much, this safety within the community, considering how others might prefer being left alone: that meant being left alone as a society, an "island within an island." At least, if the power should go out, there were plenty of candles and of course the fireplaces were kept blazing, giving comfort to those who'd otherwise be home alone waiting out the storm. Who'd want to be caught sitting at home when the telly went out with nobody to talk to but the missus?

And now it was just the locals, people who knew everybody by name and who probably lived within reasonable walking distance, none of these tourist types nor that lot staying out at Phlaumix Court. Visitors from America looking to soak up "the local colour" were bad enough; people down from London tended to ignore everyone. Americans may have thought them amusing and quaint, like walking onto a set for one of those PBS shows they watched. Londoners tended to be all superior-like and felt the locals ruined their surroundings.

If it's true that Snaffingham's early history was shaded by centuries of neglect – well before the Elizabethans; probably before the Saxons – it's equally true the Dog & Pony was established 'round the same time. Before there were things like fancy government offices where people made momentous decisions, the village folk would gather at the pub. When the very first crops had been harvested by farmers in the village, they were bartered at the Dog & Pony. When someone got one of those new-fangled coins, they spent it on ale.

No doubt the current proprietress came from a long line of such tavern-keepers, kept in the family like many a fiefdom, except here nobody bothered keeping track of them, passing along the ancestral heraldry. Auntie Jen, as everyone called her, grew up in the Dog & Pony, and doubtless she would die there, some day.

No one claimed to know her husband's name – they called him "The Mayor" – or even if he actually was her husband. There being no Mayor of Snaffingham to offend, he bartered wisdom for brews. The two girls waiting on their customers were universally accepted as her "nieces," called either "A" or "B," and easily confused. Rumor had it one had been named Alferata at birth ("Alfie," for short), while the other, presumably darker one was "Betty." "A" was supposedly the elder by a year, but they could've been twins.

Auntie Jen had joked, were there more nieces, they would probably have been named "Celia" and "Delia" followed (confusingly) by "Effie," but with a wistful eye, she'd admit, "thankfully, it never came to that." There was, however, a long-range question that fluttered among the regulars often enough: with Auntie's passing, which niece inherited the pub?

In addition to the bar, there was a counter just inside the door with a phone and a few cubby holes which was the office for Danny Carron's cab and a make-shift post office. Auntie served as both the dispatcher and postmaster when these services were needed, even if the Mayor sat beside the phone.

It'd been a busy stretch for the cab, and Auntie was glad Danny'd gone for his last fare of the day. But then this woman from London, Phyllis Dean, arrived by the last train.

"But I'm expected for dinner at the house," the poor woman was crying. "My cab ran late, I missed my train..." She was frazzled beyond belief that this weather should do this to her.

"I'm sorry, dearie," Auntie said, patience wearing thin, "but I've been calling him. He'd gone to pick up someone at Umberton."

The thing was, given the roads this afternoon, he was way behind schedule and should've called in if there were problems. Not hearing from him was not unusual, really. Today, however, it worried her.

There it was on the ledger, the last call she'd taken with the info she'd told him over an hour ago: a woman named Mumwidge, at Umberton, destination Phlaumix – and that'd be "last call."

She told the woman to take her furs and sit opposite the fireplace: it would be quieter for her over there.

Besides, the old posh was out of place and might startle the regulars. Eyes lowered, she'd wandered away from the counter, mumbling over and over, "I've never been in a pub in my life."

The apothecary, a middle-aged quack with a keen eye for older women, wandered over to her and tried to start conversation. The old woman's eyes grew round as saucers: she tried not to faint.

Auntie went about her business but kept glancing over to the phone, worried: what if Danny was in some ditch, unconscious?

She made one more call on Danny's radio and again could hear nothing but the faint ticking of the meter running. The radio wasn't dead but Danny wasn't responding – was that wind she heard? Maybe he's waiting for the fare's return trip if she'd changed her mind (the cab had only been booked one way). But even so, Auntie thought, you'd think Danny would at least report back. No, this had trouble written all over it. She phoned Ms. Mumwidge back, but the call went right to voice mail.

Then Auntie saw the young red-head sitting at the end of the bar, chattering away with Mrs. Teal, the local gossip.

"Mona," she said, trying not to sound urgent, "d'you think the constable's in?"

"Yeah, I 'magine – if he's not on duty, he'd prob'bly be here, yeah?"

"Could you be a love an' pop over?"

Mona was the constable's office manager and dispatcher but it had been such a quiet day, he'd sent her home early. Knowing Constable Drumm, he'd still be sitting at his desk doing his crosswords. There's a difference between dedication to the job and not having a life, something that Mona Pennie never let bother her.

"What's 'is all about, then, Auntie Jen," Mona asked, trying to be discreet. "Is it that strange woman in the corner?"

Auntie laughed, understanding her concern. "No, luv, nothin' like that, 'least not yet."

Taking her aside, she explained how Danny the Cabby hasn't answered his radio, how he was out picking up a fare and hadn't called in if he'd been having any trouble with the snowstorm.

"Yah, you're right, that doesn't sound like our Danny, does it," Mona said. Grabbing her coat, she slipped out the door.

Before Auntie Jen turned around from thanking her, she sensed a growing commotion as half the tavern seemed in a turmoil, wondering about Danny the Cabby who was lying somewhere dead in a ditch.

Mrs. Teal'd said something to Alfie (or Betty) who told the other niece and before long it had made the rounds.

"They don't call this woman 'the town duck' for nothin'," Auntie Jen thought, "what with gettin' her beak in everybody's business." She started fielding questions from patrons and neighbors as the door burst open.

For a brief moment, everything stopped and everyone stared over at the doorway, half expecting it would be Constable Drumm, already.

"Whew, mates, that's a bitch of a storm out there, and no mistake!" The burly man stomped snow off his boots.

Auntie Jen shooshed him, nodding back to the corner where Mrs. Dean sat.

"Sorry, ma'am. Welcome to Snaffingham, I dare say," he smiled with mild embarrassment. Why, he wondered, was everyone staring at him?

Betty (or maybe it was Alfie) came over and handed him a pint.

The Mayor asked him how the roads were, if it'd stopped snowing yet, but Piers Hobson replied they were barely passable. "It could snow all night, by the looks of it, and no mistake! Through the farms, hard to tell where the roads are, drifts like waves!"

"And is your plow seaworthy?" asked the Mayor.

Each winter, Hobson would attach his plow to the biggest tractor he had, volunteering his services to clear the neighboring roads. Otherwise, villagers counted days till they'd be opened, with a storm like this. Without any real local government beyond the council and Snaffingham without a councilman, the Mayor gave him free ale all winter.

"Heard anything about the roads out toward Phlaumix Court and Umberton?" Auntie asked.

"Not yet – was goin' t'go check, soon. Why?"

He heard there was a big do there, what with Mr. Burnson's wedding.

Mrs. Dean immediately strode over to the plowman and asked him what he'd charge to take her up to the house.

"Can't Danny get you through, ma'am," Hobson said. "Don't wanna steal his trade."

"That's just it," Auntie explained, "Danny's out with a fare and hasn't returned. So I've asked the Constable to come over."

