September 11, 1635

Renato Onofrio slowly got up from the barber’s chair like someone who had a bad back, which in fact he did. “Walt, something I’ve always wondered about. How’s come you’re letting that drunken scallywag Jimmy Dick steal your title as Grantville’s greatest philosopher?”

“Well it’s nice of you to ask,” Walter Jenkins said. “And I don’t mind you thinking I ought to have the title. But, you know the police gave it to him as a joke, don’t you?”

Renato looked at the barber intently. When he didn’t see any humor in the man’s eyes, he asked, “Are you putting me on?”

“No, it’s the gods’ own truth.”

“Well, it ain’t funny. More philosophy gets talked about here in this shop than anywhere’s else in town. People are taking Jimmy Dick seriously. You ought to speak up and take the title away from him. He don’t deserve it. You’ve got to know more about philosophy than Jimmy Dick does. I’ve heard you quoting Augustine and I don’t know who all else.”

“Renato, it’s kind of you to say so. But how would you go about proving something like that?”

“Challenge him to a duel.”

“Pistols at dawn, or swords at high noon?” The waiting customers laughed at Walt’s joke.

“No, you know what I mean, a verbal duel. What’a’ya call it?”

“A debate.” Walt’s son, Evan, answered from behind the second chair without looking up. When you’ve got scissors or a razor or even just clippers around someone’s head, you really do need to pay attention and keep your eyes on the job.

“Yeah,” Renato said. “That’s the word. A debate. Walt, why don’t you challenge that dickhead to a debate. Shoot, I bet you could even charge admission. I’d pay to see someone take the obnoxious little creep down a notch or two.”

“Naw,” Walt said.

“You think about it. You really should. I mean it. Seriously.”

With these last words Renato went out the door. Joseph Daoud took his turn in the chair. “What’s the burr under his saddle?”

“Renato?” Walt asked. “Two things. He used to rent a whole building downtown for little or nothing. They let him have it just to keep heat on in the winter, as long as he did the maintenance. After the Ring of Fire, they raised the rent and he had to move out of the store front on the ground floor. Then they raised the rent again and he had to move out of the upstairs apartment. Now he’s living in the attic, and since Jimmy Dick owns the building, Jimmy is who he’s mad at.

“The other thing is, truth be told, he thinks the title should have gone to Emmanuel Onofrio. For that matter, he’s probably right, but Emmanuel say he has his hands full as it is; so Jimmy Dick is welcome to the job.”

“Still, though,” Joseph said, “he’s got a point. You’ve got as much right to the title as Jimmy Dick does. You really ought to debate him. Look, the Lions are wanting to do a fund raiser. The call for kids needing glasses is a lot higher here than back home, and it costs a lot more. Their budget is shot and there’s still a waiting list. Why don’t you let me see if they think it’s a good idea?”

“Naw,” Walt answered. His words said no; his tone of voice said maybe. You could tell he wanted to say yes.

Evan spoke up with a dry voice and with a straight face. “Why don’t you, Dad? It’s for charity. Besides, it would be good advertising. Walt the Barber challenges Jimmy Dick the Drunk to a verbal duel on philosophy, for the title of Grantville’s Greatest Philosopher. Marquis of Queensbury be damned. This will be a bare knuckles brawl. The last man standing will be declared the winner and will walk away with the title, ‘Grantville’s Greatest Philosopher.'”

Everyone laughed.

“I’m not joking,” Joseph said. “Renato is right. A lot of people would come to something like this. I was eating at the restaurant when Jimmy dined with the German philosopher from Berlin. The place was packed. People were wanting to see the fireworks. Then it all happened in Latin and no one could follow it until the Berliner got up and stomped out. With the Lions selling the tickets, we could pack any place in town. It would be a great fund raiser and we could really use the money. The branch in Magdeburg is forever asking for help and we just don’t have it to give.”

“Let me think about it,” Walt said.

Evan turned his head away so his father wouldn’t see his smile.

“Stop smirking boy,” Walt said.

“I wasn’t smirking,” Evan replied.

“Yeah, you were.” Walt gave his son a mild reproof, passing it off as a joke. “I could’ve heard your face cracking if you’d been in the back room, much less at the next chair.”

Evan quietly left telling jokes and chatting up the customers to his father. The older man insisted it was as much a part of the job as cutting hair. Many were the times he told his son, after a customer walked out and the shop was empty, “That fellow didn’t need a hair cut, he just wanted to tell someone a joke, or share some gossip, or brag about something going on in his life, or complain about it, or whatever the reason other than a hair cut caused the man to be setting in the barber’s chair.” On other occasions when the shop was empty he would tell his son, “We’re as much psychiatrist as barbers. You need to get better at chatting up the customers. I’m not always going to be here to do it for you. It’s the butter on our bread, after all.”

****

Over the next week, it seemed like every member of the Lions Club in town came in for a hair cut and every one of them asked pretty much the same question.

At the end of a week, Walter weakened and let them make him do exactly what he wanted to do.

****

Everyone at the Lions Club meeting assumed Joseph would organize the debate; after all, he’d proposed the idea. Besides, most of the other members worked full-time. Luckily, Joseph had his personal retirement account in the bank in Grantville, so he didn’t lose it like people with out of town assets did. After the Ring of Fire his retirement hobby farm quit being a hobby. The garden doubled in size. Any other land they could plant went into grain, and the hog raised for slaughter became hogs for a cash crop.

