Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, lest he put forth his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever” — therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.

Genesis 3:22-24

Mankind had its chance to have a life without surprises, but chose the harder path—to be like God. Now, we get to deal with the complexities of the world, and with the embodiment of that complexity, the imp that is the personification of Murphy’s Law.

Murphy’s imp never gives you any warning before things fall apart. You have to be ready. You have to think about failure in advance and prepare for it.

In the long run, ready never works out. No matter what you do, the imp always finds a way.

The Charter and By-Laws of the

Society of Saint Philip of the Screwdriver

Father Nicholas Smithson

Grantville, September, 1635

“Yuck. Six in the morning is too early for real life.” Doris McIntire had just reached the main reference desk at the front of the SoTF State Library. She had the early shift this Wednesday, opening the library after the weekly closure for cleaning. Always a relief, Wednesday, she thought. The place got a bit rank between the thorough cleanings, but what could you do? The library was the best resource in the world.

But something was wrong. She looked over at the un-manned guard station by the door, and through the barred glass into the front hallway of the still empty high school. She did not see the guards who should come and open the doors. “Where the heck are the guards?”

Suddenly, a shape blurred past the window and the door banged open. A dirty, wild-haired man carrying a large bag burst in shouting unintelligibly. He looked from side to side, apparently seeking something. When his gaze settled on the ready reference shelves, he reared back, swinging the bag. The bag gurgled loudly.

There was no time to think, no time to call for help. Doris did the only thing she could do, the thing she had trained for month after month. She reached down to the holster under the reference desk, pulled the.38 revolver that was always there, and put three rounds in the wild man’s center of mass. Then she ran around the end of the desk, grabbed the bag and flung it out through the open door down the wide hallway toward the front door of the high school. As it hit the metal doors it burst into flame.

****

“Oh, und here we go again,” Maria Baumain said, grinning at Brother Bernard. “I’m making a cappuccino for a Capuchin, just like I do every morning!” She started steaming the milk, and grinned at the monk.

Ja, und I’ll have to go find you a real Capu—” Brother Bernard started to say.

God’s own whistle tore into the ears of everyone in the shop. Maria screamed and dropped to the floor, clutching the side of her face. Some of the customers screamed even louder. Some reached for weapons. Some ran towards the injured girl and others ran away.

Cora was only steps away. She grabbed a bar towel to press onto Maria’s cheek to stem the bleeding from the hole created by the impact from the steaming wand. Maria kept screaming at the pain from that and the burns over half her face. Then, as the whistle died down, the smell of hot metal wafted across the room. After a few moments of searching, the espresso maker’s power was cut off. It made a “tinking” sound as it started to cool.

“Get me a bowl of ice water!” Cora called out. “Maria’s scalded. We need to get it cooled down. Somebody call the ambulance.”

“Already on the way,” someone replied.

Cora got a cold compress over about half Maria’s face, while still holding pressure on the cut. This wasn’t going to be good.

****

Father Nicholas Smithson read the letter for the third time. It was unlikely that the content would change, but he felt that he had been waiting for a long time for this news. He looked across the table at his friend, Father Augustus Heinzerling, and smiled.

“That’s it then?” Augustus asked.

“You would think, with the Pope taken out of Rome, with the influence of Lawrence, Cardinal Mazzare, with the general hue and cry going on, that for a single simple priest to be released from his vows to the Society of Jesus and to enter the secular clergy would be a simple matter,” Father Nicholas said.

“Simple? Ha! Where the pope is, the inquisition is. Someone must determine if it is in the best interest of the church for the author of one of the best-selling books in Europe to be released from his personal vows of loyalty to the pope,” August replied. “And as I think about it, I’m surprised the inquisition hasn’t asked about How Not To Think Like a Redneck yet. Not to mention Saint Philip.”

“Ignore him, Nicholas. He’s just jealous,” Father Christopher Schreiner said. “What does the letter say?”

Nick reached up to his breast pocket and removed the little yellow screwdriver he wore there. There was a similar one in Christopher’s pocket. He twirled the screwdriver back and forth in his fingers. “Apparently my request got through during the confusion following the pope leaving Rome. It’s yes. I am now officially a member of the secular clergy, reporting only to the bishop of my diocese, who is, of course, Larry. I am not sure how it got done without Father Vitelleschi’s approval.” Nick smiled. “But in any event, it’s done.”

