Thursday, September 26, 2019

The Shrewd King 10.4: Sometimes, the hardest problems are at home

Rick, Kate and Luke Salazar came into the office together.

They intended to talk reason to Ken and get him to back down. Folks just couldn’t afford the kinds of prices they feared Ken would demand.

Kate agreed to let Rick speak for her. She was too emotionally invested and knew that her voice would start shaking. It wasn’t that she was losing control. Rather, it was that her voice refused to cooperate.

Rick started the ball rolling, “We are here to establish our credit for next week’s bidding. And we are also here to try to talk you out of what you clearly plan to do.”

More than any of the other bidders, Ken saw Rick, Kate and Luke as peers and valued their opinions. It stung that they judged him so quickly.

“From where you stand, what does it look like I am trying to do?” Ken asked.

Kate started to speak but Rick reminded her by placing his hand on her knee to let him talk. “It looks like you are trying to squeeze as much profit out of hungry people as you can get away with.” Rick said evenly.

“Let me tell you how it looks from the outfield.” Ken said referring to the fact that the farms were in the extreme southwest corner of KS-PC-CA.

“I see a bunch of people sitting on their ass expecting ‘somebody else’ to feed them.” Ken said.

“I see huge amount of work that need to be done. I see roads that need to be graded. I see lumber that needs to be milled. I see fields that need to be hoed and weeds that need to be pulled.” Ken said. “I see horses getting fat behind barns because corn is so cheap.”

“Think of it, a man can work one day and earn a bushel of corn...enough calories to keep him alive for two months.”

“Before Ebola, when we had diesel and pesticides and fertilizer and medicine and trucks that ran...did you know anybody who made enough working six days a YEAR to get by?” Ken asked. “Didn’t think so.”

“You know what else I see? I see Kelly and Di literally killing themselves working too many  hours because they care too much. I see you three working just as hard and it is only a matter of time before you hit the wall.” Ken said.

“And before you tell me that folks are old or sick, let me remind you that Earl is 77 years old and he is working just as many hours as you are. Where is the justice for Earl? Is it justice to kill Earl with over-work just to GIVE corn to folks who aren’t motivated to work?”

“Getting back to that ‘working six days a year’; We will all starve if most adults around here only work six days a year. Hell, we will starve or freeze to death if most adults only work five days a week.” Ken said.

“Me and Earl and Don talked this over. The only way we saw to get all the players off the bench and into the game was to raise the price of corn and to raise it a lot.” Ken said.

“I ain’t going to pretend to be some kind of saint.” Ken said. “I want my wife to have a ceiling fan that works and it would be awful nice if we could make ice for our neighbors and had a way to refrigerate food.”

“But the big thing is that we are going to have the mother of all train-wrecks if we don’t get people working ‘cause there is an assload of work to do and nobody is looking in their mirror and seeing the ‘someone’ who is going to do it.”

Silence graced the office for half a minute. Ken rarely used coarse language like "ass" and it communicated Ken's desperation and anger more than yelling ever could have.

Then Kate spoke up. “Ken, you have to help me out. I grew up in Holt...about as typical of a suburb as you can imagine. Can you help me see all this work that isn’t getting done. Just give me one good example.”

Then Ken thought for a minute. Farmers are comfortable with silence. When they speak, they want it to be right.

"The one biggest thing we need right now is fertilizer...Nitrogen. The corn plants are all yellow and runted. I don't know if we are going to get ANY corn if we cannot find some fertilizer to spread. And we gotta find it quick because the plants need it NOW." Ken said.

"All those horses I was talking about. Have you seen any of them?” he asked.

Kate nodded her agreement. She had seen some of those horses.

“Everyone I have seen had a manure pile outside the barn. Usually about five yards but sometimes ten or twenty yards in size.” Ken said.

Rick and Luke nodded. Luke helped one of the “horse women” one summer to make a little folding money. Shoveling stable waste loomed large in his memory.

“Every yard of manure has ten pounds of nitrogen in it and that is enough to boost the yield…” Ken did some mental calculations...”a little bit more than ten bushels.*”

“So giving you a yard of stable manure is almost the equivalent of a fifteen bushel ‘lot’ of corn?” Kate said, starting to get excited.

“Hold on, not quite so fast.” Ken cautioned. “There are always losses. IF a yards of horse manure and stable waste were spread evenly over the corn field at the beginning of the growing season, it might increase the yield by ten bushels. It is much safer to estimate half that because all of the nitrogen won't be available this year.  But they darned well better get on the stick because the corn will be too tall to drive wagons over in about two weeks.” Ken said

"Thing is, there aren't enough of me to cart the manure here and then spread it on the fields. That is the work, right there." Ken said. "It ain't just the somebody saying I can take it. It has to be spread evenly in the corn field."

