“No, no, Johan,” Bucky Carpenter croaked. “It’s Wabash, not Vabisch.”

Johan Faber, the Johan most of the Old Folks’ Band called “little weedy Johan who lives in the attic,” shook his head at the old man. Bucky Carpenter was failing. That was plainly evident. It was Bucky’s voice that had been recorded as lead singer in some of the work they’d done for Trommler Records, but that voice had been pretty thin when they’d started. Now the voice was nearly gone altogether. And Johan was supposed to be the replacement, since he’d been learning banjo from Bucky.

“It’s hard to say,” Johan said. “I always have to stop and think about it, but you can’t stop and think about it when you’re singing.”

“That does kind of—” Bucky stopped to wheeze. “—interrupt the rhythm.”

“You und the band already recorded this one, ja?”

Jerry Simmons spoke up. “Oh, sure. We’ve recorded just about everything we know, I think.”

“Then, it will not matter so much,” Johan pointed out. “When we perform at the Gardens, if I say Vabisch, it will be okay. Not perfect, as you would like, but it won’t ruin the song.”

“Probably not,” Huey Jones said. “Heck, we get so much sing-along going that probably half the people in there are saying Vabisch anyway.”

****

          Weedy Johan . . . well, he didn’t think he was all that weedy anymore. He’d just finished a growth spurt when the old ladies had given him the nickname. He was learning English—almost had to, living with the various Old Folks’ members—but not everyone in Germany was. And even with his English, some of the songs didn’t make a whole lot of sense. “Vabisch Cannonball” was one of them. It was about a world that had railroads, not a world that needed them. He picked up one of the new steel-tipped pens, dipped it in the ink bottle, and began to write.

Vabisch was the first thing he would change because he hated trying to pronounce it. To him, wabash looked like it should be vabisch. How about “The Bamberg Cannonball”? Bamberg was the capitol of the SoTF, after all. And the various railroad companies were already in negotiations with landowners for rights of way to build it.

 

From the great Atlantic ocean

to the wide Pacific shore

 

No need to change that even if the Atlantic and Pacific were on opposite sides of the world.

 

From the green New Hampshire mountains

to the south-lands cajun lore.

 

Where the heck was New Hampshire? Curious, Johan got up, went downstairs and looked at the atlas. While he was looking, Bucky came in and looked at him. “Whatcha looking for?”

“I wondered where New Hampshire was.”

“Up north. Why?”

“From the green New Hampshire mountains,” Johan sang.

“I gotcha,” Bucky wheezed. “It’ll help to know where you’re singing about. ‘Cajun lore’ is talkin’ about down south, round New Orleans.”

Bucky came over and pointed out New Hampshire, New Orleans and the other locations of the song. A few minutes later, Johan went back to his little room with a much better understanding of what the song was about, and with a different version that Bucky pulled out of the piano bench. It took him a little while to make the changes he wanted, but not all that long. By the time he went to bed he had new lyrics in German about European places and goals.

****

          Johan stopped singing and there was a dead, heavy silence.

“Well, Johan,” Ella Mae Jones began, “. . . I’m sure it makes a lot of sense to you. But it doesn’t sound right to me.”

Johan sighed. Most of the Old Folks weren’t good at learning German. They hadn’t even really made a dent in learning Amideutch, as the argot spoken around Grantville was called. About all any of them said with any regularity was “ja.”

“It works in German,” he assured them.

“I’m not sure I can pronounce the words of the chorus,” Nancy Simmons admitted.

Johan tried manfully not to grin at that. He failed, but he tried.

Nancy snorted. “It’s still Wabash, not Vabisch.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Johan said, which was the only thing he could say. They started rehearsal of the new Amideutch version and, much as had happened, when the Old Folks had started singing after the Ring of Fire, they drew a crowd of interested Germans. The Old Folks still took in boarders, though by now at least half their boarders were aspiring musicians, who wanted to live there as much to hear their music as for a place to stay. There were lutes and the like all over the place and more and more of the up-time instruments. Saxophones and trumpets. Guitars, tambourines and harmonicas.

 

From the sandy-beached Atlantic to the Northern Baltic shore

From the Hanseatic League to Lisbon‘s coast and more

There’ll be a train of splendor and quite well known to all

She’ll be the culmination called the Bamberg Cannonball

 

Oh, listen to the jingle, the rumble and the roar

As she dashes through the woodlands, and creeps ‘long the shore

See the mighty rushing engine, hear the merry gypsy’s call

As she runs along in splendor, the Bamberg Cannonball

 

Your western states are wealthy, so the people always say

From Amsterdam to Paris, and down by Madrid way.

Through the mountains of Tyrolia, where the glaciers make a wall.