Just then, a tall man with a vast plaid overcoat, knee-high boots and a deer-stalker cap trudged heartily into the pub.

"Right, then, what's this about Danny gone missing?"

Constable Conan Drumm had arrived.

Auntie explained the situation again, then Constable Drumm deputized Hobson and his plow to open up the way. "The game's afoot!"

"Love, could I ask you to take this letter up to the house? And a telegram for someone at that pageant."

Constable Drumm accepted Auntie's letters as an obligation; less so, taking Mrs. Dean.

Somewhere in an unknowable location: an indeterminable time

It was a dark place, cold and inhospitable, not unlike some horrendous blizzard but black and utterly formless, where one is never sure where one is. There is no sense of time here, either, no daytime and no night; not even, one might say, past or present. One moves imperceptibly in time without awareness to a fixed point, floating suspended, neither here nor there yet everywhere at once, like falling into a hole, the blackest of holes, the eternal fleeting moment.

Wind howls, certainly, for one can hear it, but one cannot feel it, perhaps not upon the skin or one's face because one is unsure there is either skin or face to feel with. One senses it, like everything, with one's essence but yet it is imperceptible. One is always moving but yet without direction.

What does one call this, this unnameable place? Everything must have its name. Is it any more reality than, maybe, surreality? It is not the goal of our existence which we constantly strive for. Nor is it any part of that existence one is capable of perceiving: one realizes too late there's nothing to perceive.

One defines it by what it is not, the lack of everything knowable, this all-absorbing negativity of the Great I'm Not. One sets out from where headed for where, but there's no where there.

Abner Kedaver hated these moments lost in time: he wanted to be flying. He wanted to feel a sense of departure. Then he wanted to arrive someplace sometime later, seeing what he'd flown over. He knew that was what these modern people called being on an airplane; he'd only experienced being in a car once.

That had been exhilarating enough, speed without moving, sitting still while rapidly transporting. What was it like being on a plane? Could he even make it onto a plane, going through airport security screening?

Wouldn't it be fun, then, setting off alarms walking past all these sensors – being invisible, would he register on their screens? Otherwise, it'd be just a waste of time (another of those quaint expressions).

And what was this jet-lag he'd heard about, the body out-of-kilter with time? Was it worse than this horrid limbotic divergence?

He hadn't thought there would be drawbacks to being dead, not like that, given everything he couldn't experience since he died. And that had been 111 years ago, now, a long time in reality. Being beyond reality, it felt like only yesterday – in a sense, it was – but it was losing its sense of fun.

Kedaver had been a law clerk in Vienna working in his father's office, counting among his many clients Brahms and Mahler. An amateur violinist as well, he once played chamber music with Joseph Joachim.

When he died, he found himself assigned to the same parallel universe where many famous musicians had gone after their passing, since artists were always in need of someone to give them legal advice. But on Harmonia-IV, where many great composers continued to create after they'd died, he realized there wasn't much call for lawyers.

Kedaver found himself frequently crossing over to the Real World with his caseload, when
he'd bumped into forensic musicologist Frøkken Bohr (it was a long story and fairly clandestine) who'd developed some interesting theories. Of course, like all dead people crossing back, Kedaver was invisible to everyone (meetings with the still-living were more like seances).

But Bohr somehow knew about Harmonia-IV, its process, not to mention its reputation, plus how one could travel between both worlds. But when Bohr introduced him to a student, it became his biggest mistake.

Looking back on it, he wasn't quite sure what the appeal had been other than the sheer thrill of her project, mostly the chance to work with the Non-Dead, something that was expressly forbidden. Of course, the money he had been offered simply to be her guide was nothing that could be passed up easily.

The outline had been unproblematic from its inception as she had presented it – she just needed to go back in time – but he was sorry he had ever heard the name of Klavdia Klangfarben.

She just needed his expertise with time traveling (so foreign to the Living) and his access to the world of Harmonia-IV. She needed to do research, she called it, during four different composers' lives. But it was more than that, and dangerous, especially after her enemy's arrival. The appearance of Dr. Kerr had been unexpected.

Causing slight adjustments that altered these composers' lives had been unpleasant to him, something that rendered them no longer great composers. Kerr and his friend had followed after them to undo what she did. But he did what she paid him for: he kept to the bargain. She was the one who would abandon him.

She would've left him behind in Beethoven's time, rather than rescue him and return to Harmonia-IV as the signed contract agreed. It had been Dr. Kerr who rescued him, who allowed him to return.

There had been hell to pay – a trial, a fine, some jail time – and, even worse, his reputation had been ruined. He was transferred to the criminals' parallel universe, the Nefaria System, for eternity. He vowed that he would some day get revenge on her for this, even if it took centuries to find her.

After his release, he found she had herself, for whatever reason, gone "off-the-grid," but now, despite her aliases, he's located her. No manner of disguise could alter her brainwaves, the universal equivalent of fingerprints.

He was finally honing in on her whereabouts with newly learned time-travel methods, a type indigenous to the residents of Nefaria. So it was only a matter of time before he would wreak revenge.

That little joke amused him, given the timeless world of the Eternally Dead.

"I'm coming to get you, Klavdia," he crooned...

On the road to Phlaumix Court: early evening

"I've never been on a plow in my life," Mrs. Dean kept murmuring, as she bundled up, walking into the storm behind Hobson and the Constable.

"Come now, ma'am, I'm hardly going to make you ride on the plow," Constable Drumm joked with her over the wind.

Drumm told Auntie to locate Dr. Livingstone since they might need him, "and have an ambulance stand by, just in case." Unfortunately, he had to turn down many volunteers who'd wanted to go along.

He wasn't sure what they might find, there, but if they needed to rescue the cabby, he wanted to be prepared. Chances were, he'd probably gone into the house to wait out the storm.

"That's what I hope, too," Auntie Jen sighed, "but he could have called..."

"I'm sure everything will be okay," Drumm nodded.

Mrs. Dean settled herself carefully into the back seat of the police car as if Constable Drumm were her personal chauffeur. Drumm thought she might feel like a suspect being arrested but said nothing. Hobson brought his plow out in front of Drumm, waving as he passed, the police car pulling cautiously in behind him.

The roads Hobson had already plowed once looked like they hadn't been touched. The snow still fell, though not as heavy, and winds made things worse. But once in the woods, they might improve.

It was hard to tell, underneath that overcoat, that Constable Conan Drumm was a thin man, possibly even a skinny one. The coat had once belonged to his grandfather, a well-known, highly respected detective. Police work was in his blood, they said, but blood was a problem: he could barely handle looking at a corpse. A promising career at New Scotland Yard had been torpedoed by his inability to get used to that, a definite drawback. They'd transferred him to a small rural constabulary, near where he'd grown up.

He had to admit there wasn't much crime, the occasional burglary or vandalism, very rarely anything that required a coroner's services. The worst he had to deal with were accident reports or domestic disputes. There'd been that accident out past Hobson's farm, maybe the summer before last, with a man shredded by a hay baler.

