The Legend of Jimmy Dick
The Ring of Fire that transported the West Virginia town of Grantville into the middle of the seventeenth century’s Thirty Years War brought more than three thousand people with it. Some were capable, some weren’t; some were wise; others were foolish; some adapted to their new life, others didn’t.
And then there was Jimmy Dick.
Starting with a blinding flash of light, the Ring of Fire transported the town of Grantville, West Virginia, through time and space into the middle of the Thirty Years War. Now stranded in the brutal world of the seventeenth century, the lives of Grantville’s residents rocketed off on strange trajectories. Some became wealthy, selling their skills and priceless objects from the future. Others became powerful and influential figures in Europe’s tangled and treacherous politics. Still others became renowned for their knowledge and learning. And some, of course, stayed poor and didn’t play much of a role in anything.
Then… there was Jimmy Dick. Born James Richard Shaver, Jimmy Dick was a well-known figure in Grantville. Depending on whose opinion you asked, he was a shrewd fellow—even a wise one—who was a thorn in the side of people who were self-important and pompous. Or he was just a jerk; a jackass; an embarrassment to the town.
His nickname started out as “Jimmy the Dick” or “Dick Head.” Right after the Ring of Fire, the Germans of the seventeenth century started calling him Herr Head.
This is his story.
June 2000 / June 1631
Sighting the mailbox to the old Jenkin’s place, and knowing what was coming next, James Richard, “Jimmy Dick” Shaver planted his scruffy docksiders against the firewall of Bubba’s car and stiffened his skinny legs. Then he hung on tight to the bucket seat, for dear life. If he’d bother to wear the seatbelt, he wouldn’t need to. But the day James found out that wearing seatbelts was legally mandatory was the last day he ever buckled up without the driver insisting”Hey Jimmy, watch this.” Bubba pushed the gas pedal to the floor just before they reached the top of the hill. The faded black 1993 Pontiac came off the top of the hill airborne. The car was faded because Bubba didn’t have a garage and he didn’t keep the car waxed. But he did keep it in top mechanical condition. Bubba liked driving with the top down. He liked driving fast. He also enjoyed getting all four wheels off the ground. There was a firebird painted on the hood, as large as could be. James wondered, yet again, if the bird was part of the reason Bubba wanted the car to fly or if the desire to fly was the reason Bubba bought this particular used car.
Jimmy also wondered, yet again, why he kept asking Bubba to take him to the VA hospital in Huntington when every time he did he promised himself to never do it again. The man drove like a maniac. But a trip to the VA left James an emotional wreck from the dredged-up memories. Ergo they spent the nights after the appointments in a Huntington motel, and Bubba was good company. As long as you kept the beers coming, he’d keep his mouth shut once you told him to. So, James put up with the hair-raising ride. Not to mention Bubba never hassled James about using the seatbelt.
“Eee-haa,” Bubba screamed as they flew through the air. A flash of light hit like a lightning strike with the sound of thunder. Bubba was driving way too fast. And suddenly they were blind. The car bounced back to the blacktop. His foot came off the gas and slammed down on the brakes. There was a bend in the road on the way down the mountain, and even if the car cornered like it was on rails, taking the curve too fast would put them over the high side. At any speed even close to how fast they were going they needed to accelerate into the curve to have full control.
Fortunately, as James freely admitted, Bubba really was half as good of a driver as he thought he was, meaning Bubba was very good indeed. With the afterimage of the lightning flash filling the frame of reference, Bubba drove by feel and memory and kept the car on the pavement while he floored the brakes and put the car into a spin. They ended up with one front wheel in the driveway of the house the Rawls would end up living in since their old home place was on the other side of the ring wall. The owners of the new house were in Europe on vacation and had asked Mrs. Rawls to look after their cat. The other front wheel was off the driveway and had squashed the end of the culvert pipe.
“Did ya’ see that, Jimmy? We made it all the way to the Rawls’ mailbox! Eee-haa, am I good or am I good?”
“Ahh? Bubba, I didn’t see much of anything but a flash of light.”
“What the bleep was that?” Bubba asked.
Jimmy shrugged off the question. As for the bleep, Bubba’s nagging wife was even plumper than Bubba and was forever trying to lose weight. She continually tried to persuade her husband to go on the various diets with her, to no avail. He would not join her, and she did not lose any weight. She also plagued him constantly to quit drinking. But that didn’t work either. But when she griped about his foul language, he took to censoring himself by adding bleeps in the place of the words she objected to. He kept it up because it bugged her even worse than his using the words. Since it was clear he knew what he was doing and could control it, then why didn’t he just stop? Jimmy knew all of this because, as much as she griped at her husband, her husband griped about her to his friends.
“It wasn’t lightning,” Bubba said, looking around. “There’s not a cloud in the sky. So, what happened?”
“I don’t know, Bubba,” James replied.
Bubba smirked. “Well, if you don’t know, nobody does.” It was a fair dig. Jimmy was Bubba’s go-to person on just about everything. Jimmy always had an opinion, and at least he seemed to be right almost all the time. Jimmy had a way of expressing his opinions as if they were unquestionable facts. Even when he wasn’t right, he was still very good at arguing other opinions into the ground.
“Let’s get out of here before somebody sees us,” Bubba said, starting the car and throwing it into reverse. If no one saw them, then there would be no need to mention who squashed the tip of the culvert pipe the new owners put in last year when they built the new house after tearing the old one down and blacktopped the driveway. With a squeal of tires and the smell of burnt rubber the car dragged itself back onto the road. James let out a deep sigh as they went around the bend in the road. For once, Bubba was actually driving at a reasonable speed.
When they got to the whitewashed cinderblock building which housed Club 250 on the outskirts of Grantville, the parking lot of the bar was in an uproar. Bubba and Jimmy stepped out of the car into the middle of shouting and what looked to be a showdown in the making.
“No way! That just ain’t possible!” Dave Southerland yelled. At six feet six inches, he weighed in at nearly three hundred hard packed pounds. He was almost a head taller than Ken Beasley, who stood there in his ever-spotless white bartender’s apron, with a fairly fresh, but used, small white bar towel over his left shoulder. Dave towered over Ken, shouting at the man almost face to face well inside, threateningly inside, Ken’s comfort zone. It was plain to anybody who knew anything about belligerent blockheads that Dave was itching for any excuse to get into a fight. Everyone in the parking lot was waiting for Dave to start swinging. And for once Ken wasn’t behind the bar where he could back up out of reach and then grab the sawed-off double barrel shotgun which hung under the cash register.
