November 1635, Tetschen, near the border between Saxony and Bohemia
John “Puss” Trelli knew someone somewhere had it in for him. Here he was, a poor sergeant in the army with a wife and a baby on the way. And what did the powers that be do? They assigned him to watch while they printed money. Well, maybe not money, just the next best thing—divisional chits being produced by Captain David Bartley.
He was sure he was drooling. Certainly the rest of his patrol was, as they watched the printers carefully line up the sheets over the plates for each new color. When that was done the finished sheets were cut into individual bills before a printer used a small press to add serial numbers.
Puss walked over to where the finished bills were being checked and stacked. It was there he realized that the gods had given him this assignment for a purpose. “Can I buy some of these, right now?” Puss asked the head printer.
“I don’t see why not,” Thomas Selfisch said. “But it’s one dollar per becky.”
Puss selected twenty one-becky bills and paid the nice man. Then, after asking for a receipt and something to protect them from being damaged, he wrapped everything together and slid the package into the sling that was supporting his right arm. He patted his package and went back to watching money being made. The rest of his patrol, having watched his every move, stepped up to purchase their own beckies.
In the Trelli residence John Trelli’s wife, Sveta Andreyevna, was the last person to sit at the dinner table.
“You’re running late today, Sveta,” Sue Trelli said.
“I’m sorry, Máma, I was trying to get rid of the smell of gunpowder from qualifying.”
“That’s right, you said you had your annual qualification today,” Felix, Sue’s husband, said. “How did you do?”
“Expert on the SRG, but only Marksman on the service revolver,” Sveta muttered. She’d expected to do better, but the trigger pull on the revolver she’d had for qualifying had been amazingly heavy.
“You don’t sound happy,” Katy Müller, one of a pair of sisters who boarded with the Trellis, said. “Surely you passed.”
Sveta nodded. “But a higher score is worth more points, and I need all the points I can get to make sergeant.”
“Why do you want to make sergeant? Because John is already a sergeant?” Katy’s sister Elisabeth asked.
“No. Because a sergeant gets paid more than a corporal.”
“I hope you haven’t caught John’s concern with money, Sveta. We’ll always be here for you,” Sue said.
Sveta patted her small baby bulge. “Thank you, but we can’t remain dependent on you.”
“Have you thought about writing a book?” Elisabeth asked.
Sveta snorted at that. Elisabeth was a published author and thought anybody could write a book. “My German isn’t good enough to write a book.”
“I’ll help you,” Elisabeth offered. “Now, what could you write about?”
“What about On His Majesty’s Secret Service?” Sue suggested. “Up-time, the books movies were based on always did well, and you’ve got all of John’s notes.”
On His Majesty’s Secret Service was a recently released movie based on a script by John “Puss” Trelli. Sveta had willingly transcribed several iterations of his story until they had a script that had almost been followed by the movie’s makers. Of course, when she’d been doing that she’d been trying to impress one of the people intent on making the movie, Jabe McDougal, but the less said about that, the better. “It’d be a very short book,” she said.
“That’s why it’s important you have John’s notes. That way you can pad it out with all the back story and everything else they couldn’t fit into the movie,” Sue said.
“But then it would be nothing like the movie,” Sveta protested.
“That never bothered Hollywood when they went the other way,” Felix said. “Often the only relationship between a book and the movie supposedly based on it was the title and the names of some of the characters.”
Sveta stared at her father-in-law. “They could do that?”
Felix nodded. “Hollywood used to do whatever they liked with a story. So there’s no reason you can’t go the other way. Mind, you’d probably be wise to include what happened in the movie.”
“Why don’t we visit my publisher and see if they are interested?” Elisabeth said.
Sveta thought about the last royalty check Elisabeth had shown everyone. It had been for a little over two thousand dollars, or about two months wages, and she’d written it while she was still working. “When?”
“Tomorrow?” Elisabeth suggested.
Sveta and Elisabeth returned from the visit to the offices of the Schmucker and Schwentzel Print Shop in Rudolstadt just as the sun was setting. They were met at the door by Sue Trelli.
“How did it go?” Sue asked.
“Not so good. They said I’m not the first person to think of writing a book about the movie, but that copyright laws mean they can’t touch anything the copyright holder hasn’t authorized.”
“But John’s the copyright holder, isn’t he?”
Sveta nodded. “Yes, but I need his permission before Schmucker and Schwentzel will even think about commissioning me to write the book.”
Elisabeth snorted. “They’re definitely interested, but they won’t touch Sveta’s book without permission from the copyright holder.”
“So the sooner you write to John for permission, the sooner you can get started,” Sue said.
Tetschen, a few days later
The garrison of Tetschen consisted of a single reinforced regiment of over a thousand men. Then there were the statutory camp followers and hangers-on, who brought the total number of new warm bodies in the city up to around two thousand souls. Such numbers could easily overwhelm the available services. That meant that sanitation control officers, or as they were sometimes called, “shitheads,” had to go around checking that the standards were being maintained. This wasn’t a term of endearment for the Medical Division’s men and women who were protecting them from illness. It was a term of abuse aimed at the men and women who were always asking for deeper trenches, or demanding that latrines be redug further away from the living quarters. They were even less popular when they did their rounds of the city proper.
Puss, with his collarbone still not completely healed after an incident back in Poland, was on light duty. That meant he got to escort a medical NCO as he conducted health checks. It was yet another thankless task dumped on the military police, much like checking the girls at the local brothels.
Corporal Bernhard Schmidt of the Medical Department came out of the tavern’s toilets with his nose all screwed up. By now Puss knew what that meant—a failing grade. He prepared himself for the expected fireworks.
“I’m closing you down until you get that cesspit you call a bathroom cleaned up,” Bernhard said as he made an entry in his notebook.
“You can’t do that!” Jan Berisch protested. “You have no authority to close me down,” he said as he crowded the much smaller medic.
“That is true,” Puss said as he interposed himself between the down-timers. At nearly six foot and filling out nicely, Puss was nearly a head taller than the tavern keeper and about the same mass, and even with his right arm in a sling he could be imposing when he made the effort. “However, Corporal Schmidt can proclaim your tavern off-limits to military personnel until it is brought up to standard.”
Jan snorted in derision. “And how much is it going to cost me to have this fixed?”
