August 1636

in Frankish calendar

Fatmir stepped off the boat from Venice and shivered. It was supposed to be summer, but the wind had a bite to it he’d not felt since he was a child in Albania. Behind him the servants carried off the luggage and loaded it on a coach.

Kadir leaned through the window of the coach. “Come, Fatmir. I want to arrive at our townhouse before sunset. This wind is frigid.”

Fatmir climbed in the coach and they bumped over the cobblestones into the city. Fatmir was not an Ottoman, like his friend Kadir, who was Persian. He was from Albania. At home, he was considered a slave of the empire. But here in this strange city, he could tell that he was the exotic stranger. He would be visible anywhere he went unless he adopted the local styles.

The ship captain in Venice had been told that he and Kadir were Ottoman merchants investigating the possibility of opening trade with northern markets. And in part that was true. They were investigating trade, but neither man was a merchant. They were spies of the Ottoman empire. And the best part of it was that the Danes knew they were spies.

***

Fatmir, part of the party from the Ottoman empire, paused on the dock and pulled his coat more tightly around him. Today, he was dressed in Frankish foppery and missed his turban. It would have kept his face and neck much warmer than the felt hat and lace collar he wore. But it would not please His Excellency, Kadir, if Fatmir was obtrusive. His assignment was to observe the Frankish shipping and assess whether or not there would be profit in this market.

He noticed that a small boy was looking at him rather pointedly and saw that his kinjal was peeping out from under the edge of his doublet. He glared at the child and tucked the knife away. Then he moved down the street to appear uncaring. Fatmir was making notes in his mind of the number of ships unloading and what sorts of goods were coming and going in Copenhagen.

He turned a corner and walked a block back into the warehouse district, surprised to see an eating establishment. The sign out front was ‘The Mermaid and Tiger’ and it was far from empty. There were men out front, talking business and smoking pipes. And inside, there were few tables unoccupied.

He found himself a seat in a corner and continued his observations. It wasn’t long before a young girl, who couldn’t have been more than twelve, greeted him. “Sir, what can I get for you?”

Fatmir looked around the room. The menu was chalked on the wall above the counter and some of it was incomprehensible. Some people around him were sipping chocolate and others were sipping beer. “Do you have coffee?”

“Of course, sir. Anything else?”

“I think, some of those biscuits?”

“Yes, sir. Plain or with cheese?”

“Plain is fine.”

She hurried away and reported his order at the window. It was only a couple of moments before she returned. “You are in luck, the biscuits are just out of the oven, and hot. I hope you enjoy them, sir.”

Fatmir was fascinated. He had always enjoyed food, and here was something he’d never seen. The biscuits were not at all like crackers, but more like yeast rolls. And yet, there was no yeast he could smell or taste. The coffee was passable, but not as good as at home. It seemed kind of thin. The biscuit, when he took a bite, was light as a cloud, fragrant and warm. With that first bite, he decided he would come to this place again.

 

Copenhagen

September 1636

Fatmir had been in Copenhagen for ten days. Today, The Mermaid and Tiger was not busy, only five or six patrons. Fatmir sat at his customary table near a window that looked out at the docks and sipped his chocolate. It was such a different thing, this drink from the Americas. It was not coffee, and yet, it was dark and rich. It was heavily spiced and only slightly sweet. Yet there was something fascinating about it, not only the way it tasted, but the way it felt flowing down his throat and filling his head with vigor.

Fatmir actually had his eyes closed, concentrating on identifying some of the spices when the shouting started. “You churl, I will not sit here a moment longer. Defend yourself!”

He opened his eyes and jumped up, saving his cup when his table was thrown away from him. Two men were struggling with swords inside the shop. The girls working at the counter ran into the kitchen and a boy went out the front door, hopefully to call the City Watch.

Now the shop was empty of bystanders, except for Fatmir and the man he’d been following, Herr Gijsbert Keese. This man was an enigma, called the Dutchman by those who whispered about him. There was definitely something sinister about the Dutchman. Since last night, Fatmir had observed the man buying stolen goods, skirting a bar fight, and talking conspiracy with other suspicious types. Fatmir wanted to find out if this man would be a good source of information.

He turned his attention back to the men with swords. They both were rich enough to afford well-made swords and their doublets were not the rough wool of dock workers. One was dressed almost entirely in black and the other in red and blue. They fenced back and forth, shouting obscenities at each other in French and German. From what Fatmir could tell, they were either fighting about a woman, or a sum of money. It was not entirely clear which and it could have been a sum of money for a woman. He didn’t pay close attention to their shouts, but tried to stay away from the wildly flailing steel.

He ducked and an earthenware jug missed his head. It had been flung by the man in red and blue, who seemed to be losing the duel. The jug shattered against the wall next to him and showered him in cheap red wine. He pulled a kerchief from a sleeve and wiped his eyebrows and beard and while he did so, saw a man run from the room, back into the kitchen. He’d seen this man before, when Herr Keese had been talking conspiracy. But Fatmir didn’t know his name.

That was when the City Watch arrived and stopped the fight. Fatmir picked a table up from the floor, set his chocolate cup on it and then retrieved a chair. When he was seated, he watched the drama as the two duelists were dragged off to see the magistrate.

Before they could go, the young serving girl screamed. She had been trying to clean up the broken crockery, when Herr Keese, seated on a corner bench near her, slid down to the floor into a puddle of his own blood.

 

December 1635

The townhouse was very nice. It had as modern a kitchen as Reva had seen since leaving Grantville and the staff were very competent. Especially after finding that Reva was a “hands-on” kind of mistress. The first couple of days had been a little rocky, but now everything was running smoothly.

Reva sat in the front parlor. The room was warm and cozy from the tile stove in the corner. She had her Christmas list in her lap, but was idly staring out the front window. Marlon had been busy with the bank business for a week now. Over the twenty-five years they had been married, Reva had spent a lot of time waiting while Marlon talked. But here, in Denmark, she knew few people. She missed the little town where she’d grown up.

About then, there was a sharp rap on the front door. Reva jumped up and beat Gregers to the door to answer it. The truth was, she was so bored, she’d have considered dancing naked in the street just for something to do.

