The Money Franchise

Klausdorf, Pomerania, February 1635

Katharina Hagemeister stood at the edge of the open grave and stared down at the cheap coffin containing her mother. At last Mama had escaped her husband, Katharina’s father. The pastor had called her death an accident, but Katharina knew better. Her father had destroyed Mama’s will to live through years of abuse. She’d only hung on as long as she had to protect Katharina, but last week Father had pushed her too far. He’d made one demand too many, and Mama had walked out into the freezing night.

Her father was talking to one of his friends. She caught the man glancing her way and dipped her head. It was being “loaned” to him for a night that had finally broken Mama. Katharina trailed her father and the rest of the mourners to the tavern where the wake was to be held. She hid in a corner while she watched her father drink until he was falling down drunk. Everyone seemed to think he was drinking to bury his loss, but Katharina knew better. He was drinking heavily because someone else was paying.

Two villagers carried her father back to their home and laid him out on his unmade bed before leaving. Katharina looked down at his defenseless form. She knew her father. With Mama dead it wouldn’t be long before he’d try to “loan” her out like he’d loaned Mama to his business contacts. It would be so easy to kill him while he slept . . . . But that would only put the law after her. It was best that she take what she could and ran away before he woke.

****

Katharina shivered as she watched the girls parade themselves for the men coming in from the docks. It wasn’t just the cold that was making her shiver. No, she was shivering because she was scared. She’d hoped that she’d be able to find honest work in Stralsund, but there was too much competition for the few jobs a thirteen-year-old girl could do. In the week since she’d arrived in the city she’d sold nearly everything she had to buy food. Now she had only one thing left to sell . . . herself.

She noticed one very jovial looking man walk along the quay studying the girls. A couple of them walked up to him, but he shook his head. They seemed to be talking and one of them pointed in Katharina’s direction. The man passed her a coin and headed toward Katharina.

He was a big man, and that scared Katharina. However, he seemed happy, and that could only be good. Surely a happy man wouldn’t hurt her. The man was getting close. Katharina swallowed and stepped forward. She tried to appear confident, but she’d never tried to sell her body before.

The man placed a hand lightly under Katharina’s chin and lifted her head up until their eyes met. “Virgin?” the man asked. Katharina knew this was her last chance to back out. She ran her tongue over her dry lips and nodded.

A warehouse, Stralsund, March 1635

Johannes Hagemeister stared at the heavy purse sitting on the printer’s table. He glanced from it to the three men seated opposite him before hesitantly reaching for it. Just as his fingers closed on it a strong ink-stained hand landed on his. He froze and met the eyes of the man whose hand held his.

“You know what you and Hans are supposed to do?” Bartholomäus Scheele asked.

“We go to Magdeburg and buy up as many of the new USE dollar bills as we can.”

“Good condition ones only,” Bartholomäus said.

Johannes understood what he was being asked to do. He might not understand why, but he was being well paid. He let his hand squeeze the purse. It felt full of coin. There had to be at least a hundred thaler in there. For a moment he let himself dream about what he could do with that money, but a glance at the silent Hans drew any thought along those lines to a screaming halt. The man was obviously to accompany him purely to discourage such thinking.

“You have nobody who will miss you?” the third man asked.

Johannes shook his head. His wife had died less than a month ago and his ungrateful daughter had abandoned him a week later.

The Vulgar Unicorn, Stralsund, June 1635

Katharina Hagemeister used her bread to mop up the last drops of the rich gravy that had been part of her meal and popped it into her mouth. While she chewed she studied the young woman across the table. Tat’yana was spreading butter—real butter, not dripping—on a thick slice of bread. And as if that wasn’t enough, she then spread some jam on top.

Katharina eyed the loaf of bread. She was still hungry. Not that she was being kept short of food, but it took more than a few weeks of eating regularly to make up for years of going hungry.

“Would you like me to cut you a slice?”

Tat’yana’s quiet question caused Katharina to meet her eyes. They displayed a kind interest that even after nearly four months she still wasn’t used to, not that a girl in her position could ever afford to get used to kindness. “Yes, please.”

She licked her lips in anticipation as she watched Tat’yana cut a thick slice of bread, and then proceed to not only spread a thick layer of butter over it, but also spread some of the jam. Katharina bit into the bread and let the tastes fill her senses. For now she was happy, and in her short life she’d already learned to grab any moment of happiness she could.

With the bread safely in her grasp she felt safe enough to delay taking another bite to ask a very important question. “Why are you all so nice to me?”

“Because you keep Viktor calm,” Tat’yana told her.

Katharina stared at Tat’yana. “But I’m just his whore. Anybody . . . ”

Tat’yana shook her head vigorously. “Don’t call yourself a whore, Katharina. Viktor’s had whores before, but he’s never asked them to move in with him.”

“He says I bring him good luck,” Katharina said. “But he’s not having much luck finding a replacement for Grigori.”

“Maybe the right replacement just hasn’t turned up yet. Don’t let Grigori’s replacement worry you.” Tat’yana rose and picked up the day’s newspaper from the table. “It’s time for your reading lesson. Let’s go sit in front of the fire.”