Puss ignored the not so subtle way the tavern keeper was fingering the purse hanging from his belt and looked down at Bernhard. “A new bathroom?”
“Just keeping the old one clean would do. And he needs to provide a means by which patrons can clean their hands after they have done their business.”
“There you are Herr Berisch. I’m sure that won’t cost more than a hundred beckies.” With a smile for the tavern keeper Puss turned and ushered Bernard out of the tavern.
Once on the street Bernhard made for the small hand cart that contained his tools and signs. He selected a pink-colored board and nailed it to the tavern door before standing back to admire his handiwork.
Jan Berisch had followed them out, and had stood silently watching while Corporal Schmidt had nailed the sign to the door. From the way he was looking at the sign Puss was sure he was thinking of removing the sign as soon as they were out of sight. “That sign better still be up when I next come around.”
“There’s nothing I can do about people stealing signs,” Jan said.
“Of course not,” Puss said mildly. “Of course, even if it was stolen, you wouldn’t allow soldiers to frequent your premises in violation of a sanitation order, now, would you?”
Bernhard snorted. “Wouldn’t he just,” he muttered just loud enough for Puss to hear.
Jan looked like he was thinking exactly the same thing, so Puss gave him something to think about. “The men might not be members of the Magdeburg Committee of Correspondence, but they are very aware of the importance of good sanitation.” He gave Jan his best sweet innocent smile as he let the unsaid message sunk in.
The paling of Jan’s face told him his message had been received. The stories of what the members of the Committee of Correspondence in Magdeburg were doing to people who violated the sanitation regulations had reached even this backwater. “Please send a message around to the Medical Department office when you have fixed things.”
“Things?” Jan muttered.
“Things,” Bernhard said as he handed Jan a formal sanitation violation notice.
Jan waved the notice. “I can’t afford to be closed while all this is being done.”
“And we can’t afford to have our men getting sick because of poor sanitation,” Puss said. He gestured for Bernhard to move on before turning to address Jan one last time. “The sooner you get everything up to standard the sooner you can let soldiers back through your doors. Until then . . .” Puss shrugged. He wasn’t that concerned about the man losing the custom of soldiers. There were plenty of establishments who were willing to abide by the sanitation regulations.
Puss followed Bernhard around several more taverns before the sinking sun spelled the end of yet another thrilling day in the life of a military policeman. He left Corporal Schmidt at the Medical Department clinic and headed for his quarters as the sun sank below the surrounding hills. His military police detachment had been offered a permanent space in the castle, but Puss had opted instead to have a tent. Not only was it warmer than a room in the castle, but he and his men actually had more space. It was also more secure. In the castle they might have had a door they could lock, but their tent was inside the perimeter of Captain Casper Havemann’s infantry company. Normally that might not have been considered a safe place for a detachment of military policemen, but Puss’ patrol had a special relationship with Casper’s company. Not only had they fought together at Zielona Góra, but Puss had also saved their captain’s life and led the company in a successful fighting withdrawal. And, speaking of Captain Havemann, there he was, sitting on one of the cots, watching three members of his patrol playing cards.
“Hi, everyone. Captain, what brings you to our humble abode?” he asked as he entered.
“I was admiring your tent. I intend copying everything you’ve done.”
The tent was a standard high-wall internal-frame campaign tent with a camp stove, but Puss and his team had done what they could to make it as comfortable as possible. First there was the raised plank floor. That got everything off the ground, and then there was the tent-fly—a large sheet of canvas stretched over a ridge-pole that covered not just the tent, but some of the area around it. It provided a sheltered veranda type area over the door, but the principle benefit of the tent-fly was that you could touch the tent’s canvas when it was raining and it wouldn’t leak. In a piece of smart thinking, Corporal Hermann Behrns, one of his patrol, had insisted that the fly’s ridge-pole be canted so that any water penetrating the fly would run down the pole and drip safely on the ground at the back of the tent, and not on the top of it.
“I’m sure you’re impressed Captain, but . . .”
Casper smiled. “You are, of course, correct. I am here to beg the loan of your up-time binoculars.”
“What do you need them for?” Puss asked as he opened the trunk at the foot of his cot to search for the binocular case.
“I’ve been ordered to reconnoiter the fortress at Königstein.”
That was a fortress controlling the road and the Elbe River between Tetschen and Dresden. Technically it was in enemy hands, but the garrison wasn’t trying to obstruct the movements of troops and supplies, at the moment. “And you want the best optics you can get,” Puss said as he passed them over.
“I’ll take good care of them,” Casper promised as he stood to accept them. “If there is ever anything you need, you know who to talk to.”
“Corporal Schlegel,” Puss named Casper’s company clerk.
“Precisely. Now, having gotten what I came for, I must be off.”
Corporal Michael Cleesattel waited until the captain was gone before speaking. “How did your day go?” he asked Puss.
“About what you’d expect. We had to close down one tavern, and warn another couple to brush up their sanitation. Yourself?”
“A few warnings, but the tip about a twelve-year-old working at Schön’s was on the money,” Michael said. “Anna persuaded the kid to leave with her and Yorick. Hermann went with them.”
Anna was Corporal Hermann Behrns’ significant other and she’d demonstrated an ability to deal sympathetically with traumatized women and children back in Poland. Yorick, the dog Puss had adopted in Poland, had also been a great help there. “How did Schön take the girl walking out?” Puss asked.
“He didn’t like it, but he paid her out the monies she was due and let her go. What else could he do?” Corporal Lenhard Poppler asked.
“Nothing,” Puss admitted. Prostitution, even of twelve-year-old girls, was legal in Tetschen. Sexual slavery, though, was highly illegal. “I wonder if any of the other girls will follow suit.”
“It’s possible,” Michael said. “There’s plenty of honest work in Tetschen for anybody who wants it.”
The sun had set well before Sveta got home from another busy day working at the Armed Forces Press Division Grantville office. She removed her outdoor coat and swapped her boots for slippers in the mudroom before entering the warmth of the kitchen. The first person she saw was her mother-in-law. Sue Trelli was putting the finishing touches to the dinner the housekeeper had left in the oven.
“There’s some mail for you from John,” Sue announced when she saw who’d entered, “and Felix has something for you.”
