The Vice President’s Plane is Down


0823hrs, Wednesday, March 7, 1635, GrantvilleTower, Hans Richter Field

“Mayday, mayday, mayday. Bravo Charlie Zero One.”

Markus Gärtner erupted from his chair as the urgency of Bravo Charlie Zero One’s call penetrated the quiet of the control tower, the mug of freshly brewed coffee in his hand forgotten for just a moment. Then he squealed as the very hot coffee he’d spilt penetrated his trousers and hit his skin.

“You all right?” Johannes Schöppner, an air force pilot on temporary assignment to the control tower while he recovered from a parachute-training accident, asked.

“I’m fine.” Markus waved Johannes away as he reached for the microphone.

“Bravo Charlie Zero One, Alfa Papa Two One, I have you in sight. What is your emergency?”

Rudi Kastner, of the Air Post Service, had beaten him to it. Markus tugged at his trousers to try and keep the wet material away from his flesh while he listened to Rudi talking to the pilot of Bravo Charlie Zero One. It soon became clear that Bravo Charlie Zero One was going to make a forced landing in very inhospitable terrain.

“I know Rudi, but who’s Bravo Charlie Zero One?” Johannes asked.

“Heinrich Rottenberger. He’s piloting Bamberg Charters’ new Ziermann Flugzeugwerke Dragonfly.”

“Passengers?”

“Three very important passengers,” Markus confirmed. He’d seen them boarding the charter flight when it left Grantville on Monday morning. “You’re closest. Could you grab the procedures manual.”

Johannes pulled the red procedures manual from the shelf and laid it down beside Markus. “Do we know who the passengers are?”

“Yes,” Markus muttered.

Aboard Bravo Charlie Zero One

The impact threw Helene Gundelfinger hard into her seat. The little air left in her lungs escaped in a scream when she realized Duke Johann Philipp was flying toward her.

Johann’s plunge was caught by his three-point seatbelt and he hung dangling above her. She glanced to her left where Duchess Elisabeth was slowly emerging from a pile of blankets and hand luggage. “Are you okay?” she asked.

Elisabeth ran hands over her body. “I think so.” Then she looked up. “Oh, dear. Are you all right, Johann?”

“Get me down from here,” he muttered as he struggled not to fall out of the safety harness.

Elisabeth stood in her seat and reached out for Johann’s dangling right arm. He screamed and she hastily released it.

Together the women struggled to take Johann’s weight off the harness so the quick release would work. They could barely support his weight and when Elisabeth managed to operate the quick release the sudden loss of support was too much. They all collapsed in an ungainly heap.

The aircraft swayed under the impact and branches rattled on the fuselage. The three of them froze, fearful that the aircraft was about to fall. Thirty seconds of silence passed with nothing happening.

Johann broke the silence. “I think I’ve broken my arm.”

“Oh, Johann let me help you,” Elisabeth said

“I’ll see if I can find some bandages.” Helene let Elisabeth comfort her husband while she picked through the contents of the overhead baggage racks and the first aid cabinet which were now scattered around the cabin.

“Here, Elisabeth. I’ll keep looking for something to use as a splint.” Helene tossed a couple of rolls of crepe bandage and a packaged triangular bandage to Elisabeth. She couldn’t find anything suitable in the cabin but through the open door she could see tree branches close to the fuselage. She reached for the nearest branch of a suitable size and started to twist and turn it with one hand while she hacked at it with her belt knife.

“What’s that noise?” Elisabeth demanded, interrupting Helene’s concentration.

Helene listened. “Another aircraft.” She crawled back toward her companions and gave Elisabeth the branch she’d just cut, then crawled back to the door and looked skyward. A small single-engine airplane in the livery of the Air Post Service was circling high above them. “Elisabeth, quick, I need something to wave.”

“Use this,” Elisabeth said. “But give it back. I need it for Johann’s arm.”

Helene took the triangular bandage Elisabeth handed her, then waved it at the aircraft.

The plane circled closer and closer until Helene could clearly see the pilot. For a brief moment their eyes met and the pilot lifted a hand. Then he started to climb away. Helene watched until the plane was little more than a dot in the sky. When it finally disappeared from view she closed her eyes and dropped her head into her hands. People knew where they were and help would soon be on its way. She took a deep breath, let it out slowly, then opened her eyes.

And immediately wished she hadn’t. “Mein Gott!”

There was nothing more than a few branches supporting the aircraft . . . some thirty feet in the air.

****

Helene slid back from the door and glanced over at her companions. Philipp was a strong and healthy man in his late thirties and Elisabeth was just a few years older. Even with a broken arm he should be able to climb down with some assistance, but what about the pilot? With all the excitement they’d completely forgotten about him.

Helene pulled aside the curtain that separated the pilot from the passengers and poked her head into the cockpit. It was a mess. The glass panels of the wind shield were shattered and she could see the ground below them.

She reached over to the pilot and placed a tentative finger against his throat. There was no pulse, which considering the pieces of aircraft sticking into his chest, wasn’t too surprising.

“The pilot’s dead,” Helene said.

“What about the radio?” Philipp asked.

“I forgot to check.” She climbed over the pilot to reach the radio. The impact had crushed it. She hastily backed out of the cockpit. “The radio’s dead too.”

“Shouldn’t we get out of here?” Elisabeth asked.

“That won’t be quite as easy as you think,” Helene muttered.

Hans Richter Field

After what seemed an eternity while they listened to Alfa Papa Two One trying to make radio contact with Bravo Charlie Zero One, they got the radio call they’d been waiting for.

“Mayday, mayday, mayday. Alfa Papa Two One.”

Markus settled in his chair and took a deep breath. “Grantville Tower, what is your emergency?”

“Alfa Papa Two One, Bravo Charlie Zero One crashed in treetops, six miles west of River Werra, south east of Kaltenortheim. One survivor waving.”

Markus checked that Johannes was operating the radio direction finder. “Alfa Papa Two One, Roger. We’re taking a bearing on you. Are you over the site?”

“Alfa Papa Two One, affirm.”

“Alfa Papa Two One, call Erfurt Tower this frequency, request a bearing and relay to us,” Markus said.

“Erfurt Tower, Alfa Papa Two One requests a bearing.

Markus glanced over at Johannes, who was waiting ready to plot the bearing from Erfurt tower.

Alfa Papa Two One relayed the bearing a couple of minutes later. “Grantville Tower, Erfurt Tower reports the bearing is two three seven degrees.”

Johannes drew a line from Erfurt Tower and grimaced when he crossed the bearing line from Hans Richter Field. “It’s a stinker of a place to come down. There’s nothing but forest-covered hills for miles.”

Markus checked the procedures folder and spoke into the microphone again. “Alfa Papa Two One, Grantville Tower, what are your intentions?”

“Grantville Tower, I have a scheduled mail stop over Suhl before heading for Grantville. Should I miss that and divert straight for Grantville?”

Markus shook his head even though the pilot couldn’t see him. The few minutes it would take to exchange mail at Suhl wouldn’t make much difference. “Negative on diversion. Keep your schedule.”

“Alfa Papa Two One, Roger.”

Markus knew how stressed the emergency services still were as a result of the events of the previous Sunday and didn’t really want to be the person to add to their problems, but someone had to tell them that an airplane was down. “You want to make the phone call?” he asked Johannes.

Johannes shook his head and pushed the phone set across to Markus. “Oh no. The privilege is all yours.”

Fifteen minutes later

Chief of Police Press Richards had been living in his office since Sunday, trying to stay on top of the investigation into what they were already calling the March Fourth Conspiracy, and he was short on sleep. He rubbed his tied eyes. “I suppose it would be too much to ask of Divine Providence that we only get one emergency at a time?”

The faces of the people sitting around the table remained unresponsive.

“Oh, yeah. I get it. Of course it would.” He pointed to an area of the map. “You say the plane went down about here?”

Johannes nodded. “That’s where the pilot of Alfa Papa Two One reports it going down. Our radio bearings put the crash site east of the River Werra on this map and, well, we don’t think the pilot got his east and west mixed.”

Press glared at the map. It was a newly drawn combination of the down-time maps of Thuringia and Franconia, and no matter how good anybody claimed it to be, it didn’t speak to him. It wasn’t a proper topographical map with contours. It was more artistic than accurate. The few hills that were shown had no connection with the reality of the terrain, and the rivers and towns were only roughly in the right place. “What’s the terrain like?”

“It’s heavily wooded and mountainous, much like the land immediately south of Grantville,” Johannes answered. “That’s why there aren’t as many villages as you’d expect in that area.”

“Can we get ground parties in to the crash site?” Steve Matheny, the Grantville fire chief, asked.

Press shook his head. “Even if we can, there’s not a man I can spare. What happened on the fourth, the funerals . . . what with trying to investigate, the state funerals, VIPs coming out our ears . . . not even the Mounted Constabulary has anyone free.”

“Fulda is assembling a search party,” Markus put in. “But it’s at least twenty hours by horse just to get to the search area, let alone actually finding it.”

Steve looked at his watch. “Sunset’s at seventeen hundred and sunrise tomorrow is about oh-six-hundred. Horses don’t like traveling in the dark, so that makes it sometime Friday morning before they reach the search area. What about vehicles? They could get there tonight.”

“How?” Press asked. “Have a look at the map, Steve. The nearest thing to a proper road in the area is the old trade route that follows the River Werra, and even that’s nine or ten miles east of where we think the aircraft crashed. Even if vehicles could get to the Werra before nightfall—and given the condition of the roads at this time of year, I somehow doubt it—the search party will take another four or five hours to walk in, even if they knew where they were going. So we have a plane containing . . . ” Press looked toward Markus in the expectation he’d know.

“A pilot and three passengers,” Markus supplied.

” . . . four people, some of them possibly seriously injured, aboard a plane stuck in tree tops from which it could fall at any time. We’re going to miss the golden hour, but there must be a way to get a medical team to them sooner than sometime tomorrow.” He paused as a thought hit him. “What’s the weather forecast?”

Markus passed over the latest weather reports. “Fulda reports the barometer has been falling since early this morning and Frankfurt am Main reports a westerly front approaching. It’ll hit them within the hour and it’s expected to hit Fulda inside three hours.”

Press knew what that meant on the eastern side of the Thuringerwald, but he wasn’t so sure of what it meant on the western side. “What sort of weather can we expect over the crash site?”

“Rain before nightfall, unless it’s a storm front, then they could get sleet or even a late snowfall,” Markus answered.

Press sighed. Bad weather, an air crash, and no doubt some very important people at risk . . . what a fun week this was turning out to be. “Well, that just makes it more imperative that we get to them as soon as possible. But how the heck can we get anybody to them before the front arrives?”

That question was met by silence as the four men thought about the situation.

After a few moments Steve spoke up. “What about the people who live near the crash site? Won’t they be searching?

“Someone might be,” Markus answered. “But we have no way of knowing, so we still need to send in our own people.”

“We don’t have any of ‘our own people,'” Press repeated.

“Then we’ve got to ask for outside help,” Steve said. “This isn’t any time to be territorial about SoTF jurisdictions and things like that.”

“But who is there?” Press rubbed his eyes again.

