Friday, August 19, 2016

The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben: Installment #35

In the previous installment of The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben, Melissa Fourthought (who's really Klavdia Klangfarben) runs into an old friend, Abner Kedaver (who's really dead). Confusion abounds in the reading room of Phlaumix Court's mysterious (and curiously inaccesible) Pendulum Room: yes, they've found Bugsy's body but all clues point to Dr. Kerr as the murderer. In the chaos, he's noticed an odd mirror which Cameron and Toni figure out to be... well, a lot more odd than it looks

(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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Being the conclusion of Knussbaum's "The Tale of the Master and his Belovèd"

There is little to add at this point beyond recounting the excruciating details of those well-known events of the Master's life, or, for that matter, those of the woman whom Beethoven called his "Angel" or the child he knew was his daughter. There was never any indication he ever said anything about them again except on rare occasions when he would ask me how was the project's fund holding out, whether the finances remained suitable enough. The quartet ended with a rising motive and three startling modulations before the final cadence which the Master told me represented "Eternally yours," "Eternally mine," and the final resolution to E-flat Major, "Eternally we." But yet, this motive, he said, became transformed into something for almost every piece he wrote from the Missa Solemnis forward.

For in reality, he said, thoughts of her and their child inspired not only the mass through which he sought forgiveness, but the last piano sonatas, the great Choral symphony (not just the finale), and especially the series of quartets he was embarking upon at the time, a motive so transformed as to be unrecognizable. When he showed me the manuscripts, I said I could not see what he was referring to, and he laughed aloud. "That, my rotund Hermes, is exactly the point! Only I know it's there!"

There is little to say about "Rosa Kohl" (it was how she was known to my aunt and uncle, after all) except that she continued to live the quiet life of a country widow, raising her child who enjoyed growing up with other children living nearby in the quaint if somewhat limited village of Oberunterzwischenstein. She never once went into Vienna because Herr Sechter had told her he would cut off her support if she did and she found village life for herself quite boring enough without being poor.

Every year around Amalie's birthday, I would bring three colleagues out along with Sechter to play for her her father's quartet though she found the music boring and her mother thought it was insufferable. And every year we would travel back to Vienna and tell the Master how much they both had enjoyed the music.

We both knew the Master would never release the quartet for publication without having to admit to whom it was dedicated so that the primary reason for their secret existence became the quartet's, also. After one such birthday, Beethoven made us once again swear to maintain the secret and continue the project past his death. He now wanted us to wait until after Rosa's death to publish it – even he had started to call her that – but to make no reference to her identity or to their daughter's existence.

Once, the Master belittled Sechter's habit of writing such academic, indeed awful fugues. Embarking on a series of new string quartets, Beethoven bragged he would show him how to write a really great fugue. (Whenever Sechter or I visited, we would keep our own separate "conversation books" to ensure nobody could read what we'd said.)

Another time, not long before his nephew – poor deluded boy – tried committing suicide, I again argued to release the Giocoso Quartet. When he said he would not, I shook my head: "Must it be?"

Slapping his palm on the table, he laughed, "It must be!" then paused and said, "wait, I must write that down..."

The Master's health was rarely good but there were times when it improved and it seemed he had many years left. Yet "Rosa" predicted he would die in the springtime during a fierce thunderstorm.

That December, after Beethoven returned from his brother's house in Gneixendorf, his nephew beginning his new life in a military regiment, the Master became seriously ill, so ill doctors thought he might die soon. I went to see him and again he pressed me about "our Project," hiding from Amalie what he called his "shame." He gave me several boxes filled with letters – those I'd carried back and forth between them over these past many years – of which he now said, "Hermes must give these over to Hephastion's fire."

He urged me to destroy our conversation books and, come springtime, to secure any letters which "Rosa" herself might have kept, consigning those to flames through which his sin could still not be cleansed. The next day, after a terrible storm, Sechter and I went to see the Master only to find him already dead.

We could not assist in the funeral arrangements because most of those close to him then knew nothing of our association. Instead, we walked amongst the throngs of mourners and grieved for our loss. Trudging along behind the coffin, someone asked me how I knew the Master. "Certainly as anyone who loved music knew him."

As we returned from the cemetery, deep in thought and lost in sadness, Sechter and I talked long into the night and wondered what need there was to continue hiding "Rosa" and Amalie's identities.

But soon we heard Schindler found among the Master's papers in his desk a lengthy letter written to an unnamed woman, someone called, among other things, the "Immortal Belovèd," a sad thing to read. Immediately, Vienna was abuzz with wonder that such a thing had gone undetected, that even his closest friends had suspected nothing.

