My Wife, the Axe Murderer

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September 1635, Magdeburg central police station

 

Dylan Pence guided his fiancée and her son’s baby carriage past Fabian Mittendorf and into his office.

Fabian shut the door after them and gestured to the other man already in the office. “You remember my colleague from Frankfurt, Herr Christian Marx?”

Dylan grasped the man’s hand. “Herr Marx.” He turned back to Fabian. “Your message said you wanted to see us about the attempt on Michael’s life.”

All eyes turned momentarily to the little boy currently sleeping in the baby carriage.

“That’s right,” Fabian said. “Thank you for coming at such short notice. If you’d like to be seated, I have some photographs I’d like Frau Bacmeister to look at.”

The men waited while Sophia arranged the baby carriage where she could easily keep an eye on Michael and took her seat before taking theirs. Then Fabian opened a file and laid a number of photographs out on his desk. “Frau Bacmeister, do you recognize any of these men?”

The three men watched as Sophia carefully examined each photograph before finally straightening up and shaking her head. “I’m sorry, but I don’t recognize any of them.”

Fabian nodded as if he hadn’t expected her to. He laid a finger on one photograph. “Are you sure you don’t recognize this man?”

Sophia carefully examined the photograph Fabian had indicated, but again she straightened up, shaking her head.

MWAM-gnshttst“That’s a pity.” Fabian waved a hand to encompass the photographs. “All of those men were working in the Karickhoff Hotel when the shot was fired and they all tested positive for gunshot reside.”

“And the one you asked Sophia to look at a second time?” Dylan asked.

“His name is Heinrich Reiser, and his fingerprints match some of those forensics lifted from the room where the shot was fired.”

“What is so special about fingerprints?” Sophia asked.

“My apologies, Frau Bacmeister. We in law enforcement forget that civilians might not be aware of up-time investigative techniques. Everyone’s fingerprints are different, so you can identify a person by the prints their fingers leave.”

Sophia pointed to Heinrich’s photograph. “Does that mean that man tried to kill Michael?”

“Maybe,” Fabian said.

“But you just said his fingerprints matched those taken from the room the shot was fired.”

“The man works in the hotel, Frau Bacmeister. He has legitimate reasons to have been in that room.”

“Do you, or do you not, know who fired the shot?” Sophia demanded.

“We’re pretty sure Heinrich Reiser is connected to the attempt on your son’s life, but we don’t have any proof.”

“What do you have?” Dylan asked. “Other than gunshot residue and fingerprints, that is.”

“We know Herr Reiser recently arrived from Schwerin, and he has been seen talking with Mathias von Hagen here in Magdeburg.”

“That sounds pretty convincing to me,” Dylan said. “We know Mathias came to Magdeburg to meet his henchmen.”

“And any competent lawyer will point out that meeting Herr von Hagen does not make Herr Reiser one of his henchmen, Herr Pence. What we need is evidence, and unfortunately, currently all we really have is suspicions.”

“So what happens now?”

“Our best hope is to find the weapon and hope we can trace its previous owners.” Fabian smiled. “It would also be a great help if forensics could lift viable prints from the weapon. Once we can connect someone to the weapon, then everything should fall together quickly, and we will be able to arrest Mathias von Hagen.”

“What about Jasper von Hagen?” Sophia asked. “Mathias would never do anything without his father’s permission.”

Fabian shrugged his shoulders. “If we can build a case against Mathias, then maybe he’ll implicate his father.”

 

Grantville

 

Lana Pence and her daughter Gaby waved off their guest before returning to the kitchen where the rest of the household were grouped around the table looking at the photograph Helene Gundelfinger had left behind.

Malcolm McPherson examined the  young woman in the photograph. “Dylan’s woman is a nice-looking wee lassie.”

Gaby glared at her husband. “She’s not Dylan’s woman. She’s her own woman!”

Malcolm, being an intelligent man, kept his mouth shut.

Lana looked at the photo of a young woman with a baby in her arms and sighed. “I wish I could believe Dylan’s in love with her.”

“Come on, Mom,” Robert Pence said. “You, if anyone, should know how unlikely Dylan is to marry for love.”

Lana sighed again as she considered her part in her youngest son’s lack of belief in the idea of love. She’d thought she was in love with the girls’ father, only to fall out of love and divorce Gib when Gaby was only a baby. And then she’d topped that mistake by falling in love with and marrying Robert Pence the moment the divorce was final. Not that she regretted having the boys, but that marriage had been a horrible nightmare, and she could understand why Dylan might have been put off the idea of marrying for love. “Yes, but does he have to marry for purely business reasons?”

“Mom, you’ve seen what she looks like. Sophia’s an attractive woman. What makes you think he’s marrying her for purely business reasons?” Gaby snuggled up against her husband of two years. “I’m sure he’ll come to love her.”

Lana looked at Gaby and Malcolm, and smiled. They looked so good together. If only Dylan had stuck in Grantville a little longer, surely the obvious love between them would have changed his views on love. She shook her head at the thought and turned back to the photograph of Sophia Bacmeister and her son, Michael von Hagen. “The poor woman has been through so much. Firstly her husband is murdered by rogue elements of the CoC, forcing her to run for Magdeburg with her baby. And then people try to kill her little boy for his inheritance.”

“She’ll be safe with Dylan,” Gaby said.

“Yes, she’ll be safe with Dylan.” Lana was sure of that. He might not love her, but he’d take care of her. She sighed. She’d so hoped her children would marry for love.

 

A few days later, Magdeburg

 

There were worse things than meeting your prospective mother-in-law for the first time, but standing on the railway platform waiting for the train from Grantville, Sophia Bacmeister couldn’t think of any.

“I hope your mother likes me,” she said to her fiancé.

“Of course Mom’ll like you,” Dylan Pence said. “Helene will have spoken to her.”

“That’s supposed to make me feel better?” she demanded. She’d met Dylan’s boss, Helene Gundelfinger, and she was sure she’d made a poor impression upon the woman. It hadn’t helped that she and her son had just missed being killed in a traffic accident earlier in the day, nor had it helped that the only vaguely suitable outfit she’d owned had been a chartreuse linen dress from Vorkeuffer’s, a major department store in Magdeburg. Not that she had anything against the dress. She actually rather liked it, since a seamstress had been able to improve the fit. But back then, when she met Helene, the dress had not been a good fit.

