PAPA TROLL By John and Patti Friend Prologue March 18th 2000 Dan Frost stood by the coffee pot and poured Ralph and himself a cup of mud. It had been a long day. Ralph was coming on and he was going off duty. There had been another domestic dispute out at Marlene Bates’ place. Marlene and Melodie Axetall had been yelling at each other out in their front yard and Irene Flannery had called in a complaint. It was nothing new. Irene Flannery had complained of dogs on her lawn or children picking her flowers. She had complaints every other day. His major problem today had been JJ, Jesse James Bates. His day had started with the call from Irene, kids breaking a window, and had ended with JJ down near the Club 250. Dan sipped his barely warm coffee. The station really did need a new pot. “Ralph, did you get a chance to look at today’s reports yet?” Dan asked his night shift deputy. “Sure did, Dan.” Ralph answered, his smile slipping. “You saw JJ Bates name on one of the reports, didn’t you?” Dan asked. “Dan, can’t we do something about him? Send him to the VA shrink or something?” Ralph countered. “This is just between you and me, Ralph. You haven’t dealt with JJ much and this stays in the station -- between cops as the saying goes.” Dan choked down the now cold coffee. “JJ has been to the VA psychiatrist,” he continued, “and he does have a few problems. Anyone with a section eight discharge can see a VA psychiatrist. JJ’s not crazy; but he does have psychological problems.” Ralph swallowed his coffee and waited for the Chief to continue. “Ol’ JJ doesn’t start most of the trouble deliberately, though he does seem to court it. He’s like a powder keg waiting for the fuse to be lit.” Dan finished his coffee and poured the rest of the sludge into his cup. It had been a long day. “I nearly hauled him in today. He tore up a couple of good ol’ boys from Fairmont. But I found out they’d been over at the Club 250 drinking earlier and a couple of jerks egged them into going after JJ.” The chief frowned. “There was quite a little crowd watching the show outside the 250 when I got there. One of the men from Fairmont had bumped into JJ; and the other slapped him up along the back of the head, thinking they were being funny.” Dan continued. “I’m going to find out who pointed JJ out to them and told them, if they wanted a little fun, they should hassle the town freak. The two Fairmont boys wouldn’t talk.” Ralph physically cringed. That was way more than enough to trigger JJ. He could just image JJ Bates’ reaction. He would have to read the report. It was bound to be a doozy. “JJ doesn’t trust anyone and he has no respect for authority. Crap. He never works for more than a few months and quits. If he wasn‘t such a good machinist, he‘d never be rehired anywhere in Marion County “To make matters worse, he thinks everyone’s out to get him. It makes it real hard to deal with the man.” Dan gulped the last of his coffee “Things are going to be a little calmer now when JJ’s around, though. I had a little talk with him and he won’t come into town without checking with the department first. So, if he calls to come in, let me know. “We came to an agreement, and I plan to help him stay out of trouble.” Dan looked at his cup. “And pass the word: I want everyone to pony up three bucks on payday. We’ve got get a new coffee pot.” “Can do, Chief.” Ralph grinned at his boss. He was glad Dan could handle old JJ; the man wasn‘t easy to deal with. The chief was right; JJ usually didn’t directly start the fights. He just jumped in with both boots and ended them. No. JJ needed to stay out of town as much as possible. He did most of his shopping over at Fairmont and Morgantown and didn‘t have any problems there. But the Club 250 wasn‘t in those towns, and JJ seemed to be less abrasive away from the crowd that hung out there. Ralph knew he just didn’t have the chief’s patience or moxie. That was why Dan was the chief and he was the deputy. He had watched the chief handle worse than JJ Bates. It was a knack he hoped to refine as well as Dan Frost Ralph tossed the cold coffee from his cup and filled the pot for a fresh batch of coffee. It would, hopefully, be a long boring night. * * * Thuringia End of May 1631 Friedrich had not eaten in three days. He had stumbled onto a burned out cottage with four charred bodies piled at what would have been the doorway. He could see piles of cut wood stacked next to three earthen mounds that were used as charcoal ovens. This could have been the home of charcoal makers. It was hard for the boy to reason clearly, hunger fogged his mind. There would be no food for him here and he had not sunk to the level of eating the dead The lack of smoky odor about the place indicated that the fire had been out for some time. The soldiers had preceded him and there was nothing left to steal here Though the chance of lingering soldiers was slim, there were small bands of the beasts roaming the countryside stealing, doing unspeakable things, and burning whatever they left behind. Friedrich avoided the soldiers. For the last year of his short twelve years of life, he had survived by stealing an occasional chicken, loaf of bread, and ripened grain plucked from the field. He tried to keep the small bag he carried filled with anything edible. His family had all been killed by one of the all-too-common, small bands of soldiers that had ravaged the countryside for most of Friedrich's memory. He had avoided going into towns and villages. To the boy, they were not places of refuge, but places to be feared. He didn't wish to be forced into servitude by someone claiming to take him in as charity. His stomach gurgled and a sharp pain stabbed him. He felt as if his stomach was pressing against his spine. The feeling left him weak and dizzy. He was used to going for long periods without food -- usually a day and half or sometimes three, at the most. But for the past eight days, things had been very bad. Four days ago, he had slipped into a soldiers' camp and had stolen some of their food; but it had not been much -- just a piece of cheese smaller that his fist. He had eaten it, mold and all. Even the soldiers were finding little to steal. Through the thin forest, he could make out the rise of a low hill. A clump of trees stood visible on it. The terracing of the hill indicated a possible farm. Friedrich turned toward the hill. This was new country for him, but he had to get ahead of the soldiers if he expected to find any food. The soldiers were locusts. They picked everything clean and left nothing for others to feed on. Fredrick stumbled away toward the farm. It was getting harder to maintain his balance and everything seemed unreal. * * * Jesse James, JJ, Bates admired his latest handiwork. Now he could cook the mash for his hogs and dump it into a gravity fed trough that would carry the semi-liquid slop to them. It was a neat arrangement, even if he did say so himself; and it was the only project he'd finished since moving back to Grantville. The feeding station was built up high enough so that, after the mash had been cooked and cooled, JJ could tip the fifty-five gallon metal drum on its pivot bar, sending the slop down slanting chutes, and rely on gravity to pull it downward to the actual feed trough for his hogs. Each drum was set above its own gas jet. JJ had cannibalized the jets from propane barbecues. Each set of gas jets was controlled by its own regulator that controlled the amount of gas flowing to the jets. Without the regulators, too much gas would be fed to the