Star Crossed

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"Yoo hoo! Manuel!"

When Emmanuel Onofrio heard Verlinda Fritz yoohooing down the hall, his mind yelled, "Run!" He was looking forward to a quiet, restful lunch in the teacher's lounge. Keeping the rowdy kids in line so the others could learn seemed to get harder year by year and week by week. He gritted his teeth. "Santo Luigi Gonzaga protect me from pestilence."

She used the same shrill yoohoo to demand attention as she had used on the playground fifty years before. Since Verlinda was without a brain in her head and three grades younger, he'd ignored her then as he tried to now.


Any hope she might be stalking game other than her favorite Onofrio ended. Emmanuel disliked being called Manuel almost as much as he disliked being called Manny, since one sounded like it should be followed by the word "labor" in a bad accent. The second sounded like either nanny or mammy.


There was nothing to do but face the charging cow. He knew from experience if you outran her, she would just keep coming. "Yes, Mrs. Fritz?"

She put her hands on her hips. "Well! Emmanuel Onofrio! Just what are you getting all uppity about?"

Emmanuel hid the flinch. "What can I do for you, Verlinda?" He still hoped to cut his losses.

"Oh, Mann! We've known each other for a coon's age. When did I stop being Linda?"

Oddly enough, Emmanuel didn't mind being called Mann. He didn't speak, so she continued. "Do you know enough Italian to translate engineering texts?"

Emmanuel shook his head. "No."

"Who would?"

"Well, the Renato kids still use it at home." The Renatos were a large extended family of emigrants who left the Grisons of northern Italy for Grantville, where the word heretic was an insult not a legal accusation.

She frowned. "I really need to find one of us. Half the time someone has to translate for the translator because they don't really know English."

Emmanuel sighed. He knew what she meant. A great many books assumed a vocabulary now uncommon. In time, perhaps, that vocabulary would be common again, but it wasn't yet. Still, he found her separation of the world into "us" and "them" troubling. "I am sorry, Verlinda. I can't think of a single up-timer who would be of any use to you." Several possibilities came to mind, if they had the time, but he didn't feel like getting into it.

"Well, think of someone!"


"Because it's our job! I have a young man in the library. He spent the whole morning with a book on architecture and a dictionary and barely turned a page. He's a nice boy. He needs help. He's Italian, Carlo Rainyday, or something like that."

"Carlo Rainaldi?" Emmanuel forgot about lunch. Mrs. Fritz called for him to slow down. He ignored her.

When he pushed through the library doors, it was clear who Verlinda was referring to. Emmanuel addressed him in Latin, hoping it might be enough like his dialect to be of some use. The young man responded in excellent Latin. Emmanuel smiled. He knew several men with Latin. For a Rainaldi, they would make time. Then his smile became a smirk. He knew who would have the time.

Verlinda caught up with him in the library where she needed to be quiet. It didn't stop her. "Emmanuel Onofrio, how dare you run off and leave me?"

Emmanuel remembered those exact words from the playground fifty plus years ago.

"Shhh! Come here." He went to the encyclopedias, shoved a volume into her hands, pointed at an article and walked off. She followed him reading as she walked.

"Rainaldi Carlo, 1611–91, Italian architect of the high baroque. He followed in the steps of—"

"Come, my friend. Let us go find lunch." Switching to English, Emmanuel said, "Mrs. Fritz, please inform the office they need a sub for my afternoon classes. Then call Joseph Jenkins and ask him to come to the library."

That startled her. "Old Joe! That dumb hillbilly? Why?"

"He's the only one who knows Latin and has the time."

"When did Joe Jenkins ever learn Latin?"

Emmanuel enjoyed Verlinda's consternation. "He taught himself Latin a year ago."

"Then how good could his Latin be?"

"As good as mine." Emmanuel was exaggerating a bit. He was sure he could write better Latin than Joseph. He was also sure Joseph was a better Latin conversationalist than he was, which really did puzzle him.

Emmanuel smirked. "One dumb hillbilly, isn't he?"


Joseph Jenkins spent almost every waking hour, six days a week, tutoring and translating for the young architect. Carlo impressed Joe with his aptitude for study. The boy obsessed on two things. His every thought was in service of one or the other. He loved buildings and wanted to build. He loved a girl and wanted to marry. If forced to choose, he would truly regret not marrying.

Carlo inspected all of Grantville, from half of a log cabin perched on a cliff, to post and beam barns, which he found ordinary. Stud-built houses covered in vinyl revealed little. Carlo found cinder blocks briefly interesting, but they were only lighter blocks or larger bricks, after all. Brick was brick and Carlo thought he knew what there was to know about brick. Pole barns, a steel framed structure, and even a Quonset hut had their day.

Prefabs, modulars and trailers fascinated him. He crawled under every trailer he could get permission to crawl under. Sometimes he would call questions out to Joe who resolutely refused to get under there with him.

When he dusted himself off it was always the same. His face beamed, dust and cobwebs flew, "Joseph, what you people did with steel and wood is incredible. The quality of the plywood is amazing. You do not worry about it coming apart even if it is dropped on its end or gets wet. Why aren't you using plywood in building construction?" He would shake his head. "And chip board, turning scrap into material better than planks, genius, pure genius. What my father could do if he knew the weight-to-span ratios I have at my fingertips boggles my mind!"

Carlo talked of nothing but buildings. Every attempt to talk of other things, such as religion or politics, was met with a polite but uninterested response, except for the topic of love. When anything related was brought up, Carlo would sigh like a desert wind, shake his head gently as if trying to shake an idea out of his thoughts while being very careful not to succeed. He would end the sigh with the drawn out word, "Angelina." Then he would say nothing else.

He stayed in Grantville until he had been through every book on building and any related engineering text in the library at least once. Along the way, he interrogated anyone of interest Joe could track down. He examined every bridge within the Ring of Fire. The new covered bridge enthralled him. That a light weight wooden lattice could handle any vehicle in Grantville amazed him. He spent a morning watching traffic from the bank and the afternoon watching the bridge from underneath.

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About Terry Howard

I have in my life been paid for working as, in or at: lawn care, onion topping, haying, fruit picking, general farm labor, fast food, retail, truck driver, construction, gear stacker, stock puller, truck loader, ice house production, auto body/paint shop, janitorial, tutoring, printer’s assistant, stage actor, plastic extrusion, sculptor, teacher, bus driver, direct sales, title examiner, interior decorating, route delivery, waiter, deck hand, marine engineer, reftan/dairy hand, aluminum extrusion and stamping, kosher chef, ren-fair manager, general contractor, landlord, several other things that I do not care to mention and, now, for writing.

I was born in Michigan City Indiana, where my father worked as a machinist while pastoring a General Baptist Church, which makes me a Hoosier, but in my family a Hoosier is an Ozarky who didn’t make it to Detroit. It has been said, and I attest to the truth, that the Celts are alive and living in the Ozarks under assumed names.

I have lived in nine states and abroad. After dropping out of high school to go to college I have studied formally in two colleges, one university, and one graduate school. I have learned much more from studying informally in other settings. My wife, Lauri, and I currently live in California.