Stupid Luck and Happenstance, Thread III

Part 128, Chapter 2174
  • Chapter Two Thousand One Hundred Seventy-Four



    4th September 1972

    Wahlstatt, Silesia

    There were only twenty-four of them and as Gretchen learned, not one of them had the first clue as to what they were doing. To the others, this was all a lark. They were all from various minor Junkers families or were the daughters of various heroes and they had watched with glee over the Summer Holiday the consternation of their fathers and older brothers at the prospect of this. It seemed that she was the only one who was aware of what was in store, even so she had chosen this because spending the next six years at the mercy of Anna and her clique of friends was something that Gretchen considered nightmarish.

    Mathilda, that strange girl who had joined her family over the summer was essentially going to Tzschocha in her place. Mathilda had a self-assurance and poise that Gretchen lacked, she had also treated Anna as if she were no more than an insect to her and Gretchen had envied her ability to do that. The adults of her family had clearly been pushing her to be friends with Mathilda, but why on Earth would someone like her want to be friends with someone like Gretchen? Not first the time, Gretchen wondered what her parents were thinking.

    Getting off the train in Liegnitz, they had been herded onto a bus with the other first year students at the station. Gretchen had heard a lot of wild stories from Niko and Bas about what sort of greeting she would receive, but Opa had told her that the two of them were full of hot air.

    Eventually, the bus pulled up a massive building. Opa had told her that it had once been an abbey, it certainly looked like it. A harried looking man in the uniform of an Oberstlieutenant and a dumpy looking Feldwebel accompanied by a woman wearing all black greeted them as they got off the bus and stood on the paving stones before the school entrance. The other buses were pulling in behind theirs and the students from those classes were staring at them as they milled around.

    “Now, I am pleased to welcome you to what will be a bold and exciting new chapter for this institution. To introduce myself, I am Oberstlieutenant Adolf Gruber, and I will be your Headmaster during your time at the Prussian Institution of Wahlstatt. Boys, please go with Oberstabsfeldwebel Arbeit and… girls…” The Oberstlieutenant said before letting out an exasperated sigh, “Girls, please go with Stabsfeldwebel-Leutnant Pavlichenko. They will show you to your accommodations, get you situated, and brief you about what you will be doing over the coming days.”

    Pavlichenko wasn’t wearing a uniform and the only clue of her rank, a Warrant Officer whose authority was roughly equivalent to that of a Hauptmann, was the Pioneer Corps Career badge that she was wearing pinned to her shirt. She looked at them coldly as if taking stock of them.

    “I am supposed to teach History at this school, but they saw fit to stick me with you lot as well” Pavlichenko said with an accent that Gretchen couldn’t identify. “Now form a line, follow me, and no funny business. I am not your mother and have no problem with doling out harsh punishments, the consequences of stupidity should be painful. Understand?”

    “Yes, Ma’am” Gretchen said along with the others.

    It was clear that this woman was someone they did not want to mess with.



    Lake Constance

    After a week in Munich, Kiki had had enough. Sure, there had been fun parts like watching Freddy and Michael awarding sportsmanship medals to the various competitors or the occasional injury where she happened to be the closest Doctor with full access. For the most part though, she had been expected to play the part of the good hostess in a tense situation because the respective Governments of Germany and the United States had found a new reason to be at odds with each other. This time it was because the Abwehr, later the BND, had found a way to get an Agent into a high-ranking position within a key Government Agency. If Kiki had to guess, the American CIA was probably trying to figure out how it had been done so they could copy it at that very moment. It was all a part of the stupid games that Governments played, and Kiki found it all exhausting.

    There were also other costs involved as well.

    Zella had said that an old friend of hers had somehow gotten killed because of this whole mess and that the family of sorts that he’d had in Berlin were at a total loss. It wasn’t as if they could have a proper funeral for him, not without breaking certain promises that they had made.

    Going back to Lake Constance and just watching the sailboats cruise around the lake from the foredeck of the Epione was a welcome change. Like on most afternoons, Rauchbier was doing his level best to prevent the sofa in the saloon from floating off. Still, he needed to take his run a couple times a day. That was why Kiki had taken him ashore to a field where he run to his heart’s content, hopefully leaving whatever small game happened to be present alone. The last thing that Kiki needed was that sort of trouble.
     
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    Part 128, Chapter 2175
  • Chapter Two Thousand One Hundred Seventy-Five



    6th September 1972

    Near Kaiserslautern

    The new Albatros Advanced Trainer that had been built for the Luftwaffe and other Air Forces of Client States. Designed and built in Bohemia to be a Trainer as well as a capable Ground Attack Plane and while it couldn’t go as fast as the aircraft that the men who trained on it would eventually move on to, it was a whole lot of fun to fly.

    Ben was here because he had been told that he needed to do a check flight if he wanted to maintain his flight status. A few days earlier, Kiki had retreated from the Olympics and was aboard her barge anchored on Lake Constance in Southern Bavaria. The presence of a craft the size of the Epione on that lake reflected the vast infrastructure project to improve the railroads and inland waterways of Europe. That same project had also brought a bit of an economic boom to a region that was something of a backwater when the Benken-Schaffhausen Canal and Tunnel system had opened a few years earlier allowing river traffic to bypass the Rhine Falls that had involved Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. Ben had seen the dumb barges loaded with produce, coal and other commodities being towed through the canal, the entire reason for its existence. The lake, with its resorts and recreational opportunities had also enjoyed the newfound wealth that suddenly having viable inland ports brought.

    That also made it the perfect place for them to take some time off after a hectic summer which had been spent doing things that neither of them had wanted to do. Kiki had given most of her Staff some time off, preferring to spend her time alone with Ben, Nina, and Rauchbier. It was them as a family aboard the Epione, which Ben figured was Kiki’s ideal life if she had no other obligations to attend to. Then Ben had received a message telling him to go to Kaiserslautern. Kiki had told him to go and to have fun.

    And having fun was what he was doing. Ben smiled to himself as he pushed the Albatros into a sharp roll before performing a split S. The Instructor who was sitting in the back seat, had said the entire thing was a formality. So, they would just check the boxes and call it good for now, but Ben would still need to spend some time in the air for the logbook. That was why they were practicing acrobatics today.



    Mitte, Berlin

    It was a somber occasion at the V8 Club. Everyone knew that John Elis would have hated a funeral, but the wake was a different story. All the regulars, the bands who regularly played here, and even a few mysterious figures who Sarah knew were involved with Imperial Shipping were in attendance to say farewell. There were rumors floating around about what exactly had happened. Sarah herself had discovered that overnight, all evidence that Imperial Shipping had ever operated within the confines of the Club had been more than merely removed. It was as if someone had gone over the entire place with a microscope to find even the smallest particle that suggested that they had ever been there.

    Into this, Sarah had hidden away the manuscript and the things that would prove its authenticity which Elis had entrusted her with in a different location. He had said that once the heat was off, she should approach a publisher with it. He suggested that a trip to London to find one would be a good idea because most German publishers would be pressured to quash the publication of the manuscript. The British not only wouldn’t care, but they would probably leap at the chance. Elis had also told her that it would be worth a fortune and had left it in writing that he wanted that to go to Sarah and Johann because the V8 Club’s fortunes were a fickle thing. He must have figured that Imperial Shipping would go away once he was gone. The money that they paid to rent the back room had kept the club open during the lean years as Jazz had gone out of fashion and Gutter Blues had yet to evolve into the sort of Rock & Roll scene that would support it. Sarah also worried that Johann was reluctant to go to University for that exact reason, he felt he needed to stick around and help out.

    Tonight though, they were celebrating the life of the man they had known as John Elis. This was despite the rumors that the Americans had identified him by his real name. How would people react when they learned who the original owner of the V8 Club had been. John Lennon had been messing with Sarah’s upright piano for the last half hour. Occasionally, Molly Fryer would play off him. Bluesy licks that reflected the mood of the room.

    Eventually, some of the other musicians in the room would join in and the wake would begin in earnest. Elis would have hated that everyone was making such a fuss for him. In light of what Sarah knew about him, it was hardly a surprise that he had long preferred to stay out of the spotlight.

    That was when Sarah noticed a red blinking light. Zella Holz had a video camera out and was filming the room. She clearly expected something to happen. Something about the interplay between Zella and Yuri, her longtime partner in making the news reports and mini documentaries that she had become well known for suggested that they were lovers. It was an amusing development considering some of the assumptions made about Zella in the past. However, it was a reminder that whatever else was happening, life just sort of went on.
     
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    Part 128, Chapter 2176
  • Chapter Two Thousand One Hundred Seventy-Six



    7th September 1972

    Mitte, Berlin

    No one in this place seemed to be able to follow a straight line anywhere. That was Helene’s conclusion as she left the meeting that had just occurred that had involved herself as Minister of the Interior, the Minister of War, Minister of Finance, Minister of Transport, Minister of Agriculture, and finally, the newly appointed Minister of the Environment. The topic had been sectors of the economy, particularly State Industries, that lost money on paper but not really.

    The Transportation Industry and the National Security implications were eternally of great concern. Roads, railroads, rivers, and canals all needed to be carefully managed so that every element was used in the most efficient manner possible. The trouble was that recently, certain newspapers had published articles about elements of the Transportation Industry that they deemed wasteful and archaic, but it was obvious that they were only looking at one or two parts without looking at the whole picture.

    That had been the topic of discussion and Helene had listened to how the various bits fit together. One example had been how with the State control of the River and Canal system they were lucky to break even most years and typically lost money. What had gone unmentioned in the articles was that key industries were dependent upon that system and used it at reduced rates. The Steel Industry for example used coal and limestone, not to mention the ore itself. All materials that were heavy and took up a large amount of space. The most efficient mean of moving those materials were the canals followed by the railroads. Then the finished products needed to be shipped and even the waste products of the Steel Industry had their uses. The slag, mostly silica, was ground up and used as a component in road construction. Those were things needed to be transported cheaply. Then who was the customer who bought those things? Often it was the State who had given that very Industry reduced rates to ship materials.

    There had been example after example of that. Farmers needed water for irrigation and the chemicals that made current crop yields possible, Builders need lumber, brick, and mortar, Bakers needed grain that had been ground into flour. It was an endless list of interlocking Government programs and private corporations. All because people wanted food on their plate, the roads not to have potholes, a roof over their head and didn’t want to pay out the nose for it. The result was the Government doing a careful balancing act involving subsidies and little things like charging below market rates for corporations to use the resources of State Industries. Helene had been reminded that a major part of her role was keeping anyone from disrupting any portion of the network.

    Did that include well meaning, though ultimately foolish people, who would replace portions of that network with newer but less efficient means of transport in the name of saving relatively small amounts of money? Or removed the present redundancy within the system. Helene was under no illusions about what would happen if there were any disruptions to the supply chain, the cost of petrol went up, or any one of a thousand other things.

    In today’s meeting all of that had been discussed at length. Then the conversation had turned to the latest plotting of the Chancellor, about whether or not he was going to call for an early election. Helene knew that he would do it if he thought that he could win an outright majority for his Party, removing the need for Coalition Partners such as Helene’s DEP. The press was already speculating about Red kicking Green to the curb. Which was all she needed at the moment. Sophie Scholl had told Helene that pre-election polling suggested they would finally breakthrough in Bavaria and Saxony was looking good, but she had heard that song before.

