SMC, Part 3

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XI

 

Late February, 1635

The Reservation

 

The pilot plant consisted of several buildings: the chem plant where the primer compound was made, the primer plant where the compound was added to the cups to make a finished primer, and the brassworks that made the primer cups on one small production line and the cartridge brass in another line. The remaining building was the assembly plant where the primers were inserted into the brass. It was in a separate building for safety. Nicki Jo was adamant about separating the fab plant from the chemical plant to prevent sympathetic detonation if the chem or primer facility went up.

All stages of production had been tested individually. Now it was time to test the entire production line from end to end. The test run would start at 7:00 AM and run until they were out of materials—in other words, when they could make no more primer cups, no more cartridge brass, no more live primers, no more primed cartridge brass.

The crews were ready. They had been training for a week, walking through each step of their piece of the process under supervision. The workstations were completed and, where they were handling explosive material, surrounded by sandbags and armor plate. They were ready.

Gary looked at the group—officers, stockholders, managers, professional staff, Nicki Jo and Katherine. The employees were at their positions waiting for the signal to start. Gary pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and waved it. The fabrication plant steam engine operator was watching for the signal. When the operator saw Gary waving a handkerchief, he followed his instructions and pulled the lanyard on the brass whistle on top of the engine.

The whistle sounded, echoing across the Reservation. Everyone except for the company officers and stockholders dispersed. The test was on.

Archie watched them leave. He turned to Pat Johnson. "Is it gonna work?"

"Yeah, it should—it will. We reached this point sooner than I estimated. I really thought Nicki Jo was going to have more problems making DDNP safely. I knew she'd be paranoid about that. It's one reason why I wanted her." Every member of the Board knew about the explosion at Essen Chemical the previous year. No one spoke of it but each board member agreed that, for Suhl, Incorporated, her paranoia was exactly what was needed.

"We're still behind schedule, though?" Archie asked.

"Yes, a month," Pat agreed. "It would have been worse if Nicki Jo hadn't altered her design. That saved us several weeks. She thought it would introduce additional worker risk but after that accident in the chem plant a couple of weeks ago, she now thinks she was too cautious in her original design."

"Let's get inside, Pat. I'm getting cold out here."

They were now alone on the reviewing stand. It wasn't much of a stand, a hastily constructed platform a couple of feet above the ground. They stepped down and headed for the admin building. The test run would last most of the day, and both of them had jobs to do.

As they walked, Pat mentioned, "I've already had requests from employee committees asking if, when, they could buy stock. I've assured them that we will have some kind of profit sharing program once we're in full production and selling our product. That's satisfied most of them."

Archie nodded in agreement. He, as a member of the board, had received some queries, too.

"Gary and I," Pat continued, referring to the upcoming initial sale of stock, added, "along with our financiers, have decided to restrict the number of shares to be sold on the open market. We have enough financing that selling more shares just isn't needed. We may make some concessions to our existing partners, like H&K. They've just bought another 10 blocks." They continued toward the admin building, across the graveled driveway to the front steps. "We had thought to sell shares to our employees but we now think a simple profit-sharing plan is better. That will still allow our employees to have a stake in the corporation."

They reached the main door of the admin building. Archie held the door open for Pat, "How much for a block?"

"Fifty silver guilders for one block."

"So H&K's initial investment was 500 guilders?" Archie asked.

"More, actually." They passed through the double front doors, past the receptionist desk and down the hallway towards Pat's office. "Our financiers suggested we convert to USE dollars and declare one share equal to a hundred USE dollars or roughly two and a half guilders. I argued against that. I want us backed by silver, not paper. In the end, the financiers appreciated that view. We need to repay them, buy out their investment, and they'll want a profit for investing and risking their capital. If all goes well, we can be free and clear of them in a few years. This will allow us to remain a closely-held corporation and still allow us the leeway to sell more shares in the future if we ever need to do so."

They reached Pat's office and went inside. Pat hung his coat and hat on a coat tree next to the door while Archie draped his coat over the back of a side chair and pulled a second chair closer to Pat's desk and asked, "What is the total investment at this point?"

Still standing, Pat walked to a side table, poured two mugs of hot broth, and gave one mug to Archie. He sat and continued the conversation. "Not counting the initial cash on hand, we have about thirty thousand guilders total investment. The actual asset value is half again more. I've asked the financiers to send an auditing team. They'll arrive later this month and will be our assurance to the investors that we're really doing what we say we're doing."

