Papa Troll by 43k2WlDf

VIEWS: 7 PAGES: 33

									                         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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