“And so?” Augustus asked.

“And so, in the absence of white-robed Dominican inquisitors knocking at our door accusing me of Manichaeism, and with Cardinal-Protector Mazzare’s permission to use Saint Philip Neri’s name and image as the personification of the group, I think it’s time,” Nick said. “You both have read the bylaws for the Society of Saint Philip of the Screwdriver, as have Father Kircher, Cardinal Larry and John Grover.”

The other two priests nodded and smiled.

“This is Grantville, not Rome. We’re forming a society, not a prayer group, so it’s not the Grantville Oratory.” Nick paused. “I still wonder if Larry was wrong, and we would have been better off with Saint Vidicon, but never mind.” Nick waved his hand pushing the thought away. “Never mind. It’s too late to re-think that. It’s time to move from the casual group to what we’ve talked about, and this release gives me the freedom to do that.”

Nick took a moment to reflect. “You both know my dilemma.”

“No one doubts your priestly vocation, Nicholas,” Father Christopher said. “But your skills in the library do more than just bring in funds. You are contributing to the growth of a new culture.”

“Then I have a duty to try to see to it that it’s a human culture, not just a technological one. What use is wealth to a priest? And, despite our joking about the inquisitors, it can’t be a purely Catholic culture, or a Catholic institution. Too many others are part of this community,” Nick said.

“So, we get the minds together, we crush Murphy’s imp, and you buy the beer. It works for me,” Augustus said. “Speaking of beer, why don’t we go celebrate your release? I understand there’s a new lager at the Gardens.” He pushed back from the table.

Nick smiled. “Of course, Augustus. And I’m sure that I’m buying.”

****

Doris sat in the staff room of the State Library with her hands wrapped around a cup of some herbal tea Charlotte Kovar had handed to her. “Do we have any idea who he was?”

“No,” Chelsea Perkins, the head of security for the library replied. “No note. The police will ask, but I doubt he’s been around town. I suspect he came straight here.”

“What do we do now?” Charlotte asked.

“I clean and re-load the revolver. You take Doris home to rest and you go with her to see to it she does,” Chelsea said. “All her family is out of town. Then, I go bang some heads in the guard room. I’ll have to be ready for another attack, just like always. Doris, I’ll need to go to the meeting tomorrow with you.”

“Do we have to?” Doris asked, looking up.

“You helped write the policy. We go to the meeting, and you get counseling, need it or not,” Chelsea said. “It’s necessary.”

“I suppose,” Doris said. “But I’m going home now, and I’m going out the back door.”

****

Cora sat in the waiting area outside the ER at Leahy Center waiting to hear from the doctors. Every time someone moved, she looked up. She sat there, staring at the blood-stained towel in her hands, doing nothing.

“Aunt Cora?” Nina Kindred burst through the doors into the waiting area. “Aunt Cora? Are you okay?”

Cora looked up. “Okay?”

“Are you okay? You’ve got blood all over you. I’m going to go get someone.”

“No, no. It’s not my blood, it’s Maria’s.”

“Oh, thank God,” Nina said. “Paul told me that there had been an explosion in the coffee shop, and that you had gone to the hospital, and . . . “

“Hush.” Cora put her hand over Nina’s. “You’re not here for the paper, are you?”

“Oh God, no. I’m sure he’ll send someone around to interview you but, for goodness sake, Aunt Cora, you’re family.”

“That’s okay then. You can wait with me? It’s hard just waiting.”

“Of course. However long it takes,” Nina said.

“I’m glad you’re here. I didn’t want to be alone,” Cora said. “Someone has gone for Maria’s family. Her dad works for Johnson’s Grocery. They’ll be along soon, but someone needs to be here for Maria.”

“What happened?”

“The espresso machine blew up. That’s all I know for sure. One minute Maria’s frothing milk, the next minute she had a piece of steel sticking out of her face and steam was blowing everywhere.”

“The espresso machine?” Nina asked. “But you only bought that one about a year ago!”

“Yes. The little one I had from home finally gave up the ghost, remember? So, I had Clarence Dobb’s folks make us a new bigger one.”

