THE AUSTRO-HUNGARIAN CONNECTION — snippet 16

 

 

THE AUSTRO-HUNGARIAN CONNECTION – snippet 16:

 

            Captain Knefler was now wasting time glaring at the empty rafts. “I need no material evidence,” he insisted. “There is the evidence of your actions. Why, if it were not part of a treasonous plot, did you leave Jena before dawn?”

            He tried a sneer himself. “Of course, I am no boatman. But I doubt such is standard practice.”

            “Because our employer paid us to do so,” said the boatmen. “A bonus, he said, to make sure we got to Halle in time to pick up—”

            “Nonsense! Nonsense! You did it so there would be no witnesses! Nobody who could tell me that the rafts were empty!”

            The boatman planted his hands on his hips and squinted up at the tall, almost-skeletal officer. “In other words, you were outsmarted. Not by me and my boys—we are innocent parties only accidentally involved—but by the man you’re chasing. Not so?”

            Knefler glared down at him. “You will have to answer for your actions. Prove your innocence.”

            The boatman’s sneer was magnificent. “To the contrary, Your Mightyship. This is Thuringia-Franconia, or have you forgotten? You have to demonstrate my guilt, not the other way around.”

            Knefler was so angry he started waving his arms. “Even the silly fucking Americ—ah, the up-timers—accept such a thing as circumstantial evidence.”

            “Fine. There is the circumstantial evidence that we were hired to take rafts down the river to Halle to pick up a consignment of goods for early delivery to Magdeburg. Said deed being committed in Gerhard Pfrommer’s tavern on the waterfront in Jena, by an man unknown to anyone there who approached Gerhard asking for reliable boatmen and was pointed to us at a nearby table.”

            The sneer didn’t waver once. “Said table, I might add, being right in the middle of the tavern—crowded, it was, that time of evening—so that any number of people heard the whole thing. He paid for the rafts, in addition to our labor. Bought them from Rudi Schaefer, also at the tavern, in a discussion also overheard by plenty of people. Good rates for the rafts and good pay for us, too, with a bonus for an early departure.”

            He took his right hand from his hip and gestured at the rafts. “So, we did. Why in the world would we refuse? I could show you the money. Still have almost all of it.”

            He made no movement to do so, of course. Even in Thuringia-Franconia, no sensible workman would gratuitously show money to an officer.

            Stymied, Knefler went back to glaring at the rafts. “Describe the man who hired you,” he commanded.

            “Again?” The boatman’s squint now verged on sheer melodrama. “Perhaps you should add more rosemary to your diet. It’s good for the memory, they say.”

            “Describe the man again!” screeched Knefler.

            Shrugging, the boatman did so. The description was identical to the one he’d given when he first came ashore. A handsome man, a bit taller than average, broad-shouldered, appeared to be well-built. Wasn’t armed with a sword but carried himself like a nobleman. Long dark hair, dark brown eyes, a complexion that was not quite dark enough to be called swarthy but came close. Olive, you might call it. Maybe he was an Italian.

            He wore fancy apparel, the most noticeable of which items were a red coat, expensive boots, and a feathered cap. The feathers were very large. You couldn’t miss the fellow in a snowstorm. He spoke German—old-style, not Amideutsch—with something of an accent, at least to the boatman’s ear. No, he had no idea what accent it was. There were dozens of German dialects, even among native speakers of the tongue. How was he to know? The man paid in good silver, which was a lingua franca accepted anywhere.

            Finally, Captain Knefler released the boatmen. He gave up trying to force them to return to Jena when their leader pointed out that he would then be taking responsibility for reimbursing Rudi Schaefer for the price the rafts would bring in Magdeburg. That being, of course, standard business practice for the disposal of rafts, and well-established in law.

            So, off the boatmen went, as cheery as could be. And why not? They’d been well paid to do nothing more strenuous than guide empty rafts following the current downriver. As work went, about as easy as it gets.

