Archive for May, 2011

Time’s Bending Sickle

May 29, 2011

This novel begins in the October 2010 section of the archives; scroll down to find chapter 1. Two earlier novels are also in the archives: “Four-Part Dissonance” begins October 2009, and “Death and the Maiden” in October 2010.

30. Time Wastes Life

Toby, Margeret, and Von Rosen sat listlessly around a rough table in a log-walled room. They spoke mostly German, so I could get the drift of their conversation, but not all the details. Mainly they were complaining that they had been outside Kromy for weeks and nothing was happening. There was not enough shot and powder to keep the cannon going. There was only a puny little wooden wall, which should be easy to breach, but no one would order ditching and mining. In Holland, Prince Maurice himself would wield a shovel, but here, the lowest infantryman was too proud for such labor. No one would order an assault. The guards were so lax that Dimitry’s people came and went from Kromy almost at will. The Cossacks popped out of holes in the ground and cut the throats of the Russians, and were gone before anyone could catch them. Dimitry himself, they had reason to believe, was down in Putivl, which was about as strong as Novgorod Seversky. Toby put his head down on the table, yawning. Margeret rose and roamed restlessly around the room.
Holtz entered, allowing a glimpse through the open door of the muddy log streets of a Russian spring. Von Rosen chided Holtz for his dirty boots. Holtz ignored him, looking significantly at the group. When he had their attention, he said, “Czar Boris ist tod.”
Margeret stopped in mid-stride. Toby jerked upright and asked in English, “Dead? Can this be true?”
Holtz defended his source. Basmanov himself had arrived to take the army’s oath of loyalty to Fedor Borisovich. Everyone spoke at once. They seemed to agree that Boris’ son Fedor, though good-natured and intelligent, was too young to rule and would not last, and that Dimitry would soon gain power. Toby asked Margeret what he would do if Dimitry won? Offer him my services, he replied.
“I must go to Sweden,” said Toby.
“C’est impossible,” said Margeret. No foreign mercenary can leave Russia.

Shouting and waving their swords, Toby and Margeret rode up and down a disorderly column of men filling the muddy road. Most ignored them, but some shouted back, not respectfully. Many said something about “Moscva” and pointed forward. Toby and Margeret met a Russian officer who was riding along with the column. They spoke vehemently to him for a minute. He shrugged, gave a brief answer, and rode on. They rode back toward the rear of the stream of men to where the last of them were gathering what they could carry and joining the rest. The trenches around the town were empty, and cannon and wagons stood abandoned. Toby and Margeret rode around the trenches for a time, then turned their horses in the direction the soldiers had taken.
They soon caught up with and passed the main body of retreating soldiers, and were approching a rickety wooden bridge spanning a river running high from the spring thaw. As several hundred of the men on their side drew near the bridge, another mob, led by four priests carrying crosses, entered the bridge from the other direction. The priests’ chanting was soon drowned out by the shouts of the mobs, and hand-to-hand fighting broke out in the middle of the bridge. Men pressed forward from both ends of the bridge, which began to creak and sway crazily in the middle. The turmoil on the bridge increased as it came apart and tumbled all but a few into the swiftly flowing river.
“My God,” said Toby, “they’ll all drown. What can we do?”
“Rien. Il faut qui nous allons une autre route.”

Toby and Margeret rode into Moscow. Eventually the streets of wooden houses opened up on to Red Square, where the colorful domes of St. Basil’s and the Kremlin looked almost as they look today. But the square at this time had a more sinister feature, a circular platform from which announcements and speeches were made, and where executions took place; it was called the Place of the Skull. The square was also much more cluttered and crowded with excited people. A large number of them were staggering drunk. Margeret and Toby halted, exchanged a few words, and shook hands. Margeret rode off in one direction, while Toby dismounted and began speaking to street vendors and men who were dressed in a style likely to be foreign. Most seemed not to understand him or able to answer his question.
Eventually he found a German who told him that the English traders occupied a house down a street which he indicated. Toby thanked him, and made his way to the house, where he left his horse with the groom, and began making inquiries of a young man in a blue coat.
“Ah, sir, you are English.”
“Yes, and I am glad to find a fellow. Are there more of you here?”
“Aye, sir. Sir Thomas Smith, Master William Russell, Master John Merick, and more of their company.”
“Could you take me to them? It is most urgent that I speak to one in some authority.”
“Sir Thomas is within, sir. Tell me your name, and I’ll see if he is at leisure.” He grinned and held out his hand in a gesture that was subtle but unmistakable. Toby gave his name, then fished out a coin, which the man accepted with neither joy nor disdain. He stepped through a door and came back a minute later. “Sir Thomas will see you, sir.”
“Thank you.”
Sir Thomas Smith was a substantial-looking man in his late forties, wearing a black velvet doublet and cap and a goatee and moustache of brown touched with gray. He had thrown off his fur-trimmed gown because of the warm day. He looked Toby over without much expression, and got down to business. “What would you with me, Captain?”
“Thank you for the audience, Sir Thomas. As you must know from my garb, I have been serving in the Czar’s army. Now I find that I must leave the country. It is urgent for reasons of state that I go to Sweden as soon as possible.”
Smith’s eyebrows lifted slightly. “And what state might that be?”
Toby hesitated a moment. “First, I am a true and loyal subject of his majesty, King James. But I was sent to Russia by his Swedish majesty, King Charles. I am obliged to report to him what I have seen these last months.”
Sir Thomas sat silent. At last he spoke, still without much expression. “It is difficult to trade here. We are told that our trade is wanted, but we are treated with great suspicion, and obstacles always seem to prevent our doing business with dispatch. We do not wish to have the Russians displeased with us, especially in these unsettled times.”
“I understand, but–”
Smith continued, speaking over Toby. “We do not want to deprive the Czar of a valued officer. But as I told the company before we set out on this voyage, that as Christians we should love one another, and express our loves in helping and cherishing in time of distress.”
“It is very urgent.”
“Unfortunately, one of our company has died. Our ships stand ready in the harbor at Archangel, ready to depart now that the ice has abated.” He closed his eyes.
“Perhaps I could take the place of your dead man.”
Smith opened his eyes and allowed the smallest flicker of a smile. “That may be possible. How much money do you have, Captain?”
“Why, about twelve roubles.” Toby patted his purse, mildly surprised. “Three month’s pay.”
“Luke says you rode a horse.”
“Yes, a Russian gelding.”
“Have you any furs or jewels?”
Smith looked away and sat silent a moment. “Well, I suppose that might pay for your passage. But you must expect only sailors’ fare. We put ourselves at some risk, you understand.”
Toby’s mouth drooped, then set. “I do.”
“Very well. We leave for Archangel soon, and the ships will sail when weather and tides allow. When you reach Archangel, you must give your horse to none but Luke. Do you understand?”
“Now, good Captain, give me your purse, and all will be settled.”
Toby reached for his purse, but held on. “Shall I lodge with you here until we leave?”
“I fear not. There is an inn further down the street where lodging is to be had good cheap.” He held out his hand, and Toby gave him the purse. He shook it out on the table and counted it. Seperating a few coins from the rest, he handed them to Toby. “This should suffice for your lodging.”
Toby took the coins and shook them in his hand. Then in a lower voice, he said, “I must trouble you for a receipt and a letter of passage, Sir Thomas.”
Smith looked up calmly. “Very well.” He wrote a few lines on a piece of paper and handed it to Toby.
“Your seal, if you please.”
With a slight sigh, he struck a light and dropped wax on the paper, then pressed his ring into the wax. Toby took the paper.
“Good day, Sir Thomas.”
But Smith seemed to relax and put on a more amiable appearance. “Why such haste, good Captain? If I may impose on your leisure, I would hear the news from beyond Moscow. We hear many rumors, but little we can credit. Pray, take a seat.”
Toby stood a moment, puzzled at this change of demeanor, and probably still affronted by the extortion he had just experienced. Then he sat and told what he had seen. One item he reported must have come to him off stage, as it were, for it was new to me. “I was told on good authority,” he said, “that Peter Basmanov, while attacking Dimitry’s forces, suddenly declared himself converted, and is now of Dimitry’s party.”
“Basmanov?” Smith was clearly shocked. “Then farewell, young Prince Fedor.” He frowned in thought for a moment. “We must tread carefully here.”
“If you please, Sir Thomas, I should like some news of England. I have only just learned of the accession of King James. All was peaceful, I hope.”
“Quite peaceful. He was warmly welcomed throughout England. I must confess much pleasure and relief on my own part at his coming, for he not only released me from the Tower, but gave me my knighthood.” Smith smiled at Toby’s inquiring look. “Aye, I was confined after the Earl of Essex’s uprising, though I had no part in it. The earl did come to me for support, but I, for one, laid my hand on his bridle and advised him to surrender to the lord mayor.”
“The earl? Rising against the Queen?” Toby was incredulous.
“Aye, twas folly. He had failed in Ireland, was desperately in debt after the queen cut off his farm on sweet wines, and he was sure that Sir Walter Ralegh and others were plotting against him.”
“The Queen was not harmed?”
“No. The earl misled a few hundred gallants, thinking that the city would rise at his command. They were soon put down, and the earl lost his head.”
“A tragedy indeed.”
“Aye, the earl had many virtues. Tis said that the earl’s revolt hastened the Queen’s end.”
“How did she die?”
“Sickness, age. It was nothing sudden, like Czar Boris’ death.”

At sea. Toby, pulling his cloak around him, climbed the steps to the quarterdeck of the ship. He greeted the officer, who responded amicably.
“When shall we reach Sweden, Master Wye?”
“Sweden? We are now passing along the coast of Norway, but we sail straight for London.”
“I thought we went to Sweden.”
“Nay, captain. Look at the map. We’d have to bear east past Denmark and enter the Baltic.”
Toby looked distressed. “I remember the map. But I was told. . . . How may I get my message to Sweden?”
“You may send it from London.” He looked at Toby and seemed to try to think of something helpful. “Sometimes we pass a ship out of Hamburg or the Low Countries while we are in the North Sea. Sometimes they are bound for Sweden. We sometimes exchange a boat and letters, but more often do not, for some prove to be privateers.”
“I see. Well, I shall be obliged if you will tell me if you meet such a ship.”
“Surely, Captain. And Captain–I should be pleased if you dined as my guest this night.”
Toby looked gratefully at the sympathetic face. “I should be honored. Thank you.”

For much of the voyage, Toby could be found below, writing. Apparently the kind Wye allowed him to use the small table in his cabin while he had deck duty. Some of this writing I could see was a long report to King Charles. But he was also making fair copies of some worn sheets of music. At other times I saw him scratching notes and tablature on a wax-covered tablet and then copying them onto paper. He also from time to time added to a long letter to Mary McNab. Much of it dealt with his difficulties, his experiences in Russia, and his hopes to be reunited with her, either in Riga or in London. One passage caught my eye as especially poignant:

I long for your presence, and turne over in my memorie every feature of your person, your hair, your eyes, your mouth. Yet I think it idle to blazon your beauties like a sonnet-scribbler, when what I desire is your whole living being. I must confesse that I miss one part, your Voice, most desperately. Your Soul, your very selfe breathes out with your voice, which penetrates to my own Soul like the finest Musicke. I sometimes fancie that the Angels in heven must speake your Edinburgh Scots.

Toby and Wye stood on the London docks. From their conversation I gathered that Wye had found a ship bound for Stockholm that would carry Toby’s report to King Charles. They were then looking for one bound for Riga, and were not having any success.
“Perhaps if you could get your packet to Amsterdam or Antwerp,” said Wye, “means could be found to get it to Riga. But tis somewhat risky. Know you anyone in the Low Countries whom you could entrust with your letters?”
Toby, who had been looking discouraged, brightened. “Happy thought! Aye, I have a friend who could do me that office.”
They found a shop where they could buy paper and waxed cloth so they could go through the fairly elaborate process of writing a cover letter to Van Meergen and sealing the whole packet again. They soon found a ship going to Amsterdam, and Toby’s business was settled. Wye said that he must return to his ship.
“I shall be ever in your debt, Master Wye. I hope I may soon repay the five shillings you have lent me, but I can only repay your kindness with my gratitude and prayers.”
“You are most welcome, Captain. Perhaps you may one day help me at a time of need. How will you live now? Will you try to return to Sweden?”
“Not now. I have a little credit with a merchant here, and hopes for my music. When I have earned some money or a place, I hope to make my way to Riga, or find means to bring my betrothed here.”
“Well, may God assist you.”
“Amen. And once more, my thanks.” They shook hands and parted.

Toby was in his room over Edgcoke’s shop. He was riffling through a stack of music manuscript. He paused over a song and smiled; I thought I detected a hint of irony. The song was the first in his 1605 collection, “The Soldiers’ Song”:

I sing the praise of honor’d wars,
the glory of wel gotten skars,
the bravery of glittring shields,
of lusty harts & famous fields:
For that is Musicke worth the eare of Jove,
a sight for kings, & stil the Soldiers love.

It went on in this vein a little further, with one note of realism when it read “bullets now thick are chang’d:/ Harke, harke, shootes and wounds abound.” He paused again at the “Tobacco” song with a more indulgent smile. Then he scanned the pages of instrumental music, two or three times stopping to check a passage on a viol–I don’t know how he acquired one–and once correcting the manuscript. Then he turned a leaf and there was “Fain would I change that note.” He stared out the window for some time, sighed, and turned the page. Another song began, “What greater griefe then no reliefe in deepest woe.” It continued in the spirit of the melancholy Dowland had made fashionable with his “Lachrymae”: the first stanza concluded with “No man unhappier lives on earth than I.” The second stanza ended on a slight upturn:

Death be my friend with speed to end and quiet all
But if thou linger in despaire to leave me,
Ile kill despaire with hope and so deceive thee.

