Time’s Bending Sickle

The beginning of this novel is to be found in the archives under October 2010. Scroll down to chapter one.

38. The Bettering of the Time

Bewildered, Clio looked at me. “I thought they would be someone else,” I said. My heart surged with adrenaline, but I did not feel faint or panicky. Thank you, Dr. Levin.
“And who would that be?” asked Scarlatti. “Some cop?”
“If you flash a badge, you expect a cop. We’re just good citizens.”
Scarlatti sat on a sofa and crossed his legs, pinching up the crease on the pants of his dark gray double-breasted suit. Mel sat at the dining table, laying his gun down casually before him. I guessed it to be a .45 automatic, the kind they used in old war movies. The candlelight exaggerated the acne scars on Mel’s face.
“So,” said Scarlatti, “what are you going to tell me?”
“I thought you were going to tell me something first. But you didn’t show.”
“I like it here better.”
Clio had found her voice. “Who are you and what are you doing in my house?” She was angry. To me she said, “And how do they know you?”
“I’ll explain later. They are not my friends.”
“Now, now,” protested Scarlatti. “I’m here for a very friendly purpose.” To Clio: “I don’t want your boyfriend here to get hurt. So he’s going to tell me what he knows, and stop playing games.”
“I’ve told you all I know.”
“Why did you call Drew? What were you going to tell him?”
“I was just going to pull his chain a little. Make him afraid I knew more than I do. The bastard fired me, you know.”
“I think you don’t know what you’ve got into, and you don’t wanna know. But I’ve gotta know what you know, and who else knows it. Who knows about that file besides your ex?”
Clio glanced at me. “You, Drew, Tedesco–I guess–my ex-wife, and her lawyer. I don’t know who else might have seen it.”
Scarlatti glanced around impatiently. “You an artist?” he asked Clio.
“Yes.”
“Valuable paintings?” No answer. “Nice place. Light in the daytime. Room to work. Be a shame if it burned down, now. Elecrical problem. Power surge after a blackout like this.” I had an image of Clio’s paintings and her cello burning. “Your boyfriend doesn’t have dick–lives in a rat’s nest. You wouldn’t want to have to move in with him.”
“Hold on,” I said. “She doesn’t have any part in this.”
“If you want to keep her out of it, you need to be more cooperative.” He stood and walked into the studio. Picking up a painting from a stack facing the wall, he carried it toward the light. “Very nice,” he said. “Elegant composition, nice pallette. Fetch three-four grand in a Georgetown gallery. What do you think?” he asked Mel.
Mel grinned and squinted at it over his extended thumb. “Very pretty.”
Scarlatti took out a keychain and opened a little gold penknife. “It’s a little too wide, though–needs cropping.” He brought the knife toward the canvas.
“Stop!” shouted Clio, horrified. Mel chuckled and Scarlatti looked up at her, smiling slightly. I was standing two steps from Clio’s work table. I was angry and afraid, but found I could think. I grabbed a can holding about a quart of paint thinner. While they were both focused on Clio, I stepped forward four quick steps and threw the paint thinner toward Mel’s eyes. I had thought to blind him while I dove for the gun, but it turned out even better: as the thinner flew across the candle and onto Mel, it burst into flame. Everything moved fast, but it felt like slow-motion. Mel screamed and fell back, his chair tipping backwards. I grabbed the gun from the table. Clio stood with her mouth open, one hand on her painting. Scarlatti swore and lunged toward me. I managed to dodge him and give him a crack on the back of his head with the gun. Mel was screaming and rolling on the floor. I felt to find the safety catch on the pistol and be sure it was off. Clio now tossed her painting aside and reached under her worktable, coming up with a fire extinguisher, which she sprayed on Mel. Scarlatti, stunned for only a moment, got up and moved toward me.
