Time’s Bending Sickle

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24. Dear Time’s Waste

I had a little time to kill before my plane the next day. I had read about another museum, a place called the “Museum of Jurassic Technology.” The cognitive dissonance in the title alone intrigued me, so I soon found myself at a storefront in a rather grubby commercial district. Inside was a series of dim rooms with lights focused on glass display cases; these were accompanied by recordings of serious-sounding educational voices explaining the contents. An ant with a kind of horn protruding from its head was identified as Megaloponera foetens, or stink ant, which sometimes inhales a spore from a fungus that grows in the head of the ant and eventually erupts into a horn. Other horns were on display, but these purported to have grown from human heads. A stuffed duck head, its bill in the mouth of a sculped human face, illustrated duck’s breath as a remedy for thrush and other diseases. A diorama showed where one Wilhelm Sonnabend attempted to build a bridge across Iguazú Falls near the Argentinian-Brazilian border. The bridge was not in the model, but if you looked through a viewer, you could see the bridge as it might have been. Other displays illustrated the wierd memory theories of Geoffrey Sonnabend, son of Wilhelm and author of Obliscence: Theories of Forgetting and the Problem of Matter. A small room was dedicated to a collection of letters received by the Mount Wilson Observatory from a number of crackpots. Another display concerned art and artifacts from mobile home parks. And so on. The whole place seemed to hover between the bizarre but possibly true and the plausible but possibly bogus–a museum of fact and fiction slipping into each other’s garments, always keeping a straight face. Of course I thought about Van Meergen’s Wunderkammer. The old Dutchman would probably have admired the display and the exotic material, but would have missed the irony. I had some interesting visions on the plane home.

