22.

NittyGritty!

(Part One)

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Reisig gets two breakfasts this morning.

Dru’s presented him another helping of ham. Dag’s shaved shards off it and has prepared – he and Mag take their meals at the house, but they have a small cookstove in their cottage – a dozen-egg omelet, feeding himself a workman’s due, the child her modest portion, the cat he makes sure to give a piece heavy on ham, and the big dog gets a serving equal to his own. Rolf, a shy, well-spoken young man, is departed, or he would have had a share also. “Mag would throw a fit if she knew,” says Dag. “Don’t nobody snitch on me.”

“We were so wrong about poor Dag,” Reisig tells the cat. “He’s an old softie.”

“Why do you say poor Dag?”

“His lady berates him like my owner did me. He sneaks behind her back to be kind to me. When he yells at me, it’s all for show.”

“Another burden off my mind,” says Sly. “Dru and I will be busy elsewhere today. Thank God we leave you in caring hands.”

“Such a good boy,” Dru whispers to the cat. “He’s ready to believe the best of everyone. Dag singing out of the other side of his mouth is my doing. I laid down the law to him.”

“I have another new friend,” says the dog. “He’s over behind the woodpile. We sat together last night watching the stars. Kindly ask Dru to place your picked-over egg where he can nibble on it unseen. Dag has taken to me. I don’t believe he’s ready to embrace a rat.”

“A rat!”

“Named Werner.”

“Why didn’t Werner join them in the basket?”

“No room, I guess. He’s a big boy.”1

 

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Back upstairs, Sly gets right to it. “Heinz-Helmut is a crackpot.”

Dee agrees. “You’re telling me!”

“You can’t trust anything he says.”

“I figured that out a while ago.”

“Two nights back you and Heinz visited Mercer-one. Was that midnight ramble part of the figuring out?”

Dee answers the cat with a glacial glare. “Last night a blubbering wreck appeared at my door, insisting a cat had saluted him with the words, welcome to the funhouse, clear as a bell, followed by a bone-chilling laugh.”

“Oop-sie.” It’s all the contrition the cat can squeeze out.

“Lucky for us he questions his sanity. He broke down, confessed an addiction to me.”

“An addiction?”

“He has fallen prey to the joys of laudanum.”

“Ah! That explains a lot.”

“You bet it does. His bizarre scheme proceeds from an increasingly tenuous hold on reality. It may, of course, be a scam. It may be both. He may be plotting a double cross while drifting in and out of competency.”

“You fall for the whackos again and again. The question I ask is, why?” This comment wins Sly another grim glare. “Seriously. We have another Kelley here. A bullshitter, par excellence. Endless schemes to raise moola.2 Probably a constable on his tail. I gotta tell you, that time Eddie Odd-Ears begged a loan from Uriel, that was pure bliss for me. I kept a straight face dring, but I was in stitches for weeks after. Now, Heinz-Helmut, Ha-Ha, Dru calls him . . .”

“Ha-Ha. I like it!”

“The dope’s not at Kelley’s level, he’s an apprentice grifter. Say, you claim those types are the hot bets for the gift. I sure don’t have it, I hope we’ve put that idea to bed. Maybe Heinzie can raise Uriel, did ja ever think of that?”

“If he had the gift, he would have revealed it to Grübechen who, if one takes her at her word, would treasure him. Connect her to the Eternal, she is your staunch ally.

“I don’t upset over a commercial traveler who has recognized him from a recent encounter. My name dropped was a moronic joke. He’d dined with not the estimable John Dee, but one resembling him to a remarkable degree. His judgment impaired, he’d thrown out my name. I must hunker here but, thrown together with my hostess, I use the time to insinuate myself. I’ve got to find a way to pluck that chicken. To win that reward looks increasingly unlikely.”

“Give Heinzie a chance, coaxes the cat. You could be talking to Uriel tomorrow.”

“Opium births visions. How do I tell if it’s the opium speaking, or the angel?”

“C’mon, that’s an easy one. You’re a little muddled lately, I worry about you.”

“Muddled! Damn your nerve!”

“Damn my eyes, damn my whatever, yadda, yadda. Damn me to the ninth circle of Hell.”

“There are eight circles of Hell, as I’ve explained to you again and again.”

“Dante says nine.”

“Limbo is an inferior Heaven, you may get bored waiting to be prayed out, but there’s no real suffering. For me, it doesn’t count.”

Sly rolls his eyes.

Dee glares again. Get out of my sight, you little creep!” he screams. “I don’t know why I put up with you.”

The cat negotiates. “Look, I’ll go to Krakow if you give Heinz a try-out. Give him an audition, no strings attached, Poland, here I come. Hey, that would be some comeuppance for me, if it works. Wouldn’t you love to settle it that I’m an ass unwilling to acknowledge the superior intelligence of the great John Dee? Heinz pulls up Uriel, I’ll write out, Yes, I am an ass, a hundred times on a sheet of good parchment, with my signature, suitable for framing. I hope you remember me with affection every time you lay eyes on it.”

