Monday, August 29, 2016

Good-bye, Klavdia Klangfarben; Hello, Tom Purdue...

Now that The Klangfarben Trilogy is complete, for the two or three of you who've read it, it's time to close the book on a character who has inhabited my world since 2010 when I'd first begun work on The Doomsday Symphony where she was a major villain, then continued in The Lost Chord where her appearance fairly late in the story seemed more of a valedictory walk-on, and now, finally, with The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben where she's turned out to be more of a character than we'd suspected all along and the labyrinth much more involved than just that physical one in the final scene!

She began as a time-traveling, history-shifting, unemployed forensic musicologist turned would-be femme fatale nemesis who had discovered a way to return to previous centuries in order to kill four of the greatest composers who ever lived early enough in their careers they would never develop into the mainstays of today's classical music world. And she would have succeeded had Dr. T. Richard Kerr, a middle-aged, virtually unknown composer and something of an accidental musicologist himself, not been roped in to helping undo her nefarious accomplishments in a race against time (in more ways than one).

Through her own undoing, going back one more time to rescue her mother from a fatal traffic accident while Klavida was still a child, she gets stuck, thanks to a faulty battery in her time-travel device, and is thus forced to live the rest of her life over again, unable to return to the present but also existing without IDs and the necessary paperwork to prove her existence (the only things she'd have with her were a driver's license and credit cards issued over twenty years into the future).

It occurred to me fairly late in the plot of the second novel I needed a new character at this point, an older, kind of crazy woman who kidnaps Cameron's friend, Dylan, and falls into cahoots with The Lost Chord's equally nefarious villain, Iobba Dhabbodhú (a.k.a. Tr'iTone). Then I wondered, “what would Klavdia be like if we've now caught up in time with her? How has she survived the intervening years she's had to live over?”

Well, she'd certainly be older and, if she ever tried to explain who she was to anyone, would definitely be considered crazy (still carrying around that old time-travel device in hopes maybe she can find a battery somewhere that would fit it). And of course, all that time to nurse a grudge against her former professor, Dr. Kerr, right? She had once been an undergraduate student of his, but now, she'd be older than he is. Sure – so I decided to bring her (and her ability to re-invent herself) back again. She's not much of a villain, compared to Tr'iTone, maybe just more of a colorful character: by the time she disappears, you'd expected more from her.

Having brought her back from the past (or rather, through the past – I mean, can you imagine anything worse than having to live through George W. Bush twice?), I felt the third novel, as soon as I began thinking about it, had to have a place for her – not the “main villain” role, perhaps, but something more than a walk-on: she had to be important even if all she's doing is skulking around the periphery, ready to strike. Not the killer, working independently, but working toward... what goal, exactly?

Even though most of the time she's Melissa Fourthought (as in “malice aforethought”), the reader familiar with the first two books would put certain things together: her trademark mound of now aging platinum hair, the fact Dylan identifies her as his kidnapper, the woman who'd taken over the Countess du Hicquè's identity, and the games time-travel can play on Dr. Kerr's memory (if she'd gone back to live the 1980s over, she would never have become one of Kerr's students, but somehow he has a vague but easily dismissed recollection of her).

And of course, Abner Kedaver, her side-kick from The Doomsday Symphony, had to come back, too. Even though he had once been a lawyer counting both Brahms and Mahler as clients, as a resident of Harmonia-IV, the parallel universe where dead composers go to continue creating, he can cross back and forth between both worlds but would always be invisible to anyone still alive.

I'd finished The Lost Chord on January 28th, 2013, and immediately began sketching a sequel the next day, though it was some time before the title came to me. Even before that, I knew Harrison Harty's unfinished journal left the Schweinwald story open-ended and so, deep in the throes of watching Downton Abbey, I decided this would somehow continue in one of those lavish English country homes [sic]. I think the first names I came up with were LauraLynn Harty's fiance, Burnson Allan (Burns & Allen as a counterpoise to Laurel & Harty), and his mother Vexilla Regis (from a 6th Century Latin poem, “The King's Banner [goes before the Cross],” which I was familiar with through a motet by Anton Bruckner – who, incidentally, was a student of Simon Sechter, one of the more historical characters in both Harty's Journal and Knussbaum's Tale even if his role, here, is purely fictional). As for the plot, that was another matter.

The house was already going to be something based on “Flummox” and soon became “Phlaumix House” until the book was nearly finished. Thinking of all those wonderful slang expressions from World War II – snafu and fubar – I located the house in the village of Snaffingham. In addition to parodying other elements of Downton Abbey – especially the downstairs staff like Vector the butler, Mrs. Linebottom the housekeeper, and the cook, Mrs. French, among others – I was busy reading lots of Agatha Christie stories, plundering them for characters, settings, situations and, most significantly, the name for Frieda F. Erden's friend, Cathie Raighast which is an anagram of Agatha Christie (she, after all, is the one who solves the murder of “Bugsy” Regis), an older guest originally dubbed Miss Marbles.

The first title I came up with was Fibonacci's Labyrinth, given the Golden Section proportions that would continue to be structurally significant in this novel as well, the result of seeing Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum for sale on-line and which, at the time, I had not yet read – or at least, not gotten past a few pages back when it first came out (this was one of the books I put on my research list and finally enjoyed reading).

As it was, I hated the idea of wasting so many great character names in my initial Schoenberg Code parody, written the year the movie based on Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code came out, especially all the agents of the International Music Police with their musical puns. Granted, the uninitiated reader may not “get” them but then, at least, they're still names, a bit odd, maybe, but more imaginative than calling them Fred Smith or Johnny Armbrewster. If I'm going to use Dickensian names, why not use names based on musical terminology, right? While Inspector Hemiola might have an odd gate due to an old sports injury (I forget, did I keep that in the final version?), it would be funnier to someone who understands that hemiola refers, among other things, to playing two beats against three beats (like a triplet against two eighth notes in a quarter beat). While Agents Sforzato and Fermata have obvious characteristics linked to their names, my favorite is the dispatcher, Mimi Solfeggio (solfeggio being the do-re-mi syllables attached to musical pitches, familiar to fans of The Sound of Music).

Klavdia Klangfarben is a “name-in-point.” Initially, I chose “klangfarben” simply because I liked the sound of the word: she had nothing to do with its meaning, which refers to a melody that appears to change “sound color” because rather than being played by one instrument, it is played in segments where each segment – or individual notes – are played by different instruments in succession, giving it a kind of ever-changing, chameleon-like shift to it (an orchestration technique common to Schoenberg and his students, Berg and Webern). Little did I know at the time, each time she would return she would have a different identity, though underneath the name or character change, she was still recognizable, like someone who, no matter how hard she tried, could never do anything with her hair. Her first name was also a purely euphonious choice – Claudia, originally, but quickly changed to the more exotic-sounding Klavdia, recalling Thomas Mann's Magic Mountain with its mysterious Russian-French patient, Klavdia Chauchat. One thing my Klavdia never succeeded in doing was ensnaring someone else's heart (well, it turns out there's one major exception...).

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *

As I explained in a previous post – how The Labyrinth is a Fibonacci Novel – keeping the third novel proportional to the first was a challenge. The first two had arbitrary word-totals – “I will write a 150,000-word novel,” not one that could be 148,563 words or 151,278 words; an exactly 150,000-word novel! – but I wanted Labyrinth, with all its Golden Section structures and symbolism, to be a word-count in the Fibonacci Sequence from the complete length down to the lengths of every chapter, paragraph and sentence if not quite every phrase.

Now, each of the other novels began with prologues – a prelude to the Symphony, an overture to the one about an opera – but that would mean, for this one to be symmetrical and proportional, a 121,393-word novel would require a 27,689-word introduction! So I decided it would be an independent short-story that would tie in the previous two novels and set up the third. By the time I had outlined it, I thought, “no, this should be a novel of its own!” Originally, the title of the short story was In Search of Tom Purdue, a pun on Marcel Proust's epic seven-volume novel In Search of Lost Time or A la recherche du temps perdu. And too good to waste on a mere short story, irony aside.

And thus, Tom Purdue was born.

Given the expansiveness of not only Proust's over-all novel but his concept of time as well, this warranted a more involved treatment on my part, parody or otherwise. I would reserve that title for a future novel (and here I hadn't finished the third one, yet) and rework the short story into The House of dePaula Escher which introduces Tom within its parodistic framework of Edgar Allan Poe's The Fall of the House of Usher. It now became a dream sequence that, like so many dreams, rather disjointedly ties in the first two novels, sets up the setting of the third one but also points toward – yes – a fourth novel...

And while researching Agatha Christie and some of her characters, I discovered there is a suburb of Philadelphia called “Marple Township” which happens not to be too far from where I arbitrarily placed Dr. Kerr's home in suburban Doylestown (for no reason whatsoever). I knew immediately the next novel – like this short story – would have to be set in Marple, PA.

I tend to do a lot of “research” for my novels, mostly in the sense of reading other mysteries and thrillers to learn how other writers handle the genre, not just amassing facts and stylistic details. In the process I will jot down plot ideas, character names, background elements and then begin outlining the plot, stretching the various “plot points” and climaxes out across a span of the word-count, divided like a suspension bridge with peaks at the Main Golden Section where I'll place the “turning point” and then sub-sections at various levels with other, lesser climaxes and so on, filling in the details as I go along, sometimes leaving whole chapters blank because something will eventually pop up – like the reintroduction of Klavdia Klangfarben as an after-thought having already written well over half of The Lost Chord.

As The Labyrinth's outline percolated along, I finally began writing the novel-proper on August 11th, 2013, six-and-a-half months after finishing the previous one. The first draft was completed on June 12th, 2014, and then I began work on the short story which was to become the “Intermezzo.” This required a little more research, mapping out the plot, breaking it down into “structural segments” in chronological order, then determining their non-consecutive “dream order” by employing a “Knight's Tour” plan. Having created the “Aficionati” – an ominous secret organization introduced near the end of the tale – I knew who my next “main villain” would be. While SHRMG's Civil War would continue as Lucifer Darke would try to eliminate N. Ron Steele from power, the “Aficionati” would become their opposite: the popularizer of classical music goes up against the intellectual priest-caste determined to protect their control over the mysteries of Art.

