Mary Timm hated church steeples.
There was no glass in them. They blocked the light in odd ways, cast shadows where shadows had no place being. They stabbed the sky and mocked the sun. They interfered with her art.
Having a boy hanging from one didn't help either.
"Boys!" Mary snarled as she marched into the fire department.
Mary couldn't help but pause a moment when she walked inside. Now here was a place that was worth coming to. There were bright colors and shiny pieces of metal and reflections and windows. She would very much like to linger on this late fall morning but she knew she couldn't. Whatever Blaise was screaming from up there, hanging from the steeple, it would have been cruel to leave him.
"Shouldn't you be in school, Mary?" one of the firefighters asked. Though Mary was only eleven, she had a look of frustration and forbearance of one much older.
"There is a boy hanging from the church tower."
The five men standing in the large garage stopped and looked at her.
"What?" one asked in English.
"There is a stupid boy hanging from . . . "
She jumped when the alarm went off.
"Just got a call!" Another man ran into the garage. "Some crazy kid is hanging from the steeple at the Catholic church!"
"That's what I was trying to tell you!" Mary yelled.
The small garage erupted into activity and Mary fled to a corner to stay out of the way. With an explosion of noise and activity the fire trucks raced out of the garage.
In the quiet after the last truck drove off Mary glanced up at the windows high on the walls then at the nice, neat squares of light on the clean floor of the garage.
"What a waste of light." she muttered to herself. With a sigh she turned and walked back to the church with the crazy boy hanging from that stupid, light-blocking steeple. If God truly loved her, He would have Blaise Pascal knock the steeple down so that at 9:30 in the morning the light would hit the window of that nice building a block over and . . .
Julie Drahuta hated mornings.
Mornings should be calm, pleasant times. If she had her way, the day would begin slowly, comfortably. There would be time to sip some coffee, read a newspaper, have a nice quiet breakfast.
"But no! I have to be here asking myself why a smart boy like you was hanging from a church steeple! Jesus God! What were you thinking?" Julie tried to calm herself. She glanced up at the steeple then back at the tear-stained, rope-burned, bruised, angry boy before her. In her admittedly grumpy opinion, he was being tended to much more carefully than he deserved.
"It did not work! It did not work!" Blaise waved a plastic ruler at her. Then he threw it on the ground and stamped on it.
"Hey! Stop that!"
"It didn't work!" Blaise shouted. Julie pulled him away from the object of his tantrum. The rest of his comments were muffled and in French; a very foul French one might not expect to hear coming from the mouth of an eleven year old. She wrapped him up in a hug.
To a casual observer it might appear that Julie was trying to suffocate the boy.
"Should I call a child protection officer?" a firefighter asked as Blaise screamed, muffled by Julie's hold on him.
Julie turned with a slow, reptilian grace that wiped the smile from the firefighter's face.
"That will be all, Gus," Julie chirped with her best brutal, violence-promising smile.
"You know . . . " Chief Matheny scratched his head then replaced his helmet as he looked up at the steeple then around the base. "I've seen kids do the oddest things and get themselves into situations the experts can't write about in textbooks because no one would believe the book. Gus, look around for any loose equipment."
"I'm sorry you had to go to all of this trouble, Chief Matheny." Julie sighed as Blaise Pascal, the world's greatest mathematician, sobbed and cursed in her arms.
"This beats all. Wile E. Coyote couldn't have done better with two credit cards and a direct number to ACME. What's worse, the darn thing almost worked. The crossbow worked, the block and tackle worked, even the attempt to counterbalance his weight with that bag of rocks worked. The harness slipping up around his neck was a mistake anyone could have made. That definitely didn't work."
Julie looked at the bruises on Blaise's neck. They looked similar to the sorts of marks a victim of strangulation might have.
"He's a handful." She tried to smile.
There was a flurry of cursing; some of it in a broken English that made the curse words sound less vulgar and more humorous. Blaise tried to stamp on the plastic ruler again.
"Of course, getting up is a lot different than getting back down. Cats sometimes have that problem and they're excellent climbers." Chief Matheny shook his head.
"What has the imp of Satan done now?" a distant female voice screeched in French.
That had been one of the first complete French sentences Julie Drahuta had learned. Considering the relationship between Blaise and his governess, she could understand why.
Watching Madame Delfault approach one might think Blaise was going to be the very much "former" greatest mathematician in the world.
Julie wasn't concerned. No one would argue that Madame Delfault always sounded one moment away from going psycho on the boy. She treated Blaise with the sort of loving care one might have expected from his mother, who Julie knew from history books had died before Grantville had appeared.
"I thought Bill was joking about some boy wanting to hook an indoor extension cord to the mains out at the power plant. I don't see it as funny now. He's going to kill himself by the numbers if someone don't make it clear to him that life's too short to die by accident. You figure out what he was doing, Julie?" Chief Matheny glanced quickly at the approaching governess.
"I was called away from a late breakfast to find him being lowered to the ground by your very professional fire department." Julie sighed. She pushed Blaise away from her in such a way that he would be able to see his governess approach.
Julie Drahuta might know that Madame Delfault loved the boy but Blaise wasn't sure about that, apparently. If Blaise was an imp of Satan then in his eyes Madame Delfault was the wrath of God approaching. Julie smiled. For a smart kid, he was easily fooled.
"Tell me what you were doing or I give you to her" Julie said slowly.
"It was the fault of that!" Blaise pointed with his chin. He was too smart to take his eyes off his approaching doom.
"What were you doing?" Julie snapped.
Blaise pulled a piece of notebook paper out of his pocket then hunched his shoulders to more fully hide behind her. He handed the paper, as bruised and battered as he was, to Julie.
There were triangles and numbers and erasures and even a stab mark.
"What is this?"
"She is coming!" Blaise whispered. "Do something!"
"You were trying to measure the height of the steeple with that piece of junk?" Chief Matheny laughed, pointing to the cheap plastic ruler.
Blaise tried to stomp on the ruler again. With the foot that was missing a shoe.