SMC, Part 3

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.”

“Gary, there’s more.”

“More?” Gary asked. His eyebrows leaping upward.

“I think Zoche bribed them.”

The pressure to meet the October deadline was growing for everyone involved in the project. Pat knew that Gary was usually an even-tempered man. A type-A personality, certainly, and driven to meet his self-designated goals. Pat had known Gary all his life but he’d forgotten that Gary, when his anger was aroused, held a grudge.

“I think it’s time for Andres Zoche to go away.”

“Gary!”

“Oh, nothing physical . . .” But I can still imagine beating the shit out of him. “. . . just insure he’s jailed and no longer a factor. Let’s put Archie’s plan in motion. I’m tired of Zoche’s interference.”

“What about Mohr?” Pat asked.

“He’s working for some interests in Magdeburg. I’m not all that concerned about him. We’ll keep him from finding any drawings of our tools and presses. Eventually, some will get out, but we’ll have our head start and the people in Magdeburg will be playing catch-up.

 

XIII

 

April, 1635

Suhl

 

“Nicki Jo, a letter from Banfi Hunyades arrived today,” Katherine announced as she walked into Nicki Jo’s home office, a small room on the upper floor of the house rented for them by the consortium. Nicki Jo often did her writing, documentation, and process plans here, in the quiet of their home. Today, she was seated at her desk writing in her daily diary. The diary was a log of her activities for the day, the details of the issues and resolutions that she was documenting for her reports to the board.

“What does he want?” Nicki Jo replied looking up.

“I didn’t read it. It’s addressed to you.” Katherine gave Nicki Jo the sealed letter and sat in the chair at the side of the desk.

“Katy. I’ve told you before. I have no secrets from you. I want you to read my mail.”

“Only if I want, Nick, and I see no need. You’ll tell me what I need to know.” Katherine propped her elbow on the edge of the desk and rested her cheek in the palm of her hand. She’d wait while Nicki Jo read the letter. Then, she knew, Nicki Jo would tell her what was in it.

Nicki Jo sighed. With the letter in hand, she broke the wax seal, opened the letter, and read it through while Katherine waited. When she finished, she handed it to Katherine. “I think you need to go back to Essen for a while. I don’t know if what we’re doing here has gotten out, but this may be something we can leverage.”

Katherine read the letter and looked up, “Nitrocellulose?”

“Yes, the stuff for smokeless gunpowder.”

“But—”

“I know. I’ve said it’s too dangerous but I’ve been rethinking that.”

“Picric acid and DDNP are dangerous, too,” Katherine mentioned.

“Yes. Some differences but not all that much.” Nicki Jo drummed her fingers on her desk and looked out the side window. She could see Suhl’s rooftops and, in the distance, the ridge that blocked her view of the Reservation. The view from the window had become a welcome sight. She could just see the top of the tower next to the Rathaus.

“You know where this leads,” she said, continuing to look out the window. After a few moments, she turned from the window and said to Katherine, “If we do this, we’ll need to tell the others. They’ll be interested, too.”

Katherine read the letter again, “There’s no mention of confidentiality.”

“Oversight? Deliberate?” Nicki Jo asked. “What do you think?”

“Don’t know, Nick.”

Nicki Jo looked out the window again. She tapped her teeth with the pencil, a habit she’d had since grade school. She looked at Katherine. There could only be one course of action. “That’s why you need to go and talk with Banfi. We need to know what constraints, if any, are in this contract, the clients, the project scope . . . any conflicts of interest?”

Katherine looked down at the letter and for a moment, contemplated what she should do. Nicki Jo was right. Someone had to go back to Essen. That meant . . . “Oh, Nick . . . I don’t want to go. I like it here. We’ve made new friends here.”

“I can’t go, Katy, not now. There’s still the mill to build.”

The two women looked at one another. They’d not been apart more than a few days for nearly two years. Katherine had fears that Nicki Jo would get depressed again if she weren’t here to help her. She knew Nicki Jo’s weaknesses—Nicki Jo didn’t do well being alone. Katherine didn’t know the term bipolar cycle, but if she had, she would have recognized its effects on Nicki Jo. The method Nicki Jo used to keep that cycle at bay was work. She could immerse herself in work and ignore the outside factors that could trigger a cycle. On the other hand, Nicki Jo hadn’t been depressed since they arrived in Suhl late last September. That change was welcome. But, could Nicki Jo continue to fight her recurring depression without her?

“I know what you’re thinking, Katy. Marjorie’s here . . . so are Gaylynn, Greta, and Ursula. I’m not alone.”

Katherine sighed. She knew when her objections had been reviewed and rejected. Truth be known, she wasn’t as concerned as she had been in Essen. “Very well.”

“I’ll come, too, as soon as the powder mill is finished,” Nicki Jo said.

“But that’s . . .”

“Yes, a couple of months.”

Katherine’s eyes were moist. “Very well, I’ll leave on the next coach north.”

“And take those mercenaries with you,” Nicki Jo added. The squad of mounted mercenaries had liked living in Suhl. They were well-paid, well-fed, and no one was shooting at them. It was time they earned their keep once again.

