(If you've only just arrived and have not a clue what's going on, you might find it easier to start with the introductory post, here.)
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Cameron and I stood at the base of the spiral staircase like tourists, trying not to gawk at the room or become overwhelmed by its magnificence. I couldn't help think everything that happened here, even Cousin Maurie's little contretemps, was captured for eternity within this crystal globe. The Great Hall spread out before us empty and quiet, at least momentarily – tomb-like, in fact, not to dwell on it: it needed to be a festive occasion with the holidays and the wedding.
|Kepler's pattern (in blue)|
The walls, with marble pilasters and plaster niches, divided into three towering levels, outlined in stone, oak panels, then painted frescoes, carried the eye upwards to the barrel-vaulted ceiling with its Baroque-style allegorical figures. Several various-sized paintings – every one of them rectangular – and statues, mostly marble, exclusively from classic antiquity, were distributed within presumed symmetries.
Facing south, five great windows with lozenge-shaped panes, also subdivided in three-tiered proportions, were matched by archways on the second level. At first glance, everything had been a blur; but now, I noticed more.
Turning away from the vestibule with its grand doorway to face the staircase, we could see two archways on either side which Vector pointed out earlier though I'd forgotten which one led to what.
"Freida said the one on the left goes back to the library's entrance. That's where she told us to meet her."
"So where's the other archway lead?" Cameron asked, pointing in the opposite direction. "Bet it's easy to get lost around here."
"Let's save that for later," I said, "okay? Right now, it's this way."
The ceiling above a narrow lobby felt confining after the Great Hall's limitlessness, a heavy double door marked simply "The Library." Carved into a stone lintel were some lines under the door-frame's broken pediment:
Lift veil by veil uncovered,
In answer there must be other veils behind."
"Wow, something that's centered," Cameron said in amazement, looking at the carved lintel and the bust breaking through its triangular frame.
"These twisted wooden columns framing the doors, however, are another argument for Fibonacci." Each elaborate column consisted of three plant-like stalks, all intertwining like vines together, each with nubbins where leaves had been removed. "If you notice the pattern of the nubbins spiraling around each stalk, here," I said, moving my finger along one stem, "you'll see how they grow from different points, a botanical process called phyllotaxis."
Cameron bent over to inspect the other column a little more closely. "And...?"
"The numbers of leaves and the turns involved create a pattern of ratios that are all part of the Fibonacci Series."
He looked up at me and frowned, convinced I was pulling his leg. "I'll take your word for it," he said.
"I'm sure a botanist could explain it better," I said, grinning at him, when I heard the creak of approaching wheels. "Still, it amazes me how much mathematical detail is embedded in this place."
"I thought you said you never understood math," Cameron said with a smirk, looking up at the bust over the door.
"I don't: show me a page of formulas, my brain instantly glazes over: how it applies to art is another matter. But we'll leave our scientific explorations behind, now: it sounds like Frieda's here."
"Ah, you have found Pallas Athena, I see," Frieda said, nodding her head as the maid wheeled her around the corner. "I told you she would not be difficult to find – here we are." The maid placed her near some arm chairs in a little sitting area, with a nod indicating we should be seated.
"We come to seek wisdom," Frieda said as she glanced toward Athena's bust, "but sometimes, as in life, we fall short. Like the inscription carved over the door says, questions only beget more questions."
I had just started telling her about seeing her translation of Knussbaum's Tale when she raised her hands to her neck.
"Minona," she said, "I seem to have forgotten my shawl – I feel chilled." (*)
"Fräulein, we're already two minutes late for tea," anxiously looking at her watch.
"Would you fetch it, please? The turquoise one."
As the maid hurried off down the hall, Frieda nodded with a smile.
"So punctual, you would think she was Prussian."
She leaned forward almost in a conspiratorial manner, afraid she might be overheard.
"You seem quite keen on seeing the library, so I assume, dear Terry, this is not just out of scholarly curiosity."
"No, Frieda, I'm afraid not," I told her. "The police investigating... Schnelly's death gave me a note they'd found on him."
She sat back and closed her eyes briefly. "Now then, speaking of questions..."
With a sigh, she calmly folded her hands, placed them in her lap, then leaned forward to look directly at me. "You saw him, yes?" she asked, not waiting for an answer before continuing. "Burnson and his bride, they would tell me nothing of what they saw, no doubt thinking to spare me the pain. But I need to know, I need to share his pain," she said, "since I could not be there for him. We talked how we would help each other – when that time would come."
Instinctively, I leaned forward and took her hands in mine, before telling her there was nothing she could've done to help.
