Jimmy Dick moved down the bar to where Tom Ruffner was putting away the brews way too fast for a man who was going to walk home without taking a nap first. “Hey, Tommy? What’s up? You don’t hardly come in here anymore. You ain’t had a fight with the wife have you?”

“Jenny is going to kill me!” Tom said.

“Well, send her some flowers. That always helps.”

“I did. I bought a big expensive vase from that Hungarian potter and I took it to the flower shop and had them fill it full of roses and take it to my wife this morning. But she didn’t call the shop so I know she’s still mad. She’s going to kill me.”

“So you decided on a self-fulfilling prophecy?”

“A what?”

“A self-fulfilling prophecy. Like what happened to Oedipus Rex.”

“Ed who?”

“Oedipus Rex, the Greek who . . . “

“Oh, him? The one they named the Ed’ipus complex after. I know that one. The lady took her son to the shrink because the school told her she had too. The shrink told her, ‘Mrs. Goldstein, your boy is suffering from an Ed’ipus Complex.’ And she said, ‘Ed’ipus, shmed’ipus, as long as he loves his mother.'” Tommy tipped back his beer and signaled for another one. “What does that stupid joke have to do with anything?”

“Oh, there’s a whole lot more to the story that that. First of all, when Oedipus was born it was foretold that he would kill his father and marry his mother. So Poppa told someone to get rid of the kid. Instead of killing the boy that someone gave him away to some shepherds. When Oedipus hit twenty or so he got rowdy and the local law told him to get out of town. So he loaded up his chariot and took off.

“Along the way he ran into a mean old man coming down the road toward him who was suffering from road rage. The old man told him, ‘Get out of the way or get run over.’

“‘Try it, you old fart,’ Oedipus told him.

“‘Shut your mouth, boy, before I shut it for you. I’m king around here.’

“Oedipus laughed. ‘You and what army?’

“So the old man got out of his chariot and set out to teach the kid a lesson. He couldn’t make good on the brag and in the end he died trying.

“Later, Oedipus met up with a mythical creature who told him he had to answer the most famous riddle of all time or get eaten.”

“Which one?” Tommy asked. “What is your name, what is your favorite color, or what is the relative flying speed of a sparrow?”

“No, the other most famous riddle of all time.” Jimmy said.

“Why did the chicken cross the road?”

Jimmy Dick gave up with a sigh, “Yeah, that one. When he answered it correctly the Sphinx was so upset it killed itself. Someone caught it on camera for the evening news and since the city was short a king and he was a good-looking kid they gave him the job. But to get it he had to marry the queen. She was a good-looking woman and a lot younger than her first husband, so Oedipus said yes.

“So you see, if they had kept the boy and raised him up right the prophecy wouldn’t have come true.”

“What are you getting at, Jimmy?”

“If you get drunk, your wife will kill you.”

“She’s going to kill me anyway. So I might as well get drunk. Just one thing I want to know? What is the correct answer to why the chicken crossed the road?”

“That’s simple. One ditch is birth, the other ditch is death, so the chicken has no choice. Just why is your wife going to kill you anyway?”

“Yesterday was our wedding anniversary and I completely forgot it.”

Jimmy looked at him. “Ken, a bottle of whiskey and two glasses. We’ve got a wake down here.”

Then Jimmy directed his words to Tom, “Shit, kid, you’re right, Jenny is going kill you for sure, but not before she skins you alive. So you might as well go home dead drunk.”

Jimmy poured a healthy, or unhealthy, double shot of whiskey in a shot glass and encouraged Tom to chug it. It wasn’t very long before Tom was smiling from ear to ear and trying to sing.

“That should just about do,” Jimmy told the younger man. “Ken, I need a bottle of cheap wine, if you please.”

“For crying out loud, Jimmy, are you trying to give the man the worst possible hangover he can have?”

“Sure am.”

Ken snorted. “I shouldn’t let you do it, Jimmy. I need the customers, bad!” Ken put a half empty bottle on the bar. “Here, it’s on the house. I won’t be able to sell it anyway.”

At that comment Jimmy raised an eyebrow and Ken walked off. Jimmy got a shoulder under Tom’s arm, “Let’s see about getting you home before you pass out.” He grabbed the bottle, pulled the cork out with his teeth and handed it to Tom. “Here, have a hit of this.”

At the Ruffner house Jimmy got Tom settled into the porch swing. Tom started to lie down. Jimmy propped him up. “No, you don’t, Tommy. Not until I get you to bed on the couch.”

Jimmy knocked on the door. When Jenny answered it, Jimmy said, “Hi, Jenny. Help me get Tom on the couch before he falls asleep.”

“Jimmy? He’s drunk?”

“Yeah.”

“What happened? It’s still daylight. When he used to get drunk he didn’t stagger home until sometime after midnight.”

“That’s because he stuck with beer. I got some whiskey and some wine into him on top of the beer and then I brought him home.”

Jenny shook her head and frowned, “I ought to leave him on the porch for the night!”

“Haven’t you already done enough? He’s going to have what he’ll be sure is the worst hangover of his life tomorrow morning.”

“What do you mean haven’t I done enough? I didn’t get him drunk!”

“Really? The man didn’t stop at the bar on the way home for a beer or two. He stopped to get drunk. He wasn’t willing to face you sober. He was afraid to come home. Mostly what he said was, ‘Jenny is going to kill me!’ So I don’t see how you can claim it isn’t your fault.”