Toby looked out his small window in the Boar’s Head. Light steps rattled up the stairs, and someone knocked on the door. Toby opened it to find the boy, John.
“Lady to see you, sir.”
“Thank you, laddie. Please send her up.” Toby waited outside his door at the head of the stairs. A lady ascended, a dark, broad hat obscuring her face. Toby smiled anxiously, twisting his hands together. He stood aside and gestured to the lady to enter; she did, the hat still blocking his and my view. He closed the door behind him. The lady, facing the window, removed her hat and turned around.
“I regret that I must disappoint you, Master Toby. Yes, I received the advertisement and the message, and thought it best to come.”
Toby looked confused and embarrassed. “I–I am pleased to see you. I hope your father is well?”
“Yes, thank God, and my sister too.”
“I am glad to hear it.” Toby’s response was probably to Audrey’s inclusion of her sister. After the father had had him beaten and shanghaied, I doubt that Toby wished him well. Toby paused a beat, then went on. “And do you still attend to your music?”
“Master Toby, you are very courteous, but we both know other matters are of more interest to us than my music. I must tell you that my sister has a child.”
Toby sat abruptly on the edge of his bed. Audrey came to rest on a stool by the window. Her foot twitched under her long skirt. Toby recovered enough to say, “I wish my lady and Sir Andrew much joy of their child. A son?”
“Yes, Sir Andrew is pleased, for it is a son. His name is Charles.” Audrey’s voice took on an ironic tone. “I say it favors him, even if this hatchling is a cuckoo.”
Toby’s concern and confusion grew. “Mistress Audrey–”
“My sister is persuaded the child is yours.”
“Oh, Lord!”
Audrey leaned forward. “Now attend me carefully. Your past actions make me doubt that you truly wish my sister well; but if you do, and if you wish this child to thrive, you will stay away and let them be. Jane is not in love with her husband, but he is fond of her, and they have been more content with one another since she was got with child. If they’re left alone, they may rub along as well as most married folks, and their child, if he live, will be well brought up and come into a handsome property.”
Toby stared miserably at his hands. He nodded.
Audrey went on. “Put the case that she were to run off with you; what life could you give her? Winters in a cold house in a foreign country, summers following you from one battle to another, as like to perish from disease or hunger as you from a wound?”
“Please stop.” Toby wiped his eyes. “You are right, and I am a villain for not thinking of these things. But it is hard to give up hope for–for. . . .” He broke off and rested his face in his hands, his elbows on his knees.
Audrey spoke more softly. “I know tis hard. Tis hard for Jane, too. Tis hard for all who cannot marry where they would. That is why I have determined never to marry.”
Toby looked up, curiosity seeming to infringe slightly on his misery. “Never?”
“No, never. I fear it a sin of pride in me, but I cannot give over my life to the will of another, even were I to choose him myself.”
“Why, what will you do? Will not your father–”
“Aye,” she interrupted, “he will find me a suitor, and I shall entertain him most properly, but he shall not marry me. I have learned much from our wise Queen.”
“But if you should love?” Toby’s curiosity seemed to take on a personal edge.
“I love many people. But you mean poet’s love.” She made only a slight wrinkle of her nose. “Marriage and that love, as you should know, do not often keep company, or if they do, they wear down to a comfortable friendliness at best, or sour hatred at worst. I may love–”
“One cannot choose to love or not.” Toby’s eyes drooped mournfully.
“So I understand. If I should love, I shall remember Cupid’s wings and Vulcan’s net. I mean to fly, and not be fettered. Even the best husband is yet a husband, and the law will have him my master, and give him leave to wear me away with childbearing.”
“But how will you live?”
“That is the misfortune of too many of my sex. We must drudge or whore, one way or another. After a long siege, I cajoled my father into conveying to me a small plot of land, enough to maintain me in a very humble state. But I shall be queen of it, and it will seem as vast as the Spanish empire to me.” She smiled. “I begged it as I would a kitten or a hound, or some jeweller’s toy. I could not be as open with him as I am with you, old friend.”
“Your friendship is somewhat hard, mistress,” said Toby ruefully, “yet I am grateful for it.”
Audrey relaxed. “To answer a question you asked before, yes, I keep up my music. And like you, Master Toby, I sometimes compose.”
Toby managed a smile. “And does your father enjoy your music?”
“Yes, because he knows not that it is mine. I make music for my own contentment, and I am pleased if it pleases others for itself. But I wish neither to be flattered nor condescended to. Momus mocks women with more asperity than men.” Audrey glanced out the window, then rose. “I must go. I have your promise to leave my sister in peace?”
Toby twisted in anguish. “You have my word that I will not seek her out or send to her. But if she finds me, by chance or diligence, I cannot promise what I will do. I cannot think I could deny her to her face.”
“Well, I must be content with that. Fare you well, Master Toby.” She moved toward the door. Toby rose, opened it, and followed her in silence down the stairs. She nodded to Toby, put on her hat, and went out the street door. Toby looked after her with profound sadness.

Toby turned over bolts of heavy blue wool in a warehouse packed tight with cloth. A stout, well-dressed older man stood by and pointed out the virtues of the weave. Toby fingered the end of a bolt critically. The room was hot and stuffy, and the older man was sweating.
“Would the weave were closer. Sweden is very cold.”
“Trust me, captain. Twill serve, twill serve.”
“Well, Master Ives, I am content. But I must see every several bolt before it is shipped. The duke trusts me only so far as I serve him well.”
After some further skeptical inspection of cloth and obsequious assurances by Ives, Toby left and wadered through the crowded London streets until he entered the familiar house under the sign of the boar’s head. Edgcoke met him at the foot of the stairs.
“Gentleman to see you, Master Hume. He waits in my shop.”
Toby thanked Edgcoke and entered the shop to meet a young man holding a packet. Seeing Toby, he doffed his hat. “Captain Hume? My master’s compliments, and begs that you be his guest for dinner at the Angel. He also sends this packet from friends in Nicopen.”
“Your master is from Sweden, then?”
“Yes, sir. Oh, I beg your pardon. My master is Henry Francklin.”
“Your master is known to me as a valued servant of Duke Charles. It will be an honor to wait on him. Please give him my thanks and compliments.”
“Gladly, sir. He expects you in an hour, and advises you to read your letters in the interval.”
Toby thanked the young man, who politely refused the offered tip and took his leave. Toby took the packet to his room. Cutting the outer wrapping with his penknife, Toby opened a letter and began reading.
I saw that it was a long letter, in English, from “Nicopen,” dated May 4, 1600. It was signed by several men who testified that Leonard Tucker had called James Hill a “shellom,” “which is in these partes the greatest name of infamie that can be spoken to the meanest or vilest person,” and that Tucker had accused Hill of stealing clothing from players in England, of being a tailor in Ipswich, and of buggering his pageboy. The packet contained another letter from James Hill himself, telling how he had written Queen Elizabeth asking for help in countering the slander Tucker had spread about him in Sweden; Hill begged the Queen for some sort of certificate of confidence and some statement about Tucker’s reputation in England. Hill asked Toby to find out what else he could about Tucker and to write as soon as possible.
When he finished the letter, Toby put it on the windowsill and stared out the window with a thoughtful frown. After a while, he sighed heavily, stood, picked up his hat, and left the room.

