Suhl, Thuringia-Franconia

March, 1636

 

“And it was at this point that Mr. Lang said that he would kill Mr. Schumacher. Wasn’t it?”

My knuckles turned white as I gripped the arms of the witness chair hard enough to make it creak. I stared daggers at Mr. Hartmann, the prosecuting attorney. I had to find a way to state the truth without condemning my friend.

“I will ask you again, Mr. Wagner. Was it at this point that Mr. Lang stated his desire to kill Mr. Schumacher?”

“Yes, but it wasn’t like that. Bertram was just being hyperbolic. He didn’t mean . . .”

However, Mr. Hartmann quickly cut in. “Thank you, Mr. Wagner.” He clearly wasn’t about to let me ruin the progress made in convicting my friend and partner. “At what time did you and Mr. Lang part company that night?”

I shifted uncomfortably in the hard seat and released my grip on the armrests. Leaning forward I scanned the twelve people sitting in the beautiful golden oak jury box just south of the witness stand. I squinted a bit as the light shined through the pair of south-facing windows and realized two things. Whoever designed the new courthouse wasn’t very good at their job and that this bastard was way too good at his job. “Bertram left the tavern just before eight o’clock and went to the inn.”

“How do you know it was just before eight o’clock?”

“Because West Virginia Investigations came on the radio just shortly after he left.”

“Did you accompany him to the inn?”

“No, I stayed at the tavern.”

“Therefore, would I be correct in stating that just before eight o’clock in the evening Mr. Lang told you that he was going back to the inn, but you have no way of knowing whether he went directly back to the inn or not?”

I could see Mr. Meyer, the defense attorney, tense up behind the long table positioned in the northern half of the courtroom as if he were going to object. I knew what his likely objection was going to be. It was a leading question. But despite my being called as a witness for the prosecution I wasn’t really helping the prosecutor enough so I had been declared a hostile witness.

“Yes,” I growled out.

“And when did you see Mr. Lang again?”

“The next morning at seven o’clock when we met at the inn’s common room for some breakfast before boarding the train heading back to Milbitz.”

“And since Mr. Schumacher was killed between nine and eleven o’clock the prior night can you say with absolute certainty that Mr. Lang did not have the opportunity to kill Mr. Schumacher?”

I swallowed hard, knowing that I had been trapped. “No, I cannot say with absolute certainty that Bertram did not have the opportunity.”

“Thank you. I have no further questions for this witness,” Mr. Hartmann said to the judge. He walked back to his seat behind the long prosecutor’s table positioned across the centerline of the court from the defense.

Looking up and to my right I watched as Judge Richter shifted his focus to Mr. Meyer and waited for him to finish scribbling a hasty note on the cream-colored legal pad that all lawyers seemed to use since the up-time concept was replicated in the here and now. “Mr. Meyer, do you wish to cross-examine the witness?”

Standing, Mr. Meyer approached the witness stand and me. Placing both hands on the short wooden wall separating the witness stand from the floor, Mr. Meyers asked, “Mr. Wagner, how long have you known the defendant?”

“Nearly twenty-five years now.”

With a sharp nod, the defense attorney spun away from me and took a few steps toward the crowds seated near the back. Turning back towards me he straightened the sleeves of his high-quality, persimmon-colored jacket. “And in all of that time, how often have you heard Bertram threaten to kill someone after a bad business deal?”

I smiled at that. “Dozens. I would say hundreds but I am pretty sure we haven’t had that many bad business deals.”

That drew a chuckle from the audience and the jury. I could only see this as a good thing.

“And of those, let’s say, dozens of times how many times has the person he threatened to kill turned up murdered?”

“None. Wait, there was one. About a month after we had dealings with a certain merchant in Würzburg his mistress caught him in bed with another woman and stabbed him to death.” Another chuckle from the jury. “He wasn’t any better at keeping to his promises than Mr. Schumacher was.”

Suddenly the chuckle died. Oops!

Mr. Meyer cleared his throat. “Be that as it may, Mr. Wagner, would it be fair to say that Mr. Lang might have threatened to kill Mr. Schumacher, but it wasn’t anything that he hadn’t done dozens of times before and never carried through on?”

“Yes.” I kept my answer short this time. No more playing to the crowd. I would leave that to the professionals.

“Moving on. What time did you arrive at the inn that night?”

“I got back to the inn at 9:45.”

“How do you know it was 9:45 exactly?”

Relaxing back into the chair I focused on my reflection in the high gloss polish on the separator panel of the witness box. It struck me for a second that whoever was making the polish had to have made a fortune because the polish seemed to coat every surface in the new Suhl courthouse.

Shaking myself out of my distraction, I sat up and answered. “Well, I don’t know it was 9:45 exactly. I would say it was more than likely about 9:47. And I remember that because the innkeeper’s daughter was trying to talk her dad into buying some new hair product being advertised during the commercial break of the evening news.”

“And did you enquire as to Mr. Lang’s status at that time?”

“I did. I asked if Bertram had made it back okay.”

“And what was their answer?”

“The innkeeper told me that Bertram had come in about an hour before me and headed straight to his room.”

Another nod and another straightening of his coat’s sleeves. “How long did you stay in the common room with the innkeeper and his daughter?”

“Not long. I would say less than five minutes.”

“So, you were in your room before 9:55?”

“Yes.”

“And the noise that the innkeeper’s wife testified to hearing outside of their window just shortly after ten o’clock—did you hear it?”

“I did not hear any suspicious noises outside of my window.”

“And was your room on the same floor and adjacent to Mr. Lang’s room?”

“Yes.”

“So, would it be fair to say that if the noise that the innkeeper’s wife heard had been Mr. Lang sneaking out through the window as the prosecution has implied that you would have been more likely to hear it than the innkeeper’s wife?”

Mr. Hartmann leapt to his feet, pushing his oak chair back into the banister-style railing separating the court space from the spectator space, producing a soft bang which reverberated off of the light green plaster walls and the stamped tin ceiling. “Objection. Leading the witness.”

