David Bartley and Johan Kipper got off the train at Camp Saale and looked around. It wasn’t the first time they had been here, but it was their first time as regular army instead of weekend warriors. The camp was mostly deserted since it was the middle of the week. The headquarters of the SoTF National Guard was neither in Grantville, nor the new state capital of Bamberg. It could have moved when the state capital did, but they wanted to keep access to the phones and other logistical support. At the same time, they couldn’t afford the rent in Grantville or even next to the Ring of Fire so it was located on the far side of Saalfeld. Close enough to the Ring of Fire to have phone and rail access for the weekend warriors.

The national guardsmen could take the train to Camp Saale one weekend a month and drill. The phone service meant that at least a lot of them could be reached in a hurry if a call up were required. All very logical. Then there was the other reason. The distance from Bamberg to the nearest likely enemy was fifty-five miles to the border of Saxony. The base across the river from Saalfeld was all of seven and a quarter miles from that same border. A unit of cavalry leaving Krolpa in Saxony after breakfast would be at Camp Saale by mid-morning. If they waited on the infantry they would still be there before lunch. Of course, everyone knew fat drunken John George would never do that. The up-timer weapons were too powerful. Retribution would be all too certain. Besides, even if Saxony was John George’s territory, that didn’t mean everyone living there was on his side. If he acted out of desperation there would be warning.

David headed for the supply office with Johan right behind.

* * *

“Well, well, well.” Major Walker’s smile didn’t reach his eyes. “If it isn’t the seventeenth century’s new financial Wunderkind. Welcome, Your Lordship. To what do we owe the honor of your presence?”

David Bartley didn’t say a word. His research department had briefed him on Major Tandy Walker. Sort of a last favor. Instead of answering he reached for his orders.

“What’s this? A letter from your mommy, perhaps? No. It wouldn’t be from your mother. Who then?”

“My orders, sir,” David managed to get out. His mother wasn’t Velma Hardesty by any stretch of the imagination, but she did have a reputation. David’s mother wasn’t bright, and she hadn’t coped all that well with the up-time world. Less because it was complicated than because it lacked some of the personal support that had become available to her in seventeenth-century Germany. She needed an extensive support structure. Major Walker wasn’t the first to use that to attack David. And it always hurt because there was some truth in it. But it had been mostly at school; the adults he had worked with had, for the most part, been more subtle. But then a large part of Major Walker’s trouble was lack of subtlety. Major Walker glanced at David’s orders but spent considerably more time looking David up and down.

 

David was wearing a tailored uniform. Officers were expected to buy their own uniforms and, of necessity, there was considerable variation. David didn’t think of himself as a clotheshorse. But he did—according to Johan Kipper his aide and Karl Schmidt his stepfather and the SoTF senator from Badenburg, who was considering a run for the USE legislature—have appearances to maintain. Silver-electroplated lieutenant’s bars shined on his epaulets and the flaming wheel of supply next to them. His pants were dark blue with a red stripe up the side; his jacket lighter blue with rather more gold trim than David would have preferred. The major’s uniform, on the other hand, was a pair of blue jeans that had seen better days and a striped up-time blue dress shirt that was in even worse repair. The jacket was apparently down-time made but the dye job hadn’t worked as well as it should have. It was faded in ways that weren’t camouflage but were a bit reminiscent of it.

Tandy Walker was the younger son of Coleman Walker, the Fed chair of the USE. But that had earned him no benefits. Coleman—and Tandy, for that matter—avoided even the appearance of nepotism like the plague. In fact, his father being the Fed chair had hurt Tandy because people expected him to be someone that they could use to get to the Fed. Which Major Walker took as a personal insult. That, along with a naturally abrasive personality, was why Major Tandy Walker was back in Grantville rather than on Frank Jackson’s staff. David wondered what Coleman had told the major about him. From the report David had gotten, Coleman, who received quite a good salary as Fed Chair, didn’t help his sons out financially. The report didn’t say why, so it was entirely possible that Coleman hadn’t said a thing about David to his son. If he had, it probably hadn’t been complementary. David and Coleman didn’t get along. In any case, it was quite possible that the uniform Major Walker was wearing was all he could afford. Majors were paid well by seventeenth century standards but Major Walker had a wife and three kids and in spite of the changes clothing was still expensive as all get out, compared to what it was up-time.

