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  1. #1


    This is my most recent story. I worked more on character development and tried to improve with less use of exposition. It's about 120,000 words, IIRC. Hope you can see some improvement. Again, the characters are dealing with the economic challenges I think could come upon us at any time.


    Chapter 1 Spring, 2014

    The truck at the curb had a sign on the door that read Simmon's Lawn Care. A young man was loading a mower and other equipment as the realtor drove up with her prospective buyers. As they approached the house, she went into her spiel.

    "Look at those flowers! The owners always kept the property perfectly groomed, and the inside is just as wonderful."

    The well dressed couple followed her up the broad curved sidewalk to the front door, a brilliant red that contrasted beautifully with the timbered fieldstone home.

    "It's the perfect time to buy," she went on. "Interest rates are as low as they have ever been and home prices are going up, but they are still very low. This home is a once in a lifetime opportunity. The couple need to sell it due to job opportunities so they might adjust the price for you. But even at this price, it won't last long. The property has over 3 acres, and includes the stream at the back."

    At the end of a long tour showing the 4 bedrooms, 5 baths, high vaulted Great Room, and 3 car attached garage, the couple said they would like to make an offer, somewhat lower than the asking price. They sat at the mirror finished mahogany dining table to sign some papers and they were on their way. The realtor was estatic. She hadn't sold a house yet this year, and needed the commission.

    When the closing had been completed at the realtor's office, the sellers got into separate cars and drove away, each with a check in their pockets pursuant to an order of the divorce court. The woman, Sharon, in her sparkling new Volvo sedan turned south. The man, Robert Lee Evans, in his Lexus followed her on the interstate until she took the Jeffersonville exit. He continued on into Louisville straight to the dealership where he'd bought the car 8 months earlier. He left with a check for $22,000 and a well used Ford Focus from a neighboring used car lot, a paper temporary tag taped on the back.

    He drove to the QUIK LUBE down the street and got an oil change and chassis lube, then drove back to Indiana. He was in no big hurry. He had a few days before he could get his things from the house and only a couple bank deposits to make, one to his ex-wife's account for the balance the court said he owed her--the reason for selling the Lexus--and another deposit in his new personal account for $12,280, the sum total of his wealth at that time.

    At least it would soon be over, he thought. He thought it was time to decompress with a drink at his favorite watering hole, but decided against it. He didn't have anything in common with the crowd there now that he was out of a job. He drove on, back toward Corydon where he had rented a room for the next week at a motel. He had a restraining order against him that forbade him to enter the house again without a law enforcement officer to assure that he complied with the court mandated allocation of the home's contents. That was set for 3 days hence, and he was to remove all his possessions on that day, never to return.

    Just over a month ago, Robert had been the head of accounting for a major corporation in Louisville, with an income well into 6 digits. Corporate headquarters had determined that they would downsize to meet the current slow market conditions and did everything possible to cut costs. One useful move was to fire all the department heads and promote the next in line to those little thrones at a much lower salary. It assured loyalty of the newly promoted, put the fear of God and Corporate Offices into them, and cut each department's cost by half.

    A week later, Sharon had filed the divorce papers with her father's lawyer. Robert didn't have a lawyer and the one he chose in haste did not fare very well for Robert's interests in divorce court. He lost about 80% of what they had in joint property. True, his wife had earned at least half the money in her position at the insurance company, but she spent most of it on herself and he had paid the bills, a fact lost on the judge.

    Robert drove to the small liqour store just off the courthouse square in Corydon and bought a fifth of Johnny Walker Black Label and then went to the grocery at the edge of town for a small foam cooler and some ice. He planned to get thoroughly snockered tonight. An hour later at the motel watching Dancing With the Stars, he was well on the way to his goal.

    Sunlight from the window hurt his eyes as he woke the next morning with a booming headache and a bad case of cotton mouth. There wasn't even a bottle of aspirin in the medicine cabinet, only his razor and a can of shaving foam. Robert got a drink of water and immediately felt drunk again, but he knew that would pass. He shaved carefully and put on the work jeans and shirt, the only outfit besides his rumpled suit and dirty dress shirt he had there. He'd had the foresight to keep a few hundred in cash when he'd made the bank deposits, so he pocketted the money, his wallet, handkerchief, penknife and keys, stuck his gold plated pen in his shirt pocket and left.

    He drove to the nearest place that he thought would offer orange juice and coffee, a Waffle Stop restaurant a few blocks away. He chose a table at the end farthest from the juke box, in case some idiot thought he had to have music with breakfast. But the breakfast crowd was gone. His Rolex said it was 9:35 AM. The waitress took his order, speaking a bit louder than his throbbing head liked, but she was prompt to bring it. He got half the OJ down without feeling too bad, and most of the cup of coffee. When the girl returned to refill his cup he decided he was hungry and ordered eggs and sausage. By 10:15, he was feeling halfway human and left her a tip after he paid his tab.

    Next door was a Goodwill Store. On impulse, he walked over to it and idly looked over the clothing. He found 2 decent shirts and another pair of jeans that fit, grabbed a cheap Chinese made belt and paid a grand total of $12.88 for it all. His dress shoes looked very much out of keeping with his outfit, so he drove across the street to the Wal Mart and bought a pair of sneakers and 6 each of underwear, t-shirts and socks. On the way to check out he picked up some Tylenol in the pharmacy section then got a local newspaper.

    Thankful that the little Ford got good fuel economy, he filled the tank and went back to his room. He looked for some place to rent, but they all cost more than he thought he could afford with no income. The TV news at noon was dull and told him nothing he didn't already know. His normally well ordered thinking was shot to hell. He tried to concentrate on what he had to do next and made some notes with the pad of paper in the motel room. Keeping that handy in a pocket, he drove to a storage rental business across the highway and rented a single car garage size space for a month. Hungry again, he realized he hadn't eaten much of anything yesterday, so he went back to the Waffle Stop for lunch.

    The waitress recognized him. He looked a lot better now than he had this morning she thought, handsome, even. She asked what he wanted to drink?

    "I'll have some your good coffee," he said, and managed a brief smile. She was a petite brunette, probably a few years years younger than him, and more cheerful than he felt.

    She came back with the coffee and asked if he was ready to order?

    "Yes, I'll have the steak plate."

    "What kind of dressing on your salad?"

    "Thousand Island would be good," not knowing what was available. He hadn't ever been in one of these restaurants before. But he was used to making it up as he went along. That had been part of his climb up the professional and social ladder. He thought bitterly that it should work the other direction as well.

    The steak smelled wonderful on the griddle. His mouth was watering when she brought it.

    "Need anything else?"

    "Not now, thanks." He ate slowly, savoring the steak even though it was not quite what he had been used to for many years. I guess I was really hungry, he thought. As the girl refilled his coffee, he had a thought.

    "I'm sort of new here. Do you know where I could find a reasonable place to rent? I'm on a budget."

    "You mean an apartment? There's the place down the street. I think they have some openings."

    "Those are nice, but I'm looking for something as cheap as I can find."

    "There's the trailer park where I live, over on old highway 64. They have one empty. Had to kick the guy out because he hadn't paid his rent."

    "You have any idea what it would cost?"

    "About $295 a month, but you pay for the lights and gas. It's furnished, though."

    "I can do that. How do I find it?"

    She gave him directions and the owner's name. "Tell him Erin told you about it. Maybe I'll get a break on my rent."

    Chapter 2

    He gave the man a $300 damage deposit and another $100 for the electric company deposit. He would have to go downtown to the gas company to sign up there. He did and was moved in that evening. The electric company truck had just left after putting the fuses back in his meter. He saw Erin drive in a few minutes later. She recognized his car and knocked on his door.

    "Hi neighbor! I'm right next door. Glad you found the place."

    "I appreciate the tip on finding it. I'd ask you in for coffee, but I don't have anything at all."

    "Come over to my place. I'll put some coffee on."

    While Mr. Coffee gurgled and dribbled in the background, they sat at her table to wait.
    He said, "I am recently divorced and things aren't quite settled yet, so I don't have a thing but my clothes. I'll go back to the house and get my stuff this week, though."

    "Oh, wow. That's a bummer. I remember my divorce like a bad dream. It's a real downer. Don't let yourself get depressed. Find something to do and get busy is the best. Lucky I had a girlfriend who got me going again."

    "I'm still in shock. A month ago I was the head of accounting at a big company and had a fine home and a beautiful wife. I got downsized out of my job, and she filed for divorce. We sold the house yesterday and the divorce will be final as soon as the money is all settled."

    "Oh, that sucks. I had to find a place real quick, too. I had no place to go when I left him and I had to live with Cindy for three months before I could afford a place."

    The coffee machine quit dribbling so she got up to fill their cups. When she turned back to the table he was rubbing his eyes. She poured with no comment except, "Just sugar, right? It's in the bowl there."

    She got a couple spoons and sat back down.

    Robert said, "There's a restraining order against me to keep me out of the house. She told them I would probably steal her stuff. I have to get the Sheriff to go with me to get my stuff so he can check it off the list and make sure it isn't hers. That happens day after tomorrow. I have to get a trailer hitch put on this car so I can pull my utility trailer back with my stuff on it."

    Erin perked up a little and said, "There's a place on out the highway here that does that. I hear he's supposed to be all right. It's the auto repair shop just past the John Deere place."

    "I can probably find that. I hate to have to call my Dad for help. I'm just not ready to tell him about this yet. Oh crap! I'll have to call him. I can't haul the lawn mower on that trailer, it's too big. I'll have to get him to come get it. I hope he can come tomorrow. I don't have anywhere to put it. It's one thing worth some money I have left."

    "How big is this mower?"

    "It's a small tractor, a Kubota. We had a 3 acre lawn."

    "Three acres?! Where did you live?"

    "In Forest View Estates, up close to Georgetown.'

    "Ew! That's the high rent district."

    "Yeah. We were doing all right for a while. I've got nothing now."

    "That has to be tough. I thought I lost a lot, but that is outrageous."

    "At least we didn't have any kids. That would have made me crazy. Stuff I can get again if I think I need it. But I worked pretty hard for what we had. I paid for it all and she got most of it because she made a little more money than I did. The hell of it is, she spent all her money on herself. Clothes and jewelry, facelift, Botox, dental work, spas, all five courses and desert for her. She didn't want any kids, because she was afraid it would spoil her looks. She actually said that."

    "Honey, I hate to tell you this, but you didn't lose much when you lost her."

    "You're probably right. I'd better go see if I can make a bed over there. No. Crap. There's no bedclothes. I'll run back to the Goodwill and see what they have."

    "Go to the Salvation Army down by the bridge, They're cheaper and they've got more of that kinda thing. It's right on this old highway. Just drive down the hill and it's on the right just before the bridge."

    "Got it. I better run before they close. Thanks for everything!"

    'You're welcome. You take care of yourself."

    When he had gone, Erin thought she wanted to get to know this guy a lot better. He was nice and he was a looker, for sure. Then she remembered what her Mom used to say, "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is." Erin decided she would wait and see how things went. She'd been fooled before.


    "Dad. This is Robert. I have a problem."

    "What's goin' on? Are you all right?"

    "Yeah, I'm okay. But Sharon and I got divorced."

    "That's a bad deal. I hope you're going to make it through this okay."

    "'Oh, I will somehow. It's just that I have to pick up all my stuff from the house tomorrow, and I can't haul the Kubota. I've got no place to keep it either. Could you come get it and take it to your place?"

    "Hey, I'm retired. I can do what I damn please! Don't you worry about it. I'll bring my trailer down and get it."

    "I'd sure appreciate it Dad. Otherwise I'd have to drive it somewhere."

    "Does it have to be tomorrow?"

    "Yes, it's a court order. The Sheriff has to be there to make sure I don't take any of HER stuff!"

    "That's bull! You wouldn't take anything that wasn't yours!"

    "She just did that for spite. She knows better. Or maybe she doesn't. I don't know how her mind works now."

    "Okay. What time?"

    "The Sheriff is supposed to meet me there at 9:00 in the morning. I've got my small trailer to get out of the garage and then I have to load it, but the Sheriff will want to hurry and get back to his donuts and coffee. We'd better plan to be out of there pretty fast."

    "I'll be there. You need more people to help?"

    "No, the rest is all little stuff. I can get it myself."

    "Okay. Call me if anything changes."

    "Will do. Thanks a lot Dad. I owe you."

    "You don't owe me nothin'. See you in the morning."

    Chapter 3

    The tractor was firmly lashed down with ratchet straps and ready to go. Robert and his father carried out the last of the items from the garage under the bored gaze of the Sheriff's deputy. His toolbox was the last thing after a number of plastic cases. Robert lowered the tailgate ramp of the little trailer. It took both of them to push the heavy toolbox up the ramp. His Dad said, "This thing must be full of bricks. It's heavy!"

    Robert gave him a look and the older man shut up. When the top tool chests were carried out, they tied it down with straps on the small trailer and packed camping gear and boxes of clothing around it and the lawn and garden tools. They spread a cheap blue tarp over it all and tied it down with bungee cords.

    "That's it, I guess. I'll be over to see you soon Dad. Maybe Sunday afternoon. I'll call you."

    "That's fine. I better get on the road."

    Robert told the deputy he was finished. He nodded and replied, "Yeah, that's everything on the list. I'll lock it up and you can go. Thanks for not being a problem about this. I had one guy who tried to sneak out all kinds of things that wasn't his. This went smooth. Sign here saying that you got everything on the list and that's it."

    Robert signed the paper on the clipboard, then smiled at him and shook his hand. "Thank you sir. I'll be going."

    He was halfway to Corydon when he let out a sigh of relief after the deputy passed him. He well under the speed limit with the heavily loaded trailer and began to relax. He'd been terrified that the deputy would ask him to open and look through the plastic cases and the toolbox, but he didn't. Laziness was a virtue sometimes.

    Robert waited until after dark to unload the toolbox. It was too heavy to move safely by himself loaded, so he'd gotten some cardboard boxes at the grocery dumpster and emptied the drawers into them. He carried them into the house trailer one at a time and spent some time putting things away in the smaller bedroom. Erin had been working the evening shift, so she wasn't there to see what he was doing. He noticed when she drove in after 11:00 that night. The whole load was inside by then. The trailer was unhitched and padlocked with it's chain to a utility pole. They had been known to run away in places like this trailer park.

    The next morning, he spent some time getting his good clothes hung up to get some wrinkles out of them. The rest he stuffed wherever there was room. It was a fairly small 2 bedroom trailer, but there was enough storage space. Still, the living room floor was stacked with boxes and the car was still full. He made a couple trips to the storage unit with extra things to stow away. It was less than a mile from the trailer park.

    He trusted the locked storage unit more than the mobile home door locks. They showed evidence of being jimmied before, and two of those plastic cases from the garage held Charles Daly shotguns that were worth more than that deputy would likely make this year. They were both Empire grade, heavily engraved pre-war guns, one a 12 gauge and the other a 20 gauge. They had a lot of gold inlay and had last been appraised at over $14,000 each due to their rarity and near perfect condition.

    He still could not believe the guy had not looked in the cases. But they intentionally looked like the rest of the packed camping gear, and he'd made a show of looking in the ones that had his tent and camp gear. It had worked, but he'd been sweating bullets the whole time. Sharon had no idea what his guns were worth or even how many he had, and in fact she had only seen the shotgun and the .22 he used for hunting. Had she known, she'd have done her best to get them away from him.

    The tool box had a lot in it besides tools. There was a small plastic tube in the bottom drawer wrapped in shop towels. The tube contained 18 gold Krugerrands. That's where his Christmas bonuses had gone for the past 7 years. Since he began buying them the price had gone up a lot then down again, but overall he was still ahead on the investment. Robert expected the price of gold to go higher again and he wasn't in any hurry to sell them.

    The bottom drawer was full of ammunition for several of his guns, and the bottom section with the drop door had the reloading press, dies, and a store of components. The powder was in one pound cans stashed in the various camping gear. He had never used any of those things, but had bought them with the guns since it seemed like the logical thing to do. Sharon had never gone camping in her life and had no interest in the accoutrements thereof. Robert remembered that he'd never got to do as much of it as he would have liked, just a few hunting and fishing trips.

    They had always had separate bank accounts so she'd had no idea how much money he made until it came out in court. She was furious then because she instantly knew he'd held back a lot of it. Robert had felt a bit guilty at first for that sort of thing, but as the years went by, he saw that she would spend all he'd give her and more. He'd started by just putting some cash back, then decided it would be better if he invested it somehow, thus the guns and silver. He wished now that he'd done more of that. No. He wished he'd never married her. He was beginning to wish he'd done a lot of things differently.

    Chapter 4

    On the way to his parents' on Sunday, Robert thought back about how badly he'd wanted to escape the small town as a kid. Actually, they had lived on a small farm a quarter mile outside of Greenville. He'd attended the small elementary school there with kids much like himself, not wealthy, but not poor either. Upon starting at the big consolidated high school he met a lot of upper middle class kids from the city suburbs who had made fun of the 'hicks' from the countryside. They had more money to spend and when they were old enough they got nice cars to drive. They made it clear that he didn't belong with their crowd.

    Bitter about that, he vowed he would have money one day and began planning for it. His family could not afford for him to go to college, so he worked at whatever menial jobs he could get and paid his way through a 2 year accounting program. His first real job was for an accounting firm in New Albany, then he soon found a better one at the hospital there. He read the employment ads in the Sunday paper religiously and tried to have at least a couple good job interviews a year. He learned how to conduct himself in an interivew, being quick to read people's reactions. The position in Louisville came from an acquaintance who knew someone there. Robert had immediately taken his latest refined resume' to their human resources department and had an interview within days. He was offered and accepted an entry level accounting position a few days later, after negotiating the best salary he could.

    His ambition had left little time for a social life. He spent nights taking management courses at the university extension campus, turning that into a degree by the time he was 24. A title change promotion followed and 5 years later when the department head retired, he was promoted to be department manager. He was 31 when he was made Chief Financial Officer for the facility making more money than he had ever dreamed he could.

    The next year he'd met Sharon when she pitched an insurance plan to his company. She had wined and dined him a couple times during the course of business, then he'd asked her out privately. Sharon was a beautiful woman and had the social graces he had learned the hard way. A romance developed and they were married a year later. He'd reached a milestone in his own mind with his new trophy wife. It took a couple years to understand that she had the same thing in mind. He was presentable in her world of ambition where she put him through social occasions designed to increase her status.

    Being on the receiving end of that didn't sit well with him, but he understood that what was good for her could be good for him, also. He assisted her program that kept her climbing the corporate ladder. He realized later that she was undoubtedly using all her considerable assets to get the promotions that followed. He resented that she was sleeping with some old geezers at the insurance company, but he didn't mention it, because they had just bought the McMansion in the Georgetown suburbs, the right place to live for their social status. Robert remembered how he'd told himself when they moved in that he had finally arrived. He even had the satisfaction of meeting two of his old classmates who lived in the same subdivision in somewhat lesser homes than his. He'd made sure they recognized him then he ignored them as he felt they deserved.

    Reliving all that wouldn't change anything he realized. With some effort he got his mind back on matters at hand. The traffic was heavy on the state highway. It was a relief to turn off onto the county road and drive slowly the last quarter mile to his parents' small farm.

    "Come in, son. Mary Ann has a fine meal waiting on us."

    "Hi Dad. Good to see you. Thanks again for helping with the tractor. I was up against a wall."


    "Mom! Something smells good in here."

    "It's just some fried chicken. How are you Robert?"

    "I'm fine."

    "Don't lie to your mother, Robert Lee Evans! Your eyes are dark and you look skinny."

    "Yeah, I haven't got much rest lately."

    "Well don't lose any sleep over that woman. Any woman who would leave at the first rough spot isn't worth worrying over."

    "You're right about that. I haven't had time to think about it much. Today is the first day I didn't have to be somewhere or do something."

    His mother said, "You found a place to live in Corydon? You could stay here you know."

    "I found a cheap place to rent until I get a job. It's a mobile home and just right for one person."

    Robert dug into the mashed potatoes and gravy, then helped himself to a chicken thigh. Conversation stopped as they all ate for a while, then Robert began to explain.

    "She took me pretty good in the divorce. She had a better lawyer and got most of everything, so I don't have much left. We were in debt pretty far on the house and my car, so I didn't come out with a lot of cash, but there is enough. I'm fine for now, and Sharon knew almost nothing about the value of my things. I'll be okay for money."

    His Dad said, "Jobs are hard to come by these days. Have you started looking yet?"

    "No. I have to update my resume' and I just got my computer home. I still have my old printer, so I can get something put together this week."

    "Bill, now don't you pester him about that. He's got enough on his mind. Let's talk about something else. I made a peach pie for desert. I'll go get it."

    The pie was delicious. Robert was very full after the meal. He loosened his belt a notch, something he had probably not done since he left home. It was a peaceful place, and he was almost feeling drowsy. He refilled his coffee cup and sat back down at the table.

    His Dad said, "I put your little tractor in the barn. We only have 6 calves out there now so there is plenty of room. It can stay here as long as you want."

    "Thanks Dad. I'll probably buy another place when I get settled down. There are some other things I have to take care of right now, filing for unemployment and getting a license on that car. It still has the paper tag on it. And Sharon took all the kitchen things, so I need to buy some so I can cook."

    "Don't go buying anything," his mother said. "I've got all that stuff we inherited from our parents in the upstairs and you just as well use that. We'll go look through it after while and see what you want. We'll fix you right up."
    Last edited by patience; 04-04-2014 at 09:10 AM.

  2. #2
    Chapter 5

    Robert left with the car packed tight with extra blankets, sheets, pillows and all the kitchenwares he could possibly need. He was carrying things inside when Erin drove up that evening.

    "I can invite you over for coffee now," he said. "I went to Mom's for dinner today and she loaded me up."

    Erin looked at the pile of things on the floor in the trailer. "Want some help putting that all away?"

    He hesitated, thinking, then he said, "Yeah, that would be good. I'll get this bundle and we can go in."

    Erin went to work with practiced efficiency in the kitchen. A cast iron skillet and drip coffee maker went on the stove, pots and pans went under the sink in a neat stack, and the dishes and glassware went overhead above the sink. Robert had just gotten the blankets refolded when she finished and said, "I can help with that."

    They refolded sheets and pillow cases, blankets and a quilt. He moved to the bedroom to put them away and she asked, "Aren't you going to make the bed?"

    "Uh, yeah. Let me get this stuff off of it."

    Erin helped straighten sheets and spread the quilt on top. It looked more like someone lived here, he thought. Robert couldn't help but notice Erin's figure as she put finishing touches on the bedmaking and she caught his eye at it, but said, "I put water on to heat for coffee."

    Robert said, "It's in the car. I stopped and got some." He ducked out the back door from the bedroom and came back in with two sacks of groceries.

    He found the cold items and began to fill the refrigerator while she opened the can of coffee and measured it into the pot, then added the boiling water. They had the mess put away by the time the coffee had finished.

    "Dammit, I forgot dishrags and towels."

    "Somebody thought of it, 'cause I found them and put them in the drawer there."

    "Ah! Mom to the rescue," he said.

    He dampened a dishcloth and wiped off the table while she found cups and spoons. He filled the cups and dug in the last bag for a sack of sugar. Erin had the sugar bowl and cream pitcher on the table, so he filled them and sat down to drink and rest.

    "We work pretty good together," He said.

    "You do all right in the house for a man. But can you cook?"

    "I can operate a skillet and a coffee pot, maybe heat a can of beans. I'm no chef, that's for sure. I'm pretty mean on a grille, though."

    She smiled at him over her cup and said, "You'll have to prove that to me sometime."

    Robert decided that her smile was very attractive. Maybe it had something to do with her personality, he thought. He smiled back and said, "You're on! How about tomorrow night? I'll get some steaks. I don't have the fancy gas grille anymore, so the Hibachi will have to do."

    "I'll bring a salad, okay? I get off at 6:00 tomorrow."

    He smiled and said, "It's a date."

    Erin liked the sound of that. But as she walked to her place she remembered what she'd heard about men on the rebound from a divorce. She'd better take this slow.

    Chapter 6

    Robert looked out the kitchen window admiring Erin's wiggle as she walked to her front door. It seemed so natural, not the carefully studied and slightly exaggerated movements of his ex-wife. Erin seemed to be a what-you-see-is-what-you-get sort of girl. He hadn't picked up on her playing any sort of games at all. That was so refreshing, after years of his chess match marriage.

    She was intelligent, too, in a street smart kind of way. He didn't know her well enough to estimate her education, but it was probably high school. He'd learned that she was the shift manager at the restaurant, although that didn't mean a whole lot. She could only be scraping by on her earnings there. He had seen a relatively new laptop computer in her trailer, so she must know something about them. He was curious about how she afforded the computer with what had to be minimal income. Her Toyota was as old as his car, but it looked very good. Robert was used to evaluating people, but she was hard to figure out.

    He got back to updating his resume'. When he was satisfied with his resume' for a professional accounting position, he saved it as a document and went to work on it again, tailoring it to suit a lower level accountant job. He saved that and printed a few copies of each. The laserjet printer cartridge lasted for thousands of pages, but he needed printer paper, and soon.

    One advantage of this trailer park was internet service, and it was pretty fast wireless for $40 a month, not bad he thought. The evening was consumed using the net to research local businesses and not so local ones that could possibly use his services. During college he had done some contract type work so he didn't rule that out, but he was seeking a full time position so he shotgunned the area with his search. By 11:00 that night, he printed out a list of 84 prospects, most of them not very promising, but you had to try. His resume' included a recent professional photo of himself in one corner. All his data was on one page, knowing that improved the chances of someone reading it before it hit their circular file. Tomorrow he would make a trip to the Post Office. He had phone numbers for each prospect on the list and planned a follow up call for each after a few days.

    After a breakfast of cold cereal and milk, he took 3 suits to the dry cleaners, bought envelopes and stuffed them, then stuck on the labels he'd printed. He bought stamps and mailed them all. He would keep his cell phone charged and turned on during business hours until he had a job. Now he could relax some, so he went to Wal Mart and bought printer paper, steaks, and baking potatoes, charcoal, starter fluid, and a roll of aluminum foil for tonight. The cart was getting full after he bought some canned food, teabags, 2 pounds of hamburger and a few fresh vegetables. No sooner than he put those purchases in the car, he went back inside and bought multi-vitamins, antacid, some bandaids, and other things to fill his medicine cabinet. Starting a household from scratch was eating his cash faster then he expected. The next stop was his new bank to make a withdrawal.

    His small fridge was pretty full after he packed away his purchases. The place was almost able to support life, he thought. He had the TV hooked up to a decrepit antenna on the roof, but it worked for 4 stations. The microwave in the trailer looked pretty rough, so he gave it a detailed cleaning until he thought it was safe to put food in there. He glanced at his watch and decided it was time to work on supper. He got out a can of green beans and panicked thinking he had forgotten to buy a can opener, but ratted through the utensil drawer and found an old one. God bless Mom, he thought.

    The hibachi needed a serious cleaning. He had no brush, no steel wool pads, and no dish soap. He did have a little bar of hand soap he'd taken from the motel. One more trip to the Wal Mart and he hoped he was ready to go. The hibachi got cleaned and put out on the patio slab.

    Chapter 7

    The charcoal was just getting started good when Erin's car pulled in. Robert came out with potatoes wrapped in foil and waved to her. He had the steaks seared on both sides when she came over with a bowl of salad.

    "Hi! That smells good!"

    "Yeah, it's making me hungry," he said and realized he hadn't stopped for lunch. Erin disappeared inside with the bowl. He heard dishes rattling and then she appeared again. She walked straight to her trailer and came back with a pair of plastic lawn chairs.

    "I'm tired. It was hectic this afternoon. We have a new girl at work. Just before I left she forgot to put the coffee server under the machine when she started a new batch. Coffee went all over the cook top, under the waffle irons, under the tea machine, over the side and on the floor. I stayed until she calmed down and got it cleaned up."

    "Rest a while. My turn to cook."

    "You got it together pretty fast here. It takes most people a week to get to where they can cook after they move in."

    "You and my Mom saved my butt. And a couple more trips to Wal Mart."

    Erin laughed. "Just a couple? I ran a shuttle there for a few days after I moved in."

    "These are almost ready, Could you get some plates? I don't have a table and I didn't want them on the floor."

    "Yup," and she went to fetch them.

    He stabbed the potatoes with a fork and pronounced them done. She held plates while he dished up potatoes and steaks. Inside, he found she had set the table with silverware and had poured the iced tea he'd made. She said, "I hope you like blue cheese dressing. That's what I found today at work."

    "I love it. Didn't know they had it there."

    "It's not too popular so it goes out of date and they toss it. I catch it, and whatever else they throw out. Fringe benefit," she said between mouthfuls. "Oh, this is so good."

    "Wal Mart's finest."

    "Most guys try to seduce women with booze, but I don't like to drink. A good steak hits my weak spot."

    "I was just trying to get better acquainted."

    "I didn't mean it like it sounded. That would take more than a steak. Acquaintance I can do."

    "Tell me about you."

    "I'm 34, divorced, and working my butt off to stay alive. How about you?"

    "I'm 39, divorced, and working my butt off to get a job. I mailed 84 resume's today."

    "Sounds like too many people I know. Jobs are hard as hell to find."

    "I'll get something, but it might take a while. There have been a lot of cutbacks in Louisville, so I tried to hit this whole area within 25 miles. I can drive that far."

    They finished eating and began the clean up together. Erin found the dish soap and had the dishes clean and draining in minutes. Robert decided to let the charcoal burn off the grill so it would be easy to wash tomorrow. He picked up his charcoal and starter fluid and put it on the gravel under the trailer where some underpinning was missing. They sat down together on the couch to let the meal digest.

    Erin said, "I should tell you the rest. I was married for 4 years to a guy who fell into a bottle. I tried for a while to sober him up, but I gave up. I got tired of lame excuses and I told him to go to hell. I'd had a good job at the battery plant, but I got laid off not long after we got married. He drove a truck for the concrete place, but he'd be laid off most of the winter and lay around drunk. I don't know why I married him in the first place. I suppose because he was good to me when he was sober."

    Her voice trailed off. Robert let the silence alone for a minute, then he said, "I started off trying to be successful. I worked like a dog and was finally making real money when I met Sharon. She was ambitious like me and working her way up in the insurance company. I don't think we ever loved each other. It was more like company politics at work. Maybe we both got what we deserved."

    They sat without speaking for a minute, then he said, "You know, we're not supposed to talk about our ex on the first date."

    "I know. But I started it. It's part of our life. Part of who we are."

    "Yeah. But I'm beginning to think I don't want to be that guy any more."

    "You're an okay guy. Don't knock yourself."

    "Maybe I'm different now. Hell, I KNOW I'm different. You wouldn't have liked me the way I was."

    She looked a question at him.

    "I was--I don't know, just after money. I thought that's what it took to be somebody. Maybe that's so, but it's not worth what it takes to get it. I know that much now."

    "Gotta have money to get along. How well I know."

    "If it doesn't eat you alive. Y'know, we never TALKED like this. We just did our thing and made money and spent it and tried to look like we were happy. God, it was awful. We had that big house and big lot and all I got done was mow grass or plow snow off that long driveway."

    "It seems like all I do is work and try to keep ahead of the bills. I hate being poor."

    "I did too. I was poor as a kid. My parents did all right. We weren't really poor, but I felt poor when the rich kids at school rubbed my nose in it. I got 'em back, though. Two of them anyway. They lived in the cheap end of our subdivision, and I got to snub them when I saw them there. It wasn't worth it."

    He sat with his head down, looking at his shoes. Erin noticed that he had a hard set to his jaw that said a lot.

    "You can't get anywhere beating yourself up about it."

    "Yeah. I guess not. I'm just mad at myself for falling for that life. And I'm mad at her for taking what was mine. What I worked for."

    "You've got enough to get started again. That's all it takes."

    "I guess I know that, but I don't feel it. Not yet. Maybe someday."

    "You know about the grieving process? The stages and all that?"

    "I think I heard that somewhere. But I'm not grieving for her. She was a cold, conniving b!tch. Nothing lost there. I was too, come to think of it."

    "Don't get all depressed about it. Think about what can be good from here on."

    "I'm not ready to think about that yet."

    "Grief takes a while. It's not her. It's your whole life you lost. Sounds to me like it wasn't that great, though."

    "No. It wasn't."

    After a few minutes, each of them busy with their own thoughts, Erin said, "What are you going to do tomorrow?"

    "I don't know. I hadn't thought about it. I was just looking forward to this evening."

    "I'm off tomorrow. Maybe we could do something together. I've got some packages to ship, but that's all."


    "Yeah. I sell jewelry on eBay. It helps pay the bills. It's cheap stuff, but it looks good." She laughed and said, " Kinda like me, I guess."

    "Don't call yourself cheap. You're a fine person."

    "Not that way. I mean I'm a cheapskate. I can pinch a penny hard enough to make Lincoln cry."

    "I bet that's right."

    Robert glanced at his Rolex watch and noticed how silly it looked in his surroundings now. He asked, "What would you like to do tomorrow?"

    "I don't know. I know what I want to do tonight."

    He looked sharply at her, wondering what she meant. Erin took his hand and kissed him lightly on the lips, then backed away to see his face. She decided she was right and kissed him again, more thoroughly.

    With a slightly husky voice, she said, "You desperately need to get laid."

    Robert realized she was right. His look told her all she needed to know.

    Then she said, "Me too." She saw his worried look and, ever practical, said, "Don't worry about it. I take the pill to regulate my period."

  3. #3
    Chapter 8

    Robert woke up late and felt her hand on his arm. Erin was asleep beside him, her light brown hair sprawled all over the pillow. She woke up when he moved and stretched with a smile on her face.

    He realized his mouth was hanging open and said, "You're gorgeous, do you know that? You're really sweet, too."

    "That's the nicest thing anybody ever said to me."

    "It's true."

    She kissed him and said, "You ready for breakfast?"

    "Not quite yet." He kissed her seriously.

    Breakfast came later. They were half dressed as they ate eggs and leftover steak. He looked at her and asked, "Are you all right with us?"

    Erin smiled and said, "It's a lot better than all right."

    Robert said, "I don't think anyone ever made me feel this way. I may be in love with you."

    Erin looked at him with a tear starting to form in her eye and said, "I hope it lasts, because I'm in love with you."

    He kissed her across the table and said, "What are we doing today?"

    She said, "I'll do the dishes and think about it."

    They discovered a mutual interest in old things and killed the afternoon looking around the local antique shops. She oohed and aahed about a China teapot with pink flowers on it, so he bought it for her. It cost less than $20, but Erin loved it. They went grocery shopping so he could fill in some little things in the kitchen, then went home to eat.

    On the way back, he said, "You never told me anything about your parents."

    "My parents are gone," she said, and clammed up.

    Robert caught the edge in her voice and dropped the subject like a hot rock. He would wait for her to tell him when she was ready, but it made him curious.

    "I have to go home tonight. I've got to catch up on my eBay stuff. I don't want to be late shipping something and get a bad review." Erin said.

    "I guess I need to do some planning, too. It's been a helluva week and my head hasn't caught up yet."

    She loaded the sink with dirty dishes and had them finished in record time. Robert grabbed a dish towel and tried to help.

    Alone, Robert began to dispassionately analyze his situation the way he had always attacked any problem. He had done all he could think of toward a job for the present. He would need money so he took stock of his assets. He'd already decided that the Rolex would have to go. It was a poor time to sell gold, so he would hold that until the market was better. The Daly shotguns could go. He had seen a billboard somewhere about a gun show in Louisville coming up soon. He should check into that.

    His tools he would keep and the rest of his guns, the 9mm Berreta, the Mossberg shotgun, a Ruger 10/22, and a Remington 700 BDL in .30-06 that he'd never got the chance to sight in the scope. It was for an elk hunting trip that never happened. His camping gear was of no great value, although it was good quality. He'd keep that. There was a collection of fishing gear he would keep, too. He had always loved the outdoors, but for the past 15 years there had been very few chances to spend time there. He wanted to change that.

    He wasn't sure what to do with the tractor yet. It was in excellent condition, and although he had no use for it at this time, he might in the future, so he'd let that stay at his Dad's for now. It wasn't a big farm tractor. The Kubota B2320 came with a small front end loader and rear grader blade that he'd used to landscape the back of their lot. He had gotten the repoed machine as a package deal that also included the mower deck, a mounted rototiller, and a landscape rake. He'd paid $14,000 for it all and it only had 600 hours on it. All of that was at his Dad's now, so he was sure it would get used enough to make sure it was ready to run.

    The gun show was scheduled for Saturday, May 18th at the fairgrounds in Louisville, only 3 days away. He had plenty to do before then. First he found a jeweler in Louisille that dealt in Rolex watches and sold his GMTII for $8,700. It had cost almost $12,000, but he would take the loss since the watch had little real value to him now. He was amazed at how his priorities had changed in just a couple weeks. He stopped at Wal Mart on the way home and bought a Timex for $42 that did all the same things. It even looked similiar and he didn't have to carry a gun to keep someone from stealing it.
    That brought his bank account to just over $20,000.

    His phone rang Thursday morning. The caller introduced himself as Glenn Bartel, the owner of a local accounting office.

    "Hello Mr. Bartel. How can I help you?"

    "I received your resume' and I'd like to talk to you about work. Could you come in today?"

    "What time would be convenient?"

    "After lunch, at 1:30, if you can make that."

    "That would be fine. And your office I believe is located on north Main Street?"

    "That's right, 1207 North Main."

    "I'll be there. I look forward to meeting you."

    It was a older medium sized home converted to office use with a simple sign in front. Glenn asked if he would consider working part time, or as a contract employee?

    "I've done that in the past. Whatever is best for you."

    "I'd like to stay away from payroll paperwork and expense, so if contracting is suitable, we can talk money."

    They reached an agreement that Robert would provide all his own equipment, primarily a computer and printer to meet the requirements of a contract employee. Bartel would provide all the tax reference information and would retain the files he processed. They agreed to $24 per billable hour, payable weekly. He may not get more than 20 hours per week, but Bartel had to file quarterly taxes for some local businesses and he had a backlog of personal tax work already on time extension.

    They shook hands on the deal after Bartel directed him to a local computer store. It would take a couple days to get his equipment and install the needed software, so he would begin work the following Monday.

    It wasn't close to what Robert had been earning, but it was physically close, only a mile from where he lived. Most importantly, it was money to live on until he could either find something better, or start an office of his own. That could be really tough in a small town, so he was content for now. Robert went directly to the computer store, also in a converted residence, and ordered what he needed. They would have it assembled and software installed ready for pickup by the end of the next day, Friday.

    On the way home Robert picked up 2 plastic cases from his storage unit to make ready for the gun sale. The custom fitted wood cases were inside, wrapped in flannel and in pristine condition. That evening he gave the Charles Daly shotguns the full treament of cleaning and light oiling, careful to wipe away any excess. He had photographs of the guns he would carry into the show, and only take in the guns themselves when he found a serious buyer.

    Saturday morning he fixed breakfast and was on the road by 8:00 AM. He paid his way into the gun show soon after it opened and planned to spend the day if necessary. The tables were packed full, as when he'd attended these before and there was a big crowd fllling the aisles. Robert spotted the displays of antique guns and approached each booth in turn, leaving a pair of color copies of his photographs. There was a description of the guns and contact information on each one. He had worn a bright red shirt and a white western hat in order to be easy to pick out of the crowd, many others being decked out in camoflage.

    Tired from walking around, he went to the lunch counter early to beat some of the crowd and bought a soft drink and a bratwurst. An older man approached him as he munched on his food, introduced himself and asked if he was the one with the Daly shotguns?

    "Yes. I have two, a 12 gauge and a 20 gauge. I assume you saw the photos."

    "I did. I'd like to see the guns if you have them with you."

    "I have them in the car, but here are better photos."

    The older man studied the glossy 8 by 10's carefully while I finished my food. He asked, "Have you got a price in mind?"

    "What have prices been doing in the past year?"

    "Generally, they are down about 2% to 5% from a year ago."

    "Okay. A year ago I had these appraised at $14,000 each by that collector group over there." I pointed to the collectors' organization booth. I took out a pocket calculator and punched the buttons then showed him the numbers. 95% of $14,000 is $13,300. I'll take $13,500 each, your choice."

    "Are you ready to show them to me?"

    "Let's go."

    We got to my car and I showed him one case at a time. The guns were nearly identical except for gauge. He took a deep breath, let it out slowly and said, "I'll give you $25,000 for the pair."

    "No. I will go to $26,000 for the pair, and that is all."

    He looked at me utterly calm and said, "I suppose you want cash?"

    I nodded.

    "Would you want some gold as part or all of the price?"

    "At what price for gold?"

    "One ounce Canadian Maple Leafs at $1,340 each."

    "I'll take 20 of them for the pair."

    "You drive a hard bargain."

    "Take it or leave it. The guns will appreciate, as I'm sure you know."

    "Done. Shall we do it here?"

    "I saw a gold booth inside. I think he does purity testing. Would you mind?"

    "Fine. Let's go do that."

    Robert concluded his business and drove away with the 20 ounces of gold. He stopped at a store and bought a roll of duct tape and some envelopes, then drove downtown to the coin dealer where he had done business in the past. The spot price of $1,340 an ounce was for what they called "paper gold", meaning futures contracts. Coins normally traded at a slight premium over that. He sold the coins for $27,400 in cash. He asked to use their rest room, where he distributed the fat packages of $100 bills in envelopes around his waist, duct taped in place. Downtown Louisville has been known to have some crime. Upon safely reaching his car, he drove home. Peeling the tape off was painful.

    He parked the money in the storage unit for the moment, in a ziplock bag wrapped with a towel in his camping tent. He didn't trust either the mobile home or his car as safe places.

    Chapter 9

    Cindy looked up from the grill she was cleaning and said, "Mornin' Erin. Hey! You look good today. Have a nice weekend with your pretty guy?"

    Erin blushed and Cindy caught it. "Got it bad, huh?"

    Erin was making 2 pots of coffee as she said, "He sold that watch he had. The Rolex. I think that's a good sign."

    "Did he need money THAT bad?" Cindy was getting out sausage to thaw for the morning crowd.

    "No, he got a job at some accounting place. It's not like that. He put the money in the bank. Then he bought a Timex. He was real happy about it, too."

    "Huh. I'd be crying about losing a watch like that."

    "I think he's over the status thing. He went and sold some collector guns had, too. Said they were an investment and it was time to sell out. He reads investment stuff on the net all the time."

    "Sounds dull to me. I guess that's okay if you have a lot of money. Does he keep his head in that computer all the time?"

    "We spend a lot of time just talking, if that's what you mean. He doesn't drink, either."

    "You better hang on to this one. If you don't want him, I'd take him in a heartbeat. I don't mean that. He's your's, but I'm just sayin'."

    "We better open up. It's time," Erin said.

    Robert kissed her hello and gave her a hug.

    "Okay," Erin said.

    "Okay what?" Robert gave her a blank look.

    "Okay, I'll move in with you. You've been trying to talk me into it for how long now?"

    "That's great! I'll help you get your stuff, just say when."

    "How about we just do it a little at a time so it's not such a mess? My rent is paid till the end of the month."

    "That makes sense. There's a bunch of things I should take to the storage unit anyway and that will make room."

    She smiled and gave him a peck on the cheek. "What do you want for supper?"

    He said, "Something cool. It's been hot today."

    "BLT's okay?"

    "That'd be good. I've got some boxes left under the trailer. If you're moving in, we don't need two sets of everything, so some of it could go to the storage unit."

    Erin sat at her computer posting more items on eBay. She'd sold quite a bit this week. The best part was, all the rest of her business fit in small boxes under the couch, except for the UPS box she'd just received with new stock. Her radio softly played the country station in the background. She hummed along as she worked.

    "There! That's taken care of," she said and went to turn up the radio.

    She looked over at Robert putting away groceries and said, "Dance with me!"

    His face fell as he said, "I don't know how to dance."

    "Com'ere. Anybody can two-step! I'll show you."

    A Texas fiddler was getting busy with some number in 2/4 time as she showed him the basic steps, then did them herself in time to the music. They were almost in synch when that song ended. She kissed him and said, "Let's practice a little," as another tune began.

    He was getting distracted by her rythymic movement, but he tried hard to keep in time to the music. After a couple more songs, a slow one followed. She pulled him close and they moved their feet in slow time. Her arm went around his waist and his settled on her back as the other hands kept time to the music along with their slow swaying. Robert was keeping up with her and managed to not step on her feet.

    When that song ended, they went to a commercial and she pulled him closer then kissed him thoroughly. "You did good. That deserves a reward," she said as she unbuttoned his shirt.

    Supper was late.

    A week later she had him on the dance floor at the Country Jamboree doing passably well. "You have good rythym. If we come here often you'll be as good as the best of 'em."

    "I listened to a country music as a kid, but not lately. It didn't fit with the crowd I hung out with. How'd you get interested in this?"

    "It was what was on the radio when I was a kid at home. Seems to go with farm life."

    "Where was the farm?"

    "South, down by Laconia. Dad raised beef and hay, and a few pigs sometimes. We always had chickens. Went to South Central High School with Cindy, so we've known each other forever. I'm a country girl at heart."

    "I'm beginning to like country girls better all the time."

    The park owner was disappointed when she told him she had moved in with Robert. He shrugged and said, "Thanks for giving me some notice. I'll get an ad in the paper to rent your place. You get your damage deposit back. The place looks a lot better now than when you moved in."

    Erin took the check to her bank the next day and cashed it. Her balance was over $1,400 better after deposits from Paypal. She'd been working her business hard lately, and it was mounting up. Since she didn't have to pay rent, electric, and gas this month, it would grow a lot faster. She spent almost nothing on herself.

    Robert had noticed that. He came into the kitchen one Saturday morning and said, "Yesterday was payday for me. Let's go shopping. I'll buy breakfast if you'll tell me where to go."

    "I'd rather eat here. I get pretty tired of restaurants."

    "Yeah, I bet you do. Okay, I'll make something." He lit the stove and began to cook.

    She asked him, "Where do you want to go?"

    "Up to you. I'm going to buy you some clothes. Whatever you want."

    "I don't need any clothes. Well, maybe some underwear, but you don't have to be along to shop for that."

    "That's why I want to come along. You need encouragement to buy stuff for yourself."

    Erin knew he was right. She'd been frugal for so long she didn't have many clothes. She got by wearing her work uniforms most of the time. She agreed finally and said, "Let's go to the Goodwill."

    They cleaned up the kitchen and drove off.

    "I can easily afford new clothes, you know."

    "Yeah, I know, but I just love to find a bargain. Humor me."

    "Okay, we go to Goodwill first. Then we go to Clarksville and look, all right?"

    "Mm'kay. That'll work."

    Robert was amazed at what she bought at Goodwill for $38. The clothing was good quality and looked like new. She insisted on going home to put it all away before they went anywhere else.

    "I need to look at what I have and see what's missing," she said.

    They ate lunch at Sam's Tavern on the way to Clarksville. Erin knew Robert was trying to spoil her, so she tried hard to not look at the menu prices. She gave in and ordered a lobster tail. It was delicious.

    When they got to the Mall in Clarksville he leaned over and kissed her, then said, "Leave your tight fisted little heart in the car and take this."

    Erin looked at the money and looked up at him. "You're crazy."

    "Yeah. I went nuts about you. I want you to feel as beautiful as I think you are. We're going to Victoria's Secret. Now be a good girl and don't come out with any money left over, okay? There's a lot more where that came from. I'll be in the bookstore over there when you're finished. Take your time."

    Erin gulped at the prices, but made an effort to find things she really liked. She tried on a few things and began to really get into how she looked in some of it. She couldn't help it. She counted the money and added up prices in her head. There was still a lot of cash left, so she went back to the racks. Now that she knew what size to get in their things, she got busy trying on more. Her bag was stuffed when she came out. When she found Robert in the book store, she had a wicked gleam in her eyes.

    He hurriedly checked out the gardening book in his hand and ushered her down the mall to the exit and said they weren't finished yet. They drove across the bridge to Louisville and he found his way out Shelbyville road to Macy's. It felt so much better to go here with her, he thought.

    She looked at him and said, "What could I possibly need in there?"

    He pulled another wad of cash out of his pocket and said, "I dunno, but you're here. Go spend this. Plan on going out somewhere nice."

    "Like, where?"

    "Like Derby Dinner Playhouse, and that country dance place you like. That'll do for starters."

    Macy's had a range of prices, but Erin couldn't bring herself to spend so much. She found the sale rack and bought some things, then at his insistence went back to look at some more. She bent her practical bone getting the evening gown, but the little black dress with spaghetti straps would work for anything. The strappy black shoes were versatile and she got some good quality hosiery to match her complexion. She found a black jacket with sparkles would go with either dress for cooler nights. Somewhere in her boxes at home were zircon earrings and pendants that would look like a million dollars with these outfits and cost her about 8 bucks. She grinned at the thought.

    Their next stop was Hollister's Western Wear, further out Shelbyville road. Erin came out of the dressing room there in a fringed fitted shirt and tight jeans decorated with rhinestones. Robert said she looked devastating in the outfit. He grabbed a white western hat from a display and plunked it on her head. It was big enough that it covered her eyes. She took it off and giggled then went looking for one that fit. It took longer to find the boots she liked.

    Erin said, "If we don't go home now we'll have to rent my trailer again for more room."

    "Have fun today?"

    "Yes! It was hard at first. But then it got to be fun. Let's go home."

    "Yes, m'lady."

    That evening she tried on some of her new things to show him. He helped her change and told her the clothes were wonderful on her. He added that he thought she looked better without them. Later that evening she told him that shopping was great, but sometimes it was more fun to stay home.

    Chapter 10 June, 2013

    "I'm going shopping for a house to buy. Would you like to go along?"

    Erin looked at him and said, "Did you rob a bank, or hit the lottery?"

    "I have a job and I sold some things. You know that."

    "I have to work tonight and be there by 4 o'clock."

    "That's fine. I'll buy lunch somewhere if you want."

    Erin sighed, "That would be good. I'm tired of cooking."

    They were at his bank by 9:30 AM, where he asked to see the Loan Officer.

    "Can I help you?"

    "Yes, I'm planning to do some investing. I'd like to see what you have in the way of foreclosed residential properties in a price range around $30,000."

    They got shuttled to another office and another person, but soon were looking at homes in various states of repair. He inquired about a modest 3 bedroom home on a one acre lot. It appeared to be in a rural area.

    "That is a fixer-upper. It has some damage and maintenance issues."

    "Where is it located?"

    "South of town about 6 miles."

    "That's a little far out for us. Do you have something closer?"

    "We have four in town, but they are priced higher. There is one on the north side of town near the Industrial Park that might interest you. It is a 2 bedroom, all masonry construction on 2 acres. It has a large garage and is priced at $32,900. It also has some repairs needed."

    "We should look at that one. Do you have a picture of it?"

    "Only the original real estate listing photo. It is several years old."

    The small photo didn't show much. Mr. Schumer gave them the address and directions. He told them he would be there until 5:00 PM. Robert had noticed the price had been reduced a couple times on the listing he saw with the photo. The last price he saw was $39,000.

    The house was old, probably built in the 1930's. It wasn't very pretty. There were weeds as tall as he was, the driveway gravel had been beaten into the dirt and with grass and weeds growing in the center ridge. The house was built of concrete blocks with old style steel framed windows. The front door was heavily weathered with peeling veneer. That matched the peeling white paint on the concrete blocks. Shingles were missing from the roof, and the sidewalk was cracked severely. There were basement windows, but they were dirty and it was too dark to see anything in there.

    It took some jiggling to get the key to work in the front door. Some thin strips of veneer fell off it as they entered. The living room had oak flooring that badly needed to be refinished. Wallpaper had loose places. The attic was what you would expect, dusty and full of cobwebs, but there was no evidence of water damage. The rafters were rough cut and a full 2 inches thick with sawmill marks showing. Kitchen cabinets were painted white and the counter was covered with linoleum. The bathroom was intact, but the fixtures were very old. It was reasonably clean, except for some mouse droppings on the floor.

    A steep stairway led to the basement. It smelled musty, but it was dry. Without any lights, it was hard to see much except for some piles of trash. Robert had an idea and began taking pictures with his phone.

    The garage was a pole building big enough for maybe 6 cars worth of floor space. It had one rolling door that opened with some squeaking to show an uneven dirt floor. A smaller entrance door was wood and nailed shut. The enamelled steel siding was a faded beige color, but no rust was showing. A rabbit jumped and ran across the back yard, disappearing into the high weeds as they walked through the back yard, getting their clothes covered with burrs from last year's dry weeds.

    Off to the left side of the lot was an abandoned rail siding that had once served a now defunct factory. The other side and the back end bordered a huge hay field.

    Robert followed Erin back down the driveway to his car near the county road.

    He asked her, "Have you ever done any roofing?"

    "I helped Dad nail on shingles when I was a kid. We put metal on some farm buildings, too."

    "Would you help me tackle this? I'd have to marry you first, of course."

    Erin stopped dead in her tracks and stared at him. "That is the lousiest proposal I've ever heard!"

    Robert smiled as he got down on one knee and asked her, "Will you marry me? If I promise to do the roofing?"

    He pulled out a small black box from his pocket and offered it to her.

    She opened it to find a small diamond engagement ring and she shed a couple tears.

    "Hell yes I'll marry you! Well, if you take that diamond back where you got it. We can use the money better for other stuff. I have a nice $42 zircon in white gold that looks just like it. Okay?"

    "If that's what you want, sure!"

    She embraced him in the weed-infested driveway and held him tight for a long time.

    It took all his negotiating skills, but they bought the place for $24,000 with no warranties and closed the deal. Showing Mr. Schumer his pictures of the property had helped a lot. That just about cleaned out what Robert had in the bank, but there was a still lot of cash sitting in his toolbox.

    Chapter 11 August, 2014

    Before they closed on the property, Robert and Erin were married at the County Courthouse by the Clerk, with his boss and her friend Cindy from work joining them as witnesses. Now, 3 months later they were still deep into cleaning up the old house. It was only 2 miles from the trailer park, a trip they had made dozens of times. Robert had made a lot of trips to the landfill with his utility trailer. As soon as he had a pair of high security padlocks on the pole barn door, Robert had gone to his Dad's and helped load his tractor and implements.

    The tractor made short work of mowing their new property and cleaning up the mass of trash around the place. The landscape rake dragged it into piles that they burnt after a good rain. He raked the piles together and burned them again. The old metal and glass went to the dump. Grass seeding followed.

    A local roofing company who needed work gave them a good price to tear off the old house shingles and replace them with steel roofing. Robert had them replace the rain gutters as well, and direct the downspouts to the old cistern out back.

    Athough the cistern held water, it needed a good cleaning. Robert bought a cheap trash pump at Harbor Freight and pumped it dry, then found someone to give it a scrubbing inside, pressure wash it, and put a fresh coat of hydraulic cement on the inside to seal it. That young man needed more work and asked about putting a concrete floor in the pole barn. They made a deal for cash and the next Friday he poured the floor. The tractor and all the equipment had to stay outside for a week until the concrete cured enough to bear the weight.

    The kitchen had been stripped to the bare walls. Erin was very good at patchng the plaster, sanding it smooth, and repainting. It gave her immense satisfaction to know she was working on HER house while Robert attended to putting a new roof on the pumphouse. He bought a new pump and pressure tank at the farm store and decided he would figure out how to do the plumbing. He had the foresight to take pictures of the old setup before he tore it out, and it was fairly simple to copy what had been there, but it took a lot of trips to get the parts he forgot. The outdoor freezeless faucet was installed and the cold water run to a shutoff valve under the utility room floor, awaiting the delivery of a new water heater. Having the cellar under the house made it a lot easier to run the pipes.

    A call to the nearby stone quarry got him two triaxle loads of crushed limestone on the driveway. That evening he used the rear blade on the little tractor to grade it level and begin to pack it down. It made the place look much nicer, he thought. There were small ditches just beginning to erode under the dripline of the barn roof, so he used the front end loader to move some stone and fill those. Looks like I need to get some gutters on this, he thought. He decided he should pipe the runoff to the cistern, or maybe add a bigger cistern. There were more pressing things to do, though.

    "Mrs. Evans, we need to go look at kitchen cabinets," he told Erin one evening.

    "I asked that boy that did the barn floor about that. He said to go to the flea market thing in Clarksville where the old K Mart used to be. They have cabinets there pretty cheap."

    "I need to get the sink installed before I run water to the kitchen, and the same with the bathroom."

    Erin said, "I'll be off work Sunday, so we can go then."

    They took the utility trailer and got to Clarksville early. Robert had measured the space and brought a tape with him. They settled on an oak kitchen cabinet set and barely had room in the trailer for a small white bathroom vanity and medicine cabinet. He took it slow on the way out of town, then it was a dull 30 minute drive on interstate.

    Erin had a distant look on her face and finally spoke.

    "My parents and my little brother died in a wreck," she said, "on the way to get her some new kitchen cabinets. I have been scared to death all day."

    "I'll drive extra carefully," Robert said.
    Erin was silent the rest of the way home.

    When they got to the house. Erin leaned forward in the seat and cried. Robert held her as best he could in the car until she sat back again. He gave her a handkerchief. When she'd wiped her eyes, she said, "It's so good with us. I was so afraid today. I don't want it to end."

    "I don't either," he told her.

    "I was married to Joe when it happened, 14 years ago. Then Joe got to drinking and I couldn't take it anymore and I left him. I didn't have anywhere to go but Cindy's and I've been on my own ever since then."

    "Try to remember the good parts," he said.

    She nodded and blew her nose, then turned to him and kissed him softly. "Thank you."

    "I should thank you for giving me a life again. "

    She looked at him with a teary smile and said, "I love you!"

