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Kolberg, Pomerania, March 1635
"Viktor not have all day"
Hans Johansson jumped and nearly dropped the musket he gingerly held in his soft, white hands when the gravelly voice broke the silence. He'd been so busy examining the musket that he'd momentarily forgotten Viktor, though, as he glanced at the big brute of a man with his barrel chest, gray hair, and badly pockmarked, battle-scarred face, he had to wonder just how he'd managed to forget the man was waiting for him to accept the consignment of weapons. Even when he was just standing still, there was a brooding intensity about Viktor that was more intimidating than his physical presence warranted.
"I'm sorry. Is . . . is something wrong, Herr Viktor? These are very fine guns. I'm most impressed that you've managed to acquire so many of the new Russian AK3s. They only went into production last summer." To his annoyance Hans realized that he was babbling.
He wondered if he needed to make eye contact, if it would make him seem more sincere and trustworthy. He had forced himself to do so when this deal was set up and it hadn't been something he had enjoyed. On the surface Victor looked like any other thug, but there was something about the fire in Viktor's eyes that was scary. Something not quite right. No, eye contact wasn't necessary. Hans was sure he had Viktor convinced that he was just another harmless clerk handling his master's dirty transactions, and it wouldn't be a bad idea to let Viktor think that Hans was somewhat scared of his violent reputation. That Hans had spend the last three years looking for revenge against the powerful Vasa family for the loss of his heritage, and was now one of the duke of Courland's most trusted agents, was not something Viktor needed to know. Especially since the duke's new mission might bring Hans into more contact with Viktor and his men.
"Viktor's weapons is good. Why you take so long?" The big man folded his arms over his large chest, and frowned. Hans was acutely aware that he had his back to Viktor's henchman standing by the pile of gun crates, and that the two guards at the cellar door were now looking in his direction.
With an effort Hans returned his attention to the musket in his hands. It was, as Viktor had promised it would be, a used weapon, but in very good condition. That was something Viktor's reputation had promised. When you bought from him, you bought weapons you could rely on. He didn't deal in rubbish, and he didn't try to palm off damaged weapons as useful ones. On the other hand, he was also rumored to be willing to go to any length to get revenge for a betrayal, real or imagined, and Hans had no intention of telling Viktor all there was to know about the mission. Still, there was no one else capable of carrying it off who might also be willing to do it, so Hans knew he just had to out-smart the big man.
"They are very good, Herr Viktor. In fact they are exactly what you promised." Hans plastered an ingratiating smile on his face, and managed to look somewhat like the apple-cheeked Swedish boy he had once been.
"Viktor keeps his word, and others better keep theirs to Viktor." The scarred face looked even more evil twisted by a dark frown, and the thick Russian accent grated on Hans' ears.
"Surely no one would try to cheat someone as noto . . . eh, noted for fair dealings as your honorable self, Herr Viktor." Hans gave a slight bow, and handed Viktor a purse containing the exact number of gold coins as they had agreed upon.
"Not twice. No, not twice." Viktor bounced the purse in his hand a few times, and stuck it into his belt without counting the money.
"Surely not even once, Herr Viktor. Why even my illustrious master knows of your reputation. He has, in fact, empowered me to approach you concerning another deal."
"As you know, there are many new weapons being developed more or less secretly in various places, and it has come to my master's attention that a weapon of significant military value will be traveling from Wismar to Stockholm within the next couple of weeks. My master wishes to acquire this new weapon, but speed is essential."
"Why you need Viktor?"
"I lack your organization's sources of information and connections. The Doppels have intense security surrounding the transportation of the new weapon and I am at a loss as to how to obtain it." Hans tried another smile and a bow.
"Johann and Georg Doppel from Gothmund, Luebeck?" Viktor's speech was suddenly faster and smoother, making Hans wonder if he'd been playing games with him.
"Why, yes. Do you know them?"
"Viktor knows of them. For the right price Viktor will do it. From Wismar to Stockholm, you say? First Viktor will need a good ship and crew."
"I already have a ship and crew ready and waiting to take the weapon back to my master."
Viktor shook his head. "Viktor wants his own ship and crew."
"The captain is my cousin, and my master has already agreed," Hans insisted.
"Viktor has your word your men are to be trusted?"
"Of course," Hans answered.
"Then we discuss Viktor's price to get your master his weapon system."
