1636 The Devil’s Opera – Snippet 43
Simon walked beside his friend, trying to absorb everything that had just been said. “But . . . but he seems so nice and friendly.”
“Does he? Think about what he told me before the fight. Think it over carefully.”
Simon recalled the words the merchant had spoken. One phrase in particular stood out in his memory, I shall only be disappointed if you lose, Hans. He thought of the expression on the merchant’s face, of the tone of his voice. A realization dawned in his mind.
“He ordered you to win.”
Hans spat. “Yah. Ordered, and threatened.”
Simon shuddered. “Threatened?”
“Oh, I know the words seem mild. But there was a warehouseman who did something to ‘disappoint’ the good master some time back. One day he didn’t come to work, nor the next day. The day after that he was found floating face-down in the river.”
“You think . . .”
Hans was silent for a moment. “Not that it would have done much good, the words of such as us against the word of one of the richest men in Magdeburg.”
Simon was very confused. What was Hans talking about? And if Master Schardius was such a bad man . . . “So why do you work for him?”
Hans was silent for a long time. Then he said: “I was never able to read or write. The school master would write the letters down, but when I tried to read them they twisted around. So I ended up working for Schardius. I don’t like him, but…”
He shrugged. “He pays his warehouse men better than anyone else for that kind of work, and in turn we do some other work for him now and then.”
“Never mind. You don’t need to know right now. It’s just . . . I needed the money,” Hans muttered. “I still do. It’s the same reason I fight. I need the money to take care of Uschi.”
“But you make enough money to take care of her from your job, don’t you? And she makes money with her embroidery.” Simon was confused.
“It’s not enough,” Hans said. “If something happens to me, she needs money set back, money to keep her. I failed her once; I’m not going to fail her again; never. That’s why I fight.”
Simon had trouble understanding. “What could happen to you?”
“I may have seen something I shouldn’t have seen.”
Hans stopped suddenly and placed both hands on Simon’s shoulder. “I’m not going to tell you to forget what I just told you. I know you won’t. But for the sake of your safety, and for Ursula’s, keep it behind your eyes. Don’t open the gate of your mouth and let it out.” He dropped his hands and started to turn, paused as if a thought had struck him, then turned back. “Unless something happens to me.”
“Nothing will happen to you,” Simon protested.
“Maybe it won’t. But if it does, you go to the policemen, Chieske and Hoch. Especially Chieske. No one else. They’re the only ones who look to be honest, and that up-timer Chieske is a hard man himself. Nobody will turn him. You tell them what I said. But no one else. Understand?”
“Good. Now, I need something to get a bad taste out of my mouth.”
It was not many more minutes before they were at The Chain. Hans walked up to the counter and slapped coins down in front of Veit. “Genever.” Veit produced another of the blue bottles from the table behind him. Hans grabbed it and headed toward a table. Veit turned a spigot and pulled a mug of small beer from its cask and handed it to Simon.
“Fight not go well?” Veit nodded towards Hans where he was sitting alone at a table.
“He won in seven rounds. He’s happy with the fight. It’s something else that’s chewing on his insides.” Simon was faithful to his promise and left it at that.
“Right. If it gets worse, give me the high sign. A moody Hans is not good for the establishment.” Veit winked.
Simon went over and took a seat on the bench next to where Hans was cradling the blue bottle between his palms.
It was some time later that they wandered back to their rooms. Ursula was happy to see them home in one piece. She was not, however, happy about the black eye Hans had received. She let him know in very clear and concise language the extent of her unhappiness, with the aid of a finger pointing in his face. Simon was somewhat surprised to see his friend just stand with a smile on his face and let his sister upbraid him, but he was beginning to understand that Hans would give Ursula anything and everything he could, including being her target if that was what she needed.
When she at length ran out of words and emotional steam, Ursula threw her hands up in the air and exclaimed, “You great lunk, you don’t even care that you got hurt, do you?”
Hans shook his head, still grinning.
Ursula started laughing. “Oh, Hans, what am I going to do with you?” He held his arms out, and she stepped into his embrace. “I love you, you know.”
“I know,” Hans said, his face gone serious.
“It just bothers me that you fight so much.”
“I know,” Hans repeated. “But we need the money.”
“Do we really?” Ursula pushed back from him. “Or is that just your excuse to fight?”
Hans took the money Tobias had given him from his pocket and placed it in her cupped palms. Then he drew himself up. “I’m good at it, Uschi. I like it. And I’m going to keep doing it, to provide for you.” He spread his hands, shrugged, and turned to his room.
Ursula looked after him and took a step, then stopped. Her shoulders drooped. After a moment, she put the money in her own pocket, then reached over to the table, picked up her cane, and made her way to her own room. “Blow out the candle, please, Simon,” she said over her shoulder in a dull voice.
Simon waited for her door to close. His blanket lay folded on his stool. He sat long enough to take off his boots, then picked up the blanket. Blowing out the candle, he moved to his space in front of the fireplace. A moment later he was rolled up in the blanket, and moments after that his eyes drifted closed.