NESS: Krystalnacht on the Schwarza Express

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Tuesday, June 19, 1635

West Virginia County

Astrid Schäubin puttered around her room, straightening everything. She tugged at the solid but inexpensive table beside her bed, trying to square it up. It creaked across the wooden floorboards.

“Astrid, are you still up?” Her brother Hjalmar leaned around the corner of the doorway.

“Obviously.”

“Why? We have to be up early.”

Astrid sighed. “I do not know.” She looked at her pack. “I have everything ready. Pistol, gun belt, neckerchief, hat, four days of clothes even though we should return Friday morning.”

“Is everything okay with Georg?”

Astrid smiled. “Georg is fine. We had a nice dinner.”

“Uh-huh.”

Now she was a little annoyed. “Hjalmar, when have you ever known Georg Meisner not to be a perfect gentleman?”

Hjalmar’s head bobbled in acknowledgment of her point. “So what is it then? Lukas getting shot?”

“Well, ja, sure. This is my third Saxon Run since those bandits tried to hijack the train. And Krystalnacht.”

“That is not anywhere near here,” her brother pointed out.

“I know. But I have a bad feeling.”

Hjalmar frowned. “So do not take chances and do not wander off.”

Astrid threw her pillow at him. “I said I had a bad feeling, not that I had forgotten everything you and Neustatter ever taught me.”

Hjalmar handed back the pillow he’d caught. “Maybe you noticed something you have not figured out yet. Sleep on it.”

“Maybe. Thanks, Hjalmar.”

Hjalmar went back to his and Ditmar’s room. Astrid tucked her .22 under her pillow, doused the lamp, and went to bed.

****

 

Wednesday, June 20, 1635

Schwarza Junction

Astrid hadn’t slept particularly well. Nor had she been able to put her finger on what was bothering her about this mission. All her fellow NESS security consultants looked alert but comfortable.

“I am looking for Neustatter’s European Security Services!” a man in an SoTF blue uniform called out in Amideutsch. He had a cloth armband with the letters MP around his right sleeve.

“You found us,” Neustatter answered in the same language.

“Sergeant Johann Sandhagen, SoTF National Guard, military police.”

“Edgar Neustatter.” They shook hands. “Hjalmar Schaub here runs Team Two for me. Karl Recker, Otto Brenner, Jacob Bracht. Astrid Schäubin—she is Hjalmar’s sister—will be running Team Three. Me. Phillip Pfeffer. Wolfram Kuntz. Wolfram is our medic, certified EMT.”

Sandhagen shook hands all around. “Good to meet y’all. How many of these have you done? This is only my second one.”

“We are on a schedule with the other security contractors and mercenaries,” Neustatter told him. “Every seventh trip. This is NESS’s fourth Saxon Run and my third personally, not counting the attempted hijacking.”

Sandhagen nodded. “So y’all were on the train that was hit?”

Ja. Astrid, Wolfram, Phillip, Lukas Heidenfelder, and I,” Neustatter confirmed. “Lukas is still in the hospital.”

“How is he?”

“He will pull through,” Neustatter said.

Astrid knew that was what the doctors said, but she was still worried.

“Good.”

Neustatter nodded his appreciation. “How do you want do this? A team in each railroad car?”

Ja, that is good. How did you train for this? You have done more of these than I have.”

“I watched Murder on the Orient Express last night.”

The MP looked shocked.

“Relax. I have also seen Breakheart Pass.”

****

Astrid listened to the clickety-clack of the wheels on the rails while she watched the left side as the train rolled north to Jena. The cars were about half-full, which she understood to be average for recent weekday runs—although that was still down a bit compared to before last month’s attack. So far the ride was uneventful. Which is not surprising, Astrid reminded herself. It’s always uneventful south of Jena.

But as the train slowed to a stop alongside the platform in Jena, Phillip called out from the back stairs, “Neustatter! Squad of men approaching the platform!”

Astrid quickly reached for her pistol. Neustatter’s was already out. But then her boss called out, “Their weapons are shouldered. And they have tickets.”

The approaching men sorted themselves into a file, and the first one swung aboard. He caught sight of Neustatter’s pistol right away. Astrid saw his hand tighten on his rifle sling, but he had the presence of mind not to make a sudden move.

“Who are you?”

“Neustatter’s European Security Services. Train guard on this run. And you?”

“The Yellow Circle Regiment.” Astrid noted that emblem on his coat.

“In civilian clothes?”

“We are specially trained to operate behind the lines.”

Astrid had to strain to hear Neustatter’s response, even from three feet away.

“No, you are not. Who are you?”

Equally quietly, the man replied, “CoCs. We are returning to Magdeburg.”

“Yellow Circle because you are defending the Jews.”

Ja, preemptive attack.”

“What I said. Like Esther, ja?”

The CoC soldier cracked a smile. “We have ten rifles. Let us work together.”

Neustatter nodded and called forward. “Sergeant? Five in each car? I will show you where the Saxons tried to hijack the train when we get there.”

****

When the train pulled into Naumburg Station, most of the passengers disembarked. Some made a beeline for the restrooms, others for the food cart.

Neustatter indicated the food cart. “Sergeant Sandhagen, you should come with us. Good food, good information.”

NESSKotSEkshrWhen they got to the front of the line, Neustatter said, “Nine of the kosher sausages on buns, Herr Kraft.”

“Good to see you again, Neustatter. The Saxon cities east of the river caused some trouble earlier this week, but all is quiet today.” Kraft used some English idioms and word order, but retained der, die, and das and inflected the German nouns if not the occasional English one. He nodded toward a pair of men with green armbands. “We Saale Levies have two of the oversized squads we call heaps near Weissenfels, with a radio. They checked in this morning, as did Camps Terror and Destruction.”

“Good enough for me,” Neustatter declared.

Sergeant Sandhagen raised an eyebrow, as if to say, “This is an extremely well-informed sausage dealer.”

Astrid indicated the jars of pickles and relishes along the side of the food cart. “I have seen these in Grantville.”

Kraft smiled. “We hope to have more varieties after this year’s harvest. Safe run.”

“All aboard!”

****

The train picked up speed out of the station and clattered across the Unstrut River bridge. The engineer gave a long blast on the horn as they passed Camp Terror. Astrid saw SoTF National Guardsmen on the corner watchtowers waving. She watched the ridgeline to the left carefully as the train negotiated the S-curve and headed north toward Eulau and the site of the attempted hijacking.

“Neustatter, it looks like the Saale Levies have almost finished that watchtower on the ridge, but the second floor is crooked.”

Neustatter crossed to her side of the train and studied it. He whistled. “It is turned forty-five-degrees from the walls of the first story to remove all the blind spots.”

The train sped past the site of the ambush and continued north with a steady clickety-clack. A couple passengers boarded at Weissenfels, and the train rumbled on toward Merseburg.

Neustatter crossed to Astrid’s side of the train again. “We are approaching Camp Destruction. Tell me what you see.”

