The Writer’s-Block Problem: FIXED!

I’m an indie-writer and indie-publisher; I publish my stuff to Amazon, Smashwords, and Kobo Books. I’m especially proud of my novel(la)s Cinderella, Zombie Queen and The Dessert Games.

I know about writer’s block. I have several times written halfway into a story—and suddenly I had no idea how to get from where I was then, to the ending that I wanted to write. That’s a scary place to be in; I’ve thought, Have I WASTED all the time I’ve spent so far, writing this story?

What I have found that works, when I get writer’s block, is to calm down and to abandon all hope that the entire (rest of) the plot will appear in my brain in one grand inspiration. Instead, I grab paper and I write down every idea that can get me even a tiny part of the way from Point Middle to Point End. An idea might be only one scene or plot point, but I write it down anyway. I don’t judge with thoughts like That’s a stupid idea. Instead, I write every little idea down.

Nor do I put pressure on myself, of I’ve thought up this little story idea, now I have to figure out how to use it. I don’t ever put myself in a position, when I’m brainstorming, of thinking I should do X, Y, and Z. At this point in the writing process, the word “should” is something I never say. I stay relaxed throughout, avoiding all thoughts that make me feel pressured, while I stay calmly confident that by writing down dozens of little ideas, I will sooner or later have a plot-plan.

Notice a trend here? Part of my trick to fixing writer’s block is to not panic, but instead to bring my mind to a Zen-like calm. How can I get so calm? By absolutely believing that Sooner or later, I’ll figure this out.

So far, this whole approach has worked every time: Every time I have calmed down and written down any and all little story ideas while trying to write a story, I’ve completed the story. (Then, once I’ve completed the first draft, I’ve torn up my pages of disjointed story ideas—tearing up the story-idea sheets is very satisfying.)

My process works, but it is not efficient. Coming up with a story outline in this way, takes me somewhere between forty and eighty hours of just sitting and thinking. Also inefficient: When I type “THE END” and tear up my idea-sheets, there will always be ideas written down that I never used. But if I have finished the first draft of the book, who cares?

I write down all my story ideas in one place. Rather than write ideas on sticky-notes and napkins and the backs of envelopes, I write everything into a college-lined, single-subject, spiral notebook. (If I do write down an idea onto a napkin, sooner or later I’ll copy the words on that napkin into my notebook.)

Putting all of my written ideas in one place makes for better organization, yes; but I also write all my ideas in that spiral notebook so I can take the notebook with me when I go to bed. I can’t count the number of times that an idea came to me as I was falling asleep, or in the first minute when I woke up. When this happens, I write my idea into my notebook before I do anything else. Ideas popping into my head when I’m in bed has happened so often that now I keep a pen and an LED flashlight (along with my notebook) by my bed.

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There Are Great Zombie Books Out There

An author named Grivante contacted me with an offer for a “scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” zombie-book promotion. If I will tell my fans and friends about The Zee Brothers, Zombie Exterminators: Curse of the Zombie Omelet, he will tell his fans and friends about Cinderella, Zombie Queen as part of his all-October #31daysofzombies promotion.

Isn’t this a clever idea? Grivante shows he really has some … BRAINS-S-S.

Anyway, folks, I’m not only going to recommend the book, I’m going to buy it. Because it looks like it’s funny—and I’m a funny guy. (Even my arm-bones are humerus.)

Here’s its sales blurb:

Orgasms, Chocolate & Zombies? Just an average day for Jonah, Judas & JJ.

The Zee Brothers have a strange and dangerous vocation. While some hunt rodents or pests in the dark, Jonah and Judas tackle much larger prey… Zombies. Equipped with a well-loved artillery gun, DeeDee, and a much used and somewhat abused pickup truck called Sasha, the duo clear the night of undead pests, keeping the ever present threat of a Zombie Apocalypse at bay.

When the slap happy pair receives an after hours call for extermination that ends in a gurgle, they head out, guns locked and catch pole loaded. It seems that an incredibly foolish developer built a high cost, gated community atop an old indian Reservation – a Reservation that soon became a graveyard and home to magic much older than the flimsy walled homes that tried to take over. Lost in this sea of new houses, an ancient artifact lay buried till the obnoxious Home Owners Association President disturbed it – and awakened the Zombies from their slumber to retrieve it.

Now it’s up to the Brothers to find it and lay the walking dead to rest. Along the way they meet the woman of their dreams, JJ, her magical and disco imbued dog, Xanadu, a denture wearing Zombie and a High Priest that offers a bit more danger than DeeDee can handle.

Filled with pop culture nods and heroes that just don’t know when to quit, it’s a slap happy, blood filled adventure, as the trio fights off zombies and the brothers fight each other for JJ’s affection.

If you like Ash Vs Evil Dead, Army of Darkness and Scooby Doo, you’ll want to buy this action packed romp and dive into The Zee Brother’s adventures today!

THE ZEE BROTHERS, ZOMBIE EXTERMINATORS: CURSE OF THE ZOMBIE OMELET is available in print, audio, ebook (illustrated), and ebook (text-only). Thezombieexterminators has a Facebook page.

Here’s the link to the illustrated ebook for Curse of the Zombie Omelet: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B013M5DXGC/

Other books that are part of the #31daysofzombies promotion and that I am buying:

1) E.E. Isherwood Since The Sirens: Sirens of the Zombie Apocalypse, Book 1
Amazon: https://amazon.com/dp/B018H82ZYU (First of 6)

Life is hard enough at fifteen…

Banished by bad decisions to spend the summer with his great-grandmother, Liam Peters thinks his life is over. After all, Marty Peters is a tough woman to be around. Maybe she wouldn’t be so bad if she’d just take an interest in the modern technology he loves. Sure, she has some insight to her…but the woman is practically “pushing daisies.” Not surprisingly, as tornado sirens announce a city-wide emergency, Liam discovers why that term should be avoided…well…like the plague.

When Grandma Marty tries to send him on his way, refusing to abandon her home, Liam sees his situation in a new light. Something deep inside awakens—and he chafes at the thought of leaving his 104-year-old grandmother to die. Armed with two tiny pistols and an arsenal of knowledge from his overwhelming zombie book collection, Liam realizes he could be the hero and accomplish the impossible: rescue her.

With the interstate gridlocked, opportunist criminals looking to take what they can get, law enforcement desperate to keep the peace, and the military declaring St. Louis a war-zone, Liam and Marty find themselves wrapped up in a world of chaos and panic. But when the zombies begin to overshadow everything else, Liam comes to appreciate why there are no atheists in foxholes.

2) Priscila (sic) Santa Rosa Those Who Remain, Book 1
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00MKE5WI4 (First of 3)

Hide your children, lock your doors, and load your guns because zombies are real and they are coming. Danny Terrence knows this better than anyone. He spent months preparing for the inevitable moment the disease would reach his small town. What he didn’t prepare for is the fact that nobody really believes him.

Luckily for him, an old classmate and bully just happens to be the first one bitten. The bad news is that the family with the biggest arsenal of guns just packed up and left town, leaving them defenseless from an oncoming zombie horde. Being a leader isn’t turning out the way Danny imagined.

Yet four other survivors easily have it worse than him. Between a thirteen-year-old girl on a road trip from hell, a family of paranoid hunters having to deal with their feelings for the first time ever, a stubborn doctor butting heads with a cold-hearted sergeant and an amoral British professor carrying the fate of humanity in his hands, Danny has it easy. Unless, of course, they all end up in his town, messing with his already messed up life.

Follow these five people as their paths cross and their lives and hopes are challenged in this thrilling novel. Those Who Remain: Book One is part of a trilogy.

???) Coming out on October 29th is Ambulatory Cadavers: A Regency Zombie Novel by McCallum Morgan. Buy it if you’re a fan of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies or (ahem) Cinderella, Zombie Queen.
link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01LX8TJDL/

Two cousins. One on the verge of a great discovery… and excessive power, wealth, and infamy, the other on the verge of an odious marriage.

Lyra will stop at nothing to achieve her father’s dream of dissolving Parliament into anatomical sludge, and to search out the farthest reaches of science and the arcane arts. That is until her own dreams begin to awaken, jolted by the electric sparkle of an artist’s eyes.

Lacking a strong constitution, Alice can only run from her problems, that is until she collides into the company of a strange young man of questionable occupation and discovers her cousin’s terrible plans.

The dead are about to rise, the Lords are about to fall, and things are about to get creamy.

High society will never be the same again.

Travel To My High-School Reunion By Greyhound

Last week I went to my high-school reunion, the first time I’ve attended such a reunion in thirty-five years.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I graduated from Johnson High School, a high school in Japan for U.S. Air Force dependents. A year after I graduated, the high school, as well as the military base that the school was a part of, were given back to Japan. Johnson Family Housing Annex became part of Iruma Air Self-Defense Force Base.

This created a challenge in holding high-school reunions. After all, traveling to Japan to attend a reunion was not affordable, and traveling into Iruma Air Self-Defense Force Base was not permitted. So how could we hold reunions? What we finally wound up doing was to hold a reunion every three years; if a reunion was held in city W, then at the end of the reunion, we’d vote on whether to hold the next reunion in cities X, Y, or Z.

This year, the reunion was in San Diego, California. I live in Texas. Thirty-five years ago, I was stationed in San Diego, so of course I wanted to attend the 2015 San Diego reunion! The only question was, How do I get there?

The no-brainer answer would have been to fly out there. But if I flew there, I couldn’t see the scenery. Folks, there is some beautiful scenery between El Paso and San Diego, and it would have been a shame not to see it (again).

Okay, fine, so why didn’t I drive to San Diego? The brutally honest answer is that I was not sure my car would hold up to a thousands-of-miles drive without repairs. But also, how much could I enjoy the scenery if my clear legal obligation was to keep my eyes on the road? My insurance company would have been unforgiving if I’d rear-ended a car in Arizona while I was staring at cactus.

So that left my choices being Greyhound or Amtrak. If I’d been traveling only to San Diego, the decision would have been a coin-flip. But after traveling to San Diego, I also planned to visit Vallejo, California—and Amtrak doesn’t go there.

So, long story short, at 2:55 a.m. on Wednesday, September 16th, I got on a Greyhound bus; a day later, I arrived in San Diego. After the high-school reunion ended, I got on a bus in San Diego, eventually arriving in Vallejo, California. Two days after I arrived in Vallejo, I left on another Greyhound bus. Yesterday I arrived home.

****

Greyhound seats are made for women and children. The seats are narrow, and there is only about nine inches of legroom between the front of one seat and the back of the next seat forward. If two men must sit next to each other, both are miserable.

That’s not as bad as it sounds. I discovered that if the bus were not completely full, so that nobody was sitting in the window seat when I was sitting in the aisle seat, then I could get comfortable enough to sleep if I sat with my legs spread wide. One bus driver insisted that we not put our feet in the aisle, but to me it was the only way to be even partway comfortable.

Alas, the Los Angeles-to-Oakland bus-ride and the Los Angeles-to-Dallas bus-ride were completely full, and so I got no sleep then.

Baggage-handling was done differently on Greyhound than on an airplane. When I transferred buses in El Paso, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Oakland, and Dallas, my one checked bag didn’t automatically get loaded onto the next bus. Instead, I had to claim my checked bag from the old bus, carry it into the bus station, and give it to the baggage-loader when I boarded my new bus.

Flying still has a little bit of glamor to it; but there was nothing glamorous about traveling by bus. The other bus-trip passengers were young people and poor people. On each trip, there were also two or three young foreign tourists, since the best way to see the USA if you don’t live in the USA, is by bus.

There are all kinds of choices you have if you want to pay someone to take you to or from the airport. But only taxis will take you to or from the bus station.

Greyhound likes to over-AC their buses. I’m glad I brought my windbreaker with me; those buses often were cold.

Greyhound windows: There are lots of them on the sides of the bus, and they’re huge. Traveling in a bus is almost like being in a traveling greenhouse. During the hours when the sun is up, viewing scenery is a pleasure, because of all the big windows. The windows are tinted, which means that the bus doesn’t get hot during the day, and looking at scenery in daylight doesn’t give you eyestrain. But at night, those same tinted windows mean you can see nothing out the side windows of the bus, unless the bus is traveling through a city with its bright lights. The thing is, a Greyhound bus doesn’t spend any more time in a city than it has to.

Say what you will about Greyhound travel, but their ticket prices are wonderful.

****

Memories of my triangular round trip—

• Looking out the window in El Paso, Texas and in Calexico, California, and realizing that my bus was only a few tens of yards from the Mexican border.

• I was late arriving in Vallejo because I missed my connection in Oakland. The reason our bus was late getting into Oakland was because, somewhere on I-5 north between San Diego and Oakland, the bus got caught in a traffic jam at four in the frigging morning. What the hell?

• The next time I was in the Oakland Greyhound station, the security guard was checking the carry-on bag of a soon-to-be passenger, and the security guard pulled out a black plastic cornet. Once Security finished with the cornetist, he played several songs in the bus-station waiting room.

• Traveling on I-10 eastbound in west Texas, ten or twenty miles west of Van Horn, we hit a hailstorm. This hailstorm was nasty, with hailstones the size of half-dollars. The noise of hailstones hitting the roof was deafening. I thought we passengers were going to die, or at least would be cut up by hail-broken glass. But the glass didn’t break, the bus didn’t slide into anybody, nobody slid into us, and the bus didn’t lose traction. I haven’t been this scared since 1964 (when I watched a tornado head straight toward my mother, sister, and me)—but nothing bad happened as our bus inched its way through the hailstorm. Bus driver Felipe Garcia was a champion.

Here are The Three Stories I Sold To THE GRANTVILLE GAZETTE

Introduction

As I mentioned in my very first post, I’ve sold three stories set in Eric Flint’s 1632 universe.

Here’s the basic premise of 1632 and its sequels:

Because of aliens from the future who are joking around, the entire town of Grantville, population 3,400, is transported through time and space from West Virginia in 2000 to Thuringia (that’s in eastern Germany) in the year 1631. That puts the Americans into Year 15 of the Thirty Year War. Specifically, they arrive forty miles away from the city of Magdeburg, a week after the Sack Of Magdeburg.

The Americans realize they’re stuck: They can’t get back to West Virginia, they can’t get back to 2000. What’s worse, Grantville, WV was a poor town: No factories, no university, no military base, and coal-mining doesn’t pay well. The only things the Americans have going for them:

a) Within the Ring Of Fire (boundary), they have a coal-fueled electrical power plant, and lots and lots of coal. So the town is without electricity for only a few hours.

b) Within the Ring Of Fire is a Marion County high school, and that high school has a library. The town of Grantville itself has a library, but the high school’s is bigger.

Anyway, 1632 and subsequent books are about the Grantvillers adjusting to the 17th century, and the down-timers (people born in the 16th or 17th centuries) adjusting to the Americans. The Americans quickly ally with Gustav II Adolph, who is king of Sweden and a devout Lutheran, and this alliance turns out to be a greal deal for all concerned.

****

Very soon after Baen Books published 1632, people started writing fan fiction for it. Then author Eric Flint did something unique: Instead of nuking the fanfic with lawyers, or ignoring it, he started buying the best of it, publishing it, and declaring that whatever stories that got published would become canon. So great was the response, then and since then, that Eric Flint formed a bimonthly web magazine, The Grantville Gazette, to publish the stories in.

Eventually I would sell three stories to The Grantville Gazette. And unlike other fanfic and like any other sale to a paying magazine, acceptance was not easy and editor-directed rewriting was not trivial. For one thing, everyone involved in writing for the 1632verse must use the Grid, which is a database that contains the name and background of every up-timer (American). A writer can’t simply make up a black-belt, nuclear-physicist, aeronautical engineer.

Here Are My Three Stories

Tortured Souls—An up-timer woman, Geri Kinney, is murdered in the German city of Jena. An up-timer man is the most likely suspect. It falls on Pieter Freihofer, a Jena judge, to investigate the murder. But Judge Freihofer’s best investigative tool is now illegal under a new law.

A Bolt Of The Blue—Stephanie Turski, an art teacher at Grantville High School, finds sixteen yards of uncut denim in her attic. In 1636, that denim is worth a fortune. Meanwhile, in the Brandenburg city of Köthen, a master tailor dies, and his widow Tilda doesn’t know how she can keep making payments on her Higgins sewing machine. Several up-timers remember Geri Kinney—none fondly.

She Came Out (Of India)—Sumitra Patel, from the province of Gujarat in India, studies in Grantville for a year as part of her plan to be admitted to an American university. Then in one second, all of Sumitra’s plans get trashed. Adjusting to twentieth-century West Virginia was hard enough for Sumitra, but now she’s in seventeenth-century Germany. Worst of all, Sumitra has a secret: She’s in love with her best friend, Samantha. Meanwhile, Stephanie and Tilda get a golden business opportunity—if Cecilio from Venice can get past his low opinion of Stephanie.

(Note: in “She Came Out,” minor character Roger Wyndford is based on my high-school English teacher, Joe Prasil. Sumitra is based in part on a girl whom I knew in high school; that girl is now a Facebook friend.)

My 1632verse Story: SHE CAME OUT (OF INDIA)

© 2012 Thomas H. Richardson—all rights reserved
Reprinted by permission of Eric Flint

She Came Out (Of India)

The Patel residence
Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India
January, 1999

“If Miami is out, what about Atlanta? Or Dallas?” Sumitra Patel asked in Gujarati.

Bhaskar Patel shook his head. “We don’t even need to check our computer. Thar Textiles doesn’t pay me enough to send you to either place.”

Sumitra’s mother Ahimsa said, “Dear, are you sure about Britain? Because scholarships—”

No!” Sumitra’s father yelled. “The English have humiliated India enough. I’ll sleep in cow dung before I make my daughter ask any Englishman for charity.”

“I agree, Mother,” Sumitra said. “I really do not wish to listen to”—Sumitra deepened her voice as she switched to English—”‘You people would be so much better off if India were still part of the Empire. Now girl, bring me my tea, and be quick about it!'”

Ahimsa’s grandparents had demonstrated against the British alongside Mohandas Gandhi; this surely explained why Ahimsa said nothing more to push for England. Instead, Sumitra’s mother sighed. “So we’re back to the USA. What about Minneapolis?”

After Bhaskar found Minneapolis on the map, he said, “Too cold. Which means, too expensive.”

Sumitra put her hand out. “Father, would you please give me a hundred rupees or so? I want to stop at a cybercafe after school tomorrow, to find out what the internet can tell me about different American cities.”

Respect for her father’s pride kept Sumitra from mentioning that the family computer with its later-bought, secondhand modem, a computer already old when Bhaskar bought it from Thar Textiles, was unsuited for any big internet-search project.

Meanwhile, as Bhaskar was digging through his pocket, Sumitra looked at her mother. “Many people want to be accepted to an American university, so that four years later they can come back to India as rajahs. But I figure it’s easier to get into an American university when I already go to an American high school. I feel so honored that you two agree to sacrifice even more, so I can gamble by going to America a year early.”

Bhaskar beamed, as he handed over the hundred rupees. “My daughter, the daring gambler.”

Ahimsa also smiled. “Certainly an American university degree will help your marriage prospects.”

Sumitra shrugged, not wanting to hurt her mother’s feelings. But Sumitra wasn’t much interested in marriage, beyond hoping that her future husband wouldn’t abuse her.

A week later, Sumitra was discouraged again. Even Lubbock, Texas and Topeka, Kansas had proven to be too expensive for her to live in for nine months.

****

Ahmedabad Airport
August 7, 1999

Sumitra was leaving home to become a high-school senior in a tiny town in the USA. Her destination was a mystery; the only info that the internet could dig out about Grantville, West Virginia was that its high school was adequate and its cost of living was cheap. Which, she supposed, was all she needed to know.

Now Sumitra’s flight was being called. The family was so emotional, they actually hugged in public.

The second-to-last thing that Bhaskar said to his daughter was “Don’t eat meat over there.”

“We know you won’t,” Ahimsa said. “You’re a good daughter.”

Sumitra wasn’t paying total attention. Part of her was noticing what soft skin one of the Air India stewardesses had.

****

The home of George and Hilary Chehab
Grantville, West Virginia
September 24, 1999

Mrs. Chehab was serving her own family a casserole of broccoli, cheese, and chicken. Sumitra was eating rice and broccoli topped with cottage cheese.

Sumitra didn’t eat any of Hilary Chehab’s chicken casserole, nor did Sumitra ask for any of it. But after hearing the third “This is delicious, Mom,” Sumitra was sorely tempted to try it.

Sumitra distracted herself away from the chicken by thinking about her new close friend, Samantha Salerno.

“You’re smiling, Sumitra,” Terri Chehab said. “Are you thinking about a boy?”

****

McDonald’s Restaurant
Grantville, West Virginia
Six weeks before graduation: April 2, 2000

Enterprise “Ent” Martin and his brother “Dev” were sitting at a table by a big glass window of the McDonald’s. Ent gave Sumitra a smile and a jaunty wave.

Then he yawned.

Grantville High School had held its 2000 “Foolish Youth” Prom the night before. Sumitra Patel was the only senior, on this sunny Sunday afternoon, to be sober, hangover-free, and well rested.

Sitting across a tiny table from Sumitra in the McDonald’s, sophomore Samantha Salerno had seen Ent Martin’s smile and wave. Samantha leaned forward. “You know Ent won’t shut up about your great hair, and he thinks your accent is sexy. You should date him before you go back to India.”

Sumitra smiled. “To India? I hope this is not soon. I hope I win the scholarship for the Georgia Tech. Also, I have not heard yet from the WVU or the California State or the Harvard. Perhaps I will date the Harvard man.”

The Grantville girl’s smile said Checkmate in one move. “Then you need to date Ent now, so that you know the game when you date that Harvard man.” When Sumitra still hesitated, Samantha threw up her hands. “C’mon, you need this!”

Sumitra smiled at her American friend. “Perhaps Ent fancies me. But I am not whom he took to the prom, no?”

Samantha looked embarrassed. “Look, we Grantville kids all have grown up together, and we’ll be seeing each other in years to come. This is why no boy asked—”

Sumitra smiled. “You are most kind. The prom is not part of my custom, so I did not cry when I did not go to the prom. I was more gutted, missing the Navratri, than I was about missing the prom. But too bad for Grantville, you lot gave a miss to see a chaniya choli costume at the prom.”

Sumitra didn’t mention now that she had another reason that she was unbothered about missing Prom. Two months ago, Sumitra had realized that she’d rather go to the prom with Samantha than with any boy. Sumitra had no idea how Samantha would take such news, so Sumitra had kept her desires hidden.

Meanwhile, Samantha was changing topics: “One day you’ll be back in India. You think you’ll ever miss here? Grantville? West Virginia? The USA?”

Sumitra shrugged. “I have not seen the USA. I have not seen the West Virginia. The Marion County—what I saw of this—is different from Gujarat. You have the rain here! Gujarat is dry.” Then Sumitra rubbed her elbow. “You also have the ice and snow in winter, and they attack the innocent India girl. I shan’t miss the ice and snow.”

Sumitra added with what she hoped was a casual voice: “I will miss you. You have been the good friend, Samantha.”

“Aww,” the Grantville girl said, and touched Sumitra’s left hand with her own right hand.

Samantha’s hand was soft, and her skin smelled wonderful. Sumitra wanted to step around the table right then, and kiss Samantha’s soft lips. Then Sumitra would unbutton Samantha’s clothing, in order to smell and kiss more and more of Samantha’s sweet-scented skin, eventually to—

In McDonald’s, Samantha drew her hand back, picked up her hamburger, and took another bite.

As Samantha was chewing her beef sandwich, Sumitra said, “About I go back to India … um, I have the favour to ask.” Sumitra eyed the hamburger in Samantha’s hands and added, “Please, do not tell this to anyone.

Puzzled, Samantha asked, “What’s the favor?”

Sumitra said, “You give to me some of your hamburger. I eat the ground beef.”

“What’s wrong, the salad didn’t fill you up?” Then clearly realisation hit Samantha. “Wait, you’re Hindu. You’re supposed to avoid beef, right?”

“Yes,” Sumitra admitted. “So please, do not tell to anyone. In India I do not find the beef, or this is the scandal if I eat this. Here, I have no scandal. But still, say nothing.”

In reply, Samantha picked up her purse, then stood up. “Gosh, I’m still hungry. I’m going to order me another burger.”

Wait,” Sumitra said, “I do not ask for you to spend your—”

Samantha was standing at the order counter by then, so Sumitra’s choices were to yell or to shut up. Sumitra shut up.

A minute later, Samantha lifted the hot, paper-wrapped hamburger off its red plastic tray, and set the hamburger in front of Sumitra. The Grantville girl leaned down and murmured in the Hindu girl’s ear, “The cow was already dead. You didn’t kill it. Now eat up.”

Sumitra had eaten about a third of her hamburger when the light from the windows suddenly flashed much brighter.

Ent Martin exclaimed, “Holy shit!”

An instant later, the entire McDonald’s went dark. Somebody in the food-preparation area said “Dammit!

Seconds later, thunder-sound came, which echoed for several more seconds.

Meanwhile, Ent Martin was saying, “Y’all should’ve seen it. The whole sky turned bright white for a moment.”

“You’re pathetic,” Samantha said. “Ever heard of lightning?”

“Come over here and see for yourself, Miss Smartypants,” Dev Martin said. “The sky is blue everywhere you look.”

Ent added, “It wasn’t part of the sky that flashed light, it was the entire sky. Weird.”

“Maybe somebody dropped a nuke someplace?” Dev said. Sumitra was surprised to hear eagerness, not worry, in his voice.

Ent stood up, as he glanced at Sumitra. “If somebody did drop a nuke, we should go look for a mushroom cloud. Find out if people in Grantville are in danger.”

Samantha stood up too. “If there’s been a nuke, Grantville will get refugees soon, and our doctors are gonna need help.”

Sumitra put the remainder of her hamburger on the table, then followed Samantha and the boys outside.

The Martin brothers had denied that a thundercloud had made the flash. Sure enough, the only clouds above the teens’ heads were standard white puffs, with lots of blue sky showing. In fact, the sky was a darker and richer blue than Sumitra had ever noticed before.

“I don’t see any mushroom cloud,” Dev said. Was this disappointment that Sumitra was hearing?

“Doesn’t mean anything,” Ent said. “They’d have to hit Fairmont for us to see the mushroom cloud over the tops of these hills.”

“Okay, so maybe it was a glitch at the power plant. Maybe somebody threw a bucket of water on one of the generators.”

“Maybe it was a storm,” Ent said. “Notice how it’s windy out here and it’s getting cooler?”

“Huh, you’re right,” Dev said. “I’m going inside.”

Meanwhile, Sumitra noticed that Samantha was standing in the car park, facing the sun.

Instead of following his brother inside, Ent looked at Sumitra. She smiled at him and gave him a little goodbye-wave. Ent shrugged, then walked toward the McDonald’s entrance door.

Sumitra walked up, to stand only inches away from Samantha. The younger girl looked puzzled by something. Sumitra asked, “What are you doing?”

“Being young and silly, probably. Besides proving I’m no astronomer.”

Sumitra glanced at the sun then, and realized that she’d never noticed it in that part of the sky before. But then, Sumitra had lived in Grantville for only eight months, so she promptly dismissed the thought.

Sumitra looked around. Nobody inside McDonald’s could see Samantha and Sumitra, because of where the two girls were standing. Nobody outside was looking at the two girls. Nobody was near the two girls, except for the McDonald’s manager; he was taping a sign to the drive-through menu. To add to temptation, Samantha’s hair smelled quite nice. Sumitra thought, I could kiss Samantha right now, and nobody would see.

Sumitra would never know if this thought were true or not. The “daring gambler” didn’t try to kiss Samantha.

For the rest of her life, Sumitra Patel would be asked about that one special second, and the minutes before and after it. Only Stephanie Turski and Nicki Jo Prickett got told the whole truth:

When the Ring fell, Sumitra Patel, a Hindu, was chewing on grilled ground beef. In the minutes before and after, Sumitra was wishing to kiss her best friend Samantha.

****

Stephanie’s Art classroom, Grantville High School
Right after Final Bell, Monday, September 8, 1636

Art teacher Stephanie Turski was at the classroom deep sink, washing out mixing bowls for paint, when she heard someone knock on the doorframe of her open classroom door.

She glanced over. Standing just inside the door was playwright and GHS Drama teacher Shack (Shackerley) Marmion, and another down-timer man. Shack was holding a piece of paper in one hand, while the other man was holding two rolled-up cloths. The other man was in his thirties, and expensively dressed; he was looking at Stephanie with skepticism.

“I bid you good day, good lady Stephanie,” Shack said. “Are you free to converse?”

Stephanie blinked. Shackerley, she had noticed, addressed up-timers as “good lady X” or “good lord Y” only when he was being formal.

She replied in kind: “Welcome to my classroom, sirs. Please make yourselves comfortable while I finish my business.”

The well-dressed stranger murmured a question to Shackerley, who murmured a reply. Stephanie couldn’t hear what either man said.

Stephanie finished cleaning the mixing bowls, then washed blue and green paint off her hands. Wiping her hands on a rectangle of hemp, she walked toward the men.

Shackerley said with careful diction, “Stephanie Turski, may I present Cecilio Moretti of Venice. Cecilio, this be Stephanie Turski, unmarried but she doth keep her married name. Cecilio doth journey hither to trade with a certain manner of up-timer, and he doth hope that his search be not in vain.”

The Venetian bowed to Stephanie, though his face still showed doubts about her. “Well met, Miss Turski,” he said.

Stephanie asked Shackerley, “So what is this about?”

Before Shack answered, Moretti asked Stephanie, “Pray pardon, but you do lecture here at this school, Miss Turski? What be thy—your specialty?”

“I teach Art and Art History, Signor Moretti. Can’t you tell?” Stephanie replied, smiling. The walls of the Art classroom were a feast of colors, especially the giant hot-pink heart by the door.

“Wherefore she?” Moretti asked Shackerley, doubt clear in his voice.

“Mister Marmion, what’s going on?” Stephanie demanded, her voice no longer cheery.

Shackerley said, “This doth tell all.” He thrust toward Stephanie the paper he’d been holding.

The paper turned out to be a letter, complete with a red wax seal—

God grant thee good day, old friend Shackerley!

Courtesy doth compel me to salute thee. Months after thou didst leave London, everyone doth still speak of you. Is’t true, thou didst flee in darkness to evade creditors? Forsooth, as I have with mine own eyes seen thy love for cards, I do easily credit this rumour. Rumour doth also claim that thou doth abide in the town of the future, and moreunto thou wast invited to lecture at their school. I am privileged to long ago have drunk ale with such a worthy.

If this second rumour be true, I have a tale to tell, and a boon to beg.

After my elder brother died and I did with tears cease my studies at Wadham College, I came home and learnt the wool trade from my father. My father himself did die in 1631, and so I did take ownership of his company.

Soon after, we of England did hear rumour of an English-speaking town from North America of the future, whose people did boast to be Englishmen no more. In 1631 I thought the tale to be the lie of a madman or an idiot. But alas, I was shewed wrong, for no Englishman may deny what did betide English soldiers and sailors in 1634.

About this time of 1634, one of my partners in trade, Cecilio Moretti who standeth afore thee, did learn a rumour that a Spanish Don had aped up-time knowledge, in the making of better woolen cloth. This tale did inflame Cecilio, who doth loathe all men of Spain. Cecilio then did vow to match the hidalgo in wool wizardry, and then to better him.

Shackerley, Cecilio hath done this. Now in 1636, I sell wool to him, and he doth sell to me wool cloth finer than any English wife can make. I sell this wool cloth in England, and God’s wounds, I do prosper! This man who beareth my letter, he doth make me rich!

Recently Cecilio wrote to me to share tidings: What he hath done with wool, so now doeth he with India cotton. Work with India cotton is i’truth easier, he claimeth.

He maketh cotton cloth, and doth wish to sell it. But he seeketh to sell his cotton cloth first to the up-timers, afore he doth make trade to anyone else. I forstand not his reasoning, in that he doth wish his cotton cloth to be like unto a Turkish drink. Mayhap he will explain it well to thee.

Cecilio maketh request to me, to introduce him to an up-timer who would buy his cotton cloth. I know no man as this. But I know thee, and so I pray thee to aid Cecilio in his quest.

For thine aid to Cecilio, I thank thee aforetime.

Yr. humble servant,
Roger Wyndford

Stephanie handed the letter back to Shackerley. To Moretti she said, “You say that cotton cloth is like coffee? How are they alike?”

Moretti glanced at Shackerley. Shackerley made a small hand gesture: Get on with it.

Moretti said to Stephanie, “The people in Europe did not drink the coffee, ere you up-timers came. Now, to drink the brown water be high fashion in every place. Now, north of yon Mediterranean Sea, I am told, `Cotton? Fie on cotton! Its price be dear, and it doth keep not me warm.’ Ah, but if you up-timers buy my wares—”

“—you’ll get rich, fast. Gotcha.”

“She forstandeth,” Shackerley translated.

Cecilio frowned. “I wish not to seem as an unmannered lout, but … you did ask, and I did answer. Now ’tis my time to ask: Wherefore was I brought hither, to you? How canst thou—can you aid me?”

Shackerley said, “In that she doth—”

Stephanie held up a hand. “Shackerley, allow me.”

Stephanie turned to Cecilio; her face, which smiled often, wasn’t smiling now. “You have heard of the Higgins sewing machine.” He nodded. “I am in partnership with another woman, a tailor’s widow named Tilda Gundlach, and together we sew skorts and skirts. Do you know what a skort is?”

He said no; she explained. It turned out that he’d seen skorts in Venice, but hadn’t paid attention to what they were named.

Then Cecilio shrugged. “So you two do sew clothing for women. And so? Without vexing myself, I can find three other seamstresses who do likewise, in Grantville alone. Wherefore thou?”

“We aren’t seamstresses. A seamstress is told what the skirt must look like, then she measures the woman and makes a skirt for that one woman.”

“Yes. And so?”

“What Tilda and I do is, we design a skirt or skort in one of twenty-nine different sizes, a woman gets measured, she figures out her size from a chart, she tells us her size and which of six colors she wants, she pays us, and we send her a skirt in that color and it already fits. When we run low on a size/color combination, we make more.”

Stephanie turned to smile at Shackerley, adding, “We now have two skirts in the Wish Book: The `Magdeburg’ and the `Morgantown.’ The `Morgantown’ stops just above the knee, and is selling very well. We think down-timer women are buying it as lingerie.”

Stephanie noticed that Cecilio looked puzzled. She asked him, “Have you heard of the Wish Book?”

Cecilio hadn’t, because with Venice’s down-time mail system, a mail-order catalogue would be a bad idea. Cecilio had heard of the USE’s mail system, but hadn’t realized that someone could build a business from it.

Cecilio asked, “Ye women make garments when no woman hath paid, hoping for her custom afterwards? Nay, nay, ’tis perilous and foolish.”

Stephanie laughed at him, then said, “You of Venice build a cotton mill when no one has paid, hoping to get uptimers’ business afterward? Perilous, definitely. But what do you say, is it foolish?”

Cecilio stared at her, as gobsmacked as if she’d hit him across the face with a tuna.

Then he made a courtly bow. “I would be most honoured to have your custom, Mistress Turski.”

Stephanie noted that he had said your custom instead of thy custom. Finally, Cecilio was not dissing her.

****

Seconds later, Cecilio walked to a classroom table and laid down the two cloth rolls that he’d been holding. The first cloth turned out to be white plain-weave cotton cloth, five feet wide and six feet long. The second cloth was like the first, except that—

“It’s gray!” Stephanie exclaimed. “Why is the cloth gray?”

“Grey is how it seemeth,” Cecilio said, “when ’tis cut from the loom and ere we bleach it. ‘Tis proof what I be not, be not”—muttered words in Italian—”I sell not what I own not.”

“He be not working chicanery upon thee,” Shackerley said.

“Ah,” Stephanie replied. She walked to her teacher’s desk and, after some rummaging, came back with a ruler, a magnifying glass, a safety pin, and a cheap solar-powered calculator.

She looked at Cecilio. “Every up-timer woman is going to ask me the same question, and you probably don’t know the answer.”

After several minutes of being bent down over the white cloth, she straightened up. “The thread count is 68. If you measure across the threads, Mr. Moretti, they average 68 threads per up-time inch.”

“Is that good, or ill, or wretched?” he asked.

Stephanie didn’t say what she thought, which was This isn’t even good enough for the cheapest Wal-Mart bedsheet! Instead, she asked Shackerley, “What do you think of this?”

“‘Tis excellent cloth, most excellent,” he said. “Upon the London stage, ‘twould make fine costumes indeed.”

