Frank's thoughts were right. They divided the work so that Bill Reilly—Captain Reilly, now—worked with the burgomeister. That left Byron to work with the men of the watch themselves.
A few days after trying to work with all of them, Byron had decided that it was going to be tough to get through to the watch as a group. Despite the fact that many of them were close to his own age, or even older in a couple of cases, they reminded him of nothing more than a group of high school jocks. He knew they weren't stupid—these were the cream of the patrician and merchant families, after all—but they had adopted a uniform "We don't need to know anything you have to show us" attitude. Byron had muttered a few words about the NCIS to Bill, who sympathized with him. They both knew that there was plenty of pride and arrogance to go around. The watch had almost certainly given as good as they got in the insult arena, but that didn't make the results any easier to deal with. Byron had gone to Otto Gericke and asked the burgomeister to designate one member of the watch—one who might be a little more open or reasonable than the others—to partner with him.
The result was Gotthilf Hoch, one of the youngest members of the group and from a minor patrician family. Byron watched him as he squirmed a little in his chair. He had been sizing Gotthilf up for the last day or so. He thought he could work with him. No time like the present, he supposed, so he had asked the young man to step into his office.
"So, why did you join the watch?"
Gotthilf's eyes widened in surprise. "The statue speaks!"
Byron grinned. "I'm not that bad, am I?"
Gotthilf returned the grin uncertainly, as if he didn't know how Byron would react. "Nay, but there are those who have wagered you would only speak when spoken to or when ordered to. Coin changes hand tonight when I tell them of this."
"All right, so I don't talk a lot, unlike some others I could name." The grins returned at the thought of a few of the members of the watch. "So, why did you join?"
Gotthilf flushed a little. "After . . . after Tilly's men destroyed the city, I thought to help protect it again."
"And . . . I thought it would be good to be seen as a member of the watch." That all came out in a rush.
"Aha. You liked the idea of wearing the sash and carrying a musket or torch around at night with a bunch of other guys." Byron glanced at the younger man, only to catch his profile as he stared down the street in his turn. "That sounds like the ambition of a fifteen-year-old boy." Gotthilf's flush increased. "But the idea of protecting your city, now . . . that's a goal worthy of a man."
Gotthilf turned to stare at Byron.
"Yep, that's an ambition I can respect," Byron continued. "Thing is, it doesn't go far enough."
Gotthilf's stare turned puzzled.
"You were thinking of protecting Magdeburg and your family from outsiders. What about protecting Magdeburg and its citizens from assault from within?" Byron pointed out the window to the street. "These people have the same desire for peace that you do. Shouldn't they be given your protection? From theft and murder and rape, not by soldiers but by those who are just stronger and more vicious?"
Gotthilf's eyes followed Byron's finger. For long moments he stared out the window. When he turned back to Byron, his jaw was set firm. "The talk is that you Grantvillers come to overturn our laws and create anarchy, that you are all but lawless yourselves. Look at how your admiral insulted the city by raising those outside the law to enforce it in his precious NCIS."
"The rumors have it wrong, as usual. We believe in laws, but we believe in moral laws; laws that are based on reason and logic, not on custom and ritual. And the admiral has his reasons—after all, sometimes you have to set a thief to catch a thief. But that has nothing to do with protecting your people." Byron smiled at Gotthilf's surprise. "You already have the tools you need to reach your desire. Eyes to see, ears to hear, and a mind to reason. If you have those, all you need to know is how to use them."
The young man was still thinking about that when Byron ended the discussion with, "Meet me tomorrow morning here. Leave your sash at home. In fact, dress in something old and worn, something that looks like it's been used for more than sitting for a portrait." His grin was fully as evil as Frank Jackson's. "And wear your most comfortable shoes or boots. We're going to be doing a lot of walking."
* * *
Gotthilf Hoch, stalwart member of the Magdeburg city watch—in his own opinion, anyway—was walking as escort today for Lieutenant Byron Chieske of the USE Army. At least that was how he thought of it. He knew that Byron referred to him as his partner, but that implied an equality that Gotthilf didn't feel. As a member of a patrician family in the city, he wasn't sure he should be forced to work with this up-timer. However, Burgomeister Gericke had made it very clear he expected Gotthilf to do so, so here he was.
He looked up at Byron as they walked down the busy streets of Magdeburg. This wasn't the first day they'd been walking the streets. When he questioned Byron about why, he got a response that he was still mulling over, trying to understand: "I need to learn the city—learn it the way the people know it . . . not from horseback, or with a group of the watch or a company of friends, but up close and personal. And if I've got to be out there, you're going to be out there with me." That devil-may-care smile was on his craggy face as he finished.
It was a fair distance to look up at Byron—he was on the tall side, even for an up-timer, whereas Gotthilf was short, even for one born before the Ring of Fire brought Grantville to these times. In fact, on those few occasions when Gotthilf was being honest, he would admit that he almost bordered on being a dwarf. That made the contrast with Byron even stronger.
Byron glanced down at him and raised an eyebrow. The man was a walking definition of laconic, Gotthilf decided. He could talk, but at times his facial muscles did most of his talking for him. In any event, it wasn't difficult to interpret this question.
"Yes, we're almost there." He stepped around a steaming pile of dung left just moments before by a horse. "Another block, I think." Byron nodded and continued walking.
They were well away from the docks, in an area of Magdeburg that was very much still in a state of transition. The sack of the city in 1631 by Tilly's army had burned most of it to the ground. Almost four years later, the city was still in recovery. Money was flowing in because of Magdeburg becoming the capital of the USE, from the naval yards and from many of the new up-timer inspired businesses. Nevertheless, much of the city was still a mess.
Take this street, for instance. It must have served as a fire break, since most of the buildings on the west side of the street showed no evidence of flames. The east side buildings were, for the most part, ash and a poor grade of charcoal. Many of the former building sites had been cleared, with a few of them even showing evidence of reconstruction. The west side buildings hadn't totally escaped damage, however, as doorway after doorway showed evidence of having been forced or kicked open by Tilly's marauding troops.
