Family Values

Schwerin, September 1635

 

"Father, someone is building something on our land beside the Schwerin See," Mathias von Hagen shouted as he barged into the family home.

Jasper von Hagen looked up from the mug of ale he was drinking. "Say that again!"

"There are building crews on our land on the shore of the Schwerin See."

Jasper launched himself to his feet, careless of the ale that spilled over his clothes and the floor as he did so. "Impossible! We'll see about this." He slammed his mug down onto a nearby flat surface and headed for the coat rack by the door where he put on outdoor boots and headed out the door. He paused halfway through the door and called over his shoulder. "Are you coming?"

"Of course," Mathias said as he hurried to catch up with his father.

****

"What are you doing on my land?" Jasper demanded of the first man he came across at the construction site.

The man, a craft journeyman of some description, pointed Jasper and Mathias toward a tent.

They stalked over to the tent. "What are you doing on my land?" Jasper demanded as he pulled aside the tent flap.

"Your land?" a familiar voice asked from within the tent. "We have permission to build a brickworks here, and to dig for clay and peat."

The voice belonged to Markus Lehmann, a man Jasper had previously met over the body of his brother. "Permission? From whom?" he demanded.

"From the agent for the legal owner."

Jasper straightened up to his full five foot eight and glared at the intruder. "I am the legal owner."

Markus smiled. "No you're not."

"I am too!" Jasper said.

Mathias stepped in bringing the childish game of claim and counterclaim to a quick end. "If father isn't the owner, then who is?" he asked.

Markus stepped back from his in-your-face position in front of Jasper and raised his brows, suggesting surprise that Mathias didn't grasp the obvious. "Who else but your uncle's heir, Michael von Hagen!"

That came as a surprise to Jasper. By now the boy should be dead and buried. "The boy is dead!" he said.

"Why would you think that?" Markus asked, all wide-eyed and innocent.

"Sophia and Michael haven't been seen since Johann was murdered and the house burnt down. After so long we assumed . . ."

Markus nodded. "Naturally you assumed they too were dead. Did you search for them?"

Of course they'd searched for the silly woman and her son, Jasper thought. The whole reason for the attack on the house had been to see them dead so he could inherit his brother's property and reap his share of the millions the new brickworks would earn. "We only have your word that Michael is still alive," he said to Markus.

"Actually," Markus said with a broad smile on his face. "I was able to provide Herr Slüter with sufficient evidence for him to approve the contract we entered into with Frau Bacmeister in Magdeburg."

Jasper understood why Markus' smile was so smug. David Slüter was the most pedantic and finicky lawyer it had ever been his misfortune to come across. If he was satisfied that Michael von Hagen was alive and living in Magdeburg with his mother, then it had to be true. That left Jasper with no choice but to rein in his son and leave. "Good day, Herr Lehmann. Come, Mathias!"

Once they were out of sight Jasper swung at Mathias, knocking him to the ground. "You useless idiot, can't you do anything right? I give you a simple task and you fail me."

Mathias crawled on his back as he tried to get away from his father's anger. "I sent three men after them. I thought they would have had no trouble killing the boy."

"And what did these men report when they got back?"

Mathias swallowed. "They haven't reported back yet."

Jasper advanced until he was standing over his son. "You mean you haven't heard from them?"

"Not yet."

Jasper lashed out with a boot. "Well, I hope you're happy. Because of your incompetence that cripple is going to get the fortune that should have been mine."

Mathias rolled with the kick and sat up. "But the boy can still die. Lots of children die young."

Jasper stopped mid-advance. He'd been intending to kick Mathias again, but what his son had said made sense. The money from the brickworks would be paid to whoever owned the land, and he was Michael's heir. He reached down a hand and pulled Mathias to his feet. "A lot of children die young. We will just have to help Michael along. Come, we need to make plans."

****

Hans Becker had been following the father and son von Hagen since they left the brickworks construction site. Something about their attitude when they arrived at the construction site had piqued his curiosity. He'd become more interested when he'd seen the anger in Jasper von Hagen's eyes when Markus told him Michael von Hagen was alive and well in Magdeburg. What he'd seen and heard just now made the whole business of skulking around behind hedges all worthwhile. He hurried back to the construction site to pass on his discoveries.

****

Markus interrupted Hans' report. "They want to kill a baby, whatever for?"

"Von Hagen senior seemed convinced that Michael is going to get a fortune that should have been his," Hans pointed out. "Where do you suppose this fortune is coming from?" he asked. He was really curious to know, because nothing he'd seen about the proposed income of the brickworks amounted to a fortune.

"I can only imagine it's the money for the ground rent and the digging rights."

The brickworks had a contract to supply the Gustavus Adolphus Canal Company with ten million bricks over the next five years, and the total royalties and ground rent paid to the land owner would amount to about two hundred thirty thousand dollars. "That hardly adds up to a fortune," Hans said.

"You've been around Dylan too long, Hans," Markus said. "Here in Mecklenburg it's a fortune, especially for one such as Jasper von Hagen."

Dylan Pence did tend to talk in terms of millions, so Hans was prepared to concede that his perception of what constituted a fortune might have become a bit skewed. He tried to think of it in terms of someone like Jasper von Hagen, essentially not much more than a tenant farmer, and came up with it being something like forty years net income. Hans knew that he'd be tempted if he received such an offer, so he had no difficulty believing Jasper von Hagen had not only been tempted, but succumbed to the temptation. "We need to warn Dylan," he said. Knowing who would actually carry the warning to Magdeburg, he continued, "I'll need money for horses."

Markus counted out some bills and handed them over. "How long will it take you to get to Magdeburg?"

Hans looked up to judge the time by the position of the sun. He guessed at about eight o'clock, leaving nearly eleven hours until sunset. "It's only a hundred miles. With good horses and good luck, I could be there before noon tomorrow."

Markus shuddered. "Better you than me." He clapped Hans on the shoulder. "God speed!"

 

Meanwhile, in Magdeburg

 

At that moment Michael von Hagen was sleeping in his baby carriage while his mother pushed it out of the elevator at Magdeburg Towers, the apartment block where they were currently staying. Accompanying them was Sophia Bacmeister's betrothed—an up-timer by the name of Dylan Pence. They were heading toward the ground floor main entrance when the concierge called out to Dylan.

