22

22. NittyGritty! (Part One)

≈≈≈≈≈

 

Rolf turns out to be a shy, well-spoken young man, and wonderfully respectful of Dru. The girl is not friendless. He is a friend, without a doubt.

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 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 have another new friend,” says the dog. “He’s over behind the woodpile. We sat 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 booger.”1

≈≈≈≈≈

 

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

He gets no argument from Dee. “You’re telling me!”

“You can’t trust anything he says.”

“I figured that out a while ago.”

“Two nights back you and Heinz were observing the fallen in 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,” says Sly. It’s all the contrition he can squeeze out.

“Lucky for us he questions his sanity rather than denouncing us to the authorities. 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. Of course, as you have argued all along, it may be a scam. Or it may be both, he 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 on our hands. A bullshitter, par excellence. Zany schemes to raise moola.2 Probably a constable on his tail. Not yet Kelley’s level of mental disability – I gotta tell you, that time Eddie the Unsteady begged a loan from Uriel, that was the pure bliss for me. I kept a straight face as it unfolded, but I was in stitches over it 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 think we’ve put that to bed. Maybe Heinzie can raise Uriel, did ya ever think of that?”

“If he had the gift, he would have unveiled it to Grübechen – Ah ha! it’s Grübechen now, thinks the cat – who would, if one were to take her at her word, treasure him, whether the physical attraction has worn thin or not. Connect her to the Eternal, she is your staunch ally, so it seems.

“That’s why I don’t upset over a commercial traveler who has recognized Heinz as one of two he encountered recently at an inn. I dare not show my face until he betakes himself off, that we may claim my name dropped was a moronic joke. Heinz promotes that he had dined with one not the estimable John Dee, but resembling him to a remarkable degree. His judgment impaired, he had identified the man by my name, thinking it high hilarity. I am a prisoner on these premises, but that’s not a bad thing. Thrown together with my hostess, I use the time to insinuate myself. I’ve got to find a way to pluck that chicken. I’ve given up on the reward.”

“Give Heinzie a chance, coaxes the cat. He may have the gift, buried, it only needing to be excavated. You could be talking to Uriel tomorrow, even.”

“One of the effects of the opium is, it 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, and Poland, here I come. Hey, that would be some comeuppance for me, if Uriel pops up. Wouldn’t you love to settle it that I’m an ass of a cat unwilling to acknowledge the superior intelligence of the great John Dee? He 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.”

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

≈≈≈≈≈

 

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

They hurry to the Red Room and sit in wait, like the spider with the fly. Dee’s globe is on display. It does him no good, he hasn’t the gift, but he likes to lie in bed and admire it lit by candlelight. “What now?” asks Dru. The cat has provided her with a script, and she’s had time to study it, but she’s still uneasy.

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

“Does he know about the globe?”

“He has to. He know about Uriel.”

“What do I say again? Refresh my memory.”

“Let’s see now,” mumbles Sly, “what were some of those juicy lines of his?”

“Of Heinzie’s?”

“Of Kelley’s, m’darling. I hand it to him, he’s terrific at this stuff. Well, he has the background for it. Talk was he’s a lapsed priest. After all, he wears that cowl. The cowl, of course, hides the ears. Cropped for coining, more gossip. 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 – he told Mama all about it. I naturally wanted 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 it, word for word, or nearly so – 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, and volatile, at times deranged. According to Doctor Dee, the qualities of an ace receptive. Here, commune with this glass and let’s see what you get. Repeat after me: Condescend to me, O Uriel. I, with deep sincerity and extraordinary humility, beg to receive your sharp and wholesome counsel. Uriel loves flowery, is what I make out.”

“How’s this? O 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.”

The two sit, nothing more passing between them for some minutes. Heinz is amused, but trying not to show it. Dru is stumped for what to say next. Sly emerges from under a footstool. She picks him up. He nuzzles her ear.

“Uriel,” she continues, “responds in his own good time. We give him a night to mull you over. Dee is every afternoon enclosed with Mama. Be back here tomorrow, soon as they retire into the study. Spend the night contemplating true sincerity and stunning humility.”

Heinz shrugs. Best is to go along, the brat is his employment security. “Are we done, then?” he asks hopefully.

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

He’s glad – so-so glad – to oblige.

≈≈≈≈≈

 

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

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

“Can you possibly be more specific?”

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

His sour mood breaks. 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. “But not tonight. I am not up to it tonight.”

≈≈≈≈≈

 

Chapter Notes
  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!”