No changes can be taken on the Bamberg Cannonball

 

Oh, listen to the jingle . . .

 

By the second chorus, the boarders started singing along.

 

There are other cities, partner, as you can plainly see,

Venice, Rome and down the line, to the isle of Sicily

The sea Adriatic where the pirates often call

We’ll pass them by, no problem with the Bamberg Cannonball

 

The boarders sang the third chorus with hardly a miss at all.

 

Here’s to the falcon Richter, may his name forever stand

And always be remembered throughout the German lands

His mortal flight is over, the curtains ’round him fall

May his spirit ever linger on the Bamberg Cannonball

 

The fourth and last chorus was downright rousing.

****

          At the end of a the song there was a babble of German. Mostly pleased German, some less pleased. Some of the Germans didn’t want the up-timer music corrupted by being translated into down-timer music, but that was by far a minority view. Mostly, and especially among the musicians that had gradually moved into their little cul-de-sac as miners had moved out, instead of wanting to keep the up-time music pure, the musicians wanted to join the band and sing the German versions of the songs. That desire, when expressed, led to some serious discussions among the Old Folks and later among their families.

“Well, you might as well recruit some of the kids,” Hal Smith said. “I have so much to do with the aircraft design that there just isn’t time for me to rehearse. Regina wants to keep singing, though.”

“I still have time for it, but I don’t object to having some good-looking German boys on the stage with us.” Regina looked over at Hal. “Groupies, that’s what we need. Big, blond German boy groupies.”

Hal sniffed. “Yeah, go ahead. You get some big, blond German boys on the stage with you, and see who the groupies go after.”

“Well, I think Uschi should join the band. She is very talented and she loves the music. So does Rudi,” Nancy Simmons said.

“Rudi,” Regina said. “He’s short, skinny, with mousy brown hair. Though I do admit he can play the mandolin and he’s getting pretty good on the banjo.”

“Oh, my God,” Mildred said suddenly. “Ardis is going to want to join the band if we start letting Germans in.”

“Ardis can’t carry a tune in a bucket and has never learned to play anything but a record player,” Hal said. He had had his run-ins with Ardis Carpenter. She wasn’t evil, but she ran like the hounds of hell were after her at the first sniff of work and she was always hitting her parents up for money. He was sort of all right with her kids, now that Mandy Sue was gone. Now, that had been a tragedy, that fire. But the other three kids, while they were no intellectual giants, they were willing to work.

“I know, but that’s not going to keep her from insisting that we let her join the band. She wanted to join when we got the record deal and the only thing that stopped her was the name, the Old Folks’ Band. I told her she was too young,” Mildred said. “Not that she’s a spring chicken, by any stretch.

“Her singing voice isn’t bad,” Mildred insisted, mostly because she felt she had to defend her daughter.

“Fine, her singing voice isn’t bad,” Regina said, “not great, but not bad. That’s not the problem. The problem is she won’t do the work. Likely as not, she will forget about a performance, just like she forgets everything else. And then she comes bumming money from you. She’d be here with you if Duck and Big Dog hadn’t bought her that place outside the Ring.”

“Never mind Ardis. What do you think about letting the down-timer kids into the group?” Ella Mae Jones asked. “We are all right with it.” Ella Mae didn’t consult Huey before speaking. She rarely did.

Huey just grinned. He didn’t much care; he had money if he needed it, fishing when he wanted it and pickin’ and grinnin’ in the evenings. All in all, Huey P. Long Jones was a happy, happy man.

“Fine, so we let some of the down-time musicians that live here play with us, and if they are good enough we’ll put them on the next record,” Nancy Simmons said. She had several in mind. There was Johan, who had a good, deep voice and was turning into a handsome young man. And there were Osanna Reich and Maria Kershner, who were real good on their chosen instruments, and Uschi, really Ursula, who had a marvelous singing voice. And there was Rudi Finkel, who had learned guitar with a speed that amazed her. He could sing, too, although he was more of a tenor than Johan.

The meeting broke up, and Nancy went to talk to the youngsters she had in mind as replacements. It had to be faced, unfortunately. The band members were all getting old and some, like Bucky, were getting downright frail. If the music was going to go on, they had to do something.

****

          Johan was working on one of the up-timer songs and he was getting more and more confused. The words made sense individually, sort of. But the stories the songs told! “Tom Dooley,” for instance. Bucky said that Tom Dooley probably wasn’t a murderer, that an old girlfriend had actually done the deed. But the lyrics of the song clearly pointed to Dooley’s death by hanging for murder.

