Ken looked up when the door opened. When he saw the men who were entering, he moved down to the cash register. Once there, he put his hand on the sawed-off shotgun that hung in a rack on the underside of the bar. "Julio," he called.

"Yeah?" Julio Mora replied.

"Nine one one, now!"

"On it." Julio left the sink of dirty dishes and headed for the phone in the back room.

Three men walked through the door. Each was well dressed, one more so than the others. They were armed but that was common enough. Two of them had that air of 'trouble on a short leash.' Muscle, Ken thought. Bodyguards, competent, deadly, dangerous. They were also down-timers. Under the big "Club 250" sign on the door a little sign read "No Dogs and No germans Allowed." All down-timers were "Krauts" as far as the denizens of Ken's bar were concerned.

If it had been a bit later in the day Ken would have told them to get out, knowing there was enough firepower at hand to make it stick. It was, after all, that kind of bar. At this hour, though, the "I want a drink for lunch crowd" was mostly gone. There were only three patrons left. Ken knew they were nothing but three more targets. It was time to stall and pray that the police came quickly, so Ken waited nervously for the down-timers to speak first.

After standing inside the door for half a minute the trio consulted briefly and one of the guards spoke in fairly understandable English. "We have read the sign."

Uh oh Ken thought.

"We are not staying," the guard said.

Relief swept through the owner of the bar. Ken had never killed anyone in the bar and didn't want to start now. For that matter he had never been killed and sure didn't want to start that now, either.

"We were told that the great philosopher, Herr Head, always had lunch here."

James Richard Shaver, Jimmy Dick, often referred to behind his back as Dick Head, a name he richly deserved for being a jerk of the first water, actually managed to blush. Ken, from long practice, managed to swallow his laughter completely. Some of his patrons were a mite touchy, especially when they were drunk.

"Herr Krieger wishes to converse with him," the guard continued. "It need not be here, where we are not allowed. Over dinner tonight, at the newly opened salon, perhaps?"

Ken let out the breath he was holding and took his moist hand off the shotgun. The tension flowed out of his muscles and evaporated without leaving any residue on the floor. Politely, he answered the trio with complete honesty. "There is no one here right now who answers to the name Herr Head. Can I ask who sent you?"

"We sought the gathering place of the local philosophical society at the . . . " The guard did not quite pause, "'front counter', where we took lodgings. We were directed to the . . . " This time he did pause while he wrapped his tongue around a more difficult, recently learned, word phrase, "'Police Station.' They directed us to the . . . " Again a new word. "'Post office.' There we were told that the only fulltime, practicing philosopher in town was Herr, excuse me, Mister Head, and he could be found here having lunch, since there was no longer a Cracker-barrel in town."

"Did the post office say Mister Head or dickhead?" Ken inquired.

"Yes, Dick Head is the name we were given."

The other two patrons snickered and James blushed again.

"Where are you staying?" Ken asked. "If Herr Head comes in today, I'll give him the message. And then, if the greatest of Grantville's philosophers wishes to talk to you, he can send a disciple to make arrangements."

All the while Ken spoke, Jimmy Dick was thinking hard. He was never going to live this down. He knew it. People who hadn't spoken to him in years, if ever, would hail him on the streets of Grantville at the slightest of excuse, just to have the opportunity of addressing him as "Herr Head." The more polite of them would seek the opinion of Grantville's greatest philosopher. Small towns can be quite cruel that way.

It was almost a relief when the door opened and two cops walked in.

"Is there a problem, Mister Beasley?" one of them asked.

"No. No problem at all. These gentlemen were just leaving."

One cop looked at the other and tilted his head slightly towards the door. The second nodded ever more slightly. Then Hans, the down-time cop, went out with the three strangers to make sure they didn't have any complaints that should be addressed.

Lyndon approached the bar. When he reached the cash register he asked, "What happened, Ken?" Officer Johnson was probably the only cop that ever addressed Ken Beasley by his first name. He once briefly dated Ken's step-daughter, and Ken still thought well of him.

