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Tuesday, December 2, 2014

27. BIGGLESWURM CASTLE





July 1994

The time finally arrived for me to visit Biggleswurm Castle.  My appearance would reassure my client’s grandson.

No one’s destination of choice, Hannover required two flights from Nice. My mood darkened progressively, along with the evening sky, as I flew north to Frankfurt on Lufthansa. God knew what awaited me in Hangover, as the baron called it.

During the second leg, I fortified myself with a quarter-bottle of German white wine.  It did not rouse my spirits.  

I disembarked and looked around for Raoul, the baron’s manservant, and quickly devised a contingency plan more appealing than the plan itself:  hop in a taxi and scoot to Hannover’s best hotel.

Tragically, a short slim figure with frizzy hair appeared, took my bag and led me to a Mercedes sedan.  We drove silently into the countryside, a flat and barren landscape, which grew darker as we careened through small villages.

Near midnight, we arrived.  

We could have been in Transylvania.  

A forbidding twenty-foot stonewall blocked our path.  Double-gates creaked open.  A dirt road veered left over a moat, into a pebbled courtyard. Raoul circled and stopped the car at the entrance to Biggleswurm Castle.

I climbed out.  Gold etchings on wooden timbers identified the castle’s previous occupants—Biggleswurm’s ancestors—and its date of construction:  1311. 

Biggleswurm appeared in white shorts, plaid polo shirt, two-toned wingtips, and knee-high brown socks.  “Ah, the publisher!  I didn’t think you’d come!”

I already wished I hadn’t.

Inside the foyer, a grand staircase rumbled.  I looked up: Biggleswurm’s son, barefoot, smiling.

The baron paid no attention to his son’s entry; he was more intent on impressing me with his castle.  So I introduced myself. 

“Pleased to meet you,” said the boy, betraying nothing.

The baron steered me away.  “Come—I show you your suite of rooms.”

My suite rambled railroad style, sloping downward room-to-room, as if were sinking (it probably was), into the bedroom featuring a four-post bed canopied with lace that hadn’t been vacuumed in at least a year.

Incandescent lamps in all three rooms shone brightly, attracting scores of mosquitos through open, unscreened windows overlooking the stagnant, insect-infested moat; at the other end, a bare white-tile bathroom.

Next: a tour of the ground floor.  

Somber portraits of Biggleswurm’s ancestors soiled its dank walls:  Alexander von Biggleswurm, Erasmus Biggleswurm, Rudolph von Biggleswurm—their eyes following my every move.  Each haunting portrait came equipped with its own candelabrum.  

The baron led me to the Biggleswurm Library, its oak bookshelves laden with hand-tooled leather-bound volumes in German, including twelve volumes on the life of Rudolph von Biggleswurm, who, the baron informed me, had been buddies with Otto von Bismarck.

Knick-knacks of every sort littered credenzas.  Bronze medals, statuettes, silver frames… 

For someone so aggressively anti-materialistic, Biggleswurm sure possessed a lot of things.

We sat on a terrace.  Biggleswurm explained that he had single-handedly renovated this castle to his very high standards.

“What about your brother and sister?” I asked.  “How did you end up with the castle?”

“They didn’t want it.”

I understood this.

“The problem is leadership,” said Biggleswurm, with a pained expression, as if he were passing gas.  Then he excused himself for bedtime.

Entering my guest suite, I encountered an invasion of  hundreds of ugly insects, mostly mosquitos, which had occupied my suite, attracted by the lights.  Now they danced and fluttered about the twelve-foot ceiling, beyond my reach, awaiting their intended victim:  me.

These were not just any mosquitos.  These were large Teutonic bloodsuckers—and they displayed all the aggressive tendencies of their homeland.

I pulled a notebook from my back pocket and set to work.  Not scribbling notes for the countess.  Extermination.  Who knew what delusional sickness Biggleswurm suffered, or if it could be transmitted by mosquito transfusion.

On a rampage from room-to-room, I fought a pitched battle for thirty minutes, squashing insects of many varieties. Their reinforcements jumped at me from inside the draperies, where they had hidden for a nocturnal assault.

Those still alive retreated to the ceiling.  I made a weapon of my white cotton handkerchief, rolling it into a ball and launching it at them.  The mosquitos scrambled and buzzed me like fighter pilots.  As they nose-dived, I clapped at them, murdering the bloody leeches with bare palms.

I entered the bathroom to brush my teeth—and was ambushed by a new army of bugs commanded by a gargantuan daddy long legs.  I retreated and closed the door.  My teeth would rot before I’d go against this bunch.