The engineer honked the horn again, and the soldiers in the watchtowers waved. The steady clickety-clack on the rails continued as the train continued on toward Merseburg.

“They are alert,” Astrid observed, keeping her voice down as Neustatter had. “Those two new buildings look almost finished.”

“I have never seen anyone at work on them. Nor have Hjalmar nor Ditmar.”

“Yet progress is steady.”

“Makes you wonder who does the work, and when, does it not?” Neustatter asked.

Astrid mulled that over until Merseburg came into sight. No one sees the work being done. So they stop work when trains go by, and get out of sight. No reason for von Hessler’s Saale Levies to do that. No reason for the SoTF National Guard—Oh!

“I figured it out, Neustatter.”

Neustatter nodded. Astrid figured half of that was approval for keeping her mouth shut about who it was.

The Weissenfels passengers disembarked at Merseburg, a couple other passengers boarded, and the train rumbled on toward Halle.

One of the CoC men came over. “I heard your men call this the Saxon Run,” he said. “Does that mean you get off in Halle?”

Nein,” Neustatter told him. “Trouble is less likely beyond Halle, but a determined opponent could still cause some. We ride all the way to Magdeburg.”

“As do we,” the CoC man said.

“I thought the CoCs were generally moving outward from Magdeburg,” Neustatter observed.

“We finished our assignment. They want us back in Magdeburg. We were not in time to make it to Güstrow, but if anything else like that happens . . .”

Astrid managed not to cringe at the matter-of-fact way he said it. Krystalnacht had started a couple weeks ago. The Committees of Correspondence attacked anti-Semites and witch hunters—the sort of people responsible for the deaths of Mayor Dreeson, Enoch Wiley, Buster Beasley, and far too many police officers in Grantville. In Mecklenburg Province, the nobles had attacked the CoCs—but then CoC reinforcements shattered the nobles’ army at the Battle of Güstrow.

A couple passengers boarded at Schkopau, and a few minutes later, the train pulled into the station at Halle. Most of the passengers disembarked; there was a half-hour stopover, and Halle’s station had restrooms.

“You and Wolfram first,” Neustatter told Astrid.

Wolfram was already back at the train when she returned—the line for the women’s restroom had been a bit slower.

“Miss Schäubin, you are in charge.” Neustatter informed her. “Hjalmar and I will see if Sergeant Hudson is on duty.”

“Understood, boss,” she replied.

A few minutes later, she saw Neustatter, Hjalmar, and two CoC men come out of the railroad station. Makes sense. They must want news, too.

“All aboard!”

The clickety-clack of the wheels increased as the train picked up speed.

****

The train pulled into Magdeburg Central at dusk.

“That was uneventful,” Sergeant Sandhagen remarked.

“That is how we like them,” Neustatter agreed.

“We need to report in. Good working with you,” the CoC leader said. “You might have a drink at Green Horse Tavern and see if Frau Linder is singing. She is an up-timer, very popular with the Committees.”

Neustatter nodded his thanks.

“Safe journey.”

Neustatter nodded. “To you, as well.” He watched as the CoC men set out toward the walled part of the city.

“You are concerned,” Astrid observed. “Krystalnacht?”

“I do not doubt that the anti-Semites and witch hunters had it coming. But such a large operation depends heavily on its small unit commanders . . . It is very easy for something to go wrong. People make mistakes, after all.” He sighed. “Shall we go find this Green Horse Tavern?”

Green Horse Tavern was crowded, but the NESS teams found a table in the back. They spent the next couple hours listening to Marla Linder and her fellow musicians play what they called Irish music.

When Marla finished singing “The Wind That Shakes the Barley,” Neustatter turned to Astrid. “It sounds like the Irish had a hard time of it in the up-time but persevered. I should have a researcher look into whether there is anything we can adopt for NESS.”

Astrid shook her head. “If so, you will find at least one John Wayne movie about it.”

****

Thursday, June 21, 1635

Magdeburg

The NESS teams slept late. It was mid-day before they all assembled and wandered about Magdeburg in search of food.

Astrid found herself checking her surroundings frequently.

“Nervous?” Hjalmar asked.

“The city feels different.”

“You are correct,” Neustatter said. “But tell me how you know. What do you see?”

Astrid watched people for a few minutes. “Many are glancing around. Some are hurrying with their heads down.”

“Exactly.”

A few minutes later, Hjalmar asked, “Are we going back to Green Horse Tavern, Neustatter? We have passed at least three places where we could eat.”

“You may eat anywhere you wish. I am going to Syborg’s Book Store,” Neustatter said. “There’s an inn with good food a couple blocks north of it.”

Hjalmar rolled his eyes.

Astrid just smiled. She wanted to see the inside of this bookstore. She’d heard about it from the men often enough.

Half an hour later, she was still smiling in amusement as Neustatter and Herr Syborg carried on an animated discussion of westerns in Amideutsch. Syborg had sent his son and the sales clerk off to lunch a while ago.

“You must see the latest from Haas and Seitz,” Matthias Syborg urged him. “The characters are masterfully done.”

“I agree Haas and Seitz write great characters,” Neustatter acknowledged, “but I do not think they get the geography right. The American West didn’t have villages every couple miles. Not in the up-time movies, anyway.”

Naturally that led into a discussion of those movies. Astrid half-listened to Syborg’s quick, chopped-off Amideutsch and Neustatter’s adopted drawl as she wandered around the bookstore. She felt crowded as she maneuvered around three other patrons. The whole shop would easily fit inside the Calvert High School library, so why did it seem to have so many books? Train your power of observation. The voice in her head sounded just like Neustatter. So she followed orders.

One shelf in each stack had a book open, propped up on a little wooden lectern, with a stack of the new magazines to either side. That meant fewer books per shelf, and it also meant the shelves had to be spaced further apart than at Calvert High, so there were fewer shelves per stack. And the bottom two shelves had literal stacks of books. She bent down to check. Yes, they were more copies of the titles on the upper shelves. Astrid looked around and realized that the bookstore had no back room. The bottom two shelves were inventory storage. That meant nobody had to get down on the floor to read book titles. She counted the books on one shelf, the number of shelves in a stack, and the number of stacks in the store. No, there were not nearly as many books as it seemed.

Neustatter and the proprietor were still talking, so Astrid kept browsing. A lot of the non-fiction was reprints of up-time books, mostly technical subjects and histories. But some were newly written by down-timers. Most had Dewey numbers printed right on the spine.

The fiction was grouped by genre. Astrid skipped the romance. She’d get recommendations. That would save her no end of frustration trying to figure out whether a given book was the up-time “in love” style, the down-time family alliance style, or a mix of clashing expectations. She’d read one of those that was quite good and a few that were bad enough that she’d moved along to mysteries. She liked those where she had a reasonable chance of figuring out the culprit.

Astrid looked up when she heard the door open. A young woman maneuvered a teenage boy into the bookstore, then quickly pulled the door closed behind her. Astrid kept a book in front of her as if she were fascinated by how the dowager freifrau was narrowing down who could have killed the church sexton. But really she was assessing the new arrivals. The young woman looked like she was in her mid-twenties, about her own age. She was expensively dressed and carried herself confidently. More confidently than I would expect of a burgher’s daughter. Probably of the adel. But she looks worried. The teenaged boy wore similarly fine clothes, a sword, and a stubborn expression.

