“Here we are again,” says Sly.
“So it seems,” says Dee. “Will this be a rehash of yesterday, or do you have new insults to hurl at me?”
It’s peek of dawn. Sly has kicked at a door, yowling yoo-hooooo, until the man pulled out of bed and admitted him. Dee’s picked up where he’d left off the day before, with a glare.
Sly tries to calm the waters. “First and foremost, let me say . . . Sir! My thought process is often haphazard, as I’ve tried to explain to Dru, who, heaven help the child, hangs on my every word.”
“My heart be still, is this an apology?”
The cat sighs. “Yesterday I pushed Heinz as a second Kelley. That was a mistake.”
“Let me get this straight,” growls Dee. “You don’t ask me to give Heinz a try-out after all.”
“No, I do, It’s set for this afternoon. He’ll fail to raise Uriel. Then you go to work on him.”
“Sorry, I’ll be with Grübechen.”
“My thinking had been, you off with the Freifrau, Heinz has a go at the crystal. Me hid, in a box maybe, I’d wow him with a response. Jubilation! Uriel has engaged! You, you’re the taller hill to climb. You’d see through it.”
“You better believe it I would.”
“You’re the tough nut to crack. My plan is a huge come-down from your get-rich-quick fantasy. Heinzie’s the pushover. Ha-Ha’s euphoric. Uriel has responded to him. Dru – she’s on hand, naturally – she horns in, as ever, lays out our strategy – it’s as much hers as mine – and demands – Magnificence! Your verdict! Guess what? All-wise Uriel is on board with it. Heinzie gets a big thumbs-up out of the cootie.”1
“Cootie? Cootie!” Dee’s beyond a glare. He’s glowering.
“Don’t have a stroke there, J.D. I meant to say cutie! Slip of the tongue. You know I garble words. I’m a cat, it’s a wonder I talk at all. Uriel, the cutie, is all for it.”
“Scoundrel! You are enjoying this ever-diversifying disaster.”
“I am sincerely sorry for the mess I’ve made. I best had kept my yap shut back in London. Too late now. Listen to me, your mumbo-jumbo and Heinzie’s fairy dust prying significant groschen out of the town – they are wary, my friend – ludicrous! Neither of you is thinking straight. With him, it’s the sippy-sippy. With you, I hate to say it, a decline of some sort.”
“Decline? Damn your . . .” Dee’s searching for a phrase he hasn’t run into the ground.
Sly chuckles, but quietly, deep in his throat. “Ya, you’ve damned every inch of me by now. What have you missed? My toenails, maybe.”
Dee gives another gorgeous glower. “I have a reasonable story. The town officers, businessmen all, must give it a fair hearing. I am willing to forfeit a phenomenal opportunity to help out here. I’d received a sizable retainer from Count Laski. If I refuse his offer, as an honorable man, I must return it. Match it or I shall be on my way. And, I need to purchase expensive essences to be burnt, part of my process. I need – I haven’t settled on an amount yet – a sum, plus expenses, or I’m gone. I ask it on the basis of my reputation and on a demonstration of competency – one warehouse treated for vermin.”
“Heinz has chosen,” the man explains, “a potent pharmaceutical – he’s recently replenished his medicine chest in Leyden – as our agent of attrition. A sea of fallen, how to account for it? Poisons, within memory, have failed to suffice. An apprehension of unhealthy tastes has been bred into the population. This taste – oh-so-sleight, according to our chemist, also, wholly unknown to them, also, masked with one _________ or another – will not dismay them, not at first. We run two or three limited tests to be sure of a desired result, and save the blow-out dose for the make-or-break event, the council in attendance: Here they lie, excellent sirs, by the dozens. Poke them. They live, breathe, but do not move. I have downed them with a spell. I have administered a light trance, that will dissipate. To knock them dead, money must change hands.”
“The excellent sirs will – pardon, can’t resist – smell a rat.”
“I am universally ceded frightening powers. I have long been under severe scrutiny for it; let it, for once, work in my favor. These yokels are frantic to believe, track record of scoundrels notwithstanding. The Freifrau will back me. The silly woman supports me without reservation. It’s quite uncanny. I do feel badly about using her, but it can’t be helped. I will take my money and melt into the night in my old suit of clothes. Pursuers will be tailing a dandy fled by coach, not a threadbare, afoot.”
