Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Lost Chord: Chapters 58 & 59

The Lost Chord

(a classical music appreciation comedy thriller by Richard Alan Strawser: you can read it from the beginning, here.)

While the previous installment was another excerpt from Harrison Harty's Journal from his stay at Schweinwald Academy in the summer of 1880, including he and his friends Gustav Mahler, Hans Rott and Ethel Smyth being inducted into the Friends of Beethoven's Immortal Society, the installment before that concerned Dr. Kerr and Cameron tracking down the villain Tr'iTone in his search for Beethoven's Fountain of Inspiration backstage at the Schweinwald Festspielhaus.

= = = = = = =
Chapter 58

Tr'iTone never felt anything so exhilarating before! Had he missed the moment? Had Beethoven's spirit descended upon him so unexpectedly? There was a sense of incredible ecstasy as if he were flying! It had seemed so sudden, not what he'd thought it would be, no secret portal, no challenges to surmount. And yet, without a flash of awareness, he found himself so overcome, he could barely comprehend what was happening except to know somehow something touched him and he was being transformed.

It was as if he were airborne yet somehow suspended in space, both moving and not moving through time, a burst of energy and cosmic bliss both alive and beyond life. He hovered outside the confines of Earth like a small weightless fleck freed from the limitations of mere humanity.

It must have been the Touch of Beethoven! He had not even had to drink from this Fountain of Inspiration, did not even have to find it or struggle to attain it. Beethoven, Greatest of All the Greatest Composers, accepted him as he was and would bestow on him his mantel.

The total experience could only be heightened by hearing the cheers and the rousing applause of his adoring audience, who, in the worshipful darkness, would discover the magnitude of his talent.

He felt the embrace of a million souls reaching out to him and watched the dancing daughters of Elysium all rushing to greet him, not just one but dozens of them! Heavenly instruments and celestial voices combined themselves into this most divine sound, becoming a kiss from all the world! Thousands of notes rose ever upward in a vast torrent of sound, engulfing him with Beethoven's most universal symphony: what other music would you expect to experience at such a moment?

The Ode to Joy seared his brain, the climax of the fugue where both of Beethoven's themes joined forces to bring joy to the universal brotherhood and glorify all of mankind. Music burst through his ears as the sopranos reached their high A: why did it sound like someone screaming?

Of course, if he wanted to become the World's Greatest Living Composer – and wasn't that every budding genius' ultimate goal? – he had to listen to every piece of music he possibly could. He especially liked listening to lots of the most recent contemporary music: so many different styles, simple or complex. What a liberating experience it had been to hear all this music and realize how much of it sucked! If these guys could get their music performed, certainly he could, too!

He started by bulking up on the greatest works written by Beethoven – especially his symphonies, sonatas and string quartets – then added the operas of Wagner and all the symphonies by Mahler. Very soon, after adding to it a strict diet and exercise plan, he turned himself into this formidable talent.

Looking back on his youth, it amazed him to consider the news, given the state of his mind and body, that he had ever been accepted into the sacred halls of Juilliard, an unlikely weakling both musically and physically, incapable of bench-pressing a dozen etudes much less of writing a symphony.

Over the years, he'd taken on so many names, such different identities, not just Tr'iTone or the agent Dhabbodhú, he'd forgotten he was ever once a boy named Luke van Rhiarden.

He had made it through that first year as one of Robertson Sullivan's handful of students at this prestigious conservatory where his hatred of Sullivan hadn't yet boiled over into physical violence. Sullivan had just laughed – laughed! – at his idea for an opera setting the Faust Story inside an American corporation! They were standing in the lobby of the school at the end of that year, posing for the photographer, saying good-bye to the graduating seniors, when Luke made up his mind.

It was almost as if his famous teacher had found him wanting, unworthy of induction into their secret organization, and therefore deciding to withhold from him the greatest knowledge art required. Without this endorsement, Luke admitted he'd failed, receiving neither understanding nor ritual, nor any legacy passed down through generations.

"You are a lazy composer, always looking for some shortcut to creativity," his teacher complained in one particularly debilitating tirade. "You think it's like unearthing some wizard's artifact with its hidden secret?" Sullivan paused as if concerned perhaps he'd revealed too much, then continued: "some totem found in an ancient temple?

"All you want is to take the magic pill, drink the dragon's blood or find the Fountain of Inspiration and solve all your problems – but, trust me, you must earn it!"

Such wisdom, Luke assumed, could be passed down from teacher to student only when all the circumstances were perfectly aligned, otherwise we'd all be overrun by geniuses capable of being Great Composers. As others have said, we all have talent somewhere deep within ourselves but not everyone succeeds in revealing it.

For now, Luke knew Sullivan himself hadn't yet realized his fullest potential but could he still reveal it, regardless? Could genius be increased after repeated visits to this Fountain of Inspiration?

Only later would Luke realize the source of this wisdom Sullivan withheld must somehow be kept hidden at Schweinwald. Why else would the man keep gravitating back there throughout his career?

Once he'd learned the fountain's true location, Luke knew he'd kill Sullivan – thus bringing the sacrificial ritual full circle.

His earliest memories from childhood were pleasant enough, remote from his later streaks of sadism and his all-consuming musical obsessions. Life was good, life was extremely comfortable and also full of music. Yet he learned, quite young, his parents were not really his parents which quite unhinged his sense of logic. They'd taken him into their family, naming him Anton Friedrich Himmelwandern III, only the first of his many aliases, before telling him his birth name on the day he turned twelve.

They gave him a beautiful silver locket containing a portrait of a not terribly attractive woman with blonde hair they said was his real mother though they didn't know her name. Because she was his mother, he considered her beautiful just the same. Something enclosed with it was another matter.

This wisp of hair, oddly gray and brittle-looking in its glass casing, always such a riddle to his growing curiosity, could not have been cut from his mother when he was born, unless her portrait had been painted when she had been much younger and she had aged considerably after that. His adoptive parents, those who raised him, could offer him no clues, unfamiliar with events leading to his birth. Left with him when adopted, the hair might've belonged to his grandmother.

Someday, he decided then, he'd run away but realized he'd never inherit their fortune if they couldn't find him. Instead, he killed them both – and no one ever suspected his crime. Rid of them but possessing their fortune, he now reverted back to his birth-name before acquiring more useful aliases. Eventually, he turned the Third Anton Himmelwandern into the struggling composer, Tr'iTone, but realized being parentless complicated his well-being: without the foundation of a family's love, what would he rebel against?

Tr'iTone found solace as well as torment in the music he loved to play and listen to – even compose – and read voraciously how his favorite composers worked and lived and suffered, about the poverty of Mozart, the constant illnesses of Beethoven, how both of these combined to afflict poor Schubert.

That was what it all boiled down to, Tr'iTone learned from years of reading and more years trying to compose – that if he were to be successful, he would have to suffer. But how, since he was extremely rich, his health, he knew, exemplary, his conscience lacking any pangs of guilt?

Truly, no one suffered more than Beethoven, not just with his deafness. He fought his demons to create the greatest music known to man even as they attacked his physical body.

His abdominal pains and debilitating intestinal issues, his rheumatism and the headaches, his gout and nosebleeds and frequent vomiting, pneumonia and what we now call edema, all culminating in liver failure – these were things Beethoven dealt with throughout his life, beyond his deafness: "it was all about how to suffer."

Composing, Tr'iTone had learned early, was ever a traumatic process for him from the moment he felt inspiration's beckoning call to that physical act of drawing the double bar at the end. It was to be a battle waged daily with his inner demons, one never meant to be taken lightly.

Only by outflanking his doubts and pummeling his mind-numbing fears into submission, would he ultimately conquer his latest piece. In order to be successful, he ultimately had to experience excruciating pain.

Chapter 59

If any of them knew what had happened at that precise moment, none of them were terribly sure of it. Accounts naturally differed among the various witnesses, each with their own impressions. The last anyone remembered was Tr'iTone yelling at the incompetent Lionel Roth, who then rushed at him, arms flailing. Roth had charged with such unexpected vehemence, he caught Tr'iTone off guard. Only Leahy-Hu had noticed the door behind him bursting open so forcefully, it must've knocked him off the landing.

Steele, given his vantage point, saw a man peering over the railing, a look of surprise on his face, but he had never met Dr. Kerr and thought nothing of it. No one saw Kerr's young assistant, Cameron, who with considerable effort led the thrashing Roth out into the hallway.

LauraLynn, already caught between well-armed agents on either side of the stage, watched as a large man dressed in black, his unmasked face the only thing visible, fell precipitously in her direction. Would he land on top of her or miss her by enough, she'd only be covered in blood spatter?

Widor, for his part, imagined the man was tumbling in slow motion, like those instant replays in Olympic diving. Was that silver he saw reflecting in the on-stage light's weak glow?

It was a long split-second, by any account, before the free-falling Tr'iTone, his cape flapping like a ruptured parachute, hit the towering set for either an office or a pent-house apartment, careening off the frame's steeply slanted edge before bouncing toward another set, this one for the infamous nightclub scene.

It was unlikely a man – especially one so large – plummeting from four floors up would survive such a fall. Even Steele breathed the quick hope something soft might break his descent.

There were three things on this set someone with a keen eye might take in at a quick glance: numerous tables – several bean-bag chairs – a stage with an extremely tall dance-pole.

Unfortunately, Tr'iTone slammed squarely onto the dance-pole, impaling himself through the chest, which left him suspended above the stage.

Once the scream of anguish faded from his lips, a long diminuendo – morendo al niente, ironically 'dying away to nothing' – Tr'iTone's body writhed on the pole, then slowly slid even further down. His arms and legs continued twitching involuntarily, then gradually stretched stiffly outwards before he went entirely and hopelessly limp.

Widor dashed onto the set, though he was too late to help.

Tr'iTone looked directly at him, thoroughly confused.

"Who are you," he asked in a fading whisper. "You're not... Beethoven..."

Widor saw the silver locket on the floor, snapped off its chain: it brought back a flood of memories. Opening it, he found inside a lock of hair and a portrait. Glancing up into the broken man's face, Widor shuddered in sudden recognition, seeing himself from half a life ago.

"Look... I'm your father," Widor said quietly with a chill of self-awareness.

Tr'iTone's eyebrows knitted in perplexity at this news, his life-blood seeping down the pole and pooling at the stranger's feet.

"But you know... my name...?" he sighed.

"This portrait is your mother. We were lovers when we were young..."

Widor mentioned how she'd had their child, was forced to abandon him.