 

May, 1635

The Reservation

 

“Any word from Nasi?” Nicki Jo asked Archie as she entered his office in the courthouse and sat down. She was getting anxious. The trap had been set in motion a week ago. She and Archie had watched Zoche find the doctored file in her office in the admin building. Her office there actually held nothing more than correspondence with suppliers. That information wasn’t critical. All her most important documentation was kept in her safe in her house in Suhl, watched by a trusted guard, a Mounted Constabulary trooper on medical leave for an ulcer.

Nicki Jo puttered around in her office waiting for Zoche to come and clean it. She and Georg Rohn would discuss the DDNP process when Zoche walked in. She would put the folder in one of her file cabinets and be called away before she locked the cabinet. That would give Zoche the opportunity to steal the altered formula.

Zoche arrived. Nicki Jo gave him a nod in acknowledgement and continued her conversation. “Do you need this anymore, Georg?” she asked, taking the folder from Georg’s hands.

“No, Nicki Jo. I’ve noted the last change on the process. It’s all up-to-date now, and you can store it all in the archives down in the strong room.” Georg Rohn had practiced his part in the scene they were playing for Zoche. He was careful not to look at Zoche, to ignore him. Nicki Jo took the folder with its red stripe across the cover and walked over to the filing cabinet. Standing next to the cabinet was a long iron bar. When the bar slid through the metal handles of the cabinet, it could be locked with an up-time pad lock. She opened a drawer, thumbed through some folders, and slid the striped folder in place just as Pat Johnson walked into her office.

“Nicki Jo . . . Georg, you, too, would you join me in my office? I want you to review my idea to speed up the primer assembly line. I’m concerned about the pressure being applied to the compound. I don’t want any self-detonations.”

Nicki Jo slid the drawer shut. “Sure, Pat.” She and Georg followed Pat out, leaving the cabinet unlocked as planned. Archie Mitchell had watched through a pinhole from the next office. Zoche opened the cabinet, removed the red-striped folder and one other. He switched the contents and put the red-striped folder back. The other folder, now containing the altered DDNP process, he hid inside his shirt and walked out.

That had been a week ago. When Zoche returned to his room in Suhl, he sealed the folder inside a weatherproof pouch and delivered it to a private courier. Two of Gruber’s troopers followed the courier to Erfurt where the surveillance was handed over to Francisco Nasi’s operatives.

“Nothing yet, Nicki Jo. It’s not dark yet, so I doubt anything will come in on the radio net until then. Why don’t you go home? I’ll let you know as soon as I do—after I have Gruber and the watch arrest Zoche.

Nicki Jo didn’t want to go home. Her cook and maid were waiting for her, but they weren’t Katherine, and she greatly missed Katherine. She still needed six more weeks to finish the powder mills on the Reservation. Once that was done, she could go to Katherine. She managed to wait another half an hour before she decided she couldn’t waste any more of Archie’s time. She stood to take her leave when a messenger from the radio station arrived.

The messenger handed the paper to Archie who quickly read it. “Tell Captain Gruber that I said it’s time,” he instructed the messenger, who left the office to find the Mounted Constabulary captain.

“Nasi got them,” Archie told Nicki Jo. “They were Saxons. Nasi decided to let the package go on. He thought they’d blow their lab up at least once before they got wise that your formula won’t work.”

Nicki Jo sat back down and sighed. “I’m so relieved. I’ve been worrying about this for months.”

“Well, you can quit now. We’ll grab Zoche and his friends and lock them up. I expect the people in Magdeburg will want to talk to them.”

“What about the other one, Mohr?”

“That turns out to be some domestic espionage. He is working for a group in Magdeburg. Nasi has identified them all. We’ll sue them and recoup more from them than if they had just licensed our process from us. We all will win from this.”

“Except for the Saxons.”

“And the people in Magdeburg.”

 

XIV

 

July, 1635

Suhl

 

Nicki Jo pointed to her bags, designating which ones the porter was to load on the coach and which ones she would keep inside with her. A number of people had gathered to say goodbye. Marjorie, Gaylynn, Ursula, and Greta lined up to give her departure hugs. Pat, Gary, and Archie had all hoped she would stay, but she had fulfilled the terms of her contract and had done so months earlier than planned. Nicki Jo was a whirlwind when motivated. More so, when her primary source of motivation was in Essen. Nicki Jo had resolved most of her personal issues. Perhaps the new surroundings and new people had been more therapeutic than everyone thought. Whatever the reason, Nicki Jo had returned to her “pre-explosion” self, and any thoughts of self-punishment had vanished. Permanently, everyone hoped.

Katherine had resolved the contract issue in Essen but the political situation along the Rhine had deteriorated. Colette Modi was offering a deal. Essen Chemical would accept a contract with Suhl, Incorporated, to operate the Suhl chemical plant. She would also move parts of Essen Chemical to Suhl, away from the armies marching near Essen. That move would safeguard her company and expand Collette’s operations in the SoTF. No one knew where that would go. Behind all the military maneuverings, Suhl County was seen as a peaceful island in a world of turmoil.

