"Ach! Wieder! In der Tusche!"
"What's the matter, Wolfie?"
"Again! A stab right in the behind! Every morning it wakes me up!"
"Liebchen, let Mama look at your little behind. Roll over. Hah! Nothing but a little red spot."
"It stings, I tell you! Just like a verdammte needle!"
"Mmmmm. What a cute little Hintern! Mama could just bite it!"
"No fair! You have your nightie on!"
"Well then, I'll just take it off. There! How do you like these?"
"If you keep wiggling them, I might just bite them, you know."
"I would! I will! Mmmmmmm!"
"Husband, you must be feeling a lot better. Last week you weren't feeling so hot. In fact I was terribly worried about my poor little Wolfie. The doctor even said that you might--might--"
"Don't worry, pumpkins, I feel pretty good. In fact, I feel great!"
"So you can get to work on that Requiem you promised the man. We could use the gelt."
"Liebchen, I've been thinking. The music business isn't getting us anywhere. There's no money in composing. We are spending faster than we take in. And you know how crowded and dirty Vienna is getting these days. Let's move to Innsbruck!"
"And just what do we do for money in Innsbruck?"
"We will open an inn. In the mountains!"
"Just who is crazy enough to go to the mountains in Innsbruck?"
"For the sport, of course. You know what the Swiss do?"
"The Swiss! Ugh!"
"Well, I agree. But they strap these wooden shees, or skis, to their feet and they slide down the mountain on them. It's great fun!"
"Then how do they get back up the mountain again?"
"The donkeys pull them back up. And then they go down again!"
"But your Requiem! It isn't finished."
"Let that kid Süssmayr finish it. I've sketched out the last few numbers ... he can crank it out. I've taught him everything he knows. As for us, Liebchen ... it's the alpine life!"
"Ooooh, Wolfie! You must really be feeling better!"
"That's because you feel really good, pussycat. You know what you do to me!"
"Ooooh, Wolfie! Just don't wake up the Kinderl!"
Alexandria, 415 AD
"Mistress Hypatia, I tell you it's there again!" The agitated scribe broke into his superior's concentration.
"What's there again?" asked the celebrated astronomer, looking up from a sheet of calculations. She was in her early forties, but still quite beautiful, if you like the dramatic and domineering sort.
"That clicking noise! Every time I scroll to a new page in my copy assignment, I hear it! Click! Click! And there is no one there when I turn around. It's driving me crazy!"
The astronomer Hypatia frequently regretted taking the job of managing the Library, no more so than when she was trying to soothe the scribe Siniseon. She felt that her father, the mathematician Theon, would never have approved this distraction from her real work. Yet someone had to run the place! With an endless stream of ship's logs to be copied, too! 200 amphorae of the best mavrodaphne wine from the Ionian Islands to Neapolis. 100 modii of grain from Sicily to Ostia. Pirates in the Adriatic. All summarized in intelligence reports for the prefect Orestes. To relay to Rome. Did Rome really care anymore?
Lately Siniseon had taken to complaining about a clicking noise that seemed to hover over his right ear. No one else could hear it or see anything that might be causing it.
"What are you copying now?" Hypatia asked the scribe.
"We had a request for a copy of the play Pytine by Cratinus," answered Siniseon.
"Cratinus? Who cares about those old Greek burlesque writers anyway? Nothing but toilet humor and sex jokes."
"To be sure," said the scribe. "Yet--sometimes reading them I find myself laughing out loud--in a quiet sort of way, of course," he added hastily, seeing the frown on Hypatia's face.
"How did this great Library come by these disgusting old plays, anyway?" continued the astronomer.
"They came in a bundle of manuscripts from that dealer in Athens. And then somehow it got listed in the Catalog, and then that Roman playwright--"
"Terence?" interposed Hypatia helpfully. She knew almost nothing about Roman playwrights.
"--no, the other one," said the scribe. "Well, he saw it in the Catalog and just had to have his own copy. The manuscript is in terrible shape, all marked up with actor's cues, and with food stains everywhere. But it seems to be the only copy in existence."
"Obviously an original copy for the theater," said Hypatia. "These plays were never meant to be published. Much less should they ever have been performed, in my opinion," she sniffed. "Clowns with enormous cod-pieces, men dressed as trollops, hitting each other over the head with pig's bladders. Disgusting!" Her eyes flashed in magnificent anger.
"Well, there is nothing for it," she continued. You will immediately burn the manuscript. Tell this Roman--this so-called playwright--that we will have no part of distributing this ancient filth. I suspect he just wants to steal from it. Those Roman weasels have no shame!" she stated.
"But what about the clicking?" persisted the scribe.
"The clicking? Oh. Burn the manuscript as I told you to do. Then see if the clicking continues. Copy something decent, such as Aristotle's Posterior Analytics. I'll predict you hear no clicking then!"
"So you think that the clicking is connected to the manuscript, then?" asked the scribe. But the astronomer was not listening and shooed him away with an imperious wave of her hand.
"I have much more serious things to think about than clicking," she said. "Tonight there will be a very interesting eclipse of the moon. I predict that it will be partial, but Sosostris claims that it will be full. So we will be up until quite late. I must return this afternoon. Please have my chariot brought around. And be careful! There are a lot of those low-life Christian monks in town. They have even threatened to kill Orestes!"
"And you, Mistress? Are you in danger?"
"Oh, who would want to kill an astronomer? Or a librarian? You might as well fear they would burn the Library. And now, my chariot if you please."
"At once, Mistress" said the scribe, and scuttled off to do her bidding.
"Herr Schickelgruber? Herr Adolf Schickelgruber? Please, have a seat."
The army veteran sat, his portfolio at his side. The examiner was looking at a number of drawings--his drawings, Adolf suddenly recognized. There had been two days of nothing but drawings, morning and afternoon. It was the admission test for the Art Institute.
Finally the examiner spoke. "Perhaps you have some of your art work to show us, in addition to your admission exercises?"
Adolf reached into his portfolio and extracted a village scene. Picturesque. A row of peasant cottages with thatched roofs, running up a country lane. Recognizable cows posed in the middle distance. There appeared to be roses along picket fences.
"Hmmm," said the examiner. He was a thin man of middle age, with a great hooked nose. Pince-nez sat on the bridge of the nose. "Do you have anything else?"
Adolf pulled out a scene by a brook. A family of swans was sailing by. Willows wept into the water. A young lad was sitting on an arched wooden bridge, fishing rod in hand. He was bareheaded, blond. Also barefoot.
"Hmmmmm," said the examiner, peering through his pince-nez.
"Is there any..." began Adolf.
"You understand that there are only a limited number of places in the Art Institute," said the examiner. "We must be very sure that our entering students are not just well-trained, but have that quality--talent--artistic ability--that distinguishes them from the Sunday painter."
"So you think..." tried Adolf again.
"I have looked at your work very carefully, Herr Schickelgruber, and I can say without a doubt that your paintings are..."
Just then the door to the inner office opened. "Herr Examiner Goldfarb! We must see you immediately! It is extremely urgent!" The man in the doorway appeared ... wrong, somehow ... Perhaps it was his clothing. Perhaps it was the bracelet he was wearing. No, it was a watch. A wristwatch! Only ladies and army officers wore wristwatches. Yet it was heavy and metallic, as a man might wear. Very strange, Adolf mused.
The examiner got to his feet. "Please excuse me, Herr Schickelgruber. Something must have come up." He entered the inner office and closed the door behind himself.
Adolf sat quietly. After a while he became aware that there were voices being raised in argument in the inner office. They grew louder.