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Chapter 7

The high school's gymnasium was designed to hold 1,500 people. Looking around, Mike estimated that twice that number were packed into the place. Almost the entire population of the Grantville area was present, with the exception of a handful of men at the power plant and perhaps two dozen members of Mike's mine workers.


The disaster—what everyone had taken to calling the Ring of Fire—had occurred three days ago. Since then the UMWA had become, willy-nilly, the area's impromptu defense force. There was no other body of armed and well-organized men available to patrol the area. Grantville's police force consisted of only five officers, including its chief. Even if Dan Frost had not been wounded, he couldn't possibly have handled the problem of overall defense. Grantville's police force was more than busy enough as it was, maintaining order in the town itself.


There had been no major problems with the townsfolk themselves, beyond an initial run of panic buying which the town's mayor brought to a halt by a quick and decisive order to close all the stores. The police department was patrolling the town, to make sure the order was obeyed, but there had been no significant opposition. Privately, everyone admitted that the mayor's decision had been sensible.


The real problem—which was developing very rapidly—was the influx of refugees who were beginning to creep into Grantville's outskirts. It appeared that the entire countryside was being ravaged by undisciplined mercenary soldiers. So far, none of the soldiers themselves had come near the town, but Mike's men were alertly watching for any sign of trouble.


Mike was standing on the floor of the gym, next to one of the tiers of seats near the entrance. Frank Jackson, along with a small group of other miners, were clustered about him. To his immediate right, perched on the edge of the lowest tier of seats, sat Rebecca Abrabanel. The Jewish refugee was still in a bit of a daze, confused by the strange people—and stranger technology—around her.


Perhaps fortunately, Rebecca had been too preoccupied with her father's medical condition to panic at the bizarre experiences she was undergoing. Most of the other refugees were still cowering in the woods surrounding the town, fleeing from any attempt to coax them out of hiding. But Mike suspected that the woman's steadiness was innate. While Rebecca had all the earmarks of a sheltered intellectual, that did not automatically translate into cringing helplessness. He chuckled ruefully, remembering their conversation in the library. He had barely understood a word, once she plunged into philosophy. But he had not sneered—not then, not now. Mike decided he could use some of that philosophical serenity himself.


Still, Rebecca was hardly blasé about her situation. Mike watched as, for the tenth time in as many minutes, Rebecca self-consciously smoothed her long, pleated skirt, tugged at her bodice, touched the full cap which covered her hair. He found it mildly amusing that she had adjusted well enough to her circumstances to be concerned about her appearance.


The person sitting next to Rebecca, a small gray-haired woman in her sixties, reached out and gave the refugee's hand a little squeeze of reassurance. Rebecca responded with a quick, nervous smile.


Mike's amusement vanished. Understanding Rebecca's fears concerning her Judaism—if not the reasons for it—he had asked Morris and Judith Roth to take Rebecca and her father into their house. The town's only Jewish couple had readily agreed. Balthazar Abrabanel had been there ever since. He had survived his heart attack, but both James Nichols and Jeff Adams, Grantville's resident doctor, had agreed that he needed plenty of bed rest. Balthazar had barely survived the experience as it was.


The next day, when Mike dropped by for a quick visit, Rebecca seemed calm and almost relaxed. But Judith had told him, privately, that the Abrabanel woman had burst into a flood of tears when she spotted the menorah perched on the Roths' mantel. She had spent the next half hour collapsed on a couch, clutching Judith like a drowning kitten.


Mike glanced again at Rebecca. The woman was listening intently to what the town's mayor was saying. He was relieved to see that her expression was simply calm. Intent, curious. Wondering, at what she was hearing. But without a trace of panic.


Mike scanned the sea of faces in the gymnasium. Truth is, she's doing way better than half the people here.


The thought was whimsical, in its origin. But the accompanying flush of fierce, half-possessive pride alerted Mike to a truth he had been avoiding. His feelings for the Abrabanel woman had obviously taken on a life of their own. The image of runaway horses came to his mind, bolting out of a broken corral.


Good move, Stearns. As if you didn't have enough trouble! The runaway horses paid as much attention to his admonition as they would have to a field mouse. Since the first moment he saw her, the exotic beauty of the woman drew him like a magnet. Some men might have been put off by the obvious intelligence in Rebecca's dark eyes, and the hint of sly humor in her full lips.


