1636: Commander Cantrell in the West Indies – Snippet 08
Grantville, State of Thuringia-Franconia
Ed Piazza, President of the State of Thuringia-Franconia rubbed his eyes. “Are those the latest production reports, Anton?”
Anton Roedel, former clerk for the city council of Rudolstadt and now Executive Secretary to the President, nodded. “Yes, Mr. President. The production numbers from the new coal mines should not be considered a basis for long-term projection, though. Their operating managers indicate that — “
“Yes, Anton,” Piazza smiled, “I was listening when you read their letters to us.”
Further down the conference table — a battered brown institutional slab that had started life in the teacher’s lounge of Grantville’s elementary school — Vince Marcantonio, Piazza’s chief of staff, stretched and groaned. “Please tell me that’s the last of the reports, Anton.”
“Yes sir, I thought it prudent to conclude with — “
There was a knock on the door.
Warner Barnes of the State Department sighed. “Now what?”
Francisco Nasi, Mike Stearns’ spymaster, shrugged. “That would be the arrival of ‘unofficial’ official business.”
Piazza grinned. “C’mon, Warner, you’ve worked in the State Department long enough to recognize euphemistic ‘code’ when you hear it.”
“Oh no,” Barnes sighed, “not covert crap. Not now. That shit takes forever, and I want to get home.”
“Before the evening gets cold?”
“Before my dinner gets cold and my wife blows her stack. This happens every time you and Francisco come back from Bamberg with a ‘special agenda’ for us to go through. This time, I don’t think I’ve even seen her in the past seventy-two hours. She’s out the door before I’m out of bed. I get back after she stops waiting up. You’re a damned home wrecker, Mr. President.”
Piazza nodded. “My apologies, but let’s not keep our ‘unexpected’ guest waiting.” Raising his voice, he called, “Come in!”
“Watch,” growled Secretary of the Interior George Chehab from his sulky slouch at the very end of the table, “I’ll bet this becomes the longest, drawn out business of the whole damned evening. Mark my words –“
But then his jaw shut with a snap, followed by a guilty gulp: Eddie Cantrell stuck his head into the room. He looked a little puzzled as he scanned all the faces.
“Uh . . . hello, Mr. President, gentlemen. I’m sorry if I’m interrupting. I was told you’d be concluded by this ti — “
Piazza smiled and waved him in. “There’s always more work to do than there are hours in which to do it, Eddie. No worries.”
The recording secretary looked at Eddie, then Piazza, then turned a new page, and started scribbling.
Eddie glanced uncertainly at Anton and back again to Piazza.
Piazza nodded faintly, so faintly that he was pretty sure that the only two people who saw it were Eddie, who was looking straight at him, and Nasi, who saw everything, anyway. “No need to itemize the report from Admiral Simpson, Eddie. Just leave it with us. We’ll probably go over it after Mr. Roedel departs.”
Anton seemed to start slightly, then resumed his scribbling.
Eddie nodded. “I understand, sir. Perfectly.”
And he and Piazza shared a smile, just as they shared a complete understanding of why a review of the report was being deferred. By waiting until Anton is gone, there would be no official record of Admiral Simpson’s strident, not to say fulminative, arguments about the materials, money, specialists, priorities, and other assets he wanted — no: needed! — in order to have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting a blue water navy ready by the promised date.
“Those folders under your arm,” Piazza said, nodding at the leather-bound attaches that passed for ‘folders’ in Early Modern Germany, “I take it they also contain brand new requests from Admiral Simpson?”
Eddie’s smile was rueful. “Yes, Mr. President. They most certainly do.”
“And what would the esteemed Admiral want now?”
“Well, pretty much everything he wrote you about last month. Except lots more of it.”
Piazza put out his hand for the folders. Eddie moved to walk them over. Piazza saw the limp, remembered the missing leg, jumped to his feet to get the folders, mentally cursing his forgetfulness and excusing it at the same time. Damn it! Eddie was just a kid — just a smart, awkward kid — only four years ago, staring at cheerleaders, dealing with acne, and coping with the low ceiling of his possibilities in a small West Virginia mining town. And now he’s a handicapped veteran. But I still see that kid, when I look at him.
And that was when Piazza saw the look on Eddie’s face: that ‘kid’ wanted to walk the folders over himself. And the way he held himself as he limped closer — straighter, in a military posture — shamed the image of Eddie Cantrell, Nice Kid, forever out of Piazza’s mind. Who was sad to see that old image go, but felt an almost tearful pride at the image that had now permanently replaced it: Lt. Commander Edward Cantrell, veteran and hero at the tender age of twenty-three.
Piazza extended his hand for the folders that Eddie could now reach out to him and he said, quietly, and as seriously as he had ever said anything in his life, “Thank you for bringing these to us, Commander Cantrell.”