The area was busy, though. Enterprising vendors brought wagons, carts, or even packs full of anything that would sell, and set up in the open spaces created by the fire. These weren't the big merchants; they were peddlers, small farmers from outside the city, itinerant craftsmen. Withered or dried fruits and vegetables; firewood that was more twigs and small branches than solid wood; cloth scraps and ribbons and old clothes; odds and ends of plates and cups and knives; pins and needles; even a portable butcher shop—bring your own meat; all could be found down this street. It was even whispered sometimes that some of these folk were those who would also perhaps purchase items without inquiring too much into whether the seller was the rightful owner.
A rangy dog ran by, splashing them both with liquid from a rather noisome puddle. Gotthilf cursed as the smell reached his nose. His immediate reaction was to look and see how badly his clothing was soiled, resentment boiling in his mind. It took the visual reminder that he was wearing old clothes from one of the servants for him to relax. His best tunic and culottes were still hanging in the wardrobe at home. For once he was glad that this inscrutable Grantviller had made him wear something other than his finest clothes. Only then did it dawn on him that his servant's opinion might not be the same as his.
Byron's clothes were equally scruffy and unremarkable, Gotthilf noted. In fairness, he had to admit—with reluctance—that the lieutenant hadn't asked him to do anything he wasn't willing to do himself. There were enough up-timers in Magdeburg these days, and enough down-timers starting to dress like up-timers, that his worn clothing attracted nothing more than the occasional calculating stare that assessed the value, then caught sight of Byron's face and looked away.
Although it was broad daylight, Gotthilf caught glimpses of women sidling up to men on the fringes of the crowd, offering themselves as they pursued the wherewithal to buy enough food to stay alive—or enough beer or spirits to stay drunk all night would be more like it. Young though he was, he had seen enough of the streets to have the cynical attitude of one who had observed the worst that mankind could do to itself. He had no illusions as to whether the raddled harridan he was watching at the moment would choose food or drink when darkness came.
Gotthilf's head turned forward again as another cross-street was reached. Byron stopped, which caused Gotthilf to halt as well. "This the area?" the up-timer asked.
"Yes, Lieutenant." The up-timer's abruptness irritated Gotthilf again, but he didn't let that interfere with his responsibilities. "The people of these streets have little love for the town watch, but such complaints of theft as have made their ways to our ears seem to center near this street."
"And no one has seen anything?"
"Not that we have heard."
"Hmm." Without speaking, the American moved to the west side of the street and leaned against the front of a building, hands in pockets.
After a moment, Gotthilf followed. "The building is in no danger of falling, you know. We don't need to prop it up." Byron's mouth formed a fleeting grin, but his eyes remained focused down the street. "What are you doing?"
"Don't know. I'll let you know when I see it, though."
Gotthilf shook his head, wondering if all the Grantvillers were this crazy.
Willi settled into his corner in front of Zenzi's with a sigh. Erna hadn't come with him. She'd said something about Uncle wanting her to do some work somewhere else today and left before he did. The way had seemed longer than usual without her chattering beside him. He'd had to go slower, as well, but he'd walked the route often enough that his feet automatically took him to Zenzi's.
The rag across his eyes was securely in place, or so his testing fingers told him. Willi pulled his bowl out of his coat, salted it with the couple of quartered Halle pfennigs like Uncle had told him to do and set it in front of him. He leaned back against the corner and propped his stick against his shoulder, settling in for the day. Pursing his lips, he began to whistle.
Byron felt the pressure of the wall on his shoulder blades as he stared down the street. He watched Gotthilf out of the corner of his eye as the youth looked around in imitation of what Byron had been doing the last few days. His gaze was slow, but Byron thought he was actually starting to observe what he was seeing.
Gotthilf looked back to him. "This is some more of that pattern stuff again, isn't it?"
"Yep. That's what I'm trying to do here, today. Start understanding how this street works. Once we can see that, then we can start looking for the thief, because he'll stick out like one of the emperor's Finns at one of Mary Simpson's parties."
That got a laugh from the young watchman.
Willi heard steps coming from the door of the bakery toward him. He cocked his head for a moment, then smiled. "Frau Zenzi." He gave a nod. "Good morning to you."
From the sound of her steps, Frau Kreszentia Traugottin verw. Ostermann—known as Zenzi to one and all—was not a small woman. Her husband, Anselm, was the baker for Das Haus Des Brotes, but she was the one the buyers dealt with. She held her own in exchanges that sometimes were impassioned and occasionally vituperative. Willi had overheard descriptions of ancestry, personal appearance and habits that, if true, were incredible. And more than once he had heard her take up the hardwood oven paddle and use it to chase would-be thieves or extortionists from the bakery. Swung edgewise by someone who knew how to use it—which Zenzi did—the paddle could break bones and crack skulls.
For all that, however, Frau Zenzi had been nothing but kind to Willi from the first day that he hunkered down outside her shop. Whether it was his age or size or affliction, she had always had a kind word to say to him and would often slip him a piece of warm bread with butter. Once she had placed a sweet roll in his hands. Willi's mouth watered whenever he thought of that day, when he'd had a taste of heaven.
"So, Willi, how are you today?" Willi liked Frau Zenzi's voice. It was deep and warm and furry sounding, but would never be mistaken for a man's voice.
"Today I am fine, Frau Zenzi. And how is your business today?"
"Eh, well, it is not as good as I would like, but it is good enough. God provides." Willi heard her clothes rustle as she bent down. "Hold out your hand, Willi."
He did so, and felt a cup placed in it. The tang of buttermilk came to him as he sipped.
"It's not much," she said. "I would have more, but the bread sold out early today, even the rolls that were burned on the bottom."
Willi licked his lips, feeling the thick coating of the buttermilk on them. He lifted the empty cup and felt it taken from his hands. "Thank you, Frau Zenzi. It was good." He hesitated. "Frau Zenzi? Why do you give this—the bread, the milk—why do you give them to me?"
He felt her kneel down in front of him, then her hand touched his head. "Do you not know, young Willi?" He shook his head. " 'Inasmuch as you have done it unto the least of these, my brethren, you have done it unto me.' Those are the very words of Jesu Christus. I don't understand many things about the Bible, or about the words of Luther or Calvin, but these words of Jesu I understand. To the least, I will give. And you, young Willi, are among the least."
She patted his head gently, then stood. Willi's throat felt swollen from the emotion he was feeling that moment. To think that someone did care for him even a little fueled a warmth in his belly that made him forget the cool day.
