“Our memories are the only paradise from which we can never be expelled.”
—Jean Paul Richter, German Novelist
September, 1636, Grantville
What is my name?
He sat on his porch, sipping tea, trying to remember. It was late summer, and he knew where he was: seventeenth century, middle of Germany, having come through a “Ring of Fire.” He knew all that; that hadn’t happened very long ago. He knew what he held in his hand, recognized the smooth shape of the cup, the green corporate insignia on its side. He knew where he worked: the water treatment plant. He recognized the face of the small German girl at play with her yappy little pup across the way, and her old grumpy grandfather tossing feed for the chickens. He recognized the 20-gauge leaning against the railing on the porch; a good soldier never forgets his gun. He recognized all that, and yet he could not remember his name. It began with an “I,” he knew that much. What is my name? And what is the name of that girl?
He shook his head, sat up straight in his chair and sipped more tea. He blinked away a forming tear. How long could he keep this from his wife Anna—thank God he remembered her name!—or from his daughter Deann? The forgetfulness had come on so gradually that it was easy to shrug off as simple signs of old age. Old people forget things from time to time; no big deal, right? But it was getting worse, and just recently, waking up in cold sweats in the middle of the night, looking around and not remembering where he was or why he was here, or who that woman was laying beside him. Then the memories would come flooding back like the flow of a river, and he would smile and turn over and drift back to sleep on vivid clouds of memory. The good times would last then for a few days, and then it would start all over again. And he would nod and smile and act brave in the midst of people he could recognize, but still not quite place. He found himself squinting at them like Clint Eastwood, trying to divine their names like some ancient swami on the top of a snow-covered mountain. He laughed at that. He preferred a gunslinger over a grey-bearded old fart with weird tattoos and pearls for eyes. Clint was cool and smooth, and like him, he too was a man with no name.
He stood up, laid the cup beside the shotgun on the railing and watched the girl play. He smiled. She was a cute little thing. Dirty blonde hair with locks rolling down her back. Pleasant, light skin, a soft gentle smile and a perky laugh. She reminded him of his Deann when she was that age, and that soft whiffleball that she tossed for the puppy was his daughter’s once. Yes, he had given her that ball not long ago, he now remembered, when she had come over with a basket of eggs. She was putting that ball to good use, like his Deann had done, a tomboy to the core. He squinted. What’s her name?
His mind drifted to the memory of another little girl. Nineteen seventy-two, dense jungle, a small village. Screaming, crying, huts on fire. A small child, her hair a patch of black and blood red, crawling out from shattered debris, calling for her mother, reaching through the poisonous smoke with shaking hands. He scooped her up, turned her over and stared into her face, saw the gentleness there, the pain. She was burnt badly, but there was no one near to give aid. “I’ll save you,” he had said. “I’ll save you.” And he ran and ran and ran, in that direction toward the river, toward the sweet brown water of the Mekong. There they would find help and shelter, food and medicine. “I’ll save you, little one, I’ll save—”
He heard the name, and the memory of Vietnam disappeared. He blinked. Yes, of course, Gisela. That’s her name. Gisela Seiler, living with her grandfather Armin. They had moved beside him a few years ago. Of course. It was so clear now.
The grandfather was yelling something in German to his granddaughter. He could not understand it, but that didn’t matter. Not only did he remember the girl’s name now, but he remembered his own as well.
He cracked a big grin, scooped up his shotgun and headed across the yard toward the girl. “Hey,” he yelled happily, bounding across the grass in bare feet. He raised the gun like a spear and said, “I’ll show you how to throw that ball, Gisela. I’ll give it a toss.”
Gisela jumped at the sudden shock of hearing his voice. She was still many feet away, but seeing her neighbor coming at her so strongly, she gave a little scream and backed off, the puppy mimicking her dismay with a yelp.
“What’s the matter, Gisela?” he asked. “You remember me, don’t you? I’m Ira. Ira Lee Whitney, your neighbor. I gave you that ball. Remember?”
He was in their yard now, and the old man was in front of him, shielding his granddaughter from this madman that had come barreling across their yard with . . . a shotgun. Ira backed away, realizing what he had in his hand, and that he was still in his blue-checkered pajamas. Lord God, look at me. What am I doing?
He took another step back and laid down the gun. He put his hands up in peace. “Look, I’m sorry, Armin. I apologize. I was just watching Gisela here play with the pup, and I thought I’d give the ball a toss. I didn’t mean to—”
Armin pushed him. “Go, now,” he said in a thick accent. “Leave!”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to cause any trouble.”
Armin pushed him again. Ira pushed back. “Get your hands off me, old man. Get ’em off.”
Ira tried to shield his face, but before he could put up his arms, the old man’s fist crashed across his chin, knocking him onto the ground. Ira’s mind spun and he heard a woman’s voice, a voice he thought he recognized.
His wife was at his side. Ira blinked and saw her face haloed against the rising run. She was beautiful. He smiled. What was her name again?
“What is the matter with you, Ira?” she asked, wiping blood from the corner of his mouth. “Are you sick?”
Ira nodded and fought against the tears. “Yes,” he said, “I’m sick. I’m very, very sick.”
Ira watched Dr. Susannah Shipley come into the office at the Leahy Medical Center. Her face was bright, pleasant, happy. She was smiling. That didn’t amount to much in Ira’s mind. Doctors liked smiling at their patients before handing down a death sentence. And if Shipley had come in special off her maternity leave, the diagnosis must be bad . . . really bad.
He didn’t wait for her to reach the desk. “So, Doc, how long do I have to live?”
It was a cruel thing to say, especially in the presence of his new wife and his daughter. Deann had known him long enough to know that he was just bullshitting, exaggerating the situation in order to maintain some control over it. She’d punch him in the arm for it later. But Anna deserved better. She was German, a down-timer. They had only been married a few months, an early spring wedding. A wonderful event, and one that he remembered today at least. Anna had taken a chance on an American time-traveler, and now here she was, having to deal with strange up-time medical tests and terminology, things that even confused Ira. She needed him to be solemn and serious in a time like this.
Dr. Shipley wagged a finger at him as she took a seat. “Now, now, Ira. That’s not what we’re here for today.”
The operative word was “today, ” Ira noted, but let it slide.
The doctor maintained her smile as she sat and arranged her papers. She took a deep breath, placed her arms on the desk, folded her fingers together, and began. “Thank you all for being here. I think it’s important that everyone involved understand where we are and what will follow.”
She faced Ira. “For the past couple days, you’ve been taking what’s called neuropsychological tests. These tests help to determine your level of intelligence, memory, language, and so-called executive functions such as problem-solving, attention span, organizational abilities, and the like. We have to rely heavily on these soft-science tests because, unfortunately, Grantville was a small town before the Ring of Fire, and it remained small afterwards. We simply do not have the proper equipment—CT scans, MRI’s, EEG’s—to take a look at your brain and make a definitive diagnosis.”
“What’s wrong with my husband?” Anna asked, her voice wavering in broken English.
Dr. Shipley looked straight at Anna. “Mrs. Willer, the tests suggest that Ira is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease.”
“You mean old-timer’s disease,” Ira said, being flippant again.
“How can that be?” Deann said, her voice rising to a squeak. “He’s only fifty-one.”
Dr. Shipley nodded and looked back at Ira. “That’s true. Alzheimer’s usually manifests in people in their sixties and seventies. The good news is, the tests show that you still have good control of your motor skills. You are still physically fit and that’s good; we need to keep it that way. But the extenuating circumstance here that’s likely the cause of its early presentment is the head trauma that you experienced in Vietnam.” She shuffled her papers, pulled out a specific sheet, stared at it intently, then continued, “You stated that you suffered a head injury in 1972, but you did not give specifics. Can you be more specific?”
Fire. Girl. Screaming . . .
Ira cleared his throat. “Not much to tell. I was running through the jungle. A rocket or grenade hit nearby, don’t remember which. The concussion threw me into a tree. Next thing I knew I woke up in the hospital with a big cut on the left side of my head. I’m sure you saw the remains of the scar below the hair?”
Dr. Shipley nodded. “Skull fracture?”
“I don’t know. I don’t remember one.”
“Any side effects? Any lasting problems associated with the injury? Epileptic seizures?”
Ira shrugged. “I had some dizziness, of course, right afterwards. Headaches. But in a few weeks I was okay, at least I seemed to be. In my forties, I was diagnosed with mild vertigo, but Dramamine usually helped. I haven’t had much problem with that since the Ring of Fire. I will say though that afterwards, I did have problems with sinus congestion. I still do, in fact.”
“I don’t understand this word ‘Alzheimer’s’ ” Anna said. “It sounds German, but I don’t understand it.”
“You’re right, Anna,” said Dr. Shipley, “it is German. It comes from the German psychiatrist Alois Alzheimer who first coined the phrase in the early-twentieth century. Alzheimer’s is one of the more common forms of dementia.”
“My husband is going crazy?”
Ira snickered. Bless her heart, there was no one as skilled as Anna for cutting to the quick. Dr. Shipley could sugar-coat the issue as much as she wanted, but the truth was there in his wife’s common-sense question.
“No, Anna. We can’t look at it like that. Ira is not going crazy. Alzheimer’s is a legitimate medical condition. When Ira sustained his head injury, I suspect his brain was shaken badly. The brain is just like any other organ in the body. It can bleed, be bruised, fluids can collect in the skull which can create pressure. All of these things can damage the tissue. His youth at the time insolated him from any serious side-effects. But it seems clear now that that trauma is beginning to manifest itself in symptoms related to Alzheimer’s. Again, since we cannot scan Ira’s brain, I cannot give you an absolutely definitive diagnosis. But my experience in geriatrics tells me that what we’re looking at here is the beginnings of Alzheimer’s. And because of that, I recommend that we proceed accordingly.”
