The Unexpected Sales Reps

Pranksters and scammers from way back, Paolo Fucilla and Carlo Rigatti fought for Spain at the Wartburg and survived.

Curious about the people who had beaten them so handily, they went to Grantville. Whatever their other faults, they were serious about keeping their oaths. When they promised not to take up arms they meant it. In Grantville, they got in trouble again and skipped town.

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How to succeed at spying without really trying…

Pranksters and scammers from way back, Paolo Fucilla and Carlo Rigatti fought for Spain at the Wartburg and survived.

Curious about the people who had beaten them so handily, they went to Grantville. Whatever their other faults, they were serious about keeping their oaths. When they promised not to take up arms they meant it. In Grantville, they got in trouble again and skipped town.

Looking for a job that didn’t include being shot at with napalm, they decided to try their hand at spying. It was a “Here, hold my beer and watch this” inspiration. It wasn’t their first, and it wouldn’t be their last.

They went to work for the Archbishop of Salzburg. But spies need cover stories, so they decided to sell office supplies. It was supposed to be a single job, so they didn’t bother to tell the manufacturer that they were now the sales reps for Vignelli Business Machines.

So “hold their beers and watch,” as Paolo and Carlo demonstrate the kind of trouble they can get into.

Chapter 1

Amberg, Upper Palatinate
August 1634

“The archbishop thinks that Duke Albrecht is too calm.” Paolo Fucilla waved the knife with which he had been peeling a still rather green apple. A ray of the setting sun slid through a thin spot in the tree that shaded the old barn and highlighted the silver threads that usually weren’t so visible in his black hair.

Carlo Rugatti scratched, first his nose and then his privates. His own hair hadn’t done so well.  Whenever he looked at his reflection, whether in water or metal, or in the incredibly clear glass mirrors so numerous in Grantville, as good as seeing one’s portrait immortalized in oils by the greatest of painters, he saw his uncle. “Damned bedbugs. There must have been ten thousand in that mattress last night. Stinking, backwards, country innkeepers.” He scratched his nose again. “You mean?”

“Duke Albrecht doesn’t know where his sons are. At least, that’s still the official line in Prague. Whenever a reporter holding a clipboard pops up, he says he doesn’t know where his sons are. Wallenstein says he doesn’t know where Duke Albrecht’s sons are. Same thing from Munich, too. Duke Maximilian says he doesn’t know where Duke Albrecht’s sons are –  except he adds that almost certainly some dastardly minion of the emperor, or of Stearns, has done them in.”

“So?”

“So why isn’t Albrecht rushing around to find another wife and beget some more sons?  His wife is dead.  He’s young enough.  Why is he sitting on his rump in Prague and…”

“Don’t say it.”

“So I won’t say it.”

“The man’s only been a widower for six weeks.”

“Even so, he should be putting out feelers. If, that is, he doesn’t know where his sons are. But he isn’t putting out feelers. Ergo, Duke Albrecht knows where his sons are and has at least some reason to think that they’re alive. So Paris von Lodron wants to know the same thing, and why. Preferably before Claudia dei’ Medici finds out first and sticks her elegant finger into the pie. She could probably think of a dozen reasons why those boys, wherever they are now, would be a lot better off in Innsbruck or Bolzano.”

“Speaking of pots…’ Paolo took the lid off the little copper cauldron. ‘Get out your bowl.”

“I don’t care what you say.  I can’t stand that stuff.” Carlo frowned at the bubbling contents and shook his head. “It’s worse than the barley that the damned Scots make into porridge. Twenty years ago, in the Netherlands, we were on short rations. The quartermaster imported it and tried to make us eat it instead of decent bread. It practically caused a mutiny.”

“Wait. If you boil it in milk instead of water and put a little honey on top, you’ll never even recognize that it’s rice. Takes longer than boiling it in water, but it’s a lot better.”

Carlo nodded toward the house at the edge of the village. “I say it’s worse than oat porridge. Worse than polenta. You paid her for the milk.  I saw you.”

“We’re respectable now. Even our aliases are respectable now. After the debacle at the Wartburg, we saw the light. After what we went through there, we left the mercenary trade, found paying civilian jobs that didn’t require nasty things like apprenticeships and actual, measurable, competence, and made good. We are factors representing Arno Vignelli of Bolzano.  Marketers. Peddlers of inexpensive duplicating machines and other useful office supplies. No need to bring up that the archbishop of Salzburg is also paying us. We are not foragers. We pay for what we eat.”

“Respectable factors sleep and eat at inns every night, not just sometimes. They don’t sleep in barns and cook their own food over a fire, not even sometimes.”

Paolo let out a short laugh. “At least the hay won’t have bedbugs. Other bugs, maybe, and prickly stems, but not bedbugs.”

“Respectable factors can afford inns that don’t have bedbugs.”

“We’re as ‘respectable’ as the duplicating machines are ‘cheap’. For every ten thousand people in the Germanies, nine thousand, nine hundred, and ninety-nine of them can’t afford one. For every thousand villages in the Germanies, nine hundred ninety-nine would rather spend their money on something else.”