"Uff." Frau Zenzi sounded disgusted. "Here comes that Dürr woman again, wanting us to bake something for her. If ever a name was fitting it is hers, for she is as thin and dry as an old stick."
"She sounds mean," Willi ventured.
"Ha! That's because she is mean, Willi my lad, for all her trying to sound sweet. Well, I'd best go deal with her. Soonest begun, soonest done."
Willi heard her steps move off. He sat quietly in his darkness for a moment, feeling the warmth inside, then resumed his whistling.
Byron pushed away from the wall of the building. "Come on. Let's go for a walk." Gotthilf was beside him as he started down the street.
The pace was more of an amble than a walk. Byron kept his hands tucked into his jacket pockets as he looked around. He decided that most of these folks would have been right at home at an up-time flea market either as buyers or sellers. The energy, the conversations, the raised voices, even some of the gestures were all the same. If the people had been speaking English instead of German, this could have been the Saturday morning meeting at the old drive-in theater over by Fairmont.
One trade in particular caught Byron's attention. He was looking the right way to see several silver coins exchange hands for a single table knife, fork and spoon setting of stainless steel flatware. The vendor looked nervous when he saw Byron staring at him after the exchange was made.
"Don't look now," Byron said after they were several steps past that point, "but the fellow in the faded green coat may be dealing in stolen merchandise. Don't look," without changing expression as Gotthilf started to turn.
"Why aren't you confronting him?" Gotthilf was scowling.
"Because I can't prove it . . . or at least not yet."
"But you saw something back there."
"Yep. I saw him sell something that could only have come from Grantville." Gotthilf started to turn again, and Byron grabbed him by the arm. "But . . . that doesn't mean it's stolen. Only that it might be."
Gotthilf settled beside him again. "So, you just ignore it?"
"No. Because it might be stolen. So it's our responsibility to look into it. We'll ask some questions in Grantville about what I saw. We'll ask some questions around here about this fellow. We'll start putting the pieces of the puzzle together, and depending on what picture we get we may arrest the guy."
Gotthilf stopped. "Pieces? Puzzle? Picture? What are you talking about? And what does that have to do with stolen property?"
Byron's jaw dropped for a moment. "Um . . . I think we just tripped over an up-time thing." He spent some time describing jigsaw puzzles, until Gotthilf understood the concept. "So, police work is a lot like that process, except we have to make the pieces ourselves."
"I understand . . . I think. But it seems like a lot of work when we could just arrest him now and have done with it. You saw it, you think the items were stolen, the magistrates would probably be satisfied with that."
Byron wanted to smack his forehead. "Gotthilf, it's about the truth. It's about what I can prove, not what I think." He reached into his inside pocket and brought out a piece of paper. "Listen, this is even in the Bible. From Deuteronomy chapter seventeen, verse six: 'At the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he that is worthy of death be put to death; but at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death.' That's basically establishing that justice will be based on more than one man's opinion."
Gotthilf still looked stubborn. Byron was glad that he had talked to Lenny Washaw about this stuff. He had had a feeling that having something from the Bible that would support his teachings would impress at least some of the down-timers. He wasn't much of a church-goer himself, but he knew Lenny through his wife Jonni and her sister Marla. Lenny was a Methodist deacon, so he knew more Bible than Byron did, that's for sure. Once he had explained his need, Lenny had come up with several passages for him.
"Listen, Gotthilf, have you ever read the story of Susannah and the Elders?"
"It's in your Bible. Read it. You'll see what I'm talking about."
They continued strolling down the street. Byron had quit talking and was just looking around. Gotthilf was trying to see what the up-timer was looking at, but he saw nothing noteworthy.
His feelings ran through a cycle of confused, irritated and frustrated, over and over again. He thought he understood what Lieutenant Chieske was saying, but it just didn't make any sense. If you thought something was wrong and you knew who did it, everything in him said you should do something about it. It didn't make sense that you should just talk to people.
Gotthilf shook his head, walking two steps past the up-timer before he realized he had stopped. He turned and stepped back to where Byron had his head cocked to one side. "What is it now?"
After a moment Gotthilf could hear it; someone was whistling. Someone was whistling well, although he didn't recognize the tune. Byron had caught the direction and headed toward the sound. Gotthilf trailed in his wake, shaking his head again. Now the madman wanted to see someone whistling.
Byron stopped so suddenly that Gotthilf almost trod on his heels. The whistling was in front of them. He stepped around the up-timer, only to see nothing—nothing, that is, until he looked down to see a small boy seated in front of a bakery, whistling.
Gotthilf had to admit the boy was good. For a moment, he stood there and listened. He didn't think he knew the tune, but something about it . . . He shook it off when Byron knelt before the boy.
"Hello." Byron's voice was light, but his expression was serious. "My name is Byron. What's yours?"
Gotthilf noted the dirty rag tied around the boy's eyes and the wooden bowl with several coppers in it sitting on the ground in front of him. A beggar. His mouth twisted in distaste.
"Willi." The blindfolded head turned to look up at Byron, as if the boy could see. "You sound funny. Are you from Jena?"
Gotthilf was ready to wager there was nothing wrong with his eyes.
"No," Byron responded, "I'm from a lot farther away than that."
"Mainz?" Willi was obviously trying to think of someplace far away.
"No," Byron laughed. "I'm from Grantville."
Willi's mouth made an O. He started asking excited questions, which Byron answered patiently, one after another. When the boy ran down, Byron asked his own question.
"Do you know the name of the song you were whistling?" When the boy shook his head, Byron said, "It's called 'The Rising of the Moon.' My wife's sister sings it a lot at the Green Horse tavern."
"Oh, I never heard the name. That's pretty. I just heard the song when Un . . . when someone I know would hum it."
Gotthilf snorted and nudged Byron with his foot. When the up-timer looked up with a frown, he said, "We have work to do, or so you told me, yet you sit here talking to a beggar who can probably see as well as you can."
The boy's mouth set in a hard line. He reached up to pull off the bandage, then raised his face to them. Gotthilf swallowed a curse as he stepped back from the sight of the scarred and cloudy eyes.
Byron took Willi's face between his hands, tilting it this way and that to let the light shine upon it. "Can you see anything at all?" The question was asked in a tone that matched his gentle hands.
"Some light, some dark." Willi's voice was low.
"Has it gotten worse?"
"When did it start?"
"When the soldiers came." The boy started putting his bandage back on to hide his eyes.