"And then, after marrying then divorcing Franz-Dieter Zeitgeist, she'd married some Manhattan industrialist named du Hicquè, and..."

"...du... Hicquè...?"

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

Det. Larson stood back as Det. Heimer, former high school football star, kicked in the door with a well-placed foot, the crack of wood resounding through the canyon of W. 86th Street. Like most old brownstones in New York, the house was sturdy enough but proved no match for Heimer's strength.

Guns drawn, they kicked down additional doors as they checked various rooms.

"NYPD, Ms. du Hicquè – drop your weapon and come out with your hands up," all four shouted in unison.

Hearing a commotion further inside, all four detectives immediately headed that way. Someone ran cursing and fumbling, things everywhere going bump in the night, toward the kitchen and the back door. The place was dark and their suspect could be lurking behind anything: in a closet, under the old-fashioned sink.

Had she run down into the basement, the old servants' quarters, and out what had once been the service entrance? How many rooms were there, Heimer wondered, not sure what they'd find. If this was anything like Dhabbodhú's place, there could be a wine cellar downstairs, perhaps a secret hiding place.

What if the old woman's not alone? How many were there in her gang, if she was the ring-leader? What kind of terrorist cell were they dealing with here, Noranik wondered.

After they realized the back door had been unlocked and the screen door left hanging open, they assumed she'd escaped. But how many others might there be and where was the hostage? Noranik called into the precinct for back-up, warning them to be on the look-out for their run-away old woman.

Perhaps in her disguise their suspect, the Fake Widow du Hicquè, wasn't as old as she appeared to be. Just maybe, Det. Noir wondered, she wasn't even a woman at all?

In the front parlor, Larson found a young man bound and gagged in an armchair beside the ornate fireplace. He was barely responsive but thoroughly frightened, shaking his head in fear.

She confirmed his name was Dylan Sprenkle and that he was okay.

His first words were, "She hates Beethoven!"

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

This was his father? He had a mother?

This news percolated gradually through what few brain cells continued to function. With so much to absorb, Tr'iTone thought the shock might kill him, his slowly ebbing life-force, once ready to conquer the world, now barely enough to show up on the chart. His ability to process everything, building toward some sort of redemptive recognition, was proving challenging, too difficult to grasp, suffusing his mind with warmth even as his body grew steadily colder.

It was so dark and growing dimmer. Tr'iTone looked at the man telling him this and couldn't recognize him, sighing because there was something about him he thought was vaguely familiar but, barely able to see the shape of the man or the details of his face, could only wonder.

He hung there, suspended above the stage floor like an insect stuck on a pin in a coleopterist's display case and looked down at the man who claimed to be his father. What could he possibly have in common with this man, he wondered, after Fate has knocked at his door?

His brain had become a split screen, on one side the glimmer of perception of reality happening before him, the other a series of nearly forgotten, once so important childhood memories.

It's difficult to remember one's earliest recollections, separated from third-person narratives one hears as part of the family history, unable to tell whether they were ever part of one's direct experience. In this way, there were these vague images of a beautiful woman who at one time cared for him. But those, they'd explained to him, had happened when he'd been born, impossible for him to remember so vividly. He'd suspected, even as a young child, his story had a secret.

He was 12 when his father gave him the locket and told him the tale of a beautiful woman, the aristocratic blonde whose portrait rested inside with a lock of hair.

He often dreamed of her, this woman who was a German countess.

"Perhaps," the boy thought, "she's my mother?"

Widor explained in hushed, hurried tones the story of Lisl von Falkenstein, his love for her, how their son was given to be raised by her maid, then adopted by the Himmelwanderns. Widor had been sent away after regaining consciousness, his memory mysteriously clouded, Lisl married to her father's middle-aged assistant.

It had all come flooding back to him, now, seeing her picture in the locket left with their baby, memories suppressed these dark and lonely years, followed vaguely from clandestine distances.

Tr'iTone – Luke van Rhiarden – had spent his life dreaming of this mother, wondering if she were really his mother. What might life have been? And was this then his real father?

Brushing this latter disappointment aside, for now, he figured this at least would explain his fascination for older women.

But that would mean he, Tr'iTone, was a son of the Falkensteins, the line's last male heir, bastard or otherwise. What bizarre twist of fate had brought him back to his birth-right? What a small world it was, he thought, that he should meet his birth-mother that night in New York.

What a stranger twist of Fate that he should recall that night of passion he'd spent with that woman...

With one last disconsolate groan, Tr'iTone yielded his spirit to the cosmos.

= = = = = = =
To be continued...

posted by Dick Strawser

The novel, The Lost Chord, is a classical music appreciation comedy thriller completed in 2013, and is the sole supposedly intellectual property of its author, Richard Alan Strawser.
© 2014

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Lost Chord: Chapter 57

The Lost Chord

(a classical music appreciation comedy thriller by Richard Alan Strawser: you can read it from the beginning, here.)

Previously, while Peter Moonbeam is making a gruesome discovery in the room he'd chosen to hide, the backstage area of the opera house is filling up: Kerr and his friends are trying to locate Tr'iTone who is busy confronting the bumbling Lionel Roth, in turn confronted by N. Ron Steele of SHMRG who is then confronted by the sudden appearance of Yoda Leahy-Hu and the IMP. Kerr locates the landing where Tr'iTone had thought he would find his goal only to see, once he'd pushed the door open, the villain sail over the railing. 

(You can read the previous installment of Harrison Harty's Journal here; the second installment, here; or begin from the beginning with the first installment, here.)

= = = = = = =
Chapter 57

...being the 4th installment of Master Harrison Harty's Journal, Summer of 1880

It was a miserable retreat, finding Grimgerde gone, pelted with rain and lightening under a thunderous cannonade the whole way. What could we do to rescue Ethel and get the statue back? We must report to Director Böhm immediately. Returning once again through the secret passage to arrive in Knussbaum's fireplace, we found them deep in a game, the much-improved Knussbaum holding up a hand, bidding us not to interrupt.

I had noticed the chess board before but not the individual pieces, each of them a small composer's bust. The white side's king was Johannes Brahms with Clara Schumann his queen. The black side was led by King Wagner, Bishops Liszt and Bruckner and, rather oddly as their queen, Tchaikovsky.

Before, I'd been unaware of two large portraits hanging on opposite walls: one of Beethoven looking sad, holding a letter; and Sechter with a bust of Beethoven, a letter in his pocket. While I wondered why they weren't hanging in the Academy's Great Hall, tonight they observed two friends playing chess.

Böhm looked up and awaited our report, then realized something was amiss when one more person failed to appear. Peering past our drenched forms, he counted and recounted to make sure.

Soaked from the raging storm, Mahler, Rott and I stood there meekly, not sure how best to explain this.

"No, you're right," I said, stepping forward. "You count correctly: someone's missing."

I became, in Ethel's absence, the spokesman for our band of friends now sadly reduced by her unfortunate disappearance.

Quickly I told the story, ending with how we eventually regained consciousness to the lingering stench of foul-smelling cigars.

"Yes," Rott immediately confirmed, "Wienerschwefel," – 'Viennese Brimstone' – "which Brahms was smoking earlier!"

"Whoever abducted her and stole the statue," Mahler said, "left us alive. That means they mightn't kill Fräulein Ethel."

We were quite hopeful they could, instead, be holding her for ransom.

"We don't know why they took her if they'd gotten the statue. She is," Rott added, "only a girl..."

"There are two rival factions," Böhm began, "that dominate our music today, telling you nothing that you don't already know, constantly intent on doing battle for our loyal audiences' hearts and minds. You've already witnessed the intense political flare-up following Maestro Liszt's recent recital and the difference of opinions it generated. Yet both sides find their natural roots in Beethoven, who," Böhm explained, "preserved the past while forging the new. The question is, which side here is claiming Beethoven's legacy for itself?"

"But what could be so important about some old things of Beethoven's?" Rott asked with his usual short-sighted reasoning. "If he died over fifty years ago, why are they so valuable?"

Knussbaum, squinting his eyes, looked as if he would suffer a relapse while Böhm quietly ignored my friend's irreverence.

We'd heard the story of Beethoven's hair before, how Knussbaum gave it to Beethoven's friend then how it was returned. But did this return signify, I wondered, the death of this friend? It was a part of The Master himself, a relic, after all, but was that enough to kill someone?

"Important clues are inscribed on the statue concerning the secret," Böhm explained, holding in his hands an imaginary object. "It's not the statue itself but what it will lead you to."

"Ever since The Master's death," Knussbaum said, "we have observed the proprieties, keeping alive the secret of Herr Sechter's promise. While we cannot reveal it, we also cannot let it be forgotten."

"The secrecy must be maintained" Böhm added; "the society must remain vigilant."

I wondered what secret was so important.

"The Beethoven Monument must never be removed," Knussbaum said emphatically, sitting up. "It is our duty to preserve this! If, at some future time, that happens, then we've broken Sechter's promise."

"But how can you keep that promise for generations yet to come? Monks who lived six hundred years ago would never believe," I said, "their monastery is no longer standing today."

Knussbaum and Böhm exchanged glances and appeared to reach a common decision. Böhm placed his hand on Knussbaum's shoulder.

"You see," Böhm pointed out, "Sechter and the society's other original members never considered the Beethoven Monument might be removed because they assumed the Academy would always continue to operate in perpetuity. But, as you've pointed out, the monks undoubtedly once thought the same. Everything in this world is, alas, impermanent."

Mahler, thoroughly lost in thought, looked up and wondered what would happen if no one was left to remember: "Would anyone see any reason why they should not remove the statue?"

"That," Knussbaum said, raising his right hand, pointing it toward the ceiling, "is only one issue behind the Unsterblichesverein," explaining how they had just inducted Gutknaben the night of his death. "But who will carry on our legacy, protecting it for future generations? For we must look to the future..."

"I think it's time," Böhm said quietly, "that we invest these young men into our cause, suspending the rules."

"They must be trained in the secrets: they have much to learn!"

"But first, Rainer," Böhm interrupted, "isn't there another task to be done?"

Mahler and I stepped forward, heads bowed to receive a knight's blessing, Rott stumbling back before joining us reluctantly.

"They rescue Ethel and find the statue, then we've found Gutknaben's killer – hopefully, before it will be too late!"

Knussbaum continued to explain about this society forged among The Master's friends and wondered how they'd identify new members. "We must keep Sechter's promise from being 'cruelly misused' in the future."

"Who," Böhm asked, "will carry the Society's legacy into the next generation? You must be inducted into it – immediately."

