Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben: Installment #22

In the previous installment of The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben, Frieda works out the coded messages Dr. Kerr has found, though they don't seem to be telling us anything that makes sense: something about searching for a lost work apparently by her great grandfather; the other mentions missing children and “when you hear his Quartetto Giocoso, remember I love you – always have.” These clues raise more questions than they offer answers! Meanwhile, Dylan, Cameron's partner celebrating Beethoven's Birthday in New York, sees the photo he texted him and thinks the woman in the library looks familiar. We find out more about that mysterious woman as the scene continues.

(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 Four, conclusion

Frieda's sitting room, Phlaumix Court: a little later

"Sorry – thought I heard someone in the hall. Just feeling paranoid, I guess." Cameron, after pulling the door shut behind him, joined us by the fire. "You know what they always say," he added. "It's probably just the wind. This storm does seem to be getting worse..."

Minona had gone downstairs to the servants' lounge for her scheduled afternoon break, not likely to return until closer to dinnertime. "It would go against her religion to break with her routine," Frieda explained.

Even she had seemed reluctant to mention anything in front of her maid, stone-faced Minona who kept her thoughts to herself. Too often, she'd said, people treated their servants as if they weren't there. If nothing else, I'd at least learned that much from watching Downton Abbey, where things that shouldn't be overheard invariably were.

There were, however, no other guests staying in this part of the house, at least not until other wedding guests arrive. "Other than my dear friend Cathie," Frieda continued, "this hallway is invariably empty. I suppose it could be somebody who's lost, with all the new guests." She stopped suddenly, perhaps deciding against other possibilities.

"I'd forgotten Vector said something about guided tours for those who're first-time guests – not that that'd keep me from getting lost." I also wondered about the very likely possibility the house could be haunted.

Guidonian Hand (Help with Solfege)
Frieda had mentioned the existence of a secret organization called 'The Guidonian Hand,' taking its name from Guido d'Arezzo's famous drawing which students of singing used as a memory aid since the 11th Century. Superimposed on different parts of this hand were various syllables of the scale, identifying them by what we now call 'do-re-mi.' For instance, by pointing at a specific joint on the teacher's upheld hand, he'd indicate a specific pitch in the scale which meant anyone unable to read musical notation could follow where he pointed.

What always confused me as a young student was its seemingly illogical progression: it wasn't a continuous line over adjacent fingers. I thought it should go down one finger and then up the next. Instead, it went down the thumb, across the palm, up the little finger, circling around the inside fingers like a labyrinth.

"So, wait – what?" I said, raising my hand like sign language for 'stop' as if I've just had a major epiphany. "You think someone from the Guidonian Hand might be here in the house?"

"Well, yes, actually: I think it's very likely." Frieda pointed toward the door. "We do have some new servants, recently hired."

Of course, a maid wandering around the house wouldn't seem all that unusual, eavesdropping on the other side of closed doors. "You think Minona could be part of this shadowy organization you're talking about?"

Frieda looked at me with signs of encouragement as if waiting for various pieces of the puzzle to start falling together though I regret to say nothing of the kind was, so far, happening.

"Do you think someone's out to steal your copy of Knussbaum's Tale, then?"

"Oh, I think they already have that information."

"But Schnellenlauter was killed in London, not here," I said, shaking my head, marking each point by counting on my fingers, "on the day of a concert he was conducting of Rob Sullivan's music – music SHMRG tried to stop being performed before, his new opera Faustus, Inc., killing the composer among others in the process."

I started to explain the far-reaching implications of SHMRG and their nefarious plans but she held up her hand for silence.

"Please, Terry, yes – I know all about SHMRG but there's much more involved."

I had to admit there was no clear evidence pointing specifically to SHMRG, nothing other than the merest conjecture of coincidence, a very strong hunch, maybe, but nothing that would stand up in court. It hadn't occurred to me others with other motives might want Schnellenlauter dead, that an old conductor couldn't have other enemies.

My shoulders drooped as if I felt defeated, unable to stay in London, unable to help in solving my friend's murder. How was the investigation going, I kept thinking; what leads had they found?

It occurred to me I should contact Chief Inspector Hemiola about Schnelly's message, the code that he'd hoped I could solve, which is, after all, what had gotten me involved in the case initially.

"Cameron, didn't I give you that card with Hemiola's phone number on it?"

"Yeah, I, uh... put it in that book..."

"Ah... well... if I call New Scotland Yard and ask if they'd give me a number for the International Music Police, perhaps I can get a message to him and let him know about..."

