(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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"That's what I thought you said," Hemiola replied, debating what to ask next. "And this was at what time, then, when you met Dr. Richard Kerr?"
"Well, I'd called Norman at 9:27 just after Kerr told me the news, but it went right to his voice mail."
"And what news was this that Dr. Richard Kerr had just told you that you decided to call Mr. Drang again?"
"Oh, that he'd seen something in the paper about Howard Zenn dying yesterday."
"Agent Tonal," Hemiola asked her, "did you get this in his statement earlier?"
"No, sir," she responded. "It didn't seem relevant."
"I'm afraid it could be. Would you mind...?" Hemiola handed her the report
The cellist started to tell him more details about his conversation with Kerr, wondering himself how all this might be pertinent.
"And where was this you'd run into him – exactly," Hemiola continued asking him.
"Kerr? Let's see..." looking thoughtfully into the distance.
"Was it, perhaps, near the bank of elevators, just inside the main lobby?"
"I'd gotten off the elevator myself," Ivanskoff continued. "He was inside the restaurant."
"He couldn't've gotten off an earlier elevator, perhaps?"
"I doubt it: I think he was coming from the W.C.," Ivanskoff added. "I was headed there myself, before ordering breakfast. What does this have to do with who killed Norman, may I ask?"
"Trying to get all the information we can," Hemiola replied despite his annoyance, "like placing everybody more accurately on the time-line."
The look on Ivanskoff's face indicated this was a waste of time-line, regardless.
Meanwhile, Hemiola calculated different possibilities in his head, a cast of potential characters and how their blocking worked on the set.
Presumably, Drang was killed between 9:00 when he answered the cellist's first call and 9:27 when he didn't answer the second, so how long would it take to get from here to the restaurant?
"How well did Dr. Kerr know the deceased? Would you consider them friends?"
"Terry knew us all fairly well – except Aaron."
That's when he remembered the large man bumping against them in a hurry.
"He asked if that was our new violist – well, Aaron's the new guy."
Hemiola said he'd check the security camera footage.
Fred Gross, the second violinist, and the new violist Aaron Gobraugh joined Ivanskoff to explain how they'd met downstairs for breakfast, discussed the news of Howard Zenn's death yesterday and maybe changing Thursday's program.
Gross explained, "We'd recently premiered his latest quartet but hadn't scheduled it here, not until some time in April, but now..."
"We'd need some time to get it back into our fingers – it's a tough piece – and so I called Norman again: since he hadn't returned my call," Ivanskoff said. "He still wasn't picking up..."
From there, Hemiola jotted down how they'd decided to knock on the door, ignoring the 'Do Not Disturb' sign – no answer – then finding one of the maids on that floor who let them in.
"And did Mr. Drang have a heart condition; would he be easily frightened?"
"No, Norm was really tough – nothing scared him!"
"And this whole time," Hemiola continued, "none of you saw Dr. Kerr again?"
"What is it with Dr. Kerr," Ivanskoff exploded.
But Hemiola ignored his outburst and added some more notes in his report.
"I think I have everything I need, gentlemen. Again, I'm sorry for your loss," he added. "Thank you for your time."
"So, sir," Agent O'Rondo asked, rushing to judgment, "does that mean you already have an idea who the murderer probably is?"
"Quite possibly, yes," Hemiola answered. "He's already given us the slip once, today."
Lady Vexilla had swept into the room to preside over the family's tea only a few moments after Frieda had arrived, apologizing for her unforeseen delay, promptly scandalizing Minona who, having just wheeled her lady in from the library, saw no excuse for even more egregious tardiness.
"Great empires have fallen for such lax behavior," the maid mumbled to herself, deferentially stepping back to disappear against the wall, "and how are we, mere common folk, to hold them in regard, so?"
Beforehand, the others stood about, impatient to begin, eying up plates of sandwiches and wondering how long until their hostess appeared. Vector had been looking surreptitiously at his watch but everyone's impatience was palpable.
"The tea is getting cold, the sandwiches stale," Minona observed, glancing cautiously about. "Small wonder their sun set, given such ineptitude."