“There was a group of Marines doing jump training when I was at the Daedalus Parachute School in Magdeburg recently.” Johannes gestured to his plaster encased foot as if to indicate just how recently. “Maybe if you were to ask . . . ”

“Parachute in? You mean like Smoke Jumpers?” Press asked.

Johannes stared back at him blankly.

For the first time since Sunday morning, when his world suddenly got turned upside-down, Press smiled. “Sorry, you’ve probably never heard of them. But parachuting in, that might be possible. We’ll need to get Ed or the Vice President to make the request . . . ”

“It’ll have to be the president,” Markus muttered.

“What was that?” Press asked.

“Duke Johann Philipp, his wife, Duchess Elisabeth, and Her Excellency, Frau Gundelfinger were aboard Bravo Charlie Zero One,” Markus explained.

“Shit! You mean the Vice President was on that flight?” Press demanded.

Markus nodded.

Steve reached for the phone. “I’ll get right on to Ed.”

“Hold it,” Press called.

Steve paused with his hand on the phone.

“Even if they do let us have the Marines what do they jump out of?”

“TEA has a Jupiter in for maintenance.” Markus took the phone from Steve. “I’ll call and see if it can be made available.”

“Okay, Markus, you do that. Steve, wait until we know if we can get a plane. It’s no good asking Ed to call in the Marines if we can’t deliver them to the crash site.” Press looked at his watch. It read just after eight thirty. “Even if it’s ready to fly now, it’ll take at least six hours to get to Magdeburg and back. Add a couple of hours checking things out, it’ll be three at the earliest before they can leave Hans Richter Field. That’ll have them heading for the crash site about the same time the weather front hits, and they’ll only have two hours before the sun sets to find the crash site, parachute down, and trek in to meet up with the survivors.”

“It’s the best we can do, Herr Richards,” Johannes said.

****

Bang!

The sound of the door hitting the wall made everyone jump.

“Just what the hell is going on?” The intimidating figure of the Vice President’s very concerned husband strode in. Behind him someone called out, “I’m sorry, but I couldn’t stop him.”

Press stood and bravely offered his hand to Helene Gundelfinger’s husband. “Walter, how much do you know?”

Walter Goodluck stared at Press’ hand for a moment before reaching out and shaking it. “I know that a plane went down. That the plane left Fulda this morning, and that my wife was supposed to be on board.”

Press sighed. Too many people had nothing better to do than listen in on the radio channels. All he needed now was a bunch of paparazzi sticking microphones in his face, and trying to tie the loss of the plane carrying the Vice President to the events of last Sunday.

As if he’d heard Press’ thoughts Walter elaborated. “I only know Helene was coming home today because she sent a radiogram last night to say that they’d be leaving Fulda early this morning. I’ve already left a message telling Elisabeth Sofie to go to her Cousin Emilie’s place rather than turn up at the airport.”

Press was distracted by the names. “Elisabeth Sofie? Cousin Emilie?”

“Elisabeth Sofie’s parents were also aboard that flight. I told her to stay with her cousin, Countess Emilie, Ludwig Guenther’s wife, until we know what is happening.”

“Right,” Press managed to choke out the word. Walter sure had risen in the world if he was calling the local nobility by their first names. “Well, as best we know, the plane went down in wooded hill country west of the River Werra. The pilot deadsticked into the tree tops, and last we heard it was still hanging up there.”

“Is Helene okay?” Walter demanded.

“I’m sorry, but I don’t know. Another pilot saw the crash and he reports a woman waved at him.”

“Can I talk to him?”

“He hasn’t landed yet,” Press said. “Markus, when will he land?”

Markus held a hand over the phone while he answered. “Alfa Papa Two One should arrive about ten hundred hours.”

“So what are you doing about rescuing my wife, and what can I do to help?” Walter asked.

Press almost suggested that Walter could best help them by leaving, but then he remembered Walter, as the local manager of Kelly Construction, had access to a supply of manpower, which was just one of the things the emergency services were currently short of. “Fulda has already sent in a mounted party and we’re planning on sending a four by four from Grantville, but neither is likely to reach them before tomorrow afternoon, so we’re exploring a faster possibility.

Markus choose that moment to call out. “TEA says it’ll be at least two, maybe three hours before they can get the Jupiter ready, and they have no planes scheduled to reach Magdeburg until tomorrow.”

“Damn!” Press said. “It’ll be dark before the Marines can get here even on an express train.”

“What Marines?” Walter asked.

“One of our options is asking the military for the loan of some of their parachute trained Marines and having them parachute in close to the downed airplane,” Press explained. “But if they have to come by train we might as well forget about them. A four by four can get there almost as fast and they’ll be able to carry them out as well.”

“If they’re near Magdeburg then I might be able to help,” Walter said. “Neil O’Connor sold his hovercraft to the guy who built Kelly Construction’s transport barges. He’s based in Schönebeck and he uses it to commute to and from Magdeburg. He’s quite proud of how he’s improved it, and he’s claimed it could do a run from Magdeburg to Grantville faster than any aircraft.” Walter grinned. “I bet he’d love a chance to prove it.”

“Well, if everything’s all settled I better get on to Ed about requesting the Marines then,” Steve said and held out his hand for the phone Markus was holding.

0900hrs, the incident room, Hans Richter Field

Ed Piazza, president of the State of Thuringia-Franconia, entered the incident room with Tanya Newcomb, his communications expert, trailing behind. “The navy has agreed to loan us some of their jump-trained Marines, but since the only jumps they’ve done have been from the jump school’s tethered balloon they want Ted or Tracy Kubiak to act as jump master. Also, they’re asking if Tracy has completed any of the tandem rigs she was supposed to be making, because their medic isn’t jump trained yet.

“And if she hasn’t?” Press asked.

“Then they make do with their team EMT, who is probably very good, but not the same as a fully trained medic,” Ed answered.

“How are they getting to Grantville, Ed? Because Walter says he knows someone with a hovercraft . . . “

“So does the navy. They say they’ll be here inside four hours,” Ed answered.

1200hrs over the Thuringerwald

Rudi Kastner was happy to get away from the rescue command center at Hans Richter Field and back flying his plane. He glanced over his shoulder at the small package in the net bag sitting in his postal basket. It contained a small handi-talkie radio, a flashlight, several smoke generators, a couple of flares, four survival blankets, a small survival kit, some chocolate candy, and a flask of hot chicken-noodle soup. All up the package weighed about eight pounds, and it was his job to deliver it to whoever was mobile in the downed Dragonfly.

His first problem was going to be finding the plane. Coming from Grantville he was traveling the wrong way to easily identify the landmarks he’d picked out earlier, so he was going to head toward Fulda and loop round and try and match the course he’d flown earlier.

Twenty minutes later he looped around and headed toward Fulda again. He’d flown on the flight path from Fulda to Grantville the Dragonfly should have been on and there had been no sign of the downed plane. Rudi hoped the plane hadn’t fallen out of the trees, otherwise it’d be nearly impossible to find.

Over the settlement of Hilders, on the River Vister, Rudi turned and headed east again. This time he took a more northerly course. He knew the basic shape of the hills he was looking for. It was just a matter of checking out the possibilities as he came to them. Then, just ahead, he saw smoke filtering through the tree tops. It might just be local loggers, but surely they’d know how to prevent their fire smoking that badly. It was something unusual in the area he was searching, so he flew closer.

Yes! There was the tail of the Dragonfly sticking out of the treetops. Rudi reached for his radio. “Grantville Tower. Alfa Papa Two One. I have located the downed aircraft. I am now going to attempt to deliver the package.”

“Roger, Alfa Papa Two One. Good luck.”

Rudi had the choice of two methods of delivery. If there was nobody on the plane he would have to drop the package through the trees. The package had been carefully packed so such a drop shouldn’t break anything. However, “shouldn’t” wasn’t the same as “couldn’t.” Also, a dropped package could easily catch on some branches out of reach of the survivors. He flew closer, hoping that Frau Gundelfinger was still on the plane.

****

Johann tossed another stick onto the fire. “I still think we should have looked for a clearing and waited there for rescue.”

Helene sighed. “What clearing? You looked out from the plane before we came down. Could you see a clearing?”

“No, of course not, we were below the tree tops. However, this wood is managed, so there must be clearings,” Johann said.

“Sure, but we don’t know where they are, and nobody would know where we were,” Helene said.

“We’d just have to light a signal fire.”

“But that Air Post plane pilot knows where our plane came down and everything I’ve read says survivors should stay with their vehicle,” Helene said.

“And what can anybody do for us here?” Johann asked.

Helene looked upwards. The sky was visible through the naked branches of the trees. “They could drop something down to us,” she suggested.

“If that Air Post pilot comes back maybe he could lower something to us, like they do when they deliver mail sometimes,” Elisabeth suggested.

“He’d never get the rope through the treetops,” Johann said.

“Then we’ll just have to climb back up to the plane and hope he can deliver it that far,” Helene said. She looked up at the wreckage of their plane. It didn’t actually look that bad. The plane had hit a tree and plowed away branches until it hit one it couldn’t break. That had compressed the nose a little. The wings were mostly still intact and looked to be held securely by some large branches. Even though it had swayed a little when they climbed down three hours ago there had never been a feeling that it would fall out of the trees.

Gradually Helene became aware of a new noise in the forest. She met the hopeful eyes of Johann and Elisabeth before all three of them looked up through the naked branches. It was a plane. Surely it was a plane.

“Quick, Philipp, make smoke,” Helene ordered as she headed toward the tree they’d climbed down from earlier.

“I should be the one to take the risk climbing back to the aircraft,” Johann protested.

“Not with that arm, Hans-Lips,” Elisabeth said. “You keep the fire making smoke while Helene and I climb back up to the plane.”

A few minutes later Helene and Elisabeth were safely back in the cabin of the Dragonfly. She spared a glance for the curtain hiding the dead pilot before looking around for something to wave. “Damn!” They’d already taken everything down with them. The only bit of cloth remaining was the curtain. She closed her eyes so she couldn’t see the pilot and unhooked it.

With the curtain in her hand Helene waited by the door and prayed that the plane would see the smoke and return to investigate.

“He’s coming back,” she called when she finally saw a plane heading toward them. She gripped the door frame with one hand and leaned out the door and waved the curtain. The plane swooped down and circled them. “It’s an Air Post plane. Maybe it’s the same plane that found us earlier.” She ducked her head into the cabin to smile at Elisabeth. “That means they must have plans to rescue us.”

****

Rudi spotted someone at the door of the downed Dragonfly and smiled. It looked like delivery of the package would be by option two. He pulled the aircraft into a tighter turn and lost altitude. The maneuver he was about to perform was one he’d done hundreds of times delivering and collecting mail from places where the terrain made landing impossible, or they just didn’t have enough mail to warrant wasting fuel landing and taking off again. It involved doing what his instructor had called a “pylon turn” while an electric winch—one of the few electric items other than the radio on his aircraft—let out cable. The constant banked turn allowed him to lower the basket on the cable while keeping the basket almost stationary at the center of his turn. Of course, this time he was going to be trying to lower the basket to someone in an aircraft stuck up a tree, but that just made it more of a challenge. At least he’d been assured that someone in the plane would know to take whatever was in the basket. Walter Goodluck, the tall, dark-skinned up-timer, insisted his wife, who matched the description of the woman who’d waved at Rudi, would know what to do.