Jenny sucked her breath in between her teeth with a hissing sound and she blushed just a bit. “I guess maybe I was being a little hard on him. Let’s get him to bed.”

“No, put him on the couch. He needs to wake up with a sore back and a stiff neck along with the pounding head.”

“Jimmy, you’re mean!”

“Don’t waste a good hangover by making it easy on him, and don’t wait until he feels better to talk about it either, not if you want this to be his last one.”

****

Jimmy was hardly back to the bar before Bubba came in.

“Hey, Jimmy.” It was Thursday night. Bubba was broke, as usual and thirsty, as usual. Jimmy Dick was perched on a stool at the middle of Club 250’s bar, ready, willing and able to buy a beer for anyone who was desperate enough for a free beer to put up with his acid wit. There were few takers, as usual.

Jimmy waved two fingers at the bartender. Ken was already popping two cork lined bottle tops off newly made bottles. Up-time beer bottles were now collectables and were turning up in curio cabinets all over Europe.

“What’s up, Bubba?”

“You heard about the mess Al Green’s kid got into?”

Oddly, all Jimmy said was, “Yeah?”

“Well, don’t you think a preacher should have done a better job of raising his kids than that?”

“Bubba? Have I ever told you you’re about as dumb as a box of rocks?”

“About once a week, Jimmy.”

“Didn’t you get in trouble when you were his age?”

“Yeah, but then my dad wasn’t a preacher.”

“And you expect a preacher to do something even God couldn’t do.”

Bubba picked up his beer bottle when the bartender plopped it down in front of him by sheer reflex unguided by any cognizant thought. His entire intellect was busy trying to get itself around what Jimmy had just said. In half a second he gave up. “Now how do you figure that?”

“Bubba, God raised Adam and Eve didn’t he?”

Jimmy was staring at a blonde. The waitress picked up the empties off of the table. When she got to “Big Dog” Carpenter she leaned over and said something quietly in his ear. Bobby looked up and replied but the waitress shook her head emphatically.

Jimmy caught the tail end of the conversation. Or at least he thought he did if he read Bob’s lips right: “Let me finish my drink first.”

When the waitress got back to the bar, Ken had two beers waiting. He told the waitress, “Go tell Bob, these are on the house, then tell him you’re sorry, you misunderstood. He and his lady friend are welcome to stay as long as they like.”

The waitress got mad and demanded, “What about the sign on the door?”

“I guess it’s time for the sign to come down. I’ll take it off in the morning.”

“What happened, Jimmy?” Bubba asked. “It sure ain’t like Ken to give out free drinks.”

“Shit, Bubba, you really are as dumb as a box of rocks. The waitress told Bobby to get his down-timer girl friend out of here.”

“Shit, Jimmy. Yeah, the sign is still on the door but Ken quit saying anything about that months ago. The Garbage Guys started bringing that Frenchman in here for a drink after work. Until he left town he was here so often he was practically a regular. So how come she told the blonde to leave and never said boo to the Frenchman?”

“Ken will be taking to sign down in the morning.”

“Yeah, but what’s the difference? Why did she get on to Big Dog but not the Garbage Guys? I’d much rather look at the blonde than the Frenchman.”

“Think about it, Bubba. Why do the girls work here? The money sure ain’t all that good.”

“Okay, Jimmy. Why?”

“To get looked at, Bubba. When the blonde came in every guy in the place was looking at her and no one was paying attention to the waitress any more. The waitress doesn’t mind the Frenchman, she thinks he’s cute, he sits at a table, drinks his wine, he’s quiet and he tips well. But she wasn’t about to put up with having that kind of competition. There’s only room for one queen bee in a hive so one of them had to go. She was too much of a distraction.”

“Yeah, that’s a fact she surely was distracting, all right. A women like that, well, it’s kind of hard for a fella to think straight. Shit, it’s hard for a fella to think at all when he’s lookin’ at somethin’ like that.”

“Said Adam when Eve handed him an apple. Like I said, Bubba, even God can’t raise perfect kids. I don’t see how you can expect preachers to do any better. Like I told Jenny when I took Tommy home, if you want to keep them, all you can do is love ’em, forgive ’em, and encourage them to do better next time.”

****

Late the next morning Ken was at the front door with a screwdriver when Jimmy walked up.

A sour faced Ken Beasley looked at him. “You’re early, even by the old standards.”

For years Jimmy Dick had often been Ken’s first customer of the day and he was usually there at closing. After Jimmy got labeled as Grantville’s Greatest Philosopher, about the time his daughter died, Jimmy started changing and spent more time in the library that he did in the bar. That phase seemed to be tapering off and the amount of time he spent in the bar was going back up.

“I wanted to see you take it down,” Jimmy said.

Ken snarled. “Might as well. When the wife turns it into a beauty parlor I’ll have to anyway. Most of her customers are Krauts.”

Jimmy was taken aback. “Beauty parlor? What are you talking about?”

“Shit, Jimmy, her business is booming. Both chairs are booked solid and she could fill a third one, easy, and probably a fourth one if there was room.”

“Where would she get another chair?” Jimmy said.

“She can get one made up. Except for the hydraulics it’s just a reclining chair and the hydraulics are no big deal. Hell, a car jack will work, and there are plenty of those to be had. It don’t even need to be hydraulic. A mechanical jack will do just fine. She’s wantin’ to expand but you of all people know what rents are like in town right now.”

Jimmy nodded. He lost his veteran’s disability check because of the Ring of Fire. Fortunately the rents from the once empty buildings he had inherited on Main Street made up for it. Someone had bought them because they could be had on the cheap. After the Ring of Fire an empty building was not to be found in Grantville.