“Okay. What do I do?” Ira asked.
“Well, I’m sorry to say that there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, especially in this timeline. I apologize. I wish there was more I could say on that. But we can treat the symptoms, at least to some extent, without medications. I want to start seeing you regularly. Maybe once a month to begin when I return officially from maternity leave. I want you to keep physically fit; being fit helps reduce symptoms. I want you to play games, chess maybe, Scrabble, whatever you can find, to keep your mind active. I want you to read. Go to the library a lot, check out books, and generally keep your mind working. You can also surround yourself with memories—photos, pictures, letters, whatever—we call it reminiscence therapy. You still have good long-term memory. Surround yourself with the items that define who you are, where you have been in your life, what you have done. As long as you can be constantly reminded of who you are, Ira Lee Whitney, your quality of life will improve immensely.”
Dr. Shipley went on explaining to Deann and Anna what they could do to make things better for him, but Ira blocked it out. He looked at his wife, his daughter. I’m sorry for this, he said to them silently. It would be better if I just died. Dr. Shipley had not wanted to discuss the end of life today, but Ira wasn’t stupid. He knew a thing or two about Alzheimer’s. He had already gone to the library and checked it out.
The average life expectancy for a person diagnosed with Alzheimer’s ranged between seven and ten years. And this was down-time Germany, not modern medical America. How many years did that alone shave off the top?
They left the medical center. As they made their way home, Anna said, “Ira, I will help you in any way I can.” She looked at Deann. “We will take good care of you.”
“Thank you, sweetheart.”
“Now, let’s go home, and I’ll fix you up a nice dinner, and then I’ll get your favorite pillow fluffed, and you can rest on the couch. You need rest.”
Yes, he did need rest. Good sleep had escaped him in the past few months. Somewhere in that blurry list of “must-dos” coming out of Dr. Shipley’s mouth, was sleep. The mind thrives on good sleep, she said. Yes, it did. It . . .
Fire. Girl. Screaming . . .
“No!” he said, perhaps louder and more forcefully than he meant. “I’m not tired. I don’t want to sleep.” He looked at his wife and smiled. “I want to party.”
Ira greeted Dooby Seabright and Joe Tillman on the front porch. He was surprised to see them dressed in their best fatigues: Duck Hunter regalia for Dooby, and dark brown and green ERDL camo for Joe. Anna’s doing, no doubt.
“Where’s the war, boys?” he asked them as they shook hands.
Joe answered. “Somewhere east, I’m figuring. There’s always a war somewhere.”
Ira nodded. Why the hell God had placed them smack-dab in the middle of a European crisis, Ira could not guess. Atonement for sins, or maybe just for laughs. God had a wicked sense of humor. “Where are your better halves?”
“Agnes is staying with Dorrie tonight,” Dooby said. “She wasn’t feeling well.”
Dooby and Joe had married the Fogle sisters, Gloria and Dorrie. Gloria had died a few years ago due to complications from Huntington’s disease, and Joe’s wife Dorrie suffered from it as well. Ira frowned. His friends had problems of their own; they did not deserve this added headache.
“Well, I’m glad you both came.” He looked at Dooby and made like he was smoking a roach. “Did you bring the dessert?”
Dooby nodded and tapped a pocket on the front of his shirt. “Six blunts of USE’s finest. I left my best shit up-time. If the Ring of Fire had been just a hundred feet more to the left, we’d be whistling Dixie right now.”
Ira laughed. “We’ll take care of those later. But now come on in and mingle, have a drink of something, get a bite to eat. Anna made a cake that we’ll have directly. You know most everyone here—”
“Ira,” Joe said, catching his sleeve. “Jim and I just wanted to say that we’re sorry.”
“Thanks. Life’s a bitch, you know.”
“Does everyone know?” asked Dooby.
Ira shook his head. “No, only you two and the family. Let’s keep it that way if you please. Everyone will know soon enough. No reason to spoil the party.”
“Maybe the doctor’s wrong.”
“No. She can’t diagnose for cert, but she’s right. It’s been coming on for a while now.”
“Well, we’re sorry.”
Ira nodded and led them inside.
Anna had every light on, and the halls and rooms of their home hummed with conversation and laughter. Many turned and greeted them warmly as they entered, and Ira was glad of his decision to invite the “boys.” They were veterans too. A little older than he was, and they had served in different units and in different places in Southeast Asia, but they were just as much family as his daughter or nephew Jack. Those two leaned against the old book shelf, drinking punch and catching up on old times, talking about up-time matters, no doubt, about how it used to be before the Ring of Fire, before all this. Most of the people he had invited were up-timers, and seeing them all now in his house, it felt like the good old days, and the memories flooded back. Trips to Wheeling, to Welch, the trip he and his first wife Darlene took to Rehoboth Beach back when Deann was a child, the hunting trip in Northern Virginia, going to an Orioles game in Baltimore. All of this and more. And Anna had taken every picture that she could find and put them up (even those with Darlene which she usually avoided like the plague) on the mantle or on the end tables, in every spare frame they could scrounge. Taking advantage of Dr. Shipley’s so-called reminiscence therapy. Ira didn’t mind. He welcomed it, in fact. He had called this party because he wanted to see everyone once more, talking and laughing and having a good time, before he forgot it all.
He hadn’t bothered to mention that reason to Anna.
He got up and walked to the mantle, where black-and-white pictures lined the wall. In the center was one of him and Dooby and Joe, posing shirtless, fresh cigarettes, dog tags lying on young, sun-burned skin. Short but goofy-looking hairdos, and Joe with his Elvis side-burns and circular Lennon-style shades. Ira shook his head. So young and thin. When had this picture been taken? Ira turned it over, but the scribble on the back was barely legible now. Nineteen seventy-one, seventy-two? Clearly before his head wound.
He put it back and looked at his guests. Lots of spirited conversation. Joe was speaking to a down-timer; Dooby trying to steal Jessica’s beer. He had been surprised to see them in their fatigues; they weren’t young anymore. But they had kept pretty fit as well, although he had noticed that Dooby’s pants rode up a bit at the ankles and Joe’s stomach was not as flat as it used to be. I wonder if I can fit into my old stuff?
“Hell, why not?” He said to himself. “Let’s take another picture.”
He turned and walked into the hallway. “Where are you going?” Anna called out.
“Going to change,” he said and kept walking. “Be back in a minute.”
In their room, he opened the locker at the foot of the bed. The pungent smell of cedar and old fabric tickled his nose. At the bottom of it lay a small cardboard box. He took it and opened it. Inside lay three medals he’d gotten in Vietnam: the Purple Heart, the Army Commendation Medal, and the Vietnam Service Medal, all intact and in good shape. He hadn’t looked at them in years. He thought about putting them on, but perhaps that was presumptuous. Joe and Dooby hadn’t worn theirs, and they had been awarded just as many. He ran his thumb across the delicate ribbon of the Purple Heart, remembering how he’d gotten it, but closed the box and put them back.
He unfolded his old olive-drab jacket, the one with his unit patch, 3rd Brigade, 9th Infantry Division. A gold field with a white circle in the middle of a red and blue flower. The Flaming Assholes they were called. Ira laughed. He’d known a few assholes in that brigade, but all in all, pretty decent men, trying to do their jobs the best they could under very adverse circumstances.
He took off his clothing quickly and put on his fatigues. Everything was a bit snug. The jacket was impossible to button up. The duck hunter pants still fit and so too his boots, though they were showing serious signs of dry rot. Ira stood up and straightened everything out. It didn’t matter if nothing fit perfectly anymore. He wasn’t going to wear it for long.
He stood in front of his mirror. He nodded. Not bad. Not bad at all. Discounting the grey hair and the wrinkled features, he looked pretty good. At least good enough to fool everyone for an hour or two. They’d take a few pictures, swap a few old stories, and it’d be like old times.
Old times . . .
He started out of the room when he heard breaking glass and screaming.
He rushed to the window and threw it open. Across the way, little Gisela stamped the ground in front of her house. In her tiny fist lay the wired handle of a broken lantern, the oil pouring out and leaving a thin line of fire on the ground. She was too afraid and confused to drop the lantern and so she wavered back and forth, not sure what to do.
Then her grandfather appeared, with something in his hand. A long, warped stick perhaps. Ira could not make it out at this distance. The old man yelped and started stamping the ground where the little fires lay. Then he turned toward his granddaughter and struck her with the stick. No, it wasn’t a stick. It was a broom. Gisela fell under the blows and lay there, a circle of fire around her, as she received blow after blow of the harsh bristles.
“Stop it!” Ira yelled, but the noise of the party and those of the evening drowned out his demand. The old man kept striking his granddaughter.
Then everything changed around him. He was no longer in his house, in the comfort of his room. He was in a jungle, hot, dense, the infusive smell of decaying wet leaves and bark and black soil. The smell of napalm. Screaming villagers and exploding bamboo. Where once a young German girl lay had now changed to scorched ruins, with blackened human corpses mangled together with dead water buffalos and rice patties. And screaming, screaming . . .
“I’ll save you,” Ira said as he reached into the corner and grabbed his shotgun. He pushed over the nightstand and crawled out the window. He ran across the yard, toward the screaming girl.
I’ll save you . . .
