Magdeburg March 1635
Lieutenant Byron Chieske dropped into the visitor's chair in Captain Bill Reilly's office with a grunt. Reilly looked up from his paperwork with his eyebrows raised in a mild question. "The day that bad?"
"No, just long. We had to bring Annie Grimmigwald in on assault charges."
"Old Annie? How come?" Bill was surprised. Annie was normally a quiet woman, content to turn enough tricks to get her evening gin at some dive of a tavern before she stumbled out into the night to find a nook to sleep in.
The two officers had been working with the Magdeburg city watch for over two months now. The nature of that work had made many of the city's streetwalkers known to them. The city council ignored them as long as the women were quiet and kept to certain parts of town. Bill and Byron didn't pay any more attention to them than they had to. There were usually more serious issues to deal with.
"She kicked the slats out of another prostitute. She kept screaming that the other woman had stolen her man."
"Who's got magistrate's duty tomorrow?"
"Otto Gericke, I think."
"Good." Bill was relieved. "Maybe he won't be too hard on her."
"Actually, I'm going to try and get the charges dropped. The other prostitute had a knife, so it might have been a self defense situation."
"Mm, yeah, I could buy that. Annie's usually not mean. Do what you can." Bill saw Byron nod. "Where's your partner?"
"Left him in our office filling out the report. I'll sure be glad when someone develops reliable carbon paper. This having to fill out triplicate reports by hand is a real pain. I keep hearing about typewriters in German, but haven't seen one yet." Bill shook his head at Byron's sidelong glance. They were available, but the city council kept ignoring requests to acquire one for their budding police department. "Speaking of Gotthilf, he reminded me again to see if you've gotten an answer yet from Grantville about the possibility of stolen silverware."
Bill started rummaging through the papers on his desk. "Um, maybe. I thought I did." The rummaging ended with a piece of paper pulled in triumph from the middle of a stack. "Yeah, here it is." He passed it to Byron.
"Okay . . . looks like someone actually dug back into the records for this. Several reports of vacant houses being broken into a week or so after the Ring fell . . . kitchens ransacked . . . pans and glassware left behind, but knives, tableware and plastic stuff taken, including Melmac dishes in some cases." Byron scanned through to the end of the report. "Thefts stopped after a couple of weeks. No known suspects." He looked up with a grimace. "And, of course, since the owners of the homes were left up-time, there's no one who can give any kind of descriptions. Not much to go on."
"You still think that guy you saw selling the stainless silverware was selling hot stuff?"
"Well, he was sure nervous about something when he caught me looking at him. He didn't even know I was a cop, but he was sure spooked." Byron changed the subject. "Any word yet on the guys the kids told us about? The two from Hannover?"
"No, and since their descriptions match half the men in the northlands, I wouldn't hold my breath if I were you." Bill remembered everything surrounding the Vogler case rather well—everyone who had anything to do with it did. He looked down at his desk. "Well, now that you know what you know, go find this peddler. Otherwise, I'm going to trade jobs with you and let you deal with this stuff."
Byron shot to his feet. "On my way." And that quickly he was out of the office.
The threat of the paperwork worked every time, Bill smiled to himself. Then he looked at his desk, and groaned. He had to get an assistant soon. He wondered if he could somehow snaffle Odogar out from under Frank Jackson. It would be worth the grief the general would give him just to get someone who could run this office.
Gotthilf set the last copy of the report on top of the stack and wiped the pen nib to clean it. Byron came in the door to their office just as he set the pen aside. The up-timer waved a paper in the air.
"Finally got the answers from Grantville about the silverware questions we asked."
Gotthilf perked up. He'd wanted to grab the street vendor when Byron saw him selling the tableware, but Byron had insisted on waiting for information from Grantville. "So now we go get him?" He bounced to his feet and checked for his pistol.
"So now we go question him, anyway," Byron laughed. "Whether we get him or not depends on his answers. Come on. I want to check on Willi, anyway."
Gotthilf grabbed his jacket, and in moments they were on the street in front of the building that served as the city watch headquarters. As usual, Byron's long legs set the pace, forcing the shorter Gotthilf almost to a trot to keep up. "Slow down, you great lunk," he gasped after they traveled a block.
