1636 The Devil’s Opera – Snippet 44

Chapter 24

          Ciclope actually saw what he believed was the first puff of smoke. He had glanced at the wood yard from a distance as he walked by carrying some tools to the brick yard. He glanced around quickly. No one else had that particular angle of vision on the wood. He almost sagged in relief, but steeled himself to keep trotting with the tools and not look around.

          After some discussion, he and Pietro had agreed to try and set a fire. The wood was costly, so any amount of destruction would work toward their ordered goal. But even though it was costly, it was mostly left unattended. That played into their hands nicely.

Pietro had convinced Ciclope that he could get in and out of the wood yard without being noticed. Ciclope knew his rail-thin companion was adept at getting into and out of places without being noticed. He had been a thief, after all, and from all accounts he had been a successful one. Unsuccessful thieves didn’t last very long in Venice. If the Doge’s guards or the city watch didn’t grab them in the act, the other thieves would rat them out to the guards. It reduced competition among the thieves and gave the guard something to brag about, which meant they’d be a bit less vigilant for the next little while.

But Ciclope had still had his doubts as to whether or not Pietro could get into the wood yard, at least without being noticed by someone. Apparently he could.

So Pietro still remembered how to move like a thief, Ciclope mused to himself as he neared the brick yard. He’d buy the little runt a mug of ale. Now, had he remembered how to set a fire so that it would catch fast and burn hot?

A shout sounded from behind him. He looked around to see flames spreading along the top of the wood piles. From the smoke that was rising, it looked as if the fire was well and truly set.

Looked like Ciclope owed Pietro two mugs of ale.


          “Look out below!”

Ciclope jumped back with the rest of the gang he was with just a moment before a barrel’s worth of water splashed over the flaming timber stack they were attempting to pull apart.

“Now!” shouted Leonhart Kolman as the steam crane swung the barrel back toward the Big Ditch to refill it for the next dump. The gang leaped in with their tools and poles as the flames momentarily died down and tipped the top of the pile over to the ground on the other side where the charred timbers and boards sizzled in the pools of water and mud. They spent a couple of minutes making sure that the fire in that stack, if not totally quenched, wouldn’t at least return to a conflagration for some time. Then Kolman looked around, pointed to another stack, and yelled, “Come on!”

Ciclope cursed to himself as he allowed most of the others to get ahead of him. He had to show willingness in this emergency, but at the same time he didn’t want the efforts to be too successful. The crew boss was entirely too good at his job.

“Get out of the way!” someone yelled from behind Ciclope. He jumped to one side just as a stream of water shot past him to splash against the stack the gang had been headed toward. His internal cursing redoubled as he realized that the fire company had finally managed to get their balky steam engine running well enough to start their pump sucking water out of the moat to feed their erstwhile limp hoses.


          “I think that has it.”

Ciclope looked up from where he was trying to clean his mud-encased shoes to see Leonhart Kolman talking to the head of the fire company. Both men drooped with weariness. But then, they were no different from anyone else in the construction site. Firemen were slowly dragging their hoses out of the way of the construction workers trying to shovel and rake the charred bits of wood together.

Pietro looked toward Ciclope from the gang he was mustered with. He tilted his head to one side just a fraction of an inch, and a hint of a smile crossed his face; more of a smirk, actually, and it was gone almost as quickly as it appeared.

Ciclope raised his chin by the same distance. Good job.

          Pietro looked away.

“Stop those men! Now!”

An up-timer by the sound of his accent. Ciclope turned his head to catch a glimpse of a clean — or at least not sooty and mud-soaked — man charging from the main gate of the site toward the leaders. An older man dressed in restrained down-timer finery followed behind, picking his way with care.

Kolman tipped his helmet to the back of his head. Ciclope had observed the man for long enough that he knew this meant the crew boss was about to level some unsuspecting soul.

“Who are you and what are you doing in my construction yard?” Kolman demanded.

“I’m Bill Reilly, Captain of the Magdeburg Polizei, is who I am, and it’s not your construction yard right now, it’s the scene of a possible crime, and your men are destroying possible evidence. Now shut it down!”

Ciclope forced himself to stand still. For all that the up-timer was practically nose-to-nose with the crew boss, Ciclope was still in his range of vision, and he wanted to do absolutely nothing that would draw himself to this man’s attention.

“But . . .” Kolman tried to interject.

Now!” Reilly roared.

“Do it,” the well-dressed down-timer said as he arrived at their sides.

“But Master Gericke . . .” the crew boss tried again.

“Do it.” Gericke’s words were cold and. “This is a public project, and until the fire company, the Polizei, and I are satisfied that there is nothing criminal going on, this area is under the control of the Polizei.”

Kolman took his helmet off his head and slammed it into the mud, then turned around and began yelling and waving his arms and pulling the construction crew away from the smoldering heap of the wood yard.

Reilly pulled a watch whistle from his pocket and blew a long blast on it. The shrill tone hadn’t ceased sounding when several of the Polizei entered the construction site carrying short poles with cruciform bases and lots of cord. As Ciclope watched, they began cordoning off the wood yard at Reilly’s directions.

Ciclope looked to where Gericke and the fire company head were talking. So that was the famous mayor, he took note. At first glance, he seemed to be not much more than just another burgher. But Ciclope was pretty sure the mayor was a hard man, for all his polish. He eavesdropped on the conversation for a moment.

“Hard work,” Gericke observed.

“Aye,” the fire company head replied. “And in fairness, it would have been a lot worse if the Schiffer people had not improvised a water hoist and dump out of the Big Ditch. Master Gericke,” the man sounded like a man arguing a case before a judge, “we have got to have a better steam engine and pump. We near enough lost everything today because we couldn’t get that balky bitch of an engine to run reliably. This time it was a pile of wood. Next time it will be a house with children in it . . . or a church.”

Ciclope saw Gericke wince at that last.

The saboteur had observed in the city’s taverns that the quickest way to get a group of Magdeburgers frothing mad was to mention how Pappenheim had caused almost all their churches to be burned to blackened shells of masonry. Sad drunks, quiet drunks, jolly drunks; all would transform to narrow-eyed lunatics ready to perform a double orchidectomy on Pappenheim with a rusty broken razor and without the benefit of the new-fangled anesthetic if they only had the opportunity. A very Old Testament attitude. And that was the men. What the women proposed was beyond the Old Testament, and made even Ciclope shudder.

Suffice it to say that the Magdeburgers were sensitive about their churches.

Gericke took a deep breath. “The city cannot pay for it. But have your owners come talk to me. Maybe something can be worked out.”

Ciclope faded back as that conversation ended and Gericke started looking around. He didn’t want to catch that man’s attention either.

Not a bad day’s work, he thought to himself as he joined the throng of men heading for the gate. Not bad at all. A pity no one was seriously hurt, though.