"No," she said, "that isn't the point, Terry. And it's not for closure."
It was more than holding his hand to ease the pain, she explained: "it was just being there to say good-bye."
As briefly as I could, trying not to be too graphic about it, I quietly told her what I had seen, stopping occasionally to search for the right words or hold back a sob. She'd gently squeeze my hands or perhaps nod but her expression never changed, her eyes firmly closed as she leaned forward.
She knew when I finished and sat back, her expression now more doubtful. I was afraid I'd upset her, after all. No, finding an answer reveals only more questions, like the old inscription says.
Mumbling a silent prayer, perhaps a brief farewell, she slowly opened her eyes and shook her head as if in disbelief, returning to the present from somewhere far away: how far, I couldn't tell.
"There were really no signs of foul play? No sign of anything missing?"
"So far, the answer to both is 'no.'"
I fished Unfinished Melody out of my pocket, glad I hadn't dropped it, and handed it to her with a smile. "I understand this is yours? He had it with him when he died." Her face lit up like I'd handed her the best Christmas present ever. "I assume that means he's found the twins?"
Her expression quickly changed to confusion. "You know about that? He told you?"
"No, why? I saw the inscription written inside."
"You can read the... code? Ah, of course: LauraLynn mentioned her great-grandfather's journal."
She was amazed how small the world was that after all these years her niece's son should marry Harrison Harty's great-granddaughter who knew an old friend of Schnelly's she hadn't seen in thirty years.
"How is it there's never enough people to go around in the world? And now you're both here, under my roof!"
The code, she explained, paging through the book, had existed many years before Mr. Harty ever went to study at Schweinwald.
Then I handed her the index card with the copy of Schnellenlauter's message.
"Ah, now," she said, pausing, "we get deeper into the realm of mystery, one that's too hard to work on here. Perhaps we could work this out after tea? And bring this with you?"
She gave me back both card and book, concerned she might lose them.
Cameron coughed and took them himself. "May I...?"
Looking back down the hall, listening for Minona, Frieda asked me very pointedly, "this message was meant for me to solve, but is there something you expect to find, some clue to Schnelly's murder?"
I showed her what Schnellenlauter had scrawled on the back of the card, then noticed a tear gliding down her cheek.
"No," she said, trying not to break down, "I don't understand it, really – it looks like the last thing he wrote."
"That's what I thought, too, Frieda," I said. "But who I'm to tell...?"
I said I'd figured out "AS Op.45" referred to Arnold Schoenberg's String Trio but I had no idea what that meant. But after seeing the code in the book, I should certainly tell her.
"Was there anything like a small puncture wound," she asked, "over his heart?"
"Like Schoenberg's injection with his near-death experience? No..."
"I thought maybe he might be telling us about how he'd been killed. Would he've had time to identify the murderer?"
When I told her I heard Minona returning, she handed me another card.
Whispering quickly in my ear, she then rolled herself forward to meet Minona.
"We're now eleven minutes late for tea, Fräulein."
"Since the library is not entirely wheelchair friendly, take me into tea, Minona. Why don't you boys join us there, later?"
She wrapped the shawl carefully around her shoulders.
"My last gift from Schnelly..."
Chief Inspector Hemiola of London's IMP had been grumbling most of the morning, ever since he discovered that musicologist had disappeared on him without a word.
"And nobody bothered to get statements from them, especially that professor," he said, "or find out where they're going and whatever?"
"Well, we know the doc's staying at the Cheap Bastard Arms, isn't he?" Detective Al Rovescio had gone over this before.
"Fine, except after he slipped past you guys, he went and checked out!"
"And I'd hurried back from the library with that score he requested," Agent Axel O'Rondo complained, holding up the Schoenberg Trio. "The least he could have done was wait," he added, paging through it.
"Yes," Hemiola considered, "no doubt a simple distraction. I should've immediately suspected something. Apparently this fellow is smarter than he looks."
Hemiola had checked all of the crime scene photos Agent Fermata had taken, but none had clear images of the professor. It annoyed him he didn't have a good picture for a simple APB. One had a shot from the knees down which wouldn't prove very useful; another showed only the back of his head.
Looking around the dressing room and comparing the photos to the crime scene, Hemiola noticed something was missing from a table.
"There'd been a book there – by the briefcase...?" No one knew its whereabouts.
The old man's death at the Royal Academy was strange enough, he thought, but this one, now, was just plain weird. Another body – another musician – had been found dead with a very similar MO. And back at the very hotel where he'd ended up collecting the man the old maestro'd sent him off to find.
When the phone call came in from the IMP's dispatcher, Agent Mimi Solfeggio, not long after the departure of the coroner, they were just finishing up with the crime scene backstage at the Academy.