“Huh.”

Cecilio asked, “So you have heard my tale, and you have seen my cloth, now will you…?”

“Now will I talk with my partner, Tilda. Unless she says `No, no, no’ to buying your cotton cloth, tomorrow you, me, and Tilda will travel to Bamberg. That’s a few hours from here.”

“What be in Bamberg?”

“Another up-timer woman, who knows quite a lot about making cloth from India cotton.”

“And how be this up-timer woman a master or scholar at India cotton cloth, when thine own libraries know little?” Cecilio asked.

Stephanie noted that Cecilio had dissed her again.

Stephanie’s smile was cruel. “Up-time, Sumitra’s father was a floor manager in a cotton mill. Sumitra worked in that same mill for a few months when she was sixteen, as a weaver. Sumitra is from northwest India.”

Then Stephanie’s smile changed to sickly-sweet. “Would it be okay if I took your samples home tonight? I’d really, really appreciate it.”

Stephanie was being presumptuous with Moretti: She couldn’t simply take tomorrow off without Mr. Saluzzo’s permission. But when Stephanie showed the white and gray cotton cloths to the principal, Mr. Saluzzo quickly gave the needed permission.

“How long till we have cotton underwear again?” Mr. Saluzzo asked Stephanie.

****

“Oh, Stephanie,” Tilda Gundlach said, hours later, “do you want to starve me?” Tailor-widow Tilda owned a Higgins sewing machine, was still making payments on it, and those payments weren’t cheap.

“I don’t get it,” said Aaron Turski, who was Stephanie’s younger son. “Frau Gundlach doesn’t look starved to me.” Aaron sucked in his cheeks to show what he meant.

Seth Turski, Stephanie’s older son, slapped his brother on the arm. “Frau Gundlach doesn’t mean starving for real, brainless boy. She means that if she and Mom buy this cotton cloth, something might go wrong, then Frau Gundlach will get her Higgins repoed.”

“Stop it, I’m trying to eat,” Aaron said. “Mom, tell Seth to stop hitting me.”

Stephanie eyed the perp. “Seth knows better. Don’t you, Seth?” Once Stephanie had collected a shrug from Seth, she turned to Tilda.

Stephanie said to Tilda, “This could be big, really big. I don’t think even Cecilio Moretti realizes what he maybe has got.”

“We might get rich?” Aaron asked hopefully.

Stephanie smiled at her son. “Mister Moretti will get filthy, obscenely, ridiculously rich, by five years from now. Tilda and I can get a big piece of that, by acting smart before the price jump.”

“What price jump?” Seth asked.

“I’ve been thinking hard about this, since this afternoon. Everyone has heard of David Bartley and Admiral Simpson, right?” When everyone nodded, Stephanie said, “What people forget about Admiral Simpson is that he wants so much to put all his people in uniforms, he can taste it.”

Five minutes later, Stephanie was looking straight into Tilda’s eyes. “…So, that’s my idea, that we buy tomorrow all the cotton cloth we can afford. Yes, I know it’s bet-the-farm risky. If it turns out nobody wants cotton clothing, you and I are in big trouble. But if Bartley and Simpson make the price of cotton cloth go way up, nobody can touch us. Your call, Tilda. After all, you owe money on your sewing machine, while I’ve got zillions in blue-jeans money at the credit union.”

“Yeah, zillions, and nuthin’ to spend it on,” Aaron pouted. “This world needs video-game and comic-book stores.”

“Miss MacDougall says video games are silly,” Seth said. “She says only boys with no imagination play video games.” Fenella MacDougall was Seth’s English teacher.

“Seth has a cru-ush!” Aaron sing-songed.

Seth’s face turned apple-red. “I’m going to hit you harder if you don’t be quiet!”

Ahem,” Tilda said, acting unaware of the glare and the smirk only a few feet away. Tilda continued, “Stephanie, none of your plans matter if this Sumitra says the cloth is no good. So my next question is, What is Sumitra like?”

Stephanie replied, “Well, some of that, I’ll need to ask her permission to tell you—”

Hearing this, Tilda’s eyebrows shot up.

Stephanie continued, “A few months after the Ring of Fire, I got a phone call….”

Stephanie didn’t tell Tilda much, especially with Seth and Aaron listening. But Stephanie remembered that day clearly.

****

At the kitchen phone
Turski residence
August 13, 1631

“Um, this is the Stephanie Turski residence?” a young up-timer woman asked over the phone. She sounded nervous.

Stephanie stretched the phone-receiver cord, and went back to cooking potato pancakes. “Yes, and I’m Stephanie. Are you a telemarketer, sweetie?”

What?” the voice said. “Oh, I get it, that’s a joke. Um … my name is Samantha Salerno. I’ve never took any of your classes, but I go to Saint Vin—to Saint Mary’s. Anyway, um … I’m calling because kids who know you, they all say you’re cool.”

“Thank you, it’s always nice to hear that. But sweetie, you didn’t call to brighten my day. It sounds like you’re in trouble. Or maybe you can’t adjust to the Ring of Fire?”

“Not me, I’m fine. But my friend Sumitra, she’s a basket case! She keeps apologizing to me, `I am sorry, I am sorry,’ but she won’t tell me what she’s sorry for! And she’s said several times, `I caused all this’—”

“Ah, so she thinks she caused the Ring of Fire?”

“At first, I thought she was joking, because of…”

Stephanie waited ten seconds, then said, “Go on, you were saying? You thought she was joking, because of what?”

“Sorry, it’s really silly, but I promised I won’t tell. Anyway, I thought she was joking, but now I think that she thinks she really caused all this! Please, can you talk to her?”

“Why not have Sumitra talk to one of the people counseling at the high—”

“Sumitra says it’s because she graduated a month ago, so she won’t be allowed to talk to those guys. But me, I think she doesn’t want anybody noticing she’s talking to a shrink. But she needs to talk to somebody!

Stephanie was trying to remember what she’d learned in Freshman Psych at WVU. “Does Sumitra cry a lot?” Stephanie asked.

“Before the Ring of Fire, never. These days? All the time. If I didn’t know better, I’d think she was pregnant!”

Stephanie asked, “Oh? Why don’t you think she’s pregnant?”

“Because the whole year with us, she’s never once dated. Which I don’t get, because Ent Martin drools like an idiot whenever she walks into the room.”

Stephanie thought, Hm, at least one boy likes her, but she doesn’t date. Hm. “Okay, sweetie, I’ll talk to her. I’m fixing dinner now, so bring her by in an hour and a half. My address is…”

An hour and forty minutes later

A young woman from India sat in Stephanie’s living room. Sumitra had black, straight hair that also was long, thick, flawless, and shiny like a shampoo model’s hair; Stephanie felt a moment’s envy.

Seth and Aaron had been sent to their rooms. Samantha had just ridden away on her bicycle. Which meant: Stephanie and Sumitra were alone, and would remain alone.

Sumitra said, while staring at the living-room floor, “Samantha knows about the hamburger. She did tell to you about the hamburger, yes?”

“No, she didn’t,” Stephanie said. “What happened with the hamburger, sweetie?”

Still staring at the floor, Sumitra explained how she’d violated one of the biggest taboos that the Hindu religion had, before and during the Ring of Fire.

Stephanie asked, “So do you think the Hindu gods caused all this, just to punish you?”

The Indian girl continued to stare at the floor, while she sighed and twisted her fingers. “The Hindu gods. The Catholic gods. The Lutheran gods. All them together? I do not know, but I know the gods punish me.”

Stephanie replied, “Sweetie, you’re not the only person who feels he or she caused this. I know this for a fact.”

“Other people think this?”

“Okay, remember that your class held Prom, the night before—”

“I remember this well. I was not invited.”

“I’m sorry, sweetie. Anyway, the day after the gymnasium meeting, Tony Mastroianni told an odd story to all us teachers who had lunch with him. A boy had confessed to Tony, to `causing’ the Ring of Fire. After the Prom, the boy had unprotected sex with his date, after already deciding that if she got pregnant, he wouldn’t marry her. So however-many days later, Tony said, the boy was convinced that his selfish action and his selfish thought `made God mad,’ so the Ring of Fire happened a few hours later.”

“All because of him?”

Partly because of him. Then the next day, a student of mine—I won’t mention her name, because she graduated with you—told me how she’d given her virginity to her boyfriend after the Prom, besides performing oral sex on him. The next day, we’re here in Thuringia, and she decided she was part-way to blame.”

“What happened to the other two people? The girl who maybe is pregnant, and the boy who received the oral sex?”

“It turns out, both of them got left up-time. In—”

“So maybe this is, the gods are not angry to me, the gods are angry to us.

“Sweetie, if God got mad at a girl for giving oral sex, that whore Geri Kinney would have been struck by lightning years ago.” Stephanie didn’t add, Especially if God even slightly listens to my prayers.

Sumitra said, “But the gods—”

Stephanie really wanted to avoid a discussion about religion. Thinking hard, she remembered something that Sumitra had said earlier. “You said, `Samantha knows about the hamburger.’ Is something bothering you that Samantha doesn’t know about?”

The young woman’s shoulders began to shake. Between sobs, she said, “Please, do not tell to Samantha. What I tell to you, do not tell to Samantha! Promise to me, please!”

“I promise, I won’t tell her,” Stephanie said quietly. Stephanie asked just as quietly, “Were you raped? Did a German man rape you?”

At last, Sumitra’s eyes came up off the floor. “What? No. No man. I am the virgin, to all the sex.”

“So what’s bothering you?”

“Samantha is the virgin also. But I do not want to give my virginity to the boy, I want to give this to Samantha! I love her eyes, I love her smile, I love her laugh, I love how she talks the West Virginia. So much I love her hair-smell, and so much I love her skin-smell. Before the Ring of Fire hit, and after, I smelled Samantha, and I was keen to kiss her, and to kiss her, and to kiss her where nobody kissed her ever!”

“And you think this is wrong? Listen, sweetie—”

“In old, old India, when two virgins did sex, the judge fined each virgin much money, and the judge cut off two fingers of each girl.”

“Sumitra, sweetie—”

“The Christians say two virgin girls do sex, this is evil. So I am evil! I did the two evil things—I ate the beef, and I wanted to do sex with the virgin girl when I am also the virgin girl—and Somebody-God said, `I will punish her. No, she is so much evil, I will punish everyone near her.’ Please, you tell to Samantha, `Sumitra is dreadfully sorry.'”

The art teacher’s response was pure gut-instinct. She threw her arms around the Indian girl, hugged Sumitra close, and murmured, “You poor girl, you poor girl.”

Sumitra struggled to get free. “Why do you do this? I am evil! I made you go to 1631! You not must touch me!”

Stephanie kept hugging. “If you were evil, would I be doing this? You poor girl.”

Maybe twenty seconds later, Sumitra’s sobs turned to sniffles. Several minutes later, the sniffles stopped. Sumitra made one big sniff, and tried to push away. Stephanie let go.

“What do you think about me?” Sumitra asked. “Honest, please.”

Stephanie said, “Sweetie, I don’t know why we’re here in Germany. I’m not a brain in science, and I don’t know a lot about the Bible—and those people don’t know why we’re here either. But lesbians I know something about. I’ve taken classes with some, rehearsed plays with some, and been hit on by some.”

Stephanie stared into Sumitra’s eyes and continued: “You are not evil. You are not wicked. I’m sure that you are not to blame for any of this.”

The girl from India threw her arms around the art teacher and squeezed hard.

One minute later, Stephanie phoned Nicki Jo Prickett, a woman Stephanie knew only by gossip; Nicki Jo supposedly had told people she was a lesbian.

After Nicki Jo answered the telephone—

“Nicki Jo? Hi, my name’s Stephanie Turski. Um, you don’t know me, but I’m an art teacher at the high school—”

“Yes, I’ve heard of you.” The woman’s voice sounded wary.

“I’ve been talking to a young woman, a high-school student and, um, she has a problem that I think you can help her with, better than I can.”

“What problem is that?” The voice definitely was wary now.

“This girl has a friend, a girl friend. And this girl really, really likes her friend.”

“Which explains why the first girl picked the second girl to be her friend. Why are you calling me about these two girls, Ms. Turski?”

“Because the first girl doesn’t only like her friend, she’s—she’s in love with her friend. The first girl is … a lesbian. But she’s pretty sure that her friend isn’t.”

“So you’re calling me because you’ve heard stories about me. Stories that say I’m some kind of lesbian.”

“I don’t know what kind of lesbian you are, Nicki Jo—the stories don’t give details.”

“Then the stories are right. I’m a lesbian who keeps things private.” The phone went silent for ten seconds. “You haven’t mentioned whether this girl has her own transportation.”

“She has a bicycle. No car. You want her to come to your place?”

“I’d recommend she meet me by the Fluharty mausoleum at the Uphill Cemetery. People might not even see us together, but if they do, they can’t hear us talk. Wait, it has to be sometime tomorrow, because it’s dark now.”

“Nicki Jo, unless you’re busy now, why don’t you come to my house? She’s here in my living room.”

Wariness was replaced with surprise. “You’re inviting me to—sure, that works. I need your address.”

Five minutes later, the doorbell rang. Stephanie introduced the young women—Nicki Jo, it turned out, was only three years older than Sumitra. Then Stephanie grabbed a novel and went into the kitchen, giving her guests privacy to talk.

A half-hour later, Nicki Jo and Sumitra walked into the kitchen. Sumitra was smiling.

Stephanie felt good.

****

Saint Elisabeth of Thuringia [Catholic] Women’s College (formerly the Inn Of The Twin Oaks)
Bamberg, Franconia, SoTF
Tuesday, September 9, 1636, soon after 8 a.m.

Over five years after Sumitra had sobbed in Stephanie Turski’s living room, Sumitra was still secretly in love with her best friend Samantha. But now both of the former high-school students were students at Saint Liz College.

In her dormitory room, college student Sumitra was drying her hair with a worn-out up-time towel that Hilary Chehab had given her. Someone knocked on Sumitra’s door.

“Want me to get it?” Sumitra’s roommate Polyxena von Leiningen asked. After all, Polyxena was fully dressed, while Sumitra at the moment was standing naked in front of the basin and pitcher.

“Would you, please?” Sumitra said with Thuringian accent, as she wrapped her nakedness with a second ratty towel. Five years after the Ring of Fire, Sumitra was proud that her German was better than her English.

“I hurry to obey, my lady,” Polyxena said with a smile, then she walked to the door.

“Stop that!” Sumitra said with her own smile. “`No servants,’ remember?”

“Don’t remind me,” Polyxena replied, showing a comically sad face. Polyxena was one of three Adel women attending Saint Elisabeth College, and all three clearly disliked the decree that anyone living in the former inn may have with her “no chaperones, no personal maids, no cooks, and no servants of any kind.”

To Sumitra, Polyxena was a big improvement over the other two young noblewomen, because Polyxena showed her disapproval of the edict only by making jokes. Even better for Sumitra, Polyxena’s jokes were actually funny.

As for the other two Adel women, Sumitra’s thinking was, What do they have to complain about?

After all, soon after the Educational Order Of Saint Elisabeth Of Thuringia had expropriated the Inn Of The Twin Oaks by mysterious means, the men of Saint Mary’s of Grantville had descended upon the building. There was now a water tank and windmill on the roof, and running water at the end of the hallway. So the servantless Fräulein von Whine and Fräulein von Complain weren’t as bad off as they claimed to be.

By now, Polyxena was at the dorm-room door. She opened it, to reveal Frau Witterin, the House Mother.

Frau Witterin said, “Sumitra, there’s a Telegrambote with a message for you. I’ll tell him you’re not decent.”

Sumitra said, “Tell him it’ll be a few minutes till I can come out. If he won’t wait, he can give the telegram to you.”

Neither Polyxena nor Frau Witterin suggested letting the telegram boy walk into the building and go straight to Sumitra’s door, even with an escort. A rule of the college forbade this. Sumitra thought that the “No man allowed in the dormitory, ever, we mean it, amen” rule was extreme—Nobody’s father allowed? No brother? No telegram boy?—but Sumitra knew she’d be outvoted, so she stayed silent this minute as well.

After Frau Witterin had left and Polyxena shut the door, Polyxena turned to Sumitra. Polyxena’s eyes were glowing. “You got a telegram! Whom do you think it’s from?”

At times, three-years-younger Polyxena treated Sumitra like a Bollywood bhagwan (star), and this was one of those times. Sumitra was sure that Polyxena was imagining D’Artagnan standing at a telegraph office, sending a telegram to Sumitra, his sari-dressed secret love.

Back in the real world, Sumitra replied casually, “I have no idea who sent me a telegram. Soon I’ll find out.”

By the time that Sumitra was dressed and was brushing her black hair, Frau Witterin was handing to Polyxena the telegram in its glued down-time envelope. Polyxena thanked Frau Witterin, shut the door, then rushed across the room to present the envelope to Sumitra. Polyxena didn’t say words, but her expression screamed, Open it! Open it NOW!

Seconds later, Sumitra was reading the telegram aloud, translating as needed:

MISS SUMITRA PATEL (AUS INDIEN)
HEILIGE ELISABETH VON THÜRINGEN FRAUENHOCHSCHULE
BAMBERG

TILDA AND I ON TRAIN TODAY TO SEE YOU.
ARRIVE 12 20.
PLEASE PLEASE WEAR JEANS.
STEPHANIE.

“This is strange,” Sumitra remarked.

“Who is Tilda?” Polyxena asked. Sumitra had already told Polyxena who Stephanie Turski was, and most of how Stephanie had helped Sumitra. Namely, Sumitra and Stephanie sent letters back and forth; Stephanie in person had touted Sumitra’s admission to Saint Liz College; and in the last few months, Stephanie had sent Sumitra bank drafts in small amounts.

Now Sumitra said, “Tilda? She’s Stephanie’s partner in Up & Down Clothing.”

Polyxena said, “Really?” A pause. “Um, Sumitra?” A pause. “The radio says the train has a new locomotive-thingy. I’ll bet it’s something great to see.”

Sumitra hid a smile. Polyxena’s fascination with Grantville wonders did not include machinery.

Sumitra asked with fake casualness, “Would you like to come with me and see the new locomotive, Xena? You also could meet Stephanie in person, if you want. I’ll also invite Samantha and Jacobäa to go with me too, I think.”

Sumitra worked to keep her voice as casual as she could make it, when she mentioned Jacobäa’s name.

“Go with you to the train station?” Polyxena said. “Great!” Then her face fell. “Um, Sumitra, I would really like to wear a nice dress to meet—”

“Xena, don’t worry, we’ll work something out. After all, we’ve worked out one deal already.”

Sumitra was referring to the day that she and Polyxena had met. They’d struck a deal then: Once a week, Sumitra played personal maid and dressed Polyxena up in a fancy gown, later to help Polyxena undress—and in return, Polyxena gave a full week’s tutoring in Latin, Church History, and Church Doctrine.

Now Sumitra continued, “How about we discuss this later? Right now, I need to talk to Dean DiCastro. Otherwise, as soon as I leave the campus wearing those jeans that Stephanie begged for, I’ll get demerits. I don’t think Stephanie intends for me to scrub a floor!”

****

Dean DiCastro didn’t even pause to think. “Request approved,” she said in English.

“Thank you,” Sumitra said.

Instead of handing the telegram back to Sumitra, Dean DiCastro kept it in her left hand. “Come, walk with me,” she said.

Both women walked out of the inn’s common room and into cool sunlight.

“Have you given any more thought to baptism and confirmation?” Dean DiCastro asked. Though Sumitra was attending a Catholic women’s college, she was still officially Hindu.

“I have thought about this. Always I think about this, because of I am here,” Sumitra said. “But I am not ready now, to take the confirmation class and do the baptism.”

Actually, Sumitra was lying by understatement. Up-time, she’d attended Saint Vincent’s a few times with the Salerno family. But within a week of learning she was living in the seventeenth century, she’d decided she could never be Catholic; the Goa Inquisition offended her. Sumitra had never shared her true feelings on this subject with anyone, not even Stephanie or Samantha.

“I see,” Dean DiCastro said now. She waved the telegram. “You know that Stephanie Turski would love to sponsor you. The Salernos too.”

“Are you catching the shit for to admit the Hindu student?” Sumitra said. “You knew this when you invited me.”

“Language, young lady,” Dean DiCastro said.

Dean DiCastro continued: “Many of us believe that His Eminence”—Cardinal Mazzare—”is a future saint, and it’s by his request that you’re here. You staying Hindu is awkward for him.”

“Maybe he requested me because I am the woman, and I am good at the college. I graduated from Grantville High School one year early, remember, with high marks. Do you know how many women here I tutor in the maths and the science, and I ask for no dosh? I am not the charity victim.”

“Actually, you are a charity case. After all, Saint Mary’s took up a collection for you last year, and Cardinal Mazzare is paying Church money toward your tuition.”

“But most of my tuition is paid by the Chehabs,” Sumitra pointed out. “Or is this the next thing on your list, my adoptive family is the Disciples of Christ?”

Dean DiCastro said, “I’m saying this badly. We’re a family here, we Catholics at Saint Elisabeth College. You’ll feel more like a part of our family when you’re Catholic too. Besides, extra ecclesiam nulla salus.” Outside the Church, there is no salvation.

Annoyed, Sumitra replied, “I do not want the salvation, but reincarnation to the better life. I wonder, right now Annalise Richter attends Katharina von Bora”—the Lutheran women’s college in Quedlinburg. “Do they say to her, ‘Stop being Catholic’ like you say to me, ‘Stop being Hindu’?”

“If you don’t intend to become Catholic soon, then why have you come here?”

“Because I am the Hindu, so this is the coin flip, whether I attend Saint Liz College or Katharina College. But Bamberg is closer to Grantville than is Quedlinburg.”

“So you didn’t choose even a little bit to come here, because Samantha Salerno came here to attend college?”

Sumitra still loved Samantha, and Sumitra had come here mainly because Samantha would be here too. But now Sumitra had to pretend otherwise. “Samantha here is the frosting on the cake for me.”

Then Sumitra thought, What an odd question for Dean DiCastro to ask. Aloud, she said, “Why do you ask to me about Samantha?”

Instead of answering, Dean DiCastro sighed, then fell silent.

After ten seconds, Sumitra said, “I listen.”

Dean DiCastro sighed again. “Some women here don’t like how you look at them. They say you look at Samantha Salerno the same way, but more so.”

“What do you say now, that I am the lesbian?”

“I didn’t use that word. How interesting that you did,” Dean DiCastro said.

“I study now Church Doctrine, remember? I learn this is what you Catholics do: You split the hairs and you play the games with words and notions! You are the coward if you ask to me if I am the lesbian, but you never say the word!”

“How dare you! I can expel you right now for what you just said.”

“News flash, memsahib. I am the Hindu, you do not need any excuse to expel me. But if I am `sent down’ for no good reason, I shan’t leave quietly. Where from I come, the rabbit chases the dog.” Sumitra referred to a legend about the founding of Ahmedabad.

Dean DiCastro glared. “I am not a coward. So, Sumitra Patel, I ask you: Are you a lesbian?”

“I am the complete virgin,” Sumitra replied with affronted voice. She didn’t mention that she was a “complete virgin” if she didn’t count breast-stroking and snogging episodes with Jacobäa Hänsler. “Yes, I followed Samantha Salerno to here, but now she has the boyfriend,” Sumitra said, keeping her voice calm and steady.

Sumitra really didn’t want to think about the truth, that she’d lost all hope with Samantha. Sumitra moved quickly to step in front of Dean DiCastro, then to turn and face the older woman.

Sumitra put her hand out. “May I please take back to me my telegram?”

****

Bamberg Train Station
12:25 p.m.

The train from Grantville was pulling into the station.

“Now the questions will be answered!” Polyxena exclaimed. “Why did up-timer Stephanie Turski suddenly decide to visit my roommate Sumitra? Why did Stephanie Turski beg my roommate to wear her blue jeans?”

“Why is Xena dressed to greet Maria Anna, queen in the Low Countries?” Samantha asked, matching Polyxena’s melodramatic tone.

Sumitra said, “Be nice to Xena. Because I’m playing her maid for the second time in a week, she’ll be taking all four of us out to eat, sometime this weekend.”

“Change of food, hooray!” Jacobäa said.

Before anyone else got a chance to reply, Samantha started waving her arms. Sumitra ran suddenly-damp palms down the thighs of her jeans.

A minute later, introductions were being made. Sumitra was saying, “…Stephanie, this is Polyxena, Gräfin von Leiningen-Dagsburg-Falkenburg, my crazy Pfälzerin roommate.”

Sehr erfreut,” Polyxena said, curtsying.

Tilda said, “I hear the Pfälzerin part. But why is she `crazy’?”

Sumitra smiled at Polyxena, then turned back to Tilda. “Because she sees all this as a big adventure! She’s the only down-timer to accept assignment to a bunk-bed dorm room. She even volunteered to take the top bunk.”

Jacobäa said, “She’s welcome to it. Those so-called beds aren’t much wider than a man’s shoulders. Plus in winter, they’re cold! Give me body heat!”

“Yuck!” Samantha replied. “Yeah, my own bunk bed is narrow, but at least it has privacy.

Continuing the introductions, Sumitra said, “The woman who loves her wide bed is Jacobäa Hänsler, who is a close friend.”

Stephanie cocked an eyebrow. “I hope you and Jacobäa are happy in your friendship,” Stephanie said with a straight face.

Seconds later

Stephanie said, “Signor Moretti, this is Sumitra Patel, from up-time India.”

Sumitra figured out that this was why Stephanie had insisted that Sumitra wear her jeans: They proved she was an up-timer.

Sumitra put her palms and fingertips together in front of her heart, and bowed her head for three seconds. “Namaste,” she said, speaking the word for the first time in years.

Moretti’s eyes went wide. In Hindi he asked, “Where are you from?”

“Ahmedabad.”

“I’ve been there! I’ve bought cotton there,” he said, excited.

“I’m sure our memories of Ahmedabad are very different,” Sumitra said in Hindi, smiling sadly.

In the brief time that Sumitra had been around the Venetian, he’d struck her as abrasive. But now he looked sympathetic. He asked her, “If I may ask, Sumitra-ben, why are … why are you here in the Germanies, and not at home?”

“Ahmedabad is not my home anymore,” she said, again with sad voice. “I have no mother there, no father, no aunts or uncles or cousins. No friends.”

Switching to German, Sumitra turned to smile at Stephanie, Samantha, Polyxena, and Jacobäa. Sumitra said, “In Grantville I have adoptive family, and here I have friends.”

Sumitra looked at Samantha again, and smiled at her again. But inside, Sumitra longed anew for the relationship she could never have.

Seconds later

Stephanie was finishing the introductions: “Everyone, this is Tilda Gundlachin, my business partner in Up & Down Clothing.”

Enchanté,” Polyxena said, and curtsied. Then she gushed, “You are so lucky, to make brand-new clothes by a brand-new way.”

Sumitra smiled at Tilda. “You look so pretty in that dress. Did you make it yourself? And at thirty-two, you’ll look good in dresses for many years to come.”

Ahem!” said Jacobäa.

Tilda was blushing. “Yes, I sewed this myself, with my sewing machine. I’m not thirty-two; I’m older.”

“I agree, you look older than thirty-two,” said Jacobäa in an annoyed voice.

Stephanie looked at Sumitra and mouthed in English, Thirty-nine.

Two minutes later

Moretti’s grey cloth was being examined closely by Sumitra’s Saint Liz College friends, who found it fascinating. But Sumitra was nowhere near that cloth. Its grey color brought back so many memories—

• Sumitra at sixteen, weaving grey cloth at Thar Textiles;

• Bhaskar Patel giving awestruck, six-year-old Sumitra a tour of Thar Textiles;

• Bhaskar Patel at home, during various years of his daughter’s life;

• Sumitra’s mother Ahimsa, at home, during many years of Sumitra’s life.

In the train station, Sumitra had shoved the grey cloth at Polyxena. “Please, take it, I can’t stand to see it!”

After that, Sumitra had moved to the side of the train platform that was in sunlight, and now she draped Signor Moretti’s white cotton cloth over a bench. Sumitra bent down to look closely at the cloth. Nearby, Stephanie and Tilda were attentive, whilst Moretti acted nervous.

Sumitra smiled at Moretti. In German, she said, “Here is good news: This cloth looks better than hand-made cotton cloth I’ve seen at the Calico Museum.” Sumitra’s part of India had been making cotton cloth since 3000 BC, so naturally up-time Ahmedabad had a local museum devoted to cloth-making in India. Thus Sumitra had seen a lot of old cotton cloth during various school field trips.

Now Stephanie asked Sumitra the expert, “If that’s the good news, is there bad news?”

Sumitra said, “The bad news is, it’s not as good as up-time cloth. See these little black dots in the threads? They shouldn’t be there.”

“I saw them, but I thought they were flyspecks,” Stephanie said.

“What you see is what shouldn’t be here. Dirt from the field, dried cow dung, ground-up parts of the cotton plant. In English, it’s called trash.

Abfall,” Stephanie translated for the onlookers.

Tilda asked, “Will dyeing the cloth make the trash disappear?”

Sumitra said, “You might not see the trash then, but you won’t fix the problem it makes. Wherever the trash shows up, it makes the thread fat. If you lay this cloth flat on something, then get your eye slightly above the flat cloth, you’ll see it’s bumpy in places. If you hold this cloth up to the light, you’ll see bright lines, because there are gaps between the weft threads that the weaver couldn’t close up. Compare this cloth to the cotton cloth in my blue jeans.”

As Stephanie and then Tilda took turns looking at the afternoon sun through the white cloth, Sumitra looked over at Signor Moretti. He was looking back at her, his expression mixing amazement and fear.

By now, Tilda was letting the Saint Elisabeth girls sun-test the cloth, as she walked over to Stephanie and Sumitra. Tilda murmured, “Why is there trash in this cloth? Is he lazy, or is cleaning the cotton harder than I think?”

“Frau Gundlachin, be glad you’ll never need to clean cotton by hand. By the way, India invented the cotton gin, no matter what Americans tell you.”

Speaking loudly enough that Signor Moretti could hear, Tilda asked in a formal voice, “Do you recommend this cloth as well made?”

“Yes, I recommend it,” Sumitra said, in the same formal tone.

“Yippee, let’s party!” Samantha said.

****

“Yippee, let’s party!” Samantha said.

“We’ll do that,” said Tilda, “after Herr Moretti and I haggle over the price of his cloth.”

Which meant, Thanks to Sumitra pointing out things wrong with Moretti’s cloth, I’m about to skin him alive.

Signor Moretti figured that out, too. “Poco momento, per favore,” he said.

He turned to Sumitra and asked in German, “Sumitra-ji, will you please come to Venice and work for me? Help me make better cloth?”

All four of the Saint Elisabeth College women, especially Sumitra, gasped at his words.

Sumitra thought, If I accept his offer, I can’t see Samantha anymore!

Then Sumitra realized, That would actually be a good thing.

Sumitra looked at Samantha and thought, Now is the time to tell her. But Samantha, guessing wrongly about why Sumitra was looking at her, was shaking her head: Tell him no, tell him no.

Sumitra did indeed tell Moretti no—at first. She pretended unwillingness to leave Bamberg. After ten minutes, and after she’d been offered a lot more salary, she finally told Signor Moretti, “I’ll go with you.”

No-o-o!” Samantha said.

Tilda Gundlach stepped forward then, to begin her own negotiations with Moretti. Meanwhile, Sumitra took Samantha’s hand, and Stephanie’s hand, and walked her two Catholic friends far away from everyone else.

“I lied to the both you,” Sumitra said in English. “I am not Catholic, and never I will be Catholic.”

“You’re not Catholic now,” Samantha said, “but I think sooner or later, you’ll—”

“No. Go to Grantville, read about India of now. Read about the Goa Inquisition. G-O-A. Right now, the Catholics torture the Hindus. You other Catholics say ‘This is right,’ or you say nothing. I never will be Catholic, I am sorry.”

Samantha was crying. “Please, Sumitra, don’t tell me that. I’ve said novenas for you converting.”

Stephanie said, “I haven’t done that, Sumitra sweetie, but I’ve also prayed for you.”

Now Sumitra took a deep breath, as she wiped sweaty palms on her jeans. “Samantha, I love you.”

“I love you too, Sumitra, you’re my best … friend….” Samantha stopped talking then, because Sumitra was looking at her very differently from how a BFF would eye her.

Sumitra took another deep breath. “I love you, Samantha Rosa Salerno. I am the lesbian, and I love you. I have loved you since the day in 1999 when I fell on the ice and you tried to help my elbow. But now you have the boyfriend, and I hurt, so I go away now.”

Samantha shook her head. “This isn’t some story? This is true?”

It was Stephanie who answered the question: “Sweetie, Sumitra loves you more than she loves any man alive.”

****

Hours later, Stephanie, Tilda, and Signor Moretti caught the train back to Grantville. Sumitra left Bamberg with them.

Before Sumitra left, she and Samantha held hands and cried at the Bamberg train station. Sumitra inhaled deeply, smelling Samantha for the very last time.

THE END

GLOSSARY

INDIA

Gujarati—an Indo-Aryan language evolved from Sanskrit, and the chief language spoken in the Indian state of Gujarat. This language has 66 million speakers worldwide. It was the native language of Mohandas Gandhi. Gujarati is one of the twenty-two official languages, and one of the fourteen regional languages, of India.

Ahimsa (Sumitra’s mother’s name)—means nonviolence in Hindi

rajah—Indian prince

rupee—in January 1999, the exchange rate was roughly 42.5 rupees per US dollar.

Navratri—festival of nine successive nights of dancing, of young people of both sexes. Each dancer holds dandiya (decorated sticks); as part of the dance, he/she strikes his/her own sticks together, or hits his/her own sticks against the dandiya of another dancer.

For further info and/or illustrations:

http://happynavratri.blogspot.in/

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yyNhh6YlilU

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=Atp4ugPXpT4#!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u2rFPkElqQk

chaniya choli—a costume of Gujarati women consisting of a floor-length skirt (knee-length for teen girls), and a quarter-sleeved, midriff-bearing, backless halter top. Sometimes a dupatta (head scarf) is included as part of the chaniya choli costume, but that would be unwise to wear to any kind of dance.

For further info and/or illustrations: http://happynavratri.blogspot.in/

bhagwan—literally, it means deity; when referring to Bollywood actors, it means movie star.

Goa Inquisition—an Inquisition held in the India coastal city of Goa, during the years 1561-1774 and 1778-1812. Many Hindus and Indian Catholics were tortured.

memsahib—corruption of ma’am + sahib. Form of address by lower-status Indians to the wife of a British colonial official. Sumitra’s use of the deferential term obviously is sarcastic.

“The rabbit chases the dog”—Quoting Wikipedia, “According to the legend [about the founding of Ahmedabad], Sultan Ahmed Shah, while camping on the banks of the Sabarmati River, saw a hare chasing a dog. The Sultan was impressed by the act of bravery and decided to locate his capital there. He named the city ‘Ahmedabad’ (‘the city of Ahmed’).”

Namaste—lit., “I bow to you”; in usage, “Hello” or “Goodbye”

ben, –ji—honorifics when addressing an Indian woman (speaking Gujarati and Hindi, respectively)

ELIZABETHAN

good—a polite form of address to someone common-born

Good Lady Stephanie—Shackerley Marmion’s invented formal address, which acknowledges both Stephanie’s up-timer aristocratic bearing and her common-born bloodline.

hither—to here; hence—from here

wherefore—why

forsooth—indeed

credit—believe

abide—reside

shewed—showed

betide—happen, causing misfortune

tidings—news

forstand—understand

mayhap—perhaps

afore—before

ere—before in time

yon, yonder—that [thing] over there

vex—to bring trouble or agitation

custom—business, becoming a customer

chicanery—deception by subterfuge or sophistry; trickery

AMERICAN

perp—perpetrator, the person who has committed a serious crime

BFF—Best Friend Forever

My 1632verse Story: A BOLT OF THE BLUE

© 2012 Thomas H. Richardson—all rights reserved
Reprinted by permission of Eric Flint

A Bolt Of The Blue

Bedroom of master tailor Wilhelm Bruckner
Köthen, capital of Anhalt-Köthen, Brandenburg
Monday, May 5, 1636

Her husband’s grip on Tilda’s hand was as weak as a baby’s.

“Tilda,” Willi said, even as he grimaced in pain, “ichliebe…”

Willi never finished the sentence.

For over a minute, neither husband nor wife moved. Willi remained still because that was now his nature; Tilda Gundlachin remained still because she was thinking hard.

Tilda pulled her hand free of Willi’s, kissed him on the lips, and murmured, “I love you too. Already I miss you.” She wiped the tears off her face, then she set her steps for the stairs.

