Time’s Bending Sickle

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5. Reckoning Time

Bonnie Drew, like Howell, had more substance than her appearance suggested. She looked like someone the archetypal jock might marry–blonde, full figured, expert with makeup, expensively dressed and coiffed–and she had in fact been a cheerleader. But it soon became clear that she was an intelligent, ambitious woman, though one I found myself disagreeing with on many topics. She had just served coffee after feeding us an elegant meal of beef Wellington, asparagus, avocado salad, and a wicked reine de Saba for dessert. I was coasting nicely on fat and Chateauneuf-du-Pape, when Howell made a crack about President Carter. I had always admired some things about Carter, especially his human rights stance, so I said something rather inane in his defence, like “Don’t be so hard on Cud’n Jimmy.” But Bonnie started reeling off item after item in a long list of grievances, from the eighteen percent inflation rate to the response to the hostage-taking in Iran. I tried to say that most of those charges could be blamed on bad luck instead of deliberate policy, but I was short on information, and Bonnie was loaded. Howell and Jean weighed in on her side, not that she needed their help. I was glad when the conversation shifted to the business.
Howell began expounding his ideas about the need to expand and develop new products. “The high interest rates are killing us, though. Dinero is too damn dear. Even if Miss Tillie would let us, I’m not sure that borrowing would be the best way to finance our expansion.”
“What do you mean?” asked Jean, mildly interested. Earlier in the evening she had been quiet and abstracted, with a look I had come to recognize as a sign that she was probably obsessing about the baby.
“Well, I know your mother has had a lot on her mind lately. But it would sure help if she would give a little more time to the business. There are some things I just can’t do without her approval, and I just can’t get her to focus on them.”
“No, I meant the other thing you said. About another way to pay for expansion.”
“Oh. Well, we couldn’t do that without her either,” said Howell. He glanced at Bonnie. “What I was thinking about was the possibility of taking Cullen Computing public.”
“Selling stock.” Jean’s interest seemed to grow.
“Exactly. Now there are some risks involved, but there may be a lot to gain.”
“Big gains usually involve risk,” said Bonnie.
“I’d like to hear more about those,” said Jean. “What about mother’s ownership?”
“She would still be the majority stockholder, and she could sit on the board of directors if she wanted–we would have to have a board of directors.” Howell smiled slightly and then cast a light, finely tied fly in Jean’s direction. “Or she could appoint a representative to the board–you, for instance.”
Jean sat quietly, with a thoughtful expression that was not like her recent obsessive look. Her mind, it seemed to me, carefully swallowed the fly. I watched to see when Howell would set the hook and reel her in. Howell and Bonnie watched Jean as if both knew exactly what the other were doing. I was invisible to all three.
After a few more questions from Jean, which clearly indicated her interest in the whole idea, Bonnie skillfully steered the conversation to a neutral topic, the Southern Methodist football team.
“So what do you think?” Jean asked me on the way home.
“It’s up to you and your mother. I’m no expert on this kind of business decision.”
“But do you have any feeling, any instinctive response?”
I didn’t like to sound off on the basis of my instinctive dislike of Howell. But I did say this: “I think you should think about it carefully and try to get some disinterested advice. How about your dad’s lawyer, or even a hired consultant from your good old SMU?”
“Maybe so.”
Maybe so. During the following weeks I thought a lot about the various possibilities of changes at Cullen, and about what I wanted for myself. It seemed as if fate did not intend me to be a musician. So if I am to be a businessman, I thought, perhaps I should start working at it as if it were not just a temporary job. At least I should assume the role, and maybe the interest would follow. Perhaps I should find out more of what is going on with the business. I could use my musical friends among the designers and engineers and maybe get an edge. If Jean is to be a director of a company, perhaps her husband should have a better job. Conversely, maybe Jean would be happier with me if I did better in the business. I didn’t want an empty title and office got merely by my wife’s clout. I had to bring something more than just a mediocre sales record. Also, going public might eventually take away some of the family control, and my job might not be better–it might disappear.
So I began reading books on economics, the trade journals, the Wall Street Journal. This was not easy for me. Economics texts tended to send me off on visions, as well as on ordinary daydreams. But I persisted. I worked at beating down visions when they arose, even interesting ones. I didn’t practice the cello. I began pumping Perry Fein for gossip and technical info. I even tried to see if our other Cullen violinist, programmer John Yazchuck, knew anything but computer languages, chess, and music. He didn’t, but some of the gossip he got from computer bulletin boards was useful and interesting. The most surprising information I got was from a person not connected with Cullen, Myron Fish, our main violist, and a doctor at the local medical school.