There had to be a better story to tell, Johan decided. Something uplifting. Something that had to do with today’s world, not the world of that other future. Something noble. He sat back to think of stories like that. He remembered a recent news story that claimed that Ducos, a French agent had murdered Joe Buckley, as well as trying to kill the pope. Or something like that. Joe Buckley had died, but he had died for something, not because he was a jealous jerk or whatever Tom Dooley was.

Johan started to write. And when he finished, he went to find Rudi Finkel and his guitar.

“If I remember right, they talked that first bit about love triangles?” Rudi asked.

“Yes, that’s right. Why?”

Rudi started playing the tune of “Tom Dooley” on his guitar and after a moment said, “Throughout history there have been many ways of fighting for Liberty. But the up-timers newsman is a tradition of courage and integrity that we need to honor. This is the story of Joe Buckley, who fought for freedom through words.”

After another measure, Johan started singing in his bass range . . .

 

Joe Buckley was a newsman

He wrote what he did see

He saw one too many truths

And died for what he’d seen

 

Joe Buckley was a newsman

Hang down your head and cry

Joe Buckley was a newsman

Poor boy was born to die

 

I followed the story where it led me

I wrote what I did see.

I saw one too many truths

and died for what I’d seen.

 

Joe Buckley was a newsman

Hang down your head and cry

Joe Buckley was a newsman

Poor boy was born to die

 

It was in a loft in Venice

That’s where I met my fate.

From one who feared my witness

From a man lost to hate

 

Joe Buckley was a newsman

Hang down your head and cry

Joe Buckley was a newsman

Poor boy was born to die

 

My bones are in a graveyard

But my words live on and free.

Hadn’t a-been for Ducos

I’d be alive in Italy

 

Joe Buckley was a newsman

Hang down your head and cry

Joe Buckley was a newsman

Poor boy was born to die

 

By this time tomorrow

You’ll throw the paper away.

And read another story

written for another day.

 

Joe Buckley was a newsman

Hang down your head and cry

Joe Buckley was a newsman

Poor boy was born to die

 

But I won’t be forgotten

For words inform your days.

And there’ll be other newsmen

To inform in other ways.

 

Joe Buckley was a newsman

Hang down your head and cry

Joe Buckley was a newsman

Poor boy was born to die

Joe Buckley was a newsman

Hang down your head and cry

Joe Buckley was a newsman

Poor boy was born to die

****

          Nancy Simmons was listening through the kitchen window while the boys were working. By now she understood the German fairly well, though speaking it was quite another thing. She could follow the story, sort of. They made her proud. It was a better theme than “Tom Dooley.”

All these boys and girls made her proud. She’d lost all her children and grandchildren to the Ring of Fire. The band was about the only thing that made life worth living. But now these boys and girls were lifting her heart for her. Making life seem richer. She used a dish towel to wipe her eyes, then stepped onto the back porch.

“That was fine, boys. Real fine,” she said. “Beautiful, even. So which song are you going to do next?”

Johan looked a bit embarrassed, Nancy thought. Probably that they’d been overheard before the song was truly ready. Well, he might as well get over that, she figured. It was obvious that the kid had talent and she wasn’t going to let him hide his light under a bushel.

“How about something for one of the girls to sing?” she asked. “Maybe Uschi? She’s in the soprano range. Ought to sound right fine on . . . what about ‘Wayward Wind’? That ought to work well for her range.”

The boys just looked at her.

“What? You’re surprised that I agree?”

They nodded.

“Well, you don’t need to be. I do agree. The music needs to be about here and now, not there and then. You have my support and if anyone gives you any trouble, send them to talk to me.”

“So we try rewriting Vayvard Vind next,” Johan said.

Nancy just looked at him for a moment and then shook her head. “Ah . . . no, maybe not that one, after all. Maybe do ‘Careless Love,’ instead. Uschi can’t really pronounce a ‘w’ yet, and it sounds funny with the ‘v’s in there.

****

          It wasn’t like they didn’t have boarders to do it, but the Carpenters liked to do business through their grandchildren, Ducky and Big Dog, who ran a garbage collection company. So when Ducky and Big Dog showed up with a wagon full of old bunk beds and chests of drawers, they were greeted with relief by the residents who had been sleeping on blankets on the floor.

“Be careful with that!” Mildred hollered. “Don’t hit the walls. Paint’s expensive, and I ain’t getting any younger. I have no aim to paint this place again.”

“Sure thing, Grams,” Ducky said. He accepted another headboard from Big Dog. Big Dog had delivered it to the second story by the simple expedient of picking it up and carrying it up the stairs.

Neither Ducky or Big Dog noticed Osanna watching the play of Big Dog’s muscles as he moved the bedstead, but Rudi did and almost laughed at the look on her face.

