Author's Note: I firmly believe that Steed, Mrs Peel and Avengerland are timeless and am therefore quite happy to bring them into the Year 2000 with its accompanying technology without altering the characters at all. After all, I live in Avengerland, so I should know. If you feel it should be otherwise, write your own stories! ;-)
THE FINAL CHORD
by Young Avenger
When Lord Carter came in a little after five, he was pleased to see that Long had laid on a light meal. He stood, looking about the penthouse apartment and mulling over his day. It had been full of recriminations and suspicion as a result of the latest leak and he was tense and tired. The one bright spot had been the call telling him that the CD he had ordered would be sent round. Reminded of this, he eagerly put it in the CD player and turned up the volume. After a few minutes his tension had dissipated and he was leaning back in his chair blissfully, pretending to be the conductor, his meal forgotten. Suddenly, as the music swelled to a climax, he sat bolt upright and his eyes glazed over. Moving slowly, he picked up the knife and deliberately turned it on himself. As he slumped over the table, the plate fell on the floor. It shattered.
* * *
Dressed in her new blue evening dress, Mrs Peel was ready to go out. She was about to do Elijah From Scratch at the Albert Hall with David Willcox and was thoroughly looking forward to the experience. One of several thousand voices, in one of the world's most prestigious venues, with one of the world's best conductors...Glancing at her watch she saw that she had several moments to spare so she picked up her score to practise the final chorus. As she flicked through to the correct place she hummed to herself - "And then, then shall your light..." -- and stopped. Mendelssohn most definitely hadn't written the words she found in her score.
"Mrs Peel, we're needed".
Feeling the familiar presence behind her, she sighed and headed back to the bedroom to change.
"Well, no guesses as to what killed him," commented Mrs Peel, looking round the room her glance coming to rest on a pile of CDs.
"Quite so, Mrs Peel, but the question is why. Why would a man of Carter's stature kill himself?"
"Maybe he wanted to make a statement about the futility of existence."
Frowning slightly at her flippancy, Steed carried on, "There's nothing in his records to indicate such instability, and you don't reach his position if you have a tendency to stab yourself over supper, so to speak."
Mrs Peel nodded gravely, "And what was his position?" she inquired.
"He dealt with defence expenditure and capability at the Ministry."
"The Defence Capability Committee?"
"Possibly," Steed replied, going through Carter's desk. "Oh well," he said, straightening up, "there doesn't seem to be anything here."
Emma came round to his side. "What's this receipt for?" she inquired, picking it up.
"I don't know; he must have bought something today. Well, as it's our only lead..."
"You'd better go and follow it up," interjected Mrs Peel quickly.
Not to be beaten this way, Steed continued unruffled. "...While you go and see exactly what he was working on."
As Steed entered Counterpoint, his attention was caught by the multitude of instruments all around the room. Ducking underneath the saxophones suspended from the ceiling, he followed the sound of a piccolo, only to come face to face with a row of double basses. Undeterred, he made his way towards the counter and pushed the help button with the tip of his umbrella. After a few minutes' wait, an absolute giant of a man appeared, clutching a piccolo.
"Good afternoon, sir. Can I help you?"
"I do hope so. I'd like to buy some music."
"Well that shouldn't be a problem, sir. We at Counterpoint pride ourselves on having the widest selection of Bach available in the country. Our permanent stock alone contains everything he ever composed. Should you require the Double Violin Concerto arranged for oboe and harp, we can provide it. Anything that we don't keep in stock can be delivered within a week."
Steed interrupted hurriedly, realising that wind players could go an awfully long time without pausing for breath. "I'm afraid I wouldn't have much use for a score. Can't follow a tune at all. It's a recording that I'm interested in."
"Then the same applies, sir. Do you have any particular work in mind or would you like me to recommend something? If you'll tell me your preferred instrument, whether you prefer orchestral, choral or solo ."
Once again, Steed felt forced to break in, making a mental note that wind players really were full of hot air. "It's very kind of you to offer, but I'm already following somebody else's recommendation. A friend of mine ordered an item from you and I'd like to order a copy. He gave me the receipt so you could track it easily."
"If I might be permitted to see the receipt..."
"Oh, I'm so sorry," apologised Steed, handing it over.
"Hmm, the Brandenburg Concerto in F Major, a very good choice," said the proprietor, nodding sagely. "This particular CD is stocked exclusively by The Well-Tempered Orchestra. They produce it you know. I'll have to order it specially."
"Thank you," replied Steed politely, his thoughts already elsewhere.
