Grantville, May 1634

Susan Logsden sat in the front pew of Grantville's rebuilt Presbyterian church, flanked on one side by Grampa Ben and Grandma Gloria and on the other by her half-sister Pam Hardesty and half-brother Cory Joe Lang. She couldn't stop the tears from flowing down her face as she looked at the twin coffins. "First Grampa Fred died and now Tina has drowned," she said in a low voice. "What am I going to do now?"

Grampa Ben put his arm around her and held her tightly. "You've still got us and you've got Pam and Cory Joe. Don't worry, darlin'. We'll be here when you need us."

He looked toward the front of the church. Enoch Wiley would be coming out any minute now to start the service. Susan buried her face in his shoulder and cried. After a few minutes of heartbreaking sobs, an uproar at the back of the church made her look up. The vision that appeared at the doors was appalling.

"Oh, my God," Pam said. "What does she think she's doing?"

Ben Hardesty turned to look and his face paled. "How did this happen?" he asked himself. "What did we do wrong? How could she do this?"

His daughter Velma, Susan, Pam, and Cory Joe's mother, walked down the aisle, tricked out like the "Bride of Satan."

"Where in the world did she find that much black spandex," Pam wondered. "I wouldn't have thought there was any left in Grantville."

"There isn't," Ben said. "Looks to me like Velma cornered the market.""

Susan, heartbroken and bereft, couldn't stop herself. "I'm not going to let her do this. I'm not. I know we're her kids, but I'm not going to let her do this. Grampa, I'm sorry. We can't let her turn Tina and Glenna Sue's funeral into a circus."

"Susan, honey, just stay right here," Ben said. "I'll take care of it."

Ben was an old man, heart sore from his granddaughter's death. But he wasn't going to take this from Velma, not this time. As a girl, she had gotten her way too often and she'd never learned how to take no for an answer. Ben had hoped that losing custody of Susan and Tina would have taught her a lesson, but it hadn't. Working at the 250 Club had made her even worse.

He stood and left the pew, Cory Joe following him. Intercepting Velma who was on her way down the aisle, he grabbed her arm and forced her to turn around and walk back to the door. "Velma, you're not going to do this. I can't believe you'd even try it."

He practically dragged her out the doors of the church, ignoring her protests. Those protests were loud and somewhat profane. "God damn it," Velma screeched. "How can you throw me out of my own daughter's funeral? Tina was my daughter, you know."

"She wasn't some kind of toy, Velma," Ben answered. "She'd gotten herself declared an emancipated minor because of the way you've been acting the last few years. Cory Joe and Pam left home the minute they could. The courts gave Fred custody of Susan. This drowning is not an excuse for you to make a show like this. You look like a whore, you're acting like a whore, and you're not going to make this kind of scene. Just go home, Velma. Go home and don't even try to contact us or the kids again."

She looked at Cory Joe. He moved closer to his grandfather, saying nothing. The two of them turned and went back into the church together.

Velma stood there, seething. "I'll be damned if they get away with this. I'll show the bastards. I'll show them."

Inez Wiley, the minister's wife, came out of the sacristy. With one thin hand, muscular from years of playing piano, she grasped Velma's arm firmly, leading her away from the building.

****

Susan pushed her supper around her plate, hanging onto Cory Joe's arm with her left hand. "So soon? Already?"

"Tomorrow morning, kid." He swallowed a deviled egg. "Boy, these are good, Aunt Betty."

Susan, huddled between Cory Joe and Pam, an image of sixteen-year-old miserable hostility, glared across the table at her aunt.

"Not as good as Grandma Lily's used to be. I use her recipe, too—but there's just something missing." Betty Wilson looked gratified in spite of her protest.

Snarky, Susan thought. Why did Grandma Gloria have to invite Aunt Betty and Uncle Monroe, anyway? Aunt Betty was always playing "good daughter" to Mom's "bad daughter"—well, "perfect daughter" to Mom's "horrid daughter." And Grandma Gloria always fell for it. Of course, when Grandma invited her, Betty brought something special, that took a lot of time and fussing to make. Like deviled eggs. Just to show how perfect she was. When everyone knew that she really despised Mom. And despised all four of them, because they were Mom's kids. And now Tina was drowned and Aunt Betty was sitting here alive.

Pam scooped the last two eggs from the platter before Cory Joe could reach across the table for them. He gave her a reproachful look.

"Well." She sighed dramatically. "Since there's a war on." She slid her plate to him.

Maybe Aunt Betty was the kind of person who had something inside her that just made her bring those eggs to supper. But did Pam and Cory Joe have to eat them? And like them? And be polite about it all?

"Do you really have to go already, Cory Joe?" Susan chimed in again.

"First thing in the morning. Jackson let me come because it was my sister's funeral, but Pam's right, even if she was making a joke. There's a war on. If that mess up at the quarry had happened two weeks ago, I couldn't have come at all. Now, after Ahrensbök, it's mainly a matter of mopping up. But I've still got to get back."

"All the way up to Denmark?"

"Just as far as Magdeburg. I'm Colonel Jackson's liaison to Don Francisco Nasi, now."

"Mike Stearns' spook?" Pam giggled. "My brother the baby spook. Like Laurie Koudsi is a baby lawyer. That's what they call her, now that she's passed her exams. Why Magdeburg? Don't you have to go out and spy on somebody?"

Monroe Wilson, Aunt Betty's husband, frowned. "You shouldn't be talking about this. Intelligence work, I mean. Not even at a family dinner. 'Loose lips sink ships.' I remember that from school. It was a motto in World War II."

Cory Joe shook his head. "Anybody who wants to can find my name on a personnel list. Nasi doesn't go out scrabbling around his spiderweb in person, any more. He sits in the capital and collects reports from other people. Just another bureaucrat. Think of me as a baby bureaucrat, not a baby spook."

Susan put her head on his shoulder. "At least, you're not likely to get shot at. But I wish you could stay home."

"At least, Pam will be staying with you, Susan," Aunt Betty said.

Pam shook her head. "Tina had a right to live in Fred Logsden's house, just like Susan does. He was their grandpa. He left it to them. But if I went over and moved in there with Susan, you know as well as I do that Mom would be down at the probate court the next day saying that I was battening on her and trying to get my hands on my sister's inheritance. No way. I'm staying at my apartment and Cory Joe is bunking on my couch while he's here."

Ben Hardesty nodded slowly.

"Then who is staying with you, Susan?" Aunt Betty asked.

"I'm by myself."

Betty opened her mouth again.

"And I'm not going home with you, in case you were thinking of saying that, Aunt Betty, just so all your church lady friends can tell you how kind it is of you to take in your sister Velma's obnoxious kid." Susan looked around the table defiantly. "I've been at the house by myself ever since the night Tina drowned. I've already been down to Judge Tito and petitioned to become an emancipated minor. I'm as old as Tina was when she did that. Mom isn't going to get her hands on me again."

She sank down between Pam and Cory Joe again. What right did she have to hate Aunt Betty for despising Velma and not having anything to do with her? She despised Velma herself and didn't want anything to do with her.

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- The Grantville Gazette Staff