“So we haven’t quite made the transition to ‘salesman,’ as Cadoni would call us rather than factors.”

Paolo looked blank.

“You know. Lodron’s adjutant, or whatever an adjutant is called when he works for a cleric rather than a colonel. Same job, different title. I hate those motivational speeches. I love the idea of per diem, though. He pays us the same, whether we spend it or not. If we want to skimp ourselves and put the money in a bank, how is that his problem?”

“As long as we look respectable to the point of stodgy when we get to talking to the customer. Tomorrow night, it’s an inn, a bath, neat trims for the mustaches and beards, a haircut…”

“Sure, sure.”  Carlo stood up and scratched his back against one of the thick posts that supported the floor of the hayloft where they would be sleeping later on.

The next noon, in Amberg, they dined at a table in a respectable inn. After a visit to the public baths and a barber.

It wasn’t a tavern (the sign that impudently pirated the heraldic symbol of both the province and city by proclaiming it to be The Golden Lion said so). It was an inn with an eating room that was open to the public. It served beer, but it didn’t have a bar. It wasn’t a tavern.

It appeared that the floor was regularly swept out with sawdust, since a slight odor of freshly sawn wood competed with those coming from the kitchen annex behind the building.

Carlo twisted around on the bench. Some things changed; other things did not. A bench made of a smoothed plank affixed to a table also made of smoothed planks in Amberg in 1634 was extraordinarily similar to a bench affixed to a table made of smoothed planks by Anabaptists in the Netherlands in the previous century (he had sat at quite a few of them there) or a bench affixed to a “picnic table” made of smoothed planks in the “Fairgrounds” the up-time town of Grantville that had been built three-hundred-fifty years from now in a world that he would never see.

There appeared to be eternal verities in human history, one of which was that it was much harder for casual thieves to steal a bench that was permanently fastened to a heavy table large enough to seat eight hungry men.

“Hähnchensuppe mit Karotten und Spätzle,” the waitress said. Her clothing, the modest tan dress and clean white apron, was, in keeping with the inn’s sign, not new but well-cared for. It proclaimed her to be a respectable woman who would not tolerate casual fanny-patting from the patrons.

Paolo raised an eyebrow. “And?”

“There is no ‘and.’ That’s the menu for today. In the interest of truth, the chicken was an old hen who had stopped laying; not a young cockerel. Also, there are onions in it, as well as carrots and dumplings, because a few of the ones in storage were starting to go bad, so we pulled off the bad layers and used the good parts. The little red lumps are something new called bell peppers.”

Carlo considered her. At some point in the past decade, a female who must, at one time, have been the old host’s pretty daughter-in-law had metamorphosed into the current host’s plump and bustling wife. No waitress dependent upon the goodwill of her master would dare to speak so brusquely or forthrightly.

Paolo sighed. “Two bowls of soup, then.”

“Some of our customers have found that the peppers induce flatulence.” The waitress kept a deadpan expression on her face.

“They’re nothing new; they come from Spain; I’ve eaten them before.”

“It’s your funeral; I hope you don’t have an important meeting this afternoon.” She disappeared into the kitchen, turned back, and announced, “We do our brewing in-house. If you want beer, that’s what you get.”

One of the young men at the longer table next to them laughed out loud. “Newcomers to our fair city? I have a feeling that it’s your first encounter with Mechthilde the Ineffable. Call her Frau if you address a request to her. You’ll get better service; she seized upon the honorific with enthusiasm when the ignorant up-timers started to use it. The fair city of Amberg now has cobblers and harness menders who insist upon Herr.”

Paolo bowed to him as far as one reasonably could when seated. Carlo gave a half-hearted wave.

“May I tell you something? Anything?” The man –  really, scarcely more than a boy; he looked to be not much past his twentieth year –  laughed again, his red curls bouncing.

Paolo raised an eyebrow.

“Food, shelter, sports, church services, quality of the local schools? Feuds in the city council? Success in reviving the mining industry? If it happens in our fair city, I’ve written an article about it. Sebastian Kellermeister, star –  not to mention only –  reporter for the Amberg Global News at your service. In return, of course, I would like to know something. Are you passing through? Are you envoys? Have you plans to open a business? Anything for another paragraph.”

Paolo laughed. “We are factors for Vignelli Business Machines in Bolzano, Tyrol, selling office products. Or hoping to. I wasn’t aware that Amberg had a newspaper yet.”

Kellermeister drew back, mock-affronted, his bright blue eyes twinkling. “Why sir, we have three. Which, I admit, is more than one would expect from a town this size, but because it’s the provincial capital, there’s a market. That doesn’t count the Forge, which, as you might guess from the name, will tell you far more than most people will ever need to know about what’s going on in the iron industry, but its subscribers appear to find the content fascinating, given the determination of the Swedes and up-timers to break the Hammereinung, the cartel, and get production back to where it used to be much faster than I think is possible.

