“Wives . . . more trouble than the Methodist church.” The Devil, in Damned Yankees.

Lili Trainer entered the office and without a word to the receptionist, the clerk or Dwight Rogers’ secretary, walked straight into the site manager’s private office. When your husband is the manager’s boss and your late father owned part of the company—which you expect to inherit when the estate gets through probate—you can get away with doing things like that.

“Dwight, I’m sick and tired of the mud and the dust, and tripping on the damned cobblestones. Do something about it.” There was cobblestone on the old part of the street in a little village just outside of Celle where the oil company had leased land to build an office and some modern housing for senior staff. The new section of the street was just packed dirt. The duke owned the village and he hadn’t done anything about extending the paving.

“I suppose we could put down oil on the roads for the dust.”

“Now that would be a waste of oil.” Lili made it sound like an accusation.

“Not really. Bunker fuel is too heavy for diesels. The steamboats out of the naval yard can burn it, what we don’t burn to run the refinery. That still leaves the stuff that is too thick to be bunker fuel and too light to be tar.”

Lili shook her head, “You’d end up with oil getting tracked into the houses. Then when it rains it just makes the mud worse. You’ve got that asphalt stuff. Don’t tell me it’s not asphalt! I looked it up! It’s that bitamen stuff they make asphalt with! Don’t tell me that isn’t what you’ve got in those big thatch-covered piles, at Weitze. Why can’t you spread it over the roads?”

Dwight sighed. He had just had this same argument with the army liaison when he came to negotiate their fuel prices. “Lili, that’s impossible right now.” He began his well-rehearsed explanation. “It isn’t that simple. What we need to do is mix the ‘bitumen’ with aggregate, to make bitmac. Even then you can’t just spread it on the ground, and believe me it’s not as simple as just pouring it like cement. You first have to have the proper road base, which means you need surveyors because once you put in a hard road it’s kind of permanent. So after the road is staked, then it has to be graded and stabilized. Ideally that calls for stabilized gravel, over a bed of larger stone. Stabilized gravel means gravel with sand and the right clay in the right mix. Then you can put down the bitmac.”

“So do it.”

“Happy to. I don’t like muddy streets either. Tell your husband to get me a steady supply of gravel in different grades, plenty of sand, and the right kind of clay.” Dwight ticked off the items on his fingers.

“Along with an endless supply of gravel and sand, I’ll need a roller, and scrapers. And we’ll need culverts for the cross streets and some way to get an even layer of asphalt spread over large areas. An asphalt laying machine would be nice. Hilton Steam Works in Grantville can build one, but for now we don’t have one. Nobody does.

“Get me my shopping list and I’ll get started. Until then the bitumen is just going to sit there.”

“Is that all, Dwight? I thought you said it was impossible.”

“It isn’t going to be easy or cheap, which is the same thing as impossible.”

“No it isn’t, Dwight. It’s not anywhere near close to being the same thing. You and Jerry, two big-shot engineers! How many times have I heard you two say that the first step in solving a problem is stating it clearly? You might as well be talking about an alcoholics’ anonymous twelve-step program. The first step is admitting that you have a problem. Well, at least you’ve admitted it. But from your shopping list I don’t see why it’s a problem at all.”

“Lili, we’ll have to re-invent some of the equipment, ’cause Grantville sure isn’t going to give up any of its up-time equipment just so we can have a smooth ride. Besides, the county’s hot asphalt machine wasn’t inside the ring, so they don’t have one to loan us anyway.”

“I still don’t see why we can’t do it. We’ve got the asphalt. We know how to do it. Grantville has paved roads. Why can’t we?” Lili walked out into the what passed for the heat of an August summer in northern Germany.

Dwight rolled his eyes skyward.

****

The sunshine announced it was Sunday morning, a lazy time to lie about and take it easy. The Baptists in the area decided one Sunday service was enough and that an afternoon service was more amenable. They had to gather from Wietze to Celle and beyond. Since the sermons were kept short and the Baptists were willing to share the pulpit, the English speakers came together every Sunday. It wasn’t just the Church of Christ and the Methodists who turned up. Some Lutherans and Catholics, and some un-churched showed up too. Worshipping in German or Latin, on top of living in German and polyglot jargon, just wasn’t the same as back up-time. Besides, the ladies arranged for an old-fashioned, West Virginia dinner to be served up after the service. People had been known to socialize until they had to leave to be home by dark.