While all this was running through David’s mind, Major Walker had apparently been trying to intimidate David with his officers’ stare. David hadn’t noticed. The interview went downhill from there.

* * *

“That went well,” Johan Kipper said, once they had left Walker’s office.

David gave his friend and aide a sardonic look. “You think so?”

“First day on the job you pissed off your new boss so much that he can’t see straight.” Johan gave him the look right back. “Couldn’t be better.”

David snorted. He was pretty sure that there wasn’t a whole lot that he could have done that wouldn’t have pissed off Major Walker. Walker—like quite a number of the up-timers who hadn’t had the get up and go to get rich themselves—saw David as just one more corrupt jackass. He undoubtedly figured that David was protected by his wealth from any consequences and planning to use his position in supply to make himself and his cronies rich. “So, is the uniform situation as bad as I think it is?”

“Probably,” Johan said. “It seems we can’t get away from the clothing trades.” Walker had given David a budget and a job. However, the budget wouldn’t cover the job. Which wasn’t Major Walker’s fault. The uniform situation had actually been better a year or so ago. The process of turning raw materials into clothing was full of bottlenecks. When an up-timer tech opened one bottleneck, there would be a sudden drop in price causing a rush to buy. Which would be followed by a rise in price. The price of clothing in central Germany was, to put it mildly, erratic. At this point the main bottleneck was producing the raw wool, flax and so on. And that one wasn’t going to go away till they grew more sheep or developed large-scale synthetic-fabric production.

“Hemp, I think,” David said.

Johan gave him a look. “Sail cloth?”

“Not quite, but close.” David said. “It must have been two years ago that Pete Strauss came to OPM with the plans for the hemp processor.” The hemp processor had come from Mother Earth News, Natural Living, or one of those hippie magazines. David couldn’t remember. Basically a bunch of gears and cams that twisted and pounded the heck out of the hemp plant. Put the hemp in one end, turn the crank, and out comes hemp fiber ready for carding and spinning on the other. If David recalled correctly the hemp had to be left out to rot a bit before going through the machine. Pete had wanted it to make sails cheaper. Which it had, and in so doing, increased the hemp planting from central Germany to Siberia. Which left hemp as the cheapest of the major materials that might be used to make uniforms. “A few months ago he started experimenting with varying the mix. Hemp and wool, hemp and linen.” Cotton was more expensive and harder to get than silk and the limited quantity of rayon that was being produced was still more expensive even than cotton. At this point it was effectively restricted to experimental and limited industrial use. “He says he’s been getting good results. Insists that the new blends wear well and get more comfortable with use.”

“It’s still going to be expensive.”

 

“Yes and no. Pete is trying to break into the linen market. Right now hemp is thought of as poor people’s clothes. Something worn by people who can’t afford to wear anything else or, as you mentioned, sail cloth. He doesn’t need the sales that we would represent but he does need some good press. So if we can make sharp-looking uniforms to display his cloth, we might get a bargain.” David paused. His secretary had stayed with OPM to spy on the new CEO. “I’ll contact Herr Strauss later. For now we probably need to meet the staff we have assigned to us.”

Johan winced. Walker had made it quite clear the staff he was giving David was the worst he could find, the smallest he could manage and, with one exception, part time. He had justified that using Johan as an example. Johan was one of the many outright defeats that the up-time military tradition had met with in dealing with the down-time armies. Johan was not being paid by the army and for the most part he didn’t report to the army. He was David’s Putzer,or batman, hired by David and reporting only to David. Officers in the USE Army could hire their own subordinates if they had the means, or use those assigned. David was in a position to hire his own staff and Walker expected him to do so. If David insisted on using Army personnel, he was going to get the worst of the lot.

* * *

Sergeant Beckman looked around his little kingdom and dithered. He didn’t know whether to be thrilled or seek a transfer. Supply clerk had been a really good job in the USE Army, especially for the SoTF National Guard. Formerly a mercenary with Gustav Adolph’s forces in Thuringia, though not Mackay’s bunch, he had gotten the job because he spoke English and because no one else wanted him. Which put something of a damper on the transfer idea.

He looked at a set of shelves covered with hundreds of mess kits. Unfortunately, several hundred less than there were supposed to be. David Bartley was supposed to be a sharp one. On the other hand, he was an up-timer and—in Franz Beckman’s opinion—the up-timers were rarely sharp on their own. Beckman had been careful; the supplies he had sold off weren’t really needed. The troops came out to drill in groups and turned their equipment in when they were done. Most of the mess kits and other gear wouldn’t be needed unless everyone showed up at once. A cursory inspection wouldn’t show anything wrong, Sergeant Beckman reassured himself as the door opened.