“The Patriot isn’t quite a newspaper, either. It is, I think, funded by the Bavarians, even though the Swedes are in occupation now. It might as well be called the Patriarch, because the main message of that weekly broadside is that Papa knows best and the duty of subjects is to remain loyal to their rightful lord and attend mass regularly, supplemented by reprinting some bits and pieces from other newspapers and newsletters that arrive in the mail from other towns. Then there are two stringers for papers in Nürnberg, Georg Betz and Hans Seidel. Both of them sell articles to more than one paper. Neither of them is with us here today.”

Paolo nodded. “We were in Grantville for a while. Such men are called ‘free-lancers’ by the up-timers.”

“Then there are the three real papers. Jacob Ranke,” Kellermeister gestured to his right, “does the political column for the Loyalty. That’s pretty much subsidized by the Crown Loyalists, as the name would lead you to think, but he’s on the news side rather than the editorial side. Not that he wouldn’t appreciate a promotion.”

The scrawny young man with a large Adam’s apple who was seated next to Kellermeister nodded.

“I wouldn’t spill my heart out to him, though, if I were you. Much better to spill it out to me. Then there’s Stentzel Grube from the Current Tidings on the bench over there.” He waved at a square-faced, snub-nosed, blond on the other side of the table. “And several of the outlying towns have weekly papers now, or try to. Sulzbach’s is doing reasonably well, I think.”

Frau Mechthilde returned, plopping down two large beige ceramic bowls and a brown platter with a small loaf of rye bread. “You have your own knives, I hope. Do you need to borrow spoons?”

Paolo reached down to his belt and unhooked one of the various implements attached to it. The useful device contained not only a blunt-ended bread knife but also a spoon, a pronged fork with two tines, and several other small tools, designed by the ingenuity of Swiss mercenaries, he had heard, although it was said that even the ancient Roman legions had something similar. He waved it at her. Carlo was already eating.

Kellermeister kept talking while Paolo and Carlo ate their soup.

Carlo as usual, ate faster. Then he started talking about Vignelli duplicating machines, a magnificent new low-cost alternative to traditional printing.

“Amberg has several well established printing shops,” Ranke said. “At least one of them has been in business for over forty years. I can’t imagine that they will appreciate competition from this innovation.”

Carlo gave him a lecture on the joys of the free market and the absence of guild restrictions when it came to new products. A short one, necessarily, given that Frau Mechthilde was giving them the look that signified that they should all pay their tabs, get up from the benches, and go away in order to make places for new paying customers.

Paolo gave them all copies of their business cards.

Produced, as Carlo pointed out, on stiff paper by a Vignelli duplicating machine and cut neatly into sections by a Vignelli gridded lever-style paper cutter. No, he did not happen to know how those had obtained the nickname of guillotines.

No, alas, they did not have a sample to display at the moment. Their equipment, unfortunately, was on a freight wagon that had broken an axle. They, themselves, had come ahead, but, “soon, most certainly,” he assured the reporters.

Chapter 2

“Don’t you think that was pushing things a bit?” Paolo asked that evening. They had taken a room at the inn –  one to themselves, with two cots, since they were respectable businessmen, rather than pallets on the floor of one of the common sleeping rooms used by less affluent travelers.

Frau Mechthilde took payment for a week in advance. In coin, please; not the paper money now more commonly used in the State of Thuringia-Franconia. And weighed the coin on a currency scale that she pulled out from a cubbyhole. Neither of them commented on her conservatism. Many merchants had lost large sums during the Kipper und Wipper inflation a decade ago or more. There was no pressing reason to mention the time they had spent in Grantville. As far as Frau Mechthilde and her harried spouse were concerned, they had arrived from Tyrol. Which lay in the same general direction as Salzburg. More or less.

The evening meal offered sausages and sauerkraut.

Sauerkraut was cabbage.

But, then, they were in Germany. It might be called the United States of Europe now, but it was still Germany when it came to cabbage.

“We shouldn’t be here long enough for them to get skeptical. All we have to do is figure out where the young dukes are, if they are here at all. And I have an idea.”

Paolo raised both eyebrows. Over their long years of friendship, Carlo’s ideas had often fallen into the category that –  according to one of the up-timers alongside whom they had worked during their year or so in Grantville –  many men preceded with the statement, “Here. Hold my beer a minute and watch this!”

“Why don’t we simply mention to one of those reporters that we’re curious? Let him do the leg work. That way, we get the information for no more money and effort than buying a copy of the paper, and then treating the reporter to a drink and coaxing out of him everything he discovered that didn’t make it into print.”

It took less than three days for them to be sure enough that the young dukes, Maximilian and Sigmund, were safe and sound at the Jesuit Collegium, under the care of their tutor Vervaux, and send a letter to that effect off to Salzburg.

“Shouldn’t we move on?” Paolo asked.

“We have to wait until the rest of the money comes; our advance was only half of what Paris de Lodron’s chancellor agreed to pay us. Maybe the archbishop would like to know something about something else. He may request other services from us in his acknowledgment. Anyway, we paid for a week.”