Dr. Rigorian had barely gotten back to his lab with Maestro Schnellenlauter's body when he was called to another crime scene, another murder that had all the earmarks of a case for the IMP.
"A violinist named Norman Drang," Agent Solfeggio relayed, "found in his hotel room and looking like he'd been... scared to death."
The room was typical of the simple elegance Hemiola associated with these hotels, luxury at luxurious prices for discerning international travelers. The walls were pale beige, the carpeting pale gray, anything but sterile white. Besides a large oval mirror, there were several paintings hanging on the walls, large and anonymously pleasing, and easy to ignore. In the far alcove was a modern desk, all straight lines and functionality, which, modern to the core, lacked Victorian grandeur harking back to days when England was England, times Hemiola considered eminently superior.
Sprawled on the floor beneath the archway, the body was anything but grand – but then corpses were rarely at their best. It appears the victim had only recently awakened, half-dressed and wearing a robe. When he fell, he hit his head on the arm of a chair but regardless not enough to cause his death.
The victim was easily identified: violinist Norman Drang of the celebrated Drang Quartet who was staying here after last night's concert. Agent Rubato mentioned their performance at Wigmore Hall had been an all-contemporary program.
"Victim was middle-aged, graying slightly around the temples, and had not yet shaved unless he was advocating the popular scruffy look."
"His colleagues assumed he'd decided to sleep in." Agent Rovescio checked his notes. "He wasn't answering his mobile or the door. So, they asked the maid to look in: that's when they found him."
"Who's 'they'...?" Hemiola saw no one other than his agents and the SOCOs. Rovescio nodded toward the other room, the bedroom, where three men stood waiting patiently but stiffly, trying to avoid eye contact.
"'They' is... or rather, are the surviving members of the deceased's string quartet."
Hemiola waved his hand slightly. "In a minute..."
"This one, I'd say, has only been dead a few hours, at most." Rigorian rose as his assistant covered the body. "Again, nothing that points to an obvious CoD, his hitting this chair notwithstanding."
"Nothing else, no wounds, no blood or fingerprints? No wet footprints or DNA...?" Hemiola looked around quickly but saw nothing unusual.
"Not really, sir," Agent Ed Libitum said freely, "not even a coded message."
Hemiola shot the man a nasty look, wiping the smile off his face.
"But there's one thing they have in common."
Libitum suggested Hemiola should start with the cellist – "I think you'll understand why" – causing Hemiola's right eyebrow to arch in curiosity.
Dr. Rigorian excused himself as they wheeled the body out into the hallway.
Already feeling an ache deep in his bones he would rather not acknowledge, the Chief Inspector shuffled off toward the bedroom.
Agent Polly Tonal, his team's most adept multi-tasker, had taken down their statements and handed Hemiola the file when he entered. She started to introduce each of the musicians, beginning with the second violinist.
"I'd like to get started with the cellist," he said, cutting her off. Hemiola introduced himself and glanced at her report. "Right then, so Mr.... Ivanskoff?" He looked intently from one to the other.
A youngish man he assumed to be past 30 tentatively raised his hand like a small schoolboy caught throwing a spitball.
"My daughter-in-law is more butch than this guy," Hemiola thought, making a note, hoping nothing too obvious registered on his face or else he'd get stuck with two more weeks of sensitivity training again.
"Well, I called Norman around 9:00," Ivanskoff began, "and he'd just gotten up."
"Take your time," Hemiola said, noting his hesitancy.
He explained how he'd gone down for coffee and then tried him again.
"That was after I ran into a friend of mine – Dr. Richard Kerr...?"
Hemiola heaved a great sigh.
"Who'd you say?"
"Well, time for Richard Kerr to 'ricercar' in the library," I told Cameron as Minona wheeled Frieda through the Grand Hall toward the family's afternoon tea. Except that Cameron had already tried the door and found it was locked, certainly counting as another obstacle in our quest.
"What was it that Frieda gave you just before the maid came back? It wouldn't by any chance be something helpful?" Cameron pointed at the card in my hand, a note hastily folded over.
"Ah, that," I said looking at it as if I'd forgotten it already. "She whispered something about being careful in there. Apparently I'm liable to find something that's only going to ask more questions."
"I think the first question is going to be a fairly obvious one: how do we get in, since it's locked?"
I unfolded the note she surreptitiously handed me and noticed a three-lined Fib:
On the third pass 'round the second helix:
To create a pleasing pattern, know the sequence."
"Great," Cameron sighed, "another riddle. Well, it's not in code, but what sequence?"