There were three ladies standing on her stoop and she recognized one. “Judy! Come in, all of you. No need to be out in the cold this morning.” Reva immediately invited them into the parlor and called for tea. The lady she recognized was Judy Wendell. Both being Baptists and both from Grantville, Judy and Reva were well-acquainted. Judy introduced Reva to both of the other women. The first was Inge Styggesen and the other Dorothea Fincke. Reva was a little taken aback. She’d known that the Wendells had moved to Copenhagen in June, but somehow, she hadn’t thought much about it until now.

Before the tea arrived, Judy said, “Reva, I’d heard you were in town, so I came to check for myself. What have you been doing with yourself? Do you have time to go to lunch with us?”

 Reva said, “I had been thinking about some Christmas shopping, but I don’t know much about the city yet and Marlon has been so busy with the bankers that he and I have barely been able to speak three words to each other since we arrived.”

Judy smiled and Reva noticed a new wrinkle around her friend’s blue eyes. “Just as I suspected. He hasn’t thought of you at all since he arrived and you’ve just been rotting here in this townhouse. Well, we’re here to take care of that.”

Reva sipped her mint tea. “What do you mean, Judy? Are you kidnapping me?”

Judy laughed. “Something like that. Dorothea and I have become fast friends, even though she’s a Lutheran. I only met Inge a couple of weeks ago and now she has her hands full keeping us out of trouble. We need a wiser head and you’re elected.”

Inge and Dorothea laughed. Reva hadn’t quite gotten who was who straight in her head, so she avoided trying to address either of them separately. “I guess I’ll have to give in to the inevitable. The truth is, I was about to go crazy myself, here in this house. I had no idea where to go or what to do. And Judy, since you’ve been here almost six months, I’ll leave it up to you to give me some ideas. But I’m not the one to keep you out of trouble, you should know that. Remember several years ago at the Lady’s Bazaar?”

This time Judy positively giggled. “Reva Pridmore, I can’t believe you’d remind me of that. Some of those ladies didn’t speak to me again after that night.”

***

The four ladies bundled up in capes and fur hats and braved the cold and snow. They decided that what Reva needed most was what Judy called “retail therapy“. Inge and Dorothea didn’t really know what that meant, but Reva and Judy laughed.

The Julemarked, or open-air Christmas market, in Copenhagen was wonderful. Booths selling ornaments and sweets abounded. But it was already starting to get dark early in the afternoon. Merchants were already setting up torches and lanterns around their stalls for the late afternoon shoppers.

Reva pulled her wool shawl that wrapped up her head a little closer. “The markets I remember in up-time Germany all had warming drinks. This would sure be a great time for hot chocolate, don’t you think, Judy?”

“I agree with you, Reva. I know one place that sells mulled wine, but I’m not sure if I’m ready for alcohol this early in the day.” Judy started heading down one narrow street, not waiting for the others to follow.

As they moved after Judy, Inge frowned. “I think I have heard of this chocolate. My husband is a merchant and owns three ships to fetch trade goods to Denmark. He told me that when he was in Spain, he tasted some of this drink. It’s hot and spicy, he said. But not like our spicy gløgg. It was made with water and something he couldn’t identify.”

Reva stopped in her tracks. “Did you say it was chocolate? In Spain they call it “choco-latté”.

With Reva stopped, the other women turned around. Inge nodded. “I think that’s what they said. He told me that it was rather sweet and had pepper in it. It sounded like the gløgg my grandmother made for the Christmas season. Is this some sort of drink from up-time?”

Judy smiled. “Yes, I remember my mother making cocoa whenever we went skating. She would bring it in a large thermos.”

Dorothea wasn’t about to be left out. “When I visited my brother in Paris, there was a shop where they sold something like that. It was dark and frothy. I didn’t like it at first, but by the time my tiny cup was empty, I was ready for more.”

Reva started walking again. “So there’s nothing like that in Copenhagen now? I would really like to find somewhere to buy cocoa powder or chocolate now. I only have one box of cocoa powder left from my up-time stores.”

Judy touched Reva on the arm to stop her again. “You still have cocoa powder? You may be the only one in all of Europe, you know.”

Reva gazed in shock at her friend. “Judy, I can’t be the only one. I bet Liz Carstairs still has something. You know what a fanatic she was about storing food in bulk. Mormons are like that. She was the one I always ordered from when we were all still up-time.”

Judy shook her head. “I bet Liz doesn’t have a crumb left. You know she has all those kids, some of them adopted. And while you usually won the ribbon for fudge at the county fair, it was her chocolate chip cookies three years in a row.”

They started walking again and Reva was deep in thought. She didn’t seem to notice her surroundings until Inge tapped her on the shoulder. Reva blinked and saw that they were standing in front of a small stand. The others had small stoneware mugs of gløgg that they were sipping. “Reva, don’t you want some? It will you warm up.”

“Sorry. Yes, I’ll have one, please.” She was still unsure about coins and exchange rates in Denmark. She had an interesting selection of copper and silver coins from the USE, Denmark, France, and Spain. The shopkeeper examined her money for a moment, selected one larger copper piece and put two smaller coins back in her hand.

They stood and sipped the very hot wine for a moment. Reva said, “You know, Judy, my grandmother is probably turning in her grave right now. Remember how much of a teetotaler she was?”

Judy grinned. “I never knew your grandmother, Reva. She was gone before I was five. My Aunt Gertie would have given her a run for her money. But here in the down-time, what are we supposed to drink to stay warm?”

Reva grinned. “Mulled wine, of course.” The wine was a low-quality harsh red wine simmered with spices and then fortified with some sort of brandy before being served. So not only did the warm mug feel good in her gloved hands, but an enjoyable tingle went down her throat and warmed her stomach as well. It reminded her of the last time she was in Germany at Christmas; that up-time would have been almost three years ago now.

Finally, it was fully dark. Each lady had a collection of small packages tucked into baskets as they made their way back to Reva’s townhouse. Reva stopped at the door and turned. “Would you ladies like to come in for a little bit?”

There were negative murmurs all around, so Reva nodded. She placed her hand on the door latch, but was unwilling to let the day end so abruptly. “Judy, thank you for thinking of me. I’ve had a wonderful day.”

