“You wouldn’t say anything to anyone?” he said.
“How come you suddenly know everything about me?”
“You told me!”
“Yes,” he admitted, dazed, looking around for a weapon. “Wait.”
“If you don’t mind,” I said, “I’d rather not.” And I was out the door and down the hall, my knees jumping to knock my jaw.
“Come back!” cried Von Seyfertitz, behind me. “I must kill you!”
“I was afraid of that!”
I reached the elevator first and by a miracle it flung wide its doors when I banged the Down button. I jumped in.
“Say good-bye!” cried Von Seyfertitz, raising his fist as if it held a bomb.
“Good-bye!” I said. The doors slammed.
I did not see Von Seyfertitz again for a year.
Meanwhile, I dined out often, not without guilt, telling friends, and strangers on street corners, of my collision with a submarine commander become phrenologist (he who feels your skull to count the beans).
So with my giving one shake of the ripe fruit tree, nuts fell. Overnight they brimmed the Baron’s lap to flood his bank account. His Grand Slam will be recalled at century’s end: appearances on Phil Donahue, Oprah Winfrey, and Gerarldo in one single cyclonic afternoon, with interchangeable hyperboles, positive-negative-positive every hour. There were Von Seyfertitz laser games and duplicates of his submarine periscope sold at the Museum of Modern Art and the Smithsonian. With the super inducement of a half-million dollars, he force-fed and easily sold a bad book. Duplicates of the animalcules, lurks, and curious critters trapped in his brass viewer arose in pop-up coloring books, paste-on tattoos, and inkpad rubberstamp nightmares at Beasts-R-Us.
I had hoped that all this would cause him to forgive and forget. No.
One noon a year and a month later, my doorbell rang and there stood Gustav Von Seyfertitz, F Baron Woldstein, tears streaming down his cheeks.
“How come I didn’t kill you that day?” he mourned.
“You didn’t catch me,” I said.
“Oh, ja. That was it.”
I looked into the old man’s rain-washed, tear-ravened face and said, “Who died?”
“Me. Or is it I? Ah, to hell with it: me. You see before you,” he grieved, “a creature who suffers from the Rumpelstiltskin Syndrome!”
“-stiltskin! Two halves with a rip from chin to fly. Yank my forelock, go ahead! Watch me fall apart at the seam. Like zipping a psychotic zipper, I fall, two Herr Doktor Admirals for the sick price of one. And which is the Doktor who heals and which the sellout best-seller Admiral? It takes two mirrors to tell. Not to mention the smoke!”
He stopped and looked around, holding his head together with his hands.
“Can you see the crack? Am I splitting again to become this crazy sailor who desires richness and fame, being sieved through the hands of crazed ladies with ruptured libidos? Suffering fish, I call them! But take their money, spit, spend! You should have such a year. Don’t laugh.”
“I’m not laughing.”
“Then cheer up while I finish. Can I lie down? Is that a couch? Too short. What do I do with my legs?”
Von Seyfertitz laid himself out with his legs draped over one side. “Hey, not bad. Sit behind. Don’t look over my shoulder. Avert your gaze. Neither smirk nor pull long faces as I get out the crazy-glue and paste Rumpel back with Stiltskin, the name of my next book, God help me. Damn you to hell, you and your damned periscope!”
“Not mine. Yours. You wanted me to discover it that day. I suppose you had been whispering Dive, Dive, for years to patients, half asleep. But you couldn’t resist the loudest scream ever: Dive! That was your captain speaking, wanting fame and money enough to chock a horse show.”
“God,” murmured Von Seyfertitz, “How I hate it when you’re honest. Feeling better already. How much do I owe you?”
“Now we go kill the monsters instead of you.”
“At my office. If we can get in past the lunatics.”
“You have lunatics outside as well as in, now?”
“Have I ever lied to you?”
“Often. But,” I added, “little white ones.”
“Come,” he said.