Katharina finished her piece of bread before she let Tat’yana drag her away from the table. Yes, she wanted to demonstrate how well she was reading these days but that was no reason to abandon good food.

She was only part way through the first article when they were disturbed by one of the employees at the Vulgar Unicorn knocking on the door.

“Come in,” Tat’yana called.

The door opened to reveal Anna, a chambermaid, and a scruffy boy with a limp letter in his hand. “Messenger for Herr Viktor,” Anna said, pushing the child into the room.

“Thank you, Anna.” Tat’yana held out her hand out for the message. Taking it she spoke to Katharina. “Take him into the kitchen and feed him while I check if we need to send a reply.”

With a pointed jerk of her head, Katharina led the way to the kitchen. “Do you have a name?”

“Michael.”

She noticed the way Michael was staring around the kitchen hopefully. She pointed to one side of the kitchen table and walked around it so she could keep an eye on him. She carefully cut a thick slice of bread, then smeared it with a good thick layer of butter, and covered that with jam before passing it over. “Don’t scoff it down in one go. Take your time while I get you something to drink.”

Michael actually took a single bite and chewed on it while Katharina watched, but she didn’t expect to see much left when she returned with a mug of small-beer. The beer was kept in the same cupboard as a basket of apples, so she picked out a couple of them to give to Michael.

She’d just placed the beer and apples in front of him when Tat’yana came back. She smiled at the boy. “Is Katharina looking after you?”

He nodded, gesturing to the remains of the bread in his hand and the beer and apples in front of him. “Good. Katharina, while this young man finishes eating I want you to go and get changed. We have to see Viktor at the warehouse and you might have to run messages.”

Katharina was out the door and heading for the room she shared with Viktor in a flash.

****

Viktor listened as Tat’yana read the message from a radio operator within the Swedish garrison. When she finished he considered his options. He liked them. It seemed there was going to be an uprising in Mecklenburg. Actually, it sounded as if there was going to be an uprising throughout the territories of the USE, but Viktor knew his territories, and although most of the USE wouldn’t present much opportunity for profit, he could see plenty occurring in the potential conflict between the forces of the Committees of Correspondence and the noble houses of Mecklenburg. He should just have enough time to load a ship and hit the coast near Wismar before the Committee men got that far.

His eyes fell on the young urchin who had accompanied Tat’yana and Katharina. “You, you know Fritz Felix?”

“Master of the Parrot?” Michael asked.

“Yes.” Viktor opened his purse and counted out four Franconian Brass Brillos—the coin of choice for people who didn’t like the new paper dollars—into Michael’s hand. “Find him, tell him Viktor wants him to get the Parrot ready to sail and have him come here.”

Michael wrapped his fingers tightly around the coins, repeated Viktor’s instructions, and ran off.

Now Viktor turned to Katharina. He grabbed her around the waist, threw her up into the air and caught her. “Didn’t I say you bring me luck? And now you bring me a civil war on my doorstep.” He lowered Katharina to the ground and hugged her. “I want you to find Lasse and have him come here immediately.”

Katharina nodded and ran off, leaving Viktor with just his inner circle of Boris, his trusted partner of twelve years, and Tat’yana, their partner of six years.

“You’re planning on selling weapons to the nobles so they can defend themselves against the Committee of Correspondence men?” Tat’yana asked.

“Such golden opportunities are few and far between, Tat’yana,” Viktor said. “We’ll start with Wismar and stay a little ahead of the Committee men as they advance. With the immediate threat of the Committee men advancing upon them the nobles will be willing to pay well to arm their retainers. Come, let us check the inventory and decide what to take with us.”

Two weeks later, Warnemünde, Mecklenburg

Georg Heinrich Mevius was barely out of university and owed his new and prestigious position to his father’s most successful relative, Prof. Dr. Friedrich Mevius of the University of Greifswald, who, impressed with Georg’s academic achievements, had recommended him for the position with the “noble and high” Klaus von Bülow of the Doberan branch of the mighty von Bülows. However, those academic achievements meant nothing right now as he tried to handle the musket with its socket bayonet as if he knew what he was doing. He sent the man beside him a silent appeal for help.

Johannes Rutgers, a mercenary in Klaus von Bülow’s employ, sighted along the rifled musket he was holding. “French muskets you say?”

Viktor nodded. “Recovered from the battlefields of Ahrensbok and repaired by gunsmiths in Stralsund. They all have the new percussion cap lock, which is much more reliable than the flint lock action of the USE service rifle the Committee men currently causing so much trouble in Mecklenburg are using.”

“That means we must also purchase percussion caps,” Johannes said. “I’ve heard that they aren’t very reliable.”

“You are thinking of the inferior French pattern percussion caps. They don’t use fulminate of mercury, which makes for a cheaper percussion cap, but one prone to hang-fires and misfires. I prefer to deal in the BuCS caps, which do use fulminate of mercury. They cost a little more, but what price does one put on reliability?”

Georg saw the shared smile between the two men and wondered what he was missing. “Are you happy with the muskets, Herr Rutgers?”

