The Marked Man

 

Travemünde, April 1635

George Watson poked his head out of the water and scouted out the lay of the land. Ahead of him was the landing stage. All that lay between it and him was the main deep-water channel of the river. There was a ship sailing up-stream, towards Lübeck. George paused, unsure as to whether or not to risk trying to get across ahead of the vessel. His companion, Matt Tisdel, after barely a pause to check up and down-stream for shipping, sped across. George thought about following, but age brought with it wisdom, and wisdom was telling him not to be a silly old fool. He treaded water until the vessel was past before crossing the channel.

He was feeling quite pleased with himself as he hauled himself out of the water. This time last year he’d been hit by a breathing problem that had him gasping for breath just walking from his house to the garage. The doc had advised him to stop smoking and get out of mining. And now, after several months of clean living and cleaner air, he could actually swim a mile—not all at once, of course.

The wind felt bitterly cold on his wet body, and he hurriedly dried himself on the towel he’d left hanging over the rail. While he was drying his hair he looked down. He’d always been able to see his toes, but these days he could see more. He could now see abdominal muscles. He’d always had them, just like he’d always had toes, but it was only in the few months since he quit Grantville that he’d finally lost the layer of padding that had hidden them for over thirty years. He glanced over at Matt, who was already pulling on his pants. The kid must be a hit with the girls. Even his muscles had muscles. Their eyes met, and Matt jerked his head towards the pier above.

George looked up, and smothered a curse. They had an audience. Well, he hoped they’d enjoyed the floor show. He finished dressing, muttering about the limited imagination of headline writers the world over.

Lübeck (12 miles upriver from Travemünde)

Derek Modi heard the knocking at the door and cursed. He’d just started inking in the lines of his latest design. He paused with the ruling pen held above the inkpot. Maybe if I ignore them they’ll go away.

He’d just dipped the pen in the ink when the knocking returned, except it was more urgent, and more of a hammering than knocking. Resigned, Derek laid down the ruling pen and made his way to the door. If it’s another door-to-door salesman . . .

He strode past his assistant’s vacant desk—I really need to do something about finding a new one. “Yes?” he demanded as he hauled open the door.

“We have perhaps come at a bad time, Herr Modi?”

Derek could feel his face glowing as he gazed down into the steel-grey eyes of Inger Mogensdotter. “My apologies, Inger. I thought you were another door-to-door salesman.”

Inger stared blankly at Derek. “You are being bothered by what?” She shook her head. “No, never mind. Why isn’t your assistant answering the door?”

Derek pointed to the empty desk where Bartholomäus Buchwald used to sit. “He’s quit and headed to Magdeburg, where the streets are paved with gold.”

“He’ll soon learn otherwise,” Inger said.

“Sure, but until then I’m missing an assistant cum receptionist cum gate-keeper, and it’s slowing down my work.” He turned his attention to the young man who had accompanied Inger and held out his hand. “Hello, I’m Derek Modi, and you’ll be?”

Inger spoke for the young man. “He is Kristjan Magnusson, one of my nephews.”

“A pleasure to meet you, Kristjan.” Derek shook the young man’s hand. “What brings you to Lübeck, Inger? I told you the drawings wouldn’t be ready before the twentieth of May.”

“We have struck a problem,” Inger said as she preceded Derek and Kristjan into Derek’s office.

“What sort of problem?” Derek asked as he followed, shepherding Kristjan ahead of him. “The generator production schedule has been confirmed, and I’ve contacted Stockholm about their floating crane. They’ve confirmed that it will lift over ten tons, and they have agreed to sell it to us for the price we agreed.”

Inger lowered herself into a chair. “We have a money problem.”

That sounds bad. Derek sank into his chair. “What sort of money problem? I thought you’d arranged financing.”

“I had promises of financing. Most of it is still available. However, Jürgen von Neustadt drained the coffers of many of my less committed investors by offering a more immediate return. This is what happens when you put your faith in people who are not family. We are now short the eight million dollars he borrowed.”

The number eight million excited a few brain cells. It was familiar number, but why, Derek couldn’t quite put his finger on. While he let his brain try to retrieve why it seemed familiar he concentrated on the more immediate problem. He’d made commitments in his own name on Inger’s behalf, and if she couldn’t pay in time . . . he shuddered at the vision of potential financial disaster. “How long will it take you to make up the shortfall?” He hoped it wasn’t long.

“It will be the end of February next year at the earliest.”

“That’s way too long.” He sank heavily deeper into his chair and stared into the distance.

“You’ve signed the contract for the generators?” Inger asked.

There aren’t any flies on Inger. She homed right onto the problem. Derek nodded. “They’ve already started work, on my promise that I’d have the money before the end of the month.”

“Twenty-five percent?” Inger asked.

Derek nodded before burying his head in his hands. “Yes, and then there are the progress payments due in July and October.”