jets and burn out the bottoms of the barrels. JJ not only didn't want the barrels destroyed; he didn't want the slop being cooked ruined. The stuff was too damn expensive, as far as he was concerned. Shit, the hogs had become more of a pain in the ass than of any use. The methane gas that powered the cookers came from one of JJ’s many aborted projects: the hog farm, which had been started after his brain fart, the chicken ranch, was dropped. The methane project had been a partial success. The entire scheme came from an old monthly science magazine article on how to utilize farm waste to provide energy. There had been four articles describing various alternate energy sources in that damn magazine. Well, the writer had either left something out or JJ hadn’t followed the instructions properly. Granted, he’d done a few substitutions here and there. He didn’t have that many animals and he was mixing hog crap with chicken manure; but he was barely getting enough methane to run the hog feeding station. He looked around at his one completed project with pride. He had spent a week building onto the original cooking station. Between playing PC games and reading books, he had expanded the loading platform to hold a week's worth of bags of hog mash. Carrying it up to the platform everyday was just too much of a pain in the ass. During the three years before the end of the world, he had started a dozen projects and abandoned a dozen others that had either been barely started or nearly -- but not quite -- finished. Popular science just never had enough information for him to get some of the projects to work right. Since the day the world seemed to have ended, he'd come to realize that he wouldn't be getting any more feed for his hogs and chickens. He wouldn't be making any more runs to his favorite feed store outside Fairmont. He was lucky to have a six-month supply laid up. Just last month, he had hooked his trailer up to the ancient 1960 International pickup he kept parked beside the barn. He had made his usual run to the feed store and, because of a sale, had bought more than he usually did. At least it had seemed like he'd gotten carried away at the time. The feed store was gone now, along with Fairmont. It had been a good feed store He might get a strange look, but no one gave him any shit, like some of the Grantville rednecks did. Ol' Man Frame always greeted him with, "Hey Hippy, when’s yawl gonna get that haar fixed." Frame wasn't too bad; but the old man must still think it was the sixties, confusing him with someone like Stoner. Ol' Man Frame was the one who had sold him all those off-the-wall chickens and had ordered in the hogs for him. He’d tried to do a back-to-the-earth gig. It hadn’t panned out well at all. It wasn’t the fact that he came from the Five Hollers that caused problems; it was just that every time he went to town, the shit hit the fan. Someone always rubbed him the wrong way. Some comment about his hair or asking if that worthless niece of his was still catting around and if she needed a real man. Hell! Marlene was a slut like her mother; but no one was going to badmouth his niece or his sister Trouble just seemed to find JJ every time he went into Grantville, and something always triggered the trouble. He was probably the only man in the county who was permanently banned from the Club 250. Hell, Dan Frost had even suggested that it would be better if he only came to town when necessary because that would make it easier on both of them. Dan even said it hadn’t been his fault the last time he’d gotten into a scrape, even though JJ had taken it too far. Three days earlier, JJ had been working on the old smoke house when World War Three had started. At least, that was what it had seemed like at the time -- a blinding flash of light that had seemed to explode everywhere at once. "The 'Ay Bombs' is afallin'! The Ruskies is attackin!" as his grandpa would have said. He hadn’t been playing with a full deck when he’d dropped the three septic tanks into the ground to save the family from the commies. Bomb shelters, my ass. Grandpa wasn’t completely crazy. He just wanted somewhere he could get away from Grandma. By Dralm, Yatar, and Gnu! His mind was flaking out again. The speakers he had installed by the new hog feeding station were blaring, "Whip it, whip it good!" His father's two brothers had died in Korea back in the fifties. Both had run off and joined the army to get away from Grantville and Grandpa. When JJ's uncles, Harold and James, had been killed in the line of duty, Grandpa had really become a certifiable fruit loop. JJ had the only A-Bomb shelter in Grantville, thanks to Grandpa. The A-Bomb shelter was a sturdy enough construction, built of three pre-made septic tanks sunk into the ground and covered by a ten inch concrete pad. Jesse James Bates had wired them for electricity so that he could put three old freezers inside the bomb shelter Those freezers held his ice cream supply. His beer stash was kept handy in the house. The rear section of the shelter still had a couple cases of canned food; but the cans were rusty and, in some cases, leaking from age. That didn't make their contents too appetizing. Some day, he would have to get around to cleaning them out. When the world had lit up, JJ had almost run for the A-Bomb shelter. Instead, he had attempted to bend over and kiss his ass good bye, as the joke went in the army "What do you do in the event of a nuclear attack? Bend over backwards and kiss your ass goodbye." He hadn't even gotten close to kissing his own rear. JJ had gotten one of those letters from Uncle Sam: a personal invite to ride the friendly skies of Vietnam behind a door gun. He had learned a lot in helicopter repair school and door gunner school. Even without a high school diploma, he had managed to graduate fifth in his class as a mechanic. He‘d graduated tenth in his class as a door gunner. Of course, the civilian world didn’t think much of his skill as a helo mechanic. It seemed they wanted a piece of paper from a college or trade school, not a sheet of TP from the army. And not having a high school diploma didn’t help. It seemed the army had plans for all contingencies. If the helicopter was shot down, the door gunner could fix it. Who the hell could understand army logic? Hell! The second time he’d volunteered to go back to Nam, the assholes had turned down his request. He hated the World. He had done better back in-country, even if he had been shot down twice and fragged by an eleven-year-old dink selling pineapples. He’d remained pretty much a loner after his discharge. JJ had earned enough money, working off and on in Grantville, Fairmont, and Morgantown as a mechanic and a machinist, to pay his bills and buy his extras. Oh, he’d put in his time as a machinist and there had been Raelene Baxter; but that had been an on-and-off thing. She hadn‘t come back from Barrackville when everything went to shit. She‘d been the only other punker in Grantville and they had just ended up together. They had hung with each other until one of them got on the other’s wrong side. Then they would split the sheets. But they had always seemed to get back together again. No one else really cared for either of them. But what the Ay? Seemed like nothing ever lasted forever. JJ remembered the first day the Ring of Fire had struck. As soon as the power had come back up, he had turned on the CB radio in the house. The CB was one leftover from his father that JJ had just left in place. “All that’s left of West Virginia,“ the