“I’ll shoot.”
“No you won’t, you fuckin’ wuss.”
Just then Clio turned the extinguisher on Scarlatti’s face, blinding him for a moment. I got the table between us and aimed the gun with both hands.
Scarlatti stood, slowly pulled a handkerchief from his breast pocket, wiped his face, and looked at his foam-covered clothes. “Now you’ve made me mad. This Armani cost me two big ones.” Staring at me steadily, he reached into his coat. I aimed at his armpit, where his hand was going, and pulled the trigger. The recoil was terrific, and the noise deafening. I had a moment under my desk at Cullen, but it quickly faded. The force of the shot spun Scarlatti around and knocked him to the floor. Mel stopped moaning and sat up. His face and hands were blackened like a cartoon character, and his eyes were wide. I swung around to face him, and felt a tug around my middle. What was it? Oh, tape for the wire. The wire–where was Schirmer?
He was at the door. Schirmer and two other agents, guns drawn, entered just as the lights came back on. “What a mess,” he said, looking around. Mel lay back down and moaned. I heard Scarlatti cursing vigorously.
“In my movie, the cavalry gets here sooner,” I said.
“We nearly didn’t follow you, but we’re glad we did. We got enough on tape to take care of these two for a while. We hoped to get more, but you all started making so much noise we thought we’d better see about you.” Schirmer was smiling, almost relaxed, almost human. “Let’s see what you’ve done to poor Mr. Scarlatti.”
“The sonuvabitch shot my damn fingers off, that’s what,” said Scarlatti, sitting up and showing a bleeding hand.
Schirmer bent over Scarlatti. “Broke a pretty little Beretta 8-mil, too. And made a hole in this nice suit.”
“Shit,” Scarlatti said.
Clio sat heavily on a dining table chair. “I wish someone would tell me what’s going on.”
“They are the FBI,” I said. “Those are mobsters. I’m an idiot. I’m sorry about all this. Are you all right?”
“Yes. Are you?”
“I think so.” I pulled her up and hugged her, and she hugged back. Then we both started laughing, and couldn’t stop.
Scarlatti felt under his arm. “Hey, I’m bleeding here.” That produced a new spasm of laughter. “You people got no sense of–of occasion.”
We eventually quieted down, as Schirmer called for medical and police help. Soon there were Baltimore police, detectives, and paramedics swarming around, and then there were only two detectives and Schirmer. We told detectives Pendleton and Bayliss what had happened, and Schirmer confirmed that he had much of what passed on tape, which he would share with the police as soon as he was done with his investigation. My explanation of what led up to the encounter was directed as much to Clio as to the detectives. There were questions that I couldn’t answer, and that Schirmer wouldn’t, much to the exasperation of the detectives.
When the questions and answers began to be repeated, Clio stood and said, “I wish you would all leave. You’ve made a big mess, and I’ve got to clean it up, or I’ll go nuts.”
After we assured the detectives that we would be available, they left. Schirmer rose to go, and Clio gave me a shove. “You go too. I need some quiet time alone. Come for dinner tomorrow.”
“OK.” I left.
At home, I was restless, my mind full of what had happened, questions about how Scarlatti, Howell, and Tedesco were connected. Thoughts about Clio. I paced and stewed. I eventually got into bed, but my mind continued to race around the same scenes and questions. Maybe I could get a vision and at least change my mental channel.

