Friday, July 01, 2016

The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben: Installment #14

In the previous installment of The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben, Nepomuck discovers a rare viola of exceptional qualities (even for a viola) that opens up a whole new professional path for the young man; meanwhile, despite the blizzard, Dr. Kerr & Cameron almost arrive at Phlaumix Court when they run into a blast from the past - Skripasha Scricci himself! Today's installment continues where we left off: before the great house, Phlaumix Court, as Kerr meets Scricci and his friends, their limousine stuck in the snow.

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

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CHAPTER TWO – continued...

The last time I had seen this guy was at the Old Castle near the Schweinwald Music Festival the year before. It had been one of the strangest parts of a very strange summer. Freshly rescued from deep inside the castle's dungeon, convinced that I had died, we were avoiding more trouble when someone screamed. It was a series of seemingly never-ending screams heard from the castle entrance as we'd made our escape out the back. With everything else that had happened that night, I'd never forget that sound.

I'd last seen Scricci bound hand and foot, naked as the proverbial jaybird, trussed up in the lap of Scarpia's corpse, while the screaming, when he finally came to, was equally singular and unmistakeable. Granted, the way of his having been exposed (in a manner of speaking) was what made the experience so truly memorable.

Fictitia LaMouche, on-line reporter extraordinaire, in honor of her previous run-ins with Scricci, turned his body into a graffiti artist's playground using a black felt-tip marker, especially about his being “an evil SHMRG ho.” I could still make out faint remains of cat's whiskers adorning his face, beneath the fantastic make-up he must wear constantly. Even over a year later, I was curious if the rest of it, far from your trendier style of 'body art,' had faded enough for him to resume his former, immodest glam rocker image.

Cameron had heard the aging rock star found himself forced to hang up his skimpy see-through costumes once and for all to avoid the constant scrutiny of curious audiences and an almost universal derision. Even Scricci's fans would chant “I'm a SHMRG ho, too” whenever he'd appear, causing him to be frequently charged with assault. Constantly the target of loyal SHMRG hackers who'd remove them from one site only to find them pop up someplace else, Fictitia's photos inspired a whole line of punk and goth t-shirts available on-line.

How could it have been easy for him, dealing with those awful memories and seeing Fictitia's handiwork reflected in the mirror? I bet he often woke up screaming in the middle of the night. True, you wouldn't say this was the most auspicious moment, our meeting now, but how could I forget that amazing sight?

“What're you bloody staring at, you effin' geezer?” Scricci shouted at me again. “Watch where the hell you're going,” he added. “You and your little bint, there, nearly scared the crap out of us.”

His entourage hoped to avoid another assault charge but were having some difficulty trying to keep their outraged boss under control. Scricci, wrapped in an elegant black floor-length fur more lap rug than coat, his face sallow and loose like over-cooked pasta, leaned heavily against the side of the limo and eyed me with contempt. It's possible he'd put on a few pounds since I'd last seen him, though he was naked then and recently unconscious. Therefore, I can't imagine he would recognize me or know who I was. Standing there this afternoon in his massive fur with an attitude to match was neither an improvement nor any more compelling.

A tall man wearing an old-fashioned chauffeur's livery stepped out of the car – no doubt, I quickly assumed, the limo driver – and apologized profusely in a thick Russian accent, helping us toward the door.

Scricci pushed his way past me and poked the chauffeur in the chest, ordering him to go and ring the bell.

“Out of the way, old man,” Scricci yelled, rising up against the wind, “we were waiting here first, before you lot.” He peered into the limo, barking a command: “Everybody out of the car!”

One after another, young people started scrambling out of the limousine's back seats, each of them costumed in the latest trends but none of them familiar with any practical knowledge of the wintry weather. I counted at least a dozen in all, almost all of them girls, tiptoeing through the footprints toward the shoveled walkway. Several were clothed in washes of brilliant colors while others were more basic, fashion statements that apparently approximated their general personalities, the ones dressed mainly in black more subdued and bringing up the rear.

A particularly flamboyant, clown-like nymph, the hair rainbow-colored with eyeshadow full of glitter, bent over to gather up what I thought sure would place me in the very center of a major snowball fight.

Instead, she picked something out of the snow and handed it to me.

"Here, sir, you dropped this when you fell."

A sliver of light cut across the portico, slicing into the mid-afternoon gloom as the front door opened slowly to reveal a golden warmth emanating from inside the house, drawing us all like moths. Peering out through the slowly expanding brightness was a face of indeterminate age but clearly on the grayer side of life.

"Andropov," the accompanying voice said all too unsatisfactorily, catching sight of the chauffeur. "Where have you been, man? Her ladyship's frantic!" Then added icily, seeing Scricci standing behind him, "and what do you want?"