voice of one redneck said over the CB, “is a three-mile area around Grantville!” That information bothered him all to blazes because, now, he had no place to go for supplies but Grantville. The event JJ thought of as the End of the World was being called the Ring of Fire by the local rednecks. He had adopted the punk façade, originally, because he couldn’t stand any more of that stinking, twangy, singing-through-the-nose crap the rednecks called music. By Dralm, Yatar and Gnu! These people still thought Rebba and Grath were great musicians. Hell, he’d developed a taste for real music while the army had let him stay in: Sabbath, Floyd, and Cooper. When the punk started hitting the air in the late seventies and early eighties, he’d jumped on it with both feet. Nothing seemed to irritate the damn goat ropers and rednecks more than a brightly colored Mohawk and a few earrings and tongue studs. JJ walked up to the house. It was time to change the CD. He felt like a little Flying Lizards; their version of "Money" was one of his favorites. He slung the Marlin three fifty-seven to his shoulder and turned toward the house Two days earlier, after the Ring of Fire, he had had to use the Smith and Wesson M-thirty-nine that rode at his hip. It was the first time he had killed anyone in twenty-eight years. This time, it had been three A'holes yelling and charging him -- with swords, of all things. He had emptied the clip into them. By the time he had pulled the trigger, a blind man could have hit them. They had been right on top of him. Kneeling beside the bodies to check them out, he had nearly heaved. After making sure they were dead, he had gone into the house and drunk half a bottle of Bacardi one-fifty-one rum to rid himself of the shakes. It was one thing, riding behind a sixty and cutting up people on the ground; it was quite another, looking right in their faces and blowing the hell out of them. JJ had beaten plenty of people to a pulp, and been pretty bloodied himself since the army, but there was a difference between pounding and kicking someone and making their face disintegrate. * * * Friedrich saw the open land ahead. There was a sharp drop, slightly higher than he was tall, to the ground level below. He had found what he had been looking for as he traveled along, a farm -- one not burned out by the soldiers. A creek ran through the farm. He could have jumped across it easily if he hadn't been so weak. The house was unusual, more like something found in a town or city It was wooden and stood two stories high with lots of windows. A horrible sound filled the air like the screams and wails of the Damned the minister had railed against in the church he’d attended while he’d still lived with his family. That was before the soldiers had killed them all. The barn, and then the sight of chickens, drew Friedrich's attention. No one was in sight and hunger muddled his thinking. He made a stumbling dash for the birds He had never seen chickens like these before. They were fat -- very fat -- birds Gray and white speckled birds with long necks started making a racket that even drowned out the evil sounds that permeated the air. As Friedrich got close to the chickens, he noticed a strange metal wire with unchanging many-sided holes. Friedrich threw the door to the wire enclosure open and charged inside, using his last reserves of energy to chase the fleeing birds. Chickens ran into a large house with small cutaway doors and out the open door of the enclosure A loud yell from behind him caused Friedrich to spin on his heel. A troll was attacking him. The creature was hideous, like something right out of one of Mama's stories about the monsters who grabbed little boys who didn't behave themselves. The troll was an average height for a man, but massively built. It was as big through the chest and belly as two barrels. It had a strip of horrible blue and green hair running from front to back down the center of its otherwise bald head. A large golden ring dangled from the right side of its nose. Silver and gold earrings -- lots of them -- adorned the monster’s left ear. As it got closer, a long, ugly, puckered scar became visible down its left cheek The monster continued yelling in its demonic language as it charged him. Friedrich lunged for the door. He tripped head first into the heavy square post the door closed against. As he fell, he saw bright tiny specks of light floating against a field of black. * * * JJ heard the guinea hens raising hell from inside the house. He grabbed his Marlin and headed for the chicken run at a fast trot. The guinea hens were better than geese as watchdogs. He had bought them to let him know when stray dogs and an occasional bobcat approached too close. Now, he wanted to be able to hear and drop any German mercenaries at a distance. The last time he had been lucky. Hell, he could have missed and ended up a shish-ka-bob on a sword point. He wasn't Billy the Kid when it came to handguns Next time, if there were more of the trash, he didn't want to find himself at close range to mercenaries armed with firearms and swords. JJ ran out the door and into the yard. Chickens were loose and scattering. Some were already scavenging the yard and drifting toward the tender green shoots just breaking the ground in his truck garden. Horse Pucky! He looked up toward the run and saw a small figure chasing his birds. JJ screamed angrily, "Get the hell out of there and leave them birds alone!" The figure turned to face him: a damned scrawny-assed kid in rags. The little shit's eyes widened. Even at a distance, they seemed to become all whites. "I'm gonna nail your butt to the barn wall, Brat," screamed JJ furiously. The damn kid had let chickens out to ravage his garden. It was going to take a month of Sundays to catch the filthy things. The boy ran for the gate of the chicken run. JJ almost heard the sound of the kid’s head connecting with one of the four-by-fours that were used as gate posts. The little thief went down into a in a heap. JJ pulled up beside the gate and gazed down at the young boy lying at his feet. He hoped he'd be okay. The thought came even though JJ thought all kids were nasty little brutes. He hoped he wouldn’t have to run him into Grantville. The people in town might think he had deliberately hurt the little shit! He hadn't gone in to town since the mess with the RoF had taken place. By Dralm, Yatar and Gnu, he might have to see if the rednecks were saying anything new over their CBs. JJ slung the Marlin and picked up the kid. He had hogs that didn’t smell this bad! JJ crinkled up his nose and headed for the house. The boy was nothing but skin and bones. The rags he wore might have been clothing at one time -- but for a man, not a kid. Shit! Half the trash was cut and tied to stay on the boy. He had a pretty good goose egg beginning to rise on his forehead. JJ thought the bump would teach the little monster to not steal his chickens. Son-of-a… he might have to take the kid into Grantville after all! If those folks in town thought he deliberately messed the kid up, they wouldn’t even give him a chance to explain, as usual. Even Dan Frost might not believe him and have him in the slammer so fast his head would spin. He carried the boy to the house and laid him on the couch after which he went to the kitchen and filled a towel with ice before returning to the couch. He held the towel on the boy's head, hoping to reduce the swelling. He watched as the kid slowly regained consciousness. JJ then gently held the boy down when he