1635: The Eastern Front — Snippet 05:
Gretchen frowned. “Seventy-five thousand? That seems much too high. We’re not going to be looking for a home in the rich districts, you know.”
“Yeah, sure. You pretty much have to stay in one of the working class areas where the CoCs are strong and can provide you with some protection. You’ve got a lot of enemies. But for the same reason, you’ll need a really solid place. My own advice would be to buy a whole apartment building. Plenty of room for the kids — Ronnie, too, if she wants to move in with you –”
Jeff chuckled. “Not likely. She says she’s had enough of babysitting our kids and we can damn well do it on our own from now on. I think she’s planning to move in with the Simpsons. She and Mary get along real well, and with the admiral likely to be gone most of the time, Mary’d probably like the company.”
Gretchen looked like she was on the verge of choking. “An apartment building? We don’t have that many kids. Baldy will be staying here and so will Martha, who wants to finish school. That leaves us with only half a dozen who’ll be coming to Magdeburg. And I can assure you that I have no intention of becoming a landlady!”
David made a face. Again, the youngster’s nature made it hard for him to state the truth bluntly.
Jeff, on the other hand, had no such compunctions left. Being married to Gretchen for four years had pretty well rubbed off whatever delicate sensibilities he’d ever possessed. “Hon, we’ve got a lot of enemies. Well, you do, anyway. Most of them don’t have much against me except they’ve got to get past me to put you in the ground.”
Gretchen looked at him, a bit crossly. “So?”
“So figure it out for yourself. If we buy an apartment building — depending on the size, of course, but let’s figure twelve units which is pretty standard in the quarters we’d be looking in — then we can set aside half the space for CoC people.”
“What do you mean, ‘CoC’ people — oh.”
He grinned. “Yeah. As in ‘CoC people handpicked by Gunther Achterhof.’ Good luck, anyone’s got it in for you getting through that crowd.”
David nodded. “That’s what I was figuring.”
Gretchen looked back down at the sheet. “I still don’t really understand how it happened. And without us even knowing about it!”
Bartley looked a bit defensive. “Hey, we told your grandmother what was happening.”
Jeff barked a jeering laugh. “Oh, right! And I’m sure you used simple and straight-forward language that made lots of sense to Ronnie.”
Gretchen shook her head. “Explain it to us again. In simple and straight-forward language, this time.”
“Well… Okay. This is simplifying a lot, you understand?”
“I can live with that,” said Gretchen. “Whereas you may not, if you do otherwise.”
Now, Bartley looked alarmed as well as defensive. “Hey, Gretchen! There’s no call for that.”
“Relax, David. She’s joking.” Jeff glanced at his wife. “I… think. Do your best.”
The young financier cleared his throat. “The gist of it is that, way back when, my grandmother gave you guys some stock in the sewing machine company by way of a belated wedding gift. On account of Jeff’s father and my mother were first cousins which makes me and Jeff second cousins.” He rattled off the precise family relationships with the ease of any person raised in a small town. “You remember?”
Jeff and Gretchen nodded simultaneously.
“Well, after that I guess you forgot about it.”
“We were… ah, busy,” said Gretchen.
“Holed up in Amsterdam under Spanish siege, to be precise,” added Jeff. “So, yeah. Sewing machine company stocks were not something we thought about much. At all.”
“Sure. But as you may have heard, Higgins Sewing Machine Company did really well. And when it went public, you wound up owning five thousand shares — which was two and half percent of the stock.”
“The sewing machine company did that well?”
David tugged at his ear. “It did really well, yeah. But it wasn’t just the sewing machine company. Since you weren’t around we talked to Ronnie and your grandmother told us to handle it however we wanted to.” He looked defensive again. “She didn’t seem interested when we tried to explain the ins and outs of it.”
Jeff wasn’t surprised. Depending on who did the explaining — Bartley was actually better at this than most of his partners — Gretchen’s grandmother would have probably had as much luck with a short lecture on quantum mechanics. It wasn’t that she was dim-witted. She wasn’t at all; in fact, in her own way she had a very shrewd grasp of practical finance. But Veronica’s idea of practical finance focused on tangibles like property and hard cash. The sort of stock speculations and currency manipulations that David specialized in wouldn’t have meant much to her.
David went on. “So Sarah and I diversified your holdings. You’ve still got the five thousand shares in HSMC, but we invested all the earnings in other stuff. By now, you own sizeable amounts of stock in OPM –”
That was Bartley’s own finance company: Other People’s Money. He was not given to euphemisms, which Jeff found refreshing in a financier.
“– as well as several of the Stone chemical and pharmaceutical companies, Casein Buttons, Kelly Aviation, a little chunk of the Roth jewelry operations, a pretty hefty chunk of the new petroleum operations near Hamburg and an even bigger chunk of the port expansion projects — Hamburg’s going to turn into a real boom town — and some railroad stocks. There are some other odds and ends, but that’s the heart. Sarah and I didn’t want to take too many risks with your money, so we invested most of it in stuff that was safe but reasonably profitable.”
It was Jeff’s turn to shake his head. “If these are the kinds of returns you get on ‘safe’ investments, I’d hate to see what you get on something risky that pays off.”
Bartley shrugged. “You’ve got to remember that ‘safe’ is a relative term. The Ring of Fire triggered off one of the great economic booms in history. At least, that’s what Melissa says. Almost any intelligent investment will pay off well, if you know what you’re doing.”
Jeff didn’t think it was really that straight-forward. David Bartley was like most people with a genius streak at something. Doing that something seemed a lot easier to him than it did to most anyone else.
Be that as it may, the end result seemed clear enough. Much to his surprise — and Gretchen’s even more so — they’d wound up very well off. So, what had seemed like the sure prospect of several years of hard near-poverty while they finished raising Gretchen’s little horde of adopted children had vanished.
He could live with that. Quite easily.
An hour later, after David got up to leave, Jeff escorted him to the front door. “When will we see you again?” he asked.
“I don’t know about Gretchen. But you’ll be seeing me tomorrow, since your leave’s up. We’ll be on the same train.”
Bartley got a sly look on his face. “Didn’t you notice that I was wearing my uniform?”
Jeff had noticed, in fact, but hadn’t thought much of it. David was a member of the State of Thuringia-Franconia’s National Guard. In Jeff’s experience — although he’d allow this might just be the sneer of a real soldier — weekend warriors wore their uniforms every chance they got. He himself was lounging around in jeans and a sweatshirt. He had no intention of donning his own uniform until he was ready to leave the next morning.
“Yeah. So what?”
“So I’m reporting to the army base in Magdeburg along with you. Mike Stearns asked me to come. He sent me a personal letter, even. Well, I doubt if he actually wrote it. But he signed it, sure enough.”
Jeff chuckled again. “Leave it to Mike. He wants you to run his quartermaster operations, doesn’t he?”
“Not exactly. He says he wants me as a ‘logistics consultant.'”
Jeff grinned. “You may be a financial wizard, but you’re a babe in the woods when it comes to the army. Mike’s just saying that ’cause he doesn’t want to piss off a lot of old-timers. But he’ll have you running the show soon enough, in fact if not in name. You watch.”
He said it all quite cheerfully. And why not? Logistics was always an officer’s biggest headache. But with David Bartley running the supply operations… Jeff figured anybody who could parlay not much of anything into stocks worth over two million dollars could probably also manage to keep food and spare socks and ammunition coming.