Inger raised a thumb to her mouth and started chewing on the nail. “If we delay work on the canal, and the high dam, we should be able to manage the first payment, but after that . . . ”

“What about asking the person who sold the boat to Jürgen?” Kristjan asked, breaking the silence. “He has the eight million dollars now. Surely he couldn’t have spent it already.”

“The boat Jürgen bought was being sold on behalf of the USE, and I don’t want any government involved in Glomfjord,” Inger said.

“Boat? Your Jürgen spent eight million on a boat?” Derek shook his head in disbelief. Eight million dollars was serious money. You could buy and fully fit out a Batavia-class Dutch East Indiaman for a trading mission to the Far East for that kind of money.

“He is not my Jürgen, but yes, he did, the fool,” Inger muttered.

“But it is a one of a kind boat, Tante Inger,” Kristjan said. “It is the fastest boat in the world. It can do over seventy miles per hour.”

“It is a silly toy,” Inger said.

Derek had a light-bulb moment. Inger was talking about that boat. “The Outlaw II? I think I read somewhere that the money the government got for the boat went straight to the former owner of the Outlaw as compensation for losing it. Just a minute, I need to check something.”

Inger and Kristjan followed Derek as he hurried back to reception and started hunting through a pile of old newspapers dumped in a pile under the desk. Eventually he surfaced waving an old issue of the Lübeck Informer. “I never thought I’d be happy Bartholomäus walked out like that. He’d have thrown out the papers by now.”

“What do you have?” Inger demanded.

“The Eight Million Dollar Man—Travemünde’s Most Eligible Bachelor.” Derek pointed out the headline as he quickly scanned the story. “I was right. The payment went directly to George Watson.”

Inger stared at the headline. “The man, George Watson, lives in Travemünde?”

“Apparently,” Derek said.

“Then we must catch him immediately, before he does anything foolish with my money.”

Travemünde

George stood on the pier and gazed into the distance. Safety seemed a long way away. To get to Köppe’s Boatyard he was going to have to walk a couple of hundred yards past people hopeful of talking him in to giving them some of his money. “It’s at times like this I wish Ernst had built his boatyard closer to the estuary.”

“We could have started from his jetty. It would have meant a shorter walk.”

“Don’t be silly, Matt. It would have been a shorter walk, but a longer swim, against the current, to get into the estuary.”

“So?”

George glared at Matt. “Swimming against the current might be a minor inconvenience to you, mister ex-state champion, but I’m barely faster than the current.”

“Ex-age group state champion,” Matt muttered. “Still, you’re improved a lot from when I first saw you. Next time we’ll have to have a race.”

“Yeah, right!” George snorted. “There’s no way I can beat you.”

Matt shook his head in mock disappointment. “You’ll never get anywhere in life with a defeatist attitude like that.”

“It’s not a defeatist attitude. It’s a simple fact of life. I’m thirty years older than you. I’d need a healthy head start.”

“A ten minute head start over half a mile?” Matt offered.

Trapped! One look at the smug smile on Matt’s face told George that by saying he’d need a head start he’d sort of committed himself to a race. He could always refuse to race, but that would lower Matt’s opinion of him. Which was something he was loath to do. Although why that was so, he didn’t know. Maybe he was turning over a new leaf? “How about I only swim a quarter-mile?” he counter-offered.

“Done!”

“I certainly have been,” George muttered under his breath. Even with Matt swimming twice the distance he was still going to be hard to beat.

“You’ll never get better if you don’t push yourself,” Matt said. “That’s quoting Ms. Maddox by the way.”

George could just about hear her saying it too. He met Matt’s grinning face with a discreet silence and gestured for Matt to walk on. “Shall we brave the gauntlet?”

Matt cast an eye over the route from the landing to Köppe’s Boatyard. “I’m sure not all of them are fathers with daughters they would like you to marry.”

“Of course they aren’t. Most of them just want to touch me for a small loan . . . that they’ll never pay back. I should know, I’ve been here before.”

“Back when you won the lottery?”

“Yeah, a guy never has so many friends than when everyone knows you’ve suddenly got a lot of cash.”

They started walking, George with his hands stuck firmly in his pockets, and Matt casually waving to everyone as they passed. “You’re not helping,” George muttered when he noticed some of the women waving back.

“I’m just being friendly.”

“Friendly is something I don’t need. When I won a million in the state lottery people treated me as if I was rich. Heck, for a while back then, I thought I was rich. Right up until the moment the money ran out. But now, here and now, I’ve got more money than I could spend in a dozen lifetimes. When that auctioneer’s hammer came down I went from being just another poor working stiff to being one of Europe’s most eligible bachelors.” George shook his head in disgust. He liked his single state. He liked the fact that he didn’t answer to a wife. He liked the fact he didn’t have any children taking up his time. He was a bachelor because he wanted to be, and he was happy to . . . no, he was more than just happy . . . he was committed to staying a bachelor as long as he lived. “If only the rest of the world would just accept I like being single.”

“A wife and family would help you spend it,” Matt suggested.

