(If you've only just arrived and have no clue what's going on, you might find it easier to start with the introductory post, here. )
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"Of all the dratted luck," Nepomuck thought while backing away from the door. "Will I never find this idiot by himself – must not fail the Master."
He shut the door and looked around him, wondering where to go next. More importantly, where would Dr. Kerr go next?
"It would be most logical simply to wait in his room, wouldn't it? Hmm – he has to go back there sometime. I could hide behind a dressing screen, perhaps, then start playing, and then..."
Of course, what if it were one of the maids instead, he considered, coming to do whatever it is they do – turn down the beds, see to the fire, place chocolate on the pillow? She might discover him, there, give him away, and that would never do. No, he'd have to kill her, wouldn't he?
Not that it mattered, really, killing someone innocent – no one is really innocent: we're all going to die, eventually, aren't we? – but would there be time to dispose of the body before Kerr returns? Can't have him walking in as he's trying to hide some dead body: yes, that would tend to spoil the surprise.
If he'd known he was to kill Kerr, could'nt he have done it while he was in Germany the other day? But perhaps the Master didn't know Kerr'd be there with the old man.
How could that be, he grumbled, that the Master might not know something? Stepping back, Nepomuck was shocked at the thought! There must be some logical explanation, of course, Kerr being added only afterward. But then, there was nothing about taking out others along with the target, so what about a little collateral damage, now?
He would probably have to take that boy with him, too, wouldn't he, since after all they were very nearly inseparable. Not that that bothered him – nothing bothered him – but what were his orders?
If he could've gotten Kerr in that semi-circular room with all the mirrors, cornered him there, making him beg for mercy, that would've fulfilled the assignment: he hadn't said, "Kill Kerr and anyone else."
Of course, how do you corner someone in a semi-circular room? Very clever. Nepomuck almost cracked a smile at the joke.
By the time Nepomuck had arrived in Germany, it was almost too late. Who knew the old man would change plans? With the threat of a winter storm coming, he'd leave a day earlier. That had been unforeseen, just as Dr. Kerr's visit had also been unforeseen. There had been a lot of unforeseen variables.
But he wasn't supposed to worry about that: the assignment had been very clear, wasn't it – kill the composer, Howard Zenn," not "kill Howard Zenn along with anybody else who got in the way."
Getting himself into that sprawling old castle outside Garmisch-Partenkirchen had been one thing, even after the servants had been let go, but the only way into Zenn's bedroom was climbing in through the window.
Then this guy and his sidekick walked in and spoiled his best chance. Nepomuck lost his balance and fell three stories.
By the time he got up and made sure his viola was unscathed, he hurried back into the castle, following them as they hurried down a long underground passageway – were they hiding from him?
They were in a cave – in a helicopter – then the wall opened up, overlooking the valley below – it's a cliff hangar!
"Damn it!" He'd been intercepted by the footman called Rudyard, interrupting his reverie. He shot Nepomuck a disapproving glance before pointing.
"Have you gotten everything ready in the banquet room? Then you'd better hurry!"
It was just his luck he'd run into that friend of his cousin's, that moron, the great Dr. T. Richard Kerr, who'd helped ruin his childhood. He'd spent years tracking him down, glad to see he'd never succeeded as his cousin, the famous composer Robertson Sullivan, had. In fact, it was pretty clear the man had become quite the nobody: a retired, small-time college professor past his prime. Without any reputation or prizes, how could he claim to be a composer?
Maurice Harty, successful entrepreneur and extremely wealthy investor, had been informed he was being considered for the Queen's List this year. He knew people, people paid attention to him: who did Dr. Kerr know? Perhaps it really wasn't necessary, eliminating Kerr from the environment of his life. Maybe he had suffered enough, living with failure.
But it had been a lifetime goal, ever since that summer in Maine – the very memory reminded him of his shame – that he would have revenge on all three of his tormentors some day. And by extension, he thought, why not take with them other such composers whose music he neither liked nor could understand?
That was why he'd founded the organization he called The Penguins of God, eliminating those who produced this awful modern music. If only he could've gone back in time and had Arnold Schoenberg killed.
Having ducked into a bathroom down the hall – a very ornate one, too – Maurie tried once again to make his call. The room, full of gold and silver, had marble sinks, probably marble commodes. There were nautilus shells and rabbits in abundance, a border of interlocking pentagons, with fixtures like knights from a chess board.