The last song was another downer that began

Alas, poor men, why strive you to live long
to have more time & space to suffer wrong?

Later lines seemed to speak to Toby’s experience:

Thou pinst the pale cheekt Muses
and Soldier that refuses
no woundes for countries safetie–
he only thrives thats craftie.

The next piece was an instrumental work entitled “Captain Hume’s Lamentations.”
Toby turned the pile of sheets over, took a fresh piece of paper, and began compiling “A Table containing all the Songs in this Book.” He copied titles and turned the pages of the manuscript. After writing

My hope is decayed. 7
Adue sweete Love. 8
Be merry a day will come. 9

he paused and smiled wanly. Thoughtfully sharpening his pen, he reread what he had written. Then he laughed a short, sharp chuckle and began leafing hurriedly through the sheets. He paused and moved some of the sheets into a new order, turned some more pages, then rearranged some more. He then turned back and continued his list of contents.
He smiled as he wrote this sequence:

A merry conceit. 30
My Mistress hath a prettie thing. 31
She loves it well. 32
Hit it in the middle. 33
Tickell, tickell. 34
Rosamond. 35
I am falling. 36
Tickle me quickly. 37
Touch me lightly. 38

Further down, the list reads:

Touch me sweetly. 100
The second part. 101
Loves passion. 102
Loves pastime. 103
A snatch and away. 104
This sporte is ended. 105
I am melancholy. 106

Completing the list, Toby straightened the stack of papers with satisfaction, and bound them with a string. Taking his hat, he trotted down the stairs and went out into the street, turning toward the spireless tower of St. Paul’s. There he began to browse among the bookstalls that nestled between the buttresses of the old cathedral. He found some music books and began turning their pages with interest. The man behind the counter, a lean, gray man with an eyepatch, smiled and leaned forward.
“I am pleased to see you still interested in music.”
Toby looked up in astonishment.
“But you are dead! I saw you hanged!”
“You saw me hanged,” said Felix, “but you did not see me dead. The eyes see many things, but tis the mind that tells us what we saw.”
Toby reached out and tentatively touched Felix’s hand. Felix smiled.
“Aye, still warm. Touch is also subject to what the mind tells us. I have read of a fable in which five blind men try to describe a horse from the parts they feel.”
“I am heartily glad you are alive.” He took Felix’s hand and shook it vigorously. “But how did you escape?”
“Well, you have heard how a man who is hanged is said to marry the ropemaker’s daughter. Tis a good saying, for a hanged man and a bridegroom share one of the pleasures of marriage, if only for a moment. Although I should not like to repeat the experience, I rather enjoyed the first few seconds of my hanging. Then it began to weary me. Fortunately, I was hanged in a town with a singular custom. Time out of mind, they say, this custom has prevailed; I suspect it began in a plague, like the time of the Black Death in the third King Edward’s reign. This custom decreed that a widow may claim for her husband a man condemned . If the man refuses, the hanging goes forward. I am told that there were a few men who chose the rope instead of the widow, but I was not one.”
“So a widow claimed you and saved you? Why did she wait until you were hanged?”
“Ah, she said she had no thought of taking another husband. But when the ropemaker’s daughter brought me to the little death before the great one, the widow saw something about me that aroused her admiration.”
Toby smiled. “So how have you fared as a married man?”
“Well enough. The widow got a bargain in me beyond her expectations. Though I must say she put me to it, in fulfilling her main expectation. But I am a grateful man, and try to give good service. But to the point. Her late husband was a printer in a small way, a rare thing in a village, but enough to make a small farm a more comfortable living. He printed little more than broadsides, ballads, and the odd proclamation or placard for a strayed cow. With me she got a scholar and a musician, a man with more vision and experience. I know what a good printer might do for himself.
“I began carefully. I printed as many ballads as the local custom would bear; then I made a few chapbooks. Word got around that a new printer was at work, but it did not get as far as the Stationers’ Company or the Lord Chamberlain in London. But my work came to the attention of a witty man who paid me to print a libel he had written, a pamphlet attacking the bishops and the practice of granting multiple livings to ministers who do not minister or preach, and who leave their flocks in the care of ignorant, starving curates. He named these men, and ridiculed them in telling portraits. It was a great success: it was called in within a week and burned by the public hangman.”
“But do you not put yourself in danger by printing such stuff?” Toby asked anxiously.
“If I were careless. But I made sure that the author distributed the pamphlets far from my town, and I resisted the temptation to sell them from my shop. After most were burned, I could have sold one for the price of four of the original. And after this first venture, I refused further offers.
“But I didn’t stop. I saw that a discreet printer with the right bookseller might make a pretty sum if he put his mind to it. I found that some pamphlets sold well if they were lively enough, even if they did not arouse the authorities. Gabriel Harvey and Tom Nashe kept their flyting up for months without trouble. So I wrote a pamphlet myself attacking one Nates. I called Nates a flatulent, truculent, finical, broom-bearded ink-pisser,whose splenetic humor and crossed eyes were sure signs that he was heir apparent to the kingdom of nodgscombes. Then I answered it myself, as Nates. I called myself a one-eyed paper slubberer, a well-bumbasted swaggering fat-bellied trencher-licker, a gouty flantitanting fantastical cheek-stuffer, a coistral clerk whose sulphurous breath clung to his words through ink to type to paper. I attacked my answer, and then answered my attack. The public began to tire of our squabble about the time I began to tire of keeping it up, but I made a pretty sum.”
“But now here you are in London.”
“Aye, and a respectable member of the Worshipful Company of Stationers. Many things may be bought for the right price, including a new name.”
“So you are no longer Felix Wedderburn?”
“To you and a few others, but not to the world.” He smiled at Toby. “But how have you fared? Did I not see you halt?”
“I am happy to walk, halt or not. But can you not leave your shop and dine with me? I have much to tell and much to ask.”
“Custom is scarce this time of day. Let me close up and we will to the old Paul’s Head.” Felix lowered a wooden shutter across his counter, barred it, and locked the door from the outside.
As they strolled the few yards to the tavern, Toby asked if Felix printed music, for he was determined to publish his compositions.
“I wish you joy and success of your enterprise, and would help if I could. But when I last enquired after a music font, it was too dear. You must go to Master East or Master Windet. I would advise Master Windet, at the Cross Keys, just down on Paul’s Wharf.”
At the tavern, over a meat pie and ale, Toby told Felix of his many adventures, and his hopes for his music and his love.
“And Mistress Jane?”
“An old wound, still sore to the touch,” Toby sighed, “but I have given up hope in that quarter, as I should and must. And Mary McNab gives me a strange joy; she is yet a maid for me, though I desire her deeply.”
“You are old enough to think with your head instead of your privities.”
“Ah, but little Robin often reminds me of his presence and my neglect,” Toby said with a wince. “But back to my music. To whom should I dedicate my book? I need a generous dedication to pay the printer, and I would be glad if it could lead to my finding a place.”
“A serious question.” Felix thought for a time. “The queen’s brother, the Duke of Holstein, has been making a long visit. He was made Knight of the Garter this April past. Or perhaps one of the Scots the king has brought down–are you not kin to some?”
“A poor bastard? My cousin, who found me the place with my Lady Jane’s family, is not likely to welcome my claim on him after my disgrace there.” Toby’s eyes drooped with melancholy memories. “Do you know, I have come to think that he was my father in truth and not only a cousin. I could never learn the full story of my father from him.”
“Very like.”
“I think I should have been a good father, given the means,” Toby said wistfully.
“No doubt. But as my lord Bacon says, ‘He that hath a wife and children has given hostages to fortune.'”
They drank their ale in silence for a moment. “Bring me your book and let me see it,” said Felix. “Perhaps it will suggest to me someone to whom you can dedicate it. And then I shall take you to meet Master Windet.”
“I shall be most grateful. You will sell my book, will you not?”
“Of course. I think Master Windet and I may agree.”

Ollie, my lawyer, called. “I could make you rich, you know.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Just listen. She was at the meeting yesterday. I was about to give them your wimpy, spineless, idiotic terms–”
“Flattery will not get you a bigger fee.”
“Listen. Before I could surrender, they raised the offer. They’ll let you keep the car, and offered fifty thousand just to keep out of court and get it over with. Then Jean started in on some wild story about satanism. She wouldn’t shut up, though Art did everything but stifle her with his bagel. Now if we could get that out in court, we could take her for a bundle–that is, your fair share of the community property.”
“Aw, come on. I know she threw your fiddle off the balcony.”
“Whatever. The court would love it.”
“No. Absolutely.”
“You’re killing me here.” Sigh. “All right, I’ll wave the white flag. I’m going to pad my bill in revenge.”
“I should be taping you and get you disbarred.”
“I can’t stand so much gratitude. I’m gone.”
I thought about Ollie and Jean. And Howell. I thought about what Toby said about Jane and Mary. At that time, Jean made me feel sorrow, regret, loss, anger. Part of me wanted to punish her for what she did to me, but a stronger and, I hope, better part felt pity, and hope that she could come out of all this and stop hurting herself and others–though I wouldn’t mind if she did a number on Howell. But the love was gone. Clio now made me feel that strange joy that Toby spoke of, and the source of some of that joy was in her voice. I picked up the phone.
“Clio. How about a pizza and a movie?”
“Oh, sorry, Tony. Not tonight. I’m on a roll. How about a quick lunch tomorrow?”
“I’ll take what I can get. One?”
“Fine. See you then.”

Later that day I had a brief vision of Toby passing the door of Edgcoke’s shop on the way to his room. He stopped abruptly and stood to the side of the door. Jane was in the shop, examining a bolt of yellow silk. She was pregnant. A maid was by her side, conferring with her about the cloth. Holding the maid’s hand was an elegantly dressed little boy. He had his mother’s complexion and long blond hair. He twisted around and looked directly at Toby with eyes slightly drooping at the corners. Toby dashed up the stairs, threw his hat on the bed, and sat at his table. He stared at the neatly-wrapped bundle of paper, then began to weep.


Time’s Bending Sickle

May 23, 2011

This site has two previous novels: “Four-Part Dissonance” can be found in the archives beginning October 2009; “Death and the Maiden” begins in March 2010; and “Time’s Bending Sickle” begins in October 2010 (scroll down to find chapter one).

29. The Wastes of Time

It was dawn. The town of Dobrynichi, surrounded by a log pallisade, was about a hundred yards from a shallow trench that scarred the snow-covered plain. The trench stretched out of sight in both directions, curving around the town. It was crowded with men, most of whom rested an arquebus on its rim, and held matchcord which they occasionally blew on. Cannon were placed at intervals a few yards in front of the trench, and were protected by wickerwork barriers filled with earth. In that section of the trench nearest the town gate, Toby limped from one man to another, explaining, sometimes in German, sometimes in English, and sometimes, through Jacob, in Russian, how to fire an organ pipe. The smaller pipes were raised and backed by mounds of earth; the ends of the larger ones were weighted with stones. The sound hole of each pipe was filled in with clay, except for a small touch-hole charged with powder.
“Do not be afraid that the pipes will burst, for they hold no shot. But after you touch your match, turn away so that a backfire may not burn you. Now, all you, cannoneers, arquebusers, all. Hold your fire until I signal. We must fire all at once, together, ensemble, zusammen. We must make a good show.”
Toby turned and looked out into the mist. After a while, muffled sounds of firing and shouting could be heard, and then the roar of cannon, not so distant. More shouts, shots, and the cry of horses and the thud of hoofbeats. The medley of noises grew louder as the conflict grew closer–one could now hear swords clashing. Then, through the valley that led to the town, a crowd of horsemen came galloping. When the valley widened, they spread out.
“They’re ours!” someone called out in English.
Behind the retreating Russian cavalry, Dimitry’s horsemen pressed on. But rather than spreading out to pursue the Russians, they headed straight for the town. They were densely packed, and I could not see the last of them. Toby stood on one of the cannon wheels.
“Get ready! Fertig!”
The men blew on their matches. Toby strained forward toward the approaching riders. The rumble of hoofbeats was the ground bass over which the shouting and firing were mere grace notes.
I couldn’t see the whites of their eyes, but Dimitry’s cavalry were about fifty yards from the cannon when Toby shouted “Fire!” The cannon and arquebuses joined the organ pipes in an unholy chorus of noise, flame, and smoke, rolling along the trenches like thunder. For a while, I couldn’t see a thing for the smoke. However, if horsemen had been jumping the trench I think I would have noticed. When the smoke began to thin, I could make out a confused turmoil as the horsemen, who had turned in retreat, met their comrades pressing from the rear. The Muscovite cavalry had turned as well, and was now coming back to harass the edges of the milling Dimitrians. Eventually, the retreat gained momentum, and the Muscovites followed in pursuit. A few of the Russians in the trench, yelling and waving their swords, left their discharged arquebuses and set off running after the horsemen. The rest jumped up and cheered, or soberly began to reload. The men who had fired the organ pipes grinned in happy astonishment. Only one had ignored Toby’s warning, and got his face blackened when his pipe split; he seemed unhurt, but for a while he was puzzled by the jeers of his comrades.
Toby was clearly pleased and excited. “Brave music, men!” he shouted to his organists.