“So she’s nagging me to let her open up here. She wants to turn half of it into a salon and the other half into a coffee shop, a café for customers while they’re waiting and people waiting for customers. If her numbers are anywhere near right, it’s the way to go.”

A pale Jimmy Dick quietly asked, “But where would we drink?”

“Jimmy, she don’t care. I guess I shouldn’t either. The place is never more than half full anymore. People off to the army and moving out of town don’t account for all of it by a long shot. With so many new bars in town people just don’t come anymore. If they don’t care, why should I? I can’t afford to turn customers away. I guess I could still sell beer out of the coffee shop side of the business after hours.”

“That would take care of the late night regulars, I guess, but what about the lunch crowd? What about the faithful? You’d lose a lot of business anyway. Do you know what a beauty parlor smells like? Yeah, I guess you do. But you’re used to it, so you don’t even notice. I don’t see how any one could stand to hang out and drink there.”

“Still, Jimmy, if I pay myself wages, I ain’t making enough to break even. Even on New Years’ Eve I’m only half full any more. The interest I’m paying on the loans that let me buy McAdam’s whiskey and Old Joe’s cigarette makings is eating me alive. The wife looks at the income and argues that a parlor is a much better use of the space. I’ve been arguing that it will turn around but I’m losing ground. It seems like there’s fewer of us every month. More and more people are making down-time friends. They can’t bring them here so they go across the street. If things don’t turn around somehow, I’ll have to give in and close up.”

“Ken, I just raised the rent on the old shoe store. The tenant says he’ll have to move if I don’t come back down. That would be a whole lot better location for a beauty parlor than here anyway. And she’d have room to open a café if she wants.”

Ken shook his head, “Can’t afford it, Jimmy.”

“Yes, you can. I’ll see to it. We can start with a low rent and raise it as the business grows. If it doesn’t grow then she can move it back home.”

Ken stopped unscrewing the sign and looked at Jimmy without saying a word for what seemed like forever. When he spoke it was one word. “Why?”

“Ken, this is . . . community, it’s family, it’s church for those of us who aren’t churchmen, it’s home.” Jimmy’s voice kept rising. “I can’t let you do it to me or the other regulars. I just can’t.”

Ken bit his lower lip, something he was wont to do when he needed to think. “Let me run it by the wife. Thanks, Jimmy.”

****

The next day when Jimmy came in Ken popped the tops off of two beers and put one in front of him. Jimmy got quiet in his soul. In all the years of drinking in Club 250 he had rarely seen Ken drink and never with a customer.

Ken concentrated on drinking his beer until it was half gone. “Jimmy, thanks for the offer of the old shoe store. But I talked it over with the wife and she flat out said ‘No.’ I said, ‘Why not?’ and when she said why I couldn’t argue the point.”

“Ken, you can’t do this. What was her argument? Surely we can come up with an answer that will get her to change her mind.”

“I doubt it, Jimmy. She pointed out it was dumb to pay rent, even if it was a better location, when the Club was going out of business anyway. And it is, Jimmy. Even with the best whiskey in town . . . “

Jimmy spoke up, “Shit, it’s the best whiskey in Germany.”

” . . . and even with the only supply of the next thing to up-time cigarettes . . . “

“I don’t care if they are hand rolled. They’re up-time cigarettes,” Jimmy said.

” . . . to exist these days, I ain’t got enough customers to pay the toll. And it’s only going to get worse. So why rent a space downtown? What am I going to do with this place when I close the doors? She’s right. We might as well face reality and make the change now.”

Jimmy’s mouth opened and agony poured out, “Ken, you can’t do it! Please? Think about it! Find another way!”

“Sorry, Jimmy. It’s a done deal. She’s moving the beauty shop here just as soon as we can do the remodeling. You’re the last customer. I’m hanging the out of business sign on the door as soon as you leave.”

“Then I’m not leaving. Please, Ken, find another answer.”

“Well, if you’re not leaving then I guess I’ll just hang the sign and lock the front door before anyone else comes in while you’re waiting.” Ken picked up the hammer and the nails and the sign he had ready to hand behind the bar and headed for the door.

When he came back Jimmy had calmed down. “Ken, what are you going to do?”

“Like I said, Jimmy we’re turning the place into a beauty parlor.”

“No, I mean what are you going to do when you’re not running this place any more?”

“I guess I can find a job as a bartender, if I don’t like being a house husband and gentleman of leisure. The wife says with what she’ll make after she moves, I won’t have to work if I don’t want to. Shoot Jimmy, I almost hate to admit it, but as I get older the idea of farming is growing more attractive all the time, despite what I swore as a kid.

“When I sell off the stock and the furniture I might try to buy the old home place and raise some cane,” Ken said with a smile. “I haven’t been able to raise any Cain in years. You really need to be on the other side of the bar for that.”

“How much?”

“What?”

“For the stock and the furniture? How much?”

“I ain’t tallied it yet.”

“Give me first dibs. You owe me that much.”

“What are you going to do with them? Open your own place in the old shoe store?”

“Maybe. And, maybe all I want is a lifetime supply. It’s like the story about the man . . . “

“Jimmy, the bar is closed. I don’t have to listen to any more of your dumb ass stories even if all I ever did was overhear them. I never did think any of them were funny. No, I take that back. There was one, the one about the Norse gods complaining to Buddha about Grantville. That one was funny.”

