by Damon Nomad
Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Family · #2287693
A Writer Gets Another Rejection on a Cold January Night. Then things get worse.
| The Mad King|
By Damon Nomad
Herman was holed up in his small study, a second bedroom in the tiny apartment on the third floor of the old brick building. It had been a working-class neighborhood twenty years ago, but it had fallen on harder times on the near south side of Chicago. He was wearing long underwear, a CPO jacket, and an old sock top hat to keep warm. He could feel the cold draft of the windy city creeping over the window sill. A few days into a new year with the mercury dipping below zero for the third night in a row. Phyllis pounded on the door. "I'm turning on the electric blanket and going to bed." It was a complaint about the heat, not an invitation to come to bed.
A notification message came up on the laptop an email from Valiant Historical Press. He held his breath as he clicked on the message. Thank you for your query letter and the first three chapters of Bavarian Legacy. After careful review . . . Herman sighed, another rejection and now things looked bleak. He had been banking on Valiant as a fallback, actually a backup to his fallbacks. They specialized in historical books based on family histories. He was sure his book was a perfect fit. He scratched Valiant off of his list in his notebook, the forty-second rejection over the last six months. He rubbed the stubble on his chin as his gaze went to the window. He saw his reflection, his hair was a mess, and the gray was starting to creep in. He could see the bags and dark circles under his eyes. Signs of stress and a lack of restful sleep. Phyllis had warned him two years ago, this was a bad idea.
The next morning he found Phyllis at the stove making oatmeal. He took a seat at the table, not wanting to tell her that he had gone through the entire list of publishers. "I need to go to the public library this morning, and double-check some of my research."
She grunted as she sat down with a bowl of oatmeal and a cup of coffee. "Get your own breakfast. I'm going to see my friends at the bowling alley." She finished eating and rinsed her dishes clean. She headed to the bedroom to get dressed.
Herman scraped the last bit of oatmeal from the pan into a bowl and poured a cup of coffee. As he cleaned the dishes, he heard the door slam. The sound of Phyllis leaving without saying goodbye, which was fine with him. Better than another lecture about what a fool he was for quitting a decent-paying job as a stocking supervisor at the warehouse. They had always been able to make ends meet and save a little money, but never enough to buy a home. They had been renting this furnished apartment for nearly fifteen years. He had been researching the background of his book for more than a decade. He thought it made sense to turn it into a book. He shook his head, maybe she was right. Quitting a job when he was fifty-two years old to write his book was stupid. Who would hire someone his age with no real skills? Phyllis was too prideful to work, she expected a husband to provide for her comfort. She told him that before they got married. He shuddered thinking of her screeching complaint if he told her he was out of options for publishers and she knew they had been burning through their little bit of savings. He could hear her saying how right her sister was about him. Her high-pitched squeal calling him a dufus loser, her favorite barb. He pushed it out of his mind. He would spend some time at the library and then treat himself to a coffee at the coffee shop down the street. Maybe he could self-publish, he could do some checking into that.
Herman sat down at a booth in the coffee shop, with a blueberry muffin and a large coffee. He wouldn't tell Phyllis about the muffin, she would have a fit at him splurging. He opened up the small briefcase and pulled out a thick notebook and his laptop. He heard a voice, someone standing next to the booth. "Treaty of Pressburg, what is your interest in that?"
Herman looked up to see a man about his age, finely trimmed beard and intelligent gray eyes behind wirerimmed spectacles. Wearing an expensive overcoat and suit, not someone he would know. The man took a step back he gestured to the open notebook. "Sorry, did not mean to intrude. I teach a course on the Wittelsbach Dynasty."
Herman smiled, the first time he had felt a sense of joy in a long time. "Really? Do you have time to sit?" He gestured to the bench seat on the opposite side of the table. "My name is Herman Petersen."
The man put his coffee cup on the table, "Kasper Mueller." He took off his overcoat and took a seat opposite Herman.
Herman was buzzing with questions as his spirit and energy levels surged. "You a professor at the University of Chicago?"
"Yes, European History. Germanic Studies is my area. What is all of this you are working on?"
Herman flushed a bit with embarrassment. "A book based on some family history."
Kasper looked at a computer-generated family tree diagram on a loose sheet of paper that Herman had taken out of the notebook. "That looks to be the family tree of King Maximillian the second." He could see the handwritten notation, GG Grandfather written next to Maximillian's eldest son Luis. "Your great great grandfather is Luis the second?"
Herman looked down at the notation, he chuckled shaking his head. "Oh no. My great great grandfather was majordomo for King Luis the second."
Kasper smiled with a nod. "Head steward for mad king Ludwig, how interesting. Do you have documentation of your family tree with you?"
Herman reached into his briefcase and laid out several sheets of paper, going back six generations. The fourth generation back was his patriarchal ancestor, Stephan Petersen. Kasper looked at the references that Herman had showing that Stephan had been the head steward for Luis from 1870 until 1886. "Astounding, so he was with Luis when he started to become unstable in the early 1880s right until he was declared insane. Do you have any pictures of him with the king?"