"Any money worries?" Archie asked.

"Surprisingly, no." Pat leaned back in his swivel chair, and stretched. He hadn't noticed how tense he had been that morning. He shouldn't have been. All the trial runs had performed well; bugs had been found and corrected. If the test went well, they would pass a major milestone and the possibility of failure would be greatly reduced. From this point forward, research would be finished and development nearly so. Pat closed his eyes for a moment, and then opened them and looked at Archie. "You know, there was a real risk it would all collapse if we hadn't gotten enough initial funding, if the Abrabanel clan hadn't come through for us."

"Are they directly invested?" Archie doubted direct involvement. From what he knew and had heard, the Abrabanels preferred to work behind the scenes, not out in public.

"No," Pat confirmed. "Indirectly? You can count on it."

****

Gary blew his whistle. It wasn't really needed. Everyone was already present, standing in the shadows of the western peaks. His watch read 4:35 PM. The individual managers gathered in front of the reviewing stand. "Report!" he bellowed.

Pat Johnson stepped forward. "Four thousand, seven hundred, thirty-two cartridge brass manufactured."

Nick Jo spoke next, "Eight thousand, two hundred seventy-six primers manufactured."

Gary reached into his pocket, extracted a piece of paper and read the figures aloud, "Four thousand, six hundred and ninety-three primed cartridge cases." The managers and supervisors clapped. They knew they had done their jobs. "We would have primed all the brass," Gary reported, "except for one box of primers that was spilled. Those are being picked up at the moment . . . carefully," he added, to the laughter of some of the employees.

He turned to the rest of the officers and stockholders. "I'd call that a success. We overran our goal by a factor of four—and that was just one production line that was only semi-mechanized."

Later than evening Gary Reardon walked into the radio station and told the attendant, "I have some messages that I need sent."

 

BEGIN: SUHL TO BMBG

TO: ABEL ABRABANEL

FROM: GARY REARDON

DATE: FEBRUARY 23, 1635

MESSAGE: TEMPLATE 3 STOP MILESTONE 43 SUCCESSFULLY COMPLETED STOP 4693 stop 9 DOT 5 HRS STOP 400 PERCENT STOP

 

"Send that same message to these people and addresses, too," Gary ordered, passing the list to the attendant.

I think I'll have a little celebration, Gary thought as he left the station. The Boar's Head was slightly out of his way home, but not all that far. Gaylynn would understand. The proprietor had received some superb brandy from Amsterdam, and Gary thought he'd try it. He wasn't a drinker, but today . . . Yes, today was special.

****

"We need to track down who Zoche is working with here in Suhl and up the line to Zwickau," Archie said. He was sitting in the new boardroom in the Reservation's admin building with Gary Reardon, Nicki Jo Prickett and Katherine, plus Eric Gruber.

"Francisco Nasi, in his private capacity, is interested in our situation and has promised to watch Zoche's couriers from Suhl up to Zwickau. When the courier passes our secret data, he'll sweep in and gather them up."

"But, he doesn't have any authority, now," Gary said.

"Well . . . yes and no. He still has contacts in the government and the military. If he finds evidence of foreign espionage, it falls into the area of responsibility of the military."

"So we've been told," Eric Gruber added.

"What do you plan?" Nicki Jo asked.

"Zoche has been hired as janitorial staff for the admin building. We were thinking if you, Nicki Jo, left some altered documents covering the DDNP process—processes that don't work—out where he could find them, we could watch him steal them and pass them on to the courier. When Nasi tells us he's closed the other end, we pick up Zoche and his friends. Nasi believes they can be charged with treason if they are working for a foreign nation. They all claim to be USE citizens." Archie wasn't sure about the treason charges. As long as he had proof of theft, it would be enough to charge them. Then he, Gruber and the Watch, that is, would arrest them, and the prosecutors could take it from there.

"Can you do that, Nicki Jo?" Pat asked.

"Easily. We had a number of failures, some very spectacular, before we reached our final formula. Some go boom very easily."

"What about the other one, Mohr?" Gary asked. Mohr was trying to steal his drawings for the mechanized brass production and ammunition assembly system. Pat was very protective about those designs. He'd worked extremely hard to develop and test them. He didn't care to give all that work away without some profit.

"We believe he is working for some possible competitors in Magdeburg. If we can prove that, we can sue them and win."

Pat interrupted, "As long as I—we get paid for our work, Archie, I'm satisfied,"

Archie nodded and continued, "If our plan works with Zoche, we'll try something like it on Mohr, Gary."

