1634: THE BAVARIAN CRISIS — snippet 54

 

1634: THE BAVARIAN CRISIS – snippet 54:

 

 

Chapter 28

 

Maleficiae Abditae Atque Perfidiosae

 

 

Grafenwöhr, the Upper Palatinate

 

            Karl Hanf, who was not as young as he used to be, came huffing down the path from the cooperage after his men.

 

            “What happened?”

 

            “Two guys from Bastl’s were already out on the barge. They yelled that there had been a fight.”

 

            Hanf took in the scene.

 

            Two of his men, holding a very wet one. Who was Hermann Richter.

 

            One of his men standing over another, who was injured. Seen him hanging around town lately.

 

            Two more, rolling a very dead one from his face to his back. Familiar. Oh, God. That beast Johann Rothwild, the brother of Bastl’s first wife.

 

            “Go up the path. Bar it and don’t let Bastl’s men from the barge-yard come down here.” That was to the two men who had turned Rothwild over.

 

            He wished he had more men. It was taking two to hang on to Hermann. He’d have to risk the third man staying down. From the looks of the wound in his arm, that wouldn’t be a problem. Not for a while, anyway.

 

            “Run up and get some rope, as fast as you can. We’re going to have to truss that one. Hurry.”

 

            Hanf moved; he would stand over the third man himself. And just in case…

 

            He picked up a walking stick that was lying near the corpse. Veronica’s walking stick?

 

            He looked around. He saw something in the lock, floating next to the empty barge, which had kept it from going downstream when the lock opened. He fished it out, grabbing the handles with the crook. Veronica’s tote bag.

 

            And, on the grass, the remains of a picnic lunch.

 

            He stood over the injured man, thinking. All they could get him for would be systematic overcharging on the barrels—pegging his costs at what they would have been if he were buying lumber at the set prices rather than stolen lumber. It was Bastl who was directly involved in the timber thefts, which was why he was behind deadline on Troeschler’s barges. His main supplier had recently been arrested. And Bastl’s former brother-in-law was lying here dead.

 

            All they could get him for was overcharging. That would just be a fine. A stiff fine, hard to pay in bad times, but still just a fine. And he had an obligation of hospitality; Veronica had been staying at his own house.

 

            The guy came back with the rope.

 

            Hanf came to a decision.

 

            “Tie them both up. The one with the bad arm, just tie it to his body; then tie his feet. When that’s done, you two go up and help keep Bastl’s men from coming down the path and trampling everything. And you”—he pointed to the man who had gotten the rope—“get into town as fast as you can and notify the authorities. I’ll watch here.”

 

****

 

            The proper authorities, consisting of the bailiff, Thomas von Wenzin, and two of his men, came in a hurry. As did Böcler, Marc Cavriani, Rastetter, and Brechbuhl. The proper authorities had not been enthusiastic about this. However, it did make a significant difference to von Wenzin’s thought processes that Böcler had a letter signed by the regent, with all appropriate formalities.

 

            Böcler had drafted it himself. It said exactly what the regent had directed. He was fully authorized to investigate, in the regent’s name, “whatever is going on.” Böcler had already internalized one of the fundamental rules of the successful bureaucrat. Unless there is some compelling reason to be specific, be vague. He hadn’t expected this, of course. But he was fully authorized to investigate it, now that it had happened. Before they left town, he had sent a courier to Hand. Now….

 

            Marc picked up a piece of metal, half-buried in the grass. “This is an up-time pistol. I don’t think that pistol is the right word for it, precisely. But it is a gun to hold in the hand. Easy to handle, for a small woman like Frau Simpson. Also, easy to hide.”

 

            Böcler nodded. He had seen a similar one. The up-timers had given it to Duke Ernst, who kept it inside his doublet. Always.

 

****

 

            The Grafenwöhr bailiff looked dubious. The “handgun” was very small. It was hard to believe that it would shoot anything, but there had, indubitably, been shots.

 

            Karl Hanf was singing a song about timber theft. Von Wenzin thought that its verses would tie Wilhelm Bastl to a man who had been recently arrested in Weiden. The bailiff would have to write the Pfleggerichter there. He didn’t think that it probably had anything to do with what had been going on here.

 

            The injured man was swearing that he didn’t know a thing. Rothwild had hired him and he didn’t know who had hired Rothwild. Von Wenzin thought that might possibly be true.

 

            That left Kilian Richter’s son. They’d better take him back to town.