Henry Francklin was in his fifties, richly but not flashily dressed in a long sleeveless coat thrown open so that fashion and dignity were maintained despite the heat. He smiled and greeted Toby warmly. “Good Captain Hume! I have heard much good of you and rejoice that we meet at last.” He grasped Toby’s hand, then took his arm and led him into a private room in the inn where a table was set with silver and very white linen. He kept up a steady stream of friendly conversation as a generous dinner was served. Toby’s polite but melancholy air gradually warmed.
“Good Captain, I too was a soldier. I served with the first earl of Essex in Ireland, and then came to Poland to serve King Sigismund, and then to Sweden and Duke Charles–though at my age, I am glad his grace has found other uses for me than in the field. I hear that you fought under Prince Maurice–ah, a prince without peer. So many famous victories. Were you at Deventer? Nijmegen? Steenwijk? Twas your company that was blown up? Alas, alas–a great loss.” Francklin’s brow knit in deep sympathy. “You have cause to be melacholy. But you have life–God saw fit to spare you, no doubt for some good purpose.” He cast about for a change of subject. “Do have another glass of this wine. I also hear that you are a lover of music. I, too–I used to sing as a boy, but now I croak like an old frog.”
Toby and Francklin eventually came to discuss the affair between Tucker and James Hill, agreeing that Hill was a good man who was villainously wronged. Francklin added what little information he had, and Toby recounted what he had observed on the ship returning from Finland. Francklin briefly described his own mission, a more diplomatic one. As the wineglasses were refilled, Toby hinted that he had another cause for melancholy, one that involved a lady. He gave no details, but Francklin appeared to understand the seriousness of matters of the heart, and offered still more of his avuncular sympathy.
Then Francklin produced a small leather-bound book. “Good captain, when I was in Germany I took up the custom of keeping an album amicorum. You see I have entries from many of the noblemen and gentlemen I have had the pleasure to meet in my travels. I should be glad if you would add your name.”
“It would be an honor, sir.” Toby took the book and leafed through it. He stopped at a page that contained only a few lines at the top. “Here?” Francklin nodded. “What must I write?”
“Your name, at least. As you see, others have inscribed their arms, or a motto, or some sentence. What you will.”
The page already had this inscription: “Patience and Constancy overcomes tyranny. Johannes Powntes Anglus. 1588.” Toby hesitated a moment, shook his head–perhaps to clear out some of the effects of wine–and wrote an H. Then he stopped, and wrote in italic script:

Love is lost, but now love is found
For Francklin hath turned it upsee down.

He went back and inserted “me” after “For” and then added “Hold fast when that ye claspe.” He drew lines bracketing this last line, under which he wrote “Tobias Hume” and a flourish. He returned the book to Francklin, who smiled and nodded. Finally, after warm thanks on both sides, Toby rose, steadied himself, and took his leave.

