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As USE Air Force Colonel Jesse Wood walked down the street, a boy standing in front of a shop started shouting at him. "Colonel, please, Sir! Colonel!"
Wood turned his head. From his height, boyish features, and dress, Wood guessed that the boy was twelve to fourteen years old, most likely an apprentice.
Wood's companion moved to shoo the boy off, but Wood motioned for him to hold back. "What can I do for you, Son?"
The boy brought forward a piece of paper, and a writing instrument. "Please, Sir, may I have your autograph?"
Wood smiled. "Of course." He signed the paper, and on a whim added a curved V, like a cartoon of a bird in flight, below his name. "I suppose you want to be a pilot when you grow up?"
"Well, you're still too young, but we need more brave men to train to be pilots, and you were brave enough to approach me. And the air force also needs men with other skills, for ground crew, so pay attention to your lessons!
"But you best get back to work now, before your master punishes you!"
"Yes, Sir! Thank you!" said the boy. He rushed off.
Later that day, a man came to the shop and gestured to the boy, who followed him out.
"I got it, Sir," the boy said, holding the autograph for him to see.
The man reached for it, but the boy quickly put it behind his back. "Coin first!"
The man fought back a chuckle. "Well, you've learned a life lesson somewhere. Here you go—" He handed him the payment. "—now give me what I want!'
The boy handed the autograph over and went back to the shop. The man had already lost interest in him; his gaze was riveted on Wood's signature.
"You and I are going to do so much together," he murmured.
Henrik van Meegeren carefully examined his latest rendition of Jesse Wood's signature. It was, he thought, quite good. To forge a signature, he mused, it was necessary but not sufficient to identify and duplicate the particular idiosyncrasies of the target. The true master forger, however, must be able to render the signature in a free-flowing fashion, without any pauses revealing that it is not his own.
Admittedly, such naturalness was necessary only when the mark could witness the signing, which would not be the case with the con that Henrik was planning. But Henrik deemed himself an artist and would not have been satisfied with a more awkward execution.
It was time to apply it to the master drawing, which was otherwise complete. He signed Wood's name boldly, beneath the printed inscription, "Classified TOP SECRET by order of Colonel Joseph Wood, Commander, USE Air Force."
The next step would be to make the cyanotype. For obvious reasons, he couldn't take his original to a print shop in Magdeburg or Grantville that made cyanotype contact prints. He had had to learn the technique himself and acquire the necessary chemicals. At first, he begrudged the time and expense, but when he made his first test print, he had been delighted. It was totally unlike any drawing made before the Ring of Fire, and thus would give the forged blueprint the hallmark of authenticity.
Sometime in Early 1636
Van Meegeren breathed a sigh of relief. He had made it successfully across the Danube. Mind you, he had chosen his crossing point carefully; near Donauwörth, on the merchant route between Nürnberg and Augsburg. There had, he knew, been a Bavarian assault on Ingolstadt in January, but that was over thirty miles to the east, and the center of military operations had shifted further east and down river since then, to Regensburg. There was still a risk of encountering patrols out here, but at least it was small, and Van Meegeren had equipped himself with a (forged) letter from an Augsburg merchant ordering the goods he was openly transporting. They, too, were carefully chosen—reasonable to be ordered from Nürnberg and unlikely to be seized by soldiers.
He did intend to go up the Lech to Augsburg. But there he would sell off the goods and cart and ride east to Munich. Where he would present himself to Maximilian, King of Bavaria—or at least to Maximilian's spymaster.
Royal Palace, Munich