Byron looked up to Gotthilf. The sack of Magdeburg—four years ago. Gotthilf swallowed in sudden nausea. "Where's your mother and father?"
"Soldiers killed them." Willi's voice was now almost inaudible.
"I'm sorry." Byron rested a hand on the boy's hair for a moment. "Who do you live with now?"
"What is his . . ."
"Willi! It's time to go." Byron was interrupted by another boy running up to Willi's side. "Come on, you know Uncle doesn't like us to be late." The boy helped Willi pick up the bowl and put the coins in his pocket. "Come on!"
"Wait." Byron reached in his pocket and pressed something into the boy's hand. "Goodbye, Willi. Nice talking to you."
"You know when I said I'd let you know when I found what I was looking for?"
"I think I just found it."
"Yep. Boy that size shouldn't be begging, blind or not. On my watch, you don't abuse or take advantage of kids. Someone's not taking proper care of him, and I think I'll find out who."
"But he's just a beggar." Gotthilf was astounded at the up-timer's thoughts. Astonishment fled in the next instant, however, as Byron turned to him with a transformed face. His eyes were cold. His face was still, as if engraved in stone, except for a muscle tic in his left cheek.
" 'We hold these truths to be self-evident' . . ." Byron's voice, cold enough to match his eyes, was obviously quoting something. ". . . 'that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.' " After a moment, he continued. "That's from the American Declaration of Independence. It expresses our belief that all men are created of equal worth. And that includes Willi."
Byron's hands snaked out and grabbed the front of Gotthilf's jerkin. He suddenly found himself nose to nose with the taller man, feet dangling inches above the ground. "That boy is a victim." The up-timer's voice was, if possible, even icier than before. "And no victim is ever going to be dismissed as 'just' anything. Not on my watch. If you don't learn anything else today, learn that."
The up-timer released his grip. Gotthilf landed hard on his heels with a jar that brought a clack from his teeth and set his head spinning. He looked up to be transfixed again by the cold glare from Byron's eyes.
"You've got some Bible reading to do. While you're doing that, I'm going to do some research."
Still a little wobbly, Gotthilf watched the back of the tall up-timer recede down the street.
Willi was two streets over before he was able to dig in his heels. "Erna!" He wrenched his arm out of her grasp. "What are you doing?"
"Getting you out of trouble," she hissed in his ear. "One of those men was an up-timer."
"I know that. His name is Byron. He was nice."
"Well, I think the man he was with was one of the city watch. He looked like one I saw wearing the sash a week or two ago."
Willi swallowed. "He wasn't nice."
"That's right. And you just remember that. We're going to have to tell Uncle, and he's not going to like it. Now come on."
"Wait." Willi held out his hand. "Byron gave me this. What is it?" He heard the sound of breath sucked in. "Well?"
"It's a silver pfennig. Uncle will like that for sure. Now put it away and come on."
As it turned out, it was two days before Gotthilf saw Byron again. He spent a frustrating morning trying to locate the Bible passage he had been directed to read. Finally he gave it up and went to visit his pastor. The ensuing reading and discussion lasted most of the day. Verse by verse the old scholar walked him through the account, in the process showing him the wisdom and knowledge owned by Daniel, the hero of the tale.
"It is a cautionary tale from several aspects," the pastor concluded. "First, to those who are in positions of authority: it says to guard themselves against temptation, and warns them that if they do succumb to temptation, nothing they can do will hide their sin. They will be found out."
He turned a page. "Second, to the community: to not be quick to judge without first carefully weighing the facts. Things such as this must be diligently examined, and even the highest ranked involved should be questioned carefully.
"Third," and here he gave a direct look to Gotthilf, "to those charged with these examinations: to be diligent to look for the facts, and not be swayed by opinions or statements from others. It is reprehensible to allow someone to be falsely accused and convicted of a crime."
"That's what he said," Gotthilf muttered.
"He?" the pastor asked.
"Byron Chieske, the Grantville lieutenant I'm supposed to be working with."
This led to a discussion of the events of the previous day. Somehow it didn't surprise Gotthilf to find that his pastor agreed with the up-timer.
"He sounds as if he is a man of wisdom, integrity and insight. I suggest, young Gotthilf, that you listen to him."
Gotthilf sighed. "Yes, sir."
The following morning Gotthilf tried to apologize to Byron for not showing up the previous day.
"Don't mention it," Byron waved it off. "I was up to my eyebrows in looking for an orphanage."
"Yeah. A place where kids who lose their parents and don't have kinfolk go to live."
Gotthilf struggled to absorb another new up-time idea. "We have no such things."
"That's what I found out." Byron shrugged. "So then I asked what happened to the kids whose parents were killed in the sack."
"Most of them were placed with kin. If no kin was found, older children were placed as apprentices and younger children were placed with families who would care for them until they were of an age to be apprenticed." Byron looked satisfied, to Gotthilf's eye. "The church kept records, they did. When I explained my concern about Willi they not only opened those records, they gave me a clerk to read them. And here," he reached in his pocket and drew out a notebook which he threw open, "is a list of families who accepted young boys into their foster care about that time."
Gotthilf reacted to Byron's smile with an uncertain smile of his own. "Let me guess: we go to talk to these people."
"Right. Here's the addresses. Let's go."
They turned away from the next to the last address on their list. "All children accounted for and healthy," Gotthilf muttered as he pulled the address list out one last time. "We're down to one Lubbold Vogler."
"It's called the process of elimination," Byron assured him. "You work through all the possibilities until you arrive at the one that fits. So, we've eliminated all the others, we should get our answers from Herr Vogler at this last address."
But the face that opened the door at their knock disappointed them. "No, no Vogler here."
"Did he live here before you, do you know?"
"No." And the door was firmly closed.
They stepped down to the street. "Where do we go from here?" Gotthilf wondered.
Byron looked around with narrowed eyes. "C'mon. And think of a question you can ask." Gotthilf followed him over to an old man sitting on a step, one hand on a cane and another holding his pipe. The up-timer nodded his head to the old man. "Good afternoon, Grossvater. I am Lieutenant Chieske, and this is Herr Hoch."
"Fuchs," the old man grunted around the stem of his pipe.
"Herr Fuchs, we are searching for one . . ." Byron turned to Gotthilf, who fumbled the paper out of his pocket. "Lubbold Vogler."