Joseph, being stuck with the job for the crime of suggesting it, decided to make it as much fun as possible. Having sold the idea of a debate to the club, he now needed to sell the idea that it should be fun to the steering committee.

“Okay,” Joseph said, “I’ve checked and they said it’s alright to use the sanctuary.” The Lions Club met in the basement of the Methodist church once a month unless something came up. “So we can sell three hundred advance tickets and still leave the hundred seats in the overflow area for tickets sold at the door.”

Reyburn Berry spoke up. “Joe? Do you really think that many people will show up?”

Sondra Mae Prickett smiled. “Rey, it’s all about promotion. I saw a time the store couldn’t sell flip flops for two dollars a pair. When we advertised them as ‘buy one pair for four dollars and get the second pair for free,’ we couldn’t keep them on the shelf.”

Doris Debolt nodded. “Besides, it doesn’t matter if they come or not, as long as they buy a ticket. This is a fund raiser. It’s just an excuse to ask people for money.”

“Not this time, Doris. This time it’s a fun raiser. When you sell a ticket be sure to tell people to be there ten minutes before the opening bell because at five till, unclaimed seating will be considered open,” Joseph said.

“The opening bell?” Rey looked puzzled, “You’re making it sound like a prize fight.”

“Yup. Sure am. It’s what they discussed the day it first came up. A verbal duel, bare knuckles, no holds barred, the title goes to the last man standing. Everybody thought it was a hoot. Nobody would have given a damn about some stupid formal debate. Who cares about a debate? But a verbal brawl? We can sell every seat in the house for a verbal brawl. At ten dollars a seat, we’re looking at four thousand dollars. The church is free, and we don’t have to split the gate. Then we have a coffee and cookie mixer in the basement afterwards which will be worth another thousand dollars.”

Rey looked almost cross eyed. “Are you serious!? Do you expect to raise five thousand dollars out of this?”

“No,” Joseph said in a flat voice.

“Good, I thought you were serious.”

“I expect to raise at least ten thousand.”

Rey yelped. “What! How?”

“We have a referee and a timekeeper with a bell. At the end of each round we pass the hat through the hall . . . two hats, actually. Then we tally the take and the round goes to whoever has the most votes at a dollar a vote.”

Rey sputtered. “But—someone could buy the match.”

“Good. Let them. I don’t care who wins. I just want to raise some serious money because every penny we take in is one more penny to put glasses on some kid’s face.”

Doris, getting whiplash watching the tennis ball bounce back and forth, finally broke the cycle. “But what if someone complains about it being unfair?”

“Let them. We’re raising money, not settling the fate of the nation. Actually, it would be good if they do. Then we can stage a rematch and do it all over again,” Joe said.

“You’re crazy,” Rey sputtered.

Doris smiled. “He’s crazy like a fox, Rey.”

“How are you going to collect the money between rounds without taking up half the night?”

“Just like at a Billy Graham crusade. One man goes down one isle handing out a bucket to each pew and someone collects them at the other end. It goes almost as fast as a man can walk. It will take longer to count it than it will to collect it. But we don’t have to post the results before we start the next round. So, we’re looking at ten rounds at a dollar a head for four hundred people—that could be another three or four thousand. But I’m only counting on one.”

“I think you’re counting un-hatched chickens.”

“Sure am. But then, everything is donated so it won’t cost us anything if it falls through. I cut a deal for ice cream sandwiches at cost and we return any we don’t sell as long as we keep them frozen. I’ll hit the Abrabanels up to donate the coffee.”

Sondra Mae smiled like a pig in a mud puddle. “Sounds good to me. When?”

Joseph shrugged. “Don’t know yet; still got some details to work out.”

Rey looked concerned. “Such as?”

“Walt’s in. Haven’t asked Jimmy Dick yet.”

“What? You’ve booked the hall, arranged for snacks, and who knows what else—but you haven’t asked one of the debaters if he’ll come?”

“The ‘what else’ includes pricing the tickets and lining up a donation to pay for them, pricing the programs, and getting a donation to cover them too. We’ll sell the programs for a dollar each. Best of all, I got a newspaper to agree this is news, not advertising. So the promotional space is free and front page.”

“And you don’t know if Jimmy will be there!”

“Oh, he’ll be there all right. Walt will issue a challenge in the paper. Jimmy won’t be able to show his face at any watering hole in town without being laughed at if he doesn’t show up.

“The paper will run question requests up to a week before the debate at ten dollars a pop for processing and we get half. If your question gets picked, you get to ask it live at the debate.”

“Shoot, Joe, you gonna charge for air?” a bemused Rey asked.

“I would if I could figure out how to do it. We will charge more for front row seats though.”

“How much?”

“One hundred for the front row, fifty for the second and twenty for the third.”

Rey gagged and sputtered, Doris smiled and Sondra Mae laughed out loud.

Joseph also smiled. “So then, now we’ve got the finances out of the way, let’s talk about making this thing fun.”

****

Renato Onofrio turned up out at the Daoud farm so early he must of gotten up at the crack of dawn.

“Renato. You’re up early.”

“Yeah, well, I wanted to make sure I caught you before you headed to town or something.”

“What’s up?”

Renato took out a check. “For starters, I want three front row seats. Then I wanted to ask if you needed any help, since you’re organizing the debate.”

“Sure. How would you like to be the timekeeper? You can do that from the front row and it will put you smack in the middle.” Joseph paused, faintly embarrassed. “Listen, we don’t have the tickets printed up yet.”

