The good mood Chip had when he left Jena evaporated quickly once he was back to the daily grind of Army routine and leading morning PT. Even General Jackson, who never gave compliments, said that Chip, even with his sparse beard, resembled the PT instructors he had during basic.
Chip missed Julie, not only because she’d been his girl friend but she had also been a buddy. She, on the other hand, seemed determined not to notice him. Then Chip started hearing stories about her and Alexander MacKay going out and even hunting together.
A little over a month after Jena, Chip made his godawful, ignominious, almost fatal mistake. Chip had gone over to Thuringian Gardens for a brew with the guys. He’d had one and shortly after the second arrived, his friends decided to check out the beer in a new tavern two blocks down. “I’ll catch up with you as soon as I finish this,” Chip said, raising the half-full large pottery tankard.
He’d just finished it, hit the john and was walking through the beer hall when he came across Alexander MacKay.
To say the least, Chip’s judgement was impaired, not to mention his punch. Words were said and he knocked down MacKay. To his surprise, MacKay popped right back up and pulled out his humongous pig sticker. A duel? Hey, wait a minute, nobody said anything about a duel! Bar fight. You know, mano a mano? The manly art of self-defense? Pugilistic skills? Wrong… Chip ran. MacKay was trying to kill him!
Chief Frost stopped the “duel” before Chip got himself killed but not before he’d lost every shred of respect from the rest of the town.
Even his best friends, the guys from the team, slammed him in typical jock fashion when he tried to explain. “Jeez, how dumb can you be? You going up for the Darwin Award even before he writes the stupid book?” his cousin Eric asked disgustedly.
“Yeah. I’ll bet next you’re gonna ask me for a match to see how much gas you got in your tank,” Walt Dorman added tartly.
About fifteen years later Chip realized that the humiliation of that disastrous night branded the core of his personality in ways he hadn’t imagined. From then on he would look for an edge before any confrontation. He wasn’t interested in playing fair any more and from then on he played for keeps.
Getting Out of Dodge
Most people would lay their troubles out to a parent, a pastor, a spouse or even a bartender. Not Chip. Chip finally went to see the only man he knew he could trust to see a way out of his mess. But before he made contact, the man contacted him.
“Uh, Coach, you sent for me? I was told four-fifteen sharp.”
“Yeah, you’re five minutes early. Have a seat. I’ll be with you in a moment,” Jonathan Samuels responded, absently chewing on a six-inch green plastic ruler while he worked up a new lesson plan. He was flipping between pages in a library history book and writing on a pad of paper. The Coach was teaching Advanced European History and Government classes to juniors and seniors now that Melissa Mailey was working with the American government. It wasn’t proving to be an easy transition.
Chip officially met the Coach (always capitalized in Chip’s mind) in eighth grade when the Coach who was also the Drivers Ed instructor at Grantville High brought one of the cars to his dad’s auto shop for servicing. Jenkin’s Auto, “We’ve got the car for YOU”, provided three Drivers Ed cars each year, did the servicing for free and never took a loss when it came time to sell the car.
It was early September and Chip had just gotten back from eighth grade football practice, still wearing his uniform when the Coach drove into the service bay. As he got out of the car, Chip said, “Hi, Mr. Samuels”. Everybody knew he coached varsity football and Chip wanted to be on the team when the time came. The Coach was only twenty-nine at the time and looked over at Chip with a lazy smile.
“Chip, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, Mr. Samuels.”
“What position do you play?”
“Quarterback, Mr. Samuels.”
“Got a ball handy? It’ll take half an hour or more for Mick to do the servicing. Won’t hurt to get a little extra practice…” That’s how it started, a little game of catch. Chip didn’t even realize it but the Coach taught him his first lesson in leadership that day. Names are important. The Coach already knew his without asking. Thereafter, Chip was always waiting when the Coach brought in a car for servicing and the Coach always wanted “just a little extra practice.”
By the time his freshman year rolled around, Chip was the starting quarterback for the Junior Varsity, able to step in at that level because the Coach had already taught him the basic plays. During the off season, in each “extra practice” the Coach included life lessons in leadership, which Chip absorbed like a sponge. Chip made mistakes, sure, but the Coach was always around to put him back on track, encourage and advise him how to get more out of the team. Chip was backup varsity quarterback in his sophomore year and as a junior, he’d quarterbacked the team to its first State AAA Championship in years. This past year, as a senior, the Coach had the confidence to let him call most of the critical plays. Their final game for a repeat championship had been so close.