tried to bolt. "Helfen Sie mir!” yelled the boy, “Ein troll! Helfen Sie mir! Ein troll!" The boy fought against JJ as he held the little thief down with one hand on his chest and kept the ice pack pressed against the knot on the brat’s forehead "Settle down, damn you. I ain't gonna hurt ya," growled JJ. The kid just struggled more. * * * Friedrich felt a freezing cold pressing down on his forehead. At the same time, a heavy thundering pain stabbed from the same spot. He opened his eyes to look into the ugly face of a troll. "Help me, a troll! Help me, a troll!" he screamed A shocked expression suffused the hideous face of the troll. The beast held him down with one hand on his chest while the other pressed a freezing mass against his head. The troll growled at him in its horrible harsh gravelly voice. Friedrich settled down, awaiting the inevitable. He was too weak to escape the monster. He had escaped the slaughter of his family and the rampaging soldiers only to end up being eaten by a troll. Friedrich lay back and the troll released his chest. The creature handed him a wet soft cloth that was freezing. The monster growled at him, pantomiming placing the cold thing against his forehead. Friedrich did as the monster indicated. "Please,” he begged, “don't eat me, Mister Troll. Please. I'll do anything. Don't eat me!" Every time the creature opened its mouth, a small bright bead of silver showed near the tip of its tongue. The troll had silver and gold piercing its nose and ear Now, even a ball of silver in its tongue. The troll must be rich. He was amazed to see that the monster had normal, but very white, teeth -- human teeth. Friedrich had expected to see teeth like a dog or wolf for ripping and shredding flesh. The troll growled again and motioned for him to stay -- at least that was what Friedrich thought it was telling him to do. He didn't have the strength to run anyway. "Ja, ja, Herr Troll," he responded in a soft quivering voice laced with fear Friedrich watched as the monster moved away. He was tempted to flee; but he found that he was too weak to rise. The troll returned shortly, carrying a strange thin box with lettering and round golden wheels depicted on it in one hand and a very small green metal can with a red circle on it in the other. The troll placed the can down on the small table next to the strange bed Friedrich lay on. Herr Troll removed a few golden round wafers, no larger across than Freidrich’s thumb and offered them to him. Friedrich carefully bit into one. The wafer tasted of mild cheese and was crispier than hard bread. It was delicious, better than anything Friedrich had tasted for ages. The troll snarled out more words and offered Freidrich the can. He stared at the can in puzzlement. The troll tipped the top of the can to its mouth. A sparkling clear liquid with tiny bubbles spilled toward the troll's mouth. Most of the liquid went in, but some ran down its chin and onto the creature's hairy chest. Herr Troll once again offered the green can with the red circle to Friedrich. This time, he took it. He cautiously tasted the liquid in the can. The bubbles were a unique experience. Never before had he felt the sensation of all the small bubbles bursting in his mouth. Even more surprising was how sweet the liquid was and the tart little bite that went with it. The troll passed him more of the round cheesy wafers and watched as he ate them. It was obvious the troll thought him too skinny to eat and was fattening him up. Well, he wouldn't flee. The fiend would feed him well and provide him with all this comfort until he was fat like the troll's chickens. That could be a long time He was tired of dodging the soldiers and starving. So be it. If he was destined to be Herr Troll's dinner, at least he would have a few weeks of good living before he died. * * * Dan saw Eddie Cantrell sitting on his bike outside the police station. Eddie didn’t look too happy and seemed to be deciding what to do next. Dan walked over to him. “Got something eating at you, Eddie?” he asked. Eddie looked at him. “I have one place left to check out for Frank Jackson,” he said. “That’s the Five Hollers. I hope they aren’t there anymore.” Dan knew what Eddie’s job for Frank was. “You know there are only two people out in the Hollows with any service time,” he replied, “One’s Slater Dobbs, and he’s a cripple. He’s still around. I saw him going into the Club 250 earlier today.” Eddie groaned a single word. “Crap!” Dan smiled. “I know if the Dobbs’ Hollow is still there, JJ’s is more than likely still around, too.” Eddie shuddered. JJ Bates was not right in the head. Everyone said so. Dan caught the shudder. “Did Frank tell you to go out there and check on Slater and JJ Bates?” he asked sympathetically. “No, Chief Frost; but he did want all the old Vets to be told about the situation and asked to come into town,” Eddie answered with a worried look. “I wouldn’t go out that way, Eddie. I’m sure Frank didn’t mean for you to round up Slater Dobbs or JJ Bates.” Dan smiled at the lad. “If Frank does ask why you didn’t round up either one, just tell him that I told you not to bother. He’ll understand why if he asks.” Eddie smiled back at Chief Frost and hit the starter on his motorcycle. That was a load off his mind. He really didn’t want to go out and talk to JJ Bates; but he would have done it as his duty to the town. Dan Frost watched Eddie Cantrell ride off, glad he’d caught him before the boy had made the run to the Five Hollows. Frank couldn’t have used Slater or JJ. Both were too crippled up to be of much help. Slater, physically and JJ, mentally. Dan would let Frank know he’d told Eddie not to bother going out to see the two men. * * * JJ went into the house. Freddie was watching a movie with the headphones on. Since Freddie wouldn't call him JJ and insisted on addressing him as Herr Troll, JJ refused to call him Friedrich and just called him Freddie. The kid was watching "The Three Stooges Meet Hercules". It was part of JJ's home-record collection. Of the four bedrooms upstairs, two were set with selves of VHS tapes. JJ had the living room and the master bedroom downstairs filled with his sci-fi paperback collection. Outside of his music, he’d spent most of his money on movies, a few computer games and sci-fi books. That is when he had an income. Outside of the Iron City beer and Bacardi rum, he didn’t have too many expenses Now he didn’t have any. It had been two days since Freddie had shown up. The kid was picking up English a lot faster than JJ was picking up German. He had replaced Freddie's rags with a pair of Ma's slacks and a blouse. His ma hadn't been a very big woman. She had been just under five feet and a whole ninety pounds, dripping wet. His pa, on the other hand, had stood six foot in his stocking feet and weighed two hundred fifty pounds, a fair portion of which had been muscle. Ma had been very refined at one time; but a life with pa had turned her hard and as big a drunk and asshole as he. How Pa had ever gotten Ma to marry a mean, miserable, bastard like himself was beyond JJ. Shit, Pa had drug Ma right down the crapper with him! JJ looked at the kid again. At least Freddie was someone to talk to and the kid didn’t give him any crap. Good kid. JJ thought he would keep him around for a while instead of sending him away as soon as he had his strength back. The boy was smart, too. It took him no time at all to learn to use the TV and VCR You only had to show him once how to use something and he usually caught right on. While JJ had