The door pulled back to reveal a tall, large-framed man in a tuxedo, a man with a hawk-like nose, piercing eyes and eyebrows of steel wool just as LauraLynn described him: Vector the Butler.

"Those of you who're with the television show must use the public entrance, the one," he pointed, "on the left side..."

"Yes, yes, but you see, Old Coot, that entrance hasn't been shoveled and..."

Vector held up a hand, cutting him off.

"You must take that up with the Trust," he said. "Tell Mr. Nott."

With that, Scricci shoved his way past the butler into the Great Hall. "Of course, we'll go to the Trust – NOT!" But Vector blocked him with a deft maneuver worthy of a first-class footballer.

"Andropov," Vector said, forcefully pointing out the door, "take them around the side. Then get the plow and clear the driveway."

Cameron shouted to be heard over the commotion, "I wonder if Fictitia LaMouche has been assigned to review the Prodigy Pageant?"

Scricci, wheeling around, yelled like he'd been shot. "Aaakh! Who mentioned that bitch?"

He sputtered how she'd be arrested on sight if she dared show herself. "It's not a public event, no visitors allowed!"

This made it easier for Vector to shove Scricci back onto the portico, leaving behind a soggy trail of melting snow.

I could hear him screaming as Andropov backed the limo around the corner.

"Well, sir – you," Vector began, "don't seem to be associated with these others."

"Under normal circumstances," I said, stepping inside, "no."

A young blonde fellow stepped forward to help me out of my coat.

"A bit earlier than expected for the wedding: we're friends of LauraLynn Harty's. We just arrived by cab from Snaffingham Station."

"Ah, yes," Vector said, taking my coat as something dropped to the floor. "You must be Professor Kerr and Master Pierce. I apologize for having to call a cab, but our chauffeur was... unavailable..."

The blonde, deferentially introduced as Sidney the Footman, picked up what had fallen and handed it with equal deference to Vector.

"Damn, it's that book, again. It's like I keep trying to lose it," I apologized as I reached out for it.

Vector glanced inside before he handed it back. "Miss Frieda will be pleased."

"Miss Frieda?" I asked. "Why would she be pleased I haven't lost it? It's some dreary romance novel, a real snorer. I found it in Schnellenlauter's dressing room at... uhm, at the concert hall."

"It's Miss Frieda's book, sir," Vector said, nodding, "something of a collector's item. The Maestro told her he'd be returning it."

"Ah, okay, then I'll be sure she gets it when I see her. By the way, how did you recognize it?"

"There's an inscription on the inside cover, sir. It's of no significance whatsoever."

Opening the cover, I glanced at what appeared to be something in gibberish – not any foreign language I was familiar with; in fact probably not any language at all, more like a secret code. I handed it to Cameron for safe keeping, afraid I'd drop it again, before I realized he's busy talking to Sidney.

As Sidney was helping Cameron sort the luggage, Vector explained Sidney would be "our man" for the duration of our stay. "Unfortunately, as we're understaffed here with the wedding, you'll have to share him. He'll also be serving Ms. Harty's cousin, Mr. Maurice Harty; and he's been especially requested by Lady Vexilla's cousin, the Marquess."

"Sounds like you're really going to have your hands full, Sidney," Cameron said. "We'll try not to make things too challenging."

"Quite alright, sir," he said, glancing at me and trying not to blush.

It was a different world inside this door, more than just escaping reality, especially once Scricci's intrusion was so deliciously defused (really, Cameron's mentioning Fictitia's name at that moment was a stroke of genius). I felt like I'd escaped from everything horrible and sinister in the world, stepping into a past I could easily accommodate.

"Sidney," I heard Vector telling the young footman, "why not take the luggage and show Mr. Pierce where their rooms are? I'll be along presently to show Professor Kerr. We'll just be a moment."

"Wow, Sidney," Cameron was saying as they walked slowly through the Great Hall, "this place is truly awesome! Just – totally awesome!"

I could hear their footsteps and Cameron's excitement reverberating through the great space which somehow seemed rather vaguely familiar to me. I had no idea how that could be: I'd never been here before!

After Vector had called for a maid to come mop up the vestibule, erasing any evidence of Scricci and his intrusion – a vestibule that was still more spacious than my first apartment's living room – he quietly led me over to the other side of the Great Hall, in front of the grandest fireplace I've seen. The fire roared pleasantly, befitting an English castle in the dead of winter, more than just a set on a film-stage, though it occurred to me too late that the word "dead" was insensitive.

"We've all, I'm sure you know," Vector began, his voice lowered into an even lower register than his normal speaking voice, "had such a horrible shock from this terrible news of the Maestro's death. Incidentally, may I pour you some brandy, sir?" he added, lifting a decanter. "Help warm you up after your... recent experience?"

