Monday, July 04, 2016

The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben: Installment #15

In the previous installment of The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben, we met Vector the Butler of Phlaumix Court who managed to tell Skripasha Scricci where to go (very politely, of course, since he is, after all, a British butler); and Dr. Kerr & Cameron finally enter the Great Hall of Phlaumix though for some reason Kerr finds it oddly familiar.

(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 Dodecahedron Room, Phlaumix Court: moments later

I was disappointed to discover my assigned room was not an actual dodecahedron (*1) but a room like any other box-like rectangle, brilliantly detailed but otherwise ordinary. Vector explained how Miss Frieda had suggested it, saying that it would be "no doubt suitable for a composer like yourself." However, I soon began to see the image of this twelve-sided Platonic solid embedded into the room like a recurring motif: in the floor's tiled patterns, across the ceiling, around the fireplace's ornate woodwork.

A broad expanse of ceiling above the bed peered into a night-time sky as seen through a completely transparent, three-dimensional dodecahedron, a trompe-l'oiel (*2) version of sleeping out in nature under a multi-faceted glass ceiling.

The walls were painted a deep lilac shade, giving the room another nickname, one Lady Vexilla found much easier to pronounce.

Cameron was standing in the doorway to the adjoining room only partly dressed, still changing into fresh clothes after our trip.

"Did you see all the detailed woodwork on that staircase?" I asked him.

"Yes, I noticed that," he said, pulling up his pants, "all those rabbits (*3). It's like Fibonacci's embedded in the house's DNA. "Do you get all this," he added shortly, "what to make of it?"

"I've always had a platonic relationship with math." What I also needed to 'make' was sense out of Schnellenlauter's little Fib.

I found the right suitcase, relieved to see the clothes I remembered packing. "Do we need to wear tuxes for dinner?" Everything I was wearing reminded me of the train and the crime scene.

"Nobody said anything to me about wearing tuxes." Cameron tucked his shirt in. "And why's this a 'suitable room' for you?"

"Frieda's thinking symbolically, I imagine – you know, between twelve sides to a dodecahedron compared to twelve pitches in a chromatic scale. Maybe she thinks I'm still a serial composer, using Schoenberg's old-fashioned dodecaphonic method." (*1)

I can't remember the last time I wrote anything using authentic 12-tone serialism, though my music usually struck people as serial. Everything from the last thirty years has been searching for a new approach. Maybe she figured I'd find some inspiration here, surrounded by these Magic Twelves. Well, the thought was nice, I must admit.

Cameron patted down his easily disheveled hair after pulling on the lavender sweater his partner gave him their first Christmas together. Dylan's parents hadn't allowed him to make this trip – something about family obligations. At least we'd be back home in time they'd be together this Christmas, Dylan whose family's Jewish and Cameron who's Persian-American.

"I still think it would be great to see Fictitia again," Cameron added.

"Yeah, her and Scricci in the same room?" I should compose a Kyrie for the Critical Mass for that explosive occasion. (*4)

Cameron laughed when I mentioned he's found another admirer in Sidney the Footman, someone obviously (and understandably) much taken by him. Slipping off my comfortable corduroys, I looked older and frumpier next to Cameron.

He got his cell phone out and tried calling Dylan, calculating the time-change, then left a quick message in his voice-mail.

"He would love this place, all the detail," Cameron said, pocketing the phone. "I'm sure his Asperger's would be in overdrive." Dylan was obsessive about details but Cameron understood. Sometimes it came in handy.

"Meeting everybody here would terrify him," I said. "I'm having enough trouble, myself." Unfortunately, being an introvert wasn't always so practical.

"We should probably sit down and thrash out the Maestro's clue," Cameron said, "now that we can talk without being overheard."

"I left it in that book I found – should be around here, somewhere."

Looking around, I couldn't see the book anywhere, wondering if I hadn't dropped it on the way up to the room or left it on some table in passing, or maybe on the nightstand. There was already a book on the nightstand, placed beside a small lamp, as if a reader just set it aside. A slender book, it was more a manuscript's rough draft, a computer print-out, but handsomely bound in leather with gold tooling, despite the occasional red marks and corrections indicating it was a galley proof.

Out of curiosity, I opened it up and scanned over the title page, a standard portrait of Beethoven on the frontispiece.

"Check this out," I said with some surprise. "Does this ring a bell?"

The title of the book, The Tale of the Master and his Belovèd, sounded like a discarded movement from Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade (*5).

Cameron handed me the by now familiar, worn copy of a book that apparently belonged to Frieda, much to my surprise. "Here it is," he said, not paying attention. "You'd given it to me."

"Ah, good," I said, laying the other book back down on the nightstand, and leafing through Frieda's book with little interest.