“Clarence Dobbs? But, he’s a plumber!”

“Yes. He makes stoves, hot water heaters, pumps, anything that deals with water. Who better to make me an espresso machine? He took the old one so he could copy the filter piece, and made us the new three-handle machine. I can’t imagine what could have gone wrong. She was just frothing a cup of milk!” Cora looked down again at the bloody towel in her hands and the tears started again.

“Come on, Aunt Cora,” Phoebe said. “Let’s go get you cleaned up, get rid of that towel and your apron, and get your face fixed and your dress clean.”

They headed toward the ladies room.

****

Reverend Simon Jones walked into Clarence’s Heating, Plumbing and Air Conditioning. “Afternoon, Bonnie.”

“Afternoon, Reverend Jones.”

“Clarence around?”

“He’s over at the pump plant. They’re working out some kinks in a new design.”

“You heard about Cora’s?”

“Yes. Just a bit ago. How is Maria? “

“I don’t know yet. Mary Ellen’s on her way out to the hospital,” Simon said. “I’ll pass along what she finds out, but I have another problem. Can you call over and ask Clarence to meet me at Cora’s with whomever built that infernal device, say in about an hour?”

“Sure, Reverend Jones. I’ll be happy to. Let’s make it about an hour and a half. Two o’clock okay?”

“Two o’clock is fine. I’ll be waiting.”

****

Reverend Mary Ellen Jones arrived at Leahy Medical center just as Cora and Phoebe came out to the waiting area. “How are you holding up, dear?”

“Okay,” Cora replied. “I’m waiting to hear, though, how Maria’s going to be.”

Lise Gebauer came through the door to the ER into the waiting area. “Cora. Maria’s going to be okay.” She sat down across from the three women. “The wand missed the major nerve cluster in her cheek and only chipped the cheek bone. We’ve stitched that up. There will be a scar. It punched out a piece of tissue too small to sew back in place, and there will be a pucker on her cheek, but it won’t be horrible.” Lise took a deep breath. “She was very lucky. The worst of the burns are second degree. Apparently she fell away from the steam and no part of her face was in it long enough to be cooked. There are a lot of blisters. It is going to hurt, but the steam missed her eye completely. We had to cut away a bit of hair on her right side above the cheek, but she’ll recover. We should be able to send her home in the morning. Is her family here yet?”

“No,” Cora said. “Her dad is out on a delivery run for the grocery. Her younger sister is in school, and you know her mom got that cough last winter and didn’t make it.”

Lise shuddered. “Too many didn’t make it through the influenza . . . . We do what we can. Do you want to see her?”

“Of course!” Cora replied. “I’ll sit with her at least until her father or sister gets here.”

****

Chelsea Perkins came out of the staff lounge, and checked with the guard at the front entrance. “Anything else unusual, Otto?”

“No, Frau Perkins. All is quiet. People reading books.” Otto pointed to the floor where the body had lain. “The coroner has taken the body, and the janitors have finished cleaning the floor and wall. The front doors should be repainted by noon.” Otto looked at Chelsea. “How did it happen?”

“Someone screwed up. Someone is not going to be happy.” Chelsea walked off toward the security office.

“All right. Albrecht had the outside tour this morning.” Chelsea looked at Albrecht and noticed the other guards in the room paying close attention. She knew that this was another test of her leadership. “You have your log book?”

The guard responsible for walking each circuit around the high school had to stop at a number of places where metal stamps had been placed in small boxes, and click the stamp onto a line of his log book. Before he left for the tour and upon his return, he clicked the log book into the time-clock. It wasn’t as good a system as the uptime paper tape that showed when each location had been logged, but it at least proved that the route had been walked.

“I do, Frau Perkins. Here it is.” Albrecht presented his log to Chelsea.

Chelsea flipped to the last page. “This says you finished at 0630, half an hour after the shooting. How could you have accompanied the door guard if you weren’t done?”

“I was almost done, Frau Parker. I had reached the station outside the front door when I heard the shots. I tried the front door and it was unlocked, so I ran in and saw the intruder on the floor.” Albrecht paused. “I assisted with the search and moving the body, and did not clock the round out until I was able to get away.”

