Spring 1635

Johan Frey enjoyed the breeze coming through the open window. The cool evening air seemed to wash away his cares. The city watch office was overly warm and Watch Captain Rolf Nestmann tended to mutter when he read; Johan found that annoying. Since the captain had a full week’s correspondence to plow through, Johan was looking for any excuse to get out of the office. None had presented itself, so he stood and looked out the window.

The sounds from the parade ground in front of the headquarters drew his attention. Ensign Andreas Guenther and Feldwebel Buettner were trying to train a half company of the Suhl Militia in field maneuvers. In Johan’s opinion this was a waste of time. The militia was by definition a defense force for fighting from a city and Guenther and Buettner were barely trained themselves. Take the militia out of their city and they would melt like snow in the heat of battle. He had seen trained professional companies melt in battle too many times. But Captain Nestmann had dreams of reviving his glory and was in charge of militia training, so the militia trained in field maneuvers. Trained with pike and musket tactics, not the tactics offered by their new bayoneted rifles loaded with minié balls—a total waste of time.

His attention was drawn to the other side of the square where a party of the SoTF mounted constabulary was forming up to leave on patrol. Now there was a really professional force. He sometimes wished he had taken the offered commission in the constabulary, instead of following Nestmann back to Suhl.

“Damn,” Nestmann commented. “Do you believe the amount of paper they expect me to read?” Johan turned to see the captain scowling at the stack on his desk. Since he had Johan’s attention the captain continued, “Johan, think back to when we were first starting out in the army business. Did Mansfeld ever use this much paper? He did not. I can remember whole battle plans scratched out on the ground in front of his tent. And Hoffmann—did he ever send any written orders? Bah! Now look at the mass of paper they send me, and most of it is about militia—not even real troops.”

While he nodded in commiseration, Johan thought back. Yes, Graf Ernst von Mansfeld had rarely issued written orders but his commands had been basically simple, “Charge” being his favorite, and in the end he had lost.

Johan found it hard to think of Hoffmann as an example of an adequate commander. The man had lacked military knowledge, was lazy, and, more importantly, he was unlucky.

Luck was, in Johan’s opinion, more important than skill. Of course, in the end even Graf Mansfeld’s remarkable luck hadn’t been enough; he had died from a simple cold left untreated.

Johan fingered the lump on his leg, the result of the wound he had received at the “Battle of the Crapper.” Even his own luck hadn’t saved him. Two inches to the left and it would have missed. Of course, an inch to the right and he would have lost the leg, so maybe his luck was still there. But now he was a city watchman, tax collector and only a part-time soldier. Ah, luck.

“Look at this.” The captain was holding a paper out. “You know him better than I do, so I want you to find him. Take young Guenther with you. I want to see him here first thing in the morning. Oh, and do not tell him why I want him. Let him sweat.”

Johan quickly read the order. The first thought to go through his mind was: He isn’t going to like this.

****

The Waffengasse at midnight wasn’t as dark as the inside of a black cat, but in Anse Hatfield’s opinion it came close. The style of building with the upper stories larger than the first meant there was only a narrow patch of sky visible between the shops. This late at night most of the lamps and torches in front of the few open taverns had gone out or been snuffed. Besides the Waffengasse—Weapon Alley, Anse translated in his mind—was just a passageway for delivering parts to the three gun shops that bordered it, so no taverns and no lights.

Normally Anse would have avoided the alley and used the inside stairs in the gun shop he managed for Ruben Blumroder, but it was late and he hated to wake Horst Guenther and his family who had taken over Ruben’s residence in the back of the shop. So he had to use the alley to get to the outside stairs to his third floor room. Anse’s plans were suddenly changed when he saw a suggestion of movement in the mouth of the alley. His instincts and the slight scraping he heard told him that there were men waiting in the alley.

Anse’s hand slid under the tail of his jacket to the automatic pistol in the small of his back. Suhl generally had less street crime than most German cities, probably because of the number of gunsmiths who carried their own products, but there were always some fools swimming in the gene pool. Anse was silently cursing Gaylynn Reardon; she had convinced him that his.45 spoiled the hang of his clothing, so he was only carrying that damn toy he had borrowed from Pat.