I'm not sure when actual writing started on this “interlude,” but it was completed on August 20th, 2014, a little over a year after I started writing the whole novel. I took some time off – mostly because of a diagnosis that turned out to require heart by-pass surgery – and finished the first read-through and “editing pass” to complete the 2nd draft at some point in late October, a few weeks before going into the hospital.

But I had already started working out what to do – or rather which plot-threads to follow – for the next novel, even joking that it could become the fourth novel in the Klangfarben Trilogy. Would it be an exact sequel, following on the heels of The Labyrinth or would it follow an entirely different story? Had we had enough of Beethoven and the Legacy of the Immortal Belovèd?

How much of The House of dePaula Escher would be usable as “source material”? What, the Aficionati aside, might lend itself to expansion? Having already gone into excruciating detail about the piece being premiered/butchered by pianist Carter Ericson-Torres at St. Sisyphus Community College, it was clear that should remain a self-contained part of a dream and that I should simply take it from the point where Kerr discovers an old friend of his – one of his closest friends in grad school – is living not too far away.

Not only has he disappeared, Purdue also has health problems – it was odd, going through the fear of impending heart surgery thinking “okay, I want to remember this when I write that scene for Tom Purdue...” There was a time when I considered renaming it “The Research of Tom Purdue” and have him be some musicologist on a special secret project or someone specializing in computer music, but decided against that. That's when it occurred to me to turn him into someone who's putting together his own music-composing software program that becomes increasingly more involved and results in “Clara” who, it turns out, writes better music than he does.

Yes, and that's why SHMRG is after him because they want to market it to the masses as a garage-band songwriter program – and the Aficionati need to destroy it. But that was before their leader discovered another potential benefit from Purdue's software program.

So I made a list of topics I would need to read up on – not being a computer geek or a software programmer or even someone who used a music-writing program like “Sibelius” or “Forte,” anything to do with the technology was first and foremost. How many movies or TV shows or thrillers involved run-away technology out to destroy its creators? (And you know “Clara” will have to say the line, “I'm sorry, I can't let you do that” somewhere, right?)

One of my first finds was two books by Richard Powers, Orfeo and Galatea 2.2. Now, I like Powers' style but I've never been able to finish The Gold Bug Variations or The Time of Our Singing only because I felt there was so much research being jammed down my throat that didn't interest me (scientific in the Variations which was heavy on genetics, like reading pages of computer code in the middle of something like Crichton's Jurassic Park, in one eye and out the other). Otherwise, great story brilliantly told.

Orfeo was, it turned out, a book about a composer who played the clarinet – score one for me – who pursued his chemistry hobby at home and through a series of missteps and really bad coincidences ends up on the National Security radar as a possible terrorist (it sounds like a potential comedy, but trust me, it isn't).

The other, Galatea 2.2, was about a writer named Richard Powers who's working with some computer scientists to program a machine that could pass some standardized test given to... what, English grad students? I forget. This one was a little more technical than I would've been interested in, just reading it, but then that's why I wanted to read it: research for what my character Tom Purdue would need to know or be up against or how his software “Clara” would develop (I almost wrote “evolve”).

I remember taking Orfeo into the hospital with me, something to read while I'm lying there for a few days trying to recuperate, not realizing that, after a heart by-pass, I probably wouldn't feel much like doing anything beyond lying there trying to recuperate. As it happened, I was prepped and ready to go when, for some reason, my surgery was delayed a few hours. So I pulled Orfeo out of my bag and began to read. Not too far into the exposition, the narrator explains how, during a childhood vacation, he was swimming with his family when his father suffered a massive heart attack and died. “Well, maybe I'll put this one aside, for now...”

In the long run, between the months of near-immobility before the surgery (following a stress test which revealed a “problem,” I was told “don't do anything strenuous,” to which I replied, “define strenuous?”) and the slow pace of trying to reclaim normalcy after it, I read probably a dozen or so books starting with thrillers in the popular genre – even Dan Brown's Inferno which I'd begun reading the day after my surgery but when Langdon comes to in the hospital surrounded by wires, tubes and beeping machines was where I decided “I knew I was going to feel like hell and this seemed the logical selection but, no,” and it went back in the bag to wait till I got home...

On the other hand, eventually, I finished the last third of Proust's Swann's Way which I'd been working my way through in the recent “Penguin Translation,” probably the third or fourth time I'd read it since I turned 30. It seemed if I'm going to write something heavily reliant on certain Proustian elements like time and memory, I should probably keep on reading. By the time I finished the second volume, In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower, I was about 20,000 words into my new novel, and began reading the third volume, The Guermantes Way, the next day (still only about a quarter of the way into it, but then I'm reading lots of other books as well, since then, including Dostoievsky's Demons and Henry James' The Bostonians – I rarely have time just to sit and read Proust...).

At any rate, various plot elements began coming together, being adapted or discarded, outlines taking shape and filling in, lists of characters' names becoming longer, so when my recuperation was complicated by the sudden need to have my gall bladder removed (and, since he was in the neighborhood, fixing up an umbilical hernia that had been in need of repair for the past ten years) it then gave me the excuse to lie around for another month, unable to do much more than... well, continue reading.

By the time I actually started working on the first sentence of In Search of Tom Purdue, the process had been so much a part of my daily routine – working out details, writing in a “creative journal,” jotting down notes from what I was reading or just mulling over – I didn't even take time to notice which day it was. I know that, after a few sentences, I was seriously doubting (again) the wisdom (if not absurdity) of being so strict with the word-count to write another Fibonacci novel – was it time to break away from this constraint? – but yes, I decided to go ahead with it. At that point, I noted in my journal on July 2nd, “yesterday, I revised the opening sentences from the other day” which means I started the original sentence (which underwent at least two days of editing) probably on June 29th or 30th, 2015.

That's been over a year ago!

It seemed to take forever but on May 22nd, I reached the mid-point of the novel, Word #98,209, the exact middle of a 196,418-word novel. And that word is “mid-point.”

On August 9th, I finished Chapter 16, the end of Part Two, which, looking at the scheme of things, would appear to be the middle of the book: sixteen more chapters and two more parts to go before it's finished. But the page numbers won't divide in half because Chapter 16 ends with Word #121,393 with 75,025 words to go before it's done, the Golden Section of a novel complete at 196,418 words.

And then it stopped.

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *

At this point, I'm ready to begin Part III but this involved working out a lot of details I'd let go and doing a fair bit of research to get caught up.

So it's taken me 13 months to write this one portion of my new novel – but then it took me 10 months to write the same amount of words for The Labyrinth minus the Intermezzo. There have been times where it's been more difficult to make headway – some days, it's very depressing to write only 89 words when on other days, I might write almost 2,000, though that was happening more and more rarely.

And there have been other times when, for some reason or another, I chose to step away for a while. When I decided to start posting The Labyrinth on the blog, I had forgotten how much time it would take to do one more read-through, editing as I'd go and then still editing as I'd proof each post (thank God for computers' cut-and-paste technology; I couldn't imagine retyping the entire manuscript!) and then making sure posts were ready to go every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. It wasn't just the time it started taking, it started playing havoc with my concentration on what I'd already done in Tom Purdue: plots started to blend together. I found out I've become even less of a multi-tasker than I'd been before.

Plus, twice I took some time off to compose: a brief Christmas motet took almost two weeks. More recently, in late-July, an exercise in writing twelve-tone tonal harmony, an 8-minute piece for string quartet stalled out after I succeeded in doing what I wanted harmonically but which quickly floundered when trying to turn it into something more than an exercise became too much work.

And now more time off because, 12 days into an attack of sciatica when sometimes I can barely walk, I'm spending most of the day trying to find a position to sit or sleep in that might be less painful. This has, admittedly, not become a great time to do some more “research” for the up-coming scene because I feel I can barely concentrate on it. Even this rambling, stream-of-consciousness post has taken some four days to write and, mostly, rewrite.

But since late-July, I've been getting ideas for – you guessed it – another novel!

It had been some time ago, perhaps before I'd decided on the direction Tom Purdue's plot would take, that I figured I would postpone the immediate sequel to The Labyrinth and the further adventures of Toni, the young composer who doesn't know she is Beethoven's heir, leaving that for a fifth novel. But now I have a whole different plot which carries (and expands) on threads evolving in this one that... well, I don't want to give anything away (besides, it's only a thumbnail sketch at this point).

And thinking how Proust's cycle continued to sprout and evolve as he wrote and edited each novel (a trilogy that eventually became seven novels, knowing the ending but finding the middle needed “filling in”), I find myself faced with not one but maybe three more novels after this one. At my age, I laugh at the practicality of such an idea but then reconsider my primary reason for writing them in the first place: to give me something to do more entertaining than watching a lot of television. Not that it will matter, in the long run, whether I live to finish them or not – for me, that's not the point. Who would notice whether I did or didn't? It's not much but it might give me enough to make it worthwhile getting up in the morning.

Then, in the middle of all this – ideas swirling about for the novel I'm working on, about the novel I'm posting on-line that I finished two years ago, and now novels that could keep me going for years to come – I am writing down the line

“At the still point, there the dance is.”

T. S. Eliot – I know, lines from The Four Quartets – “Burnt Norton”? Yes, from the second 'movement' of a poem obsessed with time – and then I realize one of the key characters from the scene I'm about to start writing will be a “Miss Norton.” Hmmmm... coincidence? Will she – or more likely her descendents – become major figures in these other novels? (This means, now, I must set this scene – and her – up a little more carefully!)

