(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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"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!"
"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 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...?"
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...
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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