Herr Fuchs took the pipe from his mouth and spat expressively.
"Does he live there?" Byron pointed to the house they had just left.
"Did he live there?"
"Do you know where he went?"
"Did he have some small children?"
The old man finally showed some expression, as his mouth tightened. "Aye."
Byron looked to Gotthilf. He had been smiling at the sight of Byron meeting someone even stingier with words than the up-timer, but now realized he was supposed to ask something. "Um . . . er . . . when did he leave?" He was gratified when Byron nodded in approval.
Herr Fuchs thought for a moment. "Three years ago."
"Did he say where he was going when he left?"
"Nay." They waited a moment, but the old man said nothing more.
"Thank you for your time." Byron held out his hand for Herr Fuchs to shake. "You've been very helpful."
They turned to leave, and the old man took the pipe from his mouth again. "If you find him, tell him I remember he still owes me twenty pfennig. And give him a lick from me for the way he beat those children." He clenched his teeth around the pipe stem again and gave them a firm nod, which they returned.
"Well," Byron breathed. "Well, well, well, well, well." Gotthilf looked up to him as he tried to keep up with the up-timer's long strides. "I do believe we've found our man."
"Well, so to speak. It appears we have a name for him, which is more than we had. Now we just need to truly find him."
"And how do we do that?"
"We go back to the street tomorrow and talk to Willi. One way or another, we'll find Herr Vogler through him." Gotthilf watched as Byron's face turned cold again; colder even than the other day. "And then we'll have a little talk."
The ice in Byron's voice caused the down-timer to shiver.
Gotthilf couldn't decide if Lieutenant Chieske looked preoccupied in the early morning light, or if he was just sleepy.
"Do you have a gun?" Byron asked.
"The musket belongs to the city."
"No." Byron shook his head. "I meant a handgun; a pistol."
"I have a pistol," Gotthilf replied. "One of the new percussion cap revolvers from Suhl."
"A Hockenjoss and Klott?"
"Got it with you?"
Byron held out his hand. Gotthilf, with mingled pride and embarrassment, pulled the pistol from his pocket and handed it to him. He watched as the up-timer handled it. The young man took a great deal of pride in his new pistol, although he thought it a bit plain. It still bothered him, however, that he had been forced to settle for the silver-chased model with bone handles. His father had made it very clear that their family was not named among the Hoch-Adel, so there would be no gilded toys.
"A good weapon." Byron handed it back. "A little too pretty for my taste, though." Gotthilf was unable to keep his astonishment at the up-timer's reaction from his face. Byron laughed, producing by what seemed sleight of hand a weapon from underneath his jacket. "Now this is what I would call a good pistol. None of that fancy work on it that has to be kept polished and clean."
Gotthilf stared at the pistol. It wasn't pretty. It was all metal, and looked like a slab with no decorative work on it. No gold or silver chasing, no carved ivory or woodwork. Just pure function—to shoot, perhaps to kill. A chill ran down his spine at the sight of it.
"Keep yours with you all the time now." Byron made his disappear again. "And Gotthilf," Byron started to turn away, "make sure it's loaded."
Erna watched as Willi tried to argue with Uncle.
"But Uncle . . ."
"No, I said! You will not go out, not with those . . . those . . . spies looking for you."
"But . . ." Willi started.
"No!" A slap knocked Willi against the wall, where he slid to the floor. "Now do as I say."
Uncle looked at the huddled boy for a long moment, then turned away and left the room. Free to move without the glare of Uncle's gaze being on her, Erna hurried to Willi's side and helped him sit up.
"Are you all right?" She pulled his head around to see where he had been hit. Willi's ear was a bright red, so that must have been where the slap landed. "Are you all right, Willi?" she whispered.
Willi tried to stand, then folded up again. " 'M dizzy," he murmured.
Erna helped over to their corner and covered him with their blankets after he laid down. She crouched by his head. "Willi?"
"Willi, don't you try to talk to Uncle for a while. He's . . . something's not going right for him. I heard men yelling in the back of the house a couple of nights ago. It woke me up. The back door slammed, then he came into our room and stood by the front door for the longest time."
She shivered, remembering what the light from the other room had revealed. "Willi . . . Willi, he had a gun. A pistol."
"Why would Uncle have a gun?" Willi slurred.
"I don't know," Erna replied, still whispering. "But he does. And it scares me."
A long moment of quiet passed.
"Willi?" There was no response. Erna checked to see if he was breathing. He was, so she guessed he'd gone to sleep or passed out. She wiggled around, then sat with her arms around her knees, waiting until Uncle told her to go do her work.
She hadn't been able to tell Willi the most important part. After Willi had been knocked to the floor, Uncle had stared at him, cold and hard. Then he'd put his hand in his pocket and started to take out his gun, only to stop and, after a moment, slide it back in.
That scared Erna more than anything.
The space outside the bakery was empty. They loitered in the area until well past the time that they had seen Willi before. Gotthilf watched as Byron's lips tightened in frustration.
A large woman appeared in the doorway of the bakery, looking up the street. Byron elbowed Gotthilf. "Come on." She looked to them with a frown as they approached.
"Your pardon, Frau . . ." Byron began.
"Frau Kreszentia Traugottin. And you are?"
Byron introduced them as city officials looking into various irregularities. "I see that the boy is not here today."
"No, no, indeed not," Byron soothed. "We want to talk to him because we think he knows something that will help us. And we want to make sure he's being taken care of. It bothers us that a child that young is begging in the streets."
Gotthilf watched as Byron's conversation with Frau Kreszentia—"call me Zenzi"—elicited the information that no, she didn't know where Willi lived; no, she didn't know anything about an uncle; yes, the last few months he had been here almost every day; and yes, he always came from one direction, often with another youngster leading him.
The conversation drew to a close. "Bide," Frau Zenzi said as she stepped back into the bakery. She returned a moment later with two rolls, to hand one to each of them. "You find my Willi, you make sure he is all right, you tell him his place is still here. Yes?"
They assured her they would do exactly that and took their leave. Munching on his roll, Gotthilf looked back to see her standing in the door of the bakery, looking after them.
Gotthilf swallowed the last of his roll. "For someone who doesn't like to talk," he commented to Byron, "you certainly are proficient at it."
