(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...
"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 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.
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."
"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?"
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to be continued... [with any luck, this link should become active at 8am, July 27th]
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(*) 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