1635: The Eastern Front — Snippet 04:

Chapter 2
Grantville, State of Thuringia-Franconia

Gretchen Richter’s eyes were riveted on the sheet of paper in her hands, her brow creased by a truly magnificent frown. Her husband, Jeff Higgins, was leaning over the back of her chair in order to study the figures himself.

“How much?” Gretchen asked again.

Seated across from her in the large couch in the living room of the Dreeson house, David Bartley shrugged his shoulders. “That depends on a lot of variables. But if you sold all your stocks right now — which I don’t recommend, since the market’s really antsy with another war looming; well, if you had a lot of military industry stocks, I suppose it might be different — they’re doing really well, not surprisingly — but you don’t so –”

“David,” Gretchen said, half-growling. “Keep it simple. If. You. Would. Please.”

“But… Look, Gretchen, I’m really not trying to be confusing. It’s just that it really isn’t all that simple. Like, where would you want to sell it? I wouldn’t recommend the Grantville or Magdeburg stock exchanges for most of your stocks. They’re the ones affected the worst by the war jitters. You’d probably do better in Amsterdam, or in some cases even Venice.”

“David!” The “half” left the growl.

Jeff grunted. “Just assume we’re morons, David. So, not knowing our asses from our elbows, we go right now to the exchange in downtown Grantville and sell everything — every single stock on this list — for whatever we can get.”

Bartley looked at his watch. “You couldn’t get there in time today –”

“David!” Gretchen’s tone left “growl” behind altogether, and began approaching “shriek of fury.”

“Calm down, hon,” said Jeff soothingly, his big hand caressing her shoulder. “You can’t kill him without producing a political crisis. He’s way too popular with the CoCs. All over the country, too, not just here.”

Gretchen said nothing. She just glared at Bartley.

“Fine,” Jeff continued. “So we sell it all tomorrow. How much would we get?”

David’s eyes got that slightly-unfocussed look that Jeff had come to be familiar with this afternoon. The one that signified well-gee-it’s-really-complicated-depending-on-this-that-and-the-other.

“Forget playing with currencies,” Jeff added quickly. “Just figure we sell it for USE dollars. Whatever we can get. Soon as the stock exchange opens tomorrow morning.”

Bartley looked down at the list of figures in his own hand, which was identical to the one Gretchen and Jeff were looking at. He pursed his lips, an expression that Jeff thought made him look like a young Ichabod Crane. If Bartley had been standing, the likeness would have been even better. David was tall and thin, his gangly frame still not having caught up to his height. He was nineteen years old, and the best-known if not perhaps the richest of the teenage millionaires produced by the Ring of Fire.

“Well… Figure you’d wind up with about two million dollars. Give or take.”

Gretchen swallowed. “Two… million?”

“About. But like I said, if you waited and sold the stocks on the Amsterdam market — and Venetian market, for that matter — and took your time about it — I think you’d wind up getting closer to two and a half million. But the truth is I don’t recommend you sell most of these stocks. It’s a good portfolio, Gretchen.” His slender shoulders became a bit more square. “We did right by you guys, if I say so myself.”

“That seems clear enough,” Jeff said dryly. He moved from behind Gretchen’s chair and pulled up a chair for himself from a nearby side table. The chair was on the rickety side. Gretchen’s grandmother Veronica, Henry Dreeson’s widow, used that table for her records and correspondence. She was not a large woman and the chair did fine for her. Under Jeff’s weight, it creaked alarmingly. Most of the fat that Higgins had carried as a teenager was gone now. But, if anything, the twenty-three-year old man who’d replaced that teenager was even bigger — and Jeff had been a big kid to start with.

He ignored the creaks. Whatever else, they could obviously afford to replace the chair now, even if it did collapse under him. And he needed to sit down. He was feeling a bit light-headed.

Two million dollars. Two and a half, if you wait.

The only numbers like that he’d ever dealt with, at least when it came to money, were associated with the role-playing games he and his friends had played in high school. So, trying to get a handle on them and turn the abstract into the concrete, he focused on the chair swaying beneath him.

Go ahead, sucker. Break. See if I care. You’re kindling in the fireplace and I go out and buy something sturdier to replace you. Out of pocket change.

That thought steadied him some. He glanced at Gretchen, but saw that his wife was in a rare state of paralysis — an almost unheard of state, in her case. She was normally as uncertain as a calving glacier.

“Whether it’s a smart move or not, we will need some cash pretty soon, David. I think you call it liquidity or something like that.” Jeff nodded toward his sister-in-law, who was sitting next to David on the couch. The eighteen-year-old girl was studying the figures Bartley held in his hand as intently as a cat watching a mouse hole. “Annalise needs to start college in the fall, and that scholarship she got won’t be enough to cover the cost.”

He lifted his hand and spun the forefinger in a little circle. “Not to mention this gaggle of kids we’ve got to support. Except for Baldy, anyway. He likes his apprenticeship at KSI, and he’s even making enough to support himself.”

“That’s not a problem. What I recommend is that you sell your shares of Kelly Aviation. They’re selling like hotcakes right now on account of the war coming, but I don’t personally think that’s going to last so you may as well get out while the getting’s good.”

Feeling under some sort of vague compulsion to demonstrate his masculine mastery of financial matters in front of the womenfolk, Jeff took off his glasses and started cleaning them with a handkerchief. “You sure? I heard those are pretty good planes they make.”

“Technically, yes. Bob Kelly knows his stuff when it comes to designing aircraft. In that respect, he’s probably just as good as Hal Smith. The problem’s on the other end. He’s got the business sense of a jackrabbit and while Kay makes up for it some, she’s also, well…” He looked uncomfortable. For all his financial acumen, David Bartley wasn’t a cut-throat by temperament. He was quite a nice guy, actually, and not given to bad-mouthing others.

“Well,” he repeated.

Jeff was less reticent. He’d run into Bob Kelly’s wife on several occasions. “Yeah. If pissing people off was an Olympic event, she’d take the gold every time.”

David nodded. “I figure you could get three hundred thousand dollars from those stocks. You could set aside twenty-five percent of that as a fund for Annalise, which ought to be plenty even as expensive as Quedlinburg’s gotten to be.”

Annalise spoke up, her tone a mix of defensiveness and belligerence. “It’s the only really good college for women yet. In the USE, anyway. I wouldn’t mind going to Prague but Gramma’d pitch a fit.”

Jeff put his glasses back on. “That’d leave us with about two hundred and twenty-five thousand. Gretchen wants to move to Magdeburg as soon as possible, now that Ronnie’s leaving town, and we’d need to get a house big enough for all the kids. We’d figured on renting, but…” He started doing the needed calculations.

Not surprisingly, David did the figuring faster than he did. “You could buy the kind of house you need for… I figure about seventy-five thousand dollars. But then you’d own it free and clear and still have a hundred and fifty thousand to live on. Even with all your kids, that’s way more than enough.”