1636 The Devil’s Opera – Snippet 49

Chapter 27

          Ciclope and Pietro were back in that same tavern. It was still filled with smoky haze from the fireplace at one end of the room. Ciclope missed the old man and his pipe, though. It would have made the haze a bit sweeter.

          They bought their ale, then looked for a table. The one they used last time was occupied, but they found another where they could put their backs against a wall and watch the door.

Ciclope tried his ale. It hadn’t improved in their absence. It still tasted of mold and dirt. If he didn’t know any better, he’d have sworn there was a bit of stable straw floating on top of it.

“So, when does he show up?” Pietro asked.

“Don’t start that,” Ciclope said. “Same as last time. The man will be here when he gets here.”

And in fact, it wasn’t long before their ‘patron’, wearing what looked to be the same ill-fitting clothes slipped into the chair beside Pietro.

“That was a good start,” he said without wasting any time. “What will you do next?”

Ciclope took advantage of the moment to study him some more. His German was the local dialect, and under the baggy and slovenly clothes he was still too neat and clean for the kind of man he was attempting to portray. No ink on the fingers, so he was well-to-do enough to pay someone to do his writing. No hint of perfume. He didn’t walk forthright like a soldier, nor like an absent-minded scholar. So, he was a burgher, a merchant of some kind.

The ‘patron’ shifted on his chair, and Ciclope set his thoughts aside for the moment. “Well, we can’t do the trick with the wood again, if for no other reason than they don’t have much of it left right now. Maybe after they rebuild their stocks.”

“I do not want them to ‘rebuild their stocks’ the other man hissed. “I want them ruined now!”

Ciclope raised his hand. “Calmly, calmly, boss. It does no good if you attract attention, now does it?” He drank off the last of his ale, suppressing a shudder at the taste.

Setting the mug down, he began running a finger around its rim.

“We have started weakening scaffolding. There should be some falls soon. We’ve also started rumors that the place is unlucky. Between the two, the workmen should start getting goosy soon, and they’ll start drifting away.”

“I want them ruined!” the man insisted in a whisper.

“There’s only so much we can do at one time, boss,” Pietro said.

“He’s right,” Ciclope confirmed. “We can’t pop a big thing every week. They would start looking for people right away.”

The ‘patron’s’ mouth twisted. “Very well,” he said in a low tone. “But I want to see results soon.”

“You will, boss,” Ciclope assured him. “You will.”


          Clouds of fine dust arose from the ash in the hospital construction site as they walked through the wood yard, stinging Gotthilf’s eyes and coating his tongue, giving the flavor of smoke to every breath he took. He followed Byron along with Karl Honister, the detective who was being given charge of the investigation. They all trod carefully through the destruction wrought by the fire. He looked up to see Dan Frost waving from the bucket he was standing in. Said bucket was thirty feet in the air at the end of a chain lifted by the derrick of the steam crane. The former Grantville police chief was now an independent consultant on policing and investigation. Luckily, he’d been available right after the fire happened, and quickly responded to Mayor Gericke’s call.

“He says more to the right,” he reported.

“I guess Dan can see the burn pattern better from up there than from ground level,” Byron said as he adjusted his heading in the desired direction. “That’s good, because the sooner we let the builder have access back to this yard, the sooner they’ll quit bugging Mayor Gericke about it.”

Before long they heard a blast from Dan’s old police whistle, his signal to stop. They froze in place, waiting for the crane to lower the former police chief to the ground. In a couple of minutes he joined them, moving to the lead of their little group.

“It’s like I expected,” Dan said as he stepped forward slowly, eyes on the ground. “I never got any formal training in fire and arson investigation, but you pick up stuff by watching the real experts work a case. Anyway, the fire definitely started in this area. We need to see if we can figure out what started it.”

“Are you suspecting arson?” Byron asked.

“If we were still up-time, absolutely. Here and now, no, not really. The whole idea of risk insurance for this kind of project is just starting, so I doubt that the idea of arson for fun and profit has really occurred to anyone yet.” Dan bent over and poked at something on the ground, then straightened without picking it up. “But I still don’t want to rule it out until we’ve checked every bit of this area. So step carefully, gentlemen, and keep your eyes peeled.”

Gotthilf turned and made his way back to the watchmen standing behind the rope that cordoned off the wood yard.