Chip never understood why the Coach taught Drivers’ Ed rather than Government and the Coach never explained. He wasn’t a Phys Ed major, he’d graduated with a degree in Political Science. He’d played four years of football as a back for WVU but was just too small for the pros. However, Grantville wasn’t about to let that kind of experience to go to waste just because just he hadn’t majored in Phys Ed.
Jonathan Samuels, “the Coach”, was a teacher only because between his junior and senior years at WVU as a Poli Sci major, he took a summer internship at a Morgantown law firm. The firm was well known for its partners who had entered politics and then retired back to the law firm to do lobbying. The firm seemed ideal to Jonathan especially after the interviewer assured him that the firm would provide him with all the time off he needed for football practice while continuing to pay him his full salary. However, after that summer in what he called the “sausage factory”, Jonathan didn’t care to become a lawyer or a politician. He had enough credits for a Poli Sci degree but he deferred graduation to take enough courses in Education to obtain a minor and qualify as a teacher, his wife’s chosen field.
Along with football Chip unknowingly absorbed a lot of political science in those “little extra practices” which occurred roughly once a month in the off season. Knowing the Coach wasn’t hesitant about expressing his knowledge and political opinions, Chip would often ask questions about political events, why certain things happened, either on his own or in response to something the Coach said. Then the Coach would go into critical detail about why it happened and a few days later he’d question Chip to ensure he’d retained the knowledge.
Now, after the Ring of Fire, with no reason for the high school to teach Drivers Ed and no need for a football coach, they’d finally gotten the Coach into the classroom, teaching full-time. It was either that, work for the government or join the Army.
Even with Mike Stearns at the helm, the Coach didn’t trust the way politicians could manipulate the government and as far as he was concerned, most of the time the Army was a creature of the government’s will. So in all his courses, he not only gave the policy rationale as stated by the politicians of the era but considering the outcome of those policies, what their true intent might have been. In teaching his lessons, the Coach included a stiff dose of Machiavelli, Tammany Hall politics, and LBJ’s arm-twisting methods. He considered it to be all part of educating his students to become knowledgeable, even skeptical citizens. If there was one thing that the Coach was sure of, it was that the mindset of politicians hadn’t gotten worse over the intervening four centuries.
But if there was one person whose judgement Chip trusted, it was the Coach.
The Coach finally threw down his pencil and the ruler and turned his squeaky wooden swivel armchair towards Chip, looking over his reading glasses. “Screwed up big time, didn’t you, Chip?” he asked, his right eye narrowing almost to a squint. “I hear you’re lucky you got out of it alive,” he said sourly, curling the corner of his mouth.
“Uh, yeah, Coach,” Chip huskily replied.
The Coach leaned back in his chair, knitting his hands behind his head, his left leg loosely hanging from the edge and his right leg crossing it. “Okay, let’s hear your side of it,” he said wearily.
With no sense of shame before this man, it took a while for Chip to tell the story, mostly because he included his breakup with Julie and how he felt so damned depressed these days, like he’d been cheated out of his entire future. By the end, he was sobbing.
The Coach took off his reading glasses and threw them sideways onto his desk. He pinched the bridge of his nose and then sighed before pulling out a tired cloth hand towel from the back of a lower drawer. “Here,” he grumped and tossed the towel to Chip. “Wipe your face.”
He sighed again. “You know the big difference between you and Mike Stearns?”
“Uh, no, Coach.”
“In some ways you two are so damn much alike under it all, I can hardly stand it. Okay, the big difference? You got hit with your ultimate life-changing crisis when you’re only eighteen. Mike got his when he was ten years older.”
“I talked with his old coach some time back. Mike played JV, freshman and sophomore years before dropping football. Apparently he didn’t like the discipline of football but he was ungodly good at convincing people to do what he wanted even back then. Of course,” and the Coach sighed again, “he was the product of his environment and made some, shall we say, less than desirable choices. The judge gave him a choice, Army or Marines. Nuff’ said on that subject.”