Toby stood in the hallway of a large house, talking earnestly to a man with a chain around his neck. Toby’s hands were full of papers.
“Good Captain,” said the man, “the earl cannot see you now. He is very busy.”
“But I must show him the improvements on my designs.”
The man with the chain closed his eyes, apparently summoning his patience. “The earl will send for you when he has leisure. But he cannot see you now.” There was an unpleasant prissiness in his tone. “Good sir, may I advise you? If you are too importunate in your demands for the earl’s time, you may wear out your welcome here.”
Toby flushed. “Who are you to speak for the earl thus to one of his guests? You–you three-suited, hundred pound, worsted-stocking, chain-wearing, glass-gazing eater of broken meats.”
“Sir,” said the man, also flushing, “it is not gentle to mock a man for his condition, but it seems you need reminding that you are here on the earl’s charity, and should be happy to have such broken meats as fall to you.”
At that moment a younger servant approached. “Begging your pardons, sirs, but Sir James Spens is here to see Captain Hume.”
Both Toby and the steward looked astonished. But Toby recovered, and said, “Ah yes, Sir James Spens, servant of two kings, and my familiar acquaintance. Take me to him, my good lad.”
The servant glanced at the steward, who gave a dismissing gesture; he then led Toby into another room. Spens and another man greeted him. Toby bowed, his expression showing a mixture of pleasure and suspicion.
“Good Captain Hume,” said Spens, “well met. I am here to beg your assistance. Our master, his majesty King Gustavus, has commissioned me to raise troops here to aid the Duke of Mecklenburg. When I learned that you had returned to England, I recalled that you were an experienced old soldier, and, if you have no other business at present, might be persuaded to raise a company for his majesty’s service.”
“Sir, it would be my honor to aid you in serving his majesty. I am now at leisure, and would be grateful for employment.” Toby moved closer to Spens and spoke more confidentially. “I confess, sir, that I had thought you my enemy–”
“Oh, no, sir!”
“–But I am happy to be disabused. By chance, you find me with the latest designs for my instruments of war. We shall show these to the king when we return to Sweden.” He thrust his papers toward a surprised Spens.
“By all means, Captain.”
At that moment, William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke entered. He had aged considerably since he had listened to Toby’s music. Spens bowed and spoke. “My lord, I had business with your guest here, and had not hoped to meet you–I am indeed fortunate.”
“You are welcome, Sir James. On the business of his majesty of Sweden, I hear?”
“Aye, my lord. I have asked the captain to raise a company for his majesty.”
“Oh, sir, I fear we cannot part with the captain.”
“Truly, my lord?” Spens looked puzzled.
“My lord–” Toby began.
“The captain may petition King Charles for leave, but I doubt if it will be granted. If you will spare me a moment in private, I shall tell you of the more particular need we have of the captain. But Captain, if you are determined to go, you may use my study to write your petition.”
“By your leave, my lord, I shall do so. I mean no ingratitude or slur on your hospitality, my lord, but I would have employment.”
“Say no more. My study is at your disposal.” Toby bowed and crossed the hall to another room containing books and a writing table. Through the door, I could see Pembroke talking to Spens, who looked up and mouthed an understanding “Ah!” They moved out of view. Meanwhile Toby sat at the table and prepared to write. As he was sharpening a pen he noticed a large folio open on the table. He stopped and read a page beginning “To the most noble and incomparable paire of brethren. William Earle of Pembroke, &c. Lord Chamberlaine to the Kings most Excellent Majesty,” and ending with the names “John Heminge and Henry Condell.” He then dipped his pen and wrote:

