1636 The Devil’s Opera – Snippet 26


Herr Sylwester nodded, having never said a word to the gathered writers, then turned and followed his wife. Friedrich felt his mouth quirk again. With Frau Linder for a wife, why would the man need to say anything? And from what Friedrich had heard, although he followed in his wife’s wake often, Sylwester was no rudderless ship sucked along in an undertow. One could be quiet, and still be a rock of strength.

          Friedrich turned back to his friends.

“Well?” Plavius demanded.

“Well what?”

“Aren’t you going to show us the English lyrics?”

Friedrich made a pretense of considering this suggestion, before letting his face settle into a grin. “No,” he said as he beamed at them. “You will hear them like everyone else, when she is ready to salvo them at the world.”

“Salvo?” Gronow caught at that word. “You infer that it will be a momentous occasion.”

“My friends, you have no idea. But you will remember that day, I doubt not.”

As those around him erupted in expostulations, Friedrich looked back down to his notebook, and crossed out “destruction“. He wrote in a simple word, so that the last line of the epigram now read “Compromise brings death.” He read the line again, nodded, and put the notebook back in the breast pocket of his coat.



Gotthilf walked up to the counter just as Byron fired his last shot. The action in the .45 locked back; Byron ejected the empty magazine and laid it and the empty pistol on the counter.

“Clear!” he called out to the range officer as he slid the ear protectors down to hang around his neck.

The range officer blew his whistle. Even though Byron was the only shooter in the range at the moment, the officer still yelled out, “Range is cold.” After a moment, a young man ran out to grab the target off the hook, then ran back to the side and around the range perimeter to bring it to the lieutenant.

Gotthilf looked around his partner’s arm to see the grouping. “Not bad, Byron.”

Byron laid his hand on the spread. Nothing showed outside his palm. “Yeah, eight shots in a five inch diameter at thirty feet. Not world class, maybe, but good enough for the guy’s heart and lower left lung lobe to be hamburger.” He put the target on the counter, then bent over and picked up his cartridge casings. “I almost forgot these. I’ve got almost a box worth that I need to get reloaded.”

Gotthilf winced at Byron’s description of the effect of the shots on a body. He couldn’t disagree with it, but the thought still caused his stomach to lurch a bit. He covered for that by setting his case on the counter.

Byron started feeding stubby .45 cartridges into the empty magazine. Click. Click. Click. “Whatcha got, partner?” In a matter of moments, seven cartridges into the magazine, ram it into the handle, one cartridge into the chamber, release the action, throw the safety, and shove the pistol into the holster in the back of his belt, all the while looking with interest at Gotthilf’s case.

Gotthilf flicked a particle of dust off the top of the polished wood. “Nothing you’d be interested in.”

Byron grabbed for the case. “Anything that comes in a presentation case to a firing range interests me.”

Gotthilf slapped his partner’s hands away. “All right, all right! Don’t get greedy.” He lifted the lid of the case on its hinges, and unfolded the cloth from where it covered the contents.

“Ahhhhh.” That lengthy satisfied sigh from Byron made Gotthilf chuckle. “What?”

“You sound like a tad in the kitchen when the cook is baking pies,” Gotthilf said.

Byron started to reach into the case, stopped, and looked to his partner. “May I?”

Gotthilf nodded. Byron completed his motion by pulling the pistol from its nest in the case. He held it in both hands at first, turning it this way and that to examine it in detail. “That’s nice,” he finally passed judgment. “Hockenjoss and Klott?”

“Of course,” Gotthilf affirmed. He was very happy with the H&K .32 he’d been carrying for almost a year, so when he decided to look for another pistol he naturally gravitated to that firm’s designs.

“Big bore,” Bryon commented as he hefted the pistol. “Bigger than your other pistol.” He held it out at arm’s length, sighting down the range. “A bit heavy, I think. Nice balance, though.”

“.44 calibre,” Gotthilf nodded as he took two gunpowder flasks from his coat pockets and the small box of percussion caps from its slot in the presentation case. He staggered from the slap Byron delivered to his shoulder.

“All right! It’s about time you got a man’s gun.”

“Give me that.” Gotthilf plucked the pistol from Byron’s hands, and swung out the cylinder to begin loading. “In truth, I wanted something heavier than the .32, and I also wanted more shots.”

“Wait a minute,” Byron reached out and tapped the cylinder. “Seven shots? When did they come out with this one? Your .32 only has five.”

“Uh-huh. New design.” Gotthilf was pouring powder into the cylinder chambers, tongue sticking out from between his teeth. At that moment he envied Byron the up-time .45 cartridges more than ever. He knew H&K was making some cartridge weapons, and he lusted after one of them, but the price of the ammunition was so high he just couldn’t justify it right then. Maybe in a few years. “I was in Farkas’ gun shop a few months ago, and I talked with the master gunsmith of H&K when he dropped by, told him what I wanted. They’ve been making six shot .44’s for a while. I asked for more, and he came back to me with this.”

“Hmm. Seven shots.” Byron obviously mused on that for a while as Gotthilf finished loading the cylinder. “Okay. With a percussion cap system, it will take that much longer to reload, though.”

“Maybe.” Gotthilf started loading the bullets into the chambers one at a time. “Remind me to tell you what Herr Farkas suggested when I complained about that.”

Byron stepped back when Gotthilf began placing the percussion caps on the chamber nipples. “That stuff makes me nervous, even in small doses.”

“Relax. H&K switched to the French caps, the potassium . . . potassium chlorate. It’s not nearly as sensitive.”

Gotthilf swung the cylinder into place in the gun frame, keeping it pointing down range. He reached into his vest pocket and pulled out the flat pill case he used to carry his wax ear plugs. Moments later, he was ready to shoot, and nodded to the range officer.

“Range is hot!” the officer yelled as Byron pulled his ear protectors back up.

Gotthilf waited for the range officer to give him the nod, took a two-handed grip, focused on the target through the sights, and began squeezing the trigger.