1636 The Devil’s Opera – Snippet 05

Chapter 3

          Gotthilf Hoch, detective sergeant in the Magdeburg Polizei, walked out the front door of his family’s home in the Altstadt, the oldest part of Magdeburg. The early morning air was cold, even for December. He remembered hearing that the up-timers from Grantville sometimes said this was the “Little Ice Age.” On days like today, when his breath fogged in front of him and the hairs in his nose tingled when he breathed in, he could believe it. The old pagan stories about Fimbulwinter were easy to accept right now.

         He pulled his hat down over his ears and pushed his gloved hands into his coat pockets, then started off down the street. Just his luck, when he wanted a cab, there wasn’t one to be seen.

When he reached the Gustavstrasse, he turned right and headed for Hans Richter square, where he turned right again and headed for the nearest bridge across Der Grosse Graben, the moat that encircled the Altstadt, which was usually called The Big Ditch. He passed through the gate in the rebuilt city wall, which triggered his usual musing about the fact that the walls had been rebuilt. He’d never seen much sense in all that time and effort being spent on that task, but the city council of Old Magdeburg had insisted on it, saying that the contracts they had signed years ago to allow people to seek protection in times of war and siege required it. From what Gotthilf could see, all it did was emphasize a boundary between the old city and the new. Which, come to think of it, may have been what the city council was intending all along.

Gotthilf looked over the railing of the bridge at the water moving sluggishly through the moat. Dark water; it looked very cold. He shivered and moved on, feet crunching in the gravel after he stepped off the bridge.

Only the busiest streets in the exurb of Greater Magdeburg were graveled. Most of them were bare dirt. One thing that Gotthilf did appreciate from the cold was that the ground was frozen most of the time, reducing mud to solid. He still had to watch his step, because an ankle turned in a frozen rut could hurt like crazy, but at least he didn’t have to scrape the muck and mire off his boots like he did in the spring and fall.

There were more people on the streets now, as the sun rose higher in the eastern sky behind him. The bakers had been up for hours, of course, and he swung by one to grab a fresh roll for breakfast, since he hadn’t felt up to facing his mother across a table that morning. He munched on that as he walked, watching everyone walking by.

Construction workers of every stripe were moving briskly about; carpenters, masons, and general laborers were in demand for the new hospital expansion, as well as several other projects in the city, not to mention the navy yard. Several women were out selling broadsheets and newspapers, including the shrill-voiced hawk-faced young woman who handed out Committee of Correspondence broadsheets in that part of town.

But still no cabs. He shook his head. Never a cab when you wanted one.

A hand landed on Gotthilf’s shoulder, startling him. He looked up to see his partner, Byron Chieske, settling into place alongside him.

Gotthilf had to look up at Byron. In truth, he had to look up at most adults. He wasn’t very tall; not that he was a dwarf, or anything like that. Nor was he thin or spindly. He was a solid chunk of young man; he just wasn’t very tall.

Byron, on the other hand, was tall, even for an up-timer. He stood a bit over six feet, was well-muscled, and had large square hands. His clean-shaven face was a bit craggy in feature, but not of a nature that would be called ugly.

“Yo, Gotthilf,” Byron said. “Ready for the meeting with the captain this morning?” The captain would be Bill Reilly, another up-timer. Byron was a lieutenant. The two of them had been seconded in early 1635 to the Magdeburg city watch to lead in transforming that organization from what amounted to a group of gossips, busybodies, and occasional bullies to an actual police force on the model of an up-time city police group. They had both been involved in police and security work up-time; they both had at least some education and training in the work; and they had both been in an MP detachment from the State of Thuringia-Franconia army that was stationed in Magdeburg at the time, so they had been available.

“As ready as I’m going to be,” Gotthilf muttered, “considering we have nothing of worth to report.”

“Yeah, Bill may chew on us a bit,” Byron conceded as they walked down the street toward the station building. “But he knows we can’t make bricks without straw. No information, no leads, no results.”

Gotthilf snorted. Byron looked at him with his trademark raised eyebrow, and the down-timer snorted again, before saying, “You know, for someone who professes to not darken the door of a church, you certainly know your way around Biblical allusions.”

Byron chuckled. “Oh, I spent a lot of my childhood in Sunday School, Gotthilf. I may have drifted away from it some as an adult, but a lot of it stuck.” He shoved his hands in his coat pockets, and grinned down at his partner.

Gotthilf grinned back at Byron, who seemed to be in a garrulous mood this morning — by the up-timer’s standards, anyway. Byron was ordinarily one who wouldn’t say two words where one would do, and wouldn’t say one where a gesture or facial expression would serve instead. So to get five sentences out of him in as many minutes bordered on being voluble.

As they stepped on down the street, Gotthilf’s mind recalled their first meeting, ten months ago. He had trouble now even remembering why he had joined the watch; something to do with wanting to do something to prove to his father he was more than just a routine clerk, if he recalled rightly. He had been smarting from another comparison to his brother Nikolaus, studying law at Jena. Not that his father was impressed with the city watch, either, as it turned out.