The Grantville Inquisitor

There are many stories in the naked city of Grantville. Did Wallenstein come to Grantville secretly? Is Cardinal Richelieu still alive? How did Bigfoot get trapped in the Ring of Fire? Does Cyrano de Bergerac really have a huge schnozz? Denis and Betsy, intrepid reporters, bring all that is hidden and secret to light in the pages of The Grantville Inquisitor.

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There are many stories in the naked city of Grantville. Did Wallenstein come to Grantville secretly? Is Cardinal Richelieu still alive? How did Bigfoot get trapped in the Ring of Fire? Does Cyrano de Bergerac really have a huge schnozz? Denis and Betsy, intrepid reporters, bring all that is hidden and secret to light in the pages of The Grantville Inquisitor.

One wouldn’t think that chocolate and Bigfoot paired well together.  But at Mirari Sesma’s chocolate shop in Grantville of the United States of Europe, the two went hand-in-hand.  Or teacup handle in slightly furry fingers, as the case may be.

Mirari thought about this with some smugness as she hurried between the tables of her shop, delivering pastries, carafes of hot beverages, and hot-off-the-press copies of the Grantville Inquisitor to her patrons. The paper hadn’t been her brainchild.  It started as a one-off issue that Paul Kindred, managing editor of the Grantville Times, had used to bury a story that was too politically hot for its own good.

Or his own good, Mirari thought.

But the one-off paper had sold well.  And Mirari, who prided herself on her business sense, knew a good thing when she saw it.

With stories like “Pope and Elvis Caught in Secret Love Nest,” no one would ever take the Inquisitor seriously as a source of news.  It nevertheless was famously entertaining.

One thing that Mirari immediately noticed was that more patrons turned up on the days when she put out a fresh issue of the Inquisitor.  And patrons who read the Inquisitor tended to linger over their drinks.  Then buy a second. Then a third.  And maybe just one more éclair for the road, thank you for asking.  What began as a joke was now a viable business tool in her shop.   Last week, Betsy Springer-Sesma had even suggested that they start selling subscriptions.

As if the thought of her red-haired cousin-by-marriage had summoned the girl, Betsy pushed the shop door open.  The door swung against the wall with a loud bang, knocking the bell off its tether and hurling it to the floor.  Around the room patrons jumped in surprise, spilling drinks and crumbling pain-au-chocolate on their plates.

Betsy surveyed the damage with barely a wince, then spotted Mirari.  With an impish grin, she raced across the room full-tilt.  “You will never believe what happened!”

“Is it aliens, or the Loch Ness Monster this time?” Mirari asked.  In addition to working as a reporter for the Grantville Times, Betsy was also the most prolific contributor to the Inquisitor.  Paul Kindred would send Mirari anything Betsy wrote that was just a touch too fanciful for the Times to use.

“What?” Betsy looked confused.  “No!  Old Man Kindred is going to send someone over here to interview me and Denis for a change!”

Mirari sat down her tray of pastries and put her hands on her hips.  “Is this about the travel book that the two of you wrote, or the play that you consulted with Cyrano de Bergerac for?”

“It’s for the book!”  Betsy clapped her hands together, and jumped up and down girlishly.  “We gave a copy to Old Man Kindred to read, and he liked it!  He really liked it! He’s going to give it a review in the paper.  I feel like I just won a major award! And it’s not even from Frah-Gee-Ley!”

Mirari smiled at Betsy.  When she was over-excited, Betsy made obscure references to uptime cinema.  “Congratulations!  I know that you and Denis worked hard on that book.”

“You have no idea!  It feels like Denis and I can’t leave town without something interesting happening to us.”

Just then Denis and his friend the typesetter, Alexandria, walked through the door.  Denis closed it behind him and re-hung the bell.  “I see Betsy came through this way,” he deadpanned.

Betsy blinked at him in confusion.  “Denis, weren’t you supposed to bring Yuri Kuryakin with you?  I thought he was going to interview us about our book?”

Sta cercando inchiostro!”  Alex said in Italian while snapping her fingers rapidly. “Como se dice inchiostro in Inglese? Ah!”  She held up her finger triumphantly.  “Ink! He look for ink.” She said at last in broken English.

Mirari and Betsy traded puzzled expressions.  “Ink?  But the paper supplies us with writing tools,” Betsy said.

“It’s not for him,” Denis put in.  “We were expecting a shipment of ink for the press from Magdeburg this morning, but it hasn’t arrived yet.”

“I thought the Times made its own ink?”  Betsy scratched her head.  “Wasn’t that one of those things that Old Man Kindred was working on to go with his improved fountain pen?”

Alex made a face.  Denis knew that part of why she’d been hired at the paper was her extensive knowledge of ink recipes.  Her father had owned a print shop in Venice.  And when his apprentice proved to be a useless layabout, Alex had taken over his duties, which included typesetting and making ink. Her interest in chemistry had proved invaluable on one of their escapades.

Progetto diverso,” Alex sniffed. “Different project. Separate inks.”

The process for making ink was partially secret; Alex had once told Denis that most printers were proprietary about their ink recipes.  From what he had observed, the steps that Alex used to make writing ink involved fermenting oak leaves for several months and combining the result with green copperas, water, and tree sap. The ink was suitable for Mr. Kindred’s pen contraption, but too runny for use with movable type.

For that, Alex made lampblack pigment by melting oils with coal and distilling the whole mess.  Then she boiled linseed oil for several hours; once it cooled, she added the lampblack pigment and turpentine.

Whenever he’d tried to examine the process more closely, Alex had told him to mind his own business. But he suspected that the whole undertaking was a smelly, dangerous, and unpleasant task.  Which was why she had been the one to convince Mr. Kindred to outsource it.