What other things he may have forgotten to give me before he died, Sechter and I continued to worry about anxiously. Would there be more recent letters that implicated out roles in this deception?

Schindler had his theories and others made their own suggestions, to no avail: no matter who one guessed, it remained unprovable. And yet nobody was anywhere near the mark – they didn't know "Rosa" existed.

After hurrying off to Shady Pines, I was met by a stoic Rosa who told me bluntly that Beethoven had died.

Two unrelated things happened a few years not long after the Master died: my uncle Tobias died quietly in his sleep and Herr Sechter was offered a job teaching in Bavaria, someplace called Schweinwald. Since Aunt Sophia said she could no longer maintain the inn by herself, she announced she was prepared to sell it. This meant we needed to find a place for "Rosa" and her daughter in order to remain true to the Master. Then Sechter announced he'd take them to Schweinwald as part of his household.

Fortunately, he also needed an assistant and someone who could teach organ, so he found a place for me, as well. There, together, we were able to maintain the secret indefinitely, far from Vienna. We had no idea how old "Rosa" may have been, by this time, but Amalie, now seventeen, made the trip easily.

The deception succeeded satisfactorily though not without curiosity, especially after Sechter resigned to return to Vienna, having left Frau Kohl behind. By this time, "Rosa" was even less herself, if she ever had been. But it made others, asking me directly, wonder who she was to Sechter if he would not take her with him.

"She has become too ill to travel and being so well situated here, she would not do as well in Vienna. Therefore," I explained, "I had agreed to continue looking after both of them."

If I have time (which I fear I do not), I will return to write more about the Belovèd's life, here, and about Amalie and how she grew up practically as my foster daughter, instead, focusing here on what concerns the Master who loved her greatly, her father except in being there to raise her.

Not many years later, Amalie fell for the charms of student Everett Gutknaben and unbeknownst to him bore him a daughter to whom, for some unimaginable reason, she had given the name Claudia Ludwiga.

Barely two years later, young Amalie succumbed to an illness discovered too late, and then, on an otherwise felicitous summer afternoon, we laid her poor body to rest in the graveyard beyond the castle.

And so the years moved on, more quickly now than in the past, all without any further performances of Beethoven's quartet.

In the last decade of her life, our "Rosa" descended clearly into madness, brightened only by the presence of her granddaughter, and forcing me to swear, again, I would never reveal her family's secret. It was good that Beethoven should never have seen what their misalliance had led her to: he'd become even more despondent.

According to the Master's wishes that final day, after she was buried somewhere remote and safe, we should erect a monument, some likeness of him where he could gaze upon his "Fountain of Inspiration."

So this we did, Sechter returning for the funeral and for the quiet installation of Beethoven's statue on the castle's courtyard. But he'd returned to Schweinwald having discovered some disturbing news in the capital.

"There is clearly some peril," he reminded me, "attached to the revelation of the Master's secret, for we must proceed cautiously."

He explained Schindler unwittingly gave rise to rumours that this Immortal Belovèd may possibly have born a child to the Master, and some, incensed this besmirched his reputation, were out to destroy any proof.

According to some little list, apparently they suspected Schubert might know the truth: his death so soon afterwards now seemed suspicious.

"So it becomes clear, don't you see," my old professor explained to me, "we must continue to guard the Master's secret."

"And how do you propose we do this," I asked, "for all eternity?"

More years passed by in which I implemented Herr Sechter's improbably detailed plan to protect the descendents of the Master's legacy from the nefarious members of a secret society calling itself the 'Guidonian Hand.' We set up the Watchers – "Rosa" unendingly complained how we continually 'watched' her – responsible for keeping track of the future generations. These were people separate from the family line who were to act independently and, he specified, unbeknownst to the heirs themselves. No one who was descended from Amalie must know who her father was.

Of equal importance was that no one should know the true identity of her mother, he continued, not even the Watchers, thereby protecting them from this one crucial aspect of the Guidonian Hand's search. For the Hand's goal was two-fold: to destroy all evidence of those descendents and obliterate all knowledge of the Belovèd's identity.

Given the need for continued secrecy but also given the need for additional Watchers, at least those going into the future, we decided to induct Sechter's successor, Professor Dudley Böhm, into our "Immortal Club," a name we originally coined half in jest but which seemed, now, the Belovèd aside, a society for the "immediate eternity."

We had to make sure somewhere, somehow, someone would someday be able to discover the Truth and the secret be revealed. To that end we must hide the Belovèd's Will and the quartet's manuscript.