    “We managed to clear your schedule for Friday, Ma’am” One of the Secretaries said, and Helene almost asked what exactly was happening. Then she remembered that Manfred was getting awarded an additional medal for his involvement in Argentina and that was when the official ceremony was scheduled. She would be attending with Hans. Missing that would be a political embarrassment even beyond how it would disappoint her son, especially with the role she had played in finally bringing that war to an end. Perhaps being outside the Government for a time would be good for her after all. On the inside, she was expected to play a major role as Minister of Interior and that was eating up all of her time.



    Los Angeles, California

    Lucia was still asleep when Ritchie got home while it was still dark outside. Stephen was wide awake, but in what was an extremely rare event, had not drawn attention to himself. Not yet anyway. So, carrying him into the kitchen and carrying on a one-sided conversation seemed like the best option at the moment.

    “You will never guess how many bad guys your Dad busted last night” Ritchie said to Stevie who was busy blowing drool bubbles, not particularly interested in what was being said. But we all start somewhere, Ritchie thought to himself.

    With that, the two slices of bread he had put in the toaster popped out. Ritchie could have made something better than toast with peanut butter, but that would make a lot of noise and create a mess. He was certain that Lucia would prefer to sleep.

    It the wake of Manny and Suse having to practically sneak out of the country. Ritchie had expected some sort of blowback. All that had happened was that his Superiors wanted to know if he was preparing for the Police Officer 3 exam that was coming up soon. He had not realized that he had already been on the job that long. Word was that the LAPD Brass were almost gleeful that the Feds were currently tied up in knots, with the US Justice Department stepping in and Congress was going to be holding hearings. Who knew what was going to be happening next?
     
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    Part 128, Chapter 2177
  • Chapter Two Thousand One Hundred Seventy-Seven



    11th September 1972

    Tempelhof, Berlin

    The girls had a secret.

    If Kat had to guess, this was mostly Sophie because it was her style to not mention something in the hope that the problem would somehow solve itself if she could stall long enough. Marie Alexandra would have been far more direct. She tended to flaunt whatever it was that was causing the issue and dare Kat to object. The fact that Marie had followed Sophie’s play this time was actually a good thing. She had been encouraging them to act like sisters for ages even if it was them against her in this case.

    The little detail that Kat probably wouldn’t tell Sophie or Marie was that she had watched the two of them along with Franziska going in and out of the garden shed that was up against the back wall of the garage from the window of her office over the last few days. An Anthropologist might have said that it was a part of Human evolution left from when their distant ancestors lived on the African Savana, that people tended to look for threats in their surroundings in a level plain. Most fail to realize that they occasionally needed to look up as well. That was why the girls were unaware that Kat had been observing them the entire time.

    Walking across the back garden, Kat could only marvel at how different it was from the muddy patch of ground that it had been more than a decade and a half earlier. It was a tiny tree shaded patch of forest in the middle of the city. Cheshire was sunning himself atop the back fence the way he did most mornings when the weather was good and the girls were out, like they would be until this afternoon when they got home from school. He watched lazily as Kat opened the shed’s door. There were the expected assortment of gardening implements and a lawnmower. To the side though was an old blanket and half-grown terrier mix puppy staring at Kat with it’s tail wagging. A pair of bowls from the kitchen were there by the door, one empty and the other containing fresh water.

    When Fleur died, Kat had had a long discussion with Doug about whether or not they should get another dog. He had said that it wasn’t up them and that the girls would let them know if they wanted a new one. Kat’s feeling was one she shared with a line that had been in that American television show, when Sam Fenley, played by George Carlin is explaining why an illness that the family dog goes through is so significant he said, “Home is where the dog is.” It seemed that Sophie had somehow happened on a new dog and Kat would need to get the whole story when she came clean, as Sophie inevitably would when she realized that this wasn’t something she could keep secret for much longer.

    As she was giving the puppy a good scratching and having him trying to kiss Kat’s hands as she was doing it, Kat smiled. “If you could tell me what name my girls have given you?” Kat asked, “It would be helpful.”



    Mitte, Berlin

    There were times when Zella wondered what her life was coming to. Every mistake, every misjudgment, and everything else that tended to happen. Being asked to make the announcement for the upcoming festival that everyone had decided to put on in honor of John Elis was a part of that. The trouble was that Zella had been running late for the segment that was going to air on the Evening News and the Producer of the segment had assumed that her wearing the leather jacket and blue jeans was a part of the getup and not her regular street clothes that she hadn’t had a chance to change out of.

    It was in keeping with something that Zella had listened to Kiki complain about for ages. That when you are enough of a public figure, people assume that they know you. It had resulted in Kiki going to considerable lengths to hide a great deal from the public. If only they knew, Zella thought to herself. Some of the things that her friend had done and continued to do regularly would probably blow their minds.

    For Zella, it was how no one seemed to recognize her when she was out riding her motorcycle. Outside the context of seeing her on ARD News reports or in one of her mini documentaries it didn’t compute that she was the same person. Yet, if she went to have lunch with her mother and dressed presentably as her mother insisted that she should when she was around her staff and colleagues at the Berliner she was recognized in seconds.

    That was why Zella had found herself feeling a great deal of reluctance to have this side of herself appear before the camera. It was a part of her that she hadn’t shared with the public. Of course, people would probably assume that it was all a put on like so much of what regularly appeared on television. However, those in the know would inevitably tell others and before you knew there would be one less bit of anonymity for Zella to enjoy. Perhaps, she would need to go find a boat to hide on as well before too much longer.
     
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    Part 128, Chapter 2178
  • Chapter Two Thousand One Hundred Seventy-Eight



    15th September 1972

    Wahlstatt, Silesia

    Their belated return to Wahlstatt had not gone unnoticed. Everyone seemed to have known where they had been and what they had been doing. Niko had enjoyed telling everyone about what he had seen, how it was very different from watching it on television. Bas though, he was deeply annoyed with his youngest sister. Gretchen was totally unrepentant and told Bas to sod off in the Mess Hall the first time he had tried to talk to her about the matter. She had done this in front of the entire school didn’t help matters and she had gone on to tear into Bas using several choice terms that Niko was unaware that Gretchen would have ever been in a position to learn. It was common knowledge that no one messed with Bas unless they were asking to land in a world of hurt. His little sister had done so in the most ruthless manner possible, and he couldn’t retaliate against her in the manner he would have with almost anyone else. At the same time, he was perfectly happy to take out his frustrations on anyone stupid enough to speak ill of Gretchen.

    It all stood as a reminder to Niko of how the Schultz family worked. Even with how much time they spent squabbling with each other, they would close ranks and would go back to it being them against the world in a heartbeat. Niko had already seen that a few times as Bas and Gretchen had put aside their differences and dealt with someone who they found particularly offensive with absolutely shocking speed.

    That also resulted in Gretchen spending most meals with the fourth-year students. Everyone joked about how she needed to have friends her own age, but it was okay because they had needed a mascot. Niko knew that she had friends her own age but liked to be around Niko and Bas whenever she got the chance. However, it was a joke that everyone laughed at.

    The talk had however turned to Frau Pavlichenko. She taught history, but the things they studied were different from years past. There were details that their textbooks overlooked or were not as cut and dry as they had been taught. Rote learning had always been the order of the day, learning dry facts and being able to repeat them on examination, what happened on what date. She wanted them to learn the “why” as well.

    It shouldn’t have come as a surprise that there were a lot of rumors flying around about their new History Teacher. That she had been a Sniper in the Red Army and as a prisoner of war had been a head case who had landed in the University Clinic in Jena, which where many of the worst cases of Traumatic Stress got sent, before joining the Pioneer Corps.

    Niko personally thought that most of those rumors were absurd.

    For starters, during the Soviet War Snipers were seldom captured. Something that was doubly true if they were women. Niko had heard stories about how front-line troops would just tear them to pieces and their Officers would look the other way. As for her getting sent to Jena, if she was that bad off, how had she been allowed to join the Pioneers and teach in Wahlstatt?



    Over the Mid-Atlantic Ocean

    This wasn’t a flight that Kiki wanted to take. As far as she was concerned, her never setting foot again in South America would be better for everyone. Freddy, President Martínez of Argentina, and the Medical Service disagreed with her though. So, here she was on an overnight flight to Buenos Aires. At least they had seated her in First Class, so at least Kiki could be comfortable while she was unable to sleep. Ben was snoring softly in the seat beside her, and she didn’t have the first as to how he could be so comfortable aboard airplanes.

    Instead, she was paging a magazine that had been left in the pouch in back of the seat in front of hers. It was typical tabloid trash, speculation about which actors and actresses were sleeping with each other, who had gotten themselves arrested, and other celebrity drivel. It was fortunate that the tabloid press considered Kiki’s family boring. It was something that got them left alone for the most part these days. After all, outside of the House of Hohenzollern who cared about Kiki’s niece Alex learning to ride a bicycle? Not when there was the latest scandal brewing in England whose Royalty were always a hot mess. Small wonder that Alberta had been so keen on marrying Michael. Prague might not be London, but Birdie seemed to prefer the former to the later. Not that the tabloid press wouldn’t have reason to cover Michael and Birdie in the near future. Kiki had noticed it while they had been in Munich, as Doctor and a woman she had more experience in certain matters than she would have liked. When they had finally gotten a chance to talk, Birdie had told Kiki the truth, but she had also said that she hadn’t known how to tell Michael and had not screwed up the courage yet.

    She had told Birdie not to worry about it and to just say something the first chance she got. If Kiki knew nothing else, it was that her older brother would be over the Moon with the prospect of becoming a father.

    Flipping to another page, Kiki cursed aloud. Earning a stern look from the woman sitting across the aisle from her. It was a recent picture of Nina playing with wooden blocks aboard the Epione, on the floor of the saloon the previous summer. Rauchbier was curled up less than a meter away, ostensibly sleeping, but his ears were perked up as he listened to everyone nearby. He had become extremely protective of Nina, needing little in the way of encouragement by Kiki and it was something that she liked to see.

    As adorable as the picture was. It was part of a batch that was never intended for public consumption but for Kiki’s father. When Kiki got back to Berlin, she would need to have a few strong words with the Office of Royal Protocol over this this matter.
     
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    Part 128, Chapter 2179
  • Chapter Two Thousand One Hundred Seventy-Nine



    16th September 1972

    Tempelhof, Berlin

    It was with great reluctance that Sophie walked across the garden. As much as she hated to say, the situation had proven just how correct Kat had been when she had told Sophie that she wasn’t ready to make adult choices, especially once there were other people involved. Or in this case, a dog involved.

    Sprocket was happy to see Sophie as she opened the garden shed door. He always was. Even when she had first seen him in the pet store, he had been so likable that Sophie had fallen in love with him instantly. He was a mutt that was probably a mix of a dozen or more breeds of terriers and had grown too big to be easily sold by the store’s owner. The owner had been happy to sell Sprocket to Sophie at a steep discount.