“If you count the Inquisitor and the other tracts and newsletters that hire the Times’s print shop, then the volume of work that our press produces is too high for us to make our own ink anymore,” Denis shrugged.  “We could either be an ink-making operation, or a print-making operation.  But not both.  Mr. Kindred outsourced the ink production shortly after we started to print Mirari’s Inquisitor for her.”

“Is that why sometimes the ink is faded?” Mirari wrinkled her nose.

“Bah!” Alex spit on the ground. “Gunther Schreiber! Adulteri!”

“We’ve had some quality control issues,” Denis winced apologetically.   “According to Alex, we had to change ink suppliers when she found out that our first contractor – that would be the Gunther Schreiber who she was maligning — was mixing water in the ink to stretch it out.”

“Figures,” Betsy rolled her eyes.  “And when the supply didn’t arrive today, Yuri jumped at the chance to go looking for it?  Anything to get out of interviewing me!”

Denis blinked in confusion. “I don’t actually think Yuri was that upset about the assignment.”

“I’m not letting him off the hook!” Betsy drove a fist into her open palm. “If he won’t come here, we’ll just go find him!”

“Really, Betsy?” Denis rolled his eyes.  “I think this rivalry of yours is kind of one-sided.”

“Besides, he could get in trouble out there in the countryside!” Betsy continued as if she hadn’t heard Denis.  “Old Man Kindred would be really upset if anything ever happened to that little brown-noser.”

“Careful, dear wife.  Your jealousy is showing,” Denis sighed.

“Jealous?” Betsy squawked.  “What do I have to be jealous of?  Just because Yuri’s stories end up on the front page above the fold more often than mine?”

He held his hands up in surrender.  “I said nothing!”

“We’re the ones with the book – soon to be a bestseller, thank you very much!  And you, Alex, and I are the ones who have caught more killers than him!”

Alex pulled the brim of her cap low over her eyes and hunched over, as if to say,  “Leave me out of this.”

“That’s not too difficult, seeing as Yuri has never caught a killer,” Denis said.

With a scoff, Betsy turned on her heel and stomped toward the exit. “Come on!  We’d better find him.   Before he gets lost somewhere on the road between here and Magdeburg.”

Denis sighed.  “Yes, dear.”

✽✽✽

The three of them rode out on horses that they had borrowed from Mirari, following the road past where West Virginia red clay met rich black Thuringian loess.  As the sun gradually rose in the sky the day grew warmer. Betsy put on her large straw sun hat.

“Ladies and gentlemen of the class of 1999: wear sunscreen,” she grumbled. “You know how many freckles I’ve gotten since coming back to this time?  At least now the ozone layer is intact.”

Denis looked at Alex in mystification.  The two of them shrugged. Whatever the ozone layer was, he doubted it was that important.

Just then, Alex stood up in the stirrups of her saddle, shading her eyes against the strong sunlight.  She pointed to the roadside in the distance.  “There!”

A giant black stain messily coated the right side of the road.  At the center of the inky splatter lay a jumble of shattered barrels.  Bent hoops and splintered staves curved upward to the sky like the bones of a roasted goose.

Betsy let out a low whistle.  “It looks like someone’s Jenga game got out of hand!”

Denis nodded absently as he took in the details of the wreckage.  A dripping trail of ink continued overland across the hard-packed ground away from the shattered barrels.  “This has to be from our ink supply,” he said.  “Who else in Grantville would have ordered barrels of ink?”

“But for some reason, the wagon left the road and went cross-country.” Betsy drummed her fingers against the pommel of her saddle.  “When the wagon left the smooth road bed, the load must have shifted, and these barrels fell off.”

Alex circled the black puddle slowly.  When she reached the far side, she pointed to a set of inky footprints that Denis had missed.  “Yuri.” She nodded.

The three of them followed the ink trail across the grassy hillside.  Within minutes they came upon a stand of tall pine trees.  Yuri’s ink-stained boot tracks followed the splatter down a partially overgrown wagon track.  Denis signaled for Alex and Betsy to dismount from their horses.

“We’d better walk from here,” he said.

Sunlight slanted in golden shafts through the canopy of needles overhead.  In the distance, a wren trilled its song.

Betsy put a hand on Denis’s arm and pointed at a nearby tree.  “Look at that,” she whispered.

A series of neat pruning cuts had been made along the branches.  Each cut dripped with sap.  It looked like the larger branches that might have been snapped by the passage of a wagon had been removed, leaving only the growth that would spring back easily and make the passage look disused.

“Houston, we have a problem!” Betsy singsonged.

“My thoughts exactly.” Denis pushed back his hat and scratched his head.  “Highwaymen?”  He tilted his head as he considered the obvious ink trail.  “Really sloppy highwaymen?”

“Not acting this close to Grantville,” Betsy said.  “That would take nerves of steel.  Does the Times have any rivals? Stealing our ink would be a good way to stop the presses. Would those hacks at The Daily News stoop to this?  What about political enemies?”

“We know how to make our own ink if we need to, remember?” Denis said. “It’s inconvenient, but it wouldn’t stop us from printing.”

“It’s too bad Captain Pohl isn’t here,” Betsy said.  “I would feel better with a few of his dragoons backing us up.

“That wouldn’t be the best idea, since his dragoons are French.” Denis said.  “I don’t think they’d be exactly welcome in Grantville, seeing as how the USE. is at war with France.”

“Perhaps we should load our flintlocks? Just in case?” Betsy asked in a hushed voice as they led the horses through the underbrush.

