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1635 The Dreeson Incident: Chapter Twenty Six

       Last updated: Monday, November 3, 2008 19:52 EST




    Pam Hardesty looked at the newspaper. Blinked, and looked again.

    That's what it said, all right. Under the column headed MARRIAGES:

    MAUGER, Laurent, of Haarlem, Netherlands, and HARDESTY, Velma, of Grantville, at City Hall.

    The groom wore a scarlet satin suit with a lace collar and black patent leather boots. The bride wore a lavender vinyl wrap dress and matching backless, toeless high-heeled slip-on sandals. They exchanged rings. Official witnesses were Jacques-Pierre Dumais, formerly of La Rochelle, now of Grantville, and Veda Mae Haggerty, of Grantville. The groom is a wine merchant well-known as a frequent visitor to our town. The bride was most recently employed as a waitress at the 250 Club.

    "Goddam her," she hissed, half under her breath. It would be just like her mother Velma to get re-married without even bothering to mention it to her own children.

    Pam grabbed the telephone. There was no way to reach her half-brother Cory Joe Lang quickly, but she could at least reach her half-sister Susan Logsden. That was more important anyway, since Susan was still a teenager.

    "Grandpa Ben," she wailed. "Have you seen the Times? Page three, column four. I'm at work, so I'm going to check in Principal Saluzzo's office for her class schedule, find Susan, and tell her before some spiteful little bitch does. In the meanest way possible, of course. High school is the pits. You and Grandma Gloria better come, too. Yeah, I know it's too far for her to walk. Take the trolley; everybody else does."



    "I could scarcely believe she wore that dress. And talk about a pair of slut shoes." Veda Mae swallowed the last of her spinach pudding.

    Jacques-Pierre had scarcely been able to believe the dress at all. Much less that anyone would wear it. However, who was he to question Madame Hardesty's sartorial preferences? They had served their purposes - and, more to the point, his purposes. The happy couple had already departed for the Netherlands. With even the slightest amount of luck, he would never be obliged to speak with Velma Hardesty again.

    "Mauger seemed to have a favorable enough view of her choice."

    "How would he know what's good taste or not? Satin and lace on a man. I remember those clothes people wore when Schmidt from Badenburg married Delia Higgins' daughter Ramona. Stupid little whore. Trousers blown up like balloons. They have to have stuffing inside. What is he, a fag?"

    Jacques-Pierre reviewed the progress of the match he had initiated, from introduction to, presumably, consummation. "I seriously doubt it."

    Veda Mae snorted.

    "Mauger and his first wife had several children."

    "What does that tell anybody? You have no idea how many politicians they used to catch, back up-time, with perfectly nice wives and children, from the pictures that the papers published afterwards, doing what they shouldn't in men's restrooms at truck stops or lay-byes on the highways."

    He nodded.

    "This so-called emperor of the USE. Have you seen some of the clothes he wears? Purple. Silver embroidery. Ruffles on his cuffs. And he's left his wife up there in Sweden by herself for years at a time, now. That tells you something, doesn't it?"

    Jacques-Perre sipped his coffee, thinking rather abstractedly that Madame Haggerty was in rare form, tonight. As loquacious as always and spiteful to boot. Now, what more fruitful topic might he introduce into the conversation?

    "I have heard that one of the Kelly Aviation planes has been taken on a test flight."

    "By Lannie Yost, that stupid sot. With Keenan Murphy, who can't shoot at all. And Buster Beasley's kid, Denise. Bob Kelly has to be nuts to send up a crew like that."

    "There are some rumors that he didn't approve the flight in advance."

    "Probably too henpecked."

    "His wife approved it?"

    "Not that I know of. Kelly and his wife are outsiders, you know. He was here in Grantville working on a construction project. They got stuck. And stuck-up is what Kay Kelly is. Serves her right to have to spend the rest of her life in some little hick town. Which is how she sees it, I'm sure. That's probably why she accepted the nomination."

    "What nomination?"

    "To run against Chad Jenkins on the Crown Loyalist ticket. For the seat that Kraut wife of Mike Stearns is giving up. Talk about scraping the bottom of the barrel - they managed to find someone lower than von Drachhausen. Bottom of the barrel for both parties. When Chad served a term as county commissioner, up-time, he was a real fizzle."