    Not for the first time did it occur to Sophie how stupid a move that had been. It had seemed like a good idea. They had lost their dog and even Marie had agreed this it was what they should do. Sophie knew now that she should have seen that as a big red flag. Since when had Marie ever been anything other than impulsive and frivolous? Sophie had paid a portion of the money she had been saving up in hopes of buying a 10-speed racer like the one she had seen in a magazine recently. Naming the pup Sprocket had been a cynical joke about the loss of that particular dream. Then had come all the things that went into maintaining even a little dog like Sprocket which had to be paid for. It wasn’t fair to ask Ziska because he wasn’t her dog and Marie had been reluctant to help. So, it had fallen on Sophie to take care of things and she had been able to do it for the first couple of weeks. Then Sprocket had gotten sick, and Sophie had needed to take him to the Veterinary Clinic for what had turned out to be a minor stomachache. That had consumed the last of Sophie’s money.

    In the days since, Sophie had done everything she could to keep Sprocket fed. Yes, there was food from the kitchen, but she had heard that it was bad for him to eat cooked food. There was also Petia to contend with. Sophie suspected that the Russian woman kept a daily inventory of what was in the refrigerator and cupboards somewhere because she always knew exactly where everything was and how much of it was left.

    Picking up Sprocket, Sophie didn’t know what was going to happen, but she couldn’t keep doing this. “I’m sorry” Sophie whispered to Sprocket who licked her chin as she carried him towards the house. Looking up, Sophie saw the back door swing open and Kat was standing there, her face was expressionless, but her eyes froze Sophie in place.

    “You have something you are ready to tell me Sophie?” Kat asked. The tone of her voice was even, no emotion or surprise. Somehow that made it even more terrible. She knew, or more likely she had known all along what Sophie had been up to.



    Buenos Aires, Argentina

    The band was playing as Kiki entered, which made this all the more embarrassing. The original idea had been that they would arrive in Buenos Aires, Kiki would except this medal and then they would get back on a plane that would take them home without any frills or fanfare. Instead, she was standing there in her Medical Service Dress Uniform, with all the Medals and Orders on it as she was about to be awarded the Argentine National Cross to the Heroic Valour in Combat. This also included Argentine Citizenship with a huge land grant in some odd corner of Patagonia.

    President Martínez had made these plans as he had originally planned this event in July, but Kiki had forced him to reschedule it for September much to the annoyance of Steffi Bader. It seemed like Kiki’s Personal Secretary was always exasperated by something that Kiki had done, but she was extremely well paid to keep her affairs in order and considering how much of a mess Kiki was on any given day, that was a fulltime job. That included making sure that Kiki was on the plane to Argentina this time.

    “You are to let the President pin the medal on and then accept his gratitude on behalf of the People of Argentina” Steffi said, “Just keep to that script, please.”

    It was obvious that Steffi had already had enough unscripted moments on this trip. There had been listening to Kiki’s complaints about the photograph of Nina and Rauchbier getting published when they had stepped off the plane. Then that morning Kiki had run into Che for the first time since he had dropped her off at the German Embassy in La Paz. Later, he had written at length about their journey across the Andes and their attempts to get to safety. She didn’t blame him for doing but wished that the resulting book had not been a best seller. That played a key role in why she was here today.

    Kiki had also learned that the accounts of what had happened at Estancia María had grown with retelling. How she had dispatched a brut Hellbent on rooting out Argentine Patriots as they had fought a guerrilla war against the Chileans. She had then fled across the mountains to lead the Chileans away. The icing on the cake had been that Kiki had unknowingly been five or six months pregnant at the time. Something about all that made her some sort of warrior saint to the Argentinians.

    “La Coronel-Doctora Kristina Alexandra Yekaterina Tatiana von Preussen zu Hohenzollern…” Martínez read aloud to the National Assembly to introduce her by her full name, before he started to read the citation.
     
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    Part 128, Chapter 2180
  • Chapter Two Thousand One Hundred Eighty



    17th September 1972

    Tempelhof, Berlin

    There were some lessons that schools couldn’t teach. Kat thought of this as she watched Sophie Ziska play with Sprocket down in the garden from her office window. It was something that Kiki had wasted a lot of breath over the years when it came to her girls. Kat understood that she was projecting many of her own issues onto the girls under her care. She had certainly talked Peter Holz enough about that over the years. The reality was that actions had consequences, especially for young women and the world was not a very forgiving place.

    For Sophie to get herself in over her head with a puppy was a relatively harmless way to learn that lesson, far better than have that happen in a few years when the stakes were far higher. Of course, she had issues of her own. For the first eight years of her life, anything she had could be taken away with even the thinnest of pretext. Even now, Sophie tended to look with suspicion at anything that was just given to her. She had exhausted her personal resources before she had asked Kat for help, with great reluctance. Sophie had thought that Kat was going to take the puppy away from her, as if Kat, Petia, and Darya had not been keeping a close eye on things and making sure that she properly cared for Sprocket. Kat figured that she would need to find a way to get Sophie to accept the money reimbursing her for the expenses she had incurred. After all, it was obvious that Sprocket had found a home.

    Kat had also learned that Sophie had been saving up for a new bicycle because that was the genesis of Sprocket’s name. That had resulted in a further discussion about what exactly she had been looking at. In this case, a type of bicycle that was a sleek design and was clearly not intended for girls. Kat understood the concept. Decades earlier bicycles had been designed for women because in England they would need to ride while wearing what was deemed acceptable attire. That continued to echo worldwide in what had become a cultural artifact. The sort that Kat had encountered often and understood the need to bull through at times.

    That had left the question of just how Sophie had planned to make such a large purchase? Especially after she had already made one in the form of Sprocket. Kat had a feeling that she wasn’t going to like the answer one bit because while it was the sort of thing that she had encouraged, the resulting actions were not.



    Los Angeles, California

    Ritchie saw the newspaper as he walked into the Convenience Store. They had stopped off to get something to drink after a long Saturday night in Skid Row having drawn the short straw this week. There had been a killing of the sort that was typically deemed to be Community Service and Robbery/Homicide had gone through the motions of starting an investigation. The odds were high that it would go cold unless the suspect fell into RHD’s hands. Of course, the odds of that happening were far higher than you would think. As Ritchie looked over the bottles of fruit juice in the cooler, Mike stopped to read the paper.

    If the Sunday Morning edition of the Los Angeles Times had this story, then it was going to be a massive national story by that evening. Big Mike looked at the headlines with a snort. He had told Ritchie many times what he thought of politicians, particularly those in Parker Center. Still, it was looking like the Republican Party’s 1972 Presidential Candidate was crooked as a barrel of snakes.

    “Governor Agnew implicated in Maryland Kickback Scandal” Mike read the headline aloud, “Get this, Tricky Dick is quoted as saying, America deserves far better than having a President who is a crook.”

    “Then this is a good week to be Nixon” Ritchie replied with a shrug. Last week, as the debate over the whether or not to have debates in October had heated up, Nixon had not looked as great. Because he was currently ahead in the race, Nixon had clearly stated he wasn’t interested. The public had not liked that, and Agnew had basically called Nixon a coward on national television. Then this latest story had dropped. As far as Ritchie was concerned, most of what the President did was Foreign Policy and he had seen firsthand what looked like in places like China and South America, under a few different Administrations. When it came Presidential Politics, Ritchie always thought about which candidate was least likely to get him killed. Between Nixon and Agnew, it was sort of a wash.

    “You have an opinion about this?” Mike asked the Clerk behind the counter. The man didn’t reply, instead he just gave Mike a disinterested look. Ritchie knew the type. The Clerk had seen and heard nearly everything while working this job. He just sold the newspapers and couldn’t care less about what was in them.

    That was when one of the neighborhood’s skells entered the store, took one look at Ritchie and Mike’s uniforms, turned on his heel and left. Mike saw that and chuckled, the Clerk looked annoyed. Ritchie had no idea what the subtext of this situation was, but he had a feeling that the mere presence of them in the store must have interrupted whatever side hustle the Clerk had going.
     
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  • Chapter Two Thousand One Hundred Eighty-One



    29th September 1972

    Mitte, Berlin

    An ancient castle on a lake surrounded by forest. That was how Mathilda had described the school that she had been sent to in her letter to Wulfstan. Mathilda had also described being sent to assist Katherine von Mischner as she had carried out her tasks as a Veterinary Technician. How she had stayed on the vast estate of a man who Mathilda and all the other children called Opa. There had been two boys and three other girls. The two boys; Niko and Bas, had been much older. Mathilda described them being loud and smelly. Two of the girls were her age and one was much younger, still a toddler. There had also been dogs, cats, and horses on the estate. So, she had an enjoyable holiday, now that she knew what a holiday was.

    Those sounded like idyllic places for Mathilda to have landed after all the trouble she had caused early in the summertime. Wulfstan had been able to pass along to their mother that she was being well cared for, even if his father was still being an ass. There were a whole lot of questions raised about just what had been going on with just how they raised Mathilda. Wulfstan’s father being who he was had stonewalled the entire process while his mother insisted that it was all one big misunderstanding.

    Wulfstan struggled to keep his expression blank as he walked the fifteen paces required for him to patrol his post. A few meters away, a handful of tourists who were not deterred by today’s rain watched.

    “He looks like he is hardly out of High School” A woman said to her husband in English with an American Southern accent.

    “He’s a Buck Sergeant” The husband said, “And with those medals it means he’s been in a fight or two.”

    Wulfstan didn’t look at the Americans, but the man had just revealed that he was a either a present or former soldier who was knowledgeable of the Heer’s ranks. That meant that he was potential enemy, it was interesting to know.

    Turning on his heel, Wulfstan marched thirty paces in the other direction. Then he marched back to his post that was mercifully out of the rain and placed the butt of his rifle by his right foot. There was the flash of a camera as he settled in. He knew the damp was going to do a number on his rifle, and that the Oberleutnant had been threatening a weapons inspection. The version of the G44 that the First Foot used while on Guard Duty was similar to that used by the Heer in the field, except it had a blue finish and walnut stock. Both were maintenance heavy. That was why the regular G44 had a pickled manganese phosphate finish and a composite stock as a direct result of the experiences of the Second World War.

    The other complaint that Wulfstan had was that the wool cap worn by the Enlisted of the First foot didn’t have a visor, so it didn’t do anything to keep the rain out of your face. Still, it was a whole lot better than some of the hats that the old-timers in the Regiment said they had worn in past. Even if you felt like you were wearing a sodden sock on your head, at least it didn’t weigh much.



    Plänterwald, Berlin

    It was her brother who had authorized the release of the family photographs, much to Kiki’s annoyance. “I want people to see us as human, Kiki” Freddy said, “Not remote figures living in ivory towers and a picture of my niece, your daughter, with the family dog is very relatable.” While that did make sense, Kiki wished he had asked first.

    Kiki had had plenty of time to think about these things since they had returned from Argentina. With Autumn settling in, it was time to put the Epione into storage and move into the cottage near the Winter Residence in Plänterwald. While Kiki had taken an assignment as a Surgeon in the Emergency Department of the University Hospital in Tempelhof, Ben had finally knuckled down and was writing his manuscript about his experiences in Korea and Argentina after months of procrastinating. Living here also came with having Nella and Nan around all the time. This time though, they were joined by Mirai and Alexandrine, so the common room of Kiki’s cottage felt very crowded at times.