Ready to punch in the last digit of the number he tried calling, he heard someone open the door and enter: a tall, bald-headed man, one of the servants, ignoring it was already occupied.
Maurie, exasperated, turned his back on the intruder, planning once again to escape and find somewhere else to try his call, but in the mirror he saw a face of which nightmares were made.
The odd man scowled down and grunted at him from his considerable height before retreating into the farthest of the stalls.
"Fancy looking up and seeing that serving you the fish dish," Maurie thought. "LauraLynn would probably keel over, dead from fright. This guy has the perfect face and demeanor to be a hired assassin." If nothing else, he'd be the ideal butler to scare away door-to-door solicitors: "I wonder if he's looking for a gig?"
Of course, he already had a hired assassin, Nepomuck and his White Viola, the guy who'd called him, volunteering his services. Even though they'd yet to meet in person, he came with excellent references.
Maurie decided he would make the call anyway, carefully punching in the numbers, even at the chance of his being overheard: he simply had to know his agent's location and direct him toward Kerr's.
Suddenly he heard the mellifluous strains of Pachelbel's Canon, a most distinctive ring-tone, coming from somewhere close by – the end stall!
He snapped his phone shut and pocketed it without waiting for a response, canceling the call before it could be answered. A broad, most unnatural smile began to form across Maurie's usually disapproving face.
The idea occurred to him to send his agent into the Rosette Room and with a single stroke kill them all.
The man in the far stall grunted dismissively, realizing he'd dropped a call.
Maurie knew, however, that that would be reckless.
"Everybody's in place," he thought, "nowhere to go."
And with that, he left.
It was a designated line, a direct connection between him and The Serpent, so Nepomuck wondered what it might mean to drop a call like that. Was the Master unable to complete the call after all, having been disturbed, or was there perhaps some problem with reception?
Or could it mean he was dissatisfied that his actions have been slow, that so far his latest assignment is incomplete? He did not wish to bother the Master, constantly whining about his failings.
But seriously, this footman business was too much, standing in the Dining Room with two other footman each holding a ruler, placing utensils so many inches from each plate, everything so neat and centered.
Such precision was pedantic and for what purpose? What beauty was there, here? No one would notice, once they've started eating.
Mindless repetition always bored him, his mind wandering. He needed something to occupy his senses with, allow his imagination to soar. He was back in Germany, off to Munich, chasing after his first assignment.
He was now on his fourth assignment for the Master in two days, a sense of accomplishment his previous life lacked.
But this, his fourth one, was proving difficult and taking far too long: it cannot become a blot on his record.
He knew he must not fail the Master: he was becoming increasingly impatient.
It hadn't been so difficult, following the old man from Garmisch to Munich despite his having left in a private helicopter. Through the Penguins of God, he had rented a very fast sports car.
How heavenly it had been, flying along the highways through Bavaria like that, his precious viola strapped in safely beside him.
But then he knew they both had work to do once he arrived: it was not all fun and games today. Once he located Zenn after his guests left, then the real fun began.
The man they called Mr. Vector, the butler, wandered pompously into the room and glanced about, peripherally checking each place setting.
He stopped in front of Nepomuck and drew himself up to full height.
"Young man, do you not know your salad fork from your dessert spoon?"
Nepomuck made the necessary adjustments, blushing with indignation.
As Frieda began to awake from her nap and the cobwebs started clearing, she had this uncomfortable feeling someone else was in the room with her. It was as if, for that brief moment, she'd forgotten where she was or that news had arrived about Schnelly's death. But who else was here, so close to her, watching her like this, as if lurking behind some veil of secrecy? The room was dark and she could hear snow hitting against the windows.
"Ach, Fräulein," she heard a quiet voice say: her maid Minona sat nearby. "I looked in and you weren't sleeping well." Even meaning to be comforting, she sounded coldly efficient, everything by the book.
"Yes," she said, trying carefully to sit up. Minona went to help her. Stretched out on the daybed, she moved stiffly.
The maid briefly mentioned the recent commotion, downstairs, helping her into her wheelchair, how a cab driver, lost in the snow, very nearly froze to death but for the timely arrival of the policeman.
