Johannes Fraze hummed cheerfully and carefully but quickly packed his belongings. All the other members of the household were away and he wanted to be gone before any of them returned. He neatly wrapped the all-important notebook in a piece of up-time plastic and slipped it into an oiled leather sack and closed it. The resulting package he placed in the bottom of an up-time rucksack he had bought from one of the neighbors. On top of the book went a heavy purse that clinked. Johannes grinned. His year in Grantville had been rewarding in many ways. Several months ago he had slipped one of the color pictures out of the notebook. With that in hand he had made the rounds of down-timers—gullible down-timers.
He chuckled over how easy it had been.
"Herr Arndt, I come to you because I know I can trust you. I have found an opportunity for great wealth. In the library while reading to practice my English I stumbled across records of a statue. It has not yet been found and dug out of its Italian hillside. Such a statue! Solid gold! Here, look at this photograph." One look and the mark was hooked. Arndt had been so eager he hadn't even allowed Johannes to finish his pitch.
"If only I had more money. How much did you say it weighed? Oh, all that gold! Just think of it! We'll all be rich!" Reichard Arndt gibbered. The man's eyes never left the picture while Johannes explained how many shares his money had bought.
Johannes firmly pried the photograph of King Tutankhamen's golden mask out of the man's reluctant hands. When he had Arndt's attention, he explained, "I must insist that you keep this a complete secret. You cannot tell anyone, not your wife, or your sons, or your best friends."
"But why not? Klaus Lumpe and Heinrich Neumann are good men. They deserve to be rich, too!"
Johannes hid a grin. "Ah, so. Let me think about them. The secret must be kept lest other, less honorable men, find the statue first. Should I deem your friends trustworthy enough, you still must swear not to talk about it even between yourselves. It will take time to get all the necessary equipment together. More time will be needed to travel to Italy and locate the hill where the statue is buried. No one else can know what we plan until then or they might beat us to the statue."
And so it had gone time and time again with the carefully selected marks. The quick pitch, their names scribbled on a notepad with other names, and their cash in hand and each sworn to secrecy. Or at least until the previous night at the Gardens.
"Going to look for King Tut's tomb?" an amused voice asked. Johannes quickly turned the photograph over and slid it into his pocket before he replied.
"King Tut? Is that whose statue it is? A true work of art. Do you know who the artist was who made such a beautiful piece?" Johannes kept his face straight and any nervousness out of his voice. Up-timers were tricky to deal with. Some appeared to know little; others had more information rattling around in their heads than a gaggle of university professors.
"Some Egyptian, I guess," said the up-timer. "That coffin was made a long time ago. Well before Jesus' time. It sure is pretty. Strange folks, those Egyptians. All that gold wasted on a coffin."
"Remember the exhibit that came around?" a second up-timer stood beside the first. "My granny took us kids up to Pittsburgh to see it. We stood in line for a couple of hours, but it was worth it. Man, they had some pretty stuff! Set me to thinking about heading to Egypt to find me another king's tomb. I remember how disappointed I was when I found out that a lot of the gold stuff was actually carved wood covered in gold leaf."
"Yeah, that's right." The first up-timer laughed. " We studied the pharaohs in school. A lot of us dreamed of treasure hunting. If you're interested in knowing more about that coffin, you should check up at the school. There's bound to be a book on it. Come on, Ol' I'll Pay You Back Tuesday, this is Tuesday and I want some beer." The first up-timer grabbed his companion's arm and both headed off toward the bar.
Johannes sat and sipped his beer. His thoughts were racing frantically but he knew he didn't dare let anyone see how upset he was. Several of his marks were seated close by. Johannes hoped none of them had heard the up-timers. He considered what to do. These up-timers didn't appear to be suspicious of his intentions nor did they appear interested. Still, it wouldn't do to trust appearances too far. Now might be a good time to move on. In truth, there weren't too many marks left in Grantville. This had been a good swindle, a very good swindle. His purse was heavy and his "partners" were expecting him to depart for Italy. He needed a story for his sister and her family—no, best just leave a vague note.
Glancing around the room he'd shared with his nephew, Johannes contemplated some of the other rewards he'd gained in exchange for the longest stretch of honest work he had ever done. His sister refused to charge him rent and only accepted a pittance to cover his food so he had honestly earned money in his pocket. Even Hermann had stopped glowering and warmed up enough to grant that Johannes might just have had a long and terrible run of luck. It would be weeks before either of them realized how he had gulled them. Another package, as thick if not as carefully wrapped, contained a wealth of up-time materials he could peddle across Europe. The photo he'd used around Grantville rested in his purse, waiting to be brought out again with the plea "if I only had a few florins we could recover it." The world was full of gullible people who were dazzled by pretty pictures and stories of easy riches. He'd sold fake treasure maps and saints' relics all across the land for years. This time he had a real treasure map.
He gave a last look around and knelt down to feel under the bed. There had been a couple of other notebooks under there from time to time. Wilhelm had shown a surprising lack of trust in his uncle after he'd caught Johannes going through the one about a Spanish galleon. Cursing under his breath, Johannes got up and straightened his clothes. There were many things he would miss—indoor plumbing, efficient heating, soft beds, and so on. He wouldn't miss his nephew's sharp eyes. Johannes found himself debating about making one last call on Hilda. Oh-so-willing Hilda who thought they were engaged to be married. Her charms included an extremely gullible father who had borrowed money on his business to fund the treasure hunt. Of course, he and all the other "investors" thought the treasure was a solid gold Roman statue buried in Italy . . . Johannes chuckled. That had been his best idea.
He might go to Italy, after all. Italy was also full of gullible people, not a few of them quite rich. Italy had many charms—its weather for one, and the fact that it was far from the armies blundering about Germany.
After a check of the closet he shrugged into his coat, hoisted the rucksack and stole out the door.