“That’s okay. Just write me a receipt and I’ll pick the tickets up later, when you’ve got them.”

****

“Hey, Debbie, how’s it going?” Joseph Daoud asked as he walked into her office.

Debbie Mora’s face bloomed with a smile. The business and advertising manager of the Grantville Times said, “Great and getting better.”

****

Her boss, Lyle Kindred, was annoyed when he found out she had committed the paper to run what should be a series of ads as news. When he found out she had promised front page coverage, he blew a fuse.

Then she told him she agreed to split the income from selling ad space for prospective questions. He wanted to fire her on the spot. Instead, like the well-married man that he was, he stomped out of the office in high dudgeon. He went home so he could unload on his wife and cool off. He wanted to be calm when he came back and fired her.

When he got home and unloaded on his wife, to his utter shock, Mary Jo laughed so much she seemed almost ready to roll on the floor.

When he came back he called Debbie into his office. “My wife agrees with you. She says it is news, and she says we can afford to split the fee for running the proposed question. She says every question which comes in is five dollars we weren’t getting before. She says the circulation will go up because people will want to see who asked what. She says—” With each repetition of the words “she says” Lyle got a shade redder in the face. “—it’s going to be the best thing to ever happen to the paper.

“You had better hope she’s right. Because if she isn’t—well—let me put it this way, your job is riding on this one. If this proves to be something we’ve got to live down, you won’t be here to see it. If we lose money on this, you’re out of here one minute after I hear from the accountant.”

****

“My boss is eating crow and enjoying every minute of it. I don’t mind telling you I’m enjoying it even more than he is. He’s already apologized three times.” Somehow, Debbie’s broad smile got even bigger. “Circulation is up, and I mean way up. Advertising is up, and I don’t mean the questions either. People want their ads in our paper because they’re getting seen. Ad space on the pages with the questions is at a premium. It’s the highest paying space we’ve ever sold.

“Joseph, you have got to figure out how to get a rematch. I’m telling you, this is a bonanza for both of us.”

****

On the way to the church to handle last-minute setup, Joseph’s wife, Nina, said, “Joseph, I just noticed something. Almost everyone who volunteered who isn’t a Lion is anti-Jimmy Dick. The rest are pro-Walt the barber.

“You noticed? Yeah, you’re right. Everyone Jimmy Dick ever crossed, which is half of the serious drinkers in town, is coming out of the woodwork to buy a ticket. Seems like anyone Jimmy ever humiliated, which is half the people he crossed, is wanting to volunteer.”

“Why?” Joseph’s wife asked.

“Because they’re hoping Jimmy will get knocked down a peg or two and they’re wanting to feel like they helped make it happen.”

****

There were no empty seats in the open seating section. Reserved seating did not lag far behind. The standing-room-only area overflowed and people were being turned away at the door.

A modestly dressed young woman—they were in a church after all—walked across the stage holding up a large sign reading “10 Min. to Bell.” Five minutes later, a second lass walked on stage. Her sign read “5 min. to bell.” The first one followed with a sign reading, “Any empty seats are now open.” There were only a few empty seats, so only a few standees were able to sit down.

Reyburn Berry sought out Joseph Daoud. The man grinned from ear to ear. “Joe, I’ve got the gate count. At six hundred sold tickets they started turning people away. I have never been so happy to be so wrong in my life. At ten dollars a head, plus the premium tickets, we’ve already broke ten thousand dollars, not to mention the programs are sold out and early people who went down stairs to the bathrooms have already bought coffee and ice cream. Go ahead. Tell me ‘I told you so.’ I deserve to hear it.”

“What did you say?” Joseph asked.

Reyburn repeated the admission, “I said, go ahead and tell me ‘I told you so.'”

Joseph smiled. “Nope. It’s been said twice already. I don’t need to repeat it a third time. But there is one thing I would like to mention.”

“What’s that?” Reyburn asked.

With a completely straight face, Joseph said, “Well, this is a church, even if they are heretics. So I would like to say, ‘Oh ye of little faith, did I not tell thee we would see at least te . . . ‘”

Reyburn tried to swallow a laugh and it came out as a snort.

****

Promptly at seven o’clock the bell, borrowed from a gas station, rang a fast series of sharp peals. Benjamin Franklin Leek, having bought the privilege of doing so by paying to print the tickets and the programs, walked on stage before the ringing stopped. A young woman preceded him carrying a sign with his name on it. In the drawn-out voice expected of a ringside announcer, he spoke without a mike, the acoustics in the building being what they were. “Ladies and gentlemen, this verbal duel will be a ten round match, to determine possession of the title, ‘Grantville’s Greatest Philosopher.’

“As published in the Grantville Times, who are graciously one of tonight’s sponsors— for a complete listing of sponsors I refer you to the back cover of the program—this verbal duel will be decided round-by-round with the winner of the most rounds taking the title. If, perchance, it is an even tie, at the end of ten rounds there will be a sudden-death round to break the tie. Each round will be decided by popular vote. Two paper buckets, well, cones really, will be passed. Red for the challenger Walter ‘Walt the Barber’ Jenkins, and blue for the reigning champion James Richard ‘Jimmy Dick’ Shaver. You will cast your ballot for whomever you think the round should go to when the cones are passed. The ballot shall consist of paper money or personal checks only. Change will not be counted—and remember, be generous in your voting because all proceeds will go directly, and completely, to provide eyeglasses to needy children.”

Benjamin stopped and waited. Nothing happened. Finally he said, “People, my script says I am to wait until the applause dies down.”