Denis grunted his agreement.  As the two of them moved back to their saddlebags where Betsy had packed the cartridges, Alex threw the reins of her horse’s bridle over Betsy’s saddle and walked on ahead.  They had just finished loading their pistols when the typesetter ran back to them.

“Come quickly!” She hissed, pressing a finger to her lips.

Betsy held out her hands for the reins of Denis’s horse, indicating that she would tie the animals up and follow behind.  Denis tossed her his mount’s reins and tiptoed after Alex.

Rounding a bend in the pathway, they came upon an opening in the trees.  The wagon stood in the center of the clearing, it’s ink-splattered canvas pulled over the bed.  The wagon’s oxen lazily ate the grass growing at their hooves.

The back of the wagon was open.  Frayed rope ends and a large tear in the canvas showed Denis just how some of the barrels had fallen out.  The torn fabric was halfway stitched back together. A sewing awl hung by a heavy thread from the half-mended tear, as if someone had been attempting to repair it when they had suddenly been interrupted.

Alex held up her index finger and twirled it to indicate that they should circle the clearing.  Denis nodded in agreement.  The two of them crept slowly through the underbrush along the tree line.  Fallen pine needles muffled their steps.

As they circled the wagon, they could see Yuri, slumped over what looked like an equally unconscious deliveryman.  Denis held his breath and watched until he saw Yuri take a breath.  Then he inhaled with relief.  Whatever was going on here, at least it wasn’t murder.  Not yet, anyway.

“Well, now we know what happened to our ink delivery and our wayward comrade,” Denis whispered.  “The question is, how did they get there?”

The cocking of a pistol sounded very loud in the quiet of the forest.  Denis turned toward the sound, to see a man in ink-stained workmen’s clothing emerge from the bushes.  He held a weapon leveled at them.  Denis groaned. A line from one of Betsy’s movies came to mind.  “I just hadda’ open my big mouth!”

Alex gasped, covering her mouth with her hand.  “Tu!”

“You know him?” Denis asked.

“Gunther Schreiber!” Alex huffed. “We fire him!”

“Then Betsy was right!” Denis snapped his fingers and pointed at Gunther.  “You are trying to sabotage the Times!”

The inkmaker scowled at them.  He motioned for Denis to drop his own firearm.  Denis flung it into the pine straw, lips twisting in anger.

“Mr. Kindred hired me to make ink!” Gunther said. “If he wanted me to make his ink, he should have given me his recipe!”

“You tell us already you have una ricetta . . . recipe!” Alex scoffed.  “Promesso risultati!”  The Venetian girl groaned in frustration as she searched for the proper words in English.  “Results! You promise!”

“Results!” Gunther laughed somewhat hysterically.  The end of his pistol wavered.  “I invested a lot of money in equipment because I expected the Times’s business!  I’m owed!  And if Kindred won’t pay, I’ll take his ink and sell it to someone who will!”  He turned to Alex, a mad gleam in his eye. “And now, I have his recipes too!”

Gunther motioned for them to walk ahead of him to the wagon.  Denis turned, eyes scanning the clearing for some means of escape or some way to warn Betsy of their predicament.  But just as Gunther turned his back to the road, their three horses stampeded into the clearing.

Startled, the oxen reared and bucked, sending the wagon rolling backward.   The barrels in their wagon clattered against one another.  One rolled to the ground, but did not break.

Gunther spun with a look of concern on his face.  The nose of his flintlock drooped downward.

Denis and Alex threw themselves simultaneously at Gunther.  Denis pushed the man’s gun arm down so that the flintlock was pointed at the ground.  Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Alex shove her thumb into the firing mechanism between the cock and the frizzen.

Gunther pushed away from the two of them, abandoning his pistol, and running off into the forest.

They looked at each other, open mouthed and panting, as if they couldn’t quite believe what had just happened to them. Alex chuckled, somewhat nervously.

“Is everyone alright?” Betsy called as she emerged from the pathway, her brows knit together in concern.

Alex handed Denis the abandoned flintlock with trembling hands.  Denis noticed that her thumb was already turning greenish with bruising.

“Cows! I go!”  She hurried over to calm the oxen and retrieve their horses.

“We’re –” Denis’s voice faltered.  He coughed.  “We’re fine here!  Your timing is sublime.”

Betsy’s fearful expression melted like snow in April.  “Where would you be without me, Denis?” She beamed at him.

He embraced her.  The smell of her hair had a calming effect on his nerves.  The trembling in his hands gradually subsided.  “Languishing.  Somewhere alone in a ditch.”

Betsy pushed at his shoulder good-naturedly.

A groan pulled their attention to where Alex was helping Yuri to his feet.

“Are you able to walk, Yuri?” Denis asked.

Luis sta bene . . . Fine! He is fine,” Alex waved at them in reassurance.

“That’s a relief,” Betsy said.  “I think Old Man Kindred would be more upset if Yuri was permanently hurt than if he lost all this ink.”

Denis gave her a sideways look.  “You know, Betsy.  Mr. Kindred might like you more if you didn’t insist on calling him Old Man Kindred all the time.”

Betsy pursed her lips, then shrugged.

“We should get going, before Gunther comes back,” Denis said.  “We can put the deliveryman into the wagon with the ink.  Alex, you take Yuri and drive the wagon back.  Betsy and I can follow with the horses.”

Betsy sighed.  “I suppose our interview will have to wait for another day, on account of Yuri getting his brains scrambled.”  She brightened suddenly.  “That means that I get to write this up for the Times!”

Denis laughed.  “It just gives you more time to embellish all the other stories you want to tell Yuri.”

Betsy sniffed disdainfully.  “I always stick with the cold, hard facts!”