A familiar voice from the alley caused him to relax. “Herr Hatfield, your neighbors are going to be upset if you wake them with gunfire.”

“I’ll just tell them I shot at a tax collector. Hello, Johan.”

“Oh a hit, a solid hit, Make a light, Guenther. Let the man see who he is jesting with.”

As soon as the lamp was un-hooded, Anse saw that Johan Frey had another watchman with him. Both were wearing the yellow and red armbands that were the only uniform of the watch when on duty.

Johan walked over and peered at Anse. “You did have your hand on a pistol, didn’t you? I had a bet with young Guenther that you were not unarmed.”

With some reluctance Anse displayed the Walther PPK that was his only firearm. “It’s only a.32. Frau Reardon thought a larger gun spoiled my clothing. And since I was having dinner with them tonight, well . . . “

“Just so, one must keep the hostess happy, especially if you want to be invited back,” Johan said with a smile, then turned to his companion. “And, Guenther, you will note it is an up-time pistol, more than one shot. You owe me a beer.”

“Herr Frey, it is only a toy,” Guenther muttered.

Privately Anse agreed, but it was his toy. “Eight shots, Guenther. I’d like to see a wheel-lock match that.”

“A beer, Guenther,” Frey insisted. “But since it is just a small pistol, I’ll buy the sausages.” Guenther looked far from satisfied, but knew better than to argue with his superior.

In the flickering light Anse recognized him as Andreas Guenther, a journeyman gunsmith who worked for Pat Johnson when he wasn’t a watchman or serving in the militia. He was a busy young man, and he was the son of Oswald Guenther, another gun maker. Besides he was a cousin of Horst, who was hopefully sleeping peacefully inside the gun shop.

“Come by when we’re testing barrels tomorrow and I’ll let you try out this toy, Andreas.” It would be worth a few cartridges to impress the boy’s father.

“Stand there, Guenther. I want a word with Herr Hatfield in private,” Johan said as he put his hand on Anse’s shoulder to lead him away from the alley.

When the two were out of earshot, Johan asked, “Anse, do you know a man named Anton Cronenburger?”

Anse’s response was quick. “Yes, I know him; I doubt there are two men with that name. He is the chief hunter for Arnstadt.”

“Actually there are three Anton Cronenburgers. The chief hunter, his father who was chief hunter before him and his son. But the man I am talking about is the current chief hunter. He presented an interesting idea to the city council. And your name was mentioned.”

“Positively I hope? I am petitioning for Suhl citizenship.”

“Very positive. The council wants you to manage a project for the city. And citizenship should come with it, but you have to join the militia.”

Anse didn’t have a happy look on his face, “I really don’t want to go back into the army, not that I could with the wounds I took at Ahrensbök, but the militia might be all right, depending on exactly how the town council defines ‘able-bodied.’ Just what is the project?”

“Captain Nestmann has given me a direct order not to tell you. He wants to be mysterious.”

Anse smiled. Nestmann was an overly officious clown and Anse knew Johan agreed with him. But he had to admit that Nestmann was a brave clown. He had been one of the few officers in Hoffman’s mercenary company at the Battle of the Crapper who hadn’t panicked.

“Well, I won’t ask you to disobey a direct order, Johan. So when does he want to see me?”

“First thing in the morning and I can tell you it is a mechanical project involving trucks.” Then he raised his voice and called to Guenther, “Andreas, use your light and escort Herr Hatfield to his quarters. It is dark in that alley.”

****

When Anse arrived at the watch headquarters the next morning, it looked like a miniature truck parade had just arrived. There were five old Chevy S-10s or their GMC equivalent, three Blazers, and a lone Chevy Monza sedan. It was a little hard to tell the make and model of the trucks since all had been stripped of chrome trim and painted primer gray. All but two of the trucks had trailers hitched behind and one of those was towing the Monza. The sedan was the only vehicle still sporting its original paint, but it was spotted with primer and one front fender was clearly a replacement.

Anse watched as the drivers of the trucks gathered near the front of the Monza. Then he recognized the driver of the first truck. Anse thought of ducking into a nearby shop and being late for his appointment, but the familiar and unwanted figure of G.C. Cooper turned and saw him. “Hi, Hatfield,” Cooper called. “I made it earlier than planned. Here’s your trucks.”