The judge’s ruling was crisp and distinct as nearly everything he said was. “Sustained.”

“Please disregard the last question,” he told the jury. I found that part of the up-timer’s legal system extremely odd. As if the jury was so impartial and logical that they could just forget and ignore something like that.

“Withdrawn,” Mr. Meyer stated. Looking for all the world like he mirrored my thoughts. “I have no further questions for this witness.”

“Does the prosecution wish to redirect?” Judge Richter asked Mr. Hartmann.

Standing, Mr. Hartmann answered in the clear lawyer’s voice that seemed to fill the entire room without being overly loud. “No, Your Honor.”

“We will adjourn for today and the prosecution can call their next witness tomorrow.” Judge Richter closed the day with a bang of his gavel upon the high bench centered at the front of the courtroom.

I shot Bertram a sympathetic look as he was led from the courtroom by the bailiff, but he just returned a smile and a nod. Apparently he thought I did a better job defending him than condemning him. I wish that were true.

****

I was sitting behind and a bit to the right of Bertram and Mr. Meyer when Elsa Lehmann was called to the stand.

As Elsa took the oath, I couldn’t help but think that this was going to be disastrous. Not only would it not be helpful to Bertram, but it would likely bring out into the open the precipice upon which the Thuringian Railroad Corporation had been teetering for the last year.

“Miss Lehmann, please state your position for the jury,” Mr. Hartmann said while facing the jury. With his hands clasped behind his back and his navy blue jacket, trimmed in yellow and white, hanging to the back of his knees, he looked more like an up-time general whose picture I had seen than he did a lawyer in central Thuringia-Franconia.

“I am the Chief Financial Officer for the GRS Railroad and Tramway Corporation.”

Turning back to Elsa, Hartmann asked his next question with a malevolent gleam in his eye. “How long have you been the CFO for GRS Railroad?”

“For close to nine months now.”

“And before that what was your job?”

“I was an accounting manager for GRS Railroad.”

“And what qualified you for that position?”

“I earned a certification in business with an emphasis in finance from the Grantville Tech Center.”

“And why were you promoted to CFO?”

Elsa sat up straighter and squared her shoulders. The move really showed off the quality of the smoke-grey button-down shirt with scarlet piping that she wore. “Because I was very good at my job and earned my certification in finance from The State of Thuringia-Franconia Technical College.”

I knew of Elsa. Heck, everyone in the railroading business had heard of her. It was a natural consequence of being named to one of the top positions of the largest railroad company in the USE—heck,- the entire world. But I hadn’t known that she was educated in Grantville, and gauging by the gasps around me, I didn’t think many others had, either.

Mr. Hartmann gave a small smile at the awed reaction to the prestigious college as he strode to the prosecutor’s table. “You have been called as an expert witness on the railroad industry and its financials. Do you feel that you are qualified to testify in this capacity?”

“Yes.”

“Good,” replied the prosecutor, after picking up a stack of papers bound in a red ribbon and turning back to the witness stand. “Miss Lehmann, I am handing you exhibit J. It is a contract between the Thuringian Railroad Corporation and Mr. Schumacher. Have you examined this contract?”

Elsa leaned forward and rested the contract on the narrow top rail of the dividing wall running the width of the witness box and flipped through the contract for about a minute before looking up and replying. “Yes.”

While Elsa skimmed the document, the prosecutor walked back toward his table, his long jacket swaying hypnotically behind him. He turned back toward the witness stand only when Elsa finally answered. “Good. Would you agree that this contract was entered into by Bertram Lang as the representative of the Thuringian Railroad Corporation and Mr. Reitz Schumacher as the owner of Schumacher Mining?”

“Yes,” Elsa answered without pause.

“And would you agree that Mr. Lang, as the representative of Thuringian Railroad, provided Mr. Schumacher with a sizable startup investment for his mining and refining operation in exchange for three years’ worth of bar iron at the average 1633 annual price of bar iron per ton?” Mr. Hartmann made a crisp right turn and approached the jury.

Elsa nodded. “Yes, with the provision that if the three-year production didn’t produce a minimum tonnage over the contract period that the length of the term could be extended at the 1633 average price.”

Mr. Hartmann hummed at that as he walked to his table and picked up another stack of papers before turning back to Elsa. I had a very good suspicion what was coming next and it would look terrible.

“Miss Lehmann, are you familiar with this type of contract?”

“Yes. GRS Railroad currently has five of this type of contracts for providing iron. The three USE contracts have started providing in quantity, the one in Lorraine has had delays due to political turmoil but is set to meet full production later this year, and the one exploring Kiruna in Sweden isn’t scheduled to start supplying iron in full production quantity for at least a few more years.”

Mr. Hartmann just nodded. “And is there a typical incentive for the person or persons who procure these deals for the railroads?”

Elsa sat up a bit straighter at that. I figured that she was very familiar with the incentive for pulling in these types of contracts to the perpetually iron-starved railroads.

“Yes. It is pretty much an industry standard that the individual in the company who can broker these deals will get somewhere between one-half to one percent of the iron’s value in commission.”

As Mr. Hartmann turned back toward the jury, in what was a nearly perfect about-face, I caught a glimpse of that predatory smile again. I have heard that the up-timers call lawyers sharks. I have never seen a shark, but I have seen plenty of hunters and that was the look of a man closing in on the kill.

“And, if that contract were to not be fulfilled, what would Mr. Lang stand to lose?”

Elsa turned her eyes up for a second and bit the tip of her tongue, with just a bit of pink visible in the right corner of her mouth. I figured that she was running the calculations in her head again to check it against the number she had surely worked out previously.

“Assuming an average commission, then Mr. Bertram stood to make nearly $150,000 over the three years.”

The prosecutor let out a long whistle. “That is certainly a lot of money.” He paused for a second, I assumed to build anticipation. “And if the contract were breached would Mr. Lang lose his commission?”

