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1635 The Dreeson Incident: Chapter Sixteen

       Last updated: Wednesday, September 3, 2008 20:12 EDT



Frankfurt am Main

    “Solch eine Schlamperei!” Johann Wilhelm Dilich was screaming at the top of his lungs.

    Nathan Prickett wasn’t quite certain that there was one word that could translate all the nuances into English. It was carelessness combined with messiness combined with filthiness. Filthiness like dirt, not filthiness like porn. Maybe even a little recklessness, combined with quite a bit of fecklessness.

    The militia captain was looking horrified.

    The people who prepared bodies for burial had already come and gone.

    The demo was supposed to have been a showpiece. Showing off all the nice new gun-shaped toys the militia had been practicing with.

    It had been quite a bang. Amideutsch had coined a word. Boomenstoff. Stuff that went boom. Or bang. Or bam-bam-bam. Or blam. Most of the words that used to come with exclamation points after them in comic books.

    They’d been storing a lot of Boomenstoff in the bunker.

    That was a really big hole in the redoubt now.

    The bright spot was that they were south of the river, in Sachsenhausen. At least it hadn’t happened right downtown.

    Who in hell had taken a candle down into the bunker where the guys were loading? They weren’t even supposed to go down there wearing any iron, for fear of striking a spark. Dusty air was dangerous, even if the dust wasn’t gunpowder. Once, once when he was a kid, he’d managed a pretty good boom just by throwing a canister of his mom’s flour up into the air. Everybody knew about grain elevators. Well, the down-timers didn’t have grain elevators.

    But it was all spelled out in the manual. Line by line, word for word.

    Fat lot of good that had done.

    Seven men dead. For a couple of them, they wouldn’t find enough to bury. That included the guy with the candle, whoever he’d been. They could probably identify him by a process of elimination. Figure out who everyone else was, alive and dead. He’d be the one they couldn’t account for. Forty-three injured, including two officers from patrician families.



    The muttering in taverns throughout Frankfurt had started the evening after the catastrophe at the Sachsenhausen redoubt.

    There was always some level of resentment of the ghetto in the city, because of its size. Except for possibly Nürnburg, Frankfurt had the largest Jewish population of any city in the Germanies. The last time it really boiled over had been twenty years before, during the so-called Fettmilch revolt.

    The Jews. It must have been the Jews.

    It didn’t make any sense. Nathan ran his hand through his hair. There had not been a single Jew involved.

    They must have contaminated the powder.

    How in hell could they have done that? It was kept in the magazine in Sachsenhausen.

    They changed the instructions in the manual on how to handle it somehow. Left out a step. Or added one, maybe, so the next one didn’t work right. Just enough that our sons and brothers would have to suffer.

    The manual was perfectly good. What’s more, the militia captain had promised to have all the men read it. That he would drill them in the procedures.

    And he had kept his promise.

    It had been plain, ordinary, contrary, human stupidity. Pilot error, as people said.

    The up-timer. He is called Nathan. His name is Jewish.

    Nathan had a suspicion that they wouldn’t be a bit more pleased when they found out that he was Methodist. He picked up his pen.



    Dear Don Francisco.

    You wouldn’t believe what is going on here. Or, maybe you would.

    This was going to be a long letter.



On the Reichsstrasse between Fulda and Steinau

    The two drivers and three mechanics were patching a tire on the rear ATV. Again. This time, it had taken a sharp rock.

    About fifty or sixty men from the Fulda Barracks Regiment were watching with great interest. It was taking a while. The patch kit had been sitting on a shelf in someone’s garage ever since inner tubes went out of style, up-time. The patches weren’t for this kind of tire. The goop wasn’t what it had once been.

    Henry Dreeson was sitting on a different rock, waiting for them to finish. Margie and her husband had taken a trip to Europe once, back up-time. A package tour. Afterwards, the next time she came home to Grantville for a visit, she’d brought a video for her parents to watch. If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium. That was the title, or something like it.

    He was beginning to understand what his daughter’s excursion must have been like.

    “Where are we?” he asked Martin Wackernagel.

    “About five miles northeast of Steinau an der Strasse. On the Reichsstrasse, that is. That’s where we’ll be spending the night.

    “Wackernagel, I hate to tell you this, but if by the word Reichsstrasse you folks mean something like ‘superhighway,’ the follow-through on construction leaves something to be desired.”

    Cunz Kastenmayer, always the peacemaker, said, “You have to admit that it is much better than some of the rural roads we have traveled during the past two weeks in Buchenland county.”

    Dreeson nodded a little reluctantly. “Yep. Some of them were worse than anything I’d seen since about, oh, 1950 or 1960 in up-time West Virginia. Before the War on Poverty. Thank God for four wheel drive.”