The party was interrupted twenty minutes later by the wailing of an old man who stumbled across the yard, holding a bloody rag against his head. Joe heard him first, followed by Dooby and then the rest, as it became clear that something was horribly wrong.
Anna screamed and rushed into the living room. Her face was pure terror. “Ira . . . he’s gone.”
Joe rushed to the bedroom and found the foot locker open and empty. The nightstand had been thrust aside and the window stood open. No sign of his friend.
They returned to the porch. Deann was trying to clean the nasty gash on the old man’s head. He wasn’t cooperating. “ Er hat mein Pferd gestohlen und meine Enkelin entführt... Er hat mein Pferd gestohlen —”
“What’s he saying?” Joe asked.
Anna shook her head. “He says that ‘he has stolen my horse and my granddaughter.’ What does he mean? Does he mean Ira?” Tears welled in her eyes.
Joe shook his head. “Jesus!”
There was a wet, pungent scent of smoke in the air. Smoke from lantern oil. “What’s that smell?” He looked down at the man, and noticed the fresh, red blisters on his hands and bare ankles. He pointed at them. “Why does he have burns?”
Anna asked the questions. Armin answered, his voice wavering, exhausted.
“He says that his granddaughter had gone outside looking for her puppy. He had told her many times not to take the lantern. It’s old, and he didn’t trust her enough to use it safely. Well, she took it when he wasn’t looking. Apparently, she stumbled and broke it, and the oil in it was dripping on the ground, catching fire. She panicked and got confused. That’s when he came outside and found her. At first, he says, he was angry at her. But then when he saw that her dress had caught fire, he panicked and starting hitting her with the broom, not to hurt her, you understand, but to put out the flames.”
Armin spoke more.
“That’s when he says Ira came over,” Anna said, “grabbed the broom and knocked him to the ground. When he tried to get up, Ira popped him in the head with the shotgun. When he woke up, Gisela and the horse were gone.”
“Did Ira say anything to him?” Joe said.
Anna asked the question. She nodded. “He says Ira kept mumbling something about going east, going to the river. What does that mean?”
Joe’s heart leapt into his throat.
Dooby nudged him. “You don’t think he’s reliving that—”
“I don’t know what to think,” Joe said. “But this party is over.”
They shuffled everyone out save for the immediate family and Armin. Everyone was confused, asking questions, trying to get clarification. Joe and Dooby smiled and handed everyone their jackets and hats, and bid them a good night. The smarter thing to do would have been to lock them up in the house. Already speculation was flying, and who knows what stories would be spread across Grantville by morning.
“Okay, they’ve got about a forty minute head start,” Joe said. “We need to get out there and find them before the law does.”
“We can’t do this alone, Joe,” Dooby said. “We don’t know this country well enough. Shit, I don’t know it at all. And I can’t ride a horse very good.”
“Then find a goddamned bike!” Joe was sorry he’d snapped, but this was no time for caution. Their friend was in trouble, and by God, they needed to find him before Preston Richards’ office did, or some unsuspecting German who found it odd for a little girl to be traveling with one of those strange up-timers. A question would be asked, the wrong answer given. And someone’s head would be blown off.
Joe pointed toward the east. “What river lies in that direction?”
Anna looked up and said, “There are a number of little streams and creeks that way. I don’t know: the Saale, the Mulde, the Schwarza, the Elbe . . . there are a lot of them.”
The old man perked up enough to confirm that statement.
“He’ll never find what he’s looking for. He’ll stick to the roads, don’t you figure, with the horse and all? I bet he’s riding toward Rudolstadt.”
“Maybe,” Joe said, “but you know him well, Dooby. You know his skills. He’ll cut cross country if he has to.”
“I may not know a lot about this land, Joe,” Dooby said, “but I know enough to know that we aren’t in Vietnam. There’s woods in that direction, but a lot of farmland as well. Little towns all over the place. And there ain’t no river in that direction that even comes close to the Mekong in size. He’s gonna figure it out soon enough and stop.”
Joe listened to Dooby’s words. True enough, he supposed, but perhaps that pot in his buddy’s pocket was a little too potent, had killed a few too many brain cells. They weren’t dealing with a rookie here, a novice with no understanding of topography. Whatever was going on in Ira’s mind, Joe was certain that his skills as a tracker, as a hunter, were intact. Dooby had no experience with mental illness. Joe did. His aunt had had Alzheimer’s, and one of his Tennessee cousins had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. Even in such a mind as that, focus and purpose were still possible.
“No, Dooby,” he said, looking in the direction Ira had fled and feeling his heart jump into his throat again, “he’ll keep moving east, and he’ll find a river to take that girl to . . . or die trying.”
They were moving north-northeast by road. The way was difficult. The light of the moon faint. The various little lights from houses too distant and obscured by the patches of forest along the route to make clear their path. There was something odd and unfamiliar with the terrain they were passing; it certainly was not the jungles he remembered, but that did not matter right now. What mattered was the girl in front of him, wedged between himself and the saddle horn, sobbing from the pain in her legs.
The flames had scorched her tender skin, had burned off about half her skirt before he had been able to put it out. And that old man, that stupid old man, beating her senseless with a broom, which had caught fire as well and served to spread it even more. Didn’t he know you couldn’t put out napalm with a broom? How stupid could you get? It had taken Ira dirt and mud and lots of smothering with his hands to finally put it out. The girl was a mess, and now his hands were burnt as well, and the reins of the horse weren’t helping matters.
They weren’t going in the right direction. Perhaps if they kept moving up this road, it might angle east and put them on the right path. The best solution was to ditch the horse and cut across the fields. But there were too many houses and, for that matter, too many fields to move sightless. That was odd, but they could not afford to be seen right now. They were being chased. He was certain of it. Probably a whole enemy platoon was after him, maybe not a mile behind. No. They had to keep to the road until they reached a good patch of woods.
“Don’t worry about a thing, sweetheart,” he whispered to the girl. “The river will save you.”
Another few miles and he found some woods. How dense and how far they reached across the way he did not know, but it was the biggest patch yet and even if they did not get very far through it, it was best to get off the road now.
He pulled the reins and steadied the horse. It was an older mare and not very suited to long distance running. Much longer and it would have collapsed anyway. Ira secured his right foot in the stirrup and got down. He pulled the shotgun out from under the saddle, then helped the girl down. She practically fell into his arms.
Through the dark he heard wagon wheels rolling towards them. Shit! He hoisted the girl over his shoulder, secured the shotgun and tried to give the mare a slap on the rump. The horse trotted a couple feet into the road and stopped to nibble on a few blades of grass.
Ira left it alone and headed to the woods. Behind a large tree he stopped, put the girl down and fell to his knees. The wagon rolled into view.
It had two, maybe three, passengers. It was hard to tell in the dark, but something small moved in the back of the wagon. Two passengers sat at the front. The driver mumbled something and stopped the wagon alongside the horse. The driver got out and said something again to the horse, grabbed its reins and rubbed its neck.
Ira shook his head. This was too much. To leave the horse alive, and for that matter, to leave those in the wagon alive, was a sure death sentence for him and the girl. Most assuredly they would continue down the road, run into their pursuers, and spill the beans. No, they had to die. All of them, including the horse.
Ira rose up and pumped the shotgun once, aimed it at the person consoling the horse, and placed his finger on the trigger.
Small hands covered his eyes.
The weight of the girl on his back startled him, and he lowered the barrel. Damned if he didn’t almost put the slug right in the ground, but he pulled his finger away just in time. The girl was stronger than he imagined, digging her fingers into his eyes as if she were a cat. He could feel the sting of her fingernails digging into the skin below his left eye. It was all he could do to push her away.
“No,” she whispered as she fell back to the ground. “No. Don’t shoot!”
She could speak English, although her accent was strange. He glared at her, and her face was a mixture of sweat, dirt and salty tears. She was terrified. Rightfully so, he admitted. But she had strength in her face as well, a toughness and defiance that belied her age and size. Despite his anger, Ira found himself smiling. He had seen that same spirit, that same defiance, in another girl’s face not long ago. What was her name?
The girl’s little stunt gave the wagon driver time to climb back in and lead the horse away. Ira listened as they disappeared in the darkness. He huffed. Perhaps the girl was right. He only had two slugs, and in this darkness, he’d likely miss anyway. And Lord knows what else they might come across in these woods.
“Okay, girl,” he said, “let’s go.”
She resisted, but she wasn’t quite strong enough to keep him from pulling her up and getting her situated across his shoulder. She yelped in pain as he straightened up. He moved his right hand away quickly; it had fallen on the spot where the flames had done the most damage. Those burns were severe. Her skin was really tender and blistered there. “I’m sorry,” he said, fixing his hold and slowly moving further into the woods. “We need to get you to the river soon, get you to the water and clean you up. You need better clothing too. And I don’t know about you, but I’m starving. Don’t you worry about a thing, young lady,” he said, as they disappeared into the dark forest. “You’re in my country now.”
By the next morning, Preston Richards’ office knew all about it. The old grandfather, Armin, wasn’t about to be kept from alerting the authorities, and rightfully so. His granddaughter was missing, injured, and Lord knows what else had happened to her. She was in the hands of a madman, crazy, armed and dangerous. Anna and Deann went to Richards’ office and filed an official missing person’s report, told them everything about Ira’s recent Alzheimer’s diagnosis, and pleading with them to use caution. “My daddy is sick,” Deann explained. “He doesn’t know what he’s doing. Please find him, but please use discretion.” Armin was having none of that. He was forming a hit squad of old friends and acquaintances before an officer intervened and calmed frayed nerves. He even threatened to clap Armin in irons if he didn’t pipe down and let the real police handle the matter. It was a mess.