He hated this drive out to Phlaumix Court, all these damnable left turns, hard enough to follow even in good weather. The signs were clear enough, but you couldn't always see them at night. It wasn't every left turn, of course not – that was the annoying thing, like some weird pattern you had to memorize. Of course, Hobson's family had been farming this area since before the Regency so he was well acquainted with its roads. But even on business, Drumm had few occasions to bother visiting the house.

How funny, then, that here he was, twice on one day, he thought, first in the morning with that broken window and now driving around in the dark investigating the village cabby's alleged disappearance. Maybe while he had Hobson's plow with him, he'd see if everybody's alright, since he had to drop Mrs. Dean off.

But considering some of the signs were most likely plastered with wet snow, it was more like totally relying on instinct. Still, the snow wasn't drifting that much, here, but not easy to navigate. What if Danny'd missed one of those turns? He could be anywhere, now. It might take them days to find him.

His thoughts elsewhere, he almost didn't notice Hobson's plow grinding to a halt. He saw the man signaling something up ahead. The plow began maneuvering around to the side and then Drumm saw it.

"Damn!" It was definitely a cab, Drumm thought, as he pushed open the police car's door and struggled through the snow. He barely saw lights from Phlaumix Court not too far away, up ahead.

Hobson maneuvered the plow around to get his headlights fixed on the cab lying nose-down in a ditch off the road.

It looked like they hadn't made it to Phlaumix Court yet, he realized, unless maybe he'd lost control and spun around. Did Danny and his passenger make it out? Would there be a body?

But there was a body in the cab, sprawled across the front seat, no sign of anyone in the back seat; plus the rear passenger door was partly open and the trunk lid popped. Naturally, the heavy snowfall would have already obliterated any sign of tire tracks or evidence of any footprints from the passenger.

That was clearly Danny in front, the radio transmitter dangling from his hand, lying there like he'd had a heart attack. Even with Hobson's considerable help, the constable couldn't pry open the driver-side door.

The snow was too deep around the front, so Hobson retrieved his shovel. Meanwhile, Drumm tried crawling through the back door.

He noticed that Mrs. Dean had stuck her head out the rear window. "Nice," he thought, "she wants to offer help."

"I do hope you can hurry," she chirruped, "I'm unfortunately already quite late."

"I've got a pulse," Drumm yelled. "He's alive!"

"Constable, is that you?" Auntie's voice squawked through the radio? "Is he okay?"

"Good, Auntie, glad you're there. Yes, but he's still unconscious. Most likely hypothermia."

There'd been no luck locating Dr. Livingstone who was in London visiting family.

"Send the ambulance: we'll take him to Phlaumix..."

It took a little while to get Danny entirely free from the cab, but they carried him to the police car and stretched him out across the back seat, much to Mrs. Dean's dismay.

"Well," Drumm told her, "you can sit up front or take the plow."

"The front seat will be fine, thank you."

Mrs. Dean moved quite nimbly for an old woman complaining about the cold.

"Okay, Hobson," Drumm said, "off we go as fast as you can travel!"

Mrs. Dean sat back, smiling smugly. "Well, finally..."

At Phlaumix Court: only a few minutes later

"But I don't see how that's going to help us find Schnellenlauter's killer."

"No," I said, once Cameron also started pacing, "that's up to the police."

There were things Schnellenlauter had been looking for; perhaps he'd even discovered things which might help answer why he was killed.

"One question was what had he already found and who else knew it? Well, I mean two questions – not to mention..."

"But if this is some secret terrorist organization," Cameron said, "how do we...?"

He stopped mid-thought, nodding cautiously toward the door. "Shhh – someone's in the hall.".

I heard some footsteps shuffle to a halt.

A gentle knocking was followed by the sound of a woman's fragile voice.

"Hello, Dr. Kerr?" Then after a slight pause, she continued, "Are you in?" The voice wasn't familiar but sounded very grandmotherly.

Cameron opened the door to see a woman with silver hair pulled back, a black shawl draped across her stooped shoulders.

"Oh, I'm sorry, I thought Dr. Kerr was staying in the Dodecahedron Room."

"No, that's okay, I'm his assistant, Cameron Pierce."

"Ah, good. I'm Cathie Raighast."

"Oh, you're Frieda's friend – won't you come in?"

She seemed quite flustered for having disturbed him, then smiled when she entered. I rose to meet her, taking her hand. Being unaware of her circumstances, I thought she might be some poor relation.

As Cameron shut the door, I heard the front bell start jangling wildly – yet another late arrival out of the storm – and the usually well-paced footsteps of a servant hurrying across the Great Hall.

"Ms. Raighast, nice to meet you," I said, "you must be feeling better?"

"Well," she said, ducking her chin, "not entirely."

When she asked if I'd examine her shoulder, I had to apologize that I was a doctor of music, not medicine.

"Usually I'd say, 'take two Haydn symphonies and call me in the morning'..."

As she started apologizing again, there was another polite knock at the door. This time I recognized Sidney's voice – the footman's.

"Dr. Kerr," he asked, "could you come downstairs, please? There's been an emergency."

While Cameron settled Ms. Raighast in a chair, I quickly grabbed my jacket and then we followed Sidney down the staircase.

When we reached the landing, Sidney stood aside, revealing Vector, Herring and Lisa gathered over in the vestibule with three strangers, one of whom was lying on the floor being helped by the others. One, wearing an odd deer-stalker hat, was a tall, thin, vaguely familiar man; the other was rather stout and clearly annoyed.

The man on the floor, loosely bundled up in a voluminous plaid overcoat, was our cabby from earlier in the afternoon.

The thin fellow looked up, waving me over. "You're Dr. Kerr, I presume?"

Introducing himself as the constable, though I still hadn't quite caught the name, he explained the nature of the man's emergency.

"But I'm a doctor of music, not medicine! I really can't help him."

"That's a rather rum thing to be a doctor of," the burly man huffed. "Does that mean you only treat musicians?"

"The ambulance's on its way," the constable said, "but these roads are terrible."

"Do you think he'll be alright?" I asked.

"Hard to say. Depends how long he was lying there in the cold."

Then Danny looked up, stammered out two words – "big... violin..." – and lost consciousness.

"Odd," I said. "What's he mean by that?"

"Oh, here – I almost forgot," the constable said, handing an envelope to Vector. "Could you see that this gets delivered, please?"

"Ah," he said, handing the letter to me. "A letter from Maestro Schnellenlauter..."

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

to be continued... [with any luck, the link should become active at 8am, Friday, July 29th]]

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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." 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, July 25, 2016

The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben: Installment #24

In the previous installment of The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben, an assassin with the Guidonian Hand, Carmen Díaz-Éray, meets with SHMRG's CEO N. Ron Steele, currently in hiding, about a proposed collaboration, then runs into a clumsy violist in the hallways of Umberton. Frieda, meanwhile, reveals yet another secret: that she's descended from Ludwig van Beethoven's Immortal Belovéd and that he's her great-great-great-grandfather. In London, the International Music Police's Inspector Hemiola receives news that Howard Zenn's death is now being labeled suspicious and that the last person to see him alive was Dr. T. Richard Kerr.

(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 FIVE continues...