    A couple of horses came in sight around the bend behind them. The riders stopped suddenly. They had planned to lag back far enough that the motorcade never spotted them.

    Derek Utt was looking back. “Jeffie,” he yelled. “Jeffie, what in hell?”

    Jeffie Garand—Sergeant Garand now, Henry reminded himself—was moving up to face his commander.

    “Ah. Um. Well, Gertrud and her stepmother wanted to come along to see the sights in Frankfurt, since the rest of us are going. I know you always say ‘no camp followers,’ but that’s not exactly it. They’re going to find a different inn to stay at, everywhere we stop, and they’re paying their own way.”

    Utt looked around again. “Sergeant Hartke, did you know about this?”

    Helmuth Hartke, father of Gertrud and husband of Dagmar, came forward. Dragging his feet a bit. “No, Sir.” He cleared his throat. “I understand the problem, Sir. Dagmar really shouldn’t be riding right now. In her condition.”

    Utt groaned and looked at Henry Dreeson.

    He didn’t have to ask. “Sure,” Henry said. “We’ll be glad to give her a place in the car. I’m sure Martin won’t mind riding her horse the rest of the way into Frankfurt. He rides the Reichsstrasse all the time. It’s his job.”

    Jeffie looked at Gertrud. Then at Wackernagel. He’d picked up a couple of rumors about the courier, when it came to girls. That’s all they were, rumors, but…

    Gertrud was his girl. He looked at Derek Utt.

    “Maybe Gertrud oughta ride in the car with Dagmar? In case that she has, you know, female troubles, or something. Cunz can ride the other horse.”

    Derek sighed, waved one hand, and proclaimed, “So be it.”




Frankfurt am Main

    “Michel has gone mad,” Mathurin Brillard said, almost snarling the words. “Stark, raving mad. Assassinate Stearns?”

    Guillaume Locquifier glared at him. But not even Locquifier, with his near-adulation of Ducos, was prepared to argue the matter straight out. Instead, all he said was: “We will have to give Michel’s orders some thought. Hard thought.”

    Those thoughts came to a consensus without much difficulty. It didn’t take long, either. Two bottles of wine, at most.

    Nobody said out loud that Michel Ducos really must have already heard about the group of Yeoman Warders whom the now-fabled Captain Lefferts had brought with him out of England—and who now served the USE’s Prime Minister as a bodyguard. Or that, if not, he really should have. Ducos should have realized that Stearns would be almost impossible to assassinate, at least with the resources at their disposal.

    True, the Pope’s guards had been as ferocious—but there, they’d had the advantage of surprise. Nobody had really expected anyone to make a serious assassination attempt on the Pope. Whereas no one in Europe, down to village idiots, had any difficulty imagining the multitude of enemies who might wish to assassinate Michael Stearns.

    No, it was simply out of the question to assassinate the USE’s prime minister and his wife. Or his wife, for that matter. The protection of the Yeomen Warders extended to her also.

    Robert Ouvrard shook his head. “Security is too tight around Gustavus Adolphus and Princess Kristina, too. The Swedes and Finns who guard them really mean business. If it comes to dying for them, those men will do so.”

    Locquifier chewed his upper lip. “Who does that leave, then? Wettin?”

    Ouvrard shook his head. “Wettin doesn’t have Yeoman Warders, but he does have bodyguards who take their jobs really seriously. Almost the only place we could reach him would be when he attends church. I am afraid that we all still have unfortunate memories of the last time Michel tried an assassination in a church.”

    “And what would be the point, even if we could kill him?” asked Brillard. “There is at least a logic to Michel’s proposal to assassinate Wettin along with the USE’s emperor and prime minister. But without them, simply killing Wettin will accomplish nothing. Let us not forget that the purpose of all this is to prevent the signing of a peace treaty—on any terms—between France and the USE. How does killing Wettin by himself advance that goal by so much as one step?”

    Carefully, he did not refer openly to the significance of what was actually the single most important word in his statement. The term proposal, as applied to Ducos’ instructions.

    Not to his surprise, no one in the room chose to challenge the term. Not one of them, not even Locquifier, was as enthusiastic about martyrdom for the cause as Michel and Antoine were. Michel in practice; Antoine in theory.

    “Do we inform Michel that we can’t do it, then?” Ouvrard asked.

    Locquifier shook his head. “Ah, no. Not a good idea.”

    They looked at one another. It was always a possibility that some member of the group held secret instructions to exert a very final sort of discipline against any others who appeared to be wavering.