“Yes.”

Mr. Hartmann turned towards the jury and faced them while asking his next question. “So, wouldn’t you agree that if Mr. Lang found out about a breach of contract he might be mad enough to kill?”

Mr. Meyer shot up in front of me. “Objection. The prosecutor is asking the witness to speculate.”

“Withdrawn,” the prosecutor replied while he walked back to his table and took a seat. “I have no further questions for this witness.”

That had been bad for Bertram, but I expected that Mr. Meyer’s follow-up would be bad for the company.

The judge shifted in his high seat and adjusted his black robes while he seemed to contemplate something for a second. The second of introspection up, he addressed the defense attorney who was frantically scribbling something on the legal pad in front of him. “Mr. Meyer, do you wish to cross-examine the witness?”

Mr. Meyer quietly asked Bertram something about the scribbles and received a nod, before answering the judge. “Yes, Your Honor.”

Standing from behind the table, the defense attorney straightened the sleeves of his jacket and approached the witness stand. While a spectacular color and of definite quality the shorter coat seemed to lack a certain grandeur that Mr. Hartmann’s coat displayed. “Miss Lehmann, as an executive for GRS Railroad do you keep abreast of your competition?”

“Yes. While there are certain aspects of our competition’s business that I do not know, I am very well acquainted with the top-tier businesses in the railroad industry and several of the smaller ones,” said Elsa as she folded her hands in her lap and looked directly at Mr. Meyer.

Mr. Meyer moved to a position halfway between the lawyer’s tables and the solid wooden bench that served the court reporter, in the smaller and lower northern box; the judge, in the high central bench; and the witness stand that mirrored the reporter’s box. Stopping so that he faced Elsa, but far enough back that I am sure the judge was visible in his left periphery and the jury in the right, he nodded. “Would you consider the Thuringian Railroad Corporation to be top-tier or small?”

“Small,” Elsa said with a certainty in her voice that stabbed straight through me. After all of our effort and it was still so easy to label us as a minor player in the field.

Raising his hand to his chin the slightly pudgy defense attorney mulled this over for a bit. “I see. Why would you classify them as such?”

Elsa sat up straighter and adjusted her position in the seat. I gave an internal chuckle. For as fastidious as Elsa Lehmann might be in business and dress, she had a definite tendency to slouch.

“To my knowledge Thuringian Railroad only has a contract for a single line, the Ilmenau to Erfurt section of the Central Thuringian Line. To date they have completed all of the bed work. In partnership with the city of Badenburg they have laid iron strap tracks from their connection point to the Ring Line near Singen all of the way to Kleinhettstedt. This section along with our section from Singen to the Ring Wall were just completed recently, as the Badenburg’s council was insistent on having iron strap rails and it took them a while to procure the necessary iron. From Kleinhettstedt to Erfurt they have laid wooden track, although they are still working on several stone bridges to replace the wooden ones currently in use, and they have laid wooden track from the Singen Junction to Gräfinau. This line should be lucrative, because it will provide uninterrupted rail service out the west side of the Ring to Erfurt and will shave around one and a half to two hours off of the trip from Grantville to Erfurt. It will also serve dozens of previously unserved communities, including Badenburg and Illmenau, but it just isn’t enough to place them among the top-tier companies.”

In this statement I thought that Elsa was a little off.

The American Circle, the unofficial name for the railroad forming a circle from Grantville, to Schwarza, to Jena, to Weimar, to Erfurt, to Badenburg, and finally entering the west side of the Ring of Fire and back to Grantville, was arguably the most profitable section of railroad in existence. Not only did everything from Magdeburg south pass through the circle, Erfurt was fast becoming the railroad hub of the nation, and it was beginning to link Thuringia into one large economic and industrial zone right in the heartland. That was why we were planning to move our main office from Milbitz to Erfurt within the next year or two. Despite Milbitz being in West Virginia County, and having all of the accompanying amenities, Erfurt was where railroad was moving.

And we would own the fastest and most direct route from Erfurt, the railroad hub of the nation, to West Virginia County, the research center of the nation and arguably the industrial center as well. And in addition to that, soon the railroad would reach Fürth, and that would allow access to all of the trade routes connecting to nearby Nuremberg. Then not long after that the railroad would move past Fürth and connect Regensburg, along with its access to the Danube River, into the railroad network. And we would own a section of the best route heading from the Danube to Erfurt, the hub of the nation.

Mr. Meyer’s response drew my out of my contemplation and back to the trial.

“I see,” Mr. Meyer said with a glance at Elsa. “So, who would you consider top tier businesses in the railroad industry?”

“GRS Railroad, my company, is the largest.”

Looking directly at the blonde on the stand, Mr. Meyer asked, “And what makes you the largest?”

“We currently own and operate the entirety of the Capitol Line from Bamberg to Wittenberge, the Quedlinburg Branch Line, the Ring Line, the section of the Central Thuringian Line from Erfurt to Sondershausen, the Kamsdorf Branch Line, the Altenburg Line, and we have contracts for several more lines. This means that we own and operate the most miles and some of the most profitable rail in existence,” Elsa said.

During Elsa’s detailing of American Railroad’s expansive empire Mr. Meyer had made a slow approach toward the witness stand. “That is impressive, but is GRS the only business that you consider a top-tier railroad company?”

“No,” Elsa said. “I would also include Grantville Central Railroad because they own and operate the East Hanover Line from Hanover to Magdeburg, and have started on the North Hanover Line which by the time the section between Hannover and Wietze is completed will connect the oil fields in Wietze to the rail network. And when the line is completed will connect Hamburg to the railroad.”

I knew all of this, but I had never heard it all stated at once like this. It was astounding just how much railroad line had been built since the Ring of Fire.

I focused back on Elsa as she continued. “But most importantly they are one of two finalists, along with us, for the contract for the proposed Central Line which when completed will run from Cologne all of the way east to . . . well, apparently Dresden, now that we have won in Saxony.”