Alas, showing it to Sechter, I did not think this was what we wanted the future to know about their relationship, clearly having been the product of a diseased mind, as he put it. Who better than me to record the Master's side of these distant events? But not that just anyone could read it.

And so we devised a code that should not attract attention to itself but challenging enough not to be broken easily. (I need not explain what it is as you've apparently figured it out.)

So I will reluctantly hide with it the original manuscript and my copy of Beethoven's quartet which he called the Giocoso and which for obvious reasons Sechter and I always called The Belovèd Quartet.

Then, on a chilly April evening for what would have been Amalie's 35th birthday, we played the quartet one last time.

It was the first time in thirteen years anyone had heard the work which had by now grown on us considerably and Sechter and I wept for knowing we would never hear it again. My three colleagues who played it this time, never having heard it before, thought it a marvelous work worthy of publication.

It was the height of hubris to claim the work as my own so I said a friend had written it and she did not ever want it to see the light of day.

I have no idea whatever possessed me to say it had been written by a woman (rather than inspired by one) but that at least would explain the reason it could not be published.

Joking perhaps a rumour would begin it was written by the Belovèd herself, we then quietly burned the set of parts.

Now I am old and frail myself – my time is close at hand and I must finally put aside immortal longings and thank God (and the Master) for giving me such a long life.

It is a sad time, too, for Count von Falkenstein has died and with it any interest in maintaining the Academy.

Claudia Ludwiga has done well on her own, Count Albrecht Johann's second wife, giving birth to a daughter and twin sons.

Alas, one son died young without producing any offspring for any future union.

Count Albrecht's son, Ludwig, by his first wife, has closed the Academy and with it, quite frankly, my reason for living. He decided to sell much of the library, including our considerable Beethoven collection. Fortunately the library has been purchased by a music-loving English aristocrat whom I have met and chatted with at great length.

His name is Sir Sidney Leighton, the 9th Marquess of Quakerville, I believe, and apparently quite a "fan" of Beethoven's music. He had been traveling to Vienna when he heard about Count Leopold's collection.

We talked for hours about my having actually been in the Master's presence – he could listen for days to these anecdotes – though I was careful not to mention my most enduring connection to him.

It was then I decided this could be the Immortal Club's ideal solution: hiding the Belovèd in a distant English castle!

When I asked him if his castle's library had a musically knowledgeable librarian, Sir Sidney confessed there wasn't even a librarian, so I then took the opportunity of suggesting a former student of mine.

"He's English, a brilliant lad, and had been here a couple summers ago, having proved quite a promising composer and scholar.

"I think you'll find him, despite his youth and inexperience, a good selection and already acquainted with much of the material."

When he agreed, I told him the young man's name was Harrison Harty.

It makes me smile to think how everything has worked out – or I hope it will – keeping true to the Master. I wish Sechter and even old Böhm could be here to see it.

It does not seem possible to me, thinking back to those heady days, how it all began over seventy years ago!

I am giddy with excitement over how Fate has knocked at my door; how incredible it has been, answering that knock.

Young friends, recently entered into the Immortal Club, I leave you the future!

Now all that is left for me to do is finish this memoir, which I will instead leave here at Schweinwald.

(Yes, it would not do well for everything to be in one location.)

So now 'tis time to hand this to the next generation of Watchers.

(And have done so without revealing her name.)


The Reading Room, Phlaumix Court: continuing from before

"But they're gone, right? – all three of them," Agent Libitum spluttered, looking dumbfounded.

Others were equally flustered, pointing here and there, mumbling in a gradual crescendo.

"Yikes," Agent Ed Libitum continued, "they just disappeared in a puff of smoke! I'm not making this up! Where'd they go?"

"Idiot," Chief Inspector Hemiola said, slapping him across the back of his head, pushing Libitum aside to get a better look. "We're the police – it's up to us to answer stupid questions like that!"

"Constable Conan Drumm of the Greater Dorking Police, sir," Drumm said, stepping forward. "I'll have to ask you to step back."

Hemiola flashed his own badge automatically in reply, causing Drumm to step back.

"And what brings London's Music Police to Snaffingham?"

"I came here to arrest Dr. Kerr on suspicion of murder," Hemiola explained.

The constant murmuring stopped as if on cue, the sudden silence nearly deafening as everyone looked from one to the other.

"Well, yes, that makes sense," Sir Charles said, "but how did you know?"

"I quite agree," Maurice Harty added, "quite obvious: Sir Bognar had just left dinner when Kerr followed him out almost immediately."

"While I'm arresting Dr. Kerr for the murders of three musicians," Hemiola smiled, "I'm not averse to adding a fourth charge."