    This afternoon though, Kiki’s younger sisters and nieces hadn’t come home from school yet, so she was enjoying a bit of peace, listening to the rain drumming on the roof of the cottage. Weisse, Nella and Nan’s dog and part of the Swabian Windhund project and whose sire was Rauchbier, was here because he got lonely when the girls weren’t around. Having him here to play with Rauchbier was a joy, even if they were sleeping in front of the fireplace enjoying the warmth from the coal burning in the grate. Nina had been playing on the floor with Kiki keeping an eye on her. She had debated taking her upstairs for her afternoon nap, but Nina had snuggled up with the two dogs and had fallen asleep there too. So, Kiki just sat on the sofa and sipped her tea. Happy that her daughter had two overly friendly dogs to enjoy the day with.
     
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  • Chapter Two Thousand One Hundred Eighty-Two



    2nd October 1972

    Tempelhof, Berlin

    This was Kat’s idea for how Sophie could “earn” her money back as well as enough to buy the bicycle she wanted. Spending almost every afternoon enjoying awkward moments as she helped Aunt Marcella go about her afternoon routine. She had gotten to know Marcella fairly well over the last five years. How the elderly woman was stubbornly clinging to her independence despite failing health. It was Kat’s hope that she would accept help from Sophie because she was family as it were. Sophie had pointed out that she wasn’t actually family, but Kat had told her that hardly mattered to Marcella.

    Standing in the kitchen Marcella’s small flat, Sophie was reminded of that as she watched the elderly women seated around the table. Three of them were playing a game of skat with the others watching. The conversation was animated with the topics mostly being gossip or whatever their children and grandchildren were up to. The tenants of this building were not allowed to be under the age of sixty, so they had a whole lot to talk about. Sophie found herself being run all over the building so that she could keep the drinks flowing and food on the plates.

    “And just who are you?” Sophie was asked and she tried to think of an answer.

    “Sophie is one of Katie’s girls” Marcella answered for her.

    “Another of the Tigress’ cubs then” Another voice replied, “There are what, a dozen or more of them?”

    “You know that Katie hates it when people call her that” Marcella snapped, “And she takes in these girls because she sees something special in them as well as a bit of herself. Sophie has had a rough start and was hurt by those she should have been able to trust. Sound familiar?”

    That gave Marcella’s questioner pause. Sophie didn’t get it though. She knew that there was nothing about her that was special.

    “She also loves animals like Han’s little girl” Marcella concluded.

    It took a second to remember that Han’s little girl was Ina, who was in her twenties.

    “I don’t love animals quite like that” Sophie said, she was aware that with Ina it was practically a lifestyle choice. “I just have my dog Sprocket.”

    For some reason they all found that funny.



    Danzig

    For Louis Ferdinand Junior it was odd to see how the Marine Sentries snapped to attention when he approached the gangplank of the 1970 Class Corvette SMS K24. She was so new that she hadn’t been given an unofficial name by her crew. Her construction had started prior to the Chilean Argentine War, but the plans had been radically changed because of it. Originally designed as a fast U-Boat hunter that would fill the gap between the smaller, less capable, Torpedo Boats and the larger Destroyers after a need for a far more effective counter to the Russian and American Submarine Fleets was recognized. Things had changed due to wartime experience and months spent trying to enforce the blockade off Chile. There was a pressing need for a craft with the range and speed to operate in distant waters as well as the ability to engage surface and aerial targets, that was reflected in the armament. Also, the value of operating closely with other surface units had been reinforced which had led directly to improvements in her communications array. There had also been substantial upgrades to the radar and fire control while she had still been in the slip, basically requiring a refit of those systems before K24 had even been launched.

    Louis remembered how devastating the “Battleship Lines” had been with a dozen or more Destroyers and Torpedo Boats launching raids on facilities near the shore. In a place like Chile, nearly everything had been within range of their guns in the area of operations. 12.8- and 10.5-centimeter rapid fire guns did a great job of tearing up the landscape relatively cheaply. K24 had a single turret with a 12.8-centimeter gun on the bow deck. Z66 Schwertwal had mounted six of those, but the old Destroyer had been built in a different time. Back in 1949, when the Schwertwal had been laid down, the technology behind guided missiles, advanced fire control systems, and radar had been in their infancy, the capabilities they would later enjoy had been the stuff of Science Fiction. Louis remembered when the guns were fired all the sensitive computers would often be knocked offline and the crew would be left scrambling to get those systems fixed before it became an issue.

    The other feature that wasn’t so obvious was one that Louis had only read about. K24 used Daimler-Benz turboshaft engines, a controversial move by the Navy. They had been using steam driven geared turbines for decades and there had been a time when those had been just as controversial. So, Louis was going to withhold judgement until he saw how the new engines performed after they put out to sea. Louis had a single suitcase and a garment bag to drop off in his quarters, the remainder was due to arrive later that afternoon. For lack of anything better to do, he decided to take a look around.

    “Captain on Deck!” One of the Sailors shouted as he entered the multipurpose room that was currently the enlisted mess. The other Sailors paused what they were doing and snapped to attention. It took a second for Louis to remember that they were talking about him.

    There was however one very notable exception.

    “Well, look at what the cat coughed up” Borchardt stage whispered as Louis came near. He was the Deckoffizier who Louis had served with aboard Fast Gunboat 12, dubbed Windhund when they had been trying unsuccessfully to keep the war on the Adriatic Sea from escalating. Now, six years later, they were back serving on the same ship with Louis in command. Despite his outward appearance of doing everything correctly when a new Captain came aboard, there was a subtle insolence that he had practiced since he was one of the Junior Enlisted some three decades earlier.

    “If you could come with me Oberdeckoffizier Borchardt as I get to know the ship” Louis said, “It would be helpful.”

    With that, Borchardt gave him an evil grin as he fell into step with Louis. There were few things that a Senior Petty Officer or a Warrant Officer like him liked more than the ship having a Captain that he already had an “in” with.

    “Welcome aboard, Sir” Borchardt said, “Though having you in charge of this tub means that we ought to have an exciting time.”

    “You say that like I’ve not seen what happens when you get bored” Louis replied, “Now what can you tell me about the Executive Officer ahead of his introduction?”
     
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  • Chapter Two Thousand One Hundred Eighty-Three



    14th October 1972

    Danzig

    SMS K24 was ready to begin her active commission in the Atlantic Fleet, but before that could truly happen there was one key thing that had to be done before they could set out on their first cruise. Tradition demanded that the crew of a Light Unit settle on an informal name for the ship beyond the Hull Number.

    It was one of the few things in the Navy that could be considered democratic in nature. Everyone put forth their ideas and it was put to a vote after much debate. Then the process repeated itself until a consensus emerged. Normally, the Captain just observed, he could however make suggestions of his own. Occasionally, he needed to play the role of referee in the event that the debate between two factions grew too heated. That was the roll that Louis found himself as he presided over the meeting of the Ship’s Company, all one hundred and forty of them, that was taking place on the helicopter pad located on the fantail. Just the fact that he now commanded a ship large enough to have a helicopter pad and a hanger for a small reconnaissance helicopter spoke volumes. As the debate continued, drink flowed freely, and it had a partylike atmosphere despite the seriousness of the matter.

    The importance of this went beyond a mere name. It was how the crew would take ownership of K24 to a degree. It would be embroidered on their caps so that everyone would know which ship was theirs while they were on liberty and if a crisis situation arose and they acquitted themselves well, it would be the name that would appear in the papers back home and be read aloud in a dispatch before the Reichstag. If the name grew legendary enough, there was a chance that the crew would be honored by having it added to the registry beside the hull number.

    There were a few men in the crew who had been with Louis in the Adriatic who argued that the name Windhund had been lucky for them, and they had the same Captain. Another faction was arguing that name had not only already been done but had grown in popularity in the years since Louis’ crew had used it in the Mediterranean. They had coalesced around the name Grindwal. Louis understood the reason for that selection. K24 was relatively small and fast, just like the whales in question. They were a common sight throughout the North Atlantic and had even been dubbed “Leopards of the Deep” by those who observed them. Louis had taken a glance through the binder that had the pages listing the unofficial names of light units. There had been several prior ships with the name Grindwal, the last one being Minesweeper R284, who had run aground near Pøl Strand a few years earlier.



    Plänterwald, Berlin

    The rabbit cut sharply to the right, neatly avoiding Blue. It was hardly a surprise. Blue had spent her life as a pampered house-pet, so while hunting came naturally to her like most of her breed, she didn’t have a great deal of skill in it. Rauchbier had spent a lot of time coursing and ferreting though, so he had hung back slightly and when the rabbit made the sharp turn he put on a burst of speed and cut inside it. Kiki heard the screaming sound that rabbits make before Rauchbier shook his head and the noise cut off abruptly.

    Rauchbier looked rather pleased with himself as he brought the rabbit back to Kiki who had been observing. Blue followed closely on his heels. They had been playing, in the getting to know you sort of way, when the serious business of chasing rabbits had come up. It was obvious to Kiki that Blue had just learned a great deal from this incident. Her owner though, a middle-aged woman named Bianka, she looked like she was about to be sick. To her, Blue and Rauchbier were sweet loveable dogs. The thought about what exactly they had been bred to do had never entered her thinking until she found herself confronted with it. She looked relieved when Kiki shoved the rabbit into a bag so that it would be out of sight, though she probably wouldn’t be thrilled to learn that it would be Rauchbier’s supper later that afternoon.

    “The Groundskeeper will be happy that Smoke finally got that one” Kiki said as she walked across the vast meadow that surrounded the Winter Residence.

    “He does that regularly?” Bianka asked.

    “If I let him” Kiki replied, “Normally, he likes ball on a rope if I can throw it far enough.”

    Bianka seemed relieved to hear that. It was something that she would regard as normal.

    “Good boy” Kiki said as she gave Rauchbier a scratching. He then ran off with Blue chasing after him.

    Kiki gave the Blue an appraising look. She had the long lean body of a Whippet as well as similar markings to Rauchbier except she had beautiful grey-blue & white fur where Rauchbier was black & white. Her family tree was heavily documented going back generations. Bianka’s interest was that Rauchbier not only had an excellent pedigree, but he also had the cachet of being a dog belonging to a Member of the House of Hohenzollern. So, Bianka was offering Kiki a generous stud fee. Kiki wasn’t about to say so, but she would let it happen for free if any of Rauchbier’s offspring looked like Blue. Of course, with a social climber like Bianka nothing could ever be that simple, so Kiki involved herself with the protracted negotiations.

    Besides, it would be nice to have an adult conversation over tea, Kiki thought to herself. Spending all of her spare time with Nina was nice, but the prior winter she had found herself only interacting with her infant daughter or dog for weeks at a time. It was a pattern she didn’t want to repeat.
     
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  • Chapter Two Thousand One Hundred Eighty-Four



    20th October 1972

    Baltic Sea, off Bornholm

    It was a rare, nice autumn day on the Baltic, though there were dark clouds visible on the western horizon. That meant that the ship might get tossed around a bit before they made port in Kiel.