Sveta diverted to the tray where incoming mail was left and plucked out the parcel from her husband in its easily identified Military Mail envelope. Normally John just sent letters, but there was something other than a simple letter in this package. She used the letter opener to break the seal and peeked in as she made her way up stairs to her room. There was a letter and five smaller parcels. She tipped them out onto the bed. One of the smaller parcels had John’s name and number on it, and Sveta recognized the names on the other four as belonging to his military police patrol. She broke open the parcel with John’s name on it, and stared at the twenty pieces of paper inside. She knew what they were, as the news of the Third Division’s new scrip had reached her office, but she didn’t understand why John was sending them home. She put the beckies to one side and picked up his letter.
Sveta walked down the stairs not really any the wiser. She needed help, and went in search of John’s father. She found him in the study with his feet up and his head in a book. “Pápa, John sent these home.” She handed him the parcel of beckies.
Felix opened the package and looked at the first becky. Then he looked at the second. A moment later he was laying them out on his desk. “Oh, boy!” he said after laying out all twenty bills. “Where did he get these?”
Sveta held up the letter. “He says he and his patrol were assigned to guard the print shop where the beckies were being printed, and they all bought some.”
“He did more than buy some,” Felix said. “He bought the very first twenty one-becky bills to be printed.”
She could see her father-in-law was excited, but why would he excited by twenty dollars in paper money? “What’s so special about that?”
“It makes them potentially very valuable. Back up-time, mint condition, uncirculated number ones were selling for three thousand dollars. Of course, the number twos were selling for only seven hundred dollars.”
Sveta looked at the beckies and wondered what they might be worth. “And numbers three through twenty?”
“A couple of hundred dollars.”
She did the mental calculations and stared at Felix in disbelief. “Those pieces of paper are worth over seven thousand dollars?”
Felix shook his head. “Right now they’re probably worth no more than a hundred dollars, two hundred max. But in a few years . . . you could take your seven thousand and add a zero or two.”
“Now that’s just getting ridiculous. No one would pay seven hundred thousand dollars for few bits of paper.”
Felix grinned. “Okay, so two zeros might be pushing it. Still, one day, a collector might be willing to pay a small fortune for them.”
Slightly mollified by the “one day” qualifier, Sveta passed him the packages with John’s men’s names on them. “John told me to ask you to put them somewhere safe.”
Felix accepted the four additional packages and put them and John’s beckies into a drawer. “Remember how you said you could have done better in your qualifying if you’d had your own revolver?”
Sveta nodded. “The trigger on the revolver they gave me was almost impossible to squeeze.”
“Training weapon,” Felix said knowledgably. “They keep the triggers heavy in those so recruits can’t fire them accidentally.”
“It would be nice if people could fire them deliberately,” Sveta muttered. She was still annoyed at only qualifying as marksman on the service revolver.
Felix lifted a canvas bag out from under his desk and laid it on the table. “I agree, so I talked to Caleb about getting a couple of the new H&K Army revolvers. One for you, and one for John.” He removed a wooden gun box from the bag and passed it to Sveta.
Even knowing how heavy the service H&K Remington had been, the weight of the box came as a surprise. She managed to place it in front of her without dropping it and opened the box to reveal a revolver and the usual cleaning kit. She recognized immediately that this revolver had a swing-out cylinder, which meant it was a cartridge weapon. She thumbed the latch and gently swung out the cylinder. It was a standard six-shooter, and it was empty. “Can I dry fire it?” she asked.
“Sure. It’s a double action, so you don’t have to manually cock it, but it’s still got the factory default trigger setting. So it might be a bit heavy.”
Sveta aimed at a vase on a bookshelf across the room and squeezed the trigger. Or at least she tried to squeeze it. She had to hold the revolver with both hands before she could cycle it. The second shot didn’t come any easier. She turned to Felix. “I couldn’t even shoot Marksman with this.”
Felix held out a hand for the revolver. “All it needs is a little fine tuning. Then we’ll visit the range so you can fire it.”
Tetschen, late November
There was a rap of knuckles on the timber frame of the tent and Corporal Georg Schlegel poked his head through the flap. “Mail for Trelli, Poppler, Cleesattel, and Klein.”
“Come on in,” Michael invited the company clerk.
Georg entered with a couple of CARE parcels under his arms and some letters in his hand. He handed CARE parcels to Puss and Lenhard, and gave letters to Michael and Thomas. “What about Corporal Behrns?” Puss asked. “Didn’t he get any mail?”
“Private Kühn is delivering mail to those living in lodgings, Sergeant,” Georg said as he moved closer to the pot bellied stove heating the tent. “Do you mind if I warm myself by your stove?”
“Sure. Help yourself to some soup if you want,” Puss said.
While Georg helped himself to some of the soup simmering on the stove, Puss turned to the important task of opening his parcel. The tent was quiet while the four men caught up on the news for home. Puss, reading the letter from his wife, chuckled.
“What’s amused you, Sarge?” Michael asked.
“Sveta wants to try her hand at writing a book based on the script I wrote, but she needs my permission before a publisher will even look at it.”
“Why?” Thomas asked. “I didn’t think American wives needed their husband’s permission to do anything.”
“They don’t, but the copyright laws mean no USE publisher will touch a manuscript based on my story without my written authorization.” Puss waved the form that had accompanied Sveta’s letter. “Who would be the best person to certify I signed this?”
“I would be,” Georg said. “I have the company seal. If you would be so good as to follow me to my office, I can do that for you now and put it in the next post.”
It took longer to prepare for the cold than it did to walk across to Georg’s office and sign and seal the document. Georg slid the form into an official envelope and carefully wrote Sveta’s name and address on it.
Suddenly they heard shouting and a soldier pushed his way into the office. “They’re all dead! They’re all dead!” Private Wolfgang Kühn cried the moment he saw Corporal Schlegel.
“Who is all dead, Private Kühn?” Georg asked the young soldier.
“Corporal Behrns, Frau Krohne, and the girl staying with them.”
Puss stared at the man in disbelief. “You’re sure?”
Wolfgang held up his bloodied hands. “They’re dead. They’ve all had their heads smashed in.”
Puss had personally smashed the head of a possibly rabid dog’s head in and knew what it had looked like. He shook his head to try and rid it of the vision the man’s words inspired. “We’d better get there and check.”