“You, on the other hand, both your folks went to college so you played all four years, one championship, one runner-up. Frank Jackson, Henry Sims, Mike, they never played varsity ball and so never even realized that I let you call so many of your plays. Most high school and college coaches don’t let their quarterback call many plays, much less the critical ones. Their quarterbacks are only allowed to substitute a play on the fly if they notice something’s wrong.”
“What’s more, for me, personally, the team would never give more than 100%. But for you, the team always gave that extra effort because they believed in your leadership on the field. You’re the one who resolved their problems with execution because you could see where the problems began. You’re the one who took the player aside after practice, laughed, joked and persuaded him to run his pattern better. You’re the one who cut the petty bullshit on the team and got them to work together which is also why they named you captain. I could point the way, show how a play should work and make the team practice it but you fine-tuned the offensive plays and even better, the team won under you.”
“Now I’m good but I could never be right there in the middle of the field when things start to fall apart, to control the mood and tempo of the team. If you hadn’t been quarterbacking the team to the state championships, I doubt that four of the seniors this year would ever have gotten their scholarships, not to mention three of the five seniors in your junior year.”
“Gee, Coach, I mean, I never thought…”
“Of course you didn’t and I never said a damn thing about it because your head was already swelled to the size of the grand champion pumpkin at the West Virginia State Fair. I knew it’d get deflated the following year after your team lost its third straight game and no one was around to pump up your ego. Now let me tell you what you should have done back there at the Gardens.”
“First of all, keep in mind, as far as everyone was concerned, what have you got to lose? The future you expected to have? Gone. Your girlfriend? Gone. And for some kids your age, that’s enough for suicide. Now let’s look at Alexander MacKay. In his early twenties, bastard son of a noble, not that that’s unusual but mostly bastards don’t inherit. On the other hand, he’s a captain in Gustav Adolph’s army with nowhere to go but up as long as he stays alive. Add to that a new true-blue love of his life and you’ve got a man who doesn’t want to die. Not in the least.”
“So what should you have done? Stopped. Raised your hands, he wouldn’t run you through without a sword in your hands, and then challenged him to shotguns at ten paces. You know shotguns and so does he.”
“WHAT? That’s nuts!”
The Coach smiled evilly. “Maybe. But as I said, what have you got to lose? Your life? Hey, as far as he knows, from your point of view it’s gone and it ain’t gonna be coming back. He knows this because you’ve told him you’re suicidal, right? Challenge him with shotguns and under the circumstances, nobody’d let the duel continue, not even that bunch of drunks at the Gardens. You save face, he saves face. Everybody wins and you’ve still punched him on the button.”
“That’s the good news. Bad news is that you don’t get do-overs. So…”
At that moment there was a knock on the Coach’s door. Gertrude Wiegert, the girl from Jena Gretchen brought back to Grantville, opened the door and poked her head in. “Herr Samuels? You wished me to be here at five o’clock?”
“Yeah, come on in, Gertrude. Uh, this is…”
“Chip! How are you?” Gertrude’s delighted smile brightened her attractive narrow face.
“You two know each other?”
“Yeah, Coach. I, uh, met Gertrude’s older sister, Mathilde, while I was in Jena after the battle. She introduced me to her whole family,” Chip smiled with a twist of his lips.
“Ahem. Good. Gertrude, tell Chip what you told me this morning.”
“Well, I’m staying with Gretchen’s family these days, well, until I get a regular family to stay with. Anyway, sometimes I go with her and Jeff back to Jena to organize the Committees of Correspondence if it’s on weekends, you know, to see my family? Gretchen complains that half of her and Jeff’s time is spent just putting the pieces back together that they’d done the last time they were up. People go off on what Jeff calls ‘tangents’, you know, different directions? Gretchen says she wants, needs somebody full-time to hold it all together that she can rely on so they can really move forward but nobody’s got the ability or wants to do it. It’s driving her crazy.”
“Thanks, Gertrude. That’s all. Hey, tell Gretchen that she’s got a volunteer as of today. Chip. Okay?”
“Sehr Gut! Gretchen will be so happy,” Gertrude beamed and left the office.
“What did you just get me into, Coach?” Chip protested.