“The front door was unlocked? You are very sure of that?” Chelsea asked.

“Yes, Frau Parker.” Albrecht said.

Chelsea looked at the assignment sheet for the morning, then looked around the room. “Where is Francis?”

“Francis is at home with the influenza, Frau Perkins,” Albrecht said. “He sent word yesterday that he would not be at work.”

Chelsea turned to Karl Bauer, the watch supervisor for the night before. “Karl, why is this duty sheet not updated showing Francis is to be out?”

Karl smiled. “I could find no one to take Francis’ shift, Frau Perkins. I stayed over the night. I did not need to write down my name to remind me that I was working.”

“I see nothing to smile about, Karl. What happened this morning?” Chelsea asked very coldly.

“Tuesday, the library closes at ten at night, and re-opens at six in the morning,” Karl said.

Everyone nodded.

“The high school cleaning crew buffs the floors of the hallways during the night, and painting and other maintenance that is hard to do while people are working takes place,” Karl continued.

Chelsea stared at him. “We all know that. What’s the point?”

“There are only two guards overnight on Tuesday . . . ” Karl started to say.

“Karl, I made up the schedule. I am the chief of security. You work for me. You don’t need to explain the rules, I made them. You and Albrecht were here alone until the morning shift arrived. Now. No more excuses. What happened?” Chelsea said angrily.

“At six o’clock this morning, the morning shift had not yet arrived. Albrecht was being slow getting around the school, and had not yet returned. I was waiting in the reference area. I saw through the window a man walking down from the football field toward the school. You know how many people are upset that the library closes on Tuesday, and I thought that if the library was late opening, this man might be angry, so I went out and opened the door. He must have seen me open the door because he smiled. Then I went back to the security office to find Albrecht or someone to work the front security desk.”

“So, you saw a total stranger outside, you didn’t investigate him, you didn’t check to see if he had a dangerous bag, you unlocked the door, and then you left the front of the library with no one guarding?”

Karl started to wave his hands and opened his mouth as though he was going to say something.

Chelsea interrupted. “Never mind. I don’t care what possible excuse you have. Guards are supposed to guard, and there is nothing more important to guard than this library. Karl, you’re fired. Give me your badge and belt right now.”

Karl began to speak. Chelsea held up a hand, and Albrecht and two other guards closed in next to him. He shrugged, removed his badge and the leather Sam Browne belt that was the guard’s uniform and handed them to Albrecht.

“You have five minutes to clean out your locker. I want you off the school grounds in no more than ten. Don’t bother asking for a reference. Johann, Ester, you go with him and see him off the grounds.” Chelsea stood, staring until Karl was gone from the room.

“I am so not looking forward to telling this story to the meeting tomorrow,” she said to no one in particular.

****

Reverend Simon Jones was waiting at the coffee shop when Clarence Dobbs and a man Simon didn’t recognize came in. The shop was open, and many people were looking at the espresso machine from a distance. Not only was Cora a member of his congregation at the Methodist church, but Simon was an accomplished mechanic and wanted to see for himself what had gone wrong.

“Simon, I don’t think you’ve met Jonas Klein. Jonas works on our water heaters and worked on the espresso machine,” Clarence said.

Simon shook Jonas’ hand. “Sorry to meet you under these circumstances, Herr Klein.”

“Yes, Pastor Jones. A sad day.”

“Shall we take a look?”

The three men went behind the counter. The floor had been mopped, but the failure was clear. The fitting where the steaming wand screwed into the espresso machine was empty. With a heavy sigh, Jonas reached into his tool box and they began the task of disassembling the machine.

****

Cora came into the shop just as the men were finishing cleaning up.

“Well?” she asked.

“How’s Maria?” Simon asked. Everyone in the shop turned toward her.

“She’s going to be okay. A scar, and a long time healing from the burns, but okay,” Cora replied. “Now, what happened?”

“It’s complicated, Cora,” Simon replied. “I think we need to go through it with the Saint Philip group. Can you come to the meeting tomorrow evening?”

“What meeting? What do you mean it’s complicated? What happened?” Cora asked.