"Sorry." Byron slowed his steps to more of a stroll, which allowed Gotthilf to walk at a more normal speed. "I keep forgetting just how sawed off you are." A fleeting grin crossed his craggy face.
"All the better to cut you off at the kneecaps," Gotthilf growled before he smiled in return.
The two men had been partners now for a few weeks. It was an unlikely match at first glance; the lanky up-timer and the short but strongly built down-timer. The relationship had been a bit testy at first; or at least it had on his side, Gotthilf acknowledged. The city watch of Magdeburg was a proud organization, and they had not taken well to the thought that others could tell them how to fulfill their duties. There had been friction at times between the watch and the military police and NCIS staff at the naval yards. Gotthilf was honest enough to admit that there was as much fault on the side of the watch as there was on the navy's, maybe more. But that hadn't made it any easier to deal with the two up-timer officers when Herr Gericke brought them in to help shape the city watch into something more of a police department in the up-time mold.
Gotthilf still wasn't sure why Herr Gericke had selected him to serve as the partner of the tall and laconic up-timer. The first few days had been pretty strained, particularly after Gotthilf made the mistake of speaking disparagingly about a young beggar child. He found out in a moment that the good-natured lieutenant was capable of anger and passion. But the case they had stumbled on as a result of meeting that child had cemented them together as partners. The young down-timer was wholly converted to Byron's point of view, and in turn began to act as leaven to the whole watch. By this point, only the most hidebound of the watch were continuing to resist the new methods.
"I have a question," Gotthilf announced as they turned a corner. Byron looked at him with one of his quizzical expressions—he had a whole arsenal of them, ranging from innocent to sly to out-and-out sarcastic disbelief. This one was just a simple raised eyebrows indication to go ahead. "Why do you call it silverware, when there is no silver in or on it?"
Byron grinned. "More sloppy up-time speaking. It used to be that tableware was made of silver alloys, but that was pretty expensive for most people's pockets. So then someone started silver plating cheaper metals like brass. Looked as good as silver for a lot less money—until you polished the silver plating off and the brass started shining through. But after a while someone decided to start making it out of stainless steel. No rust, no polish needed, and while it didn't take a shine like silver, it was good enough for most folks. But people had been calling the package of knives, forks and spoons 'silverware' for so long that the name just carried over to the stainless steel version. Anyone who was trying to be really correct would say 'flatware,' but in over ninety-nine percent of the homes in America, if someone said 'Get the silverware out and set the table,' what came out of the drawer was stainless steel."
"So what you saw the man in the green coat selling was not silver?"
"Nope. It was pretty definitely stainless steel—it's got a characteristic look to it—and from the brief glance I got it wasn't even some of the better stuff. But good, bad or ugly, I saw at least three pfennigs change hands, so he was getting a good price for that knife, fork and spoon set."
They were entering that section of town that had become a street vendors' haven. One side of the street had been burned down in 1631 when Tilly's troops had sacked Magdeburg. The resulting spaces where houses and buildings had been had mostly been cleared off, but little reconstruction was under way in this area yet. Every kind of vendor and peddler that could be imagined could be found in these open spaces, including some of the more unsavory types. In fact, this was where they had found the pickpocket that had led them to crack the Vogler case.
"So where was he?" Gotthilf started looking around.
Byron pointed. "There—about half a block down on the left."
They drew closer. "He's not there now," Gotthilf observed.
"No joke. Let's start asking questions."
After close to an hour of asking fruitless questions, Byron pulled Gotthilf back into the traffic moving in the street. "Come on. We're not getting anywhere. Let's go check on Willi." They started walking on down the street toward Das Haus Des Brotes, the bakery operated by Herr Anselm Ostermann and his formidable wife, Frau Kreszentia Traugottin. Anselm was the baker, and Frau Zenzi, as she was known to one and all, was the public face of the bakery, ranging from cajoling saleslady to shrewd bargainer to hard-faced punisher of theft in as many breaths. They had become the foster parents of young Willi, the almost totally blind eight-year-old boy who had, all unwittingly on his part, led the two partners to the discovery of the faginy ring operating in Magdeburg under the very noses of the city council and the watch.