The “still point” is, to me, the origination of the spiral, the famous Fibonacci Spiral, the nautilus shell, my own personal galaxy, the calm center of those meditative labyrinths (okay, perhaps not like the one where Kerr was so recently chasing down Klavdia Klangfarben to discover the Immortal Belovèd's identity) – the point where, despite the maelstrom of reality, of the Election, of the distraction of Facebook, the mind finds a place of repose, sheds its doubts and fears, allowing it to create, a place where ideas can be born and nurtured, where heart and mind find themselves open to possibilities.

Sometimes, I think, moments like that are what artists live for, regardless what happens. Maybe that's why I have so many pieces of music that I never see through to completion – not that they're not finished, but that they're not performed, once people have shown sufficient lack of interest in performing them to make the creative struggle not worth the effort to complete them.

At this point, it would be easy to say, “well, no sense finishing this novel,” and put it aside, except what would I do tomorrow, or once the sciatica subsides and the pain medication wears off? Even as it is, worthless or not, the regular schedule of writing day in, day out – like a real job – showing up at the page has some meaning. And since I'm writing for no one but myself, there's less pressure to do what people tell me has to be done in order, in their minds, to be successful.

It's nice to know, assuming I finish the next 75,025 words, there's another novel waiting around the corner – however far away that corner may seem, now: one of the hardest problems for a writer (or any artist) is, having completed one work, to imagine “what's next.” Looking at the potential for another story, however long it might take to beat and bend and cajole it into shape, I realize it's just a matter of getting up the next day and starting the new one.

So, with The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben now behind me and In Search of Tom Purdue going into the “home stretch,” seeing more of Dr. Kerr, Cameron and Toni, Tom Purdue and N. Ron Steele, SHMRG and the Aficionati on the horizon like hills fading off in different layers into the distance, it's time to say good-bye to Klavdia Klangfarben – until (who knows?) we meet again...

- Dick Strawser

Friday, August 26, 2016

The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben: The Conclusion

In the previous installment of The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben, it's a race between Klavdia Klangfarben and Dr. Kerr to reach the prize at the center of the labyrinth: the manuscript of Beethoven's missing quartet and the Last Will & Testament of the Immortal Belovèd. Even though Klangfarben keeps making wrong turns, her headstart allows her to arrive first. She destroys the manuscript and is about to take the golden casket bearing the Belovèd's Will when a crystal sphere appears over her, explodes and captures her inside it as Abner Kedaver takes her and disappears into the darkness. Kerr picks up the Will and begins to read: in English, it details a story very different from the one Knussbaum told before, finally, revealing her true identity.

(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.

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *


The Reading Room, Phlaumix Court: a short time later

"But why didn't you go after the manuscript," Cameron asked, "and the testament? I saw you run into the labyrinth – how'd you get back so fast?"

"But I did," I explained, starting to tell them what happened until I realized Cathie Raighast was still in the room.

What had happened, anyway? It was a very strange blur, once it started, the floor beginning to buckle, then quickly collapse. I ran to retrace my steps but everything began to crumble – "now what...!?"

Unable to continue the way I'd come – make only right turns, now, right? – I went back to the center and saw Klavdia's doorway was still open – not great, but it was my only chance. And instead of finding myself in a long, winding hallway as expected, I stood only a few feet from the mirror.

And here I was, back in the Reading Room with Cameron and Toni who clutched the White Viola in her hands. When Cathie looked up, she wasn't surprised, only saying, "Oh, there you are."

She was still looking closely at Bugsy's body.

"See this – on the neck? It's a bright red fiber – yarn, I'm guessing."

Perhaps, running back to the mirror – counter-clockwise? – I went back briefly in time and somehow caught up with myself not long after I'd entered the room, missing Toni and Cameron by a few seconds...

"There you are," Hemiola blustered as he and his men barged into the room, "how did you get back in here?" Constable Drumm and several other officers and guests were not far behind him.

"Back?" Cameron asked, "you told us to stay right here," shrugging his shoulders.

Hemiola looked back and forth at us, dumbfounded.

I noticed, however, there was something different about Inspector Hemiola right now, the blood vessels standing out across his forehead notwithstanding.

"Inspector," I said, "what happened to your scarf? A red one, wasn't it?"

Hemiola was caught off guard. "Uhm, I left it at the office, maybe."

Just then Agent Fermata entered, holding on to a red scarf. "Sir, somebody stuffed your scarf into a waste bin backstage."

"Constable Drumm," Cathie said, "you'll want to get an evidence bag for that."

Drumm – and Hemiola – seemed surprised by her suggestion.

"And another one for that red fiber there on Bugsy's neck," she continued. "I believe you'll find they're a perfect match."

Drumm knelt beside the body, looking carefully at some abrasions along the throat.

"I'd say Lord Snaffingham was strangled by someone – who had a red scarf. Don't you think so, Chief Inspector," Drumm added.

I could see the beads of sweat beginning to form on Hemiola's brow, watching his scarf drop into a plastic bag.

One of Drumm's officers, donning protective gloves, carefully retrieved the tell-tale red fiber.

"Yes," Drumm continued, "it looks like our assailant entered the room, found Sir Bugsy alone and strangled him from the back. The suspect is no doubt still in the house, but what's the motive?"

Cathie cocked her head to the right as she looked over at Hemiola. "Did you know someone named Gloria Petri, Inspector?"

"Who? No, you're... – what does she have to do with this man's murder?" Hemiola was clearly sweating as his eyes darted from Bugsy to Ms. Raighast. "Everybody knows she'd been my partner, years ago."

"You knew an MI5 agent code-named Ross Budd was responsible for her death because she'd discovered Budd was a Soviet spy."

Hemiola collapsed into a chair. "Alright, I admit. Yes, I walked in, saw him – recognized him immediately. 'Ross Budd,' I said... He turned around and glared at me, furious – and... I forget the rest..."

"Bugsy? A spy? I can't believe it!" Burnson wasn't the only one surprised. "How did you know about this, Ms. Raighast?"

"I, too, worked for MI5 years ago but only recently figured it out."

She'd been on Budd's trail for several years, but never found convincing evidence.

"You see," she added, "Gloria was my niece."

And so Constable Drumm placed IMP Chief Inspector Hemiola under arrest on suspicion of murdering Sir Bognar Regis, Baron of Snaffingham.

"I was planning on confronting him," Cathie said, "waiting till after the wedding..."

"Then there's another murderer," I announced, "you may be interested to hear about. It seems while you, Inspector, were busy looking for me, Schnellenlauter's actual murderer was also looking for me – and found me."

It occurred to me, of course, how could I explain what happened to him inside the Pendulum Room – who'd believe me?

Glancing around at all the people crowding into the room and around the doorway, I mentioned he apparently had some connection to someone in the house – then realized Cousin Maurie looked a bit uneasy.

I whispered to Cameron that he should take Toni out to see Frieda, noticing LauraLynn was beckoning to both of them.

"He admitted to being part of 'The Penguins of God,' which, I recall now, is an organization opposed to new music. First he kidnapped my assistant Cameron, then later tried to kill us both."

"You mean the big guy with the violin?," Herring laughed. "He's a murderer?"

"No, it's a viola, though proportionally, maybe, it could look like a violin, but yes, somehow he murdered Schnellenlauter – and Drang."

"But what happened, where is he?" Chief Inspector Hemiola looked around the room. "Anyone see him lately? Did he conveniently escape?"

Constable Drumm turned to Vector and asked him to bring in 'the evidence.' Sidney was holding a strange bust of Beethoven.

"Where'd you get that," Maurie snapped. "I've never seen that in my life!"

Maurie turned to me, his eyes glowering, holding his walking stick with the dragon's head, its eyes suddenly glowing fiery red.

"You've hated me ever since I was a child, Kerr," the man shrieked.

He aimed his menacing cane at me and screamed, "Prepare to meet Gorgo!"

But the dragon-head's eyes merely sputtered and died.

Maurie dashed from the room, unable to break through the crowd of people despite knee-capping a few with his walking stick. After Vector tripped him, Maurie slammed into Sir Charles and was quickly subdued.

Drumm explained to me that this bust which Sidney now placed on a table was a kind of audio-video communication device.

"Vector the Butler found it and showed it to me. Here," he said, playing a few excerpts where Nepomuck, in his tux, admitted 'eliminating' Schnellenlauter to the camera and addressed someone called 'The Serpent.'

"It shouldn't be difficult proving 'The Serpent' was Maurice Harty and, presumably, Gorgo, so you were right about 'The Penguin' business. I suspect any other evidence we need will be found on this machine."

Police led both Hemiola and the barely controllable Maurie Harty away in handcuffs as everyone wandered out into the Great Hall.

That left Frieda and me alone in the Reading Room with Bugsy's body.

"So, did you find it," she whispered. "Was it in the Pendulum Room?"

"The quartet – yes, and also the Belovèd's Testament..."

"So it was there," she nodded knowingly, "but you couldn't bring them back...?"

"I barely found them before the labyrinth began..."

"No, no, I'm quite sure you did everything you could do," she said, patting my hand, "and at least you're safe."

She asked if I'd seen any signature, perhaps.

"Nothing I could understand, no..."

"It's funny, yes?, that I should spend my whole life trying to find my twins and then to locate their children, but I've always wanted to know who in Beethoven's life the Belovèd was."

Still, she was also sworn to keeping her illustrious ancestors' identities a secret, keeping them from falling into the wrong hands.

"Such a terrible dilemma, it is, not knowing."

"So what happens to Toni?"

"Ah, you see, Terry, I've been doing some... well, talking, yes?" she continued, "and I think I've found the best solution."

A crowd had gathered out in the Great Hall and I heard Lady Vexilla sounding like she was making an announcement.

Cameron looked back in our direction and motioned us out into the hall.

"Oh, whatever happened to that Melissa Fourthought woman?"

"I'm not sure. I doubt we'll be bothered by her for a while."

Leaving Bugsy to await the coroner's arrival, I wheeled Frieda out into the open hall as Vexilla apologized for the "unexpected and most unfortunate adventures" of the day ("my husband, a spy – who knew?").

