1636: The Chronicles of Dr. Gribbleflotz – Snippet 47
Dr. Phil’s Amazing Lightning Crystal
November 1631, Jena, Freedom Arches
Tasha Kubiak tried to tune out the pompous ass who was still pontificating. Somehow both Tracy Kubiak and Danielle Kowach, the two other members of the Kubiak Country partnership who could speak competent German, had managed to be needed elsewhere when this trip had come up. It was now two weeks since Dr. Gribbleflotz had commenced deliveries of Gribbleflotz Sal Aer Fixus, also known as baking soda. But there had been no word from the good doctor about when he would commence production of baking powder. Someone had to travel to Jena to find out what the holdup was and do whatever it took to get Dr. Gribbleflotz making baking powder. Tasha had hoped her boss, Sebastian Mora of Mora’s Café, would refuse to give her the time off to travel to Jena. However, as soon as Sebastian had heard she was going to ask about baking powder, he had all but packed her bags for her.
So here she sat, letting the drone issuing from the good doctor pass over her head. Growing restless while she waited for Dr. Gribbleflotz to finish, Tasha tried to relax. It wouldn’t do to aggravate the good doctor by interrupting. In an effort to give her restless hands something to do she reached for her purse. Well drilled hands felt inside for the cigarettes and lighter. Still looking attentively at Dr. Gribbleflotz, Tasha expertly felt for a cigarette. There were only a few left. Did she really need the comfort a precious cigarette would offer? Yes.
It was the action of a moment to remove a cigarette and place it in her mouth. For a brief moment, just the time it took to put the flame to the end of the cigarette and to inhale that first blissful lungful of nicotine laden smoke, she took her eyes off the doctor.
“What is that you have there?”
Tasha looked up. The change in tone and volume had penetrated her best efforts to shut out his drone. She waved her left hand, the one with the smoldering cigarette in it. But Dr. Gribbleflotz’ eyes didn’t follow it. They were locked on her right hand. Looking down she couldn’t see what was holding the good doctor’s attention. It was just an ordinary cigarette lighter.
“It’s a cigarette lighter.” Tasha offered it for inspection. “You pull that jewel down and a spark ignites the gas.”
Dr. Gribbleflotz looked at Tasha. Then, his eyes alight with interest, he carefully examined the lighter. He flicked it several times. Each time a flame issued from the hole on the top. “How does it work?”
Tasha stumbled mentally, trying to remember anything she had ever heard about cigarette lighters. “It uses a flammable gas for fuel. When you pull down the jewel the gas is turned on. At the same time, a spark lights the gas. It says lit as long as you hold the jewel down.” Tasha felt quite proud of herself for remembering all of that. It was almost word for word the explanation her daughter Amy had given when Tasha had asked the same question.
“But what makes the spark?” Dr. Gribbleflotz asked, a little too controlled.
“Oh.” Tasha looked back at the lighter Dr. Gribbleflotz held. This was getting too deep for her. “It’s an electric spark. Pulling down the jewel completes a circuit which creates an electric spark which lights the gas.”
“Yes, like . . .” Tasha struggled for a synonym, something Dr. Gribbleflotz might be familiar with. Her eyes reached out, searching for something. And there it was. A pole towering above a building. A lightning conductor. “Like lightning, only much smaller.”
Eyes wide, brows lifted almost to the back of his balding head Dr. Gribbleflotz looked back at Tasha, hastily dropping the lighter. “Lightning? You carry a lightning maker on your person?”
“No, silly.” Tasha rescued her cigarette lighter, shaking her head gently. “Lightning is much more powerful. The electric sparks in my lighter can only jump a tiny distance.” She held her thumb and forefinger a hair’s breadth apart.
Carefully, Dr. Gribbleflotz reached out again for the lighter. Holding it once again, he tried to light it. “How does it store the lightning?”
“Oh, that type of lighter doesn’t use a battery. It uses some fancy crystal that emits a spark when you pull down the jewel.”
“The ‘fancy crystal’ stores the lightning and releases the spark when you pull the jewel?”
“Something like that. I do know it doesn’t ever need batteries, though. We have one of the same kind of thingies to light the gas range. It must be more than ten years old, and neither I or my husband has ever replaced any batteries.”
Dr. Gribbleflotz looked carefully from the lighter to Tasha. Each time he glanced at the lighter he flicked it on. “Do you know how to make these crystals?”
“Oh, no. They’re way beyond me. My daughter, though. She grew all kinds of crystals when she was at school. Why, if I remember correctly, she even grew some pezzi . . . piezo . . . ah . . . pezeyletric crystals for a science project once.”