To the Kings most Excellent Majesty
The humble petition of Captain Humes.

Most humbly sheweth unto your sacred Majesty that your petitioner hath served in many foreign Countries as a Captain, and also in the King of Sweathland’s wars, who hath now sent for your petitioner into Mickle-Bury Land to do his Majesty further service.

His most humble request therefore to your Majesty is, that your highness will be graciously pleased to grant him liberty for two years to go to serve the King of Sweathland in his wars and also to grant him your royal pass to go over to the King of Sweathland with 120 men that want means to live here in England, your petitioner having taken pains already to get the most of them together.

And as duty binds him he will pray for your Majesties long happy and most prosperous reign.

If it please your Majesty to send any letters by the petitioner unto the King of Sweathen, they shall be safely delivered to his Majesties own hands, he being resolved to pass over unto him within thrice three days with your Majesties favor and leave.

Toby copied this over in a neat italic hand and folded the sheet. He then hurried up to a little attic room, changed into a suit of somewhat better-looking clothes, and set off to deliver his petition.

Toby faced a group of a dozen ragged men and three boys of nine or ten. They were in a small field surrounded by buildings; the square tower of St. Paul’s was not too far off. The men reminded me very much of the homeless drunks around the Baltimore waterfront, and the boys looked like the cast of Oliver, grinning and barefoot.
“Gentlemen,” began Toby, striking a pose with his hand on his sword hilt, “I find that we are not to go to the Low Countries, but to Mickle-Bury Land to serve the King of Sweden, who would redeem that land from the army of the pope.”
“Captain,” said a snaggle-toothed wretch in a stained and torn leather jacket, “tis cold in those parts, and we shall need new coats.”
“Aye, and boots,” added one of the barefoot boys.
“You shall have them,” said Toby, “when the king sends my commission.”
“We cannot wait to eat till then, Captain,” said a gaunt creature with sores on his neck. Others cried “Aye! Aye!”
“Very well,” said Toby, raising his right hand. “You shall have a part of your pay. After drill.”
“Me feet is too sore for drill, Captain,” said a boy, hobbling in place.
“No pay without drill. You must learn to bear some pains. Now order your column!” The group shuffled into formation. “By the right–march!”
Toby, very much like Captain Hall before him, shouted orders and browbeat the group into some semblance of military drill for about ten minutes. The boys seemed to enjoy the game, but the men began to clamor for their pay. Finally, Toby gave up, ordered them to form a line, and gave each a small coin from his thin purse. As they hurriedly dispersed, Toby called out after them, “Bring more men tomorrow! We must fill out the company before we depart!”
As Toby entered Pembroke House, the steward complacently informed him that the earl and a lady wished to see him in the study. Toby entered to find the earl and a well-preserved middle-aged lady in black with a plain linen collar. She had put on weight and her hair was gray, but it was clearly Audrey. She rose and took him by the hand.
“Good Master Toby,” she said warmly. “Do you not remember your old pupil?”
Toby stared, then nodded, wiping his eyes. He did not speak.
“Pray you, sit down. His lordship and I have been talking of you. I only learned two days ago that you were in London, and I rejoiced that you were yet living.”
“Lady Audrey is your true friend, Captain,” said the earl.
Audrey went on. “The earl has been your kind and generous host for many weeks. But it fits not a man of your parts to live here on charity. You have earned a better and more lasting place. There is now a foundation at the Charterhouse established as a kind of college for those who have served well but can serve no longer.”
“I can yet serve,” said Toby, straightening up in his chair. “I am sent for by the king of Sweden.”
“Nay, good Captain,” said the earl, “our king will not allow you to go. You were best to attend Lady Audrey.” He rose. “I must leave, but Lady Audrey will stay and tell you more.”
Toby rose and bowed as the earl left the room. He sat with a sigh and Audrey patted his hand. “Do not fret, old friend. Twill be for the best. You shall have a chamber, food, and clothing for the rest of your days. Tis time to put away your arms and exchange the active life for the contemplative. Do you not remember the old song of Doctor Dowland’s?” She sang in a rich but grainy alto:

“His golden locks time hath to silver turned,
O time too swift, O swiftness never ceasing;
His youth gainst time and age hath ever spurned,
But spurned in vain, youth waneth by encreasing:
Beauty, strength, youth, are flowers but fading seen;
Duty, faith, love, are roots and ever green.

“His helmet now shall make a hive for bees,
And lovers’ sonnets turn to holy psalms;
A man at arms must now serve on his knees,
And feed on prayers, which are age’s alms–

“I forget the rest.” She looked at Toby, who was looking into the distance, a tear leaking from one eye. “How is your music, Master Toby?”
“Eh?” He waved his hand. “I have no time.”
“You shall have time again. I shall try to find you out a viol.”
Toby wiped his eye and looked at Audrey. “And how fares your–your sister?”
“Dead, alas, these two years, and her husband too.”
“Ah.”
“Her last years were content. She found peace with her husband and her son.”
“Does he–?”
“Does he know you are his father? No. When you did not meet us in the park that time–do you remember?–we thought better of telling him. He is now the master of his father’s house.”
“And you, my lady? Is all well with you?”
“Oh, yes. I kept my vow, and never married. My sister added to my little property, and I have lived in comfort, passing my time with music and books, and some small charities. I have no complaints, and few regrets.”
“Alas, my lady, I have many of both.”