    "I love you, too. We made it home safe, okay?"

    She nodded and straightened her shoulders. "Let's unload that stuff. I want to see how it looks in the house."

  4. #4
    Chapter 12 October, 2013

    Erin was drying her face, getting ready to work the morning shift when Robert said, "You don't have to keep working, you know."

    She took a deep breath and let out a sigh. "Yeah, I know. But I want to. I know it's not much of a job, but it has kept me alive for so long. I need to feel like I can take care of myself."

    "Okay. I know how that feels. I just want you to know it's okay with me if you decide not to."

    She kissed him and said, "I have to work so I can see how jealous Cindy is every day. If anything ever happened to me, she'd be on you like white on rice."

    Robert said, "Make sure nothing happens to you. Cindy is okay, but I like you a lot better."

    She grinned and said, "You'd better like me better. See ya tonight."

    When she was out the door, Robert knotted his tie and put on the suit jacket. He finished his coffee and went out. The car radio gave the news as he pulled out on the highway.

    "...Mexican and Nicarauguan oil wells are slowing production along with some Saudi wells driving the price of oil up by $14 today in heavy futures trading to $126 a barrel. Oil company spokesmen say this could translate into gasoline prices rising as high as $4.50 a gallon. In other news, the website for Obamacare is having startup issues..."

    He turned the radio off and paid attention to traffic, thinking that rush hour is the same everywhere, too much traffic all at once, even in a small town. He had work to do today on the hospital account, the biggest customer of the small office.

    The electrician had put in 200 amp service at the barn and the house both, so they could add circuits if they wanted. He was laid off from a contractor in Louisville who had done both residential and industrial work. He had a pile of salvaged materials at home. This got Robert a completely wired house and barn for a rock bottom price. The barn now had a metal ceiling and sprayed-on foam insulation, so it was easy to heat with a portable kerosene heater. Robert thought he would like to have a real shop space.

    The house was ready by mid-October and they began the move. There wasn't that much to do, except get the internet and phone service turned on. They already had the electrical power on and gas hooked up for the kitchen stove and the new furnace. Their cash was about gone and Erin had begun to worry about that until he showed her a plastic medicine bottle with 14 gold Kruggerands in it.

    Robert told her, "The price of gold is down right now, at around $1,300 an ounce, but it is on the way up again. Even at that price, these are worth about $18,000. Since we won't have to pay rent now, That is $295 a month we won't be spending, and we will only have one electric and gas bill instead of two."

    Erin breathed a sigh of relief. "I was beginning to think we couldn't afford to live here."

    He said, "The new storm windows and attic insulation will make this place easier to heat than that old mobile home. We won't have a water bill, and our internet bill is the same at $40 a month. We should be able to live here enough cheaper to pay the property taxes, so it will come out about even. Numbers are my thing, and I've been all over it. Not to worry. We could live here on what you make alone."

    "Okay, if we're not broke, I want a computer desk. Let's go to Goodwill."

    "All right. I'd better take the trailer if we''re going to buy something that big."

    For $12 she found a very good computer desk. She had them put a "SOLD" sticker on it with her name and said they would pick it up in an hour. They drove across the highway to Wal Mart and bought a good office chair for $60 on sale, then went back and got the desk.

    The next day was Saturday. Erin had to work the morning shift, but Robert got their new refrigerator filled and the rest of the food and clothing moved. That night they got the last of their kitchen things and were officially living in the new house. Erin got Robert's damage deposit back from the trailer park on Monday, cashed the check and spent it all on canned goods and staple foods to fill her new cabinets.

    Bedroom furniture had come from the Salvation Army thrift store for $40, but Robert insisted on a new mattress set from the manufacturer outlet in Jeffersonville. At $225 it was a bargain. The spare bedroom was made into their office. Two sets of adjustable wood shelving from Home Depot were screwed to the interior wall to organize her online sales business and provide a place for their printer and its' supplies. Erin used the chair mat she'd found at a yard sale at her workstation, and added a $4 battery powered clock to the wall. Robert was content with his laptop on the small table he had for it, with an old oak library chair. They were moved in.

    "We need a washing machine and a dryer," Robert said. "I hate laundromats. It's 2 hours wasted to go there."

    "There's an appliance place downtown that sells used ones. I got my Crock Pot there, and the Mr. Coffee. He has everything, and it's cheap."

    Robert said, "We can afford a new set."

    "Right, but they cost a fortune and if we can get 3 or 4 years out of a $100 set, we're money ahead."

    "I need to take that last trailer load of junk to the landfill tomorrow. They are open until noon on Saturday. We can go after I get back."

    Robert tossed the last of his rubbish over the bank into the landfill and watched the dozer man compact it and push it into the wall of trash to his right. He had folded his tarp and put away the bungee cords when he noticed the stack of old appliances off to the right. He asked the attendant if he could have something there?

    "You can take it all. If nobody carries it off, I'll have to load it up and take it to the metal scrap yard."

    Robert looked the appliances over carefully. There were 8 washer and dryer pairs all alike. He guessed that some apartment complex had replaced them all at once. They didn't look that bad. He took a chance and loaded 2 washers and 2 dryers. He thanked the attendant and got a wave as more loads came in for him to direct.

    He backed his load up to the back porch and unloaded a pair. He walked them into the utility room and hooked them up. They both ran fine, but the dryer made a terrible racket. He slid it out of the cubbyhole and got a screwdriver. When he got the a small back panel off, the fan was exposed. From inside the fan, he removed plastic cowboys, a Hot Wheels car, and 48 cents in change. When he plugged it in again, it ran quiet as a mouse. He cleaned out the lint trap and hooked up the gas. It seemed to be working great, so he dampened a big towel and threw it in to dry.

    The screens on the washer hoses were full of brown rusty crud, so he took those to the sink and scrubbed them clean. The washer ran through a cycle with no problem, so he loaded it with his dirty underwear, socks and some light colored dish rags and towels. It worked like a new one. He used some liquid cleaner and a scrubby sponge to give the outside of both appliances a bath. When Erin got home from work after lunch, she said, "I thought I was going with you to get those."

    "You didn't go to the dump with me."

    "You got those at the dump?"

    "Sure did! And if something goes wrong with them, I have another pair like them out in the barn for parts."

    The washer spin cycle ended and Robert took out the clean clothes. Erin looked at him with a silly grin and tossed them in the dryer. She found the right button and got it going. She was delighted and it showed.

    "Okay. You might be worth keeping around," she told him. "You can stay for now. That kinda makes up for all the money you blew on my new clothes."

    Erin kissed him properly and he said, "Let me get the dirt off of me and we can pursue this."

    Chapter 13 March 2014

    "Dammit! Did you see this? A buck-forty nine for eggs! We don't live in a trailer park anymore, so I want some chickens," Erin said. Reluctantly she put the carton of eggs in the shopping cart.

    "We don't have anywhere to keep them," Robert said, and knew instantly that was the wrong thing to say.

    "I'll fix that," Erin said. "They can stay in that old tool shed by the garden. It just needs fixing up a little. It needs some windows for light. Don't you have some scrap lumber out there in the barn? Wait till I get home and see what I can find on Craigslist and Freecycle."

    One day the next week after work, Erin was happy to announce that she would be on morning shift for at least a couple months. The owner would see how things worked out after that. It meant that Cindy was promoted to evening shift manager, so she'd make a little more money.

    Her other tidbit was that she'd found a woman on Freecycle who was getting rid of her chickens, lock, stock, and barrels of feed. It was about 5 miles south of town where they loaded the trailer with metal nests, feeders, a waterer, two bales of straw, and 2 metal barrels, one full of feed bags and the other with bags of grit, crushed oyster shells and part of a bag of feed. The four hens rode home in a wooden coop in the trunk to keep them out of the cold wind.

    The only problem was, the shed was not ready for them. Robert worked late into the night to get some patching done so they couldn't escape. They got the nests set inside on the floor, and the feeder and waterer installed. It would have to do until the next day. The only light inside the shed was from the glass in the door. Robert had misgivings about the whole project, but they both had raised chickens when they were young, so they knew what was needed.

    Erin located three barn windows and an old screen door the next day on craigslist for $30. This time she took the trailer to fetch them, while Robert dug around for lumber, nails and tools. Saturday
    he got those installed and the hens seemed to be happier. He had to admit that their first homegrown eggs tasted better than the ones they got at the grocery with the pale yellow yolks.

    It would take a while to get back the $30 for the windows and door, but egg prices had not come down like they normally did in the Spring. They were averaging 3 eggs per day, or 2 dozen in 8 days. It looked like they had better eat a lot of eggs.

    The weather warmed up early but the Spring rains had not begun yet, so when Erin said she wanted to plant a garden Robert took the tractor and rototiller out on a Saturday where it looked like there had once been a garden. It now mostly weed stubble, mowed flat. He went over the ground several times to make a good seed bed. It wasn't exactly clear where the property line was next to the rail siding, but he estimated it as close as he could from fences on down the line.

    "Mrs. Evans, your garden awaits," he said with a bow and flourish.

    "Good," she said, "I'll stop and buy some seeds when I go in town. "Have you seen what they want for vegetables now? Our boss is on us to not waste lettuce and tomatoes."

    Robert answered his cell phone when it rang, "Hello?"
    "Hi Dad. How are you and Mom doing?"
    "Yeah, okay. We can come over today."
    Long pause.
    "Yeah, an hour after lunch."

    He ended the call and said, "Dad said they are selling out. Some developer wants to buy the farm and make a subdivision, so he said they are going to move into town, there in Greenville. He wants me to look at some stuff he wants to get rid of."

    "What sort of thing? We don't need any household things. Between us we have plenty."

    "Probably farm stuff, but you need to go along and see what's there."

    "I'd go anyway. I love your Mom. She made me feel like part of the family on Thanksgiving and Christmas."

    "Everything in the barn has to go," Robert's Dad told him. "You need to get anything you want now, because we're going to auction whatever is left. That shed gets emptied, too, and there's all kinds of things in the house Mary Ann wants rid of. She'll be loading up Erin with stuff if you don't watch out. Mary Ann sure likes that girl."

    "Erin will have to take up for herself. I'll have all I can handle with you, won't I?"

    Bill Evans chuckled, "Prob'ly so. Your trailer ain't near big enough. Let's go look in the barn."

    Robert made two trips that day. Erin stayed there during his first trip with farm and garden things, then she had nearly a full load of her own. She was proud of the huge old All American Canner and hundreds of canning jars. They were packed carefully with newspaper in cardboard boxes. Another big box had the sausage grinder, a lard press, some cast iron skillets, and a Dutch Oven. Then there was the small bookcase from Robert's old room. Erin loved to read when she could find the time. There was the complete set of Children's Classics Robert had loved as a kid, and the Encyclopedia Britannica that she had to have. Mary Ann made sure Erin got one of her Ball Blue Books, and gave her some cook books that her church had printed of members' recipes.

    All their spare garden tools got piled beside the boxes. There were shovels and spades, hoes, rakes, axes and much more. Robert had no idea where it should be stored at home, but for now he unloaded it all in the barn and went back the next day for more. He had no idea if he would use it on their small place, but he loaded up the small feed grinder his Dad had used for years. It was a small John Deere model with only a dust cyclone and bagger on it. It was too small for modern farming and didn't automatically mix the feed like the modern ones. You had to shovel it through again to mix feed. The good part was, his small tractor would run it because his Dad ran it with an old Ford with less horsepower.

    "Son, with that feed grinder and the lard press you're about set up to feed out some pigs. You want the feeder too? Just as well take it, 'cause it won't bring nothin' at a sale. Too small. Oh! you need to get the lard kettle, too. If you don't, Mary Ann will have me plantin' petunias in it and that's a waste of a good kettle. And you better take that old two-hole corn sheller, too. Your wife said she's got chickens now, so you need that if you put out a little corn for 'em. I think the 'lectric motor on it is still good, but if it ain't the crank is there, too. I wired the crank to the frame when I put the motor on it so I wouldn't lose track of it."

    "Dad, we only have two acres. It's not a farm."

    "You'd be surprised what you can raise on two acres. Now go on and load this stuff up."

    Erin came out of the house beaming, carrying a shoebox filled with envelopes. "It's seeds! Your Mom saves garden seeds, and she gave me everything you can think of. I won't have to buy anything."

    Robert's Dad said, "I'm glad to see something light a smile on your wife's face. She's really pretty when she smiles. Oh, hey, you come back again 'cause I got a whole mess of bolts and hardware and stuff you need to put in your shop. You got a pretty heavy load this trip, so we dare not put any more on now."

    He was right. The little Ford car had all it wanted to pull up the hills going home.

    Chapter 14 April, 2015

    "I love Spring time," Erin said. "Everything is such a bright green." She was looking out the bedroom window early one morning.
    Robert grinned and said, "Especially the weeds and grass. That back fence is full of briars that I need to get out and they are growing like mad. And there's some wild grapevines in that thicket behind the chicken shed. It's a mess back there."

    "What kind of briars?"

    "I dunno, probably wild blackberries."

    "Don't kill 'em! I can make jelly and blackberry cobbler out of them," Erin said. "I want to look at that stuff before you go mowing it down."

    Robert sighed and said, "Okay. I need to work on the shelving in the barn so I'll do that tonight instead. Maybe I can get some room back if we get all those jars and stuff up off the floor, and Dad's hardware collection."

    Erin plopped on the couch that evening and said, "I'm tired. The boss laid off a person from each shift because business slowed down. It'll pick up soon when more people start to go on summer vacation, and there's more traffic on the interstate. Then we'll be swamped. It's bad enough now."

    Robert said, "Did you see the price of gas today?"

    "I didn't pay any attention. I just wanted to get home today."

    "I filled up and it cost me $4.39, up 24 cents overnight. The attendant said it was going up again soon, so that's going to put a crimp in travel this summer."

    "Oh crap! I need gas. I should have filled up yesterday when I noticed it."

    "No big deal," Robert said. "It's not that much difference on one tankfull for you. If you need 10 gallons that's only $2.40 more."

    "Yeah, but that's $2.40 I have to make to buy it. Really, it's more like I have to make 3 bucks more to buy it, because of taxes. I'm due for an oil change. I bet that has gone up, too."

    "I'll get some oil tomorrow and filters and change both cars. The tractor needs it, too. I'll make a list. I can do it for about half what they charge in town. We've got the shop now, so I better use it. I've got another idea. Dad gave me that old oil barrel with the valve on it and the barrel stand. I need to rinse that out and get it filled with diesel fuel for the tractor. It doesn't use much, but diesel always goes up more than gasoline does. Just as well buy it now."

    "That's a good idea," Erin said.

    "The diesel fuel?"

    "Yeah, but I mean buying things before the price goes up any more. I mean, our income isn't going up, so we're better off to buy stuff ahead of time. We don't really NEED anything, but I'll think about it. I bet there is a lot of stuff we can buy ahead and we've been saving money all winter. The bank doesn't pay anything in interest so there's no point in leaving it there."

    "The investment people call that hedging. You buy something to protect the value of your investment. You're right, it's the thing to do when prices are going up. Just make sure it's something you need and not something that will spoil before you can use. No different than us hanging onto those gold coins because the price is going up. Really, the value of a dollar is going DOWN. Gold stays the same, as long as nobody is messing around with the price. Somebody has been doing that for years,but that will stop someday."

    Erin's mind was going in her original direction. She said, "I need a pencil and paper. Yeah, printer paper, and pencils and some note pads." She got busy writing thngs down.

  5. #5
    Chapter 15

    "I don't know what else to buy," Erin said. "We don't need anything."

    "I'm not surprised. You've been working at it for a month," Robert said. "I was thinking about some feed for the chickens. Buy a few bags now, and then the price of corn will drop at harvest time and I can stock up. That gives me time to find something to store it in, maybe some more barrels to keep the mice out of it. But, you know Dad was right. He said we could grow a lot on 2 acres. I could work up just half an acre and get enough corn off of it to feed out a couple pigs and the chickens, too. I'll think about it and see if the numbers work out."

    Robert had another idea. "I need to get some paint on that barn before the metal starts to rust. We could buy the paint now. It's going to take quite a bit. I'll have to figure out how much first. So watch for a deal on oil based paint. The farm store carries it, and they are usually the cheapest."

    "Okay. I'll check the ads in the paper." Erin was looking at their early garden showing lines of tiny green plants when she had an idea. "I forgot canning jar lids! We're going to need a lot. That's a big garden."

    Robert said, "This is so strange. A year ago I had all that pretty stuff and I was hanging on to it for dear life. Now I can't understand why I wanted it. I'd rather you get something you want than have that stuff back."

    "It made you feel good."

    "No it didn't. I THOUGHT it would make me feel good, but it was more like I had to have it to feel like I was good enough for other people that thought the same way, if that makes any sense. I felt like I was just a country bumpkin around those people with money."

    "But now you don't for some reason."

    "You're the reason. You make me feel ten feet tall. Because you love me just like I am."

    "Could'na said it better. That's how I feel about you," Erin said. She leaned over on the couch and hugged him.

    "Hey, I've been wondering about something."

    "What's that?"

    "What happened to your parents' farm?"

    "The hospital and the lawyers got it. Mom was in the hospital in a coma for weeks and I couldn't pay the bill. When the court got done with the estate, the hospital claimed whatever money they could get out of the farm and the judge gave it to 'em. Their life insurance was about enough to pay for the funerals."

    "Oh, that's bad. I didn't think they could do that."

    "It was because I signed a paper saying I'd be responsible for the bill when she was admitted. Dumb me. I'm never signing anything like that again. They would have got Joe's house, too, but it was in his name only. Joe and I moved out the farm machinery and everything we could get and sold it for cash, then I bought the car with that. When we got divorced, Joe got everything but the car."

    "Damn. That's terrible. You should have had that farm."

    "Water under the bridge, as they say."

    "That's one reason why your name is on our checking account and on the deed to this place. If anything happened to me, it's your's. The phrase, 'with full rights of survivorship' is very important in those matters. That's why I showed you the gold and where I hid it."

    "You trust me a lot."

    "With my life."

    "I need to close my bank account and put it in your name. You made me feel like a heel for not doing it already."

    "No, you need to close that account and open one in the name of your business. I should have told you that a long time ago. If you don't, it could be a problem to prove what was business income and what was not. The only thing saving that is that it's so small they won't bother with you. If you were audited, it would be a nightmare."

    "Oh. Okay, I'll do that. I hope we don't get in trouble."

    "I wouldn't worry about it. You aren't claiming a loss on the business, so they'll probably never mess with you. But you need to keep records of your earnings from your job, just in case. That will cover it. It would be a mess to audit, but you'd be covered."

    "It's good to have my own private accountant."

    Chapter 16

    The garden was growing fast, but so were the weeds. Erin spent a lot of time hoeing until Robert read one night in his gardening book about mulch. They robbed all the dumpsters they could find of cardboard boxes and covered the row middles. One good rain had it stuck to the ground and reduced the weeding to only between the plants.

    Shelves were slowly getting built in the barn, so the mess was getting under control there. Erin looked at all the canning jars neatly arranged on shelves there and said, "We have a problem."

    "What's that?" Robert asked.

    "What do we do with all those jars when they are full of food? They can't stay out here or they will freeze and break."

    "Oh. boy. I get to build shelves in the house, is what."


    He thought a while. It was a small house.

    "Okay, we get to live with canned food in the office. And probably in the utility room." He sighed and said, "I'll get on it. The basement is a little damp, so the lids would get rusty. It's perfect for potatoes, though. I'm glad I don't have to dig a root cellar. We'll need some baskets or something to put those potatoes in, though. I'll get some concrete blocks and planks to set them on."

    "How about laundry baskets? They've got holes so they can breathe."

    "That should work. We need to get maybe 4 or 5 of them."

    The next day Erin said, "There's a guy who wants to give away concrete blocks on Craigslist."

    "Where are they?"

    "Someplace around town, from the phone number. He says he has 28 of 'em."

    "That will be heavy, but I think the trailer will do it."

    He had taken a garden hose and wire brush to the basement then gave the concrete walls a coat of white latex paint so it looked reasonably clean. He was thankful the floor drain worked. A window fan helped dry it out in one day. The white walls made the two light bulbs more effective.

    The blocks still had some mortar stuck to them, so Robert spent an evening with a hammer and chisel getting it off. He was pleased that he only broke two of them in the process. Erin hadn't found any lumber deals, so he bought some treated 2 x 8's at the lumber yard and began to stack it all up into low shelves in the cellar. She had found heavy plastic laundry baskets on sale and brought home 6 of them after work one day. They were ready to store potatoes, beets, and whatever else now.

    The blackberries were loaded. Buckets filled fast with the big berries. Erin was sweaty and purple from her fingertips to her wrists. She had two five gallon buckets almost filled with them. A big kettle full was simmering on the stove when Robert got home from work. It smelled great in the house, but it was hot. A window fan was going by the back door to take the heat out.

    "Hello gorgeous! Can I help?"

    Erin was busy stirring with a big wooden spoon. "Yeah. Get that old pillow case on the counter and figure how to hang it some where. I need to fill it with the berries and strain out the seeds. It needs a kettle under it to catch the juice. I'm just juicing today. I'll make jelly tomorrow."

    "Okay. I'll go find a screw hook. We can hang it on the back porch. I'll wrap something around it to keep the bugs out."

    Robert got the jelly bag hung up over an empty kettle and came in the kitchen. "We need a summer kitchen," he said. "How about I look for another stove and set it up out in the barn? We've got the faucet just outside there."

    "That sounds good to me. It is hotter than blazes in here." She was dipping out the cooked berries into a wire strainer, the juice going into a third kettle.

    "Okay, bring me the jelly bag and that kettle out there. I'll put the pulp in that to drain."

    The first straining made about 2 1/2 gallons of juice. She thought the pulp would drain out another couple quarts. That would make a lot of jelly.

    "Why the heck didn't I buy more sugar before it went up? It's $6.49 for 10 pounds now and I saw it for $5.99 not long ago."

    Twenty nine pint jars of blackberry jelly now graced the utility room shelves. Erin thought they were beautiful. Robert had used a permanent marker to put the date and contents on the lids.

    Robert said, "Sounds like we need to go sign up at Sam's Club in Clarksville and lay in a supply. Sugar will keep forever. We'll need salt to make pickles, and spices."

    "Have to put the sugar in something to keep the mice out of it. They'll be trying to get in the house when the weather gets cold like they did last winter."

    "Sugar won't freeze so it could stay in the barn if it's in a can or something. I'll find some barrels somewhere. That would be the cheapest."

    "Oh, we need vinegar, too. It's cheap, but sometimes they run out at the store."

    "Make a list and we'll go to get it next weekend."

    Chapter 17

    Erin was miserable with stomach cramps. She spent most of the day in the bathroom and had to call in sick, unable to go to work. She wasn't alone. Cindy was off sick and two others. The next day she felt some better, but was still weak and had cramps. The boss called Erin and said to not come to work, the restaurant was closed due to several reported cases of food poisoning. The Health Department was trying to figure out the cause.

    That turned out to be the imported salad greens. They had been recalled the day everyone got sick. The restaurant would remain closed for the next week, however, until the Health Department was assured it was all properly cleaned and disinfected.

    Apparently, all the regular customers had seen the notice posted on the door by the Health Department and stayed away for the next month. Erin was feeling better now, but only working half time on staggered shifts like all the rest of the employees. The only good part was, it gave her time to can green beans, okra, and early sweet corn. She picked an armload of sage from the 3 big plants behind the chicken shed and had that hanging by strings from the back porch ceiling. The tomatoes were just coming on strong when she began to work full shifts again as summer traffic picked up.

    Before the tomatoes began to bear heavily, Robert had a used gas stove set up in the barn hooked to a pair of 100 pound LP tanks and a junkyard salvage sink was set in a varnished plywood top with the drain run out through the wall. Cold water was piped to the sink with a hose connection to the freezeless faucet outside. He had arranged more plywood counter top next to the stove and found a stainless steel table at the junkyard for more table space. A big shelf overhead stored the pressure canner and an assortment of pots and kettles. It worked pretty well for canning and kept the heat and mess out of the house.

    A trip to Sam's Club had the little Ford Focus squatting when they left with 100 pounds of sugar, 24 pounds of salt in 4 pound boxes, and large economy size jars of cinnamon, black pepper, and ground mustard. More quart size jars of spices came from Gordon Food Service, a restaurant supplier.

    Robert had cut back the row of grape vines behind the shed and replaced a couple rotted off posts so he could restring the rusty wires that were supposed to support them. On end post looked good enough, but he replaced the rest. The grapes had a pretty good crop set on, despite the late pruning.

    Next he had tackled two very old apple trees, pruning them severely. The trees still had far too many apples so he thinned them mercilessly. What apples remained were looking pretty good by mid summer. An old man stopped one day and came to where he was working.

    "Hi neighbor! You sure got this place lookin' better!"

    "Thanks," Robert said. "You live close by?"

    "I'm Thad Wright. That's my farm next to you here."

    When he offered his hand Robert shook it and said, "Pleased to meet you."

    "Gettin' the old apple trees in shape, huh?"

    "Yeah, they were badly overgrown. I thought maybe we'll get bigger ones this year if I thinned 'em good."

    'Yep, that works all right. Those is good apples, too. Winesaps, the old man said who built that house. You got a nice garden goin', too."

    "Thanks. The ground could use some improvement, but we ought to get something from it."

    "I milk 84 head of Holsteins, so come over and get all the manure you want for that garden. It'll do wonders for it."

    "Hey! I'll do that! Have to put sides on my trailer first, but I'll be there soon."

    "Come after about six in the evening an' I'll be done milkin' so I can help you load it."

    After hastily adding plywood sides to the trailer, Robert pulled it over to Thad's barn with the Kubota and hauled home a load each evening until the garden was covered between the rows.

    Cayenne peppers were drying on strings, and more were coming on. Cucumbers, yellow summer squash and banana peppers were bearing big crops, and occupied all their time after their day jobs to get it all canned and dried in a dehydrator Erin had bought from an Ebay ad.

    "It would be so much easier to freeze all this stuff," Erin said, "but we had the power go off after a storm one time and lost a whole freezer full of stuff. I won't let that happen again."

    "We could get a generator to cover that."

    "It would cost so much we'd be better off to buy the food at the store."

    "We've spent a lot on this anyway. It will be a year or two before we break even on it."

    "Yeah, probably so, but I'm pretty sure I won't get another case of Montezuma's Revenge from OUR food."

    "There is that to be said for it."

    "I had the checkup and the doctor said I should be off the pills for a while to give my system a break and see if my period stabliizes. She said to use other birth control means for at least a couple months and see how it goes."

    "We have to take care of you, so do what you need to."

    "Other ways can be unreliable, you know," Erin said.

    "What do you think about having kids?"

    "If we are going to, it should be soon. I'm not getting any younger."

    "I wouldn't have considered it before, but I'd love to have kids, now that I have you."

    "I always wanted kids but I never felt... secure. I think we'd be good with kids," Erin told him.

    "We might want to add on to the house."

    "You could do that. WE could do that." She smiled at the thought.

  6. #6
    Chapter 18

    The grapes were heavily laden when the old end post broke off and dropped one vine on the ground. The next day Robert bought a new wood post at the farm store and began to dig out the old one. It was slow business with a shovel and created a far larger hole than he wanted but there wasn't any other way to do it. The stub was below ground level and the new post needed to go in at least 3 feet.

    As he dug out the last end of the old post the shovel hit something. Another rock , he thought, cursing under his breath. He needed to go deeper for the new post and took out more dirt. He saw the piece of metal and dug around it until it came free. It was an old zinc canning jar lid, and there was a jar attached. The blue glass was muddy and cloudy so he couldn't tell what was in it. It was heavy. It slipped from his hand as he got it out of the hole and fell on his dirt pile, squarely on a head-size rock where it broke. Coins sprayed everywhere and some fell back into the hole.

    Robert backed away carefully and walked to the house.

    "Erin, I'm going to need a hand if you have time."

    She looked up from her computer and said, "Yeah, what's up?"

    "We need a dishpan, or something like that. I found some coins. There was this jar buried under that broken post when I dug it out. I dropped it and it broke. I need something else to put the broken glass in."

    "Okay, let me look in the kitchen."

    She came out with a square cake pan and a round plastic dishpan.

    "Watch out for the broken glass," he cautioned her.

    An hour and a half later they thought they had all the coins and most of the glass. They sat on the porch and wiped the coins with paper towels, in case there were any bits of glass clinging to the dirt on them.

    "This is a lot of trouble for some loose change," Erin said.

    Robert grinned and said, "This was probably buried back during the Great Depression. Check the dates on some of them."

    Erin struggled to see the date on a quarter, black with age. "Looks like 1928," she said.

    "Yeah. And up through 1964, all the dimes, quarters, halves and silver dollars were actually silver. After that they went to the "clad" coins that are almost all copper. The last I looked, silver was down from it's record high to about $24 an ounce. At that price, these coins are worth about 18 times face value, and it is going up."

    "Eighteen times, so a dime is worth $1.80?"


    "There must be five or six pounds of it! That's a lot of money!"

    "It was a lot of money when they buried it and it still is. They are monkeying around with the market price, but the price of silver is going up because paper dollars are becoming worth less all the time."

    "The ones in the bottom are covered with mud. I'll get some water and rinse them off."

    Erin added some water at the sink and sloshed the coins around.

    "Hey! There's some gold ones in there!"

    Robert went to look. They found 11 gold coins, all marked "10 Dollars" with an indian head on one side and a big eagle on the other. They were dated from 1913 to 1932. Robert rinsed them carefully in a glass of water and dropped them on a towel to dry.

    "These aren't just gold, they are rare coins now. I don't know what they're worth, but it's a lot."

    "This was somebody's life savings and he died before he could spend it," Erin said. "That's a shame."

    "Yes it is. It was likely the man who built this house."

    He rinsed all the coins a second time and put them on the towel to dry. Most of the silver was badly tarnished, almost black. Robert said, "I'll go to that hardware store downtown tomorrow and get some TarnX solution. You can dip those silver coins in it and it will turn the black back to silver. They'll be easier to sell that way."

    Erin trotted to her computer and did some fast searching. She came back in a minute and said, "It looks like it depends on the condition of the coins, but those gold ones are worth somewhere around $1,300 to $1,500 EACH!"

    Robert sold the gold coins the next Saturday for just over $16,000. They decided to keep the silver coins and see if the price went up.

    Erin asked him when he showed her the cash and the receipt, "Whatcha gonna do with your newfound riches?"

    "For my half, I plan to make money with it. I want a moldboard plow and a disk for the tractor. And I want to build some fence and get some pigs soon. That will mean some kind of a hog house and buying some feed for them. I'll wait until harvest time to get them so the feed will be cheaper. And I think we need a small truck of some kind. I can trade my car in on that. It's ready for new tires anyway. What are you going to do with your half?"

    Erin was surprised at his answer. She said, "That sounds like a good idea. Maybe I'll expand my jewelry business. I've been thinking that I should sell it locally. Maybe put some displays in beauty shops on consignment. I can raise the prices enough to do that and still kick butt. I can undercut the jewelry stores by half or more. It would have to be upscale from the cheap silver crap they sell at flea markets. I'm talking about good merchandise."

    "Sounds like easier work than raising pigs."

    Ten days later, Erin learned the Waffle stop had been sold to a new owner. In the month that followed, he replaced all the employees with his own family. Her best friend Cindy Hoffman had no job and could not pay her next month's rent. Erin also bought an EPT test and figured out that she was pregnant.

    Robert was overjoyed about the baby coming and welcomed the idea that she would be home for a change. He didn't know what to say about Cindy.

    "I HAVE to help her Robert! She doesn't have any family left. Her Mom died of cancer and her Dad died not long after with a heart attack. She doesn't have anybody else and nowhere to go, and she took me in when I really needed it."

    Robert let out a big breath he hadn't realized he was holding. He thought fast and then said, "We could move the computer and office stuff into the living room. We don't use it for sitting anyway. Then if she can stand a wall full of canned food, she can make a bedroom in there. Has she got furniture?"

    "I'm not sure what she owns. She rented a furnished apartment over the old drugstore downtown."

    "Well, we can make sure she has a roof over her head and something to eat." That was all he said, but he remembered that the Japanese writing symbol for 'discord' was a pictograph of 2 women under one roof.

    Chapter 19 June, 2015

    George's Used Cars made him a trade for his Ford Focus that he thought was okay. We went home with a full size half ton Ford pickup, 6 cylinder, 4 speed, heavy duty rear springs, and skinned up green paint for a modest amount of difference and the truck was one year younger with about the same mileage. It did need a set of tires, so that was the next stop. The bed showed scratches and dents from what was probably farm use. Robert stopped at the NAPA auto parts to buy 6 spray cans of matching green paint and some fine sandpaper. The next evening he sanded and painted inside the truck bed and touched up a few scratches on the fenders.

    The old truck looked pretty good, and with his trade in he'd only spent $2,600 including the tires. He went to work on it in the barn to change oil, filter, and top off the lube in the transmission and differential. It came with a receiver hitch, so he bought a suitable drop hitch ball to pull his small trailer. He expected to haul some pigs in it, so next was to have Erin search for some used stock racks. A 10 mile trip into the countryside got them for $100 from a Craigslist ad. He stopped at the farm store on the way home and bought a thick rubber mat for the bed. He could haul things now, and felt greatly empowered by that.

    Erin gave him his first hauling job. They had rearranged furniture so the spare room was empty. Erin made arrangements with Cindy to move her in on Sunday morning. The stock racks made that a one trip move to haul her bedroom furniture and boxes of other belongings. It wasn't much. Cindy had her clothing packed in her old '98 Chevy Cavalier and followed them to the house.

    "You're saving my life," Cindy said as they moved her bedroom into place.

    "Like you saved mine," Erin said.

    "I want to do something for my keep here. I haven't been able to find a job, but I'll keep trying. I can help with the garden and canning and all that."

    Robert tried to ease the obvious tension he heard in her voice and said with a grin, "Be careful or she'll work you like she does me."

    Cindy grinned and said, "Yeah, she was always a slave driver at work. I know how she is."

    By lunch time they were all hot and sweaty, but most of her things were put away. They sat down to some sandwiches and iced tea, grateful for the light breeze through the house. The shade from the big trees in the front yard made the house cooler than outside.

    "What a day for a porch swing. I'd love to have one of those someday," Cindy said.

    "The swing is on the back porch. The front of the house faces south and it is always sunny out there, so we moved the swing," Robert said.

    Erin said, "You'll see. I've got some late green beans to do today, so we can sit out there and break 'em."

    "Yeah, you go girl! Can everything you can get your hands on and I'll help, 'cause groceries are outa sight," Cindy said.

    When the meal was cleared away, Cindy got a hair tie from her purse and tied her blond hair back in a long pony tail. She asked, "Have you picked the beans yet?"

    "Nope," Erin said. "I knew I had good help coming today, so I waited on that."

    "Let's get at it."

    Robert said, "I'll get some buckets."

    While the women worked on the beans, Robert got back to work in the barn. He would need someplace to store feed for pigs. By moving some implements around, he got one corner cleared out, did some measuring slid the hammermill close to the back wall. The PTO shaft was just long enough to reach so he could park the tractor outside when he ground feed. He needed an entrance door in the back wall so he could access the tractor, and some way to move barrels of feed around. His Dad's old hardware collection offered a box of old caster wheels that he could use to make dollies for the barrels.

    Cindy asked Erin, "How'd you get so lucky? The men I dated were all a bunch of duds. Being married to Shawn was great for about a year, and then he got involved with two other women. Not just one, but TWO! The divorce cost me, but I was glad to have him gone."

    "It was luck. I didn't have any idea what kind of a guy he was until we'd been together for a while. I didn't do so good with Joe, you know. What happened to that last guy you were seeing?"

    "He moved back to Evansville when that construction job was done last month. I haven't met anyone since then. I couldn't afford to go out anywhere."

    "Maybe your luck will change now. You're really pretty, and you're good people. That's in high demand, in case you didn't know it."

    "Not so I can tell. Let's get these beans washed and do something with 'em."

    Chapter 20

    "I need to go to Wal Mart," Erin said. "Cindy, are you going with me?"

    "Nothing I can get there without money."

    "Maybe not, but you can keep me company and help me figure out baby clothes in the fabric section. Robert won't go do this for anything."

    "I guess that would be okay. Let me clean up a little. Just take a minute."

    "I'm taking the truck, Robert," ErIn yelled out the back door. He was digging post holes for a new pig pen and walked toward her.

    "If you're going in town, you want to stop at Tractor Supply and get me a roll of 9 gauge brace wire?"

    "Uh, the fence stuff for corner braces?"

    "Yeah, that's right. Here's some money," he said as he handed her a twenty.

    "I've got the checkbook. We're going to shop for baby things."

    He smiled and looked at Cindy saying, "Better you than me on this trip."

    "Wal Mart is the one place I forgot to apply for a job," Cindy said. "Mostly because I didn't think I could live on what they pay. But something is better than nothing. You go ahead. I'm going to do the application on their computer thing here. I'll catch up with you in fabrics, okay?"

    "Sure. It will take me a while. See ya there," Erin said.

    Now, how does this thing work, Cindy thought as she sat down at the terminal.

    "That was quick," Erin said.

    "It's a simple thing, just follow instructions on the screen. I lied a little, but that's probably normal. They asked if I had experience in retail, and I said yes, but that's not really a lie, 'cause food service is retail, and I can run a cash register."

    "That might keep you from guarding the door here."

    "I hope so. I'd hate to do that greeting thing. But I'd take about any job now. I've got $48 to my name and I need some things."

    "Tell you what," Erin said, "you get yourself a cart and go get what you want. You can check it out separately from mine and we'll call it a loan, all right? Like you did for me and wouldn't let me pay you back."

    Cindy looked at her friend and said, "I WILL pay you back. For this and everything."

    "You did already. Go. I'll be right here. GO!"

    Cindy went first to the pharmacy section for some feminine needs, basic makeup, shampoo and hair touch up color, then to women's wear for a some undies, socks, and a pair of jeans. She thought she could get by with that and went to rejoin Erin.

    Erin took a look in her cart and said, "You're not finished yet. Go get the rest of what you need." She turned back to the pattern book and ignored Cindy until she left again.

    The cart was getting pretty full by the time she got back with it and Erin said, "That's more like it. Let's go check out then get a sandwich at Subway and we can talk about what's next."

    Erin dragged her to Goodwill next and gave her two twenty dollar bills. "Like Robert told me once, don't come out without spending all of it."

    Erin found some nice baby blankets there, and a crib and mattress that the two of them loaded into the truck. From there, they went to Tractor Supply and she dragged Cindy over to the clothing section.

    "Find yourself a nice western shirt to go with those jeans. We're going to the Country Jamboree next Saturday night."

    Cindy gave her a look, then read the look she was getting back and resigned herself to shopping for a shirt while Erin went after the wire that Robert wanted. They checked out and when they were back in the truck, Erin said, "Robert is good with whatever I want to do with money, so clear that out of your head. What you bought today isn't enough for what you've been doing around the place for us. He told me to get you convinced to go out with us this weekend, too, so no backing out on it."

    Saturday night gave them both a chance to get dressed up and look nice for a change. It was a non-drinking event with a local band and well attended. "Better than a bar, because you don't have to put up with a bunch of obnoxious drunks hitting on you," Erin told her.

    Erin looked sensational in her cowgirl duds, but had to be careful getting used to the new boots. She kept Robert dancing through the evening. As soon as one fellow noticed that Cindy didn't bring a partner, he asked her to dance. Cindy's willowy figure drew some attention on the dance floor, and then there was a steady stream of men to keep her busy. One guy sat at their table with her while Erin and Robert wandered over to get some soft drinks. They sat their drinks on the table and went back on the floor for the next number, giving Cindy a chance to talk to the guy. When they returned, she introduced him as Chad Daulton.

    "Yeah, I never knew your name but we used to see you at the Waffle Stop," Erin said.

    "I was in there at all hours for coffee," he said. "I work for Duke Energy and we get called out for repair work when a storm comes through."

    "I bet that's a rough job," Robert said.

    "Not too bad. It gets miserable in the winter when we have an ice storm, but most of the time we're doing new installs and replacements so that's not bad at all. I'm on call every other weekend, so that keeps my social life in kind of a mess."

    Erin remembered him from the restaurant as the polite guy with a glossy brown beard who never said much. Cindy had a smile on her face, so Erin grabbed Robert's hand and headed for the dance floor. When the last song played, it was a slow number and she noticed Cindy swaying close to Chad's broad shoulders as they danced.

    Chad had come to visit one Sunday and spent some of the afternoon on the porch swing with Cindy. After he'd gone, Cindy said, "Well it took ages to get it out of him, but he finally said he has three kids at home, and he had to get back early and get them from his Mom's. His wife died a year ago of some strange blood disease, and he's been raising two boys and a girl on his own since then. I told him I've got to meet those kids, so he said he'd bring them along and we'd all go out to eat next weekend."

    "You look three shades brighter than you did last week," Erin told her.

    "He's a really nice guy. Those kids will tell what he's made out of. I can't wait to see 'em."

  7. #7
    Chapter 21

    Wal Mart called and asked for Cindy. Erin handed her the phone and figured out that she had a job.

    "I start tomorrow morning as a check out clerk, training under one of their people for the day. I'll only get 20-some hours a week, he said, to start with, but that will increase as I get better at it. They always tell the same lies like I heard. But if I get 20 hours a week, that sure beats nothing," Cindy said.

    There were enough conflicts in schedules to keep Cindy from seeing very much of Chad for a while, but when they got together they seemed to get along great. Robert told Erin, "You may lose your kitchen help before long the way things are going."

    Erin said, "I hope it works out for them. Cindy has had a long string of men that didn't work out. She was pretty down about it."

    Cindy's car stuttered as she came in the driveway one Saturday morning. When she got out Robert said, "That thing wants a tuneup."

    "It's been bad for a while. It's so old I hate to put any money in it."

    "Drive it in the barn and let me look it over."

    Under the hood it was very greasy and dirty, so Robert backed it out again and threw some cardboard under it. After a good pressure washing, he could see the parts better. Leaving the hood up to dry the engine, he removed a spark plug to get the number and drove his truck off to Auto Zone. He came out with new spark plugs, ignition wires, a fuel filter, oil filter, a roll of rubber tubing, some sensors, a radiator cap, thermostat, antifreeze and oil. He used his shop vac to give the interior a good cleaning, and hosed off the outside. It was almost dark when he finished cleaning and installing all the parts. He'd only stopped for a sandwich and coffee.

    He handed Cindy the keys and said, "Go try it now. Maybe drive it down the road a ways."

    When she returned she said, "I wouldn't know it was the same car! What did you do to it?"

    "I did a tuneup, oil change, and fixed a couple things. There were some bad vacuum lines I replaced, and I vacuumed out the inside and washed the windows. Clean cars always run better," he said with a grin. "You need some wiper blades too, first chance you get. They're cheap. And the belts are getting cracked, so better replace those before one breaks."

    "What did all this cost?"

    "Oh, some time helping Erin can food, and some good meals you cooked for us, and all the work you did outside this summer. I still owe you for that."

    Cindy gave him a hug and said, "Thanks! I was scared to death that car would quit on me. Erin, he's a keeper!"

    Erin smiled and said, "Don't I know it! And no, you can't have him. You've got one of your own."

    Cindy had a sober look when she said, "I hope so. I really hope so."

    Erin told Robert, "I need to put my jewelry into shops around New Albany and Clarksville where there is more money. I could beat the prices at the discount stores there and still make money. I have to come up with nice displays, though. I'm still looking for that."

    "There's a guy at Palmyra that sells old store shelving and such things. You could go see what he has. I don't know his name, but he's on the highway on the west side of town."

    Erin drove there the next morning and was surprised at the size of the place. An old barn had been converted to house his stock and it was filled with things from retaurants and retail stores. She wandered in among pizza ovens, coffee urns, and piles of stacked shelving. When a young man came out of a small office she asked hopefully, "Do you have anything for a jewelry display?"

    He blew out a sigh from pursed lips and said, "I have some boxes that a flea marketter used for jewelry. They're back here."

    He turned and wound through narrow aisles to a dusty stack along the wall. "This is all I have of that kind. I have a big glass front display cabinet that came from a store, but it's 8 feet long. It needs a new top on it, but the case is good and it has lights in it."

    The boxes were just what she wanted, but she hesitated to tell him that. They were pretty dirty, but she thought they would clean up. "How much for these?"

    "I'll take 50 bucks for 'em, but no guarantees. There's probably some has some damage. That's the best I can do."

    Erin counted the stack and got 14 that looked identical. She asked, "Can I take some off the stack and get a better look?"

    "Sure, but you break it, you bought it."

    She carefully took the four top boxes down one at a time and stacked them on the floor. The interior of the display cases had some shabby looking red velvet that might be mildewed. She dug deeper and saw one with a missing hasp, but otherwise they looked to be useable. When she handed him the money, he seemed relieved and offered to help her carry them out to the truck. Erin took a couple old blankets out of the cab to pad the cases with and stacked them in the truck bed. She drove back into the tiny town and stopped at the ice cream shop to treat herself to a chocolate malt, then smiled all the way home.

    Chapter 22

    Erin considered what the man told her, that the jewelry cases came from a flea market seller. If he'd been making money at it, he would probably not have quit and sold out. She had seen such displays at flea markets and the stuff was priced cheap. But that was the downfall of the approach, she decided.

    People tend to think a thing is worth the price being asked, and that was still too much for the clientele at flea markets. The answer was to hit a different, more lucrative market and price the goods accordingly, she thought. She would bet some money and time on her idea and find out if it worked.

    At home, she took the cases to the pole building and began to clean them up, dusting then scrubbing with aluminum brightener from an auto parts store. Two of the cases had enough problems that she used them for parts to fix the others. She had to buy some hinges and hasps, then a handful of tiny padlocks to make them secure. The interiors took more time and a few yards of Royal Blue crushed velvet. Red was overused, she thought, and the blue had a higher class stigma. When she got two cases filled with what stock she had on hand, they looked impressive.

    Erin thought hard about what items were most likely to be impulse buys, and settled on ring and matching earring sets, and some simple pendants. She varied the sizes of zirconia stones, the settings, and also ordered a few bracelets to match. None of it was gaudy, but rather simple designs with very tasteful settings. She ordered blue velvet neck displays, one for each case she had salvaged, and some chokers with tiny zirconia stones set in brilliant silver. She also got a supply of price stickers and hoped she was doing the right thing when she saw the total charge for her order was over $300. It almost cleaned out her new business account.

    Three weeks later the order arrived. Erin stocked the 12 cases and placed a blue velvet neck display on top of each with a choker, a pendant on a chain, and a card with a pair of suitable earrings pinned below those.

    Next was a tour of jewelry counters in the big box stores of 3 cities to make notes of prices for similiar goods. Erin's direct Asian source had a much better selection than what she saw locally, boosting her confidence. She decided to keep her prices about 40% higher than the retail stores and give that as the sales commission where she consigned her things for sale.

    Her fingers did the walking through the telephone books. She made a list of hairdressers and thrift shops for each city and loaded her car up with carefully packed cases and displays. Avoiding any franchised operations, she found it easy to place all her displays in two days of driving and talking. She had left a copy of the inventroy of the display and had each consignee to sign her simple sale contract. Then, Erin went home and waited the two weeks until she had promised before contacting her outlets.

    Erin brushed out her hair, dressed in a comfortable casual suit she had found at Goodwill, and loaded the car again with fresh merchandise already tagged and blank addendum inventory sheets. The first stop had modest sales, the second only a few, but the third had cleaned out half the display case. When Erin arrived back home she had restocked all 12 outlets and had very little reserve stock left, but she had $3,240 in her purse in cash, and several happy consignees. She would look for more outlets in better parts of town and move her goods from the poor sales points.

    Her plan was working. After expenses, Erin determined she had made $2,782 on this part of the business so far. She knew sales would slow down after the initial flush of business, but she was pleased. She had other ideas for when this market was saturated. She had some internet sales, as well. It was time to order more stock. The best part was, it only took about 4 days a month to do all the work.

    Chad's truck drove in with Cindy in the front and kids in the back seat of the extended cab after a Sunday dinner at Cracker Barrel. The kids piled out with the adults and walked to the summer kitchen in the pole barn where Erin and Robert were washing buckets of grapes. They dried their hands and went out to meet the bunch.

    Cindy introduced the kids. "This is Andrew, the tall one, he's going on 11, and that's Nicholas, he's 8. Back there with her Dad is Callie. She'll be 6 soon and starts school this Fall."

    Erin smiled at the kids and said, "My name is Erin and this is Robert. Cindy said you were going to Cracker Barrel. Was your dinner good?"

    Three heads nodded, then Nicholas said, "I got ham and baked beans and it was REALLY good!"

    "How about you Callie? What did you get?"

    The little girl gave a shy smile and said, "Chicken. And mashed potatoes and gravy. It was good, but I couldn't eat it all. Gramma wants us to eat everything on our plates, but Daddy said it was all right 'cause there was too much. But Andy ate all his and I gave him the rest of my chicken.

    "I was hungry," Andrew said with a grin.

    Chad was smiling, proud of his kids, and said, "Growing boys are always hungry."

    Robert said, "Let's get in the shade. It's hot out here. Anybody thirsty? We have some iced tea in the house."

    Chad said, "That would be good," as he followed the others to the back porch.

    Callie squeaked, "You've got chickens!" She trotted over to the pen and squatted by the fence then pulled some grass and poked it through the wire. The hens came over to investigate, while the delighted little girl pulled some dandelions for them.

    When Chad and his family had gone, Erin turned he attention back to the grapes. Cindy had changed into old jeans andwas helping mash the grapes in a large kettle to cook.

    "They are a sweet bunch of kids," Erin said.

    Cindy smiled and said, "Yeah they are. I think he's a great guy. You can always tell by the kids. His folks are really nice, too. His Mom has been keeping the kids while he's at work, so it's been hard on them to run back and forth from one place to the other. His parents are getting old and they live in town. When the kids are in school they sometimes have to stay there while he works those crazy hours. Chad has been thinking about selling his place out here in the country and getting an apartment in town, but the kids won't have it. It's been rough on all of them."

    "So, marry him, already!"

    "I'm just waiting on him to ask me. I think he wants to be sure the kids approve of me."

    Chapter 23 August, 2015

    "Hi Hon! How'd it go today?" Erin gave him a peck on the cheek and noticed he didn't answer. She backed up to get a better look at him and said, "So, what's up? You look too serious."

    "I'm out of a job again."

    "What happened?"

    "The hospital was Glenn's big customer. They were in trouble for money for the past year or so, but hanging on until the new government insurance mandate took effect. Now they can't make it on mostly Medicare and Emergency Room patients, so they were ready to renege on a bond payment that built the new wing a few years ago. They sold out to the big medical group in Louisville. That outfit has their own accounting department, so Glenn lost the business. He's not hurt himself too bad, at least not yet, but he doesn't have any work for me."

    Erin thought about it and said, "You were looking for a job when you got that one. You'll find something."

    "Yeah, I suppose so, but it won't be easy. Business hasn't picked up much since 2008. We'd better look at our finances. It just looks too tight out there. The work I did was quarterly tax prep for the small businesses around here, and I can tell you they are just making it. That's after cutting costs to the bone, too. I could be out of work for quite a while."

    "Let's eat supper and we'll talk about later, okay?"

    "Yeah,"Robert said. "I think better on a full stomach."

    Cindy had been cleaning her bedroom and overheard enough to get the general idea. She came out to the kitchen as Erin was setting the table. She began to dish food up into bowls on the table while Erin got drinks and tossed a simple salad.

    "This looks good," Robert said. "Seems like a long time since lunch."

    When the meal was finished and cleared away, Cindy said, "I have to work tonight, so I better take off pretty soon. You need anything from the store?"

    Erin was a little distracted, but figured out a couple things instantly. One, Cindy had today off and they hadn't called for her to come in, so she was getting out of the way this evening. That meant she had heard Robert say he'd lost his job. And two, she had a pretty good idea where Cindy was going.

    Erin said, "No, I can't think of anything we need right off."

    When Cindy drove away, Erin decided to not tell Robert what she knew. He had enough on his mind for now.

    "We're in pretty good shape for now," Robert said. "I did some fast thinking on the way home. We still have that old silver I dug up, and the 14 Krugerrands I've been keeping for emergency funds. And the bank account has about $3,200 in it. Glenn didn't have time to figure my last check today, but it will be around $450. Have to pay taxes on that, so that takes it to about $300. That means we have around $3,500 in cash on hand."

    "Silver and gold have been down pretty low for a while, but they are starting to go back up. We should wait a while before we sell any, but right now with gold at $1,450 that would make the Krugerrands worth $14, 600 after taxes. I don't know how much silver there is, but I'd guess about $1,000 worth in there. I still have $8,700 in cash from selling those old gold coins, after buying the truck. Bottom line is, we have $12,200 in cash and could sell out all the coins for another 15 to 16 thousand."

    Erin said, "I've got $4,300 in my business account and enough stock to run for another month or two. I've been getting about $1,400 every two weeks, but it dropped to $300 last week. I wouldn't count on much more unless I can move it to some new places, because the market is getting saturated around here. I can sell what I have left on the internet, but it doesn't bring as much. I think we could count on another couple thousand from what I have on hand. I've never had this much money in my life. We're in good shape."

    Robert said, "It can go pretty fast if we don't have some coming in."

    Erin said, "How well I know that! But it doesn't cost us much to live now. There's no rent or mortgage to pay, and we eat mostly out of the garden, except for meat. We have to buy LP gas, but only in the winter and some for cooking. The electric bill is usually about $85. The internet bill is $44 a month now. It went up a little. The phone is about that much, and we don't use our cell phones too much. They cost us about $25 a month for minutes, so it's just the insurance that is high."

    "That's going to be the big one," Robert said. "It's $450 a month and we have to keep that to cover the baby. It comes to about $810 a month for bills, not counting property taxes. Last year that was $460 for the year, but it will go up.

    Erin said, "Wait a minute! If our income is low enough, we can get the government subsidy on health insurance."

    Robert shook his head, "Not if we make much more money this year. "I've made about $15,000 so far and you've made what, about $5,000? That puts us close to the max now for that subsidy, I think."

    Erin said, "We'll have to look it up, but I think the amount you could earn went up this year. Heck, we might qualify for food stamps, too. Let me get on the 'net and find out some things. We're not going to go hungry, I can tell you that. The LP tank is full, and it won't get cold for a while yet, and we have enough canned up to eat and in the freezer to last us for at least a year."

    Robert said, "Don't forget the homeowners insurance. We paid that for the year, but it will come around next year. That was over $1,200. I'll have to figure out how to make some money, somehow."

  8. #8
    Chapter 24

    A week later Cindy came to breakfast with a big smile on her face and told Erin, "You have to look for a new kitchen slave. Lookee here!"

    "Wow! That's pretty ring! You're getting married!"

    "It's one of your rings. I told him where to get it and that if he spent too much on it I wouldn't marry him, just like you did."

    Robert admired the ring and gave Cindy a kiss on the cheek. "Congratulations! I think you two, no, you five will be happy together."

    "You get to be our witnesses and all that. Be ready because we're doing it tomorrow afternoon at the Courthouse, okay?"

    Erin said, "Ooh, that's fast!"

    "He needs me there before school starts, and we'd be living together now, but his Mom would've had a fit with the kids there and all. So, yeah, we're making it happen fast."

    Cindy was beaming. Erin gave her big hug and said, "You've got a good one this time. I can tell. And you deserve him."

    Three days later, Cindy loaded her things in Chad's truck and told Erin, "You can have your room back now." She poked Erin's growing belly with a fingertip and said, "You're going to need it."

    Erin smiled and said, "We're going to miss you. Don't be a stranger, just because you're down the road a few miles, okay?"

    Chad said, "I don't think there's any danger of that. She talks about you folks a lot."

    "We'll drop in soon. Gotta get this stuff put up before grandma gets too tired of the kids. See ya!"

    Robert said, "What do you think? Will this work?"

    Erin looked around at what had been Cindy's room and nodded slowly, "This will be fine. This is plenty of room for the baby. The canned goods are fine. No need to move them. And we have a living room again!"

    "Yeah, but that couch doesn't smell so good after spending the summer in the barn. We should toss that and go look for one at a thrift store or something."

    "Let me work on that. You've got enough to do," Erin said. "Let's set it out on the back porch and let it air out some. It might be okay, but I'll look for one anyway."

    Erin had no luck at either Goodwill or the Salvation Army thrift store, so she began to search the online sources. It was a couple days later she found a couch and matching chairs on Craigslist for $50 in Greenville and called the number.

    "Hello, this is Erin Evans calling about you Ad to sell the couch. Do you still have it?"

    "Well, hello Erin! We haven't heard from you in a while!"

    Erin recognized the voice as Robert's mother, Mary Ann. "Oh! I didn't know it was you!"

    "I gave up and got a cell phone like everybody else, so you wouldn't know the number. Are you and Robert okay?"

    "We're fine. We're just shopping for a couch. It's a long story, but ours is shot."

    "Well, c'mon up and get it. It's a good couch, but it's too big for this tiny living room and I'm tired of cleaning around it. We're going to get a love seat and a chair that will fit better."

    "I'll tell Robert and will he be surprised! No! I'll just tell him I found a couch in Greenville and let him figure it out when we get there."

    "You're full of mischief, aren't you?"

    "Gotta have fun when you can. When would be a good time?"

    "Oh, most any time. In the evening, I suppose, after Robert gets off work."

    "Let me go yell at him."

    Erin found Robert in the barn and said, "We need to go get a couch tonight after supper, okay?"

    "Sure. Where is it."