“Why should the archbishop of Salzburg care about what’s going on in the Upper Palatinate? He sits there all snug, keeping his prince-bishopric out of the war. He only wanted information on this because he worries about Tyrol, I think.”

The next day, Caspar Hell, S.J., rector of the Jesuit Collegium, showed up at the inn, wanting to buy a duplicating machine.

Paolo made warning noises intended to remind his associate about the imprudence of taking orders for which there was no product to be delivered. If Carlo insisted on waiting for that bank draft –  he, himself, suspected that the chancellor never intended to pay them the promised second portion –  they shouldn’t get themselves thrown out of town before it came.

Carlo flipped him a meaningful gesture.

Not a rude one. He’d learned it during their sojourn in Grantville after the Wartburg.

True: Mike Stearns had ordered that the Spanish common soldiers be released, marched ten miles west and then allowed to walk away. From the perspective of seventeenth-century infantrymen, ten miles was a bagatelle. They had walked west; then they had turned around and walked in the other direction –  slowly, but fast enough to trace their way along the obvious path that any moving army left behind it, following Frank Jackson and his troops to Grantville.

Carlo shrugged his shoulders, took the order and a letter of credit to cover the cost –  he could probably trust the Jesuits to be good for it –  and mailed it off to the address in Tyrol that he had for Vignelli. It was printed right there on their business cards. Using The Golden Lion Inn, near the Vils Gate, Amberg, as a return address.

In case inconvenient questions did arise, he chatted amiably with the post office clerk for several minutes about delivery intervals and other such matters, to fix in the woman’s mind that the order had indeed been sent out. Arno Vignelli existed, after all. So did his duplicating machines. Those two facts were what he and Paolo were relying upon to make their current subterfuged identities viable.

They merely didn’t happen to be Vignelli’s employees. Or his subcontractors. Or anyone the man had ever heard of.

In the course of his verbose and voluminous apologies for not having a sample to demonstrate, accompanied by eloquent lamentations in regard to the imaginary axle of the imaginary freight wagon onto which it had been loaded in Bolzano, Carlo happened to mention after mass the next Sunday, as he stood on the front steps of St. Georg’s, that he had heard somewhere that the archbishop of Salzburg had some interest in events in the Oberpfalz and he wondered why, because he didn’t see a connection.

Owing to a series of unfortunate events, the Jesuit Collegium in Amberg was rather short on students these days and its staff were doing double duty as parish priests. Caspar Hell, S.J., rector of the institution, was, by both training and inclination, a teacher. He was more than happy to explain that the recent placement of Regensburg into the new USE province of the Upper Palatinate by Gustav Adolf at the recently concluded Congress of Copenhagen meant…

“What it boils down to,” Carlo said that evening, “is that the diocese of Regensburg, which is a lot bigger than the imperial city of Regensburg, not to mention Catholic rather than Lutheran, is in the Salzburg archdiocese. Most of the Catholic parishes in the Upper Palatinate fall into the jurisdiction of the diocese of Regensburg. Therefore…”

“Oh, sure,” Stentzel Grube was happy to answer Paolo’s follow-up question. “A few of the Catholic parishes, to the west and southwest of here, fall under the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of Eichstätt –  those are over around Neumarkt. A few more are under the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of Bamberg, which will likely cause Franz von Hatzfeld to stick his nose into the Upper Palatinate’s affairs, even from his comfortable perch in Cologne, if that is where he still is.

“Most of the Catholic parishes, though –  an even higher proportion now than between 1621 and the Council of Copenhagen, given that Regensburg itself has been incorporated into the USE Province –  fall into the Regensburg diocese. Now that the secular force of Duke Maximilian’s Bavarian officials is not available to carry out the program of recatholicization in the Upper Palatinate, it becomes the obligation of the church itself. That will be rewarding, if it prospers; something like the ecclesiastical equivalent of the up-timers ‘hearts and minds’ program that they were running over in Franconia before the Ram Rebellion. Hell and his Jesuits are supposed to be doing the heavy labor of keeping the theoretical converts made during Maximilian’s tenure as actual converts. Or, at least, as many of them as they can. If it does not prosper, that becomes, ultimately, Lodron’s problem. So, ja, it’s only natural that he would be interested.”

They extended their stay by a second week. Carlo still believed in a bank draft from Salzburg. Paolo found his simple faith touching. During their first Christmas season in Grantville, they had learned about Santa Claus.

Before they received Lodron’s (possible) payment of the second installment for services rendered, they received a crate.

The cooperation of the Thurn und Taxis postal system (now no longer imperial) with the hybrid Swedish/USE postal system (now newly imperial) was becoming remarkably efficient.

A duplicating machine for delivery to Caspar Hell, S.J.

A frazzled clerk in the Bolzano factory, having received the order, couldn’t find any record of these two sales representatives, concluded that his incompetent predecessor had mis-filed the information, completed a set of substitute records, filled out the requisite dispatch slip, and messengered that over to the warehouse, which sent the order out.

