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1635 The Dreeson Incident: Chapter Six

       Last updated: Monday, July 21, 2008 19:44 EDT




    "Thanks for letting us use your living room, Chad." Henry Dreeson sank gratefully into Charles Jenkins' comfortably upholstered leather recliner. "My place is too much of a madhouse to do any serious talking, with all those kids around, and it's getting so that in the middle of the noise level at the Gardens, I can't hear myself think."

    "Just can't hear, is more like it," Enoch Wiley said. "It's getting to be the same way for me. None of us are getting any younger."

    "Or spryer." Henry leaned his cane against the chair arm. "I hate seeing Tom Riddle in a wheel chair, even if he does look like he's having a good time being pushed all over the place by his students. Seems like he sort of enjoys law professing."

    "Gets him out of the house and away from Veleda. That woman is downright strenuous."

    The rest of them nodded while they were sorting themselves out onto the couch and other chairs. Veleda Riddle was a good woman and no one could say a word against her, but she did tend to take the bit between her teeth when she got one of her enthusiasms. Like founding the League of Women Voters. Or, now, reopening and restoring the old Episcopalian church and getting hold of a minister for it.

    Missy Jenkins came in through the archway in hostess mode. "Hi, Dad. Hi, everybody. Mom's at a meeting over at the middle school - teacher training stuff." She kissed her father on the cheek and smiled at the rest of them.

    "Coffee, tea, hot chocolate, beer, or wine from Winzerla up by Jena," she said, giving her best impression of a waitress. In a more normal voice, she added, "The coffee's fresh-roasted from Sternbock's and I just ground it. The cocoa beans are from Sesma's. I'll strain the hot chocolate through cheesecloth if anyone wants it, to get out those little granules that get stuck in the back of your throat."

    After a bit she disappeared through the dining room and swinging doors to the kitchen to produce two coffees, one hot chocolate, and three beers.

    "Where were we?" Joe Stull rocked back on the hind legs of the straight chair he had chosen.

    Ed Piazza stretched. "Trying to think of some tactful way to tell Mike Stearns that the Fourth of July Party here in West Virginia County can't really afford to have Becky as our senator in the SoTF House of Lords any more. Nothing against her. We all like the girl. But, face it, she's been gone for a year and a half on this embassy to Paris and Amsterdam. No end to it in sight right away, and now she's going to have another baby in a couple of months. We can't afford not to have a real, effective, voice speaking for us. Either she's got to come home - come back here, make Grantville her real residence, and attend the sessions of the congress - or she's got to resign, so we can run another candidate. The election's not that far off."

    Tony Adducci shook his head. "Personally, I don't think she's going to come home. Come back. Her home's wherever Mike is, and Mike's going to be staying in Magdeburg, I expect, even if he loses to Wettin. He'll still be in Parliament and he'll be the head of the opposition to the Crown Royalists. I don't think she'll be willing to move away from him again, once they get this peace in place. If you want my opinion, she'll come down here long enough to collect Sephie and Balthazar and then settle down in Magdeburg. They might even take Mike's mom with them."

    Enoch Wiley shook his head. "Don't think Jean'll be willing to go. She's one of those women who positively enjoy ill health."

    Joe reached up, taking a beer from the tray that Missy brought in. "It's an awfully big house for one woman and a home health aide to be rattling around in, but I can't see Jean taking in boarders. Just can't. Becky'll take Sephie's nanny pair along to Magdeburg, probably. She's almost bound to. She has that little boy she adopted in Amsterdam and now a new baby coming."

    Tony shook his head. "She might not need a nanny. She's not had the kind of problems having babies that Aura Lee did, Joe. Becky bounced right back, after Sephie."

    Henry cleared his throat. "Bounced back and hared off to Paris, not six months later. When she does get home, that little baby will be over two years old. Sephie won't have the slightest idea who she is. Not any more than Will and Joey will remember Gretchen. Ah, Will maybe can remember her, a little. But Joey not at all. He was only three months old when she left."

    Arnold Bellamy reached up for one of the coffees. "Natalie would not be pleased to hear us making disparaging remarks about women who are trying to combine motherhood with a career."

    Chad shook his head. "They're not criticizing, Arnold. They're just telling the truth. No matter how grateful we are to those two girls for what they've done for Grantville, and for the USE, and for anything in between, the fact remains that neither of them has exactly been a homebody. And, in Becky's case, since she's a government official, we've got to deal with this and have some kind of a plan in place before the next election." He took the last beer and looked at the tray. "Who's the second hot chocolate for?"

