<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="1252"%> Little Fireworks
Chapter 3
The Warning

Another school had burned down, this time the last one in town.

So now in the mornings they had time on their hands. Therefore Phantom no longer lingered in bed while his brother got up and went off to the early shift.

Usually his mother would slice a piece of bread for him before he headed out the door and down the stairs. He would go sit on Merrick’s wall and wait for the others, who of course also came as soon as possible.

One morning Phantom was still there by himself when Sugar’s mother came over the factory yard to the gate. She motioned to him.

Hugo Beck – who had only one of everything, one arm, one leg, one eye – cried out from the watchman’s post, “Hey! That’s not allowed! You can’t do that.”

Erna Trietsch shot him the finger. Phantom got down off the wall. Hugo hobbled over too, threatening with his one arm. But really Hugo was one of them, and they went through this about a dozen times a day.

Hugo and Sugar’s mother were shouting at each other at the top of their lungs. He: “It’s always the same thing from you, shirking your work duties!” She: “You old cripple, I just want the youngster to fetch my sandwich for lunch,” etc etc.

“So hurry,” she said to Phantom, “Sugar is still at home.” Then she and Hugo traded a few more insults.

Sugar was sitting on the arm of the sofa, holding her baby sister in her arms. She was feeding her a bottle.

Phantom sat down at the table and watched the baby suck on it. “Want to try it?” asked Sugar. “Is it breast milk?” he asked. Sugar nodded. She held the bottle out to him. Phantom put his mouth to the nipple and sucked. Then he ran to the sink and spat it out.

Sugar practically fell over laughing. “It’s really only cow’s milk,” she said. They both laughed until the baby began to cry.

Phantom said, “I came to pick up your mother’s lunch.”

“But she took it with her,” Sugar said. “She never forgets anything.”

Then after a moment she also said, “I’m coming with you. For sure something is going on.”

But they reconsidered the matter and decided it would be better if she stayed home and waited.

The new boss for the factory’s security guard operations was sitting beside Hugo at the watchman’s post. He was a short dark man from Bavaria. He was shrilling away, “Move! Move! Cover the grounds, spy where possible,” etc etc.

Phantom held out the sack with the sandwich in it. He said, “I’m here to deliver this to Erna Trietsch.”

“Give it over and get out of here,” the new boss said.

But Phantom said, “But the Trietsch baby is sick, diarrhea and vomiting, and Sugar doesn’t know what to do. I have to ask Erna Trietsch what drops the baby should get.”

“Baby shit! It’s all an act,” Hugo Beck said. “I’ll go with this little delinquent, Sir.” The boss roared, “You be back here in three minutes or else.”

Hugo hobbled along with Phantom over the yard to the canister building.

Phantom thought about the new boss’s two predecessors. Both suffered serious accidents after only a very short time: one under a load of barrels that somehow mysteriously slipped loose from the crane that was carrying them, the other under the locomotive during normal shuttle operations. This new one was pretty intense. It was easy to imagine that something might just happen again.

Hugo, who was thinking along the same lines, said, “That shithead won’t grow old here.”

They had to squint as they walked through the arc welding area, to protect their eyes from the flying sparks.

“Be careful!” Hugo called. But Phantom knew his way around the canister building very well.

They went past the sandblasting area, over to the conveyor belts, where women were processing old canisters, hammering at them with wooden mallets to loosen the rust.

Sugar’s mother walked over to them. Phantom gave her the lunch. She whispered, “Over there.”

So Phantom walked past her and headed into the bathroom, where the short Mr. Pottmann was pretending to be using the urinal. He stuck a piece of paper in Phantom’s pocket. He whispered, “The man has to be notified right away. The courier isn’t coming this evening, has probably been doublecrossed. Be careful, the man’s family doesn’t know a thing. The man’s a judge. Take Sugar with you. Sugar’s mother does housecleaning there.”

“Time’s up, come on already,” called Hugo from outside.

