1636 The Devil’s Opera – Snippet 06

On the day that he met Byron, Gotthilf was the youngest member of the city watch; the newest; and possibly the angriest. He hadn’t really wanted to be paired with the lieutenant, and he wasn’t of a mind that the over-tall up-timer had anything to teach him or anything to bring to the city watch. But their first case — one involving the murder of a young girl and a young blind lad involved in faginy — had opened his eyes to what the Polizei could do.

          So now, even at his young age of 23, Gotthilf was an ardent supporter of the captain and the lieutenant, having quit his clerking position and thrown himself into the job. He was now one of three detective sergeants on the force, partnered with Byron, and still one of the youngest men in the Polizei.

And that and a pfennig will get me a cup of coffee at Walcha’s Coffee House, he gibed at himself.

The two men walked into the station house, hung their coats on pegs in the hallway, and headed for their desks. They flipped through the papers and folders laying there, then looked at each other.

“See the captain?” Gotthilf asked.

“Yep,” Byron responded.

They headed for Reilly’s office on the second floor. Byron took the lead.

“Chieske, Hoch.” The captain set down his pencil, folded his hands on top of the document he was reading, and nodded toward a couple of chairs a bit to the side of his desk. “Have a seat. Any progress on that floater case?”

“The one the river-front watch pulled out of the water a few days ago, looked like he’d been run through a meat tenderizer before he got dumped in the river?”

“That’s the one. The floating corpse who was identified as . . .” Reilly picked up a different document from his desk. “. . . one Joseph Delt, common laborer.” His eyebrows arched.

“Officially, nothing to say,” Gotthilf began.

Reilly nodded. “And unofficially?”

“Nothing,” Byron responded with a shrug before Gotthilf could speak.

The captain steepled his hands in front of his face. “Why? Or why not?”

“No leads, captain,” Chieske responded.

“Make some. Start flipping over rocks and talking to bugs and snakes, if you have to, but get me some results, and soon. You know as well as I do what’s going on here, Byron. It’s not as if American history wasn’t full of it.”

Seeing Sergeant Hoch’s quizzical expression, the police chief elaborated. “Magdeburg’s a boom town full of immigrants, with more coming in every day. We had a lot of cities like that in America back up-time. It went on for centuries. Certain things always came with the phenomenon, and one of them was the rise of criminal gangs. I’ll bet you any sum you want — don’t take me up on it, I’ll clean you out — that what we’re seeing here is one or more crime bosses trying to establish themselves in the city. These men being killed are the ones who were too stubborn, too stupid — or just couldn’t learn to keep their mouths shut.”

He leaned back in his seat. “There’s no way to completely stop it from happening, but we need to at least keep it under control. Because if we don’t and it gets out of hand, sooner or later the city’s Committee of Correspondence will decide it has to crack down on the criminals. I don’t want that, Mayor Gericke doesn’t want that, you don’t want that — hell, the Fourth of July Party and even the CoC itself doesn’t want it. But it’ll happen, sure as hell.”

Gotthilf made a face. The leader of Magdeburg’s Committee of Correspondence was a man named Gunther Achterhof. Like most people in today’s Magdeburg, he was an immigrant. He’d arrived from Brandenburg with his younger sister, the two of them being the only survivors of a family ravaged by the mercenary armies that had passed through the region.

Gunther had also arrived with a sack full of the ears and noses of stray mercenary soldiers he’d killed along the way. He was an honest man, but one whose concept of justice was as razor sharp as the knife he’d used to kill and mutilate those soldiers. If he unleashed the CoC’s armed squads on the city’s criminal element, they’d certainly bring order to the streets — but they’d also shred any semblance of due process and reasonable legality in the doing.

As it stood, there was already a fair amount of tension between the CoC and the city’s fledgling police force. If these kinds of killings continued with no one apprehended, the CoC’s existing skepticism concerning the value of a duly-appointed police force would just be confirmed.

“You got it, captain,” Byron said.

“Go on,” Reilly waved a hand. “Go encourage the good citizens of Magdeburg to be good citizens.”

Gotthilf followed Byron up the hall, down the stairs and out the main entrance of the building, grabbing their coats on the way. He caught up with his partner outside, waving for their driver to bring up the light horse-drawn cart they used for transportation.

“So what are we going to do?” Gotthilf asked as the cart pulled up.

“Dig some more,” Byron replied tersely. Gotthilf followed his partner onto the cart, and they left to begin digging.