Judy smiled. “I’ve thought about you since I saw you at the reception last week, Reva. I won’t be able to shop tomorrow, I’ve got an appointment with Fletcher. But I think Inge and Dorothea can go.” Judy was used to managing everyone around her and Reva didn’t mind. The Danish ladies didn’t seem bothered either.

Dorothea shook her head. “I can’t go tomorrow. But I will call on you later in the week.”

Reva smiled. “Thank you so much, Dorothea. I look forward to seeing you again.” They kissed each other on both cheeks in the European custom, then Dorothea hurried off down the street.

Inge also kissed Reva on both cheeks. “I would be very glad to meet you here tomorrow. Perhaps instead of shopping, you would like some sightseeing. I’ll come at nine in the morning with my coach.”

Reva took Inge’s hands in each of her own. “That would be wonderful, Inge. I’ll be ready. Is there anything special I should bring, or wear?”

“Just dress warmly as you did today. We are not being presented at court. I’ll just show you the palace and some of the churches.

***

Reva and Inge became fast friends. Several times each week they were in each other’s company, sightseeing, shopping, or sitting in a warm townhouse and embroidering. Although Inge was several years younger than Reva, the American felt she had found a long-lost friend. Inge was helping Reva speak better Danish, and Reva was teaching Inge to cook up-time specialties.

 

Copenhagen

April 1636

The next couple of weeks were busy. Each night, Marlon brought one or two of his new crew members home for dinner. They were all very nice young men, between the ages of twenty and thirty. They were eager and excited about the new project, and all dreamed of adventure.

So it was a week before Reva realized she hadn’t seen Inge in almost a month.

Today, while Reva was shopping in the market, she glimpsed Inge across the square. She waved, then hurried over to her friend.

Inge had dark circles around her eyes and looked as if she hadn’t eaten at all. “My goodness, Inge, what happened to you? You look miserable.”

“Oh, Reva. It’s good to see you.” Inge continued to sort through the cabbages as if she was searching for a particular vegetable.

Reva took Inge’s hand in her own two hands and tipped her head to try to look in her friend’s eyes. “I think you need to tell me what’s wrong. Come with me.” She firmly tucked Inge’s hand onto her elbow and headed off through the market to the small local wine shop.

Inge didn’t resist. But when Reva peeked back at her friend’s face, there were slow tears tracking down one cheek. She didn’t say another word until they were seated at a table and were waiting for their orders.

“All right, Inge. Tell me everything. Is this about your husband? Is there something I can do to help?”

Inge hid her face in her hands and sobbed silently. Finally, she was able to get herself more composed and looked up at Reva. “Yes, It’s about Axel. You know that he has a warehouse on the dock and often gets into a bidding war with some of the other merchants.”

“Yes, I know, Inge. Did something happen?”

Inge took a deep breath, then sipped her wine. “I don’t understand all of it, but it has something to do with a deal that Axel made last week.”

Reva nodded and patted Inge’s hand. “What happened? This all can’t be because of just one shipload, can it?”

Inge nodded, her eyes welling with unshed tears. “Yes, just one load. Axel overbid at the auction because they told him it was a load of money from the Americas. He was thinking it was gold, or silver, or even sugar. But it wasn’t. That thief, Ingve Olaffsen, lied. Axel got saddled with barrels of beans. And not edible things, they are bitter and gritty. You can’t cook them, everything comes out looking muddy.”

Reva was full of sympathy, but there was something nagging at her memory. “Did you say beans? What do they look like?”

Inge looked up from the table, confused. “I don’t know, just beans. About the size of fava beans from Italy, you know. Axel brought some home to see if I could do anything with them so it wouldn’t be a total loss. After he put all that money into a new ship and it was lost in the West Indies, he was hoping this load would save the business. But it looks now like we are going to lose everything.”

After dinner that night, Reva was the one not listening to Marlon and he got a little grumpy. “Sweetpea, didn’t you hear me? I asked you about your day? Where did you go?”

Reva blinked and sipped her coffee to cover. “Sorry, Swordfish. I was woolgathering, wasn’t I? I went to the market this morning and saw Inge there for the first time in weeks. She and Axel are really having problems.”

Marlon rolled his eyes. “You aren’t about to give me all the gossip, are you? Because I’m not really ready for that. I’ve got too much of this airship on my mind.”

Reva felt her temper flair. “Never mind, then. I’ll handle it. You don’t need to be concerned.”

Marlon stood up and looked at her suspiciously. “Wait, this isn’t like that conversation we had the other day that was going to cost me ten thousand dollars, is it?”

Reva walked around the table and snuggled into her husband’s arms. “No, of course not. How could you think such a thing?” He couldn’t see the glint in her eye as she hugged him. If he had, he would have ducked for cover.

***

It was a couple of days later. Inge and Reva were in the wine shop again. Reva was sipping and looking smug.

Inge set her cup down a little harder than she meant to. “But I can’t let you do that, Reva. I showed you the beans. Do you even know what they are?”

“Of course I do. They are theobroma cacao, the wonderful cocoa bean. They are raw chocolate and I mean to buy at least half of the load and start making chocolate.”

Inge leaned over and spoke in a low voice. “But do you even know how to make choco-latté?” The last word was a complete whisper.

Reva rolled her eyes and leaned toward Inge. “Well, no, not yet. But I will. At least I know what it’s supposed to taste like. I’ll work from that.”

“How will you know where to start? Did you ever do this back in America?”

Reva shrugged. “No, not really. It always came already prepared. But I don’t see why I can’t do it. Look at my husband. He had never built an airship before, but here he is, building a larger one for King Christian. Who’s to say that I can’t come up with something wonderful?”

“Reva, do you know how much a half-load of beans will cost? And what are you going to do with that many barrels? I mean in terms of tonnage?”

“Well, no.” Reva sighed. “Trust a merchant’s wife to put her finger on the biggest flaw in my plan. How much are we talking about?”

“Well, more than you can keep in a townhouse. You need a warehouse space.”