Mike sighed. Not me. With difficulty, he forced himself to look away and concentrate on the mayor's concluding remarks.


"So that's about it, folks," Henry Dreeson was saying. The mayor nodded toward a small group of people sitting on chairs near the podium. "You heard what Ed Piazza and his teachers told us. Somehow—nobody knows how—we've been planted somewhere in Germany almost four hundred years ago. With no way to get back."


A man stood up on one of the lower tiers. "Are we sure about that, Henry? The 'getting back' part, I mean? Maybe whatever happened could—you know, happen again. The other way."


The mayor gave a glance of appeal to one of the teachers sitting next to the principal. Greg Ferrara rose and stepped up to the microphone. The high school's science teacher was a tall, slender man in his mid-thirties. His speech patterns, like his stride and mannerisms, were quick and abrupt—and self-confident.


Greg was shaking his head before he even reached the podium's microphone. "I don't think there's the proverbial snowball's chance in hell." He gripped the sides of the podium and leaned forward, giving emphasis to his next words. "Whatever happened was almost certainly some kind of natural catastrophe. If you ask me, we're incredibly lucky we survived the experience. Nobody suffered any serious injuries, and the property damage was minimal."


Greg glanced at the fluorescent lighting on the ceiling of the gym. A fleeting smile crossed his face. "The power plant's even back on-line, so we've got all the conveniences of home. For a while, at least." The smile vanished. "But we're still in the position of a trailer park hit by a tornado. What do you think the chances are of another tornado coming by—and setting everything back the way it was?" Greg took a deep breath. "Personally, I'd have to say the chance is astronomically minute. Let's hope so. Another Ring of Fire would probably destroy us completely."


The crowd jammed into the gymnasium was silent. Greg took another deep breath, and concluded with simple, forceful words. "Face it, folks. We're here to stay."


A moment later, he had resumed his seat. The mayor took his place back at the microphone. "Well, that's about it, people. As far as that goes. What we've got to do now is plan for the future. The town council has been meeting pretty much nonstop for the past three days, and we've come up with a proposal we want to put before everybody." He paused for emphasis, just as the teacher had done. "We'll have to vote on it. This is way beyond the council's authority. So every registered voter here—"


The mayor stumbled to a halt. "Well, I suppose everybody here, registered or not." The sour look on his face caused laughter to ripple through the gym. For as many years as anyone in Grantville could remember, Henry Dreeson had been admonishing people to register to vote.


The mayor plowed on. "We need to figure out a proper structure to govern ourselves by. We can't just stick with a mayor and a town council. So what we want to propose is that we elect an emergency committee to draw up a plan—kind of a constitutional convention. The same committee should oversee things in the interim. And we need to elect somebody as the committee's chairman. He—or she—can make whatever immediate decisions are needed."


Someone in the crowd shouted out the mayor's own name. Dreeson shook his head vehemently. "Not me! The town council raised that idea already, and I turned 'em down. I'm sixty-six years old, folks. I'm a small-town mayor, that's it." The elderly man at the podium stood a little straighter. "Been pretty good at it, if I say so myself, and I'll be glad to stay on in that capacity. But there's no way I'm the right man to—" He waved his hand. The gesture was neither feeble, nor hopeless. But it conveyed the sense of impending catastrophe nonetheless.


A motion at the edge of the crowd drew Mike's attention. John Simpson, his sister's new father-in-law, was stepping forward to the microphone. The well-dressed man moved with the same self-confidence with which he had addressed numerous stockholders' meetings. He did not push the mayor aside so much as he forced him to yield the microphone by sheer authoritativeness.


"I agree with Mayor Dreeson," he said forcefully. "We are in an emergency. That calls for emergency management."


Another, less self-confident, man would have cleared his throat before proceeding. Not John Chandler Simpson. "I propose myself as the chairman of the emergency committee. I realize that I'm not well-known to most of you. But since I'm certain that I am better qualified than anyone here, I have no choice but to put myself forward for the position. I've been the chief executive officer of a major corporation for many years now. And before that I was an officer in the United States Navy. Served in the Pentagon."


Next to him, Mike heard Frank Jackson mutter: "Gee, what a self-sacrificing gesture."


Mike repressed his own snort of derision. Yeah, like Napoleon volunteering to take the throne. For the good of the nation, of course.