"I tell you, Bar, I don't want anything more to do with it."
"Do calm yourself, Driver. I can't produce a good sound in a tense atmosphere." Bar continued playing as if he hadn't been disturbed.
Furious, Driver knocked the stand over. "I never agreed to be an accessory to murder."
Bar started to put his instrument away methodically in a move calculated to enrage Driver still further. "But that's exactly what you are, Driver. I'm afraid there's nothing you can do about it. Just concentrate on the money we'll make and let me be your conscience."
"I'm warning you, you'll regret this." With this, Driver stormed out, slamming the door behind him. Bar looked after him thoughtfully.
* * *
"What exactly was Carter working on?" inquired Mrs Peel, following Burling along the aptly named Zig-Zag Alley. In an effort to find this out, she had dutifully traced his colleague Vice-Admiral Burling to HMS Bristol and was following him as he made his way back from the Officer's Mess. Being a couple of inches taller than him, she kept having to duck pipes that he simply walked under.
Burling paused a moment before replying. "Well, we were on the Defence Capability Committee so he was involved in the report."
"The one that kept getting leaked?"
Burling looked embarrassed. "Well, yes," he muttered, his answer almost lost as he went down a deck.
"What's happened to the committee now Carter's gone?" questioned Mrs Peel, following him.
"The report's been put on hold until a replacement can be found. Meanwhile we've all been returned to our previous duties. I'm taking the opportunity to oversee HMS Dryad and cadet training. That's why I'm on Bristol today, in fact. Lieutenant-Colonel Marshall, yes he's negotiating for new tanks and Air Marshal Haines is working on inter-service relations."
"But Carter's death hasn't stopped the committee's work."
"Oh no, it's just been delayed while we find a replacement. He was the chairman, you know, co-ordinating the whole thing, making sure that no service was favoured above another."
"So Lord Carter was privy to all the information gathered..."
"Oops, mind your head," he interrupted as they went through one of the doorways.
"Thank you. ... Instead of just that pertaining to one service," she continued.
"So, he could have been responsible for the leaks." It was a statement, not a question.
"Oh no," he replied firmly. "Lord Carter couldn't possibly have leaked information. He started off as a button-lip. It's unthinkable."
"Because button-lips never divulge a word with having it vetted, examined, coded and cleared1," Mrs Peel commented solemnly.
Sensing that she wasn't going to get any more information out of the man, Mrs Peel stopped and turned round. "Well, thank you, Vice-Admiral Burling, you've been most helpful."
"Are you sure you can find your way back to main deck?" he queried.
"Yes, thank you. I remember the route."
"You won't fall down any of the ladders?" he asked anxiously.
"Don't worry. If I do, I'm sure one of the men will rescue me," she replied wickedly.
While Mrs Peel drove back to Steed's flat, Driver was busy wearing a hole in his carpet. He had been pacing up and down worriedly for the last hour, apparently in the belief that energetic activity aided thought. Eventually he stopped and picked up the 'phone. As he waited for the other person to pick up, he tapped his foot impatiently, not noticing that the CD player had moved on to the next CD. Just as he was about to hang up,
"I've got some information for you. It's about Carter." While he spoke, the volume increased in the background. No longer listening to Steed's reply, his eyes glazed over and he put the 'phone down and headed for the window.
Worried by the sudden silence, Steed demanded urgently, "Who is this? What's happened?"
"His name was Carl Driver," said Steed, playfully tracing the outline of the broken window with his umbrella. "He was a violinist."
"Well, that would account for his taste in music," remarked Mrs Peel, turning off the CD player and picking up a nearby brochure. Steed raised his eyebrows inquiringly.
"The Bach Double Violin Concerto," she explained, nodding towards an empty CD case.
"That reminds me. Did that receipt come to anything?"
"It was for the Brandenburg in F Major, as played by The Well Tempered Orchestra. As you might guess, they specialise in Bach."
"That's interesting," said Mrs Peel, looking up.
"What, the name? I thought it was quite clever, myself."
"No, Steed," said Mrs Peel patiently. "The orchestra. Driver was one of their fiddles."
"Really? Driver said he had some information about Carter."
Mrs Peel shrugged noncommittally and turned her back on him to go through the pile of CDs. "Well, with Driver gone, I suppose they're going to need another violin," continued Steed. "How's your G String these days, Mrs Peel?"
There was a loud clatter as the pile of CDs got knocked over. "Air on the " he added hastily.
