1636 The Devil’s Opera – Snippet 29
A T & L TELEGRAPH
BEGIN: GVL TO MBRG
TO: FRAU MARLA LINDER
ADDR: SYLWESTERHAUS MAGDEBURG
FROM: ATWOOD COCHRAN
DATE: 14 DEC 1635
RIG STILL WORKS
BATTERIES STILL HOLD CHARGE WELL ENOUGH FOR ONE LONG SESSION OR TWO SHORT ONES
CAN TAKE TIME OFF FROM SCHOOL FOR GOOD CAUSE
IS THIS ONE
Gotthilf turned away from the shift sergeant’s desk and stepped over to where Byron was pouring a cup of coffee. “Sergeant Milich says Metzger works in Schardius’ warehouse most days. He also says Metzger beat the charge, and is out on the street. Metzger has been keeping a low profile ever since, except that he does fight in the bear pit pretty often.”
Byron sucked at the coffee, and made a face. “This stuff isn’t any better than my mother’s coffee, and that’s pretty bad. So when’s the next fight?”
Gotthilf smiled. “By coincidence, the sergeant says he may be fighting tonight.”
His partner gulped the rest of the coffee down, shuddered, and said, “It’s rumble time, then.”
Gotthilf shook his head at yet another strange American idiom, and followed his partner out the door.
Simon walked with Hans out of the city, even beyond the exurb of Greater Magdeburg. He was uncomfortable outside of his streets, especially as it was drawing to full dark. It didn’t take long, though, before they arrived where they were going.
“What is this?” Simon was mystified. All he saw was a big rectangular hole in the ground with timbers shoring up the sides and some bench seats around it.
“It’s the bear fighting pit.”
“Oh.” Simon had heard of it, too, but he’d never seen it before. Somehow he’d always imagined it would be larger and . . . grander. He became aware of an odor as they drew closer to it. “It stinks.”
“Yah. Lots of blood spilled in that pit, soaked into the ground.” Hans chuckled. “Some of it even men’s blood.”
“Dog fight two nights ago,” a stranger commented.
“Fresh blood, then,” Hans said. Simon made a face.
More and more people were arriving, all men as far as Simon could tell.
“Hello, Herr Metzger,” someone said from behind them. Simon turned with Hans to find two men: one tall and one short.
“Are you on the bill tonight?” asked the tall one. From his accent, he was an up-timer.
“On the bill?” Hans replied. Simon was confused as well.
“On the card. Are you fighting tonight?”
“Who’s asking?” Hans sounded brusque to Simon.
“Lieutenant Chieske of the Magdeburg Polizei, and my partner Sergeant Hoch.”
“Oh.” Hans seemed taken aback. “I am at that, Lieutenant Chieske.”
“Should be a good match, then,” said the short one, who was clearly a down-timer.
“Yah, Sergeant Hoch. I will give the people their money’s worth.”
The two men nodded to them and walked on. Hans watched their backs for a moment, spat and muttered something Simon couldn’t quite hear.
“Who are they, Hans?”
Hans looked at him with a sober expression on his face. “You know about the new Polizei?”
“Yah.” Simon nodded.
“Those two are part of it. In fact, they are mostly leading it, from what everyone on the street says. And they have got a lot of the street people and hard men nervous. They are sharp-eyed and, so far at least, incurably honest.”
“Why are they here tonight?”
“I don’t know. Probably heard about the fight and came to sniff around the edges like your Schatzi, looking for whatever they can find.”
Simon chuckled at the image conjured in his mind by Hans’ words.
A man approached whose pointed nose and receding chin reminded Simon of nothing of so much as a ferret. “Time to get ready,” he whined at Hans. Even his voice reminded Simon of a ferret.
“Right. Come on, lad.” Hans led the way over to the pit and climbed down a ladder. When he got to the bottom he looked up at Simon. “Come on, now.”
Byron saw someone he knew. “This way,” he threw over his shoulder to Gotthilf, who followed him through the crowd. “Todd! Todd Pierpoint!”
An up-timer near one end of the pit turned. “Hey, Byron. What’s up?”
“You just here for the fight?”
“Naw, I’ve got a stake in this.”
“Tobias,” Todd pointed to a weasely looking down-timer who was walking with Hans Metzger toward the fighting pit, “he found a copy of Sports Illustrated that covered mostly boxing stories. Once he got someone to read it to him, he got ideas about starting a fight syndicate. Turns out there’s been some sort of bare knuckle fighting around these parts off and on for quite a while. Anyway, he started looking for someone to work with him on it. He got pointed my way, and here we are. I do some general training of fighters at Karickhoff’s gym, I referee, I put up some of the initial money, and I get half the profits.”
“Wow. From one-time county welterweight champion to 1635’s own Don King. In a few years I’ll get to say ‘I knew him when . . .'” Byron grinned and ducked as Todd swung a lazy roundhouse at him. “So, you make much from the bets?”
Todd’s smile disappeared. “You being a cop, are you asking officially?”
“Well, for the record, I don’t bet on the fights. Conflict of interest, see?” Todd’s head swiveled to find his partner. “Tobias, now, he might. He’s never said anything to me about it.” He looked back to the two policemen. “I haven’t heard of anyone making book on these fights. So far as I know, it’s just man to man here at the pit.” He spat. “And I hope it stays that way.”
There was a moment of quiet, then Byron said, “What’s with the pit? I’d’ve thought you’d put a ring up.”
Todd sighed. “You wouldn’t believe how change-resistant some of these people can be. It took me weeks to get the fighters to understand why a raised ring would be good. They’re used to the pit; they like the pit.” He shook his head. “I finally got them to agree to use it if we built it. Now I’ve got to get the money together.” Todd chuckled. “And it may not be square when it gets built. Might be more of a rectangle, like the pit is. Change-resistant, like I said.”