 

            Böcler and the bailiff agreed that they had probably seen everything that was to be seen here. Von Wenzin sent a couple of his men up to arrest Bastl. He’d worry about the paperwork when he got back to town. If he gave the man time, he would start destroying records as soon as he heard what had happened.

 

****

 

            Hermann Richter, upon being interviewed under some duress, admitted that he, Rothwild, and the third man had attacked Frau Dreeson and Frau Simpson. He even admitted that his father had put them up to it.

 

            He denied that the three of them had attacked the women with the intent of killing them. Von Wenzin thought that the judge could take that for what it was worth.

 

            The utter absurdity was that Hermann insisted that, while he was in the water, two men whom he had never seen before, with whom he was in no way acquainted, and of whom he had no knowledge whatsoever had shown up in the middle of the attack, picked up the two women, dropped them into barrels on the barge, and taken them away.

 

            “That’s ridiculous on the face of it,” Von Wenzin told him emphatically.

 

            On the other hand…

 

            The two women were not to be found. And, by Hanf’s statement, not much time had passed between when the first two shots were fired and the men from the cooperage arrived on the scene. Plus, Hanf’s men said that there had been a barge in the lock.

 

            The absurdity was that Hermann Richter denied knowing anything about the other two. Questioning, duly authorized by the Pfleggerichter, resumed.

 

****

 

            Kilian Richter, hauled before the forces of justice on the basis of his son’s statement, reluctantly—very reluctantly—admitted to hiring Rothwild and his henchman to attack Veronica, and to having sent his son with Rothwild. He swore that he had no intention of any kind to cause damage to Frau Simpson. He also swore that he knew nothing at all about any other men or any barge.

 

            The bailiff didn’t believe a word of it.

 

****

 

            The third man, re-interviewed rather emphatically, insisted that he didn’t know anything at all about what Kilian Richter may have told Rothwild. He insisted that he had never seen Richter before in his life, did not even know his name, and had been recruited for the job down near Amberg by Rothwild only. He only knew that there was someone in the background who held the purse.

 

            He did say that originally, when they started out in the morning, they had only expected to attack Frau Dreeson and not necessarily that very day. They had attacked when the second woman was there only because it was such a conveniently isolated spot. Upon being pressed, he said, “well, there was so much hammering and sawing upstream, no one would be likely to hear screams. Rothwild thought it was just sort of convenient to do it there.”

 

            The bailiff, fingering his beard, asked just why they had expected screams.

 

            “Well, it was just in case. Actually, once we took a look, we hoped we could stab the old ladies in their backs while they were sitting down eating their lunch, without any trouble.”

 

            On the basis of that, the bailiff started re-interviewing Hermann. It was a long night in the Grafenwöhr city hall basement.

 

****

 

            The only consistency between Hermann’s version and the henchman’s story was that they absolutely did not know anything about the barge or the bargemen.

 

            Wilhelm Bastl, questioned without duress, knew a little about both, none of it involving any plans to kidnap women and put them on the barge. The two men were just casual laborers, he said—boatmen when they were younger, on their way home. They had only been at the yard a short time.

 

            The bailiff did ask for the precise date when Bastl hired them. He didn’t immediately identify as significant that it was a few days after Veronica Dreeson had arrived in Grafenwöhr.

 

            Did Bastl know where they were going?

 

            Not exactly, but he had heard one of them mention that he had been born in Pfreimd and had a cousin who worked as a chambermaid in Amberg.

 

            That meant nothing to von Wenzin, either.

 

****

 

            Böcler, Marc, and Brechbuhl were upstairs with Rastetter. They had all courteously declined von Wenzin’s invitation to be present at the interrogations. As soon as they got back to Grafenwöhr, Rastetter had sent his clerk to Hanf’s house to collect all the papers Veronica had there. The oldest niece, a mulish look on her face, had come back to the city hall with him, demanding to be given an itemized receipt on her aunt’s behalf; staying until she got one; standing behind the clerk as he went through each item to make sure that he didn’t leave anything out. Marc thought that Frau Dreeson must have looked a lot like that when she was thirty years younger.

 

            Rastetter had gone through the papers from the house, sorting them into several piles. He found about what he expected, but nothing really exciting. At the moment, he was systematically investigating the contents of Veronica’s tote bag. Most of it was damp. Not wet, because the canvas was sufficiently waterproof to have floated for some time, but damp. He spread the various papers out to dry; then turned to the more protected contents of the blue plastic envelope.

 

            He wondered how she had gotten hold of Kilian Richter’s private papers from years ago. Dealings with the lawyer Arndt. Not particularly flattering to Arndt’s professional ethics, but now the man was dead.

About Eric Flint

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