I had to admit, The Immortal Society gave it a different ring, sounding more like a Union of Vampires with Professor Bezsmyertnikov the Critic draining away the blood of the past.

"Beethoven had no idea what paths music would follow after he died, nor, I should think, would he have cared. He wanted us to form this Society to protect only one thing. The Society does not exist," Knussbaum intoned, "to decide which of these factions is the true future of music."

"Now, Professor Fabbro," Böhm explained, "tells you you must control your emotions and that first you must learn your craft. Good, I would think, for teaching counterpoint," he added with a twinkle. "Hammerschlag teaches you harmony's rules as if they were carved in stone – and woe to those who break them. But Professor Riesenblut tells you how you must taste the 'Dragon's Blood,' as Siegfried does in Wagner's Ring Cycle, so you comprehend the Universe and unleash your creativity through God-granted inspiration."

Professor Knussbaum leaned forward with great effort as if to impart something which needed great reverence to impress us. "Beethoven himself told me this – I was a lad delivering his letters. 'Every one of us, boy,' he said, looking right into my eyes, 'has something inside us we cannot understand.' It was like a set of strings – 'invisible strings', he called them – stretched between the heart and the brain. They resonate each in their own way because we are all different."

Director Böhm nodded and coughed quietly when I looked over at him. He'd told me this only earlier today.

"It's what makes each of us different," Knussbaum continued, "this reverberant chord. It absorbs what we learn and vibrates to what beauty inspires us. Or to whatever challenges the mind sets.

"Apparently, from what he said, each of us could 'hear' these strings only when we felt ourselves sufficiently moved or when played closer to one end or balanced in the middle. It's what made Mozart sound like Mozart; it gave Beethoven his voice – while others never find their individual identity. What happens when these strings are out-of-tune, no longer able to resonate to what makes us who we are? What lengths would we take," Knussbaum wondered, "to retrieve our lost chord?"

"It won't be a matter of fate, something knocking at the door like Macbeth's being greeted by the Three Witches, a prophecy of uncommon power that could transform him into Beethoven's Heir. It's not a matter of proper training or even talent," Böhm said, "to make one think it's even possible."

"Ever since The Master died, we have waited for the Next Beethoven," Knussbaum said with growing impatience. "Who? Where – When...! No, it won't be through critical acclaim or being anointed, like Brahms."

"But in truth," Böhm whispered, "it will be through Beethoven's direct bloodline..."

"Beethoven had a son!?"

"No – a daughter!"

"And we believe," Knussbaum continued, pausing slightly, "it is through the daughters Beethoven's true heir will be made manifest."

"You mean," I gasped, "this great composer – he could be... a woman?"

Without warning, we were interrupted by an ominous knock at the door, whether it might be Fate or something otherwise. We froze and looked at each other: who knew we were here? Experiencing what we had tonight – beyond Ethel's disappearance and the statue's theft – Rott understandably stepped back into the fireplace.

"Herr Director Böhm," a thin voice whispered, "they said you'd be here. If you hear me, let me in." It was the voice of Dr. Porlock: what brought him here, now?

While Böhm went to answer the door, Knussbaum cleared away the chessboard, sweeping the pieces back into the box with the clandestine gestures of one caught sneaking a draught of opium. Before Mahler and I joined Rott in the security of the fireplace, Porlock pushed his way into the study.

"Have you heard any rumblings," he asked, before spotting us standing there, then immediately stopped and rose to full height. "Ah, you're here," he said, "I mean – why are there students here?"

"Knussbaum was feeling ill," Böhm said, "they'd come by to see him."

I felt like a child caught red-handed.

"At this time of night, before sunrise? But they look wet, too. You've been outside, caught in the rain...?" Porlock looked back and forth before turning his attention entirely on Böhm.

"I must report, Herr Director, that Professor Bezsmyertnikov along with Dr. Riesenblut are gathering their followers," Dr. Porlock explained, "for the defense of Schweinwald and to save the future of music. They explain that this is not an attack on you, Herr Director, but defending you against influences from evil-doers."

Director Böhm stepped forward indignantly, sputtering incoherently, too furious for any words, as Knussbaum reached out to calm him.

"That is preposterous," he muttered, "absolutely preposterous! They're going against the rules!"

"It seems," Porlock sneered with dripping irony, "it has something to do with these young students I find here, students who are not – speaking of rules – supposed to be here, true? Someone found their wet footprints disappearing into the wall by your portrait. They think you need to be... protected?"

There was no time to lose, clearly: we must first defend Schweinwald. The rest of it would have to wait. Battle plans were quickly devised with Porlock alerting the faculty, especially Fabbro. I admitted misgivings about Porlock which, shrugging his shoulders, Böhm brushed away: "Officious, maybe, but committed to the school."

He handed us a list of names, students he knew were loyal: we must gather them on the landing. With that, Director Böhm went to change into something more impressively appropriate.

It wasn't Schumann's 'David's Club' against the Goliaths who fought the new by tossing conventions at the slightest innovation. It wasn't just the comfortable older generation trying to deny the young. More the Classicists of Apollo called to confront the Romanticists of Dionysus: somehow, compromise must be reached between them!

"Fabbro?" I thought, knowing how reluctant Ethel would be to trust him, considering she was convinced he's the Evil One. What if his machine became the object that would destroy Beethoven's Legacy?

If Bezsmyertnikov was leading the attack, however, didn't that vindicate my fears? Didn't that make his the Dark Side?

But Rott still held out for Brahms, convinced by the cigar smoke but also his attitude toward the ladies – "would anyone else abduct Ethel?" – plus there's his interest in Fabbro's Machine.

We went our separate ways, rousing the students out of their beds, walking through the hallways and knocking on doors. Each one awakened continued spreading the alarm for the defense of Schweinwald. Several, we found, were missing, no doubt already gathered with Bezsmyertnikov's forces. Carmilla had also been hard at work. Turning a corner, I ran into Nokyablokhoff, barely escaping with my head before he set off an ear-shattering war-cry. It came as no surprise which side my erstwhile roommate was on!

In a moment, I joined Mahler and Rott with dozens more students forming a barrier against the insurrection's tide. Many faculty soon joined us, particularly Old Hammerschlag who looked simply furious.

Fabbro and Bezsmyertnikov stood facing each other, hurling imprecations in various languages.

Would this be the end of music?

Even on the Great Landing, it was impossible not to be amazed looking out on this sea of lantern-lit faces between the flashes of lightening and the constant thunder shaking the foundations.

Before I got my bearings, I'd managed to lose sight of Rott who must have disappeared into the shadows.

Looking up, wondering where he'd gotten to, I noticed Brahms' familiar silhouette descending from one of the castle's towers.

"Help me, fools," he squeaked, waving his lantern. "I'm late for my train!"

Brahms, I realized, scurrying down the staircase ever mindful of his balance, was tightly clutching a small wooden box which I thought might be large enough to hold the Beethoven statue.

Suddenly, Rott stepped out and confronted him, bringing Brahms to a halt. I noticed the man was not pleased.

"At long last, Dr. Brahms," Rott said, "I have your undivided attention! What do you have in that box? Where have you hidden Ethel? When will you look at my symphony?"

Running up the steps, I called out to Rott, "Let him go!" but Brahms pushed him out of the way.

Poor Rott stumbled over the stairway's railing and fell effortlessly until he...

(At this point, Harrison Harty's journal stops. Several missing pages have been ripped out – their present location remains unknown.)

= = = = = = =
To be continued...

posted by Dick Strawser

The novel, The Lost Chord, is a classical music appreciation comedy thriller completed in 2013, and is the sole supposedly intellectual property of its author, Richard Alan Strawser.
© 2014

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Lost Chord: Chapters 55 & 56

The Lost Chord

(a classical music appreciation comedy thriller by Richard Alan Strawser: you can read it from the beginning, here.)

In the previous installment, Roth makes his escape to the Festspielhaus to find and warn Tr'iTone of the miscalculation he'd made, followed later by Kerr and the others. Back at the old castle, Leahy-Hu and her IMPs discover the highly adorned Scricci tied to the body of Barry Scarpia. In New York, the detectives arrive at the Widow du Hicquè's brownstone. Backstage at the Schweinwald opera house, it's turning into quite a party with even more arrivals...

= = = = = = =
Chapter 55

"Yeah," Moonbeam kept stammering, "what's up with that?" still dwelling on having been left for dead, his computer completely destroyed, then hearing the guy he'd just sent Sullivan's interview to shot down. Maybe it wasn't just his coming on a little too strongly to that security babe ("hey, no harm trying")? Could it be something about Sullivan's opera that would drive people to become so evil and violent like this? Was that what this was all about, the cut-throat competition around premieres?

He'd heard rumors how the New Music business was becoming increasingly competitive but frankly wasn't this a bit much? Sure, there was never enough grant money around and fewer prizes available. Were all those no-longer-young composers over 30, past most competitions' age limits, suddenly upping the tension out of desperation?

If Sullivan had been murdered because of some New Music turf war, eliminated because of his aesthetic and stylistic convictions, is this the way discordant factions would be settling their scores, now? Anyone gunning down followers of Schoenberg's Method of Composing with Twelve Tones would now be called 'serialist' killers, right?

And yet more than half of your typical concert-goers couldn't even tell the difference between serialism and simple atonality, much less being merely chromatic and only sounding like it wasn't tonal.

Peter Moonbeam had long opined the increasingly vicious rhetoric between the Complexity Cartel and the Populists of the 99%. Composers and critics disagreed about similar issues going back a thousand years. Such rhetoric was escalating the drug wars, endangered life on the streets, and increasingly destabilized national and international politics.

Would there now be mass shootings at symphony concerts because someone didn't like the new piece that'd been programmed? Could an angry patron, rather than walking out, shoot a musician instead?

What if, instead of taking pot shots at them in the press, rival 19th Century composers shot each other in cold blood outside the concert halls and opera houses of Europe?

What if some music journalist had gotten himself killed in the cross-fire, interviewing Wagner one day, Brahms the next?

Such thoughts only increased Moonbeam's fears as he stood in the dark, waiting till it might be safe to leave. He had no idea where he was hiding, beyond the Festspielhaus basement. But the smell in here was beginning to become obnoxious, almost overpowering, and he longed to light another cigar.

Feeling around in the darkness, he found a place he could sit down but wasn't sure what it was, other than being a little too lumpy with something sticky on it.

