1634: THE BALTIC WAR – snippet 30:



            After Caroline finished her quick summary of the Engler case, Maureen Grady shook her head. “God, that accident was horrible. Dennis got there toward the end, you know. There were still pieces of people lying all over. One corpse he saw hadn’t even been decapitated. The head was simply disintegrated. Dennis almost vomited.”


            Caroline grimaced. Maureen’s husband Dennis was a cop, and as hard-boiled as most cops are. It took a lot to penetrate his hide.


            Maureen was now consulting her calendar. “Did he tell you when he’d be leaving for boot camp?”


            “No. I don’t think he knows himself.”


            “Damn army!” Maureen said, half-chuckling. “Whatever else is different between this universe and the one we left behind, one thing for sure and certain stayed the same. The army’s motto is still ‘hurry up and wait.’”


            She pushed the calendar aside. “I can see him tomorrow, at two o’clock. After that…”


            She shrugged slightly. “We’d have to wait anyway, even if he weren’t going into the service. But it might still be helpful for him to have a counselor to talk to. Do you want to handle it yourself? It doesn’t need to be here, since you’re mostly at the settlement house. You could set it up to see him over there, in one of the spare rooms.”


            Caroline issued the same sort of half-chuckle. “’Spare rooms’! A broom closet, maybe.”


            She hesitated, then looked at the door beyond which an unseen Thorsten Engler was waiting. Then, still hesitating, looked out of Maureen’s window.


            “Oh, don’t tell me,” Maureen said. The chuckle that came out this time was a full one.


            Caroline made a face. “For Pete’s sake, Maureen, I just met the man. Still…”


            She gave Maureen a look that tried and failed to be aloof. “Seeing as how you insist on maintaining the social workers’ professional ethics code, in every jot and tittle…”


            “You’re damn right I do, young lady. I don’t care if we’d been planted back in the Stone Age. If you take someone on as a client, that will be your one and only relationship with that person. Ever. I don’t care if its twenty years later.”


            Caroline nodded, and looked back out the window. She hadn’t expected a different response—and, for that matter, didn’t disagree with Maureen anyway. There was a very good reason for that tight-laced code of ethics.


            Mostly, she realized, she was just startled. Twice, today, and by the same man. That… certain sort of startlement. The one that suddenly, unexpectedly, makes you focus on a person. She hadn’t felt that since the Ring of Fire. Hadn’t really expected she ever would again.


            “In that case, no,” she said. “I think it might be better if someone else took him on as a client.”


            “Fine.” Maureen was all business, now, back to checking her calendar. “If he wants to see someone before he leaves, tell him I can set something up. Lutgardis would do fine. So would Maria Magdalena or Rosina. Maybe Gertrud, too, although I’d be happier if she had a little more experience. We’ll manage, one way or another.”




            Maureen made sure to get a good look at the Engler fellow, as she ushered Caroline out the door. Nothing too long or rude, of course. Just enough to get a sense of things.


            She was quite satisfied by the brief study. Engler had that certain unmistakable look about him. Caroline wouldn’t really grasp it, of course, since she was too close to the matter. But to Maureen it was obvious.


            Rather a good-looking man, too, even if you couldn’t really call him handsome. Dark-haired, blue-eyed, quite a nice mouth and a perfectly acceptable nose. A bit on the stocky side, maybe—but to make up for it he seemed to have better teeth than usual.


            But all that was trivial. What mattered was the look on his face, that Maureen had seen but Caroline hadn’t, because she’d been too busy looking somewhere else while Engler tried and failed miserably to keep from ogling her.


            Okay, “ogling” wasn’t really fair. He seemed a perfectly polite man. But it was still The Look. The one—perhaps the only one—that made men really, really cute. She could remember the same look on her husband’s face, years back, when he’d spent two hours skittering all over before he finally asked her out on a date. By the end, she’d thought he might have a complete meltdown before he managed to get the words out.


            It was the look on an ox’s face, she imagined, when the hammer comes down. She’d never worked in a slaughterhouse, so she wasn’t positive. But if it wasn’t, it ought to be.


            She checked to make sure the door was closed. It was a nice thick heavy seventeenth century door, too. Not quite soundproof, but close enough. Then, started hopping up and down and pumping her fist in a cheerleader’s gesture of victory.


            “Yes! Yes! Yes! About fucking time!”




            “No, you wouldn’t be seeing me, Thorsten. I only work here part of the time, anyway. Just in the mornings on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays. Most of the time I work at the settlement house. Are you familiar with it? It’s almost on the river, not far south of the Navy Yard.”


            “Oh. Yes, I’ve seen it. Never went in, though.”


            She gave him her best smile. “You should drop by some time, then.”


            “I would not wish to intrude.”


            “Oh, don’t be silly. It’d be nice to see you again. Really, it would.”