“Remember you? You’re going to Krakow with me.”

“Eventually we will part. All things come to an end.”

 

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“There’s Fritz,” whispers Sly.

“Flag him down. Have him convey to Herr Wackenroder that he is wanted in Dr. Dee’s chamber immediately.”

He and Dru hurry to the Red Room and sit in wait, like the spider and the fly. Dee’s globe is on display. It does him no good, he without the gift, but he likes to lie in bed and admire it lit by candlelight. “What now?” asks Dru.

“Stand on the chair (the globe, on a chest, on its pedestal, towers over her) and croon into it. We want Ho-Ho to catch you in the act. He shows, you’re steamed, you yell, I get nothing here. You try! If he’s longed to examine the object, he has a permission from the daughter of the house.”

“Does he know about the globe?”

“He has to.”

“What do I say?”

“Let’s see now, what were some of those juicy lines? Kelley, m’darling, I gots ta hand it to him, he’s terrific at this stuff. Well, he has the background. Talk was he’s a lapsed priest. He wears that cowl everywhere. The cowl, of course, hides the ears. Cropped for coining, I hear. Rumors plague the man like fleas devil me. Here, go with this: I summon and invoke thy presence, O Uriel, with loving sincerity and deepest humility.”

“That’s a mouthful. How ’bout, I summon thee, O Uriel?”

The door knocker (a lion’s head, naturally) strikes vehemently.

“Get in here, dammit!” hollers Dru. Courtesy is not her strong point, as we know.

The door flings open. Heinz looks around. He sees Dru, no Dee. “I’m sent for, he tells her. Here I am. Where is he?”

“Me, I sent for you.”

“Get down from there. That’s not a toy.”

“I overheard Dee – you know me, Miss Big Ears – telling Mama all about it. I naturally had to see it. I thought you would like to see it too.”

“As a matter of fact, I would.”

Dru sinks to a seated position. She’s legs crossed, elbow on an arm rest, chin propped by spread fingers, smirking. “Sweetheart” – she mimics her mother’s arch address – “I heard them talking about you too.”

“Me?”

“I hold an earpiece to the wall to amplify the other side. Do you wonder what is said of you? I am able to report word for word – clean understanding, quick apprehension, a propensity to philosophical matters . . .”

“Such was applied to me? I’m honored.”

“Don’t go big-head yet. Rash, boastful, presumptuous, conceited, a juvenile petulance, volatile, at times deranged. According to Doctor Dee, the qualities of a first-rate receptive. Commune with this hunk of glass, let’s see what you get out of it. Repeat after me: Condescend to me, O Uriel. I, with deep sincerity and humility, beg to receive your sharp and wholesome counsel. Uriel loves flowery, is what I make out.”

“How’s this? Uriel! He that hath revealed Eternal Truths to the sages of the ages, shall he not employ his silvery tongue to my spiritual gratification also?”

“Good one. You have a silvery tongue yourself.”

“It’s not impressing Uriel, that I make out.”

The two sit silent. Heinz is amused, but trying not to show it. Dru is stumped for what to say next. Sly emerges from under a footstool, leaps into her arms, and nuzzles her ear.

“Uriel,” she continues, “responds in his own good time. Dee is every afternoon enclosed with Mama. Be back here tomorrow soon as they retire into the study and we try again.”

Heinz shrugs. The brat is his meal-ticket. Best is to go along. “Are we done, then?” he asks hopefully.

“Go, for God’s sake.” She waves him away.

He’s glad – so-so glad – to oblige.

 

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“Pardon me for asking,” says Dru, “but where’s all this getting us?”

“We’re tilling our soil in expectation of a rich harvest.”

“Can you possibly be more specific?”

Sly’s exhausted. He’s sharp with her. “Crap, girl. Crap! I’m not the mastermind you think I am. I’m feeling my way. The only specifics I can offer you are these: we have a nice dinner, then we visit with Reisig, then we comfort our new suite-mates, who I’m sure are feeling abandoned by us, then we hit the hay.”

He has the grace to be ashamed of himself. He chuckles. “When will I learn? Don’t over-think it, fool,” he scolds himself. “The simplest way is usually the best. I need to get with Dee again,” he tells her. “I see a way forward.”

 

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  1. That’s not the reason. Those triplets are his, and he’s not leaving the property without them. Willow is his female. (One of them. He’s a handsome, strapping fellow. The ladies go for him in a big way.)
  2. The term was used in the late eighteenth century, and very likely earlier. Suggested origins:
    • from Romani mol (“have value, be worth”)
    • from Irish moll óir (“heap of gold”)
    • from Sanskrit मूल (mūla, “capital, principal”)
    • Last but not least, from Spanish mula. In Spanish-speaking countries the mule was, and still is, as good as cash. In Venezuela, “Bajate de la mula” (Get off your mule) means “Pay up!”