“Good idea, Inge. Finish your wine and we’ll go shopping for a warehouse I can rent or lease or something. We’ll find a factor I can trust and see what he can come up with. I like this idea more and more.”

By June, Reva and Inge had a warehouse full of barrels of cocoa beans. At the Fourth of July barbecue, she even met Matt Lawler, a machinist. He thought he could build her a grinding machine and probably even a conching machine. Of course, he had to take it on speculation and work on it when he didn’t have an assignment in the shop, but Reva would have the machinery she wanted sooner than later.

 

Copenhagen Docks

July 1636

They were out shopping and Reva had been thinking about an idea for a couple of weeks. Today was the day when she launched the idea on Inge. “I know exactly what we are going to do to make money with these beans.”

They had been walking down the street and Inge was thinking of something else. “What?”

“We open a chocolate shop and sell it ourselves.” Reva grinned and her eyes glittered with capitalistic dreams.

Inge stopped dead in the middle of the street and stared at her friend. “What do you mean? Open a shop where we cook and serve food to people? Like we were some low-class tavern?”

Reva laughed and took Inge’s arm to guide her out of traffic. “No, not low-class. We’ll make it as high-class as possible. In Paris, the chocolate shops are serving everyone and from the nobles on down, everyone is loving it. If we combine it with some of my up-time cooking, that nobody here has ever seen, we’ll be very popular and we can’t help but make money. I even know what I want to call it. What do you think of The Mermaid and Tiger?”

***

The next week was busy for Reva and Marlon didn’t even notice. The whole time he was finalizing the build and training for the Royal Anne, Reva paid workmen to rebuild the inside of her warehouse into her idea of the perfect chocolate shop. Then she and Inge sat down to develop a menu.

 

The Mermaid and Tiger

August 1636

Fatmir became a regular customer at The Mermaid and Tiger. He tried to vary the time of day he visited, but he was there almost every day. He stopped disguising himself as a Frank and wore his usual clothes. Customers came to expect his turban and brocade coat. They knew he was with the Ottoman party and at first they were curious, having never seen an Ottoman before. Their comments amused him, Fatmir was not an Ottoman, he was from Albania. At home he was considered a slave of the empire. He was beginning to enjoy the notoriety as an exotic outsider.

***

One evening, Fatmir was in Kadir’s apartments, making his report. “In the last week, I’ve seen shipments from the West Indies carried on ships from the Netherlands, England, France, and Spain. Sixteen shipments of sugar and rum, two of goods from Venice and none of spices from the East Indies. Not counting the fishing boats, I saw sixty-seven merchant ships in total.”

Kadir sat and shook his head. “Have some more coffee, my friend. You always amaze me in these reports. How do you know ships and numbers and goods so well? Nobody reports to the Sultan as you do.”

Fatmir sipped his thick sweet coffee. “It is a matter of memory, only that. I have always been gifted in the fact that I seem to notice more than most men and I am fortunate that I remember what I see.”

“You seem to have an affinity for that odd little shop. What’s it called, Mermaid and something?”

Fatmir smiled. “The Mermaid and Tiger. Yes, I spend time there. I can get an excellent view of goings and comings at high tide. Besides, they have unique food. One of the partners is an American from that town, Grantville. She makes. . .”

Kadir interrupted. “She? I will never become accustomed to these Franks and their shameless women. She is running the shop? Herself?”

Fatmir smiled. “Not by herself, there is another woman there and several young girls. The only male I have seen that works there is a boy of ten and he runs errands. But the American, she cooks things I have never seen before. You must come with me some time and try the biscuits and gravy. A biscuit is a soft bread with a new texture and the gravy is a meat sauce with some sort of milk or cream all together. I’ve never seen a sauce such as this. I’m totally enthralled.”

Kadir set his small coffee cup on the small table between them. “Fatmir, for all the years I’ve known you, I’ve considered you a connoisseur of fine things and yet you know almost nothing about this sauce? Is it really that different? Or are you enamored with these shameless women?”

Fatmir tilted his head and thought about it. Then he stood up and smiled softly at Kadir. “I will leave you to ponder whether it is the women, the food, or the chocolate. Until you sample it, make no judgments of me.” And he left Kadir’s apartment.

***

Fatmir still counted ships and noted cargo. The empire was interested to see what shipments arrived in this faraway place and what the Franks (as the Ottomans thought of everyone who was not in the empire) traded that was not offered to the Ottomans.

Chocolate was one of those things. At the moment, Spain was not on good terms with the empire and Spain appeared to have a monopoly on the substance. Fatmir didn’t yet know much about chocolate, or the beans it came from, but he knew that he would rather have a hot cup of chocolate than coffee.

Fatmir had been disappointed to find that The Mermaid and Tiger, although it opened very early, before dawn, was not open in the evening. He could not blame the women who owned the establishment for avoiding the docks after dark, but it would have been so pleasant to sit and sip chocolate while he was observing ships leaving with the tide at midnight. But such was the fate of a slave of the empire.

Fatmir was delighted, in this cold country, to have The Mermaid and Tiger. Even in the summer, Copenhagen seemed too cold. The cold made him crave something hot, just to keep his heart going. He was on good terms with Frau Pridmore, the cook. She had been introducing new items to the menu on a regular basis. She said they were from up-time, but he wasn’t sure he believed her. It was too good a marketing ploy to be certain.

Still, her Danish was not always as good as his and she had some odd attitudes. She saw no problem at all with women doing all the cooking and running of the business. There didn’t seem to be any men involved in the process at all. Perhaps she was from the up-time, after all.

One reason Fatmir was in Copenhagen was because of the up-timers. It was noted on other reports that King Christian was hiring experts from the up-time village of Grantville and Fatmir’s instructions were to glean what he could of them.

He knew that there were reports from many localities on the movements of the up-timers, so his would not be unique. Still, he was curious as to the differences between these people and anyone else. They certainly didn’t appear any different than the Franks who surrounded him every day. They were old and young, kind and selfish, generous and greedy, successful and failures. He did notice that many of them seemed to have a talent of accumulating wealth, but that was not exclusive of Grantville.

Today he was in The Mermaid and Tiger because he was following a man. It was just happy coincidence that the man came into Fatmir’s favorite shop.