With…

Paolo looked at the second layer packaged in the crate with deep suspicion.

Unpacking produced a demo model of the new and improved version of the Vignelli duplicator and samples of several other products. There was also a pamphlet containing a model spiel for sales representatives to use explaining how, owing to the location of the factory, it was far wiser for Germans in the south to purchase from Vignelli rather than from IBM in far-away Magdeburg, where the owners were mainly looking for contracts in the north, such as the one they recently signed with the USE navy, which would distract them from showing proper concern for the needs of private customers, of smaller customers, of –  really, of any customer who might be somehow persuaded to buy office supplies from Vignelli instead.

Along with a reminder that they were not factors. That term was not modern. That term was not progressive. That term was stodgy and failed in presenting the image of go-getters (that was printed in English, in Latin letters rather than Fraktur). They were sales representatives (also in Latin letters; please use that rather than salesmen, as some of Vignelli’s representatives were women; this should be mentioned when demonstrating products to wealthy ladies and the change was pleasing to the regent of Tyrol).

It was a slow news day in Amberg. All the newspapers, even the Forge, carried three or four lines about the arrival of the demo model, which, really, did wonders for adding verisimilitude to their assumed identities. The arrival of the crate almost made the mythical freight wagon and its broken axle real. Nobody, not even the reporters or Frau Mechthilde, stopped to analyze why the promised demo equipment had arrived in the same crate as Father Hell’s order.

The Patriot had a half-column on the wisdom of the Jesuit Collegium in becoming the first institution in Amberg to take this progressive step. Father Jacob Balde, S.J., tried the experiment of using it to produce a parish bulletin for St. Georg’s the next week.

It was surprising how many people wanted to see the machine.

The innkeeper, whose name had proved to be Dionys Prohorsky (a Bohemian Protestant from across the border, who had married into The Golden Lion, which was Frau Mechthilde Donhauserin’s inheritance, which explained a lot, Carlo thought; she hadn’t been the old host’s pretty daughter-in-law, but rather his daughter), was not thrilled about having one of the tables in the dining room frequently occupied by a duplicator. His redoubtable wife, she who had embraced the up-time use of the honorific for ordinary commoner women with enthusiasm, pointed out that most of the potential customers for the duplicating machine came in during the slow hours in the dining room and bought a beer while observing its operation.

It didn’t hurt, from Prohorsky’s perspective, that one of the visitors was Keith Pilcher, one of the up-timers who had come to Amberg the previous spring to assist with revival of the iron industry, who gave an impromptu talk in Amideutsch, to an equally impromptu gathering of a half-dozen or so men who had money to spend and a dozen more who did not, on the general subject of copy machines I have known, from hectographs and mimeographs through dot matrix printers and many more. His cheerful, encouraging, final pronouncement was that this one looked to be less prone to going out of service at inconvenient times than most of them.

“I’d order one now,” he said, “but I’ll be heading down to Regensburg in a few days. I’ll check in with you when I get back.”

A couple of the spectators placed orders. Carlo mailed them off to Bolzano, with due attention to the post office clerk.

One fine day, the bank draft for the second half of the payment that the archbishop of Salzburg had promised them did arrive, to Paolo’s considerable surprise. There was also a modest retainer in case of future useful data that might come their way.

The same day, it turned out that Keith Pilcher had passed the story of his encounter with the duplicating machine to another up-timer, a Herr Brick Bozarth, who served as the up-timers’ “trade representative” in Regensburg. Pilcher had been serious when he complimented the machine’s simplicity of operation. This resulted in, not a command, but a strongly phrased request, that one of the sales representatives should proceed to Regensburg for the purpose of discussing duplicating machines and other office supplies.

Regensburg was at least four times the size of Amberg.

“We really can’t do this,” Paolo protested. “We’ve got our money. We ought to be getting out of here. Besides, they’ll want you to take the demo model to Regensburg. As long as it’s right here, at the address where Vignelli sent it, and he knows where it is, it should be obvious to any magistrate, if the matter should come up, that we haven’t stolen it. If you take it out of town, though…”

To the government clerk who had passed on the directive that they were to go cooperate with the up-timer in Regensburg, he demurred at taking the machine away from Amberg on the grounds that many people were still coming to see it.

Fortunately (according to Carlo), or unfortunately (according to Paolo), Father Balde volunteered that the Jesuits would be happy to have potential customers come visit the machine at the Collegium while the other one was out of town. ‘Hearts and minds’ and all that. The up-timers in Franconia hadn’t been the first humans to think up public relations.

Carlo put the demo model in a smaller crate, hired a day laborer to carry the crate out the Vils Gate to a commercial barge landing, climbed on the barge, once more carrying his well-worn backpack, and floated down the Vils to the Naab to the Danube to confront whatever destiny that fate might have in store for him this time.