George’s head whipped round. Matt had that big broad toothpaste-ad smile of his pasted on his face again. “There is no way I’m getting married, let alone having kids. I’ve finally got my life just like I want it, and I’m not changing it for anyone.”

“For a share of your income, I’m sure there are a lot of women who’d be only too happy to fit their lives around yours.”

“No doubt, but I’m not interested.”

“So who gets everything when you die?”

“I don’t intend dying any time soon, and maybe by then I’ll have spent it all. If not, I’ve got plenty of family. Let them fight it out amongst themselves.”

“The only people who get rich in those cases are the lawyers.”

George sniggered. That wouldn’t really bother him either. “It won’t be my problem though, will it? Besides, you shouldn’t knock lawyers. They have their good points.”

“The only reason you’re in favor of lawyers is because your lot got you a fortune, but I bet they made sure it was worth their while. How much did they soak you for?”

“One million, three hundred and seventy-three thousand, two hundred and eighty-three dollars and sixty-three cents. And I don’t begrudge them a cent of it.”

“Much,” Matt snorted. “If you were really happy to have paid them that much you wouldn’t remember the cents.”

“Maybe,” George admitted, “but what I ended up with was a heck of a lot more than the sixty grand I had been hoping to get. Anyway, enough about me, how’s the world been treating you? Were those your Marines that rescued the vice president?”

****

George entered the offices of Köppe’s Boatyard deep in thought. Matt had set him a problem, and he already had a few ideas.

“Did you have a good swim?” Ernst’s wife called out just before he left the entry hall.

Jerked back to the present George grinned. “It was a bit more vigorous than usual. I bumped into Matt Tisdel and he offered to join me.”

Anna Kierstead smiled. “Matt’s such a nice boy. Did he say how he was doing?”

“I don’t think Melvin Sutter would agree with Matt being nice. But Matt’s now the commanding officer of the navy’s dive team.”

“Your friend is wrong. Matt’s a perfectly nice young man, and he’s an officer now?” Her eyes lit up as she asked that question.

George recognized the signs. It seemed he might have competition in the local marriage stakes. He added fuel to the fire. “They’ve made him a Lieutenant Commander. Apparently, because the dive team is an independent command made up of more than a single vessel, that’s the absolutely lowest rank he can hold.”

If anything Anna’s eyes gleamed even brighter. It was such a pity Matt wouldn’t be here long enough for it to matter. “Next month the dive team is going to North Friesland to help with salvage operations in the areas that were submerged when last year’s big storm broke through the dikes.”

Anna looked crestfallen for a moment, but then she turned her eyes onto George. He backed away shaking his head. “Don’t look at me like that, Anna. I’ve told you before, I have no intention of marrying.”

“You don’t really mean that.”

George had backed into the door to the office. He pulled it open. “Yes I do. I’m a bachelor, and I’m perfectly happy to stay one.”

“You just haven’t met the right woman,” Anna called out as he shut the door.

“Anna still pestering you about your single state?” Ernst Köppe asked as George entered, not quite slamming the door behind him.

“Yes. You need to do something. Let her know who’s boss,” George said as he dropped his wet towel over a radiator and started searching through a box of up-time magazines.

“She knows who’s the boss, George, and so do I.”

George looked across to his friend and partner. Ernst gave him a wry smile. “And people wonder why I don’t want to get married,” George muttered before returning to his search.

“What are you looking for?”

“I was chatting to Matt Tisdel, and he asked if it was possible to build a fast boat that doesn’t draw much water, and that is quieter than Claus’ hovercraft.”

“This’ll be for the Marine unit he worked with last year?”

George nodded. “Yep. Found it!” He rose to his feet with the magazine in his hands, leafing through it in search of the cover article.

“Found what?” Ernst asked, closing to look over George’s shoulder.

“An article about a jetboat race in New Zealand. Look at how shallow that water is,” George said, pointing to a photograph of a boat speeding along in water where you could see the ripples as the water flowed over the stones below.

“It can’t be much more than a hand deep. Surely their propeller will hit the bottom?”

A hand, as George had discovered when he hired a horse once upon a time, was a unit of measurement of approximately four inches. “They don’t use propellers, they use water-jets. The water is sucked up through an intake in the hull and thrust out the rear.”

“Like Admiral Simpson’s ironclads?” Ernst looked closer. “How do they reverse? There is nothing like the big pipes the ironclads use to direct the water under the hull.”

George flicked through the magazine until he came to an advertisement for a HamiltonJet propulsion system. “See that bit at the end? That’s a ‘spoon’. If you want to reverse you lower that behind the jet nozzle and the water is redirected. And . . . ” George paused to emphasize his next point, “you can also steer while reversing.” To further help, or maybe hinder Ernst’s understanding, George grabbed the teaspoon that was sitting in yesterday’s dirty coffee mug and using a finger to indicate the flow of water, demonstrated how the spoon deflected the water.

Ernst plucked the spoon from George’s fingers. He then played with it, including blowing into the bowl. Finally he gave the spoon back. “That seems remarkably easy and straightforward. Why didn’t the navy adopt it?”

