by Paul Stansbury
ein kaffee mit sahne und zucker
Karl Müller approached the counter where ancient Hóng sat counting some coins. ‘I want to purchase five feet of your finest three-eighths inch manila rope and a sturdy ceiling bracket.’
‘What for you want rope?’ asked Hóng, without looking up.
‘I would say that is my business. Is this not a hardware emporium? I think I should be able to purchase what I please without your scrutiny.’
Hóng looked up. ‘At Hóng’s Hardware, we provide what you need, not what you want.’
‘Well then,’ huffed Müller, I’ll have my rope and bracket.’
‘Five feet of rope and a ceiling bracket,’ mused Hóng. ‘Very few applications for such. Maybe you hang yourself?’
Damn you Hóng! Prying little bastard. Committing suicide is a private matter, not the subject of discussion with clerks. Think of something. ‘Ahhh, if you must know, I have purchased a hanging rattan settee, which I plan to install in my apartment.’
‘Why settee and not chair?’
‘So my dog, Zeppelin, can sit with me if you must know.’
‘Dog get sick swinging. How high your ceiling?’ asked Hóng.
‘What concern is that of yours?’ huffed Müller.
‘Five feet not enough rope to hang a settee. Hang you maybe, but not a settee.’
Damn you Hóng! ‘I don’t know,’ grumbled Müller. ‘Ten feet, maybe.’
‘Then you need ten feet of rope to hang a settee,’ said Hóng.
‘Well then, make it ten feet and throw in the bracket and anything else I might need. And be quick about it, I’m in a hurry.’ Müller paced while Hóng cut and coiled the rope and retrieved a bracket and some other tools.
‘Make sure you mount bracket to rafter,’ said Hóng, as he rang up the bill on a timeworn cash register. Müller examined it, dug out his coin purse, and carefully counted out the money, which he laid on the counter.
Müller left Hóng’s Hardware, walked down Franklin Street, and stepped inside Nally’s Grocery.
‘Top o’ the morning, Karl,’ said Sean Nally. ‘ What can I do for you today?’
‘I would like some scraps for Zeppelin. Nothing too rich mind you. He has a sensitive stomach.’
‘Why not try a can of Ken-L Ration dog food?’ suggested Sean. ‘ They say it’s a lot better than scraps.’
‘Food for dogs in a can?’
‘Sure, I sell a lot of it. Wait.’ Sean walked down the aisle and retrieved a can from the bottom shelf. He handed the can to Müller. ‘Here, see for yourself.’
Müller placed his sack on the counter while he read the label on the can.
‘What’s the rope for?’ asked Sean. ‘Nothing sinister, I hope.’
What? ‘Oh, I’m going to hang…’ Damn. ‘Um-er-ah… hang a settee, that is. How much?’ asked Müller.
‘Ten cents. By the way, have you met the young widow who just moved into Ma Bates’s Boarding House? Quite a looker. Her name is Nora Seidl, Austrian I think. You should ask her out.’
Müller dug a dime from his change purse and handed it over. ‘I doubt Mrs. Seidl would be interested in the likes of me.’
‘Never know ‘til you try.’
‘Good day, Sean,’ bid Müller, as he stepped out onto Franklin Street.
He made his way down to Number 36, staring at the sidewalk. He climbed the stairs to his top floor apartment. Zeppelin, a plump grey dachshund, got up from his spot under the window to greet Müller, who held out the parcels for inspection.
‘Look what I have here,’ said Müller. He reached inside the sack and pulled out the can of dog food, holding it out for the dog to sniff. ‘Sean Nally says this is very popular. Shall we try some at supper? Then, I have something to discuss with you.’ Zeppelin sighed, then returned to his spot under the window.
Müller placed the dog food on the counter and laid out his purchases from Hóng’s to inspect. There was the coil of rope, a sturdy bracket, some bolts, a bit and brace, and a wrench. Satisfied he had all he needed, Müller retired to his chair and read the paper.
At supper, Müller prepared some lentil soup which he ate with a crust of stale bread. He opened the dog food and scooped out a portion.