“Yes, but His Excellency was hopeful of obtaining some of the new cartridge weapons.” He stared at Viktor. “Do you have any Cardinals?”

Viktor nodded. “Not actual Cardinals, but Suhl produced weapons based on the same up-time design the French copied. Not that I have many, just a dozen.”

“We’ll take all of them,” Johannes announced.

Georg was happy that Johannes had taken responsibility for the decision. That left him with the job of negotiating. “Johannes, bring up the money chest. Before we start negotiating a fair price, there is the small matter of the method of payment. My employer finds that he is in possession of a quantity of USE dollars. Will you accept them in payment?”

He watched Viktor glance over at his partner, a young woman, and the leader of the armed sailors who had accompanied them. When they nodded Georg knew he was going to be able to dispose of some, if not all of the USE dollars his employer had been forced to accept in payment for goods and services to the Swedes.

“They are a bit difficult to exchange for real money. What do you value them at?” Viktor asked

Georg had been expecting this. In theory one thaler was worth one hundred paper USE dollars, but this far from Magdeburg most were traded at a discount. “One hundred to the thaler.”

Viktor snorted. “I’d be lucky to buy a thaler for less than a hundred and twenty dollars in Stralsund.”

“Split the difference, one hundred and ten,” Georg responded.

Viktor scowled at Georg then nodded. “We have a deal.”

Georg took the hand Viktor offered. Viktor’s grip was firm, but short of crushing. There was a message there—a subtle warning that Viktor could be dangerous if he chose to be. That fitted what little Georg had been able to discover about the man. Viktor dealt honestly and expected others to deal honestly with him. Okay, so maybe he’d lied about how much the USE dollars might be worth in Stralsund, but that was just bargaining. Where it really mattered, such as the quality of what he sold, you could buy from him knowing you got what you paid for.

Aboard the Parrot

Fritz Felix, master of the Parrot, raised his mug of ale. “Let’s drink to a most successful sales trip and raise sail for Stralsund.”

Viktor shook his head. “Not Stralsund. We head back toward Wismar. The Committee men should have dealt with the nobles around the city by now and they’ll likely be short of ammunition and other supplies. Not only that, they might even have weapons to trade.”

“You intend buying back the weapons you sold the nobles around Wismar?” Fritz asked.

“Not just Wismar, but everywhere we have sold weapons ahead of the advancing Committee men,” Viktor said.

Fritz shook his head in admiration. “That’s real cheek that is, Viktor.”

“No, it is business. The Committee men have their SRG’s and they don’t need anything else, so any other weapons they find are surplus, and with their funny attitudes, they’ll be buying food and ammunition where they can rather than foraging. That means they are likely to be short of money, and they’ll be willing to sell surplus weapons for anything they can get.”

“Are we going to be accepting promissory notes?” Tat’yana asked.

“What? Sell on credit? Viktor?” Fritz shook his head with disbelief that someone so close to Viktor could suggest such a thing. He was surprised when Viktor turned to Tat’yana and asked “Why?”

“Because they’re the CoC,” Tat’yana said. “It won’t hurt to get in good with them, and if we’re careful who we accept notes from there shouldn’t be too much trouble getting them redeemed. From everything I’ve read, Gretchen Richter will insist on it.”

“You mean their credit is good,” Fritz said.

Tat’yana smiled. “Better than good. Their reputation depends on fair dealing, and a reputation for failing to redeem promissory notes would hurt them.”

“Of course, they might need time to pay,” Boris warned.

“But they will pay,” Tat’yana responded. “And that’s all that matters.”

Two weeks later, Stralsund

Katharina watched the Parrot tie up alongside the wharf. It had been over a month since she’d last seen her protector, and she had started to worry. Lasse Pettersson, the young man Viktor had instructed to look after her while they were away, had tried to reassure her that there was nothing to worry about, but he couldn’t understand what it was like to be a young girl alone on the streets. She’d been lucky. Normally Viktor wouldn’t have looked at a girl as young as she, but he’d wanted to celebrate something with a virgin, and she’d been the first one he found. He’d saved her from a life of servicing drunken sailors five kreuzers at a time.

She barely waited for Tat’yana to step off the gangplank before charging up to her and hugging her. “You’re back. I thought you were never coming back.”

Tat’yana hugged her back. “I’m sorry we were gone so long. Has anything interesting happened while we were away?”

“A Swedish officer came looking for Viktor,” Katharina reported.

“A Swede? What could he want with Viktor?” Tat’yana asked.

“He wouldn’t say,” Katharina said. “I told him Viktor was away on business.” She waited, hoping that she’d done right.

“Do you know who it was?” Tat’yana asked.

Relieved that Tat’yana wasn’t angry she nodded. “Lieutenant-colonel Wachtmeister. He said he’d wait for Viktor to come back.”

****

Lieutenant-colonel Erik Wachtmeister watched the men walking off the Parrot. He didn’t know what the man he wanted looked like, but the man beside him did.

“That’s him,” Sergeant Jon Joakimsson Rambo said as a solidly built man walked down the gangplank and joined the small group waiting on the dock.