Byron paused in licking his fingers. "Just because I can do it doesn't mean I want to." He finished the finger licking, and continued, "And you'd better have been paying attention, because you're going to start doing all the talking and question asking soon." Gotthilf stared at the up-timer with wide eyes. Byron returned a grin. "Yep. Count on it. You'll talk; I'll just stand around and look threatening."
"Ha." Still strolling down the street, Gotthilf looked up and stiffened. "Byron." He tried very hard not to shout or act excited. "Isn't that the boy who pulled Willi away from us?"
Byron directed a casual glance that direction. "Yep. Now look away." They did so. "The trick is to not stare at the person, but to look that way just often enough to keep him in sight. Except in this case I think it's a her."
"What?" Gotthilf absorbed another surprise. "Are you sure?"
"Yeah. I've been around girls in pants all my life, so to me they're not the automatic disguise for a girl they are for you down-timers." That was the first time Gotthilf could remember Byron using that term. He noted in passing that it was used in a neutral manner. "Girls move differently than boys, even that young. And if you look at her hands, from what I remember they're slenderer than a boy's usually are. So, I think that's a girl." Gotthilf absorbed that as well.
There was a moment of silence.
"What's she doing out here? I mean, it looks like she's sound and healthy. She ought to be in school, right? Or in some kind of service?"
"Yes. She should definitely not be out on the street in boy's clothes." Gotthilf was starting to understand what Byron had meant about looking for things that didn't fit the pattern.
"So," Byron hissed, "we have two weirdnesses now—a boy begging who shouldn't be, and a girl dressed in boy clothes who is . . ."
At that exact moment they both saw the girl snatch a kerchief from the pocket of a man she bumped into. She was so fast they barely caught a flash of it before it was stuffed inside her jacket.
Gotthilf saw that Byron's face had gone very grim as he muttered a string of words in up-time English. Gotthilf didn't recognize the words, but he recognized the tone. If some of them weren't blasphemous, he'd eat his hat. "Okay," Byron said after he had to stop for breath, "that's the third strike. Now I really, really want to talk to Uncle."
"So do we take the girl now?" That was Gotthilf's instinctive reaction, but he'd been with Byron enough by now to realize that might not be the best thing to do.
"No." Byron shook his head. "No, I'm starting to get a bad feeling about this. I want you to hustle back and get Captain Reilly and at least a couple more guys, either army or city watch, I don't care, as long as they've got pistols. No muskets. You get there and back as fast as you can. If Bill wants to know what's going on, you just say I said to get here now." Gotthilf opened his mouth. "Go!"
* * *
It was over half an hour before Gotthilf arrived back at Byron's side, accompanied by Bill Reilly, two of the city watch and another up-timer. Completing the crew was Otto Gericke, who had been talking to Bill when Gotthilf had burst into his office, panting and wheezing from his run.
Byron met them back up the street, waving them to the side of a house on the west side.
"Is she still here?" Gotthilf asked.
"What's up?" Bill was matter of fact as the men gathered around.
"Possible Faginy racket. Got a girl in boy's clothes working as a dip down the street. Pretty sure she's got a mule—think I've got him pegged. We think the same bunch had a blind kid out here begging a few days ago. Girl came and pulled him away, nobody's seen him since."
Bill pulled at his chin. "So, what do you want to do?"
"Follow the girl home. Both she and the boy mentioned someone named 'Uncle.' "
"Ah. You think he's the Fagin?"
"What is this 'Faginy'?" Gericke asked. Gotthilf listened closely as Captain Reilly described a plan to teach children to perform criminal acts for the gain of those who taught them. He also explained that a "dip" was a pickpocket and a "mule" was someone who would take stolen goods from the "dip," reducing the risk that the pickpocket would be caught with them.
"This 'Uncle' is the man who would do this?" Gericke was frowning. The captain nodded. "I want this man."
"So do we, Master Gericke. So do we." Reilly turned back to Byron. "So, what's the plan, Lieutenant?"
"Gotthilf and I go first. The rest of you follow at least a half block behind, in more than one group. Once we find the place, we figure out what to do next."
"I am a magistrate," Gericke said. "You will be under my authority."
Byron's smile was sharp-edged. "Thank you, sir. That will make things easier."
So it was that Gotthilf found himself once more at Lieutenant Chieske's side, walking down the street with the girl barely in sight ahead of them. The late afternoon shadows were unfolding, and she disappeared and reappeared as she moved in and out of them.
Unfortunately, her route was not straight. Turning the third corner, Byron muttered, "Man, I wish we had radios." Gotthilf was confused again—a state that was all too familiar the past few days of working with the up-timer. Byron caught his expression. "No, I don't mean the crystal radios, I mean . . . oh, forget it, I'll explain later. Might as well be wishing for cars, while I'm at it."
After they passed the next lane that crossed the street, Byron started limping. Gotthilf slowed to keep pace. "No, you keep going," the up-timer said. "I've decided I want to talk to the guy following us, so this is my excuse for dropping back. You keep her in sight and I'll catch up in a few minutes."
True to his word, before long Byron slid back into place beside Gotthilf, who looked over at him. "So?"
"Bill saw me dropping back, so he moved up as well. We took the guy down a few minutes ago. He was her mule, all right; he had that cloth we saw her snitch. He's not talking right now, but the boys have him tied up and are bringing him along."
Just then the girl veered toward a house that looked to have burned. Roof beams were visible and charred. Gotthilf wouldn't have thought there was anyone there, but she just tripped up the steps and opened the front door. It closed behind her before they could react.
Erna was back. Willi sat up from where he was lying in the corner. He felt some better. She was talking to Uncle about Möritz and some things he was bringing. Willi wasn't sure what that was about. But he was very glad that Erna was back. He stood and moved toward the sound of her voice. Maybe she could come talk to him now. "Erna?" he called.
The others closed up with them. Lieutenant Chieske conferred with Captain Reilly and the burgomeister for a brief moment. Gotthilf watched as the captain sent the other men to surround the house.
Byron turned back to Gotthilf. "You ready? Got your pistol?"
Gotthilf swallowed, nodding as he pulled the pistol from his belt.
"Okay. Burgomeister Gericke is wearing his magistrate hat at the moment, and he really wants to have a conversation with Uncle. You and I will be the first in the door. We're hoping this guy won't cause trouble. Fagins usually don't. It's petty crime they're in, not enough to take big risks for."