“Welcome,” Syborg said. “May I help you find a book?”

Nein,” the boy said.

Ja, bitte,” the woman said at the same time.

“What kind of book are you looking for?”

Astrid watched her falter for a couple seconds and realized the woman hadn’t really come in for a book. But she recovered quickly and said, “An adventure.” With a nod toward the young man, even.

“What sort of adventure?” the proprietor asked. “Foreign lands? Science fiction?”

“Science fiction?” The woman pronounced it carefully. “What is that?”

“A genre popularized by the up-timers. The stories feature much technology, often in space.”

“That is boring.” Whether it was the dismissive tone or the casual flip of his hand, Astrid was suddenly seized by an urge to smack him a new attitude.

“What about a Western, then?”

“What is that?” The boy’s lip curled dismissively.

“They are set in North America, in the up-time.”

“Pfffffffttt. Stupid stories.”

“Do you even know what you are calling stupid?” Neustatter rumbled. He stepped up in front of the boy. “I study westerns carefully, the real thing and the stories. They help me understand the up-timers, and because of it my men and I make a better living as security consultants.”

“Ha! You are nothing but a mercenary! I am an imperial knight! Stand aside, or—”

“Or what?” Neustatter interrupted.

Astrid tossed the book on a random shelf, took three quick steps, and yanked the woman aside.

NESSKotSEm1At the same time, the young man’s hand flashed to his sword. It was halfway out when Neustatter staggered him with a quick left jab to the chin. To his credit, he actually managed to finish drawing the sword while flailing wildly to recover his balance—and found himself staring down the barrel of the M1911 .45 that had streaked out of Neustatter’s holster.

“I think you need to study the Westerns, too.” Neustatter’s voice was calm. “You are good. If you can control your noble temper, you will be better.” Without turning his head, he asked, “Herr Syborg, do you have the novelization of Rio Bravo?”

The proprietor swallowed. “Ja, ja, I think so. Right over there.”

Astrid was closest. She passed a copy to Neustatter.

“Add it to my bill, bitte,” Neustatter told him. He handed the book to the young man. “For you.”

The woman—by now Astrid was assuming she was his older sister—curtseyed, thanked them graciously, and swept the boy out of the shop.

Neustatter grinned as he holstered his pistol. “I don’t know as I’ve seen someone elegantly hustle before.”

“Neustatter—” Astrid began.

Neustatter shrugged with both hands palm up. “He drew on me. And he got out of it with a punch in the mouth and a book. I think it went okay.”

Matthias Syborg burst into laughter and clapped Neustatter on the shoulder.

****

After she and Neustatter eventually got some lunch, Astrid wandered around Magdeburg with the others for a bit. Then they returned to their rooms, and Astrid lay down for a nap. She wanted to be as well-rested as possible before she stayed up all night on the train. Around five, the NESS agents assembled for dinner in the inn’s main room before making their way to the train station. Sergeant Sandhagen was already there.

“How were the barracks?” Neustatter asked.

“Tense. New prime minister, Krystalnacht, upcoming war. Wars, maybe.”

“We noticed the same thing,” Neustatter stated. “What do we know about tonight’s train?”

“It is the regular overnight express to Schwarza Junction. Semi-express, actually, with stops at Halle, Naumburg Station, and Jena. Steam engine and three passenger cars.”

“Three?” Neustatter asked quickly.

“Two sleepers and a regular car. They added the third a couple hours ago. A lot of people want to go to Grantville.”

“It is a safe place.”

“Exactly. Three men to each car. I will be in the middle one.”

As far as Astrid could tell, Neustatter didn’t even hesitate. “Hjalmar, your team has the first car, but I need Karl in the second one.”

Astrid’s brother nodded. “You want me up front with the rifle and Jakob watching my back. Otto in the rear.”

“Exactly. Karl, you are the rifleman in the second car. Sergeant Sandhagen is in charge. Phillip, you will be in the back of that car. I will be in the front of the third car. Wolfram, you have a rifle. Astrid, watch his back.”

One rifle in each car, Astrid noted. We will be stretched thin . . .

“I know we will be thin.” Neustatter seemed to read her thoughts. “Stay alert. And do not get comfortable on the stairs. The sleeping compartments block line of sight, so make sure you are up in the aisle frequently. Open the doors between cars if you need to pass a message.”

The NESS agents fanned out to their respective cars. Neustatter took his station at the front of the third car. Astrid started to follow Wolfram to the back, but Neustatter signaled her to wait.

“Miss Schäubin, please look into purchasing more long arms. I want at least one more with your team, two if we can. And one more with Hjalmar’s team.”

“I will see if NESS can afford what is available,” Astrid agreed. “Maybe SRGs.”

“What I would really like is a Winchester.”

“I think only the Hibernian Battalion can afford those.”

The train soon began filling up. Astrid noted some of those boarding were checking large amounts of baggage. When they boarded, she could see they were richly dressed. Adel or at least well-to-do, she thought. Are they that afraid? The Crown Loyalists won the election, and Krystalnacht has done very little in Magdeburg itself. No real reason to flee.

She noted that in some cases, servants were preparing compartments for nobles or burghers in the first two cars and then coming back to the third car themselves. To sleep sitting up. And they won’t be able to go help their masters while the train is moving. Smarter to buy the servants tickets for a second compartment.

“All aboard!”

Astrid checked her side of the train. “Two more!” she called out. “Running!”

She had just realized that the first figure was a woman, running in full skirts when she caught sight of a whole group of figures.

“Neustatter! Pursuit! No polizei in sight!”

She heard Neustatter throw open the door to the next car as the train’s brakes released. The figure was within twenty yards now, and— It was the woman and the boy from Syborg’s Book Store!

Astrid stood on the bottom step with one hand outstretched and the other firmly around the hand rail. The woman caught her hand as the train began to move. She hurried up the stairs. The boy ignored Astrid’s hand. She grabbed him instead and hauled him aboard.

The sound of boots on the stairs behind her told her one of the pursuers had made it aboard. She turned to see two more pursuers leap aboard and quickly backed up the aisle. Everything was happening at once: the woman was pulling her brother up the aisle, passengers were turning around, one woman screamed, and the fourth and fifth pursuers were rapidly outpaced by the train. But most of Astrid’s attention was on the first one. He was reaching for a weapon. Threats. Her pistol was out and rising, left hand coming up to meet it . . .

“Freeze!” Neustatter barked.

The man froze mid-draw, so Astrid froze in a two-handed stance. She saw that Wolfram, on the back left steps, had his rifle leveled at the other two, both of whom had rifles. Neustatter’s voice had come from the front right, so he’d have a line of fire over the heads of the seated passengers.

The second pursuer spoke in the clipped Amideutsch of Magdeburg.