The man was large and dark-haired. Fatmir had spotted him a week ago and become curious. The man stood out to Fatmir on the busy street one evening just because he was trying to be furtive. If he had succeeded, Fatmir might never have noticed, but the way he continually looked over his shoulder to see if he was followed intrigued the Albanian.

So he followed the man around the city for two days, noting to whom he spoke and what kind of money was involved. He discovered that this man’s name was Gijsbert Keese and he was fleeing some sort of prison sentence in one of the Germanies. From gossip on the docks, this man, Keese, was known to one and all as the Dutchman. Very few actually knew his name, but many knew of him. The Dutchman was the person one went to for the black market. Whispers were that he had swindled the Grantville Railroad of a good deal of money. He seemed to be in Copenhagen to contact someone and make his escape to the Americas.

Fatmir was interested in this fellow. He was the sort of lowlife that one would contact if there were some dirty work needed doing with no way to trace it back to the empire.

He watched one night, as Keese met the man he’d been searching for. Fatmir was in a shadow by a warehouse and could hear their conversation.

The stranger, in a dark hood, spoke first. “Just what is the emergency that I need to be pulled away from my duties, Keese? I told you never to contact me. Are you trying to extort more money from me? I refuse to pay anything else. When you were arrested, my operation had to be closed down and you almost put me out of business. I’ve sent you enough cash to get you out of Europe. What do you want now?”

Keese puffed himself up, reminding Fatmir of a fat toad. “It takes more gold than I have to get to the West Indies. I need enough that I can buy a plantation and retire. I’m not going over there as a slave.”

The man in the hood snorted. “I’m not going to provide you with that kind of money unless you can give me something of worth in return. Do you have those military secrets you claimed to have? I need the documents we discussed.”

Keese seemed very uncomfortable and Fatmir was almost certain that he was lying. “Of course I have them. All the information you could want about the kingdom of the Lowlands. You could topple the whole thing with what I’ve found.”
The other man glared at him for a moment. “I’m leaving tonight for Amsterdam, but I will return in September. Meet me at the chocolate shop. Sit by the east window, where I left a note before. If I like the documents you have for me, you’ll get what you deserve.”

 

The Mermaid and Tiger

September 1635

So one night in September, Gijsbert Keese came to the chocolate shop. The city was abuzz with news of the Royal Anne and its phenomenal trip to the Far East. It had launched the evening before and nobody could talk of anything else. This evening, the shop was almost empty.

Fatmir was drinking chocolate at his customary table. Kadir had been at the launch the night before, but Fatmir didn’t attend because of the Keese matter.

The menu board over the bar had something new on the bakery list. It was called a “brownie”.  As far as Fatmir knew, in his study of the English language, that was the name of a small elfin creature, not some kind of biscuit. But he decided to try it. He loved trying all the new innovations that Frau Pridmore introduced to the menu.

Before the brownie arrived, a fight broke out. The man in black was loud and probably drunk. Fatmir decided, by his accent and use of Catalan obscenities, that the man was Spanish. The one in red and blue was probably English, an egotistical fop. There was no way they would kill one another short of an accident.

He was able to save his chocolate just before his table was kicked over. Only Keese stayed where he’d been. At the time, Fatmir thought it strange that he didn’t move a muscle, even when the brawl came very close. All the rest of the patrons of the shop evaporated at the first sign of trouble.

Then, the Englishman parried a thrust from the Spanish Captain and his sword slipped from his fingers, slid to the side and slithered off into a corner. “So, Gonzalez. We are at the same impasse as we were on your ship. I have lost my sword. Do you expect me to surrender?”

Before Gonzalez could answer, the City Watch arrived. The two duelists were escorted to the magistrate for disturbing the peace. Fatmir was just making himself comfortable again and was just as surprised as anyone to see the Dutchman fall to the ground.

Frau Pridmore came from the kitchen in horror. “Oh, my stars! Is he dead?” Frau Styggesen was wringing her hands behind her American friend.

The captain of the City Watch nudged the body with a toe. “Yes, I think he is. This is a serious matter. Who is the owner of this establishment?”

Frau Pridmore looked very pale and woozy, but not as bad as Frau Styggesen. “We are, captain. Why?”

The captain bowed slightly. “You will immediately accompany my men and me to the magistrate. You can worry about cleaning this up when you return.”

Reva and Inge nodded and got their wraps against the night air. Everyone else was sent home and the shop was locked.

Fatmir followed the party out of the shop. He stayed in the background while the City Watch was involved. He had no urge to be noticed by city officials. But he was concerned about the fate of his favorite chocolate shop and the ladies who owned it. So he followed the ladies and their escort to the magistrate.

But as he hurried through the dark streets, he considered the situation. The man was still as loose as a bag of meal, so he could not have been dead long. He had to have died during the two or three hours that Fatmir sat in the shop. Otherwise, he would have stiffened into the sitting position he died in.

So Fatmir tried to remember who had been near the Dutchman and when the last time was that he had noticed the man move. It was difficult to remember.

The ordeal at the magistrate was not conducive to remembering anything. It was noisy and confusing. When officials discovered that one of the owners was the wife of the airship inventor, everybody looked worried. They certainly didn’t want to offend anyone at the Royal Palace. Finally, the women were released with admonitions to stay in town until the inquest could be completed.

As they hurried away, Fatmir heard Frau Styggesen speaking. “But Reva, what are we going to do? I’ve never dealt with a dead body before.”

“Neither have I, Inge, but somebody has to do it. You go find the mortician, or whoever builds the coffins and I’ll start cleaning up the shop. Nobody ever thinks about the cleanup when they start a bar fight, do they?”

The Danish woman hurried off and Fatmir followed the American woman back to the shop. When he was sure she was safe inside, he made his way to his own apartments.

***

When he got home, he lit the brazier and settled the water to heat. He always thought better with a hot drink to soothe his senses. When he could finally sit on his cushions and sip the scalding coffee, he let his mind wander free for a moment. The Dutchman had been sitting in the corner when Fatmir arrived at the shop, about two o’clock. Fatmir had been sitting in his customary location and the two of them glanced at each other and their eyes fleetingly met as they glanced at each other. In that moment, Fatmir saw a dangerous man. The Dutchman looked like an animal, dangerous because he was backed into a corner.