Lying in bed, I could feel the ghosts of Biggleswurm past assemble in the next room. 


Past eight, I awakened from a restless night and peeked into the bathroom.  Only a few bugs remained; the daddy long legs, gone.  Relief.  Until I discovered what had transpired in the dark.  You didn’t have to worry about the creepy crawlers.  That’s what the spiders were for.

I found Mr. Long Legs in nine pieces stretched along a monstrous spider web.  The sheer brutality of this scene was alarming.  What kind of spider could do that?  I hastily brushed my teeth and fled.

I wandered into a dining room; one formal place had been set.  I sat.  Raoul appeared and poured lukewarm coffee

Next:  the boy appeared.

“How’s it going?” I asked.

He did not have a chance to answer. The baron appeared.   

“Have you told my son that his father is writing a great book?” he enquired.

“Yeah, what about the book?”  The boy looked at me with a smirk on his face.

I shrugged.  “That’s what I’m here to find out.”

Biggleswurm wanted to tour me around his grounds.  I checked my wristwatch, willing time to pass quickly.  He called to his groundskeeper, bossed him around for my benefit, and said, “This is my publisher from Washington,” as if to say, See, I told you so, schmuck.

Biggleswurm walked me to his parents’ cottage.  His mother appeared on the porch to stave him off.   

“My publisher from Washington,” he said with self-importance.

His mother’s eyes first widened, then narrowed, like, You really exist? Followed by suspicion, like, You can’t be serious.

Biggleswurm asked his mother for the English translation of her father’s book.  (The baron had told me his grandfather was a famous novelist.)

“It doesn’t exist,” she said, exasperated, as if she’d told him the same thing a dozen times before.

Biggleswurm asked again.

“It doesn’t exist!”  She rolled her eyes.

Biggleswurm led me away and dismissed her with a backhand wave.  “She lives in a different world.”

The real one, perhaps.

The baron's wife appeared, walking a Labrador.  It mauled and muddied my khaki trousers.  “You two have a lot to talk about,” she said, moving on.

She meant, of course, Biggleswurm babbling about himself.  Because as long as the baron had me on his turf, he was determined to hound me with as much greatness about himself as time permitted.

I checked my wristwatch again as we returned to the castle for a tour of the baron’s office, replete with cluttered desk, and posters trumpeting self-financed past performances.  

The boy entered carrying a boom box playing rap.  

“You call this music?” Biggleswurm erupted.  “Tell him this isn’t music.”

“The new generation is taking over,” I said.

“Ha!”  The boy howled.  “The new generation is taking over!”

Biggleswurm next showed me his writing room.

It was a pigsty.  Papers overflowing off his desk and spilling onto the floor, more leather-bound volumes of yester-century, and many more knick-knacks.

Biggleswurm, ever the poseur, posed behind his writing-table—pen in hand poised over a pad of blank paper.  I snapped a photo of him doing what he did best:  pretending to write.

“I must show you my writing on Germany and leadership,” he said, sifting through several piles.  “Women!” he cursed.  “I don’t know what my wife does with my writings!”  He looked around.  “I ask her later.”

Because now it was time to practice his cello.  

I followed Biggleswurm down to the music parlor where he primped himself and prodded his cello with a bow.  This was a nasal-passage concerto, punctuated with sniffs and snorts, grimaces, and the occasional fart.

After five tunes, I’d suffered too much.  “I’ll leave you to practice and take a walk around the village [maybe find some decent coffee].”

Biggleswurm flung his cello aside.  “I come, too—I need to break!”  

We strolled out the gate, down the street.  The village houses were new, nondescript, its commercial center devoid of charm, ugly as hell.

“Can I get a Herald Tribune anywhere?” I asked.

“In Hangover.  We go later.”

Lunch.  We—Biggleswurm, his wife and son, and I—sat stiffly in the baron’s formal dining room.  He rang a brass bell to summon Raoul, who appeared in white jacket and white gloves.  He traipsed from person to person, offering chicken parts from a tray followed by white rice and endive salad.

Where had I seen this system before?  

But of course, Biggleswurm adopted my client’s formal dining style as his own.  Her version came naturally; his was absurd—The Mad Baron’s Luncheon, with lunatic conversation dominated by the buffoonish Biggleswurm and food that possessed not a hint of flavor.

After lunch, Biggleswurm retired for a nap.  I sat in the den, watching my wristwatch.  He had promised to rejoin me at three, but it was past 4:15 when he descended from his bedroom.

“Shall, we drive to Hannover now?” I asked.

“Yaa, we go.”

Off we went in Biggleswurm’s Mercedes.