Denis knew that there was only one way to answer that.  “Yes, dear.”

The back door of the Grantville Times printing plant flew open with a bang. An icy blast of January air came rushing in, whipping the flames of several candles placed around Paul Kindred’s worktable, scattering the numerous sheets of paper that he had spread out on it.

He muttered a comment about idiots, in this case himself, who forgot to lock doors at night. The middle of January, especially in northern Germany in the year of our Lord 1633, was not the time you left a door standing wide open.

Before he could get out of his chair, Paul caught a glimpse out of the corner of his eye of someone coming through that door.  Who he saw was enough to know that this was no chance gust of wind, even though Paul realized that he definitely hadn’t locked the door.

“Yuri Andreovich, would you shut that damn door!”

When Yuri Andreovich Kuryakin heard Paul he turned with a start, looking around for the source of the voice. With his small frame and twitchy on-the-move manner, he gave the impression of being younger than his twenty-some years, not to mention of being frightened by his own shadow.

“Oh, there you are, Paul,” the young Russian said, letting a small sigh escape. “I’m glad to find you working late.”

“Never mind that, just shut the damn door; in case you haven’t looked at the calendar, it’s January!”

“I know it’s January!”  he replied. “Just wait until it gets really cold, like in Mother Russia!”

“Unless you have a cord of wood with you, shut the damn door!”

Yuri made a big show of checking the pockets of his down jacket and thick leather chaps, in the processes of which he managed to push the door closed.

“Nope, no extra wood here,” he said with a grin.

It wasn’t that he was stupid, far from it. That much Paul had realized within five minutes of meeting Yuri. He just tended to be so enthusiastic that when he got an idea it pushed everything else, including common sense, out the back door.

This was not the first time Yuri had shown up unexpectedly. It had become a regular habit since he had come striding into the Times’s office and asked for a job as a reporter.  He claimed to have worked for several “local papers” in other parts of Germany, Russia, and farther south in the Balkans.

Paul’s father hadn’t been that enthusiastic about hiring him, but Paul had convinced him to hire the young Russian anyway.  As his father’s chief of staff, and managing editor of the Times, he had some say in who was on the staff. There was something in Yuri’s intensity, his willingness to follow a story no matter what, that reminded Paul of himself just a few years ago.

Though there were moments, like this one, when he would have cheerfully strangled Yuri or taken a two-by-four to him, depending on what was handiest.

“So, why the late night visit?” asked Paul, picking up the papers from his table, designs for a fountain pen that local craftsman could make, shoving them into a box, and guessing that he wouldn’t get any more work done on them tonight. He was a newspaperman at heart, but it never hurt to have several money-making enterprises going.

Yuri began to pace back and forth, occasionally glancing toward the windows as if expecting someone to be looking back at him.

“I’ve got a story, a big one. Okay, this goes back a few weeks,” he said, “to the Christmas party at the high school.”

That party had been a brilliant stroke, if Paul did say so himself. It had helped improve the morale of all of Grantville; some of the uptimers had been having major problems coming to terms with their “new reality.”

“Yeah, Nina and I were there.”

“I saw you,” grinned the young Russian. He stopped again, staring out the window. “But I also saw something else that apparently you missed entirely.”

“Such as?”

Yuri turned to face Paul, the smile on his face a little too self-satisfied for the older man’s liking. “How about General Pappenheim himself there in the school.”

“Gottfried Heinrich Pappenheim? You’ve got to be joking!”

“I wish I was; when that man shows up, there is trouble. It was him, of that I’m sure; the birthmark on his face marks him. Besides, I stood a dozen feet away from him a couple of years ago and got a good look at the man,” said Yuri.

“Wallenstein’s chief general, here? Now that might just be a story.”

“It gets better. I spotted him going into the, what do you call it, men’s room. He came out dressed all in red. Julie McKay made him start giving out presents to everyone.”

Santa?  Pappenheim had been Santa?  Try as he might, Paul couldn’t recall the man’s face; that red suit dominated everything.

“Remember when “Santa” disappeared down the hallway? I was in one of the classrooms and saw what happened. There was some altercation involving two men and a barrel of gunpowder. A few minutes later I saw Pappenheim talking to Julie MacKay and President Stearns. I couldn’t hear worth a damn, but I saw everything. I would swear on my mother’s grave that the two of them knew who he was.”

This story sounded so fantastic that Paul wasn’t sure if he should kick Yuri out or take him seriously.  Not that Paul trusted the government. Oh, Mike Stearns and the rest, individually, were good men and no doubt were sure that they were working for the general good.  They were still politicians, and that meant you had to keep your eye on them.

Yuri pulled out several sheets of paper and passed them to Paul. “I’ve got it all written up. It can go in the next edition!”

One thing you could say about Yuri, he did have easily read handwriting and knew how to put an article together. The story covered everything the young Russian had seen, plus a lot of speculation.

“No, Yuri Andreovich. We can’t run this story, not as it stands now.” he said. “You cannot accuse the government of a secret conspiracy without proof.”

“I’ve spent the last week asking questions! All that’s gotten me are a lot of blank stares and denials. Though I think Leffert suspects something; I’ve been followed everywhere I go.” Lefferts was Captain Harry Lefferts; he was part of the army, but he also functioned as the head of Mike Stearns’s special security unit that was directly under the President’s authority.

“I didn’t say we wouldn’t publish it, but we will need proof before we could even consider going to press with this,” said Paul.

Yuri stared at Paul for a long time. “Very well, I will get proof.” His voice suggested that his idea of getting proof would look something akin to a bull in a china shop. Yuri pulled his jacket tight about him and headed out the door without a word. A moment later he opened it again and leaned part way in.

