This is the end of the story — and the book should be appearing on the shelves in the bookstores anyway.
THE AUSTRO-HUNGARIAN CONNECTION – snippet 36:
Grantville, State of Thuringia-Franconia
Denise studied the three items spread out on Noelle’s table, which had arrived that morning in a package.
There had been no return address, but that was hardly necessary.
“Gorgeous,” she pronounced, after completing her examination of the first item. “Of course, you gotta subtract a few points since he probably got it from the imperial gardens. Still, that is one hell of a rose.”
Next, she passed judgment on the note. All it said was: Should we happen to meet again.
“Way cool. Way, way, cool.”
Finally, the third item, which she picked up and admired. “And this is just fucking perfect. Wonder where he got it?”
Noelle peered at the thing, not sure whether she should smile or frown or… what.
“By now, I’d imagine those could be found in lots of places in Europe. Certainly Vienna.”
“Still. He even got the right caliber. And 32. caliber rounds are scarcer than you think. Most people want a heftier handgun.”
Denise folded her hands on the table. “So. No point packing yet, of course, since we’ll probably be at war again in a few months. Still, it’s never too early to start putting together some nice luggage.”
Noelle scowled at her. “I can’t for the life of me remember why I asked you to come here and give me your opinion.”
“’Cause it’s the wisest opinion you can get. I got the advantage of the perspective of my years.”
“All sixteen of them!”
“And barely sixteen at that,” agreed Denise. “Exactly my point. When you figure what we got here are two people from about as two different places as you can imagine—we’re talking centuries, girl, not just piddly geography—then what you got amounts to a couple of teenagers. D’you wonder why they call it ‘sweet sixteen’?”
Noelle tried to remember how she’d looked at the world at the age of sixteen. “Well. No.”
Denise smiled jeeringly, as only she could. “Never knew, I bet. Being a pious Catholic girl instead of a biker’s kid. The reason’s simple. It’s because by the time you reach sixteen—at least, if you aren’t dumb as a rock, which I ain’t—you’ve figured out the basics and you’re pretty much free and clear.”
Her forefinger pointed to the rose. “That means he’s got the hots, simple as that—but nicely expressed. Not a spot of drool on it.”
The finger moved to the note: “That the invitation. No, call it the ball’s now in your court. Very classy guy. Understands that you play a game with somebody, not against them. Won’t never be no backseat groping with this cool dude. Not ever.”
She plucked the cartridge from the table and stood it upright. Then, planted her forefinger on the tip. “And just to make sure you understand, that’s your insurance policy.”
“Oh, nonsense!” exclaimed Noelle. “I didn’t even try to hit him when I had the chance.”
“Remedial Romance class, come to order. He knows that, you dummy. But he also knows you could have.” She squinted at Noelle. “Well. Could have tried, anyway. The point is, he knew you had a choice.”
With a little clipping motion, the forefinger knocked over the cartridge and sent it rolling over to the rose, where it nestled against the stem. “So the reason the cartridge came with it is so you’d know he knows you still have a choice. Like I said. Very classy guy. Best opening moves I ever seen in my life.”
“All of sixteen,” Noelle tried again. Even to her, it sounded feeble.
Denise looked serious, for a change. “The last three of which—no, closer to four—have been a very concentrated educational experience. I’ve been good-looking since I was twelve, and every kid in school knew my dad was a biker. Sure, he scared ‘em some, but they’d also heard all the rumors about biker chicks. You figure it out. I had to learn real quick and learn my lessons well.”
Noelle looked from the rose to the note to the cartridge. Then back again.
The truth was, the girl’s opinion did look shrewd.
“So what do you think I should do?” A bit crossly. “Now, I mean. Not in the maybe-never time after the maybe-war.”
Denise got up and grabbed the tote bag she used instead of a purse. The one with the severed serpent and the Don’t Tread On Me logo that Noelle would have assumed she’d picked up at a patriotic souvenir shop before the Ring of Fire except for what was on the other side. A dragon eating a knight, with the logo I Love Hard Metal.
“Come on. We’re hitting the malls.”
Noelle got her purse. “There aren’t any malls in Grantville.”
“That’s the first thing. You gotta stretch your poetic license.”
Noelle flatly refused to buy the specific item Denise recommended. No way in God’s green earth was she going to send that book to Janos Drugeth. But she did allow that the general category was suitable. Even if the postage would be a little steep.
And she decided the girl’s final advice was probably good, too.
“Of course you put on a return address.” Denise slapped her forehead. “Jeez, Louise. You don’t know anything. He didn’t, because he was serving. Ball might have gone out of bounds, so he left you a graceful way to just pretend you didn’t know where it came from.”
She started more-or-less dragging Noelle toward the postal service. “But you decided to hit it back. So now we got a volley going. Can’t do that without return addresses. Face it, girl. The game is afoot!”
“Oh, splendid,” said Ferdinand, positively beaming. He turned another page of the beautifully bound volume. “I’ve always been very fond of Father Drexel’s writings, myself. So is my sister, Maria Anna.”
So was Janos himself, for that matter. But he was still puzzled by the gift.
Seeing the slight frown on his face, the emperor clucked his tongue. “Amazing, really. You’re so shrewd on the fields of politics and battle.”
He held up the book. “First, it reminds you of your piety. Whatever else, you are both devout Catholics. The most solid foundation there is, no?”
Well, that was certainly true.
The emperor turned the book, so Janos could see the title. “But there’s the woman’s subtle touch. I will even say, her wisdom. The School of Patience. Which you both will surely need.”
Janos nodded. “Yes, now I see. The war, most likely. Then, even afterward, a difficult political situation.”
Ferdinand set the book down on the table next to his chair and threw up his hands. “I have allowed a dolt into my chambers! No, Janos. You will need patience for a lifetime.” He slapped the book. “And that offer, my friend, that is the gift.”
“Oh.” After a moment, finally understanding, he smiled. “It’s going well, then?”
Ferdinand was actually rubbing his hands. “Yes, indeed. Happy Austria. Again.”