been able to come up with clothing, shoes were a problem. Ma's feet were small, smaller than Freddie's and JJ's shoes and the few pairs of Pa's that were still lying around were way too big. He was going to have to go into Grantville and pick up a few things. JJ knew that he would encounter more glares and snide remarks behind his back. The last time JJ had been in Grantville, Dan Frost had almost thrown him into the slammer again for busting up a couple of SOBs and inciting to riot. Hell, he hadn't done anything! It was the rednecks who caused all the problems with their shit If a couple of folks hadn't stepped forward and told him what had happened, Chief Frost would have locked him up again. One of these days, the Chief wasn't going to cut him anymore slack and he'd find himself in front of the judge. He and Chief Frost had an understanding of sorts and he needed to keep his end up. JJ had the 9mm strapped to his side and carried the marlin. There was also Ma's pocket gun, a Jennings LR twenty-two semi-automatic still in the house. It carried no knock-down power, but if you hit someone with it, they would know it. JJ decided that, when he was able to speak German better and got to know the kid, he would give him the pocket gun. There were too many scum suckers running loose after the RoF. He was afraid to leave the kid alone to go into town. Hell, he might not get back from the place himself. There might be more of those Mercs running around. And he sure as hell wasn't taking Freddie into town; the poor kid would be snatched by some bleeding heart and turned into Gnu knew what. It was getting late in the morning. Better get in gear or things wouldn't be getting done. JJ tapped Freddie's shoulder and pointed to the door. "Rouast! Mack Snail" he snapped as Freddie pulled the earphones off his head and shut down the VCR and TV. "Ja wohl, Herr Troll," Freddie said as he walked toward the door. While JJ fed the hogs and did some repairs on the small water wheel that powered the automobile generator -- he still couldn't get the gearing right and he needed a regulator for the system -- he had Freddie feed the chickens and weed in the garden. No matter how many weeds you pulled, there were always more. Weeding was the symbol of the wheel of life. You always ended up back where you started and probably with more weeds than there had been the first time. The water wheel was part of the project he had started to create a back up power system for the house. It was supposed to turn the auto generator to produce a power output to a regulator and converter that charged marine batteries. The batteries, in turn, were supposed to operate DC lighting and other things. Well, he still needed to get around to doing the wiring also. With Fairmont gone, where in the hell was he going to get everything else he needed? The people in Grantville more than likely weren't going to let him buy a bunch of stiff they couldn't replace. Besides, the bulk of his funds where in Fairmont, close to four thousand big ones. JJ didn't have more than a thousand dollars deposited in Grantville. He hadn't made a transfer between banks in months. He didn’t think his credit card was going to be accepted in town either. * * * Friedrich no longer worried about Herr Troll eating him. He wasn't really any kind of monster, but a very strange man. Friedrich knew he was safe now, probably safer than he had ever been in his life. It would take a big group of soldiers to defeat Herr Troll. He had watched Herr Troll shoot targets very far away with the weapons he called marlin and 9 mil. Later he had seen him lift four of the big bags of food for the hogs at one time and carry them from the barn to the place he called the feeding station. Friedrich was stronger now, but he could barely lift one bag of feed. And he couldn't carry that more than a few paces, let alone clear to the feeding station. Herr Troll returned to the house as the sound of the engine faded in the distance He looked down at Friedrich as he watched the three fools and the strong man who had changed from a weakling as they pulled at oars on a ship. He liked watching the three fools on the TV. He didn't understand what they were doing many times or what they were saying; but the leader, Moe, was always slapping or poking his two lackeys in the eyes. The fat bald one was the stupidest. His favorite words were "Nyuk, Nyuk, Nyuk." Friedrich still couldn't figure out what it meant, but he was just learning the English. After a short time, Herr Troll tapped him on the shoulder, signaling him to the door while ordering him outside. It was time to go to work. Yesterday, Herr Troll and he had started the work earlier. He knew what his tasks were: weed what was left of the garden after the chickens had eaten many of the young plants and feed the chickens. Yesterday, he had helped Herr Troll catch those chickens still running loose. The first day Friedrich spent here at his new home, he thought Herr Troll was trying to drown him in what the fiend called a bathtub. Then, when Herr Troll had thrown away his clothing, he had cried like a girl. Herr Troll had brought him clean, good clothing that fit better though. The colors were so bright and the material so fine that he had nearly shouted with joy. The clothing was still big, but the belt made the pants stay in place. He had seen people with belts, but he’d had to make do with a length of rope Herr Troll had outfitted him in clothing fit for nobility. He couldn't make Herr Troll call him Friedrich and had given up. To his new master, for master was what Herr Troll was, he was Freddie; and Freddie he would remain. Herr Troll was frightening, his words harsh; but Friedrich already knew that Herr Troll was also kinder and more understanding than his harsh-sounding words or terrifying looks would lead one to believe. Freddie had a home now and, while he had avoided being forced into servitude for two years, no master could provide the security or kindness that Herr Troll could provide. It had been his good fortune to find this place and try to steal one of the fat chickens. He could be lying dead somewhere, starved to death or killed by soldiers. Now he had a soft bed, a roof over his head, and plenty of food -- very tasty food at that. Life had suddenly become much better. * * * JJ heard the vehicle's engine and swore. Just what he needed -- a visitor. Why in the hell was he all of a sudden so damn popular? He grabbed the marlin near the barn door and went trooping out with his nearly permanent scowl. Son-a-bitch! Willie Ray Hudson was out here for something. What had he done to suddenly become Mr. Popularity? "What the hell you want out here, Willie Ray?" JJ snapped "Listen, JJ. There’s enough trouble right now without you getting on a high horse," Willie Ray returned angrily. Normally, Willie Ray was pretty mellow; but JJ Bates could get on anyone’s nerves. "I’m here to tell you that I'm in charge of getting food production up for Grantville. We’re trying to get everyone to work together and I have to find out what you have for seed, livestock, and what edible fruits and nuts you have here. How about dropping the chip and making my job easier?" "Look, Mr. Hudson, I really don't think that you can just come in here and look around," JJ said defensively. "Look, JJ, if you make too much trouble, I'll just have to report you to our interim President, Mike Stearns, and his helper, Harry Lefferts," Willie Ray replied with a cold smile. “Oh!" muttered JJ. Then he added, "Well, don't get your damn