Friday, September 27, 2019
The Shrewd King 10.5: Wood-tick
Farmer Earl was looking at the eighty acres that had been planted to wheat and corn.
The wheat would have to take care of itself. It had been broadcast and broadcast heavy and it was impossible to cultivate. No matter, the wheat had exploded out of the ground and was shading out most of the weeds.
The corn was a different story. It had been planted in widely spaced rows. Weeds had ample moisture and sunshine to grow and were competing with the overmatched, juvenile corn plants.
Pete had a map of the planting and stakes had been pounded into the ground at intervals to mark where the various plots started and stopped.
Earl was an old-style farmer. He had been one of the last to accept no-till and Round-up Ready crops. He plowed and tilled until the bank made him stop. It had been a point of pride that his fields were as free of weeds as the fields of the progressive farmers who sprayed glyphosate.
He would have hung his head in shame over the deplorable condition of the plots. Not only were the plots choked with weeds, but more telling, there was almost nobody out in the fields working.
Seeing a figure Earl thought he recognized, he waded out into the weeds a couple of hundred yards. There, screened off by the jungle of weeds that surrounded it was a plot that met Earl’s standards.
“Zat you, Wood-tick?” Earl asked. Nobody had gotten around to making a list of who had survived Ebola and who had died. Clearly, Daniel Wood, aka Wood-tick, had survived.
“Yep. Its me.” Wood-tick responded. “I was too mean and ornery to die.”
“Ornery is right.” Earl said.
Turning to Pete, Earl said “Wood-tick and I got kicked off the football team together. We were too rough, the coach said.”
Wood-tick’s laugh was a short bark.
“We were JV and playing Charlotte. We knocked three of their players out of the game in three straight plays. I hit high and Wood-tick hit low. Tore them apart.” Earl said with a chuckle.
Wood-tick chimed in, “What were we, about 125 pounds dripping wet? Thing was Earl was heading west when he hit him and I was heading east.”
Pete was not a student of “American” football but even he could see the potential for mayhem.
Earl looked around at the plots surrounding Wood-ticks. “Pathetic.” was all he could manage.
“Gonna be a lot of hungry people this winter.” Wood-tick said.
“Gonna be a lot of hungry people next week.” Earl corrected him.
“How do you figure?” Wood-tick asked.
“Credit is going to dry up.” Earl said. “We ain't selling corn on credit if it doesn't look like they are gonna grow enough to pay us back in-kind. Looking at this field, there is not a snowball's chance in hell they are going to get a crop. Only a fool would keep extending credit.”
Pete looked like he needed to throw up. Pete was extremely adverse to conflict and he saw no happy endings for this story.
“I see where you are coming from.” Wood-tick agreed. “Most of this corn isn’t worth spit.”
“What can I do?” Pete wailed.
“You wanna get this straightened out?” Wood-tick asked. He wasn’t really sure. Sometimes people did stupid things because they WANTED to fail.
“Yes.” Pete said.
“Then you stop selling them corn. You only sell to me and the people who I tell you to sell to.” Wood-tick said. “Tell them, the only way they are going to get food is if they toe the line I draw.”
"That means that they are out here hoeing and pulling weeds every damned minute I am out here working on my plot." Wood-tick said.
Pete looked dubiously at the old game-cock.
Earl said, “He is as good as his word. I seen him knock a Holstein bull on its ass with a cinder-block when he was sixteen. You don’t have to be the hard guy, Pete, just let old Wood-tick be hisself. Its a simple case of putting a square peg in a square hole."
Earl did not think it was necessary to tell Pete that the bull only weighed 800 pounds. Sometimes its the parts you leave out that make the story.
“What about the old guys who cannot work in the fields?” Pete asked. The question had been buzzing around the back of his mind.
Earl looked at him like he was daft. “Have them kill coons!” he said as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.
Pete knew that ‘coon’ was an ethnic slur and he wasn’t absolutely sure it wasn’t being applied to him. “Beg your pardon?” he said.
“Raccoons.” Wood-tick said. “We are close to the river and the only corn field for miles around. We might get hundreds of them.”
“And raccoons eat corn?” Pete said, trying to imagine how much damage a cute, little animal could do.
“Dirty, rotten bastards do more than eat corn. They tear down the stalks and then might take one or two bites out of each cob. I seen where a single coon destroyed a hundred corn stalks in a night.” Earl attested.
“You bet.” Wood-tick said. “You put those old men out here with a dog and a shotgun and I guaran-damn-tee you that they will earn their keep.”
Pete did not see a downside. Wood-tick would do the heavy lifting as Pete saw it. The field couldn’t be any worse than it already was.