Perhaps the oddest thing about it was the number of down-time English speakers who showed up. As long as they stuck to English they were welcome. The old deacon, Dotty Mase, had held a German-language Baptist worship service for his growing class of converts on Sunday morning until he got too feeble and retired again. Then a down-timer took over as pastor. Without the old deacon to link them together they were two different congregations now.

Hanna, the Trainer family’s maid, knew that on Sunday mornings breakfast didn’t happen on a schedule, but hot biscuits were not required. A short order menu was fine. Often a pastry bought on Saturday from the bakery in Celle was all she needed. She knew Mr. Trainer would still wake up at five o’clock. He would hit the bathroom, brush his teeth and go back to bed and back to sleep. Around seven Mrs. Trainer would wake her husband up. Helga would become aware of them whenever they came down for breakfast.

On the last Sunday morning in August 1636 Helga did not have to wait for them to come downstairs. The whole house, from basement to attic, was very aware of Mr. and Mrs. Trainer—starting at twelve minutes after seven.

Helga heard it all. At a volume that would not stop rising until it was rattling the shingles, Lili started with: “Jerry Trainer, you ungrateful, selfish pig! I’ve given you the best years of my life! I even got a job to pay the bills so you could get your masters degree! I’m not asking for all that much, just a decent, civilized place to live with a few basic amenities! It’s not surprising you like the mud; you’re a pig. A selfish, self-centered, arrogant pig! Don’t tell me it can’t be done. Dwight says he can do it!”

“I didn’t say it can’t be done. I said it can’t be done right now!”

“Dwight says it can!”

“Well, he doesn’t have to pay for it!”

“Neither do you! It’s company money we’re talking about here. My money! Not yours!”

“It isn’t your money until the probate is settled. It can’t be settled until the court rules on the claim your dad was co-mingling public and private funds. Then there’s the charges of profiteering, and conflict of interest! That will take awhile. The probate is a mess.”

“So what?” Lili crossed her arms as she looked away. “That just means it’ll take longer for me to pay it back to the company.”

That didn’t make any sense at all to Jerry. Did she think she could spend some portion of the company’s money as she wished and in advance? Clearly the facts were whatever she wanted them to be and when she looked away like that he knew there was absolutely no way of getting her to see reason.

“Even if your mother does go ahead and sign her interests over to you like she says she’s going to, if and when she actually gets any, you still won’t own anywhere near a majority.”

His arms waved wildly as he emphasized his point. “Even if you did, you couldn’t do whatever you want! It’s a publicly traded company! I know your dad acted like he owned it all. That’s what all the fuss is about. At the time nobody cared as long as he got the oil flowing. Now, it’s the money flow they’re interested in. I can’t run the company that way. I’ve got to look out for everybody’s interests, what is best for the bottom line. Paving the street in front of the office and our homes is out of the question!”

“Dwight says it isn’t. Dwight says all he needs is gravel!”

“Well, if that’s what Dwight said, then Dwight is an even bigger idiot than you are or he’s lying through his teeth just to get your goat!”

Oops. It really wasn’t wise to make a remark like that. Jerry knew that as well as he knew his name.

“I’m an idiot? I’m an idiot?” Her volume climbed with every repetition.

“Lili, look. We’ll be putting down gravel this spring. Okay?”

“Why stop there when we’ve got all of that stuff on hand that can be asphalt as soon as you add gravel?”

“Time, trained people, and equipment that we don’t have and can’t get!”

“Dwight says we can get it.”

“Laura Lee Trainer!” His voice was straining with exasperation. “Just who is going to pay for it? I can’t justify spending company money on it!”

“But, Dwight said . . . ”

“I don’t care what Dwight said!” Jerry replied, barely restraining himself. “It isn’t going to happen! It costs too much!”

“Jerry, that’s your answer to everything! I’m damned lucky you wanted flush plumbing and hot running water or that would have cost too much, too!” Lili’s voice was practically a howling growl. “It’s your answer to everything. If you don’t want it, then it costs too much. But you can always seem to find a way to do it if it is something you want. That golf course you laid out between the oil wells was the dumbest thing I ever heard of! But I guess it didn’t cost too much!” The last part was a rising shriek.

“All right! Listen, we’ve got gravel coming. I’ve got to pay the crews to put it down anyway. I tell you what, Miss Smarty Pants. If you think it is just that simple, you figure a way to pay for the asphalt machine and I’ll find a way to cover the other costs! Okay?”