shorts twisted, Willie Ray. I didn't say I wouldn't cooperate. I just don't see why all the sudden my place has any importance to the town." "Fine, JJ. I need a list of everything on this place Also, the town is going to nationalize all the gasoline. So, if you have any, better report it, too." Willie Ray smiled. JJ didn't care if Harry came out or not. Even if the asshole kicked in his head, Harry was going to get as good as he gave. Stearns was a different story. Stearns was the only man who had torn him down without a scratch. Mike Stearns was tougher than old boot leather and JJ didn't want a second round with the man. Besides, JJ had started the fight and had been lucky that Mike Stearns had figured that he'd had enough without having him thrown in the slammer. JJ had found out that what everyone said was true: you don't mess with Stearns. It was one thing to take a beating if you took a good sized bite yourself. It was another to have someone dance around and chop you down like an old tree. Lefferts was tough, but was not in Stearns league. He was more in JJ's league, as he would find out if he showed up to make trouble. "Okay. Let’s get this over with," JJ said and showed Willie Ray around. Willie Ray had gone over his livestock, fields, and orchard. “I’ll send someone out to go over things in more detail,” he said. The old man made some notes and left. Great! First those three mercs attack, then Freddie shows up, now Willie Ray attaches everything on the place. What next? A troop of baboons marching across his yard? * * * Frau Meyers had led her little flock south to Jena. Her home was a smoking ruin and her son and his wife were gone. She had fled with her granddaughters, Helene and Anna, and her grandson, Franz. She had not fled her home with only the clothing on their backs though. Poor little Anna had died before they reached Jena. Frau Meyers, believing it the plague, had spent two days tending the girl in a burnt-out farm. She had run through her rosary repeatedly. It was sad losing the girl, but it had not been plague. Her remaining two grandchildren had not become sick at all. Tilly's army had not hit her home without warning. They had come in at the other end of the small village, shooting and acting like the animals all soldiers were. If the beasts had come at night and quietly, it would have been a very different story. Karl, her son had forced her, along with his wife and children, to run as fast as they could while he passed out what little money they had. Much of the light, ready food had been grabbed and even clothing was snatched as the family ran for their lives. Karl -- poor, brave, stupid Karl. He had never been very bright, Frau Meyers had to admit. She had guided him through life. Anna had been as simple as her son. Without her to take charge of the family, they would have had a hard time doing as well as they had. Karl hadn’t listened to her advice. He had grabbed up an axe to fight the soldiers while they escaped. Magdalena, her daughter-in-law, fell to a gunshot before they cleared the village. If she had run like Frau Meyers had told her instead of looking back to see what was happening to Karl, she probably would have survived The rest of them made a good get away. They had kept moving until little Anna had fallen ill. Frau Meyers had buried her at the burnt out farm and moved on toward Jena. Near Jena, Frau Meyers found three more children -- little Herman, Sybella, and Wilhelm---at an abandoned farm. The three new children would put a strain on her resources, but she had not the heart to chase them away Frau Meyers made the children change into cleaner clothing -- all but little Herman. She had nothing that would fit him. She made sure all were reasonably neat and clean. Then they entered Jena. Jena buzzed with fear. Rumors ran rampant. Tilly's army was coming; they were merely days away. A whole town of witches had magically appeared to the southeast. The people of Jena were nervous and it was contagious. The tales that were spreading through the town didn‘t give Frau Meyers any feeling of security. She kept a tighter reign on the children and guarded them like a sow with her brood. A new powerful town to the south had defeated thousands of Tilly's soldiers at Badenberg. The rumors floating around said this mysterious Grantville had established checkpoints manned by tough soldiers on the roads leading into the town's territory to keep out the steady stream of refugees fleeing ahead of Tilly's troops. If there was one thing Frau Meyers knew, it was that Jena was not going to be safe. If Tilly's army had men down around Badenberg, it would not be safe there either. That left this Grantville. If there were check points manned by soldiers on the roads to Grantville, Frau Meyers would not lead her little flock through one. The soldiers would steal everything. Besides, Helene was thirteen, becoming more than just a little girl. No. Grantville sounded good, but she would skirt around the soldiers, animals every one of them. Frau Meyers made careful purchases with her small stash of coins. She and her flock were in Jena less than a day, and then headed south. Frau Meyers had Wilhelm take the lead. He was younger than Franz but more knowing about ways of traveling cautiously. Wilhelm let her know well before they reached the small troop of soldiers guarding the road. They swung well away from the road and paralleled it Frau Meyers was no fool. She had survived longer than all six of her children and two husbands. She had no intention of losing any of her grandchildren or the new children she had acquired. One adapted or died. She had managed the house for her first husband, Conrad, when he’d been off with the caravans. She had managed her second husband, Peter's, business while he had lived. She had lived through changes of religion without ever really changing. She had always been a Catholic, but twice she had gone through the gestures of being a Lutheran. Ha! Blend in and make the Adel happy. Keep a low profile and you can survive everything but the soldiers. To survive them, all you could do was run. Frau Meyers had Wilhelm out to the left and ahead Franz had been sent to the right and ahead. Wilhelm had kept Sybella and Herman alive for a month before joining Frau Meyers and her grandchildren. He was a smart boy and Franz was learning from him. Franz brought word of a farm, a rich farm, ahead. The farm of a member of the lesser Adel maybe. He must be very rich because he had musicians and singers, very loud foreign ones. Frau Meyers had Franz bring in Wilhelm and they edged up to the farm. This might be what they were looking for. Maybe they could hire on. Frau Meyers had been the daughter of a well-to-do farmer, before she married her first husband, Conrad She knew farming. Farms always needed hands with the crops. They would probably be able to work for food and a small stipend, if they were lucky. They could sleep in an out building like the barn. Frau Meyers was no novice to hard work and she had five children that could work just as hard, even if she had to use a little discipline to get them to perform. After all, did not the Bible say, "Spare the rod, spoil the child"? Frau Meyers was at once elated and disappointed The farm was even richer that Fritz had indicated, but at the same time it was small. She would probably find no employment here for herself and the children Still, if a farm this small could be so obviously wealthy, perhaps someone here would know of bigger, even wealthier, farms in this