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1635 The Dreeson Incident: Chapter Twenty

       Last updated: Wednesday, September 24, 2008 07:47 EDT




    “I think, Nani, that before you repeat that story, you had better correct it.”

    Everyone at the Jenkins dinner table looked at Missy, who was looking at her maternal grandmother.

    “I had it directly from someone who had it from someone who saw the whole thing,” Vera Hudson said indignantly.

    “Very few of someone’s ‘facts’ are accurate.”

    Missy turned. “Gertrude, now pay attention, because they’ll probably be repeating it at school, too.” She looked back. “Nani, there’s one pretty major problem with what that person thought he saw. Or she saw. Minnie and Denise didn’t take the cycles out this afternoon. Pam and I did.”

    Vera opened her mouth, then closed it.

    “That leads logically,” Missy continued, “to the fact that Minnie did not pick up Ron Stone and give him a lift out to Lothlorien. This leads logically to the fact that when Ron got off the cycle and kissed the driver, the driver was not Minnie Hugelmair.”

    She paused. “That’s how far your narrative got, Nani. Please note that the last fact that I just provided leads logically to the conclusion that Minnie is not a down-time Lolita and Ron Stone is not a dirty old man planning to commit statutory rape, which is, I think, the direction in which your narrative was tending.”

    “Mother,” Debbie said. “Missy. Uh. Both of you.”

    Willie Ray said, “Vera.”

    “Nani, when you consider repeating that story, if you would run through it substituting ‘Missy’ for ‘Minnie’ as a kind of preliminary, it might sound a bit different to your ears. What I don’t understand is how anyone could confuse the two of us. About the only thing we have in common, as far as looks are concerned, is light brown hair. Even then, hers is straight and mine is wavy.”

    “Maybe someone just assumed…” Debbie said, a bit lamely.

    Missy laughed. “For informational purposes, Mother, Ron and I were born in the same month and I think that he’s somewhere between one day and two weeks younger than I am. As the evidence upon which I base this conclusion, I would adduce the monthly birthday lists that graced the classrooms we shared between kindergarten and fourth grade, when our names always came up together and his always followed mine. Since I was born on the sixteenth of December, he must have arrived in the world somewhere between the seventeenth and the thirty-first.”

    “That’s nicely pedantic,” Chad said. “You may make a reference librarian yet. Would you care to share with us the sequence of events that gave rise to this, ah…” He spared a sly glance for his mother-in-law. “Misunderstanding.”

    “Pam and I like to use that road for practice runs. It’s good for our level of experience. They’ve improved the surface to get things in and out of the dye works, but that’s the only place it goes, so there isn’t a lot of traffic.”

    So far, so good, thought Chad. At least his daughter had avoided using the word “motorcycle,” which acted on Vera like a red flag on a bull.

    “We caught up with Ron. I offered him a lift and Pam decided to go wait there. We were talking on the way up. It’s the first time we had seen each other for, well, since they left last January. That’s quite a while. I asked him if he had learned any suave Italian phrases while they were down there. He said that he’d picked up a lot of the profanity used by workers at the arsenal in Venice. Things like that. Just talking. Then when he got off, he said, ‘Mille grazie, signorina,’ and performed a really flourishing bow. Then he took my hand and kissed it. That was followed by Nani’s version of the significant event. I would like to point out that I was straddling the cycle, he was standing on the ground, and there was about six inches of clear air in between everything except our lips and the hand he was holding.”

    She took a deep breath. “We were also in full view of half of the employees of Lothlorien Farbenwerke, I think. It must have been break time or something, so you don’t have to rely on Nani’s informant as the sole eyewitness. Then I took Minnie’s motorcycle back to the lot.”

    “Thank you,” Chad said, thinking that she had used the word “motorcycle.” Still, it was probably better to spend the rest of the meal listening to Vera on the topic of motorcycles than listening to Vera on the topic of Missy kissing Ron Stone.

    “Plus, he’ll be coming by in about fifteen or twenty minutes because we’re going to the library this evening since I’m working tonight. The public library. Where your cousin Marietta can watch our every move.”

    “Oh.” That, Chad thought, was definitely a curve ball. Or a slider.