I saw a montage of Toby talking to various people around London. Some I recognized–the grave Roger Clarke, Case the cloth merchant, Burbage the actor, and Moll the prostitute and pickpocket–but there were many I didn’t, though the same range of social classes was represented. Some shook their heads, some sent Toby to talk to others, and some–notably Moll–gave him an earful. After talking a good while with Moll, pouring her generous amounts of wine and giving her a coin as he left, Toby called on a man in a small chamber of the Middle Temple. This thin and threadbare man was at the end of his youth, and seemed reluctant to speak. But eventually he did, even signing a bit of paper on which Toby had made notes as they talked.
A morning after this meeting, probably the next day, Toby sat writing in his chamber. “This Tucker,” he wrote,

was a Devon man, recommended to Sir Walter Ralegh by his friends in that country. Sir Walter got him a pettie office in the Queen’s majesty’s service, where he soon found meanes to line his purse. Having heard of a man who had two children with his own Daughter, Tucker wrote himself a letter in the Queen’s name and stole a seal for it, this letter giving him authoritie to investigate the matter. He found the incestuous father, presented his commission, and offered to arrest him, saying he surelie would be hanged for his crime. The father was mightilie penitent, and offered this Tucker an hundred Pounds in gold to let him go free, which he did. The father then found meanes to let a magistrate know of Tucker’s act without bewraying himself. Tucker got winde of this, and knowing he could lose both Eares and be whipped and pilloried, begged a place abroad from Sir Walter before he could be discovered. It is also saide of Tucker that he is a notorious Paederast and sodomite.

Toby put down his pen and stared gloomily out the window; the light lit up the swirls in the glass. The colors began to move, and the flashing lights became the jumpy images of MTV on the silent television set in my hotel room.

