1635: The Eastern Front — Snippet 29
Gazing out of his office window overlooking the Elbe, Francisco Nasi had the same thought that most people did when they studied that scenery.
What a blighted mess.
In days past — well, you had to go back at least a year — the Elbe itself had been fairly attractive, even if the factories and mills and foundries that lined it in this area were not. But that was no longer true. The river had become rather badly polluted.
According to up-time values of “polluted,” at any rate. For someone reared in the seventeenth century, the river might be dirty and ugly but at least it was no longer dangerous. Magdeburg’s extensive water and sewer systems saw to that, along with the ferocious patrols maintained constantly by the city’s Committee of Correspondence. Whatever other noxious substances might be in that river, human waste was no longer one of them.
Nobody in their right mind would willingly drink from that river. Even after being filtered in the water treatment plants, the Elbe’s waters near Magdeburg still tasted pretty foul. If you did drink from it, though, the worst you’d probably suffer was just a bad taste in your mouth, maybe a touch of nausea. But you wouldn’t contract dysentery or typhoid fever — as you very well might if you drank the river waters near many towns and cities in Europe.
For that if nothing else, Francisco’s allegiance to the Americans would have been firm. They had their faults, certainly. For someone of Nasi’s sophistication and cosmopolitan inclinations, parochialism was perhaps the worst. But wherever the influence of the up-timers went, children lived. Not all, but many more than would have otherwise.
His allegiance to one up-timer in particular was more than firm. By now, it was as solid as granite. That was his former employer, Michael Stearns, whom he’d served for two years as what amounted to his chief of espionage.
Francisco wondered how Mike was faring now. He’d be on the eve of his first battle. Well, not exactly his first battle, but certainly his first battlefield.
He’d do very well, he thought. It was almost impossible to imagine Mike Stearns not doing very well at anything he tried.
But there was no longer anything Francisco could do for the man. Not directly, at least. So, hearing the knock on the door, he turned away from the window and brought his mind to bear on a current problem.
“Come in, Eddie.” He’d been expecting Junker’s arrival, but Francisco would have known who his visitor was just by the way he knocked. For whatever quirky reason — the man was given to whimsy — Eddie Junker had adopted the habit several months earlier of rapping on a door according to a little up-time jingle: Shave-and-a-haircut, two bits.
It was incredibly annoying. Fortunately for Eddie, his employer had studied Maimonides and come away convinced that the great sage’s criticism of anthropomorphism could be applied to dealing with petty irritations as well. True, no rabbi he’d encountered agreed with his interpretation of the Guide For the Perplexed. So much the worse for them.
Junker came in, moving more lightly that you’d expect for a man as stocky as he was. His hand closing the door was light, too. Nasi could barely hear the latch click.
Proving once again the value of a correct interpretation of Maimonides. Coupled to the aggravating knock was a generally splendid young man.
While Eddie did so, Francisco turned the map that had been lying on his desk so that it faced Junker. That done, he pointed to the place which filled most of the map. He’d been told by people familiar with the city that it was quite a good representation of Dresden.
“Can you land here, if need be? Or anywhere near the city?”
Eddie glanced at the legend. “Dresden, huh? It’s a pretty fair likeness.”
Nasi’s eyebrows raised. “You’ve been there, then. I hadn’t known that.”
“Oh, half a dozen times at least. Twice — no, three times — on business for my father. And we have relatives in the city, so I visited them on several occasions also.”
He pursed his lips and frowned, studying the map. “As to whether I could land the plane…”
Nasi waited patiently. There was no point trying to hurry Eddie. For such a young man, he was quite deliberative in the way he approached problems. On the positive side, he didn’t make many mistakes either, and no dumb ones.
Finally, Junker leaned back in the chair. “I just don’t know, Don Francisco. I… think I probably could. The terrain’s flat. As long as you stay away from the Elbe, and it hasn’t rained heavily, the ground should be solid enough. But I really wouldn’t want to land on a field that hadn’t been prepared. Any sort of sizeable rock –”
Nasi waved his hand. “Yes, of course. We’d have to see to that first.”
He sat down in his own chair and studied the map pensively.
After a few seconds, Eddie cleared his throat. “If you don’t mind my asking –”
Francisco had found that in his line of work one of the worst mistakes you could make was to fetishize security, especially with your immediate subordinates. Not only did it handicap them in their work, but they also invariably resented it. If they were smart, at least, and Nasi had no use for dimwitted assistants.
There were times, of course, when complete secrecy was imperative. But this was not one of them.
“I’ve been approached by Gretchen Richter. She wanted to know if I could fly someone into Dresden — and would I be willing to do so.”
“The someone being…”
“Herself, I imagine. I know that she’s been approached by people from that rebellion in the Vogtland. They wanted her to come to Dresden. She refused, at least for the moment, but will send some CoC representatives.”
Eddie pursed his lips again. “How solid is that information?”
“As solid as possible, since I got it from Richter herself.”
“Really? I’m a little surprised she was that forthcoming.”
“She’s shrewd. She figures I’d most likely find out about it anyway, if not all the details. This way she maximizes the chances that I’d agree, since I wouldn’t be wondering what her motives were.”
Eddie stared out the window for a moment. “So you’re thinking that she’s laying the basis for a later arrival. In case…”
“In case Dresden explodes. Yes. You’ll need to take that into account when you investigate the possibilities of landing a plane in the area. There may be hostilities underway.”
“Ah, marvelous. What I always wanted. Landing under fire while on a desperate mission.”
Nasi smiled. “If it would make you happier, you could take Denise with you. On the exploratory trip, I mean. Not the possible later desperate mission under fire. I wouldn’t care to answer to her mother for that.”
Eddie winced. “Me neither.”
Denise Beasley’s mother was a formidable woman. On the other hand, Christine George did not try to rein in her daughter, either — which, given Denise’s nature, would have been well-nigh impossible anyway.
Denise and Eddie were more-or-less betrothed now. Not in a manner that down-time Germans would have recognized as legally binding, true. What Denise herself called “going steady.” But, perhaps oddly in such a willful girl, Francisco thought she was quite devoted to Junker.
Eddie was back to staring out the window. “We’d have to be gone for at least a month. I’d need to get a chaperone, for that long a trip. Christine is easy-going but no mother of a seventeen-year-old girl is that easy-going.” He mused for a few more seconds. “Denise will insist that Minnie come with us, of course. Which I don’t mind except Christine will never agree that Minnie Hugelmair constitutes what any sane person would call a ‘chaperone.'”
Nasi nodded judiciously. “That would indeed be madness.”
Silence fell upon the room again. After perhaps a minute, Nasi chuckled. “The solution is obvious, I think.”
Eddie winced. “She’ll kill me.”
“Oh, nonsense. I’ve always found Noelle Stull to be quite the adventuress.”
“For God’s sake, don’t tell her that. Besides, she’s all the way down in Bamberg now. And she’d have to get permission from her office, and as overworked as they are —
Francisco shook his head. “Actually, she’s been in Grantville for the past week or so, packing her belongings. That’s because she’s got a new job and a new employer.” He cleared his throat. “Who is me. So I foresee no problems.”
Junker stared at him. Then, whistled softly. “I really never thought she’d accept your offer.”
“Prague is closer to Vienna.”
Eddie chuckled again. “Given that the fellow of her interest is a Hungarian officer in the service of the Austrians and the Austrians are officially at war with the king of Bohemia, I’m not quite sure how relocating to Prague really puts Noelle any closer to Janos Drugeth. And who knows where he is these days, anyway?”
Francisco got a smug look at his face. “As it happens, I do.”