 

XII

 

March, 1635

Suhl

 

"What!"

Gary Reardon was working for himself, today, at his Nut and Bolt works. He hadn't spent much time with his business for the last seven months. He had a good manager, but sometimes Gary had to be there. That good manager, his wife Gaylynn, was passing Gary's office and heard his outburst. She paused at his open door and gave him a look. Gary returned her look with a frown. Gaylynn returned the frown, held it, and then nodded to Gary and proceeded down the hallway. Gary understood that look—keep your voice down!

"They refuse to sell us any black powder, Gary, under the terms in our contracts," Pat Johnson reported, sitting in from of Gary's desk. He had just given Gary the news. Their black powder suppliers had reneged on their contract. "They refused to discuss any options or alternatives. They raised their prices by four hundred percent, and they won't deliver any more powder than one ton per week. We can take or leave it."

"How can they do that? They agreed last November they would be our supplier. Ten tons per week. We have a contract with each of them!" Gary stood up. He needed to pace; it was one of his stress relievers. Unfortunately, his office wasn't big enough to pace and what little free space it had was now occupied by Pat Johnson.

"I don't think they can make ten tons a week even if they combine all their output. They are small producers, and only make enough for local customers . . . until now. They didn't expand their mills—expanding would cost them money."

"But they'd make more, more than enough to pay back their investment in a short time," Gary countered. "We would even provide financing for their expansion if they needed it."

"They don't see it that way, and please sit down, you're putting a crick in my neck standing there," Pat said. "They think they're in a controlling position and claim they have preexisting commitments to other clients."

Gary sat, stared at Pat, looked away, and then hit his desk with his fist in frustration. It was one of his rare expressions of anger. He couldn't pace, he couldn't relieve his growing anger and frustration. The project was still behind. They'd gained a week, and now this—a new job and an expensive one. With no outlet for his anger, it seethed and continued to grow.

"Where's Nicki Jo?" Gary asked. There was a solution. It wasn't one he liked but he had a project manager coming free who could be used. "We've got another job for her."

"Out at the site, probably."

Gary expected that answer. If she weren't home in the house Marjorie had found for her, she'd be in her lab. "I need to think on this, would you go get her and bring her back here? Katy, too. We need to put our heads together on this."

With Pat gone, Gary stood up and left his office. He needed to pace. He had to moderate his temper. They thought they could act like robber barons. They were wrong. Oh, they'll pay, he promised himself.

****

"I know it's not in your contract, Nicki Jo," Gary said, "but we're in a bind. Can you do it?"

"Make a powder mill?" Nicki Jo responded, "Sure. It's just mechanics. Once you have the mill wheels set up, it's just a construction job. I hadn't planned on one so there's no place in the current plant design. We'll need an additional site, mill, and bunkers."

"Fortunately, we have workers available." Gary muttered. He had planned to turn some laborers loose now that the major construction phase was over. God, the cost! "Would you manage this—the design of the mill and oversee its construction?"

Nicki Jo didn't mind building the mill. It was just a simple construction job. It did affect her plans. She was about to wrap up her contract. The DDNP fabrication plant and the primer manufactory were done. All she had left was some final documentation and training reviews. She glanced at Katherine. Objections? she mentally asked. Nicki Jo knew that if Katherine had objections, she would not hesitate to speak. Apparently, she had none. "I'll do it, Gary. Shouldn't be a big deal, just supervision."

"Thank you, Nicki Jo. Would it be okay if I work with Katy on your contract change?"

"Go ahead. She's better than I on contracts."

Katherine and Nicki Jo left Gary's office to return to the Reservation. "You have a list of these people—the ones who are holding us up?" Gary asked Pat Johnson.

"Right here," Pat said, laying the list on Gary's desk.

"I wanted to keep Suhl, Incorporated, a friendly affair. We'd deal fairly with the people in Suhl, provide them new jobs, improve the economy and the overall prospects of the entire city. But there's always some sons-of-bitches who have to screw things up. Damn it!"

"Gary—"

"I'm gonna screw 'em, Pat. I'm going nail their asses to the wall. I'm going to find out who their suppliers are, where they get their saltpeter, their charcoal and sulphur and put those sources under an exclusive contract to us. We'll outproduce them and undersell them—even at a loss if necessary. No one stabs me in the back! And when they come to us begging for relief, we'll buy them out for pennies on the dollar."


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