Murder and Chocolate

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Copenhagen

September 1636

 

The shop was not busy, only five or six patrons. Fatmir sat at his customary table, and sipped his chocolate. It was such a different thing, this drink from the Americas. It was not coffee, and yet, it was dark and rich. It was heavily spiced, and only slightly sweet. Yet there was something fascinating about it, not only the way it tasted, but the way it felt flowing down his throat, and filling his head with vigor.

Fatmir actually had his eyes closed, concentrating on identifying some of the spices when the shouting started. "You churl, I will not sit here a moment longer. Defend yourself!"

He opened his eyes, and jumped up, saving his cup when his table was thrown away from him. Two men were struggling with swords inside the shop. The girls working at the counter ran into the kitchen, and a boy went out the front door. I hope he's calling the city watch, before someone gets hurt, Fatmir thought.

Now the shop was empty of bystanders, except for Fatmir, and the man he'd been following, Gijsbert Keese. There was definitely something sinister about the Dutchman, and Fatmir had been trying to find out what it was.

MaC-dlrsThe men fighting seemed to be both rich enough to afford well-made swords, and their doublets were not the rough wool of dock workers. One was dressed almost entirely in black, and the other in red and blue. They fenced back and forth, shouting obscenities at each other in French and German. From what Fatmir could tell, they were either fighting about a woman, or a sum of money. It was not entirely clear which, and it could have been a sum of money for a woman. He didn't pay close attention to their shouts, but tried to stay away from the wildly flailing steel.

He ducked, and an earthenware jug missed his head. It had been flung by the man in red and blue, who seemed to be losing the duel. The jug shattered against the wall behind him, and showered him in cheap red wine. He pulled a kerchief from a sleeve, and wiped his eyebrows and beard, and while he did so, he saw a man run from the room, back into the kitchen. He'd seen this man before, but didn't know his name.

That was when the city watch arrived and stopped the fight. Fatmir picked a table up from the floor, set his chocolate cup on it, and then retrieved a chair. When he was seated, he watched the drama as the two duelists were dragged off to see the magistrate.

Before they could go, one of the young girls, who couldn't have been more than twelve, screamed. She had been trying to clean up the broken crockery, when Herr Keese, seated on a corner bench near her, slid down to the floor into a puddle of his own blood.

 

December 1635

 

The townhouse was very nice. It had as modern a kitchen as Reva had seen since leaving Grantville, and the staff were very competent. The first couple of days had been a little rocky, especially after finding that Reva was a "hands-on" kind of mistress, but now everything was running smoothly.

Reva was sitting in the front parlor. The room was warm and cozy from the tile stove in the corner. She had her Christmas list in her lap, but was idly staring out the front window. Marlon had been busy with the bank business for a week now. What am I supposed to do with the rest of my life? Just wait for him to show up again?

About then, there was a sharp rap on the front door. Reva jumped up, and beat Gregers to the door to answer it. The truth was she was so bored, she'd have considered dancing naked in the street just for something to do.

She recognized one of the ladies on her doorstep. It was Vanna Rush. Being both Baptists, Reva and Vanna were well-acquainted. "Reva, I'd heard you were in town, so I came to check for myself. What have you been doing with yourself? Do you have time to go to lunch with us?"

Reva was a little taken aback. She'd known that the Rush family were visiting Copenhagen because Okey Rush had been invited to give a talk, but somehow she hadn't thought much about it. "Vanna! Come in, all of you. No need to be out in the cold this morning."

She hugged Vanna and was introduced to both of the other women. The first was Inge Styggesen, and the other Dorothea Fincke. Reva sent the maid for some tea and got her guests settled in the parlor. "I had been thinking about some Christmas shopping, but I don't know much about the city yet, and Marlon has been so busy with the bankers that he and I have barely been able to speak three words to each other since we arrived."

Vanna smiled and Reva noticed a new wrinkle around her friend's blue eyes. "Just as I suspected. He hasn't thought of you at all since he arrived, and you've just been rotting here in this townhouse. Well, we're here to take care of that."

Reva almost choked on her mint tea. "What do you mean, Vanna? Are you kidnapping me?"

Vanna laughed. "Something like that. Dorothea and I have become fast friends, even though she's a Lutheran, and Inge has her hands full keeping us out of trouble. We need a wiser head, and you're elected."

Inge and Dorothea laughed. Reva hadn't quite gotten which was which straight in her head, so she avoided trying to address either of them separately. "I guess I'll have to give in to the inevitable. The truth is, I was about to go crazy myself, here in this house. I have no idea where to go or what to do. And Vanna, since you've been here a while, I'll leave it up to you to give me some ideas. But I'm not the one to keep you out of trouble, you should know that. Remember several years ago at the lady's bazaar?"

This time Vanna positively giggled. "Reva Pridmore, I can't believe you'd remind me of that. Some of those ladies didn't speak to me for years after that night."

****

The four ladies bundled up in capes and fur hats, and braved the cold and snow. They decided that what Reva needed most was what Vanna called "retail therapy." Inge and Dorothea didn't really know what that meant, but Reva and Vanna laughed.

The Julemarked, or open-air Christmas market, in Copenhagen was wonderful. Booths selling ornaments and sweets abounded. But it was already starting to get dark early in the afternoon. Merchants were already setting up torches and lanterns around their stalls for the late afternoon shoppers.

Reva pulled the wool shawl that wrapped up her head a little closer. "The markets I remember in up-time Germany all had warming drinks. This would sure be a great time for hot chocolate, don't you think, Vanna?"

"I agree with you, Reva. I know one place that sells mulled wine, but I'm not sure if I'm ready for alcohol this early in the day." Vanna started heading down one narrow street, not waiting for the others to follow.