‘Zeppelin, it’s time to have a discussion,’ he said. ‘I have made a decision. I am going to hang myself. Do not try to convince me otherwise. I have made up my mind. You see, I have purchased all the necessary equipment. There is a ladder in the basement. Tomorrow, I will bring it up and install the bracket on the rafter up there.’ He pointed toward the ceiling. ‘Then, I will attach the rope and … well, you know.
‘I have not made this decision lightly, but I just feel I have nothing to live for anymore. I just drift from day to day without real purpose, isolated. Look at me, I am a balding, middle-aged man. I have no real friends. At work, I sit in my cubicle and post accounts all day.’ Zeppelin rolled over for a tummy rub. ‘And as for you, my canine companion, you are indeed a loyal and loving pet, but I need something more. But not to worry, I will leave a note with some money to take care of you. Someone will want you. I am sure you will be all right.’
The next morning, Müller was awakened by a loud knock at the door. He pulled on his robe, ambling to his door. He pushed aside the cover on the speakeasy and spied two burly men.
‘What is it you want?’ he asked.
‘Got a delivery for Müller from Hóng’s Hardware.’
‘Must be a mistake. I ordered nothing from Hóng.’
‘There’s a note. It says to deliver a rattan settee to Mr. Karl Müller, Number 36, top floor Franklin Street. Compliments of Hóng’s Hardware.’ Müller stood on his toes and peered down through the speakeasy at the floor. A large crate sat at the men’s feet. ‘So we can leave it out here or bring it in. Up to you.’
Can’t refuse it or Hóng will get suspicious. Müller opened the door. ‘Bring it in and put it by the chair.’ After the men left, Müller examined the crate. There was a note attached. He opened it.
Mr. Müller, I have taken the liberty to have this rattan settee brought to you. I am sure in your haste to get your rope, you forgot to order the settee. Now, you may complete your stated task. At Hóng’s Hardware, we supply what you need.
Zeppelin sniffed the crate. ‘The gall of the man,’ fumed Müller. ‘How did he know I didn’t have a settee? Just a lucky guess? Has he been spying on me? What right does he have to interfere in my plans? Never mind, the deed is done. I couldn’t refuse it, or he would have become more suspicious. What will we do?’ Müller sat down in his chair, burying his face in his hands. Zeppelin sighed and plopped down at Müller’s feet.
A few minutes later, he reached down and rubbed behind Zeppelin’s ear. ‘I know. Ein kaffee mit sahne und zucker und schnecken. And for you, a bit of knackwurst.’ Müller got up and brewed his coffee, added cream and sugar, and pulled a small pecan cinnamon bun from the breadbox, placing it on a napkin. He opened the icebox and cut a bit of sausage, which he placed in Zeppelin’s bowl.
After they ate, Müller said, ‘There is only one course of action. To avert any suspicion, I will assemble the settee. That way, in case Hóng or some other nosy individual comes by, I can maintain an appearance of normalcy. Then when the time is right, I can cut the rope and hang myself.’ Zeppelin looked up from his bowl and groaned.
Müller prized open the crate and carefully extracted the settee. ‘Look how beautiful it is,’ he exclaimed, running his fingers over its smooth, lacquered frame and intricate Viennese braiding. He marveled at its ornate silk batik cushion. Zeppelin promptly snuggled into the soft seat. ‘Ah yes,’ said Müller, ‘you stay here while I go get the ladder.’
Müller dragged the ladder up the four flights of stairs to his apartment. It was late in the afternoon by the time he had secured the bracket to the ceiling joist and attached the rope so the settee hung at the right height. While on the ladder, he had looked about his apartment. From his bird’s eye view, he could see the dust that had accumulated over the books and newspapers haphazardly strewn about. He could see the kitchen counter overflowing with plates and glasses. He could see the piles of rumpled clothes on the bedroom floor. He climbed down and sat next to Zeppelin.
‘This is no good,’ he said. ‘ I can’t hang myself with my apartment in this sad state. What will people think when they find me? That I had no pride? That I lived in squalor? No, tomorrow, we clean this place up.’