In back of the sandblasting area Phantom read the note. Pahlmann 7 Bismarck St. your visitor isn’t coming Cockatoo.

Phantom crumpled the paper as he walked. When he got to the area where the sparks were flying, he ducked, and popped the wad of paper into his mouth and swallowed it.

The new boss for the factory guard was no longer interested in Phantom as he left. Hugo called out after him, “Luxvomica those drops are called – don’t forget, you idiot.”

It just didn’t seem right to Sugar. Pahlmann was a judge, a business owner too. People just didn’t normally have anything to do with those types.

Phantom was suspicious at first too, but then he remembered what his father had told him about a doctor who was one of them. Once in prison he had given Heini Spormann a drug to make him sick, so that he got dysentery and had to be taken to the infirmary, and they couldn’t interrogate him.

“And this doctor smuggled out important information, until he got caught. They killed him,” Phantom said, “a doctor. Papa told me. They didn’t get a peep out of him.”

Then Sugar recalled that a couple of times, her mother didn’t get back from Pahlmann’s until very late at night. “And for sure it isn’t because they’re fooling around, not with somebody like that,” she said.

Phantom said, “Dammit, they never explain enough to us.” He decided he was going to have a talk with Stash about this whole thing. Sugar said, “After all, without us they would be gone and done for, no doubt about it.”

They did some contingency planning. They would leave right after lunch, around two. “People like that always eat at one o’clock,” Sugar said.

Phantom took a piece of paper and wrote on it 'Pahlmann 7 Bismarck St. your visitor isn’t coming Cockatoo.'

Sugar felt that 'Visitor isn’t coming' would have been enough. But Phantom remembered what his father had once said. Every word is important. Even the order they come in.

Otherwise, of course, they never visited Bismarck St.

But Sugar, who had delivered things there a couple of times, knew her way around well enough. All the houses looked like castles, including the one at number 7. There were little towers and turrets and ivy everywhere. But the iron fence was gone. In its place, the house was bordered at the street side by a knee-high wall, with broken glass cemented into the top of it.

“That’s so you can slit your throat,” Sugar said.

There was an opening in the wall, with a flight of steps leading to the house. They took them. They had to climb a whole story high to get to the front door. They rang the doorbell. They waited a good long while.

Finally the door opened and a dry old woman asked them, “What do you want?”

Sugar said, “My mother does housework here for you, and I need to pick up something for her. Mrs. Pahlmann has it.”

They followed the old woman down a long hallway. There were doors to the left and to the right. The old woman opened one and said, “Step in here. Sit down, and you better not make any trouble.”

There was a large table surrounded by many chairs in the middle of the room. There was a bowl of fruit on the table.

Phantom grabbed a pear and was about to bite into it when he noticed that it wasn’t really a pear, just looked like one. “Wax or something like that,” he said. He put the thing back in the bowl.

Sugar opened the glass doors to the cupboard, where plates and teacups were neatly arranged. She found a green bottle, half full. She took a drink. “Like schnaps,” she said, “only sweet.” Phantom took a swallow too, and he thought it tasted like pudding.

It was half-dark in the room. A window was open. Flies were buzzing, and it smelled like dinner cooking.

Then a sliding door opened, although they hadn’t heard any footsteps. A woman was standing in the doorway. “Oh, it’s the little Trietsch girl,” she said. “And who have we with you?”

Phantom was unnerved, because he had not noticed that there was a second door to the room. The woman opened both halves of the door as wide as they would go. They could see into the other room. There stood an enormous black piano.

Phantom asked, “Is that a piano?”

“A grand piano,” the woman said. She asked again, “So who are you then?”

“Ernst,” said Phantom. “Do you play the piano, Ernst?” the woman asked. Phantom said, “No, just the harmonica.”

And Sugar began explaining high and low to Mrs. Pahlmann about why her mother couldn’t come to clean today, because her sister was sick, and then Sugar was making up things right and left as she went along, about all the things her sister had, and all the things she could do, “for instance, she can already say ‘Puss Puss’,” and Sugar giggled and hopped around, while Phantom was thinking hard about how they could buy time. In other words the judge was nowhere to be seen.

