1636 The Atlantic Encounter – Snippet 35
Despite limited Dutch, the brothers got on all right with the locals. New Amsterdam was a Babel — even more so, given the events in Europe: Danes and Englishmen and Swedes and even a few Poles had made their way to the New World, settling in the relatively open Dutch colony. New England was, by and large, closed to ‘outsiders’; Virginia was no place to be poor, and Maryland was far too small for most of these speculators looking to get ahead and to get away from the restrictive society and the wars in Europe. New Amsterdam was just the ticket.
But for all that it was small. Gordon had never been to New York up-time, but he’d looked at enough maps before they left to know that most of what up-timers considered to be “New York City” was the wilderness in this era. The Empire State Building was on Thirty-third Street, right in the middle of down town New York, and its never-to-be-built future site was most of two miles north of the furthest extent of New Amsterdam — where they had built a makeshift palisade across a part of the island against invaders that no one seemed to think were much of a threat.
“The French?” the blacksmith, a balding, squinting Dutchman had said, spitting in the general direction of his forge. “What do we care about the French? Maybe they’ll take care of the fanatics in New England for us.”
Gordon and Pete could only shake their heads, wondering whether the Dutch back home saw the threat with the same indifference.
* * *
They sat leaning on a fence rail eating slices of brown bread from the local bakery. Suddenly, Pete set down his snack and took a few steps along the muddy lane.
“What’s wrong, little bro?”
“Not sure,” Pete said without turning around. “I thought I saw something.”
“She was pretty,” Gordon said, taking another bite of his bread. “But I don’t think your Dutch is good enough.”
“You’re right, love is a universal language –“
“Not that,” he repeated. “I think we’re being watched.”
“Of course we are. The up-timers are here — the circus has come to town. Seems like everyone is watching us.”
“This is different.” Pete turned around and walked back to the fence. He didn’t pick up his slice of bread; there was a stray dog nearby considering its options. “This is how you felt aboard ship when we were at dock in Hamburg. Watched.”
“Huh. By who?”
“Don’t know. He’s faded out of sight again. But I’ve seen him, just a glimpse, twice. Someone with more than a passing interest.”
“What are you going to do about it?”
“I want to do a little recon. But I can’t do that and keep an eye on you at the same time.”
“I can take care of myself.”
“Sure you can. Sorry, big bro — I’d be just as happy if you went back to Challenger and let me do this on my own.”
“That’s pretty condescending, Pete,” Gordon said, standing up and pulling the sliced bread out of the way of the dog, who looked just about ready to jump for it. “I don’t need to be protected.”
“The hell you don’t. Look.” Pete pointed at his big brother. “You’re the key man in this operation. Our patron sent you here, hired you to do this. If anything happens to me, it’s sad, but not a tragedy. You’ll…take care of Penny and Karen, you’ll give the news to Mom and Dad. But if anything happens to you the mission’s over. So you let me knock around a little bit and see if I can turn up whoever’s shadowing us.”
“While I go hide aboard ship.”
“I wouldn’t put it that way, but — yes.”
Gordon thought about whether he wanted to press the point. He really didn’t feel that he needed Pete to protect him — though he’d specifically invited him along to do just that: to be the one guy Gordon could trust to cover his back.
And he was right, which galled him even more.
“Just try not to kill anyone, all right?”
“It’s an interesting idea,” Pete said.
* * *
For a town that was as small as New Amsterdam, Pete found it surprisingly hard to locate his tail. His military training and experience wasn’t much use in this sort of work. He knew that he stood out from the crowd, but whoever was following him probably didn’t.
New Amsterdam was less impressive than Grantville before the Ring. A nice fort, a few windmills, all kinds of goods on sale and all kinds of languages being spoken — most of which Pete didn’t speak.
The most logical thing was to find someplace out in the open, where the person following him would have to be exposed in order to keep close. He walked away from the plaza along a broad street that extended roughly northward; if Gordon or James had been along, they’d probably have been able to tell him some fun fact about it. For Pete’s purpose, it was simply a matter of being out in the open.