What the hell? was the first thing that went through Anse’s mind? His trucks?

Cooper continued. “I got your mail in my truck. Let me get the guys organized and I’ll get it.”

Anse decided to wait for answers.

“Yes, Hatfield, they are your trucks.” Anse turned and found Rolf Nestmann standing beside him. “And you are late.”

“The parade got in the way. And what do you mean, ‘my trucks’?”

Nestmann had a smile on his face as he answered. “Ach, the city council has decided, after a suggestion by a number of the villages’ and towns’ heads, to provide a better transportation service for the foodstuff and raw materials purchased from the villages and the materials Suhl ships out.”

He waved at the trucks. “Only the most modern means will be good enough. So the council purchased these trucks in Grantville. Since you are an experienced transportation officer, they also asked for you.”

“But . . . “

“You are going to say that you are too busy,” Nestmann interrupted. “But we both know that is not true. Your work for Blumroder is just to let you get citizenship in Suhl. Oh, and to let you play at finding gunrunners. I do read my mail.”

Anse was amazed. If Nestmann was onto his plans, who else knew? Who had told Nestmann?

Nestmann turned toward the headquarters. “Come inside. It is noisy out here; and there are too many ears.” Anse followed the captain to his office. Only then did Nestmann continue. “How much easier would your job of hunting spys be if you had the official backing of the Suhl city watch commander?” The captain pointed to himself.

Anse could only nod in agreement.

“So this is a godsend to both of us. You get to do your hunting, and I get an experienced man to run the new trucking company for the city. Why they want the trucks to be under the watch, I don’t understand. But it is official. As you up-timers would say a ‘done deal.'”

“But . . . “

“Official I said and official I meant. Here are your orders, signed by General Jackson no less. And General Jackson included a personal letter.”

Nestmann handed over the orders and a sealed envelope. Not a twice folded sealed with wax sheet as was usual but a real up-time envelope. The return address of the mining company had been marked out, but it was still noticeable. Anse tore open the letter first. Inside was a note scrawled in Jackson’s handwriting.

Hatfield, your request for disability retirement just crossed my desk. In a one word answer: Denied. But you’re out of TacRail.

I could throw out a bunch of words about you being too valuable to lose, but you and I would both know it’s bullshit. The fact is, we need you. So, like a willing horse you get to run another mile. Besides they like you in Suhl; I don’t like you. You cut too many corners and you run your mouth too much, but I can trust you to get a job done. And this job is important.

The government, read Ed and Becky, want to spread Grantville’s technology around to all of Thuringia-Franconia, so Suhl is getting a fleet of trucks to ship their products.

We both know that trucks, even little trucks like these, could be used as a weapon and a force multiplier, so watch those trucks. I don’t want some idiot putting armor on them. Don’t let Nestmann get any ideas. They are for transport only.

I am sending you G.C. Cooper as a mechanic. Keep him sober. He has some good men with him to help you train drivers and set up a repair garage. They should be there in a couple of days with the trucks.

I threw you a bone to keep you happy; you are now a lieutenant, in mechanical support.

The repair garage is the key to this project, so do a good job on it. I might want a way to send the APCs down into Franconia in an emergency and they need some support in place.

Have fun in Suhl, and watch those trucks. I don’t want them used to do any empire building.

Frank Jackson

Putting the letter aside, Anse quickly read the orders; it looked like Jackson had covered all the bases. He was denied disability retirement, removed from TacRail, commissioned a second lieutenant, transferred to Suhl, promoted to first lieutenant and loaned to the Suhl city council as a technical expert. All in one set of confusing orders, signed by Frank Jackson personally. He had even been denied travel expenses. The asshole.

Nestmann had been waiting impatiently while Anse read, “So, Lieutenant Hatfield, you are now under my command and my orders are to build a transport company.”

Anse could almost see the wheels in Nestmann’s head turning. He was planning something.

What could Anse do? He responded, “Yes, sir.” All the while thinking, What an asshole. He makes a pair with Jackson.