    SMS K24, newly named Grindwal by her crew, was racing west at two-thirds speed ahead. Louis was tempted to order them to flank speed, but the crew was still getting to know her habits. That included getting to know just what would stress the Grindwal’s engines over the course of a nine-hundred-kilometer voyage. So far though, the Grindwal was like a dream as they made good time on the journey from Danzig to Wilhelmshaven. Louis had spent as much time as he could on the bridge just enjoying it. His understanding was that once they joined the Atlantic Division of the High Seas Fleet, they would be spending a great deal of time training for their primary mission. That would involve a great deal of plodding around hunting for errant submarines in the North Atlantic. Louis remembered how the old American Destroyer, the USS Blue, had not minded a break from that mission to keep an eye on what he was doing. Last Louis had heard the Blue had been decommissioned and her Captain, Jimmy Carter, had taken command of a different ship based out of San Diego. He knew that it would be nice to run into Carter again. Despite his being tasked with spying on Louis, the American Captain was someone who hadn’t allowed national or professional rivalries to get in the way of friendship.

    Looking out at Bornholm, Louis was reminded of the speculation about his sister’s involvement with Lars Vangsgaard over the last year. There was a bit of confusion for the tabloids as a result. They had wrongly assumed that Rea was gay for years, mostly it was because as an adult she was far worse than Kiki as far as not looking like anyone’s idea of a Princess. She preferred men’s suits and wore her hair cut short, not because she was a lesbian but because she liked to be practical. Rea also considered her role as the Queen of Galicia-Ruthenia to be a complete load of manure. So, her taking up with a fake Prince was perfectly in keeping with that.

    The truth was that Louis considered almost all Titles of Nobility to be fake to a greater or lesser degree, not just the one that his younger sister had found herself in. His role as a Ship’s Captain, couldn’t be more different. He had earned it over the twelve years he had spent in the Academy or at Sea and the Navy made a point of not playing favorites. Receiving a position because of who your great, great grandfather had been, wasn’t nearly as tangible. There were exceptions, those like Kiki’s husband who had earned his title behind the controls of an airplane. Most of the Princes, Dukes, and other Grand Poohbahs he had met were people who he figured couldn’t manage to wash dishes for a living much less fly a fighter-bomber.



    Tempelhof, Berlin

    All of Aunt Marcella’s friends were elsewhere this afternoon. It was much to Sophie’s relief, not that she could enjoy the quiet too much. She had her studies spread out on the kitchen table and it was a source of increasing frustration for her. She had always found school to be easier than the rest of her life. This year though, things had grown more difficult as her school’s stated aim was to challenge her. The trouble was that she had several teachers who had taken that to heart. It had left Sophie feeling like she was treading water with just getting passing grades.

    “Why don’t you take a break from that” Marcella suggested as she sat down across the table.

    “And do what?” Sophie asked.

    “Tea” Marcella replied, “A chance to talk for a few minutes.”

    Sophie noticed that Marcella had put out a plate with biscuits on it as well as a pair of teacups. It seemed that she was really taking this seriously and she owed her to take part.

    Sophie put her books and papers aside as Marcella poured them tea. It was bitter, but Marcella seemed to like it. Tea was one of those things that adults liked, but left Sophie cold.

    “Katie told me that she is paying to come here” Marcella said, “I find it a bit odd because she would just give you the money if you asked.”

    “Why would I ask for money?” Sophie asked in reply.

    “Because you are a thirteen-year-old” Marcella replied, “Most girls your age always have their hand out.”

    The memory that came immediately to Sophie’s mind was of her mouth filling with blood as her lip swelled. She had asked for money, she couldn’t remember what it had been for, but she had been hit for having asked.

    “I would never do that” Sophie said.

    “I know” Marcella replied, “That is why Katie worries about you, she knows you don’t trust her. That really does bother her.”

    That gave Sophie pause. She was unaware that Kat did anything more than keep an eye on what she was doing and providing a roof over her head. Kat worrying about her seemed unlikely.

    “Why?” Sophie asked.

    “Because she welcomed you into her house and made you a part of her family” Marcella replied, “Part of being a mother is worrying over your daughters as they reach a certain age where they are no longer children anymore.”

    Marcella paused for a moment.

    “Or at least that is how it should be” Marcella continued, “Katie isn’t like that other woman, not at all.”
     
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  • Chapter Two Thousand One Hundred Eighty-Five



    26th October 1972

    Tempelhof, Berlin

    Kat really wished that Aunt Marcella had not been quite so frank with Sophie. It was Marcella’s style to bring things to a head, take it on directly, but telling Sophie that Kat was aware of how Sophie didn’t trust her had taken things a bit far. Marcella’s thinking was that it had been five years and a teenaged girl who was afraid to talk to anyone was an accident waiting to happen. Kat supposed that Aunt Marcella probably had a lot of experience when it came to matters like this. Kat had hardly spoken to anyone for a long time, right up until Helene and Gerta entered her life. Sophie had her friend Ziska, but Kat suspected that it wasn’t enough and as she had drawn increasingly inward over recent months Kat was increasingly worried. Then Marcella had decided that direct action was needed.

    For Kat, her domestic concerns were a diversion from what was going on in the wider city. She was getting static regarding a Rock & Roll festival that Zella Holz and Sarah Schmidt were planning in honor of the deceased owner of the V8 Club next spring. The club’s stock as a concert venue had skyrocketed once word about who had owned it had gotten out. It was an understatement to say that the entirety of the German Government did not like the situation that had arose. Not even Kat had all the details, but it had all the hallmarks of the sort of convoluted scheming of Johann Schultz or Jacob Schmidt when it all went sideways. She had been dealing with this nonsense since she was fifteen and not even those two men being dead seemed to have brought that nonsense to a stop.

    Turning her chair, Kat looked down into the garden. Sophie was doing what she did most afternoons and was playing with sprocket. The little dog would chase a ball until he fell over from exhaustion and he was doing his level best to do that. Sophie paused what she was doing, then turned and looked up at the window. It seemed that she had figured out how Kat had been observing her unseen. No one had ever accused Sophie of being stupid.



    Washington D.C.

    The media surrounding that German Prince was intense and it was setting off the analysts in the basement of the Pentagon. It seemed that his ship, SMS K24 “Grindwal” the German name for Pilot Whale was of a new series of Corvettes and Destroyers that were the current annoyance of the US Navy. In their thinking, the other side had gotten a few new toys, so they needed more. K24 had a new revolutionary form of propulsion, and even though the Navy had ships with a similar arrangement as paper projects at that very moment and would probably start construction as soon as possible, they were leaning on Members of Congress to get it done sooner. Like if the House or Senate needed an excuse to throw money at the Military.

    As an outgoing President, Rockefeller was personally debating vetoing the Defense Budget. He knew full well that it would be overridden in a heartbeat, but he had grown tired of what he had seen over the prior eight years. Massive waste, greed, Congress pushing for favored projects whether the Military asked for them or not. There had also been demands that the Nuclear Stockpile be increased beyond the deterrence that it was limited to by International treaties. Finally, there had been the clusterfucks in Chile or China where an American Allies had gotten pasted, but not before American Industry had made out like bandits. Rockefeller had concluded that he had gotten rolled in the entire Chilian matter when he considered who the actual big winners had been.

    The CIA was also never interested in how Margaretta de Roumanie, the Romanian Princess who had apparently taken some time away from studying at the School of Fine Arts in Paris to meet socially with Louis Ferdinand Junior. It was the sort of thing that the tabloids lived for because it sold a million trashy newspapers. Despite these people no longer being the heads of Government in their respective nations, they still played a key role in the balance of power. If Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia became King Louis of Romania, which was what was being speculated about, then it would affect the balance of power in Eastern Europe. The Tsar of Russia and Emperor of Greece were both Louis Ferdinand’s cousins and the CIA knew that this would expand the influence of House of Hohenzollern in an area where they already had a huge amount of influence. Being able to be as oblivious as most people to the complexities of a part of the world that most Americans had never heard of was something that he was starting to envy.

    Finally, there was his own Party who was openly courting people who Rockefeller felt belonged in prison. Those who had loaded the guns during the Truman Administration as it were. They hated Nixon and when asked they just repeated incomprehensible nonsense about Augustus Lang and Martin King, a man who few on this side of the Atlantic knew much about and a man who had vanished, probably killed by the Klan, after becoming the scapegoat for a generation of violence. The FBI had not needed to have told Rockefeller that it was code speak because they were embarrassed by who they were pandering to, but not too embarrassed about receiving their votes.
     
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  • Chapter Two Thousand One Hundred Eighty-Six



    8th November 1972

    Los Angeles, California

    The headline in the Los Angeles Times Early Edition had Nixon Wins in Landslide Victory emblazoned across the front page. Hardly a surprise, once Agnew had gotten caught with his hand in the proverbial cookie jar it was pretty much over. Nixon had even made a point of making a campaign stop in Maryland in the last days before the election as a way of rubbing salt into that particular wound. Lucia had been watching the election returns on television when Ritchie had been getting ready for work that night. By the time he had walked out the door Richard Nixon had already been giving his victory speech.

    “So, we got a new President and a new Governor in Sacramento now that Nixon is gone” Mike said looking at the paper as they had the car parked and were watching an afterhours club in the Arts District that was doing brisk business despite the flagrantly illegal nature of the establishment. They had been told just to keep an eye on the place. While Vice was apparently planning to shut the place down sometime in the near future, Intelligence was actually living up to its name for once and finding out where the “party favors” served up in this particular establishment had come first. The trouble was that drugs followed money and from what Ritchie had observed there was a lot it, if the sort of people who came and went from the club were anything to judge by.

    “It just means that the Lieutenant Governor moves up a slot” Ritchie replied, “We all know who Pat Brown is”

    Mike chuckled at that.

    “Mister Green Beret Hero Cop who doesn’t care about politics but has met all the politicians personally” Mike said, “Here in California anyway. Talked to Tricky Dick since he became President Elect?”

    “I only met them once and that was after Roosevelt High” Ritchie replied.

    “Hell of a thing to put you on the radar” Mike said, “Putting a stop to that before anyone else died.”

    “You were right there with me if I recall” Ritchie said.

    Mike had been there and had been more than happy benefit from being on the scene. While they had both received a Medal of Valor for what they had done, it was Ritchie who had gotten most of the headlines. There had also been the matter of him wearing a Flak vest that was German Police issue that was lightyears better than anything the Department had up to that point. It had saved Ritchie from serious injury during that incident. The investigation had concluded correctly that the vest, as well as its replacement, had been a gift from Kristina von Preussen. They had also noticed that she was above regular Law and Politics in Germany. When Ritchie thought that; it occurred to him that not even God could help the Cop who busted the Kaiser’s little sister if he got anything wrong.

    Since then, the Department had been mulling requiring similar vests be worn by all Officers in uniform. It had gone so far that the German Corporation that Ritchie’s vest had acquired an American partner in the manufacture of their products. They had to know that events in California tended to set the tone for the rest of the country. Still, it wasn’t without controversy. Some Officers on the Force believed that wearing armor was unmanly or something. As if anyone would care if you were a wuss as they were arranging your funeral. Ritchie had worn a Flak vest the entire time he was in the Army and no one with any sanity called someone in the Special Forces something like that.