“And you think I can’t, don’t you? You just make sure you keep your end of the deal!”

“Yes, dear!” Jerry snarled.

Helga watched Jerry grab his golf clubs and stomp out of the house. He didn’t come home for lunch and he didn’t show up at church that night either. When he did come home he slept on the couch.

****

“Dwight? Why in hell did you tell my wife you could pave the streets if I wasn’t being a stubborn, pig-headed idiot about getting you the gravel you needed?”

“I never said that.”

“Yeah, well what did you say?”

“I said I’d need aggregate, scrapers, rollers, a paving machine, surveyors, a trained labor force and lots of time.”

“Do you have any idea what that is going to cost? Shoot, just getting the equipment made up is going to cost a fortune.”

“Sure, I know that. That’s why we haven’t done it already. I told your wife as much.”

“Well, she didn’t hear that part of it. All she seems to have heard is that you can do it if I get you the gravel.”

“Sorry, Jerry.”

“Shoot, Dwight, I know it’s not your fault. The woman has selective hearing. I know; I’ve lived with her for years. But since her father died and she knows she’s going to own a big chunk of the company she acts like she owns the world.”

“Ha!” Dwight snorted. “Can you imagine what she’d do if she did? We’d be out of a job in a hurry!”

“Nah!” Jerry got a shit-eatin’ grin on his face and dropped into a hillbilly cant, which he only did when he was wantin’ ta be nasty and ridicule someone, “She’d miss us. Come a light bulb needin’ changed, we’d be back on suffer’ce. Just you watch . . . ”

****

After a quiet breakfast in the solar, Georg, duke of Kalenberg sat reading dispatches from the engineers at Wietz, while his wife, Anna Eleanor, busily applied embroidery to one of her daughter’s new dresses.

“Georg, I was talking to Mrs. Trainer. Wouldn’t it be nice to have an asphalt road, like they have in Grantville, from the docks to the manor? I wonder what it would be like to have roads that didn’t wash away or turn to mud,” she said as she glanced his way. “Darling, you said so yourself when we were in Grantville that the roads there were superb. And I, for one, think it would be a fine investment, what with all the new trade going on down by the river.

“What a market district we could have. And surely it would draw some of that Grantville business you’ve been harping about.”

“Yes dear,” Georg replied, without really listening to what his wife was saying.

“I can’t imagine it would be too expensive to get it done. A good portion of the things we need are right here.”

“Hm . . . ”

“Then I can go ahead and order it done?”

Georg mumbled something indecipherable. It might have been, “Yes, dear.”

“Also, Mrs. Trainer was telling me that they will need a machine or two that they don’t have but could get made in Grantville, and some rock and such from the quarry.

“Oh, and this should make even a pfennig-pincher like you happy; Lili said if we paid for the machines then the oil company would undertake the cost of scouting out and training the crews and working out the . . . ‘bugs’ is what she said. I think she may mean the new machines might have problems and they would have to work them out.”

Grumble . . . Mumble . . .

“Thank you, darling, you’re such a dear. It’s so nice to talk to you in the mornings.” She gathered up her sewing and left the room.

“Huh? What was that, love?” Georg looked up. Anna Eleanor wasn’t in the room.

****

On April first a servant hurried into the telegraph office just outside of Celle in Oil Town. “I need to send a telegram,” he said. “Then I will wait for a reply.”

Somewhere near Grantville a telephone rang, “Good afternoon, Hilton Steam Works. How may I help you?”

“That you, Anna?”

“What’s up, Maria?”

“Got a telegram for you. You want it over the phone? Or you can pay to have it hand-delivered, or you can send someone to pick it up.”

“Give it to me over the phone. And hold the hard copy. Someone will pick it up maybe tomorrow.”

“Doesn’t sound like a happy customer. It says:

April 1, 1637

To: Hilton Steam Works, New Street, Schwarza

From: Georg, duke of Kalenberg, Celle

You want how much—stop—

For what—

—End—”

“Anna let me call you back after I check this out.”