I awoke feeling much better. I had slept nearly ten hours, and my head was clear enough to make me grind my teeth in chagrin at my bizarre intrusion on Clio the night before. I’d call to apologize, then stay away. For a while. Until–what? Until I was a little more in control, more respectable, more presentable. Why? OK, the attraction was not only the wonderful cello. I allowed myself to think things that I had denied myself in my role as faithful husband. Yes, Clio interested me. But I was just a casual acquaintance, and it would be presumptious of me to think the interest could be returned. She had a life, and clearly had an interest in at least one other man. But I think Clio–and Marina, and Alice, and Doreen–were friends, though our acquaintance was neither long nor deep.
I shaved, showered, checked my wounds–which seemed fine–and ate a big breakfast of ham and hash browns. My leg felt better, but it usually did in the morning. Back in the room, I determined to call Clio, but put it off while I looked through the job ads in the Post and the Sun. I jumped when the phone rang. It was Clio.
“I thought you were going to call. I tried three different Day’s Inns.”
“Listen, I’m sorry. I was about to call and apologize for barging in like that, but I was slow getting up the nerve. Thanks for putting up with my weirdness.”
“It’s OK. But I would like to know what’s going on with you. You don’t have to say now, but you could come have dinner tonight and talk then.”
“I’d like that a lot. I promise I won’t speak in tongues or communicate with UFOs.” I couldn’t promise not to have hallucinations. “As an explanation, not an excuse, I can tell you quickly that I was shot, and fired, and that my marriage is over.”
“Oh. I’m sorry.”
“Jean threw my cello off the balcony of our apartment.”
“Oh, no!”
“I’ll give you the bloody details if you’re sure you want to hear.”
“Jean didn’t shoot you, I hope? Or a jealous husband?”
“No.” I was losing my nerve. “Look, you can give me a rain check. I feel bad about you rewarding my presumption with one of your dinners. If you’re sure you don’t mind talking to me, let me take you out.”
“No, thanks. I’ll expect you at seven.” She hung up before I could weasel out.
I got through the rest of the day somehow. I made a few responsible calls, one to Janelle asking for unemployment paperwork, one to Perry, one to the insurance company, and one to my lawyer friend, the viola player who played quintets with us on occasion, and was the victim of dual-purpose jokes.
“Hey, Herm, it’s Tony.”
“Where the hell are you?”
“Baltimore. That’s why I’m calling.”
“I heard about that nut shooting you. I was worried for a while that I wouldn’t hear any more jokes. Now I guess I will.”
“How about now?”
“OK, let’s have it,” he said with mock resignation.
“How is a lawyer like a viola?”
Sigh. “How?”
“They both sound better when the case is closed.”
“Ho ho. Why Baltimore?”
“I’m not sure about that myself. It ain’t Dallas, for one thing. Anyway, I not only got shot, I got fired and dumped. Jean may be trying to find me to file for divorce.”
“You don’t sound like a happy camper.”
“It only hurts when I laugh. Anyway, you might call Jean and tell her you’re representing me–you will, I hope?”
“I don’t do divorce, but I can fix you up.”
“OK, I guess. Anyway, I’m at the Day’s Inn, Baltimore East. If I find something to do and settle elsewhere I’ll let you know.”
I resumed my search through the Post and the Sun. Was I fit for anything besides sales? I could work a computer a little, and knew some of the things they could do, but I was not a programmer or hacker, so I was not employable in that area. No jobs for second-rate cellists. The momentary pleasures of gallows humor faded rapidly. A halluciation began to flicker in my peripheral vision. I’d better get it over with before I face Clio.

I wasn’t prepared for the brutality of the scene I tuned in to. I expected to see wounded and dead, which is bad enough. But the Russian army was enthusiastically hanging all of the prisoners from Dimitry’s forces whom they discovered to be Russian. The disarmed prisoners were backed up against the pallisade wall of Dobrynichi and held at gunpoint by an almost solid ring of streltsy. A group of officers was separating them into two groups, one of which was herded into the town, and the other was pushed into a mob of yelling soldiers who began filling the trees with their hanging bodies.
Toby and Margeret looked on. Toby, visibly repelled, asked Margeret if it could be stopped. The Frenchman said, in effect, that it would be too dangerous to try to interfere with the soldiers’ revenge. He then launched into a dissertation on Russian society. The Russians were cruel because they had been taught cruelty; they had been beaten and robbed by those in authority time out of mind, so they naturally beat their wives and children and any creature weaker than they. If any of the common people should accumulate any goods through thrift or hard work, their betters take them away; so they live hand to mouth, and drink up anything they may earn as fast as they can. Your Swedes and Danes and Dutch are great drinkers, but they are nothing to the Russians. Since they have no power over their lives, they have no honor, and can be great cowards, as we saw at Novgorod Seversky. Like any wild beast, they will fight to survive; but they have no loyalty to anything but themselves.
Toby argued that many are fighting for Czar Boris, and many believe Dimitry to be the true prince, and, however misguidedly, are fighting for him.
Momentary passion and mistaken self-interest, replied Margeret. He was about to elaborate when Toby interrupted and pointed in horror to a gang of soldiers who had thrust a sharpened stake up the rear of a poor screaming, writhing wretch and were setting the stake upright in the ground. I shuddered to realize that gravity would slowly impale the victim further until death released him from his agony. Toby turned and vomited. I ended the vision as soon as I could. I drank a lot of cold water and took a long walk, letting the stinking and noisy traffic and garish signs for fast food and sexual display cleanse my imagination.

I remembered to bring wine. Marvellous smells attended Clio when she opened the door. She was in denim shirt and jeans, but no apron. “Sit,” she said, handing me a glass of her own chilled white wine. “We have time to talk a bit while the oven does the work.” We sat. “Now, how did you get shot? I noticed your limp last night, but I assume you’re OK.”
“Yeah, I’m a bit sore.” I explained about Abner Cross, not minimizing my role in the loss of his job. I had figured out that my firing and Jean’s affair were related; at least Howell must have felt that his relationship with Jean would allow him to do it with no problems. I also speculated on the use he might have made of Jean’s “memories” of satanic ritual abuse, but I may have painted him blacker than he deserved. Clio listened with sympathetic fascination, but no judgments–only a few questions.
“Jean has seen a therapist?”
I explained that she might be contributing to the problem rather than helping.
“So all your stuff went off the balcony with the cello?”
“Yeah. I salvaged all but a few clothes, papers, records, and odd junk.”
“The cello–not fixable?”
“It’s toothpicks. I saved the bow, the neck, and the tailpiece. I don’t know why I bothered.”
A buzzer sounded from the kitchen. “Let’s eat.”
We had lasagna, salad, garlic bread, and a good red wine. Comfort food. When the coffee was ready, Clio put out five cups. I was just about to ask about the cups when the doorbell rang. Clio admitted Marina, Alice, and Doreen, all carrying instruments. Marina gave me a big hug, and they all clucked over my wounds. But we didn’t take too much time with my woes; we quickly finished our coffee and got down to playing. Haydn, Mozart, Mendelssohn–cheerful, engaging music, very therapeutic.
Over dessert it became clear that Clio had assigned the group the problem of cheering me up and helping me out.
“Now, Tony,” began Alice, “I have a colleague who’s going on sabbatical, leaving next week, and needs someone to stay in her apartment and feed her fish. Could you manage that for a quarter?”
“I don’t know what your plans are,” said Doreen, “but I have a grant with a bit of money for a research assistant. I normally would hire a grad student for this, but none is available this term. Could you do some scoring of manuscript part-books for eight dollars an hour? When you feel like it, there is some research I need done at the Folger and the Library of Congress.”
“These aren’t long-term solutions to anything,” said Marina, “but they may help while you settle things and see where you want to go.”
I tried to thank them, but I couldn’t talk. I cried. After a while, I said, “Please don’t tell the men’s union about this. Thank you all very much.”
“We just have to do this sort of thing now and then to remind everyone that women are better than men,” said Clio, smiling. I believed her profoundly.
I hugged them all as we said goodnight. Did I detect any difference in Clio’s embrace? It would be a flattering fantasy.
The next day I met Alice’s colleague, Maria Boniface, who trusted me implicitly on Alice’s recommendation. “I’m going to do some work on the art in little Italian churches before the Mafia steals it all,” she said. She was a wispy little woman in her early sixties, maybe a hundred pounds after Thanksgiving dinner, but she gave the impression that any Mafiosi would have a hard time getting a painting out from under her scrutiny. She showed me her fish, and described the regimen for their care. She pointed to a computer in a corner surrounded by loaded bookshelves. “I’m taking my portable, but you can use my Macintosh if you like,” she said, assuming that everybody must be writing something. “Otherwise just feed the fish and keep track of your long distance phone calls.”
I moved in two days later. I found some high shelves–too high for Maria–that would hold my books. There was plenty of room for my clothes, and even a parking slot for my car. I called Perry, Callie, Janelle, and Herm with my new address and phone number. None had much news. Herm had made contact with Jean’s lawyer, and gave me the name of a colleague who did divorces for somewhat less than a pound of flesh. Callie said that her relations with Jean had been strained when she left; she had called Jean a few times, but had had a cool response. “She insists she’s fine, but won’t really talk,” Callie said. Perry said that morale was low at Cullen, but the layoffs had subsided, and at least Ramforce was out of the picture. He said that Hiro had gone to work for Tom Backschieder.
On a whim, I called Wizarware and asked to speak to Hiro.
“Excuse me?” A youthful female voice.
“Hiro Watanabe.”
“One moment please?” A pause. “I’m sorry, sir? Like, we don’t have anyone by that name?”
“How about Tom Backscheider?”
“I’m sorry, sir? Mr. Backscheider is no longer with this company?”
I was puzzled. I still had Tom’s home number, so I called, and Tom answered.
“Tony, my man! You OK? Hiro told me about the shooting.”
“Yeah, I think I’ll live. You’re not at Wizardware?”
“Nah, I couldn’t take that corporate shit. I thought about suing, but I got them to pay me off, and I’m starting a new company with Hiro and a few other old hackers.”
“What about your games?”
“The old ones? They have them, but we’ve got some new ones that’ll blow them away. I’ve got one called ‘Evolution,’ with dinosaurs and everything.”
“Great. What do you call the new company?”
“Dragonbyte, with a y of course. Cool, huh?”
“Right on. Say, do you need a cello player?”
“We could use a salesman–at least we could use you. Come on out.”
“Many thanks, but I’d like to stay east for a while. But let me sell some of your stuff on straight commission out here.”
“Sure. I’ll send you some samples and poop.”
I gave him the address and sent regards to Hiro. So maybe I wouldn’t starve.
My other job started the day after I moved. Doreen was a music historian and was working on a newly discovered manuscript of mid-sixteenth-century Netherlandish motets. They were in five seperate partbooks, one for each voice part. Doreen had xeroxes of these parts, which had to be transcribed in score for publication and study. She would edit them and resolve what appeared to be copying errors and other problems, but I could do a lot of the preliminary work. It was just what I needed, sedentary, peaceful, exacting, engaging, but not particularly difficult work. I enjoyed hearing in my head the music emerge as I added each part to the score. It had that same serenity and contrapuntal interest of the In nomines that Toby played with Van Meergen and his friends.
In fact, as I was surprised and fascinated to discover, the part of one of the motets I was transcribing sounded familiar because it was the In nomine theme. I flipped through the xeroxes and discovered the theme in a good quarter of the motets. When I pointed this out to Doreen, she was also excited. “I don’t know much about the In nomine, but it’s very interesting to find it used in these motets. When you can get around better, why don’t you look at some of the other early string In nomines and see what the relationships might be? We could get an article out of this.”
“We? I’m hired help.”
“But you discovered it, because you knew something I didn’t. I’ll do my share, but you’ll do a lot of the legwork. It’s the way it’s done, or should be. But it’s easy to be generous when there’s no direct money involved. The journals that might publish this article, if we do it, don’t pay anything.”
We did the article, and it was eventually published in an academic journal on music history. I was excited to see my name in print after Doreen’s. That, and the thrill of discovering something new, something I hadn’t hallucinated, whetted my appetite for more. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The lawyer that Herm recommended to me seemed pleasant enough on the phone. His name was Oliver Johnstone; I soon learned from the people at his office that everyone called him Ollie. I started off by telling him that I didn’t want to contest the divorce in any way, and that I didn’t want anything from Jean, not even damages for my cello. I’d brought nothing to the marriage, and had had a fairly rewarding job as a result of it. I had, over the years, earned what I had spent on my car, books, and clothes, and would like to keep them.
“Look, Tony,” Ollie said, “I’ll be neglecting my obligation to you if I don’t ask for something. It’s a community property state, for God’s sake. You don’t have to ask–you just make trouble if you insist on not taking what’s coming. Besides, you’ve gotta pay me.”
“I don’t want to take advantage of her. She’s been through a lot of emotional and mental stress.”
“She can buy a lot of comfort and therapy with what she’s got. Drew must have paid her five or six million during that buyout.”
“Nevertheless, I don’t want any of it. Changing the subject, can we do all of this on the phone? I don’t want to come to Dallas unless I have to.”
“As much as I’d like to see what an idiot like you looks like, I think we can. But think about what I’m saying. I’m meeting with her lawyer tomorrow. I know him, he’s good. He’ll want me to argue. He won’t have any fun if we can’t haggle. How about it?”
“Well, I’ll see what’s on their minds and call you. Remember, I may be a friend of Herm’s, but I’m not cheap.”
“We’ll work it out.”
“I don’t know how. I hope you do.”
He called back the next day. “I had a little fun after all. They want your car.”
“Yeah. They’ll generously let you keep your clothes and books. Don’t worry, they know it’s outrageous. It’s just a tactic to keep you from asking for more.”
“It seems more like a tactic to piss me off. Did you tell them what I said?”
“Well, not exactly. I just let them state their position. I told them I’d consult with you before we respond.”
“Go ahead and tell them. Get it over with.”
“OK, but I’m sending you a bill.”
“Please do. Hit me a little at a time.”
Maybe I could manage. I was living very cheaply, and was earning a little money doing Doreen’s work. When Tom’s samples from Dragonbyte arrived, I checked them out on Maria’s Mac, and was very impressed. I took them around to computer stores and college campus stores in the Baltimore-Washington area, and actually made a few sales. I found I could live in my monk-like present circumstances, but I’d be in trouble when Maria returned and I had to pay rent. And when I got a bill from Ollie for $250 for three hours’ work and two phone calls, I began to worry. How much would the whole process cost? Since I hadn’t insured or listed my cello seperately, my insurer coughed up only $200. It was worth at least six thousand. Well, I’d think about money later.
On the bright side, I got to play Clio’s cello with the quartet several times. The women continued their sympathetic and supportive interest, which was of course gratifying–but also, I must admit, a bit burdensome. When I got the insurance check–before I got Ollie’s bill–I talked Clio into letting me take her to dinner. I took her to the seafood restaurant Marina had introduced me to, for it was cheap and good. Fortunately, Clio knew and liked the place, and we had a good meal. She was friendly and at ease, and didn’t raise my misfortunes as a subject for conversation. I appreciated that. Instead, we talked about art and music, and I managed to get her to tell me more about her life.
She had had the good fortune to have stable and loving parents, who were themselves children of immigrants. Her father’s parents had lived in a Jewish neighborhood, where every other family was trying to raise another Heifetz. Her father was a big kid, so he was steered toward the cello. But as much as he had loved music, her father had felt it would be impractical to make it a profession, so he worked his way through NYU and got into Columbia Law School. Her mother played piano, so Clio grew up with music.
“I remember the looks they would give each other when they were playing together and the music was going well. It was almost erotic. Of course that bothered me a lot when I was an adolescent.” She laughed.
Clio had taken piano lessons, but her interest in art was so much greater that she had focused intently on it since high school. Her parents, perhaps regretting their own sacrifices of art to practicality, were very supportive.
“I wish I had had to fight them more,” she said at one point. “I got where I assumed everyone loved my work. Then in art school I ran into some really cruel teachers and fellow students. They told me what I was doing was crap, but they couldn’t explain why–at least not to my satisfaction. Maybe if I had been forced to fight and argue my point of view earlier, I would have had an easier time.”
“Or maybe your parents’ confidence in you gave you strength to persevere, which you obviously have done.”
“Maybe so. But you know at a certain time of your life your parents have no credibility, especially compared to your peers or to some charismatic mentor. And although I’m doing OK, there are still a lot of artists and critics who think my stuff is crap. It took me a while to learn how to take that.”
“Music is not like that. I guess it is in composition to a degree, but in performance, gross competence is so demanding that questions of nuance and interpretation come up only after you have shown that you have the technique. You have to play the right notes in tune, you have to be able to play up to tempo.”
The conversation led to the discipline of art and the time it took to cultivate it. Clio said that her grandparents worried because artists, more than musicians, seemed to have loose morals and eccentric behavior. “What a laugh. I worked so hard that art almost made me a kind of nun.”
I was eager to explore the implications of that remark, but I didn’t dare press it. Clio, however, went on to say that she did have a few dates in school, and one long serious relationship with another artist. He couldn’t take the competition of her success, however, and broke it off. “He was older, so I thought he was mature. I guess I was naive.” But most of the time she painted instead of socializing.
When we arrived at Clio’s, I made a clumsy attempt to kiss her. She gently put her hand on my chest and gave me a peck on the cheek. It was a long time after that before I got in Clio’s house without the quartet or other guests present. Yet the next day, Clio invited me to a gallery opening that weekend. We went to a lot of free concerts and galleries, and occasionally had lunch or dinner out–dutch, at her insistence. We got to know each other pretty well, on one level, and, I think, became good friends. I wanted to go beyond that, of course, but for some reason Clio held me at a warm, friendly, but firm distance. And sometimes she could not go with me because she was doing something with Brian. She would say this without a hint of sexual provocation–she would use the same tone and expression if she were doing something with Doreen or Alice. Somehow I managed to find comfort in that.