****

Helene snatched at the basket as it swung close, but it was just that little bit out of reach. “Elisabeth, I need to get higher so the pilot can lower the basket to me. It’s catching on the trees when he tries to bring it down to the door.”

Helene kicked off her shoes and grabbed a firm hold of the door frame with both hands. Then she backed up onto the door frame until she was standing up outside the cabin. She hung on tightly while she tentatively reached out with her left foot for the wing root of the top wing. She moved her left hand from its hold on the door frame and reached out to the fabric covered portion of the fuselage where she forced her fingers through a tear in the doped linen and wrapped her fingers around one of the wooden ribs. With her left hand holding on tightly, her left foot on the wing root and the right foot balanced on the door frame Helene looked outward and upward, over her right shoulder, toward the basket.

The pilot had obviously been watching, because he immediately brought the basket lower. In less than a minute Helene was able to reach out for the basket, and pulling it gently, she moved it closer to the door. “Get ready to take whatever’s in the basket,” she called.

Two hands appeared at the door, reaching for the basket. They reached in and immediately came out again dragging a net wrapped package.

The sudden change in mass must have affected the plane because suddenly the basket moved and Helene lost her already precarious balance. “Help!” she screamed, as both feet lost contact with the aircraft.

Hands pulled on her belt and Elisabeth screamed at her to let go of the basket.

Helene did as she was told, and discovered that her left hand still had a firm grip on the fuselage. With one hand hold and Elisabeth supporting her by the belt Helene quickly found footholds and scrambled back into the cabin. She took a deep breath and looked at Elisabeth. “Walter doesn’t have to hear about that.”

Elisabeth nodded and slumped onto a chair with the package they’d risked so much to recover. “Of course not, he’d only worry,” she said as she examined the contents of the package. The first thing out was a letter. She glanced at it and passed it to Helene. “Here, this is for you.”

She took the letter. The handwriting told her it was from her husband. She eagerly tore it open and started reading. “Elisabeth Sofie is safe and well. Walter sent her to stay with Emilie when he heard our aircraft had gone down,” she reported. “In the package is a short range radio . . . ” Helene watched Elisabeth undo the impact resistant packaging to reveal a walkie-talkie radio. ” . . . which can be used to communicate with the pilot.” She grinned at Elisabeth. “Well, that’s good. We can tell him we’re okay and he can pass it on to our families.” Helene took the radio and paused. What to use as a call sign? Oh, well, there was always the obvious. “Air Post Plane. This is Downed Plane. Are you listening?”

“Air Post Plane receives you, Downed Plane. Who is aboard and what injuries do you have?”

Helene quickly related their names and the injuries to Duke Philipp and the pilot.

“Downed Plane, I have to leave you now. A rescue mission is being assembled. Please read the instructions for the smoke generators and signal flares. They will make locating you again much easier.”

“Just a minute. How long is this rescue going to be?” Helene listened, but the Air Post plane was already out of range. “Damn!”

Elisabeth smiled at Helene and passed her some chocolate. “It’ll take as long as it takes, Helene. Just be patient.”

“I don’t do patient,” she protested.

Elisabeth just smiled and bit off a piece of chocolate.

1240hrs Operations room, Hans Richter Field

Press approached the six men climbing out of the vehicles. There were going to be complaints about the noise the hovercraft had made, he just knew it, but at least they’d had plenty of warning that it was getting close and been able to save time by sending a couple of vehicles ahead to meet them. He looked for their leader, and managed to pick out the insignia of a captain. “Am I glad to see you and your men.”

The captain reached out and shook Press’ hand. “Captain Wilhelm Finck, USE Marines. Are you the man in charge?”

“Yes. Police Chief Press Richards, Grantville Police. Steve Matheny, the fire chief is inside. We’ve got what maps we have spread out in the incident room if you’ll just step this way.”

Captain Finck glanced over at his men. “Corporal Müller, see to the men. Sergeant Fels, follow me.” He turned to Press. “Are the Kubiaks here?”

“Yes.” Press said. “Tracy’s doing final checks before she packs a tandem parachute and Ted’s helping modify the plane for the mission.”

There was the hint of a smile on Sergeant Fels’ face when he glanced over at Pres. “Modify?”

“Yes. Apparently the door has to come off, and the TEA people aren’t very happy about it,” Press answered.

“It would just be in the way when we bail out,” Sergeant Fels explained.

“Tracy says that Ted better take the tandem chute as none of your men have any experience with it.”

“That’s good to hear. I wasn’t looking forward to doing my first jump from an aircraft strapped to Lance Corporal Böhm,” Sergeant Fels said.

Press guided them into the incident room. “We’ve made radio contact with the Vice President. Her Excellency and the duke and duchess are alive and well, other than a broken arm for the duke. The pilot is dead.” He waited for the Marines to absorb that information before continuing. “She says they can climb down from the plane, but will wait immediately below it in case we want to drop off another package.”

Captain Finck frowned. “So you no longer need us?”

“Well . . . yes and no. They aren’t in immediate danger, but it’ll still be sometime tomorrow before we can get anybody to them any other way and, well, something caused both engines to fail on that plane. We need to know what happened, and if it’s connected in any way with the events of March fourth. We’d like you and your Marines to protect the aircraft from potential looters until we can get a crash inspector to the site.”

“We are happy to be of assistance,” Captain Finck said.

1330hrs

The passenger seats in the Jupiter had been removed as part of the maintenance work and the TEA mechanics had been told not to put them back. It meant the Marines were sitting on the floor with their backs to the fuselage, which wasn’t the most comfortable way to travel, but it made it easier for the equipment-laden men to move about.

Sergeant Christoph Fels watched Tracy work her way toward him, stepping carefully over the spread-out legs of his men and their equipment. She bent down beside him and spoke into his ear. “We’ve located the drop zone. The pilot is going to take us around again so I can drop a marker on what looks like a small meadow. It’s about half a mile from the crash site, but unless you want to try landing in the trees . . . ” Tracy left the rest of her sentence hanging.

“And risk a few broken bones? No thanks. I’ll see to my men while you mark the drop zone,” Christoph said.

Tracy nodded and returned to the cockpit. Christoph meanwhile checked on his men. With only a broken arm to worry about they’d decided they didn’t need Lance Corporal Böhm’s medical skills—much to his obvious disgust—so he and Ted had been left behind with the captain, who was running interference for them back in Grantville. The four of them should have little trouble on what was turning out to be a simple training exercise, and all on someone else’s budget.

A hand grabbed his shoulder. Christoph looked up to see Tracy. She was pointing toward the exit. With no door the wind noise made normal conversation impossible. Not that he needed to hear her to know what he was supposed to do. He joined his men near the door in hooking up his static line, made sure that his backpack was secure around his legs and attached the rope that would suspend it from his harness. Then, standing semi-crouched so the pack wouldn’t fall from its position, he waited for his turn to jump.

Tracy slapped the back of Lance Corporal Fabricius, the team scout and EMT. He stepped out onto the wing, took three steps, and disappeared off the trailing edge. Ten seconds later Corporal Nik Müller, the radio operator, followed him out the door. Another ten seconds and Lance Corporal “Al” Dinckeler, the team engineering specialist, followed. Christoph shuffled to the door. To his right, past the leading edge of the Jupiter’s left wing, he could see the orange smoke from the markers Tracy had dropped on a previous pass. To his left the wing blocked any sight of his men. Tracy slapped his shoulder and he stepped onto the wing, took three steps and went off the trailing edge.

Tracy had warned them that jumping from a moving aircraft was different than jumping from the balloon back in Magdeburg, but he hadn’t realized how different. Now, as the slipstream caught him, he understood why she’d insisted they use static-lines to deploy their parachutes on their first “combat” jump from an aircraft. It was nothing like parachuting from the jump school balloon.

There was a reassuring “crack” as the canopy deployed and he looked up to check that his parachute had deployed cleanly. It had, so as soon as he was stable Christoph lowered his backpack. Backpacks suspended thirty feet below a jumper offered a number of benefits. It stabilized them in flight, reducing any tendency to swing like a pendulum under the canopy; it gave a thirty foot warning that landing was imminent; and when the pack hit the ground it gave the parachute a moment of extra braking as it no longer carried the extra weight, making the landing that little bit easier. The fact that a man could parachute with a couple of hundred pounds of equipment and land without busting his knees was also a consideration. The backpack was fine, hanging properly, so Christoph took hold of the steering toggles and took up his position behind his men as they glided toward the orange smoke marking the landing zone.

The delay between jumpers had been deliberate. From the air the meadow had looked extremely small. The delay was intended to be long enough to allow the jumpers enough time to secure their canopies and get out of the way before the next man arrived, but not so long that all four jumpers couldn’t leave the plane before it passed the target.

As he approached the target, Christoph could appreciate just how small it was. He turned so that he was heading into the smoke, and thus heading into the wind. This would slow his forward momentum, which was going to be important in such a small space.

Seconds later he performed a parachute-roll to reduce the impact of landing. He quickly scrambled to his feet and collapsed the parachute canopy, then turned and started to wind it in before a gust of wind could catch it. While he bundled up his parachute Christoph looked around the meadow. It appeared to be well cared for, but then, these Wüstung fields, where the original village had been abandoned for some reason, were useful places to hide livestock from foraging armies. He looked up at the sky. A lot of people weren’t going to like the idea that their safe hidey holes could now be easily located by aircraft.

Five minutes later, with their parachutes stuffed into sacks that were tied to their backpacks, the men of the 1st Reconnaissance Company, First Marines, were ready to move out. “Fabricius, lead the way,” Christoph called to his lead scout.

Johann Fabricius checked the location of the smoke marking the crash site—the survivors had been asked to let off a couple of their smoke markers from the top of their tree—against his compass, then he stared into the woods. A moment later he set off.

The rest of the Marines followed. First Christoph, then Corporal Müller, and finally, Al Dinckeler brought up the rear. They each had a military-issue lever-action magazine rifle held ready for use, not because they expected to face an enemy, but because that was how they’d been trained. Besides, there were other dangers you could run into in the forest. Wolves, bears, and most dangerous of all—because unlike most wild animals which tended to avoid humans—pigs.

Every fifty or so yards Fabricius stopped and checked his bearings before moving again. Christoph knew that Fabricius was picking out a landmark on the right bearing and walking to it before picking out the next landmark. This was to stop them drifting off target, which could easily happen if they blindly followed a compass bearing while walking around obstacles.

Half an hour later they came across the survivors wrapped in survival blankets sitting staring at their fire.

****

The sound of heavy packs hitting the ground had Helene almost jumping out of her skin. She looked up to see four tough looking men in combat fatigues studying her and her companions. “Hello,” she said tentatively, her grip on the pistol Walter insisted she carry with her tightened, ready in case she needed to use it.

One man stepped closer and snapped to attention. “Sergeant Christoph Fels of the USE Marines at your service, Your Excellency.”

