1636: The Chronicles of Dr. Gribbleflotz – Snippet 44
Ted smiled at the man in his white ruffed-collar and black coat and said, quite seriously, “I’m pretty sure you could, if you wanted to. What I really want to know is if you are willing to make a lot of it for us.”
Zacharias nodded. “You’re right. I could make it, but to make it in any volume would take me away from my students and my research. Have you considered asking one of the alchemists in the city?”
Ted frowned and nodded. “None of them are interested. They think making a cooking powder is beneath them.”
Zacharias nodded. “That might be a problem.” His face pursed in thought for a while. “Have you tried Dr. Gribbleflotz?” he asked.
“A doctor?” Ted laughed. “If the alchemists aren’t interested, what chance is there that a doctor will be interested in helping us?”
Zacharias hemmed and hawed for a while before explaining. “Dr. Gribbleflotz isn’t a practicing doctor. He’s sort of an experimental alchemist with pretensions to being an iatrochemist, but he lacks the proper academic training.”
“But you called him Dr. Gribbleflotz,” Ted said.
“There is some who question his right to the title. However, he is a gifted laboratory technician. His acids are the envy of every other alchemist and even the university iatrochemists. Anybody who can afford them buys their acids from him.”
“And you seriously think someone with all that going for him is going to make us our cooking powder when everyone else has said no?”
Zacharias nodded. “I’m sure he will. Dr. Gribbleflotz’ patron died recently, and he is in the unfortunate position of being financially embarrassed. If you can afford to cover his needs, he will be beholden to you.”
Ted nodded. This man sounded interesting. “You’re sure Dr. Gribbleflotz can make our baking soda?”
Zacharias nodded. “He originally trained as an assayist and metallurgist at Fugger’s in Augsburg. There’s probably no one in Jena more able to make it for you. He has no experimental flair, but I know no one better able to follow a recipe without deviating from what is written down.” He pulled a piece of paper out of a drawer and wrote on it. After sanding the paper he handed it to Ted. “That is Dr. Gribbleflotz’ direction.”
“Thank you,” Ted said. “And thank you for your time.”
Tracy slumped down with her elbows on the table while she waited for her order to be delivered and looked across the table to Danielle and Steve Kowach. “It’s as if they don’t want our money,” she said. “As soon as I say I want someone to make baking powder for cooking they get all uptight and condescending. Their holier than you ‘I am an Alchemist, not a cook’ line is really getting to me. Have you two had any better luck?”
Danielle shook her head and looked at her husband, who shook his head in negation. “We’ve been getting the same story, ‘Alchemists are not cooks. Please go away and stop bothering me. My work is important.'” She mimicked the condescending attitude that Tracy had run into with so accurately that Tracy started to giggle.
“Here comes Ted. I wonder if he’s had any luck.” Steve waited for Ted to sit down beside Tracy. “Any luck?” he asked.
“Well, I’ve ordered a heap of canvas. A few hundred yards of cord of varying diameter, and some oils for waterproof — ouch!” Ted grabbed Tracy’s hands to stop her pummeling him.
“Edward Robert Justinian Kubiak, you know that’s not what Steve meant.” Tracy said, struggling to pull her hands from Ted’s grip.
“Has anybody ever told you you’re beautiful when you’re riled?” Ted asked, a smile in his eyes. They both fell silent as their eyes locked.
“Hey, you two. None of that in public,” Danielle said. “So Ted, have you found us an alchemist?”
Ted broke eye contact with Tracy and turned to Danielle. “First thing I learnt is we don’t want an alchemist.”
“What?” Danielle and Tracy asked in unison. “Of course we do,” Danielle continued. Tracy nodded in agreement.
“That’s where you’re wrong. No.” Ted held up his hands to silence their protests. “No alchemist will lower themselves to do what you are asking. What you need . . .” he paused dramatically, “is a technician. Some suitably trained plodder who can follow directions without making any spontaneous additions just to see what happens.”
“And how do we find this suitably trained plodder?” Tracy asked.
Ted theatrically drew a piece of paper from a pocket. “By pure chance I have here the directions to one Phillip Theophrastus Gribbleflotz, who was originally trained at the Fugger’s in Augsburg. Apparently he lacks the proper scholastic and academic attitude to be an alchemist, but in some quarters he is a highly regarded technician.”
“What’s the significance of him training at Fugger’s?” Seeing Ted’s blank look Danielle hurried on. “Never mind. He has to be better than those supercilious morons from the university.”
“I wouldn’t bet on that, Danielle. He styles himself as Herr Doctor Phillip Theophrastus Gribbleflotz. His clientele humor him. He’s good at what he does, and it’s a fairly harmless conceit. But it does mean you’ll need a lever to persuade him to make your baking soda.”
“Will money talk?” asked Tracy.
“Ah, the Evil West Coast Businesswoman strikes. Yep. My informant indicates that the good doctor has a massive ego, only eclipsed by his vanity. His major expenses are his continuing experiments and flash clothes. Currently he’s financially overextended and he struggled to make this quarter’s rent. I’d say he’s the perfect mark for what you want.”
Tracy smiled and rubbed her hands together in anticipation. If he was desperate, then he couldn’t afford to knock them back. He would probably offer token resistance as a matter of pride, but to Tracy’s mind, they already had him in the palms of their hands. It was always better to negotiate from a position of strength.
Jena, later that same day
Phillip pulled his hand out of the bucket of cold water and examined the burn. It was going to blister. He sighed and looked around his laboratory. He’d had the misfortune of burning his hand when a glass retort broke. It was the latest of a string of silly accidents caused by his overtiredness, but there wasn’t anything he could do about that. He had to work sixteen hour days if he was going to pay off his debts and redeem his lucky crystal before the pawnbroker could sell it. It was only the fact that his creditors knew he was back producing acids that was keeping them from his door. Unfortunately, he was now one retort down, which he couldn’t afford to replace. That meant he was going to have to work even longer hours just to keep volumes up.
Phillip was in a pain induced foul mood when he opened the door to a couple, who based on their styles of dress, he knew immediately were two of the infamous up-timers. “What do you want,” he asked them in his native German.
“I’m Tracy Kubiak and this is my husband Ted,” Tracy said, “and we’ve been informed that you might be willing to make some of this for us.” She held out the recipe for baking soda.
“Informed by whom?” he asked as he accepted the paper. The movement aggravated the tender flesh of his burnt hand.
“Professor Brendel,” Ted said.
Phillip raised a brow at that before skimming through the contents of the paper. “What is it?” he asked.
“It’s a rising agent for baking.”
Pain made Phillip more irascible than normal and he took it out on Tracy. “Let me see if I understand you correctly, Frau Kubiak. You wish me, Herr Doctor Phillip Theophrastus Gribbleflotz, Great Grandson of the Great Paracelsus, to make this ‘baking powder.'” At Tracy’s nod, he continued. “I. I am not a cook. I, do not follow a recipe. I, am an Alchemist. A Great Alchemist. A Great Alchemist does not make funny white powder so people can bake.” It came out stilted, growing in volume as he spoke, until he was almost roaring.
It was a strategic cough from Ted that drew Phillip’s fire from Tracy. The six-foot, two hundred plus pound frame of Ted towered above Phillip’s thin, short frame. With his pronounced Adam’s apple bobbing, Phillip swallowed his words and turned his attention back to Tracy.
“But you could make the powder if you wanted to couldn’t you, Herr Dr. Gribbleflotz?”