I didn’t know about that. No wonder Schumacher, the bastard, had been so eager to breach our contract and get in bed with Grantville Central. The Central Line would be hugely profitable when it was finished, but they were at least another year out before they finalized the decision on the route.

“Interesting,” said the defense attorney. “Thank you, Miss Lehmann.”

Elsa just nodded to the attorney.

“Miss Lehmann, what would you estimate the annual earnings for someone in Mr. Lang’s position would be in a smaller railroad company like TRC?”

As was her usual habit, Elsa was silent for a stretch before answering. “On average, I would say that someone in Mr. Lang’s position at a company their size would be between fifty and sixty thousand dollars.”

That certainly got a reaction from the room. It also got a reaction from me, because Bertram had been pulling down $52,000 a year. This woman was scary with how much she seemed to know.

Mr. Meyer turned towards the jury and faced them while asking his next question. “So, wouldn’t you agree that it would be foolish for Mr. Lang to kill someone over what was essentially only three years’ wages?”

The prosecuting attorney shook his head at the nearly identical presentation to his earlier one and stood slowly. “Objection. Asking for speculation.”

“Withdrawn,” the defense attorney replied with a smirk aimed at Mr. Hartmann and a glint in his deep-set brown eyes. “I have no further questions for this witness.”

That had been good for Bertram and not nearly as bad for the company as I had feared. This might just work out after all.

“Mr. Hartmann, do you wish to redirect?” asked Judge Richter.

The prosecutor stood and flared out the tails of his jacket, the white liner flashing for a moment. “Yes, Your Honor.” Then he walked towards the witness stand, the echo of his glossy riding boots on the hardwood floor the only sound, and assumed the same ramrod straight stance with his hands clasped behind his back that he assumed during most of his questioning.

“Miss Lehmann, how many railroad companies would you estimate have gone out of business?”

Elsa’s eyes shot open at that. I guess she hadn’t expected that question, but it was the direction that I had been dreading.

“I don’t really know.”

“Okay. Do you know how many GRS Railroad has bought out or purchased assets from?”

Despite my fears, I had to chuckle at the Amideutsch word making its way even into the formal speech of the courtroom, but I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. The new language was quickly becoming the lingua franca for anyone doing business in this part of the USE and was gaining in popularity because of the language lesson programs and other broad use on the radio.

“I know of at least three, but there might be more.”

Mr. Hartmann nodded. “And what happened to the employees of those companies?”

“Some were hired by other companies. For instance, when the Badenburg Railroad Corporation went bankrupt because they couldn’t work out a deal with the Jena-Eisenach Railroad Corporation to tie in the line from Dornheim to Ingersleben, we bought their assets. We hired a good portion of their workers and the line operators. We didn’t hire any of the management, but a small portion of their management went to Grantville Central Railroad when it was founded. Some went to work for other railroad companies. And a good number found other jobs in other industries, I suppose.”

With a crisp turn, Mr. Hartmann walked to the middle of the floor before efficiently turning back to face the judge and witness. “In your estimation just how critical was the iron in the contract with Mr. Schumacher for the Thuringian Railroad Corporation?”

“Very critical,” answered Elsa. “Railroad companies generate revenue by moving goods from one place to another quickly and efficiently. Thuringian Railroad was doing things right. Unlike many of the earlier railroad companies run by down-timers, Thuringian Railroad avoided the most dangerous traps. They didn’t build elaborate bridges meant to last for centuries. They erected quickly-built wooden bridges and have been building permanent stone bridges as time permits. Any cuts or tunnels necessary are being bypassed during construction with the use of helper engines produced by USE Tramways. They haven’t left any gaps in their line.”

The prosecutor pounced on that. “Gaps are bad?”

“Gaps will kill a railroad.” Elsa straightened her posture and quickly tugged the bottom of her blouse to remove any wrinkles. “Every gap in the line cost both efficiency and time. It means that goods and passengers have to be unloaded onto a secondary transport, then moved by that transport to the other side of the gap, and then everything and everyone has to be loaded again. Gaps are filled as soon as humanly possible if a railroad wants to stay in business.”

For the first time Elsa became animated in her presentation. As a CFO I’m sure she knew better than most exactly how much a gap cost a railroad. It was why, despite our line going over some difficult terrain and requiring numerous bridges and deep cuts, we kept the line continuous. Sure, it meant bypasses and helper engines, but nobody and nothing ever had to be touched from one side of our line to the other. It was a lesson that we learned well from our bed prep crew foreman, Andreas Seebisch.

Andreas had worked for the Unified Adel Railroad Company, a company formed by a group of nobles with interest north of Frankfurt on the Main. They had won the contract for the construction of the West Main Line, a very lucrative line meant to connect the Ernestine Line at Hörschel to Frankfurt. It had been a disaster from the very beginning. It took them over two years to build a fabulous stone bridge across the Werra River. A year into the construction of the bridge at Hörschel they started another equally fabulous stone bridge over the Haune River. Andreas, somehow, managed to build a fine railroad bed between the two and beyond, but the nobles spent so much time squabbling amongst each other about the route, the type of rail, the type of stone, even who was responsible for supplying how many horses that by the time the whole thing went bankrupt last winter, they had only managed to lay about twenty-five miles of actual track with half a dozen breaks in the line. The whole thing was such a mess that the government was still trying to figure it all out so they could sell off the assets and award the contract to another company.

Ironically, the only thing that they could agree on was what led to their failure. My mind supplied the next line in Andreas’ patronizing impersonation of one of the nobles. We are not going to waste time and money building temporary wooden bridges or bypasses. Such short-lived and shoddy structures are only fit for Americans and peasants, certainly not noble Germans.

Mr. Hartmann’s mention of our company pulled me back from my wool gathering. “. . . and Thuringian Railroad would have found it critical to have this iron for removing any gaps?”

Elsa seemed to calm herself back to the measured person she had been all through her time on the stand. “No. Just like every other competently run railroad company, they ran wooden rails as a stopgap until they could get the iron.”