In the meantime, Joe borrowed a horse and had gone looking up the Rudolstadt road, but the way was dark and Dooby was right: They just didn’t know where to begin, what paths to take, what fork in the road to turn down, who to interview. Joe was uncomfortable going up to people’s houses in the middle of the night looking like some up-time devil in Asian jungle camouflage. And he didn’t know the language very well. Say the wrong thing and he’d get his own head blown off. He went about six miles up the road, called out occasionally for Ira and the girl, tracked a few smaller paths, and even walked about a mile into a patch of woods that looked thick enough to be a good hiding place for fugitives. Nothing. At the sign of first light, he turned back to Grantville.
Dooby had stayed behind to help the police operator send messages to all the towns with radio contact, giving a full description of Ira and the young girl. They were being as thorough as possible, sending messages throughout all of Grantville and to all USE towns within range. It was a good cautionary measure certainly, but a waste of time. Ira wasn’t moving north or west or south. He was moving east. The best plan of attack was to search an area as far north as Rudolstadt on down to Saalfeld. Richards’ office was planning such a search, but their resources were limited. Joe knew that if this matter didn’t come to a close soon, they’d wind up having to deputize some of Armin’s Germans, and it’d wind up being a manhunt like the one that tracked down John Wilkes Booth. If it came to that, someone would assuredly get hurt . . . or killed.
As Joe passed back into Grantville, Dooby came riding up on an old three-wheeler, waving a red and black bandana like some mad hippie.
“What is it?” Joe asked.
Dooby took a second to catch his breath, then said, “They’ve found the horse.”
Back at Richards’ office, Armin stood outside stroking the neck of his old mare, a semi-relieved smile on his lips. Next to the horse was a young German couple sitting in their wagon, being questioned by the officers. Joe waited until the questions stopped then turned to Anna.
“This family found it about eight miles or so up the Rudolstadt road,” she said, “standing right in the middle, nibbling grass. They stopped and checked her out. Then the father,” she pointed to the man sitting on the buckboard, “heard a loud clicking sound and a movement in the woods. He got scared, jumped back in the wagon and headed out again. He didn’t realize that he still held the reins of the horse until they were down the road a ways. He thought about taking it back, but decided instead to bring it here and report the matter.”
Joe nodded. “Can he show us where he found the horse?”
They made arrangements with the police for the search. There weren’t enough officers to cover the entire swath of countryside that Ira could be moving through, so they decided on forming three teams, two officers each, with Joe and Dooby deputized to form a fourth. Each team would be dispatched at modest intervals up the Rudolstadt road, with Joe and Dooby being dropped off where the horse had been found.
To coordinate their movements, each team was given one HT handheld radio with two battery packs that could be belted at the waist. The office also had one portable j-pole antenna made of copper tubing that could be broken down and carried in a backpack. It would be necessary to radio back to Grantville to report progress and to receive any additional orders; the antenna would come in handy. It was hoped that by the end of the day the matter would be resolved, and thus there would be no need for extensive radio contact. Joe hoped that were the case. He was exhausted. He hadn’t slept all night. I’m getting too old for this shit, he thought, as he accepted the backpack and adjusted the straps to fit comfortably.
Guns were distributed, but Joe and Dooby refused. “He’s our friend,” Dooby said, waving them off. “I don’t give a damn how dangerous he may be in this state. I won’t point a gun at Ira Lee Whitney.”
The matter concluded, Joe and Dooby climbed into the back of the wagon with the couple’s young son. As they rolled out, the boy smiled and waved at them, quite taken by the fancy and colorful patterns on their clothing. Joe waved back, but the thought of the clicking sound that the boy’s father had heard, troubled him. Surely that was Ira pumping the action on his shotgun, but he had not fired. Thank God for that, Joe thought, taking off his cap and handing it over to the boy to try on. But why? Why hadn’t he fired? What had kept him from killing this family?
Gisela Seiler lay stiff beneath the straw. The crazy man had told her to do so. He had found them a safe and dry barn loft to sleep in for the night, and had instructed her to be quiet with a shaking finger against her dried lips. She wanted to yell out, to scream, to do something to make this all go away. But she was too afraid of him, too afraid to speak, too afraid to move. She shouldn’t be, she realized. This was Herr Whitney, her neighbor, the nice American man who had given her a ball to toss with her puppy, the one whose wife always bought Gisela’s eggs. They were nice people. So why had Herr Whitney taken her from her grandfather?
Perhaps he thought Grandpa was beating her with the broom, but Gisela knew that wasn’t true. Not entirely true anyway. He was mad at her, no doubt about that, and he would on occasion give her a spanking or a smack against the head when she disobeyed, but he was just trying to put out the flame. She could tell when Grandpa was hitting her out of anger, and hitting her out of fear. His eyes had shown fear, and she had felt it too. She had disobeyed, gone out with the lantern and had made a big mess of it. Then Herr Whitney had appeared and popped grandpa in the head with that strange up-time gun, and then grabbed her and stolen their horse. Gisela tried to stop him, tried beating him against the back as he whisked her away, but she was terrified and in pain from the burns and her words were slurred and German, and Herr Whitney could not understand any of it. Or perhaps he did not hear them for his eyes flashed terror as well, she noticed, but a different kind of terror. A far off, dreamy kind of terror, the kind she would often feel when mother or father told her stories of evil monsters in the woods. Through the entire ordeal, all Herr Whitney could say was, “I’ll save you. I’ll save you. I’ll take you to the river . . . the river.” What river was he talking about? Gisela did not know, but something was terribly wrong with her neighbor. He was not himself.
She did not ask him what was wrong, however. Instead, she did as she was told and lay still and quiet beneath the straw. Soon, she fell asleep.
It was a dreamless sleep but a deep and comforting one, and when she awoke, the straw had been removed from her legs and they had been bandaged with strips of soft, dark cloth. Her burns still stung, but under the fabric they felt better.
Beside her lay boy’s clothing, a pair of folded-up breeches and a dull-white shirt. Atop those rested a small scratch of bread and a jug of water. Gisela’s stomach growled and she reached for the bread.
“Eat all you want,” came Herr Whitney’s voice from across the loft. He was sitting with his legs over the edge, the big up-time weapon across his lap. “And put on those new clothes if you like. I’m sorry I couldn’t find you a dress, but it’s the best I could do. Don’t worry . . . I promise I won’t look.”
She wolfed down the bread and drank the water in one gulp. Then she wriggled out of her dress and tossed it aside. It was smelly and dirty and all burned up. She was glad to be out of it, but boy’s clothing? She guessed it wasn’t so bad. She had always wanted to try on “pants” as they were called by the Americans; up-time girls wore them. Why not her? Grandpa didn’t like that idea, thought it improper, but she couldn’t keep on a messed-up dress, and she couldn’t go around without anything on. So she put on the clothes quickly and tied a knot at her waist so the roomy pants would not slip off. Then she rolled up the bottoms twice before she could see her shoes. Her shoes were scorched and black, but Herr Whitney had not found her any new ones to wear.
Cautiously, she walked over to the edge of the loft. “I—I want to go home.” The words escaped her mouth before she realized she’d said them.
Herr Whitney shook his head. “We’re going to the river.”
“I don’t live by a river,” she said, “I live in Grantville with my grandpa. You live next door to me. I want to go home!”
Herr Whitney stood up and pointed to his left. “We’re going that way, to the river. We can’t go back. They’re chasing us.”
“Who?” Gisela asked.
Herr Whitney turned to face her. That dreamy, confused look crossed his eyes again. “The gooks!”
Joe and Dooby traipsed through the woods for about three miles before they came across a Gemeinde with a few sturdy barns that a fugitive might use for hiding. They asked every Bauer they could find if they had seen or heard anything the night before, showed pictures of Ira and described little Gisela as best they could. No one had seen or heard anything, and some were angry that two up-timers were passing across their land without permission. It nearly came to blows between Dooby and a particularly angry fellow who threatened to skewer the up-timer with a fork if he didn’t move on. They showed their police badges and explained the situation, but some did not care. Neither did Joe. Let them get mad all they want, he thought. They would not be intimidated off their search. If they didn’t keep going, someone as skillful as Ira would give them the slip. They had to press on, and if that meant crossing private property, violating whatever laws of trespass there were, so be it. If Ira was moving by woods and fields, they had to as well. It was the only way.
They were about to head out again when they were flagged down by a woman frantically trying to get their attention by waving some rag in the air.
“She says that some of her son’s clothing is missing,” Dooby translated, “a pair of breeches and a shirt. She also says a jug of water is missing from her kitchen. And she found this in the loft of her barn.” Dooby took the rag from the woman’s hand and unfolded it.
It was a small blue dress, all dirty and disheveled, and burnt black in many places.
“Son of a bitch!” Joe said, shaking his head and looking down the road. “They were just here.”
Gisela certainly did not want to meet a gook, especially the way Herr Whitney described it. She had never heard of or seen such a terrifying beast, and if something like this was after them, then they were right to keep moving towards the river.
Herr Whitney offered to carry her again, but after awhile Gisela could tell that she was too heavy for him. He tired quickly and started breathing heavily, so she got down and walked most of the way, keeping close and watching behind them in case a gook jumped out. They would stop every now and then to rest and try to find some water. They came across a stream and drank greedily. Gisela asked Herr Whitney if this was the “river” he was looking for, but he shook his head and said, “No, this is not the one we’re looking for.” Then he would scratch his head and squint his eyes as if he were confused about something. “I don’t understand,” he said, “we should have gotten there by now. It’s a very big river.” He looked down at her. “How are your legs?”