    "Me," Missy answered cheerfully, plopping the tray down on the coffee table. "'Train up a child in the way he should go.' 'She,' if you want to be picky. Maybe even, 'the laborer is worthy of his hire.' Or 'her hire.'"

    She sat down on the second straight chair she had brought in from the dining room. "Think of me as a politician in training. Hey, guys. Dad served a term as county commissioner back before the Ring of Fire. Why can't I, someday?"

    "You're a librarian-in-training, Miss Missy," Ed Piazza said.

    She nodded agreeably. "That, too. It's always a good thing to have a fallback position. Local politics doesn't exactly pay well. Have you guys heard anything about setting a date? That's an odd thing about this parliamentary system, for most Americans - that elections don't come on a regular schedule, but whenever Mike decides to call them."

    Piazza leaned back and started to talk. Finally, he wound up. "So, to Mike's surprise as much as Wettin's, coming out of the military and naval victories this spring, it started to look like Mike actually could, and would, win the election. Which wasn't what he'd expected, and it damn sure wasn't what Wettin expected. So as soon as the Congress of Copenhagen was over, Wettin and the Crown Royalists started maneuvering to get the election postponed to as late in the year as possible. Don't forget that while we've got a cease-fire in place in the Netherlands, the war isn't over yet. Look what Nils Brahe managed across the Rhine once Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar pulled his cavalry back from around Mainz. It worked, but it could have gone wrong. Wettin and his people figure that the more time between the battles of Ahrensbök and Luebeck and the election, the more time for the war gloss to rub off Mike. The more time for him and his people to administer a thousand little cuts about every minor thing that does go wrong."

    "What does that amount to as far as setting a date goes?"

    "I don't think it's going to happen before the end of this year. It's the first national election the USE will be running, after all. Think of what it was like doing the SoTF election last spring - setting up polling places, training poll workers, getting the ballots printed and distributed. And now, with the war, Gustav has annexed a whole lot of entirely new territory that hadn't even started to get ready because it wasn't in the country. He sure doesn't want to tick off Frederik of Denmark by not letting his new Province of Westphalia vote. Or Nils Brahe, by offending the people in Upper Rhine now, after Brahe managed to do a Florida on it. So there's a bunch of stuff to be done. Offhand, I'd say early next year. February or March, probably. But I don't know anything for sure."

    Joe rocked his chair forward. "Let's figure that it'll be February, then, for this year's election. Next year's election, if you want to be picky. February worked out pretty well in the SoTF when we used it this year. It's easy for people living in villages to get to the polling place, even in winter. And in the slack season, for farmers, they have time to read the newspapers and statements and such. If it turns out to be a little earlier, we can cope. If it's a little later, we'll have that much more time to cope." The chair went back again.

    Tony Adducci changed the subject. "Chad, have you heard anything from Wes about the way he sees things going around Fulda?"

    "I've heard from him, and passed his letter on to Ed. He's had a chance to talk to Constantine Ableidinger's people over there. And I know Ed's talked to Ableidinger himself. Franconia's pretty much in agreement with Thuringia as far as what has to go on the state ballot is concerned. It's mainly restructuring the SoTF constitution to handle the results of the Ram Rebellion. An amendment to bring the margraves of Bayreuth and Ansbach into the House of Lords. And the biggie."

    The conversation dwindled into silence for the next couple of minutes.

    The biggie. The elephant in Chad Jenkins' living room. The invisible elephant on the coffee table, occupying a lot of space right next to the tray of sliced cheese and pretzels that Missy had brought in. The real reason why six up-timers were having this meeting without bringing any down-timers into it this evening.

    The choice of a permanent state capital for the State of Thuringia-Franconia.

    Nobody ever voted for Grantville to be the capital. It happened by default, right after the Ring of Fire, when the SoTF was still the New United States, and the NUS was a half-dozen little towns and principalities in south central Thuringia. A long time before it had turned into a province of the USE with nearly a million people.

    The congress of the SoTF, in its collective wisdom, had passed a bill to put the issue on the ballot in the next election.



    The problem of a permanent capital had been stewing around for a while. The candidates would be Grantville, Weimar, Erfurt, Würzburg, and Bamberg. Suhl had been nominated, but the city council declined. A suspicion existed that the gun makers of Suhl really didn't want all that many resident bureaucrats looking over their shoulders.