He fumbled, trying to recall which pocket he'd slipped his phone into after he'd heard that burst of gunfire and the killer's voice before the line (including Schreiber) had gone dead.

"Ah, there it is," he sighed, relieved, holding it up to get his bearings with its pale, luminescent glow.

He turned slowly around in a full circle, and calmly took note of the various surroundings he managed to recognize: basically a cluttered storage room which didn't leave much space to spare. Moving the phone lower, he noticed a bench – no, a divan ("cool!") – that lumpy thing must be a mannequin...

"But what's that sickening smell?" That's when he stepped in something tacky.

Eyes closed, he found the light switch.

When he opened them again, he discovered the mannequin wasn't a mannequin.

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

Behind the iron stairwell floated the distorted image of a disembodied head.

"Great," I thought, "the opera house is haunted!"

"Come on," Cameron whispered, tugging my arm, "let's get out of here!"

After seeing that ghostly face before us, I was ready to leave but by running in the opposite direction.

In the dark, I hadn't noticed a crack in the wall before. Was it a result of the explosion? Why was Cameron pulling me toward it: could I fit through it?

The crack, as it widened almost imperceptibly, turned itself into a doorway that led to a large open space. The face that began beckoning to us turned out to be Fictitia's. She was holding the other flashlight under her chin, beaming it upward.

"I wondered where you'd gone," Cameron said.

"Good timing!" Harper stood behind her and quickly pulled the door shut. "The IMP should be arriving soon," he added. After playing decoy with Agitato, he met Fictitia waiting in the hallway. After following her, then it was a matter of figuring out how to get us off the stage, unseen.

While she showed me her latest tweet, Fictitia explained if Leahy-Hu was following her, the IMP's aren't far behind: Our villain's been cornered backstage. This would sooo make an awesome opera!

I explained Tr'iTone was climbing the staircase but I had no idea what it was he might be looking for.

"Whatever it is, it's a dead end," Cameron said. "There's no exit?"

"Well, there's a door on each landing. He could come back down this stairway," Harper pointed out, "and escape."

On this side of the wall was a criss-crossing flight of steps, open but sturdy, with a substantial hand-rail.

"You stay, block his escape," Harper said. "We'll go play decoy again."

"Any idea how many landings there are?"

"Maybe six," Harper replied. "Why?"

Fictitia shined the flashlight along the stairs.

"Tr'iTone's probably headed for the fourth level," I said, remembering the clue.

Cameron took off up the steps and I tried to catch up.

"Maybe there's an elevator around here, somewhere?"

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

"Give us the professor," Steele said, "and you can have the journal. We know it's all part of your plan."

"I don't have the professor, but he was here a minute ago."

"Don't expect me to fall for that."

"Don't tell me you've already let him get away?" Tr'itone taunted him.

"More importantly," Steele continued, "we'll give you the journal and help you realize your plan, rather than acting alone."

"But I like acting alone," Tr'iTone said. "Geniuses don't play on teams."

"No, that's true," Steele agreed, "because geniuses, like me, direct the team."

Tr'iTone's laughter cascaded down like metallic shards.

"You play fast and loose with terminology, whoever you think you are."

Widor began moving around the perimeter of the light, looking for someone.

"Come out, professor, we know you're here..."

"You want to blow this place up and, basically, so do I." Steele could feel the tension continuing to build.

"Who said I want to blow this place up? Perhaps you're mistaken."

"No? Tomorrow's the first rehearsal for Sullivan's opera – his unfinished new opera. Isn't that what you seek to stop?"

"I've found that which I have come to seek," Tr'iTone shouted impatiently, "or will if you leave me alone."

"We've eliminated Sullivan. Give us Dr. Kerr and we'll eliminate him, too."

"I killed Robertson Sullivan," Tr'iTone spat emphatically. "I killed him repeatedly. I killed him every night in my dreams. And then, once I had the chance, I killed him for real."

LauraLynn couldn't believe that she was hearing this and broke down, sobbing, recalling the image of that disfigured face.

Steele began to wonder about this Tr'iTone, regardless of his so-called plan: he began sounding like a real nut-case. If he made an ally of him, was he to be trusted?

"Whatever you say, Tr'iTone, but I don't believe you," Steele shot back.

"Believe whatever you want..." Tr'iTone sounded weary.

"I happen to know Widor, here, killed Robertson Sullivan."

Widor stepped forward.

"Because I told him to do it, all part of my plan. But you'll never pin anything on me!"

"What is it that we will never pin on you, Mr. Steele?"

The voice sounded full of confidence, genuinely inquisitive, as Yoda Leahy-Hu's tiny silhouette appeared on the apron of the stage.

Immediately, several pistols were drawn and cocked; machine-guns, quickly raised, pointed at the little shadow on the light's perimeter.

Behind her, a dozen black-clad shapes materialized, machine-guns also raised and ready, fanning out across the dimly lit stage, taking up their positions beside and eventually in front of their Director.

LauraLynn, kneeling on the floor and handcuffed to the stage's lone light-source, looked around fearfully, caught in the middle. Widor began backing off toward his fellow agents, away from the light.

There was a scuffling of feet as SHMRG agents took up positions behind the set pieces littering the stage.

The steady clanking of feet on metal steps continued ascending from above despite Roth struggling valiantly to narrow the distance.

"Mr. Roth, it sounds like you're missing quite a party," Tr'iTone said.

"Wait for me, Mr. Tr'iTone," Roth panted. "It is urgent I speak with you."

That's not why Tr'iTone stopped.

"I have attained the highest level, a seeker and Right-Believer," Tr'iTone boomed, his voice echoing through the opera house. "Oh, Great Beethoven," he intoned, "prepare to receive me as your equal!"

Chapter 56

Lionel Roth stood on the steps, dizzy for any number of reasons, not the least being his fear of heights. He'd been running up a circular staircase, his brain in a whirl. The steps rocked from side to side – and when he looked down, he felt suspended over dark, empty space. So many fears on his list of fears were in play now, he was unable to calculate them all because his mind hadn't stopped spinning sufficiently – even after he stood still.

He was afraid to open his eyes and somehow afraid not to. He gripped the railing, his feet frozen. What if he'd trip over the handrail or slip between the steps? What if some screw above him came undone from the extra weight and the steps slowly began to unravel?

From the landing he had finally reached by great effort of will, Roth looked up where Tr'iTone stood above him, his arms outstretched, palms upwards, his head tilted back in ecstatic anticipation. From here, Roth could easily understand the true immensity of the man: he's revealed himself to be a giant.

And that only made short little, puny Lionel Roth a mere insignificance in the greater scheme of important things, without talent, without even the lowliest skills, lacking the self-confidence of worthiness.

Tr'iTone glanced down the steps toward the shivering inferiority of Lionel Roth, reluctant to break his concentration by sneering.

"Mr. Roth, please," he whispered to him. "Couldn't this wait till later?"

Did he shake his head 'no' or was it more his fear? Roth felt his ankles turn to jelly.

"Can you hear me now?" he croaked. Roth went to step forward but found himself incapable of any movement.

"Be quick, Roth. Your trembling is shaking the staircase."

Tr'iTone looked down.

"Mr. Tr'iTone, sir, I'm sorry," Roth squeaked, "but I made a mistake calculating the puzzle you had given me. The path ended up reversed: your goal is back near the castle."

There was the briefest silence. Even the others sensed what was coming.

"You cretin!" Tr'iTone exploded. "You incomparable maladroit!"

From the stage floor, everyone momentarily forgot everybody else and looked up as Tr'iTone erupted into a rage against Roth. No one had any doubt who was going to win this fight.

"Poor Lionel Roth," Leahy-Hu said, nodding knowingly, recalling many past personnel reviews, "an introvert caught in an extrovert's world."

Even if nothing physical happened, the emotional damage Mr. Roth would suffer could haunt his darkest moments for years. Being taunted by childhood bullies never made corporate life easier to bear.

Perhaps the distraction could come in handy, as she weighed the situation: could she take Widor down by himself, confined in a nearly dark space with a stageful of SHMRG agents? She always preferred to avoid a gunfight, hesitant about losing anyone on her team if she could avoid it.

Who was this 'Tr'iTone' Roth was up against? Was there some reason this fellow's name rang such a distant bell? Wasn't this the same guy the professor suspected of killing Robertson Sullivan?

"No," she reconsidered, "his name was Dhabbodhú or something close to that. But 'Tr'iTone,' now, that's something entirely different."

There was the founder of the 'Mi-Contra-Fa,' a new music terrorist group that flourished years ago – in the '70s. That would make this Tr'iTone a senior citizen, by now. Not likely...

"You dare tell me this, the greatest failure of your miserable life," Tr'iTone continued, "how you've caused this grievous error and by your unimaginably inconsiderate carelessness made me waste my precious time!?"

Even in the darkness, Leahy-Hu imagined she could see a pair of eyes glowing hotly from far above her.

Widor looked up and cringed to hear this stream of vitriolic abuse, similar to what he'd experienced earlier tonight. Roth made his mistake, he wouldn't deny, but did he deserve this?

"You loathsome spawn of a scurrilous moron, you infinitesimal waste of sperm, you and your irreparable miscalculation," Tr'iTone thundered, "do you have any idea of the inconvenience and embarrassment you've caused?"

Steele looked up, his admiration rapidly increasing for any man who'd produce such a steady stream of mind-numbing cruelty.

"You superficial spasm of malodorous flotsam," Tr'iTone continued, his head flailing from side to side, spit flying, in his anger, "it even took computer software to help you crash and ignominiously burn!"

Steele wanted to continue the negotiation process, involving him in Operation Mephisto, but also to offer him a vice-presidency.

"There is no time left," Tr'iTone bellowed, "my moment is at hand!" He pounded his fists on the handrail. "Now I must return to Schweinwald Castle! Is anyone else so stupid!?"

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

"Wait, this must be... the landing... we're looking for," I told Cameron, resting against the door to catch my breath. "Hear that...? Sounds like Roth and Tr'iTone... must be having... an argument." Cameron was half way up to the next landing when I stopped, huffing and puffing to beat the band.

"I am sick and tired of your constant picking on me, treating me like I'm some kind of idiot!"

I had never imagined Roth could have such authority in his voice.

"If you had an ounce of intelligence, there would've been no mistake and I wouldn't be here," Tr'iTone shouted.

"I must conquer my fears," Roth yelled, "so, I must overcome you!"

I pushed the door open onto the landing and heard a scream.

There went Tr'iTone, flying over the railing!