    "Okay. We can drop by Mom and Dad's, too and see how they're doing."

    Erin told Mary Ann, "We'll see you about 7:00 then. Yeah, bye."

    Robert looked at Erin and said, "You're rotten, you know it?"

    "Yeah. It's fun, though."

    Bill Evans chuckled and said, "Let's load this thing up so I can have some peace around here. No, I'm not taking your money. I'd pay you to take so Mary Ann will get off my case about it. You get the chair with it. Not my Lazy Boy, but the leather one that matches."

    Not to be outdone, Mary Ann said, "You have to take those big afghans I made for it too. They're too big for the one we're going to get."

    "Dad, our house is small, so don't be loading us up with any more stuff."

    Bill smiled and said, "You don't have that pole barn full yet, do you?"

    "Now Bill, don't be picking on him," his wife said.

    "I'm not! I wouldn't do that. Just tryin' to help make sure they got all they need, and I've got something he needs. Come out to the garage, son."

    "What are you up to, Dad?"

    "Y'know that old stove we took outa the farm house years ago? It's a good one and I thought you might want some heat in that pole barn this winter, in case you wanna work on somethin' out there. I need more room to do some woodworking out here, so you'd do me a favor if you moved it out. Nobody wanted it at the auction sale, so I brought it here. It's rusty, but it's too good to throw in the junk."

    "That might be a good idea. I'll have to find someplace to cut some wood, but I might know where to get it."

    Bill removed the plastic table cloth covering the old stove and sawdust went everywhere. He left that to clean up ater and the two of them wrestled the stove out.

    "I'll have to come back and get this. The couch and chair have the truck filled up. I'll be back in the morning, since I'm not working now."

    "What happened to your job?"

    Robert told him the series of events and said, "Not much out there for jobs now, either, so I'll have time to get this stove set up and fix some things this winter."

    "I hate to hear that. Hope you find something soon. If you need something, just let me know. We've got some money put away, you know."

    "Thanks, but we're fine for a good while. We have at least a year's wages saved and it doesn't cost us much to live now. We could stretch what we have for 2 or 3 years if we had to."

    Bill nodded and said, "If I hear of anything in your line, I'll let you know. I still go down to the restaurant for coffee in the mornings and talk with all the other old liars and gossips in there. If that bunch don't know about a thing, it's not worth knowin' about."

    Chapter 25 September, 2015

    A visit to Thad Wright was all it took to find firewood to cut. He had half a mile of fencerow to be cleaned out. All he asked of Robert was to stack the brush out in the field where he could burn it safely.

    "It'd be a favor to me, 'cause that fencerow stunts the crops next to it. I'd rather you cut it and get some good out of it, than to pay a dozer man to clean it out and have all the mess of stumps in the way. You cut it and I can spray it with brush killer and keep it from comin' back."

    "It's sure a help to me," Robert told him. "I'm not working now, so I'm trying to do things as cheap as I can."

    Thad wasn't finished yet. He said, "You wouldn't be interested in a wood stove would you?"

    "My Dad just gave me one to use in the pole barn, but thanks for asking."

    "I don't mean a heatin' stove, I mean a wood COOK stove."

    "I don't know if we could make it fit in that little house."

    "It's a little one and I know durn well it'll fit, 'cause that's where it come from. It used to b'long to old man Heddon that built that place. When he died I bought it at the sale, an' it's been settin' in my old garage ever' since then. My wife passed away b'fore I got it put in here, an' I lost interest in it. I just coveredit up with a tarp and left it there."

    "My wife would kill or die for one of those. She loves antiques, and she'd do anything to save a dollar."

    "I'll tell ya what. You come look at it and bring her over if you want to, and I'll sell it for what I give fer it."

    One look at the old stove and Robert knew that as soon as Erin saw it, she'd have to have it. It was a light brown enamel finish with white enamel in all the door panels. Bright nickel plated trim on the foot rail all the door handles made it sparkle.

    "How much do you want for it?"

    "Like I said. Just what I paid fer it. Give me $14 and take it home."

    "You're kidding?"

    "Nope. That's what I give fer it and that's what I want. Fact is, that house is where it BELONGS. He bought that stove fer his wife b'fore he built the house and they lived in a old chicken house in the Depression back then. Had it done up pretty nice, but it wasn't much of a place. I grew up on this farm here, and I used to go over there as kid and they treated me awful nice. They raised pigs and saved until they could afford to build that house, and she was tickled with it. He'd got a job when they was buildin' a dam on the river and made good money fer a while. They was good neighbors and it'd do me good to see that stove back in there with somebody that wants it."

    Robert decided he shouldn't argue with the old man and paid him on the spot. Thad said, "Now let's don't strain ourselves loadin' that thing. I'll be back with the tractor."

    Thad's big tractor and front loader made short work of loading the stove in Robert's truck. He had the stove tied in with some straps and was ready to leave when Thad shut the tractor off and came up to the truck.

    "They's one more thing I'd like to get from that stove, if you don't mind."

    "What's that?"

    "I want a batch of good biscuits when your wife learns how it works. And make sure you cut some of that dead Sassafras in the fencerow first. It's dandy fer a fast breakfast fire on a cold mornin'."

    Robert smiled and said, "I'll make sure you get some biscuits!"

    The old man smiled as Robert drove out. Robert wondered how old he was, but he didn't want to ask.


    "Old Mr. Wright, next door had it and he decided we should have it."

    Erin did a happy dance and clapped her hands like a little girl. Robert told her the story, then said, "Better close your mouth while there's still flies around."

    She began to chatter then about where it belonged and how fast they could get it installed. That took more doing than Robert had expected, since they had to remove some of the extra cabinets from the kitchen. While he did that, Erin was in the pole barn scrubbing on the old stove with steel wool soap pads and oven cleaner and he didn't know what else. By the time he had the chimney opening exposed again and cleaned up his mess, she had the stove looking like new. They moved the extra cabinets to the pole barn and put up new stovepipe.

    "Now we won't need to fill that LP gas tank again," Erin told him.

    "Yes we will. The furnace and water heater still use gas."

    "Not if we got this thing going, they won't. You don't know about wood ranges, do you?"

    "No, I never was around one."

    "My grandma had one and it heated their whole house most of the winter, and it was a big house. This one has a water tank on it just like hers. Unless you just HAVE to have a hot shower, you can turn the water heater off and use the bath tub."

    "If it makes that much heat, it will be miserable in hot weather."

    "Not if you take it out to the barn it won't. That's how you do that. You cook outside until it starts to get cold and then move it back inside again. Grandma told me all about it. She had a real summer kitchen in a separate building just off the back porch. Now get busy and cut me some Sassafras wood and some good dry oak and make sure it will fit in this little firebox. I want to practice making biscuits. That old man deserves some good ones."

    Chapter 26 October, 2015

    There was a bit of chill in the air one morning when Thad Wright came to breakfast.

    "MMMM-mmmm! These biscuits sure are good. Pass me some more of that grape jelly, would ya?"

    Erin handed it to him and sat back smiling. "Those suit you all right?"

    Thad said, "Young lady, I never ate this good since my wife passed away, God rest her soul."

    They all ate the rest of their breakfast and Erin refilled the coffee cups from the graniteware coffee pot on the wood stove.

    Thad said, "Oh, man that was GOOD! Yeah, just about half a cup. You made that jelly from them grapes back there, didn't you?"

    Erin smiled and nodded.

    "I knew it, 'cause those are Steuben grapes. They taste better'n those Concords. I'd give something for a jar of that stuff, if you got any to spare."

    Erin walked to the shelves by the laundry and brought two pints of the jelly out. She sat them on the table in front of him and said, "There's more where that came from when you run out."

    "Oh, sweetie if you could stand to kiss an old man goodbye, I can go home and die happy!"

    She kissed him and gave him a hug as he started for the back door with his jelly.

    Thad looked at Robert and said, "You're a lucky man. I better go see after the hired help and the milkin'. They won't work unless I'm standin' over 'em."

    Robert had been busy. He had a pig pen built, had bought some shelled corn direct from a neighbor, and had 18 feeder pigs in the pen. The pen was big, almost a half acre in extent, so they didn't make much of a mess except where they were fed and watered. He'd cut a lot of firewood, and it seemed like the splitting would never be done, but there were tall stacks of the small stuff in the pole barn cut to fit Erin's range. He had a few ricks cut to fit the stove in the pole barn, too, but it was comfortable to work in there with a light jacket even if it was cold outside.

    Erin had a good part of the basement filled with potatoes in baskets, and beets in plastic totes filled with moist sand, and pumpkins and winter squash sitting alongside those. The new freezer they bought had the last of the sweet corn in bags, some green peppers, and broccoli besides the meat they had found on sale.

    She learned long ago that when meat was near its' expiration date it could be bought cheap. Freezing it immediately would keep it as long as you wanted. She'd found 22 pounds of prepared sausage, some whole pork loins, and 30 pounds of hamburger for about half price and repackaged it in small amounts. She got some butter on sale in whole one pound packages that didn't sell as well as the ones cut into 4 sticks. There was a big package of bacon scraps that she would use to season dry beans or green beans, and several pounds of good quality bacon in 2 pound packages that were almost out of date, too. Chicken was cheap, so she bought it on sale at every opportunity and eithe rcut it up and froze it, or cooked a whole one to make several meals, some with dressing, some cooked off the bones to make chicken soup, and some made into chicken ala king frozen for an easy meal.

    They planned to butcher a pig when they got big enough, so she left room for that, filling the extra space with milk jugs of water to make the freezer more efficient. In the cool basement, it didn't run much anyway. The electric bill stayed low, by being careful to shut off lights and unplugging anything else that wasn't in use. They kept the water heater turned off and used some hot water from the kitchen stove to do laundry in warm water. They set the thermostat on the furnace at 55 degrees and used to wood stove to keep it from coming on when it got cold out.

    There were no jobs to be had, it seemed. They both had tried applying everywhere they could think of, to no avail. A few businesses in town had closed, and Robert had noticed that his old employer had quit renting the house he had used for an office and was working from his home.

    Thad stopped by mid morning one cold day and found Robert filing his old chainsaw in the pole barn.

    "Good morning, Thad. How're you doing?"

    "Well, I got a problem. That one kid that was helpin' me do the milkin' got drunk and got hisself locked up last night an' I had to do his job an' mine too this mornin'. He ain't got a job now. I need a hand and was wonderin' if you'd want to do that? I can't pay much, but it beats nothin', I guess."

    "Sure, I'll be glad for the work. I never been around a dairy, though."

    "But you said you grew up on a farm, right?"

    "Yeah, but Dad raised beef, and hogs, and a few chickens. It was small operation."

    "Well, that's good. You know how to work and you've been around cows, so you won't act a fool like some of these kids I get. I can show you all you need to know the first day."

    "What time you want me there?"

    "We start milkin' in the mornin' at 7:00 o'clock, and in the evenin' at 5:00 o'clock. The mornin' milkin' is heavier, of course, but that works out good for us. It takes about an hour and a half, twice day. I can pay $10 an hour, and all the milk you want, long as you don't tell nobody where it come from. Ain't supposed to sell unpasturized milk, but they never said I can't GIVE it away. I been drinkin' it for 70-odd years an' I ain't dead yet."

    "I'll be there. I'll need boots, in the barn. Where do you get yours?"

    "Don't worry 'bout that. I got boots. Goes with the deal."

    "That sounds like a good deal to me."

    "I was hopin' you'd say that. Well, I better go. I got things to do. See ya tonight, an' bring somethin' to put a couple gallons of milk in. That'll give you enough to get started makin' some butter an' you can give the skim to the hogs or whatever."

  9. #9
    Chapter 27

    Robert decided to walk to Thad's place, it being less than half a mile and he could see no reason to burn gasoline for that. He carried a two gallon water jug in one hand and his .22 rifle in the other, hoping to see a rabbit on the way. None appeared, so he went in the milk barn and sat his rifle and jug down by the door. It was a learning experience that evening and he left more tired than he expected, but he was sure that would get a lot easier with experience. Thad thanked him for coming on time and being some real help the first day.

    "If ya go home by the lane back there an' through the woods to your house, you might jump a rabbit on the way. I reckon that's why you brought the rifle."

    "Yep, sure is. I'm not too sure I can hit one, but I thought it was worth a try."

    He didn't see anything on the way home, but he got a new look at the countryside and saw more of Thad's farm. It was a pleasant walk, too, and not that much worse than walking on the road. He didn't have to worry about traffic for one thing, although there was little enough of that. The jug of milk got pretty heavy by the time he got home, though.

    Cindy and Chad stopped on evening on their way home from shopping. Cindy came into the house and said to Erin, "We have a bunch of kittens that are weaned now. I thought you might want one, with you gripin' about mice last winter."

    Erin said, "'I'd love to have a kitten! I haven't had one since I was a kid. Heck yeah, I want one! Can I come pick it out?"

    "Sure. How about you come over for supper sometime and we'll visit a while? We haven't seen you all in ages."

    "It will be 7:00 o'clock before we can make it. Robert is helping the neighbor milk cows now and he doesn't get home until after 6:30."

    "That's fine. Maybe tomorrow night? It's Friday, so the kids don't have to get up the next day and can stay up later."

    "We'll be there."

    "I have to run. See you tomorrow."

    Erin and Robert had left with their new Marmalade kitten and Cindy was getting the kids headed for bed. Cindy had Callie convinced that she could have a bath by herself and sent her off to do that. Andy and Nick were dawdling in their room, probably playing computer games.

    Chad said, "It's a shame that Robert lost his job. That has to suck, big time."

    "Yeah. He's a really good guy. I hate to see it happen to him. It ain't like it's the first time, though. he's been through a lot. I don't know how he keeps it together."

    "What's that mean?"

    "Would you believe that a couple years ago he was a big shot in some corporation in Louisville?"


    "Yep. Rolex, silk suits, big house in Georgetown, and all that. Lost his job and his wife dropped him the next day."

    "Oh, hell. She must have been a piece of work."

    "Sounded like it from what I heard. She was a big time gold digger, and took him for all he had in the divorce. He started over again here with near nothing. Then Erin grabbed him and they've been doing good, but now they're both out of work. I just wish I could do something. They've been real good to me."

    Chad said, "Hey, if he bounced back that well the last time, I bet he does this time, too. He'll find something. Can't stay without a job for long the way prices keep going up."

    "Don't think so. I mean, he won't find a job like he had, even like he had here in town."

    "Times are hard, I know, but there has to be something he can get. I mean, he's been to college and he's an accountant, so that should do it."

    Cindy shook her head. "Yeah, he's all that, and he knows a lot about investments, too, Erin told me. Made a lot of money at that, and he keeps studying that stuff. Erin said that when HE says there's nothing out there, you'd better believe him. He worked for that guy Bartel that had the aco****ing office, you know? Well, he kept the books for a lot of businesses here in town so he knows they are all in bad shape."

    "You're starting to get me worried."

    "I know I'm worried. Erin said They've got some money saved up, and they are getting by, but it's hard."

    "I don't want to think about losing my job. I just can't go there. I have to take care of you and the kids."

    "You probably oughta think about it then, don'cha think? I wish I had thought about it more before I lost my job. There's things I coulda done then."

    "Like what?"

    "Well, for years I lived from paycheck to paycheck. I wanted to get married and I was lookin' in all the wrong places. I did a lot of running around and dating, and spent way too much on that. I shoulda had sense enough to save some money and lived a lot cheaper. My folks taught me how, but I didn't pay much attention then."

    "I gotta think about this," Chad said.

    Chapter 28 November, 2015

    Bill Evans was almost finished with his birdhouse. It was an eight room Martin house that he planned to put on what had once been a flag pole in the back yard. He shut off the table saw and decided to go in the house for a cup of coffee, pleased with his work so far. He went in the back door and fell over the his wife lying on the kitchen floor. He hit his shoulder on a kitchen chair on the way down, but that kept him from hitting the floor so hard, landing on his left shoulder instead.

    "I'm sorry Mary Ann. Mary Ann? What's the matter?"

    Bill thought she felt a little cool, so he tried to turn her over and he began to realize the truth. She wasn't breathing. He began to do mouth to mouth, pinching her nose shut to make it work, but with one hand on her neck, he could not feel her pulse. Bill kept at the mouth to mouth until he was so tired he couldn't do it any more. He felt for his new cell phone on his belt and fumbled until he got it open and turned on, still sitting on the floor. The 911 dispatcher answered and said she'd have an ambulance on the way immediately. Bill collapsed against the cabinet behind him and sat there, too
    tired to move until he heard the siren. He made it to the front door and got it unlocked in time for the EMT's to come in, then he sat down until they had Mary Ann in the ambulance. They would take to the New Albany hospital, he nodded and wearily got his coat to follow in their car.

    Mary Ann was pronounced DOA at the hopital, later determining that she had died of a burst aneurism.

    Erin told Robert, "Go to your Dad. Now."

    Robert was in shock at the news, and said, "I have to be at Thad's in an hour to milk. He depends on me."

    "GO NOW! I'll go take care of that. Get your head together and go see your Dad. HE'S the one that needs you."

    "Okay. Yeah, that's right. What's wrong with me?"

    "He said he's at home, so you go there. Take my car. I can drive the truck and I might need it for something. Now you get dressed for it and make sure you're thinking straight before you leave, okay? Take some of this chicken soup with you, because your Dad isn't going to have sense enough to eat, and you might not either. You just go see about your Dad, and I'll come along later."

    "Okay, okay. I'm all right now. I'll get started."

    Erin arrived at the milk barn in jeans and her work coat. She told Thad what happened and she would need directions to do the job.

    "Why, you didn't have to come! Just lemme know what's goin' on and I can do it."

    "No, if you didn't need somebody you wouldn't have hired Robert, so I'm here. Let's get to it."

    Thad knew a stubborn woman when he saw one, and agreed. He got her started washing cow udders and hooking up milkers.

    Mary Ann Evans was buried at their church cemetery 3 days later, with a crowd of their friends and neighbors attending. Bill Evans refused to go home with Robert and Erin. He went to his own home and fended off the offers of food and comfort as best he could. His refrigerator was still overfull and the table sat full of deserts from well wishers. Bill and his old farm dog, Jake ate what they could of it all before it got too old. Jake was as morose as Bill for a couple days, but got Bill up to take him outside when he needed to go.

    For the next month, Bill spent more time talking to Jake than he did to any of the people he knew. He didn't go to church the next Sunday, having overslept after a night of sleeplessness. Jake got him up whining to go outside.

    "Okay, c'mon y'old mutt. I'll take you out."
    Jake sniffed around the back yard and pointed at a bush with a bird in it, then looked at Bill with a doggy smile.
    "That bird's not bothering anything. Let's go back inside."
    The dog's tail drooped as he followed his master in the door.

    Thanksgiving was coming up, but Bill paid no attention to it until Erin called one day. She wouldn't take no for an answer so he agreed to come spend the day with them. Bill decided he had better do some laundry and got busy at that, then cleaned up in the kitchen the next day and returned a bunch of cake plates and pie dishes to their rightful owners.

    Thad was pleased with his new help for the few days Erin worked for him. She got as much done as the young man who had been milking for him for almost a year. Part of that was because the young guy spent more time than necessary talking to Erin, or just watching her when he should have been working. Thad had to admit that he enjoyed watching a pretty girl too, but that didn't get the cows milked.

    Sharon Evans was aghast when she got the notice and marched into her boss's office with her characteristic swaying hips. She dropped the letter on his desk and said, "What's the meaning of this?"

    "It means what it says, that the company has had significant losses the past two years, and they are cutting the budget for sales. More resources are to put into direct sales and less into middle management. Unnecessary positions will be eliminated and the rest of us will take a 30% cut in salary."

    "I can't take a 30% cut in salary. You'll have to do something about that."

    "You don't get a salary cut. Your position is being eliminated at the end of the month. I'm sorry, but that's what I have been told. Thee's nothing I can do about it."

    Sharon was stunned. "You can't DO this!"

    "I can't do anything else. Those are my orders. In view of your fine performance record and our excellent working relationship, I will give you the finest possible reference for a position elsewhere. That is the best I can do."

    Sharon was nothing if not mentally agile. She swept aside emotions and said, "There is a severance package, is there not?"

    Her boss gave an exaggerated nod and said, "That's correct. The company will pay your personal insurance for up to a year, or until you find other employment. Your years here entitle you to the maximum severance pay of 6 months salary. In this business environment, I don't thinnk there is a better package anywhere."

    She knew that was true, but she cast about for another thing to ask from him. Nothing came to mind, so she simply said, "I'll consider this and talk to you again."

    Back at her desk she looked at the leather bound calendar on his desktop and saw that she had 8 calendar days of employment left and today was one of them. She didn't know what to do next. This was totally unexpected, despite rumblings about a shake up in the main office. She'd have to find a position fast before the whole industry was overloaded with resume's from her associates here.

    She turned to her assistant's computer terminal and began to copy records to a 32 gigabyte thumb drive. The assistant was out of the office today, for which Sharon was grateful. It was a very fast terminal, but it took a long time to finish the process. Sharon stopped at Sam's Club on the way to her new home and bought a medium priced laptop and some software that occupied her for the evening getting it installed and running. She dumped the thumb drive to the hard disc on the laptop and after checking it for any problems, Sharon shut it down and went to bed.

    Sharon was accosted by the security guard when she entered the building the next morning and told to wait for her boss to come down to the lobby. He came followed by a flunkie carrying a cardboard box with her name on it.

    Sharon demanded, "What's going on?"

    Her boss appeared to be very stressed as he said, "Someone downloaded a lot of critical business records from your assistant's computer yesterday. It is a serious breach of internal security, so I have been directed to not allow you back into the office. Your assistant is being sought as we speak. Since you did not have his password access, it is obvious you had nothing to do with it, but company policy has been changed to disallow any severed employee back in the building after they have been given notice."

    He had turned to face away from where he knew the security camera could see his face and mouthed the words. "It's the best I could do." He had panic in his eyes, but got it under control before turning to the flunkie to say, "Take Ms. Evans' belongings to her car for her, please."

    The young man looked up at her for direction as her boss said, "Thank you for everything, and I wish you the best of everything. Your letter of reccomendation is in there in a folder."

    She shook his offered hand and turned away, determined he would not see her tears. Rather huskily, she told the young man, "Follow me," and stalked out the door with her head held high.

    Sharon knew her boss would do his dead level best to keep her out of any trouble. He didn't want his wife to know what he was really doing when he worked late, she was certain of that. Sharon knew she had been very good working late with him. She began to remember how she had to strive to keep up her facade during those sessions. He was not an attractive man, and a very poor lover, too. The whole affair had been disgusting, but it had gotten her two promotions. It had not been enough to keep her job, however.

    The next day Sharon went to her investment advisor and told him to sell all her company stock, awarded to her as performance bonuses over the years. That was simple enough and would have no suspicion attached to it, since she would clearly need the money. She asked for the proceeds to be wired to her bank account, then went to the bank and deposited her severance check. Selling the stock was a good move on her part, since it dropped several points the next day when news of the cutbacks hit the markets.

    Sharon's bank account now held $188,000. Her car was paid for, but the new house was not. In fact, she had borrowed 95% of the $368,000 to buy it, expecting to sell it in a couple years and make money. All she did was sleep there, so it showed practically no wear. It was very desirable address in the new gated community overlooking the Ohio River. She had moved up again after divorcing that fool of a country kid. But with an uncertain future, she knew it was time to sell the house.

    There was little interest in real estate in that price range now, she learned and began to worry.

  10. #10
    Chapter 29

    Bill Evans had enjoyed the day with Robert and Erin. She had cooked a fine meal, although he had little appetite. Jake was glad to see him when he got home and enjoyed some turkey leftovers more than Bill did. When he let the dog out in the back yard Bill went to the garage and looked at his Martin house, still sitting untouched since that day.

    It was hard to even go inside, but he had decided to clean up the place. Soon, Jake joined him and parked himself in his corner on an old rug. It had been a fairly warm day with now just the last of the sunshine coming in the door glass, but it was getting chilly so Bill hurried and got the place swept up. The bird house he put on his work bench and stacked all it's parts with it, then called Jake and went in the house.

    An advertisement on television reminded him to call his insurance agent tomorrow. The funeral director would want to be paid and he needed to collect his wife's life insurance. As church members, their cemetery lots were paid for, but the burial expenses were high. He still needed to get their headstone engraved with the date of her death. The hospital had sent him a bill for some outrageous amount of money. He hadn't figured out what that was supposed to pay for, since they didn't really DO anything for his wife except pronounce her dead when she got there. The ambulance outfit wanted a big chunk, too. It made him mad to think about it, so he put that out of his mind for now. The life insurance should cover it.

    "Hey Jake, you wanna watch Gunsmoke with me?"

    The dog came over to him and sat down, expecting a head rub.

    "I guess you don't care much, huh? Well, you're easy to please."

    Bill went to sleep in the recliner and woke the next morning pretty stiff, but rested. Over morning coffee, he made his list of what he had to do today. Bill had grimly decided that life would go on, whether he was ready for it, or not.

    The more Sharon explored both the job market and the real estate market, the more she was convinced she was liable to lose the house and every dollar she had. She set about a plan to remedy that, first going to a stock day trader she had met with some valuable information for sale. She collected in cash. Days later, that day trader sold a large short contract on the stock of her previous employer, betting the price of the stock would go down. Within a month, it would, dramatically.

    Next, she spent most of her money in the bank on gold coins. Then she took some coins to a different dealer to be checked for purity who found the coins to be fakes-gold plated tungsten, probably originating in China. Her attorney filed a lawsuit against the first dealer for fraud, not expecting to win the case. The real gold coins were secreted away, while the second dealer took custody of the fake ones while the lawsuit was pending.

    When her next house payment was due she informed the bank that she was unemployed and could not make the payment. They began foreclosure proceedings the day she filed for unemployment. Sharon filed for bankruptcy, not concerned about her car which was titled in her mother's name. When the eviction notice came, she planed to move to her parents' home for a time.

    Andy answered the phone and said, "It's for you Mom". Cindy was inwardly delighted he had called her Mom. In a good mood she took the call from Wal Mart's manager saying she was being laid off due to slowing business sales and cost containment. She didn't mind a lot, since the kids were a full time job. The loss of income didn't bother her a lot, since Chad was a good money manager and they had no trouble paying the bills.

    Chad heard the news and said, "I made the right decision then. I'm selling my truck to a guy at work. I want something that doesn't have a $600 a month payment and gets good fuel economy. Want to go shopping with me?"

    "No, I don't think so. You can look faster without all of us. I can tell you that the Ford dealer has been sending out a lot of ads lately, so maybe they'd give a better deal than usual. The smaller car lots would have to do as well. Maybe it's a good time to buy something."

    "I hope so, because this guy really wants my truck and I really want rid of that big payment, after hearing about Robert losing his job."

    "We don't have any other big bills," Cindy said. "No mortgage or anything."

    "That's the one thing I did right, I guess. We had a big term life insurance policy on my wife when she passed away. I never wanted to collect on it, but I did. Well, I paid the funeral stuff and paid off the mortgage. I figured I'd never have that much money at one time again, so I'd better do it. Thank goodness for that. I spent the rest of the insurance money on stuff for the place here, so I had to borrow most of it when I got the truck, Buying it was the one dumb thing I did."

    "I think you did good. I mean, you were torn up about your wife and all, and nobody thinks right then. You're a good man, and don't you forget it."

    Chad kissed her and said, "I'm glad you think so. I better get going. I'll eat when I get back."

    The kids were all upstairs so he yelled at them and said he'd be back before bedtime. Cindy thought that she was liking Chad better all the time.

    Chapter 30 December, 2015

    "I'm worried about your Dad, " Erin said. "He could get real depressed over losing your mother, you know."

    "I don't know what we can do about it, except stay in touch with him."

    "Yeah, I know, but I wish he was closer so we could check on him more often."

    Blondie, their cat strolled into the kitchen and parked himself by her feet, looking up hopefully. Erin bent to pet him, but her growing belly got in the way. She did more of a squat and got her pant legs rubbed with cat hair. "Old people like to feel needed," she said. "He needs a reason to get up in the morning."

    "He has a grandbaby on the way he wants to see and he does a little woodworking. He has some friends down at the restaurant in town there. He's not like a shut-in. I'm betting that he's planning a fishing trip right now. That camper is sitting there in his driveway doing nothing."

    Erin wasn't satisfied, but she let it drop for now. It was time for Robert to leave for the morning milking. It wasn't that much work, but he had to be there, twice a day, 7 days a week. Still, it was keeping their heads above water for now. He made about $220 a week plus the milk Thad gave him. That was enough for them to live on and even save a few dollars, or stock some extras for when the baby came. Most of the money went to pay their insurance so they wouldn't have a huge hospital bill later. When that was over, Erin was thinking about having her tubes tied to be sure they didn't have more kids than they could afford. They hadn't needed to dip into their savings yet, and she wasn't planning on it. Being really poor scared her to death.

    When her coffee got cold she got up and took the milk from the refrigerator to skin off the cream. She could take a pint of cream off each gallon and still have enough left in it to be drinkable. It was time to make some more butter, so she took the cold cream from the fridge in it's half gallon jar and shook it steadily for about 20 minutes until the fat began to gather in lumps, then coalesce into one larger lump. Three pints of the rich cream in the jar made almost a pound of butter. She worked the butter in a bowl with a wooden spoon to get all the moisture out of it she could to keep it from spoiling fast. She poured the water out of the bowl as it collected and began to work some salt into the mass.

    When it suited her taste, she patted the soft butter into a small porcelain bowl she used for a mold and put it back in the fridge with the buttermilk she saved for making biscuits later. Her arms were tired from shaking the jar. She wanted a churn in the worst way, but they were expensive.

    Blondie got a dish of buttermilk and loved it. He was growing fast eating table scraps, but she made sure he got something like a balanced diet. Erin noticed that since they got him as a kitten, she hadn't seen a mouse anywhere.

    Robert had tried an experiment the last time he ground feed for the livestock. He ground some wheat first, separately and sifted it through her big kitchen strain. It wasn't as light and fluffy as she liked for flour, so she sacrificed a pair of stockings and sifted it through one of those. It made biscuits that they couldn't tell from store bought flour. The siftings, mostly wheat bran, went to the pigs. That wouldn't last long because they were going to butcher one soon and sell the rest. If the chickens didn't like it, maybe she would try finding a recipe for some kind of cereal to use it. They had several pounds of butter in the freezer now, and the pigs had grown like weeds with the milk in their feed. They should get more pigs as soon as weather permitted, she thought. That would add some needed income.

    Sharon had done a lot of driving to 3 other cities to sell gold coins for cash, always below market value, but with no paperwork involved and never more than a few in one place. She had always dressed in loose clothing, flat shoes, and wore an ugly brown wig that she tossed into the Ohio river on the way home. There would be no trail for anyone to follow concerning her money. She preferred dealing with pawn shops. There was a cost to all of this, but she was glad to get 3/4 of her money turned into cash that a bankruptcy court could not find. What money she left in the bank, her family's attorney convinced the court was the minimum necessary for a homeless person to support life.

    Sharon bought herself a bottle of bubbly to celebrate New Year's Eve at home with her parents, watching the festivities on television. It was very good champagne. She had been evicted so she was officially homeless, unemployed, and divorced. But besides her nice clothes in the closet, and unknown to anyone but herself, she had a suitcase with $159,000 in cash to comfort her. She would look for a job next year, and a wealthy husband. She wasn't getting any younger and she knew it, but for now she was fine.

    Her mother didn't like having her at home. It embarrassed her when friends visited. Sharon didn't care. She'd learned everything important that she knew from her mother, so she had no room to complain about it.

    "Daddy's home!" Callie yelled it and ran to the door. Cindy followed her and opened the door for him.

    "I think I did good," he said. "I want you to go look before I buy it, but I found a good used Subaru Forester for $6,500. It's old, a 2005, but it only has 44,000 miles on it. If we all fit in it okay, I think it's a good deal."

    Cindy asked, "Don't you need a truck to haul stuff? What about animal feed and all that?"

    Chad smiled and said, "How about we trade off your car on a small pickup? There are some extended cab models I saw that would do for a while. When the kids grow some we'd need something else. I think that between what I get for my truck and your car to trade in, we can get something like that Subaru wagon and a small pickup without borrowing any money. And both of them will get better than 25 miles to the gallon, instead of 12. We get rid of a $600 a month truck payment and cut our gas useage in half. Sound good?"

    That became the adults Christmas present to themselves. They were driving less now that Cindy wasn't working, and Chad had a company truck for his work, so he only had to go from home to work with it, about 6 miles each way. He decided he liked the small pickup they bought and drove it, leaving Cindy with a good reliable vehicle for her errands, and she loved the 4 wheel drive when the first snow came.

  11. #11
    Chapter 31 January, 2016

    There just wasn't much to keep his mind occupied, so after breakfast Bill decided to got drop in on Robert and Erin to see how they were getting along. The snowy countryside made him think about his life on the farm, trying to keep ice out of water for the cattle, feeding on frozen mornings, and the better parts when the whole world was green and growing. He felt a little cooped up in town, and watching old westerns on TV didn't make up for that. He had the fidgets, as Mary Ann used to say. Her prescription for that was for him to go hunting or fishing, but it was a bit cold for fishing. Maybe there was room to do some deer hunting around Robert's place. He'd ask and see.

    "Hi Dad! Good to see you're getting out."

    "I got tired of watching TV. How's things here?"

    "About the same. We're just trying to keep going. Come on in the house and see if Erin has some hot coffee."

    "I was wondering if there's anywhere to hunt around here?"

    Erin greeted them and grabbed the coffee pot to fill mugs.

    "Deer season closes the 5th, and that's the last of it," Robert said. "Only does allowed now, but you can get tags for 2 does this year. We're overrun with deer. Our neighbor Thad says he's tired of feeding them. You look around his rould bale feeder about daylight and there might be a dozen out there. Can't legally shoot 'em there, they call that baiting, but you can watch for 'em to go back to the woods to bed down."

    "Would he mind if I hunted there do you think?"

    "He might pay you to do it."

    "I better go get me a hunting license pretty quick. Wal Mart sells 'em don't they?"

    "Yes, and while you're there, you want to pick up some brown sugar? We're curing bacon and hams today. Need about 20 pounds I think."

    Just before dark that day, Bill's Remington Wingmaster barked and a big doe fell hard. The other doe stopped and stared for a split second, just time enough for Bill to swing the shotgun on target and fire again. He sat there for a full minute and saw no movement from either one. He waited a while longer to be sure one wouldn't get up and then walked over to the pair. Both looked to be big and healthy. He got the big folding knife from his belt and proceeded to field dress both deer. It was a Schrade Bear Paw knife he'd carried for 30 years on his farm, and it showed the wear, but it was sharp and he knew how to use it.

    The deer had fallen almost on Robert's property, but no matter. Thad had encouraged him to hunt all he wanted to. Bill headed for the house to see about hauling the carcasses in for hanging.

    He saw Erin first and said, "Good thing you got the hog about finished, because we got 2 deer to butcher now."

    "Oh boy! I hope the freezer will hold it all."

    "I have to go check 'em in now, so I'm takin' that little tractor back there to haul 'em up with. Tell Robert what's goin' on when he gets back from milkin".

    "He probably heard the shots and knows already."

    "I used the front loader and brought 'em in one at a time. I thought that ws easier than draggin' a trailer back there in the woods."

    The deer were hanging in the pole barn, hoisted up with the rope and pulleys that Bill brought with him. Robert looked them over and told Erin, "They'll fit in the freezer if we bone out the meat. There's only about 70 or 80 pounds on each one that way. I'm not keeping the neck meat or any of the other tough parts."

    Bill said, "Good! Jake will love it! I'll come back and help cut 'em up and whatever you don't want I'll put in the freezer for him. I've enjoyed bein' out there in the woods today. First time in a long time, and I needed that. Town just don't agree with me too good. Jake don't like it either."

    Robert said, "You thinking about moving somewhere?"

    Bill said, "I was wonderin' if I could park my camper here by the barn for a while?"

    Erin smiled a said, "You can leave it there as long as you want. We'd love to have you here."

    Robert said, "That sounds like a fine idea. There's a freezeless faucet right outside and we can run a temporary septic line to the tank. It's only about 10 feet. We'd have to cover it up in cold weather, but it will work. There's power in the barn to hook it up."

    Bill grinned and said, "You might get tired of me pestering you for something to do."

    Erin said, "You'd better be the one worrying about Robert working you too hard."

    "Hmph. I kinda doubt that. Okay, I'll see what I can do. It might be a few days to get things done."

    Chapter 32

    A few days later Bill's truck made easy work of moving the camper. By evening that day he had the hookups made and wrapped with heat tapes and insulation. He had filled the cabinets and the fridge before he came. Bill and Jake were moved in by supper time. Jake was used to the camper and thought it was a great adventure, following Bill around all day when he wasn't sniffing at the barn door and the deer inside. The dog was a mixed breed, part Labrador and who knew what else. He didn't seem to mind the cold weather.

    "Hey Jake, you ready for supper?"

    Jake danced and licked his lips.

    "Okay, just a minute." The dog ran to the back storage compartment where his bowl and bag of food were stored.

    While Jake was eating, Bill fixed himself a cup of coffee in the trailer and sat down to look out the window at the woods where he'd shot the deer. "This is more like it," He told the dog.

    Jake's tail wag and big sigh of relief co-signed what Bill said.

    "Now. What the heck am I gonna do with that Buick at home?"

    Jake looked at him and laid down at his feet with a sigh. He didn't like the Buick. He liked to ride in the truck.

    Robert cleaned up after the evening milking and was getting ready to do their income taxes for the year. First, he went through the numbers on his hog operation last year. Before Christmas he'd sold 17 hogs that averaged 250 pounds each. They were over the desired 210 pounds the market preferred, so he didn't quite get top price, at $1.12 a pound. That was still a check for $4,750, but he had to deduct the initial cost of the feeder pigs at $95 each, or $1,710. The feed cost him about $1,100 so he had $1,940 profit. He'd have to keep back about $3,000 if he wanted to do the same again this year.

    Of course, the hog they had just butchered was more profit on the venture and when it was ready to eat, that pork was probaby worth an average of $4.50 a pound and they had 140 pounds of boned out meat, most of it dry cured and smoked, with some frozen roasts and loins. That meat would cost at least $600 at the store. He decided that hogs were definitely something he wanted to do again this year.

    While supper cooked, Erin was working on the monthly bills and counted the cash in their savings box.

    "I got $16,800 in cash here, and that's everything. We're $200 ahead of last month."

    "Good," Robert said, "We have to pay property tax soon."

    "That's only $460. I got the bill last week. There's still the old silver coins and your Krugerrands, too. We're in good shape."

    "Yes, but we're using value out of the car and truck, and we'll have some maintenance expenses so we need to get ahead faster. I'll keep looking for a job. We have to buy licenses for th ecar and truck next month, too."

    "Yeah, but we aren't going to be in trouble anytime soon. That makes me feel better to know that," Erin said. The bills this month come to $809, and that's everything except what we spend at the grocery and little stuff we buy. We can last a LONG time on what we have even if you don't find a better job any time soon. I've got a few internet sales this month, too, so that will add about $150."

    "That's great! I thought nobody was buying jewelry now."

    "Not around here. That's why I brought all the displays home except that one at the hairdresser in town here. It wasn't worth the gas to go check on 'em. I don't think we should count on the internet sales much, either, but every little bit helps."

    Robert said, "I'm going to put an ad in the newspaper this week for doing tax preparation. I should b able to get some work at least until the deadline in April."

    "You need a sign out front so people can find you. Might get some walk-ins, too."

    Robert said, "I'll see if Dad wants to make me a sign."

    "Tell him I've got a pork roast ready with carrots and potatoes and onions for supper."

    When Robert came back, Bill was following him.

    "I'm surprised you hadn't already eaten, Bill," Erin said. "We eat kind of late because of the milking."

    "No, I smelled this cookin' and just worked up an appetite."

    "Erin says I need a sign out front saying 'Tax Service'. Would you want to make a sign, Dad?"

    "No need to make one. I got one at home that I used to set out by the road when I had hay to sell or somethin'. You're welcome that. I'll just give it coat of white paint and draw the letters on it. I got paint, too. Time to check on the place anyhow, so I'll go up there tomorrow and get that stuff."

    Erin said, "We need to give you something for gas money. It's up again this week I heard."

    "You keep your money. I've got money, more'n I'll ever need. I should be givin' you money."

    Erin's mouth took a stubborn set as she said, "Let's not hear any more of that. You've been doing enough getting Robert's shop fixed up, and you lend a hand all the time."

    Bill swallowed a mouthful and said, "I had ta do that 'cause I couldn't find anything to work on the hen house. That door was drafty as the devil and he's got enough to do workin' on that feed bin."

    "You're handy to have around Dad," Robert said.

    "Well, I always thought so."

    Erin chuckled and said, "Humility runs in the family, I see."

    Chapter 33 February, 2016

    Erin knocked on the door of Bill's trailer and waited for him to open it. The wind was bitter cold so she hurried inside.

    "Oh, it's toasty in here!"

    "They make these things better than they used to. It's got good insulation and one of those good furnaces so it don't take much gas, either. i got those 100 pound tanks when we went up to Niagara Falls last year. They last a long time even when it's cold out. But the straw bales around the bottom helps too."

    "I came out to ask if you'd want to go to the dance with us tonight? It's close, just down at the edge of town, and they've got good music. It's a local bunch that plays there."

    "Is that the old Country Jamboree you're talkin' about?"

    "Yeah. It starts at 7:00 o'clock, but we have to hurry to get there on time, since Robert seldom gets back from milking until about 6:30 or later. But it goes until 10:00, so we get to dance a while."

    "Why not? I haven't been someplace like that in a long time. I'll see if I can find some clean clothes to wear."

    "I'll make some sandwiches for a fast supper," Erin told him.

    Chad and Cindy had showed up at the dance and called them to their table.

    "The kids are at grandma's tonight, so Mom 'n Dad got to go out," Cindy said.

    Robert introduced his Dad to them and Bill said, "Pleased to meet ya. Hey Robert, are all the girls you know this pretty?"

    Chad and Cindy smiled at him as Erin said, "Only the married ones."

    Cindy asked him, "So you're staying at Robert and Erin's now?"

    "I pulled my camper down there and been stayin' in it. I got tired of bein' cooped up in town."

    Chad asked him, "You're a country guy then?"

    "Yep. Farmed all my life. Had to work a day job to support the farm, but I just didn't want to give it up."

    Chad was enjoying the old man and asked him, "You hear about the farmer that won the lottery?"

    "I guess not."

    "Well, the TV guy asked him what he was going to do now that he was rich? The man said, 'Oh, I reckon I'll just keep farmin' until I run out of money."

    Bill laughed with the rest of them and said, "That's about the way of it."

    The band started a slow number and Cindy grabbed Bill and said, "Come on. You wouldn't have showed up here if you didn't want to dance."

    Sharon's mother had a Valentine's Day party and invited several single people, with enough men to make sure Sharon had plenty of company, despite other attractive young women in the crowd. Her mother's motive was clear enough. Sharon knew she wanted her out of the house and if she had to find her a man, she'd do that. That was fine with Sharon, since a job that suited her was not to be found, marrying money was a tried and true option. Sharon asked her mother a few questions about some of the people she didn't know and found one she thought had possibilities. After talking to him for a while, she found that Wendell E. Heier Jr. had managed his father's chain of Quik Marts in the Louisville area. As the only child, he inherited them last year. The fact that he was not handsome and a less than scintillating conversationalist became less important to her then. He finally mustered the courage to ask her out before the evening was over.

    To her surprise, the coin dealer had made an offer to settle the fraud lawsuit out of court. The lawyer bargained enough to cover his fee and got her half the price of her coins. Sharon put that money in the bank and bought her car back from her mother for $1,000. She thought that would pay for her mother's trouble while she lived there.

    A shopping trip was what she needed. Sharon decided she had been stuck in the house far too long waiting for the legal dust to settle. She cashed her last unemployment check and crossed the bridge to Louisville. Traffic was light during mid-morning. She ignored the slum areas along the expressway and got off at the exit to go to Macy's. The shopping center had almost no cars in the lot so she was sure she would get good service in the store. She parked close to the doors and sat there amazed when she saw the CLOSED sign. Macy's didn't close stores. Sears and J C Penny closed stores, even some others, but not Macy's. She thought about going up to try the door, but realized the store was dark inside and she didn't want to look like a fool. She didn't know where else to go, so she drove back the way she had come.

    Bill had gone back to his trailer after a big breakfast of biscuits, sausage gravy, and coffee. Robert was gone to do the milking at Thad's. He was thinking about taking Jake out for a rabbit hunt when Erin knocked on the door. He hastened to let her in from the cold weather, but she said, "Can't come in, I need to go to the hospital. I think the baby's coming and I need you to drive."

    "I'm coming."

    Bill grabbed his coat and hat and was out the door in hurry, leaving Jake inside. "I'll help you get in the truck," He said. His big Ford diesel rattled a while, but they were soon on the road, the 4 wheel drive having no trouble with the slick snow covered county road. Bill drove sensibly, knowing that babies take a while to be born, especially first babies.

    Robert found the note on the table when he came home a couple hours later. He wasted no time getting his clothes changed and getting to the hospital in town. His truck did not have 4 wheel drive, but it did have a load of firewood in the back for traction.

    Bill left the hospital and went to Thad's to help with the evening milking, so Robert could stay at the hospital with Erin. Jake was a little miffed at being alone most of the day, but he decided it was good time for a winter nap. Robert got home after 9:00 PM that evening, and told his Dad that he had a new grandson, William Lee Evans, at 8 pounds and 3 ounces. Mom and baby were doing well.

    Breakfast was less elaborate the next morning, but Bill could fry eggs and sausage, so he did that and left a still nervous Robert to make the coffee.

  12. #12
    Chapter 34 March, 2016

    The last of the winter's Alberta Clipper weather systems had passed through southern Indiana the last week of February. Winter seemed to have blown itself out, as the sunshine melted the last of the snow away. Robert read the gauge on the LP gas tank at 55% full and was relieved that they wouldn't need to fill it any time soon. The wood heating, cooking, and hot water had saved lot of money this winter. He built a fire in the shop stove and let it warm up in there for a while before he tackled doing oil changes and chassis lubes on their vehicles.

    While he waited for the shop to warm, he took warm water to the chickens and took a couple eggs into the kitchen where he found his Dad sitting with his fingers around a mug of hot coffee. Erin sat across from him with a small blanket over the nursing baby.

    "I was wanting to talk to you Dad. I've been watching financials on the internet, and there are some big banks that are rumored to be in trouble. I don't know where you have your money, but you might want to move it. I made a list here of the banks I read about, but they might not be the only ones." Robert pushed the paper across the table for Bill to read.

    "That's the one, the second one here," Bill said, pointing at it. "You got a better idea of what to do with the money?"

    Robert sighed and said, "Not in a bank. Most of them are at risk and have been for several years. The Federal Reserve propping them up is the only reason they haven't folded years ago. You know, don't you, that once you deposit money in a bank, you are an "unsecured creditor"?

    "What's that mean?"

    "It means that legally, you loaned them that money with no collateral from them. If they go bad, you are last in line to get your money. The investments they made get paid off first. The Supreme Court ruled that a long time back, and the FDIC doesn't have nearly enough money to pay off lost deposits, beyond a few banks at one time."

    "You're sure about that?"

    "Oh yes, it's been law for a lot of years.

    "They sure as hell don't tell you that when you put money in the bank."

    "No, they don't."

    "That's good enough for me. They ain't payin' any interest to speak of. I can't think of a good reason to keep money in there. I'm goin' to go get it."

    "You might have to wait a while to get it all in cash, if that's what you're thinking. They don't keep much on hand, so they may make you wait for a week or more to get the cash."

    Bill was getting a hard look in his eyes. "Is there any way to get my money out?"

    "You can get it, but it will take a while if it's very much."

    "I've got about ten thousand in my checking account, and the rest is in a Mutual Fund thing. That's what's left from selling the farm. It's only about $160,000 now, after we bought the camper and that little house and that Buick I don't know what to do with, but Mary Ann wanted it so we bought it."

    "The checking account is what they call a demand deposit. That means they have to honor checks, or if you go ask for it, they have to give it to you, so you can get that fast. It might take a day or two to get it all in cash, but they have to do it."

    "Crap! I wish I'd known more about this before."

    "If I were you, I'd tell them to sell you out of that Mutual Fund ASAP. They are good right now, but that is the most vulnerable, because when the Federal Reserve has to stop pouring out money, the markets will tank. Stocks and bonds have been on life support from the Fed for years now and it won't last forever.

    I would have them wire the money from that to your bank when it's sold. Then, open some new accounts at several banks and scatter that out among them. You can use a little from your checking account to open other accounts with $100 each. Then you get all the money put into the new checking accounts so they are demand deposits. They don't like to give out more than five or ten thousand in cash, and they have to send in a Federal form to report any big withdrawals of money."

    "You're kidding? It ain't nobody's business but mine what I do with MY money!"

    "The government wants to know, and they can do that. You can move all you want to, though, by electronic transfers. Those are all reported, of course, but they happen fast."

    "This is more complicated than I'd have ever believed it could be. It's going to take a month to get it all done."

    "Maybe not. There are 5 banks here in town. You can split up the Mutual Fund money among the best 2 or 3 of them and then take it out of each one in smaller amounts pretty fast."

    "Okay. I've got business to attend to. I'll be busy for a while, it looks like."

    Chapter 35

    Business came in a trickle from Robert's ad for preparing taxes. He worked at it to be prompt and charged a reasonable amount, so the small town grapevine brought him some more work, mostly from older people who didn't understand how to file their taxes online.

    Robert answered the phone one day and found it was Thad Wright. "Hello Thad. What's going on?"

    "Well, I saw your sign that said you do taxes and I'd like for you to take a look at mine."

    "Sure. Do you want to come over and bring your paperwork?"

    "Yeah, It'll take me a while to get it all together. I'll work on it today and maybe when you come over to milk I'll have it ready."

    "That's fine. Be glad to do it for you."

    Supper was ready and Bill looked tired when he sat down, but he had part of a smile showing. Erin saw it and said, "You're up to something Bill. I can tell."

    He chuckled and said, "You don't miss much, do you? Yeah, I been thinkin' about this money thing. I got that infernal Buick sold finally. I didn't get what I thought I should for it, but it's gone. Got the house for sale too. I just don't want to go back there. But that might take forever the way things are. It came to me that I want to give you kids what I have, but I don't want that to be a problem for your taxes or mine, and there's the trouble of getting it out of the banks and all. But there's no law against SPENDING my money any way I want to. So, if you two had, say $80,000 to spend, what would you do with it?"

    Robert said, "Are you sure you don't want to hang onto your money?"

    "I'm sure I'll need you to take care of me when I get old and feeble, so I want to make sure you can do it. Now. What do you need? I'm thinkin' that you need to add on to the house for that boy to have enough room, and If I get down sick or something, it'd be better to be here in the house, but not underfoot. The house could use a new roof, too, so let's make it bigger and then put a new roof on all of it."

    "We could do that for less than $80,000," Robert said.

    "We need to think about this," Erin said. "You do to."

    "We're going to take care of you Bill. You don't have to pay us to do it," Erin said.

    "It ain't like that. I want to get this money business settled without givin' it all up for taxes, or having some bank go belly up and lose it. It looks to me like we need to get to work here."

    Cindy knocked on the door late the next morning. A pot of vegetable beef soup was bubbling on the stove when Erin opened the door for her.

    "Mmm. That smells good," Cindy said. "I can't stay long. I'm got the shopping done early today while the kids are all in school."

    "Want a cup of coffee?"

    "That'd be good. I came to see the baby, is he asleep?"

    "He's awake. I'll get him."

    Erin handed the baby to her and said, "You know what they say about holding babies. First thing you know you'll have to have one of your own."

    "I love kids, but we have enough. We're trying hard to figure out how to make sure we can take care of the ones we've got."

    "I know what you mean. We talked about it and decided this was going to be it. I had my tubes tied when he was born. It's just too hard to make it now to be having a lot of kids."

    "That's what we decided. We're just not going to do it, so we're going to do something about it too."

    "We have to think about taking care of Robert's Dad when he gets old, too, and it's not easy now. He's going to help with that, though. He says he wants to pay for us to build on to the house."

    "So he's going to stay here? I guess I'm not surprised. He was probably lonesome by himself."

    "Yeah, and he didn't like it in town. He only moved there because his wife wanted to. He wants to be out where he can hunt and fish and do things he likes. He's been working on fencing while the ground is soft, and says if we put out a bigger garden he'll help work in it."

    "I really like Bill. He's a lot of fun and he's good as gold, as Mom used to say. Speaking of gardens, I've got Chad ready to put out a big one this year. He bought the 5 acres to be able to do that and have animals and all, but all he had time to do was raise a calf out there, with taking care of the kids and all."

    "Well, Bill wants to spend some of his savings on our place and we're talking about what we ought to do with it. We really need some more room in the house, but besides that weve been thinking about what we could do that would make us money. Jobs are just impossible to find, so we want to look at more ways to make money."

    "Is Robert getting much work doing taxes?"

    "Some, but this isn't a big city and there's already people doing that. It helps, though."

    "Chad would love to do something that didn't have the crazy hours, but his job pays good and has the insurance. Not many people have that now. It's hard telling how many people out of work around here. Chad knows that, and it scares both of us."

    "His job is pretty secure, though, isn't it?"

    "If he doesn't get laid off before a couple of the old guys retire this year, he's in solid. There is only one guy that's been there longer than him, so as long as the electric company is going, he'll have a job. That's about as good as it gets now."

    "Better hang onto that. I thought I would do good selling jewelry, but when things got so hard nobody's buying anything much. I brought all the displays home, except one and there's not much selling on the internet, either. I lost money on some eBay auctions where only one or two people bid on it. I learned to put a minimum bid on things and that stopped the 50 cents bidders, but not much is moving."

    Cindy said, "I want something I can do at home. I can tend animals like I did when I was a kid, so our kids can do that too. They'll learn a lot doing it, too. We're planning to feed out a couple pigs this year and get some chickens and do the big garden. I hope I can remember everything about all that."

    Erin said, "I had an idea about raising bees. There's huge hayfields all around us, and I don't know anybody else doing around here. It's not a big business deal, but it's something I can do and have time to take care of the baby. And Robert wants to get into feeding more pigs this year. Thad will sell him some corn and he's building bigger feed bins. That's why Bill and him are working on fencing today."

    Cindy said, "That's a good idea."

    "The pigs? Yeah, we made money on 'em last year."

    "Yeah, but I meant doing several things. That way if one thing doesn't work out so well, other things probably will."

    Erin said, "I started a bunch of grape cuttings last year, too. I've got a row of 'em out along the garden. If they survive the winter, we'll have enough to sell some jelly, or just sell the grapes to that guy that makes wine up north of here."

    "I better run home. It looks like a nice day and I want to get busy cleaning up in that old barn we have. I can get the mess sorted out so Chad can start building something for pigs this year. Those groceries need to be put away, too."

    Chapter 36 April, 2016

    Wendell had been with women a few times in his life, but he had never experienced a woman like Sharon. She had perfect manners and was his social equal, if not more. He couldn't have imagined a more perfect mate for himself. She wasn't lacking for attention from other men, either, from what he'd seen. He wasn't going to waste any time formalizing their relationship. They would be married soon and she would be his. The thought gave him a thrill of pleasure like he got when he had expanded his business by taking over three small competitors.

    Sharon was delighted with the diamond. Her new husband-to-be was a better catch than she had hoped for, and he was just dumb enough to be directed easily enough. Most men were egotists, and that made them easy prey for anyone with half a brain. Sex kept them distracted from the real issues and made them amenable to suggestions. She had a plan to assure her financial future, preferrably without him. There were men around that better suited her tastes, but she hadn't found one yet that had enough money. She'd deal wth that when the time came.

    There had been an older man who clearly had more money than Wendell, but he far too canny to fall for her schemes, and he wasn't that attractive, either, so she'd dropped him. At least her mother had done a good job of finding all the moneyed men around. But she'd always been good at that.

    Construction had begun with the footers and foundation for Robert and Erin's home addition. While the backhoe man was there, they had him dig for a bigger cistern closer to the pole barn, a 10,000 gallon one. He then dug out a long ramp entrance to the old basement out to the sloping back yard. The concrete man had poured the footers and basement entrance one day and the new cistern the next. While that was curing, the contractor had hauled in building materials for the house. The block layers began a week later. The contractor had a different crew set posts and build a lean-to addition on the pole barn over Bill's trailer. Bill had a grand time supervising, which freed up Robert to attend to his tax preparation work.

    Bill had rented his house in Greenville partially furnished and had moved his wood shop equipment to the pole barn, where he and Robert used it working on a bigger feed storage system. They were still organizing their combined shop items. They had in mind to wall off the summer kitchen area, but that would take a while so they covered everything to keep the dust off and kept working to build an expanded hog operation. Bill took a couple days off to hunt mushrooms. A couple wet days followed by hot sunny ones had them coming up. Deep fried and salted Morel mushrooms were on the menu for a few days. The excess was frozen already battered and ready to drop in the skillet for a winter treat.

    The garden was tilled early, and some cold weather plantings already planted when the construction crew got the 2 added rooms framed in and began a new metal roof on the whole house. The roofers made a quick job of it and were finished in two days. The gutter man and his helper did their part to the new addition, then added gutters to the pole barn and directed that flow to the new cistern. Spring rains began in earnest. The new cistern was 2/3 full after three weeks of hard rains.

