Grantville gazette V



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April 1634, Naples

"Johannes!" the voice cut through the noises of the crowded market. "Johannes! It is you! How long has it been?"

Johannes found himself facing a familiar man, one Jakob Witterwald.

"Ah, Jakob. So you have managed to stay out of jail?"

"Yes, yes. So have you, I see. Come, old friend. There is an inn down here with the best beer." In a lower voice Jakob added, "They have a room where two old friends can talk alone."

Smiling, Johannes motioned for Jakob to lead the way. They walked to the inn, Jakob chattering on about his relatives, the weather, the price of tobacco, and other meaningless things. Once they were settled in the inn's back room Jakob became serious.

"The last that I heard, you were headed to that place—Grantville. The town full of demons, wizards, witches, and all manner of magic."

"Old news, Jakob. Old news. I did go to Grantville. There wasn't a single wizard or demon in sight. In fact, I spent all of last year there."

"Ah! No demons or wizards. No magic, either?" Jakob sounded wistful. "I've been working a neat little scam based on 'Grantville Magic.' Tell me about the place and I'll have some nice hooks for my scam."

"You would do well to drop it. Too many people know the truth about Grantville's 'wizards.' Unless you stick to backward villages, that will trip you up." Johannes shook his head. "There is no money to be made in such places."

"No . . . true." Jakob shrugged. "Tell me about Grantville anyway. You are looking prosperous. Whatever scam you've been running is profitable."

Johannes grinned. "Would you believe that I spent my time in Grantville doing honest work?" He lit his pipe and began to talk.

Well into the evening Johannes pulled out the photo of the mask of King Tutankhamun. Jakob's eyes glittered. Once the up-time notebook was unwrapped and the rest of the pictures displayed Jakob was hooked. He leafed carefully through, asking Johannes to translate, asking questions.

Johannes considered his luck. Jakob had contacts in places Johannes didn't. The two of them had run several successful swindles together. Given the right clothes Witterwald made a convincing professor. There was a certain noble Italian with more wealth than brains . . . 

"Why are you just conning for pocket change?" Jakob suddenly asked. "There is a king's ransom in gold sitting in this tomb. Sitting there, waiting for someone to come along and take it."

The thought stunned Johannes for a moment. He shook his head, answering cautiously. "Do you have any idea how heavy a solid gold coffin is? Or how difficult it would be to move it?"

"Certainly. But it could be melted down. Gold bars are heavy but easier to manage." Witterwald thumped his finger on a picture of several small gold items. "These pieces alone would pay for the trip."

"But Egypt is closed to outsiders." The pictures appeared to dance in the candlelight, beckoning to Johannes.

"When has such a prohibition stopped either of us? I know a man, a Muslim, a wealthy merchant."

There was little doubt Jakob did know such a man. There wasn't a port in the Mediterranean that Jakob hadn't sailed into.

"Will he help us? Say for ten percent?"

"We split the rest evenly?"

"I get fifty percent. You get forty and your Muslim friend gets ten. I discovered this. I researched it and I spent the time learning enough English to understand what is in the notebook. Without my work, you would have nothing."

Witterwald looked mulish for a moment. He sighed, shook his head and replied. "Granted. You get fifty percent. I agree. You have the knowledge to find this tomb and that is worth half. I'll take forty percent. Ali gets ten percent. Done?"

"Done."

 

The inn by the docks was dim, dingy, and smelled of rotten fish mixed with tobacco smoke. A lack of windows and the few lamps did little to relieve the dimness. The smells exuded from the clothes and bodies of the men siting around smoking, drinking, and gossiping. Johannes thought it wasn't the worst inn he had seen, but it came close. This place didn't seem to fit with Jakob's description of the man they were to meet here, either. Ali El-Rahman was supposedly a wealthy merchant and a Muslim. Both made him a most unlikely client of this inn.



The man Jakob finally greeted didn't look like a wealthy merchant. He did look like an Arab with his dusky skin, dark hair, and close-cropped beard tracing his jaw line. The dirty, tattered clothing didn't fit a wealthy Arab merchant's dress. The man was as thin as a starving dog. Most merchants, especially the wealthy ones, looked far from starving. Johannes grinned. Ali El-Rahman probably was an Arab but Johannes would bet his last florin the man was no more a respectable merchant than Jakob or himself. All the better! Johannes understood rogues.

A little silver got the three "merchants" the use of a back room. With a flourish Johannes produced the up-time notebook and the picture of King Tut's coffin. In the flurry of speech that followed El-Rahman proved to speak acceptable Spanish. That was good. Johannes didn't want to be forced to depend upon anyone, not even an old acquaintance like Jakob, for translations.

In minutes a deal was struck. Ali would arrange passage on a Greek ship bound for Alexandria. "The Greeks hate Turks," Ali explained. "The Greeks won't care if we're all good Muslims or infidels. In Alexandria, the bey uses Turkish troops for customs and to stop infidels from landing. Even if the Greek sailors suspect you two aren't Arabs, they won't tell the Turks."




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