The black powder mills, Nicki Jo’s last task, were in full operation. Gary had paid her a sizable bonus for her achievements. She had met every milestone either on time or earlier than planned.

“We’ll keep your house waiting for you, Nicki Jo,” Marjorie said.

“Thank you. I expect I’ll be back in a couple or three weeks. I’m meeting Katherine in Magdeburg and we’re spending a few days with the people at the Imperial College. I just don’t know at this time how long we’ll be there.”

“I’m glad Katherine got out of Essen. I’ve been worrying about her all the while she’s been gone. It will be good to see her again.”

“I’m not sure how she managed that. I think she may have taken a ship to Luebeck and from there on to Magdeburg.”

The three men stood back from the fray. Finally, at the urging of the coach’s driver and guard, Nicki Jo entered, and the porter closed the coach’s door. She waved to her friends as the coach moved out toward the north road, accompanied by hired guards, to Erfurt and on to Magdeburg.

“Well, I need to get back to work. See ya,” Gary said to the other two men and walked off.

 

BEGIN: SUHL TO BMBG

TO: ABEL ABRABANEL

FROM: GARY REARDON

DATE: JULY 7, 1635

MESSAGE: TEMPLATE 27 STOP MILESTONE 123 SUCCESSFULLY COMPLETED STOP 6 TONS PER WEEK STOP ENTERING PHASE 4 STOP

 

The radio station’s operator looked up, “More messages, Herr Reardon?”

“Yes. Just like the last times, Karl. Here is the list of recipients.”

The station operator glanced at the clock. “These will go out in about six hours on the evening net, Herr Reardon. I can barely hear Grantville right now, and they can’t hear me at all.”

Gary knew well the propagation effects of the Maunder Minimum that restricted radio transmissions, usually, to the evening hours, at dusk, and in the morning at dawn. The operators called it the gray line effect—that period just before and after dusk and dawn. “I understand. If you can’t send them tonight would you please send me a message?”

“Certainly, Herr Reardon. If not this evening, we’ll try again in the morning. I’ll let you know whenever they are sent.”

Danke.” Gary placed a silver guilder on the counter, “. . . for your efforts.”

The radio operator’s eyebrows rose at the sight of the coin. He swept it off the counter and slipped it into his pocket, nodding respectfully. He would have insured Herr Reardon’s messages were sent as quickly as possible and privately, too, but it was nice for Herr Reardon to reward that confidentiality.

An hour later, Gary rode up to the Suhl, Incorporated, administration building. He had taken Archie’s advice and had bought a horse for his daily commute. It was much better than the hour-long walk it would normally take to reach the Reservation. Should we provide a shuttle service? Another item for his to-do list to think about.

Portions of the admin building, the upper floor, were still empty. He entered and greeted the receptionist who sat behind a counter just inside the main door. He was a new hire and had been on the job only a week.

“You have some visitors waiting for you, Herr Reardon. They’re in the waiting room.”

“Their names?”

The receptionist glanced at the register that every visitor had to sign, “Herr Lang, Herr Thalmann, and Herr Exel, Herr Reardon.”

Gary recognized the names. They were the three who owned the black powder mills in Suhl. Last fall, each one had promised to supply Suhl, Incorporated with black powder. Each had signed a contract. Then, when bribed by the spy, Zoche, they had each reneged on their contracts.

“Give me five minutes and then escort them to my office. Send a security guard to my office first.”

“Jawohl, Herr Reardon.”

Gary turned left and walked down the hall to his office. He reached Pat Johnson’s office, which was next to his, and saw Pat was inside. He opened the door and asked, “Pat, would you join me in my office? Lang, Thalmann, and Exel are here.” Before Pat could answer, Gary closed the door, walked a few more steps down the hall and entered his own office. He had just seated himself behind his desk when Pat entered through a doorway between their offices. Gary gestured for Pat to sit in the chair that would give him a view of the visitor chairs and of Gary.

As Pat was sitting, a security guard, one of Anse Hatfield’s men, entered. “Just stand over there along the wall, if you would, Eric. I want you to be visible. I don’t think our visitors will get violent but I think your presence will help keep them in control of themselves.”

“Jawohl, Herr Reardon.” The guard positioned himself along the wall, spread his legs, crossed his arms, and stood guard.

The receptionist knocked on Gary’s office door, opened it and announced, “Herr Lang, Herr Thalmann, and Herr Exel, Herr Reardon.”

“Thank you, Mattheus. Show them in.”

The three men walked into the office. Lang strode in, looked at the chairs before Gary’s desk, walked over, and sat before Gary could give an invitation to sit. Herr Thalmann and Herr Exel were more hesitant, but quickly followed Lang’s lead.

So that’s how it’s going to be. So be it, Gary thought. No reconciliation, just snub me from the start. If they had been more . . . respectful, he might have cut them some slack. Maybe. Not now.

“What do you want?” Gary asked bluntly.

Thalmann opened his mouth to speak, and then stopped. He glanced at Lang and shut his mouth. There was a brief moment of silence then Lang spoke. “You will stop stealing our customers or we will sue you and shut you down.”

Gary smiled and said nothing.

