Henri really did not want to answer, but Louis continued to push the point.

“Look, it’s time. We need to decide what to steal and head home,” Louis said.

“Louis,” Jacob said, “you’ve been wanting to steal something else ever since we lifted the underwater breathing gear. You just want to steal something because, for you, it was a novel experience. It was exciting. You never did anything like it before. You never had to do it for a living. I’ll concede that it’s like being in a battle. You feel more alive while you’re doing it because you’re more at risk. I knew fellows who grew addicted to it. They didn’t last long. They started taking too many risks. Our job is to gather information. Stealing things puts that job at risk.”

“Jacob, the job is over. It’s time to head home,” Louis said.

Henri reluctantly came to a decision. “I hate to say this but Louis is right.”

“Are you sure, Henri?” Jacob asked. “The boss won’t like us abandoning our post. Maybe things will turn around.”

Louis interjected, “He won’t like being called ‘the boss,’ either. You know he really doesn’t like it when we let Grantville English corrupt our French.” There had been a short tirade about that in response to a report shortly after they had arrived in Grantville in which they had used the word, “okay.” Their boss concluded with the words, “Do not let it happen again!”

Henri ignored Louis’ comment as not worth bothering with. “Jacob, there was no stipend last month or the month before. There was no courier last month and this month’s courier is overdue. I’ve sent an inquiry and we haven’t heard back. From the news in the papers about what is going on back home, we’re not going to hear back, either. Nobody is sure what is going on. We don’t know who is in control, or if anyone is. We don’t even know who is still alive. We’re on our own.

“We can’t stay here without money. So, unless we want to get jobs, it’s time to leave. And I agree with Louis. I see absolutely no reason to leave empty-handed.”

Louis snorted. “Jacob wants to stay because he already has a job.”

Jacob’s “job” started out with them having the courier bring some good wines and cheeses to Grantville for their own consumption—to ease the pain of living amongst barbarians. Even a Parisian lowlife like Jacob turned his nose up at German wines. The courier was coming to Grantville anyway, and he was willing to transport a sideline for a little extra money. Then Jacob started selling his share. He might turn his nose up at German wines and cheeses, but when he saw what he could get for bleu cheese from the local market, getting by with the local products was not so bad after all.

When he increased his volume of orders beyond what the courier was willing to bring with him, Jacob started having it shipped in. The demand spread out from Grantville and everything was going along just fine. Then a local started making bleu cheese and the price dropped. So Jacob started selling the locally-made bleu cheese to his out-of-town customers and with the reduction in cost of having the cheese shipped up from France, his profit actually went up when his prices went down.

Eventually, Jacob’s business venture started to cut into his research time. Henri would have made him stop but for two facts. First, it added to the team’s cover, and second, his business contacts proved to be good sources of information. Henri’s disapproval had kept Jacob from expanding the export side of his business. There were things he knew would sell well in Paris, besides the few curios he continued to send to a broker he knew. But making a regular export business to Paris happen would take up more time than he could devote to it and still keep up his research load.

“Yes,” Jacob replied to Louis’ complaint and observation, “I have a job and yes, I can pay our rent for a month or two. And yes, we can hire out as researchers at the library. Our English is more than good enough by now and we’re more than qualified. We can go right on doing what we’re doing until things get settled in Paris and they start paying us again.”

“That’s fine for you,” Louis said, “but I’m not a peasant to go grubbing for a living.” Being a spy for the crown was part of being in the government. Like being in the army, it didn’t count as work in the mind of someone like Louis. “Besides, what if our new boss doesn’t want us? It looks like the organization has shut down. Who knows who may have been killed? The offices may have been closed, our coworkers out in the cold. How will anyone even know we are here? If we’re out of touch, we could end up being stuck here.”

“Would that be so bad?” Jacob asked.

Louis sneered. “Would you feel that way if you didn’t have a sweetheart in town on top of an import-export business? Your problem is, you have something here and nothing to go home to.”

Jacob opened his mouth to object and closed it without saying a word. When he did open his mouth again, it was to agree with his antagonist. “Louis, you’re right. I don’t have anything to go back to.”

“Well, I do!” Louis said, with the disdain of a petty nobleman for a member of the lower classes. “I’m not something the boss swept up off the streets of Paris.” His tone made it clear just what he thought that something was. “My brother may have gotten the title and the estate, but he’ll not deny me my old rooms and a seat at the table. I’m sick and tired of American food and American fools. I’m sick and tired of their talk of equality. I’m even more sick and tired of German barbarians, German wines, German food, Germans and the Germanies in general. If I’m not doing the king’s work, then why put up with it? There’s no point in staying here.”

Henri nodded. “It’s time to head home. When things settle down and get reorganized, maybe they’ll send us back here or maybe we’ll go somewhere else. But if we’re not in Paris working our contacts, it’s for certain we’ll be overlooked.”