    "But I suppose there's one bright spot. No matter which of them wins, at least it won't be a Kraut."



    He could scarcely ask Madame Haggerty to give him a good reason for someone to demonstrate against the Grantville hospital.

    She gave him one, without his asking. Truly, the woman was a free gift.

    It came in the course of a long recitation of her quasi-medical grievances against what he had learned was called "the establishment." In this case, "the medical establishment" and the physicians whose diagnoses had denied her late husband's right to receive certain benefits for "black lung disability" prior to the Ring of Fire. Madame Haggerty was quite certain that he had been entitled to them, no matter what the doctors claimed that the x-rays showed.

    Her specific complaint in this matter escalated into resentment of the medical profession as a whole. Particularly the portion of it that managed the Bowers Assisted Living Center, where she worked.

    It would not have occurred to Jacques-Pierre that such a manifest benefit as the prevention of smallpox would have been controversial among the up-timers. However, she brought him a group of "alternative medicine" pamphlets she had found stuffed into the drawer of a lamp table in the vestibule of the assisted living center. By, Madame Haggerty said, somebody who obviously understood "what those quacks who call themselves doctors are up to."

    The pamphlets had been very valuable in allowing him to develop the medical rationale that would be used by the protesters at Leahy Medical Center.

    He wondered what the Canadian Chiropractic Association had been. Canada, to the best of his knowledge, was very sparsely populated by French settlers, but these pamphlets had been printed in English. The members of the organization had, in any case, been vociferous in their opposition to vaccinations, inoculations, and immunizations. Since the up-time doctors, through the new medical school in Jena, were at the forefront of a campaign to introduce these ways of warding off smallpox, the discovery that there had been up-time opposition to the practice was a delight.

    Yes, given his current assignment from Mauger, it was a delight and a comfort to learn that not all up-time influence would be pulling in the same direction. After some questioning, he had discovered that there were a few, though not many, Grantvillers who shared this philosophy.

    He took the pamphlets to the Grantviller who called himself a chiropractor. That did not turn out to be very rewarding. The man did not agree with their contents. But his usual presentation of himself as a humble seeker of enlightenment had been quite successful. The man had shown him other materials of the same type that he had collected at "conventions." These appeared to be equivalent to diets or parliaments, but conducted by "professional associations," which were not the same as guilds, but in some ways comparable. The materials had confirmed the existence of differences of opinion.

    He notified Mauger.

    And Duke Henri, of course, although the duke had never displayed the slightest interest in the topic of vaccinations, pro or con.

    He duplicated a couple hundred copies of the anti-vaccination pamphlets for use in central Thuringia. Mauger wrote, saying that he should mail a couple of copies to Frankfurt for printing and distribution from there.

    They would soon be circulating quite widely throughout the USE. No one would be surprised when protesters inspired by their contents appeared in Grantville.



    "I'm not sure," Pam Hardesty said, "that it would be so bad."

    "What?" asked Missy Jenkins.

    "Having a mom who's . . . well. Sort of maternal. What you're complaining about, Missy. A mom who takes an interest in what you're doing. Doesn't want you to get hurt. What do you think, Ron?"

    Ron's feelings were ambivalent. Debbie's strong interest in where her daughter Missy was, when, and with whom, tended to have a sort of hamstringing effect on where Missy went and when. The "with whom" had not, so far, kept her from being with him, though.

    Ron's own mother had been primarily notable for her absence. So . . . 

    "Magda's actually a pretty cool stepmother. And she can cook."

    Both of the girls looked at him. It must have slipped Pam's mind that the Stone boys, until their father married Magda a couple of years ago, hadn't had a mother at all.

    He realized that Pam might be feeling a little bad for having asked him.

    "That's okay," he told her. "We were used to it. Making do on our own. It was probably better than having the kind of mom you had to put up with."

    Oh, no, Stone. You did not say that. You did not. She's Missy's friend. You're sunk.

    "You could," Pam said, "have a point there. You have no idea how happy I was to get the news that she was marrying a foreigner and going away. I'll probably never have to see her again. Never have to be embarrassed again by the slutty things she did. I was sixteen when . . ."