Georg shoved the letter he was holding under his coat as he got to his feet. “You’ll need a skilled tracker to follow the perpetrators. I’ll find someone.”
“Meet us at Corporal Behrns’ lodgings,” Puss called as he left Georg’s office.
The sun was low in the sky as Puss and his men hurried up the street toward the house where Hermann and Anna were staying. Neighbors were crowding the doorway. When they saw Puss and his men approaching they opened a path.
“It’s not pretty,” a woman warned.
“Have you been in?” Puss asked, worrying about the destruction of evidence.
“Just to confirm that they were all dead.” The woman laid bloodied hands on Puss’ coat. “You are going to make whoever did this pay?”
Puss nodded. Then he gently pushed the woman away so he could enter the room. With the sun setting it was too dark to see much. “I need a light,” he called through the door.
A couple of minutes later Michael entered with a copy of an up-time hurricane lamp. Under its weak yellow light Puss cast his gaze around the room. It was a shambles, with furniture and the straw packing from the mattress strewn everywhere. There had been a struggle, but Anna and Hermann had lost. Anna lay on the floor, a bloodied meat-cleaver beside her. She’d been killed by multiple blows from a blunt instrument, so the blood on the cleaver wasn’t hers.
He checked Hermann next. He’d gone down fighting, but he’d still gone down. That left the girl, and Yorick. Puss had to force himself to walk to the back of the room where the bed was. As he approached the lamp illuminated the scene. It wasn’t pretty. The girl had tried to protect herself from the blows by curling into a ball, and then there was Yorick.
Puss ran a hand down the broken body. Yorick had fought to the end. One of his canines was broken, and there were bits of cloth caught on his teeth. Tears ran down his cheeks as he caressed the bloodied head.
Corporal Michael Cleesattel glanced at Sergeant Trelli. He looked distracted, pained even. Michael edged closer to see what was so interesting, and saw Yorick. He stood and gestured for Lenard and Thomas to follow him.
“What’s wrong with Sarge?” Lenhard asked.
“They killed Yorick,” Michael explained.
“Bastards!” Thomas muttered. “What do we do now?”
“Catch whoever is responsible,” Michael said.
Corporal Schlegel and a dozen soldiers were waiting for them when they stepped out of the house. “Where is Sergeant Trelli?” Georg asked.
“They killed Yorick,” Michael said. For most people the idea that a dog was dead wouldn’t explain their absence, but Captain Havemann’s company knew Sergeant Trelli was a softy when it came to his horse and dog.
“Will he be all right?” Georg asked.
“He just needs time,” Michael said. “And catching the people responsible will go a long way to helping him.”
“Then we are in luck. Private Steger has found a trail of blood. It should be a simple matter to follow them to their lair,” Georg said.
“Then what are we waiting for?” Lenhard asked.
Michael glanced towards the room Sergeant Trelli was in. “Thomas, can you try and get Sarge to follow us?”
Thomas nodded and headed back into the room.
“Right, let’s be off, then,” Michael told the waiting soldiers.
The trail led straight to the back entrance to Schön’s brothel, something that came as no surprise to Michael. He checked the men Corporal Schlegel had brought with him and smiled. Only four of them were carrying guns, but they were new-build pump-action shotguns. The other men weren’t exactly unarmed either, having a mix of two-handed axes and wrecking bars. It was possible that Georg had picked his men deliberately, because they had the appearance of an entry team from the house-to-house fighting at Zielona Góra.
Michael was inclined to just point them at the door and tell them to do their stuff, but he was a police officer, and the law of the land applied to him as well as everyone else. He advanced on the door and thumped on it with the butt of his revolver. When someone slid open the peep-slot he lifted his lantern so they could see his uniform. “Police. Three dangerous criminals have come this way. For your own safety, let us in.”
“I’ll have to check with the boss,” the face in the slot said.
That, as far as Michael was concerned, was an attempt to delay the police, and it was all the excuse he needed to unleash violence. “Stand back from the door,” he ordered before standing aside for the entry team to do their thing. They weren’t a police entry team. The men Michael had unleashed were low on legal niceties, but strong on brute force. Two solid slugs smashed into the door jamb before a third soldier slammed shoulder-first into the door. He bounced off, but the door was loosened. A wrecking bar went to work and the door swung open.
Michael followed the entry team in, his revolver in one hand and a lantern in the other. They advanced past the cowering doorman and along a corridor. He could see the recently washed floor the entry team was following and gestured for the people behind him to follow. He was happy to see Thomas bringing up the rear with Sergeant Trelli
They followed the wet floor into a main corridor, where they found a maid cowering in a corner with a mop in her hands. Michael holstered his revolver and relieved the woman of her mop. “Blood?” he asked. She nodded. “Which way did they go?”
The woman didn’t say anything but she sent a quick glance down the corridor. That was enough for Michael. He gave her back the mop and directed her back the way he’d come. “Get out. You’ll be safer outside.”
The woman hadn’t taken more than a dozen steps before three men entered the corridor from the other end. Two of them were armed. The third was Matthias Schön, the proprietor. “What is the meaning of this outrage?” he demanded.
“Hot pursuit,” Michael said. “We’ve followed three murderers into your establishment. For your own safety, I recommend that you leave until we have dealt with them.
One of the men looked like he wanted to use his pistol, but Matthias pushed the weapon down. “Why would murderers come into my establishment?”
“Maybe because they work for you,” Lenhard suggested from behind Michael.
“That is slanderous!”
“The truth can’t be slanderous,” Lenhard muttered just loud enough for Michael to hear.
Michael ignored Lenhard and concentrated on keeping moving. He would have elbowed Matthias to one side as he went past, but the soldier ahead of him got to him first. He could see faces in doorways looking out into the corridor. There would be hell to pay if there were civilian casualties, so he stopped to call out. “Everybody! Out now. I can’t guarantee your safety if you stay. Three armed and dangerous men have entered these premises. They have killed before, and have nothing to lose. So get out now.”
There was screaming and squealing as people started moving. Corporal Schlegel’s men guided people out of the building, except for Matthias and his two bodyguards, who stayed where they were.
“You too, Herr Schön. It’s not safe for you to stay,” Michael told him.
“I’m not leaving.”
