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1635 The Dreeson Incident: Chapter Twelve

       Last updated: Friday, August 15, 2008 08:13 EDT



Frankfurt am Main

    Nathan Prickett figured he’d done his duty to common courtesy already by looking up the other Grantvillers in Frankfurt and saying hi, letting them know where he was staying. He hadn’t expected that he’d have much in common with them, except for being from Grantville, and he didn’t.

    Jason Waters was a newspaperman. He was here to establish an American-style newspaper. If he could get permission from the city council, that was. And from Magdeburg, since the guy who was publishing the big paper in Frankfurt now had a kind of grandfathered-in imperial monopoly that went back to the days before the Ring of Fire.

    The USE parliament hadn’t gotten around to abolishing monopolies yet. They probably would, but the country had only existed for less than a year and a good portion of that time, there’d been a war on. It looked like there’d be a war on a good portion of next year, too, if Gustav decided to take on Saxony and Brandenburg.

    Waters was from Charlestown and only settled down in Grantville to start with because he’d married Serena Trelli. Nathan had no idea why he’d brought Ernest Haggerty with him, unless to be a gofer.

     Wayne Higgenbottom was studying the post office system. Wayne was here because the Grantville post office had sent him. None of them were likely to stay long. It wasn’t as if Nathan had ever gone to school with any of them. Haggerty did belong to the same church—Methodist—but he was married to Bobbie Jean Sienkiewicz, who was Catholic, and didn’t attend regularly. Ernest was some kind of a cousin of Gary Haggerty and them, but not close.

    Odd, but by now, after all the time he’d lived in Suhl, Nathan had more in common with Ruben Blumroder than he did with some of the guys from back home.

    He picked up his pen.

    Dear Don Francisco,

    He didn’t have a lot to report. He’d only been here a week. But he owed the don a letter.

    Johann Wilhelm Dilich, who is in charge of Frankfurt’s fortifications, knows a lot more about city defenses than I do, or probably ever will.

    I expect you already know that way back before Grantville arrived, the father of the guy who’s the landgrave of Hesse now put Dilich’s father in jail. And, I sort of think from what I’ve been picking up, it was for unfair reasons. As soon as the father got out in 1623, he went to work for the elector of Saxony. That’s John George. He’s still working there, and he’s famous.

    I guess that worked out fine in the world we came from, because Frankfurt and Hesse and Saxony were all on the side of Gustavus Adolphus.

    Well, sort of, at least. Seems like John George was always a bit iffy, to put the best face possible on it.

    What with the war coming up next spring, though, I thought I’d at least better remind you that the guy in charge of the fortifications at Frankfurt, which is a really important city (province, I guess, since the Congress of Copenhagen) for the USE and smack on the Main River, is the son of the guy who’s in charge of the fortifications for John George.

    Just in case.

    The militia captain told me all this. He’s an old friend of a gunsmith named Heinrich Dilles. He—Dilles, that is—has been dead for almost ten years, but Blumroder used to know him pretty well and said that the captain could tell me a lot. Blumroder gave me a few other names of men to look up beyond the ones I’ve already talked to on my sales trips over here. Kolb and Mohr. Hung and Rephun. And Schmidt. I don’t exactly have high hopes of finding the right person named Schmidt. It’s a good-sized town and they don’t have street numbers.

    Otherwise, Simon Jones, the minister of my church back home, came through town, with that hippie Tom Stone’s two younger boys and an Italian woman painter, on his way back to Grantville. Funny company for him to be keeping. But I expect you’ve already heard that.

    Best wishes,

    Nathan Prickett



    “I’m not here to tell you how to put your men through drill,” Nathan said firmly. The Frankfurt militia officers were a touchy bunch, a lot of them. Not the captain, who was the head guy, but several of the lieutenants.

    “I’m a veteran, yeah. One three-year enlistment from 1986 through 1989. Not an officer. I went in right out of high school, because I couldn’t afford to start college right away. We were in the middle of an economic bust in Grantville, the year I graduated.”

    Someone asked a question.

    “College? I guess you’d call it your ‘arts faculty’ at a university like Jena. Or a ‘philosophy faculty.’ But I’d planned to major in engineering, or something technical.”

    The man nodded. “Leiden,” he said.

    Nathan didn’t catch the reference, so he kept going. “Never did get to college. By the time I got out of the army, I’d decided to start my own business, so I took a job to start saving money.” He looked around the room. “Any questions? Is that clear?”

    No more questions.

