"Hans, you fool, where are you!"
Hans hurriedly entered the room. The master's face was red, and his eyes were bulging, making him look rather like a choleric bullfrog.
Uh-oh, he thought. What is it this time? He lowered his eyes. "Yes, Master?"
"You took a book to the translators today?" asked Bullfrog Eyes.
"Yes, Master, I am sorry I didn't get around to it yesterday, but—"
"Which . . . book . . . ." Each word was carefully enunciated.
"The one you had rebound recently. The octavo with red covers. In the locked bookcase."
"Moron. Imbecile. Idiot." Bullfrog Eyes hurled a book at Hans. "That's the book you were supposed to bring them. As you see, it has red covers. But I am missing a very valuable book, an octavo with green covers. Which was in the same bookcase."
"I am sure I took them a red book . . . "
"Enough. You must retrieve it at once."
"I humbly beg your pardon, Master. I will go to the translator's office first thing Monday morning."
"At once, I say!"
"I am sorry, Master, but they are certainly closed for the day. In fact, for the weekend."
"Closed." Bullfrog Eyes now looked as though he had swallowed something unpleasant. It did not enhance his appearance.
"On the weekend, one of the translators might come by, and start reading the book. That won't do. No, that won't do at all." He stared at Hans. "You will have to break inside and fetch it back. Tonight."
Federico Ballarino contemplated the pile on his bed. I hate packing, he thought.
But he had to do it. Tomorrow morning he would be off to Magdeburg, to give Princess Kristina her dance lessons. And the following week he would be back in Grantville, to teach down-time dances to the up-timers, and continue his research into up-timer dances.
Bitty, the petite director of the Grantville Ballet, had told Federico that thanks to the Ring of Fire, he was now the World's First Long-Distance Commuter. It was a distinction he would have gladly done without.
If that weren't enough, he had gotten roped into helping out "Words International," the translation company. It had started when a couple of the foreign language teachers at the high school were asked to translate a few documents. A few became many, and they decided to form a company to parcel out the translation work to whoever was willing and able to do the job. The foreign language teachers, trying to fit it in during the evening, on weekends, and over the summer, couldn't keep up with the demand.
It was all Nicole's fault. Nicole, the French teacher, knew that Federico had taught dance in France. Nicole pleaded that she was already teaching two adult sections of European History after the regular school day had ended. Could Federico please help with the translations into French? At least until the end of the regular school year? You said you like to read on the train, didn't you?
Sighing, Federico added the green-covered octavo to the pile.
Hans' employment with Bullfrog Eyes was not a matter of choice on Hans' part. It was the price for Bullfrog Eyes' silence about certain events in Hans' past. Hans wasn't entirely sure how Bullfrog Eyes knew about his background. But he was sure that Bullfrog Eyes had deliberately sought out a servant with a secret.
Of course, there were secrets and secrets. Bullfrog Eyes didn't know, at least not yet, about Hans' other problem. The vision thing. Hans was afraid to tell him. Perhaps he would no longer be useful. Perhaps Hans would then be . . . disposable.
Hans stood in front of the Words International store. It was in an old, somewhat run-down commercial building, which had been divided up among several tenants. He looked up and down the street. For the first time in an hour, there was no one else in view. He gave the front door of Words International a swift hard kick.
"Owww!" He grabbed his injured foot and massaged it. He had assumed the door was ordinary wood. He now knew, the hard way, that it was just a wood veneer, with a metal core.
A few minutes later, the pain had eased enough for him to make a second attempt. This time one not involving forcing the door. There was a window he could climb through, once he dealt with the glass. He looked around, and while there was no shortage of pebbles, he wanted something with more heft. Hans sighed and hobbled down the street. He had to go several blocks before he found a likely place to hunt that was away from curious eyes. He picked up a suitable stone, and walked back.
He hefted it and . . . every time he even thought about throwing it, someone came down the street, or out of the tavern next door to Words International, and he had to hide it. Once, he actually dropped it, narrowly missing his injured foot.
Worse, he was starting to attract attention. The bouncer for the tavern was giving him the eye. Hans decided to move along, and come back later.
After walking a few blocks, he saw another drinking place. Why not? he thought. I have to kill the time anyway.
Sometime later, he staggered out. He returned to Words International, but its neighborhood was still hopping.
Then he had an inspiration. Perhaps he could try the roof?
But he had better collect some tools. The house which his master was renting came with an ax and saw, for cutting firewood. The ax had a blade on one side, and a pick point on the other. Hans approved. He also grabbed the hooded lantern he carried when he escorted the master on evening errands, and his "lighting kit." Flint, steel, and a tinderbox, that is.
It was a pity he didn't have one of those American "backpacks," so he could carry them with his hands free. No matter. He loaded them, and a rope, into a sack and carried them outside. Hans realized that it looked a little suspicious to be carrying a sack like that at night, but Hans figured that an ax and a saw would look even worse.
He sidled into an alley, and worked his way behind Words International. Too bad. No windows on this side. He tied one end of the rope around the mouth of the sack, tight as he could, and the other end around his waist. He struggled his way up a drainpipe, pulling himself at last onto the roof. He collected himself, let his breathing settle down. Then he gingerly hauled up the sack, hoping that neither the rope nor the sack would give way.