When Gary gave no response. Pat Johnson spoke instead. “Stop? We aren’t stealing anything. We’re selling a better, cheaper product. If your former customers prefer us over you, that’s just too bad—for you.”

Lang opened his mouth to refute Pat’s statement but Pat silenced him by pointing a finger at Lang and continuing. “We didn’t want to build a powder mill. We wanted to help existing Suhl merchants—you! Each one of you promised to supply us and then refused. You failed to deliver. You refused to do business with us, not we with you. If anyone has a complaint, it is us with you for breaking your contracts. If you are unhappy that we’re making our own black powder, selling powder that is better and cheaper than yours, you have no one to blame except yourselves.”

Lang sputtered. Thalmann and Exel glanced at one another but remained silent. “Do you have anything else to discuss?” Gary asked. “No? Then Guten Tag, Meine Herren. Eric, please escort these gentlemen off Suhl, Incorporated property.”

Jawohl, Herr Reardon. This way, Meine Herren.”

The three rose and walked out. Thalmann and Exel had not said a word. Obviously, it was Lang who led the group. As they left, Lang stalked off in the lead.

“Think they’ll be back?” Pat asked.

“Not yet, but yes, they will. Our powder mill is now operating, and we’ve a surplus to our needs. We can increase the amount we sell to their customers and drop our price another ten percent to put the squeeze on them.”

Pat nodded but said nothing. He wasn’t as vindictive as Gary was but he agreed that a lesson had to be learned. Suhl, Incorporated, would treat any honest businessman fairly. But try to screw Suhl, Incorporated . . . and you’ll regret it.

“Have you received their current valuation?” Gary asked.

Pat stood. He nodded and replied, “Several times. It keeps changing—downward. They’re not being underwritten by Zoche anymore.”

“I’ll give them another month,” Gary stated.

“That sounds about right.”

“What will be your price?” Gary asked. He preferred to let Pat be the dog in this fight. Pat was more . . . conciliatory. No, that wasn’t the word; Pat would put them out of business and do it in such a fashion that everyone would know why it was being done, and everyone would approve the action. Gary could not do that. Oh, he’d put them out of business, probably in the same way Pat did, but the citizens of Suhl would consider Gary a tyrant, arrogantly imposing his power on three small factors. No, Pat was the better one to handle this.

Pat didn’t immediately answer. “I’m feeling generous, Pat. I think ten cents of the dollar would be fair,” Gary said with a smile.

Pat looked out the window and watched the three climb into a coach for the trip back to Suhl. “Some people are so short-sighted.” He turned from the window. “Are we back on schedule?”

“Almost. The production lines are all working. We’re continuing to stockpile ores and materials for the primer fabrication plant. We have four bunkers full of .45 Long Colt, sealed, crated and ready to ship, and another three bunkers of .45-70. We’re still playing catch-up finishing the interiors of the brassworks and the chemical plant. As work teams get finished, we’re putting them to work building the remaining berms.”

“Good,” Pat responded.

****

“Gary, Lang has closed his doors,” Pat reported as he walked through the interconnecting door between his office and Gary’s. “Ruben just sent me the news. He thinks Thalmann and Exel will close, too, within a week.” Their meeting with Gary and Pat had occurred a month ago. The three had lasted longer than either of them had thought they would.

Gary looked up and the news, and a smile spread across his face. “Think it’s time to make them an offer?”

Pat rubbed his jaw. “No, not yet. We can do that after the lawyers swoop in to collect their debts. Then we’ll deal with the lawyers. Lang and the rest can take it and be glad to get it. If not from them, then from the new owners.”

“Who is our property lawyer?”

“Ahh, I can’t remember his name at the moment. He’s new.”

“Put him on it. Tell him what we want, why, and turn him loose when you think it’s time.”

“Will do.”

Gary ticked another item off his mental list, returned to his desk and began reading the next report from the stack before him.

****

Archie Mitchell woke to the shaking of his house. He heard some small object fall and shatter in the next room. Marjorie had been awakened, too. He could hear Dieter and Greta stirring upstairs, and Marta was crying.

“What was that, Archie?” Marjorie asked.

He wasn’t sure. Something had shaken the house. Earthquake? No, he had felt those before when he had been assigned to The Presidio in San Francisco. What could have happened—the Reservation!

“I think something blew up at the Reservation. Go upstairs and tell Dieter we need to head out there.”

Archie was saddling his pinto when Dieter ran up. “I’ll be right with you,” he said as he paused to saddle his horse.

Archie tightened the saddle’s belly band and mounted. Dieter joined him, and they headed for the Reservation. The Reservation was three miles outside of Suhl to the west. Archie and Dieter lived not far from the western gate. Archie knew Pat Johnson and Gary Reardon would be coming but they lived on the other side of Suhl. Archie and Dieter would arrive first.

They reached the Reservation twenty minutes later. The administration building came into sight, and lamps were visible inside. That was normal. The security guards worked out of the admin building. This evening, there should be ten guards patrolling the grounds and buildings. “Let’s stop here first, Dieter. Someone here should know what happened,” Archie said. They dismounted and tied the horses’ reins to the hitching rail in front.