Grantville. Perhaps she might work at another of these farms. "Franz," She ordered, "you and the children stay back here while Wilhelm and I go talk to the small boy working in the garden. And stay down!” * * * Freddie saw an old woman with a boy just a couple of years older than himself coming toward him from the wood. He drew the little twenty-two lady's pistol from the small leather holster Herr Troll had made for him He had been here for two and a half weeks now. He had grown to accept the strange appearance of his mentor. But Herr Troll was not someone that made a good impression at first sight. By Dralm, Yatar, and Gnu! Herr Troll would scare them off if he showed now. Freddie heard the sound of the circular saw even over the Vapors that screamed from the speakers. Herr Troll was up behind the barn, building a new chicken house and run. An old man, Herr Willie Ray, had come out and told Herr Troll to plow up more land. Herr Blanton had come over with a trak'tor and plowed up most of Herr Troll's accessible land. Freddie had watched from an upstairs window. For some reason, Herr Troll thought the up-timers would take him if they knew he was there. Freddie liked Herr Troll and didn‘t want to leave. "Boy," the old woman called, "whose farm is this?" "Herr JJ‘s!" The youth used Herr Troll's real name, JJ. To say this was Herr Troll's farm might be as frightening to them as Herr Troll himself would be. "Would Herr Jayjay be here? Could it be he needs help on this very beautiful farm?" The old woman inquired as she drew closer. "Stop where you are, please," Freddie said holding the small gun in his trembling hand. He was uncomfortable with the presence of the boy and the woman. Freddie knew that Herr Troll could use help. He and Freddie were now putting in very long days indeed. Herr Willie Ray had even provided two pick-up loads of feed for both chickens and hogs. "Who should I tell Herr JJ wants to see him?" Freddie asked as he slid the lady's gun back into its small holster. "Tell him Frau Eva Meyers wishes to discuss employment with him," the old woman the replied. "Please stay here, Frau Meyers. I will tell him," Freddie said before heading toward the barn and the new chicken run. * * * Frau Meyers considered the loud music raucous and irritating. It was barbaric, like something the uncivilized Boyars or maybe the Turks might listen to. Her first husband, Conrad, had been a caravan guard and had traveled to the East and south many times, accompanying merchants. He had not returned from his last trip, but he had told how disconcerting and barbaric the peoples of the East were. The boy weeding the garden stood and faced Wilhelm and her. At first, she thought he had drawn a knife; but on closer view, it resembled nothing more than a very miniature pistol of extremely strange design. Surely, nothing that small could be deadly. She exchanged words with the boy. He was never polite enough to give his name. He must be related to the owner, his clothing was rich enough, pale green shirt with ruffles down the front and lacy cuffs. The pants were a darker green and his belt was silver with sparkling flecks. Yes. This Herr Jayjay was very wealthy if he could afford to dress even a boy in such expensive clothing. Why there were burgomeisters who could not afford such finely made or expensively dyed clothing. This Herr Jayjay must be a barbarian. Jayjay was not a German name, that was for sure; and the musicians and singers he had hidden somewhere had to be from the heathen countries of the East. The language they sang in was not German, not even close as far as she could tell. The high pitched warbling whine she had heard with the music stopped. She could see the boy leading a squat massive barbarian toward her. It was Herr Jayjay, some sort of easterner. His obscene green and blue hair stood straight up, ran from front to back down the center of his bald head Earrings flashed in his right ear and a large ugly golden ring hung from his left nostril. Ya, Turkishman or, maybe, Boyar like Conrad had described. Only this one was uglier and more brutish. Wilhelm gasped, "Ein Troll!" "Don’t be stupid, Boy. It is not a troll. It is a Turkishman or some other heathen. Now behave!" Frau Meyers ordered Wilhelm stood quietly, his face still awash with fear But he had enough faith in Frau Meyers to resist the temptation to run. The disreputable looking foreigner glared at Frau Meyers as he butchered his words." Goo'dawn more gun." The greeting was followed by a flow of barbaric gibberish. The boy in the green livery translated. "Herr JJ says that he has plenty of work, but can pay little. He can provide shelter and food though." Frau Meyers gave a polite smile to the heathenish brute. Conrad had told her how dangerous these Eastern and Asian barbarians could be if offended. "Thank Herr Jayjay for us, and ask what type of shelter and fare he could provide?" she asked. She now stood on more comfortable ground She had been the bargainer and deal maker for her second husband, Oscar. He hadn't had much business sense, but he had been a master at cabinet making. God rest his soul. The wealthy young child spoke in gibberish to Herr Jayjay. Now that she listened more carefully some of the words were almost German, although it was a strange language that the boy spoke to his relative. The child listened to the wealthy foreign farmer and translated. "Herr JJ says that he can pay you five dollars a week and the boy two. You can each have a room in the house and have the same food that we eat." Frau Meyers looked at Herr Jayjay. Unlike the boy, his clothing was brown leather: loose pants, open leather vest, scuffed and scarred leather boots. He was barbaric, probably not even a Christian. But he was being much more generous than the Christians she had encountered over the years, and certainly nothing like the Christian armies that were destroying the countryside and doing all manner of evil deeds in the name of their religion. The old woman looked at Herr Jayjay as she replied through the boy, "I have four more children: two boys and two girls. They, too, must be employed. Does Herr Jayjay agree to this?" Frau Meyers worried, but kept it from her face. She could not abandon the children and two were of her own blood. Again the boy translated her words and the barbarian answered after scowling furiously. The boy responded in fewer words than Herr Jayjay had used. "He agrees to hire all of your children for two dollars a week each." Frau Meyers could sense that Herr Jayjay could be pushed for a slight increase in the actual money -- whatever these 'dollars' were. "Please tell Herr Jayjay that I could work for no less than ten of these dollars a week. But I would be taking care of the house and preparing the meals. Also tell him that Wilhelm and Helene are both old enough to be worth five dollars each week, while the younger children could work for three dollars each week." She watched intently as her words were relayed to the eastern barbarian Her haggling seemed to have little effect on the brutish man. The boy translated Herr Jayjay's growls and snarls "Herr JJ says you will take seven dollars a week and each kid three. If you do not want it, you may leave. He will feed the children and you if you need food." Frau Meyers thought a moment. Herr Jayjay probably had been pushed as much as she could get away with. Still he was nowhere near as money wise as Conrad had said Turks were. He had to be a Boyar or even a Cossack. "I agree to Herr Jayjay's terms." * * * JJ was pissed. It