The Charterhouse was once a Carthusian monastery. After the dissolution in 1537, it became the property of Sir Edward North and then the Dukes of Norfolk, who tore down parts and built other parts. Both Queen Elizabeth and King James spent time there. In 1611, Sir Thomas Sutton bought the property, and died shortly after. His will established a free school for forty boys and a “hospital” for eighty gentlemen pensioners, which opened in 1614. I visited the Charterhouse myself during one of my London trips. It is still a retirement home for about thirty-seven or eight old military men and civil servants. When I visited, one of the “brothers,” a hale, ruddy, soft-spoken gentleman who had served many years in India, gave me the tour. Although it had been bombed during World War II, many of its medieval, Elizabethan, and Jacobean furnishings survived. Except for the modern conveniences in the brothers’ rooms and elsewhere, and a few eighteenth- and nineteenth-century additions, it was much as it was during Toby’s time: a group of connected buildings enclosing two courtyards, with a chapel, a cloister, and a great hall with a hammer-beam ceiling and an elaborate carved wooden screen.
From a few brief scenes I saw, it seemed that Toby did not slip easily into retirement. He must have been realistic enough to see the advantages of a stable shelter, but he continued to work on his weapons plans, and he continued to drill his “troops,” which had degenerated into a handful of boys. When he was alone in his room, he drooped and dozed–his thinning hair and long beard were now entirely gray. But when he was among the other brothers, he strutted like Basilisco and swore like Captain Hall, sometimes elaborating on his past exploits, but also spinning out his plans for campaigns abroad. If Audrey ever found him a viol, I never saw him playing it.

I called Clio. “Are you all right? Did you sleep?”
“Yes and sort of.”
“Am I still invited for dinner?”
“Of course.”
“What can I bring?”
“A good appetite. I think I’ve got too much food, as usual.”
“Invite more people.”
“Not tonight.”
I brought a bottle of wine as well as a good appetite. Clio shook her head in mock reproach when she saw it, but took it and gave me one of her quick kisses. I loved them, and I had even grown to love the pangs of frustration they aroused in me. Although Clio’s meals were always satisfying, her kisses were like appetizers–I always wanted more. Clio looked especially good that night–but then she always looked good to me, even in her grubbiest painting clothes. That night she wore a soft, simple, dark green dress that set off the copper lights in her hair and also clung to her figure in a very appealing way.
“You look great.”
“Flattery will get you a good meal.”
The table was set for two, I was glad to see. And there were no extra cups or other signs of the quartet coming later. Maybe we could have a good long private talk.
“You seem to have disposed of all the evidence of our adventure last night,” I said, looking at where Mel had burned and Scarlatti bled.
“There are still a few scorches and stains, but they give the place character.”
We had a buttery grilled salmon, tender new potatoes, Greek salad, and fresh rolls.
“You’ve really done it tonight. I could never afford to take you to a restaurant this good.”
“Keep going, and you may get dessert.”
It was pecan pie–the center was firm, and the pecans on top were crisp. We sank onto the sofa with contented groans. After a minute I took her hand and a deep breath. “Clio I’ve been trying to tell you something for a long time but you never will let me finish but I’m going to tonight and you can’t stop me so–”
But she did stop me. She kissed me. She kept on kissing me. I kissed back. We wrapped our arms around each other in that awkward way that you do when sitting side by side on a sofa and settled into a long, warm, amazing kiss. At last, an entree. Or just a really good, more tempting and frustrating appetizer? Eventually we came up for air.
“I love you,” I gasped, as quickly as I could.
“I know. I love you too.” We kissed again.
Clio spoke at the next panting break. “I think it’s high time we did something about it.”
I was afraid to speak, so I kissed her again. I tentatively touched her breast. She breathed in sharply, and pressed her hand on mine. Soon she stood and led me toward the bedroom, where we collapsed in a tangle of half-shed clothes on her patchwork quilt. This was the main course, at last. It was worth the wait. The first course was gulped, as it were; we tasted the second more liesurely, and it was even more delicious.
Later, lying as close as we could get under the sheet, we talked.
“Will you marry me?” I asked.
“Sure.”
“Great. Now that that’s settled, why haven’t we been doing this for months? Think of what we missed. You must have known that I was crazy about you even if you wouldn’t let me say so.”
“I know. I’m sorry. It hasn’t been easy for me either.” She smiled and nuzzled my neck. “I’ve been wanting to do that for a long time. You’ve got a cute neck, you know?” Then she got serious and sighed with the difficulty of the explanation she was attempting. “I wanted to be sure, and wanted you to be sure. I didn’t want you to rebound to me and then rebound back to Jean. I wanted to see if you would find the life you really wanted. If you were happy with that, then maybe you’d be happy with me.”
“I think I’d be happy with you if I had to work in a salt mine.”
“You may have a chance to prove that,” she said with a laugh. “You remember I told you that my last serious relationship didn’t work out. It hurt a lot, and it took me a long time to get over. I didn’t want anyone that close again unless I could be sure of a lot of things.”
“Are you sure?”
“I guess you get to a point where you have to take a chance.” She gave me a friendly poke. “I was pretty sure. Actually, I guess I’ll have to confess that I fell in love with you the first time I heard you play my dad’s cello. But I needed to get to know you.”
“All that time!”
“I know.”
“I think I began to fall in love with you before I even met you. You remember the time I spent the night here when you were gone? I couldn’t get this place and your paintings out of my mind.”
“And my cello. Would you marry me if I sold the cello?”
“Maybe. What else do you have for a dowry?” She gave me a somewhat harder poke in the ribs, but we both laughed.
“But that brings up another matter. You know The Merchant of Venice? My dad loved that play.