She walked down the steps and walked through the tailor shop, headed for the outside door. But with her hand on the door lever, she stopped and turned toward the shop’s journeyman tailor—

—who held a pair of scissors in his hand, but he was looking at Tilda’s face, not the cloth on the table.

“Pray for your future, Caspar,” Tilda said. “Your life is about to change. Mine too.”

Caspar nodded, then asked, “What will happen to the Higgins?”

“Ah, that is the question, isn’t it? The Köthen Tailor Guild would love to pass on the sewing machine to some deserving master tailor. Such as you, perhaps. Or my next husband.” Tilda frowned at that.

Tilda sighed and continued, “Unless Wilhelm has hidden a bag of gold upstairs, the Abrabanels will probably get the sewing machine. The Köthen Tailor Guild didn’t sign that contract, Wilhelm did, but the contract has outlived him.”

With those words, Tilda walked out of the tailor shop.

She returned a half-hour later. She told Caspar, “You and I will meet with the full Guild at seven this evening. Why don’t you take the rest of the day off? But for your own good, stay sober.”

****

Hall of the Köthen Tailor Guild
That evening

Master Villwock looked around the room. “So it is agreed, Master Wieland will give the eulogy? … Moving along: To mourn the passing of Master Bruckner, his shop will be closed for one week. Journeyman Fürnberg, step forward.”

Caspar stepped forward. To Tilda, the young man looked as excited as if lightning had struck him.

Master Villwock continued, “You have one week to create or to complete a masterwork—”

Caspar gasped. “But that’s not nearly—”

“Master Bruckner’s shop has three apprentices, does it not?” At Caspar’s nervous nod, Master Villwock continued, “We are aware that one week is not much time, so you may command the services of the three apprentices.”

Thank you,” Caspar said.

Master Villwock held up his hand in a Don’t thank me yet gesture. “Part of your test is how well you direct these boys. Understood?”

Caspar gulped; commanding apprentice Josef would be a challenge. Then Caspar asked, “When will you come to judge my masterwork?”

“Your masterwork will be judged at sundown, a week from today. The judges will be Master Cranach and Master Zimmermann, because they do not know you well. Displease either of them, and you will not be elevated to Master.”

“I’m surprised that you won’t be judging my masterwork, Master Villwock.”

“That is because if either Master Cranach or Master Zimmermann blackballs you, then I will elevate my own journeyman to Master, he will take over Master Bruckner’s shop, and you will be under his direction. But if I do elevate Steinacher, I will have no man say that I favored him and cheated you.”

“I will make the most of my week, then,” Caspar said.

“I am sure that you will,” Master Villwock replied.

Master Villwock shifted his gaze to Tilda. “Master Bruckner’s death presents a new problem for this Guild. He has died in debt, has he not, because he bought the sewing machine?”

“A problem my Sophia is spared,” said onlooker Master Becker, “because I refuse to buy one of those unholy contraptions.”

Tilda gave him a haughty stare. “And fifteen years from now, you will be shivering outside City Hall, begging for bread crusts. And poor Sophia will shiver and beg right next to you.”

“That’s a fine tongue you have, future wife,” onlooker Master Pfeiffer said. “Maybe I won’t marry you after all.”

Master tailor Matthias Pfeiffer was a widower, so theoretically he was a suitable match for Tilda. On the other hand, he reeked awfully.

Now the smelly man added, “Or perhaps I won’t give you a dowry, beyond paying off Wilhelm’s sewing machine.”

“Oh, am I marrying you, Matthias?” Tilda said. “This is news to me.”

“Well, figure it: What are your choices? Me, or whatever young master takes over Wilhelm’s shop. Simon Steinacher is a stripling whom you barely know. Caspar Fürnberg is in the prime of life, and him you know too well—there would be scandal if you married him. So, it’s obvious: I’m the best choice.”

Tilda glanced over at the young men just mentioned. Journeyman Steinacher was blushing, and Caspar looked amused.

Tilda looked again at Matthias Pfeiffer. “I have a fourth choice. Both my sister Louisa and I married master tailors from out of town; that’s how I came here to Köthen. Somewhere out there is a tailor who lacks a wife and a sewing machine.”

“I have no plans to marry you,” said onlooker Master Griebel. “My Susanna might object.” The crowd laughed at this. Griebel continued, “But I’d be willing to buy the sewing machine from you.”

“For how much?” Tilda asked.

Griebel replied, “Well, it’s used now, and some of its gear teeth are worn. So taking all that into account, I’ll pay…”

Tilda heard his price, then answered, “Oh, I get it. You just made another joke.” Some in the crowd laughed again—Master Griebel wasn’t among them.

Tilda looked at all the masters and journeymen who were present. “But what if I sell off the sewing machine for a joke amount, as Master Griebel suggests? Then I have neither enough money to pay off the remaining loan, nor the sewing machine that the loan was for. So what do I tell the Abrabanel Bank?”

“What do you tell them?” Griebel repeated. “You tell those baby-eaters to write off your loan, if they want to stay healthy and rich.”

“If Jews are so bad,” Tilda said sweetly, “then why did the Prince of Germany marry one?—”

“Because he’s an up-timer, and up-timers are crazy,” Griebel murmured.

Tilda said, “In any case, Wilhelm made a promise to pay, and I will keep his promise. Else Wilhelm will look down from heaven and be disappointed in me.”

Tilda looked around the room again. “None of you masters buys cloth from only one seller, or even three sellers. You seek out as many sellers as you can find, then you make the best deal. I see three potential husbands in this room, but I will ask my sister to help me find more. She lives in Grantville now, and up-timers know almost everything.”

****

Once Caspar escorted Tilda back home, Tilda asked Caspar to escort her to the telegraph office. Tilda wanted to send a telegram to Louisa without delay.

During the walk, Caspar asked, “So your sister in Grantville, what’s she like?”

“Well, Louisa is a very different person than when I saw her last, which was the day after her wedding. Being a tailor’s wife is very different than being a tailor’s daughter. Then the war came to her town, and she became in one day a widow and a war refugee.”

“That’s rough,” Caspar said.

“Eventually Louisa wound up in the Grantville Refugee Center. Less than a year after that, she married again, to a man she met there. He was a blacksmith, and is now a machinist.”

“She didn’t marry a tailor?” Caspar asked.

Tilda shrugged. “She met only one refugee master tailor, who didn’t suit her.”

“I suppose all the up-time tailors were married,” Caspar said.

“Grantville doesn’t have any up-time tailors. I don’t understand this, but Louisa swears it’s true.”

“So what’s a `machinist’?” Caspar asked.

“Louisa has tried to explain it, but I don’t understand what she writes. Best I can figure out, a machinist is what a blacksmith turns into after 369 years.”

They heard the telegraph station before they saw it, the usch-usch-usch of a little windmill atop the building, somehow made the telegraph and the electric lights work. Tilda felt a girlish excitement: Soon she would see actual electric light bulbs in action, and she would discover for herself whether their light never flickered.

A half-hour later, Caspar was escorting Tilda home. The telegram had cost money that Tilda couldn’t spare, but this telegram had to be sent—

LOUISA GUNDLACH VERH. TÖPFFER
[Louisa’s Grantville address]

WILLI IS DEAD.
WE OWE MUCH MONEY FOR HIGGINS.
GUILD EXPECTS I MARRY TAILOR IN KÖTHEN.
I WANT OTHER CANDIDATES.
PLEASE USE GRANTVILLE MAGIC, FIND WIDOWER TAILORS.

****

Bruckner Tailor Shop, Köthen
Tuesday, May 6, 1636

Tilda received a reply telegram from Louisa the next morning. She was surprised to get a reply from her sister so soon. Tilda was knocked flat when she read Louisa’s reply—

DO NOT MARRY YET, COME LIVE WITH US.
HERR MILLER (LANDLORD) AND CHRISTIAN SAY “OKAY.”
SEWING MACHINE NEEDED HERE.
YOU REGRET FOR LIFE IF YOU SAY NO.

Tilda was distracted during Willi’s funeral, thinking about Louisa’s telegram and how to answer it.

The biggest sticking point for Tilda was something that Louisa had written in a letter in 1634—

I don’t know if I’ll ever return to Eisleben, but if I do, I won’t see it the same. Every day in Grantville, I question some idea that I’d always been sure of. Grantville does that to you, without trying to.

Tilda wasn’t sure she wanted to get her head changed.

But by late afternoon, Tilda again was visiting the telegraph office. Her telegram to Louisa began with one American word—

YES.

—the rest of the telegram spelled out details.

****

Bruckner Tailor Shop, Köthen
Wednesday, May 7, 1636

“Don’t worry, Frau Gundlachin,” the blacksmith told her, “your sewing machine will be taken apart with great care.”

The morning after Tilda telegrammed that she would move to Grantville, she hired a master blacksmith to dismantle the sewing machine, and hired a master carpenter to crate it up. Because she was the widow of another master artisan, they promised her prompt service, as professional courtesy.

The work was indeed done that same day. But this didn’t mean that the masters themselves did the work.

A journeyman blacksmith did the actual dismantling, because this was only journeyman-level work. Likewise, a journeyman carpenter built the crate around the dismantled sewing machine. In each case, the master had to come “inspect” the journeyman’s work, and this drove the price up.

When Louisa had written from Grantville that up-timers “hated” guilds, Tilda had thought it strange—like hating safflowers, or beer steins. But now, paying out money that she couldn’t afford, to get expertise that wasn’t used, Tilda understood the up-timers’ dislike.

****

Bruckner Tailor Shop, Köthen
Early Thursday morning, May 8, 1636

Tilda had been forced to rent a wagon and horse, in order to haul her goods to Halle; the Köthen Tailor Guild would not pay for that. But the guild did hire a wagon driver. Shortly after sunrise, that hired man pounded on her door.

“Are you Frau Bruckner? I’m Bradthuhn. We need to go now.”

Bradthuhn, Caspar, and all three apprentices loaded Tilda’s Higgins and her other worldly possessions into the wagon. Tilda noticed that already in the wagon, folded and piled in a corner, were several blankets. She was puzzled who had put the blankets there, and what they were there for.

“Goodbye, Caspar. Good luck with your masterwork,” Tilda said, through tear-filled eyes. “I’m sure you’ll make a great Master Tailor.”

Tilda looked at fourteen-year-old Josef. “Josef, the Tailor Guild expects, and I expect, for you to help Caspar with his masterwork. If he fails the test because of you, you will not enjoy your life afterward. Right, Caspar?”

Caspar’s reply was to growl like a troll at wide-eyed Josef.

Tilda hugged Caspar goodbye (which undoubtedly scandalized the neighbors), then curtsied to the apprentices (even as the boys bowed to her). Tilda climbed into the wagon, then she and Bradthuhn departed for Halle.

She twisted around in the wagon seat, watching as Caspar, the apprentices, and the Bruckner Tailor Shop shrank in the distance. Bradthuhn turned a corner, and Tilda lost sight of that part of her life.

Tilda turned around to face forward then; she sighed. Bradthuhn glanced at her, but said nothing.

After a minute of silence between them, Tilda asked, “Why is it you here, Herr Bradthuhn? Why did the Tailor Guild hire you?

“Because I’m an ex-mercenary,” he said, then said nothing more.

After ten more minutes together, Tilda had learned only one thing more about Herr Bradthuhn: that he spent words like they were gold.

****

South of Köthen
Thursday, May 8, 1636, mid-morning

The wagon was moving through the countryside now, passing between farms. Tilda and Bradthuhn hadn’t talked much.

Tilda recalled another trip to the countryside, long ago. She and Willi hadn’t used a horse; they’d walked away from the tailor shop. She and Willi had been married a year then, and in that year she’d developed true affection for her arranged-marriage husband.

Sometime during their trip to the countryside, Tilda and Willi had wandered over to a haystack—in particular, to the side of the haystack that the farmhouse couldn’t see.

Sometime after that, Tilda had screamed—loudly enough to upset the birds nearby. Both Tilda and Willi had smiled for the rest of the day—Willi’s smile had been smug.

Now in the wagon with Bradthuhn, Tilda started laughing at the memory of squawking birds—but then she started to sniffle.

Oh, I miss Willi so much!

Just as he had done early that morning, Bradthuhn looked at Tilda but said nothing.

****

Teacher’s Lounge, Grantville High School
First Lunch, Thursday, May 8, 1636

Up-timer Art teacher Stephanie Turski was listening as Dwight Thomas told an interesting story—

“…Had this great idea: We take up a collection, buy the Mayflower, tow it to Lübeck, and make a floating museum out of it. But it turns out, I’m thirteen years too late.”

“Why? What happened?” Stephanie asked. “Somebody sank it? Lost in a storm?”

Dwight looked around at his listeners. “You all ready for this? In 1622 the Mayflower‘s captain died, and in 1623, they tore the ship apart for scrap lumber. Somewhere in England right now, there’s a barn that used to be the Mayflower.

Drama teacher Shackerley Marmion shook his head. “I do `get it’ not. Yon Dissenters”—Pilgrims—”in 1620 were not the first royal colony. So wherefore be the Mayflower so beloved of you Americans?”

Biology teacher Tony Mastroianni replied, “Because aboard ship they wrote and signed the Mayflower Compact. Which is the great-grandpappy of the USA’s Constitution.”

Dwight nodded. “The Mayflower Compact was signed by all free adult males, and they pledged to obey laws made by majority rule. Which was good, because the location of the Plymouth colony was technically illegal, and so some colonists had been claiming they were no longer bound by laws of the Crown.”

Shackerley nodded. “So this doth explain the novel what be in the town library, concerning the wife of the Mayflower captain.”

Stephanie said, “I don’t know what book you mean, darlin’. But then, all sorts of strange books have been donated to the libraries in the last five years.”

He replied, “But ’twas a `bestseller’! It doth so claim upon the front cover. The Mayflower Madame, truly doth none of you know it?”

Shackerley’s words resulted in complete silence. Embarrassed silence. Tony cleared his throat and said, “Um, it’s Madam, not Madame. That book was written by a woman who was a member of the Mayflower Society, who also ran a brothel in New York City.”

English teacher Leah McDougal gave everyone a secretive smile. “Know what I heard? I believe it, too. Geri Kinney tried to check out that very book, Mayflower Madam—”

“Oh please,” French teacher Nicole Hawkins said. “Geri Kinney read books? When did this start?”

Leah said, “It’s the only book she ever tried to check out from the library, the story goes, and that part I believe 100 percent! Of course, when she asked to check out the book, Marietta or one of them told her, `We don’t lend out books anymore.'”

Shackerley asked, “Geri Kinney, who be—”

Gilchrist O’Quigley, Chemistry lab assistant, replied, “Geri Kinney was the only lady of easy virtue amongst up-timers. She was murdered in Jena, six months afore thou didst leave England.”

Stephanie slapped the tabletop. “Can we please change the subject away from that whore? Would y’all please talk about anything else?”

Everyone stared at her. Because Stephanie Turski being less than cheerful was like Cora Ennis refusing to share gossip: theoretically possible, but nobody ever expected to see it.

Elaine Onofrio squeezed Stephanie’s hand. She alone understood why Stephanie had blown up like that.

****

Art Class, Grantville High School
Right after Final Bell, Thursday, May 8, 1636

Stephanie was cleaning brushes at the sink when she heard a knock at her open door. Then she heard—

“Good afternoon, fair Stephanie. Art thou encumbred for the nonce, or hast thou moments free to aim hither thy shell-pink ears and jewel-sparkled eyes?”

“Hm, speaks Elizabethan,” Stephanie said to the brushes. “Speaks flowery Elizabethan. Speaks flowery Elizabethan to an almost-fossil who’s nine years older than he is. Who at GHS could this possibly be?” Then she called over her shoulder, “Give me thirty seconds, Shack darlin’.”

Roughly thirty seconds later, Stephanie nodded at the brushes, then turned toward her classroom door. Standing just inside the classroom was Shackerley Marmion, the GHS Drama teacher for over a year now. But he was also in Grantville encyclopedias as a playwright, and Shackerley was writing new plays in Grantville. Standing next to him was a blond teen down-timer girl.

By May 1636, all the “bottle blondes” had run out of bottles. If this girl had blond hair in 1636, it was the real deal.

The other thing that Stephanie noticed about the teen: She was as tall as Stephanie herself was. This made the girl a rarity.

Now Shackerley made a sweeping gesture, using both hands, to refer to the girl towering over him—

“Dear Stephanie, this be Frida Löfström, who will play Barbie Trenchard in Our American Neighbours. She be her of whom I spake last week, who will yet require thy most generous loan of thine own long-limbed raiment, for unto seeming her part. For alas, our school stage be as short of coin as any troop of players beyond the sphere-shaped cliffs of Grantville. Alas redux, Frida here is like unto a giantess, e’en amongst daughters of the future.”

Which translated to: This down-time Swedish girl is going to play an up-time girl, so she has to look the part, but we can’t afford to commission a costume for her, and the dress rehearsal is only days away, so there’s only one person on the planet who will have up-time clothing that will fit this tall girl, so PLEASE help us out.

Stephanie smiled at Frida, who replied by starting a curtsy, aborting the curtsy, then sticking out her hand. “I am pleased to meet you, Ms. Turski.”

“Oh please, sweetie! `Ms.’ is for Melissa Mailey, not me. If you’re going to wear my clothes, call me `Stephanie’ after hours.”

Stephanie added, “Hope you don’t mind blue.” She patted her hair, whose factory-original color had been chestnut. “Blue looked good with my hair, back in the day.”

“Oh, not problem!” Frida exclaimed. “Blue clothing go with yellow hair, make Swedish colors. I am Swedish, I look Swedish on stage. Tusen tack!

“Don’t thank me yet. Whatever I find for you will probably be really out of fashion—1988 or even earlier. I got rid of a lot of clothes newer than that in 1997.”

“Indeed?” said Shackerley. “Mayhap therein doth lurk a tale?”

Shackerley looked like he was trying to connect 1997 and Geri Kinney.

“Not a big deal, darlin’,” Stephanie said to him with a smile. “But now I’ve got two stomachs on legs who are waiting impatiently for me at home. Frida sweetie, don’t you worry. I’ll have you looking good on that stage.”

Frida walked out of the Art classroom smiling, and Shack said nothing more about 1997 before he left with Frida. It seemed that he believed Stephanie’s downplay of that year.

But Stephanie had lied to Shackerley Marmion. The year 1997 had been an awful time for her.

****

Grantville, West Virginia
October, 1995

Larry Turski walked in the front door grinning. “Hey, Steph, guess what Kyle announced today?”

Stephanie’s husband Larry was the Service Manager at Wilson Ford in Fairmont. Kyle Hamilton owned the dealership.

“Good news, darlin’?” Stephanie asked.

“Yeah, you could say so. Rob Herndon—he’s the Sales Manager—is going to some Chevy dealership in Morgantown. Which means his slot is open in two weeks. Kyle said today he was gonna promote somebody inside, and I’m sure I’m his man.”

“Who else is up for Sales Manager besides you?”

“Eric, Brad, and”—Larry shrugged dismissively—”somebody named Maria, supposed to be our second-best closer.”

Stephanie shook her head. “Remind me—”

“Maria Whatzername, only reason she’s a candidate is because Rob Herndon recommended her for promotion, instead of Johnny. But no way is Kyle gonna give the Sales Manager job to a woman, especially when this means pissing off our number-one closer. Eric Clarke is the Finance and Insurance Manager. Gets a happy tingle whenever he picks up a calculator. No way is Kyle giving the Sales Manager job to a nerd. Brad Ferris is the Body Shop Manager. He’s always clowning around during Manager Meeting. He’s no worry either.”

“`Clowning around’?” Stephanie said. “Was he the guy who wore the Elf costume, last Christmas party?”

“Yeah, and maybe I should remind Kyle of that. Brad looked ridiculous.”

Stephanie didn’t reply to that, but she started to worry.

Christmas 1994, a drunk used-car salesman named Herb had been using every sleazy argument he could think of, to talk thirty-one-year-old Stephanie into walking out to the dark back porch with him. Stephanie had been considering unladylike options when Brad the Elf had walked up. Thirty seconds and two well-chosen jokes later, Brad the Elf had rescued Stephanie from her wolf and was escorting her back to her husband—

But Larry, so far as Stephanie could tell, had never noticed anything wrong.

Ten months after that Christmas party, Stephanie caressed Larry’s face and said, “I’m sure you’ll be the one Kyle picks, Larry darlin’.”

Lying is a form of acting. Stephanie had acted in six plays in high school, three plays in college, and one scene in an unreleased movie; so in October 1995, she could convincingly lie to her husband.

December, 1995

Larry had not gotten the promotion. Brad Ferris had been Sales Manager at Wilson Ford for over a month.

When Larry walked in the front door, Stephanie greeted him with a cheery “How was your day, darlin’?”

“Sucky, totally sucky. Mark was out sick again, the customers were idiots, and Kyle embarrassed me in Manager Meeting.”

“Oh?”

“Fearless Leader has this rule that if a car needs repair or body work over a thousand bucks, we’re supposed to notify the Sales Manager so he can try and sell the customer a new car.”

“Gotcha. So …?”

“This morning, Boss Kyle said in front of all the other managers that Joe Bob”—the Body Shop Manager—”was doing his part, but I haven’t called Brad once in the past month. Jeez, Kyle even said, `Remember, Larry, we’re all team players here.'”

Stephanie bit her lip. “Is that true? What Kyle said?”

“Jeez, Steph, I got work to do! And if Brad needs me to pass on sales leads to him, he’s not much of a Sales Manager, is he?”

Hearing Larry’s words, Stephanie worried.

May, 1996

When Stephanie came home from school, what she saw in the driveway puzzled her.

First of all, seeing anything at all in the driveway was a surprise. Larry wasn’t due home till 5:30 at the earliest, and 6:00 was his usual time home.

Secondly, the truck wasn’t the shiny blue F-150 demo that Larry usually drove. The truck in the driveway looked like it had been driven to Guatemala and back.

Stephanie found Larry watching cartoons with four-year-old Seth and twenty-month-old Aaron. The boys were enjoying the cartoons, but Larry’s face was wooden.

Larry picked up Aaron and moved the boy off Daddy’s lap to the floor. “I need to talk to Mommy,” Larry told his son. Larry walked into the kitchen, Stephanie following.

“Where’s the demo? In for repairs?” Stephanie said. Smiling, she added, “Not to worry, I hear the Service Manager—”

“Kyle took the demo back. I used part of my severance to pay cash for this 1988 piece of shit.”

Stephanie gasped. “What happened?”

That morning, Larry explained, once again he’d belittled Brad Ferris in Manager Meeting. But this time, Kyle had spoken up—

“Larry, four people went up for that promotion. Brad got it. Eric didn’t get it, but he still works fine with Brad. Maria Signorelli didn’t get it either, but she works fine with Brad. You? You’ve been on Brad’s case nonstop since November. Trouble is, every time you talk like Brad is an idiot, you’re saying I’m an idiot too, because I picked him. I’m tired of Manager Meeting giving me a stomachache. Larry, you’re fired.”

Now in the Turskis’ kitchen, Larry ranted for several minutes more. The gist was: He himself was totally blameless.

Stephanie thought this was the most awful day of her life.

A few days later, when Larry got a job in Grantville, working for Jay Barlow’s Subaru dealership, Stephanie thought that life had gotten a little better.

****

Grantville, SoTF
Thursday, May 8, 1636

Once Stephanie got home from the high school, she discovered that thirteen-year-old Seth was listening to music in his room, and ten-year-old Aaron was out playing a ball game with friends.

She came into Seth’s room and asked, “How was your day, darlin’? Everything okay?” When he nodded, she said, “I want to look for some stuff in the attic, then I’ll start dinner.” Seth gave her a thumb-up.

Once Stephanie climbed stairs to the attic, finding 1980s-era blue clothing was not the problem. (Sorry about the mothball smell, sweetie! Stephanie thought at Frida.) Nope, the big, huge, humongous problem in the attic for Stephanie was not to think about the red footlocker.

A red footlocker that had waited patiently in the attic since November, 1997.

Stephanie in 1636 glared at the footlocker, mentally ordering it back to West Virginia. But the footlocker stayed where it was.

Then she thought, You’re being childish. It’s only a bunch of dumb cloth. It was high time she moved past that part of her life.

Stephanie walked to the footlocker, squatted down, unsnapped the latches, and lifted the lid.

****

What was inside the footlocker in 1636 was the same as what Stephanie had put there in 1997: four sewing patterns, each to make a denim jacket for someone in the Turski family; four more sewing patterns, each to make denim pants for someone in the Turski family; snaps; and zippers.

At the top of the pile was three-year-old Aaron’s denim jacket, half-complete: shoulders, back, and one sleeve. This was as far as Stephanie’s grand and glorious sewing project had progressed.

At the bottom of the footlocker, neatly folded, were sixteen yards of denim. Stephanie had bought all that back when she’d been a naive fool.

Wait, hold on, stop the train, Stephanie thought. I have sixteen yards of uncut denim? In 1636?

Stephanie slammed the lid shut, latched the latches and, grabbing the footlocker by one of its end handles, dragged it to the attic stairs. With a few BUMPs and THUMPs, she got the footlocker downstairs and into the bedroom hallway.

Seth came out of his own bedroom then. “Hey, Mom, what’s going on?”

Without waiting for Stephanie’s permission, he unsnapped the latches on the footlocker and threw open the lid. “Whoa, there’s like a ton of blue-jeans cloth in here!”

“Yeah, it’s a sewing project I’d just started in ’97. I was working on it both to cheer up your father, and because money was tight that year.”

“Hold on, how was sewing clothes supposed to cheer Dad up?” Meanwhile, Seth was taking things out of the footlocker and looking at them.

“He was working at the Dollar Store and we were paying the bills only with the money I was bringing in. Then he was saying, `I’m not a man anymore, I can’t provide for my family.’ And the sewing was my way of saying, `You’re my husband, and you’re man enough for me to do wifey things for you.'”

“The Dollar Store, I never understood that. Why was Dad working there when he moved out? What happened to his job at Barlow Subaru?”

“That’s a long story, darlin’.”

Seth held up a piece of thin brown pattern-paper. It had been cut into a strip only two inches wide. “Um, Mom, I don’t know much about sewing, but this isn’t supposed to be like this.”

“That’s for either your father’s denim jacket or his denim pants. At the time, I was mad at him.”

Why? What did he do?”

Stephanie sighed. “That’s another long story. In the meantime, help me carry this downstairs.”

****

Minutes later, Stephanie and Seth were drinking G-rated apple cider in the kitchen.

Seth asked, “So Mom, why’d you cut up all of Dad’s patterns? And stop work on his project?”

“Darlin’, don’t you have homework to work on?”

“C’mon, Mom, give me something. You don’t usually get pissed at stuff.” Seth smiled and added, “Even when Aaron deserves it.”

She raised an eyebrow. “While you are a perfect angel?”

“Will you spill it, yes or no? No smokescreen.”

“Fine. I bought the denim, I bought the patterns, and started with Aaron’s jacket, since that was small and simple.”

“The good part, Mom, the good part.”

“Elaine Onofrio told me I’d done something wrong, and I’d need to do Aaron’s jacket over. Before I could remember to buy more denim in Fairmont, your father did something really, really stupid. Which is when I threw him out and filed for divorce. Of course, I quit working on the sewing project then.”

“What did Dad do stupid?”

“Nuh-uh, I’m pleading Mom Privilege. But looking back from years later, I see that your father was never himself after Barlow fired him.”

Seth’s eyes went wide. “Jay Barlow fired Dad? I thought Dad quit Barlow Subaru.”

“No, Seth. Larry was definitely fired.”

“Poor Dad,” Seth said. “That is so sucky, you know? This explains a lot about Dad in his last months with us.”

Stephanie looked at her son like he were a flying monkey. How does Larry getting fired by Barlow justify him at the swimming hole with that teenybopper Goth whore Geri Kinney?

****

“We’re rich!” Aaron said at dinner. “Or, we’re gonna be rich, Mom, after you sell all that denim.”

Maybe we’re rich, darlin’,” Stephanie said. “I haven’t figured out who to sell it to, or where to sell it.”

Seth grinned. “That should be `whom to sell it to,’ Mom. Miss MacDougal says so.”

Stephanie stuck out her tongue at her smart-aleck son, then said, “I don’t know what to do, and I don’t think there’s anyone who can advise me. One thing’s for sure: I don’t want to blow this.”

“I know what to do.” said Aaron. “Send a telegram to Princess Kristina. She’d pay top dollar for all of it.”

“That’s an idea,” Stephanie replied. “But she probably has lots of fancy clothes already. Shouldn’t somebody else get a shot?”

“I ask just one thing, Mom,” Seth said. “Don’t sell it to any merchant from Venice. The guy who bought those Barbies is set for life!”

****

A few minutes later, Seth looked at his younger brother and said, “I learned something bad today. Remember how we always wondered why Dad quit Barlow Subaru to go work at the Dollar Store? Turns out, Dad didn’t quit, he got fired.

Aaron asked, “Who fired Dad? Jay Barlow? Or someone else?”

Stephanie said, “Barlow himself, count on it.”

“That’s one more reason the Hungarian guy did the world a favor,” Aaron said. Aaron’s right hand wielded an imaginary sword to cut the hand off an imaginary Jay Barlow, then to slice his throat.

“So what happened, Mom?” Seth asked. “Why did Jay Barlow fire Dad?”

“Well, the day after getting fired from Wilson Ford, your—”

“Hold on, Dad got fired from a second job?” Seth said.

“Where’s Wilson Ford?” Aaron asked.

“Wilson Ford is in Fairmont, darlin’. Seth, your father got fired from Wilson Ford before he got fired from Barlow Subaru.”

“Gotcha. Now back to the story.”

“Anyway, the day after getting fired from Wilson Ford, Larry went straight to Lou Prickett Ford. But Chad Jenkins couldn’t offer Larry a thing, except for floor sales.”

Dratten das,” Seth replied. Amideutsch translation: Drat.

“Maybe, maybe not, darlin’,” Stephanie replied. “Nowadays, Chad and Chip are fine men—lots to admire in those two. But back in the twentieth century, Chip the son was a blowhard who thought he was God’s Gift. I believe a man bears responsibility for how his son turns out; and besides being a bad father, Chad was a booby prize all on his own. If he was selling you a car, he’d rip out your lungs and then sell them back to you while you were trying to breathe.”

“What about moms?” Aaron asked. “Are moms to blame for how their sons grow up?”

“As much as dads are,” Stephanie said. Then she gave Aaron a big smile and said, “So I’m very relieved how fine you and Seth are turning out.”

Seth gave her a thumb-up, but then he said, “Okay, so Dad couldn’t get a job he liked at Prickett Ford. So then what happened?”

“Next he went to Trumble Buick-GMC, because they had the biggest lot in Grantville. Again nothing, except for the `opportunity’ to be a car salesman. Lowe’s Chevrolet? Zilch. Then Larry talked to Jay Barlow.”

“Who gave Dad a job.”

Stephanie rocked her hand. “Barlow didn’t have any opening for a manager, he said, but he did have an opening for a Service Writer. He told Larry he was going to do him `a favor’: Barlow would pay Larry the same commission as the other Service Writers, plus pay Larry a quarter an hour in bonus.”

Seth looked puzzled. “That wasn’t a good thing?”

“At first we thought so. Then Larry realized that Barlow Subaru wasn’t getting much business, so their Service Center wasn’t getting much business. Mainly because people in Grantville weren’t hot for foreign cars. But add to that, everyone had heard Barlow was a slimeball. Turned out, they were right.”

“How so? What did he do to Dad?”

“Barlow had booze in his office. When he got drunk, he’d pick fights with his employees, screaming at them in front of other people.”

“What a turkey,” Aaron said.

“He sure was. Anyway, two months after Larry started there, Cyril Fodor up and quit. ` Bernard and I are starting up Fodor Brothers Auto Fix and Body ‘ is what he told most people, but `It’s either quit now, or wear an orange jumpsuit for half my life’ is what he told Larry. When Cyril left, Larry became Service Manager in all but name. This was in July of ’96.”

“Barlow didn’t give Dad a promotion officially?” Seth asked. “That’s sucky.”

“Nope, Barlow didn’t give Larry the title, or bump his pay. At first Larry gritted his teeth and said nothing. He had to.”

Aaron said, “Sweet guy. I heard Noelle Stull tell somebody at Saint Mary’s, Jay Barlow intended to shoot her down like a dog.”

Stephanie nodded. “He probably expected she’d stand there and let him shoot her. When the Hungarian guy said no, Barlow probably planned to shoot him too—with the Hungarian guy letting him, of course.”

Aaron’s smile was bloodthirsty. “Things turned out different for ol’ Barlow, didn’t they?” Aaron started humming “Greasy Grimy Gopher Guts.”

Stephanie nodded. “Let that be a lesson to you, darlin’: When you act nasty to people, not everyone has to take it. And there’s always someone better than you at acting nasty, if you make him want to.”

Seth said, “Get to the nasty part. Dad getting fired.”

“Larry worked at Barlow Subaru for eight months, and was unofficial Service Manager for six of those. Then in January of 1997, he was shooting the breeze with a car salesman about why they were selling so few cars. Barlow Subaru was actually selling more used cars than new Subarus. The salesman was blaming Subaru of America, and their ad agency, and `nervous Nellies in Grantville,’ yada-yada-yada. Larry said, `No, the problem is, the whole town knows our boss is a crook.'”

“Wow! Dad really said that about Jay Barlow? At work?

“Well, yeah. There was a rumor for years that Gil Kinney was stealing cars and chopping them for parts, and Barlow was fencing the parts.”

“Probably true, considering how Gil Kinney died,” Seth said. Sometime in May 1634, Kinney had been buried in a shallow grave in Bavaria. He’d been stabbed eight times.

Stephanie continued, “Your dad said Barlow was a crook, and somehow word got back to Barlow. The next day, your father got fired again—second time in eight months. Larry getting fired from Barlow Subaru kicked off the Year of Hell.”

Seth did the math. “Dad got fired in January ’97, and in November ’97, a week before Thanksgiving, Dad moved out. So that time in between, it was hell for you?”

“Big-time hell, you bet.”

Seth asked, “How does Geri Kinney fit in with all this?”

Stephanie gasped. It was the question she never wanted to answer from one of her sons. Carefully she said, “Why do you mention that name?”

“Mom, you know Geri Kinney?” Aaron asked. Aaron would have heard about her from all the news coverage of two years ago.

“Some things on the news aren’t intended for children, Aaron,” Stephanie said. “You’re too young to know about her.”

“`You’re evading the question, darlin’,'” Seth said, throwing Stephanie’s own Mom-words back at her.

“Y’all both have uneaten cabbage on your plates,” Stephanie replied.

****

Halle, SoTF
Thursday evening, May 8, 1636

The Halle Tailor Guild arranged for Tilda to spend the night with Master Tailor Fieker and his family. As for the wagon, its cargo, and Bradthuhn—

“You go inside, Frau Gundlachin,” Bradthuhn said. “I’ll sleep here in the wagon.”

Indeed, Bradthuhn was volunteering to sleep in the wagon, with the horse hobbled in front of Fieker’s Tailor Shop. That’s what the blankets were for, it turned out.

Tilda was horrified. “Sleep in the wagon? You’re not a dog, you’re a man!”

Of course, they both knew that Tilda couldn’t afford to put the wagon and horse in a stable for the night, much less pay to put Bradthuhn in an inn.

Bradthuhn looked down at her from the bed of the wagon; he shrugged. “I’ve slept in worse places. At least it’s dry.”

Bradthuhn would be sharing the wagon bed with the crated Higgins. Tilda pointed to it and said, “Shouldn’t we bring this inside, so you can sleep more comfortably? Besides, if the sewing machine gets stolen, I’m ruined.”

Bradthuhn said flatly, “To steal this, they’ll have to sneak past me. Nobody will steal from you.” His eyes were dead when he said that.

Tilda gave up then, thanked him, and went inside.

Of course, Tilda’s sewing machine quickly became the dinner topic—

Master Tailor Fieker said, “I’ll buy a Higgins when the price is reasonable. Right now, the price is robbery.”

“What’s `reasonable’?” Tilda asked. “I’m told that some parts can be made only with up-time machines.”

Frau Fieker replied, “That’s what those greedy up-timer children have told their salesmen to tell you. Even if that’s true, the price can be cheaper, I’m sure. Tailors like your Wilhelm who buy a Higgins, they’re being squeezed by those children.”

The Fieker children’s attitude was opposite to their parents’. Both boys and girls hit Tilda with a blizzard of technical questions about the sewing machine, and the children closely examined Tilda’s machine-sewn dress.

