1636: The Chronicles of Dr. Gribbleflotz – Snippet 51
She almost stepped on them. The woman — more of a girl really — was huddled up, with the baby in her arms, staring at Ratter. The girl looked as if she hadn’t had a meal, let alone a good one, in many days.
“Hello, can I help you?” Tracy bent down and offered her a hand up, but the girl drew back in terror.
“If you come with me I’ll feed you and your baby,” Tracy said as calmly as she could. But it can’t have been calmly enough for the girl just sat there, on the ground, staring at her with her big blue eyes.
Tracy reached out and gently pulled the girl to her feet. “Come on, there’s food in the house.” She was talking to calm the girl down, and it seemed to be working. Or it would have if Ratter hadn’t kept making a noise.
“Ratter, shut up.” That didn’t work too well, so Tracy called him to her. When he arrived she picked him up and introduced him to the girl. “This is Ratter,” she said.
Fortunately, from his position of safety in Tracy’s arms Ratter didn’t feel he had to be so protective of his territory, and he tried to lick tears that were running down the girl’s cheeks. That got a giggle from her. It wasn’t much, but as far as Tracy was concerned, it was real progress.
Tracy led the girl into the house and sat her down on the bench seat by the table, then she put Ratter down beside the girl and stood back to take stock. She didn’t have much basis to estimate the age of the girl, but she looked way too young to be the child’s mother. But there was a war going on, and Tracy knew that it wasn’t beyond the bounds of possibility. Unfortunately, those possibilities included rape, and she wasn’t really sure she knew how to deal with the ramifications if that was how the baby had been conceived. There was however one thing she could do right now, and that was feed the pair.
Keeping an eye on her guests Tracy put the shotgun away before microwaving a watery bowl of stew and slicing and buttering some bread. The girl, her eyes darting from between Tracy and Ratter, was ever watchful. The moment Tracy put the food down the girl dived in.
Tracy stood back and watched. She was worried that the girl might be eating so fast that she’d be sick. Now, what to do? After a moment’s thought Tracy went to the phone and called the police.
It was getting late. Soon the sun would be hidden behind the surrounding hills. Tracy was waiting at the door as the police vehicle pulled up. Officer Ralph Onofrio stepped out of the driver’s seat while a young uniformed woman stepped out the passenger seat. While Ralph approached Tracy the young woman helped an older woman from the back seat before letting a large dog out of the back. It looked like a grey, long haired German Shepherd, except it’s ears didn’t flop over, and it seemed to have heavily furred shoulders and neck.
“Tracy, this is Police Recruit Erika Fleischer and her mother. We understand you need someone to help with a young German woman and baby?”
Before Tracy could answer, Ratter charged through the door, his fur puffed up, and a sound that could only be called a growl, issued from his mouth. The woman’s dog, actually little more than a puppy, advanced sniffing.
“Pluto?” Tracy turned to Ralph. “You called that monstrosity Pluto?”
“Hey, blame television,” Ralph said with a shrug. “Erika was watching a Disney video when her boyfriend turned up with the little fellow.”
“Little, that animal was never little. Just look at the size of those paws. He’s going to be enormous when he grows up.” Pausing for breath Tracy reached forward to restrain the excited Ratter. “Can you please keep your dog outside? We don’t need a territorial squabble just now.” With Pluto left waiting just out the door, occasionally pushing his snout through the “cat flap” Tracy lead Ralph and the two women to her guests.
Tracy watched Ted cycle up the drive. He disappeared for a couple of minutes into the garage before reappearing which the saddlebag slug over a shoulder and his rifle, still in its scabbard, in his hand. Behind her Erika joined them. She appeared upset.
“Her name is Richelle,” Erika said. “She’s almost fifteen, and the child is hers, a girl. The father was her stepfather, they executed him for incest. It’s only because of she was pregnant they didn’t execute her. She managed to escape before her baby was born.” She wiped the tears that were starting to fall from her eyes before continuing. “The bastard didn’t touch her until she was fourteen.” With the last comment Erika stormed out of the house, to be shortly seen crying into Pluto’s neck.
Tracy looked to Ralph. “What did she mean?”
“The bastard bit? Under fourteen and she’s under the age of responsibility, and the guy gets all the blame. Over fourteen, she’s a willing party, and also liable for the death penalty. What Erika probably means is, the bastard deliberately waited until his stepdaughter stood to suffer the death penalty for incest if she complained, before he raped her.”
Ted was just coming through the door as Tracy barged past him out into the yard. He turned to follow her.
“Don’t.” Ralph laid a restraining hand on Ted’s shoulder. “Let her go.”
Ted looked to Ralph. “What the hell’s going on?”
“She’s experiencing what my wife calls a ‘men are utter bastards’ moment. Give her a bit of time to cool down. She’s just had a rather brutal introduction to the local customs.”
Erika was peering through the windows trying to see into the basement workshop when Tracy joined her.
“Do you want to come in for a better look?”
She nodded and followed Tracy as she unlocked the door and turned on the lights. Erika found herself in a workroom. “What do you make in here?”
“Lately it’s been tents, and more tents.”
“Those marvelous canvas houses for the refugee center? You made those? Here?”
“Yes, I sent the last lot off earlier today. Until I get more canvas, I’m a lady of leisure.”
“Lady of leisure? What is that?”
“It’s an expression. It means that I won’t be working, in here at least. With two young children the household chores never end.”
Erika’s ears pricked at the mention of children. Her eyes casting around the workshop, she could see a cordoned off area where children could play without getting underfoot. Before she could voice her thoughts there was a clatter and whine from the door. Looking at it, she could see a long grey snout poking through the little flap near the bottom of the door. Turning to Tracy she started to speak, only for Tracy to interrupt.
“Oh, let him in. We’ll never have any peace if you leave him out there.”
“Is he going to be a police dog?” Tracy asked while Erika let Pluto into the workshop.
Erika turned her head, leaving herself exposed to a lick on the other side of the face. She pushed Pluto’s snout away. “Chief Frost has talked of it. He thinks Pluto would have much to offer the police department if he were properly trained.”
Erika, closely followed by Pluto, walked round the workroom. Stopping, she gestured at the machines. “Do you have anybody to help you?”
“Ted, my husband, used to help, but now he’s needed to help with the building program. Why do you ask?”
“I have a widowed sister, and a sister-in-law. Both have young children, so their work options are limited. Maybe they could work for you?”
The idea of having someone over the age of five to talk too appealed to Tracy. “I don’t suppose they know anything about using a sewing machine?”
Erika smiled. “No, but that means they won’t have any bad habits to unlearn.”
A few days later, Jena
Phillip held the directions close to his eyes so he could focus on the words, then he laid the paper down and proceeded to the next step in making nitrogen triiodide.
“Do you need glasses,” Jonathan asked.
“Glasses?” Phillip asked.
“Spectacles. You know.” Jonathan used the thumbs and forefingers of both hands to make spectacle frames and held them to his eyes. “They improve your eyesight.”
Phillip snorted and waved to a drawer under one of the benches. “Over there. They are useless.”