1636 The Devil’s Opera – Snippet 45
January 15, 1636
A fire broke out yesterday at the construction site of the new surgical wing of the Magdeburg Memorial Hospital in Greater Magdeburg. It was contained and quickly put out by the local fire company, assisted by the members of the construction crew. According to Captain Bill Reilly of the Magdeburg Polizei, injuries were minor, consisting mostly of burns, although one workman was knocked out when he ran into the path of the crane hook just as it started to swing. His workmates picked him up and ran him right next door to the hospital, where he is currently still under observation.
Johannes Kretzer, spokesman for the Schiffer Painting and Contracting firm, managers of the construction project, indicated that the fire was contained to the lumber stores. “We salvaged much of the timber,” Kretzer said. He acknowledged that this would be a setback to the project, however.
No cause of the fire has been determined as of press time today.
Andreas Schardius opened his eyes when Johann Westvol finished reading the article aloud. Westvol and Georg Kühlewein stared back at him; Westvol blankly, Kühlewein with a thunderous expression. Neither of them said a word. That was just as well, Schardius thought to himself. He was not in a mood for their typical idiocy. He had heard up-timers talk about Tweedledum and Tweedledee, but he hadn’t really understood that until after he had embroiled himself in the affairs of these two men. They weren’t even bright enough to say “I’m Dee.”
Well, perhaps they were better than that — they had been effective Bürgermeisters before the sack of the city, after all, in a venal sort of way — but not much.
“You realize, of course, that this fire may have ended your tapping the revenues of this project.” Schardius knew how to deal with untoward events. He was a very successful trader, after all, with all that was implied by that label. So his voice was calm, and steady, and had just the right touch of firmness to it. “At least for a while.” He watched the reactions of his partners carefully.
Westvol was predictable. His eyes widened, for all the world like a five-year-old spoiled child who had just been informed that his greatest wish was not only not going to be granted, neither were any of the other wishes on his current “If you love me you will get me this” list.
“But the newspaper said they put the fire out quickly and salvaged the wood . . .” Westvol began.
“Shut up, Johann,” Kühlewein growled. “He’s right. It doesn’t matter what the article said, Leonhart Kolman told me they lost nearly half of the wood outright, and a lot of what’s left is only usable now to feed the steam engine in the crane. You know the price of wood these days . . . especially the long timbers we had to have brought all the way from the mountains.”
Praise be to God, Schardius thought to himself with more than a touch of sarcasm. Kühlewein just took the lead to be Dee. There might be hope for the man after all if he could recognize reality when it stepped up and slapped him in the face.
Westvol looked like he was going to cry, until his face lit with a sudden smile. Schardius had been waiting for that.
“And no, you can’t file a claim against the accident insurance, Johann.”
“Why not?” the Bürgermeister asked with a note of petulance.
“Do you remember when we were drawing up the project plans and you insisted on the high deductible on the insurance to hold the premium costs down?” Schardius drew his eyebrows together in a serious frown.
“Yessss.” That was drawn out slowly by the hapless Westvol, who was bright enough to see what was coming.
“Well, the cost of the damage is only just a bit more than the deductible.”
“Oh. Then why did we buy the insurance, then?”
“Because you insisted we should.”
Westvol had no response to that, which was just as well. Schardius extended his frown to the fuming Kühlewein, who glared back but didn’t say a word.
“So what are we going to do?” Westvol finally asked.
“We are going to order more timber, pay the costs of the fire company, and have Kolman beat into his people that this cannot be allowed to happen again.”
The meeting tailed off in repeats of that theme. But underneath it all, Schardius had two thoughts. First, a question — was the fire an accident? And second, a desire — if it wasn’t, he really wanted to hurt somebody.
Georg Schmidt was delighted. “Ha! Take that!” he declared, smacking the paper with his hand.
His secretary, Stephan Burckardt, looked around the edge of the office doorway.
“Did you need something, sir?”
“No, Stephan, I do not. The newspaper has given me all I needed.” The smile on his face felt as if it was stretching stiff muscles; which it might have been, given how less than happy he had been of late.