“Helene told me she thought you were too good for me.”

A bright smile flashed across Sophia’s face. Personally she agreed with the sentiment, and it would be nice to believe that Frau Gundelfinger really had voiced such an opinion. However, she’d learned that Dylan had what some of his friends and associates called the “gift of gab,” and she knew she couldn’t completely trust anything he said. A train whistle drowned out anything else Dylan might have intended saying, and Sophia watched the train come into the station.

She had a vague idea who she should look out for, because Dylan had told her a lot about his family and that they were all coming to Magdeburg for the wedding, but she failed to identify the woman who burst out of the carriage onto the platform as his mother until she rushed up to Dylan and hugged him.

Dylan grabbed Sophia’s hand and pulled her towards his mother. “Mom, this is Sophia. Sophia, this is my mother.”

“Pleased to meet you, Frau Pence,” Sophia tried to say before she was smothered in an enormous hug. The hugs from an obviously pregnant Gaby McPherson and her down-time husband were fortunately less enthusiastic, as were the hugs from Dylan’s eldest sister and her husband. The hug from Dylan’s brother felt as though he was embarrassed to hug her. With the hugs over Sophia retreated to Dylan’s side.

“Come on, everyone. Have you got your luggage?” Dylan asked. “I’ve got rooms for everyone but Mom at the Karickhoff.”

“Where’s Mom staying?” Meaghan Allen asked.

“Frau Pence will be staying with me.” Sophia hoped her ambivalent feelings about living with her future mother-in-law for the next few days didn’t show.

****

            Back in Sophia’s apartment Dylan sat with his brother watching his mother and sisters chatting with his fiancée. Malcolm and Jim, respectively Gaby and Meaghan’s husbands, had retired to the spare room to entertain their children while the women talked. To Dylan’s eyes, Sophia didn’t look too stressed meeting his family.

“Nice apartment,” Robert said. “It must have cost a mint.”

Dylan did a slow survey of the room before turning to address his brother. “I bought the lease before they got the elevators installed, so I got it at a discount.”

“And getting married? That can’t be cheap.”

Dylan scowled at his brother. “It’s a legitimate business expense, and anyway, I got a special price from Tommy for being the first wedding in his new hotel.”

“Dyl!” Robert landed an affectionate hand on Dylan’s shoulder. “What I’m trying to say is, if you’re a running a bit short, don’t be embarrassed to ask for help!”

“I’m okay, Rob.”

Robert sighed. “Dyl, there’s a look in your eyes whenever you don’t think anyone is looking that reminds me of how you were just before the Ring of Fire.” He held his thumb and finger a hairsbreadth apart. “You were this close to financial disaster.”

“I was doing okay,” Dylan lied. In actual fact he’d been barely staying afloat financially. “I made a lot of appointments to talk to people about insurance at the Stearns-Simpson wedding.”

“Dyl, Gaby and I found some of your old bills when we were cleaning out your room for Mom. We know how getting the loan for the house must have stretched you to the breaking point.”

“But it didn’t,” Dylan protested. He was sure he would have been okay, especially if some of those appointments he’d made had borne fruit, but the Ring of Fire had certainly had a positive impact on his financial situation. He’d gone from owing a small fortune for his share of the house, his credit card debts, and a two-year lease contract on a new pickup truck, to being debt-free and owning the pickup truck and his share of the house and furniture outright. Getting to keep the suit he’d rented for the wedding hadn’t hurt either.

“Gaby and I have talked. If you need your share of the house, we’re happy to sell it. Heck, if it hadn’t been for you getting that cheap loan through the company you worked for, we’d all have been stuck in the rent trap.”

“I’m doing okay,” Dylan repeated, hoping that his brother would get the hint. “There’s no need to sell the house. It should be worth another ten percent in six months.”

“I tried!” Robert released a heavy sigh, clapped Dylan on the shoulder and walked off to join Jim and Malcolm.

“May I ask you a question?” a voice asked from behind Dylan.

The voice belonged to Sophia, and his first instinct was to curse his interfering brother. He didn’t know how much she’d overheard, but he assumed it was too much. He put on a smile and turned. “Sure.”

“Are you short of money?”

She’d definitely heard too much for his comfort. Dylan kept the smile plastered on his face. “You don’t want to believe everything you hear.”

Sophia nodded. “That’s why I’m asking. I’ve still got that money you gave me.” She dug out her purse and started to hand the roll of bills over to Dylan.

It was the money he’d given to her just before he hurried off to meet with his boss. At the time he’d thought he’d given her a couple of hundred dollars with which to encourage her dressmaker to finish an outfit in time for dinner with Helene that evening, but unfortunately, he had been in too much of a hurry to get off to the meeting to pay any attention to which roll of bills he handed her. Now she was offering it back because she believed he was short of money. No matter how nice it would be to have that money back, he couldn’t afford to have anybody, not even Sophia, suspect just how tight things were. Regretfully, he refused to accept it. “I gave it to you. It’s your money to do with as you like.”

“I’d like you to have it,” Sophia said, but Dylan continued to refuse to accept it. Sophia reluctantly put it away. “Did taking the bedsit until the wedding cause you some problems?”

Dylan shrugged, trying not to show just how inconvenient that extra expense had been. “I could have done without the added expense, but Frau Spiegel was right. It would have reflected badly on you if we’d cohabitated before the wedding.”

“And paying for the police to protect Michael?” Sophia didn’t wait for Dylan to answer before continuing. “Or getting the Ponseti nurse to make house calls?”

“The money had to be spent!” Dylan didn’t want to upset Sophia, but her line of questioning was treading on sensitive ground. “Look, don’t worry. Everything will be okay.”

Sophia stared hard at Dylan. He could see she wasn’t convinced, which just went to show how smart she was. He offered her a little reassurance. “The first payments from the brickworks are due in three months.”

Her brows shot up. “But you have to leave clay out over the winter to condition it for brick making,” she protested.

“That’s the old-fashioned way, but we’ve mechanized conditioning of the clay. With our equipment we can take clay straight out of the ground, feed it in at one end, and shaped bricks all ready to go into the kiln come out the other end. If you like I can probably arrange to show you around the brickworks here in Magdeburg. They use a similar system.”