She nodded. “They still hurt a little.”
“Well, don’t you worry. The medical supplies on my PCF will fix you up right good.”
“What’s a PCF?” she asked.
“It means Patrol Craft Fast,” he said. “It’s a swift-boat.”
He went prattling on about what a swift boat was, but Gisela did not listen. These up-timers and their strange abbreviations: PCF, USMC, ASAP, OMG! The kids especially liked using them, and Gisela just couldn’t understand any of it. English was a difficult language anyway, although she had picked it up pretty quickly once the Americans had arrived. She had been very young then, too young to understand much of anything. But what she did understand was that the killing had stopped, and that her life in Grantville was much better than before. It was too bad that the Americans had not arrived a few months earlier when her mother and father were still alive.
“Why are you crying?” Herr Whitney asked her. “Are your legs hurting badly again?”
Gisela wiped a tear from her cheek and shook her head. “No. I miss Samson.”
They stopped, and Herr Whitney knelt down and brushed a strand of hair out of her eyes. “You’ll see your puppy again.”
He gave her a little hug. She stiffened and did not hug him back. He smelled and his face was scruffy. But somehow his little pats on her back felt comforting, soothing her and making her bend her head to his shoulder and letting it rest there for a moment. She closed her eyes.
Then he stiffened and looked straight behind them, toward the field that they had just crossed.
“What is it?” she asked. “Gooks?”
“Yes,” he said, grabbing her hand. “They’re close. Come on!”
They ran as fast as they could through another field, over a grassy hill, across a stone fence, and into a small farming village that reminded Gisela of her old home.
They don’t look like gooks, Gisela thought as she stared at them through the crack in the wall.
There were two of them, and they looked like Herr Whitney, dirty and disheveled, exhausted from the looks on their faces. They wore the same kind of clothing as he did, and they spoke English. She was about to point this out, but the look in Herr Whitney’s eyes closed her mouth. He was terrified, breathing fast and anxious, with his hand over the young boy’s mouth. The young boy was afraid as well, especially with the shotgun pointed at his chest. Gisela shook her head and grabbed the barrel. Herr Whitney jumped but let her push the gun away so that it no longer threatened their captive.
It took a long time for the men to leave the house. They lingered, asked a lot of questions, showed the mother pictures, and Gisela thought that one of the men was describing her, although she could not quite make out the words with the wall between them. For a moment, she thought about jumping up and saying, “Here I am!” But what would happen to the boy? What would happen to Herr Whitney? If these people were as bad as he said, would they kill him? They did not look like they had any weapons. But if Herr Whitney were dead, how would she ever get back home to Samson? He had promised her that she would see her puppy again, and she would “skin him alive,” as the Americans were fond of saying, if he broke his promise.
The men finally left, and Herr Whitney led them out into the living room. The boy ran to his parents. The father yelled at them to get out, but Herr Whitney shook his head. “No, we need some food, and the girl needs fresh bandages for her legs.”
Gisela poked him with an elbow. “You should say you’re sorry for scaring their son. And you should say please if you ask them for something.”
Her words annoyed him, she could tell. Herr Whitney rubbed his wet forehead and squinted as if he were deeply considering her words. He sighed. “Fine! I’m sorry for scaring your son. Now . . . please give us some food and help the girl!”
Thirty minutes later, they were out the door, a nice sack of fresh food, a fresh wine skin, new dressings for her legs, a small quilt, and a knife that Herr Whitney tucked into his boot when they weren’t looking. She thought they would continue in the same direction, but they turned south. “They’re going that way,” he said, pointing for her to see. “I know how they think. They’ll keep moving that way, assuming we will keep doing the same, but I’m smarter than they are. We’ll go this way for a while, then turn east again.”
So that is what they did, walking another few miles, then stopping for some food and water. Gisela’s feet hurt, and she saw that Herr Whitney was beginning to limp. The day had been long, the sun was falling. It was time to stop.
“I have to pee,” she said.
Herr Whitney did not seem to understand what she said, but when she made a motion to squat, he said, “Okay, let’s get off the path here, and you can go behind that bush.”
By this time, they had been walking up a road that wound through a patchwork of woods and fields. When they came upon a Gemeinde, they would turn left or right, head across the field or through the woods to keep out of sight. Now, Gisela untied the rope at her waist, held the pants up until she was behind the bush, then squat down to do her business.
She was out of Herr Whitney’s sight completely. She could not see him at all. Where was he standing? She wondered. If she ran now, could she run far enough to get away? Her heart beat fast. She adjusted her squat, moving a little further away from where she thought he stood. She finished and tied up her pants quickly. She was on the edge of her toes, trying to decide what to do next. Run, or go back to Herr Whitney? What to do . . .
Then she heard a rustle to her right, beneath decayed leaves and brambles. Then tiny grunting sounds, staccato, high-pitched and sweet. She fell to her knees and crawled over to where the sounds were coming. She worked her hands carefully through the brambles and spread them aside.
Before her, digging through the soft ground, were three tiny piglets, their thin brown hair taut and sharp on their lean backs. They were so cute, almost the same size as Samson.
She put her hand out. “Hello, sweeties,” she said, cooing at them like they were babies. “Come here. Come . . . ”
Her voice spooked them and they ran down the gully. Gisela gave chase.
Behind her, she could hear Herr Whitney calling for her, but she did not care. They were so cute, and she was going to get them and hug them like she did her puppy. She followed, but they were fast and slippery, zigging this way and that, just out of her reach. Then they disappeared behind a thick line of underbrush. She called for them, but they did not come back.
Where am I? She did not know. The woods were very dense and she could not see very far in front of her. “Herr Whitney?” She yelled, but he did not respond.
The brush where the piglets had disappeared began to shake. Gisela smiled and stepped forward, but instead of the baby pigs, a larger one emerged, almost as tall she, all tusk and slobber foaming at the mouth. Gisela screamed, turned and ran.
The beast followed, squealing angrily, digging up dirt with each step. She ran as fast as she could, faster than she had ever run before, but she could not get away. The sow came closer and closer. Gisela looked back to see how close she was and caught her foot on a root.
Down she went, scraping her elbow and the left side of her chest. She clawed forward until she came to rest against the trunk of a large oak. She turned and watched as the boar closed in, squealing and pitching foam from its raging maw.
She closed her eyes and prayed.
The echo of the up-time gun shook her body, shook the ground, shook the tree she was laying against. But the boar stopped, pitched into the air from the impact of the slug and fell dead at her feet. It was many minutes before she found the courage to open her eyes.
When she did, she saw Herr Whitney crouched beside the dead boar, the warm shotgun resting in his arms. He seemed impressed. “Not bad,” he said, nodding his approval. “But the next time you want to go boar hunting, you let me know, okay?”
Gisela jumped to her feet, stepped over the dead boar, and threw herself into his arms.
Ira watched her across the firelight, happy that she was safe. The boar had scared her half to death, and if he hadn’t come up that slope between those two trees and fired true, she would have been gored for sure. She might have even died. The thought of it was terrible. He tried putting it out of his mind. He had a headache anyway. Things were not going the way he had planned. There was too much that didn’t make sense, but he couldn’t put it together, couldn’t fit the pieces comfortably in place like a puzzle. Nothing fit right: the land, the weather, the trees, the ground. Nothing. He shook his head, rubbed sweat from his brow, and leaned over and pulled a strip of greasy meat from the boar’s well-cooked haunch.
It was tough, difficult to chew, but it was a sight better than what they had gotten from the farmhouse, and twice as filling. The girl could be content to nibble on the tiny bits of bread and stale cheese in the package, but Ira needed more. He had offered some of the boar to her, had even offered to cut it up into small pieces using the knife he had stolen, but she just shook her head and huddled by the fire, nibbling like a mouse on the bread, her eyes lost somewhere in the flames. What was the name of her puppy? He couldn’t remember. Perhaps that’s what she was thinking about; or, perhaps she was thinking about how the boar came at her, its tusks enraged and furious. The girl had cried for quite some time after the ordeal, and when Ira asked her why, she said that she was upset that the little piglets lost their mother. She wanted to try to find them, but they were gone, and Ira wasn’t about to let her out of his sight again.
She laid her head down on the blanket and curled her legs up to her chest. She closed her eyes and began to hum a song. Through the crackling of the flames and the noises of the forest night, he had difficulty following it. It wasn’t something he recognized, but it was pleasant, a nice little jingle that swayed her back and forth, putting her into much needed rest. Ira listened for a while and felt the weight of sleep tingle his spine. He wanted to sleep, needed it, but his mind was too wild right now, too fixed on figuring everything out, trying to understand why they hadn’t gotten to the river yet. It couldn’t be that much further east; it just couldn’t be.
He straightened up and moved closer to the fire. “What’s that you’re singing?” he asked.
She didn’t hear him at first. He asked again, and she jumped a little. Then she opened her eyes and said, “It is a lullaby mama used to sing to me.”
“Is your mother dead?”
She nodded. “Yes, and my father too.”
“How did they die?”
She shook her head. “Grandpa says they were killed by Tilly’s men, but I didn’t see anything. I was hiding. I heard it, though.”
“I’m sorry about that.”
She put on a brave face and went back to humming, but he could see the pain in her eyes. He understood how she felt. Everyone had lost someone in this war.
