Four Days On The Danube – Snippet 04

          She gave the apartment a quick survey, to see if there was anything she wanted to take with her. The walkie-talkie radio, of course, which was also perched on the mantelpiece. Hopefully that would enable her to get in touch with Tom, since his unit had a radio also. Beyond that…

          There were a fair number of personal items she’d hate to lose, but she sternly suppressed the urge to snatch them up. Besides the radio, there was really only one thing important.

          “Mary, give me a hand,” she said, hurrying into the bedroom. Once there, she began emptying the chest of drawers against one of the walls. Her clothes got piled onto the bed, Tom’s got pitched unceremoniously onto the floor. No one, not even Maydene, was big enough to fit into her husband’s clothes.

          As she did so, she pointed to a corner. There was an old suitcase there, that Tom had had with him when the Ring of Fire came and had held onto ever since. “Use the suitcase. Skip the underclothes but cram it full of whatever will help keep us warm.”

          Maydene wouldn’t fit into Rita’s clothes, and she didn’t think Böcler probably would either. But there was no help for it.


          Maydene stuck her head in. “Can I help?”

          “Yes. Grab the blankets off the bed and roll them up. We’ll need them, I figure.”

          Less than a minute later, the suitcase was packed and Utt had the blankets over her shoulder. Rita headed for the front door, stopped, and raced back into the bedroom. Tom kept a box of shotgun shells in the drawer of the little table next to the bed. She shoved it into the capacious pockets of the heavy jacket she’d put on and went back into the living room. After stuffing the walkie-talkie into one of her pockets and picking up the shotgun that she’d left leaning against the wall, she went into the corridor. As the rest of the party followed, she took the time to reload the weapon.

          “Is anyone else armed?” she asked.

          “Me,” said Estelle. Looking back, Rita saw that McIntire had pulled a revolver out from somewhere. The gun looked like a small cannon. Rita thought it was probably one of her husband Crawford’s guns. He had a big collection of them and was partial to heavy calibers, as she recalled.

          The weapon looked too big for Estelle, but Rita knew there’d be no point in saying anything on the subject. Besides, even if the woman lost the revolver after firing it, her first shot would hit the target. McIntire was the sort of person who’d handle killing the same way she’d handled sewing up a wound. If it needs to be done, just do it.


          Once they were out in the street, the sounds of fighting were much louder. They seemed to be concentrated toward the eastern side of the city. That was where Tom’s artillery unit had its barracks. The unit quartered next to them was a mercenary force, but it was under the command of Bruno von Eichelberg, a young man from a modest noble family in Brunswick whom Tom and Friedrich Engels had been on good terms with. Rita thought it was unlikely that Eichelberg’s unit had participated in whatever treachery was underway.

          She was tempted for a moment to head that way, but stifled the impulse. She and her party would just get in the way and be a distraction for Tom. The best way she could help her husband under these circumstances was simply to get herself out of the city.

          The Pelican was hangared just outside the city walls near the northwest gate. She set off in that direction, with her shotgun held at the ready. Estelle came right behind her with the revolver, followed by the three other women. Johann Heinrich Böcler brought up the rear.

          The scholar and clerk seemed to be holding up well, a bit to Rita’s surprise and certainly to her relief. He was a studious young man, straight-laced to the point of being something of a prig. But he hadn’t gotten badly rattled at any point, and had even had the presence of mind to pick up one of the assailants’ pistols and the ammunition pouch he’d had on his belt. Rita had no idea if Böcler knew how to use the weapon, but the fact that he’d thought to take it was a good sign in itself.


          There was only one incident along the way. As they came around a corner, they found a couple of soldiers breaking into a shop. One of them was smashing in the window with the butt of his musket while his companion watched.

          As was more often the case than not with seventeenth century soldiers, neither of them was wearing a uniform. So Rita had no way of knowing offhand which side they were on. But she figured the act of vandalism and presumed looting was a good enough indication and she didn’t dare hesitate for long.

          Remembering the wild misses in the earlier gunfight, though, she controlled herself enough to aim carefully before she fired. The man she aimed at was the one watching, not the one smashing the window, since she figured he was the one who’d be able to react more quickly. He was standing perhaps thirty feet away and not looking anywhere near her. She took a breath, aimed, and squeezed the trigger.

          He went down as if he’d been hit by a truck. At close enough range where marksmanship wasn’t a big issue, it was hard to beat slugs fired out of a twelve gauge. They had all the stopping power of heavy caliber seventeenth century muskets but without the slow rate of fire.

          In a hurry, but doing her best not to move frantically, Rita pumped in another round and aimed again. Luckily, the remaining soldier was either dim-witted or — quite likely — too drunk to react quickly. He wasn’t even looking at her. He was staring down at his companion, who was now sprawled against the wall of the building.

          She fired. And… almost missed, even at that range. Her shot did strike the soldier’s musket, however. The bullet not only knocked the weapon out of his hand but some sort of ricochet struck him in the face. From the minimal damage done, it was probably a small piece of the firing mechanism or possibly just a splinter from the stock.

          But the soldier was startled enough to clasp his face with his hands rather than deal with her. She jacked in another round. Not trusting her reactions — she had to be practically afloat in adrenalin — she strode forward a few steps, almost running, until she was no more than six feet away from him.

          The soldier’s hands came down from a bloody face. His mouth was wide open as he stared at her. She fired. At his chest, and this time the bullet struck where she wanted it to. The soldier was knocked off his feet and back into the window he’d been smashing, taking what was left of the glass mostly with him.

          Rita did her best to blank out the horror from her mind as she reloaded. She’d never killed anyone before tonight, and now she’d killed no fewer than four men. She’d never even been in a gunfight, for that matter, except for the escape from the Tower of London. But she hadn’t been directly involved in the fighting there.

          Maydene came up to her. “You all right?” she asked softly.

          Rita nodded. “Right enough.” She’d probably have some bad reactions later, but there was no time to worry about that now.

          The shotgun reloaded, she set off again. “Let’s go, folks.”