“So you will have plenty of money in three months?”

Dylan nodded. “I should get about thirty thousand dollars.” He noted how her brows shot up. No doubt she thought it was a lot of money, and to most people it probably was. There was no need to tell her that it was a drop in the ocean of his current borrowing. It wasn’t that he was poor. He was just a little highly geared at the moment. But when his boat came in, he was going to be rich beyond his wildest dreams.

 

Next day, the Karickhoff Hotel

 

The hotel was alive with guests helping to celebrate the official opening of Tommy Karickhoff’s new hotel. The seven-story structure shared the Neustadt skyline with the nearby Magdeburg Towers apartment complex. It offered the usual hotel facilities, plus it housed the new and improved Karickhoff’s Gym and a casino. Right now Dylan and his family were enjoying the sights in the casino where some people were already donating their hard-earned money to Tommy’s retirement fund.

Dylan felt a nudge in his side and glanced over his shoulder. He saw one of his friends gesturing to a nearby table.

“Melchior’s cleaning up at the poker table,” Paul Lückemann said.

Dylan noted the pile of chips in front of his old enemy, then he checked out the other players. He didn’t recognize any of them. “He’s plucking pigeons,” he said with some disgust. “Come on. I’d better see how Sophia’s doing.”

Paul looked about the room for Sophia. “I thought she was with your mother and sisters?”

“That’s why I better check how she’s doing. You haven’t met my mother and half-sisters, have you?”

****

            Sophia had been with Dylan’s mother and sisters, but she’d managed to escape. Well, maybe escape was overstating the case a little. In fact she’d just walked off while they talked about Gaby’s pregnancy. They were all very nice people, but there was only so much of them she could take. As a mother she did have a meeting of minds with them over children, but that was where it ended. The problem was she’d grown used to a higher level of conversation since associating with Dylan and his friends.

She spotted Veronica Niesing and Gertraud Westfahl chatting away in a corner and started to work her way through the crowded floor to her friends. She was half-way there when she saw Melchior Djuis stand up and approach Dylan. She hoped her betrothed wouldn’t do anything stupid, but she knew he enjoyed taunting the larger man, so she changed course and headed for him.

Sophia arrived in time to catch Dylan sitting down at a small table opposite Melchior with three small cups standing inverted between them.

“Pick the one you think is hiding the counter!” Dylan told Melchior.

Melchior reached out to pick up one of the cups, but Dylan stopped him. “Not yet. How about a little bet.” He placed a coin on the table. “I’ll match you a Brass Brillo for a Brass Brillo that you guessed wrong.”

Melchior looked at the three cups, then back at Dylan. “I see why a fool like Herr Lückemann thinks you’re lucky. You find people willing to accept a payout of two to one when the odds are one in three.”

“Fair enough,” Dylan said. He studied the two remaining cups before lifting one of them. “Now you’ve got one and I’ve got one. Are you prepared to bet that your cup is hiding the counter?”

Melchior placed a Brass Brillo on the table beside Dylan’s one. “Lift your cup!” Dylan said. Melchior did, revealing the counter. “You win.” Dylan pushed his Brass Brillo to Melchior and scooped up the counter and grabbed the three cups. “Another go?” he invited.

While Dylan and Melchior played another round, Sophia edged closer to Paul Lückemann. “What’s going on?” she asked.

Paul glanced at her, recognized her, and whispered into her ear, “Melchior tried to get Dylan to play poker against him, but he wasn’t interested. Instead he invited Melchior to test his luck with a simple game of chance.”

Sophia asked Paul what the chips in front of Melchior were worth and barely managed to stifle a gasp at his answer. She was glad Dylan was smart enough to avoid playing poker against the man, because she was sure he couldn’t afford to risk that much money on something as chancy as a game of poker. She turned her attention back to the game when she heard Melchior speaking out.

“This is a waste of time,” Melchior protested. “Why not make it interesting?” Melchior pushed some of his chips towards one of the cups.

Sophia turned to Paul. “What’s happening?” she asked as she tried to see how Dylan was reacting.

Paul leaned close. “Melchior’s won three guesses in a row. Now he’s trying to up the ante.”

Sophia had some familiarity with gambling terms, so she understood what Paul meant. She edged closer to Dylan.

“I don’t have that kind of money on me,” Dylan told Melchior.

Sophia didn’t like the smile on Melchior’s face. He was up to something.

“I’m sure your credit with Herr Karickhoff is good,” Melchior said.

Yes, Sophia thought, he was definitely up to something. It was possible he knew, or suspected something of Dylan’s current financial position.

“I don’t gamble on credit.” Dylan nodded towards Sophia. “I especially don’t gamble on credit when my future wife is watching.”

That caused most of the crowd to laugh. The notable exception was Melchior. He looked her up and down before turning his attention back to Dylan. “I’m sure your betrothed has sufficient confidence in your luck to allow you to gamble on credit. Are you sure you don’t want to wager on your luck because you can’t afford to lose even as little as I have wagered?”

Dylan was going to have to play for the amount Melchior wanted to wager. To do otherwise, and especially when he was playing his own game, might cause people to question his financial situation, and that could be fatal. Reluctantly. Sophia felt for the purse that’d been her constant companion since Dylan gave her a roll of one hundred dollar bills. It was the first real sum of money that she’d ever been able to consider her own, but Dylan’s need was greater than hers. She edged up beside him and as unobtrusively as possible forced the roll of bills into his hand. “My fiancé is right. I don’t approve of gambling on credit, so if he’s going to gamble, it should be for the money he has on him.”

“Ah! But your fiancé has said he isn’t carrying enough to match my bet,” Melchior said.

“He lied. He does have the money he promised to buy me some new dresses with.” She smiled down into Dylan’s eyes. “You can gamble with that, but I still want my new clothes.”

Dylan made a show of pulling the roll of bills from a concealed pocket and held it up. “Cashier, could you change these for chips, please?”