“You like singing?” Ira said, changing the subject. “You should hear me sing. I was a member of my high school glee club. I used to get teased about it, but I liked it. Want to hear me sing?”
That perked her interest. She pulled herself up, smiled and nodded.
Ira cleared his throat, did a few “me-me-me-me’s” to get ready. She giggled. Ira winked at her and began . . .
“It’s been a hard day’s night, and I’ve been working like a dog, it’s been a hard day’s night, I should be sleeping . . . ”
He stopped. The look on her face was horrific. “What? You don’t like that song?”
She shook her head, a very taut and perplexed expression on her face as if she had just bitten a lemon.
“Well, The Beatles aren’t for everyone. Okay . . . how about this one . . . ?
“Knights in white satin, never reaching the end . . . ”
That horrible expression returned, but Ira could see that she was about to burst into laughter. “Don’t you like my singing?”
She finally erupted and shook her head.
Ira put up his hands. “Okay, okay. Here’s one you will like. My father taught it to me. He learned it in World War Two when he was stationed in Belgium. Now, it’s a little bawdy. It’s not a song for children really, but I’ll keep it clean for you.”
“What does ‘bawdy’ mean?”
“It means . . . it means . . . never you mind what it means. You just listen.”
Ira cleared his throat again then tugged his boots off, removed his smelly socks and rolled up his pants to expose his calves. He straightened and, like a good Irish folk dancer, put his fists on his hips and began to hop around the fire.
“In Amsterdam there lives a maid
Mark you well what I say!
In Amsterdam there lives a maid,
And this fair maid my trust betrayed.
I’ll go no more a rovin’ with you fair maid.
A rovin’, A rovin’, since rovin’s been my ru-i-in,
I’ll go no more a rovin’, with you fair maid . . . “
He sang and sang and sang, and in time, the girl sang and danced with him, a jewel of a smile on her face, her eyes no longer fixed on the fire, but on her partner, as they locked hands and danced and sang and laughed far into the cool, dark night, forgetting the world and their troubles for a short while.
Joe had heard the shot, a muffled boom far off to their left. It dissipated quickly, and he could not tell for sure what it had come from. It did not sound like any down-time weapon, but perhaps distance was confusing him. The urge to turn and go in that direction had been strong, but what if it was nothing and they were lured off the right path? Let Richards’ officers in that general area investigate it, he thought, leaning against a tree. He was too exhausted to go any further for the day.
Before the sun set, Dooby climbed the tallest hill they could find to use the j-pole and radio back to Grantville. Being so far from town, he had to hold the antenna above his head and move it back and forth and side to side to find a hot spot where he could get a usable signal from the repeater. Once accomplished, the office reported that the word was getting out: reports from many places, people calling in with potential leads, descriptions that seemed to match Ira, the girl, etc. Richards’ office was having the local authority in those places check them all, but so far, nothing. Of course there was nothing. Ira was in this area, probably so close that you could hit him with a rock. Oh, I wish it were so, Joe said as they climbed off the hill. I want my friend back.
Would he ever get his friend back? Joe did not know the answer to that.
They paid a Bauer some money, and he allowed them to stay in his barn. It was a fitful sleep, but any sleep was useful. Joe tossed and turned until Dooby offered him a hit from his smoke. He accepted it reluctantly; he wanted to keep his mind sharp, but the cool, pungent aroma of the pot calmed his nerves and lightened his mood just enough to give him peace. He finished it, stamped out the butt, closed his eyes, and slept like a stone.
They were woken in the morning by horses.
To Joe’s groggy mind, it sounded like a whole regiment, and when he got up and came out into the hazy morning light, he saw four horsemen galloping into the middle of the Gemeinde, four down-timers, led by an old man on a mare Joe had seen before.
“Godammit, Armin!” Joe said, putting his hands up and stopping the riders from going any further. “What the hell are you doing here?”
The men at Armin’s side were younger than he was, stronger, armed with rifles on their backs, pistols at their sides, and two had Bowie knives strapped to their legs.
Armin climbed down from his horse and faced Joe. He was a little shorter but his nostrils flared like a boar’s. “You have no right to tell me what to do, Tillman,” Armin said in heavily accented English. “It’s my granddaughter. I will find her myself.”
“Richards is going to throw you in jail, Armin,” Joe said. “I’m serious. You come out here with an armed posse and someone gets hurt, they’re not going to show you any mercy, no matter what the circumstances are.”
“Please,” Armin said, grabbing Joe’s collar and tugging him close. The old man’s anger was now replaced with fear and desperation as his coal-dark eyes blinked rapidly. “We are not here to hurt anyone. I just want my granddaughter back. She’s . . . she’s all I have left.”
Joe sighed. He certainly was in no position physically to do anything about it. He could crow until he was blue in the face, and these men could simply ignore him and push on with no delay. He could get Dooby to radio back and warn them of this, but still, there would be little they could do being so far out from Grantville. He looked at Armin’s men again. The best he could do was to try to control the matter.
“Okay,” he said. “Have it your way, but we’re coming with you. And I think it’s best if we split up.” He looked at Dooby. “Jim, why don’t you and Armin and that fellow there keep on in the direction we’ve been headed. I’ll take these two guys here, and we’ll go that way.” He pointed in the direction of the blast he had heard the night before. “We’ll go about three, four miles and then turn east. That should give us sufficient coverage.”
“What about the radio?” Dooby asked.
“You keep it,” Joe said, climbing behind one of the riders. “You’re likely on the right path. We’ll loop around and try to meet up with you down the road.”
“And what if you find them?”
What if? That was a lovely thought. To see their friend again, alive and in good shape, to smile and have a beer, a toke, share simple conversation, like turning the clock back or waking up from a dream. A lovely thought. What if?
“Well,” he said, preparing himself for the ride. “If I find them, I’ll bring them home.”
“Where the hell is the damned river?”
Gisela could hear the agitation in Herr Whitney’s voice, could see the frustration in his eyes. As they walked, he kept looking at her, checking her legs. But the burns were just fine. They did not hurt anymore, and they were healing well. At least most of them. One still itched slightly, but it too was no longer a red welt. Herr Whitney seemed confused about that, rubbed his forehead roughly. She had learned at an early age that it was dangerous to talk to someone, especially a man, when he looked liked that. She had gotten more than her fair share of smacks for speaking out of turn.
“Maybe we should ask someone,” she said, bracing herself for a blow.
It did not come. Instead, Herr Whitney sighed deeply, shook his head, and said, “No, too dangerous. We can’t be seen.”
“But we’re lost. I promise I won’t say anything if you ask.”
“We’re not lost. I know exactly where we’re at. ”
Clearly, that was not true or he wouldn’t be asking about the river.
And what river? Gisela wondered. She wondered if Herr Whitney even knew, even cared. She had no idea what river either; she did not recall ever being this far east before. Grandpa didn’t travel much and would never have let her go so far on her own. This is the farthest she remembered ever traveling.
Eventually, he gave in. A line of wagons came up the road. Gisela moved to hide as usual, but Herr Whitney stood there, hugging his shotgun and waiting. Three wagons pulled up, filled with families. Herr Whitney tried to speak to them in broken Amideutsch, but the conversation was going nowhere, and she could see him grow annoyed as he stumbled over his words. She broke in and finished the conversation.
“He says there’s a river that way, about twenty miles.”
She nodded. “Can we get there by walking?”
Herr Whitney didn’t answer, but instead thanked the people and stepped aside. Gisela saw them look at her strangely as they rolled away. What was a girl in boy’s clothes doing traveling with an up-timer? She could see that they were trying to figure it out, but they dared not act on any suspicions. One look at that up-time gun cured them of any action. All she needed to do was scream, to blurt out that she was being held against her will, and it would all be over. But she had made a promise not to speak, and she would keep her promise. Herr Whitney deserved that much for saving her from the boar.
A few miles more walking and they had had enough. They could not go any further. So they stopped and rested under a tree until another person came along. This time, Herr Whitney didn’t greet him with a smile. He pointed the gun right at the traveler’s head and did not mince words.
“Get off! Now!”
The next several miles were rough in the saddle, but Gisela was glad to be sitting. She was tired, hungry, thirsty. The food they had gotten from that family was almost out, and Herr Whitney had packed only a small portion of meat from the boar. She dozed a little as they rode, and before she realized, the sun was going down. She opened her eyes and looked about. Nothing looked right. Nothing was familiar.
“Where are we?” she asked as they settled into a trot.
“I don’t know. There’s a town over there. Do you know it?”
Gisela looked, but shook her head. “I’m hungry, Herr Whitney, and tired. Can we stop for the night?”
“But the river is so close,” he said, as if he were a child being rebuked by a parent. “We can’t stop now.”
“I have to pee.”
“Jesus Christ, girl! You have the smallest bladder.” They trundled into town. He stopped the horse beside a well. He got off and helped her down. “Looks like an outhouse over there. You go use it, and I’ll try to draw some water. Quickly now, and don’t worry. I’ll keep an eye out.”
She hiked her breeches up and ran to the outhouse. It stunk badly, but she wriggled her nose and tried to think of pleasant things: her bed at home, her soft clothes, her puppy, her grandfather’s face. Well, that last thing wasn’t always so pleasant, but she did miss him. Will I ever see him again? Herr Whitney had promised to get her home safe. Could he keep that promise? I should run, she thought. Run as fast as I can.
She entered the outhouse, sat down and did her business. She sighed with relief. It was nice sitting on something other than the hard ground or a horse. Her bottom hurt, but she adjusted herself and closed her eyes.