Eyes beaming brightly, Dr. Gribbleflotz took a deep breath. He carefully placed the lighter on the table in front of him. Releasing his breath, he looked Tasha in the eyes. “What . . . are . . . pezeyletric crystals?”
“They’re crystals just like the one in the lighter. If you do something to them they throw out an electric spark.”
“Can you obtain a ‘cheat sheet’ to make these pezeyletric crystals, Frau Kubiak?”
“Oh, yes. My daughter, Amy. She made a wonderful display for her science project. It had pictures and even a working model that would spark.”
“How long would it take to get a cheat sheet?”
“Oh, I don’t have to get a cheat sheet. My Amy had all the details on her science project. With pictures and everything.” Tasha looked up at Dr. Gribbleflotz, her eyes brimming with pride. “She got an ‘A’ for it and a certificate as well.”
“Frau Kubiak. What does your daughter’s ‘science project’ have to do with these pezeyletric crystals?”
Confused, Tasha looked at him. Surely it was obvious? “My daughter did a science project on pezeyletric crystals. All I have to do is dig it out of the back shed. I kept all her school projects you know.” Tasha smiled to herself. She knew she had Dr. Gribbleflotz hooked. “I’ll let you borrow my daughter’s science project if you will start making us baking powder. Only as a loan, though. I want it back. Do we have a deal?” Tasha held out her right hand.
With one final look at the cigarette lighter, Dr. Gribbleflotz carefully reached over and dropped it lightly into Tasha’s waiting hand. “Only if I can follow the directions. If I cannot make any of these pezeyletric crystals, then there is no deal.”
Tasha thought about it. If her daughter could make pezeyletric crystals using household items, then surely he could. “It’s a deal.” Tasha stood and collected her coat and handbag. A sudden thought sent her hand into her coat pocket. Pulling out an envelope, she waved it before passing it over to Doctor Gribbleflotz. “There’s a bank draft in there for your share of the profits so far. Oh, and by the way, could you increase production of the baking soda? Please? More and more people in Grantville want to buy our baking soda.”
“Sal Aer Fixus!”
“Sal Aer Fixus. Not baking soda. Sal Aer Fixus. Baking soda is not a proper product for a great alchemist. I do not make baking soda. I make Sal Aer Fixus. Gribbleflotz Sal Aer Fixus. Remember that, Frau Kubiak.” With that final utterance Dr. Gribbleflotz exploded to his feet and stomped off.
Tasha shook her head in amused disgust and watched the figure of Dr. Gribbleflotz disappear down the street. It’s a wonder he can stand upright with an ego that size. Tasha turned to leave and was confronted by a waitress holding a tray. There was only a single piece of paper on it. Flicking her eyes to the face of the waitress, Tasha smiled. The good doctor had stiffed her with the bill for lunch. With a rueful grin, Tasha reached in her purse and dropped some money onto the tray. She waved off any change and left. Mission almost accomplished. Now, where did she put that science project?
Sunday, the Fellowship hall, after Mass
Patrolling the fellowship hall with the large teapot, Erin Zaleski came across the widow, Mary Anna Abruzzo. “Mrs. Abruzzo, would you like me to top up your cup?”
Mrs. Mary Anna Abruzzo took another sip of her tea and grimaced as she looked up at Erin. “No thank you, Erin. I have my own special tea.” With a sour look at the contents of her cup, she took another small sip.
“Is there anything wrong with your tea, Mrs. Abruzzo?” Erin gave Mrs. Abruzzo a worried look. She was sitting at a table near a radiator in the fellowship hall and she had fair screwed up her face when she took that last sip.
“No, Erin. There’s nothing wrong with the tea. If you like willow bark tea, that is.”
“If you don’t like it, why are you drinking it?”
“It’s my arthritis, Dear. It helps relieve the pain.”
“Isn’t aspirin supposed to be good for arthritis Mrs. Abruzzo? Surely aspirin would be better than that willow bark tea?”
“Young lady, it’s quite clear you aren’t familiar with the price of things these days. Do you realize what aspirin costs these days? Twenty dollars a tablet, if you can get them. That’s the black-market rate, mind. If the doctors will prescribe them you can get them cheaper, but not much cheaper. And me living on a pittance and dependent on the charity of my children.”
Erin, a little lost for words, backed away, keeping an eye on Mrs. Abruzzo who grimaced over another sip of her tea.
Sunday Lunch, Belle’s Place
“Hey guys, what do you think of the new baking powder?” Belle Drahuta looked around at the rest of the Kubiak Country Industries directors. “Three cheers for Tasha. Hey, Tasha. How did you get the geek to make baking powder?”