    While workers were putting in furring strips, wiring, and insulation in the home addition, ductwork and a wood and LP gas furnace was installed in the basement to heat the larger house. Bill wrote a lot of checks and continued to draw down his bank balances, much of it for cash. With the bulk of the work finished, Bill bought a fishing license and spent some time on the river bank. He was enjoying himself immensely. The masons were finished with the bricklaying when he came home with a cooler full of fish fillets. He called them to come get their check, and helped Erin wrap and freeze the fish. He had spent $72,000 and was very pleased with the results. He reflected that when times were hard you could get some good deals if you worked at it.

    Robert had done taxes for Chad and Cindy Daulton, Thad Wright, and many older people around the area. He told Erin, "There are some old consrevative farmers that are doing all right, but the younger ones have far too much debt. Most young couples do, too, from the few I've seen. They are living from week to week. Chad and Cindy are in good shape now and have some money saved, and Thad has a pile of money scattered around in CD's. I told him the same as I told Dad, that banks could fail and it would be a good idea to invest in something else he could control better."

    Erin asked, "Do you think he listened to you?"

    "Yes he did. He immediately changed his mind about selling what stored corn he has, and bought a bunch of feeder cattle. I don't know what else he's done, but I think he's planning to buy a new tractor, too. I know he had four big diesel tanks brought out and filled and he traded in his old farm truck on a new diesel pickup."

    Erin said, "He's making a lot of money and has that huge farm. I bet he paid for it a long time ago, too."

    Robert said, "Yes, he only claimed interest deductions on a couple small farm loans. He probably only borrowed that to keep from cashing out an old CD he has."

    "So, does he have any family? Who's going to get all that when he's gone? He said his wife passed away, but I never heard him mention any kids."

    "I haven't either. I've wondered why he keeps working like that at his age. He could retire in luxury if he wanted to. I think he's like Dad, and just doesn't like the idea of being in town, and he needs something to do."

  13. #13
    Chapter 37 June, 2016

    It was a small but lavish wedding. Wendell had invited only a few business friends. Sharon's parents were there and a few of her parents' close friends. The reception spared no expense, with catered food and drinks at the Galt House in Louisville overlooking the Ohio River. Sharon enjoyed the whole experience, particularly when she noticed her old boss pass by in the lobby. She smiled and pretended not to notice him. She was sure that he did not want to be noticed, since the woman with him was not his wife.

    Wendell could only spare a weekend for their honeymoon at the hotel before he had to get back to business, but he made certain that his new wife had everything she even hinted at. His home was far larger than one man or a couple could possibly use, but the amenities were nice, Sharon decided. It was suitably located in the new gated community where she'd lived for a short time previously, but in the expensive end of it.

    Sharon had a maid service come in twice a week to clean, and the pool would be nice when the weather warmed this summer. A lawn service took care of the landscaping and there was a lovely kitchen, although they ate most of their meals out. Life was good, Sharon thought. She'd get bored with him. She knew that, but she could find amusement when she wanted it. She was still young, and made sure that she looked even younger.

    Sharon figured out Wendell's password for his home computer by watching from a distance as he typed it in a few times, then doing some experimenting. She never did more than open files to read them, and did her best to erase any sign of having logged in. What she learned was that Wendell had pyramided his business holdings and was highly dependent on cash flow. He made a lot of money, but it was going out about as fast as it came in. She began to have her doubts about the wisdom of choosing him. She did learn that he had life insurance on every loan with the lenders as benficiaries. They needed to talk about estate planning.

    What made it so sweet was that he brought up the subject. Wendell had a financial mind, and concern for his new wife's welfare worried at him until he did something about it. Being the thorough person that he was, he dutifully sought her advice and added a suitable amount of life insurance for her to assure her future, with double indemnity for accidental death. She had not neglected a favorable prenuptial agreement, either. Wendell might be saturated with the idea of familial duty, but she was not. Wendell was being good to her, but he was worth so much more to her dead than alive that the temptation was irresistable. All she had to do was figure out how to kill him.

    Cindy had Andy pulling nails out of boards and Nick stacking them along the wall in the barn. She had the little pickup loaded with trash to go to the landfill. It was making a difference. When Chad was off work this weekend, he could finish repairing a pen for some pigs. The calf stall had been cleaned out and new straw put down in it, ready for a couple calves when they got them from Thad. Cindy had convinced Chad that she could feed early weaned dairy "bottle calves" and save a lot of money doing it. They could sell one and butcher the other, and might make a little money overall, while having one in the freezer to eat. It was a slow process, so it would be well over a year before they realized the profit.

    Their property was an old farmstead, just the house, barn and 5 acres sold off when a big farmer bought the land. Cindy had been thinking hard how to make the best use of all the old buildings, and had come to the conclusion that some would have to go. The oldest sheds and other small buildings had been torn down, mostly by Cindy and the kids, to save the lumber for modifying and improving the others. That freed up some ground to be used for enlarging their garden space without taking away from their limited pasture ground.

    Cindy had 100 baby chicks growing in the old hen house, doing well. They were a mix of males and females, known as "unsexed" or "straight run" chicks and were cheaper to buy than all females for layers. When they grew to fryer size, the all but one or two of the roosters would become fried chicken, and the hens would be culled as soon as they began to lay, keeping only the best producers. Chad had devised what he called 'trap nests' that would help them sort out who was laying eggs, and who was not. It required checking on them several times during the day to release the hens and marking the layers with a bank on their legs. They could then be sure they kept the most reliable layers.

    Their pig pen was ready, but they hadn't found feeder pigs to buy yet. Pigs were getting to be more popular with people that had room for them. Chad had a lead on some, though, and had bought corn from a farmer back last Fall and stored it in the old grain bin.

    With no big monthly payments, Chad and Cindy had been able to have the old house properly insulated and installed better windows. The cost of gas for heating the big old house had been too high last winter and they were determined to change that. They had converted one old bedroom by the kitchen into an oversize pantry that Cindy was slowly filling with food as she bought extra of whatever they normally used. One window in that room had been removed and walled up to reduce heat loss and make room for more shelves. The remaining window was fairly new and smaller, just enough for some daylight and cross ventilation if needed.

    There was a cellar under the house, accessed from the pantry room by a trap door now. The old outside entrance had walled up with concrete blocks and the outer part had been filled in. It had plenty of ventilation from the crawl space under the house through foundation vents they could close in cold weather. Cindy had a potato crop and some winter squash growing to store there. She and Erin had been talking about how best to do these things, with a lot of advice from Bill Evans.

    Chapter 38

    Bill had taken charge of the chores, feeding and general care of the new batch of 100 chickens and 38 feeder pigs. Jake followed him around and decided it was his job to keep other animals away from his herd. Mostly that was a stray dog or cat, but one night a raccoon made the fatal mistake of trying to invade the chicken pen. Jake had pestered Bill to go outside and laid waste to the offender after a noisy battle. Bill tended to Jake's bites and scratches from the fight and put up an electric fence wire on the ouside of the pen to stop them from climbing over the fence. It had a solar powered charger, so no power was needed to keep it going.

    Bill worried over what to do with his remaining $98,000. He had slowly taken $31,000 of it out of the banks in cash. They didn't seem to mind him taking out $3,000 a month, and he did it at all 3 banks where he had accounts. He could live well on his Social Security check and even though he made a habit of buying extra groceries and anything else he thought the place needed, he was slowly accumulating more money. It wasn't a problem he had ever had to confront before. Robert made remarks about banks and financial matter that bothered him more each time he heard something new.

    The thing that troubled him most was that Robert had been talking about a "currency reset", where a new currency would replace the old one with less value. The thought of that made him angry to a degree he had seldom experienced. Bill had a lot of time to think about things, and his father had warned him that when you don't know what to do, don't do anything until you figure it out. That had served him well all his life, but he was unable to find a good answer for this problem. Bill wanted to leave whatever he had left at the end of his life to Robert and his family. He resolved to find a way.

    With prices going up almost daily, it was plain enough that he would do better to buy anything he could that the family would need, and do it as soon as possible. He began to quietly buy maintenance items for the small tractor, hardware that would be used around the place, extra motor oil and even bought a fuel tank at an auction and filled it with diesel fuel. The barrel that had held diesel was rinsed and filled with gasoline. Both were set behind the pole barn where they were out of sight. When something occurred to him, he bought it, but that didn't solve his basic problem and he kept worrying at it.

    "Bill! It's some woman named Charlene wants to talk to you." Erin yelled out the back door.

    "Be there in a minute."

    Bill hurried to the house and answered the phone a little out of breath. "Hello?"

    "Oh, Hi Charlene."
    "Yes, I been wanting to sell the house since the renters moved out, but not had any luck. The realtor listing ran out and I haven't done anything about it yet."
    "Okay, I'll come talk to 'em about it."

    He hung up and told Erin, "Glory be! The church across the alley wants to buy my old house and make a parsonage out of it! Charlene is a member there and set this deal up. I need to go talk to the church committee."

    Erin watched as he got in his truck and left, then went out to tell Robert what happened.

    Cindy was proud of her work in the pantry. She had found a pair of sturdy handmade bookcases at the Salvation Army Thrift store for $30 each, and had them mostly filled with canned goods and dry foods in half gallon jars. She had gotten some heavy L brackets to screw them to the wall at the top, since they were so tall. They fit well on either side of the window and left room for Chad to build more shelves along both side walls.

    Chad measured the space that night and made a list of lumber he would need. Cindy bought it the next day and had the kids help her carry it inside. It would look like a construction zone for a while, but she didn't mind a bit. She would have a place to store all the things she had growing in the garden. It was time to can some greens, so she would ge tthe kids busy picking them tomorrow. She would be busy washing jars later today after she did some hoeing early while it was still cool outside. She finished her coffee and cleaned up the breakfast dishes to begin her day.

    It would work, or it would not, but either way, Sharon would be totally in the clear. It wasn't that hard to do. Sharon never considered getting caught. She was smart and she knew it. Stupid people committed crimes and got caught. The smart ones you never heard about because nobody knew a crime had been committed.

    Sharon complained to Wendell about Macy's being closed. "I don't see why they closed that store. I'll have to go to Lexington or Cincinnati to buy clothes."

    Wendell told Sharon, "Retail has been hit hard by internet sales and the slow economy. The big retail chains are all in trouble."

    "You're doing all right. Why can't they?"

    Wendell felt expansive and said, "The slowdown in retail has not affected me because people will always buy gasoline, milk, bread, snacks, drinks, and cigarettes. Those are the prime money makers, the basic needs and impulse items. You lure the customer in with a good price on gas, and then make it easy for him to spend money on the things he wants. They are foolish enough to buy things they don't need. That's how you get the money."

    She noted his smug expression, and told him, "The best business people will always do well."

    "Enough of business. It's hot and I'm ready for a dip in the pool," he said.

    "You go ahead. I need to finish the laundry, then I'll change and come join you. Do you want something cold to drink?"

    "I'll get a bottle of water."

    Wendell was already in his swim trunks and walking out the patio door. She tossed load in the dryer and watched out the laundry room window as he went into the pool maintenance shed to turn on the circulating pump and heard the clatter inside. Predictably, there was a commotion in the shed, and finally Wendell came stumbling out, flailing his arms at something. He stumbled toward the house, but collapsed on the patio.

    Sharon went to the kitchen where she could see directly onto the patio. Wendell was gasping for breath and his skin was red and splotchy. She was surprised he'd made it that far, as violently allergic as he was. The wasps were stinging him repeatedly, as Wendell's face grew ever more red and mottled, his eyes beginning to swell shut. There was no way he could have gotten to his Epipen to get the lifesaving dose of medication. Swimming was the only time he was that far from one of those things.

    She took her time changing into her bathing suit and sandals. When she finally went to the patio door, Wendell wasn't breathing. His eyes were swelled shut and he had no pulse when she checked it. A few red wasps were still buzzing around the area, but most were gone . There were no witnesses. The privacy fence assured that, and the fact that their house was on the highest ground in the community.

    Sharon got the pepper shaker from the kitchen and deliberately blew a pinch of it into her own face. It got in her eyes and she cried. The burning was horrible. She went to the phone and dialed 911 and told them her husband was dying from bee stings. Her snuffling and sobbing on the phone were real.

    Sharon had a few minutes before the EMT's would arrive. She went to the shed and leaned the tool back in the corner, and sat the chlorine bucket back on its' shelf. Then she went to the driveway to anxiously await the arrival of the ambulance.

    The wasps had built the nest under the eave of the pool shed and Sharon had simply taken advantage of that. Knowing that Wendell was highly allergic to stings, she had spent two weeks carefully maneuvering the wasp nest a couple inches at a time when Wendell was away from home.

    Most of the insects were away from the nest during the day, leaving only one or two on guard. Those were easy enough to knock into a big plastic jar with a stick and and slap the lid on it until she finished. She got stung a few times, but they didn't affect her much. Long tweezers and super glue, and steady nerves had allowed her to very gently break loose the paper wasps' nest and remount it where it was eventually inside the pool shed. If she moved it too far at one time, they might desert it and move elsewhere. Three moves did it.

    When it was just inside the open shed, she watched to be sure they were still living there, out of sight of the doorway. That morning she had propped a pool cleaning tool beside a bucket where it would be ready to trip the unwary. The tool would fall in the general direction of the wasp nest, which it did. In the evening, most of the already agitated insects would be back on the nest and ready to attack. If Wendell had escaped the trap, or lived over it, all he could do was berate her for leaving the bucket out of place, and she would blame it on the maintenance people.

    But Wendell was dead when the EMT's reached him. The funeral was anticlimactic and over in four days. She had already familiarized herself with the business and how Wendell had managed it, but that was not what she wanted to do. She knew a few people from Wendell's contacts and soon reached an agreement to sell the stores to a businessman who owned several gas stations. When the deal was closed, Sharon deposited the money into the account with her investment advisor.

    Wendell's death was ruled an accident so his life insurance paid off double. The policies on his business loans had paid off, making all the proceeds of the business sale hers. Sharon was a millionairess, a couple times over. She decided she would stay in the house. She liked it, and it was hers now. Her car would have to go, though, for something more appropriate to her status. A new Mercedes caught her eye, so she bought it and she would go looking for that boy-toy she'd met at the insurance company a couple years ago. Sharon smiled at the thought.

    Chapter 39 July, 2016

    On the trip home to Robert's place, Bill frowned at the thought of what to do with his money. Now that his house was sold, he had another $146,000 to deal with and he didn't have any idea what to do with it. He knew a lot of things to avoid, but there was no clear path ahead for him. It bothered him more all the time.

    The Fed chairman knew she was boxed in. If she continued to create money at the present rate, interest rates would rise because the Chinese and others had threatened to sell US Treasury bonds if she did. Those bond vigilantes were a real and present danger. If she cut support to her member banks too fast, they could implode, or at the minimum it would send Wall Street into a tailspin. A measured approach to "tapering" the Quantitative Easing was her only hope. They simply could not afford to let interest rates rise, or the government budget would be blown out of the water. She and her close advisors and speech writers crafted the best spin they could on the problem for her next speech at the member meeting.

    Wall Street was incensed. All they cared about was the flow of free dollars from the Fed. With less dollars coming, many major investors panicked and sold stocks off heavily. The bond market calmed down, but there was negative feedback from all other directions, notably Congress critters who were facing reelection this year. The market fell for a few days, then recovered some ground, but fell again. The Fed Chairman was terrified of deflation, but believed she had no choice and refused to supply any more "easing". Without that grease, the wheels of the economy slowed quickly.

    Real estate values fell within a week as news of banks drastically tightening credit hit the streets. Loans were not to be had. Cars sales hit a brick wall without easy financing, as did all the consumer goods that were typically financed. Stocks began to fall more, with the impact of lower sales numbers that were being reported.

    Sharon had been depressed over her investment losses so she moved her young boyfriend into her bedroom. He had been supplying her with drugs. She was pretty zoned out when he said he was going to make something in the kitchen, so she just laid there and dozed off. The boy was stoned out of his mind when he unsuccessfully tried to light the malfunctioning gas grill in the kitchen. He left the gas on and went to the bathroom for an extended stay while the house filled with gas. He went back to the kitchen and decided to make some toast instead. The electric arc from starting the toaster lit the room full of gas mixture. The house erupted like a volcano.

    The explosion brought Sharon to consciousness briefly before the ceiling fell on her and the house was burning fiercely. The home was not directly visible from the street, so it was several minutes before a neighbor reported the fire. The gas line fed the fire for almost half an hour before the fire department arrived to find the house fully engulfed. They immediately shut off the gas at the street, but all they could do was contain the fire. The new Mercedes was scarcely recognizable after the brick garage collapsed on it. The car's 20 gallons of diesel fuel made the fire even hotter. Only bricks, melted metal, and charred bones remained.

    Three weeks later, Sharon's attorney knocked on the door and Erin answered it. He asked to see Robert, who was grinding feed in the pole barn with his dad. Bill spotted the man in the suit and motioned for Robert to go see him while he took care of shutting down the hammermill.

    "You are Robert Lee Evans?"

    "Yes. What's this about?" Robert vaguely recognized the man, but couldn't place him.

    "I have with me a will written by myself some years ago for your ex wife. It stipulates that in the event of her death you are to receive certain assets of hers."

    "She died?!"

    "Yes sir. You have my condolences."

    "What happened? An accident?"

    "There was a gas explosion and fire at her home some three weeks ago. There were no survivors."

    "Ohmigod! That's horrible. We didn't get along, but I wouldn't wish that on anybody."

    Robert sat down on a bucket and tried to comprehend what he'd heard. The lawyer waited a few minutes for him to look up again and said, "There will be a formal reading of her Will, day after tomorrow at my office. It is important that you be able to attend."

    "Where is this?"

    "My office is in Louisville at this address," the lawyer said and handed him a business card. "You may recall that we also did a Will for you at the same time."

    So that's where he'd seen him before, Robert thought. He nodded his understanding and said, "What time do I have to be there?"

    "The reading is at 2:00 PM, on Wednesday. In the light of recent events, you may wish to reevaluate your own Will, sir. I will be available the rest of that day, if you decide you need me for anything."

    "Thank you sir. I'll see you Wednesday." Robert shook his hand, then the lawyer returned to his new Lincoln and backed out of the driveway.

    Robert sat down on the bucket again and tried to remember what they had put in their wills. All he could think of was that they had each left something to their parents if they were still around and the rest to each other. It was a long time ago and he had forgotten exactly how it went.
    Robert noticed Sharon's mother Sarah, looking older now, as he went into the office, but she turned her head and didn't speak to him. After some preliminaries and some legal verbosity, the terms of the will were finally read.

    "The proceeds of what real estate interests I own at the time of my death is hereby bequeathed to Robert Lee Evans."

    "The proceeds of any automobile I own at the time of my death is hereby bequeathed to Sarah Jane Winslet, or if she should precede me in death, to Robert Lee Evans.

    "The proceeds of my stock in XXXXXXXX Insurance Company is hereby bequeathed to Sarah Jane Winslet, or to Robert Lee Evans if my mother should precede me in death."

    "The balance of my estate is hereby bequeathed to Robert Lee Evans."

    There were a lot more wherefores and whereas's, but that was the gist of it. Sarah Jane Winslet did not look happy. Robert never liked the old woman much, so it didn't bother him. In fact, he was so stupified by the amount of the house valuation that it hadn't sunk into his mind when the lawyer continued by reporting the numbers of shares of stocks and mutual fund shares Sharon had owned. He wondered where in the world Sharon had come up with that much money?

    A check was handed to Sharon's mother, who signed a receipt for it. She got up and left without ever acknowledging Robert's presence. Robert was handed a check for the insurance payout from the destroyed house. He signed the receipt and the attorney spent some time explaining the asset ownership transfer papers for the financial firm. Robert was to contact them and decide what disposition to make of those investments.

    His first thought was to get his old Will in his hands before he left the office. He had completely forgotten its' existence, as Sharon had obviously forgotten hers. He was assured there was no other copy and he tore it to bits on the spot, then put the scraps in his pocket to burn later.

    That night he put them in the wood stove in the barn with some old motor oil and lit it. Late that night he downloaded a generic form for Last Will and Testament from the internet and filled it out, resolving to take it to the courthouse the next day, have it witnessed and notarized, and file it. He kept a copy of the blank form for Erin to fill out as she chose.

  14. #14
    Chapter 40

    "You have hardly said a word through all this Will business," Robert said.

    Erin said, "It 's your business, so I stayed out of it."

    "Okay, I suppose the Will was my business, but the money is OURS now. We're rich, and we need to talk about what it means to us."

    Erin wrinkled her face into a frown and said, "It's not always a good thing. Depends on what people do with their money."

    "Yes, there is that. A lot of people go stark raving crazy and they never get any real good out of it."

    "I don't want to do that," Erin said. "I've been poor all my life and I didn't like it, but I've been pretty happy. All that money just sounds like trouble to me. I want to dig a hole and put away some so I know I'll never be poor again, but I don't want to buy big cars and expensive clothes and go on world cruises. It just doesn't fit me. I like it here with you and William. We've been happy and I don't want that to change."

    "I guess that's why I'm still milking for Thad. I don't want it to change either. We need to do something with the money, though. If we just let it sit there in the banks, it won't do anybody any good, and the banks aren't very stable. It could go away as fast as it came to us."

    "You know about money and investments. I don't, so you are the one to decide what to do with it."

    "It will take a lot of time and work to deal with it, so I told Thad to look for somebody to replace me. I won't just quit and leave him short of help. He wouldn't do that to me."

    Erin said, "I like Thad a lot. We need to treat him right."

    "He said he found somebody, so I'll go to work tomorrow and see if she works out."

    "Thad hired a woman?"

    "Yeah. He said he thought a woman would be easier to get along with than the teenage boys."

    "Your Dad has the same problem of what to do with his money now that he sold that house. It's not an easy thing to work out with finances so screwed up," Erin said, "Hey, I didn't understand how the WIll actually worked. You got all the money, except for the car insurance. I understood that. But the legal talk went over my head."

    "Okay. It was like this. Because Sharon had previously sold all her stock in the insurance company she'd worked for, that clause was moot. Meant nothing. Sarah Jane, her mother, got about $30,000 from the insurance on Sharon's Mercedes. The insurance companty paid me $364,000 for the total loss of the house and damage to the pool and other effects. Does that make sense?"

    "Yeah, okay."

    "The important part was the "balance of my estate" clause. That gave me sole ownership of Sharon's investments. The value of those had fallen a lot in the past couple weeks, but had rebounded some by the time I sold it all."

    "Okay, that's what I missed," Erin said. "That was a catch-all statement to take care of her personal stuff and pocket change. If she only knew how that worked out she'd be fuming after she tried to beat you out of everything in the divorce." Erin tried not to look smug about it.

    She said, "Okay, now that you're rich, what are you going to do with the money?"

    "WE'RE rich," he corrected her.

    "Okay, WE. Same question."

    "I want to buy a hardware store," Robert said. "And some other things."

    Robert had opened checking accounts at four banks with two accounts in each bank, his and hers. They instantly became important depositors in all of them when the money was wired to them, with half a million in each bank.

    Robert's net from Sharon's estate was well into 7 digits. He did not let it sit there long. There was an aging hardware store in the old downtown area that Robert dearly loved. It catered to older people and older ways of living, besides having a full line of modern day goods. The building was old, but well maintained. The owner was also old, but he seemed to be in good health. Robert stayed at the store one day at closing time and asked to speak to the owner. Dick Blain was a well known figure in town.

    After introducing himself, he asked, "Have you ever considered selling your store?"

    "What's that?"

    "I have come into some money and I'd like to buy your store."

    "I don't want to sell it."

    "May I ask why?"

    "I like it. My customers are my friends, most of 'em. I don't plan to go anywhere."

    "I didn't plan for you to. What if I bought it and paid you in full, but didn't change anything except ownership? You stay here at a salary and do what you do best. You get to have your cake and eat it too, and I take all the financial risk."

    "This place doesn't make that much money. Why would you want to do that?"

    "Because I love the place and I think it will make enough money. I can afford to put in more stock of your choice. Pave that part of the parking lot across the alley. Add on to the building. Whatever you think makes sense for the business. I'm not a hardware expert, so I would need you to make those decisions. You can make the place what you think it should be, and I believe that will make money. I want to invest in YOU."

    "Who are you? You from around here?"

    "I'm Robert Evans. I grew up in Greenville, then got into accounting. I used to work as an accountant for Glenn Bartel."

    "That's where I seen you. Or maybe here in the store."

    "When times got harder, Glenn couldn't keep me on, so I've been doing a little farming and tax work to get by. But I recently had an inheritance and I need to put it to work."

    "You say you got money. I think this store is worth over $400,000 now. I own the building, too. If I had the money I'd put that much more in it, just because I think the community needs it. Folks can't get what they need at the Wal Mart, not for a farm community. I think a lot of folks want to live the old ways, and they need a place to supply things for that."

    "We think alike. What if I give you your asking price for the store and then put another $300,000 in a slush fund business account for you to do improvements? Bear in mind I'm not borrowing the money so I don't have to have a return on the investment right away."

    "Let me think about this. You say your name is Evans?"

    "That's right. Robert Evans. I live on Indian Creek road, next door to Thad Wright. I had hard times for a while and I've been working for Thad this past year."

    The old man's eye's had a change of expression. He said, "Is it okay if I talk to Thad about you?"

    "Go right ahead. He's fine old fellow." Robert smiled and the older man evaluated his face.

    "I'll do that. You got a phone number?"

    Chapter 41 September, 2016

    The purchase agreement with Mr. Blain entailed keeping all his emplyees at their present jobs. Dick Blain would remain there as the business manager for as long as he liked. Robert would have the right to veto changes, but Blain would make all decisions about employees and stocking with the responsibility to make a profit if possible. It was on paper, but there was a lot of trust involved for both parties. Blain only considered the deal after talking to Thad Wright, who had been a classmate in school and a lifelong friend. When Blain shook hands with Robert, the deal was made. It took a couple months to iron out the details and satisfy the lawyers.

    A long metal framed addition with good lighting was added to the building on the East end, and stocking was underway before cold weather with a new line of wood stoves among many other things. The stoves were built locally by a welding shop and fast-tracked for UL approval. Other dealers found their wood stove sales fell precipitously.

    Cindy Daulton found she had some free time when school started. At Erin's suggestion, she applied for a job at the hardware store. She worked only during school hours, and got the standard employee discount on store items.

    Robert decided to hedge his bets on investing and bought a significant amount of stock in his firearms distributor and some in a natural gas company. He thought stocks were still overpriced, but they were down significantly from the peak the year previous. There was still a lot of money left to deal with, and Robert did not trust leaving it in banks. He began to look for other avenues of investment.

    "I want to get my truck fixed," Robert told the young man.

    "What's the matter with it?"

    "It's 28 years old and It needs a lot of things. I want to restore it. Are you interested?"

    "That's a big job. It would cost a lot."

    "How about this? I pay you for parts and labor each week. You work on it as you have time, because I don't want you turning away your regular work. You might want to hire somebody to help while it's here, and that would speed things up."

    "Things are tough for me now. I'd need a little money up front to get going at this."

    "I can do that."

    "I won't treat you wrong, on it. I need the work. You'll get receipts for all the parts and we'll keep the old parts to give you, okay?"

    "Sounds right to me. I want a thorough job of it, so I plan to buy a small car to drive while you have it. You can tear it apart and not worry about me needing it back until you get finished."

    "How deep do you want to go with this?"

    "Start by taking the body off and sandblast and repaint the frame, then build me a reliable truck from there up. I'd suggest you buy a rebuilt engine and transmission, and sub out the body work to a good shop to save time. But you're in charge of it all so I don't have to mess with it."

    "Whew. You're prob'ly talkin' 30 grand or better to do that."

    "That's okay. You get paid as you go. When you need money for parts, call me."

    Jerry Hawkins thought the guy may be blowing smoke at him, but he took the job. Work was hard to get now and getting paid was harder.

    "Erin, would you like to have a new car?"

    "Aaah. I guess. I'm so used to my old one I hadn't thought about it."

    "You've got the check book, and there is plenty of money in the bank. Think about it."

    "I don't want show off with a new car. It would make my friends feel bad."

    "That's part of why I'm having my truck restored. I want something reliable, but not something that stands out too much."

    Erin thought about it and said, "I think a new one would be all right, as long as it's something sensible. I don't know anything about cars, though. I'll have to do some serious research first. I hope you don't want a new house. I like this one now. It's just right for us."

    "That's what I thought. I've had enough of the 'plastic people' I call them, that buy the upscale houses. Maybe they aren't all that way, but too many are. I like it here."

    "That little car you bought is okay. All I know is that it's a Ford."

    "I decided it was cheaper than renting one for as long as the guy will have my truck. I can sell it when that's over if we don't need it then."

    "How about I drive it for a while and see if I like it?

    "That's okay. I can drive yours."

    Bill had been hanging out at the hardware store, since they had a liar's bench out front and he found some interesting company there. There was a soda machine, snack foods, and a coffee machine just inside the door, and they could watch customers come and go. The people there were mostly retired, some of them farmers like himself, but the barber across the street stopped by after work, too, and several other sorts.

    Carol Harper was one of the store cashiers, a widow woman that Bill liked to tease when she wasn't busy. The banter got him acquainted with her well enough that when he asked her to go to the Saturday night dance with him, she asked him, "Can you really dance, or are you just feeding me another one of your lines?"

    "I'm a good dancer. My Dad taught me all I needed to know about it."

    "Oh really?"

    "He told me that if I could keep time to the music I wouldn't embarrass myself too bad, and to keep my feet on the floor all the time so I don't step on toes and make women mad."

    "That's a start, I suppose. I'll give you the benefit of the doubt. If you buy my supper, that is."

    "Hmph. And here I thought you'd be cheap date. Where would you want to eat? Would the Chinese place be okay? Or would you rather have Mexican?"

    "No, the Chinese food doesn't last long. I get hungry again in an hour. I like Mexican food, but it gives me gas. Let's go to that Pizza place up by Wal Mart, okay?"

    "That's fine. I'll pick you up about 6:00 o'clock, okay? Wear something sexy.

    "I wouldn't dare with you around. I better wear overalls."

    "Okay. I will too!" Bill winked at her and left.

    "Your car is fine to drive, but I want something with some room in the back," Erin said.

    "They make those in a hatchback style you might like," Robert said.

    "I need to go look at cars and drive some. I think yours is the first new car I ever drove."

    Robert grinned and said, "The salesmen will fall all over you. Sales are pretty slow and when a pretty girl walks in you can bet you'll get all the help you can stand."

    "Maybe taking William along will slow 'em down a little."

    "Not much, I'd say."

    She came home with a Ford Focus that she said suited her fine, and William got along good in his car seat.

    "The salesman was really nice. It embarrassed me a little to drive a hard bargain, but that's how I am. I know what the markup is on cars and I made him give me Blue Book price for my old Toyota. They made a little money on the deal, or they wouldn't have done it. I got the extended warranty, too."

    "That's usually not worth doing, but it might be on a car. It protects you if you get a lemon," Robert said.

    Erin looked happy and said, "I'm taking Cindy shopping tomorrow at Costco. We both want to stock up on some things."

    Robert said, "That makes me think. I need to talk to Dick about extra stock for the store. Prices are going up fast, so I want to get ahead of that game. I read some things that make me worry about the dollar losing value."

    Robert had filed estimated taxes for Bill after the sale of his house. Bill was getting antsy about how to protect his money. It represented all he'd worked for all his life. Erin had related to him how they'd found the gold and silver coins in the grape arbor post hole and the idea appealed to him, but he had a few other thoughts as well. There were a few things he wanted to buy. He made several trips to Louisville to Robert's favorite coin shop, having wired money to their account by agreement, and established his own 'post hole bank'.

    Bill asked some questions of his acquaintances at the hardware store and learned that the property across the railroad tracks from Robert's place had been foreclosed by a local bank. It had been a machine shop that failed when the factory nearby had closed. Bill bought the steel building with 5 acres along the tracks, paralleling Robert's property. Being so far out of town, the property had its' own well and septic system, but there was some damage to the water system from being unheated the past winter. Bill set about getting that repaired and assured that the pipes were drained. The building had a big Generac standby generator that ran on natural gas, but the gas was turned off and Bill left it that way. The machinery had all been sold off, but a 10 ton overhead trolley hoist was still in place. Bill arranged to power the electric hoist with a small gasoline generator he bought, and locked the building up tight.

    He did not make any effort to mow weeds or improve the appearance of the property. He thought vandalism would be less likely if he left it alone for now.

    The original owner had installed a wood furnace for heat and had built an apartment upstairs over the office area. Bill busied himself cleaning up the interior of the building, but left the scrap iron, rotten wood skids, and general trash lay outside. He put title to the property in an inter vivos trust that he filed at the Courthouse, with Robert and Erin as joint Second Trustees and himself as First Trustee. That insured that the property would not have to go through Probate Court upon his demise.

    The great advantage of the property was that the building faced Robert and Erin's place, so they could see the entrance door, the garage style truck door, and and all the windows easily. Bill began to go to auctions and buy things that he stashed in the building.

    The mechanic called and said Robert's truck was finished. He inspected the last of the work and drove around the block with the mechanic. It was like driving a new one. Even the doors were airtight and sounded solid as a rock when he closed them. He paid the mechanic and shook his hand before he drove it home. They had an extra car now, so he had Erin follow him to the dealer where he bought it and sold it back to them for a hefty discount. It was still less than a rental would have cost for the time he'd had it.

    Robert cashed the check at the dealer's bank where he also had an account, and rode home with Erin driving his "new" old truck. She loved the old style aluminum camper top on the bed. It would be great for shopping she said, and insisted on stopping at the grocery on the way home. They bought a couple carts full and then went to the gas station to fill his tanks. During the restoration, Robert had the reserve fuel tank added like the Camper Special models featured. He spent nearly $200 at the gas station. That would keep the small 6 cylinder going for a long time.

  15. #15
    Chapter 42 October, 2016

    Thad had wondered if his son Jim would ever get tired of the city. He hadn't seen him for a couple years, although they talked on the phone pretty regularly. His management job kept him travelling too much. When he was home, he spent time with his wife and kids, and they had a busy life. The last time they were out to see him, his wife didn't want their two boys anywhere near the barn, afraid they'd get too dirty. It left the impression she wanted no part of the farm.

    His older son had died in the first Gulf War, driving a truck that got hit by a missle. Thad had always hoped that one or both of them would want to take over his farm. It had been in the family for generations and he hated to think about it being sold.

    It bothered him when the TV news said Jim's company was having big cutbacks. He hoped the boy wasn't affected, but it sounded pretty bad.

    China's internal financial problems led them to sell some of their US Treasury bonds on the open market in amounts calculated to be short of destabilizing trade, yet enable them to shore up failing financials in their home markets.

    Seismometers in Japan, China, Alaska and Hawaii registered tremors off the coast of Japan, a common enough thing on the Pacific rim. These we short and sharp, then increased in intensity. The Japanese government issued statements to placate the public, still nervous after the Fukiushima disaster. The long tradition of accepting what the leaders said had all but died in Japan after numerous scandals regarding the dangers from those damaged nuclear plants. These shocks were stronger than normal, in the 4.5 to 5.8 range and close together.

    There were no shocks for a week, so the news media forgot about it. The public did not, and flocked to stores to buy emergency stores and equipment. When the fault let go, coastal roads were jammed with fleeing people. A lot of them died in the tsunami that followed. More nuclear reactors were damaged and destroyed, along with the spent fuel pool at Fukushima that had been tottering since the last quake. The damage was worse this time, the tsunami bigger, and the destruction at Onagawa was immense. Reports were sketchy in the west, but satellite photos of steam plumes were clearly visible at several locations where spent fuel storage was damaged. The Japanese government announced they were on top of things, but nobody believed them this time, and feared the worst.

    The tsunami actually did the most physical damage. With the Japanese economy in shambles from the previous disaster that had led to shutdown of most of the country's nuclear power, industry had been on limited power for several years. The ensuing attempts to weaken the Japanese Yen had not been enough to improve exports significantly. The new disaster overwhelmed the government's budget and without the strong export levels of the past, the decision was made to sell US Treasury bonds to pay for desperately needed relief and rebuilding efforts.

    The news came immediately on the heels of an announcement by the head of the US Federal Reserve of a dramatically increased Quantitative Easing stimulus. The US economy had been suffering heavily in the wake of their "tapering" of QE. Global protests were gathering strength pressuring the Fed to do something, as the dollar had temprarily strengthened and everything else went down the drain--emerging market currencies, foreign stock markets, and US stocks with a crashing US economy. The Fed had gone too far and had abruptly reversed its' course.

    The combination of greatly increased stimulus and bond buying by the Fed along with bond dumping by the Japanese tipped the scales overnight. Bond prices fell and Wall Street screamed bloody murder as interest rate derivatives collapsed faster than the Fed could mop up the financial blood. The US dollar index fell by 18 percentage points in a day, and was still going down. The Euro stayed strong for a day until the announcement of the failure of Deutschbank and others following. Banks began to fail in Euroland like dominoes along with Western banks. The financial world was in utter chaos by the second day, with stock market trading suspended in all major countries.

    The next day, a shaken Fed Chairman, obviously in panic mode, announced that large depositors in certain banks would be given bank stocks in exchange for emergency funds deducted from their accounts to stabilize the banks. The best efforts to assure depositors that the stocks would be redeemable for cash at a late date did nothing to stem the panic. The bank runs that followed caused the President to announce a bank holiday and closed financial markets for a cooldown period.

    A panicked public responded predictably by rioting at banks in most cities. The response to those riots was fierce and dispersed the crowds. The riots moved to groceries and gas stations where their credit and debit cards were being refused. James Wright loaded his wife and two teenage sons in their car and headed for his father's farm. There were already riots shown on the news that were too close for comfort to their South Louisville home.

    Bill had spent part of the day helping unload stock into the warehouse for the hardware store. There were 3 partial truckloads delivered that day, so everybody had pitched in, including Robert. Carol Harper came back to work after her lunch hour and told of disturbances at her bank branch and at the gas station down the street. The unloading crew hurriedly finished their work on the last truck and locked up the warehouse. The truck driver got a call from his dispatcher telling him to find a room and stay put. The trucking company's fuel cards would not work, and they had no load for him anyway.

    Robert thought about the implications of having a truck parked at his warehouse and asked the driver to move it somewhere else. Inwardly, he was thankful for the underground gasoline and diesel fuel storage he'd put in at home.

    The truck driver moved his rig to a parking lot at the nearby County Fairgrounds and turned on the TV in his sleeper. There were news specials on every channel. He watched for a while and came to a decision. Being one of the relatively few owner-operators still on the road, he had options the company drivers did not. He called his dispatcher back and told him he could find him at home when things calmed down.

    He was thankful for having filled his saddle tanks the night before. He was only about 60 miles from home and that seemed to be the best place for him from what he had seen on TV. He felt for the reassuring presence of the .45 in the holster on his seat as he drove slowly out of town on the state highway toward home. He planned to stay off interstates and avoid large cities on his way there. He still had the remains of the chicken dinner he'd bought for lunch sitting beside him. Munching on a buttered biscuit, he made his way onto the state highway wondering how he was going to make a living.

    Chapter 43

    Thad saw the new car and utility trailer drive in and wondered who it was until his son got out. He walked to the house and smiled as he said, "Long time, no see. How ya doin', son?"

    Jim's wife and kids got out and looked like they felt out of place as they grouped around Jim.

    Jim said, "Back when I moved to the city you said that if I ever wanted to come back and live here I was welcome. I hope that's still good."

    Thad smiled and said, "It is and you oughta know that. It's gettin' chilly out here. C'mon inside, y'all. Glad you came."

    In the kitchen, Thad got some coffee mugs from the cabinet, then took milk from the refrigerator and the pot from the coffee maker. As he poured drinks he asked, "That company cutback got you, did it?"

    Jim nodded and said, "Me and 13,000 others. Retail is pretty dead now. Worse than that, the money is dead, too."

    "Uh-huh. I heard 'bout that. Nobody's got any money to speak of, an' if they do it ain't worth much. We c'n get by without money, though. As long as people don't get too crazy we'll be all right."

    Kimberly said, "It's impossible to live without money! Everybody needs money--for food and gas and everything. The bank was closed so we couldn't get any money out and the credit cards won't work. I don't know how we can live!"

    "Relax, girl. They's other ways to get food and ways to cook and keep warm and get water and all that stuff. Maybe you never seen it, but it can be done an' we can do it. Don't be so worried about it. We'll be fine."

    "That's what I 've been trying to tell you hon'. We'll be okay here," Jim said.

    Kyle said, "You've got cows that make milk, right?" He looked interested.

    Thad said, "That's right. An' you make butter an' cheese outa milk. An' beef outa the cows you don't need for somethin' else. Kyle, how old are you now?"

    "Fourteen. I'm in 8th grade this year."

    "You're big enough to do quite a bit on a farm. We'll show ya what needs done."

    Kimberly said, "You're not going to take him to the barn are you? Cows are too dangerous for kids to be around."

    Thad looked at her and said, "If I remember right you haven't been around a farm much, have you?"

    She said, "Of course not. I grew up in Louisville."

    Thad nodded and said, "That explains why you don't have the least idea of what you're talkin' about. Yeah, the boys will be goin' to the barn in about half an hour when the milkin' starts. They'll be just fine. You come along, too, an' see how it works so you don't worry so much. Jim, you remember how to start the tractor, doncha?"

    "Sure. What do you want me to do?"

    "It's got the bale spike on the loader. You can go fetch four new bales from that row by the pasture lane. Them in the feed rings is 'bout gone. You c'n use the spike to lift the bale rings. The ones I got now are pretty stout an' they'll stand that. Makes it easy. You take one of the boys an' I'll take the other one. Tomorrow we'll trade boys."

    Thad addressed Kimberly and said, "When he gets the tractor outa the machine shed, you c'n drive the car an' trailer in there for now. I 'spect you got things in there you don't want to get wet and it looks like rain tonight."

    Kimberly said, "We're going to unload the trailer now if it's going to rain. And you are NOT taking my boys to the barn!"

    Thad frowned and sighed. He paused for a minute and said, "I want this to go as good as it can, but it's like this. This here is my farm. So I have to make the rules an' tell people what to do. If you don't want to do that, you don't have to, but you can't stay here, either."

    He stopped talking and looked at her, waiting for her answer. She gave Jim a scared and angry look, but Jim said, "That's how it is. Dad promised to leave the farm to me, but until he's gone, he makes the rules. I told you how it was before we left the house."

    "You're going to let him put MY KIDS in danger and try to tell ME what to do?!"

    "No. Not putting the kids in any more danger than I grew up with. I lived through growing up here. And they are OUR kids, not yours alone."

    Kimberly got up from the table and shouted, "I'M NOT HAVING THIS! WE'RE LEAVING RIGHT NOW!"

    Jim took a deep breath and said softly, "YOU might be leaving, but that's all. Me and the boys stay here. It's up to me to provide for them and I intend to do that. The car stays here, too. It's not yours, it's mine. You want to leave, go ahead. But it will be by yourself and walking with what you can carry. I'd give you a ride, but I'm not going back to that hellhole."

    Kimberly stood there with her mouth open, then hissed at him, "You think you can talk to me that way? Wait until you hear from my attorney!"

    Jim said, "Your attorney is in Louisville and that is a long walk from here. We passed his office on the way out of town and there was a riot going on at the bank next to it. If you want supper tonight, and something to eat in the days ahead, then shut up and do what Dad says. Otherwise, be on your way and do it now. We got cows to milk pretty soon and that won't wait for anything."

    Jim looked in her purse on the table and took the car keys out of it. He put them in his own pocket.

    Kimberly sat down and cried. The television was on in the next room, with the evening news recounting the lead story about riots in Louisville. Nobody said a word while Kimberly sat there and sobbed.

    Thad got up and said, "If you decide to stay, you don't need to come to the barn tonight. Yer mind wouldn't be on it and you wouldn't learn anything."

    He and Jim started for the door. Jim beckoned to the two boys who followed him with wide eyes. Kimberly sat at the table with her face in her hands, still crying when they went outside.

    Chapter 44

    Only one of his two farm hands showed up that night, the young woman he had recently hired. She looked pretty upset, but she was doing her job. Thad was doing the other boy's job and had Justin watching from the cooler room. After the 3rd group of 8 cows had been through the milking process, Justin said, "I think I can do that, Granddad."

    "Okay. Get ya some boots from that pile in the next room and wait out there 'till the next batch of cows come in. They don't know ya yet."

    The next two batches went pretty smoothly as Thad explained how to stand with his head in the cow's flank to keep her from kicking forward while he washed her udder and put the milker on her. Thad let Justin do the next batch with the hired girl as he watched to make sure it was done correctly.

    Jim and Kyle came in then and Kyle watched for a while, then found the smallest boots he could and had a turn at it on the last batch.

    Erin looked out the kitchen window and saw the new car and trailer pull into Thad's driveway. She watched as people got out of the car and went in the house with Thad. It was too far away to tell who it was. She only knew Thad because he had come from the barn. She went back to her cooking and only by chance saw the men head outside. Erin glanced at the clock and knew it was milking time.

    Curiosity got the best of her. The stew would be fine simmering on the back of the wood stove. Erin pulled on her favorite knit cap and a heavy jacket. Robert wouldn't be home for at least an hour, so she loaded herself and William in her car and drove down the road to Thad's farm.

    Kimberly was distraught. After everyone else had gone outside, she sat at the table and bawled. Mike was asleep by the wood stove in the living room. The heat eased his aches and pains. He was an old dog, retired from herding duties. The crying woke him up. He got up to see what was in the kitchen that was making the noise. He felt the distress in the person and looked up at her.

    Kimberly saw the dog looking sympathetic and reached out to pet him. Mike decided the person was a friend and came closer. Kimberly felt some comfort from the old dog and said, "What's your name?" She saw MIKE stamped into the leather of his collar and said, "Hello Mike. You're nice dog."

    The words were spoken softly and felt good, so Mike looked up and smiled at her just as someone knocked on the kitchen door. Kimberly grabbed at a napkin on the table and hurriedly wiped her face, then turned to the door wiping her nose. It was a young woman wearing a dark jacket and an orange crocheted cap. She opened the door and before she could ask her business the woman said, "I'm Erin Evans, the neighbor. Can I come in?"

    "Yes, of course," Kimberly said and stepped aside.

    "I saw you drive in. Are you Thad's family?"

    "He's my father in law. Oh. I'm Kimberly Wright."

    "And this is William," Erin said, "I'm just being a nosy neighbor, but we keep an eye on Thad's place. Are you all right?"

    There was no hiding or denying she had been crying. Kimberly didn't know how to respond. Finally she blurted out, "We had a fight. I just told my husband I was leaving."

    "Whoa. Where you gonna go?"

    "That's...." Kimberly stopped and started again. "I...don't have anywhere to go. We left Louisville and there were riots going on and then Jim let his father order me around and I told him I wouldn't take it. he won't let me have the car and I'm afraid to go back home...."

    Erin watched while Kimberly began to cry again. She said, "So you're sick of him?"

    "No. But he can't just take my kids out with those cows! They might get killed out there!"

    "That's nonsense. What gave you that idea?"

    Kimberly looked at Erin who was serious as could be.

    Erin tried again. "I said that's nonsense. What's the real trouble?"

    "It's not nonsense! Cows are huge animals and they could just run right over you and kill you!"

    Erin had to try hard not to laugh. "You can't really believe that. These are dairy cows. They are like members of the family, they are so gentle. You must be a city girl."

    Erin sat William on the floor when Mike came to sniff him. The baby and the dog knew each other.

    Thad had said something to that effect, but hearing it from this tiny woman had more impact. She stared at Erin who went on to say, "I helped him milk a few times. Those old girls are sweet. They try really hard to keep from bumping into you. You've never been around cows, that's for sure."

    Kimberly bit her lip, trying to not feel so foolish to this young woman. She said, "It's really about my husband ordering me around. I won't put up with that."

    "Do you love him?"

    Kimberly was being disarmed at every turn by this girl. She had never met anyone who could cut to the heart of the matter so quickly. Taken aback, she said, "Of course I love him or I wouldn't have married him."

    "Better work it out then. The sooner the better. Can't let things like that go for long or they'll fester and then it's hell to pay."

    Kimberly sat at the table and looked off in the distance for a minute while Erin watched. The dog nudged her leg and she absently petted his head.

    "I see you've met Mike. He's the goodwill ambassador."

    Kimberly smiled and said, "Yeah, I guess he is."

    She took a deep breath and said, "I'm in a mess. I don't know what to do. Thad was telling me what I had to do and Jim was too, and I'm just so scared of this place and the cows...." Kimberly stopped and looked at Erin then said, "You're not afraid of them."

    "Nope. I grew up with cattle. You can't act like a fool around 'em, but they are pretty good neighbors."

    Kimberly sighed and shook her head. She said, "I have to straighten this out, but I don't know where to start."

    "Cook. That helps a lot of things. They'll be hungry when they come in."

    "I've never been in this house before."

    "I have. Let's see what's in the fridge." Erin went and peered inside the refrigerator.

    "He's got a chicken cut up, and some ham, and some veggies in cans. Get in there and get busy. You can work it out. Can you make biscuits from scratch?"

    "Yes. Jim loves them."

    "You'll be okay."

    Erin gave the woman a hug and said, "I'd better go tend to my stew. I'll see you soon." She smiled and got a smile from Kimberly. Erin picked William up and zipped his coat as he waved at the dog.

    "Thanks," Kimberly said, and Erin could tell she meant it.

  16. #16
    Chapter 45

    Thad, Jim, and the boys trooped in from the barn and smelled fried chicken. Jim was surprised at this, no less than the boys. Kimberly said, "You're having chicken for dinner. I'm eating crow. I'm sorry. To all of you, I'm sorry."

    Thad had seen Erin leaving some time ago, so he had expected a change in the social weather, but he kept it to himself.

    Robert heard the story when he got home from working in the warehouse.

    "Ooooh boy! Sounds like old Thad has his work cut out for him."

    Erin said, "I think they'll be all right. She's just scared half to death, that's all."

    Robert gave her a skeptical look and said, "There's the boys, too. They probably don't know anything."

    "Yeah, but Thad is good with young people. He'll have 'em eating out of his hand in a few days."

    "I'll wait a few days before I go over there to let things settle down."

    "How'd it go at the warehouse?"

    "We got most of it stacked up so we can walk through the place now. Cindy is good at that kind of thing. She was big help, but she had to go home before the kids got home from school."

    "I wonder what's going to happen now. I mean, the gas stations are closed so the school buses can't get fuel. They can't go very long or they'll have to close the school."

    "I'll bet they are closed tomorrow. You should have seen the traffic at the Wal Mart when I came past there."

    "That could go crazy. If people can't get money, they can't eat. The government had better get things going again fast. Most people don't have 3 meals of food in the house."

    Robert said, "The news on the radio said the banks would open tomorrow, but they are limiting withdrawals to $200 per person per week."

    "The school is closed until further notice," Cindy told Chad. "The radio said they can't operate without fuel to run the buses and the teachers couldn't get there. The mayor wants to limit selling gas and diesel fuel to only local people. The gas stations say that's illegal, but they are limiting sales to 5 gallons per customer for as long as it lasts."

    Chad said, "I stopped to get gas and they said cash only. No credit cards or checks. This could get bad if they don't get truck shipments going pretty soon. The boss said he got orders from the main office of the electric company that we aren't going to do anything but emergency repairs until things straighten out. They have a fuel tank at work for the trucks, but it's only about half full. They only have a few spare transformers, too."

    "Erin told me she heard the banks would open tomorrow, but you can only get $200 a week."

    "They're afraid everybody will take all their money out, that's why. I know I would if I could."

    Cindy said, "I've been keeping a little cash back and have about $500 in my purse, if you need some."

    Chad said, "Better be careful how we spend that. What do we need the worst?"

    "We don't HAVE to have anything, I guess. We've got heat and the propane tank is nearly full. That won't last the winter, though. I sure wish we had a wood stove and a shed full of wood."

    "You said they've got wood stoves at the hardware store, right?"

    "Yes, but they are expensive for one big enough to heat this place. I think we'd better save our money for now. No telling what's going to happen next."

    Chad said, "I think there's enough milk replacer to feed those calves until they can be weaned to eat ground feed. But after that we'll need some feed for them. We've got feed for the chickens and they can be outside for a while yet to eat what they can find."

    "OH! We don't have much butter and I'm about out of shortening. I was going to get some....wait, here's my list. I want some baking powder, and a couple other things, but they're not important."

    "I'll get that stuff in the morning before work. I can all sit in the car all day. No, wait. I hould drive the truck tomorrow and get gas in it. The car's about full now. It only holds about 16 gallons, so if I go to a couple stations I can get enough to fill it."

    Chapter 46

    Rachel Carter was scared. She hoped Thad would help. He had always been nice to her, and she thought he might, so she got to work early to talk to him.

    "I'm about of out gas, so I don't know how I can get here in the morning," Rachel said. "Tyler, he was my boyfriend, he left and took what money I had at home."

    Thad said, "You have enough to eat?"

    "I had a cup of coffee this morning. There's not much left there, but I brought something for lunch so I don't have to drive home and back. I got enough for a couple days, I think. If you could pay me some today, I can get gas tonight and make it to the end of the week."

    Thad nodded and said, "Yeah, I can do that. We'll talk more about it later, but for right now, let's go to the kitchen and get you some breakfast."

    When the milking was finished and Jim and the boys had gone to the house, Thad said, "Pull your car around to that second fuel tank and let's put a little gas in it. I buy it cheaper than you do."

    He filled the car about half full and said, "Here's what I owe you for the past couple days. Now. we need to talk some. You're real good help and I don't want to lose you. I'm afraid when rent comes due and you need groceries and what all, you'll be in trouble for money. Things are tough now, an' gettin' worse."

    Rachel said, "I've been worried since he left and stole my money. If I could find him I'd bust his head, but it's hard telling where he went. Maybe he found another sucker like me," she said bitterly.

    Thad said, "You met Jim's wife Kimberly at breakfast. She lives here now with Jim and the boys, so you know the whole crew now. This is a big ole farmhouse an' I got plenty of room for ya if you want to stay here. I can use some extra help around the place and it sounds to me like you need a place to stay."

    Rachel said, "I sure need a place to stay. You know my Mom's gone off with that man and that little trailer we rented was okay until my boyfriend lost his job. We couldn't pay the rent this month and they were going to kick us out. That's why he took the money and ran."

    Thad shook his head at that. Then he said, "There's an extra room off the kitchen that was a bedroom once. We got some stuff in there now, but we can have it presentable by supper time if you want to stay here. If you want to work a full week, I can pay you what you been gettin' an' the rest of your time goes for room an' board, if that suits you?"

    "It sure will! I thought I'd be sleeping in the car. I could do that, but when it gets cold out it's hard. I had to do that a few days when Mom had that mean drunk at home."

    Thad said, "As long as I'm alive, you don't never have to do that again. You're a good girl, and I'll see to it. You c'mon along to the house an' let's get this sorted out."

    Thad was worried, but not about the girl. He knew she was past 19 years old, so she was of legal age to work or he wouldn't have hired her. She was easy going so he didn't expect she'd have any trouble with the family. What bothered Thad was that the milk truck should have been here two hours ago. He wondered if it was coming, and if it didn't, what was he going to do with close to 500 gallons of milk every day?

    The next day Rachel and Thad went to her trailer and loaded what little she had. By milking time that night,she was moved in and getting acquainted with the kitchen. Kimberly was seeing Thad as a very different man than she had thought he was.

    Kimberly was glad to have another woman to talk to in a house full of men. Rachel impressed Kimberly as being wise beyond her years. Her only concern was that Justin seemed to be pretty impressed with Rachel, too. The good part was, Justin was acting much more mature than he ever had at home. The petty complaints and teenage bickering were gone. Overnight, Justin was acting like he had a brain for a change. Maybe Thad had something to do with that, too, she thought. He treated Justin like an adult and the boy responded like one. She decided that rather than being the dictator she thought he was, Thad was truly a leader and she was ruminating on how he did it.

    The milk truck had not come that day, and the tank was full. Thad had no choice but to dump a lot of milk. He called everyone he knew and asked if anyone wanted some to come get it in the morning. The word got passed around and several trucks showed up with all manner of containers, including Chad to take some to his calves. Erin drove their truck down and hauled home 2 barrels of it to feed their hogs, but 300 gallons or more got dumped into the fields.

    As Thad had guessed, the milk truck was unable to get fuel to operate. The dairy that used his milk to make cheese had cleaned out their supply of milk and laid off several workers until they got more, keeping only the people that did the finishing of the cheeses. Although the banks were open again, some functions had not been restored until late that day. There would be no fuel deliveries for several days yet. Traffic was almost at a standstill. The gas stations, retail stores, restaurants, and factories all told employees not to come to work until further notice. The economy ground down to a virtual halt, each segment dependent on another and yet others who were all dependent on someone farther up the chain toward the supply of money and credit that had kept it operating.

    "Kyle asked, "Grandad, why are we milking the cows and just throwing it away?"

    "Because if we don't milk 'em, they will be miserable with swollen udders for a while until they naturally stop producing milk. Once they stop makin' milk, they wouldn't start again until they have another baby calf, and that would take almost a year. I'm bettin' that things get goin' again pretty soon, or we'll have to let the cows go dry. It costs a lot more to feed a cow that's makin' milk, an' the only pay we get is from sellin' the milk. I hope they get things fixed pretty quick."

    Kyle thought about this and said, "I hope so too, Grandad. I really do."

    Chapter 47

    "Cindy, I'm getting worried. The guys at work are saying most of them are about out of food, and the stores aren't getting any shipments in. I stopped at Wal Mart and their shelves are pretty well bare, and so is the JayCee store. There's been some break ins around town, we heard. I bought 8 boxes of shotgun shells and all they had was bird shot. They didn't have any 9 millimeter for my pistol. The ammunition is about all gone there."

