Security Threats

Book #3 in the NESS series

Neustatter’s European Security Services has a lot of challenges to deal with, among them a campaign of industrial sabotage, an espionage ring, and the aftermath of the Dreeson assassination.

Then, there’s the missing heiress…

$5.99

Author(s):

Formats: epub, mobi, pdf, rtf, zip,

Category:

Neustatter’s European Security Services encounters a campaign of industrial sabotage, a pastor who attempts to limit their client base, an espionage ring, and the aftermath of the Dreeson assassination.  Old nemeses and new allies complicate matters.

Somewhere in Grantville is a missing heiress. There’s also a Resistance, and it has cookies. Even repeat business with established clients is complicated, not to mention dangerous. Real life proves more complicated than Neustatter’s movies or Astrid’s books as NESS looks for common threads.  Which incidents are related and which are not?

For Astrid Schäubin, solving cases, directing operations, and even portraying a saint are one thing, but figuring out dating in the midst of everything that’s happening is quite another.

Security Threats is the third book in the NESS series, after A Matter of Security and Missions of Security.

Chapter 1: Operation Schale

Monday, October 9, 1634

When Casimir Wesner requested ten agents from Neustatter’s European Security Services for the mission to Kleinjena, Edgar Neustatter had to make tough choices. He had a total of thirteen agents.

“I think Stefan needs to get out,” Neustatter had told Astrid a few days ago.

Stefan Kirchenbauer’s twins were a month and a half old, and Neustatter hadn’t taken him on the big mission to Frankfurt last month that resulted in the Battle of Flieden. Astrid agreed. If Neustatter left him home again, Stefan and Ursula would start to annoy each other.

“I will leave Wolfram with you,” the tall, wide-shouldered man had continued.

That made sense, too. Wolfram’s wife Anna had just had a baby, too, less than three weeks ago. Astrid did not think either one was ready for Wolfram to be away on a mission that would take several days.

“And Otto, I think. Your brother can have Karl back on his team.”

“Why Otto?”

“I am not sure, Miss Schäubin. I am not sure.” Neustatter paused. “Tell him to stay out of uniform.”

“Okay.”

As Astrid saw the teams off on a chilly Monday in October, she still was not sure if Neustatter worried over nothing or if he had some sort of intuition.

The mission was scheduled for nine days, but Neustatter had warned her it might take longer, depending on how difficult driving the cattle proved to be. Officially, the job was escorting a Jewish extended family to Kleinjena, where Issachar Frankel would become the village’s new butcher. Really, it was a cattle drive. After the men had been captured by the New United States Army at the Battle of Alte Veste two years ago, Neustatter had learned about the up-timers by watching their movies and reading their books. It was where the idea for Neustatter’s European Security Services had come from. He realized the up-timers did not like mercenaries, so his agency’s image was a mix of wagon guards and hard-boiled detectives. In reality, NESS was much closer to the wagon guards.

They were up well before dawn so the men could get the cattle moving before the rest of Grantville woke and went to work or school. After a while, Astrid saw Neustatter and Karl ride down Route 250, followed by a herd of cattle. Most of the other NESS agents followed the cattle. Issachar Frankel drove the first of two wagons. Hjalmar and Jakob ode rear guard.

Astrid waved and watched until they were out of sight, then went inside and got to work.

Otto came in a couple minutes later.

“Astrid, when Neustatter told me he was leaving me here this mission, he told me to stay out of uniform. He said he had a feeling.”

Ja, he told me the same thing. About you not being in uniform, not me.”

Otto laughed. “Astrid, it would not matter if you were in uniform or not. People notice you. They do not see me.”

Astrid started to disagree, but it was true. Otto was dependable, a crack shot with a pistol, and . . . forgettable. In their village, everyone had known everyone, but there were fewer than two hundred residents. In cities like Grantville, Magdeburg, and even Erfurt, people tended not to notice Otto.

“You stay in uniform as normal. I . . . investigate, I think.”

“I understand.”

 

Tuesday, October 10, 1634

Over the next couple days, Otto scouted Grantville. On Tuesday, Astrid dropped by the polizei station.

“Miss Schäubin! Long time, no see,” Chief Press Richards declared forty-five minutes later, when he had worked through enough minor crises to give her a few minutes. “Come in, come in. How are you and NESS doing?”

He showed her to the seat next to his desk Neustatter usually took. That felt . . . odd. Once she was seated, he leaned back in his chair.

“We are fine,” Astrid answered. “Most of the men got back from Frankfurt last week.”

“I heard about the battle out past Fulda,” Chief Richards said. “Are all your people okay?”

Ja. Jakob is doing much better and is able to ride again. Neustatter took ten men north on Monday. They are driving Issachar Frankel’s cattle to Kleinjena.”

Press Richards laughed. “I gotta tell Dan Frost about this next time I see him.”

When he stopped laughing, though, he looked at Astrid. “What brings you in, Miss Schäubin?”

“Neustatter left two men with me. Wolfram Kuntz, whose wife Anna just had a baby, and Otto Brenner. He told Otto and me that Otto should stay out of uniform and investigate. Neustatter had a feeling.”

Chief Richards came upright in his chair. “Has Neustatter had a feeling like this before?”

Nein.”

“Any recent run-ins with Schlinck’s Company?”

Nein. We have seen little of them.”

Press Richards considered that. “When a cop comes to me with a hunch, I hear him out. He might be right, he might be wrong, but I listen. Sometimes a hunch or intuition or a gut feeling is just our brain trying to make sense of things we don’t know we’ve seen.”

Astrid frowned. “That makes no sense.”

“Nevertheless, it’s true. Neustatter may have seen someone he recognized or where that person should not be. He may simply have seen the same person in more than one place. His subconscious is trying to make it fit. That it picked a threat scenario concerns me.”

“That is . . . psychology, ja?” Astrid asked. “I have not studied it yet.”

“You lived in a small village all your life, right?” Chief Richards asked. “Grantville wasn’t much different before the Ring of Fire. I knew who was doing what, and where I ought to see them. One day, I saw a couple guys from out of town at one of the bars, and it bothered me. I kept coming back to it over the next few days until I realized I’d seen them at Jay Barlow’s car dealership a couple days before. That could have meant a lot of things. When Dan Frost heard about them being where high schoolers hang out, he realized car dealership plus high school hangouts equaled Bud Carpenter. We kept an eye on him, and sure enough, those two guys kept popping up in company with him.”

