Friday, October 18, 2019
The Shrewd King 13.5: Character sketches
Di pulled the wagon into the drive that circled the Blastic farm yard. She had twenty bushels of shelled corn in the back.
Two teams were deployed in Pray Church. Two were in Chernovsky’s Annex and the Equestrian Coach was now Di’s competition in Kate’s Store. There was still no shortage of work for Di.
Dogs were barking. Then a fat man came shuffling out of the main house. He walked like his shoes were too tight or as if he were constipated, Di was not sure which. She assumed this was the Denny Blastic she had heard so much about.
“I brought the first week’s rent.” Di said.
The man shuffled over to Di’s wagon and held out his hands. “Where is it?” he asked.
Di jerked a thumb and pointed in back. The man must be blind. “Right there” she said.
The man’s glance flitted to the grain bags and then back at Di. “I don’t want that crap. I want the $134 silver that you agreed to.”
Now it was Di’s turn to be confused. “I beg your pardon?”
“The price of corn was $100 for fifteen bushels, silver when you made the deal. That is the price you agreed to pay. Twenty bushels of corn at $6.67 is $134, silver” Blastic said.
“No.” Di said, drawing out the word. “I agreed to pay 20 bushels of corn, not $134 in silver. The current price of corn is $60 for twenty bushels. If you prefer, I can pay you $60.”
“I can’t accept this corn and we did not agree to $60. We agreed to $134, silver.” Blastic said, dismissively. “I am not going to let you weasel out of your agreement.”
It was pretty clear somebody was weaseling and it wasn’t Di.
Di released the brake and said, “Giddi-up, Dobbin. Giddi-up Dart.”
Blastic jumped back so the back wheels of the wagon did not run over his feet.
“Hey, where are you going?” he demanded.
“I am going to get your horses.” Di said. “I cannot do business with somebody who bargains in bad-faith.”
“Hey...Wait a minute. Don’t you know a joke when you hear one?” Blastic said with a tiny trace of panic in his voice.
“Didn’t sound like a joke to me, and I bet if I had paid you the extra $74 you would have kept it.” Di said. Di kept driving.
Blastic caught up with her after she had driven a half mile. She had heard enough stories about Blastic that she had her .22 semi-automatic rifle down from the rack behind the seat. The rifle was there to pot the occasional game animal and to discourage feral dogs and humans.
Blastic pretended not to see it. “I am afraid I got off on the wrong foot.”
Blastic knew how to behave in a civil manner. He just rarely felt the need to do so. This was one of those rare times.
Di, for her part, was thinking of how disappointed the new Capiche Cab drivers were going to be when Di collected their horses to return them to Blastic. A second thought that crossed Di’s mind was that the horses probably had a better life in their new homes than in Blastic’s over-grazed pastures.
“So what is your remembering of the deal?” Di asked.
“Two bushels of corn, per animal, per week.” Blastic said.
“I was dropping it off as a courtesy.” Di said. “After this week, you can come and collect it yourself.”
Di turned the team around and went back to the Blastic farm. She did not help unload.
Once unloaded, Di wasted no time heading back home. Her dislike of Denny Blastic was visceral and total.
Luke and Brittany Salazar were sitting on the old farm-house wrap-around porch catching the last stray breezes of the evening.
The older kids were playing in the sandy dirt of the yard. The new infant was in a car seat that served admirably as a cradle for rocking the child with a simple nudge of the foot against the carrying handle.
One of the consequence of the grid going down and the moribund economy is that people’s lives were once again synchronized by the rising and setting of the sun. The twenty-four hour economy had been replaced by the natural light economy.
The last customer left hours ago. Stew, snap-peas and the first green beans from the garden, lettuce and dinner rolls had been served for supper. Luke had eaten too much and now he was waiting for his system to compact things down.
He wasn’t thinking anything in particular when he happened to glance over at Brittany. She had a few strands of hair wafting up and backlit by the setting sun. She unconsciously reached up and patted them down.
The effects of nursing a new baby, working and a diet high in water, fiber while low in fats resulted in a rapid loss of the weight she had picked up during her pregnancy.
That is when Brittany’s physical beauty smote Luke between the eyes.
She was beautiful in the regal, classical way. There was nothing hyper-fashionable or over-wrought in her features or figure. If anything, her bosom was enlarged because she was nursing but even that was not grotesque or a caricature of a teenager’s fantasy.
Luke had never wanted children. He had been a precise and detail oriented child. The children fostered by his parents, Kate and Rick, had demolished his stamp collections and broken sacred artifacts from HIS childhood. There were no artifacts left from Luke’s childhood; no stuffed birds, no model airplanes, no wheat pennies or butterflies mounted with exquisite precision. There would never be a Luke Salazar museum as a consequence.
Later interactions with girls had cemented that “fact” that he was not normal. The mean girls had belittled him while the more maternal ones saw him as “safe” and treated him like an animated version of a Ken doll. None of them treated him like a nascent man.
After being stabbed in the back by some of the maternal girls he had considered peers, he decided that girls were just too unpredictable. Collectively, the population of Eaton Rapids High School decided he was gay and he did not argue with them.
He and Brittany had been co-habitating for three months. He was protecting her by giving her an identity that distanced her from Carson Duckworth. She was protecting him by squelching lingering rumors of his sexual orientation.
During that time she had effortlessly balanced the needs to advocate for herself and her children while supporting to his authority as the head of the household and master of the store.
In that instant, he realized that he wanted Brittany in every way that a husband wants his wife.
It was a revelation.