1635: THE DREESON INCIDENT – Snippet 41:

The down-time lieutenant in the tavern was petrified. His face, literally, as pale as a sheet.

"Look, Cory Joe, I'm sorry. I didn't know -"

The man sitting across from him at the table in the Thuringen Gardens nodded. "Yeah, I understand. Different last names. My last name 'Lang' comes from my dad. 'Hardesty' is my mother's maiden name, and it's the one she goes by these days."

Lang raised one hand and, with the other, began counting off the fingers. As he did so – as surreptitiously as possible – the other three young officers at the table began sliding their chairs back. If Cory Joe's fury cut loose, they wanted to be as far as possible from the coming victim.

"I'll explain the family relationships involved, just so you're not confused any longer. I'm the oldest of Velma Hardesty's kids. Born on January 14, 1979, up-time calendar." The first finger was counted off.

All the more so because "fury" did not accurately describe the intelligence officer's likely behavior. There would be no insensate and unfocused explosion here. If ever there lived a man who exemplified the old American saw, don't get mad, get even, it was Cory Joe Lang. If he decided – and this seemed to be the direction things were going – to take Lt. Stammler's characterization of Velma Hardesty as a "whore" as a personal insult, then who could say how far he thought the insult extended? Perhaps the idiot Stammler's companions were guilty also.

"She was only married to my dad for a year or so, before she broke it off," Lang continued. "Lucky for him. Then she screwed around for a few years with God knows how many guys. My half-sister Pam – she goes by 'Pam Hardesty,' not having much choice in the matter – was one of the byproducts. She was born on May 11, 1982, and she's the one outright bastard in the family. Nobody actually knows for sure who her father was. Including Velma. Might have been any one of several guys."

The second finger was counted off. Throughout, Cory Joe's tone had remained as level and even as an iron bar. Lt. Stammler's face somehow managed to get paler still; his three fellows slid their chairs back just a little farther.

"Eventually, though, she got married again. To a logger – poor stupid fuck must have dropped one on his own head – by the name of Carney Logsden. That didn't last much longer than her marriage to my dad, but it did last long enough to produce my other two half-sisters, Tina and Susan."

Two more fingers were counted off, leaving only the thumb sticking up. It wasn't a particularly large thumb, as these things go. But Cory Joe Lang's reputation didn't stem from his size. He was perhaps a bit larger and more muscular than average, but not extraordinarily so. His reputation stemmed from the fact that nobody sitting at that table had any trouble at all envisioning that thumb gouging out an eye or two. Or four or five. Wolverines aren't particularly large, either.

"They both go – or went, in the case of Tina, since she's dead now – by the last name of 'Logsden.' That was probably true enough, in the case of Tina, but me and just about everybody else has their doubts whether it really applies to Susan. She's the youngest of Velma's kids – born on December 11, 1986, almost eight years younger'n me – and by then Velma was back to fucking everything in pants. 'Course, that probably started happening the day after Carney was dumb enough to marry her."

He lowered the hand. "The point, though, is this." That calm, level, even tone was quite frightening to anyone who knew the man. "It's fair enough to call my mother a slut or a tramp or a roundheels. But 'whore'? Well, that's pushing it. At least, I've never heard anybody claim my mother took money to screw. Gifts, presents, anything like that, sure. She's about as avaricious as they get. But I think 'whore' goes beyond the pale."

Lt. Stammler managed to choke out a few more words. "I apologize, Cory Joe. I didn't know – "

"Yeah, sure. I know you didn't realize I was her son when you called her a whore, right in front of me. But so what? I mean, I really think a man owes it to himself to be a bit more careful how he uses words. 'Less he wants to wind up a cripple, or dead before his time."

There was silence, for a moment. Then, Cory Joe leaned back in his seat a little. "Ah, hell, Fritz, you don't need to shit a brick. The truth is, I could care less personally. My dad raised me, not that worthless bitch. I've seen as little of my mother as I possibly could, my whole life. Happily for me, she returns the sentiment."

Stammler swallowed. It seemed he would live to see another dawn. Perhaps even intact.

Lang waved his hand. "It's my sisters. Okay, half-sisters. I don't see too much of them, but I like 'em. Nice girls. I always remember their birthdays, whatever else I screw up. And either one of them might get a little upset if they heard their mother casually referred to as a 'whore' in public by a drunk soldier – not that they'd really dispute the charge too strongly, anymore than I would – so I really feel obliged to discourage that sort of thing."

"Never do it again!"

There was silence, again, for a few seconds.

"Well, okay, then. We'll leave at that. But you'd better not forget."

"Never do it again."