Henri caught Jacob looking at him out of the corner of his eye. Henri knew Jacob had no contacts to work, no relatives at court, no matter how distant, nor did he have any old friends in the gaming houses and social circles of Paris who would know someone in the know when the time came. The fences and lowlifes of Paris might know Jacob’s face and his street name, but that wouldn’t help him get a job with the government. Henri acknowledged to himself that he might take Jacob along on the next assignment. But then . . . he might not. It would, of course, depend on what the assignment was. Jacob had proven to be quite useful. Still, how often would he need a thief? Besides, Jacob was quite capable of putting his own needs first. Could his loyalty really be counted on? Jacob’s mother had passed away and they couldn’t threaten to throw her back in debtor’s prison, so there was no longer any leverage to insure his compliance with orders. Henri often wondered if Jacob’s continued presence with the Grantville surveillance team didn’t have more to do with comfort and convenience than with loyalty to the crown.

“There’s no point to sending in reports no one is going to read,” Henri said. “For that matter, if there’s no courier, there’s no way to send in reports anyway, is there?”

“So,” Louis said, “then it’s settled. We’re heading home.” He looked at Henri. “Now, what are we taking with us? It’s too bad we can’t make off with one of the automobiles or even one of the ones that have been converted into a horse carriage. We could sell it in Paris for a small fortune, enough to keep the two of us in high style in Paris for months. But we could never get away with it.”

When Louis casually and completely left Jacob out of the division of the loot, Henri caught the briefest flash of anger on Jacob’s face before it disappeared behind the usual quiet, stone mask. This reminded him of two things he had promised himself on the trip north from Paris to Grantville.

First, yes, Jacob was quiet and easygoing, but, under no circumstances was he ever to forget that Jacob was a dangerous man. This simple fact was something he was sure Louis had overlooked completely. If Louis did realize Jacob might be dangerous, Henri was quite sure Louis never even considered the idea that Jacob might be dangerous to him. To Louis, Jacob was just another member of the underclass, a servant. Louis assumed, therefore, that since Jacob was a servant he would know his place and act like a servant.

Henri added Louis’ thoughtless comment to the long list of reasons he was of the opinion that Louis was a pompous idiot. That he was a well-educated, intelligent fellow was beyond question. Yet, somehow, being intelligent just seemed to make his being an idiot all the worse. Henri first noticed Louis’s attitude and Jacob’s response to it on the trip north. That was when Henri concluded that he needed to keep an even closer eye on Jacob than he had before. Going home without Louis might be hard to explain, especially to his friends and family . . . and these were people who were not inconsequential.

“We’ll need to leave here on fast horses so whatever we steal needs to be something small and light. Something we can carry with us on horseback,” Louis continued. “Or at most something light enough that a packhorse can still keep up.”

Henri nodded in agreement. “It needs to be something you can’t get anywhere else. Five years ago that would have been easy. Now every other curio cabinet in Paris displays a Grantville doll, a plastic bottle, or cold light bulb. Every natural philosopher, tinker and blacksmith in France has a copy of a book on how to build a steam engine. There aren’t many books left that are really worth stealing. The few that are worth stealing are locked away and well-guarded. There are so many copies of anything with valuable ideas being turned out that they are so common and so cheap that an original is not going to bring you anything more than a good price. Sure, you can still get a fair sum for an original up-time book as a curio, but that is no longer something worth a fortune. Well, that is, except for some of the picture books which haven’t already been parted out, put in frames and sold off one page at a time. But the picture books that are left are hard to find. We’d need more regular books than we could probably lay our hands on to make the kind of money we need.”

“What we need,” Louis mused, “is something which can only be found here in Grantville and it can’t be something just anyone can get, either. I mean, anyone can hire a researcher and have them comb through the stacks for what they want. It’s expensive, but finding an idea that is worth a fortune just by itself, without a large investment of time and money, is not going to happen.”

“Record players are all the rage in Paris these days,” Henri said. “How much do you think we could get with a stack of up-time records?”

“Most of them have already been copied and they’re in the sales catalog,” Louis replied.

“A computer?” Henri asked.

“How much can we really get for one? Besides, it takes electricity. Anybody who can actually use one will know that it is stolen and will be reluctant to buy stolen goods. Then there’s the water-run accounting machines that they’re selling. Face it, outside of a very select market, a computer is just another curio,” Louis said.

“Rob the bank?” Henri asked.

Jacob snorted. “Are you talking about cracking the safe after hours or just sticking it up in broad daylight? We can’t manage the first, and we can’t get away with the second. You might outrun pursuit on horseback, but you won’t outrun the police cars and you sure won’t outrun radio.”

“So, what is there in Grantville that is small, light, and valuable, that isn’t already available in a copy?” Henri asked. “It makes you wish they’d kept the libraries locked up. Then we could name our own price on books.”