    It was even possible, theoretically, that the one of them who held such instructions might also act as a provocateur, expressing dissenting opinions to see if anyone else was prepared to agree with them. Even Jesus Christ had his Judas.

    Locquifier leaned back. “Instead, let suggest some softer targets. Chose someone for whom the security level is not so high.”

    Ouvrard nodded. “Ableidinger? That would certainly sow confusion in Franconia. And he’s a Lutheran, so it would be plausible to blame it on Richelieu.”

    Locquifier was still chewing his lip. “No ‘lackeys,’ remember? Michel is adamant about that. The Richter woman? The one they call Gretchen?”

    Ouvrard shook his head. “She’s hardly a ‘softer target.’ She has Committee of Correspondence security coming out of her big tits.”

    “The up-time admiral and his wife?”

    “Possibly,” Brillard said, “if we could get close to them while they are in the Netherlands. In Magdeburg, Achterhof and his men have them, also, under a very tight watch.”

    Locquifier frowned. “But Michel’s instructions say that the assassinations must occur in Magdeburg. Just as the death of the pope had to occur in Rome. A country villa somewhere, when Urban VIII was on vacation, would not have done at all. Because of the symbolism. Antoine also emphasizes that it must be Magdeburg. Because it is the new imperial capital. All on the same day. To demonstrate how weak these ‘leaders’ really are.”

    “And does Antoine suggest how we should persuade these several people to gather together for us in a convenient group?” Brillard’s tone was sarcastic. “Just as one would scarcely expect Stearns’ Jewish wife to attend church with William Wettin, I truly do not expect to see all of our possible ‘soft targets’ in one place at one time, either. Not to mention another small problem.”

    Locquifier raised his eyebrows.

    “Of all of us whom he left behind in Frankfurt,” said Mathurin, “I am the only one with enough skill with a rifle to carry out an actual assassination. From any distance, at least. I suppose that either of you, or Gui or Fortunat once they are back with us, might have the same luck with a knife as the man who killed Henri IV. I don’t see how we could get that close. Certainly not to the whole group at a public event, which is the only time they are all likely to appear together. Not that I have any qualms about the action itself. I served as a sniper long enough. As a practical matter, having only one competent shot places limits on the grandiosity of our ambitions. Something which Michel and Antoine seem to have forgotten about.”



    “That’s what I managed to overhear,” Isaac de Ron finished. He glanced out the window. “I had best be going, my lord. I have been here, supposedly in your cellars talking to the butler, for much longer than I would need to stay for even the most complex delivery of fine wines. Someone might notice.”

    “I suppose you would not want me to ruin your reputation by having the butler complain in public that you delivered inferior goods and he was rebuking you?”

    Benjamin de Rohan, duke of Soubise, was trying to be jocular, but de Ron jerked his head up. “Never!”

    “Very well then. I will let my brother know of your fears that Ducos is planning additional assassinations.” Soubise stood up.

    De Ron withdrew. He recognized permission to depart when he saw it.




On the Main River

    Ancelin and Deneau sat quietly in the back of the barge.

    Locquifier’s assumptions had been wrong. The old woman had no maid or steward or driver. None of the ordinary attendants of a traveling gentlewoman.

    She did have a bodyguard, which was unexpected. When she left the Rhine packet at Mainz, the commander of a detachment of guards wearing Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar’s livery—guards who were accompanying a young girl—detached four of them to go with “Mrs. Dreeson.”

    That was presumably because she was the grandmother of Hans Richter. She had no real distinction of her own, but even Frankfurt by now had renamed a square in honor of the “hero of Wismar.”

    The girl had hugged her. Hard.

    Why, they could not imagine.

    Nils Brahe, Gustav Adolf’s commander in Mainz, had met her in person. She had immediately addressed several complaints to him. She had no information she had not gotten from newspapers. Nobody had sent her any information about her schools. Was Annalise all right? What about the other children? If one of them had died during the summer, she was sure no one had thought to tell her. She had not had a word from Amberg. Had those young idiots Thea and Nicol starved to death when they went off without a bank draft? Where was Elias Brechbuhl? Had Hieronymus Rastetter been in touch? She had no expectations that those Jesuits were any more cooperative now than they had been last spring. Had Cavriani arrived in Geneva safely with his son? Well, of course not—they had probably been set upon by bandits along the way. What about Mary Ward and the English Ladies? Had they all been raped by mercenaries between Neuburg and Grantville? Why was everybody else in the world too busy to tell her anything?

    She had continued to make similar comments ever since they got on the barge. Directed, now, not to Brahe, but rather to a young German officer, the head of her bodyguard. She spoke quite clearly. Of course, her false teeth were famous, now. Almost as famous as Wallenstein’s jaw. Several newspaper reports covering her escape from Bavaria in company with the “wheelbarrow queen” and the admiral’s wife had mentioned the effective way she used them.