“What do you want to see in Hangover?” he asked.

“What is there to see?”

“Nothing.”

Biggleswurm parked in the old town, which comprised of two intersected streets on which pubs and antique shops alternated. A drunk yelled loudly at passersby.  We drank a beer and drove onto the train station for a newspaper.

Biggleswurm switched on the radio, a classical station.  

“Hee-haw, hee-haw!” he mocked the musicians.

By seven o’clock, we were back at the castle.  I tried to discern a plan for the evening, but it was as if everyone had taken LSD.  I found myself constantly trying to figure out what was supposed to happen next, but no one knew, or would tell me.  The minutes ticked by in slow motion.

Were we dining out?  And if so, at what time?  

A surrealistic mystery.  

Biggleswurm’s son and Raoul returned from a movie in Hannover.  Biggleswurm’s mother-in-law floated around with the baron’s new daughter.  And Biggleswurm had disappeared.

I did not know what to do with myself.  When I attempted to slip out on my own, the baron suddenly reappeared near the front door and stopped me.

“I think I’ll take a walk,” I said.

“No.  We eat in five minutes.”

I shrugged, returned inside.  The baron disappeared; his wife mercifully handed me a scotch and water.

We sat on a patio.  A slow forty minutes ticked by.  

What happened to dinner? What happened to Biggleswurm?

A bell clanged.  A search commenced:  Where was the baron?

His wife opened the front door.  “There he is!”

Biggleswurm was returning from a walk—after telling me I couldn’t. 

We all watched as he crossed the courtyard toward us, posing as Lord of the Manor on a solitary stroll.   

“The writing,” he shook his head as he walked.  “The music, the phone calls, the letters, the kids…”

The pretentious fool.  

My stomach turned.  And then it was time to eat.

Again, we sat bolt upright in stiff dining chairs while Raoul served unseasoned, steamed meat and vegetables.  I tried to add a bit of levity to the stiffness, cracking jokes, feeling in synch only with the baron’s son, who wanted me to watch Beavis and Butthead with him.

This caused Biggleswurm to erupt and denounce Beavis and Butthead as blasphemous before interrogating his son about where he would spend August with his mother.  

“It’s a farm in Texas,” the baron prodded.  “I know this, my detectives.  You go to Texas, right?”

“No we don’t,” said his son.

Biggleswurm’s third degree petered out.  It was just too much work.

Later, I joined the boy for Beavis and Butthead; Biggleswurm retired for the night—exhausted, no doubt, from pretending to be busy.

Next morning, I awakened excited.  I’m leaving!

Biggleswurm finally appeared at 10:30 spluttering about not being able to find his writing.  Again, he cursed his wife.  

For a mad moment, I considered throwing him out the window into his stagnant moat.  

“Does Raoul know he’s supposed to drive me to the airport at 12:30?”  

Biggleswurm picked up the phone to buzz Raoul.  No answer.

I followed the baron downstairs as he hollered Raoul’s name.  Then outside.  “Raoul!  Raoul!”

Raoul trudged up the drive, laden with grocery bags.

“Raoul!” Biggleswurm barked.  “Where have you been, you stupid man!”

Raoul shrugged and smiled.

I re-checked my watch for the 22nd time that morning.  

We sat on screened porch.  Biggleswurm’s son came in and said he wanted to see the movie Schindler’s List.

“The blasted Jews,” snapped Biggleswurm.  “Always making money on Hitler.  It’s a f------ old story.  The Jews were always persecuted, from the beginning, by everyone, so why should Hitler take the blame?”  He paused to take a breath.  “I had a clash with a Jew in New York.”  He winked.  “Money.”

I bit my tongue and rose to stretch my legs, and to ensure Raoul would be ready to roll.  “I really must go now.  Ready, Raoul?”

We assembled on the forecourt for a goodbye.  

The baron gave his wife an irate look.  “What did you do with my writings?” 

She looked at him, dumbfounded, not knowing what the hell he was talking about.

I shook Biggleswurm’s hand.  Good riddance, creep.

Two spiders waved farewell from their ancient webs over the front door.

I checked in for my flight, flew to Frankfurt, and phoned Clair.

“How was it?” he asked.

How was it?  You want to know how was it?  It was okay… if you like ghosts and bloodthirsty insects and aggressive German mosquitos and you don’t mind being yakked at by a lazy, good for nothing, Nazi-loving fraud who should be measured for a straitjacket and checked into an asylum for the terminally insane!”

“That bad?”  Clair chuckled.

“You’ll never know how bad.  Yes you will. If we need to come back and rescue the kid, you’re doing it.”


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