“What happened?”

Press Richards smiled. “Bud was a troublemaker, but he wasn’t very smart about it. I don’t mean just getting drunk or into fights. I mean armed-and-dangerous career criminal. We were able to pick him up on a couple charges, and he was over in the county jail when the Ring of Fire hit. Maybe he got his act together but I’m just as happy he didn’t come with us.”

“I think I understand.”

“Having Otto take a look around is a good idea. Don’t look for trouble yourself.”

Astrid nodded. She did not intend to.

She did, however, have a contact.

✽✽✽

That evening, Astrid found Gottlieb Seidelman reading at a desk in one of the Tech Center’s classrooms.

“Gottlieb.”

He looked up from his book, obviously startled. “NESS, right?”

“Astrid Schäubin.”

Gottlieb waited for her to speak.

“How are your classes?”

He patted the open book twice with one hand. “A lot of information. Different approach to law. So many rules.”

Astrid smiled in agreement. “How is the job?”

“Most shifts are the same. Routine.”

“Do you ever get one of the other missions or always the tannery?”

“I am tannery only. The other missions are mostly wagon guards.” Seidelman’s replies sounded guarded.

“I was not sure. Many of ours are wagon guard, too. We have not seen Schlinck’s Company in a while.”

Gottlieb nodded, but Astrid knew she had gone from borderline bothersome to ‘why is she questioning me?’

“Are any of your men uneasy, on edge?”

Gottlieb considered. “Sometimes. Those who have been around Captain Schlinck the longest dismiss that sort of thing.”

“New men with the jitters,” Astrid summarized. “But can you tell jitters from something that might really be there?”

He thought it over, and his eyes narrowed. “Ja. You are asking me this because some of your men feel it.”

She nodded, waiting to see if Gottlieb decided the NESS agents were not professional.

“I will talk to the men who work outside the tannery,” he stated.

Danke.”

That had been a bust, but then Astrid considered that Schlinck’s Company was not the only one in town. She could talk to Bretagne’s Company.

 

Wednesday, October 11, 1634

Bretagne’s Company had an office in downtown Grantville. Astrid made her way there and pushed the door open. She could see at a glance the office was small, just a reception area and a private office in the back. It made sense. Their main office was over by Saalfeld.

Two of Bretagne’s men were in the reception area. They had been relaxed but sat up straight as soon as Astrid opened the door. A third man was in the back office.

“Gun.” The man on the right side of the room let his partner know she was wearing without making a big deal about it.

“Can we help you, fräulein?”

She replied in Amideutsch. “I heiss Astrid Schäubin, from NESS. Is Sergeant Wolfe in?”

Both men blinked. The one on the right stammered, “N . . . nein. He is on assignment.”

The third man came out of the back office. She noted his salt-and-pepper hair and an aura of confidence.

I heiss Astrid Schäubin, from NESS.” She extended her hand.

He shook it. “I heiss Heinrich Rampelberg, sergeant in Captain Bretagne’s Company. What can I help you with, ma’am?”

“Have you sensed anything out of the ordinary? Unease, people where they would not normally be, the same people in different places . . .”

“Being watched, you mean.” Clearly Sergeant Rampelberg was not one to beat around the bush.

Astrid nodded.

“I have not.” He looked to his two men. The one on Astrid’s left shook his head no. The one on the right started to, but stopped.

“Sergeant, I had not thought about it that way, but do you remember Maria Hempel saying last week supplies had gone missing?”

Ja, I do,” Rampelberg said. “Captain Bretagne assigned a couple men to keep an eye on the neighborhood.”

This sounds like what I am looking for. “Sergeant, next time you see those men, would you ask if they felt like they were being watched, bitte?”

Ja.” Rampelberg studied her. “What is it that you do at NESS?”

“I am the secretary and sometimes a field agent.”

“Huh.” The sergeant jerked a thumb at the man to her right. “I will send Leopold Gleitz with a message if we notice anything else.”

Danke.”

As Astrid left, she heard Gleitz ask, “Sergeant, why don’t we have secretaries?”

“Gleitz, you know a few Hibernians, do you not? Find out if they have noticed anything unusual.”

Astrid smiled to herself. It sounded like Sergeant Rampelberg was taking them seriously.

 

Thursday, October 12, 1634

Late the same day, the NESS agents still in town heard about tools disappearing from the new row of townhouses under construction on Kimberly Heights. Since one of those townhouses was going to be NESS’s, Wolfram went to talk to the foreman while Astrid opened the office.

She had been at her desk for only a few minutes when the door opened.

Frau Haun.”

“Just Leigh Ann today, although I did come to thank all of you for working on the bridge. A couple more days, and it will be open. Is Neustatter around?”

“He and most of the men are on a cattle drive.”

Leigh Ann smiled, but it seemed forced.

“What is wrong, Leigh Ann? Let’s sit by the stove.”

Leigh Ann sank into a chair. “James had to go back to Magdeburg. I am just a little down.”

“Oh! I am sorry.”

Leigh Ann sighed. Then she straightened. “Y’all haven’t been training at night on our side of Buffalo Creek, have you?”

Nein.” Astrid was a bit surprised at the question.

“Sorry. I didn’t think it was you, but . . .”

“What is it, Frau Haun?”

Leigh Ann frowned. “That sounded official. Something spooked the horses two nights ago and again last night. And once last week, come to think of it. Dad was out there way too late at night calming them down.”

“Is anything missing?” Astrid asked. “Tools? Supplies?”

“I don’t think so, but I’ll check.”

“Have you seen anyone who does not belong there?”

“Noooo . . . You have an idea of what’s going on, don’t you, Astrid?”

“Neustatter had a hunch. I went to see Chief Richards, and he says hunches are your brain trying to put images and bits of information together, things you are not thinking about on purpose. I talked to Bretagne’s Company, and someone took supplies out by Saalfeld. Yesterday, tools were missing from the new townhouses being built on Kimberly Heights.”

“Petty crime,” Leigh Ann stated.

“Petty crime around security companies. One of Bretagne’s men is checking with another of the companies.”

“I don’t like the sound of this,” Leigh Ann said. “I hoped once the bridge opened, Julia and James and your NESS kids could play together.”

Astrid smiled. “I think they would like that.”

“Is it safe?”

“At least one adult should be with them when they cross the bridge, anyway,” Astrid pointed out.