Inge frowned. "I think I have heard of this chocolade. My husband is a merchant, and owns three ships to fetch trade goods to Denmark. He told me that when he was in Spain, he tasted some of this drink. It's hot and spicy, he said. But not like our spicy gløgg. It was made with water and something he couldn't identify."

Reva stopped in her tracks. "Did you say it was chocolate? In Spain they call it "choco-latté".

The other women turned with Reva stopped. Inge nodded. "I think that's what they said. He told me that it was rather sweet, and had pepper in it. So it reminded me of the gløgg my grandmother made for the Christmas season. Is this some sort of drink from up-time?"

Vanna smiled. "Yes, I remember my mother making cocoa whenever we went skating. She would bring it in a large thermos."

Dorothea wasn't about to be left out. "When I visited my brother in Paris, there was a shop where they sold something like that. It was dark and frothy. I didn't like it at first, but by the time my tiny cup was empty, I was ready for more."

Reva started walking again. "So there's nothing like that in Copenhagen now? I would really like to find somewhere to buy cocoa powder or chocolate. I only have one box of cocoa powder left from my up-time stores."

Vanna touched Reva on the arm to stop her again. "You still have cocoa powder? You may be the only one in all of Denmark, you know."

Reva gazed in shock at her friend. "Vanna, I can't be the only one. I bet Liz Carstairs still has something. You know what a fanatic she was about storing food in bulk. Mormons are like that. She was the one I always ordered from when we were all still up-time."

Vanna shook her head. "I bet Liz doesn't have a crumb left. You know she has all those kids, some of them adopted. And while you usually won the ribbon for fudge at the county fair, it was her chocolate chip cookies three years in a row."

They started walking again, and Reva was deep in thought. She didn't seem to notice her surroundings until Inge tapped her on the shoulder. Reva blinked, and saw that they were standing in front of a small stand. The others had small stoneware mugs of gløgg that they were sipping. "Reva, don't you want some? It will warm you up."

"Sorry. Yes, I'll have one, please." She was still unsure about coins and exchange rates in Denmark. She had an interesting selection of copper and silver coins from the USE, Denmark, France, and Spain. The shopkeeper examined her money for a moment, selected one copper piece, and put two smaller coins back in her hand.

They stood and sipped the very hot wine for a moment. "You know, Vanna, my grandmother is probably turning in her grave right now. Remember how much of a teetotaler she was?"

Vanna grinned. "I never knew your grandmother, Reva. She was gone before I was five. My Aunt Gertie would have given her a run for her money. But here in the down-time, what are we supposed to drink and stay warm?"

Reva grinned. "Mulled wine, of course." The wine was a low-quality harsh red wine simmered with spices, then fortified with some sort of brandy before being served. So not only did the warm mug feel good in her gloved hands, an enjoyable tingle went down her throat and warmed her stomach as well. Just like I remember from our trip to Germany the year before the Ring of Fire.

Finally, it was fully dark. Each lady had a collection of small packages tucked into baskets as they made their way back to Reva's townhouse. Reva stopped at the door and turned. "Would you ladies like to come in for a little bit?"

There were negative murmurs all around, so Reva nodded. She placed her hand on the door latch, but was unwilling to let the day end so abruptly. "Vanna, thank you for thinking of me. I've had a wonderful day."

"I've thought about you since I saw you at the reception last week, Reva. I won't be able to shop tomorrow, I've got an appointment with Okey. But I think Inge and Dorothea can go." Vanna was used to managing everyone around her, and Reva didn't mind. The Danish ladies didn't seem bothered either.

Dorothea shook her head. "I can't go tomorrow. But I will call on you later in the week."

Reva smiled. "Thank you so much, Dorothea. I look forward to seeing you again." They kissed each other on both cheeks, then Dorothea hurried off down the street.

Inge also kissed Reva on both cheeks. "I would be very glad to meet you here tomorrow. Perhaps instead of shopping, you would like some sightseeing. I'll come at nine in the morning, with my coach."

Reva took Inge's hands in each of her own. "That would be wonderful, Inge. I'll be ready. Is there anything special I should bring, or wear?"

"Just dress warm as you did today. We are not being presented at court. I'll just show you the palace, and some of the churches."

Reva and Inge became fast friends. Several times each week they were in each other's company, sightseeing, shopping, or sitting in a warm townhouse and embroidering. Although Inge was several years younger than Reva, the American felt she had found a long-lost friend. Inge was helping Reva speak better Danish, and Reva was teaching Inge to cook up-time specialties.

 

Spring 1636

 

The next couple of months were busy. Each night, Marlon brought one or two of his new crew members home for dinner. They were all very nice young men, between the ages of twenty, and thirty. They were eager and excited about the new project, and all dreamed of adventure.

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Inge had dark circles around her eyes and looked as if she hadn't eaten at all. "My goodness, Inge, what happened to you? You look miserable."

"Oh, Reva. It's good to see you." Inge continued to sort through the cabbages as if she was searching for a particular vegetable.

Reva took Inge's hand in her own two hands, and tipped her head to try and look in her friend's eyes. "I think you need to tell me what's wrong. Come with me." She firmly tucked Inge's hand onto her elbow, and headed off through the market to the small local wine shop.

Inge didn't resist. But when Reva peeked back at her friend's face, there were slow tears tracking down one cheek. She didn't say another word until they were seated at a table and were waiting for their orders.

"All right, Inge. Tell me everything. Is this about your husband? Is there something I can do to help?"

Inge hid her face in her hands and silently sobbed. Finally, she was able to get herself more composed and looked up at Reva. "Yes, It's about Axel. You know that he has a warehouse on the dock and often gets into a bidding war with some of the other merchants."

"Yes, I know, Inge. Did something happen?"


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