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1635 The Dreeson Incident: Chapter Thirteen

       Last updated: Wednesday, August 20, 2008 20:23 EDT




    “Hey, Veda Mae. Can I share your table?”

    She looked up. The dining room at the Willard Hotel was crowded for lunch and it was Bryant Holloway. She had known him all his life and he was her cousin somehow through the Cunninghams, so she couldn’t very well say no. Therefore, she cleared her purse off the other side where it had been staking her claim and said, “Sure. Haven’t seen you for a while.”

    “I’ve been in Magdeburg since the middle of last winter. I’m just back for a month or so now for a fire prevention training conference.”

    “What’s Magdeburg like?”

    “Start with this. The Fire Marshall of our wonderful United States of Europe is that prick from Baltimore, Archie Stannard. One of the Masaniellos’ relatives who got caught in the Ring of Fire because of Vince and Carla’s fortieth anniversary party over at Pray Your Rosary Catholic Church, or whatever they’re calling it these days.”

    “What’s wrong with him?”

    “From the minute the Grantville fire department chief Steve Matheny picked him up as assistant chief, Stannard’s been trying to make us more ‘professional.’ Sometimes I thought that if I heard the word ‘professional’ one more time, I would gag. Steve kept us right up to the mark on equipment and training, but he didn’t preach about it. Stannard does. I guess I could have lived with that, though. Since the Ring of Fire, we’d all been on call 24/7 and that wears you out, so I sort of put it down to stress. But then in the fall of ‘32, Stearns made this agreement with What’s His Name, the captain general you know, and Stannard started on this kick of expanding modern fire prevention into the rest of the New United States. It’s one thing to work your ass off for Grantville. It’s something else when they expect you to do it for a bunch of foreigners.”

    Sensing a kindred spirit, Veda Mae actually smiled. “You didn’t have anyone in Magdeburg back then, did you?”

    “No. But they sent me over to Rudolstadt, right off the bat, as soon as Steve insisted that he needed me to go full-time rather than volunteer. Which I agreed to do, even though, with overtime, I was sure making more at Ollie’s than the government pays us. The count over there speaks some English, at least, even though he sounds like one of those Shakespeare plays that Lisa Dailey tried to make us read in high school.”

    “Shakespeare’s not so bad. We even read some of his stuff back in my day, and he sounded a lot like the King James Version. Which the Reverends Jones never should have gotten rid of and put in one of these so-called modern translations of the Bible.” Veda Mae veered off on a tangent, pursuing one of her favorite grievances. By the time she ran down, Bryant had finished half of his lunch.

    “Anyway, you asked what Magdeburg is like. We’re trying to prevent all of the wonderful Emperor Gustavus Adolphus’ Kraut allies from turning themselves into krispy kritters, which, if you ask me, most of them deserve. They’re the ones who messed up and caused the disaster at Underwood’s coal gas company. And now Quentin’s dead himself, poor guy. None of the Krauts up at Wietze went running to help him, as far as I’ve ever heard.

    “I’m not even at the Navy Yard, which might make some sense. I drew Station Number One. With Bibi Blackwood, of all people, as Captain and Officer in Charge. I never did hold with women ‘firefighters’ and I still don’t. They even had to change the word from ‘firemen.’”

    “I never heard anyone complain that Bibi couldn’t handle it. She’s a big woman.”

    Bryant couldn’t argue with that. Bibi was a big woman, all right. He nodded, then said, “At least her boys are grown and Sara stayed back here in Grantville with Dean and his new wife, so she’s not distracted by having to find child care and schools. I’ll give her that much.”

    “Kraut woman.”


    “Dean’s new wife. Would you believe that her name is Krapp?”

    Bryant laughed so loud that people stared at them.

    “The whole town is going to pot,” Veda Mae said. “You can’t believe how many decent Americans are marrying these Kraut whores. There must be a half dozen or so who are actually taking classes at that Kraut church out on what used to be Route 250 on the way to Rudolstadt so they can marry them in Kraut ceremonies. And it won’t be any too soon for Ryan Baker and his girlfriend if you know what I mean, believe me. Little slut. She works in Cora Ennis’ kitchen at the cafe.”

    “I can see that it’s getting to be a problem. Hell, Veda Mae. Have you heard what Lenore’s dad did?”

    “Wes? Not a word. Not since he and the other people we sent over to Fulda were kidnapped by a bunch of ungrateful Krauts. That was in the paper a while back. I don’t have time to read the papers much, though.”