George shrugged. “No idea. Another interesting thing about these water-jets is that they are direct drive.”

“You mean they don’t need a gearbox?”

“That’s right, and if we don’t have a gearbox, that’s one less drain on engine power.”

“It is also a considerable weight saving,” Ernst suggested. “But it sounds too good to be true. What’s the catch?”

“From what I’ve read, they’re less efficient than straight propellers at low speeds, and they don’t work well in aerated water.”

George sat and waited while Ernst digested what he’d been told. Eventually Ernst looked straight at George.

“At what speed do they beat propellers for efficiency?”

“About twenty knots.”

“The Argo is capable of over thirty knots. Are you suggesting that a water jet-propelled Argo could go faster?” Ernst asked.

The Argo was a plywood replica of his old Outlaw Ernst had built, but with two down-time one hundred and twenty-five horse-power aero engines in place of the original Outlaw’s twin three hundred and seventy-five horse-power V8s. “I don’t know. It probably depends on whether or not you can keep the water intake in the water or not. Remember, even with none of the hull in the water, the Argo usually still has her propellers in the water producing thrust.”

“Whereas with the hull out of the water, the jetboat has no thrust? I think I understand. Still, could we build one?”

“Well . . . ” George chewed on his lip as he thought. “There’s no doubt we could build a jetboat, but using steel or iron would make for a heavy unit. Ideally, I’d prefer aluminum, but I haven’t heard that anybody is making any yet. We can build a test model in iron or steel, but we’ll need someone with a bit more technical ability than we have to turn a few photographs and line drawings from magazines into a working water-jet.”

“There’s that up-time engineer who was responsible for setting up the rolling mill in Lübeck.” Ernst gazed up at the ceiling as he scratched his head. “Derek Modi! That’s his name. Do you know him?”

“Not to talk to. How come you know him?”

“I met him at a chamber of commerce function last year. You don’t know what you’re missing by refusing all those invitations you receive, you know.”

George shuddered. He’d been to precisely one such function up-time, soon after he won the lottery, and he’d felt that everyone was after his money. Here and now, it could only be worse. “No thanks. I’ll leave the glad-handing to you.”

“You’re making it very difficult for people to talk to you, you know.”

“Which explains why there are people trying to bump into me whenever I go out the door. Why do you think I swim so early in the day?”

Ernst smiled. “I thought that was so nobody could see the fat walrus thrashing about in the water?”

George had to grin at the reference to something he’d said last year. He’d never actually been that fat, but the thrashing about bit had been spot on. “I’ve improved a lot since last year. Matt’s even challenged me to a race.”

Ernst brows shot up. “I never took Matt for a guy who’d go for easy victories.”

“He isn’t. He’ll be swimming a half-mile while I only do a quarter-mile.”

“He’ll still beat you hollow,” Ernst said with confidence. “I’ll write Derek a note asking for an appointment then.”

“I might make a race of it,” George protested half-hearted. He was just as sure as Ernst that Matt would beat him, but now he was more determined than ever to at least make him work for his victory.

A few hours later

George was bent over his desk trying to sketch a design for a jetboat that might fit Matt’s requirements. It had to be big enough to carry a crew and at least four men and their equipment. That made for a fairly big boat. He wasn’t sure that the available engines would be up to providing the required speed.

Anna popped her head round the door. “Ernst, George, Derek Modi is here, and he’s brought a couple of people with him.”

Ernst looked across to the clock on the wall. “That was quick.”

George flicked back his cuff to check his watch. “He would have had to leave the moment he got your note. I wonder why? Who’s he got with him?” he asked Anna.

“A couple of Norwegians. A woman about my age and a young lad about Matt’s age.”

“We’re only delaying finding out what they want. Show them in Anna,” Ernst said as he got to his feet, ready to greet Derek and his companions when they entered. George, with less experience dealing with clients, needed a nudge from Ernst before he got to his feet.

“Ernst, it’s good to see you again. Your note arrived at an opportune time. Inger here was all ready to head off to Grantville to find George,” Derek said as he and his companions were ushered into the office.

George turned to greet the woman. She stared at him as if he was a specimen under an entomologist’s magnifying glass. “Why were you looking for me?”

“You have my money,” Inger said.

“Lady, the only money I have is my own.”

“You do have my money. That fool Jürgen von Neustadt soaked up all the funds I’d been counting on and blew it all on your silly toy boat.”

George was deeply offended that his Outlaw was being insulted. He met her glare with one of his own. “That’s my Outlaw you’re talking about.”

“It wasn’t your Outlaw. It was a down-time copy built using salvaged up-time fittings, and it is a silly waste of money. What practical use is it?”

George winced. He’d been asked similar questions often enough about his Outlaw back up-time. Of course it had no real practical use. You didn’t buy something like the Outlaw for practical reasons. You bought it because you loved speed and all the envious looks from less fortunate mortals you got every time you took her out. And of course, there was the fact that expensive boats, like expensive cars, attracted women. That argument probably wouldn’t sway the woman, so deciding silence was the safest option, he didn’t say anything.