"It merely shows how fragile is this world, whenever our time will come," Minona said, nodding, "but already you know this."
Frieda sighed as she told her, "All too well, I'm afraid – too well," wheeling herself over to her desk, "too often..." She turned on the computer, deep in thought, as Minona prepared to leave.
She wasn't sure what she had dreamed about but she'd dreamed about something: it's like he's still speaking to her, Schnelly. She wanted to check that last e-mail again, the one he'd sent Saturday.
"I'll be back, Fräulein, to dress before dinner." Minona, closing the door behind her, barely noticed Frieda's distraction, given her grief.
It didn't tell her much, how he'd explain everything when he'd see her, with this old, otherwise unidentified photograph he'd attached. Opening it again, she looked into the piercing eyes of a young man.
Perhaps there was something here that might answer why somebody would kill him: who was this Jüngling, what had he discovered? What secret lay behind the boy's curly hair, slight mustache and sultry expression?
There was a gentle knock at the door. "Frieda, dear, are you awake?"
"Cathie! You're up!" Frieda cried. "Come in, please!"
Cathie entered, leading a young girl she introduced as her new friend Toni and told her about the child's sad story, the death of her parents but why she was here at Phlaumix Court.
The girl told her about this kind conductor – she consciously tried to avoid the word 'old' – who wanted to help her.
"I'm a composer, sort of, and he took an interest in my music, said he'd like to perform it in London – said I should come to this competition here but it's only for performers..."
When Toni mentioned this conductor's name – Hans-Jörg Schnellenlauter – Frieda nearly fainted from emotion but didn't know what to tell the girl: how tragic to discover you've lost your parents and your mentor moments apart.
Frieda remembered being a child prodigy herself, once, though nothing came of it. Schnelly had also given her much needed support.
She began telling Toni a long story in as few words as possible, how she'd met Schnelly who helped young composers. But she noticed Toni took the news of his death with quiet resignation.
Saying she had no sooner gotten here than she needed to return home, Toni quietly apologized and asked to be excused.
"Oh, and he gave me this message to give to you," Toni said. "Makes no sense to me – looks like gibberish." She handed Frieda a small carefully folded card. "He said you'd understand it."
Overcome with tears, Frieda asked Toni if she would join them for dinner, if she's no longer part of the pageant. "A bit spontaneous, but I'm sure Lady Vexilla won't mind – not very much."
Toni smiled from the doorway after thinking she might prefer to be alone but thanked her all the same for caring.
Cathie said she'd take her down to the door for the Public Wing, giving Frieda time to examine this new message.
"She can read that?" Toni asked as the door closed. "That's, like, amazing..."
i'ogn sovzwgozgs vhrveyid
lhiUfv mw Rxm mzlh.ld vkmeztiTgzl
o."Gbsr goUvfv Duu wmfi zsvlvsh tii- vhhsmy okxdrwsft,lv
bwziv vtvonh g yNlwr lof ivyv m'fv vblov rvPvgg vyu ilgg gZh wlvi
Frieda sighed, looking at it with a smile – "you and your coded messages." She continued working after her friend had returned.
Cathie suggested Toni move her things over from the pageant to her rooms, staying there until she could eventually return home, hoping that nobody would mind but it seemed the right thing to do.
"The poor girl is all alone," Cathie sighed, "especially now with no family." But she realized Frieda was trying to concentrate.
Cathie moved around to look over Frieda's shoulder, then saw the photo of the handsome young man on the computer screen.
At that point, Frieda had completed applying the coded message's "Rule of 12."
Uvim Tvorvygyi'h wzftsgvi
zwlgvw yb gsv xlfkov Zfelru-wfYlrh.
Uvim'h nglsvi gsv Givv ivevzoh dzh Nvolwb Pozmtuziyvm
dslhv nglsvi R xlfow mlg urmw yfg dslhv uzgsvi dzh blfi hlm Droo."
"Oh," Cathie said, somewhat surprised, "when did Toni give you her father's picture?
Frieda nearly dropped the notebook, staring at Cathie.
"What was that you said? Schnelly sent me this picture the other day."
"Toni's father – she said it was her birth-father."
"That's astounding: why would Schnelly send me that?" She soon finished the decoding.