“So, why was the iron so critical?” asked the prosecutor.

Elsa took a breath. I believe she was starting to get impatient. “Iron rail and iron wheels have a lower resistance, which means that more can be carried per trip. Iron also lasts much longer than wood, even strap iron over wood, which is much of the line installed to date. Then there is the need for rolling stock, all of which requires at least some iron. Also, wooden bridges can be built better and faster with iron brackets and bolts. Even the wooden rails require some iron for spikes. Basically, even a railroad that is run properly cannot compete for very long without iron.”

The hunter’s look was back. “I see. So, if the contract with Mr. Schumacher were breached and Thuringian Railroad didn’t get the iron they were promised then it was very likely that the company could have gone out of business?”

“Yes.” Elsa nodded.

“And if that had happened, how likely would Mr. Lang have been to get a job with GRS Railroad?”

Elsa frowned and paused for a bit longer than normal. “Not likely.”

The prosecutor spun sharply away from the witness stand and toward the jury box. “And we don’t even need you to speculate on exactly what that would have done to his salary. I have no further questions for this witness.”

That had been terrible for Bertram and the company.

Judge Richter took a second to scan the courtroom. “Mr. Meyer, do you wish to recross?”

The defense attorney barely even stood before he answered, “No, Your Honor.”

I shook my head at just how bad things were looking as the judge dismissed Elsa from the stand and the next witness was called.

****

Adam Fuchs took the stand with a flourish and stated his oath.

To be honest, I despised the smarmy bastard. He was one of those individuals who seemed to always come out ahead even when everything around him was falling apart.

The third son of a major merchant out of Nördlingen he worked his way into West German Railroad Incorporated as an upper-level executive. He was involved in some way in the bungling of the railroad’s contract for the South Hannover Line from Hanover to Erfurt, but nobody knew exactly how. In the end the president, Friedrich Ulrich of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, was blamed, which made sense considering his penchant for strong-arming landowners into signing over their property. Rumor had it that the company was under investigation for eminent domain abuse and falsifying claims. Regardless of exactly whose fault it was, it caused the company to declare bankruptcy without laying a single mile of track.

And yet, despite his involvement in that fiasco . . .

“Mr. Fuchs, please state for the jury your position,” the prosecutor requested while slowly approaching the witness stand with an almost military cadence.

“I am the purchasing manager for Grantville Central Railroad.”

I couldn’t help but compare Fuchs’ clothing to that of Mr. Hartmann, Mr. Meyer, and even Elsa, and Fuchs was found wanting. While his clothes had the requisite colors to show his wealth and status, the purple of his jacket and pants seemed to be faded waves of plum and mulberry while his shirt was a splotchy canary in an inconsistent field of bumblebee. My guess was that his tailor was using cloth dyed by that start-up company in Magdeburg instead of the high-quality dyes coming from Lothlorien Farbenwerke in Grantville. Cheap bastard.

“And how long have you been in this position?” Mr. Hartmann asked before turning and marching back to his table. The angle of the sunlight streaming through the window and reflecting off of the highly polished oak made it almost unbearable for me to look there.

“For a little less than a year.”

With a brief nod Mr. Hartmann picked up a stack of papers, walked back to the witness stand and handed Fuchs the stack. “Mr. Fuchs, I am handing you exhibit K. This is a contract between the Grantville Central Railroad and Mr. Schumacher of Schumacher Mining. Are you familiar with this contract?”

Fuchs gave a brief smirk before schooling his features and replying, “Yes.” It made me want to punch the arrogant prick right between his moldy-colored green eyes.

“And how are you familiar with the contract?”

“I negotiated it personally,” the pompous twit stated with thinly-veiled pride.

The prosecutor stopped in his slow cadence towards the jury box. “I see. And does this contract state that Mr. Schumacher and yourself, as the representative for the Grantville Central Railroad, reached an agreement for the GCR to acquire Mr. Schumacher’s supply of iron for the 1636 railroad construction season?”

“Yes.”

“Were you aware that Mr. Schumacher had entered into a previous agreement for the sale of the iron?” Mr. Hartmann asked.

The twitch of Fuchs’ lip was back for a second. I realized that the man would be a terrible poker player and wondered how he had made it as far in business as he had.

“Yes, I was aware. However, Mr. Schumacher assured me that the previous contract could be terminated for a reasonable fee, which we agreed to pay.”

The prosecutor stepped right in front of the witness stand and stared at the purchasing manager. “And did Mr. Schumacher state who the previous contract was with?”

“Yes, he stated that it was a contract with the Thuringian Railroad Corporation,” the younger man said. He drew back from the prosecutor’s intense gaze, making the back spindles of the chair creek under pressure. The byplay was a mystery to me until I realized that if I could see Fuchs’ cockiness so could the jury. Again, my assessment of Mr. Hartmann’s skill as an attorney ratcheted up, and my hopes for Bertram’s freedom fell.

The prosecutor turned precisely to his right and facing the dozen jurors in the stand took a few steps before turning back to the witness stand. “So, Mr. Schumacher stated that for a fee he would terminate the previous contract, the contract with Mr. Lang, and enter into a contract with you?”

Fuchs nodded his head. “Yes.” Even from my seat in the gallery I could see the sweat stain starting to form on Fuchs’ collar. It might have just been my imagination, or perhaps the crowd of people around me, but I could have sworn that for a second I could smell his nervous odor.

Mr. Hartmann stood perfectly tall and straight and zeroed in on the witness. “And why would you pay an additional fee for the iron? Why not just go to another mine?”

“First, we get a tax break for any money that we spend in the State of Thuringia-Franconia. It was a deal that was made between Mühlhausen, Nordhausen, and the state when they joined. Because of this we are always looking for suppliers inside of Thuringia-Franconia. Second, because there aren’t any mines within two hundred fifty miles that don’t already have a contract,” Fuchs said without a hint of his former cockiness. “And for what Schumacher was asking per ton, the price, even with the fee, was cheaper than we could get iron for from any of the major trade centers.”