The Vulgar Unicorn, Stralsund, a couple of days later
Tat'yana's nose twitched at the strong smell of sex in the air of Victor's room. She paused to examine the child, for child was what she most definitely was, that Viktor had been amusing himself with. She was standing there in her threadbare clothes, staring nervously back at Tat'yana, twisting the drawstring purse Viktor had thrown her. Tat'yana called over her shoulder. "Boris, get this girl a coat from the bag and see she's given something to eat before she leaves."
"No, Boris, you stay." Viktor waved towards the second man who had entered the room behind Tat'yana. "Grigori, do what Tat'yana said."
Tat'yana waited until the door was shut behind Grigori and the girl. "She looked young even for you, Viktor."
"Yes, the sweet little flower has barely started to bud," Viktor answered, "but I wanted to celebrate with a virgin." He looked over to Boris. "We have been given Johann and Georg Doppel on a platter."
The grim smile on Boris' face had Tat'yana wondering. "Who are Johann and Georg Doppel?"
"It's a long story," Viktor began.
Tat'yana settled herself comfortably on the bedside chair. "I've got plenty of time."
"It was back when me and Viktor first started dealing in arms. We thought we had a deal with honorable men . . . " Boris said.
"But we were wrong," Viktor interrupted. "The written contract they produced did not say what they claimed it had said."
This was news to Tat'yana, and it explained why Viktor and Boris had so readily accepted her into their inner circle six years ago. Not only could she read and write, but she also owed Viktor for rescuing her from the back streets of Paris. She was his way of ensuring he wasn't cheated on a bad contract again, which brought up another question. Viktor wasn't the kind of man to let a wrong go unpunished so long. "And you haven't done anything about them yet?"
Viktor snorted. "Not yet. We couldn't do anything ten years ago. We were short of money and the Doppels had powerful friends. Until now our paths haven't crossed." Viktor glanced over to Boris. "But now I will have justice."
"Don't they still have powerful friends?" Tat'yana asked.
"Yes, but they will be on board a ship. It will be a simple matter for them to be lost at sea."
"Murder on the high seas?" Tat'yana asked.
"Not murder, Tat'yana. We are not pirates. Nobody wants to be a pirate in the Baltic. There is nowhere to hide. No, I only seek justice," Viktor answered. "Do you know where to find Lasse?"
Tat'yana nodded. "He's working the docks here in Stralsund."
"Good. Bring him to me. I have a special job for him."
Viktor turned to Boris. "Hans Johansson says he has a ship and crew. Its name is the Dunking Dolphin. Learn what you can about them while I find out what I can about the Doppels' ship."
The Harbor, Stralsund
"Hello, Cookie. Wanna turn a trick?" Lasse turned around at the rough voice, and saw his old friend Tat'yana standing with her hands on her hips, and her head slightly tilted in a come hither pose.
"Tat'yana, what can I do for you?" Lasse rose gracefully from the bollard he had been sitting on.
"Viktor has a job that needs your special abilities."
"Horizontal or vertical?" Lasse's sweet smile never reached his eyes.
"Getting to be quite a fancy speaker, eh?" Tat'yana normally preferred to speak and dress as a respectable middle class German, but that would have made her a target for every predator on the Stralsund docks. Today she was a full-blown dockyard-doxy and, despite her small stature, someone even the most drunken sailor wouldn't harass.
"I've been keeping company with a priest lately." Lasse shrugged. "In between bemoaning his sins, and praying for his soul, he tries to convince himself that he is actually trying to save me by preaching to me and teaching me. I've lost most of my Swedish peasant accent, and learned quite a bit of Latin. Not quite enough to pass as a priest, but . . . " Lasse shrugged again.
"It's good to be as many persons as possible." Tat'yana looked across the pier to the sea. "Then you can afford to stop being those you don't want to be."
Lasse didn't answer. He had been happy and proud to have reached a position as second cook in Princess Kristina's household at the royal court in Stockholm, but being accused of trying to poison the princess had broken his dreams, and what he'd had to do to escape had broken more than that. Someday Lasse intended to find out if Jan Potocki had been the reason the queen had been so unwilling to accept that Lasse simply hadn't noticed the cracks in the tinned beaker he had used to serve the tisane to the princess. The queen's new favorite had certainly been quick enough to offer to arrange Lasse's freedom from jail in return for Lasse's "services."
"Viktor wants us to leave for Wismar today. We must be onboard a certain ship when it leaves the harbor there. You as a cook, me as a passenger. Are you in?"
"Sure." Lasse smiled. "Viktor pays much better than the priest, and he doesn't expect freebies."