“You’re right!” The club owner nodded but refused to give an inch of ground. “But, possible or not,” Ken Beasley said quietly, “the sun is there.” He pointed at the white-yellow orb hanging in the sky like a three hundred watt light bulb, “And, at this time of the day it should be there.” The bartender pointed off into an empty stretch of blue sky. When he swung his arm from one point to the other, he used the movement as an excuse to put a little distance between himself and his antagonist.
“Ken, that just ain’t possible!” Dave Southerland snarled.
“Look, before the lights went out, the sun coming through the window was shining on Tommy’s table. That’s where it should be at this time of the day. When the sun is shining, I don’t need a clock. I can tell you the time give or take a quarter of an hour by where the sunny spot is on the floor. Before that flash of light, the sunny spot was where it was supposed to be. Then after the flash of light, it was almost all the way over to the pool table.”
“The sun does not just up and jump around.” Dave shook his head, “Ken, it’s just not possible. You’ve got to be wrong. It can’t happen.”
Jimmy snickered loudly. Every set of eyes in the parking lot focused on the noise, except Dave’s and Ken’s. Theirs remained in a tight lock with each other. Some people noticed that James had a wicked gleam in his eyes. “Dave, why don’t you go out to your parents’ farm and tell your momma that the Bible ain’t so.” Dave’s mother was a Bible-thumping Sunday school teacher, and everybody knew it. On more than one occasion, always when he got deep enough in his cups to get maudlin and feel guilty about what his momma called her son’s wayward lifestyle, Dave loudly told everybody in the bar ”
there ain’t nothin’ about the Bible my momma don’t know.” As far as Dave was concerned his momma was a living saint.
Dave turned and snarled, “What in hell are you talking about, Jimmy?”
Ken put some more distance between himself and the angry man.
“I mean, it’s happened before. It’s in the Bible.”
“Yeah. The sun turned back ten degrees.”
“Jimmy, you are so full of shit! It ain’t so. Ken’s got to be wrong. Things like this just do not happen. He can’t be right! It can’t happen. So, it can’t be in the Bible.”
“Put your money where your mouth is Dave.”
“I don’t want to take your money, Jimmy.”
“Oh, there’s no chance of that, Dave.” James’ gaze followed Ken’s slow progress back to the door of the bar where he stepped inside so fast it could have passed as magic. James’ smile broadened just a hair. “You see, you don’t know what you’re talkin’ about,” James paused half a heartbeat for emphasis, “as usual. And I do,” he paused yet again, “like always. And I don’t mind takin’ your money. So,” James faced split, adding a shit eatin’ grin of a smile, to the gleam of mischief in his eyes. Ken was back to the door, and his right hand was out of sight. James looked at him, and Ken nodded. “Dave,” James paused, “it’s time to put up or shut up.”
“Jimmy, you are full of shit!”
“I got a hundred-dollar bill that says you’re wrong and I’m right.”
“I don’t want to take your money, Jimmy.”
“No chance of that. You don’t know what you’re talking about. And I do. Two to one odds.”
Dave turned away.
“Four to one. Your twenty-five against my one-hundred.”
“You’re so sure you know what can and can’t be. You think your momma taught you the Bible!” James snorted in derision.” Well, hell, I know you’re wrong.”
Dave continued to hesitate.
“And I know you’re chicken!” Jimmy sneered.
“Ken, write it up,” Dave said. “If that stupid idiot wants to throw his money away, I’ll take it. If something like that was in the Bible, my momma would have taught me about it. She didn’t, so it ain’t there.”
Because of the fights and feuds, the custom arose in Club 250 for Ken to write up the bets and hold the money. In the process, each party initialed the bet slip agreeing to what the bet was. It didn’t stop the all the fights over bets, but it helped.
“How are you going to settle it?” Ken asked.
“If it’s in there, Jimmy will have to show it to me,” Dave said. Believe it or not, there was a Bible under the bar right on top a Guinness Book of World Records. Both were there for settling bets.
“Shit, I don’t know where it is,” Jimmy replied.
“That’s ‘cause it ain’t there. Like I said, Jimmy, you are full of shit,” Dave answered.
“Just because I don’t know where it is, don’t mean it’s not in there. We’ll get on the phone and call a preacher,” Jimmy said.
“Can’t,” Ken said from the door. “The phone went out when the lights did.”
All the customers who had been milling around in the parking lot, at first looking up at the sky, then waiting to see if Dave was going to swing at Ken, and then hoping Dave would flatten Jimmy Dick, lost interest when it became clear that the fight wasn’t going to happen.
Tom Jordan muttered, “Too bad. I thought for a minute there Dave was going to give that little jerk Jimmy Dick what he’s had coming.”
Something caught someone’s attention, and then several people gathered at the back of Bubba’s Buick.
“Hey, Bubba? What happened to your bumper?” Tom Jordan asked.
“What’s that, Tommy?” Bubba replied.
“Your back bumper? It’s missing,” Tom said.
“Shit, it was there when we put the bags in the trunk before we left Huntington.”
Bubba walked around the car. Upon a glancing inspection, Bubba said, “Shit! It’s sure is gone?” So were the facings of the rear taillights and the following edge of the spoiler. The ends of the bumper mounts were bright and shiny and smooth as glass as if a giant with a razor sliced them off at the same angle that matched the missing spoiler edge.
“Shit,” Bubba said. “When did that happen?”
“Probably the same time G-d moved the sun around it the sky!” Dave mocked. “Is the missing bumper in the Bible too?” Dave got the laugh at Jimmy’s expense that he was looking for.
“Go ahead and write it up, Ken,” James said. The accompanying nod of his head said thank you, and it’s all right. You can put the shotgun away. “I’ll bring the chapter and verse in by one week from today if I’ve got to read the whole damned Bible to do it.”
“Dave?” Ken asked. The question was, is that all right? The underlying question that Dave probably didn’t even realize he was answering was, is the coming fight off for now or not?
“Yeah. I can wait a week for Jimmy to admit he’s an idiot.”
It took three days.
“The thirty-eighth chapter of Isaiah,” James called out as Dave came through the door of the bar. James was there because he habitually arrived shortly after the doors were open and usually stayed until the bar closed. Looking sheepish Dave just nodded. He’d already read it. His mother did indeed know her Bible. “Pay up Dave!” Jimmy snickered.
“Jimmy, you’re right. It’s there. But you are still a jackass.”
A fortnight later Dave was hailed by Jimmy when he came through the door of the bar. “Hey Dave, it’s been two weeks. You’re past due.”
“Hey, you had a week to settle the bet. And I’ve got a week after that to make good on the I.O.U.”
“Yeah. But that was two weeks ago. You’re late.”
“Check the date on the bet slip, Jimmy. I’ve got over three hundred years before that note is due.” The date was on the slip both men signed when Ken agreed to hold it. “I don’t have to pay it until it’s due.”