            After they pushed off, Knefler snarled to Reimers: “First thing I’ll do when we get back is teach that little whore a lesson. She’ll learn the price for cursing an officer.”

             One of the soldiers cleared his throat. “Ah… Captain. I don’t think—”

            “Silence, Corporal Maurer!” bellowed the sergeant. “The captain gave you no leave to speak.”

            Maurer was suitably abashed, and shut up. Knefler sniffed at him and went for his horse.

****

            About an hour later, on the ride back to Jena, Maurer drew his horse alongside Reimers. “Sergeant, you know who that girl was?” he asked quietly, after looking ahead to see that Captain Knefler was too far away to hear them.

            Reimers smiled. “Denise Beasley. The daughter of Buster Beasley.”

            The poor fellow seemed confused. “But… if you knew that… remember the time…”

            “This is why you are a mere corporal and I am a lofty sergeant,” said Reimers. He nodded toward the captain in front of the little column. “Do you want the shithead for a garrison commander?”

            The expression on Corporal Maurer’s face was answer enough.

            Reimers’ ensuing chuckle had very little humor in it. “Sadly, the current fuck-up is probably not enough to get him discharged. But we can hope that his temper is still high when we get back to Grantville, so the idiot goes to chastise the daughter and discovers the father in the way. If we’re lucky, we might even get to watch what happens.”

            It took Maurer a few seconds—he was pretty dull-witted himself, truth be told—but then he started smiling himself.

            “Oh.”

 

 

Kelly Aviation Facility

Near Grantville, State of Thuringia-Franconia

 

            The take-off wasn’t too bad, actually. Lannie would have been in the air force except Jesse Wood didn’t want any part of his drinking habits. But he did know how to fly, as such.

            Denise suspected that “as such” probably didn’t cover all that a pilot needed. But it was a done deal now, so there was no point fretting over it.

            “That way,” she said, pointing. “It’s called ‘southeast.’”

            “You don’t gotta be so sarcastic.”

            Fortunately, she’d thought to make sure they had a map before they took off. Lannie and Keenan, naturally, hadn’t thought of that. Apparently, they thought Denise could navigate by feminine instinct or something—which was a laugh, since feminine instinct when it came to directions was just to ask somebody, and who was she going to ask up here? A fucking bird?

            The map was on the grimy side, like most things in Kelly Aviation. At that, it was better than the seat she was sitting on.

            Printed across the top of the map, the ink a little smeared, was a notice that read: Property of Kelly Aviation. Unauthorized Use Will Be Prosecuted.

            “How’d you talk Bob into letting you use the plane whenever you wanted?”

            “Well,” said Lannie.

            Behind her, Keenan cleared his throat. “It’s an emergency, you know.”

            “Oh, perfect,” said Denise. “The first recorded instance since the RoF of plane-stealing. I betcha that’s a hanging offense.”

            Lannie looked smug. “Nope. I checked once. Seems nobody’s ever thought to getting around to making it a crime yet.”

            “See, Denise?” added Keenan. “Nothing to worry about.”

            They even seemed to believe their own bullshit. Amazing. Did the jack-offs really think that somewhere in the books there wasn’t a provision for prosecuting Grand Theft, Whatever We Overlooked?

            But…

            This was kinda fun, actually. Except for having to help Keenan attach the two bombs underneath. The bombs weren’t all that big, just fifty-pounders, but they were still a little scary. What had been even scarier was watching Keenan do it. He belonged to the what-the-hell-it’s-close-enough school of craftsmanship. Fine for chopping onions; probably a losing proposition over the long haul for munitions-handling.

            Still and all, it was done. Denise couldn’t remember a time she’d ever worried about water under a bridge. Now that she’d almost reached the ripe age of sixteen—her birthday was coming up on December 11—she was pleased to see no signs of advancing decrepitude.

 

 

About Eric Flint

Author and Editor
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