1636 The Devil’s Opera – Snippet 13

All of a sudden one of the alley voices, the voice he had promised himself he’d remember, that voice said clearly, “That’s him.” Simon pressed back against the side of the shop, but the men didn’t look back as they launched themselves out of the alley and began pursuing the whistler. Both of them were holding knives.

          Before he realized what he was doing, Simon screamed, “Look out!” Aghast at what he had done, he stood frozen by the shop and watched it happen.

The whistler spun in his tracks before the others could reach him. Simon had never seen a man move so fast. He dodged to one side, making one of the men block the other one. There was a thock as the whistler’s fist flew out and smacked the jaw of the man in front of him. That individual stopped for a moment, stunned, dropping his knife. His companion tried to dodge around him just as the whistler delivered a kick to the first man’s groin. With a yell that was more of a shriek, that unfortunate collapsed into a huddled mass on the street, tangling his companion’s feet as he did so.

The second man succeeded in staying erect, but only by dint of some desperate footwork. He obviously knew what was coming, but by the time he regained his balance it was too late. The whistler’s fist buried itself in his midsection. He folded over it with a groan but managed to hold on to his knife. But then the whistler grabbed the back of his jacket and threw the man headfirst into the wall of the building they were fighting in front of and the knife went flying. This time the noise was a “thud” sound, and the man slid down the wall to crumple senseless at its foot.

Simon stared, astonished. He’d seen many fights in the streets of Magdeburg the last few years, especially in the rougher parts of town where the rebuilding after the sack by Pappenheim’s troops was slow in happening. It was almost a daily occurrence in his experience. But he’d never seen anyone dodge a sneak attack and wreak havoc on dual assailants like the whistler had. It amazed him.

Of a sudden, Simon became aware that the whistler was staring right at him where he stood in the shadows. He closed his mouth with a gulp and stood frozen.

“You, boy.” The whistler beckoned. “Come here.”

Simon stood, lock-kneed, silent.

“Come here, boy. I will not hurt you.” Unsure of what to do, Simon took a hesitant step forward. “That’s right, boy. Come on over here.”

One slow step at a time, much as Schatzi had approached him, although he wasn’t aware of it, Simon approached the whistler. That worthy had picked his hat up off the street and was beating it on his leg. Simon stopped an arm’s length away as the man crammed the hat on his head and pushed it back.

“You are the one who yelled, right?” The whistler cocked his head and grinned at Simon. The boy’s uncertainty dwindled and a timorous smile crossed his own face. He nodded. “Then you have my thanks. I would have beaten these two louts anyway, but I would have taken some damage in the doing of it. Thanks to you, they are on the ground and I’ve had a good warm-up.”

The man in the street groaned and shifted a little, clutching himself. The whistler turned and rather callously kicked him in the head. Simon started, edging back. The whistler saw the motion. “Nay, lad, you have got to know that when someone tries to stab you in the back like this, you knock them down and keep them down. You do not let them up; for sure as you do they will try it again. Mercy is all well and good in the church when the preachers talk about the Son of God, but out in the street a man takes care of his own.”

True to his own hard rule, the whistler bent down and rifled the pockets of the two assailants, coming away with three pouches. He sniffed at one pouch. “Hmm. Tobacky in this one, and a fair size wad from the feel of it. I know just where I can sell that for a pfennig or three. As to the rest, I doubt scum like this have more than a couple of coins to rub together, but we’ll check it out later.”

He picked up the knife dropped by his first assailant, examined it cursorily, and tossed it aside. “Cheap crap,” he muttered. He didn’t bother looking for the second knife.

He stood straight and turned to face Simon, who stood ready to duck or jump out of the way. Tucking his hands in his belt, he cocked his head to one side and studied the boy. Just as Simon started to feel uncomfortable at the close regard, the man jerked his chin down in a nod, reached out and clapped Simon on the shoulder. “Well, lad, it looks like you are my luck tonight. I’m Hans. You just come with me, and I’ll give you a fine time.” Hans started off, only to stop when Simon didn’t move.

Simon didn’t know what to do. He was glad that Hans seemed to be grateful to him, but the casually violent air about the big man made him nervous.

“Come on, boy. You don’t have anyplace else to go, now, do you?”

“N-no,” Simon stuttered.

“Then come on.” Hans laid his big square hand on Simon’s shoulder, and the boy found himself coming on despite his uncertainty.