“I guess I’d better start carrying again.” Leigh Ann sighed. “I hoped we were past that.”

Astrid chose her words with care. “I do not think this is armies. This is . . . something else. I need to talk to Sommersburg and Carstairs Construction and to Braun and Scharff. It would not hurt to put a patrol on Riverfront Park Road at night . . . unless that is what they want us to do.”

Leigh Ann looked puzzled.

“Those companies are across Buffalo Creek from your farm. I want to know if anything has happened on their property.”

“Take someone with you.”

“I apologize, Leigh Ann. I did not mean to worry you even more.”

“I’m fine. Take someone, but go find out. I’ll head home and let Dad know we need to be on the alert.”

The construction company and the machine tool company were inside one of the many bends in Buffalo Creek, a loop with a lot of names. Older up-timers called it the Plum Run bend. Down-timers started to call it Riverfront Park Loop. The kids called it ‘the sea serpent’ or ‘the sock puppet’ from its shape on a map.

Astrid and Otto, in uniform, walked over in the afternoon. They started at Sommersburg and Carstairs. The employees of the construction company had noticed quite a few things: missing items, disturbed supplies, and minor vandalism.

They went on to Braun & Scharff.

“One security guard by the door,” Astrid noted.

“Two-man patrol,” Otto added. “They just came around the left end of the building, and we have their attention.”

Astrid and Otto went right up to the guard at the door, ignoring the team that had taken up a very solid flanking position.

Guten Tag. We are Astrid Schäubin and Otto Brenner from Neustatter’s European Security Services. We were going to ask to speak with a manager, but you are probably the one we really need to see.”

“Oh?”

Astrid summarized what had been going on in the area. “Has anything happened here?”

Ja, und I think you do need to talk to a manager.” He looked past them for a moment, waving the other two security guards over. He disappeared inside but was back in a few minutes.

Herr Braun would like to see you.”

They followed the guard to an office in one corner of the quiet building. This was the distribution center. Machine tools were made at the Schwarza Falls facility. Herr Braun was a barrel-shaped, white-haired man who had learned his trade when tools were muscle-powered. Astrid was sure he could handle any of those tools, too.

After they shook hands, Herr Braun waved them to upholstered chairs in front of his desk. He said, “I did not realize our people had already contacted you about the shipment to Magdeburg.”

Astrid could not help being wide-eyed, but she managed to refrain from exchanging glances with Otto. “Which shipment is this?”

“The big shipment before das Erntedankfest.

Before up-time Thanksgiving? “Herr Braun, we do not know about this mission. We are here on another matter.”

Braun looked surprised. Astrid told him what had happened at the Kimberly Heights townhouses, on the Haun farm, at Sommersburg & Carstairs, and near Bretagne’s office over by Saalfeld.

“Bretagne’s Company is the other set of guards,” Braun blurted out.

This time Otto and Astrid did exchange glances.

Herr Braun, is there anyone who might not want those machine tools delivered?”

He thought about it for a moment. “I suppose anyone in competition with the purchasers in Magdeburg. Why would what you have described stop delivery? It is petty vandalism. Annoying and obnoxious, to be sure.”

“If we patrolled the local area—which was my first thought—it might decrease the number of men we could have to guard the shipment.”

Braun considered that and gave a short, sharp nod. “I see.”

“It is our problem, though, not yours, Herr Braun,” she continued. “Has there been vandalism here? Any security concerns?”

“Small things. Boot marks where someone seems to have been watching the building, a sign tipped over. I moved more of our security guards here from the production facility, and nothing has happened since.”

“Perhaps they stopped to conceal your shipment is the true target.” Astrid raised a hand. “Or perhaps we are not correct about this at all.”

Herr Braun grimaced. “Oh, I think you are. I travel to Magdeburg on business every few months. Some of the new firms have a very hard edge to them. If they mean to stop the shipment, how will it be done?”

Astrid thought. It would not be near Grantville, where the polizei had cars and trucks. Nor Jena. She remembered news articles about West Saxon County—not there, either. Probably not in or near Magdeburg.

“Possibly near Camburg. If the shipment will be by wagon along the incomplete railroad line, perhaps between Halle and Eisleben. If it is by boat, between Halle and Magdeburg, but not too close to either.”

“I would like to speak with Neustatter and Bretagne.” Braun’s words were abrupt.

“Neustatter is on assignment, but he will be back in a week. I will see if I can contact Captain Bretagne.”

✽✽✽

Chapter 2: A Date

Wednesday, November 8, 1634

On Wednesday morning, Ditmar and his team set out for Schleusingen. They were riding horses NESS had a share in, but not necessarily their favorite ones. This mission had come on short notice.

Late Wednesday afternoon, Neustatter, Hjalmar, and Otto were in the office when Lieutenant Moser arrived with paperwork for the upcoming mission. He easily could have given Neustatter the papers the day before.

Neustatter did not miss much.

“Miss Schäubin, would you go over to the livery stable and update our copies of the claimed dates for the horses we have a share in, bitte?”

“Sure.” Astrid already had a good idea of when NESS’s horses would be available, and they were not going to need them again anytime soon. She knew what was going on, but had no choice but to play along.

“Miss Schäubin.” Lieutenant Moser gave her a little bow and a big smile.

✽✽✽

When Astrid returned with her pen, inkwell, and updated schedule, she was not surprised to find Neustatter and Otto gone. Neustatter would have sent Otto on an errand, and then he would have left while Lieutenant Moser talked to Hjalmar. Neustatter would be nearby because he would want to speak with Moser again before he left.

He would be in one of the other offices in their building, engaging the proprietor or a clerk in casual conversation. Astrid could not check. She had to walk into the NESS office though she was not sure what she wanted.

She almost ruined the moment by giggling. Hjalmar and Lieutenant Moser stood by the Franklin stove. Their heads swiveled as she opened the door. Astrid felt like the woman walking into the detective agency in the mystery novels she read.

“Miss Schäubin.”

Leutnant Moser.”

“Might I have the honor of your company at dinner tomorrow night?”

“Why, ja, certainly. Danke.” It seemed an appropriate occasion to leave the endings on her words.

“May I call for you at six? The Thuringen Gardens is not far away.”

“Of course.” The Gardens was a good choice. It was nearby and public enough no one need worry about her having dinner with a strange man. Hjalmar would anyway, even though they had known Lieutenant Moser for six months now.