“Look, Chip. First of all, you’ve got the ability. I’ve seen you use it time after time on the ball field as quarterback and in the locker room as captain. Only this time it won’t be a game, it’ll be real life. You’ll be calling your own plays. You’ll make some mistakes but you’ll learn from them. Second, you’re going to take what’s called the distance cure for your problems. Now back before the Ring of Fire, that mostly meant going off to college or going into the service.
“Forget the college route. What they’re teaching is either dead wrong, hopelessly out of date or in an area you didn’t want to study anyway and besides, you’re still in the army. That leaves the service. You’re already in it but let’s just say trust in your military effectiveness has been diminished.”
“Which then leaves… the Committee of Correspondence in Jena which desperately needs someone to hold it together. Jena as a whole, from what I gather, needs a hell of a lot and will get it eventually, just not half as fast as they’d like. I called up Mike Piazza and he’s authorized the government to pay someone a salary, same rate as an Army PFC, for a while. ‘Course you’ve got to get permission from Frank Jackson to get out of the Army. Shouldn’t be a big problem. Gertrude’s whole family is involved with the Committee now, including her older sister.”
“Uh, yeah, but…”
When the Coach stood, Chip rose at the same time. The Coach tapped Chip’s chest lightly with his finger, his tired eyes looking directly into Chip’s. “Remember when you took that late hit in the championship game with a little over two minutes left? You were in that ref’s face and were the next thing to getting thrown out when I barged in between you two, gave you an elbow to the gut and took over for you. Remember what happened?”
“Yeah. The ref threw you out of the game.”
“Right. And because I jumped in, you didn’t get thrown out. So what happened? You put together a series of plays, right off the top of your head and marched down to the eight yard line before they stopped you. The score was twenty-four, twenty, fourth down, with eighteen seconds left to go. You ran to the right and threw a slant pass to Kenny Washaw in the middle of the end zone. He had it in his hands for half a second when that safety popped him so hard it not only knocked the ball loose but Kenny couldn’t get up for three minutes. Final score, still twenty-four, twenty. Remember how you felt when the horn blew?”
“Oh, yeah. We just cried. The whole team.”
“Right. And how do you feel about it today?”
“Uh, well, we just talk about what a great game it was and how, well, it was just great.”
“Right. Now if you’d gotten thrown out of the game after that late hit and I had to put in Doug Decker and called the same exact plays, what would have happened?”
“I dunno but we wouldn’t have gotten that close to getting a TD.”
“Yeah. So you owe me. Right?”
“Okay. Here’s where you pay me back. I’m sending in my last play for you. I want you to get over to Jena and get that Committee of Correspondence sorted out. Hold it together, you can do it, until it can run smoothly by itself. Oh, yeah, shave off that scroungy beard, keep your hair trimmed but leave a dandy mustache. Handlebars are cool, even a scrubby blonde one like yours. It’ll make you look older and that’ll help when you go up against the Powers That Be. And, hell, find another girl while you’re at it.”
Chip wryly smiled and then chuckled. “Thanks, Coach. I knew I could depend on you.”
It wasn’t quite that easy, of course. First he had to survive the interview with Jeff and Gretchen Higgins and two hours after talking with the Coach, that made him nervous. Not Jeff, of course, but confronting the woman who’d gone out of her way to kill two men up close and personal made him… uneasy.
Then he thought, hey, she’s not gonna kill me. The worst she’s gonna do is tell me to take a hike. Besides, Jeff will be there to keep anything drastic from happening. On that cheery note, he knocked on the door of her mobile home that evening.
“Yeah, come on in, Chip,” Jeff said, opening the door. “Have a seat over there. Gretchen’s putting Willi to bed right now. I’ve got water and beer, same as what the Gardens serve. Which would you like?”
Seeing the clear plastic drinking glass filled with a brown liquid on the end table next to Jeff, Chip answered, “I’ll have what you’re drinking. Just a small one.”
“No problem,” Jeff answered, grabbing a glass out of the kitchen cupboard and walking over to the refrigerator. He pulled out a glass gallon jug and poured the light brown beer into the glass. “Not clear like the beer back home but better, a lot better,” he said smiling, handing the glass to Chip.
A moment later, Chip’s first sip in his mouth, Gretchen walked from the back of the trailer into the living room. Chip rose from the worn overstuffed armchair as soon as he saw her.