Helene smiled at the term of address she still hadn’t got used to. She rose to her feet, tucking her pistol into her belt holster as she did so, and gestured toward Duke Johann Philipp. “Thank you, Sergeant Fels. Do you have a doctor? The duke has broken his arm.”

The sergeant called out, “Fabricius, see to his grace.”

Helene watched a Marine with a first aid kit slung over his shoulder dump a small bright orange sack beside Sergeant Fels before walking over to Philipp. She turned from watching the man examine the duke’s arm and was surprised to see the sergeant had emptied the sack and was erecting the tent it had contained. Surely sergeants had privates to do things like that? She looked around to see what the other Marines were doing. One was setting up the aerial for a radio while the fourth man had one tent already up and was erecting a third. It wasn’t what she expected, but she supposed that when there were only four of them even sergeants had to do their share.

She turned back to the sergeant. “What happens now?”

“Are you fit to walk out or do you need to be carried?”

Helene looked down at her previously very glamorous divided skirt and the toes that were peeking out from under it. She extended her leg so the sergeant could see the shoes she was wearing, which were totally unsuitable for walking in the woods, and looked pointedly back at the sergeant.

“Your husband thought about that, Your Excellency.”

The sergeant burrowed into his backpack. First he pulled out her favorite pair of walking half boots, then a similar pair that had Elisabeth calling out, and a pair of custom tramping boots that could only belong to Philipp. These were followed by bundles of clothes suitable for hunting on foot. Helene took the bundle that looked like hers and passed the others over to Elisabeth. With her new clothes and boots grasped to her chest she looked from the tents to the sergeant. “I assume we’re staying put tonight?”

“Yes,” Sergeant Fels answered. “Although we might not be leaving tomorrow either,” he continued.

“Not leave tomorrow? Why ever not?” Elisabeth asked.

Sergeant Fels turned to address the duchess. “I’m sorry, Your Grace, but our orders are to stay with the aircraft until a crash investigation team arrives.”

“Why?” she demanded. “It’s not going anywhere.”

“We’ve been ordered to protect the aircraft, Your Grace. There are people about who’d steal anything that isn’t nailed down . . . “

A sound from above had the sergeant looking up. “What are you doing up there, Fabricius?” he bellowed.

Helene followed the Sergeant’s gaze up to the aircraft. The man who’d attended to Philipp was standing on the lower wing with a small cooking pot in one hand and a length of hose in the other.

“Checking the pilot, Sarge. They were right. He’s dead.”

Sergeant Fels looked at the cooking pot and hose in Fabricius’ hands. “And to discover that you needed a cooking pot?”

“No, Sarge. But it’s going to rain and I thought there’s a lot of avgas on board this plane, nobody’s going to miss it if we take a quart or two to help keep the fire going.”

Sergeant Fels gave Helene a “what can you do” shrug before asking, “is there anything left on the plane that you or your companions would like to rescue before the local plague of locusts takes anything that isn’t nailed down?”

Helene smiled at the sergeant’s obvious discomfort. It had been the worst possible timing for poor Fabricius to decide to liberate some fuel just when his commander was explaining that they were supposed to be protecting the aircraft from looters. She glanced over at Elisabeth, who had her hand clamped firmly over her mouth. Philipp just smiled and mimed lifting a case, reminding her of the question the sergeant had asked. “Our baggage is in the rear compartment.” She glanced up and located the external door of the baggage compartment. Fabricius might be able to reach it if he climbed up the fuselage, but it looked risky. “That is, if it’s not too much trouble.”

Sergeant Fels snorted. “Fabricius is used to trouble.” He yelled up to Fabricius. “Leave the fuel for now. The passengers would like their baggage.”

Fabricius stowed the cooking pot and hose in the cabin and climbed up to the baggage door which he forced open with a vicious looking knife. A short time later he pulled out a case and shouted down. “Ready?”

“Don’t throw it,” Sergeant Fels bellowed. “Lower the bags gently.”

Helene released a breath she didn’t remember taking. That had been her case, and she was still hopeful that the crash hadn’t broken the gifts she’d bought on this trip.

She watched Fabricius tie a line to the handle and lower the bag to the ground. Although calling the way he let the line slide through his gloved hands “lower” was being generous. Only at the last moment, just before it reached the outstretched hands of Lance Corporal Dinckeler, did he slow it down. Dinckeler untied the bag and Fabricius hauled the line up to repeat the exercise.

“That’s the last of them,” Fabricius called a few minutes later.

“Very well, Fabricius. You may now get your fuel,” Sergeant Fels called.

Helene joined Philipp and Elisabeth around Dinckeler as they picked out their property. There was a single case left.

“Who does it belong to?” Dinckeler asked.

Helene shrugged. “I don’t know. Probably the pilot.”

Dinckeler picked up the bag and carried it to his Sergeant. “Sarge, this might belong to the pilot.”

“I heard.” Sergeant Fels opened the bag and was about to examine the contents when a there was a plaintive cry from above.

“Sarge, the effing fuel tank is empty.”

Helene had no difficulty detecting the absolute disgust in Fabricius’ voice.

Hans Richter Field, Thuringia

Captain Wilhelm Finck entered the situation room behind Tanya Newcomb. He held her seat for her before handing the President a copy of the decoded transcript of the exchange he and Fraülein Newcomb had just completed with Sergeant Fels. He then took his own seat and addressed the people around the table. “My men have reached the survivors. Other than a broken bone in the duke’s forearm, which has been attended to, and minor scrapes and bruises, Duke Johann Philipp, Duchess Elisabeth, and Her Excellency, Frau Gundelfinger have come through relatively unharmed. The same can’t be said for the pilot, who died on or soon after impact.

“The passengers confirm that both engines stopped suddenly. Her Excellency claims familiarity with modern vehicles and says there was no warning before the engines ‘cut out.’ Her Excellency claims that this is proof that the crash did not happen because the plane ran out of gas, even though the tanks were empty when my men checked them.” Wilhelm paused in case anybody had anything to say.

“That sounds right,” Johannes Schöppner said. “The engines would have started to cough and splutter before they cut out if the plane ran out of fuel.”

“So why were the tanks empty?” Steve Matheny asked.

“Probably because the pilot decided to dump fuel to reduce the fire risk when he committed to making a forced landing,” Johannes answered.

“I’ve heard they have problems with fuel theft in Fulda. Couldn’t someone have stolen fuel and the pilot not noticed?” Press Richards asked.

“That’s not going to happen,” Johannes said, shaking his head. “Oh, sure, Fulda has problems with people stealing fuel, but part of the pre-flight involves checking the fuel level with a dipstick.”

Wilhelm rapped his knuckles on the table to gain everyone’s attention. When he had it he continued making his report. “The pilot then spent some time trying to restart the engines before indicating to the passengers that he intended to make an emergency landing without engine power, and instructed them to unlatch the doors before assuming the crash position.”

“That sounded very official,” Press said to Johannes.

“There’s an official checklist titled ‘Emergency Landing Without Engine Power.’ I think unlatching the doors is step seven. You unlatch the doors so the impact doesn’t jam them shut, and the slipstream keeps them closed until the plane stops,” Johannes explained.

After a pause to be sure everyone was listening, Wilhelm continued. “The pilot was attempting to land in the tree tops when suddenly the plane fell nose first into the forest.” He looked around the table. “The passengers climbed down and lit a fire. When Alfa Papa Two One returned, the two ladies climbed back up and recovered the basket the pilot lowered. They then climbed down again and waited for my men to arrive.”

“Thank you, Captain, that’s enough,” Ed said. “We all know the story from that point on. I understand your men will stay with the aircraft until ground parties arrive to relieve them.”

“That is correct, Herr President. My men will then escort the passengers out, probably to Kaltenortheim, where Herr Goodluck has said he will pick them up.”

“What? You mean Walter’s already headed off?” Press demanded.

“There is a problem?” Wilhelm asked.

“I’ll say there is a problem. We still haven’t put together a crash investigation team,” Press said.

“Herr Goodluck has two mechanics from the Hans Richter Field Maintenance Department with him.” Wilhelm carefully didn’t relate Walter’s statement that it would take forever to get anything done if he left it up to the “bods in the situation room.” He was just glad that someone had taken charge and started making decisions.

“So what does that leave for us to do?” Ed asked.

Press sighed. “Sleep sounds like a good idea. The survivors are being looked after, someone is heading that way to investigate the cause of the crash, and Bamberg is checking on the pilot’s next of kin. Until we know what caused the plane to crash there isn’t a lot we can, or need, to do.”

1423hrs, Thursday, March 8, 1635, Somewhere in the Thuringerwald

Johann Fabricius, United States of Europe Marines, stopped and listened. Yes, there were people approaching. He moved closer so he could identify them. There were at least a dozen of them. The ones he could see looked like ordinary foresters, and they appeared to be following the trail the Marines had made the previous day. Fabricius backed off and made a hasty, but quiet, beeline for the camp.

He slid up beside Sergeant Fels’ tent. “Sarge, there’s a group of woodsmen heading this way.”

Sergeant Fels put down the report he was writing and crawled out of his tent. He looked up to the sky to get an estimate of the time. “They might just be locals coming to investigate the goings on, or they might be guiding the people who left Grantville with Frau Gundelfinger’s husband late yesterday.” The sergeant gestured toward the civilians. “Warn them that strangers are approaching and until we know who they are and their intentions they are to lay low and follow your orders. Her Excellency has a pistol. Tell her to have that ready just in case.”

“His Grace has a Glock,” Fabricius informed his sergeant. “I saw it when I worked on his arm yesterday. He had it tucked away in his sling.”

“Good, that just leaves Her Grace without a weapon.” Fels paused to look around the camp before pointing to a large tree stump on the edge of the camp. “Hide them over there until I call you back, and stay out of sight.”

“Yes, Sergeant,” Fabricius replied and ran off to talk to the civilians.

He found them seated by the fire. “Your Grace, ladies. We’re about to have visitors and the sergeant wants you out of the camp until we know their intentions. Your Excellency, Your Grace, are you carrying your pistols?”

Frau Gundelfinger pulled up her jacket to show her pistol tucked into a belt holster while the duke pulled the butt of his pistol out of his sling for Fabricius to see before letting it fall back into its hiding place.

“What about me?” Duchess Elisabeth asked.

Fabricius was about to explain that she didn’t have a gun when he discovered that she did in fact have one. And what a gun it was! He walked over to have a better look at the monstrous revolver she had pulled out of her muff. “I didn’t know you had that.”

“You didn’t ask,” Elisabeth informed Fabricius.

“Please, could I have a look?” Fabricius asked, bravely fighting the urge to snatch the revolver from her hands so he could examine it closely.

The duchess thumbed the cylinder catch and flicked out the cylinder before passing it over.

Fabricius fondled it gently. He was amazed to see the bases of eight cartridges in the cylinder. Imagine that, a revolver that could fire eight times. That would catch out anybody expecting you to only have six shots like in a regular revolver. He also noticed that the cartridges were all base-stamped as being.357 Magnum, and just managed to stop himself asking the duchess if she was sure she could handle such a powerful weapon. Nobody carried that much gun unless they were confident they could use it. Reluctantly, he handed the revolver back. “That’s not the sort of gun I’d expect a lady to carry.”