"Yes, perhaps," Drumm countered, "but Sir Bognar's no musician, therefore he's my jurisdiction."

"But, meanwhile, your suspect," the Marquess countered, "was standing there a moment ago, and now, unless I'm mistaken, he is not. If you're going to charge him with murder, shouldn't you find him first?"

The murmuring immediately began again, forcing Hemiola to raise his hand in warning, cutting them off with a masterfully conductorial gesture.

While Hemiola and Libitum peered into the mirror where Kerr had been standing, Cathie Raighast looked down at Bugsy's body, frowning.

"Please have the decency to cover the body," LauraLynn asked, indicating a throw.

"I'm sorry, you can't do that," Cathie said, looking up as Sir Charles reached toward one of the throws LauraLynn indicated.

"Quite right, ma'am," Drumm said. "Otherwise you'd end up contaminating the crime scene."

One of Drumm's men had called Dr. Livingstone but got his answering machine.

"According to Auntie," Drumm said, "he's in London."

Hemiola sent Agent Libitum off after the others while he questioned the witnesses. "Does anyone here know where this... passageway leads? Is there any other exit from this room, anywhere Kerr could've gotten to?"

"There is, sir, only one way into this room," Vector said, stepping forward. "As you see, it's a narrow, semi-circular space."

"There's no way he could've gotten past everyone and bolted out the door?" Hemiola looked around, very perplexed if not annoyed.

"He, sir? You mean Dr. Kerr?" Vector responded. "No, that wouldn't be likely."

"But you saw it just as clearly as I did," Sir Charles said. "There was a flash of light and poof!"

"The light started to shimmer," Maurie corrected him, "and then they were gone."

"Didn't anyone else notice they'd just walked through that mirror, there," Herring asked.

"Now then, Rudyard," Vector said, "how's that possible?"

"But it's true," Díaz-Éray said, also peering toward the mirror Herring had indicated. "A doorway opened up and they ran inside."

"That's the mystery about this room," Sidney explained. "It's called the Pendulum Room."

"Yes, and what's the mystery," Hemiola asked him, looking Sidney up and down.

"Well, then, sir," he said, "where's the pendulum?"

"Like so many mathematical aspects of this house, we've always assumed," Vector said, nodding toward Hemiola, "it was just another puzzle. Look at this space, sir. A pendulum here is of no significance whatsoever."

"What is of no significance? Vector, what is going on, here," Frieda asked. "Burnson said there's been an accident. Where's Bugsy?" Tabitha wheeled her up to the entrance and the crowd parted for them.

She peered forward into the room, past the policemen and saw the body. She cried out and clutched at her chest.

"But I only asked him to get something for me, a simple favor. It's that maniac that's loose in the house!" She covered her eyes with her hand. "Another murder today – that's not possible."

"You think he's been murdered, ma'am," Hemiola asked. "What makes you say that?"

"It hardly looks like he tripped and fell!"

"But you mentioned a maniac on the loose. You're referring to Dr. Kerr?"

"Terry? Hardly, man," Frieda said with striking vehemence. "The one who'd kidnapped Cameron."

"You mean the man kidnapped his own assistant?"

"Vector, who is this fool and where are Terry and Cameron? And Toni, for that matter!" Frieda's concern was mounting quickly.

Hemiola flashed his badge at her without introduction. "So, you know Dr. Kerr?"

"Of course." LauraLynn stepped forward. "He's an old friend of both our families. Frieda's known him for almost, what – forty years?"

Constable Drumm explained briefly that they're looking for someone disguised as a servant – Hemiola's glance rested on Herring who looked suspicious – and earlier kidnapped one of the guests who happened to be Kerr's assistant.

Frieda looked at Bugsy's body as Tabitha was starting to wheel her away. "Wait a minute – what's that in his hand?"

"I believe it's a book, ma'am," Hemiola said, looking closer at the body.

"I can see that, you nimwit," she said, "but what book is it?"

"That's evidence, ma'am, and it can't be disturbed."

"Could you check if that's a copy of Unfinished Melody," she asked him, "that's what I'd asked him to come find."

"And you think," Hemiola said, "that someone might have killed him for that?"

"What a troglodyte," Frieda snapped. "If that were the case, one would assume the killer would've taken it with him, yes?"

Drumm, checking the spine, confirmed it was, in fact, the book in question.

She immediately became calm and asked Tabitha to take her to Lady Vexilla. "She'll need someone, now, to share her grief."

"Victim probably strangled. Better call Dorking General," Drumm told one of his officers, "see if Dr. Slabbe is on duty tonight." He explained to Hemiola Slabbe was the hospital's legendary pathologist, soon to retire.