“What can you get in Grantville that you can’t get anywhere else?” Louis mused. “You know, it’s almost as if they set out to make sure everything they had was available to the whole world. We need something small enough to carry on horseback that is as valuable as a car. There are just a few thousand of them and they aren’t going to be making any copies for a very long time.”

Jacob thought things over. He knew where there were three large, if thin, books of full-page colored pictures, which could be collected with relative ease. They were, after all, just sitting on a coffee table in someone’s living room as if they weren’t worth their weight in gold. But if he mentioned them, they would be lost to him as a source of potential income and he was holding them in reserve against a future need. They would come in handy when he chose to return to Paris, especially if he had to lay low when he got there. Still, the loss might be worth it to see the last of his immediate boss and co-worker. “Would three big picture books of dogs be enough? That’s one each,” Jacob said.

“One each?” Louis asked, puzzled. “Oh, yes. Of course. Where?”

“Lindsey Clinter has three of them in her house. Two of them are full of different kinds of dogs and the third one is full of those poodles she breeds.”

Henri laughed out loud when his thoughts went back to the early days when they had just arrived in Grantville and he had seen his first poodle. He had laughed out loud then too.

****

Just outside a shop in downtown Grantville, Louis asked Henri, “What are you chuckling at?”

Henri nodded towards something on the sidewalk. It was about the size of a small dog. It was wearing a rhinestone collar and a pink bow in its hair, and was on a leash. It looked like a collection of round balls of hair standing on sticks. When Louis started laughing it was a loud, full, deep, belly laugh. And when Louis started to laugh, the collection of hair balls ferociously jumped to the end of its leash as if to attack, and it started yapping away in high-pitched, annoying yelps, telling the whole world that it would utterly vanquish its prey just as soon as it got loose from the restraints.

The young girl holding the leash yanked on it and said, “Louis, calm down.”

Louis darkened with annoyance.

Henri smirked, “Yes, Louis, do what the jeune fille said.”

“What are you talking about?” Louis demanded.

“Did you not hear her? She said—” Henri switched from their common French to the girl’s English and spoke to his companion in a close approximation of the tone of voice the young girl had used, “—Louis, calm down!”

Louis turned even darker with anger.

The lass tugged on the leash and pulled the dog to her feet. “Louis, sit!” she said, pulling up a bit on the leash while stooping to push down on the hind end of the dog—which did not look a thing like the terrier it sounded like.

“I said, sit!” and with these words she lightly swatted the dog’s rear. It yelped once, but after that it was quiet.

She saw the two men staring at the dog and said, “What’s the matter? Haven’t you ever seen a French poodle before?”

“That thing is not French!” Louis objected.

“Oh, she might not have her papers, but she’s a French poodle all right.”

“Did you say she? A Louis is not a she dog.”

“Yes. When the people the Easterleys got the dog from bought her, they were told she was a male. When they found out she wasn’t, they’d already named her, so Louis is a she.”

“That is just not right!” Louis objected.

“So she has a boy’s name?” The girl shrugged. “I really don’t get what the big deal is.”

Henri smiled. “Louis is my friend’s name.”

“Oh, I see,” the girl replied.

“And why do you call that thing French? Never has France seen the likes of such,” Louis objected.

“Well, not yet, I guess. Right now the only poodles, except for the ones here in Grantville, are full-sized and they’re German retriever hunting dogs called puddles or something like that, because they make a mess when they shake off the water after they go swimming. But in another hundred years they will be the national dog of France.”

“That . . . ridiculous thing will never be French!” Louis objected adamantly and loudly. “It is obscene!”

“I think it’s cute! Come on, Louis. Let’s go. Remley’s waiting to see you.” And with those words she walked off.

****

Henri’s thoughts were pulled back to the present with Louis’s words, “Poodles are disgusting! French? Indeed!”

Henri said, “There are a fair number of them in Paris these days. I don’t know how many I’ve handled the purchase and the shipping on. And I don’t know how many went back to France with different people who came to see the sights. I just sent another two off not that long ago. Come to think about it, you would have thought the earlier ones would be littering by now, but people are still sending here for them.”

“That is because the Clinter woman doesn’t sell any female dogs out of town and she won’t sell a male dog until it’s been cut. And anybody here in town who takes a female has to agree to sell the litters back to her. So the only place you can get toy poodles is in Grantville,” Jacob replied.

“That’s true, at least about not selling females. Any time I’ve tried to buy one I’ve been told there aren’t any available.” Henri said.

“Well how did you find out about her not selling uncut males?” Louis persisted.

“The same way I found out about the picture books. Hilda told me about it.”

“And just how did your sweetheart find out about this?” Louis continued to demand answers to his questions.