= = = = = = =
To be continued...

posted by Dick Strawser

The novel, The Lost Chord, is a classical music appreciation comedy thriller completed in 2013, and is the sole supposedly intellectual property of its author, Richard Alan Strawser.
© 2014

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Lost Chord: Chapters 53 & 54

The Lost Chord

(a classical music appreciation comedy thriller by Richard Alan Strawser: you can read it from the beginning, here.)

In the previous installment, Fictitia and her new friend Harper arrive at the old castle, pursued by Kunegunde, Heller and Scricci whom they quickly dispatch before they descend into the dungeon, led by Roth, to rescue Cameron and revive Dr. Kerr. Fictitia makes an unexpected discovery. And Dr. Kerr discovers that Roth has succeeded in figuring out the map from the bottom of the statue, almost. Meanwhile, Tr'iTone tries to solve the riddle to finding the Fountain of Inspiration inside the Festspielhaus as Leahy-Hu and the IMPs storm the old castle. A New York City detective receives a call for help from a friend in Germany that he feels needs looking into.

= = = = = = =
Chapter 53

It was convenient that someone had left the keys in the car when they parked out front at the castle, but Lionel Roth wasn't used to driving after years in New York, always taking the subway, bus or train everywhere he needed to go, on special occasions splurging for a cab. Not that he wanted to call this a vacation, the way it was turning out, but it was the first time he'd been away from the city in over a decade. Too bad he couldn't find a cab out here in the woods because this was a very special occasion, alerting Dhabbodhú to the miscalculation concerning the exact location of his goal. He thought his friend, Dr. Dhabbodhú, would take the news very philosophically but how would this Tr'iTone fellow react?

It took so long to start the car, he was afraid he'd flood the engine before it roared to life, a deafening riot of noises echoing all through the trees and rocks that must have startled every bat on the mountain top into action or wakened every monster in their caves. Careening down the hillside, Roth, convinced he was being chased by thousands of rats, stepped heavily on the gas. At one point, he nearly collided with the remains of some beast.

Fortunately, the broken beast turned out to be a badly mangled bike and the rats never left the woods. He arrived safely, if rattled, pulling in behind the Festspielhaus to park. Even if the lot was entirely empty, Roth was sure he'd get a ticket if he wasn't properly parked. But unfortunately Roth found all the doors across the back were locked, ready to set off the security alarms. The only way in was through this hole in the outer wall.

How he'd get inside was one thing; how he'd step over the body of a dead security guard, another. Judging from the angle of the neck, he wasn't lying there asleep.

Roth tip-toed around the body, aware whoever did this was probably inside.

And who was inside? Dhabbodhú or... Tr'iTone...?

Roth could tell it was a huge building, not some tiny provincial theater that was all charm and no practicality, with its tiny little stage and no space backstage to speak of. From the outside, this building looked vast, but from the inside he knew it would only be more intimidating.

And where inside would he find Tr'iTone, since Roth had no idea what it was he was looking for? He could be anywhere from the basement to the auditorium's massive chandelier.

Mentioning the chandelier reminded him of that time he'd gone backstage after a performance of Phantom of the Opera to meet a friend playing a minor role and he got lost, running into strangers wearing these strange costumes, staring at him and laughing as if he were the weird one.

It was like being in a fun house on Halloween, he remembered, turning these corners, each scarier than the last, until he began having a panic attack, unable to breathe or scream. He fainted into the arms of someone in diaphanous robes – a vampire? – but could recall nothing more beyond that.

He dreamed it took weeks before anyone managed to find his body, dangling from the chandelier, drained of blood. Ever since, seeing the show's iconic poster made him gasp for air.

Lionel knew he could not run away: he needed to warn Dhabbodhú. He couldn't just hide back at the castle. There was something important, even cathartic, he knew he needed to face. He owed it to Dr. Dhabbodhú, his mentor, to set him straight because he deserved at least that much. And besides, the very thought of him running back through those woods was more than he could possibly handle, facing the rats and bats, the wolves and who knew what else.

But how could he figure out where Dhabbodhú – or Tr'iTone – had gone, the one such a stranger to him? He held his breath, closed his eyes, listening for the slightest impulse. Suddenly he felt something suggest he should open this door, follow that hallway, take those steps, walk this way.

To say he was scared out of his wits was an understatement, in the darkness his eyes bulging with fear, so pale his body already looked like it was drained of blood. Somehow, he found himself standing around backstage among these dark and terrifying shapes with their deep and horrifying shadows.

From somewhere far above him, he heard a noise that startled him, like the clattering of feet on metal.

"Hello," Roth called out, "is that you," his voice barely a whisper.

The clattering on the steps stopped abruptly – then a moment of silence.

"Hello...?" Roth stammered, more timidly than before.

"Who's there..." The voice above sounded impatient. The steps resumed, spiraling upwards.

"It's me, Dr. Dhabbodhú," Roth continued hesitantly, "I mean, Mr. Tr'iTone... sir."

Once again, the clattering stopped and waited.

Roth looked up, craning his neck backwards until he felt himself on the verge of dizziness with the effort. He could see nothing in the darkness above him but more darkness.

"Mr. Roth?" The voice paused.

"Yessir..." Roth stepped deeper into the shadows.

"What the hell are you doing here?"

"I have something important to..."

"Can't hear you. Come up here – now!"

Roth stumbled between the dark threatening shapes and found the iron staircase.

Reaching out, he touched it – and froze.

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

Immediately, Skripasha Scricci, former glam rocker, began screaming like a little girl when six black-clad agents barged through the door with AK-47s drawn and ready, their flashlights cutting brilliantly through the gloom.

"What an odd sight," Leahy-Hu thought, as she stepped into the room. "Could tonight get any stranger? Not possible..."

Scricci sat there completely naked, struggling in the lap of Schweinwald board member Barry Scarpia who failed to respond. When Scricci tried to escape, he and Scarpia collapsed in a heap.

They discovered Scricci was tied to Scarpia who was obviously quite dead, rigor mortis having already begun setting in. Apparently, Scarpia was killed first, Scricci added as an adornment more recently. Scricci looked like he'd been attacked by some manic face-painter with a pathological disposition, escaped from some street fair.

Judging from the detail, he must have been fully decorated while unconscious, the result of blunt force trauma from behind, the scalp and hair still bloody from the wound, Agent Manina noted. He had been painted by someone armed with a black indelible marker on the face, chest, abdomen and buttocks.

Aside from cat whiskers on his face, his scrawny chest and abdomen were covered with words like an inscription: "I'm a drug-dealing, talentless, skanky pervert and also an evil SHMRG ho."

Only a few feet inside the next room was another odd sight, like two struggling figures encased in cocoons, trussed up in a pair of rugs bound with fancy curtain cords. Another precaution, they'd been tied around the base of a heavy lamp: these two wouldn't be going anywhere fast.

Though not quite as visible as Scricci, they were no less recognizable.

"They're Schweinwald Security officers," Agent Leise said.

But Agent Manina swept her flashlight across their squirming faces and smiled.

"It would appear they also fell victim to the same pathological face-painter," Leahy-Hu noted, after taking a closer look.

On their foreheads someone had also scrawled, "I'm a SHMRG ho, too."

"I suspect there will be a much deeper story, here," Leahy-Hu added. "That ink will not wash off easily."

Without ceremony, agents hauled the rug-bound 'SHMRG hoes' out to the van, handcuffing the naked Scricci to both of them, while the others cased the rest of the castle, finding nobody else. They soon located the dungeon's broadcast studio with evidence of what someone calling himself Tr'iTone had been up to. The computer and its printer were warm, the contraption attached to the stone table was still operational, if ineffectual. Agent Leise turned down the volume on the CD player's broadcast feed.

Leahy-Hu pulled the microphone to her and, speaking carefully over the music (she'd always wanted to be a DJ): "We interrupt this broadcast of Mr. Tr'iTone's Symphony Whose Time Has Come. I apologize for the inconvenience: according to international laws regarding internet piracy, it seems its time has indeed come."

With that, Agent Leise ceremoniously yanked various cords out of their receptacles once Leahy-Hu stepped back and gave the signal. Finally, the music ended abruptly in the middle of another meandering phrase. Leahy-Hu looked with satisfaction from one agent to the other, her lips pursed in a rarely seen, tight smile.

"Thank God that one's over, but we still must locate the professor. Perhaps, he, too, is a 'SHMRG ho'?"

She also wondered if Kerr and Tr'iTone weren't one and the same.

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

"I can't believe you just happen to know someone in the New York City Police Department," Cameron said to Harper, once again thanking him for helping spread the word about Dylan's trouble.

"What can I say," Harper replied modestly. "But you mean you don't have a thing for guys in uniforms?"

I could imagine why Cameron chose not to respond to this directly, his mind focused on Dylan's immediate well-being. He kept his eye on the road while I tried to nap.

Fictitia, feeling more like her old self, also thanked Harper for having a viola case full of extra toys that included things like fishing line and a black indelible marker pen.

"I like to be prepared: hey, you never know what's going to come up, right?" the young man said.

We'd narrowly avoided Leahy-Hu and her IMP agents who were pulling into the castle's parking area before we could escape. Harper spotted their van's arrival as Fictitia finished up her impromptu art-work. Being able to do that had restored her spirits after rescuing Cameron, though glad they'd always remain good friends.

Besides, she would long treasure the photos snapped of the unconscious Scricci, sorry she'll miss one of his reviving. Now to pick the very best one and post it everywhere on-line.

We didn't need to be detained on useless suspicions by Leahy-Hu again which we knew she would never understand, so Harper led the way to the castle's kitchen and its backdoor, skirting the side of the castle through what was once a garden, waiting till the agents made their entrance.

Once the screaming began, they could never hear us start the car, oblivious to our making a hasty get-away. Soon, we were flying away from Schweinwald Castle, back to the Festspielhaus.

Unable to nap, I'd suggested Fictitia tweet something to draw the IMP.

"Do you want them to catch us?"

"Not us – Tr'iTone," I answered, as we pulled into the parking lot.

"That's Kunegunde the Bitch's car," Fictitia said. "I guess Roth must have stolen it. Lot of that happening tonight..."

It was Harper who first stumbled upon the body of Officer Ritter. "Oh, no, it's Helmut! Somebody's broken his neck!"

Cameron looked around, hoping we were alone. "Another policeman friend of yours?"

"Yeah, he was more than a chat-buddy. A great Doomcraft player, too."

"Can anybody explain what's next?" Fictitia asked.