“The meeting at the parish hall at Saint Mary’s. The part you want will start about seven and you need to be there. We’ll go over the accident with everyone and figure it out. It’s the group that Father Nick organized to do accident reviews for anyone who will participate. That way we have everyone’s thoughts and everyone’s ideas and everyone learns from each other’s mistakes. This is complicated, Cora, and you should come. Jonas and Clarence and I will be there, and we all will talk through what happened. It was an accident, but it was an accident that could have been prevented. You should come. Please?”

“All right,” Cora said. “I’ll be there. Seven at the parish hall. But I still don’t know what happened. What happened, Simon?”

“The boiler’s pressure cut off didn’t. It could have been a lot worse. This was almost the best possible outcome,” Clarence said.

Cora looked from man to man. “You’re not asking me to come to this meeting just so that some excuse can be cooked up, are you?”

“No, Cora. It’s important. Please?” Simon said.

“Okay, okay. Seven at the parish hall. Got it. Now, let me talk to my staff and see to my business.” With that, Cora turned away and went back to work.

****

Each Thursday, a diverse group would gather at St. Mary’s for the meeting of the Society of Saint Philip of the Screwdriver. They came from every available faith. The group included engineers, but also included librarians, electricians, plumbers, bankers, lawyers, judges, gunsmiths, machinists, farmers, teachers, and clergy. What brought them together was an involvement with what could loosely be called “complexity.”

The group was in some ways an outgrowth of John Grover’s “Murphy Reports” from the VOA and the early electronics oversight group. The direct inspiration came from the joint minds of John, Father Althanius Kircher and Father Nicholas Smithson. After reading the “Wizard” novels of Christopher Stasheff, Father Kircher and Nick had been enamored of the Order of Saint Vidicon of the Cathode. While they had been forbidden by Father—now Cardinal—Larry Mazzare from organizing a group around the fictional saint, they used his symbol, a small pocket phillips screwdriver. Instead of Saint Vidicon, they instead chose as their patron a saint with a sense of humor, who himself spent many years attempting to prevent the works of Murphy’s imp: Saint Philip Neri. The coincidence of the screwdriver was too good to pass up.

The group had grown casually. Its avowed purpose, to the extent it had one, was to reduce the inevitable cost that human error brought to any complex effort. If anyone asked, participants said that they weren’t the Grantville Safety committee. They rejected that name and the responsibility. Still, the informal group quickly became the place to report and review accidents of all types. Industrial accidents, embezzlement, undetected frauds, losses to theft and waste, all were seen as manifestations of Murphy’s imp, and all were subject to review and discussion by the group. They shared the thought that together they could reduce the butcher’s bill that up-time knowledge would cost the world as the complexity of their civilization increased.

The group wasn’t a confessional. Each case ended with one of two results. If they could propose a way to avoid similar incidents, someone wrote up a report and a checklist to help accomplish that. If not, they wrote a report asking for suggestions. One of the proposals in Nick’s charter was that they begin distributing their reports more formally to libraries and centers of invention.

Someone had made a banner with an image of Saint Philip Neri. It was inspired by the image in the Catholic Encyclopedia but the saint was wearing half a beard, smiling broadly, holding a little yellow screwdriver, and standing with one foot crushing a green imp. Below the portrait was the legend: Holy Saint Philip, Protect us.

There were other banners. “Never attribute to evil that which can be explained by the perversity of the universe.” “Even tragedy provides an opportunity for humor.” “There are no silver linings without clouds.” Another said “TANSTAAFL,” with a line drawn through it and “Free Beer” written below. Finally, there was a banner, half filled with a field of green imps. Each imp had a red-circled X drawn over it.

John Grover and Father Nicholas looked at the group clustered around the folding tables serving as bar and sideboard.

“Are you sure you are ready to do this, Nick?” John asked.

“Yes. I’ve been ready for months. It’s not like all of them don’t already know what’s coming,” Nick said.

“Okay then. I’ll see about herding the cats,” John said. “Settle down, folks!”

Slowly the chatter lowered, the mugs and steins were refilled, and people found chairs around the room. John gestured to the chalkboard to one side which had a short list of names on it. “Anyone forget to sign up?”

A general murmur of negativity ran around the room.