As the crowd, reluctant to move otherwise, opened to let Frieda pass through, Drumm asked everyone else to leave except Vector.

Constable Drumm wanted to know what the "significance" was of the Pendulum Room, compared to what others called "the Reading Room," especially since there seemed to be a complete lack of any obvious pendulum.

"Ah, well," Vector began, hesitating, "you see, sir, there is a rotunda – completely windowless – which would be visible from the outside. It's parallel and perfectly proportioned to the larger rotunda that is the library."

He explained during Victoria's reign – "they weren't always thoughtful about their renovations, then" – the rotunda was "inexplicably and completely sealed off."

Hemiola, who'd been walking around looking for doors or possibly windows, even trompe l'oile ones, found nothing but paintings and mirrors. He thought it unlikely that there wasn't some kind of secret entrance somewhere.

"It isn't some kind of well-concealed priest hole (*)?"

"If it were, you could hide a whole college of cardinals inside, sir."

"But we all saw him – them, the three of them – disappear at this point," pointing to the floor where he stood.

"Finding his way inside by accident doesn't mean he'll find his way out."

There was an explosive crack, like wood shattering, followed by a lot of screaming and yelling, loud music and crashing metal.

IMP Agent Sforzato had broken down the door to Phlaumix Courts' public wing.

"Freeze – special agents," he'd shouted, followed by several other IMP agents, guns drawn.

"What the hell – !"

Girls screamed. Stage hands hollered.

Lighting poles and set pieces clattered to the ground, bulbs exploding like grenades.

Above the tumult soared the raging coloratura of Skripasha Scricci, hurling forth a steady stream of extremely volatile, nearly unintelligible expletives.

Vector ran out of the Reading Room, followed by Hemiola, so furious his face appeared nearly as red as his scarf.

"Hands up," shouted Sforzato as O'Rondo hurried through the flow of costumed contestants.

"Where is he," they demanded, fanning out across the room, "where's Dr. Kerr?"

Vector, outraged beyond words, fumed among the ruins.

The pageant had barely started their final number – adapting the Orient Express so that revealing the murderers' identities revealed the finalists – when the police stormed in, knocking everything down, shouting about handing him over.

Convinced they were after him, Scricci took off screaming across the crowded stage, clambering up an artificial tree which tumbled backwards.

Badger, confronting Agent Bond with his mic, asked who they were looking for.

"The suspect Richard Kerr is the murder suspect..."

Cutting through the din, the announcement set off a new wave of panic.

The tree Scricci was climbing slammed into the backdrop, ripping it to shreds, as contestants, everyone screaming, fled into the wings.

Badger stood calmly before the pandemonium-filled stage, announcing, "There's a killer among us!

"While he may not've been a terrorist, Kerr is, apparently, a suspected murderer and he's loose on our stage – hashtag exciting!"

Hemiola proved to be an unwilling interview, no matter how hard Badger tried pumping him for information about the "on-going investigation."

"So it appears our two would-be terrorists are – 'allegedly' – a one-man killing spree!"

Faiello and Angelo hauled Scricci – extremities flailing as he shrieked, "Fictitia, you bitch" – off to the safe room they'd prepared backstage.

Very quickly, hundreds of tweets appeared with #ProdigyPimp, like "Greatest Reality Show Ever!"

Thousands of viewers tweeted "#BlameItOnFictitia."

Others used "#ScricciStillAwesome."

"WTF! Finally started picking up at the end!"

"How will they top THIS?"


Inside the Pendulum Room, Phlaumix Court: same time

It wasn't an unexpected sensation, this stepping through a ripple of bluish light, reminding me of something before, some field outside this town in the Poconos – the ruins of a town called New Coalton – not far from an old farm where we'd heard Sebastian Crevecoeur's piano quintet.

"The posthumous one – remember that? It was the summer when we'd first met."

Cameron, meanwhile, was too wide-eyed to be bothered with nostalgia at this point. "Right," he said, "but where are we now?"

"This is, like, so weird." Toni thought she was having a bad dream. "This is like a very large, round room, a place with no lights and it's beginning to really creep me out."

It was in fact a large round room but one that was much larger than the semi-circular Reading Room would imply.

"I mean, we just walked through a mirror? And what's all that about the Fibonacci series," Toni asked, becoming more inquisitive.

"There's no time to explain, so right now you'll have to trust us."

"Look there," Cameron pointed out, "it's an inscription."

"Latin, it seems," I said. "Videmus nunc per speculum in aenigmate. Of course!"

"We see now... through a mirror... in riddles?"