Myron was a New Yorker, widely read, hyperactive, politically liberal, and highly critical of his medical colleagues. He continually griped about their greed, their tendency to “cover their butts at the expense of the patient,” their arrogance toward anyone not in the MD club. He was especially hard on surgeons, who he said would “cut off a nose to cure a cold.”
“Why is it,” Myron would ask, “there are more hysterectomies in the U.S. than in any other country, and why more in Dallas than anyplace but New York–or maybe Houston?”
“Aren’t hospital review boards supposed to prevent unnecessary operations?” That’s what I had always heard.
“Sure, but they don’t always. What’s the incentive?”
“Is there any research that would give you a statistical norm for particular operations per thousand population?” I asked him.
“You bet! I can give you the references tomorrow if you’re interested.”
I was. I took the material to Perry Fein and asked if it would be possible to write a program that would flag procedures that exceeded the norm. Perhaps the figures could give review boards, or those who wanted them to work, some useful tools.
“Sure. I know the system the hospital is using, and we could easily develop a package that would slip right into their system and tell them all sorts of interesting things.”
“Do other hospitals use the same system?”
“Yes, quite a few.”
“Let’s work one up on spec. I might be able to sell some of these.”
Perry looked a bit skeptical. “Only if you could convince them that they would save money.”
Who would save money? The patients–and their insurers. “Well, let’s sell it to the insurance companies.”
Perry grinned. “Now you’re talking.”
“Yeah. The insurance companies could match the claims against the norms and put pressure on the review boards. Federal Mutual is already one of our customers. Let’s work on it.”
We did. But we also had to work on the usual business of the company, which for me meant a week-long sales trip. It was a busy one that did not allow me any time for music, but in spite of my efforts to study business in planes and airports, I indulged in some time-travelling. Lots of guys sit around airports staring into space or at the same page of the newspaper, but not many of them make notes about the doings of an obscure three-hundred-year-old when they regain consciousness.

The fall after Felix’s departure in the spring–I would guess of 1580–Toby’s guardians received a visit from a gentleman who must have been the Master Hume who called Toby cousin, for these were the names used during his visit. He was a tall, well-dressed man in his mid-thirties, with dark auburn hair, and several subtle points of resemblance to Toby. He and the lord of the manor lingered over wine one night after having been served dinner by Toby and after being bid a polite, but formal and somewhat distant good night by the lady. Toby busied himself quietly and unobtrusively within earshot, for he had heard his name mentioned.
“What is the lad to do, then, cousin?” asked the lord. “He’s getting a gentle education, but you know he will have no land, and his birth will keep him from a church living.”
“What would you advise?”
“He could go into service. He is agreeable, and can turn to his duties well enough when he is told what to do. He does sometimes stand about dreaming and musing instead of finding another task. To my mind, he is still too much occupied with music, but some houses may be wanton enough to value that in him.”
“Some butler or steward, then.” Master Hume frowned with distaste.
“He could also be a tutor.”
Master Hume pursed his lips and looked into the fire. He watched Toby as he brought in an armful of firewood. “He promises to be a tall, stout lad. You say the fever last winter kept him abed only three days?”
“Aye, he is sound enough.”
“I mislike the thought of my–my kinsman as a finger-kissing servant whose fondest hope is to wear a steward’s chain and marry my lady’s maid. You say he rides well?”
“Aye, he sits a horse well enough.”
“Does military exercise have any part in his gentle education?”
The lord frowned. “He can ride and swim and shoot a light bow.”
“Who knows what troubles will arise in the world? We are friends with the French for the nonce, but we may yet go to the aid of the Protestants in the Low Countries, or the Spanish may tire of our heretical attacks on their ships. If there is a general muster, and the lad is grown, he may have to go. It were better if he were prepared.”
“And if there is no war? Shall he go for hire abroad like a Switzer?” The lord looked at the other with dark suspicion, challenging him. “Do you wish him in harm’s way?”
“No.” Hume answered with some indignation. “But if there is danger in soldiering, there is also opportunity. And do you recall how he spoke of his time with those Liddesdale thieves? He talked of Hobie Noble as other boys do King Arthur. He has spirit, and if he is educated to be an officer he may be in less peril.”
“Well. My groom, old Giles, was in France with the Earl of Warwick. The boy is always pestering him for tales. Maybe Giles can begin his education.”
“Giles, by his own account, was a mere brown-bill man and a Sunday sword-and-buckler player. I doubt not that he still shoots his longbow.”
“And good exercise it is,” the lord said. “Have ye read Master Ascham’s book of Toxophilus?”