“Okay. You all notice that Nick’s name is at the top of that list, and he has an announcement and a proposal before we start the show and tell. Father Nick, the floor is yours.”

John sat in a chair where he could see the room and Nick.

“Good evening, my friends,” Nick said. “I do have an announcement. Today, with the consent of His Holiness Urban, I am released from my vows as a Jesuit and am returned to the secular clergy.”

” ‘Bout damned time!” Simon Koudsi shouted.

“It’s remarkably quick for such a request, Simon. But I agree, and that brings us to my second point.” Nick pointed at the image of Saint Philip on the wall behind him, and brought out his screwdriver. “I certainly know you’re not all Catholic.”

“You got that right too!” Reverend Simon Jones said.

“Am I to continue to be interrupted by Simons, or should I simply continue?” Nick said. Through the resulting laughter, he continued: “That leads directly to my proposal. I believe it’s time that we move from this casual group to something with more organization, which we can export to other communities. Therefore, in keeping with our principles, I propose the formal incorporation of the European Service Committee of the Society of Saint Philip of the Screwdriver. Copies of the proposed bylaws are on the table by the door. Please pick one up tonight as you leave. We will have a special meeting to discuss the organization soon. The committee’s function will be to sponsor this and other meetings, to publish information gathered, and to evangelize what we’ve done here. I’m happy to take questions, but you should review the proposed bylaws first, I think.”

“If this Committee is to be the sponsor, does that mean that you still buy the beer Nick?” Simon Jones asked.

“Yes, Simon. I will continue to buy the beer, and the pretzels and the coffee,” Nick said.

“So the Society is a Catholic order?” The Russian prince and envoy, Vladimir, asked.

“No! Although the suppression of Murphy’s imp is Godly work, this group, and the committee are not specifically related to any church. We use Saint Philip as our patron because his humor and joy are important tools in the face of the tragedies that Murphy brings us, and because having a face, an identity for the group is simpler than some formless up-time corporation. The best analogy I have is that the Society is something similar to the intergroup committees of Alcoholics Anonymous or other such organizations. It’s a way for the independent groups to coordinate their work on the nature and perversity of the universe and the application of humor to the banishment of Murphy’s works from our works. Read the draft bylaws.”

Vladimir nodded and smiled. “Good. The patriarch would have trouble with me joining a Catholic order!”

Nick looked around the room. “The work we do here is important.” Most of the listeners nodded. “By bringing together our minds and our eyes, the imp can’t hide. Together we can find a way to do as John says: Keep Murphy firmly in front of us where we can see him. We know he acts in the world, we know that God has a sense of humor that includes things which can, at best, be seen as perverse. Can there be any doubt that the God who arranged that the bread should fall butter side down seventy-five percent of the time has an odd sense of humor?” Nick paused. “But the fact that Murphy’s imp acts in the world should not be a cause for depression. Remember Saint Philip Neri’s saying: A joyful heart is more easily made perfect than a downcast one. Joy is our servant and our protection. And with that, I’ll end this intrusion into the evening. Look over the bylaws, and at the next meeting we’ll discuss if we are agreed about doing this.”

Nick looked at the chalkboard. “I am saddened to see the State Library on the list again, but I am particularly interested in hearing the details of yesterday’s incident that has caused the proprietor of City Hall Café and Coffee Shop to put her name first on the list.” Nick gestured to Cora. “The floor is yours.”

“I don’t want the floor. I’m not even sure why I’m here and I didn’t write my name up there. I think Simon did it,” Cora said.

“Cora, we all know about the accident at the shop yesterday, and we are happy that Maria will recover, but we would appreciate it if you would share your version of what happened. Just tell the story, and we’ll listen. And there may be questions. after,” Nick said as he sat down.

“I still don’t know why I’m here,” Cora said. “I bought an espresso machine from Clarence about six months ago, and it blew up and nearly killed Maria!”

Father Nicholas stepped over to Cora on one side, and Reverend Jones on her other. Simon held her shoulder while Nick held her hand. “Cora, we’re going to ask you to try to tell us what happened exactly. Just start slowly. How does the machine work?” Simon said.

“I don’t know how it works inside, but outside, you put coffee in the filter and put it on the machine and sit a cup under it, then you pull down on the big lever, and espresso squirts out of the filter into the cup.” Cora started to calm down.