    Cindy said, "We'll be okay. I don't think anybody will come out here to rob us."

    Chad frowned and said, "That's more likely than you might think. Already happened, in fact. some old folks south of town got robbed of everything they had in the house. It was a bunchof young guys, they said. The radio was quoting a police report. Can you shoot a gun?"

    Cindy said, "It's been a long time, but Dad showed me how to shoot his rifle when I was a kid. I never tried the shotgun."

    "Let's get you checked out on the shotgun. It's a lot easier to point and hit something than a pistol, and it has more power than a pistol. I'll put the shorter slug barrel on it and the sling, so you can carry it wherever you go around the place. This is serious business."

    Cindy said, "I know what I want to do. Dick's got a whole cabinet full of old guns he has been wondering what to do with. Robert and him were going through stuff when they did inventory. He took 'em as trade ins, years ago. Dick said those guns are so old there's no paperwork on them, so he was afraid to sell 'em to just anybody. I want one of the old police revolvers he's got, and he owes me for work last week anyway. Let me talk to Robert."

    Cindy came home with two of the old police .38 caliber service revolvers and two boxes of ammunition for her pay. They had some bluing rubbed off of them, and the old leather holsters were dried out and hard, but she knew what to do for that. When Chad had cleaned and oiled them, they spent some time shooting behind the barn in the woods. Cindy was satisfied she could hit where she aimed. She shortened one of Chad's old leather belts and decided she could wear the gun a lot easier than carrying a shotgun. She began to make a habit of keeping a handful of spare ammunition in her jeans pocket, too.

    When Cindy was making her gun deal, Robert thought it was a fine idea and bought one for Erin.

    Rachel was so happy to have a safe place to live that she wanted to do all she could to help around the place. She spent some time with the men cleaning up around the farm buildings to get everything put away before bad weather. Machinery got put in the sheds and odds and ends of fencing, spare posts, and lumber got stacked inside buildings. Thad thought it was a good way to get her and the boys acquainted with the place, too. He had been wanting full time help, but couldn't quite justify the cost until things happened as they did. It would have been great if they could just sell some milk and make some money.

    Three days after the banks had reopened, the cheese plant sent a truck out to pick up milk and Thad was greatly relieved. He assured them that what he had was fresh, and showed them what they had dumped that morning to prove it. With the prospect of having an income again, Thad looked over his mental list of projects he'd been putting off for lack of time. His farm shop bay in the machinery shed was a mess, so he put Kyle and Rachel to work putting things away and cleaning up inside. He sent Jim to the creek with the big tractor and had him use the front loader to scoop out gravel for some soft spots around the buildings. Justin got to work with Thad on cleaning out some old pig pens to make room for parking their utility trailer inside for the winter, then learned how to drive the small tractor with the bush hog on it to mow weeds around the house and buildings.

    After a couple weeks of this, Thad was happy to see everyone working together pretty well and heard lots of talk about what they thought needed to be done. He listened and had Kyle painting the fuel storage tanks during a few days of Indian Summer. That ended with some rainy weather and their efforts turned to indoor jobs, scrubbing down the milkhouse and painting it inside, then repairing some battered doors in the barn. When the rain stopped, they were back outside putting proper chain latches on farm gates instead of having them wired shut. Some loosened metal roofing got nailed down where needed and junk hauled to a sinkhole in the back pasture. The place was looking much better, and ready for winter.

    The Federal Reserve had embarked on another bond buying binge desperately trying to keep interest rates down, but the ten year US bond had reached 4.6%, then 8.4%, and was rising daily. Interest rate derivatives were in the news as markets panicked again with the collapse of major banks in Italy, France, Germany, and the US. There were wild predictions of a wordwide digital currency, a return to a gold standard, and threats of many kinds among nations, as they all tried to keep the system afloat. The financial system had stabilized again, but with central banks around the world issuing vast amounts of their currencies to fill the black hole of derivative debts.

    At a hastily assembled international summit meeting, central banks from all major nations patched together an agreement. One of the major provisions was a unanimous agreement to recognize derivative contracts of any sort as illegal and unpayable. The markets were left to sort out the details, as hedge funds and major banks imploded. Currency markets were in an absolute shambles for days while the fallout settled. There were many who said the cure was worse than the disease, but the damage was done, for better or worse.

    The most noticeable effect at ground level was the impact of significant revaluations of most currencies. The US dollar sank beneath the weight of trade beginning to be settled through the BRIC countries new gold bank. When the dust settled, the dollar was trading at roughly half its' recent value relative to the Chinese Yaun. That appreciation of the Yuan had wreaked havoc in China's domestic economy, leading to massive strikes and riots as unemployment soared from devastating reductions in their exports. The US was hit hard by vast price inceases for imports from virtually all other nations. Worst of all, bank credit for business was non-existent, leaving the retail system to sink

    Food and fuel began to be available again in the US, but at much higher prices. Social unrest ramped up in the US as too many people found they could not afford to eat. The response was to increase social programs that increased the national debt again, setting the stage for further devaluation of the dollar. Still, the poor were left hungry and riots broke out sporadically, prompting a crackdown of brutal proportions. Impeachment proceedings were started, stopped, and started again to oust the President.

  17. #17
    Chapter 48 November, 2016

    Traffic was sparse to non-existent on state highways, and not much more on local roads and streets. Robert had enough cash on hand to make payroll through the bank closures and enough in the bank to keep paying the business bills as sales slowed to a trickle in his hardware store. He drove slowly to the store and opened it himself, soon joined by Dick Blain.

    Before the other employees go there, Dick said, "We're losing money hand over fist, you know."

    "I know, but this is going to get better. We have what people need to get by for less money. Lots of them know that and will be here when they can afford it."

    "But right now we are paying help to just stand around. We can't stand that forever. Bad as I hate to, we need to cut expenses," Dick said.

    "We have a lot of organizing to do in the warehouse. Let's put a couple people on that. Maybe rotate them all to do some of that so they all know where to find things."

    "I'd like to keep John Ledford on customer service, since everybody knows him, so let's put him and Carol in the warehouse early this morning and I'll wait on customers while it's slow this morning. Then Cindy and I can take a turn in the warehouse this afternoon."

    Robert nodded and said, "That sounds good to me. I'll spend the day in the warehouse and try to stay on top of what's going on there. Have you checked on wholesale prices lately?"

    Dick sighed and said, "It's scary. What I have seen so far is around 40% increases. That wipes out our profit margin. We have a lot of repricing to do, or we won't be able to buy replacement stock."

    "That will keep some of us busy for a while."

    Tyler Garvin was nearly out of gas, but he knew where he could get some. He drove the last half mile with his lights out and parked his car in the weedy entrance to a farm field a hundred yards from the dairy farm. He'd seen the big fuel tanks when he took Rachel to work once. He hadn't seen a dog there, so it should be easy. He walked along the fence row by the yard until he was close to the tanks and stepped over the fence. His plastic gas can scraped on the wire, but it didn't make much noise and there was a little wind that covered the sound.

    Thad was idly watching TV when Mike came to him and then went to the back door. As Thad stepped out on the porch mat, he saw someone walking toward the fuel tanks. He glanced around him and saw a 5 gallon plastic bucket on the porch. He picked that up and softly walked past the shed and toward the tanks. As he passed the corner of the shed, he saw someone squatting with the fuel hose in his hand. Thad held the bucket with one hand on the top edge and one on the bottom, raised it over his head and brought the bottom edge of the bucket down hard on the back of the guy's head.

    The guy toppled forward on the ground and Thad immediately had his foot in the middle of the guy's back, and yelled at him, "WHAT THE HELL YA THINK YOU'RE DOIN'?"

    "OOF! Get offa me! I'll kill you for that!

    Thad lifted his foot and kicked the guy hard in the ribs. The man on the ground rolled and doubled up holding his side. Thad gave him the other boot in the stomach and thumped his head again with the bucket. Mike heard the commotion and came running. By the time the man got enough air back in him to yell, Mike had hold of his wrist and was growling as he chewed on it. Thad let the dog chew for a while and thumped the guy again on the head.

    "MIKE! WHOA!"

    The dog growled and snapped at the man as Thad pulled him off by his collar. The young man tried to get to his feet, but Thad kicked him over on his side and said, "We c'n talk better with you on the ground. Who the hell are ya and what makes ya think ya c'n steal gas?"

    Tyler was mad all the way through. He got to a squatting position and as he lunged toward Thad he said, "I'll kick yer ass for that!"

    Thad kicked him one more time and connected solidly with his jaw. The guy's head snapped back and he fell on his back, out cold. Thad undid the young guy's belt and yanked it out of his pants, then rolled him over and pulled his hands behind him where he tied them tight with the belt. He rolled him onto his back and yanked his pants down below his knees.

    Thad walked to the cow's water trough by the barnyard fence and dipped out half a bucket of water. When he sloshed that on the young man, he began to struggle and mumble. Thad put a foot on the guy's stomach and said, "You awake yet?"


    Thad waited a minute and asked him again. "Answer me if ya know what's good fer ya!"

    "Uuungh. What..."

    "Let's start over. Who are you?"

    "You git offa me!"

    "You're a slow learner," Thad said. He moved his foot from the guy's stomach to below his waist and stepped on his crotch.


    Thad let up a little and said, "Who are you? Or you want s'more of that?"

    The back door banged as Rachel came running out, with Jim, Justin, and Kyle hot on her heels.

    Rachel saw the guy on the ground and yelled at him, "Tyler what the hell are you doin' here?"

    Thad said, "He was tryin' to steal gas, it looks like. He wouldn't talk to me, though. Mebbe he wanted diesel, since he had the diesel hose in his hand."

    The Sheriff's deputy handcuffed and loaded a very subdued, very wet, and cold Tyler into the back of his squad car, and asked Thad if he'd sign a complaint form.

    "Sure thing. Let's go in where there's some light."

    When statements had been taken, the deputy wrote on the form, "Assault and attempted robbery should do it. He'll be in the lockup for awhile."

    Thad said, "He said he's goin' to kill me, too, but he warn't in no position to do that at the time. He's a hothead, though."

    The deputy folded the signed papers and left.

    Thad said, "Rachel, it's a good thing you got shut of that'n. He ain't no good. Time fer me 'n Mike to go to bed. That's enough excitement fer one night."

    Bill Evans chuckled as he told Erin, "Robert said some young fella tried to steal gas over at Thad's last night."

    Erin said, "Tried? They catch him?"

    Bill grinned and said, "Yeah! Thad caught him and beat the crap out've 'im!"

    "You're kidding?"

    Bill laughed and said, "Nope, ain't kiddin' about that. Thad pinned his ears back. It was Rachel's old boyfriend tryin' to steal gas. He's in the pokey now. Prob'ly be there for a while, too."

    "THAD beat him up?"

    "Yep. Jim told Robert that his dad was in the army. He fought in Korea and he ain't forgot how it's done. Old Thad ain't anybody to be messin' with."

    "I'd better start carrying a gun around here."

    "Lot's folks is now, from what I hear. The thievin' is slowin' down some, too, according to the deputy that took the kid in. That boy was one of the dumb ones that hadn't figured it out yet. Folks ain't puttin' up with that nonsense. I got me a pistol, and the Sheriff got me a permit to carry it right quick, too. He said the more guns in the hands of the decent folks, the less work he has to do."

    Chapter 49 December, 2016

    International trade had slowed to a crawl, forcing China, Japan, and other nations to devalue their currencies in an attempt to make their exports cheaper and another round of the currency wars got under way. The US Federal Reserve, in a desperate attempt to prop up the remaining big banks had increased their QE policy again, and increased their bond buying. The US dollar began to fall against other currencies, blunting the effect of the Asian devaluations. The prices of Chinese imports to the US had fallen only slightly over a month.

    As more countries devalued their currencies, the prices of commodities rose again, unable to be manipulated lower by market interventions. Gold and silver prices rose again to over $2,900, a new record in the US. China had their own gold trading market now, making intervention more difficult in the world market. The European Central Bank, late to the devaluation party, had begun to create fiat money hand over fist to prop their remaining banks and devalue the Euro. The temporary fix to the world's currencies began to fail. Round two of the fiat money implosion gathered speed as more and more countries joined in the race to the bottom of currency values. Australia had suffered reduced exports as China's economy contracted, so they engaged their printing press as well to relieve economic suffering, but it was a temporary fix that failed with all the rest. Eighteen countries had each devalued more than once, some 3 and 4 times in the past 2 months.

    The US had fixed the price of gold at $3,000 an ounce, but there were no sellers. What gold remained in the US was largely in private hands, the bulk of it having been sold off to creditor countries, so there were no US sellers of gold except the miners most of whom had shut down when the price was fixed below the cost of production. The US disallowed any export of gold, even to settle prior contracts. China howled about this, to no avail.

    Commodity prices had increased by factors of 3 or 4 to one over the previous year. US real estate prices were an untested market due to lack of money and credit, and an economy in a coma. Food and fuel were in stock, but nobody had money to buy more than enough to sustain life. Many could not afford that much and died with the onset of cold weather. Populations dropped by large percentages, varying according to the local food supply. Large grocery stores and department stores were nearly all closed, while a few turned in to indoor farmer's markets, most with no heat or lighting and all with shotgun guards posted, mostly the vendors themselves.

    Smaller towns fared some better, as enterprising individuals turned to bartering for a large part of their needs. Fuel was available, but at $12.49 a gallon for gasoline, few could afford to buy much. Bigger cities had large tracts of deserted buildings, wastelands inhabited by rats and their human equivalent. Heavily developed areas were hurt the worst, while less industrialized countries and parts of countries did better with closer access to food producing areas.

    Corydon had some of all the features of the rest of the world. The hospital was closed, except for the office annex where one middle aged doctor was working with almost no supplies and little equipment, bartering for his services. He delivered some babies, sewed up injuries, and treated infections with a combination of a few antibiotics, veterinary medicines, some herbal concoctions, honey and garlic for wounds to prevent sepsis, and in severe cases, amputations. He was paid mostly with food and fuel for the wood stove he'd had installed with a pipe out the window. He lived in his little clinic. Sometime later, he was joined by a dentist from New Albany who had ridden a bicycle there hauling a few instruments and a precious supply of Procaine and filling materials. He extracted a lot more teeth than he was able to repair.

    Huge debts were still owed that would never be repaid. Holders of stocks and bonds were unable to sell them, banks had imploded with stockholders owning foreclosed properties that had no prospect of being sold in the foreseeable future. Half the investors in local business properties were dead, and the other half unable to collect on their investments. It was unclear who owned what after the financial devastation.

    Robert grieved for the loss of Dick Blain and John Ledford, the two old timers at the hardware store. They had both succumbed to the failing health of old age and pneumonia. Carol Harper had moved in with Bill Evans, joining Robert, Erin and baby William in their house. The RV trailer sat empty, for lack of propane to heat it. Chad dropped off Cindy at the Evans home each morning as he went to work, now the only lineman in the county. His wages had gone up, but far less than the cost of living. Chad thought he had less than half his past income, considering the prices of things.

    Cindy and Carol rode to work at the hardware store each day with Robert in Erin's car, a three mile trip that was just too far to brave the cold walking in winter. Robert drove his truck to work now and then with a load of firewood for the stove that heated the small office and checkout area they had walled off at the front of the store. The few customers had to deal with the unheated display areas to find what they wanted. After one robbery attempt, Robert had all three of them armed and each customer was followed through the store by one of them to prevent shoplifting and to help find what they wanted.

    None of the original banks survived, but one had been reopened with an infusion of cash from the government and operated primarily with cash, serving the needs of local individuals and what businesses were left. A lunchroom was operating in what had once been an upscale resaurant, now serving only lunch to a few downtown business people and a truck driver when one made a delivery. One old established pharmacy had survived after some nearby stores had been looted and burned. Limited availability of drugs kept their stocks low, half of which were veterinary drugs, and prices were high. The Wal Mart pharmacy had been looted by a gang from Louisville, and although they were stopped and killed a few miles away, they destroyed much of the stock and lost some of the rest in the chase. Wal Mart was bankrupt so the store would not reopen. The bank that owned the building was far away, so the building was used for the big weekend farmer's market, since there was noone to object to it.

    Chapter 50

    Thad had allowed 3/4 of his herd to go dry. Rachel, Kimberly, Jim, and Justin each milked 6 cows twice a day by hand, since the vacuum pump for the milker had failed and a replacement was not available. The cheese plant was down from 18 to 3 employees whose only market now was local, due to the cost of shipping by refrigerated trucks and erratic payment by big city outlets. Part of Thad's pay for the milk was cheese that he sold from home. Thad sold half his milk by daily delivery to a convenience store taken over by locals. Milk was delivered in quart canning jars that were to be returned clean, or pay an extra charge for the next quart.

    The mechanic that had restored Robert's truck had joined forces with a local tool and die shop who could make parts that were not available otherwise. That shop, in turn, had merged with the wleding shop next door that had been building wood stoves. With demand down for all their services, together they could eke out an living repairing almost anything mechanical, from household items to county road equipment and the city water pumps. Their pay was an eclectic assortment of cash, food and scrap iron. They rationed what materials and supplies they had, unsure when they would be able to get any more.

    "Kyle, turn the light off when you leave the room," Kimberly said.

    "Yes, Ma'am."

    Rachel said, "He's pretty good about it. He just forgets sometimes."

    "I know. I just don't want to run the electric bill up higher than we can afford. What are you up to today?"

    "It was my turn to deliver milk to the corner store, and I found some things on the way back. What we used to call recyclables. An old battery cable, and a couple of those older glass juice bottles. Probably fell off somebody's trash run."

    Kimberly said, "Bring the bottles in and I'll wash them. We'll use them for something. I save everything now. They quit giving away plastic bags at the stores, so I'm glad Thad had saved a box of them. They're handy for all kinds of things."

    "Yeah. Thad has a collection of stuff you would not believe in all the outbuildings. We've been working on getting it sorted out so we can find it when we need something. He's got old bolts and screws, and even a big bucket of bent nails. Said we could straighten them out to use again, if there's nothing else to do. There was a a good sized stack of used lumber we sorted and cleaned the nails out of it, and we stcked all the rolled up old fence wire in that old shed by the fuel tanks. Kyle has been working his butt off gathering up old bricks and concrete blocks and stacking them by the shop building."

    "We'd better save everything we can. Have you seen prices on things now?"

    "It was bad enough before it all crashed. Now I can't afford anything. We're lucky to have enough to eat. Most people don't, from what I hear."

    "Chad, are we going to butcher that calf soon? We're getting low on meat and we're all tired of chicken."

    "We'd better do it, I guess, as soon as it's cold enough. We don't have much hay left. Have you ever butchered a cow before?"

    "Not by myself," Cindy said. "I always helped Mom and Dad cut the meat and package it. I don't know much about the skinning and all that, though."

    "I don't either. I'm about the same as you, so I asked Bill Evans about it and he said he'd come over and show us how. Carol will probably come, too. We'll have to do this on a weekend so we'll all be off work."

    "Here ya go. I got the eggs," Bill said as he came in the back door. "Those young hens are starting to lay now."

    Carol said, "And what are we supposed to do with 'em? We've got eggs running out our ears."

    "I just take care of the chickens and bring 'em in to you women. What happens after that is up to you all."

    "Chad's been taking their extra eggs down to the corner store to sell," Erin said. "We'd better be selling them, too. Property taxes will be coming up and we're going to need the money."

    "We can take some tomorrow when we go to work and see what they say," Robert said.

    Bill said, "Why don't you take 'em to the hardware store and put a sign out? Then when you sell 'em you keep all the money, 'stead of givin' half of it to the corner store?"

    Robert looked at him while he thought about that, then said, "Why not? That would make it a lot closer for folks in town. If we put some out where people could see them, I think it would work. Have to watch to keep 'em from freezing, though."

    Carol said, "Put the sign outside, and set some eggs in the front window inside where it's warm. That would keep anybody from stealing them, too."

    "That's a plan," Robert said. "Now all we have to do is find some cartons or something to put them in."

    Erin said, "We've got some cartons I saved out in the barn, but they wouldn't last long. We had 7 or 8 dozen eggs in the kitchen and Bill just brought in another two dozen."

    Carol said, "Take a few cents off for folks to bring in cartons, like the old glass bottle returns. You'll get more than you want, just like the kids that used to collect pop bottles to buy candy."

    Erin asked, "What about the Health Department, or whoever? Don't you have to have some kind of license or inspection to sell food?"

    Robert said, "They are letting the farmer's market idea stretch a long ways now. Anyway, I think I remember that the old guy at the Health Department died."

    "Whatta they gonna do? Lock you up for sellin' food to hungry people? I wouldn't worry about it," Bill said. "The butcher doesn't have any problem, and I don't think he had any kind of health inspection."

    Robert said, "He was in business before everything went South, though. I'm glad he was, too, or I don't know what we'd have done with our hogs. He's been killing 2 hogs a day and a beef twice a week. He sells meat direct and some to the grocery up on the highway. Things are different now about all that. There might not be meat inspectors around now, but if he ever had a problem with somebody getting sick from his meat he'd be out of business and he knows it, so he runs a clean operation."

  18. #18
    hapter 51 Late December, 2016

    Kimberly told Kyle, "Thad said he needed you to help him cut a tree. Better go see him. He's out at the barn somewhere."

    Kyle said, "I thought we had enough firewood cut. I'll find him and see what he wants."

    An hour later, Kyle came in with Thad carrying a small spruce tree they had cut for a Christmas tree. Thad sent Rachel to the attic to get some very old decorations, then it was milking time. That evening, Kimberly popped a big kettle of popcorn for snacks while they decorated the tree and hung some garlands and wreaths. Thad brought out some small presents for everyone, good pocket knives for Justin, Kyle, and Jim, and an assortment of hair clips and bows for Kimberly and Rachel. Finally, he went out to his truck and brought in a fresh turkey he'd gotten from the butcher for dinner the next day.

    Christmas dinner had everyone stuffed and a little sleepy, but they roused themselves enough to do the evening milking. After a supper of leftovers, they sat around the table talking.

    Rachel said, "We won't go hungry for a long time, if you like beans. Did you all see that sack Thad brought in?"

    Thad said, "That ain't for eatin', that's for seed. I found out the grocery got a shipment in and they was wondering how to sell 'em, because they ordered 100 one pound packages of dry beans, but what they got was a couple 50 pound sacks. While they were scratchin' their heads about it, I offered to buy a whole sackful and I got it cheap. I plan to grow a couple acres next year to sell for soup beans."

    "That should be a money maker, Dad," Jim said.

    "I think so," Thad said. Dry beans sell for 'bout 2 dollars a pound now, and there's 60 pounds in a bushel. If I can get ONE dollar a pound, that's $60 a bushel, and we should get 30 bushels to the acre, mebbe more. That's $1,800 an acre. Can't do that good with anything else I can think of, unless it's fresh produce, and that's a lot more work. The combine makes short work of shellin' beans."

    Jim said, "We've got 4 cows coming fresh soon. You planning to milk them too?"

    Thad frowned and said, "Milkin' takes too much work now, without the machines. Can't sell it anyway, unless things pick up a lot. No, I'm thinkin' to let the calves run with 'em and just raise the calves. Then if business picks up we could milk 'em if we want to later. Nobody want a bottle calf now, 'cause the feed store doesn't have milk replacer. We might sell the calves after they're weaned, though. Need to keep one to butcher. These heifers were bred to an Angus bull, bein' their first calves, and Angus throws a small calf to make it easy on 'em. That makes a good beef calf, half Angus and half Holstein."

    "That would be some more income for this year, to sell 3 weaned calves," Jim said. "Got anything else in mind?"

    "I'm thinkin' on it," Thad said. "I know we need to raise more grain this year an' I'm wonderin' where to get the seed."

    Erin said, "The car insurance is due next month."

    "That could be a problem," Robert said.

    "We've got the money."

    "Yes, but we don't have an insurance company. They went broke. In fact a lot of them went broke when the markets crashed. I heard some of that on the radio in the car, but I didn't catch all of it."

    Erin said, "The law says we have to have car insurance, but if there are no insurance companies, how do we do that?"

    Robert said, "I think part of the law says you can post a cash bond instead, but there probably aren't any bond companies, either. All the financial stuff went ka-blooey at once. I don't know how this will work out. I need to talk to the Sheriff, or a State Trooper, I guess. They are required to have insurance, too."

    Carol said, "Mr. Evans isn't here, but he'll be back after lunch. Can I help you with something?"

    "I was reading the chalk board that said he'd trade for feeder pigs. Do you know what he's offering for 'em?"

    "He said for a 40 pound pig he'll pay half the market price for a 200 pound hog. I don't know what they are paying in Louisville, but you could call the butcher. He'll know."

    "Okay. That's fair. Last I heard on the radio, hogs were selling for around $380 a hundredweight. There's some things I want to look at. Have you still got wood stoves?"

    Carol said, "Yes we do. I'll show you what we have. Heating, or cooking?"

    Cindy chewed her sandwich and watched a couple eyeing the egg display. When they came into the store, she put the sandwich down and took a gulp of coffee, then greeted them with, "Hello! Come on in where it's warm. What can I do for you?"

    The middle aged man asked, "Do you buy silver coins?"

    Cindy said, "Yes we do. We pay 70 times face value this week. It doesn't vary much now. That is $7.00 for a dime and $17.50 for a quarter."

    The woman adked, "How much for a dozen eggs? Are they fresh?"

    "They are $8.00 a dozen, and if you bring the carton back in good shape we take 10 cents off the next dozen. We just gathered them yesterday, and they've been kept cool. They won't run all over the skillet."

    "Okay," the woman answered, "We'll take two dozen."

    The man added, "I need half a gallon of kerosene, too. I brought a jug for it."

    "That will be $18 a gallon. Come out to the barrel and we'll get it," Cindy said.

    She totaled up their purchases at $34.00, added the 10% sales tax and got $37.40. The manpaid her with 2 silver quarters and a dime at $42, and she gave him $4.60 change in ordinary currency. Cindy wished them well and went back to her sandwich. Her hands smelled faintly of kerosene, but she was used to that.

    When Robert came in a few minutes later, Cindy directed him to the man who had pigs to trade and got a couple sticks of wood for the stove. It was cold out today, and a light snow was falling.

    Chapter 52

    The darkening gray sky could hardly be seen for the big snowflakes as Robert drove the truck home. There were no tracks showing on the county road in the mile and a half past the corner store. At home, the snow was getting in their shoes as they walked to the house. Supper was waiting, and the kitchen was warm. William pulled himself up on a kitchen chair and blinked when snowflakes hit him from someone's coat being hung up. Blondie the cat rubbed around the toddler's legs and got in everyone's way as he sniffed at what was cooking on the stove. Jake was curled up behind the kitchen stove asleep, but he looked up to see who came in.

    Bill said, "Looks like we're gonna get some snow. Radio said a foot or more, but what do they know? I carried a bunch of wood into the basement this afternoon, 'cuz I didn't want to do it knee deep in snow in the mornin'. Got the fire stoked up for tonight."

    Robert said, "We could use some more wood at the store, so I think I'll load some up tonight. The weight will help get around in the snow tomorrow. The bed cover will keep the snow off of it."

    Cindy said, "I hate to think about Chad out in this. I wish we could still afford cell phones."

    Robert said, "If he hasn't come by for you by the time I get the wood loaded, I'd better take you on home."

    She said, "The kids will be all right for a couple hours. He should be here soon."

    While Erin was getting supper on the table, Cindy helped Robert load the truck with wood. They both came to the back porch brushing snow off each other when Chad came in the driveway in his manlift bucket truck.

    He came to the porch and said, "It's blowing some out on the highway and drifting already, so I told the boss if he wanted me tomorrow, I'd better drive this thing home. The truck radio said we could get over a foot and the wind is supposed to pick up tonight and drift it."

    "That will be a real mess. The County doesn't have but one plow truck going, I heard," Robert said.

    "Same with the State. They have one truck to take care of highways in the county. It could choke things up pretty bad."

    Robert looked at Cindy and said, "Do you want to stay home tomorrow? They'll call off school, for sure."

    She let out a deep breath that made a fog of steam around her and said, "Yeah, I'd better. Have to keep the stove going and it's sure to get colder when the snow stops. It always does."

    Robert hurried to button his shirt as he came into the kitchen.

    Erin looked out the kitchen window and said, "Take your time. You're not going anyplace today."

    He peered out the frosty window at his truck, or rather, the shape of his truck almost completely covered in a snowdrift. Another drift covered half the barn door, but the driveway was almost bare. Robert went to the living room window and saw the county road was clear on one edge, but had a drift waist high on the other edge. A hundred yards away where the road dipped down, it was drifted level with the fields around it, at least 8 feet deep.

    He went to the wood range and poured himself a cup of coffee. "Looks like we get a day off. I'll call Cindy."

    Carol came to the kitchen and opened the back door to look out the storm door. Jake came over and wanted out. He made it a few feet off the porch and did his business and trotted back to the door. She said, "The chickens are probably good and warm under that snow. All you can see is the roof from this side."

    Bill walked in and said, "Knee deep to an elephant out there. You're all stayin' home today, I reckon."

    Robert said, "No point in getting stuck in it. Won't be any customers anyway."

    "Won't be much better tomorrow," Bill said. "The county truck is probably stuck somewhere."

    Erin said, "We can use some milk. William's about out. Can somebody get down to Thad's today?"

    Bill said, "My truck will make it. It's 4 wheel drive, and I got tire chains."

    Robert said, "Aren't tire chains illegal in Indiana now?"

    Bill chuckled and said, "What the State don't know won't hurt 'em. I got my chains mail order. I won't use 'em on the highway, but we can get around the neighborhood. Thad's gonna want to get milk down to the store, too, so I'll go see if he wants me to do that for him. Jake? You goin' with me?"

    The old dog gave him a sad look and shook his head until his ears flopped, then laid down behind the stove.

    "I guess not, huh?"

    He came back an hour later with 24 quart jars of milk. "Store said they couldn't sell as much today, so Thad give it to me for makin' the delivery. Where do you want it?"

    "Let it sit in the pantry for now and get warm so the cream will rise faster. Put 6 jars in the fridge and I'll make butter out of the rest," Erin said.

    "There wasn't any tracks from on down the road, so I don't think Chad went out today, either," Bill said.

    "Chad went to work down the south road today. It's pretty clear, and he had something to fix down that way," Cindy told Robert on the phone. "It buried our woodpile, so the kids are diggng some out to put on the porch."

    "I'm not going in today, so relax. You doing okay?"

    "Yeah, we're fine. I just hope Chad doesn't get stuck in the drifts."

    "He'll be all right. That truck will go through a lot. Call us if you need anything."

    Three days later the roads were either cleared, or had enough traffic to make them passable. The temperature had come up to the low 30's, so the snow was melting on the roads. Customers tramped through the snow to buy eggs, snow shovels, gloves, and rubber boots at the hardware store. Robert went across the street and down a few doors to see his insurance agent, the only one in town now. Premiums had rocketed higher and only 4 insurance companies were still in existence in the country. When they finished revising things, Robert had reduced coverage on both car and truck, and dropped their homeowners insurance altogether. His bill was still double what it had been last year. He had reduced the store insurance to fire, wind and hail coverage only, and hoped the business made enough money to justify what he'd paid for that.

    Back at the store, Robert told the women, "He said that all the insurance companies went bust when their investments crashed. The government financed these 4, or they would be gone, too."

    Robert looked over the business bills from suppliers and the electric company. They would have some repricing to do on several items. The electric bill for the store was over $400, and that was for lights only. Their electric bill at home $248 for the month, and he was determined to do something about that. Part of what he'd stocked up on last year was solar panels that he'd bought when China was desperate to sell them. The batteries were much higher now than when he'd stocked the warehouse, even at his wholesale price. Robert made a call and ordered more batteries, cables, and heavy gauge copper wire. The 12 volt flourescent light fixtures he'd bought last year for under $20 were now $76, but he ordered a few of those as well to restock. He and his Dad were going to be doing some wiring soon.

    Chapter 53

    The barn roof was the only south facing roof he had that didn't have any trees in the way of sunlight for the solar panels. He made a trip to the welding shop and bought some steel angle in 20 foot lengths to build a mounting for the panels.

    "We need to power the fridge, the freezer, the lights, TV, the water pump, and the furnace blower," he told Erin. "The water pump is the worst, and the furnace uses a lot of power, too. It's going to take a lot of solar panels, about 3,200 watts, if I did the math right. I got the panels cheap enough, but the batteries are outrageous. Thing is, the electric bill is going to get worse, according to Chad, so if we don't do this now it will cost more either way."

    Carol said, "I think we're going to see a lot of electric powered things for sale soon. People can't pay that much for the electric bill with everything else so high."

    Robert said, "I've sold 3 of those tiny refrigerators lately, the kind they used to sell for college dorm rooms. They only hold a gallon of milk and a few dishes of food, but they run really cheap. The smaller sizes of CFL light bulbs sell pretty good, too."

    Carol said, "I talked to one young woman who said she does her laundry in the kitchen sink to keep from running the washing machine and to save on hot water. She was buying some washing soda and borax to make her own laundry soap, too. Said she makes her hand soap out of meat grease she saves. People are doing everything they can to get by now."

    Bill said, "Sounds like I did the right thing."

    Carol asked, "What's that?"

    Bill grinned and said, "I bought every wringer washing machine I could find, a bunch of cast iron skillets, a stack of washtubs, old hand well pumps, a whole bunch of old timey stuff. Thing is, none of those things uses much electric power and a lot of it doesn't use any at all. It's time I get busy and fix it all up so it works good. Come springtime, I'll be havin' a sale in the parking lot next door. The building is too full of stuff to have it in there."

    Robert asked, "What all is in there? I saw you hauling it in by the truckload."

    Bill said, "A little of everything, none of it new. I bought hand tools, garden tools, treadle sewing machines, hand corn shellers, a seed cleaner or two, axes and splittin' wedges, log chains, an' some real nice old butter churns. I got some of everything I remember from when I was a kid. The way folks lived then is what they're gonna hafta do now. I worked on some of that stuff until it got too cold out. Lots more to do, though. Gotta make it look nice for people to buy it, especially the women."

    Erin said, "You're a crafty old devil, aren't you?"

    "Just common sense, if you think about it. When times are hard, you sell folks what they need to get by."

    Carol asked, "Are you going to have an auction?"

    "Oh, no. I'll put a price on everything, and leave me some room to dicker. Make 'em think they got a good deal. "I'll put an ad in the paper when the weather gets nice out and list some prices for things, an' tell 'em I can do some tradin'. That'll be half the fun of it."

    "Are you going to buy more things and keep going at this?"

    "Hunh-uh. When I get the building cleaned out we can do something else with it. I'm thinkin' it would be a good place to make stuff, like those boys are makin' wood stoves at the welding shop. I could sell the building, or rent it out to a mechanic, or woodworker, or a machine shop like it was before. If I get the building sold, I still got the ground beside it, about 4 acres on this side."

    The solar panel mounts went up on the barn roof without a problem. Getting the panels up there safely was more trouble and took a whole day. Robert had to borrow a long ladder from Thad and hire Jim and Justin to help. The process involved safety ropes and careful maneuvering in the cold, windy weather. Wiring them to a junction box was a miserable job with cold, numb fingers.

    More wiring followed, each section using color coded wire and cable to assure proper polarity, where mistakes could damage components. At last the panels were wired into the charge contoller and from there to the pair of huge 24 volt fork lift batteries. A pair of 5,000 watt sine wave inverters were wall mounted on a piece of plywood. The inverters changed the 24 volts DC power to 120 volts AC. A transfer switch connected that 120 volts to the house power with overhead wiring for now. Robert wanted to bury that line in conduit, but it would have to wait for warmer weather.

    Erin said, "So, we are now off the grid, as they say?"

    "Yes, with some cautions about that. We have to really conserve power, or we will not have enough," Robert said. "Assume we only have half the total power available, and can only use that half as much of the time."

    "Couldn't you have put up more soalr stuff so we'd have more power?"

    "I spent more on what we put up than we paid for the house and that was at my wholesale cost. It's not worth it to go bigger. We'd be ahead to just pay the electric bill."

    Erin was shocked at the cost. "You're kidding me! It cost that much?"

    "Yes, it did. We can make this work by cutting our useage, but that means a lot of changes."

    "What kind of changes?"

    "Replace a lot of things with more efficient ones, like the fridge and freezer especially. The lights could be smaller wattage and we already have a smaller water pump that is lower horsepower than the original. Quit using the microwave so much, and get one of Dad's wringer washing machines that use less than half the power of the automatic. Can't use the electric clothes dryer at all."

    "I guess I can live with that," Erin said. "It still seems like it's a big step down to not have enough electricity, though."

    "Not as big a step as doing without it completely like some are now. I've had customers at the store tell me they had to shut off their electricity because they couldn't pay the bill. Life is changing."

  19. #19
    Chapter 54 February, 2017

    The battery monitor was showing 85% charge level after breakfast. Robert was satisfied. The new energy efficient refrigerator and freezer had made the difference, along with completely disconnecting the water heater. The new appliances only used about 800 watt-hours per 24 hour day, compared to 3 times that much the old ones had used, according to his Kil-a-Watt meter. They hadn't been using the water heater during the winter anyway, and it was impossible to power it with limited solar.

    For the past month they had been totally off grid. Robert had shifted the transfer switch to the solar side, only using what power they made, but he had not yet told the power company to remove the meter. He wanted to make sure they could get along without it first. Apparently they could do fine without grid power, so he decided to get rid of that bill this month, at $112 a month minimum charge, even not using any power at all.

    He had to use the generator only once in the past month after 3 days of very dense overcast weather, when the battery charge level got down to 70%, as low as he wanted to let it go. Deep discharging cut their life expectancy greatly. They had a plan for such times that involved unplugging the freezer that had been moved to the unheated barn, and unplugging the fridge and using a cooler on the back porch, instead. If the weather was cold enough, that worked perfectly. But Robert had been afraid of thawing their frozen meat and ran the small Honda 2000 watt generator a couple hours a day, morning and evening to keep the batteries charged up and kept the freezer turned on. It required discipline to stay on top of things.

    Erin was getting along nicely with the wringer washing machine Bill had fixed up for her and said it saved her time, overall, doing 4 loads an hour with it. The old wringer machine had a 1/3 horsepower motor on it, compared to the automatic at 1/2 horsepower. That difference wasn't much, but the fact it only had to run an hour a week instead of 3 or 4 hours like the automatic was the big factor, making the overall power less than 1/4 as much. It used less water, too, an important matter with a cistern for water supply for 4 adults and a baby. If Erin could wait until a week end to do laundry, Carol helped and they got it finished fast.

    The problem was drying clothes in the winter, so Bill had strung clotheslines in the barn where they could hang until they dried, even if it took 2 or 3 days. Anything they needed sooner they could hang behind the kitchen stove and be dry in less than an hour. Diapers dried fast hung in William's room. That all worked out fine. Life no longer moved at the frenetic pace it had only a couple years before.

    Like millions of other people, life hadn't been easy for Carol, beginning with being raised with 4 brothers and one sister that kept the family on the edge of poverty. There was no money for her to get an education beyond high school, so she had gone to work. She'd had a series of menial jobs from graduation until she got married the first time at 22. Her husband had been killed in an accident at the chemical plant where he worked in Louisville, leaving her with 3 pre-school kids to raise and only enough life insurance to cover her debts at the time.

    She remarried when the kids were nearly grown. Harold had been a fine man and made her life a lot easier, until he died of a heart attack 8 years ago. Since then, Carol had been on her own, her children scattered around the country following jobs and one boy in the military. She had worked at the hardware store since she was widowed, and while she was lonely, there were few chances to meet men, and decent single men her age were scarce.

    At the point when she'd met Bill, Carol knew she would have to continue working as long as she could, her Social Security based on her last husband's amount was barely enough to live on. She had liked Bill from the beginning, and he had proven to be all she'd hoped for. Somehow, they had both made it through nearly 70 years of life with their sense of humor intact and in reasonably good health.

    Carol had sold her old home to a reverse mortgage company, and had needed the additional income, but when the crash happened, that company had gone bankrupt, so the house ownership was tied up in court with a long list of other homes. Waiting for that to be settled, she had rented the house and moved in with Bill. He had told her he had enough money that she didn't need to worry about it, and gave her some details. Now, with her income from work and very low expenses she had some financial security for the first time in her life. She smiled when Bill kissed her and woke her each morning.

    Robert and the women had gone to work and Bill had gone off to his building next door, so Erin was cleaning the kitchen. William shrieked and sat down in the kitchen floor crying. Erin saw what happened but was too far away to prevent it. The boy had grabbed the handle of the ash door on the kitchen stove to pull himself up, and found out it was HOT. It wasn't hot enough to make a serious burn, but his fingers were a little red.

    "You finally did it. How many times have I pulled you away from that stove? Let's see those fingers."

    William kept crying until she ran cold water over his hand and then he screamed, more shocked at the cold than anything.

    "I'll fix it babe." Erin got the Aloe Vera plant off the window ledge and snipped off the tip of a thick leaf. She peeled that open exposing the jelly inside and gently rubbed that on his fingers. The relief was almost instantaneous. William blubbered a while longer, but soon was in the floor happily looking for more trouble to get into. He did give the stove a wide berth, though, and Erin was grateful. Maybe it was fortunate he learned that lesson with no greater injury, she thought. She dabbed the Aloe on his fingers a couple more times when it dried, and he seemed no worse for the wear. If he stuck his fingers in his mouth, it wouldn't hurt him, she knew, and that was good thing because he tasted everything.

    It wasn't long until Blondie the cat shrieked, followed by a cry from William. The cat ran out of the kitchen and disappeared. William was sporting a scratch on his face.

    "I told you not to mess with him. You're learning a lot of new things the hard way, aren't you?"

    Erin patiently got the first aid cream and smeared it on his face. It wasn't the cat's fault, because he had been hurt first. Erin wondered how little boys lived long enough to grow up. She sighed and put him in his playpen, just outside the kitchen door where she could watch him. Erin went to the bathroom for a moment of peace.

    Jake was watching carefully from his spot behind the stove. When the baby was safely in the playpen, the old dog gave a big sigh and laid his head down again. Human puppies were always trouble, he thought. He and the baby were both almost asleep when the back door opened slowly. Jake could see under the stove that it wasn't Bill's shoes, and he smelled the nasty scent of fear and the acrid scent of gunpowder. He tensed up and began to get up quietly as Erin came back into the kitchen.

    The man rushed at Erin and grabbed her, sticking his gun at her head. "Hold it right there! Where's your purse? I want money! Now!"

    Erin was too shocked to speak. The man gouged her hard with the gun and yelled in her ear, "Get me your purse!"

    Jake growled low in his throat and lunged from behind the stove, slipping on the slick floor. He only had a couple feet to go, though, and got one hind foot against a stove leg to propel him forward at the man's leg. He clamped his jaw on it as hard as he could, and the man yelled.

    Erin got one hand loose and grabbed at the kitchen table, shoving it into the man and pushing herself toward the cabinets. The man had dropped his gun and only had hold of her with one hand. Erin stretched as far as she could and got to the wooden block that held kitchen knives. The one that came out was long and sharp. She drove it into his midsection with all her might and fell against him. They went to the floor, but she held onto the knife for dear life.

    The man was struggling to get his gun from the floor when Jake gave up his hold on the leg and went for his throat, just missing Erin. Trying to fend off the dog, the man forgot about the gun and grabbed for Jake, but he weakened quickly and slowly began to relax.

    Minutes later, Erin found herself kneeling over the dead man, and looked at William in the playpen screaming loudly. But she figured out the loudest screams were hers. Jake was still throttling the man and shaking him as best he could when she managed to get to her feet.

    When Bill got to the back door, gun drawn, he saw Erin standing silently over the dead man with the butcher knife. Bill wisely spoke to Erin before going in.

    "Are you okay?"

    Jake heard his master and redoubled his efforts to chew the man's head off.

    Erin didn't say anything, so Bill asked again, louder, "Erin! Are you okay?"

    She looked at him and then sagged down onto a chair, knife still in her hand. Bill came in slowly and Erin finally answered very softly, "I think so," as blood ran down the side of her head from a small gouge.

    Robert made it there before the Sheriff's car, barely, sliding the truck to a stop and running to the house with a gun in his hand, yelling at Cindy to stay in the truck. Two deputies followed, a few feet behind him. Bill met them outside and said, "It's okay, the guy's dead, and Erin's all right."

    The deputies had guns drawn, one pointed at Bill whose pistol was in his belt, hands raised. Erin still sat in the chair, the bloody knife on the floor now. Bill had locked Jake in his bedroom where he was raising bloody hell, barking his head off. The baby was still screaming bloody murder and the deputies were white faced at the sight on the floor. One went outside and promptly lost his breakfast. The other one looked like he wanted to do the same. Robert went to Erin and held her against him.

    Hours later, The Sheriff himself had come to the scene with the coroner. They all agreed to the facts that things happened the way Erin was finally able to tell them. Cindy calmed the baby down and had gotten him a bottle of warm milk. He was asleep in his bed while Erin made her statement. Bill took Jake out for a walk with a leash and had trouble holding him from going into the kitchen. The deputies were terrified of the dog, as well they might be, having seen that he had nearly beheaded the corpse. Bill left him tied on the back porch.

    "We'll have to take the dog because he attacked somebody," one deputy said.

    Bill looked him in the eye and said, "Over my dead body!"

    "That's the law! We have to take him and hold him."

    Bill said, "That dog just saved my son's wife and my grandson. You touch him and you're a dead man!"

    Bill had his hand on his gun as did the deputy when the Sheriff said, "Hold everything! You two calm down! The dog's not going anywhere. Jacob's, you shut the hell up! Ain't you got a grain of sense? Now, everybody, SIT DOWN AND SHUT UP!"

    Some minutes later the gray haired Sheriff explained. "The dog is supposed to be quarantined in case he has Rabies. I can see as plain as anybody what happened, so we will leave the dog here and you will be responsible for keeping him contained for two weeks. I'm not going to tell you how to do that. Just make sure he doesn't run off, okay?"

    To the deputy he said softly, "You know as well as I do that the animal shelter is no longer in existence. Did you plan on sleeping with that dog for the two weeks, or what? Now, apologize to these people."

    It took him a minute to compose himself, but the younger deputy made his apology. It was quiet enough in the kitchen that everyone could hear Jake whine on the back porch. Slowly, the lawmen went outside and let the coroner do his thing. A body bag was retrieved from the Sheriff's car and the body loaded in the back seat. Another hour was spent getting formal statements written and signed. It was past lunchtime when the lawmen left, but nobody was hungry.

    Cindy spent some time cleaning and bandaging Erin's head, then went to work on the kitchen. The Sheriff had taken the knife and the intruder's gun. Erin was still pale and shaking when Bill came in with a thin, hand rolled cigarette and told her to smoke it. "Not in the house," she said. Erin struggled into her coat and walked with him and Robert to the barn. She was pleasantly relaxed when she came back inside.

    Chapter 55

    When Robert got off the phone at the store, Carol asked, "Well, who was it? Do they know?"

    Robert said, "The Sheriff told me it was some guy from Jeffersonville. He had some ID and his fingerprints matched up to records. He'd been in trouble all his life, but they had no idea what he was doing out here."

    Cindy said, "Let's hope that's all of it. We've got enough problems without this, people going hungry and all..."

    Robert said, "He told me to stay alert, because there was another man from Jeffersonville found shot dead along the road somewhere east of town. Might not be connected, but two guys from there and not far apart makes him wonder. We'll be tightening things up around home, and here at the store, too. From now on, you wear your jackets in the store and carry your guns ALL the time, okay?"

    Cindy said, "I do that now. I want one of those belt buckle knives you've got in the sporting goods section, too. No time like the present. Take it off my pay for this week." She walked off to get one from the display case.

    Carol said, "I don't know how Erin did it. She's just a little thing and she had to be scared to death."

    "That's how she did it. She was scared and she was protecting her child. Nothing on earth more vicious than a mother protecting her young," Robert said. "She's still plenty upset. Dad's staying close to her until she calms down some."

    Cindy came back and said, "Don't forget Jake's there, too."

    Roberts smiled and said, "That dog is eating better than I am now. Erin thinks the world of him."

    Erin was paranoid and she knew it. William was insecure and hard to get along with, crying at the least provocation, and staying close to Erin, wanting to be held. Bill did give her some respite by spending more time with the boy.

    "Bill, you're not gettng anything done on your fix-up work, are you?"

    "That can wait. It's cold out there now. Jake doesn't want to go out and keep me company, either."

    "How about you bring stuff over to the barn to work on? I'll be fine in here."

    "I'm doing some of that. I like to be where I can keep an eye on the place."

    Erin said, "I hate this! We used to be able to feel safe at home, and now I'm wearing a gunbelt like in some cheap western movie."

    "The world ain't what it used to be, that's for sure. I never carried a gun in my life, 'til lately. Looks like I'll be carryin' one from now on. Maybe I should have sooner, come to think about it. Guns make people a lot more polite, I've noticed."

    Rachel was beginning to feel like she wasn't quite so poor now. She had saved enough money this winter to buy herself a winter coat and she had some decent clothes in the closet. There was an old desk in her room where she stashed odds and ends of pencils, scrap paper, used envelopes she had saved from the trash, bits of string and other oddments she picked up in trash when she went to town. People didn't throw away stuff like they used to, but Rachel was always on the lookout for anything free, or close to it, that she could use.

    She had collected enough old aluminum cans from parking lots to sell and pay for her new coat. It wasn't new, but it looked like new and she'd gotten it cheap at a garage sale. People had garage sales all the time now, even in winter trying to raise some money any way they could. She thought some of the stuff she'd seen for sale was probably looted from empty houses. There was a lot of that going on, she'd heard. She decided that she would never do that, but she couldn't afford to pass up something good when the price was right, stolen or not.

    Some of the yard sales had been shifty places. She couldn't quite say how she knew, but the people just hadn't felt right to her. Thad had warned her about stopping just anywhere to shop like that, and offered her a gun to carry. She took the gun, a small .380 automatic, and kept it in her pants pocket. She wore her clothes big and loose for several reasons. It hid the pistol and it made her look bigger and less attractive to some of the characters around town. She'd practiced walking like she was in rough ground, instead of the come-on walk of the young girls who were flirting with boys. Town wasn't so safe anymore.

    Nowhere was really safe now. After Erin got attacked at home, everyone around had taken to carrying a gun and probably a knife, too. Rachel had a knife she got at a garage sale, a thick Old Hickory slicing knife. She had found an old boot in a dumpster and cut the top off of it to make a sheath. She'd looked closely at the knife sheaths in the hardware store when she went in there with Jim one day and had cut a pattern from cardboard.

    She had needed to find a way to sew the leather, and Thad said he'd show her how. He used a piece of a tree limb and drove a small nail in the the end of it, then filed the head off and made a point for punching holes in the leather. He gave her a needle and some fishing line, the old braided kind that was tough. She had worked at sewing the leather, one stitch at a time. It was hard work, especially after milking 6 cows twice a day, but she was finished finally. The sheath had a loop for her belt and had been wetted and pressed flat under some bricks until it dried.

    It held the knife perfectly and was hidden against her back if she wore a coat. She could even get in her pockets without exposing it. Thad had loaned her a whetstone and showed her how to use it. It hung at an angle so she could reach around and get to it fast. She felt a little safer feeling the knife there.

    Like most teenagers, Justin didn't miss much that interested him, and he was very interested in Rachel. She dressed like a farmhand, but he had seen her cleaned up and she was really a pretty girl. She kept her hair cut short, but it was a beautiful shiny brown with gold highlights. He had to be less obvious about it, because Kyle was ribbing him about her. Rachel seemed oblivious to him, though, and that made him feel like he would never be good enough to attract her attention.

    Rachel had been really upset when she first moved here. Justin knew what that felt like, so he tried to be nice to her, and she seemed to like that, but she always kept to herself as though she didn't want anything to do with boys. She loved Thad, that was plain, but everybody liked him. He sounded rough and all , but he was really a nice old man.

    Justin had thought about it a lot and decided that Rachel was a lot more grown up than he was. She wasn't at all like any of the girls he had known before. She seemed like she was much older than him, always saving her money and taking care of her old car. He had been able to help with that a little, because he knew about changing oil and spark plugs from helping his Dad. He'd found her the tools and showed her how to do it, and got a nice smile and thanked for that. He really liked to see her smile.

    Kimberly had seen Justin fall hard for Rachel. She was a nice girl and Justin was a good boy, but he wasn't ready for a girl like her yet. Rachel had lived hard and knew she could do it if she had to. Justin had never seen anything like that, and Kimberly saw his immaturity showing when he was around Rachel. Probably I don't have anything to worry about, Kimberly thought, at least not yet.

  20. #20
    hapter 56 March, 2017

    "I would kill for some chocolate," Erin said. "I don't suppose you brought me a candy bar?"

    Robert began to empty the cloth shopping bag and said, "I didn't see any of the kinds you like at the grocery, but I did find 2 cans of outdated cocoa. I don't think it really goes bad. I got 10 pounds of sugar, too, but it cost me $24.99."

    "Oh, thank you! I'm making a batch of fudge with some of that butter I just made. That is gonna be SO good!"

    "Make that cocoa last. It wasn't cheap," He said. "I think the only reason the cocoa was still around is because most people can't afford anything but the basics, and not enough of that. It's not like the old days at Wal Mart. Marty Shoemaker only gets a truck in about every 2 or 3 weeks. He said he orders from a warehouse and only gets about a third of what he asks for, and most of that is in bulk bags. He had to put a sign up to bring your own containers. He gets things he didn't order and has to take it or they threaten to not fill his next order. Can't get fresh produce at all, except from that greenhouse up north of town and they have been down during all the cold weather."

    "We should get a greenhouse going. I'm craving something better than canned greens. I can't wait until Spring to have a fresh salad again," Erin said.

    "I've been hoping to find some windows to make coldframes, but I haven't had any luck. You want to try Craigslist?"

    "I'll look, but there's not much on there now. It's mostly junk at crazy prices," Erin said. "I don't think many people can afford to pay for internet now, and the ones on there are trying to make all they can to pay for it."

    "Good thing Erin saved milk jugs," Bill said. "We can save this oil and use it again."

    Robert said, "It's got water in it. Hydraulic oil always gets water in it from condensation, I guess. It's no good."

    His Dad said, "I thought I showed you how to get the water out, but maybe not. You just save it in those jugs and set it behind the cookstove in the kitchen. It'll stay warm and the water will settle to the bottom. Then you can pour off the clean oil that's on top. The dirt settles out with it, and you can strain it through a coffee filter before you use it again. The filter in the tractor will get anything left in it. Make me think, we need to change all the filters on this tractor, too."

    "I'll try it. Oil is expensive now, but tractor parts are even worse, so it has to come out clean."

    "Oh, it will. I've done it for years on the farm. I left jugs of oil sitting in the south shop window for a summer and it would come out clean as a pin."

    "I wondered what those jugs were. Now I know," Robert said. "I wonder if it would work with motor oil?"

    "Not good enough. Too much carbon and dirt in motor oil. It gets clean enough to use for oilin' rough stuff, though. I used it for a lot of things. If it was still dirty after a summer of sittin' in the sun, I used to paint the bottom end of wood fence posts before I put 'em in the ground. Makes 'em last longer."

    "I remember you had me painting that old rusty corn planter with it, too," Robert said.

    "Yeah, it soaks into the old bolts and makes 'em easier to get loose if you have to work on it."

    The maintenance work finished, the two men went to the house to clean up and get some lunch.

    "No, you can't set that oil on the floor," Erin said. "William will get into it, or jake will knock it over. If you want to keep it warm, set it on top of the warming oven on the stove, but we'll have to put it in a pan in case the jugs leak. I don't want an oil fire in the house."

    Robert said, "That still sounds too risky to me. I'll make a shelf on the wall for it and put it in those big pans I found at the dump, the ones that came from a restaurant."

    Erin said, "That's a lot of trouble for some old dirty oil."

    "Have you seen the price of oil lately? Hydraulic oil is over $200 for a 5 gallon bucket."

    Erin sighed, "It's like everything else. Costs 4 times the money and we've got half the income."

    Bill said, "I used to think my Social Security check was pretty good at $1,450 a month. Now it takes $300 to fill my truck with diesel and $65 to change oil in it. That's if I do it myself. I don't know what they want to do it downtown. No surprise that there ain't much traffic on the roads . I wonder how folks are gettin' by?"

    Erin said, "What I see on the TV says there's some kind of new government handout program for emergency food. They are giving out the food stamp cards to anybody that asks, is what it amounts to. The problem is there isn't enough food in the stores, so they fight over it and the troops shoot into the middle of it and kill some until it stops. Louisville is not the place to be now."

    Carol said, "I heard about that food stamp thing. You just go to their office and give them your name and they give you a card good for $200 worth of food. But one person can't eat for a month on $200. Better than nothing, I guess, but the only place around here that will take those cards is the Jay Cee Store and they are expensive. Shoemaker's won't do it because it takes the government so long to pay him."

    Robert said, "I bet that's why he can't get what he orders, too. You know the wholesalers are going to be told to ship to the big city stores first. That's what they do to me when I order things. I learned that from the truck drivers. They didn't have any nails for my order, but he'd just dropped off a pallet of them at Home Depot."

    Bill said, "Just what we need is another program to spend money they ain't got. They'll just print more and next week prices will be up again on everything and MORE people will have to sign up for the handout."

    Erin said, "They're just trying to get the cities calmed down. You can't run businesses in a city that's out of control."