I had an idea: if Harper alerted his friend Agitato, a known double-agent, with news of the officer's death, it might draw him into the game and help us capture Tr'iTone.

"It could also mean he and Tr'iTone team up and capture us," Cameron considered, not sure how it'd work.

"If the IMP's monitoring Fictitia's tweets, see – they want to catch SHMRG..."

"The trick is getting everybody here at the same time," Harper said. "Okay, Doc, that sounds like a plan!"

Harper stayed behind to contact his friend Agitato and report Kunegunde was headed into the Festspielhaus to confront Ritter's killer.

Meanwhile, we barged inside into the darkness, not sure where to turn.

"Look," Cameron pointed out, "someone's left these doors open, like a trail."

Following the path soon led us backstage.

Roth barely made it to the fourth step before we saw him.

"Lionel, wait," Cameron called out to him.

"Who else is there, Mr. Roth?" Tr'iTone's voice boomed through the darkness.

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

Agitato hadn't heard back from Kunegunde or Rache and was getting concerned but if Agent Lott started getting any nosier, it would only put him more at risk whenever they did call. Did they apprehend Cameron and the professor and bring them back to the hotel as The Chief had ordered? Had they terminated the broadcast that had illegally commandeered so many frequencies? He should probably contact Officer Ritter, too, just to check on him, in case he's napping on the job.

Agent Lott was busy tracking the internet chatter about the pirate broadcaster, noticing the favorable comments outweighed the negative though most of those were about where their regular programs had gone. Given the popular taste for unmitigated dreck, she wasn't surprised this Tr'iTone fellow had a hit on his hands.

Agitato picked up his private phone as soon as it started vibrating, something Agent Lott did not fail to notice, especially after he swiveled his chair around, turning his back to her. But it wasn't Kunegunde, he noticed, it was that cute chat-friend of his in the orchestra, Harper the violist.

"My officers are out at the castle and everything's under control, Harper."

"Thanks, Preston, but..." Harper said, sounding worried.

"Is everything else okay, Harper? I'm not off duty till after 7:00."

"Well, I stopped by to see Helmut who's bored as hell and... I saw Kunegunde running off into the building. It looks like Helmut's dead. Hey, I gotta get outta here... bye!"

Agitato tried calling Ritter on his headset but there was no response. Calling Kunegunde's phone got no response, either.

Without looking at Agent Lott, he bolted out the door and ran over to the rear of the Festspielhaus. He found Ritter's body and realized Harper was right: Helmut was dead.

He called Kunegunde again but went straight to voice-mail. He sounded frantic.

"Where are you? Why aren't you answering?"

Then Agitato heard a noise.

Agent Lott suddenly appeared, her pistol raised.

Agitato took off, dashing for Kunegunde's car.

"IMP! Stop – or I'll shoot!"

He didn't stop, so she shot him.

Chapter 54

If he didn't have to explain more about his call from Germany, Noranik figured his secret might well remain safe. He needed to keep his 'Ryan Goodcop' identity undercover (so to speak). What a coincidence Harper should've texted him at this particular moment, though, just when all this was going down.

"He's an informant, okay?" Det. Noranik explained. "He helps me out with things happening in the local music scene. This summer, turns out he's working in Bavaria, some summer music festival."

Noranik had partnered up with Det. Larson as they drove their unmarked cars over to the 86th Street address. It felt good supplying info that could break the case – cases, actually. Larson was also working on a barely credible case involving some homeless woman recently coming out of a coma.

"I mean, why should the drug business be the only one with deep connections, right?" he had started telling her. "This kid hears someone needing help through his internet connections," he added. "All because someone knew someone who knew something and it comes home to roost here. It's a small world."

What Det. Larson found surprising was how it related to this woman who insisted she was Elizabeth du Hicquè but had been brought in as a Jane Doe suffering a stroke.

Det. Noir, asking his ex-colleagues for help in this murder case, was intrigued. "Yeah, it happened in my precinct but the guy lived in yours and these two suspects did, too." He's tracking down any connections he can find with Dhabbodhú and Roth before the FBI horns in, claiming jurisdiction.

Then here's this woman witnesses say is Elisabeth du Hicquè living in du Hicquè's house: doesn't everything seem legit? After all, who would believe a rambling old bag-lady in a hospital?

But surveillance of Dhabbodhú's phone indicated a text sent earlier this evening had originated from the du Hicquè house.

"Maybe the old woman in the hospital wasn't so crazy, ya know?"

Regardless, now they didn't need to wait till morning for a warrant: one du Hicquè was holding a hostage.

Noranik was impressed how quickly they tracked down this Dylan guy's phone, using their low-key, barely functional GPS monitoring software once they plugged in the various codes from his frequently forwarded text. It was like watching one of those fancy cop shows on TV, still a far cry from police reality. IT was able to pinpoint the origin of his distress call's 'cyberprint' to an exact address just off Broadway. The question now was figuring out how dangerous the situation might be.

If the Elisabeth du Hicquè living at that address was using an assumed identity, was she a bomb-making terrorist? Considering what she'd sent Dhabbodhú, what was the nature of her threat? Was she in some way Dhabbodhú's accomplice or maybe the criminal mastermind? Regardless, they considered her armed and dangerous.

Two unmarked cars pulled up in front of the brownstone, blocking traffic, as four detectives poured out into the street. Casing the neighborhood – a nice block on a quiet night – they nodded. Within seconds, they filed up the front steps and took their positions. A neighbor walking her dog hurried past.

"Ms. du Hicquè, I'm with the NYPD," Larson said, ringing the doorbell. "Like to ask you a few questions?"

No response. She tried again.

"Wait, shouldn't somebody be going around back?"

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

Standing there, Roth remained silent, looked up, then looked back at us, not taking his hand off the railing, motionless. It was obvious he was afraid to move either up or down. We heard the noise of someone far above us continuing to climb – probably Tr'iTone – but where was he going?

"Well, Mr. Roth, are you coming or not?" the gruff voice demanded. After pausing momentarily, he then resumed climbing.

What was it he was searching for? Why look for it here?

"Lionel, please, think about it, what you'd said back at the castle," I mentioned as calmly as I could while I stepped closer to him at the bottom of the stairs.

"No, you don't understand, I have to do this," he said, whispering. "Old loyalties die hard," he added emphatically.

I lit the flashlight taken from Kunegunde, holding it under my chin and pointing it up to illuminate my face. I thought it might be more reassuring if Roth could see me.

Unfortunately, I'd forgotten how, when we'd do this in a darkened room, it looked like a disembodied, distorted image.

Instead of calming him down, Roth gasped and stumbled with a clatter, banging into the iron handrail behind him. Once he regained his balance, he then scrambled blindly up the stairs.

"Mr. Roth, you're not alone?" the reverberant voice boomed forth once more. "Come, you must hurry: there is no time." His voice echoed through the vast space, wave after wave of evil.

"Lionel, stop – don't do this," I said, "you really don't have to."

"Is that Dr. Kerr, the illustrious musicologist?"

"I'm not a musicologist," I said defensively. "I just write about music."

It annoyed me how everybody assumed, just because you're a scholarly musician, that automatically makes you a trained musicologist.

"What are you doing here, now, professor?" Tr'iTone sneered, even more annoyed. "I left you back at the castle. What, did you do a good deed and untie him, Mr. Roth?"

Roth by now had finally reached the first landing, his breathing labored.

That was when I heard more footsteps.

"Yes, but I hear voices over here," I heard a man say, one used to giving orders and being obeyed.

The footsteps came closer, suddenly aware they needed to be more stealthy.

I signaled Cameron and shut off my flashlight. He did the same. We stepped behind some large set piece.

Somebody hit something not far off, and I heard a woman's voice.

"Dammit, I can't see a bloody thing!"

LauraLynn! I recognized her voice.

The cast of characters had now expanded.

SHMRG was the first to arrive, no doubt coming from the hotel, but how many agents, I couldn't tell. If that was their CEO, he rarely ever traveled without an entourage.

The IMP had been out at the castle. How long would it take before they'd arrive on the scene?

It hadn't occurred to me before that SHMRG might be holding LauraLynn. I'd always assumed it was our villain, Dhabbodhú. Who had made that threat, before? How were her fingers holding up? It sounded like such a barbaric thing to be so heartlessly cold-blooded. We were up against someone very cruel.

I wasn't sure what SHMRG's role in this whole thing was, anyway. For obvious reasons, Leahy-Hu wasn't very forthcoming. If SHMRG was responsible for Rob's murder, who the hell was Tr'iTone?

"Mr. Roth, I think you've been followed," the voice from above snarled. "That was not very bright, you know..."

Tr'iTone, even more angrily, stomped his foot, sending shivers through the iron.

"You must lead them away, Mr. Roth: I have work to do and very little time to do it."

"But there's something important to tell you, Mr. Tr'iTone, sir," Roth squeaked.

That didn't seem to slow Tr'iTone down.

"I still can't hear you, Mr. Roth, you must come up here."

"Is that you... Tr'iTone?" It's an authoritative voice used to giving orders.

"There is no time," Tr'itone continued snarling.

"I'm the CEO of SHMRG, and I'm here to negotiate with you."

Steele explained how he'd trade Ms. Harty's journal for Dr. Richard Kerr.

"Well, you're in luck – he's here, somewhere!"

That sounded like our cue to escape, but how, in this darkness? I could barely see Cameron standing beside me. I knew there was a wall here; the stage was over there. If I turned on my flashlight, I knew they'd find us easily – or when I splatted against the wall.

There was no place to run and not many places to hide. They would find us sooner or later.

Then it occurred to me, what had happened to Fictitia and Harper?

"Terry, if you're here, don't show yourself," LauraLynn hollered from the wings.

Then Steele ordered someone to gag her.

"No," a new voice said, breathing heavily, "let me take this one."

A large silhouette of a man dragged LauraLynn out onto the stage, and tied her to the light stand.

"Dr. Kerr, meet Ms. Harty," the man said menacingly. "Come out – now!"

Here's another fine mess we found ourselves in.

"I do not want Ms. Harty," Tr'iTone snorted. "Just leave the journal."

"Or we could catch Kerr and keep the journal, too," Steele answered.

"That is not very gentlemanly of you..."

The man with LauraLynn – wasn't that Tr'iTone? But he's climbing the staircase...

Cameron tapped me on the shoulder. "Look!"

I noticed a crack in the wall.

"What's that up – a head?"