Michael shrugged. He wasn’t overly concerned about Schön’s personal safety. “On your own head be it.” He turned to a couple of soldiers. “Take their guns.”
Schön’s bodyguards looked to resist giving up their weapons, until they realized they were facing half-a-dozen soldiers carrying a variety of weapons that they seemed only too eager to use. Corporal Schlegel took possession of the guns and tried to find somewhere to put them. In the end he opened his coat and thrust them under his belt, not noticing the envelope that fell from his coat, but Matthias Schön did. He bent down to retrieve it, but a foot from one of the men with Georg landed on it first. Matthias backed away while the solider picked it up and passed it back to Georg, who pushed it into an internal pocket of his coat.
With potential innocents clear and the risk of being shot from behind alleviated, Michael hastened after the entry team, who’d continued to follow the trail of blood. He was too late to give instructions, as the corporal in charge of the entry team positioned his men either side of the door and thumped the door with the butt of his shotgun. “Police! You’re surrounded. Surrender or prepare to die.”
Two shots smashed through the thin internal door about where a man’s stomach would have been if he’d been standing in front of the door. Then one of the entry team kicked open the door and they went in shooting. Michael followed, barely able to see anything in the gun smoke generated by over a dozen black-powder rounds being fired in such a confined space.
Puss became aware that he was staring at Matthias Schön, the man who, if he didn’t actually kill Yorick and the others, was certainly responsible for their deaths. He walked up to Matthias, took two fistfuls of his jacket and hauled him off his feet and shook him. “Why did you do it? What were they looking for?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Matthias said as he struggled in Puss’ grip.
His bodyguards made as if to interfere. “Back off!” Thomas ordered them before putting a hand on Puss’ shoulder and shaking him. “Let him go, Sarge.”
Puss let him go. Matthias might have fallen if one of his bodyguards hadn’t steadied him.
“You were providing sanctuary to a pack of murderers,” Thomas said.
Matthias brushed the wrinkles Puss’ grip had made in his clothes with his hands. “Clearly, I am at fault for allowing those men into my establishment, but they claimed they had been caught up in a fight. As for what they were looking for? Money of course, what else do petty criminals look for?”
“Hermann and Anna wouldn’t have had more than twenty dollars between them,” Thomas said. “People don’t commit multiple murder and ransack a place like their room was for the kind of money a soldier might have hidden.”
“But it is common knowledge that the five of you have the very first beckies that were printed, and everyone knows such low serial number bills are worth three thousand dollars each.”
“Anybody trying to find those beckies in Hermann’s lodgings was wasting their time. The Sarge sent them to his family in Grantville for safe keeping,” Thomas said.
Matthias looked back towards the room where the murderers had been held up. “But would they have known that?”
It was all too logical, and Puss was starting to worry that they wouldn’t be able to hang anything on Matthias. Then Lenhard stepped out of the room and looked their way. “You might want to arrest Herr Schön.”
“On what charge?” Matthias demanded. “You can’t even prove those men were your murderers.”
Lenhard held up a revolver in each hand. “Corporal Behrns’ revolvers. I’d sure like to hear how they came by them if they aren’t the murderers.”
“But the only people who could tell you that are dead,” Matthias said.
“Whatever makes you think that?” Lenhard asked.
Matthias looked suggestively at the gun smoke still drifting around the room Lenhard had walked out of.
Lenhard smiled and called back. “Michael, Herr Schön thinks they’re all dead.”
Michael Cleesattel appeared at the door and smiled at Matthias. “I’m happy to be able to tell you that only one of your men is dead, and with proper medical attention the other two will live to have their day in court.”
Puss had been distracted by Michael appearing at the door; otherwise Matthias might not have got away. But he had been, and Matthias did. He pushed one of his bodyguards into Puss and shot into a room, slamming the door shut behind him. Puss was slow to react, and tried to make up for it by going into the door shoulder first. Fortunately it was his left shoulder, but the recently healed right clavicle protested at the shock of impact.
The interior doors in a brothel aren’t normally designed to do much more than provide privacy. They certainly weren’t designed to stop two hundred odd pounds of angry male slamming into them. When Puss bounced he knew this wasn’t a working room. Before he could do anything more he was pulled to one side as axes were swung at the plastered brick interior wall beside the latch.
The wall wasn’t designed for that kind of punishment and a hole big enough for Thomas to look through was soon made. He fired two rapid shots. There was the sound of glass breaking and something falling to the ground outside.
“He escaped through the window,” Thomas said as he put a hand through the hole to unlatch the door.
An hour later
Matthias Schön got away. Private Steger had done his best, but too many people had walked across the streets Matthias had used for his escape. The brothel was empty of all but the military police and Corporal Schlegel. The soldiers, under the command of Corporal Martin Knorre, had taken the wounded men to the Medical Department clinic.
Puss and his patrol were sitting in on anything they could find in Schön’s office watching Corporal Georg Schlegel searching through Schön’s desk. Of course it wasn’t a desk as Puss knew desks. It was more of a lectern, with nearby drawers and cupboards packed full of papers and boxes.
“I still don’t understand why Herr Schön would want to kill everyone,” Hermann said.
“Pimps don’t like girls walking out like that. It gives the other girls ideas,” Puss said.
“But that’s no reason to kill people. A simple working over would be enough to send a message to their other girls,” Michael said.
“Maybe Corporal Behrns and Anna came to the girl’s defense,” Puss suggested.
“Yeah,” Michael said. “I can’t see Hermann or Anna just standing by and watching a girl being beaten up.
“Okay, so that explains why everyone was killed, but why was the room turned over like that?” Thomas asked. “I mean, they even emptied the mattress,”
“They were looking for beckies,” Michael said. “At least that’s what they say they were told to look for.
“But we sent them to Grantville,” Lenhard said.
“Herr Schön didn’t know that,” Georg said.
Puss shook his head. “Even if they were worth three grand each, that’d be small change compared with what this place is bringing in.”
“Herr Schön doesn’t own this establishment, Sergeant Trelli,” Georg said. “It is owned by the city council. He was just the manager.”
“It still doesn’t make sense,” Puss muttered.
Early morning, Thursday, November 29, Grantville
Sveta Andreyevna woke with a start, her heart racing. What had woken her? Surely she was safe in her husband’s bedroom in his parent’s house? She felt a weight moving up the bed and took in a deep breath in preparation to screaming. And then she heard it, the self-satisfied purr of a cat secure in the knowledge that she had just terrified a human.