Gretchen faintly smiled, her light brown eyes cool and wary beneath her raised dark blonde eyebrows. “Ach, Jeff. See? Someone with respect for a proper German hausfrau.” Jeff, who was sitting on the couch and had been in the middle of a swallow, burst into laugher, spraying beer all over the orange rust shag carpet.
Hands on hips, Gretchen glared at him as Jeff continued to laugh loudly. Gasping, finally catching his voice, he bubbled, “How would you know? I mean, Grandma Richter’s out visiting with some of her friends.”
Gretchen smiled, then giggled and then melted, joining in with his laughter. Chip stood, smiling, his nervousness dissipating.
“Sit, sit!” Gretchen commanded and poured herself a plastic glass of beer before sitting on the couch next to Jeff, his arm comfortably around her shoulder.
After the initial pleasantries, Gretchen began the interview. “So, what do you know about the Committees of Correspondence?”
Chip shrugged. “Enough, I think. I did a report on them for Government class last year so I ran over to the library to check the encyclopedia and refreshed my memory. People writing back and forth between the colonies before the American Revolution, exchanging ideas about the theory of government by the people and how to better their current system. You’re probably working up to it being a work in progress between cities here in Thuringia and beyond about how governments should be run and the theory of why one system is better than another. Of course, then there are tons of variations. For example, Mr. Samuels told me that no two American state governments operated exactly the same. West Virginia’s was not like Virginia’s which was not like Ohio’s which was not like Pennsylvania’s, et cetera.”
Jeff whispered into Gretchen’s ear a quick comparison between states and the German principalities before Gretchen’s face cleared. “So. You know all about these variations?”
“Hardly. Mr. Samuels could probably give you chapter and verse. He’s got the university degree in political science. Me, I’m lucky to know how West Virginia and the United States Congress worked. I’m still not precise about how the city of Grantville operated before the Ring of Fire or even how it does now. Don’t need to know a whole lot since almost everybody in city government came through. On the other hand, I know a lot about why it works.”
“Hmm,” and Gretchen took another sip from her glass. “The teacher. He said you can persuade others? Make them work together?”
“If he says so, I can. However, I do see one significant difference. The pre-revolutionary Committees of Correspondence were men of substance, wealthy or landed men in their own colonies, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, Sam Adams, John Adams, Paul Revere, Thomas Paine and Benjamin Franklin among others. In general, they were committees formed from the colonial legislatures, like the Virginia House of Burgesses, not a group of students or discontented and dispossessed people. Much of what made it into the books I read had a lot to do with challenges to what they saw as excessive taxation or what they called tyranny. It had a lot to do with the seat of government being on the other side of the Atlantic and we weren’t allowed to have official input into what was going on in the English Parliament. Having heard about what passes as government in these times, almost a hundred and fifty years earlier, I’m not certain they knew what tyranny meant.”
Gretchen’s eyes narrowed and her mouth hardened angrily, now crossing her arms tightly across her chest. “So you say we have been doing this all wrong? We should be working with those fat, overstuffed burgermeisters and wealthy self-satisfied burghers?”
Chip gave a quick smile, holding up his arms, placating palms forward. “No. What I am saying is that we are dealing with a different mindset. They were all sons of the Enlightenment movement, which hasn’t even begun to happen yet. The American colonial way was to modify and innovate within the system. To prepare a legal document for presentation to the colonial legislature. Your way is more abrupt from what I’ve heard. Sure, Sam Adams and the Sons of Liberty caused riots and property damage in Massachusetts but that was an exception, not the rule. All Boston paid the price for it even if the other colonies reluctantly supported Adams and company. The people we’re working with need to know what are the permissible actions and how to go about them. We do not need people out there whose idea of improving government consists of burning down a Rathaus with the burgermeister and his council in it as a first step.”
“Perhaps not as a first step,” Gretchen grimly smiled.
“True, that is always a remote possibility. Actually, as desirable as it might seem at the moment, it’s a really bad idea because guess what? The moment you take charge, you set yourself up to be become crispy bacon for the next set of really dissatisfied people. Rallies, demonstrations, maybe our own bully boys if the opposition gets starts hiring goons. As many unemployed soldiers are around, they’d work for the local power structure cheap. But then these hills know all about counter force, don’t they, Jeff?” Chip grinned knowingly.