I indicated the two pillars: "That's the key."
Phylo probably referred to phyllotaxis, how these two pillars twisted like plants' stems with their leaves arranged in a spiraling helix.
"No doubt something will be revealed to us that will open the door."
Running my hand up the pillar on the right (hopefully, the second helix), I pressed the third leaf-nubbin facing the front. A small panel opened up, revealing a numbered key pad, a security system.
"Three rows and three columns." Cameron looked dubious. "Wait – those numbers look familiar. Ah, so that's the sequence! Easy as pie!"
"Phi, actually, not pi – it's the Fibonacci Series, so I'm guessing by starting with the lowest and proceeding to the highest, we'll enter a pattern that should be pleasing enough to unlock the door."
Beginning in the middle of the top row, then to the bottom right corner and the middle of the left column led to a diagonal from the lower left to the upper right corner. From the middle of the right column to the upper left corner to the bottom row's center created another triangle: symmetry.
There was a popping sound, the panel closed and the door slid open. With some hesitation, Cameron and I walked inside. The lights began to glow, revealing a huge space with a high ceiling. Our footsteps and the door gliding closed behind us created a reverberating sound suggesting a librarian's single shush might prove deafening.
The vast room, completely round, contained numerous tall windows and intermittent small oculars, its walls of mostly plaster, stone and wood creating a resonating expanse despite heavy carpeting covering much of the terrazzo floor.
While the circular walls were filled with bookcases, interspersed with niches and statues, it was the spiraling center drawing ones attention, a series of stairs rising to various levels housing the library's main collection.
Likewise round and likewise 'off-center,' these stacks were a skeleton of wrought-iron shelves: apparently little at Phlaumix was done by halves.
Cameron located a panel with numerous light switches which turned on more than those few automatically activated by unlocking the door. The gloom was immediately dispelled by bright lights making everything even more striking.
"Just a minute," he said, placing Unfinished Melody safely on the librarian's desk. "I wouldn't want to lose this in here."
The card catalog stretched endlessly beyond the desk, rows with hundreds of drawers, individual cards not yet converted to computer files. I found the right drawer, the right card – and the score's exact location.
Frieda was right: the library wasn't wheel-chair friendly. It was taking forever to reach the Schoenberg Collection on the fifth level. But the view in the meantime was spectacular, seemingly different at every turn. Statues and busts, ornamental details, even looking through the great mullioned, snow-encrusted windows – Cameron took out his phone, snapping several photos.
I still wasn't sure what we could expect much less what we'd find, beyond assuming it wouldn't be the final answer, like one of those interminably annoying scavenger hunts, one clue leading to another.
Much to my dismay, there were several file boxes with the number 784-ASC.973, each one several inches thick and quite heavy. Surely, Schnellenlauter didn't want me spending hours going through each of these boxes?
One of them had not been pushed back as far as the others. Perhaps I should start looking through this one?
After I pulled the box out and carefully untied its old worn ribbons, the first thing I saw was a list including the String Trio dated September 23rd, 1946, just past Schoenberg's 72nd birthday. At the bottom of the pile of folders was a worn manila envelope labeled 784-ASC.973.MS45, with its title and opus number.
Paging through the score wondering what I'd find, I was amazed it was a primitive photocopy of Schoenberg's original hand-written manuscript.
Several pages beyond the mid-point, there was something I would not have expected.
That's when I heard a slow creak, a door opening far below us, as someone else entered the library – but who? Was it perhaps the librarian alerted by some security alarm we'd set off?
Cameron managed another photo after noticing a person walking through the shadows below. That's when all the lights suddenly went out.
"Hallooo – sorry," I called out, "but there's someone up here. Hello, down there...? Would you turn the lights back on, please?"
Then I heard more footsteps, a door closing and a lock snapping shut.
"Damn," I said, muttering to Cameron, "just as I think I found what I thought I might have been looking for."
The library was eerily quiet: all I could hear was the wind outside.
Cameron, using the light on his phone, worked his way back to me.
"Look what I did find: a secret message!"
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to be continued... [the link should become active at 8am on Monday, July 11th]
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(*) Minona: While many of my characters' names are musical puns or inside jokes which a reader may or may not "get" (and since many characters need names, if you don't "get" it, it's just a name), Minona is one of the latter which I feel ought to explain, though its significance will only become clear later on. Minona Stackleberg was the daughter of one of Beethoven's friends, a woman who is one of the "candidates" for the Immortal Belovéd and there are those who believe that Minona could be Beethoven's daughter. It is not a common name but it is purely coincidental that Frieda's maid bears that name. (Of course, it is...)
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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