Sophia would have stepped back, but Dylan reached out a hand and held her close, so she had a ringside position as the game proceeded. Dylan won the first round, but lost the next two. After that the luck seemed to desert Melchior as more often than not he picked the wrong cup. Several times Dylan offered to stop the game, but Melchior insisted on continuing, saying that his luck would turn, until suddenly the table in front of him was empty. All of his earlier winnings now stood in stacks in front of Dylan.

“You cheated!’ Melchior roared as he shot to his feet.

Dylan remained seated and apparently calm. Sophia thought he was being foolish, until she noticed the three men standing behind Melchior. One of them was the proprietor, Tommy Karickhoff. The others were members of his security team.

“Don’t be a sore loser, Melchior!” Tommy said. “I was watching, and I didn’t see any sign of cheating. If you were unhappy with the play you should have said something earlier, not waited until you’d lost everything.”

Melchior shot an angry glare at Tommy before turning his glare onto Dylan. “You were just lucky!”

Dylan grinned. “The object of the game is to show people just how lucky I am!”

Melchior’s response was to stalk off in outraged silence. The crowed parted to allow him through. When he left the room, Tommy called to Dylan. “Cash up and meet me in my office. I want to talk to you!”

****

            A few minutes later Dylan led Sophia into Tommy Karickhoff’s office. Tommy wasn’t alone; he had his security team of Conrad Bauersachs and Georg Wachter with him. They stood behind him in their dark grey pinstriped suits.

Tommy pointed to two upholstered chairs. “Please take a seat.’

Dylan helped Sophia into a chair before seating himself. “You wanted to talk to me?” he asked.

Tommy nodded. “What happened out there?”

“I’m sorry?”

“Don’t play the innocent, Dylan. We both know you took Melchior for a ride. The game looked fair, but you managed to clean him out. I want to know how you did it!”

“I didn’t cheat. You were watching. Melchior lost in a simple game of chance.”

“Yeah, right. It was such a simple game of chance everyone out there believes you won because your luck is better than Melchior’s. But I know you had an angle. What was it?”

Dylan sighed. It’d taken long enough for Daniel Pastorius, a down-time mathematical prodigy, to convince him that the odds weren’t even. “This might be hard to explain. Could I have three cups and a counter?”

Conrad placed three cups and a rolled up piece of paper in front of Dylan. Dylan picked up the ball of paper and hid it under one of the cups. “Right, which cup do you think is hiding the ball?”

Tommy selected a cup and Dylan placed his hand over it. “Right, what are the odds that the ball is under this cup?”

“One in three,” Tommy said.

“Correct!” Dylan moved the cup Tommy had picked to one side and touched one of the other cups. “So if I lift this cup . . .” He did so, revealing that it hadn’t been hiding the ball of paper. “Then the odds the ball is under your cup should now be . . . ?”

“Fifty-fifty.”

“And you’d be wrong.” Dylan smiled as he said it. “The actual probability is still one in three.”

“Whoa!” Tommy protested. “How do you get one in three? The ball can only be under one of the remaining two cups.”

“I told you this might be hard to explain.”

“So try!”

MWAM-dr3“Okay. The game I played is based on something called the Monty Hall paradox. Some guy called Monty Hall ran a TV game show where contestants were given the choice of three doors. There was a big prize behind one door, and booby prizes behind the other two. After the contestant picked a door the host would open one of the other doors to reveal a booby prize, leaving two doors unopened. He then gave the contestant the option of sticking with their initial choice, or switching to the remaining door.”

“But you didn’t give Melchior the option to switch to the other cup.”

“Of course not. If he switches he has a two in three chance of winning.”

Tommy shook his head. “You’ve lost me.”

Dylan gave him a sympathetic smile. “I had trouble getting my head around it when Daniel Pastorius first described the paradox to me. Okay. Instead of just three doors, imagine there are a million doors.”

“I’ve had trouble understanding Daniel a time or two myself.”

Dylan allowed himself a smile at Tommy’s muttered comment. Daniel tried not to talk over people’s heads, but there weren’t that many people about who were on the same level when it came to mathematics and statistics, and most of them were his teachers. “What is the probability the door you pick conceals the prize?”

“One in a million.”

“Right! Now imagine the host opens all but one of the remaining doors!”

Tommy stared hard at Dylan. “I want to say it’s still fifty-fifty, because there are only two doors left, but . . .”

“But,” Dylan agreed. “That’s what I thought, but all those open doors that you could have picked but didn’t . . .”

Tommy nodded. “I think I’m starting to believe you. The game is rigged.”

Dylan pulled a face. “I wouldn’t call it rigged. It’s just the payout doesn’t truly represent the odds. Rather like your roulette tables, with the zero and double-zero.” He smiled as he said that.

“You never claimed the odds were even, did you?” Tommy asked.

“No I didn’t, and it’s not my fault if people can’t correctly calculate the odds.”

“As the proprietor of a casino, I’m forced to agree,” Tommy said. “How did you and your tame mathematician discover this Monty Hall paradox?”

“Daniel discovered it when he was proofing the mathematics and statistics in Norris Craft’s new psychology textbook.”

“And why would he have told you?”

“We got to talking one day after he handed over his latest insurance premium calculations. He wanted to talk about what he’d read and I had time that day to listen.”

“And Daniel didn’t come across this paradox until he proofed a recently written book about psychology?” Tommy asked. “How come he missed it? He told me he’d read every up-time mathematics and statistics textbook and journal article there is.”

“More correctly,” Dylan said, “he’s read everything he and his teachers have found. There might be a few hidden treasures out there they’ve missed. Since learning about the paradox, Daniel’s tried to find more about it in up-time psychology books, but without much success. I think the paradox is something Mr. Craft remembered from some book he read up-time and decided to include in his latest book. It was in a chapter about commitment and decision-making, and how difficult it is to get people to change their minds once they’ve made a decision. According to Mr. Craft’s book, in the Monty Hall game show, very few people would switch to the other door, even though they would double their chance of winning by doing so.”

“I’ll take your word for it, Dylan, but I suggest you look out for Melchior. He lost a lot of money this evening, and he’s not happy about it.”

“He’s going to be even less happy when he finds out he was played for a fool,” Conrad said.

Dylan looked at the man standing to Tommy’s right. “How’s he going to find out? You aren’t going to tell him, are you?”