"Well, in a literal sense: it's a famous biblical quote from First Corinthians."

Toni supplied the familiar translation: "For now we see through a glass darkly."

"Right – King James," I said, peering around the mirror's perimeter without any luck. "But I can't find the rest of it – the biblical quotation, I mean – so what is the significance? 'No significance whatsoever'?"

"Maybe it's a way of identifying the portal – so we'll know," Cameron suggested, "how we can – what, find our way back?"

"That's as plausible a practicality as any, Cameron. Finding one doorway out of many along a round wall is riddle enough."

"Look," Toni said, "in there! You can see back into the Reading Room."

"It's one-way glass? Makes sense." Cameron also looked. "Whoa, hang on a minute: Terry, this is before we'd left the room!"

Indeed, we're still standing there, Bugsy's body lying between us and Inspector Hemiola.

Then everything started moving backwards, like instant rewind. Cathie stood up over Bugsy, Hemiola backed out and everything began clouding over.

I pointed toward our left where we could see more slightly glowing windows.

"There were other mirrors in the Reading Room. Think there's anything else we can see through them that might help us?"

"But what are we looking for," Cameron asked.

"I don't know," I said, "but maybe we'll see who really killed Bugsy?"

"Look, there's Bugsy – and Hemiola! What's that about?"

Indeed, Inspector Hemiola had his hands on his scarf and looked simply furious. Following a look of surprise, Bugsy returned to the book he was holding.

That's when we saw Hemiola leave the room while Bugsy noticed the bookmark – "that's the clue I found," I told them – then, putting the book down, Bugsy glanced around before backing out the door.

"But then, if Hemiola was in the room, that means he was there shortly before Bugsy was killed – and that means...?"

We'd "tuned in" too late for the murder, but, hoping for another viewpoint, we moved quickly on to the next mirror. This, I wasn't prepared for: our third mirror showed us something completely different.

"Hey," Cameron shouted, "my kidnapper! It's the violist!"

"That's the Big Guy getting ready to play for me earlier," I said.

I was scooting crab-like back into the room when the violist, clearly annoyed, had barely taken his bow off the string.

I peered into the mirror as the violist (surprised) nodded and backed outside.

"So I'm thinking the only reason he wanted to kidnap me," Cameron explained, "was so I'd hear him play his viola like it was some kind of special audition, whoever he thought I was."

"But if he wasn't just a hired musician, what's the point," I continued, "of his wanting to 'audition' for me, too?"

"You guys have me so lost," Toni complained, "but while you've been obsessing over these mirrors, have you noticed anything different?"

Either it was getting lighter or our eyes were getting used to it.

"But this bookmark you found, what's that about?" Cameron wondered if this was the fragment from Beethoven's letter Frieda had mentioned.

Toni gasped and stood still. "Whoa, a letter from Beethoven? Care to explain...?"

"It's too much for now, Toni," I apologized, "and frankly I'm not even sure I could, much less if you'd understand."

For some reason that made me think of the expression on Schnellenlauter's face, how we'd ended up giving Frieda this coded message about her lost twins and we're helping her find this missing quartet.

Now it was Cameron's turn to stand still. "Hey, remember what that cabby'd said about a 'big violin' before passing out?"

"He'd looked like he'd been scared to death. Do you think our strolling violist was trying to play for him, too?"

"The look on his face was kind of like the look on Schnellenlauter's."

Before we noticed what happened, Toni had scooted ahead to the next mirror.

"This one's the cute footman looking all surprised – hah, no wonder: he caught the maid and that red-headed guy kissing (eww!)."

Cameron caught up to her, continuing the tale. "Herring is now backing out, and Lisa spreads dust around on the tables."

"Yes, that's all very amusing," I told them. "Does it really tell us anything we need, considering we're on a mission?"

"Wait, there's one more mirror." Cameron hurried over and stopped. "Uhm, Terry...? Quickly?"

There was Maestro Schnellenlauter, holding a piece of paper up to the mirror. Then he folded it back into his pocket, taking another paper out from the book he'd picked up from the table.

"Did you see what that note said, Cameron?"

"Look for the tromp-l'oiel staircase, step on it, then make only left turns."

How could we see in this darkness, much less find a fake staircase – one of those two-dimensional paintings that look three-dimensional – with little more than a glow from the mirrors to light the way? Wherever we were, Pendulum Room or alternate astral plane, this place was huge and whatever else one thought, dark and silent. It was like the three of us had stumbled into some parallel universe which reminded me then of old, vague dreams. Once awakened, I could barely recall what'd happened, my very own trompe-l'oil experience.