“We arrest them in the name of the Committees of Correspondence.”

Astrid stared in shock. But Neustatter just snorted. “I did not realize the Committees have police powers.”

“It is best you step out of our way.”

Nein, it is best you explain yourselves. Now.” Neustatter delivered the last word with a certain menace.

“If you interfere, we will report it to Gunther Achterhof.”

That’s definitely a threat, Astrid realized.

“Do not make me explain to Gunther why I had to put three of his men in the ground,” Neustatter responded.

So is that.

The first man’s hand tightened on whatever he had half-drawn.

“Uh-huh,” Astrid told him. “Let go of it. Or I will shoot you.” Clients—the train and passengers.

The second man held his left hand up. “Put it away, Gebhard.” He faced Neustatter. “Your guns are going to get heavy.”

Astrid took a couple steps backwards toward the front the car. She remembered two women seated together on the left side.

Frauen, slide over, bitte,” she requested without turning her head. She knelt on the seat, resting her pistol on the back of the seat. “I can stay here a really long time. So explain yourselves.”

The second pursuer glanced upward and sighed. “Fine,” he snapped. “These are the children of Heinrich von Kardorff. He was a ritter in Westphalia.”

“We got him,” the first man said.

“They killed Father,” the boy said. His hand slid toward his sword.

“Don’t move,” Neustatter growled. “I’m Neustatter. My teams are train guards on this run. Kid, I assume you are now Ritter von Kardorff.”

“I am.”

“And I assume this is Frau von Kardorff, your sister.”

“Half-sister.”

“Ah, so you are mad at her, too,” Neustatter observed. “Westphalia. That explains your very proper Plattdeutsch. And over there we have Gebhard in front, the CoC team leader—what is your name?”

“Klaus Eggers. And that is Hans behind me.”

“What are you waiting for?” a man seated on the right side next to a window demanded. “Shoot them!”

“For being CoCs? That would be right unneighborly,” Neustatter drawled.

“Take care, old man!” Gebhard threatened. “You could be next.”

A man on the right side of the train stood up. “There are more of us than there are of you,” he said in Hochdeutsch.

“Sit down,” Neustatter told him.

“I will not be spoken—”

“I will speak to you any way I choose,” Neustatter told him.

Astrid couldn’t see him; he was toward the front of the car, and she was halfway back, facing the rear. She wasn’t about to look away from where she aimed her pistol.

“I am not going to listen to a peasant.”

“That is mighty big talk from a burgher in front of so many neideradel,” Neustatter observed. “They think the same of you as you think of peasants.”

Klaus laughed harshly. “The adel took their privileges under a supposed agreement to protect everyone else. But here is a burgher standing up to you while the adel remains seated.”

“But as the Constitution says, we are all citizens here,” Neustatter countered. “I know the Committees believe that. So tell me about von Kardorff and his children.”

Gebhard spat on the floor. “Von Kardorff was the worst kind of scum. Oppressing his villagers. Crooked deals, cheating on contracts, taking advantage of the young women . . .”

“But that is not why we killed him,” Klaus interrupted. “Only two things put someone on the target lists: anti-Semitism and witch hunting. Von Kardorff was guilty of both.”

“Go on.”

“He was typical of the adel, living above his means, taking advantage of the labor of the villagers,” Klaus growled. “But even that was not enough money. He borrowed heavily from Jews, then made false accusations against them when they tried to collect.”

“Give me money or I will arrange an accident—a legal one,” Neustatter summarized.

Ja, you understand.” Klaus was really getting warmed up now. “He used accusations of witchcraft the same way. That is how he took advantage of the young women in the village. Sleep with him or be accused of witchcraft. Or mother or grandmother accused of witchcraft. He had four Jews and three women killed. That we know of.”

Ritter von Kardorff, Miss von Kardorff, do you have anything to say?” Neustatter asked.

“What is ‘Miss‘?” the woman demanded. “I wish to know if I am being insulted.”

“You should be more worried about being killed,” Gebhard stated.

“Shut up,” Astrid told him. “Frau von Kardorff, ‘miss’ is how up-timers address unmarried women. Neustatter calls me miss whenever I call him herr.”

Frau von Kardorff laughed once. “He is no herr. Even the burgher saw he is nothing but a . . .”

“Citizen.” Astrid spoke loudly since she still wasn’t going to turn her head to address Frau von Kardorff.

“Bah!” Frau von Kardorff burst out. “What good is being a citizen when the city watch stood aside for the CoC? Is ‘citizen’ limited to them?”

“Normally there’s no reason for the polizei to stop the CoCs,” Astrid stated, still not facing her.  “Again, we are all citizens. Which part of that do you not understand?”

“How dare you turn your back to me!”

“Frau von Kardorff!” Neustatter snapped. “Step back. If you strike Miss Schäubin, I will shoot you myself.”

“You will have to shoot me first!” the young ritter declared.

Ja, I would,” Neustatter said. “Since my team are the ones keeping the CoC from killing you and your sister, maybe she should not be raising her hand against us.”

For a few seconds, Astrid heard nothing but the clickety-clack of the train on the tracks. Then Neustatter said, “Sehr gut.” Evidently Miss von Kardorff had enough self-control to stand down.

“Now, Miss von Kardorff, do you have anything to say about the CoCs’ charges?”

Astrid heard nothing for several seconds. She is either furious or ashamed.

“Our father was not a pleasant man,” she finally said.

Hearing her very controlled tone, Astrid realized it was shame.

“I cannot speak to the particulars,” Miss von Kardorff stated, “beyond hearing him complain about the Jews.”

“An anti-Semite then,” Gebhard stated. “So let us shoot them.”

“Suppose first you explain how Ritter von Kardorff’s children are involved?” Neustatter requested.

“They are his children!” Gebhard blurted out.

Ja, I just said that. But how are they involved?”

“If we do not kill them, they will rule over the village. The same things will keep happening.”

Nein, they will not,” the boy stated.

“We are not going to take that chance,” Gebhard countered.

Astrid heard a train car door squeak open. She realized it was the door to the next car ahead. Someone had made the somewhat dangerous crossing between cars while the train was underway. Then she heard Karl’s voice.

“Where do you want me, Neustatter?”

“Middle of the aisle,” came Neustatter’s voice. Once Karl was evidently in position, Neustatter called, “Wolfram, order arms!”

“Clever,” Eggers allowed. “Hans, you cover the one at our backs while I cover the new one. And be alert when the train pulls into Halle. He will have more men in the first two cars.”

After the discussion continued for a while, Neustatter signaled Wolfram. His rifle came back up, and Karl crossed back to the second car. Klaus and Hans took the opportunity to rest their rifles, one at a time.

Astrid’s legs were starting to cramp by the time she heard Karl return.

“We are five minutes from Halle,” he announced. “Sergeant Sandhagen is aware of what is happening back here.”

Eggers turned his head and told Hans something, speaking too quietly for her to hear.

“The train will stop at Halle just long enough for passengers to disembark and board,” Neustatter reminded them all. “You will not have time to bring the local CoC to the station.”