The next day, Müller cleaned and cleaned and cleaned while Zeppelin watched from the settee. Müller had placed a towel over the cushion. ‘You must understand, we don’t want dog hair on the seat.’ Müller even cleaned the large gable window. He was amazed at how much light poured in.
In the afternoon, Müller surveyed his neat and gleaming abode. ‘Zeppelin,’ he said, ‘I think we should celebrate this fine clean apartment. I will go to Tomasino’s and get something special for supper.’ Zeppelin barked. Müller put on his coat and cap and headed down Franklin Street. When he reached the store, he could smell the meats and cheeses which hung throughout the small shop. He walked in. There was a young woman behind the counter.
‘Good day to you, Giovanna,’ he said tipping his cap.
‘Good day to you Mr. Müller. What can I get you?’
‘I should like a round of that rustic bread…’
‘The Pagnotta?’ asked Giovanna.
‘Yes, that’s it. Now, please cut for me some Prosciutto di Parma and I’ll finish up with some Castelvetrano olives .’
‘Anything else? Something to drink perhaps?’
Müller peered at the wines and liqueurs. ‘Ah yes, some Limoncello.’
‘Excellent choice,’ said Giovanna. She retrieved a bottle of the yellow liqueur. ‘This is a most delicious concoction. It’s made from Sorrento lemons, which are the best.’
‘Then I shall take it.’
That evening, Müller prepared a large sandwich of Pagnotta and Prosciutto dotted with the olives. He shared the succulent ham with Zeppelin, who eagerly wolfed it down. ‘But not too much, for it is very rich. You know, after all my hard work, it would be a waste of effort to hang myself right away. Perhaps I should wait a while. Tomorrow, I think I will put on my good coat and go settle with Hóng. Then I shall go to Ma Bate’s Boarding House and invite Mrs. Nora Seidl to supper. If she accepts, then… we’ll see.’
He settled into the settee and savored the Limoncello. He toasted Zeppelin, he toasted Giovanna, he toasted Sean Nally, he toasted Nora Seidl, then he toasted Hóng, finally falling asleep in the settee with Zeppelin at his side.
After breakfast the next morning, Müller donned his good coat and set out for Hóng’s Hardware. He entered the store and found Hóng sitting behind the counter counting coins.
‘Mr. Hóng,’ he said, ‘ I’ve come to settle up on the settee.’
‘Oh surely such a fine piece of furniture cost more than one dollar.’
‘Let’s say I receive deep discount which I pass along to customer.’
‘Are you sure?’
‘Quite sure,’ said Hóng.
Müller pulled out his change purse and retrieved four quarters which he laid on the counter. Hóng punched a button on the cash register and the drawer popped open. He carefully placed the quarters in the till, closed the drawer, and $1.00 appeared in the window.
‘Well, thank you, Mr. Hóng. I shall be on my way,’ said Müller.
‘One more thing, Mr. Müller, before you leave.’
Hóng reached under the counter and pulled out a book. He held it out to Müller. ‘ This book for you.’
‘I didn’t order a book.’
‘Of course you didn’t. You are wearing your good coat. After you leave here, you plan to go to Ma Bate’s Boarding House and invite Mrs. Seidl to supper at your apartment. Correct?’
‘Ahhh, yes. How did you know that?’ stammered Müller.
‘Mrs. Seidl will accept your invitation which is why you will need book. I have marked page forty three. It contains a recipe for Wiener Schnitzel, a thin, breaded and deep fried meat dish usually made from veal…’
‘I know what it is,’ grumbled Müller.
‘It pairs well with Grüner Veltliner, a dry white wine, which is a particular favorite of Mrs. Seidl. After supper, she will be most pleased to sit next to you in the settee and listen to your lovely recording of Schumann.’
Müller took the book. A feather stuck out from the pages. They opened to the recipe for Wiener Schnitzel. He looked at Hóng.
Hóng smiled and said, ‘At Hóng’s Hardware, we provide what you need.’