"Herr Pence! Herr Pence! An urgent message for you," Wilhelm Doehren said as he handed Dylan an envelope.

Dylan sent Sophia an apologetic smile before opening the message and reading it. When he finished he waved it at her. "I'm sorry, but you're going to have to take Michael to the hospital without me!"

"Business?" she asked. It always was business with Dylan. In the few days she'd known him he'd been constantly distracted by people wanting to talk to him about business. Of course, a few of them had wanted to be introduced to her as well, and already Dylan was starting to receive the invitations he'd expected when he contracted to marry her.

"Yes, Helene's in Magdeburg for other meetings and wants an update on a few business matters."

Helene could only be Helene Gundelfinger. Sophia had heard a lot about her from Dylan and her new friends. The woman was one of the country's leading movers and shakers and Dylan was an associate of her company, Gundelfinger and Associates Inc. "When am I going to meet her?" She asked.

"She might have time this evening. I'll ask her around for dinner, so don't make any plans for this evening."

Sophia gulped. It was one thing to talk about meeting Dylan's boss sometime in the future, but tonight . . . "I don't have a thing to wear!" she protested. At least not something likely to give the necessary confidence boost when meeting the woman she'd heard so much about.

"Didn't you and your friends visit Frau Schneider the other day?"

Sophia nodded. She and her new friends had spent several pleasurable hours going over fabrics and patterns with the dressmaker the other day. "But they won't be ready until the end of the week."

Dylan pulled a wad of bank bills out of an inner pocket. "See if you can persuade Frau Schneider to do a rush job," he said as put it into her hand and wrapped her fingers around it.

Sophia clenched her fingers around the wad of bills. "Frau Schneider is an artist, Dylan. She doesn't do rush!"

Dylan shook his head and smiled in a condescending manner that was so typical of a man. He obviously assumed Frau Schneider could be bribed to finish a suitable gown in time for dinner this evening. Mind you, having something to wear was a minor problem compared with the problem she'd just realized she faced. "How am I going to find my way to the hospital?" she demanded.

"You think you need a guide?" Dylan asked.

"Of course I need a guide! I don't want to miss Michael's appointment with the Ponseti nurse because I got lost."

Wilhelm Doehren, like any consientious concierge anywhere, had hung around after handing Dylan the message in case he was needed. "Might I suggest Dorothea, my wife's niece?"

"Another one?" Dylan half-joked.

Wilhelm nodded. "Margaretha has four brothers and between them there are eleven daughters. Dorothea's a fit and healthy young woman. Good with children too. She recently left Kelly Construction, where she was working as a laborer, and is preparing for a bodyguard course at Karickhoff's Gymnasium that starts at the beginning of next month."

Dylan smiled hopefully at Sophia. "There you are, Sophia. I'm sure Dorothea will be perfect. I'll catch you later about the arrangements for this evening."

****

Sophia's eyes followed the rapidly departing back of her betrothed. When he disappeared around a corner she finally unclenched her fist to see how much money he'd given her. Her heart nearly stopped when a quick flip through suggested they were all hundred dollar bills. She could only imagine that her penny-pinching betrothed had accidentally given her the wrong wad of bills.

"Frau Bacmeister," Wilhelm called, attracting her attention.

She hastily thrust the money into the purse she wore hidden under her clothes before turning to see that the concierge had returned with two women. She recognized Margaretha Spiegel, the Magdeburg Towers housekeeper, so the younger woman must be Dorothea.

"Frau Bacmeister. This is my brother Joachim's eldest daughter," Margaretha said, introducing her niece. "Dorothea, say hello to Frau Bacmeister!"

Dorothea curtsied. "Hello, Frau Bacmeister."

Sophia studied the young woman. Well, young was relative. Dorothea was probably about Sophia's age. She was also built like a farm girl, with arms and shoulders built up by a life of tossing hay onto a wagon or haystack hour after hour day after day. Sophia guessed that she was about the same height as Dylan, but broader across the shoulders. "I need to take my son to the hospital and then visit Frau Schneider's shop, but I don't know my way around the city. Can you act as my guide?"

Dorothea nodded.

"Can you leave now?"

Dorothea nodded again. "I just need to get my hat and jacket."

"Be quick!" Sophia instructed.

They watched Dorothea hurry off. "She's a good girl, Frau Bacmeister," Margaretha said. "She's looking for temporary part-time work while she waits for her course to start. She'll be a much more suitable companion than Elisabeth, and she'll only want pocket money in addition to her board."

Elisabeth was the twelve-year-old daughter of Margaretha's brother Ludwig, who had been roped in as Sophia's nursery maid-cum-chaperone. It wasn't a totally satisfactorary arrangement as the girl attended school during the day, but she had provided some sense of propriety when Dylan visited her apartment in the evenings. The older Dorothea could fill the dual roles of nursery maid and chaperone at night, and be available to escort her around Magdeburg during the day.

Sophia had a lot of time for the housekeeper. She had persuaded Dylan to rent a second apartment rather than compromise Sophia's reputation by the simple expedient of raising a brow and informing him that there was an empty bed-sit on the third floor. Anyone who could persuade her penny-pinching betrothed to spend money so easily was someone worth cultivating. If staying in her good graces meant employing this farm girl, then Sophia was willing to try it. Besides, it would only be temporary. "I will see how we get on today," she told Margaretha.

****

Sophia had spent her life in households where the only point of difference between them and the tenants working their land had been the family's noble blood. Her family, and her husband's as well, had been careful to maintain the separation between them and employees, so it was the habits of a lifetime that ensured the journey to the hospital was undertaken in silence with Dorothea pushing Michael's baby carriage and only speaking to give directions.

They were nearing the hospital when Sophia noticed the shabbily dressed woman. She was displaying her baby's bent limbs to the doorman in what looked like an effort to be granted admission. Two weeks ago that woman could have been Sophia, so she angled toward her.

"You don't want to go near her, Frau Bacmeister," Dorothea protested as she hurried to catch up.