“My byline, above the fold. Da?”

“Of course. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

✽✽✽

Yuri would not wait long, that much Paul knew.  While the reporter was long on talent, he was at times short on patience, and Paul had a gut feeling that this could very well be one of those times.

Pappenheim playing Santa at the Christmas party was just so bizarre that it could have happened. Now if Yuri had suggested that it had been Wallenstein that would have been too much. It wasn’t that Stearns wasn’t capable of making a deal with Pappenheim; Paul was fairly certain he would, if it were necessary. Like all the other uptimers, Stearns had been forced to adapt to political realities in the seventeenth century.

Paul needed information, fast.

That meant Mirari Sesma.

Mirari was Basque. She had turned up in Grantville three months after the Ring of Fire.  Just exactly why she had left the Pyrenees was a bit unclear; a few dropped hints suggested something about a vendetta, but she had never been forthcoming with details.

Mirari had taken over one of the empty buildings in town and set up a small café that had turned out to be extremely popular.  People came, they ate, they drank, they talked, and, most importantly, Mirari listened. Her dark hair and dark eyes gave her an exotic appearance, but her manner was such that people just trusted her. It wasn’t long before Mirari seemed to know everything that was going on in town, and if she didn’t know about it, she could usually find out.

Paul found her in the back of her shop, just after closing at midnight. She was pouring a dark liquid into a cup.  Before he could say anything she offered it to him and poured herself another.

“Chocolate?” he asked, savoring the familiar taste.

“I just got a supply in. I’ll be saving it for special occasions,” answered Mirari. “How is Nina?”

“She’s almost over the cold. That herb tea you left certainly helped.” Mirari and Nina, Paul’s wife, had met weeks before he had been introduced to her. By that time the two of them were like long lost sisters.

“Besides drinking up my chocolate, what brings you out and about this late at night?”

“You always did know how to cut to the point.” Paul wrapped his hands around the cup, enjoying the warmth. “I’ve picked up a rumor that General Pappenheim has been seen in the area, the night of the Christmas party.”

Mirari was hard pressed to keep from laughing. “You’ve got to be joking. He’s not stupid enough to come anywhere near here, not without a very large army at his back. Have you seen the reward for his head?”

Paul was very familiar with the reward. The Times had bid on and gotten the job of printing wanted posters of both Pappenheim and Wallenstein.

“And you’re serious about this?” asked Mirari.

“Just see what you can find out, as soon as possible.”

✽✽✽

“There is something going on,” said Mirari. She had shown up at Paul’s front door just after six the next evening.  She seemed more than a bit unhappy. “Since noon I’ve had the feeling that I was being followed, though I saw no one. It’s not a feeling that I like.”

Nina had been as pleased to see her as Paul was. The two women hugged and began talking about half a dozen different subjects as the three of them sat down on the couch.

Among other things that Paul discovered in the next few minutes was that Nina and Mirari were working on setting up some new classes at the high school, and were even talking about going into business together.  This was the first time that he had heard anything about that.

“Hey, even the Times doesn’t get every story,” laughed Nina.

“We can try,” he told his wife.

Mirari picked up a small glass vase from the coffee table and began to turn it over and over in her hand. “I’ve not been able to find anyone who might have seen Pappenheim the night of the Christmas party. Of course, there are the usual sorts of rumors about what he is doing, but none of them put him anywhere near Grantville.

“One thing I did put together; it may be related to this, it may not, but some of Harry Lefferts’ men have been hanging around at all hours of the day and night near Edith Wild’s house,” she said.

“You’re stumbling over Harry Lefferts’ men, and Yuri was sure that they were after him. I am beginning to wonder if Lefferts might be the story, not Pappenheim,” muttered Paul, leaning back in his chair and staring up at the ceiling. “And what does Edith Wild have to do with it?”

Edith Wild was a nurse, and a force of nature in the minds of many Grantville residents.  She was the woman in charge of public health for Grantville, a job that required that type of personality to get the job done. She definitely took her duties seriously, and would brook no interference in performing them.

“I hadn’t heard anything about Harry seeing Edith, and I’m not sure if even he could stand up to her should the situation arise,” Nina said as she came back from the kitchen with a plate of cookies. “But I suppose it’s possible.”

“I wouldn’t lay odds on his surviving,” chuckled Paul.

✽✽✽

“Are you sure you know the way?”

Paul didn’t bother answering the question, as he hadn’t the last four times that Yuri had asked it. His companion did seem to have sense enough to keep his voice down to a whisper, though.

They had been walking for the better part of two hours, gradually working their way through the forest toward the far end of Grantville. Edith Wild’s house was less than a half hour’s walk from the Times’s offices, but just walking over and knocking on her door was not going to get the answers that Paul and Yuri wanted. Paul still wasn’t sure that he believed Yuri’s’ story, but he had the definite feeling that something might just be going on.

Paul had made a point of not going anywhere near Edith’s house during the day, not that he normally did so. There wasn’t that much to see anyway, beyond the home that Wild had occupied for more than half her life.

There were enough other matters on his plate, concerning the Times and several business projects that his family had in the works, to take up Paul’s time as he waited at the office for Yuri. A note to Yuri had told him to show up at midnight. The Russian was there at 10 p.m., champing at the bit to get on with it. Paul had considered taking Mirari along, but she had made it clear that she was not interested. Besides, Yuri and she usually ended up arguing about some damn thing or another and they didn’t need that tonight.

“I still think that we should have gone this morning to the President’s office and confronted him, in front of everyone. That way he couldn’t have squirmed out of it,” said

Yuri.

