1636 The Devil’s Opera – Snippet 41
Ciclope walked up to the gate at the construction site. “You looking to hire anybody?” he asked the burly man standing there with a clipboard in hand and a shallow helmet on his head.
“Might be. You have any special skills?” The burly man spoke in a gravelly voice without looking up.
“I am strong, I can use a shovel or a pick, and I have laid a course or two of stone in my day.”
“We will be laying brick. It is not the same.”
Ciclope shrugged. “I can learn.”
The man looked him over, seeming to pay more attention to his hands than anything. He looked back to his clipboard as he jerked his thumb over his shoulder. “Go see Heinrich, the mason boss. He should be over by the brick supply in the northeast corner. Tell him I said to give you a try.”
“And you are?”
The man looked up again. “I’m Leonhart Kolman, head crew boss for Schiffer Construction. Remember that name.”
“Got it.” Ciclope nodded.
Kolman focused on the clipboard and jerked his thumb again. “Get moving.”
Ciclope got. Once he was through the gate and past the crew boss, he slowed his pace and looked around. Pietro had hired on two days earlier as a general laborer, and had spent last night describing the layout of the construction site to him. Right: brick pile to the northeast, sand for mortar to the southeast, lumber pile to the northwest, and the excavation site to the southwest. Lots of men hurrying across the site in different directions. And that derrick pointing up to the sky swinging a cable with a load of barrels hanging from it must be the steam crane.
The arsenal masters in Venice must be rubbing their hands at the thought of getting one of those, he thought to himself. Whether the arsenal workers would accept it was another question.
Ahead he could see a group of men gathered together by the great mound of bricks on pallets. One was talking and gesticulating, the others were gathered around him. That was probably the mason boss.
Ciclope squared his shoulders and headed for him. He needed to convince the man to keep him on, or he and his partner would have a much harder time figuring out where to do their sabotage.
Maybe those months he spent apprenticed to that sot of a mason in Dresden all those years ago would come in handy after all.
Every day after he swept at Frau Zenzi’s, Simon would give a scrap of food to Schatzi. Most nights he would then go back to the rooms and spend the time nibbling on whatever food was on the table that night while Hans and Ursula talked, or while Ursula would read the Bible aloud to them.
But on some nights, perhaps every fortnight or so, Hans would meet him when he was done and they would go to the bear pit. The quality of Hans’ opponents did improve somewhat, but no one that Simon had seen gave the hard man a real challenge.
Tonight was one of those nights. Hans was waiting on him when he stepped out the door. “Come on.” He pounded a fist into the opposite palm. “It’s fight night.”
“Okay.” Simon kept on the lookout for Schatzi as they walked down the street, but there was no sign of her in the dimming evening light. He hoped the little dog was okay.
The walk out to the bear pit went quickly. Neither of them spoke much. Hans was in a good mood. His battered hat was shoved back on his head, letting his hair escape its confines. Simon looked over at his friend, walking along with his shoulders back and his hands tucked in his belt, whistling. Hans seemed immortal, indestructible.
The crowds had already begun to gather when they arrived. Simon saw Lieutenant Chieske and Sergeant Hoch walking among the voluble men. The lieutenant raised his head a bit when he saw Simon, then winked at him.
“Hans!” someone called out, which caused them to veer away from the pit. Simon’s eyes followed their new direction to see a man approaching with several companions. He was of middling height and build, shorter than Hans and definitely not as wide, dressed very well with a large gold ring on one hand. “Hans,” he exclaimed again in a resonant baritone, “I have been hearing of your exploits in the pit, and have come to see for myself.” He clapped a hand on Hans’ shoulder.
“It is good of you to come, Master Schardius,” Hans replied with a quick bob of the head and shoulders. “I hope you won’t be disappointed.”
So this was Hans’ employer, Simon realized, the very prosperous corn factor whose warehouse Hans labored in during the daylight hours. He looked at the man with fresh interest, only to be somewhat disappointed. Somehow he’d expected a man of Master Schardius’ wealth and reputation to be . . . larger, somehow more impressive.
“I shall only be disappointed if you lose, Hans.” The merchant squeezed his shoulder, then turned back to his friends. “Now, who will take my bets on Stark Hans? Anyone for even money? No? Then what odds will it take . . .”
The merchant wandered off. Simon noticed that Hans’ hands were fisted by his sides. “Hans? What’s the matter?”
Hans stood motionless for a long moment, then heaved a long breath in and out. “Nothing. Come on.” He turned back toward the pit. Simon followed, hearing the murmurs of “Stark Hans” all around them.
They climbed down the ladder into the pit, where Hans as usual took off his jacket and shirt and placed them on a ladder rung. His hat went on Simon’s head. The gloves went on his hands. He swung his arms a bit, but was staring off toward the crowd instead of his opponent. Simon grew concerned.
“Hans.” No reaction. “Hans!” Still no reaction. He reached out and touched his friend. Hans started and looked over at him. “The fight, Hans. Look at him,” Simon pointed to the other end of the pit, “not all those overstuffed pigeons who came to see you beat him.”