Your Tax Dollars At Work

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The early hours of Sunday morning, February 1636, western West Virginia County

 

It was a perfect moonlit night for Dieter Burkhard’s purposes. There was just enough light that he could see what he was doing, but not so much that others could see him doing it. The gate into the storage yard of Schubert’s Abrasives was secured by a padlocked chain. It took him no longer to open the padlock with his lock picks than it would have taken someone with the key. Actually, given the quality of the padlock, he probably opened it faster than someone could do with a key. He gently opened the gate and listened.

 

Dieter had watched the Animal Control officers remove Herr Schubert’s guard dogs the other day, but that didn’t mean Herr Schubert hadn’t already replaced them; hence the long wait before entering the yard. If he heard dogs it would be a simple matter to shut and relock the gate. However, he didn’t hear a thing. With a smile on his face Dieter hooked the padlock through the chain so it’d survive a cursory examination by the local security patrol and hurried over to the back door of the factory.

 

ytdaw-lkpkIt was a big double door, big enough to drive a wagon through, but there was a small access door, a wicket gate, cut into one of the larger doors. That was Dieter’s objective. He pulled out his wallet of lockpick tools and got to work. Five minutes of stressful fiddling with the mechanism later, Dieter breathed a sigh of relief as the bolt slid back. He glanced around to check no one had seen him before quietly opening the door and slipping inside. It was dark, but he had spent hours studying a sketch of the building’s layout, so he knew where he had to go.

 

Thud!

 

Dieter stifled a squeal of pain as his shin connected with the cart someone had left where it shouldn’t be. It was a more cautious thief who made his way to Herr Schubert’s office.

 

His target was in a large built-in cupboard. He opened the cupboard and there it sat—a large steel strongbox. It was about two feet long, a foot and a half wide, a foot high, and was made of half-inch plate with a five-lever deadbolt. Brute force wouldn’t break into it anytime this side of next week, and it would take several hours to break in using any cutting tool he could easily buy. Fortunately, he had his lockpicks.

 

It took nearly fifteen nervous minutes to open the lock, but finally Dieter was able to open the lid of the strongbox. It was heavy, much heavier than he’d expected. He felt around for something to prop it open. His hand landed on something, a stick, no, a cudgel. He tried to stick it in the top of the strongbox and have it prop open the lid, but other than the lock there was nothing to prop it against, and the stick was too long to fit under the lock. He tried a few positions, finally settling on sticking one end against the lip of the cupboard and the other just sitting against the lid of the strongbox. It meant that the lid was half closed, but at least it freed his hands for the important task of finding what he was here for.

 

His left hand felt the soft leather of a drawstring bag. That was what he was after. He grabbed it.

 

Suddenly Dieter was jerking his hands away from the falling lid. It slammed down. For a moment he thought he’d escaped unharmed, but then he felt the middle finger of his right hand tingling. Obviously the lid had caught it a glancing blow. At least that’s what he thought until he turned the finger to check it in the moonlight. There was a bit of white in the middle of the black. Dieter stared at it, thinking that that just couldn’t be good. He started shaking. He stuck his fingers in his mouth, and amongst the taste of leather was the taste of blood.

 

Honk!

 

Honk! Honk! Honk!

 

Dieter looked up. He didn’t know whose geese were making all that noise, but it didn’t matter—he could already hear human voices amongst the honking. It was time to leave. He abandoned the office and ran for the exit.

 

Sometime later

 

Gottfried Schubert stood outside the door to his factory waiting impatiently as the two police officers got off their horses. “You couldn’t have responded with a little more urgency?” he complained.

 

“It’s just a breaking and entry,” Officer Heinrich Steinfeldt said as he ground-tied his horse and approached Gottfried.

 

Gottfried nearly frothed at the mouth. “Just a breaking and entry?” he demanded. “That’s my livelihood you’re talking about.”

 

“Keep your hair on,” Officer Blake Haggerty said as he joined his colleague. “So, what’s been stolen?” he asked.

 

“I don’t know, yet,” Gottfried said.

 

The two police officers exchanged looks. “You haven’t had a look yet?” Heinrich asked.

 

“Of course not,” Gottfried said. “I have been waiting out here, in plain sight of everyone, while I waited for the police to turn up.”

 

“Why did you wait?” Blake asked. “Most people would at least have had a look to see what was stolen.”