At the bloody conclusion of the case, which had ended in the death of one of the children—a girl who was Willi's best friend—and the death of the fagin, one Lubbold Vogler, there had been red faces all around. Otto Gericke, Burghermeister and de facto head of the Magdeburg civic government, had not minced words. Nor had the senior pastor of the city, whose outright horror at what had occurred had turned to rage of Biblical proportions. Clerks had been sent scurrying to find the lists of the children orphaned in the sack of the city in 1631. Assistant pastors had been handed the lists and sent out at a run to verify the whereabouts and condition of each of those children. There was a feeling that thunderbolts were about to strike, and it did not ease for over a week until the last of the children and their foster parents had been located. Broadsheets and newspapers had kept the matter fresh for several days, until the latest news from the imperial court had driven it off the front pages.
The source of it all, young Willi, was up to his elbows in bread dough when Byron and Gotthilf were ushered into the back of the bakery. He had flour on his hair, on the cloth that covered his damaged eyes, on his eyebrows. Bits of dough were stuck to his chin and cheek.
The smile on Willi's face was a welcome sight to the two men. The recent changes in his life had left the boy depressed for some time. To see some happiness in him lifted them both up.
"Willi," Frau Zenzi announced, "your two favorite watchmen are here."
"Hey, Willi," Byron said. "How's it going?"
"Herr Byron, Herr Gotthilf!" Gladness rang in Willi's voice. "I'm learning how to knead the dough. Papa Anselm says that when I learn to do that, then he will teach me how to shape it for the oven."
"That's good," Byron exclaimed. They spent several minutes talking with Willi. He very proudly showed off what he had been taught, and the two men congratulated him profusely.
After a time, they said their farewells. Frau Zenzi followed them outside. "Truly, how does he do?" Gotthilf asked.
"Well enough," she replied. "He smiles more, and even whistles or sings a bit now and then. The voice of a cherub, he has."
"Don't let my sister-in-law, Marla, hear that, or she'll have him in a choir so fast that you wouldn't know what happened." Byron's voice was joking, but then his expression turned thoughtful. "Actually, I might mention it to her after all. If he's good, she might be able to find him a place, give him some training, like that. With singing, his eyes won't hold him back." Frau Zenzi frowned a little. "I'm not saying right now. Maybe never. But it's an option. Something to think about. Give some thought to what kind of future a blind boy can have, Frau Zenzi." She nodded slowly.
"Is he still having the nightmares?" Gotthilf asked.
"Not so much. And he asked to go to her grave, so we took him last Sunday." Her was his friend Erna, the one who had been killed.
"How did that go?" Byron had been wondering when Willi would make that pilgrimage.
"He cried, but it was quiet. He took the cloth off his eyes and tried to look around, but we could tell he saw nothing. My heart, it broke when he asked me to tell him what everything looked like." She wiped a tear from her eye with the corner of her apron.
"It sounds like he's getting better, then." Byron nodded to her in parting. "Take good care of him, Frau Zenzi."
Harold Baxter set his stein down with a thump and dragged his sleeve across his mouth, then smoothed down his scraggly beard. The seventeenth century's widespread acceptance of full beards was a good thing in his mind; he'd always disliked shaving. He still had the straight razor his grandpa'd given him over forty years ago, though. Push came to shove, it wasn't a bad hideout weapon. It had gotten him out of more than one bar fight alive over the years, both up-time and down.
He let a belch roll out, and gave himself a three for it. Tone was a little dead. Then he looked across the table at the man who was fidgeting with his own stein.
"So, what do you want, Herr Albret?" Harold knew the other guy's name was Albrecht Lang, but he had trouble with the German "ch" sound, especially after a few beers.
"I need more of the Tafelsilber, bitte, Herr Baxter."
"How much more?"
"I can sell three packages tomorrow, if I have them."
Harold nodded. "Show me the money." He watched as Herr Lang counted the pfennigs to the table, one at a time . . . four, five, six . . . and slowly pushed them to Harold's side. His eyes narrowed; he pushed one of the coins back. "You suckered me once with a Halle pfennig, Lang. Not again. Good silver, or you get nothing."