****

Johan Frey was enjoying himself. This was the most satisfying thing he had seen since he came back to Suhl. G.C. Cooper, who appeared to be in charge of the up-time trucks, was trying to direct their drivers to park the trucks closer to the headquarters and relieve the blockage in the street. But his German was so poor that they could pretend to misunderstand him. Cooper was yelling and clearly getting more frustrated by the minute. The many Suhl merchants in the crowd were helping the situation by loud comments about the blocked street that Cooper, from the look on his face, had to understand. Frey knew he should step in, but no, not to help Cooper.

Just then his dilemma was solved by the arrival of a squad of watchmen reporting for the day duty. With a smile Frey ordered, “Wachtmeister Meusser, clear this mess.” Frey walked into the headquarters with an even broader smile; Hans Meusser spoke no English, was dumb as a rock and had a rather short temper. That should make Cooper’s day even worse.

Just as he entered the outer office he saw Captain Nestmann and Anse Hatfield coming out of the captain’s office. Nestmann looked happy and Hatfield looked like a man going to his execution.

“Ah, Johan, just in time,” Nestmann called. “I want you to take our newest addition, Lieutenant Hatfield here, over to the stable that the city has picked for a garage. And make sure that mess in the street is cleared. I could hear it in my office.”

Nestmann turned to Hatfield. “Lieutenant, I will want a copy of your new unit’s roster in my office as soon as possible. The city council wants to start transporting materials within the month.”

The look Anse gave the captain’s back as he walked away was worth the trouble Johan knew he was going to have with this project. Being Nestmann’s second-in-command meant he did most of the captain’s dirty jobs.

He waved Anse to a stop near the door but out of hearing distance of the watchman at the desk. “Careful, my friend. You are not one of Nestmann’s favorite people. Since you were once the garrison commander here, he blames you for the fact that there are no troops other than militia for him to command.”

“Old news, Johan. Where is this stable, and what mess in the street?”

Johan just waved through the open door. In the street the trucks were neatly parked, opening up one third of the street to traffic. But in the middle of the street, G.C. Cooper and Hans Meusser were standing nose to nose, and each was yelling in his own language. This was entertaining to the passing merchants and to the truck drivers who were leaning against the trucks. “Your man Cooper and my Wachtmeister seem to be having a difference of opinion.”

Johan and Anse yelled almost at the same time.

“Hans, back to work, you’re setting a poor example for your men.”

“Cooper, step back and apologize to the watchman. He’s a local cop.”

****

Two hours later Johan was quietly amazed. Anse had been all business and had gotten G.C. Cooper and the seven men with him settled in the sleeping rooms over the stable. The four truck drivers who were going back to Grantville were already on their way home in the little car called a Monza, odd name. The stable itself had been swept and now housed the eight trucks and six trailers. Now they were sitting in Blumroder’s gun shop where Hatfield was quietly reading his mail.

When Anse smiled at the letter he was reading, Johan had to ask, “Good news?”

“Yes, it’s from Leonore. I told you about her. Her assignment to the school at Magdeburg has been continued, so she’s not going to be in a combat posting.”

“Just out of curiosity, what was in the long box you got?”

“Ah,” Anse’s smile got even wider, “it’s a replacement for the rifle I lost at Ahrensbök. Hank worries about me, so he sent me a new toy.”

Anse suddenly looked serious. “You’re full of questions today, Johan. How about answering one of mine. What’s the problem between you and G.C. Cooper? I know why I don’t like him, but what is it with you?”

Johan was slightly embarrassed; this was too close to getting personal. “You remember where and when we first met?”

“Sure, just after the Battle of the Crapper. I was picking up wounded and loaded you in my truck; took you to the medical center.”

“That is correct, and do you remember who was with you?”

Comprehension showed on Anse’s face. “I was stuck with G.C. Cooper. But you didn’t understand English then.”

Johan laughed. “It is not hard to understand when a man sticks a gun in your face. He wanted me to walk to the Medical Center. You stopped him and loaded me in the truck. I thank you for my leg.”

“No, it wasn’t that bad of a wound.” Anse waved the matter away. “And you still want to get back at G.C.—is that going to be a problem for me to deal with? I can send him back to Grantville with the next shipment of guns going to the army. He’s not that good a mechanic.”