“I see,” said the prosecutor. He resumed his usual circuit of the court. “So, the likelihood that Mr. Schumacher was going to honor your contract and try to terminate the one with Thuringian Railroad Corporation was much higher than the likelihood that he was scamming you?”

Mr. Meyer shot up in front of me so fast that his bulbous stomach took a moment to settle. “Objection. The prosecutor is asking the witness to speculate.”

“Withdrawn,” Mr. Hartmann stated almost before the objection was finished.

Turning to face the judge, the prosecutor said, “I have no further questions for this witness.”

“Does the defense wish to cross-examine this witness?” Judge Richter asked.

Still standing, Mr. Meyer looked unfazed by the testimony which seemed to seal motive. “No, Your Honor.”

I shook my head at just how bad things were looking as the judge dismissed Fuchs from the stand and took the prosecutor’s statement that he was resting. Of course he was resting. What more was there to say?

“We will adjourn for today and the defense can call its first witness tomorrow,” Judge Richter said. He banged his gavel.

I didn’t even look at Bertram as the bailiff lead him from the courtroom, but I did look down the aisle at Enede, Bertram’s wife, as she wiped away silent tears. I guess everyone saw how bad that had been.

****

I sat down beside Enede the next day. I had hoped that it would offer some support and, as tightly as she grasped my hand when Bertram was being escorted from the witness stand, I believed it was helping.

Bertram had, of course, testified that he had not shot Mr. Schumacher and that while he had bought an H&K .45 the day before because mine had come in handy during an unfortunate encounter with a mugger in Erfurt the week before while we were visiting USE Tramway’s corporate offices about rolling stock. The contention hadn’t appeared to garner much sympathy from the jury.

Essentially, it was a waste of time. Nobody expected a guilty man to admit to his crimes, at least without torture, and the Americans had put a stop to that practice.

The next witness, though, might be helpful.

Mr. Meyer skimmed the legal pad in front of him as Professor Johann Braun entered the witness stand and took the oath.

“Mr. Braun, you have been called as an expert in criminal forensics. Can you please outline why you are qualified to testify in this manner?”

Mr. Braun adjusted his glasses and cleared his throat. “Certainly. I earned a level one certificate in criminal forensics from the Grantville Tech Center and I have been teaching some courses in criminal forensics at the State of Thuringia-Franconia Technical College while simultaneously working as a CSI and helping develop and complete the level two certification in criminal forensics. I have a couple of years’ experience working as a crime scene investigator for the State of Thuringia-Franconia’s Mounted Constabulary Forensics Lab.”

Mr. Meyer leaned casually on the short wall separating the jury stand from the rest of the courtroom. It was the same style of inset golden oak panel as the judge’s bench and witness stand. “Impressive.”

“And for those not quite familiar with the new academic certifications, a level two is analogous to the professional forensic education one would receive in a bachelor’s degree program from an up-time university?” Mr. Meyer asked.

“With a few caveats, that is essentially correct.”

“So, would someone with say a level three certification be more qualified?”

The professor didn’t seem offended at all. “Certainly. If such a person existed. There are a few people more qualified in criminal forensics than me, but I can assure you that I am in the top five.”

The defense attorney turned to the prosecuting attorney and asked, “Is there any objection to this witness?”

“No.” Mr. Hartmann simply shook his head.

With a nod, Mr. Meyer turned back to the witness stand. “Mr. Braun, did you perform a test to check for gunshot residue on Mr. Lang’s gun?”

“Yes,” answered Mr. Braun. I had the feeling that this man’s statements were often short and to the point. I figured it was a habit he picked up from the up-timers. They seemed to abhor wasting time more than any people I had ever met. And I figured that he spent a lot of time around up-timers considering that he wore a rather plain raven-black suit with a puritanically white shirt underneath, a typical up-time style of formal dress—although the pureness of the white and the richness of the black revealed the quality of the cloth and dye. Not one to skimp on professionalism, this one.

“What was the results of those tests?” the defense attorney asked before turning and smiling at the jury.

Mr. Braun cleared his throat. “The test came back negative within an acceptable margin of error.”

“I see. And if a gun is fired, will it leave gunshot residue?”

Again, Mr. Braun was succinct in his affirmative answer. “Yes.” The two expert witnesses were proving to be exact opposites in their breadth of answers.

Mr. Meyer continued to face away from the witness and play to the jury. “Therefore, in your expert opinion were the guns bought by Mr. Lang never fired, as Mr. Lang testified?”

“In my expert opinion, the evidence points to the guns having not been fired since they were purchased.”

The lengthy answer caught my attention.

Now the defense attorney finally turned from the jurors. “Did you also perform an analysis of the bullet recovered from the crime scene?”

“Yes,” the forensic scientist replied with a nod.

Mr. Meyer sauntered back to the defense table and turned to face both the witness stand and the jury. “And what were the results of this analysis?”

“There is only a 33% chance that the bullet which killed the victim was fired from Mr. Lang’s gun.”

Mr. Meyer, for once, stood rigid, as if surprised. “And these were tests that the up-timers used all of the time to determine innocence or guilt?”

“Yes.”

I was beginning to think that Mr. Meyers was engaging in a bit of dramatic acting for the jury, but with a glance at the jury it seemed to be having some effect.

“And these up-time test are revealing that the likelihood of the guns, which Mr. Lang had just purchased, being used for this crime were very low?”

“Yes.” Again the professor answered in his usual succinct manner.

The defense attorney nodded and leaned back against the defense table, as if he were at a bar ogling the serving girls with his buddies after a long day of work. After a second of contemplation he faced the judge and said, “I have no further questions for this witness.”

This seemed to catch Bertram by surprise since he immediately started whispering to the defense attorney as soon as he sat down. Mr. Meyer simply shook his head firmly and whispered back. I didn’t know what it was about, but I had to trust the defense attorney to do his job.