Ducky took the headboard with considerably greater effort but managed to get it into the room without scratching Mildred’s paint. In the bedroom was Maria, gushing about how nice the new bedsteads were. And they were nice, even if they weren’t really very new. They were reconditioned bunk beds from children’s rooms. They had small single-shelf book shelves at the head of both the top and bottom bunk, which was very nice and also why the assembled headboard for the bunk beds was a heavy and bulky load.

Then Ducky started gushing about how nice Maria sang and putting together the bunk beds.

Uschi elbowed Rudi in the ribs and gestured to Ducky and Maria with her chin, then whispered, “Hormone overload.”

“And both of them going about it all wrong.”

Then Johan came in and started glowering at the couple. Johan muttered, “Will you look at that! She’s practically all over him.”

Rudi grinned. “No, she isn’t. You’re just jealous. You were hoping she’d give you the time of day, weren’t you?”

“Better me than him,” Johan said. “She doesn’t have a chance with an up-timer, especially that one. Ducky and Big Dog hang out at the 250. They don’t like Germans, those people.”

“The 250 hardly has any business these days,” Rudi pointed out. “And I heard that they’ve settled down a lot the last few years. They’re respectable businessmen now.”

“Well, they won’t stay that way if they don’t get someone to handle their books. Mildred and Bucky are great people but, honestly, they aren’t the brightest people I’ve ever met. And Ducky and Big Dog . . . strong backs and weak minds.”

“Don’t be an ass,” Rudi said. But he didn’t say Johan was wrong.

****

          “Greenback Dollar” both confused and relieved the two emergent songwriters. They found at least three, and possibly four, versions of the song and if it was all right for just about everyone up-time who sang the thing to change the lyrics, it had to be all right for them to do the same.

First, there was a very old recording by someone named Woody Guthrie. Hal Smith had explained to them that Woody Guthrie was a Commie, back in the day, and had had a political agenda for almost everything he sang.

That didn’t bother Johan and Rudi. They’d had politics firmly in mind when they rewrote “Tom Dooley” into “Joe Buckley.” But they didn’t really understand the whole Commie business. The main thing they noticed about the Woody Guthrie version was that while the lyrics on the record said “change,” it sounded like Woody was singing “chains.”

 

I don’t want your greenback dollar

I don’t want your silver change

All I want is your love, darling

Won’t you take me back again

 

The next version was pretty clear. A fellow was saying that he loved the girl not for her money, but for herself. Then there was a version about a man who despised money, spent it as fast as he could. After listening to them all, they decided “to heck with it, we’ll do our own.”

 

Oh, I want a Green Buck dollar

I don’t want your silver chains

All I want’s a chance to prosper

Just to keep my honest gains

 

I don’t want your title, Grafen

Plain old Herr is fine with me

I don’t need your castle, Grafen

Just an opportunity

 

Oh, I want a Green Buck dollar

I don’t want your silver chains

All I want’s a chance to prosper

Just to keep my honest gains

 

They got to talking to Hal Smith about what a Commie was and what Woody Guthrie had believed. It was fairly late. They had all been at the beer and Hal was a fairly conservative fellow. So Johan ended up adding a final verse.

 

As I write this purty little ditty

Woody’s spinning in his grave.

Though my approach ain’t so purty

Lots of folks it will save

 

Oh, I want a Green Buck dollar

I don’t want your silver chains

All I want’s a chance to prosper

Just to keep my honest gains

 

Still in their cups, they added their own spoken lyrics to “Gloom, Despair and Agony On Me.”

“You know, I think Maria is sweet on Ducky,” Rudy said.

“Why do they call him Ducky?” Johan asked.

“Because he let his education roll off like water off a duck’s back,” Rudy said. “I asked Big Dog.”

“Education isn’t all he isn’t picking up.”

Rudy started singing. “Maria’s sweet on Ducky, it rolls right off his back.”

Then Johan laughed. “Sing that on stage, I dare you.”

“I am not crazy. Maria would kill me. And Ducky would probably help her.”

“Well, have you seen the way Osanna looks at Big Dog? Tell me, my friend, what is it that women see in gorillas? I have never been able to figure it out.”

“Especially gorillas with low foreheads,” Johan commiserated. While Johan was well enough formed, neither he nor Rudi were overly large, especially compared to the Carpenter boys.

Now, Rudi played and sang. “Osanna loves Big Dog, but he don’t get the scent.”

“Well, that’s half a verse,” Johan said. “What about ‘Lovers pass by never seeing . . . ‘” He shook his head. “No. Doesn’t rhyme.”

“Who cares? It’s the talk part between the gloom, despair verses.”

“It should still rhyme,” Johan insisted with a craftsman’s care. “Lovers pass by each other on the wrong track.”

“That rhymes all right, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

“And does ‘How were we to know they meant the way she was built’ make sense?”