Time’s Bending Sickle

May 15, 2011

This site has two previous novels: “Four-Part Dissonance” can be found in the archives beginning October 2009; “Death and the Maiden” begins in March 2010; and “Time’s Bending Sickle” begins in October 2010 (scroll down to find chapter one).

28. This Bloody Tyrant, Time

McNab sat at the table smiling, but with a hint of concern around his eyes. Mary was singing, flushed and bright-eyed, and Toby was playing Bekes’ viol, looking significantly at Mary. She sang “Fain would I change that note” to Toby’s accompaniment.
I remembered that Toby wrote the song in the throes of love for Jane. Was a recycled love-song less meaningful? Was he trying to form new associations, to clear his artistic palate, as it were? I decided not to assign him any blame, but to enjoy this expression of hope and love. I myself needed hope at this point, lying in a hospital bed, abandoned by my wife.
Toby and Mary finished the song and exchanged smiles. McNab sighed and rose. “Mary, while you see to the supper, the captain and I will take the air. I want to see how he goes wi’out his staff.”
Toby followed the doctor out to the dirt lane, limping slightly. McNab watched him a moment, nodding approvingly. They walked side by side for a while.
“So, Captain, I give you your leg, and you want to take my daughter.”
“With your good leave and blessing, sir. I know I am but a poor stranger here, but with Lord Bekes’ help, I may–”
“You are still a prisoner,” interrupted McNab.
“Surely you and Lord Bekes–”
McNab waved impatiently. “Perhaps, perhaps. You are a good man, Captain; I think you would provide for my daughter as well as you are able. But I must confess I had higher hopes for her.”
“She is worthy of better than I.”
“No doubt. But not all falls out as we would wish. I am too indulgent a father–I think I wish my daughter’s happiness more than I do her good.” He paused. “Would you be willing to serve his majesty King Sigismund against the Swedes?”
Toby looked pained. “I had hoped that my music could bring me employment.”
McNab looked grim. “Aye, a base employment, dependent on the whims of the rich. But you are an experienced soldier, a captain; moreover, one who has fought under Prince Maurice. Your release might come more readily if you offered your service to the Poles. And you might put yourself in the way of a fortune, if you are wise. Not all soldiers die poor.”
Toby shook his head, the corners of his eyes drooping sadly. “I see your reasons, but I must think on this. I have seen much evil in the wars, and would avoid more if I could.”
“I understand, and would things were otherwise. But I know the world.”

Mary, McNab, and Toby sat soberly at the table, half-heartedly eating soup of some sort. A loud knock at the door made them all jump, especially Toby. McNab opened the door to an officer and two soldiers.
“I am Captain Ingram, doctor, and have come to take custody of your prisoner.” He was English. I should have been used to all the European armies having English and Scottish soldiers, but this man surprised me. The McNab household was also surprised and frightened. Mary grasped Toby’s arm. McNab started to say something about Lord Bekes, but the officer thrust a paper at him. McNab read the commission, and turned to Toby.
“I fear there is nothing to be done noo. I’ll wait on Lord Bekes tomorrow morning early, and do what I can. Be of good hope, child.” This last sentence was aimed at Mary, who had begun to cry. Toby looked intensely mournful.
“Well, Captain,” said Ingram, “I regret that I must encumber you with these irons. But I must obey my commission.” He spoke Polish to one of the soldiers, who locked a pair of irons on Toby’s wrists. Ingram took another paper from his hat and handed it to McNab. “Here is your release. You seem to have put him to rights very well, doctor. Thank you for your pains.” He smirked slightly at Mary. “With your permission, doctor, I may at some future time call on you and your handsome daughter.” Mary turned away and Toby stiffened. “Until then, farewell. Captain, by your leave.” He took Toby by the arm and led him toward the door.
“I’ll return when I can,” Toby said to Mary. “Soon.” Mary nodded tearfully. They left.

Toby sat on a bench in a stone-walled cell. He blinked as Ingram entered with a lantern, which he hung on a hook in the wall.
“Be of good cheer, Captain. I bring you your freedom.”
Toby stood. “Lord Bekes?” he asked hopefully.
“No.” He leaned closer and spoke softly. “King Charles.” He smiled at Toby’s puzzled expression. “Although I am an officer in the Polish army, I am King Charles’s loyal servant and a good Protestant.”
“King Charles?”
“Aye, he has now accepted that title from the Swedish people. His majesty has seen fit to arrange for your escape from the papist enemy. Although he has many who could serve his turn, he thinks you would be the right man to send to Russia at this time.”
“Aye. Here’s the tale. Czar Boris, though an able man, is somewhat unsteady on his throne, for some say that Czar Ivan’s son and heir, Dimitry, died by the hand of Boris’ agents. Now a pretender, feigning himself to be that same Prince Dimitry, has arisen in Poland; the Poles find him a convenient means to trouble the Russians, and perhaps to enthrone an ally there. Duke–I should say, King–Charles would not enter an alliance with the czar at this time, given the uncertainties of the wars in Livonia, but he would prevent a Polish ruler in Russia. So he thought to send you and a few other foreigners to serve among the mercenaries in Czar Boris’ service, to help the czar avoid defeat–but not avoid trouble–and to bring the king timely information in any event.”
Toby frowned miserably. “What if I refuse? Lord Bekes may be able to obtain my release. Although I am grateful to the duke–the king–and wish him and my friends among the Swedes well, I do not wish to serve in any army.”
Ingram smiled unpleasantly. “Lord Bekes is away on King Sigismund’s service. He may be gone many months.” He looked around and sniffed. “The air here seems wholesome. Perhaps you could survive here until then, if they remember to feed you. If you are so enamored of the Polish papists, King Charles would sooner have you in their prison than in the field against him.”
Toby leaned down and clasped his hands behind his head. Ingram sat down by him. “Good Captain,” he began, changing his tone, “think of your soul, as well as your true loyalties. Would you serve the antichrist, those who sent the Armada, those who have tried to murder the Queen, God rest her soul–”
“What do you mean?” asked Toby in surprise. “Is the Queen dead?”
“Aye, tis old news. King James of Scotland is now on the throne.”
“King James.”
“Aye. A good Protestant prince, welcomed by all true Englishmen.” Impatiently, Ingram renewed his harangue, appealing to Toby’s faith, loyalty, and self-interest. “You must choose between freedom and imprisonment.”
“To me it seems that I must choose between prisons.”

My leg had healed well enough for me to be released from the hospital. Myron Fish, my viola-playing doctor friend, came by and gave me a free consult. He checked my chart and told me what the other docs told me, but he spent a little more time and was a friendly presence. Though my leg was improving, my mind was still reeling from all that had happened. I still dreamed of Abner Cross, and jumped, sweated, and panted at any sudden noise. Callie had been to see me a few more times for brief visits. I promised to leave word at the hospital when I checked out so she could get in touch with me without my having to call and possibly talk to Jean.
I hobbled out of the hospital on crutches and took a cab to the Cullen parking lot where my car had been. I drove to a K-Mart, bought a couple of cheap bags, and organized the pile of clothes I had rescued from where Jean had thrown them. They had been festering in a chaotic heap in my car. I checked into a motel, and ordered a pizza for lunch. It was the first food I had had in days that tasted good. I did a little more organizing of my stuff, then flopped on the bed and rested my leg, sore from moving around.
The phone rang. It was Callie. “They sprung you, huh? How’re you feeling?”
“Better. I just had a pizza.”
“I prescribe a Mexican dinner. I’ll pick you up and I’ll buy.”
“Are you courting me, Miss Warren?”
“Naw, you ain’t my type. But I have a soft spot for pore wounded critters. See you around six.”
“Thanks, Callie.”
I spent the afternoon dozing and trying to pull my life together. It wasn’t easy, and I didn’t get very far. I called the bank and found that Jean had moved all but three hundred dollars to a separate account. My credit cards were good for a while, but I knew I had to set up an account for my last check. I called Janelle, who was very sympathetic, and said my check was at her desk. I called Perry and found out what had been going on. He invited me to dinner the next night and offered his home computer for work on my resume.
“I’d ask you to move in for a while, but the kids take up every inch of space, and you wouldn’t get any rest. Too bad about your cello. Any insurance?”
“I hadn’t thought. It was on our renters’ policy. But I think they exclude civil war.”
Perry told me that Abner would plea bargain down from attempted murder to assault and reckless endangerment on the condition that he would get psychiatric help. I was relieved to learn that he was still in jail and would have to serve some time. I hoped the help would do him some good–but I still didn’t want to be around when he got out. I got a paper and checked the help-wanted ads. There were a couple of sales possibilities, but they clearly involved legwork, which was not very attractive to me under the circumstances. I gave up and dozed until Callie came.
I pogoed out to her rental car. “I hope you don’t mind that I’ve given up ties until a boss makes it a condition of a job.”
“Osbaldo will give you a house bolo at the door. You notice my heels.” Callie never wore high heels.
When we sat in our booth and ordered margaritas, Callie got serious. “I’m going back tomorrow. I can’t get Jean to come with me.”
“Why not?”
“Take a good slug of that drink. I’m sorry to add this to your wounds, but Jean won’t go because she’s having an affair with Howell and doesn’t want to be away from him.”
I couldn’t speak for a while.
Callie went on. “I just found out. I’m as shocked as you. It can’t be good for her.” She looked at me closely. “How are you taking this?”
“Not well.” I thought of the coyote, at the bottom of the canyon, sitting under the shadow of the falling anvil. “Did she say how long this has been going on?”
“For a while, I’m afraid. Before the buyout.”
I remembered Bonnie in the airport with her black eye. Maybe it started even before then. You grow to hate those you wrong–you beat them or throw their cellos from balconies.
“I don’t think I can eat anything right now.” I stood up, juggling the crutches.
“We can just drink and talk for a while. It might help to talk.”
“I think I’d rather get back. I’m sorry.”
“I understand. Just a sec.” Callie took another big swig of her drink and a handful of chips. I let her pay for the drinks. Neither one of us had much to say as she drove me back to the motel. I was aware that she would have listened sympathetically if I had wanted to talk.
What I wanted to do was to get the hell away. Early the next morning I drove to Cullen, picked up my check, got what was left out of our bank account, and bought two thousand dollars worth of travellers’ checks. I threw my bags in on top of the books and music and cello scraps in the car, and headed east. To hell with Dallas, to hell with Texas. I wanted trees and hills. To hell with the job, to hell with the resume. To hell with Howell. To hell with Jean.
I got as far as Texarkana. Scenes of Toby on horseback began flickering at the edge of my vision, and I had to stop before I got distracted. I found a motel near the interstate with a takeout Chinese place nearby. As I ate General Cho’s chicken I watched Captain Hume, just as other folks might watch Sergeant Bilko or Colonel Klink on the reruns.