****

“Hey, what’s going on?” a very puzzled Jim Allen demanded. All the tables and chairs were pushed to one side. Ken and Jimmy Dick were busy taking the bar apart.

“Didn’t you read the sign?” Ken asked.

“What sign?” Eric Hudson asked.

“The one on the door,” Ken clarified.

“The damned door was open! We didn’t see any sign. What hell is going on?” Jim repeated.

“I’m out of business,” Ken said.

“Out of business? You can’t do that,” Jim objected.

“Watch me,” Ken replied.

“But, but, but why?” Jim asked almost stuttering in absolute amazement.

“Shit, Jim. I was losing money and it was getting worse seems like every week. I ain’t seen you or Eric in over a month. Where were you when I was trying to make ends meet?”

“We’ve been in Halle,” Eric said.

“Yeah, that’s the problem. Half of my customers have moved out of town. Half of the ones who didn’t got cozy with the Krauts and quit comin’ in. I can’t make a livin’ no more and my wife needs more space for her beauty salon so I’m out of here and she’s movin’ in.”

“A beauty salon? You’re turning the best saloon in town into a salon? Ken? You have got to be kidding! You can’t do this!” Jim said.

When Jimmy Dick heard the line ‘saloon into salon’ his sarcastic wit went to work. ‘So you lost your “o” did you? Or maybe, if you take the salon out of saloon all you have is “0.” Or how about . . . . But he set it aside for later and gave his attention to what was unfolding.

“I can, and I have. Fini, done, finished, complete, it’s over. I can’t keep a bar open without customers.

“I’m ready to take a break and I’ve got a few cold ones in back. Care to join me?”

Jimmy looked up. “It’s like the story of the fellow who . . . “

Ken snarled, “Shut up, Jimmy. You guys want a cold one on the house or not?”

“Might as well,” Eric said. “That’s what we came in for. It’s just not going to be the same in town without the club.”

“I’m sure you’ll find somewhere else to drink,” Ken said. Looking at Jimmy, “Maybe someone else will open up a redneck bar.”

Jimmy didn’t say a word.

“Ken, it just won’t be the same,” Eric said.

“Hey, things change. They grow or they die. It’s like a . . . “

“I said shut up, Jimmy, and I meant it.”

“Well. Okay, but . . . “

Ken’s look said it all. Jimmy shut up.

****

“Hey, Tip. You heard the news?” Audrey Yost, the florist in town, asked as she stopped in for a beer and pretzel lunch.

“Yes, isn’t it great. She had a litter of nine and all of them are pointed.”

Audrey was purely puzzled, “What are you talking about.”

“Hazel’s latest litter, we were sure when there wasn’t an unneutered male Siamese in town that we’d lost them. But she found a pure white to breed with. Only two of the first litter were fully pointed and they were both females. But she kept crossing back. It’s taken years, but it looks like maybe she’s bred the alley cat out of them. Now, when my cat dies, I can get another Siamese. Isn’t it great?”

“That’s news?”

“Sure, it’s great news.”

“I was talking about something important.”

“Well, if you don’t think keeping a breed alive is important, I do. What’s your important news?” Tip asked.

“Club 250 has shut down and the beauty parlor is moving in. Never thought I’d see the day I’d be going there but it looks like I will now.”

“Yeah, I’ve heard.” Tip’s voice held no excitement or approval. “I thought you said you knew something important.”

Audrey was puzzled and disappointed. “Hey, with Ken shutting down, that leaves you with the only aged whiskey in town. Maybe you’ll pick up some of his business.”

Tip paled just a bit, “Gawd, I hope not. I don’t want those rowdy rednecks in here making a lot of noise, scaring off my other customers, getting in fights and busting up the place.”

“Hm. Hadn’t thought of that,” Audrey said.

****

Lorena Maggard’s phone rang, “Hello?”

“Lorena, this is Carolyn, I’ve got the most wonderful news.”

In her early seventies Lorena didn’t get out much. On the other hand, you couldn’t hardly catch Carolyn at home. A lot of her time was spent visiting down at the nursing homes and fetching groceries and such for various shut-ins . . . in other words, gossiping.

“You’ll never believe it. And I wanted you to know right away so I didn’t want to wait until I see you tomorrow. After all these years, our prayers have been answered. Ken has finally shut down that awful bar.”

“No!”

“Yes.”

“Halleluiah! It’s about time! I didn’t think I’d live to see it. What happened, Lorena? Did the cops finally close him down? The good Lord knows we called and complained about it often enough.”

“No, his wife needs more space for the beauty shop so she made him let her take over the building.”

“Lordamercy, I do declare. Well! God bless her. I guess I’ll just have to go get my hair done. It’s been ages.”

“Lorena, it’s been years and you know it.”

“Well, then it’s about time, ain’t it? I’ve always wondered what the place looked like inside.”

****

A bit later Phyllis Congden-Dobbs’ phone rang. She picked it up and, of course, she said, “Hello?”

“Phyllis? This is Carolyn. Have you heard? Ken’s closing down that terrible bar of his.”

“Well, that’s not surprising. I’ve been waiting for that to happen ever since he told Estil he couldn’t be bartender any more, because there wasn’t enough business.”

Carolyn was disappointed. Phyllis was neither excited nor surprised. After all, what’s the point of “sharing the good news” if everybody already knows about it? Still, if you can’t pass it along, then it’s time to go fishing. Who knows, you might learn something you can share elsewhere.

“Say, I ain’t seen Estil in a dog’s age. What’s he up to these days.”