That was the only interaction that Fatmir could remember. They didn’t speak and Fatmir had not seen him in the chocolate shop before.

So he closed his eyes and let his mind drift again. He had not noticed anyone sitting with the man. And the crew of the shop tried to stay away from him as much as possible. How had someone gotten close enough to the man to kill him?

Fatmir looked as if he slept. It was totally dark when he opened his eyes again. He had a slight smile on his face as he put the cup next to the brazier and retired to his bedroom.

 

The Mermaid and Tiger

October 1636

Reva was in a state. The Mermaid and Tiger had been closed for a week because of the investigation. They had been making sandwiches and other delicacies that Inge’s brother sold from a cart, but they had not been able to open the shop to customers.

This morning, she was supposed to be making fresh biscuits but she just couldn’t concentrate. She had to re-measure the flour three times and finally, Inge took her hand and led her out of the kitchen and into the dining room. “Reva, you don’t need to worry, everything will be fine. They will find who killed that poor man and we will go back to serving people chocolate and sandwiches.”

“I don’t know, Inge. I’ve seen things like this ruin a business. Besides, Marlon will back soon and I don’t want the shop to fail before he even has a chance to see it.” She couldn’t go on, but put her face in her hands. Inge could see tears dripping from between Reva’s fingers.

There was a knock at the door and Inge hurried over. “I’m sorry, we’re still closed.”

The man outside was the Ottoman in the turban. “Dear lady, I have come to help you solve the murder. Please let me enter.”

Inge opened the door and let the stranger in. He proceeded to his usual place and sat, then examined Reva and Inge with interest. “We must call gather all who were here at the time of tragedy. We must have the City Watch get all of them together.”

It took some time, but all were gathered, including the Spanish captain in black and the Englishman in red and blue. The shop was arranged as it had been and the Captain of the Watch, with his lieutenant, stood at the front of the shop, watching Fatmir with suspicion. From windows all around the shop, the curious fought for a place to see the drama unfold.

And through all of it, Fatmir was a model of patience and decorum. He sipped a cup of chocolate with extra cinnamon that Reva had prepared especially for him. He watched with interest the Captain’s second in command, Lieutenant Brinker. The man was tall and dark, a common face for a Dane. And he seemed quite agitated. “Captain, this is a complete waste of time. It’s obvious that this foreigner from the Ottoman empire is a more likely suspect than anyone he could name. I demand that we stop this farce and arrest the man at once.”

The Captain took a seat near the door and looked at his lieutenant with raised eyebrows. “You have evidence that I have not seen? This man, Fatmir was seen by at least seven individuals to have stayed in plain sight in the shop. Not one of them saw him anywhere near the dead man. What evidence do you have that he is our culprit?”

Before the argument could continue, Fatmir stood and bowed slightly to the Captain of the Watch. “Excellent to see you here, sir, and I am pleased that you have an open mind for these proceedings. What I propose to do is recreate the events of that evening, to see if we can come to an agreement. Shall we begin?”

The Captain gestured to Brinker and the disgruntled young man sat next to his commander. “Certainly, Herr Fatmir. Please continue with your little tableau. I will be more than happy to see this matter put to rest.”

Fatmir bowed again, then smiled at the crowd at the windows. “As you will all remember, it was the great day that the airship, Royal Anne, launched on its voyage to the East Indies. Many people witnessed the astounding thing, such a large ship, floating in the air. That evening, there were few here at the shop. Only myself, at this table by the window. The dead man, Herr Keese, was seated across the room by that window. Would someone like to portray the dead man for us? You, sir, come in and be seated.”

The dock worker that Fatmir chose ran around to the front of the shop and entered. He sat in Keese’s seat and leaned against the wall, dramatically dead. His friends snickered at that.

Fatmir continued. “Our friend, Gonzalez, was seated at this table with Herr Wells. Would you gentlemen kindly take your places?”

The man in black and the man in red and blue nodded and seated themselves at the table near the middle of the room.

Fatmir walked toward the kitchen. “The only members of the staff visible were Frau Styggesen’s niece, Anna, and her brother, Eric. They were here near the kitchen. As I remember, there was no one else in the room. Does anyone remember it differently?”

Reva and Inge were standing in a back corner. Reva had her arms crossed and a stern look on her face and Inge was wringing her hands nervously, but nobody disagreed with the Ottoman.

Fatmir smiled. “Good. The question we have is, ‘When was Herr Keese stabbed?’ We have a few very important clues. It must have happened when nobody was watching and it must have happened before the sword fight.”

At this, the young Lieutenant Brinker jumped to his feet again. “Captain, I protest this procedure again. It is a waste of our time. If the king hears of this farce . . . ”

The Captain merely shook his head and waved his hand at the lieutenant’s chair. “Have a seat, Peder. I will hear this. Continue, if you would, Herr Fatmir.”

“Thank you, Captain. As I said, Herr Keese had to have been killed before the sword fight because he didn’t react to anything these fine gentlemen did that afternoon. Herr Gonzalez, Herr Wells, begin your argument, as you did that day.”

Wells stood and grinned then pulled his sword. He asked, “Do you want swords and all? Very well, Come, Gonzalez, defend yourself, you coward!”

Gonzalez grinned as well and pulled his sword. The two combatants began waving swords and knocking over tables.

Fatmir stepped away from his table as the brawl knocked it over. “Everyone would assume that a person, intent on murder, would use this diversion to his advantage. But how is one to know there will be a diversion? Wouldn’t it be better to strike before a diversion and be out of the way of it? So the best way to avoid the diversion would have been to incite it before the fact.”

Everyone watched as Fatmir slipped quickly between the duelists and stopped them. “Gentlemen, I must ask you: before your fight, had you been in this shop?”

Gonzalez stopped and sheathed his sword. “No, I had not been here before, I was not aware that I could get chocolatté in Copenhagen.” He gestured at the Englishman. “My friend, Harrison, brought me that day because he knew of my love of chocolate.”