The bar roared with laughter.
“I’ll hold you to it,” Jimmy replied, trying to salvage a scrap of dignity. But Dave had a loophole big enough to drive a truck through.
Ken looked up when the door opened. When he saw the men who were entering, he moved down to the cash register. Once there, he put his hand on the sawed-off shotgun that hung in a rack on the underside of the bar. “Julio,” he called.
“Yeah?” Julio Mora replied.
“Nine one one, now!”
“On it.” Julio left the sink of dirty dishes and headed for the phone in the back room.
Three men walked through the door. Each was well dressed, one more so than the others. They were armed, but that was common enough. Two of them had that air of ‘trouble on a short leash.’ Muscle, Ken thought. Bodyguards, competent, deadly, dangerous. They were also down-timers. Under the big “Club 250” sign on the door, a little sign read “No Dogs and No Germans Allowed.” All down-timers were “Krauts” as far as the denizens of Ken’s bar were concerned.
If it had been a bit later in the day, Ken would have told them to get out, knowing there was enough firepower at hand to make it stick. It was, after all, that kind of bar. At this hour, though, the “I want a drink for lunch crowd” was mostly gone. There were only three patrons left. Ken knew they were nothing but three more targets. It was time to stall and pray that the police came quickly, so Ken waited nervously for the down-timers to speak first.
After standing inside the door for half a minute, the trio consulted briefly, and one of the guards spoke in fairly understandable English. “We have read the sign.”
Uh oh, Ken thought.
“We are not staying,” the guard said.
Relief swept through the owner of the bar. Ken had never killed anyone in the bar and didn’t want to start now. For that matter, he had never been killed and sure didn’t want to start that now, either.
“We were told that the great philosopher, Herr Head, always had lunch here.”
James Richard Shaver, Jimmy Dick, often referred to behind his back as Dick Head, a name he richly deserved for being a jerk of the first water, actually managed to blush. Ken, from long practice, managed to swallow his laughter completely. Some of his patrons were a mite touchy, especially when they were drunk.
“Herr Krieger wishes to converse with him,” the guard continued. “It need not be here, where we are not allowed. Over dinner tonight, at the newly opened salon, perhaps?”
Ken let out the breath he was holding and took his moist hand off the shotgun. The tension flowed out of his muscles and evaporated without leaving any residue on the floor. Politely, he answered the trio with complete honesty. “There is no one here right now who answers to the name Herr Head. Can I ask who sent you?”
“We sought the gathering place of the local philosophical society at the . . .” The guard did not quite pause, “‘front counter,’ where we took lodgings. We were directed to the . . .” This time he did pause while he wrapped his tongue around a more difficult, recently learned, word phrase, “‘Police Station.’ They directed us to the . . .” Again a new word. ” ‘Post office.’ There we were told that the only full-time, practicing philosopher in town was Herr, excuse me, Mister Head, and he could be found here having lunch since there was no longer a Cracker-barrel in town.”
“Did the post office say Mister Head or dickhead?” Ken inquired.
“Yes, Dick Head is the name we were given.”
The other two patrons snickered, and James blushed again.
“Where are you staying?” Ken asked. “If Herr Head comes in today, I’ll give him the message. And then, if the greatest of Grantville’s philosophers wishes to talk to you, he can send a disciple to make arrangements.”
All the while Ken spoke, Jimmy Dick was thinking hard. He was never going to live this down. He knew it. People who hadn’t spoken to him in years, if ever, would hail him on the streets of Grantville at the slightest of excuse, just to have the opportunity of addressing him as “Herr Head.” The more polite of them would seek the opinion of Grantville’s greatest philosopher. Small towns can be quite cruel that way.
It was almost a relief when the door opened, and two cops walked in.
“Is there a problem, Mister Beasley?” one of them asked.
“No. No problem at all. These gentlemen were just leaving.”
One cop looked at the other and tilted his head slightly towards the door. The second nodded ever more slightly. Then Hans, the down-time cop, went out with the three strangers to make sure they didn’t have any complaints that should be addressed.
Lyndon approached the bar. When he reached the cash register, he asked, “What happened, Ken?” Officer Johnson was probably the only cop who ever addressed Ken Beasley by his first name. He once briefly dated Ken’s step-daughter, and Ken still thought well of him.
“Sorry about that, Lyndon,” Ken said. “When three armed Krauts came through the door looking dangerous, I thought I had a problem. Turns out someone down at the post office sent them here on a wild goose chase; just to get rid of them, I suspect.”
Lyndon worked so hard to swallow his laughter that he almost choked on it. “Sorry about that, Ken,” Lyndon apologized. “I guess that’s our fault. When the three wise men came wandering into the station looking for our philosophers so they could commune with them, the person behind the desk tried to explain that we didn’t have any. She finally got rid of them by sending them to the Post Office. After all, they have everybody’s address. Well, someone thought it was funny, I guess, to let them chase their tails all over town and called the post office and suggested Jimmy Dick.”
“Thanks a hell of a lot!” James added from the sidelines.
Lyndon continued. “If the post office had given them his home address they never would have come here.”
“Hey?” Jimmy Dick called out. “Hello.” He waved his hand in a big “bring on the train” wave. “I’m down here. If you can’t talk to me, you could at least not talk about me as if I ain’t here, damn it.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, Jimmy,” Lyndon said. “When I didn’t see you talking to them I figured you weren’t here.”
“Why the hell should I talk to them? And why was it funny to give them my name?” James demanded. Then before that could be answered, if indeed it could be, he also asked, “And just who do I thank for that anyway? And why would I want them poking around my house?”
Lyndon started to answer the first or second question and then bit his tongue. He didn’t answer the third question either, but he did reply to it. “Jeez, Jimmy, I’m not sure who made that call.”
In truth, Lyndon knew exactly who made the call. He knew it had been discussed for almost three minutes and everybody in the office, including the chief, knew about it and thought it was funny.
The conversation started out with someone suggesting that they call the post office and have them send the three wise men down to the stables to look for Don.
“Don who?” someone asked.
“Donald Duck,” someone else suggested.
“That would do, but I was thinking of Ma Quixote’s oldest boy.”
The people in the room had chuckled. Then someone showed his age by saying, “If they want philosophy, we should send them to Ma and Pa Kettle.”
“Who’s that?” At least two people asked.
As he tried to explain who Ma and Pa Kettle were and then what a cracker-barrel philosopher was, the name Dick Head came up.
The truth was that they were, perhaps, just a little embarrassed that they did not have a Philosophical Society in town nor did they have anybody they considered a philosopher. So they sought to hide the embarrassment in humor. Pain turned inward is depression. Pain turned outward is anger. Pain turned sideways is humor. All three can be destructive.