Lieutenant Moser had to return to Camp Saale. Hjalmar and Astrid locked the office for the night. They walked to Kirchenbauer and Kuntz house for dinner. Astrid wondered if there would be bratwurst. If there were strudel for dessert, someone was going to get hurt.

Neustatter appeared from one of the other businesses in the storefront building. “So, Miss Schäubin, how did you like the office being the communications center?” he asked.

“I liked learning how to keep track of the units on the map,” she told him. “It is not something we have done before.”

“It is officer stuff,” Neustatter told her. “I suppose you could spend more time around officers and learn about it.”

She saw his eyes. “Ja, I could take the unit markers to the Thuringen Gardens with me.”

Neustatter laughed. “So you are going.”

Ja.” She shrugged. “I am not sure why.”

“You have not had a day off,” Neustatter pointed out. “Why not take tomorrow? I am sure you and Anna can put it to good use. Do you need Friday as well?”

Nein dank,” she told him. “I will be in the office on Friday.” It would give her a reason not to stay out late.

“Good plan.”

Astrid hadn’t been in the house for five minutes before Anna came by. She carried Kristina, who seemed to be study everyone with intensity.

Anna’s eyes sparkled. “I heard. What is he like?”

“I do not know him well, Anna.”

“You worked with him all night!”

“He took radio calls. I took telephone calls. We pushed little markers around a map. I ran out to guide a squad to Leigh Ann’s place. He is a competent officer, but I do not know more than that.”

“What are you going to wear?”

“What I wear every day—”

Nein! A dress. You should buy a new one.”

“Anna, I—”

“You should have your hair styled.”

Astrid rolled her eyes. Anna beckoned to Neustatter.

“Astrid needs to get her hair styled,” Anna began.

“How do women in the National Guard wear their hair?” Astrid asked. She did not want Neustatter to think she was asking to spend a lot of money.

“Usually, it is up,” Neustatter answered. “Like a braid, but this way.” He moved his hand forward over his head.

“Oh!” Anna exclaimed. “I have seen that. We can do that, Astrid.”

Neustatter raised an eyebrow but made no other comment.

Thursday, November 9, 1634

Yesterday, having her own room was strange. This morning, when she woke up late, Astrid decided she could get used to it. Not having to work out who got the shower first was nice, too.

She had found something for lunch and sat down with a book when Anna tapped on the door.

“You tried to convince me to buy a new dress.” Astrid pointed this out when Anna presented her with her best dress, freshly laundered. She must have swiped it yesterday.

“You should,” Anna insisted. “I decided you probably would not, so this is the backup plan.”

“Who is the security consultant now?” Astrid asked with a smile.

Anna ignored the comment. “When do you want me to fix your hair?”

Anna quickly figured out American braid. According to her, there was nothing to it. She made Astrid learn how to do it. Astrid supposed it would be convenient on a mission but so would a regular braid or a ponytail.

Astrid heard a knock at the door at six o’clock. Hjalmar got to the door before she did. Lieutenant Moser was as polite as always. Astrid could not help but notice the exchange of looks between Moser and her brother.

As they walked down Route 250 toward the Thuringen Gardens, Lieutenant Moser complimented Astrid. She thanked him and tried to be as gracious as Anna had told her she should be. At the same time, she resisted the urge to see if anyone from NESS was tailing them. She did not think Neustatter would, but Hjalmar might. His team would help if he asked.

Lieutenant Moser practiced situation awareness, though. Astrid found it hard to carry on a conversation with Lieutenant Moser when they were both checking their respective sides of the road.

At the Thuringen Gardens, Lieutenant Moser found a table in one of the quieter rooms which meant they could hear each other.

“Are things back to normal?” he asked.

Astrid smiled. “We are awake in the day and asleep in the night, if that is what you mean. For us, there is one routine when the teams are home and a different routine when they are not.”

“The men are home now.”

Ja. If this winter is like last winter, they will be home much of the time. We hope there will be security assignments in Grantville.”

“It may be tough. The railroad handles more and more goods in the Golden Corridor,” Moser warned.

A waitress arrived and handed them menus. “May I get you something to drink?”

“Small beer?” Lieutenant Moser asked Astrid.

Ja, bitte.”

“Two small beers, bitte.”

“What style of beer would you like?” the waitress asked. She rattled off a list so quickly Astrid didn’t catch most of it.

Lieutenant Moser looked to her.

“Any German small beer that is not too bitter,” was the best she could do.

“Two,” Moser said.

“I will be right back.”

After the waitress left, Astrid said, “Every time we escort a shipment of machine parts to another city, it means someone in that city will begin to manufacture goods. While there may be one or two more shipments of additional machine parts, there will be fewer shipments of completed goods from Grantville to that city. Und as you say, the railroad carries many goods now. Once the line to Magdeburg is complete, there will be fewer missions guarding shipments. What we might see is an increase guarding people as they have additional opportunities to travel.”

Lieutenant Moser nodded. “That is a good point, but a hard one for us to estimate. I have been involved in hiring security consultants for the shipments the Strategic Resources Board think are important, but we have nothing to do with individual travel.”

He waited a moment and pointed out, “There are seven security contractors competing for those missions.”

Astrid gave him points for saying security contractors rather than mercenaries. She had to disagree. The waitress delivered their small beers.

“Have you decided what to order?” she asked.

Nein,” Lieutenant Moser said.

“I will rekomm in ein parr minutes.”

Astrid had to think through what the waitress said. She spoke Amideutsch much of the time, but rekomm was new to her. ‘To come back,’ she assumed. Well, it is efficient . . . once you figure it out. She wondered if this word would catch on. Some did. Some did not. Others were used only in certain circles. Not everyone spoke Amideutsch the same way. The reverse was also true. If someone thought of a good way to say something, others might like it and use it.

Astrid remembered what she wanted to say to Lieutenant Moser.

“Not all of the companies compete for the same missions. The Hibernian Battalion does . . . well, I do not know what the Hibernian Battalion does, but whatever it is, it does not include picking up one- or two-months’ gun production in Schleusingen, Suhl, and Schmalkalden for the National Guard. Schlinck’s Company does do some of the same missions we do, but they have shifted a lot of their personnel to the prison and tannery contract.”

Lieutenant Moser nodded without adding anything. Astrid did not expect him to tell her about the other companies. Instead, he switched the subject.

“What do you do when you are not working for NESS, Miss Schäubin?” he asked.

“I take night classes. English, Citizenship, Library. I am taking Business and Cooking now. I read.”