Conrad looked like he was actually thinking of telling Melchior—the evil grin on his face sort of gave him away—but in the end he shook his head. “Nah! But sooner or later he’s going to start wondering why you always made him pick one of three cups.”

“And then he’ll smell a rat,” Tommy said. “You might want to think about leaving Magdeburg for a while, Dylan.”

“I’m not scared of Melchior.”

Sophia exchanged a look with Tommy. “I’d like to see what is happening with the brickworks,” she suggested.

“There you are. Take Frau Bacmeister away on a honeymoon for a couple of weeks. Nobody will be surprised if you take one, and it’ll be even more credible if people think you’re mixing business with pleasure.”

Dylan gave Tommy a deeply offended look. Why did everyone seem to think he only thought about business? “What about Michael’s treatment?” he asked. Sophia’s little boy had been born with a clubfoot, and she’d brought him to Magdeburg in the hope that the up-time medicine could treat him. It could, and he was currently having his foot manipulated back to where it should be by a down-time trained Ponseti nurse.

“I’m sure Maria will be happy to go with us,” Sophia said. “We’ve talked about the charity I want to start to fund treatment for people with clubfoot, and I’m sure she’d love the chance to make herself useful in Schwerin.”

“Hang on. Schwerin? Didn’t your recent problems originate in Schwerin?” Tommy asked. Dylan nodded. “You might want to take a bodyguard.”

“We don’t need a bodyguard,” Dylan protested. “I’m quite capable of protecting my family.”

Sophia ignored Dylan’s outburst. “Dorothea Spiegel is Michael’s nursery maid.” She smiled at Tommy. “I understand she’s enrolled in a bodyguard course you run.”

“She’s a good girl,” the man on Tommy’s left said. “Very proficient with the quarterstaff, and she should graduate from Body Guarding Level One just in time for the honeymoon trip.”

Tommy turned to his man. “Where did she learn quarterstaff?”

Georg Wachter smiled. “She worked for Kelly Construction on the Magdeburg airport job. They used to do a half-hour of quarterstaff drills with shovels every morning to warm everyone up.”

 

The next day

 

“How would you like to fly to Schwerin after the wedding?”

Sophia raised her head slowly from the book she’d been reading and stared at her soon-to-be husband, who’d just breezed into her apartment. She exchanged surprised looks with Dorothea, who’d opened the door to let him in, before turning back to Dylan. “Fly? Isn’t that expensive?”

Dylan sat opposite Sophia. “I’m feeling flush with the money I won off Melchior, and it only takes an hour to fly there, instead of over forty hours if we go by steamer.”

This, from the man who just a day ago hadn’t wanted to leave Magdeburg, rang warning bells in Sophia’s head. “Why the sudden urgency to get to Schwerin?”

“The latest news from Markus is that the Schwerin city council is willing to make a deal on some of the land I’m interested in, and I’d like to close the deal before they change their minds.”

“You own land in Schwerin?” Sophia asked. “Is that where you’ve been investing all of your money?”

“Not just Schwerin, but also in Wismar and all along the canal route. The Gustavus Adolphus canal is going to bring prosperity everywhere it goes.”

“If they ever build it,” Sophia said. “There was an attempt to link Schwerin to Wismar in the twenties, and they ran out of money before they finished it.”

“Yes, but this time Gustavus and the USE are behind the effort, and they have the advantage of modern technology to build the canal.”

“And if they run out of money again?”

“It’s a government project,” Dylan said with a smug smile. “Once they start the project, the politicians will be too scared of the backlash if they stop pouring in the money. Nobody wants to be accused of wasting public money.”

“And building this canal is not a waste of money?”

Dylan shrugged. “If they weren’t building it large enough for the navy’s ironclads to navigate, it might have been commercially viable. But they are, and so only the government can afford to build it.”

Sophia pointed an accusing finger at him. “You’re only interested in what’s in it for you.”

“If it wasn’t me profiting from the canal, it’d be someone else.”

She wanted to wipe that smug look off Dylan’s face, but the unspoken names of Melchior Djuis and his sister and her own brother-in-law rang in her head. It was time to change the topic. “I would like to fly, but what about Michael, Dorothea and Maria?”

“The plane has seating for four passengers, and as the trip is under an hour, we can take turns holding Michael.”

Sophia correctly interpreted that as being the women could hold Michael. “When do we leave?”

“The plane is booked to pick up some passengers in Wismar the day after we get married, and Bamberg Charters is happy to carry us to Schwerin, but we have to get to the airport early.”

Sophia had a bad feeling what the answer was going to be, but she had to ask the question. “What constitutes early?”

“The flight leaves Magdeburg airport at sunrise.”

Sophia winced. It was what she’d feared. To be sure of being at the airport at sunrise they’d have to be up by five—on the morning after her wedding.

 

A couple of days later, a wood near the Schweriner See

 

The body had once been human, but that was before the local wildlife had discovered it. Much of it had been chewed on and it looked like pigs had played football with the head, leaving it some distance from the torso.

Jasper von Hagen had called on his neighbors to help look for his eldest son, who had failed to return from a walk a couple of days ago. Or at least that was the claim. Hans Becker had good reason to be suspicious of the circumstances surrounding Mathias’ disappearance. A little over two weeks ago he’d overheard Jasper von Hagen tell his son to go to Magdeburg to kill Michael von Hagen, and he’d been in Magdeburg when someone had tried to shoot Michael. True, he’d left Magdeburg to return to Schwerin before he heard if any of the men detained as suspects in the shooting had actually been charged, but he was sure that if the Magdeburg police ever caught the right man, that man would implicate Mathias.

Hans walked up to the head and gently rolled it over with his foot. The flesh had been chewed and gnawed at, but there was still enough of the face still intact to positively identify the dead man.

“Is it Mathias von Hagen?”

Hans almost jumped at the unexpected voice. He turned to see the policeman from Magdeburg standing beside Markus Lehmann. “Yes, it’s Mathias von Hagen, Herr Marx.”

MWAM-scwrnChristian Marx crouched down for a closer look at the head. “I understand the young man went missing the same day I arrived in Schwerin hoping to question him about events in Magdeburg. And now here he is, dead. A coincidence, I’m sure.”

“It is certainly a very fortuitous coincidence for Jasper von Hagen.”