    Of course, Suhl would have had the same main problem that Grantville did. Because of the geography of the place, it really didn't have a lot of room to grow, if the state capital started to become a big city. Grantville had maybe twenty thousand people in it now, give or take the ones who were moving in or out almost every day. It wasn't ever going to have more, because the narrow valley of Buffalo Creek and the shale slate rock of the hills that went close to straight up from the flood plain meant there wasn't any place to put them. They could spill over the edges of the Ring of course, and they did. Grantville had suburbs, now. But by the time folks were living halfway to Rudolstadt or Saalfeld or Badenburg,, they weren't really in Grantville.

    So something was on the mind of everyone in the room. Uppermost on the mind of Henry Dreeson, who had called the meeting in the first place. How were the up-timers - mainly the ones who still lived in town, but maybe some of the ones who were off in places like Magdeburg or Swabia - going to react if Grantville didn't win this vote? They started to scope out ways to handle it. All the possible reactions there might be, from "those ingrates, after all we've done for them" right up to "man the barricades, boys - the barbarians are coming."



    "What, exactly, do they want?" Annabelle Piazza stood in her kitchen, holding a piece of paper against the wall next to the phone while she tried to scribble notes with a worn-down pencil.

    "I thought I'd better call Ed at home," Henry Dreeson repeated for the third time. "I wasn't sure that it's really SoTF state business and I know he's trying to keep civil service and politics separate. Which is good and right, I suppose, but pretty hard to do when a man has to get elected. Anyway, what I think it amounts to is that Wes Jenkins and Harlan Stull think it would do the Fourth of July Party some good in Buchenland County in these upcoming elections for me to come over on a politicking trip some time this fall. Buchenland County - that's what we used to call Fulda. Because they're having some fallout from this Ram Rebellion that's going on down in Franconia and all. I'll call Joe, too, since Harlan's his nephew. And Chad, since Wes is his brother. Maybe they've heard something about what's up."

    "I'll pass it on. It could be legitimate SoTF business though, it sounds like. So maybe you should call him at the office."

    "Seems to me more like Fourth of July Party business. I can't go anyway, of course. Ronnie's still among the missing and I can't go haring off and leave Annalise to watch over the rest of Gretchen's orphans all by herself. Not even with a cook and a sort of nanny in the house. There has to be somebody who's in charge. Gretchen's had more than a year to organize the Committee of Correspondence in Amsterdam. You'd think that she'd be getting herself organized by now and come home and take care of those kids. Especially with Ronnie still down in Bavaria, somewhere, as far as we know. The shooting war's been over for nearly three months. Why's Gretchen still in Amsterdam, anyhow? But maybe somebody else could go over to Fulda. Can you ask Ed that, to do me a favor?"

    He was about to put down the phone, when the doorbell rang. Annabelle was saying something about Ronnie and Mary Simpson, though, so he kept hold of the receiver. "Annalise," he called. "Can you answer that?"

    She came scurrying from somewhere at the back of the house, opened the door, and stood there talking for a couple of minutes to someone outside. Just as he finished up with Annabelle, she turned back into the front hall leading by the hand another girl who looked so much like her that she could have been her sister. "It's my cousin Dorothea and her fiancé. From Grafenwöhr. Oma sent them here so they can get married. She's Catholic. He's not. They can't get married in the Upper Palatinate. They've been on the road ever since Oma got kidnapped."

    She pulled the girl into the living room, turned her head, and waved at the couch. "Sit down, Dorothea, for goodness sake!"

    Dorothea sat.

    Pregnant, Henry thought. Annie sat down that way when she was carrying Margie. Margie sat down that way when she was carrying all three of her kids. A kind of bottom-heavy thump, like her rear end couldn't wait to meet the chair.

    "Hell," he said. "Let me call Jenny Maddox. I'll waive the waiting period for the license and we can take care of it after supper, over at city hall. Run into the kitchen, will you, Annalise, like a good girl, and tell Martha that we're going to have two more at the table, so she can set places. Then come back and explain about civil wedding ceremonies to them." He grabbed his cane and stumped back out into the hall to use the phone again before she could object.

    When he got back into the living room after he'd gotten Jenny to agree to go back to the Bureau of Vital Statistics as soon as she had finished eating and fetch a marriage license, the girl - Dorothea? Yep, Dorothea - had slid off the sofa down onto the floor. She was rolling a ball back and forth with Gretchen's two-year-old Joey. Annalise and the boy - all right, young man, somewhere in his mid-twenties, probably, but he had one of those eternally boyish faces - were talking a mile a minute about civil weddings. He was a Calvinist, not a Lutheran, and Calvin had originally been in favor of having weddings be civil, it seemed, because marriages were legal contracts. It was all right with him.