Fatmir turned to the man in red and blue. “Herr Wells, why did you bring Gonzalez here that day?”

The Englishman looked guilty and pulled a lace handkerchief from his sleeve to hide his discomfiture. “I’m not sure I remember. It was a whim, I think.”

Fatmir took a step closer. “A whim? Really? No money was exchanged?”

All eyes turned to Wells and Gonzalez pulled his sword from the scabbard again. “You were paid to bring me to the scene of a murder? Assume a virtue if you have it not!” He lunged, attempting to plant his sword in the Englishman’s heart, but Wells parried the attack and brought one of his own. Where the previous conflict had been more for show, this one appeared to be deadly serious. Everyone in the shop was on their feet, trying either to exit the room or to stop the violence before blood was shed.

In one swift motion, the Captain rose, grabbed his staff, and knocked Gonzalez to the ground, then turned on Wells. “Put that sword away, or I swear I will knock your head from your shoulders!” Within seconds, the brawl was under control.

Fatmir looked at Wells again. “So you took money to bring Gonzalez to the shop. Was it specifically Gonzalez, or were the instructions more general?”

Wells licked his lips. Fatmir could tell that he was afraid. “What are you afraid of? Were you paid to kill the man yourself?”

Wells shook his head. “No. I was told to bring a brawl to the chocolate shop.” He turned to where Reva and Inge were still in the corner. “I’m sorry ladies, but it is the truth. I never knew that it would be such a pleasant, clean establishment. If I had known. . .”

Wells was cut off when the young lieutenant lunged at him with a dagger in hand. “You are a liar and a thief!”

Wells stepped back, trying to find where he’d dropped his sword on the floor. He dodged the lieutenant’s first blow. Gonzalez whistled and when he caught Wells’ eye, he tossed him his own sword.

Wells caught it and now had a piece of steel a foot and a half longer than the dagger that Peder wielded. But Peder was more than a head taller than Wells and his arms were longer. In reality, the battle was very evenly matched.

The Captain tried to stop them as he had with Wells and Gonzalez, but he was unable to come between them. Peder was intent on killing Wells and the Englishman was intent on surviving, even if it meant killing Peder.

The lieutenant fought like a madman and it became evident that he would overcome Wells in a matter of moments. Fatmir picked up a chair and struck with all his might at the back of Peder’s head and finally the madman collapsed on the floor, unconscious. He kicked the knife away from the hand of the lieutenant and then gestured towards him. “Captain, may I suggest we restrain this man before he gains consciousness?  I think it would be best for all involved.”

The Captain nodded and two of his men hurried forward to snap shackles on Peder’s hands and feet. “I have never seen him act like this. I don’t know what came over him.”

Fatmir sat at his table again. “Please, everyone be seated. I will explain as best I can. If he wakes soon, we can question Peder as well.”

So the women in the corner found chairs and Gonzalez and Wells sat behind the Captain of the Watch, unwilling to face Peder, even in chains. When all were seated, Fatmir nodded. “Here is what I think happened. I think that Herr Keese came in the shop and sat by the window to watch for someone. And even though he was sitting on this bench in a corner, he was more vulnerable than he thought. Look at this.”

Fatmir stood and walked to the wall where the dock worker was still mugging for laughs with his friends. “Sir, you are excused, I want to show everyone something.”

The man stumbled out, still pretending to be dead, or at least dead drunk. Fatmir pulled a pen knife from his pocket and pushed it through a crack in the wall. “The killer knew that he didn’t need to be in the shop to kill this man, he just had to encourage him to sit in the right place.”

The Captain came and peered at the cracks in the wall. “It is difficult to see how he would know that. In fact, I’m not sure how you found out about it.”

Fatmir went back to his table and sat down to sip his chocolate. “Very simple, Captain. I overheard Herr Keese in a discussion several days ago with a man in the shadows. Herr Keese was attempting to blackmail the man and get money to go to the West Indies to retire. I heard the man tell Herr Keese to meet him here and sit by the east window. Obviously, he’s used this place before. Have any other odd murders been reported?”

The Captain began to pace. “I see what you mean. We found a man in an alley not far from here. He’d been stabbed in the side, very similarly to Herr Keese, and dumped in the alley. We knew he had been dumped there because there was no blood from the wound. He bled somewhere else and was dumped there. I assigned Lieutenant Peder Brinker to investigate . . . Oh . . .”

Fatmir nodded as the Captain realized why that murder remained unsolved. “I’m sorry, Captain. There are things you should look at in your own department. Tell me, how long has Lieutenant Brinker worked with the City Watch?”

The Captain stopped pacing. “I’ll tell you, but first, tell me now you knew it was my Lieutenant. I didn’t have a clue to his activities until this moment. You are a stranger here in Copenhagen. How could you know so quickly?”

Fatmir smiled. “Very simple, Captain. After overhearing Herr Keese, I waited for the right moment and followed the man in the shadows. It was not easy, but I have a good ear for voices and a good memory for the way men walk. When I lost him in the darkness, I skulked for a couple of days until I heard the voice again. I followed him to an empty warehouse down at the other end of the pier from here and I listened to him. It interested me that there were barrels and crates that had not been there before. I heard the shadowy man making a deal with a Spanish captain. Don’t worry, it wasn’t Gonzalez. I think he was a ship’s captain bound for Amsterdam. It seemed that the shadowy man had gotten hold of supplies that he was selling to the Spaniard to support some sort of plot against the crown in the Lowlands. You would be well-informed to break up this conspiracy, or at least move it out of Copenhagen. I’m certain that your King doesn’t want to be implicated in that sort of political plot.”

The Captain was alarmed. He signaled for one of his men and whispered a message to him, then sent him running. “I’ll take care to investigate that myself, if you don’t mind, sir. But you have not yet told me how you knew it was Peder.”

Fatmir nodded and finished his chocolate. “Delicious. I must find a source of this at home. I knew it was your lieutenant because I followed him after that meeting and he went straight to the magistrate. Then a few days later, when Herr Keese was murdered, I followed the ladies to the magistrate and saw your lieutenant at your side. They were one in the same.”

