Monday, July 29, 2019

The Shrewd King 2.0: Things get tense

Venus of Willendorf

The atmosphere in the Luke Salazar household was decidedly tense.

Luke had been asked by his sister, Nyssa, to allow Brittany Duckworth to move into his house and pretend to be his girl-friend. The complications were that Brittany was almost eight months pregnant and already had two, young children. Further, the situation was complicated by the fact that the local drug Cartel would be looking for anybody named “Duckworth” as they tried to recover a large stash of valuable drugs.

The obvious solution was to have Brittany and the children take Luke’s last name as a common-law-wife.

At first, Luke was fine with the idea. Luke was gay and neighbors were starting to speculate. Having a ready-made family move it would put busy tongues to rest.

Luke was not without compassion. He saw Brittany’s dilemma and he could use her help in the store. It seemed like a good deal to him.

The charade required that Brittany and her children go into a forty-day quarantine. As a former resident of Kates Store, the community immediately south of Pray Church, Brittany and her children were under no such requirement. But there weren’t very many people in Pray Church and Kates Store and folks would quickly figure out that Brittany was not who she claimed to be.

While she could not do anything about her startling, cornflower blue eyes she did bob her rich, flowing brown hair into a tight, page-boy cut. The only thing in Brittany's favor is that her former husband, Carson Duckworth, was mentally ill and had kept her completely isolated from the larger community. It was a rare person who had seen Brittany up-close and for more than a second or two.

In order to perpetrate the fiction that Brittany was from Lansing, it was necessary to put her and her children in isolation.

The problems arose when Brittany came out of quarantine. She expected more from Luke than food to cook three meals a day, a room and bunks for her kids. Starved for adult interaction she not only demanded to sleep in his bedroom, she expected to sleep in his bed.

Luke’s first inclination was to coldly deny the privilege. “I am gay. Don’t you know what that means? It means I get excited looking at pictures of men.”

If he expected that to throw her, he was badly mistaken. “So what. Carson liked to look at pictures on his computer. He looked at pictures of red-heads with bosoms the size of watermelons.” Brittany said.

While Brittany had the fair complexion of one whose ancestors had inhabited fog shrouded islands in the North Atlantic, she did not have red hair. Nor were her breasts the size of watermelons. Even though her advanced pregnancy had enhanced her assets, they were much smaller than the air-brushed wonders that Carson craved.

“I am not asking you to repopulate the earth with me. All I want you to do is to snuggle up next to me and put your arm around me.” Brittany said.

“I am due in two weeks. I waddle like a duck. My back hurts. I feel like a hippo and I cut off all my hair. I just need you to put your arm around me so I can pretend somebody loves me and so I can go to sleep.” Brittany said.

With great misgivings, and a pair of pajama bottoms on, Luke slept with Brittany that night. All they did was sleep. Luke was amused to learn that Brittany had a delicate, feminine snore with a fluttering vibrato at the conclusion of the exhale.

The next day, Luke showed her through the store. The merchandise was sparse and the prices were marked on a board with chalk.

Brittany asked about that and Luke told her that prices were subject to change. If somebody came in and bought out most of his stock on a given item, he raised prices on the remaining stock until he was able to find and purchase resupply. The economic situation was very fluid and prices on some items floated through the course of the day.

It was late spring and garden tools and seeds were in very high demand. As Luke surveyed his rapidly dwindling supply of seeds he stopped selling in bulk. He spent the nights repackaging into “family sized” packages, raised prices and limited sales to one-per-customer. Generally, a family sized pack was enough to plant fifty feet of row.

Some customers pushed back, saying they had multiple families working the same garden. Luke, searching for a middle ground, said he said he was more than happy to sell them seed but every adult in the family(ies) had to make a trip to make their own purchase.

Another thing that surprised Brittany was that Luke had a board listing things he was looking to buy in-bulk.

Luke simply shrugged. It was something his mother Kate had started doing at her store and Luke simply carried on the practice.

After thinking about it for a few minutes Luke explained. “There is no warehouse I can order from. That means most of my stock has to come from the people who shop here. Somebody might have five shovels and four garden hoes in his garage and not realize they are valuable.”

“I write on the board what I am looking for and folks bring them in. I look them over and offer what I think I can afford to pay and still make a profit selling them. They can either take the offer or not.” Luke said.

“What do you mark them up?” Brittany asked out of curiosity.

“I double the price.” Luke said. “If I pay an ounce of silver for a tool, I sell it for two ounces.”

“Don’t people get angry when they see you profiteering?” Brittany wondered.

“They did at the start.” Luke admitted. “But then I explained to them that I did not have time to grow my own food or cut my own firewood. I had to pay for it out of the profits from the store.”

“If they still didn't like my profit margin, I invited them to go door-to-door to find buyers for their surplus. Then they could decide if they thought that was a good use for their time.” Luke said. “I think a few did but gave it up after carrying a handful of tools for a few miles and not finding somebody who wanted to buy any of their tools right now.”

Brittany wrote with large, loopy, easy-to-read script and Luke asked her to re-write the price boards. Brittany was more than happy to oblige.


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