"oh, i know what that means." coraline made a rueful little face. "at least."
"good. and your author is - thomas mann."
professor zender's experiment
by coraline o'connell
illustrated by roy dismas, rhoda penmarq and konrad kraus
editorial consultant: Prof. Dan Leo
a back street, in a city somewhere in europe. in old europe. but then, all europe is old, is it not? old and very tired. ah, dear reader, i did not mean to put you off so quickly. bear with me.
where were we? a city somewhere in europe. our tale will deal with exiles - the self-exiled and the not-so-self-exiled. an easterly city, then - trieste, potsdam, baden-baden? perhaps one of the faded cultural glories of the weary continent - venice, florence? or even one of the monstrous modern metropolises, where all or anything can be lost or hidden - paris, berlin? in any case, a back street. but near the water.
a sea, a river, a canal. but are not most cities near water? humans, being living creatures, naturally congregate near water. thank you, professor, for that insight.
so. twilight, a back street, a boat hooting in the distance. in an old city. let us take our time here. no? ah, dear modern reader, so impatient, so impatient! let me meet you halfway. despite our ancient setting, let me assure that the tale we are about to unfold will not deal with the old at all, but with the new! the newest of the new, the most modern of the modern! but the new, being new, is always threatened by the old, is it not? therefore it must proceed slowly, cautiously - at first, only at first! and hide itself among what is old, like a phoenix burrowing beneath the ashes, prior to bursting forth in all its unique glory! let us, likewise, proceed cautiously. but only at the beginning, i assure you.
a man is walking along the street in the twilight. not hurrying, to be sure, but not stopping every two feet either. a man neither young nor old, dressed neither shabbily nor expensively, but with an air of confidence - yes, a decided air of confidence. dark eyes survey the street from over a neatly trimmed mustache - a mustache neither bureaucratically bushy nor rakishly "pencilled". the mustache , perhaps, of a military man of the middle rank. he carries a walking stick - a very stout walking stick - which he does not lean on, but twirls casually. ruffians, beware!
our pedestrian stops at every corner and looks about him. is he looking for something?
suddenly a shabby figure emerges from the doorway in which it had been huddling. though it is not cold in the street - no, it is neither warm nor cold. a slight breeze, perhaps, from the nearby body of water.
"professor zender! can that be you, professor?"
the pedestrian surveys the shabby one, pointedly pointing his stick at him. "yes, i am professor zender. and you are -"
"so you do not recognize me, professor?"
"that does seem to be the case."
"morden, professor, hans morden. i attended your lectures at the university , back in --------."
"ah yes, i recognize you now."
"yes, i recognize you as one of the hundreds of faceless rascals who sit in the back rows of lectures, pretending to take notes and wondering if you had contracted syphilis the night before."
"ha,ha! yes, the same biting wit i remember so well. but you do me a disservice, professor. i attended to your "little talks" as you so modestly called them, religiously and remember them well."
"would you like me to repeat some of your words back to you?"
this elicited a smile from the professor. "thank you, that will not be necessary." making a decision as to the aggressiveness of his interlocutor, he lowered his walking stick and leaned casually on it.
"so, professor, what brings you to ----------? you seemed to be looking around for something. are you lost?"
"i was indeed looking for a particular establishment. one of moderately mysterious provenance. " the professor smiled again. "perhaps even mythical."
"oh? perhaps i can be of assistance. i have been washed up on this shore for a while."
"well, then - i was looking for the establishment of the fellow calling himself fritz frommer. i understand it has gone by many names."
morden was genuinely startled. "you, professor, looking for frommer - ? but, of course , you must be doing some sort of research."
"that is one way of putting it."
"i well remember you saying that the only true history is that which is written in anticipation of the event -"
zender chuckled, flattered in spite of himself. "so you were paying some attention, after all. what did you say your name was?"
"morden, hans morden. but, professor, if you are looking for frommer, i am afraid the police have anticipated you. his "establishments" were repeatedly raided and dispersed by them. and he has not been heard from lately."
"yes, yes, so i had heard." the professor eyed morden keenly. "but i thought perhaps he might still be found. by those with - better knowledge than the authorities."
"indeed." morden glanced around. "i may - may be able to help you. but - but -"
"but this is thirsty work, eh?'"
"ha,ha! sharp as ever, professor! yes, i have had a run of bad luck lately, and could use some fortification."
"i understand perfectly, my friend. perfectly. in fact, i had in mind that i might encounter just such a person as yourself. imagine my surprise in encountering one who needed no introduction to myself. how strange are the ways of fortune!"
"no doubt you know a place not too distant where we can discuss this matter - while i treat you to some fortification."
"i do, professor. right down that street over there." morden pointed to a "street" - a barely visible crooked alley - about twenty yards distant in the gloom. "if it is not too much trouble."
"not at all. it is what i am here for." the professor pointed his stick at morden again. "but as you remember me so well, you remember that i am not a man to be trifled with. eh?"