****

April 1, 1637

To: Georg, duke of Kalenberg. Celle

From: Hilton Steam Works, New Street, Schwarza

We’re ready to deliver the asphalt paving equipment you ordered—stop—

The balance is due and payable upon delivery—

—End—

****

April 2, 1637

To: Hilton Steam Works, New street, Schwarza

From: Georg, duke of Kalenberg, Celle

I never ordered any asphalt paving equipment—stop—

What is asphalt paving equipment—stop—

I don’t even know what asphalt is—

—End—

****

April 2, 1637

To: Georg, duke of Kalenberg. Celle

From: Hilton Steam Works, New Street, Schwarza

We are in receipt of an order signed by Duchess Anna Eleanor along with a draft on an account with OPM, for materials cost—stop—

As verified previously, Duchess Anna Eleanor is authorized to draw upon said account—stop—

OPM requires that final payment be made by you directly or additional approval documents must be provided to them, due to OPM’s withdrawal restrictions—

—End—

****

Georg scrubbed his face hard after placing the telegraph form back onto the table. The servant who delivered it, anxiety showing on his face, slowly started to slide away along the wall as he attempted to avoid his lord’s wrath.

With a deep sigh, the duke placed his hands flat on the table, and raised his head, piercing the servant with his gaze.

“Would you kindly request that the Duchess Anna attend me here at once.” It was a capital O Order, not a request.

Hearing more than a little steel in the voice, the servant scampered off, relieved the lord’s wrath would strike elsewhere.

****

“Anna, what has possessed you?! Because of your order, our investment account at OPM has reduced by half!” Georg ground his teeth as his wife calmly entered the study and gracefully ignored his outburst of anger. She looked over the papers sitting on his desk, noting the telegrams from Grantville.

“Anna! You simply cannot do something like that without my permission.”

“Don’t you remember? I asked you about this, over breakfast, months ago, back in September! You didn’t object then, and besides, it’s a wonderful investment. Imagine the prestige of being the only city outside of Grantville with asphalt roads.”

“We can’t just build roads wherever we want! Agreements must be negotiated, documents drawn up, approved and signed. I have no right to . . . ”

“And who tells the duke what to do in his own duchy? Are you a duke or a mouse? If you want to build a road, you simply buy the rights to build a road. Simple, no?”

“Simple? Yes, if want to start a revolt. But that is beside the point. Are you trying to bankrupt me? Why should we spend money on asphalt? We have plenty of roads, and the streets by the docks are just that, by the docks! Who cares if they’re muddy? You don’t have to walk in them!”

Anna’s eyes grew flinty. “Bankrupt you? Whose dowry money do you think is in that account in the first place? An account, dear husband, you refused to even think of putting any of your money into. You called it ‘that up-time foolery,’ as I recall!”

Georg screwed his eyes shut for a moment, realizing he might have gone a bit far. “But, Anna, dearest, I am the person who is responsible for your fortune, and I have to take better care of your money than of my own. It really would be irresponsible of me to let you risk more than just a very little of it on untried, harebrained schemes. We had this discussion when you insisted on investing some of your money in that crazy, up-time foolery. I only very reluctantly acquiesced with your wishes. It seems I may have been wrong, at least so far, anyway. You’ve been getting a very good return. At least up to now. But then you go and spend half of it without even asking me. It’s not like the law allows you to make this sort of transactions without my consent—except, it seems—in Grantville. This paving machine you ordered is ridiculous. I didn’t realize you would be able to access that account like this without my consent.”

The storm clouds over Anna’s head darkened even further. Georg could feel the growing threat to his domestic tranquility like cold juices running up his spine to shoot icy fingers into his brain that hurt like daggers. He recalled how Anna had threatened to seek financial “emancipation” when she insisted on making the investment in OPM. If she did, especially now that the first investment worked out so well, he would be a laughingstock.

“Don’t ‘but, Anna’ me, Georg! You let me have joint access to that account because, and I quote, ‘You might as well control it, there won’t be anything left in six months anyway!’ Well, you were wrong about that, and you are wrong about this, too. That paving machine is going to be the second best thing that ever happened to you. The only thing better was the day my father—who must have been dead drunk at the time—agreed to let you marry me.

“Just because a bit of your family’s lands has suddenly become supremely useful, does not suddenly make you the smartest man of means in Kalenberg. If my family had not assisted you in the initial finance of the oil fields, you too would be simply looking in from the outside! Ownership or not!”

Georg felt an urgent desire to flee back to his troops in Gustav’s service where all he had to worry about was getting shot to death. There at least I know what I am doing, charge when you can win and retreat when you can’t. But modern finances are a bottomless quagmire. Life had been so much simpler in those days. Lord in Heaven, give me a nice, simple, peaceful war.

Anna never even slowed down.