“It’ll take the heat off his father,” Markus Lehmann agreed. “Now he can’t implicate his father in the attempts on Michael von Hagen’s life.”

“We can’t even connect the attempts to Mathias von Hagen,” Christian admitted as he stood up. “When I left Magdeburg they were still looking for the firearm that fired the shot into the baby carriage.”

“So there’s no evidence to connect anybody to the attempt on the boy’s life?” Markus asked.

“Nothing that would stand up in court,” Christian said.

Markus gave a snort of laughter. “So Johann von Hagen murdered his son for nothing.”

“We don’t know that Herr von Hagen murdered his son,” Christian said.

“So his death so soon after you arrived in Schwerin wanting to talk to him is nothing more than a huge coincidence?” Hans shook his head. “If you believe that, I’ve got a bridge I’d like to sell you.”

“The trouble is it could be a coincidence. Without evidence we can’t really say otherwise,” Christian said.

“Yes, well, we might as well get this farce over with and let von Hagen know we’ve found his son,” Markus said.

“He’s probably known where the body was all this time,” Hans muttered before forming a trumpet with his hands and calling out that they’d found a body.

Jasper von Hagen was one of the first to arrive, and he put on a suitably teary-eyed performance over the scattered remains of his eldest son. “Thank you for finding my boy,” he said to Markus as he hugged him.

“Hypocrite!” Hans muttered the moment they were far enough away that no one could overhear. “He killed his own son. Even my father wouldn’t do that!”

 

The next day, Schwerin

 

Dylan and his party were nearly mobbed when they stepped off the plane after it landed in a field just outside Schwerin. The surging crowd wasn’t interested in them of course. They were interested in getting a close-up look at the wondrous machine they had arrived in. All of the forty or so people crowding around the plane had seen planes fly overhead before, but this was the first opportunity for many of them to get close enough to actually touch an airplane. There was a professional photographer in the crowd, and he quickly struck a deal with the pilot to allow him to photograph individuals sitting in the plane.

Dylan saw what was happening, shook his head in amusement at the entrepreneurial spirit of the photographer, swung on a backpack, and picked up his and Sophia’s suitcases. Then, with Sophia carrying Michael and the nursery maid and Ponseti nurse carrying their own bags, he led his party to where Hans Becker and Markus Lehmann were waiting with a pony-cart.

“Let me take that!’ Hans offered as he reached for one of the suitcases Dylan was carrying.

Dylan let him load his case while he lifted Sophia’s onto the cart and added the backpack. Then he and Markus helped Dorothea and Maria load their bags onto the cart. “Do you want to carry Michael, or ride with him on the cart?” he asked Sophia.

“How far are we going?” Sophia asked.

“We booked rooms for you at an inn in the city,” Markus said. “The stuff you sent ahead by steam packet is waiting for you there.”

“I’ll walk then, thank you, and Dorothea can carry Michael.” She handed Michael to the nursery maid. “Shall we be on our way?”

Dylan looked around. There were still people gathered around the Ziermann Flugzeugwerke Dragonfly II they’d arrived in, but he knew the pilot had a schedule to keep, and even the money the photographer was paying couldn’t make it worth his while to be late to his next stop. “It’d be a good idea to get moving before the crowd starts back.”

They’d barely taken a dozen steps before Markus announced that Mathias von Hagen’s body had been found the previous day. There was a shocked intake of breath from Sophia, but Dylan wasn’t so surprised. “Do you know the cause of death?”

“Being in a position to incriminate papa,” Hans said. “Although the policeman from Magdeburg thought there was a faint chance he died of natural causes.”

“What policeman from Magdeburg?” Dylan asked.

“Herr Marx,” Hans said. “He arrived in Schwerin with a couple of men from the Mecklenburg Mounted Constabulary a few days ago.”

“He’s actually from Frankfurt,” Dylan said. “I wonder what he’s doing in Schwerin?”

“I think he’d been hoping to interview Mathias von Hagen,” Hans said.

“Could we get back to business?’ Markus asked. “I didn’t mean to distract you by telling you Mathias is dead, and we’ve got more important things to talk about. I’ve arranged for you to have lunch with Jacob Thoming,” Markus told Dylan.

“Who’s he when he’s at home?” Dylan asked.

“An alderman and the proconsul for Schwerin,” Sophia answered.

Dylan, Hans, and Markus shot her surprised looks.

“I did live in the area for five years,” she reminded them. “Why do you want to talk to him?”

“He’s representing the council in our negotiations,” Markus said.

“He’ll be interested in jobs for his family.” On the rest of the walk to the inn where they were staying, Sophia told Dylan and his colleagues what she knew about the man and his family.

****

            Sophia had known Jacob Thoming’s wife, Katharina Scheffer, for years, but hadn’t had much to do with her during her marriage to Johann, as he had made keeping up with her friends very difficult. After the initial discussions about their children, and a further discussion of how Michael’s club foot was being treated and how a specialist nurse was currently in Schwerin to assess the level of need Schwerin had for a Ponseti nurse, the conversation turned to the real reason for the meeting.

“Your husband seems very convinced that Schwerin will benefit from the construction of the new canal.”

“That’s right,” Sophia agreed. “He’s betting his own money that the new canal will bring prosperity all along the canal route as transportation costs are slashed and the canal becomes the main trade route from Magdeburg to the Baltic.”

“The old canal was an expensive failure,” Katharina noted.

“I know,” Sophia admitted. “But Dylan is convinced that the government will continue to fund the Gustavus Adolphus canal until it is finished, even if it costs over two thousand million dollars to build it. He believes that the politicians won’t cancel the project now they’ve committed to it.” Dylan had actually talked of a sum of two billion dollars, which was a number she’d never heard of before, and he’d had to explain what he meant. She was using a more easily understood term with Katharina.

“Where are you getting that figure from?” Katharina asked.

“Dylan commissioned Sterling and Bonnaro to make some cost estimates,” Sophia said, naming the premier accounting firm in Grantville, and thus the USE. “They came up with that number as a low-end estimate based on the work that needs to be done, the new dredging technology, and more importantly, how much bigger than the old canal the Gustavus Adolphus canal will have to be if it is to be big enough for the navy’s ironclads to sail along.”