With Bugsy's death, now, in addition to Schnellenlauter's, not to mention the weather, there had been questions about postponing the wedding.

Lady Vexilla stood there, red hair brilliantly coiffed, looking as though she'd freshened up only a little after the latest news.

"We've decided, as ready as we'll ever be, to go ahead as planned.

"And I'm not sure how this will work out with the genealogical bureaucrats, but we've been discussing an urgent matter and it seems my son will have a daughter as well as a wife. Burnson and his bride-to-be LauraLynn have agreed to adopt as their very own my Aunt Frieda's recently orphaned great-great-granddaughter, Antonie, here.

"Plus I think it's high time, given the day's events, I retire to my little bungalow in Provençe and turn Phlaumix Court over completely to Burnson and his new family as soon as possible."

This was greeted by overwhelming rounds of applause from everyone except Sir Charles who violently seized a drink from Herring's tray.

"Two-fold congratulations, cousin," Sir Charles barked, "on your new home and heir," stomping past Burnson on his way up the stairs.

Sidney turned away from the window to announce further news: "It's stopped snowing!"


Frieda's Sitting Room, Phlaumix Court: after a busy evening

"How did you manage to talk the police into giving you this letter?" Cameron carefully handed the fragment over to Frieda. "Wouldn't it be crime-scene evidence?"

"Fortunately, I had removed it before the police arrived – well, the second time: I couldn't say, 'oh, by the way – here'..."

"And it is a letter written by Beethoven, at least part of one." She locked it away in a desk drawer. "It would be very difficult to explain this to the police, after all."

I'd barely had time to check out the coded message in the margin but from what Frieda said of the rest of it, it didn't seem it would be easy to explain to anyone. It sounded like instructions on how to keep a very important letter hidden, a letter by someone who was completely insane.

But if the letter he mentioned was the Belovèd's Testament I'd just found (which, it seems, had been very well hidden), how could Beethoven, who died in 1827, know anything about her Last Will? I mean, technically, that would have been written twenty years in the future since, according to Knussbaum, she died in 1847.

Unless, of course, it hadn't been written by Beethoven in Vienna before 1827 but maybe after he'd crossed over to Harmonia-IV? Somehow, I didn't think that theory would fly in most scholarly journals today.

Remembering the letter Beethoven gave Cameron during that summer visit to New Coalton, a strange place which could probably bill itself as the Gateway to Harmonia-IV, I wondered why he'd given him that letter. It included similar, better worded and more carefully written instructions to Simon Sechter about looking after a "special friend" of his.

It also asked that she be given a private resting place with a simple monument where he could watch over her, his "lost chord," for eternity – which, a year later, we discovered at Schweinwald.

And here it was, another year later, when we've unraveled more about the identity of Beethoven's "special friend" long kept hidden. And that, I hesitated to point out, happened today – on Beethoven's birthday: coincidence?

It's like we were channeled into this revelation orchestrated by the Master himself: perhaps now's the time to reveal the secret?

It was fairly obvious Frieda knew I wasn't telling her the whole truth but she didn't say anything more about it: how could I explain to her Klavdia Klangfarben, Abner Kedaver or especially Harmonia-IV? How would she make sense out of Cameron having been handed a letter by Beethoven himself, even in a parallel universe?

There was enough information for her to absorb with just unlocking the secrets of Beethoven's legacy and the Immortal Belovèd's descendants. She knows she won't live long enough to see the gypsy's prophecy fulfilled.

It struck me as cruel to get so close to the Belovèd's identity and not even give her the slightest hint. Instead I'd placed the Testament back in the casket and closed the lid.

Would it be there for some future generation's musicological adventurer to find it? (It certainly puts dusty library research to shame.)

"It is best, I suppose – reluctantly – to leave some things unknown," Frieda said, as if she'd almost been reading my mind, then quietly hid the cabinet's key in a secret compartment of her desk. "It is only the curiosity of old age, feeling I have patiently waited – yes? – and deserve to be rewarded," she smiled.

But she admitted with a philosophical nod and a bit of a scholarly frown that she'd found out an amazing amount: she's discovered her children's story and located the child born of their children.

"Do you think Toni will be okay after all that's happened," Cameron asked, given the big changes happening in her life. "What do you think she'll remember in the morning about the Pendulum Room?"

Come to think of it, I wondered what we might remember of the Pendulum Room once we woke up tomorrow morning.

"Probably just a bad dream." I shrugged my shoulders and quickly dismissed it. Even Frieda balked at some of the stuff we'd mentioned, and that wasn't even half of what had happened in there.

What I wondered about was whether Maurice Harty was aware of his heritage.

"Really, that bust of Beethoven was pretty weird: I mean, do you think his choice of that was just a coincidence?"

Frieda wrinkled her nose at the very thought. "I, for one, would hesitate to tell anyone he's my grandson, wouldn't you?"

She admitted becoming aware of her "family tree," as she modestly called it, through a fluke, having discovered some documents herself, going through an old desk hidden in a corner of the Falkenstein's library. It was mostly about the count's family but there was one strand which mentioned Beethoven as an ancestor – and included her.

"I brought it with me, of course, coming to England to live with my sister's family – she's Vexilla's mother," she explained. "Her husband's great-grandfather had purchased the Falkenstein's considerable Beethoven collection in the 1880s."

There had been few Watchers since the start of World War I, so Schnellenlauter was trying to update the forgotten paperwork – she didn't know he was working on finding missing names in the legacy – so when she told him about this document, he felt he had to tell her the awkward truth about her past.

"I am the only descendant of the Immortal Belovèd who knew the secret but it helped, eventually, to find my children. I was born without Watchers knowing my status: we'd fallen through the cracks."

But Schnellenlauter was still tracking down something else: that Gracie may have had a daughter before she married Maurice Harty's father; she'd run off with a man who'd changed his name to Lyman King.

That means Toni's father, Earl King, would not possibly be Maurice Harty's son, which we all hoped would be the case.

Wouldn't it be horrible if Maurice Harty could have legal control over Toni? A genetic association would have been worrisome enough.

"Given your internet skills, Cameron" Frieda continued, "could you locate this Lyman King? It's not as if Beethoven's heirs multiplied like Fibonacci's Rabbits, flooding the landscape," she chuckled, considering the house she lived in.

There was only one direct line and it passed entirely through illegitimate females – even Frieda's grandmother was conceived before Beethoven's granddaughter married Count Albrecht von Falkenstein – which could lessen Maurice Harty's genetic importance, regardless.

"I'm also curious about some of my son Will's descendents, especially this woman named Klavdia Klangfarben. Her parents had been married, but Toni's mother was her younger, illegitimate half-sister. I wonder what she's like?"

Considering her thoughts on Cousin Maurie, Cameron and I glanced at each other and both said, "You don't want to know..."

Without wondering why we said what we'd said, Frieda figured the gypsy's prophecy – "such an old Romantic cliché" – wasn't worth considering.

"If male heirs were not significant contributors, would my son's descendants matter, then?"

But she said we as Watchers had an obligation to look after Toni, to guide and protect her through the future.

"She must not know she's descended from Beethoven – that could prove burdensome, creatively – and it also puts her life in danger. Plus, you must see she's prepared just in case the prophecy is real."

Frieda sat back and looked me up and down with a broad smile, like the old Frieda I'd known years ago.

"You know, Terry, you're not getting any younger, especially now that you're retired."

I felt my posture and my eyebrows rise slightly as she said this, coming from someone who was in her 90s.

"You ought to consider spending some time here – vacations, summer holidays? – visiting with Burnson and LauraLynn, looking after Toni's compositional education. She'll need a mentor, you know, and I think she already likes you."

It turned out this was LauraLynn's suggestion which both Burnson and Toni approved.

"You and Cameron would always be welcome here."

Besides, she added, it's what Schnellenlauter as Senior Watcher would probably have wanted.

"Senior Watcher? Are you saying that's me, now?"

"No, there is another senior Watcher, but he'll be ready to retire soon."

The gentle knock at the door, with a deep, gentle cough, was Vector apologizing for the interruption, given the tumultuous day.

"Dr. Kerr," he said, "you were quite right about the pageant's Ms. Fourthought."

With a deferential nod, he handed me several books and a manila folder. "Most of the pageant's guests have already... departed."

"Ah, and here it is," I said, checking the inside cover's familiar inscription, handing the book to Frieda with a flourish. "The copy of your novel that was stolen from the library this afternoon."

As I flipped through the folder's notes, Vector added "I think you'll see she'd found out quite a few amazing things – especially about the manuscript of Beethoven's missing quartet not even Maestro Schnellenlauter knew."

"Oh, right. Cameron, that reminds me – your recording – not the Screaming Lawn Zombies... Vector, you may want to hear this, too."

Picking up his phone, Cameron hoped it would play: "Here – listen to this..."

There were the faint sounds of celestial music.

"It's from the Beethoven quartet we heard in the Pendulum Room," he explained.

But after twenty-one seconds, it sputtered and stopped.

Vector merely said, "in a word, sir – awesome!"

Frieda was lost in tears.

Meanwhile, I'd found a red ribbon in my pocket – it's from the Testament! – along with two parts of a broken seal.

Its emblem consisted of a half-open sack out of which peered three frogs...

The Vicarage at Umberton: A Few Days Later

The footsteps of the newly appointed Acting Inspector of the IMP's London branch echoed through the dark and empty halls of Umberton, once more recently abandoned. There was plenty for the International Music Police to keep them busy here, looking for evidence tying these murders to SHMRG.

It was a busy morning at Phlaumix Court where everything was astir again with the preparations for the wedding on Saturday. Guests could now arrive through freshly plowed roads between huge banks of snow.

With Former Chief Inspector Hemiola's arrest for the murder of Sir Bognar Regis, former agent Sarah Bond inherited an on-going investigation and kept dancing around the facts, looking for clues, intent on finding answers: what was SHMRG doing at Umberton, or with their pageant at Phlaumix Court; where was their fugitive CEO, N. Ron Steele?