"Sorry about that, Lyndon," Ken said. "When three armed Krauts came through the door looking dangerous, I thought I had a problem. Turns out someone down at the post office sent them here on a wild goose chase; just to get rid of them, I suspect."

Lyndon worked so hard to swallow his laughter that he almost choked on it. "Sorry about that, Ken," Lyndon apologized. "I guess that's our fault. When the three wise men came wandering into the station looking for our philosophers so they could commune with them, the person behind the desk tried to explain that we didn't have any. She finally got rid of them by sending them to the Post Office. After all, they have everybody's address. Well, someone thought it was funny, I guess, to let them chase their tails all over town and called the post office and suggested Jimmy Dick."

"Thanks a hell of a lot!" James added from the sidelines.

Lyndon continued. "If the post office had given them his home address they never would have come here."

"Hey?" Jimmy Dick called out. "Hello." He waved his hand in a big "bring on the train" wave. "I'm down here. If you can't talk to me, you could at least not talk about me as if I ain't here, damn it."

"Oh, I'm sorry, Jimmy," Lyndon said. "When I didn't see you talking to them I figured you weren't here."

"Why the hell should I talk to them? And why was it funny to give them my name?" James demanded. Then before that could be answered, if indeed it could be, he also asked, "And just who do I thank for that anyway? And why would I want them poking around my house?"

Lyndon started to answer the first or second question and then bit his tongue. He didn't answer the third question either but he did reply to it. "Jeez, Jimmy, I'm not sure who made that call."

* * *

In truth, Lyndon knew exactly who made the call. He knew it had been discussed for almost three minutes and everybody in the office, including the chief, knew about it and thought it was funny.

The conversation started out with someone suggesting that they call the post office and have them send the three wise men down to the stables to look for Don.

"Don who?" someone asked.

"Donald Duck," someone else suggested.

"That would do, but I was thinking of Ma Quixote's oldest boy."

The people in the room had chuckled. Then someone had showed his age by saying, "If they want philosophy, we should send them to Ma and Pa Kettle."

"Who's that?" At least two people asked.

As he tried to explain who Ma and Pa Kettle were and then what a cracker-barrel philosopher was, the name Dick Head came up.

The truth was that they were, perhaps, just a little embarrassed that they did not have a Philosophical Society in town nor did they have anybody they considered a philosopher. So they sought to hide the embarrassment in humor. Pain turned inward is depression. Pain turned outward is anger. Pain turned sideways is humor. All three can be destructive.

* * *

"If there's no problem I'd better get back to work," Lyndon said. Ken noticed he hadn't answered the fourth question, either.

The other two patrons were out the door behind him before it shut all the way. The closing of the door seemed to trigger a wave of laughter.

"Ken, bring me a bottle of whatever you're calling whiskey these days," Jimmy Dick said. "That story is all over town by now. Looks like I'll be doing my drinking at home for a good long while."

"Shoot, Jimmy. That won't help and you know it. The only thing you can do is make it your joke on the Krauts and ride it out."

James picked up his beer and took a long slow sip and thought for a minute. You can't talk while you're drinking and you can't talk while you're thinking. Or is it you can't think while you're talking? James mind went back to junior high school. If someone insulted you it was best to turn it back on them; it was almost as good if you could turn it on someone else, then you were doing the laughing instead of being laughed at.

"Oh, come on, Jimmy," Ken said, "why do you think I told them you'd have a disciple come to their hotel? You can have the whole town laughin' at you or you can have the town laughin' at them."

"I don't know, Ken."

"Go have a free dinner. Order two of the most expensive meals on the menu. Hand them some bullshit. Then tell everybody in town what saps the puffed up highbrow Krauts are."

"I don't know, Ken," James said, again. The answer came a bit slower this time.

We're really sorry, but this is only available to up-to-date paid subscribers.

Perhaps you just need to log in.  If you're already logged in, please check if your subscription has expired by looking here.

If you're not already a subscriber you need to know that our columns and editorials are free, along with a few other items, but almost all stories and all downloads are paid only.

If you want to read the entire gazette, you need to either subscribe here, or purchase a download of any single issue at the Baen Books e-book store  or at Amazon.com.

- The Grantville Gazette Staff