“Could you please play something for us?” Phantom asked. “We so love to hear real music.” “I can’t,” said Mrs. Pahlmann, “but our Edith, she plays wonderfully.” She called out, “Edith!”

Shortly thereafter a young girl came into the room. Mrs. Pahlmann said, “This is the little Trietsch girl, and her friend, Ernst. They both want to hear how well you can play the piano. So, and now I shall leave you alone, but please don’t play very loudly. You know that Papa still has a bit of work to do.”

Edith said, “I’m glad to meet you.” Now she wanted to play something, and they would have to guess who it was by.

Edith put the music on the piano. “Don’t peek!” she cried. Then she began to play.

Things went this way for awhile, and Phantom meanwhile looked all around. There was another sliding door in this room, behind the piano. He guessed that the room behind it was where the judge was.

He went slowly around to the back of the piano, to the door. The playing stopped.

Edith asked, “Okay, who is it?” “It’s great,” Phantom said, “play a little more.” Edith played some more.

Phantom leaned the back of his head against the sliding door, listening. He looked over Edith’s head at a portrait on the other wall. It was a large man and a little girl. The little girl was playing a large violin and the man was smiling. “He’d like to screw her,” Phantom thought to himself.

He listened. He thought he heard a noise once. Then he was sure he heard a man cough.

“Great!” Phantom said, and to Sugar he said, “Come here!” Phantom took Sugar’s hand.

“Ta ta ree tee ta ta rumtadum,” he sang loudly, and he and Sugar hopped in a circle around the piano, singing ever louder.

The Turkish March!” Edith cried, and Sugar cried, “Wonderful!” She began to bang on the back of the piano with her hand.

Suddenly the sliding door flew open. A man appeared, large, bald, wearing glasses. “What is this supposed to mean?” he asked sharply.

Edith jumped to her feet. “These two were so loud, Papa.” She pointed at the two of them.

“Who are you?” asked Judge Pahlmann. Phantom went right up to the judge and said, “Spormann, Ernst Spormann is my name, and that’s Gisela Trietsch, Erna’s daughter. Boy, don’t you have a lot of books!”

He was looking past the judge into the other room. He took a step forward. The judge let him keep going. He laid his hand on Phantom’s shoulder and said, “Yes, very many books, but I haven’t read them all.” At that he pinched Phantom’s shoulder. “Well finally,” Phantom thought.

He kept going. He went over and stood with his back to the writing table. He felt around in his pocket for the message. He noticed that Edith was looking at him funny.

Phantom laughed and said, “It scared me, when your father appeared all of a sudden that way.”

“There!” Phantom said, “I like that picture.” He pointed to the portrait of the large man and the little girl. As Edith turned her head to look, Phantom quickly pulled the note out of his pocket and laid it on the table. He looked squarely at the judge as he did so. The judge nodded lightly.

“So,” Pahlmann said, “now you really must leave me in peace. I still have some work to do.”

When they were back in the room with the piano, Phantom asked Edith if he could borrow the music she had played for a few days. He liked it. He wanted to try it on his harmonica.

“Well, I don’t know,” Edith said.

Phantom said, “You’ll have it back in a couple of days, I promise.” And he took the book.

Then Mrs. Pahlmann came back into the room. “What was that I heard going on in here? You know that Papa has his work to do,” etc etc.

As the door was closing behind them, they could hear Mrs. Pahlmann saying, “Good Lord, what obnoxious children.”

It was Sugar’s opinion that Edith wasn’t dumb. She surely noticed that something was strange. The old man should have been angrier.

Sugar had told Phantom about how the judge would rage around the room yelling at the top of his lungs, like he was crazy, whenever there was noise in the house that he didn’t like. They had in fact made their plans banking on this.

Phantom wasn’t sure what to think. Anyway, the judge had managed to figure out the situation.

“We’ll see,” Phantom said, “when we take the book back.”