A scattering of nervous laughter preceded a round of applause. This would have been completely inappropriate in a solemn Methodist church, but not out of place in a rowdy one. It set the tone for the evening by telling people that, for the balance of the night, the rules of conduct were somewhat relaxed.

When the clapping died down, Benjamin pointed stage left and, again in the ringside voice, said, “In this corner, wearing a three-piece suit from Huss & Zitzmann Fine Tailors and Haberdashery, weighing in with years of contemplation and study, Walter ‘Walt the Barber’ Jenkins.” Then he faced the crowd squarely and with a hand signal encouraged them to clap, while at the same time one of the cute young lasses walked on stage with a sign reading “applause.”

Followed by his son, Walter walked out on stage wearing something rather like the dressing gown a boxer wore into the ring hanging off his shoulders over a sharp three-piece double-breasted suit. The senior Jenkins lifted his hand over his head in a Rocky-style brag of triumph. Evan caught the robe as it fell off his father’s shoulders and then the younger barber exited stage left.

“And in this corner,” Benjamin theatrically pointed stage right, “wearing pretty much what you will see him in any day of the week, weighing in with his famous sarcastic wit, is James Richard ‘Jimmy Dick the Dickhead’ Shaver.” The young girl turned the sign over. It now read “Boo” and “Hiss.” Again nervous laughter chirped away and a fair number of people did what the sign told them to do. Jimmy had not been prepped to expect the totally uneven treatment. If it flustered him in the least he didn’t show it. Indeed, his reaction was a stifled yawn. This brought yet another set boos along with some giggles from the floor.

“Gentlemen, yes, I mean you Jimmy . . . ” Again, there was a twittering in the crowd. ” . . . please remember, even though this is a no-holds-barred, bare-knuckles, last-man-standing event, we are in a church and certain proprieties will be observed. The first offending party will be thrown out.” He stared pointedly at Jimmy Dick. The audience laughed. “Then his opponent will be declared the winner. Will the bouncers stand up please?” In the front row were two large, husky men with a reputation of being pugnacious and a history of not particularly liking Jimmy Dick.

Benjamin addressed the debaters, “Gentlemen, to your corners please.”

At these words, each debater took a seat as they had been instructed. Walt’s seat was a comfortable upholstered chair. Jimmy’s was a wooden kitchen chair. The snickers from the audience made it clear that the uneven treatment of the contestants did not go unnoticed. A sense of resentment at the lack of fair play arose among the small minority of uncommitted people in the crowd. The supporters of Jimmy Dick were mad as hell and Walt’s fans thought it to be funny as all get out, which is what it was supposed to be.

“It is my great pleasure,” Benjamin said in the ringside voice, “to introduce tonight’s interlocutor. He will introduce the winners of the questions contest. He will also ask the first question since it was asked much more frequently than anything else. It was also the only completely anonymous question to be asked. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Artie Matewski. Let’s give our interlocutor a big hand, shall we?” Enough applause to be polite answered the referee’s request, but not a lot extra.

“Thank you, Benjamin. As our referee for this evening already said, the first question tonight was asked, with some variation, thirty-eight times. Over all, they boiled down to the same thing. And, for obvious reasons, it was always anonymous or pseudonymous or placed in someone else’s name. There were several variations on the question, but in the aggregate all thirty-eight of them boiled down to the same thing. To wit; ‘Why is Jimmy Dick such a jerk and an idiot and what is a jerk like Jimmy Dick doing with the title anyway?'”

“Thank you, Mister Interlocutor,” the referee, turning to the participants said. “By previous agreement, according to the coin toss, the first response goes to the challenger.” There was no prior agreement and there was no coin toss. The statement was completely bogus. “Mister Interlocutor, if you please?”

“Mister Jenkins, why is Jimmy Dick such a jerk?” Artie Matewiski asked.

“Mister Jenkins, you have five minutes,” Benjamin said.

Walt rose from his seat, stepped to his podium and said, “Well Artie, those are not my words. I would never dream of calling Mister Shaver a jerk. I will concede he does have the reputation for being one. It comes from his sharp tongue, his acid wit, and his total lack of anything resembling tact.” Having finished he set back down. There was a soft rumbling on the floor and a lot of heads nodded in agreement.

The referee rose from his seat in the middle of the stage and said, “Mister Interlocutor, if you please?”

Artie smiled a smile which could best be described as a shit-eating grin and said, “Jimmy, why are you such a jerk?”

James Richard Shaver rose from his chair, and without stepping to the podium said, “It is difficult to have a name of one who soars with the eagles when you dwell in the midst of anonymous turkeys.” As he sat back down the sanctuary roared with applause.

When he could be heard the referee asked, “Mister Jenkins? Do you have a rebuttal? Jimmy, do you have a riposte? Mister Interlocutor, who is our first questioner?”

“Mister Referee, our first questioner is Mary Jean Slater.”

Mary stepped up to the mike. “My question is something I have heard argued my whole long life. Is the eternal security of the believer conditional or unconditional?”

Benjamin said “Mister Jenkins? You have five minutes.”

Walt rose to the podium. Seeking to avoid giving an answer, he said, “This is a theological question, not a philosophical one.” And he sat down.

“Mister Shaver, you have five minutes.”

“Philosophy is secular theology, man seeking to understand the meaning of the universe, which is co-extensive with God. So, likewise, theology is religious philosophy; the two cannot be separated. I would appreciate it if my esteemed opponent would answer the question.”

