Four Days On The Danube – Snippet 02

          It was bleeding a fair amount, but she didn’t think it was really all that serious. The proverbial “minor flesh wound” — except that now it was starting to hurt, damn it all.

          They had some first aid supplies in a small chest in the bedroom. It was under the bed, since there wasn’t much room in the apartment and the kit wasn’t something they expected to be needing regularly. She went in, knelt down and looked under the bed. Not to her surprise, she discovered that the first aid kit had faithfully obeyed the Iron Law of Anything Put Under A Bed. By whatever mysterious means, it had migrated to the very center.

          So, an already torn, dirty and blood-stained dress got a bit more wear and tear on it, while she half-crawled under the bed to drag out the kit. By the time she got it out, she was worried enough that she almost gave up the effort halfway through. The sounds of fighting from outside were unmistakable now. That was a pitched battle being waged out there, with rifles and grenades — even an occasional cannon shot — not some sort of raid or minor incursion.

          With the kit finally in hand, she hurried to the apartment’s basin. The military housing had running water, even if it didn’t have electricity. Fortunately, there was enough light being shed by the fire and the two lamps in the room for her to start working on her wounds.

          The one on her side proved to be minor, sure enough. The dress itself had absorbed most of the impact. But the wound on her arm was a different matter. Once she washed it off and could see the damage clearly, she winced. That gash was big enough and deep enough that it ought to be closed with stitches. But there was no way she would be able to manage that herself, one-handed. She’d just have to be satisfied with a pressure dressing. She wasn’t worried about blood loss, as such. But without stitches, she’d wind up with a pretty nasty scar on her upper arm. She tried to console herself with the thought that sleeveless dresses weren’t in fashion in the year 1636 anyway.

          There was a small bottle of concentrated alcohol in the first aid kit. She used that to sterilize the wound — which really hurt — and then started awkwardly wrapping some (theoretically) sterile cloth around it.

          Sounds coming from the corridor drew her attention away from the task. She snatched the shotgun off the mantelpiece.

          Hearing female voices, she relaxed a bit. There was far too much fighting going on for there to be any enemy camp followers moving around. Then, recognizing one of the voices, she relaxed completely.

          “In here, Willa!” she shouted. “I’m alone, and there’s no danger!”

          She glanced down at the two dead men in the corridor. “Well, no immediate danger, anyway,” she added.

          A few seconds later, the shapes of three middle-aged women appeared in the corridor. They minced their way across the two bodies, taking care not to step on them.

          Their gingerly manner had nothing to do with squeamishness. The nickname given to Willa Fodor, Maydene Utt and Estelle McIntire was “the Three Auditors of the Apocalypse.” Tender-hearted, they were not. But they were also no longer lithe and athletic girls, if they ever had been, and the sprawled corpses in the narrow hallway were not minor obstructions.

          Fodor was the first one into the room, followed by Utt. As her sister-in-law Estelle came in, Maydene knelt down and checked the pulse of the third assailant whom Tom had smashed into the door-jamb. Then, reached behind his head.

          “Well, he’s with the Lord,” she announced. “Or wherever. What d’you do? Hit him with a train? The whole back of his skull’s caved in.”

          “Uh… Tom slammed him into the door. He was really pissed.”

          Grunting, Utt heaved herself back on her feet. She was a big woman. Not fat, particularly, just very heavily-built. “Well, I guess a really-pissed Tom Simpson will pass for a pretty good train imitation. Where is he now?”

          Rita nodded toward the door. “Out there, somewhere. He left to see what was happening.”

          By then, Estelle had come up to look at Rita’s arm.

          “Hold still,” she commanded. After a quick examination, she said: “You got a needle and thread in that first aid kit?”

          Rita was tempted to say no. Sorely tempted. McIntire was about as skinny as her sister-in-law was hefty, but they shared the same temperament. It was the sort of middle-aged female Appalachian temperament for which phrases like quit your whining and stop being a baby came trippingly off the tongue. Estelle would sew up the wound without worrying much about minor issues like agony.

          “You got medical training…?” Rita ventured, half-hoping she might fend the woman off.

          Estelle sniffed. “Who needs medical training for something like this? I’ve been sewing up torn clothes since I was six.” She turned her head. “Mary, give me a hand.”

          For the first time, Rita realized that two other people had followed the three auditors into the room. The one to whom Estelle had spoken was Willa Fodor’s niece, Mary Tanner Barancek. The girl had graduated from high school a year and half earlier and had gone to work in Dr. Gribbleflotz’s laboratories in Jena. Some sort of clash with her boss had led her to quit and she’d come down to the Oberpfalz to work for her aunt. She had some sort of dignified-sounding down-timer job title, but she was really a combination gofer and clerk.

          The man standing next to her, on the other hand, had a job that actually matched the title. Johann Heinrich Böcler was the private secretary for the Upper Palatinate’s new administrator, Christian I of Pfalz-Birkenfeld-Bischweiler. He’d held the same position for the previous administrator, Ernst Wettin, Duke of Saxe-Weimar, before Wettin had been reassigned to Saxony.

          Böcler was a certain type of German official, by now quite familiar to Rita after four and a half years in the seventeenth century.

          Physically, he was unprepossessing. He was in his mid-twenties. On the short side, fattish — not obese, just plump — with a pug nose, brown eyes, and a prematurely receding hairline. The hair itself was that indefinite shade of gray-brown that so often signaled a prematurely receding youth.

          With respect to his skills, he was very competent. As you’d expect from a man who’d gotten his position because of those skills, not because of any great social standing. He’d been born in a small town in Franconia whose name Rita couldn’t remember. His father had been a Lutheran pastor; his grandfather, the down-time equivalent of a high-school principal. A respectable family, certainly, but not a high-placed one.

          In short, the sort of fellow you’d want at your side to keep track of the complex details of a political and commercial negotiation. Not the sort of fellow you particularly wanted at your side in the middle of a city that was being overrun by enemy soldiers.

          While Rita had been contemplating these matters in order to avoid thinking about the proximate future, Estelle McIntire had been preparing that future with Mary Barancek’s assistance.

          “Okay,” she said, “this going to hurt a little.”

          The needle went in.

          “Ow!” Rita squealed.

          “Don’t be a baby. It’s just a few stitches.”




          “Oh, quit whining.”