1636: The Ottoman Onslaught – Snippet 12
She herself didn’t find Kresse’s dark thoughts more than mildly exasperating. The leader of the Vogtland rebels was a capable man, but he tended to be rigid and prone to suspicion. He reminded her a lot of Gunther Achterhof — except Gunther at least had a good sense of humor. If Kresse had one, she’d never seen any evidence of it.
“Are we all agreed then?” she asked, looking around the table. “I will accede to the emperor’s summons and go to Magdeburg tomorrow.”
Her expression got rather sour. “By airplane. May God have mercy on my soul.”
Which he might or might not, she thought. She hadn’t been inside a church in years. In her defense — assuming it would carry any weight with the Creator, which it might or might not — she felt she’d been betrayed by the Catholic Church she’d been raised in. The soldiers who broke into her father’s print shop, murdered him and then subjected her to more than two years of torment had claimed to be defending the Catholic cause, had they not?
Gretchen wasn’t an outright non-believer like her husband, but she’d never found another church that suited her. The Protestant denominations all seemed… drab. Reverential but joyless.
She gave everyone at the meeting plenty of time to register any further objections or raise any questions. Since there didn’t seem to be any, she declared the meeting adjourned.
“I need to talk to Jozef before I go,” she said to Tata after everyone had left the room. “Do you know where he might be found?”
Tata sniffed. “Wherever there’s liquor available and young women whose tits are bigger than their brains.”
Gretchen smiled. It was true that Jozef Wojtowicz was an incorrigible womanizer. The Pole was handsome, charming, quick-witted — rather tall and well-built, too — and never seemed to lack female companionship.
Well… “Incorrigible” was a little unfair. He wasn’t stupid about it. He’d never once tried to seduce Gretchen, for instance, although it was obvious he found her attractive. He’d never chased after Tata, either. Unlike most womanizers Gretchen had known, Jozef — to use an American quip — generally thought with his big head, not his little one.
“Find him, would you?” As Tata started to leave, Gretchen stopped her with a hand on her shoulder. “Not you, yourself. You and I have other things we need to discuss before I leave. Get someone else to do it.”
Tata sniffed again. “I have just the person.”
“Why you?” Tata gave Eric Krenz a squinty look. “Two reasons. First, because you’re handy. Second, because you know every tavern in Dresden, including the ones with the prettiest barmaids that Wojtowicz will be chasing after.”
She held up a hand, forestalling Eric’s protest. “I didn’t accuse you of chasing after them yourself, did I? But don’t tell me you don’t notice these things because you do. I’m tolerant — I used to be a barmaid myself; it’s a necessary skill in the job — but I’m not blind. Your hands may not roam but your eyes do.”
Eric’s open mouth… closed. “Um,” he said.
“Be off,” Tata commanded.
Wojtowicz arrived a little over an hour later. Krenz’s guesswork had been good — he’d found Jozef in the second tavern he’d searched.
Then, of course, half an hour had been needed to negotiate with the fellow. Like all Poles of Eric’s acquaintance, Jozef was inclined toward stubbornness. Happily, like all Poles of Eric’s acquaintance, he was also inclined to drink. So, a pleasant if too brief time had passed in which a Pole and a Saxon commiserated on the unreasonableness of women.
“What does Richter want with me now?” wondered Wojtowicz.
“Don’t know, but it’s probably nothing good.” Eric drained a fair portion of his beer stein. “As I recall, the last time she summoned you into her presence she talked you into leading a reckless sortie against besieging troops.”
Jozef looked a bit apprehensive — but only a bit. “It can’t be anything like that. We’re not at war at the moment. Well… not here, at any rate.” He waved his hand in a vaguely southwesterly direction. “Over there in Bavaria they are, but we’re not involved with that.”
Eric shrugged. “There’ll be some unpleasant task that needs doing. There always is. It’s because of Adam’s fall, I think. Although I’m not sure. I’m not a theologian.”
Jozef’s laugh was a hearty, cheery thing. A passing barmaid gave him a second look. For probably the fourth time that evening, Eric suspected.
“‘I’m not a theologian,'” Jozef mimicked. “Indeed, you are not. I, on the other hand, am an accomplished student of the holy texts so I know that it was all Eve’s fault. It’s always the woman’s fault, you heathen.”
After Gretchen explained her purpose, Jozef didn’t find the quip amusing any longer.
“I really think you’re… what’s the up-time expression?”
“‘Spooking at shadows’?” Gretchen supplied. “You’re probably right — but I still want to find out what’s happening over there.”
“Why me?” Jozef asked, trying not to whine openly. It was a stupid question, because the answer was obvious.
“Don’t be stupid. You’re a Pole. I want you to go into Polish territory and spy for us.”
“And that’s another thing! I am Polish, just as you say.” He tried to put on his best aggrieved expression. “And now you’re asking me to be a traitor –”
“Oh, stop it! I’m not asking you to sneak into King Władysław’s palace in Warsaw and steal state secrets. I’m asking you to go just over the border — well, a bit farther — and see what that swine Holk is up to in Breslau, or wherever he is now. Holk’s Danish, I think, or maybe German — and most of his men are Germans. So stop whining — which is phony and you know it — about your Polish pride. You know perfectly well you’ll get most of your information from other Poles on account of Holk’s men will have been plundering and raping and murdering them in the name of protecting them.”
Jozef made a face. Heinrich Holk’s reputation as the worst sort of mercenary commander was something of a byword by now in central Europe. What in God’s name had King Wladyslaw been thinking, when he hired the bastard?
“All right, I’ll do it,” he said. A sudden thought came to him. Maybe…
“But I want a favor in return.”
“What is it?”
“I want some batteries.”
Gretchen frowned. “Batteries? You mean… the electricity things? That store the electrical power?”
He tried to look simultaneously secretive and mysterious. “I’m not saying. It’s my business.”
That was fairly lame, but it was better than the alternative: I want the batteries so I can start using my radio again and get back in touch with my uncle and employer Stanislaw Koniecpolski, the Grand Hetman of Poland and Lithuania and the commander of the army facing the forces of the USE at Poznań, so I can resume spying for him on you.
After a moment, Gretchen shrugged. “I suppose I can spare one or two batteries.”
Later that night, having finished her preparations for the trip to Magdeburg — that hadn’t taken long; just packing a small valise — she mentioned Jozef’s request to Tata.
“What in the world would he want batteries for? — that he’d be so close-mouthed about?”
Tata sniffed. “Wojtowicz? He probably got his hands on one of those up-time sex toys — what do they call them? Bilbos, or something like that — and figures if he can get it working again he can impress one of the town’s — what do they call them? Bimbos, I think. Or dumbos.”