    Ancelin almost felt sorry for the Archduchess Maria Anna, if she had to put up with this for what must have seemed like two very long months.

    The conversation of Veronica Schusterin, verw. Richter, verh. Dreeson, was an apparently unending paean to the concept “cranky.” That was all they had learned from their observations.

    “I wonder what Guillaume expected us to learn?” Deneau whispered. “Or did he just want to get us out of the way? Do you suppose the others have planning something while we’ve been gone? Are they going to exclude us from some new project?”

    Ancelin shook his head. “It was exactly what he said, probably. A concession to our desire to actually do something. Not just sit in de Ron’s back room and talk. Now be quiet. I’m trying to listen.”

    “Why? Nothing important is going to happen on this stupid boat. I don’t think I’ve ever come across such a pessimistic old lady.”

    In addition to the two of them, the bodyguards, and old woman, there were several other passengers. One man, dressed in black riding clothes, sitting by himself at the far front, had been escorted to the pier by a couple of Nils Brahe’s Swedes.

    A courier, probably, Ancelin thought.



Frankfurt am Main

    As soon as the barge tied up, the man in black got off. He walked up to the lanky, freckled redhead who was commanding a group of sickly-shade-of-salmon-pinkish-orange-uniformed soldiers. That had to be Utt, the commander of the Fulda Barracks Regiment. Ancelin could figure out that much from the newspaper reports he had read in Mainz. And doesn’t that color clash with the man’s hair? he thought. Terrible. No sense of style at all. If he had chosen a rich brown, or even a deep shade of rust...

    Before he became a conspirator, Gui Ancelin had been a tailor.

    But that had been another world. Before Richelieu’s siege of La Rochelle, he had also been a man with a wife and three children. A father and two sisters. Before the starvation and the plague brought by the siege. Louis XIII’s siege. Richelieu’s siege.

    The newcomer was waving a sheaf of papers. Utt turned and told off a half-dozen mounted soldiers. They moved away, one of them calling for a water boy to bring up one of the remounts.

    A courier, then. Nothing to get excited about. Couriers came and went all the time.

    Then the bodyguards debarked. Followed by Frau Dreeson in full spate.

    An elderly man limped down the quay to meet her.

    “Henry, what were they thinking of, sending you on such a strenuous trip? What if you had fallen? Remember what Doctor Nichols told you. Hip replacements are a thing of the past. Or of the far future, depending upon how a person looks at it. Or the ATV had an accident and you were thrown out? You could have been killed. What good would a hip replacement have done you then, even if you could have one?

    “What were you thinking, for that matter, going off and leaving Annalise alone with the children.

    “No, it does not matter that Thea and Nicol are there. It is just as well they didn’t die, I suppose, but being alive is no remedy for being fools. They were alive when I met them in Grafenwöhr and fools there, already. Just one more expense for you, I suppose. It would be too much to hope that they are paying their own way.”

    By this time, she was halfway up the pier, the bodyguards closed in behind her. Ancelin and Deneau stayed at the rear of the other debarking passengers, but they could still hear her voice, ranting away.

    Then she reached the head of the pier, where the formal reception party was waiting. Stopped. Lifted her head and smoothed her face.

    “I am honored to make the acquaintance of the Bürgermeister and councilmen of Frankfurt and their gracious wives.”

    The Bürgermeister turned to another man. “Permit me to present you to Monsieur le duc de Soubise, a guest in our city.”

    The wrinkled old harridan curtsied quite properly.

    Ancelin couldn’t quite believe it.

    Of course, he had never encountered the Abbess of Quedlinburg.

    The Bürgermeister had turned to his prominent guest again. “Monsieur le duc, may I present Mayor Henry Dreeson of Grantville. Herr Wesley Jenkins, the State of Thuringia-Franconia’s administrator in Fulda. His wife. Major Derek Utt.” He proceeded through the litany, having carefully memorized the list that his secretary had given him the evening before.

    Soubise inclined his head. “It is my pleasure. My brother, the duke of Rohan, has already met one of your fellow-countrymen, Monsieur Thomas Stone. In Padua, where he presented him with an autographed copy of his translation of the life of Duchess Renee of Ferrara. He was very favorably impressed with Monsieur Stone’s lectures and delighted to extend hospitality to his son Elrond at his current headquarters in Switzerland. He finds him to be a very promising young man.”

    The Grantville contingent blinked but, all things considered, bore up well under this rather startling information.

    Occasionally, the newspapers did miss something.

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