“No, you need him, so keep him. Besides he’s not under my command. He is yours, but keep him away from me.”

****

Anse stared at the completed roster. Out in the new garage, he could hear Cooper trying to instruct two likely volunteers in the care and feeding of the General Motors four-cylinder engine. Ignoring the volunteers—Cooper would probably scare them off anyway—he had barely a squad of men: Cooper, considered a corporal but really a civilian in uniform, the three trained drivers, two barely trained mechanics, and two mechanic trainees. All trained by G.C. Cooper. Anse wished he had kept the four drivers who were on their way back to Grantville, but they weren’t assigned to Suhl. Still, he had built a rail crew from less. He longed for just one man he could trust.

When it got silent out in the garage, he knew he was about to get a visitor. Sure enough, Cooper’s head appeared in the doorway. “Those two guys decided they didn’t want to be truck drivers, Anse. I’m going to break for lunch.”

Anse felt like tearing out what remained of his hair. “Cooper, sit down. We need to talk about those trucks.”

Cooper sat, but looked defensive. “Anse, those are good trucks. I picked them myself. They all have ‘Iron Duke’ engines that I personally converted to run on either gas or ethanol. They’re smoking so much because I ran them on straight gas on the way down here. So the mixture was too rich. The Blazers are all four wheel drive and I put overload springs on every thing. They’re damn good trucks, to be as old as they are.”

Anse knew Cooper was trying to feed him a snow job. The trucks were near worn-out wrecks he had foisted off on the Suhl men in Grantville who didn’t know any better.

“Spare parts, what about that? This isn’t a one shot deal. We have to operate for years.”

Cooper actually smiled. “Four of those trailers were loaded with spares, and I have four complete engines. The other two trailers are loaded with tools. Shoot, man, I can build an ‘Iron Duke’ if you give me a block.”

Anse had heard enough. “Not by yourself, and you’re chasing off volunteers. Those last two were Hans Heyelmann and Sigmund Klett. Klett’s daddy is Cornelius Klett, the gun maker and city councilman. Heyelmann is related to the Ambergers, again noted gun makers and councilmen. They were hand picked by their families to learn to drive. Look, G.C., this is for real, not some guys hanging around your garage waiting to be impressed. What happens when I am forced to send you back to Grantville as unsuitable to work with the locals?”

“I get to sleep in my own bed and eat at my own table. Anse, I don’t like it here. The only thing these Germans have got is good beer, and Frank Jackson made me swear off anything but small beer while I was out of Grantville.”

Anse realized he was stuck. If he sent Cooper home he was just doing what the man wanted. He knew Cooper was not above screwing up on purpose just to go home. If he tried to punish Cooper by turning him over to the Suhl authorities, there would be a stink in Grantville. He doubted it would be covered up like the Horton mess. So what to do? Then the answer came like a flash of light. Well, more of a memory, from years ago. What had been the name of that plan that was just starting when he left Vietnam . . . “Vietnamization,” that was it.

“Cooper, I have a plan. How long will it take you to bring your two so-called trained mechanics up to speed where they can work on an engine without you looking over their shoulder? Make them your replacement as chief mechanic, but two of them.”

“Six weeks, but make it two months just to be sure.”

Anse though for a moment, “Okay, give me your best while you’re here and get them up to snuff, and I’ll send you home in three months. I’m adding a month to give you wiggle room. Is it a deal?

“Well, three months is a long time.”

“Or I could tell the Suhl city council that you cheated them and that the trucks are all over twelve years old. What happens then is up to them. They haven’t hanged anyone for the last couple of months and it’s been years since they burnt anyone at the stake, so the population might want a spectacle.”

“Ah . . . three months should be plenty of time. I’ll even get those spare engines overhauled and ready to pop in, just in case.”

Anse smiled. “Oh, you better start calling me Lieutenant or sir from now on. We wouldn’t want your men to get into bad habits.”

Three weeks later

Anse watched Sigmund Klett drive the pick-up around the city square. Not bad. He’d have to send young Klett on a road trip to be sure, but it looked like he had his sixth driver. After the truck came to a stop, Klett and his trainer got out. Anse walked over. “Looking good, Klett.”