“Aye, but the last time bows were used to any good was in King Edward’s time.”
“Tis neglect of practice.”
“Perhaps. And I grant that arquebuses are cumbersome and dangerous. But a trained man with a good musket can kill a man in proof armor at two hundred paces.”
The lord grunted skeptically.
“Well, I suppose old Giles may give him a start,” said Master Hume. “But I shall search out a good fencing-master who kens somewhat of fortification and siege. Does the lad have a head for the arithmetic?”
“Aye, he’s quick enough at sums.”
“I’ll seek out a copy of Master Digges’s Geometrical Practise. Have you a caliver or musket?”
“No. An old fowling-piece.”
“A matchlock?”
“Nay, a wheel-lock. I never use it.”
“Well, I’ll see what can be done.”
Toby slipped into the kitchen at this point. Using a broom as a rest, he squinted down the barrel of an imaginary musket, then pulled the trigger, clicked with his tongue, and said, “Bang!”

I saw Toby with a limping ruffian I took to be Giles whacking away at each other with wooden swords, shooting arrows at a bale of hay with a rag stuck on it, and, using a rake handle as a lance, knocking an old bucket off a post from horseback. Once the lord brought out an ornate but clumsy-looking firearm. He charged it carefully, wound up the spring on the trigger, aimed at the bucket, and fired, the wheel buzzing like a small grindstone and sending a shower of sparks into the pan. It made a loud pop, and knocked some splinters off the post. Toby stood by with his hands over his ears all during the demonstration. After a good deal of anxious hesitation, he tried the gun himself. He hit the bucket, but refused another shot, walking away holding his ears.
On wet winter days I saw Toby puzzling over geometry, but eventually solving the problem his new tutor, an old curate, called the pons asinorum. I also saw him practicing the viol, sometimes idly improvising while he stared into the distance. He also continued to serve the lord and lady at meals, fetch and carry, and do other odd jobs. By summer he had grown a bit taller, and his features had lost some of the roundness of childhood.
Then one day in early fall Master Hume returned, greeted Toby and his guardians as cousins, and asked Toby if he would like to return to Newcastle to visit the Fenwicks for a while. Clearly trying to contain his enthusiasm so as not to seem ungrateful to the lord and lady, he turned to them for their permission. They granted it, though with some affectionate reluctance on the part of the lady.
Master Hume addressed Toby, but glancingly included his older kinsman. “This visit is not merely to see your old friends. I have found you a teacher. Signor Baptista is a young Italian gentleman who has recently set up a fencing school which has earned some repute. And when I interviewed him, I found him knowledgeable in other matters that belong to a soldier.”
The lord scowled, and dismissed Toby, who left the room but lingered behind the door. The lord lowered his voice. “If an Italianate Englishman be the devil, what must the thing itself be?”
“I assure you, cousin, he is a most honorable gentleman. He seems almost English, and is a good Protestant.”
“And will he make the lad a good Protestant swaggerer and dueller, skewering Christian folk over the fashion of a button?”
“We shall both teach him better, I trust. But he whose honor is compromised by his birth may have more than usual occasion to defend that honor. My own honor will not permit him to be ill-prepared.”
The visit lasted several days, during which Toby gathered up his clothes, a few books, and, with the lord’s permission, his viol and music. Early one morning Toby and his kinsman set out on horseback, followed by one of the lord’s servants leading a horse packed with Toby’s belongings, the carefully wrapped viol in a case on top.
Toby was met at the door by his old friend Davie Fenwick, also beginning to grow, and his parents. Master Hume and the lord’s servant soon departed, and Master Fenwick took Toby, armed with a new foil and blunt dagger, to Signor Baptista’s fencing school.
The school was held in the low-ceilinged upper room of a tavern. It was open, though interrupted by posts, and Master Fenwick remarked that it was used at night for cock-fighting and, in bad weather, for bowls. A dozen youths, two or three around Toby’s age, the rest older, stood in a row and practiced thrusts and lunges. “Alla stoccata,” called the teacher, a slim young man in black hose and stockings, a leather jerkin, and flat white collar. His dark hair was greased back, and he wore a large moustache. He looked up at the newcomers and gave a slight start. “So, gentlemen, now in pairs, stoccata e pararla, thrust and parry.” He spoke with an Italian accent, but not a heavy one. He approached, gave a courteous bow, and greeted Toby with a wink and a quick pass of a finger over his lips as Fenwick introduced him. Toby stared at him, looking puzzled.