Professor Braun’s testimony had been as helpful to Bertram as I had hoped it would. After all, I knew that Bertram hadn’t done it. So, of course, the evidence would set him free, and I gave Enede’s hand a pat of reassurance.

The judge asked, “Mr. Hartmann, do you wish to cross-examine the witness?”

“Yes, Your Honor.” The prosecutor scanned a sheet of paper and stood from behind his table.

Approaching the witness stand in his now familiar precise gate, the prosecutor asked, “Professor Braun, these tests that you testify to were used regularly in court cases up-time?”

Professor Braun gave a short nod. “Yes.”

“The technologies that the up-timers had and brought back are amazing,” the prosecutor said almost more to the jury than to the witness. “And when you performed these tests, did you use up-time equipment?”

“No,” the professor said after a brief tensing.

The prosecutor gave that predator small smile again. “Why not?”

“None of the up-time equipment used to perform these tests were in Grantville during the Ring of Fire.”

“I see.” Mr. Hartmann walked back towards his table and turned to face the witness stand. “So, the equipment that you used was simple enough to build that it could be made in this century with as much accuracy as they could make it up-time?”

Professor Braun’s reply in the negative was not only short, but almost clipped.

“That’s too bad. So, when you were performing these tests on this down-time made equipment did your up-time supervisor provide insights into the results?”

Mr. Hartmann was once again proving that he was not a man to be trifled with, at least in a court of law. He was eroding the belief that this up-time forensic technology was practically magic by showing that none of these tests had anything to do with up-timers themselves or their equipment.

Here, in Suhl, it was a rather effective tactic. Since it was on the southern slopes of the Thüringen Wald relatively few up-timers had visited Suhl, and up-time knowledge had been hit and miss outside of the arms and mining industry. A few players had made it huge from up-timer knowledge and a little up-timer input, but others had tried to use the knowledge and failed—sometimes spectacularly. In Suhl, unlike up north, the up-timers and their technology were revered, but their knowledge alone was more practically viewed.

“I do not have an up-timer supervisor.”

Taking a few steps and turning so that he seemed to be facing both the witness stand and the jury, the prosecutor continued to tear apart the professor’s testimony, or at least the jury’s faith in it. “So, what you are saying is that these forensic tests were not performed on up-time equipment, not performed on down-time equipment as good as up-time equipment, and that it was not done with any up-time supervision?”

The professor’s jaw tightened. I doubted that he had ever gotten this much disrespect for his work before.

“Yes, but . . .”

Mr. Hartmann wasn’t going to let him get anything further out. “Thank you. I have nothing further for this witness.”

Judge Richter just shook his head slightly as the professor spluttered a bit at the interruption and dismissal. “Mr. Meyer, would you like to redirect?”

The defense attorney stood and approached the witness stand as he replied, “Yes, Your Honor.”

“Professor Braun, did an up-timer help develop the gunshot residue test?”

Professor Braun settled a bit at the question. “Yes.”

“Did an up-timer teach you how to perform the test?”

A nod and affirmative answer.

“While this test isn’t as accurate as an up-time test, did you account for the lower accuracy in your previous answers?”

“Yes.”

“In your professional opinion, if this test had been performed with an up-time supervisor would the results have been any different?”

“No.”

“So, in your professional opinion, and backed up by your certification from the prestigious State of Thuringia-Franconia Technical College, is the probability that Mr. Lang’s gun was used to kill Mr. Schumacher very low?”

“Yes.”

“Thank you,” Mr. Meyer said with a slow nod. “I am done with this witness.”

The judge gave a brief smile at the straight forward and no-nonsense exchange. “Mr. Hartmann, do you wish to recross?”

The prosecutor stood and answered negatively before retaking his seat.

****

It was late in the day and I led Enede back to our seats after the brief recess. The defense had put two more witnesses on the stand, but neither did much to convince me. But I was still unsure of the whole reasonable doubt aspect of the new law. Was anyone supposed to be swayed because Mr. Schumacher had bad business dealings with other people as well as us? I hoped so. Now the lawyers were preparing for their closing arguments.

The courtroom quieted as the bailiff, standing aside a door to the north of the judge’s bench, announced the judge.

Enede took my left hand in her right as the judge took his place and called the court to order. I hoped that I was offering her some comfort. The prospect of Bertram being found guilty had to be terrifying her.

I looked up as Mr. Hartmann approached the jury.

“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, over the last few days we have heard testimony from numerous individuals that Mr. Lang had motive, means, and opportunity to murder Mr. Reitz Schumacher in cold blood. Mr. Lang’s own partner testified that Mr. Lang’s whereabouts were unknown at the time of the murder.”

I tensed at that. The bastard was distorting my statements to his own benefit. But then I realized that in a way he had been doing that all along. He never mentioned that Schumacher’s time of death was determined by using the same up-time forensics that he had just derided when it proved that Bertram’s gun hadn’t been used.

I shifted my focus back to the oration when I heard Enede gasp and felt her pull my arm over the arms of the spectator chairs and closer to her lap, but didn’t catch exactly what was said.

“The defense would have you believe that someone else coincidentally murdered Mr. Schumacher with the exact same gun that Mr. Lang had recently purchased and had in his possession. That is preposterous. Yes, Mr. Schumacher was an aggressive, some might say unscrupulous, businessman, but all of the other potential murderers that the defense has presented are all off in their timing.”

Mr. Hartmann paused for a second and walked in his normal direct and controlled manner a few feet down the jury stand before turning quickly back. “I will remind the jury that their feelings for Mr. Schumacher are not to be taken into account. Mr. Schumacher is not on trial here. The jury has a duty to find Mr. Lang guilty of first-degree murder, because the prosecution has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Lang was the only person with the weapon used to murder the victim, with unaccounted for time during the murder, and with the recent revelation of financial ruin due to Mr. Schumacher’s breach of contract a reason to seek revenge.”