As was the family's custom, tea was being served in the Cube Room, whether there were three or thirty in attendance, scattered casually about a room thirty-four feet square with its thirty-four-foot vaulted ceiling. A grand and ornate space, it was only one of the architectural wonders in a house full of such architectural wonders. Inspired by Inigo Jones but adapted to fit the symmetries of the house, everything worked together to create the greatest impact, from ornate fireplaces and chandeliers to the period furniture's turquoise and cream upholstery.
"If Lady Vexilla has been detained, Cousin Burnson," his cousin told him confidentially, "perhaps I, as Marquess, should play 'Mother,' then?" (*1)
Burnson looked at him skeptically but made no comment beyond a polite nod.
"Figures Cousin Charles would throw his patrimonious title around like some antiquated wildebeest," Burnson thought to himself as he looked around.
Not only had his mother not yet put in an appearance, he thought, but neither had LauraLynn or her two friends, not to mention her own ridiculous cousin, Maurie, whom he'd yet to meet.
As he was about to ask Vector to check on his mother's whereabouts, Burnson noticed the great oak doors slide open, revealing Lady Vexilla in a simple black gown with a dark silver pattern. She was an imposing woman, without a doubt, her incendiary red hair falling in long, stylish waves around her thin neck.
Looking around the room before offering a few introductory words expressing her apology – Minona, disapproving, tried not to snort too audibly – Vexilla nodded to her guests as she passed, walking up to her aunt. She leaned down, took Frieda's hands in hers and whispered words of consolation, not having seen her since hearing the news. They exchanged words and nods, a deferential smile, and much patting of hands, all part of the social pantomime, Burnson realized, though by now every one of their guests had expressed the necessary condolences.
Vexilla graciously poured out the first cup and gave it to her aunt as was their custom before dismissing the servants who then deferentially glided out of the room, Vector quietly closing the door. The others poured their own tea and nibbled decorously at the tiny sandwiches artfully placed on silver trays about the room.
There were not as many present as their ought to be, Vexilla noticed, but since there had been some late arrivals, perhaps not everyone was ready to come down after traveling in the storm. She felt Burnson had been very good in telling her about Schnellenlauter's death but wished he'd changed into something more suitable. Vexilla had taken time to find a more decorous dress, under the circumstances, after finishing with the decorators about the wedding; perhaps LauraLynn had gone up to change, too, hoping to find something black.
Charles, taking his tea, gravitated toward a painting he was especially fond of, placed on a gold easel in the corner, George Romney's (*2) quietly masterful portrait of Henry Leighton, the 7th Marquess of Quackerly which had been painted at Quackerly when Sir Henry was a young man, a decade before he began building Phlaumix Court. The landscape visible through the window was actually the old garden at Quackerly, now long in a state of genteel disrepair. Not the best Romney portrait, still Charles believed the painting never belonged here. It had once hung in a place of honor in Quackerly's Great Hall, beside the very window where it was posed. Looking at the painting, you could see its background simultaneously through the window. Still, that must have been a nice touch, Charles thought while growing up, despite the unfortunate dissonance of before and after.
But Sir Henry lost interest in the portrait since it reminded him of the old house he detested far from London and so it sat for generations in an empty room under a sheet. Eventually, the gardens fell to the encroaching woodlands and the house, abandoned, deteriorated rapidly in the cold weather and summer storms. It wasn't until Victorian times when it seemed silly leaving the house empty that the place was occupied and gradually refurbished by second sons and would-be heirs whose families needed some place to live.
Unfortunately, Charles' father, trying to settle some debts, sold the portrait for a fraction of its worth to Vexilla's first husband, Edgar Ravensmoore Allan, a famously wealthy American-born banker with an eye for art. There had been very little high quality art left at the old house, most of it removed to Phlaumix centuries ago. After walking into the Cube Room that time and seeing the painting there, propped up so prominently for everyone to see, Charles was convinced Vexilla placed it there to annoy him whenever he'd visit.
"What utter nonsense, dear boy," Vexilla told him when he'd first mentioned it, not long after he'd inherited his father's title. Clearly, years of bickering between cousins wasn't likely to go away very soon. "In that case, I'd have hung it in the vestibule where you'd see it as soon as you entered the house."