Without waiting for the formal niceties, Walt rose and said, “As a Catholic I am instructed to leave the answering of religious questions to the church. The church teaches, anyone who is not baptized is doomed to hell. Of those who are baptized, sin must be repented and penitence must be completed in this life or in purgatory. So eternal security is conditional upon repentance and penitence. I have nothing else to say on the question.”

Again the crowed rumbled with approval. The Catholics in the audience, the majority of the down-timers and a good slice of the up-timers present, understood and agreed completely.

The referee cut in before Jimmy could speak, “Mister Shaver, you have two and a half minutes for a rebuttal.” While Benjamin spoke, a sign girl hung a large tile on a board behind the three men on stage. The first of eleven spots for cards in a Wheel of Fortune-like display announced to the world the outcome of the first round. Jimmy Dick drew first blood.

Between the applause and the cat calls, over a full minute passed before Jimmy could begin to speak. Still, the timekeeper let the clock run from when the referee said, “You have two and a half minutes.”

“Mary, the answer must be both at the same time, because both are scriptural so both must be true.” Jimmy quoted several passages to support both sides. When he was saddled with the title, he undertook to study the field. This included reading the Bible again, after a long absence, and works on religious thought. “Now, how can this be? It is a mater of perspective. You see it’s like a brick thrown off a roof. To those on the roof, it is falling away; to those on the ground it is falling toward. Which is it doing? Is it falling away or—”

The ringing of the bell cut him off.

A call came from the floor in the midst of boos and cat calls, “You bastard, it is not fair, you are being,” in the fluent, but accented, English of a Welshman.

Benjamin stood up and held up both hands for silence. “It is my job to referee this duel. I remind you of what I told the duelist about this still being a church. If we can identify who just said what I heard, the ushers will escort the party from the building.” He sought eye contact with the head usher. “Did you see who said that?”

The man shook his head.

“Well, it came from somewhere over in that area,” the referee pointed. “Watch it and if it happens again I want the impious fellow thrown out on his—” Benjamin paused. “—Backside.” A response of approval, disapproval and laughter created a rumble in the audience.

This was the capstone over the relaxed atmosphere which pretty much finished establishing the tone of the evening festivities.

Benjamin spoke over the noise. “Mister Interlocutor? Who is our next questioner?”

“Mister Referee, our next questioner is Brian Early.”

Brian, having won the right to ask his question, found his way to Grantville from Magdeburg for the weekend. “Aristotle and Descartes seem to be in agreement on many things. But . . . “

****

The second and third rounds went to Walt.

At the end of the tenth round a pause ensued while the take—which is to say the votes—were counted. To fill the time Benjamin read a note he had been handed.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I have been informed that as of this time Walt the Barber is ahead on points by a significant margin. Still, this contest is not decided by popular vote, but rather by the number of rounds. If Walt wins this round the title is his by six rounds to four. If it does not fall to him, then there is a five-to-five tie and we will move onto the sudden-death tiebreaker.”

The lass who hung the placards handed Benjamin a note which he read while she hung the card showing the round going to Jimmy Dick.

“Ladies and gentlemen, by a three vote lead, this round went to Jimmy the Dickhead Shaver. So now we move on to one last round. Let me remind you, you are voting on the merits of the debate and not solely on your personal prejudices.”

There came a shout from the standing room only section, “Yeah, right! In your dreams, Benny boy! In your dreams!”

If ever there was a roar of angry laughter it was heard that night at that hour.

The evening went to Jimmy when he took the eleventh round by four votes.

****

The arguments started long before people got as far as the coffee line in the basement.

“Who gives a damn about the point spread? Jimmy won fair and square!”

“Hey, man, all I said was—”

“I heard you, shithead. Walt won on the point spread. It don’t matter a damn at all. Shit, do I have to point it out to you? In the Civil war the South won the point spread. Now you tell me who won the war. The point spread don’t matter one bit. Jimmy keeps the title.”

“Yeah, for now. But, what about the rematch.”

“What rematch? It’s settled.”

“The one Walt has every right to demand.”

“Yeah, if he’s a bad loser! The South shall rise again.”

“You want to go outside and repeat that?”

Fortunately someone called the police station in the tenth round when they correctly gauged the mood of the crowd. In spite of a police presence that night, the troubles were not over, merely postponed.

****

Someone approached Benjamin while he was drinking coffee. “Herr Leek, you are referee. Why are you allowing unfair to Jimmy Dick this way? A debate should be even.”

“Sir, you are laboring under a misunderstanding.”

“What?” asked the German. His English vocabulary was not as good as he thought it was.

“You got it wrong. This was not a debate. It was a verbal duel, a farce, a comedy, an entertainment. I was working from a script. You heard me admit it when the audience did not know its lines. This was a show, just a show. If you want a real debate, then we’ll need to do it over.”

****

That night, over beer, another debate was going on.

“Where were the fireworks? Jimmy should have torn the man up,” Brian complained.

“Hey, I’ve already told you. Jimmy’s changed,” Bubba answered.

“Yeah, sure. The leopard changed his spots.”

“It’s the truth. He’s changed. Ever since they started calling him a philosopher, he’s been spending most of his days in the library. Then his daughter died and he wasn’t around for awhile. When I saw him next—I don’t know—he was different somehow.”

“Well, he still should have torn the barber up.”

****

Three days later, the dispatcher looked up as Lyndon brought in a bloody nose with a split lip and what would be a beautiful shiner as soon as it ripened. The dispatcher winced.