 

“Most people aren’t covered by my insurer.” Gottfried smiled ruefully at the two police officers. “With them, it is best not to give them any grounds to question a claim.”

 

“Understood,” Blake said. He glanced around. “The guy escaped via that gate?” he asked, pointing to the large double gate into the factory yard.

 

Gottfried nodded, and the three of them wandered over to examine the still-open gate. Hanging from the latch hole in the gate was a chain, with the still open padlock looped through the last link.

 

Heinrich picked up the padlock and examined it. “Not much of a padlock,” he said.

 

“The public safety act only says the gate has to be locked to prevent people innocently entering the yard and being attacked by my dogs. It doesn’t say it has to be an expensive lock,” Gottfried said.

 

Blake and Heinrich looked around. “What dogs?” Blake asked. “Did the thief poison them or something?”

 

Gottfried shook his head. “No, nothing as reasonable as that. Animal Control officers seized them yesterday.”

 

“Why would they do that?” Heinrich asked.

 

Gottfried took out some of his anger at the animal control officers for seizing his dogs, even if they had given him several warnings, by spitting on the ground. “Continued disturbing of the peace.” As if there was any peace in this neighborhood to disturb, he thought.

 

Blake and Heinrich slowly surveyed the area, taking in the industrial nature of the properties built close to the Grantville power station. “This isn’t much of a residential area,” Blake said.

 

“No, it’s not,” Gottfried agreed.

 

“It’s still a section five,” Blake said. “—any dog which barks, howls, or makes noises by day or night which disturbs the peace and quiet of any person or family within the neighborhood.”

 

“So who lodged the complaint?” Heinrich asked.

 

Gottfried shrugged. He had his suspicions. “Nobody told me who the complainant was.”

 

Blake glanced at his colleague. “But the timing’s a bit suspicious, what with you getting robbed the day after your dogs get seized.”

 

“That had occurred to me,” Gottfried said. “It’s a sad state of affairs when a criminal can call on the government to help them.” He sighed heavily. “Can we get a move on? I want to find out what was taken.”

 

“Okay, okay,” Blake said as he pushed off from the gate post he’d been leaning against. “Dispatch told us that your neighbor’s geese raised the alarm, and he saw someone running from your property, is that correct?”

 

“Yes,” Gottfried said, staring back at the geese currently watching them through the gaps between the palings of the fence between his yard and Wilhelm’s. “And those birds make more noise than my guard dogs ever did,” he added, venting a little spleen.

 

“That’s not our concern, Herr Schubert,” Heinrich said. “Mind, why didn’t you bring some of the geese into your yard when your dogs were taken?” he asked.

 

“I suggested doing that, but the Animal Control officer said I would be in violation of several laws relating to the conditions under which livestock can be kept.”

 

ytdaw-gsBlake nodded. “You do need to provide food, water, and shelter.” He waved an arm to encompass the barren yard. “And I don’t see much a goose would like to eat. So, no geese acting as intruder alarms. Where could the intruder gain entry to your factory from the yard?” he asked.

 

Gottfried led them to the small wicket gate set into the loading bay door.

 

“Good quality three-lever mortise deadbolt,” Heinrich said after a brief examination of the door’s locking mechanism.

 

“Naturally,” Gottfried said. “My insurer insisted.”

 

“Okay then, let’s see what it’s like inside,” Blake said as he stepped through the door. “It’s dark in here,” he said moments later.

 

“There’s a bank of light switches on the wall,” Gottfried called out.

 

“Where?” Blake asked.

 

“Never mind, I’ll get it,” Gottfried said as he stepped into his factory and walked past Blake to the opposite wall and hit a switch. Instantly the room was bathed in the slightly yellow light of new-build low power incandescent light bulbs.

 

“Wow!” Blake said. “You’ve got electric light.”

 

“Of course we have electric light. Why do you think we’re located right next to the power plant if not to use electricity?”

 

Heat flooded Blake’s face. “Yeah, right. Sorry. So, where do you keep your valuables? Where should we start looking?” he asked.

 

“My office. This way,” Gottfried said as he stepped off in the direction of his office.

 

“One of us should be in front,” Heinrich said as he tried to slip past Gottfried.

 

He moved aside to let Heinrich through. “Be my guest. It’s that door over there.”