"You do seem to like that picture, Charles," Burnson said, brushing against him, "though I admit I've never quite understood why," as he worked his way over to the fireplace to talk to Bugsy. "Certainly not one of Romney's best, is it, compared to the one he painted of Sir Henry over a decade later."
In that portrait, a much better likeness that hung in the Great Hall, Lord Quackerly sat comfortably on a garden bench with the Grand Wing of Phlaumix Court, still under construction, visible behind him.
Other than a slight rise of the chin, Charles made no demonstrable response, choosing to ignore Burnson's comment rather than respond. He barely stepped aside to let him pass when Canon Pettifogger approached him. The vicar came for a brief visit before the snow became too impassible, then found himself invited to stay by default.
"Terrible shame about the old maestro," he began, looking over his low-slung spectacles. "I was quite shocked upon hearing the news. Imagine living all those years with Miss Frieda but never bothering to marry. Not that I'd call this any kind of divine retribution, by any means, but at least he had a full life."
The mere mention of "divine retribution" made Charles glance involuntarily in Burnson's direction, movement not unnoticed by the vicar's weak eyes.
"I'm not sure," Pettifogger wondered, "should it be enough to change wedding plans...?"
"Should it," Charles wondered as the vicar nattered on about young people today, overlooking the fact that Schnellenlauter was almost 90 – unless he meant Burnson and his bride-to-be, both of whom were past 50. And what did their getting married or not at their age have to do with the state of the world, anyway? It's not likely at this point they would produce an heir, would they, but that was the rub: the Quackerly Inheritance. Since Charles' son had died, he had no heir to inherit his title.
After Burnson marries, should anything happen to him, his widow inherited the fortune whether they have any direct heirs or not; whereas now, Charles knew, Burnson's mother and sister Tabitha would divide the estate. However, if Charles died before marrying and producing an heir of his own, everything (especially his title) would go to Burnson.
Aunt Vexilla had told him at his last visit that he should not be so "high and mighty" about the inheritance, standing next to him on this very spot as he admired the portrait. "After all," she said with an odd smile, "hadn't Fate opened the door so that you could inherit what you have? If Uncle Montagu and his sons hadn't died in that train wreck after the war, you would be just another cousin. Fate let the crown slip down a branch: God's Will – or maybe not...
"But wasn't it Fate that kept your grandfather, Uncle Lechmere, home that day? (Father said he'd had a touch of clap.) Had he and his sons also died then, you wouldn't have been born. And what if I'd been born a boy instead of a mere girl? So give it a rest, dear Cousin Charles."
He'd heard the story often enough from his own father, Lechmere's second son, how Montagu, the Marquess' eldest son and heir, was taking the 2:37 train out to Quackerly for a summer's family outing; how, quite typical, Lechmere was unable to attend because he'd had a cold, and the youngest son, Reginald, missed the train.
Fate has a fickle finger, he realized that; but there must be meaning; otherwise it was just three more senseless deaths. Yes, without them, he'd be just another cousin – but wasn't this God's Plan?
Standing in the darkened library reminded me of a concert I'd once attended when the lights went out just about a minute into Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. As usual, I explained, the audience was already sitting in the dark, right? But then the orchestra ground to a halt.
"I mean, they were playing Beethoven's Fifth, of all pieces – how familiar's that? How many times d'you think they've played it? Yet they couldn't keep going without seeing the music in front of them."
"If everybody pulled out their phones, though, they could've kept going," Cameron said, waving the light from his phone at me.
"Well, considering this was in the days before there were cell phones, uhm...?"
"So, what is this you've found," Cameron asked, managing to change the subject as he swept his light across the score.
"Remember how Schoenberg wrote this after he'd had a heart attack and died?"
"Right, when the doctor injected him with something."
"Yes, Dilaudin, which managed to fully resuscitate him – in the days before defibrillators."
"You think Schnellenlauter was trying to remind us to inject him with Dilaudin so we could bring him back to life?"
Not knowing what killed him, who could say, but it made me pause: did we miss our chance to help him? But weren't we already too late for that, given his advanced rigor mortis?