“Haven’t you heard? He’s got a job in Magdeburg.”

“Well, I do declare. Will miracles never cease? Estil has a job?” Then her voice filled out with suspicion. “What kind of job? Is he tending bar?”

“No, he’s a consultant.”

“You don’t say? What’s he consulting on?”

“Up-time culture.” Phyllis knew he was helping to set up a theme bar, but she wasn’t going to tell Carolyn and have it spread all over town. Let her find out on her own. Estil was enough of an embarrassment as it was.

“You’ve got to be kidding? Estil? Well!” No one could do a righteous,high and mighty or an offended martyr any better than Carolyn Atkins. “I do declare.”

****

Carolyn no more than hung up from speaking to Phyllis than she was dialing Lorena’s number.

“Hello?” Lorena answered the phone’s request for attention.

“Lorena, you won’t believe what I just found out.”

****

Melodie and Donnie Murray stopped into Marcantonio’s Pizza. Every one—except the Marcantonios—agreed it was the place to find the second best pizza in town. Carlina happened to be working the counter. When she put the order slip on the clip ring to the kitchen she called out in a stage whisper, “Leo?”

“Yes?”

“This one’s for Donnie and Melodie.” They hadn’t been there in months, not since before they got married.

“Well, Saint Pepperoni be praised. For the Virgin’s sake, woman, don’t make any more wisecracks about Donny and Marie. They took offense and I don’t blame them. It wasn’t funny anyway.”

“Leo, if I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times, there isn’t any St. Pepperoni.”

“Sure there is. I asked Father who the patron saint of pizza was and he told me it was St. Pepperoni.”

“Leo, he was pulling your leg, you old fool. There isn’t any patron saint for pizza. And there never was a St. Pepperoni. I looked it up.”

Leo knew it, of course, but there was no way he was ever going to admit it his wife.

“We have to share St. Carlos Borromeo with the cooks and the bakers, but I’ve told you that. I thought you would want to know they’re back.” What she was really saying was, “see, I told you it was no big deal.”

“Well, you shouldn’t have teased them about being Donnie and Marie. Still, with Club 250 closing, maybe they’ll start being regulars again.”

“That would be nice.” She paused. “As long as they don’t bring any of the riffraff with them.”

“Damn. I never thought of that,” Leo said. “I sure don’t want Ape and Monkey hanging out here. It would be bad for business. This is a family-friendly restaurant.”

****

Casey was working the window at Casey’s Take Out. Dean Blackwood ordered a roast beef and Swiss on rye with mayo, and a small bucket of beer. When he got his sandwich and his drink he lifted the lid on the beer pail and took a heavy hit. “Hey, Casey, I said I wanted a small bucket of beer, not a bucket of small beer.” Casey still had it in a keg. Small beer wasn’t being bottled much. The people who drank it were used to it being out of a keg.

“Dean, that’s the only beer I sell. If you want a stiffer beer go find a bar.”

“Shit, Casey, ain’t you heard, the only good bar in town just shut down.”

“It was a good bar all right. Good for nothin’.”

Dean let fly with the bucket of beer, “Keep your damned canoe beer!” Followed by the sandwich. “And your worthless sandwich too.”

Casey ducked. Dean started to walk off, “Hey, you haven’t paid for that.”

“Paid for what?” Dean asked.

“The beer and the sandwich.”

“What beer? That damned can wasn’t beer, it was canoe.”

“It was what?” Casey asked.

“It was damned close to water.”

“If you don’t pay up I’m calling the cops.”

“Go ahead. See if I care!”

****

Arch Pennock bumped into Mark Castalanni coming out of the Flying Pig. Arch was the one coming out, having just been cut off by the bartender. He wasn’t at all happy about it. He was sure Ken wouldn’t have cut him off for at least two more beers.

“Hey, Mark, have you heard? Ken’s closed down.”

“Yeah, I heard. That’s a shame.”

“As if you cared. You ain’t been there in years. It’s your fault you know. Ken didn’t have enough business to stay open.”

“Arch, I stopped going when I got married because I was getting harassed about it.”

“Well, you didn’t have any business marrying a Kraut.”

“It’s none of your damned business who I married. We’re happy. She’s a good woman.”

“Not the way I hear it. I heard she could be had by anybody with a . . . ”

Arch never got to finish his sentence. It’s kind of hard to talk while someone is knocking your teeth in.

****

The dispatcher put the phone down, “Lyndon, get over to The Flying Pig. There is a fight on the street. Mark Castalanni is mopping the gutter with Arch Pennock.”

Lyndon let out a rattling sigh of disgust. “That’s it; there’s been one a night. Arch did his drinking at Club 250 and Ken kept a lid on things.”

“Yeah,” the dispatcher said. “I never thought I’d hear myself say it, but damn, I wish he hadn’t closed the place down.”

“I know what you mean. Even with the little old ladies calling in a noise complaint every Sunday after church it was a lot quieter in town with it open.”

“Well at least we haven’t heard from the Hole in the Wall yet tonight. Nor Tip’s either.”

“I don’t think you’ll hear from Tip’s. The last fight happened when the bartender refused to serve them because they got into a fight the night before and the night before that. He told them to get out so they couldn’t get into a fight with the patrons. So they got into a fight with the bartender instead. The chief made it official. If they go back there he’ll see to it they end up doing ninety days on a work crew.” The police had stopped holding any man in good health in the jail for any sentence of more than a week. Some crews did road work or logging or haying in season. Anyone who looked like they might run off ended up in a secure facility, tanning leather. The owner built a dorm, hired guards and contracted with the police for labor. “I’m on my way.” Lyndon said, grabbing his hat and heading for the door.