She smiled at him. “Ah, but then, I’m not a lady. I’m a duchess.” She closed the cylinder and tucked the revolver back in her muff. “It is, of course, a perfectly suitable gun for a duchess to carry.”

“Anything you say,” Fabricius said, still unable to drag his envious eyes from where the duchess had hidden her revolver.

“Herr Fabricius, aren’t we supposed to be heading out of the camp?” Helene Gundelfinger prompted.

“What?” Fabricius turned in surprise. “Oh yes. Quick, follow me. The strangers are only a few minutes away.”

****

Fabricius watched the men arrive. There were fourteen of them, and one of them was an up-timer who he had no difficulty identifying.”

“Walter!” Helene Gundelfinger cried out.

Fabricius sighed as he watched Frau Gundelfinger break cover and run toward her husband. So much for having the civilians obey my orders. He helped the duke and duchess out of hiding and the three of them trailed Frau Gundelfinger back to the camp.

The next hour was coordinated bedlam as ten of the men, all local woodsmen judging by their clothing, worked under the supervision of a man wearing a “Kelly Construction” high-visibility jacket to construct platforms that would allow the two men in “Hans Richter Field Maintenance Staff” shirts easy and safe access to the engines and fuselage of the suspended aircraft.

The first platform was under the cockpit. Someone had obviously decided to get the dead pilot out of the way first. Not that Fabricius could blame them. The man had been dead nearly two days and even in the cool weather, he was starting to smell. And besides, who wanted to work around a dead body any longer than they had too? He turned and left them to it. The crash inspectors were here. That meant their job was over and they could go home, or at least return to civilization, where he could have a hot bath, a hot meal, and a soft bed. Fabricius headed for the tent he shared with Al Dinckeler to start packing.

1200hrs Saturday March 10, 1635, Horse Marine barracks, Grantville

Johann Fabricius added his rifle, backpack, and newly repacked parachute (courtesy of Tracy Kubiak) to the line of equipment against the wall of the team’s temporary lodgings and walked over to where his colleagues were seated in “deck” chairs watching the workings of the camp. He slumped into one of the free seats and pulled a wrapped bread roll from one of his combat jacket pockets and took a bite. “Captain, I’d like to transfer to pilot training.”

Captain Finck turned half-closed eyes onto Fabricius. “What’s brought on this sudden desire to be a pilot?”

“I reckon the pay’s better.”

“Not that much better,” Captain Finck said.

“It’s got to be a lot better, Captain. Did you see what that dead pilot was wearing? He had a Nikolaus Treiber Three-Hand Wrist-Chronometer, his leather jacket was made by Knodt’s of Fulda, and his shirt was hand made by Paul Hoffmann.”

Captain Finck opened his eyes fully and stared at Fabricius. “How do you know all this?”

“When I was checking the body to confirm the cause of death I happened to notice the labels, Captain.”

“And how do you know that they are expensive?”

“Because I’ve seen them advertised in the mail order catalogs, Captain,” Fabricius explained.

“Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you, Fabricius, but I have no intention of recommending you for pilot training. However, you can rest easy. You aren’t missing out on your fortune. The dead man was a civilian pilot. They earn more than military pilots.”

“Then I want to be a civilian pilot,” Fabricius insisted.

“Can you afford the training?”

Fabricius shook his head.

“There you are then. Civilian pilots all had to pay for their own training. Otherwise they’d still be in the air force, wouldn’t they?”

“Yes, Captain.”

“Then I don’t want to hear any more about transferring to pilot training from you, Fabricius.”

“No, Captain.”

1000hrs Monday March 12, 1635, Grantville Police Station

It was just over a week since the assassinations of Mayor Dreeson and Enoch Wiley, and Press’ world was in turmoil. He was running short-staffed because of the casualties the police had taken on March fourth, and the fit officers he did have were pulling double shifts chasing everything and anything that could be a lead on who was behind the assassinations. And now, just to cap off the perfect week from hell, the plane carrying the Vice President elect had to crash. Fortunately, because the passengers had all survived virtually unscathed, the news media had decided the accident was just another aviation accident and hadn’t asked to be present when the two mechanics Walter Goodluck had taken to the crash site presented their preliminary findings as to the cause of the accident. Press couldn’t really spare the time, but he had to be there to hear what caused the accident just in case it was connected to the March Fourth Conspiracy.

They’d set up the room with a trestle table in the middle with chairs in a semi-circle around it. The seats were taken by a select group of people. In addition to Terri Chehab of the president’s office, who was there to record what was said, there were the three survivors from the downed Dragonfly; Walter Goodluck; Steve Matheny, the Grantville fire chief; Ed Piazza; and Marine Captain Wilhelm Finck.

The two aviation mechanics filed in and took their seats on the other side of the table. Both of them looked extremely uncomfortable, so Press tried to break the ice by asking them to introduce themselves.

“I am Stephan Ziermann and my colleague is Adam Wachter. In accordance with . . . “

“Any relation to the guy who built the Dragonfly?” Steve Matheny interrupted.

Stephan nodded. “I am proud to say Hans Ziermann is my uncle.” He paused to look at the faces gathered to listen to him. There were no more interruptions, and he continued. “In accordance with Herr Goodluck’s request we journeyed to the site of the crashed Ziermann Flugzeugwerke Dragonfly to ascertain the cause of the crash. First of all we checked the fuel tank for possible damage or foreign objects that might have blocked the fuel supply. We found none, and we are able to confirm that the pilot deliberately dumped fuel some time before impact. This was most likely done to limit the risk of fire from a forced landing.”

He paused for breath. “Based on our experience with aircraft Adam and I decided that the probable cause of the engine failures was an electrical fault. As both engines had failed at the same time we started our search in the cockpit.” Stephan looked at his audience. “However, the cockpit had taken the brunt of the impact and much of the instrument panel suffered significant damage, making it difficult to identify any faults that might have existed before the crash. As it was getting quite dark by this time, we stopped work for the evening and discussed our best course of action for the next day. The next morning we requested that the starboard engine, which was the engine closest to the ground, and the most damaged, be lowered to the ground where we could examine it.”

Stephan removed a cloth bundle from the satchel he was carrying and carefully unrolled it on the table. “We found this.” He stepped back so that everyone could see the item he’d just revealed.

“What is it? Press demanded. He knew it had to be significant, but all he could see was a small box with a wire coming out of it.

Stephan poked the box with a finger. “This was the cause of the engine failure.”

“I don’t recognize it. What does it do?” Steve Matheny asked.

“Of course you don’t recognize it, Herr Matheny. It’s not a standard engine part. It shouldn’t have been in the engine bay of Bravo Charlie Zero One.” Stephan played his eyes over the group seated in the room while he picked up the device and held it up. “This was deliberate sabotage. Someone placed this item, and another like it, between the coil primary wire and the coil on each of the Dragonfly’s engines. Each box contains a barometer rigged to break the primary connection to the coil when Bravo Charlie Zero One reached a predetermined altitude. Without power to the coils, the engines stopped firing. This is consistent with the witnesses description of the incident. Both Adam and I are convinced that someone deliberately sabotaged Bravo Charlie Zero One, and that the devices were most probably installed between the aircraft arriving in Fulda on March sixth, and the departure the next day.”

Press’ head sank into his arms. This was the last thing he needed to hear. He looked up at Stephan. “Are you sure? Couldn’t those devices have had a legitimate . . . ” Press stopped. The look the mechanic was giving him said enough. Shit! He rubbed his tired eyes and glanced around the semi-circle of listeners. They looked as shocked as he felt. Deliberate sabotage? Who would do it? And why?

“Why do you think they had to be installed at Fulda?” Press asked. He was desperate for any information he could get. He desperately didn’t want there to be any connection between the deliberate sabotage of the Vice President’s plane and the assassinations of Mayor Dreeson and Enoch Wiley, but the way his luck had been going lately, they were sure to be connected.

“Because the devices were activated while Bravo Charlie Zero One was still climbing after leaving Fulda. If they had been put in place earlier, say in Bamberg, then the engines would have failed as the aircraft climbed to cruising altitude after leaving Bamberg,” Stephan explained.

Press almost smiled. He had a starting point, something to limit the investigation. “Thank you, Herr Ziermann. Does anyone have a question or can we let Herr Ziermann and Herr Wachter go?”

“How difficult would it be to make these devices?” Ed Piazza asked.

“Stephan and I could make similar devices easily,” Adam Wachter said. “All it is is a simple barometer releasing a switch.” He paused to think for a moment. “Think of it as being used to trigger a mousetrap. Once it is sprung the circuit is broken and it will stay broken until the device is reset.”

Ouch! So they were easy to make. That just opened up the field of possible suspects. “How long would it take to install the device,” Press asked.

“Less than a minute,” Stephan said. “First you pull the primary wire out of the connector slot on the coil. You insert that connector into the back of the device here.” Stephan pointed to the back of the device where a copper connector could be seen. “Then you take the long wire and plug that into the coil. It is ingenious in its simplicity. The wire from the device is long enough that it can be hidden in the back of the engine bay close to where the coil primary wire emerges. In any standard pre-flight check it would be most unlikely that anybody would detect it.”

Press could see that Helene Gundelfinger and the duke had things they wanted to say that it might be better the two mechanics didn’t hear. He leapt to his feet and guided them out of the room.

He returned having extracted promises of confidentiality over their findings from the mechanics to a deadly silence. Nobody was speaking and he could feel everyone’s eyes following him. He settled into the chair Stephan had vacated. “Well?” he asked.

“Who would want to kill us?” Helene Gundelfinger demanded.

“And if they want to kill people, why not use a bomb?” Captain Finck asked.

Press took the captain’s question first. “It’s not that easy to obtain the materials to make a reliable bomb, but you do raise an interesting point. Either the cutout devices were much easier to make, whoever placed them couldn’t get a reliable bomb, or the idea was to make the crash look like an accident. And as for who would want to kill you, Helene, you’re forgetting that you’re the Vice President of the State of Thuringia-Franconia. For some people that’s enough to make you a target. And for that reason, I’m going to insist that both you and Ed have personal bodyguards.”

“Now just a minute,” Ed protested. “I am not going to have some hulking big bouncer following me around.”

“Neither am I,” Helene said.

“Until we determine who is responsible for the sabotage, we have to take every precaution,” Press said. “Especially since . . . “

Ed nodded. The deaths of Mayor Dreeson and Enoch Wiley were still raw wounds. “Not that a bodyguard could have done either of them any good the way those shots went down.”

“So, we need to look at motives. First, we have to figure out if the people who brought the plane down were connected with the March fourth conspirators, of course . . . “

Ed interrupted. “We’re not doing any wild conspiracy theories today. We’re just not.”

Press kept right on going. ” . . . but we can’t stop there.” He looked at Helene Gundelfinger. “Who stands to benefit from your death?”

Helene stared at Press visibly outraged. “The very idea . . . “

“It sucks, but I have to ask,” Press said.

“Helene’s daughter is her heir,” Walter said.