They were met at the door by the security shift supervisor. “I thought you would be coming, Herr Marshal.”

“What happened?” Archie asked.

“One of the bunkers blew up. Number 9. We’re checking the other buildings and bunkers but, other than some broken windows and some minor roof damage, the damage isn’t bad . . . except for that one bunker.”

“Where is Bunker 9?”

The supervisor walked over to the map of the Reservation mounted on the wall. There was an index on one side. Each building and bunker was numbered. The supervisor looked at the map and pointed to one bunker. “Here,” he said. “It’s on the edge of the storage area, more than a mile from here. That’s probably why the damage was so slight.”

What could cause the bunker to explode? “What was stored there?” Archie asked.

The supervisor took a binder from a desk drawer. In the binder was a list of the bunkers and what was stored within each. Some contained finished ammunition. Others had finished primers and others, Number 9 among them, contained DDNP. “DDNP,” he replied.

Archie turned to Dieter and said, “Let’s go.”

Before he left, Archie told the supervisor, “Herr Reardon and Herr Johnson will be here soon, as well as Herr Rohn, I expect. Tell them we’ll be at the bunker site.”

Jawohl, Herr Marshal!”

It was a short ride to the bunker site. The moon had appeared after the evening’s earlier overcast had dispersed. Moonlight lit their way.

They smelled the odor from the explosion before they reached the bunker. It had been a standard bunker, a sunken stone and concrete building covered with earth and surrounded by a twenty-foot-high berm. The entrance had been through a dog-leg designed to keep most of the force of any explosion within the berm. From Archie’s visual examination, it had not worked. The dog-leg was gone. Two security guards were present. One was sitting on the ground. The other was tending his partner.

“You okay?” Archie asked riding up to the pair and dismounting. He recognized both of the guards. One was a former gunsmith apprentice who joined the security force for its higher wages. The other was a militiaman.

The one sitting, the former apprentice, said, “The explosion knocked me off my horse. I broke my arm, I think.”

“What about you?” Archie asked the other guard.

“I’m all right. We were a quarter of a mile away and had several berms between us when it exploded. My ears are ringing, though.”

“Mine, too,” said his partner.

“Glad you’re okay. Do you know what happened?”

“There was an intruder. We found some wagon tracks coming in from outside—not through any of the entrances. We were following them when it all blew up.” The protective berm around the Reservation was one of the tasks still uncompleted. There were gaps, here and there, mostly along the furthest side from Suhl. The intruder had entered through one of those gaps.

The bunker was a smoking hole in the ground. The grass on the sides of the berm was gone, blasted clean by the force of the explosion. The dog-leg entrance was gone, too, completely erased. Archie sniffed the air. He had popped enough primers to identify the odor from the exploded DDNP. But . . . there was another smell, one he couldn’t quite identify. “Do you smell that, Dieter?”

Dieter sniffed, sniffed again. “Black powder, I think. It’s faint but . . .”

That was it. Archie walked around examining the scene. There wasn’t much left inside the berm. Most of the force of the blast had been directed upwards just as Nicki Jo had planned. “Let’s check outside,” he said to Dieter.

They walked outside the berm in time to see Pat Johnson arrive with Gary Reardon. “Got an injured man inside,” he told them.

“Check the ground, Dieter. That powder didn’t come here by itself. Our powder mill and bunkers are on the other side of the reservation.”

More mounted guards arrived with lanterns. Archie gave them instructions to check the ground around the nearby berms looking for anything suspicious. Any nearby tracks outside the bunker had been wiped clean. The search would have to spread out if they hoped to find anything.

****

Archie and Gary looked at the splintered wagon, illuminated by the light of a dozen lanterns. “Damn fool,” Gary muttered. The remains of the wagon, two horses, and the driver were only a hundred and fifty yards from the exploded bunker. Most of the force of the explosion had been directed upwards . . . but not all. The dog-leg entrance to the bunker had been blown out allowing some of the explosive force to vent horizontally—directly towards the bunker and berm where the wagon driver had stopped to watch.

“You know him?” Archie asked. The body was mixed in with the wagon. In several pieces. The head was, surprisingly, intact. Mostly.

“Yeah, Joseph Lang. I put him out of business. Zoche bribed him to break a contract with us. He’s the reason why we were forced to build our own black powder mills.”

“I don’t know what he was thinking. He was too close. A bunker full of DDNP makes a much bigger explosion than a keg of black powder,” Archie observed.

“Is that what he did?” Gary asked.

“I think so. There was a keg still on the wagon when the bunker blew. It blew, too. I think he rolled a keg of black powder against the bunker door, lit a fuse, and took off.”

“Why didn’t he go further away?”

“He didn’t know the explosion would be so big. It would have been a safe distance for a black powder explosion.”

“Stupid.”

“Yep,” Archie agreed.

Georg Rohn walked up. He had been checking the scene as well. “How much DDNP did we lose?” Gary asked him.

“I’ll have to check the records but I think about seven hundred pounds. We have more stored in other bunkers,” Rohn answered. “We have enough empty bunkers that I spread the DDNP storage as far from one another as I could.”