“I talked about things with Mrs. Trainer and some other ladies from Grantville, back when you were being stubborn about investing in OPM, Georg. They told me, if I go to Magdeburg or Thuringia-Franconia, I can have a divorce just by asking for one. I wouldn’t even have to prove you were spending all of my money on, as Lili put it, fast horses and wild women.

“Then I could establish my own power over all my property!

“It’s only these benighted places like Duchies of Luneburg and Brunswick where a woman is always under some man’s guardianship. Well, my high and mighty lord and master, as duke of Luneburg and Brunswick you can legislate that old-fashioned stupidity away. And I fully intend to see that you do. And you will. Because if you don’t, well, I will go to my home in Franconia. Do you really want me to divorce you? I can and you know it!”

Georg’s mind went back, yet again, for a time beyond counting: to the day when he and his brothers drew lots twenty years earlier to decide which one of them would marry so the family’s wealth would be preserved in one line instead of being sub-divided into ever smaller separate bits and pieces. Why did I have to lose by winning? I’d be free to have mistresses and no commitments. I could hunt and travel and enjoy life. I’d have a free rein with the stuff of wine cellars. His thoughts took a turn back to reality. Yes and I’d have gout in my feet like August, which is not so good after all. The winning lot could have fallen to Fritz. He would have done well with it. But, then I wouldn’t have my delightful children. I’d be just an uncle. I’d miss having kids.

A man needs to have harmony at home, how else am I going to preserve our dynasty’s power, to serve the emperor and the true faith, and to ensure a good future to my sons? “Anna, quit being silly. There is no need talk about a divorce. I only want the best for you and our children.”

The duchess, somewhat mollified, admitted, “So do I. I don’t really want a divorce. Even after comparing notes with the ladies from Grantville, I still know very well that I’ve invested the best years of my life in you. And I’ve finally gotten you relatively well trained, as much as any man can be. But you will see to it that the law is changed.”

Georg decided to keep his mouth shut. But he couldn’t help but wonder. Trained? Like a hunting dog? Like a horse? Is it that how she sees me? Is that really how women see their husbands?

Anna continued, “Most of my fortune is safely in real estate anyway. Real estate always survives. Cash money can be invested in riskier ventures; the higher the risks, the higher the return. I can afford to lose it. None of it is borrowed; none of the properties are at risk. It might take two or three good crop years but I can replace what I lose, if I do indeed lose anything. Which I won’t! Georg, this paving machine is going to be a gold mine!

“Besides, even if I don’t make any money back, I will still get a good paved road from here to the river. That is something I am more than willing to pay for.”

“But, the costs . . . ”

“Oh, bother the costs. We would finally be able to ride from the valley to the river without once getting out while the carriage was pulled out of the mud, or having our teeth rattled out of our heads.” Anna rose and began to stride out of the room . . . “That by itself will be a wonder.”

****

Jerry Trainer came home for a quiet, relaxing lunch and walked into a beehive of activity. Lili was supervising half a dozen women busily scrubbing the house down, top to bottom.

“I thought you decided, last year, to leave the spring cleaning until after the streets dried up,” Jerry said as he pecked his wife on the cheek.

“Oh, that? Well the mud won’t be a problem this year and we have an important guest coming so I want the house to shine.”

Jerry heard two alarms in his head and decided to check out the safer one first. “Who’s coming?”

“Anna Eleanor, the wife of Duke Georg. You’ve met her before.”

“The duchess? Why is she coming? Her husband isn’t, is he?” Jerry felt the cold chill of uncertainty running down his back. They were leasing the mineral rights to the oilfields from the duke at a flat percentage of gross sales. He had been very helpful in getting access rights to the drilling sites, which was separate and different from the mineral rights, along with the lease on the land the refinery was on down by the river. There for awhile it really had looked as though they would never get a lease for enough land to build the complex everyone was calling Oil Town. Then the duke intervened. But even when he was being supremely helpful, no one likes a surprise visit from the landlord.

“No, dear, her husband isn’t coming. Anna Eleanor wants to be here when her asphalt paving machine arrives. That should be next Tuesday or Wednesday. So I want the house looking its best.”

Jerry’s face became very calm, which it often did just before he blew up. In an unnaturally steady voice, Jerry asked, “Why is the duchess having a paving machine delivered here?”

“So we can use it while hiring and training a crew. Don’t you remember? You said if I got the paving machine you would take care of everything else.”