Sophia ignored her and walked up to the woman who had been sent on her way by the doorman. "Show me what is wrong with your child!" The woman bowed to Sophia, demonstrating that she recognized superior breeding when faced with it, before lifting her child to reveal two deformed feet.

"I want a doctor to see her, but. . ."

Just like Michael, the baby appeared to suffer from clubfoot, but unlike Michael, both of this baby's feet were deformed. Sophia waved away the explanation. She knew all about wanting to see a doctor but not being able to afford his or her fee. "Follow me!" she instructed as she started toward the entrance.

"They won't let me in . . ."

Sophia turned slightly toward the woman. "You are with me now!"

That shut the woman up and she hurried after Sophia.

Sophia stalked past the doorman, her momentary eye contact daring him to question her right to bring the woman and her child into the hospital after he'd already shown her the door, and walked right up to the reception desk. "This woman's child needs to be examined by Dr Rostow!"

The receptionist, a respectable woman in her early forties raised her brows, looked at the woman and child, and returned to Sophia. "I have seen this woman standing outside the doors all week. If she could afford the doctor she would have come in and made an appointment."

But for the grace of God, and Dylan Pence and his associates—although she wasn't sure she had forgiven his associates for their lack of respect that first time they met—Sophia and Michael would still be in the woman's situation. She was feeling sympathetic toward her, and angry at the jumped-up wife of some lowly merchant who was sitting in front of her. Sophia reached under her jacket for her concealed purse and extracted Dylan's wad of cash. She flashed that in front of the woman. "I will pay for her. See to it that she and her child are examined by the doctor!"

Sophia might only stand a fraction over five feet tall and be of slight build, but she was a noble born and bred and she knew how to project authority. The poor receptionist didn't stand a chance. She simply got to her feet in preperation for doing what she'd been told to do.

"Wait! I am Sophia Bacmeister, and I have an appointment with the Ponseti nurse!"

The receptionist paused long enough to point toward a door before hurrying off.

Sophia turned to Dorothea. "Make sure they are seen by Dr Rostow!" Her orders given, she steered Michael's baby carriage toward the door the receptionist had indicated.

****

Sophia was tearfully holding her crying baby while the Ponseti nurse built up the new plaster cast that would hold Michael's foot in its new position when the door opened to admit Dr Daria Rostow.

"You really shouldn't terrify the receptionist like that, Frau Bacmeister," Daria told Sophia.

"The child needs treatment, and from what you told me when you examined Michael, the sooner it starts the better the outcome."

"That's true, but you do realize someone has to pay for this treatment?"

Sophia nodded. "I will pay for the child's treatment."

"That's very good, Frau Bacmeister, and what are you going to do with the next child that needs treatment?"

Sophia almost said she'd pay, but the way Daria was looking at her held her back. "How common is the problem?" she asked.

"When neither parent has a history of clubfoot, one child in a thousand will be born with some degree of clubfoot. Because you already have a child with clubfoot, any future children you might have has a three in a hundred chance, and Michael's children will have a thirty to forty percent chance of being born with clubfoot."

Sophia looked down at the baby she held. He was miserable from being manhandled by the Ponseti nurse as she manipulated his clubfoot. It was horrible to think that any future child she might have would suffer the same way. On the other hand, at least Michael and any future child she had would receive treatment, and not be a cripple for the rest of their life. "Surely there are alms to pay . . ." She shook her head. She if anybody should know there weren't alms for medical treatments. "Someone should do something!"

"Maybe you could be that someone!" Daria suggested.

Sophia laid her fingers on her chest. "Me? We just decided that I can't afford to help more than one child."

"It doesn't all have to be your money. Talk to Dylan about setting up a charity, with you as the patron. It would be a way you could help him with his business." Daria smiled. "If you like, you and Dylan can come round for dinner tonight and we can discuss it."

"Yes . . ." Sophia started to say, then she remembered Dylan had told her not to make any plans for this evening. She shook her head. "It can't be tonight. Dylan asked me not to make any plans in case his boss wants to meet me."

"Helene's in town?" Daria asked.

"You know Dylan's boss?" Sophia was anxious to learn all she could about the woman before she met her.

Daria nodded. "Maybe Helene will be able to help you. She knows a lot about charities and raising funds for them."

"What can you tell me about Helene?" Sophia pleaded.

"Not now," Daria said waving her hand. "I'm sorry, but I have patients to see, and Maria here needs to meet her new patient. I'll give you a call later."

Suddenly reminded that they weren't alone in the room Sophia glanced at the nurse. Maria was smiling, indicating no doubt that she had heard everything and was looking forward to the prospect of her clinic becoming busier. She turned back to Daria. "How do I go about paying her bill?"

"I'll prepare an invoice now if you like," Daria said as she turned to leave.

Sophia took Michael from Maria and hurried after Daria. In reception she handed Michael over to the waiting Dorothea before stepping up to the cashier. She pulled out her bundle of bills and waited for the cashier to give her the bill. Behind her Michael started crying.

Michael's treatment was being put on Dylan's account, so Sophia only had to pay for the woman she'd offered to help. "What do I do about paying for her future appointments?" she asked Daria.

"I'll schedule her appointment for just after Michael's, so you can pay for them as they come up."

Sophia smiled her acceptance of the arrangement and turned back to see that Dorothea still had Michael in her arms. Her brow furrowed as she prepared to reprimand the girl. "I expected you to put Michael into his baby carriage!"

"I'm sorry, Frau Bacmeister, but he cried when I tried to put him in his carriage. He only settled when I picked him up again."

"Give him to me! Maybe he's not settling because he doesn't know you."

Michael went quietly into Sophia's arms and she was able to put him in his carriage without him crying, but when his mother moved out of his line of sight so Dorothea could push the baby carriage his face started to screw up, a sure-fire indicator that he was about to start crying again. Sophia hastily took over from Dorothea, and so it was her and not the nursery maid who was pushing the baby carriage when they left the hospital.