“She works mornings twice a week as a housekeeper for the Clinter woman. One time the woman had her help her take some half-grown dogs to the vet’s office where she works to be neutered. Hilda asked what the word meant.”

Henri got a twinkle in his eye. “So she has exactly what we are looking for. She has a fertile poodle stud and dam. That is something you can only get in Grantville, something small, something light and something worth a small or not-so-small fortune. If we steal one of her studs along with a young female, we will have a breeding pair of poodles.”

At these words Jacob and Louis looked at Henri. Jacob smiled and Louis chuckled. Suddenly, poodles did not seem quite so disgusting after all.

****

Henri found his way to the veterinarian’s office off of Route 250 out near the high school in plenty of time to keep his appointment.

“Mr. Sommor, what can I do for you?” Les Blocker asked the tall, dark-haired, middle-aged down-timer who made an appointment to see the veterinarian but did not have a pet with him. He was wondering what kind of information this one was wanting.

“Doctor . . . that is the right address, isn’t it?” Henri asked.

“Close enough,” Les answered.

“Doctor, I need your help buying a breeding pair of small black dogs, something about this size.” He made a box in the air with his hands about ten high by fifteen long. “I need letters stating, preferably, that the pair came back to 1631 with the Ring of Fire. Barring that, I need the letter to verify that both animals are direct offspring of up-time dogs. My buyer in France is very adamant on that point.”

“What an odd request,” Les Blocker said. “There is absolutely no difference between an up-time dog and a down-time dog.”

“Yes, it is an odd request. But then my client is an odd individual. He is a famous dog lover in Paris who is most notably known for only keeping small black dogs. With the recent arrival of poodles in Paris, it seems he has decided he must have up-time dogs of his own. And, of course, they must be black. He’d like black poodles, but there aren’t any.”

“True, the only poodles in town are white ones. Do they need to be house pets or will hunting dogs do?” Les asked.

“Hunting dogs will be fine, as long as we get a fertile male and female. Then he can tame the pups,” Henri lied.

Les nodded. “Yes, I know where I can get what you want.” He knew of someone who had a pack of mostly black, mixed breed rabbit dogs. They were dominantly beagle, but a black toy poodle terrier got mixed in somehow. The owner claimed they were the best rabbit dogs he ever hunted with. They ran to the small side, and the owner would be more than willing to part with two of them if asked right. After all, he had a pack of them and you don’t need a pack to hunt rabbits. “I can have the dogs and the letters for you at the end of the week.”

The vet named a price. Henri countered with a lower one. “Done! But,” Les said, “at that price you need to bring your own cages.”

“I can bring cages, I guess. Are they not broken to the leash?” Henri asked.

“They’re hunting dogs. They’re trained to course a field, not walk to heel on a leash. They’re kept in a kennel and are used to being transported in a cage. When they’re on a leash, they think they’re going hunting. So I guess it’s a question of what you mean by ‘broken to the leash.’ “

Henri nodded. “I’ll bring cages. Oh, and the letter needs to specify the name of the previous owner of the dogs and I will need a separate receipt for the purchase, of course, for accounting purposes.”

****

Back at their quarters, Henri told Jacob, “We should have the black dogs by the end of the week.”

“Good,” Jacob said. “We need to pick the poodles up on Sunday evening while Ms. Clinter is at church and before she gives them another silly haircut again. She’s a Church of Christ heretic. If we do it then, when it’s dark, we’ll have an easier time of getting away with the dogs.”

“What about the other people who live in the house?” Henri asked.

“None. Mr. Pierpoint goes to church with her. Remley Easterley, who owned the house before the Ring of Fire, hired the girl to house-sit for him and look after his Chihuahuas and his late wife’s poodle when she died. He’d been in the assisted living hospital back before the Ring of Fire. They say he kept hoping he’d get better and be able to go home. After the Ring of Fire, he didn’t want strangers around his dogs, so he never let her take in boarders. Then when he passed away, he left the house to her along with the money he had in the bank so she didn’t need to rent out rooms. I was told he left her the house as much to keep his daughters from getting it as anything else. One of the girls once said the first thing she’d do was get rid of the stinking Mexican rat dogs, and Easterley loved those dogs like they were his kids. The daughter claims he loved them more than he loved his kids.”

Jacob continued, “I’ve got the henna and the squid ink, so we’re ready to dye the poodles black once we have the longer hair cut to match the shorter hair.”

“Are you sure that will work?” Henri asked.

“The dye job will work. So, yes, it will work fine, as long as no one looks too closely at the shape of the dog. It’s what the women in town are using to color their hair now that they can’t get what they used to use. They have it shipped up from Italy. When we’re done, your dogs will be black and it will have to grow out because it won’t wash off.

“So we’re ready to move. You might as well buy the horses.”