She poked her head out from under the covers and stared into the murky blackness where the purr was coming from. “You’ve had your fun, now get lost,” Sveta muttered towards the Trelli family’s cat.
Naturally, Hero, who was nothing like her namesake in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, completely ignored her. Instead of graciously jumping off the bed and leaving the room, she continued her majestic march up the bed until she reached Sveta’s face.
Something cold and wet bumped into Sveta’s face. That was bad enough, but Hero insisted in breathing right under her nose. Sveta didn’t quite gag, but even lutfisk smelt better than whatever Hero had been eating. She freed an arm from under the covers and tried to push the cat away, but the silly animal seemed to think Sveta wanted to play.
The phone rang and Sveta froze in mid-push. Surely it was too late for people to be calling? She turned on the bedside lamp and checked the time on her watch. It was just after midnight, and telephone calls after midnight were never good. She used both hands to move Hero so she could get out of bed. She thrust her feet into her sheepskin slippers and grabbed the robe from its hook on the back of the door. In the light of the bed lamp she could see Hero making herself comfortable.
She was beaten to the phone by Sue Trelli. “It’s the duty operator from your office,” Sue said, handing over the phone.
Sveta felt her stomach clench. There was no good reason for the duty operator to call her. Not at this time of night. “Sveta speaking.”
The news wasn’t as bad as she’d feared, but it wasn’t good. She hung up, and turned to Sue, who’d been joined by her husband. “Our man in Tetschen just filed a breaking news story that John’s patrol was involved in a raid on a brothel, and that there are six dead.”
“John?” Sue asked as she held on tightly to her husband.
“He’s okay, but at least one of his men is dead.” Sveta retired to her room where she slumped onto the bed. Hero nudged her, and Sveta started to caress the cat as she wondered about her feelings. Of course she was extremely relieved that John was okay because of how it would affect Máma and Pápa. It couldn’t possibly be because she had feelings for her husband. She was aware of a pair of arms wrapping around her, and she buried her head into Máma’s shoulder as the tears fell.
Later that morning Sveta was back at work at the Joint Armed Services Press Division, Grantville Office. The events in Tetschen had only rated an easily-missed column-inch on page four of the Grantville papers. There were more important things to worry about than a raid on a brothel in some remote and unimportant outpost. Gustav’s health and the debate about the succession continued to dominate the news, especially after the assassination of the queen and narrow escape of Princess Kristina and her betrothed. And of course, there was always the war. In her reading of the paper, Sveta almost missed the notice asking all people who’d traveled on the previous evening’s train to contact the Sanitary Commission. She read it, but was none the wiser as to why the Sanitary Commission wanted to talk to them.
Just after noon a messenger arrived with the mail sack. Sveta took it into Lieutenant Johann Dauth’s office. “What’s happening in Tetschen?” she asked as she handed it over.
“Give me a chance to open it,” Johann protested as cut off the seal.
Sveta pulled up a chair and sat opposite Johann as she waited. He opened an envelope to reveal three letters. Johann slid two of them across the desk to Sveta and picked up the other one. After a quick glance he quickly tossed that towards Sveta as well. “The company clerk at Tetschen apologizes for using the official post bag for personal letters, but he’s sure I’ll understand.” He looked at Sveta “Why should I understand?”
“I don’t know.” Sveta looked at the letters. One was obviously a legal document, but someone had been careless with it, as it had a dirty footprint on it. The other was just a standard military mail service letter. The return addresses didn’t help, because they both listed John as the sender. She opened the legal letter first, and smiled when she saw what it was. “It’s John giving me permission to write a book based on his movie script.”
“I don’t think that can be what Corporal Schlegel meant,” Johann said, staring at the other letter.
Sveta turned her eyes to the other envelope. Surely if John was okay he would have written? The fact that there was no letter from him in the mail sack scared her. Finally she reached down and broke the seal. Then she slowly opened the letter. The first place she looked was to see who’d sent the letter.
“It’s from Corporal Cleesattel, one of John’s men.” She read a little of the letter. “John is okay, but Corporal Behrns and his partner were killed, as was a twelve-year-old girl they were looking after. Oh, and they murdered Yorick as well.” Sveta lowered the letter and stared at the wall. John had talked a lot about Yorick in his letters. For someone to go from terrified of dogs to having one as a pet said a great deal about the bond between them, and then to find his pet bludgeoned to death . . . She wasn’t surprised that Corporal Cleesattel thought John was taking Yorick’s death hard.
“Okay, so maybe I forgive him for sending that letter by special channels,” Johann said. “Anything else?”
“Just a few more details about what happened.”
“Right then, you’ve got what you came for. How about getting back where you belong and doing some work?”
Sveta took the not-so-subtle hint and hurried back to her desk. The first thing she did was add the permission form to the outgoing mail. Then she got back to reading the latest reports on the health of the king.
Sveta was sitting comfortably on the sofa stroking Hero, who was purring like a buzz saw, watching television with the rest of the household when the phone rang. All eyes turned to Felix Trelli as he picked it up.
“It’s for you, Sveta. Dr. Shipley’s office.”
Sveta stared at the phone as if it was a dangerous snake before accepting it. “Sveta Andreyevna speaking.” She listened as she was told what her life was going to be for the next couple of weeks and hung up. She smiled at the rest of the household as she made her way back to her seat and returned to Hero. She needed the comfort stroking the cat gave her.
“What was that about?” Sue Trelli asked.
“There has been an outbreak of measles, and because they don’t know if I have ever had measles, Dr. Shipley wants me to stay at home until the outbreak is under control,” Sveta said.
“That’d be wise, dear,” Sue said. “If a pregnant woman catches measles it can damage the unborn child.”
Sveta swallowed. “Damage?”
“Deafness, blindness, mental retardation: lots of things,” Sue said.
“Oh!” Sveta ran a hand protectively over her swollen belly. Any intention she might have had to protest had been silenced by what Máma had said.
“You’ll be able to work on your book,” Elisabeth suggested.
That wasn’t a great help. Sveta was used to being around people these days. She liked having people around her. She glanced down at Hero. It looked like the two of them were going to get very well acquainted.