Chapter 3

Regensburg, Upper Palatinate
October 1634

The formerly independent imperial city of Regensburg, the Province of the Upper Palatinate’s protrusion into otherwise Bavarian territory on the south side of the Danube, had fewer up-timers than Amberg. To be specific, it had one up-timer. Herr Bozarth had been in Regensburg for over a year. His title was “trade representative.” His exact position in the government of the State of Thuringia-Franconia was vague. Carlo expected to sell one duplicating machine, at best when he climbed off the barge on the left bank, found a day laborer loitering around the dock in hopes of picking up some work, hired him to move the crate, crossed the bridge over the river’s muddy waters into Regensburg proper, oriented his general direction by identifying the cathedral tower, supplemented that by asking directions from one of the customs officials checking as to whether this crate might contain a taxable import, and headed in the direction of the USE Exchange.

The Exchange was new to Regensburg in the past couple of years, occupying premises in the main commercial district, but was not new to Carlo. He had seen similar arrangements –   multiple traders occupying booths in one building –  in the Netherlands. Unlike artisans, traders really did not need a shop to produce the product or a residence above the shop to keep an eye on their tools and inventory while housing their apprentices and journeymen. Unless a trader was factor for a massive firm such as the Fuggers, in which case he had at least a nice, and sometimes luxurious, house, their lives were lived in inns, supplemented by warehouse space in cheaper suburban areas. And, with increasing frequency, rented booths in a mercantile center.

This would be –  not bad. Perhaps he could interest other traders in a duplicating machine. But the skinflints would be more likely to band together and buy just one that all of them could use. Which was what they did: businessmen were depressingly alike in their desire to keep operating costs down.

Beyond the traders, though…

Shortly after his arrival in Regensburg, Herr Bozarth (somewhat to his dismay) made the acquaintance of one Georg Eckenberger, former Lutheran pastor in the Upper Palatinate, who had been without a parish since the Bavarians drove him out.

In one of his earliest reports, Bozarth, whose real position was “one of Mike Stearns’ cadre from the United Mine Workers,” and who was a staunch member of the Church of

Christ, described Eckenberger to Stearns, who was technically a member of Enoch Wiley’s little offshoot of the Presbyterians in Grantville, as a “professional Protestant.” It wasn’t a bad characterization;  both of them were familiar with the general type.

In Eckenberger’s case, the status was almost hereditary; his father-in-law had been a Lutheran whom the Bavarians had expelled from Straubing a generation earlier. When the emperor sent Duke Ernst to the Oberpfalz, Eckenberger had hoped to be appointed as court chaplain. No such appointment had occurred, although Eckenberger would have embraced the position with unbounded enthusiasm as an opportunity to defend the just and righteous  interests of his miserably oppressed co-religionists.

As it was, the man remained in Regensburg as an unbeneficed gadfly. One who wrote enough pamphlets, and had enough supporters –  Bozarth referred to them as “groupies” for some reason –  that he could utilize a duplicating machine. The “groupies” took up a collection.

This came to the attention of the episcopal chancery.

The bishop of Regensburg was not delighted with the recent political dispensations instigated by the heretical up-timers, placed into policy by the heretical king of Sweden, and summed up to him, on one memorable occasion, by Brick Bozarth as, “I have news for you, buddy; the Protestants can’t keep the Catholics from holding processions in the streets and they can’t keep you from calling in Franciscan preachers to try to convert them. On the other hand, you can’t call on the Austrians or Bavarians to back you in throwing their exiles out. It’s called religious toleration.”

Regensburg had a political bishop, of course. All dioceses (Lutheran as well as Catholic, the Protestants would admit if pressed hard enough) that had exercised secular as well as religious governing functions prior to the arrival of the new dispensation in the USE had political bishops. Under the constitution of the Holy Roman Empire, a prince-bishop had been…well…a prince. A ruler. With a seat in the Reichstag. A vote in the Imperial Diet. The last thing any prince-bishopric needed was a sanctified and unworldly type with his mind floating off into some spiritual cloud when he should be thinking about tax subsidies to fund campaigns in Hungary or canalization of a major river or new regulations to reduce the power of guildmasters in imperial cities when it came to restricting imports of tooled leather from Morocco. Leave religion to the mystics and theologians, not to mention the suffragan bishops and vicars general!

Albert von Törring-Stein wasn’t young; he was in his fifties. He’d been bishop for twenty years or so. Over those years, he had dealt with a frustratingly –  in his opinion –  large number of Protestants: Austrian noblemen exiled by Emperor Ferdinand II who took refuge in the Lutheran imperial city; wealthy merchants and industrialists, large landowners (both nobles and commoners, or would-be, alleged, nobles who nevertheless bore surnames such as Gewandtschneider or Holzschuher), Lutheran Landsassen whom Duke Maximilian had been forced to allow (under the pesky provisions of the Peace of Augsburg of 1555) to leave the Upper Palatinate with their fortunes fairly well intact during his decade of occupation from 1621 through 1631. Now there was the USE.