“What do you read?”

“Mysteries, mostly. If I run out before I can get back to the library, one of Neustatter’s westerns. He bought a new one in Magdeburg.”

“What kind of mysteries?”

“The kind where I have a fair chance to solve the case,” she answered.

“Do you read romance?”

“Only if someone at school gives me a recommendation. I want to know what I am getting into. There are up-time in-love romances, down-time family alliances, and mixed ones with lots of misunderstandings.”

“I suppose if they avoided the misunderstandings, it would not be as exciting for anyone but the characters themselves.”

Astrid thought about it. “That is probably true, Leutnant Moser.”

“Eberhard, bitte.”

Astrid felt she should reciprocate. “Astrid, then.”

“We should decide what to order.”

They picked up their menus. Astrid recognized most of the foods.

“What is salad?”

“It is all different vegetables, all mixed together and served uncooked,” Lieutenant Moser explained.

Astrid thought about what they’d grown in the village. ” ‘All different vegetables’? Which ones?”

“Lettuce, kale, carrots, onions, radishes. They put dressing on it.”

“What is that?”

Lieutenant Moser waved to their waitress.

“Could you tell us about salad dressing, bitte?”

“Oh, sure. There’s oil and vinegar, ranch, and Thousand Island.”

“What are those last two?” Astrid asked.

“Up-time favorites.” The waitress shrugged her shoulders. “They had many kinds of salad dressing, but these are the ones they asked for the most, so they are the ones people went out and reinvented. Ranch has buttermilk and sour cream or mayonnaise. Thousand Island has mayonnaise and ketchup. It was named for the place it was invented up-time, somewhere in the wilderness in the New World.”

Lieutenant Moser and Astrid exchanged glances. He raised an eyebrow.

“Let’s have that,” Astrid suggested.

Und something more filling?” Moser prompted. “Maybe the sausage stew?”

“That is a good idea. Dank.”

Once the waitress departed, Moser looked to Astrid. “What surprised you the most when you first came to Grantville, Astrid?”

For the rest of their meal, they talked about safe topics: their impressions of Grantville, technology, and politics. The stew was good, and Astrid enjoyed the salad, even though the carrots were orange. Lieutenant Moser insisted on paying the bill.

Danke, Eberhard.”

“My pleasure.”

Lieutenant Moser walked her home.

The door almost flew open at his knock. Astrid refrained from rolling her eyes.

Danke sehr,” she said. “I enjoyed the evening.”

“You are quite welcome.” He gave her a little bow and returned to Camp Saale.

“So . . .” Hjalmar said.

“We had dinner at the Thuringen Gardens,” Astrid told her brother.

“I know that.”

“I had salad. I like it.” She could not help teasing her brother.

“Astrid . . .”

Leutnant Moser is what the up-timers call a gentleman. We talked about Grantville and the new technologies and what might happen next in the USE. Do not be concerned.”

She watched Hjalmar think.

“Did he ask you out again?” Hjalmar used an English idiom that had already been an established part of Amideutsch when the men first arrived in Grantville..

“Of course not.” Her brother looked confused, so Astrid explained. “If he wants to ask me out again, he will wait so he has to call on me again to do so.”

“Oh.”

She couldn’t resist slipping in a bit of up-time English. “Duh.”

Friday, November 10, 1634

Neustatter had already unlocked the office when Astrid arrived on time.

“I was not sure when you would come in,” he said. She could tell from the look in his eyes he was teasing her.

“We did not stay out late.”

Neustatter did not press for information. A few minutes later, the door opened, and Anna came in carrying Kristina.

“Well?” she asked.

“I enjoyed dinner with Leutnant Moser,” Astrid told her.

“What is he like?”

“He is a from a small village here in Thuringia and found his way to Grantville in the early days,” Astrid answered. “He seems quite knowledgeable. Leutnant Moser said—”

Anna shook her head.

“What?” Astrid asked.

Anna exchanged looks with Neustatter. “You see, do you not, Neustatter?” she asked.

Ja.”

“What?” Astrid demanded.

“Are you interested in him?” Anna asked.

Astrid shrugged. “I do not know. He is interested in me. That is clear. But I . . . I just do not know.”

“Should we tell her?” Anna asked Neustatter.

“Up to you.”

Anna grimaced. “What do you call him, Astrid?”

Leutnant Moser?” Astrid asked. “Leutnant Moser, of course.”

Anna sighed.

“What Anna means, Astrid,” Neustatter explained, “is that you are thinking of him as the leutnant who brings us missions. Not as Eberhard.”

Astrid blinked. “Oh.” She thought about it. She realized Neustatter had called her Astrid because it was personal advice, not NESS business. He had made the shift effortlessly.

“There is nothing wrong with thinking about him as Leutnant Moser,” Neustatter continued, “and as long as you can think about him as Leutnant Moser when you are on NESS business, there is nothing wrong with thinking about him as Eberhard the rest of the time.”

She supposed she could try. She understood why Anna was disappointed. Anna thought Astrid needed a suitor.

Dank,” she told them. “I did call him Eberhard during dinner, after he asked me to.”

“You took out the American braid,” Anna continued.

Ja. I like this better when I am in the office.” Her hair was back in what had become her usual style, long and wavy. A day of American braid had rearranged the waves.

“There is a way to do this . . .” Anna mused.

Astrid laughed and shooed her away. “It is fine, Anna. Really.”

Chapter 3: A Cold Day in Grantville

Tuesday, November 14, 1634

Edgar Neustatter leaned against the wall as Astrid Schäubin gave her weekly report. Things were going well for Neustatter’s European Security Services.

“So,” he summarized, “we’ve got enough cash to hire two more men but not enough to guarantee them payroll, ammo, and feed for the extra horses?”

“That’s correct,” Astrid told him.

Neustatter shrugged. “We’ll wait. We haven’t had the third team that long. Everyone will be just as happy if I don’t have to switch them around again so soon.” He pushed away from the wall. “I signed us up for the evening business class at the high school so we’d learn how the up-timers thought and to make contacts. It’s useful in its own right.”

“Last night was an important lesson about property taxes,” Astrid noted.

“You asked around?”

“This morning I called a few other businesses that belong to the Chamber of Commerce. Everyone agrees property taxes will go up, most likely by the maximum allowed by the county government.”

” Our landlord will raise our rent by that amount and a little bit more.”

It was Astrid’s turn to shrug. “What do you expect? It’s just good business.”