    Bill said, "Yeah, and our money goes to hell in the process. It's gotta stop, or the money won't be worth anything."

    Shantal Jones was hungry, and his homeboys hadn't scored anything today at the market. Them damn soldiers was there and shot one of his boyz, too. They did a knockout on a woman and took her bag, but they busted up part of it when it hit the street.

    Marlease said, "I cain't make nuffin' outa dis stuff. We needs some meat an' beans. I got ONE can uh beans an'.."

    "NUFF WOMAN! Cook dat $h!t and quit moufin' off, or I bust ya one!"

    Five lean, hungry looking young men shuffled into the kitchen and one handed her a can of pork and beans. Another came out with a small jar of instant coffee and a few potatoes.

    "Truck done runned over da rest," he said.

    "Shoulda seed him grabbin' 'em! Look like a bird grabbin' fries at da Mac shack!"

    "Nuffa dat! Din' see you gittin' nuffin'."

    "We gotta bust a move onna STO', man," Too-Tall said. "Ain' nobody buyin' no dope."

    "Dey all got shotguns in dere, man. You git yo'seff dead, iss whut yo' git."

    Shantal knew they had to move pretty soon. The old couple they killed to get in this house would be missed soon enough, and the po-leece would be comin' 'round. He didn't want to leave, though, because the gas was still on, so it was warm and they could cook and had hot water. They were out of bullets for their guns, except for four he had in his G-lock. That might be enough to knock off a store, like Too-Tall said.

    Late that night, he went alone to the Quik Mart half a mile down the 4 lane street. Shantal was still hungry after their small meal. The store had a cage in front of the checkout, but it was wire, so he wasn't worried about a bullet going through it. The convenience store clerk had a shotgun, all right, but he didn't get a chance to grab it before Shantal shot him twice. Shantal didn't see the woman in the store room before she unloaded her shotgun at him. He just felt a thump in his chest like he'd been hit by a truck. He was lying on the floor looking at the ceiling when the lights went out.

    Chapter 57

    Kimberly had all the south window sills filled with old egg cartons that had been filled with black dirt Thad brought in. She had cabbage, tomatoes, peppers, and onion seeds started and coming up. It was a tedious job to water each tiny pocket with just a few drops twice each day, but she did that diligently. Those plants meant food to eat later.

    Erin had located some windows to buy. Rachel had found them when she was checking garage sales in town. They had come from a mobile home, she thought, or maybe they were storm windows. They had aluminum frames and screens, and were in pretty good shape. Robert had brought them home and Bill found enough old lumber to make some cold frames. They had hauled manure from the pig lot and got cow manure from Thad to fill a long narrow bed, then covered the manure with dirt on the south side of the house. Erin removed the screens to save for other possible uses, since they would block some light from the emrging plants. She thought they might be useful to make a food dryer later on.

    The cold frames consisted of rectangular wood boxes with a window on top and no bottom. Placed directly on the dirt, the decomposing manure inderground would warm the soil to make the seeds germinate sooner than in the garden. A few dry days had allowed tilling the garden, expanded this year to almost an acre, but the ground was still too cold for seed to sprout there. Erin had sown lettuce, radishes, kale, and chard in a strip on the sunniest side anyway. They would come up when they were ready, and she hoped it was soon.

    Officer Tatlock of the Metro Police Department and his partner were called to the Quik Mart and did a preliminary investigation. They took the surviving clerk downtown to headquarters for a thorough questioning where she signed her official statement of what had transpired, then took her back to the Quik Mart where she'd left her car. After the Coroner and various police officials had done their work, the dead clerk had relatives notified who sent a funeral home to pick up the body. Shantal Jones was identified by fingerprints, being a repeat offender, and ultimately his body would be disposed of at the expense of the City, having no known relatives to claim it.

    Taylor Connelly, the 22 year old surviving clerk, having been notified that this was immediately determined to be a "clean" shooting in self defense, was told no charges would be filed against her, but she should be available for further questioning as the investigation proceeded. Having seen some of this happen to acquaintances, she dutifully gave her address and all needed information and went on her way. The Quick Mart was opened again the next day, so she went in to work and having made her plans she filled her small car with gas and bought some things with her employee discount. Then she told her boss that the experience was too much for her that day and went home early from work.

    At the cheap apartment she shared with 4 other women, she stuffed what belongings she wanted to keep in plastic trash bags and loaded them in her car. She made one stop at her branch bank and cashed a check for all but $4 in her account and drove across the Second Street bridge to Indiana, never to be seen again in Kentucky. She had an uncle she was planning to go see. She fervently hoped he remembered her, because she couldn't think of any other place to go and she was not going to sleep another night in Louisville.

    Chad was worn out by the time he got home from work. It had been a tough day, and he'd stopped at his parents' house on the way out of town to check on them. He noticed they had the upstairs and the spare room downstairs closed off to save heat, and it wasn't all that warm, either. His mother gave him a cup of coffee while he visited for a few minutes. He'd glanced in the refrigerator when she got some milk out for her coffee and saw there wasn't much in it.

    He knew they didn't have all that much income from Social Security, and he thought the time was coming when he should do his best to get them to move in with him and Cindy. He knew they didn't want to give up their place, but sometime they would have to face the fact they couldn't afford to live there after his Dad's pension fund went broke and prices continued to rise.

    Cindy had supper ready and he was famished. It wasn't all that cold out now, but it was damp and hard to keep warm 20 feet up in the hydraulic lift bucket.

    "Mmm, that cornbread is good," he said. "Where'd you get the corn meal?"

    "Bill ground some for me. Said he was grinding feed anyway, so he caught some ground corn in a bucket before he mixed the other stuff with it. Erin wanted some, and he gave me a sack full."

    "How're we doing for groceries? Need anything?"

    "Not really. I could use some spices and a few other things, but nothing important. The pantry is crammed full."

    Nick said, "I made the butter, Dad!"

    "How did you do that?"

    "Mom got cream from Mr. Wright and got a churn from Mr. Evans and I cranked it till it made butter. It was a lot of work. I did't think it would ever get done."

    Cindy said, "Now don't be telling anybody we got cream from Thad. He's not supposed to be selling it because of the Health Department rules. We're lucky to get it, so don't mess up the deal, okay?"

    Chad said, "He sells milk to the corner store. What's wrong with selling cream?"

    "I don't know, but that's what he said, so better keep quiet about it."

    "That means we've got buttermilk! I want pancakes for breakfast. That will be so good. Wait a minute. Have we got syrup for pancakes?"

    "I can make some. We've got all that sugar I bought and some maple flavoring I got when Erin and I went on that big shopping trip way back when. I can make gallons of syrup. I throw in a little molasses for flavor and it tastes like you bought it."

    "Cool. I'm worried about Mom and Dad. They're hard up and won't admit it. That's why I was asking about the groceries."

    "They need to move in with us where we can make sure they take care of themselves. We've got plenty of food. There's all that fish you caught last summer and the beef we butchered, and still a lot of chicken in the freezer. They don't eat much anyway. Can you talk 'em into it?"

    "I don't know. I'll try."

    "They might be waiting for you to ask."

    Chapter 58

    Taylor wasn't sure where he lived. She got off the interstate at Corydon and drove slowly past an old Waffle stop that was closed and a strip mall where only the grocery seemed to be open. The street took her to the old downtown area where she saw a big hardware store that said it was open and parked at the curb. The breeze was chilly, so she zipped her jacket and hurried toward the front door. There were open cartons of brown eggs in the window, and every kind of old kitchen tool she'd ever seen and some she had never seen.

    Carol said, "Hi. Can I help you?"

    "I need to find my uncle and I'm not sure where he lives now, do you have a phone book?"

    "Sure. Here you are."

    As the girl was paging through the directory, Carol said, "Who are ya lookin' for? I probably know 'em. Been here all my life."

    "A man named Daulton. Chad Daulton. My mother's name was Daulton."

    "What do you need with Chad?" Cindy had walked up just then and overheard.

    "He's my uncle," Taylor said. "I'm Taylor Connelly."

    Cindy smiled and said, "I'm his wife. I've heard about you! You can follow us home and see him. He'll be off work a little after I get home."

    Taylor said, "I hope he remembers me. I haven't seen him since I was in grade school. I really need help and I don't know where else to go."

    Cindy heard the quavering voice and saw the tears start. She said, "Chad has been worried about you and your mother since things got so bad. Hadn't heard from you and the phone didn't work. Are your folks okay?"

    "They got killed when our house burned in the riots. I was at work and there was nothing there when I went home. I lived in the car for a few days until I got a room with some girls I worked with. They helped what they could, but none of us had much. We worked at the Quik Mart, and..."

    Cindy went to the girl and gave her a hug saying, "Don't you worry hon', you're gonna be all right."

    "It just keeps getting worse." Taylor leaned on Cindy and sobbed a few times, then breathed deeply and let it out slowly. She said, "I gotta get it together. It's been a bad week."

    "We're about ready to close, so you just sit down here and we'll take you home in a minute. Carol, can you get her a drink of water? I'll go clean out the register and turn the lights off. Where'd Robert get to?"

    Carol said, "He's just making rounds to lock up. He'll be here soon."

    The women decided that since Taylor was driving, Cindy would ride home with her. They introduced the girl to Robert and told him their plans, then locked the front door and left for home.

    Taylor silently followed directions with Cindy as co-pilot and made their way out of town. The car was fairly new, a tiny Chevy. Cindy tried to get her talking by saying, "This is a nice car. I bet it gets good gas mileage."

    "Yeah. My Dad just bought it for me when I graduated from high school."

    Her voice was tight, and she stopped talking then. Cindy saw tears roll down her face and said nothing more until it was time to turn onto the county road.

    They followed Robert's truck slowly out the road, dodging potholes. "Robert will turn into his driveway up here on the right. We live a ways on down this road, but I'd like to stop here for a minute if you don't mind and see his wife Erin. We've been friends since grade school."

    They parked behind Robert and Cindy said, "If you feel up to it, c'mon in and meet the crew. They're like family to me."

    Taylor followed in her footsteps and was greeted joyfully by Jake, then got a look from Blondie sitting on the porch rail. It was quiet outside, but the sounds of cooking and conversation came from the back door.

    "Hi Cindy! Who ya got with ya there?"

    "Erin, this is Taylor Connelly, Chad's neice. She came out from Louisville to visit."

    "Hi, Taylor. Ya hungry? We got supper about ready here."

    "No, thanks. I can't just come in and eat," she said.

    "You can out here in the country. If you're here at mealtime, you eat with the rest of us. It's nothin' special, just chili, but I'll set you bowl out."

    "Uh, I think Cindy wants to get home, right?"

    Cindy said, "The kids'll be all right for awhile. Did you have lunch today?"

    "I, uh, I guess not. I've been busy."

    "Sit down here, next to Bill. Taylor, this is Bill Evans, Robert's Dad, and you've met Carol and Robert. That's William in the high chair making a mess with the crackers."

    "Uh, hi everybody."

    "How about a glass of milk with that? Or, I've got a pot of coffee?"

    "Milk would be good."

    Cindy said, "You just relax and eat. We eat pretty late at home, so maybe you'll have an appetite by the time I get it ready. The kids will be having an after school snack now, so that will work out fine. I'm gonna get some of this chili, too."

    Erin said, "Cindy, there's some milk in the fridge for you, and some cream, too."

    Between mouthfuls, Cindy said, "I'll pay you before we leave."

    Erin saw an odd look on Taylor's face and thought there was more to it than just being among new people. The girl looked like she'd seen a ghost or something. Whatever it was, she was on the edge. Cindy was good with people, though, so it should work out, whatever it was.

    "Wow! I didn't know Chad had a farm! The last time we were out here he was living in town."

    Cindy's mind clicked and she said, "Hm, okay, since then maybe you didn't know, but his wife passed away."

    "Yeah, Mom told me about that. Some rare disease, I think."

    "Right, and they had the 3 kids. Chad did a fine job of raising them by himself, but it was hard. I met him just a year ago and we hit it off. I wanted to make sure you knew that before we go in to see the kids. They call me Mom now, though. Just so you know."

    "Thanks. Let's see, he had 3, right?"

    "Yep, 2 big boys and a girl. You need to bring in anything right now? Or we can get your stuff in later."

    "Not right now, I guess."

    Inside, Cindy said, "Hey guys! This is your cousin, Taylor, from Louisville. She came out to visit for a while. Okay, this is Andrew, he'll be 16 soon, and that's Nicholas. He's 10, and Callie is 8."

    "I'm glad you told me, 'cause it's been so long."

    Andy said, "I remember you, I think. We lived in town and you came out with your parents. I remember your blue eyes and blond hair. You were a lot nicer to me than the girls in school."

    "Yeah! You would have been, maybe just starting school?"

    "Uh-huh. I was probably 6 then."

    Callie yelled from the window, "Daddy's home!"

    She ran to the door to open it for him. Nick looked at Taylor and whispered, "Daddy's girl!"

    Chad came in with muddy boots and stopped on the door mat to take them off. He smiled and said, "Hey! Who we got here? Is that you Taylor?"

    Taylor beamed at that and said, "Yep, that's me. I didn't think you'd know me."

    "Lemme get these boots off and I'll give you big hug. I've been worried sick about you. Couldn't get you on the phone and no idea where you were. Boy, you grew up to be a pretty girl!"

    He walked to her and gave her a bear hug. "I'm glad you're okay."

    "Well, I'm here. I'm not sure about okay."

    "What happened? I never heard a word."

    Taylor took a deep breath and said, "It's a long story."

    Cindy interrupted with, "Coffee's hot if you want it."

    They sat down at the table and heard her story. When it was finished, everybody was crying and it got really quiet for a while.

    Chad whispered, "My God, girl, that's awful," as he reached for her hand and squeezed it gently.

    Andy said, "I don't know if I could shoot somebody or not. You've got a lot of heart to do that. You're really brave."

    Taylor looked at him and said, "No! I'm not! He was gonna kill me! He killed Carl and he was pointing it at ME!" She broke down and bawled, laying her head on the table. "I can't stop SEEING it!"

    Andrew was closest. He went to her and held her while she cried. Cindy and Chad got up and went to her side. Cindy said, "Let it out. It has to come out, so you just cry and let it go."

    Chad put a hand on her shoulder and said, "You're with family now. It's going to be okay."

  21. #21
    Chapter 59

    Chad was thankful that tomorrow was Saturday. There was too much to do for Taylor without the burden of both him and Cindy going to work and the kids being gone to school. The girl had only a pitiful amount of clothing. They carried all her belongings into the house in one trip. The kids took the food she'd bought into the kitchen to be sorted out. It only took one trip with a couple bags each for Taylor and Cindy to get her moved into the small bedroom upstairs.

    Cindy said, "If you want to wash some of your things, I'm doing laundry tomorrow."

    "Yeah. I guess it all needs it. I've been doing it by hand in the sink and I was out of clean clothes. Show me how and I'll do it. I mean, where to find things."

    "Sure. It's all new to you here, so there's a lot to see. We can get a load in and then go see the rest of the place. Chad's got the stove going tonight so there isn't much to do this evening. It doesn't take much heat now, but it's a little chilly without having a fire."

    "A fire?!" There was panic in her voice.

    "In the wood stove. We heat with firewood. Gas just costs too much, and we can cut firewood for nearly nothing, like a lot of things we do to save money."

    "I'll get a job and I won't stay any longer than I have to. I know it costs a lot for everything."

    "Now calm down. I just meant that the way we live, it doesn't cost much. We have a well for water, so there is no water bill, and we heat with wood so that doesn't cost hardly anything. Chad paid off the mortgage, so there is no payment to make. We grow most all of what we eat, so the groceries don't cost much either, see?"

    "But I have to do something. I can't just live off you and Chad. I'll get a job."

    "Jobs are impossible to find. You can just help around here. There's a lot to do and it's not hard, just different than what you're used to. Just follow me around tomorrow, and you'll see how it all works."

    The next day, after a big breakfast of buttermilk pancakes, maple flavored syrup, butter, and fried ham on the side, they were doing dishes.

    "I've never eaten that much in my life," Taylor said. "It was so good. Food costs so much we never had anything like that after things got so expensive. You must be rich."

    "We're not rich, but the food didn't cost us much. We raised the pig and butchered it ourselves, and we got the flour from Robert when he ground feed. Thad Wright has dairy cows, and we buy cream from him to make butter. The buttermilk is left over from churning butter. We give Thad some eggs for the cream, but he's got some chickens going now so when they start laying we'll find another wayto pay him. The flour is part of my wages for working at the hardware store. We don't use money any more than we have to."

    "How can you live without money?"

    "Like I've been telling you. We find other ways to get what we need. Sounds complicated, but it's not, really. We just trade around with the neighbors. You always lived in the city?"

    "Yeah. I grew up in south Louisville."

    "You'll get to see how it all works, but we should go shopping soon and get you a work coat, and you'll need some jeans, and boots. It gets muddy in the springtime."

    "I don't have much money left."

    "Not planning to spend much. We'll hit the garage sales and thrift shops. How about you come to work with me tomorrow, and we'll go out at lunchtime and after work? You can get better acquainted with the town and the folks we know, too. We take a lunch to work, so we don't spend money to eat."

    "Okay. I don't know what else I'd be doing."

    "There. Dishes are all put away. Let's go to the henhouse and then feed that new calf and the pigs."

    Cindy stuck her revolver in her waistband holster and put on a ball cap and an old jacket.

    "You carry a gun out here?"

    "Everybody does now, since Erin got attacked. I guess you hadn't heard about that yet. Some guy came in their house to rob them and they tangled in the kitchen. Erin and Jake put an end to that."

    "Erin? Who's Jake?"

    "That old dog of Bill's. He mostly sleeps behind the stove and he's as sweet as they come, but he sure didn't like that man attacking Erin. Like to chewed his head off. Erin stuck the guy with a butcher knife and Jake finished him off."

    "You're kidding!"

    "Nope. Maybe you should get better acquainted with Erin and talk to her some. C'mon in the henhouse. You'll get your shoes dirty, but it'll come off in the grass. You can gather the eggs while I get some feed for 'em and clean out the waterer."

    Cindy handed her a basket as they went in and got a bucket of feed out of the barrel. "In the nests there. If there's a hen on the nest, just let her be. She's thinkin' about layin' an egg."

    Bill said, "Looks like the weather might get ahead of me on gettin' my stuff ready to sell. It's warmin' up early."

    Erin said, "Uh-huh. I need to get out in the garden and keep it weeded. The grass is coming up in the cold weather things I planted. You need some help with your things?"

    "Now you don't worry about that. You've got enough to do."

    "I was thinking about that girl Taylor that's stayin' with Cindy and Chad. She said she worked at a Quik Mart, so she's got some ambition. You might get some help there, if Cindy doesn't keep her too busy."

    Bill said, "Worth askin', I guess. All she can do is say no. A girl might be good help there, knowin' what women look for when they buy something. Appearances, and all."

    The next day at lunch Cindy and Taylor were munching on sandwiches as they walked down the street.

    "Thad said his girl Rachel has done pretty good at this garage sale place. Let's look in there," Cindy said.

    There were clothes piled on tables in the garage and on an enclosed back porch. Rather than search too much, Cindy asked, "Do you have some work clothes that would fit her? Jeans and heavy shirts, and boots for farm work."

    The woman led them to a table of clothes in her size, and pointed out the shoes and boots in the corner, then left them to pick out what they wanted.

    Taylor waited until they were almost back to the hardware store and said, "I can't believe how cheap that stuff was!"

    "They are one of the best according to Rachel," Cindy said. "I keep wondering where they get their things. I wouldn't be surprised if it isn't looted from some empty houses, but there's no way to know."

    "Empty houses?"

    "A lot of people died last winter from not enough heat, not enough food, or who knows? But the people are gone and there are empty houses everywhere. The banks foreclosed on hundreds of them and people moved in with family, or somebody. Not many homeless people around that I know of, so somebody took 'em in."

    "So banks own the empty ones?"

    "Can't tell who owns what, because the banks went bust and are gone. I guess some bank somewhere owns them, but not around here. Some people think that if there's nobody there, it's fair game and they take what they want. People just moved out with what they could carry. Whatever was left is all trashed now, so people take what they want. The banks don't want old clothes. You might as well have it."

    "I need to make some money. All I have is what you saw. The car, and some clothes, and now all I've got left is $72."

    As they went back into the hardware store Cindy said, "Let me think about where you could work. There's no big rush."


    Chapter 60

    Chad had stopped at his parent's home after work, determined to have 'the talk' as he thought of it. He didn't know an easy way. He screwed up his courage as best he could and went up the sidewalk.

    Doris told Frank, "That's Chad's car. We have to tell him."

    Frank Daulton said, "I never thought I'd see the day I had to ask my kids for help."

    Chad came in the front door and said, "I've put it off too many times, so I have to tell you it's time you came out to stay with us. It just costs too much to live now for you to stay here."

    That wasn't what his mother had been thinking. She was going to ask him to help them with food, since they grew and canned a lot. She didn't know what to say. Frank didn't have that problem. He knew there was a lot needed to be done to their house and he knew they couldn't afford it.

    Frank said, "I guess I knew there would come a time, but I didn't think it would be this soon."

    Doris was surprised at that from Frank, but she took her cue from him and said, "I hadn't thought about moving to your place. If we hadn't lost Frank's pension, we'd be okay. But you're right, it is hard now. We should have never borrowed money to buy a house this expensive."

    Frank said, "The hell of it is, we owe more on it than it's worth. Crap. We owed more than it was worth right after we bought it. Now we couldn't sell it at any price."

    Chad waited and listened. His mother said, "Frank, I've been telling you we need to just take our things and walk out. There's no reason to throw good money after bad into this place. it's my fault, because I wanted it so bad, but I was wrong. It cost too much. Let's just quit paying the damn mortgage and let the bank have it!"

    Chad said, "We still have a big empty bedroom upstairs. You can have it any time you want it."

    His mother asked, "Where will Taylor sleep?"

    "She has the small room, the boys have the other big upstairs room, and Callie has the small bedroom downstairs. We're still in the front bedroom downstairs. I put the 1/2 bath between us and Callie, so there is the big bathroom everyone else. It'll work out."

    Frank said, "There's a mortgage payment due now. I'm not going to pay it. Without that, we can pay our way with our Social Security and help you out some for staying there."

    Chad suspected they didn't have much in the house to eat, so he said, "When do you want to do it? You want to come out for supper tonight? Cindy baked a ham and we've got food everywhere."

    He knew he was right when his mother said, "That sounds good! Let's do that Frank. We can get our things later."

    "I paid for those storm windows, so I'm not leaving them on the house. Do you have any use for 'em Chad?"

    "I think we might. I have an idea they might make a fine greenhouse."

    "There's the cheap ones that came on the house, too. They were going to throw them away, and I said no, put 'em in the basement. I never got around to selling them like I planned."

    Chad smiled and said, "TWO sets! That would do it for sure! I can haul 'em on the way home from work. If you can get 'em taken down, I'll start tomorrow evening."

    His Dad said, "Okay, I'll work on that tomorrow and haul home more of the things from the house in the car. I'll stay and help you load the windows."

    Doris' dining table with 8 chairs was big enough to seat everyone. Chad and his Dad took their old table and chairs to the barn loft for now. More furniture swapping was done, and more went to the barn loft.

    Chad told Cindy, "I need to go see if Bill Evans might want our old furniture. He's got some kind of sale thing planned at that building he bought."

    "Maybe you could trade him for something we need. We should go see what he has in there."

    "You have something in mind to get from him?"

    "I want a hand crank meat grinder that can stuff sausage, and a lard press. And I want to look at what he has. I might think of something else."

    Chapter 61

    Erin answered the phone and handed it off to Bill saying, "It's Cindy."

    "I don't have a lot of room for furniture, but I can take some in trade," Bill said. "Whatcha got?"

    Cindy said, "A dining room table and 6 chairs, a bedroom set, and some small tables."

    "I'd be interested in the table and chairs, if you want to trade."

    "That's what I had in mind. Are you going to be there today after we get home from work?"

    "Sure thing."

    "How about we bring the table and chairs down on the way in tomorrow morning, and we can stop on the way home to do the dickering?"

    "Suits me. See ya in the morning then."

    Taylor rode to work with Cindy the next day to help with handling the furniture and to do more shopping in town during the day. She'd seen what was needed living out here and found some heavy socks and some gloves at a flea market. Back at the hardware store, she asked Cindy where she got her gun.

    "Right here. There's some leftovers from the old days before guns laws that they didn't know what to do with. They were afraid to sell 'em after the registration thing got going and they just laid around for years."

    "I want a gun. It's dangerous out here, too, so I want a pistol I can carry like you do."

    "Lemme talk to Robert."

    Cindy found Robert working on inventory in the office and said, "Taylor wants a handgun. You want to sell her one of those old ones?"

    "Is she sensible?"

    "I think so. She's got her head on straight."

    "Let's go talk to her."
    They made a trade for labor. Taylor would be doing the cleaning chores one day a week, for 6 weeks. In exchange, she got an old, but very good Smith and Wesson model 36, a very small 5 shot .38 caliber revolver, and 4 boxes of the lower velocity ammunition suited to it. It came with a clip on holster that she could slip inside her waistband. She was delighted with it. Robert threw in a small belt knife, a Schrade "Skinner" model that fit her small hands and was useful for many things.

    Bill had looked over the table and chairs that day and thought it over. When the women returned he told Cindy, "I'll allow you $200 in trade for the dining table set. You pick out what you want."

    He found a lard press that was in pretty good shape, but needed a coat of paint, and a good Chinese made meat grinder. Bill said he would trade even, if they took the things as-is.

    "I haven't had time to clean up everything. I could use some help doing that."

    "I can refinish furniture," Taylor said. "My mother and I did all the furniture we had. She used to buy things and fix them up and sell them to make extra money. I had a different bedroom suite at least once a month for ages. As soon as we got one refinished, she'd sell it and get another old one."

    Bill asked, "You want to do some more of that?"

    "Yeah! I need a job."

    "I can't pay much, but I can get you some good deals on whatever I have here, if that helps," Bill said. "How about you come over with Cindy in the morning and we'll see how it works out?"

    "Okay! I'll be here!"

    Chad picked them up and on the way home Taylor said, "I can fix up that black thing."

    "The lard press?"

    "What ever it is. It just needs the rust sanded off and painted."

    "Need to clean the rust off the gears, too, and smear some lard on them. That will stop rust and if some gets in the food, it won't hurt anything," Cindy said. "That's how Mom kept her's in shape. So when you get the rust out of the inside, don't paint it in there, just grease it."

    Chad said, "I've got some black paint somewhere. I need to organize my workshop, but I haven't had time."

    "Maybe I can do that," Taylor said. "I worked around Dad's shop a lot. But you'll have to tell me how you want it, or you'll never find anything."

    "You might be real handy to have around," Chad said.

    "Who's that in the driveway," Cindy asked.

    She heard a pop from the house and saw somebody run into the cedar trees on the far side.

    Taylor had her gun in her hand before the car got stopped.

  22. #22
    Chapter 62

    Chad reached under the seat for his pistol and Cindy had her .38 in hand when the car slid to a stop. The man had disappeared beyond the row of trees by the driveway. As Frank came around the house with a rifle, they all heard a car start some distance down the road. Frank went to the road and looked, then laid the heavy rifle atop a fence post. It barked and they heard a car crash into the ditch.

    Chad got back in the car and Frank joined him. Frank couldn't get the car door shut until Chad had backed out of the driveway and started forward, when the door slammed shut. Frank had his .45 in his hand then, the rifle barrel pointed at the floor. Chad's pistol was in his hand, steering with one hand when they got to the car in the ditch. It was leaning hard to one side, making it hard for the driver to get his door open. Chad drove his bumper straight into the door to hold it shut.

    "HANDS UP!" Frank shouted at the driver again, "HANDS UP NOW!" He emphasized that with a shot in the air.

    Hands went up as Frank approached from his side, gun at the ready in a 2 hand grip. A young man was sitting in the driver's seat yelling, "DON'T SHOOT! DON'T SHOOT!"

    Frank got to the open back window and said, "DON'T MOVE!"

    Chad backed his car up a few feet, got where he could yank the door open and told the young man to get out slowly. He did with some difficulty, holding his hands up. Chad moved back where he was near his Dad and said, "LAY DOWN IN THE ROAD!"

    The young man laid down, showing that the seat of his pants was wet.

    Frank moved up close to him and said, "Is there any good reason I shouldn't shoot you right now?"

    The young man, hardly more than a teenager, was crying.

    At the house, the young man was sitting in the yard with his hands tied behind him around a fence post. The Sheriff drove in with a deputy and appraised the situation. Frank and Chad were sitting on lawn chairs a few feet from the young man. There were no guns in evidence.

    "What's going on here?"

    "Like I told you on the phone," Frank said, "this kid came in the house with a gun and grabbed the TV and started out the door with it. I grabbed his gun, he dropped the TV and ran out the door. I got my rifle and followed him. He ran to his car out there by the road and drove toward me at a high rate of speed. I shot out his front tire and he landed in the ditch. We tied him up and called you. His gun is layin' in the kitchen floor where he dropped it."

    "You should'na shot his car," the Sheriff said.

    "I shoulda let him get away so he could try it again?"

    "That's what the law says. There may be what we call mitigating circumstances for you. Not for him."

    The Sheriff looked at the young guy and said, "You're damned lucky he shot the car instead of you."

    "He tried to kill me! He shot at me!"

    "If I was shootin' at you, you'd be DEAD, $hithead! I've been a contender at Camp Perry rifle matches most of my adult life. I hit what I shoot at."

    Looking at the Sheriff, Frank said, "You'll find I hit the passenger side front wheel, not the tire. The bullet would exit through the tire. Shooting the wheel made it go flat faster than hitting the rubber. I wanted him stopped, and it stopped him."

    "You were within your rights when he was on your property, but when he was on the road, you weren't defending your property," the Sheriff said.

    "Go look at the road," Chad said. "That is the driveway into our barnlot he was on, not a public road."

    The Sheriff looked at the road, which indeed looked like the county gravel road, but was in fact like Chad said. The county road made a square turn at that point. The car was still in Chad's barnlot. There was a county road sign with an cautionary arrow alerting drivers to the sharp turn.

    The Sheriff scratched his chin and said, "I don't know how this will come out yet. I'm taking this kid in and charging him with armed robbery, assault with a deadly weapon, destruction of property and anything else I can think of. You could be charged with several things, but I doubt if that happens. Just in case, you better stay where we can find you. For your information, what you did was make a citizen's arrest and held the suspect until I could take him into custody."

    "We're not going anywhere, Sheriff," Frank said. "We live here."

    "Deputy, put that kid in cuffs, get him in the car and make sure he stays there." To Frank and Chad, he said, "Let's go in the house and take your statements."

    After the statements had been written to the Sheriff's satisfaction, he said, "My deputy will be witnessing your signatures. Before we go out and do that, you need to know that I'm bending a few things here in your favor because I know that kid and he's been a thorn in our side for a long time. You were really pushing the limit with what you did, so don't do any more stunts like this. Frank, you're lucky that I also shot at Camp Perry and I recognize you from there. You beat me more than once, so I know what you said to be a fact. Still, that could easily be called an unjustifiable assault."

    Frank said, "I'll have to take your word for that. I thought he was committing a felony leaving the scene."

    "No. He committed a felony in the house, a couple of 'em. I could stop him outside that way, but only because I'm law enforcement. You as a citizen can't do that. More's the pity, but I don't make the laws. You were in the wrong. I have some leeway in enforcing the law, so be grateful for that and don't overdo it from now on, okay?"

    "Yes sir," Frank said.

    "If the matter ever comes up again, you were in fear for your life when he was driving at you, okay?"

    "Yes sir, I was."

    "Now, let's get these statements signed and witnessed. Saves you a trip to town where you might say something wrong. Keep your mouth shut about this."

    Camp Perry Rifle Matches:

    Chapter 63

    "That kid wasn't so tough when it didn't go his way," Chad said. "He peed his pants and was crying from the time we got him outa the car."

    "He mighta been scared enough to pee his pants, but he was crying because I broke his finger when I took that pistol away from him," Frank said. "That's why he dropped the TV. Notice the Sheriff handled the kid's gun so's not to disturb any fingerprints? He wants to charge him with assault with a deadly weapon and make it stick. I'm damn glad the Sheriff is on our side here. He coulda locked me up for a long time. I won't make that mistake again."

    Chad said, "I would've done the same thing Dad."

    "Maybe so, but you gotta be SURE you're within you're rights, or you'll be in as much trouble as the real criminal."

    Chad said, "Looks like all those trips to Camp Perry paid off. I'm glad you're a good shot with that '06."

    Frank said, "I'm glad your mother was upstairs taking a nap."

    Chad reflected that he was glad his Dad was a big man and still strong enough to take that pistol away from the kid.

    The newspaper reported that the young man was also charged with possession of drugs and precursors for making methamphetamines. Other arrests had been made in the case regarding a meth lab. Frank read that and said, "I thought his eyes looked funny."

    The Sheriff was getting kudos from the State Police for helping them bust the biggest meth lab they had found in years. The State was taking over the drug case with his help and had made several arrests. Attention had focused on the drug aspect and interest in the robbery attempt faded into the background. Frank was called to testify about the robbery before a friendly prosecutor. The defense lawyer was a public defender whose main interest was getting the kid to cop a guilty plea and testify against other defendants for a sentence reduction. No further inquiry was made into the attempted robbery.

    Frank was relieved when he read about the kid pleading guilty to the robbery and assault charges. He knew enough about the law to know that meant the kid could not appeal his conviction, it was the end of Frank's possible liability in court. Now he could concentrate on helping make Chad's place help support them all. He wasn't that great a carpenter, but Chad was, and they needed to get to work on building that greenhouse.

    Thad was doing some figuring on his farm budget for the coming year. If they had a decent crop year, things might work out all right. He wanted to plant at least 2 acres of Great Northern beans, an acre of tobacco, and expand his cream sales. If he got more hogs this year, he could feed them the skim milk after the cream was separated from it and get some of the best quality pork. There was enough help on the farm to do all that, he thought, but he'd have to hire some help for the hand work of hoeing the beans and the tobacco.

    This Spring he planned to get into cutting firewood for sale next Fall. It would be in demand because of the high cost of fuel oil, propane gas, and electricity. Thad had about 60 acres of timberland that was too swampy to clear for farming, so he would leave it in timber and cut the mature trees only, so it would grow and replenish as fast as he used it. He thought that would be around a cord per acre every year, but that included any timber cut for logs to make lumber, too. He figured he could cut 40 cords a year to sell. He needed a new wood splitter, because his old one was about shot.

    The government farm programs were pretty much all a thing of the past now, so Thad was thinking back to how he and his father had farmed before all that existed. The idea that his father had taught him was to have something to sell every week of the year. It could be done, if you thought about it and planned it right. He'd seen his Dad do it, but it was a lot of work.

    He made a list of things to sell, some of it depending on being able to get Health Department approval.
    Milk, cream, butter, buttermilk.
    Dry beans
    Sweet corn
    Grains, winter wheat and corn, ground into flour and cornmeal.
    Cured pork and lard
    Beef calves

    Thad realized he had a lot to do and a short time to do it. He began to write down his plans. When he had it figured out, he wanted Jim to understand it all. Thad was feeling old, and he knew he wasn't going to last forever. Somebody would have to be able to take his place someday.

    Chapter 64 April, 2017

    It had been a lot of work in a short time to get the greenhouse built. Chad had taken advantage of one old chicken house by removing the roof and using the old rafters to make the south-sloping part that was covered with the storm windows his Dad contributed. There were enough windows to cover the entire 24 foot length of the building in 2 rows, so the sloping glass was 8 feet high and have some spares in case some windows got broken. Another old shed had been torn down with the kids' help to make a double row of plant growing shelves. Cindy had been saving plastic containers and begging them from everyone she knew to use for growing pots. She and the kids had dug dirt for potting soil from the old barn stalls and mixed it with some from the barnyard that was rich in nutrients.

    The old chicken house had been well built with tongue and groove siding that made it easy to heat, but some heat was needed. Chad bought a small cast iron wood stove from Bill Evans and ran a stove pipe out the roof. Cindy had planted seeds long before the greenhouse was finished, keeping them in the house until they sprouted. The seedlings were an inch tall by the time the greenhouse was ready. She had hundreds of tomatoes, bell peppers, cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli growing, and a few eggplant and cucumbers. Andrew, at 16 years old was growing fast and nearly 6 feet tall, so he got carry water and tend the top shelf of plants. Cassie and Kyle learned which seedlings were vegetables and which were weeds that needed to be pulled out. Kyle filled the big pan of water on the wood stove to keep the air moist. Cindy and the kids took turns keeping the plants sprinkled with water twice a day. Frank kept the little wood stove stoked during the day and monitored the temperature in the greenhouse, sometimes opening windows on warm sunny days. The plants were growing fast.

    Thad had burned a long brush pile as big as a bus along the edge of a field and lined the sides of the rectangular are with logs. Jim, the boys, and Rachel all got into the act to rake the ashes into the dirt, sow tobacco seeds, and cover it all with cheesecloth he had bought in bulk rolls. Stakes with wires strung over them supported the covering in the center. By The middle of April, tobacco seedlings had sprouted and were growing thick as the Spring rains came.

    Erin had garden seedlings started in egg cartons sitting in the kitchen double window sill out of William's reach. It was a handy place because the window faced south and it was easy to remember to water them. Soon they were outgrowing the egg cartons, so she used whatever containers she could find to transplant them. Other window sills got filled with the larger pots. It was still too cold out for tomatoes and peppers, even though she had onions, cabbage, and broccoli growing in the garden, along with some wintered over beets and spinach she was letting grow for seed this year. She had saved seeds from their sweet corn, melons, squash, cucumbers, popcorn, green beans, and dry beans last year, but it was too early to plant those outside yet.

    The city government was functioning to a degree after merging with the County Government, but there were only 2 council members left, plus the Mayor to make decisions and try to get them implemented. Wendell Stark was paid for his work monitoring the county landfill, but the Councilman positions were purely volunteer jobs. There was no city trash pickup because they could neither afford to fix the garbage truck nor provide fuel and a driver for it. The Sheriff and one deputy were deemed more important to have than other county services, including road maintenance which was cut to the bone with only one part time truck driver. The city Fire Department was now all volunteers, and the sewage plant was manned for 2 hours each morning and evening.

    Arlen Hamilton had been a County Councilman before the cutbacks. He continued acting as a councilman, unpaid for all those long and arduous meeting sessions. Arlen had retired from his day job as Vice President of a local bank the year before things began to fall apart. He'd had a nice pension from the bank until it first merged with other banks, then failed completely. Since then, Social Security had been his only income besides the Councilman position. Then the City and County governments had merged in a desperate attempt to maintain some semblance of local government, cutting 60% of their joint employees at the same time. Arlen's wife had to pressure her brother to hire her for office work at his stone quarry business to make ends meet, but his business had fallen off dramatically as the county ordered far less stone for road repairs. Her working hours were cut to half days. Arlen was looking for ways to economize, since earning more wasn't likely.

    Robert knew the County government was broke, but he saw new evidence of it on the way to work. The last functioning stop light was gone, replaced by a standard stop sign at the intersection of Main and Oak Streets. He thought it was no great inconvenience, because the traffic was so light there was seldom more than one car at any intersection. Still, it was one more depressing thing to notice. He had been paying attention to the number of deserted houses on their way in town after Carol commented that she saw another one deserted where kids had been playing last week.

    Carol said, "It makes me sad to see our town falling apart. Those houses used to be so pretty along the the drive into town. A lot of them are well over 100 years old and were still really nice."

    Cindy said, "Seems to me that they just don't fit anymore. Nobody can afford to keep them up, and people are having to live together to make it, so we don't need as many houses. At least not that big."

    As they pulled into the parking lot, Robert said, "There's going to be more changes if things don't get better soon. Half the store buildings in town are empty, or being used for storage, or for a place to live. The rest of them are going to fall apart if nobody takes care of them."

    Cindy said, "I wonder what will happen to the strip mall by the highway. The tractor store is the only thing left there and they don't have much."

    Once inside, Robert turned on lights and said, "I don't know who owns that, but I bet they would take a lot less for rent now. It was the high rent there that killed all those stores. They thought they had to have that highway location, but it takes a lot of sales to support a store there. The fact that we own our building is a big part of why we are still in business. Same with Bark's Drugs next to us. The old man that started it got the building paid for so his kids can make a profit with low sales. The commercial buildings that are empty were mortgaged by banks and the owners got foreclosed when their renters left. It's hard to tell who owns them now."

    It was chilly in the store so Carol started to build a fire in the wood stove. She frowned and said, "All of downtown looks like a ghost town with all those empty stores. I'm surprised that somebody's not trying to live in them."

    "There's too many empty houses for squatters. They don't need to live in the old stores," Cindy said. "Chad's parents hurried to get all their stuff out of their house before somebody broke in and took them. People will steal anything that's not nailed down. Frank wasn't going to take anything off the house, but Doris told him somebody would steal the doors and carpet and anything they could, so they might as well have it as them. Frank took the storm doors and used them on our greenhouse. He took out some carpet to put in the upstairs bedrooms and got the laundry sink, too. That bank in New York will never know who took the stuff."

    "Once this all started, things sure went downhill fast," Carol said. "I don't think the town will ever be the same again."

  23. #23
    Chapter 65

    Erin was busy setting broccoli plants in the garden with William crawling around in the dirt nearby. Jake had found a place in the sunshine and settled down to watch. Erin looked up as the dog growled low in his throat. She automatically put her hand on her gun as she jerked her head around to see what had him riled. Rachel was walking up the driveway, so she relaxed and told Jake it was okay.

    "What brings you down here?"

    "I was on the way back from taking cream to the corner store and just stopped to say hi."

    "Everybody okay at Thad's?"

    "Yeah. Thad's gettin' old, and I can tell he's slowin' down a lot this year."

    "How old is he?"

    "Jim said he'd be 74 this year. He tries to do too much for a man that old," Rachel said.

    "You'll never convince him of that. He'll die with his boots on, still trying to run the farm."

    "I know, and Jim knows it, too. He said he's been pickin' his Dad's brain every way he can. He wants to learn all he can from him, and said he thought maybe he could get his Dad to slow down that way, and just supervise. It's kinda workin' a little. Or maybe Thad's just tires out sooner now. I'll sure miss him when he's gone."

    "Everybody will," Erin said.

    "Yeah, but I owe him so much. He saved me from a really bad time."

    "You doin' pretty good now?"

    "Oh yeah. I got my old car fixed up with a set of good used tires, and a new battery and Justin's been doin' all kinds of things to it. That boy tries so hard to please."

    "He worships the ground you walk on. You know that don't you?"

    Rachel looked at the ground and said, "I know, and I just don't see him as anything but a boy. He's growin' up in a lot of ways, but he's such a city kid, y'know?"

    "Could be a lot worse," Erin said. "Give him a chance and see how it goes."

    "I suppose I will. I just don't want to encourage him when I don't see us workin' out. That ain't right. An' I think he's just in rut like the rest of the young bucks, an' he don't really know I'm just a plain country girl."

    "I think that's what he likes about you. Don't call yourself plain, either. If you ever decided to dress the part, you'd be a knockout," Erin told her. "If you decide you'd like to try it, come down some time and we'll play dress up, okay? Be careful, though, or you'll have his tongue hanging out."

    Rachel made a dismissive noise that was betrayed by her self conscious smile and said, "I better go. Got lots to do."

    Jake gave her a smile as she left.

    Frank Daulton was happy, for the first time in a long time. He enjoyed raising plants, he'd gotten rid of that white elephant of a house that had kept him broke, and his wife seemed to be happy cooking for their son's clan. The grandkids were a joy to be around, and Cindy was a sweetheart. He thought Chad had picked another good one. He left the greenhouse and when he got to the back door he smelled apple pie.

    Nick was coming in from feeding the chickens and carrying a basket of eggs. He saw his grandfather go inside, but he didn't see Andy anywhere and wondered what he was doing until he saw him coming out of the smokehouse with a ham. That would be good for breakfast, he thought, and his mouth began to water. Maybe he could talk Grandma into making pancakes and ham for breakfast. His Mom and Dad drove in, so Nick waved with his free hand and took the eggs inside. He couldn't wait for school to be out for the summer. He liked being at home a lot more.

    Cindy and Chad had stayed to talk to Erin for few minutes, so they were a bit late getting home. Cindy thought to herself that it was nice to have Frank and Doris here so she didn't have to worry about the kids at all. Doris and Taylor would have supper ready soon, too. That was a load off her mind after a long day at work.

    Chad said, "I need to get the rest of the garden tilled up and that old tiller is about shot. I don't know if it will do the job or not."

    "Talk to Robert, or his Dad. They can bring their tractor down and do that quick. It's not that far for them to drive the tractor."

    "Maybe I will. We need more garden space this year, and that would make it easy. I got manure on the ground, but the grass is growing there and it will be a job to deal with that."

    Bill Evans and Taylor had been busy cleaning, polishing, oiling, and painting Bill's collection of 'antiques' as he called them. They weren't halfway through the pile yet, but there was enough to start selling, he thought. It looked like the weather was finally clearing up, so he thought it was time to call the newspaper and put an ad in it. He'd made arrangements to put a sign up at the corner store to direct people down their road, but he still had to make the sign.

    The shed roof where the machine shop had stored heavy steel was filled with livestock equipment. He had chicken nests, feeders and waterers, rabbit cages and feeders, metal pig troughs, rolls of good fencing, used steel fence posts, and one small trailer with stock racks on it. Inside he had cream separators, both the old gravity kind that you added cold water to the milk, and two of the centrifugal kind you had to crank. They were old, but in very good shape.

    Taylor had refinished a couple very nice pieces, a beautiful roll top desk, and a Hoosier kitchen cupboard, complete with flour sifter and pull out work top. She had touched up the dings on the oak dining table and chairs they got from Chad and Cindy, too. Then she'd gone to work on two wringer washing machines, several rinse tubs, and four treadle sewing machines. He did the lubrication and minor mechanical work, replacing hoses and other parts. They had scrubbed a lot of kitchen utensils to a shine and had them arranged in boxes and trays for display. The building had been cleaned from top to bottom, and the doors kept shut to keep the dust out. As soon as he could get a couple signs made, he would be in business. They had spent one entire day pricing and tagging items for sale. Bill smiled as he walked to the house, satisfied he would make good on his investment.

    When Erin got a good look at what Bill had for sale, she got busy with her sewing machine and made some embroidered dish towels cut down from old bath towels she'd found at garage sales in town. She planned to sell whatever excess garden produce and eggs they had there, too. She dug out her old jewelry displays and set up some of those on tables, then told Bill they needed a sign that said "All Trade Offers Considered".

    Chapter 66 May, 2017

    Bill had accumulated a lot of leftover parts after fixing up washing machines, sewing machines, old crank powered tools for shop and kitchen, and garden implements. He had thrown them all in a barrel to save in case he needed something. The first day he opened his second hand store, that barrel got a lot of attention, so he put a couple sawhorses out with boards on top and spread the stuff out where people could see it, and sold a fair amount it.

    Cindy sold a lot of tomato, cabbage, and pepper plants, and several dozen eggs. Taylor had been cherry picking the garage sales in town and selected the best of the leather goods she found. Erin sold a few pieces of jewelry and all the dish towel she had that first Saturday. Coats, jackets, purses, and belts sold well after she cleaned them up and made minor repairs. Bill found that having his items clean and in good repair made them sell fast. People had seen enough of old things that didn't work, and needed useful things. Appearances made a big difference, too.

    Bill sold one wringer washing machine with rinse tubs for cash, and traded another set for 6 feeder pigs. Both went to people who had their electricity shut off and were living with a small generator. The washing could be done in the wringer machines in an hour for 4 loads, compared to an hour per load for their old automatic washers. It saved a lot of fuel, and a lot of water, as well. That was important to people who had to hand pump water from a well or cistern. Bill sold a couple hand well pumps, too.

    Erin thought about the laundry thing and began to collect 5 gallon buckets. Robert picked up a truckload of them for her from the grocer, who was getting bulk food items in them and repackaging them in baggies for sale. Erin had the grocer order some things for her and put together kits to make laundry soap. The next Saturday she sold 5 kits and the word began to spread that the stuff worked and was dirt cheap to use. To get people used to the idea, she mixed up a batch and gave away samples to try. Invariably, the ones who tried her samples came back the next week and bought a kit to make their own laundry soap. She decided that bleach was the logical next item, and bought a bucket of pool chlorine powder. That was sold in small baggies that would make 5 gallons of bleach. They sold like hotcakes.

    The third week they were open, Marty Shoemaker, the grocer, came out to see what all the talk was about. He ended up buying the refinished oak dining table and chairs, trading Bill for credit at his grocery which suited Bill very well. Business was pretty brisk. Bill saw he would need more stock soon, and began to think about how to get it. He traded for more items and put Taylor to work getting them ready for sale. She was taking her pay in certain items she wanted and had collected enough that she begged the use of an old shed on Chad's place to store them, but the sewing machine she put in her bedroom.

    Toward the end of the month Thad and Jim had planted 2 1/2 acres of Great Northern beans, and had an acre of tobacco plants set out. The garden spot was over an acre now, with rows marked off with the corn planter and fertilizer sown when he did that. As soon as they had corn planted, they mounted the corn cultivators on the small tractor to keep all the row crops weed free. They did some hoeing, but only in the rows where the cultivators could not reach to dig out the weeds.

    Rachel had sent some time at Bill's Trading Post, as he called it, and got herself a sewing machine, some wash tubs and a scrub board. She learned from Erin how to make laundry soap and did that herself. Justin had gone with her shopping there and came home with some mechanic's and carpenter's hand tools. He had been talking to his Dad about where he could build a house of his own on the farm, and they had chosen a location. Justin would soon turn 21 years old and he wanted a place of his own.

    Chad was late. Cindy waited at Robert and Erin's house for half an hour, then called the electric company office. They hadn't heard a word from him for two hours. The last they knew, he had gone to check a power outage in the south end of the county. It was very hilly down there and cell phone coverage was spotty at best. The boss wasn't too worried about him yet, but said that if he didn't call in soon, he'd have to go look for him, since there was nobody else in the office.

    Cindy called home and told Doris what was going on and not to wait supper on them. Doris got frantic at the news, but Frank got on the line and said he would calm her down.

    Erin told Cindy, "You need to stay here until we know what is going on so everybody knows where to find you."

    "It's hard to just sit here and wait without knowing anything. I worry about him every day. He's supposed to have a partner when he goes out on a service call, but they laid him off. It's a violation of safety procedures, but Chad said he'd be okay. Now I wonder if he got hurt or killed because they're too cheap to follow safety laws."

    Robert said, "Don't borrow trouble ahead of time. He's probably all right, just working late and can't call out from there."

    It was 2 hours later when Chad called from his cell phone to assure Cindy he was okay. When he drove in, Cindy ran to meet him. A sober faced Chad shared the story with them all.

    "I was a simple service call, really, to replace a fuse link on a transformer. I parked the truck and set the outriggers before I got in the bucket and raised it to working height. I got the fuse link replaced and moved the valve handle to let the bucket down, but it locked up. It had been acting funny and I told the boss to get a new valve for it, but he said he didn't have the money in the maintenance budget. Well, it quit this time and I was stuck up there."

    "I climbed down the boom and got to the ground, but the people had no phone and my cell didn't have service. I couldn't move the truck with the boom in the air because it is too top heavy without the outriggers. The boom was up high enough to hit power lines anyway, so I couldn't drive it out of there. The old couple didn't have a car and depended on their son next door to go places, and he wasn't home."

    "I could either wait for my boss to come looking for me, since he knew where I went last, or start walking. I decided to stay put, because of the truck being unsafe the way it was. If anything went wrong with the outriggers, it would be dangerous on that hillside. Mike finally showed up, an hour after quitting time. We had a serious talk on the way back to town."

    Cindy said, "Wait till I get hold of him!"

    "Oh, he knows how this is gonna work. I made sure of that. Before I go out in that truck again, it will have a lot of work done."

    Bill asked, "What happened to the truck? Is the boom still up in the air?"

    "Yep. It was getting too late to work on it tonight, so we strung out the caution tape and told everyone to leave it alone until we get back tomorrow. They'll take the service truck down and bleed the hydraulic line to get the bucket down and then they'll have to fix that valve where it sits because they can't move it on the road with the boom extended."

    "I bet Mike is gonna be in hot water over this," Cindy said. "He deserves it."

    Chad shrugged and said, "He can't spend what he doesn't have, but he shouldn't have sent me out knowing the truck was messed up."

    Chapter 67

    It was four days before the necessary parts were available, and another day before the maintenance man got the truck repaired. Chad lost a week's pay, and was not happy about it. He was even more upset when the mechanic told him that their other bucket truck had a new lift bucket on it, but the engine had blown a head gasket. The boss wouldn't pay him to fix the engine when they had another truck that still ran. He walked over to his truck and looked over the hydraulic lines. There were four hoses that looked dry and cracked. If one of them blew, the bucket could fall with Chad in it. He knew that hydraulic hoses were supposed to be changed after a certain period of time on overhead lift equipment. Chad went into the office mad enough to bite nails and spit out tacks.

    "The maintenance guy ratted you out. That other truck has a good bucket on it. It also has a blown head gasket that he can fix with about 40 bucks worth of gaskets. You just paid $1,400 for a new valve on my old truck and it burns oil like a furnace! I'd like to hear how you came to those decisions that risked my neck before I decide I don't need this job!"

    "It was the best answer at the time," Mike said. "I had to keep a truck on the road, and you know it. I have to live with a maintenance budget!"

    "Yeah, and I have to live with a crappy truck that can get me killed! One screw-up with that bucket and I hit a high voltage line and you'll be looking for a new lineman AND a new truck!"

    Mike was thinking how he could make the maintenance man's life miserable for running his mouth. He was catching hell from the home office about expenses today for the valve cost and why he didn't have the part on hand. He was in no mood to listen to any crap from a lowly lineman.

    He remembered the last men he'd laid off, and told Chad, "I don't have to listen to your mouth and I'm not going to! There are three guys laid off that would LOVE to have your job, so if you don't like it, get out of here!"

    The phone rang and Mike answered it. As soon as he wrote down the outage they were reporting and hung up, the phone rang again before Chad could say anything. It was a report of a lightening strike at a small factory in the north end of the county and sounded like a tranformer got taken out. There had been three service calls on his list before these calls came in. He made his notes and swiveled his chair to see Chad going out the door.

    Mike yelled at him and said, "Where are you going? I've got 5 outages to fix and one is probably a transformer!"

    Chad was mad all the way through. He said quietly, "You told me that if I didn't like this job I should leave. Well, I don't like it and I don't like you, so I'm leaving. Good luck with your outages."

    Chad went out and slammed the door hard.

    Mike reevaluated his position quickly and ran to the door, yelling at Chad, "You get back here! You've got work to do!"

    Chad flipped him the bird and kept walking toward his car. Mike chased him and caught up as Chad closed the car door.

    Mike said, "You can't just walk out! Jobs are hard to find! You leave now and you don't have a job!"

    Chad debated with himself about getting out of the car and stomping Mike into the parking lot. He decided against it and said, "Get out of the way Mike. I'm going home. I've got plenty of work to do there."

    Chad carefully backed out of the parking space and left Mike standing there as he drove out to the street. He drove to the parking lot in the strip mall half a mile away, parked, and grabbed at his cell phone. He had numbers for the linemen he used to work with on his phone and began making calls. He stuck to the facts and told all three men exactly what had happened. He finished the last call and smiled as he drove toward home. They all three had jobs and were getting by. Al Hardwick had been his old partner. He worked at the factory that had the power out at the moment. Al told him they had a government contract to fill and couldn't stand much downtime.

    Chad stopped on the way home to talk to Bill Evans about some feeder cattle he'd heard about for sale or trade, then went to see Thad and Jim Wright about hay and grain. Chad got home in time for lunch, surprising his parents. He told them he planned to have a cattle feedlot going inside of a week. Chad wasn't too concerned about quitting his job. He had enough money saved to get by for a year or more, and they had plenty of everything they needed to get along. He couldn't say the same for Mike Summers, but then, he didn't really care what happened to him.

    Bill Evans wondered what Chad was doing home at this time of day, but he didn't ask. He'd said he'd be back to pick up Cindy at the regular time, so Bill let it go. When he'd inquired about the cattle, Bill got the idea that Chad planned to buy them and feed them out for market. Bill had seen determined looks like that before, and it occurred to him that Chad was more upset about the trouble at his job than he had let on before. Surely he wouldn't quit a good job like that, would he?

    Thad was glad to hear that Chad was in the market for some corn and hay. It would help his cash flow at the moment, and he had more than he needed after downsizing his milking herd. He had agreed to deliver the hay a wagon load at a time as he needed it. That made it easier than trying to do it all at once, since the Spring rush was on and they had a lot to do at home.

    The plant manager was furious when he was told there would be a delay getting the transformer replaced. It was a small town, after all, so he knew Al Hardwick had once worked for the electric company and might have some answers. Al told him exactly what was going on, and gave him the phone number for the power company's home office.

    Two hours later, Chad got a call at home from the home office asking him if he would consider taking the position as branch manager? Chad told him yes, with conditions. He wanted to be briefed on the budget situation and he wanted control over who he hired. The district manager told him he would have what he wanted, but he had to make some things happen fast. There was some hurried discussion about salary before Chad agreed and said he'd get to work today. Chad told his parents he might be late tonight, so Frank agreed to go pick up Cindy that afternoon.

    Chad hurried to work and got busy. There was lot to do. On the way in he had decided to go ahead with the feeder cattle deal. His boys needed something to do for the summer and his Dad could help.