The periphery of the Great Hall: the same time

"It may be the last thing I do, but I will get him," the woman skulking among the shadows assured herself, "I will get Dr. Kerr." The hallway was dimly lit and she was having trouble seeing her way, not exactly sure where she might be headed. It was one of those annoying circular hallways, no doubt outside the library, but was she going in the right direction? This was primarily a matter of simple geography but the symbolism annoyed her.

She had not had ample opportunity to explore the rest of the house, given the limited range of the guided tours and had therefore managed only the barest reconnoitering aside from seeing old plans. Was she headed back to her secret doorway leading to the Public Wing or out to the Great Hall's inevitable openness?

The other circular hallway was around the old Pendulum Room, opposite the library, but, for some reason, it'd long been closed. At least that's what the tour guide said, offering no explanation when questioned. Why would anyone build a large, circular room, hang a pendulum in it, and then why would it be declared off-limits?

The whole house was crazy, she knew that, so it shouldn't surprise her, but was this room even crazier, she wondered? Had something happened in there, some dark mystery, some horrid secret they're protecting?

Her own secret, she knew, was another matter, however dark and horrid not to mention inexplicable she thought it might be. Clearly something you couldn't explain by simple physics wasn't something for public knowledge. She hardly believed it herself but she had lived it many times over – a pun she realized wasn't all that amusing.

How could she explain traveling back in time which most experts declared impossible? But she had found a way, however unbelievable. Time travel, parallel universes, composers who never died? She had seen it all!

And if it hadn't been for the meddlesome Dr. Kerr ruining her plan, she might well have succeeded without any complications. She'd saved her mother's life, returning in time, but then she couldn't... return.

Forced to live life over as an observer, irretrievably stuck in the past, she now faced the one man she blamed.

She'd convinced Steele her plan would eliminate the great composers and their music – going back into the past, changing their histories – so he could then control everything listeners would need to replace them with. It was a music licensing corporation's wet dream, replacing so much public domain: N. Ron Steele had salivated at the possibilities. (*)

But she'd always dreamed of rescuing her mother from a senseless, early death and SHMRG's backing made her plan a reality. Her fee was inconsequentially small compared to the billions from new licensing fees.

But suddenly there was Kerr, her old professor: how had he discovered her? He shadowed her every move, undid every success, and when she returned to save her mother, the time-traveling device's battery died!

She had to live her life over again and watch herself grow up. Instead of being 36, she was now 64!

Even with a running charge, she'd failed to push him out that window, howling like a banshee, like the ancient Eumenides. Then that miserable sidekick of his showed up, making her slip and fall.

"With this interminably raging blizzard barring any escape, we are both prisoners here," she swore, "and our paths will cross again."

Having heard the news of her mother's death and attending her funeral – again – this time she swore on her mother's grave.

"You will pay for this, you miserable bastard, or I'm not Klavdia Klangfarben!"

As she rounded the curve of the hallway, she saw the light ahead. "That's it, the Great Hall," she mumbled, "dangerous." She knew then she was beside the library where anyone could see her. Knowing she wasn't supposed to be in the private wing of the building, she had to return to her secret doorway.

The key she'd secretly copied from the Security Assistant, the one named Colangelo, opened an otherwise plain-looking door behind the library which, ever since Phlaumix Court had been partitioned, everyone seemed to have forgotten.

"Someone's out in the hall." It would look suspicious if anybody caught her. She heard hesitant footsteps echoing over the floor. Someone was talking to himself or someone else – she'd have to be careful.

And there he was, Dr. T. Richard Kerr, alone in the empty room, oblivious to whatever doom will befall him – again.

She was ready to follow him, sneak up behind him, scare the crap out of him, wreak revenge all over him, make him suffer for everything he had done, how he'd ruined her life. But then she heard the door from the Public Wing click and open – Colangelo was pushing some guy into the hall.

"There can be no witnesses," she told herself, retreating toward the library entrance. This large, ominous-looking man was carrying a viola. And what's more, he'd already spotted Kerr who disappeared into the Pendulum Room.

"But that's supposed to be locked," she thought. "What dirty work's afoot, here?" She froze by the library entrance and waited. The stranger with the viola followed him into the room, closing the door.

"No," she practically screamed, convinced he would kill Kerr before she could, herself. "Get in line, big guy! He's all mine!"

She'd barely made it half way across the empty hall, her hair flying, when the public wing's door opened again.


It was Faiello, another of Scricci's miserable minions.

"Hey, Melissa, where you been?"

He was looking for someone in a tux, wondering if she'd seen him.

"Mike said he'd gone through here, just now."

"Honestly, I've no idea what you're talking about," glancing toward the Pendulum Room.

"Well, you'd better get your ass in here: they've already started the taping."

Klavdia was forced to postpone her revenge – again.

The Pendulum Room, Phlaumix Court: the same time

The room wasn't brightly lit but light reflecting from all the various mirrors would give anyone who walked into the room the impression of bright lights.

"Weird – with the lights all lit and everything," I thought, shutting the door. "If this room is supposed to be locked...?"

I'd been raised to turn the lights off when I left a room, what with protecting the environment and saving energy. You'd think even the British aristocracy'd be interested in saving themselves some pennies.

Perhaps the most noticeable thing about the room was how small it was, compared to the library which was really huge. Considering the proportions in the house's overall design, I found this completely unexpected.

Not only wasn't it round, it wasn't anywhere near two-thirds the library's size and if that's the case, what's the point?

Instead of being round, it was a semi-circle and a fairly narrow one, looking more like some kind of reading room. There were several short bookcases along the walls and between them, well-upholstered armchairs. Opposite the entrance was a large mirror flanked by two huge grandfather clocks, the closest things to pendulums I could find.

Odd, too, was the sheer number of mirrors, alternating with several old mezzotints and a series of ornate Victorian-style, three-dimensional shadowboxes. Most mirrors weren't hanging flat against the wall, almost creating a fun-house atmosphere.

That's when I started thinking again how this place was somehow vaguely familiar – some weirdly disconcerting sense I'd been here before. Nobody could have described this space to me or prepared me for it. And it wasn't exactly like it deserved the name "Pendulum Room," did it? Maybe it's a waiting room or an antechamber?

But if so, where was the door to get into the next room? If I'd been here before, memory wasn't helping. All I saw were bookcases, quite low ones, inconvenient for any secret entrance.

Books placed on end tables beside some chairs indicated the room was used or at least, if nothing else, dusted regularly. It certainly didn't look like an abandoned room, much less a haunted one.

Just then, I heard the cautious squeak of a door being opening up: my first thought – that woman from the library?

That's when I noticed every mirror I could see from my vantage point gave me a clear view of the entrance – I didn't even need to turn my head to see my mysterious intruder. Pretending to study the mezzotint beside the mirror, I saw the surprised face of a large man who looked remotely familiar.

After I breathed an inward sigh of relief, figuring he was a servant, I turned to the man wearing a tuxedo and apologized for having taken the liberty of letting myself into the room.

When he stepped into the room, I saw he was holding a viola – an odd-looking one at that, with white finish. He bowed slightly, closing the door behind him, and nodded toward the artwork.