    Her voice trailed off, then started up again. "That was when I left home. Never again to wake up to get ready for school and find out that she came home drunk and vomited on the shoes in my closet. Inside them. All of them, so I'm standing there in my socks knowing that either I'll be late for school to run the sneakers through the laundromat or go to school stinking.

    "Now I'll never have to fend off any more guys who think I'll be like her if they push a little harder. She's gone. She's actually gone."



    Missy listened, astonished by Pam's tone of voice. Not to mention by her statements in regard to shoes.

    Obviously, the range of maternal variants included mothers who were far worse than her own.

    Which didn't mean that her own wasn't behaving like a pain right now. That was true, too. Compared to the way Nani Hudson was behaving, though, Mom wasn't so bad. Mellow, almost.



    Ron stood, watching the end of practice. As a coach, Missy was fierce. Ferocious. Aggressive. Not harsh with the kids, but pulling the best out of those girls and getting them to play their hearts out on a day that even the boys' high school team would have considered a little too cold.

    He recognized some of the kids. Most of them appeared to be up-timers. Didn't the down-time parents want their daughters to play, or didn't they have time?

    An idea dawned. The Farbenwerke needed its own soccer teams. Boys and girls both. With the idea gotten across that it was really a good thing for the parents to send their little girls out to play.

    Missy watched as the girls ran into the building. Then she ran to the edge of the field where Ron was waiting and kissed him. She made sure to do that now. Every time they met. Right out in public. Just so Nani would hear about it.

    Well, maybe not just so Nani would hear about it. It sort of put all the other girls in Grantville on notice that they would be trespassing if they so much as thought about kissing Ron Stone at present or any time in the immediate future.

    She felt a little guilty about that, occasionally. He hadn't given her any right to put a brand on him. But he didn't seem to have any objection to the procedure.

    It occurred to her that this particular kiss was going on for several seconds longer than absolutely necessary to make a point. Maybe she should demand her money back from the cosmic forces for that incense. If they had preserved her from this in the past, they were trying to double-time it now. They made it way too convenient to kiss Ron. He was only an inch or two taller than she was, which meant that no contortions were necessary. She gave herself a little shake and pulled away from the arm he had put around her waist.

    It didn't occur to her that he might regard the procedure as an effective hands-off notification to other guys. Not even when he put the arm back and kissed her again. She was too busy trying to keep the impish electrons subdued.



    Cunz Kastenmayer saw the kiss. He wondered if he might have averted it, if he hadn't been away for so many weeks, going to Fulda and Frankfurt and back with Mayor Dreeson. Had his mini-tour been worth it?

    Then he told himself firmly not to be a fool. All that had happened, once, was that Herr Jenkins' daughter had sat down next to him at a meeting. Only in romances did the daughters of wealthy merchants fall in love with the sons of impecunious pastors, much less marry them. That was one of life's truths. The only kind of girl likely to marry the son of an impecunious pastor was the daughter of another impecunious pastor.

    The likelihood that any of the Kastenmayer offspring would ever marry serious money and bring relief to the parental budget was really, to be honest, nonexistent. He pulled his cloak closer around his neck and walked on down the shortcut to catch the trolley that would take him to St. Martin's in the Fields.



    Missy wasn't sure she ought to do it.

    Her parents knew that she was seeing Ron regularly.

    He came to the house to pick her up. So far, he had not come inside.

    She'd been fine with that. Really, really, fine with that. She hadn't wanted him to. Somehow, if he was not laying eyes on her parents and her parents were not laying eyes on him, that made it a little less-so.

    Made him a little less-so.

    He was getting to be way-too-much-so. He was occupying a lot of her personal space.

    Missy opened her mouth and invited Ron and Gerry to Thanksgiving dinner chez Jenkins on the excuse that they didn't have family in town.

    Then she waited for him to turn it down.

    He accepted.

    She went home and told her mother that they were coming. The way that Mom had been sniping at her about Ron the last few weeks, it served her right.

    Although it might make him even-more-so.



    Ron went home and told the facilities manager at the Farbenwerke that he wouldn't have to worry about sending a meal up to the house from the cafeteria Thursday, because he and Gerry would go to the house of Herr Charles Jenkins for the holiday.

