Previous, Next, Numerical Index, Chronological Index.
For All Nails 36: The Hero of Paris

Berlin, Kingdom of Prussia, German Empire
21 July 1970

General Eric von Gellmann breathed a long sigh of relief as the locomobile
carried him and his companion through the streets of Berlin.  My God, he
thought, am I glad to be away from Paris.

For two unholy years, he had performed the unenviable task of trying to
control the German Empire's most uncontrollable ally.  In the wake of the
anti-German disturbances (two years ago he would have called them riots, but
he was, to his horror, turning into a diplomat) that had spread across France
and, yesterday, into the French-speaking areas of the Empire itself, Gellmann
had been called back to Berlin to meet with Chancellor Markstein.

In its way, meeting with Markstein was as nerve-wracking as trying to stare
down a Parisian mob.  The Chancellor had about him an air of good-fellowship
and an avulcular manner that Gellmann had slowly come to realize masked a
fundamentally unstable personality.  Markstein had never burst into maniacal
laughter and come at him with a butcher's knife, but a part of Gellmann's
mind was always on alert against the possibility.

Herr Schroder was an aide of Markstein's who had met Gellmann at the air
terminus and was serving as his escort.  Like a good subordinate, Schroder
had been able to sense that Gellmann was not in the mood for conversation,
and the ride passed in silence.  The locomobile pulled up in front of the
south face of the Chancellery, and Schroder accompanied Gellmann up the long
series of steps past a knot of journalists, who were calling out his name
like so many barking seals.  They passed between a pair of uniformed guards
at the doors and the barking journalists were left behind.

Gellmann knew the way to the Chancellor's office as well as Schroder did, but
he allowed the younger man to guide him, since that was his job after all.
The Chancellery dated back to the '30s, and as such represented an external
projection of Karl von Bruning's megalomaniacal personality.  Broad marble
stairways swept through vast, opulently decorated spaces.  Heroic murals of
dubious historical accuracy depicted Charlemagne conquering the Moors,
Barbarossa conquering the Turks, Frederick the Great conquering the
Austrians, and Chancellor Kettering conquering the French.  Walking through
the Chancellery, you could tell that even then, ten years before the fact,
Bruning was planning to remake the Germanic Confederation into an Empire.

The Chancellery had been designed by Bruning's favorite architect, a Bavarian
[1] named Alois Heidler who shared his employer's imperial vision.  Entering
the Chancellor's office complex, it was made abundantly clear to the visitor
that this was the controlling nexus of a great and enduring empire.  The
office itself was surrounded by a semicircle of interconnecting outer
offices, a lens serving to focus the power of the mighty German Chancellor.
After Bruning's fall, two of the outer offices had been merged together to
form the cabinet room, which explained that room's odd shape (and the need
for an equally oddly shaped table within it).  It was to this room that
Schroder led Gellmann for his meeting with Chancellor Markstein.

When Gellmann and Schroder entered the cabinet room, its only occupant was
Joshua Merkel, the Exterior Minister.  As Merkel was technically Gellmann's
immediate superior, Gellmann gave him a respectful nod and said, "Herr
Minister."

Merkel rose from the kidney-shaped table and extended a hand, which Gellmann
took.  "Herr General, a pleasure," Merkel replied.

"I'll go inform the Chancellor that you're here," said Schroder, as he left
the room.

"Herr General, your defense of the Embassy compound in Paris has been the
talk of Berlin," said Merkel.  "You are the hero of the hour."

Gellmann snorted.  "Perhaps Chancellor Markstein will commission a mural of
me heroically gunning down Parisian rioters."

"An excellent suggestion, Herr General," said Chancellor Adolph Markstein,
looming in the doorway.  "I've always thought that the eastern wall of the
Chancellery canteen was a little bare.  Just the thing to brighten the place
up."

Gellmann and Merkel stood up at the table.  Gellmann loudly clicked his heels
together and gave the Chancellor his sharpest salute, intoning "Hail
Germania!"  This was a bit of overblown pageantry left over from the Bruning
era, and Gellmann knew that Markstein hated it with a passion.

Wincing visibly, Markstein motioned for Gellmann and Merkel to resume their
places. "Eric, I'll tell you what," he said.  "I'll agree to forget about the
mural if you promise never to use the phrase 'Hail Germania' in my hearing
ever again."

"It's a deal," said Gellmann, as Markstein and Schroder joined him at the
table.

"All right, Eric," said Markstein cheerfully, "What's this I hear about you
wanting to give the sack to poor little Monseiur Lebrun?"

"Adolph, that wretched dwarf has gone completely native," Gellmann said.
"The only reason he wasn't sitting atop the embassy wall urging on the
rioters was out of fear that he might split the backside of those
ridiculously tight silk trousers he likes to wear."

"Do I detect a note of disdain for His Excellency?" said Markstein with his
trademark grin.  "Come now, Eric, you know these French politicians.  They
have to make these occasional shows of independence in order to reassure
their constituents that they aren't /really/ in our back pockets."

Gellmann refused to be carried along by the Chancellor's relentless
effervescence.  "It's gone beyond that, Adolph."  Opening up his case,
Gellmann brought out a reel of audiotape.  "After the riot, I had Captain
Blucher bring in Lebrun's secretary for questioning.  He sang like a canary."

"Ambition should be made of sterner stuff," Markstein remarked.

Merkel, however, had other things on his mind.  "You had the secretary to the
French Premier arrested?"

"Not arrested," Gellmann corrected, "brought in for questioning.  There's a
subtle but important legal distinction.  Naturally Captain Blucher couldn't
arrest the man, since the Captain isn't an officer of the law.  He simply
asked the man to assist us in our investigation, and the man agreed.  And
very helpful he proved.  I've got a copy of his interview here.  He
implicates Premier Lebrun quite thoroughly.  He was practically directing the
riot from the Palace.  It's time to cut him loose."

Markstein sighed.  "Eric, you know perfectly well that the reason we've put
up with Lebrun for as long as we have is because there's really nobody in a
position to replace him.  All the likely candidates are either too openly
hostile to us or too obviously under our thumb."

"In that case," said Gellmann, "we may have no choice but to withdraw from
France.  It's becoming too difficult to pull the strings from behind the
scenes."

Now Chancellor Markstein frowned, and it was not the "thoughtful frown" he
used during Question Time in the Imperial Diet.  This was the frown of an
unpleasant man who was about to do unpleasant things.  "Eric, have you heard
the news from Nancy?  The Lorrainers are in an uproar, and the Austrasians
are right on the edge of joining them.  If we show any signs of weakness in
France, we'll be facing a full scale uprising right here in the Inner Empire.
We've got to keep France under control."

"How am I supposed to do that?  It's all we can do to keep the lid on as it
is, and with Shorty making trouble, it's only going to get worse."

Markstein's grin was back.  "You know whose job it is to figure something
out, Eric?"

Now it was Gellmann's turn to sigh.  "Mine."

"That's right, Eric, yours.  You're our man on the spot."  With a chuckle,
Markstein added, "In more ways that one."

"You're asking me to do the impossible," Gellmann implored.

The Chancellor laughed outright, and Gellmann automatically checked to make
sure that there was no butcher's knife in sight.  "Nonsense, Eric.  Nothing
is impossible for the Hero of Paris!"

Notes:

[1] IOTL the area around the town of Braunau-am-Inn passed in 1779 from
Bavaria to Austria, where it remained.  In the FANTL, this area was regained
by Bavaria at the end of the Five Years' War in 1799.