Friday, August 9, 2019

The Shrewd King 3.5: The first day

After securing the lease of the two barns in the northeast corner of Chernovsky’s annex, Prakash pitched a tent in the shade of an enormous maple tree and started clearing out the barns.

As he pulled “junk” out of the older barn he saw that some of it simply needed to be burned or tossed into the woods to decompose. Other items were unique and valuable. Axes, shovels, billhooks, corn and potato planters, chains, oil lamps, fishing equipment, files, wrenches, cross-cut saws and even a Russian samovar.

He scrupulously marked these with a double wrap of baling twine to identify that they belonged to the Sturdivant sisters and planned to move them into the steel sided building that he decided was going to be the stockroom.

The floor was gravel but it was at the top of a slight knoll so rain would rain away.

The steel sided barn was also packed with “junk”. Some was worth keeping...the ladders, the old, Ford 8-N tractor and two small, aluminum row boats. Other items simply took up space, most especially the 1973 Chevy Vega.

He needed the Sturdivant’s permission to push the Vega out of the barn and into the weather. He also needed to hire some “Muscles” to help with the heavy work. Fortunately, those muscles showed up through the course of the day with a big contingent showing up when Di showed up with the first delivery of merchandise.

He had been working for Luke Salazar for two weeks and had kept an eagle eye on what sold and what languished. Luke’s biggest seller on a tare-weight basis was cornmeal and corn grits. Prakash knew he was going to be pinned down at the beginning but he also did not want to turn down any sales.

After waiting on dozens of customers, Prakash saw that every customer bought some amount of pure, 100% cornmeal. The poorest customers never purchased anything else.

Those who were a little more affluent purchased cornmeal and 35% wheat flour:65% cornmeal while the “middle class” purchased cornmeal and 50:50.

Prakash had the first delivery be almost entirely 25 pound bags of corn and a few 35:65. Prakash specified 25 pound bags because he could barely slide 100 pound bags along the ground and 50 pound bags strained his back. He suspected that most of his customers would be weakened by hunger and it would be a struggle for them to transport a hundred pound bag from the store to where they lived.

He specifically requested whole grain. Grain keeps better than flour or cornmeal and is much less damaged if it is inadvertently wetted.

The first two men Prakash hired were to help clean out the barns. The third man Prakash hired was to use one of the wheelbarrows they found in the old, wooden barn to deliver bags of food to those customers who could not even manage a twenty-five pound bag.

Di delivered 800 pounds of corn and 100 pounds of 35:65 and twenty half-liter bottles of vegetable oil and it all disappeared.  Prakash sold out in three hours. The customers waited for hours to have the grain ground. Prakash ended up hiring a couple of boys to do the grinding when he felt like his arms were about to fall off.

The next day Di delivered another 800 pounds and twenty bottles and it was all sold in two hours. Word had gotten out and heads-of-households were prepared to dash to the store to buy food before it was gone.

The third day it took five hours to sell out as families realized that Prakash had the logistical support to keep his fledgling store stocked.

The fourth day Prakash had fifty pounds of corn left at the end of day when he closed the store. It was the first time he had to lock the doors at night.

The fifth day Di brought seven hundred pounds of grain, bottles of oil and a single, eight-feet long by three-feet tall section of shelving.

She also brought “sundries”, needles-and-thread, fish hooks, wash clothes and soap and toothpaste and aspirin. Kate’s buying spree when the government desperately sought to stabilize the economy with Universal Basic Income after the Ebola epidemic was officially recognized by the CDC was paying big dividends for Prakash.

There were times the first few days when it looked like a riot might break out, especially as the bags of grain became fewer.

Prakash remained calm and his voice was almost hypnotic. “There will be more tomorrow. Unless you start a riot tonight. My delivery person will not come unless I assure her that all of my customers are orderly.”

That earned the most unruly customers stern warnings from the customers who had stolidly been standing in line, waiting their turn.

The people who had been standing in line after he sold out were handed a chit with an indecipherable scrawl upon it. They were written in Hindi script and they were the order the customers were standing in line when he ran out of bags.

“Show me this piece of paper when you come back in the morning and I will tell you where to stand.” he told them.

He quickly earned a reputation as a fair, efficient shop-keeper who did not need to raise his voice.

Prakash had visitors the sixth day. Chernovsky and five young men were waiting at the door of his shop first thing in the morning.

Chernovsky said “Will I be able to count on you to provision the observation posts we are putting on the M-99 and Waverly bridges? We will pay, of course.”

“It will be my privilege.” Prakash said. “Can you estimate how much you will need each week and of what items? That way I can ensure I will never leave you short.”

Chernovsky handed Prakash a list. “That is by the month but I think you can work with it.”

Prakash scanned the list. “No candy?” he said with mock horror.

Unlocking the doors to the barn he went inside and the first thing he did was to give each of the young fighters a fistful of hard candies. They might be stone-cold-zombie-killers but they were still, just barely, teenagers. Looking at Chernovsky he said “Those come out of my pocket. Like I said, it is a privilege.”

At that point there is nothing more Prakash could have done to ensure the safety of his business.


1 comment:

Readers who are willing to comment make this a better blog. Civil dialog is a valuable thing.