1637 – The Polish Maelstrom – Snippet 33

1637 – The Polish Maelstrom – Snippet 33

He gave Denise’s mother a look that wasn’t skeptical, just questioning. “This is not a big problem for the people going to Vienna, because Noelle and Denise just have to be seen, not heard–and then, seen from a distance. But, up close, it’s usually hard for an up-timer to pass as a down-timer.”

He made a slight brushing motion with his hand. “Don’t ask me why, because the differences are subtle. Just take my word for it.”

“Or take mine,” said Jozef. “He’s right. I can almost always tell if someone’s an up-timer. On the other hand, I have a lot of experience dealing with Americans and being around them, which is not true of almost any down-timers. So they won’t know they’re American, but they will know they’re not what they claim to be. They’ll smell a rat, as you would say.”

He looked at Christin. “So, can you do it? Pose as a down-timer, I mean?”

“Don’t see why not. I’ll be a stranger in a strange land, don’t forget. I’ll be posing as a German, not a Pole, and my German–regular German, I mean, not Amideutsch–is pretty damn good.” She shifted languages: “Even got a Thuringian accent, people tell me.”

She opened her mouth and peeled back her lips, still with her chin cupped in her hands. The teeth thus displayed were not in bad shape, by down-time standards. They were white and none were missing. But it was obvious that unlike her daughter Christin had never gotten orthodontic care as a child.

“Even got lousy teeth.”

“As long as you don’t let anyone look into your mouth,” said Gretchen. The teeth of up-timers differed from those of down-timers in several respects. One of them was the number of fillings they had. Up-timers typically had a lot, especially if they were Christin’s age, where down-timers usually had none.

But that was something that could be kept hidden, well enough. And if Christin were captured and her mouth subjected to that sort of inspection, she was probably doomed anyway.

“All right,” she said. “I have no objection.” In truth, she was rather inclined to support the proposal. Gretchen thought Christin George was a good influence on Jozef. Maybe he’d be smarter than most men and listen to his woman.

Still looking very irked, Denise resumed her seat. “Okay,” she said–as if she were the suspicious mother barely agreeing to her daughter’s proposed outing.

Again, Gretchen waited to see if anyone had anything further to say.

Apparently not. “All right, we’re adjourned. Jozef, you and Christin stay. We need to discuss how we will stay in touch.”

“Radio.”

“Obviously. But what code do we use? That one you used was good but we have to assume it’s been compromised. And I’d be happier anyway with–“

Christin rose and headed for the door. “This is going to get technical, I can tell. Make my brain hurt. Jozef, I’ll see you at home.”

****

Christin didn’t actually have any problem with “tech stuff.” The real reason she’d left the room was waiting for her in the corridor outside.

“Okay, Denise. Spit it out.”

Her daughter had had enough time to be reasoned with. Christin had figured she would be. She knew Denise better than anybody, even Minnie. The girl got excited easily but she also settled down quickly.

Denise’s frown was now one of puzzlement rather than disapproval. “I don’t understand why you’re doing this, Mom. Do you really have the hots for Jozef that much?”

“I’m getting pretty damn fond of him, as a matter of fact. But no, that’s not why I’m doing it.” She waved her hand briefly. “Well, some of it’s him. Mostly, though, I’m doing it for Buster.”

Her daughter’s frown was now joined by wide eyes. “Huh? How does Dad figure into this?”

“What killed him, Denise?”

“Those stinking anti-Semites. You know that.”

Christin shook her head. “I didn’t ask ‘who.’ I asked ‘what’.” She didn’t wait for an answer. “I’ll tell you what killed him. The seventeenth century killed him. And all the centuries that went before it, except maybe the one when Christ was around. What killed him was a world where people think they can kill anybody they hate and they hate almost everybody who isn’t like them. And there are no governments that’ll stop them–hell, most of the governments put their stamp of approval on it.”

She paused, and placed her hands on her hips. “Isn’t that why you started working for Francisco Nasi? Sure, I know some of it was the excitement of what you’re doing. But I know you, Denise. You don’t approve of this crap anymore than I do and you figure Francisco’s working to end it.”

“Well. Yeah.”

Christin nodded. “Your dad was a patriot. Most people didn’t think of Buster that way, because he didn’t talk about it much and he never had any use for people who waved the flag all the time. He thought they were mostly phonies. But he approved of the country we had. The United States of America, I mean. He didn’t think it was perfect–not even close–but he figured it was way better than most of what the human race had come up with before. After the Ring of Fire, he supported what Mike Stearns was doing right from the start because Mike was trying his best to recreate that country here.”

She waved her hand again, more expansively. “Not exactly the same, of course. But close enough so everyone can have a life of their own and vicious bastards like the ones who killed Buster don’t dare raise their heads.”

Her eyes had gotten a little teary, so she paused to wipe them with the back of her hand.

“Anyway, honey, that’s why I’m doing it. I’m in favor of what these Polish people are trying to do, and I’m going to help. If Buster were still here, I think he’d approve.” A grin appeared, which was very much like the one Denise got so often. If the world don’t like it, the world can jump in a lake. “Well, he wouldn’t approve of me screwing Jozef, of course. But since he’s gone, that’s neither here nor there.”

It took a few seconds, but eventually Denise’s frown was gone. She linked arms with Christin and the two of them started walking down the hall toward the stairs that would take them out to the square.

“I love you, Mom.”

“I love you too, honey. We’ve got some Polish ancestry, you know. That’s maybe a little of why I’m doing it also.”

“I didn’t know that.”

“Well, I’ve never been big on tracing family trees and Buster cared even less. But, yeah, my mother told me about it once. Turns out her grandfather came over here–there, I mean, back in the USA–from somewhere around Warsaw. Mom thought I’d be interested because he stuck out like a sore thumb–the only Pole at family reunions that were otherwise totally Lebanese. That was sometime in the last century, toward the end. The nineteenth century, I mean.” She smiled. “Think of it as two hundred and fifty years from now.”

“Mom, that’s ridiculous. The past is the past and the future is the future. Stop mixing them up.”

“Says the girl whose boyfriend was born almost four hundred years before she was.”

“Mom, that’s sick. Eddie’s only twenty-four.”

They reached the stairs and started down, still arm in arm.

“What was his name?” Denise asked. “Your great-grandpa’s, I mean.”

“His last name was Smolarek. I think I’m pronouncing that right, but I’ll check with Jozef. I’m not sure about his first name. It was a long time ago when my mother told me about him and, like I said, I’m not real big on family trees. Boguslaw, something like that. Boleslaw, maybe?”

“You don’t know our own ancestor’s name?”

“Hey, smartie-pants. You didn’t even know he existed until I just told you.”

“Not my fault. You didn’t tell me until just now. But I bet I would have remembered his first name.”

They’d reached the ground floor and headed for the exit to the square. Still arm-in-arm.

“Well, sure. You’ve still got a youngster’s memory,” said Christin. “You’re only seventeen.”

“Eighteen! Nineteen next month!”

“Your math really sucks, though.”

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