She heard voices. She finished quickly, fixed her breeches and got up. She peered through the slats.
Three horsemen stood in front of Herr Whitney. He had the shotgun up and pointed toward a man who looked just like him, wearing very similar soldier clothing. They climbed from their horses slowly, the soldier man putting up his hands in peace. The other two stood more rigidly but behind the other, as if he were in charge. She squinted to make out their faces, but the dim light made it hard. They looked familiar, perhaps friends of grandpa. He caroused sometimes with a younger group, but she could not say for sure. They were certainly German.
She strained to hear their words.
“Get back!” Herr Whitney said to the man, keeping his shotgun trained on his chest.
The man replied in perfect English. “Ira, it’s me. Joe. Your friend.”
“Joe? What the hell you doing here, man?”
“Saving your miserable life is what. What the hell are you doing?”
“Going to the river.”
The man shook his head. “This isn’t Vietnam, dammit! It’s Germany. Look around. Does any of it look like jungle? Think about it, Ira. You stole that little girl. You knocked her grandfather out and kidnapped her. You can’t do that, man. Where is she?”
It looked as if Herr Whitney was about to tell him. He shot a glance at the outhouse but said nothing. “This is a trick, man. You’re trying to trick me. You gooks are all alike.”
“I’m not a gook. I’m Joe Tillman, your friend. Please, Ira. Listen to me. You’re sick. You don’t know what you’re doing. Let me help you. Please.”
That last plea seemed to calm him. Slowly, he lowered the shotgun. His friend stepped forward and put his hand on Herr Whitney’s shoulder. He started to speak, but before he could get a word out, one of the men behind him drew a pistol and smashed it against his head, knocking him down and out. Herr Whitney tried to react, tried raising his gun again, but the other man grabbed it, knocked it from his hands, and drove his elbow into his face.
Blood sprayed from Herr Whitney’s nose as he went down. He tried fighting back, but they were on him in force, kicking and punching, focusing on his face and chest. Beating and beating, like a flail, over and over until Gisela could see that he could not easily draw breath.
I have to do something! But what? What could a little girl do? If she went out there, they might very well beat her up too. She had seen men being beaten, had heard the screams of her father as soldiers beat him to death. She had done nothing. What can I do?
She burst from the outhouse and ran toward the well. “Leave him alone!” she said, but the men did not hear her, or perhaps did not care. “Leave my friend alone!”
She searched the ground and found the shotgun. She picked it up and put the butt to her shoulder. It was so heavy, so long, awkward and difficult to hold. She had never fired a gun before, but she had seen it done. She wrapped her arm around it and put her finger on the trigger.
They did not listen.
“I’m warning you. Stop, stop or I’ll—”
The gun went off. Her finger had squeezed in fear before she realized what she had done. The blast threw her back, and she screamed as the pain of the butt strike ran through her arm and shoulder. She hit the ground hard and lay there until the ringing in her ears faded away.
When she looked up, one of the men lay face down on the ground, his arm and shoulder a bloody mess. Herr Whitney’s friend was still knocked cold. The other man was gone.
But Herr Whitney lay silent and still. She crawled to him, her arm and shoulder hurting but thankfully not broken. She cried as she drew near. His face was beaten badly, blood running down cuts on his cheeks and forehead. His mouth was covered in blood, and his eyes were already puffing over.
But he groaned, and her heart delighted. It was the most beautiful thing she had ever heard. It meant that he was alive, and she had saved him.
“Come on,” she said, pulling on his arm. “We have to get to the river.”
He moved slowly but he did move, and together they found one of the horses and climbed in the saddle. By this time, the townspeople had appeared and were crowding around. Some tried to help, but Gisela did not let them. She yanked the reins out of a man’s hands, turned the horse to the east, and kicked him into flight.
Ira could barely see through the drying blood filling his eyes. His head ached so bad that it was all he could do to stay in the saddle, the cuts across his face puffing his cheeks like a fat Buddha. The reins in his hands felt like hundred pound weights. He wanted to fall, to slip to the ground and sleep, sleep beneath some pleasant tree waving in a cool West Virginia breeze. Just like old times . . . old times . . .
The beating did help him in one way: the real world came back to him like a blast of searing white light. He was not in Vietnam—how could he ever imagine that he was?—and the girl riding in front of him was not Asian, but the sweet child that lived next door to him in Grantville. Gisela something. Her exact name did not matter really, but she was not the girl he thought she was. And how foolish had he been? How reckless and dangerous? If he had the strength, he’d turn the horse around and go back to those men. He’d confess his crimes and let them beat him to death if it would end the terrible events that he had put in motion. But he was not in charge anymore. She was, the girl in front of him, her fists grasping the horse’s mane to keep from falling from exhaustion and fear, her shoulder clearly stiff and sore from the recoil. She was in charge now. She had leveled the shotgun at his assailants. She had pumped the action, pulled the trigger, and blew that man’s arm near off. She had saved him. She was in charge.
And they were still heading east toward the river.
There was no hiding or going cautiously now. The horse barreled across the countryside at full speed as if it too were desperate to reach water. Through the darkness, they blew past houses and taverns, tiny villages where people tried stopping the horse, waving their arms in the air and reaching for the saddle. But they’d zig and zag and stay just out of reach. It was like a steeple-chase in a way, and Ira thought of those he had witnessed in West Virginia and Ohio and Pennsylvania as a child, wishing that he could participate. This was not a race that he wanted to be in. All he wanted to do was sleep, then wake up next to Anna, kiss her gently on the forehead, drink his tea, then go to work.
The horse slowed as it tried to figure out which way to go at a cross-road, and Ira slipped off the saddle. He screamed as he hit the hard ground, his fractured ribs buckling under the impact. Gisela was at his side.
“Come on,” she said, “the river is just down that path.”
“No. I can’t stand up. I’m too weak to walk far. Please, let me rest. Help me over there.”
With her help, he half crawled, half stumbled to a shed that reminded him of an old tobacco barn. But this one had a door. They entered and Gisela helped him lay against a post, and as he rested, she gathered up old slats and crates, broken barrels and a few rotten sacks of meal and put them all against the door. It was painful, slow work for her, but she did it. Small protection, he knew. Anyone who wanted could break right through, but Ira let it go. It didn’t matter anyway. They had left the shotgun behind. The only protection he had was the dull knife that he now pulled from his boot and set to his side. They were unarmed and helpless, and they had left a loud, bloody path in their flight. By morning, the whole goddamned USE army would be standing outside, waiting.
Let them come.
In the darkness, he felt her snuggle up beside him and lay her hand across his own. She placed her head against his chest, and he stroked her hair gently like he used to do to his daughter when she was young. He tried to smile but his lips were too swollen. Best thing to do was to stay quiet, close his eyes and sleep. But he couldn’t. Not yet. He had to speak, though he knew his words would be slurred and messy. He had to speak and confess his crimes.
“Do you know why we’re going to the river?” he asked her.
Ira coughed then said, “We’re going there because I killed a girl.”
She stiffened and pulled her hand away for a moment, but then put it back and let him continue.
“She wasn’t much older than you, I suspect,” he continued. “It was the early seventies. I’d just gotten to Vietnam. That’s a war that has not happened yet in this world, and I pray to God that it never does. Anyway, I was eighteen, brash, arrogant, you know how it is with young men. Perhaps you don’t, but anyway, there I was, a new soldier for the 3rd Brigade, 9th Infantry Division. A lot of our unit had already been withdrawn, but some of us remained in the country, and were given special duty to support swift boat activities in the Mekong Delta. The boats would comb the banks, hitting enemy targets with mortars, Zippo fire, and 50-caliber MGs. Then we’d work through the remains, searching and destroying, trying to get an edge. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t.
“On this one particular mission, we were further inland than usual. We’d gotten word that a large cache of guns and ammo were being stored in a village about three klicks from the river. A tiny place like the ones I’d seen before. Nothing special. It seemed abandoned, so we worked through it, finding a few things here and there, setting off the occasional grenade.
“And then they hit us out of nowhere. MGs all around, like fuc— I mean, like killer bees, you know? Bullets zipping through the air, so damn thick you dared not put up a finger. Then I heard the radio man trying to call in a strike, and I thought that if he was brave enough to do that, he must be in a pretty safe spot. So I started crawling to his position, but before I got there, he got popped in the head. It blew apart like some Halloween pumpkin . . . I’m sorry to be so graphic with you, sweetheart. I’ll tone it down.
“Anyway, I get over there, and he had only called out half the coordinate. So I grabbed his map, his tools, and got on the horn and finished it. I knew what I was doing. I had skills, man, skills beyond my age. I was a good hunter, a good tracker, and I knew how to read a map and I knew math. So, I called in the strike.
“But I screwed up. What he was trying to do was call in a strike on the location where the enemy gunfire was coming from, at least from one direction hoping to break the ambush and to spring us free. But I thought he meant the village itself.
“So I leveled the place. It went up like a candle, and when everything settled, I realized that the village wasn’t abandoned at all. People were hiding all over the place, in holes, under furniture, in a gully nearby. Everywhere was carnage, shattered rubble, and screaming. But I couldn’t save everyone, could I? No, I was just one man, and my unit was still in a desperate fight. I couldn’t save everyone, but I could save her.
“There she was, lying there beneath the burning wall of her hut. A little girl, your age, her clothes smoldering like yours had, her arms and face crisp with black soot and fire and blood, screaming in pain, reaching for something, her mother perhaps or God, I don’t know which. But she was there not a hundred feet from me. I could get to her. I could save her.