****

The three men Mathias von Hagen had sent after Sophia Bacmeister and her son had finally caught up with her a few days ago. Heinrich Reiser, the leader of the group, had spotted her pushing a baby carriage while a young man he'd later identified as an up-timer called Dylan Pence walked at her side. He and the Garbe brothers had been tailing her ever since, looking for an opportunity to attack her. However, their contacts in Magdeburg had warned them that up-timers carried concealed pistols capable of over a dozen shots without reloading and they were deadly accurate with them as well. After hearing that, they'd decided not to attempt anything against the mother and child while they were with the man. Unfortunately, except for a single shopping expedition with three women and their maids, she only seemed to leave the building in his company.

Today was their lucky day. The woman had left the fortress that was the Magdeburg Towers apartment complex with her baby and walked along the streets with only a nursemaid for protection. They'd followed them to the hospital and waited with growing impatience for them to emerge. Finally they emerged, with the woman pushing the baby carriage while the maid walked at her side.

Heinrich, Karl, and Franz took up the chase immediately. There were enough people on the streets for them to be undetected as they followed.

"What are we going to do?" Karl Garbe asked. "There are too many people around."

Heinrich had been thinking exactly the same thing. Back in his normal stomping grounds of Wismar and Schwerin it would have been easy to arrange an accident, but there were just too many people in Magdeburg.

There was a loud crash, followed by yelling and screaming. It drew the attention of not just the three men, but a whole lot of others. A young man had managed to clip a porter with his two-horse sporting carriage, knocking the man off his feet and sent the pots and pans he'd been carrying flying. The young man was struggling to control his horses as a crowd gathered. That gave Franz an idea.

"Heinrich, if I had that carriage, I could use it to run down the woman."

Heinrich's eyes lit up. The three of them usually worked on the trade route connecting the Elbe with Wismar and Franz had experience with wagons. "Not the woman, the boy. It is he who is important. Now, how can we steal that carriage?" The three turned their attention back to the young man and his carriage. Someone had taken control of the heads of the horses while the young man was pulled from the wagon. It looked like there was going to be some street justice metered out. Heinrich smiled. "Franz, you get aboard and take the reins. Karl and I will take over from the man holding the horses' heads. We'll get you free of the crowd and you can go after the woman. They should be heading back to the Magdeburg Towers. Do you remember the way?"

"Yes," Franz said.

"Then let's get moving!" Heinrich said.

Minutes later Franz was driving the carriage in pursuit of Sophia. The young man was the only person who really noticed his carriage being taken away, but he had more pressing issues to worry about.

****

Unbeknown to Heinrich and his colleagues, Michael had succumbed to tears again. Sophia had been sympathetic to his plight and had lifted him out of the baby carriage to calm him. That had worked, but they were still a long way from Frau Schneider's. It would have been too far for Sophia to carry the growing baby—who seemed to put on more weight every time she lifted him—so she had delegated the task of carrying Michael to the bigger and stronger Dorothea, while she continued to push the baby carriage.

Franz might have been used to driving wagons, but the light two-horse sporting carriage responded completely differently to the heavy wagons used in the salt trade. It wasn't just the size and weight of the carriage that was causing Franz problems. There was also the matter of the horseflesh pulling it. Salt wagons were drawn by animals chosen for their strength and endurance, while the young man seemed to have chosen his horses for strength and speed. He was barely in control of the carriage when he finally spotted Sophia and the baby carriage some distance ahead. They were walking alongside a deep trench in the road when he caught up with them. The horses were pulling the carriage at terrifying speed and it was all Franz could do to steer them close enough that the carriage collided with the baby carriage.

Sophia was unaware of the approaching vehicle until Dorothea suddenly pulled her back. A moment later it struck Michael's baby carriage, sending it flying into the trench. Sophia stared at the empty space where the baby carriage had been moments before. It took Dorothea's strong grip to bring her out of her shock. The first thing she did was cry.

"Michael is all right," Dorothea said as she offered him to Sophia.

Sophia grabbed Michael, almost waking him as she hauled him out of Dorothea's hands, and crushed his tiny body against her chest. That did wake him, but Sophia wasn't really aware of his whimpering as her eyes fell on the wrecked remains of his baby carriage at the bottom of the trench some twenty feet below her. She hugged her baby tightly, causing him to whimper louder. She heard and enjoyed the sound, because if he hadn't been unable to settle in the carriage, he'd be dead.

Sophia and Dorothea waited while the workmen, who'd survived with barely a scratch because Dorothea had managed to shout out a warning as the baby carriage went flying into the trench, passed it up to the surface. It was a sorry-looking wreck that Dorothea lifted from the hands of a workman on the ladder and placed on its broken wheels on the road.

"What do you want to do with it, Frau Bacmeister?" Dorothea asked.

Sophia shuddered at the sight of the baby carriage. "I don't ever want to see it again. I just want to go home. Grab Michael's things and leave it for whoever wants it!"

Dorothea wrapped the bedding and baby's bag in a blanket and slung the bundle over her shoulder. "Here comes trouble," Dorothea said, looking beyond Sophia.

Sophia looked in the direction Dorothea was looking, but she couldn't see trouble. "What?" she asked, forgetting for the moment that Dorothea was only a servant.

"The man in the blue uniform, they call themselves policemen. They do the same job watchmen do, but they're supposedly better paid and therefore harder to bribe."

The watchman, or as Dorothea called him, the policeman, had the typical officious look on his face that all the watchmen she'd ever come across had. "Let's head for home," she told Dorothea.

"We can't," Dorothea said. "Not yet. There's been an accident, and he'll want to know what happened. We'll have to at least leave our names and addresses."

"Do what you have to do, but I want to go home, now!" Sophia said as she adjusted her hold on Michael.

Dorothea walked over to the policeman and after talking to him for a couple of minutes he came over to talk to Sophia. Not that there was much she could tell him. After a few minutes they were let go and headed for the Magdeburg Towers.

****

Sophia was still badly shaken when Dylan returned home less than an hour later. She had moved Michael's basinett into the lounge where she could constantly reassure herself that he was okay while she waited on the sofa for Dylan to turn up.

Dylan pushed past Dorothea, who'd opened the door. "Are you all right?" he asked as he hurried over to embrace Sophia.

"You've heard what happened?" Sophia said as she threw herself into his arms.