Lili looked at the expression on her husband’s face. “Jerry? You aren’t thinking of welshing on our deal are you? You can’t, Jerry. I took you at your word. I promised Anna Eleanor that if she bought the machine we would train the crew for her for free. Of course while we’re training them, we can get the streets paved, right?” Lili smiled. “You promised, Jerry. A deal is a deal.”

Jerry clamped his jaw closed tight, did an about face, and marched out of the house without another word.

When he walked through the front door of the office, the receptionist took one look and ducked back to her typewriter, pounding away furiously. Her father had had a look much like that just before he took his belt off to teach someone a lesson.

With the inner office door closed, Jerry sat down and let out a long breath. “Dwight, we have a big problem!”

Dwight sat behind his desk, working a pencil back and forth between his hands, and waited without saying anything.

“Remember when Lili wanted the streets paved? I told her we couldn’t afford it and we had a big fight. Well, to get her off of my back I said if she could come up with a paving machine I could take care of the rest.

“Dwight, there was no way in the world she was going to raise the money to have a paving machine built. Right?” Jerry waited for Dwight to nod.

“Well, she couldn’t, and she didn’t, but she got the wife of Duke Georg to do it for her. It’s going to arrive next week and Lili promised the duchess we would hire and train the crew for her.

“It’s not in the budget. What in the world am I going to do? I could tell Lili I was wrong . . . ” Jerry plopped down in a chair in front of Dwight’s desk. “She’d make me miserable, but I could do it. I could string her out and take forever with one delay after another and just put up with the constant nagging. But I can’t do that with the duke’s wife.

“Dwight, please, gim’me a miracle,” Jerry’s language was slipping, “it’s not like you ain’t done it before.” Dwight was the up-timer with hands-on oil experience. On several occasions when the theory didn’t seem to be working he had looked the situation over, made one or two small changes and everything else fell into place.

Dwight carefully placed his pencil down on the desk. “Jerry, calm down. It might not be as bad as you think. Look, we’ve got a hot lay asphalt paving machine that we didn’t know we had. Seems to me, we can manage to pave some of the street here in Oil Town.”

Jerry shook his head glumly, “I don’t see how.”

“What Lili was really complaining about was that the mud was getting tracked into the buildings. Right?”

“Well, that and the dust.”

Dwight waved a hand in dismissal. “It’s the mud that’s the problem. Look, the old street is already cobblestone, and most of the new buildings have boardwalk fronts instead of sidewalks. But people pick up mud on their shoes when they cross the streets. Let’s take what we’ve got and pave the intersections so people can cross the street and only have to deal with the mud that falls off of the wheels.”

“Even that is going to cost more than we’ve budgeted,” Jerry objected.

“If this works, once we get things rolling, I betcha the only limit will be how fast we can produce the bitmac. Yeah, we’ve got a stockpile, but if we pave the street here . . . once word gets out, I bet that new machine will be so busy with orders we’ll run out before the end of the season. If that’s the case we’ll have enough of a windfall that we can buy enough gravel to do like we planned on with this round and gravel the road down to the refinery by fall. Be nice to have it paved too.

“Look, Jerry,” Dwight continued, “the duchess has a paving machine and she is going to be buying bitumen. We can tap the research and development budget for some of the shortfall. Heck, if we work it right, we might even squeeze out enough to pave all of the street in front of the new buildings!”

Reaching into a desk drawer, Dwight brought out his old solar-powered calculator. He’d found it in the back of a junk drawer at home. He could have sold it for hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. Instead he kept it. He was good at math, but he hated it.

“One sec, Jerry, while I do some numbers”¦” Grabbing the budget spreadsheet, he began punching numbers into the calculator. “Okay . . . There’s that . . . And . . . per crew . . . ”

Jerry began to fidget, picking up an old ceramic coffee mug on the desk that Dwight used as a pen holder. He noticed a few ballpoint pens that still worked and one of the new and expensive fountain pens.

“And . . . done!” Dwight did a double-take at his calculator as he wrote the final figures onto his notepad. “Well I’ll be damned . . . not bad. In fact it’s downright affordable.”

Jerry looked at the figure. “That’s still too high, Dwight. I can’t justify that big of an unbudgeted expenditure. I guess I’m gonna have to go talk to Lili . . . ”

“Hold on, Jerry. You didn’t let me finish. That price is if we were purchasing the materials. We already have most of the gravel on hand, and sand is, pardon the pun, dirt cheap.