“Herr von Neustadt has won several major contracts after taking potential clients out in his new speedboat,” Kristjan said.

Inger turned on her nephew, and her eyes sent daggers. “Did I ask you to speak?”

For a moment Kristjan’s jaw bobbled, but he manfully clamped his mouth shut and shook his head.

“Then don’t. You are with me to learn. Watch and listen, and only speak when told to. Do you understand?”

There was a long silence, finally broken by Derek “The reason we’re here, George, is we want you to invest in a little project I’m involved with.”

****

Three hours later, as Ernst showed Derek, Inger, and Kristjan out George lay back in his chair and stared at the ceiling. Had he really done that? Had he really just bought himself a half-share of a hydro-electric development?

“You really have over ten million dollars?” Ernst asked when he returned.

Yep, I really do. George gave Ernst a wry smile. “Yes, and don’t worry. I can do it without touching my investment in the boatyard.” The sudden relaxing of Ernst’s body told George his friend had been worried.

“How come? I thought you only went to the lawyers when the doctor told you to stop working at the mine and you got worried about starving to death.”

“That’s right, but I’ve still got just over nine million from my compensation in the bank . . . ”

“Which leaves you still a million shy of the ten you committed yourself to. So, where’s it coming from?”

“I own a house in Grantville. It’s being rented out at the moment, for just under ten thousand a month. I should be able to borrow a million against it, and the rent can finance the mortgage.”

“You own a house that earns you ten thousand dollars a month, and you were worried about starving if you couldn’t work?”

George winced. It did sound a bit strange when you said it like that. “I was living in it then,” he protested.

“But still, couldn’t you have let rooms or something?”

“I like my privacy,” George muttered.

“Even if it means you starve to death?”

“But it didn’t come to that. I went to see Waffler, Wiesel, and Finck about getting compensation for my boat and they took care of any fears I had of starving.”

Ernst nodded. “You don’t need the profits Inger has cast under your nose, so why are you risking everything to invest in her hydro-electric scheme?”

“That’s a really good question, Ernst, and as soon as I think of an answer, I’ll tell you.”

“What? You just decided to invest everything you own in a scheme you don’t really understand on a whim?”

George shrugged. He couldn’t really explain why he’d decided to invest in Derek and Inger’s scheme. Maybe Derek’s promise to work on the designs for a water-jet unit had something to do with it. “At least when word gets out I’ve committed everything to Glomfjord Hydro, it’ll stop the begging letters and the constant invitations to meet someone’s daughter or granddaughter.”

The day of the big race

It was a cool late April morning and George was already wondering what he’d got himself into, other than really cold water. Even his goose-pimples had goose-pimples. A quarter of a mile away he could see Matt had finally reached his starting position. George pulled his swim goggles over his eyes and waited for Matt to start the race.

Matt’s arm went up once, twice, three times. As it came down for the third time George turned and dived into the water. He had to take a breath every time he lifted his right arm, but he battled on. Every hundred strokes he popped his head up to check he was still heading for the buoy that was the finish. He was closing in on it when he saw Matt out of the corner of his eye. The sly so-and-so was trying to take advantage of his blind side by passing on his left.

George intensified his efforts. He didn’t surge ahead. That would have been too much to expect, but it did slow down the rate at which Matt was catching him. He became blind to anything other than exerting maximum effort to get to the buoy before Matt.

He hit it and immediately popped his head up, looking for Matt. He didn’t have to look far, as Matt was treading water with one hand on the buoy.

“A draw, I think,” Matt said.

George didn’t think so. While he was hanging on to the buoy for dear life, trying to catch his breath, Matt had enough breath to talk. “You’re not even breathing heavily,” he managed to say.

Matt just grinned. “Can you make it back to the dock on your own, or do you need a tow?”

“I can make it,” George said with more bravado than truth. He rolled onto his back and set off towards the dock with a slow sidestroke. Matt stayed with him all the way.

George was trembling with fatigue when he finally made it to the landing stage. He latched onto the decking and tried to lever himself up, but he couldn’t. He only had to lift himself maybe a foot out of the water, but he didn’t have the energy. He dropped back into the water to try again. Strong hands grabbed his wrists and suddenly he was hauled onto the landing stage.

“You should have let me give you a tow,” Matt said as he lowered George so he could sit on the landing stage with his legs dangling in the water.

“I should have known better than to let you talk me into a race,” George muttered.

Matt tossed George his towel. “There’s no gain without pain. Just think, next time you might even beat me.”

The mention of pain reminded George how much his muscles hurt, and he knew what they were like now was going to be nothing compared to what they’d like tomorrow. “I probably won’t be able to swim tomorrow.”

“What? And disappoint your adoring fans?”

George looked up to check out the aforementioned adoring fans. He didn’t recognize most of them. But as he hadn’t been accepting any invitations to any parties, that wasn’t surprising. He finished drying himself and pulled on his clothes and boots. “I was hoping that they might have given up when they heard I’ve put everything I own into some harebrained scheme in the back of beyond.”