“No time like the present. Let’s see if this Viktor of yours is willing to take our little problem off our hands.”

Jon Joakimsson snorted. “He’s not my Viktor, and Sergeant Hering isn’t a problem. Herr Captain Blom is a problem.”

“And as long as the colonel resists demands for Sergeant Hering’s dismissal, Captain Blom will continue to be a problem,” Erik agreed. “Come on, you can make the introductions.”

****

“Viktor, this is Lieutenant-colonel Erik Wachtmeister. He works for Colonel Lillie, and he has an offer you can’t refuse.”

Erik stared at the man Sergeant Rambo had introduced him to. He couldn’t exactly say he liked what he was seeing. Viktor was a large man, probably near fifty years of age; with the look of a professional soldier. He accepted Viktor’s hand and they played the game of applying pressure. Not enough to hurt, but enough to show they could if they needed to. “I understand you’re in the market for a reliable bodyguard.”

“Yes,” Viktor confirmed warily.

“My colonel hopes you will want to employ a man we are being forced to release from his contract,” Erik explained.

“Why would you think I would be interested in someone you don’t want?” Viktor asked.

“Because we don’t really want to lose him. However, he has managed to . . . ” Erik paused to find a suitable word. ” . . . offend an important officer. And the officer insists that Sergeant Hering be dismissed.”

“And the nature of this ‘offense’?” Viktor asked.

Just thinking about it had Erik smiling. “There was an argument, a sword was drawn, and Sergeant Hering was so discourteous as to disarm and disable Captain Blom using nothing more than a simple walking cane.”

“Would that be Captain Olof Blom?” Boris asked. “The man who is always bragging about his ability with a sword?”

If Viktor’s partner knew that much about Captain Blom maybe the colonel hadn’t sent him on a fool’s errand after all. “The very one.” Erik admitted.

“Oh, dear. Were there many witnesses?” Viktor asked with feigned polite interest.

“Only most of the regiment,” Sergeant Rambo said.

Viktor smiled. “I believe I understand the nature of your problem, Lieutenant, and I would be more than happy to meet your Sergeant Hering.”

Early July, Stralsund

Katharina examined herself in the mirror. She liked what she saw. Long gone was the little girl dressed in rags. Today she looked respectable. The sort of person any shopkeeper would be happy to have venture into their store. She grabbed her shoulder bag and walked into the apartment’s lounge. “I’m ready.”

Johann Hering, previously of the Swedish Army training regiment based in Stralsund, levered himself out of his chair while glancing at the clock set on the mantle above the fire. “Already?”

Katharina might not know Johann was being sarcastic, but she saw past the wide-eyed innocence on his face. “Tat’yana, Johann’s being nasty to me.”

Across the room Tat’yana smiled back. “Ignore him. He’s just being a male. Now, be good, and be sure to show Johann all around town. Oh, and get me two dozen of the usual.” Tat’yana passed Katharina some coins.

Katharina accepted the coins and jerked her head at Johann. “Come on then.”

Outside the Vulgar Unicorn Johann walked quietly beside her, his famous walking stick held in one hand. “You don’t really have to show me around. I already know Stralsund quite well.”

Katarina rolled her eyes. “Are you really that dumb? When Tat’yana said I was to show you around, that’s exactly what she meant. That I show you around.”

The look on Johann’s face told Katharina he still didn’t understand. Well, if he was anywhere near as smart as he claimed to be he’d work it out. She walked on.

There was the sound of hurried footsteps as Johann caught up. “Where are we headed?”

“To a store near the docks where they stock Tat’yana’s favorite sweets,” Katharina explained.

“The docks! Surely that’s not a safe place for you or Tat’yana to go on your own?”

Katharina sighed. Men! Of course the docks aren’t safe. “I said near the docks. Besides, who’s going to bother me when I’ve got a big strong man like you to protect me?”

Johann flexed his not inconsiderable right bicep and grinned. “You’ve got that right. Never fear while Johann Hering’s here.”

Katharina sent Johann a pained look and walked on. Minutes later they arrived at Tat’yana’s favorite shop.

Until she’d been taken in by Viktor Katharina had never felt welcome even standing near a shop, but these days, no matter how she was dressed, she was always greeted with a smile. She placed some coins on the counter and smiled at the woman standing behind it. “Two dozen lemon drops please.”

The shopkeeper shook her head. “That Tat’yana, she’s going to rot her teeth.” She reached for a jar behind the counter and carefully counted twenty-four candies into a paper cone and screwed up the ends before handing it to Katharina. She jerked her head toward Johann. “Who’s your boyfriend?”

“Johann Hering. He works for Viktor. I’m showing him around,” Katharina explained.

The shopkeeper stared at Johann for half a minute, then she nodded. Katharina knew she’d pass on Johann’s description and it would get around that he worked for Viktor. She left the store with Johann close behind.

Just outside the shop Johann laid a hand on Katharina’s shoulder and drew her to a stop. “Show me around. As in show me around?” he asked.

The way Johann emphasized the “me” told Katharina that he’d finally caught on. “That’s what I said.”

“You could have explained,” Johann protested.

“Why?”