“You will not have time to summon reinforcements, either,” Eggers countered.

“True,” Neustatter allowed.

Half-true, Astrid thought. She had already figured out why Karl had been gone so long. Of course, the CoC men didn’t know that Karl had been assigned to the front of the second car, not to the back . . .

“Since we seem to have a stalemate, I suggest we all find more comfortable seating arrangements,” Neustatter suggested. “If we ask all the passengers to move to the right side, Ritter and Miss von Kardorff can sit in the front on the left. You men can sit in the back, and Miss Schäubin and I will sit in the middle.”

Astrid listened to the clickety-clack of the train as Eggers thought that over for a full minute. “Okay, but we will take the front and put the reactionaries in the back.”

“Makes no difference to me,” Neustatter stated.

But it does, Astrid thought. Now they will be the ones facing backwards in their seats.

Und we will lock the door to the next car,” Eggers added.

Ah, so he saw that part.

“Fine. I will keep Wolfram on the back stairs. Got to have a rear guard. Which side do you want him on?”

Clever, Neustatter. Clever. Astrid wasn’t sure if there even was a right answer.

“Left,” Eggers said after another minute. “Most of the stations are on the left.”

“What about us?” the burgher who had stood up earlier asked.

“I regret that our conversation will probably keep most of you awake,” Neustatter answered. “But at least you will be out of the line of fire.”

****

 

Friday, June 22, 1635

Halle

It was after midnight when the southbound Schwarza Express was shunted off onto the second line and rolled into Halle Station. At the same time, the northbound Magdeburg Express pulled away from the station on the main line.

“Halle Station! Anyone disembarking?”

“You could all leave the train here,” the burgher suggested.

“Train guards,” Neustatter said. “We cannot leave.”

“I am not getting off the train,” Miss von Kardorff declared.

“Then we stay, too,” Eggers said.

Several passengers left the third car, including the vocal burgher. Two or three people looked like they intended to board but were quickly pulled aside by those leaving the train. Only one man boarded. He found a seat in the back. Neustatter just shook his head.

“I see no reason to involve the stationmaster,” Neustatter said. “If all the rest of you would please move to the right side of the car? And Wolfram, if you would step down and let the Committeemen pass?”

“Hans, you first,” Klaus directed. “And the reactionaries move down the aisle to the back.”

Hans left by the rear door and reentered at the front of the car. Klaus followed, and finally Gebhard, so that at least one of them was always in a position to cover the von Kardorffs.

“You suckered me!” Neustatter declared when he saw that Gebhard had finally been able to draw his pistol while outside the train.

Ja, I did,” Eggers acknowledged. He locked the door to the next car as the conductor’s cry of “All aboard!” rang out from somewhere forward. Just as he sat down looking fairly satisfied, Sergeant Johann Sandhagen came up the car’s front steps. He held a lantern in each hand.

“I am not armed. But once we cross into Thuringia-Franconia, you are my problem. So I ought to be back here.”

“There is a soldier on the train!” It was the first thing Astrid had heard CoC Hans say.

Ja,” Neustatter answered. “One military police liaison per train. Surely you knew this?”

Surely they did not, Astrid realized as the train started to move.

Sandhagen replaced the lantern hanging at the front of the car, slipped past the CoC men to replace the lantern in the back, and then found an empty seat in the middle on the left side. Neustatter dropped into the seat ahead of him and moved all the way across to the window, his pistol still up, momentarily in a one-handed grip. Astrid took the one behind the sergeant, grateful to finally be sitting down properly. She sat next to the aisle, gun hand casually resting on the back of Sandhagen’s seat.

She heard Wolfram tell the von Kardorffs, “Your turn to sit down. Two seats up from the back, bitte. I have recent experience with hand-to-hand fighting on a train, and I must insist on an empty seat between us.”

Dank schön, Wolfram. Just what I need to be thinking about—Lucas getting shot in the ambush last month. Especially when we roll right past the spot, in the dark, with a swordsman behind me . . . Oh! Astrid realized something.

“Did you speak with the stationmaster, sergeant?” Klaus Eggers demanded.

Nein. If I wanted to force an end to this, I would have had him hold the train while I summoned help from the camp outside the town. But I did not.”

Astrid saw an expression cross Egger’s face. Evidently Neustatter did, too.

“You boys are not AWOL, are you? Those are SRGs.” Neustatter’s voice was casual. He held up his left hand when Hans started. “Not my watch. I got out of soldiering. Mostly.”

“So we are back to Ritter von Kardorff’s children,” Klaus Eggers stated. He was speaking even more quickly.

Trying to lead us away from that comment about being AWOL, Astrid figured.

“We cannot let them live,” Gebhard said.

“Why?” Neustatter asked. “Are they anti-Semites? Or witch hunters?”

“Probably.”

“Probably is not good enough. Everyone has heard of the Committees of Correspondence lists. Either they are on the list, or they are not. Show us,” Neustatter challenged.

Again there was a pause in the conversation, with the clickety-clack of the train the only noise.

One of the passengers finally broke the silence. “Obviously they are not on your list. Sergeant, I insist these men be arrested at the next stop! And these incompetent guards replaced!”

Mein Herr, so far these guards have kept anyone from getting hurt,” Sandhagen pointed out.

“If you will not, I will! I know men in the new prime minister’s government!”

Klaus Eggers shifted to cover the man with his rifle. “You are neideradel!”

“Sure sounds like it,” Neustatter agreed. “Astrid, you have a better angle on him. Wolfram, you cover the von Kardorffs. I have Gebhard and Silent Hans.”

“Neustatter,” Eggers warned.

“What? I have one gun on you and your men instead of two. Stop complaining.”

“If you have contacts in Prime Minister Wettin’s government . . .” Miss von Kardorff began.

Klaus Eggers interrupted her. “That will mean nothing in the SoTF.”

“Are you of the adel?” the boy demanded. “And you have been sitting here silent the entire time?”

“He does not want to get involved,” Klaus told him. “You are not worth it to him. That is how the adel is.”

“You would let them take us?” The boy’s voice rose.

“Of course he would! He is a coward like the rest of them!”

The newly-discovered noble reached for something.

“Freeze!” Neustatter barked. “Either drop that in the aisle or very slowly come over here and sit down next to Sergeant Sandhagen.”

“I will not!”

“Wolfram, cover the CoCs.” Neustatter lunged across the aisle and pistol-whipped the noble. With his left hand he stripped the dirk out of the noble’s hand while his right—pistol still in hand—snaked under the man’s arm and around the back of his neck. Neustatter hauled the man out into the aisle by brute force and deposited him next to Sandhagen.

“Astrid, shoot him in the back of the head if he tries anything. Wolfram, you have the von Kardorffs.”

“Impressive,” Eggers allowed.

“The rest of us all seem willing to talk,” Neustatter noted.

“I will . . . I will . . . You will hang for this!” The noble started to lunge to his feet, but Sergeant Sandhagen grabbed him by the bicep and shoulder and drove him back into the seat.