“If you think that you can’t have seen last night’s Informer.”

The Informer?” George swallowed. The Informer, or The Lübeck Informer to give the paper its full name, was Lübeck’s Financial Times. It printed well thought-out, well-researched business information, or at least that’s what Ernst claimed. Most of the stuff went right over George’s head, but the cartoons were always good.

“You made the front page, the editorial, and the cartoon,” Matt said, with a little too much relish for George’s comfort.

“The Glomfjord Hydro deal?” George said, hoping it wasn’t.

“Yes. And the Informer seems to think you’re onto a real winner.”

“Oh hell!” George looked around again. The two working girls he’d done business with previously waved in their usual very friendly manner, which upset one or two of the other women, before sauntering off, sure in the knowledge George had seen them. Unfortunately, nobody else made to follow their lead. If anything, the remaining audience seemed emboldened by their departure. “When did you say you were going to North Friesland?”

“You want to tag along?”

“If you’ll have me,” George said hopefully.

“You’ll have to work your way. What special skills do you have?”

George thought for a moment about what skills might appeal to a dive team. “I’ve kept a ’76 Ford F-150 on the road for over twenty-five years.”

“That sounds pretty good. Anything else?”

“I’ve worked with the hot-bulb engines Ernst puts in his Higgins boats,” he said hopefully.

“You know how to maintain the hot-bulb engines? That’s great!”

Encouraged, George revealed yet another string to his bow. “Not only can I strip one, I know how to start the monsters.”

Matt reached out a hand. “You’re hired. A guilder a day, plus full board.”

“You don’t have to pay me,” George protested.

“If you’re aboard a dive team vessel, you have to sign on. If you sign on, you get paid.” Matt shrugged. “You can always use the money to buy the others drinks, but you have to be paid.”

“I’m not joining the navy.”

“Nope. You’ll be a civilian contractor.”

“How soon can we leave?”

Matt looked around before smiling at George. “I’ll see if we can’t bring our departure forward.”

A couple of days later

Anna Kierstead knew Inger Mogensdotter from way back. She’d been at school with Maren Mogensdotter, Inger’s younger sister, and although she’d never actually met Inger, she’d heard all about her from Maren. She had a fair idea why Inger had turned up at the office. “How can I help you, Inger?”

Inger tried to look past Anna into the main office. “I was hoping to talk to George Watson.”

I bet you were, Anna thought. “I’m sorry, but you’ve just missed him.”

“When do you expect him back?”

“Not for several weeks. He’s signed on with the USE Navy’s dive team as a maintenance contractor.”

Inger stopped trying to look past Anna and stared straight at her. “Why would a man with his money want to do menial work like that?”

“George is an up-timer, and he seems to like getting dirty fooling around with engines. He was quite a lot of help when Ernst was trying to get the Outlaw II running. George said he did all his own maintenance on the original vessel.”

“Men!” Inger muttered before starting to pace around the room. “I was hoping that he would join me on a visit to Glomfjord.”

“And have him at your mercy while you work on him?” Anna smiled. “You’ll catch cold trying to marry George to anyone, let alone one of your family. George is a bit of a loner, Inger. I don’t think he has more than a nodding acquaintance with anybody in Travemünde beyond me, Ernst, and the other people at the boat yard, oh, and the young up-timer in charge of the navy’s dive team, Matt Tisdel.”

“How is that possible? He’s been here how long? Six months? He must know more people than that?”

“He works at it,” Anna said. “He’s politely declined every invitation he’s received, and he hardly goes out in the evenings.”

“You’re not suggesting that he doesn’t visit the tavern . . . you are?” she said in response to Anna’s nod. “That’s just not natural,” Inger muttered.

“It’s just the way George is.”

“I don’t like it,” Inger announced. “I don’t like the fact that half of Glomfjord Hydro resides outside the family.”

“Ernst said you didn’t have a lot of choice. He said George had you over a barrel. You needed a lot of money fast and he wasn’t prepared to invest unless he had at least half the business.”

“But I wouldn’t have agreed if I had known I was dealing with some sort of religious fanatic.”

“Oh, George isn’t the slightest bit religious. He excuses himself by saying he doesn’t really like people, so he prefers not to have anything to do with them.”

“So instead he is a hermit.” Inger shook her head. “I think I preferred the religious fanatic.”

Somewhere in the Kattegat, a few days later

George stood on the deck of the Red Lion waiting for the other swimmers to get clear before diving in to join them. The water was cold, but Matt soon had everyone warmed up by having them swim between the Red Lion and the Crab. Those two vessels—one could hardly call them ships—comprised Matt’s command. Either one of the sailing barges would have been more than adequate to service the dive team, if the dive team was operating with the fleet. However, as Matt had been at pains to point out when George had laughed at the size of his command, the dive team had never operated with the fleet. As such, it needed its own support vessel to provide accommodation and storage. That meant Matt’s command consisted of two ships, and even though he commanded under a dozen men, it still fitted the definition of an independent flotilla under Admiral Simpson’s table of organization. And under that same table of organization, the minimum rank for a commander of an independent flotilla was lieutenant commander. Matt, George was sure, must be laughing all the way to the bank.