"Yes, thank you," I said, "that'll be great. It was a bit of a shock, that, running into Old Scricci again." I leaned against the mantlepiece before imagining myself tumbling right into the fire. "Oh, and of course, after seeing Schnellenlauter's body back at the concert hall. We were supposed to have lunch together today."

"Ms. Harty mentioned you two were old friends from early in your career. It's such a small world, as they say."

"It's true, there just aren't enough people to go around in the world."

"Then of course, you'd met Miss Frieda at that time, I take it?" Vector inquired as he handed me my brandy. "She's a grand old lady, even today, sir, putting us all to shame. She's become a bit frail these past years and keeps to her wheelchair, otherwise you'd hardly know she's in her 90s."

Looking into my glass of brandy (with caution) made me think of another friend lively beyond his years who's now dead: I had been sharing brandy with Howard Zenn only a few days ago.

Compared to him, however, Schnellenlauter was in his mere 80s, "much younger," then. Frieda always joked how she liked younger men.

"And they had been married quite some time?"

"Not exactly married, sir, no."

Vector said this with such a conclusive tone, this topic was now closed. How long was it since Queen Victoria's death?

"I'm looking forward to seeing Frieda again, Vector: it's probably been thirty years, when they were both visiting New York City. Schnellenlauter was conducting a concert at Lincoln Center while Frieda did some research." For that matter, it had been twenty years since I last saw Schnellenlauter, in town then for another new music program.

Quickly downing the brandy took my breath away so I quickly sat down. "Ah," I said, "yes, that's very serious stuff."

"Only the daily brandy, sir. We save the 'serious stuff' for special occasions."

With that, a young maid carrying a large mop and some old rags stood awkwardly in the archway from the vestibule, curtsying demurely when Vector said, "That's all, Lisa," dismissing her with a nod.

"Her ladyship would have my scalp if that maladroit ruined her prize Bukhara – I mean Scricci, not Lisa, our new maid."

"Perhaps you could let Frieda know I've arrived, if she's up for company? Maybe after you've shown me to my room. I realize," I added, "given the bad news, she might prefer being alone."

"She's with Miss Raighast, now, an old friend who's recuperating after some surgery. They'll no doubt be joining everyone for tea."

Vector went on to explain, despite the sense everything goes on as scheduled, "Miss Frieda was greatly upset by the news," adding, "she's very eager to talk to you about matters of considerable urgency."

"Ah, well, that sounds very mysterious," I said. "Any idea what that's about?" But he side-stepped the question by modestly saying he was only the butler. "Of course, I understand, Vector – that's okay, then. Has LauraLynn settled in yet after their arrival? I'd just seen her at... well, this morning when we met for breakfast."

Standing up a little cautiously, I looked around, taking in this tremendous room with its magnificent spiral staircase and matching fireplaces. Nothing LauraLynn had told me about Phlaumix Court could prepare me for this.

"Ms. Harty wanted to go see her ladyship who was meeting the decorators, so having arrived, she decided to join them. I'm afraid she could be detained until tea. They'll begin decorating tomorrow morning."

"I hadn't noticed anybody else parked out front," I said, "except the limo."

"No, sir, the decorators would park around back."

Vector continued, leading me toward the grand staircase, "Her ladyship has arranged a tour of the house for our first-time guests. It will be sometime between tea and dinner, but it depends who's available. You'll want to see the library, of course, which is through that archway", he said as he pointed to the left.

"Since everything's balanced architecturally," I asked, "what's through this smaller archway over here?"

"That, I'm afraid, is the infamous Pendulum Room."

"Why 'infamous'? Is it haunted?"

"No, sir – closed. It's of no significance whatsoever."

The incredible staircase, an absolutely splendid spiral of marble and intricately carved oak, appeared of course off-center in the rectangular room, a logarithmic spiral whose axis rested at the Phi-point of a Golden Rectangle.

Like Jacques Bernouli's Spira mirabilis, it spun upward not as perfect concentric circles, but as a nautilus shell distended in space.

For someone used to the traditional Palladian symmetry normally seen in Western architecture, the inside of Phlaumix Court must appear mind-boggling, given the original design of the house's proportions, based on the Fibonacci Series.

"Frankly, sir, the place gives me a headache, if I look too long. Mathematics," Vector confessed, "was never my best subject."

On the newel post was a crystal globe grasped by a golden claw, beautiful enough to gaze into all day long.

Imagine what history it witnessed: everything that passed by would be reflected inside.

= = = = = = =

to be continued... [the link becomes active at 8am on 7/04/2016]

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

©2016 by Richard Alan Strawser for Thoughts on a Train

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