Over the weekend, the Sanitary Commission had been flooding the airwaves and papers with news of the measles outbreak, announcing travel restrictions, and the fact that the school term would finish early for the Christmas break, so it hadn’t come as much of a surprise to Lieutenant Johann Dauth when Sveta rang to tell him that she was under doctor’s orders not to leave the house until the new year.
Just because the schools were closed to students didn’t mean they were closed to staff, or that other businesses were closed. So Pápa, Máma, Elisabeth, and even Elisabeth’s baby sister, Katy, had abandoned her while they went to work. It did mean Sveta could get on with her book, and thanks to the wonders of John’s desktop computer, she was making good progress. She would have made better progress but for the other three inhabitants of the house.
There was, of course, Hero, who having finally decided to accept Sveta insisted on visiting her all the time. A cat walking over a keyboard was amusing. Once. When she kept on doing it, it ceased to be amusing. Sveta had finally been forced to deposit her outside the room and shut the door on her.
Then there was the housekeeper and her baby. Magdalena Meyerschmidt was a happily married woman of about thirty that the Trellis had employed after a spate of burglaries of houses left unoccupied during the day. It was a mutually satisfactory arrangement. Sue Trelli had someone happy to clean the house and do the other domestic chores while she was at work, and Magdalena had a job that allowed her work and care for her baby. Only now, because of the measles outbreak, Magdalena and her baby had moved in with the Trellis for the duration.
The baby was a distraction because she was a baby and Sveta couldn’t help wandering downstairs every now and again to look at her. Magdalena was a distraction because she was not only a good cook, but she was operating under instructions from Máma to make sure Sveta ate properly. Just thinking about Magdalena had Sveta salivating. She sniffed the air and detected sure signs that something interesting was happening in the kitchen. Sveta followed the tantalizing smell to its source.
“Sit down,” Magdalena insisted the moment Sveta entered the kitchen.
She had barely sat before a snack and glass of milk appeared in front of her. The snack was welcome, the milk not so welcome. Milk used to be a rare treat, but since joining the Trelli family she’d seen a lot more of it. Too much more. Máma insisted that a pregnant woman needed to drink plenty of milk for her and the baby’s health. With Magdalena watching over her, Sveta dutifully drank it all down. It wasn’t that there was anything wrong with drinking milk. She just didn’t see why she had to drink it with every meal.
“How is the book going?” Magdalena asked, returning to chopping vegetables for the evening meal.
Sveta thought of the manuscript currently saved on her computer. She knew how she wanted to start and finish it. It was just the bit in the middle that was causing her problems. “John’s story calls for a fight scene where the hero beats a villain who is bigger and stronger than he is, but I don’t see how he can win.”
“I’m sure your husband knew what he was doing when he wrote the scene.”
“It was flashy nonsensical Hollywood style fighting,” Sveta said. “I grew up with four older half-brothers, and I know how hard it is to beat someone with a greater reach and more strength.”
“So do what women have always done, and fight smarter. Use whatever is lying around as a weapon.”
“Like a knife?”
“That’s probably a bit too obvious for a hero like Commander Erik Zeetrell.” Suddenly Magdalena grinned. “What about a skillet or rolling pin?”
Those were two of the classic up-time woman’s weapons. Usually used against an erring husband, they would have been a comical moment in a story staring Erik Zeetrell. “But then the fight would have to be in a kitchen, and I can’t really see Commander Zeetrell in a kitchen.”
“I can,” Magdalena said. “Your problem is you’re thinking too small. Put the fight in the kitchen of a castle. Then you could even have him fighting with roasting spits.”
“Or swinging at each other with fish,” Sveta said, getting into the spirit of things. “Thank you, Magda.” She wrapped her arms around in the housekeeper to give her a quick hug before heading back to her room, her head brimming with ideas.
Sveta was in her room hard at work when Magdalena knocked lightly on the door. “Yes?” she called.
The door opened and Magdalena poked her head into the room. “I’m just slipping out for a moment to do some shopping. Can you keep an ear out for Maria for me?”
“Sure, just leave the door open so I can hear her if she wakes up.”
“Thank you. I shouldn’t be long.”
Sveta sat and listened to Magdalena’s firm tread as she walked down the stairs. Moments later she heard the back door open and close. Now she was alone in the house. Except for Hero, who had taken advantage of the open door and chose that moment to jump on her desk and trail her tail under Sveta’s nose. Sveta took that as a sign that it was time for a cup of tea and started saving and backing up her files.
Hero followed Sveta down the stairs and into the living room where both of them checked the sleeping Maria. Then they moved to the kitchen. Hero, ever hopeful, walked around under Sveta’s feet while she filled the kettle and plugged it in. While the kettle heated up Sveta emptied the tea pot outside and put a handful of dried cat food on a clean saucer for Hero.
She’d just unplugged the kettle and was about to start filling the tea pot when the kitchen door burst open, slamming against the wall. Sveta swung her head round, all ready to ask Magdalena what was wrong. But it wasn’t Magdalena at the door. It was a disheveled man. A very angry disheveled man.
“Where are my beckies?” the man demanded as he confronted Sveta from across the kitchen.
Sveta had no idea who the man was, or what he was talking about. What she did know was that he was a threat and she had to get away from him. The only reason he hadn’t already grabbed her was because the kitchen table was between them, but now he was walking around one side. The Trelli household was a typical West Virginian household, so there were plenty of guns in the house. Unfortunately, it was also a safety-minded typical West Virginian household, and so there wasn’t a loaded gun in every room. However, Sveta did know the location of one loaded gun, and that was in her room. The trouble was the man would probably catch her before she could get to it. What she needed was some way to slow him down, and the last few days of thinking about fighting with expedient weapons came to her aid. She didn’t even have to look very far. She already had maybe the perfect weapon in her hand.
The man was still blathering on about his beckies when Sveta started swinging the kettle. He put his hand up to deflect a thrown kettle, but Sveta didn’t let go. She swung it in an arc, and as it came round, she tipped it so near-boiling water cascaded from the spout.
The man screamed and Sveta took off. Her heart was pounding so loudly she couldn’t tell if she was being followed. She reached her room and grabbed her revolver from its holster and hurried back to the door thumbing back the hammer as she moved, the nearly three-pound weight feather-light in her hands. She got to the top of the stairs just in time. The intruder was halfway up and moving fast.