"So a painting like that could be on the wall, perhaps the wall itself, perhaps somewhere between two of these mirrors?" Cameron examined the wall next to us but it was difficult to see.

"If it's on the wall, won't we go back the way we came?" Toni stepped back but nearly lost her balance.

We discovered the floor we stood on was a platform circling the room, fairly narrow and without any visible security railing. What lay beyond it was clearly a void, intensely dark and immensely deep.

Toni started whimpering. "I don't like this place."

I couldn't disagree with her. "Like Schnellenlauter said, we'd better step on it."

We huddled closer to the wall, this time, heading toward that first mirror. Cameron thought we could see better from there.

"Going counter-clockwise, we were headed back in time. Maybe we need the future?"

Gradually I became aware of soft, indistinct sounds somewhere off in the distance, probably nothing more than the circulation of blood. It was a gentle, whooshing kind of sound but it was coming closer.

"Hear that? It's like white noise," Cameron said. "Presumably unnoticeable but potentially annoying."

"No, it's more primordial than that – it's expanding."

Then it started to form sounds more varied, like slow, distant, undulating music.

"I wonder, is this 'Music of the Spheres'?"

It was indeed getting closer to us but faster than the whooshing sounds.

"No, listen," I said, "it's a string quartet – sounds like they're playing Beethoven?" The music took on definite shapes and rhythms.

"It does sound like Beethoven, though, doesn't it? But not anything I know..."

Soon, this glorious sound – a Beethoven quartet I'd never heard before – surrounded us. Cameron tried to record it on his phone.

"Is this really a Beethoven quartet," Toni asked, "one that's never been published? It sounds like one of the late works." She said she suddenly felt "all tingly" inside, "wired" by this unexpected discovery.

She was full of questions – "When was it written? Why was it lost?" – but mostly "how can we hear it here?"

My mind swirled at the possibilities. "Just listen!" The sound swept over us, seeped into us, became part of our blood.

I felt I stood on a great mountaintop, absorbed by immense celestial winds.

Even after reading Schnellenlauter's messages and Knussbaum's memoir, each lacking any definitive information, I would've been thrilled to find the manuscript, but never, even in my wildest imaginings, had I expected to hear it.

Cameron, holding his phone high in the air, turned in slow circles, listening. Toni stood spellbound, head held high, arms outstretched.

From somewhere in the distance, I became aware of a rapidly growing disturbance: the whooshing sound became more defined, more present, and threatened to engulf the string quartet's music with waves of white noise.

Beethoven's music turned into a joyous, cosmic dance. Small wonder he'd called it his Quartetto giocoso, contrasting with its companion Serioso.

This wasn't the time to think about realities: I just wanted to listen. But yet something made me open my eyes.

Something very large – very round – headed toward us.

I swore someone was giggling.

"The pendulum," I screamed, cutting through the music, "it's headed right for us."

"My God, it does exist!" Cameron jumped away.

"Not only does it exist, it's freaking huge!"

We barely escaped in time.

Presumably, it would not crash into the wall and smash us into roadkill, but I didn't want to find out, either.

"My God," Toni shuddered, "given the diameter of that thing and the fact I can't even see where it's hanging from, this room must be ginormous between its diameter and the pendulum cable's length."

How close it might come to the wall was determined by the diameter of the ball and our walkway's insubstantial perimeter, but when faced with destruction, my mind was never one for mathematical computations.

"No, that can't be right," Toni said. "I must have made an error."

We'd run a few more yards to safety.

It moved very slowly, a slow-motion wrecking ball, if that was less frightening, but it still came very close to us.

"Just in time," Cameron said. "You could almost reach out and touch it!"

"I tried figuring out the length of the cable that's holding the ball...?"

From somewhere came the distinct sound of laughter.

"If we'd been in here about four minutes, given the equation's standard gravity, that means the cable's length's about 1,460 meters. But that can't be right: that'd make this building, like, 480 stories tall!"

That meant Phlaumix Court's 'smaller' rotunda would be almost three times the height of the new World Trade Center's Freedom Tower.

"That's not possible," she said, shaking her head.

"That you made a mistake?"

"Or that you did that in your head," Cameron said, "in the dark?"

This time, the laughter was coming from above.

"Of course I can do it in my head, silly – in the dark," Toni scoffed, "what's odd about that? Can't you?"

There, on top of this wrecking ball was a woman, straddling the wire.

"Holy crap, guys, look there – on the pendulum."

Wild-looking, with her eyes bulging, she was a mass of wiry, pewter-gray hair.

"That crazy woman," Cameron said, "the one who locked us in the library!"