****

Halle
Friday morning, May 9, 1636

Bradthuhn and the wagon took Tilda to the Halle train station. Bradthuhn and a train-station worker unloaded the wagon, and carried everything to the “Baggage and Freight Check.”

Tilda then smiled at Bradthuhn, and gave him heartfelt thanks for all his help. He grunted, and walked back to the wagon.

A minute later, Tilda gasped. “That much?”

Tilda nearly choked when she learned the cost of getting herself, the sewing machine, and her other worldly goods to Grantville.

As Tilda waited for the train, she thought, I wonder, does Grantville has a cathedral that I can sit and beg in front of?

Deep in thought, Tilda barely noticed the two up-timers, even though they were the first up-timers she’d ever seen. The up-timers were a man and a woman, and they were each wearing the blue pants that Tilda had heard tailors discuss so much.

****

Teacher’s Lounge, Grantville High School
First Lunch, Friday, May 9, 1636

Shackerley Marmion was already at the table when Stephanie walked in, carrying a cloth shopping bag. Stephanie stopped by Shack and said, “Here you go, darlin’. As promised.” From the shopping bag, Stephanie removed two folded-up blue garments and put them on the table.

“Wherefore two?” Shack asked. “She can but one wear upon the stage.”

“The top one’s a gift. A `WVU Mountaineers’ sweatshirt, blue-and-yellow. She’ll like that. Actually, they’re both gifts, since I can’t fit in this blue dress anymore.”

Stephanie took her seat at the table and dumped out the rest of the shopping bag’s contents (lunch), as Shack unfolded the sweatshirt and looked at it.

“What doth mean Mountaineers?”

“That’s poet talk, Shack,” said Tony Mastroianni. “The classy way to say hillbillies.”

Everyone smiled at that, then Stephanie said, “Guess what else I found when I was in my attic yesterday.”

Stephanie explained about finding the footlocker with the denim in it.

Nicole Hawkins asked, “So why’d you stop? You sewed half of one denim jacket, then you quit the whole shebang. Why?”

Stephanie blushed. “Well, I screwed up. I sewed that much, and then Elaine here, um, asked me, `So how’d you wash all that denim? Cut it into pieces and wash everything in the bathtub, or hang it lengthwise on a clothesline and blast it with the garden hose? What is it, twenty yards?’ I said, `Eighteen yards, and I’ve used two up. Why would I wash it?'”

“Shrinkage?” said Tony Mastroianni.

“Bingo, that’s what Elaine said,” said Stephanie. “Duh! Then Elaine said, `Plus, if you sew it without washing first, the seams might pucker when you do wash it.’ I decided, next time I was in Fairmont, I’d go to the fabric store and buy two more yards of denim. For a while I didn’t have the free time to buy those two yards, then personal stuff happened. When the drama was over, I’d lost all interest in the project.”

Elaine Onofrio reached over and squeezed Stephanie’s hand.

****

Art Class, Grantville High School
An hour later

The End-Of-Period Bell rang, and the students rushed out of class. Janice Ambler walked in, as fast as her sixty-one years would let her.

“Is it true?” Janice asked Stephanie. “You have no-kidding, for-real denim at your house?”

“Uh-huh, sixteen yards,” Stephanie said. “Why, sweetie? You have a rich uncle who’s hunkerin’ to buy it?”

“No, I want to film it! Can we bring a video camera to your house after school?”

Stephanie thought this would lead to her house getting burglarized. She replied, “How about I go home and get it, bring it back here, and you video me here in the Art classroom? All that dark blue will look great with all the greens, yellows, and reds here.”

Janice laughed. “Not to mention, the hot-pink heart that someone painted on the wall! Okay, after school, we’ll come here to the Art room and wait for you to return with the denim.” With those words, Janice left.

By now, the classroom was half-full with the next period’s class. Elisabeth Hahn asked, “Are you doing something with television now, Teacher Turski?”

“Yes, sweetie, I’m going to be on television. On the news!

Elisabeth’s eyes went wide.

****

Hours later, school was over, but child art prodigy Mary Timm was in the Art classroom when Stephanie returned with the blue cloth. The down-timer child got drafted to help demonstrate for the TV camera, how much blue cloth Stephanie owned.

Folded in half, the denim ran from one corner of the classroom almost to the opposite corner, making a dark-blue road that was five feet wide.

****

Grantville Train Station
Friday evening, May 9, 1636

Tilda was amazed. In the old days, it would have taken two or three days of torturous travel to go the sixty miles from Halle to a place near Rudolstadt. Yet here she was, with departure and arrival on the same day, and it wasn’t even sundown yet. Trains are wonderful, she decided.

Tilda stepped off the train and thought, I hope I’ll still recognize Louisa—

“Tilda! Tilda! Over here!” a smiling, plump woman yelled.

Sometime during the years after her (first) wedding, Louisa had become a hugger. Tilda got squeezed by her sister, then Tilda was introduced to Louisa’s second husband. Christian had a trimmed beard and a ready smile.

Hanging back were two up-timer men. Louisa introduced the older man as Ken Miller, Tilda’s new landlord. Herr Miller introduced the limping, blue-eyed man with him as “Jimmy.”

****

The Turski residence
Friday night

Every Friday night, Stephanie hosted “Dinner And A Movie” for a mixture of up-timers and down-timers.

Sometimes Stephanie showed deep, meaningful award-winning dramas that explored the human condition (Casablanca, The Godfather, Shakespeare In Love , Das Boot ), so that Stephanie could put her Masters in Film to good use—

—and sometimes she showed schlock like Animal House, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Reefer Madness, or Plan 9 From Outer Space.

Food was “Pot Luck,” with everyone bringing a dish. (Jacqueline Pascal always brought potato chips.) Tonight’s guests had just gone through the kitchen, loaded up a dinner plate, and returned to their seat. But rather than sit in the chair, everyone stood waiting for Stephanie to sit down. This part of the seventeenth century, Stephanie liked a lot.

No sooner had Stephanie put her plate on the table, but her son Seth cleared his throat. “Ladies and gentlemen, Herren und Damen, before we eat, I ask you to please watch something on the TV.”

And indeed, Seth walked away from the dinner table and into the living room, where he picked up the VCR remote.

“We’re starting the movie early?” Sveta (Svetlana) Trelli asked, confused.

Seth called back from the living room, “No, Mrs. Trelli, I have something else to show y’all.”

“Mom is on the news!” Aaron Turski said. “We taped it so y’all could watch it.”

Prudentia McDougal turned to Sveta and sneered, “Did Stephanie say she start movie early? My god, what a blonde.”

To which Sveta replied, “Prudi, sweetie, too bad flapping your jaw doesn’t burn up more calories. Then you would look good like me. Tsk, you birthed a child five months before I did, but two months later, only you are fat.”

(It was always like that between those two. For some reason, Prudi and Sveta hated each other.)

Jabe McDougal said, “Prudi? Sveta? You both look great.”

Thank you, Jabe,” Sveta said warmly. “You are kind.”

Prudentia fumed.

By then, Seth had fast-forwarded through the news to the part about Stephanie. “That’s Mary Timm!” Jacqueline Pascal exclaimed.

Dinner was delayed while Seth played the videotape. Dinner was further delayed when everyone begged Stephanie to show them her denim.

All the down-timers exclaimed at how stiff and thick the unused denim was, and what a rich dark blue was its color.

“What are your plans for it?” Balthazar Abrabanel asked.

Before Stephanie could reply, Shackerley Marmion did: “If ’twere mine own, I would gather up a great multitude in the car park of the Freedom Arches—”

“Shack, darlin’,” Stephanie said with a smile, “the term is parking lot, not car park.

“For you up-timers, aye. But we of England must needs save the language of England-Future,” Shack replied.

Shack bowed to Stephanie (while sporting a grin), and continued, “I would gather up a great multitude in the car park of yon Freedom Arches, then hold an auction. Can ye imagine—kings, earls, and Grafen made to bid against CoC `rabble’? Ah, ‘twould be entertainment!”

****

The residence of Kenneth and Lynn Miller (and tenants)
Friday night

For Tilda, shock followed shock during this, her first evening in Grantville.

It started in the “kitchen” (cooking room). Tilda didn’t see one thing she recognized or knew how to work, though sister Louisa and Barbara Silberbach (the other tenant wife) were clearly familiar with the marvels here. Tilda wound up chopping up potatoes and a huge chunk of beef, unable to help more than that.

Tilda’s next shock was about who else was working a knife. Cooking was women’s work, so of course neither Christian Töpffer nor Andreas Silberbach were helping in the kitchen. But Herr Miller, Tilda’s landlord, stood two feet away from her, chopping onions.

Seeing her questioning look, he explained, “Lynn and I made a deal a long time ago: If I want chopped onions in the beef stew, I have to pay the price.” Indeed, Herr Miller’s eyes were red and weeping.

Tilda’s next shock came when everyone was seated at the table and was about to eat. Herr Miller explained to Tilda that Grace was said in English, then German, the pray-er rotated every night, and tonight was his night and Barbara Silberbach’s night to say Grace. Tilda was still marveling at a woman leading a family prayer, when Barbara Silberbach said “Amen”—

—then she and Andreas crossed themselves.

Louisa laughed at Tilda’s expression. “My sister, we aren’t in Eisleben anymore,” Louisa said.

After dinner, the women cleaned up the dishes (no men helped with this). After Frau Miller started the “dishwasher” (what a marvel!), Herr Miller told Tilda, “I’m about to watch the news now. You’re welcome to watch too, if you want.”

Tilda had no idea what Herr Miller was talking about, but Louisa pulled on her arm. “Come on, you’ll love it. You’ll find out what’s going on everywhere.

Indeed, Tilda learned about events that had happened not weeks ago, or even days ago, but earlier that day

“…In Paris, the crisis continues. Sources inside the Louvre…”

“…Magdeburg today has cloudy skies, and has received half an inch of rain so far. Magdeburg’s high temperature today was 61 degrees Fahrenheit; the low temperature was 46 degrees Fahrenheit….”

“…The Sackers were down by two runs when Lucas Peetz slammed a triple in the ninth inning on bases loaded, bringing three runners home. Final score: Magdeburg Sackers eight, Jena Wizards seven….”

It all was fascinating to Tilda, but it didn’t affect her own life in any way. That is, until the “news” show was almost over, then she saw—

“And finally: If there’s one way to spot an up-timer in a crowd, it’s because they all love to wear blue jeans. Blue jeans were made of denim cloth, and yesterday up-timer Stephanie Turski found a lot of unused denim in her attic….”

Tilda was amazed at what a rich, dark blue the cloth was.

“As you can see from these pictures,” the news announcer continued, “Stephanie Turski has sixteen yards of unused denim. She says she plans to sell it, as soon as she figures out how.”

****

As Herr Miller made the black box and the picture box go dark, he said, “I can’t tell you how much I miss blue jeans! Want to know what’s funny, in a sad way?”

“What?” Tilda asked.

“You’ve surely heard of Gretchen Richter.” At Tilda’s nod, he continued, “She and her younger sister and her grandmother, and a bunch of children that Gretchen was caring for, came here. I’m not sure when, but a month, around then, after the Ring of Fire. As refugees, they were all wearing rags.

Tilda shuddered openmouthed, imagining in horrible detail, herself wearing rags.

Herr Miller continued, “Melissa Mailey, back then she was a teacher at the high school, decided that these people deserved better, so she took them all to Valuemart. Valuemart sells used clothes.”

“You should talk to them,” Louisa said to Tilda. “I’m sure they need someone who knows how to mend clothes.”

Herr Miller continued, “So Melissa Mailey, on a schoolteacher’s salary, bought clothing for Gretchen, her younger sister, and all the little kids. I’m not sure about the grandmother. Anyway, the blue jeans and sneakers that Gretchen Richter loves to wear? Melissa bought her those, and because they were used, Melissa paid almost nothing for them.”

Frau Miller said, “I should have bought them out then. But I didn’t think of it till much later.”

Herr Miller sighed. “Ms. Mailey buying clothes for everyone, this was before Grantville got famous. But now? Every rich visitor to Grantville runs straight to Valuemart to buy up-time clothing as a keepsake. You know what that’s done to the prices.”

“Up-time clothes are so expensive now,” Frau Miller said, “that Higgins-made clothing is actually cheaper.” She sounded offended.

Andreas Silberbach laughed. “Tilda, there’s one thing you need to know as a tailor’s wife in Grantville. Up-timers say that new clothes are so expensive? Well, to us down-timers, clothing in Grantville is a steal!

“Really?” Tilda said worriedly. “What makes it so cheap?” Cheap clothing meant cheap earnings; cheap earnings meant she couldn’t make payments on the sewing machine.

Louisa said, “Everyone who sews here has a Higgins. If you hand-sew, you starve. Then the up-timers won’t let you charge them the old Guild prices, because up-timers know you’re not doing as much work as before you got the sewing machine.”

“So what prices did the Tailor Guild here finally settle on?”

Herr Miller shook his head. “This rule that guilds have, `No master may undersell another master’? We call this `price-fixing,’ and it’s very illegal here.”

“So how do I know what to charge?” Tilda asked.

“Here, you charge the customer the cheapest amount you can live on, and if that’s cheaper than what Johann charges, Johann can’t make you raise your price. But Johann can then offer something you don’t, for free.”

Tilda looked at Louisa and shuddered. “Wow, masters having to fight like beasts in a cage. When you wrote that up-timers hate guilds, you weren’t kidding.”

Herr Miller snorted. “Ask me sometime about the so-called `Light-Bulb Makers’ Guild’ that somebody tried to start. Right now, my main supplier is a master blacksmith named Christof Bettinger—”

“He’s Mennonite,” Louisa added.

“—and the reason he gets most of my business is not because he makes better hinges, but because he doesn’t charge me 1630 prices.”

Tilda looked at Louisa, heartsick. “Why did you tell me to come here? I’ll need to work like a packhorse, just to keep from begging!”

“For a while, yes,” Louisa said. “But don’t you remember what you yourself wrote me? Ten or fifteen years from now, you’ll be sipping wine, while all the hand-sew tailors will be the ones begging.”

“Not to mention, dear,” Frau Miller said, “as soon as you learn how to make up-time clothing, you’ll have three thousand potential customers.”

“Damned straight!” Herr Miller said. “No way will I ever wear a doublet and lace collar.”

“No lace collar?” Tilda said. “Then how can people tell you’re prosperous?”

“My sister, you’re missing the point,” Louisa said.

“Why come here?” Louisa’s husband Christian asked rhetorically. “Why work here? Because in Grantville, any of us down-timers can hope to be the next Hermann Glauber.”

“Who’s Hermann Glauber?” Tilda asked.

Christian and Herr Miller took turns telling the story. Herr Miller finished with “…I’ll bet Vellie Rae didn’t think twice before she said yes. Far as she was concerned, she was getting her shed cleaned out for free. But now, Vellie Rae and Jim are still struggling, while Hermann Glauber is rich. Because he saw the value in the `rusty junk’ in that kudzu-covered shed, when nobody else did.”

The “half-bed” was narrow and uncomfortable, but that wasn’t why Tilda had trouble falling asleep that night. She’d been given so much to think about.

****

Across the street from “Ich [Heart] Meine Higgins”
Deborah, SoTF
Saturday morning, May 10, 1636

Tilda knew the store was built post-ROF, because it had a bunch of little windows facing the street, instead of one big window. Painted in letters big enough to need several windows was “WE HAVE ZIPPERS!”

Herr Miller had worn a “jacket” with a zipper in it when he’d gone out to fetch the newspaper that morning, so Tilda knew what a zipper was. It was indeed a good thing that the metal miracles were being sold in her century, Tilda decided.

Tilda crossed the street and opened the store’s front door. A fist-sized bell that was mounted at the inside top of the door, rang then.

The next thing to hit Tilda’s senses was the colors! She saw bolts of wool and linen cloth, in an eyeball-shock of colors. Not only was there cloth in solid colors that Tilda had never seen before, but she also saw gingham and plaid cloth made by weaving dyed threads. By a sign, “For Sonny,” she saw a bolt of white linen that had blue airplanes printed on it. By another sign, “Girl Camouflage,” was a bolt of linen that was tie-dyed in a bright pink that Tilda had never expected to see in cloth.

“Good morning, I’m Katharina Heller, the owner. May I help you?” a woman asked Tilda. Her ankle-length skirt and her unaccented German told Tilda that Katharina was another down-timer, but her down-time-patterned blouse was made of green gingham. Oddly, the blouse’s sleeves were sewn to the doublet, instead of being detachable.

Tilda replied, “Yes, I hope you can help me. I just arrived in town yesterday, along with my own sewing machine. I’m told you match people who need sewing, up with freelance seamstresses and tailors? I’m a tailor’s widow.”

“You got here yesterday? That’s a problem. Do you know how to sew buttons and buttonholes?”

“Um … no. I’m not even sure what a `buttonhole’ is. The Higgins manual talks about them, but we didn’t understand that part.”

Katharina went behind the counter, and then brought forth the Higgins manual, an up-time woman’s blouse, a scrap of cloth, and three wood disks, each with two holes drilled in them. She then walked Tilda over to the chained-down Higgins machine in the store, and explained for fifteen minutes how to sew on buttons (easy) and make buttonholes (tricky).

“…never done it before, I suggest you buy a yard of cloth and some buttons, and practice making buttonholes. We have wood buttons and new-time plastic buttons, but since this is practice, buy the wood buttons. Made from wood growing inside the Ring of Fire, they’re much cheaper. Up-timers prefer the `disk’ shape—what I’m using now—but mushroom-shape buttons are cheapest of all.”

Tilda went to the bin marked “Scrap cloth—prices as marked,” chose a half-yard of orange linen, and was in the process of paying for it (plus four wood buttons) when the store’s front-door bell rang.

“Good morning,” a woman’s voice said in American-accented German.

“I’ll be with you in a minute, Frau Up-timer,” Katharina said.

“Wow, I haven’t been to a place like this in centuries,” the up-timer woman murmured behind Tilda’s back. Then she laughed. “Literally.”

Seconds later, Tilda had finished her purchase, and had turned around to leave. She gasped when she saw the newcomer for the first time. “You’re Stephanie Turski!”

“Who?” Katharina asked.

“She found sixteen yards of blue-jeans cloth in her house,” Tilda explained. “She was on television news last night.”

“Funny you should mention that, liebchen,” Stephanie said, walking up to the counter. She opened her purse, stuck her hand in, and came out holding a lot of dark-blue five-inch cloth squares.

“These are for decoration,” Stephanie said, sliding them across the counter to flabbergasted Katharina. “Give them away or sell them, I don’t care. I ask only, limit three to a customer.”

“You’re giving these to me?” Katharina said. “But they’re denim. They’re priceless!”

Stephanie shook her head. “This is scrap. I can’t sell it, and I can’t use it to dress my boys or myself. Why not let others enjoy it?”

“Why are you doing this?” Tilda asked. “Selling most of the denim, giving the rest away? You bought the cloth to make clothing, so why not make it?”

The up-timer woman sighed. “I bought the cloth to please my husband. Then when he was gone, looking at this brought back too many bad memories. Now, enough time has passed, but I still don’t want it around.”

Tilda laid her hand atop Stephanie’s hand. “I understand. My own husband passed on, less than a week ago. I miss him so much.”

“No, it’s not like—you don’t understand.”

“You’re right. Your husband’s grave is left up-time; I can’t imagine what that’s like. I’m so sorry for you.”

Stephanie now was staring at Tilda. “Your own husband died less than a week ago, and you’re trying to comfort me? Wow.”

Then Stephanie blinked, and asked, “How did you get here? To the store? I didn’t notice a horse or a bicycle out front.”

Tilda said, “I don’t have a horse. What’s a bicycle?”

Katharina said, “She got here yesterday. She is ein Neubi.

“So you’re here only one day and you’re out by yourself, running errands?” Stephanie said to Tilda. “Liebchen, that is no fun, and having to walk only makes it worse. Come with me, and I’ll drive you wherever you need to go.”

Tilda politely declined the offer, but Stephanie was insistent. So Tilda got into Stephanie’s car (after Stephanie showed her how to open the door).

After Stephanie made the car roar and vibrate, but before she made it roll, she sighed and looked sideways at Tilda. “I need to be honest with you. Yes, my husband Larry was gone by the Ring of Fire. But he didn’t die. He had sex with a prostitute, the town gossip tipped me off, I caught him, I kicked him out of the house, and I divorced him. This was, hm … two and a half years before the Ring of Fire.”

“I’m so sorry,” Tilda said.

“Don’t be. These last few days, I’ve been feeling sorry for myself, for what I lost before the Ring fell. Yet you’ve lost far more than me, and are you moping? No.”

With those words, Stephanie worked her hands and feet, and the car began to move.

“Where do you need to go now?” Stephanie asked.

“I really need to go to the Walju—um, Walju…”

“To Valuemart?” Stephanie said. “Gotcha.”

A minute later, Tilda looked over at Stephanie and said, “You’re frowning. Is something wrong?”

Stephanie said, “No, I’m just reliving an unhappy memory, sorry.”

****

Grantville, West Virginia
November, 1997

When Larry walked into the living room, he saw the boys watching TV, and Stephanie at her easel. She was painting a cute-looking kitten with a ball of yarn, hopefully to sell at a flea market that weekend.

“How was the Dollar Store today, darlin’?” Stephanie asked.

Larry shrugged. “Like any other day: morons, assholes, and fat cows. Anything interesting in the mail?” By which he meant job offers.

Stephanie shook her head. “Nothing you’ll want to read.”

Larry punched the headrest of the recliner, before collapsing into it like a felled tree.

Only a few seconds later, Larry yelled, “SETH! TURN THAT GODDAMN TV DOWN! I CAN’T HEAR MYSELF THINK!”

Seth quickly remoted the volume down. “Sorry, Daddy.”

Larry sat there, glaring at the TV. Five minutes later, he suddenly jumped to his feet. He dug his truck-keys out of his pocket and announced, “I’m going for a drive.”

As soon as Stephanie couldn’t hear Larry’s truck anymore, she put down her paintbrush and went to the kitchen phone. “Hey, Elaine, can you watch my kids for a little bit? There’s something I need to do….I ran into Cora Ennis at Grantville Cable today, and she told me something interesting. That is, if I can believe her.”

Three days later, Stephanie gathered up her good-little-wifey sewing project and dumped everything into a newly bought footlocker. When she dragged the footlocker up the attic stairs, it made lots of noise. She was okay with that.

****

Valuemart used-goods store
Grantville, SoTF
Saturday morning, May 10, 1636

Tilda and Stephanie walked into the store, and Stephanie asked, “Do you want to register your name first, or shop first?”

“Um, I think I should work before I play.”

“Follow me, then.”

Stephanie used her long legs to stride over to a woman that was standing behind a glass counter. Tilda had to pick up her skirts in order to keep up with long-legged Stephanie.

They stood behind a down-time woman who had a pile of up-time garments on the scratched-glass counter. The up-timer woman in her forties who stood behind the counter, was checking each garment for a color-marked paper square that had a number on it, and then tapping on a little box that showed lots of numbers on its face. The up-timer woman finished her tapping and announced, “That will be three gulden, five pfennig.

“But this clothing is worn!” the German woman said. “Look here, this seam is pulling apart—”

The up-timer gave the down-timer the same “smile” that Tilda gave drunks. Then the up-timer pointed to the sign behind her that said (in four languages), “OUR PRICES ARE AS LOW AS WE CAN MAKE THEM. PLEASE DO NOT BEG OR TRY TO BARGAIN.”

The up-timer woman said, “Three gulden, five pfennig, please.”

The down-timer woman muttered, but paid in full.

After the would-be bargainer left, the up-timer woman and Stephanie talked in relaxed English. Since Tilda couldn’t listen in, she was free to notice—

Gretchen Richter.

Or rather, a photograph of Gretchen Richter, clipped from a newspaper, and fastened somehow to the underside of the glass counter.

In the photograph, a big-breasted blonde who was wearing white-cloth shoes, jeans, and an up-time printed shirt, was speaking to an attentive crowd of poor people. Someone at Valuemart had captioned the clipping in German, using huge letters, as “ALL HER CLOTHES WERE BOUGHT HERE.”

Then Stephanie switched to German: “Becky, this is Tilda Gundlach, married name Töpffer. She has her own Higgins, and she wants to be on the on-call list when you need repair work done. Tilda, this is Miss Becky Fisher, who manages Valuemart.”

“Do you know how to sew buttons?” Miss Fisher asked Tilda.

“Not yet, but I’m going to learn,” Tilda said. “I bought some buttons and cloth today, to practice on.”

“I see.” Miss Fisher clearly didn’t believe Tilda.

“It’s God’s truth,” Stephanie said. “She had everything on the counter and was paying for it when I met her.”

“Other than buttons, what experience do you have at sewing up-time clothing?” Miss Fisher asked Tilda.

Tilda sighed. “None at all. I—”

“I’m sorry. I can’t help you.”

Stephanie said something wheedling in English. Miss Fisher replied, annoyed, and tapped the BITTE NICHT BETTELN ODER SCHACHERN part of the sign. Stephanie said something lengthy in reply; Miss Fisher blinked.

Miss Fisher said to Tilda, “You’re a tailor’s widow? And you’ve been here only since yesterday?”

“I’m a tailor’s daughter too, if it matters.”

“You befriended an up-timer in only one day?”

“It seems so, yes.”

Miss Fisher pulled out a piece of thick, stiff paper and registered Tilda as an official Valuemart repair seamstress. Tilda needed Stephanie’s help to fill out the card; Tilda didn’t know her address yet, and she had no idea what Herr Miller’s “telephone number” was.

****

With business done, and Miss Fisher looking relaxed, Stephanie tapped the glass above Gretchen Richter’s photo. “Who would think that a used-clothing store in Grantville could claim a famous customer.”

Tilda said, “But she wasn’t famous then. In fact, I heard she came into the store wearing rags.”

Miss Fisher gave Tilda a puzzled look. “No, Gretchen came into the store wearing a white terry-cloth bathrobe. Not something a woman would want to be seen in, but the bathrobe looked brand new.”

Tilda said, “`Terry cloth’? I don’t know—”

Stephanie explained, “Terry cloth is what bath towels are made from.” Then Stephanie said to Miss Fisher, “You were here that day? You saw Gretchen Richter in this store?”

Miss Fisher nodded. “The door opened, and Ms. Mailey walked in, acting as confident and important that day as if she was carrying a message from President Clinton. But walking shoulder-to-shoulder next to her, just as confident, just as important, was this barefoot honey-blonde in a white terry-cloth bathrobe.”

“`Confident.’ That sounds like Gretchen Richter,” Tilda said.

Stephanie nodded. “One of the reasons she’s a hero to lots of high-school kids. She’ll tell a king to go to hell.”

Miss Fisher continued, “So they both walked in. Ms. Mailey kept going, but the blonde in the bathrobe stopped dead. She turned around, looked toward the door, and said, `Ihr alle, kommt.‘ Only then did another blond girl, a bunch of children, and an old woman walk in. They also were barefoot and wearing white bathrobes. They were nervous, though the old woman hid it by acting grumpy. But the first barefoot blond woman in a bathrobe, she strode around Valuemart like she owned it.”

“Wow,” Tilda and Stephanie both said.

Miss Fisher said, “It was only after she’d been in the store several minutes, did I notice, Sheesh, she looks like a porn star! Except she really, really needed a mani-pedi that day!”

It took several minutes for Stephanie and Miss Fisher to explain those last remarks. Afterward, blushing Tilda wished they hadn’t bothered.

Miss Fisher finished with: “So before the world ever heard of Gretchen Richter, three days before Grantville ever saw Gretchen Richter, I was watching Hillary Clinton crossed with Anna Nicole Smith and wondering, Who is this woman?

****

Stephanie and Tilda said their goodbyes to Miss Fisher, then they turned around to face the store.

Stephanie sighed. “The thing I miss the most from up-time is going clothes-shopping with my girlfriends. I swear, the only things better were chocolate and sex.”

“Really?” Tilda said.

Stephanie waved her arm around. “Take a good look: This is the only place on the planet where I can do clothes-shopping now.” She sighed again. “But it’s used clothes here, not new—not even close to being as much fun.”

Tilda was trying to think through Stephanie’s statements. “Up-time, you bought new clothes just like you bought food at a market? Buying blue jeans was like buying a chicken, `I’ll take that one there’?”

“Uh-huh. Except I didn’t take my girlfriends along when I went to buy chicken.”

“So seamstresses made clothes for you without being paid in advance, hoping you’d buy their clothes and they’d be paid later? Some of them might starve, don’t you care? That’s so unfair to them!”

“I hadn’t thought of that,” Stephanie said. “The seamstresses themselves wouldn’t starve, they’d always find work. But the clothing designers who hired them, I guess some of them went bust up-time, sure.”

Then Stephanie frowned. “But so what? Am I a queen, with buckets of money to spend? I’m the single mother paying hard-earned money to all these clothing designers—don’t I get a say? Why should I spend extra money that I can’t afford, just so my dressmakers can eat goose instead of chicken?”

“That’s callous, Stephanie,” Tilda said. At the moment, being a starving clothing-maker was more than theoretical for her.

The two women frowned at each other. Then Stephanie said, “Let me show you what’s here at Valuemart.”

The used clothing was in three sections.

The smallest section was for “down-time” clothing—seventeenth-century dyes, seventeenth-century styles, and all hand-sewn.

At the moment, nobody was shopping there.

Tilda went straight there—not to buy, but to compare. How often did she get to compare her Willi’s work to that of seamstresses and other tailors? Whereas Stephanie acted as if she were about to clean out a stable.

Tilda examined a pair of mustard-yellow breeches. She decided that her Willi had done much better stitching. She told Stephanie as much.

“What was he like, Willi?” Stephanie asked. “As a man?”

“Kind. He was kind. When Caspar or one of the apprentices had a birthday, Willi gave them a half-day off, and bought them a strudel. He raised his voice only occasionally, and then only with our apprentice Josef, who was a trial. Lots of times Willi came in the kitchen while I was preparing dinner, and told me about his day. Before he bought the Higgins, we discussed it and discussed it. When Matthias Pfeiffer teased Willi about that, Willi just smiled and said, `I’m lucky to have a wise wife.'”

By now, Tilda was sniffling. Without saying a word, Stephanie hugged her.

The middle section was for “new-time” clothing—down-time styles, but the clothes were machine-sewn and colored with up-time dyes.

Tilda saw a young Frau in her twenties considering an ankle-length skirt that was “true red”; Tilda wondered where the young wife was thinking of wearing it.

The “new-time” section also included up-time-copied clothing that was colored with up-time dyes and was machine-sewn; but was made from seventeenth-century wool, linen, or hemp. All of the hemp clothing was intended for workmen or young boys.

The featured attraction, however, was the racks from which up-time clothing hung on triangular wires. Tilda noticed Stephanie acting perkier as soon as they went to that section.

Besides Stephanie and Tilda, almost every customer in the store was in the “up-time” section.

Tilda saw a teenage German girl hold up a small-hipped denim skirt and gaze at it with a thoughtful air. Besides the skirt’s scandalous shortness (a foot and a half separated waistline and hem), the other notable thing about the skirt was that it had a white kitten’s face showing on the front. Even more oddly, the kitten had one ear half-hidden behind a pink hair bow.

Tilda tried to figure out what message got sent to the up-time world by a very short skirt with an übercute girl-kitten on it. She shook her head; she couldn’t begin to guess.

As Tilda looked through the up-time clothing, one thing jumped out at her. “Stephanie, tell me, why does every top I see—whether made for man, woman, or child—have the sleeves sewn on? Why aren’t they detachable?”

Stephanie shook her head, confused. “Why do you want detachable sleeves?”

Tilda pointed to her own left sleeve, which was attached to the left side of her doublet with eyelets and lacing. “So you can wear the same clothing all year. Sleeves attached when it’s cold; sleeves off when it’s hot.”

“Wear the same outfit in both February and August?” Stephanie said. She shuddered. “Tilda, liebchen, why would I want to wear wool in the summer, or cotton in the winter? Wear winter colors in July? Ugh.”

****

Stephanie then tried to teach Tilda about up-time fashion. Some things Tilda didn’t understand, but these parts she understood very well—

Up-time women who were affluent or fashion-conscious bought clothes for every season. Most up-time women couldn’t or wouldn’t do that, but every adult up-time thought it keinhirnische (Amideutsch: obvious) that they own a cold-weather wardrobe and a hot-weather wardrobe.

Tilda realized that when clothing was as cheap as clothing was up-time, having a hot-weather and a cold-weather wardrobe made sense.

Up-time homes were well heated, so there was no need for winter petticoats. Summertime petticoats hadn’t been fashionable for fifty years; only the oldest up-time women had ever worn a petticoat.

What shocked Tilda to her core was when she learned that there were only a few times in an up-time woman’s life when she visited a dressmaker. Almost all her clothing was “ready to wear,” mass-produced beforehand.

Tilda’s second big shock: Up-time women had no interest in embroidery. Even up-time, embroidery was breath-choking expensive; if an up-time woman wanted clothing that showed an ornate pattern, she bought a garment made of cloth that had an ornate pattern printed-in. Stephanie showed Tilda the cloth design called “paisley” (known down-time as Indian Teardrops), and Tilda’s brain melted at the thought of embroidering that.

****

Stephanie, meanwhile, had grabbed a “t-shirt” that had six flags printed on it, and now was holding it against Tilda. Stephanie said, “Here, try this on, I think it’ll look good with your skin color.”

Tilda looked at the price-paper and gasped. “I can’t afford this.”

“Tilda, liebchen, shopping isn’t about trying on only what you can afford. It’s about two women doing something together they enjoy. Over there’s the dressing room.” When Tilda still hesitated, Stephanie said, “Please?”

Ten minutes later, Tilda stepped out of the dressing room. When she saw Stephanie, she laughed. “It’s squeezing me! Not hard, but it’s squeezing me. Especially at…”

Two young men also had realized where the t-shirt was squeezing Tilda. She quit talking and started blushing.

Stephanie guided Tilda over to a mirror. What a strange image she made, Tilda thought, with a long down-time German skirt and an up-time t-shirt. Willi would smile if he saw me now, she thought.

Tilda said to Stephanie, “You chose well. This pink color flatters my skin.”

Stephanie smiled.

When Tilda came out of the dressing room, Stephanie was waiting with a pair of flower-print pants. “I think these will fit you. Try them on.”

Stephanie was wrong: The pants were too tight in the seat and the pants-legs were too long. But Tilda loved how one button and a zipper let her fasten the pants in only seconds.

After Stephanie had taken a look at the flower-pants, Tilda changed back into her own clothes. Then she told the up-timer, “Now it’s your turn.”

Tilda frog-marched Stephanie back to the “Down-time clothing” section.

They wound up dressing Stephanie in an ankle-length down-time skirt. Except that on long-legged Stephanie, the skirt wasn’t ankle-length at all.

Meanwhile, with the down-time skirt, Stephanie had walked from the dressing room wearing a fat man’s t-shirt in white. Besides the shirt being way too big to fit well, the white t-shirt clashed with the off-white of the down-time skirt.

“I think the skirt shrank in the wash,” Stephanie said, deadpan.

Tilda couldn’t help it: She started laughing at how ridiculous Stephanie looked. But rather than get angry or offended, Stephanie walked around the store, letting every down-timer see for him- or herself what Tilda found so funny.

A few minutes later, after Stephanie had changed back into her own clothes, she asked Tilda, “Isn’t this enjoyable?”

“Oh, it is, it is,” Tilda said. “I could do this with you all day.” Tilda laughed; “Especially if I had the money to spend.”

****

Tilda realized what she’d just said.

How fun would it be for Tilda, a woman not rich, if she could buy clothing of different weights, colors, and moods, as easily as walking through an orchard picking apples? Along with her girlfriends, everyone in the group doing the same thing?

Going to the dressmaker with your girlfriends didn’t come close.

Once down-time women get a taste of this, they won’t be able to walk away, Tilda realized.

Tilda gestured toward the up-time clothing and said to Stephanie, “Sometime soon, someone will bring back ready-to-wear, but made for German women. That `someone’ will get rich.”

“Don’t forget up-time women,” Stephanie said.

Then Stephanie smiled at Tilda. “Are you proposing a partnership, liebchen? What a great idea!”

“Huh? What?”

Stephanie was grinning now. “You know what down-time women like to wear, and I know up-time women. You know more about running a sewing business, while I have a good sense of color and design.”

“That’s all true, but what—?”

“You and I can make a bundle, and make our sisters look good along the way.”