"Really – Unfinished Melody by Melissa Fourthought." I snapped it shut with a groan, ready to toss it back on the bed. "It's amazing how many bad books there are, let loose upon the world..."

"Where'd you get that, anyway," Cameron asked, checking his tie in the mirror. "It's hardly your cup-of-tea, as they say here."

"Your sarcasm doesn't become you, young Master Pierce," I smirked back at him.

"Yeah, what is it with everyone calling me Master Pierce, anyhow?" he added. "It's not like I'm a child or something."

"I guess Vector thinks you're either my son – or my boy," I said. "He probably assumes you're younger than you are. Just old-fashioned propriety: enjoy it while you can."

"Who knows what Sidney's thinking..."

"Hmm, that's odd," I said, leafing through Unfinished Melody again, fanning the pages, now that I remembered what I'm looking for. "I thought sure I'd left that copy of Schnelly's clue stuffed in here?"

"Oh, I saw you stick it in your shirt pocket on the train."

I checked the discarded shirt: there it was.

I'd hoped everything might have fallen into place since I last saw it. "Still a puzzlement," I said, flipping it over. "Aside from my name and the Schoenberg reference, the rest makes no sense."

"To most people," Cameron said after hanging up his clothes in the wardrobe, "that much would've been indecipherable, so there's that."

"That's what this world needs: more self-solving clues. Why couldn't everything solve itself? Surely, there must be an app for that? It would make police work a lot easier – but murder mysteries more boring."

I noticed Cameron opened my other suitcase and started sorting through the clothes, getting ready to hang them in the wardrobe.

"You don't have to do that: I'll put them away," I told him. "Besides, Cameron, it's not like you're my valet – Sidney can see to it," both sharing a good chuckle over that one.

"Maybe we should talk about this clue now without being interrupted," I said. "So what do you think this is, then?"

He took the card and looked at it, turning it back and forth.

"It's too complicated, you'd said, to be spontaneous, and it wasn't written hurriedly."

"Right, it's not a clue identifying the killer."

"But this on the back – your name, the 'AS' and then the Op.45 – that was written hurriedly," he added, "and separately."

"So this coded Fib may not be important, but Schoenberg must have significance."

It was one of those spontaneous 'eureka' moments. "Wait a minute, Frieda's book. I'd wondered if he'd written this on it."

"Wait, you found this at the crime scene?"

"Yes, beside Schnellenlauter's brief case."

"Terry," he said, standing up, "this is evidence. You shouldn't have taken it."

"Well, Hemiola took the card back, didn't he?"

"Yes, but the book could've had the murderer's fingerprints on it," he said. "Now it's got a lot more of them!"

I argued that this was Miss Frieda's book – which reminded me of Vector.

"Vector looked inside, then handed it to me: what was it he said?"

"Beyond saying that it had 'no significance whatsoever'?"

"Yes, that was it exactly – and very good impression, too, by the way."

I opened the book to the inside cover with the inscription Vector mentioned.

"But it's written in code: he recognized it."

Showing the inscription to Cameron, holding it up, I wondered how Vector knew it was Frieda's or Schnellenlauter was returning it: I'd said nothing about where I'd found it. "How could he have known?"

"Right," he agreed. "The book has no names written in it, no nameplate, so he must be familiar with the code."

"Didn't Vector say he 'noticed the inscription inside'? Doesn't mean he read it. Maybe he recognized it from seeing it before."

"But it means he associates it with Frieda – so she's familiar with it."

"Maybe it's the same code on the Fib," I said, holding it up. "It probably means this card's intended for her."

Cameron peered over my shoulder. "No, not quite. But it looks pretty familiar."

"I know Schnellenlauter wrote coded notes years ago: maybe it's a private joke?"

"It's the same code used by Harrison Harty."


If Harty, who was LauraLynn's great-grandfather, wrote his account about Schweinwald in 1880, how did Frieda become acquainted with his code?

"Yeah, look here," Cameron pointed. "See these words? This one's 'Schnelly.' That's 'Friedalein.'"

"'Return this book to me,'" he translated cautiously, "'when you find... my twins'?"

"No wonder Frieda's happy he's returning the book."

"So you think returning the book now means he's found them?" Cameron wondered. "Had she ever mentioned anything about having twins?"

"The heroine in Unfinished Melody discovers her lover is her long-lost twin brother..."

Shrugging my shoulders, I was sure there was a logical explanation here somewhere, but then Schnellenlauter had just been found murdered and Frieda was acquainted with a 130-year-old code, so how logical was that? Hating when the right side of my brain trampled on the left side, there was nothing else to do but shrug.

"Maybe a lost second volume for a matched pair of Fourthought first editions?" Not that I'd imagine there's a second edition. "Maybe, for that matter, Frieda was separated from her children during the war?"