“Let us kill him, too,” Gebhard proposed.

He is driven, almost unhinged, Astrid thought. Why?

“Astrid?” Neustatter asked.

Ja, boss?”

“We are in Saxon County now, are we not? If someone was killed on a train, who do you think would get to the murderer first, Colonel von Hessler or the Saxon Ghost?”

Astrid thought about it. “I say von Hessler.”

“Why?”

“He has the Levies spread out along the river. Which means they are right along the railroad, too. He would hear anything very quickly.”

“The Ghost finds out everything in Saxon County,” Neustatter countered.

Klaus gave them a very skeptical look.

Astrid rushed her next question a bit. “What do you think would happen?”

Von Hessler would probably just shoot them,” Neustatter said. “The Ghost? Who knows? I heard he hanged Saxon officers last year.”

“He is not real,” Eggers stated.

“Sure he is. We met him last month—and the troop of dragoons that rides with him. Miss Schäubin? Five bucks on the Saxon Ghost.”

“Five bucks on Colonel von Hessler,” Astrid agreed.

“Neustatter.”

“What is it, Wolfram?”

“I saw a light when the train came around the bend. We are coming up on Schkopau.”

Dank dir,” Sergeant Sandhagen said. “This is the Saxon Run. Von Hessler and the Saxon Ghost are not the only ones out there. The SoTF thinks members of the Saxon adel were behind the attack on the train last month. So I need you to point your guns away from each other and cover the doors.”

“The sergeant is correct,” Neustatter stated. He got up and moved backward down the aisle, pistol pointed straight up. “Wolfram, keep the left. I have the right. Ritter von Kardorff, I am going to trust you to not draw your sword. Eggers, one of you can watch the nobles, but the other two need to cover the forward doors.”

“This is a trick!” Gebhard exclaimed.

“No trick,” Neustatter said. “We need to be on the alert all the way to Camburg.”

“I will watch the reactionaries,” Gebhard declared.

“Fine.”

“If it is a trick, Neustatter, you would be the decoy.” Klaus spoke slowly. “So I will watch the door on the right.”

“Fine.” Neustatter said it like he didn’t care.

He probably doesn’t, Astrid thought. Oh, yes.Herr von Adel, remember I am right behind you,” she said aloud.

Facing outward toward a possible external threat put a damper on conversation as the Schwarza Express passed Merseburg, Camp Devastation, and Weissenfels. Sergeant Sandhagen got up and shuttered the lanterns.

After a few minutes, Astrid’s night vision came back. “Coming up on Eulau,” she observed. “Just beyond is where the train got attacked last month. Watch the ridgeline.”

“I see a torch!” Klaus called out.

“That is von Hessler’s watchtower,” Neustatter told him.

“What is next?” Klaus asked.

“Camp Terror. It will be on the right. Then we cross the bridge over the Unstrut and stop at Naumburg Station.”

“What is this camp?” Ritter von Kardorff asked.

“It was a railroad construction camp,” Astrid heard Neustatter tell him. “Then the USE regiments built it up when they marched through in ’33. Now it has a garrison of SoTF National Guard and Saale Levies.”

“And the name?”

“A joke made by a Saxon soldier, but the Levies kept it.”

Miss von Kardorff suddenly recoiled from the window. “There is nothing out there!”

Astrid had felt the clickety-clack of the train change. “We are on the bridge, up over the river.”

“This is unnatural,” the woman declared.

The sound changed again.

“We are back on land,” Astrid offered, still not turning her head. She heard Miss von Kardorff sigh in relief.

“I see lights,” Klaus announced.

“Naumburg Station.”

A few of the passengers stirred as the train coasted up to the platform. Astrid heard one quietly asking another, “Shall we find an inn here and finish the journey tomorrow, on a safe train?”

Nein. This is Saxon County. It is no safer for us than this train.”

Astrid was pretty sure he was wrong, but saw no reason to butt into their conversation.

The conductor came up the steps. “We are going to add a fourth car here,” he announced. “Once it is hooked up, I will ask all of you passengers to move to that car.” He leaned back out the door and waved.

The train was moving before anyone could protest. It rolled a little way from the station and stopped again.

“What is happening?” Gebhard demanded. “Neustatter, you planned this!”

“I have been right here with you, Gebhard. How would I have done it?”

Gebhard’s aim shifted from the von Kardorffs to Neustatter. “Who else could have?”

“That is a good question,” Klaus Eggers agreed. He turned away from the door. “How does this extra railroad car happen to be here?”

“It is for emergencies,” the conductor told him. “Camp Destruction was raided a year ago in the spring. There were no trains nearby to transport troops. Since then there is always an engine and an extra car either here or at Halle.”

As if to punctuate his words, another train rumbled. Then there was a heavy thud against the back of the car.

“They are hooking up the fourth car now.”

No kidding, Astrid thought.

“The engineer and I know what is going on back here,” the conductor informed them. “We are not stupid. You must work this out among yourselves, but we must move our passengers to safety.”

“That makes sense to me,” Sergeant Sandhagen declared.

Someone banged on the rear door. Neustatter unlocked and opened it.

A beefy man dressed in brown stood there. He had a green cloth tied around his upper right arm. “We are ready for your passengers,” he said.

“Who are you?” Klaus Eggers demanded.

Ich bin Peter Hofmann. I am a farmer in Kleinjena, a mile up the road. But I am in the Saale Levies, too.” He pointed at the green cloth around his arm and continued in the same almost-Hochdeutsch that wasn’t quite the same as the Grantville Amideutsch they’d heard from Heinz Kraft yesterday. “Colonel von Hessler ordered me to take five men and protect the train to Grantville, then come back in the morning. He said to stay out of whatever was going on, just keep the train safe from outside attack.”

“I do not believe you,” Gebhard stated.

“This is part . . . what do they call it? Krystalnacht, is it not? Not our problem,” Hofmann stated.

“Weak sisters,” Eggers snarled.

Hofmann matched him glare for glare. “There are no witch hunters in the Unstruttal. Since last fall, Jews live in our village—a minyan or something like that. I think it means ‘a whole bunch’ in Jewish. We do not mind if men from the Yellow Circle Regiment march through or ride the trains. More and more men and women work in shops and factories along the rivers. Most of them belong to unions. We are you.” He pointed right at Eggers. “War with Saxony is coming. Do not start anything right here on the border. Not unless you intend to stay and help finish it.”

Hofmann’s tirade silenced everyone.

“Guess I owe you five bucks, Miss Schäubin,” Neustatter spoke into the silence. “Well, Herr Eggers, I agree to Hofmann’s terms if you do.”

Astrid could practically see the man thinking.

“We are now behind schedule,” the conductor announced.

“We cannot have that.”

The conductor gave a firm nod. He’d evidently missed Eggers’ sarcasm. “Since it is all settled, I will move the passengers now.”

“Go ahead,” Eggers agreed.

The passengers quickly gathered up whatever they had brought with them and moved to the fourth car.

Gebhard pointed at the noble Astrid was still covering. “He stays.”