= = = = = = =
To be continued...

posted by Dick Strawser

The novel, The Lost Chord, is a classical music appreciation comedy thriller completed in 2013, and is the sole supposedly intellectual property of its author, Richard Alan Strawser.
© 2014

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Lost Chord: Chapters 51 & 52

The Lost Chord

(a classical music appreciation comedy thriller by Richard Alan Strawser: you can read it from the beginning, here.)

In the previous installment, Tr'iTone arrives at the Festspielhaus looking for his fountain, Schweinwald Security tracks down the source of Tr'iTone's illegal broadcast, Scricci discovers Fictitia has posted a video of him on-line before she escaped, and Lionel decides his vacation has really been a disaster from the start...

= = = = = = =
Chapter 51

Since there were two cars already parked outside the old castle's courtyard, Harper decided it best to park his car facing out in case they would need to make a quick get-away. Fictitia was becoming increasingly impatient while he jockeyed his car into place, hiding it behind some weeds farther away. She thought about jumping out and running into the castle by herself but also figured that would be foolhardy. Who knew what awaited them? Did she want to face it alone?

On the other hand, it was only a matter of time before that maladroit Scricci would discover her escape and alert Kunegunde and the others who'd soon be on her tail. They had very little time and who knew how much to do, so there was no time to waste.

They both knew their friend Cameron was in trouble and needed rescuing, but what kind of trouble he was in or whether they were too late or not, she had no idea. Add to that the place would soon be crawling with SHMRG agents if they hadn't already gotten here first.

The bumpy ride down the winding country road was bad enough in a decent car driving at normal speeds, but in Harper's cool-looking old jalopy, it was a high-speed, bone-rattling nightmare.

Harper grabbed his viola case from the back seat of the car, catching up with her at the door.

"You brought your violin?" Fictitia was dumbfounded.

"It's my viola," he said.

"We're not here for a gig, dude: we need to rescue Cameron." She tried not to sound too ungrateful.

"Never mind," he said, "Lead the way." He pushed the door open.

"I have no idea where we're going..."

All she remembered was someone going inside, then she'd heard them scream.

"No time for doubts," Harper pointed out. Another car joined them in front of the castle, parking him in.

"Aww, crap," Fictitia said, hitting the wall with her foot. "Now, what...?"

She recognized the car: it was Kunegunde, the agent who supposedly rescued her after she'd wrecked the stolen bike.

Kunegunde and Heller had their guns drawn but Scricci, now fully dressed, ran screaming across the courtyard, his arms flailing.

With no time to spare, Harper and Fictitia disappeared inside the doorway.

From outside, Kunegunde heard a loud thunk as the screaming stopped instantly. The two SHMRG agents weren't far behind.

She turned to Rache and motioned with her pistol toward the entrance, approaching stealthily, their flashlights and guns ready.

Kunegunde went in high, Rache ducking low.

"Clear," they both shouted simultaneously.

There was Scricci, flat on his ugly face, sprawled across the floor, blood streaming down his long skanky hair.

In the room in front of them, Fictitia wasn't trying to hide.

At that moment, a wall panel opened up and Fictitia dove inside. She gave them the finger and disappeared.

Kunegunde and Rache both made a dash for her and went flying, a jumble of mid-air arms and legs. Before either of them could raise a gun, Harper tossed an old throw rug over them like a side-show magician, before finishing them off with a deftly placed konk with a candlestick.

Harper, having rigged up a trip wire from some handy fishing line, took some viola strings from his case.

"Well, then," Fictitia admitted, "good thing you brought your viola with you..."

She couldn't resist one more indignity for Scricci as they tied him to the chair, sitting on Barry Scarpia's lap (she promised Harper she'd post the picture only after they rescued Cameron). Aside from waking up with a headache, it will freak Scricci out, finding himself strapped to a dead body. She also took photos of Kundegunde and her partner as Harper gagged them, wrapped up tightly in individual rugs, tied together around the sturdy base of a large brass floor lamp.

From deep inside the wall, they heard a whimpering sound and thumping like someone walking with a wooden leg.

"Cameron!" Fictitia suddenly remembered why they're there. What more trouble lay ahead?

Armed with the agents' pistols and flashlights, Harper and Fictitia tip-toed down the secret passageway, following the plaintive sounds.

Another question on their minds was who else was in the castle? Who had trapped Cameron and also killed Scarpia? Would they be walking into a trap? And what was that music...?

Ahead of them, Harper saw the form of someone in a chair rocking back and forth, scared to death.

It wasn't Cameron but maybe this guy knew what was going on. Harper untied the gag and questioned him. Just to be safe, Fictitia kept the gun aimed at his head.

He explained his name was Lionel Roth, that his friend had only left minutes ago but might soon return.

"He's your friend and yet leaves you tied up inside a wall?"

"Yes – Dr. Dhabbodhú thinks I should force myself to face my fears."

"That's his name, Dhabbodhú? I mean, seriously?"

"Cameron – where is he keeping Cameron?" Fictitia thought they could chit-chat later. "We're here to rescue my friend, okay?"

"Untie me, then," Roth gestured, "and I can take you to him."

After a little while, Roth had successfully led them into the dungeon.

There on a stone slab was Cameron hooked up to a machine, writhing around like bacon in a fry-pan.

Fictitia screamed.

Roth hurried to the practice room and opened the door.

Inside was the body of Dr. Kerr.

Fictitia immediately ran up to Cameron and desperately began tugging at him, trying to pull him away from the table. Harper yelled at her to no avail, warning her about electrical current.

The music was too loud, she couldn't hear him – or didn't care. Cameron's bloodshot eyes were wide with fear.

Immediately, Harper started tearing at all the suction cups and the ear-buds. Almost immediately, Cameron's writhing began to stop.

Fictitia, smiling broadly, had to admit she felt very happy right now.

Harper momentarily excused himself, saying he needed to text Dylan right away and let him know Cameron was okay.

"Dylan?" Fictitia asked, massaging Cameron's aching temples.

"Yeah, Cameron's hot little boyfriend."

"Hot little... boyfriend?" Fictitia gulped, her entire world suddenly going very quiet. She must try desperately not to cry.

"Ah, good – okay, there it is," Roth announced. He shut down the audio in the dungeon without interrupting the broadcast.

"Great! Now we don't have to listen to that crap," Harper said.

Fictitia looked down at Cameron's mostly naked body and felt very awkward. This wasn't the first time this'd happened...

"What the hell kind of music was that anyway, Lionel?" Harper said, sending his text. "It was so lame!"

Fictitia heard her mum's voice saying the nicest guys usually were gay.

Roth didn't like the way Harper made fun of Dr. Dhabbodhú's music but instead he decided to remain silent. He didn't like it himself, actually, but who was he to judge? He returned his attention to Dr. Kerr who, in the silence, began to show signs of a slight pulse.

So the professor wasn't dead after all, though who knows how much longer he might have lasted in there.

Harper joked how this gave new meaning to the comment, 'killer piece!'

There was little to be done, now, but let them slowly revive after their equally harrowing experiences, Roth suggested.

Harper was helping Cameron with getting dressed. Fictitia stood by, rather subdued.

"Both of them sustained considerable aural fatigue," Roth said, "but they'll survive."

Fictitia suggested, "Perhaps a cup of tea...?"

"So, how did you guys find us," Cameron, coming to, asked Harper who'd taken up massaging his neck and shoulders. "I didn't think anybody would've known where we were to rescue us."

Roth showed Fictitia where to find the tea things and a microwave, then brought her a jug of water.

"Well, I saw you guys leave from the hotel," she began, "so I grabbed a bike and followed you," disappointed Dhabbodhú didn't have any trendy varieties of tea, only basic decaf.

Explaining how she'd posted about Cameron needing help after he disappeared into the castle and then hearing him scream, Harper continued how Dylan saw that and texted Dieter Pieterieter in Bavaria.

"So, Dieter contacted me and I contacted a chat-friend in Schweinwald Security but then I ran into Fictitia and..."

Dr. Kerr was coming out of it more slowly than Cameron had and seemed to have trouble following the connections. "Funny, that – you tweet for help, Dylan's on Facebook in New York. Then he calls a friend in Germany and here we all are, wherever the hell we are – which is...?"

Cameron mentioned we were in an old castle along with Lionel Roth where we'd been held captive by Dhabbodhú.

"Right... but what was that awful music? And who the hell's Tr'iTone?"

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

The tea – as well as the relative tranquility – proved very restorative for both Cameron and me following our long ordeal, after many thanks, questions and explanations among former prisoners and our deliverers. It all seemed so unbelievable, like something you'd read in a book and yet here we were, living it. As soon as we'd be able to walk on our own, though, it was time to resume the adventure: LauraLynn was still a hostage and who knew when Tr'iTone might return.

I had hoped my role in this might finally be over, now, after having solved the clue for Tr'iTone – Dhabbodhú or whatever his name might've been (Roth was little help, here) – knowing I should also follow Leahy-Hu's advice and leave the SHMRG case and solving Rob's murder to the IMP.

Tr'iTone didn't indicate LauraLynn was in his custody, hidden somewhere else in this huge castle, not that that wasn't possible, but Roth hadn't heard his friend mention there'd be any other guests. The raspy, wheezing voice threatening LauraLynn's fingers was not the voice (or one of them) I'd heard from Tr'iTone.

But neither Fictitia nor Harper Roytt had anything to illuminate the questions we had about everything else going on. And if Lionel Roth knew any more, he was keeping very quiet.

Tr'iTone also hadn't returned my phone – well, LauraLynn's phone which I hadn't returned to her – after intercepting that call. There was no way her captor, whoever he was, could reach me. Who was it Tr'iTone had talked to? If it wasn't him holding her hostage, then who else was there?

Cameron, meanwhile, with Harper's help, was looking for something in the stuff near the controls he'd been strapped to, upset he wasn't finding it but unwilling to explain anything to us.

Fictitia had been holding back, more introverted than I remembered from earlier when we met her at the Festspielhaus. But then, after taking a deep breath, she joined Cameron to help.

I thought Roth had left the room when suddenly he spoke up. He said he had something for me.

"Cameron," I said, "look at this, will you?" He came over, looking anxious but curious. "Roth figured out the map." I held up the extra copy Roth just printed from the computer.

"So that was what's on the base of the statue," he said, looking around, "but where is the statue?"

"Dr. Dhabbodhú must've taken it with him – or, I guess, Tr'iTone did," Roth explained, also looking around the room. Not comfortable with that name, he added, "he left in a hurry."

"Did he take anything else with him? Like, maybe, an old letter?" Cameron was trying to hide his anxiety.