Dylan gestured with his head toward the uniformed policeman who'd followed him into the apartment. "Officer Bernhardt here was talking to Frau Spiegel when I arrived. He told me what happened. He'd like to ask you some questions."

Sophia pushed at Dylan until she had enough space to look at Officer Bernhardt. "I told the policeman at the scene everything I knew."

Thomas Bernhardt bowed his head to Sophia. "I understand that today's incident was very traumatic, but we've discovered that the carriage that nearly hit you had been stolen only a few minutes previously. That suggests it might not have been an accident."

"Aren't you jumping to conclusions?" Dylan asked. "A two-horse sporting carriage isn't the easiest thing in the world to drive. Even if it was stolen, maybe especially because it was stolen, surely the driver just lost control?"

"People don't steal carriages to joyride here and now, Herr Pence," Thomas told Dylan. "They steal them for a purpose. The carriage was abandoned so soon after the accident that we are left to wonder if maybe that had been the purpose."

"You think someone stole a sporting carriage to run down Sophia?" Dylan shook his head gently. "That's reaching a bit, isn't it?"

"Maybe," Thomas conceded. "But we must explore all the options, and the driver did come very close to hitting Frau Bacmeister."

Sophia swallowed. She didn't like thinking how close to dying she'd been, nor did she like to think about what might have happened if Michael had still been in the baby carriage. "Why would anyone want to kill me?"

"That's what I hope you can tell me," Thomas said. "Do you have any enemies?"

Sophia shook her head. She'd never been important enough to acquire enemies.

"Did your late husband have any enemies?"

"Not really," Sophia said. "Although he was killed back in June when a CoC column attacked our home."

"A lot of scores were settled during Operation Krystalnacht, so that would seem to remove his enemies from the equation," Thomas said. "What about money? Who inherits your property?"

"I don't have any," Sophia admitted. "And if I did, my son would inherit it."

"And who inherits if your son dies?" Thomas asked. "Who inherits his father's estate?"

The policeman's question sent a chill through down Sophia's spine. A pair of arms wraped around her and she snuggled into the warmth and security Dylan's body offered. "My late husband's property would go to his younger brother, Jasper von Hagen."

A smile blossomed across Thomas' face. "Ah ha!"

"Nope! Can't happen," Dylan said, shaking his head. "It would have taken Markus Lehmann over three days to get to Schwerin with the news that Frau Bacmeister and Michael are here in Magdeburg, and he only left four days ago. There just hasn't been enough time for Jasper von Hagen to learn that they were here, make plans, and send someone to Magdeburg."

Thomas released a regretful sigh. "Pity. Well, I'll be off then. If you hear or think of anything that might be relevant, please let me know," he said passing Dylan a business card.

Dylan got up and showed Officer Bernhardt out of the apartment, leaving Sophia feeling abandoned without the warmth of his arms around her. When he closed the door behind the policeman she patted the sofa beside her encouragingly and asked him about his day.

"A lot less exciting than your day," Dylan said as he returned to sit beside her. "Helene's delighted to accept your invitation to dinner," Dylan said. "Did you get something to wear?"

"Noooooo!" Sophia wailed. She'd completely forgotten about Helene Gundelfinger coming to dinner, and it was now too late for Frau Schneider to have any chance of finishing a suitable gown for her to wear that evening.

****

"I did it," Franz said when he joined Heinrich and Karl in their lodgings.

"You're sure?" Heinrich asked.

"I hit the baby carriage hard enough to tear it out of the woman's hands, and I saw it go flying into a deep trench dug in the road."

Heinrich smiled. "That sounds promising, but Herr von Hagen isn't going to pay us unless we can show him proof that the boy is dead."

"What kind of proof do we need?" Karl asked.

"An obituary in a newspaper would do."

"So we wait for the next newspaper to come out. How long will that be?" Karl asked.

"There are at least three daily papers in Magdeburg," Heinrich said. "At least one of them should have something about the accident."

"Daily? What do they fill all the pages with?" Franz asked. Not that he actually read newspapers. He couldn't, at least not very well. But there was always someone in a tavern willing to read out everything in the newspaper for the price of a drink.

 

The next day

 

Sophia ventured out of the apartment early the next morning, but only to go across the street to the new Arts Center Café where she met up with three of her new friends. Michael had been sleeping, so she'd left him in the apartment with Dorothea.

"I was horrified to read about your accident in the paper," Veronica Niesing said as Sophia sat down.

"Were you hurt at all?" Anna Schüler asked.

"No, but if my maid hadn't been carrying Michael . . ." Sophia shuddered.

"You've got a maid now?" Veronica asked. "I thought you only had that young girl staying over as a chaperone."

"I needed a guide to get me to the hospital for Michael's appointment with the Ponseti nurse and Elisabeth had already left for school, so Frau Spiegel offered me the services of yet another of her nieces. I've decided to employ her in place of Elisabeth," Sophia explained.

"I thought Dylan was supposed to take you to the hospital?" Anna said.

"That was the plan, but just before we left home a message arrived for Dylan from Frau Gundelfinger, telling him she was in Magdeburg and needed to see him urgently." Sophia might have gilded the lily a little, but as a minor Mecklenburg noble she was no stranger to the concept of reinforcing your status through name dropping, and in the world of her new friends, names didn't come too much bigger than Helene Gundelfinger's.

"Have you met her yet?" Gertraud demanded.

"Unfortunately! She came to dinner last night," Sophia said.

Anna oozed sympathy. "I imagine you were still pretty shaken from the accident."

"That was the least of my worries!" Sophia said with feeling. "I had intended visiting Frau Schneider to see if she could finish something for me to wear, but as you can imagine . . ."

"You didn't want to go out again after the accident. So what did you wear?" Veronica asked, touching on the really important matter. "Don’t say you wore that chartreuse linen dress from Vorkeuffer's?" she asked in a horrified tone.

Sophia grimaced at the memory of meeting Dylan's boss in that dress. Vorkeuffer's sold their own range of ready-to-wear clothes. They were good quality, but high fashion they weren't. The range's greatest virtue was that you could walk out of the shop wearing your new purchase instead of having to wait several days for them to be made up. Unfortunately, colors, styles, and sizes were limited, and finding something you liked that fitted properly was the exception rather than the rule. "It was the only thing I had that was even remotely suitable."

