Thursday, October 31, 2019

The Shrewd King 15.4: Never enough

John Wilder approached Benicio and his bodyguard before the Monday auction started. “If it is not too much trouble, I would like to have a word with you after the auction.”

Benicio gave John an appraising look. “And who are you?” Benicio had a pretty good idea. He rarely asked questions when he did not know what the answer was likely to be.

“I am John Wilder. I am a local property owner and raise sheep.” John replied.

“It will not be a problem. We can meet after the auction.” Benicio said.

After Benicio “settled up” for his weekly buy, he looked around and saw John chatting with his bodyguard.

“What is on your mind?” Benicio was not a man to waste time.

“I have a shopping list of items I cannot buy in Capiche. I checked you out. You are a man who gets things done. I would appreciate it if you can find these items.” John said.

Benicio said “I am not an errand boy.”

John said, “I know that. But you have men who work for you who can also get things done.” as he gestured to the bodyguard. “You don’t hire fools. If you tell them to ‘do it’, it will get done.”

“You have the list?” Benicio asked.

John handed it over without a word.

Benicio scanned down the list and read it out loud. “Potassium nitrate, ammonium nitrate, 6-24-24 fertilizer...selenium dandruff shampoo.”

Benicio raised his eyebrow. “What is this for?”

“Like I said. I am a property owner and I need fertilizer.” John said.

“Shampoo?” Benicio asked.

“For the sheep.” John said.

“What is this worth to you?” Benicio asked.

John knew this was the make-or-break question. If he offered too little, Benecio would never do business with him. If he offered too much, Benicio would know how desperate John was and would jack up the price.

“The first two items, a silver dollar a pound. The third item comes in forty-pound bags and I will pay $5, silver a bag. The bottles of shampoo are worth $5, silver if the seals are not broken.” John said.

“Why so much?” Benicio asked. It was more than he expected and enough to be worth his people’s time.

“I got here late so I have less time to put in a crop.” John said, honestly. “Chemical fertilizers act faster than horse shit. Things cost more when you want things fast.”

Benicio nodded. He understood that. “No promises but I will see what can be done.”

“If you find something, I am willing to send a team to pick it up. There is no need for you to haul it on Monday to auction.” John said. This was something of a gamble because it might tip off Benicio how critical these items were.

John made a small, dismissive smile. “These are small things for you but important for me. It would be easy for you to forget and then I would be two weeks behind.”


Three days later, one of Benicio’s lieutenants passed word to Gladys that they had found some of John Wilder’s items.

John, his wife Sam and Mo hired Di to drive them to the corner of Creyts and Millet Highway. John and Mo were armed with AR-15s, Sam had a handgun and Di had her .22 semi-auto clipped to the buggy’s roof. Benicio’s lieutenant had not indicated how much of the list they found, so John took 200 silver dollars, a tidy haul for a thief.

The actual merchandise was a let-down. The lieutenant had four bags of 6-24-24 fertilizer and two bottles of shampoo. After paying him and loading the bags, the lieutenant slapped his forehead. “I almost forgot this.” as he pulled a bag from beneath the wagon.

It was a twenty pound bag of hydroponics grade potassium nitrate of a brand much loved by cannabis growers.

John paid for that, as well.

The ride home was subdued. Sam told John that Janelle ultimately needed a ton of black powder. Dmitri specified that each of the ten observation posts have twenty mortar rounds capable of firing rounds with ten pounds of black powder. Except for the M-99 observation post. There he wanted forty rounds. Twenty rounds times ten observation posts times ten pounds of black powder per round (plus an additional twenty rounds for M-99) was over 2000 pounds of black powder.

The twenty pounds of hydroponics potassium nitrate was enough to make about 27 pounds of black powder, a little more than one-percent of what Janelle needed. The upside was that 27 pounds of black powder was a hundred times more than the four ounces Janelle had on-hand and would be enough to power plenty of “practice” rounds.


The wheat harvest was not very efficient. Ultimately, that was not a problem. There was lots of labor. The most important thing was to get the wheat out of the field and under cover.

The wheat was cut and rolled into round bales for ease of handling.

Then the round bales were spooled into a threshing machine which ran off the PTO of Milo's tractor with the gassifier. Lots of double handling but there were many hands and the hay equipment had been converted to horse power.

Everybody watched and calculated the yield with great anticipation.

Ultimately, the fields yielded 63 bushels to the acre. Far less than the pre-Ebola 80-to-100 bushels per acre but twice the pessimistic estimate of 30 bushels per acre.

If a starvation diet is a pound of grain a day, then the winter wheat harvest ensured a third of that amount for each of the 800 residents of Capiche for the next year.

A third, that is, before seed was kept out for planting next year’s crop and before outsiders started bidding on the grain at auction.



  1. Your paragraph on how much black powder the mortar rounds need reads funny. You either have something doubled, or something missing, or both.
    If I'm reading it right, you expect to need 10 pounds of black powder per round - from my experience with mortars, that sounds like a lot.

    1. You know more about mortars than Dmitri or Janelle.

      Dmitri was making a wild guess regarding how much black powder would be needed to match the explosive power of the TNT that would normally be packed into a mortar shell.

      Nor has it occurred to Janelle that a standard "skinny" propane cylinder has an internal volume of about a liter and there is no way she can pack ten pounds of black powder in that space. She might be able to get between 2.5 and 3.0 pounds depending on how comfortable she is compressing it.

  2. Nicely framed, and now there is a good reason for Benicio to work with those folks.

    1. Indeed. Benecio might have come to the conclusion that he is better off leaving these communities alone so they can grow the food that he and his organization needs. Where he used to be a drug lord, he can still be a powerful man as a FOOD lord in this new world and new economy.

  3. Well done. This quite a world you've created.


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