Chapter Sixty-Two

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Pirmasens, Germany

Rick pointed to the rails veering away from the road as they approached Pirmasens. "That's where Franz and Ernst walked. I waited in those trees, the same ones in which Hans had waited."

David nodded as he continued past and into town. After asking directions, they arrived at the train station and stopped in the plaza across from it. "What do you see here, Rick?"

"It's not busy. There are few people. Not the coming and going I would expect at a station in a town this size."

"There is a lot more than that. If things don't seem as expected; ask why. So, why isn't it busy here? This is a very large town, maybe even a city."

Rick shrugged. "Maybe most are off at the Front. The women working in factories. Nobody travelling."

"All good points. But there's more. What else explains the few people?"

Rick shook his head. "I don't know."

"Go across to the station and take a closer look. Walk around inside and out. Explore. The answer will jump out and slap you in the face. Oh, and while you're there, ask for directions to the Stadhaus."

Rick was back within a minute, shaking his head. "So stupidly obvious now. This is the end of the line. There are no through trains."

"The simplest things are often the most important, Rick. So, why might this be the end of the line?"

"For the gas. The town grew because of it. That's why all the modern buildings."

"Excellent deductions. But it's also an ancient town with all the mediaeval buildings we saw. I suspect the discovery of earth-gas triggered a recent fast growth."

"So much from such a simple observation."

"That's the nature of the game, Rick. Don't simply look. Observe, study, analyse, interrelate, extrapolate, postulate. Never stop observing; never stop absorbing. You might not need your observations immediately, but they may play an important role later on."

Rick shook his head. "So much." He looked at David. "So, why do you want to go to the town hall?"

"I don't."

"But you asked me to get directions to it."

"What would you expect to find around a town hall?"

"The heart of the town."

"Exactly. Towns grew up around them, and most are still in the centres of commerce. It's the easiest way I've found to locate the better shops, the finer hotels and the top restaurants."

Rick nodded and pointed the way toward the heart of the town. A few minutes later, David manoeuvred the car into a space across from the Rathaus. After glancing at his watch, he said, "We'll get a feel for the area first, see what's here, and then select a place for lunch."

They wandered the maze of narrow, winding streets, pausing to admire the ancient buildings and examine the shop windows. After half an hour, David shifted his satchel's shoulder strap. "This is getting heavy. Let's go back to Hotel Ludwig IX for lunch."

Inside, as they sat waiting for their trout, David asked, "What are your observations from our walk?"

"The main thing is a lot of the shops are closed."

"Why would that be?"

"Lack of business with so many away fighting. Maybe the owner was pressed into duty."

"Good points. What else did you see?"

"They must wear a lot of shoes around here. So many shoe stores."

"And what might that mean?"

Rick chewed his lower lip as he thought, then he said, "They make them here is all I can think."

"That was my explanation. I was thinking it could..."

David paused as the frau brought their plates, and after she had set them down, he asked, "Are there shoe factories here? We saw many shoe stores along the streets?"

She laughed. "This is the centre of German shoemaking industry. Now many of the factories are making boots for the soldiers."

After she had left, David asked Rick, "There is no river here to bring in raw materials nor to carry away finished products, so why would an industry develop to such size in this remote location?"

Rick looked up from his plate and shrugged. "They have the rail line in and out."

"But why not establish it beside the Rhein with its transportation as well as all the through rail lines?"

Ricks face brightened. "They would have the power to run the machines here. Power generated from the earth-gas."

"Exactly! Steam engines first, and then electrical motors as they became capable. See how easy it is to gain information and make sense of it?"

Following their lunch, David and Rick walked the streets again as they decided on the best jewellery shop to approach. David settled on Strum Goldschmied, and inside, he introduced himself. "I'm David Meier, and this is my assistant, Friedrich Krüger. We're from Switzerland, and we represent Hans Wilsdorf and his Rolex wristwatches."

David placed the leather display case on the counter, and beside it, he laid two certificates, a page of data and a brochure. "These are certified as the most accurate wristwatches in the world, and we've enjoyed great success with them along the Rhein. We're now investigating markets beyond the valley."

The woman nodded toward the rear of the shop. "I will ask Herr Strum if he is interested."

The woman returned a short while later. "He is interested, but he's busy for another few minutes pouring gold. He'll be with you as soon as he has finished."

"Thank you. While we wait, we'll examine the competition." David pointed to a display case with a few wristwatches. "Have you a good market for these?"

"People still prefer the accuracy of pocket watches." She looked up into David's eyes. "Switzerland. It must be so pleasant there compared to here. Why would you leave its peacefulness to come here?"

"Our businesses are suffering with the loss of leisure travel and the sharp decline in exports. We can't do anything to help with the travel, but we can do our part in generating export sales."

She nodded. "Like our shoe factories. Many depended on selling abroad, but with the war, that's gone. They now make boots for the Army at barely sustainable margins. That's why I'm working here while my husband tries to keep our business from collapsing."

"We noted all the factories. Where do they get their power? There is no swiftly running river to harness for electricity."

"We have gas wells north of town. My grandfather remembers when all the factories here had steam engines. He changed to electric power about twenty years ago, but with the war..." She paused as Herr Strum emerged from the rear of the shop.

"Sorry to keep you waiting. But when the gold is molten, I dare not leave it." He extended his hand to shake. "I'm Werner Strum."

David introduced himself and Rick, then he presented his opening spiel again, placing the wholesale price list on top of the documents. When David finished, Werner said, "I've read about the Rolex claims."

"We examined all the shops we could find, and yours easily meets our criteria, and you're the first we've approached. I can offer you exclusive rights to sell Rolex in Pirmasens if you place a strong initial order."

"What's a strong order?"

"What is the population here?"

"Before the war, it was about thirty-seven thousand. Now with so many gone, I don't know." He tilted his head and thought. "But with all the new workers and soldiers at the gasworks, it's probably around the same number."

"So, seventy-four watches. Two per thousand."

Werner scanned the price list. "I already know a few dozen who will buy one." He extended his hand again.

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