 

Lovers pass by each other on the wrong track

Live their lonely lives wondering where love went.

Maria’s sweet on Ducky, it rolls right off his back.

Osanna likes Big Dog, but he don’t get the scent.

 

“Not great,” Johan said, “but no one will ever hear it anyway, so who cares?”

All in all it was a very creative night . . . if not overly disciplined. That came the next morning with the hangovers. Playing the guitar while hungover isn’t all that fun. Perhaps it’s the echoes bouncing around the cavernous skull and hitting the shriveled raisin that last night was your pickled brain. That was Johan’s conclusion, anyway.

****

          Osanna liked the new lyrics, those she heard. Especially “Walking after Midnight,” which was considerably changed in specifics, but not that much in tone or feel. And gradually there was an increase of the band. Osanna had taken up the harmonica and was doing things with it that seemed alternately angelic and demonic. The up-timers and the records insisted it was fairly standard jazz harmonica with some bluegrass thrown in. Maria had bought a saxophone and was getting fairly good with it. Johan played banjo and Rudy played guitar. They had others on fiddle, mandolin, drums, and the old upright piano in Nancy Simmons house. With a steel guitar added in, they practically had a blue grass orchestra.

Dobro guitars existed in Grantville. Two of them, but it mattered almost not at all. While there were some copies of the Dobro, by 1634 there were half-a-dozen versions of the resonator guitar—commonly known as the steel guitar—as down-time artist and musical craftsmen experimented with up-time musical concepts. They included the steel mandolin, which was Osanna’s second instrument, though she couldn’t manage both at once.

****

          “Come on, Mama,” Bucky Carpenter said to his mother, Ardis. “We’ll take you out for your birthday.”

Big Dog just nodded. The men felt that someone had to keep their mother happy and they were more or less elected. If you didn’t keep an eye on Mama, there was no telling what she’d get into.

“Well, all right,” Ardis said, sighing. “Club 250 again?”

“No, Mama. We’re going to the Gardens where Gram and Grandpa are playing.”

“So you ain’t taking me out to dinner. You’re mooching off Mom and Dad.” Which complaint had some truth to it, but would have been a lot more justified if Ardis wasn’t getting her house from the boys and most of her food money from Gram and Grandpa. They had already loaded up the wagon with the instruments, so all they needed to do was get Mama in the car and go.

****

          Once they got to the Thuringen Gardens, Big Dog led Ardis to the band’s table and Duck started dragging instruments to the stage. The Old Folks’ Band now had more young folks in it than old folks, and Johan had been given the job of introducing the band members.

“Hi, Ducky,” Johan said. “How’s it going?”

“Mostly ready,” Ducky told him.

“Saw that. I meant, how are things going with you and Big Dog and your business.”

“Better than we expected.”

“How’s that?”

“We’ve been afraid that the up-time gear would run out and we’d be out of business. You know that what we charge to pick up wouldn’t pay for the cost.”

It took Johan a moment to parse that sentence, but he thought it probably meant that the pickup fees wouldn’t pay the crews that did the pickup and pay for the natural gas that powered the car that pulled their garbage wagon. “I understand, I think,” Johan assured him

“We make our money off picking through the garbage to find stuff that’s still good or can be fixed. Comes down to it, we’re dumpster divers who own our own dumpster.”

Johan didn’t have a clue what a dumpster diver was, but he didn’t try to figure it out. He was too busy trying to get everything organized for the show.

Meanwhile, Big Dog came up. “‘Evening, Johan. How’s the music coming? You really writing new lyrics for all the up-time songs?”

“Well, not all of them and it’s more translating. Oh, some new lyrics but just when the up-time lyrics don’t make sense down-time. A lot of them are just fine. After all, we down-timers know just as much about drinking as you up-timers do.” Johan hadn’t meant as a challenge. Just the opposite, in fact. It was more in the way of an admission, but apparently that wasn’t the way Big Dog took it.

The big man grinned. “Ha!” He laughed. “I could drink you and Rudi under the table.”

Ducky came to their defense, sort of. “That’s because you’re as big as both of them put together, Dog. To make it fair you ought to let them alternate shots.”

“Shots? You mean drinks of beer?” Rudi asked, from the seat where he was tuning his guitar.

“No. Shots of white lightning,” Ducky said. “This is still the Appalachian mountains, even if we’re stuck in Germany. Corn squeezings. One good thing about the Ring of Fire, ain’t no revenuers.”

Somehow, without quite knowing why, Johan and Rudi found themselves in a drinking contest with Big Dog Carpenter. Johan had dark suspicions that the Duck was behind their dilemma, but that didn’t matter now. It was a matter of national pride. One up-timer offering to drink two down-timers under the table? It couldn’t be allowed.

