1636 The Devil’s Opera – Snippet 22
Gotthilf looked up at his taller partner, and sighed. “Hey, Byron?”
“What are you looking for?”
It was one of the little things about partnering with the lanky up-timer that occasionally irritated Gotthilf. It was bad enough that the man was two hands taller than he was, but he would often start looking over Gotthilf from that rarefied height. And trying to figure out what Byron was looking at when they were in a crowd was a pure waste of time for the shorter German.
“Not a what,” Byron responded.
That was another thing that sometimes ruffled Gotthilf’s feathers. When the mood struck him, which was often, Byron became the very personification of terseness of speech, so much so that his name could become a synonym for laconic. Having meaningful conversations with him in those moments gave new meaning to the word exercise.
Gotthilf sighed again. “All right, who?”
That jarred his partner, who looked down at him. “What?”
“Not what, who. Who are you looking for?”
“Oh.” Byron grinned. “I’m trying to find old Demetrious.”
“Ah.” That explained it. They had spent most of the afternoon running down the stable of observers, informants and snitches they had developed and groomed over the last year, hoping that one of them had heard something they could use to put a crack in the silence surrounding the Delt case. So far, nothing.
Old Demetrious, though, if they could find him, just might have something for them. As Byron craned his neck and looked around the crowd in the market space, Gotthilf stood still and listened. Bit by bit he filtered out the sounds around him, until . . .
He grabbed Byron by the arm. “This way.”
Most of the crowd made way for them. As much as the two men might not like it, they were developing a reputation in the city. Several high profile murder cases, most recently including the murders of several prostitutes, had made them . . . “notorious” was the best word, Gotthilf decided. That made moments like this easier, but also made keeping a low profile more difficult than it used to be.
Gotthilf elbowed his way through a throng of folks standing in a circle near a butcher’s shop. In the center of the circle was Demetrious and his table, with another man facing him on the other side.
“Give the man back his pfennig, Demetrious,” Byron growled. Gotthilf flashed his badge, and the circle began to break up and drift away. The mark grabbed his coin off the table and bolted.
Demetrious was almost as lanky as Byron. It was hard to tell how tall he was, because his shoulders were bowed. His face was leathered, and creased with many wrinkles, some of them so deep Gotthilf thought they looked like knife cuts. White hair floated around his face in the chill breeze. His clothes were worn, but neat, and except for his fingerless gloves he might have been any old farmer come to town.
“Ah, lieutenant,” the old man sighed. “You surely have something better to do than come harass an honest citizen who is simply playing a game of chance.”
Gotthilf gave an admiring glance at Demetrious’ table. It was ingenious in its design, and well made in its craft. It was perhaps a cubit square, and a palm in depth, with legs that supported it well but could be folded up and away to make an easily carried parcel.
Atop the table were three wooden cups, upside down — Demetrious’ “game of chance.” Gotthilf had seen it before, and remained intrigued by it; although Byron insisted that the way Demetrious played there was precious little chance in it.
“Citizen!” Byron snorted. “You’re not a citizen until you start paying taxes.”
Demetrious nodded at the touch. “Resident, then.”
“Honest resident? Hah.” Byron was playing to the few stragglers of the crowd. Gotthilf knew how his partner worked, and from the slight smile that tugged at the corner of Demetrious’ mouth he was certain that the old man knew it as well.
“Show me your cups, then.”
The two detectives bent their heads over the table as the old man tipped the cups up one by one. “Got anything for us about the Delt murder?” Byron whispered.
“Nay.” Demetrious set the first cup down and picked up the second. “Only a breath here and there that someone very important has been dealing harshly with those who displease him.”
“Any idea who?” Gotthilf murmured. The second cup was placed and the third lifted.
“Nay.” The third cup was set down. “But you might look for a man named Hans Metzger.”
“All right,” Byron said loudly as he straightened. “Your cups are honest. But there’d better be a pea under one of those cups the next time we stop by.”
Demetrious gave a slight bow. “As you command, lieutenant.”
Gotthilf waved a two-fingered salute as they turned away. Out of the corner of his eye he could see people drifting back to the table once it was clear the detectives were leaving.
Byron muttered something. Gotthilf poked him in the arm. “If you’re going to make noise, say something intelligible.”
“I was really hoping that old gypsy would have something more solid for us.”
“Not in our cards or stars today,” Gotthilf replied as they moved through the crowd.
“Yeah. No joke. Don’t think I’ve heard of the Metzger guy.” Byron pushed his hands into his jacket pockets. “Still, I suppose we’ll have to follow up on the name, since it’s the only lead we’ve got right now.”
“True. And we will be able to tell Captain Reilly that we’re pursuing our investigations.”
Byron fell silent, and Gotthilf followed suit. Byron hadn’t recalled the name Metzger, but it rang a bit of a bell with Gotthilf, and he worried after that thought for the better part of a block. Then it came to him.
“Metzger . . . I think he was the guy who got pulled in on that splashy drunk and disorderly arrest a few weeks ago.”
“Oh, yeah . . .” Byron nodded. “Yeah, I remember him now. Big blocky guy, right? Looked like a warehouseman?”
“That’s because he is a warehouseman.”
“Who does he work for?”
“Mmm,” Gotthilf thought for a moment. “One of the corn factors; Bünemann or Schardius, I think.”
Those two names were familiar to both men, as they had investigated the murder of Paulus Bünemann earlier in the year. Schardius turned out to have no connection with the murder, but had impressed them both as being a sharp operator. Gotthilf wouldn’t be surprised to hear that the man skated close to the edge of the law in his business.
After a few steps, Byron looked over at Gotthilf. “You don’t suppose Schardius . . .”
Apparently Byron’s thoughts were running in the same channels as Gotthilf’s. He shrugged. “We’ll find out.”
After another long silence, Gotthilf asked, “Do you really think Demetrious is a gypsy?”
Byron chuckled. “Not full blood, no. But with that Greek name and his facial features and complexion, he’s definitely not from around here. And he might be part Romanian, or Egyptian, or Armenian. Wouldn’t surprise me if he came from Istanbul, even, although he doesn’t look Turkish to me.” He laughed again. “Not that I’m an expert on Turks, mind you.”