“No. I’ll wait a week from the time we steal the dogs to buy the horses and then buy them just before we leave town. We don’t want people putting two and two together, thinking about us planning on leaving at the same time they are still hard at work looking for the missing dogs.”

“Jacob, are you sure you’re staying? I can buy four horses instead of three,” Henri said.

“You only need one for you, one for Louis, and one for the dogs. I’m staying. Maybe things will settle down and they will want someone in Grantville again,” Jacob answered.

“Well, if they don’t, you’ll do all right on the import-export business.

“I’ll send you your share of whatever we get for the dogs. And I’ll remind the powers that be that there is already an agent in place in Grantville if I ever get a chance. Now, are you sure we can get a breeding pair of poodles? It won’t do any good if they won’t make litters when we get them to Paris,” Henri said.

“Hilda told me there aren’t any neutered poodles in the house right now,” Jacob said. “Mr. Easterley’s surviving Chihuahua is, but there’s no mistaking it for a poodle. Louis, the poodle that belonged to Easterley’s wife was spayed, but it died last year.”

” ‘Spayed’?” Henri asked.

“They could neuter female dogs up-time. But they’ve stopped doing it. It’s a whole lot more complicated than cutting a male and they don’t have the right anesthesia. Just be sure we grab one of each. The ones in the kennel are the best choice. They’re younger than the ones in the house.”

“That sounds like a plan.” Henri shifted mental gears and became a bit quieter than he usually was. “Jacob, I don’t want you to think I’m like that idiot Louis. I need to tell you it’s been a pleasure working with you. The idea of getting papers for two black dogs and dyeing the poodles for the trip south is going to make me rest a whole lot easier on the journey.

“Yes, it will work fine as long as no one looks at them too closely. Once we’ve got them evenly trimmed and dyed, the big difference will be the bobbed tails.”

****

“Lyndon,” the police dispatcher’s voice said over the radio in the cruiser. It was a bit after nine o’clock on a Sunday evening.

“Yeah, go ahead,” the police officer replied.

“You need to go see Lindsey Clinter. Her house got broken into while she was at church.”

“We’re on it,” Lyndon Johnson said. “Turn right at the next street,” he told his down-time partner, Lukas Nederhood. “Then turn right again.”

At the old Easterly house, Lindsey was sitting alone on the bottom of the eight steps that led to her front porch. Her husband was apparently not home. She seemed quite small. She never was a large girl, and now she was bent forward with her arms around her shins and her knees rubbing her chin. When the cruiser stopped and the two officers got out, she slowly stood up.

“Mr. Johnson,” She said, “thank goodness you’re here. I’ve been afraid to go in.”

“What happened, Lindsey?”

“When I came home from the Sunday night singing at church, I came down the alley to come in the back door like I always do, instead of walking around the block to use the front. One of the windows in the kitchen door is broken and the door was open. I didn’t used to lock my door when we lived in West Virginia, but here in Germany it seemed like the thing to do.

“Anyway, when I saw that the window was broken, I went next door to call the station and then I waited for you. I didn’t want to go into the house until I knew it was safe.”

“That’s fine, Lindsey. Let me check it out for you,” Lyndon said. “Lukas, you stay here with Lindsey. I’ll make sure the house is clear.” He walked around the house to start by taking a look at the broken window.

Lindsey sat back down on the steps while Lukas Nederhood quietly stood there watching as one group of windows after another went from dark to light, accompanied by a cascade of barking. At last the porch light joined the choir and Lyndon came out the front door. “Lindsey, it looks like whoever broke in was a polite thief. There’s no mess and no breakage besides the window on the back door. I didn’t see anything missing. The TV, the stereo and the computer are still there. Those things aren’t as easy to sell as they were up-time. But I’m sure there’s no one in the house. Why don’t you take a look and tell me if anything is missing?”

She grabbed onto the hand rail and got slowly to her feet, looking very tired. When she stepped into the large living/dining room combination that took up the whole ground floor except for the kitchen and a bathroom, she stopped. The two poodles who had been yapping away ever since Lyndon entered the kitchen stopped when Lindsey walked in. “That’s Fifi and Suzette, and there’s Pedro behind the couch.

“Mrs. Easterley’s mother’s antique ship’s clock is gone. She kept it on the mantel over the fireplace. It was made by the Chelsea Clock Company and it was a wedding present when she got married, even though it wasn’t new at the time. I guess it was a big deal, because Mr. Easterley told me about it several times.” Then she pointed at the coffee table. “The picture books are gone.”

Pedro, the fat Chihuahua, came out from behind the couch to sniff at Lyndon’s shoes. She picked him up off the floor.

Room by room, Lindsey reported nothing else missing. All the while, she cradled the old dog in her arms while rubbing it behind the ears. When they had looked in the closet of the last bedroom upstairs, Lindsey asked, “Did you check the attic?”

“No,” Lyndon said.