“Why?” Neustatter asked.

“Because he is one of them,” Gebhard stated.

“He was not going to help until you forced the issue. He appealed to Sergeant Sandhagen and was not going to defend the von Kardorffs. How does that set him against you?”

“He spoke against us!”

“I speak against you, too. Gebhard, you are a dummkopf. Free speech.”

Gebhard swore at Neustatter.

“And the horse you rode in on,” Neustatter returned.

“Silence!” Klaus Eggers ordered. “Get the noble out of here!”

“Your call,” Sergeant Sandhagen said. “Herr, this way.”

The noble shied away as he passed Neustatter.

“Now you come back here and sit down, Sergeant,” Eggers instructed. “I do not want you planning anything against us.”

“Fine.” Sandhagen looked at Hofmann. “Neustatter has another team in the first two cars. Try to work together if anything happens.”

Hofmann nodded. “Good luck.”

They shut and locked their respective doors as the train began to move.

As the clickety-clacks came closer and closer together, Gebhard said, “We cannot make an example of the reactionaries without witnesses.”

Neustatter glanced away from his door. “Do you seriously want to kidnap an audience?”

Eggers smacked Gebhard in the back of the head. “Nein.

“Next item. You need to convince me that the von Kardorffs are legitimate targets,” Neustatter stated.

“We told you. The father—”

“But they are not on your list, are they?” Neustatter’s tone was harsh. “What makes you think you can kill them?”

“We have to cut out the rot,” Gebhard answered. “Like father, like child.”

“You are just like them,” Astrid blurted out. “They know of one lazy villager, and treat us all like that. You know of one rapist and murderer and treat them all like that. But the Constitution forbids corruption of blood. I thought the Committees followed the Constitution.”

She had the satisfaction of watching Klaus’s mouth open and close a couple times. And Silent Hans flushed.

“They are . . . Not . . . On . . . Your . . . List,” Neustatter stated. “You are not allowed.”

“Do not presume to tell the Committees what we can and cannot do,” Eggers snapped. He turned away from his door as well. “We are past the camp and approaching Jena. That is the Committees’ territory. You have no one else you can call upon.”

“Do not be too sure,” Neustatter told him. “But since we are not in Jena yet, what do you have to say about Miss Schäubin’s point from the Constitution?”

“The anti-Semites and the witch hunters are not going to follow the Constitution, so neither are we,” Gebhard stated. Now weapons came up all around.

“Herr Eggers, that does not explain why you seek to kill people not on your list. Something else is going on here, and I want to know what,” Neustatter demanded. “Right now.”

Astrid noted that Eggers and Gebhard exchanged looks while Silent Hans looked uncomfortable. Gebhard finally spoke up.

“One of the women that von Kardorff had killed was the grandmother of a CoC member.”

“So this is private justice.”

“He is not on this mission. Someone has to see to it.”

“You are committed to this,” Neustatter observed. “Against orders. Why?”

“My grandfather was killed by the adel.”

“I see,” Neustatter said. “This CoC man whose grandmother von Kardorff killed—would he happen to be on the team going after the adel who killed your grandfather?”

Astrid saw Gebhard’s eyes widen and knew Neustatter had scored a hit.

“How do you know that?” Gebhard blurted out.

“Because Sergeant Hudson made me sit through Strangers on a Train,” Neustatter said.

Astrid couldn’t help it. She started laughing.

“You find this funny?” Eggers demanded.

“That Neustatter figured it out from an up-time movie?” she asked. “Ja, I do.”

“So why are you permitting it, Klaus?” Neustatter asked. “Do you approve? No, I see you do not.” He paused and thought. “Does he have something on you? No. You are not a man to blackmail. Honorable . . . He saved your life, did he not? During Krystalnacht? Or before?”

For the second time, Astrid saw the CoC men’s eyes widen in surprise.

“First week of Krystalnacht.” Eggers’ voice was gruff. “A man not on our list shot at me after I let him go.”

“Ah. So Gebhard’s belief that none of the adel can be trusted rings true. Dank schön, Herr Eggers. Now I understand.”

“We are going to take them off the train here in Jena,” Eggers stated as the train began to slow down. “Stand up!”

Astrid heard the young Ritter von Kardorff stand. Then she heard the hiss of a blade being drawn. Gebhard came down the aisle, pistol raised. She stepped in front of him.

“Gebhard!” Klaus warned.

“Stand aside!” a deep voice called out on the platform.  “CoC!”

Gebhard smiled menacingly.

Another voice shouted. “National Guard! Herr Engineer, keep that train moving!”

The train began to roll.

Klaus Eggers glared at Neustatter, his rifle coming up again. “You cheated!”

“I and most of my men are National Guard,” Neustatter told him. “That includes Miss Schäubin’s brother. So if you shoot her, Gebhard, I am going to let Hjalmar kill you. Personal vengeance cuts both ways.”

“Gebhard, step back,” Eggers directed.

Nein. It is time to end this.”

“Stop!” Von Kardorff tried to pass Astrid. She stepped in front of him. The boy half-sighed, half-growled in frustration. “Do you think I am so stupid that I would take vengeance on my village for your crimes?”

“Of course that is what they think,” his sister spat out. “They do not think of us as people. Not one of them knows anything about us except what lands we own!”

Eggers began to argue, but she spoke over him. “What are our names?” she demanded.

“Von Kardorff.”

“Our names. Not our lands.”

After an awkward silence, Neustatter said, “It is clear they do not know your names.”

“Nor do you.”

“That is true. I have been too busy saving your life.”

She sniffed.

“Neustatter,” Eggers said, “you do understand that we cannot let the boy rule over the village, do you not?”

“You could educate him instead of killing him,” Neustatter pointed out.

“Not much chance of that in a village.”

“Maybe the CoC should open a school.”

“I am not going to a school,” von Kardorff declared.

“Why not?” Astrid asked. “I take classes in Grantville. English, civics, finance.”

“The best education is in Grantville,” Neustatter agreed. “Herr Eggers, if you want him to rule the village well, those classes will be a good start.”

“I do not trust him or his sister. They will go back to the village.”

“Listen to you,” Miss von Kardorff interrupted. “The village. We are not of the hochadel. We own a village. We know everyone there.”

“And who does all the work administering it?” Gebhard asked.

“Herr Reimers oversaw most of it for Father,” von Kardorff stated.

“And will he oversee most of it for you?” Astrid asked.

“Of course.”

“Perfect,” Neustatter said. “You can attend school in Grantville and learn to rule well. Reimers can continue overseeing the village.”

“I told you we own a village,” Miss von Kardorff reminded everyone. “One small village. One hundred sixty-two tenants, only one hundred twenty-seven of them ours. We cannot afford to live in Grantville.”

Klaus Eggers laughed. “Get a job.”

“A job?” Astrid wished the young ritter hadn’t shouted from right behind her ear. He sounded outraged. “That is dishonorable.”

“So find an honorable one,” she told him.

“The only honorable occupation for a ritter is to be a soldier,” he stated.