Byron pulled his own pistol. "But we're going in prepared. Stay with me, follow my lead, and watch my back. Whichever way I go after I clear the door, you go the other. Got it?"
Gotthilf was poised on his toes as they stepped up to the door, gun before him, breathing rapidly. He felt as if his vision had narrowed to a circle just in front of him. Byron raised his hand to knock on the door.
"Uncle! Uncle!" That was Fritz, shouting as he crashed through the back of the house. "City watch and up-timers outside. They have Möritz, and they're surrounding the house."
There were thunderous knocks on the door. A loud voice called from outside, "City watch! Open up in the name of Magistrate Gericke!"
Willi recognized the voice. "Byron." He was perplexed as to why the up-timers had come here.
He had spoken loud enough for Uncle to hear. "You," Uncle hissed. "This is all your fault."
Willi heard a loud click.
"No," Erna screamed. Willi felt her push him.
There was a loud bang. Willi was knocked to the floor.
Byron threw the door open at the sound of the shot. Gotthilf followed him into the house, stepping to the right of the door because the up-timer had stepped to the left. His horrified gaze was greeted by Willi lying on the floor, with the girl they had been following sprawled across him. A dark crimson splotch across the front of her jacket was widening as he watched. Gotthilf tore his eyes from that sight to focus on the man who Byron's pistol was pointed at with unwavering aim.
"Drop the gun." Byron's voice was like the chill of a blizzard. Gotthilf could almost feel snow in the air. Belatedly, he brought his own pistol to bear on the man standing against the far wall. "No one else needs to get hurt."
The man's laugh was high-pitched, almost manic. "And what will you do with me if I do? What would be my fate?"
"Lubbold Vogler, we arrest you on the charges of theft, attempted theft, aiding and abetting theft, receiving stolen property, contributing to the delinquency of a child, and murder." Gotthilf marveled at how matter of fact Byron's voice sounded.
"Ah, all very impressive, although I'm not sure those are all crimes under Magdeburg law. Still, the last could be troublesome." The other—Vogler, since he didn't reject the name—gave a slight bow over the pocket pistol that was a twin to the one Gotthilf held. A wisp of smoke curled up from the barrel, but Gotthilf could see that the hammer was cocked again.
Watching the man's eyes, Gotthilf was very uneasy. He couldn't read Vogler's thoughts, but he knew they were racing, because the eyes were shifting frequently, like a wild animal looking for a way out of a trap.
Byron took a slow step to his left. Gotthilf took a step to the right.
"Drop the gun, Vogler." Byron's voice was even and cold.
"I think . . . not!"
Almost everyone in the room flinched at the loud report of Byron's pistol, a sound that left more than one set of ears ringing. Vogler, however, did not flinch.
Vogler jerked against the wall behind him, down which he slid until he sat slumped against the wall, legs outstretched and head lolling like nothing so much as a rag doll tossed haphazardly across the room. But rag dolls don't have pistols fall from their lax hands, and rag dolls don't have crimson blood flowing from holes in their chests and don't leave large bloody smears on walls.
Byron gestured toward the large boy in the back of the room who was trying to sneak out. Gotthilf pointed his pistol in that general direction and the boy froze, trying to emulate a statue. Meanwhile, Byron slid Vogler's pistol away from the corpse with the toe of his shoe.
There was a sound in the door. Gotthilf glimpsed Captain Reilly out of the corner of his eye.
"All over," Byron said. "Have someone take the big one into custody. He looks to be about the same age as the mule, so he may be an accomplice as well. The little ones are all pretty much victims, I think. They should be held together until someone can make arrangements for them."
The next few minutes were bustling, as watchmen and up-timers came in and collected the children. Gotthilf put his pistol away after the largest was tied and hauled out.
Burgomeister Gericke walked in after the flurry of activity was over. "So, you killed him, Lieutenant Chieske."
"So would I, sir. But he had already killed a child and was trying to shoot me. I had no choice."
Gericke's eyes turned and bored into Gotthilf's. "Do you agree with the Lieutenant's assessment, Watchman Hoch?"
Gotthilf swallowed, stiffened, and stuttered, "Ye . . . Yes, Herr Magistrate. It happened as Lieutenant Chieske described it."
The burgomeister's eyes shifted again. "Do you have any contrary comment, Captain Reilly?"
"No, sir. From what we could hear outside, it sounded like it went down the way they describe it."
Gericke paused for a moment, sighed, and nodded. "I agree. The death of the child is ruled a felonious murder on the part of Lubbold Vogler, committed for reasons unknown. The death of Lubbold Vogler is ruled justified self-defense on the part of Lieutenant Byron Chieske after said Vogler attempted to kill him." He looked older, for some reason.
The two up-timer officers relaxed from their stiff positions, with almost identical expressions of relief crossing their faces. The burgomeister shook all their hands, including Gotthilf's, then left the death house.
"Well, your first case solved," Bill Reilly started to comment, when a sound arose from behind them. They turned to see the body of the girl moving.
Willi roused slowly, head aching from the second knock of the day. He tried to move, but someone was lying on top of him. He heard people talking, but it was all blurry to him. "Get off," he whispered, but the person didn't move. He pulled his hands out and started pushing. With some difficulty, he managed to free himself enough to sit up.
The other person's head was on his lap now. He put his hand on it, feeling it, looking with his fingers to see if it was someone he knew. The face was small, thin, with a bump in the nose; a familiar face, it was.
"Erna." He reached down and shook her shoulder.
"Erna." She rolled limply and his hand slipped, to land in something warm and sticky.
"Erna!" He brought his fingers to his nose. The smell of blood filled his nostrils. Something was wrong. Something was very wrong. What had happened? His thoughts were reeling.
Steps sounded in the room. He felt Erna lifted off him, while other hands picked him up.
"Byron?" Willi was confused. The last thing he remembered, he was home. How did Byron get here? "What happened to Erna?"
"Willi . . ." He felt the man shake his head. "Willi, Erna is dead."
The cold bubble in his chest burst, filling him with shock and grief. The screams followed.
Night had fallen some time ago. Gotthilf felt himself sagging where he stood, watching the final discussions between Captain Reilly, Lieutenant Chieske, Burgomeister Gericke, Frau Zenzi and her husband, and the senior pastor of Magdeburg.