“Would you, please?” she asked.

Lyndon pulled down the trap door and folded out the ladder to take a peek in the crawl space. “It’s empty.”

Back downstairs in the kitchen, Lindsey put the Chihuahua down and opened every door to look inside. When she finished she headed for what used to be the garage. She had converted it into a kennel when she wanted to keep and breed more dogs than she was willing to keep in the house.

Lindsey took one glance and said, “There’s Tammy.” She opened the door and looked in the covered dog run off of the garage. “Tommy and Teri are missing.”

****

“That’s the long and the short of it, Chief,” Lyndon said. “One broken pane of glass, three books, a clock and two dogs missing.

“The good news is that there’s at least one litter in town so there will be a replacement for the missing stud before too much longer, but if we don’t find the missing critters, it’s going to be the end of Lindsey’s monopoly on poodle production. She was more upset about that than anything else.”

The chief sighed and shook his head. “Put an all points bulletin out on the dogs.”

“Already did,” Lyndon replied.

The chief nodded. “Maybe we’ll get lucky, but the odds are against it. They’re most likely long gone by now. But as soon as Lindsey set herself up as the only source for poodles, this was bound to happen sooner or later.”

****

At that very moment elsewhere in Grantville Louis was saying, “Merde! Don’t those yapping dogs ever shut up? What if someone hears them?”

“Try giving them some wine and see if that will calm them down,” Henri suggested.

“Forget the wine. What they need is a stiff brandy. I know I sure do. Jacob, we need two brandies in bowls and one in a glass.”

Jacob brought two bowls with a shot of whiskey in each and set them on the floor. It seemed like a shame to waste good brandy on dogs, almost as much of a shame as wasting it on Louis.

“Where’s mine?” Louis asked.

“You’ve got hands. You know where it is. If you want me to get it for you, you’re going to have to make as much noise as the dogs and prove you’re as helpless as they are. We’ve been over this before.” What Jacob meant was “as useless,” but he thought better of saying it. Besides, it wasn’t true. Louis was a first-class library researcher.

Louis snarled, rather like a dog for that matter, but he didn’t say anything. They had indeed been over it before. Instead, he went to the kitchen to get the brandy that he really did feel he needed.

Jacob came into the kitchen where Louis was sitting at the table sipping his brandy. “They won’t drink the whiskey.”

“Not surprising,” Louis said. “White lightning isn’t fit for a dog. I don’t know why we have it in the larder.”

“I’m going to try mixing it with milk,” Jacob said.

Louis was still sipping brandy when Jacob brought the two empty bowls to the sink and the bottle of milk to the icebox. While the team could afford a private dwelling not that far outside the line that marked the Ring of Fire, they couldn’t afford a refrigerator and made do with an ice box. “They drank the milk right down, whiskey and all. It should put them to sleep. That might come in handy on your way back to Paris.”

Louis grunted an acknowledgement. The man was right. Still he wasn’t about to admit that Jacob had had a good idea.

****

Lindsey sat on the couch holding Fifi on her lap. Suzette’s head was on her thigh. Both dogs were getting their ears scratched and would willingly sit there for hours. In Lindsey’s current state of mind, that just might happen. Pedro was following Tammy around as she explored the house. Lindsey didn’t want to leave her out in the kennel alone, so she had brought her in.

Lindsey’s foremost thought was the wish that Gerry was home. Then he could hold her, comfort her, make her feel better, safe, protected. But he wasn’t. The second thought in which she tried to take comfort was that surely whoever took the trouble to break in and steal Tommy and Teri wanted them as breeding stock and would take good care of them.

” Germany isn’t Vietnam, after all. People do not normally eat dogs,” she said to Fifi. “Surely, after stealing them they wouldn’t just turn them loose in the middle of nowhere to fend for themselves.” But the fear they weren’t being properly taken care of would not go away.

Then Lindsey’s thoughts retuned to the days shortly after the Ring of Fire when she figured out that there wasn’t a registered toy poodle stud in the whole world.

****

“Mr. Tipton?”

He looked up from the cash register and recognized Lindsey Clinter, did the math and schooled himself to say no. She wasn’t twenty-one yet and he wasn’t going to hire a waitress for his bar who was under twenty-one even if it looked like some of the laws, like making moonshine and carrying concealed weapons, and even selling beer to minors, were going to be overlooked. “Yes?”

“You have a poodle, don’t you?” she asked.

That was not the question he was expecting. “Sure do. If I recall, you have two out of the same litter.”

“Yes. Fifi and Suzette. Is yours a male?”

“No. I wouldn’t mind, but my wife says male dogs are gross, licking themselves and lifting their legs to pee.”

“I was so hoping you had a male,” Lindsey said.

The girl was obviously upset, “What’s the mater?”