These weren't the kinds of topics I could drop into any ordinary conversation: "Sorry for your loss; what's this about twins?" Whatever pain she may be dealing with now, why bring up older pain? I couldn't even be sure, at her age, if she'd recognize me now. It's been many years since we'd last met.

But this raised additional questions the left brain also wanted to figure out. Was there a reason they're communicating in code? What possible connection could Frieda have with Schweinwald or with Harrison Harty's family?

Burnson described Frieda as his mother's maiden aunt; Schnellenlauter called her his wife. That contradiction alone was undoubtedly a tantalizing tale.

Of course, we still had no idea who had murdered Schnelly or why. Was Frieda in any kind of danger herself?

And why was this awful book so important? Curious minds and all that...

Recalling what I'd skimmed through of Unfinished Melody before dropping off to sleep, the heroine was the maid of a landowner, an impoverished aristocrat who lived between Leipzig and Dresden during the Napoleonic Era. Apparently the maid was also a talented composer who, because she's a woman, couldn't get her music published or even performed. Skipping ahead, the landowner offered to have her music published under his name and gained a bit of recognition for it. The maid falls in love with the manservant of the landowner's visiting sister.

In some unfortunately misplaced foreshadowing, the author reveals – certainly lacking forethought, I joked – this manservant is actually her long-lost twin brother. One can only imagine where this will lead: inevitably to heart-break and tragedy. The manservant leaves when the sister returns home without even telling her good-bye. There's predictably a child born of this union.

"Oh, good grief," Cameron said, "who wrote this, the love-child of Charles Dickens who fell asleep during Richard Wagner's Die Walküre?" He began humming the opening phrase from Wagner's duet, "Du bist der Lenz," when Siegmund and Sieglinde discover their new-found love, running away together despite the fact he's her twin brother and she's married.

"Well," I said, "it obviously must mean something significant to her, doesn't it, or it wouldn't have that inscription in it. I mean, the fact that it's even written in code is one thing."

Picking up the other book from the nightstand, I started paging through it. "Here's another example of Phlaumix Court's literary excellence: 'She appeared before him a vision of pure indescribableness.' Kinda grabs you, no?"

"'Indescribableness'? No doubt going on for several pages describing this vision, don't you..."

"Oh my God, Cameron, look who wrote it!"

"What – 'the account of a friend who knew the Master personally,' – what Master – 'who cared for the Belovèd until her death. As told by a former professor at the Schweinwald Academy... Dr. Rainer Knussbaum'...?!"

"And see who's the translator? Frieda Falkenstein Erden!" It was like a revelation. "I never knew what the 'F.' stood for."

So that definitively answered the question about her knowledge of Harrison Harty's code or where she would've found this original manuscript. The academy was housed in a castle once belonging to the Falkenstein Family.

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to be continued... [this link should become active at 8am on Wednesday, July 6th]

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(*1) Dodecahedron: "a three-dimensional shape having twelve plane faces, in particular a regular solid figure with twelve equal pentagonal faces." Frieda thought a room filled with twelve-sided figures would be of interest to a composer familiar with Schoenberg's "Composition with Twelve Notes" usually known as serialism, also known as "dodecaphonic music."

(*2) trompe-l'oeil: a visual illusion in art where, for example, a flat surface of a wall can be painted in such a way to suggest the entrance to a non-existent room, a technique common in the Renaissance but also found in Ancient Greece; as I was writing this scene, the image of a "transparent dodecahedron" through which we can view the heaven above (and outside) the house (built in the 1790s) was inspired by Salvador Dali's 1955 painting, The Sacrament of the Last Supper where a dodecahedron (see above), an ancient symbol of heaven, is part of the three-dimensional pentagon-shaped windowpanes behind the table. (Unfortunately for my purposes, Dali's painting is perfectly symmetrical around a central focal point, rather than at the canvas' Golden Section.)   

(*3) rabbits figure prominently in the story of Fibonacci and the origin of the Fibonacci Sequence of numbers, just one of many symbols found in the design of Phlaumix Court.

(*4) Kyrie from the Critical Mass: the "Kyrie" is the opening movement of a musical setting of the Catholic liturgy of the Mass; In physics, "critical mass" is 'the smallest mass of a fissionable material that will sustain a nuclear chain reaction,' the likely result of a reunion of Scricci and Fictitia LaMouche. If I have to start explaining all of the puns in here, we'll be scrolling forever...

(*5) Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherezade: a symphonic suite by Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov inspired by the 1001 Arabian Nights. It's four movements are entitled "The Sea & Sinbad's Ship," "The Tale of the Kalendar Prince," "The Young Prince and the Young Princess," and "Festival at Baghdad. The Sea. The Ship Breaks against a Cliff Surmounted by a Bronze Horseman."
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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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