“And I tried. I scooped her up and ran and ran and ran, toward the river. What’s the saying: Save one life and you save the world entire? I’m not religious, you know, but I thought of that at the time, thinking that if I did save her, if I got her to the river, to the boats, to bandages and medicine, that she’d be all right, and so would I. By saving her, I thought, I’d save myself, at least in the eyes of God, for the terrible, terrible thing I had just done.
“But I didn’t save her. Another air strike hit the ground near me. It ripped her from my arms and threw me into a tree. A week later, I woke up in the hospital. I never saw her again, but I’m sure she died. There’s no way she could have survived the strike in her condition.
“So you see, I killed her.” His voice wavered, fighting a gout of blood and spit drooling down his chin. “I was so sure of myself. But I wasn’t strong enough, wasn’t fast enough, didn’t know the route through the jungle well enough. And she died.”
“You tried to save her,” Gisela said, rubbing the knuckles of his hand.
“Didn’t succeed, did I? Over the years I’ve thought about that moment, wondering why I survived and she didn’t. I thought to myself it’s a sign, you know, from God maybe. So I tried to be the best father, the best husband I could be. I failed in the husband gig, divorcing my first wife, and I’m not so sure of my father skills.” He chuckled at that, but the pain in his ribs locked the breath in his lungs. He settled, then said, “Deann is a good daughter, no doubt about that, and she’s done well for herself here, but we’ve had problems. There were a few years where we barely spoke to each other. Then the Ring of Fire happened, and I thought I was given a second chance. I met Anna, and God she was beautiful on that day, all in fine white and lace, beaming from head to toe. The most beautiful girl in the world. I couldn’t ask for anything more. But now . . . no more of that. I’m dying.”
Gisela stiffened at his side. “No you are not. I won’t let you die.”
Ira shook his head. “No, you don’t understand, child. I’m sick. The doctor told me so. I have a disease that eats away at my memories, makes me forget people’s names, including mine, including yours, makes me forget where I am, what I am doing. Makes me do terrible, terrible things, like beat an old man, kidnap a child, and . . . and . . . ”
“Don’t you worry about that, Herr Whitney. Tomorrow we will go down to the river. I promise.”
Ira forced a smile. “That’s okay, Gisela. We don’t have to go now. Our rovin’ days are over. You don’t need saving. Let’s just sleep awhile, and then tomorrow, we’ll head back. Okay?”
She said nothing more, and Ira stroked her head. He lay against the post and fell asleep to the soft hum of her lullaby.
When Joe came to, one of Armin’s men was bleeding out from a shotgun wound and the other had fled the scene. Good riddance, he thought as he stumbled around the town trying to find out where his horse had gotten to. He couldn’t find it. Luckily, however, Dooby arrived shortly thereafter.
Dooby and his men had opted to slowly move east-southeast, in the hope that they might meet up with Joe and his men. When they had heard the echo of a shotgun blast, they headed straight to the sound.
Joe did not wait for Armin to climb down from his horse. He grabbed the old man and threw him to the ground. “You stupid son of a bitch! Your men knocked the hell out of me and nearly killed my friend. We had him, and they fucked it up! That was your plan all along, wasn’t it? To beat him to death? That’s your solution to the problem? You idiot! I swear if Ira’s dead, I’m going to kill you!”
It took three men, including Dooby, to pull Joe off Armin. By this time, half the town had assembled, and it took a while for the matter to be brought under control. Flashing badges worked in time, but the local authority was not pleased with the situation and Joe was afraid that they would be taken under arrest. But Dooby was able to get on the radio and find another search party near enough to confirm that this roving band of armed men were working for the Grantville police. “Tell them to get in the saddle and come our way,” Joe instructed. Once that was settled and things calmed down, they headed off again, down the road where a woman said she had seen two people flee on a horse.
They spent all night searching, stopping periodically for Dooby to radio the others and update their position. Shortly after midnight, the other search party arrived, and they were a dozen strong. They also stopped to see if Ira and the girl had passed this way. It was like following a line of bread crumbs. Everyone had a story. The time of sneaking around, hiding in the woods, was over. Joe didn’t like it. That meant they were desperate, hurt, and God knows what else. When he thought of it, all he wanted to do was bury an ax into Armin’s head. “Stupid old man!”
By first light, they came to a cross-road and found a saddled horse grazing peacefully on the side. On the ground nearby, Joe knelt down and studied a spot of dried blood. His heart leapt into his throat.
Dooby’s voice guided him down a small embankment and up to the front of an old barn, worn down by age and weather. The door was shut tight.
“They’re in there,” Dooby said.
Joe nodded. “Probably.”
“We should go to the door.”
“I don’t know, man. I mean, we don’t know what we’ll find. He may be half out of his mind with fear and pain. He’s lost a lot of blood. He may blow us away.”
“Then call him.”
“What if he doesn’t answer? What if he’s dead?”
Dooby paused for a moment, then said, “If he doesn’t answer, then we’ll know.”
Joe swallowed hard. He shouldn’t be so afraid to call out a friend’s name. It should be simple, but the fear of not getting a response, not hearing Ira’s voice again, was too much. Ira was too young to die, younger than Joe and Dooby. There should still be many years ahead for them to make memories.
Joe closed his eyes, said a small prayer, then shouted, “Ira . . . ”
” . . . Ira Lee Whitney!”
The voice was as familiar to him as his own: Joe Tillman. A friend, a solider. A brother. Good ol’ Joe.
In the night, he had slipped off the post and lay on his back. Ira pulled himself up until he was leaning weakly against the post again. He strained to peer through the old slats on the wall of the barn, but he could not see anything. “What do you see, child?”
Gisela stood in front of the fortified barn door, looking through the cracks. “A lot of men,” she said, standing on tip-toes to get a better view. “Gooks, probably.”
Ira chuckled but shook his head. “No, Gisela. There’s no such thing as gooks. They’re just men, come to take us home. Come to take you home.”
Gisela turned away from the door and came to his side. “But the river . . . it’s just a little farther.”
He could smell the water, and the cool air that broke through the barn walls told him she was telling the truth. Ira coughed and let the spittle and blood run down his cheek. He shook his head. “No, we’re done.” He put his hand out to shake hers. “It’s been an honor and privilege to travel with you, Lady Gisela, but it’s time for you to go home.”
After their shake, Ira pulled himself up further and yelled, “Joe Tillman! Is that you?”
“It is! We’re all out here. Me, Dooby, Armin, the police. It’s over, Ira. You don’t have to run anymore. Come on out, and I promise no harm will come to you. On my honor, I promise.”
It was not a promise Joe could keep. Ira knew that. Harm had already come to him, and he could never go back to his old life. His wife, his daughter, they would both have to endure the life that he had given them, one of doubtful stares, whispers, and accusations. “Ira Lee is a nut!” “He’s crazy as a loon!” “He kidnapped that girl and . . . and . . . ” He could hear it all now, and they did not deserve such a fate. It would be better if he just died and never went back to Grantville.
He reached to his side and felt the hilt of the knife. He gripped it tightly and pulled it to his chest. He let a tear roll down his cheek. “I’m sending Gisela out, okay? Lower your guns. She’s coming out alone. You hear me?”
“Okay!” Joe said.
Ira breathed deeply then coughed. “Go now, girl.”
“What about you?”
Ira smiled through the pain. “I’ll be along directly. I just need to shut my eyes for a moment and rest a little longer. You go on now, girl. I’ll be all right. Go!”
She jumped a little at his harsh order, but she stood and stepped back until she was at the door. As she began to remove the barrier, he closed his eyes. Let her clear the door, he thought as he turned the blade of the knife to his chest. Then I’ll finish what was started in ’72.
He waited, expecting to feel the sudden rush of heat coming in on the morning light as she opened the door, but there was none. Instead, he heard a tiny shuffle of feet coming towards him across the barn floor and a soft, gentle hand fell upon the one that held the knife. He opened his eyes and there she was, the girl from Vietnam, lovely in silhouette against the cool morning light, jet-black hair, brilliant smile, smooth slanted eyes.
“Come,” she said, gripping his hand and tugging him forward. “Let’s go a rovin’.”
He shook his head. “I already told you, sweet girl. You don’t need saving anymore.”
“No,” she said, “but you do.”
He stood up and with her sore arm around his waist, they made it to the barn door and out into the fresh air.
More than a dozen men stood there. An old man moved frantically toward the girl, but she put up her hand and said, “No! We’re going to the river.” She pointed to her left, down a dirt path. “Help us . . . or get out of our way!”
The old man, startled by the scowl on the girl’s face, backed off and let them have the path.
They walked together toward the river. Ira could hear the flow of the water as they drew closer. They walked and walked, a couple hundred feet it seemed, until they stood on the bank.
Ira pushed away from the girl and fell into the water, crawled until his arms and legs were submerged. “We’re here,” he said, letting the tears run down his face. “We made it!”
The girl stepped into the river and fell beside him.
Together they sat there, watching as the grime, blood and dirt of the past days washed away. Ira sighed, put his arm around the girl and pulled her close. He breathed deeply and looked at her. The world once again came into focus, clearer and more precise than at any time in the past several months.
“I am Ira Lee Whitney,” he said to the girl, “and you are Gisela Seiler. This is Germany, 1636. And this is . . . ” he looked at the dark water rushing by ” . . . this is not my river. Not my river at all. But it’ll do. It’ll do.”
They sat there, together, waist-deep in the river, humming a little tune about a maid and remembering better times.