Johann glared at Katharina, who couldn’t help but smile back. “You need something to sweeten you up,” Johann said. “Stay here, I won’t be long.”

Katharina did as she was told and stood at the corner while Johann headed back to the store they’d just left.

He’d barely disappeared from view when cruel fingers dug painfully into her right arm. She spun round to see a face she’d hoped never to see again.

The man forced her against a building and leered down at her. “Well, well, well. If it isn’t my errant daughter. Found at last, and judging by the clothes she’s wearing, she’s doing very well for herself.” He grabbed Katharina’s jaw in his right hand and tipped her head up until their eyes met. “No need to guess how you’re paying for your fancy clothes.” He grinned. “It’s about time you paid me back for all you’ve cost me, daughter.” He forced Katharina’s head against the wall and reached out with his left hand for the satchel over her shoulder. “Let’s see what you’ve got for your papa.”

Katharina tried to fight, but he was too strong for her. She was starting to get desperate when she saw someone approaching. Then she just relaxed and smiled.

Her father noticed the sudden lack of resistance and the direction she was looking almost immediately. “You don’t think I’m going to fall for that old trick. There’s nobody going to save you.”

“You’d be wrong about that,” Johann said as he spun Katharina’s father around and struck him once, with an open palm, straight up under the jaw.

Katharina took a moment to recover when her father released her. Then she looked down at his crumpled body. “Did you kill him?” she asked hopefully.

Johann reached down and placed the tips of his fingers against her father’s throat. “No,” he said as he straightened up.

“Pity.” Katharina kicked her father in the ribs as hard as she could. The impact wasn’t as good as she’d hoped. There was something stuffed under his jacket. She stared down at her father for a few seconds, then she smiled. She crouched down so she could search him. Moments later her hands found a wallet. As she stood up she opened it and checked the contents. She’d just pulled out a bundle of “Johnnies”, the USE twenty-dollar bill, when Johann interrupted her.

“You wouldn’t be thinking of keeping that now, would you?”

“You heard him. He’s my father,” Katharina said as she counted the bills.

“Nice try, but I doubt Viktor would approve of family stealing from family.”

Johann’s comment grabbed Katharina. Had he also noticed how Viktor, Boris, and Tat’yana were like a family? She’d dearly love to be included in that family. She stared at the money in her hands—two thousand USE dollars in Johnnies. It was a lot of money. She didn’t want to offend Viktor, and now she’d had a moment to think, she knew he wouldn’t approve of her keeping the money, at least not when there were witnesses to see her do it. However, there was no reason why her father should keep it either. She held the wad of bills up so the various onlookers could see them. Then she shoved them back into the wallet and shoved the wallet back under her father’s jacket.

“Happy now?” She demanded of Johann as she crouched beside her unconscious father.

“Yes.” Johann helped her back to her feet. “Come on. Aren’t you supposed to be showing me off to Stralsund.”

Katharina smiled up at Johann. “Around, not off.”

They had barely gone a dozen yards before they heard the sound of a scuffle behind them. They both ignored it.

“Here, I got these for you,” Johann said as he passed her a screw of paper.

She was not going to cry. Katharina looked away for a moment while she blinked to clear her eyes. People didn’t just give her things, not normally. She unscrewed one end of the paper and after checking there were plenty of sweets took one and held the cone out to Johann. “Thank you. Would you like one?”

Johann took a sweet and together they walked off, leaving the various onlookers to fight over the money Johannes Hagemeister had been carrying.

The Vulgar Unicorn

Tat’yana was relaxing in an armchair reading purely for pleasure when Katharina and Johann returned. The smile of greeting she offered rapidly changed to one of concern when she saw the bruising on Katharina’s face. “What happened to you?” she demanded.

Katharina shrugged as if the bruising was of no concern. “We bumped into my father.”

Tat’yana turned to Johann. “And what were you doing to allow Katharina to be attacked. Some bodyguard you turned out to be.”

“Don’t be mean, Tat’yana. Johann rushed to protect me and he dealt with Papa easily.” She looked toward Johann. “But he could have hit him more than once.”

Tat’yana glared at Johann. “Someone hurts one of us and you only hit them once? What kind of message does that send out?” Tat’yana’s waving arms only hinted at her agitation. Her first reaction to seeing Katharina’s bruised face was a feeling that Viktor was not going to be happy. Now she knew the perpetrator had got off so easily she knew he wasn’t going to be happy.

“What was I supposed to do, kick a defenseless man while he was down?” Johann protested.

“That would have been a good start,” Tat’yana answered, “A few broken ribs would have sent a proper message.”

“How does that fit with Viktor’s instructions to be law abiding and not making waves in Stralsund?” Johann pleaded.

“The rules change when someone hurts one of us. Everyone must know that Viktor protects his own. Please, tell me there was plenty of blood.”

Johann and Katharina shared a glance before both of them shook their heads. “Unless the target bites his tongue the strike I used doesn’t tend to cause much loss of blood,” Johann explained.