Press relaxed a little. The girl couldn’t be more than seven or eight. That was way too young to put together a scheme to murder her mother. “Who manages the estate though?” he asked, because Walter could still benefit as the girl’s guardian.

“Walter wouldn’t . . . ” Helene protested.

“It’s okay, love. He’s just being a policeman,” Walter assured her. “And Sofie Elisabeth would be well protected. Yes, I would be her guardian, but the trustees are His Grace,” he gestured toward Philipp, “and Count Ludwig Guenther over at Rudolstadt.”

“And if His Grace had died?” Press asked.

“Then I believe his daughter’s betrothed, one of Prime Minister-elect Wilhelm Wettin’s younger brothers, takes his place.” Walter glanced over at Philipp for confirmation.

“Ernst, currently regent of the Upper Palatinate,” the duke agreed.

“And your and your wife’s heir is your daughter, Your Grace?” Press asked.

“Only of the nonentailed property,” Philipp answered. “However, my lawyer has prepared a codicil for me to sign leaving my third of my father’s entailed property to Ernst when he and Elisabeth Sofie marry. He is eligible to inherit the entailed property, and that way Elisabeth Sofie would benefit.”

Press felt torn. Here was a possible motive that didn’t involve the March Fourth conspiracy. That was good. However, he wasn’t comfortable with who the suspects were. There was no way he could haul in a couple of dukes for questioning. He’d have to investigate them discreetly. “Do your brothers know you are trying to disinherit them, Your Grace?”

“Ernst’s eligibility was central to the negotiations of my daughter’s betrothal,” Philipp replied.

Press managed not to smile. This was sounding better and better. Duke Philipp’s brothers probably did know their brother was intending to leave his share of their father’s entailed property, which should normally be divided between them on his death, to his daughter’s future husband, and that the duke wouldn’t sign the codicil before the wedding. It made for an attractive motive, but it still had a few problems. The biggest of which was the timing, since the wedding was still some time in the future. However, it did nicely explain why the sabotage had been designed to look like an accident. If foul play was suspected his heirs would have been amongst the first to have suspicion fall on them.

Press stood and paced around the room. “We have two potential motives for the sabotage of Bravo Charlie Zero One. Either there is money at stake, or someone has a political motive for trying to kill Her Excellency, the Vice President.” Press stopped pacing and stared at the faces following him. “But why strike at Helene? She has no power. She’s just there in case anything happens to Ed.”

“Thank you, I’m sure,” Helene muttered.

“I’m just stating the facts, Helene. Any Vice President only has as much power and influence as the President lets him or her have. That leaves money, and you’re not the most likely target.” Press stared at Duke Johann Philipp. “I’m sorry, Your Grace, but it looks very much as if you were the target.”

“I find it very hard to believe my brothers would want to have me murdered,” Philipp protested.

“It fits the facts, Your Grace, and I’ve found that when there’s money involved, anything is possible,” Press said. “Now we just have to see if there is any evidence to support our suspicions.”

“How do you plan to do that?” Duke Philipp asked.

“Well, someone with a sound knowledge of up-time engines worked out that cut out device, and someone installed them. I intend asking Fulda to check out anybody who had access to Bravo Charlie Zero One while it was in Fulda. However, I have to warn you, Your Grace, that we may never find any proof.”

1400hrs, on the train to Magdeburg

Captain Wilhelm Finck was having unexpected difficulty falling asleep on the long train ride from Grantville to Magdeburg. As a professional soldier he’d learned to fall asleep within minutes even in the most uncomfortable of situations. However, the events of that morning continued to pass through his mind. He needed something to distract his mind, so he went looking for something to read.

He returned to his seat disappointed. All he’d found were a few copies of the Grantville newspapers that he’d already read and a tatty old Burke’s catalog. He slumped into his seat and opened the catalog. Maybe he’d find something interesting.

He flicked through the pages, sparing each page a quick glance in the vain hope it would prove interesting. The advertisement for lessons in Kirlian Image interpretation raised a smile, he knew people who swore by it, but personally, he considered it quackery. A few pages later he came across advertisements for Dr. Gribbleflotz’ little blue pills. Lance Corporal Böhm, one of his Marine reconnaissance unit’s medics, claimed they were superior to competing brands of aspirin, but then, he didn’t have to pay for them. Wilhelm flicked through some more pages. The name Nikolaus Treiber caught his eye and he read on. Then he whistled. Wrist chronometers cost that much?

Suddenly he sat up. What else was it Fabricius had said the dead pilot was wearing? He was pretty sure it was a leather jacket and a shirt. Wilhelm went straight to the index of advertisers at the back of the catalog as he struggled to remember the names Fabricius had rattled off so effortlessly more than two days ago.

He stumbled across “Knodt’s of Fulda” under “leather goods.” Knodt’s leather jackets weren’t the most expensive in the catalog, but they did offer the most expensive made-to-order “aviator” jacket. It cost three month’s captain’s pay, which was considerably more than Wilhelm would ever willingly pay for an article of clothing.

Now Wilhelm’s mind was churning. Just how much was a commercial pilot paid? He tried to remember what the pilot in the control tower at Hans Richter Field had been wearing, but nothing stood out. He glanced at the two advertisements again. Those products were designed to stand out. If Johannes Whatshisname had been wearing anything like that surely he would have noticed. Which raised the question, how could the dead man afford them on a pilot’s pay? The obvious answer was that he couldn’t, and that he had private means. And where there were private means there was always an heir waiting, sometimes very impatiently.

Wilhelm pulled out his notebook and wrote a message. He’d send it at the next stop.

Grantville Police station

Press Richards stared at the message Mimi Rowland had placed on his desk. “What about the pilot?” What the heck was the captain driving at? Who cared about the pilot? Well, Captain Finck obviously, but the pilot was dead and couldn’t tell anybody anything. He glanced up to see Mimi watching him.

“Was I supposed to answer that question?” Mimi asked.

“No.” He passed the message form to Mimi so she could officially know what it said.

Mimi tapped her hand with it. “This is the pilot of the Vice President’s plane he’s talking about?”

“Probably.”

“Then I bet he’s not asking ‘what about the pilot’ did he sabotage his own aircraft. So that leaves, does anyone have a motive to kill the pilot?”

“Aghhh!” Press slammed his hands onto his desk. “Just what I need, more complications.”

“You want me to call Bamberg and ask them to do a background check on our boy?”

Press sighed. “You might as well.”

1600hrs Bamberg

Steve Ennis of the SoTF Mounted Constabulary made his painful way along the cobbled streets of Bamberg. How his wife managed to walk all day in high heels he couldn’t understand. At last he and his companion, the most slovenly Watchman he had ever met, arrived at the boarding house where Bamberg Charters’ records showed Heinrich Rottenberger had lived for the last six weeks. He put the balls of his feet on the step, and holding onto the short railing, stretched his calves. His boots were perfect for riding, but the heels made walking any distance painful. The amused smirk on the face of his companion didn’t help things.

“Is everything all right, Herr Ennis?” Jobst Weybrecht asked.

Steve glared at Jobst. Couldn’t the man see he was in agony? “Everything is just hunky dory.”

Jobst smiled at Steve before knocking on the door. A woman in her forties answered it.

“You again. What do you want now?” she demanded.

“And a pleasant good afternoon to yourself, Frau Ulner. The State Police want to ask some questions about Heinrich Rottenberger.” Jobst stepped aside to let Frau Ulner see Steve.

Steve felt the full brunt of the woman’s contemptuous stare. What he’d done to deserve it, he couldn’t understand, especially when she’d had an almost friendly smile for Jobst. “Frau Ulner, we are trying to learn more about Heinrich Rottenberger, if I could just ask a few questions?”

Anna Ulner folded her arms and leaned against the door of her boarding house. “Ask away.”

“I don’t suppose we could come in and have a look at Herr Rottenberger’s rooms?” Steve asked.

“What? I’ll have you know I run a respectable boarding house. My tenants rely on me to protect them from any of the disreputable riff-raff.”

Steve had heard that some people considered policemen on the same social level as knackers, but he wasn’t sure he liked being called riff-raff. “Herr Rottenberger is dead, Frau Ulner. He’s unlikely to complain.”

It was a standoff. Steve and the landlady exchanged silent glares, neither willing to back down. They could have spent the rest of the day like that if Jobst hadn’t whispered in his ear that a little greasing of the palms might work wonders.

Steve reached under his jacket for his billfold. He just hoped he was going to get reimbursed for this; otherwise Phoebe was going to murder him. He flipped open the billfold and pulled off a couple of ten dollar notes and waved them at Frau Ulner.

“Only a pair of measly Loaves?” Frau Ulner snatched the bills from Steve’s hand and checked them for the watermark. Satisfied she gestured for Steve, and a little reluctantly, Jobst, to enter her house. “I thought up-timers were supposed to be rich. Heinrich always had a wad of Johnnies big enough to choke a horse.”

She led them into a three-room apartment consisting of a lounge, a dining room, and a large bedroom with its own bathroom. Steve looked around taking in everything he could see. The furniture obviously came with the apartment, but the books in the bookcase probably belonged to the deceased. He checked each book by holding them by the spine and shaking them. Nothing fell out. Disappointed he moved onto the bedroom closet and checked the pockets of the clothes hanging there. Then he checked each shoe and boot on the shoe rack. He found nothing and moved on to the chest of drawers. With Frau Ulner’s eyes following his every move he pulled out each drawer and examined it all over before putting it back.

Next he went into the dining room. The drinks bar seemed well stocked. Steve turned to Frau Ulner. “Herr Rottenberger entertained regularly?”

“Oh, yes, all the time, and only the best food and wine would do.”

“Did Herr Rottenberger owe you any money, Frau Ulner?” Steve asked.

“Oh, no. Heinrich always paid his rent on time, and whenever he was planning on entertaining he’d give me enough Johnnies to buy whatever was needed. Very free with his money was Heinrich.”

“Do you know any of his friends?” Steve asked. “I’d like to ask them a few questions.”

Frau Ulner smirked at Steve. “Heinrich didn’t entertain friends, Mr. State Policeman. He entertained ‘ladies,’ and never the same one twice.”

From the landlady’s attitude Steve assumed the “ladies” were either prostitutes or “good time girls.” He sighed and shoved his notebook into his pocket. “Thank you for your time, Frau Ulner. You have been extremely helpful.” He pulled out a pasteboard calling card and held it out to her. “If you learn anything about Heinrich Rottenberger, please contact me.”

Steve saw the blank look in her eyes and realized the cooperation his twenty dollars had bought had expired. He left his card on the bookcase and gestured for Jobst to follow him.

Halfway back to the Bamberg watch house Jobst spoke to him for only the second time that day. “How big a wad of Johnnies would it take to choke a horse?”

“Nobody’s going to try and choke a horse, Jobst. It’s just a way of saying someone’s carrying a wad of money about the size of a fist.” Steve held up his clenched fist to illustrate what he was saying, and then he stopped and stared at it. How many twenty dollar notes, because that’s what “Johnnies” were, did it take to make a wad that big? “Let’s get back to the watch house and cut up some paper.”