Fern Geliebter's daughter
adopted by the couple Auvoir-duBois.
Fern's mother the Tree reveals was Melody Klangfarben
whose mother I could not find but whose father was your son Will."
Frieda's mouth dropped open by the time she got to those last words.
"My God, Cathie – that child is my great-great-granddaughter!"
"So that's why Drang wasn't answering his phone when Meyer tried calling him," I said as Cameron and I headed toward the stairs to Frieda's room. "The cellist said he'd talked with him before he came down to breakfast so he was murdered in between Meyer's calls."
"Wow," Cameron said, "and we were downstairs eating chocolate bread when it happened. But who would want to murder a violinist?"
"Or for that matter, a conductor," I added. "Well, okay – actually murder them..."
We reached the bottom of the steps which I was becoming so familiar with, now, when Cameron reached for his phone.
"Really, Cameron, must you check your phone again?"
"A text," he said eagerly.
But it wasn't Dylan: it was for me. It was Howard Zenn's nephew.
"Probably letting us know about the funeral arrangements..."
Instead, he was brief and to the point, how the coroner found something, thought it was suspicious and called the IMP. Though there'd been no outward sign of trauma, it ruled out "natural causes."
He didn't elaborate beyond a "look of fear," but it's caused considerable interest and naturally put everything in a different light.
"So they're thinking now that Zenn was murdered? That doesn't make any sense!"
"And," Cameron added, "what would have frightened him?"
Who'd bother to kill an almost 100-year-old man? Not to mention, simply, why?
That was one of the strange things that detective from the IMP – Hemiola? – hadn't said at the Royal Academy this morning, ignoring the look of fear on Schnellenlauter's face: had he died of fright?
"Wasn't that what Burnson said the IMP guy told him about Drang's death: how it's like he was frightened to death?"
But Zenn's nephew just implied the same thing: "scared to death." By what...?
"Given Schnelly's arm and leg – the alto clef...?"
"Or if it's a tenor clef, then, maybe a trombonist or cellist, instead?"
We continued climbing (which seemed to take forever), somewhat deflated after the news that my three friends had become murder victims.
"I'd almost forgotten about Schnelly's letter," I said. "Come on, let's see Frieda."
Cameron stopped on the steps. "But you realize...?"
"Realize what," I asked him.
"One thing they all have in common? You!"
When we opened the door, Frieda sat there, her eyes alive with excitement, her friend Cathie standing behind her clapping her hands like a small child.
I glanced over at Cameron who could barely hide his surprise as well, considering Frieda's state of mind earlier this afternoon.
"Oh, Terry – Cameron," she said, extending her arms toward us, "it's wonderful news. I found what Schnelly's trying to tell me!" She told us about the girl Toni, her parents' death and Schnelly's message.
"He's found my son's great-granddaughter. Isn't that wonderful? And he'd brought her here! Cathie, you must go back and fetch her..."
"Then," I said, "this could be another surprise," and handed her the letter.
I explained how it had only just arrived when she tore it open, as excited as a child on Christmas Day.
"It's not written in code," she said, relieved, "but look – this picture he'd already sent me is my daughter Gracie's grandson!"
He'd discovered Gracie had a child who had a child named Earl King.
"My God, the young man in the e-mail!" She pointed at the computer. "He's the man Toni said was her birth-father!"
"So, wait, you're saying Gracie, LauraLynn's Aunt Gracie," I stammered, "is your daughter?" You could've knocked me over with a feather.
"But don't you see, Terry, what this means? Toni's descended from both twins!"
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to be continued... [with any luck, this link should become active at 8am on Wednesday, August 3rd.]
This post, one about the novel, explains the significance of the point we have reached as the novel progresses.
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The usual disclaimer: The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben, which you've no doubt figured out by now, is a work of fiction and as such all the characters (especially their names) and incidents of its story are more or less the product of the author's imagination, sometimes inspired by elements of parody, occasionally by personal experience. Many of the places are real (or real-ish) but not always "realistically used." Other places like Phlaumix Court and Umberton are purely fictional. Any similarity between characters and real people, living or dead, is entirely coincidental, but then, as Klavdia Klangfarben keeps quoting a former professor of hers, "Perception is everything." Yadda yadda yadda.
©2016 by Richard Alan Strawser for Thoughts on a Train