There was a groan on the floor and Peder tried to rise. Fatmir strode next to the man on the ground. “Lieutenant, I have a few questions.”

The man tried to sit up and was surprised to find shackles on his hands and feet. “Captain, what is the meaning of this? Why have you allowed this Ottoman to slander me? Why did you let him attack me? I demand an explanation.”

The Captain put his foot on Peder’s shoulder. “Stay where you are, Peder. I’ve just been apprised of some of your activities in Copenhagen that need to be answered for. The magistrate will hear of this. You are accused of murder. Men, take him away.”

***

By the time the Royal Anne returned from the East Indies, The Mermaid and Tiger was back in business. And the notoriety didn’t hurt business, either. Many people stopped by just because they had heard of the murder and Lieutenant Brinker’s arrest. It was a great way to introduce the Danes to chocolate.

The day before the Royal Anne was to arrive, Reva and Inge sat at the microphone of the radio. Inge was nervous because she was not used to this kind of machinery and was half certain that it would electrocute her. She wrung her hands and said to Reva, “Are you sure he’ll contact you? He’s been almost all the way around the world. Maybe he’s not . . .”

Then they heard Marlon’s voice. “Put my wife on this thing, dammit!”

Reva laughed and squeezed the switch. “Swordfish, there’s no reason to swear.”

Marlon’s voice faded for a moment, then came in strongly. “Is that you, Sweetpea? I can’t tell you how good it is to hear your sweet voice. Has it only been a month?”

Reva grinned. “If you count the time you took to build that silly thing, it’s been more like a year.”

After that, Inge and the radio man stepped out of the room and let the two have a little privacy; the conversation devolved into giggles and sweet nothings. It was late when Reva came out of the radio room, but her eyes were bright and her cheeks were red and rosy as if she were young again.

***

The next day, Reva tried to stay at The Mermaid and Tiger, but she couldn’t concentrate. Finally, Inge decided to close the business completely. It wasn’t like they had a lot of customers anyway, it seemed that the whole city was gathering at the airfield.

Reva bundled up for the cold night air. October wasn’t known in Denmark as a warm month and snow had been threatening for a couple of days. But the skies remained clear as the city waited for the Royal Anne. The airfield took on the air of a carnival when she arrived. It was a couple of hours to sundown and the Anne was expected any time.

Reva was nervous. Not only was Marlon returning triumphant, but it was finally time to tell him about her capital venture. And she worried that he would not approve. Finally, the noise and celebration were more than Reva could take and she went out to the seawall at the edge of the airfield. She stood and stared out into the bay, thinking of how she was going to tell him.

The time seemed to crawl by on the back of an old tortoise and Reva sat on the cold rock, thinking of Marlon. She could hear the noise in the distance as the airship landed and the shouts and cannon fire told her that everyone was still celebrating. No disaster yet. She waited, knowing that Marlon would come looking for her.

When she heard a step on the gravel behind her, she stood up and smiled. There stood Marlon, carrying a leather sack. She could see that the strong tropic sun had burned his cheeks and forehead brown.

When he saw her, a grin split his beard with dazzling white and she ran toward him. “I got you something, Sweetpea. Here, tell me what you think.”

Reva laughed. “Never mind that, Swordfish. I get a hug, first, don’t I?”

 

Marlon wrapped his arms around his wife and swung her around in a circle, kissing her as if he hadn’t seen her in a year. Reva laughed and hugged him tighter. “Swordfish, if this is what it takes to get some love and attention, I’ll send you off more often.”

***

The palace was decorated as only people in the seventeenth century would decorate. The food was sumptuous and the drink flowed like water. Marlon and Reva, in their best garb, mingled and rubbed elbows with the upper crust of Danish society.

For about an hour and a half. Then they quietly slipped out and got in their coach. Marlon looked old and tired and Reva was concerned. “Swordfish, maybe we should save my surprise for tomorrow. You look absolutely wiped out.”

Marlon perked up. “You have a surprise? I can’t wait for that. Is it at home, or somewhere else?”

Reva settled back on the seat. “Not at home. Remember how you were worried I’d waste your money? I used most of my retirement fund for this, so I don’t want to hear you squawk about it, all right?”

Marlon frowned like a kicked puppy. “I won’t squawk. But can I ask how much you’ve invested?”

“No, you may not. Just sit back and I’ll let you know what you can ask later.”

Marlon was surprised when they got to the docks. “Are we getting on a ship?”

Reva grinned. “No. Guess again.”

The coach stopped in front of a very nice little shop called  ‘The Mermaid and Tiger’. Marlon peered out the window of the coach. “Are we stopping for a late-night snack?”

Reva started climbing out of the coach. Marlon jumped down and helped her climb out. “Thank you, Swordfish. It’s ever so much more difficult to do things with all this fabric in the skirt. And, yes, we’re stopping for a snack.”

Marlon’s eyebrows went up, but he kept his mouth wisely shut. Reva pulled keys out of her handbag and unlocked the door. “Come on in, Swordfish.”

Inside, he was pleased to see an array of small tables and chairs and on the menu board, some of his favorite items, especially the biscuits and gravy. “What are we having?”

Reva pointed to a chair. “You sit down, I’ll be right back.”

Marlon tried to wait patiently, but he yawned a couple of times and worried that he would split his head open if he did it again. Finally Reva returned with a small tray, two cups of something steaming and two plates.

Marlon almost jumped up again, but caught a look from his wife and stayed in his seat. “Is that what I think it is?”

Reva set a small cup in front of him and a plate with a moist brown square planted directly in the middle of it. “Probably. It’s hot chocolate and a brownie. Be careful of the chocolate, it’s down-timer style and not what you remember from home. But the brownie is real.”

Marlon sat in awe for a moment, as Reva sat across from him. “You made this?”

She nodded and watched as he delicately picked up his fork and nabbed a bite of the brownie. Reva ran out of patience as he chewed. “So, what do you think? Have I come close?”

Marlon’s face changed from the angelic look of enjoyment to clouded confusion. He swallowed. “Close to what? To heaven? Because that’s what I think this brownie tastes like. I don’t think you ever made one this good for the state fair.”

Reva smiled at her husband. “That’s just what I wanted to hear.”