“That’s just great. A man attacks Katharina and he gets off without even a fat lip.” Tat’yana took a breath to try and calm herself, but having Johann in the room wasn’t helping. She pointed at him. “You, get out. Go to your room and play with your weights or something while I see what I can do about the bruising. And while you’re at it, think of what you’re going to say to Viktor when he asks what kind of revenge you took against the man who hurt Katharina.”

For a few seconds it looked as if Johann would say something. Certainly his mouth opened and closed a few times, but eventually he just glared at Tat’yana, smiled once at Katharina, and left, closing the door gently behind him.

Tat’yana led Katharina into the kitchen and washed her face. “Viktor’s going to have to do something about your father.”

“Can I be there to watch?” Katharina asked hopefully.

Tat’yana knew where Katharina was coming from. She’d have loved to have seen someone like Viktor take care of her father when she was her age. “Other than your scrap with your father did anything interesting happen while you showed Johann around the usual haunts?”

Katharina started to shake her head in the negative, but stopped in mid swing. “My father was carrying a lot of money . . . “

Tat’yana’s fingers dug into Katharina’s shoulders. “Please, tell me you didn’t steal from someone in Stralsund.”

Katharina looked indignantly at Tat’yana. “Of course I didn’t. We just made sure everyone watching knew where Papa kept his wallet.” She shrugged. “If someone else happened to steal the money . . . “

“Then that’s not your fault.” Tat’yana smiled at Katharina. At least the bully had suffered some hurt. But wait a minute . . . “You said your father tried to steal from you, but you just said he had a lot of money in his wallet.”

“Two thousand USE dollars, in Johnnies.” Katharina’s face screwed up. “Tat’yana, where would Papa get all that money?”

Tat’yana was distracted from her line of questioning by Katharina’s question. She sat Katharina at the kitchen table while she assembled something to eat and drink. Then she sat opposite. If Katharina thought her father having two thousand dollars was unusual, then that made him a person of interest. “I think we need to learn more about your papa.”

****

To learn more about Katharina’s father’s activities they first had to find out where he was staying. Together they set out to do the rounds of Tat’yana’s informers. On the street corner near where Katharina had been attacked they struck pay dirt with Maria Anna, an orphaned girl of about ten years, and Michael, her younger brother.

“The guy Viktor’s man hit?” Maria Anna asked. “Sure. He disappeared into that boarding house.” She pointed.

Tat’yana followed Maria Anna’s pointing arm. The property in question was one of a line of attached houses that were barely a room and a corridor wide and five stories high. She passed the girl some coins. “I’d like to know where he works, and who his friends are.”

Maria Anna hid the money under her clothes and nodded. “Usual rates?”

“Usual rates,” Tat’yana confirmed.

****

Katharina stared out the window overlooking the street below. It had been three days since Maria Anna had offered to discover where her father worked and she was starting to worry about the young girl and her brother’s safety. In a place the size of a Stralsund it shouldn’t have taken this long. Then she saw what she’d been watching the street for.

A few minutes later Maria Anna was shown into Viktor’s apartment. Katharina dragged her in and hugged her, such was her relief at seeing her alive and well. “It’s been so long I was starting to worry,” she told her.

Maria Anna struggled out of Katharina’s arms. “For the last few days, except for when he visited the apothecary, he’s been hiding out in his room. She grinned for a moment. “The word on the street is your man broke his jaw and half of his teeth and he’s been taking opium to deaden the pain.”

Katharina’s grin matched Maria Anna’s. She was pleased to hear about her father’s misfortune. “But you do know where he works?”

“One of Herr Bluth’s warehouses by the northwest wall,” Maria Anna said. “The damaged ones,” she added for good measure.

Katharina shuddered. She didn’t know Stralsund very well, but she did know the buildings Maria Anna was talking about. The warehouses had been damaged during the siege of Stralsund some six years ago and the landlord was taking his time fixing them. She’d appreciated his tardiness when she first arrived in Stralsund, as the rubble of one of those warehouses was where she’d lived those first few days before she fell in with Viktor. The realization that she could so easily have been discovered by her father terrified her. Katharina took a few coins from the petty cash tin and wrote up the transaction before passing some of them to Maria Anna. “Let’s go.”

Five minutes later they joined Maria Anna’s brother Michael where he was keeping an eye on the warehouse. She studied the building. It looked as if a strong wind would knock it over. “Do you have any idea what they’re doing in there?” She asked.

“No,” Maria Anna said.

“They aren’t in there at the moment if you want to take a look,” Michael suggested.

“I want to,” Katharina said. “Let’s hurry while there’s nobody around.”

The three ran across the street and tried to peek through the windows, but they were too dirty to see anything. There was no way in at the front so they ran around to try the back of the warehouse. There they struck lucky. The iron security bars over the windows were in a sad state of repair, and the glass in one window had been replaced with a couple of planks of wood. With an effort Katharina managed to dislodge the boards, but the gap between the damaged iron security bars was too narrow for her. “Michael, could you climb through and open one of the doors?” she asked.

Michael put up his hands to judge the size of the gap between the bars and nodded. With the assistance of the two girls he managed to squeeze his tiny frame between the bars and disappeared into the warehouse. Seconds later the back door swung open.