Four men, one dressed as a Polish officer, and the other three–one of them Toby–in the round hat and thigh-length coat of Polish calvarymen, rode along at a quick walk. Toby seemed to be saddle-weary, sometimes lifting his injured leg from the stirrup and stretching it. Most of the time they seemed to follow a river; I suppose it must have been the Dvina. I did a mental fast-foward until I heard one of them point to a town ahead and identify it as Vitebsk. They tumbled wearily into a grubby wooden inn. The streets of the town were mud and boards, in some ways reminding me of something out of old western movies.
In the morning, they left the town and turned south. After riding some distance–I caught up with them one late afternoon–they stopped and changed into nondescript dark cloaks and hats, stuffing their Polish gear into a hollow tree trunk. They rode into a birch grove as the sun set, the white trunks glowing ghostlike in the fading light. After moving stealthily through forest land for a while, they emerged onto a rough road. They had not gone far, when a band of a dozen horsemen blocked their way. As the officer talked to one of the horsemen, the others unobtrusively moved to surround Toby’s group. They were a rough-looking bunch, farly large and burly, wearing sheepskin hats and coats. All had curved swords and bows and arrows, and three had lances; two had large pistols in saddle holsters, but no other firearms. The officer showed a paper to the leader, who shook his head and waved it away. He went into a vehement speech, repeating “Smolensk” several times. Then he turned his horse and headed down the road. One of the other horsemen indicated that Toby’s group should follow.
Eventually they reached a town by a river. It was surrounded by a dry moat and an old wall punctuated at frequent intervals by cone-topped towers. A tall central tower dominated the buildings within the wall. A bridge across the river led to another cluster of buildings. They rode over a drawbridge and through a tall gate in the main wall, where they dismounted and were met by a short, compact, dark-haired man. He wore his moustache, goatee, and heavy blue cloak with a touch of elegance that seemed different from the Poles and Russians. In a surprisingly deep voice, he addressed the leader of the Russian horsemen, who pointed to the officer. The Russians then mounted and trotted back out the gate. The officer introduced himself as Captain Holtz, and handed over a paper. The deep-voiced man looked it over, nodding, then looked inquiringly at Toby and the other two men.
“Capitan ‘Ume?”
“I am Tobias Hume.”
“Je suis Jacques Margeret, capitan dans l’armeé imperial. C’est une honneur.” They exchanged bows. Toby and Holtz, a German, followed Margeret into a nearby building, while the other two soldiers took care of the horses. Margeret continued to speak, but in German, which Toby seemed to understand, and which I could follow pretty well.
After a glass of what must have been vodka, judging from Toby’s coughing fit, and after some small talk about their travels, Margeret began explaining the situation. Dimitry and an army of Poles, plus a number of Russians who were either disaffected with Czar Boris or genuinely believed that Dimitry was the true prince, were besieging Novgorod Seversky, some two hundred miles to the south. Margeret did not expect them to take the fort there, for it was very strong, on a promontory over the river Desna. But several nearby towns–Putivl, Krony, and Rylsk–had defected to Dimitry, and others may have followed their lead. The commander at Novgorod Seversky, Pyotr Fyodorovich Basmanov, was strong-minded and probably loyal to Boris, and might hold Dimitry’s army for a while. Czar Boris was assembling a large army at Bryansk, about one hundred and fifty miles to the southeast; the forces under Margeret, largely foreign mercenaries, would leave the next day to join them.
Holtz asked a few questions about their route, and Toby asked about their roles, and the nature of the troops they were to command. Margeret said that most of the foreign troops were used to order and discipline, and should perform well as long as they were paid; so far, they had been paid well. The Russians were another matter. Some were brave, or at least daring, and many were skillful horsemen; but they had little discipline, and their officers were largely incompetent, having advanced more because of their birth than because of their military knowledge. The commander of the entire army, Prince Fyodor Ivanovich Mstislavsky, was not only ignorant, but stupid. On this promising note, the vision faded.

As I lay in bed, waiting for sleep, I worried for a while about what I would do in the real world. I was heading in the general direction of home and Tennessee, and part of me wanted to go home and let my mother feed me and fuss over me. But another part knew how upset she would be as I admitted that yes, I had been shot–only twice, hardly worth mentioning–and, yes, fired from that good job you were so proud of, and, well, cheated on and dumped by that pretty rich wife, who now thinks she was a victim of satanic cultists, her parents. Maybe I would postpone that visit for a while. Find a place far enough from Dallas, find a job, and then talk about the down side when some things were looking up. Maybe after I got a grip on my hallucinations.
Eventually I drifted off to sleep. Abner Cross, in his fatigues and orange hat, was there, but every time he popped up, I would fire a dream gun at him as if he were a figure in a video game. Then I had another dream, a different one, quite vivid. I was in the hospital, in a wheelchair, feeling pretty bad. A nurse came in with a kind of gurney covered with scraps of wood. It was my cello. The nurse was a new one, but somehow familiar. She told me that it might be fun to put it back together. “See,” she said, “this bit goes with this one. See how they fit?” When she put them together, they stayed together and the cracks disappeared. She guided my hands, and I put two more pieces together. She left and I continued to work. The pieces were a real jumble, but somehow it became clear how they fit. I put the pieces together and they healed. After a while the cello was all together. It glowed a rich gold.
The next day I was still sore and jumpy, but the visions stayed under control, and I covered some ground. At Little Rock I picked up interstate forty and stayed on it, passing Memphis and Nashville. Around Cookeville things began to get interesting as I started getting onto the Cumberland Plateau. I finally stopped near Oak Ridge. I managed to sit through a good dinner and do a little more sorting of my books and music before weariness threw me to the bed in my motel room, where the late show in my brain compelled my attention.

Something significant had happened. Toby was in a camp in a birch forest, looking miserable and exhausted. All around lay the bodies of men; the living were breathing, many snoring in profound weary sleep; the wounded were groaning and crying; the dead were silent and still. Horses whinnied in the distance. A few had summoned the energy to build small fires, and a few were eating what looked like lumps of raw dough. Toby sat and stared into space. A young man with a full black beard and a black fur hat stumbled toward Toby. He looked like a species of bear, with only his eyes and nose visible.
“French captain speak vit you.”
“Thank you, Jacob,” sighed Toby, and heaved to his feet, wincing. His limp was more noticeable as he followed Jacob to a tent, where Margeret, alert and unruffled, sat at a table with a candle and maps. Holtz and a few other officers, including another German named Von Rosen, soon joined them.
Margeret summed up what had happened. Dimitry’s left-wing horse had attacked, were driven off, but attacked again. Another company joined them and then another; they charged so furiously and caused so much disorder and confusion that the main army, except for the left wing, was shaken and began to retreat. If another company of Dimitry’s cavalry had made a flanking move, said Margeret, these four companies might have defeated the entire army. It was if, he said, the Russians had no arms to fight with, only legs to run with. For some reason he could not understand, all the Muscovite streltsy–the infantry with firearms–stayed in the valley and did nothing. And the general, Prince Fyodor Mstislavsky, was badly wounded and almost captured. (This news brought some ironic glances, but no grief.) The gold standard, with its image of St. Basil, was indeed captured. (This brought some mournful groans.) The Muscovite army lost many men; the count of known dead was over three thousand and was still climbing. They could confirm only a few dead on Dimitry’s side. Tomorrow the army would retreat north to Starodub, regroup, and await reinforcements and a new commander. In the meantime, Basmanov continued to hold firm in Novgorod Seversky. Toby asked if any wagons would be available to carry the wounded. One of the officers gave an incredulous snort. Margeret gravely shook his head.

The next morning was clear and crisp and the mountains drew me off the interstate. I crossed over Tellico Lake and wound around to Townsend and Gatlinburg. I stopped and got out several times, but couldn’t walk as far as I would have liked. But the land and the glimpse of the Smokies was restorative. After getting back on interstate forty, I drove only a few miles before it turned south to Asheville. For some reason I took eighty-one north and stopped near the Virginia border at Bristol.
Although the miles and the landscape had burned away some of my fear and anger, I still felt only a little guilt at running off, and couldn’t find the energy to be more responsible. I called no one. I didn’t plan where I was going the next day. I just ate dinner, found another sterile and anonymous room, and watched the show from my brain. At least my troubles were relatively minor compared to those of a Russian soldier.

Toby was drying clothes before a fire in a small, low-ceilinged log house, when a knock on the door was followed, before Toby could speak, by the entrance of a young man. He snatched off his fur cap and began speaking rapidly in Russian. Toby, holding up his hands, said “Wait. Stop. Halt.” Then he went to the door and shouted “Jacob!” The young man approached the fire and opened his coat–sheepskin, the wool on the inside–to catch the heat. Toby poured vodka in a small pewter cup, which the man drank gratefully. The black-bearded soldier who spoke some English entered. “What says he?” asked Toby.
The two conversed for some time, the messenger speaking with excitement, pointing and gesturing. After a while, Jacob waved his hand, the other bowed slightly with a jerk, and left.
“He say they catch peasants. They try make fire, burn Dobrynichi. They say many Poles come. They say before they die.”
“They die just now.”
“No, when will the Poles come?”
“Tomorrow, maybe sunrise.”
“Does the French captain know?”
Toby frowned in thought. “Where did Captain Holtz store the powder?”
“In church.”
“Did he tell them not to light candles?”
Jacob’s mouth stretched briefly. “Aye.”
“Did he find any more arquebuses in the village?”
“He find four, but one no good.”
“Every man should have something to fire.” He adjusted the clothes drying on a bench. Then he took his hat and cloak from a peg by the door. “Come show me the church.”
They walked out into a village full of low wooden houses, with snow covering the thatched roofs. The streets were covered with squared logs, the snow on them reduced to brown mud by the soldiers milling about. In the square there was a stone church with a single onion-shaped dome. Toby started towards it, but Jacob stopped him.
“No. There.” He pointed toward a more modest wooden building with a cross by the door. This cross did not have the slanting bars of the orthodox crosses.
“A Catholic church?”
“Aye. Some Poles here.” He wrinkled his nose. “Not now.”
It was dark inside, for the windows were few and small. But the moon on the snow outside reflected enough light for them–and me–to perceive a stack of barrels. And from near the altar, something metallic gleamed. Toby, staring hard in the darkness, moved toward the glint. I was an organ. It was not large, but it contained fifty or sixty pipes of various sizes. Toby sat and fingered the silent keys.
“Three score two barrels powder,” said Jacob, watching Toby with some puzzlement.
“Good.” Toby leaned back, looking up at the organ pipes. “How many cannon by the gate?”
“Maybe fifteen.”
“And fifteen thousand men with only eight thousand arquebuses.” He stood and turned to face Jacob. “Mayhap if we cannot have real cannon and muskets we can have theater cannon and muskets.”
“What is theater?” asked the frowning Jacob.
“Where players pretend to fight. Come, lend me your hand.”

I hit the road early the next morning and kept on eighty-one, past Roanoke, Staunton, Harrisonburg. Soon I saw a sign pointing to Washington. I thought of the Smithsonian, and those rooms of musical instruments. Without much further thought, I was hobbling into the Museum of American History. I stopped and stared at a group of Amish people in the lobby, wondering if they were a living exhibit, or like me, just tourists. A thoughtful guard broke into my reverie and offered me a wheelchair, and soon I was on the elevator to the third floor.
There I visited again all those curious devices men have contrived to make noises that try to sound like the human voice but please by not exactly succeeding, and by making noises that human beings can’t. As objects, some are comic, like the serpent, some clumsy, like the sousaphone, and some graceful and beautiful, like most of the violin family. Those curves in polished wood seem to be physical embodiments of the sounds they can produce in the right hands.
I saw the Stradivarius quartet with the Marylebone cello, and the violin, studded with mother of pearl, that the virtuoso Ole Bull played; I saw the quartet of instruments by Stainer, with the lion’s head on the viola scroll. I was looking at the Stradivarius cello that belonged to Adrien-François Servais, who earned the gratitude of all cellists by inventing the end pin, when it occurred to me what I had to do.
I wheeled out, got my crutches, and vaulted down the Mall to where I had parked. It was getting dark as I turned north from the beltway. After a while I was threading my way through Baltimore, and by the time I reached the familiar wedge-shaped building, it was night. I rang the bell.
“Tony!” Clio’s expression changed from pleased surprise to concern. “What’s the matter? You don’t look so good.”
“May I come in?”
“Of course. Sorry.” She stood aside and waved me in. Clio had her cooking apron on, one without paint, over a dark blue turtleneck. Her hair was pulled back to reveal that she was wearing small silver earrings. The light in the studio area was off, but the light by the dining table revealed a setting for two and the one by the sofa a man holding a drink. He started to get up.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know you had company. I won’t stay, but I’ve got to ask you a favor.” I was babbling and must have sounded desperate.
“Sure, what?” The man was standing by, sipping his drink.
“If I could play your cello for fifteen minutes, it would make me feel a lot better, and then I promise I’ll go.” I nodded toward the man, whose expression was becoming perplexed. Clio made a slight “It’s OK” gesture toward him.
“It’s a long story,” I said trying, in the face of all the contrary evidence, to sound normal. “I’ll tell you another time, if you’re curious. I promise I’ll call first.”
“Sure. I want to hear it all, another time. You can call tomorrow. I’ll get the cello.” Turning to the man, she said, “Brian, this is Tony Maclean. He plays music with Marina sometimes, and is in love with my cello. Tony, this is Brian Holcombe. He runs my gallery.”
Holcombe shook my hand, a little uncertainly. He was a bit taller and older than I, with a square chin and a thick moustache. He wore a denim shirt, no tie, and a suede sportcoat. “Are you a musician?” he asked, trying to make small talk. Clio was dragging the cello from the closet.
“I studied music, but I’m–I was–a computer salesman.”
“We have an Apple at the gallery.”
“Good machine.” Clio handed me the cello. I limped to a dark corner of the studio and began to play. Bach, the first suite. The notes rolled off, falling with such ease, such logic. Everything was in place, but there was feeling, there was wholeness. It was an incredible relief to find that realm again, led by that marvellous instrument. I forced myself to stop after the first movement. Clio and Brian had been sitting on the sofa. They were watching me attentively when I looked up; they could have been talking about me while I played, but I wouldn’t have noticed. I put the cello down gently, and moved toward the door, apologizing again for the interruption. Clio came to the door and stepped outside with me.
“Listen, I mean it. Call me first thing tomorrow. Where are you staying?” She held my right forearm.
“I don’t know. I think I passed a Day’s Inn near the ring road.”
“Any other time–anyway, call!” She squeezed my arm.
She stood in the door until I limped to the car and started off. I turned back north, found the ring road and the motel, and checked in. I had no visions, and slept without dreaming.