"You poor thing. What did Frau Gundelfinger wear?" Gertraud asked.

Sophia didn't even try to hide the envy she'd felt as she described the tamarisk silk gown that had fitted Helene like a glove. "And her shoes were to die for," she added as an afterthought.

"Did Frau Gundelfinger say anything about your dress?" Veronica asked.

"She was very nice. She pretended not to notice how badly it fitted," Sophia said.

Sophia's friends grimaced. "I bet you'd rather she'd said something," Gertraud said.

Sophia had to nod. At least if Helene had said something she could have explained why she was so badly dressed.

"Did Frau Gundelfinger like you?" Anna asked.

That was a good question, Sophia though. "I think she didn't not like me," she said.

"I suppose that's something," Anna said. "What did you think of her?"

Sophia sighed. How to describe Helene Gundelfinger? She wasn't a small woman, but she didn't physically dominate a room. That was left to her personality. She settled down to answer her friends' questions about Helene as best she could.

****

Heinrich Reiser traced his finger below the words as he slowly read out the story from the newspaper. It wasn't that he was illiterate, having survived four years of school, but the new words and strange font they were printed in were causing him difficulties. "It seems you came close, Franz, but not close enough. The maid was carrying the baby when you struck the baby carriage."

"Damn!" Franz said. "I'm sorry, Heinrich. Maybe we'll have better luck next time."

"There might not be a next time. Apparently the police are investigating the accident," Heinrich said as he continued reading.

"Who're the police?" Karl asked.

The three men exchanged blank looks. "Watchmen who investigate accidents?" Franz suggested.

"Whatever. Anyway, it probably means our chances of getting at the boy are much reduced," Heinrich said.

"So what do we do?" Karl asked.

"Send a message to Herr von Hagen saying we've found the woman and child and then do what everyone else does when they arrive in Magdeburg, look for a job."

 

Afternoon, Magdeburg

 

Hans Becker managed to get into Magdeburg just after noon. He'd immediately headed for the Lehmann brothers' office and reported the new intelligence from Schwerin to Peter Lehmann.

Peter tossed one of the Magdeburg daily papers across his desk. "Page two, Column three," he explained.

Hans knew they were in trouble before he'd finished the first sentence. "They're already here!"

"And fortunately failed in their first attempt to kill the child. We need to find Dylan and warn him."

"Where do we start looking?" Hans asked, not altogether happy about traipsing around Magdeburg after his ride.

Peter glanced up at the clock on the wall. "The Stock Exchange. The morning session should just be finishing. If we hurry, we should be able to catch him before he heads off for lunch."

Hans' stomach rumbled at the mention of food.

****

The meeting with Dylan didn't go as Peter and Hans had intended. Instead of discussing how they could protect Sophia and Michael, Dylan had insisted in going to the police. Peter was a lawyer, and as such, didn't trust the city's new law enforcement organization. Hans didn't trust them because he had been in trouble with the watch when he was younger, and too many of the new policemen knew about his past. Dylan however, had insisted. So, much against their own wishes, they followed him to the police station, where after a short discussion with Officer Bernhardt they found themselves talking to his lieutenant.

Lieutenant Fabian Mittendorf listened politely as Dylan explained once more what Hans had overheard. He rested his elbows on his deck and rested his chin on his hands. "This is very interesting," he said, "but what proof do you have?"

"I told you this was a waste of time!" Hans said.

Dylan waved Hans quiet. He knew half of his problem was that he was uncomfortable in the company of law enforcement officers. "We don't have any proof, but your Officer Bernhardt indicated that you thought the accident that destroyed Michael's baby carriage was suspicious. What I've just told you confirms your suspicions. Jasper von Hagen wants his nephew dead so he can inherit his brother's property."

"You might know that, but you can't prove it," the man standing behind Fabian said.

"I'm sorry; I haven't introduced my colleague," Fabian said gesturing to his colleague. This is Christian Marx, from Frankfurt. He's in Magdeburg to learn how we do things."

"Pleased to meet you, Herr Marx," Dylan said offering his hand. "Any relation to the famous Marx brothers?"

"A distant cousin," Christian said. He looked hard at Dylan. "You do mean the Marx Brothers Academy, and not the up-time actors, don't you?"

"Yes. One of their graduates has a martial arts school in Jena," Dylan said.

"Oh! Who? Maybe I know him."

"Wilhelm Kreussler."

"Ah! Yes, I know Wilhelm. Have you taken lessons with him yourself?"

"No, but I know some people who have, and they speak well of him."

"As they should," Christian said. "Back to my point. There is no evidence connecting Herr von Hagen to the possible attempt on Michael von Hagen's life."

"But you're prepared to concede it was an attempt on Michael's life?" Dylan asked.

Christian turned to Fabian, who answered. "There has probably been an attempt on Michael von Hagen's life, and it was possibly made by persons in the employ of Jasper von Hagen. But we don't know who they are, or anything about them."

"So what can we do?" Dylan asked.

"I intend instructing the foot patrols to ask about three men arriving from Schwerin since Frau Bacmeister arrived in Magdeburg. That should find them eventually, but if someone is willing to pay for police time, then I propose that we set a trap and try to catch them in the act."

"Catch them in the act? Isn't that kind of dangerous for Frau Bacmeister and Michael?" Dylan asked. It was potentially dangerous, but the alternative was locking Sophia up in the apartment until the men were caught, which he didn't think she'd like at all.

"Oh, the baby won't be in the baby carriage," Fabian said. "Does Frau Bacmeister leave Magdeburg Towers for any reason?" he asked.

Dylan nodded. "She takes Michael to see the Ponseti nurse once a week, and she's starting adult education classes at Duchess Sofie's next week."

"Ponseti nurse? Duchess Sofie's? What are these?' Christian asked.

Fabian gestured for Dylan to answer. "The Ponseti nurse is a medical nurse trained in something called the Ponseti method that is used to treat clubfoot. Duchess Sofie's is the short form name for the Duchess Elisabeth Sofie Secondary School for Girls. They run adult education classes in addition to their regular classes."