"Old letter?" Roth said, suddenly acting uneasy. "He might have, it's possible..."

Roth clearly wanted to change the subject. When I looked back at his map, I noticed something was off.

"Cameron, hand me that map from the hotel. I'm curious," I asked Roth, "how did you realize the Tour's matrix?"

"On this computer," he said, "using iJig." He quickly explained the process.

"I wonder – could you try this again?" After comparing the two maps, there was something wrong with Roth's solution.

This time, he carefully plugged the various coordinates in as I suggested, starting the pattern on the opposite side.

We watched the squares float into place, but with considerably different results.

Checking the new map against the one Cameron found in the lobby, you could see they were almost exact duplicates. The obvious give-away had been how unevenly the roads sometimes matched up. It's possible Roth may have typed in the wrong chess codes initially, more likely human error than technological malfunction.

Cameron remembered he had jotted down several of the coded chess moves in the margin of his journal transcript before we'd decided to leave the hotel: they could hold the answer.

"But I showed Dr. Dhabbodhú your notebook – he said it was worthless, didn't have what he was looking for." Roth began stammering as he held the notebook up to the light.

"No," Cameron explained, "I haven't copied out that much of it to find what they were looking for, either."

"And I thought I'd finally done something right!" Roth fought back the tears and sighed, aware he had failed again. "Dr. Dhabbodhú is going to kill me when he finds this out."

"What, you mean because you've sent him off to the wrong place?" I could have worded that more elegantly.

"If the Festspielhaus – or the old farm that was there back then," Cameron said, "isn't the goal, what is?"

I took a closer look at the newly revised and corrected map.

Harper's phone began to ring, playing a distinctive and rather alarming ring-tone.

"Seriously," I said, "you use the Dies irae?"

"Hey, Cameron, it's a text from Dieter. It's for you – from Dylan."

"Oh my God," Cameron cried, "that's Dylan's safe-word! There must be trouble!"

"What kind of trouble?"

"Serious trouble, unfortunately..."

Cameron explained how, because of Dylan's fears, they have several different safe-words.

"This one's, like, Code Red," he said.

"Okay, then," Harper nodded, "I'll forward the text to my NYPD chat-buddy."

While Harper explained they'd been chatting earlier – "he's working night-shift: maybe he can help" – I noticed Roth was gone.

Fictitia said she thought he was sneaking back toward the secret passageway.

"And it looks like he's taken the map, too," Fictitia pointed out.

"I suspect he's headed to the Festspielhaus."

Chapter 52

"The clue tells me, 'Ascend the 4th Circle out of the Fountain,' but where was the fountain a century ago?" Tr'iTone continued chanting to himself impatiently while pacing around the Festspielhaus lobby. "There's a fountain out front, there was a fountain at the castle, maybe one at the old Falkenstein Farm. They put fountains everywhere in those days: was there more than one? Possibly, but where could they have been? In front of the house's main entrance, maybe over by the barn?"

He knew he needed to find the original plans for the farm as it existed during the late-19th Century but who had time to do research in some dusty old library? He knew instead he must rely on his innate sense of genius and solve the problem through pure intuition.

Tr'iTone turned to face in each possible direction, his head tilted back, his eyes closed, sniffing the air, arms extended, as if some answer would descend from on high, divine or otherwise. He let his thoughts wander, allowing his mind to go completely blank, a clean slate awaiting the slightest inspiration.

"What would be the most logical solution to find the fountain's site? Where was the Festspielhaus' center?" he wondered. "The lobby's focus is toward the plaza." But then he turned around.

Tr'iTone's roar echoed through the empty building as he posed in triumph with legs braced wide, his arms akimbo.

Logic may be one thing, but exposing it usually required the intuitive.

"If there were no levels above the fountain to ascend," he'd pondered, "how then did one ascend 'out of'...?"

Not climbing above the fountain – climbing the ascending path from the fountain: the grand staircase leading into the auditorium!

Pointing his own way forward, Tr'iTone strode grandly up the staircase.


Unfortunately, this imperial procession of one was blocked by the simple fact every door along the promenade was locked. There was no way in. Crestfallen, he hurried back down the steps.

"There must be a door somewhere some idiot left open," he fussed, yanking at every door he could find.

There it was, a wheel-chair entrance to the lower level hadn't latched. One quick yank and Tr'iTone found himself inside. He stumbled up the steps to the main entrance, resuming his stance.

But something suddenly began to bother him: he could steal the prize or achieve the reward as the 'Right-Believer.'

Wasn't there significance in the ritual of being crowned as Beethoven's Heir, earning the honor by accomplishing the goal, as opposed to just seizing his objective, like Alberich and the Rhinegold?

This time, he worked his way backwards, propping doors open so he wouldn't get locked out in the process. In minutes he once again found himself standing knee-deep in the fountain.

His own music pulsing through his brain, Tr'iTone began, with regal pomp, a procession from fountain to goal.


As dimly lit as the auditorium was, he saw only three rings – do you count the lobby as Level One? Then this would become the Second Level; the cheap seats, the Third. If there's no Fourth Level, where would the prize be kept safe, approachable only by the most worthy hero?

The Rhinegold was inaccessible, nearly hidden from view far above the stage.

That's it: Rhinegold – Dragon's Blood! His goal!

The secret is hidden on the fourth level of the backstage wall!

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

The IMP team left their Ottobeuren stake-out to return, disappointed and frustrated, to their fourth-floor suite in the Schweinwald Hotel, Yoda Leahy-Hu pondering set-backs one often experienced in difficult cases like this. The agents' van had been curiously quiet on the short return trip, nobody wishing to break the boss's concentration. She was annoyed to find herself stuck in this course of action because of Dr. Kerr's constant, incompetent meddling, even after telling him to keep his nose out of her investigation.

The professor, she thought, was like the classical music audience in general, highly opinionated, self-proclaimed experts and thoroughly self-centered, becoming older, more marginalized, a specialized niche increasingly less attractive to marketing. While concert-goers would gradually die out, hopefully replaced by the younger generations, they might, regarding crime prevention, simply disappear.

There were many things she must consider beyond the annoying Dr. Kerr like the unexpected arrival of SHMRG's chief executive, whatever brought mastermind N. Ron Steele to Schweinwald at this particular moment. The murders of Sullivan and Franz-Dieter Zeitgeist, attributed to a SHMRG vendetta, have apparently become only the opening salvo.

If Sullivan's cousin, LauraLynn Harty, was now in danger and the late Mr. Sullivan's new opera began rehearsals tomorrow, perhaps there was more at stake here than just solving some murders.

Just as they pulled into the hotel's driveway, Leahy-Hu received a text on her secure line from dispatcher Agent Lott. She explained discovering a suspicious internet broadcast which originated from Schweinwald Castle. Fictitia had already tweeted about Cameron, Kerr's assistant, being in trouble there. Perhaps, then, the professor was also involved?

Her suspicions were increased when Schweinwald's dispatcher, Officer Agitato, insisted on sending out two of his own security officers who were already headed there with Skripasha Scricci, a known SHMRG operative.

Again convinced Kerr's also a SHMRG operative, like some over-active red herring, Leahy-Hu reached the castle in record time, but not the first one to the party, judging from the cars.

Charging the castle door with guns drawn, agents barged into the vestibule only to find their way ingeniously blocked.

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

Every time he stepped into an opera house, Tr'iTone was flooded with thoughts about the operas he dreamed of writing. Every play he saw or novel he read taunted him with possibilities. Here, strutting through a darkened house on his procession to ultimate glory, the dream was now stronger than ever.

Every time he banged his shins against the seats in the darkness, he dreamed he was kicking his teacher. How could it possibly be Robertson Sullivan was considered a great teacher?

It was unusually tense, he recalled, that lesson when he and Sullivan sat around near the spring semester's end and discussed ideas for some new projects to start over the summer. Tr'iTone mentioned he was toying with setting the Faust legend as a full-scale opera set in a corporate environment.

But instead of finding the concept appealing, Sullivan broke out in laughter.

"Whoa," he said in that patronizing tone of voice, "let's hold onto that for later – after you've gotten more experience."

Sullivan warned him he hadn't written anything theatrical, not even incidental music: an opera was currently an unrealistic challenge.

So he bitterly put it aside, feeling himself unworthy of the idea and yet Sullivan later used it himself!

"It makes me so angry, I could still kill him," Tr'iTone spat.

The stage was empty except for the single lightstand placed dead center, its dull bulb barely illuminating the space. The curtains pulled back revealed dark shapes, set pieces for tomorrow's rehearsal. It was eerie, even disconcerting, he thought, possibly scary to lesser minds, but to him there was also magic.

It angered him even more, freshly opening these old and bitter wounds, realizing this should be his opera, here!

"Faustus, Inc. is my opera, not his. It will be my success!"

But despite Sullivan's success, he was, after all, dead, his opera unfinished.

"The future will belong to my genius."

Tr'iTone could already taste the triumph marking the beginning of his greatness.

He found the iron circular staircase that lead up the back wall.

"I ascend to the fourth circle! Huzzah!"

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

Three New York City police detectives sat around over their late-night coffee discussing details of the murder of Robertson Sullivan, joined by Detective Phil Noir from the Poconos where the murder occurred. They're tracking Iobbha Dhabbodhú who'd skipped town, and Lionel Roth, who's disappeared. Both acted suspiciously at the crime scene.

Detective Charles Noranik got some e-mail, something marked urgent: from his wife? No, it was his 'Ryan Goodcop' account. What a surprise: it's his hot young chat-friend in Germany, Harper Roytt.

Noranik excused himself and checked what Harper had forwarded: GPS coordinates of the phone originating the call for help. It shouldn't be too difficult to find, just to help a friend.

"Whoa, guys, check this out. I got this urgent message from Germany. Seems some kid nearby here needs help."

Noranik explained he's a friend of that guy who's Dr. Kerr's assistant.

"Yeah, so?" Detective Mack Heimer was not impressed.

"It says they're in Germany and held captive by our guy Dhabbodhú."

At this, the others perked up considerably, Noranik noticed, especially Det. Noir.

"Plus his call came from this address."

"That's the place that bag-lady who just came out of a coma said was hers," Detective Patty Larson mentioned.

"The one claiming she's a wealthy widow?"

Noir said, "Well, let's go!"

= = = = = = =
To be continued...

posted by Dick Strawser

The novel, The Lost Chord, is a classical music appreciation comedy thriller completed in 2013, and is the sole supposedly intellectual property of its author, Richard Alan Strawser.
© 2014