Chapter Twenty-Seven

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Hans telephoned Hotel de la Poste to ask if they had a room available. Once it was confirmed and reserved and he had rung off, he turned to David and Maria. "That's where I'm staying until I can secure more permanent lodgings. I intend to move most of my operation here early in the new year."

"Yes, with the war, it's certainly more stable here," David said.

"That adds to the attraction to resettle here, though it's mainly a business decision. My German heritage, the Wilsdorf name, is being questioned by some in London, and it's increasingly uncomfortable to remain. If only they understood how opposed I am to the Kaiser's actions." He shook his head. "But some seem not to know how to observe, listen and reason; only to judge. And you know I cannot disclose..." He paused as he glanced at Maria. "I'm pleased I can play a vicarious part through your activities, David."

"I'm delighted with the travel opportunities your watches give me." David looked at Maria, then pursed his lips as he paused to think. "But you're already playing a significant role in the war effort. Mr Lloyd-George told me about your work on procuring fuse mechanisms for Britain."

A smile grew on Hans' face as he looked back and forth between David and Maria. "Yes, some of the larger watchmakers had begun designing and assembling fuses early in the war. With the decline in the traditional export markets, they looked to other precision projects to keep their workers busy. My task is to steer most of their output to our side of the conflict."

Maria relaxed from the questioning looks she had sensed. "So, you must often call on the new Ministry of Munitions office in Berne. I should see if Edith can add you to the dinner list during one of your visits."

David jerked his head back. "How have you learned about the office?"

Maria shrugged. "Edith shared it with me when it opened in September. We're fighting this war also, David. It's not only the men. It's all of us. I'm likely aware of many things you're not. Not the details; those don't interest me. But the broader picture, the happenings behind the scenes, the intricate interactions of the watch movement beneath the dial."

David made a series of slow, short nods as he listened. "Yes, six months living in the Ambassador's residence — all the dinner guests — yes, I see that." He turned to Hans. "Will you join us for dinner?"

"I was just about to ask the same. I'd be delighted."

<><><>

After long, rambling discussions with Hans during dinner, David and Maria returned to their room, wanting to do nothing but refresh and go to bed. As they lay conjoined, gently caressing and moving under the duvet, David said, "Such an intelligent way to get into the business. Search among the makers for the finest movements, select the most fashionable cases, assemble them and tout their superiority. Offer them to the elite, and the rest of the market soon comes knocking at the door, wanting to be included."

Maria hummed a contented sigh as she shifted her hips. "He simply has to remain informed and keep up with advances in watchmaking technology and with the changing style whims of the market. And he has no factory cost and no concerns about workers."

"No, remember he said he now has a small company to do the assembly and packaging and to create the marketing. But initially, he and his brother-in-law did it all."

"Yes, I'm aware of that, but it's so minor, almost non-existent, compared to Jean's commitment and investment. The approach Hans has taken is a very low-risk one; the type of intelligent business about which you often talk."

"For sure, and I imagine he gets a commission for every fuse he arranges to have delivered to Britain. What a great demonstration of the French term entrepreneur, the taker from between." David chuckled. "And if he's done his negotiations well, he gets a commission from each side."

"A hundred thousand fuses a week; that's a lot of commission. Britain must be building a huge stockpile of them."

"That's from only one manufacturer. There are others here in Switzerland, as well as suppliers in the United States, Canada and England. The Munitions Office was set up in Bern as one of the steps in getting us out of what has been called the Shell Crisis. But they're not being stockpiled, they're for immediate use."

"For immediate use? In a week? Using over a hundred thousand every week. For what are the fuses used?"

"Mainly to detonate the HE in the artillery and mortar shells that we fire across the lines at the Germans."

"What's aitchee?"

David chuckled. "It's two letters, H and E. It's the abbreviation we use for high-explosives. They're what cause the damage from the artillery and the mortars. The fuses can be set to detonate the shells at optimal times for each target, allowing the maximum damage. After penetration to destroy buildings and fortifications; before impact to maim or kill the largest number of soldiers."

"Fuck! Men have gone completely mad."

"I have to agree. Our mission has now turned to hindering the German ability to produce HE. The less of it they have to throw at us, the more we'll be able to push them back. The war will slowly devolve into one of resources, and fortunately, we have the stronger and more assured supplies at the moment."

"At the moment. What happens if the moment passes?"

"That's what we're trying to prevent with the Naval blockade cutting off their resupply by sea. We have them hemmed in by land, and they're gradually depleting their internal resources. Before the war, Germany imported large quantities of raw materials to feed their industries. They also brought in a large portion of their food. Now, they can barely feed their Army, and the people left at home are struggling to eat."

"Don't they see the strife they're causing to their own people let alone to us? Why doesn't the idiot of a Kaiser stop this nonsense?"

"Because he's an idiot. That, and because his coterie of confidants is filled with pompous aristocratic stuffed shirts afraid to step over the noble line and oppose him."

"Fuck!"

"We are." He gave a slow, gentle thrust.

She shifted her hips and moaned a sigh. "Yes, and so very delightfully." She chuckled. "You should set your fuse for deep and detonate your HE. Then we need to sleep." 

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