 

The three men walked in file over to the door in question. “There’s a light switch just beside the door,” Gottfried said.

 

The light came on to reveal Gottfried’s office, the cupboard with the steel strongbox in it open for all to see. Gottfried immediately started towards it.

 

“No!” Blake called out. “Let one of us check it out,” he said as he pulled a clean handkerchief from a pocket.

 

Gottfried stepped aside. “What’s that for?” he asked, indicating the handkerchief.

 

“Fingerprints,” Heinrich said from just behind Gottfried. “There’s a chance the intruder may have left some fingerprints behind.”

 

“Fingerprints behind?” Gottfried frowned. He had no idea what the two policemen were talking about.

 

“I think we can forget fingerprints,” Blake called from the cupboard where he held the lid of the strongbox open. “Our intruder wore gloves.”

 

“How do you know that,” Heinrich asked.

 

“Black leather ones,” Blake continued as if Heinrich hadn’t spoken. “Heinrich, could you bring an evidence bag over here?”

 

“How do you know the thief was wearing gloves, let alone black leather ones?” Gottfried demanded.

 

Both policemen ignored him.

 

“Eugh, that has got to have hurt,” Heinrich said as he scraped something into a plastic bag.

 

“What is it? What have you found?” Gottfried demanded as he crowded closer to have a look.

 

Heinrich answered by holding up the plastic bag. Inside it, after squinting a little, Gottfried was able to identify the item as the tip of a glove. A black leather one, with part of a finger still in it.

 

“Anybody working for you lost a finger recently?” Heinrich asked.

 

Gottfried stiffened. “I run a very safe shop. There hasn’t been a significant accident here in over a year.”

 

Heinrich nodded. “Then this probably belongs to the intruder.” He turned to Blake. “What do you think—is there enough to get an ID from?”

 

Blake measured one of his fingers against the bit of glove and shook his head. “I doubt it. It’s only the bit above the loop, but we’ll see what Georg has to say on Monday.” He turned to Gottfried. “Can you tell me if there is anything missing?”

 

Gottfried pulled a notebook from a pocket and started to check the contents of the strong box

 

Tuesday

 

Gottfried was, as was usual in the course of a working day, filthy dirty—it came with the job—and had just retired to the wash room to get the worst off before he headed for his office and the dreaded paperwork running a business required when one of the apprentices approached him.

 

“There is a young woman to see you, Herr Schubert,” Jürgen said.

 

“What does she want?” he asked as he wiped his hands clean on a towel. He could have added a few expletives, but it wasn’t the boy’s fault that some female had intruded into his world.

 

In answer Jürgen held out a business card. Gottfried stared at it. “What the . . .” A whole range of expletives were desperately held back as Gottfried struggled to hold onto his temper. He tossed the now filthy towel in Jürgen’s direction and strode off in search of this most unwelcome visitor.

 

ytdaw-slcncrbdShe was standing quietly in his office, idly examining a diagram of the life cycle of silicon carbide and its uses. She was a young woman, dressed in the conservative style of a proper German girl—except for the pink work boots peeking out from beneath her full length skort. Even without the business card Jürgen had given him he’d have known who he faced based on those alone. “What do you want?” he demanded.

 

The girl had turned at the sound of his entry, now she held out her right hand. “Christina Kleiner, Department of Occupational Safety and Health, I understand you had a serious accident in the early hours of Sunday morning.”

 

Gottfried dropped the hand he’d been reaching out with. “We didn’t have a serious accident on Sunday, because we don’t work on the Sabbath. What we had was a thief on the premises.”

 

Christina drew back her hand as she nodded her head. “And he suffered an amputation of over a centimetre from the right hand middle digit, which counts as a serious incident.”

 

“But that wasn’t one of my workers, that was a criminal. One who got away with over two thousand dollars worth of stock, I might add.”

 

“It’s still a work place accident, and as such, it has to be investigated,” Christina said.

 

“What a waste of money,” Gottfried muttered.

 

“Maybe, but it is in your best interests to have the accident investigated.”

 

Gottfried stared at the girl. “In my best interests? How do you work that out?” he demanded.

 

“Well, you wouldn’t want one of your employees to lose a finger in the same manner.”

 

Gottfried snorted. “If they’re that careless, they deserve what they get.”