It took fifteen minutes for him to reach the partially built wall that straddled the island. Where the broad street intersected, there was a large double gate made of stout oak with mortared stone posts and lookout platforms, which were unoccupied at the moment. The gates themselves were open, giving a view of the low-lying farms beyond. Not all of the wall was stone: a hundred yards in either direction it was no more than a wooden palisade. A wagonload of stone had been pulled up near the wall to the west, and two Dutchmen stood smoking their pipes, as if they were in no hurry to put any work into strengthening New Amsterdam’s defenses.
No, Pete thought. They’re not worried about the French.
He walked along the street in front of the wall, exchanging a polite nod with the two stonemasons (government jobs, he thought; must be nice), and waiting for his tail to appear. It was frustrating — he was sure that he was being followed, but after a while he couldn’t trust his own suspicions. A soldier on patrol who thinks he’s in someone’s scope gets jumpy and starts at everything.
After a few minutes, he noticed a man not too far away. He was short and moved with the sort of nimble grace Pete had come to associate with the crew of Challenger — especially the ones who climbed the masts and rigging without safety harnesses or ropes. He clearly wanted to stay out of sight, but the ploy of walking close to the wall — with most of New Amsterdam to the south, dappled by the westering sun — was working against him.
Pete couldn’t really turn to see the man’s face, but something about his movements — the way he walked, how he held his arms — struck him as familiar.
The little Alsatian, he suddenly thought. The guy who left the ship in Newfoundland. But…here?
Did he want his job back?
Pete was too cynical to believe that. He wasn’t sure why the man was here in New Amsterdam, following him — but he didn’t believe it was coincidence.
Okay, he thought. On three.
One, he said to himself. He reached in a pocket and found his key ring, something he’d carried for years — an eagle medallion that Grampa Charlie had given him while he was in high school. It had the added advantage of being a bottle opener, which came in handy on weekends.
Two, he thought. He made as if to trip on a loose paving stone, and let the key ring fall to the ground. He bent over to pick it up, giving him a clear look at the man following him.
Damn, he thought. That’s who it is. Hobb. Hoff. Something like that.
He grabbed the key ring from the ground and began sprinting right at the man, as if he was stealing second off Pudge Rodriguez. Come on, man, he’s going to gun you down with that cannon arm.
It should have worked. Hobb, or Hoff, or whatever his name was, froze for just a moment when Pete had reached for the key ring, but by the time Pete ran at him he’d taken off as well, dodging onto a side street.
Pete thought his foot speed was pretty good. He was sure he couldn’t steal second off Pudge, but he thought he could catch up with the Alsatian topman before he disappeared. By the time he got to the side street, though, the other man was nowhere to be found.
There were no telltale swinging gates, no doors left ajar…and he was in plain sight, while his target had vanished. He spent a little time searching further, but with no luck.
By the time early evening came, it was clearly time for a drink.
* * *
Pete looked up from his beer to see a man waiting to speak to him. He was fairly indistinguishable from most of the other inhabitants of New Amsterdam, though the man was politely waiting for him to notice. This was Pete’s second pint, and he wondered to himself how long the man had been standing there.
Nah, Pete thought. It couldn’t be that long. And he was also convinced at that moment that this was not the man whom he’d been looking for all afternoon.
“Yeah? What do you want?”
“Only a few moments of your time, Mynheer,” the man said.
At least he speaks English and not just Dutch, Pete thought. “Sure.” He gestured to the seat opposite.
The Dutchman sat down. “You are…” he moved it closer so that he could speak softly and be heard over the din of the tavern. “You are from the up-time ship, ja?”
“I’m traveling aboard Challenger, yes. What’s it to you?”
“Ah,” he said. “God be thanked. The noble Don Francisco has sent help at last.” He looked around furtively, as if afraid of being overheard.
“That’s a name you shouldn’t toss around lightly, friend.” Pete glanced around to see if anyone else had noticed, wondering where Gordon and Captain James had gotten off to.