    “Not that one cousin or another doesn’t watch every move I make in my life. I think I’ll wait out on the porch.”



    Ron looked up the steps. Missy was sitting on the glider, wearing a sweatshirt and a glum expression on her face.

    “I think,” he said, “that we disturbed the cosmic rhythm this afternoon. Or the karmic balance. Or something that Dad believes in.”

    He climbed the steps, stopped with his hand on the banister, and looked at her again. He felt a little queasy. Up till now the girls he had seriously wanted to kiss had mostly been… pretty. Preferably gorgeous, but cute was the bottom cut-off and “pretty” covered most of them.

    Missy Jenkins wasn’t ugly. She wasn’t even unattractive. She just wasn’t… pretty.



    Missy looked back at him. Ron Stone seemed more or less like he always had been. He was a little more adult-shaped than she remembered. Thicker in the chest. He didn’t really look like a kid any more. But he was still himself. Straight hair, darkish blond. Medium. Medium height, width, face. Ordinary, except for the hazel eyes which proclaimed “brighter than your average bear.” She knew that from being in school with him, anyway. So what had happened?

    They had disturbed something, all right.


    Missy didn’t have anything against Ron, but she had sooooo not wanted to respond like that to a kiss from any guy in the world for another five years. Ten years. Until she got herself organized and had real life down pat.

    “Yeah,” she said. “Maybe.”

    “I figure it this way,” Ron said. “We performed the deed that upset the equilibrium in front of my place. So we ought to be able to reverse the process if we kiss again in front of your house. That will put everything right back where it always was.”

    She looked around. “Interesting hypothesis. Nice persuasive tone of voice, too. You’re talking to the daughter of a car salesman, though. If you think I’m going to add another chapter to Nani’s story by standing here on the porch and kissing you again—rethink the program.”

    “Hmmn. We did it in the daylight, there, and it’s still barely dusk. In order to achieve karmic balance, let’s figure that the reverse process will work better if we do it in front of your house after dark. I’ll accept the sidewalk if you have a quibble about the porch. Library now, kiss me again later.”

    In spite of herself, Missy laughed.



    They weren’t walking very fast. For one thing, the public library wasn’t far from her house.

    “What do you mean, you’re studying to be a librarian?”

    That really startled Ron. He’d figured that Missy had picked “library” as a place to spend what amounted to their first non-date on the theory that it was safe. Neutral. Noncommittal. A part-time job, since she had said she had to work.

    Not that it was her own personal turf.

    If it was, though, it sort of made sense. She was trying to put herself in charge of whatever was going on. Playing on the home field.

    That kiss this afternoon had been weird.

    “There weren’t that many options when I graduated. Well, when you graduated, too. You knew that it was either the army or pharmaceuticals, though, and everyone knew that even Frank Jackson wanted you to work with your dad, like your brother Frank was doing—not waste the preparation you already had. What was there for me? I didn’t want to join the army. Definitely not nursing or medicine. I didn’t really want to devote my life to manufacturing steel or dealing with methanol or being a radio operator. Dad could use me as an assistant for his office work, but… So Mom stuck me into teacher training, which wasn’t bad. And being an ESOL aide at the same time was fine. I’d had the experience, in a way, with Gertrude living with us. I did that until this spring. You were off in Venice with the embassy by then. That’s when Marietta talked to me.”


    “Ms. Fielder to you.”

    “The Sherman tank of Grantville Public Library.”

    Missy gave him a sour look. “She’s Dad’s first cousin and what you’ve been undressing with your eyes is my version of the ‘Newton body.’ My half-sister Anne Jefferson got Mom’s shape, with her father’s height. Elegant. I got this. Before the Ring of Fire, Dad was headed in an expansive direction, too. Gran doesn’t have it, herself. She’s paper thin, like most of the Williamses were, but she passed it on to Dad and Chip and me. It’s one of my annual New Year’s resolutions—never to let myself blossom to the extent that Marietta and Great-aunt Elizabeth have. It’s what I’ve inherited, but at least I’ll keep it pared down. In order to do that, though, I have to exercise regularly. Which I do, even though it’s boring. I’m actually in very good shape.”

    Ron eyed her again, from head to toe. He repeated the scan focusing on neck to knee. The sweatshirt was not a lot of help. “Way to go.”