With the last chord of Bach's Violin and Oboe Concerto in D minor, the rehearsal ended. While the other members of the orchestra went off to find refreshments, Mrs Peel busied herself with putting her violin away. Straightening up, she was embarrassed to find herself colliding with the conductor.
"Oh, I am sorry," he apologised.
"My fault, I was miles away," she answered.
"How did you get on tonight? It looked like you were unfamiliar with the part."
"That's quite likely I'm not used to playing first."
He nodded sympathetically. "Yes, there's quite a difference between first and second. It can be difficult to make the jump."
Emma laughed. "I'm afraid you misunderstood me. I've only ever played the solo for this concerto."
Discomfited, he moved on rapidly. "Well, we do things differently anyway, we stick exactly to the original."
Emma acquiesced politely, "You can say that again; I've had to scribble all over my copy. It's a good job I remembered my pencil. Would you mind if I took it away with me?"
Taking his nod for agreement, she smiled at him and started to move off. "I'll see you next time then, Mr Bar."
Seeing Bar watch her go, the solo violinist came up to him. "Good rehearsal tonight."
Bar gave no indication of having heard him so he continued. "The new woman seems to know what she's doing. Fitted in fine with everybody else, keen to learn about the orchestra You couldn't ask for anything more."
Bar nodded pensively but said nothing. "Came at just the right time too. I was having nightmares about trying to find a replacement for Driver."
"Yes," replied Bar slowly. "Her arrival was very convenient."
Waiting outside Emma's flat, Steed could hear snatches of music, followed by exclamations of exasperation. Having picked up the rhythm she was trying to play, he tried ringing the bell again, this time in time to the beat. Her attention finally aroused, Emma answered the door. He walked in cheerfully.
"Hello, Mrs Peel. How did it go this evening? Did you manage to convince the conductor that music is your forte?"
"I decided to play things piano actually," was the rejoinder. "So far as I could tell, I made a favourable impression."
"You always do. What are the orchestra like?"
"A herd of baby elephants."
Steed arched his eyebrows in surprise. "As a whole, or just the percussion?"
"Everybody. I think I was the only person there who wasn't tapping the beat," replied Mrs Peel.
"But apart from this inability to count quietly, there was nothing there. We've reached another dead end."
"No. For such an exclusive orchestra, they aren't very good. For one thing, everybody always accents the beat."
"I thought that's what you were supposed to do," commented Steed, picking up her violin and plucking at the strings.
"Normally, yes, but not in this piece. Each section repeats a figure in turn firsts, seconds then violas but for most of them, the figure starts on the half or quarter beat. They're false accents. You can't get the right effect by accenting as normal."
Steed carried on drawing the bow across the strings tunelessly. "Maybe the conductor interprets the piece differently. Artistic licence and all that," he suggested.
"Hmm, that's what he said. He insists that they stick closely to the original." While she spoke, she brought her score over to Steed. "But just look at all the changes I've had to mark in."
"What's important about that?" he asked, resuming his playing.
"This is the Urtext."
"Yes, I can see it's a text, but what's that got to do with it?"
"Not an er-text, Steed," she responded impatiently. "Urtext. That means it's copied exactly from a surviving manuscript without editing. That's as original as you can get."
"Your Mr Bar obviously doesn't know his music."
"Maybe he does and maybe he doesn't."
"What do you mean?" asked Steed, sitting back and propping the violin on his lap so he could give her his full attention.
"I'm not sure. I've got an idea but I need to do some more research. We all know that subliminal messages can be transmitted by television, but what if you could do the same thing with music? Kill your enemies..."
"Sell to the highest bidder..."
"Well then," said Steed, getting to his feet energetically and nearly dropping the instrument in the process, rescuing it only when he noticed the warning expression on Mrs Peel's face, "I suppose that I'd better see if friend Bar's office can reveal anything."
Steed had searched the rehearsal building thoroughly and fruitlessly. He was just about to give up and report failure when he accidentally knocked over a stack of tapes. Bending down to pick them up he noticed the labels on the bottom ones. He had assumed that they were all orchestral recordings but the ones at the bottom of the pile had different labels. Taking out a flashlight, he examined them more closely. They were dated by month. Steed looked round for a tape player and inserted the most recent tape. Carter's voice became audible, reciting figures.
Just then the light was turned on. Steed turned to the door, only to see a big bear of a man advancing towards him menacingly. When he got within throwing distance, Steed aimed some of the tapes at his head. The man caught them instinctively and looked surprised at the tactic. He then continued to look surprised as Steed hurled his umbrella at him javelin style and the point pierced his chest. With a slight groan he thudded to the floor. Just about to rescue his umbrella, Steed heard the sound of applause.