Things could have been worse, of course. As a prudent man, Bishop Albert had told his chancellor to hire a researcher at the famous library in Grantville. So… First, in this strangely changed universe, Regensburg had not been conquered by Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar in the name of the king of Sweden; second, he himself had not been driven into exile; third, that pestiferous Georg Eckenberger had not been appointed the court preacher for said Bernhard in his now (hopefully) never-to-exist Duchy of Franconia. Although, since Bernhard was now far away in Burgundy, in the Franche Comté, almost in France, entirely on the other side of the USE, it might be nice if he summoned Eckenberger to become his chaplain and got the man out of Regensburg.

He looked at his chancellor. “Call that factor in for an interview. Tell him to bring his machine; at least the manufacturer is Catholic, unlike the IBM people.”

The chancellor nodded. “I sent out a few enquiries. Vignelli is Italian, actually, born in Tuscany; it’s his wife who is originally from the Trientino.”

“Outstanding!” Bishop Albert clapped his hands. “The Lutherans will not get ahead of us in this matter. Send a messenger to this Carlo Rugatti at once.”

In the event, the bishop ordered several duplicators.

As did the city council.

Carlo shrugged and mailed the list off to Bolzano.

It took longer to be towed back up-stream to Amberg on a barge than it had taken to be poled down-stream to Regensburg on a barge. Still, it was far more comfortable than going overland, especially if one was accompanied by a crate.

Amberg, Upper Palatinate

November 1634

Paolo was stomping around the dining room at the inn when Carlo got back to Amberg, threatening to tear his hair out. He pointed toward the corner table.

“Another crate arrived from Bolzano. Where do they expect us to put these things?”

The wall behind the table now featured a poster displaying an exploded drawing of a machine called a typewriter (not yet in production).

“Look at those.”

Those were a pile of stencils for producing catalogs.

“The letter says that we are to produce the catalogs “on demand,” whenever possible, with the potential customer observing as we run his (or her, if that should be the case) copy of it off. Prohorsky is objecting to the odor of duplicating fluid in the dining room.”

There were also stencils for standard forms, a ledger, and a stern letter from a clerk somewhere in Bolzano about the importance of following proper procedures, which they should remember from their training sessions!

Carlo shook his head in wonder. “The firm runs training sessions? Who knew?”

Prohorsky had come to the end of his patience, no matter how Frau Mechthilde coaxed and cajoled. These…Italians…could continue to rent one of the upper rooms, if they wished (it was after all, an inn), but they could not continue to use the dining room to run their business. No, not even for the additional customers they brought in during the slow hours. No, not even if they agreed to pay rent for a corner of it with a table. No…

Fortunately, Frau Mechthilde had a sister (a pain in the neck) who had a husband (a soap manufacturer who preferred a cash dowry to a share in an inn) who had a cousin (a tanner) who had a building (no, not a shed, there was a small street frontage) some three blocks away. Of course, he would not want to rent month to month. Real estate in Amberg was currently a seller’s, or landlord’s market. He would want a long-term lease.

“Six months?” Paolo asked. In the worst case, that wouldn’t cause them too great a loss if something came up and they had to depart from Amberg in an expeditious manner, especially if they could get a provision to pay monthly rather than up front for this structure. It was not a shed, but it was on a side street, nowhere near the market square nor close to having a view of the signature arches that marked the front of the Amberg Rathaus.

“Minimum of five years,” the cousin’s lawyer said, “paid quarterly in advance.”

Carlo, somehow, had found them an attorney of their own. A trained jurist, reduced by circumstances to doing work more suitable to a notary.

Werner von Dalberg gave the other man a predatory grin. “One year, maintenance to be the responsibility of the owner.”

Paolo and Carlo left the lawyers to it. Von Dalberg stood up to bow them out. Up, and up, and up.

They had an important appointment. One that involved not only a visit to the baths and barber, but new jerkins for both of them.

Of course, they weren’t important enough to get an interview with Duke Ernst, who was, administrator of the province, second only to Emperor Gustav Adolf himself. They did have one with his private secretary.

Paolo checked a few notes that he had scribbled on the back of a business card. “His name’s Johann Heinrich Böcler; he has a good reputation.”

“By which you mean?”

“No bribes necessary. We only need to persuade him of the quality of the product, according to von Dalberg.”

“That doesn’t mean that we can’t take him out to dinner.”

Dinner, in Amberg, happened at noon.

Dinner needed to be a social occasion, not obviously connected to business transactions.

Böcler was young, in his twenties, a stocky fellow of undistinguished appearance, and according to what Sebastian Kellermeister said, didn’t get out and have fun often, if at all.

So they invited…not their unwitting intelligence sources, not their assets…oh, no…their amiable young acquaintances. Kellermeister, Ranke, and Grube were more than delighted to accept an invitation to have dinner with the administrator’s private secretary at the expense of Vignelli Business Machines. What reporter wouldn’t be?

“Do you suppose,” Kellermeister asked Paolo, “that we could eat somewhere that would be private enough for conversation, but still the fellows from the Forge and the Patriot, and the stringers for the Nürnberg papers could see us having dinner with the administrator’s private secretary?” He tried for a wistful expression. The result was more similar to that of a hunting hound eyeing a meaty bone.