****

          “Ladies and gentlemen,” Johan said into the microphone, and saw Big Dog hold up a shot glass then knock it back. “We have found the fountain of youth.” He shrugged at the laughter and continued. “No? Well, it’s a worthy thought, after all, and the music makes us feel young. On the stage we have Jerry Simmons on guitar. Hal Smith is hiding from the pilots for the night, so we have Osanna Reich on the steel mandolin. Which, Hal tells us, will never fly. For vocals, we have Mildred Carpenter, Nancy Simmons, Ella Mae Jones, and Regina is here, hiding from Hal. Add to that we have Rudi Finkel on guitar and vocals . . .” He went through the rest of the band and ended with, “And I’m Johan Faber. I play a little banjo and sing a bit. Now, let’s play a little music.” Johan stepped over to the side of the stage where a shot glass was waiting, filled with a clear liquid. He picked it up and flung it back. And almost missed the first verse of the “Ballad of Joe Buckley,” what will all the gagging he did.

And they were off. From Buckley, they went to “Ramblin’ Rose,” and another shot this one Rudi’s, after which Rudi sang, supported by Maria’s saxophone. Then Uschi sang “Careless Love,” and “Magdeburg Waltz,” with most of the women harmonizing. Big Dog was holding up another shot glass. There was a row of empties on the table in front of him and a similar row at the edge of the stage. They played and the original Old Folks sang some of the old standards, then they had a break. A little food and a few shots later, they got back to the show. Another break, and Johan and Rudi had some more of the ‘shine with Big Dog, who still claimed that down-timers couldn’t hold their likker. By now, there was a considerable stack of shot glasses, but Rudi and Johan were falling behind.

Later in the evening, after several more shots of ‘shine, Big Dog won the bet with unexpected results.

****

          “Ladies and gentlemen, Woody Guthrie wrote this song. At least versions of it, then other people changed to suit themselves. Here is our version.”

They went through their version—which was just as political as Woody’s, if in a different way. Then, “Okay, folks. Now for something really depressing . . .

 

Gloom, despair and agony . . .

 

They sang several German-translated versions and a couple about figures in Grantville.

Then . . .

 

Lovers pass by each other on the wrong track

Live their lonely lives wondering where love went.

Maria’s sweet on Ducky, it rolls right off his back.

Osanna likes the Big Dog, but he don’t get the scent.

 

Johan had started the verse, but Rudi—also in his cups—had joined right in. The audience, not knowing the players, had no clue that Johan had just swallowed, digested and defecated his foot, all in one verse. They were laughing and having a swell old time. What was worse, the Old Folks themselves, from their height of many years, were laughing so hard that Rudi was afraid Mrs. Carpenter might lose bladder control.

Maria and Osanna were not laughing, and Ducky and Big Dog were looking confused. It became suddenly clear to Rudi why the two hadn’t finished high school even in the up-timer world. Rudi then looked over at the girls and realized that his life expectancy was uncertain, at best.

****

          Ducky looked up as he heard his name, and while he wasn’t drunk, he wasn’t totally sober either. So the significance of what he was hearing wasn’t immediately apparent. Big Dog, on the other hand, was pretty blitzed after all that ‘shine, so he hadn’t noticed much of anything.

Mama was getting kind of purple in the face, though. And sputtering. “Wh— Wh— Well, I’ll be damned. I can’t believe it! Those little German tramps! They put those guys up to this! Trying to snag an up-timer, that’s what they’re doin’!”

Ducky looked up at the stage and was pretty sure that Maria and Osanna were not happy about the revelation. In fact, they looked downright mortified.

Mama just kept on sputtering. Pretty much the same thing, over and over again. She started to stand up, but Ducky grabbed her arm. “Mama, don’t go making a scene here. You’ll make Grams and Grandpa mad at you.”

She settled back down. It wouldn’t do for her to make her parents very angry. They might cut off her funds.

Ducky looked up at the stage to see Maria looking back at him, her face red. Suddenly, he felt pretty darn good. He smiled at her, a sort of shy smile that just happened without his thinking about it.

Big Dog was looking around, realizing something was off-center, but not what. Ducky started to think that he had been so drunk that he hadn’t heard the verse.

Ducky looked back at the stage in time to see Osanna go over to Rudi and Johan and put her hand over the mike. Then she said something to Johan and stomped on his foot, hard.

Mildred Carpenter moved to the front of the stage. She quickly separated Osanna from Johan and Rudi. “Bear with us, folks. The boys have had a bit too much partying this evening. Let’s have ‘Shall We Gather at the River.’ ” She looked back at the band and said, “On my count,” in a voice that would not be denied.

****

          BOOOM!!!!

