1636 The Devil’s Opera – Snippet 38
One day the door to the bakery opened just as Simon was reaching for the handle, and he looked up to see two familiar figures coming out of the bakery. Startled, he hesitated for a moment, then stepped down and to one side. They came down the steps and turned to face him.
“I know you,” the short one said — Sergeant Hoch, Simon reminded himself. “You’re Hans Metzger’s young friend, aren’t you? I’ve seen you at the fights.”
Simon fought the urge to duck and straightened instead. “Yes, sergeant. Hans calls me his luck, so I go with him to all the fights.”
“You must be good luck,” Lieutenant Chieske laughed, “because I haven’t seen him lose yet.”
“And you won’t,” Simon replied fiercely. “Hans is the best.”
Both men nodded. “He is indeed,” Sergeant Hoch said.
“Tell me your name again, boy,” the tall up-timer said.
“Simon. Simon Bayer.”
“Well, Simon, no fighter stays on top forever. There comes a time where, if nothing else, age will slow him down. There’s always someone younger, faster, stronger, just waiting for that to happen.”
“Did you have fights in the up-time?” Simon asked, intrigued.
“Oh, yes. And they were a big deal, too. Men would fight at the town and state level, men would fight at the national level, men from different countries would even fight at the world level,” the up-timer said. “Todd Pierpoint used to fight when he was young, back before the Ring of Fire.” Lieutenant Chieske grinned. “Heck, even Mike Stearns used to fight professionally.”
Now Simon was really surprised. “The prime minister used to be a fighter?”
“Former prime minister,” the up-timer corrected. “And yes he did, until like I said, he ran into a man who was younger and faster. He might not have been stronger, but he was younger and faster, and according to Mike he just about took Mike’s head off.”
“Huh.” Simon thought about that. A man who called Emperor Gustavus by his first name used to fight like Hans did. His mind swung in circles as he tried to grasp that. “Was he a world fighter?”
“No!” Chieske laughed. “Mike was never that good. But even now, when I’m sure he’s slowed a step or two, I wouldn’t want to face him. The point is, your friend Hans won’t always be able to fight like this. There will come a time where, even if he doesn’t lose, he starts getting hurt. That will be the time when his friends will need to talk him out of fighting. Friends like you, maybe.” The up-timer gave Simon a sobering look.
Simon didn’t want to think like that. He wanted to think that Hans would always win, would always come out of his fights with barely a mark on him. But Lieutenant Chieske’s words crawled into his mind, settled in the back of it and wouldn’t leave. He looked away, then made himself look back to the policemen and nod.
Faint expressions of surprise and respect crossed their faces, and they nodded in return as if to an equal. With that, they took their leave and left
Simon looked at their backs, disquieted. After they rounded the corner, he turned and went into the bakery. He said nothing, just went to where the broom was stored and started sweeping. A few minutes later, Frau Zenzi came into the room.
“Oh, good, Simon, you’re here. I didn’t hear you come in.”
“Yah. I came in after the policemen left.” He continued sweeping while he talked. “Frau Zenzi?”
“Do you know those two policemen?”
“Oh, yes, for some time now.”
“Are they good men?”
Frau Zenzi stopped what she was doing and straightened up. “Yes, they are. They saved my Willi.” Willi was the blind boy that Zenzi and her husband had adopted several weeks ago. He usually worked in the back of the bakery. Simon remembered some kind of to-do over his coming to them, but none of the details would come to mind. “They protected him and brought him to me. They come often to see Willi. They are good men, for all that one of them is an up-timer and the other one is the son of a patrician family.” Her voice was rock solid, so much so that you could have used her statement for a foundation stone. “Why do you ask?”
“Oh, no reason,” Simon replied. “It’s just that they keep coming around my friend Hans, and I cannot figure out why.”
“Hans. Is he the man that meets you outside the shop some nights?” Her tone was disapproving.
“Uh-huh.” Simon kept his head down as he swept.
“Simon, he looks to be a hard man, one who knows things and people that you should not know.”
He stopped and looked her in the eye. “He is not like that, Frau Zenzi. He is a good man. He has a job and he works hard at it. He’s got a crippled sister at home that he takes care of. He takes care of me, too. He is not an evil man, or wicked.”
Zenzi’s expression was still doubtful. “If you say so, Simon. But mind you, if you ever need someplace to come, if trouble comes, you come to me.”
Simon ducked his head again. “Yes, Frau Zenzi.”
She stared at him a while longer while he swept, then left the room. When he was done and had put the broom away, she gave him a loaf of bread, tilted her head with a wry expression, and patted him on the shoulder without a word. He left the bakery wondering what that was all about.
Byron looked down at his partner. “Any chance the boy could tell us anything?”
“Could, maybe,” Gotthilf replied. “That’s if he knows anything at all. He appears to be a recent acquaintance for Metzger, after all, and why would Metzger tell a young boy like that anything? But if the boy does know something, whether he would say anything or not is another matter. He seems to be very attached to Metzger, and I doubt he would say anything without talking to him first.”
“Okay.” They walked along in silence, eyes moving this way and that, watching the street around them. “But we’ve got to get a break somewhere. If we don’t find a lead soon, the captain’s going to tell us to move on to another case.”