The ground floor of the warehouse was one big open space with two rows of heavy timber columns supporting the upper floor. There was just enough light for Katharina to see a line of small white blobs near the front of the warehouse. She slowly felt her way around the mounds of full sacks and barrels. It was too dark to read anything on the barrels, but after feeling the sacks she felt reasonably sure they contained some kind of grain. As she neared the front of the warehouse she realized the white blobs were small rectangles of paper hanging on a line. She made her way up to them and plucked one from the line and examined it.

“They’re coming back,” Michael called from near the window.

Katharina turned to try and find the door they’d entered by, but it was lost in the dark. She took another piece of paper and started Michael and Marina Anna toward the back door. “We need to get word to Viktor. No matter what, as soon as you get outside make for Viktor’s warehouse as fast as you can. He should be there with the rest of his people.” She handed them each one of the papers. “Show him that.”

They hurried to the back of the warehouse, and ran for the door. Marina Anna was first. She slid the bolt and hauled it open.

“Some kids in the warehouse. Grab them,” someone yelled from behind them. Katharina spared one glance behind her before she was last through the door. She wasted a few seconds looking for something to jam the door closed, but with nothing obvious to hand she turned and ran.

Her skirts flapping against her legs made running hard. In front of her she could see Maria Anna disappear around a corner while Michael was already out of sight. Suddenly a heavy weight landed on her, bringing her crashing to the ground.

“Caught you, you little brat.”

****

Michael hammered at the door to Viktor’s warehouse. Johann Hering opened the door and Michael was past him in a flash. “Herr Viktor, Katharina’s in trouble,” he cried as he ran toward the group sitting around a table.

Boris caught the excited Michael before he crashed into the table. “What do you mean, Katharina’s in trouble?”

With Boris supporting him Michael held out the piece of paper Katharina had handed him. “We were looking inside the warehouse where her father works when they came back. She told me to give you this.”

Viktor took the piece of paper from Michael and looked at both sides before passing it on to Tat’yana. “It’s Michael, isn’t it?” he asked. At Michael’s surprised nod he continued. “Where is this warehouse?”

Michael pointed in the general direction he’d come from. “It’s one of Herr Bluth’s.”

“We’ll want something to force the doors.” Johann pointed to a box of weapons they’d looked at earlier. “Do you have any solid slugs for those?”

Boris gestured toward some barrels in one corner. Johann hurried over to it and returned with a couple of cardboard boxes of cartridges. He traded one box for the shotgun Boris was holding out to him and the pair of them loaded the pump-action shotguns and shoveled a couple of handfuls of cartridges into the pockets of their coats. Together they worked the slides of their weapons. “Let’s go,” Johann said.

Viktor turned to Michael. “Lead the way.”

The sight of Viktor and two armed men running down the street drew an interested crowd that started to follow them. He’d been their neighbor long enough that they knew someone was in deep trouble and nobody wanted to miss the action.

****

Katharina was hauled to her feet and dragged back into the warehouse. “I caught one,” Hans Klinkow said.

A hand grabbed her hair and twisted her head up. “Well, if it isn’t my ungrateful daughter, and without her protector.”

Katharina wanted to spit in her father’s face, but her mouth was dry. She settled for staring at the damage Johann had done to his mouth. Where once there had been a full set of front teeth there were now broken stumps.

“What do we do with her?” Hans asked.

“I know what I’d like to do with her,” Katharina’s father said.

“Just a minute.” The group’s leader, Bartholomäus Scheele, pointed at Katharina. “I think I’ve seen her walking around with Viktor’s woman.”

Hans released his hold on Katharina hastily. “She’s one of Viktor’s people?”

Johannes Hagemeister kept his firm hold on his daughter. “Who is Viktor and why are you so worried about him? I tell you, this is just my daughter, and her protector’s nothing but a common soldier.”

“Johann Hering was a soldier, now he works for Viktor,” Katharina said loud enough for everyone to hear. Bartholomäus, Hans and Peter Bluth stared at Katharina. At any other time the looks of horror on their faces would have been humorous.

Boom! Boom!

The shotgun blasts reverberated through the warehouse. Katharina took advantage of her father’s slackened hold to slam her head into his damaged jaw. There was a grunt of pain and she was free. She dived for the safety of the shadows before turning to see what was happening. She saw three men step through the door followed by a woman.

“Katharina, are you okay?” Viktor demanded.

“Yes,” she called.

“Come to me, but stay out of the line of fire,” Tat’yana called.

“This is all just a misunderstanding, Viktor. We found her in our warehouse and Hans chased her down. We didn’t know she was one of your people,” Bartholomäus pleaded.

“Stay where you are,” Viktor commanded. “Tat’yana, find something to tie them up with.”

Katharina followed Tat’yana and together they collected the rest of the line that the papers had been pinned to and returned to Viktor.

“Now, Viktor, there is no need to be like this.” Bartholomäus walked toward Viktor. “There has been a simple misunderstanding. Why don’t you take the child and leave and we’ll forget that she was trespassing in my warehouse.”

Viktor lifted a finger and Boris fired once, raising dust when the solid slug hit the floor just in front of Bartholomäus.