"Look how often Schoenberg's using these two pitches – A and E-flat – fairly significantly. Remember in German solfege, E-flat is called 'Es.'"
"Okay, then, so the letter S means... oh! A. S. are his initials..."
"If this is his musical signature, like Shostakovich with his DSCH (*3), then maybe..."
"...there's some secret message he's hidden in here?"
"And behold, that's exactly what I found here, but not one Schoenberg wrote."
"How do you know Schoenberg didn't write it?"
"Because he completed this piece back in 1946 – before someone invented post-it notes!"
I flipped the score open to the page where I'd just found it – a yellow post-it note in Schnellenlauter's familiar hand-writing with, alas, another coded message that made no more sense than the other.
"A post-it note? Are you kidding me? Damn!" Cameron couldn't help but laugh. "This must be what Schnellenlauter hoped you'd find."
Carefully peeling off the post-it note, I handed it to Cameron for safe-keeping and said, "We might as well get going. If Frieda's going to solve one of them, she can do two, now." Then Cameron led the way, his phone held aloft like a candle from the old days or a flashlight from mine.
But once we got to the ground level (which seemed to take forever), we discovered two new problems I found worrisome: the doors were locked (but there's no crash-bar) and the lights wouldn't work.
The only nearby person whose number I had in my phone was LauraLynn but as I fumbled around in my pockets, it became clear I must have left my phone back in the room. Fortunately, Cameron had her number in his phone and made the call instead. Unfortunately, it also went right into her voice-mail.
After pounding on the door and yelling copiously, I started flipping light switches till I thought they'd break but without results. That's when I noticed flickering pin-points of light, ominously red, floating above us.
"More likely a security system than a vampire," Cameron suggested, seeing I'd froze, "so it shouldn't be long before help arrives."
After waving at the camera, he began tapping a message into his phone, sending Dylan some pictures taken in the library.
"He'd love it here," he said, hitting send.' "He'd never leave this room."
Admittedly, I was more concerned if we'd ever leave this room, I said, considering large dark rooms gave me the creeps, and wondered how long it would take someone to answer the security alarm.
"My bigger fear is," Cameron said, "is it wired into the house or does it go to the local police station?"
I imagined it could take hours for the village constabulary to make its way out here, given the roads and weather. "And what if the local sergeant might be our cabby Danny Carron's brother-in-law?"
In between eerie howls from the wind and snow buffeting against the windows, I thought I heard noises in the hallway.
"Halloo," I shouted, pounding again on the door. "Is there anyone out there?"
A muffled conversation led to soft beeping sounds followed by a loud click and then, finally, the door drifting slowly open.
There stood a tall, thin, gray man with a long, rather equine face who immediately demanded to know who we were. Behind him stood Sidney the footman who then immediately vouched for our existence. Though still not sure why exactly he'd found us trapped inside the library, the older man introduced himself as Kerry Eliasen.
"I'm the librarian here at Phlaumix Court," he said, then nodded at Sidney who turned and left after a deferential bow.
I introduced ourselves as guests of the bride and friends of Burnson's aunt.
"Frieda asked us to find something for her, a score she'd've gotten herself, but then the library isn't exactly handicapped friendly."
Eliasen icily explained when the library was open, he'd help her find anything.
Cameron noticed the librarian's desk and nudged me, asking what I'd done with that book of Frieda's he'd left there earlier.
"Unless that woman reshelved it," I told him, "the book is clearly missing."
"What woman," Eliasen asked. "Maybe it's my wife...?"
"Unless she's completely deaf," I said, "why would she turn out the lights?"
"Even after I'd made eye contact with her," Cameron continued, getting his phone, "just as I snapped this photo of her."
"Any idea why she ignored us," I asked, "then locked us in here?"
"Oh, her – yes, that's rather odd," Eliasen said, "she's with that television show. I'm quite sure her name is Melissa Fourthought."
Mrs. French looked forward to a little respite, metaphorically putting her feet up between finishing the tea sandwiches and the last push to get dinner ready. She was very glad Lady Vexilla had approved a few extra kitchen maids to help out with the wedding and all. Even Sidney the footman was helping them out with the desserts and stuff – "a good touch the boy has, no mistake" – especially considering as busy as he was being valet to the additional menfolk.