"I've been asked to serenade our guests this afternoon as they walk about, enjoying the many artworks, here, in this house."

Not particularly interested in hearing my choice of either Bach, Reger or Hindemith, I turned back to the mezzotint before me, an early-romantic portrait of a young housewife holding her baby on her lap.

"How posh," I thought, "Burnson's mother keeps a strolling violist on the payroll to serenade her guests, an ambulatory entertainment center."

But then I realized that I needed to get back to my room and talk to Cameron about Frieda's mysterious revelation.

Before the man could even play a note, I darted from the room.

The Great Hall, Phlaumix Court: the same time

Clearing up the last of the tea things, Sidney and Lisa walked quickly across the large, empty hall, footsteps barely muffled by the prize Bukhara rug.

"They said they were going to be hiring extra servants for the wedding," Lisa said with some concern in her voice.

"And if they do, when'll they get here?" Sidney wondered with equal concern. "I'm working my tail off, just keeping up!"

"I have to admit that young Mr. Cameron is quite nice, isn't he?"

"Unlike that nasty short fellow with the walking stick, eh, Lisa?" Sidney added, winking at her as she frowned in disgust. Then he heard someone coming down the hall, turning to see Mr. Burnson.

"Ah, Sidney, I've been looking for my bride-to-be," Burnson said with a smile. "She's missed tea and I can't find her."

Charles Leighton's squeaky voice answered him curtly from the top of the staircase. "You should keep better track of your women. Not a good family trait to be developing at your age, Cousin Burnson."

"Thank you, but you're not one to talk," Burnson said with a nod.

Charles, smiling, took his time descending the staircase.

Nothing more was said between the two cousins beyond their impatient, icy stare, Burnson waiting until Charles had swept past him. The servants took the opportunity to hurry off as Burnson walked leisurely upstairs.

Charles disappeared down the hallway toward the saloon, looking forward to a cigar, wondering would anyone else bother to join him, when Dr. Kerr burst from the Pendulum Room, looking around as if lost.

"Geez, what an odd fellow," he said, "not to mention an odd room," heading over to the staircase and hurrying upstairs.

The door opened, again, almost immediately after him, and Nepomuck with his viola at the ready rushed out into the hall. He looked around, eager to find his prey, then heard rapid footsteps upstairs.

Before he could locate them, Nepomuck was aware that someone else was approaching and if he wasn't quick, Kerr'd get away. Before he reached the bottom of the steps, Herring the valet intercepted him.

"Ah, you the new footman? And a strolling violinist, too," Herring said, "grand! Best get yourself downstairs, then: lots to do...!"

Nepomuck could do nothing else but follow him without raising any undue suspicion: at least he was now inside the house. More footsteps on the stairs caught his attention – a short man, and ugly.

Maurice Harty looked about, inspecting everything with dissatisfaction, then saw the two servants. "Ah, you there, where's the tea being served?"

"I'm sorry, sir," Herring said with icy deference, "apparently you've just missed it. They've already taken everything down to the kitchen."

"Well, that was damned inconsiderate, I must say. Nobody came to get me."

"My apologies, sir, if the staff were remiss." Charles had heard the commotion. "Rudyard, bring some sandwiches to the saloon, then?"

"Right away, your lordship," and Herring, tugging Nepomuck after him, bowed and disappeared.

"I blame my cousin, LauraLynn Harty, of course," the disagreeable little man said. "She should have known I'd only just arrived."

"Ah, so you have issues with cousins, also? Charles Leighton, Marquess of Quackerly." Charles bowed and offered the guest his hand. "Your cousin's apparently marrying my cousin," Charles said. "We've lots to talk about..."

LauraLynn and Burnson both approached the upstairs bannister when she heard her name. She looked down curiously and found her cousin.

Watching Maurie as he walked beside the Marquess, then disappeared behind the colonnade, she told Burnson, "Well, you're in trouble, now. It seems your cousin has just brought my cousin in as a consultant."

The Dodecahedron Room, Phlaumix Court: a moment later

"Well, it is a bit shocking," Cameron agreed, looking up from his notebook, "like it's out of some musicological science-fiction fantasy: how else d'you explain it?"

"I don't know – isn't it more romance novel turned historical fiction," I wondered, "like some bad plot Melissa Fourthought thought up?"

"Ah, well, speaking of science-fiction, which Melissa Fourthought is it you're talking about?" He turned over another page in the notebook.

"True," I said, collapsing into the overstuffed armchair by the bed, feeling exhausted.

"So, do you think she's making this up? It seems a bit far-fetched."

"You mean far-fetched that she's making it up?"

"More the story that she's been telling us: that's what seems so unbelievable."

"Yes, like period romance, historical fiction, music appreciation and sci-fi stirred into one – that's now being turned into a murder mystery."

"But Schnellenlauter's involved in this story, as well: he's not just the victim. But are we even sure he's been murdered?" Cameron set aside his notebook, carefully marking his place in the coded journal.

"The International Music Police assumed it was murder: why else are they investigating?" I got up and started pacing the room.

The thing is, there's this copy of an account about the Immortal Belovèd by somebody named Rainer Knussbaum which Frieda's translated. Normally, I'd just say she made that up, but then there's Harty's Journal...

"Since the rest of that journal had been in LauraLynn's family for generations, how would Frieda have managed to fake it? And besides, you were at Schweinwald with me and you saw that tombstone."

"But there's a big difference between looking for your lost twins," he argued, "then saying you're descended from Ludwig van Beethoven."

The twins were one thread in a story which could certainly be real, but this Immortal Belovèd thing was entirely different. Was how they're related perhaps the hinge point to Frieda's sanity, I wondered.

"But just suppose it's real, that maybe Frieda is actually descended from Beethoven, momentarily discounting the meaning of that gypsy prophecy...?"

"And what is there to discover from this?" I sat down again, exhausted.

"If not the Belovèd's identity, don't forget there's also a lost Beethoven quartet."

"And isn't that something somebody might kill for?"


= = = = = = = = = = = = =
to be continued... [with any luck, this link should become active at 8am, July 27th]
= = = = = = = = = = = = =

(*) eliminate the great composers... salivate at the possibilities: the basic plot behind the first novel in "The Klangfarben Trilogy," The Doomsday Symphony.

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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." 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

Friday, July 22, 2016

The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben: Installment #23

In the previous installment of The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben, Frieda reveals the existence of a shadowy organization known as “The Guidonian Hand,” convinced someone from the group has infiltrated the house. Kerr assumes they're probably responsible for Schnellenlauter's death but that was in London: what are they doing here? Then Cameron receives a message from Dylan: he thinks their woman in the library is the same old lady who'd kidnapped him last year, the Countess du Hicquè. Frieda recognizes the woman, too, from a photograph taken at the funeral of Melody Klangfarben who is actually Frieda's granddaughter. But what was this woman doing at Phlaumix Court?