    Chad called all the laid off linemen and offered them their jobs back. He had learned that Mike Summers had been cutting spending to try to make himself look good vying for a promotion to upper management. There was plenty of budget money to keep all the linemen and do what was needed. Al Hardwick elected to stay at the factory, in consideration of his age and the hard outdoor life of a lineman. Chad was able to hire back the other two, and one of them gave him a name of a guy in the next county to hire. Chad and one man replaced the factory transformer late that night. Two men were sent out in Chad's old truck to take care of other problems the next day, while the new third man helped the mechanic work on the truck engine.

    A week later, Chad had his old truck in decent repair, and two pairs of linemen to operate the two trucks. He ordered a lot of parts and the repair response time dropped immediately. At the end of a month, the district manager gave him his first bonus for good performance.

    Chad learned that there would be an audit of the branch, and pending the results of that, Mike Summers could be in a lot of trouble.

  24. #24
    Chapter 68 June, 2017

    Crops were growing nicely along the county road as Chad drove in early to work. He had learned that the district office had suspicions about the drastically lower spending at his branch, so they had been looking into it. Further investigation this past month had found discrepancies in the accounting and payments to bogus suppliers. Parts that had been invoiced and paid for were not in stock at the branch. Many irregularities came to the surface that resulted in a warrant for the arrest of one Michael E. Summers, but he was nowhere to be found. An investigation by the Sheriff's office was still ongoing into his whereabouts.

    Chad felt like he was lucky to have such a good crew, and did his best to show it. There wasn't much he could do to get them raises beyond what the company had budgetted, but he did what he could with petty cash and the maintenance budget to provide some perks with a new coffee machine and pastries available in the break room. He did his best at scheduling to get people time off when they needed it and make it up later without losing pay. His men had done their best to tell him when something needed attention so he could schedule equipment repairs and order parts in a timely manner. His reliablility report was looking steadily better, despite overall budget cuts due to a lesser amount of power sold in the branch compared to years past. His costs per megawatt sold were down slightly. When the district manager asked him about that, he attributed it to preventative maintenance and a good crew.

    Taylor had made some trades when Bill went in to lunch and thought she did pretty well. One customer had wanted an old drill press that was crank operated and some blacksmith tools. They were tagged and priced, so she looked over the trailer full of things the man had to trade and got most of it in trade. There was some furniture and a lot of good used clothing. She had a pretty good idea what it was worth and hoped Bill would be satisfied with the deal.

    A woman came in with a cage full of young chickens and wanted look at shoes. She directed her to the area and went talk to other people. She took a set of nice German made kitchen knives in trade for a twin bed and mattress that didn't match anything else they had. She thought that trade was about even, but the advantage was getting more room for other goods.

    When Bill got back she didn't have time to talk to him about it because there were many other customers waiting. They stayed busy until about 4:00 o'clock when the crowd pretty much left all at once, obviously trying to get home in time to feed people and livestock. Bill looked over the take for the day and told her with a smile that she was making a pretty good horse trader. Taylor beamed at him and said, "I learned from the best."


    Jim Wright went to the tractor shed to call his Dad for lunch and found him sitting on the floor, leaning back against the wall beside the cultivator he'd been adjusting.

    "Dad? Time for lunch. Dad?"

    Jim went over to him and saw his eyes were glassy looking and his breathing was shallow.

    "Dad! Are you all right?"

    Thad's eyes moved his direction but that was all. Jim quickly go down on one knee and moved in close to Thad who was saying something softly. He barely heard the whispered words.

    "It's yours now. You c'n do it. Yer a good boy..."

    Thad let out a soft sigh and didn't breathe in again. His head slumped over to one side. Jim caught him before he fell over.

    Two weeks later, Rachel stopped by the Evan's place like she often did on her way back from delivering milk and cream to the store.

    "I couldn't believe it when I heard it," Rachel told Erin.

    "What's that?"

    "Thad's Will! Ever'body was surprised! He'd made a will last month and didn't tell anyone except Jim. Well, the important thing was, Thad had put the farm as a business in an irrevocable Trust, and that somehow meant that there wouldn't be any inheritance taxes, or going to court or anything. He did that a long time ago. But he had control of all of it as long as he lived, so he made a Will and told the Trust what to do with it all when he died."

    "I suppose Jim and his family got it all, right?"

    "Well, no-o-o. Jim got the most of it, but he left the two boys each 80 acres of their own and said exactly what part they get. The surprise for me was that he left ME 40 acres! And, he left me some money, but it's gold and silver coins. He had quite a lot of them and most of it went to the family, but imagine him leaving that to ME! God Bless him, he treated me better than anybody ever did."

    Rachel wiped tears from her cheeks and said, "He was a real Dad to me. Lots better'n MY Dad ever was. I miss him so much!"

    "We all loved him," Erin said.

    "It made me feel like a real person. I feel so different. Like I don't have to be a nobody."

    "You're a property owner now. You could build a house and live in it, or rent the ground to somebody, or whatever you want to do with it."

    "It's not just that. My part is right next to Justin's part."

    Erin grinned from ear to ear. "Thad was a smart old devil, wasn't he?"

    Rachel said, "Yeah, he was smart. Now I feel like I can say yes."


    "Yeah. He's been askin' me to marry him since back in the winter, and I kept puttin' him off. Maybe it's that I just felt like I didn't have anything and marryin' him would make ever'body think I was just after a place to live an' all. I never felt that way, but I didn't want to live there with the whole family seein' it that way. Anyhow I thought they'd think that way."

    Erin looked at her and said, "And?"

    "I guess I'm over that now, 'cause Justin came to me after the Will readin' was over and said that now he could support me on his own, and I didn't have to worry about that. He said that we could each make it on our own with what we got, but we could do better together, and he's right. He's got a lot more sense than I thought he did. I've always liked him a lot. I just didn't think he was very grown up, but he is now. He's talkin' to his Dad about how they can work the farm together like we always did, but he's got ideas of his own about workin' his part. They were talkin' about it late last night."

    "So you're going to say yes?"

    Rachel's smile was a little lopsided as she said, "As soon as I get back home. I just had to stop and talk to you to get my courage up, I guess."

    Erin gave her a hug and said, "It'll be okay. I've watched Justin since he got here. He's good to people and animals, and that's a sign of good character. You'll be good together. You talk to him. Work out how he sees things and get your heads together. Make sure you're thinking alike."

    "I've been doin' that, but I don't know if he understood why I was askin' him things about farmin' and what he wanted to do and all. He wants to do mechanic work, and make money at that, too. I think he can do it."

    "Go home and do what you think is right," Erin told her.

    Chapter 69

    Justin was speechless when Rachel walked downstairs at the old farmhouse in a wedding dress. He had the biggest smile ever on his face, and Kyle was loving every minute of it, seeing his big brother act like a little kid at Christmas. Kyle was impressed, too. Who would have thought that Rachel was so beautiful?

    Kimberly and Erin had taken her upstairs and wouldn't let a man anywhere near before the ceremony. Jim stood by Justin's side, with Kyle beside him, waiting in front of the County Judge who would officiate, mostly because of the huge dinner Cindy had waiting on them in the kitchen, Kyle thought. Kyle knew his Mom had been down at Erin's house every spare minute for a week working on his Mom's old wedding dress so it would fit Rachel who was thinner and not quite as tall. Erin stood beside his Mom and both were in pretty dresses he hadn't seen before. Kyle was dressed up, too, in a suit Cindy had found for him and he couldn't wait to get out of it. The Judge did some talking before he got down to business, but not too much. Kyle was glad the ceremony was mercifully short. He was hungry.

    When they were pronounced man and wife, Justin kissed Rachel thoroughly. Kyle applauded with the rest and slowly followed them to the big combined kitchen and dining room where the new couple drank a toast of Thad's last batch of wine. Cindy announced that dinner was served, and they all found seats, some at tables borrowed for the day.

    Bill Evans and Carol were there, enjoying the day with the rest. Bill had offered the new couple the use of the apartment over his business building for the next week as a wedding gift. It was as near to a honeymoon as anyone could expect in this different world they lived in. Robert had given them a gift certificate to his store and Cindy and Chad had given them a bedroom suite, complete with a stock of sheets and blankets. Chad told him quietly that if he built a new house, to not worry about getting electricity hooked up to it. Frank and Doris Daulton had come for the ceremony and gave them a collection of kitchenwares they had left after moving in with Chad.

    Kyle got to change out of his suit about an hour later, much to his relief.

    Jim had enjoyed the wedding as much as anyone, but his mind was on how to manage the farm. His Dad had always made the decisions, but now it was up to him and the family was depending on him to make it work. Justin had some good ideas, but Jim felt the responsibility to guide his choices, too. The boy wanted to build a house for Rachel and himself, and he had the money to do it from Thad's legacy of old gold and silver coins. But it would take some money to get crops in the ground, buy livestock, and assure they had feed for next winter. He'd have to spend more time with Justin to work out how they could make it all work out. Tentatively, they had decided to continue farming the way they had been, with his son getting a fair rent for the 120 acres he and Rachel now owned together.

    Thad had owned a full section of land, 640 acres. Kyle now owned 80 acres and Justin and Rachel owned 120, leaving 440 that was Jim's share. Kyle had just turned 17 and would be out of school next year, so he was thinking about what he wanted to do with his share of land, but for this year they would operate with cash rent for the two boys. They would have to wait and see what next year brought before they could make any big changes in the operation. Markets were too iffy to plan very Far ahead.

    Carol knew almost everyone in town it seemed, and she visited with everyone who came in the hardware store. Owen Miller, owner of the trailer park was a regular customer who regularly bought plumbing, wiring, and other repair items. When he came in the store Monday morning she said,
    "Hi there Owen! What can I get for you today?"

    "I need a kitchen faucet and some PEX fittings. I'm fixing up that trailer that Robert used to rent, before he struck it rich. I can't seem to get it rented, and I ain't rich, so I'm fixing it up to sell."

    Robert overheard the conversation as he was tidying up the paint display. "That trailer is pretty well new, isn't it?"

    Owen said, "It was when you rented it. It's a 2008, and is still in real good shape, except for what I'm fixing. It was just fine until that last bunch tore up the kitchen getting their stuff moved out. I have to replace the sink faucets, because they hit 'em with something carryin' stuff out an' broke the faucet smooth off! Lucky they just got the spout, or I'd have a real mess. They got the window over the sink, too, so I need some glass. I got measurements here."

    While Owen browsed the plumbing shelves, Carol took his notes and cut 2 pieces of glass for him. At the cash register she asked, "You got a buyer for that trailer yet?"

    "I wish! Nobody's got any money and that new bank won't loan you anything unless you can prove you don't need to borrow any. Credit is so tight I don't know if I'll ever sell it, but I gotta try. Not as many renters as there used to be, an' what I get I turn down most of 'em because they can't make a damage deposit."

    Carol said, "That's a shame. I hope you get somewhere with that. I know things are tough."

    Robert asked him, "Have you decided on a price for the trailer?"

    Owen made a frown and said, "It's a 14' X 64' with 3 bedrooms, an' I'll take $24,000 for it. That might sound high, but it's cheap, really, 'cause the money ain't worth much."

    Carol looked at Robert and said, "We might know somebody that's interested. I'll send 'em your way, if they are."

    "I'd sure appreciate it. If I can't rent it, I need to get the money out of it. You tell 'em I can get it moved anywhere in the county for that price, too, okay? There's a guy that owes me a favor."

    When Owen had gone out, Carol called Thad's place. She still thought of it as his, even thought Jim and Kimberly owned it now. Kimberly answered and she said, "I just heard about a good deal on a nice mobile home and I thought I'd pass it on in case Justin and Rachel might be interested."

    After Carol hung up, Robert called to make an order for the store. He told the women later that he was having trouble getting a lot of things, and the prices were far higher than what he'd expected. They had sold the last of the replica wood cook stoves and he was told they were no longer available. The company had gone out of business last year and there were no more in stock. The Asian supplier had raised prices to a point that the importer had shut down.

    Chapter 70 Juy, 2017

    Cindy had tomatoes, bell peppers, green onions, Buttercrunch lettuce, and sweet corn for sale at Bill's Trading Post, and sold most of it. Late Saturday afternoon Taylor brought home the money and some leftover produce to eat. She carried the box in and gave Cindy the cash.

    Cindy asked, "How'd it go today?"

    "Pretty good. Everybody's getting ready for a big meal for the Fourth tomorrow, so we just about sold out. I saw on the way home that Justin has a trailer moved in down by Thad's place. I guess that's the ground he and Rachel inherited. They got that done fast."

    "I think Thad left them some money, too. It'd be hard for a young couple to save anything now, and getting a loan is impossible."

    Chad spoke up, saying, "You've got that right. The company told me their line of credit had been reduced so I have to be really careful about what I spend. It's hard to do business without credit. I don't know how the smal businesses can do it."

    Cindy said, "I think the ones who had to have credit are gone. That broke a lot of the old downtown businesses."

    Taylor said, "That's why I'm taking most of my pay in trade. Whatever I get is as cheap as I can find, and I save any money I get. I'd rather have things that Bill and me fixed up than a lot of new stuff that breaks right away."

    "You've sure got your room fixed up nice," Cindy said.

    "It didn't cost me much. I got the bedroom set, the sewing machine, the curtains and all the blankets and sheets for next to nothing. I did pay $100 for that old computer, but it's had the memory bumped up and is pretty good. Sure beats paying $1,899 for a new laptop!"

    "I think you're doing great," Cindy said. "You started with almost nothing and got all those things paid for this year."

    "It helps being able to ride to work with you and Chad. It's hard to buy gas at $14.69 a gallon on what I make."

    Chad asked, "Is Bill doing okay with his store?"

    "Boy, is he ever! He wants to stay open on Sunday, too. The crowd is getting to be too much to handle in one day. We're worn out by the end of the day, but he's making money all right. He's been paying me a little more and for more hours, so I'm making almost double what I did to start. He said since I'm doing more of the trading it's only fair to give me part of the profit. He's trading for bigger stuff, too. He took in an old Toyota pickup, a cement mixer, and a motorcycle this week. i told him the motorcycle was a steal. It's a Honda Ruckus, and that's a tough old bike. He got it for next to nothing, then Justin was in and said he could get it running smooth again."

    Cindy said, "Bill's a born horse trader. Last week he found a guy, Joe something-or-other, to rent the upstairs apartment, too. Seems like a decent guy, but I haven't seen much of him. Bill said he works for that welding shop where they make wood stoves. Said he'd do some fixing for Bill for part of his rent, and those two are planning all sorts of things. He's got a small welder he keeps there, and he patched up a trailer that Bill sold last week. Took a pair of good boots in trade, I think. Now Bill told me to watch for scrap iron to trade for, so I put it on the chalk board we use for notices. Welding rods, too."

    Chad chuckled, "That could turn into quite an operation there."

    "It will if Bill has his way," Taylor said.

    Andy was listening closely and decided he'd like to meet this fellow who did welding. That was something that he'd wanted to do since he went with his Dad to get the pump handle fixed at that shop.

    Owen Miller had no illusions about the poor economy and was working on getting something done to improve his situation. Once he'd sold the trailer, he had a concrete slab 24' X 70' with electricity, water, natural gas, and sewer hookups. He thought it would be a fine place to put a greenhouse, and he knew a man who had one. He thought there was money to be made growing fresh produce, since it was so expensive to ship in from down South, and California was still in an historic drought, making it costly and hard to get in the off season.

    The cardboard and paper recycling plant in Brownstown, Indiana was running overtime. The cardboard box plant in Louisville, however, was running only two days a week. They were using all recycled materials now, when they could get them to save money. Shippers were trying desperately to cut costs and had begun to use reuseable wooden boxes and crates. This gave some business to veneer mills in New Albany that had been almost shut down due to the lack of new construction using their hardwood for high end furniture and panelling. Higher energy costs had made the wood containers more competitive with cardboard and it was far stronger than the low grade recycled cardboard.

    The veneer mills were now slicing cheap hardwoods like sweet gum, sycamore, and yellow poplar for making baskets and produce crates. A box factory had once operated in New Albany to make those crates but had been shut down for 50 years. Some enterprising soul had ressurected it and was providing some sweatshop jobs making vegetable baskets and crates with 100 year old machinery. Sawmills in Georgia were churning out low grade pine sawed thin to make fruit boxes for shipping citrus from Florida. The citrus was bringing premium prices in the North, due to the California drought.

    A tannery had reopened in New Albany, after EPA restrictions were loosened. They were churning out leather as fast as they could to meet the demand for domestically made shoes and boots. Some leather went to make horse harness as well, after an upsurge in demand from some small farmers due to increased fuel costs.

    Those new jobs in New Albany drew a few people from outlying areas of that county who could not afford to commute on their low pay. Instead, they chose to live in newly established boarding houses that once had been the homes of the well-to-do in the area.

    The wood citrus boxes were generally not recycled, but thrown away, or used for kindling by whomever ended up with them. One enterprising soul in Corydon had been buying them for a dime each from the grocer and using the material to make wooden toys that he sold through the same grocery. He had arranged efficient ways to speed up his processes, like bandsawing stacks of parts to make several at once and sanding them the same way. When assembled by his kids, the finished toys were dipped in paint and hung up to drain and dry. Final detail painting was done assembly line fashion by the same kids. Since it was all in the family, they ignored child labor laws entirely.

    Kyle had spent some time with his grandfather as he made wine from the extensive grape harvest. he took up the challenge to try it himself and invested his own farmland rent money to buy the necessary sugar and containers. His first batch was a little sour, but nothing he couldn't fix by adding a little sugar to the finished product. His second picking yielded only half as much, but his wine was far better. He sold it by the gallon "under the table" at Bill's Trading Post and made enough money to try it again next year. He kept notes so he could do it right the first time next year.

    Thad had shown him how to start new vines by burying the tips of growing vines and letting them take root. Kyle did a lot of that after he finshed with the wine project. He wanted to establish a lot of grapes on his piece of land. From Bill, he bought some pruning shears, a spade, a mowing scythe, and other tools. He bought 2 empty oak whiskey barrels from the drug store who sold whiskey on a "bring your own bottle" basis, having paid the Federal tax when he bought the full barrels. Kyle wanted to try making some applejack the coming Fall.

  25. #25
    Chapter 71 August, 2017

    Owen Miller's only competition in the greenhouse business would be from the man a couple miles north of town who had an unheated tube greenhouse setup. What Owen bought was from a bankrupt flower shop, recently built just before the downturn. It was a modern structure, aluminum framed and came apart easily enough. Rebuilding it was more of a challenge than he had expected, but he made some scaffolding and hired one of his trailer tenants to help. He bought a used gas furnace and some sawmill lumber replace some of the interior work. Being a fair hand at plumbing, he simply cut off the sprinkler system at the floor and hooked it back up in the reassembled structure. He didn't plan to start his plants until there was a hard frost predicted. By the time his plants were producing, the man with the tube greenhouse would be finished for the year due to cold weather.

    The Goodwill and Salvation Army stores had closed. There were simply not enough donations to stock them, so they had resorted to buying imported goods, mostly coffee mugs, some glassware, cheap baskets and picture frames. When the currency crunch hit, those things did not sell well. There was demand for used clothing, but the donations had dried up and their stock was very low. Business dropped to the point they lost too much money and closed stores.

    That market was being filled by yard and garage sales and flea markets. It was a well known secret that their goods were mostly looted from abandoned homes, known as the "Midnight Warehouse". With the emphasis on survival, people bought up the practical clothing for working. The formal wear made up most of what remained in their stocks.

    Rachel was frustrated by what she had been able to find for Justin to wear for working. She bought what she could find in his sizes.

    "It seems wrong to wear dress pants on the farm," He told her.

    "I know, but the choice was getting them for $8 a pair, or paying $39.99 for cheap jeans at the clothing store. Wranglers are imported, too, but they are $89.99 a pair. Tractor Supply had some nice work clothes, but the prices were outa sight."

    "Whatever. I'll wear what we can afford. Those dress pants are pretty tough stuff, synthetic I guess. Doesn't matter if I'm gettin' greasy. I can't find anything around for shop rags. That synthetic crap won't soak up anything like cotton does."

    Rachel said, "I know. It won't work for dish rags or towels, either. We have to be careful with what we have, 'cause new stuff just costs too much."

    "They didn't have any bananas," Robert said.

    Erin sighed and said, "I guess they didn't have any lemons, either?"

    "No. I got some navel oranges they just got in from Florida, but a 4 pound bag cost $12.99."

    "That's highway robbery."

    "That's when they have anything. I got the pick of the new shipment, but they are pretty green. They'll have to sit in the sun for a few days to ripen or they'll be sour as all get out."

    "Maybe I can make orangeade instead of lemonade. They should be sour enough," Erin said.

    Carol went to find Bill for supper and saw him and Joe unloading a heavy wood contraption from his truck. There were several pieces that looked vaguely like a bedframe, but then she recognized the heddles. "You got a LOOM! It's beautiful!"

    "Yep! Solid cherry, an' the guy made it fer his wife, but she ain't able to use it now because of arthritis. I dunno if I can sell it, but ever'body's bitchin' about the cost of clothes and stuff. Maybe somebody'll want it. I got it cheap enough."

    "You're not gonna SELL that! I want it."

    "What would you want it for?"

    "To make rugs, silly! Is there any warp with it?"

    "I don't think it's warped. Looked pretty straight to me."

    "NO! Warp THREAD! The string you wind on the beam there."

    "Uh, there's some boxes up in the cab with spools of string they said went with it."

    Carol opened the truck door and began to ooh and aah over the boxes of colored string.

    Bill yelled at her, "There's some more in the toolbox!"

    What she found there was bleached linen thread, tons of it. Carol thought hard about the linen, wondering how to use it on a rug loom until she saw the second set of heddles. Bill and Joe had the frame knocked together by then, the fitted tenons plugged in place and wood wedges tapped in to hold them. It was a masterpiece of hand craftsmanship, and it was a four-shed loom. The extra set of heddles were fine spaced and would make lovely linen cloth. She'd have to learn about that, since all she had used was he grandmother's old rug loom as a kid. This wasn't a crude backwoods model like her grandma had, it was a professional quality weaver's loom.

    A smaller cardboard box in the truck caught her eye. It contained several shuttles, warping needles, and two thick books.

    "Can you build a wood cooking range?"

    "I suppose I could," the welding shop owner said. "I'd have to have a sample to work from."

    Robert said, "I can provide a sample."

    "It would cost too much to build, though. There's lot of time involved in drawing up something like that and making drawing of individual parts, then figure out the best way to make each one. There's always a lot of modifications at the last minute to make things work right. Debugging, we call it. You just can't afford to make something like that."

    Robert said, "I'm thinking about producing them the way you do heating stoves."

    "They're more complicated than a heating stove, the best I remember. It would still cost twice as much."

    "That sounds about right, considering the cost of the ones I used to sell."

    "Where are we gonna sell that many cook stoves?"

    "The same places you sell the heating stoves. Out here in farm country. We would have to market them in every county around us to get enough business. If we do a good job, there should be demand from an even wider area. The wholesaler that I used to buy from told me the importer went out of business because the price went up to over $6,000 and he couldn't sell them. Is there a chance we could make one for, say between $2000 and $3,000?"

    "I think so, if the volume is there, and if the design doesn't get too complicated."

    "How about I bring you sample to look at and then we can talk again?"

    Scott Blevins nodded and said, "Okay. Won't hurt to give it a look."

    Chapter 72

    Jim had to remember how to adjust the combine, but some common sense went a long ways toward getting a clean product in the bin. Once that was accomplished, cutting the beans only took a another hour. The weather was very hot and dry, typical for August in southern Indiana, so the beans were very crisp. Jim hoped they didn't shatter out of the hulls too badly and fall to the ground as they were cut. He watched his ground speed to keep all he could flowing onto the grain head. The 16 foot grain head made short work of it and he had a bin full of Great Northern beans. Jim ran the combine for anther few minutes at the end of the field to clean out the dust and dirt, then drove it to the barn lot.

    The beans were not perfectly clean, but he had a plan for that. Running them thrugh the combine again would crack too many of the very dry beans, so instead, Jim hung an old furnace squirrel cage fan on the end of the combine auger, offset to the side a little and plugged in the extension cord. When the fan was blowing hard, he started the unload auger slowly over the grain wagon and a thin stream of beans came out into the airstream. Dust and bits of bean hulls flew away and what landed in the hopper wagon was pretty clean. Jim put the combine in the huge machine shed and had Kyle put the hopper wagon inside as well.

    Tomorrow, they would take the hopper wagon down the road to a neighbor who had a seed cleaning fan mill and finish the job. It would take a few hours to run over 100 bushels through it, but he wanted the product as clean as he could get it. After all, people were going to eat these beans. Kyle had 22 blue plastic barrels washed clean and dried in the sun ready to receive the beans for storage. Two barrels of the lot would be saved for seed and the rest marketted as best they could through every grocery store in the area. Jim was hoping that his price plan would work out for selling them, because this was an important cash crop for the farm this year.

    Justin and Rachel were "priming" tobacco, picking the lowest leaves that had turned pale yellow and were ready to pick. The leaves were carefully stacked on a flatbed farm wagon and then hauled to the big barn where they could sit in the shade and string the leaves, one by one, onto thin wire to hang for drying and curing. It was a slow, labor intensive process, but it insured that virtually every leaf was picked when it was in perfect condition.

    At the end of the day, a wagon load of the bright leaves were hanging in the barn loft, the air perfumed by their pungent aroma. Rachel swept the wagon bed clean of leaf trash, tobacco worms, and other debris as Justin hung the last of the wires like long clotheslines in the loft. Their hands were sticky with tobacco gum, and they were sweating profusely. They walked together to the hand pump outside the kitchen to wash and cool off.

    Taylor came into the kitchen and found Doris sitting with needle and thread in one hand and a sock in the other. It had something round inside it and she was making careful, long stitches over a hole in the heel.

    "What are you doing?"

    "I'm darning a sock. They are too precious to throw away when they just get a hole in them.

    "I have to see this." Taylor sat down next to her and leaned over to watch closely as Doris closed the hole with parallel stitches, then proceeded to weave threads crosswise of the first ones. In a few minutes the repair was finished.

    "What's inside the sock--oh--a POTATO?"

    "It's what I had handy. I used to use a light bulb, back when they were bulbs instead of corkscrews. The glass worked better, because the needle wouldn't stick in it. I've used boiled eggs, too, but they are really too small unless it's a kid's sock."

    "So that's how you do it. I never saw it done before. It takes a while, doesn't it?"

    "Sure. But not as long as knitting a sock!"

    "I need to mend some things, too. I have to find some buttons for two shirts and my jeans need patched. I spend too much time on my knees in Bill's shop."

    "No time like the present. Go get your things and I'll get my button box. There's sure to be something in there that will work."

    When Taylor came back downstairs, Doris had an old shoebox that she dumped on the big kitchen table. She asked Taylor, "What color and how big?"

    Taylor had never seen so many buttons. "Where did you get all these?"

    "My aunt gave me a lot of the oldest ones, but I saved them from everything we threw out for rags. Now I wish I'd saved the rags. I could've made hooked rugs with 'em, or something."

    "I don't throw ANYTHING away now! I have to do something with some of it, though. It's getting to be a big pile in the shed out there."

    "Well, let's look through your things and see if we can come up with ideas to use them for something."

    Chapter 73

    "Time to take the trash out," Cindy said. "I'll get it."

    Carol handed her the trash can from under the counter and Cindy took the one from near the front door and headed for the truck to dump them into a bag for disposal later. She came hurrying back in a moment later, saying, "I smelled smoke out there! Something is on fire!"

    Robert and Carol followed her out the front door where the smell was strong. They looked, searching in all directions, until Carol said, "There! Over the old car dealer's! Something in the next block is burning!"

    Robert hurried inside and dialed 911. At least that still worked. The Sheriff's dispatcher answered promptly. He said, "There's a building on fire downtown, between the old car dealer's place and the Courthouse! Get the Fire Department called!"

    He hung up and ran outside, carrying two 100 foot rolls of garden hose, ripping off the packaging as he went. "Take these toward the fire! Most of the stores have a washdown faucet along the sidewalk. See if you can find one somewhere close that works!"

    Robert ran back inside and got another roll of hose and followed the women. When he rounded the corner of the next block, smoke was rolling out around a broken transome window over the door of an empty store building that once had been a barber shop then something else. A storefront window broke while he watched and flames came out. He could hear the fire siren going then, as he searched frantically for a faucet. The nearest one he saw was across the street and down a couple doors. He ran for it and saw the women at another faucet down the block on the side with the fire. Robert heard the fire truck engine start three blocks away.

    Carol got the hose screwed on and turned hard on the stuck faucet, cutting her hand on a burr, but she got it open and water soon ran out of the hose. Robert had his going, but Cindy had yet to find a working faucet. She ran back to the store and grabbed a couple hose nozzles, coming back at a dead run. She threw one to Robert and ran to hand Carol another one. Cindy kinked the hose to shut off the water so Carol could screw on the nozzle.

    Robert had his hose squirting water into the storefront through the broken window when Cindy found a third faucet further down the block and began to get her hose hooked up. The faucet handle was broken, but she used the end of the hose as a wrench to get it cracked loose so she could turn it by hand. The fire truck was coming around the corner when Cindy got her hose running. Two men jumped off the side of it as it screeched to a halt near a fire hydrant. The driver set the brake, turned up the hand throttle and dove out of the truck to get hoses unloaded. A man on the other side of the truck got an inch and a half hose unrolled from the back of the truck and ran to the buidling as the driver turned the pump on. The hose bucked and jerked on the ground as high pressure forced its' way through.

    The third man was frantically trying to get a rusted hydrant plug out and his hose hooked to it before the truck ran through the 500 gallons of water in the truck's tank. By the time he had the 4" hose deployed, flames were shooting out the roof of the old building, and blobs of burning roofing tar were dripping off the back gutter into the alley behind the building. That set fire to some debris in the alley that had collected after the trash pickup stopped. Unseen, that fire blazed up and carried the fire to the back door of the next building while firefighters were assaulting the front. The driver got a 2" canvas hose unlimbered and hooked to the truck's pump, but he needed a helper to handle it and another man to turn the valve on. He had to wait for more people to arrive for that.

    Robert saw his dilemna and shut off his hose nozzle and ran to help, calling for Cindy. They got the bigger hose going as more people arrived to help and men began to suit up to go inside and fight it at the bottom of the fire. A one hundred year old brick wall crumbled as the second floor gave way, and carried the fire to the buidling on the left. The back of the building on the right was ablaze, but nobody could see that yet. The fire raged out of control.

    A double brick firewall stopped the fire at the middle of the block in one direction, but it burned all the way to the other end of the block, consuming five stores before jumping across the alley in back into the stores beyond. Another four store buildings burned to the ground before the fire stopped at another firewall for lack of fuel. It was well past midnight when Robert and the women slowly drove home with some assurance that the fire would not spread further.

    Mayor Richard Fleming called the City Council to order and said without any formality, "We damn near lost the town! We have to make sure it doesn't happen again!"

    Wendell Stark said, "Do we even know what started it?"

    "No," Arlen Hamilton said, "we don't. It could have been anything. It's all such a disaster now that the State guy couldn't say any more than it started in the office area of the old Abstract Company. Probably a mouse chewing on some old matches or something was his guess. Lots of old papers in there, I imagine, and it just went from there."

    Fleming said, "We have three problems that I see. One, those burned buildings are a hazard to the public, and need to be torn down before they fall on somebody. We can condemn the buildings, but we don't know who owns them."

    "Two, there are a lot more buildings at risk for the same sort of thing. Hell, 2/3 of the downtown section is empty!"

    "And, three, we don't have enough fire protection for what businesses are left. There are two pumper trucks in the fire station, but we couldn't muster enough people to man ONE of them!"

    Wendell said, "We won't get any more firemen until we can afford to pay them, either. People are working too hard to just stay alive to give a lot of time for volunteer firefighting."

    "Arlen said, "That's the truth. I don't know how we can afford to do more than eat. I dread the thought of winter coming and the cost of heating."

    "We have to do something, or next time we could lose the entire downtown," Fleming said. "We almost lost Barks' Drugs this time. The city needs that drugstore with Wal Mart gone."

    Arlen said, "There was nobody there to catch it in time. Cindy Daulton smelled it, but it was going strong by then. With all those buildings unoccupied, it's a disaster waiting to happen."

    Wendell asked, "So how can we get those old buildings cleared out? The owners are long gone, the banks that mortgaged them have been absorbed into bigger banks and nobody knows who owns what."

    Mayor Fleming said, "I was thinking we could condemn them all for a start, post the notices, put it in the paper and all that. We have a City Ordinance for Public Safety that says if the property is condemned, the City can do what is necessary to get rid of the hazard to the public and bill the property owner. My thinking is that if we can't get paid for demolishing the buildingsxz and the property taxes are in arrears, the City can legally dispose of the properties by a tax sale. The money from the tax sale then pays for whatever expenses we incurred."

    "Better ask the City Attorney about that to be sure," Arlen said.

    "The City Attorney will want paid for his opinion, since he isn't being paid a retainer now," Wendell pointed out. "And, need I add that the City is broke?"

    Fleming said, "Possibly the Attorney may have an interest in buying some of said properties."

    Wendell said, "Next question is who can we get to demolish the buildings?"

    "We have to find the property owner of record before we can proceed," Nathan Beech said.

    "That's as fine an example of a lawyer covering his butt as I ever heard," Richard Fleming said. "NOBODY knows who owns the properties you bonehead! THAT is the PROBLEM! So proceed from there!"

    Nathan did his best to hold his temper. The accusation was true and he had no comeback. Instead he said, "I suppose we could follow your plan, but you realize that the property owner could surface and sue the city for lack of notice."

    "Not if we take it for taxes, they can't," Fleming retorted. "Find a reason we CAN do this, for cripes sake!"

    "If you stay within the property tax laws, you'll be fine. But that requires a tax statement to be mailed to the property owner. How do you propose to get around that?"

    "We mailed tax statements ot the last known address of the mortgage holders, to collect presumably from the buyer's escrow accounts, as usual. The fact that the mortgage banks were closed and those statements were returned as "address unknown" is neither here nor there. We've got that covered."

    "I still say it's shaky legal ground," The lawyer said.

    "Hell, I knew that when I came in here! Thanks for nothing! Send a bill to the City and we'll see if there's some way to pay you for your time."

    "Just notify me of the date of the tax sale, would you?"

  26. #26
    Chapter 74 September, 2017

    Arlen Hamilton, ever alert to the possibility of making money without working for it, tentatively had agreed to demolish the buildings for a nominal sum in money and the right to salvage the brick. He needed to find a buyer for the brick, so he approached his wife's brother who dealt in building materials at the stone quarry he owned. Bill Richards had not gotten where he was without some sharp business practices and turned the deal back on the city by negotiating to fill the basements of all the buildings with the demolition debris. He would get an hourly rate for this work, plus the right to whatever salvage he wanted.

    The Fall property tax installments were due, so the city found enough revenue to cover that expense, and made the deal after the tax due date to get past the waiting period for the tax leins on some of the buildings and make the process marginally legal. A portion of what the City paid Richards for demolition was given to Arlen Hamilton as the prime contractor on the deal. The process moved along well. Within 3 weeks the buidlings were razed, basements filled, sewer, gas, and water lines stubbed off, and some fill dirt compacted over the half block.

    A Sheriff's tax auction sale was held on the Courthouse steps the first day of September. The bidders were few, with only the Mayor, the City Council members, the City Attorney, and Robert Evans and his Dad attending. The half block was to be sold in two equal parcels, divided by the alley in the center of them.

    Additionally, the City Council had determined to sell the adjacent store building that had last been Marshall's Department Store. It had gone bankrupt several years ago, and the property held for sale by a bank, now long gone. The alley ended at the firewall that formed the side of this store, so the building extended all the way from Elm Street, facing Evans Hardware, to Brook Street by the Courthouse on the other end with an entrance on both streets. Half rotted plywood covered both entrances and the windows. Only a small side door on Elm Street allowed access for inspection of the property the day before the sale. The rest of that block was occupied by Bark's Drugs, also extending through to both streets.

    The auction was slow and deliberate, with only the the City, represented by the Mayor, and the attorney, Nathan Beech making bids on the vacant lots. The City bid the amount owed to it for back taxes plus expenses for clearing, and Nathan Beech offered $100 more. The City did not up their bid and Beech was the new owner. Conveniently, his bid was the same amount as his bill to the City for services rendered.

    Mayor Fleming also opened the bidding on Marshall's Department Store, again at the amount owed to the City in back taxes. Bill Evans made a bid $100 over that minimum and after due effort by the auctioneer, the hammer fell and Bill was the new owner for the princely sum of $2,360. Mayor Fleming was delighted to have the building sold so the City had a new taxpayer and one less vacant property to worry about. It would be up to the new owner to assure the building met fire codes and was properly maintained. The auction closed with satisfied parties all around.

    The next day Robert went to the office of Nathan Beech.

    "What can I do for you, Mr. Evans?"

    "I was wondering if you would like to sell the vacant lot you bought yesterday?"

    "I would, but it is subject to recovery by the last owner if they choose to pay the property taxes. That's a standard condition of tax sales, you know," Nathan said.

    "And they have a year to do that, if I am not mistaken?"

    "That's correct, so the soonest I can sell the property would be a year from the date of the last tax statement, about 9 months from now."

    "I understand. If you decide to sell at that time, let me know. I could use more parking space."

    Nathan wondered why he would pay for more parking space when the streets were habitually empty now, but he didn't ask. He simply said, "I'll be glad to let you know. I appreciate your interest, Mr. Evans."

    Nathan smiled and offered his hand. Robert shook hands in agreement and left, with Nathan still wondering, but glad to have an offer on what had cost him exactly nothing.

    Bill Evans had inspected the old department store well enough to know it didn't have any roof leaks, and the building was basically sound. It smelled musty and there was a certain amount of trash scattered about, but the basement was dry and empty except for an ancient gas furnace and some old crates. He hadn't even seen any mice. The main floor had only some built in cabinetry, the store displays having been sold off, he supposed.

    The second floor still had all the old wood counters and shelves from a bygone era, all empty except for a big roll of brown wrapping paper in its' stand. A big spool of twine hung on the same fixture for tying packages. Beside and behind the wide staircase was a U-shaped storage room he had not investigated since the doors were locked.

    Today, he took a collection of antique skeleton keys from his collection of junk and went back to the store. He also took a big crowbar in case he couldn't find a key to fit, but that turned out to be unnecessary. The third key he tried fit the simple old lock. The grimy windows let in only enough light to get around, but enough to see the stacks of carboard boxes inside. All but a few were still taped shut with the old brown paper gummed tape. Bill flipped those open and found bolts of fabric. He thought about the big table with the roll of paper and realized it was a fabric cutting table. He dug out his pocketknife and began opening boxes.

    Chapter 75 October, 2017

    Chad had known all of the electricians in the area for years, but only one remained. He gave his name to Bill Evans who had him make an inspection of the old store building and do what minor repairs were needed before having the electric service restored. The gas furnace was more problematic, requiring new safety valves and an inspection before the gas was turned on. Water service was only run to a single employee rest room and wasn't in serviceable condition. The toilet had frozen and the tank was broken. They replaced the toilet and the faucets and drains on the sink. Taylor used liberal applications of Barkeeper's Friend to make the sink presentable and spent some quality time with Joe Marker cleaning windows and floors.

    Bill recruited Joe, his apartment tenant, and Taylor to begin moving things to the downtown store building. Only the best goods got moved, practical household goods, small tools, and the best of his clothing selection. The old store had clothing racks and a wealth of hangers to display them. Robert's small trailer was borrowed and the best furniture was moved. Farm goods and outdoor items were left at the shop building, mostly stored in the old steel shed. The old machine shop was summarily emptied of all but goods needing repairs and other leftovers in one bay. By the end of the week he was ready for business at the new downtown location, a notice having been put in the newspaper the previous week.

    "What are those steel plates in the sidewalk?"

    "Uh, well, I dunno, Joe," Bill said. "Oh, they used to have those where there was a lift to get stuff down to the basements of stores."

    They looked at each other for a minute and Joe said, "Let's go have a look."

    Wooden crates were stacked in front of that end of the basement, so it took some effort to move enough of them to access where the decrepit old lift was located behind a large wooden door. It was an ancient mechanical affair some 4 feet square, and had been controlled from the basement. The wooden parts of it looked rickety, so Bill decided to eliminate it when he had time. That mystery solved, he turned his attention to the crates themselves. The shipping tags were either gone or unreadable, except for the large print on one tag that clearly said, "Maytag".

    The tobacco crop was hanging in the barn and Jim Wright had 17 barrels of Great Northern beans cleaned and ready to sell. How to get them to customers was something of a problem, until they figured out to load the barrels in the truck with the tractor's front end loader. By taking along an extra barrel and buckets to dip with, they could empty a loaded barrel from the truck into one inside a grocery store. Marty Shoemaker wanted 2 barrels of them right away. They arranged a profitable deal with him by taking their pay in trade at Marty's store. Jim called several groceries in nearby towns and sold 11 barrels within a twenty mile radius, charging a nominal amount for delivery.

    Kyle was researching all he could find on curing tobacco. He had convinced his Dad that they would make many times the money on it if they sold a finished product. He had figured out that there were no taxes or regulations on selling the whole tobacco leaves, cured or not, a loophole he intended to exploit.

    Mayor Fleming turned his attention to the next block of deserted stores where only one small business was still operating, a shoe repair shop. That place had been there forever and survived through the hard times, finding his trade in much higher demand. The rest of the block was empty and beginning to show cosmetic deterioration. The shoe repair shop owned the empty shop behind him, once rented for a hair and nail salon, and later a tattoo parlor.

    The balance of the block had been a car dealer 50 years ago, and since then had been partioned into 4 separate storefronts, one of which had been a mechanic's garage. It had endured until last year and was now vacant. The taxes had not been paid on any of that portion of the bock in a year and a half. Fleming racked his brain to figure out how either the City or himself, or both, could profit from this.

    Ultimately, he decided that since the building was still in decent shape, so he should vote himself a raise to buy it. He bought the store building at a quiet tax auction, under terms that allowed him to amortize the cost of it by allowing the City to keep his pay raise for the next year, when title would transfer from the City to himself. It seemed like a good idea to the City Council members who found other properties they would like in lieu of a pay raise. They worked on the property appraisal valuations to assure that none of them would owe much of anything in taxes.

    Owen Miller had built a compost bin of unmortared concrete blocks he'd bought used and filled it with the leaves and grass clippings from the trailer park mixed with a liberal mount of manure he got from a farmer nearby. The pile was heating nicely and hardly smelled at all after a few days. He watered it a little as needed and assured himself it would be ready when it was time to plant seeds in the greenhouse.

    He had bought a cheap outdoor wood furnace from a junk dealer in town, probably stolen from an empty house somewhere. It was installed in the greenhouse and the natural gas heating idea scrapped. Firewood was readily available, with so many people doing anything they could to make a dollar.

    Chapter 76

    Sales from Robert's hardware store were up a little the past 2 quarters, although still dismal by comparison to years past. Robert was doing a little better than breaking even, but his profit margin needed some help. Raising prices was out of the question with such a soft market, so that left increasing sales somehow and cutting expenses. He was addressing the issue of increasing sales with the development of a locally made wood cooking range that he intended to distribute. Any other new products he would consider also.

    Cost cutting measures he had implemented included less winter heating and converting from a gas furnace to a wood stove. The initial renovation had included a new double entrance to reduce outside air exchange, high R-value sprayed on foam insulation in the addition and a low ceiling there, and converting all the lighting to new efficient flourescents. He had made large quantity inventory buys to get discounts, and shopped intensively for the best priced suppliers. The lack of a mortgage helped, as did not having to borrow money for inventory or payroll. He was using his own capital, but he needed to make a return on his investment.

    Labor was the only thing left, and while he could get by with one employee, both women were assets, and he really hated to lay off anyone. They weren't just employees, they were friends and Carol was family. He didn't come to any decisions, but put the issues on his mental back burner.

    Maybe she was reading his mind, Robert thought that evening on the way home when Carol said, "You don't need me at the store much now, do you?"

    Robert was taken aback, so he said, "What makes you say that?"

    "Well, I know you and Cindy can handle the store, so there's no reason for you to keep me when I've got other things to do."

    Robert said, "I guess that would be all right. We're not that busy now. I kind of thought that Bill might be needing you, right?"

    "Yeah, he wants to keep the new store open Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and he needs somebody in the new store with Taylor, and I want to get started doing weaving. I thought I could do both at the same time."

    Robert said, "Cindy, would you mind working another hour a day to take up a little slack keeping the shelves stocked?"

    Cindy said, "Suits me fine, if it's in the afternoon. I can't leave earlier in the morning on account of getting the kids off to school."

    Robert said, "As long as everybody is okay with this. Do we have a deal then?"

    Both women said, "Deal."

    Robert was relieved. Now all he had to do was find a reasonably priced source for chainsaw parts and supplies. Silver Streak was his old standby, but their prices had tripled since the dollar fell. He'd always bought bulk saw chain because it was so much cheaper and the store came with the tools to cut and rivet it to suit. His cost to make a chain for an 16" saw, the most popular size, had gone from under $10 to $36. If he made any money for his time, it had to sell for close to $50. His only competition was the tractor repair shop where the John Deere dealer used to be. They got $59.99 for a packaged chain that size.

    More worrisome that the prices was the fact that he had been unable to get any parts for certain chainsaws for the past few months. Woodcutting season was here so he had to solve that problem. His stock was running low.

    Frank Daulton made few trips to town now, so he relished going. It was expensive to drive their older model Buick. He tried to ignore that for the moment. He had a long list of things to do in town to make the trip cover as many bases as possible. The tractor shop was first, for some filters and a hydraulic hose coupling. He was shocked at how much it cost for 2 fuel filters, an oil filter, and one coupling--$88.12.

    Next on his route was the mechanic's shop downtown for some spark plugs and wires for his car. That mechanic often had good used parts, and the best prices anywhere on new ones. It was the guy who did the great job on restoring Robert's old truck. His place looked pretty rough, being an old gas station that hadn't seen any fresh paint for ages. The concrete pavement was broken and had some holes patched with gravel, and the office door had the glass replaced with old gray-looking plywood, still not painted. There was a weathered barn behind it where he stored used parts and tires, and a vacant lot next door that stored sundry parts that didn't mind the weather. It had been gravelled in the remote past, but was now growing a good crop of weeds. The chain link fence around it was rusted, but solid, and 8 feet high with barbed wire on top.

    He found Buster outside with his feet sticking out from under a fire truck. There were 2 other cars parked beside it, probably waiting to be fixed.

    "You got time to sell me some spark plugs and wires?"

    "Be out in a minute."

    Frank watched him tighten something and roll out on his creeper. Buster wiped his hands on the tattered remains of a grease rag and asked, "What're they for?"

    "My Buick over there. It's an '08 model and has the V6."

    "I'll look it up. C'mon in."

    He looked in his parts books and went looking in the garage bay that he had filled with wooden shelves full of parts. Buster's mongrel dog was laying on his own broken down car seat that leaned against the wall. Frank had met the dog and knew not to mess with him. He would stay there half asleep unless somebody moved too fast, especially in his direction. Then the dog would go absolutely insane. Buster warned everyone about the dog. He had never been robbed.

    "Don't have new ones. Couldn't get 'em the last time I ordered. I got some used ones that I sandblasted and regapped for 4 bucks each. Bring back the old ones an' I'll give you a buck each for 'em if they ain't burnt up. The wires I got. They're $90 for the set. They ain't brand new, but I took 'em off a nearly new wreck, is why they're that cheap. I got new ones for $140 a set."

    "The used ones sound great to me, and I'll take the cleaned plugs, too."

    Frank could see the manual tire changer through the shop door with 2 tires and rims leaning on it to be changed. This garage was like stepping back in time 50 years, right down to the tire shaped ashtray on the counter.

    He was amazed how fast his money was going, but he paid the man and thanked him. He'd seen generic spark plug wires that cost over $150 at the 'discount' auto parts place, and you had to cut them to length yourself and put the terminals on them. Those would fit practically anything so they didn't have to stock so many different ones. He'd gotten far better ones today for $60 less.

    Frank stopped at the drug store for some generic pain reliever tablets. His arthritis was acting up. The bottle of 100 was $12. He was going to the grocery on the way home and they sold the pills cheaper, but you couldn't depend on them being in stock. With gas at 14-something a gallon, it wasn't worth a trip to go there first to see. He walked across the street to Evan's Hardware and bought some nails from Cindy, then got in the car and drove to the grocery. He had spent about $225 so far and had about $300 left in his pocket. He hoped it would be enough to get all they wanted from the grocery. Coffee was expensive, but he really wanted some. Heck, you only live once he thought. He'd pay the price for it. They could cut it with Chicory and make it go farther. He had found Chicory growing along the roadside and transplanted a row of it along the garden fence. They should have a pretty good crop of it when he dug the roots after the first hard frost. That would cut the caffeine down to where he could drink a cup at breakfast and lunch without getting twitchy.

  27. #27
    Chapter 77

    Chad was going to be working late, so Robert drove Cindy home. They encountered Frank putting away his purchases when they arrived.

    "How's it going Frank?"

    "Pretty good," He told Robert. Then he reconsidered for moment and said, "No, really it's not going worth crap and we all know it. I spent almost $500 today and I can carry it all in two old grocery sacks. It's pathetic what has happened to our country. How the devil did we get in this shape? This used to be the best country in the world. We worked hard for what we got, but we could save and get ahead. Now Doris and I would be starving if it wasn't for Chad and living here. Come to think of it, I kinow some folks our age that DID starve to death. How the hell did this happen??!!!"

    Robert frowned and said, "It's a long story and you're not going to like it."

    "What story?"

    "I'm not all the way to the bottom of it yet, but I've been studying this for a couple years now. It's about the bankers that rule the world. They caused it all."

    "Bankers went bust in all this misery. If they caused the trouble, it serves them right," Frank said. "But the big banks are still okay, like the one that had my mortgage."

    "It's the biggest banks that did it. The Central Banks, like the Federal Reserve Bank system. They took over US currency, then they took over the government, and finally they stole everything worth stealing and used compound interest to starve the country."

    "The government controls the money! It's all their fault!"

    "The government hasn't controlled the money for a very long time. Got a dollar bill in your pocket? What does it say on it? Right at the top."

    Frank pulled out a few small bills and read, "Federal Reserve Note. So what? That's the Federal Government, like I said."

    "No, Frank. The Federal Reserve BANK issued that 'NOTE', and a note is a DEBT, just like your mortgage was. It's all worthless and has been since we went off the gold standard. What that means is the Federal Reserve NOTE is a DEBT to you. It sounds complicated but it is the simplest, most elegant scam ever created by man. Basically, the money is created out of thin air. In 1913, the US government signed away the right to issue money and gave that right to the big banks. We have been in debt to those big banks ever since then and it keeps getting worse. They print more currency each year, issue more debt to the government, and the hole keeps getting deeper."

    Robert could tell that Frank was lost on the subject, so he said, "It takes a while to get your head around how it really works. If you really want to know, watch a series of videos on the internet called The Crash Course, by Chris Martenson. It takes a while to see all 20 videos, but it is worth it. You will never be the same after you see those. And it is going to make you mad as hell."

    Frank looked at Robert and assessed the expression on his face. He decided that Robert believed what he was telling him and he had a lot of respect for the man. On that simple basis, Frank said, "I'll do that. Would you write that down for me?"

    The following Sunday Frank went to see Bill Evans about tilling up their garden spot before winter. He found the whole family in the kitchen just finishing Sunday dinner.

    Frank said, "I hate to interrupt a meal. Sorry 'bout that."

    "Come on in Frank," Erin said. "We're just sittin' here talking. Have a seat. You want some coffee?"

    "I'd never turn down a cup of coffee."

    Robert asked, "What brings you here today?"

    "I need to get our garden tilled up now that the crops are all done. Want to sow a cover crop. I thought maybe I could get Bill to do that for us."

    Bill said, "Sure! I think tomorrow is supposed to be nice, so I can come down then if it suits you."

    "That'd be just fine. I got cow manure spread on it with the boys help. Those feeder steers are about ready for market and they've left a mess in the that feedlot. If Chad don't buy more cattle, we oughta use that feedlot for a crop next year. There's about 2 acres there."

    Bill said, "If you decide to work that up, give me a littl notice and I'll take care of it."

    "Oh, it won't be before Spring, 'cause the cattle will be there for another month or so."

    Frank turned to Robert and said, "You were right. I watched those videos and it made me so mad I wasn't fit to live with for a couple days. We need to kick those bastards out and do it fast!"

    Robert said, "I've got a book I can loan you about the Federal Reserve and how it was formed, if you're interested. It's long and pretty dry reading, but it's the best there is on the subject. Called "The Creature from Jekyll Island". I have another one about how those big bankers, the central banks, all operate to take over small countries. It's called "Confessions of an Economic Hit Man". It explains a lot about the wars we got into over the years. And there is a video you should see on that subject, called 'All Wars are Bankers Wars'."

    "That should get your blood pressure up," Bill told Frank. "It made me mad and I'm STILL mad. They've been playing us for patsy's forever."

    Frank said, "How come I never heard about this before?"

    Bill said, "Why, 'cause they don't want you to know! They want to keep ever'body ignorant and playin' their game! They own all the big newspapers and TV stations and all that. They tell ya what they want you to think and ever'body believes it. They fill your head fulla football games and stupid TV shows and tell you a buncha damn lies about why you're so poor! You probably seen the old movie, The Wizard of Oz, haven't ya?"

    "Yeah. The kids always watched it when it was on," Frank said.

    "Ya know that scene where the little dog tears down the curtain and there's a little man behind it? He's talkin' through the microphone and says, "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain! I am the GREAT AND POWERFUL WIZARD OF OZ! Well, that 's how it all works. They got their mouthpieces like that to tell you what you're s'posed to believe!"

    Frank was beginning to think the whole family was a little strange. It all sounded like some fairy tale.

    Robert saw he was uncomfortable and said, "Dad, it isn't fair to overload somebody with this all at once. Give Frank a break and let him read the books."

    Bill said, "I get steamed about it. Sorry. He's right. You read what he gives you and you'll begin to see what we're talkin' about. It took me a year to catch up with what Robert told me. But I'll tell you what. After you learn about this stuff, the world will make sense to you for the first time in your life."

    Chapter 78 November, 2017

    Two young men showed up at the corner store on the highway into town one morning. They told the store clerk they had got off a freight train when it stopped 4 miles to the north at Corydon Junction and hitched a ride to town with the drug store owner who had picked up a shipment. Kevin Albin, who had grown up in the county, was an ex-employee of the Corps of Engineers. His travelling partner was Sean Harper, an ex-Veteran's Admin. worker. They said they were looking for work of any sort.

    They began to tell how thousands of govt. workers were terminated. There had been some serious protests by terminated government workers in the Capitol, but those were cut short by a detachment of Marine guards.

    The rumor was that the Census Bureau would be shut down until the next census was due. Then it would be done by computer generated lists with minimum workers. The government health care insurance plan was history, along with Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and 2/3 of military personnel would be cut and many overseas bases closed. All the govt. law enforcement agencies were to be merged into the FBI and total manpower cut by 3/4. The Department of Homeland Security had been disbanded.

    IRS manpower had been cut by 90% and the tax code streamlined to a short form for all individuals. The Post Office would deliver mail once a week with a commensurate cut in personnel. They couldn't remember it all, but it was supposed to be announced by the end of the week.

    It all had to do with loans from the International Monetary Fund. The IMF had been running a back door operation loaning money to support US Treasury bonds through a Belgian bank as a proxy buyer, the bond purchase money being issued as direct loans to the desperate US government. Now they were asserting their power as leinholder, to dictate fiscal policy to the US.

    The store clerk listened with her mouth open. It was the worst news she'd heard in a long time, and there had been absolutely nothing on the news about it.

    The dollar's value had dropped by a factor of 3 to one back at the first 'voluntary' devaluation. After rumors of the draconian cutbacks reached international markets, the dollar dropped to 1/5 of what it had been pre-crisis, relative to US imports, and that was spreading fast to prices of domestic goods. The central banks had pulled every trick they could think of to stave off the inevitable demise of the unbacked fiat dollar, but China, Russia, and several other countries had dumped their US Treasury bonds, sinking bond prices and causing a tsunami of overseas dollars to come flooding back to the US. Nobody wanted to hold dollars. International trade with the US virtually stopped, overnight. Politicians had voiced warmongering rhetoric, but they were toothless tigers, unable to support the military's needs and everyone knew it.

    Kevin and Sean were directed to the minister of a church who gave a meal and shelter for the night in the church basement with several other people. After a breakfast of oatmeal the next morning, the two left the church carrying their backpacks and duffle bags. An old woman at the church had told them she'd heard the City would hire people to clean out old buildings, so they walked toward the City offices on a side street.

    Mayor Fleming said, "The pay is $10 an hour and the work is hard, but you can sleep at the job if you have a bedroll. There's water and a bathroom in the one we're working on today. You'll have company if you decide to stay there tonight, but watch your belongings because I don't want to hear about things getting lost, okay?"

    Sean asked, "Where do we go?"

    "Down Main Street here East until you pass that old garage with the chain link fence, and in the next block is an old church we're working on. Squatters have been living in it and left a bunch of trash that's a fire hazard. That's why we discourage squatters. We had a bad fire a while back and we don't want any more. The salvage contractor will tell you what to do when you get there. Show him this note. He will pay you at the end of each day."

    Kevin accepted the note scribbled on a scrap of paper and the pair walked off in search of their new jobs.