Paolo pursed his lips. “I think we can manage that. I’ve noticed that the dining room at The Golden Lion has a small private parlor. The door into it is next to the fireplace. Frau Mechthilde doesn’t open it regularly, but few bottles of good Italian wine as an additional gratuity should do the trick.”

They had been in Amberg long enough now that Paolo had a reliable source for good Italian wine. Sometimes, when he stopped to think about it, that made him a little nervous.

Frau Mechthilde didn’t open the parlor regularly because, twenty years earlier, it had been refurbished for her late mother after she became too crippled to climb the stairs to the family quarters. She had no intention of letting the nice things in it be ruined by drunk patrons. For a quiet private party, though… The Italians paid regularly, in advance. Dionys and the children helped her push the big four-poster bed into a corner and she drew the hangings to close it off.

The dust wasn’t too thick. She cleaned the parlor every spring.

“Georg Eckenberger may qualify as a gadfly; I grant you that,” Böcler said after his second early afternoon glass of an Italian red that was very good indeed. He was not being indiscreet, at all, but considerably more expansive than was usually the case. “But Count Johann Friedrich over at Hilpoltstein is more in the category of a hornet.”

“Hornet?” That was Ranke from the Loyalty. The general editorial stance of his paper was that the dispossessed ruling nobles, the Hochadel, should, under the new dispensation, retain as many of their rights and privileges as they could manage.

“I will grant a certain mis-application of the 17th verse from the book of Jonah, Chapter One,” Böcler said, “for that is a great fish.” He was the son of a Lutheran pastor and knew his Bible. There was no frantic flipping through the pages to locate a pertinent verse for him. “You will find references to the hornet in Exodus 23:28 and Deuteronomy 7:20. Ever since Emperor Gustav Adolf sent Duke Ernst to administer the Oberpfalz for him…”

“That was in the late summer of 1633,” Grube interrupted. “It’s hard to recall that well over a year has already gone by.”

“Since then,” Böcler continued his thought, ignoring the interruption. It was not for nothing that he was the grandson of a Latin School teacher with a splendid talent for controlling unruly adolescents as well as the son of a pastor, “Hilpoltstein has been making full use of his status as one of the hereditary dukes of the Junge-Pfalz, even if, after his father died twenty or so years ago, as the youngest brother of Wolfgang Wilhelm at Pfalz-Neuburg, he only got three districts to collect revenue from and no actual sovereignty over those. As God is not afraid to push his chosen people in the direction he wants them to go, neither does this hornet hesitate to buzz behind the provincial officials to push them this way, or that, or the other.”

“Hilpoltstein got stinking little districts,” Grube commented. “Like a lot of younger sons of the Hochadel, no sovereignty and a piece of land not much bigger than the estate of a country nobleman who isn’t especially well-off. Basically, he got a place to live, one that he had to remodel and expand at his own expense before it made reasonable accommodations for his household, and an annual allowance; he couldn’t even prevent his brother from forcibly converting everyone in those districts except his own family and personal servants to Catholicism.”

Jacob Ranke, loyal Crown Loyalist as ever, felt some obligation to come to the count’s defense. “Ever since Wolfgang Wilhelm was killed fighting against Essen last June, though…”

Grube shook his head. “Hilpoltstein has been throwing his weight around. Or trying. Not that there’s much weight for him to throw; politically speaking, he’s a lightweight. For one thing, all of his children have died before they were three years old, so he doesn’t have heirs. I wouldn’t even guarantee that he would win a match against his sister-in-law. Not Wolfgang Wilhelm’s widow; she’s up in Jülich and fully occupied with securing her son’s inheritance in the Rhineland. The middle brother’s widow –  August, his name was –  the one who was allotted Sulzbach. That one has taken her children, five or six of them, I think, and established a base of Lutheran operations in Nürnberg.”

Paolo and Carlo leaned back, sipped their excellent wine slowly, and listened with delight. Gathering intelligence was a far easier enterprise than they had ever dared to dream. Disseminating it to interested parties was a matter of a few pieces of paper and a postage stamp. Simple coding and encryption were no challenge and they sent out a lot of mail these days. The clerk at the post office knew Carlo well.

5 reviews for The Unexpected Sales Reps

  1. William Scott (verified owner)

    Another very good side story in the Ring of Fire universe.

  2. Alta (verified owner)

    The entire Grantville series is a wonderful read, with many gifted authors contributing to the stories. I can’t wait for each new book to come out set in this “alternate” universe.

  3. Andrew Ramage (verified owner)

    Another entry into the sprawling shared universe derived from Eric Flint’s novel “1632”. This time it is the amusing tale of two ex-mercenaries who fought against our heroes in that first novel. Will they be able to sell equipment ?

  4. Donald Gifford (verified owner)

    Great story. Despite the extensive caste list it was hard to keep track of all the minor characters.

  5. tvaldie (verified owner)

    A great story by a major author in this 1631 universe

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