1635: THE DREESON INCIDENT – Snippet 44

Chapter 22

Frankfurt am Main

"I was having a drink with Ernie Haggerty," said Bryant Holloway.

"You're drinking way too much. Ever since you got here."

"What business is it of yours, Nathan the Prick?"

Nathan Prickett had not liked that nickname when he was in high school and he still didn't like it.

"The places where Haggerty spends his time aren't on anybody's five-star list."

"That's what he's here for. Waters dresses up, plays 'gentleman publisher who hasn't forgotten his days as a front-line reporter,' and hobnobs with all the best people in Frankfurt. Ernie gets the dirt on low-lifes who hang out in low places."

"Look, Bryant."

"Don't 'Look, Bryant' me. Don't fucking 'Listen, Bryant' me, either. I don't know why the hell I'm staying with you, anyway."

"Because you're too cheap to pay for your own room. I know damned well that the fire department is paying you a per diem that's calculated to cover rent. Rent you're not paying, which is why you can afford to drink so much."

"It doesn't affect me. I've never missed a training session." Bryant Holloway banged his fist down on the table. "Have I?"

Reluctantly, Nathan shook his head. Bryant had never missed a training session. No matter how obnoxious he could be, he worked hard. The Frankfurt fire watch hadn't made any complaints about him. Not a single one.

*** 

"He's an up-timer."

"I heard him, though," Gui Ancelin said. "He was in a tavern with another up-timer. The one who works for Waters. Muttering against Dreeson."

"A plant," Locquifier said. "A would-be spy."

"I don't think so. Not after his sixth cider. Not beer. Cider, and he really drank them all. I'm not that simple-minded, Guillaume, not to watch out for such things. It's not as if he had come here Zum Weissen Schwan to drop his hints and innuendoes under our noses. That would be suspicious. They were in a dingy little tavern in Sachsenhausen. I've only been there once before, myself. By the time he left, he smelled like Robert's grandfather's orchard during pressing season."

"I don't understand," Ouvrard said. "Why would he be complaining about Dreeson? The man is long gone from Frankfurt."

"His resentment was not against Dreeson, only. He also dislikes Prickett, the arms merchant from Suhl, even though he is staying at Prickett's house. He was complaining even more against Jenkins, the former administrator in Fulda. Who is also gone from Fulda, now. Even more against Jenkins' daughter. It appears that he is married to one of Jenkins' daughters. She isn't as deferential to him as a wife should be. Or so he thinks."

"Who knows how 'deferential' may be defined by the up-timers. Does she refuse to arise and greet him at the door when he returns home? Does she refuse to look up from the book she is reading and smile at him when he enters the room? Does she go around in public with her forearms bare?"

Ancelin managed not to grin. Fortunat Deneau had domestic problems of his own with Jeanne, back in La Rochelle. "I still think that we should approach him. Tentatively, at least."

Locquifier shook his head. "Don't approach him. Not now. Not yet." He paused. "But do watch him. If he continues to be a discontented man, a man with grievances . . . We can file the information away. He isn't someone we could take into our confidence, but the day may come when we can find a use for him."

Brillard usually didn't talk. Just listened. But . . .  "Not Gui. Not any of us. We shouldn't watch him ourselves. We're foreigners. Not Germans. Just five men. Even some slattern of a waitress might notice if one of us shows up too often and tell it to someone else who'll tell it to a watchman. They're nervous after last month. Weitz managed to elude last month's militia dragnet. Get him to keep an eye on this Holloway. His connections are mostly with the kind of people who normally spend their leisure time sitting in cheap taverns and grousing about something. They'll look right at home."

*** 

"I don't want to get a reputation for being seen in low taverns," Joachim Sandrart protested.

Soubise waved one hand airily. "Ah, but you are an artist. A painter who has been in Italy and spent time in the artists' quarter of the city of Rome itself. Nude models. Carousing during carnival. All that. The sister of some rival for your hand is certain to have told your little Johanna about it already. It hasn't caused her to throw a glove in your face so far."

"'All that' was a long way from here. Before I knew I would have a chance to marry the daughter of a wealthy banker. It could just be 'out of sight, out of mind' for her. What you're asking me to do is right here and right in front of her. Or in front of people who will tell other people who will make it their business to be sure she knows about it. I don't want the Milkaus to get any idea that I'm . . . unstable."

Soubise narrowed his eyes. "I want to include some paintings of low tavern types in my collection."

"What?"

"They're becoming very popular in the Netherlands, you know. As odd as it may seem. I suppose they are seen as a fresh, modern alternative to all those classical gods floating around on pink clouds. Men in everyday working clothes. Card players. Smokers so poor they have to share a pipe. The painters still get to include some very impressive atmospheric effects. Tobacco smoke is as effective as clouds, if you catch it right. Your earliest training, under the Soreaus in Hanau, was in still life painting, so you can do it, easily enough. Reflections in the glass of cheap goblets on the table. Chipped earthenware, with little bubbles in the cheap glaze. Wood grain, old and weathered, if the table is bare. Wrinkles in the linen, if there is a cloth."

Soubise leaned back. "I'll tell Milkau, myself, that I have commissioned you to do such a series and intend to display it prominently." He smiled. "That will account nicely for as many low taverns as you find it necessary to visit."

"Yes, Your Grace."

"I do intend to receive the paintings, you know." Soubise stood up. "Make sketches while you are listening. Talk to my steward about costs and delivery schedules."