Howell was not pleased with my account of the meeting with Tom Backscheider, in particular my inability to persuade Tom to use Ramforce. I thought about asking him if I should have blacked Tom’s eye, using the method of persuasion he had used on Bonnie. But instead I tried to make Howell see Tom’s point of view. The best I could do was to get Howell to agree, grudgingly, to wait and read Tom’s report before taking any further steps.
Bonnie’s warning about some stunt Howell might pull was nagging at my memory, and I kept my antennae out for anything suspicious or unusual. The presence of Tedesco, although explainable by the possible leveraged buyout, still had more mystery about it than anything else. Something didn’t smell right whenever he came around. So I resolved to find out what I could about the man and his business.
The usual sources produced little of interest: I learned that he went to Northeastern and Harvard Business School, that he had worked for several investment bankers before settling in with his current firm five years before. Newspapers began discussing his role in buyouts about two years ago, and recent stories identified him as “LBO impresario Tedesco,” and “Tedesco, conjuror of unlikely LBOs.”
I turned to the Cullen computer files to see what I could find. Nothing appeared under any straightforward headings, nor did I expect it to. Howell would have hidden anything to do with Tedesco under some impenetrable code name. So, as a kind of lunch hour game, I began playing with passwords. I tried LBO, I tried buyout, I tried leverage, lever, fulcrum, Archimedes. I tried Ted, Tico, desko, and other free-association possibilities. Knowing Howell’s thesaurus of terms for money, I tried bread, loot, dinero, gelt, stash, and a number of others. Anyone observing me would think me a scrabble fanatic fallen off the deep end.
One night around this time I was reading madrigals with some Dallas friends. We did the famous one by Orlando di Lasso, “Matona mia cara.” Perry Fein, singing tenor instead of playing violin, asked, “Who’s this Matona?”
I had no idea. The name of the lady? I hadn’t given it much thought. But Carla Beasley, our soprano and resident trivia expert, smiled. “It’s ‘Madonna’.”
“What? Why?” I knew that a lot of poems were addressed to “madonna,” my lady. But why the misspelling?
“This is one of a bunch of songs making fun of the German mercenaries in Italy at the time. It’s supposed to sound like Italian with a German accent. They called these songs tedeschi.”
A bell went off in my head. “So a guy named Tedesco would be from a German family that settled in Italy?”
This information set off a new line of inquiry. Back at work, I tried German, Italian. Think like Howell, I told myself. I tried lira, mark, DM. I tried kraut, hun, eyetie, dago, wop, krautwop, wopkraut–
Bingo! A file appeared. A list of names and companies, none of whom I had ever heard of, each followed by a number. The list was divided into two parts, one headed “HD” followed by a number, and another headed “JT” and another number. Nothing else. I printed it out–two single-spaced pages–and exited the file. I committed a few of the names to memory, samples I could check, and then considered what I should do with the list. I knew it was important, and I knew if anything happened it would not be good for Howell to find it on me. My eye lit on one of the few personal items in my office, a radio-cassette player. I had it plugged in, but I knew it had a space for batteries so it could be used as a portable. The battery compartment was empty, and the folded sheets fit inside neatly.
I checked the phone book for the names I remembered from the list. Nothing. They didn’t appear in any of the other references I looked at, nor were they in the phonebooks of Houston, Washington, New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles. I also drew a blank with Who’s Who and other resources and indexes I could think of.
I soon had to put my investigation on hold, for other matters began to occupy my attention. About two weeks after my visit with Backscheider, his written report came in. Without telling Howell, Tom sent me a copy, so I knew what it contained. It managed to be devastating in its evaluation of Ramforce, but with a degree of tact I hadn’t expected Tom to be capable of. To soften the blow of his irrefutable demonstration of the impossibility of writing games on Ramforce, he included several games designed to run with minimal trouble on the machine. Howell called me in, cursed a lot while giving a highly selective version of Tom’s report, and concluded by giving in while doing his best to appear that he was standing firm. “They’d better come up with some good, fast-selling games, and damned pronto.”
At home there were also unsettling developments. When I got to the apartment after this last meeting with Howell, I found Jean gone. She had left a hasty note saying only “At Mother’s.” There was no answer when I called. So I got busy in the kitchen and put together one of the elementary casseroles I had learned to make, and stuck it in the oven. I was having a glass of wine with the news when Jean called.
“Tony.” She sounded anxious.
“What’s up? Are you all right?”
“Yeah, it’s Mother. You know I finally got her to the doctor yesterday. They called and want her to come to the hospital right now for surgery in the morning. I can’t get her to go.”
“What is it?”
“I’m not sure. She won’t say. Can you come?”
“I’ll be there in a minute. Why don’t you call her doctor in the meantime? Maybe he can persuade her.”
“OK. But you come too.”
“I’m on my way.” I bareley remembered to turn the oven off. When I got to the Cullen house, Tillie was frowning at the local newscaster on the TV, her mouth set in a stubborn pout. Jean was on the phone, twisting the cord nervously.
“Just a minute, doctor. Mother, please come to the phone.”
Tillie sat as if she had not heard. Jean spoke into the phone: “Please hold on a little longer.” She carried the phone to her mother’s chair. I turned off the TV. Tillie scowled at me, but didn’t move or speak. Jean said, “Go ahead, doctor,” and held the phone to Tillie’s ear. She listened for a while, the lines around her mouth deepening. Then she shook her head and would not allow the phone near her ear.
Jean said, “She heard you, doctor, but she won’t listen any more. Yes. Yes, I understand. Thank you for trying. I’ll do what I can.” She hung up and turned to her mother looking worried and exasperated.
“Mother. You can’t just sit there and pretend this will go away.” She looked at me. “The doctor says she has breast cancer. They need to operate immediately to stop it from spreading.” Out of Tillie’s line of vision, she silently mouthed, “If it hasn’t already.”
I squatted down in front of the sullen woman. Her eyelids, jowls, and mouth were drooping, but her eyes shone defiantly. “Miss Tillie,” I began in my best Tennessee gentleman accents, “please help us out here. We don’t want you to be sick. We don’t want you to hurt. The doctor seems to think it’s serious enough to hurry, but nobody’s giving up on you.”
Her mouth tightened further. “Everybody’s pushing,” she said, biting off the words. “Somebody’s always pushing. Do this. Do that. I’m sick of it. Mother. Oren. Howell. Now Jean and you.” She looked around the room. “I’m going to die. Why can’t I stay home instead of going to that awful hospital? When Oren was there you couldn’t even get a decent cup of coffee.”
“You don’t have to die yet, Miss Tillie. You’re not an old lady.” Jean sat down on the sofa behind me with a sigh and let me talk. “Plenty of people catch this trouble in time and enjoy life for many more years.” I didn’t seem to be getting anywhere. I looked at Jean, who only gave her head a slight shake. “Don’t give up, please, for Jean’s sake.”
She sniffed. “I’ve done about all I can for Jean. You take care of her and let me take care of myself.” Tillie resumed her stubborn stare.
I groped for another tack. “Don’t you want to see your grandchild?” Jean jerked, but Tillie, giving me a hard look, didn’t seem to notice.
“How much longer will that be?” Tillie tried to hide her interest behind a skeptical tone.
“I honestly don’t know. But we’ll keep trying if you will.” Tillie’s mouth relaxed a bit, and her gaze wandered toward the window. “Miss Tillie, you go on and go to the hospital, and I promise you I’ll bring you a fresh thermos of my best coffee every day.”
Jean finally thought of something. “Mother, I’ll bring Mavis to the hospital to do your hair just as soon as the doctor will let me.” She leaned forward. “And I’ll get you that satin bed-jacket we saw at Nieman’s.”
Tillie patted her hair. “Don’t patronize me, Jean. Just let me think. You two go for a walk and leave me alone. Now go. Shoo!” She fluttered her fingers at us. We left the room, walked through the sun porch and out around the pool. The little mechanical pool cleaner swam on its tether along the edge.
“You and your precious male seed,” said Jean with some bitterness. “Is reproducing yourself all you can think of?”
“Good God. That wasn’t the point. I was just trying to get Tillie interested in a possible future.”
“But now if she makes it for a while but relapses because I can’t come up with a baby, don’t you think that will make me feel real good?”
“I admit I didn’t think that far ahead. But why do you assume it would be your fault?”
“She would.”
I couldn’t keep this up. “Let’s just get her to the hospital now and straighten out our family life later.” We circled the pool in silence three more times. A jay heckled us briefly, and the pool cleaner hummed. Without speaking, we turned back toward the house at the same time.
Tillie was not in the family room, but we heard her heels on the upstairs bathroom tiles. Soon she came downstairs with a small bag. “Let’s go,” she said.

