Ken paused in front of Jimmy Dick barely long enough to say, "Incoming," before moving down the bar and taking shelter in the back room. Jimmy glanced in the mirror to see his ex-wife, Bina Rae, framed by the early afternoon sun, walking toward him from the slowly closing door of the otherwise empty bar.

"James, I sent you a letter. You didn't answer it."

Jimmy didn't say anything.

"I went down to Genucci's and made the arrangements. Everything will be out of the way when the time comes. You need to stop in and pay for it."

Their only child, Merle, had brittle bones. Jimmy had been exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam. When the baby was diagnosed, the pediatrician told her Jimmy's exposure might be the reason why. He came home from working overtime to find his wife had taken his daughter and moved out. She blamed him for the baby's condition.

The court gave him visitation rights along with the child support payments but it never worked out. There was always some conflicting schedule or a big fight, or both. Merle eventually ended up in assisted living and Veteran's Affairs paid the bills. Jimmy had tried to visit her in the home after she moved in, but Merle made it clear she didn't want to see him. This was, pretty much, his entire contact with his ex-wife and child.

Now, the home was telling Bina that Merle wouldn't last much longer. So Bina made arrangements with the funeral home.

"Aren't you going to say anything, James?"

"Have a beer."

Her voice was scornful, "You drink too much. It's bad for you. You never did take care of yourself."

"Back up time, before we left, in a number of carefully controlled studies, it was determined that if a person drank a half gallon of water each day, at the end of the year they would have absorbed more than half a pound of E. coli. In other words, when you drink water you're drinking shit.

"However, if you drink whiskey or beer or any other liquor, you're safe because alcohol has to go through a purification process of fermentation.

"So you've got a choice. You can drink beer and talk stupid or you can drink water and be full of shit."

Her voice dripped with disgust. "What did I ever see in you?"

"A good living?"

"Stop down to the funeral home and pay the bill, Jimmy." With that, she walked out of his life, again.

"Ken," Jimmy Dick said softly, "whiskey, and leave the bottle."

****

A few weeks later Genucci's Funeral Home opened up the overflow area and then put out extra chairs for Merle's funeral. They had been told to expect a small turnout. After all, Merle had spent half of her life in assisted living, her father's family never visited, she had no friends outside of the home and her friends from the home would not be attending. Her mother's family, her mother and three of her adopted children were all the guests they were told to expect.

"Merle's father will pay for things. He will not be attending," Bina Rae told Freddy when she made the arrangements.

When Jimmy stopped in Freddy asked, "Bina Rae says you won't be attending?"

"Bina . . . " Jimmy was trying to be polite so did not pronounce it Bi'tch'na as he normally did. "Does not know what she is talking about. Again, as usual."

Freddy concluded that separate seating would be in order. The family area in many funeral homes is often at right angles to the general seating. This provides privacy to the bereaved. Providentially, the converted dwelling he ran the funeral business out of just worked out that way. When the time came, he would seat Jimmy in the general seating area, out of sight of the family.

While not many people were familiar with Merle, a lot of people knew Jimmy Dick. Many of them knew him as 'Dick Head,' a name even Jimmy would admit to being fully deserved on the rare occasions he was fully sober. Yet, somehow they managed to respect him. And while he never talked about it, Grantville was a small town where your business was everybody's. They knew the story. They felt he got a raw deal and were inclined to be supportive.

"You goin' to Merle's funeral?" was a question frequently asked at Club 250.

"Yeah. I didn't know her but this is going to be hard on Jimmy. He's bought me a beer anytime I was broke, figure I owe him." This was a common point of view. Normally people figured they'd paid for any beer Jimmy bought by putting up with his usually rude and shrewdly critical wit while they drank with him. Still, a funeral is different.

Then there were the down-time Anabaptists, who met in Club 250 on Sunday mornings until the cops started asking questions about them causing trouble. This was all the excuse Ken needed to throw them out. Complaints had been filed about a church they were starting just outside of Grantville's jurisdiction. Jimmy organized an armed escort to stand guard over the new church when the local Lutherans started getting nasty in spite of the Anabaptists having the local count's permission. They thought well of him for it for it.

The biggest surprise was the number of people who showed up because James Richard Shaver had defended Grantville's honor on the fields of Philosophy in the face of a nasty stuffed-shirt German who still continued to bad mouth up-timers and up-time values. He asked Jimmy if war was mankind's greatest glory or greatest shame. "Neither," Jimmy replied, "our greatest glory is to love our wives and raise our children well, our greatest shame is an un-cherished child." The philosopher from Berlin didn't like the answer.

Bina Rae had a staff member from the home to say a few words and then there was a walk to the cemetery followed by a quiet, catered meal planned for the immediate family at Bina's house.

Jimmy found himself in the middle of the street between Club 250 and the Gardens with half of the people who walked back from the graveyard with him going one way, and half going the other. Both halves were ready to buy him a drink. To everyone's shock, he went home to do his drinking alone.

Bina was dumbfounded at the turnout. Jimmy was a drunk. No one respects a drunk.

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- The Grantville Gazette Staff