“How’s this for uncanny?” spits Sly. “I’m feeling uncanny clairvoyant all of a sudden. I strongly suspect no rats were toppled last night.2 Check with Heinz. He’ll have the news. Sir! Up to now your mystical delusion has been harmless, except for the hours devoted to that Adamic language of yours. Boggles the mind, the effort you’ve put into that nonsense.”
“You have to have your dig, don’t you?”
“I’m no yes-man, and it’s stood you in good stead plenty of times. Heed me here. The rats will prove immune to the dosing. Don’t cry over it, you see another path. An incremental earning may, in the long run, exceed a lump sum, with this advantage – it does not depend on the town’s honorable dealing. How much is that reward anyway? If it’s been mentioned, I’ve missed it.”
“They have not named an amount other than to call it magnificent.”
“Not good. Money’s been collected, many attest to it. It sits somewhere. Is it safe, or has it been sunk into a rash venture, a ship gone down, or seized in hostile waters? Has it been embezzled by a treasurer not expecting it would have to be paid out? A rational man would be asking these questions. Anyone who depends on an angel for advice is not a rational man. Item one, Kelley’s borrowed money from you that you’re never going to see again, but you keep shelling out. Item two, he’s part of the reason – maybe the major part – you had to leave England, yet you won’t have done with him. A level head would have chucked him out long ago. Item three . . .”
“Oh, I only wish there were another, even lower circle of Hell created just for you, that you might forever contemplate your faults in solitary, no companionship to distract you from, by your own admission, your numerous flaws of character.”
Sly’s confided in the man, particularly in regard to his treatment of his mother. Alone with his regrets for all eternity is the worst Hell he can imagine. The cat winces but will not give his associate the satisfaction of knowing he’d stuck his dagger to maximum good.
“I forgive you for that, you are under considerable stress.”
“You are kind,” says Dee, acidly.
“I am kind, dammit. I’m thinking of your long-term welfare. A popular entertainment founded on the town’s established reputation – I see enormous potential there. Your name attached to the project will triple the attention. A few days work and you may proceed to Poland, your share of the profits banked for you, to be drawn upon at will. You’ll have a stake equal to those who will spend months developing the attraction, an out-sized return for a brief commitment and for lending your renown to a philanthropic – yes, philanthropic – enterprise. Profits go to feeding the hungry, educating the impoverished gifted, and similar. If you were to think rationally about it, you would see that this is something you should be proud to be associated with.”
“You’re a scream, cat. Rats in silly hats are rational. Uriel, not. No! I do not allow my name to be slapped onto a rat show!”
“There’s good money to be made here, old man. If you want a share, convince Heinz to be our Pied Piper. It may take some jawing, he’s as jealous of his reputation as you are of yours. He won’t be wild to headline the thing. But he is just the one to do justice to the pivotal role. The offer can’t come from me, for obvious reasons, and it can’t come from a child who, by the way, has decreed that she will be the sweet girl assistant. Assistant? She’ll be the boss-lady. She’s already sketching sets and writing scripts.”
“That won’t go. La Mama will balk. Her daughter, in a scant costume, cavorting on the market square with a fop in tights, knowing him, with a stuffed codpiece, outrageous!”
“La Mama knows money like I know mice.3 She didn’t grow her interests by passing on golden opportunities. Thanks to you – you did a marvelous job for me there – she’s swallowed Heinz is a receptive, and he’ll be more than glad to play along, it will cement him with her solid. When Uriel insists she manage the show, she’ll agree immediately. She inherited a modest concern and built it into a power. She may be a patsy for junk mystical, but she’s got a head for business. And Dru is a strong-willed young lady, and that’s putting it kindly.”
“Junk mystical! Oh, I look forward to the day I’m rid of you.”
- Coots—waterfowl—were perceived as teeming with parasites. Coot is a variant of Middle English cote. (I’ve been criticized for contemporary slang in my Age-of-Discovery adventure, but I’ve researched origins and I – mostly – stick to terms one of that time might have used.)
- Had the experiment been repeated the previous evening? Luckily, yes.
- In German slang, mäuse (mice) means money. Mäuse machen, to make mice, is the phrase.