He then turned to Eudo Berenger, the trainer, “What do you think Eudo? Is Klett here ready for a trip to Arnstadt to pick up a cargo of wheat?”

“Yes, Chief, if it’s the three truck convoy we talked about last night. I’ll put him in the middle spot with just a truck and I’ll take the lead with a Blazer and the trailer and put Achille in the back with the other truck and trailer.”

Anse smiled. Eudo had got his lines just right. Klett had to think this was spontaneous praise.

“Now that sounds like a plan, Eudo.” Anse clapped Klett on the shoulder. “You’re ready, Sigmund. Do a good job and you’re full-fledged driver.”

Anse was positively grinning when he walked into the garage. Achille Berenger, Eudo’s brother and another driver, was showing driver trainee Heyelmann how to check the oil in the Blazer near the door. Hans Heyelmann would do his over-the-road check-drive this afternoon. The shop area was neat and clean; Cooper was actually pushing a broom, or had his trainees doing it. Over in the back, Christoph Bach, one of the trained mechanics, had two trainees putting an engine on the test stand that the Reardon Bolt Factory had put together from a picture in an up-time hot rod magazine. There were even two of Reardon’s machine operators taking measurements of various bolts and nuts to make replacements. Everything was going smoothly.

“The captain is in your office, Chief,” Achille called when he saw Anse.

Hell, too smoothly.

When Anse walked into his office, Rolf Nestmann was seated behind the table that served as a desk. “Hatfield, I want to ask you about something.” Nestmann pulled two pictures obviously trimmed from an up-time magazine from his belt pouch and dropped them on the desk. Anse could see they were color photos of pick-up trucks with machine guns mounted in the bed. Shit.

“Tell me, Herr Hatfield what is to stop you from making these ‘Technicals’ on our trucks?”

Anse stared at the pictures. The truck in the first picture had a heavy machine gun and the second had an anti-aircraft gun. This was worse than what Jackson had feared. Nestmann was starting to plan big. The only use for armed vehicles here in Suhl was to push the little villages around. Time to piss on the embers before the fire flared. “It’s not possible, Captain. We don’t have a machine gun. And besides, the trucks in the pictures are three-ton trucks. Ours are half-ton, so they’re too small.”.

“But we could put a little cannon, say a swivel gun, in the back of a truck?”

Anse pointed to the pictures. “What’s the reload time on your little cannon? That A-A gun can fire over a thousand times a minute. Besides, even a swivel gun has too much recoil. All changing a truck would do is take it out of the transport business.”

Nestmann was visibly deflating. “But the picture . . . “

“Not possible. Now I could make some removable seats to put in a truck bed and you could load maybe eight men in the back, facing out. Of course without the seats you can get ten or twelve men in there.”

Nestmann’s hand came up to stroke his chin, “Lieutenant, I will go to the council and ask for one of your pick-up trucks to be reserved for militia use. Oh, and one of the Blazers would make an excellent vehicle to patrol outside the city. So make it two trucks and start your men on building those seats. I will send you two men to train as drivers for them.” With that pronouncement the captain strutted out of the office.

Anse thought a minute; then he walked into the garage. “Trainee Heyelmann, we’re going to have to delay your check-ride for a couple of days. Captain Nestmann needs two of our trucks, so we’re going to reorganize. You might want to mention that to your uncle.” That should set the captain’s plans back just a little. Heyelmann’s uncle was on the council.

****

Johan Frey, standing in his usual spot by the window, spotted Nestmann walking across the street toward the headquarters. He didn’t look happy. This was going to be another bad day. Sure enough, the captain slammed the office door and stomped over to his desk. “The city council has denied my request for two of those silly trucks. They even had the gall to threaten my position as head of the city watch. Councilmen Klett and Amberger actually questioned the amount of time I have the militia training.”

Johan worked hard at hiding his smile. “Well, Captain, I can understand their position. The militia is charged with protecting the city, not defending the whole of Suhl County; that’s why we have a radio to call for the army. And the men do have other jobs.”

“Frey, don’t argue with me. You are very close to being removed from the watch. You have spent too much time in Hatfield’s company. He argues with me and his attitude is rubbing off on you.”