“Will this affect our production lines?”

“No. We’ve more than enough for the primer line. This bunker was for the new blasting cap line.”

Gary watched the guards carry off what was left of Joseph Lang, what they could find of him. The remains of the two horses would be removed later.

“Dieter and I will write up a report for Judge Fross and the Suhl watch,” Archie told them. “I’ll send you an official copy, too, Gary. I’ll label Lang’s death as, Death by Misadventure, as our former British compatriots would say.”

“Death by idiocy,” Gary replied.

“Yeah, that, too.”

 

XV

 

September, 1635

Suhl

 

“Well, Anse, it’s not quite Labor Day, but It’ll do,” Archie spoke into Anse Hatfield’s ear. Hatfield was wearing his third hat, as he liked to call his part-time job overseeing the corporation’s security force. He divided his time between working with Ursula Johnson reviewing the books of U. S. Waffenfabrik, supervising the foremen of his trucking company, training drivers for the Suhl National Guard unit and building Suhl, Incorporated, security with Dieter Issler. The noise from the crowd made conversation difficult, especially for old soldiers whose hearing wasn’t all that good to begin with.

“I’d forgotten, Archie. This is Labor Day, isn’t it?” Anse Hatfield swept his eyes across the crowd. “No parades and no politicians speechifying, though.” His wife, Leonore, was somewhere in the mass of people likely with Marjorie Mitchell or Gaylynn Johnson. Leonore had arrived unexpectedly last autumn. She married Anse Hatfield not long after that.

Servers, hired for the event, circulated with trays of drinks, pitchers of beer, and platters of finger food. The lawn was littered with open tents and long tables and chairs positioned under the few trees remaining after the previous year’s clearance. A wagon rolled up to one tent, and the carters unloaded a number of barrels of beer. Everyone appeared to be having a great time. Here and there, one of his security guards could be seen wandering through the crowd, keeping the peace.

“Maybe not, but we do have the picnic, and Suhl, Incorporated, is picking up the tab. Have you reported all this to your boss?”

“Pat? Why should I? He’s right over there.” Pat Johnson was conversing with a man just ten feet away.

“No, your other boss, Francisco Nasi,” Archie said.

Anse turned towards Archie. “So . . . you know about that.” He wasn’t asking a question, he was confirming to Archie a poorly kept secret.

“I get copies of every message sent and received by the radio station, Anse. The station is administered by the court, and guess who supervises the operators?”

“Does anyone else know?”

“No, why should they?”

“Then why do you . . .”

“You forget who I work for—Judge Fross. I keep him in the loop whenever I think it’s appropriate. I may be on the Board of Suhl, Incorporated, but my primary loyalty is to the SoTF. There’s no conflict of interest. That said, speaking as one of the Board of Directors, Suhl, Incorporated, doesn’t mind Nasi knowing what we’re doing. He’s known officially since he helped us collar that spy. I suspect he is one of our original investors and probably gets copies of our progress updates from the Abrabanels. I wouldn’t be surprised if Nasi won’t be one of our better marketeers.”

On the far side of the crowd, under one of the trees, musicians started playing, and Archie could see couples dancing to the music. “As for others?” Archie continued, “like the Hart boys? Well, we preferred to keep our business to ourselves, keep it all a secret until we were ready to announce the news—like now.”

He saw Pat Johnson, Gary Reardon, and Ruben Blumroder head for the reviewing stand. He knew what was coming next. Archie grinned, “I think the show is about to start,” he said changing the subject. “Shall we join them?”

****

The weather was still warm for the gathering. Anse Hatfield left to join his wife and the members of his National Guard unit. Archie estimated that just about all of the corporation employees were here. So were the others from Suhl who had a connection with the company and the project in one form or another, including those who had helped when the storm had ruined RJ City the previous year. The festivities were being held on the lawn of the Suhl, Incorporated administrative headquarters outside Suhl. Maps of the Reservation were on display at several locations showing the layout of the plant, the fabrication buildings, the brassworks, the powder mill, and the storage bunkers.

Those maps had initially given Archie some concern but on reflection, everyone in Suhl knew the layout already. Moreover, as far as outsiders—spies—were concerned, they could get a copy of the Reservation map easily. The Reservation contained forty-seven buildings and bunkers in all. The black powder mill was Nicki Jo’s last project. It was in a separate area of the Reservation divided into five buildings and bunkers.

Everyone was dressed in their finest. Archie knew Marjorie and the other wives had plotted and planned to help those who couldn’t afford any expensive finery. He couldn’t help but compare Marjorie with the other wives. Marjorie had a fashion mind of her own as the down-timers discovered. She and Archie were dressed alike, more or less. Marjorie had altered one of his black suits that had come with them through the Ring of Fire. She had his suit jacket shortened to waist length and the buttons replaced with silver ones. The alterations allowed him to wear his ‘church’ regalia—black polished cowboy boots, black pants, and a silver and turquoise belt buckle that he had bought on their last vacation in Arizona. Add to all that was his white shirt, black bolo tie with silver and turquoise clasp, his tooled leather holster for one of his Colt .45 revolvers and topped off with his freshly cleaned and blocked off-white Stetson.