“Or some other job where you carry a weapon,” Neustatter said slowly. “Kid, I got an idea. How about you come work for me while you are taking classes?”

Nein!” Gebhard shouted.

“Neustatter, you are wahnsinnig,” Eggers told him.

“Why not?” Neustatter asked. “How old are you?”

“Sixteen.”

“You have kept your cool as well as anyone could expect from a sixteen-year-old,” Neustatter told him.

“I will not leave my brother alone,” Miss Kardorff stated. “What would you do with me?”

“Do you intend to help your brother govern the village?” Neustatter.

“Yes, of course—until I marry.”

“Then you should take classes, too.”

“Will you give me a job, too? Hand me a sword?” The questions were definitely sarcastic.

“Miss Schäubin?”

Astrid was still looking at Gebhard. She rolled her eyes, because she knew what was coming. “Ja, Neustatter?”

“You handle NESS’s finances and are a security consultant. Do you want to train her?”

“Sure, why not? But, Neustatter, you can forget about buying any Winchesters if you are going to add two more staff. Maybe not even SRGs.”

“The Committees must have some guarantees,” Eggers began.

Three more staff, Miss Schäubin,” Neustatter corrected.

“I am not working for you!” Gebhard declared.

“And I am not inclined to take you,” Neustatter agreed. “Besides, Gebhard, you are concerned about the villagers. Why not go there and help them? You promised your comrade you would make things right, did you not?”

Klaus Eggers laughed. “So why do you say three, Neustatter?” After the briefest of pauses, he said, “Nein! Not me!”

“Why not?” Neustatter asked. “The Committees seek assurances that Ritter von Kardorff will learn to govern well. Who else would the CoCs send? Gebhard made a promise about the village. Hans . . . you plan to return to your volunteer regiment before the war starts, do you not?”

Ja,” Hans confirmed. “I am going back. This had to be done, but our assignment is over, except for these two.”

“The Committees are strong in the cities and larger towns,” Neustatter pointed out. “Not so much in farming villages. Let Gebhard work with the village. Klaus, you can figure out what ritter and freiherren should learn from the up-timers. I could use another rifleman. You could use some contact with the Grantville Committee of Correspondence. You can keep an eye on von Kardorff here, and he can keep an eye on you.”

“I do not approve of this,” von Kardorff proclaimed.

“Nor do I,” Klaus Eggers concurred.

“So it is settled, then,” Neustatter stated.

“I think we need to discuss this further,” Eggers protested.

“It is dawn,” Neustatter stated. “We will arrive at Schwarza Junction in a few minutes. I think we need to have everything settled by then.”

“You will pay us enough to live in Grantville?” Miss von Kardorff asked.

NESSKotSEapt“In an apartment building,” Astrid clarified. “Not a schloss.” She described the apartment she shared with her brother and her cousin.

“You must let my brother call it his grand tour,” she demanded.

Klaus sighed. “Fine. What do I care?”

“Klaus?” Gebhard asked.

“I think we should do it, Gebhard,” Klaus told him.

“You are a CoC team leader.”

“Neustatter has outmaneuvered me since we jumped on this train,” Klaus admitted. “Perhaps I should learn from him. And you could help Johann’s family.”

Gebhard finally stepped back. “I want regular contact with the Committees,” he said. “And with you, to make sure they do what they say.” He pointed at the von Kardorffs.

“Okay.”

Hans spoke up again. “You. Wolfram. Let us order arms.”

Weapons were slung, holstered, and sheathed while the clickety-clack on the rails lessened. Secure the area, Astrid thought, happy to mentally check off Neustatter’s third principle, even if it had taken all night to accomplish.

As the Schwarza Express pulled into the station, Astrid saw four Mounted Constables waiting on the platform. As they all filed out of the third car, one of the constables stepped forward, hand on his holster. “What’s the problem?” he asked in Amideutsch.

“No problem, Officer,” Neustatter said. “Just train guards going to breakfast after the overnight.”

“That’s a big group of train guards,” the constable stated.

Neustatter pointed at Hjalmar, Jakob, and Phillip disembarking from the first two cars. “Team Two.” Hofmann and his Levies poured out of the fourth car. “Some reinforcements from Colonel von Hessler, up in West Saxony.” Neustatter’s gesture took in his own group. “Team Three—and my new hires.” He pointed at Hans. “One soldier on leave.” At Gebhard. “And a CoC village liaison.”

“So no trouble?”

“No trouble. From Magdeburg, with love, you might say.”

Astrid wasn’t sure if the constable believed Neustatter or not, but he made no effort to stop them when Neustatter asked, “Breakfast in Grantville? I’m buying.”

As the group moved off the platform, Otto Brenner inserted himself next to Neustatter.

“Everything okay, boss?” he asked.

Ja,” Neustatter told him. “Everything is fine.”

He is one of yours?” Eggers demanded. “He sat right there from Halle to Naumburg Station, and we never had him covered!”

Gebhard looks a little pale, Astrid observed.

Ja,” Neustatter said. He looked to Astrid’s brother. “Hjalmar, I assume you are the one who got off the train at Halle and arranged for Hofmann’s men and the extra car at Naumburg Station?”

“I just got a message to Sergeant Hudson,” Hjalmar said. “He set up the rest.”

Ja, I definitely need to work for you,” Eggers told Neustatter, “and learn your tricks.”

Astrid knew Neustatter was grinning. But her brother’s embrace kept her from seeing it. She did hear what Neustatter said next.

“You need to get a message to that other CoC team and call off their private vengeance. And probably let your other two men know what happened—the ones who missed the train.”

Ja.

“All right,” Neustatter declared. “I need to know my employees’ names.”

Ich bin Friedrich,” the ritter said. “Just like Gebhard.”

“You may call me Miss von Kardorff,” his sister told Neustatter. “It would be improper of you to use my given name. I will be Miss von Kardorff, whom you encountered during Krystalnacht.”

“That is quite a long title,” Neustatter noted. “Longer than the whole village, as you describe it.”

“There are up-time women named Crystal,” Astrid offered. “If I am going to train you as a security consultant, you could use that name.”

“Lots of agents have code names,” Neustatter agreed. “Let us find a tram.”

Miss von Kardorff lagged behind the others. “A code name?” she asked Astrid.

Ja.” Astrid explained.

“Very well. I will be Krystal von Kardorff for now.”

Astrid started to follow them toward the tram.

“Miss Schäubin?”

She turned. Neustatter still had his pistol out. He held it out, but pointed safely away.

“Holster it for me, please. I can still shoot. Just cannot let go.”

Astrid pried the weapon out of his fingers, checked the safety, and holstered it for him.

“That whole train ride is a long time to almost get shot,” she observed.

Ja. A few hours at gunpoint gets tiring,” Neustatter allowed. “I do not want you to get hurt, but we take risks to protect others.”

“I know,” Astrid told him. “You are getting warm broth with breakfast, and you are going to hold onto it until your fingers uncramp.”

“Exactly what I was thinking,” Neustatter agreed.

****

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