Chapter 14. The Bridge



High Street Mansion, Seat of Government for the State of Thuringia-Franconia

President’s Office

Grantville, State of Thuringia-Franconia


            “I’m afraid Mr. Piazza left for Bamberg this morning, Ms. Stull. He won’t be in radio contact again until this evening, at the earliest. Carol Unruh went with him.” The secretary folded her hands, in that inimitable and unmistakable way that they must spend a whole semester teaching people how to do in Executive Assistant College.

            “I Am Afraid There Is Nothing I Can Do.”

            In caps. Noelle went out the door.



Municipal Complex

Police Department

Grantville, State of Thuringia-Franconia


            “Gimme a break, Noelle,” said Preston Richards. Grantville’s police chief scowled at an assignment chart on the wall of his office. “You got any idea how stretched thin I am? No, I don’t have any cops I can detach from duty on what sounds like a wild goose chase. And how would they get there in time anyway?”

            Before she could keep arguing, he raised his hand. “I’ll send another radio message to the garrison at Regensburg. But that’s it. And I doubt very much that’ll do any good. Word came yesterday that the Bavarians are moving more troops into the area.”

            No caps, but it didn’t matter. Press Richards had a baccalaureate from Stubborn Like a Mule College. Graduated magna cum laude.

            Noelle went out the door.




The Upper Palatinate, under USE imperial administration


            “Idiots,” snarled Colonel Moritz Kreisler. “We’ve got at least three Bavarian regiments moving around just the other side of the Danube”—he pointed an accusing finger at the river, as if it were the guilty party—“and they want me to disrupt my disposition of forces in order to hunt down some fucking thieves?”

            “I’m just passing on the message, sir,” said the radio operator apologetically. “How should I respond?”

            Kreisler took a deep breath, controlling his temper. He reminded himself that whatever the legal formalities might be, a message from any figure of authority in Grantville—even a miserable be-damned police chief—had to be handled diplomatically.

            “Tell them we received the message.” With an effort: “No, thank them for sending us the warning. Assure them we will do everything possible. Emphasize ‘possible.’”

            After the radio operator left, Kreisler went over to the window of his office and looked down on the Danube passing almost directly below.

            They might be using a barge or other rivercraft.

             “Oh, marvelous,” he muttered, between teeth that were almost clenched. Just at a glance, he could see five such vessels on the river. Four of them were piled high with goods, and two of those were carrying a number of passengers as well. Did the cretins think that merchants and farmers and I-need-to-see-my-poor-uncle-before-he-dies suspended their activity because of a war?

            Still, he should do something, just for the record. “Lieutenant Müller!” he bellowed.

            His orderly appeared almost instantly.

            “Send word to whatever squads are monitoring the river traffic—no, one squad should be enough; and make sure it’s a squad right inside the city—I do not want the men watching the river up and down stream to be in the least bit distracted—to keep an eye out for a large party of American traitors—accompanied by a Hungarian officer; probably two or three other soldiers—who might attempt to pass through Regensburg on their way to Austria.”

            Lieutenant Müller was a little cross-eyed. “Yes, sir. Ah…”

            “How should I know what ‘American traitors’ look like?” the colonel said testily. “Try to spot excellent teeth combined with a shifty expression. But if I were you, I’d concentrate on the Hungarian officer. You know what those look like, don’t you?”

            Müller practically sighed with relief. “Yes, sir. Of course.”


            “All right, boys, you heard him,” said Corporal Brenner. “Keep an eye out for one of those Hungarian dandies. Can’t be hard, since they’re even more vain than Austrian noblemen.”

            As usual, Private Sandler looked confused. Sighing, the sergeant planted a large forefinger on the top of his helmet. “Just look for the plume, Jochen.”



Kelly Aviation Facility

Near Grantville, State of Thuringia-Franconia


            “Please, Bob. It’s the only chance that’s left.”

            Noelle felt like an idiot. Princess Leia, in a movie. Please, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re our only hope.

            Bob Kelly shook his head. “But… the authorities…”

            “There are no authorities. Not in town that I can reach in time who have the clout to get anything done. But if I get there myself…”

            Bob looked from her to one of the planes in the hangar. The one that looked as if they’d been working on it round the clock. Noelle had figured they might be, with Kay up in Magdeburg doing the full court lobbyist’s press.

            “Well… The Dauntless II is ready to fly, sure enough. But we haven’t got it fitted with the bomb attachments yet. The best you could do would be to toss a grenade out the window.”

            Noelle set her teeth. “Bob, I am not planning to bomb anybody.”

            He peered at her near-sightedly, over the half-moon glasses he favored. He looked for all the world like a chubby middle-aged elf. Not one of the Tolkien-type heroic and dramatic elves, either. One of the Santa’s-helpers elves. Exactly what Noelle was afraid she’d look like at that age if she let her figure go and didn’t pay attention to her solemn vows to eliminate all elf-like mannerisms.

            “Then how to do plan to accomplish anything once you do get there?” he asked.

            Good question. But Noelle was not to be thwarted.

            “I’ll simply summon the garrison to its duty. With an official from Grantville on the scene who’s directly involved in the matter, I’m sure that’ll be sufficient.”

            Which was a laugh, from Noelle’s past experience with military commanders. They swore by Chain Of Command the way other people swore by the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.

            But she’d deal with that when she got there. First, she had to get there. By nightfall—and it was already two o’clock in the afternoon, in late November. They just had enough time.

            Fortunately, Lannie piped up. “They do have a landing strip in Regensburg now, boss. Been operational for a month.”

            Kelly rubbed his jaw. “Kay’ll have a fit, when she hears about it.”

            “Why?” Noelle tried to look as self-assured as she possibly could. She was pretty good at that, actually. “It’ll just be another test of the capabilities of the Dauntless line.”

            She even said “Dauntless” without a waver.


            But it was enough, she could tell. Bob Kelly had been smarting for years over the constant jokes about his unfinished planes.

            “Yeah, sure. What the hell. The weather’s clear and Regensburg’s only a hundred and fifty miles away. Be there before sundown, easy. Lannie, take her there. Keenan, you go with them.”