Grantville, Tuesday March 13

Press Richards had assigned the case of the sabotage of the Vice President’s plane to Sergeants Frost and Fleischer. They’d asked to talk to him to discuss the lack of progress.

“Last night Fulda reported that an airfield guard who was on duty the night in question hasn’t been seen since the Vice President’s plane crashed,” Erika Fleischer reported.

“I assume he had something to do with the security of the plane?” Press asked.

“He was the sole guard that night,” Estes Frost answered.

“So did he run, or was he pushed?” Press asked.

Erika turned to Estes and raised her eyebrows in question.

“The chief means, did he sabotage the plane or did he see someone doing it?” Estes turned toward Press. “I don’t know, but Fulda reports that he emptied his room and disappeared sometime on Wednesday.”

Press wondered if the man had been planted to commit the sabotage. “How long had he been working at Fulda field?”

“He’d been working there since just before Christmas,” Erika said.

Press sighed. He’d heard of careful planning, but that seemed a little on the long and drawn out side. “So someone got to him and paid him to either look the other way or to sabotage the plane himself.”

“I go more for turning a blind eye myself,” Estes said. “The sabotage required some special knowledge.”

“So where does that leave the investigation?” Press asked.

“Floundering,” Estes answered. “I’ve asked Fulda to try and find the man, but it’ll be like hunting for a needle in a haystack.” He sighed and picked up another report. “Meanwhile, the Mounted Constabulary detailed Steve Ennis to make inquiries for us about the deceased pilot, Heinrich Rottenberger. He couldn’t find any paperwork in Herr Rottenberger’s apartment. About the only things of note he picked up were comments by the landlady that Herr Rottenberger always carried ‘a wad of Johnnies big enough to choke a horse,’ that he was popular with a certain class of ‘lady,’ and was very free with his money. Steve cut up some paper and thinks it’d take at least a hundred bills to make a wad that big.”

“He always carried two thousand in cash?” Press realized he hadn’t seen any mention of the pilot’s personal effects. “Was he carrying it when he died?”

“I don’t know? Erika?” Estes asked his partner.

Erika shook her head and rose to her feet. “I’ll get Heinrich Rottenberger’s personal effects from the property locker.”

A few minutes later she returned with a soft suitcase and a large paper evidence bag and placed them on Press’ desk.

Press opened the paper bag and looked in. It contained the personal clothing Heinrich Rottenberger had been wearing when he died, and it hadn’t been cleaned. He put the bag on the floor by his feet and turned his attention to the suitcase. He unbuckled the belts holding it closed and opened it to reveal clothes and footwear. He checked the inside of the lid for any information. There was Heinrich Rottenberger’s name, and nothing else, so he emptied the bag one item at a time, passing them on to Estes after checking them.

He didn’t find anything in the pockets or linings of the clothes, but he struck pay-dirt when he stuck his hand into a calf-length boot. He felt a small box forced deep into the boot. He hauled out his prize and opened it. “Well, I guess we know how he paid off his lady-friends,” Press said of the dozen or so sets of gold and silver earrings.

Estes dug into the companion boot and emerged with an envelope. He passed it over to Press. “You can do the honors, Chief.”

“Thanks.” Press flipped open the envelope, saw it contained money, and tipped the contents onto his desk.

Erika reached out and spread the bank bills out. “They’re all Bucks. Not one Johnnie.” She stared at Press. “Why would someone who has a wad of Johnnies carry around a bunch of Bucks?”

“Aren’t Bamberg and Fulda suffering from a shortage of dollar notes in circulation?” Estes asked. “Maybe some of the merchants are offering a premium for them. Like happened back up-time when they had that shortage of pennies. Some places were giving a dollar-fifty for a hundred pennies.”

“But would that be worth Heinrich’s while?” Erika asked.

Press finished counting the dollar bills. “Not if all he has is forty-six of them. No, there has to be another reason for him collecting dollar bills.”

“Just a minute,” Estes interrupted. “We’re missing Heinrich’s wad of twenties. What happened to that? Did he blow his roll?”

“He might have been carrying it at the time,” Press suggested. “Erika, could you clear the desk?”

Press bent down for the paper bag of effects and emptied it onto his desk. Out fell a torn and bloodied flying jacket, a bloodied woolen sweater, a bloodied and torn white linen shirt, trousers, undergarments, socks, and boots. He stared at the pilot’s personal effects. “No wallet, and certainly no wad of notes big enough to choke a horse. So much for our rich pilot as a target for the sabotage.”

Erika held up the jacket she’d been examining. “Maybe he was rich and someone got to the money first.”

“What makes you say that?” Press asked.

She held out the jacket so Press could see. “Look here, the buttons have all been cut off. And where’s the pilot’s watch? I thought all pilots had a watch. I think the pilot’s body has been looted.”

“So he could have still had his wad when he started out from Fulda? That’s nice to know, but where does it get us?” Estes asked.

“Looking for a source of all the money,” Press said. “That jacket wasn’t cheap, and neither are the shirts. Heinrich had very expensive tastes. Where’s the money coming from?”

“Not from Bamberg Charter,” Estes said. “Steve asked what they were paying Heinrich, and it isn’t enough to support the lifestyle he was leading.”

“So he has a private income, or he was doing something illegal,” Press stated.

“I don’t think he had a private income,” Estes said. “Steve says Heinrich was living in pretty grotty digs up until six weeks ago, and he wasn’t much of a party animal then either.”

“He could have won or inherited the money six weeks ago,” Press said.

“Sure, but where is it?” Estes asked. “Steve didn’t find any paperwork in his apartment, and the local bank only shows his pay from Bamberg Charter passing through his account.”

“What could a pilot do to earn that much money?” Erika asked.

“Well, back up-time, a lot of pilots made extra money transporting goods ‘off the record,'” Press answered.

“But what can he transport that would pay that well?” Estes asked. “The big thing up-time was drugs, but that only works if they’re illegal.”

“And why kill him? Erika asked. “That’s like killing the goose that lays the golden eggs.”

“Maybe, but what’s the one thing any illegal operation doesn’t want?” Press asked.

“The police on their tail,” Estes suggested.

“Funny,” Press said. “No, what they don’t want is anybody to notice them.”

“But if they hadn’t killed Heinrich Rottenberger, we’d probably never have heard of him,” Erika protested.

“It doesn’t have to be the police who noticed. Maybe someone wondered where all Heinrich’s money was coming from and started to ask questions,” Press suggested.

“So the smugglers killed him,” Erika said. “Do you think the Vice President’s flight was picked deliberately?”

“I don’t know. It certainly confuses things. Okay, I like the idea that Heinrich Rottenberger was the target and the Vice President and the duke and duchess were just distractions, but we need evidence,” Press said. “What do we have that marks Heinrich as the target?”

“What would you like? Erika asked.

“Knowing what he was supposed to be smuggling would be a good place to start,” Press said.

Erika looked at the items spread over Press’ desk. “Those one-dollar bills bother me. Could I take them to the bank and ask if there is anything special about them?”

Press handed them over. “Sure, but they look like ordinary dollar bills to me.”

“Aren’t we forgetting something?” Estes asked.

“What?” Press asked.

“Someone looted the pilot’s body. Shouldn’t we be investigating that?”

“Oh, sure. Now where would you like to start? Maybe the Vice President? Or how about Duke Johann Philipp and his wife?” Press didn’t think he was overdoing the sarcasm.

“Of course I’m not suggesting they looted the pilot’s body,” Estes protested.

“Then maybe you’d like to question the Marines?” Press asked. “They were after all, the first people to arrive, and they had the opportunity.”

“Hell no! The Marines wouldn’t do a thing like that,” Estes declared.

“Why not?” Erika asked.

“Because looting bodies is what mercenaries do, not Marines,” Estes protested.

“Yeah, right.” Erika shook her head. “Maybe in your rose-tinted ideal up-time world Marines don’t loot bodies, but don’t expect your twentieth century standards to apply in the seventeenth century. In the real here and now world, looting bodies is a soldier’s perk.”

“But the other Marines would turn anybody looting a body in,” Estes said.

“You think they couldn’t have agreements to share?” Erika demanded.

“Children, children, settle down. I’ll ask Captain Finck if any of his people know anything about the body being looted,” Press said.

“And what will you do when they deny any knowledge?” Erika asked.

Press sighed. That was a good question, and it was a forgone conclusion that Captain Finck would deny any of his men looted the pilot’s body. “Not a lot. We’ll just have to hope the new Marines live up to our ideals.”

“What about the civilians who helped remove the body from the aircraft?” Estes asked.

Erika snorted. “You’re welcome to travel to Kaltenortheim to ask if any of them looted the body, just as long as I get to watch from a safe distance.”

Press winced. He knew exactly what Erika meant. Just like the Marines, the village would deny any knowledge of the looting, and they’d take offense at the suggestion that any of them would loot the dead. “Well, that leaves Walter, his foreman, the two mechanics, and the people in the four by four that brought the body back.”

“I’ll ask Walter if he saw anybody near the body,” Estes offered.

“And I’ll wander over to the bank and ask about the bundle of Bucks,” Erika said. She smiled at Press. “Have fun talking to the Marines, Chief.”

Press glared at his sergeants. “Get outa here.”

Bank of Grantville

Sergeant Erika Fleischer waited patiently while the manager of the Bank of Grantville used a jeweler’s glass to carefully examine each of the dollar bills Heinrich Rottenberger had been carrying.

Coleman Walker held the last bill up to the light. “Well, I don’t see anything unusual about these dollar bills.” He turned to Erika. “They look completely normal.”

Erika sighed. She’d been so hopeful that there was something special about the bills. “But why would a man who typically had a large wad of twenty-dollar bills bother to carry forty-six one-dollar bills in his baggage? From what I’ve heard he was very free with his money. It just doesn’t make sense.”

“Do you have any of that wad of twenties that I could examine?”

“Sorry,” Erika shook her head. “The body wasn’t secured until it arrived in Grantville, by which time anything of value had been stolen. We’re lucky that those dollar bills were in the baggage in the custody of the Marines who made first contact with the survivors, otherwise we probably wouldn’t have them.”

Coleman tapped the bill against his desk. “You say the deceased spent freely of his wad of twenty-dollar bills. I don’t suppose you could track any down?”

Erika looked closely at the bank manager. What was he driving at? Not that it mattered. “It’s been a week since Heinrich Rottenberger would have made his last purchase. The bills could be anywhere now.”

“That’s a pity.” Coleman stared down at the dollar bill in his hands for a few seconds in silence before pushing it, and its companions toward Erika. “I’m afraid I can’t help you then, Sergeant.”

Erika stood up and collected the dollar bills from the desk. She was stuffing them back into their envelope when her curiosity got the better of her. “What good would looking at the twenties do?”

Coleman leaned back in his chair and looked up at Erika. “I’d be looking to see if he was passing off forgeries.”

“Forgeries? How do you connect forgeries with Heinrich Rottenberger?” Erika demanded.

“It’s the only profitable use I can imagine for good condition dollar bills,” Coleman said.

Erika sank back into the chair she’d just recently vacated. “Explain,” she demanded.