‘How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank!
Here will we sit and let the sounds of music
Creep in our ears. Soft stillness and the night
Become the touches of sweet harmony.’

I’ve heard him recite that passage a thousand times. We saw it several times, once with Olivier as Shylock. Well, when Dad was very sick, just before he died, he told me that he couldn’t leave caskets with riddles to help me pick a husband. But he said that though many men might love me–he was prejudiced, you know–I shouldn’t marry anybody who didn’t love his cello. So I guess I resisted in some way what I felt when I heard you play. Here’s this unhappy married man, I thought, what did my dad know?”
“Smart man. He had as good a taste in daughters as he did in cellos.” I kissed her a few more times in various places. Then it struck me that I hadn’t been as scrupulous as Clio. She felt me go into myself.
“What’s the matter?”
“I’ve got a confession too. It should have come up before. But when I was with you, other things seemed more urgent.”
“Now’s the time if you have to tell me. You don’t have to tell me everything, you know.”
“It’s not what you may be thinking. It’s that I have–hallucinations, I guess you could call them. Visions. Don’t worry. I don’t ‘see things’–it’s not like drunks seeing snakes. And I don’t hear voices telling me to kill or think I have wires in my head from the CIA.” I went on to explain the best I could my strange relationship with Tobias Hume. Clio’s expression gradually changed from concern to fascination and then to a kind of delighted envy.
“Why, what a gift!”
“I hadn’t thought of it that way. But I guess it is.”
“It’s like you get to live two lives.”
“I love you for not freaking out over this.”
“Have you told anyone else?”
“Just a couple of shrinks a long time ago. They were not very understanding. They couldn’t believe that there was nothing else wrong with me.”
“Not Jean?”
“God, no!”
“Have you written any of this down?”
“Some notes, some sketches. A few filled-out episodes.”
“I’d love to read them. I’m–” It was my turn to stop her from talking. We didn’t say much that was coherent for some time.

My visions began to fade from that day on. I could still evoke them, but with increasing difficulty. And they would come on their own only with powerful stimulation. I had one of my last really vivid ones at an organ concert. The performer was playing a piece by Benjamin Cosyn, full of runs and ornaments. Suddenly I saw Toby, an old man, huddled in a pew of the Charterhouse chapel. It turns out that Cosyn was organist at the Charterhouse from 1626 to 1643.

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