George was happy to see that he was easily keeping up with the other swimmers. Matt, of course,was hardly trying. But the other two, Paulus, Matt’s number two diver, and Friedrich, an apprentice diver, seemed to be struggling to match even Matt’s reduced pace. Suddenly Matt, who’d stopped to check on his charges, hit the water hard, three times—the signal for people to stop swimming.

“What’s the problem?” George asked as soon as he got close enough to talk.

Matt pointed to the Red Lion, where one of the waving crew was waving a signal flag. “I’m afraid we’re going to have to cut this swim short. Everyone, back to the Red Lion.”

Strangely enough, the only people to seem even slightly upset by the sudden stop to their swim were Matt, and to a much lesser extent, George. He got the impression that the others were only swimming because Matt insisted.

Back at the Red Lion, George scampered up the ladder with Matt close behind. The moment he had both feet firmly on the deck he was presented with a dry towel. He started using it immediately, and hurried down below. He glanced over his shoulder to see if Matt was following, but he’d stopped to talk to the radio operator and the Red Lion ‘s captain.

Dressed and warm again, George joined the others in the mess. On a normal sailing barge the space would barely accommodate the crew of three—two men and a dog—but the Red Lion had been modified to turn her into a depot ship for the dive team. That meant the mess was big enough for everyone to sit.

“There has been a change in our orders,” Matt announced. That was met with attentive silence. “We’re to head for Arendal, where we are to assist in a salvage operation.” Matt looked around. “Any questions?”

“What are we to salvage?” Paulus asked.

“I don’t know yet.” Matt passed Paulus the message flimsy. “I guess we’ll find out when we get there.”

“It must be something big if we’re to go there instead of Husum,” Friedrich said.

Husum was to have been their base of operations for the salvage work in North Friesland. “I think the time for urgency at Husum is well and truly past, Friedrich. Anything that is still salvageable now will still be salvagable in a couple of weeks’ time.”

“You only expect to be at Arendal for a couple of weeks?” George asked.

Matt shrugged. “We’ll know for sure when we get there.”

Arendal

George sat cross-legged on the deck of the Red Lion in merino-wool combat-trousers and not a lot else, enjoying the sun on his back while he got filthy working on one of the spare compressors. That was what he’d been employed to do, and he couldn’t have been happier. Suddenly the ship’s dog shot to her feet and ran over to the side of the boat. George, as the only human aboard her at the moment, was the guard. He reached under his legs for the pistol he’d been ordered to always keep close. As he rose to his feet he tucked it in to the waistband at the small of his back. Only then did he approach the gunwale to see what had attracted Nixie. He was guessing that because the little scamp wasn’t barking her head off, it was her crewmates returning from shore. A quick glance over the side told him he’d guessed right.

He caught the line Matt threw him and pulled the dinghy against the Red Lion. Matt was the first off, to be quickly followed by the Red Lion‘s crew—Daniel Spieker and his son, Gottfried—and Paulus Hardenack, the dive team’s number two diver.

“Where is everyone?” Matt asked.

“They’re on the Crab, checking out the gear,” George said.

Matt nodded. “I’ll tell them what’s happening later then.” He grinned at George. “You’ll be pleased to hear that we were diverted here to rescue something for Glomfjord Hydro. Someone managed to lose a twenty-five kilowatt generator pack from a cargo net when they were unloading.”

George wasn’t happy to hear that. “Twenty-five kilowatts? What the heck? Derek was talking about megawatts. You’ll need dozens of those piddling little things to make as much power as he said Glomfjord was going to make.”

“It’s all right, George. This generator was for use here in Arendal. They are planning on using it to refine copper for the Glomfjord generators here in Arendal rather than buy refined copper from Grantville.”

“And they will use it to train operators,” Paulus said. “They need to get it out quickly before the salt water can damage anything.”

“You had me worried for a moment there,” George muttered. “Still, why did they need to call you in? Can’t they send down their own divers?”

“They tried. It’s too cold—the water’s only about forty degrees—and too murky at the bottom. Paulus and I are going to have to do a grid search, and hope the packing case held together.”

“How long do you think it’ll take?”

“Who knows? We might get lucky and find it this afternoon or . . . ”

“Or we might never find it,” Paulus said.

Matt slapped Paulus on the back. “Don’t be such a pessimist. We know roughly where to look. It just might take a few dives.”

****

Three days later, and they still hadn’t found the generator. Unless something went wrong, George was surplus to requirements when the team was diving. Not that he would wish anything to go wrong, but he was bored. He could volunteer to have a turn turning the crank on the compressor, but that wouldn’t alleviate the boredom. The only bright spots of the last few days had been when the divers sent up a lifting bag. There was a hint of excitement then, not just amongst the crew, but also the few people who’d gathered on the wharf to see what was happening.