"And if they don't have manure, they can cut cattails, nettles or giant ragween in the muck fields." Ken said.

"If they don't want to do that, there are plenty of older folks with manure piles who aren't capable of shoveling it, so they can team up. One can donate the pile and the other can move and spread it."

"Heck," Ken said "lots of people have swimming ponds that are choked with seaweed this time of year. Most of them would be tickled if somebody volunteered to rake out the weeds just so they could have something to spread on the corn fields."



  1. I did not realize that most people were just sitting around. From previous chapters, it seemed like people were busy scrounging useful stuff or making useful things to trade for food at the stores. I also did not realize that Kate and the other three store owners were selling corn and other food dirt cheap. It seemed like customers had to pony up significant resources representing many man hours of their time and work in order to buy the food.

    I am still disturbed that Benecio the drug lord is able to come and go at will and to bid for the corn. I understand that they do not realize (yet) who he is - the guy who sent 200 armed thugs in an attempt to wipe them all out, rape their women, and take all their food and useful possessions.

    The good and capable folks who are the protagonists in this story have some serious deficiencies in terms of security and intelligence gathering. In the aftermath of the failed attack on them, they should have captured and interrogated several of the numerous enemy wounded who were left to die. They also should have wounded and/or captured the kid on the bicycle, who was obviously their spotter. He would have probably told everything he knew. It would have been of critical importance to find out who sent them.

    They could also have reached out to the police chief in the city to see what he knew about the local gang hierarchies. They might have even been able to match up names with actual photographs in the police files. That way they would be able to recognize them on sight if and when they show up at the stores or anywhere else.

    The fact that a youngish hispanic man is able to readily come up with half a dozen state of the art commercial grade solar panels should raise several red flags. They should know instinctively that there is no way this guy could have them unless he stole them or looted them. And the only way he would be able to take them and not have someone else take them from him is if he was the top dog.

    The good people of KS and PC need to pull out all the stops to get some Intel on this guy and his organization. They cannot continue to allow any of these guys to just walk right in and reconnoiter them in preparation for the next attack.

    Do not take these comments as criticisms of the story. They are not. I am just fully invested in the story at this point - which is a great compliment to the writer.

    1. As a reader, you have far more pure information than any of the players living it.

      From Farmer Ken's standpoint, he does not live in a continuum. He gets one shot each season. If he delivered mail, for instance, then sub-standard performance could be measured several hundred times a shift. Ken does not have that luxury.

      Consider the difference between a howitzer and a machine-gun. The machinegunner can walk the rounds into the target. The howitzer relies on getting close and a big bang.

      Regarding people being busy: Busy is not the same as productive. A person might have six rabbits and think they are very productive but in fact be a net loss if they are feeding the rabbits 100% human quality food.

      At some point the economy needs to move from salvage to production.

      Economies are very messy. That is why central-planned economies are failures. They can balance the books as long as they have the freedom to charge $12,000 for the occasional hammer.

      During a societal reset, people playing out-of-position will be the rule rather than the exception. The successful and resilient communities will be the ones that tolerate episodes of chaos (musical chairs) as people/tasks realign.

      Regarding Benicio: Would you attack KS-PC now or wait until the harvest was in the barn? Just askin' And if you are struggling to manage the tasks on your plate you might decide to put "conquest of KS-PC" on the "C-pile" for the time being.

    2. I am beginning to get it. Bringing in goods you already have for trade is not the same as making or growing or catching new goods. That is like using your savings to live on vs going out and earning new income.

      Your Shrewd King story is quite thought provoking.

  2. I agree with George, it appeared to me that most people were doing some sort of useful work. Some farmed, some supported farming, others provided security, so on and so forth. I don't see how a lot of the population were able to get by sitting on their butts. What did they have to trade at the store for food?

    Ken & Co. have screwed up. Their point could have been made without the level of risk they've created. The dude with the radio show-why not get on there and discuss the situation? Talk to Rick and Kate about the situation and get their thought. Talk to your neighbors, for Pete's sake. But diving off the deep end, absolutely sure that your plan is the only/best one, is the height of hubris.

    These guys may be great farmers, but they're rotten politicians.

    1. Agreed. It would have been better to talk with the store owners and other close associates over coffee or adult beverage and explain their thoughts, concerns, and vision for the future, and hopefully get them on board with where things need to go. Springing it on them as a take it or leave it fait accompli does not seem very friendly or neighborly, and can easily create hard feelings and do great damage to the still fragile interdependence that is holding them all together.

  3. Another thought: Upon reflection, if Benicio the drug lord is smart, he may be realizing that he is better off leaving the people of Kate's Store and Pray Church alone. They are producing the food that he and his organization need for survival. He can still be the Top Dog now and into the future by being a food lord instead of a drug lord.


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