Johan’s temper flared, but he controlled it. “Rolf, I’ll let the threat go since we have been friends for a long time. But it is my right—no, my duty as your second—to offer advice and to tell you when you are wrong. And this time you are wrong. The city fathers of Suhl don’t want a pocket army. They want a city watch commander who commands the city watch. You spend too much time plotting in this office. Go out and talk to the merchants and gun makers in the taverns. They’ll tell you about the troubles they had with the former garrison. Talk to the journeymen and apprentices. They’ll tell you even more. And yes, most of them will sing Hatfield’s praises. So maybe that attitude is one you should get. We are not an army. They pay us to stop street crime and collect taxes, not to ride around on decorated horses and lead men to burn peaceful villages. That’s over and done with. No more.”

Johan stepped back from the desk and tried to get his breathing under control. “If you want me out of the watch, say so and I’ll go back to work in my father’s leather shop. I can still make boots. You can even say it is because of my wounded leg and I won’t say a word to deny it.”

Nestmann had the grace to look taken aback. “Johan, Johan my old friend, I sincerely apologize. This city is driving me crazy. Besides, I need you. You’re too good with the men to lose. But you’re missing the main chance we have here. Using the city militia we can build the core of a military company. With a hundred good loyal men we can recruit a professional force and get back in the game. I have received letters from some of our former companions. The supporters of the pope are hiring troops. We start to build on the younger, wilder men in the militia. Then recruit up to strength out in the county and on the way south. By the time we get to Italy, we’ll have a regiment second to none. Think about it, Johan . . . Italy, warm weather, beautiful women and wealth just lying around to be taken.”

Johan had to ask, “And Herr Hatfield’s trucks? Were you planning on ‘borrowing’ the trucks for this Italian trip?”

Nestmann had a sly look. “No. I have made arrangements to acquire larger trucks. Hatfield’s man, Cooper, is very greedy and has found me two. They are what he calls F-150s. Much larger trucks. They will be perfect to build this.” Nestmann pulled two pictures from his pouch.

Johan didn’t even glance at the pictures. His fingers slipped under the strip of cloth that formed the armband below his shoulder. With a hard tug the cloth ripped. The arm band fluttered as he threw it on the desk. “Without me, Rolf. You’ll have to do it without me. I have had enough of burning villages and more than enough of rape and pillage.” He turned and walked to the office door. As a parting shot he added, “Stay off the street of the leather workers with your recruiting. If I see you close to my father’s shop, it would be too tempting a target.”

The echo of the slamming door was the only sound in the office for a while.

****

Anse was surprised at the quiet. Normally the garage was a rather noisy place, but when he walked in that morning he was greeted with silence.

Marcel Noel, his number one driver, hurried over to explain, “Chief, there’s a delegation from the city council in your office. They showed up just minutes ago, and I told them you were on your way.”

Anse was surprised by the crowd in his office. Three councilmen filled the chairs. Each of them must have brought a secretary with him, since there were other men standing. It was an odd group. Near the window he saw Jorg Hennel, head of the CoC in Suhl. What was he doing with a bunch of stuffed shirts like the councilmen and their flunkies?

Besides that, the three councilmen were an odd combination. Cornelius Klett and Rudolph Amberger were seated at the ends of the desk. Together they were known as a driving force behind modernization here in Suhl and had sponsored the purchase of the trucks. But between them was Matthias Schwengfeld, whom every one in Suhl called “The Rock” because he was opposed to any change. To make it even odder, the three councilmen were dressed in their best and were holding their symbols of office.

Schwengfeld started the meeting, “Herr Hatfield, my colleagues and myself find ourselves in an odd position. You are here from the SoTF National Guard, but you are effectively employed by the City of Suhl as a member of the city watch. But that service is reserved for citizens of the city, so, in effect, you and we are violating the laws of the city.”

His soliloquy was interrupted by Amberger. “Get to it, Matthias. We do not have all day.”