(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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At Umberton, SHMRG's temporary headquarters: earlier that afternoon

It was a chance remark Anton Schindler made one day, almost in passing. Like many of the people now mourning Beethoven, he'd been greatly distraught, inconsolable. And why shouldn't he be, he thought: he was the Great Man's amanuensis. Beethoven made him important – and now he's gone. In fact, Schindler'd been down in his cups, unable to control his emotions, ever since he knew the inevitable was near. And given everything that had been going on, it was a terrible end. Beethoven had always managed to surmount his suffering, the constant illnesses, the deafness, and especially that business with the young nephew. If it hadn't been for that boy and his evil mother, what then? Schindler knew he had nearly stopped composing during the worst of that ordeal. "How much had we lost because of them?"

Feeling sorry for himself more than usual on the night after the funeral, Schindler sat in his favorite tavern's darkest corner, and told a friend about this mysterious letter he'd found among Beethoven's papers. It had been addressed only to "my angel" and called her numerous things – "my life," "eternally mine," and "my Immortal Belovèd." Schindler complained, "he only ever called me his Papageno, an appendix, a wretch," and with that, he resumed his uncontrollable sobbing. "I wonder if she's that woman he'd mentioned – that kid Knussbaum would know..."

But Knussbaum, a tall gangly young man, had left Vienna after the funeral, taking with him whatever he might have known, not only who she was but also where, the greatest secret Beethoven kept. Schindler's drinking companion, intrigued by this unexpected revelation – "Beethoven, this genius, in love?" – decided her identity must be learned.

And destroyed...

"It simply will not do," this man had subsequently told his other friends, "that this god-like colossus who strode among men should have his name sullied by the contamination of the basest human passions."

"What," one friend suggested, "if they'd had sex?" More deeply shocked, another wondered, "What if this woman had had a child?" The very possibility sent them into a frenzy of personal outrage and disgust. Their intention was to keep Beethoven's reputation pure, befitting the loftiest of minds. Thus the five called themselves "The Guidonian Hand."

Like any former hired assassin worth her salt, Carmen Díaz-Éray still preferred to wear tight-fitting black regardless of her current assignment, something not all ex-SHMRG agents could pull off, no matter how they tried. (Actually, there was only one agent she knew she'd let pull it off, but that was long ago and he's dead.) It had been several years since she last worked for N. Ron Steele, back in what she called her Glory Days. Most of the agents she'd remember would either be reassigned, retired, or deceased.

Happy enough to be back in the field, she'd arrived an hour ago before they stopped running the trains from London. "Quaint place, this," she thought, looking around as she sashayed down the hall. The fact it was out in the middle of nowhere didn't bother her: it was harder for the police to find.

The only real problem with her standard uniform this time was the weather, something she hadn't thought about before leaving town, making her stick out like a sore thumb against the blinding, drifting snow. Steele told her they'd have some white snow suits that might fit her but not likely any snow mobiles lying around.

She was excited at the prospect of working with her old boss again despite some of his recent, not unexpected problems. The crime industry, like any business she knew, had its ups and downs.

Like The Hand itself, around for 186 years, SHMRG had weathered a volatile course over a period of comparatively fewer years. Even when The Hand had been expertly organized, it had been relatively ineffective. But the problem with SHMRG was that it wanted to move too fast, relying more on raw power and ignoring finesse.

She hoped that by bringing a revitalized Hand into the grasp of SHMRG, this combination of superior intellect and brute force would allow both their organizations the "optimal opportunity" of realizing their long-range goals.

Not since the days of Special Secret Agent Carmilla Varné, her inestimable predecessor, had The Hand come so close to victory, almost securing the necessary information from the old, enfeebled Knussbaum before his death. It was this discovery there'd been a child with the gypsy's prophecy about twins and their offspring that reactivated the quest.

Most assumed the Immortal Club maintained its secrecy to protect the Belovèd's identity, her name as well as her burial place, that they wanted her to rest in peace, guarding Beethoven's desire for privacy. But little did the world's best musicologists know the extent of the secret which years of research had failed to reveal.

And that was a secret the Guidonian Hand also did not want revealed, preferring to obliterate any historical proof it existed. SHMRG, once hearing of the ancient gypsy prophecy, sought to control its fruition.

"Director Steele, so wonderful to see you again, after all these many years," Agent Díaz-Éray said, trying to ignore his situation. She'd heard how he'd been badly wounded in an IMP shoot-out in Schweinwald.

"It's Osmond Goodwood these days, Carmen, and I'm just a lowly departmental manager: Mr. Steele," he sighed, "is on extended leave."

Though he may have looked and, in this particular exchange, even sounded weak, there was clearly nothing weak about SHMRG's director, no matter what this ruse was about his not being N. Ron Steele.

Their meeting began amicably enough, given the circumstances, each of them needing information and knowing the other had access to it but not knowing how willingly the other would part with it, collaboration aside.

It was, she knew, why they were now sitting in Umberton, after all, because something was going on down the road.

The meeting had ended warily twenty minutes later after much disagreement about implementation: Díaz-Éray was concerned SHMRG would act like cowboys; Steele – or rather, Osmond Goodwood – was dissatisfied the Hand had no definitive target. Though smiling through the obligatory handshake concluding negotiations, the limitations were clearly evident if she could not obtain the essential identification.

Strutting out into the hallway, she bumped into a large, rather disheveled man who hadn't bothered watching where he was going, trying to juggle his phone in one hand, a viola in the other.

His protuberant eyes probably indicated a medical condition related to a thyroid disorder but that wasn't enough to explain his attitude. He nearly knocked her flat against the wall without even noticing her presence.

She had half a mind to demonstrate her keen skills with kick boxing and shatter his phone with a single blow.

The large-built man, clearly someone on a mission, had hardly broken his stride while fumbling to balance his phone and instrument, annoyed some ectomorphic nymphette in pretentious black leather stepped in front of him. As he plowed his way down the hall, she was easily swept aside. He didn't feel it necessary to look back.

"No wonder nobody can see properly around here, everything is so bloody dark," Nepomuck muttered, annoyed he couldn't get a signal. "Dark wood, dark rugs, dark drapes and furniture – and the minions wear black!"

Dressed in his black tux, Nepomuck strode along, checking his phone for reception, headed inexorably toward the end of the hall. Turning right, he eventually found a secluded room but it was already occupied. He was sufficiently annoyed having discovered he'd been sent to the wrong house: it wouldn't take much to set him off.

"You can't come in here," the geeky little man warned him, "go away," looking up from his wires and computer screens.

"Shut up," Nepomuck glowered back, realizing he'd found sufficient signal for a connection.

When Nepomuck took the viola out of its case and began to play, the guy said, "Hey, you can't practice here," and stood up to his full diminutive height before hearing an excruciating sound.

The geek fell over, hands to his ears. In seconds, the writhing stopped.

"Now maybe I can make my call... Hello?"

"Nepomuck, my sssssweet," the oily voice finally answered, hissing softly into the phone. He always waited until after the fifth ring. Unfortunately this time, Nepomuck had found it annoying, trying to mask his impatience.

"It seems I was apparently given faulty information: I'm at the wrong house. The directions said to get off at Umberton."

"Are you sssssaying I made a missstake, Nepomuck?" he asked, dripping with disapproval.

"No, Master, not at all, I wouldn't dream..."

