Monday, October 28, 2019

The Shrewd King 15.1: Gone without a trace

Gabby’s Pub was where all of the movers-and-shakers of Capiche met. It probably had something to do with the fact that there was no other place to meet, at least, no other place that had tables and served food, coffee and adult beverages.

Janelle had invited Docter Sam Wilder to a lunch meeting. She hoped to brainstorm with Docter Wilder on a problem that she saw as unsolvable.

“I need nitrates” Janelle said as their chili and french fries showed up. Janelle had felt nauseous this morning and was sticking to water. Doctor Wilder was sampling the local version of chickory “coffee”.

“What do you need it for?” Doctor Wilder asked.

It was not an idle question. Chemicals come in various grade. Industrial, end-use grades are relatively impure. For example, potassium nitrate used for fertilizer could be 90% pure and still produce admirable results.

The next grade of purity up was ten times more expensive.

Then there were “reagent” and “pharmaceutical” grades that were a hundred times more expensive.

“I need it for black powder and explosives.” Janelle said.

That put it firmly between the lowest grade of chemicals and bulk, commodity chemicals.

“How much do you need?” Dr Wilder asked.

“I lot more than I have.” Janelle said, darkly.

“How much is that?” Dr Wilder asked.

“Today, I have precisely four ounces on hand.” Janelle said “And I need at least a thousand pounds and I need it yesterday.”

“Where did you get what you are were using?” Dr Wilder asked as she shook her head.

“I had Shad Shaw scrape it off piles of chicken shit” Janelle said. “That was before they all got spread on the corn fields. Now there is no saltpeter to be found for love nor money.”

Dr Wilder put on her thinking cap as she dredged the thick, crispy french fries through the chili and ate them.

After a bit, Dr Wilder said “I don’t want to get your hopes up, but did you ever think of buying it from that Benicio person from Delta Township?”

“He sells potassium nitrate?” Janelle asked, surprised.

“No, but I bet he would be willing to sell us 6-24-24 fertilizer.” Dr Wilder said.

Dr Wilder doodled a few notes on the piece of newspaper that Gabby had given them for napkins. “With a little bit of care, you ought to be able to net 20 pounds of potassium nitrate from a forty-pound bag of 6-24-24.”

“How do I separate it out?” Janelle asked. She was getting excited. She had seen pallet loads of 6-24-24 fertilizer in various big-box stores and nurseries in Delta Township.

“Well, it will be slow. You need to make a compost pile, about like those piles of chicken shit….” Dr Wilder went on to explain that the most common form of nitrogen in fertilizer is NOT nitrate but urea. Turning urea into nitrates involved culturing bacteria, fermenting the compost pile, leaching the results and then dehydrating what was leached.

Luckily for Janelle, potassium nitrate is not particularly soluble in water and were the first species to crystal out of solution so no subsequent purification was required.

“What do you think Benicio will charge for fifty bags of 6-24-24?” Janelle asked.

“That depends on how good of a negotiator you are. He might not be willing to sell you fifty bags. Or, if you have something he really wants, you might get them cheap.” Dr Wilder said.


“I don’t know where they went” Miguel said as he was showing Donnie the bottom lands south of Columbia road where refugees had been camping.

It is not where Miguel would have picked to camp. Way too many mosquitoes for his taste. But Miguel found the refugees to be a reliable source of raccoons that could be turned in for the bounty. They were more than willing to let Miguel be the go-between.

History had not treated the refugees kindly. They fled the cities and suburbs with nowhere to go. Some went north to the sandy soils and pine trees. They quickly figured out that there was little food to be found.

Some went to the big city. When things went into the ditch they had no tribe to help them though the tough times. Without tribe there were not enough eyes to “have their back” and to inform them of resources that became available. They did not fare well.

Others knew that they could not make their way back to family in California, New Jersey and Mississippi. They also knew that the cities and suburbs were death-traps. They left their homes. The left the PTA, their churches and clubs and gyms. They packed what they could carry on their backs and headed to the wildest country that was within walking distance; The Grand River bottoms.

Before Ebola they had been doctors, lawyers, stock-brokers, real estate agents, executives and lobbyists. Now they were untouchables and invisible.

They had enough on the ball to see that Denny Blastic’s deal was a poor choice.

The took their chances in the bottom lands and worked odd-jobs, when they could find them. They quickly learned that whenever there was a conflict, the locals always assumed they were lying. They learned to rely on themselves and to not expect any help from the locals.

Donnie became impatient as Miguel tried to make sense of the tracks, over-turned cook ware and collapsed tents. Why would the refugees leave without taking their tents?

Miguel started to see where hoof prints had plunged deeply into the soft, alluvial soil. Oddly, the hoof prints zigged-and-zagged rather than moving in a line.

Squatting down, Miguel could see where blackberry bushes and multiflora rose canes had tip-rooted and then something had crashed through them, ripping the rooted tips of the canes out of the earth and then dragged them so they were pointing north. Whoever had crashed through them had been so panicked that they ignored the ferocious thorns. Miguel’s tracking moved faster after that.

After a half mile, both Miguel and Donnie picked the smell of rotting flesh. They did not find the fifty, scattered Fiocchi shotgun hulls. They were translucent-white and had fallen beneath leaves of the may-apples, goldenrod and poison ivy that covered the ground.

They found some of the dead refugees. Many of the bodies showed signs of being chewed on by coyotes and wild dogs. The wounds that were visible were unmistakable. Multiple holes meant shotgun. The size of the holes meant buckshot.

Not that many residents used shotguns. The shells were heavy and the range was limited. There weren’t that many targets that merited an ounce of lead when 40 grains of lead would put them in the soup-pot.

It seemed unlikely that whoever had ambushed the refugees had killed them all. But the survivors, if any, were gone without a trace.



  1. And the trail leads to one place... And one place only...

  2. It would seem that Blastic caught up to at least some of his escaped slaves and summarily dispatched them. Even though there is no formal law enforcement anymore post-Ebola, one wonders whether the local communities will be willing to tolerate a mass murderer in their midst.


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