Neustatter grimaced. “No argument. James and Leigh Ann had to sell their house in town. It only makes sense Leigh Ann will make sure her parents receive enough rent to cover the tax increase.”

“We need to find more assignments in order to pay her, then. Ditmar’s team should be back from Schleusingen in a day or two. Escorting shipments of guns to the Thuringian backbone and the Elbetal is steady income, but now the Ram Rebellion is over, it’s going to be one team from now on. Let’s start at Cora’s for information and then stop by the stock exchange.”

Astrid put on her coat and then her gun belt.

✽✽✽

It was a cold enough day that there were fewer people than usual in the streets. On the other hand, Cora’s City Hall Café and Coffee House was more crowded. Neustatter and Astrid found seats at the counter.

Marlo broke off a conversation with the patrons at one of the tables to take their order.

“Coffee, black.”

Astrid didn’t know how Neustatter could drink that stuff. She ordered beef broth. When the waitress returned with their order, Neustatter asked, “What’s new, Marlo?”

“Well, Hans Dietrich Mueller says the pastor of that storefront church is back in town. The Lutheran one that’s here but ain’t s’posed to be. Leastwise that’s what Frau Piscatore, Pastor Kastenmayer’s wife, says. You go there, too, don’t you?”

Astrid had to struggle to not look at Marlo. Instead, she watched Neustatter.

Ja, we do,” Neustatter said. “I hadn’t heard Pastor Holz was back. We should stop by later and pay our respects.”

Astrid saw the look in his eyes was his professional business expression. After Marlo moved on to another table, she asked, “What is it, Neustatter?”

“I saw Hans Dietrich Müller yesterday. He and Wilhelm Trauber delivered the kegs of small beer and picked up the empties.”

Astrid nodded. Much of the new construction in West Virginia County had city water, but many of the down-timers and not a few up-timers preferred small beer. With the ban on daytime traffic downtown, there wasn’t a practical way to take beer home in quantity. A few enterprising souls had noted the existence of paper routes and garbage routes and set up a beer route. Grantville proper got deliveries early in the morning. The development where Neustatter’s men lived was on the Monday afternoon route.

“Maybe Pastor Holz just got in last night,” Astrid suggested.

“Maybe.” Astrid could tell Neustatter didn’t believe it.

They found no leads on new security assignments at Cora’s. The exchange was little better, but the stock market was having a good day.

The Street says it’s a post-war boom,” Neustatter told Astrid. “The Ostend War, the Ram Rebellion, and the Dutch War are all over. I don’t know how they distinguish that from the fact times have been good ever since we’ve come to Grantville. Probably since Grantville showed up.”

Astrid frowned. “The only thing I notice is the Dutch guilder has gone up.”

“That makes it easier for the Dutch to buy goods from the USE,” Neustatter said. “If they come here to buy, they’ll come with their own security. If they’re ordering from a factor here and additional shipments are sent, it could work out for us. If I understand correctly, it should help tourism from the Low Countries, too.”

“Tourists bring their own security,” Astrid pointed out.

“Yes, they do,” Neustatter agreed. He shrugged. “I’m glad everyone here is having a good day, but there’s no reason for us to stick around. ”

“You want to go to the church.”

Ja.”

✽✽✽

As they crossed the plaza’s parking lot toward the storefront church, Neustatter spoke softly. “Two men, outside the door.”

“Neustatter, they look like sentries.”

Ja. If Pastor Holz needs sentries . . . ”

“Why didn’t he call us?” Astrid finished. “That’s Martin Rausch.”

“The other one is one of Schlinck’s men.” Neustatter sounded disgusted and for good reason.

“Seven contractors in town, and Pastor Holz called Schlinck?” Astrid asked.

“Well, they’re cheap. If all you need is people shoved out of your way, they’re effective.”

“They’re also responsible for half the incidents of ‘liberated’ items that led to all the government paperwork security contractors have to file,” Astrid reminded him. Quite unnecessarily, she was sure.

Neustatter raised a hand in greeting as they drew near.

“Martin. Are things well at the machine shop?”

Rausch didn’t answer. Neustatter ignored the rudeness and turned to the mercenary.

“I do not believe we have met. I heiss Neustatter.”

“I know.”

“Please tell Hauptmann Schlinck I said hello.”

“Wait here.” The sentry went inside.

Neustatter and Astrid looked at each other. “Schlinck’s inside.”

The sentry was back in minutes. “Tell him yourself,” he said.

Neustatter opened the door for Astrid, and she stepped inside. The door opened right into the back of the nave. The storefront church wasn’t very big. A semi-circle of five men waited for them at the front.

“Pastor Holz. Welcome back. Hauptmann Schlinck. Herr Krause. Herr Bruenner. Herr Ziegler.”

“How did you find out we were here, Neustatter?” Bruenner asked.

“We heard Pastor Holz had returned and came to pay our respects. Clearly, we are interrupting you, so we will see you all at the service on Sunday.” Neustatter turned to go.

Astrid was sure he had no intention of leaving. She noticed Holz and Schlinck exchange glances. The mercenary nodded.

“Just a minute, Neustatter,” Holz said. “This concerns you.” He held out a parchment and slit the seal. Unrolling it, he began to read a proclamation in Latin. Astrid had no idea what he was saying nor even how he managed to make out the words in the dim light.

Holz finished reading and looked at Neustatter.

“Well now, Pastor, you said this concerns me but I reckon I don’t know anyone who would want to write me in Latin,” Neustatter said in distinctly twangy Amideutsch.

“What it says, Neustatter, is true Lutherans are not allowed to do business with heretics. In particular, you are forbidden from accepting contracts from heretics who want to change the Holy Scriptures.”

“On whose orders?”

“Tilesius.”

“Why?”

“Because they are heretics, Neustatter. They are trying to change the Holy Scriptures.”

“So are you and Tilesius trying to forbid all Lutherans from signing contracts with any and all heretics or are y’all just trying to disrupt NESS’s contract with the Bibelgesellschaft?” Neustatter asked.

“Any Lutheran is forbidden from signing any contract with any heretic,” Holz replied. He sounded quite pleased with the prospect. “It will be official as soon as it is posted on the church door.”

“Have you thought this through?” Neustatter asked.

“We have, Neustatter, and there will be no exceptions. So you will not work for this so-called Bibelgesellschaft,” Holz stated.