Herman clicked on his laptop. "This one with the king and composer Richard Wagner." Herman felt a sense of pride in the photograph.
Kasper sipped his coffee as he studied the picture. "How extraordinary. And after Luis was deposed what became of your ancestor?"
"Stephan immigrated to the US two years later, to avoid the tumultuous times and the bad feelings about those who had been close to King Luis."
Kasper nodded his understanding. "Yes, he nearly bankrupted the Bavarian kingdom. You say you are writing a book about all of this?"
Herman went through the background of his research, the life and times of Stephan Petersen. About how he found his way into the Royal household and what happened when he came to the United States. He died destitute in New York City. Herman wrapped up the overview of his work. "His life ended so tragically and it seems no one is interested in his story. I have a long list of rejections from publishers."
"I am not surprised, it's hard to get work like this published. Even for university professors. An impressive job of research, I must say." He paused for a moment. "I might be able to give you a little help."
Herman perked up, maybe this new acquaintance might have an inroad with a publisher. "What do you have in mind?"
"I could post a link to your research on my academic web page. If you are willing to share all your files. There are a few hundred maybe even a thousand academics, including graduate students who would be interested in your research. You could write a summary of your book, I would post the summary. Might lead to something."
Herman nearly shook in excitement; it wasn't an offer to publish but free advertising from a university professor. This was the best news he had ever gotten for his work. "That would be great. I have the entire library of my research and background papers on a USB in my briefcase. I even have some scanned documents and pictures. I will get to work on writing a summary."
Kasper got up and put on his overcoat. "Very good. Let's stay in touch." They exchanged mobile phone numbers before he left.
Herman felt upbeat as he came into the apartment, finally some good news. Phyllis would have to admit that recognition of his work by a university professor was an accomplishment. He raced through the front door, "Hey I'm home." He rushed into the bedroom, the closet and chest of drawers were wide open. He could see that her clothes were gone. He wandered into the kitchen and saw a large envelope on the kitchen table. DUFUS LOSER in all capital letters on the outside. There was a short note explaining that she was leaving him for the owner of the bowling alley. The owner's cousin was a divorce lawyer and there were papers in the envelope for him to sign. The only good news was she didn't want anything from Herman, no property, money, or alimony. Not that he had anything anyway. All he had to do was sign the papers and drop them in the mail. The excitement of the morning evaporated as he stared at the papers on the kitchen table. He muttered to himself as he stared at the envelope. "Maybe she's right about me, nothing but a dufus loser."
The web link went live a few weeks later, there was a short biography and picture of Herman and a link to the gigabytes of records and documents he had written and collected over the years. There was a link where researchers could send messages and queries to Herman. He felt a sense of accomplishment as he stared at the laptop, but there was no one to share his sense of pride.
He saw the email come in from Kasper Mueller. Hello Herr Herman, the link is up today take a look. I scanned through a few documents, did not realize that you are the only living relative of Stephan Petersen. Well anyway, let's stay in touch. You have my mobile number.
Herman had not thought about it before, he was the end of the line for Stephan. Phyllis never wanted children and Herman never pushed the matter. He was an only child as was his father, everyone else had died off. There was a knock at the door. He wasn't expecting anyone, he could not remember the last time someone had visited their home. He opened the door and his heart sank, when he saw the building manager. "Herman, the rent is two weeks late. It's my butt if it's not paid. The owner calls me every day to pester me."
He barely had enough money in the account to cover the rent, with a little left over for electricity and some food. "Sorry. I'll write you a check right now." He went to the desk and wrote out a check. He went back to the door and handed it to the manager with no idea what he would do a month from now. Maybe something would come through for the book, he had looked for jobs but there was nothing.
A few days later he got a text message from Kasper. A researcher has been looking at some of the correspondence and documents you have from Stephan. You ever have any of this translated?
There were a few documents his father had in a box along with some pictures, the only things that had been passed down from Stephan. The ornate box was the only possession Stephan had when he died in a pauper's prison. He sent a response text. No. Got them with some pictures from my father.
Hermann headed out the door, two interviews for possible jobs. Night watchman and stocking clerk. His bank account was getting close to zero.
Weeks later Herman saw his things on the sidewalk as he came home after a few job interviews. The building manager had been warning him. He ran up the stairs and saw the paper posted on the door EVICTION NOTICE. There were details of what he could do in the next week to appeal the decision, he could see there was a brand new lock on the door.
He thought of his briefcase and his laptop. He bolted down the stairs and out the front door, losing his balance and falling to the sidewalk. A young man stopped to offer a hand. "You okay old man?"
