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Paula Goodlett

Grantville Gazette 37

Blood in Erfurt

Bjorn Hasseler

Astrid Schaubin was standing guard duty outside the University of Erfurt, out front with Neustatter. Freedom of religion is a good thing, she mused. But guaranteeing it is a little more exciting than civics class suggested it ought to be.

'More students,' Neustatter identified the two young men approaching.

'An honor to meet you, Fraulein. I am Matthias von Spitzer. And this is my fellow student, Friedrich von Alvensleben.'

'Miss Astrid Schaubin of Neustatter's European Security Services.'

They stumbled over the name of the firm. Astrid explained. Von Spitzer and von Alvensleben followed up.

'Why is your company guarding the university?'

'We're guarding the Bibelgesellschaft,' Astrid explained. 'Erfurt is a little tense right now.'

Von Spitzer nodded. 'The townspeople were celebrating the Congress of Copenhagen's recognition that both the city and the hinterland are formally independent of the archbishop of Mainz. The city has been a Stadt since early '32, of course, but it's nice that the captain-general made it official.' He laughed harshly. 'But there are unanticipated consequences.'

'Oh?' Astrid asked, even though she already knew what they were.

'The Catholics quickly realized that freedom of religion means no religious tests for public office. They lost no time nominating the archbishop's former bailiff for the city council. A lot of the townspeople aren't at all happy about that.'

'What do you think about it?' Astrid asked.

'I think if we all get behind one experienced candidate, we could elect a good Lutheran. But the Committee of Correspondence insisted on running their own.'

'Who did you find who is willing to take on that challenge?' Astrid asked. She tried to project a very concerned tone.

Von Alvensleben spoke up. 'Actually, Matthias's uncle is willing to run.'

'Really? That's very civic-minded of him.' Astrid was sure there a large dose of self-interest there, too, but she didn't see any reason to bring it up.

'He's going to make sure that the Catholics don't take over again,' von Alvensleben began.

Before he could say more, von Spitzer cut in. 'There's been some pushing and shoving, of course, but nothing we can't handle. Say, this Bibelgesellschaft, you'll be backing von Alvensleben, of course?'

'None of them are from Erfurt,' Astrid answered. 'Neither are any of us from Neustatter's European Security Services.'

'Excuse me, gentlemen,' she requested several questions later. 'I need to get back to work.'

'Yes, she does.'

Von Spitzer turned and appeared to notice Neustatter for the first time. 'Who are you?'

'I'm Neustatter.'

'Thank you,' Astrid told Neustatter once the two students were out of earshot.

Neustatter nodded once. 'What did you learn about them?'

'Niederadel. Probably in the arts curriculum. Not serious political players in Thuringia. Just here in Erfurt.'

'Explain,' Neustatter directed.

'If they were Hochadel, we would have recognized their names. The theology students are mostly inside with the Bibelgesellschaft. Law students probably would have asked at least one question about security consultants, and they would have asked you. And law students probably wouldn't have made so many assumptions about the uncle's chances in the election. So they were probably arts. And they didn't ask anything about Grantville or Thuringian politics. Their world revolves around their town.'

Neustatter nodded again. 'Remember that your conclusions are only likely, not certain, and didn't rule out medical students. But I agree with you. Anything else?'

'I think you had a good idea convincing the BGS to send Dr. Gerhard instead of Father Kircher or Brother Green.'

'I've heard about those scuffles von Spitzer mentioned. They sound more serious to me than he seems to think. Having Kircher around in clerical robes would just set Lutherans off. And Green would get in an argument.'

Without pointing, he said, 'There's Phillip across the street. Let's check the guards, Miss Schaubin.' Neustatter stretched, which Astrid knew was a signal to Phillip to stick around for a few minutes.

They left Phillip out loitering out front and generally blending in with the rest of Erfurt. He was one of Neustatter's new hires. Neustatter had assigned the other two to Ditmar and Hjalmar's teams and taken one of each of their regulars.

Karl Recker was supposed to be watching one of the building's other entrances, and that's exactly what he was doing. Karl carried a US Waffenfabrik flintlock rifle, and it was at order arms-butt on the ground, right hand grasping the barrel just below the muzzle. Recker's right arm was fully extended, holding the barrel at an angle pointed away from himself, and his left fist was on his hip. Most of the time, NESS was not into spit and polish, but Neustatter made an exception for standing static guard duty. Recker's stance was flashy but not impractical. His rifle could be at port arms diagonally in front of him in two movements and aimed with only one more. And because nobody in Erfurt had gotten around to forbidding it, he had a bayonet fixed.

'Carry on, Herr Recker,' Neustatter said formally.

Neustatter and Astrid rounded the building to where Lukas Heidenfelder was supposed to be. Lukas was not guarding the back door. Astrid suspected that Neustatter wouldn't have lost it if Lukas had merely been slouched against the building with weapon in hand, but he wasn't even watching his area of responsibility. In fact, he was kissing a woman. He had one arm around her-the one holding his U.S. Waffenfabrik.

Neustatter closed in at a lope and threw a right cross into the back of Heidenfelder's neck. Lukas's head bounced off the woman's, somebody's tongue got bitten, and Lukas whirled around. Neustatter grabbed Heidenfelder's rifle with one hand and threw a couple quick jabs with the other.

The woman started screaming and flailing at Neustatter. Astrid darted past him with her left arm up to protect her head and her right hand firmly covering her holster. She shouldered the woman away.

Neustatter hauled Heidenfelder to his feet. 'Lukas!' he roared. 'What do you think you are doing? A passing student could have killed you with a penknife!'

Heidenfelder babbled.

Astrid glared at the woman. 'Who are you?'

'Trudi Groenewold. You are in so much trouble when my pimp . . .'

Neustatter's laughter cut her off. Still holding Lukas up with one hand, he fished a card out of a shirt pocket with the other. 'A pimp who hasn't been run out of town by the Committees? Really? Do you seriously expect me to believe that? Here, give him my card. Since we're telling lies, his second can use it to contact me.'

'So he's not . . .' The woman closed her mouth, clambered to her feet, and ran off.

'Look, I know you and Lukas have been seeing each other. Just stay away when he's on duty.' Neustatter turned to Astrid. 'Miss Schaubin,' he directed in a perfectly calm voice, 'make sure no one got past Heidenfelder.

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