Little could Inspector Bond know about those last hours' events before SHMRG disappeared, abandoning what must have been their undercover headquarters. Did she know what recently transpired in this room with the Guidonian Hand? Did she have any idea how Osmond Goodwood's attempt to subvert their goals led Carmen Díaz-Éray to go her separate way?

One could argue Inspector Bond didn't understand the significance of the Guidonian Hand or what its implications were for the future, much less what SHMRG had in mind for the future of classical music.

Practically every room in the place had been occupied, far more than necessary for their pageant, given everything at Phlaumix Court, yet it had been cleared out in a matter of a few hours. Had this been the heart of their operations, the center of Steele's empire? Was Steele here himself or hiding somewhere else?

It took all night for the IMP to dig their way back here, arriving to find the place was already empty. How did a house full of SHMRG agents simply disappear into thin air?

Someone at the pageant tipped them off the IMP was on the premises – "hell, they could've seen that much on TV."

What were they doing here: something more nefarious than televising a reality show?

The only agent they'd found left behind was the pageant's producer, Skripasha Scricci, huddled in a backstage room, hoarse and incoherent.

It was only after Maurice Harty was arrested for complicity in the murders of Hans-Jörg Schnellenlauter, Norman Drang and Howard Zenn that Bond realized "The Penguins of God" was another organization under SHMRG's umbrella. A terrorist unit opposed to "modernism" in music – their motto, "Consonance Before All" – the group even called itself "The Serialist Killers."

Among those dead, now, they could add the pageant's personnel manager, Minerva Mumwidge and one of the I.T. Engineers, Charlie Bartowksi, whose bodies had been dug up by the snow plows outside Phlaumix Court.

It was only then that Gordon Nott of the National Trust initiated the requisite paperwork to cancel SHMRG's contract for non-payment of fees, a process he estimated would take about three to four months.

The abandoned contestants and their parents were herded onto buses back to London, angered at being denied their hope for fame.

The only thing the IMP could charge Scricci with, however, was international fraud. He had no idea what Steele was planning. When asked about Steele's location, he started screaming "I blame it on Fictitia!"

But Inspector Bond couldn't know that "Osmond Goodwood" was in a London hotel, his secretary Holly Burton making an important call.

Goodwood had asked her to call this number: they would need someone to keep an eye on a certain child, there.

After several rings, someone answered: "Good morning, Phlaumix Court – this is Lisa Newlife...?"

On a Train to London, after the wedding

The ceremony had, fortunately, gone off without incident, the weather bright and sunny, the happy couple relieved after all the excitement that nothing further unexpected occurred. Despite the absence of her late husband, Lady Vexilla was the gracious hostess, telling everyone, "C'est la vie, c'est la morte!"

Remaining guests all arrived safely, partied, cheered the couple's vows, partied some more, then watched as Burnson Allan and his wife, LauraLynn Harty-Allan, left to spend Christmas by themselves at Vexilla's "bungalow" in Provençe.

Constable Drumm had informed Cameron and me that Danny the cab-driver was released from hospital after identifying Nepomuck as his attacker. It still made no sense how exactly any of the victims were "attacked."

Inspector Bond thanked us for helping them solve three brutal if inexplicable murders, curious about the viola now in her custody.

Cameron and I arranged to see Toni back home for her parents' funeral, returning her safely to Phlaumix Court after Christmas. Fortunately, she'd forgotten most of the strangeness she experienced in the Pendulum Room.

As I told Vector who saw us off at the station in Snaffingham, "sometimes it's just better not to know everything."

Specifically, the mosquito-like buzzing I heard from that crystal globe on the stairs.

I'm sure that was of no significance whatsoever.

"Undoubtedly, sir," Vector concluded. "They'd think you mad as a bag of frogs!"

Cameron, sitting across from me, was busily texting back and forth with Dylan while Toni stared out the window, seriously bored. The rhythm of the train and the landscape began to lull my senses. Opposite me was an ad for a movie, something called The Schoenberg Code – perhaps another Hollywood attempt to vilify modern music?

I picked up Frieda's book – she'd given me a copy as a souvenir – and started to page through it once again. It really was a dreadful book, I thought, and soon my mind wandered.

"There's no accounting for talent," I remembered thinking of the novel she'd written. What might she think if I'd written one?

After all, artists always dream that somewhere someone will like what they do.

The train now headed toward the light at the end of another tunnel: perhaps there is no reason to be afraid...


* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *
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

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben: Installment #37

With only one more episode after this one, which is good news, in the previous installment of The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben, Dr. Kerr faces the music (not just Beethoven's missing string quartet) when he realizes there's also bad news: not only has he run into Klavdia Klangfarben and her invisible sidekick Abner Kedaver, he's also found Nepomuck and his Killer Viola! As Cameron takes Toni to safety, Dr. Kerr must race into the labyrinth alone to find the Last Will & Testament of the Immortal Belovéd – before Klangfarben does!

(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.

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *


The Labyrinth, inside the Pendulum Room: continuing from before

"Make only left turns," Schnellenlauter had told us in that mirror's magic message – it must've been magic that allowed him to leave that message for me. "Where are we, anyway," I wondered: it's like another one of those strange dimensions I've gotten myself into again. "Wait – again?"

As if the Pendulum Room weren't strange enough, here was a room that opened up out of a small rectangular carpet that kept unfolding into a room of its own, suspended in the void.

But this was more than your garden-variety labyrinth with boxwood hedges and paving stones and a lot of pseudo-Medieval, meditational mumbo-jumbo. First of all, it was more like a maze with numerous branching paths. Technically, labyrinths shouldn't have wrong turns and dead-ends – no, this was a maze – but these walls also had windows and doorways!

M.C. Escher, "Relativity"
I don't remember too many labyrinths – not that I've ever walked through many before (any, actually) – that had steps to climb. But I kept making my left turns, assuming right turns were wrong turns. Curiously, I noticed that frequently, had I made a right turn, there was a doorway: what would be beyond that door?

As I was walking down a short flight of steps, I looked ahead and saw the Klangfarben woman through a window. However, she was walking up a flight of steps – but on the underside!

I knew it was a kind of race to see who reached the center first, but how was this a race? (I would never be good with those crop mazes farmers made at Halloween.) If she'd made a wrong – that is, right – turn somewhere, she would, I imagined, never make it to the center, right?

"Ah, Dr. Kerr," I heard her say. Curiously the voice came from behind me, yet I clearly saw her before me. "So we meet again – and again!" She hurried up – or down – the steps.

Another turn: I saw her once more through a window going down a more distant flight as I now walked up. Again she spoke but now her voice sounded closer rather than farther away.

"You think this'll be like Lübeck or Heiligenstadt, don't you? But you don't have your little assistant with you, do you!"

That's right – Cameron had been instrumental in helping me foil... wait – "foil her nefarious plot to kill off the Great Composers of the Past!" Now I remember – and chasing her through Harmonia-IV, as well. By eliminating composers who'd most influenced other great composers, she could've reduced the influence of classical music by – well... a lot!

And all because of something I'd once said in a class she took of mine, something about how "perception is everything." I'd forgotten she was one of my students: she looks so much older.

"If only I hadn't gone back in time once more to rescue Mother," she moaned, raising her arms in defiant rage. "Then she would've stayed dead; that other child would never have been born. And just maybe, I would've met Earl King instead and my daughter would've grown up to fulfill the old gypsy's prophecy!"

She shuffled off around a corner and as I rounded my next left turn, she was on the other side of the window to my right, not six feet from where I was standing.

She glowered at me again, as if looks alone could kill. She didn't want me screwing up her plan this time.

"You see, once I find the Belovèd's Will and prove I'm her great-great-great-however-many-times-great-granddaughter, I can prove I'm that little girl's aunt. I'll have her sign that contract with SHMRG and control her fortune, too!"

With a great cackling laugh, Klangfarben opened a door and disappeared through it. (However intelligent she might have been to figure all this out, she certainly was a bit over-the-top, even for a villain.)

I kept forging on ahead, making several more left turns, passing several doorways and only occasionally glimpsing Klavdia through a window.

Turning one more corner, there she stood, in front of me, a doorway left ajar: she'd reached the center before me.

A bust of Beethoven flanked by two angels adorned an ornate golden casket.

Between the angels there unfurled a banner on which was engraved the line

O Du, der mein Brunnen des Gedankenblitz bist!

which I had seen before, carved on an unnamed tombstone outside Castle Schweinwald: "O you who are my Fountain of Inspiration!" Was this the Immortal Belovèd's actual grave – here?

Klavdia quickly raised the lid.

Reaching inside she found another box, a smaller, nearly flat one like a safety deposit box but made of gold. She rested it on the casket's edge and, oblivious of my presence, opened it.

What was I going to do, I thought, since I had no weapon: how was I going to steal the prize?

The room we stood in erupted and rose into the air, breaking through the ceiling, the void opening up above us.

Jolted by the unexpected movement, she turned to see me and scowled ominously.

The Klangfarben woman was holding a sheaf of old and obviously brittle papers – the original manuscript of Beethoven's missing Quartetto giocoso.

"Damn you! Come one step closer, Dr. Kerr, and I will destroy it."

Then I remembered what Dylan had said when she'd kidnapped him: though a descendent of Beethoven's, nonetheless she hates his music!

"The world will not ever hear this music, if it's up to me – like we really need another Beethoven string quartet!"

The music of the quartet, playing through the void, became louder, more joyous.

"Gaaakh!" she screamed, "listen to that – awful stuff!" She took the manuscript in her hands and began tearing it to shreds. It broke and splintered, falling to the ground: then she stomped on it.

The music around us quickly disintegrated and likewise broke into shards of sound before slowly fading into exhausted sobs – then nothingness.

Reaching into the casket again, she pulled out a small, golden jewel-box that might play Für Elise when you opened it. She held it so I could see, pointing an accusatory finger toward me.