    Henry looked at Dorothea on the floor. She was Catholic, Annalise had said, but it didn't look like she was the kind to argue with her future husband. After he'd gotten the two of them good and tightly married, Annalise could call someone over at St. Mary's, explain it all, and let them worry about fixing the situation up with the priests. Seemed to him that this was one of those better to beg forgiveness than ask permission situations. If they could fix it up. He wasn't sure what the Catholic church rules were, either up-time or down-time. Jesuits were supposed to be good at figuring the angles, though.

    Dorothea was still rolling the ball with Joey. Will came in from the back yard. He watched a couple of minutes, walked over, and leaned against her shoulder, his blond hair falling against hers. She kept rolling the ball with her left hand and put her right arm around the older boy's waist.

    Family. Annalise's cousin, so Gretchen's cousin, too. Knew how to deal with kids.

    "I'd like to invite the pair of you to stay with us, here at the house," Henry said. "Not for just a few days, but until Nicholas here finds a job and the two of you have a chance to look around and get settled permanently. No hurry about that. You're welcome to stay as long as you like. It's a big old house. We've got plenty of room."



    Laurent Mauger climbed down from the wagon. The driver had set out the set of portable folding steps he took along when he traveled, so he managed it with considerable dignity. He stretched his legs, crooked a finger at the porter outside the Higgins Hotel, and walked in.

    It was such a wonderful world in which a man's dutiful service to the Huguenot cause had the side effect of allowing him to stay in the Higgins Hotel in Grantville on quite legitimate business, which he could expense to the company.

    Quite legitimate business. He was a wine merchant. While the local wines grown around Jena weren't bad, and the Franconian wines were really superb if one liked a dry white, there was a lot of money in Grantville now. Some of that money belonged to people who were convinced that Rhine wines, Moselle wines, sometimes even Italian red wines, but above all French wines, were better. Or, if not better, at least more impressive when a man served them to his dinner guests.

    Down-timer money, mostly, when it came to wine marketing. Most of the up-timers preferred beer. The men, at least.

    Money to be made. That was how he had come to know Isaac de Ron in Frankfurt. Money to be made quite honestly, along with the thrill of doing something a little devious, perhaps, for his fellow religionists. And a town with a class structure so peculiar that nobody thought it odd to see a wine merchant talking to a garbage collector as long as they had made it known to anyone who cared to listen that they shared a common church affiliation.

    He huffed his way up the steps. In deference to the local creek's tendency to flood, the ground floor of the Higgins Hotel was devoted to service area. The splendid reception room was on the first floor, some distance above the street.

    All this, and a hot tub, too.



    Mauger felt no obligation to identify "my contact" as the host of Zum Weissen Schwan in Frankfurt. Then his own mouth betrayed him by speaking the name. "De Ron." Merde! Conspiracy wasn't as easy as it might be. He might as well keep going, now that Dumais knew who the intermediary was.



    Paranoia. What a wonderful word. A wonderful thing, too. It made the life of a field agent so much simpler. Jacques-Pierre Dumais stretched out on his pallet, propped his feet up on his trunk, and started a mental diagram. It didn't look quite like a spider web. More like two webs, blown together by a strong wind, not meshing, but intersecting in certain areas.

    Henri de Rohan, the duke, in the center of one. For whom Isaac de Ron in Frankfurt worked and for whom Jacques-Pierre worked himself. Not via de Ron, but directly. Two different threads. However, he had, in that trunk right under his feet, well hidden in a secret compartment, authorization letters that would permit him to call upon de Ron if he should need him.

    Ducos, the madman, in the center of the other. Well, Ducos and Delerue both. Dumais counted down on his fingers. For whom Guillaume Locquifier worked. For whom in turn de Ron worked, or at least pretended to. For whom Laurent Mauger worked-at least he worked for "de Ron in his guise as Locquifier's man" but not for "de Ron in his guise as Rohan's agent." For whom Jacques-Pierre Dumais worked. Or pretended to.

    Their own rampant and paranoid security had broken a link in the chain that would have enabled Ducos' men to make the critical connections. With any luck at all, Locquifier would never learn that Jacques-Pierre was Laurent Mauger's Grantville informant. So neither Locquifier in Frankfurt nor Ducos nor Delerue, wherever they might be by now, would have a chance to connect one Jacques-Pierre Dumais, a garbage collector, with the Jacques-Pierre Dumais who was otherwise known to them as one of Henri de Rohan's footmen.

    One hoped, at least, that the link was well and completely broken. It would be unfortunate if Ducos found out. Potentially quite dangerous, also. Ducos and his fanatics were a murderous lot.

    Ducos might find out, of course. It was not beyond the realm of the possibly that he would. Ah, well. C'est la vie!

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