    “Okay, one three-year enlistment. ‘That’s all, folks,’ just like the cartoons say. I’ve been in the National Guard ever since, but that’s weekend warrior stuff.”

    More technical terms to explain.

    “Look, the main point is. You keep on teaching your troops to fight. I teach them how to take care of the new guns the city council has paid out their good tax money to buy.” He looked around the room again. “Any questions? Is that clear?”

    He’d learned the hard way, his first few trips over to Frankfurt for Ruben Blumroder, that “Any questions?” and “Is that clear?” were his best friends.



    He hadn’t expected Jason Waters to come tracking him down at the tavern where he ate dinner, but here he came. So he nodded. The two of them consumed stew and bread in silence for a while. Waters broke it.

    “Ever run across a guy named Wackernagel?”

    “The courier?”

    “Um-hmmn. Guess you have, if you know his name.”

    “Read it in the paper. He’s being the friendly local guide for Henry Dreeson’s trip this fall.”

    “Yeah, that one.”

    “Never actually met him. Haven’t gotten back to Grantville much these last couple of years.”

    “He works out of Frankfurt.”

    They both went back to dipping rye bread in the stew juice. That was about the only way to make it chewable, once it got stale.

    Waters broke the silence again. “He’s got a brother-in-law who runs a print shop here. Name’s Neumann.”

    “Haven’t met him.” Nathan figured that he had the home court advantage and wasn’t about to give it up. If Waters wanted something, he’d have to come right out and ask for it.

    “Higgenbottom’s run into him several times.”

    “Haven’t seen much of Wayne since I got here.”

    “You run across some pretty odd people in Frankfurt. It’s big enough that they can sort of keep themselves under the radar, if they’re careful. Not like a village, where you’ve only got a couple hundred people and they all know each other.”

    “Odd, as in peculiar? Or odd, as in this could get to be a problem?”

    “Plenty of the first around. Harmless religious nuts of various persuasions. Wayne’s thinking that there’s some of the second kind. Religious nuts of the ayatollah persuasion.”

    Nathan nodded.

    “Jessica—sister of Bill Porter over at the power plant—divorced Wayne last year. He worked in Morgantown all his life. Managed the campus mail system for WVU. Doesn’t belong to a church in Grantville. Wasn’t born there. Didn’t go to school there.”

    “So?” Nathan hated having to put that question mark at the end of his words. It amounted to giving up points. But Waters was a reporter. A word professional, so to speak. He’d probably had whole classes in turning conversations around on the people he talked to.

    “There’s at least one of the ayatollah bunches that’s gotten hold of their own duplicating machine, Neumann says. One of the Vignelli machines. Got it used from Freytag when he bought a new model. They’ve been on the market for more than a year now—the machines, I mean. A trickle at first. Now it’s a pretty wide stream. They’re coming out of Tyrol, mostly, but there are already some knock-offs on the market.”

    Nathan gave up and asked a straight question. “What does that mean?”

    “It means they’re funded. The group of would-be ayatollahs, I mean. And well-funded. Even second-hand, a Vignelli will set you back a couple thousand dollars. The price will be coming down, of course, but for now, it’s almost entirely print shops that are buying them. For small runs, they’re cheaper than setting type.”


    “Higgenbottom thinks somebody ought to know. And since you’re Wes Jenkins’ son-in-law and he’s still the grand pooh-bah over in Fulda and since they had a problem with those pamphlets a while back…”

    “You’re nominating me for the fall guy.”

    “That’s pretty much it.”



    At least they’d picked on him because of Wes and didn’t know anything about his relationship to Francisco Nasi. Nathan picked up his pen.

    Dear Don Francisco.

    He’d better write to Wes, too. Just in case Waters or Higgenbottom asked about it, some day. CYA. Always.




    Jacques-Pierre Dumais decided that he would talk to Velma Hardesty at the 250 Club, sitting at a table right out in the open. Why not? Veda Mae Haggerty had introduced them to one another in public. Madame Hardesty was upon occasion a waitress there. Duck and Big Dog drank there; he worked for them. It was natural enough for him to come in with them, at first, and then to come back. The regulars didn’t object, because the Garbage Guys had all vouched for him.

    If you went slinking around, someone was eventually bound to notice that you were slinking.

    As far as Jacques-Pierre was concerned, Grantville’s greatest contribution to the education of seventeenth century spies was that delightful couple, Boris Badenoff and Natasha. He had transcribed every episode of the tapes featuring the Russian pair, the squirrel, and the moose, listening to them over and over. With sketches of the best scenes, after he had learned to use the “pause” button. He sent them back to Henri de Rohan for use in training. A splendid object lesson in how not to gather intelligence. Himself, he preferred to go places where he had some reason to be and speak openly with people who also had some logical reason to be there.