Quickly, he scanned the faces in the crowd. Mike could detect some signs of resentment at a stranger's instant readiness to take command. But not much. In truth, Simpson's decisiveness was obviously hitting a responsive chord. People floating in the water after a shipwreck are not inclined to question the origin of a lifeboat. Or the quality of its captain, as long as the man seems to know what he's doing and has a loud voice.


He brought his attention back to Simpson. "—first thing is to seal off the town," Simpson was saying. "Our resources are going to be stretched tight as it is. Very tight. We're going to have to cut back on everything, people. Down to the bone. We certainly aren't going to have anything to spare for the refugees who seem to be flooding the area."


Mike saw Simpson cast a quick glance toward him and his little cluster of coal miners. Simpson's face was tight with disapproval. Over the past three days, Mike and his coal miners had made no effort to drive away the small army of refugees who were beginning to fill the surrounding woods. Once he was satisfied that a new group was unarmed, Mike had tried to coax them out of hiding. With no success, so far, except for one family which had taken shelter in the town's outlying Methodist church.


"I say it again," Simpson drove on. "We must seal the border. There's a tremendous danger of disease, if nothing else." Simpson pointed an accusing finger at the south wall of the gymnasium. The banners hanging there, proudly announcing North Central High School's statewide football championships—1980, 1981, and again in l997—seemed to be surrogates for his damnation. "Those people—" He paused. The pause, as much as the tone, indicated Simpson's questioning of the term "people." "Those creatures are plague-carriers. They'll strip us of everything we own, like locusts. It will be a toss-up, whether we all die of starvation or disease. So—"


Mike found himself marching toward the podium. He felt a little light-headed, as he always had climbing into the ring. Old habit forced him to ignore the sensation, drive it out, bring his mind into focus.


The light-headed sensation was not nervousness so much as sheer nervous energy. And anger, he realized. That too he drove aside. This was no time to lose his temper. The effort of doing so brought home to him just how deeply furious he was. Simpson's last few sentences had scraped his soul raw.


First thing we do, we put the lawyers and the suits in charge. Then we hang all the poor white trash. As he approached the podium, he caught sight of James Nichols standing next to his daughter. Oh, yeah. String up the niggers too, while we're at it. The image of a beautiful face came to him. And fry the kikes, of course.


He was at the podium. He forced Simpson away from the microphone with his own equivalent of assertive self-confidence. And if Mike's aura carried less of authority, and more of sheer dominance, so much the better.


"I agree with the town council's proposal," he said forcefully. Then, even more forcefully: "And I completely disagree with the spirit of the last speaker's remarks."


Mike gave Simpson a glance, lingering on it long enough to make the gesture public. "We haven't even got started, and already this guy is talking about downsizing."


The gymnasium was rocked with a sudden, explosive burst of laughter. Humor at Mike's jest was underlain by anger. The crowd was made up, in its big majority, of working class people who had their own opinion of "downsizing." An opinion which, unlike the term itself, was rarely spoken in euphemisms.


Mike seized the moment and drove on. "The worst thing we could do is try to circle the wagons. It's impossible, anyway. By now, there are probably as many people hiding in the woods around us as there are in the town. Women and children, well over half of them."


He gritted his teeth, speaking the next words through clenched jaws. "If you expect mine workers to start massacring unarmed civilians—you'd damn well better think again."


He heard Darryl's voice, somewhere in the crowd. "Tell 'em, Mike!" Then, next to him, Harry Lefferts: "Shoot the CEO!"


Another laugh rippled through the gym. Harsher, less humorous. The title Chief Executive Officer, for most of that blue-collar crowd, vied in popularity and esteem with Prince of Darkness. The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse, rolled into one, wearing a Brooks Brothers suit and holding a pink slip in his hand.


Sorry. No room in the Ark for you. Nothing personal. You're just useless in today's wonderful global economy.


Mike built on that anger and drove on. "His whole approach is upside down and ass-backwards. 'Seal off the town?' And then what?" He swept his hand in a circle. "You all heard what Greg said earlier. He estimates the disaster—the Ring of Fire—yanked an area about six, maybe seven miles in diameter with us. You know this countryside, people. We're talking hills, mostly. How much food do you think we can grow here? Enough for three thousand people?"


He let that question settle for a moment. Simpson started to say something, angrily pushing toward the microphone. Mike simply planted a large hand on the man's chest and pushed him back. Simpson stumbled, as much from the shock of being "manhandled" as the actual shove itself.