“Slow and steady, keep up the pressure. In Jena, we need reasoned debate even more because there are two institutions, the university and the city council. Fortunately, I just happen to have a beat-up copy of Locke’s Two Treatises on Government that I bought secondhand in Morgantown as background for my report. Guess whose favorite reading material that book was? Be nice to have the author visit us and get his opinions but he’s a little immature right now. He’ll be born next year.”
“One more question,” Gretchen asked. “Why do Frank Jackson and Michael Stearns not like you? I talked with Michael on the telephone, told him Herr Samuels recommended you and he was not happy. So why?”
Chip chuckled, took another sip of beer and leaned back in the armchair. “I’m eighteen and up until, what, five months ago, except for family and my teachers, I could care less what any adult in this town thought about me, much less any United Mine Workers official. They were part of a dying industry and I’m talking old and moldy, all but buried. If you don’t believe me, ask Jeff.”
“In fact, since Frank Jackson never has liked me, not certain why, wait a minute… maybe I do. Ha! Jeff, you remember back in fifth or sixth grade we had to do a little skit about someone who was important to West Virginia?”
“Vaguely,” Jeff responded uncertainly. “Why?”
“I did my skit on John L. Lewis based on something I’d overheard somebody say. He said that because the UMWA won their strike after WWII, the cost of coal went so high that it became more economical for the mine owners to mechanize all the mines in West Virginia and to strip mine out West. So the final effect of the union win was negative. Anyway, I dressed myself up as John L., outrageously bushy black eyebrows and a cigar. I only remember the first line. ‘My name is John L. Lewis and back in ’48, I signed the agreement that got thousands of West Virginia coal miners thrown out of work.’ Or something like that. Mike and Frank’s dads idolized John L. Lewis and Frank was the UMW secretary/treasurer even back then. I can’t think of anything that would make him madder. I repeated it once for Grandma Jenkins and let’s just say it was not a positive experience.”
“Who is this John L. Lewis? Why was he important?” Gretchen asked puzzled.
“He was the national president of the United Mineworkers union for about fifty years,” Jeff told her. “I’ll tell you all about it later. Go ahead, Chip.”
“I don’t know if that’s the real reason he started not liking me but it goes back at least that far. Of course, I’ve also gone out of my way to piss him off occasionally. Way out of my way,” he lightly laughed, his eyes crinkling. “Talk to Julie about some of the things I did just to drive him nuts. She was there most of the time. I’ve adjusted my attitude about him and Mike Stearns in the past few months but it’s certainly not reciprocal.”
Then it was Jeff’s turn. “Okay, let’s get this out of the way, right now. What happened the other night at the Gardens?” he asked seriously.
Chip clamped his lips together and then blew out some air. “Stupidity brought on by too much beer. I was figuring on a bar fight. He… had other ideas. Call it a cultural misunderstanding. I know I’m not going to be drinking that much again in public, especially when I’ve got an unresolved problem like that.”
“Uh-huh. I see one big problem for you, Chip. You and I are in the Army and I know Frank Jackson has already designated all the military and police types who are being sent to Jena. Besides, we need somebody who can do it full time, not just between guard duty. I’ve never heard of General Jackson letting anybody out of the Army except for physical or mental reasons, you know, like the Special Ed kids and given what you just said, I think it’s going to be a problem.”
Chip shrugged. “Yeah, I’m certain he won’t like it even one little bit but I’ll convince him.”
“Good enough if you can pull it off,” Jeff accepted. “What do you think, Gretchen?”
“How well do you speak German?” Gretchen asked pointedly. “How fast can you learn?”
“I don’t speak it well at all right now but I did take four years of Spanish in school, so I know a little bit about flipping into another language. Ms. DiCastro says for most kids my age, if they jump into a culture with a different language, they’ll be fluent in three months as long as they’ve had the basics. German is harder than Spanish but it isn’t as screwed up a language as English and you speak it pretty well.”
Her face showed no expression but then she silently got up and walked into the hallway joining her trailer to the others. A few minutes later she returned with Gertrude Wiegert trailing behind her. “Gertrude, you will pack three days of clothing and go with Chip to his home tonight. Speak only German to him, insist he speak only German to you. You stay with him all day except for your school, all evening. If he has confusion, bad German, explain in English if you need. Okay?”
“Sure, Gretchen,” the small fifteen year-old responded with a smile.