“That isn’t the way the Times does things; we need proof, Yuri Andreovich. There may be something going on, there may not; it may just be a lot of things taken out of context. If you don’t like it, you can take your story somewhere else,” he said.

Yuri muttered something, but it was in Russian and Paul couldn’t be sure of exactly what he said.

In the just over twenty-four hours since Yuri had come sneaking in the back of the  Times, the weather had not changed beyond adding a fresh layer of snow. It was still bitterly cold; the two men’s breaths hung in the air, and the ground was frozen, grass crackling under their feet with every step.

In spite of the weather, Paul did not feel safe in taking a direct route to Edith Wild’s house. There was a chance that Yuri could be right, so the two men doubled back, crossing and re-crossing their own trail, watching for any signs that they were not alone in the darkness.

At one point, Yuri almost tripped over a pair of foxes who were prowling the bushes, looking for food and, no doubt, a warm place to spend the night. It was a sentiment that Paul had come to identify with in the last few hours.

“We’re alone,” said Yuri. “Let’s get on with it.”

As they neared the house there was a movement a dozen yards ahead of them.

Paul tried to focus on it. Before he could say anything or point out the guard to Yuri, half a dozen figures came at them from three different directions. Voices and fists flew, and chaos drew Paul in. There were no faces, just colors and shapes and sounds.

Yuri kept moving, dodging the attackers, until he reached the house. He boosted himself up toward a window using a snow-covered box, hanging on the sill for only a heartbeat or two.

Paul had little time to watch Yuri. He managed to land several good punches, his fists connecting with bare flesh and clothing.  As he turned, Paul felt a sharp pain in the lower part of his back and then a matching one at the base of his neck that sent him crashing to the ground and into darkness.

“Werewolf?”

Denis Sesma caught himself chuckling as he retied three small strips of leather on his horse’s saddle. This was not the first time that his traveling companion, Elizabeth “Betsy” Springer, had asked that question.  Actually it was more like fifth time in the last two or three days that the tall redhead had said the same thing.

The first time, Denis had grabbed for the pistol that hung from his saddle, only to hear his friend’s laughter coming from just behind him.

This whole “werewolf” thing was one of those “movie quotes” that Betsy seemed inordinately fond of repeating. Denis wasn’t all that sure just what “movies” were — other than that they were something like theatre.  But he had a hard time grasping just exactly how.

He’d tried ignoring Betsy when she started spouting these lines, but there was one thing Denis had learned in the last five months since he’d met Elizabeth “just call me Betsy” Springer in the offices of the Grantville Times:  That was a nearly impossible task.

Betsy was a tall thin girl with her shoulder length red hair tied back in a pony tail, dressed in a red woolen work shirt and strange blue trousers that Denis had learned were called “jeans”. Denis had been in Grantville for just over six months and was still not accustomed to seeing women wearing what were normally considered “men’s” clothes. His cousin Mirari had told him it was the Americans way of doing things, and that he’d better get used to it.

Without even turning toward her, Denis replied “There wolf, there castle.”

“You’re learning,” she said. At that moment, a wolf’s howl rang out; it could have been anywhere from fifty feet to five miles away, the heavy forest and mountains here in southern France tended to play tricks with sound.

“Now that was timing.” She looked in the direction the noise seemed to have come from.  “I couldn’t have planned it better myself.”

“I’d be happy to take credit for it, but somehow I don’t think that you would believe I was responsible,” said Denis.

“I think we had better find someplace protected to camp, or an inn,” he said. “I am not fond of the idea of waking up and finding myself in the middle of a wolf pack.”

“I told you: wolves are more afraid of humans than we are of them,” said Betsy.

“Yes, but you also said that there are going to be a lot of wolf attacks in the next hundred years or so.”

“Werewolf attacks,” Betsy corrected.

“Wolf attacks,” Denis restated firmly.  He cleared his throat and began to recite. “Over three thousand people were killed in France between 1580 and 1830 by wolves.  And over a thousand of those were not rabid.’  That’s a statistic that they don’t mention in your Time-Life Books: Mysteries of the Unexplained, I’ll wager.”

“You read that?” Betsy blinked.  “But . . .”

“You Americans were allowed to hunt animals,” Denis cut across her argument.  “Your wolves learned to be afraid of humans.  Here a wolf knows who is the predator and who is the prey.  And when his natural prey runs out,” he threw a sly glance up at her red hair, “Red Riding Hood looks quite tasty.”

“Ha, ha.  Very funny. I think I would prefer not to put “wolf prey” on my resume.” Betsy muttered. She sounded less sure of herself than she had a moment earlier. “Remember that was not exactly a fortune in expense money that old man Kindred gave us, so we might want to consider camping.”

A wolf howled again, the sound was closer this time. “If we can find an inn, it might be safer,” he said. “I have the distinct feeling that we are being followed.”

Betsy immediately turned in her saddle.  Denis winced and shook his head as she made a grand show of studying the terrain behind them.

“I don’t see anyone,” she reported.

“Nor will you,” Denis said.  “Especially since you’ve just alerted whoever it was to the fact that we’re aware of them. Trust me, with some hunters there is no way you would see them if they were following you.”

“Did you see a signpost anywhere to give us some clue where we are?” She asked.

“No,” Denis said.  “Nothing since we passed the crossroads.”

“As long as there wasn’t anyone playing a fiddle there, we’re fine,” said Betsy. “This is where my dad’s Rand McNally would be a big help.”

“Rand McNally? Who is that?  A Scottish guide of some kind?” Denis muttered.

“No, just maps. They were a pain anyway, sometimes it seemed like it took a year for my father to get one folded back properly,” Betsy said.  “And he’d never let me do it.  It always had to be folded back just the way it came.”