Marjorie wore a short black Bolero jacket similar to Archie’s, including matching silver buttons, with a long, ankle-length black pleated skirt that left her silver-toed black boots exposed. Like Archie, she wore a white blouse—hers was ruffled—and a silver and turquoise brooch at her throat. She also wore a tooled leather belt and holster around her waist holding her Smith and Wesson Model 25 in her customary cross-draw position on her left hip.

Her pistol gleamed brightly. It had been polished and blued by Pat’s gun shop in compensation for its use during the research and development of the primers. The Mitchells stood out from all the seventeenth-century dress as if they were Hollywood celebrities at a premier showing of a movie.

The other up-timers present wore variations of their up-time suits except for Pat Johnson. He chose to join the locals and was dressed in stockings, knee pants, buckled shoes, frock coat, and ruffled shirt. All he needed to be mistaken for a down-timer was a sword. Instead of a sword, he wore his revolver, freshly hot-blued like Marjorie’s. A number of pistols had been reblued after Pat finally gotten around to building his hot-bluing tank. That was one reason Archie was wearing his revolvers. His matching Colt Commanders were in that tank being reblued.

“If I may have your attention, please!” Gary Reardon called. The crowd was so large that he used a speaking trumpet to allow everyone to hear. He turned in a circle repeating his call.

When the crowd quieted, he began, “Thank you all for coming.” His voice sounded hollow through the megaphone. “Tonight is our celebration. The Project, as some of you have called it, is finished. I hope all of you have received your performance bonuses. You finished a month ahead of the plan. You came in ahead of schedule despite the storm that hit RJ City last year. That storm put us behind schedule by a month. But you—every one of you—buckled down and didn’t let that stop you. You met and exceeded your goals at every stage—even when behind! You not only made up the time from the delay after the storm but when we had to build our own powder mill, you chipped in and built it in two months. You all are to be congratulated,” he said amid the applause.

“I would like to announce the completion of two final project tasks before you rejoin the celebration. First, I’ve sent out a press release to Grantville, Bamberg, Magdeburg, to Nicki Jo and Katy, and a few other places. The press release announces the creation of a new, wholly owned subsidiary of Suhl, Incorporated—SMC! The Suhl Metallic Cartridge company!”

He waited again for the applause and shouting to subside before he continued. “Some members who worked on the Project deserve some special recognition . . . Marjorie Mitchell, would you come up here, please?”

Marjorie was surprised at the request. She and the other wives had been busy preparing the celebration. It had grown to be a much larger festival than they had planned, but nothing in the party agenda had included her.

When she walked up and joined Gary, he motioned her to stand at his side. “Marjorie has been one of the most important people in the Project. Not because she is some technical expert, not because she provided some special knowledge, although we’re very happy she lent us her pistol for some of the testing. No, Marjorie is special because she was there for all of us right when she was needed. When the storm hit RJ City, Marjorie organized the emergency kitchens to keep everyone fed until the mess halls were repaired and back feeding people. When Katy Boyle went back to Essen, Marjorie stepped in to fill her spot. Nicki Jo told me how much that helped before she left to join Katy. When Jurgen Holtz fell and broke his leg during the construction of the chemical fabrication building, Marjorie and some of the other wives helped the family care for their kids, and Jurgen, too, so Jurgen’s wife could take a job in our headquarters. When someone needed help, Marjorie was there.”

“For that, and many other reasons, we have something for Marjorie. Ruben—do you have it?”

“Right here,” Ruben answered from the front of the crowd. He walked up to the steps of the reviewing stand, carrying a large case of polished wood under his arm and joined the two. By the way he carried it, it obviously had some weight. One of the party workers set up a portable table next to Gary and Ruben laid the case on it.

Gary continued, “I know all of you can’t see this. It will be on display here for the rest of the evening. Ruben will you make the presentation?”

Ruben stepped forward, gave the crowd a glance, nodded to Gary Reardon and turned to Marjorie. “Gladly, Gary. Marjorie, I, and some others—Hockenjoss and Klott, and Georg Rohn over there, had parallel plans running with the Project. It was all well and good to produce cartridges in .45 Long Colt but there were few existing pistols chambered in that caliber. To sell ammunition, there needed to be a market, something that would shoot the ammunition. Suhl, Incorporated is announcing a new revolver they are placing on the market. It is a copy, as close as we can make it, of Marjorie’s Smith and Wesson Model 25. The Model 1 will be chambered in .45 Long Colt. It will be available is various barrel lengths and is a six-round revolver with swing-out cylinder. We’re including a cleaning kit, fifty rounds of SMC ammunition, and four speed-loaders with every pistol.”

Ruben paused to clear his throat while the crowd clapped and cheered. He held up his hand to quiet them. “In this case is a special SI Model 1. It is one of five,” he explained. “The first to be produced by Suhl, Incorporated. We gave these five some . . . special treatment. My people engraved each one. The model and serial number is engraved on the barrel and inlaid with gold script. This one says, “SI Model 1, .45LC, Number Five. Georg Rohn built the case and carved the oak grips. Another contributor provided the speed loaders. The case contains the engraved pistol, cleaning kit with rod, and one hundred rounds of SMC ammunition. That’s why the case is so heavy.”