“Miss Schäubin?” Neustatter asked. “Last time we guarded the Bibelgesellschaft, who hired us?”

“Markus Fratscher did all the talking,” Astrid answered. She had a good idea where Neustatter was going.

“Ah, young Master Fratscher. A fine young Flacian scholar who’d like to enroll in university in Wittenberg,” Neustatter recalled. “Of course, he’s not old enough to sign a binding contract.”

“Dr. Gerhard signed the paperwork,” Astrid supplied.

“I am confused, Pastor Holz,” Neustatter drawled. “Are you sure Tilesius means to tell Dean Gerhard he is not allowed to hire us?”

Holz’s face turned an alarming shade of red. Ziegler sputtered and coughed.

“That is enough, Neustatter. These are binding orders.”

“And if I refuse?” Neustatter’s question came out in an Austrian-accented drawl.

Astrid cringed. She knew what it meant when her boss sounded like Arnold Schwarzenegger playing John Wayne. Pastor Holz wouldn’t be familiar with up-time culture.

“Then I will put you under discipline,” Holz stated. Alas, he had missed the signs.

“So that’s how it’s gonna be?” Neustatter asked.

“That is how it is,” Holz answered.

“Are you trying to force me to drop the Bibelgesellschaft contract or all contracts with non-Lutherans?” Neustatter asked again.

“All contracts with non-Flacian Lutherans.”

“Pastor, I cannot possibly stay in business if I limit my client base to no more than every sixth or seventh—or tenth—person in Grantville. Hauptmann Schlinck will have the same problem.” Neustatter turned toward the mercenary. “Guarding the misdemeanor prisoners on the road crews and at the tannery is still one of your big contracts, isn’t it?”

“It is, and it is a contract you won’t get anytime soon,” Schlinck replied.

“Of course not,” Neustatter agreed. “I do not have enough men to bid on that contract. What I am wondering is whether you realize the partners who own that tannery are all Philippists. Or you, Herr Krause. Your employer is Catholic and employs everyone from Calvinists to Anabaptists. Or you, Herr Bruenner. Stockyard Number Three is a joint venture with Jews, and you keep the whole operation kosher because it’s less of a hassle that way. If anybody’s got a problem with it, you just tell them to buy meat tagged from Stockyard Number One or Number Two. What are y’all going to do with this order from Tilesius?”

Bruenner and Krause glanced at each other.

“This does not apply to situations like those,” Holz stated.

“Why not?” Neustatter asked. “They are all heretics.”

“It does not apply,” Holz repeated.

“Then it does not apply to NESS and me, either,” Neustatter stated.

“Since you refuse to comply, Neustatter, I hereby . . .”

Neustatter cut him off. “I excommunicate you, Pankratz Holz.”

“You cannot do that!” the pastor blurted.

“I just did. And Schlinck . . . eh, there’s really no point in excommunicating you, is there? Meine Herren.” Neustatter touched his hat. “Miss Schäubin, you’ll be going now.”

Astrid shook her head to clear it, then realized Neustatter wanted her back at the doors so she could cover him. Holz and Schlinck were both shouting. Their words didn’t register. She was still thinking through the ramifications of her boss excommunicating the pastor, starting with whether it was even allowed. She pushed the door open—the one on the left—to block Schlinck’s man. Then she stepped right and bumped into Martin Rausch.

Neustatter backed out the door seconds later. He swept the door shut with his left foot and braced his boot against it. Simultaneously, he leveled the.45 in his right hand at the mercenary while drawing the man’s pistol with his left. He passed it over his shoulder to Astrid.

“Miss Schäubin, meine Herren, please stay clear of the door,” Neustatter directed. “I had to excommunicate Holz. Schlinck did not take it well. He is armed and may do something rash.”

His words were punctuated by a thud. Neustatter removed his boot from the door and jumped clear. With a second thud, the doors burst open, and Schlinck sprawled onto the ground where Neustatter relieved him of his pistol.

Another man stuck his head outside.

“Ah, Herr Ziegler,” Neustatter said. “Miss Schäubin and I are leaving now. We are going to set these two pistols down . . . say at that pine tree just past the bend in the road. Would you be so kind at to retrieve them for Captain Schlinck and his man? Good day. Miss Schäubin, if you would watch for cars, I will watch our backs.”

Astrid and Neustatter crossed the street and headed toward the NESS. Neustatter kept an eye on the men at the church, but they showed no inclination to follow. When they reached the pine, Neustatter removed the caps from Schlinck’s pistol and laid it at the base of the tree. He set the caps on top. Astrid did the same with the other pistol. It gave her something to focus on.

“Neustatter,” she managed, “I think we are in a lot of trouble.”

“Could be.”

“I am pretty sure you are not supposed to excommunicate pastors.”

“Well, I already did. But I agree we need to find out all the implications. We will go back to headquarters and tell the men what happened. Then I want you and Hjalmar to go talk to Pastor Kastenmayer, Herr Gary Lambert, and someone in the Bibelgesellschaft. Fratscher, if you can find him. Or Dr. Gerhard or Musaeus if either of them are in town for today’s meeting.”

“I understand.”

“Now, what do you think of what I just did?”

“I am not sure yet,” Astrid told him. “I am Lutheran, Neustatter, but what Pastor Holz just tried to do is unfair.”

NESS Office

A few of the men were in the office when Neustatter and Astrid returned.

“I thought this sort of nonsense was over,” Hjalmar muttered.

“My parents named me for Melanchthon,” Phillip pointed out. “I do not really care what a Flacian pastor has to say. Meaning no offense to the rest of you.”

Karl Recker was more reserved. “The eight of us who fought together in the war are all Flacian. We just want a quiet church with a pastor who tries to help us. We can adapt. But Wolfram and Stefan have families. Their wives are Flacians, too, and they have not had to deal with priests and pastors and chaplains all telling them what they can and cannot do.”

Neustatter nodded. “I do not want to make trouble for the families. Hjalmar and Astrid are going to go find out more information for us.”

✽✽✽

A brief visit to St. Martin’s in the Fields established that any Lutheran on bad terms with Pankratz Holz was welcome in Pastor Kastenmayer’s congregation. Kastenmayer suggested Holz may have said a good bit more than Tilesius had written. Someone needed to get hold of the exact wording.

“Let us skip Herr Lambert for now,” Astrid suggested. “We will need to hire a Latin translator. We can probably get one from the Bibelgesellschaft.”