“Yes, it is going to be a busy day,” Schwengfeld agreed. He dropped a parchment on the table. “Herr Hatfield, we decided to do something we discussed last year. Because of your service to the city, and other factors, you have been made a full citizen of the city of Suhl. Here is your Patent of Citizenship. You are also appointed as an advisor to the council. As such, you and your trucking service are no longer under the command of the city watch, but directly under the council and the Bürgermeister. In the future, Herr Hatfield, you will report to me.”

“Well said, Matthias. Now are we done?” Amberger interrupted again.

“Yes, I believe so.” Schwengfeld was apparently not used to being interrupted and seemed flustered.

“Then we have an appointment across the street.” Amberger and Councilman Klett pushed away from the desk and they and their secretaries rushed out.

Schwengfeld waved to the empty chairs. “Sit down, Herr Hatfield, talk with an old man.” He turned to Jorg, “Join us, Hennel. You need to hear this.”

When Anse and Jorg were seated, Schwengfeld nodded to his secretary. “Wait outside, Heinz. This is just unofficial talk between friends.

“Herr Hatfield, you are wondering why Jorg is here? He is my unofficial advisor. I see I surprised you.”

Anse was surprised, but he thought he had hidden it. “Well, sir, you do have a reputation as being against change and Jorg is all about changing society.”

“Indeed he is. We have had many fascinating conversations, arguments really. Jorg is my nephew and while he is the black sheep of the family, he is still family.”

“Grand-nephew actually,” Jorg put in.

The old man smiled fondly. “Yes, that is right, grand-nephew. Your mother was the daughter of my second wife’s brother.”

Anse went from surprised to amazed. Jorg as the offshoot of a merchant family was hard to believe.

Schwengfeld pulled Anse’s attention back. “You were worried about Captain Nestmann and his intentions, I believe?” When Anse nodded the old man continued, “And I wager you were planning a solution. You Americans always want quick solutions. What you never knew and what Rolf Nestmann forgot is that Suhl is a small city, a family city. We take care of our own. The city watch has always been a place of employment for less skilled younger sons and cousins. The council knew his plans as soon as he tried to recruit his first soldier.”

“So Nestmann was planning on going mercenary again?”

“But of course. Why else train the militia so much? He was looking for soldiers. When you found out, or more importantly, when the authorities in Magdeburg found out, he would have been arrested. The time for mercenary armies has passed, thankfully. His arrest would have embarrassed the city of Suhl, and the government of Thuringia-Franconia. We on the council had to come up with a solution.”

“So what happens to Nestmann? Do you hang him or shoot him?” Jorg asked.

Schwengfeld fingered the parchment on the table, “Oh, we cannot have the city embarrassed by executing a watch commander. Besides the embarrassment, Rolf is related to Cornelius Klett, third cousin in fact. He is right now receiving a parchment much like this one. Thanking him for his service to the city and removing him from his troublesome duties with the city watch. I believe we voted a small sum of money to accompany it. He is also being sent to Ruben Blumroder as a military advisor and secretary in the capitol. Kicking him upstairs, the Americans call it.”

“But . . . ” Anse sputtered.

“No, Herr Hatfield, it is finished. See, we don’t always need you Americans to solve our problems.”

Schwengfeld pointed at Anse with a smile. “But since you are now a citizen of Suhl, I expect many hours of advice. Not that I’ll follow it.”

The Rock stood and walked toward the door. Then stopped and added, “Oh yes, there is one more thing. Tomorrow Johan Frey will be asked to take command of the city watch. A good man, Johan. His mother was related to my first wife.”

After Matthias had left, Anse turned to Jorg. “That was a hell’va politician.”

“Yes, I have two models I try to copy—him and Gretchen Richter.”

Anse could only think, What a study in contrasts.

****

“Well, that went well,” Johan muttered to himself as he walked into the street of the leather workers. His last coin had gone to pay the bill at the tavern for his room and board. Now he was both out of work and homeless. The shutters were open on the windows of Frey und Sohn Leather, letting the light from inside spill into the street. He had avoided his family since he had returned to Suhl, but now it was time to go home.

Hesitantly, he knocked on the door of the living quarters. The boy who answered was obviously one of his father’s apprentices. Johan waved toward the dining area beyond, “Young man, would you be so kind as to ask Herr Frey, the elder, if he has a plate for the prodigal son?”

****