    Then Ron mentioned the manager's son Lutz, who was in seventh grade at the middle school. The manager was very gratified that Herr Ron remembered.

    "Come spring," Ron said, "when the weather allows, we'll be setting up soccer teams out here at the dye works to play in the recreation league. That will mean that the kids can practice near home rather than having to stay in town late. I'll coach the boys myself. Missy Jenkins has agreed to coach the girls."

    The manager nodded.

    "Missy says that equipment is tight in most sports below high school level, now that Grantville has five times the kids it used to. So as soon as you can, please get in touch with the sheltered workshop they've set up next to the Tech Center. There's a guy who works there a couple of days each week who is sewing leather skins for soccer balls. He only completes about one per week and we'll need at least a half dozen of them. If we want modern valves, we have to corner the market on deflated balls and transfer them. Any old inflatable balls like kids use in splash pools. Those can work for linings, too, if we find the right size. Check with Missy. She can tell you want to look out for."

    The facilities manager happily told every other employee, not only about the sports teams the dye works would soon sponsor but also about the dinner.

    Especially about the dinner.

    The employees at the Farbenwerke had all naturally been concerned about the long term future of the business when Herr Stone's oldest son had married in Italy the previous summer and appeared likely to remain there. So it had been a great relief to all the employees when, so soon after his return, Herr Ron had kissed Fräulein Jenkins right in front of the main building for all to see.

    A very suitable choice, everyone agreed. Ron Stone and Missy Jenkins were quite young, of course. But the families in question, both fathers being such prosperous merchants, could certainly afford to have their heirs marry young.

    Herr Ron was shouldering his responsibilities very well. Even though he wanted people to call him "Ron" without any form of address, which made several of the older employees quite uncomfortable.

    The officials of the employees' union started to give thought to an appropriate celebration once the betrothal was officially announced.



    Ron asked himself why he had accepted that invitation? Why he was getting involved with Missy Jenkins? The strong preferences in favor of it expressed by cosmic rhythm and karmic balance aside, of course. Those two obviously thought that getting involved with Missy in every way he could manage was a splendid idea and had started to bring along an associate named primal instinct every time he set eyes on her. That one insisted that if any other guy ever so much as looked at Missy that way, Ron would be obliged to turn him into toast. If any other guy tried to touch her, there would be burnt toast on the menu.

    Not that he had any right to feel possessive, of course. They were, ummm, well, something. Friends. Friends plus. That would do for the time being. Definitely not MineMineMineMineMineMineMine.

    In grade school, they’d gotten along fine. But in high school, Missy had been the sister of a jock, and Ron and his brothers had usually been on the outs with the jocks. Sure, maybe he had called her "Miss Cheerleading Ditz" a few times, but what could a girl whose parents gave her the totally ridiculous nickname of "Missy" expect? It was barely less absurd than Muffy and Buffy. Not that he had any right to make comments about ridiculous names, given that his own official monicker was Elrond.

    Then the high school had stuck them into the accelerated schedule, the one that dumped a half dozen kids abruptly into the real world after summer school. She really hadn’t been a ditz, he now realized. That had just been his own prejudices at work. She’d been a cheerleader because everyone expected Chip Jenkins’ sister to be one. She’d been one of those four girls every squad needed. The indispensable ones who made up the base of the pyramid. The ones who held up six perky, bouncy girls. Without wobbling.

    He’d thought of her as "Miss Utterly Bourgeois." Her father had been a businessman; Ron’s father had been a hippie. Now his father was a businessman, too . . . a successful one. In point of fact, a very wealthy one, now. And, uh, really . . . Ron was a businessman himself. Probably also wealthy, if he sat down and figured it out.

    This could all get very confusing.

    Once Ron asked himself the question, he had to admit to himself that he actually was getting involved with Missy. Beyond the mutually enjoyable experience of making out until he ached, every chance they got (which he deemed to be insufficiently frequent) and as far as she would let him go (which he deemed to be nowhere near far enough). That was the "plus" in "friends plus."