"Don't you come any nearer, Dr. Kerr," she said, looking several years older than me, "it's clear I've won this one!"

I mean, it wasn't like I was going to make a run for her and beat her senseless with my fists. We looked like two senior citizens standing around a jewelry store display case.

Carefully, Klavdia opened the box – which did not, mercifully, play Für Elise or anything else, for that matter – and lifted out a scrolled parchment tied by a simple red ribbon with a gold seal.

"Unless I'm mistaken, it's the Last Will and Testament of the Immortal Belovèd."

Which was when I noticed the crystal sphere.

It had come from nowhere, this small globe, dropping rapidly toward her from far above in the darkness and at first I thought it might hit her in the head, knocking her out cold. There was no tell-tale giggling, in fact not even a whoosh of air, even after it suddenly stopped, hovering above her.

I assumed it was Kedaver with his friend Alf, most likely come to help the Klangfarben woman escape somehow, and I only hoped my glancing up at it several times would sufficiently distract her.

At this point, she fell for it, stepping back and looking up to see what caught my attention. If I'd had a gun and knew how to use it, I could've shot her then. But it turns out I didn't need to worry about that: it was too late. Without warning, the globe simply exploded.

And it exploded – or rather expanded – in all directions, enveloping her in its amber-like glow. Shimmering rays of light emanated from the center of the sphere, multi-colored brilliance bursting forth for only a second.

It caught nothing else up in its luminance, not the casket, not the jewel-box she had been holding nor even, most fortunately, me. After a blinding flash, the light had collapsed back into itself.

And in that flash, Klangfarben had disappeared, rescued by her crony Abner Kedaver – but she had let go of the scroll.

Her shriek, at first deafening, was immediately reduced to a distant, annoying whine, a bit like a mosquito caught in a jar. I looked once again at the sphere, visible after the explosion collapsed. There she was, inside the globe – almost infinitesimal – buzzing against the surface, behind her a glittering shower of points of light.

She hadn't been rescued, ready to escape the dimension of the Pendulum Room: she'd been captured, one more image of the universe preserved inside the sphere. Having attained her goal, she'd now lost it.

"Ah, perfida," the voice of Abner Kedaver crooned once again, "you are mine, you who'd left me behind in the past." The sphere bounced lightly in the air. "We were partners, with an agreement. But now I think I will return you to the past and leave you there. How far back should we go?"

With a great shout of Re-va'-dek ren-Ba'! like some ancient incantation, the globe roared upward at incredible speed, shooting off into space where it quickly disappeared. Both Klangfarben and Kedaver had entered another dimension.

When the whooshing stopped and the laughter evaporated into space, silence descended upon the labyrinth, finally, and I stood there, alone.

I reached down and picked the scroll up off the floor.

Was this really the Immortal Belovèd's Last Will and Testament?

After breaking the seal and slipping off the ribbon, I began to read.

The Last Will and Testament of the Woman Known as Beethoven's Immortal Belovèd

I can hardly begin writing "being of sound mind and body," can I?

("Wait, this is written in English, not German!")

...since I am old and tired and feel I've lived a hundred years.

("Did Beethoven know any English women in 1812?")

In fact, I could definitely say I have lived enough for three lives but that would be too much to explain or at least for idiots here in Germany to understand, much less believe.

Of course, it didn't help that one of Beethoven's doctor-friends examined me not long before my confinement came to an end and determined beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was clinically insane. In fact, as he put it, "as mad as a bag of frogs," no doubt no less insane thirty-four years later.

True, I'd suffered a great shock, meeting the Great Beethoven like that, then having him fall inconceivably in love with me, much to the amusement, then growing concern of some of his closest friends. If only that summer had also proven "inconceivable," after my arrival at Teplitz, before my giving birth to our daughter, Amalie.

Is that such a shock to you, my unknown reader, since few people knew of her existence – much less of mine? Yes – I was seduced by the composer Beethoven and bore his bastard child.

("It's true, then, everything Schnellenlauter had uncovered, everything that Frieda was telling me. This document will prove the Immortal Belovèd's identity. This is no doubt the musicological find of the century – of two centuries! No wonder Klavdia Klangfarben was so excited to get her hands on it: it would make one's reputation for a lifetime."

My hands were shaking almost uncontrollably and it was a great temptation to turn to the last page, read the signature, and end the age-old mystery of the Belovèd's name once and for all.

But I'd forgotten about Frieda and her desire for privacy and how this revelation would put young Toni's career in jeopardy. Remember the pressure Brahms had endured with Schumann's 'prophecy' about being Beethoven's heir!

"And what, after all, if she didn't sign it with her real name, using only Knussbaum's nickname for her – Rosa Kohl?"

And what (the Belovèd continued) could I call my 'estate' that I bequeath to my heirs, dying a lonely, poor woman? I arrived in Vienna with nothing and leave this world, finally, with nothing. I have no riches, neither money nor income – the fund Beethoven set up for my care was only for my care.

Yet I cannot complain for lack of any care though it leaves nothing to pass on much less take with me. But there's something I can do about that – let's save that for later.

Plus, as indifferent as I was at the beginning, it saddens me that I have outlived the daughter they named Amalie, that poor girl born of the Great Ludwig's misguided and truly incomprehensible passion.

She died not long after becoming a mother of her own, poor thing, and her at the age of barely 22.

So everything I have – which is nothing, for what it's worth – I leave to the only child of my only child, a sweet grandchild of now fourteen years whom her mother named Claudia Ludwiga. I'd resisted that name on both counts – "so pompous and old-fashioned," I'd reasoned – who'd saddle a girl with the name 'Ludwiga'?

Though I'd been very careful not to tell her, once she was old enough to remember, anything about her illustrious father, Amalie claimed to like the sound of it, and who could argue, there?

With his handsome face, Everett Gutknaben felt he deserved favor from young Amalie: him a talented student from a well-to-do family and her only the daughter of a former member of the Academy's staff (for that's how they explained my presence there, having fallen on hard times, rather than Beethoven's cast-off mistress gone completely bonkers).

Poor Amalie inherited the unsociable manner of her father and her mother's irritability, a volatile temper lurking behind her sultry looks. More handsome than pretty, she already showed signs of inheriting her father's deafness.

She was a bit of a wild girl who'd make a bad marriage so perhaps it was better she'd made none. You could see in her sad eyes that she was destined for unhappiness.

Then she found herself "with child" after Everett graduated tops in his class: she never told him the child was his.

What legacy did young Claudia need as she blossomed into a beautiful child, having inherited the least of her grandfather's personality and the best of her handsome father's looks, especially his golden blond hair?

("I wonder, would Everett Gutknaben be the grandfather of that boy, Gottlieb, whose murder was recounted in Harrison Harty's Schweinwald journal?")

After her mother had died, one thing I decided Claudia would never know – whatever she'd choose to think about her grandmother – was that the mother she would never remember had ever been Beethoven's bastard.

Other than Claudia, such a dear child who dotes on her old granny, there is no one else in the family, and surely Ludwig would never want his brother Johann to know I exist. Beethoven's nephew wouldn't want to hear from me, especially if no money's involved, though he seems to have turned out alright.

(That poor boy had enough crosses to bear without meeting another crazy relative. I'd thought of introducing him to Amalie, though. Old Ludwig would've flipped an ear-trumpet if he thought they'd become romantically involved!)

Ah well – on my side of the family, it seems like it was only last year I had buried my mother or saw my twin-like sister of the same name, wherever she may be.

Dead or alive, I wouldn't know (and she would know nothing of me): I can only wish her requiescat in pacem.

You're probably wondering, gentle reader, depending on who sees this and when, how exactly a woman like me (whatever that means) would have managed to meet Beethoven, the greatest living composer of his time? Since the man everyone calls "The Master" has his own view of it, I should perhaps let you hear my side.

I had found myself wandering around the halls of an old Viennese home (let's not go into how I got there) when I opened a door and discovered Beethoven pouring water over his head.

He was half-naked and growling something that might be music (so he explained) and didn't seem surprised to see me there. He was expecting a new housekeeper but not, he professed with increasing ardor, one quite so charming and beautiful as I. (I'd heard about his hearing but had no idea he was near-sighted, too.)

Like his music, he was impetuous, overpowering, and though I loathed the man and his music, who could resist the tempest? The courtship was both fast and frequently furious, so I devised a plan.

We should go away together – meeting at Teplitz, he would arrive from Prague: he arrived late, but I was later still.

It had become too intense – he had doubts! So when he cooled, I became even hotter; he pressed forward, I retreated.

Eventually, his reluctance gave way: for my real intent was to destroy him.

It had not been part of my plan to get drunk that evening much less spend a passionate night in bed. I completely withdrew; he collapsed like a billowing inferno that completely spent itself.

But my plan had backfired if not failed: instead, he destroyed me when I realized I was pregnant with his child.

We could not be married, he explained – his art, you know – so I threatened to kill both him and the baby.

Conveniently, his friends had a doctor declare me insane, and off I went.

If the old cliché is indeed true – how a great artist must suffer – then I certainly helped to make Beethoven great. (That is one way of saying it backfired: that was not the plan.)

But soon he had to deal with that sister-in-law and nephew of his, the mirror reflection of me and my daughter.

Every single altercation with Johanna, his brother's widow, every hour wasted on lawyers, every moment worrying over that wretched boy's schooling was a little like revenge for having saddled me with his own child.

Such a hypocrite over his brothers' private lives, he would not dare take in his own daughter born out of wedlock.

So the initial joy he felt at Amalie's birth soon changed to sorrow and that's when I realized I had failed.

Had he been a happy man, would his music have been worth anything?

He could simply have cut me loose, a crazy old beggar woman with a vivid imagination but instead locked me away, a distant place called "Schattigen Kiefern" where I was more prisoner than patient.

That stupid brat of a nut-case Rainer Knussbaum kept tabs on me, running letters back and forth, letters he eventually destroyed.