“Bitch! You’ll pay for that. Where are my beckies?” he demanded.
Sveta didn’t know or care what the man was talking about. She took aim at his center of mass and started shooting. The booms of the gunshots echoed through the house as she fired until the man fell. Then there was silence.
Sveta sat at the top of the stairs as her body started to shake. She dropped the revolver to the floor and hugged herself.
A baby’s cries cut through the silence, and Sveta slowly got to her feet. She’d completely forgotten about Maria. As she stepped over the body of the man who’d burst in to the house she heard police sirens in the distance.
Puss walked into the canteen just like he did nearly every day, but today was different. He could feel the eyes following him as he collected his food and carried his tray to the table where he and his men usually ate. The chairs had been shuffled around so there were no empty chairs where Hermann Behrns and Anna would normally have sat. He laid his tray down on the table and sat. “Why’s everyone watching me?” he asked.
“You haven’t seen the Grantville papers?” Corporal Georg Schlegel asked.
Puss let out a resentful sigh. “No, what are they saying about me this time?”
“It’s not you, Sarge,” Michael Cleesattel said.
“Yeah! That wife of yours made the front page,” Lenhard Poppler said.
“She’s all right?” Puss asked.
“Yes, Sarge,” Thomas Klein said. “She’s covered herself in glory.”
Puss had been fairly sure that the guys wouldn’t have been so full of humor if anything had happened to Sveta, but it was nice to have it confirmed. “Glory? How? She’s in military public relations.”
“She bagged Matthias Schön,” Lenhard said.
“What!” Puss’ exclamation coincided with Michael clipping Lenhard across the ear and Lenhard’s cry of pain. For the first time since he’d seen Yorick’s beaten body a smile flashed across his face. Situation normal—Lenhard had put his foot in his mouth.
“Matthias Schön seems to have made his way to Grantville for some reason and broken into your family home. Your wife shot him,” Thomas said.
“Here, Sergeant,” Georg said as he offered him a newspaper. “The Grantville police identified Herr Schön from the photo on a wanted poster.”
“Thanks.” The headline leapt out of the page.
ST. GEORGE’S DRAGON BREATHES FIRE
The photograph was the same one they’d run when he’d made the front page for rescuing Captain Havemann at Zielona Góra. Either they hadn’t had time to produce a new photograph of Sveta before going to press, or she had refused to cooperate. Puss considered what he knew of Sveta and her almost nonexistent sense of humor, decided that it was probably the latter reason, and breathed a sigh of relief that over a hundred miles separated them. “But why did he approach Sveta?” he asked. “And how did he even know where she was?”
“I’m afraid I might be responsible for that,” Georg said apologetically. “When we raided the brothel, I still had the letter containing the permission form you signed. It fell from my coat and Herr Schön almost picked it up. He could have seen the name and address.”
And that name would have been Corporal Svetlana Andreyevna Trelli. Puss nodded. That would have been enough to tell Schön that she was part of his family and where to go. “But why would he go to Grantville?”
Georg planted his finger on part of the story on the front page. “Your wife says he kept talking about wanting his beckies.”
Puss read the paragraph, but looked up, none the wiser. “What beckies? Surely he wasn’t after Corporal Behrn’s low serial number beckies.”
The group sat in silence for a few minutes, and then they started eating and for a few more minutes the silence was only broken by the sounds of spoons on bowls.
“What about the beckies Hermann and Anna insisted he owed the girl?” Thomas asked.
“Those weren’t his beckies,” Michael said. “They belonged to the brothel.”
“Are you sure they weren’t his?” Puss asked. “Who paid them to the girl? Schön or one of his men?”
“One of his men,” Michael said. “But even if someone paid the girl with Schön’s money by mistake, five hundred beckies would have been a pittance compared with the cash he stole from the brothel.”
Puss sighed. For a moment there he’d thought they’d found a motive. “Beckies, beckies, beckies. What are we missing?”
“Maybe there is something special about Schön’s bundle of beckies,” Lenhard suggested.
“Like what?” Michael asked. “Even if they were mint condition low serial number bills like ours, they’d only be worth twice face value at the most.”
“You know that, and I know that, but did Schön know that?” Lenhard asked.
“Lenhard might have something there,” Thomas said. “Schön did seem convinced that any low serial number beckies were worth three thousand dollars.”
Puss vaguely remembered hearing Schön saying that. “How many bills are we talking about here?”
“It was quite a bundle,” Michael said. “You checked them, didn’t you, Corporal Schlegel?”
“Only to add up their value,” Georg said. “There must have been over three hundred bills.”
“Three hundred bills at three thousand dollars would be an absolute fortune to a man like Schön,” Michael said.
“It’s an absolute fortune to me too,” Lenhard said.
“It’s an absolute fortune to all of us,” Puss agreed. “Corporal Schlegel, do you still have those beckies?”
“Of course! They are sitting in the company strongbox.”
“Then could we have a look at them to see if we’re right?” Puss asked.
Georg looked at his barely-started dinner. “Could we eat first?”
“Yes, we can eat first.”
Mehlis, near Suhl
Jacob Hockenjoss of Hokenjoss and Klott Waffenfabrik laid down the paper and looked across the office to his partner, Hans Valentin Klott. “It’s a pity they couldn’t get a photograph of the woman holding her revolver.”
Hans looked up from his paper. “But they do identify it as being a Hockenjoss and Klott Army.”
Jacob nodded. Any publicity was good, and good publicity was priceless. To have St. George’s wife defend herself with one of their revolvers was the best possible publicity. “We’re going to have to get that new milling machine just to cope with increased demand.”
Hans steepled his fingers and stared at the fire. “The paper says the woman wasn’t carrying her revolver at the time, and had to run to her room to get it. That’s not good. Why wasn’t she carrying it?”
“The Army is heavy.”
“So why didn’t she buy a lighter gun? Like a .38?”
“A .38 doesn’t have the stopping power of the .45,” Jacob said. “What we need to produce is a much lighter .45.”
“That means reducing it to a four or five shooter with a very short barrel.”
“Yes, and the name for such a weapon is obvious . . .” Jacob smiled as he visualized a snub-nosed .45 firing black powder. “We have to call it the Dragon.”