had been three months since the Ring of Fire had hit. Miss Mailey had come out. The woman had demanded he send all the children to school. School! He needed those kids here to help. What did Miss Mailey want from him? The woman was so damn irritating sometimes. Sure his kids needed school; sure he wasn't qualified to teach them. Sure he didn't want them growing up like a bunch of ignoramuses. Darn Miss Mailey for being right. Damn Willie Ray, too. He had built the new pens for the hogs; all of the hogs were now separated by breed. The chickens were, too. He should never have started his pig or chicken projects. By Dralm, Yatar and Gnu! It was the chickens that got him going. He had begun his project with Australorps, called black giants. Later he had purchased a few Dominiques, a few New Hampshire Reds, and, finally those stupid looking Polish, the ones with the top feathers that looked like a furry hat. The hogs had been another dumb idea. JJ had decided to breed Chester Whites. Shortly after the Whites, he had bought a pair of Poland Chinas, then a pair of Hampshires. He should have given the animals to Willie Ray when he said he'd take care of them for him. But no. He hadn’t done the sensible thing, not him. He had argued and argued that they were his and no one was getting them. Willie Ray had just smiled and said, “No problem. Go ahead and take care of them.” JJ had a family of sorts now, something he had never had and never figured to have. Pa and Ma couldn't be considered a family by the greatest stretch of imagination. His brother, Vernon, wanted to be an up-towner; and Wilda and her daughter were white trash, the type that gave the Five Hollows a bad name. Like it or not, JJ's life now depended on Grantville and Stearns. He would have to cooperate a little or have the town really down on his neck. JJ had ended up building pens and runs to separate the different breeds of hogs and chickens. He had converted every bit of his tillable land to crops -- not by choice. His Intertrashtional was up on blocks, the wheels gone and the gas siphoned off for the -- how had Spock put it? -- "The sacrifice of the few for the good of the many." JJ found that somehow sick, especially since he was the few and the people of Grantville the many. Not only was the pickup useless, but the hundred gallons of gas along with the storage tank that held it was gone After the crap about the hogs and chickens, Willie Ray never showed up again. JJ felt the old man had pulled a fast one on him, even if he did help out with feed from Grantville’s stores. The only people in town who got along with him were Widder Higgin's man, Johan, and some of the other down-timers. He didn’t count Chief Frost. That was something else and he didn’t socialize with the chief. Johan looked like an extra from an old pirate movie He had run into Johan while getting stuff from the two storage units where all his folks' crap was stored along with some of the projects he had gotten tired of. There wasn't much worth having in the storage units: some trashy furniture that he had replaced and Ma and Pa's personal things. He hadn't even gone through the stuff; just boxed it and threw it in storage. Wilda hadn’t cared. She was too busy with Ape Hart to give a shit what happened to the folks’ stuff and Vernon was too busy pretending he wasn‘t from the Hollows. JJ had to admit that his problems with Vernon might not be one sided. But damn it! He wasn’t going to apologize to his brother! In three months he had buried three mercs who had shown up right after the Ring of Fire had happened and a shithead Frau Meyers said was a nobleman of sorts. Nobleman, JJ's sainted father, NOT! The bastard had made a grab for Helena. Sick bastard. The girl was just a kid! Well, he could feed the worms now. It was too bad the crops were coming in so well. The corpse would have made great fertilizer. During those same three months he’d inherited six kids, an old bat, and been drug into working with some of the people in Grantville For some reason he wasn’t as upset as he felt he should be, but then there was always tomorrow. * * * Frau Meyers was turning into a pain in the ass If he hadn't needed the old broad to take care of the house and keep those kids straight, he'd shit can her. He still couldn't speak German worth a damn and the old bitch was slowly but surely taking over his home and life. She had found out he could tinker with electronics and electrical appliances. There wasn’t much he couldn’t tinker with, it was the fixing that wasn’t always possible. Frau Meyers brought in a friend's TV. Her friend was some rich German who bought it off one of those Murrays. The damn TV didn't work. The fuse was blown on the 110 input line. In short order, Willie had replaced the blown fuse with one from an automobile fuse kit. It was not ideal, but it would work for a while. Now Frau Meyers was talking about starting a repair business out of the house. Guess who would be doing the repairs? Still, it was one way to get money and he sure as hell wasn't going to raise everything these kids were going to need. If Frau Meyers wanted him to bring in money fixing crap, she would have to deal with the people. JJ got along with most people like a skunk at a picnic. People around here just didn't cotton to him. He had to admit part of that might be his fault, but only a small part. Besides, his success at learning German so far was pathetic. Even he had to admit that he’d even failed to learn Spanish in school, and any dope was supposed to be able to learn that. Two tours of Nam and the only thing he‘d learned was how to proposition a “buy me drink, love you no shit” girl, and how much for a beer, languages weren‘t his forte. When Pa had driven himself and Ma into the deepest part of Buffalo Creek, the only people to show for the funeral besides himself had been Wilda and Marlene. Vernon hadn’t even showed up. He’d bought out Vernon and Wilda’s shares of the place. He’d had to work overtime and weekends to raise the money, but the farm was his free and clear He hadn’t talked to Vernon since he’d paid him the last of the money he’d owed him. For six years, Willie had collected VHS’s both pre-records and home records. His other obsessions were computer games and sci-fi paperbacks. He‘d gotten hooked on sci-fi recouping from having grenade fragments dug out of him. If that kid had been closer he would have never developed a taste for Piper or Smith. During the same three years, he had started a dozen projects and abandoned a dozen that had either been barely started or nearly completed, but not quite finished. Popular Science just never had enough information for him to get some of the projects to work right. Now he had that German dingbat, Frau Meyers. The old lady actually was beginning to think she owned him. She, in turn, was becoming the Hun, as he was starting to think of her. Crap! She really laid it on the kids -- kept them on a really tight leash. She even raised hell when he had used food coloring to dye Freddie's hair orange and purple. Hey! It looked good with the clip-on earrings. Freddie thought it was punk. He was going to be stuck with the Hun during the school days. If the old bat wouldn't take most of his family with her, he might ask her to leave. Besides, who would he get to keep house? He'd become used to the cleanliness and order. Why the Hun knew where everything was in the house. She even took care of the freezers of ice cream in the 'A-Bomb' shelter.
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