“Well, there is no reason not to respect the wishes of your father,” Denis deadpanned.  “Until then, draw an X on the map and label it ‘Here be Dragons’.”

“Werewolves,” Betsy muttered.

“Those too.”

“We could stop and ask for directions at the first farmhouse we come to,” she suggested.

Denis looked sideways at her. “One look at you and they will think we’re mad. And that will be before you even open your mouth.”
“So?  Just tell them the truth. We’re looking for missing blacksmith apprentices.”

“Then they’ll know we’re mad for certain.  After all, who would come all this way to find people that they aren’t related to and don’t even know?  Should I leave out the part where we are on the road because you’re fleeing from your engagement to Sven?”

“I’m not engaged to him and his name was Albert, not Sven,” Betsy said.  “And it was all a big cross-cultural misunderstanding.”

“The kind that can only happen after one too many pints of Thuringian Gardens’s best . . .” Denis trailed off and shook his head.  “I’m not the one that you should be explaining things to; more like Sven…excuse me, Albert.  I don’t see why you didn’t just let him ask your father’s permission for your hand.  Surely things would have been straightened out then.”

“You don’t know my dad like I do,” Betsy rolled her eyes.  “I love him, but he’s hopeless.  Besides, Albert should have figured things out by this point.”

“And if he hasn’t?”

“I’ll just tell him that I eloped with you.” Betsy batted her eyes at him.

“God save me.” Denis said.

Just then another wolf howled off to the west, the sound was much closer than before.

“You may be right about us getting off the road,” Betsy nodded in concession.

Denis pointed toward a small thatched hut that was set back from the road. It was a sturdy looking place with earth and wood walls.  The trees and brush masked its presence so that it was easy to miss if you weren’t looking directly at it; though it looked like no one had lived there for many years.

“Great,” muttered Betsy. “Just great. First werewolves, and now this.”

✽✽✽

The hut was old, the air inside of it heavy with dust, its former owners long since gone. There were only two rooms; one that had served as kitchen, living, and sleeping area for the residents, while the other had been for storage and possibly a pen for small animals.

This was not the first place that Denis had seen in this condition, he was fairly sure it wouldn’t be the last. While war might have stayed away from this part of France for several years, the conflicts between Huguenot and Catholic were going strong.  Any kind of unrest usually meant that bandits would come out to play, and there were times when you couldn’t tell them apart from the latest local authorities.

“I wish this place were big enough to bring the horses in with us,” said Betsy. “If there are wolves around here I don’t want to leave them out as a temptation.”

The two horses that they were riding were ancient beasts, only one or two steps removed from plow horses or someone’s next meal; tempting morsel would not be a description he would have used for either animal.

“Don’t worry; I tethered them on the other side of this wall. If anyone or anything shows up, they should make enough noise to alert us,” he said.

“And we can’t even have a fire; wonderful.”

Denis would have liked a fire as much as Betsy.  It might be almost May, but there was still a solid winter chill in the air. A fire would scare away wolves, but it could also be a beacon to whoever might be following them, if there was actually someone out there in the darkness.

Betsy pulled herself to her feet and went into the hut’s other room, where they had stored the saddles and other tack.

“Denis, come here a minute,” said Betsy in a strange tone of voice.

Picking up his pistol, Denis went through the door in a half dozen steps.  Betsy was kneeling down near a stack of refuse next to the wall.

“What’s the matter?” he asked.

“Look at these. I almost tripped over them in the dark.”

A heavy blanket had been pushed to one side and there were a good dozen rolls of canvas bundled together and piled one on top of the other.  Betsy sat back on her heels and held the topmost roll out for Denis’s inspection.

His questing fingers brushed the surface, electing memories of the dried oil paint, the rough feel of canvas to the touch, and the hand of his old master on his shoulder as he worked on an underpainting.

“Paintings? Who in their right mind would store paintings out here in the woods?” he asked.

A strange voice cut into his musings: “A good question.  Perhaps you can ask my captain.  But for now, if the two of you want to live long enough see the sun come up again, I suggest that you not move.”

✽✽✽

“Papers! My Great-Aunt Lilibeth has papers! It just depends on whether or not I believe your papers are real.  And even if they are real, whether or not they actually belong to the two of you.”

Denis looked around the room that was serving as an office for Captain Marcus Pohl. It was certainly not as opulent as he would expect to see occupied by someone who commanded the dragoons that served the Bishop of Mende holding court in.  But he was a military man, and these rooms definitely had the plain Spartan look that went with that profession.

The region that governed Gévaudan, known as Mende, was at the crossroads of several major pilgrimage routes.  Since bandits loved to prey on pilgrims, Pohl and his dragoons found much to keep them occupied.

“I’ve explained who we are: my name is Denis Sesma, and my companion is Elizabeth Springer,” said Denis. “We work as writers for the Grantville Times. Why have we been arrested?”

“You haven’t been arrested, just brought in for a friendly little chat. When my men find strangers lurking in the forest, I start asking questions about why they are there and who they are.” said Pohl. “And I keep asking them until I am satisfied with the answers I receive.”

When they had been brought before the captain, he studiously ignored them for a half an hour as he continued to sharpen a formable looking sword.  Once he was satisfied with his work the blade had been resheathed and now lay on the desk in front of him. Once he looked at Denis and Betsy his scowl seemed to indicate that he knew that they were trouble, and wanted very little to do with them before beginning his questions.

“I…”  Betsy stood up from her chair, a look of irritation on her face.

Denis automatically put a hand to Betsy’s arm to stop the sarcastic reply that he knew she was about to make.

“Judging by your manner of dress, you are Americans.”