“If there’s no problem, I’d better get back to work,” Lyndon said. Ken noticed he hadn’t answered the fourth question, either.
The other two patrons were out the door behind him before it shut all the way. The closing of the door seemed to trigger a wave of laughter.
“Ken, bring me a bottle of whatever you’re calling whiskey these days,” Jimmy Dick said. “That story is all over town by now. Looks like I’ll be doing my drinking at home for a good long while.”
“Shoot, Jimmy. That won’t help, and you know it. The only thing you can do is make it your joke on the Krauts and ride it out.”
James picked up his beer and took a long slow sip and thought for a minute. You can’t talk while you’re drinking and you can’t talk while you’re thinking. Or is it you can’t think while you’re talking? James mind went back to junior high school. If someone insulted you it was best to turn it back on them; it was almost as good if you could turn it on someone else, then you were doing the laughing instead of being laughed at.
“Oh, come on, Jimmy,” Ken said, “why do you think I told them you’d have a disciple come to their hotel? You can have the whole town laughin’ at you, or you can have the town laughin’ at them.”
“I don’t know, Ken.”
“Go have a free dinner. Order two of the most expensive meals on the menu. Hand them some bullshit. Then tell everybody in town what saps the puffed up highbrow Krauts are.”
“I don’t know, Ken,” James said, again. The answer came a bit slower this time.
Ken knew he was coming around. “Well, why not?” Ken pushed.
“That interpreter he had was hard on the ears,” James said. It was lame, and he knew it. He also knew that he would be taking Ken’s advice. He just couldn’t give in without arguing. It wasn’t in his nature.
“So when you send the messenger, tell ’em you’re bringing your own. Better still, tell them you’re bringing two, so it’ll be three on three.”
Julio brought half a tray of glasses to add to the stack under the bar. The only time he ever brought less than a full tray was when he wanted an excuse to come out front. “I’ll get my grandson to deliver the message,” he said.
“He’s in school, ain’t he? I want to get this over with.” James said.
“I’ll call over there and get him out,” Julio said.
“Why don’t we just call the hotel?” James asked.
“Naw! It ain’t dignified enough. Grantville’s greatest philosopher would send a formal note. While we’re waiting for the boy, I’ll call home and get a blank card. Don’t just stand there, Julio,” Ken said. “Call the school and get the kid over here.”
When Matthew got back to school, he had missed one class and was late for the next. When he entered Mister Onofrio’s math class, he handed the teacher a note from the office. The note said simply “Matthew Bartholow was excused and may be admitted to class at this time.”
After forty years of teaching, Emmanuel Onofrio knew a rat when he smelled one. “You will speak to me after class, young man. Do you have today’s assignment?” It was the last class of the day, and Emmanuel knew Matthew’s shift as a busboy didn’t start until dinner time. The lad had tried, once, to use it as an excuse for not having his homework done.
When the room was empty except for the two of them, Mister Onofrio asked, “Just where were you, young man?” in his well-practiced “I can see your soul so don’t mess with me” voice.
“My grandfather sent for me to run an errand,” Matthew replied.
“And what was this errand that was so important that it couldn’t wait?”
“They needed a message delivered.” The boy’s answer sounded rather lame to the old man.
“And what was this important message, that had to be delivered, by you, before school was out?” The mathematician wanted to know. The boy blushed but did not say a word.
“Come, come,” the graybeard said. He knew he was near a confession when the lad blushed. “Speak up.”
“Well, they didn’t tell me not to read it,” Matthew said.
“So you read it. What did it say?”
“Dick Head, along with an interpreter and an associate, will be pleased to accept Herr Krieger’s dinner invitation tonight at seven. Please make reservations for six at Grantville Fine Foods.”
At the name Dick Head, Emmanuel Onofrio started to dismiss the whole thing as a bad joke. But the name Krieger caught his full attention. “Krieger?” He almost gasped. “Not Wilhelm Krieger?”
“That’s the one. I got his first name at the counter when I delivered the note,” Matthew said.
“Why would he want to see that idiot Jimmy Dick?” Emmanuel asked the universe, all but forgetting that there was another person in the room.
“All I know is that the post office sent ’em lookin’ for Dick Head and they found him where Grandpa works afternoons,” Matthew said.
“The post office?!” The puzzled teacher nearly yelped. “Why would they send him there?”
“I don’t know.”
“That will be all.”
Shortly after Matthew left, Emmanuel was on his bicycle. He was heading for the post office and determined to get to the bottom of it all.
The gray-haired man stepped up to the window to be promptly told, “Sorry, Emmanuel, there isn’t any mail for you. I’d send it on to the school anyway.”
“No, I’m not expecting anything. I was wondering, though . . . Well, I heard something improbable from a student and thought I ought to check before I called him on it. You didn’t see Wilhelm Krieger today, did you?” Emmanuel asked.
“Not that I know of,” she answered.
“Thank goodness. That’s a relief. I was told you sent him looking for Jimmy Dick,” he said.
“Oh! The three wise men. Yeah, I sent them to Club 250 to see the Dick, ah, Jimmy Dick.” Even grown-ups can be intimidated by an old teacher.
“Why?” Emmanuel practically shouted.
The postmistress must have “got her back up” at his tone of voice, at the implied criticism, and at being made to feel like a naughty little girl. “Cause the cops called over here and told me to. If you got a problem with that, go and talk to them.” With those words, she turned away from the window.
Shortly thereafter, Emmanuel found himself at the police station. Shortly after that, he found himself in Chief Richards’ office. Oddly, it was the chief who was uncomfortable.
“Chief Richards, do you know why one of your people sent Wilhelm Krieger to speak to Jimmy Dick?”
“Well, Mister Onofrio, what can I say? It seemed like a good idea at the time.”
“Chief, you just sent the biggest jerk in the whole town to represent us to the greatest intellectual mind that Germany is likely to produce this century.”
“Never heard of him,” Chief Richards replied.
“He probably didn’t live long enough to make it into our history books. Beyond doubt, he will be in the ones we’re writing now. His published work on philosophy guarantees that even if he never writes another word. We can’t have him thinking that jackass, Jimmy Dick, represents Grantville. You’ve got to stop it.” Chief Richards knew Emmanuel must be a very flustered academic. He wasn’t just speaking forcefully; he was nearly shouting.
“I don’t see what I can do about it. Having dinner isn’t a crime. If you feel that strongly about it, go talk to Jimmy Dick. Now, is there anything else I can help you with before I get back to work?” Chief Richards was getting a bit annoyed. He wasn’t used to being yelled at in his own office.