“I understand from Master Fenweek,” Signor Baptista said, “that you weel also be my pupil in the mathematics and the art of war. We shall work hard. As we say in my country, ‘A soldier must be made before he ees unmade.’ It ees better in Italian. So please to remain after the other gentlemen leave today, and we shall begin. Now come and let me show you what I have been teaching the others.”
The teacher showed Toby how to hold the foil and dagger. “Like a leetle bird–tight enough so eet does not fly, but not enough to strangle. Meglio fringuello in man che tordo in frasca–better a finch in the hand than a thrush on a branch. Now with the rapier, we thrust. Sometimes we cut, but we do not hack. We do not hew wood like a peasant. Why? Because in the time one takes to raise the sword and bring it down for a cutting blow, one may thrust twice. The arm takes more time to go in an arc than it does to go in a straight line.” Here the master demonstrated with a flashing thrust. “Quickness may keep you quick, while he who hesitates is lost.”
Master Fenwick watched for a while, then left. Soon Toby joined the group exercises. When the session was over, he met some of the other young men, and spoke to one who had been at the singing school with him. He remained after the others had gathered their gear and left. Signor Baptista saw them out the door, reminding each of an individual weakness to be corrected by practise. He stood at the door for a moment after the last one had gone, then turned to Toby with a broad smile.
“Master Felix!” cried Toby.
“My old friend Toby, Fortune is good to us.”
Toby embraced his former teacher impulsively. “How came you here? And why are you Italian? And may we study music as well as war?”
“Patience, good Toby. All things come to him who waits. Rest on this bench, and you shall hear.” They sat, Toby all eager attention. “As I foresaw, Master Carnaby was not able to keep me after his neighbor found me offensive, innocent though I was; but he was just enough to be generous, and so gave me my wage for the whole year. That small sum I augmented by some careful dice-play. Even though I helped Dame Fortune as much as I could by teaching my dice to fall to my advantage–I had some fine light graviers and barred cater-treys”–here he rubbed his fingertips together–“it is not wise to presume on that lady’s favor too long. Fortune is fickle. Non fare il passo piu lungo della gamba–don’t take a step longer than your leg. So I then returned to my calling, the education of young gentlemen. Since the Italians are reputed to be the only masters of this noble science–indeed, I myself studied with Signor Bonetti–I thought it meet to take on an Italian outside to complement the Italian learning I have inside. Also”–here he gave another wink–“the strange brings a better price than the home-grown. Three whitters are dearer than four turnbobs.”
“But do you still teach music?”
Felix’s face registered some conflict. “For you, yes. But we must be discreet. I must appear to be master of one trade, not jack of all.”
Toby mused. “So I must call you Signor Baptista and not Master Felix.”
Felix smiled. “Yes. But you may call me Felix when we study music.”

When I returned from the sales trip, Jean was in a good mood. We had a pleasant dinner followed by a long, relaxed session of lovemaking free of the tension and urgency of the baby-making project. We came as close as we had in a long time to bridging that uncomfortable sense of distance between us. As we lay snuggled together afterward, she raised the topic of taking the company public.
“I kind of like the idea of looking in the paper every day to see how our stock is doing.”
“Except Monday.”
“You know, a director gets paid.”
“How much?” I asked. We could use the money.
“I don’t know. Probably not much at first, maybe ten grand a year. But we would get stock options at a discount.”
“If you were a director, would you make your husband an executive?”
“Sure. You could be vice-president in charge of this director’s orgasms.”
“Would I get a bonus?”
“That would depend on your productivity,” she said, tweaking me playfully.
“Have you heard of any reasons not to go public?”
“Well, Howell said that if we let more than half of the stock get out of family control, somebody could try to take us over.”
“I don’t remember him saying that.”
“I think he was talking about it at lunch the other day.”
“Oh?”
“Yes, he took me to lunch, it was Wednesday.” She paused. “We went to the Greek place in the Galleria.”
“What was on his mind?”
“The business, of course, and Mom. I haven’t made much progress with her. She just doesn’t want to deal with it.”
“Have you told her about going public?”
“Yeah, but she doesn’t like it. She can’t give me a reason, but she doesn’t like it.”
“Well, to hear Howell tell it, we’re in trouble if we don’t do something. I may have a small contribution.” I told her about the package Perry and I were discussing. She quickly saw the possibilities, and congratulated me.
“I may make you vice president for clever ideas as well as orgasms.”
“Maybe we need to gang up on your mother. Even if we don’t go public, we need to have some movement going.”
“Like an intervention.”
“Something like that. But we need to know where we stand. Talk to your dad’s lawyer, or hire a consultant, as I suggested.”
“I’ll talk to her again.” She ran her hand up my leg. “Now do you want to do some more work on that bone-us?”

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