    He stopped to examine the place carefully on his way in. The 250 Club had missed out on most of Grantville’s ongoing redevelopment. The building itself backed up to a rise. Above it, the hill rose fairly high. There wasn’t really anything behind the building except a narrow walkway, because it was too close to the slope. That cut had been made, Duck had told him, nearly a half-century before the Ring of Fire.

    The front of the building was a dull red. The back was painted in a faded dark green, a kind of paint that weathered, but did not peel. Part of the walkway had always been kept open to allow the beer delivery man to run his hand truck to the back door. It was hard to tell the color in places. Before the Ring of Fire, everywhere there wasn’t junk, generations of beer deliverymen and meter readers had rubbed against the paint and sworn over damaging their clothes. The rest of the walkway used to be blocked by a pile of old refrigerators, broken bar furniture, and other miscellaneous junk that eventually merged into the former scrapyard if a person went that far. The junk was gone now. The Garbage Guys had paid Ken Beasley enough to make it worth his while to let them have it. The color of the paint was a little brighter where the junk had protected it.

    Redevelopment had hit the area around it. Dumais had seen historical photographs at the museum. Before the Ring of Fire, facing the 250 Club from the road, on the right, there had been a small scrapyard with a few dead cars—not really a wrecking yard, just random accumulation—with a fence made of wired-up pieces of sheet-iron roofing. The Garbage Guys had bought up everything there, also, the owner being too cheap to donate it to recycling. Now there were new buildings and new businesses. On the left, the road curved away from you, and the parking still went around to that side of the building, not that anyone needed a parking lot any more. The next thing in that direction was—once upon a time—a failed gas station, with a rusty brown 1971 Mercury with a torn vinyl top and the right-front wheel missing parked under the portico. The car was long gone for parts. A down-time blacksmith had bought the building and stripped it. Now it was a butcher shop.



    After a full evening of Madame Hardesty’s conversation, Jacques-Pierre was tempted to give up the trade of espionage for good. He was suffering from la migraine. Getting any sound information out of the woman would be hopeless. She was utterly indifferent to anything that did not affect her directly.

    She was stupid. She was spiteful. She was frivolous. She believed in astrology and who knew what other superstitions. She spouted platitudes that she found in her horoscope.

    She was also a first cousin of the prime minister of the United States of Europe. True, Mike Stearns avoided claiming the relationship as much as possible—and had, by all accounts, long before he became the prime minister. A prime minister and a waitress in a tavern? Cousins? It would not be possible in a well-ordered world. But Stearns was an upstart and he did acknowledge the relationship in a minimal sort of way. At least, the woman had been invited to his wedding. Jacques-Pierre had confirmed that.


    If he could put ideas into that hennaed head? Ideas that she could drop into her normal conversation? It wouldn’t work in a larger community, but there were really so few of the up-timers. A comment here. An innuendo there. A veiled criticism here. A barbed jab there. Each of them the kind of thing that people who knew the woman might expect her to say, but with the added little fillip that well, she was, after all, Mike Stearns’ first cousin. Even if it was on the Lawler side of the family and they weren’t that close.

    Jacques-Pierre set out to flatter Madame Hardesty while, at the same time, seeding her mind with comments that would cultivate enough mild dissatisfaction in Grantville about the USE’s policy in regard to Louis XIII and Richelieu to persuade Mauger that it was worthwhile to keep employing him. But not so much dissatisfaction as to cause really major problems, since that was not what Henri de Rohan wanted, not at all.

    He must encourage her to undertake a self-improvement project. How? What would she understand? Ah, yes—the practice of transcendental meditation. Reduced to words she might at least pretend to understand.

    The woman was not only lazy but also not known to be interested in public affairs. So he would be careful. Of the subjects that he gave her, “new insights” she should share with others to impress them, only about one in three, maybe fewer, would have any possible political implications. Most of the positive ones would involve the need for up-timers to harbor warm, fuzzy thoughts about French Huguenots and the Calvinist exiles from the Spanish Netherlands. The negative ones would target Gustavus Adolphus’ treaty proposals. The remainder would be platitudes such as A Discontented Heart Breeds a Discontented Life. He could easily plagiarize most of them from Seneca, which the Grantvillers would soon realize, if they read Seneca.

    But they didn’t. So.

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