Johan jerked up in his bed. It had sounded like a cannon going off right beside his head.

“You idiot!” Osanna roared and Johan realized that a cannon going off would have been better. At least after the cannonball ripped him apart, this would be over. “How could you say that in front of everyone? How can I ever look Big Dog in the face again? My life is destroyed! There is nothing left but revenge, and guess who will suffer my vengeance?” She turned around, opened the door, went out and slammed it. BOOOM!!!!

Johan held his head, lest it break apart, and moaned.

“It’s your fault, you know,” Rudi’s whisper roared through the room.

“What is?” Johan asked, as quietly as he could. “What is Osanna yelling about?”

“You don’t remember?”

“Remember what?”

“Gloom, despair and agony on you. You sang the verse we made up at the Gardens last night, right in front of Ducky and Big Dog. Also, everyone in the Gardens, and that means that it will be all over Grantville by noon today. Which has already passed, in case you didn’t know.”

Johan thought about that in between the thump, thump, thump pain that he finally realized was his pulse. After a minute, he asked, “How did Big Dog react?”

“I think he was too drunk to hear it, but he’ll hear about it today.”

“What about Ducky?”

Rudi laughed a short chuckle, then groaned and held his head. “He liked the idea . . . last night. This morning . . . who knows?”

****

          Ducky, with malice aforethought, dropped a large iron hammer against a large iron plate. He was safely outside his brother’s room. They had a junk yard outside the Ring of Fire, the first stop for the garbage they picked up. Here it was sorted. Anything that might be of use was put aside and the rest went into a huge compost pile or into the furnace. By now they had quite a lot of stuff and made more selling the trash than picking it up. Mostly they didn’t sell it locally. They lived at the yard, saving themselves the cost of a night watchman and Big Dog’s apartment was just next to the iron shop.

Big Dog shouted, then whimpered, and Ducky grinned. That would teach him to challenge down-timers to drinking contests. Even if he probably had a hundred pounds on Rudi and Johan, he’d drunk enough so it didn’t help.

A few minutes later, a slow and cautious Big Dog came out of the apartment. “What happened?” he whispered.

“Well, you challenged Johan and Rudi to a drinking contest using ‘shine last night. You won. At least, you drank almost as much as both of them put together.”

“Only fair,” Big Dog insisted. “I weigh almost as much as both of them put together.” There was a pause. “I walked home on my own, didn’t I?”

“Yes.”

“So I won?”

“I think they walked home on their own too.” Ducky snorted a laugh and another, as Big Dog winced. “And Johan did it after Osanna stomped on his foot.”

“Did that little creep make a pass at Osanna? I’ll beat the crap out of him.” This came out with considerably more force than Ducky would have expected, considering Big Dog’s delicate condition.

“What? You like Osanna?”

“Yeah, I think I do. But she’s beautiful and have you heard her sing? She’s gonna be a big star and, well, we’re garbage men. What would a girl like that have to do with me?”

Ducky started to laugh and Big Dog put his hands over his ears to keep his head from exploding.

****

          It was some hours later when Big Dog, restored by some of the still expensive coffee, finally found out what Johan and Rudi had sung the night before. “Do you think they were right?” he asked Ducky.

“I think they were right about Maria. She was embarrassed as hell when they sang it, but when I smiled at her, she smiled back,” Ducky said. “I hope that means what I think it does. I figure I’ll ask her when I get the chance.”

“You reckon Grams will feed us dinner?”

“Maybe, but she’s pretty pissed about your drinking game with Johan and Rudi last night.”

“What have we got that she would like?” Big Dog asked. “This calls for a real good present. What do you think Grams would like?”

“Compost?”

“Yes, but not for this.”

“Hair of the dog?” Ducky asked grinning.

“More like skin of the Dog, and I’m in no mood to be scalped,” Big Dog said.

“On the other hand, Grams sometimes likes a snort, herself.”

“Not this time.”

“You think we might have to . . . buy something,” Ducky said with horror in his voice that was only partly feigned. They had a fairly nice place, not that far outside the Ring of Fire. It had indoor plumbing, electricity, and was fully furnished. Granted, most of the furnishings didn’t match, but that was a function of the fact that not one thing in the whole place had actually been bought. Everything from the natural gas stove to the beds had been thrown away by someone. They had paid to have some of the stuff fixed, but they hadn’t bought anything. It was a point of pride with them.

Big Dog considered. His head hurt too much for him to be much concerned with points of pride. Besides, if it would get him anywhere with Osanna, he’d buy a whole new bedroom set. The thought of Osanna in a bedroom—his bedroom—added a certain urgency to the whole situation. “Maybe. But what?”