Beethoven had set up a special fund, asked a teacher named Simon Sechter to administer the account and look after me until after Beethoven died; then Sechter went off to Schweinwald, the Academy's headmaster. Rather than leave me go even though I could do no harm now, he took us with him, keeping us hidden.

Plus they set up a system of people who were called "Watchers" to protect us but they were more like wardens.

("This is the opposite of everything Knussbaum wrote: who is telling the truth?")

There was one thing I could leave Claudia: a manuscript some people would be clamoring for if they knew it existed. Here it is, twenty years after Beethoven's death: how much was it worth? But there were restrictions placed on it by the composer, the crafty bastard: "publish it only after the Immortal Belovèd's death."

While it was traumatic for Beethoven dealing with the aftermath of our relationship, news of Amalie's birth filled him with joy. He poured everything into this new string quartet which Knussbaum delivered to me.

Or rather, to my keepers, since I could neither hold nor see it – afraid I would try to destroy the thing – but once a year on Amalie's birthday I had to listen to it.

I swear he had composed it for the sole purpose of torturing me, payback for the biggest mistake of my life.

Amalie grew bored with it, preferring newer music she heard at the Academy, especially anything by Rossini or Mercadante, even Hummel. As for me, I thought Kalkbrenner and Kalliwoda were more enjoyable than this.

And yet we endured this every year on the observance of her birthday. Seriously, it was an annoyance beyond human endurance.

But no one ever said who had composed it – though I knew it. The players never knew whose music they performed. Nobody bothered telling Amalie it was written by her famous yet heartless father.

But now that I am dead, you ask, what difference would it make? It is the only revenge I have left. He forced me to listen to it but why should anybody else suffer?

("And now the Belovèd's revenge in complete: nobody else will ever hear it! The Klangfarben woman has destroyed Beethoven's lost quartet!")

There isn't much time left though I've lingered for years beyond my hopes, but I think I've succeeded if not exactly in destroying Beethoven's unknown quartet, at least in keeping the damn thing hidden.

("No wonder Knussbaum said her Last Will and Testament must never be found, supposedly protecting her identity and keeping Beethoven's secret. In the margin, someone – Knussbaum, I would assume – wrote 'she's crazy, you know.'

Why did Knussbaum choose to honor her wishes and not burn this letter, much less hide the manuscript of the quartet?"

Instead that fool of a warden – my chief jailer the arch-idiot, arch-nemesis Knussbaum – thinks by leaving about a few vague clues, some future Prince Charming will cut through all the mists to rescue this.

One can only hope that by the time some jolly do-gooder finds it, he will discover everything has deteriorated beyond recognition.

The world does not need to hear another quartet by Ludwig van Beethoven. Even with those last ones he composed, how could anyone take him seriously? He's completely delusional! (And they call me mad!)

I've lost so much time in my lives...

("Ah, now" I thought, "there's an odd typo.")

...making a muddle of opportunities, what's the point of wishing to go back again and make things right? If any person should understand that, it's me! Besides, who am I but a sick, defenseless old woman? Yeah, right, baby! I'm a bitch and I know it so I'm going to go out like an old bat riding on a broomstick...

(" least I think that's what it says: much of it's crossed out...")

When Knussbaum realized to release the quartet was to reveal the whole secret, the other Wardens decided there was no recourse: to protect The Master, the quartet must be kept in a safe place.

"Yes," I said, "hidden from those who seek to ruin the Master's reputation, safe for one hundred years – no, two hundred..."

Since after many years I feel the inevitable closeness of Death upon me, I can write what I feel without concern, like I care what any future generation will probably be thinking of me. Having been mad as a bag of frogs at one point in life, perhaps in some future world it still applies.

However I care to explain it, I can make prophecies of my own and who is there that could dispute them?

("At this point,” I thought, “she can say anything she damn well pleases.")

The lineage will remain a small one (it's the nature of prophecy), descending primarily through illegitimate daughters and the occasional son. Some may hope to become composers, though none for generations, alas, will succeed. But frankly, being a composer who's a woman will be challenge enough without the pressure of being descended from Beethoven himself.

As the prophecy went, sometime long in the future, there will be a daughter descended from twins who becomes Beethoven's heir. My daughter would only be disappointed not to present the world with twins.

Would it help her knowing these twins will be descended in some way, in some far off time, from her daughter?

Why fill Claudia's head with an old gypsy's prophecy, this one about the twins, like Wotan's tragic children, Siegmund and Sieglinde?

("Wait, how many years before Wagner started writing The Ring did she die?")

Not an incestuous parentage, here, a few generations' gap, but she may well become the brightest new composer of her day. Who knows what lies ahead, as they say, since only Time will tell?

But that's the point of searching for lost time because Time, we all know, is a fickle bastard of its own.

What good does it do me to open all these agèd wounds again if I had been considered mad in my old age only to find I've been just as mad in my youth?

For my grandchild, poor dear, I left my penultimate will and testament which mentions nothing of her grandfather nor my madness, much less my constant ruminations about lost time which would only be confusing.

This is for the future: as the old man said, "Perception is everything!"

Dutifully signed,

The Immortal Belovèd, once Klavdia Klangfarben.

= = = = = = = = = = = = =

to be concluded... [with any luck, this link will take you to the final installment at 8am on Friday, August 26th.]

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *
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

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben: Installment #36

In the previous episode of The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben, we began with the closing installment of Knussbaum's Tale (the death of Beethoven, the subsequent history of the Immortal Belovéd and their daughter). It seems Dr. Kerr, Cameron and the young composer-prodigy Toni (who's descended from Beethoven and the Immortal Belovéd) have found the way into the Pendulum Room where they discover not only the pendulum but also Klavdia Klangfarben and hear strange music which turns into a string quartet. In fact, it's the missing quartet Beethoven composed to celebrate his daughter's birth, the “Quartetto giocoso.” And then they discover the entrance to the labyrinth (remember the labyrinth??)...

(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.

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *


The Pendulum Room, Phlaumix Court: continuing from before

This mass of wiry gray hair rushed past me with such unexpected speed, pushing me aside with such vehemence, she nearly knocked me off my feet. The staircase began to unfold more quickly as it descended, level by level, paths branching out, walls sprouting up like weeds.

"Holy crap," I thought, as distant memories began seeping back into my brain, "what the hell's wrong with you, you bitch?" And what was it with the hair, anyway, like something from the '80s?

She was a gray visage, the hair aside, her eyes steeped in scorn, lips parted in what passed for a smile, her dark suit giving her an overall impression of something not quite life-like. A complexion of pasty grayness completed the effect, opaque in the dim glow, heightening the malice I saw in her eyes.

But such was the notorious kill-or-be-killed mentality in the rarefied world of musicology, where nothing stood between you and your prize, after all your hard-won research, to let some idiot beat you to it. In this case, I was clearly the idiot, drawn into it by accident, trying to deny her her claim to fame.

But would she exploit this discovery she'd make, using it for evil ends, making herself rich while destroying other people's lives? Wouldn't she ruin Frieda's world, divulging these secrets, or put Toni's at risk?

Wouldn't it become part of the inevitable exposé, a bit of salacious entertainment? Was there anything one could gain by it? There were those who wanted to prove Beethoven was only human, after all. How would it help us understand his music, bring us closer to him? Would it help enrich our lives, I wondered?

Yet who could say what I would do was better for the world if my goal was to keep it secret? Was hiding this information from curiosity seekers really in the interest of truth?

At Schweinwald, not long ago, after we learned how she – this unknown woman – had been a "fountain of inspiration" for Beethoven, I chose to leave her grave undisclosed so scientists would not disturb her.

But could the Belovèd's identity be kept separate, satisfying the age-old scholarly curiosity, without necessarily revealing the identity of her descendants?

Yet somehow I was sure I knew her – not the Immortal Belovèd, of course, but this crazy woman rushing past me. It was the hair that jostled the memory, forgotten images falling into place.

Once, I had spotted it in the distance on a street in Dresden; at another time some palace in The Hague. (*1)

We chased her through the streets of Heiligenstadt, rescuing Beethoven from her clutches when she left that lawyer-friend of hers behind.

And – what? – visiting Bach in Lübeck, convincing him not to marry Buxtehude's daughter...?

But more recently hadn't there been something else, something connecting past and present – that summer we were at the Schweinwald Festival. Wasn't she the same one who'd kidnapped Dylan, the woman who hated Beethoven?

Hadn't it been the hair Dylan recognized from Cameron's photo in the library? It's this image that kept nagging at me.

What was it Knussbaum had said in his book about the Belovèd's "wiry silvered hair, unmanageable," so like the Master's own, no doubt resisting any attempt to be controlled except under a lady's wig? But Rosa Kohl, as everyone always called her, was very clearly no lady, this woman who had captured the Master's heart.

According to Schnellenlauter's recent discoveries, Klavdia's mother was the daughter of Frieda's son which made Klavdia Frieda's granddaughter, another Beethoven descendent! Did this woman inherit the unruly hair of both Beethoven and the Belovèd?

In the seconds since Klavdia Klangfarben passed me, the stairway continuing to unfold, I saw from the corner of my eye the sudden movement of somebody in a full tuxedo standing just behind me. Perhaps one of the servants had come through the portal to rescue us, something Vector would certainly know how to do.

It was, however, with a sinking feeling that I realized it wasn't Vector but the viola-wielding, would-be kidnapper who stood there. Even more discouraging, I noticed he was blocking Cameron and Toni's only escape.

The big guy looked dazed and even slightly confused about finding himself here, little different from how we'd looked moments earlier. He held his viola tentatively at his side, his brow furrowed in concentration.

The viola, odd enough with its white-varnished wood, had an oddly ominous glow. Suddenly, I got a faint whiff of cheese.

"Dr. Kerr, I believe you know our guest soloist?" The disembodied voice of Abner Kedaver giggled from somewhere just above us. "Nepomuck certainly knows you – don't you, Nepomuck, hmmm?" The violist looked around, bewildered.