"Don't even think about taking this microphone from me, big shot," growled Mike. He hadn't intended the statement to be public, but the microphone amplified his words through the gymnasium. Another laugh came from the crowd. Almost a cheer, actually—as if they were applauding a dramatic slam dunk by the high school's favorite player.


Mike's next words were spoken softly, but firmly. "Folks, we've got to face the truth. We're here, and we're here to stay. Forever." He paused. "Forever," he repeated. "We can't think in terms of tomorrow, or the day after. Or even next year. We've got to think in terms of decades. Centuries."


Simpson was gobbling something. Mike ignored him. Drive on. Drive it home.


"We can't pretend those people out there don't exist. We can't drive them away—and, even if we could, we can't drive away the ones who'll come next." He pointed a finger at Melissa Mailey, the high school's history teacher. "You heard what Ms. Mailey told us earlier. We're smack in the middle of one of the worst wars in history. The Thirty Years War, it's called. Not halfway into it, from what she said. By the time this war is over, Germany will be half-destroyed. A fourth of its population—that includes us, now, 'cause we're here in the middle of it—dead and buried. There are gigantic armies out there, roaming the countryside. Plundering everything, killing everybody. We've seen it with our own eyes. Our police chief's lying in his bed with half his shoulder blown off." He glanced at Lefferts, up in the stands. The young miner was easy to spot, because of his bandages. "If Harry had any sense, he'd be lying in bed, too."


Another laugh rang through the gym. Lefferts was a popular young man, as much for his boundless energy as anything else. Mike turned and pointed to Rebecca. "She and her father were almost massacred. Robbery, rape and murder—that's standard operating procedure for the armies roaming this countryside.


"You don't believe me?" he demanded. He gestured angrily at the door leading out of the gym. "Ask the farmer and his wife we barely kept alive. They're not thirty yards from here, in the makeshift hospital we set up in the school. Go ahead, ask them!"


Simpson was still gobbling. Mike turned to him, snarling. "I guess this clown thinks we can keep those armies off by blowing hot air on them."


Another roar of laughter. Most of the crowd was with him now, Mike could sense it. Rooting for the home team, if nothing else.


"Sure, we can fight them off for a while. We've got modern weapons, and with all the gun nuts living around here"—another mass laugh—"we've got the equipment and supplies to reload for months. So what? There's still only a few hundred men who can fight. Less than that, once you figure out how much work's got to be done."


Now he pointed to Bill Porter, the power plant's manager. "You heard what Bill had to say. We've got enough coal stockpiled to keep the power plant running for six months. Then—" He shrugged. "Without power, we lose most of our technological edge. That means we've got to get the abandoned coal mine up and running. With damn few men to do it, and half the equipment missing. That means we have to make spare parts and jury-rigged gear."


He scanned the crowd. When he spotted the figure he was looking for, he pointed to him.


"Hey, Nat! How much of a stockpile do you keep in your shop? Of steel, I mean."


Hesitantly, the owner of the town's largest machine shop rose to his feet. He was standing about half a dozen tiers up in the crowd.


"Not much, Mike," he called out. "We're a job shop, you know. The customer usually supplies the material." Nat Davis glanced around, looking for the other two machine shop proprietors. "You could ask Ollie and Dave. Don't see 'em. But I doubt they're in any better position than I am. I've got the machine tools, and the men who can use them, but if we aren't supplied with metal—" He shrugged.


A voice came from across the gym, shouting. That was Ollie Reardon, one of the men Davis had been looking for. "He's right, Mike! I'm in no better shape than Nat. There's a lot of scrap metal lying around, of course."


Mike shook his head. "Not enough." He chuckled. "And most of it's in the form of abandoned cars in the junkyard or somebody's back yard. Have to melt them down." He emphasized his next words by speaking slowly. "And that means we have to build a smelter. With what? And who's going to do the work?"


He paused, allowing the words to sink in. Simpson threw up his hands and stalked angrily back to his seat. Mike waited until Simpson was seated before he resumed speaking.


He suppressed a grin. Kick 'em when they're down, by God! Mike gestured toward Simpson with his head. "Like I said, I disagree with everything about his approach. I say we've got to go at this the exact other way around. The hell with downsizing. Let's build up, dammit!"