“Actually I’m not American; I’m part Belgian and part Basque,” Denis started to explain.  This was the third time he had told the story since the three dragoons had found the two of them in the hut.

“A handful of blacksmith’s apprentices who worked for an American company vanished in this region while transporting raw goods, and our editor thought that it might be a good story,” said Denis.

“And you’ve come all this way for a newspaper story?”  Pohl shook his head. “Why?”

“Because the last reports of them were in Gévaudan,” Betsy cut across Denis’s explanation. “And there have been and will be reports of a lot of wolf killings in this area.”

Pohl raised an eyebrow at that.  “Wolves have been killing in this area for years. There have been rumors of wolves and men who turned into wolves all over this part of France for decades; what’s different now?”

“Nothing unless you happen to be a crazy red-haired conspiracy theorist,” Denis muttered.

The dragoon captain nodded.   With a wave of his whetstone, he pointed at the rolls of canvas on top of their bags. “Very well then, explain that.  My men said that you had those with you.”

“We found them in the shack we were sheltering in,” Betsy said. “Think about it, Genius.  Does our baggage have room for this stuff?  Where were the bags that we carried it all in?  Those nags we were riding had the extra space on their saddles for all of this?”

Denis shook his head.  “Elizabet, it might not be the smartest idea to offend someone who could have us killed without having to worry about the paperwork.”

Betsy went over to the canvas rolls, and untied the topmost one with fingers that shook in anger.  Then she held it up for Pohl to see. “Caravaggio, if I’m not mistaken,” she said.

Denis blinked at that.  “What?  Caravaggio?  Let me see.”

“It is,” Betsy insisted.  “It’s called Fortune Teller. The subject is a Gypsy girl.”

Denis nodded in confirmation.  “I remember seeing it. It caused quite a stir in the art world.  My old master had me study it.”  He gave Betsy an appraising look.  “How do you know this?”

Betsy rolled her eyes.  “I got an Associate’s degree in Art before I switched to geology. My father wanted me to have a real career instead of knowing just enough to ask if you want fries with your burgers. Besides, I went through a phase where I thought that I couldn’t possibly be related to the rest of my family.  I was hoping I was a Gypsy left on my parent’s doorstep.  So I studied everything about Gypsies that I could get my hands on.  That way when my real family came back for me, I would be ready.”

Pohl looked at her, arching his eyebrows in surprise. “You wanted to be taken by Gypsies?”

“Captain, on this trust me, once you get to know her, that will make complete sense,” Denis said.  He reached for the next canvas in the roll, and surveyed the panting of seven men bowling.  “I don’t recognize this one.”

Game of Skittles, by Jacob Duck.”  Betsy said.  “I think it is supposed to be painted sometime in the next year.  These are all Baroque paintings.”

“They look fine to me, nothing seems broken.”  Denis said.

“That’s Baroque, not broken. Who’s on first?” Betsy said.  “That’s what art teachers call art from this time period when they want to lump it all together.”

It was Denis’s turn to scoff.  “I’ve seen books of your uptime artwork.  Christo?  Thomas Moore?  If you ask me, modern art can stay in the future where it belongs.  I don’t understand how your Thomas Kinkade can be known as the painter of light when your people knew of Rembrandt.”

“I think that’s a marketing thing…” Betsy began to unroll a second bundle of canvases, there were a dozen bound tightly together.  Her eyes went wide as she lifted the corners of first one and then another.

“The ones in this bundle are exactly the same as in the first one,” she said, pursing her lips. “I’m going to make a bet that there are more of the same in the other batch. They are all Baroque.  I think that whoever did these is good. Very good.”

Denis groaned.  “Copies! I was afraid of that.  I know for a fact that the original Caravaggio is elsewhere.”

“Since there is more than one, I don’t think I am going to go out on a limb to say that we are looking at more than just copies that art students make,” said Pohl.

Denis and Betsy both jumped, and looked at each other guiltily.  In the excitement of their investigation, they had forgotten about the captain.  Now they looked at the man.  In the space of just a few words he had gone from being a menacing force, ready to lock them up, to someone sharing the same experience as them.

“You know about that system?” asked Denis. He remembered how he had sweated blood over copying any number of works by Rubens and the Carracci brothers. The only comment he would usually get from his late master was a growl and to have him point out where he had gone wrong.

“I’m not a total idiot who only knows that you put the pointy end of a sword into people,” said Pohl. “My nephew is apprenticed to Jusepe de Ribera, and in exchange for giving him patronage, I get long detailed letters from him telling me all he has learned.”

“Ribera?  He was one of my old master’s pupils.”

“You studied with Francisco Ribalta? I heard of his passing,” said Pohl.

“Yes.  Unfortunately, I’m just not as talented as Ribera,” said Denis.  “After Master Ribalta’s passing, I could find no other master to take me on.  Thankfully, my cousin found me work as an illustrator for the Grantville Times.”

Pohl walked over to where Betsy was kneeling and bent down next to her. “M’lady, if I may?”

“Of course, Captain.” Betsy cast a quick glance over to Denis who simply shrugged. It wasn’t as if either one of them was in any position to stop the dragoon captain from doing what he wanted.

The captain pulled out one of the canvases.

“I know that one as well,” said Betsy. “Landscape With Apollo and Mercury.  I don’t remember the artist or the name. But I know it. I also am fairly certain that it won’t be painted for at least another ten or twenty years.”

Pohl looked at her oddly. “I don’t really understand what is going on, but I do know one thing.  I have seen this painting before, and within the last few days.”

“Where?” asked Betsy.

“At the home of his eminence the Bishop. He was showing off his latest acquisition.”