"You may have arrived too late – the sssssnow... – the orchessstra left long ago."

He explained how the orchestra stayed at Umberton but rehearsed at Phlaumix Court. "Their firssst taping sssssession is about to begin."

"Then I'd better hurry, Master," Nepomuck said deferentially. "How do I get there?"

"Practisssss, Nepomuck – practissssssss..." With that, he rang off.

"Damn it all," Nepomuck mumbled under his breath, kicking the techie's body aside.

Looking out the window into the worsening storm, he saw the side entrance where the orchestra's personnel manager, Minnie Mumwidge, waited.

She saw him approach and berated him humorously. "Typical violist, missing the bus!"

She waited for a cab since the house limo was no longer running. "You'd better come with me, or you'll miss..."

But the poor woman didn't even have a chance to finish her sentence before Nepomuck played some chords on his viola.

He'd barely hidden her behind a snow drift before the cab pulled up.

In the Great Hall of Phlaumix Court: later

Since we'd heard that morning about Schnellenlauter's murder, everything just kept getting weirder. Next, we'd found ourselves trapped in the library – and then Frieda's unbelievable revelations... It was difficult to imagine how it could get any weirder than this but I imagined we'd probably soon find out. After Frieda announced she would have to take a long nap before dinner, we left her to recuperate and to grieve, exhausted by the shocking news of Schnelly's death and decoding his secret messages.

Cameron took the final segment of Harrison Harty's journal back to the room, excited to work on realizing its coded text. He figured it should take a couple hours, keeping him out of trouble. I knew I should be reading more of Knussbaum's Tale, given our conversation, but I found it impossible to sit still.

It's true, as usual, I needed to walk more than just for exercise: I simply needed time to think about everything. I could check out the place by myself – there was plenty to see. As long as I'm moving, my little gray cells would be firing away, the mind, like the body, staying in motion.

It still struck me as an odd coincidence how familiar everything here seemed and yet I'd only arrived here this afternoon. Had I seen pictures before? Even Burnson hadn't described it in such detail.

That globe at the bottom of the steps caught my attention every time, so perfectly round, grasped in its brass claw. Could it contain every image of the universe, condensed into its crystal sphere? Could it mean our brains, full of memories, held firmly within the skull, contained everything we've ever experienced, retrievable or not?

"Every death contains within it every other death," someone told me years ago, if we strip away the layers of memory. In thinking about Schnellenlauter's death, I recalled Zenn's – could there be some connection?

What was it that Howard Zenn had said at his chalet outside Garmisch-Partenkirchen, something that didn't register with me till now. Hadn't he told us about the Guidonian Hand, which made no sense then.

He made only a passing reference to it without explaining what it was. Did he know anything about the organization's secret?

Once again I found myself standing in front of the library's impressive entrance, looking up at the inscription over the door: lifting veils only to find even more veils, questions only begetting more questions. What did Zenn know about the Guidonian Hand? How did they kill Schnellenlauter? Why is this woman in the library here?

And Frieda – could she be in real danger, if this woman's after her? Since she's using Frieda's nom-de-plume, isn't that "logical"? How can I protect Frieda from imminent danger without creating any undo panic?

As Frieda was still searching for more answers about her children and grandchildren, I also needed some answers, not more questions. But now there were all these other issues that made my head swim.

I checked the library door out of curiosity but it was still locked. What answers could it yield, anyway, I wondered?

Frieda spent her entire life looking for answers, after giving up the twins – and apparently she is still looking for them. It might have been easier had the War not intervened, destroying many records. Such searches are hard enough under normal circumstances, laws intent on preserving privacy, but the complications of changing countries and cultures...?

By the time she could get back to St. Ludwiga's Orphanage in Ottobeuren, the building and its records had been destroyed. After fleeing to England herself, she discovered both children were taken to America.

That, at the time, was the best news: they had survived the bombings. Shouldn't that be enough to give her satisfaction? But she knew it was a big country and adoption a private issue. The problems quickly became insurmountable and very expensive. The Leightons, her sister's in-laws, were little interested in looking for illegitimate children. So she put it aside as an impracticality, glad to know they'd escaped and were able to start new lives afresh. What had they been told, growing up American: was their story kept secret?

That was when she wrote that awful novel (even by her own admission) about separated twins who unknowingly find each other. She dreamed it would become a big hit, that even Hollywood would notice. Her fantasy included more fortune than mere fame, something her music wasn't offering: she'd use the money to find her children.

But she discovered it was only a fantasy, taking years to get published; even then, barely a hundred copies were sold. The royalties she'd earned wouldn't buy a month's groceries, especially in post-war England. She felt that she had abandoned them a second time, giving up hope, and putting everything she had into her composing.

But then, after she'd met this young conductor from Germany named Hans-Jörg Schnellenlauter, everything swung back and forth – present to past...

Suddenly, I was overcome by this creepy feeling somebody, somewhere, was watching me.

"Ah," I muttered, turning away from the library, out into the Great Hall, "there's just so much to absorb, isn't there?" I felt thrown into a world with 'bad dream' written all over it. Cameron seemed to take it all in stride as if everything were normal: like Vector said, it's "of no significance whatsoever."

That's what Vector said about the Pendulum Room which, as I recall, should be on the opposite side from the library.

"Hmmm," I thought, looking around, "is this it?" I couldn't find an inscription.

It surprised me to find the door unlocked after what Vector had said, how the "infamous" Pendulum Room had been closed. But here it was, open and well lit, full of paintings and mirrors.

Then it fell into place, what Frieda'd said: "Don't you understand? I'm descended from the Immortal Belovèd: Beethoven is my great-great-great-grandfather!"

The road to Phlaumix Court: a little earlier

"I thought it was a woman made the call, mate," the cabby said. "She's working at Phlaumix Court, is what I was told – she ready, then?" Danny Carron pulled up under Umberton's port cochere for what he seriously hoped would be his last fare of the day. The only person there was this big hulking guy wearing just a tux, no overcoat or boots – odd, given the blizzard – and carrying nothing but a big violin case cradled carefully in his arms.

"Uh, yeah," the man said, looking back toward the house, "right, Phlaumix Court. She called it in, okay? I'm new here. Seems I missed the bus to the concert," holding up his instrument case.

"Ah, okay then, mate," Danny said, nodding to the back of the cab. "No sense standin' out here any longer, then."

The big guy struggled, trying to fit himself into the cab's back seat as Danny's wheels spun trying to get traction.

"I'm late for the rehearsal – you'd better drive faster," the guy was saying.

But even with all his passenger's extra weight, the cab was still fish-tailing when Danny finally pulled out onto the road.

"Yeah, I was sayin' earlier, haven't seen snow like this in ages, right?"

The passenger just sat there, staring straight ahead.

"So, not used to snow like this, then? Where you from?"

Again, nothing.

With swirling snow drifting even worse than earlier, his passenger not very talkative, and almost missing that last turn back there, Danny decided it was better to concentrate on driving than holding a conversation.

"Crikie, I sure hope nobody else needs to go anywhere, tonight," Danny thought, "except maybe between the pub and the hotel."