“But that’s not all, Cora,” Nick said.

“No, it isn’t. If someone wants steamed milk, you take the milk pitcher and put it under the steam wand and open the steam valve and steam comes out and heats up the milk, and froths it. That’s all there is to it. It’s really, really, simple.”

“Then what happened?” Simon asked.

“Brother Bernard had ordered a cappuccino, and Maria was joking with him like she always does. She flirts with everyone, and she always said she was making a cappuccino for a Capuchin, and Brother Bernard always laughed and said that he was no Capuchin, he was the Dominican spy in Grantville. Anyway, Maria was starting to steam the milk and all of a sudden, the pipe the steam comes out of just blew out of the machine and hit Maria in the face. Then the steam hit her and burned her face.”

“And then what?” Nick asked.

“Then we called the ambulance and took her to the hospital.”

“Thanks, Cora. Why don’t you sit down and listen now for a bit? People may have some questions, but there’s no reason to stand here,” Simon said. He and Nick took her to a chair, and Simon handed her a glass of water.

One of the people said, “I have a question. Cora, do you do any maintenance on the machine? How do you clean it? That sort of thing.”

“I run a clean shop,” Cora nearly shouted. “We clean it every night, and you have to clean out the filter between shots. Is that what you mean?”

“No. Do you do anything inside the machine? Do you clean the insides any?”

“No. I don’t know anything about the insides.”

“And with that;” Simon said, “I think that it’s Clarence, Jonas, and my turn.”

Clarence and Jonas explained how they had built the machine, how the boiler operated with an electric coil on a thermostat and a water level sensor, how the steamer took steam off the top of the boiler through the wand with a simple valve and a fixed pipe, and how a pressure relief valve was on top of the boiler to keep it from blowing up. Questions arose to clarify the difference between this and Clarence’s line of hot water heaters.

Then Simon explained what they had found when they took the machine apart, how more than half the boiler had filled with scale from the evaporating water, and how a piece of scale had broken off and had jammed the thermostat so that it didn’t prevent overheating, and another piece of scale had blocked the steam pipe. That the pipe had worked loose over time, and finally one last time, the pipe had blocked off completely and the wand had flown out.

The questions went back and forth for a short time, but the conclusion was clear. Clarence knew about scale buildup from hot water heaters, but hadn’t thought through how much more scale would be deposited from the massive evaporation of the steam for the steam wand. He hadn’t consulted with, or had Jonas consult with, the steam guys in Grantville. The steam heads were shaking their heads. When the discussion wound down, John Grover stood and looked around.

“I think we’re done then,” John said. “Let me summarize. The boiler needed a port to use to put vinegar or something in to clean scale on a regular basis. The wand needed to be tightened every night, and there needed to be an externally visible pressure and temperature gauge to track if problems arose. Are we agreed that we’ve got this?”

The room sounded with agreement.

“Then we’ve got enough to put this incident behind us, and to put the solution in front of us. Who wants to write the report and the new procedures?”

Jonas stood. “I built it. I will write the report. I may need help with the words.”

“Help is available,” John replied, then turned to Cora. “Cora, we know what happened, we know how to fix it, and we know how to prevent it from happening again. Jonas will write a complete report, and write a checklist for you for how to maintain the machine so that it is safe to use. We’re convinced this was a true accident, another incident of Murphy’s imp sneaking in when we weren’t looking. Do you have any questions?”

“No, I don’t think so. We can go back to making espresso then?” Cora asked.

“As soon as we fix the machine, and you have the checklist Jonas is going to write,” Clarence said.

“Good!” Cora said.

John looked at the board. “We have only one other report tonight, and I propose we take a break first, then we’ll pass the floor to Doris McIntire and Chelsea Parker from the State Library . . . again.”

****

“Everyone ready?” John looked around. “Okay, then. Doris, Chelsea, you have the floor.”

Neither of them stood. Chelsea looked at Doris and said; “This one’s on me, I think. One of my guards, and I’m not bothering with who just now—we’ve already dealt with that internally—but one of the guards opened the front door of the school and the door into the library this morning at six. He was alone, which is against policy, and he had not had a check in from the guard detailed to do the outside walk-around before opening the door. As you all know from the last time, that’s part of the procedure. The outside walk-around should finish, come in the employee door, check with the duty guard, and then the duty guard, with a second watcher, is supposed to open the outer doors and then the inner.”