“There isn’t an unneutered male toy poodle in town. For that matter, there isn’t one of any size, toy, miniature or full. I’ve found someone with a poodle terrier mix and it’s more terrier than poodle. I don’t want to, but it looks like I’m going to have to breed my registered poodles with a mongrel, or find a German retriever of the breed that’s going to become the poodle line. But that’s just as much of a gamble. And I think the size will be harder to breed out than the terrier will.”

“You know, I hadn’t given it any thought, but you’re right. There isn’t a registered poodle stud in town. I didn’t think about it because we had Tabitha spayed. My wife said if she ever had a litter we’d end up keeping them because she knew she wouldn’t be able to give them up. And one dog is all she wants in the house.”

****

The first litter was a disappointment. All three pups were clearly mixed breeds. But one of them was a male and the breeding back process was underway. The good news was that the people who came to see Grantville didn’t know a pure poodle from a wild goose. When they found out that there was a breed of dog called a “French Poodle,” many French tourists felt they had to have one and were willing to pay the asking price and were willing to take the mixed-breed culls.

Then, in 1633, the unthinkable happened. When Lindsey got a call at the Easterley’s house to come down to the Bowers Assisted Living Center, she expected bad news. She was sure Remley was on his last legs. She grabbed Pedro, the Chihuahua, so Remley could see one of his darlings one last time. She felt sorry for Remley. He caught the flu, but he had seemed to be doing better. Now it looked like he wouldn’t make it. Sadly, his wife wasn’t able to visit him. Vera Easterly, who worked down at the Prichard Extended Care Center as a CNA, also caught the flu and now she was in the hospital. That was why Lindsey was staying at their house.

****

Remley was sitting up when she got there. “Pedro,” Remley wheezed and held out his hands. After a bit of face-licking and making cooing sounds, Remley pushed the dog down to his lap and kept him there with a good ear-scratching. “Lindsey, I’ve got some bad news. Do you think you could move into the house full-time? Vera passed away this morning.”

Shocked, Lindsey said, “Oh, Remley, I am so sorry.”

“Yes. I thought she’d outlive me by at least twenty years. But right now I need to know that Louis is going to be looked after. Vera and I promised we’d look after her when her owners died and they left us everything they had to see to it. I can’t do it from here, so I need you. I’m not doing well and I’m worried about it. I’ll have a lawyer in and get the papers drawn up. I want you to have the house and Vera’s bank account.”

“But, Mr. Easterley, what about your girls?”

“You let me worry about that. Right now, what’s important is me knowing that Louis and Pedro are going to be looked after.”

****

Lindsey spoke to Fifi, “And, oh boy, a year later when Remley passed away and the girls found out that I got the house to look after the dogs, all hell broke loose. Didn’t it just? They claimed Remley didn’t know what he was doing and they took it to court, didn’t they?”

But when the lawyer handed the judge the letter that Remley wrote, the judge threw the case out. He said Remley clearly knew exactly what he was doing and that the girls would just have to make the best of splitting up the other assets. When Lindsey moved into the Easterley house to look after the dogs she had resolved to move out when Louis died and give the house and the rest of the money to the Easterley’s daughters and take Pedro with her if he was still around. But the daughters got so nasty about it that when Louis did finally die of old age, Lindsey changed her mind and stayed put. Besides, by that time she was married and unless she wanted to move back in with her parents she really didn’t have anywhere else to go.

Lindsey heard the back door open. “Let me up, Fifi. It sounds like Gerry’s home.” She met her husband in the kitchen with a desperate hug, a passionate kiss and a teary explanation that started with the piece of plywood tacked over the missing window in the kitchen door.

****

“Police station,” the dispatcher/receptionist said.

A female voice said, “I think you should know that two Frenchmen left town this morning, heading south. They have two dogs with them.” Then the phone went dead.

“Jacob,” Hilda said, as she hung up the payphone at the train station, “that was a nasty thing to do to Henri.”

“True. But Louis really does deserve to spend some months working on the road crew or, better yet, under lock-down working at the tannery if he can’t get along on the road crew. Which I’m sure he can’t.

“Come on. Let’s get the trunk and the dogs loaded on the train.”

Jacob and Hilda were taking the train to Magdeburg and then a barge to Hamburg where they would catch a ship to France. He had been told to dispose of the two black, mostly beagle, dogs but he had hidden them instead. Now he was taking them to France, along with the three books and the clock. Henri left instructions to ship them south. He didn’t want to be carrying them. The poodles might pass. But if they were caught with the books, no amount of dye would cover that up. These were purportedly very good rabbit dogs and Jacob was hoping to do well out of them when he got back to Paris. As far as he was concerned, they were much nicer dogs than the poodles.

****

“Louis, that’s a siren. Get off the road and out of sight,” Henri said. The police car went flying by at about forty miles an hour. They were still close enough to Grantville that the road was graded and graveled.