“Coffee!” Ducky said, way too loudly for Big Dog’s comfort. He didn’t kill his little squirt of a big brother, though. It was a good idea. Grams really liked her coffee.

****

          Some hours later, fully scrubbed and bearing two one-pound bags of coffee, Ducky and Big Dog arrived at the Carpenter house in the Old Folks’ cul-de-sac.

Bucky was sitting on the front porch with his banjo in his hands, grinning at them like an idiot. “Well, boys, there for a minute when I heard about what happened last night, I figured we might actually get some brains bred into the line.” He shook his head, wheezing and laughing so much that it was hard for him to get his breath. “Then I realized if those girls had any sense they’d be running away screaming.”

There wasn’t a lot that Ducky or Big Dog could say to that. Then a scary thought occurred to Ducky. “They didn’t, did they?” he asked, because he figured Grandpa had a point.

“No,” Grams said, coming out the door. “It’s a clear case of hormone poisoning. Apparently any good sense they had has leaked out their ears.”

Feeling nothing but relief at this, Ducky said, “Thanks, Grams. We brought coffee.”

“You think you’re going to get out of this with a bag of coffee?” Grams asked.

Then Big Dog held out his bag of coffee, with a hopeful smile. “No, ma’am. Two bags.”

Grams humphed, but she took the coffee.

****

          Soon it became clear that certain of the residents of the cul-de-sac were avoiding Ducky and Big Dog. Specifically, members of the band and, most specifically, Osanna, Maria, Johan, and Rudi.

None of the four appeared at dinner, much to the dismay of Ducky and Big Dog.

“What can we do?” Ducky asked his grandmother. “We can’t apologize if they won’t see us.”

“You don’t have anything to apologize for, except that bet you made with Johan and Rudi,” Grandpa said. “But you’d better apologize, anyway.”

“Of course, they do,” Grams said. “They should have realized the girls were interested in them.”

How, Ducky wondered, telepathy?

But Grams was still talking. “After all, Johan and Rudi noticed. And so did everyone around here.”

Grandpa looked at them and started laughing and wheezing, and he wasn’t the only one. People were grinning all around the table.

“Now, that’s not fair, Mildred. You know men are idiots when it comes to things like that.”

“Johan and Rudi noticed,” Grams insisted.

“Sure, but they weren’t involved.” Uschi shrugged. “It’s always easier to see when you’re not involved.”

****

          “They’re probably going to kill us,” Johan whispered. “That’s why they came. They’re waiting for us to come down, then they’ll do it.”

“I don’t think so,” Rudi said. “They’d come up here if they really wanted to kill us. I’m not sure they’re angry at all. I think they’re interested in the girls and that’s why they came. Big Dog even combed his hair flat.”

“Doesn’t matter. Even if they marry the girls, this is going to follow them for the rest of their lives. They are going to kill us.”

“Naw,” Rudi said. “It can’t last more than, oh, twenty years or so.” He grinned. “The girls are probably going to kill us first. After all, it’s not really that embarrassing for a guy to have a pretty girl interested in him, even if he doesn’t notice. Besides, I’m hungry. Let’s go down and get it over with.

****

          “I’m not going to kill you,” Big Dog assured them, magnanimously. Then he added, “Unless Osanna tells me to.”

Rudi returned a wry smile. “Thanks, Big Dog. That gives us a good half an hour to start running while you find her and ask her.”

“Ask her what?” Big Dog wondered.

“Well, if it was me, I’d try, oh, dinner out. Movie night at the Higgins? Something like that. A date. Something nice. I’d leave out that whole thing about killing us, though.”

Big Dog just looked at him and smiled

Rudi gulped.

****

          As it turned out, they failed to find the girls that day. Instead, the girls heard all about the dinner and the conversation after the fact. “I think,” Osanna said with a truly evil smile, “That I will go over to the junk yard and have a talk with Big Dog. And have him kill you. Both of you.” Then she left them to contemplate their fate.

“You think she will?”

“Naw.”

“I don’t know. Girls seem to get a kick out of getting guys in trouble, just to prove we’ll do anything for them.”

Johan just looked at him.

****

          Osanna and Maria did go over to the junk yard. It was just too embarrassing to sit around in the Old Folks’ cul-de-sac with everyone cracking wise about it all. They needed it settled, one way or the other. Besides, Ducky had smiled at Maria and Big Dog had offered to kill Rudi for Osanna. The signs were good.

Very good.

 

Six months later . . .

 

“I never thought I’d see this day,” Bucky wheezed at Mildred in as close as he could come to a whisper.

“Shh,” Mildred whispered back. “The girls will be coming down the aisle any moment now.”

****

Author’s note: Lyrics were modified from versions of songs that are not under current copyright protection, or rewritten entirely.