****

Jimmy Dick stopped into Tip’s for lunch. The lass who took his order was cute, if a bit plump for Jimmy’s taste. He was disappointed when Tip brought the order out instead of the waitress. He was a bit shocked when Tip pulled out a chair and sat down. “Jimmy, is it true you bought the tables and the bar out of Ken’s place?”

“Yeah, want to buy some?”

“No. I hear you also bought up his stock and his kitchen.”

“Yeah. I’ll sell that, too.”

“Please don’t. I know a lot of people who figure you’re going to open a bar.”

“I thought about a philosopher’s lounge but there isn’t enough call for it. Couldn’t make a living.”

“No, what you need to open is a redneck bar and grill.”

“Shit, Tip, if Ken couldn’t make a living at it, how in the hell do you think I could? I don’t have money to throw away any more than Ken does.”

“But, Jimmy, they’ve got to have someplace to drink. When they mix with other people they mix it up. They need their own place.”

“Look, Tip, I miss Ken’s place as much as anybody. For years I spent more time there than I did at home. But the business just isn’t there. Ken wouldn’t have closed up if it was. I’m talking to the tobacco shop about buying the rest of the cigarette papers and the ongoing supply of mild tobacco. I sort of figured you’d buy the whiskey but if you don’t want it I’m sure one of the other places will. If not, I’ll find someone somewhere. It’s damn fine liquor. I’ve got a line on a tavern in Magdeburg that is maybe interested in the furnishings. But I can probably make a whole lot more selling it off piecemeal as up-time artifacts. That leaves the grill and the refrigerator. But I don’t think I’ll have any trouble getting rid of them.”

“I sure wish you’d reconsider.”

“Tip, I can’t make any money at it.”

“But there are some things more important than making money.”

“Oh? Like what?”

“Like peace and quiet. Those boys are going to drink somewhere and when they do they’re going to get loud and rowdy, and then they’re going to get into a fight. They need to be quarantined.”

“Yeah, I suppose you’re right but I don’t see why I should pay for it.”

“Surely we can find a way.”

“Are you willing to pay for it?” Jimmy asked.

“Well . . . “

“See?”

Tip got quiet for a bit. “Jimmy, if I’m guessing right Ken was still turning a profit. He was at least coming close to breaking even if I know anything about it. Shit, if his wife hadn’t wanted the building he could have gone right on breaking even for years. Now if I can come up a company to pay for it and eat the loss if we have to, will you put up the furnishing and the stock? If there is actually a loss, it really shouldn’t be that bad. I mean there are things Ken should have been doing that he wasn’t.”

“Look, Tip, if Ken had thought he could make that work I’d have rented him the old shoe store. I offered, and at a damned good rent too. But he was sure he couldn’t pay the rent and his time and still make it pay for itself. Where are you going to get people interested in taking a loss?”

“Myself and other bars who want the damned rednecks to go some place else. I can at least try.”

“Do you really think you can make it work?”

Tip thought about it. “No. But I can try.”

“This whole thing is like the story about the man who went hunting. He wandered off into the restricted game area where he found the bear, he took aim and the bear asked him, ‘Hey, what are you doing? This is a closed area. You ain’t supposed to be here.’ Well the hunter said to the bear, ‘I’m cold. So I need a bear skin coat to keep warm.’ ‘You don’t say,’ said the bear. ‘So happens I’m hungry so I’m out here looking for a meal. Why don’t the two of us talk about this?’ So the man agreed to talk about it and in the end they both ended up getting what they wanted.”

Tip snorted. “So the moral of the story is to be careful of what you ask for because it could end up eating you alive.”

“Yeah, something like that.” Jimmy said.

“Next time, Jimmy. I’ve got to get back to work.”

****

Two drunks, singing a song that was just plain disgusting, and, truth be told, their singing was worse, walked into the police station. The dispatcher looked at them, crinkled up her nose more in distain than at the smell, and asked, “What can I do for you?”

“We’re lookin’ for the retired president.”

“Well, Mike Stearns sure isn’t here.”

“Naw, not him, the other one.”

“The second drunk spoke up. “Yeah, we want to see Lyndon Johnson.”

“He isn’t here either.”

“Well, get him here. We know he’s on duty. We saw him earlier tonight.”

“He’s busy.”

“Hey, do we have to start a fight to get him here? We can do that if we have to.”

“Okay, have a seat and I’ll call him.”

The drunks set down and went back to singing.

She got on the radio and called the patrol car, “Lyndon, you won’t believe it. Arch and Dean just walked in looking for you. They said they’d wait.”

“I can hear ’em. What do they want?”

“All I know is: they’re here, they’re plastered, and they insist on seeing you.”

“Okay, I’ll be there shortly.”

Lyndon walked in and shook his head. The drunks spied him and one of them called out, “Lyndon, ol’ buddy, good to see ya.”

“Okay, guys, what do you want?”

“We’re drunk.”

“Yeah, I can see that.”

“Well my friend here pointed out that if we got any drunker we’d end up in a fight and you’d have to come and get us and we figured that we’d save you the trouble of comin’ and getting’ us— I said that already, didn’t I? Anyway, we figured we’d save you the trouble of comin’ and gettin’ us and we figured we’d just come on down and meet you here.”

Lyndon put a hand over his mouth to hide his face while he snorted from swallowing his laughter.

