1636: Commander Cantrell in the West Indies – Snippet 11

1636: Commander Cantrell in the West Indies – Snippet 11 

“Which is probably why that’s not the wisest choice for Lord O’Donnell. His former liege King Philip isn’t exactly a fan of ours, and vice versa. Besides there’s the matter of his mens’ Roman Catholicism.”

Turenne nodded. Of course. Many of O’Donnell’s “Wild Geese” were extremely devout Roman Catholics, and most had been driven from their lands to make room for resettled Protestants. Their religious fervor and grudges would be a poor fit for the USE, which, despite its lopsided polyglot of different faiths, was founded upon the strong military spine and current leadership of the Swedish Lutheran Gustav Adolf. “So then, Mr. McCarthy, I suppose it is your presence which is the greater mystery. As I understand it, you still retain your post as a Senior Instructor at Grantville’s Technical College. If I also understand correctly, I would be a fool not to detain you on the spot and make your future freedom contingent upon your helping us with any number of mechanical challenges that my researchers currently find insurmountable.”

McCarthy smiled. “But you won’t do that.”

Turenne kept himself from bristling at the American’s self-assured tone. “Oh? And why not?”

“Well, firstly, it’s not the kind of man you are.”

“Indeed? And just how would you know what kind of man I am?”

“I know about the letter you wrote to Mike Stearns last year, expressing regret that your men killed Quentin Underwood during their raid on the oil field at Wietze.”

Turenne suppressed any physical reaction to McCarthy’s observation, even as he thought: Interesting: that epistolary gesture has borne some diplomatic fruit, after all.

McCarthy continued. “Detaining me would also ruin any hope of accord with Lord O’Donnell, thereby permanently and personally inflaming the Irish regiments in the Low Lands against you and France. But most important, forcing me to work for you wouldn’t accomplish anything, since you obviously know that men who work against their will neither give you their best work, nor can they be trusted.”

Turenne nodded. “All true. But I find it odd that you do not include your status as an American as a further restraint upon me. After all, keeping you against your will could be inflamed into an international incident.”

McCarthy shifted. “If I were here as a representative of the USE, that would be true. But I’m not here in that capacity.”

Turenne studied McCarthy carefully. “No?”

“No, Lord Turenne. Right now, I’m a free agent.”

“You have renounced your citizenship in the USE?”

“No. But I’ve never taken a day off from my work at the College. It took me a few months to persuade my bosses, but I arranged to take all those days at once, added to a leave of absence. They didn’t like that much, but they don’t really have any one else with my skills.” He shrugged. “I can do as I please with that time.”

“And it pleases you to come here for — a visit?”

If McCarthy found the bathos amusing, he gave no sign of it. “I came here to make money, Lord Turenne.”

Who, being unaccustomed to such a frank admission of monetary need, neither expected nor knew how to respond to McCarthy’s statement. And it seemed that McCarthy himself had not been entirely comfortable uttering it. Unsure how to navigate this delicate impasse, Turenne leaned back —

— just as O’Donnell leaned forward: “Lord Turenne, Mr. McCarthy is a proud man. His father, Don McCarthy, is severely ill and requires constant and increasing care. More care than Michael can readily afford.”

Turenne experienced a moment of utter social disorientation. “But does not the American government — ?”

“With your indulgence,” interrupted the Irish earl smoothly, “neither the USE, nor Grantville itself, provide for the private needs of even its most important personages. Within reason, they are expected to see to their own expenses.”

Turenne looked at Michael and found two subtly defiant but pride-bruised eyes looking back at him. If this was an act, it was an extraordinarily good one. “I see,” said Turenne, who remembered something else connecting pride and the name “McCarthy” in the intelligence he’d read on Grantville. Specifically, the McCarthy family was noted as holding an extensive book collection, and ardent political sympathies, that were both radically pro-Irish. And here sat an up-timer named McCarthy with a displaced Irish earl. The pieces were coming together. “So now I know why you are here. But I still have no idea what it is you wish to propose.”

McCarthy’s posture did not change, but his eyes became more expressive, less defensive. “We propose to help you with some of your current ‘logistical initiatives,’ Lord Turenne.”

Turenne was not sure whether he should be amused or aghast at the blithe certainty underlying such an offer.  “And just what initiatives are those, Mr. McCarthy?”

“Well, to start with, I think we have a way to help you achieve some of your long-term objectives in the Caribbean.”

Turenne frowned. “Mr. McCarthy, I am rather busy, but out of deference to your background, I made time for this meeting. However, I hardly think that France needs to consult with you — or, respectfully, the Earl of Tyrconnell — on its strategic posture in the Caribbean.”

McCarthy shrugged. “I don’t propose to advise you on general regional strategy, Lord Turenne. I have a very specific objective in mind.”

“Oh? And that would be?”

“Trinidad.”

Turenne leaned back a little, narrowed his eyes. With every passing second, the conversation was becoming more interesting and also more dangerous. Michael McCarthy Jr., and perhaps higher ranking Americans, had been doing their homework, evidently. And now began the delicate dance — for which Turenne had little taste — of learning how much the Americans knew and conjectured, even as McCarthy might now be trying to determine the same thing about him and France’s own speculations. Turenne studied the expressionless up-timer and thought: he is a mechanic, a man who works with wheels. And he himself may be filled by wheels within wheels. A spy? Perhaps. But perhaps an emissary, as well. And both roles would require extreme discretion at this point.

“Trinidad,” echoed Turenne eventually. “An interesting location to focus upon. Why there?”

“The petroleum deposits at Pitch Lake. They’re right on the surface.”

“True. But why would I want to travel across the Atlantic for oil?”

“For the same reason you took all the engineering plans from the oilfield at Wietze before you disabled the facility. You wouldn’t have been interested in those plans if you didn’t realize that France needs its own aircraft, vehicles and other systems dependent upon internal combustion engines. And that, in turn, means France must have oil. And getting oil quickly necessitates owning surface deposits that you can access with only minimal improvement to your current drilling capabilities.”

Turenne acknowledged the truth of the deductions with a wave of his hand. Denying something so obvious would only make him seem childish. “So, even if we accept your conjecture, I am still no closer to getting oil, even if I am willing to cross the Atlantic. Pitch Lake is held by the Spanish.”

“It is on a Spanish island. That’s not quite the same thing.”

So they also had access to tactical intelligence on Trinidad. That was interesting.”You seem unusually familiar with, and sure about, the disposition of Spanish forces on Trinidad,” he said.

McCarthy nodded. “A young American visited the island not too long ago, on board a Dutch ship. They landed near Pitch Lake and there were no Spanish to be seen, just a few of their native allies. So as regards Pitch Lake, either the Spanish don’t know what they’re sitting on, don’t know what to do with it, or don’t care about it.”

 

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Comments

3 Responses to 1636: Commander Cantrell in the West Indies – Snippet 11

  1. Stanley Leghorn says:

    Or are arrogant Aritsocrats who won’t get their minds dirty with new thoughts. Calling them “nobility” would be an insult to the root word.

  2. Bruce says:

    Hey look – a reference to Seas of Fortune.

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