"Secondary schooling for females . . ." Christian shook his head slowly. "No good can come of it."

Fabian inked a dip pen and started making notes. "The visits to the Ponseti nurse might cause a problem. Can you arrange for the nurse to visit Frau Bacmeister at home?" he asked Dylan.

Dylan shrugged. "It'll probably cost an arm and a leg, but it might be possible."

"Good! Good!" Fabian said. "That means the trips to and from Duchess Sofie's are the only times Frau Bacmeister needs to leave Magdeburg Towers . . ."

 

A few days later

 

Mathias was less hardened to travel, and in considerably less of a hurry to get to Magdeburg, so he rode into Magdeburg some three days after Hans. His immediate problem was locating his men. And in fact it wasn't until a week later, when a message sent by his father in response to the message sent by Heinrich finally reached him, that he learned where to find them.

"What have you been doing since your attempt to kill the boy failed?" Mathias asked.

"We've found jobs. Franz is driving a wagon while Karl and I work as laborers on the Karickhoff Hotel, which is just over the road from the apartment building where Frau Bacmeister and the boy live," Heinrich said.

"And Frau Bacmeister and her child, what are they doing?"

"She takes him with her when she goes to the Duchess Elisabeth Sofie Secondary School for Girls during the day. They stay near the apartment building the rest of the time," Franz said.

"I thought you said she was taking the boy to the hospital for treatment once a week?" Mathias asked.

"It seems the accident scared them, and now instead of going to the hospital, the nurse comes to Frau Bacmeister," Heinrich said, casting Franz a glare.

"It was most unfortunate that your first attempt on the boy failed," Mathias said.

"I was too busy trying to control the team to notice that the boy was being carried by Frau Bacmeister's maid," Franz said apologetically.

"So how do we get at the boy?" Mathias asked.

"If I had a gun, it would be a simple matter to walk up beside the baby carriage, stick the barrel up against his body and fire," Karl said.

"A nice idea, but how would you get away?" Heinrich asked.

That silenced Karl for barely a moment. "If I had a good rifle I could shoot from a distance and nobody would see me."

Mathias had liked the simplicity of Karl's original suggestion, but he had to agree with Heinrich that he might have difficulty getting away. A rifle though, that could work. "From how far away could you hit the boy?" Mathias asked.

"I've won prizes in the shooting competitions in Wismar," Karl said. "With a bit of practice I should be able to hit something the size of the baby at over two hundred yards."

Mathias looked out the window at the streets below. You'd be lucky to find anywhere in the city that was two hundred yards apart. "Find a suitable site and I'll see about getting a rifle."

"With plenty of ammunition, mind," Karl insisted. "I'm going to need to practice a bit."

"I thought you said you'd won prizes," Mathias said.

"That's right, Herr von Hagen," Karl agreed. "But that was shooting horizontally. I'm thinking that the higher I am, the better my field of fire will be. Also, the higher up I am, the less likely it is that people will see the rifle poking out a window."

"Being high is a good idea, but why do you need to practice?" Mathias asked.

"Shooting down is different, Herr von Hagen. Your point of aim has to be adjusted to ensure you hit."

 

A week later

 

Sophia had been less than impressed when she'd been told about the plan for the trap. However, she'd been even less impressed with the alternative—being shut up in her apartment until the problem was resolved. She also didn't approve of the need to leave Michael behind with a nursery maid while she attended school. The only good thing about the planned trap and her enforced isolation was it had given her more time to discuss her proposed charity to help people with clubfoot with the Ponseti nurse.

This Wednesday morning was like the seven previous school day mornings. She collected her school books and writing instruments, said goodbye to Michael, and checked the dummy baby was carefully concealed in Michael's new baby carriage. Then after a last resentful look at Michael in the arms of the nursery maid she indicated to Dorothea that she was ready to leave.

****

They'd watched Frau Bacmeister's movements for a week before determining the best place to shoot from was the still incomplete Karickhoff Hotel located just east of Magdeburg Towers, looking down on the same opera house complex that Sophia could see out of her fifth floor window. It helped that Heinrich and Karl had found work with one of the contractors working on the structure, and they had been able to search for a suitable shooting position while legitimately in the building.

While Heinrich kept an eye out for Frau Bacmeister, Karl pulled the rifle out of its bag and checked the sights and pyrite. He would have preferred one of the new lever action repeating rifles, but there hadn't been funds for one, let alone the ammunition he would need to use to gain proficiency with it. He'd tried a SRG, but the flint didn't always fire the weapon. In the end they'd settled for an old hunting wheel-lock that Mathias von Hagen had managed to acquire. That at least had fired every time during his practice.

He tore open a paper cartridge and poured some into the flash pan. Then he poured the rest down the barrel before dropping the paper in to act as wadding. Then he hammered the ball down the rifling. He'd tried minié balls in this rifle, but they hadn't been as accurate as a well-set ball, and it wasn't as if he expected to have time for a second shot, so the increased speed at which a minié ball could be loaded, which he considered to be its only redeeming feature, was irrelevant. With the rifle loaded Karl wound the lock and laid it on the sand-bag rest by the window and sat down with his back against the wall. All he could do now was wait for Frau Bacmeister.

"There goes Herr Pence," Heinrich called ten minutes later.

On Monday and Tuesday Frau Bacmeister had left Magdeburg Towers ten minutes after her betrothed. It was time to get into position. Karl got to his feet and did some stretching exercises to loosen up before taking up his position by the window. They were a bit higher than he'd have preferred, but work crews were busy on the lower floors. To his left he could see the looming mass of Magdeburg Towers, and there was Frau Bacmeister leaving the building with her maid pushing the baby in his new baby carriage beside her. He moved the dog so the pyrite sat on the wheel and took aim.

****

Sophia stepped onto the street and stood waiting for Dorothea to join her with the baby carriage. While she waited she glanced around, trying to identify the plainclothes policemen who were supposed to be watching for the assassins. She'd been horrified when she first learned that they were only going to be able to react after an attack against Michael was initiated, but fortunately, all that lay in the baby carriage was a porcelain-head rag-doll the same size as Michael. The doll wouldn't fool anybody who had a close look at him, but by keeping the hood of the baby carriage up they hoped to stop anyone realizing it was only a doll in the baby carriage.