An amazing number of things had occurred in relatively short order. Not long after the burgomeister left, wagons had appeared: one for the corpses and one for the children found cowering in the house. The two larger children, Fritz and Möritz, classified as thugs from the testimony of the smaller ones, were tied up and made to march behind the wagons. The captain and the burgomeister intended to question them some more. They wanted to get to the bottom of Vogler's Faginy scheme, in the hopes that this was the only one.
Willi, once he was worn out from the screaming, would have nothing to do with the wagon. He kept breaking out in sobs for Erna. Byron was the only one the boy would talk to, so Byron carried him all the way back. He was sleeping now, rolled up in a blanket in the back of the children's wagon.
The conference broke up. The burgomeister and pastor walked off together. Byron stopped at the children's wagon for a moment with Frau Zenzi. Willi sat up rubbing his eyes, listening to the words from the grown-ups. He began crying again, quietly, a child's sobbing.
Captain Reilly came to Gotthilf. "Big day, huh?"
"I'll be honest with you. I never expected to find anything like this, especially since we're just getting started. The burgomeister and I were talking about it; it just doesn't make sense for this guy to have a gun. That's several weeks' income to a petty crook. Doesn't make sense. There's something going on, here. We need to keep digging." He placed his hand on Gotthilf's shoulder. "This will be big news, you know. You and Lieutenant Chieske should get commendations of some sort for this."
Willi finally nodded and Frau Zenzi folded him in her arms. Gotthilf watched as she nodded to Byron over the boy's head. Byron stepped back, looked around with weariness evident in every motion, then started down the street.
Gotthilf nodded again as he watched Byron. "Where is the lieutenant going?"
Reilly looked at Byron's receding back. "I suspect he's going to get a drink somewhere." He returned his gaze to Gotthilf. "You're his partner. Go with him. It's always hard on a cop when he shoots someone, and he needs you to be with him on this just as much as he has the last few days. If he doesn't want to talk, don't try to make conversation. Just sit with him." The captain gave Gotthilf a small push on the shoulder. "Go on. We'll talk to you tomorrow."
Gotthilf received a sidelong glance from Byron acknowledging his presence when he fell into place beside the up-timer, but no words were said. The statue was back, Gotthilf decided.
Weary himself, Gotthilf trudged alongside until Byron turned in at a tavern. He looked up to see they were entering the Green Horse. That was all right with him. A stool pulled up to a horse watering trough would have satisfied him at this point.
Byron walked up to the bar. "Ale. Two. Large." He spun a coin on the bar top, received the two steins and walked over to an empty table in a dark corner, where he sat with his back to the wall. Gotthilf sat with him and applied himself to his stein.
They were on the third refill when Byron began talking. He began by pulling his pistol out and laying it on the table.
"There it is. The M1911A1 .45 automatic. Like most pistols, designed for one thing and one thing only: to kill people. It does a good job.
"I was supposed to join the sheriff's reserve. I was going to order a Glock, but then the Ring of Fire happened. So, here I am with Jonni's Grandad's old .45 that he brought back from World War II. It still works great. But I sure didn't expect to have it use it for real so soon."
Byron's face was getting red, Gotthilf noticed.
"I had the drop on him. All he had to do was put the gun down. That's all he had to do. He'd have stayed alive for a while, anyway. All he could see was his way."
"The man murdered a child, Byron," Gotthilf responded. His voice was quiet. "And all but in front of a magistrate. He would have been hanged within the next day." Byron shook his head. "Put the gun away, Byron." Gotthilf pushed it with a finger. "Put it up before someone notices."
It was the fourth refill before Byron spoke again.
"I failed, Gotthilf. I screwed up royally. Gonna turn in my badge and go back to shipping supplies."
"You didn't fail, Byron."
"Two people are dead because of my mistakes. I failed."
"You did nothing wrong. Vogler killed the girl, then committed suicide by trying to kill you. You did the best you could."
"Then why's that girl dead? Huh? You want to explain that to me?" Byron was genuinely angry, Gotthilf saw. A hot anger, this was, unlike the cold anger he had seen a couple of days ago.
"Sometimes evil wins, Byron."
"You're barely old enough to grow a beard." Byron's voice was thick with sarcasm. "What do you know about evil?"
Gotthilf felt anger of his own rise within him. "Four years ago Tilly's soldiers destroyed this city . . . my city . . . my home. My house and the houses of thousands of others were burned to ashes. Bodies were everywhere. Don't talk to me about evil—I've seen the results first hand. I know about the evil men can do. And sometimes evil wins. But what was it you said to me—that protecting my city from theft and murder and rape, not by soldiers but by those who were just stronger and more vicious was a goal worthy of a man?"
Taken aback, Byron nodded.
"So, we lost this battle. Does that mean we stop fighting the war?"
Byron looked at Gotthilf, and after a moment gave another firm nod. "You'll do, Gotthilf. You'll do. And you're right."
Toward the bottom of that stein, Byron said, "None so blind as those who will not see. Vogler just didn't see, is all."
"Is that from the Bible, too?" Gotthilf thought it sounded scriptural.
"Nope. But according to my friend Lenny Washaw, it was written by a Bible scholar; guy by the name of Matthew Henry, I think. But it's true enough, man—it's true enough."
"Yes." Gotthilf just agreed with Byron.
Byron turned and faced Gotthilf. For all the ale he had been drinking, he appeared to be stone cold sober.
"This is why we do the job, man. This is why we will go back out on the streets tomorrow—to make sure that something like this—Does. Not. Happen. Again. Not on my watch."
"Not on our watch." Sometime during the day, when he wasn't paying attention, something had changed. Gotthilf now understood why Byron was so serious about their work. It surprised him a little, but he did understand it. And after watching a girl's life ebb away because of the greed and anger of one evil man—not even an enemy, but a resident of Magdeburg—he agreed.
Byron was turning his stein in circles on the table. After a few moments, he looked over at Gotthilf with a sly grin. "So, you going to tell me what Gotthilf means?"
Gotthilf had to think for a moment as to what the English would be. "Means God's Help."
"Does it now?" Byron laughed. "Well, that's probably appropriate, my friend. I suspect we'll need a lot of that help in the future—partner."
Gotthilf returned a smile of his own as he warmed inside. "I agree—partner."