Again, he swept his hand in a circle. "We've got to expand outward. The biggest asset we've got, as far as I'm concerned, is all those thousands of starving and frightened people out there. The countryside is flooded with them. Bring them in. Feed them, shelter them—and then give them work. Most of them are farmers. They know how to grow crops, if they don't have armies plundering them."


His next words came out growling. "The UMWA will take care of that." A chorus of cheers came up, mostly—but by no means entirely—from the throats of the several hundred coal miners in the gym.


Drive it through. "We'll protect them. They can feed us. And those of them with any skills—or the willingness to learn them—can help us with all the other work that needs to be done."


He leaned back from the microphone, straightening his back. "That's what I think, in a nutshell. Let's go at this the way we built America in the first place. 'Send me your tired, your poor.' "


Angrily, Simpson shouted at him from the sidelines. "This isn't America, you stupid idiot!"


Mike felt fury flooding into him. He clamped down on the rage, controlling it. But the effort, perhaps, drove him farther than he'd ever consciously intended. He turned to face Simpson squarely. When he spoke, he did not shout. He simply let the microphone amplify the words into every corner of the gymnasium.


"It will be, you gutless jackass. It will be." Then, to the crowd: "According to Melissa Mailey, we now live in a world where kings and noblemen rule the roost. And they've turned all of central Europe—our home, now, ours and our childrens' to come—into a raging inferno. We are surrounded by a Ring of Fire. Well, I've fought forest fires before. So have lots of other men in this room. The best way to fight a fire is to start a counterfire. So my position is simple. I say we start the American Revolution—a hundred and fifty years ahead of schedule!"


Before Mike had taken more than three steps away from the podium, a large part of the crowd—a big majority, in fact—was on its feet applauding. Not just shouting and clapping, but stamping their feet. He almost laughed, seeing the look of consternation on Ed Piazza's face. The principal was clearly worried that the stands might give way—but not so worried that he wasn't clapping and shouting himself all the while.


So much Mike had hoped for. Even expected, down deep. He knew his people—a lot damn better than some arrogant big shot like John Simpson.


But what he hadn't expected—certainly not hoped for!—was the immediate aftermath. He heard Melissa Mailey's voice behind him, speaking into the microphone. Melissa was in her mid-fifties, and spoke with all the self-assuredness of a woman who had been teaching her whole adult life.


"Mayor Dreeson, I'd like to nominate Michael Stearns as chairman of the emergency committee."


Mike stopped in his tracks and spun around, his jaw dropping. The crowd's applause deepened, grew positively fierce. Through the din, he heard Ed Piazza quickly second the motion.


Then, behind him—et tu, Brute?—he heard the stentorian voice of Frank Jackson: "Move the nominations for chairman be closed!"


Frank's motion drew more applause. Mike's brain was whirling around like a top. He hadn't expected—hadn't so much as—


"The nominations are closed!" announced the mayor firmly. "Call for a vote."


Mike gaped at him. Dreeson was grinning like an imp. "Under the circumstances—running unopposed and all—I think we can handle this with a voice vote." He pulled out a gavel from the shelf underneath and smacked the podium once. Firmly. "All in favor?"


The shouts ringing through the gymnasium were like a deafening roar. In a daze, Mike found himself staring at John Simpson and his wife. He was relieved to see that they were scowling as fiercely as mastiffs.


Well, thank God. At least it's not unanimous.


 


Moments later, Mike found himself shepherded up to the podium by Melissa Mailey, greeted cheerfully by Ed Piazza, and having the gavel thrust into his hand by Henry Dreeson. Before he knew it, he was chairing the town meeting.


That task, in itself, posed no particular difficulty. Mike had chaired plenty of UMWA meetings. Coal miners were as famous for their knowledge of the arcane forms of Robert's Rules of Order as they were for the often-raucous content with which they filled those forms.


No, the problem was simply that he hadn't caught up with the reality of his new position. So, after a time, he stopped worrying about what he was going to do, and simply concentrated on who he was going to do it with.


"This isn't going to work, folks," he said forcefully at one point. "You've already nominated a hundred people for the committee, and I don't doubt half of them will get elected. I've got no problem with that—but I'm still going to need a working committee to actually help me out. Fifty people can't get anything done. I need a—a—"


He groped for the right term. Melissa Mailey provided it: "You need a cabinet."