“Hey,” Lyndon said, “you should see the other guy.”

“Yeah?” she asked, “Where is he?”

Lyndon, thinking about the serious damage the other man suffered, frowned. “He’s on his way to the hospital.”

“Really? Is this one pro-Jimmy or con?” the dispatcher asked.

“This one’s con.”

“When you’ve got him booked, put him in the far cell,” the dispatcher instructed.

“It’s getting crowded. Why not the middle one?” Lyndon asked.

“Because we don’t need another fight through the bars.”

“Did that happen?”

“Sure did. So the pros go in the first cell, the cons in the third one and anyone else in the middle cell.” Shaking her head because the whole thing seemed like a waste and a mistake, a real tempest in a tea cup that was spilling over into the broader world, she asked, “Whose idea was this anyway?”

“Hey, they raised over ten thousand dollars for the Lions Club to buy eyeglasses for kids who won’t get them otherwise,” Lyndon said.

Shaking her head again, the dispatcher said, “Look at the trouble it’s causing. Are you sure it’s worth it? The debate happened three nights ago and it’s still being argued about. Have you seen the front page of the Times?”

Lyndon shrugged. “Not today’s.”

The dispatcher held up the front page. The headline read, “Jimmy Dick agrees to a rematch.”

“Shoot,” Lyndon said. “This is never going to calm down now.

****

“Hey, Debbie, how’s it going?” Joseph Daoud asked as he walked into the office of the Grantville Times.

At the sound of his voice a grin blossomed on Debbie Mora’s face. “Great, and getting better. Thank you for coming in on short notice.”

“Hey, when you get a call from the chief of police telling you to meet him somewhere to see somebody A.S.A.P. then you get yourself there as soon as possible. What’s up?”

“Don’t know for sure, though I think I’ve got a good idea. I’d rather not speculate. Let’s wait for Chief Richards to get here. I guess he called me before he called you. I told him since I was brown-bagging it, I’d be in the office all day.”

A police cruiser pulled up to the curb, cruisers and emergency vehicles being the only exceptions to ban on vehicular, daylight traffic in the downtown area.

“You saw yesterday’s front page?” Deb asked Joseph.

“Sure. You got the rematch you wanted. I’ve got to admit you had more of an actual debate going on in the paper than we ever did on stage. I think they could have gone on forever trying to decide just how unfair it was and to whom it was more unfair.”

“Yes, we do have quite a debate going, but I meant the headline. Besides, now the debate is pointless.”

“I liked the day before yesterday’s better. ‘Civil Unrest and Uncivil Disagreements?'”

The chief came through the door. He nodded to Debbie. “Joseph, thank you for coming in early like this. We need something done and since you created this mess, I figured you ought to be the one to clean it up.”

Joseph gave an Italian half-shrug with two hands in the air about shoulder height. “If you’re talking about yesterday’s headline, what do you think I can do about it?”

The chief stared right through Joseph for a full three seconds before he said, “If it stopped there it wouldn’t be a problem. Unfortunately, the front page isn’t the only place that is dealing with the debate. It’s affecting the emergency room, the jail, and business in half the bars in town. If it were just up-timers, it wouldn’t be bad at all. The pro-Jimmy people know he’s is a jerk. The problem is the down-timers who seem to think he’s some sort of Saint Robin Hood.”

“You have got to be kidding!” Joseph blurted.

The chief shook his head. “Nope. A lot of the down-timers have had that exact opinion of Jimmy, ever since he helped out the Anabaptists. When he organized the armed guard to watch over that start-up church just outside of the Ring until things calmed down, he made a lasting impression with a lot of down-timers.

“Mind you,” the chief continued, “most down-timers don’t have any use for the Anabaptists, but that’s the really strange thing. While they don’t like them, they see them as German when it comes to the anti-kraut attitude of Club 250. Somewhere they got the opinion that, while Jimmy drank at Club 250, he was pro-kraut.”

The chief took off his hat and sighed. “It isn’t true, of course. Jimmy never was pro-anything, unless it was pro-arguing.”

Debbie spoke up. “Yeah, so I heard. Is it true one time he got in an argument one night and ended up in a fight and in jail; then the next night he got into it again arguing the other side and landed in jail a second time?”

The chief broke out in a laugh which sure looked like it hurt his belly. When he caught his breath and rubbed his eyes, he said, “No. Not one single time; more like a dozen times. More than once, Debbie, oh yeah, more than once. The point is, people who don’t like Jimmy are mouthing off and down-timers are telling them to shut up. Then it turns into a brawl and the down-timers aren’t interested in a social fight. People are getting hurt!”

“What do you expect me to do about it?” Joseph asked.

“When you sponsor the rematch, you need to do things a bit differently this time.”

“I wasn’t planning on sponsoring the rematch.”

The chief stared through him again. Them he said, “You are now! And this time Jimmy Dick needs to lose, which he will if it is a fair and honest debate. It must appear to be absolutely fair and honest or we will never put this to rest.”

Joseph looked perplexed. “What good would that do? You will still have strong opinions both ways when it’s over.”

“Look,” the chief said, “the last debate was a farce. Yeah, you put on a good show and people got their money’s worth. But the real problem was letting people try and buy the outcome. Plus some of your questions were just plain silly. Do it over, do it right, do it quick and do it fair.”

