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"Good Lord, wasn't it!" she exclaimed. "The front window rattled when that
boom got near. I was afraid it'd break to pieces. Don't know what we would've
done if it did. That's a big old piece of plate glass."
"Mighty dear," the man said, by which he meant expensive.
"Isn't it just?" Irma said. "Isn't everything nowadays? I had to have a tooth
filled last week, and it cost me twenty pounds. Twenty pounds, can you believe
it?" She paused and looked startled. "I had to go to Parkersburg to do it. I
hope my dentist's office is still there. I hope my dentist is still there."
"How did you get them to let you into town with the travel ban on?" Justin
"Sweetheart, I told the cops at the checkpoint I was from Elizabeth, and they
let me by," Irma answered. "Nothing ever happens here, so they knew I wasn't
carrying any stupid disease."
"Have there been any cases in Parkersburg?" Mr. Brooks didn't say any more
than that. He didn't want to come right out and ask if the waitress had
brought the sickness back with her.
And she didn't seem to catch the drift of the question. "My dentist didn't
talk about any," she said. Then she went back to the tall counter between the
kitchen and the outer part of the diner. She plucked two plates off it and set
one in front of Justin and the other in front of Mr. Brooks. "Here you go.
Enjoy your breakfasts, now."
Justin dug in. The diner would never win any prizes, but it wasn't bad,
either. Irma went on shooting the breeze with the other customer till his food
was ready. After she gave him his plate, she came over and refilled Justin's
water and Mr. Brooks' coffee. Justin felt her breath on the hairs of his arm.
After the question Mr. Brooks asked, he wished he didn't.
The older man was thinking along with him. "Well, we'll find out, won't we?"
Mr. Brooks murmured. "Find out how good our shots really are too."
"I'm afraid we will." As soon as Justin heard what he'd said, he wished he
hadn't put it like that. He didn't believe in omens and bad luck not in the
top part of his head he didn't. Believe or not, he knocked wood. He hoped it
was wood, anyhow, not some synthetic. He didn't knock loudly, but Mr. Brooks
noticed. "It can't hurt," Justin whispered. The older man nodded.
They both left the little diner as soon as they finished. Would that do any
good? Justin had his doubts. By Mr. Brooks' somber expression, so did he.
Again, though, it couldn't hurt.
"What now?" Justin asked.
"Now we hope," the coin and stamp dealer answered. "Hope we have some
immunity. And Irma's not sick, so chances are we'll be all right. Of course,
who knows how long the virus takes to incubate?"
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"Yeah," Justin said, and then, "That isn't really what I meant. What are we
going to do today?"
"Oh. That." The way Mr. Brooks said it, it didn't sound very important. He had
a point, too. He had to think for a moment before he went on, "Well, laundry
would probably be a good idea."
"Yeah," Justin said, more happily. They were washing their clothes at the
Snodgrasses'. Elizabeth didn't boast a washeteria, which was what they called
laundromats here. They'd also had to go down to Palestine to buy more for
themselves after they got stuck here. Now they had three or four days' worth
of outfits, not just what they'd worn when they got here.
Mr. Brooks smiled at him. "You won't be sorry to see Beckie again, will you?"
"Why should I be?" Justin answered. "She's nice. I'm not going to bring her
back to the home timeline or anything, but she's nice." He suddenly wondered
when and if he'd be able to get back to the home timeline himself. Crosstime
Traffic wouldn't be eager to let people who might have been exposed to a
genetically engineered disease bring it back with them. Diseases from other
alternates had ripped through the home timeline more than once. People were a
lot more careful now.
"Okay." Mr. Brooks set a hand on his shoulder. "Why not? Let's go deal with
the laundry, then."
Beckie listened to Justin with rising horror. The more she tried to fight it
down, the more it rose. Even the waitress' name somehow fueled it. Irma?
Nobody in California would carry such an old-fashioned handle. "She came back
from Parkersburg, and there's sickness there?" she said.
"She came back from there, anyhow," Justin told her. "She said her dentist
didn't talk about any cases. That proves nothing one way or the other. But
Parkersburg's a fair-sized town, and it's close to the Ohio border, and it's
on a main road, so. ..."
"Yeah. So," Beckie echoed unhappily. "Well, I don't think I'll get a whole lot [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]


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