Emmanuel put his kickstand down outside of Club 250 within a few minutes of leaving the police station. As he read the sign, ‘No Dogs And No germans Allowed,’ his mind corrected the missed capital letter. Then he realized it had been done that way on purpose. He took a deep breath, squared his shoulders and entered the den to bait the lions.
Ken looked up as Emmanuel walked in. Emmanuel could see that Ken didn’t immediately recognize him. Then he apparently decided that Emmanuel was obviously an up-timer, probably okay. The old man approached the bar, and Ken asked, “What can I get ya’?”
“I’m looking for Jimmy Dick,” Emmanuel said.
“He ain’t here,” Ken answered.
“You’re Ken Beasley, right?” Emmanuel asked.
“Yeah,” Ken answered.
“I’m Emmanuel Onofrio,” Emmanuel said.
“Ralph’s uncle?” Ken asked.
“Or his brother, depending on which Ralph you’re referring to. Perhaps you can help me. I need to convince Jimmy Dick to not keep that dinner date tonight.”
“Mister Beasley,” Emmanuel started to explain but was interrupted.
“Call me Ken,” Ken said. “The only people who call me Mister Beasley in here are cops here on official business.”
“Ken, Jimmy Dick is the butt of a horrible joke. A joke that’s in very bad taste, I might add, perpetrated by the police department.”
“Manny, we knew that when we sent the note accepting the invitation,” Ken said.
Emmanuel ignored being called Manny. The old man detested that nickname but was dealing with a shock of his own at the moment. “You knew?”
“Sure,” Ken said.
“Then why did he accept?”
“Well, Grantville is going to be laughing about this for years to come. We decided we’d rather have them laughing at some damned Kraut stuffed shirt than at one of our own,” Ken explained.
“But, Mister Beasley, Ken, that Kraut stuffed shirt is Wilhelm Krieger. He’s here to research our philosophy before he writes about it for all of Europe to read.” When it came to Herr Krieger’s purpose, Emmanuel was guessing. Correctly, as it turned out, but still just guessing.
“Do you really want all of Europe to judge us by Herr Krieger’s impression of Jimmy Dick?” Emmanuel asked.
Ken looked taken aback for a moment. The stakes were a lot higher than he had realized, apparently. Still, he asked, “Do you really want Jimmy to spend the rest of his life being laughed at over this?”
Emmanuel started to speak and paused with his mouth open. He hadn’t thought of that. He was angry with himself. In an argument, you take the time that your opponent is speaking to plan your next point. In a discussion, you listen to the other party and think about what was said before responding. He hated arguing and was annoyed with himself for having slipped into one. Still, he had to try. “Mister Beasley, this is important. Way too important to leave in the hands of Jimmy Dick Shaver.”
“Well, the cops should’ve thought of that before they set him up to take a pratfall. Shouldn’t they have?”
“I can’t agree with you more. Their behavior is reprehensible. But what can you do, report them to the police?” Emmanuel asked.
Ken actually laughed. The hostility that had been building was, provisionally, set aside, though it was ready to hand and could be easily put back in play.
“Where is Jimmy Dick? Perhaps I can reason with him,” Emmanuel said.
“I doubt it.” Ken smiled. “His mind is pretty well made up. Have a seat and a beer on the house. Jimmy will be back shortly. He’s gone out to nail down his interpreter for tonight.”
That caught Emmanuel’s curiosity. “Who is he getting?”
“He wants Old Joe Jenkins.”
“That old hillbilly?”
“Yep.” Ken nodded. “Jimmy said he heard him translatin’ sermons, German to English and English to German right down to the emotional slant of the preacher and was never more than one word behind. He also said that Old Joe Jenkins was the smartest man he had ever met.”
Emmanuel was shocked to find that he was angry or jealous and chided himself for it. Why should he care about the opinion of the biggest jackass in a town half full of petty, close-minded people? Besides he had never really met Jimmy Dick, so the poor man didn’t really know what a smart man was. Then he chided himself for being overly proud and again for being uncharitable to the village he grew up in and had chosen to retire to.
“Who’s his other second?” Emmanuel asked.
“Huh?” Ken looked confused.
“Jimmy has been challenged to a duel of wits. He’s taking two seconds. One is Joe Jenkins. Who is the other one?”
“I don’t think that’s been settled yet,” Ken said. He knew for a fact that Jimmy was assuming he would be the third member of the party. He wasn’t thrilled with the idea. Fresh organic fertilizer had a way of splattering anyone close by when it hit the fan, and he didn’t want to deal with it. A thought grew in his mind, and a smile grew on his face. “But I think it should be you.”
Fritz Shuler was ecstatic. On a weeknight his struggling restaurant, Grantville Fine Foods was booked to capacity. He hadn’t had a night like this since the opening rush. The crowd was almost all up-timers, for a change. There was one reservation from a down-timer. Then the calls started trickling in. The trickle steadily increased until he was turning people away.
Fritz was frantically putting the final touches on the new policy that he hoped would be the salvation of his investment. He had researched up-time dining before he opened. He found a paper maker who would make paper plates and napkins. His niece bought plastic flatware and cups at school from anyone who would sell them.
He had set out to provide an authentic West Virginia dining experience. He featured catfish, Kentucky style chicken cooked in a very expensive “pressure cooker,” and beef grilled to order, on top of a full menu. The down-timers found it charming, but up-timers didn’t come back.
Someone finally explained the difference between fast food and fine food. After tonight when diners arrived, they would be asked, “Paper or cloth napkins?” But tonight, except for the one table, everyone would have real linen, silver flatware, fine china, and glass. He hadn’t planned to start that until next week but when the river floods, it’s time to float the logs.
After a hard day of frantic preparations, the night was not going well. People who arrived at six were lingering over coffee and wine as if waiting for something. People who had a seven o’clock reservation were arriving early as if they were afraid they would miss something. Customers were piling up in the waiting area. There were no open tables except for the one set for six with paper and plastic. Fritz was not going to put an up-time patron there. He gritted his teeth and started passing out free wine.
The down-timers arrived a bit early. Oddly, no one in the waiting area objected to being passed over. Fritz showed them to the table where they immediately examined the place settings in detail as was typical of a first time down-timer diner. Fritz was shocked when the rest of the party arrived and were up-timers. Well, it was too late to change things now.
Fritz showed the new arrivals to the table. Before they could seat themselves one of the down-timers stood up. Fritz was startled and just a bit worried.
In passable English, the standing man said, “Herr Krieger suspects that he is being played for a fool.” From the look on his face, the interpreter was completely convinced of it and was more than a little pleased about it for some reason.
Emmanuel’s heart dropped. He had hoped he could take the conversation into Latin, the language of scholarship, and control the night. Now the game was lost before it started. All he could think to do was apologize profusely. Before he could start Joe Jenkins spoke up.