He gave her a sour glance, but she responded with nothing but a cheerful smile. "Yeah, Melissa. Uh, right. A cabinet." He decided not to argue the point at the moment. Remember, Mike—it's just a temporary committee.


Mike scanned the crowd. "I'm willing to pick the—uh, cabinet—out of the people elected to the committee." Half-desperately: "But there are some people I've just got to have."


A loud male voice came from the stands: "Who, Mike? Hell, just name them now! We can vote in your cabinet right here!"


Mike decided to accept that proposal as a motion. And the crowd's roar of approval as a second. All in favor? The ayes have it.


The gymnasium, for the first time, became silent. Mike's eyes scanned the crowd.


His first selections came automatically, almost without thought.


"Frank Jackson." Several dozen coal miners whistled.


"Ed Piazza." Hundreds of voices applauded—many of them teenagers from the high school. Mike felt a moment's whimsical humor. Not too many principals in this world would get that kind of applause. Most would have gotten nothing but raspberries.


His eyes fell on the teachers sitting next to Piazza. Mike's face broke into a grin. "Melissa Mailey." The history teacher's prim, middle-aged face broke into a moue of surprise. Ah, sweet revenge. "And Greg Ferrara." The younger science teacher simply nodded in acknowledgment.


"Henry Dreeson." The mayor started to protest. "Shut up, Henry! You're not weaseling out of this!" A laugh rippled through the gym. "And Dan Frost, of course, when he's up and about."


Mike's mind was settling into the groove. Okay. We need production people, too. Start with the power plant. That's the key to everything.


"Bill Porter." The power-plant manager's face creased into a worried frown, but he made no other protest. Machine shops. Critical. I'd rather work with Ollie, but his shop's the smallest. "Nat Davis."


Need a farmer. The best one around is— Mike spotted the short, elderly figure he was looking for. "Willie Ray Hudson."


His eyes moved on, scanning the sea of faces. Mike was relaxed, now. He was accustomed to thinking on his feet, under public scrutiny.


Need some diversity, too. Nip that in-group crap right in the bud. Out-of-town and— He spotted the face he was looking for. Which was not hard, since the face stood out in the crowd. "Dr. James Nichols."


Okay. Who else? Like all union officials, Mike was no stranger to politicking. It would be a mistake if his cabinet appeared too cozy and cliquish. I need an enemy. In appearance, at least.


His gaze fell on John Simpson, still glaring at him. The gaze slid by without a halt. No appearance there. I don't need an endless brawl.


When Mike's eyes came to a burly, middle-aged man sitting not too far from Simpson, he had to force himself not to break into a grin. Perfect!


"And Quentin Underwood," he announced loudly. The name brought instant silence to the gym. Utter, complete silence. Followed, a second later, by Darryl's loud "Boo!"


And, a second later, by Harry Lefferts' even louder bellow: "Treason! I say 'treason!' Mr. Chairman, what's the procedure for impeaching your sorry ass?"


That produced a gale of laughter, which went on for at least a minute. Throughout, the newly elected chairman of the emergency committee exchanged a challenging stare—fading into a mutual nod of recognition—with the manager of the coal mine in which he had formerly worked as a miner.


Mike was satisfied. He's a stubborn, pig-headed son of a bitch, pure and simple. But nobody ever said he was stupid, or didn't know how to get things done.


Henry Dreeson's voice came from behind him. "Anybody else, Mike?"


Mike was about to shake his head, when a new thought came. And there are the people outside. Thousands and thousands of them.


He turned his head and stared into a corner of the gym. Then, pointing his finger, he named the last member of his cabinet. "And Rebecca Abrabanel."


 


To his dying day, Mike would claim he was driven by nothing more than logic and reason. But the counterclaim began immediately. No sooner had the town meeting broken up into a half-festive swirling mob, than Frank Jackson sidled up to him.


"I knew it," grumbled his older friend. "I knew all that stuff about the American Revolution was a smoke screen. Admit it, Mike. You just engineered the whole thing to impress the girl."


With great dignity, Mike ignored the gibe. With considerably less dignity—almost with apprehension—he stared at the girl in question. She was staring back at him, her hand still gripping Judith Roth's hand. Rebecca's mouth was open, in stunned surprise. But there was something other than surprise in her eyes, he thought. Or, perhaps, he simply hoped.


"Oh, come on!" he snapped. Even to him, the reproof sounded hollow.


 


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