1637 – The Polish Maelstrom – Snippet 37

“I read up about it,” Kelly continued. “There’s different kinds of alcoholics, Gammas and Betas. Your Gammas are the falling-down drunks. Betas are different. They drink too much, and they can eventually kill themselves from it–cirrhosis of the liver, heart disease, whatever–but they’re what’s called ‘high functioning.’ In fact, this kind of alcoholic actually performs better when they’ve had a drink or two. Psychologists call it ‘maintenance drinking.’ It’s why guys like Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle could knock down a couple of shots and still hit home runs like nobody’s business.”

Keenan was skeptical, but he didn’t know enough about alcoholism to be able to argue the matter. Especially with his boss. All he knew was that Lannie was drinking more and more as time went on and maybe he was a “high functioning drunk” but dammit he was still a drunk.


Thousands of feet above them, Lannie Yost had pulled out of his dive and was about to do another.

“Damn, this is one fine plane!” he exclaimed. “Bob, you done yourself proud.”

Kelly’s understanding of alcoholism wasn’t wildly incorrect, but it was skewed. There were such people as high-functioning alcoholics and they did engage in maintenance drinking–and, indeed, their physical performance did actually improve after one or two drinks, which was not true of people who weren’t alcoholics.

But that just spoke to their physical performance and reflexes. Yes, a great baseball player who was a high functioning alcoholic and had had a couple of drinks before going out to the plate could hit a home run. Just like a test pilot accustomed to flying aircraft still kept his physical skills after a couple of drinks.

What he started losing, though, was his judgment. His reflexes and coordination might still have withstood the effects of the alcohol, but his mind hadn’t. He was, to use the vernacular, pickled.

Up until now, the Wasp had performed splendidly. Bob Kelly was indeed a good aircraft designer. But he’d gotten the performance of his new airplane partly by cutting corners.

Lannie was exuberant, now. His next dive was steep and he wasn’t going pull up until the last minute. This was a war-plane, no? You don’t pamper a fighting aircraft.

Down he went. Down and down.

On the ground below, Keenan hissed. Bob’s jaws tightened. “Damnation,” he muttered through tight lips.


Lannie broke off the dive and starting pulling up. But he was now putting more g-force on the wings than they could handle. A wire support on the frame pulled loose, screw and all. That threw six times as much weight on the other wire and it broke loose as well.

The Wasp’s right wing started coming apart. The flaps on that side ripped loose. The crippled wing itself stayed attached to the fuselage but it was no longer functioning as a wing. It was just flapping aimlessly as the plane began plunging toward the ground.

The wing no longer provided any lift, but because it stayed attached to the fuselage it did provide drag–and even in a dive the Wasp hadn’t been traveling all that fast. As it headed for the inevitable crash landing, the plane never achieved terminal velocity.

Never came close, really. It was probably not doing more than sixty miles per hour on impact.

A crash at sixty miles per hour is plenty good enough to kill someone, of course. But alcoholics have a patron saint of their own, a Dubliner by the name of Matt Talbot, and apparently he was on the job that day. Instead of smacking into the ground, Lannie’s plane struck an oak tree.

No small oak, either. This was an old, mature, really big tree.

A Quercus robur, to be precise, a type of white oak. It had a circumference of thirty feet, stood eighty feel tall and had a crown about the same diameter. It had been alive more than four centuries before the Ring of Fire.

The aircraft never made it to the ground. It was pretty much torn to shreds as it passed through the branches, of course, as lightly constructed as it was. Pieces of the plane’s wings that were too big for birds to use for their nests stayed in the canopy for the rest of the tree’s lifespan.

Lannie Yost didn’t make it to the ground, either. He and his seat finally came to a stop in a branch fork about fifteen feet up. He was still in one piece, although you couldn’t exactly say he was intact. He had four broken bones and a lot of lacerations.

It took a while to get him out of the tree. They had to call in the Grantville fire department for help.

West Virginia firemen–and the down-timers on the crew weren’t any different–do not have what you’d call a delicate sense of humor. So by the time they finally got Lannie out of the tree, he’d been subjected to a lot of ribaldry, quite of bit of which focused on his drinking habits. Hey, Lannie, most guys don’t wrap a plane around a tree when they go on a bender, was a fair specimen of the jokes.


Bob’s wife Kay was furious, needless to say. Fury came naturally to the woman.

That goddam drunk Yost cost us a fortune! It’s not just the cost of replacing the materials, either. We’ve got penalties in the contract if we don’t deliver on schedule.

Bob’s view was less stringent. We can salvage the engines, which are what’s really expensive, and those so-called penalties have a lot of loopholes in them–thanks to you, since you negotiated them. It specifically exempts any time lost due to accidents during testing.

That hadn’t slowed Kay down at all. Not many things did.

Still! What’s important is that we get back on schedule!

No, Kay. What’s important is that Lannie didn’t get killed. 


Whether they got hit by penalties or not, the fact remained that Kelly Aviation wasn’t going to be able to deliver the Wasp on schedule to the forces guarding Linz. It would be up to Hal Smith and his company to get the planes they had under contract to the front lines in time to meet the Ottoman onslaught that would resume in the spring.

Kay was irate about that, too.

That bastard’ll get all the next contracts. You watch!

Bob’s view was less pessimistic. Relax, darling. He hasn’t got that much capacity.

He will if this goes on! And why haven’t you fired Yost yet?


Kelly didn’t fire Lannie, although at Kay’s insistence he did make him sign a last chance agreement. So, Lannie started attending AA meetings. By now, as big as the population of Grantville had become since the Ring of Fire, there were at least a half dozen AA groups in the town. Down-timers joined readily, when their pastors cracked the whip–which seventeenth-century pastors were not shy about doing.

Lannie’s first relapse came in less than two weeks. But Bob had been reading up on alcoholism some more, so he dug in his heels when Kay demanded that he fire Yost as the last chance agreement stipulated.

Relapses are inevitable. All the studies say so. They’re just part of the treatment. The way I figure it, Lannie hasn’t forfeited his job under the last chance agreement as long as he keeps attending the meetings.

There was a reason almost everyone in Grantville liked Bob Kelly, even his competitor Hal Smith. Almost no one liked his wife, though.