“Why does he suspect that?” Joe asked.
It was a fair question, Emmanuel thought, but something about the way Joe said it was . . . Latin! It was Latin; accented but understandable Latin. Where did a dumb hillbilly learn Latin?
The interpreter looked perplexed. Emmanuel guessed that he didn’t know Latin, just his native dialect of German and the passable English he had picked up somewhere. Herr Krieger, on the other hand, was suddenly focused completely on Joseph. He motioned for the interpreter to sit down.
“My man here claimed to have overheard a conversation leading him to believe Dick Head is not a name but an insult,” he said in crisp Latin. His voice was quite tainted with suspicion and hostility.
“Well, he is right about it being no one’s proper name.” Joseph continued speaking in Latin, to Emmanuel’s ongoing amazement. “I am Joseph Loudoun Jenkins, now commonly known as Old Joe. When I was young, I was known as Low Down Jenkins. Over there is Emmanuel Onofrio, known to his students as Oman Frio, meaning Old man ‘Frio. Don’t look sour, Emmanuel. You know it’s so. Emmanuel is otherwise known as Ralph’s brother or Ralph’s uncle, depending upon the age of the speaker. Your third guest is James Richard Shaver, commonly known as Jimmy Dick, sometimes called Dick Head.”
“Why?” Wilhelm asked.
Joe began to answer. “Well, sir.” Hearing the West Virginia accent and word choice coming out of Joseph’s mouth while speaking Latin was amazing to Emmanuel. Still, somehow, it felt like Joseph was yet going to pull it out of the soup. “We came from a very busy time. Anything we could do to get things done faster we did it. Even our language was rushed. We didn’t have time to say ‘The United States of America,’ so we said ‘the U.S.A.’ When I was a young man we had a ‘President,’ a leader named Eisenhower. He was very highly esteemed. Everyone referred to him as Ike. Later two Presidents in a row were known by initials, J.F.K. and then L.B.J.” Joseph answered the question while completely ignoring what was asked.
“Are we just goin’ t’ stand here or what?” Jimmy Dick spoke up.
Herr Krieger’s interpreter translated the question into German. Wilhelm nodded slightly and motioned to the chairs with a slight hand movement. Emmanuel realized that James was a loose cannon who was getting irate about not knowing what was going on. He started translating the Latin into English for him.
“So you shorten names for convenience. That is nothing that we do not do. But he is Dick Head. Is that not an insult?” Wilhelm asked.
“Have you studied Hebrew, Herr Krieger?” Joseph asked.
“Briefly,” Wilhelm said. “There were works I wanted to read, but in the end, it proved more workable to have them translated.”
“I know what you mean. I tried to learn Hebrew and Greek, but it was more time than I could spare back then. Knowing French helped when I decided to learn Latin six months ago,” Joseph said.
“You have only been working on Latin for six months? Incredible,” Wilhelm said. Emmanuel agreed.
“We Americans do things in a hurry. I thought I might need it for dealing with the Catholics, so I was motivated. As I was saying about Hebrew, you know that the word ‘Rosh’ can translate as ‘first’ or ‘top’ or ‘head.’ Dick can be used in English to mean ‘penis.’ But it also can mean ‘any man’ for obvious reasons. Like the words,” he shifted to English for two words “lumberjack and steeplejack. So, yes, it can be an insult. But then, to misquote scripture, ‘a philosopher is not without honor except in his own home.'”
Wilhelm smiled and started to call for wine by picking up his glass and holding it in the air. But he stopped with the red plastic cup only inches off the table. “Why are we the only ones who have these?” he asked.
“Shit,” Jimmy Dick said. “They came from up-time with us, and when they’re gone, they’re gone. You’re being honored.” He swallowed the words, ‘ya dumb Kraut,’ because Emmanuel had impressed on him how important the dinner was. “Honored with a piece of the future. Everybody else here tonight has to make do with the here and now.”
Emmanuel started translating what was said into Latin before Herr Krieger’s man could give an uncensored version. People at the nearby tables seemed to be taken with sudden fits of coughing.
“Waiter, wine for my guests,” Wilhelm Krieger called out. When he did, it seemed as if there was a pause in conversation while he spoke. The noise level in the room unquestionably went back up when he set his glass down. “This,” he waved his hand to include everything on the table, “is truly amazing, so light, yet strong.” He picked up a fork and looked at it skeptically. “Can you truly eat with this? It seems like it would break.”
Emmanuel was busy translating German to English for Jimmy Dick, who was amongst the minority in Grantville who refused to learn German. So the conversation fell to Joseph, who responded in German. “They can break if you try cutting meat with them, so you use the knife. They were made to be thrown away after one use.”
“Truly?” Wilhelm asked with raised eyebrows. “What of the expense?”
“You could buy a box of one hundred for less than you earned in an hour,” Joseph replied. “They were not highly esteemed, but it saved the time of washing up. Our thought was ‘anything to save time.’ We were a very busy people.”
Herr Krieger’s eyebrows went up again. Emmanuel could almost see him thinking that there was a fortune to be made here.
“Unfortunately, we can’t make anymore. Even if we had the equipment, the materials are not available. These are the last for at least ten years,” Joseph said.
“Unfortunate, indeed. Do you teach at the local academy also?” Krieger asked.
“No. I don’t have the credentials it takes to do that,” Joseph said.
“But with your Latin . . . and you are a philosopher, surely?”
“Neither Latin nor philosophy are much regarded.” Turning to Emmanuel, Joseph said, “Why don’t you tell Herr Krieger about the school system.”
Emmanuel set about giving a detailed account of Grantville’s schools. As far as he was concerned, he was justifiably proud of them, even if they were on the low side of average up-time. Joseph translated for Jimmy this time. Ordering food interrupted the flow of Emmanuel’s lecture, but he eventually concluded with, “I would put our high school graduates up against Jena’s University students when it comes to general knowledge. When it comes to specialized knowledge, I would match Jena graduates with ours in the same field. Of course, we have areas of study that they do not.” He was thinking drivers’ ed, and then others.
The food arrived. Diners began to leave while others arrived and took seats. It didn’t look like the hoped-for fireworks were going to happen. No one had the Latin to follow the conversation, so why stay?
“Your colleague says Latin and philosophy are not esteemed?” Wilhelm asked.
“We offer Latin as an elective. Philosophy is covered as part of English literature,” Emmanuel answered.
Herr Krieger cautiously cut at his steak with the plastic knife and was visibly surprised that it worked. The silent bodyguard tried cutting his with the fork. It broke in his hand. A staff member immediately turned up with a set of silver utensils for him and took the knife and spoon away. Emmanuel had the chicken. It was quite good. It had been so long since he last had Kentucky chicken that he couldn’t tell the difference. The slaw, mashed potatoes, and gravy were superlative.
