Chapter Two Thousand Three Hundred Thirty-Three
20th October 1974
After days of being stuck in the stables, Oberst von Kropp finally summoned Niko to his office. This didn’t help matters when Niko entered the office and von Kropp made no secret that he hated the smell of him. He wondered what von Kropp had expected to happen considering what he had been put to work doing. The last few days, Niko had found that he could get away from mucking stalls by assisting one of the farriers who worked for the Regiment. That involved doing important work that had a direct bearing on the coming mission in the months ahead. It was something that shouldn’t be lost on anyone in this room, though Niko wasn’t stupid enough to think that they had time to spare much thought regarding him. Movement was only a matter of days away, Niko wasn’t aware of any of the details or the present date for that matter, but that was all anyone was talking about.
“Yes, Nikolaus” von Kropp said looking at him across that desk that dominated his office. “I am rather surprised that you are still here.”
“Why wouldn’t I be?” Niko asked in reply.
“Well, considering the work you’ve been doing, I would have thought that a young man of your social standing would…” von Kropp said his voice trailing off. He had been about to say that he had expected Niko to just quit, that had probably been what he had been aiming for, proving that von Kropp knew next to nothing about him. “Never mind that, you put us in a rather ticklish position.”
Yes, and? Niko thought to himself as he waited for the rest of the Oberst’s thoughts.
“We are going to be shipping out starting tomorrow” von Kropp said, “As you know we are going to the Patagonian Frontier. It is an unsettled region and not without danger. Your Headmaster at the Wahlstatt Institution said that you can return with a glowing report from me, if that was what you want.”
The way he said that suggested what his preference would be.
For Niko, it was a bit different. His whole life he had heard stories about his grandfather, father, and older cousins. What they had done to earn their place in the world. Here he was with a chance to exactly that but was being encouraged to do what was safe. Niko realized even as he had that thought, that if he returned to Wahlstatt now it would set the tone for the rest of his life.
“Then I guess I had better get ready to leave for Argentina, Sir” Niko said, daring von Kropp to order him back to Wahlstatt.
The Oberst just stared at him, looking a bit surprised.
This was probably the wrong thing to do, but Marie Alexandra didn’t like the idea of not knowing what was really going on. Long experience with her mother had taught her that getting surprised by unexpected events was not in her interest. So, that was why she had taken the time to look at up the address of the Lane family. She would have a few answers about what was going on and perhaps she could prove to these people that she wasn’t the sort of ogre that her grandmother was.
It was a brisk autumn day, with the weather report saying that there was a chance of snow that night. The slate grey sky did little to dispel that. During the summer, this neighborhood was probably quite pleasant, with tree shaded streets and the sort of houses owned by management types who worked downtown. These were the people who aspired to greater things. It was easy for Marie to see how the Lanes fell into the orbit of Marie’s grandmother. It was also easy to see how precarious that was. These people managed the businesses that the likes of Margot Blackwood owned controlling interest in, earning her disfavor could cost them dearly.
Screwing up her courage, Marie walked up to the front door and knocked. After a long minute, a woman answered the door. She had an olive complexion and was dressed in the manner of housekeepers. “Yes?” The housekeeper asked in oddly accented French, followed by “Can I help you?” In English.
Marie guessed that those were not languages she was particularly comfortable with. She also made an educated guess where this woman came from.
“I am a friend of Henriette” Marie said in Spanish, though that wasn’t true. “I wanted to see how she is doing.”
“Miss Hennie will be happy to have a visitor” The housekeeper said, happy to be speaking with someone in her own tongue. “Perhaps it will cheer her up, she has been so depressed lately.”
With that Marie followed her into the house. Walking upstairs, she saw paintings hanging on the wall. Mass produced, but in keeping with the décor of the rest of the house. They were along the lines of Marie’s assessment of the rest of the neighborhood.
“Miss Hennie” The housekeeper said, knocking on a door before opening it. Though it was early afternoon, Henriette was still wearing a nightgown. She also had dark rings under her eyes like if she had not slept in weeks. As before she looked stricken to see Marie. “You’ve a guest.”
It only took Marie a few seconds to figure out what was really going on with Henriette. A baby woke up in its cot and started crying which explained why Henriette looked so tired. Henriette looked at Marie despondently until Marie gently picked up the baby and held it on her shoulder rocked it until it stopped crying.
“You are good at that” Henriette said, “While I’m rubbish.”
“Don’t be silly” Marie replied, “I’ve had a lot of practice, with my friend Suga’s little boy, though he is four now, and Kiki’s little girl.”
“You don’t share your grandmother’s objections?” Henriette asked, “Alice is why your grandmother froze my mother out.”
“What do I care?” Marie said as Alice’s breathing became even as she fell asleep. “And I think Alice is a wonderful name. When I was little I read Lewis Carroll’s books over and over until they fell to pieces.”
“Really?” Henriette asked.
“Yes” Marie replied, “My brother thinks I ought to write a dissertation on those books, I mostly have them memorized so it would be extremely easy.”
“Dissertation?” Henriette asked a bit confused.
“I started University this fall” Marie replied, “McGill.”
That turned out to be the worst thing that Marie could have said because Henriette started crying.