But such was the joy of youth, she thought, sitting down a moment, recalling her own fleeting youth and its memories before pulling out a little flask of scotch, her joy of middle age. It was going to be a rough winter, feeling it in her bones. How long, now, before she's able to retire?
"Well, I see there's more than a little nip in just the air," Mrs. Linebottom said with the warmest of smiles. She plopped herself down with a tired but gentle sigh across the table. Mrs. French, rather than quickly hiding her flask – she called it a 'flasquette' – offered it to her with a conspiratorial nod.
"Thank you, Bonnie, don't mind if I do." It was one of those moments they shared when typical formalities were unnecessary. "But soon the young ones will be bounding back and destroying our peace..."
The swan's feet were working extra hard this afternoon what with early arrivals not to mention having the Marquess here himself. The wedding was enough pressure, thank you kindly, even without this wintery blast. No sooner would the wedding be done and all its decorations taken down, it was then time for Christmas, once again.
This snow storm – at least the way it seemed to come from nowhere – had set everybody's teeth on edge, no doubt. But for Mrs. Linebottom, it brought back unwanted memories of distant childhood fears.
She'd been a small child when it happened – she could barely remember it – in the house where her mother had worked, how somebody had broken in during a blizzard and someone upstairs was murdered.
And then this morning, the police had been here about a possible break-in – that shattered window, here in the servant's hall.
The pounding of feet flurrying down the stairs managed to shatter the stillness in ways Mrs. Linebottom should be used to but which continued to take her by surprise, like having unruly children underfoot. "Unruly children," she thought, "where I've no responsibility and whom I cannot control!" That didn't make their arrival any less intrusive. Mrs. French, quite used to it, slipped the flask back into her pocket thinking no one would see her sudden gesture. Not that she cared if anyone had noticed but no sense pushing it.
And like all unruly children, the younger servants (which, alas, meant everybody else) were squabbling about some trifle elevated to dogma with Rudyard the Footman and Mlle. deKoy being the most heated about it. Mrs. Linebottom never got over her mistrust of Mlle. deKoy, the French governess, who, without children in the house, seemed superfluous.
"You can say what you will," deKoy complained, "but the French, they always know these things: it is in our blood." Her thick accent was never softened by a long life away from home.
"Still, though I'm Irish on me mother's side," Rudyard snapped back at her, "I don't give a fig for French blood."
Mrs. Linebottom quickly stood to her full height and stared up at them both, bringing the rest of them to silence.
"That's enough of this nonsense, whatever it is. It's time for our tea."
As if to prove Mrs. Linebottom did not have control over unruly children, she heard the governess snap at the footman something about how it was as plain as the nose on her face.
"Well, then," Herring shot back under his breath, "it must be very plain – don't think I've seen a nose much plainer."
"I shouldn't be complaining about somebody else's looks if I were you, Rudyard," Mrs. French said, slapping down trays of sandwiches. "If they'd hire us by our looks, we'd all be on the dole."
Once the maids deployed the tea things along the length of their table, the servants began the ritual by digging in, pouring each other's tea and chattering among themselves when Vector came barging in.
Everyone stopped immediately and stared at the butler whose eyebrows showed considerable alarm.
"Ah, there you are, Sidney. Come with me."
Pretending not to pay attention in the momentary silence surrounding Vector's mysterious interruption, everyone could overhear the message he urgently relayed.
"There's a security problem at the library, Sidney – Mr. Eliasen requests our presence."
After they had hurried back up the stairs, the chattering then quickly resumed, talk of "a security problem" initiating serious discussion.
Mrs. Linebottom looked back at the broken window, hastily covered by a small plank of plywood and a plastic garbage bag. Mrs. French, seeing her expression, gave her a comforting pat on the arm.
"Perhaps," deKoy suggested, "Monsieur Sidney has forgotten to pay a library fine, no?" Mrs. Linebottom considered throwing a scone at her. DeKoy ducked her head in a giggling pantomime as if to say, "oops."
"If there's a security problem, I should be the one they would call. I mean, after all, I'm the senior footman."
