Jean Fect walked into Kate’s store. She was slow in closing the outside door and everybody in the store noticed the frigid, early January wind.
Jean stumped up to the counter where Luke was standing and demanded “You need to sell me two hundred gallons of LP gas.”
Luke said “We don’t sell LP gas.”
“Yes you do. I seen your tanks outside.” Jean contradicted.
Kate had been accepting partially filled LP tanks in payment for food and other necessary items. The tank’s valves were turned off, the plumbing disconnected and then Kelly or Milo carted them to Kate’s store. Kate had also contacted the families who had moved out of the neighborhood and got permission to "borrow" the LP and heating oil in the tanks.
The neighbors tolerated what would have been seen as heavy-handed if done by anybody else because Kate did not charge them for the fuel and she was rock-solid honest in how she metered it out.
“I think you need to talk to my mother.” Luke said.
“MOM!” Luke called back.
Kate came out of a back room, discretely trailed by Ms Sheridan.
“Hello Jean.” Kate said. “What can I do for you today?”
“You need to sell me a tank full of LP gas.” Jean Fect said. She was happy to be dealing with the boss.
“I’m sorry.” Kate said. “That gas is not for sale.”
“They why do you have it?” Jean asked.
Kate said. “Cooking. We fill up five gallon tanks and allow each family to have one every two months.”
“Do you have a five gallon tank?” Kate asked.
“Five gallons won’t do me any good. I heat my house with LP.” Jean said.
“Then you have a problem.” Kate said.
“Are your pipes freezing?” Kate asked.
“Not yet. We are all the way down to 67 degrees so it won’t be long.” Jean said, playing for pity.
Kate’s eyes darted to the digital thermometer beside the cash register. It showed 61 degrees.
“What do you normally keep it at?” Kate asked. “...all the way down to 67...” implied they kept it toasty warm.
“We keep it at 77.” Jean said. “As you know, Jerry is diabetic and has poor circulation.”
Kate could not resist, “Didn’t you notice there is an emergency going on and it might be hard to get fuel?”
“That is not my problem.” Jean said. “Now, will you sell me the LP gas I need to keep Jerry alive?”
There were many things Jean and Jerry could have done. They could have kept one room warm. They could have put on warmer clothes. They could have heated up hot water bottles. But they did none of those things. Kate had little sympathy for them.
“The LP is not for space heating. There are mittens and sweaters for sale in the consignment section.” Kate said.
“You don’t understand.” Jean pleaded. “Jerry will die if he gets cold.”
“I understand that.” Kate said. “So your job is to keep him warm. I can sell you mittens. I can sell you sweatshirts and vests and sweaters. I can sell you hats. I can sell you firewood.
“And I can give you sheet on how to deal with Type II Diabetes when medicine runs out.” Kate said, pushing the sheet of paper across the counter.
“But I will not sell you LP gas for space heating.” Kate said.
Jean balled up the sheet of paper and threw it at Kate. Then Jean stomped out of the store, muttering as she went.
Kate told Luke. “Follow her. Stop her if she heads toward the LP tanks.”
“How?” Luke asked.
Kate opened the drawer beneath the cash register and pulled out a bottle of pepper spray. “Tell her to stop. If she doesn’t, hose her down. Make sure you stay upwind.” Kate said.
Jean veered away from the tank farm as Luke angled to cut her off. He had no idea what she planned on doing. Maybe she thought she could pull a 500 gallon tank home. More likely, she was mad and was going to open a valve and vent hundreds of gallons of LP to the atmosphere. If she could use it then nobody would be able to.
A few hours after Jean left, Kate had a thought. She beckoned one of her “runners” as she thought of them.
“Hey kid.” Kate said. “Don’t suppose you would run over to Mike Kromitter and let him know I wanted to have a talk with him. Be worth a brownie to me.”
Kate was no longer getting a steady supply of candy bars but most of the kids were very happy to run errands for a homemade brownie. Kate did not think the Health Department would be visiting any time soon.
An hour later Mike showed up. “You needed me?” he asked.
“Yeah. One of your neighbors was in. They ran out of LP and I don’t think they are set up to heat with wood.” Kate said.
“I don’t suppose you could pay them a neighborly visit and check them out, could you?” Kate said.
Coming from Kate, that was almost a command.
“Yeah. I can pay them a visit.” Mike was a fellow who truly cared for his fellow man. He was always willing to put his money where his mouth was. Or, these days, put sweat equity into helping the less fortunate. If there was a way to quickly convert Jean and Jerry’s house to heating with wood, Mike would get it done. It certainly would not be the first he had converted in the last three months.
Mike came back the next day after lunch.
“I visited Jean and Jerry. You owe me.” Mike said. “Big time.”
“What happened?” Kate asked. The buzz in the rest of the store died down a little bit because entertainment was a scarce commodity.
“They called me everything but a human being.” Mike said. “That woman can cuss like a sailor.”
“They were all friendly until I said ‘wood heat’, then Jean lit into me.” Mike said, shaking his head.
“That is not real bright, pissing off your neighbors.” Kate said.
“I don’t think they plan on being our neighbors for long. Eaton Rapids still has natural gas. They opened up the schools and churches for people to warm up. I think Jean and Jerry plan on moving into town.” Mike said.
“That is going to be a pretty neat trick, though.” Mike said. “I hadn’t seen Jerry in a while. He must weigh four hundred pounds.”
The next day Kelly carted the Fect family to Eaton Rapids. They could not fit very much into the back of the truck and Kelly had better things to do than to move their household.
Seraph and Rick were still pounding out the details of the mutual reciprocity regarding clean vs. need to quarantine status. The Fects fell through the cracks and ended up in quarantine in the old school.
They were allocated four hundred square feet and the temperature was fifty-five.
For some reason nobody was motivated to respond to Jean's caterwauling that Jerry need to move back out to Kate's Store. Nobody had the time or energy for such nonsense.