Coleman reached into his jacket and brought out his wallet. He removed a single twenty-dollar bill and laid it on his desk beside one of the bills Erika hadn’t yet picked up. “What are the differences between those?”

Erika picked up the bills and studied them. “They have different things printed on them?”

“Other than that,” Coleman said.

She looked at them again. She put one over the other and checked the size. She held them side by side. She couldn’t see any difference. Defeated she looked at the bank manager. “I don’t know, what is the difference?”

“Other than the printing, there isn’t any,” Coleman answered.

For a moment Erika considered charging the bank manager with wasting police time, but thinking about how the Chief might react, thought better of it. “Is that important?”

“You have to understand that there has always been a constant battle between the banks that issue bank bills and people who attempt to forge them. The prime weapon against successful forgery is early detection. If we can catch the people trying to launder the bills we can backtrack the bills to the source. At least that’s how it worked up-time. The feel of the money is the most obvious clue something is wrong. Back up-time there was an increase in people trying to pass forgeries when the first high quality color photocopiers came out, and there was another surge when home computers got scanners and ink-jet printers, but those were mostly passed by amateurs, kids usually, and they were easily caught because they used ordinary printer paper.”

“Was that how the bank detected the forgeries a couple of kids made on their home computer?” Erika asked.

“Yes, and Judge Riddle ordering the forfeiture of the equipment used in the crime certainly put a stop to that game.”

Erika could only nod. The parents of the boys involved had tried to claim that the penalty far outstripped the crime, as the computer system was worth orders of magnitude more than the one hundred dollars the boys had tried to spend. However, Judge Riddle had pointed out that he was already being generous by not imposing a custodial sentence on the offenders, and that a firm message had to be sent to anybody who might contemplate manufacturing forgeries and trying to launder them.

“We might never have caught those boys if they’d used down-time paper.” Coleman visibly shuddered. “That was a problem with our first bills. We were in a rush and had to buy the paper when and where we could. If it hadn’t been for Tom Stone’s dyes we would have really been in trouble, as anybody could get the same paper we were using. But we did have Tom, and that let us rely on the second obvious feature of bank bills, the color.”

“But there are plenty of alchemists making all sorts of colored dyes and inks these days,” Erika protested.

“Sure,” Coleman agreed, “but for the last two years we’ve been making our own paper using a secret blend of fibers, and we’ve added a silk thread and a watermark portrait of the Captain-General. We started removing the old bills from circulation as soon as we had the new design, so there aren’t that many of the first generation bills left in circulation.”

Erika picked up a dollar bill and checked the features. Her fingers easily detected the silk thread that passed from top to bottom, while by holding the bill up to the light she could see the watermark. It wasn’t as sharp as the images printed on the bill, but the Captain-General could easily be identified. “So any forgeries will have a different feel to the real thing, even if they can get the same colors?”

“Normally I’d say yes, but if someone’s been collecting good condition dollar bills, then we might have a problem. You see, if they bleach those one dollar bills then they have the same paper as we use, and they can print any denomination they like.”

“You mean they could make undetectable forgeries?” Erika asked.

“Oh, they’ll be detectible, but only to someone who bothers to look. That’s why the feel and color of the bills is so important. How many people actually look at a bank bill when someone hands one over?”

Erika tried to visualize her most recent shopping trip. Certainly the shop attendant hadn’t paid the bills she passed over any special attention, and she surely hadn’t done more than count the change. “Is there anything that can be done?”

Coleman shook his head. “It’s only supposition until such forged bills turn up. I could be completely wrong and there could be a perfectly innocent explanation why the deceased had those dollars,” he suggested.

Erika kept her expression blank. She didn’t think the bank manager was wrong. She stood, collected the scattered dollar bills and stuffed them into their envelope, and then she held out her hand. “Thank you for your cooperation, Herr Walker.”

Coleman took her hand. “Sorry I couldn’t be more help, but if you come across any of the deceased’s twenty-dollar bills, I’d like to look at them.”

“What am I looking for?” Erika asked.

“It could be something as obvious as the watermark facing the wrong way, or they only print the back in green instead of printing the numbers and seal in black, or they might spell words incorrectly or print them in the wrong font. Alternatively, if they spend a lot of time and effort making their plates you’ll probably need a jeweler’s glass to check the micro printing around the illustrations to know they’re forgeries.”

Erika winced. “That’s not going to help the innocent trader who has a business to run. They don’t have time to carefully examine every bill that passes through their hands.”

“I know, but until we know there are forgeries out there and know what serial numbers they’re using, we can’t warn the merchants what bills to be wary of.”

Grantville Police Station

Press Richards finished reading Sergeant Fleischer’s report. He was torn between loving the idea that the plane crash was not part of the March fourth conspiracy, and horrified at the idea that someone was passing virtually undetectable forgeries.

If, as he was starting to suspect, those Johnnies the pilot had been passing around like water were forgeries, then the man might have become a liability to the forgery ring. The trouble was the whole forgery hypothesis was born of those dollar bills the dead pilot had collected. There was no actual proof there was a forgery ring active, let alone that they’d sabotaged an aircraft to kill the pilot.

“Have you heard anything more on the looting of the pilot?” Erika asked.

Press winced. It’d been bad enough talking to Captain Finck, who at least had been able to provide the information that the deceased had had all his buttons and his wrist watch before Walter and the rest arrived. The rescue team who brought back the body had responded with outraged denial. “The Marines say the body was intact when they turned over responsibility for the aircraft, and Estes reports that Walter said neither he, his foreman, or the mechanics ever went near the body.”

“So that leaves Kaltenortheim,” Erika said.

“Yes, that leaves Kaltenortheim. Would you like to go on a trip?” Press asked.

“No thanks. Besides, isn’t Kaltenortheim out of our jurisdiction?” Erika asked.

Press smiled. “Just joking. And yes, Kaltenortheim is out of our jurisdiction. I’ll ask the Mounted Constabulary if they can spare someone to ride over and ask some questions.”

“Oh, fun. I wonder who gets that plum job?”

“No doubt they have someone suitably deserving of the assignment,” Press said.

Bamberg

Steve Ennis sat in the cafeteria staring in disbelief at the orders he’d just been given.

“Herr Ennis, you look upset?”

Steve was surprised to see concern in the eyes of the watchman he’d been working with. “I’ve just been given new orders.”

“You are leaving us?” Jobst Weybrecht asked.

“I wish that’s what it said. Anything would be better than what they’ve told me to do.” Steve passed the papers across the table to Jobst. “Here, read for yourself.”

Jobst sat down and read the orders. He looked up, and Steve could have done without the obvious sympathy in Jobst’s face. “They are fools. They want you to ask a village if anybody found a wad of Johnnies on the body. They will deny it even as they search the homes of those that had the opportunity.”

“You know that, and I know that, but whoever cut those orders doesn’t seem to know that,” Steve said. “Maybe I should just hole up in an inn for a few days before coming back and say the village denies any knowledge of who might have looted the body.”

“It would save you an uncomfortable ride, but maybe a villager saw an outsider interfering with the body.”

Steve collected his orders from Jobst and stood. “Well, the sooner I start, the sooner I can get it over with.”

“Enjoy your ride,” Jobst said. “Will you be riding on your own?”

“The Constabulary has found a boy to guide me,” Steve said. He wasn’t happy about going in without proper support either, but this inquiry had been allocated a low priority. The Mounted Constabulary was too thinly stretched investigating leads to the conspirators responsible for the rioting in Grantville on March fourth.

Jobst stood and shook Steve’s hand. “Be careful, Herr Ennis, and don’t tilt at any windmills.”

Just as the watchman disappeared from view Steve registered his final comment. Tilt at windmills indeed. Well, he had absolutely no intention of being foolishly heroic like Don Quixote. He was going to visit Kaltenortheim, ask if they knew anything about the possible looting of the dead man’s body, and hurry back. He might strike it lucky and find out something about Heinrich Rottenberger’s wad of Johnnies, but he doubted it.

That comment about tilting at windmills bothered Steve. How would Jobst know the story of Don Quixote? It wasn’t as if the Grantville libraries had copies of the book in German, so he must have read it in English. Steve shook his head at the thought. There was obviously much more to the old watchman than met the eye.

March 17, Grantville Police Station

“Steve Ennis reports that the village of Kaltenortheim knows nothing about the looting of Heinrich Rottenberger’s body. However, they do suggest that the Marines are the most likely suspects, as everyone knows what soldiers are like.” Press Richards tossed the report from Bamberg onto his desk and sat back to watch how sergeants Frost and Fleischer took the news.

“Well, that’s no more than we expected, Chief,” Erika said.

“Yes, but the cheek of them, suggesting the Marines were responsible,” Estes said.

“Soldiers don’t get any respect.” Erika turned to Press. “What do we do now, Chief? We have suspicions, but no evidence to support any of them.”

“Don’t remind me,” Press said. “Our only lead is the security officer.” He looked up in case Estes or Erika remembered the name of the security man from Fulda.

“Wolfgang Bendeer,” Estes supplied. “He seems to have left town in a hurry, but nobody knows where he might have gone.”

“Do we have a photograph of him?” Press asked.

Estes shook his head. “Sorry. No photographs. He’s a local boy, born and bred in Fulda, but nobody seems able to give a useful description. He’s average height, average build, average smallpox scarring, brown eyes, and mousy brown shoulder-length hair. He’s so average he might as well be invisible.”

“If he’s got money he could easily disappear into one of the booming industrial centers. There are so many people moving from so many different places nobody would notice one more,” Erika said.

“Thank you, Sergeant Fleischer. I didn’t need to hear that,” Press said.

“So what do we do, Chief?” Estes asked.

“Our only lead is Wolfgang Bendeer, but we don’t know where to find him, and even if we knew where to look, we don’t know what he looks like. So there’s not a lot we can do. No, I tell a lie. There is a lot we can do. The trouble is that it all revolves around assuming the worst and improving the personal security of the President and Vice President.” Press sighed. That meant he had to tell Ed that he had to have a personal bodyguard. Thank god Walter Goodluck had already employed a minder for his wife.

“Will that be all, Chief?”

Press blinked and looked across at Sergeant Fleischer. “Sorry, I’m just thinking that Ed’s not going to like having a bodyguard assigned to him.”

“Explain the situation to his wife. I’m sure she will lend you her support.”

Press smiled weakly. “Thanks, I’m sure Ed’ll be a bit more cooperative if Annabelle is on our side.”

He watched sergeants Frost and Fleischer leave his office. Beyond them, in the main office area there were police officers working furiously. He hated to give up on a case, but he didn’t have the resources to waste on dead-end cases, and this was the granddaddy of dead-end cases. The only honest-to-God fact they had was that the aircraft had been deliberately sabotaged, but they didn’t know enough to be sure why it had been sabotaged. Had it been a strike at the Vice President? Had one or both of Duke Johann Philipp’s brothers attempted to murder him so they could inherit the entailed property? Or had some criminal element wanted to silence the pilot because he had become a liability? He hated to do it, but it was another file destined for the cold case collection. He wrote on the cover of the case folder and tossed it into his out basket. Then he took the next file from the bottom of the tower of files in his in-basket and started reading.

****

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