“You mean, you want me to charge you with being drunk in public?”

“Well, yeah, or you can let us go and then later tonight you can charge us with drunk and disorderly.”

The dispatcher let out a deep sigh, “That bar is more trouble closed than it ever was when it was open.”

“How about I just give you a ride home instead?”

“Yeah, that might work.”

When the report came across the chief of police’s desk, he read it twice and said out loud, even though he was the only one in the room, “We have got to do something. This can’t go on.”

****

Friday night rolled around and for a wonder the town was quiet.

“What’s going on out there?” The dispatcher asked.

“Nothink,” one of the new officers said.

“I know that much from just sitting here. The question is why? Where are the rednecks from Club 250? We scheduled a double patrol just to handle them.”

“Did, you not hear? There is a bik party?”

“Oh. Ken threw a party? Good.”

“No. Mr. Beasley is not throw party. He is not invited. It is a wake and they did not invite the man who murdered the deceased.”

“You mean the man who killed the club.”

“Yes, I said that, did I not?”

“No, you did not. You said murder and you can’t murder anything but a person.”

“Oh, well, that is what is said. They are havink a wake and the murderer is not invited.”

****

The elders of the Grantville Anabaptist Church met in solemn assembly. All the elders of both congregations were present. Every one of them knew what Brother Treiber wished to propose. The kindest thing anyone had to say about the idea was, “Preposterous!”

Pastor Greiner, as the chairman for the evening, opened in prayer. It was his turn. When both pastors were present they alternated as chairman. It worked because Pastor Fiedler and Pastor Greiner made it work. The two congregations agreed to alternate for the early church service and the later time slot year by year, that also worked for the same reason. There were many people who predicted the building would be for sale within months of being finished, because it would not work with two congregations sharing a building, especially when they had such loud and public arguments. The Gardens finally told them to keep it down or to do their drinking elsewhere. One group was strict pacifists. The other group wasn’t. When they went in together to buy land and build a meeting house to be shared, a pool was opened and bets were laid. So far, at least, the pool was still open even though it was far past the time anyone of the first subscribers chose for the date the for sale sign would first appear.

When the amen was said on a rather short prayer by the usual standards, Pastor Greiner said, “This is a called meeting of the joint elders as our by-laws require since we are discussing Brother Treiber’s proposal which involves a change in the use of the building.

“Brother Treiber, would you be so kind at this time to share your proposal?”

Treiber stood up. “As you know, Club 250 has closed down. I propose that we allow them to use the lower level of the church as a meeting place.”

When they built the meeting house the only land they could afford was a steep hillside. They scraped off the dirt and quarried into the hill using the stone to raise the walls. When they were done there were two levels both with a ground floor entrance. The upper level had stained glass windows. Some members of the congregations had taken an evening art class in stained glass at the high school, so they made the windows instead of buying them. That way they could be sure they did not offend. The lower level was darker, and not suited to a joyous celebration of the glory of God.

“You mean as a drinking place,” Brother Bollert, a rather recent addition to the membership interrupted.

“Well, yes, that is the primary point of a club such as the one that closed,” Treiber said.

“It is not a club! It is a tavern! We do not need a business selling in our meetinghouse. Christ cleansed the temple. What could you possibly be thinking?” Bollert asked rising out of his chair in protest.

“Brother Bollert, sit down. It won’t be in the sanctuary. It won’t interfere with worship. So it won’t be a problem.”

“But it is just—”

“Brother Bollert, please. Brother Treiber has the floor, you will be heard in the due course of time.”

“What I am thinking,” Treiber said, “is that when we were thrown out of the Southern Baptist Church in the cold and snow and had no where else to go, Club 250 took us in, asking only a modest rent and that we be gone by noon. Now they need a place to meet and we can return the kindness.”

Heydenbluth rose to his feet. The chairman looked to Treiber who had the floor and Treiber nodded.

“Brother Treiber,” Heydenbluth objected, “that is not quite correct. We were not thrown out of the Southern Baptist Church. We were asked to leave and we did not have nowhere to go. One of them offered us his garage to meet in.”

“Whether we were thrown out or we were asked to leave, or we were thrown out by being asked to leave, is a rather finer hair than I am used to splitting. And yes we were offered the use of a garage, but the owner asked at least every other week when would we be finding somewhere else so he could move his equipment back inside out of the weather. That is when Club 250 opened its door to us.”

Heydenbluth nodded and sat down.

Bollert stood and was recognized. “But it is still a tavern selling beer. That should not be. It has nothing to do with us. Besides we use the lower level evenings to teach catechism classes.”

Treiber also nodded. “True, but we can move the classes upstairs. Otherwise the lower level is only used for communal meals and occasionally as shelter. We can open our homes as needed for that. It is not a good place to live even briefly. Meals usually happen on Sundays and we would reserve Sundays for our use. As for your objection to commerce, I agree with Pastor Fiedler. It won’t be a problem. Is this a concern to anybody else? “

No one spoke up.

“Brother Bollert, you are outvoted.”

“What about funerals?” Brother Senewald asked without standing.

Treiber answered anyway. “Those are usually in the morning and they do not open the club until lunch. We can work around it and ask them to let us reserve the space as needed, which should not be that often.”

Pastor Greiner rose. “Brother Treiber, I know many of us would like to hear your reasoning. After all, these people you wish to befriend do not like us. There was a sign on the door that read, ‘no dogs and no Germans.’ These people are not friendly.”