"About what, exactly?" he asked. "We have two messages that don't make sense. Plus there's this group called the Guidonian Hand...?"

Cameron was right, of course: it didn't seem like much to go on, nothing that would lead to the killer's identity.

"Besides, we're doing what Schnellenlauter wanted us to: get information back to Frieda."

She carefully picked up Schnelly's original secret messages, her last communications from him, and wondered where they would lead her now. The first one took us to the next clue in Schoenberg's String Trio. The letter's fragment in her book was gone, now itself a dead end. And where was there news about the twins?

Schnellenlauter was involved in so many things, here, reviewing them in my mind, any of which could've led to his death: what I couldn't understand was why anyone would kill for any of it.

It's true Schnelly had the book with him, but did that necessarily mean he was ready to return it to her? Maybe he hadn't actually found the twins, then. Where would she continue searching?

"Yes," she sighed, turning the two messages over, "there's much to tell you. But first, give me a few minutes' rest."

Returning to Dylan's Manhattan apartment, several minutes later

Dylan sat in the chair, rocking back and forth gently to the music. No, not to the music – some inner metronome, something even deeper than Beethoven. Already into the finale of the quartet that just began a moment ago, he must've lost his place in the music. What had happened that he'd missed so much? He couldn't have fallen asleep. And it certainly wasn't any lack of interest! Of the Op. 18 Quartets, this was his favorite after the F Major.

He'd lose track of time listening to music, especially when listening to Beethoven, but that was only the time surrounding him. Losing track of the music was completely different: had that ever happened before? What did it mean, that he'd lost his concentration during a Beethoven quartet? Of all days, too, the Master's Birthday. Sacrilege! 

Dylan thought about starting the quartet over again – three movements; maybe nineteen minutes – a little less worried about keeping to schedule, though he needed to finish these six quartets before his parents came home. Maybe he ought to use a different recording so it wasn't so repetitious. But didn't he really hear it by osmosis?

Looking at his phone to check the time, Dylan noticed the last photograph which Cameron had just sent him from London, the one with that woman in the shadows, the one who looked familiar.

Maybe that was why he had blanked out, finding himself unable to concentrate, given facial recognition was never his strong suit. People he was familiar with, felt comfortable with, that was different, over time. But those people he had only met before in passing really frustrated him when he didn't recognize them the next time. He tried finding something he could focus on which would jar his memory about their appearance or the way they spoke, but Cameron and his parents were good about letting him know their names.

Another thing troubling him was why he should 'almost recognize' someone in Europe: there'd be lots of people he'd never met. "It's like there're only so many people to go around in the world."

Was she somebody his parents worked with who'd stopped by the house occasionally, somebody he wouldn't have paid much attention to?

"That's probably it," he sighed, stretching his legs. "I can't waste more time. I've got to start this quartet over again." He went over and stopped the CD player, waiting for a reasonable cadence. It annoyed him but he didn't really remember hearing the first three movements so he really needed to start over again.

Any other time, he would just keep going, but today was Beethoven's Birthday, a day he felt needed his full concentration. How could you play Beethoven and not listen, pushing it into the background?

He hated how most people often used music like it's wallpaper with sound just to make a room feel less empty. "Ambiance," his father called it, "never too loud, barely enough to notice it."

Wasn't that what people were like to him, physical ambiance, enough to notice but not present enough he'd actually pay attention?

That's why men were always easier to recognize, their suits always so similar, since women rarely wore the same outfit twice. Was that why he was attracted to men, because they're more uniquely consistent? Usually it was the pattern of a beard or way the hair's combed. Women often kept changing their hairstyles, confusing him.

He kept looking at the photo, trying the phone from several different angles. Then it dawned on him: yes – the hair!

He hurriedly started texting Cameron back with what he considered an important discovery.

The same hallway in Phlaumix Court, moments later

Deep in thought, Dr. Kerr stepped quietly into the hallway outside the bedroom. He was stoop-shouldered and careworn, an old man, looking like he's already defeated. Closing the door behind him, he rubbed a finger briskly underneath his nose, an old habit she recognized as mounting frustration. He had often done that during a lecture, interrupted by some student's question, unable to find his way back on topic. She always delighted in being the one who broke his train of thought.

The woman who now called herself Melissa Fourthought sunk further into the shadows, convinced this was definitely Dr. T. Richard Kerr. Whatever he was doing here, it meant she had to be very careful. If he wasn't here after the same thing – and how unlikely was that? – she couldn't very well risk his finding out.