Suddenly Dorothea was dragging Sophia back through the gate into the Magdeburg Towers private courtyard yelling and pointing toward the Karickhoff Hotel, where a cloud of smoke was visible outside one of the windows. There were more yells and men started running toward the hotel.

****

Lieutenant Fabian Mittendorf and Christian Marx approached the room the shot had been fired from in the company of the site foreman. They were met at the door by two of the plainclothed policemen assigned to guard Sophia Bacmeister.

"What do we have?" Fabian asked.

"Not much," Officer Thomas Bernhardt said, as he pointed to the sand bag on the table by the window the shot had been fired from.

"Any sign of the weapon?" Fabian asked.

Thomas shook his head. "The shooter must have taken it with him."

"Well, it can't have been carried out of the building," Fabian said. "Organize a search, and don't forget to check anywhere it could have landed if it was thrown out a window!

"Not you," Fabian called as the second officer went to follow Thomas. "I want you to stay here and prevent anybody entering this room until forensics get here."

Fabian turned to the foreman. "Herr Haselich, I want the names and contact details of everyone working on this building!"

"I have them on record in the office logbook," Otto Haselich said.

"Good." He turned to Christian to explain what he was doing. "Forensics will perform gunshot residue tests on everyone and fingerprint anyone they think might be interesting."

"Won't that take a long time?" Christian asked.

Fabian shook his head. "Forensics have a simple presumptive test that can quickly eliminate anyone who couldn't possibly have been in the room at the time the shot was fired."

"So the test will incriminate the shooter?"

"It will only identify suspects. Someone might test positive who wasn't in the room, but hopefully forensics can lift some fingerprints that we can compare with those of our suspects."

****

To say Sophia was furious would have been to grossly understate the case. She was fuming when Dylan arrived, and the policewoman who'd been keeping her company took advantage of his arrival with Hans Becker and Peter Lehmann to make her escape.

Sophia stopped her constant pacing to glare at Dylan. "What's happening?" she demanded.

"The police have identified some suspects," Dylan said.

That had Sophia taking notice. "They've caught the people trying to murder Michael?"

"They have half a dozen men who've tested positive for gunshot residues. Lieutenant Mittendorf is questioning them while their fingerprints are compared with those lifted from the room the shot was fired from. Hopefully he'll be able to tie at least one of them to the room."

"So it is over and Michael is safe?" Sophia asked.

"Maybe," Dylan said. "Oh, your nephew is in Magdeburg. Hans saw him earlier."

"What? Mathias is in Magdeburg? Has he been arrested?"

"No, but Lieutenant Mittendorf knows where he is staying and he told me he intends having a few words with him. So I think it is safe to say Michael is now safe from Jasper von Hagen."

"You mean Mathias and Jasper will be arrested?"

"Probably not. Unless one of the suspects incriminates them there's nothing to really connect them to the attempts on Michael's life."

Sophia bit her lip. "So Michael isn't safe?"

"Oh, I think he'll be safe enough," Dylan said. "I think the friendly little discussion the lieutenant intends having with Mathias won't be much of a discussion, and nor will it be particularly friendly. It'll certainly involve the lieutenant telling him that he and his father will be considered persons of interest if anything should happen to Michael while they are his heirs."

 

Police Headquarters

 

Christian Marx dropped the file he'd been reading onto the desk and glanced across the desk at Fabian Mittendorf. "The circumstances surrounding the death of Michael von Hagen's father are a bit suspicious."

"Yes, even for Mecklenburg, the CoC column's unprovoked attack on Johann von Hagen was a bit extreme," Fabian agreed.

"And potentially so fortuitous for Jasper von Hagen. If Frau Bacmeister hadn't decided to run away from her marriage that same night, taking her son with her . . ."

"Jasper von Hagen would now own the land where Herr Pence is building his brickworks."

"Which," Christian said, "makes one wonder how much Jasper von Hagen had to do with the attack that killed his brother."

"It does, but Schwerin is out of my jurisdiction," Fabian said.

"Of course it is. But it is within the jurisdiction of the Mounted Constabulary."

"My thoughts exactly," Fabian said. "Having a couple of their men sniffing around should serve to keep Jasper von Hagen on his best behavior."

 

Schwerin, a week later

 

"You failed!"' Jasper von Hagen said as he knocked his son to the ground. "Now the boy is going to have what should have been mine!" He turned to glare at his wife. "What did I do to deserve such a failure of a son?"

"It was your idea to kill your brother and nephew," Ottilia Rangen said.

"You agreed!"

"Yes, I agreed, when it seemed their deaths could be achieved with nobody the wiser. But pursuing the child to Magdeburg? That was all your idea."

"No," Jasper said turning to point at Mathias. "It was his idea. He sent Heinrich and the Garbe brothers after Johann's wife."

On the floor Mathias felt the condemning eyes of his mother and father fall upon him. "I was just following your orders," Mathias protested. "You told me to kill Uncle Johann's boy."

"But you were supposed to do it in such a way that it couldn't be traced back to me! As his heir, I am the natural suspect if the boy dies in suspicious circumstances, and you and those fools you hired certainly made sure the circumstances were suspicious." Jasper stepped up and kicked Mathias in the ribs. "You had them try to shoot him in broad daylight. What were you thinking?" he demanded as he kicked him again. "The police already have one of the men you employed. How long will it be before they come after you?"

"But I was only doing what you told me to do!" Mathias wailed.

Jasper looked down at his son. Mathias was the only person who could connect him to the death of his brother Johann and the attempts on Michael. As such, he was now a dangerous liability. He glanced toward his wife, seeing the two boys cowering behind her skirts. Good, he thought. They'd seen what happened to people who failed him, and maybe they'd learn from their brother's mistakes. Jasper looked up and met his wife's hard eyes. She gave him the faintest of nods, indicating that she had come to the same conclusion. Sometime in the not too distant future, Mathias was going to meet with a most unfortunate accident.

****

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