    Sean had grown up in a rough part of Louisville. He kept a close eye on their duffles and packs. One old fellow had been fooling around near the corner where they were stashed, but a hard look from Sean had him shuffling off another direction. Kevin was learning fast and spoke softly to the old guy when he walked past. "If anything happens to our stuff in that corner, I'll be coming to see YOU! Got it?"

    The old man blustered a bit and found something to do in the basement of the building. Kevin noticed that a shifty eyed younger man apparently overheard that and gave him a wider berth, too. Sean and Kevin took turns carrying out trash and junk to the big trailer outside, always keeping one of them in sight of their belongings. It was a long day.

    Near sundown, the contractor boss appeared by the water bucket on the old truck hitched to the trash trailer and workers gathered around him. He handed the first ones four twenty dollar bills each, but when Kevin and Sean's turn came he handed them $60 each, saying, "We start at 7:00 in the morning. You guys didn't get here till 'bout 9:00."

    Kevin said, "By my watch it was 7:45, but call it 8:00. That makes it $10 more."

    "Where's this watch you're so proud of, Sonny? I don't see any watch! None uh you bums got watches!"

    Kevin slid up his sleeve to show it and said, "I guess you don't recognize me since I let my beard grow, but I recognize you. You're Chet Kirchner, right? Used to work for my Dad on the farm when I was a kid. He always paid you fair, and I expect the same."

    Sean moved a step closer and stared into the man's eye's, waiting for his answer.

    Chet looked hard at Kevin and said, "You Sam Albin's boy?"

    "That's right."

    Chet scowled and dug in his pocket to fish out another twenty dollar bill. "Here. You c'n find some way to split that."

    He turned abruptly and headed for his truck, saying gruffly over his shoulder, "No fires in the building tonight! The Deputy will be watchin' fer that. You wanna cook somethin' you do it outside."

    He slammed the door of the old truck and soon drove away with his load.

    Sean said, "He was askin' to get his face rearranged."

    "Let's wait to do that until we find a better job," Kevin said.

    Sean said, "I seen some eggs in the window of that hardware store a couple blocks back that way."

    "Let's see if they're still open," Kevin said.

    They caught Cindy coming out with the trash and asked to buy a half dozen eggs.

    "Sure, C'mon in! They're $10 a dozen, so that's $5."

    Cindy made change and said, "Haven't seen you guys before. You new in town?"

    Kevin said, "Not been here for a long time, but I grew up down between Elizabeth and Laconia. Names Kevin Albin and this is my friend Sean Harper. We're workin' for that outlaw cleaning out the church up the street."

    Cindy looked closer at him and said, "Yeah! I remember you! You were a year behind me in school. Your Dad had a farm about a mile from ours. I'm Cindy Hoffman, well, Daulton now. I married Chad Daulton."

    Kevin grinned and said, "Long time since I've seen you."

    Robert walked up and got introduced. He noticed the backpacks and duffle bags and said, "You guys travelling, or stopping here?"

    "We're stopped for tonight," Kevin said and pointed over his shoulder. "We worked today cleaning that church, but we're looking for a job that offers room and board."

    Robert said, "You guys want to sleep in the store tonight? I could use a night watchman and it's warmer in here, if you want to tend the stove."

    Sean grinned and said, "That beats sleeping in that cold church!"

    "We'll be in a little before 7:00 in the morning. You can cook on the wood stove if you want to. You have food?"

    "Yeah, we're okay," Sean said. "We've got a pretty good kit."

    "Okay. The bathroom is back there, so there's water available and a place to wash up. Closing time now, so we'll see you in the morning."

    On the way home, Cindy said, "You're a trusting soul to let those guys stay in the store."

    Robert said, "I told them I was locking them in, and they could get out the fire door, but it would set off the alarm. They said they had no reason to go out. I'm not risking much. They don't have a car, so they couldn't carry off much if they tried. Besides, you knew the one guy."

    "Oh yeah. He was an okay kid. Hunh. I shoulda known you had something figured out."

  28. #28
    Chapter 79

    The following Friday an announcement on the Louisville Public TV station said the problem was that the IMF loan rules required this terrible austerity and villified the IMF for forcing such conditions on the US. There was nothing the government could do about it, but better times were coming as soon as the President got some of his new programs through Congress. There was a clip of the President talking about how the American people were tough and resourceful and he would have help on the way to get them all through this like they had other trials in the past.

    Bill said, "Lyin' damn fools! How stupid do they think we are? They ain't got any damn money so how are they gonna do anything? It's all bull!"

    "Not much doubt of that, since the talk's coming from them," Erin said.

    Robert said, "Marty Shoemaker down at the grocery says there is no coffee coming from Africa, because of wars there and high transport costs. Colombia still exports coffee, but the price doubled in the US and it's that bitter stuff I despise. Tea is still coming from Asia, but it's as high as coffee, mostly because the Asians hate us for diluting the debts we owed them by printing too much money."

    Bill said, "I'm still sellin' a little of the yard goods to a few women, but I had to jack the price up 'cause everything went so high overnight. Business is gonna be slow. It's gettin' harder all the time."

    "They got toilet paper in the bathroom," Kevin said.

    "That's better than that old church. Maybe we can keep this gig for a few days. That guy that owns the place seems like he's okay," Sean said.

    "Yeah. This is way better than I expected to find right away. It seemed like a dumb idea to leave town, but without a place to stay, the city is bad news," Kevin said.

    "We gotta find better jobs before winter gets here. When I was a kid I knew some guys who lived on the streets and that's bad."

    "We got the mountain tents," Kevin said. "We can make it if we have to."

    "That was fun when we were backpacking just for the hell of it, but I don't want to live that way," Sean said.

    "Me neither. I'll ask Cindy tomorrow about any job possiblities around here. The people out here gossip a lot and if there's anything, she'll know about it."

    "Is that Spam done yet?" Sean was hungry.

    "Oughta be. Just needs to get hot. Eggs are ready."

    "If we hadn't brought that peanut butter we'd not had any lunch. I seen the rest of those guys didn't have any lunch today, so I didn't want to dig out anything much in front of them."

    Kevin was thinking as he ate. "Yeah. That young kid looked nasty to me. Steal your socks if he thought he could get by with it."

    "Speaking of socks. I'm going to wash out mine tonight. Want to do yours?"

    "Right. Underwear, too, and I'm having a bird bath as soon as I get the dishes done."

    "I'm next," Sean said as he popped a vitamin pill.

    Chad said, "Do you think those guys are okay?"

    Cindy said, "I knew Kevin in school and he was always a decent kid. I don't know his buddy, but if he's hangin' with Kevin, he's prob'ly okay, too. They seemed pretty tight, like they've known each other for a long time."

    "I could sure use a guy in the shop to help the mechanic and I've got one lineman helper out with a broken ankle. I don't know if he'll ever be able to climb again. I need to meet these guys and find out what they can do."

    "Did you talk to the butcher about the cattle?"

    "I stopped there at noon. He said he'd take two this Saturday, and then he'd have to wait and see how it sells before he takes any more. People aren't buying much."

    "Do we have enough hay to keep 'em all winter, you think?"

    "Maybe. If we can sell half a dozen now we can probably make it. We need to butcher one soon for us, so that would leave 13 head to feed, but we'd have to find more hay before Spring because we just don't have any pasture to speak of."

    "If we close off the driveway, we could let a couple run in the yard," Cindy said. "Can't afford gas just to mow a damn yard now."

    "I should have done that all summer. I'll have Dad make a barbed wire gate tomorrow and we'll turn a few out there. I've been thinking I'd sell the steers first. There's 8 of them that are heifers and we could breed the best of them if we end up keeping some."

    Cindy nodded agreement. "That's how Dad did it. He'd buy feeders and pick the best heifers to keep for brood cows. He built a good herd that way. But what are we going to do for pasture?"

    "I dunno yet. I'll think of something."

    Robert and Cindy came in to a warm office that had been dusted and the floor mopped. Sean and Kevin were sitting on their duffles by the front door as they came in. Sean asked Robert, "Would it be okay to leave our bags here somewhere during the day?"

    "Sure. Cindy, find a shelf in the warehouse for them, if you would. No need to carry all that everywhere."

    "We sure appreciate this Mr. Evans. That's a bad crew we're working with and they'd steal anything. This might not look like much, but it's all we've got."

    Cindy showed them a high shelf with enough room where they tossed their things.

    "Great!" Kevin said. "We have to go. It's almost 7:00 o'clock."

    "See ya," Cindy said as they went out the door.

    Kimberly Wright came into Bill's store and told Carol, "I'd like to look at material and patterns to make work clothes."

    "Okay, let's go upstairs and we'll find you something."

    Both women had an armload when they came back down. Bill was moving things around on the main floor to make room for rinse tubs beside the wringer washing machine on display. Kimberly walked past it and put her load on the counter, then went back to look closer at the washer.

    "What's that thing in there?"

    Bill saw she was pointing in side the washer and said, "That is a butter churn! You oughta have one uh those, with all that cream you got."

    "How does it work?"

    Bill lifted the small tank out of the washing machine and showed her the bottom of it.

    "That hole there fits on where the agitator goes. Just pull the agitator out and set this thing on it. The agitator shaft makes the churn go back and forth. That arm with the peg reaches out here to where the drain hose hook is, and fits in that hole. That keeps the outside of the churn settin' still while the inside goes back and forth. It holds a gallon of cream and the papers with it says it'll make butter faster than doin' it with an old crank churn."

    "I WANT one of those! How much is it?"

    "I gotta have $500 for it. Now, some of that could be paid with milk and cream, y'know. We c'n work something out. I hear you got some dry beans this year, too, if it suits you to trade some of them."

    Kimberly knew that money was hard to get now, and the trading sounded good to her.

    "Yes," she said firmly. "We can do that. You want to work that out with Jim?"

    Bill said, "That'll be fine. You sign a sale bill for me and I'll go see Jim when it comes handy."

    As an afterthought, Bill said, "If you're gonna do any butcherin' soon, you oughta look at the meat grinder I got for the washer, too."

    "You have a meat grinder?"

    "Yeah! You just set the wringer off in the floor and set the meat grinder on. It's got a handle just like the wringer to turn it on and off. I'll get one and show you."

    After the demonstration, Kimberly had him add it to her charge ticket. Rachel came in then and said, "You find what you wanted?"

    "Oh boy, did I ever! Jim might fuss about what it cost, but he'll love it all. You want to help me carry this out to the car?"

    A few days later, Bill had laid up a big supply of dry beans at home and had a barrel left to sell in his store. The Evans family would have a supply of milk, cream, and butter for a long time and Bill pocketed some cash from the big sale.

    Chapter 80

    Chad came to the hardware store just before closing time to meet the two men staying there at night. He asked if either of them had any experience as a mechanic?

    Kevin told Chad, "I'm not a real mechanic, but I grew up on a farm fixing our stuff and I always did my own work on the car when I had time."

    Chad said, "That'll do. When can you go to work?"

    "Ah. Any time, I guess, but I'll have to figure out how to get there. Neither of us has a car. They got stolen and then we both got laid off. Fat chance of gettin' 'em back now, and the insurance company has gone bust. We'll have to find a ride somehow."

    Chad thought for a minute and said, "Leave that until later. Sean, have you ever done outside work?"

    "Not since I was in college. I worked for a building contractor then doing remodelling. Kevin and I spent a lot of winter weekends out backpacking in the Daniel Boone National Forest, if that counts."

    "How would you feel about climbing utility poles?"

    "Can't be any worse than rock climbing, can it?"

    "Would you want to ride shotgun with my lineman? He can teach you what you need to know and we'll get you up to speed."

    "Oh yeah! I hated my desk job at the VA. It paid pretty good, but that's history."

    Chad said, "Let me call Robert and see if he can do without you as night watchmen. The facilities at the company office are at least as good, and we have a snack room with a fridge and microwave. Would that work for you guys to stay there?"

    Sean and Kevin looked at each other and grinned. Kevin said, "Darn right that'll work!"

    "I couldn't find any patterns for jeans," Kimberly said.

    Rachel said, "You can do what Grandma did. Take an old pair apart and iron all the pieces flat, then use them for a pattern. It's not as easy to use as a paper pattern, but it doesn't tear up like paper does."

    "I never thought of that! There's some of those dress pants I can use."

    Rachel said, "That's what I'm gonna do for Justin. He needs jeans bad. I'm glad you found the bolt of denim. I'll pay you for what I use from it."

    "He had scads of it. I should have bought more, but I had already spent a lot, so I let it go. I bought a whole bolt of unbleached cotton muslin for making boxer shorts. He didn't have any elastic, so I guess I'll have to put a drawstring at the waist. I haven't found anything to use for that yet."

    "I bet Robert has some string that would work. Would you believe he had a belt for my old treadle sewing machine? He had needles, too. It's hard telling what all he's got in that hardware store. It wasn't cheap, though."

    "Nothing is cheap now," Kimberly said.

    "I can't make much money at weaving," Carol said. "It doesn't seem like it's worth the time it takes to do it."

    Bill said, "It makes a lot of people come into the store, though. They love to watch you do it. It's hard telling how many sales that has brought us."

    "Yes, I suppose so. I've had women tell me that after they saw how long it takes to weave cloth, they were ready to pay the price for the ready made stuff we have. I did sell some rugs, but even at $40 it's not hardly worth it. It takes me 2 or 3 hours to make one. Besides thart there's the time to warp the loom and cut and sew the rags into strips. I'm not making crap for my time."

    Bill thought for a while and said, "You know, none of us are making much for our time now. Not compared to what things cost to buy. I do best trading for things we need, and next best is trading for something to sell. That's where the profit is. You need to start trading your rugs and cloth for things you can't make, and I bet you come out better."

    "I do it mostly because I like it. And it fills the time between customers. I didn't mean I was going to quit weaving. I still want to get into that linen thread and see what I can do with it."

    Sean said, "I only have two outfits of jeans and work shirts. I'll have to wash 'em out pretty often. We could only carry so much, and after the building next door burned we were in a hurry to leave."

    "We've still got uniforms and coveralls left over I can give you to wear on the job," Chad said. "Let's go see if we can find some that fit. I stopped the uniform laundry service and bought the used uniforms to save the company money. That's why there's a washing machine and dryer in the shop. You'll have to do your own laundry."

    "Just like home," Sean said.

    Kevin and Sean helped sort through the uniforms piled in the back room and found they were stacked in piles by sizes. They each found enough for 5 outfits. Chad had given them the office meeting room to sleep in and it had a small coat closet where they hung their clothes. There was a huge couch in that room where Sean slept with a blanket from the closet and the conference table made an acceptable bed for Kevin when he piled both their sleeping bags and pads on it.

    When Chad left for the evening, Sean and Kevin hitched a ride to the grocery store. They even found a ride most of the way back with another customer saving a mile and a half walk.

    "You don't have to refrigerate eggs or the apples. That fridge'll be stuffed with what we have to put in there."

    "You're right. I think we overdid it at the grocery," Sean said.

    Kevin said, "Yeah, but those fresh vegetables sure look good after a few days of pack food. We'll be broke 'til payday, but we'll eat good."

    "We've still got the silver coins."

    "Yeah, but try and find somebody to give you what they're worth now."

    "That hardware store had a sign said they take silver coins," Sean reminded him.

    "That's right! Maybe we ought to do some shopping there. He had ammo and I'd like to have another box. Damn shame I couldn't carry more from the apartment."

    "Uh-huh. But I'm glad we had our bugout bags packed and ready to go. I'd hate to have to make all those choices at the last minute."

    "Hey!" Kevin said. "What's that in the parking lot. Something just ran under the service truck there."

    Sean grabbed a small but powerful flashlight and his pistol from his pack and headed for the door. Kevin was right behind him. They quietly stepped outside and around the corner to look under the truck. A very skinny cat came out and meowed at them.

    "What's up fella? Looks like you missed a meal or two."

    The cat insisted that was right and looked up at them expectantly, rubbing around Kevin's ankles.

    "Okay, come on with us and we'll find you something."

    The cat turned out to be a gray striped male, big overall but without much meat on his bones. He followed the men to the door and stopped there.

    Kevin said, "Go get him some milk in a can lid or something. I'll stay here and keep him company so he doesn't run off."

    After a mayonnaise jar lid of milk, with some crackers crumbled in it, the cat was very sociable. Kevin went inside and looked around for something more substantial to feed the starving animal. They had a little canned chicken left from packing their lunches, so he took that out to the nearby garage where he worked. He squatted inside the open door and called the cat, offering the food near the ground. The cat came at a trot and pounced on the meat. Kevin closed the door and said, "If you wanna stay here tonight, i'll see if I can talk the boss into letting you stay, okay?"

    Cat was agreeable. The shop building was warm and it was getting cold outside. Kevin found a pile of grease rags and spread them out on the workbench. Amazingly, the cat did not object to being picked up, so Kevin put him on the pile of rags and put the last bits of his chicken close by. While the cat was finishing his meal, Kevin located a small metal parts bowl and got some water in it. The cat got himself a drink and had just begun turning around and around on the rag pile when Sean walked in.

    "Looks like you got a work buddy."

    "I hope so. If he lives through being half starved to death."

    "I don't think he's in that bad of shape."

    "He was awful light when I picked him up," Kevin said. "Well, I did what I could for him. Can't feed him too much at once or he'll throw it up. Say! He's awful friendly. He had to have been somebody's pet. I wonder if he's litter trained?"

    Kevin went off to find the bag of oil-dry they used on the floor to soak up spills. It looked exactly like cat litter, which it probably was. A cardboard box was pressed into service for a litter box and placed on the bench with the cat, who went to sniff it and promptly climbed in the box and sat down to do his thing.

    "Lookee there! We got us a well mannered cat!"

    Sean said, "I wonder what Micky is gonna say about that?"

    "Aw, Mickey's easy going. I bet they'll hit it off."

  29. #29
    Chapter 81 December, 2017

    Sunday afternoon the public TV station had issued a winter weather advisory. Rain would change to freezing rain, then sleet and snow. Chad was worried about the effect of ice on power lines. It all depended on the temperature whether the lines would get iced up. A little ice was no problem, but a lot could mean days of repairing broken lines.

    The next morning Cindy said, "School is closed today." The kids heard that with mixed emotions. It meant more school days late in the Spring.

    She asked Chad, "How are you going to drive on that ice?"

    He grinned and said, "Very carefully. No, I'm taking the truck. I put the tire chains on it last night and I've got some firewood in the back for weight. It will go all right. I just have to be careful steering."

    Taylor and Joe Marker had been working intently Sunday at Bill's shop sorting out items and loading his truck with them to take to the store downtown. They ignored the rainy weather until they heard the sound on the roof change and looked outside. Sleet was coming down hard and had the ground covered. In a matter of minutes it was an inch deep. Taylor looked at her car across the parking lot and said, "I don't want to drive in this."

    Joe said, "I don't think you should. There's ice under all that. I'm glad I got some firewood inside so I don't have to walk around in it."

    The phone rang and Joe answered it. "Yeah. Makes sense to me. Okay. See you Tuesday."

    "That was my boss at the welding shop. Said he's gonna close tomorrow. Doesn't want anybody out in this stuff and we ain't got that much to do."

    "I'd better go tell Erin to set a plate for me tonight," Taylor said.

    "I can make supper for you upstairs," Joe offered.

    Taylor smiled at him and said, "Hmm. Erin's making chicken soup. What are you having?"

    "How about a venison steak with mushroom gravy? MY homemade mushroom gravy, with the ones I found last Spring and froze."

    Taylor smiled and said, "I guess I'll call Erin and tell her I'm staying here tonight. Have to call home, too, or Cindy will be frantic."

    Joe took a deep breath and said, "I better get that steak thawed out."

    He trotted upstairs whistling softly, thinking about how long he'd been hoping Taylor would see him as something besides a co-worker. He wasn't a ladies' man and he knew it. Maybe if he could make her a really good meal she would soften towards him some.

    Taylor watched him go up the stairs, mostly seeing his broad shoulders and his narrow butt. She had been thinking about him a lot lately. He was a really nice guy, a scarce commodity she thought. She called Erin and learned that Robert and Bll had both decided to close their stores the next day. Next was Cindy, who told her she would be crazy to try to drive on the ice. After that call, Taylor began to think about how nice it would be to sleep in tomorrow--with that gorgeous hunk upstairs.

    Mickey Davis came walking into the shop a little early. He glanced at Kevin by the workbench and said, "I'm glad I live close by. It's nasty out there. The wind is picking up."

    He began peeling off his parka and noticed the cat sitting on the bench licking his chops and squinching his eyes at him. Cat had just polished off some of Kevin and Sean's breakfast leftovers.

    "Where'd he come from?"

    "He came wandering by last night and asked for help. He was about starved to death," Kevin said.

    "He wouldn't last long out there today," Mickey said. "Better keep him in here where it's warm."

    He walked over to the cat and scratched his head. "You got a warm place now. Better stay here, if you know what's good for you. Maybe you can catch those mice that's been eatin' my spare gaskets."

    Kevin breathed an unconscious sigh of relief, and said, "He's been somebody's house cat. I got him a litter box and he went right to it. No problem."

    "He needs a name. How 'bout Tigger? My kids always liked that cartoon show."

    Kevin said, "I bet he'll come to eat no matter what you call him."

    MIckey said, "We got some tire chains for the service trucks, but a couple of 'em are busted up. We need to get 'em patched up and on them trucks ASAP. The calls will be comin' in pretty soon, looks like, so we better have the trucks ready."

    Inspecting the chains showed some broken links and one missing. Kevin asked, "Is there a welder around here?"

    "Yeah. Got a MIG back there behind the lift," Mickey said and hooked a thumb over his shoulder in the general direction.

    A few minutes later Kevin had the broken links welded and they carried the heavy tire chains outside as the other two linemen came trudging in to work on foot.

    Mickey yelled at them, "Where ya been? We got chains ready for your trucks already and here you come stragglin' in late!"

    "We don't live as close as you do," one said.

    The other one said, "Yeah, an' you just got the trucks ready anyhow. No point in gettin' here too early."

    Chad answered the phone and learned that a line was down already and it was in the south end of the county where the woods were thick and the hills were steep. He looked out the window and saw tree limbs with heavy ice on them bending toward the ground. It was going to be a long day.

    Chapter 82

    Chad saw that the coffee pot was half full and gratefully poured himself a cup then set it on the table to cool. He grabbed his coat and went out to talk to his men and make assignments. Brad Jenkins, Paul Overton, Billy Spencer and Sean Harper all nodded soberly and got in their trucks that were idling and warming up. He worried about his men, hoping he didn't have to go get either crew out of a jam. When the trucks pulled out, he saw, surprisingly that Mickey and Kevin had the one ton utility truck running and were putting tire chains on it. They had obviously finished the engine repair. It was four wheel drive and could help rescue a boom truck if they got one stuck somewhere. He waved and gave them a thumbs-up sign of approval and went back inside. The phone was ringing again.

    Taylor opened her eyes and looked at the man she had been having dreams about since he'd moved into the apartment. Joe was a few years older than her, in his prime really at 30 years old. She put a hand gently on his cheek and lightly kissed him good morning. He woke and looked at her, the look changing from sleepy haze to desire. He put an arm around her and said, "I guess breakfast can wait?"

    "Mm, hmm."

    The night before, an old man had found where leaves had collected beside the end of the overpass. He kicked a pile of them in the narrow space and found some of them were still dry enough. He raked the icy ones out of the pile with his hands and pushed the rest into a thick pile as far out of the wind as he could and crawled into the pile. He tried to remember when he ate last, but couldn't bring to mind anything but that woman who chased him away with a shotgun.

    He remembered there was a town not too far ahead. Maybe they had a shelter where he could get a meal and get warm. He was cold all the way through. The leaves helped some. At least the wind didn't go through his clothes. He was very tired. As soon as he had his bag stuffed in the crack by the floor of the overpass, he laid his head on it and fell asleep.

    Sometime in the night he heard a loud noise, but couldn't wake enough to learn what it was. He felt safe, so he fell into a deeper sleep. The cold seeped into him, but he was in its' grip and didn't notice. As the sun came up in a gray sky, there was no longer any sign of life in the leaf pile. A rabbit came by slowly, looking for something to eat under the overpass where there was no ice on the ground. He smelled a threat, a human, and bounced away into the woods.

    Billy Spencer backed the bucket truck onto the overpass as near the downed line as he dared and stopped. The power line was down across the road, they had seen that from a distance and had the power killed on this section.

    "It shouldn't be too bad," Billy said. "That tree split and fell on it, so if you'll get the chainsaw going, we oughta be able to get this back up in a couple hours."

    "Okay, I'll get on it," Sean said.

    As he walked down the steep bank beside the road, he noticed clear tracks in the crunchy frozen sleet. They led to the end of the overpass and there were none coming out. Curious, he followed the tracks and saw the leaf pile with an olive drab thing sticking out of the snow. Another few steps and he saw a glimpse of a hunter orange cap under the concrete.

    "Hey, Billy! There's somebody under the bridge here. I gotta get him out before we get started."

    "Yeah! Okay. He gives you any trouble, yell and I'll come help." It wasn't the first time Billy had run into bums in such places.

    Sean yelled at the head he could barely see. "You gotta go buddy! We've got a downed power line. Can't stay there while we work on it. C'mon out!"

    Nothing moved in the leaf pile, so Sean warily poked at him with the tip of the chainsaw bar. Some leaves fell away and he saw the old man's face, gray and still with some unmelted snow on it. Sean touched the face with a gloved hand and it didn't move. He raked leaves away and bumped an arm wrapped around the man's chest. It was stiff. Sean backed out quickly.

    "Hey Billy! This guy's dead! Better come see!"

    Billy slid down the slope and got a look for himself. "Maybe he's still alive. We can warm him up in the truck. Let's get him out of there."

    The two men pulled and dragged the body out, but the stiffness convinced them the man was past helping.

    "I better call Chad," Billy said. "Leave him be there. If someody shot him, you ain't s'posed to move anything before the law gets here."

    The Sheriff and coroner arrived in due course and retrieved the body, assuring them the man had frozen to death. When the body bag was loaded in the Sheriff's van Billy and Sean tried to resume their work.

    "I don't know about you, but that dead man got me spooked," Billy said. Sean nodded his answer.

    "We better take our time and make sure we don't get hurt here, with the ice an' all. We're s'posed to get the service back up fast, but we don't need no accidents while we do it."

    Sean said, "Yeah. I never ran into a dead man out like this. Seems a lot different in a funeral home."

    To himself Sean thought it could easily have been me and Kevin in there, if we hadn't hit some real luck. It was a sobering thought. He tried hard to keep his mind on cutting up the tree, but he had to remind himself of the dangers of using achainsaw on icy ground. His mind kept drifting to the gray face of that thin old man. It was 3 hours later when they finally the line pulled back up and spliced. The two men sat in their warm truck and ate their lunch without talking, then pulled back on the highway to go to the next call.

    Brad Jenkins and Paul Overton had their own problems. An old Maple tree had dropped a huge limb on the power line and taken down a pole with it. That wouldn't be so bad, but the right of way there was steep downhill, too steep to stand and work with the icy footing. Why hadn't that last fool manager gotten crews out here to trim those trees, Paul wondered. He would have to call for help, and Chad wasn't going to like it.

    Chapter 83

    Breakfast was eggs, leftover venison steak, and milk. Taylor watched Joe skillfully do the cooking after she had washed last night's dishes and set the table. He filled plates and sat down.

    Taylor said, "How come you never said you were interested in me?"

    Joe said, "I just never was very good at talking to girls."

    "It's harder for some people. I never was very good at talking to guys, either. But, there wasn't any good guys around since high school. I never dated much."

    Joe stared at her, then said, "That's hard to believe, a girl are pretty as you are."

    "You think so? I always thought I looked okay, but I didn't get many dates."

    Joe said, "I've heard that really pretty girls don't get asked out much, 'cause the guys are afraid they'll say no. I know I never would. I'm not much to look at and I know that, so there was no use in me askin'.

    Taylor's eyes went wide. "Whatever gave you that idea? YOU'RE GORGEOUS!"

    Joe sat there looking at her, not knowing what to say.

    Taylor said, "And you can cook, too. Besides that you're a really sweet guy. The girls around here must have been blind, deaf, and dumb. Dumb for sure. But I'm not. WIll you marry me?"

    Joe said, "I'm not dumb either. You bet I'll marry you!"

    Taylor leaned over the little table and kissed him.

    Joe said, "Wow. I never expected to have a girl like you. You're smart and you've got through so much on your own. I don't know what you see about me that you could like. I'm nothin' special, just your average Joe."

    Taylor grinned at his choice of words and said, "That's what I like. You're nice and you treat people good. I think you're pretty special."

    Joe was a little embarrassed by the praise and joked about it. "You keep thinkin' that way and we'll do great!"

    He grinned and got up to begin clearing the table. Taylor joined him to help clean up the kitchen. Joe said, "I gotta buy a ring for you."

    Taylor said, "I don't need one, but you can buy one If that makes you happy. I know just where to get one we can afford. Talk to Erin. Money is too hard to get to be spending much on that. We need to talk about money and what we have and what we might need."

    Joe said, "Practical, too. Now that's my kind of girl." He kissed her again and said, "I still can't believe you'd want me. I don't have much to offer you. All I got is a truck and a job."

    Taylor said, "That's about what I have. A car and a job. Oh. I do have a sewing machine and a washer and a whole pile of stuff stored in Chad's shed. But that isn't much."

    "Well, if we're talking like that, I've got a welder and a couple boxes of tools. Got a good shotgun, and a .22, and a pistol I always carry now. I'm gettin' by here for dishes and stuff. Wish I had more sheets and blankets. I have to do laundry too often."

    Taylor dried the last of the dishes and said, "I've got a lot of that kind of thing. I think we'll be fine."

    She kissed him on the tip of his nose and then put the dishes away. Joe watched her and said, "You wanna get dressed now?"

    She smiled when she saw his grin and said, "Not particularly."

    The Sheriff told the Coroner, "His driver's license said he was Emmet Price and his address was somewhere in Elizabethtown, Kentucky. Not much else on him. I couldn't find anyone in E-town named Price that knew him, and the law wasn't looking for him. No way to know how he got under that bridge. Looks like the County will have to bury him. Just another victim of hard times."

    Dennis Collins was also the owner of the last operating funeral home in town. He told the Sheriff, "I wish it was rich people dying off instead of these poor ones. I don't make enough off a County burial to hardly pay expenses."

    "You're still in business, so you must be makin' something. Looks like nobody will claim his personal belongings, so you can have them."

    "Hmmph. Yeah. An old Army duffel and some stinkin' clothes." Dennis walked out shaking his head.

    Erin gave William a couple pork rinds to chew on and help him cut some teeth. She told Carol, "I haven't seen anything of Taylor and Joe this morning."

    Carol looked up from the pair of pants she was taking apart to salvage a zipper. "If I was that age and spent the night with a guy like him, I wouldn't be up yet either."

    Bill walked in and headed for the coffee pot, asking, "What are you women jawin" about?"

    "None of your business," Carol said. "Are you gonna do anything today, or just pester us?"

    "I thought I might go see how the truck loadin' is goin', but I don't want to wake up Joe and his girl too early."

    Carol said, "No, that wouldn't be polite. You better go tend the animals first."

    Marty Shoemaker told his wife, "We didn't get much on the last delivery from Louisville, and our grocery stock's getting low. With this ice on they won't come today, either."

    Jennifer said, "They'll probably come tomorrow. The truck was just a day late the last time we had a storm like this."

    "I hope so. We're out of too many things."

    Chad and his men didn't come in until noon the next day. It had taken them all until well after midnight to get the line repaired in that hollow down south. That was after almost losing a truck over the hillside when the shoulder gave way. It had taken the winches on both bucket trucks to keep it right side up while they pulled it out with the one ton.

    Thankfully, a thaw was expected soon. Chad hoped there were no more downed lines today. His crew was tired and that wasn't safe.

  30. #30
    Chapter 84

    "You guys have done the best anyone could do this week," Chad told his crew at the payday meeting. "I wish I could give you all raises, but I can't. The money just isn't there. We have less than half the subscribers we did 5 years ago and the company can't raise rates much or we will lose a lot of subscribers and have even less money. Everything the company buys has gone up like what we buy to live. I'll do whatever I can, though, in the way of fringe benefits. Give me some ideas and I'll see if I can do it."

    Mickey Davis spoke up. "How 'bout workin' different hours sometimes? Can you do that?"

    "Don't see why not, especially in your case. If you and Kevin keep things in workng order, I see no reason you have to be here exactly when the rest of us are. What'cha got in mind?"

    "If I could start at, say 6:00 in the morning instead of 8:00, then I'd have time to cut some firewood in the evenings, or work in the garden longer. If you need me to stay later some days, we could work that out."

    "Sounds okay to me. You and Kevin work out how you want to do it and get back to me. Any other ideas?"

    Paul Overton said, "I'd like to get some of the used poles we take out."

    Chad said, "I'm supposed to sell 'em, but if they are too far gone, I can dispose of 'em any way I want to. Yeah, we can get you some poles. You can use the pole trailer to take 'em home, if you want. We'll pick some out tonight and mark 'em for you."

    Sean said, "Me and Kevin already got fringe benefits, staying here."

    Kevin seconded that. "Right. We don't need anything else."

    Chad said, "There are advantages to the company to have someone on the property at night. We've had a few problems with vandalism, mostly stealing stuff. So, this works both ways."

    Billy said, "Don't the company get a cut rate on diesel fuel?"

    Chad said, "We contract it ahead, and usually get 5% or so off doing that."

    "Could I buy some at the company price?"

    Chad said, "Let me talk to my boss on that. I'd say there's a good chance of it, but we'll have to figure out how to work it."

    Nobody else spoke for a while, so Chad said, "Think about this and if you come up with something, I'll see what I can do, okay? You guys are great, and I appreciate it. Here's your pay envelopes. The pay stub is in there and I cashed the checks to save you a trip to the bank, and I plan on doing that. The company can pay for me to make one trip instead of you each having to make a trip. Hope that helps a little."

    He got a round of thanks from everyone, and he could tell they meant it. On his way out of the office Billy said, "It makes a difference workin' for somebody that tells the truth for a change. An' besides that, you know how it is out there an' you ain't afraid to get your hands dirty helpin'. The guys all liked it when you chipped in gettin' that truck out. You're still the same as when you worked the lines."

    "You better grab that man," Cindy said. "He's a keeper."

    "I don't know if we can make it," Taylor said.

    "You think you won't get along?"

    "No, not that. We get along great. But we don't have anything much and we don't make much money and everything costs so much. I don't now if we can afford to eat."

    "He's a good man and he's got a job and a place to live. You can make it. Talk to Bill about putting in a garden behind the shop.

    "You really think so?"

    Cindy said, "I lived by myself with a lot less. What's more important is, do you love him?"

    "Oh yes! I've been crazy about him for a long time. He was just so shy that it took a while to find out he really wanted me."

    "Then don't worry about the rest."

    "I asked HIM to marry me and I'm going to," Taylor said. "I'm just being nervous is all."

    "Have you set a date?"

    "Yeah, we're going to the Courthouse tomorrow. Joe doesn't have to work 'cause their business is slow."

    "That's short notice. Are we invited?"

    "That's what I wanted to ask, is if you and Erin would be our witnesses? It's not a dress up deal or anything."

    Cindy walked across the kitchen to gave her a hug and said, "I wouldn't miss it for anything."

    Rachel asked, "What are you working on so hard?"

    "I'm trying to plan out what we can raise next year and make enough to live on," Justin said. "That money we inherited isn't going to last long at the rate we've been spending it."

    "Yeah, but I've lived on less than I make now. If we make anything much on the farm we'll be okay."

    "I'm gonna help Kyle with the tobacco project. He found a shredder somewhere and he wants to shred it all and make pipe and cigarette tobacco. But you gotta cut the big stems out of the leaves first, so I'll work on that for a while and get paid when he sells some, I guess."

    "I'm goin' huntin' tomorrow. We can use the meat and I know where the deer hang out back by the creek. Meat is all we need, really. There's enough canned stuff to make it until we get a garden going."

    "I'm thinking about raising a lot of garden stuff. That guy that has a greenhouse in town is making a killing on his stuff. I'm thinking sweet corn, because the people in town con't have enough room to raise it. They all grow tomatoes and salad things, but I think sweet corn would sell."

    "Is that your butt I see through that hole in your pants?"

    "That's my shorts."

    "Change those pants and I'll patch that hole."

    "I got into a barbed wire fence when we were getting the cows in tonight. It's just a tear."

    "Those pants are about shot if they tore that easy. I'll make you some more."

    "We can't afford to buy cloth now."

    "I know, but I've got some left. Don't worry so much. I've been a lot poorer than we are now," Rachel told him. She went to his chair at the table and gave him a kiss on the neck. That led to more kisses and they got their minds off their troubles for the evening.

    Erin and Cindy kissed Joe as they went out of the County Clerk's office.

    Cindy said, "Congratulations! You got a great girl, Joe!"

    "I think so," Joe said, grinning from ear to ear.

    Erin said, "I know you two are both shy, but we're having a wedding shower, like it or not. It may take a day or two. We'll let you know. So make us some room in the shop, okay? We'll need some tables."

    Taylor said, "You didn't tell me about that."

    "I just did," Erin came back. "So get used to the idea. Now make me a list of what you need and give it to me tonight."

    Chapter 85

    "It's snowing again," Erin said. "I don't think it'll stick. The ground isn't that cold yet."

    She continued to whip the mashed potatoes while a roast simmered on the stove.

    "Hmph. Bad for business just the same," Bill said.

    "You said business is bad anyway."

    "Yeah. Say, where's Robert? He's due home by now."

    Erin said, "He went to see that guy about buying the welding shop. He was going to drop Cindy off at the grocery and get her on the way home."

    "What's he want with a welding shop?"

    "That's where Joe Marker works, the one that's building kitchen stoves for Robert. They don't have any other work right now, and Robert thought he might get it cheap. He's worried about the guy going broke and not having anyone to make the stoves."

    "I wonder how he thinks he can come out on that deal?"

    "I don't know, but he's done okay so far," Erin said.

    Mickey was tightening down the muffler clamp while Kevin held it in place. Both of them spit out some dirt that fell from the bottom of the truck as they rolled out on the creepers where they could sit up.

    Mickey wiped his face with a shop rag and said, "I never did like exhaust work."

    "Me neither, but it needed done. Billy and Sean will need it tomorrow."

    "Yeah. Say, how'd you get hooked up with Sean, anyway?"

    "We roomed together in college and we both liked hiking and camping."

    "Neither one of you ever got married?"

    "He did, but it didn't last long. They split up and he called me about a place to stay when they were getting divorced. We shared an apartment for a few years."

    "You had good jobs with the govermint, didn't ya?"

    "Yeah, and they made us think it would last forever. We were both into their savings plan and all that. It was great right up till it all went to hell. I had almost enough saved to buy the house I wanted. Now I got a backpack, a bedroll, and a week's worth of uniforms for this job."

    Mickey nodded with a sober look. "Yeah. Lots of folks lost all they had. I was lucky. We'd just got the house paid fer and we had a mortgage burning party. I got drunk and woke up with a hangover when the news hit about the banks all goin' bad. I didn't get paid fer over a month, but at least I still got a job."

    They said nothing for a minute, then Mickey got up and walked over to the workbench and said, "Hey Tom cat, where'd you get to? Time for supper."

    The cat plopped down from the attic parts storage area onto the bench top and looked at his dish. Mickey gave him his supper leftovers and Kevin went searching for what he'd saved for the cat.

    Kevin said, "Hey, Tom, you're gaining weight! We might have to put you on a diet."

    Mickey chuckled and said, "He catches mice all day. What we give him is dessert."

    Tom finished off the scraps and sat down to wash his face. Kevin stroked his back and said, "You landed pretty good for a stray cat." He looked at Mickey and said, "I guess I did too, huh?"

    Robert came in the kitchen as they all heard Cindy's car drive away home.

    "Hey Dad, you want to sell me that machine shop building?"

    "Never planned to sell it. I put it in one of those trust things so your name is already on it. What'cha got in mind?"

    Robert said, "I'll still pay you for it. I want to start a business there."

    "Go right ahead! You don't owe me nothin'. That's why I bought it was to get the money to you without payin' taxes on it. I don't have much in there now, and I need to take it all to the store downtown. I can get that done in a day or two."

    Robert said, "That would work out really well. I bought that welding shop where Joe works and I want to move it out here. He was renting his building, so I get the equipment and him as an employee."

    Erin said, "I didn't think we had that much money."

    "We don't, in cash. I paid him with the silver from that posthole out back. I gave 6 of my gold Krugerrands for the machine shop down the street. I want them both in the same building and making things together. I think they can do more than twice as well together than they did separately. They will have to do better, because I'll have 3 more people on the payroll, Joe and his boss and the machinist."

    Bill stared hard at his son and said, "You never go halfway, do you?"

    The next evening, Joe and Taylor had the building cleaned and tables set out when Erin and Cindy began to carry food in. Not long after, the first guests arrived at the wedding shower. Rachel and Justin came with Jim and Kimberly Wright carrying in boxes and bags. Kyle carried in two gallon jugs and sat them on the gift table. Chad followed with his parents, also bringing gifts. Bill and Carol took their time getting there and Bill added an envelope to the stack of gifts.

    Food was served and everyone sat down to eat roast duck, ham, and fried chicken. Vegetables of several kinds covered the rest of the long table. Kyle poured the wine he'd brought and hot biscuits and cornbread rounded out the meal. Congratulations came from everyone while they ate and talked with the new couple.

    When Joe and Taylor were finished eating, Erin said, "Taylor, you said you needed bedding and food, and Joe wanted tools. It's time for you to open these packages."

    Jim had given them 50 pounds of dry beans, another 50 pounds of corn for meal, and 5 pounds of butter, frozen hard. Rachel and Justin gave them a small box with many envelopes of garden seeds inside. Frank and his wife gave them sheets, pillow cases, several blankets and a new quilt. Erin had brought over dozens of jars of canned food, a smoked ham, and a covered bucket of lard. Cindy and Chad had 4 dozen eggs, and dozens of jars of canned beef.

    Bill's envelope was opened last and Taylor cried a little as she gave him a hug. She gave it to Joe who read the note inside.

    "Take what tools you want from the store and anything else you need. Let me know when you want flour or cornmeal ground. I'll plow up a garden spot behind the shop for you as soon as the weather is fit. Congratulations, and thanks for all your help."

    Joe and Taylor hugged each other and said a misty eyed "Thank you" to everyone.

  31. #31
    Chapter 86 March, 2018

    Joe looked up from his work and saw Jim Wright come in carrying a gearbox that was dripping oil.

    Joe's old boss, Pete Huncil, had been appointed Foreman in the new shop and went to look at the problem. It became obvious when Jim handed him the bolt lug that had broken off the case leaving a hole.

    "How'd you manage to do that?"

    "Kyle got too close to a barn post with the combine auger. The post suffered some, too. Can you fix this?"

    Pete said, "Yeah, we can fix it. I don't know what it'll cost until we get finished. You can save some money if you take it all apart and wash the oil out with gasoline or something. We have to get that cast iron up to about 600 degrees or so before we weld on it or it'll crack when it cools off. So all the bearings and rubber seals have to come out or the heat will damage them."

    "I gotta use the combine on oats this summer. We were just going over it to make sure everything was greased and the belts were all good. It's too wet to work ground yet, but we sowed oats with a hand crank seeder yesterday."

    Pete said, "Good thing you brought it right in. I expect we'll be getting real busy soon. Got quite a bit to do right now."

    "Okay. I'll take it home and clean it up and bring the pieces back," Jim said. "I'm glad you can fix it, because I don't know if I can even find a new part, let alone afford to pay for it."

    Erin was right behind Jim with a broken grate from her cooking range. She handed him the broken one and the other unbroken one for a pattern. She asked him, "Can you fix this?"

    Pete frowned and said, "I dunno. It depends on how burnt up that metal is from being in the firebox forever. If it's too oxidized to weld, we can make you one out of steel, but that'll cost more."

    Eldon Frye, the machinist walked up and said, "If it won't weld, I can drill it and turn a new peg for that end. It won't last forever, because the cast iron will be thinner around the peg, but it will last a few years. I done that on ours. But weldin' is best if the iron is still good."

    While they were talking Robert walked in and asked Pete, "Got enough work to do?"

    Pete said, "Yeah, we're stayin' busy. We're doing repair jobs like this as they come in and we work on building your kitchen stoves between times."

    He turned and called Joe over and said, "See if you can get nickel welding rod to stick to this old cast. It wants a peg on the end like that one."

    Joe nodded and walked off with it.

    Looking back, Pete said, "Putting the machine shop work in with the welding was a good idea. It means we can do a lot more kinds of things than either of us alone."

    "I hoped it would work that way. I knew I'd had to run from one shop to the other to get things done on my truck, and this way it's a one-stop shop."

    "It's going to make you money," Pete said.

    "I want it to make money for all of us. I think we can make it because now neither shop is paying rent and we only have one building to heat so our overhead is lower."

    As Robert and Erin walked to their house he said, "Joe was paying rent to Dad, so I made him the same deal. It just comes off his wages so there's no difference as far as he's concerned. But it cuts down on my payroll. It looks like we'll do okay with this business, thanks to Dad giving us the building."

    Erin said, "Well, he doesn't need it now that he has the store downtown, and he practically stole that store building, so he isn't out much and he's got a better location."

    Robert said, "Dad thinks ahead."

    The greenhouse had made money all winter for Owen Miller. He was thankful because the trailer park was down to only four rentals now. He had two trailers sitting empty, so he had drained the water from them and shut off the utilities. That had cut his income, but the greenhouse had more than made up for it. The grocer had been glad to have him as a supplier when he'd had trouble getting much of anything from Louisville.

    He breathed a sigh of relief when he put his Federal and State tax return forms in the mail. He didn't owe anything, but he wouldn't get any back this year, either. His trailer park actually showed an operating loss for last year, and what income he had from the greenhouse was less than the minimum. He wondered if the County would have any money this year to fix the potholes in his street. He doubted it. He couldn't afford to fix the potholes in the park driveway, either, so he did like the County and got a little crushed stone to fill them up.

    Now that Spirng was on the way, Owen had trapped a few rabbits that hung around in this quiet side of town. With only himself to feed, one big rabbit would make 2 or 3 meals with plenty of vegetables and some gravy. Times had pretty tough for a while, but he thought he could make it if things didn't get any worse. He probably wouldn't sell much produce in summer because everyone would be gardening, but he would grow enough to eat and maybe sell a little. Every little bit helped. Owen was thinking about buying a couple chickens, too.

    The IMF official told the Treasury Secretary they would not consider changing the 40 year loan repayment plan. They would not consider giving back the BLM lands in the west, since they were rightfully foreclosed collateral when the early payments had not been forthcoming. The higher lease payments for those BLM lands now went directly to the biggest remaining bank in the country.

    Congress was incensed that they could no longer offer campaign promises of money for nothing, since their borrowing had come to an end. Most of their contstituents who had been influenced by those aid programs were dead now anyway.

    Three major banks now controlled virtually all the commerce in the US, except for the struggling underground economy. Everyone knew it was there, but enforcing tax laws had become nearly impossible with so few agents. The snitch program, promising a percentage of recovered tax liabilities hadn't yielded much at all. Tiny community markets disappeared when a "carpetbagger" tax agent was in town and stores were closed. Small businesses did not advertise with signs, but only by word of mouth and if you were not a local resident nobody would tell you anything. Local law enforcement was no help at all. Their funding came from local property taxes which would be uncollectable if small business owners were bled dry by the national taxes. It wasn't that people wouldn't pay those taxes, they could not pay them and survive.

    Reduced revenue came from major corporations, most of which had their headquarters in other countries and were tax sheltered in various ways. Oil companies had been sold and were hollow shells of their former selves, trying to deal with a contracting market and diminishing supplies. Faced with the onerous IMF loan repayment , the inability to further inflate the currency lest the IMF invoke the inflation clause, the inability to borrow, and dismal tax revenues, the central government got gradually smaller each year as local government became ever more corrupt.

    The upside was that the dollar was stable again, and what commerce there was began to stabilize also. No major capital ventures were being started, however, and infrastructure continued to decay. As major bridges became unusable, cross country shipments became more costly and less reliable, slowing to a trickle. Steel was again being made in the old industrial belt of the Midwest, but only in small quantities for use where rail lines reached. On the west coast, it was cheaper to buy Asian steel. West coast industries began to dry up along with the water supply and the dry land of southern California reverted to desert.

    Each year the vise tightened holding the US in the economic malaise.

    Parts for vehicles and machinery were always backordered, often for a year or more. Junkyards and repair shops flourished along with crafty mechanics who could make odd replacements work. Robert's machine and welding shop was one of those. Joe became known for his ability to build useful things from whatever was at hand, like shallow well drilling rig from old farm machinery and junk truck parts.

    Imported goods became more costly as sales diminished and transporttaion costs soared. Carol weaving began to be competitive with manufactured cloth from abroad. Old clothing, like machinery, was salvaged for any usable parts. Cottage industries began to spring up making buttons, carved wood products, and leather work, all home grown.

    The electric grid fell into more disrepair as time went by. Poles that once came from the far west were now cut from locally grown eastern Red Cedar, as they had been when REA first electrified this part of the country. More small farms and homes went off the grid as the cost got too high for their falling incomes. Chad Daulton found himself supervising the recovery of unused power lines to salvage and use for repairs to what remained.

    Land line telephones became an anachronism, as overhead lines and fiber optics became too costly to maintain for the few subscribers. Cellphones and satellite internet connections were all that remained for those who could afford them. Service was not always good and and always slow.

    A government deperate for revenue increased import tariffs on everything, dragging the lethargic economy even more and giving rise to a lively smuggling trade. "Bootleg" cloth and spices were favorites for the "moonlight importers". Untaxed "bootleg" wines and liquors flourished along with tobacco products, all generally affordable without the taxes and import duties resembling the same trade of the Prohibition Era.

    Chapter 87

    Frank Daulton told Cindy, "They raised the taxes way too damn high. That's why everybody is ducking them. That's on account of that loan from the IMF that kept the country together, but this isn't much better than if it all fell apart."

    "We can get by, but it's not easy," Cindy said.

    "Yeah, and we're some of the lucky ones. There's a lot of people who can't afford enough to eat. Ask that fella Brent who owns the grocery. I don't see that changing very soon, either. Not in my lifetime."

    "I hope you're wrong, but I wouldn't bet against you," Cindy said.

    Doris said, "Some people are doing fine. Robert Evans just started a new business and it's doing great."

    Frank said, "Yeah, but he had money before it all went to hell and he figured out how to hang onto it. He put it in that hardware store and made more money with it. And they aren't doing all that good compared to what they would have 10 years ago. Back then, they woulda had a fancy house and nice new cars and all. Now she cooks on a wood stove like the rest of us country folks and their house is nice, but it's no mansion."

    Doris said, "Well, nobody can afford much now."

    Frank said, "That's my point. We're all a lot poorer and you can see that if you ride through town. Houses and business buildings are empty and the people gone, living with relatives, or starved to death like the ones they find along the road."

    Doris didn't like to talk about the bad side of things and said, "I like being here with Chad and Cindy and the kids. We'd be lonely if we were in that big house we had. This is a lot more fun."

    "There's a good side to it," Frank admitted. "I like the greenhouse work and if we hadn't had to do that, I'd be sittin' on my butt in that big house or mowing grass. I always thought mowin' grass was a waste of time."

    Chad was told he would not get the new bucket truck he asked for in his proposed budget for the next year. His maintenance budget was held the same, but his maintenance parts costs were up and he had to move money from other areas to cover it. Their buildings needed roof work that was normally contracted out, but this year Kevin and Billy were on the roof putting on patches to cut costs. Chad had held the line on his payroll when the Home Office wanted to cut wages. His track record of response time and low repair costs backed up what he said that he had an efficient crew and he had to pay them well or pay more for line repairs.


    When Robert walked into Buster Jones' mechanic shop, he was impressed that it looked a lot cleaner than before.

    "You've got the place looking good."

    Buster grinned and said, "My new wife done that. She said it don't cost any more to be clean, and she's helping get things better organized."

    "When did you get married?"

    "About 2 months back. Me and Lynn have known each other since grade school, but we were both married before. She's a good woman. Shoulda married her first and we'd both been better off."

    "That's good. Say, do you know where to get parts for my Kubota tractor?"

    "Maybe. Whatcha need?"

    "Oil filters and fuel filters right now."

    "I can get 'em, but it will be next week before the truck comes. You got a filter number?"

    "Right here," Robert said as he reached in a shirt pocket.

    Buster wrote the numbers down and asked, "You got any concrete cement?"

    "Yes, we keep a pallet of it."

    "I'll be down and get some to fix those holes in the front drive. Lynn said she'd help me do that, and business picked up a little so we got the money now. She wants the place to look good, and I'd like that too."

    Carol was surprised when the Mayor's wife came in the store and watched her weaving a rug.

    "I'm just amazed at how you do that. Do you have any finished?"

    "Sure do. Up there behind the front counter are several colors."

    The lady bought 4 rugs and said, "My grandmother used to make these and they lasted forever. It's worth more than that cheap stuff they get in from China. OOH! What's that?"

    "It's hand woven linen. I sell them for doing embroidery and some women like to make fancy dish towels with them, or place mats."

    "You have embroidery thread don't you?"

    "Yes we do. It's upstairs with the yard goods. Lots of colors."

    When the woman left Carol thought that she may have a better market than she imagined for her weaving.

    "That's a lot of canning jars," Brent said.

    "We use a lot for the garden," Kyle Wright told him.

    "If you put some of that wine in some of 'em, I'd like to have a gallon."

    Kyle loaded the last box on the truck and said, "I'll send some in town when Mom comes to shop, okay?"

    Brent nodded and said, "Better make it two gallons."

    "Okay. If you give me the jars back, I'll take some off the price."

    "It's flax seed. I got a bag from the feed store. They sell it for horse feed supplement," Justin said.

    Rachel was skeptical. "What are you going to do with that?"

    "I'm going to plant it and raise it a couple acres."

    "Then we sell the seed tothe feed mill?"

    Justin nodded. "This year we'll sell seed, but there is linen fiber in the stalks. I talked to an old man that used to run the Museum and he knew all about it. He said we can sell the stalks for fiber, too, but it should be cut earlier to make fiber, before the seeds are ripe. I know we can combine the seeds just like wheat or oats, but I'll have to learn more about how to do the fiber."

    "Carol is weaving some high priced cloth out of linen thread. We should talk to her," Rachel said.

    "Yeah, but the old guy, Mr. Simpson, he said there's a lot to do to make fiber out of it. I figure we can cut some early to work on and learn how to do the fiber, then sell most of it for seed. The good part is, nobody else is doing it around here so we can get a good price for the seed."


    Chapter 88 June, 2018

    "Robert, are things going to get any better? I mean business things. The economy," Erin asked.

    He sighed and said, "It doesn't look like it. Not for a long time."

    "I don't understand how you have kept your cool the past couple years. It just all seemed to slide right off you like water off a duck."

    Robert gave her an astonished look. "No! That's not right! I've been scared half out of my mind ever since we got married."

    "How come you never said so?"

    "I didn't want to worry you. You had enough on your mind and it's my job to make a living, so that's what I did."

    "OH! You and that male role thing! You don't have to carry all that! That's what a wife is for, to help you deal with stuff like that. I guess I love you anyway, but it would be nice to think I could help when you need it."

    "But you do help. Look at all the things you do! You keep me fed and clothed and the house nice and keep me out of trouble with all the details of things at home, and you're raising William along with it."

    "I'm talking about how you FEEL about things," Erin said. "Men never seem to get that."

    "I do the best I can."

    "Boy do you ever! You've gotten me out a funk time after time, you've made us one of the richest families in the county, and you've made me feel secure enough to have a family. How about you slack off that stuff for a while and enjoy yourself more?"

    Robert took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He thought for a while before he answered. Erin looked at him with a little smile. Finally he said, "I do enjoy what I've been doing, you know."

    Erin said, "I know, or you'd be doing something else."

    "I'll take more time off. I need to spend more time with you and William. He's growing fast. He's past 2 years old now."

    They sat without talking for a while, enjoying the shade on the back porch while William pestered the cat.

    "A penny for your thoughts," Erin said.

    "I was thinking it would be nice to have a playmate for William. What do you think?"

    "Hm. That would take a while. We'll have to work on it. What do you have planned for this evening?"

    The End

  32. #32
    A fine job of writing, and perhaps even some predicting in there as well.

  33. #33
    Thank you. i enjoyed this.

  34. #34
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Thank you, it was an enjoyable read.
    I didn't really bounce Eeyore. I had a cough, and I happened to be behind Eeyore, and I said "Grrrr-oppp-ptschschschz."

  35. #35
    Great Story. Thanks for sharing.
    Will be looking for more of your stories.

  36. #36
    thanks for the story, good one

  37. #37
    Join Date
    Aug 2011
    NE Iowa
    What an interesting read. Lots of food for thought here, too. I followed more than one branch to other things and enjoyed that as well. Thank you. Looking forward to your next effort too.
    Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.
    President Theodore Rooseveldt

  38. #38
    Join Date
    Jun 2012
    State of Jefferson Sierra Mountains
    Patience, Thank you...

  39. #39
    Join Date
    Feb 2005
    Dallas, Texas
    "I was thinking it would be nice to have a playmate for William. What do you think?"
    Didn't she have her tubes tied after the birth of their son?

    Great story. Thanks for posting it here.

  40. #40
    OOOOOH! I gotta fix that! Thanks.

    Oops. Too late. the edit button is gone.
    Last edited by patience; 04-06-2014 at 07:38 PM.


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