    “Yeah, I was there” Mike said, “Clair gave me holy Hell for doing that. Am I trying to leave our kids without a father?”

    “She didn’t mind the all-expense paid vacation out to the Chanel Islands” Ritchie replied.

    “No, she didn’t mind” Mike said, “Almost enough to try for a slot in the Hat Squad though, they mostly show up after whatever it is that happened has already happened. They also work regular hours, which Clair would also like.”

    “That would take some doing” Ritchie replied, “RHD is rather choosy.”

    Ritchie knew that if Big Mike wanted into Robbery Homicide after passing the Detective’s exam, he would probably get it. But would Mike be willing to play the role of the heavy? It was something that they would inevitably want him to be.

    “I know, but even if they have me investigating bicycle theft in the Valley it would be worth it to avoid marital strife” Mike said.

    “I don’t know” Ritchie said, “Those kids in the San Fernando Valley are tough customers, especially the bicycle thieves.”

    “Until they run off to join the Army?” Mike asked with a smile.

    “I plead the Fifth” Ritchie replied.

    “You would” Mike said, “But what are you gonna say at the Scott trial?”

    Mike had just brought the conversation back to the Roosevelt High shooting. The Lawyers were still wrangling over motions about what would be allowed in the trail. Both the defense and the prosecution were taking their sweet old time going about it, it wasn’t as if Dicky Scott, the defendant, was going anywhere other than the cell in the County Jail where he had been for months. The defense knew that the case was a stinker but were making as much noise as they could in the hope that something would shake out if they could play for enough time. They were aiming for their client to spend the rest of his life in a place like Folsom or Chino, avoiding San Quinton with its gas chamber. When it got to trial Ritchie and Mike were going to be called as key witnesses.
     
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  • Chapter Two Thousand One Hundred Eighty-Seven



    18th November 1972

    Tempelhof, Berlin

    “Then he told me that if I refrained from reporting this injury to the Police it would be mutually beneficial to both our Governments” Kiki said to Kat as she told the story about how an old friend had turned up in the Emergency Department. “That was when I called you.”

    “I see” Kat replied as they walked through the expansive open ward. It had been a few years since Kat had last been in a Hospital’s Emergency Department, but they still looked and smelled the same. Blue-green and white linoleum tile floors, matching walls and curtains, chrome fixtures, and the overpowering smell of disinfectant.

    “Did you promise him anything?” Kat asked.

    “Of course, not” Kiki replied as they rounded a corner and saw Cosimo de’ Medici laying on his stomach on an examination table in a cubical. A sheet was thrown over his backside to preserve a bit of his dignity and he was talking to a young Nurse.

    Kiki had laid it out in Medical jargon exactly where Cosimo had been shot, how it was a superficial wound caused by what looked like a small caliber handgun. Basically, it meant that Cosimo had gotten himself shot in the ass and Kiki had dug what looked like a jacketed 7.65mm slug out of the muscle. He was incredibly lucky that whoever had been shooting at him wasn’t using anything more powerful.

    “Looking lovely as always Katherine” Cosimo said as soon as he saw Kat approach like if they were in a Paris Saloon. “I was just entertaining Dora here.”

    The Nurse had obviously been taken in by the silver-tongued rogue, despite the fact that he was old enough to be her grandfather. It only took a look from Kat to get her to find something better to be doing elsewhere.

    “A good day to you Herr de’ Medici” Dora said quickly before she fled.

    “A pity” Cosimo said as Dora vanished, “She is a wonderful girl, such a shame that you had to be yourself Katherine.”

    “You are far too old to be playing these games” Kat replied, in a tone that suggested that ice wouldn’t melt in her mouth.

    “You sound just like my wife” Cosimo said.

    “Perhaps you ought to listen for once” Kat said, “Play the Handler for once as opposed to the Agent.”

    “Says the woman who carved out a Principality for herself” Cosimo said, “Retirement in this field sucks in case you haven’t noticed Katherine, not everyone has been as fortunate as you. Houses, cars, wives, and mistresses who demand a certain lifestyle. And daughters, don’t get me started about them, they will bankrupt you in a heartbeat.”

    “What about your sons?” Kiki asked, “They must surely cost you money.”

    “My eldest and namesake, Cosimo is going to University. He wants to be a Lawyer, the Prime Minister of Italy or the Mayor of Florence depending on what day it is.” Cosimo replied, “Cesare is in the Army on a self-funding vacation to Rhodes. Neither of them currently costs me anything.”

    Kat figured that bringing up how according to reports she had seen a substantial portion of the Italian Army and Navy were based in Rhodes to discourage the Greeks from grabbing it would annoy Cosimo. The matter was currently under arbitration in the League of Nations, but both sides were so firmly dug in that it would not be settled for a long time. The odds of Cesare de’ Medici being there if he was in the Italian Army was rather high. Finding out that there was another Cosimo de’ Medici out there who had political ambitions. That was a scary development. What Cosimo had said though, the people involved in the games that International rivals played with each other often were left with nothing after they grew too old to play their part. Kat was also aware that Cosimo was exaggerating somewhat about the expense presented by his “Daughters” because she knew that he only had one who was still a child and he’d had her with his mistress.

    “Perhaps you should talk to Umberto about a Title with land and a pension. That is how we reward men in your position in Germany and you have always been one of your King’s favorites” Kat said, “Surely you would enjoy playing the role of the Country Squire on an estate in the Tuscan Countryside.”

    Cosimo gave Kat a sour look. “Umberto has always been a friend, nothing more” He said firmly, perfectly aware of the inadvertent comedy of his situation. He had been a friend of the Italian King for decades with Umberto somehow becoming aware of Cosimo talents as a fixer on the streets of Florence and hiring him to work for the throne. It was something that Cosimo had done for the last four decades. That included keeping quiet the rumors of Umberto preferring the company of his fellow man.

    “Regardless” Kat said, “Kiki is going to need to report this to the Police, Hospital policy that not even she can get out of.”

    “I told her that we can work out a deal” Cosimo said indignantly, “This whole thing is supposed to be hush-hush.”

    “Bullet wounds are anything but hush-hush” Kat said, “We should just say that you were shot while fleeing from a jealous husband. Anyone who knows you would hardly bat an eye over that, and I doubt that the police will pursue the matter too far.”

    “Works for me” Kiki said, and she started filling out the paperwork, humming to herself.

    “In the meantime,” Kat said to Cosimo, “We get to figure out how to solve your money problems in a way that doesn’t involve you dodging bullets into your eighties.”
     
    Part 129, Chapter 2188
  • Chapter Two Thousand One Hundred Eighty-Eight



    19th November 1972

    Plänterwald, Berlin

    “I don’t think I need to tell you about things that sound too good to be true” Kat said to Freddy who nodded.

    Kat had rarely taken on the role that she had occupied with his parents these days. He figured that between playing the role of Prefect of Berlin and her own life, she had little time to pay much attention beyond what was pressing at right that moment. Still, he remembered listening in on the briefings that she used to give his mother. Often there had been insights and connections that had emerged in those conversations that might have eluded the Annalists in the BND. Kat tended to look at things in a more practical way as opposed to manner of the BND which almost reminded Freddy of the box scores in the Newspaper Sports pages. Having her here to explain this latest odd development was a reminder of that.

    Her Italian Counterpart had gotten himself into a jam here in Berlin. While he wasn’t about to sell out his own country, he was willing to trade information about the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean for Kat’s assistance. It seemed that the Greeks had been busy with their plans to push the Italians and the British out of what they regarded as their sphere of influence. It was easy to see why an Italian Agent would be perfectly happy to pass that information along to Germany. Suddenly, Freddy was reminded of Otto von Bismarck’s choice words about the Balkans came to mind. It was no accident that the Greeks, with backing of their Russian friends, chose this moment to act. The idea of the Heer deploying in a new conflict was about as popular as venereal disease with the German public at this time. The Italian had possibly given them enough of an advanced warning to head this off on the diplomatic front.

    “This man, is he really a member of the Medici family?” Freddy asked.

    “Like anything else about Cosimo it needs to be taken with a grain of salt” Kat replied, “I have known him for twenty years and it is difficult to sort out what is real from what isn’t.”

    “You are suggesting that he might be for real?”

    “He claims that he is descended from the original Medici family, that after they lost their banking fortune they faded from history” Kat replied, “But for what he says to be true he would need to be descended from the Patriarchal line, considered extinct for the last two hundred years. It is certainly possible that he is a part of that line to the same extent that at least half of Tuscany must be.”

    “Or he could be someone who assumed a name for his own reasons?” Freddy asked, “Paul Mueller for example.”

    Kat’s expression never changed. Freddy had assumed that he would see some sort of reaction since he had learned that little tidbit.

    “I would suggest that you forget that you ever heard that name” Kat replied, “And please, never mention it in my presence again.”



    North Sea, off Scotland

    Having Admiral Reinhard Hardegen aboard had changed things radically. He was the head of the High Seas Fleet’s Submarine Service and somehow that included the Division of surface ships that SMS K24 Grindwal was a part of. He wanted to see for himself the latest equipment used to hunt the craft that had long been his specialty. He had been content to watch the crew of the Grindwal going about their training exercises until he got bored and ordered Louis to go where some real action was. It had taken a few minutes for him to realize what the Admiral was asking for until he had found himself looking at a map of the North Sea and Hardegen saying that Louis needed to live up to his reputation of having the balls to be a proper Captain.

    That was how they had found themselves off Scotland. Carefully staying in International waters but close enough to the Firth of Forth to catch the British Royal Navy’s Subs coming or going. If any of them were careless enough to be on the surface, Hardegen had told everyone that he wanted a picture of that for his office wall.

    That was why they were here. The crew in the Command-and-Control section were glued to their equipment. Listening for the faint sounds of a submarine trying to sneak past them and the newest bit of gear, the array designed to detect the metal of the hull was being towed a couple a couple hundred meters behind the Grindwal, far enough away to avoid interference by the Corvette’s own steel hull.

    Over the last couple of hours Louis had been informed that they had repeatedly been painted by shore-based radar. That meant that the Brits knew that he was here and the ghostly figures he saw through the fog were the right size and shape to be the Destroyers sent out to chase him off should he cross the line into their territorial waters.

    It was that moment when they got approached by a helicopter painted in British Fleet Air Arm colors. As it hovered a few hundred meters away, Louis saw that the crew on the deck were making obscene gestures as the men on the helicopter were doubtlessly taking photographs of the Grindwal.

    “This is how you turn them into a crew, Herr von Preussen” Hardegen said, “Your men will be bragging about this to anyone who will listen once we get back to the Jade.”

    Up until that moment, Louis had though that the Admiral was showboating.
     
    Part 129, Chapter 2189
  • Chapter Two Thousand One Hundred Eighty-Nine



    25th November 1972

    Mitte, Berlin

    It was poor day for this sort of thing. It had been cold and rainy, with the threat of snow that evening, Kat had tried unsuccessfully to have this event moved indoors, but the City Government had wanted this event to be witnessed by as many people as was possible. At least this was a distraction from the complications of her life at home and what she had needed to offer Cosimo de’ Medici to secure his dubious cooperation.