Tilda was flabbergasted. “You and I make ready-to-wear? I didn’t mean us doing…”

Then Tilda realized, Stephanie is right. I can make ready-to-wear clothing with her, and unless we’re boneheads, she and I can’t fail. But on the other hand…

Tilda said, “Do you know what’s not in your telephone book? An up-time tailor shop. In your world, ready-to-wear wiped the tailors out.”

Stephanie paused a second, then shrugged. “I never noticed before, but you’re right. Oh well, too bad for the tailors. But you and I, making ready-to-wear—will this happen, or not?”

Tilda Gundlachin verheiraten Bruckner—a tailor’s daughter and a tailor’s widow—after a long silence said—

“Yes, let’s do this.”

****

Tilda and Stephanie formed a partnership to make a ready-to-wear women’s-clothing company, Up & Down Clothing.

They raised money by raffling off Stephanie’s denim. Five lucky winners won a chance to have “authentic” blue jeans (each with zipper and copper rivets) that were tailor-made for him or her.

By the day of the drawing, Stephanie had sold a ridiculous number of raffle tickets. During the month that tickets were on sale, it became normal for someone from the Abrabanel Bank to buy twenty tickets on behalf of some Adel, then an hour later, someone from the Bank of Grantville to buy thirty tickets for someone else.

With one week still to go, Stephanie joked that she’d need a wine vat to hold all the tickets when she did the drawing.

No up-timer won the drawing. A greengrocer’s wife (and CoC member) in Magdeburg, an ex-Bavarian coal miner in Grantville, a young Frenchman on his Grand Tour, a Niederadel daughter, and a Hochadel daughter each got new jeans.

Tilda and Stephanie sewed 2-1/2 jeans apiece. All five winners were satisfied with the fit of their new clothing. Afterward, the denim scraps got donated to the Historical Museum.

As the partners walked out of the Museum, Stephanie remarked, “Other than my sons, the denim was my only remaining link to Larry. Now it’s gone. Hurray!”

Tilda only nodded, having no idea what to say.

After the denim-adventure was all over, Tilda and Stephanie started to make skorts. Lots and lots of skorts.

When they were done, they had blue-gingham skorts and green-gingham skorts in girl’s sizes, and in women’s sizes from young junior to fuller-sized women’s. Petite sizes were well represented, because down-timer women were short by the standards that Stephanie and Tilda were using; but Stephanie made sure that tall women weren’t overlooked.

Tilda and Stephanie reserved a meeting room at the Higgins Hotel, and announced that the first NTL ready-to-wear clothing would be sold there on Saturday, August 2. That announcement got a lot of publicity—doubly so when Delia Higgins announced that she would put her electric Singer sewing machine on display during the skort sale.

Friday, August 1, Stephanie and Tilda carried boxes and boxes of skorts into the Higgins Hotel meeting room, as carpenters made temporary dressing rooms.

Early Saturday, the meeting room opened its doors, and instantly filled with women and girls. Even tall Frida Löfström came. (Frida was promptly led to a blue-gingham skort that, she soon told the room, fit her perfectly.)

Keeping the customers cheerful all day Saturday were two temporary assistants, Maria and Martina, who took each customer’s measurements and explained to her about the sizing charts. Tilda had been obliged Friday night to teach Martina and Maria the tricks of working a tape measure—neither girl knew much about dressmaking or tailoring—but on Saturday, the two down-timer high school girls were stylish and outgoing. Each girl had rare beauty, so she looked great in her skort. Stephanie had hired well.

By afternoon on Saturday, Tilda noticed, women were shopping in packs. Some of those afternoon customers were morning customers who had left and then had returned with girlfriends.

Whenever Tilda glanced over at Delia Higgins, she was beaming like a proud grandmother.

Late on Saturday, when finally Hotel Security moved the last shopper out of the meeting room, only three skorts remained unsold (and those were in oddball sizes).

That’s when Tilda Gundlach quit worrying about making payments on her Higgins.

THE END

My 1632verse Story: TORTURED SOULS

© 2009 Thomas H. Richardson—all rights reserved
Reprinted by permission of Eric Flint

The two photoshoppings were done by me.

Tortured Souls

Apartment of Geri Kinney, near the university
Jena, SoTF
Monday afternoon, May 15, 1634

Geri Kinney spun the knob on her keyless deadbolt. “Momentchen, ich komme,” she said loudly. But her open door revealed no black-toothed, middle-aged German man and no awestruck university student. “Hi, Jimmy. Come in.”

After Geri shut the door, James Alec Wild grinned and pulled out his wallet. “Ken Miller says we’ll have food cans in under three years.” He pulled two twenties out of his wallet. “So in three years, I can get a discount.”

Geri took the twenties, and moved to the other room to hide them. She called back, “I haven’t taken canned food in two years. And you’re already getting a discount.”

“Yeah?” Jimmy said.

Geri couldn’t put the money into her Velcro-tabbed pouch with Jimmy here; he’d recognize the “ripping” sound. So instead, she jammed the money under her pillow. Meanwhile, she called back, “The Germans, I charge them more.”

“No shit?” she heard.

“Yeah, and I take bills or guilders or florins. But the college boys, I’ll do them for cheaper, if it’s green paper.”

“Cheaper than forty?”

By now, Jimmy was sitting in her overstuffed chair, with his pants down around his ankles. Geri walked up to him and said, “Everyone but you pays more than forty. That’s all you need to know.”

Then Geri knelt, and gave him what he’d paid for.

****

As Jimmy was zipping up his pants and fastening his belt, he said, “I just came from seeing Linda and the boys. And shit, looks like Linda and her new kraut husband are getting along.”

Geri said, “Is that good for you, or bad for you? Your ex-wife—”

“You ever think about marriage?”

Geri let the smirk show. “All the time. I’d starve if not for married men.”

He frowned. “I didn’t ask this so you could make a joke.”

“Yeah? Marriage is a joke. Wifey’s supposed to stay all faithful and saintly, but ‘boys will be boys’ if Hubby steps out? Please.”

“I’m just saying, if you stay in this life, sooner or later you’ll get messed-up by some guy.”

“Well, I have your gun. And I have those moves you and Dad showed me. I’ll be okay.”

“But if you got married—”

“What man is going to bring home a whore to meet Mutti and Vatti?”

“Haven’t you heard? Us up-timers, we’re all rich. And we all do wizard shit.”

“Yeah? Abracadabra. Guess what, nothing happened. And I’m not rich either.”

“Well, I think you’re hot. You’re prettier than Linda, and God knows you’re better in bed.”

Geri wasn’t bantering anymore. “If you’re going to bullshit me, if you’re trying to sweet-talk me, maybe you should leave now.”

What? Bullshitting, why would you think that?”

“Because if I’m so goddamn pretty, if I’m so wonderful at sex, then why’d Philip Garrett honkytonk on me when I was fifteen and giving him the world?”

“Goddamn, I try to pay you a compliment, Geri, and you go all soap opera on me!” He was quiet for several seconds, then said, “There’s something I’m trying to ask you, but you won’t let me.”

“A whore and an ex-con, married? It’s divorce court waiting to happen.”

“Not so. Sometimes they work out. As for the ‘ex-con’ thing, I was younger. And the guy, he was asking for it. It wasn’t all my fault.”

“It never is. You and my daddy should form a club.”

Jimmy took half a step closer. “You calling me a liar?”

If Jimmy hadn’t acted like an asshole right then, Geri would have apologized for hurting his feelings—maybe even on her knees. Instead, she glared at him. “If I say ‘Yes, you’re a liar,’ you gonna beat me up?”

“I can’t believe I’m taking shit from a whore.”

“The whores of the world are kept in business by all the jerks of the world.”

“To hell with you, Geri. You know, back in your Goth days, you looked like a black-and-white clown.”

Geri went to the front door and jerked it open. “You need to leave. Now.”

Jimmy didn’t move. Instead, he said, “For a Grantville girl doing what you’re doing, you sure are full of yourself!”

“Get the hell out!” When he didn’t move, she turned toward the bedroom and said, “If you’re still here when I come back, I’ll blast you where you stand.”

“Like I want to stay here.” He walked to the door, then headed down the stairs. “Skanky slut whore!” he yelled, loud enough for the whole town to hear.

Geri flew to the top of the stairs and screamed, “You just doubled your price, you asshole. No more forty dollars for you—if I even let you through my door. You hear me, you jackass?”

Slamming the door made a nice boom. It almost made her feel better.

Soon after, her door got pounded on. “I said get out, Jimmy.” She yanked the door open.

Then she gasped, embarrassed. “Ach, es tut mir leid. Bitte, bitte, kommen Sie ein!

****

Pieter Freihofer’s house
Jena, SoTF
Tuesday, May 16, 1634; before dawn

“Your Honor, Your Honor, please wake up.”

“What’s wrong, Ilse?” Pieter Freihofer asked, squinting at his cook in the dim light.

“The Town Council, some are here. They wish to speak with you.”

He sat up, though his body begged for more sleep. “Tell them it will take me time to get dressed.”

When Pieter stepped into his parlor, waiting for him were indeed some councilmen, plus Karl Strom, the young assistant dean of the university law school. Pieter’s five visitors looked like they’d been awake all night.

“Gentlemen, what’s going on?” Pieter asked.

Stadtrat Heyder said, “An up-timer woman, Geri Kinney, was murdered yesterday afternoon. Here in Jena.”

“Politically, that is awkward.”

“It’s a mess, is what it is,” said Stadtrat Krausold. “The likely murderer is an up-timer man.”

“And you’re here for me to advise you? I think Strom here is better suited. He knows up-timer law better than I, and he’s even talked to up-time women at the medical school.”

Stadtrat Teuscher spoke up. “Advise us? No. We’re asking you to accept the post of Special Investigator-Prosecutor for this murder.”

“Well, certainly I did a lot of that, until recently,” Pieter said. Before Jena’s new law, passed less than a year earlier, judges (and only judges) questioned witnesses, arrested suspects, questioned suspects, and tried and sentenced those suspects. Pieter added, “But under our new laws, ‘police’ do crime investigation.”

“Give this investigation to the police?” said Stadtrat Wex. “Those jumped-up ex-watchmen? The ones who aren’t stupid, lazy, drunk, or corrupt are all CoC, and those people think most up-timers are saints.”

“So why me?” Pieter asked. “Why not Schiffer or . . . ?” Pieter stopped speaking when he realized that his five visitors were looking embarrassed.

Assistant Dean Strom said, “The problem is judicial torture. The Americans hate it—fiercely and implacably.”

“Then how do Americans convict people of crime? Witnesses are often mistaken, and often sworn statements are lies.”

Strom answered, “The Americans have—or they did have, at least—many up-time tricks for discovering reliable evidence. If one of us here raped your cook, for instance, the Americans up-time would know who.”

“Wow,” said Stadtrat Teuscher.

“As a result,” said Strom, “the Americans don’t need confessions to convict criminals, and they think judges who torture to extract confessions are savages.”

Pieter sighed. “Then all of us judges except Fassbinder, we’re all tainted, so far as Americans go. You’re back to your police.”

Strom shook his head. “But we’ve checked records, and you’ve done less judicial torture than the others. You often get suspects to confess during the pre-torture conference.”

Pieter said, “It’s no big secret, how to do it. Most people fear the torture, and their consciences bother them anyway. If I’m a good listener, they’ll confess beforehand. Now, the Landschädlichen “—criminal class—”will not willingly confess except under torture, and sometimes lie even then. But because they all think themselves more clever than I, they can be tricked into confessing.”

“Tricked how?” asked Stadtrat Wex.

Pieter smiled in mockery. “There is the truth I tell God, and the ‘truth’ I tell a suspect. But once they confess, does it matter what I said? Confessio est regina probationum, confession is the queen of evidence.”

Confessio est regina probationum—water torture

Stadtrat Krausold said, “You prove again, you’re our best man. What is your answer?”

Pieter said, “I will do this. I’ll need to reassign my case load, though.”

The five visitors looked relieved. Strom pulled a slip of paper from his sleeve. “You want to talk to this young man. He is one of my law students and, so far as I know, he is the only good witness you have to the crime.”

Pieter took the piece of paper. “‘Werner Brecht.’ I will speak to him today.”

Pieter then added, “But first I must see the deceased.”

****

Near the apartment of Geri Kinney
Early morning, Tuesday

Pieter was a little surprised by the policeman who was actually guarding the up-timer’s door, rather than drinking beer in a tavern. But what really surprised him was the presence of an up-time bicycle, a large green knapsack, and an up-time red-haired woman in her thirties, all three of which leaned against the hallway’s opposite wall.

Much about up-timers puzzled Pieter, and now this woman’s clothing puzzled him. He knew that up-timers could dye clothing bright colors; and that up-time, they could buy already-made clothing that fit as well as any clothing made by tailor or seamstress. Yet the up-timer woman’s pants and top were both loose and baggy, and both were the same dull-green color.

When Pieter had entered the hallway, she’d glanced at him. She kept watching him as he turned to speak to the policeman. Pieter then showed the policemen his commission from the Town Council. As the policeman was opening the door, and Pieter was rolling the paper back up, then retying the ribbon the woman spoke, “Mein Herr?

Pieter turned around. “Yes?”

“Are you here to investigate the murder of Geri Kinney?” the woman asked. Her eyes were puffy and red, perhaps from lack of sleep.

“Yes. I am Judge Pieter Freihofer. How may I help you?”

“My name is Mary Patricia Flanagan, and I’m one of the Leahy group who’s teaching at the medical school. I want to help in your investigation.” Flanagan stood straight, and looked at Pieter squarely. She reminded him of a cavalry captain Pieter had known in younger days. The up-time pistol that was holstered at her hip strengthened this martial impression.

Pieter asked her, “How can you help?”

“Up-time medicine can determine facts about the person’s death, and what happened just before. I know those tests. In addition, Elizabeth Pitre, who’s a friend of mine, has been trained in forensic investigation, and she’s sent me a step-by-step guide to what to do.”

Pieter had no idea whether this Flanagan woman could help him. He likewise had no idea whether whatever judge eventually tried this case would let her testify. But he understood the politics: Grantville would accept the trial and execution of an up-timer, if it was based on up-time evidence. “Follow me,” he said.

With a wave, Mary Pat declined Pieter’s not-yet-spoken offer to carry the knapsack for her; but she clearly was struggling to get it through the door. Once in the room, she shut the door, walked to the corner farthest from the dead woman, set the knapsack down, and dumped the contents on the floor. She unholstered her pistol, did something to it with her thumb, then laid it on the floor as well. She spent a minute organizing the things she’d poured out of her bag.

Pieter didn’t recognize many of the things lying at her feet. But the big rectangular bag with handgrips on the long sides, this he understood. The bag was black, and made of a strange material, but very poor German people buried their kin in something similar to it.

At the end of the room was another door, going to Kinney’s bedroom, Pieter presumed. That door had a round brass bulb with a zigzag slot where the door lever and keyhole should be. Geri Kinney lay dead near that door.

Pieter knew the dead woman had to be Miss Kinney because the corpse had brunette hair cut in an up-time style. The corpse’s light-purple skirt, which was hemmed above the knees, was also a hint. The corpse was laying on its back, its toes about three feet from the bedroom door. The body was in full rigor, with the wrists bent and the fingers making their ghastly curl. Pieter saw pale-yellow fly eggs that coated the corpse’s lips and staring eyes and filled the dead woman’s nostrils. Flies crawled on the pale face.

A few feet from Kinney’s head was a two-foot length of twine. Kinney had a red line of matching width around her neck—a line that was dotted with fly eggs and visited by more crawling flies.

Mary Pat asked, “Do you have any suspects yet?”

Pieter said, “I’m not allowed to discuss that.”

Flanagan frowned, then shrugged.

****

A man’s voice loudly said, “I just want to put this on her table. I won’t bother anything!”

Pieter went to the hallway door and opened it. The policeman’s bulk was partly blocking his view, but facing him was a young man who wore the robes of a law student. The young man held a folded piece of paper in his hand.

Pieter tapped the policeman on the shoulder, then stepped forward. He said, “I am Judge Pieter Freihofer, and I am investigating this murder. Who are you, and what is your business here?”

“Your Honor, I am Rolf Krebs, a law student at the university. I also am . . . a friend of Miss Kinney.” Krebs was craning his neck to see through the open door.

Pieter glanced back; Kinney’s corpse and Mary Patricia Flanagan were plainly visible to young Krebs. Flanagan now gripped her pistol, but it was pointed at the ceiling. Turning back to the law student, Pieter held out his hand and said, “Do you have something for my investigation?”

Krebs blushed. “No, this isn’t official. It’s, ahem, personal. It’s for her family.”

Pieter kept his hand out. Blushing even redder, Krebs handed over the paper.

Pieter unfolded it. He saw a pen-and-ink drawing of a rose laying on a table, next to a burning candle. The drawing was detailed, and had clearly taken much time to make.

Pieter said, “I will ensure that her family gets this.” He turned to go back into the room.

“Your Honor?”

Pieter turned back toward the law student.

Krebs said, “You’re lucky to have an up-timer working for you. The murderer, whoever he is, has cause to worry.”

****

When Pieter’s attention returned to Flanagan, she was in the corner, exchanging her pistol for a pen, a paper with blue lines forming squares all over it, a device that clamped that paper to a flat board, and a strange device that extended a metal ribbon with ruler-markings on the ribbon. She began to make a map of the room.

When Flanagan was through locating all the furniture on her map, she then used her ruler-ribbon and some sketching to map the location of Kinney’s corpse and the twine.

Then Flanagan stood and looked around the room, checking things against her map. She nodded, signed the map, and handed it to Pieter.

Pieter was puzzled anew. In all this time, Flanagan had not done anything more than glance at Kinney’s corpse.

Flanagan went back to her pile and exchanged the ruler-ribbon and paper-clamping board for some printed papers, a strange device that looked like a giant silver nail (with a clock where the nail-head should be), and a pair of scissors. Flanagan laid these down on the floor by Kinney’s body, then picked up the silver nail, gazed at its “clock,” and wrote something at the top of the first printed page.

At last she knelt over Kinney’s corpse. More flies were crawling on the body. Flanagan was pulling away clothing from the dead woman to expose her abdomen. Then she eyed Pieter and said, “This isn’t sacrilege.”

Pieter wondered, “Sacrilege”? What is she—

Flanagan took the silver nail and stabbed the corpse’s exposed flesh. Pieter gasped in shock, and almost dived forward to stop this corpse-mutilation. But he caught himself and merely watched.

Flanagan was now staring at her up-time watch. After a time, she shifted her look to the silver nail’s clock, then consulted her papers, and glanced again at her watch.

“Geri Kinney died between fourteen and sixteen hours ago,” Flanagan announced. “Between four and six in the afternoon, yesterday.”

Pieter looked at her sharply. “Did someone in Jena tell you that?”

“No,” Flanagan said, and tapped her printed papers. “Geri’s liver temperature told me that.”

Flanagan then picked up her scissors. By well-planned cutting of Kinney’s clothing, Flanagan was able to remove the clothing without moving the body at all. Pieter had to keep reminding himself, This isn’t sacrilege. This isn’t desecration.

Flanagan went back to her pile and exchanged the scissors and instructions for the paper-clamper board and a new sheet of blue-lined paper. She also picked up a strange box with a curved mirror in front. She grabbed something on the side of the box and made quick circular motions with her hand, while the box purred like a cat. After a minute of this, she stopped and touched something on top of the box. Then something in the middle of the curved mirror shone brightly. The box was a lantern, but one that didn’t need oil and didn’t smoke.

Within seconds, it was obvious to Pieter that Flanagan planned to map Kinney’s corpse, just as she’d earlier mapped the room.

As the up-timer was training her up-time lantern’s beam over every bit of the corpse’s skin, Pieter asked, “What are you looking for?”

Flanagan said, “Surprises, basically. A stab wound would suggest that she actually died of stabbing, and the strangulation was done postmortem to fool you. I’m looking for bruises. They show up after death, and will say if her murderer hit her. Of course, broken bones say the same thing.”

A few minutes later, Flanagan put her lantern down and said, “I’m ready to turn her over.”

“Did you find anything?”

The up-timer woman looked puzzled. “There’s no stabbing so far, which confirms strangulation. No broken bones—except for the hyoid bone, of course. No surprises so far. But I expected bruises on her wrists or face, to show that she struggled. Nothing. And look around the room—there’s no furniture knocked over, nothing seems out of place. It’s like she let the guy walk right up to her and strangle her!”

Flanagan rolled Kinney’s corpse over. As Pieter expected, the body was statue-rigid. If Kinney’s body had been unlifelike pale before, now much of what he saw was a dark red. The heels, calves, buttocks, elbows, and shoulders all were purple.

Pieter commented, “She wasn’t moved. This is where she died.”

“Look at that,” Flanagan said, pointing. “The marks made by the twine don’t go to the back of the neck. Instead, the skin on the back of the neck, between the twine marks, is darker. I think it’s bruised.”

Pieter realized what that meant: “She was strangled from behind.” Then he thought about how the body had laid when they’d found it. “She turned her back on him, and let him get between her and the only door out of her apartment.”

Flanagan nodded. “She trusted him. Then he strangled her.”

As before, Flanagan and her lantern examined every bit of Kinney’s skin; Flanagan even pulled Kinney’s hair aside and checked the base of her skull for a stab wound.

A few minutes later, Flanagan rolled Kinney’s corpse onto its back. “I can’t check for bruises back there, but I saw no stab wounds, and no broken bones. No surprises.”

Flanagan was marking her “corpse map” when Pieter saw her suddenly startle. She grabbed the lantern, shoved it at Pieter, and said, “Can you hold this? Shine it on her fingers!”

And while Pieter watched, she waved away two flies that had been half-hidden under the fingernails of the body’s right hand. “Gloria in excelsis Deo!” she exclaimed. Then she added in German, “Blood under her fingernails. This is wonderful.”

Nothing that brings flies can be “wonderful,” Pieter thought.

Flanagan leaped across the floor to her pile in the corner, then hurried back. Now she was holding a tan-colored bag that had writing on it, and a roll of silver ribbon. But Pieter discovered, when he touched it, that the underside of the silver ribbon was strongly sticky. Flanagan pulled the bag over Kinney’s right hand, then used the sticky silver ribbon to close-off the end of the bag against Kinney’s right arm. “The plan is to cover her hand so that no more flies can get to it.”

“But why?”

Flanagan’s smile was bloodthirsty. “She might have scratched her killer. And if so, we maybe can tell you something about him. I hope so, in any case.”

Flanagan handed her corpse-map to Pieter, then opened the black bag. “Will you help me put her in the body bag?” she asked Pieter.

Normally, Pieter would have given this task to an assistant. He hated handling corpses. But he refused to look squeamish to this up-timer woman. “Yes, I will help you.”

It had been twenty years since Pieter had touched a corpse who wasn’t family. Pieter discovered that his age and wisdom hadn’t made this task easier.

The last thing that Flanagan did was to get a pair of tweezers, pick up another sack that had writing on it, pick up the twine with the tweezers, drop it into the sack and seal it with a green ring that could be stretched and twisted.

She looked at Pieter and sighed. “I’d hoped to take the murderer’s Fingerabdrucke. But I can’t get useful Fingerabdrucke from twine.” So saying, Flanagan tucked the sacked twine into the black corpse-bag.

Pieter asked, “Is that an up-time word? I don’t know what you mean by `finger marks.'”

Flanagan pointed to the fingertips of her left hand. “See these lines of skin? Mine are unique, yours are unique, every person on earth has a unique Fingerabdruck.”

“So what do you use them for? Divination, like tea leaves?”

She paused for several seconds, as if trying to decide something; then she said, “I was hoping there would have been a fingerprint of the murderer that was visible to the naked eye—a bloody fingerprint on a drinking glass or a knife blade. But, our bad luck, there’s nothing like that in the room. Still, let me show you what I’m talking about.”

From her pile of mysteries, Flanagan brought forth a sheet of snow-white up-time paper, a tiny jar, and a tiny bowl that was so shallow that it was almost flat. Flanagan tore the white paper into two pieces, then opened the jar and poured into the bowl a gray powder that was unnaturally fine. She said, “These are graphite particles—think of it as artificial charcoal. Pretend it’s blood. Now, please rub one of your fingertips around in the dust; get it shiny gray.” After Pieter did that, Flanagan told him, “Now, mash your fingertip against one of the pieces of paper, then lift your finger straight up.”

When Pieter did that, his fingerprint was clearly visible on the half-sheet of paper.

From her pile of mysterious items, Nurse Flanagan now picked up what she called “tape,” a sticky ribbon as wide as her wrist, that was transparent like glass. By using the knife built into the tape dispenser, Flanagan was able to get herself a square of tape without needing to touch the sticky underside much. She pressed the square of tape down on Pieter’s charcoal-gray fingerprint, peeled the tape loose—and the fingerprint came with it. Now Flanagan pressed the tape, with its captured fingerprint, against the other piece of paper. “Look at that,” she said. “You left a bloody fingerprint, and now I have an accurate paper record of it.”

“Criminals in Jena should quake in fear with you here, Nurse Flanagan.”

She shook her head. “I’m not trained in this and I’ve never done this before. So I didn’t even try to capture any invisible fingerprints, because I know I can’t.”

Invisible fingerprints?”

She nodded. “Whenever you touch a smooth surface, you leave fingerprints.” Pointing to her up-time lantern, she said, “My fingerprints are on this, just as yours are on the oil lantern.”

Pieter picked up the lantern and examined it closely. “I don’t see them.”

“You can’t, but they’re there. I think my friend Elizabeth could make them show up,” Flanagan said casually, “but she says that’s a tricky job to do right, and she’s got training. Me, the amateur? I’d either destroy evidence or waste time.”

Flanagan looked at her watch, walked over to the body bag, and closed it. After that, she started to refill her knapsack. Pieter walked over and gestured to the up-time things still on the floor, the knapsack, and the filled black bag. “Whose idea was this? Whose idea to do all this?”

Flanagan said, “My idea. This needed doing.” She said it as if that explained everything.

Soon Flanagan put everything back in her knapsack except for a small, odd-shaped thing; she picked up the oddity and held it in her hand. She eyed Pieter and said formally, “I am employed at the University of Jena Medical School. I ask for temporary custody of Geri Kinney’s remains so that an autopsy can be performed.”

“The woman is murdered, and you want to make her insides be entertainment for medical students?”

“It would be a murder-investigation autopsy, not a teaching autopsy. They would do medical tests that I cannot do here. They would again examine the outside of her body, and confirm my notes. They would test the blood under her fingernails. They would examine her vagina for bruising, which means nonconsensual sex. And yes, they . . . ahem . . . they might cut her open. They might look inside her.”

“And their doing these things would help my investigation?” Pieter asked.

“Most definitely.”

“Then I consent. Inform me when the family can have the body for burial.”

The oddity Flanagan was holding turned out to be a hand-held radio. “On my way with the body.” She asked Pieter, “Will you help me carry the body outside?”

Of course Pieter agreed. Did he want up-timers snickering at him?

As he and Flanagan were carrying the body down the outside steps, she remarked, “Both the medical students and the law students have asked if we would do the autopsy in the operating theater, but that’s the wrong place. It would be a circus.”

A minute later, Nurse Flanagan, Pieter, and the black bag were at the street, waiting for a horse-drawn cart to come from the medical school. Nurse Flanagan turned to Pieter and said, “If you find a visible fingerprint in Geri’s apartment, messenger me immediately. Even if you’re sure the fingerprint is Geri’s, I’ll come back here with paper and tape and capture it. With one good fingerprint in the right place, and help from the angels, we can blow this case wide open.”

****

Law library, University of Jena
Later that morning

The law-school assistant dean, Karl Strom, had told Pieter that Werner Brecht was a “good witness” to Kinney’s murder. Herr Strom had spoken less than truth, Pieter realized.

“I didn’t actually see the murder,” Brecht admitted.

“What did you see?” Pieter asked.

“I was walking back to my apartment house, when I heard Miss Kinney and a man shouting. In English. They both were angry.”

“Do you speak English? Do you know what they were saying?”

“I speak some English, and read it better than I speak it. But they were using many words that aren’t in West Virginia law books.”

“Too much to hope for,” Pieter said. “Continue your tale.”

“To go into my apartment house, I had to walk around the up-timer’s truck. About an hour after the up-timers were screaming, I was walking past Miss Kinney’s apartment when I noticed her door was open. She never leaves it open. I went in to check on her, and found her on the floor. She had been strangled.”

“You reported her murder at 5:47 p.m. What time do you think you discovered her body, and what time were the up-timers shouting at each other?”

“It didn’t take me long to find a policeman, only about fifteen minutes after I found her. So that’s around five-thirty. The shouting was about an hour before that—say, four-thirty.”

“About an hour before? You’re sure about that—not less time, not more?”

“Your Honor, what’s the big idea? Are you saying I’m stupid? Or scatterbrained, or lying?”

Pieter smiled to soothe the youth, explaining, “She died after the argument, so I must be clear when that is.”

“Of course, sure,” Brecht said. “And yes, I’m certain about the time.”

Pieter wrote all that down, then asked, “After you found the body, tell me exactly: What did you do?”

“After I threw my trash away—that’s why I was walking in front of Miss Kinney’s apartment—I came back to my apartment and wrote down everything I could remember about the truck the up-time man was driving. Then I found a policeman and told him about the murder.”

“Let me see what you wrote down,” Pieter said.

Brecht pulled out a paper from his sleeve. On it he had written:

white Truck

on left Door: MALLERS HARD_ _ _ _

tall Man, his Age in thirties? Pale blue Eyes. Walks with a Limp.

Pieter pointed to the bottom of the writing. “Who is this man?”

“That is the man who was with her yesterday.”

Pieter looked at Brecht sharply. “You just told me you didn’t see the murder, or the man she was arguing with.”

Brecht shrugged. “I didn’t. But this man I’ve described, he’s come to visit Miss Kinney several times. I’ve never seen her with any other up-timer.”

“So he’s her betrothed, perhaps?” Pieter asked.

Brecht shook his head. “Um, Your Honor, did nobody tell you, um, about her? About Miss Kinney?”

“Tell me what?”

“Miss Kinney was a—she was a sister of Rahab, Your Honor.”

Pieter stared open-mouthed at the young man. “An up-timer, a prostitute? As rich and sorcerous as they all are?”

“Yes, Your Honor. She entertained men.”

“And how much did she charge, this up-timer prostitute?”

Werner quoted two prices, and Pieter nearly choked. Then Werner added in a matter-of-fact tone, “Of course, more time cost more money.”

“And she didn’t starve? She got men, at those prices?”

“Oh yes, Your Honor. Several of my friends at the law school visit her regularly—visited her regularly. My friend Rolf once stood in her apartment and read her a bawdy poem in Latin.” Brecht lowered his voice and added, “Of course, being an up-timer, she couldn’t understand it.”

Pieter finished writing in the case’s Akte (dossier). Now he looked at Brecht. “As soon as I can arrange it, you and I will go to Grantville. I need to find the truck and the up-timer you saw.”

Brecht nodded. Then he said, “Your Honor, if it’s all right with you, Rolf Krebs will wish to come too. Partly because he’s interested in up-time law.”

“The same Rolf Krebs who wrote a poem for Miss Kinney?”

“Indeed, Your Honor.”

“Very well. But he’ll have to pay his own way.”

Brecht shrugged. “For Rolf, that won’t be a problem.”

****

Jena Courthouse
An hour and a half later

Pieter had met with Judge Schiffer, to transfer one of Pieter’s two active cases to him; and then had dumped his other case in Judge Fassbinder’s lap. Now Pieter returned to “his” empty courtroom, and through the door into his office, in order to sign whatever paperwork his clerks had waiting for him. After doing that, Pieter planned to hit the streets—he had an English-language translator to recruit and a murder to solve.

But waiting in his judicial chamber was a young woman. She was in her late twenties, with straight brunette hair. Perhaps she was unmarried because her face was plain, and she was as thin as an up-timer, although her rich clothing told Pieter that she could certainly afford to eat. She had intelligent eyes. She sat by the room’s second door—the one that led to the clerks’ office—and Pieter wouldn’t have been surprised if there were two or three big guards standing just outside that door.

“Can I help you?”

The woman leaped up and gave a well-practiced curtsy. “Your Honor, I am Anna Maria von Schurmann, from Utrecht. I have a letter of introduction from Erdmann von Regenberg in Pomerania.” From a slit in her skirt, she pulled out a wax-sealed, folded piece of paper. “Herr von Regenberg knows you?”

“In a way. His young son and I once had business together,” Pieter said. He managed to keep irony out of his voice.

As Pieter took the paper that Anna Maria was holding out to him, he said, “You have a German name, and yet you come from a Dutch city attacked by the Spanish. Which likely makes you a war refugee, yet you don’t look or act like a war refugee.” He raised an eyebrow.

“My father was German, but I have been raised in Utrecht since I was a small girl. Some months ago, my mother and aunts decided I should go on a grand tour. They decided this about the time the Spanish came to Utrecht,” Anna Maria said, smiling at her own joke.

“A grand tour? A good idea,” Pieter said, smiling at the joke himself. Anna Maria was about ten years too old, and the wrong sex, to really be going on a grand tour. ButWe’re sending you all over Europe to see the sights sounds a whole lot better than We’re sending you out of town before Spanish soldiers ravage you or disease kills you.

Anna Maria continued, “So after visiting interesting places elsewhere in Europe, here I am in Jena. And now I wish to visit Grantville.”

“Ah, yes, Grantville,” Pieter said. Then he broke the wax seal and began to read.

A minute later, Pieter said, “Herr von Regenberg writes that you draw, you paint, you speak many languages, and you are ‘curious about everything.’ All these will help you in Grantville.”

“Oh?”

“The best minds in Europe, even brilliant children, are flocking to Grantville. Can you speak English?”

In reply, she spoke a sentence he could not understand, in an English accent.

He said, “The up-timers insist that their English is very different than the speech of England now. You will have an adventure, I bet, learning to talk with them!”

Anna Maria shrugged. Then her shoulders tensed and she asked, “So will you write me a letter of introduction to any up-timers, please?”

“There’s no need for a letter as such. The up-timers hate being formal; a scribbled note will work. That is, if I can’t give you a personal introduction.”

She blinked. “You would do that for me, go with me to Grantville and make introductions? Grantville is a day’s coach-ride from here.”

He laughed. “First of all, the up-timers have set up a train“—Anna Maria looked puzzled, hearing the unfamiliar word—”that makes the trip to Grantville in only three hours. You can be in Grantville by early afternoon tomorrow, making your own introductions. Or I can walk you over to the medical school right now, and introduce you to the up-timer woman there who’s helping me with my murder investigation.”

Anna Maria choked. “The medical school has an up-timer woman?”

“Two women, actually.”

“What—what do they do there?”

“They teach. They are nurses, which up-time had lower status and less responsibility than did up-time physicians. Still, these nurses know more about medicine than any man in the medical faculty.”

Anna Maria stared, her mouth open. After a time, she said, “My goodness. But how can an up-timer nurse help you with a murder?” Clearly what she meant was Why do you need an up-timer nurse to help you take depositions?

“Come, I’ll walk you to the Medical School while I explain. Then with luck, Nurse Flanagan will be there to further explain what I cannot. What I saw today was amazing.”

****

Five minutes later, the judge, Anna Maria, and her two bodyguards were headed toward the medical school. “. . . And Nurse Flanagan seemed certain that if the murderer had left a bloody fingerprint, he would be in Jena’s prison before the day is out.”

“My goodness,” Anna Maria said, well-bred enough to understate her total shock. Then she changed topics: “I wish not to embarrass myself around the Americans. Is there anything I should never do, around an up-timer?”

The judge said, “Yes. Never talk down to an up-timer, as to a social inferior. Even though any of them will tell you, his bloodline is no better than a peasant’s.”

“Is it because up-timers put on airs? Everyone I’ve talked to, says that everyone who meets an up-timer thinks he or she is Adel. I do not understand this—how can I meet a blacksmith and mistake him for a baron?”

“Equality,” the judge said. “The idea that all men are equal before God. German pastors and priests say it, but the up-timers believe it.”

They had entered the medical school and were walking down a hallway. Anna Maria smelled unusual smells, some awful, some merely odd, and heard a man screaming somewhere in the building. Two young men passed them in the hallway, talking about “bacteria of the colon.” Anna Maria had no idea what “bacteria” were.

Only seconds had passed since the judge had spoken. Now Anna Maria replied, “So is living in Grantville how that—that witch got her unnatural ideas? That peasants are—Ha!—the equals of nobles? She is in Amsterdam this minute, spewing those ridiculous ideas.”