But when he caught sight of me, his confusion quickly turned to satisfaction. With a smile he went to step forward.

"Be careful, Nepomuck – avoid the void," Kedaver chortled. Nepomuck pulled back in time. "Dr. Kerr can hear you fine from there."

Something cold brushed past me and I saw the crystal globe float by.

The madwoman was now well below me, hurrying along on the still-unfolding steps and getting caught in one dead-end after another. Suspended incongruously in mid-air, the staircase became a vast room of its own. The floor continued to undulate in slow waves as walls kept sprouting upward. Whatever path one could find was constantly shifting.

From where I stood, still on the landing, it would be difficult enough to see where the thing would eventually lead. Small wonder, deep in the midst of it, she kept bumping into walls.

The distant music once again resumed, growing louder, enveloping us in its beauty: the harmonious dance had once again become celestial.

Where was it coming from? Perhaps its source was controlled by the pendulum?

For the moment, I found myself distracted while Cameron tried recording it again.

Then I noticed Nepomuck began tuning his viola.

That small crystal sphere floated past me again, a chill in its wake, and I could see it more closely now. It looked exactly like the one at the base of the Grand Staircase. Did Kedaver – whose disembodied giggle I still heard – remove it from the post? Or had he himself become the crystal sphere? Or had he always been the crystal sphere, sitting there watching everything going on around him – no, that seemed too far-fetched. But what if he were inside the sphere? How could he control it?

"No, you see, Dr. Kerr," the voice said as the sphere drew closer to me again, "this is Alf – look closely."

I could see nothing but my own image reflected convexly on its surface.

"Are you saying Aleph," I asked, "or something short for 'Algorithmic Labyrinthine Formula'?"

"No, actually," he giggled, "it's short for Alfredo."

The sphere, dodging about us, darted back and forth between Cameron and me, buzzing around a bit like an annoying mosquito. I could feel this coldness in its wake: Kedaver was holding the sphere.

"This sphere has a center that is nowhere, a circumference that is everywhere. It is an infinitely concentrated mass simply contracted."

He explained every image of the universe was condensed into this little sphere, in fact every image of every imaginable universe.

"You do not want to touch it or you'll find yourself trapped inside..."

Above me, I could feel the pendulum getting closer in its return sweep while below me I could hear Klavdia cursing. And once again, the music was becoming more distinct – louder, more clearly defined.

"But where's the music coming from? The pendulum?"

"Use your imagination, Dr. Kerr!"

Quite possibly, there was more than one mystery...

I recalled how old recordings from my youth consisted of one labyrinthine groove which engraved music's sound-waves into the needle's path.

"So the pendulum acts as a phonograph needle, but reproducing sound-waves from... what...?"

"Your grasp of technology is so leaded in the past, my good doctor. Imagine not needing to record anything with performers."

"You mean the pendulum is drawing the sound directly from... what – the score?"

"It's retrieving exactly what Beethoven heard in his mind as he wrote it!"

"If that's the case, then, where's the manuscript?"

The music grew in intensity; the sphere – Alf – spiraled up around the pendulum. Again, I felt the brush of cosmic winds.

"Such magical music, yes?" Kedaver crooned. "It makes me laaaugh for sheer joooooy."

This was becoming, alas, a distraction, hearing music recorded directly from Beethoven's brain!

I ducked as the pendulum passed directly overhead.

Klavdia yelled she could see the center of the labyrinth as it rose – not a flat plane, more a three-dimensional graph.

"There its is," she shouted, "a great golden casket bearing Beethoven's ultimate treasure!"

She was already half-way there and I hadn't even begun the race, yet.

But suddenly the labyrinth had reached its limits and, seeing it from my perspective, I realized she was far from home.

The walls, however, continued to grow, hedges gone wild completely obscuring her view.

From where I stood was a better position.

Cameron, caught in a trance, was still trying to record as much of the quartet as he could on his phone. It was Toni who looked back and realized Nepomuck was hurrying toward them.

The sphere circled back around Cameron and Toni, then came directly toward me as Nepomuck, marching forward, began playing his viola.

"You can run to the center of the labyrinth, Dr. Kerr – or you can rescue Cameron," Kedaver's sang into my ear.

"You said I rescued you in Heiligenstadt, Kedaver. Surely that counts for something?"

Then it occurred to me, where I'd seen this man called Nepomuck before: in the Hotel Mandeville where we'd had breakfast. I thought the man had looked too slovenly to be a guest there. He was bald with a rumpled overcoat and carried a tattered viola case – and very nearly knocked me off my feet.

I remembered how I'd even joked with Ivanskoff about that being his quartet's new violist, who'd barged out of the elevator. No, he wasn't a guest staying there, he'd been upstairs murdering Norman Drang!

Could he have been backstage to see Maestro Schnellenlauter after last night's rehearsal? If he was, it wasn't a matter of auditioning for them, was it? Why would he have killed them – and how?

No, he must've somehow used his viola to murder them in cold blood – and not by hitting them over the head!

"Ah! He killed them by playing his viola – by playing his white viola." That was it: not just any white viola. It was "The White Viola." Of course – why hadn't I realized this before?

It had been Stradivarius' legendary 13th viola whose varnish was ruined in that lunchtime accident (which explained the whiff of cheese).

Years ago, I'd read somewhere how it surfaced again when someone named Franklin Stine had found it only to have it disappear, others found inexplicably dead. Had it been turned into a killer viola?

"Excuse me, Mr. Nepomuck, sir" I called out. "Did you ever know a Dr. Franklin Stine, not long ago, I'm guessing?"

It was enough to make him stop playing and turn to face me.

"You look surprised – did you study with him? Maybe borrow his white viola?"

He played some aggressive notes on the C-string.

The pain was excruciating, even with the Beethoven quartet welling up around us.

"If I may make a request, would you by any chance know anything by the group called Screaming Dead Lawn Zombies?"

I yelled he ought to wait until the pendulum passed before playing it.

Cameron was able to understand me and smiled. I saw him reach for his iPod and quickly stick the ear-buds in.

"As a member of the Penguins of God, I do not take requests!" And with that, Nepomuck turned back to Cameron.

"Penguins of God?" What the hell was that? Some secret society, I imagined. "I don't think I'd ever heard of them."

Nepomuck once again began sawing away on his viola's lowest string: wolf tones!

Cameron motioned for Toni to stay close to the wall, cover her ears, and sneak around past Nepomuck toward the mirror.

"Well, if you're not going to honor my request, then," I shouted back, "you should come get me first, shouldn't you? Once I head into the labyrinth, you won't be able to catch me."

The music from Beethoven's quartet started welling up into a louder passage then and I could no longer hear Nepomuck's viola.

Ah, now I recalled hearing about "Penguins of God" before – some terrorist organization!

"Look, Mr. Nepomuck, your boss'll be really pissed if I get away – again."

He turned, playing several aggressive, pain-inducing down-bow strokes.

I quickly fell to my knees, my hands over my aching ears, but not before I saw Cameron rush toward Nepomuck. He had started backing up toward Toni who'd also fallen to her knees.

The expression on Nepomuck's face had been one of complete surprise: the viola proved impervious against Cameron's Screaming Dead Lawn Zombies.

Backing away from the abyss, Nepomuck kept sawing away at his Wolf Tones.

The sound of Beethoven's quartet shrieked in agony and I noticed the labyrinth itself started twisting, sufficiently distorted by the noise.

Without realizing what was happening, Nepomuck stepped back, tripping over Toni's huddled form, and found himself unable to regain his footing.

Once he stopped playing, the wretched sound disappeared, the infernal pain went away.

Toni sat up, hitting Nepomuck's leg as Cameron pushed him from the side which sent the violist stumbling toward the edge.

His arms began to pinwheel and the viola started flailing through the air. His feet tap-danced desperately to retain his balance. Far too big a man to be graceful, his end would be unenviable.

Toni backed away from him, hoping not to get caught in his gyrations and hoping, too, the violist would not latch onto Cameron for support and inadvertently throw him off the ledge with him.

With a great roar like a wounded beast, Nepomuck teetered on the brink, then fell over the edge, spiraling into infinity.

His final conscious act was to throw the instrument clear of his fall whether it would actually save it or not. Clearly, nothing would save him at this point: perhaps his viola would survive...?

The white shape rose in a slow-motion arc, spiraling back toward the wall. Graceful, unlike Nepomuck, its end seemed equally imminent.

Like a gymnast suddenly appearing out of nowhere, Toni leapt into the air starting with a well executed front full twist before – bravo! – sticking the landing after a punch front layout, viola in hand!

No sooner had Cameron and I started to applaud than Kedaver's obnoxious giggle overwhelmed the music which slowly continued its retreat.

Another voice was now heard reverberating through the space, a man's authoritative voice.

"Come to me, Toni, come and join me. Bring me the viola," it said, "and join me on the Darke Side."

"The Dark Side – what the hell is that?" Toni asked, looking around, perplexed.
Cameron was urging her back toward the mirror.

Where was the voice coming from? "Who are you?" The giggling wasn't helping.

"Cameron," I shouted, "get her back to the Reading Room – through the mirror!"

"Power and wealth await you," the voice continued.

Cameron grabbed her by the shoulders and pushed her away from the voice.

"Remember the Fibonacci code," I yelled as the staircase buckled again.

I ran into the labyrinth, screaming like a little girl.


= = = = = = = = = = = = =
to be continued... [with any luck, the link should become active at 8am on Wednesday, August 24th...]
= = = = = = = = = = = = = 

(*1) Dresden... the Hague: Kerr is having brief memories flashing back from his experiences recounted in The Doomsday Symphony, following a woman with a mound of platinum hair named Klavdia Klangfarben (as well as her sidekick, Abner Kedaver) through time, trying to kill Wagner and Mozart before they became famous (and also Bach and Beethoven).

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *

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