“Chief,” Debbie said, “you aren’t the only one who has a problem. The duel put us in the black. I told my boss I’d get him a rematch and we’d do it all over again. This ruckus and rematch will keep us in the black to Christmas. The third debate will carry us to spring. Then, with any luck, enough people will be in the habit of buying a paper. If we can milk this for enough exposure, we will be able to survive. I need thirty days to run three weeks of questions and sell the ad space which goes along with it.”

“There isn’t going to be a third debate. We’ve got to get this settled and over with. We need a clean, fair debate so Jimmy can lose and put this to rest.” Chief Richards thought for a moment. “Okay. Set a date a month out. The prospects of a rematch should settle things down enough to get by until then. But you need to run the new format right away so people know it will be fair this time. Just one thing, if it doesn’t settle down, the date will have to be moved up. Now, here is how you are going to run the next one. Drop most or all of the theatrics. It won’t be as good of a show, but this is no longer about a good show. It’s about the peace of the community.”

****

The day’s headline read “Police say Rematch Will be Completely Fair and Unbiased.”

The lead article read, “This morning Chief Richards told the Grantville Times and a representative of the Lion’s Club, that he personally would see to it that the rematch would be completely fair. The two sides will chose a mutually-agreeable judge. The third party judge will chose a second judge, and the popular vote will carry the weight of a judge. Each ticket sold will be printed in five sections allowing each person attending to cast five votes over the course of the event.”

The second paragraph told about ticket information with the date, the time, and the new location for the event. The high school gym should accommodate everyone wishing to attend.

****

Seeing the chief in Club 250, brought some stares and muttered comments. But there he sat at a table with Jimmy, Walt and Walt’s son, Evan.

“Okay then,” the chief said. “We’ve settled on a judge all three of us can agree will be fair-minded and even-handed. Now, if Pastor Green agrees then he will find a second judge, but you two won’t have anything to do with that and most likely you won’t even know who it is until the night of the debate.

“Again, I want to stress this time it is a debate and not a verbal duel. We really do have to get this settled.

“I’ve twisted the arm of the CoC to provide the volunteers so we won’t have those shenanigans this time. So, let’s talk about the questions.”

Jimmy lifted a beer and Walt lifted a hand, “Chief, I thought the questions were going to be chosen out of the paper like last time?”

“In theory,” the chief nodded, “yes. But I am going to vet them. For instance there will be no theological questions. As a devout Catholic, you can only answer with the official line of the church. Since Jimmy is a devout nothing, he can tear you up and there isn’t any way you can come back because it’s dogma.”

At the words, “a devout nothing” Jimmy looked over his horizontal beer bottle with a glare.

The chief ignored it. “So theology is out because it isn’t fair. Then there will be no cheap questions like why is Jimmy a jerk. It’s not fair to Walt.”

Jimmy snorted and beer flew.

“Not fair to Dad? How do you figure?” Evan asked.

“First, your father has to be polite and Dickhead here doesn’t. Second, Jimmy is used to cheap shots and has a whole slew of cute comebacks, like the anonymous turkeys line, ready and waiting in the bank, which are sure to be a big hit with the crowd.”

Evan started to object. “Hey, my dad has a—”

“Thirdly,” the chief said, “because I just said so. If you’ve got a problem with it, shut up.” The chief was being high-handed and he knew it. He normally wasn’t. But this was going to look completely fair. The best way for it to look fair was for it to be fair. And it would be, even if he had to be high-handed, hard-assed and arbitrary about it. It was going to be fair and Jimmy was going to lose. Jimmy couldn’t possibly win a fair fight. It would be exactly fair and it would have the outcome the chief wanted.

****

The seats on the gym floor cost more than the bleachers did. But this did not mean the people with the chairs got any more votes, just a better view. The chief watched as the CoC ushers moved the down-timers mostly to stage right and up-timers mostly to stage left. This being by instruction to keep the pro and cons separated as much as possible. Things had quieted down when the rematch was announced, but tensions were running high in the gym. Benjamin took the microphone needed to be heard—it was a gym after all, not a hall built with acoustics in mind. He addressed the crowd in a normal voice.

“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen.”

In the absence of the ringside voice several cat calls rang out.

“People,” Benjamin said, “this is not a verbal duel. This is a debate. As such there are stricter protocols than last time. Notably, inappropriate individual responses from the audience will be unacceptable. If this does not meet with your approval, see the cashier on the way out for a refund. Or not, since once again all proceeds will go to the purchase of eyeglasses for under-privileged children.

“Mister Interlocutor, who has the first question?”

The chief sighed.

Lyndon asked, “What was that about?”

“It’s all down hill from here. Jimmy is toast and the problems are over. The people who care will accept an honest defeat.”

Lyndon was puzzled. “What makes you so sure he’s toast?”

“Well, it isn’t a secret, but it is a little known fact. Walt studied for the priesthood when he was a very young man. He left when he decided he wanted to be a father in fact instead of in name only. That was about the time he discovered philosophy and started asking question his superiors didn’t want to deal with. They started asking if he really had a vocation. So you see? Walt has a clear advantage.”

“Which is even more so because you slanted the questions.”

The chief just smiled.

“Well, my money is still on Jimmy Dick.”

“How much do you want to lose?”

“You’re way too confident, Chief. Shall we say one dollar?”

“You’re on.”

When the first round went to Jimmy, Lyndon smirked. When the second round went to Jimmy, Lyndon chuckled. When the third and fourth rounds went to Jimmy, Lyndon kept his mouth shut and his eyes on the stage to avoid the chief’s glare. Round five fell to Jimmy also. Then it seemed as if the barfly ran out of steam. The next four rounds were Walt’s and Lyndon wondered if Jimmy could be grandstanding for the crowd.