    She gave him a shove and started to talk about data and information gathering. How important they were becoming to Grantville; the role of the different libraries and the research center. That her real apprenticeship, if that was what you wanted to call it, was out at the high school under Elaine Bolender, but that she spent time in every library inside the Ring of Fire, from the grade school to the power plant. That was the first year. By third year, she would need to be learning about down-time libraries. The University of Jena, for example. By then, there would be an exchange system set up, Elaine expected, sort of like the one the medical school would have between Leahy Medical Center here in Grantville and Jena. There were down-time librarians coming to Grantville fairly regularly now, especially to study cataloging.

    By the time they got there, she had given him a virtual tour of how the configuration of the town’s various libraries had changed while he was in Italy, with special attention to the way their resources, as they were being developed, would be of use to an enterprise like Tom Stone’s.

    In turn, Ron had taken her on the same kind of procession through what Lothlorien Farbenwerke was turning into under the management of Magda’s father, which no longer bore much resemblance to a decrepit hippie commune. Aside from the manufacturing areas, which dwarfed the greenhouses, the original geodesic dome was now only an annex to a quite respectable house. The Stones hadn’t wanted to get rid of the dome. Sentiment, Ron said.

    Then they spent three hours talking to Marietta Fielder about cross-indexing and information retrieval systems, specifically as they applied to facilitation of pharmaceutical research.

    Missy gave an extra special smile of thanks to the other student assistant on evening shift, who had ended up carrying a very heavy load of circulation and reference questions.

    A monk in full habit? Ron shrugged to himself. Grantville sure wasn’t what it had been when he and Missy were growing up. But if there had to be some guy working one-to-one with Missy on evening shift, Ron thought a monk was a really good choice. He smiled warmly also, trying to project a few thoughts at the guy while he did it. Thoughts about a really enthusiastic embrace of lifelong celibacy.



    On the way home, they talked about what had happened in Venice and Rome during the so-called Galileo Affair. The CoC printing press and the Phillips screwdriver. Joe Buckley, murdered by the French Protestant fanatic, Michel Ducos—the same guy who’d almost engineered the Pope’s assassination. Sharon Nichols and Feelthy Sanchez. Father Mazzare. Cardinal Mazzare, now.

    Ron was pleased to discover that Missy had no sympathy for Billy Trumble. He’d been a year ahead of her in school and had once tried out the “lordly senior jock” approach. Ron found her frankly expressed wish that some day Trumble would make an even worse fool of himself satisfying. At some level, Ron was still holding a grudge against him in regard to the escape of Ducos.

    Shortly thereafter, they tested the Stone Hypothesis. By then, on the way back from the library, they had refined the proposed procedural rules. In front of her house, on the sidewalk, in the dark, clasping the opposite hands to the ones they had been holding that afternoon, and, upon Ron’s strong urging, without six inches of air separating them.

    “I don’t think that worked quite the way we intended,” Ron said. “As far as restoring karmic balance and getting things back to the status quo ante, all I can say is that it was a real bummer. Otherwise, it was a great success.”



    “This is strange.” Strange didn’t even begin to cover it, Missy thought. Little impish electrons seemed to have taken up residence in both of her kneecaps and both of her hip sockets, from which locations they kept shooting sparks at one another. Diagonally.

    “Yeah. It is, sort of.”

    “I wonder why we never kissed each other earlier? All those years going through middle school or high school together? Almost everyone kisses everyone else, somewhere along the line.”

    “The forces that manage Dad’s beloved cosmic rhythm knew we weren’t old enough to handle it? Maybe I ought to toss them a bit of incense for that.”

    Missy stood there thinking that she sooooo did not want this kind of complication in her life right now. Maybe never. Definitely not right now.

    She hadn’t really given a thought to religion since she got old enough to tell her mother that she wasn’t going to Sunday School at First Methodist any more and made it stick. Her name was still on the rolls, she supposed, if only because she had never had any incentive to have it removed. But if Ron’s cosmic forces existed and they had kept this from happening four or five years ago, she owed them. A lot.

    “Give them an extra handful, while you’re at it. Pat Bonnaro down at the gift shop still carries the stuff. I’ll pay for my share.”

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