Riding the pendulum like a bronco, she clung to the cable, waving her free arm as she laughed down at us.

"So, we meet again, Dr. Kerr, you and your little assistant," she shrieked. "Don't think we're in Heiligenstadt any more, doctor."

The huge ball she straddled had slowly begun to pull away from us.

"Heiligenstadt?" Toni sounded dubious. "What does she mean...?"

"Yes, where Beethoven wrote that testament about his..."

"I know what it is..."

Actually, I wasn't quite sure I knew what she meant by it, either, and I had no idea who she was. But that fit of giggling I heard, however – now, that rang a bell...

"But you remember me, though, don't you, doctor?" It was that simpering voice. "You're the one who saved my life, then."

"In Heiligenstadt? You're that lawyer...?"

"Abner Kedaver," the voice giggled, "at your service."

"What do you mean, 'saved your life'?" The wiry-haired woman suddenly looked concerned.

"You, Klavdia, were going to leave me there."

Klavdia – damn, that name rang a distant bell: an alarum bell, an iron bell. A tintinabulum of memory floating gradually upward.

"Wait," Cameron said, "that hair. You're not Melissa Fourthought – you're... you're Klavdia Klangfarben!"

"Ah, wonderful – bravo, my boy." The voice of Abner Kedaver added a cheer.

The wrecking ball began to recede more quickly.

"Kedaver, you imbecile, get me off of this stupid thing," the woman shouted. "We must find that quartet – before he does!"

"This is all a dream, right," Toni asked, "a really, really bad dream...?"

Something cold brushed past us – something that giggled – as we hurried along the wall back towards the mirror we'd entered through. Something small and round hung before the mirror, glowing softly in the dimness. It was a small crystal globe like the one at the base of the grand staircase. Was this the labyrinth's entrance?

"The quartet must be hidden in the labyrinth – but where are those steps?"

Suddenly, glowing brighter, the globe scooted forward over what looked like an abyss.

"Wait – there," Cameron pointed. "See? Steps – in mid-air."

"Abner, get me down from here," Klavdia screamed, standing up on the pendulum. "And if you're really going to help me," she added, "find a way to kill Kerr and get that child, too."

"Just what I need," I said, "more pressure." Never very competitive, I always preferred working quietly. But yes, those were steps.

It appeared to be a narrow carpet – a runner – flying in empty space but the design on it looked very real. "Like a two-dimensional painting that has amazing depth: it's a style called trompe-l'oiel."

But a rug? Are these the steps Schnellenlauter had mentioned in his message? Or perhaps a trap-door into yet another dimension?

Holding on to Cameron's shoulder, I put my right foot on the rug, not sure what would happen – but nothing happened.

"Remember, he'd said 'step on it'?" Then Toni walked out onto the rug.

Immediately, it began to quiver and glow and Toni, clearly shaken, jumped back. But the rug instantly began a slow transformation.

"What was that," she asked, clinging to Cameron. "I felt all tingly inside!"

"Cameron, whatever happens," I said, "keep Toni safe, regardless what happens to me: I need to go find this missing quartet."

And I had to do it before Klavdia got there: time was essential. What did Schnellenlauter say – "only make left turns."

"So, you found the entrance to the labyrinth." It was Klavdia, getting closer.

The steps descended, unfolding one after the other, and opened into a series of branching paths which became the labyrinth itself. I began following the staircase into the darkness, not knowing what to expect.

"But the real prize isn't just the quartet," Klavdia shouted, pushing past me. "It's the Immortal Belovèd's last will and testament!"

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

to be continued... [with any luck, this link should become active at 8am on Monday, August 22nd.]

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

(*) priest hole: in times of religious persecution during the reign of Elizabeth I, many houses of the Catholic nobility, following Henry VIII's "reformation," had secret spaces dubbed Priest Holes, a kind of "safety room" where a Roman Catholic priest could hide from "priest hunters" looking for anyone who might be implicated in Catholic plots to overthrow the Queen.

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

The usual disclaimer: The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben, which you've no doubt figured out by now, is a work of fiction and as such all the characters (especially their names) and incidents of its story are more or less the product of the author's imagination, sometimes inspired by elements of parody, occasionally by personal experience. Many of the places are real (or real-ish) but not always "realistically used." Other places like Phlaumix Court and Umberton are purely fictional. Any similarity between characters and real people, living or dead, is entirely coincidental, but then, as Klavdia Klangfarben keeps quoting a former professor of hers, "Perception is everything." Yadda yadda yadda.

©2016 by Richard Alan Strawser for Thoughts on a Train

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