Friday, August 2, 2019

The Shrewd King 2.4: Free Kittens

A couple of days later, Mo went into Luke’s store and asked to add a couple of items to his “Looking for” board.

Luke was agreeable but he suggested that Brittany write it. Some people had handwriting that was virtually unreadable.

Mo asked that “Iodine” be added and “Selenium”.

Luke didn’t think that finding iodine would be a problem. Many folks used it as a disinfectant for wounds and it was still used by dairy farmers for the same purpose.

“Selenium” rang a bell for him but he could not quite place where it came from.

“Whatchya need them for?” Luke asked.

“Mr Wilder wants to raise sheep. Sheep need extra iodine and selenium.” Mo had no intention of revealing to a non-partner how many sheep his boss intended to raise.

“Have you tried Kate’s store?” Luke asked.

“First place I went. She suggested I come here, too.” Mo said agreeably.

“You might want to find Shadrack Shaw. You might say his specialty is finding agriculture chemicals. He has a gift for it.” Luke said.

Luke wouldn’t mind getting a percentage of business but he had no issues with sharing the names of some of his wholesale suppliers with the biggest land owner in Pray Church. One hand washes the other and being on good terms with the Wilder operation made it less likely that he would see Luke as competition to be eliminated.

Shadrack quickly hit the wall when it came to finding selenium. Coal ash can have up to 20PPM but that would have to be mined out of landfills.

There were deposits of near-coal in the local bogs from millennia of decaying plant growth. There might be a possibility of burning the near-coal and leaching the ashes but Shadrack had no idea of how to assay the material for selenium content. He knew from raising animals for 4-H that trace mineral salt typically had 90PPM selenium.

A week later, Luke’s brain finally kicked out the answer that eluded him when Mo Patches was asking to add to the list on the “Want” board. Selenium is used in certain kinds of dandruff shampoo.

Luke asked Brittany to add “Dandruff Shampoo” to the list. The first few bottles that came in did not have selenium in the list of ingredients. Luke bought them anyway. He always had a market for shampoo.

Then Nicole Durant brought in a 14.2 ounce bottle of dandruff shampoo that specified that it had 1% selenium sulfide. Nicole was perceived as a daffy, cat-crazy, older, lady but it was universally agreed that she was a very sweet lady at heart. If you weren’t careful she would corner you and tell you, in excruciating detail, the latest cute or clever thing Mindy, Windy, Cindy, Kitty, Delores, Frank, Maxine, Catigula or Louise had done.

Luke was pretty sure she couldn’t tell them apart because he had been present when she was scolding a battle-torn tom-cat and calling him “Cindy”.

Luke tried to hide his excitement. “Do you have any more of these?” he asked.

“I don’t know. Maybe two more of them.” she said. “Frank had a case of mange and I thought I could get rid of it with dandruff shampoo.”

“Why three bottles?” Luke couldn’t stop himself from asking.

“He gets mange a lot.” Nicole confided.

More likely he gets in fights with other tom-cats, Luke thought.

“Giving Frank a bath didn’t work out so well so I stuck them in a cabinet and forgot about them.” Nicole said.

Luke would have given about anything to see a video of Nicole trying to give Frank a bath but knew better than to breath word about that.

“How much can I give you for the lot?” Luke asked.

“What I really need” Nicole said “is to give away some kittens. Would it bother you if I put out a basket of them? I will leave food.”

“What are you selling them for?” Luke asked.

“Selling!” Nicole puffed up with umbrage. “I am giving them away. They are gifts to people who need cats.”

To Luke’s surprise, the kittens were quickly snapped up. Luke had assumed that everybody who wanted a cat already had a surplus. What he had not reckoned on was the explosion in the number of rodents. Most of the fields had not been harvested and all that standing and corn and soybeans provided an unlimited supply of food to the mice, meadow voles, rats and gophers. Their populations responded enthusiastically.

Luke gave her five silver dollars for the first bottle and asked her to hold the other two for him.

Luke showed Mo the bottle of shampoo then next time Mo came into the store.

“I did the math. This bottle has 2.5 grams of selenium in it.” Luke said.

“What are you charging for it.” Mo asked.

“I need ten silver dollars.” Luke said. “It ain’t like they are making this any more.”

Mo hadn’t done the math in his head but he had learned that it was common practice to administer five milligrams of selenium to ewes a month before their due date. By his rough, mental figuring the bottle of shampoo had enough selenium for hundreds of ewes.

Not only would Wilder need selenium but so would Pat Treadwell and every other person who raised sheep.

“Perfect.” Mo said. “Keep looking for more.”

That is when a picture popped into Luke’s head.

Luke worked in a distribution warehouse for a very large, regional grocery-department store. He had been assigned to “vacation replacement” one holiday season when absenteeism was exceptionally high. He remembered working in rooms where pallet loads of shampoo were stored and taking dozens of bottles out of the case as he “picked” the order.

He was willing to bet big money that cases of shampoo would be one of the very last things that looters would make off with.

Yup, he was willing to bet money in the sense of funding an expedition to the warehouse to look for that shampoo and iodine and anything else that might have been overlooked.



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