“Yes, Pastor. I was there as were many of you. I saw the sign every Sunday morning as I went to help clean and set up before worship. We laughed about it often, saying ‘on Sundays it did not count,’ or ‘do you suppose we are not Germans on Sundays?’ and Brother Jenkins, who is now gone, once asked, ‘does than mean that dogs are not dogs on Sunday?’ But every Sunday we thanked the good Lord that we had found a landlord. That was before you came to Grantville. But some of us remember.”

Several heads nodding in agreement and some smiled at the memories.

“But the landlord threw us out,” a voice called out. “Why should we do him a favor?”

“Yes, Ken Beasley did. But Brother Jenkins found us a very large tent for the summer, and he found us a loan to buy the land and the materials we could not harvest onsite or off of his land.

“Now Ken Beasley has thrown his patrons out to make room for his wife’s business.”

“There are plenty of bars in town. We do not need another one. Let them go there,” the voice answered to a general murmur of approval.

“Just like us?” Treiber asked. “Was it not said, ‘there are plenty of churches in town, let them go there’? But where did we fit? There is trouble in every bar in town. These people do not fit. Like us, no one wants them. Besides, we are not doing a favor for Ken Beasley. They call him a murderer and will have nothing to do with him. We will surely deal with Jimmy Dick.” Treiber looked to Brother Menges. “You remember him. When we opened a church just outside of the Ring of Fire, even though we had the count’s permission and blessing, there was still trouble. Rocks were thrown and threats were made. Was it not Jimmy Dick who organized an armed guard for several months until the last of the troubles were over?

“We owe these people. We need to pay this debt.”

Ritzman rose to his feet. “Brother Treiber, I know people who have worked in the mercury fulminate shop making primers. The owners of the shop are amongst these people. They have spitefully used and abused our people. Do we really owe them anything?”

Again there was a general murmur of consent.

“Brother Ritzman, that is a very interesting word, spitefully. Can you quote Matthew 5:44 and 45?”

Ritzman turned red and sat down with out answering.

“Let me quote it for you.

“But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you.

“Do good to them that hate you, pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

“That you may be children of your Father who is in heaven.

“These are the words of Christ. Are we followers of Christ or are we like the Catholics and the Lutheran and the Calvinists who have turned us out onto the road even in winter with nothing but the clothes on our backs, who have imprisoned us, and beaten us and even executed us? Was there not a time when we could tell who ruled where by whether we were burned or hung or drowned?

“Have we also found peace here in Grantville and become so busy being a church and prospering that we have forgotten who we are and where we came from? Have we no compassion for others who are turned out and roaming the streets, just because they are not like us? Did not Peter write . . . “

Again a voice called out, “Surely you exaggerate. They can drink in any bar in town.”

“Can they? I work for a real estate office.” He did repairs, cleaned up, cleaned out, put up signs and took signs down. “If they can drink in any bar in town why did the chief of police ask the Lions, and the Moose and the Knights of Columbus and others—” The others included the Masons but Treiber did not want to mention them. They were not well thought of by some. “—to pay the rent on a place for a redneck bar? The office has been looking for someplace affordable and isn’t having any luck. Nobody wants these people. Does this not sound familiar?”

The silence lingered.

****

“I was told that the chief wants to see me.” Jimmy Dick told the dispatcher.

She picked up the phone, spoke quietly, looked up and said, “Go on in.”

The chief said, “Have a seat, Jimmy. I don’t have time to beat around the bush. I need you to open a redneck bar. I’ve got to get these boys off the streets. They’re causing trouble.”

“Chief, I’d like to help. Really I would. I miss having a place to drink. But it won’t pay and even if it would, I’m not the man for the job. I had to buy to get anyone to drink with me.”

“If I got you free rent?”

“I heard. What’s up with that anyway?”

“The lodges in town are chipping in as a public service.”

“Why?”

“Because I asked them to.”

“Oh. But you can’t find a spot? I know because they asked about the old shoe store and I won’t rent you the old shoe store for what you can pay. And I won’t let you have the furniture. I had that out with Tip. I’ve got an out-of-town buyer and he’s paying me ten times what it’s worth. You can buy the stock, but I’m not discounting it. Chief, it isn’t going to work.”

“We’ve got a spot. But they’ve specified that you have to run it. You don’t have to work it. Hire the help. You just have to be the manager. If you don’t, the deal is off.”

“You’ve got a spot? Sure you do! Like huh. I ain’t interested. Even if it could work, it’s too much work.”

“Free rent, and it’s a good spot.”

“Yeah? Where? I know this town. There isn’t a good spot anywhere that you can get with the rent you’re prepared to pay.”

The chief smiled. It was nice being able to tell a know-it-all like Jimmy Dick Shaver that he is wrong. Unlike so many know-it-alls, Jimmy usually did know what he was talking about.

“Okay, Chief. I know that smile. Where? I just want to know, mind you. I still ain’t interested.”

“That’s a shame, Jimmy, because if you aren’t in, the deal is off.”

“Where?

“The lower level of the Anabaptist Church.”

Jimmy’s mouth fell open and then closed with a click. “Damn! Damn? That quarry hole in the ground. You’re not kidding are you!?”

“Nope. It’s on the level.”

“Can I name it?”

“Jimmy, you can call it anything you want.”

Jimmy got a twinkle in his eye, “I was thinking maybe we could call it ‘The Baptist Basement Bar and Grill.'”

The chief blinked and then broke out in roaring laugh. Jimmy Dick just smiled.

****