Hermann was more embarrassed than hurt, nothing was broken and there was no blood. He sat up and nodded his head, "I'm okay." He got up and walked over to the pile of boxes. He found his briefcase and inside it was his laptop. He felt relief for a moment and then a sense of panic. What was he going to do? Where would he sleep? It was February and still cold, especially at night. He found the box with Stephan's papers, that's all he could carry with his briefcase. He started walking down the street without a destination in mind. Wondering if he was going to end up just like Stephan, destitute and alone in death.
Nearly a month later Herman was startled awake by a familiar voice asking him to wake up. He worried for a moment that it was the coordinator for the homeless shelter. Maybe going to ask him to leave for the night to make room for a family. He realized it was morning and it was Kasper Mueller's voice. His eyes fluttered open and he saw Kasper standing next to the cot. "Kasper, what are you doing here?" He sat up with a flicker of hope "Is someone interested in the book?" He didn't even bother asking how Kasper had tracked him to the shelter.
"No sorry, not the book. Your birthright, something of value."
"No one in my family had anything of value."
"Something from the mad King. One of my colleagues in Germany contacted me about one of the German documents in your online archive. Her name is Dr. Heidi Blume, she said it is a handwritten letter to Stephan from the King. I looked it over, it's definitely from the King. But Dr. Blume is more of an expert than me."
Herman thought for a moment, maybe some collectors would want the letter. "Is the letter worth something?"
"Well maybe but that's not what I am talking about, there is more to the story. The letter thanks Stephan for his years of faithful service. Dr. Blume specializes in Luis the second and she was fascinated by the summary of your book on the web page. She started doing some research into Stephan on her own, including searches through the Royal archives. She found a letter of commendation from King Luis to Stephan with an enclosed Royal Decree with a writ for a land grant. They were written months before he was deemed insane and it seems they were never delivered to Stephan. Most likely a jealous member of the Royal Court hid them away. Dr. Blume has had them reviewed by legal scholars and attorneys in Germany. The property was taken by the German government at the end of World War two along with other tracts of land owned by the Wittelsbach Dynasty. The title to this land and adjoining property was returned to the heirs of the royal family in the 1980s. The entire tract was valued at nearly two hundred million dollars at the time, but no one knew about Stephan's grant. Twenty million of that is for the land gifted to Stephan. Your title to the property as the sole living heir of Stephan is legally binding according to the German lawyers. Dr. Blume says they are experts in German property law."
Herman stared at the floor. "Why would they honor my claim to that land?" He sighed, "I don't have the energy or resources to fight them. Certainly not in foreign courts."
Kasper sat down on the cot next to Herman. "The family has read the letter of commendation from King Luis. It says that Stephan was one of his most trusted and loyal stewards. Someone who stood by him in his darkest days. I have talked to representatives of the family. They were quite sad to hear what happened to Stephan and excited to hear about your book. They don't want to fight you. They would like to meet you. They want to keep the property with the adjoining lands, it's part of a private nature reserve now. They want to compensate you for the land at the current market value."
Herman swallowed as he ran a hand through his hair. He spoke in nearly a whisper. "Are you saying that they are just going to give it to me?" He paused, his eyes squinting with doubt. "Twenty million dollars?"
Kasper smiled. "Well, twenty-seven million and some change is the current market value." He patted Herman on the shoulder. "I know things have been difficult for you the last couple months. My colleagues and I will support you through this process."
Herman's eyes welled up with tears of joy. "Why would all of you help me?"
"You donated this rich treasure trove of research for Germanic studies." Kasper smiled as he stood up. "And because we are friends."
Phyllis was at the bar in the bowling alley pouring a gin and tonic. Pretty sweet, not having to pay for drinks. Florence yelled out from the other end of the bar. "Herman Petersen. Phyllis isn't that your ex? He's on television."
Phyllis shuffled down to the other end of the bar anxious to see why the dufus loser was on TV. Maybe he had landed in jail or maybe it was a story about one of the shelters. She heard through the grapevine that he had gotten tossed out of the apartment and that he had been living in homeless shelters. She gasped with surprise. There was Herman in an expensive suit and designer overcoat in front of some fairy tale-looking castle in the mountains somewhere. His hair was styled, he was clean-shaven with a bit of a tan and it looked like he even had a pedicure. He had never looked this handsome and distinguished. She saw the text streaming at the bottom of the screen. American Herman Petersen receives Bavarian Knighthood and twenty-seven million dollars. An attractive buxom fortysomething blond was holding hands with him. The reporter asked Herman what he would be doing in the near future. Herman said that publishers were in a bidding war for his book Bavarian Legacy. He was thinking about his next literary project. He and Professor Heidi Blume were planning a wedding and honeymoon in Hawaii.
Florence tapped her polished nails on her beer bottle. "I thought you said he was a loser. A knighthood and trips to European castles. A Hawaiian honeymoon with that hot babe, looks like he is doing okay to me."
Phyllis frowned as she finished off her G&T. "Shut up Flo. Turn down the volume." All of a sudden, the bowling alley didn't look so great.