“The ironclads are over fifty times the size of the salt barges the old canal was intended for,” Katharina muttered.

Sophia could guess where Katharina’s thinking was going. If they spent close to two hundred million on the failed old canal, surely a canal big enough for vessels fifty times the size should cost fifty times as much? “It doesn’t quite work that way,” she warned Katharina. “Dylan says that the canal only has to be big enough for a single ironclad. They don’t have to make it big enough for them to pass going in opposite directions, and that will save them a lot of money.”

“Two thousand million dollars is still a lot of money. What happens when it starts to go over budget? Won’t they stop building it?”

Sophia shook her head. “Dylan thinks that the politicians will be so scared of being blamed with wasting public money on a white elephant that they’ll keep funding it until it is finished, no matter how much over budget it goes.”

“What’s a white elephant?” Katharina asked.

“Dylan says it’s something that costs more than it is worth.”

“But why call it a white elephant?”

Sophia laughed. She’d asked Dylan the exact same question when he used the term. “I don’t think he knows where the term comes from; he just sort of knows what it means.”

“And your husband thinks this canal will bring prosperity to Schwerin?”

“You should start getting the benefits soon as the laborers start work. There are going to be over four thousand of them, and they’re all going to need to be fed, clothed, and entertained.”

“Four thousand?” Katharina appeared horrified. “But there isn’t enough room inside the walls for even half that number.”

“They won’t be living in Schwerin, Katharina. Most of them will be living in work camps close to the canal. But there will be a much smaller influx of support personnel, and it is to provide for those people that my husband wants to build his new apartment complex.”

Katharina released a sigh of relief. “You had me worried for a moment there. It’s bad enough in Schwerin now with all the footloose young radicals who’ve decided to invade the city. Of course the city needs the money they bring with them, but still, they are radicals.”

Sophia beamed at Katharina. She’d planted the seeds Dylan had asked her to plant. Now they could only wait and see what happened. By mutual consent, the two women returned to their menfolk.

****

            “How did your talk with Frau Scheffer go?” Dylan asked the moment they were out of the inn.

Sophia glanced back over her shoulder, then at Dylan. “Not bad, I think I planted the seeds in fertile soil. And your discussion with Jacob, how did that go?”

“He’s the worst procrastinator I’ve ever had the pleasure of doing business with,” Dylan said with feeling.

“I did warn you,” Sophia said.

“I know, but I thought you might have exaggerated. After all, the guy is supposed to be an alderman and proconsul to the city.”

“Schwerin is a very small city, and they don’t have a very big pool of talent to draw from.”

“They were really scraping the bottom of the barrel when they picked Jacob Thoming. If it’s left up to him, we’ll never get the land we need.”

Sophia laid a sympathetic hand on Dylan’s shoulder. “Don’t worry. His wife will make sure you get the land you need.”

****

            There was a fresh grave in the family plot, but Sophia ignored it. She had no interest in mourning the father of her son. Instead she crouched down beside the headstone of her daughter, who’d died of smallpox shortly after her second birthday. She had a new reason to hate her first husband. Katharina Scheffer had told her that Sanitation Commission workers had passed through Schwerin en route to Wismar as early as September 1633. But for Johann’s pigheadedness, Maria Magdalena could have been vaccinated and would still be alive. She wiped a tear from her eyes as she stood up and walked over to Johann’s grave so she could spit upon him.

She felt a presence just behind her and turned to see her new husband watching her. “I killed him you know.” That comment didn’t elicit any response so she expounded on the topic. “He’d hurt me again, and I hit him with a candlestick as he walked away from me. He fell like a rag-doll. I was sure I’d only knocked him out and that when he woke up he’d be really angry with me, so I grabbed Michael and ran. That’s why I wasn’t in the house when the CoC column attacked the house.”

Again Dylan didn’t say anything. He just walked up to her and enveloped her in his arms. It was warm and comforting. She looked up at his face, trying to read what he was thinking. “Aren’t you going to say something?”

He smiled down at her and dropped a kiss her on the forehead. “It was really good timing. If you hadn’t killed him and run, you would have died that night as well.”

“I didn’t mean to kill, but I was so hurt and angry.”

“I used to dream of killing my father, and when I wasn’t dreaming of killing him, I was dreaming about someone else killing him.”

That opened the floodgates. She’d finally confessed her secret and her husband wasn’t condemning her. She stood in his arms, welcoming the warmth as the tears fell.

Dylan kissed her head, then tilted her head up so he could drop a kiss on her nose. “My wife, the axe murderer,” he joked.

“It wasn’t an axe,” Sophia protested. “It was a candlestick.”

Dylan’s lips twitched. “My wife, the candlestick murderer, just doesn’t have the same ring to it.”

He was laughing at her and her fears. Indignantly Sophia poked him under the ribs and broke free of his arms. She sent Maria Magdalena’s grave a glance, silently promising to be back, before placing her hand in the crook of her husband’s arm. “You were going to show me around your brickworks . . .”

“Don’t let Barthel Wenrich hear you say that. He thinks of it as his,” Dylan said as he led her away from the graveyard.

There was a bit of a reception committee waiting for them when they arrived back at the brickworks cafeteria. Obviously there was Dorothea and Michael, but Markus and Hans had turned up as well. “I’ve just heard that Mathias’ funeral is in two days. Are you going to attend?” Markus asked when Dylan and Sophia were seated.

Dylan turned to Sophia and raised an eyebrow in question. “We probably have to, don’t we?”

Sophia nodded. “It would look strange if we didn’t.”

****

            Jasper von Hagen was a moderately important person in the area, so the funeral party for his eldest son included a few important people from Schwerin as well as the surrounding land owners. Sophia had difficulty meeting Jasper’s eyes as she made her condolences to the family, and she dropped her eyes the first chance she had. That was why she found herself staring at Jasper’s hands. More specifically, she found herself staring at the ring on his right hand. It was a very unusual and distinctive ring, and the last time she’d seen it was when Johann had slapped her before walking away from her. Just before she grabbed a candlestick and struck him. Suddenly she realized the mourners had backed up behind her, waiting their turn to give the family their condolences. She pointed at the ring. “Why do you have Johann’s signet ring?” she asked.