Judge Freihofer had stopped in the hallway, in front of a wooden door. But instead of knocking, he turned to face Anna Maria. He said, “Many things about that woman offend me as much as they offend you. But here’s a warning: Never criticize Gretchen Richter in front of any up-timer. Such as Nurse Flanagan here.”

So saying, Judge Freihofer knocked on the door. A woman’s voice with an unfamiliar accent said, “Kommen Sie ein, bitte.”

He gripped the door lever, but then turned back toward Anna Maria. “Tomorrow morning, three of us will be taking the train to Grantville, in order to investigate this murder. You are welcome to ride with us.”

Less than a minute later, the judge was headed home, and Anna Maria was seated facing a genuine up-timer, Mary Pat Flanagan.

Fifteen minutes after that, a stunned Anna Maria and her bodyguards were headed toward an inn for the night. Anna Maria had much to think about.

****

On the train to Grantville
Wednesday, May 17, 1634; morning

Frau Küster, Pieter’s translator during this trip to Grantville, was about the same early-twenties age as Werner Brecht, Rolf Krebs, and Anna Maria von Schurmann. And right now Küster was showing the excitement of a child. Pieter smiled, recalling his own youth.

“What do you think, Rolf?” Werner Brecht asked. “The speed of this train, is it like a trot or a canter? I say it’s a trot. A fast trot.”

Rolf Krebs replied, “No, it’s a canter.”

“My friend, if this is a canter, you’ve ridden only sickly nags.”

“It’s a slow canter, but it’s a canter,” Krebs insisted.

“Objection: Arguing facts not in evidence. It’s a trot,” Brecht said.

Krebs said, “We need an independent ruling. Frau Küster, what say you?”

She shrugged. “My only experience with horses was my father’s plowhorse. Who tells a plowhorse to trot or canter?”

A smiling Anna Maria laid down her sketchpad. “It’s neither a trot nor a canter, because a horse is not pulling this train, a truck is.”

Pieter was smiling as well. “A truck that is colored a most unhorsely blue, and that growls like a dog.”

Krebs asked Frau Küster, “So you grew up on a farm? You didn’t grow up in Jena?”

She nodded. “Our farm was north of Apolda.”

Brecht asked her, “So why are you in Jena, and not at your home north of Apolda? Or on some other farm?”

The change was remarkable, Pieter thought. Frau Küster had been acting happy and lively since yesterday afternoon, when Pieter had asked her to translate for him in Grantville. But now, after Brecht’s questions, Küster’s smile disappeared and her eyes went dead.

With strained voice and stiff posture, Frau Küster said, “Why am I in Jena, instead of back home? Misfortunes.”

****

A half-hour later, the train was leaving the Rudolstadt station. The youngsters were excited—and to be honest, so was Pieter. Off to the southwest was what looked like a forested mountain range. That had to be where the Ring of Fire was!

Rolf Krebs asked, “So Your Honor, what do you want to see in Grantville?”

Pieter replied, “The police house, to talk to Chief Richards. After all, that’s why we came here.”

“You don’t want to see anything else?”

“Not today. If I am lucky, we’ll all be leaving on the afternoon train, along with an up-time man in shackles.” Pieter nudged the sack at his feet; it clanked.

Krebs then asked, “And what about you, Frau Küster? What would you like to see in Grantville?”

Her eyes glowed. “The original Freedom Arches. And definitely I want to see the high school.”

Pieter said, “Yes. I must admit that, if I had the time, I would love to visit the library there. Imagine, looking up your friends’ names, and finding out if the future remembers them.”

“That too, I suppose,” she said. “But I want to see the place where Jeff Higgins proposed to Gretchen Richter.”

Anna Maria shot Frau Küster a sharp look, then said, “That legendary library, that’s my preference too. As soon as we get to Grantville, I’m headed to the library as fast as I can go.”

Krebs laughed. “Which is very fast, in Grantville.” He turned to Werner Brecht and asked, “And what would you like to see in Grantville, Werner?”

Brecht shrugged. “Not much. I think Grantville is overrated. You?”

Krebs answered, “I wish I could walk around inside the high school for hours and hours, before I visited their library. Imagine, hundreds of up-time girls of marriageable age, all dressed to show their knees! Wonderful.”

Pieter noticed what Krebs clearly wasn’t noticing: that Frau Küster was scowling.

****

Minutes later, Anna Maria pointed out the window and said, “They weren’t kidding!”

The train had been moving west, paralleling the Saale. Now the upriver direction of the Saale changed to southeast, but the train turned due south. After the train turned, the miracle done to the Thuringian landscape was clearly visible from the right side of the train.

To the passengers’ immediate right, a gentle Thuringen hill rose up—and stopped. Beyond it, a tree-covered American hill towered above it.

The train was approaching a line of cliffs, up ahead and to the right, with a gap between them. But whereas cliffs normally were at least a little rough in their surface, these cliffs were shiny-smooth. They reminded Pieter of the side of a marble baptismal font, or the face of a granite headstone.

After several minutes, the train made a half-right turn; the shiny cliffs, and the gap between them, slid to the left. The American cliffs came closer, and now Pieter could see that the cliff faces were striped with different colors of rock, in different widths. As Pieter moved still closer to the cliffs, at last he could see imperfection there: mud smears, soot, rust stains; most of the stone stripes lost their luster when viewed closely. And yet a few other stone stripes, even three years after the Ring of Fire, gleamed. Closer, ever closer Pieter’s eyes came to these scattered, smooth bands of rock, and still they kept the shine of a stonemason’s masterpiece, till they vanished from sight.

The train soon passed between the cliffs, moving through the gap that Pieter had spotted earlier. The America-Thuringia boundary was marked by a wooden sign to the left of the track that read, “Die Ringwand hier.” Beyond the sign was a creek, and beyond the creek was a road that looked to be made of molded tar.

Soon after the train passed the Ring wall, it slowed, then turned sharply right. The gentle hills of Thuringia had allowed the entire train ride from Jena to be traveled in straight lines; but now past the Ring, the land was filled with steep hills. Rather than try to climb those hills, the train made S-turns to stay in the valleys between the hills.

But geography wasn’t the only thing that was new and strange to Pieter.

Everything was different. The trees were different; the plants were different. Dots of yellow told Pieter that safflowers were growing wild here, but everything else was unfamiliar. A bird flew from one tree to another, its color a brilliant red that would make a dyemaster weep. A creature chased its fellow around a tree; both were shaped like squirrels, but they were bigger than any squirrel that Pieter had ever seen, and they were colored gray-and-yellow instead of red.

Anna Maria was sketching like a woman possessed.

****

Not twenty minutes later, at the Grantville train station, Anna Maria and her bodyguards hurried off toward the high school, riding in a genuine up-time “taxi.” Meanwhile, the four Jenaites were leaving the Grantville train station for the police headquarters, riding in their own up-time taxi. Pieter had wanted to take a horse-drawn taxi, it being much cheaper, but Krebs had offered to pay the extra money.

In only a minute, the taxi had stopped in front of the “police station.” Pieter and Krebs paid the driver.

Rolf Krebs looked over at Frau Küster and grinned. “Such a short trip! We didn’t see much of Grantville, did we?” He laughed, and added, “I think I wasted my money.”

****

While Krebs and Frau Küster were talking, Pieter looked around. And listened. And smelled.

The smell was different here. It was springtime, and perfume was in the air, but it was not a perfume Pieter had ever smelled before. But mixed with that perfume were alien smells, not made by either beasts or sweating men.

Pieter heard the clip-clop of a horse, along with the clatter of a wagon. That, at least, was familiar. But when the wagon moved out from behind a shiny-leafed tree, Pieter saw that on the side of the wagon was a sign in English. With a Star of David in a corner of the sign! So much for some things staying the same.

The police station was near a main road, and now moving along that main road was an ear-splitting noise. It had the same artificial sound as a truck or car, and was moving quickly enough to burst the heart of even the fastest horse. But when Pieter turned to look, the source of the racket turned out to be not a truck or car, but rather a bearded man astride a—a thing. A two-wheeled monstrosity that looked like an up-time bicycle’s mean first cousin.

And Jeff Higgins had come to Jena in September 1631, riding on a metal beast such as that? No wonder the university students and refugees had listened to his preaching—who would have dared walk away?

Pieter felt completely overwhelmed by Grantville. One of these up-timers was a murderer, and to catch him, Pieter had to outthink him. But how could Pieter succeed at that, when these people’s thoughts were so alien to him? For the first time in decades, Pieter felt unequal to the task before him.

Still, it was his task, for he had promised the Town Council he’d do it. Pieter might fail, and live out his days knowing that a murderer walked free; or he might suffer humiliation and be removed from this position. But no matter how abject his failure, he would never quit.

Thus resolved anew, Pieter picked up his bag of manacles and fetters, and then the four Jenaites walked toward the police building. Peter’s ears still were ringing from being blasted by the bearded man’s car-bicycle.

****

In the office of Police Chief Preston Richards
Five minutes later

Chief Richards was a trim up-timer man, late thirties, with close-cut hair. Now he was asking a question in English, his eyes moving between Werner Brecht and Frau Küster.

Frau Küster, translating, said, "Chief Richards wants to know if Mr. Brecht remembers the license plate on the white truck he saw."

"No," Werner Brecht said. "Sorry."

Chief Richards shrugged. Then he looked at Pieter and said, "I think I know the man this paper describes."

Chief Richards picked up a telephone, and began talking as if to a person. Küster translated—

"Hello Ken, this is Press, how are you? . . . Great. Listen, I have some people here from Jena about Geri Kinney's murder, is Marlene there? . . . We'll want to talk to her, yes. And James Alec Wild, is he there? . . . I can't tell you, Ken, but we'll have to talk to Wild too. Did he, or did he not, take one of your trucks into Jena, two days ago? . . . So nail him to the floor till we get there. . . . We're rolling in a few, see you soon."

Chief Richards put down the telephone, and walked to a set of tall, metal, gray cabinets. He stopped in front of one cabinet, opened a drawer, plucked something from it, carried it to his desk, and opened it. He beckoned Pieter and Werner Brecht over. "Ist er euer Mann?” he asked.

On one shiny piece of paper were two shades-of-gray pictures of the same man. In one picture, his face was looking straight ahead; the other picture showed him in profile. In neither picture did he seem happy.

Brecht said, “Yes, it’s him, I think. That’s the man I’ve seen going to visit Miss Kinney.”

Krebs came over and eyed the pair of pictures. “He looks familiar. I might have seen him once.”

Pieter said to Chief Richards, “So you know this man? What is his name?”

Richards replied, “His name is James Alec Wild, and he is a convicted criminal. Convicted for assault.”

Frau Küster didn’t know that last term, and had to confer with Chief Richards. A minute later, Pieter had the sense of it: Wild had been tried for beating-up a man.

“Beating someone up was a crime up-time?” Krebs said. “Amazing.”

Wild was tried and convicted up-time? I’ve found the killer, Pieter thought. “You said he was convicted. Why didn’t you carry out the sentence?”

Richards said, “We did. He served all the years of his sentence, they released him from prison, and he came back to Grantville.”

“Why didn’t the up-time judge order him executed? Then Miss Kinney would still be alive.”

Chief Richards gave Pieter a steely look. “That’s not our way. We don’t kill men, except after they kill. We also don’t torture suspects.”

“We stopped doing that,” Pieter countered, “mainly because of you people. Now the Landschädlichen lie to us judges, and laugh in our faces. It makes our work harder, and puts dangerous men on the streets.”

Frau Küster said, “Ahem, Your Honor, most respectfully? Sometimes men weren’t tortured because they were landschädlich but only because they were poor. A poor man who says ‘I didn’t do it’ is never believed.” Frau Küster turned to Chief Richards and said, “If we know who this man in the pictures is, shouldn’t we go talk to him now?”

“Yes,” Chief Richards said in a flat voice, while glaring at Pieter. “Sure. Let’s go.”

Pieter hid his annoyance at Frau Küster with an indulgent smile. “A poor man, innocent and unjustly tortured? I doubt this happened often. The old laws had safeguards.”

****

Outside Miller’s Hardware
Three minutes later

As soon as the police car had stopped moving and had quit making noise, Werner Brecht was out the door and was running toward two white trucks. He walked around the nearer white truck, then the farther, then he yelled, “This is it!”

Everyone rushed over. Brecht was pointing to the door on the truck’s right side. The door had an irregular, bowl-sized indentation, which had green specks in it.

Brecht said, “I remember this. The first time I saw this door, I wondered, ‘Why is it green there?'”

Chief Richards pulled a small book from his pocket, walked behind the truck, wrote something down, then put the book away. “Shall we go talk to everyone? Your Honor, best you leave the shackles in my trunk for now.”

****

Office of Ken Miller
Miller’s Hardware
Two minutes later

Marlene Kinney demanded, “Where is he? Where is this judge who can tell me about Geri’s murder?”

James Wild worked for Ken Miller. But so did Marlene Kinney, mother of Geri—and it was Mrs. Kinney who now came bursting through the door and into Miller’s office. Already there and waiting were Pieter and the other Jenaites, Chief Richards, and Miller. “Jimmy the Wildman” was on site, Miller had assured everyone; but at the moment, Wild was “unloading the Mennonite wagon.”

Pieter said to Mrs. Kinney, “I am Pieter Freihofer. My condolences on your loss. I am doing my best to make sure that justice is done.”

“Such as?”

“An up-timer, Mary Patricia Flanagan, examined your daughter’s body, and took it to the medical school for further examination.”

A nagging little uncertainty made Pieter not mention the blood under the fingernails that had excited Flanagan so much. Why did Miss Kinney turn her back on her killer, after she and Wild screamed at each other?

“Do you know who her killer is?” Mrs. Kinney asked Pieter.

At that moment, Werner Brecht’s chair creaked as Pieter saw Brecht lean forward. Rolf Kreb’s foot-wagging stopped.

Pieter replied, “I am not free to say. But there is someone here who might have answers for me.”

Mrs. Kinney said, “I’m afraid you wasted a trip. Geri didn’t write to me much, she couldn’t telephone me—as if she would!—and my husband Gil is out of town.”

Ken Miller said, “Marlene, they’re here—mainly they came to talk to Jimmy.”

She said, “Jimmy the shit? Why do they—?” Then Mrs. Kinney’s face got angry, and she started yelling in English, using words that Frau Küster was unable to translate.

Chief Richards leaned over and murmured to Pieter, “Jimmy Wild was Geri Kinney’s first customer, I think.”

Mrs. Kinney turned on her employer and yelled something accusatory; Pieter caught the words Jimmy, truck, and Jena. Ken Miller shrugged, and Mrs. Kinney gave him a venomous look.

Then the door opened, and a blue-eyed man limped in. From Chief Richards’s pictures, Pieter recognized the man as James Wild; but Wild’s face looked five or ten years older than in the pictures.

Wild said, “Yeah, Ken, you need something?” His eyes were on his boss; he gave the Jenaites no more than a glance.

Mrs. Kinney rushed forward, with violence obviously on her mind; but Chief Richards grabbed her around the waist from behind. Mrs. Kinney could no longer move, but she could still yell; and again, Frau Küster missed words.

When Mrs. Kinney finally had quieted herself, Brecht said, “Ist er.” He pointed to Wild.

Wild finally took notice of the Jenaites. He looked at Werner Brecht in puzzlement.

Which was not the way Pieter expected a murderer to react, being identified by a witness.

Pieter stood. He said, with Frau Küster translating, “I am Judge Pieter Freihofer, from Jena. I have a commission to investigate the murder of Geri Kinney.” Pieter took out the commission, untied the ribbon, and showed the paper to Wild. Pieter pointed to the words Geri Kinney, and Wild’s face got serious.

But what Wild’s face did not show was fright, anger, or defiance, the usual reactions when a criminal met Pieter, his questioner. Pieter thought, Something is odd here.

Wild, meanwhile, was saying, “I guess you know I was there Monday, huh?”

Pieter turned to Mrs. Kinney—who was yelling and waving her hands around—and said, “Please, I must ask you to be quiet.”

Chief Richards said something in a stern voice, and pointed to the door. Mrs. Kinney shot him a look, closed her mouth, and took her seat.

****

Pieter replied, “Yes, I know you were there Monday. Was that spur of the moment, or planned?”

Wild said, “Planned. Well, I had hardware to deliver in Jena, and I did that, and then I dropped in, unofficial, on Linda and the boys.”

“Linda?”

“My ex-wife.”

“And after you visited your ex-wife and your sons . . . ?”

“Instead of driving to Grantville, I went to Geri’s place.”

Mrs. Kinney muttered something that was probably an insult.

Pieter said, “So what happened during your visit with Miss Kinney?”

Wild said, “I paid her, and then she got busy…”

Or so Frau Küster translated his words. But judging by how red Mrs. Kinney’s face was getting, Wild had said something quite different than those bland words.

Wild continued, “. . . and then we talked, and then somehow the talk turned into an argument, and then I left.”

So far, Wild had been completely cooperative. But Pieter knew that was about to change. Pieter asked, “So what was the argument about?”

Wild frowned and crossed his arms. “Sorry, that’s personal.”

Pieter nodded, and set the question aside. Instead he asked, “What was Geri doing when you left?”

“Yelling at me down the stairs, loud enough to bust an eardrum. Very unladylike. She told me, she might not let me see her again.”

“Hallelujah,” Mrs. Kinney said.

Pieter asked Wild, “By ‘down the stairs,’ you mean the argument took place in the hallway outside Miss Kinney’s apartment?”

“We started arguing and yelling in her apartment. But the screaming ended up in the hallway, yeah.”

“Did anyone see this argument? Did anyone come out into the hallway while you two were yelling, or was already in the hallway?”

“I can’t recall anyone. Nah, I’m pretty sure nobody was there.”

Pieter again asked Wild, “So what was your argument about?”

“Hey, buster, I just told you, I’m not telling you shit. All that stuff is personal, and it doesn’t matter for catching Geri’s killer.”

Again Pieter laid that question aside. “So what time did you get to Miss Kinney’s place, and what time did you leave?”

Wild said, “Hm . . . I got there at four-fifteen exactly, according to the dashboard clock. She finished up in under ten minutes.” Pieter noted Mrs. Kinney fuming, and decided that Frau Küster had cleaned up Wild’s words again. Now Wild gave Mrs. Kinney a challenging look, and spoke again. “Geri did a great job that day. She proved herself master-level in her craft.” The words, as Frau Küster translated them, were as bland as porridge, but Mrs. Kinney looked ready to leap across the room and kill Wild.

He finished up: “And then, five minutes after I zipped up my pants, somehow Geri and I were in the hallway, screaming at each other. I was back in my truck at four-thirty.”

“Four-thirty exactly, or four-thirty about?”

“Exactly. Straight-up four-thirty.”

“And how do you remember that?”

“Because I remember thinking at the time, ‘That was sure a sorry-ass way to spend fifteen minutes. What the hell just happened?'”

“And what did just happen? What was the argument about?”

“Jesus Christ, you are one pushy kraut bastard! I’m not telling you that, got it?”

Rolf Krebs said to Wild, with Frau Küster translating, “I am not a violent man, but we ‘krauts’ are three to your one, up-timer. Show respect.”

Pieter waited to see if a fight would break out. When none did, Pieter said to Wild, “And Miss Kinney was alive when you left?”

“Didn’t I just say that?”

“So what is your relationship with Miss Kinney, beyond the merchant part?”

Wild said, “Well, I first met her in 1996, four years before the Ring fell. I was just out of—I had just come home, and Geri had just started hooking. Geri needed money, and I wasn’t getting much action from Linda, so it worked out.”

“You liar,” said Mrs. Kinney. To Pieter she said, “That year ’96 that he’s trying to gloss over? My daughter was sixteen, and wrecked up from a broken heart.” She said to Wild, “Geri would’ve quit selling herself and gone back to school, if not for you putting bills in her hand.”

“Yeah, sure,” Wild said. “You think I was the only guy with her, down at the swimming hole? I wasn’t. And I never asked her to do any nasty pervert stuff, so cut me slack.”

“Oh, you are a good, good man,” Mrs. Kinney said sarcastically.

The two up-timers glared at each other. In the silence, Frau Küster turned to Pieter and murmured, “Geri Kinney chose this life?”

Pieter looked at Wild and said, “Ahem. To repeat my question, what was your relationship with Miss Kinney, beyond exchanging money for services?”

Wild said, “I liked her. Even though in ’96 she looked like a witch—black clothing, black lipstick, black nail polish, ghost-white makeup. No offense, but if you Germans had gotten hold of her during the first few months after the Ring of Fire, you krauts woulda burned her at the stake soon as you saw her! And yet, she wasn’t scary or freaky in ’96 despite how she looked, she was nice. And“—Wild smirked at Mrs. Kinney—”I think Geri has always liked me back.”

“You’re dreaming, Jimmy,” Mrs. Kinney said.

Pieter said, “I have no more questions.” He saw Wild relax.

****

So what do I know? Pieter asked himself.

The facts were these: Geri Kinney had argued with Wild, had gotten him angry. And Wild was a dangerous man when angry. And then about this same time, Kinney had turned her back on a man, and had been killed. Which meant that either Kinney was a fool for trusting Wild, or Wild was not the killer. The problem was, Pieter had no evidence that Kinney was foolish, and Pieter had no other suspect.

Karl Strom, the law-school assistant dean, had once said something that had flabbergasted Pieter: “The up-timers don’t worry about fugitives.” If someone ran away, the up-time policemen could send messages faster than the fugitive could move, so that the fugitive would run straight into other policemen. Radio-with-pictures told the general public to look for the fugitive. The up-time police even had special glasses that could see a man hiding in a tree at night!

As a result, so Herr Strom had explained to Pieter, up-timers arrested someone only when the police had “probable cause,” which is what the up-timers called sufficient indication. Up-time, even a man strongly suspected of a crime, if the evidence wasn’t yet there, was allowed to leave after questioning.

Oh, to be a judge in such a paradise! Pieter thought. Because in Germany of the seventeenth century, if a man ran, he was gone. As a result, judges in Germany imprisoned suspects as soon as they became suspects, until they were tried or until they were no longer suspects. If a judge thought that a witness might disappear, the judge would imprison the witness as well, pending trial.

So despite Pieter’s new misgivings about Wild’s guilt, Pieter now declared, with Frau Küster translating, “James Wild, a resident of Grantville, I arrest you for the murder of Geri Kinney, a resident of Jena.”

Wild’s face turned white. Mrs. Kinney started screaming at him. Chief Richards rushed over to Wild and put up-time manacles on Wild’s wrists—in the process, blocking the still-yelling Mrs. Kinney from reaching Wild.

Wild yelled, “Marlene, I didn’t kill Geri!

And Pieter wondered whether he’d arrested the wrong man.

****

Pieter and Mrs. Kinney set a time tomorrow when they would meet at Geri’s apartment in Jena. Then Chief Richards took James Wild and Pieter in his car to the police station, Wild in the back seat, Pieter in the front. The other Jenaites were left at Miller’s Hardware for the moment.

At the police station, Chief Richards pressed Wild’s fingers against an ink pad, then pressing his fingers against a white paper that was made for such things. Both up-timers acted like this was familiar. Chief Richards explained to Pieter that any fingerprints found at a crime scene would now be compared to Wild’s fingerprints on these fingerprint cards.

Chief Richards then unlocked a desk drawer, and brought out a box smaller than a woman’s hand. Putting it to his face, he took photos of Wild, again in face-front and profile views.

“If he escapes from your prison, we’ll have pictures of him to show people,” Richards explained.

Chief Richards and Pieter went to the back, to put Wild in lockup till it was time to take him to the train station. Pieter knew well that the prison at Jena was a dark and foul-smelling place; but the Grantville jail had no smell, and was lit as brightly as sunlight. The chief explained that the metal object in the corner of the cell was for bodily wastes.

With Wild put away, the chief glanced at his watch. “I have a little more paperwork to do before you and your prisoner leave, but I can finish that after I bring your people back here.”

Chief Richards and Pieter, in the police car, found Frau Küster in the hardware-store parking lot, quite alone. “Those two boys are still inside,” she laughed. “I’ll go drag them out, but I might need help from the army.”

A minute later, the three young people were approaching the police car. Rolf Krebs was carrying a strangely shaped black box with a metal red flag attached to it. “What is that?” Pieter asked, as Chief Richards opened the police car’s back door.

“A genuine up-time-style mailbox,” Krebs replied, as he, Brecht, and Frau Küster got into the back seat. “I write many letters to a young woman in Magdeburg, and so I need a sturdy mailbox.”

Frau Küster smirked. “Your Honor, do you know what I found these two talking with Mr. Miller about, just now? Strongboxes! Mr. Miller has many pretty wooden yard ornaments, and these two were asking him about strongboxes!”

Brecht replied, “Because Mr. Miller sells the best strongboxes I’ve ever seen.”

“They made even better ones up-time,” Krebs added. “Is it true, Chief Richards, that the up-time strongboxes with spinning wheels on the front, nobody could break into them?”

The chief answered, “Yes and no. Even the best ones can be broken into, but you need to know how, have the right tools, and be patient.”

****

In the office of Chief Richards
Five minutes later

On a desk that was in a corner of the room were several boxes connected by black ropes, along with a palm-sized, round-topped box, which had a gray rope. While sitting at that desk, Chief Richards moved the round-topped box around, and stared at the box that was in front of his face, which showed a changing picture. Two of the boxes on the desk made steady sounds.

Pieter and the youngsters watched all this in fascination.

Chief Richards did something to the round-topped box, and said “Done.” One of the sound-making boxes got louder.

A minute later, that box pushed a piece of paper out. Chief Richards grabbed it and handed it to Pieter, who passed it to Frau Küster. Other than Wild’s full name, which was underneath his two pictures, Pieter couldn’t read it.

Werner Brecht said, “These pictures were made today?”

The chief smiled. “They were made while he was buying a mailbox.”

Krebs started untying his money pouch from his belt. “Chief, I will pay you almost anything you can ask, if you make a picture of the four of us.”

The chief’s smile vanished. “The digital camera and the computer are for police business. I’m not running a tourist business here, kid.”

Pieter said, “Chief, if your price is reasonable, I will pay the same amount, plus postage, for you to mail a picture to me in Jena.”

When Chief Richards still looked rebellious, Pieter leaned down and murmured, “The truth is, I will be telling my nieces and nephews about this day for years to come. And has there ever been a government office in the history of the world that didn’t need more money?”

Fifteen minutes later, Pieter smiled as Frau Küster wrote her name by her face-front row, left-in Rolf Krebs’s picture.

****

In James Alec Wild’s cell
Jena Prison

Thursday, May 18, 1634; early morning

“I did not kill Geri Kinney,” Wild said, as soon as Pieter walked into the cell. “I would never hurt her.”

Pieter knew better than to agree or to disagree with those statements. Instead, he said, “Please remove your shirt.”

As Wild was pulling his shirt over his head, he asked, “Ain’t I entitled to a lawyer?”

Pieter lifted up his lamp to light the right side of Wild’s face. “Certainly you’re entitled. If you wish to hire an attorney, we will let him visit you whenever he wishes.” Pieter was looking for the scratches that Miss Kinney had made in her killer’s skin.

Pieter saw no scratches on Wild’s face. Pieter moved his lamp down near Wild’s neck.

Wild said, “I ain’t talking about hiring a lawyer. I can’t afford that. I’m talking about Jena, or the SoTF, or USE, or somebody pays for my lawyer because I can’t.”

Pieter saw no scratches on Wild’s neck.

Pieter replied, “That’s right, you Americans did that up-time, didn’t you? Well, the answer to your question is no. Jena can’t afford to hire your attorney.”

Pieter walked around Wild, holding the lamp close to Wild’s arms.

Wild had no scratches on his hands, and none on his right arm. Pieter even checked Wild’s left arm. No scratches.

This complicated Pieter’s life. The killer, whoever he was, had to have scratches on him.

Maybe the light isn’t good enough, Pieter thought. He got the jailer to let him out of Wild’s cell, got a second lamp, and brought both lamps back.

With twice as much yellow light on Wild’s skin, Pieter still could see no hint of scratches.

When the jailer answered the pounding of the door the second time, Pieter told him, “Bring fetters here; I wish to take the prisoner outside.”

Minutes later, the jailer and a pike-carrying guardsman returned. Wild’s ankles were shackled, and he, Pieter, and the pikeman went outside.

By sunlight, Pieter saw that Wild had a tattoo of a dragon that covered his entire back and then went over his shoulder and onto his chest, while the dragon’s tail went around his waist. It was impressive, actually. But what Wild had no mark of, no sign of, not even a hint of, were fingernail scratches made by a healthy young woman who had been fighting for her life.

Pieter realized: He is not the killer.

Since Pieter had told Wild that he wouldn’t be given a free attorney, Wild had said nothing. Now Pieter asked him, “Is there nothing else you wish to say to me?”

“Depends,” Wild said. “Did Chief Richards tell you that I . . . ?”

“That you were imprisoned for a violent crime? Yes, I was told.”

“Mount Olive Correctional. Which means, anything I say now, can and will be used to fuck me over.”

****

Outside Geri Kinney’s apartment
Early afternoon

“Tell me again, what you want from me?” Marlene Kinney said.

Mrs. Kinney had met Pieter at the Jena train station, and he had walked her over to Geri Kinney’s apartment building. Pieter had just unlocked the hallway door with Geri’s key then dropped that key into a pouch as he and Mrs. Kinney walked into the apartment. Mrs. Kinney was carrying a large but slim blue box by its blue handle.

As Pieter shut the door, he answered Mrs. Kinney: “Tell me if anything is amiss. Please inform me if you see something you expect not to see, or if you don’t see something you expect.”

“That won’t work, Your Honor.”

“Oh?” Pieter said. He was now lighting the oil lamp that was on the table.

“Do you have family, Your Honor?”

“No. I have no close family.” There was a story behind that, but this was not the time to tell it.

Mrs. Kinney said, “My daughter is twenty-three—was twenty-three. She’s been a stranger to me since she was thirteen, and I haven’t talked to her hardly at all in the last two years.”

Pieter’s heart sank. “Hardly at all?”

“Gilbert and I helped her move to here, in ’32. After that, she didn’t want me to come here. To be truthful, I didn’t push it—Lord knows what I’d find here.”

“So did you talk to her at all in the last two years?”

“Oh, once a month she’d come to Grantville for a hair trim, and usually she’d let me know ahead of time. But sometimes the only way I’d know she’d come and gone was Cora or Velma or Veda saying something snotty.”

“I’m sorry for that.”

Mrs. Kinney sighed. “Enough. I got work to do here.” She took two steps while carrying her blue box, stopped, and looked at Pieter. “Will I know where she died here? Did she bleed?”

Pieter said, “She didn’t bleed. You won’t know unless I tell you.”

Mrs. Kinney shook her head fiercely, and then walked into her daughter’s bedroom. Pieter followed, carrying the oil lamp.

In the bedroom, the wardrobe stood in a corner. At the room’s opposite corner, a small table had a chair on one side of it and a big mirror attached to the other side of it; on the table were two of those box lanterns with rotating handles like Flanagan had used. The bed was clearly up-time.

Mrs. Kinney did something to the box she’d carried in. There were two snap sounds, and the blue box split open on the bed, creating two large but shallow tubs.

Mrs. Kinney walked to the mirror table, picked up one of the up-time lanterns, spent a minute rotating its handle to make it purr, and then made it shine.

She walked over to the wardrobe and opened its doors. She pointed to the inside of one of the open wardrobe doors. “This is what Geri looked like, from age thirteen till late 1631.”

Geri Kinney looks in mirror

The giant color photograph showed three young men and a young woman. All four had black clothing, black hair, night-black lips, night-black fingernails, and snow-white faces. Two men held stringed instruments whose shape could only be described as an unholy parody of a Spanish guitar; each guitar even had a long black tail going down to the floor. Pieter couldn’t tell what the woman was holding to her mouth, but it also had a black tail. The drums, at least, Pieter understood. At the top of the picture was printed the English word Futility—but the two ts had each been replaced with a photograph of a stone cemetery cross.

Stunned, Pieter said, “They look like a witch and three sorcerers.”

“They do, don’t they?” Mrs. Kinney said. “No, they’re musicians.”

Minutes passed. One by one, Mrs. Kinney was removing items of clothing, folding them, and putting them in the suitcase. On the bed a pile of hangers was growing.

Mrs. Kinney reached into the wardrobe and pulled out a long-sleeved wool garment that was pale pink. “I’m surprised Geri brought this here.”

“Why?”

Mrs. Kinney was pulling the garment off the hanger. “Because she hated the color—” Mrs. Kinney looked surprised. “Something’s inside this sweater.”

She finished removing the garment. Revealed was a pouch made of blue-jeans cloth, that hung from the hanger’s horizontal part by two looped straps. Mrs. Kinney pulled on the nearer end of each strap and, with a great ripping sound, it came free.

Seeing Pieter’s reaction, she said, “That’s Velcro. It’s supposed to sound like that.”

“What does Velcro do? Besides make noise.”

“When you touch something with Velcro on it to something else with Velcro on it, the two things stick together. It’s real useful.”

Once the pouch was free of the hanger, she pulled on the front of the pouch, and with another r-r-rip, it opened. She reached a hand in, and pulled out—

—a lot of green USE bills. A minute later, she told Pieter, “There’s five hundred ninety dollars here.”

“What about men who didn’t pay in paper money? There are no coins in that pouch, right?”

She shook it. “You’re right, no coins here.” She stood up from the bed, picked up the up-time lantern, and swung its beam around. “She’d keep the coins in that.”

The light was shining on a large and strange-looking, tan-painted metal box. The front had a painted metal door, and in the middle of the door was a red round thing with numbers and marks on it. “My god,” Mrs. Kinney.

“What? What’s wrong?”

She stepped toward the box. “See the door on the safe? Someone tried to break in.”

Don’t go any closer!” Pieter said. When she froze in place, he asked, “Now please tell me what that box is, and what do you see wrong with it?”

“That’s her safe. The safe that Geri bought in Morgantown in 1999. It’s a, it’s an up-time . . . it’s an up-time strongbox. See that round thing on the front? You spin that around, and if you do it right, you can open the door.”

“But otherwise the door won’t open, no matter what?”

“Yeah. It’s a fire safe, which isn’t as good against thieves, but still, see the door, the top edge and the side edge? The paint’s chipped and scratched. Somebody tried to crowbar his way in.”

In Pieter’s head, church bells were going off. “Mrs. Kinney, you said, ‘up-time strongbox’?”

“Um, yes,” she said, clearly puzzled by his intensity.

Pieter picked up the other up-time lantern, made it purr for a minute, then walked up next to Mrs. Kinney. Sure enough, someone had worked on the safe, but had not popped open the door, or even deformed it.

Then Pieter got an idea. “Put your light on the floor,” he said to Mrs. Kinney, as he squatted down and floored his own light.

The late Geri Kinney had not been a good housekeeper; the floor around the safe was dusty. By the low-angled light from the two lamps was revealed dustless ruts that showed that the safe had been pushed or dragged toward the bedroom door. The light on the dust also showed many copies of a man’s shoeprints surrounding the safe. The footprints were where Pieter would stand if he tried to pick up the safe.

“How heavy is that safe?” Pieter asked.

“A hundred fifty pounds, empty. Gil and Joey had the devil’s time getting it up the stairs.”

Pieter moved the two up-time lamps this way and that way, but always at floor level. The lights revealed that the shoeprints right by the safe were smeared from sliding sideways, or trampled on each other—with one exception.

One shoeprint, two feet away from the safe and near the wall, was perfect—when lit from floor level.

Pieter, taking care to avoid the perfect shoeprint, walked up to the safe. He used his two lights to inspect the safe, hoping for visible fingerprints. No luck.

He looked over at where he knew the perfect shoeprint was. By regular light, it was again invisible. Think like Nurse Flanagan, he told himself. How would Nurse Flanagan capture a shoeprint made out of dust?

Pieter gave Mrs. Kinney her up-time lantern back, and put his own back on the table. As he did so, he thought, Now I have a motive for murder, and only two suspects. But which one did it, Werner or Rolf?

****

Five minutes later the suitcase was much more full, as Mrs. Kinney was muttering something in English as she was folding a dress. Pieter caught the words Geri, Jimmy, and safe. Mrs. Kinney put the folded, bright-red dress in the suitcase, walked over to the wardrobe, and picked up something from the bottom.

What Mrs. Kinney had picked up was a yellowing copy of an English-language newspaper, the Jena World. But as she was carrying it to the bed, things fell out of it.

Mrs. Kinney gathered them up: Six coverless thin books, each showing on the front a color photograph of a slim and barely-dressed young woman, lots of English-language words, and at the top in big letters, the English word COSMOPOLITAN.

“Aha, something else Jimmy missed!”

Pieter said, “What are they?”