“My pleasure, sir.”
“– And my duty,” Piazza heard as the unspoken subtext behind those words. He nodded. “Before you go, Commander, we have something that you need to take with you.”
“A return communiqué, Mr. President?”
Piazza smiled. “No, Commander.” He turned. Francisco Nasi held out a large, varnished wood box, with a strangely intense look in his dark eyes, as if he was hoping they would convey something that he could not, or dare not, frame as spoken words.
“Sir?” said Eddie, puzzled, as Piazza turned and proffered the box to him.
Eddie did and seemed to redden for the briefest moment. “Is this –?”
“That’s the finished medal, Commander. Allow me.”
Piazza took the box back, lifted out the first Navy Cross that the United States of Europe had awarded to a living recipient, and put it around Eddie’s neck. Who straightened and saluted.
Piazza straightened, “For your actions in and around Wismar, 1633, as per the citations read at the official ceremony,” and saluted back. Then he relaxed a bit. “I know you did this last year in Magdeburg, with all the pomp and circumstance, but since the artisans and politicos were still arguing over the final design of the medal, and hadn’t gotten around to — “
“Thank you, sir.” Eddie looked Piazza in the eyes and then around the table. “It means more than I can say that you — that all of you — did this.” All present had risen and come to attention as the real medal was conferred. Then Eddie frowned and glanced back in the box. “Uh — “
“Kind of a big box for a medal, sir. And damned heavy.”
Piazza smiled again. “I thought a congratulatory gift was in order. To commemorate the occasion and to help you in your future endeavors.”
Eddie lifted out the wooden panel upon which the medal had rested. He stared, and then looked up at Piazza. “How did you know?”
Francisco Nasi may have smiled briefly. “I was sitting just down the table from you at your state dinner in Magdeburg last year. Perhaps you remember having a friendly dispute with the admiral over preferred side arms?”
Eddie lifted out the gift with almost reverent hands. An almost slender automatic pistol caught the light, sent gleams skittering off a blued hammer. “An HP-35. Manufactured just after the World War II, if I read the markings correctly.”
Piazza grinned. “You do. Although you may be the only person in this world who would call it an HP-35. ‘Browning Hi-Power’ was the preferred term in the States, Commander”
Eddie, completely oblivious to Piazza’s correction, turned the weapon over to confirm that no magazine was inserted. “How — where did you find this?”
Piazza looked down, shrugged, was slightly annoyed when Nasi almost drawled, “Actually, it wasn’t hard to find at all. It seems a person we know very well had it in his possession. Had an opinion of the gun similar to your own, Commander, and chose it over many others. Even though it was distinctly non-regulation in your up-time US Army. This person has often claimed that it never failed him, and that he preferred the larger magazine size to the stopping power of the larger, ….er, ‘forty-fives’?” Nasi sent a glance at Piazza, checking his terminology.
Eddie followed Nasi’s gaze. “You, Mr. President? This is your gun?”
“Was my gun, Commander. It is yours, now. Use it with pride and honor. As I know you will.”
“Sir, I can’t take it. I couldn’t — “
“Rubbish, Commander. You’ve already taken it. And it’s the right gift for a young man who has no choice but to go in harm’s way with only one leg. By comparison, I am an increasingly paunchy man whose fate is to sit at a big desk although I have two perfectly good legs. Seriously, now, who has more use for that gun? Who needs every bit of advantage they can get?”
Eddie’s eyes raised from the weapon and fixed on Piazza’s face, assessing. “Mr. President, you’re about fifty-five, now, right?”
“Not a day over fifty-four. Don’t put me in the grave any earlier than I have to go, Commander!”
“So during your tour in the Army, you were in — ?”
“Yes, I was there, Commander. And since the Browning worked in the jungles on one side of this planet, I’m pretty sure it’ll work just as well in the jungles on the other side. I hope you don’t have to use it at all, of course, but if you do, you may find it’s nice to have a thirteen-round magazine when you can’t usually see what you’re shooting at very well — if at all.” He left unspoken the fact that there were plenty of Glocks and M-9s to be had, which boasted even larger magazine sizes. But the Hi-Power was renowned for its reliability and kindness to small-handed or easily unbalanced shooters — as Eddie Cantrell now might be
Eddie looked down and held the gun firmly with both hands, almost as if it were a holy relic. For a second, Piazza saw the eager, earnest kid again.
Eddie looked up. “I don’t know what to say, Mr. President.”
Piazza laughed. “I think ‘thanks,’ will be sufficient. Otherwise, I can tell you’re going to get maudlin on me. Well, more maudlin. Now look here, Commander, I do have one bone to pick with you.”
“How dare you come down to Grantville and not bring your bride?”
“Sir, I didn’t think that protocol –“