Time’s Bending Sickle

May 8, 2011

This site has two previous novels: “Four-Part Dissonance” can be found in the archives beginning October 2009; “Death and the Maiden” begins in March 2010; and “Time’s Bending Sickle” begins in October 2010 (scroll down to find chapter one).

27. Time’s Fell Hand

I slept a little that night in the hospital, but between bad dreams and the pain in my leg, I was almost glad to see day break and be relieved of the obligation to sleep. The doctor, a young resident with thick glasses and acne scars, pronounced my wounds in satisfactory condition, and the friendly black nurse from the day before put on fresh dressings and emptied the drain. Breakfast was about as tempting as dinner, but I managed to get down a banana, juice, and lots of water. Later, I dozed without dreaming and felt better.
That evening, Callie showed up. Her usual bounce and humor was much subdued. “Well, hoss, you must have had a pretty shitty day yesterday.”
“I’ve had better. Seeing you helps. Thanks for coming so quickly. How’s Jean?”
Callie winced. “I wish I could give you good news. She’s OK–I don’t think she’s suicidal or anything, but she seems obsessed, and I can’t make much sense of what she’s saying. I’ll tell you about that in a minute. Right off, I’d better say that whenever I tried to talk about you, she got angry. She even thinks your getting shot is at best a ploy for sympathy and at worst a sign that you need shootin’.”
“Maybe I do. I had the guy who shot me fired, and I’m not proud of that.”
“Well, we can’t let everybody get shot who deserves it. Who’d be in the legislature?” We both smiled at a flash of the old Callie. She grew serious again. “Anyway, I felt if I pushed your case too much I’d lose my credibility, and wouldn’t be able to help.”
“What about her therapist?”
“I think she may be part of the problem. I think she got her diploma from a cereal box. She says this gal helped her remember that her dad abused her sexually.”
“Oren Cullen?” I was shocked.
“Yeah, it’s hard for me to believe, too. But there’s so much of that around, you never know.”
“What does she mean, ‘helped her remember’?”
Callie frowned. “That’s what bothered me. Now I took psych in college, and more than just jocks and rats freshman year. I know Freud thought all kinds of problems could be the result of suppressed traumas–things so bad you put them out of your conscious mind.”
“I would think childhood sexual abuse would do that.”
“That’s the theory, and it may be so in some cases. But lots of victims of horrors remember them too damn clearly. The stories my law partners tell, not to mention my clients, would straighten your short hairs.”
“I surely can’t go a minute without thinking of those shots and me under that desk.” Those scenes were indeed going round and round in my mind.
“Anyway, Jean talks about these memories as somehow different from ordinary memories. It wasn’t until the therapist hypnotized her and made her go over her memories and see where the abuse might fit that she started recalling them.”
“It’s plausible, I guess, though I still find it hard to believe about Cullen. But he was a controlling bastard.”
“Yes, but here’s where I get off. Listen. The therapist helped her remember, not just old Oren doing dirty things to her in secret, but as part of satanic rituals.”
“Yeah. I tried to act as if I believed her, but Lord! Every time she talked about it, it got more elaborate and less believable. She said Oren and she were present when a bunch of folks in black hoods sacrificed animals and even a baby. Then Oren did it to her while these folks looked on, and while–get this–while Tillie took pictures!”
“Yeah, totally unbelievable. It would be funny if it weren’t so sad. Can you imagine Tillie in satanic drag? ‘I’m off to the beauty parlor to get my haiuh set–we’re going to a sacrifice and orgy tonight in Foat Wuth. Now how does this little ole camera work?'” She did Tillie’s tone and prissy little gesture so well that we had to share a glum chuckle.
“I guess no one found any pictures.”
“No, Jean thinks they’re hidden somewhere.”
“And Tillie and Cullen can’t defend themselves.”
“Yeah, they’re conveniently dead. But you’re still here.” Callie looked at me sympathetically.
“Oh, God. Am I a suspect? She didn’t meet me till college.”
“But you worked for Oren, and conspired with him about something, according to her.”
“Jesus. Am I a devil-worshipper too?”
“She hasn’t put it that clearly yet, but she’s working on it. That’s the beauty of all this stuff. You don’t have to believe in the devil, you just have to believe that some people do–and apparently some really do. Maybe a few headbanging misfits who take heavy metal too seriously. But Oren and Tillie?” Callie shook her head.
“All I can think of is that Cullen tried to fix Jean up with a job when she didn’t want his help. I knew about it but didn’t tell her.”
We sat mulling over the situation. At least for a while I didn’t think about my leg or Abner shooting at me. Then something occurred to me.
“Callie, when you were here last you said something about Thump Wofford. Maybe now is the time to tell me about that.”
“Why not.” Callie looked down at her purse and plucked at her skirt. “Thump knocked Jean up. About that time she realized he was a dumb jerk and wanted to be rid of him. But Oren got wind of the situation, scared the shit out of Thump, and told Jean that, by God, they were going to do the right thing and get married in the Baptist church.”
“Tillie wouldn’t even acknowledge what had happened, much less help Jean with Oren. She seemed to be upset that she’d have to plan a church wedding on short notice. Jean then did the best thing she could have done. She sold a diamond bracelet Oren had given her for her eighteenth birthday and got an abortion. She wouldn’t tell me any details, so I’m not sure how professional it was. Then she told her dad and Thump that there might be a wedding, but she wouldn’t be there. Thump was mightily relieved.”
“So there was a reason for her attitude toward Cullen.” And, I thought, for our inability to have a child.
“You bet. I’ve always admired her for taking charge like that. I think it made her feel good about herself for a long time, and helped her through college. But there were complications in her feelings that may have come out as time passed.”
“And when she moved here near both parents.”
“Do you think there’s any connection between the Thump business and the abuse memories?” I was groping for some answer.
“Maybe. Who knows? A really good shrink might find out. Maybe there really was some abuse, and Oren’s reaction to her pregnancy was fueled by that. But it also might be just the old-fashioned dad getting out his shotgun.”
I despaired of ever finding out the truth. “What’s to be done?”
“I’d stay away and not stir her up. She’s talking a lot about divorce. I’m going to try to talk her into coming out to California with me for a while. I think I might find a shrink who could help. This quack she’s been seeing is part of the problem.”
I didn’t mention my own experiences with shrinks. Maybe I had the wrong problem or the wrong shrinks. But I was relieved that Jean had a friend like Callie, whose good sense might help in any case. I allowed myself a few selfish thoughts. I shouldn’t have, for I felt myself sinking into pain and exhaustion. “You’re the designated grownup now. Any suggestions for me? What should I do?”
Callie patted my good foot, gently. “Get well. Get a job. Get a life. Maybe you’d better at least think about the possibility of one without Jean.”
The night nurse, a maternal woman with a tough jaw and rimless glasses, stuck her head in the door. “Time for visitors to leave now. Thank you.”
“I don’t want to think about that now,” I said. “Please keep in touch.”
“I will. Rest, and don’t worry.”
I slept but without resting. Funny, I never actually saw Abner in his hunting outfit when he came after me. But in my dreams it’s very clear, the camouflage fatigues and the orange hat. I dreamed of running down long sterile hallways, and finding Abner and his gun whenever I turned a corner. He was also at some kind of satanic ritual where guys with black hoods were poking my leg. But despite the discussion with Callie, I didn’t dream about Jean. And in my obsession with reliving my ordeal under the desk, I didn’t give much thought to the idea of Jean filing for divorce. Somehow her throwing my cello off the balcony made the idea of Jean with lawyers and papers tame, remote, unreal. I consulted my feelings, and realized that I couldn’t smother my own pain with my sympathy for Jean’s, and that I couldn’t distinguish between hurt at the loss of her and hurt at her rejection of me.
For relief, I tried to summon up Toby playing music or travelling with the players or making love to Jane. What I got was a return to the siege of Parnu.

The air was still smoky, and cannon fire was just infrequent and irregular enough to carry some surprise. Toby and his fellows looked thinner. I hardly recognized James Hill. The two men were watching as a soldier pried out the nails that were holding a shoe to a horse’s hoof. The hoof was not attached to the rest of the horse, which was not in evidence; when the shoe fell to the ground with a clang, the soldier tossed the hoof into a large steaming pot. Another soldier was hacking at some loaf-shaped gray lumps with a small axe. He was short and blond, and one could tell that he would normally have been heavyset; but his cheeks were lined and thin. He offered one of the lumps to Toby with an almost cheerful look, and gabbled away in Swedish. Hill replied, and the two walked away chewing on the pieces.
“What was that he said? This bread made him think of home?”
“Aye.” Hill gave a wry snort. “Whenever there is a bad harvest, the peasants eat bark bread. And as you well know, it is not easy on the digestion. So many peasants make a habit of eating bark bread the year round so that their insides will always be prepared.”
I remembered that Toby had written in his “Petition” that he had eaten bread made of bark and hay dust during this siege.
“So, colonel,” said Toby to Hill, “how much longer? I confess I am ready to test the mercy of the Polonians.” Toby’s voice was weak, and the hands that tried to break the ersatz bread trembled. There was a kind of desperation in Toby’s eyes that I had not seen before.
Hill broke into a fit of coughing. “Yet a few days,” he said hoarsely. “If we hear of no relief we shall seek terms.”
“Two more men died last night.”
“I know. And more are like to die before the duke can raise the siege, even if he is able to make the attempt.”
Cannon boomed in the distance, as fragments of stone flew off the ragged top of a wall nearby. Toby flinched. “I grow too weak to fight. But I had rather heft a pike and take the field than be penned here starving another day.”
“Patience, good captain.”
Another large burst of fragments flew from a closer section of the wall. Toby suddenly appeared sitting on the ground, clutching at his leg. His eyes were wide with shock, and blood was flowing between his fingers. He looked around. “Captain Hall?”
Hill called out, “Ho! A surgeon!” He knelt by Toby, who had rolled over on his side, still holding his leg. Hill did not seem to be aware that his own left arm was bleeding.

Hill, his arm bandaged, led his lean and ragged troops through the gates of the town. The troops made as good a show as they could, with banners and a drum, carrying their muskets with lighted matches. Toby was borne on a litter, bandages around his leg. Other men were also carried or hobbled along on crutches. Troops of the Polish army lined the road, and stood saluting as the duke’s forces filed by.
Hill, Toby, and a few other of the garrison’s officers were escorted to a large tent. There an older officer greeted them with courteous gestures and spoke in German. I caught something about Hill being a guest and something about a surgeon. Toby seemed to be in considerable pain and did not pay much attention to the proceedings.

Toby lay on a narrow bed in a small low-ceilinged room. He looked pretty bad, but he was awake and seemed alert. The sound of steps and a rustle of cloth was followed by the entrance of a woman carrying a steaming wooden bowl. Toby’s attention focused first on the bowl, then on the woman. She seemed to be in her twenties, with strawberry-blonde hair tucked under a white cap. She had a slight overbite, lots of freckles over a thin nose, and light green eyes.
“Noo, sir, and will ye be feeling like a bit o’ brose?” I was startled to hear a thick lowland Scots accent, and Toby seemed to be too.
“Thank you, kind mistress. But tell me, am I still in Poland?”
She smiled; her teeth were better than those of many of Toby’s contemporaries. “Aye, to be sure. This is Riga, where my father is surgeon. But we came from Edinburgh when I was a wee lass.” Her voice was captivating, not only for the lilting accent, but for the rich overtones; if she sang, she would be a mezzo-soprano.
“I lived in Carlisle,” said Toby, between rapid spoonsful of what must have been oatmeal. “And I have not had good brose since I left until this moment.”
“Thank you, sir. I’m sure tis better than what you would be having at the prison. You may thank your wound for that. My father gave assurance that you would not run away. He wanted to see if he could cure your wound without cutting off your leg.”
Toby dropped his spoon. “Cut it off! God defend!”
“Nay, lad, I think we’ll let ye keep it.” A balding, middle-aged man in a plain black gown entered. “There seems to be no corruption. I cleaned the wound with aqua vitae and Mary here keeps the bandages fresh. I have good hope for you.”
“Thank you, sir. And Mistress Mary.” He looked at them and relaxed a bit. “My name is Tobias Hume.”
“And I am Alastair McNab, and this my daughter.”
“I am grateful for your hospitality.”
“You are my prisoner, sir; I am paid for your keep.” McNab spoke sternly, then softened. “But you are also my patient, and, I find, my countryman. So, if you can remember that you are a prisoner, and do not try to escape, we will try to forget it, and treat you as a guest.”
“You have my word on’t,” said Toby, “as a gentleman and soldier.”
McNab’s mouth twitched at the corners. “Very well, captain. Now, you must eat and rest. We will talk again.”
Toby, left alone, closed his eyes. I relaxed too as the vision merged into ordinary dreams. I managed to sleep for some time before Abner began hunting me, and I awoke, panting and sweating. It was around six in the morning. I returned to Toby.