Mrs. Kinney sighed. “These are copies of Cosmo, an up-time magazine for young women who, um, are sexually active. Every issue has many advertisements showing beautiful women who are dressed sexy. Two years ago, right after Geri cut off her black hair, she started buying up copies of Cosmo—”

“Why?”

“To show the pictures to seamstresses in Jena, so they’d copy the clothing for her.” Mrs. Kinney looked away. “After all, what says ‘I’m a high-priced up-time whore’ better than dressing like a Cosmo Girl?”

“So are these magazines valuable?”

“Valuable? In ’32, Geri told me she had to spend nearly all the cash she had, just to buy these six copies. Now in ’34, if I sold these magazines, I could feed everyone in this building for a year with the money.”

Mrs. Kinney dropped the Cosmopolitans into the suitcase, closed it and carried it to the bedroom door.

She glanced at the open wardrobe, then said, “I still got more clothes to pack up,” as she walked to the head of the bed. She grabbed a pillow—

—and green-and-black things fluttered to the floor.

While Mrs. Kinney was dumping the pillow out of the pillowcase, Pieter rushed over to pick up the green things. They were two twenty-dollar bills.

“What’s forty dollars doing under her pillow?” Mrs. Kinney asked.

Pieter thought, That’s an excellent question.

“Let’s see if there’s more money around here,” Pieter said.

He looked under the other pillow. Pieter dumped that other pillow out, and looked in its pillowcase. He and Mrs. Kinney shook out the blanket and each of the two sheets. They lifted up the mattress. They pushed the bed away from the wall. Pieter grabbed the other up-time lantern off the mirror table and looked under the bed. Not one more pfennig was found.

Pieter had been thinking. Now he said, “Mrs. Kinney, the material in the money pouch that makes the ripping sound—”

“The Velcro?”

“Would Mr. Wild recognize that sound if he heard it? Would he know that he wasn’t hearing cloth ripping?”

“Sure, any up-timer older than four would know that sound.”

“Hmm,” Pieter said.

Mrs. Kinney whipped her head around and eyed the bed. She asked, “Did you find an up-time gun while you were searching the bed? Under a pillow, on the floor, anywhere at all?”

“No. Was I supposed to?”

Pieter and Mrs. Kinney went through the motions of searching the bed again but—no surprise—didn’t find an up-time gun.

“Geri had a leather holster for the gun,” Mrs. Kinney said. “That’s missing too.”

****

After the stolen handgun and the mysteriously appearing twenty-dollar bills, there were no more unpleasant surprises.

Half an hour after Pieter had discovered the hidden forty dollars, Mrs. Kinney had filled both pillowcases. The pillowcases, as well as the suitcase, were by the hallway door. As Pieter was putting the oil lamp back on the table, he saw Kreb’s pen-and-ink drawing there.

Pieter picked up the drawing and gave it to Mrs. Kinney. He explained, “This was left here by Rolf Krebs, one of the two young men who came to Grantville yesterday.”

She unfolded the drawing and looked at the drawing of the rose and candle; her eyes widened. “Wow. This is so sweet. This Mr. Krebs, was he . . . ?” One of my daughter’s sex customers? was what Mrs. Kinney couldn’t make herself say.

Pieter nodded.

She sighed. “I feel a hundred different emotions right now.” She was silent for a long time, as she looked at the drawing, and as tears ran down her face. At last she said, “Nobody in Grantville was this nice to Geri.”

Pieter thought, Then I hope for your sake that Rolf Krebs isn’t the man who killed her.

Mrs. Kinney turned her wet face toward Pieter. “Fact is, Geri was always a victim. People in Grantville were always acting mean to Geri, because she was different. Why? She seldom did drugs, she just dressed weird! Is that so wrong?”

“Perhaps she was a victim, yet it seems it was her choice to become a prostitute.”

Mrs. Kinney slapped the table. “How dare you? Geri was a victim! She wouldn’t have dropped out of school and become a—become a whore, if not for that boy Philip, who broke her heart and laughed at her! And once she started doing you-know-what, Jimmy Wild was always there with money, to lure her into keeping that life. And then Gil . . .”

Mrs. Kinney had stopped speaking; Pieter prompted, “And then Gil . . . ?”

Mrs. Kinney now was looking at the oil lamp, not at Pieter. “My husband Gil was not a good father to Daphne or Geri.” She saw Pieter’s face and added, “It’s not what you think. Gil isn’t a pervert, he’s just a complete bum of a father. He’s a bully. And maybe I should have—”

Someone knocked several times on the hallway door. Before either Pieter or Mrs. Kinney could stand up, the door opened and Werner Brecht stepped in. His eyes went wide when he saw Pieter. “Your Honor! I didn’t know you were here—”

“Obviously. Why are you here, then?”

Brecht squirmed. “I saw that the policeman was gone, and I heard a woman’s voice—I didn’t know it was you, Mrs. Kinney, honestly!—and so I thought the apartment had already been rented out, and I came to warn the new people about the murder here.”

Pieter put on his I-believe-you face and said, “Mrs. Kinney, may I present Werner Brecht? Of course you recognize him as the other young man from yesterday.”

Mrs. Kinney said, “Were you . . . ?”

“The person who found your daughter and reported her homicide, yes,” Brecht said.

Pieter thought, That wasn’t the question Mrs. Kinney was asking. Were you aware of that, Brecht?

Aloud, Pieter said, “I told the policeman to take lunch, while I’m in Miss Kinney’s apartment with her mother. But your thoughtfulness for the new tenant is commendable.”

Red-faced Brecht said, “Um, thanks. I’ll be going now. Mrs. Kinney, my condolences. Goodbye.” Two seconds later, the door shut behind him.

****

As soon as Werner shut the hallway door, Pieter stood up. “Mrs. Kinney, thank you for examining your daughter’s property with me. May I carry your things to the train station?”

Mrs. Kinney waved a hand in agreement, but then said, “Your Honor, what happens now? When will you bring Jimmy to court?”

Pieter might still need Mrs. Kinney’s help, so he wasn’t about to say I don’t intend to put Mr. Wild on trial. Pieter instead said, “My investigation isn’t yet finished. For instance, soon I must talk to Mary Patricia Flanagan, who examined your daughter’s body.”

Mrs. Kinney said, “Mary Patri—? Oh right, she’s . . . a nurse, right?” Then Mrs. Kinney’s eyes went wide. “There’s something she needs to know. Something she’ll want to know,” Mrs. Kinney said, as she was reaching into her purse. She pulled out a pencil and piece of paper. She scribbled something, and then shoved the paper toward Pieter.

Mrs. Kinney looked Pieter in the eyes. “Please give this to Mary—uh, to Nurse Flanagan. It’s very important.”

****

Pieter walked Mrs. Kinney from her daughter’s apartment to the train station. He then said goodbye to Mrs. Kinney, but he didn’t immediately leave the train station. Instead, he went to the station telegraph office. Pieter sent Police Chief Richards a telegram.

JAMES WILD NOT MURDERER
ONE OF TWO MEN I BROUGHT YESTERDAY IS MURDERER
IF PHOTO NOT ALREADY SENT I NEED IT FAST FAST FAST
KILLER TRIED TO OPEN GERI KINNEY’S SAFE
ASK MR. MILLER WHO STARTED TALK YESTERDAY ABOUT SAFES

****

Medical School
University of Jena
Twenty minutes later

Pieter had explained to Mary Patricia Flanagan about the shoeprint in the dust. Now he asked, “So do you know any up-time tricks to capture it?”

“Depends. Can you see it when you’re looking straight down at it?”

“No.”

“There’s no mud in the shoeprint, no dirt, nothing a different color?”

“Everything’s gray dust.”

She shook her head. “We could capture it with enough tape, yes, and transfer it to paper, yes. But if it’s all dust and you can’t see any of it, what’s the point?”

Sighing, Pieter changed the subject: “So did your up-time tests on Miss Kinney’s body uncover much new information?”

Flanagan made a fist, and slapped it against her hip. “Hardly any. There wasn’t enough blood under her nails for us to type, and forget DNA profiling! We can do neither X-rays nor tox screens—well, except for alcohol. I can tell you that she wasn’t raped, and that’s the only new info I have. Basically, I got your hopes up, and wasted people’s time. I’m sorry.”

Pieter gave her a reassuring smile. “You needn’t apologize for not solving my case for me.”

She sighed. “But if we were back in the year 2000, there’s so much more that I could tell you!”

Pieter smiled again. “But if this were the year 2000, I’d be long buried, so it wouldn’t matter whether you told me or not.”

She smiled, for a second, then went back to her frustration-face. “There’s a blood test that it’s very important that we give her, but we can’t, here and now. And because we can’t, people might die.”

Both Flanagan and Mrs. Kinney had used the same words, very important. Noting this, Pieter loosened the strings of his pouch, pulled out Mrs. Kinney’s paper, and handed it to Flanagan. Pieter asked, “Does this help?”

Whatever was on the paper made Flanagan happy. “This is an answer to prayer!” she exclaimed.

“It is?” Pieter said. “What does it say?”

Pieter of course didn’t understand most of what Flanagan told him next, but he got this much: A sexually transmitted disease came to America from Africa in 1980. By then, the Americans had erased smallpox and polio (Flanagan said casually), but this African disease laughed at American physicians. The only good news: It was possible to prevent catching the virus, and not everyone who got the virus got the disease.

So why was Flanagan now so happy? Because in March of 2000, Geri Kinney got tested for this virus. At the end of March, 2000, Geri got her test results back. As of one month before the Ring of Fire, she officially did not carry this sexual-disease virus.

Which meant, in turn, that this up-time disease had stayed up-time; Geri Kinney had not brought it to the seventeenth century.

An epidemic had been averted.

****

Pieter Freihofer’s house
One hour later

Pieter was pacing the floor in the front hallway. When he heard the door knocker, he rushed to answer the door.

Standing there was a youth, flushed with exertion. Beyond him, at the bottom of Pieter’s front steps, was a downtime bicycle.

The boy held a telegram in his hand. Pieter tipped him well for bringing it.

PHOTO ALREADY SENT
SPECIAL DELIVERY
YOU WILL GET TOMORROW
KEN MILLER SAYS HE FIRST TO MENTION SAFES
HE DOESN’T REMEMBER WHO SPOKE NEXT
SORRY
HAVE YOU RELEASED WILD

Pieter thought, Thor’s hammer, I’d better answer this quickly! He jerked open the door, ready to run out to the street and call the boy back.

But Pieter needn’t have worried. The bicycle remained by his front steps, and the boy was astride the bicycle, looking up at Pieter expectantly. “Yes, sir, do you wish to send a reply?”

When Pieter nodded, the boy took off the knapsack he was wearing, and from it removed a telegram form. Pieter filled out the form.

WILD IS HELD NOW AS WITNESS
HAVE NOT TOLD WILD HE NO LONGER SUSPECT
JAILER MIGHT TALK

Pieter and the boy both counted the words, and then the boy quoted a fee.

“That’s more than I was charged at the railroad station!” Pieter said.

“Yes, sir. But you’re paying for convenience.”

“And how do I know you won’t try to steal the money?”

“See here? Every blank is numbered. If I don’t turn in the blank and its money, I’ll go up before a judge.”

“You’re up before a judge right now. See to it that this telegram gets sent promptly.”

The boy gulped, leaped onto his bicycle, and sped away.

****

Jena City Hall
Friday, May 19, 1634; morning

Once Pieter had received the photograph that Chief Richards had sent by special delivery, Pieter had dashed to City Hall. Once inside the building, Pieter had hurried straight to the room where Frau Küster and other clerks worked.

“Your Honor,” Frau Küster said, “it’s good to see you again.”

Frau Küster and the other clerks worked in a big room that was lit only by windowlight and a candle on each desk. The more senior clerks sat with their backs to the windows, and sat facing the more junior clerks. Pieter had been in rooms like this all his life, and had never before thought them to be lacking; but now he thought, This room is too dark. It’s gloomy in here. In Chief Richards’s office, Pieter could have stood anywhere and read a book without eyestrain; now it seemed unchristian to keep anyone working in the dark.

Frau Küster was one of the junior clerks laboring in deeper darkness. On her desk, Pieter could barely see an up-time-printed document in English, and next to it was a paper on which she was making notes in German about “water treatment.” Frau Küster’s penmanship was awful.

Pieter said, “Frau Küster, I have a favor to ask of you.”

“Name it,” she said, grinning at him. “After taking me to Grantville, I will do anything for you.”

“The matter is delicate. Please come with me outside.”

Seconds later, they both were blinking in the sunlight, as Pieter pulled the photograph from its yellowish-tan mailing envelope. He and Frau Küster spent several delightful minutes sharing their impressions of the town from the future.

At one point, Pieter was chuckling. “And the faster that man went, the louder his machine got! I thought to myself, ‘Grantville will make me deaf for the rest of my life!'”

She laughed. “Oh, a motorcycle is loud, I agree. But when I saw Jeff Higgins riding his, my thought was, ‘How is the American making it not fall over?'”

Frau Küster was still smiling when Pieter turned to stare at an oak tree. He said, “When Mr. Wild was talking about acts he performed with Miss Kinney, he used many vulgar terms of English that related to prostitutes and sex acts. I know they were vulgar, because they angered Mrs. Kinney to hear them. Yet you knew every word. You didn’t pause, or stammer, or act uncertain. That speaks well for your drive to master English.”

She was silent for a time, and Pieter could only guess at the expression on her face. At last she said, “I am blessed to have this job. I want to do well at it.”

Pieter nodded, then said, “I have a problem: The murderer tried very hard to steal Miss Kinney’s safe from her bedroom.” Of course, Pieter had to use the English word.

“I, um, do not know that word, safe. Not as you use it.”

“It’s an up-time strongbox. It’s made all of steel, and it’s heavy. It has a door, and uses a spinning wheel to somehow keep that door locked.”

Her eyes went wide. “Mr. Krebs and Mr. Brecht—”

“Exactly. One of them was trying to trick information out of Mr. Miller. One of them is the murderer.”

“That’s terrible,” she said. Then she asked, “So how can I help you?”

Pieter turned to gaze at the oak tree again. “There was a time, not so long ago, when Jena was bursting with women who would sell themselves for a piece of bread.”

Her voice was wary: “Yes, before God brought the Americans and they drove the evildoers away.”

He nodded. “You are a married woman and a city clerk, very respectable, but I’m hoping that you know women who were prostitutes in those troubled times.”

Again, her voice was wary: “I . . . know several such women, yes.”

Pieter turned to look at her, as he pushed the photograph and envelope into her hands. “This is yours to keep, regardless. But I ask you to show it to all those unfortunate women, and ask them if they recognize either of these men.”

Frau Küster looked puzzled. “Why? Do you think a former refugee prostitute saw Miss Kinney’s murder?”

“No. But a man who would kill one prostitute might well have hurt others. Especially when the woman he hurt didn’t dare fight back.” Pieter then tapped his finger on Werner Brecht’s face and then Rolf Krebs’s. “I have two suspects. That is one too many.”

She nodded, and then her chin went up. “Count on me. Any man who hurts a starving woman is worth less than a grain rat, and any man who kills a woman deserves the wheel.”

****

Pieter Freihofer’s house
Early afternoon

Anna Maria von Schurmann and her bodyguards had dropped in to pay Pieter an unexpected visit. Now she was gushing, “. . . a day, two at the most, then on to Magdeburg, that was the plan, but Grantville is fascinating, and so now I’m here only to collect my things, and I’ll be spending the next month at the Inn of The Maddened Queen, and that place is a story in itself, and I feel so fortunate to visit a place like Grantville!”

Pieter smiled. “Well, you saw more of it than I did. I went there, questioned a man, arrested him, and brought him back.”

She nodded. “It’s the talk of Grantville. He’s an up-timer.”

“I’m afraid I’m not at liberty to discuss the case.”

“Then let me show you what you missed in Grantville.” She gave an order to one of her men, who rushed out the front door and returned a minute later with her sketchpad. Anna Maria said, “I bought this right here in Jena. Tuesday evening it was empty, but look at it now!”

The sketchpad was close to complete. The first three sketches were of Pieter himself, sitting on a train seat; Frau Küster pointing out a train window, her face excited; and Rolf Krebs sitting and laughing about something, while next to him, Werner Brecht sat looking solemn. Next came sketches of the Ring cliffs, from a distance; the Ring cliffs, seen close; a many-windowed up-time building that the train had passed near, with up-time and down-time children playing in front; and then finally Grantville buildings, scenery, and people that Pieter didn’t recognize.

She explained all her sketches, so it was almost as if Pieter had toured Grantville with her. Minutes later, she was saying, “I drew this one, sitting in my chair at a table at the SoTF State Library.” Seconds later, she turned the page in the sketchpad, and a sheet of up-time paper with up-time printing fell to the floor.

Pieter couldn’t read the English, but he recognized the write-up’s illustration. “Is that you?” he said.

She nodded. “An older version of me, and I’m remembered by my Dutch name.” She added in a tone of wonder, “Up-time history remembers me as an exceptional woman scholar. This paper tells everything I ever did in the other seventeenth century, and it’s a long list.” She looked in Pieter’s eyes. “Leaving me to ask myself, ‘What do I do now?'”

At that moment, Pieter’s housekeeper entered the parlor. “You have callers, Your Honor: Pastor Eberhard Bartsch and his wife, Mari Küster.” The housekeeper added, her disapproval only partly masked, “They insist she be allowed to talk to you.”

“What’s wrong, Minna?”

Minna sniffed. “For a so-called Lutheran pastor, his clothing is shabby.”

Seconds later, stone-faced Minna was leading Frau Küster and a man into Pieter’s parlor. Frau Küster was holding the tan up-time envelope that Pieter had given to her only hours before.

“Your Honor, I messed up, and I’m very sorry,” Frau Küster said. “But first, let me introduce my husband Eberhard Bartsch, pastor of Saint Lazarus, one of the new chapels of need.”

She said that proudly, which was puzzling. Chapels of need had been established for the poorest people in Jena when the population expanded, and were undoubtedly a punishment assignment for pastors.

Pieter’s first thought was, What did you do to make someone angry at you? Instead, he tactfully said, “Well, you’re young yet.”

Bartsch replied, “Yes, Your Honor, I was ordained a little less than a year ago. But I asked for a chapel of need, please know.”

Pieter didn’t know what to make of that. So he smiled and said, “I’ve never met a saint before.”

“Not so, Your Honor, I’m chief among sinners. But God used my sin and weakness to give me a wonderful woman and a holy mission.” Bartsch smiled at his wife.

Anna Maria asked, “Is Saint Lazarus in a good part of town?”

“No, ma’am, it’s in the dangerous part of town,” Bartsch replied.

“I . . . see.”

Before things could get more embarrassing for someone, Pieter asked, “So why have you come here, Frau Küster?”

She opened the envelope and took out the picture that Chief Richards had made of the four Jenaites. The image was wrinkled, and blotched with brown on the left side. It was also torn. Frau Küster said, “The wind caught it, and blew it out of my hand into a mud puddle, and before I could pick it up, a horse stepped on it and tore it. I’m so sorry.”

“What a remarkable picture,” Anna Maria said. “I would love to make art like that.” Then she thought of something: “This is just a souvenir, right? Of your trip to Grantville? So why did she come here to apologize for ruining it?”

“I’m sorry, I’m not at liberty to discuss that,” Pieter said.

“Wait, this picture is part of your murder investigation ?”

This woman is way too sharp. “Let me say only that it is vital that Frau Küster be able to show a picture of these two young men to certain people in Jena.” Pieter then said to Frau Küster, “I’ll go send a telegram to Chief Richards as soon as I can, asking him to send another picture. When I get it, I’ll inform you.”

“Why trouble him?” Anna Maria said. “If this drawing is important, then time is important, and you have an alternative.”

“I do? What?”

“Maarten, go get my drawing supplies. Hurry!” As one of Anna Maria’s bodyguards rushed out the front door, she went to her sketchpad, found the drawing she’d made of Rolf Krebs and Werner Brecht, and tore it out. “I didn’t take time to detail their faces,” Anna Maria said. “But now I think that between the three of us and this up-time picture, I can draw how they look.”

****

With charcoal for drawing and wax balls for erasing nearby, Anna Maria was bent over the drawing of Krebs and Brecht. She was filling in facial features, as her bodyguards and Pastor Bartsch watched.

Anna Maria asked Pieter, “You won’t tell me why I’m drawing these two men?”

“That’s correct, I can say nothing.” Pieter pointed. “His eyes need to be just a tiny bit farther apart.”

“I think they’re okay,” she said.

“She’s right, Your Honor,” Frau Küster said. “Right now, his eyes look perfect.”

“Make his nose a little thinner,” Pieter said.

“I agree,” Frau Küster said.

“Not even a hint why?” Anna Maria asked.

****

Anna Maria finished the drawing in time for her and her bodyguards to catch the afternoon train back to Grantville, though without much time to spare. Frau Küster and Pastor Bartsch had already departed with the new drawing when Anna Maria stood in Pieter’s front hallway. Anna Maria eyed Pieter and said, “This has been so exciting, helping investigate a murder. If there’s any other way I can help, send me a telegram at the Inn of the Maddened Queen.”

“Come now. Once you return to Grantville, you’ll forget Jena exists.”

She shook her head. “This murder, it matters, to her family at least. Listen, I’m eager to attend the salon that the Encyclopedia Society is hosting next Friday; but send me a message to help you, and I’ll skip that salon without a second thought.”

Rather than tell her That will never happen, Pieter said politely, “I’ll keep that in mind.”

****

Pieter Freihofer’s house
Saturday, May 20, 1634; morning

Pastor Bartsch and Frau Küster paid Pieter a second visit—but this time, their faces wore smiles. Frau Küster greeted him with “The two suspects are now only one.” She was pointing to a face in Anna Maria’s sketch.

“So what have you discovered about Rolf Krebs and Werner Brecht?”

After she told him, Pieter said, “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but—shall we walk to the Freedom Arches on this beautiful May morning?”

On the walk across town, Pieter remarked, “I’m sure there are plenty of sinners for you to preach to, there at the Freedom Arches.”

Frau Küster smiled. “Plenty, yes. Of course, it helps that we’re active in the Committees of Correspondence, and that Eberhard teaches reading at the Freedom Arches on Monday. The poor in Jena know us.”

Pieter shook his head at the oddness of life. I’m headed to the Freedom Arches of all places, in the company of a religious fanatic and a former refugee prostitute. What will my friends say?

****

Outside the Freedom Arches Southeast
Jena, SoTF

Who said Lutheran pastors were dull? Pieter thought.

Pastor Bartsch was preaching to him. “As Jesus died for both Gustav II Adolf and for Lazarus the beggar, so did the Americans recently give the vote to both Michael Stearns and to Gretchen Richter—a woman and a one-time refugee.”

“And former camp whore,” Frau Küster added.

Bartsch nodded. “So you see, Your Honor, God’s plan for mankind’s redemption, applied to government—that’s what democracy is.”

Pieter held up a hand. “This discussion has been fascinating, but now I need to think about catching that murderer.”

The Freedom Arches was located at the intersection of two streets. On one street or the other were small groups of tough-looking men, and a few women, who all stopped their conversations to eye Pieter. Pieter noticed that even the so-called drunks who clutched bottles watched him alertly. Several of the tough men standing on the street began to drift toward him, and they all looked ready to fight.

And then they stopped moving, and their faces and postures relaxed. Some.

Startled, Pieter looked around. His two companions were making a gesture of thumb and index finger brought together to make a circle. When she noticed Pieter looking at her hand, Frau Küster smiled at him and said, “We don’t want misunderstandings.”

When Pieter stepped through the Freedom Arches door, the noise level dropped. Then a man’s voice said, “That’s Judge Freihofer,” and the room went silent. Every eye was staring at Pieter.

Pastor Bartsch took a half-step forward. “Friends and brothers, the up-time prostitute Geri Kinney was murdered, and Judge Freihofer seeks her killer. He suspects none of us, but he is here because Miss Scholz maybe has seen something. Be kind to him, he’s not a kinggeorge.”

“Oh yeah?” a man’s voice yelled from a corner of the room. “I say he is a kinggeorge, and he’s bamboozled you, Pastor Eberhard.”

Frau Küster grabbed Pieter’s arm, and made a show of spinning him around to face a picture on the wall. “Do you know Chip Jenkins?” she asked loudly. “He’s an up-timer who is at the law school as both student and lecturer. Have you met him? He brought us this. Isn’t it a wonderful picture?”

On the wall near the door was an up-time-printed color photo of an up-time oil painting. A meeting was in progress, and among some seated people a man stood, speaking to someone not shown. The speaker stood straight, with head held high, and five men and a woman were listening to him. This was amazing to Pieter, for the speaker was dressed in a laborer’s clothing, while at least two of his respectful listeners were wearing jackets and ties.

Pieter knew better than to give his honest reaction. So he groped for words: “Oh yes, very wonderful, the painting is very—it’s very . . .”

Pieter was very aware that while the room was no longer graveyard-quiet, whatever he said about this picture would be easily heard by many people who were carrying knives.

“It’s very democratic,” Pieter said.

Pastor Bartsch slapped Pieter on the back. “And we thank the Lord for that!”

Now Pieter felt safe facing the people in the room. And when he faced them and looked around, he was surprised. Not by the sight of poorly dressed people eating and drinking—this he expected—but by the printing press and aproned printer in the middle of the common room. By the printing press, Pieter saw a liveried servant holding an unfolded pamphlet by a corner, the man moving his lips as he read. The printing press added the odor of ink to the smells of sweat and tobacco that Pieter had expected.

A familiar-looking man sitting in a corner was glaring at Pieter. After some moments of trying to place his face, Pieter recalled him. Last year, Pieter had tried Corner Man’s brother for robbery, and had ordered the defendant put to the sword. Perhaps Corner Man bore a grudge.

While Pieter was staring-down Corner Man, he felt a touch on his arm. Frau Küster told Pieter, “I’ll go get Ludmilla.” Frau Küster hurried off, as much as the press of bodies allowed.

****

Ludmilla Scholz smelled of both sweat and fresh-baked bread. Her arms were snow-white from flour. Her figure was solid, tending toward fat. Her center-parted hair was braided.

Miss Scholz, Pieter, Pastor Bartsch, and Frau Küster all were sitting around a table in the Freedom Arches’ common room. Laying on the table was Anna Maria’s drawing of Rolf Krebs and Werner Brecht.

Miss Scholz pointed. “It was him. Definitely him.”

Pieter asked, “Are you sure?”

In a courtroom, Miss Scholz would politely reply, “Yes, I am sure.” But in the Freedom Arches, she gave Pieter a look saying Are you an idiot?

“When did this happen?” Pieter asked.

“It was in 1631, I’m certain. There was snow on the ground, and I hadn’t heard of Americans or the Ring of Fire yet. February? March?”

Pieter nodded. “So what happened?”

“I went out that day, though I was sick. I ran into him, and he wanted . . . a service, for one pfennig. Even though the price was two pfennig then. But I was starving, and cold, and feverish, so I didn’t argue much. He paid me, then I started to . . . you know, and then I vomited on him. And he punched me, and kicked me, and took my money pouch.”

I know who killed Geri Kinney now. But I still have to prove it. Aloud, Pieter said, “Miss Scholz, where do you live? I’ll need it for court records.”

****

A few minutes later, Pieter, Pastor Bartsch, and Frau Küster were starting toward the exit door when Corner Man yelled, “Hey, Judge! This time, make sure the man you execute is the actual bastard murderer, and not some innocent patsy, okay?”

The room went silent again.

Pastor Bartsch said, “Arni, you—”

Pieter touched Bartsch’s shoulder, then stepped in front of him. Pieter raised his voice and replied, “Thieves steal. Murderers kill. Most men are good, but a few men are beyond repair. Your brother stole once before. Can you deny it?”

Corner Man glared. “In ’29 he stole a leg of lamb. Our mother was sick, our father was gone, and we and our sisters were starving.”

“Perhaps that is why the first judge showed kindness; your—”

“‘Kindness’? He ordered Helmut flogged!”

“—your brother’s second judge”—Pieter tapped his own chest—”followed the law. Your brother was now twice a thief; he died.”

The crowd murmured angry words.

Corner Man, who had been sitting, now rose up like an angry bear. Pieter saw that he was wearing a knife at his side. He leaned on the table, eyed Pieter, and said in a quiet voice, “And how do you know that Helmut was a thief a second time?”

Pastor Bartsch said, “Arni. Please sit down.”

Corner Man remained standing, remained staring at Pieter, and remained armed.

Pieter shook his head. “Arni, leave the word tricks for men who’ve read law. That emerald ring and the money pouch were found in your brother’s house. Under his bed. He confessed to stealing them.”

“Under torture,” Corner Man added.

Pieter shrugged.

Seeing Pieter’s shrug, Corner Man laughed bitterly. Then he said, “Mr. Weissberg said in court that his robber was a tall man. My brother was shorter than Pastor Bartsch.”

“So what? Often victims say that the criminals are tall and strong and fast.”

“Rosina’s current husband Rutger is tall. Did you know that?”

“Many men are tall,” Pieter replied.

“Mr. Weissberg said in court that his tall robber had a deep voice.”

“I’ll say it again: Many crime victims, their testimony—”

“Helmut had an ordinary voice. I’ll bet you don’t even remember it, though you heard him scream so much. But Rutger? He has a voice like a bullfrog. And Rosina and Rutger married only hours after Helmut was put to the sword. Did you know that?”

Oh no. Aloud, Pieter said, “No, I did not know that.”

Corner Man’s hand flew to his knife; he jerked the weapon straight up above his head. Holding the knife high, he said to the entire room, “See my blade!” He brought the blade down slowly, then handed it to a companion. “Let no one fear that I will kill this judge, though I have good cause!

Walking toward Pieter, and with his gaze locked on Pieter’s face, Corner Man again spoke loudly enough for the entire room to hear: “Pastor Bartsch will tell you, he refused to marry Rosina and Rutger. Not before a year had passed.”

“That’s true,” Bartsch said. “To marry sooner, that would not have been respectful to Helmut.”

“So do you know how Rutger got married? He took Helmut’s ‘grieving’ widow to Grantville! They were on the train before Helmut was even cold!

“And you have to wonder,” Frau Küster murmured, “how he could afford that. Train rides were even more expensive a year ago.”

By now, Corner Man was standing in front of Pieter. “‘Thieves steal. Most men are good.’ Rutger knew you would think that. He fooled you.”

“I think,” Pieter said, “that you don’t want to admit that Helmut was the thief.”

Corner Man laughed in scorn. “But Your Honor, I knew Helmut much better than you—though I never made him scream like you did. I know Rutger, who you never tried to meet. I especially know Rosina—that woman could make the Black Pope swear off celibacy! Try again.”

“Helmut had been flogged for stealing before!”

“True. And when you learned about the leg of lamb, did you stop? Did you quit? Did you look at anyone but my brother for stealing the emerald ring? I know you never talked to Rutger.”

Pieter didn’t want to admit it. He certainly didn’t want to admit it in a room full of people he was accustomed to putting on trial. But Pieter needed to believe that he was a fair man. “No,” Pieter said, “I never suspected anyone but Helmut.”

Corner Man bowed. “Thank you.” He started to turn away, then whirled back around and punched Pieter in the upper abdomen. Gasping Pieter dropped to the floor.

It was minutes before Pieter could speak again. Corner Man stood there, smiling with hands on hips, the entire time.

When Pieter could stand and speak both, he asked Corner Man, “Why did you do that? I admitted I was wrong.”

“Why?” Corner’s Man’s smile was wolfish. “Because here and now, I can cause pain, and you must suffer it.”

Corner Man looked at Pastor Bartsch and made a dismissive hand motion. Get this trash out of here.

Pieter, with help from Pastor Bartsch, struggled to the door. Corner Man called out, “The American police think a rich man can be a thief, and American judges think a poor man can be a saint. I think the Americans make much fewer screwups that way.”

But Pieter only half-heard him. I sentenced an innocent man to death. This is awful.

****

Outside James Alec Wild’s cell
Jena Prison
Early afternoon

At the parsonage, Pieter thanked Pastor Bartsch and Frau Küster for their help. But he was too proud to thank them for possibly saving his life. At least twice.

Then Pieter walked to the prison. He urgently needed for James Wild to answer one question.

For the past two days, Pieter’s cook had been delivering a noontime meal to Wild at the prison. Pieter figured that Wild, who at the moment would be enjoying a full stomach, should feel cooperative.

But when a guard brought Pieter down the walkway to Wild’s cell, Pieter saw two people he wasn’t expecting.

The first surprise was an up-time woman, who was talking to Wild through the cell door.

The second unexpected person was a guard already outside Wild’s cell. A guard who was leaning against the wall opposite the door; a guard whose jaws were working, and whose feet were surrounded by blue-and-white dishes. Only half of those blue-and-white dishes still had food.

“What, you couldn’t save some for me?” Pieter’s escort said to the other guard.

What are you eating?” Pieter demanded.

The woman gave Pieter a look saying Please, mister, don’t make trouble!

The eating guard smirked. “The prisoner was generous, and decided to share some food with me. Of course I said yes.”

Pieter turned to his escort and said, “You! Go back to the guardhouse! Now!”

“But I must—”

Now.

One guard hurried away. Then Pieter turned his eyes on the other guard and on the woman. “Ma’am, I am Judge Pieter Freihofer, commissioned to investigate the murder of Geri Kinney—”

She dropped an unpracticed curtsy. “I’m Edith Wild, Jimmy’s mother. Pleased to meet you.”

The guard, Pieter noticed, had stopped chomping.

Pieter asked Edith Wild, “What has happened here?” When she made a covert glance toward the guard, Pieter added, “I can help you, but you must tell me everything.”

She said, “He brought me here to visit my son. When I got here, I saw a man, someone’s cook, who had brought a basket of food for my son to eat—”

The guard said, “Those rich up-timer-lovers all can afford cooks. I asked the prisoner, real polite, if he’d share some food with me.”

Edith Wild shook her head. “He told my son that he would haul me back outside right away, unless Jimmy gave up food.”

“How much food?” Pieter asked.

“Not all that much,” the guard said. He sounded cocky.

“Half,” Edith Wild said.

Pieter eyeballed the guard. “You are aware, aren’t you, what the penalty for extortion is?”

The guard laughed. “Who would testify against me? The prisoner? Ooh, I’m worried. His mother? Women can’t testify—you of all people should know that.”

Pieter’s smile was reptilian. “Seems to me, you’re betting your life on an invalid point of law. Up-time, women testified all the time; and if a Jena judge lets this up-time woman testify nowadays, it’s unfortunate for you.” Then Pieter erased his fake smile. “But there’s one thing you’ve overlooked, regardless of a court ruling.”

“Oh yeah, ‘Your Honor’? And what could that be?”

“That was my cook you met, those are my dishes, and that is my food you’ve eaten. I hope for your sake that the judge who takes your case shows mercy. Otherwise? Up-timers say our sentences are barbaric.”

The guard was a big man, but he moved quickly to put dishes into James Wild’s outstretched hand.

When all the food and all the empty dishes were out of the walkway, Pieter told the guard, “Leave us. Leave the lantern too.”

“No, it’s forbidden, I can’t leave you—”

“Yes, you can.”

“How am I supposed to get back to the guardhouse without the lantern?”

“Oh, come now!” Pieter said, laughing. “Maybe your full belly will light your way.”

****

When the guard’s bulk could no longer be seen, Edith Wild said to Pieter, “My son is not the murderer of Geri Kinney.”

Pieter almost said I know that. But he caught himself, and said instead, “I’m no longer certain of his guilt. But I’m not free to release him.”

James Wild, who had kept silent since Pieter had arrived, now said, “Then screw you.”

Edith Wild admonished her son in English. James Wild answered her with an unwilling tone of voice.

Then Wild said, “So Judge, why are you here? What do you want to know?”

Pieter said, “My one question is this: Last Monday, how much money did Miss Kinney charge you?”

“And then you’ll ask me what our argument was about, right? You’re trying to trick me?”

“No, I came here to ask you only one question. Then I won’t say another word until your mother is ready to leave.”

Mother and son exchanged words in English.

Wild told Pieter, “Geri charged me forty dollars.”

And for Pieter, a whole bunch of things that had been confusing about this case suddenly made sense.

But not all of Pieter’s confusion ended. Pieter said, “She lowered her price for you, which sounds kind, but then she told you she wouldn’t let you come back, which sounds unkind.”

“She told me she maybe wouldn’t let me come back. But if she let me come back, I’d get no more discount.”

“How much more?”

“Eighty. Geri’s very last words to me, ever, were ‘You just doubled your price—no more forty dollars for you, you hear me?'”