“Do you think Neustatter will be okay with that?”

Astrid looked at her brother. “Did any of you learn Latin during the war?”

Nein.”

“I did not learn any at home, either.”

“Can we afford it?”

“We can pay cash if we have to,” Astrid answered, “but I will offer to credit it against the next time the Bibelgesellschaft hires us as security consultants.”

Bibelgesellschaft meeting, Grantville High School

Dr. Green followed Katharina Meisnerin’s glance toward the clock on the classroom wall and realized it was time to draw this week’s meeting to a close. “Well, that will make a good project. Everyone, see if you can find out if anyone besides us knows that manuscript C in Paris is actually a biblical manuscript. But—don’t let anyone know that we know. Also, be prepared to discuss whether or not we should tell Richelieu and why.”

The door burst open, and a student who attended St. Mary’s rushed in. “Father! There’s been an excommunication!”

Astrid knocked on the door as Athanasius Kircher was prompting the students. “Most of you have a bus to catch.”

“Astrid!” Katharina exclaimed.

Astrid later found out Katharina was worried. Kircher had restored order. His own Catholics found the story of the excommunication highly amusing. But the Lutherans were becoming defensive, and the other Anabaptists looked worried. In Katharina’s limited experience, trouble for one or more of the larger denominations inevitably meant even more trouble for Anabaptists. They were theoretically safe in the State of Thuringia-Franconia. That made this intra-Lutheran problem seem that much worse. It might be illogical, but it didn’t change how Katharina felt.

“Good afternoon. May we ask you about excommunication and some Latin translation?”

Some of the students fidgeted.

“I think if it’s a, uh, professional matter, rides home could be arranged,” Dr. Green observed.

After a couple minutes of discussion, Green gave directions. “Let’s put Richelieu on the back burner. Lutherans of either persuasion, I don’t think it would be a good idea if you were seen bringing back this notice to NESS. You get the analysis work afterwards.”

Johannes Musaeus, Guenther Kempf, and Markus Fratscher agreed.

Kircher coughed.

“You have a suggestion, Athanasius?” Green asked.

“About Lutherans taking down an announcement from a church door? I have no comment whatsoever,” he said deadpan.

Al Green choked. “You’re right. That won’t do. We can hardly stand there and discuss it. We’ll have to copy it.”

“If I may?” Hjalmar Schaub interrupted. “I believe what we need is a team leader, swift copyists, and a security element.”

Astrid wondered who that put in charge. Katharina later told her she wondered the same thing.

“And a driver,” Alicia Rice contributed. “In case you need to make a quick getaway.”

Once assured they would get a blow-by-blow account tomorrow, most of the students caught a bus, one named Marta with instructions to tell the Meisners and the Engelsbergs Katharina and Joseph would be dropped off later.

✽✽✽

Dr. Green had the only car. “I suppose that makes me the getaway driver.”

“You can pray, too.”

“Great. Getaway driver and the radio man,” he grumbled with a laugh.

Horst Felke, Katharina, and Astrid were in the back seat of Dr. Green’s car. Hjalmar and Joseph Engelsberg rode in the cargo area of the station wagon.

“What if Schlinck still has guards at the church?” Astrid asked her brother.

“If there is more than one of Schlinck’s men, we abort the mission,” Hjalmar answered. “If there’s only one, I can keep him occupied. You are close cover.”

“Herr Schaub,” Athanasius Kircher said from the front seat, “since the role of team leader seems to have fallen to me, if I decide we need to leave . . . ”

“Absolutely,” Hjalmar agreed. “If I am facing down a guard, I will not be in a position to make that decision.”

A couple minutes later, Green pulled into the plaza and slowly cruised past the storefront church.

“No guards,” Hjalmar observed. “That makes it easy.”

Green pulled up to the curb and popped the back hatch. Everyone piled out and hurried toward the church building. Hjalmar made sure he got there first and tried the door. It was locked. He took the broad sidewalk to the right and motioned Astrid to watch the sidewalk to the left.

✽✽✽

“Joseph, you are tallest,” Kircher said. “Start at the top.” He tapped a paragraph about a third of way down. “Horst, start here.” He tapped another paragraph lower down. “Katharina, you have from here to the end.”

The three students started to copy. A gas streetlight a few yards from the door gave them enough light to read. They got in each other’s way a bit and looked around a few times.

“This is not the time for ‘Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?‘ ” Kircher reproved. “Trust your, ah, security element.”

“This is not something I can sight translate,” Katharina murmured.

“That is the Lutherans’ job,” Joseph reminded her.

“Almost done,” Horst said. “How are you doing?”

A few minutes later, Astrid heard a car engine.

“It is just Dr. Green,” Kircher told them.

“Last line,” Katharina said. She carefully capped her ink.

They piled into the station wagon.

“I realize it’d be appropriate to burn rubber,” the Baptist pastor said, “but as there’s no way to replace tires, I trust you’ll forgive me.”

“It went remarkably well,” Kircher stated.

“Yes,” Hjalmar agreed. “Astrid, you said Schlinck was there earlier and had one of his men and Martin Rausch standing guard?”

“Yes.”

“And they were not expecting you and Neustatter.”

“No, they were not.”

“So why did they need security then and did not have anyone at the church tonight?”

Green dropped off Kircher and Horst and drove back to the high school where they hurried upstairs to the back hallway, the “language wing,” and handed their copies to the Lutheran students. Johannes Musaeus promised to make sure they caught the evening bus into Grantville. Green then drove Joseph and Katharina home.

Both Frau Meisnerin and Frau Huber were in the kitchen when Katharina came in. The Meisners and the Hubers shared the house.

Katharina’s mother was not happy. “Katharina! Where have you been? You were out without a chaperone!”

“I had the pastor and two security guards with me,” Katharina protested.

Frau Huber sniffed.

Georg came downstairs. “Katharina! Did you miss the bus? Oh! Astrid! Hjalmar. Dr. Green.”

“Hi, Georg,” Astrid returned.

“I apologize, Frau Meisnerin,” Hjalmar interrupted. “Our firm needed Latin scribes on short notice. My sister was assigned to Katharina’s protection. You remember her from the Jena and Erfurt trips.”

It mollified Katharina’s mother to an extent.

“Katharina was very helpful, Frau Meisnerin,” Pastor Green said. “I should get Hjalmar and Astrid home before it gets any colder.”

✽✽✽

Reviews

Be the first to review “Security Threats”