 

Christina raised a brow. “They would be entitled to four weeks paid sick leave while the injury heals, and you’d be liable for their medical expenses, which, based on the last finger amputation case I dealt with, could be upwards of five thousand dollars.”

 

“Five thousand dollars? For a few stitches?”

 

“It’s actually a bit more complicated than that,” Christina said. “With that much of the tip of a finger removed the surgeon has to cut back the bone so a flap can cover the injury, and he or she has to remove all of the nail’s root system, so that it can’t grow back. All of which has to be done under anaesthetic.”

 

“Okay,” Gottfried agreed reluctantly, “that’s a little more complicated than a few stitches, but why remove the nail? Isn’t it supposed to protect the fingertip?”

 

Christina shrugged. “I can only repeat what I’ve been told, and I was told that leaving the nail to grow back will result in all sorts of nasty complications.”

 

Gottfried sighed. That meant one of his people having a similar accident could leave him out of pocket to the tune of six thousand dollars even before they got to compensation for pain and suffering. He walked over and opened the cupboard, revealing his strongbox. “There you are,” he said.

 

Christina moved over to the strongbox and crouched down to examine it. “A Kalt Security two hundred-pounder.” She ran her fingers along the gap between the recessed lid and the front plate. “Dropping the lid closed would be like having a guillotine fall on a finger,” she said as she stood up. “Would you mind opening it, please?”

 

Gottfried dutifully unlocked the strongbox, and then stepped back, a smug smile on his face.

 

Christina looked at Gottfried and rolled her eyes. Then she stepped up to the strongbox, bent down, and using straight arms, lifted the lid by standing up. She opened the lid as far as it would go, but as Gottfried knew, couldn’t lean it far enough back that it would stay there.

 

“Do you use something to prop it open?” Christina asked as she struggled to hold the sixty-pound lid open.

 

Gottfried grinned. “Usually I just lean against it to keep it open while I do what I have to do with the contents.” He took pity on the girl and stuck out a hand and leaned on the lid. “You seen all you need to see?” he asked.

 

“It’s fairly obviously not a mantrap,” Christina said, “but I’d like to see if I can work out how an accident might have occurred.”

 

“MANTRAP?” Gottfried roared. “I wouldn’t have a mantrap on site.”

 

“Of course you wouldn’t,” Christina said as she edged back from Gottfried. “However, in the event that the thief is apprehended . . .”

 

“As if that’s going to happen,” Gottfried said. He’d talked with the police forensics expert and learned that the chances of matching the fingertip to any of the fingerprints on record were slim to non-existent.

 

Christina carried on as if Gottfried hadn’t interrupted. “. . . his lawyer is likely to accuse you of excess force and demand compensation for his client.”

 

“COMPENSATION?” Gottfried’s roar this time was almost an order of magnitude louder. “I would have pay the person who stole from me compensation?”

 

“No,” Christina said, smiling. “Not now I’ve determined that you didn’t have a mantrap in place.” She surveyed the strongbox. “You can lower the lid now,” she said.

 

“Is that all you need?” Gottfried asked as he closed and locked the strongbox.

 

“Yes, thank you. It’s clear that that nothing you did could have caused the accident. I’d guess that, from what I’ve seen, the thief was fully responsible for his own misfortune. I’ll see that you have a copy of my report for your insurer.”

 

Gottfried winced. That was something else he had against his thief. This little accident was going to result in his workplace insurance premiums going up.

 

A week later

 

Gottfried was sitting at his desk carefully sorting out silicon carbide crystals according to their size and color when a man in a dark, up-time-inspired, pinstriped suit was shown in.

 

“How can I help you?” he asked as he carefully folded up a paper containing ten maybe-gem quality stones.

 

“Fabian Schrapel, Department of Energy, at your service, Herr Schubert,” he said, presenting Gottfried with his business card.

 

Gottfried stood to accept the card and looked at it. “Energy Analyst?” he asked.

 

“That’s right, Herr Schubert, we’ve been reviewing your energy usage, and I’ve been assigned to help you reduce how much energy you consume. I’ll just be assessing what you do and comparing it to best practices and . . .”

 

“How much is this going to cost me?” Gottfried demanded.

 

Fabian stepped back in horror. “Oh, Herr Schubert, it won’t cost you a cent. I’m paid by the government.”

 

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