“Mister Interlocutor, unless there is a tie, who has our tenth and final question for the night?”

“Mister Referee, the last question is from out of town. It is my privilege to read it. ‘Is war mankind’s greatest glory or greatest shame?’ Mister Jenkins, the first response to this question is yours.”

“War is mankind’s greatest shame,” Walt said. Then he gave a heartfelt, well-reasoned defense of his answer lasting four minutes and forty-five seconds. Walt had been supplied with an advance copy of the questions. Jimmy had not been, though Walt did not know this. The crowd, being full of people who had seen more of war than they wanted and were sick of it, responded with applause and a standing ovation.

“Well,” the chief said, “we go to a tie-breaker. Care to go double or nothing?”

“No, Chief. I’ll be taking enough of your money as it is.”

“Mister Shaver,” the interlocutor said, “is war mankind’s greatest glory or greatest shame.”

Jimmy stood and took the podium. “Neither,” he said. “A man’s greatest glory is to love his wife and raise his children well.” Jimmy started to sit down.

The judge interrupted him. “Mister Shaver, you did not answer the question. The question is not what is a man’s greatest glory. But rather, ‘is war mankind’s greatest glory or greatest shame.'” The judge emphasized the word mankind.

“War is only glorious when you win with an acceptable casualty rate. Any casualty rate is unacceptable to the casualties or their families. So, since there is always at least one loser in a war, it is glorious less than half the time. Still, mankind’s greatest shame is not war. Mankind’s greatest shame is an uncherished child.” With this Jimmy did sit down.

No applause followed. At first there was only a dead silence and then a great deal of subdued conversation.

The hat was passed as it was at the end of each round. But the tabs were not counted. The two judges were in agreement. The referee announced the winner at six rounds to five.

Jimmy took the podium and said, “Ladies and Gentlemen—and yes, Benny, I mean you—” This, being a reference to when Benjamin said the same to Jimmy Dick in the first debate, got the laugh Jimmy wanted.

With the crowd laughing, he knew they were paying attention and that he could hold them. He had something serious he wanted to say. “A year ago a man by the name of Wilhelm Krieger came to town. He is Germany ‘s current greatest rising-star in the field of philosophy. No one here ever heard of him. He isn’t even in the encyclopedias because he didn’t live long enough to get published until we changed history. He asked me the same question about war and I suspect this is the source, directly or indirectly, of tonight’s last question.

“When I had dinner with Herr Krieger, I got lucky. Joe Jenkins and Emmanuel Onofrio went with me to dine with the stuffed shirt.” Again, the way he said stuffed shirt, got the laugh he needed. “The two of them, being serious philosophers, conversed with Krieger in scholarly Latin so I didn’t get a chance to embarrass myself.” As he expected he got his laugh. “Or Grantville.” Here he neither sought nor got any laughter.

“At the time, both were better philosophers than I will ever be. The title of Grantville’s Greatest Philosopher should have gone to them, but it fell to me, and I have spent the last year trying to learn enough to at least talk the game since I will never be able to walk the walk in the footsteps of these two truly great men. And let me tell you, when a dumb hillbilly like me has to learn Latin just because he’s been stuck with a title he doesn’t deserve, well, it’s a life changing experience. But Emmanuel Onofrio can parse Latin right fine like—” Jimmy slipped in a traditional hillbillyism to let people know that he wasn’t getting uppity, “—And Joe Jenkins can jabber away in it all day long, and that’s without losing his hillbilly accent. So I set out to learn it. Among the other things I learned along the way was a great deal of humility.

“Joe has recently left Grantville and said he will not be coming back. Since he’s a man of his word, we will never see him in town again.”

Jimmy looked to where he knew Chief Richards stood watching as he had all night. They made eye contact and held it. “With his leaving, we have an empty slot at the top.”

Jimmy watched the chief nod. Jimmy nodded back ever so slightly. They understood each other. Jimmy had gotten the message, loud and clear. In the opinion of the chief of police—the chief of police being one of those people whose opinions counted—Jimmy needed to be brought down at least two or three pegs. Jimmy’s nod acknowledged the chief had won the day even if Jimmy had won the night.

“Walter’s name is Jenkins; so we will not even have to change the letter head; and since he clearly deserves it, it is my privilege, on behalf of myself and Emmanuel Onofrio, at this time, to invite Walter to join the triumvirate as one of Grantville’s Greatest Philosophers.”

Emmanuel Onofrio turned to his co-judge Pastor Green. “He should have asked me first before sticking me with that title! Now, since he announced it before the world in the way he did, there is no way I can turn it down with out being ungracious or looking like I do not approve of Walt getting the title.”

Green looked at the old man he had co-opted to be a judge on the strength of his Masters degree, his forty years in education, his irreproachable reputation and the general respect of the community. The Baptist pastor laughed a light chuckle and then used some inappropriate language. It being rather out of character for the pastor’s public persona, but completely on the nail head for the occasion, he said, “Sucks to be you, don’t it?”

“What will Jimmy do if someone else comes along that deserves the title, too?”

“Knowing Jimmy,” Pastor Green said, “I suspect you will end up with a four person triumvirate.”

At first silence filled the gym from one basketball hoop to the other, just like when Jimmy answered the last question. This time, the silence blossomed into a full blown roar of approval.

****