“We’re getting about five percent of bitumen per barrel of crude and we aren’t selling very much of it. We haven’t had much luck making inroads on the existing pitch markets. They’re just a little afraid to try something new and we’re a long way from any large users, so the transportation cost would eat us alive. I figure we can up the price when we sell it to the duchess, hey, one job and we’ll be making money! There’s your budget adjustment . . . Just call it development costs!”

Jerry’s eyes had gotten brighter and brighter as the information worked its way through his mind. He was not a greedy type, but if this got him out from between the rock that was his wife and the hard place that was the company’s shareholders, he was all for it.

Jerry jumped out of the chair, his mind racing. Visions of road crews in orange vests and projections of the next quarterly report flipped back and forth through his mind.

“Of course!” He walked to the large slate mounted on the wall, looking at manning requirements that had been chalked onto the makeshift planning calendar.

“Hot damn, Dwight! I think we gots ourselves a business here! We might want to buy our own paving machine!”

“Wait a minute, Jerry. Remember, it’s only cheap for us until we run out of gravel, plus we’d have to commit a lot of money if we buy a paver. Let’s just let the duchess do her thing, and we’ll make money selling her the asphalt.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right . . . ”

“So, what ya’ gonna tell Lili?”

Jerry chuckled, and an evil grin grew on his face. He turned to Dwight.

“Ain’t gonna tell ‘er nuttin’,” Jerry said in a redneck leer. “You don’t think I’m going to encourage her to say, ‘I told you so’, do you?”

“You mean just like you never told her we really didn’t actually have to have a hot-paving machine? Yeah, we need one, to get the best results, but we could have made do.”

“Shhhh!” Jerry said. “Things are bad enough as it is.”

****

Lili stood on a boardwalk facing the first paved section of Oil Town’s street and watched the workmen putting blacktop on the second section while another crew packed the gravel on the third so it would be ready for asphalt; a fourth section was being dug down with horse-drawn scrapers.

Lili smiled. “See, dear,” she said, squeezing her husband’s hand, “Dwight was right. We can do it.”

Jerry wasn’t paying attention to his wife. His thoughts and eyes were on Anna Eleanor and the guests she had invited to watch the process after there was a finished section for them to see. Jerry was listening carefully to overhear the conversation the duchess was having with the duke.

“Georg, quit worrying. I already have three contracts lined up for the new company.”

“But the air force is considering the possibility of requisitioning the use of the paving machine and they’re insisting they have a priority claim on the stockpiled bitumen.”

This didn’t bother the duchess in the least. She was more than ready to rent the machine and its crew to the air force at crew cost. “Good. When we get it back, the demand, and the price, and the profit will all be just that much higher. It will be the final proof that there was no finer road surface in the world. If that happens, you can think of a score of people who will absolutely have to have it right now. As for the bitumen, well, I had someone look it up for me in the library in Grantville. There were other sources for asphalt if it ever comes down to that and Mrs. Trainer says she will get me the right of first refusal on sales here. It is really just tar after all. And the up-timers aren’t the only source of tar, now are they? I’ve already put in an order for two more machines.”

“You what?” Georg’s startled voice caused heads to turn.

“Yes, dear. It is obvious this one is going to pay for itself in short order. Unless I want someone else having them made up,” Anna Eleanor said, “I need to keep the machine builder busy. I want a solid lock on the business before I have to deal with competition. So I ordered one for next year and another for the year after.”

Georg put a hand to his forehead and dragged it down to his face.

“You’ll see. It will work out.”

Jerry could see Georg taking note of how many people were looking at them. It was clear he wanted to have a fight with his wife, but not in public. What could a man say at a time like that . . . ?

Jerry chuckled. The additional costs to pave and upgrade Main Street of Oil Town were fully justifiable as a promotional expense. They could quit trying to market it as a pitch substitute, because it looked like the duchess was ready to buy all they could refine. He could foresee the day when there would be a waiting list.

Lili heard him chuckle and asked, “What? Jerry? Are you listening to me? Jerry?” There was a tug on his hand. “Earth to Jerry, come in?”

“Hum?” He quit counting the un-hatched chickens in his mind and turned to his wife. “What, dear?”

“I said,” Lili’s voice was a touch stern, after all, no one likes being ignored, “Dwight was right. We can do it.”

Jerry smiled and took a lesson from Duke Georg of Kalenberg, a grandfather of the George kings of England in a history which now would never be. At a time like this there really was only one thing a man could safely say to a question like that from his wife.

“Yes, dear.”