1636: The Saxon Uprising — Snippet 38
That evening, Jozef decided it would be wise to follow Szklenski’s advice and spend his time at a different tavern. Where the now-revealed-to-be-not-entirely-good-humored Ursula did not work.
Szklenski himself escorted him there. “It’s where most of us Poles go,” he explained.
So it proved.
“You led me into a trap,” Jozef said. Accusingly, but not angrily. He wasn’t hot-tempered to begin with, and even if he had been he would have restrained himself. Being hot-tempered when you’re surrounded at a corner table in a dark tavern by eight men at least two of whom were armed with knives would be even more stupid than seducing two waitresses in one week who worked at the same establishment.
Szklenski shrugged, looking a bit embarrassed. Only a bit, though.
“Sorry, but we really do have to make sure,” he said. “We’ve got a good reputation with the USE guys here and we can’t afford to let it get damaged.”
Jozef looked around. “I take it all of you are in the CoCs?”
“We’re asking the questions, not you,” said one of them. That was Bogumil — no last name provided — whom Jozef had already pegged as the surliest of the lot. He didn’t think it was an act, either.
“Give us some names,” said the man to Bogumil’s left. That was Waclaw, who had also failed to provide a last name. “Something.”
Jozef thought about it, for a moment. Acting as if he were an innocent Pole not involved with politics who just happened to wander into Dresden right now was probably pointless. The question then became, what did he claim to be?
In for a penny, in for a pound, as the up-timers said. “Krzysztof Opalinski.”
“What about him?” That came from a third man at the table, who had provided no name at all. He was quite short, but very thick-shouldered and dangerous-looking.
“Nothing about him,” said Jozef, sounding bored. “I hope you’re not expecting me to provide you with details of what we’re doing? How do I know you’re not spies?”
“Who would we be spying for?” said Bogumil, jeeringly.
Jozef shrugged. “I can think of at least half a dozen great magnates who might be employing spies in the Germanies. So can you, so let’s stop playing.”
Bogumil started to say something but Waclaw held up his hand. “He’s right. But I want to make sure you really know him.” He stood up and help his hand, palm down, a few inches above his own head. “He’s about this tall, well-built, brown hair, blue eyes, and he favors a tight-cut beard?”
Jozef leaned back in his chair and smiled. “That’s a pretty fair description of his younger brother Lukasz. But Krzysztof’s about two inches taller, to begin with. He’s got broad shoulders and he’s certainly in good shape, but nothing like Lukasz, who’s a hussar and bloody damn good at it. They both have brown hair and blue eyes, but Krzysztof’s hair is a bit lighter and his eyes shade into green. What else do you want to know?”
He stood up himself — slowly, though, so as not to alarm anyone — lifted his shirt and pointed to a spot on his side just above the hip. “Krzysztof’s got a birth mark here, shaped like a crooked hourglass. His brother — as you’d expect with a hussar — has several scars. You want to know where they are and what they look like?”
Bogumil glared up at him. “How do you know what his body looks like? You a faggot?”
“We bathe, how else? Try it sometime.”
Bogumil spluttered and started to get up, but Waclaw placed a hand on his shoulder and drove him back down on the bench they shared. “You started the insults, so don’t complain.”
He studied Jozef for a few seconds, and then looked at his companions. “I think he’s probably okay. He obviously knows Krzysztof.”
The short, muscular fellow still looked a bit dubious. “Yes, but he could have known him from something else. By his accent, he’s szlachta himself.”
“So is one Pole in ten,” said a fellow sitting in the very corner. He was thin, sharp-featured, and called himself Kazimierz. “Including two of us at this table. Means nothing.”
Jozef pursed his lips. “All right. The up-timer, Red Sybolt.”
Eight pair of eyes got a bit wider. “You know Sybolt?” asked the short one.
Jozef shook his head. “I wouldn’t say I ‘know’ him. We’ve met only twice. But that’s the business I’ve been engaged in and that’s all I’m going to say about it. The truth is, I don’t know myself where Red is right now. Or Krzysztof.”
He said that with relaxed confidence, since for the most part it was perfectly true. He had no idea where either Red Sybolt or Krzysztof Opalinski was located at the moment. Or last month, or last year. Somewhere in the Ruthenian lands — which covered an area larger than France or Spain.
He was fudging with the business of having met Sybolt twice. He’d never met him at all. But he had seen two photographs of the man; good enough ones that he could describe him fairly well if necessary.
God help him, of course, if either Sybolt or Krzysztof showed up in Dresden.
“Good enough,” said Waclaw, sitting back down. He glanced at Bogumil, who still looked angry, and slapped him playfully on the head. “Come on, you started it! Say hello to our new comrade.”
“Hello, comrade,” Bogumil said. “And fuck both of you.”
Szklenski laughed. “You’ll get used to him, Joe.”
Jozef managed not to sigh. He’d gotten through months living in Grantville without getting saddled with one of those asinine American nicknames. One week in Dresden — from a fellow Pole, to boot! — and he was saddled with Joe.
Probably a punishment visited on him by the patron saint of spies for sleeping with two women in the same week who both worked in the same tavern.
Who was the patron saint for spies, anyway? He thought it was Joshua, but he wasn’t sure.
He couldn’t very well ask his tablemates, under the circumstances.