Schmidt gestured expansively. “Go, Stephan. You and the others take the rest of the day off — with pay. Go. I will see you tomorrow.”
Stephan’s head disappeared from the doorway almost as if it had been a figment of Schmidt’s imagination. It reappeared a moment later long enough to say, “Thank you, sir,” then disappeared again.
Georg looked back to the paper, reading the article one more time, smiling as he heard the troop of feet in the hallway headed out the front door.
“Ha!” he exclaimed again. “You think you can beat me, Kühlewein? You and your money man? Oh, no. You will pay for cheating me out of my contract. You will pay dearly.”
He crossed to the window and stared out it, clasping his hands behind him.
“A good start,” he murmured. “A good start.”
This attacked the project, which would hurt all of the consortium who got the project contract awarded to them. But he really wanted to hurt Andreas Schardius. If he hadn’t poked his nose into Schmidt’s business, the other members of that consortium couldn’t have won the contract. So it was Schardius, he decided, more than any other, who deserved to be ruined.
He rocked back and forth on his feet, smiling. His Italian servants would deal with Schardius, he thought, despite all the hard men surrounding the other merchant. Indeed they would.
Otto Gericke read the article and frowned. He made a note to send an official commendation to the fire company, followed by a note to remind himself to ask Captain Reilly when the Polizei would be able to determine if the fire was an accident.
There was a long pause while Otto tapped the pencil against his lips. God Above, he hoped that this didn’t stir up the Committee of Correspondence. That was the last thing he needed right now.
Gunther Achterhof lowered the newspaper.
No one in the room stirred when he looked up. But then, they all knew him, so they all had a good idea of what his reaction would be to the article about the fire.
Gunther started to crumple the paper in one fist. Then, stopping himself, he laid the paper down on the table and smoothed it out. It was the gesture of a man capable of savage fury who was keeping it under control.
He tapped his fingers on the table for a few seconds, ever so gently. “Will,” he said after some thought. “Go to the construction site. Offer some help to the site manager with cleaning up. If he does not accept that, which he probably will not, explain to him that his project is very important to the CoC, and we will be keeping an eye on things in the future. And remind him — gently — that we will object if all the ash and scraps are thrown into the Big Ditch.” Will grinned and bobbed his head. “That water is not clean, but there is no reason to make it worse than it already is.”
“What if he asks what to do with it?”
Gunther shrugged. “Burn it in his steam engine. No-brainer, as Frau Marla would say.”
He rose, and the others rose with him. “Meanwhile, I will go have a quiet conversation with our esteemed mayor.”
Stephan Burckardt stopped in The Chain for a mug of ale as a token of celebration. He didn’t much care for the place; the locals who frequented it were a pretty rough crowd. But it was earlier than usual, and most of them would still be working, so he took the chance. It wasn’t often at all that he was given any kind of reprieve from work. Master Schmidt begrudged him even Sundays and the holy days of the church calendar, and usually managed to find a way to make him spend part of those days laboring at his desk. Stephan didn’t dare complain to the church authorities. All that would accomplish would be angering Schmidt to an alarming degree. Stephan didn’t know what Schmidt would do in that situation. He did know two things, however: Schmidt would not let what he perceived as a challenge to his authority go unanswered; and without a doubt Stephan would not enjoy that answer.
The ale was as bad as always. That was the other reason Stephan came to The Chain. It was the lowest of the low, as far as places to get a mug of ale or beer went. Even though it was located in Old Magdeburg, which most people tried to pretend at least was the home of the best people and the upper society — which thought caused Stephan to bark a bitter laugh — it represented the very dregs of Magdeburg society. And the ale, Stephan confirmed with a sip, was no better than the social ranking of the local patrons. But it was cheap, which was a sterling virtue in the eyes of the overworked and underpaid secretary.
Stephan’s thoughts rolled back to Master Schmidt, while he slowly lowered the level of fluid in his mug. The master had been in a most unusually good mood this afternoon. Whatever caused it must have been in the newspaper, as he had been snarling until the paper hit his desk. But the only thing that was remarkable in the news was the fire at the hospital project. And why would that make the master happy?