Tillie went to the hospital and submitted to its many indignities: mutilation of her body, loss of her hair, her appetite, and finally her life. There had been metastases, and the chemical and radiation treatments only drew out the process. But it seemed as if Tillie, nagged and pushed by death, had stubbornly resisted until she herself had decided to go. I duly brought her coffee, which she accepted with grave courtesy even when she had no taste for any food or drink; Jean brought her the satin bed-jacket, as well as a pathetic turban when she lost her hair. She wore both with as much dignity as she could muster.
Jean cried little, mainly out of fatigue and frustration, but mourned in her own way. I regret that this way involved arming herself against any sympathy or comfort I tried to offer. Neither Jean nor her mother ever referred to a possible grandchild after Tillie entered the hospital.
After the funeral, Jean made arrangements to sell the big University Park house; she didn’t even mention the possibility of moving into it. I certainly wouldn’t have suggested it. But Jean said nothing about getting a place of our own, even though she had come into a good bit of money, not to mention stock and other assets. Although I was content enough with our modest apartment, since it was convenient and comfortable, I was surprised that Jean seemed to have no interest in making any changes. She continued to read, write in her journal, see a few acquaintances, and visit her therapist; except for giving up any pretence of finding work, she resumed her usual habits.
Howell, though still a bear at work, made several gestures of sympathy and support during Tillie’s illness and after her death. I have to give him credit, for he managed to show interest without intrusiveness. He visited Tillie several times, pulling out all his reserves of good-old-boy charm, and giving her moments of real pleasure. But after the funeral, the rumors of the leveraged buyout became more frequent and persistent.


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