Through the door walked a tall thin young man with dark brown hair and blue eyes. Fastidiously dressed in a uniform that probably cost as much as Beckman made in a year, not including gleaning. But disaster followed him into the room. Shorter, with an oft-broken nose, older, but dressed in a uniform almost as fancy, came Johan Kipper. Beckman had never actually met Herr Kipper but he had heard about him. And what he had heard had reassured him. Johan Kipper had gotten rich off the up-timers, parlaying a guard job into a seat on the board of OPM. Rumor had it that he owned a farming village a few miles north of Jena on the railroad. He was married to an up-timer. All of which had convinced Beckman that there was no way he would follow Bartley into the army. Right up until Kipper followed Bartley through the door.

* * *

“Time to call the cops?” Johan asked. The cursory inventory had yielded the expected results. Beckman was in fact a supply sergeant, i.e. a thief. The surprising thing was that he was a fairly competent thief. His books were good—both sets. Given a few more months or, more likely, a few years, he could have justified his thefts as breakage.

“Not just yet,” David said. “Sergeant Beckman strikes me as a saving sort of fellow. Not the type to blow his ill-gotten gains on wild women and drink.”

Johan looked over at the sweating sergeant. “Could be. Not that it matters. After he’s arrested, they will seize his assets.”

Now it was David’s turn to examine the sergeant and take careful note of the almost hopeful tension in his manner. “Tell me, Sergeant Beckman, do you invest in the stock market? Yes, I can see that you do. You know, Sergeant, they keep quite good records of stock transactions, with computers. Brokers record who they were buying stock from and for. It’s not nearly as good a place to hide money as most people seem to think . . .” Which wasn’t true. In fact, with the degree of sloppiness that had crept into the wild and wooly stock market. it was an excellent way to hide money if you knew how. However, most people including, David suspected, Sergeant Beckman didn’t know how. And so it proved. It took a bit more discussion to make the sergeant’s options clear.

Option one: be arrested and have everything he had stolen and any profit he had made using the stolen money seized. Then spend some years on a work farm.

Option two: come clean with David, make good the missing gear in the form of cash and stocks of equivalent value and a fine to go into company funds. Accept company punishment. The loss of a stripe.

Sergeant Beckman chose option two. David bought quite a bit of stock that day for one dollar and other valuable considerations. Part of those other valuable considerations was keeping Beckman from going to jail, another part would be David paying for the missing supplies out of his own pocket. The rest of the money would go toward the uniforms that the TFMD reserves would need.

* * *

David sat in his apartment in the Higgins Hotel trying to work out who his next call should be to. After he had determined that simply buying uniforms was going to be prohibitively expensive, he had called his step-father to arrange for the loan of a dozen or so Higgins sewing machines. Johan, with the help of some people he had hired, was still going through the Supply Depot, so that was well in hand. David’s next call should either be to Ron Stone or to Pete Strauss. He pretty much knew how to handle Pete, but Ron was another matter. Ron was less a businessman than an industrialist. At least that was David’s impression. Lothlorien was closely held with the stock distributed between the family and the employees with darn little of it appearing on the Grantville Exchange. After thinking about it for a bit, David decided to call Chad Jenkins. Chad was a businessman and a good one even if he was playing politics these days. He might have some insights into how to handle Ron Stone.

Which left the questions of design, labor and a facility. Well, labor and a facility. Karl had pretty much insisted that they use Bruno Schroeder to design the uniforms. Which David agreed to assuming that he would work cheap and wouldn’t go overboard. These were to be work uniforms after all, not dress uniforms.

A week later

“Well, Lieutenant, have you finished your inventory?” Major Walker had not been pleased when David had informed him that he intended to do a complete inventory before taking responsibility for the supply situation.

“Yes, sir. I did find certain minor discrepancies. However, Sergeant Beckman has agreed to company punishment in the matter. So, with your permission, I will go ahead and accept responsibility and pay for reordering the missing supplies out of my own pocket.” David handed the major a form.