When the car was out of sight, Louis asked, “Do you think they were looking for us?”

“Probably not. How would they know?” Henri said. “But why risk it? Let’s go.”

“What if they’re waiting for us?” Louis asked.

“That’s not likely. There’s no point in going back and if they are looking for us and we turn off, they’ll know and they’ll start looking everywhere for us. Let’s stick to the plan.”

When they got to the inn at the end of their day’s travel the police car was in the courtyard near the stables. A German down-timer was leaning against the front fender. When he saw them he pushed away from the car. At the same time, an up-time American voice spoke from behind them.

“Good afternoon. Would you like to tell me what you’ve got under those covers on that pack horse?”

“Dogs, officer,” Henri said, opening a saddle bag and taking out the paper and handing them to the officer with the words, “Black beagles. Here.”

The man glanced at the papers. Then he lifted the cover off of one of the cages. He found himself face to face with a black faced, quiet, little dog.

“Are you looking for the missing poodles?” Henri asked.

“Yeah. But that’s not them. Sorry to have bothered you.” The officer called to his partner. “Not them. Let’s get back to town.”

****

On a lonely stretch of road not far from what would be the French border after World War I, Henri and Louis came around a sharp bend in the road at the base of a small hill. Five young men holding wheel-lock pistols stood blocking the road, waiting for them.

Louis threw his coat back to reveal the butt of a pistol. “Stand aside,” Louis commanded, “and no one needs to die.”

“Monsieur,” a cocky, talkative fellow standing on one end said, “the sad truth is I barely care if I live or die. I care even less if my companions do. And it will bother me not in the least to see you dead in the road.

“Now, there are five of us and two of you. If you are lucky, at most you will kill two of us. But we will surely kill both of you. So if you wish to live, I suggest you get down off your high horse and hand me the pistol you are carrying.”

Louis looked to Henri who nodded. The two of them dismounted. Louis let his horse shy as he dismounted so it was between him and the highwaymen. The pistol in Louis’ holster was not a common wheel-lock, single-shot, muzzle loader, even if that is what the visible butt looked like. Louis, not wanting to be dependent on ammunition that might be impossible to get later, had a supply of French percussion caps sent to him in Grantville and he had a gunsmith make him a revolver. It was about the size of a common wheel-lock but the caliber was smaller and the cylinder held five rounds. Once he was on the ground, where a spooked horse would not affect his aim, and where the bandits could not see what he was doing, he drew his revolver, then stepped around his mount. And was shot twice.

“That is not much money,” one of the highwaymen said when they had divided out the two purses. They had stripped the bodies of clothing and searched the horses for other valuables without finding much.

“True, but the horses are worth good money and those fancy pistols should fetch a fair price,” the leader said.

“What? We're not keeping them?”

“No, we're not keeping them. Wherever would we get the little brass things? Besides, if the likes of us had weapons like that, everyone would not only know they were stolen but who we stole them from. Look at the clothes. These are the sort of people who get looked for.”

“I wonder what the dogs are worth? If noise were money, they'd be worth a fortune.”

“Nothing. Who would buy them? Those bobbed tails would keep them from blending in, even if they were ordinary dogs. Turn them loose and leave them. We can sell the cages.”

The leader turned to another member of the band. “Robert, go tell your uncle where to find these three and give him six coppers to come and bury them. Then meet us at the inn.”

Robert nodded. His uncle lived alone with his wife not far away on a small farm. They raised goats and made cheese and got by on land that really wasn't good for much of anything else.

****

“Uncle Jean,” Robert called out when he entered the barn.

Jean jumped half out of his skin and the pitchfork went flying to the loft with the hay in its tines. He was used to the dogs raising a fuss when any strangers came on the place, but the dogs had taken sick and died and he hadn't gotten around to replacing them.

Robert laughed and threw some copper coins to the barn floor at Jean's feet. “Still haven't got a new dog, have you? That's dangerous, Uncle. You never know when a thief might come around. But I've taken care of that. I just left two good watch dogs with Aunt Maria. You'll like them. They're not very big, so they won't eat as much and they'll make lots of noise.”

Jean picked up the coins. “Six? So you killed three men this time?” The disapproval was clear in his voice.

“We killed two,” Robert said. “Do you remember Claude? They killed him. They almost killed me too. They came close enough to shoot my hat off my head.”

“Robert, for your mother's memory, you should quit hanging around with that lot and find some other way to make a living.”

“They're at the base of the hill. Bury them somewhere out of sight,” was all Robert said.

****

That evening, Jean’s wife Maria said, “I wonder what happened to the little dogs, Jean. Do you suppose they’ve been frightened so badly that their hair is turning white?”

“What are you talking about, woman?”

She put one of the yappy little terrors in his lap, then brought a candle closer. “See? Their hair is growing in white. I wonder why.”

****