A change in the repetitive noise of the compressor told the deck crew that a lifting bag was being filled. Those not involved in powering the compressors hurried to the gunwale to watch the bag break the surface.

They weren’t the only people to rush forward to get a good view. On the wharf the crowd surged closer. There was a scream, and a small body landed in the water. George and the others on the boat looked up in shock. The people on the wharf looked down in shock. Finally, a man jumped into the water after the child.

George expected to see the man surface and swim to the child, but after a dozen seconds the man still hadn’t surfaced. Nobody seemed to know what to do, so George took charge. “Get a scramble net,” he called to Jürgen before diving over the side.

The water was cold, but he had expected that—he’d been for a swim in the same waters with Matt and the other divers first thing that morning. He struck out in a distance-consuming crawl, reaching the small bundle that was the child in no time at all. He rolled the child over. It didn’t seem to be breathing. Using a life-saving hold he turned and headed back for the Crab where eager hands pulled the child out of the water.

“The man who dived in still hasn’t surfaced,” Jürgen said as he passed the child to Friedrich. He pointed in the general direction of where the man had entered the water and where a man on the wharf was dipping a pole into the water.

That gave George a place to aim for. He swam over and found that the man with the pole had pulled a body to the surface. George rolled it over and looked about for where to take it.

On the Crab the crew had the decompression stage in the water. That decided George. He could swim onto the stage and they could easily lift both of them out of the water.

The moment he had the man on the stage the crew lifted it. Finally out of the cold water George turned his attention to the man he’d rescued. George put a hand to the man’s throat, trying to find a pulse, but his hands were too cold for him to be sure that there was no pulse. Still, the man’s lips were turning blue. He took a risk and started CPR.

George didn’t notice when the stage settled on the deck. He was too busy muttering the cadence of CPR as he applied it. He was dragged clear and the body was pulled off the stage, then Jürgen took over the CPR. Suddenly George didn’t have anything to do, and the adrenaline in his system ran out.

****

George came to in a hammock in the Crab ‘s main cabin. He listened, and he heard strangers talking. He pulled away the covers and grabbed the bar above his head to pull himself out of the hammock. He lowered himself gently to the ground, not sure how well his legs would support him. They seemed to manage, so he let go and hunted around for some dry clothes. Then he headed up the steps to the deck.

The first thing he saw on deck was Matt examining a large packing case with a stranger. He wandered over. “Is this what you were looking for?” he asked Matt.

Matt jerked his head towards the stranger. “Trond here seems to think so.”

“Yes. We must get it to the warehouse so we can open the box and check for damage,” the young man said.

That drew George’s attention to the fact the Crab was tied up to the wharf, and a crowd had gathered. He backed away.

“Come on, George,” Matt said. “The family you rescued wants to thank you.”

George so didn’t want to do this, but Matt was insisting. He let Matt drag him towards the family. The father was all bundled up in blankets on a rescue stretcher while the child was safe in the arms of its mother. Maybe I can do this, George thought.

The woman said something in Norwegian and thrust the child towards George. That seemed to upset the child and it started to scream. Memories from ‘Nam hit George in a flood and he turned and ran for the gunwale, where he emptied his stomach into the sea below.

He was leaning on the gunwale waiting for his stomach to stop clenching when a strong arm was laid across his shoulders. “Are you all right?” Matt asked.

Of course he wasn’t all right. George ran his hands up and down on his trousers as he tried to clean them of the burned flesh they’d been covered in thirty years ago when the medic had passed him a screaming child badly burned by a napalm strike on a village. He swallowed and tried to speak, but nothing came out.

Matt patted him gently on the shoulder. “I’ll tell the family that you must have swallowed some of the water and you’re just brought it up.”

“Thanks,” George managed to mutter. With the gunwale as a support he watched Matt walk back to the family and make his excuses. He envied Matt his life. Heck, he even envied him having had Melvin Sutter on his back. Maybe if he’d had a Melvin Sutter of his own he’d never have dropped out of high school, which would have meant he might not have been drafted, or at least not sent to ‘Nam as a grunt. And then he wouldn’t have been so totally screwed up for the rest of his life. Matt was everything George wished he was, and thought he could have been.

****

The moment she heard about the loss of the generator Inger Mogensdotter had pulled every string she could to ensure the USE Navy dive team was sent to recover it. The recovery of that generator had been so urgent that she’d even forgotten that George Watson was with them. She’d seen everything clearly through her McNally Optics telescope. From the moment George Watson entered the water to that last moment when he cast envious eyes on the small family unit he’d saved.

Inger lowered the telescope and thought about the women she knew had been introduced to George Watson. None of them had had young children. Maybe that’s what she should be pushing in his direction.

Inger headed for her study to check the family records. There had to be some widow in the family with young children who was also young enough to have more children.

One thing was for sure. Inger wasn’t going to give up getting George Watson attached to her family.

****

 

 

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