    At least the rain was holding off for the moment.

    As the Prefect of Berlin, Kat was considered the Heir of a line that went back to Albrecht the Bear, the semi-legendary founder of the city in the Twelfth Century. His standard of a black bear still adorned the City Flag of Berlin. The bear appeared on one side of the Berliner Verdienstorden, the medal that Kat was supposed to present this afternoon. On the other side was an image of Berolina, the Goddess of the City. The Merit medal itself was a gold heptagram on a red and white ribbon and came in several different grades. There was another medal that the City Government had authorized, the Orden der Tigerin. In her role as Grand Mistress, Kat had made the criteria to get an Order of the Tigress extraordinarily difficult and had no plans to present one to anyone. She wasn’t so fortunate with the BV medal. The City Government set the criteria and had a list of the inductees who Kat was supposed to present medals to today.

    In the days since her conversation with Freddy, Kat had been bothered by what she perceived at her own behaviors which were echoes of her father. Having Freddy, of all people, bringing up the name Paul Mueller was not a welcome development. Especially because once you knew that name it was short step to learn the rest and everything would become unraveled.

    Years earlier, Kat had stumbled across Parrish records in Troisdorf in her search of her own origins. The half of her own family she didn’t know. What she had found was the identity of Paul Mueller and the story of how he had run off to join the Klondike Gold Rush, never to return. The same man apparently returned to Germany years later and for reasons that Kat had come to understand far too well, had joined the Heer under the name Otto Mischner at the start of the First World War.

    While Kat found no evidence that her father had ever made it to Alaska, she had found evidence that he had crisscrossed the United States and wherever he went death and mayhem had followed. The same tactics he had used to gain power in Germany had been perfected in America. Strike swiftly and brutally, leave no witnesses. Then there were the other things he had been rumored to have done… Making sure that he kept the receipts of those in power whose vices he catered to so they feared moving against him would result in their exposure was a later innovation.

    By the time she had made it to America, her father’s actions were the stories children whispered to each other on dark nights. The crimes themselves had been too dispersed with the State so decentralized at that time the authorities had been unable to see that a brutal spree had been conducted, lasting for more than a decade. Then the war and life had happened, he had met Kat’s mother and things had been good for a time. Then Suse Rosa had died and according to Otto’s own words he had gone into a dark place, disappearing for months at a time, and eventually starting what would become his illicit empire. Kat was aware of the implications of that. It was during one of those disappearances that one of the most infamous crimes in German history had happened. Kat had been afraid too closely into that matter because she was afraid about what she might find. Just having Freddy knowing Otto Mischner’s real name was dangerous because it was an extremely short step to learning those other things. Otto was gone and Kat felt that his past needed to die with him.

    Pulling the medal, that of a Dame Commander of the Order, from its case, Kiki looked at the woman who was there on behalf of the first person to receive it. Perhaps she was playing favorites here, but she didn’t care. It was also the first time Kat had seen Gia in months. These days Gia preferred to spend her summers in the Transbaikal Region of Siberia far from the politics and the contrivances of her extended family. Fyodor and Alexei were there with her, and Kat was rather surprised at how big Alexei had gotten. She was used to thinking of him as a baby and he was now eight years old. Aunt Marcella, Helene, Gerta, as well as all the younger members of the sisterhood were present in the crowd of onlookers.

    Kat looked at the citation in her hand.

    On the 1st of January 1941, Grand Duchess Tatiana Nikolaevna Romanova of Russia fired the first shots of the Second World War in Tumbler Ridge, British Columbia…

    It detailed how Tatiana had refused to run from the Soviets when they came for her. She had stood and fought, buying the time for her daughter, Gia, to escape at the cost of her own life. As Gia accepted the medal it, she smiled sadly. The citation would be read aloud in the Berlin House of Deputies and entered into the official record. For Kat it was what she wanted, someone who had sacrificed for something important to be remembered. Those who destroyed things out of mindless rage and greed deserved nothing less than to be forgotten.
     
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  • Chapter Two Thousand One Hundred Ninety



    16th December 1972

    Wilhelmshaven

    Looking out the window, Louis could see that snow was falling softly on the ships moored to the concrete pier, it was a peaceful scene considering that those were Destroyers, Corvettes, and Fleet Torpedo Boats. It reflected the majority of ship in the fleet these days. The old Battleships were gone for the most part. The SMS Brandenburg and SMS Adrian Baier, respectively the last Super Dreadnaught and Battlecruiser in the Fleet were floating museums these days. The two largest ships present in the Jade were the SMS Emden and her sister ship the SMS Rendsburg, both Guided Missile Cruisers. That was due to the one active Aircraft Carrier of the Atlantic Squadron being in Kiel which had better facilities for a ship that size. The secretive Submarine Fleet had recently been moved to a new base outside Bremerhaven, so they were missing as well.

    There were also a large number of other ships and boats. Mine Sweepers, Speed Boats of various types, a seemingly endless array of support vessels. Looking out over the Jade Bight, one saw a constellation of lights from all of this.

    SMS K24 Grindwal was in port for the next several weeks and the Fleet had given them no further orders about future deployments. Louis Ferdinand Junior didn’t delude himself with the notion that they had been forgotten, not even for a second. At any time, they might get orders sending them to join one of the Pacific Squadrons or Argentina which meant that they would be gone for months. That was why Louis had agreed that it would be good for the crew’s morale if their families were allowed aboard for a Christmas celebration. Even with just a caretaker crew there would be plenty of men who would be stuck aboard next week who would be irked about their situation.

    What that meant in practice was having children underfoot and the wives bickering with each other as they brought whatever was going on ashore onto the ship. The crew quarters and mess deck were a cacophony noise and a riot of bright colors. All Louis could do was watch from the side as the Ship’s Captain. He had given the Ship’s Officers the option of going ashore tonight and all of them had taken it. In the coming days, there were a number of formal events that he had been invited to in Wilhelmshaven, so he was in no rush to go into the city.

    Every once in a while, one of the children would come up to Louis, they would either stare at him with trepidation or else ask questions until their mothers spotted them. Then they would be told not to be rude and encouraged to do something else.

    It was how these things had worked for Louis’ entire life, observing from the outside. Tonight, there was a whole lot to observe though. The crew, who were a decidedly mixed bag when it came to religion, celebrated these things was basically a version of the more the merrier. Superstition had been bread and butter for ship’s crews since the dawn of time. Even if they were not Catholic or Orthodox, Saint Nicholas of Myra was one of the Patron Saints of Sailors. He was also the Saint of Repentant Thieves, the Falsely Accused, Broadcasters, and Fishermen. There were plenty of those to be found aboard any ship in the Navy so of course Saint Nick would be perfectly welcome aboard in the guise of Father Christmas. That role was being played by Oberdeckoffizier Borchardt tonight, who certainly looked the part even when his wasn’t wearing the red suit. If your idea of Father Christmas was a crusty Warrant Officer who had spent most of the last thirty years at sea, then he was perfect. Borchardt’s only concession to regulation was that if a sailor wore a beard, they were required to keep it trimmed. This was a nod to the reality that aboard ships at sea, fresh water was at a premium, especially on light units like the Grindwal. The children and the Junior Enlisted certainly loved it.

    “You look like the very picture of a brooding poet” Louis heard a voice say, “All you need is a bottle of wine and a book with a dreary title.”

    Looking up, Louis saw Kiki was looking at him. The brightly colored lights reflecting off her glasses and had no idea that she had been invited tonight. He saw that Ben was holding Kiki’s little girl and Borchardt was playing his part for Nina who wasn’t quite old enough to understand the whole concept of Christmas. A grown man acting silly was however something she got though.

    “This is not for me” Louis replied looking at the crew who were enjoying themselves. “It’s for them.”

    “That doesn’t mean you cannot have a bit of vicarious fun” Kiki said, “We get to watch others in situations we have to be separate from our entire lives. It is one of the things that makes us, us.”

    “This is different” Louis said, “Command and all that.”

    “It is not so different from a Surgeon and their Staff” Kiki replied, “You need to find way to balance all of this. Brooding in the corner is not that.”

    “I am not in the corner” Louis said, “I was just looking out the window and thinking about things. Should I be doing that in my cabin?”

    “That would actually be worse” Kiki replied.
     
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  • Chapter Two Hundred One Hundred Ninety-One



    26th December 1972

    Tempelhof

    Christmas was silly. That was the conclusion that Sophie had reached. Father Christmas or the Christkind were for children, and she hated to admit that she was sort of past all of that. The problem was that she had no idea what the future held, she would be turning fourteen next year and she had watched the prior Friday as Marie Alexandra had come down the stairs wearing the gown which she was wearing when she was introduced to the Imperial Court as the new Maid of the Chamber. Kat had spared no expense for Marie because she wanted this to be a memorable occasion.

    Sophie had asked Tatiana what was happening, and she had explained what was going on. She had called the entire thing totally retrograde, elitist, and sexist. However, Tatiana had made sure that they were out of Kat’s earshot when she had said that. The Maid of the Chamber had once been held by Kat until she had gotten married. Kat had been appointed to two additional Courtly Offices, that of Mistress of the Keys and Mistress of the Robes as she played different roles in the Imperial Court over the course of several years. She had then told Sophie that she had been offered the same thing under Empress Charlotte but had rather emphatically turned it down for the reasons she had stated.

    As Tatiana spoke, Sophie had realized that her motivations were not quite as cut and dry as she liked. Tatiana’s outright rejection of what Kat had done in her youth had probably been done out of spite rather than principle. As if Kat had known exactly what they had been talking about, she had told Sophie later that evening that for her girls the introduction to the Court was entirely their choice, Tatiana had made hers and she really hoped that Sophie wouldn’t crash the party like four of the girls had back in 1946.

    Wiping her nose with the sleeve of her nightgown, Sophie looked at the window with the frost forming on the edges of the panes of glass. The nightgown was new and made from heavy flannel. It was a gift from Kat and Doug like in years past, the only real difference was that it was green and black plaid this year. She remembered the first one she had received on the first Christmas she had spent with this family that had been nearly identical.

    It was that notion of whether or not she was actually a member of this family that had driven so many of her choices. It was why she had spent all the money she had made from helping Aunt Marcella buying gifts for others, as if that would change anything. The prior afternoon, Kat had announced over Christmas dinner that they were going to be having a new guest in the household soon and it was going to be important that they made her feel welcome. Sophie had realized that everyone around the table had gone though this before except for her. Where did that leave Sophie though. Lenny had told Sophie all about Kat’s broken little birds and Sophie had realized that she was one of them. If there was a new girl in the house, did that mean that Kat felt that Sophie’s problems had been fixed? It certainly didn’t feel that way.

    Sprocket whined and Sophie knew that he needed to go out unless she wanted to clean up a mess. Leaving her warm bed on an icy winter day wasn’t her idea of fun. Sophie shoved her feet into her sneakers without bothering to tie them and put on her coat. Picking up Sprocket, she headed downstairs to the back garden.

    The cold was a shock when she stepped outside in the grey light of the predawn. Sprocket being a puppy found a whole of things that he wanted to sniff in the garden before he went about what they had come downstairs to do. Sophie couldn’t do much more than just watch, she did envy his shaggy brown fur which seemed to inure him to the icy temperature.