Chelsea took a deep breath. “Yesterday morning, neither of those things happened. The duty guard, who will not be guarding anything for the foreseeable future, skipped those steps, and at six o’clock, simply unlocked the inner door, went through it to the front door of the school, unlocked that, and just walked back to the ready room. He had no partner, and so no one stayed at the front desk. I offer no excuses. We had the policies in place, but they were not followed.” She looked at Doris. “I can’t tell any more, I wasn’t there.”

Doris patted Chelsea’s hand. “I was there. I will never understand them, but I was there. I was coming out to the front desk. Apparently, the guard had already opened the door and there was no one at the security desk, so I didn’t know the door was unlocked. I was thinking about Brother Johann’s plan to try using the high school history classes to each sort a box of loose papers from the overflow storage.” She took a deep breath. “I had my head down, and had just reached the front desk when I heard the school’s front door bang open. Moments later, the library door burst open and that . . . ” Doris hesitated. ” . . . that person ran in carrying a bag. The bag was oil stained, and he was shouting. I’m still not sure what he was shouting. I’m honestly not certain of the language, but the hate seemed clear enough. It’s the first time I’ve had to do this, the guards are supposed to check every bag and box that comes into the library, but I really didn’t doubt that I was right. He sort of spun back as though he was going to fling the bag into the stacks. So, I pulled the front-desk gun and shot him.”

Doris looked down, then she looked up and around the room. “The bag fell back and I grabbed it and threw it out the door toward the front doors. It burst into flames when it hit, so I knew I was right, but I will never, ever, understand why these people want to burn us out. They come from all over, you know. They seem to think that burning the library will undo us being here. You can’t burn ideas. Are they stupid?”

Chelsea took over. “After the first shot, three guards and two librarians responded. The invader was down, and the high school staff responded to the fire at the front door. It was out within two minutes, from the ready hoses. We have no information on who the arsonist was. He had no documents on him at all, and Doris had put three hollow points, center of mass. After that, it was the usual clean up.”

Simon Jones spoke, “Chelsea, how many does that make now?”

“Five we’ve had to shoot in the last four years. The security guards capture a bomb or flammables about once a month through the regular checks. The walk-around finds someone trying to break into the school or something occasionally,” Chelsea said. “It’s a much harder job than I expected when I took it.”

Doris spoke, sounding tired. “Being a librarian in Grantville is sure different now. Who would have thought that librarian certification required monthly range time?”

The group spent a half-hour asking questions, double-checking the procedures and considering what could be done differently. Despite the trouble it caused, the conclusion the group reached was to fall back to the “missile silo paradigm” and to require two keys to open the library’s front door, each passed hand-to-hand from one duty guard to the next, so that no one could ever open the library alone again. Several people noted that in both the library and the coffee shop cases, the problem could be prevented by a change in procedure. The final conclusion was that once again the checklist stands as one of the most useful tools against the imp of the perverse.

John Grover stood. “Doris, the Grantville Society of Saint Philip of the Screwdriver offers you our formal thanks. You are welcome here any time, even if you haven’t shot an idiot. Cora, thank you, too. Your participation will help prevent other workers from being hurt or even killed by small boilers again. And so, for both of you, I have our thanks, and this talisman . . . ” John handed each of the women a small, yellow-handled phillips screwdriver. “In the hopes that it will help you to keep Murphy’s imp before you, and joy and humor in your hearts.”

The room echoed with, “Amen.”

A man in overalls opened a bag by his seat and removed two jars and a paint brush, then went to the last banner. Soon it sported two more imps crushed under the cross of Saint Philip’s Screwdriver.

Some time later, after everyone else was gone, Nick looked around the room, knowing that the catering staff from the Gardens would soon have the tables down and the room cleared. He stared up into the eyes of the image of Saint Philip. “Of course, I buy the beer. I can’t think of anything better to do with the money.” He removed his rosary from his belt, and left the parish hall, heading for the church. “But I’m still a priest.”

****