After his first bite, Wilhelm Krieger reverted to Latin. “Herr Head, is war mankind’s greatest glory or its greatest shame?”
Emmanuel translated the question.
“Hell, it’s neither,” Jimmy Dick Shaver answered. Joseph translated the answer.
“Neither?” Herr Krieger prompted.
“War is a great adventure,” Jimmy Dick quoted. “But, an adventure is someone else havin’ a hard time of it somewhere else. War is glorious when you win with an acceptable casualty rate. But no casualty rate is acceptable to the casualty. And since someone always loses, war is glorious less than half the time.
“To the men in the middle of it,” James continued, “war is at best boring drudgery spiked with moments of terror. For some, it is a walking nightmare that never leaves them this side of the grave.”
“Then it is our greatest shame?” Krieger asked.
“There are greater shames,” James said after Emmanuel translated the question. “The holocaust comes to mind.”
“Do you want me to explain that?” Joe asked.
“Might as well,” James said.
“In our history, Herr Krieger,” Joseph said, “in the years of the nineteen thirties and forties, a Prussian government rounded up twelve million people they did not approve of. Jews, gypsies, Poles, Slavs, and others. Then they exterminated them.”
“Like Vlad the Impaler killing every beggar in the kingdom,” Herr Krieger said. “But, that many?”
“It was a very full world,” Joseph said. “Look it up at the library. The key words are Nazi and Holocaust. It will surely confirm the six million Jews. You may have to dig to find the others. They are often forgotten.”
Wilhelm Krieger looked at James. “But, this Holocaust is surely a fluke?”
“No!” James replied. “Pol Pot, five million, Saddam, three million, Stalin . . . who knows how many millions.”
“So these holocausts are man’s greatest shame?” Krieger asked. The undertone of skeptical unbelief was less than perfectly hidden.
“Hell no!” James answered.
A frustrated Wilhelm finally demanded, “If it is not war and it is not slaughter, then what is it?”
Emanuel translated the question. Joseph waited for the answer. James paused. His last “hell no” was a reaction without conscious thought. Now he needed a response. “Tell him that mankind’s greatest shame is running out of good whiskey. No, wait.” A memory of personal pain gushed into his mind like a torrent of water from a long-forgotten dam that crumbled. “Tell him our greatest shame is an uncherished child. A man’s greatest glory is to love his wife and raise his children well.”
Joseph translated it. Wilhelm started at him like a pole-axed steer for at least five seconds. Then he turned to Emmanuel. “Did he translate that correctly?”
“Yes,” was all Emmanuel said.
Wilhelm looked back at Joseph. “Do you agree with him?”
“Well, it was my greatest joy. And yes, it is my greatest glory. So I agree with him.” Joseph said.
“And you?” Herr Krieger asked, looking at Emmanuel.
Onofrio’s memories flashed back through a list of unloved, bright children who faded into dull commonness or blossomed into brilliant horrors. “Yes. An uncherished child is our greatest shame.”
“You people are hopeless romantics.” Krieger’s tone made it clear he thought the idea contemptible.
Both up-timer translators laughed. When Emmanuel explained why, James smirked.
“What is so funny?” an obviously angry Wilhelm demanded.
Joseph dried his eyes. “My wife has often told me that I was a typical male with no idea of what romance is.”
Wilhelm humphed before asking, “Herr Head, how many children did you and your wife raise?”
“I ain’t mankind. I’m one man. Nam was my greatest glory and my greatest shame. When I returned no women worth puttin’ up with would have me and any women who would put up with me weren’t worth havin’.”
He saw no reason to tell this damned Kraut about his personal life. When Bina Rae found out their baby had “bad bones,” probably from something he brought back from Nam—something he hadn’t told her about—she moved out on him. She acted like Agent Orange was some sort of venereal disease he could have avoided. When she left, he took to hitting the bottle hard and lost his job. Bina Rae wouldn’t talk to him, wouldn’t go to counseling, and wouldn’t let him see Little Merle without a big fight each and every time.
Now Merle was living in the nursing home, and as long as the bills were paid, he never heard from or of her. Merle would not speak to him for abandoning her. She never even heard his side of the story.
The only happy year of his miserable life crashed in 1973. Bina Rae came home from the doctor and was packed up and gone when he got home from work. He got drunk and stayed drunk. Along the way, he got divorced and listed as sixty percent disabled instead of the usual thirty percent for a head case. Up to the Ring of Fire, the Veterans Administration paid for Merle out of his disability check. Now he was making do with family money off of rental properties that an agent managed.
None of that was anybody’s damned business, especially some damned Kraut.
“So you admit that your greatest glory and your greatest shame is war. But you would have me believe it is raising children.” Herr Krieger turned to his interpreter and spoke in loud, angry, German while rising to his feet and pocketing the plastic spoon. “You are right! I am being played for a fool. Settle up with the proprietor and return to the lodgings.” Then without a fare-thee-well, he and the silent bodyguard stalked out of the totally silent room.
Jimmy Dick was the first to speak. “Ya know, this catfish is really quite good.”
The dining room burst into roaring laughter.
When it had mostly died down, Emmanuel Onofrio stood and extended his hand to Jimmy “Dickhead” Shaver. “Mister Shaver,” he said in a voice pitched to carry, “it was truly a pleasure translating for Grantville’s only fulltime practicing philosopher.”
James Richard, or Jimmy Dick, Shaver (known to his close associates, and almost everyone else, as Dickhead) was in the grocery store. The old drunk was not there buying food. Most of his calories came from beer, followed by pretzels. Yes, believe it or not, despite the Ring of Fire, the Club 250 still sold pretzels. They were much better or a whole lot worse than the old ones, depending on who you asked. Hamburgers and fries rounded out his usual diet. You weren’t always sure that the ground meat was pure beef, the bun was hand sliced, and the pickle wasn’t Vlassic. But someone had managed to get the mustard right.
Jimmy Dick was in the store buying tobacco. As far as he was concerned what you could get was shit. Most folk—everyone who smoked, really—agreed with that opinion. They also agreed that it was way over-priced, but then they had complained about that back in the real world. Still, when the local crop failed because the growing season was too short, you bought what was available or quit. As he left the checkout lane a man was waiting for him at the baggers’ station. There was no bagger, of course. That was because there were no bags, paper or plastic. You brought a canvas bag, a basket, a tote sack or something from home. Cardboard boxes were popular at first, but they wore out. The ones that were still in good shape were bringing a good price on the curiosity market all over Europe, so the price went up as the supply went down. One little old lady thought of her hoard as her retirement fund.
