(You can buy a Cora's coffee mug and more at the 1632 Cafe Press Store.)

“They're not taking what happened in Suhl last January out on Johnny Lee's family because they can't. His dad's been dead for thirty years. His mother wasn't from around here to start with and she moved back to Ohio after a while. Mary Fern–that's his sister, you probably never met her–married one of the Collins boys after she graduated from college and last I heard, they were living in Michigan. You could ask Sandra, I suppose, or Gayleen or Robyn or Samantha, where Ricky and Mary Fern were living, but I don't see what good it would do. It wouldn't bring her back to Grantville to take some of the heat off Kamala.”

Cora Ennis plopped five cups of coffee down on the table at the City Hall Café and Coffee House, which had only had “and Coffee House” added since the Nasi family had succeeded in importing coffee beans, while she talked. Before the Ring of Fire, it had been a plain sandwich shop. “But anyway, I think it's a shame. Johnny Lee Horton wasn't the most popular teacher at the high school. Maybe he was the least popular one, but he wasn't the worst one. He made the kids learn the stuff, and he commuted to Fairmont State for years to get his master's in math education, all at his own expense. If you ask me, they should have left him at the school teaching. But they wanted to assign him to Greg Ferrara's ”˜Manhattan Project' and that meant he had to go into the army, and they couldn't get along, Greg and Johnny Lee, which anyone who knew the two of them could have told Mike Stearns ahead of time.”

“Cora,” Ned Paxton started a little reproachfully.

The interruption wasn't enough to stop her. “But by then he was in the army and the army, even our little army that we've put together since the Ring of Fire, is like that story they taught us in school about the kid who stuck his hand in a jar and picked up so many marbles he couldn't get it out again, but was too stubborn to let go of some of them and his hand rotted off or some such. I knew there was a moral to that story. Maybe that's why it was in the book in the first place. So instead of discharging Johnny Lee, Frank Jackson sent him off to Suhl to pretend to be a soldier, which certainly wasn't any of Kamala's doing.”

She turned her head toward P.H. Johnson. “And that's what I was talking about to start with, Henry. I know you covered up what those boys were doing to Shaun at the pool on Memorial Day weekend. Don't blame you for wanting to avoid publicity. No point in making a bad situation worse. They were just kids themselves, and at least you and your JROTC put a stop to that.” Cora wiped a little coffee that she had spilled on her hand off on the towel she was wearing as an apron.

Victor Saluzzo picked up the pitcher of milk and poured until his cup was thoroughly whitened. “I got here late. Can you go back to the beginning?”

Cora tossed her head. “I've got other tables to serve. The rest of them can tell you. Let Henry do it.” She stalked off.

Saluzzo raised his eyebrows, looking at P.H. Johnson. “There's another brush fire?”

Before Johnson could answer, Kyle Fleming shook his head. “No more than there's been for the last six months. We've been getting an earful from Cora this afternoon because Anse Hatfield was Henry's son-in-law and I'm chairman of the math department, I guess. Though once Johnny Lee quit to work on development, he wasn't my responsibility any longer, and I hardly know his wife. She's a nurse, not a teacher. Lori says that she's pleasant enough, but she must be around twenty years younger than we are, Lori and I. It's not as if we ever socialized with them, and she never had anything in common with Karyn Sue.”

Saluzzo nodded in agreement. Kyle and Lori Fleming's only child had barely scraped through high school. They hadn't even tried sending the girl to college. Not that that it kept her from being a loving daughter and a devoted wife and mother. Or a good aide at Heather Beckworth's day care center. Karyn Sue was just a little . . . dim . . . and everyone who had ever taught her knew it. Even in Lake Wobegon, Karyn Sue wouldn't have managed to be “above average.”

He thought for a moment. “Kamala was in the class between John and Joe. They'd have known her, if they hadn't been left up-time. Kay's three or four years too old; Jim and Vicki are way too young.”

Leota Grover picked up her cup. “Our kids were too young for us to really get to know her, too. Susan was the same year as her little brother Jimmy. Plus, they're both up-time, like John and Joe. Kamala wasn't a problem student, though. Far from it. Finished high school; worked her way through college, got married, had a couple of kids. No problems, aside from the fact that her family resented a little bit that she went all the way through college. RN to Celina's CNA. Well, they resented a lot that Johnny Lee made a big deal about having a master's degree. He sure was a blowhard. That's hardly something we can dispose of, though.”

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- The Grantville Gazette Staff