David waited as Major Walker examined first him and then the form. It already had Beckman’s signature agreeing to accept the demotion to corporal without appealing to a court martial. The thing that Major Walker had to be considering was that until David signed his own form it was Major Walker who was on the hook for whatever minor discrepancies David had found. When Major Walker signed the form, David handed him a check and a stack of requisitions, plus the form making David responsible for the supplies.

Major Walker went a bit pale when he saw the size of the check. Then . . . “Why is it only a single stripe rather than a couple of years on a work farm?”

David hesitated, and Major Walker continued. “From the size of the check, you’re spending a lot of money to keep a thief out of jail. Not that it’s a drop in the bucket to you, but it’s still a lot of money.” Major Walker leaned back in his chair and waved David to another. “I’m not going to override you this time because you’re the one who caught him. But why?”

 

David didn’t point out that it wasn’t his money. It was money that he had, call the thing what it was, extorted from Beckman. Partly because . . . well, it wouldn’t have caused him to go broke or anything, but it was considerably more than a drop in the bucket. At least David’s bucket. The fact of the matter was that David wasn’t nearly as rich as most people thought. David was rich all right. Rich enough that he could retire and live comfortably for the rest of his life on the dividends from his investments. But there’s rich . . . and then there’s rich. He wasn’t in the class of the Stone family, the Lichtensteins, or any number of others. He had made billions of dollars over the last couple of years, but that money had been made for tens of thousands of investors in OPM. It wasn’t his money to do with as he pleased. That was why he had sometimes been such a hardass about it. He had been paid well for making that money and he had invested that pay. But he wasn’t field-your-own-army rich.

“We’re going to need him,” was what David could come up with and it had the advantage of being true. The most difficult thing about leaving OPM was the loss of his staff. Secretaries, researchers working at the State Library, and clerks, with accountants, lawyers and engineers on retainer. All available with a phone call. All ready to provide him with the information needed to make the decisions that his job had called him to make. When he had left OPM, only Johan had come with him.

“What are you going to need a thief for?”

“To get the supplies we are going to need if we ever get called to action. Most of the stuff that went missing didn’t go onto the civilian market. It went to other units. He got other stuff in exchange and it was that other stuff he sold. The network of supply sergeants is alive and well and Corporal Beckman is tied into that network.”

“You think we will be called up?”

“Yes, sir, I do.”

“Why?” Major Walker asked. “Go on, Lieutenant Bartley. Thrill me with your military acumen.”

“Because we’re tempting target, sir,” David said. “We’re only a few miles away from Saxony and those few miles are on a good road that runs through an open valley. The closer it gets to time for the ax to fall, the more desperate John George is going to get. It’s going to be tempting as hell to do something to back the headsman off for even a few days. Hit the soft underbelly of the USE, the production facilities that provide the arms equipment for Gustav’s army, and make him pull back to defend them.”

“It would never work. Perhaps in a long war, but Saxony will be gone long before any loss in production would reach the troops.”

“I didn’t say it was a good target, sir . . . or a smart target. Just a tempting one. John George doesn’t have any good targets. Nothing that will stop Gustav in his tracks. Nothing that will even slow him down much. John George is dead meat and he knows it, or ought to. It was over when the League of Ostend collapsed. What he ought to be doing is heading into exile right about now. But if he can’t bring himself to admit he’s lost, hitting us here is going to look like a way of distracting Captain General Gars from his invasion plans.

“Here along the Saale River, where it’s too shallow for Admiral Simpson’s river boats, where he can stop the trains by tearing up the tracks. Where he can take rich hostages, loot and destroy factories without getting too close to the real army. I don’t think it will work, sir. I’m just a bit worried about how many millions of dollars will be lost and how many people will be killed while John George finds out that it won’t work.”

“Never happen!” the major said. “Now about those uniforms?”

David gave up. He had talked about it to others and they mostly agreed with the major. It wouldn’t work. But David couldn’t help remembering some of the desperate things that people had done to keep control of businesses that were going under.

“I can’t buy them at a reasonable cost, sir,” David told him. “So I am forming a company to make them. Using ex-soldiers and camp followers. There are a lot of the deactivated units that the Captain General has released running around.” David didn’t mention that the employees of his new company were mostly from the same mercenary unit. Nor that part of the deal for hiring them was that they join the SoTF National Guard. It let them stay together as a unit and stay in the USE and it let them keep their hand in. It also gave them a home, especially since David had essentially bought the village of Gorndorf.

No, David couldn’t afford to field his own army or even a company. Not directly.

* * *

The End

Just Getting Started