"Oh, come on, Red, don't you mean you're much more manly than Sidney?" Mrs. French enjoyed teasing Herring, all the same.
"Wonderful, Mrs. French, just wonderful," Mrs. Linebottom laughed, "throwing fuel on the fire...!"
Margaret, one of Mrs. French's temporary kitchen maids, whispered confidentially to Lisa Newlife how "Old Vector" was a pretty creepy fellow "what with them eyebrows looking like they're made of steel wool pasted on."
But then, thinking about creepiness, Lisa had never met anyone much creepier than that guy with the big old walking stick.
"I thought you might've meant my wife, Christie," Eliasen said, explaining his confusion once Sidney and the butler left to go downstairs for the servants' tea. Vector had waited uneasily in the shadows in case he would be needed, his expression looking quite relieved when he wasn't.
"I thought maybe she might have stopped here at the library for something – she had gone to tea earlier than I – especially if she would have noticed that the lights had been left on."
There, in Cameron's phone was the grainy proof, once enlarged, of a woman who was clearly an intruder in the library. It had been closed and supposedly securely locked: how did she get in?
"She probably followed us in," I just assumed, "but why shut off the lights when she knew we were still here?"
"And for that matter, lock the door again. No, she probably entered from the public side which has its own entrance," Eliasen explained, pointing toward the other doorway nearby, "but it has separate codes."
I reminded him Frieda had given us the code to let us in – or rather the riddle to solve the code.
"Even if the private side of the house were unlocked and all the lights lit, that side should still be locked." He went over to check the door and found it quite securely locked.
Turning on the computer at the librarian's desk, Eliasen checked the security's software, scrolling through entries from the past few days, and found it had been accessed several times from the public side after-hours.
"Now, here are several books that Ms. Fourthought signed out – all after hours – but all approved by 'CE' – that's my wife. But she'd have told me since she always thought it a nuisance, these scholars who can never stick to a schedule. Working for the TV show or not, Fourthought's doing some research on Beethoven..."
"But Fourthought's the name of the author of the book that's gone missing, a copy that Schnellenlauter was returning to Frieda. Since it had been published during the War, she couldn't be that old. Unless she'd been some kind of prodigy as a five-year-old writer back then – which could explain such a bad, derivative style."
"What author is this you're talking about, Terry?"
I recognized the voice before she entered the library: it was Frieda Erden.
Wheeling herself through the doorway, she'd heard there were problems at the library.
"I came as quickly as I could – Minona's taken tea up to Cathie. I do hope I didn't cause any trouble...?"
Now I had to explain to her her book, the one Schnelly had planned to return to her, has mysteriously disappeared, "presumably stolen by Melissa Fourthought herself," I said, "though that's obviously an improbability."
I thought it odd the way she sat back so suddenly, thoroughly stunned, as if she'd been slapped in the face (she did look a bit like a chicken about to face the hatchet).
"How is that even possible?" she cried, looking back and forth between us. "You'd just shown it to me moments ago...!"
Cameron apologized to her, since he'd left it on the desk for safe-keeping, knowing how I'd be likely to misplace it. "But maybe it wasn't stolen by the author: maybe it was her daughter?"
"But a real person named Melissa Fourthought here, so soon after Schnelly's death?"
"A real person...?" I looked over at Cameron.
"Yes," she continued with a certain dignified resignation, "you couldn't know, of course: Schnelly would not have told you my secret."
"My old pseudonym..." She cleared her throat. "You see – I'm Melissa Fourthought."
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to be continued...
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(*1) Mother: it was tradition, in the British tea ritual, the person pouring the tea would be the hostess or the mother of the household; in her absence, it was usually humorous for someone else to ask, "shall I be mother?" regardless of the person's gender.
(*2) George Romney: famous 18th Century British painter, famous for his portraits
(*3) DSCH: The musical motif Dmitri Shostakovich created from his initials, using the German language. In Russian, the letter Ш is pronounced "sh" which in German would be transliterated as "sch." In German solfege, the musical pitch B was referred to as "H" and E-flat was "Es" or "S" - therefore D-SCH became the pitches D - E-flat - C - B-natural.
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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