1636 The Devil’s Opera – Snippet 31

“Yah. This guy’s no good. I will put him out next round, watch and see.”

The bell rang for the second round. Hans put his hands up and moved forward deliberately. This round he started the action by throwing a punch at the face of Sokolovsky. The other man tried to duck but wasn’t fast enough to evade it. It landed high on his left cheekbone.

          Hans gave Sokolovsky no chance to recover. One punch followed another, body, body, head, body, head. His outclassed opponent tried to fight back, but Hans would either evade his swings or he’d brush them aside.

There was no retreat. The other fighter tried to step back and Hans stepped forward in pursuit. Always there was a punch coming, left, right, left. Simon could tell the other man was losing strength because his hands kept dropping lower and lower like he couldn’t hold them up.

The crowd was still yelling when Hans put a fist in Sokolovsky’s gut one last time, then put one to his jaw. His opponent’s arms dropped straight down. He wavered, took one step, then stretched his length on the floor of the pit.

The crowd went wild while Herr Pierpoint counted to ten. Simon didn’t understand why that was. But there was no mistaking the meaning when Herr Pierpoint lifted Hans’ hand above his head and pointed to him.

Hans made a bit of a bow to each side of the pit, then walked back over to the ladder. Simon met him there with a huge smile on his face and handed him his shirt. After pulling the shirt on, Hans grabbed his hat and tousled Simon’s hair. “I told you, you are my luck. With you around, I cannot lose.” Simon’s heart swelled with pride, a most unfamiliar emotion. “Come on.”

Simon followed Hans up the ladder, coping with the lack of a hand better going up than he had going down. He managed to step off the ladder without needing Hans’ offered hand.

Hans slung his coat over his shoulder, laid his arm on Simon’s shoulder, and started pushing their way through the crowd. It was slow progress, as it seemed that at least every third man they encountered wanted to congratulate Hans on his win, or on how easily he’d defeated his opponent. Simon heard more than one voice murmur around them, “Stark Hans . . . Stark Hans . . .” One man even pressed some silver on Hans, saying that since he’d won his bet for him, he should share in the winnings.

Simon noticed that Hans kept his eyes moving over the crowd. Just as he was about to ask him what he was looking for, Hans muttered, “There he is,” and steered them back toward the pit.

They reached a place where Hans could reach out an arm and grab a man by the shoulder. When he turned, it was Ferret-face. Simon had to swallow a laugh when he saw the man again.

“Tobias,” Hans said, “pay up.”

“All right, all right,” the man whined. He pulled a roll of the new paper money out of his coat pocket and started counting bills into Hans’ palm. “One thousand dollars,” Tobias said, putting the now smaller roll back into his pocket. “Satisfied?”

“Yah. Let me know when you have another fight lined up for me, after a week or so.” Hans tipped a finger to his brow as the crowd started clumping around the pit for the next fight of the evening.

Simon tugged on Hans’ sleeve as they stepped away from Tobias. “How much is that in pfennigs?” he asked.

“About ten Groschen, maybe a little more,” Hans replied.

Simon’s head spun. Ten Groschen; one hundred twenty pfennigs. Hans was nearly rich, with what he had won yesterday at the arm wrestling, and now this! Simon had never seen so much money at one time. “How much does the other man make?”

“A half of this, maybe a third.” Hans’ teeth flashed in his beard. “I don’t know. I have never lost.”

There was someone waiting for them as they neared the edge of the crowd.

“A good fight, Herr Metzger,” Lieutenant Chieske said.

“Ach, it was a joke, lieutenant.” Hans hawked and spat. “That bum could not touch me. If Tobias does not find some better fighters, I will have to find something else to do. There is no fun in defeating the weak.”

“Fun?” Sergeant Hoch asked. “You enjoy beating people?”

Simon bristled at the sergeant’s tone. Hans turned and looked down to meet the shorter man’s eyes. “What I enjoy, Sergeant Hoch, is the contest — the matching of strength to strength, skill to skill, finding the best. Tonight . . . I take no joy in tonight. I ended the fight as quickly as I could.”

“And it’s to be hoped that fool learns from his bruises and aches and pains not to do something like this again,” Lieutenant Chieske offered.

“Or at least not until he has gotten a lot better at it,” Hans agreed.

“Indeed. Well, good evening, Herr Metzger.” With that, the two policemen nodded and moved on.

“So,” Simon said, amazed at the calmness in his voice, “now what?”

“Now we go home to Ursula and let her know that her brother has won again.” Hans shrugged into his coat. “Let’s go.”


          Byron and Gotthilf turned and watched the fighter and his companion walk away into the darkness. “Sergeant Milich said he’s connected to Schardius?”

“Yah. You think he can tell us what we want to know?” Gotthilf murmured under the crowd noise.

“Maybe.” Byron tilted his head. “But it will have to seem like his idea. If he thinks we’re trying to make him do it, he’ll just clam up.”


“Okay, you know what a mussel is . . .”