Some time had passed. Toby, looking much better fed, sat with his leg on a stool by a tile-covered stove that almost filled the small room. McNab sat opposite him, while Mary sat by a smoky candle, sewing. Toby and McNab puffed on short clay pipes. Toby leaned his head back, blew a stream of smoke, and sighed contentedly. “Tis too much, Doctor. Too generous. I’m sure my Colonel Hill is not treated better in the castle at Marienburg. I am ever grateful.”
McNab waved his hand. “The Poles are ignorant of the use of tobacco. They took this from one of their English prisoners, and gave it me, saying I should make medicine of it.”
“And you have. I feel much mended.”
“Tis a pleasant scent, and goes weel wi’ an idle hour. But I doubt its value as a cure.”
“There was a rogue in the Low Countries who sold the herb.” Toby smiled at the memory. “He claimed many virtues for it; for him twas a panacea.” The two puffed a moment in silence.
Mary’s scissors clattered on the table. “Weel, I like it not. This chamber is close as it is, and blowing smoke only makes it worse. Smoke is smoke.”
“Three things there be,” declaimed McNab, “will drive a man from home–a smoking chimney, a scolding wife–I forget the third.”
“Why did you leave home?” asked Toby, shaking out his pipe with a glance at Mary. “Why did you leave Edinburgh?”
“For some of the reasons you left Carlisle, no doubt. In the main, to make a living. There are, as you may have seen, many Scots peddlers in Poland. The Poles think ’em as bad as gypsies. I’ve a cousin who rose from peddler to merchant some years back, and since I had treated his gout with somewhat more success than his Polish physicians, he persuaded me to come. He promised me introductions to some of the better folk here, and over time, my art has made way for me even against the reputation our countrymen have made. Mind ye, I am no better than a servant to most, even so.”
“And I the servant’s servant,” said Mary, with some asperity.
“Wheesht, ma dearie! Ye maun have patience.”
“I can see na mair. I’m to bed, and ye two may smoke like a’ the chimneys of Edinburgh for me.” Mary folded her sewing and left the room. Toby followed her movements with interest.
McNab leaned forward, speaking softly. “Poor lass. She has no proper suitors.”
“I find that hard to credit.”
“Och, there are those that would be her gallant. Many a young dog has come sniffing about. But they would take her to bed and not to kirk.”
“A shame.”
“Aye.” McNab looked at his pipe. “Will ye take another pipeful?”
“Thank you, not now.”
“Weel, we must be up betimes tomorrow to hear mass.”
Toby could not conceal his surprise. “Catholic mass?”
“Aye.” He looked at Toby’s expression and gave a short laugh. “When in Rome, as they say. An I lived wi’ the Turks, I’d turn to Mecca and knock my head on the ground.” Toby’s surprise turned to concern and maybe a little fear.
“You jest.”
“A wee bit,” said McNab, smiling. “Dinna worry, captain. I am not of the Inquisition; I wish to avoid all such. I would rather be in the kirk at Edinburgh.” Toby looked relieved. “But to tell truth, I know not where the truth lies.”
“Have you not faith?”
“Aye, I have faith that a just God, if he exists, will not damn a man for choosing the wrong house to pray in or the wrong prayer. And since the papists may as well be right on some points as the Scottish Kirk, I will not risk martyrdom. Have ye read Montaigne, the witty Frenchman?”
“No. Is he a papist or a Huguenot?”
“Oh, a papist. But he would never kill a Huguenot, as the Guises did on St. Bartholomew’s. Faith!” He opened the door of the stove and spat. “How is it faith if one runs howling after the blood of this papist, that Protestant, this Turk, that Christian? When one book says love thy neighbor as thyself and do good to them that hate you, and the other book says much the same?”
“But the Spanish– ” Toby began.
“Aye, the Spanish. Did they launch the Armada or fight the Dutch because they were Catholics or because they were Spanish?”

On this theological note, my vision was interrupted by a hospital chaplain, in black suit and dog collar, asking if I would like his company. After some small talk, he asked if I were Protestant, Catholic, or Jewish. I said “Protestant,” but with mental reservations, as the Elizabethan Jesuits used to do. He continued the visit on a polite and friendly level for a while, then promised to send me the Protestant chaplain.

Toby scratched on a wax tablet, humming to himself and smiling. He was sitting on a bench outside the timber and plaster house in the shade of the low thatched roof. It seemed to be a pleasant spring day. He had a crutch beside him, but his leg looked better. Dr. McNab approached along a dusty dirt road lined with similar houses. Behind him one could see steeples and a few taller buildings about a mile away. The doctor stopped a few yards from his door, put down his bag, and fanned himself with his broad-brimmed hat.
“Weel, noo. I maun post an extra guard on ye, lest ye flee. You look too pleased wi’ yoursel’ to be a wounded prisoner.”
“The Muses have not forsaken me, good doctor. I have a song for you. Would I had my viol.”
Mary appeared in the doorway. “He’s been humming like a beehive for hours.”
“Let’s hear it, then,” said the doctor, joining Toby on the bench.
In a rather hoarse baritone, Toby sang an unaccompanied version of his tobacco song:

Tobacco, tobacco,
Sing sweetly for tobacco;
Tobacco is like love,
O love it,
For you see I will prove it.

Love maketh lean the fat men’s tumor,
So doth tobacco;
Love still dries up the wanton humor,
So doth tobacco;
Love makes men sail from shore to shore,
So doth tobacco;
Tis fond love often makes men poor,
So doth tobacco;
Love makes men scorn all coward fears,
So doth tobacco;
Love often sets men by the ears,
So doth tobacco.

Tobacco, tobacco,
Sing sweetly for tobacco;
Tobacco is like love,
O love it,
For you see I have proved it.

“Quod est demonstrandum!” laughed McNab; Mary also laughed, showing some gum above her slightly protruding teeth.
McNab alternated chuckles and compliments for a few moments. “Marvellous witty, I assure you.” Then he smiled thoughtfully. “You had a viol?”
“Aye, I left it in Reval. Where it is now I cannot tell.”
McNab hummed a bit, then turned to Toby. “I have a scheme. I have a patient, a lady whose illness is slight, but compounded by melancholy. Her husband is a lord of some state here, a Hungarian, and one who takes tobacco. His father was a great hero to the Poles, and he has served them well himself. They enjoy music, and have a number of instruments, among them a fair chest of viols. Come with me and sing this song for the lady. If it improves her humor, I’ll bind you prentice.”

Limping and leaning on his crutch, Toby followed McNab to the door of a fine stone house. A servant in clean but worn livery admitted them and led them to an upstairs room. There a lady in her forties was propped up in bed, where she sipped broth from a silver bowl. McNab and Toby bowed, and McNab made the introductions in Polish. After some explanation, the lady spoke to the servant, who returned with a viol and bow. Toby tuned, and spoke admiringly of the quality of the viol. Then Toby sang his song, and McNab translated the words. The lady smiled, but much seemed to be lost in translation. She spoke pleasantly to McNab for a few moments.
“Lady Bekes would like you to play some more, perhaps a jig or a brawl.”
Toby obliged, and began a lively tune, one of the jigs he printed in his 1605 book. The lady’s bedclothes began to move near her feet. Suddenly McNab stood and bowed, and Toby broke off as a wiry, dark-bearded man entered, looking surprised but pleased. The lady and lord began to jabber happily in Polish, and McNab answered them deferentially. The lord then sat on his wife’s bed, held her hand and waved at Toby for more. Toby resumed playing.

Later scenes revealed Toby playing and the lord and lady dancing energetically. Another time Toby performed “The Lord Beccus Almaine,” and “Beccus an Hungarian Lord his delight.” The couple was obviously pleased. But when the lord pulled out a purse, Toby spoke to McNab, who then spoke to the lord. When I next saw Toby at McNab’s, he was playing the lord’s viol, with Mary listening intently.

All this cheerfulness helped me considerably, much more than the reruns of “Mary Tyler Moore” on the hospital TV. But when I actually slept, eventually there would be Abner with his orange hat and deer rifle, coming around the corner of McNab’s cottage, or bursting into Lord Bekes’s parlor.

Toby sat by the cottage door; the crutch had given way to a stick. Mary was a few yards away, scrubbing clothes in a wooden tub, singing to herself. Toby watched and listened. Absorbed in her task, Mary sang freely and without self-consciousness in her rich natural mezzo.

Oh, whar ha’ ye been the livelong day,
My little wee croodin’ doo?
I’ve been to see my stepmother,
Oh mummy, mak my bed noo.

I remembered a version of this song, a kind of grim lullaby variation on “Lord Randal.” A “croodin’ doo” is a cooing dove. A strange expression came over Toby’s face as Mary sang, and tears sprang to his eyes. He leaned his elbows on his knees and covered his face with his hands. His back heaved. Mary, rising to hang out a shirt on a tree branch, noticed and broke off her song. Stepping to the bench, she put her hand on Toby’s shoulder.
“Captain Toby? Are ye ill?”
Toby shook his head.
“Speak to me,” said Mary, sitting by Toby, “what is it?”
Toby looked up, red-faced, with a sheepish smile. “A memory. Och, I’m too soft to be a soldier.”
“Tell me,” Mary pressed.
“The song. I remember very little of my mother–she died when I was but a babe–but it came to me just then that she sang that song.”
“Ah, I’m sorry to make you melancholy.”
“No, no. It was a good memory. But it made me think of other losses.”
“Tell me. It may help.” She smiled gently, her hand still on Toby’s shoulder. “I’ll be a good Protestant confessor.”
Toby reached up and took Mary’s hand from his shoulder and held it, looking at it thoughtfully a moment; then he placed it on the bench between them. “I lost my wife to the plague. And my son. And friends in the wars. And–” He stopped and put his hand to his mouth.
“I have lost so many, I fear to have more to lose.” He almost whispered. Mary sat quietly, looking at her hand on the bench. Then she grasped his arm with both hands and leaned her head on his shoulder. They sat for a long time without moving or speaking.

Time’s Bending Sickle

May 1, 2011


For previous chapters (or previous novels) go to the archives, or scroll down for more recent posts.

26. A Hell of Time

Howell had a serious, almost sad expression on his face, but something about his eyes and body language was in conflict.  I was reminded of the undertaker at Tillie’s funeral sympathizing with Jean after selling her a twenty-thousand dollar casket.  Howell sat in Cullen’s old office now, at an expensive new desk.  Cullen’s antique globe stood in a new mahogany stand by his chair; Howell gave it a spin.  He did not ask me to sit.

“Tony, you’ve no doubt heard that an LBO forces a company to be more efficient, more disciplined, to do more with less.”

“I’ve heard that.”

“We can’t afford to carry people for sentimental reasons.”

“Of course.”

“Our sales are going to focus now on the really big jobs.  We don’t have time for the little ones.”

“Schools, hospitals.”

“Yeah, that sort of thing.  I know that’s been your specialty.”

“I’ve helped with the games.”

“We’re selling off some of our subsidiaries.  We have a nice offer for Wizardware.”

“How about Ramforce?”

He ignored the question.  “What I’m getting to is that I think you could do better elsewhere.  I don’t think you’ll be happy under the new structure.”

I was surprised I wasn’t more surprised.  “I’m pretty adaptable.”  I wouldn’t beg, but I didn’t want it to be too easy.

But Howell was getting bored and cut to the chase.  “Yeah.  Well, you can adapt elsewhere.  We’re outplacing you.”

“You’re firing me.”

“If you want to see it that way.”  He began looking through files on his desk.

“You’d be surprised how I see things.”

“You have until noon tomorrow to clean out your desk.  You will take no computer equipment, floppy discs, printouts, or files.  Goodbye, Tony.”  He picked up a file and began reading.  I left.

I went home.  I’d get my tape player and pictures tomorrow.  Although I’d have to talk to Perry, I wasn’t up to it then.  In some ways, I was relieved.  I didn’t have to act a part I felt less and less convincing in.  But I didn’t have a job, and I was uneasy about breaking the news to Jean.  It was not clear to me how much Jean could do after the buyout, particularly about Howell’s decisions on personnel matters.  What would, or could, Jean do about my job?  Howell didn’t seem at all worried.

Jean wasn’t there when I got home.  After pulling off my tie and dropping it in the trash, I got a beer and plopped on the sofa.  The mail was on the coffee table.  Southern Living, electric bill, bill from Jean’s therapist.  And one of Jean’s notebooks.  Although I had been curious about her therapy, especially since she had been so secretive, I respected her privacy.  But I guess my guard was down, for without a second thought, I opened the book and read.

Memories more and more clear.  Mom’s death seemed to break down a barrier.  Before, always had trouble putting together new memories and ordinary memories, outside memories–happy little girl, domestic mother, strict father, school, horses, summers on the lake, Jakeo.  Jakeo on the lakeo.  They stood apart from the ones B. has helped me find.  But now they come together.  Now I remember the blood and the candles at the lake.  Men in black.  Dad on the sleeping porch and the fireflies.  Zipping sound.  H. supportive, understanding, helps.  T. doesn’t have a clue.  He wouldn’t believe me.  I think he’s one of them.  He says he plays music but he was with dad.  H. says soon.

I didn’t know what to make of this.  Jakeo was a dog Jean had when she was younger, and the Cullens did have a lake house with a sleeping porch.  I supposed I was T., but I wasn’t sure about H. or B.  And who were “them?”  I was about to read on when I heard Jean rattling her keys at the door.  I closed the notebook and picked up the magazine.