"A fine performance, Mr Steed. It is a pity that you will not be able to repeat it. Carter was not my only man at the Ministry, you know. It really is fascinating the way people's minds work. I mentioned Mrs Peel's name to one of my men and he immediately came up with yours. So, you see, I know all about you and Mrs Peel."
"And what are you going to do with us?"
"Mrs Peel is already taken care of. But you, I think you will be more useful alive than dead. After all, your knowledge would be worth millions."
After some intensive research, Mrs Peel had some idea of what could be achieved by adjusting the pitch, intensity and stresses of a piece of music. She sat back in her chair, idly turning on the CD player while she thought. As the first notes sounded she sat up and looked at the CD case in surprise. According to her memory, she should be enjoying the D Minor Ciaconna but that wasn't what she could hear. Suddenly suspicious, she switched the music off and ejected the CD. As realisation dawned, she cocked her head on one side and clicked her tongue with amazement.
* * *
Steed had been tied to a chair for half an hour now, time which he had spent contemplating the relative merits of catgut and synthetic strings as instruments of binding. He had come to the conclusion that they were equally painful on the person being bound. He looked round the room once more, searching for anything he could use to free himself. There didn't seem to be anything remotely useful only old instruments, cases and travelling cases. This was obviously the orchestra's storeroom. Turning his attention back to his bonds, his ear was caught by a hiss. Mrs Peel had climbed through the window.
"I thought you'd never get here," he sighed with relief.
"I nearly didn't. Somebody switched my discs."
"So that's what Bar meant when he said you'd been taken care of. Meanwhile, do you think you could untie me? I pride myself on being able to get out of most knotty situations but this is ridiculous."
"You're unlucky, Steed. These are high quality strings," she remarked.
"What's unlucky about that?" he inquired.
"Cheap strings break more easily."
"Oh. Well, at least I was bound with the best quality apparatus. I would hate to "
"Shush!" she whispered, hiding behind a double bass case.
"What? Oh." Hearing footsteps, Steed hastily rearranged the strings so that he appeared to be still tied up, wincing as they chafed his sore wrists.
Bar reappeared with his gun. "We are ready for you now, Mr Steed," he said, coming to stand behind him. "Stand up."
"Yes, stand up."
"Stand up." As he spoke, Steed straightened up and kicked his chair backwards, knocking Bar off balance. In a wonderful piece of teamwork, Mrs Peel kicked him behind the knee just as Steed kicked him in the ankle. During his descent to the floor, Bar's jaw somehow managed to collide with Steed's upcoming fist. He hit the ground with an audible thump and fell silent. Hearing footsteps running, Steed ran to the door and shut it.
"Shall I lower the baton?" he asked, pointing to the latch.
"Do," responded Mrs Peel with a grin. Noticing Bar beginning to rise, she hastily pushed over the case she had been hiding behind. As it plunged downwards, the front swung open and the double bass fell out, hitting Bar on the back of the head with a thud. With a slight grunt, Bar sank back on the floor, his fingers sliding across the strings as he did so.
Steed joined her and looked down at him. "Do you think that was his final chord?"
Later that evening, Steed was reclining in one of Emma's chairs while she flicked through her CD collection.
"Let's have some music, shall we?" she suggested.
"What a good idea," replied Steed enthusiastically as she inserted a disc. "Bach, Handel, Mozart..." His voice trailed off as the volume increased. Mrs Peel watched with amusement as he got up, entranced, and brought over a bottle of champagne and some glasses. With a practised flick of the wrist, he opened the bottle and poured a glass. Then stopped.
Tilting her head on one side and looking at him with concern, Mrs Peel hurriedly fiddled with the controls on the CD player, trying to alter the sound. While she busied herself adjusting the controls, Steed surreptitiously poured another glass.
"What's the matter, Mrs Peel?" he asked, coming up to her and handing her one of them. "You didn't think I needed persuading with music did you?"
"Cheers, Steed" she replied.
1. Top hush secretary Cynthia described the discretion of a buttonlip in this manner in "The Positive Negative Man."
© Young Avenger 2002
No aspect of this story may be used elsewhere without the expressed prior written consent of the author. These stories may not be altered in any way or sold; all copyright information must appear with this work at all times. Please read disclaimers and warnings on top of each story. Feel free to send constructive comments to the author.. :o)
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