He did, somehow, have a copy of that dreadful novel by Melissa Fourthought, the author she's using as her current alias, so if he puts two and two together, he could blow her cover. She could just kill him, bump him off, like it was an accident – these old houses had all kinds of potential.

Just then the window at the far end of the hall blew open, sending in waves of cold and flying snow. The drapes began swirling ghost-like in the breeze around her window of opportunity.

Dashing down the hall to close the window, Kerr nearly slipped and fell, the snow already slick and the wind strong. Between the diaphanous drapes and the banging casements, he was having considerable trouble.

In the distance, she thought she heard the howl of a large dog. All it would take was one little push.

It would be hours before the storm subsided and they'd find his body, buried in the drifting snow beneath the window. The mere element of surprise would be enough, sending him to his death.

Cameron barged into the hall, shouting "Doc, you've gotta see this – what the...?"

The mysterious woman stumbled back into the shadows.

"A little help with the window, first, maybe?" Kerr tried pushing it shut.

Over the wind, Cameron tried shouting at him, "the woman in the library? Dylan thinks it's the one who'd kidnapped him!"

Frieda's sitting room, Phlaumix Court: a moment later

After Cameron disentangled me from the drapes and helped me lock the window – was that a dog howling in the distance or maybe just the wind? – we inadvertently woke Frieda from her brief nap as we barged back in, excited and a little confused by Dylan's message.

"But if that really is the same woman," I asked, "what's that mean? Do you think he's right about recognizing her?"

"Well, you have to understand," Cameron tried explaining, "how his mind processes things."

We'd talked about this before on several occasions, especially on this last trip, how Dylan's making excellent progress with facial recognition, something Cameron's been able to help him with, making him feel more secure.

"But the photo you sent him – with all due respect to your phone: it was pretty grainy after you enlarged it."

Having wakened with a jolt, Frieda asked what the excitement was all about: was there news? had we figured something out?

Cameron showed her the photograph, this time enlarged. "Do you recognize this woman?"

When she strained to see, shaking her head, he explained about Dylan's experience with his kidnapper, possibly this very same woman.

"I don't socialize that much around the house," Frieda said, tilting her head, "especially with that crew in the public wing. But since you've mentioned it, I think I might have seen her – elsewhere."

Cameron and I looked at each other, surprised, as Frieda searched for another folder she'd hidden in a different desk drawer, mentioning how Schnellenlauter's latest trip to New York was more research than tour.

"As I'd started to tell you, I think, Schnelly had been trying to find my son, but with no particular luck."

She pulled out a fairly fresh looking folder containing two photographs she'd printed from e-mails Schnelly'd sent before leaving for London.

"The one's a scan of a newspaper obituary; the other, he didn't explain."

The smaller print-out was a photo I.D. of a handsome student, otherwise unidentified.

"I've no idea who he is," Frieda continued. "He wrote, 'will explain later.' And now he died before he's told me."

She handed us the obituary, its photograph enlarged, explaining it was taken at her granddaughter's funeral. "He'd discovered her too late."

The obituary, dated last June, was for a middle-aged woman named Melody Klangfarben, a name which rang a distant, tiny bell. Her life, summarized in 200-words-or-less, seemed fairly colorless beyond her love of gardening.

"Her father was William Hawk; she's survived by two daughters and a grandchild – Klavdia, of Hartford CT; Fern Geliebter, of Hoboken."

Frieda explained that William Hawk was the Americanized name of her son Wilhelm. "I'd named them both Falke, from the Falkensteins. Hawk, apparently, sounded better in English than Falcon, though he proved most elusive."

"That name, Klavdia's quite unusual," I interrupted her, looking over the funeral photograph. "Could Schnelly have mentioned that to me before?"

"I doubt it," Frieda said: seems he discovered William's whereabouts two months ago.

"William died shortly before the birth of his daughter, Melody – no further information. Schnelly found no mention of the mother's name."

"Look at this person here, in the background." I could almost see her. She stood facing the camera, her hair billowing.

"It looks like the woman in the library," Cameron said. "It's Melissa Fourthought!"

Taking a photo of it with his phone, he sent it to Dylan.

"But that doesn't make any sense," Frieda said.

"That's her, the same one," Dylan immediately replied, "that's the Countess du Hicquè."

"But why was she at this woman's funeral?"

"Why is she now calling herself Melissa Fourthought?"

"And why is she here?"

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to be continued... [with any luck, this link should become active at 8am, July 22nd]

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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

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