“What are you doing home?”  Jean, in shorts and t-shirt, had some library books and a bag from the drugstore.

I raised my beer.  “I got fired–sorry, outplaced.”

She didn’t seem surprised.  She reacted as if I had told her I lost my hankerchief.  “What are you going to do?”

“Thanks for the sympathy.  What’s the board’s role after the buyout?  What are you going to do?”

“What do you expect me to do?  You want me to pull strings, encourage nepotism?”

“Isn’t that how I got the job?  Why can’t I keep it that way?”

Jean didn’t answer.  She was focused on the coffee table.  Dropping her bag and books, she strode to the table and picked up the notebook, looking closely at the edge.  “You read my journal.”

“I picked it up.  I didn’t realize what it was.”

“Don’t lie to me.”

“All right.  I wouldn’t have ordinarily.  I don’t get fired every day.  I didn’t read much.”

“You’re lying.  You lie all the time.”  She clasped the notebook to her chest and burned into me with her eyes.  She was furious.

“I’m sorry.  I don’t lie all the time.  What do you think I lie to you about?”

“Everything!  You lie about women, you lie about music, you lie about where you go and what you do.  You lie so you can’t believe.”

“Believe what?”  I was losing her.

“I won’t tell you because you won’t believe.”  She looked around, wild-eyed.  “Get out!  I don’t want you around anymore!”

“Jean!  Please!”

“Get out!  Now!”

“Please, sit and talk.  What’s wrong?”

“I don’t want to talk.  I don’t believe you.  Go away!”

“Where should I go?”

“I don’t care.  Just go!”  She picked up my jacket and threw it into the hall.  She ran into the bedroom and started struggling with the window.  I came in, fearful of what she might do.  The window resisted her, so she glanced around, eyes wide, lips open, and grabbed some of my clothes from the open closet.  Shoving me aside, she ran into the living room and opened the door to the balcony.

“Jean!  Don’t!”  I was afraid she would jump.  But she threw my clothes off the balcony and came back in.  I tried to grab her, but she struck me surprisingly hard and twisted away.  She was panting.  Stopping at the bookshelf, she grabbed an armload of my music scores and dumped them from the balcony.

“Get out!” she snarled, coming in and grabbing more music.  I tried to stop her again, and she kneed me in the crotch.  I backed away and sat hard on the sofa, doubled up.  I had practiced last night, so my cello was propped in the corner, not in its case.  She grabbed it and headed for the balcony.  I couldn’t move, and I couldn’t believe she would do what she did.  Without hesitating, she threw the cello over the rail.  We were six stories up.

She became less frantic, more methodical.  Out went my books, more clothes.  Finally she stopped, looked around.  I believe she would have thrown me off the balcony if she could.  I found I could move and walked to the door.  She rembered my records, grabbed a handful, and headed for the balcony.  I picked up my jacket on my way out.

Below, I found the pitiful kindling that used to be my cello.  It was not a fine, irreplaceable instrument, nothing like Clio’s Goffriller.  If I ever got a job that paid as well as Cullen, I could afford to get another as good.  But it was an old friend, and I had sacrificed much as a student to get it, and I knew where its weak spots and its strengths were–like an old love, I knew what turned it on.  I salvaged the bridge, tailpiece, neck and pegbox; the bow had landed in an azalea bush, and had not split.  But the case came down then, almost hitting me.  It was fiberglass, but the hinges sprung and it dented badly.

I gathered up shirts, underwear, socks, and carried armloads to my car.  Some of the books, music, and records had sailed into the swimming pool; others I found and loaded into the car.  It was hot, and I was suddenly very tired.  My possessions–books and music that had given me pleasure–seemed just so much litter.  I looked up at our balcony.  Jean threw down my robe and a handful of stuff that I guessed included my razor and toothbrush.  If she had exhausted all but the bathroom, she must be about finished.

Numb, not knowing what else to do, I got in the car and drove back to the office.  The receptionist gave me an odd look, but said nothing.  My office was empty, and the hall was quiet.  I sat down at my desk.  Like a kettledrum crescendo, rage welled up inside me.  I clenched my fists and teeth.  “Bitch!”  My cello, the only thing I owned that I had any feeling for, was gone.  I had been discarded, trashed, as well.  I banged on the desk until I realized my hands might get hurt, and instinctively stopped.  The anger drained away.  There was a misunderstanding, a serious mistake somewhere, a delusion.  Jean may not be rational just now, not fully responsible.  Unstable, unbalanced, delusional, mentally ill.  Maybe she is having hallucinations.  Maybe she sees whatever happens to Lady Jane Monmouth.  I ground my teeth.  These terms, these slippery, evasive words for whatever throws us together or pulls us apart, makes us hurt, help, love, or kill one another.

I pulled out my pocket calendar, and found the numbers Callie had given me.

“I can’t come to the phone now,” said Callie’s recorded voice, “but please leave your number at the beep.”  There was a pause, and then the Roadrunner said “Mbeep-mbeep,” followed by a loud crash ending in a tinkle of broken glass.  I couldn’t help smiling.

“Callie, it’s Tony.  Jean is having a bad time.  She just threw me out, so I’m no use to her.  You might get me here at 214-786-3301.”

I tried the other number, but there was no answer.  I looked around the office.  What was mine?  The tape player, some tapes, a frame with pictures of Jean and an old one of my parents.  In the desk drawer were nail clippers, aspirin, and Tums.  My canvas briefcase stayed at the office unless I was travelling–everything fit in easily.  I’ll ask at the desk if there is a check for me.  Where should they send it?  I called Callie’s second number again.


“Callie, it’s Tony.”

“Hey there, Antonio.”  Her voice was bright.  “How you doing?”

“Not so good.  Jean’s in some kind of trouble and lit into me.  Threw me out.  Oh, and I got fired.”

“Lord, lord.  I’m sorry.  What about Jean?”

I explained what happened, and paraphrased what I had seen in the journal.

“Poor child.  I remember that she talked very fondly about how she and her dad used to sit on the porch at the lake and spot fireflies.  I don’t get that other stuff.”

“Jean needs a friend with some sense right now.  Can you come?”

“I’ll try.  I’ll call her now, first.”

“I wish I could do something, but I seem to set her off.  Callie, you’ve got to believe me–I haven’t been beating her or cheating on her or anything.”

“For some reason I trust you, Tony.  But if I’m wrong, I’ll slap the shit out of you.”

“I’ll try to stay at this number for a while.  Then I guess I’ll find a room.  Try me at the Holiday Inn in Irving.”

“OK.  Hang in there.”

I hung up, got out the phone book, and started to look up the Holiday Inn.  Then I stopped and called Perry’s extension.  I needed a friendly voice.

“Perry, it’s Tony.  You still have your job?”

“So far.  Say, do you mean you–”

“Yeah.  Howell says ‘outplaced.’  And I’m having trouble at home too.  I won’t be playing for a while.”

“Oh shit.  Hold it.  Are you in your office?”

“Yeah, why?”

“Abner Cross just went in the east door carrying a gun.”


“Yeah, he’s in hunting fatigues, orange cap, with a deer rifle.  Disappear, quick.  I’ll call the cops.”  He hung up.

I was paralyzed for a moment.  The east door led to the stairs this side of the elevator, and there was no other exit on my end of the hall.  Jesus.  With a desperate surge of strength, I shoved the file cabinet against the door, then braced it with the desk turned lengthwise.  The door couldn’t be opened more than a crack.  The file cabinet was metal, but it wouldn’t stop a large caliber bullet, though the papers inside would help.  I huddled in the kneehole of the desk, drawing the phone down by me.  I had to urinate.

The elevator door chimed.  Damn–I could have made it down the stairs.  “Maclean!”  It was Abner.  He tried the door, gave it a shove.  I felt it move, but only a crack.  “Tony, you in there, buddy?  Come on out, I just want to talk.”  He was making an attempt to sound natural, but there was a hysterical quaver in his voice.  I kept quiet.  “I know you’re in there.  Just wanted to let you know what I’ve been up to lately.  Got a job selling burial insurance.  Ever sold burial insurance, Tony?  Worked nights, too, in a Jiffy-Shop.  Got fired for drinking their beer.  Wife’s gone.  Still get out to hunt a little.  Want to go hunting, Tony?”

Then the shots began.  I’ve talked about this incident before; I don’t think we need to go over it again.

I woke up in bed, terribly thirsty.  I tried to turn over but my legs felt heavy and awkward, and there was an IV in my arm and a tube leading to a pouch hanging on a stand.  My mind and eyes cleared enough to realize that I was in the hospital, and that my leg was bandaged and the bed was raised under my knees.  I found a glass of water with a straw, and drank it all.  There was a pitcher with more water, and I drank that.  My head ached, and my leg was sore, but I poked around and decided that I was not hurt anywhere else.  After a while a nurse, a friendly young black woman, brought me some pills and emptied a plastic pouch of red fluid that seemed to be draining from my leg through a tube.  Another woman brought food.  The meal was some sort of hambuger steak in tomato sauce, mashed potatoes, english peas, a doughy roll, iced tea, and a cup of melting ice cream.  I felt a wave of nausea.  I drank the tea and tasted the ice cream.

I tried to relax.  I could tell that one of the pills must have been a sedative, for I felt drowsy.  But my mind kept going over the events of what must have been the worst day of my life.  It was almost funny, almost a cartoon: fired, dumped, and shot in one day.  I thought of Callie’s Roadrunner on her phone machine–I was the coyote, walking off the cliff, standing on air till I noticed where I was, and then falling to make a puff of dust.  I started laughing, and couldn’t stop.  The tears ran down my cheeks, and my sides hurt.  Somewhere along the way the laughter turned to crying.

I dozed off and dreamt I was in the woods in Tennessee.  I knew the area I was in, for it was near my uncle’s farm.  I walked up a hill, feeling very anxious.  I knew I had to get home as fast as I could.  I thought I saw something move to my left–a flash of orange.  I hid behind a tree, but did not feel safe. Everything seemed quiet, so I moved off again toward my uncle’s house.  Abner Cross stepped out in front of me in his camouflage and orange hat, pointing his rifle, and grinning maliciously.  “Want to go hunting, Tony?”  He sighted down the barrel and pulled the trigger.

I sat up panting and sweating in the hospital bed.  Abner was not here, I repeated; he’s in jail.  Maybe they took him to a hospital, mental ward.  Maybe he’s in this hospital.  Maybe he’ll get loose and find me.  How?  He could just call information.  He could get a scalpel, or even a pillow, and smother me while I slept.  I crawled out of bed, and my leg stabbed me when I touched the floor.  Wincing, I limped to the door, dragging the IV stand.  No lock.  The pain and the movement cleared my head a bit, and I realized how paranoid my actions were.  At least, while I’m up, I could empty my bladder.  Still thirsty.

Back in bed, I tried to think in another direction.  Jean.  I reached for the phone and called.  No answer; the answering machine came on.  I told Jean to call me at the number printed on the phone cradle; I didn’t say where I was or how I got there.  Then I called again, giving the code to check other messages.  There were two, both for Jean.  One was from Callie, sounding urgent and concerned, leaving several numbers; the other was from Howell, very brief and businesslike: call him at home.

I lay back, exhausted, but wakeful.  I had nothing to read.  I turned on the TV and found nothing that held my attention.  I wondered if I could invoke Toby.

Toby huddled at the base of an old stone wall.  He seemed to be asleep under a stained and torn cloak.  His feet were wrapped in dirty strips of cloth.  He looked thin and ill.  A cannon fired nearby, and Toby jerked upright, his eyes staring.  “Captain Hall!  Captain Hall!” he cried.  He looked around frantically, then relaxed, closed his eyes, and groaned.  Other haggard men sitting in corners or shuffling along close to walls paid him no attention.  He moved slowly to his feet and climbed a stair leading to the platform that allowed the soldiers to look out over the fortifications of the town.  As he walked the platform, I could see several ships at anchor in the harbor.  One close in fired a cannon at the town; the ball thumped into the sloping wall without having much effect.  On the land side of the town an army had settled in, and trenches snaked about linking gabions that protected cannon.  I could make out maybe fifteen batteries.  The terrain was flat; tents and cooking fires could be seen for some distance.  I realized that Toby was being besieged in Parnu.

This was not exactly the escape I wanted, but I let the vision run on.   Toby stopped to speak to another thin and sick-looking soldier.  Both flinched as a mortar round sailed over the wall near them.  Fortunately, it was a solid lump–it seemed to be stone–and hit nothing in the open field below the wall.  Toby and the other soldier climbed down from the platform and walked toward a building with thick stone walls.  Inside was a long room with a low ceiling containing three long trestle tables with benches.  A man was stirring a large pot hung on a crane in the fireplace at the far end of the room.  As they approached, I smelled rotting meat.  I was still feeling nauseated, and decided I couldn’t take any more at the moment.  I shook my head and closed my eyes.  The vision was still there.  I took a drink of water, and turned on the television.  This produced an annoying static-like effect, but did not end the vision.  The man at the pot dished up a bowl of some gray substance and handed it to Toby.  I hobbled to the bathroom and threw up.  After splashing water on my face and rinsing out my mouth, I finally shook off the vision.

My inability to end the vision disturbed me greatly.  To my relief, a nurse came in with two men.  They were detectives, come for my statement about the shooting.  They were matter of fact, and registered no surprise or disapproval when I told them why Abner might have had a grudge.  After they left, another nurse came with more pills.  I kept her there chatting, asking about her work, her home life, her boyfriend.  She was a cheerful young Asian woman, Filipino probably, and indulged me for a while.  But she eventually eased herself out.  I forced myself to play an imaginary game of Dragonbreath, until, mercifully, the pills took effect.