    “Well, the rest of our people over there got them back, including Wes. Anyway, he celebrated his delivery from the dungeon, or wherever he was, by marrying a Kraut woman himself. Sister of that Dietrich Bachmeier from Badenburg who’s a sort of cousin of the guy who’s Birdie Newhouse’s partner these days. That farmer up at Sundremda. Same last name.”

    “At his age, he should have known better. Wes, I mean. Stearns and Piazza must be nuts to have appointed someone as chief civilian administrator in one of our Kraut territories who would behave like that. He ought to have kept his distance, so they would respect him. What did they call it after World War II? ‘Nonfraternization policy.’ That’s it. Not that it worked the way it should have. Arnold Bellamy’s own mother was one of those Kraut war brides. He’s not from here, of course; he was from someplace in New Jersey when Natalie Fritz married him. So he’s half-Kraut himself. And Curtis Maggard’s mother, too. The woman’s as crazy as a coot. Well, of course, Stearns… Becky’s a Kraut, no matter what people say. Sometimes it seems to me that half of this town is going native. Thank god he’s no relative of mine. Neither one of them is, Stearns nor Jenkins.

    “Nor, thank heavens, the daughter of that idiot Pat Murphy. Did you hear that she’s back in town again, with that Kraut named Junker she works with? Junk’s a good name for him. Back from whatever it was she’s been doing down in Franconia. Probably up to no good. She’s working for Carol Unruh at the Department of Economic Resources, did you know. With that name, Carol’s likely a Kraut herself. I know her husband is, that Koch. She met him in Germany, up-time, for all he tells people that he was actually born in Greece.”



    It got to be sort of a habit for Bryant. He certainly didn’t want to eat lunch with all of the people who had come for the training conference. He was bad enough having to spend the rest of the day with them, listening to mostly German, even if it was peppered full of English words about firefighting equipment, without trying to talk it when he was trying to relax a bit.

    And Veda Mae had lunch at the Willard every day.

    “As I said, the first time that they sent me out of town, it was over to Rudolstadt. Fall of 1632, that was. I ran into Lenore again, there. She was taking some kind of class at the chancery. I knew perfectly well that her family was a little bit out of my league, but she was the only American girl in town, so we started to see one another. What with one thing and another, I proposed. Not right away, but pretty near to it. What do they call it?”

    Veda Mae thought a minute. “Propinquity.”

    “Yeah, that’s it.”

    “I saw a program about it on TV once, before we got ourselves stuck here. Oprah or somebody. You were right about ‘out of your league,’ though, if I do say so myself. That’s why I stuck my oar in when Laurie wanted to go to nursing school. And I was right, wasn’t I? Just her wanting to go and get herself above Gary led to a divorce.”

    “And Lenore accepted. I didn’t pretend to myself that I was her ‘Mr. Right.’ Lenore was getting close to thirty and, God knows, she’s no beauty. String bean with a horse face just about sums it up. How she can be so hellishly sexy is beyond me. I was her ‘Mr. Good Enough.’ Maybe even her ‘Mr. The Best I Can Do.’ Hell, maybe I was even ‘Mr. It Looks Like He’s All I’m Going To Get So If I Ever Want Children I Had Better Take Him.’

    “So we got married in January 1633. She wanted to go to premarital counseling at First Methodist, but I told her I didn’t want to. Certainly not sit through a bunch of “holier than thou” from Mary Ellen Jones, calling herself a minister when the Bible forbids it. So we went to Brother Green, at his home. With ‘obey’ in the ceremony, like it should be. At least they had sent her prissy stick of a father off to Fulda by then, so he wasn’t around to interfere.”

    Bryant looked down. “Maybe I should have broken it off right after I proposed. Do you know what she said? ‘I hope you don’t expect to be deflowering a virgin on your wedding night. No history of social diseases. Just for informational purposes.’ Then she wouldn’t explain any more than that when I asked her to. All she would say was that according to Dear Abby, that was plenty and I could take it or leave it.

    “I should have realized then that she was a bitch, before it was too late. I should have left it. If a woman’s been somewhere else before she marries, who’s to say she won’t go there again afterwards?

    “Anyhow, we moved back to Grantville a couple of months later, after I finished up in Rudolstadt. Then we had the kid. And Lenore invented a stupid name, so she could call a girl after her father. I’d said that I didn’t care what name she chose if it was a girl. Hell, I was so tired all the time right then that I didn’t even want to think about baby names. But I’d been expecting her to pick something normal. Jessica, maybe. Or Caitlin. Or after one of our mothers. Something like that.”