“And Miss Kinney told you this in English?”

“Yeah. At the top of the stairs, as I was leaving. But she didn’t say it, she yelled it. I’ll bet they heard her in Grantville.”

Aha, Pieter thought. Motive.

****

Some time later, Pieter and Edith Wild were walking in daylight outside the prison, toward her carriage. Pieter had learned that she was a widow, and that she was Wallenstein’s personal nurse in Prague.

He and Mrs. Wild were surrounded by six tough-looking Bohemian hulks, who’d appeared as soon as she stepped outside.

“Ma’am, your son is innocent. I know who killed Geri Kinney, and I know why he murdered her—”

“So why haven’t you freed my son?” she demanded.

“I can’t release him now, because I don’t trust the jailer not to talk. And because the true murderer is a law student, so he might have some courtroom tricks planned, should I arrest him.”

“While you are fretting about legal fine points—”

“Woman, I know this law student is the murderer, but I can’t prove he’s the murderer! And soon as he knows that I know that your son is not the killer, he can run away! And if I arrest him now and try him now, without proof, he’ll walk away a free man.”

“Then I demand that you find the proof, Your Honor. My Jimmy does not deserve to be in that sewer of a jail.”

****

Pieter walked to the telegraph office, his heart heavy. Minutes later, as he paid for the telegram, he thought,It’s official: I’m stupid. But I won’t let a killer go free because of my pride.

ANNA MARIA VON SCHURMANN
INN OF THE MADDENED QUEEN
GRANTVILLE

I NEED IDEAS
PLEASE HURRY HERE

****

Bedroom
Geri Kinney’s apartment
Sunday, May 21, 1634; early afternoon

Both turn-crank lanterns set on the floor, and their focused brilliance made it easy for Pieter to show the dusty shoeprint to Anna Maria.

“You could have told me all this, you know,” Anna Maria said. “I can keep a secret.”

“What’s done is done,” Pieter replied. “You’re here now. Do you have any idea what to do?”

She turned to him and smiled. “I do indeed. Remember how Nurse Flanagan captured your fingerprint? You told me that it became visible using dust made from ‘artificial charcoal’?”

He could have kicked himself. “And you have real charcoal, to outline the shoeprint with. Charcoal which at any time I could have asked you for.”

Anna Maria gave him a steady look. “I’m used to men not asking for my help. Not because they didn’t think of it, but because of their pride.”

“Well, it seems ridiculous to say, ‘Women are silly, women are stupid, women are weak,’ now that I’ve met Nurse Flanagan.”

“True.”

“And Rebecca Abrabanel, she’s not that way, either.”

“Very strong. Very smart. I want to be like her.”

“Then there’s Gretchen Richter—”

“Enough talk. I need to buy a new piece of charcoal and a new sketchpad, and we need to borrow that tape.”

****

It wasn’t till Monday morning that Pieter and Anna Maria could accomplish their tasks. At the medical school, Anna Maria surprised Pieter again by asking Nurse Flanagan if there was an up-time trick for working near dust without breathing on it. Anna Maria’s question prompted Nurse Flanagan to loan Anna Maria a surgical mask.

Back in Miss Kinney’s bedroom, Pieter cranked the up-time lanterns and put them on the floor, as Anna Maria donned the surgical mask. Then she got on hands and knees, Pieter gave her the charcoal, and she slowly and carefully outlined the shoeprint.

Next came the tricky part. Pieter tore off a foot-long piece of tape, which he carefully passed to still-masked Anna Maria. She pressed the tape-strip down on the floor to cover the left edge of the shoe outline. He gave her another strip; this soon covered the right edge of the shoe outline. She laid the third piece between and atop the other two pieces of tape. The shoeprint’s charcoal outline now was covered with a sheet of tape.

Pieter tore the first page out of the new sketchpad and brought it near the tape that covered the floor. With trial and error, and one near-disaster, Pietter and Anna Maria got the tape-sheet off the floor intact. Then it was just a matter of pressing it onto the paper. Which they did—with only a few problems. That tape was sticky!

When they were done, the tape sheet was wrinkled in two places, instead of laying down smoothly. Still, Pieter had a piece of paper he could show in any courtroom in the world and say, “The man who wore this shoe tried to move Geri Kinney’s safe.”

****

Judicial chamber for Pieter Freihofer
Jena Courthouse
Tuesday, May 23, 1634; morning

Pieter’s note to them all had said the same thing: “Please meet with me and the others in my chamber at nine a.m. I might get there late, but please don’t leave.” And sure enough, it was almost ten o’clock when Pieter walked into the room, with him carrying a box. He put the box on the floor behind his desk, and took his seat.

Standing or sitting were the four people who had ridden with him on the train to Grantville, nearly a week before.

Pieter said, “I apologize for the wait, but I had court business to take care of. There will be more people joining us soon.”

“I’m wondering why you called us here,” Werner Brecht said.

“I suppose you are,” Pieter agreed. Pieter looked around, into the eyes of Brecht, Rolf Krebs, Frau Küster, and Anna Maria von Schurmann. Then he continued, “I’ve called you here to tell you what I’ve learned in my investigation, since each of you has been involved somehow in the case. Divulging this is highly irregular, but the murder of the up-timer Miss Geri Kinney was irregular.”

“Why did you ask Miss von Schurmann here?” Rolf Krebs asked. “She has no connection to the case at all.”

“I have my reasons,” Pieter said. Krebs gave Pieter and Anna Maria a saucy smile, as if to say, So you two are sleeping together, huh?

“It’s not what you think, Mister Krebs,” Anna Maria said. Krebs gave her the saucy smile again.

Pieter continued, “All of us except for Miss von Schurmann were present when I arrested Mister James Wild for the murder of Miss Kinney. Soon after, Mister Wild told me that he had not murdered Miss Kinney—”

“Of course he’d say that,” Brecht said.

“Under the laws we had until recently, my task would have been easy. I would have pressed Mister Wild for a confession, under the principle of ‘Confession is the queen of evidence.’ Had he not confessed voluntarily, I would have questioned him more forcefully until he did. But I did not do that because, one, the laws now forbid judicial torture; and two, Grantville would not accept one of their own being condemned to death after a tortured confession. But let me add that I am heartily glad that I am forbidden to torture Mister Wild.”

“Why?” Brecht demanded. “Without torture during his questioning, he can lie to you.”

Pieter gave Brecht a long look, then said, “I say it again: I am glad I no longer must choose whether to torture.”

Rolf Krebs said, “So where does that leave your case? You have no witness to the actual murder, you have only one suspect, he won’t confess and you can’t make him confess.”

“Correction: I had only one suspect,” Pieter said. He walked to the courtroom door and opened it.

Into the room stepped a fettered Jimmy Wild, a jailer who was holding a pike and wearing a key ring, and Edith Wild.

“What’s he doing here?” Brecht demanded.

Pieter said, “Nurse Flanagan of the medical school examined Miss Kinney’s corpse. She figured out that Miss Kinney scratched her strangler. But look at Mister Wild—no scratches on his face, his neck, his arms, or his hands.”

“So?” Krebs said. “Everyone knows that up-timers heal fast.”

Widow Wild shot Krebs a look that said, Are you really that stupid?

Pieter got up and walked over to Krebs and Brecht. He peered closely into their faces and said, “I see no marks on your faces. Now I ask you to turn around so I can examine your necks better.”

What? I don’t have to do that,” Brecht said. “We’re not suspects here!”

“I’m afraid one of you is, Mister Brecht, because of something you two did in Grantville. Now please do as I ask, or I will have to be—” Pieter glanced toward the man with the pike. “—insistent.”

Both Brecht and Krebs turned their backs to him. Pieter pulled up their hair and examined the sides and back of their necks. “No scratches on your necks. You may turn around now.”

Brecht and Krebs flashed each other relieved looks.

“Now each of you, pull up your right sleeve as far as it will go, then let me examine your right arms.” Pieter looked and said, “You’re clean, Mr. Krebs.” After that, “You too, Mister Brecht.”

Both young men stood looking at Pieter, their faces relaxed. Then Pieter said, “Now each of you, pull up your left sleeve as far as it will go.”

Rolf Krebs looked resigned, and pulled up his left sleeve; while Werner Brecht—

Werner Brecht exploded. “This is ridiculous! Why do Rolf and I have to suffer this? We aren’t the murderer, he is!”

“Jailer, come here!” Pieter commanded.

Werner Brecht turned his head to look at something behind Pieter and to his right; then froze. Pieter grabbed Brecht’s left sleeve and jerked it up his unresisting arm. Three red, inflamed, and parallel lines showed clearly.

“God in heaven, Werner,” Krebs exclaimed, “you’ve got scratches on your wrist! Did you kill Geri?”

Brecht jerked his arm out of Pieter’s grip. “No, Rolf! I caught my hand on a sharp corner on my table, I swear.”

“Do you believe your friend, Mister Krebs?” Pieter asked.

“I . . . suppose so, Your Honor.”

“In any case,” Brecht said, “you can’t convict me of murder only for having scratches on my wrist.”

“That is true, Mister Brecht,” Pieter said. “If that were all I had.” Pieter opened a drawer on his desk and pulled out the shoeprint. “Miss Kinney had by her bed a safe, and someone tried hard to break into it, or to carry it from the room. Not only did he fail at both tasks, but he left his footprints in the dust.”

Pieter got up and walked to the center of the room, where he laid the shoeprint on the floor. “I helped make this, but most of the work, and all of the cleverness, is to the credit of Miss von Schurmann here. Mister Wild, please step on this.”

Widow Wild announced the result. “Jimmy’s foot is too big. Jimmy’s not the man!”

“I agree,” Pieter said. “Jailer, remove the fetters from Mister Wild’s ankles. Mister Krebs, please oblige me.”

“Why?” Krebs asked.

“Because Miss Kinney owned a safe, and in Grantville, you and Mister Brecht were asking how to break into a safe. Mister Krebs, I’m waiting.”

The jailer had laid down his pike and had pulled the key ring off his belt, and was now squatting down at Jimmy Wilds’s feet. Rolf Krebs glanced at Werner Brecht, then stepped forward to plant his shoe atop the shoeprint.

Pieter said, “Mister Krebs’s shoe is a little too long. Your turn, Mister Brecht.”

Werner Brecht didn’t move.

“Mister Brecht, you will cooperate. The only question now is, what happens to you beforehand.”

“Please do it, Werner,” Krebs said.

Werner stomped forward and stomped his foot onto the charcoal outline.

“Your shoe matches, Mister Brecht,” Pieter said.

Brecht glared at him. “The lines are blurry on this drawing—crooked, too! I’m sure there are a hundred men in Jena whose shoe seems to match this drawing. Help me out here, Rolf.”

Krebs reluctantly stepped closer. Werner Brecht lifted his foot off the shoeprint for several seconds, then put it back down. Krebs looked at Pieter and said, “He’s right, Your Honor, it’s not a perfect match.” But then Krebs looked at Brecht and said, “But it’s a good match. Did you try to rob a dead woman, Werner?”

“He did, Mister Krebs,” Pieter said, as he walked back to his desk. Pieter picked up the box he had brought in, minutes earlier, and set the box on his desk. Pieter with his right hand removed a leather holster from the box; and with his left hand, Pieter removed an up-time handgun from the holster. Pieter told the room, “Once Mister Brecht left to come here, a policeman and I searched his apartment. Eight days ago, this was in Miss Kinney’s bedroom.”

What the hell?” Brecht said. “Why did you search my apartment?”

“Suffice it to say that I played a hunch and I was right.”

“And how do you know it’s Geri’s gun? Maybe I bought it from a different up-timer.”

“Try again, pencil stub,” Jimmy Wild said. “I gave Geri her gun. Check the serial number, and if it’s got the numbers six-six-seven in there, the judge owns your sorry ass. June of 1967 is when I was born. Um, Your Honor, please don’t touch the trigger while you’re looking.”

Pieter examined the gun more closely. “Sure enough. There’s a big number engraved into the barrel, and the fourth, fifth, and sixth numerals are six-six-seven.” Pieter put the gun back in the holster, and then the holster back in the box, as both Jimmy and Edith Wild looked relieved.

“All right, fine,” Brecht said, “I went into her bedroom, and I took her gun, and I tried to take her safe. She was already dead. I was in her place for only a few minutes. It’s not nice to rob a dead person, I admit it, but I didn’t kill her.”

Krebs frowned. “Then why are there scratches on your wrist, Werner? You lied about trying to steal the safe, so why should anyone believe you about not killing her?”

Frau Küster spoke up. “I don’t understand why you would rob her. What did she ever do to you?”

Pieter answered before Brecht could. “She overcharged him. Mister Wild, tell Mister Krebs there—the young man who didn’t steal Miss Kinney’s gun—how much you paid that last time to Miss Kinney.”

Jimmy Wild said, “Forty dollars.”

Krebs said, “What? But—”

Pieter said, “Yes, even with your `discount,’ you and Mister Brecht paid more than that. And Mister Wild, when Miss Kinney yelled at you at the top of the stairs, she mentioned the forty dollars, did she not?”

Wild nodded. “Yeah, she said—”

“What she said, she said loudly, correct?”

“Yeah, she yelled her head off.”

Frau Küster said to Werner Brecht, “Wait, I thought you were just her neighbor. You were one of her johns?”

Krebs said, “Go ahead, Werner, I dare you to lie about this.”

Brecht shrugged. Then he turned to Pieter and said, “But if they were arguing about her doubling his price, you can’t prove I understood it.”

“But I can, Mister Brecht. When I talked to you on the morning after the murder, I asked you, ‘Do you speak English? Do you know what they were saying?’ You didn’t say no. Instead, you said, ‘I speak some English, and read it better than I speak it. But they were using many words that aren’t in West Virginia law books.’ You evaded my second question.”

Brecht said, “Well, if I heard her say that she was only charging him forty dollars, why would I kill her?”

Pieter said, “I’ll let Miss Scholz answer that.” Pieter walked over to the door to his clerks’ office, and opened it. Into the room stepped Ludmilla Scholz. Pieter turned around to see Brecht look at Ludmilla with his face showing puzzlement, then shocked recognition, then fear and panic.

“Who is this, Your Honor?” Anna Maria asked.

Pieter said, “This is Miss Ludmilla Scholz. Three days ago she recognized Mister Brecht from the picture you drew, and then she told me an interesting story about him.”

Ludmilla glared at Brecht, then told the room, “I am a good woman, who three years ago was a refugee forced to sell her body.” Ludmilla told a gripping tale, ending with “. . . and then when I was already cold, and sick, and desperate, this man was kicking me and robbing me, yelling, ‘How dare you cheat me!’ He was so angry about one pfennig.”

Pieter thanked Ludmilla for speaking, then eyed the room. “So what can I prove happened? Last Monday afternoon, Miss Kinney and Mister Wild got into an argument. At the top of the stairs, she yelled at him in English, ‘No more forty dollars for you.’ Mister Brecht heard the words, understood them, and got angry. Soon after, he talked his way into Miss Kinney’s apartment, saying or doing nothing to alarm her. As she was walking toward her bedroom door, he pulled out the twine he’d brought and strangled her. He took her gun and tried unsuccessfully to take her safe. After a while, he informed the police of her murder, not mentioning his own involvement.”

Pieter eyed Werner Brecht and repeated, “All this I can prove, with more than sworn statements.”

Brecht laughed. “And here’s one thing you haven’t proven, ‘Your Honor.’ Geri Kinney deserved to die. I admit it, I killed her. Why? All the time she told us down-time students that she was doing us a ‘favor,’ by giving us a ‘discount,’ she was laughing at us. The up-timer over there, he got the favors and he got the discounts. Monday after he left, I showed up at the whore’s door, and all I had was guilders. Meaning, I had to pay and pay and pay for the privilege of an up-time woman giving me sex. And just like every time, before she’d do anything with me, that day she took my money and headed for her bedroom. Well, I didn’t get any sex that day, but I did get my guilders back.”

Pieter said, “Thank you for that admission, Mister Brecht, in the presence of eight witnesses.”

“You mean, because confessio est regina—”

Werner Brecht bolted for the door to Pieter’s courtroom, yanked open the door, and was gone before anyone in the judicial chamber could give chase.

Pieter waited, calm, even as everyone else in the room acted every way except calm.

“HEY, LET GO!” A fist hit flesh. “OW!” Two fists hit flesh. “STOP IT!” A rain of fists followed. “STOP IT, STOP, GOD IN HEAVEN, STOP!”

Three of Widow Wild’s Bohemian bodyguards squeezed themselves through the door, pushing and dragging Werner Brecht. Pieter walked to the other door out of his chamber—the door that led to his clerks’ office—opened the door, and beckoned with his hand. Widow Wild’s other three bodyguards stepped in. They gave Werner Brecht an eager smile.

“Jailer,” Pieter said, “I arrest Werner Brecht, a citizen of Jena, for the murder of Geri Kinney, a citizen of Jena. Fetter him and take him away.”

When Brecht was fettered, Rolf Krebs stepped in front of him. “You killed Geri,” Krebs said. “You.” He punched Werner Brecht in the nose.

****

An hour later, Pieter, Anna Maria, and her bodyguards were at the train station. Pieter sent a telegram to Police Chief Richards.

WERNER BRECHT ARRESTED FOR MURDER OF GERI KINNEY
BACK ROW ON RIGHT IN PHOTOGRAPH
ANNA MARIA VON SCHURMANN DESERVES MUCH CREDIT
I FREED JAMES WILD
TELL EVERYONE

Pieter walked over to Anna Maria, who was sitting on the train platform. He said, “Enjoy your time in Grantville. I thank you for the help you gave me.”

She smiled. “This isn’t goodbye. You will see me again, believe it.”

“Of course, for Brecht’s trial.”

Her face became serious. “No. My goal now is to enter the medical school here. But I don’t just want to become one of the few up-time-trained woman physicians in all of Europe. Eventually I want to learn how to become a medical examiner.”

“What is that?”

“A physician who examines dead bodies to determine how they died; if they were murdered, what happened during the murder.”

“I see. What Nurse Flanagan did in Miss Kinney’s apartment.”

“Yes, and Nurse Flanagan admitted to me that every minute she was there, she was guessing what to do. Being a medical examiner is work that needs doing. It needs to be done right, and it helps the victims’ families.”

“That will be a very different life than yours in the other world.”

She shrugged. “I was a scholar in the other seventeenth century, I don’t need to be a scholar in this new one.” Then she asked, “And you, what now?”

He said, “I still having atoning to do. I sent an innocent man to die because I believed a lie, then I made the innocent man lie that he was guilty. My penance is to punish the criminals, free the innocent, and find evidence to show that liars are lying.”

She nodded. “So in the years ahead, we each will be a . . . I believe the up-time word is detective.”

THE END

Writing Now As A Publisher

When I started this blog, I intended to post only in my Author capacity, because I figured that it would be the only part of my life that strangers would be interested in. Strangers don’t want to hear my political views, my religious views, or about my sex life. And I don’t have a cat.

Up to now, I’ve written only two posts from a publisher point of view, this one and this other one. Each is related to the 1927 book The President’s Daughter by Nan Britton, which I published as an ebook.

But that isn’t the only thing I’ve done/am doing as publisher. I have authors now! Real flesh-and-blood writers who aren’t me, who have written books that I think the public will want to buy.

Currently I am editing books by Texas Nathan and D. L. Lanholder. Texas Nathan’s book is just about ready to publish, and I guarantee it’ll be talked about!

I’ve already published two books by P. J. Wright, and soon I’ll be putting up sample chapters from his works.

But let me talk now about how I’m trying to sign new authors, because I’ve figured out something that the big boys in Manhattan haven’t figured out. They’re stodgy over there.

How do the big boys get author submissions? Well, the big boys don’t have to do anything; submissions come, unsolicited, every day—both by mail and submitted through literary agents. But let’s say some NYC editor or NYC agent wanted to start his own publishing company. What he’d do is to contact literary agents, and to tell them he’s in the market for such-and-such kinds of books. But let’s say that this brand-new NYC publisher, for some reason, doesn’t want to deal with literary agents at all. Then he’d buy an ad in Writer’s Digest magazine that says “Authors’ Books Wanted.”

When his ad came out, he’d be flooded with submissions. No matter what he’d said in his ad that he wanted, he’d get stories of every genre, of every length, and every level of quality. And then he, or somebody in his company, would have to read enough of every submission to make a go/no-go decision.

Everything I’ve read in Writer’s Digest from NYC agents and editors, even those who say that they love their job, is that they hate, hate, hate dealing with submissions, because they’re such time-waster.

But by accident, I discovered a better way. And it all happened because I’m a fan of Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games trilogy. It turns out that there are boatloads of Hunger Games fan-fiction stories out there, and some of them are excellently written.

Of those Hunger Games fanfic stories, stories written by a librarian named FernWithy (nom d’internet) are the best. FernWithy has such deft plotting, and does such rich characterizations of HG characters but in ways that “explain” canon, that I’m tempted to believe that FernWithy is Suzanne Collins in disguise.

Well, one day, FernWithy posted that after she wraps up her current HG fanfic story, she’s going to start on a non-fanfic original novel. I immediately PM’d her and wrote, “I’m a publisher. When you finish your novel, I’d like to see it, because I know in advance it’ll be good.”

After I sent FernWithy that PM, I realized, “I’m on to something.”

Since then, I’ve PM’d a few other Hunger Games fanfic authors, all of whom wrote several stories each that impressed me. In my PMs, I’ve said the same thing to them that I said to FernWithy.

Nobody has written back with a book proposal for me, but it’s only a matter of time.

I myself have done the whole submit-to-NYC-publishers thing. I did it for years, between 1994 and 2000. It’s depressing and soul-sucking. I sent out my cover letter, synopsis, and two sample chapters, waited for months, and then I got back a one-page letter: “No.” No explanation of why my book was getting rejected, and no suggestion of someone else in the publishing industry who might be interested. Just “no.”

If I do wind up rejecting somebody’s manuscript after I’d invited them to submit, I’d much rather reject in a matter of hours after submission or a matter of days at most, with the author already knowing that I respect his/her writing talent. Authors deserve respect, even when their book gets rejected, but they don’t get respect from the New York City publishers.

But I don’t plan to reject every submission by an invited author. Not at all.

Mark my words: One day a fanfic writer whom I’ve invited to submit, will submit to me an original work, and it’ll be brilliant, and I’ll have it up on Amazon by the time that an NYC publisher gets around to mailing that same author a “not suitable for our current needs” form-rejection.

My encryption-decryption program in C

This is a program to encrypt and decrypt files on your computer, using a command-line prompt. It’s written in C; you can use gcc.exe from MinGW to compile it. Since I’m posting the source code for you to inspect, you can see that the program has no “back door” in it.

This is an improvement on Alberti’s method of encryption, which used a single word, endlessly repeated, as the key for encryption. In Alberti’s method, for each letter in the key, the number representing that letter’s place in the alphabet is added to the number representing the corresponding plain-text letter’s place in the alphabet, 26 is subtracted from the sum if it is greater than 26, then the encrypted letter becomes the letter that corresponds to that number.

For example, if the first letter of plain text is ‘S’ (the 19th letter of the alphabet), and the first letter of key-text is ‘L’ (the 12th letter of the alphabet) then the first letter of the encrypted text is ‘E’, because that’s the (19 + 12 – 26 = 5)th letter of the alphabet.


Plain text:     SENDMOREMONEY
Key text:       LOVELOVELOVEL
Encrypted text: ETJIYDNJYDJJK

My encryption method is to expand the Alberti table from the 26 letters of the alphabet to the 256 possible numeric values that an eight-bit byte can have. To encrypt, add the numeric value of the plain-file byte and the numeric value of the encoder-file byte, and this sum, modula 256, becomes the numeric value of the encrypted-file byte.

Furthermore, I use a file that is (at least temporarily) on my computer as the encoder (key) source, instead of Alberti’s repeated keyword. To be specific, I choose, as the encoder file for encryption, a file that is bigger than the plain file so that the encryption key never repeats.

That is my entire encrypt/decrypt idea in a nutshell. Once you actually examine the source code, you’ll see a few safety factors coded in, which I see no need to discuss here.

If you think that it’s unusual for a novelist to create an encryption algorithm, please remember that in my very first post, I mentioned that I’d earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics.

I wrote the original C code for my encryption-decryption program in 1993, and have improved on it since then. For reasons I choose not to discuss, I am asserting my First Amendment right to post publicly my current version of the source code.

In 1993 and 1994, I submitted my early version of the source code to The National Security Agency (NSA), hoping to sell it to them. Eventually the NSA wrote me, in a letter dated December 15th, 1994, telling me that they declined to buy my algorithm, and that “…we have no objection to your publication of your findings, if this is your intent.”

I now believe that my circa-1993 version of my program had some security holes in it. I suspect this is why the NSA refused to buy it. I have since then, I believe, fixed those security holes. The biggest security-bug fixed: Any sufficiently big file on your computer, as well as any sufficiently big file that you download to your computer, can now be used as the key file. For example, you download an Al Jolson MP3 file from archive.org, use it as the key file when you run this program, then true-erase the Al Jolson MP3 file, and your encrypted file can’t be decrypted. (Until later, when you download the same Al Jolson MP3 file again.)

How to Compile ENCO (in MinGW)

Copy the source code below, paste it into a text file, and save the text file with a filename that has extension “c”. For simplicity’s sake, I recommend naming the file “enco.c”.

Get your computer to recognize a path to C:\MinGW\bin (which is where gcc.exe is).

Call up a command line with CMD.EXE (if you haven’t done so already), and use the CD command to change the default folder to whichever folder your brand-new C file is stored in.

Then enter this at the command prompt:

gcc [the name of your encryption-decryption program].c -o enco.exe -std=c99

examples:

gcc tomhrichardson_s_little_internet_program.c -o enco.exe -std=c99

gcc enco.c -o enco.exe -std=c99


/*
Source code by Thomas H. Richardson, posted 2014 -- copyright
waived/disclaimed.
*/
/*
Encoder, encrypt, and plain files must all have size (in bytes) less than
2 ** 31, which is roughly two billion, or exactly 2 gigabytes or 2,048 Mbytes.

Only three restrictions on what can be encoder file:
1) Must have file size at least 32 kb larger than file size of plain
(unencrypted) file;
2) Will not be changed or permanently deleted between time of encryption and
time of decryption; and
3) Must not have many null characters ('\x00') --  but a few are okay.
*/
/*
To minimize the chance of the code being broken, use a bigger file of suitable
file-extension:

Recommended: MP3, MPG, OGG, PNG, WMA
Not recommended: DOC, HTM, JPG, MOV, PDF, TXT, VOB (found on DVDs), WAV, WMV

To further minimize code-breaking of the encrypted file, the first 2.5 kb of
the encoder file are skipped-through without being used for
encryption/decryption.
*/


#include <stdio.h>                                        /* to define FILE */
#include <io.h>                                   /* for FILELENGTH, FILENO */
#include <string.h>


void main(int argc, char **argv), get_filename(char *cp_start);

int encode(const char *restrict cp_helper, const char *restrict cp_plain,
      const char *restrict cp_encoded,
      const int both_encoder_and_plain_are_text,
      FILE *restrict fp_encoder);

int decode(const char *restrict cp_helper, const char *restrict cp_plain,
      const char *restrict cp_encoded,
      const int both_encoder_and_plain_are_text, FILE *fp_encoder);

#ifndef NULL
#define NULL ((void*)0)
#endif


char *too_small_msg_format = "/ / / helper file \"%s\" too small! \\ \\ \\\n";
char *too_many_null_chars_msg_format
     = "/ / / helper file \"%s\" has too many null characters! \\ \\ \\\n";


int encode(const char *restrict cp_helper, const char *restrict cp_plain,
      const char *restrict cp_encoded,
	  const int both_encoder_and_plain_are_text,
          FILE *restrict fp_encoder)
{
   int i, i_plain, i_encoder, ok_to_continue, is_ok;
   FILE *restrict fp_plain, *restrict fp_encrypt;
/* */
   is_ok = 0;  /* FALSE */
   if (both_encoder_and_plain_are_text)
      fp_plain = fopen(cp_plain, "rt");
   else
      fp_plain = fopen(cp_plain, "rb");
   if (fp_plain != NULL)
   {
      if ((filelength(fileno(fp_encoder)) - filelength(fileno(fp_plain)))
            >= 32768L)
   /* Even if the encoder file has size of only 32 kb more than the size of
       the plain file, and furthermore I throw away the first 2.5 kb of the
     encoder file, I'll still avoid hitting EOF for the encoder file. (This
  assumes that the encoder file has less than 30,208 null-characters in it,
         or else that the encoder file is MUCH bigger than the plain file.) */
      {
         for (i = 0; i < 2560; i++)  i_encoder = fgetc(fp_encoder);
              /* throw away first 2.5 kilobytes of encoder file. Hopefully,
                         encoder file's header file isn't more than 2.5 kb. */
         ok_to_continue = 1;  /* TRUE */
         fp_encrypt = fopen(cp_encoded, "wb");
         for (i_plain = fgetc(fp_plain);
               ((i_plain != EOF) && (ok_to_continue));
               i_plain = fgetc(fp_plain))
         {
            for (i_encoder = fgetc(fp_encoder);
                  i_encoder == 0;                              /* null char */
                  i_encoder = fgetc(fp_encoder))
               ;
/*
If I allow encoder-character to remain '\x00', then "encrypted" character is
the same as unencrypted ("plain") character. A number of consecutive encoder
null characters being allowed, leads to large portions of "encrypted" file
being easily sight-read.
*/
            ok_to_continue = (i_encoder != EOF);
            is_ok = ok_to_continue;
            if (ok_to_continue)
            {
               if (both_encoder_and_plain_are_text)
               {
                  if (i_plain == 10) /* \n */ i_plain = 128;
                  else;
                  if (i_encoder == 10)  i_encoder = 128;
                  else;
               }
               else;
               fputc(((i_plain + i_encoder) % 256), fp_encrypt);
            }
            else
               printf(too_many_null_chars_msg_format, cp_helper);
         }
         fclose(fp_encrypt);
      }
      else
         printf(too_small_msg_format, cp_helper);
      fclose(fp_plain);
   }
   else
      printf("/ / / plain-text file \"%s\" not found! \\ \\ \\\n", cp_plain);
   return(is_ok);
}


int decode(const char *restrict cp_helper, const char *restrict cp_plain,
      const char *restrict cp_encoded,
	  const int both_encoder_and_plain_are_text,
          FILE *restrict fp_encoder)
{
   int i, i_encrypt, i_encoder, diff, ok_to_continue, is_ok;
   FILE *restrict fp_plain, *restrict fp_encrypt;
/* */
   is_ok = 0;  /* FALSE */
   fp_encrypt = fopen(cp_encoded, "rb");
   if (fp_encrypt != NULL)
   {
      if ((filelength(fileno(fp_encoder)) - filelength(fileno(fp_encrypt)))
            >= 32768L)
   /* Even if the encoder file has size of only 32 kb more than the size of
   the encrypted file, and furthermore I throw away the first 2.5 kb of the
     encoder file, I'll still avoid hitting EOF for the encoder file. (This
  assumes that the encoder file has less than 30,208 null-characters in it,
     or else that the encoder file is MUCH bigger than the encrypted file.) */
      {
         if (both_encoder_and_plain_are_text)
            fp_plain = fopen(cp_plain, "wt");
         else
            fp_plain = fopen(cp_plain, "wb");
         for (i = 0; i < 2560; i++)  i_encoder = fgetc(fp_encoder);
              /* throw away first 2.5 kilobytes of encoder file. Hopefully,
                         encoder file's header file isn't more than 2.5 kb. */
         ok_to_continue = 1;  /* TRUE */
         for (i_encrypt = fgetc(fp_encrypt);
               ((i_encrypt != EOF) && (ok_to_continue));
               i_encrypt = fgetc(fp_encrypt))
         {
            for (i_encoder = fgetc(fp_encoder);
                  i_encoder == 0;                              /* null char */
                  i_encoder = fgetc(fp_encoder))
               ;            /* Because I did the same thing when encrypting */
            ok_to_continue = (i_encoder != EOF);
            is_ok = ok_to_continue;
            if (ok_to_continue)
            {
               if (both_encoder_and_plain_are_text)
                  if (i_encoder == 10) /* \n */ i_encoder = 128;
                  else;
               else;
               diff = (((i_encrypt + 256) - i_encoder) % 256);
               if (both_encoder_and_plain_are_text)
                  if (diff == 128)  diff = 10;  /* \n */
                  else;
               else;
               fputc(diff, fp_plain);
            }
            else
               printf(too_many_null_chars_msg_format, cp_helper);
         }
         fclose(fp_plain);
      }
      else
         printf(too_small_msg_format, cp_helper);
      fclose(fp_encrypt);
   }
   else
      printf("/ / / encrypted file \"%s\" not found! \\ \\ \\\n", cp_encoded);
   return(is_ok);
}


void get_filename(char *cp_start)
{
   char *cp;
   int intchar;
/* */
   cp = cp_start;
   for (intchar = getchar(); intchar != (int) '\n'; intchar = getchar())
      *(cp++) = (char) intchar;
   *cp = '';
}


void main(int argc, char **argv)
{
   char yn_block[16], helper_block[261], plain_block[261], encodd_block[261];
   int both_encoder_and_plain_are_text, choice, is_ok;
   FILE *restrict fp_encoder;
/* */
   printf("ENCO.EXE");
   both_encoder_and_plain_are_text = 0;  /* FALSE */
   if (argc <= 3)
   {
      printf("\nCommand-line format: \"enco helper-file plain-file ");
      printf("encoded-file [/t]\"\n");
      printf(
     "\nInstead, now you must write the name of the helper file (used for\n");
      printf("encoding/decoding).\n");
      printf(
        "\nRecommended for helper file: *.MP3  *.MPG  *.OGG  *.PNG  *.WMA\n");
      printf("\nAlso, helper-file must 1) be bigger than the file to be ");
      printf("encrypted/decrypted;\n");
      printf("and 2) helper-file must not change (be deleted or ");
      printf("overwritten) between the\n");
      printf("time that the plain-file gets encrypted and when the ");
      printf("encrypted file is\n");
      printf("unencrypted.\n");
      printf("\nName of helper file? ");
      get_filename(&helper_block[0]);
      printf("\nName of unencrypted (or decrypted) file? ");
      get_filename(&plain_block[0]);
      printf("\nName of encrypted file? ");
      get_filename(&encodd_block[0]);
   }
   else
   {
      strcpy(&helper_block[0], *(argv + 1));
      strcpy(&plain_block[0], *(argv + 2));
      strcpy(&encodd_block[0], *(argv + 3));
      if (argc > 4)
         if ((strcmp(*(argv + 4), "\\t") == 0)
               || (strcmp(*(argv + 4), "\\T") == 0)
               || (strcmp(*(argv + 4), "/t") == 0)
               || (strcmp(*(argv + 4), "/T") == 0))
            both_encoder_and_plain_are_text = 1;  /* TRUE */
         else;
      else;
   }
   for (choice = 0; ((choice <= 0) || (choice >= 3)); )
   {
      printf("\nDo you want to (1) encode or (2) decode? ");
      gets(&yn_block[0]);
      sscanf(&yn_block[0], "%d", &choice);
   }
   if (both_encoder_and_plain_are_text)
      fp_encoder = fopen(&helper_block[0], "rt");
   else
      fp_encoder = fopen(&helper_block[0], "rb");
   if (fp_encoder != NULL)
   {
      if (choice - 1)
         is_ok = decode(&helper_block[0], &plain_block[0], &encodd_block[0],
               both_encoder_and_plain_are_text, fp_encoder);
      else
         is_ok = encode(&helper_block[0], &plain_block[0], &encodd_block[0],
               both_encoder_and_plain_are_text, fp_encoder);
      fclose(fp_encoder);
      if (is_ok)
         printf("\n{{{ Program completed successfully }}}\n");
      else
         printf("\n*** ABNORMAL PROGRAM TERMINATION ***\n");
   }
   else
      printf("/ / / helper file \"%s\" not found! \\ \\ \\\n",
            &helper_block[0]);
   printf("\n(Press any key) ");
   choice = getchar();
   fflush(stdin);
}

I Am No Dentist

…Which is a fact that any knowledgeable dentist, or even first-year dental student, would quickly figure out by looking into my mouth.

The reason I mention this is that there is another Tom H. Richardson out there: a dentist in Colorado. Here is his contact info:

Address: 1235 Lake Plaza Dr., Colorado Springs, CO 80906
Phone: (719) 576-1566

I am not he; he is not I. To prevent more confusion, I promise never to become a dentist. I don’t know what I’ll do if he starts writing novels.