    “The joys of having a pet” Doug said as he came out through the laundry room door with Malcolm. “I would have gotten dressed more than that.”

    The presence of Malcolm was a bit of an embarrassment. Sophie had avoided talking to him in the months since she had had a schoolgirl’s crush on him. The silliness of her behavior… Of course, she now knew he saw her as a little sister and that there were parts of her that she had little control over. She had fallen in love with the idea of Malcolm rather than who he really was as a person. She had just developed feelings for someone who was always kind to her. Kat had told her that it wasn’t stupid or silly. It was just a part of her learning as she grew up and one day, she would experience the real thing. Sophie had her doubts about that. She couldn’t help but noticing that Doug and Malcolm were carrying a heavy cardboard box between them. The words, Fabricated in Milan, Italy were printed on the side of it.

    “What is that?” Sophie asked as Sprocket took an interest in the box.

    “Some old photographic equipment that I am not using” Doug replied, “I’m getting Kol to help me take it to the University Photo Lab while its quiet there this morning.”

    Sophie couldn’t help but notice that Malcolm seemed amused by what they were doing. As if donating dusty old lights and tripods to the University were the greatest thing ever.

    “There were some miscellaneous items in the box when we got it” Doug said, “We figured you would be interested, so we left them in the laundry room.”

    “Thank you” Sophie said glumly as she wondered what sort of cast offs, they figured she would want.

    It was with heavy footsteps that Sophie walked into the laundry room. There leaning on the washing machine was a turquoise drop-bar bicycle with Bianchi painted in dark blue letters on the frame. Sophie just stood there for an incredibly long moment trying to compute what she was seeing.
     
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  • Chapter Two Thousand One Hundred Ninety-Two



    29th December 1972

    North Sea off Cuxhaven

    The hulk they were targeting had taken a lot of hits above the waterline but was still afloat, somehow. Through his binoculars from the bridge, Louis Ferdinand Junior could see the multitude of holes of various calibers punched through the hull and sunlight on the other side. The idea was that the Navy would use the hulked ship for target practice. When it sank it would become an artificial reef and the water around here was deep enough to not have it become a navigation hazard. The Ocean was rough this afternoon and there was a brisk wind blowing out of the North, so conditions could not have been worse. Not that Louis cared, in his experience a crisis seldom occurred when things were perfect.

    When they closed to within a kilometer, Louis ordered the crew to open fire. The weapons were a mixed bag. The 12.8-centimeter main gun in the turret fired heavy shells that blew right through the hull of the target and hardly slowing down. The four 40-milimeter Bofors guns in a pair of double arrangements aft blew chunks out of it. The half dozen 13mm heavy machine guns fired green tracers at the hull, armor-piercing bullets punching through the metal, and sparks flew as the they ricocheted around. This amount of destruction was nothing compared to what the guided missiles or torpedoes that were aboard could do, but Louis had heard a lot of jokes about using a half-million Mark missile to defeat a wooden Dhow on the Red Sea. There was a reason for anti-piracy and anti-smuggling patrols to be mostly done by armed Trawlers and Fast Gunboats. In Louis’ thinking having the crew training to use the weapons most likely to see actual use seemed like a good call. It was also the week between Christmas and New Year’s. He hardly needed to see the sign that someone had hung outside the Enlisted Mess that read “Trouble Brewing” as a joke to understand that the men needed something to blow off some steam. There was also an array of smaller weapons in the Ship’s Armory that he wanted the crew to practice with, it was something that he had tasked Borchardt with conducting. It wasn’t as if he had needed to tell the Warrant Officer to do that twice because he was always up for something that might give him an excuse to kick the Junior Enlisted around.

    “That was pretty good, Sir” Oberleutnant Isaak Lehr said with a bit too much enthusiasm. He was the Executive Officer of the Ship. His optimistic and happy demeanor was at odds with that and while he popular with the crew, that popularity would sour in a heartbeat when he inevitably had to decide for the good of the entire ship. Lehr would only have to waffle once to lose all respect and he struck Louis as the sort who could do a lot of damage if he did that.

    “Bring us around again” Louis said to the Helmsman who nodded in reply, then he grabbed the microphone for the intercom. “Let’s try that again but mind the dispersal this time. Keep it tight, aimed bursts.”

    Louis resumed his observation even as his voice was still echoing around the ship. The Grindwal circled back around and approached the hulk again.



    Tempelhof

    The new bicycle was a revelation.

    Sophie had gotten a lot of stares when she had first taken it out. There had even been an old woman at the market who had made a point of telling her that she was riding a “boy’s bicycle.” As if she was supposed to be riding one with a step-through frame even though she almost never wore a dress on her own time and never while riding her bicycle. The other thing was that she had needed to change the way in which she rode. Knowing when to change gears to suit the road she was on was something that she still needed to think about and the toe clips on the pedals meant that she could pull the pedal up as well as push it down depending on what part of the stroke she was on.

    It was then that Sophie that made a mistake. She had been explaining all of this to Ziska who had just told Sophie that she was happy for her. It was with a bit of embarrassment that Sophie realized that her friend was likely to be physically incapable of riding the new bicycle the same way. It was something that Sophie didn’t have to think about but must be in the back of Ziska’s mind constantly. What she could or could not do because she was missing part of her right leg. So, it was added to the ever-growing list of things that they wouldn’t talk about in the future.

    Playing with Sprocket in the garden and talking about what they were going to be doing in the coming School Term was safe though. Even if it was a cold winter day. Sprocket was chasing after his ball with Sophie having discovered that she could bounce it off the wall of the garage and it would fly off in an unpredictable direction. He would scramble to chase it, often going the wrong way at first. Ziska though that it was the funniest thing.

    That was when they heard the car pull into the garage and the opening and closing of doors. Kat and Doug walked through the garden gate with a girl who was ten or eleven between them. She had long black hair, a slightly olive complexion, and big brown eyes. It was with a lot of trepidation that she looked at Sprocket, who had lost interest in his ball and was sniffing at her feet.

    “Angelica, these two are Sophie and her friend Franziska, I hope they will be like sisters to you” Doug said, the comment clearly aimed at the two them far more than it was at Angelica. “The dog is Sprocket, and he is friendly.”

    “Probably too friendly” Kat muttered as she led the girl into the house.

    “Who was that?” Ziska asked.

    “Kat’s latest ward” Sophie replied, remembering what it had been like to have been in Angelica’s shoes five years earlier. It amazed her that it had been so long.
     
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  • Chapter Two Thousand One Hundred Ninety-Three



    31st December 1972

    Tempelhof

    “I am surprised that you don’t have plans for tonight” Kat said into the phone to Jack Kennedy who had called from Dublin. She suspected that he made these calls to make sure that she was staying out of trouble while he was otherwise occupied. It was something that Kat likely shared with the criminals in Dublin who Jack normally represented in Court.

    “I haven’t had time to make plans” Jack replied, “I was in China for six weeks and only made it back the day before Christmas Eve.”

    “Your clients are still neck deep in that mess?” Kat asked.

    “Here, there and everywhere” Jack answered, “Just like at any time in the last few hundred years. If there is a way to advance their interests, they got their greedy little fingers in it.”

    “That certainly puts your own country’s history in perspective” Kat replied.

    “Let’s just say that I prefer that someone else was on the receiving end of that sort of thing for once” Jack said. He may have been born in America but having spent most of his life in Ireland had given him the perspective of people from that island. Over the last couple decades there had been a quiet prosperity that had overtaken Ireland and Kat found it odd that no one there seemed to trust it. It was as if they expected to wake up tomorrow to find themselves divided and besieged by their former rulers.

    “Bridget told me that you have taken on a new charge” Jack said, “I find just my own kids to be a handful, I don’t see how you do it.”

    “It is no trouble for me” Kat replied, “Now that Josefine and Suse Rosa have moved out, I have the room.”

    “The Valkyrie and the Midget?” Jack asked.

    “Call them that when you are in the same room, I dare you” Kat replied, “More like a School Teacher and an Engineer.”

    “Regardless” Jack said, “Tell me about this new girl.”

    “Angelica is Cosimo de’ Medici’s daughter” Kat replied, “Her mother decided that she was no longer interested in being a mother and Cosimo’s wife put her foot down this time. She doesn’t want any of his indiscretions under her roof.”

    Kat was aware of how she had let scorn creep into her voice when she had described Cosimo’s mistress. The sort who would abandon their own child because they wanted to pursue a different relationship deserved every bit of it as far as she was concerned.

    “I see” Jack said guardedly. Kat was aware that Bridget had made it explicitly clear that if anything of his ever went anywhere it didn’t belong then she would reach for the hedge clippers, and he would have to learn to live without that part of himself. If she ever found out that he had fathered a child with another women, then Jack would simply vanish from the face of the Earth. “Does that mean that she has penchant for fedoras and cheap cigars?” Jack asked.

    “She is ten years old” Kat replied, “And other than being extremely intelligent, I find she doesn’t have anywhere near that much in common with her father.”

    “How is she adjusting?” Jack asked, “Berlin is a world away from Italy and where did she live before? Rome?”

    “Florence and other than Petia having to chase her away from the thermostat, she is doing well” Kat replied, “She has already found out that she can converse with Marie Alexandra in Latin. That really was a surprise for both of them.”

    “And the others?” Jack asked, “Your son, the two other girls in your household?”

    “Malcolm is a good sort, and he has always liked playing the big brother” Kat replied, “Tatiana has a million other things going on and Sophie is being a teenager in that she is so self-involved that she probably has barely registered Angelica’s presence.”

    She didn’t mention to Jack that Tatiana had been sent to Northern Ireland over the Summer Holiday by the BND. She was half tempted to ask him to look into what was going on there but had a feeling that she would not enjoy the answers.

    “What about you?” Jack asked, “Have you got plans for tonight?”

    “I was invited to the formal reception in the Old Winter Residence” Kat replied, “I’m going with Douglas in a few hours and leaving the Tatiana and Malcolm in charge. I just hope that the house is still intact when we get home.”

    “You think that they would throw a wild party in your absence?”

    “No, but with the presence of Ziska and Gabi, two dear friends of Sophie’s, and Marie cooking up wild ideas about what they could be doing, I have no idea what will greet me when I get home” Kat said. She hadn’t mentioned that Gabi was Sophie’s half-sister, but that wasn’t anything that Jack needed to know at this time.

    “Never a dull moment I guess” Jack replied.

    “That is sort of the idea” Kat said, “Last summer everyone was away doing various things and I was the only one here. The house was incredibly quiet, which was rather uncomfortable.”

    “Did your Aunt have the same problem after you and your brother left?” Jack asked.

    “The war had started by then, the Soviets were bombing the city on a regular basis and the house was located a few blocks from a railyard which was a frequent target” Kat replied, “She said that she had had enough of loud to last her the rest of her life after that.”

    “Bombs falling from the sky or children?” Jack asked with a snort of laughter. “I can see the comparison.”

    “Whatever” Kat said, “Give Bridget and your children my love.”

    “Nothing for me?” Jack asked.

    “I think that you love yourself enough for all of us” Kat replied.
     
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