Grantville Police Department Offices
A Monday morning, early winter 1634
"We've had another complaint about Bigfoot, Chief. This time over by the fairgrounds where the locals store their flocks before they can be sold and then processed at the slaughterhouse." Officer Ralph Onofrio looked up from his cup of coffee with a smile. "A farmer is saying that it switched his flock with another farmer's this time. He wants a guarantee that he won't suffer a loss when they finally go to sale; he wants what he was bid at auction."
"Now that's a new twist." Chief Preston Richards sat down in his seat, not before checking his inflatable ring pillow for pudding or another surprise. He'd learned his lesson last April Fools Day. Always check your six. "That real coffee?"
Ralph nodded and pulled his cup in protectively. The office budget had been so tight this quarter that they had to bring in their own coffee if they wanted some on duty.
"Well?" Preston raised an eyebrow.
"Hey! This is my own stash!"
"That you brewed with office equipment, Ralph. Police equipment. Do I have to remind you who's boss?" Preston tapped the shiny badge on his jacket for emphasis.
Crossed eyes and a stuck-out tongue that would have done a three-year-old proud showed Officer Onofrio's opinion on where this conversation was going.
"Oh, that's real pretty. Didn't your mother ever tell you that your face might get stuck like that? Half a cup? Please?"
"That's better, Chief. Until the next pack train gets in with another load of coffee beans, this is it."
"I'll authorize an armed escort to guide the merchants in this time. Think they'd recall me if I abused our position to guarantee we got first crack at a bulk purchase? I know the merchants will appreciate the escort. I can't believe we missed the news of the last caravan's arrival. I barely got enough to last a month myself."
"Don't see why they would, Chief. We could put it under 'essential police material needs.' Just like doughnuts. And maybe even hot dogs, too."
The grin was back, but Preston ignored the jibe. "I'm not getting fat, and I resent any such implications. Mel's got me eating better these days, anyways. No more sausages or hot dogs for me and definitely no doughnuts."
With a cup of precious coffee in his hands, Preston took a look at the stack of reports that until recently had been filed under "H for Huh?," that being real close to the File 13 cabinet. A piece of peanut brittle disappeared as he flipped through the reports. Melanie never said he couldn't have peanut brittle and it went well with the coffee.
"There seems to be more and more Bigfoot sightings during the winter." He counted the reports and set them aside. "Where did these farmers learn about Bigfoot?"
"Dunno, Boss. But I put it off to cabin fever. That and the number of babies born every fall seems to indicate that there's not much else to do with the snows falling. That and counting sheep," Ralph offered as a cause for the increased number of sightings.
"Any actual sightings? Or just footprints as usual?"
"Footprints. I took castings again, and I've asked the beat cops to swing an extra patrol where the farmers can see them. Mostly to keep the farmers and locals happy. I can't believe people still believe in Bigfoot. I've told them and told them it's just kids fooling around with fake feet. Superstitious fools."
"Interesting. I'll have a look into it, maybe I can figure out who's behind this. And we don't call our charges fools, Ralph. At least not to their faces or in the reports. " Preston took another sip of coffee and decided he could feel his toes again. Time to get new boots and new socks. Might even spring for some of the new Brillo Wool Socks, the ones without the little sheep on them of course. Not that anyone would be able to see them, but just in case.
"Could just be that we brought a real Bigfoot back with us after all."
"Weren't that common in West Virginia that I was aware of. " Preston deadpanned.
"Not like the Pacific Northwest."
"Nope. Not like the Northwest."
Unnoticed, the duty dispatcher slipped back into the cubicle that served as his office and made a very quiet phone call. His non-stop snickering also went unheard.
A Tuesday Night, Several Weeks Later
"I gotta make water, don't move." Signore Ascanio Lante slid off his horse right into a slush-filled hole. He cursed when the ice cold water seeped through the cheap boots. He wasn't dressed for slogging through the snow; his hunting and travel clothes along with his dogs had been stolen two weeks before his arrival here in Grantville. "Sons of pox ridden whores!" His cursing wasn't directed at anyone in particular and at everyone at the same time, but mostly at the thieves that had joined his caravan and then disappeared with his personal luggage.
His unfocused eyes glanced about the street and then back at the group of hangers-on that had joined his group when he'd started buying drinks. He stumbled towards the alley behind what he assumed was a corner smithy from the hammer and anvil on the sign. The words were too blurry for him to read properly.
"No hunting permits! Hah! I'll show them!" Ascanio waved his newly-purchased, double-barrel pistol about and then shoved it back into his jacket. "I, Ascanio Lante, will find the beast and kill it! Its head will decorate my mantle!" His rented horse tugged impatiently on the reins, reminding him why he'd dismounted and moved into the alley in the first place.
At least his horse still served its master, not like those cretins back in Rome. He'd managed to pull out with most of his belongings and all of his personal fortune. Most importantly, he'd gotten out with all of his shipping contracts and ship ownership documents, and the money had been converted into letters of credit. Those had been secured in his very thick money belt and never left his ample waist.
His brother's secret departure from Rome to attend to some ecclesiastical business with unnamed Spanish parties to the south hadn't remained secret for long. There were simply too many spies in Rome for that. Without Cardinal Marcello Lante's protection, old business rivals had decided that it was an opportune time for revenge.
Ascanio had then decided it was a good time as any for a grand tour of Europe and to extend his business contacts to the north, war or not. That was something he believed only he could attend to properly. It was that attention to business that had made him a rich man. Well, that and his brother's influence.
It would have been a perfect opportunity to take in some hunting along the way, although the hunting had been disappointing so far. One undersized boar, two wolves and that was it. Not even a bear to shoot at. Then he'd heard the fantastic stories coming out of Grantville and had directed his tour here.
A beast of enough cunning and skill to remain unseen near a populated area? That was worthy of his time and effort! The article and photograph of this beast were safely tucked away with his letters of credit.