“Thank you,” said the prosecutor. He turned and purposely strode back to his chair behind the prosecutorial table.

Mr. Meyer spoke quietly with Bertram before standing and leisurely approaching the jury. “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, my esteemed colleague wants you to ignore the testimony that we, the defense, has presented throughout this trial that sheds doubt on Mr. Bertram Lang’s guilt.”

The defense attorney turned and motioned to Bertram as he sat at the defense table. “Was Mr. Lang upset about the breach of contract? Of course. But whom among you can honestly say that they wouldn’t also be upset? And how many of you would have murdered someone because of that upset?”

Now, Mr. Meyer motioned towards me. “And while Mr. Lang might have been upset, what possible reason would he have to jeopardize his future with his wife and children?”

Or, I realized, motioned to Enede.

“The loss of the contract was not as devastating to Mr. Lang as the prosecution would have you believe. And testimony by Mr. Lang himself enumerated why.”

But I knew that Bertram had been vastly downplaying the effects losing that iron would have on the business.

“The prosecution would point to his partner and longtime friend, Mr. Konrad Wagner, and tell you that he stated that he didn’t know where Mr. Lang was during the time of the murder, but we have heard testimony that Mr. Lang entered his room at the inn before the murder, and nobody saw or heard him leave until the next morning, not even his partner who was staying in the room next door.” Mr. Meyer moved his hand a little to motion to me.

Mr. Meyer then turned to face the jury directly.

“And do not be fooled by Mr. Hartmann’s attempts to discredit the impressive work done by Professor Braun in proving through scientific forensic methods that Mr. Lang’s gun was, with almost certainty, not the gun that killed Mr. Schumacher. Mr. Hartmann reminded you of your duty. I agree with him. You have a duty here, but your duty is to find Mr. Bertram Lang not guilty because the prosecution has not proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Lang murdered Mr. Schumacher. All that they have presented is speculation and conjecture.”

Opening his arms wide, Mr. Meyer closed with a thank you to the jury and turned back to Bertram and the defense’s table.

The judge sat impassively as the defense attorney sat down. “Mr. Hartmann, do you wish for a rebuttal?”

Standing briefly, Mr. Hartmann declined. I was a bit surprised, because I was feeling pretty good about Bertram’s chances. Yes, Bertram looked very guilty, but the evidence was mostly circumstantial. Definitely enough to cast a reasonable doubt. It had to be, because I knew that Bertram hadn’t killed Schumacher.

I gave Enede a smile to instill confidence as the judge instructed the jury and they were escorted from the room out a door south of the judge’s bench and away from the spectators.

****

It was the next day when we received word that the jury had reached a decision. Now I was entering the courtroom for hopefully the last time.

I approached a seat directly behind the defense’s table and greeted Bertram and Enede as they broke their embrace.

Bertram took my hand in a firm grip as Enede stepped back and sat down. “Konrad, we have been friends for a long time.”

I gripped his hand firmly and nodded, not trusting my voice.

“If things go badly, will you take care of Enede and the kids for me?” he asked with desperation dancing in his eyes.

I realized at that moment that Bertram was convinced that he was going to lose. That he would be hanged for the murder of that bastard Schumacher.

“Of course, my good friend. But, it won’t be needed. We both know that you didn’t do it.”

Bertram gave me a grateful smile, but said nothing.

We held that grip for a few moments before the bailiff announced the judge. I gave his hand a firm shake and went to my seat beside my friend’s wife. Hopefully, this nightmare would be over soon.

I listened in a haze as the judge called the court to order and the jury entered.

I snapped to attention when the chairman of the jury, a rotund man in his fifties wearing a simple merchant’s fare of faded blues and browns, started to read the verdict.

“We, the jury, find the defendant, Bertram Lang, guilty of first-degree murder.”

Enede’s grip on my hand was nearly bone-crushing as her cries rose above the sound of those around us. The banging of the gavel snapped my focus back, and I put my arm around the grieving Enede. The arm of the chair was between us and duginto my ribs, but at the moment, I didn’t care.

I looked up and caught Bertram’s eyes. “I promise, Bertram, I promise that I will take care of your family.”

The look of gratitude that he shot me was heartrending. I almost stood at that moment and shouted that the verdict was ridiculous because Bertram hadn’t murdered that traitorous bastard, I had. I was the one that grabbed my gun that evening and snuck out the window. I was the one that hunted the snake down and shot him. His greed was killing our company, and I was livid that he would destroy all that we had struggled for.

But I didn’t. For the same reasons that I had never said it before. I was a coward.

What I would do was atone for it. I would take care of Enede and Bertram’s three children. But to do that I had to get back to work. I had to save Thuringian Railroad. And I would do it.

I would talk to Gunter, the head of the board, and convince him that it was time for a new CEO. I had some leverage on him, and now seemed a good time to use it.

Then I would take over the negotiations for the Thuringer Brecken Line from Erfurt to Sangerhausen. Obtaining that contract would link the important markets of Sömmerda, Sachsenburg, and Sangerhausen into the rail network and Erfurt. All of which would be highly profitable for bringing food from the Golden Corridor into West Virginia County and goods from West Virginia County to their markets.

Enede’s tears had soaked through my shirt now, and the cool feeling strengthened my resolve. I would also talk to Elsa about opening negotiations with GRS concerning a joint proposal for the Central Line. Together, I am sure we can beat out Grantville Central’s bid. If GRS won the bid they would need more experienced work crews, and we needed the money. It was a win for both of our companies.

I would also talk to her about buying into the Arctic Circle Company to get some of the iron that would be coming out of Northern Sweden in the future. If the up-timer books were correct there was enough there to go around.

Then there was West Virginia County Transit Authority’s request last year to help them survey and build a tram route in the hilly southern lobe of the county. Our current fool of a CEO had turned them down. He was too concerned with ownership.

I would do all of this for Enede and the kids, and after Bertram was hanged I would ask Enede to marry me. It was the least that I could do for Bertram after all that he had done for me.

****