He jumped back. “Viktor, all this shooting will attract attention.”

Viktor smiled. “I don’t mind.”

“That’s not fair, Viktor. We haven’t done anything to you,” Bartholomäus protested.

“Not done anything to me?” Viktor roared. He waved the paper Michael had given him. “You are forging USE bank bills and you can say that? Viktor trusts the USE paper money.”

Katharina whistled to herself. She’d been around Viktor just long enough to know that he only slipped into referring to himself like that when he was very emotional. She edged up beside Tat’yana who was securing her father. “Will he kill them?” she whispered.

“No, I think he’s planning something much worse,” Tat’yana whispered back.

Katharina blinked in surprise. What could be worse than being killed? She trailed behind Tat’yana watching how she secured the prisoners.

“Soldiers coming,” Michael called from the door.

“I’ll talk to them,” Johann offered. “What do you want me to say?”

Viktor passed him the forged Johnnie. “Show their officer that and ask them to send a runner for their commander.”

Bartholomäus Scheele paled. “Now Viktor, you don’t really mean to turn me over to the authorities? Think of what it’ll do for your reputation.”

“It can’t be anything but good for Viktor’s reputation to discover a den of forgers and turn them over to the authorities,” Boris said conversationally.

****

Katharina was a little frightened being in the Swedish officer’s office, but with Viktor, Boris, Johann, and Tat’yana there as well she tried to stay calm. She glanced across to Maria Anna and Michael. The two of them had been scrubbed to within an inch of their lives and were now dressed in new clothes. Both of them were sucking lemon drops Tat’yana had given them just before they entered the office.

Colonel Axel Lillie smiled across to Maria Anna and her brother. “The people who were supposed to be caring for you have been dealt with. Until you are old enough to be apprenticed out you will both live in my household. For now my wife wishes to talk to you.” He turned to a waiting soldier. “Sergeant, Christina is waiting in her sitting room. Please take the children to her.”

As Maria Anna and Michael followed the sergeant out of the office Katharina felt the colonel’s eyes settle on her. She snuggled closer to Tat’yana. Maria Anna and her brother were welcome to the colonel’s protection. It was the least he could do considering what catching a forgery ring would do for his career, but she didn’t want that. She had Tat’yana and Viktor.

“Your father is facing very serious charges. However, if I put in a good word for him . . . “

Katharina reared back into Tat’yana in horror. Surely her father couldn’t escape justice. She felt Tat’yana’s arm creep around her shoulder. “That won’t be necessary,” Tat’yana said.

Colonel Lillie nodded. “I think I understand. Very well, we’ll let justice take its course. That leaves the matter of a suitable reward, young lady. I make the same offer to you as I did the other two, a good home while you are trained for a job.”

Katharina shook her head. “Thank you, but Tat’yana’s promised we can learn Latin together.”

Colonel Lillie smiled. “Then I still owe you a reward.”

“Just make sure I never have to see my father again,” Katharina said.

“That I can promise you,” Colonel Lillie said. “Let us retire to the dining room where Lieutenant-colonel Wachtmeister has laid out everything we discovered in Herr Bluth’s warehouse.”

****

Viktor approached the dining room table. There were stacks of money on it. More correctly, there were stacks of forged USE Johnnies on it. Carefully laid out in rows were a number of printing plates. “Why so many printing plates?”

“They need plates for each color,” Johann suggested.

“Yes, but they should only need three plates: black for the front, green for the back, and another one for the seal and serial number on the green side.” Viktor pointed to the table. “There are too many plates.”

“That’s because they have duplicate plates, Herr Viktor,” Lieutenant-colonel Erik Wachtmeister explained.

“Duplicate plates?” Viktor picked up two of the plates and compared the fine engraving. “Who could afford so skilled an engraver?”

“It is worse than you think,” Colonel Lillie said. “Under questioning Bartholomäus Scheele has claimed that someone sold him something called a franchise to print USE dollars in Pomerania. For a one-time fee he received training and all the equipment he needed to convert USE dollar bills into twenty-dollar bills.”

“Someone sold Bartholomäus all of these engraved plates?” Viktor demanded.

“That’s what he says, and we have no reason to doubt him,” Colonel Lillie said.

“Do you know who sold him this franchise?” Viktor asked.

“He claims that he has no idea who it was,” Lieutenant-colonel Wachtmeister said.

“What about ink and paper? Where does he get them?” Johann asked.

“The paper they get by using good condition lower denomination USE bills and bleaching them. The ink . . . ” Colonel Lillie paused. “I understand it’s special ink, not easily obtained.”

“So where do they get more when they use up what they started with?” Johann asked. “

Colonel Lillie smiled grimly and turned to his Lieutenant. “Erik, it appears our prisoners have been holding back some information, please see that they reveal who their ink supplier is.”

****

From the safety of Tat’yana’s arms Katharina smiled. Everyone knew what that meant. Her father and his colleagues were going to be tortured until they revealed the information the Swedish officer wanted.

She hoped her father didn’t know anything.

And that the torturer didn’t believe him.

****

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