As Jimmy Dick passed him, the man spoke. His English was good. It was understandable, with a heavy German accent of some sort that Jimmy did not place. “Herr Sha—Mister Shaver?” Jimmy stopped. “Forgive me for stopping you; I heard the girl call you Mister Shaver. Are you the Mister Shaver who is the famous philosopher?”
Jimmy had given up fighting it. Only the Dutch can stop the tide. “That’s me.” Jimmy waited. Next would come a joke or an insult or—rarely—a compliment. Jimmy had learned that to wait, laugh and leave was the best way of taking the steam out of the sails of whoever was trying to be funny at his expense.
“I would be honored if you would let me buy you a beer and ask you a question,” the stranger said.
Club 250, Jimmy’s usual watering hole, would not admit a Kraut. The Gardens, though, were just across the street and they would let anyone in. Jimmy was well known for buying beer for anyone who would listen to him. He was also known to never turn down a free beer. “Throw in a ham sandwich and you’re on.”
The stranger looked puzzled. “That was a yes?”
“Hell, yes, that was a yes,” Jimmy said.
The stranger beamed.
It was a quiet walk to the Gardens. They ordered the potables and, oddly enough, ate in silence. When the sandwiches and beer were done, the down-timer ordered two more beers.
“Herr Shaver, I have a question of practical philosophy,” the Kraut said.
Jimmy grunted over the rim of his beer.
“My daughter . . .” The man paused to swallow a lump in his throat. “She wishes to marry. We, her mother and I, have said no. We feel that the boy is beneath her. We think she should wait until she is older and that she should wait for someone better. We would prefer to arrange for her to marry a man from back home. We have forbidden her to see this boy. But she comes home from school with that gleam in her eye. We have spoken to her about it. She smiles now and says nothing. Once she told us that when they have graduated and he will find a job and they will marry and that there is nothing we can do about it.
“We threatened to return home. She knows it is only a threat. We want only the best for her. We don’t understand a culture that encourages the children to disobey the parents. It is not ri . . . it does not seem right. What are we to do?”
“You want your daughter to wait for someone better?” Jimmy set down his empty beer.
The odd man nodded.
Jimmy waited. The Kraut waved for another round.
“When I was a kid growing up in the hills,” Jimmy began, “there was a family in the neighborhood by the name of Jones. They owned half a mountain with a good farm on it that the old man bought with the money he brought back from being in the army in World War One, along with an uppity French bride.
“He was in the quartermaster’s outfit and made the money by selling things off before they could get to the front, then marking them down as being destroyed in route.
“Anyway, the Joneses had themselves a daughter. She was a looker like her Ma. As she grew up, her Ma filled her head with the idea that none of the local boys were good enough for her. Most folks thought that Mrs. Jones wasn’t quite right in the head. They seemed to think she was living in a dream world. She thought that the family ought to go to France and let their daughter find someone suitable. But the old man hadn’t managed to steal that much money, or he hadn’t managed to hang onto enough for that, so it just wasn’t going to happen.
“Well now, the odd part of the story was that most of the women in town seemed to agree that she shouldn’t settle for a local boy. My Pa told me once he thought it was because they didn’t want their daughters to have to compete with her.
“At any rate, a fellow by the name of Dupont showed up in town along with a Frenchman who couldn’t speak a word of English. Now, I don’t know whether this Dupont was related to the Duponts that had all the money or not, but folks assumed that he was. They had come to go bear hunting. Most of the bears were shot out by that time. But, there was a she-bear with cubs in a cave down in a holler on the Jones place. The only reason they were still around was because old man Jones was a really bad shot, and he sure wouldn’t let anyone else go hunting on his place.
“Well, they went up to Jones’ place to see if they could get permission to bag that bear. Mrs. Jones had heard all about them, of course. A rich industrialist and a world-touring French noble showing up at the same time was just too much. She suddenly had to decide which man they were going to let marry their daughter.
“Of course, the two of them had heard all about the beautiful daughter of the Joneses, and when they arrived, they were met in the front yard by Papa Jones, Mama Jones, and Pretty Little Miss Jones. Mama Jones was a bit put out when all they wanted to know was about the bear. But then she got a gleam in her eyes and insisted that her husband take them all up there right that instant.
“Well, when they got to the top of the bluff looking down into the rift where the cave was, Mrs. Jones took her daughter’s hat and sailed it off over the edge into the mouth of the cave. Then she announced that whichever one of them brought her daughter’s hat back to her would have her hand in marriage. The Dupont fellow looked at the daughter, looked at the hat in the cave, looked at the climb in between and the noises coming out of the cave, and shook his head no. The Frenchman, without a word, climbed down, retrieved the hat, climbed back up, used the hat to dust himself off and then sailed it off back into the gulch. “It’s your hat,” he said, “if you want it, get it yourself.
“Thanks for the beer.” Jimmy Dick rose to leave.
“But Herr Shaver, what does it mean? Are you saying I should let my daughter marry this no-account that she is taken with?”
“I ain’t got no idea. But let me tell you something about American kids, which includes your daughter if she’s been in the public school for more than a year. You tell them they can’t have something and you make them want it all the more. Shoot, we took over an entire continent just because one party or another kept telling us we couldn’t have it. If you’re convinced that this kid she wants to take up with is no good, then why don’t you help her to see it?”
“We have told her. She will not listen.”
Jimmy Dick shook his head. “I can see why. She came by it honest like. You don’t listen either. I didn’t say tell her. I said help her see it.”
“How do we do that?” the Kraut asked.
Jimmy sighed and sat back down. Then he waved for a round of beers that he paid for. “Okay, if this kid is beneath you, then his table manners ain’t up to your standards. Have him over to dinner with the family. Pull out the stops. Put out the best china, the real silver, have soup and salad, lay out three or four forks, and let her see what an embarrassment he is. Does she really want to set across the table and watch him slurp his soup for the rest her life?
“If you ain’t got the wherewithal to spread the table, take the kids out to Grantville’s Fine Dining and tell the fancy pants with the menus that you want a cloth napkins table, not paper.
“Put them together often.” Jimmy held up a hand to forestall an objection. “Have him over to your house or let them go where you or someone can keep an eye on things. If he ain’t no good, give her plenty of time up close and personal to figure it out. I guarantee he’ll look different up close.”
Having said that he tipped his beer and walked out.
It was a month or more later that Jimmy saw the troubled father in the store.
“Hey there, guy. How did you come out on that trouble with your daughter?” Jimmy asked.
The man looked sad. “What you said, about things looking different up close and personal? You were right. He is a nice boy, a good boy; he is working hard and doing well in school. He has a promising future. I would be proud to have my daughter marry him. But, it is so sad! She will not, how was it said? She will not give him the time of day.”