The audience laughed. Many of them knew about the special pistols. They just didn’t know who would get them.

“Serial Number One goes to Emperor Gustav Adolf, Number Two goes to Ed Piazza, Number Three to Mike Stearns, and Number Four . . . well, I can’t disclose that yet. I think you all will understand when it’s finally announced.”

Archie stood watching the presentation. He had been told earlier that afternoon about Marjorie’s pistol. It wouldn’t have been possible if Osker Geyer hadn’t been able to improve his steel to be near-up-time quality. He was extremely proud of his newly revamped company, Geyer Steel. He had borrowed a number of Archie’s manuals and had used them, along with the information he brought back from the Grantville library, to produce a close copy of 4140 and 4150 ordnance steel. Geyer hadn’t been able to obtain enough molybdenum to match the amount called for in the up-time formula, but he had experimented and found an intermediate compromise, one that would do until he found a better source for molybdenum. Using Geyer’s steel, the new SI revolver weighed almost the same as did Marjorie’s original revolver. Geyer had other plans, too. He had told Archie that he was opening a steel and copper wire drawing plant in a couple of months. He said he already had orders on hand for copper wire of several gauges and for steel cable.

Pat Johnson appeared from within the crowd, walked up to Archie and joined him watching the rest of the presentation. When the presentation was finished, Pat turned to Archie, “I have something for you, Archie.” He placed a wooden box in Archie’s hand. It was smoothly finished and varnished with brass hinges. Overall, it was slightly larger than his hand.

“Open it, Archie.”

Archie unlatched and lifted the lid. Inside were rows of shiny, new .45 Long Colt cartridges . . . ten rows of ten cartridges. The inside of the lid was engraved with a logo of the letters, SMC, imposed over crossed SI Model 1 revolvers and the company name, Suhl Metallic Cartridge Company. Under that was a line that said Wholly-owned subsidiary of Suhl, Inc.

“Take a closer look,” Pat instructed.

Following Pat’s orders, Archie pulled one of the fat cartridges from its felt-lined hole. He had to squint to read the headstamp. It read, SMC, 45LC and Suhl 35. At first, Archie wasn’t sure what was so special about the cartridges…and then it hit him. He looked at the bullet. It was copper! And it had a hole in it! “JHPs!”

“Yep,” Pat said when he saw Archie had discovered his surprise. “When I was figuring out how to draw brass, I came across a page in one of your manuals about swaging lead to make jacketed bullets. After that it was simply a matter of drawing the copper over the lead and molding the hollow-point and cannelure.”

“Thank you, Pat. I really appreciate this.”

“These are black powder, but I hope for something better in the coming year.”

“Better?”

“You heard why Nicki Jo sent Katy back to Essen?’

“Yeah, something about a contract.”

“To safely make guncotton . . . nitrocellulose.”

“Oh!”

“Yeah, just a short step away from smokeless powder. I think Poudre B was made from nitrocellulose. I gave her a cup of each of your smokeless powder that you used to reload .45ACP cartridges. I hope you don’t mind?”

“No! If she can make smokeless powder, I don’t have to worry about running out of .45ACP ammo.”

“I thought that, too. That’s why I had her sign an option to make smokeless for us when she thinks it’s feasible.”

A burst of clapping erupted from the crowd.

“You haven’t been keeping all this a secret, have you?” Archie asked with a wave of his hand towards the crowd.

“Well, secret from some, not from some others. We had a head start with SMC, and I want us to stay that way, ahead of all the others.”

“So you have orders in hand, don’t you?”

Pat grinned. “I received one today from Abel Abrabanel for 10,000 rounds.”

“Of .45 Long Colt?” That order surprised Archie. What would the Abrabanels want with 10,000 rounds of pistol ammunition?

“No, .45-70,” Pat explained. “U. S. Waffenfabrik is announcing today, in partnership with Suhl, Incorporated, of course, our new rifle, the Model 1635, a takeoff of Remington’s rolling block rifle in .45-70. We have two versions, a sporter-hunter version and the M1635 military version. The military version comes complete with a ladder-sight marked out to 500 yards, a bronze cleaning rod, a cleaning kit in the butt, and a bayonet with scabbard. Abel ordered ten M1635 military version rifles, too.”

Archie chuckled, “Beating all the competition,” he repeated. “I always knew you were a sneaky one, Pat.”

“But the best part is the other orders I’ve received.”

“Oh?”

“From the USE Army and another group. All told, they will take about all of our current stockpile and up to 85% of our production for quite some time.”

“Eighty-five percent of what?”

“Just about everything. I don’t know if we’ll get an order for the new Model 1s, but I did for the M1635.”

“I thought you said you didn’t want to sell to the army?”

“No, what I said is that I didn’t want to sell solely to the army. We aren’t.”

“God, Pat, if I didn’t know you better, I’d say you were a Jesuit. You parse your words like them.”

Pat Johnson laughed, waved at Archie, and left to rejoin the celebrating crowd.

****

 

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