    “I don’t think I’ve ever heard of any other little girl named Weshelle,” Veda Mae said. “But at least it isn’t a Kraut name. Some of the men around here are letting their Kraut wives give Kraut names to babies that are half-American.”

    “I’d hated it in Rudolstadt, being off in a foreign town. Not very far, but too far to go back and forth every day. Then for the two months after the kid was born, she squalled her lungs out day and night, whenever I was trying to get some sleep between calls, so coming back to Grantville was actually worse in some ways. Given the way that kid yelled, I wouldn’t actually have minded being sent to Magdeburg all that much, even if I do have to deal with another batch of foreigners all the time, if it hadn’t been for having Stannard as my boss.”

    Veda Mae thought for a minute. “Weshelle should be beyond that crying stage now. She’s almost a year old.”

    “Yeah. Instead, she’s starting to walk and gets into everything if Lenore doesn’t keep her penned up. Smears food all over her face and into her hair. And all over me, if I let her get near. A whole handful of mashed squash on my good blue shirt.”

    Veda Mae nodded solemnly. “Sometimes kids that age can get to be a real pain. Now take Alden Junior’s kid, my great-grandson, he’s just a couple of months older and the way Alden Junior’s wife Kim lets him get away with things…”

    Bryant rearranged the silverware on his plate, pushing the last of the food to the side. “Roasted turnips are not the same as baked potatoes, no matter what the menu here claims. Sometimes I wish that I could get drunk.”

    “Well, don’t. I’m proud of you for sticking to the Baptist teetotalling line. I do myself, for the Methodists. Even though they’re getting slack, these days.”

    “Damn kid. Here, I’ve been gone for nine months and it’s pretty clear that Lenore didn’t miss me much. Stays in the nursery until Weshelle is sound asleep. Jumps up out of bed in the middle of the night and goes to sleep on the cot in the nursery if she hears the least little bit of fussing.”

    “You’re right about that. It’s nothing but spoiling. If the child goes to the bad, it will be Lenore’s fault. Just like Alden Junior’s wife Kim. I could tell you…” Veda Mae stopped, annoyed, because Bryant was interrupting her again.

    “She probably said ‘yes’ because she was far too proper to have a baby in anything but marriage. If not too proper to have sex outside it beforehand. Boy, but that grated on me. I’d been around a bit, myself, had a few girlfriends, but it’s different for a man.”

    “Ummn.” Veda Mae frowned. “I’ve sort of always thought that what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.”

    Bryant ignored her. “And after we got married, I thought, she would obey me, at least. We left that in the ceremony. I thought that after she agreed to be married by Brother Green, she’d change over to Baptist, but she won’t. Just because, she says, I hardly ever go myself, so why should she change?”

    “Well,” Veda Mae said, “I’m Methodist myself, so I don’t think that you should really complain about that. After all, Methodist is really the right church. The others just sort of try. And it’s teetotal too, like the Baptists, or it should be. Though I have my doubts about the Reverends Jones. Maybe you could change.”

    Bryant glared at her.

    “Get that expression off your face, Bryant Holloway,” Veda Mae said. “I’m your cousin and old enough to be your grandmother, so I can say what I please. Especially when it’s the truth. There’s no reason for her to change churches.”

    “Plus, now she wants to go back to work. She has more education than I do and wants to show it off, I suppose.”

    “Maybe that’s why she doesn’t want to sleep with you,” Veda Mae suggested. “Having another baby would interfere. But I already told you what I think of women who have more schooling than their husbands. I know what it leads to. I went through it myself.”

    “So I’m stuck, I guess. She’ll never do anything to give me a reason to divorce her, now that we’re married. Well, probably not. She acts as prim and prissy as old Wes Jenkins himself, but… You know. She wouldn’t ever have been to my taste, up-time. I would never even have asked her out. The only reason I did was that she was the only American woman that I could date in Rudolstadt that fall.”

    Veda Mae nodded. “There’s this guy here in Grantville,” she said. “He’s a foreigner, but not a Kraut. He’s working for Gary. His name is Jacques-Pierre Dumais, and he’s pretty nice. A good listener, as Oprah would have said. Maybe it would help if you could talk some of these things out with him.”

    She felt pretty pleased with herself, for a change. Jacques-Pierre was always so grateful for introductions. He was anxious to get to know more Americans, he said, to improve himself and get to understand how they did things. That was a really proper attitude for an immigrant to take.


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