    Sometimes it seemed closer to "friends minus." Missy had picked up a very clear understanding of the limited reliability of down-time birth control. Some of it, he was sure, came from the health classes during their last two years of high school. He’d sat through those himself. More of it, she said, was based upon advice from Jewell Johnson, the retreaded home economics teacher at the middle school where she had worked as an ESOL aide. Mrs. Johnson had felt quite free to dispense certain types of practical advice to the girls working in the ESOL program, since they had already graduated and attained legal adulthood, advice that perhaps even the health teacher at the high school might have flinched at.

    "In my day," Mrs. Johnson would say cheerfully. She made no bones about the fact that she had been born in 1934. "Her day" had been the era before the pill - the great generation gap between the 1950s and the 1960s. Another world. One in which Grantville couples, when they went up to the quarry to neck, took along a length of clothesline to tie the girl’s ankles together.

    Or didn’t, which had led to quite a few hurried weddings.



    Missy pushed Ron’s hand away. "Right now, I am definitely not interested in human reproduction. Or, at least, not in personal participation in the process. Live with it, or leave."

    "Leave?" Ron asked cheerfully. "We’re at my house." But he removed the hand.

    Unfortunately, he knew that she was right. The various things that people were using for birth control were better than nothing, but . . . not all that good. Birth control now meant, as his dad put it, that over ten years, a well nourished fertile couple on good terms with one another would probably have a statistical two or three kids rather than a statistical four or five kids. If they were consistent and determined.

    That was useful from a Malthusian perspective, but it was not exactly fail-safe in any one month.

    Or convenient.

    Or elegant.

    Except, of course, for the method Missy was using. Reliable old standby. Keeping her legs firmly crossed and his hands off sensitive spots. Exactly what, during those last two years of high school, the recalled retired teachers who remembered life before the pill had drilled into the girls and Mrs. Johnson had reinforced. In this fourth year after the Ring of Fire, there were a lot of ways that life in Grantville didn’t resemble the twentieth century any more.

    "It’s almost funny," Missy said. "Nobody talks about it, but you can practically look around town and see which couples opted for a permanent method up-time, once they had as many kids as they wanted. And which ones didn’t. Which guys have had it done since the Ring of Fire, once an unexpected addition to the family showed up. And which ones apparently won’t, no matter how hard the doctors and midwives push it." She giggled. "When my cousin Bill was detailed here by the army to get his EMT training last year, he was calling Susannah Shipley ‘Dr. Snipley.’"

    Ron nodded. In spite of everything the medical types had thought up, there were a lot more babies coming along now than there used to be. One thing he had noticed right away when he got back from Italy was that businesses had nursery rooms almost automatically. Private offices were furnished with portable cribs. It was that or lose your female employees.

    As for "morning after?" There was only one possibility, now.

    "I guess I could go through with an abortion, "Missy said. "If I was raped by Croats or something, and absolutely had to. But I don’t want to. I sure don’t intend to get myself into a pickle where I even have to think about it."

    As for voluntary participation in human reproduction, her motto was, "No way do I want to go through the rest of my life barefoot and pregnant. Well, especially not pregnant. "

    She wiggled her toes against his feet. Shoes and socks were among the few items of clothing she thought they could dispense with. The rest were all in the category of parkas and mittens.

    He wouldn’t try to put his hand back.

    At least not this time. Not right now.

    Why did he even want to put it on her sturdy, square-ish body? When she was seven or eight, he remembered, she’d had plump cheeks and dimples. The plumpness was long gone. Missy wasn’t elfin, like a gymnast, nor graceful, like a figure skater. Very definitely female, almost maddeningly female sometimes. But a guy could see why, when a larger, masculine version of the build turned up on her brother, Chip had played football much better than basketball.

    Grantville had quite a few girls who were prettier than Missy Jenkins. Up-timers and down-timers, both. The little Gertrude from Jena who was living with her family and going to school here was a lot cuter, objectively speaking.

    But until and unless Ron managed to stabilize that upset karmic balance, the rest of them might as well be made of cardboard. That was fairly disgusting in its own right.

    His hand went out again, tracing a line about three or four inches above her body, from neckline to groin.

    "What on earth are you doing?"

    "Confirming something I suspected."


    "I’d still be lying here wanting to put my hand on those parts of you if you’d never stopped being a dumpling or had already turned into a Sherman tank."

    "Ron, that’s gross."

    "I think it’s pretty basic data."

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