“It is my ring. I had one like Johann’s made.”

Sophia stared at the ring that Jasper was now trying to hide without seeming to do so. It was possible she was wrong, but then she noticed the ring catch on his clothes. A broken claw had pulled a thread. She fingered the tiny scar on her face where a broken claw on her Johann’s signet ring had cut her once when Johann had struck her. “And you asked them to make it with the same broken claw as Johann’s ring?” she demanded.

Jasper stared at Sophia in shocked silence. Then Christian Marx stepped out from the crowd of mourners that was now watching and listening intently. “When did you last see your late husband’s signet ring, Frau Bacmeister?”

“The last time I saw Johann’s signet ring was the night I ran away. The same night a group of CoC men attacked our home.”

Markus stepped out of the crowd of mourners to join Christian. “I was there when Johann von Hagen’s body was found the next morning, and there was no jewelry on his hands.” There were oohs of astonishment from the mourners, and all eyes turned to stare at Jasper.

“Are you accusing me of killing my brother for his signet ring?” Jasper demanded.

“Not for the signet ring,” Christian said, “but for the tens of thousands of dollars the brickworks that has been built on his land will bring. Since his father’s death there have been two attempts on Michael von Hagen’s life by people who have been traced back to your son. We believe the motive for those attacks was his inheritance. The same inheritance you stand to gain if Michael dies.”

At that moment Jasper totally lost it. He barged past Sophia, knocking Dylan to the ground as he passed. Sophia was able to see his target—the baby carriage with her son asleep in it. “Nooooo!” she wailed as she started to give chase. But even as she ran she knew she wasn’t going to be able to save her baby from the enraged Jasper.

Then it happened. Sophia froze in her tracks as she saw Dorothea step in front of Michael’s baby carriage with a shovel she’d pulled from the slack hands of one of the grave diggers who’d been filling in Mathias’ grave. She swung it, but she didn’t aim for Jasper’s head, or even his torso. She aimed for his legs. The shovel was almost silent as it swung through the air, and the impact was inaudible over the cries of horror from the mourners. The sheet metal blade of the shovel sliced through the flesh behind Jasper’s knee, bringing him to the ground. Dorothea stepped back and raised the shovel ready to bring it down if Jasper tried to move. A few seconds later, as it became obvious that Jasper wasn’t going anywhere, she lowered the shovel to the ground.

Everyone but Dorothea stood in shocked silence as they stared at the bloody scene until the Ponseti nurse who’d accompanied Dylan and Sophia to Schwerin dashed out and started to apply pressure to the severed arteries. “I need a tourniquet!” she called.

 

Later that day

 

Dylan had one arm around Sophia and his other holding a mug of ale. He lowered his mug and stared across the table at Christian Marx. “Didn’t you tell me back in Magdeburg that you couldn’t connect the attempts on Michael’s life to Mathias von Hagen?”

Christian shook his head. “That’s not quite correct. What we said was that we didn’t have evidence that would stand up in a court of law to connect Mathias to the attempts on Michael’s life.”

“So why did you say it?” Sophia asked.

“To see what would happen,” Hans said. “It’s an old trick. You pretend you know more than you really do to provoke a reaction.” He turned to Christian. “You were lucky this time.”

“Not really,” Dylan disagreed. “The police still don’t have evidence to connect Jasper to the attempts on Michael’s life, and as for murdering Johann von Hagen . . .” he shot a quick glance towards Sophia before returning to look at Hans. “They don’t have any evidence that he was involved in that either.”

“But his behavior at the funeral,” Hans protested. “Surely that is incriminating?”

“Herr Pence has it right,” Christian said. “Just because Jasper von Hagen had his brother’s signet ring doesn’t mean he killed him. However, his attempt to deny the ring was his brother’s as well as his attempt on Michael does suggest he is guilty of something.” He sighed heavily. “Oh, for the good old days where a blow such as Frau Spiegel struck would be fatal. Why did that woman have to interfere?”

“Because she’s a nurse,” Dylan said. Up-time that would have been sufficient explanation, but down-time, there wasn’t the same experience of the medical profession. “They swear an oath. It doesn’t matter what kind of scumbag the patient might be, they see it as their duty to do what they can to preserve human life.”

“What I want to know is why did he try to attack Michael at the funeral?” Hans asked.

“I’d like to know why he wore his brother’s signet ring.” Dylan said. “Surely he must have known that it could incriminate him?”

Christian smiled sadly. “I can only guess that he saw the child as the cause of all of his problems. If Michael had died in the attack that killed his father, then Jasper would have inherited the land and would be reaping the rewards with no one the wiser. As for why he wore the ring, maybe Frau Bacmeister can help?”

“It was his father’s ring,” Sophia said. “Johann said it was proof that his father had loved him best”

Christian nodded. “That could be it. Possession of the ring might have represented final acceptance by his father to Jasper.” Christian shrugged. “Anything is possible for a man in his mental state.”

“Is there going to be a trial?” Hans asked.

“Given Jasper von Hagen’s current mental state, I doubt it,” Christian said. “But just in case he recovers, I’d like to track down and question those men who were involved in the attack on Johann von Hagen’s home. Maybe they can connect Jasper to his brother’s death.”

Dylan felt Sophia freeze, and he tightened his arm around her. Such an investigation could implicate her. “What do you know about Johann’s death?”

“Not a lot,” Christian said. “He was found dead in his bed, but his body had been badly burned in the fire the intruders set. I doubt even an up-time policeman could find any clues in those circumstances.”

Dylan felt Sophia relax and he held her close. “You’re in the clear,” he whispered in her ear. She had to be. Why would intruders carry a dead man to his bed? It was more likely that she’d only knocked Johann out, and he’d recovered enough to climb into his bed, where he’d been killed by the intruders. “My wife’s not an axe murderer,” he whispered.

“It was a candlestick!” Sophia whispered back.

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4 thoughts on “My Wife, the Axe Murderer

  1. Aaron Smith

    seems to be written as lead of a serial or the start of a trilogy. Lots of hanging clues to other probable events etc. A little slow to read. Still don’t understand the club foot as it supports the story. Not too necessary it appears to me. Hopefully you will enjoy the interplay between the hero and heroine.

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