"Mind if I warm up my instrument a little?" Nepomuck said, leaning forward.

"We should be there in just a few."

But the man in the back seat didn't hear or was ignoring him.

Instead of waiting, the guy opened the case and pulled out what looked like this big violin, all white and shiny. Suddenly the cab smelled of spaghetti as he began scraping away on it.

"Hey, dude, that's one horrible sound," he screamed, staring into his rear-view mirror.

Then, without knowing what happened, everything went dark.

The Public Wing at Phlaumix Court: moments later

Nepomuck arrived at the side door of the public wing covered in snow, his viola case wrapped in a tattered blanket found in the cab's trunk. He'd been trudging through snow drifts at some places up to his hips, guided only by faint lights from the house. Very sorry he'd left in such a hurry without his shabby old overcoat which had served him well in the past, he would have welcomed having it this afternoon, that and his heavy scarf.

And boots would've been nice, he thought, stamping his feet against the steps before someone finally came and answered the bell.

"God's bum – who the bloody hell are you," he squealed over the mayhem.

"I'm late – missed the bus," Nepomuck said unapologetically, snow caked to his pants.

"So, what, you bleedin' walked over from Umberton?"

Mike Colangelo, another ex-actor working for the pageant, had no time for late-comers especially since the rehearsal was already well underway. The guy had all the right security credentials: why give a rat's ass?

"Thought you was a penguin for a minute," Colangelo said, helping Nepomuck brush himself off. "Why're you dressed like that, anyway?"

He must've missed the memo about the dress code, too, for that matter, but why send him back into the storm?

Nepomuck dropped the old blanket and stomped off toward where the orchestra sat.

"Hey, hey, hey, where you goin', big guy?" someone else screamed, arms flailing, despite wielding a clip-board and cup of coffee. "You can't just come bargin' in here like Cleopatra on her bloody what's-it!"

An officious little twit, now, the conductor's assistant, Ray Faiello, was another has-been actor down on his luck rescued by Scricci.

Since this scene hadn't involved any of the would-be prodigies, just the orchestra, Sven Galli, the director's stand-in, took no notice. The orchestra ground to a halt as Maestro Dumbledown glowered at his assistant.

Faiello argued loudly with Nepomuck, viola in hand, stabbing at the personnel list which seemed to have left off his name.

"There isn't even an empty seat for you. Where the hell's Mumwidge, anyway?"

"An ectomorph with orange hair, bit of a bob – bad teeth?" Nepomuck asked.

"Yeah, that's her – seen 'er?"

"Uhm, no, actually..."

"Dear Mr. Faiello, would you kindly take this up with our esteemed director so we may resume taping the overture, hmm?"

Dumbledown sounded all very pleasant but Faiello knew his words dripped with sarcasm.

Faiello pushed the stubborn intruder off the set, over toward the director's chair where Galli sat surrounded by several nubile contestants.

"Well, what seems to be the problem, Atello? Can't you see I'm busy?"

Faiello tried explaining the situation with minimum verbiage.

"Take it up with what's-'er-name – Mumwidge?" he decided. "Don't bother me with this."

Galli, pointing to Colangelo, told Faiello, "Have Faiello escort him off the premises," and turned back to his adoring, giggling fans.

Faiello sighed, mumbling, "I'm Faiello, you offensive moron." Then he beckoned his colleague.

With that, Colangelo strode over to Nepomuck, handed him his blanket and pushed him toward the door to Phlaumix's private wing.

The door was usually kept locked from the other side, but Colangelo, being an assistant to the pageant's Director of Security, had been given a key for easy access in case of an emergency.

As far as he was concerned, Colangelo thought, this counted as an emergency: he had to get rid of this guy.

Prodded unceremoniously through the door, viola in hand, Nepomuck found himself all alone.

Not quite alone: wasn't that the Serpent's nemesis, that man entering that room?

Positive that was his quarry, Nepomuck followed him.

Meanwhile, at the International Music Police's London Headquarters

Chief Inspector Hemiola tried to ignore the obvious, brooding over his cold coffee: not wanting to admit it, he'd not been having a very good day. There were now two murders, quite possibly related, with one very common denominator who, however, had managed to elude his grasp. It wasn't even clear they actually were murders, though they were certainly suspicious, judging from evidence found at the crime scenes, but until after the autopsy reports came back, he really had nothing definitive.

There was nothing to connect the two vics, aside from both being musicians, one an old, German-born conductor past his prime, the other a middle-aged violinist born in England, both specializing in contemporary music. The one had been killed before a concert, leaving a weird, coded message; the other, without a note, after a concert.

He wasn't even sure how this Dr. Kerr had either means or motive other than what could be perceived as coincidence. He was friends with both of the victims, but what would he gain? Unless, of course, it was a revenge killing and Kerr, a frustrated composer: had they both declined to play his music?

He picked up his phone and said to his trusty dispatcher, Agent Solfege, "Mimi, have Agent Fermata check out Dr. Kerr. Basically, I want to know if he ever submitted scores to either victim."

Hemiola put the receiver down just as Agent Sforzato burst into the room.

"Boss," he shouted, "from Doc Rigorian – look here!"

Hemiola grabbed the papers from the agent's hand, eagerly paging through both reports.

Disappointed, Hemiola sat back, perplexed. "There's nothing conclusive. What got you so excited?"

"But, sir, you wanted to see them immediately."

"Yes, well..." Hemiola hesitated, hating to belittle his agent's excitement, "very good, then." He smiled, giving the man a curt nod.

Sforzato snapped to attention with a loud click of his heels and left.

But Hemiola was no better off than before, lacking the tox screen results: there was nothing that indicated this was murder. No blunt-force trauma, no wounds, no inexplicable DNA or fibers – nothing remotely obvious.

Everything pointed to natural causes yet without signs of heart attack or stroke. The most likely possibility was "they dropped dead."

The expressions of fear frozen on their faces at the time they died, something he will never be able to forget, made Hemiola wonder about the possibility they hadn't both been scared to death. But such thoughts were interrupted when the phone at his desk started ringing. "Maybe it's Fermata getting back to me already."

"Chief Inspector, there's a call here from the director of the Munich office: shall I ring him through?" Agent Solfege asked.

"Yes – yes, of course," Hemiola stammered with surprise, wondering what this was about.

"The last time Director Schwungvoll phoned," he recalled, "was over five years ago when he was trying to get tickets to some sold-out West End show for his mother-in-law, back when she visited England."

This time, Schwungvoll was calling to alert him about a potential international situation (one not, apparently, involving his mother-in-law's imminent arrival).

"About the death of American composer Howard Zenn – you've read about it, yes? Old guy about to celebrate his 100th birthday? So naturally, the police assumed it would be simply 'natural causes,' not so?"

But the coroner noticed something that looked suspicious and called in the IMP. That's when Schwungvoll began describing something very familiar.

"So I thought you should know since one of the last people to see Zenn alive was now in your jurisdiction."

"And who might that be," Hemiola asked him.

"Someone named... Dr. Richard Kerr."


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

to be continued... [with any luck, this link should become active at 8am on July 25th]

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *
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." 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