Friday, May 29, 2020

Quest: ...your barn can only hold five...

Rick had a once-a-week meeting with Benicio. Benicio was the drug-kingpin/warlord who ruled Delta Township and the west side of Lansing with an iron fist. There were always more things to talk about than time.

Rick mentioned the need to start collecting taxes, just in passing.

Benicio admitted that he collected 25% sales tax. “Most of the stores double the price from what they pay to what they sell it for. They keep half the profit and half of it is mine.”

“Isn’t that a little bit steep?” Rick asked.

“I have a big organization. I have expenses. And it is the only tax. There is no income tax, for instance.” Benicio said.

“Aren’t they tempted to cheat?” Rick asked, marveling at a 25% tax. In Capiche, the talk had been for a 10% sales tax and people were up-in-arms.

“Of course they are. And some probably cheat a little bit. Maybe for things they sell their closest family” Benicio admitted.

“What happens when somebody gets greedy and does more than shave the corners?” Rick asked.

“I make an example of them” Benicio said.

"It is much easier to keep track of a few stores than to monitor every family" Benicio advised.

Talk turned to the problem of purchasing the steam engine. Benicio INSISTED that they take one of his lieutenants the next time the bargaining committee made a trip up to South Riley. Benicio seemed to think this lieutenant could help bargain down the price.


It was a tight fit in the truck with Milo driving and Fred in the passenger seat. Rick and Janelle sat in back.

Rick and Janelle were conversing about what they could afford to pay for the engine. Janelle believed that the engine could easily produce power for another forty years as long as it was fed clean water, the right kind of lubricant and a machinist could keep it in bushings and rawhide seals.

“They designed them to run for fifty years” Janelle assured him. “I doubt it ran for more than ten years before it was replaced with an electric motor.”

“The other thing you need to realize is that they didn’t know crap about water back-in-the-day. They would dip it out of a creek or used well water. Heck, we can run our water through a water softener and then reverse-osmosis. It is gonna be sweet!” Janelle enthused.

Fred was a silent as a sphinx. He had mumbled a greeting when they picked him up at Benicio’s headquarters. He had a very heavy Central-American accent.

It was impossible to determine his age. He could have been fifty or ninety. His face clearly had decades of damage from sun exposure. His face looked like an Aztec statue that had been carved from a mountain with blasting charges.

Fred had a curious way of looking at things. His eyes did not dart about. He slowly swept and then when he determined the most interesting aspect in the passing landscape, he serenely looked at the feature until the moving truck removed it from sight.Then another slow scan.

Rick and Janelle had no idea how this silent man was going to help them negotiate a better price but Benicio was a good ally, in fact, their only ally. If Benicio thought Fred should accompany them, then Fred went with them.


The owner of the steam engine went into used-car-salesman mode as soon as Milo pulled in the drive.

Unfortunately, it was impossible to hide the fact that the party from Capiche was very interested in the engine. A sixty mile round trip was not a trivial undertaking and the group from Capiche had shown up for a second round of negotiating.

The seller knew they were hooked.

It was a piss-poor position for Rick and company to bargain from, but it could not be helped.

They looked at the engine one more time. It was in the barn, out of the weather.

Mile confirmed that he had a trailer that could support the 10,000 pound engine. The boiler would require a second trip. Fortunately, the trailer was a “lo-boy” and loading it would be a trivial exercise for an experienced rigger.

Janelle brought a light that she could shine into the cylinder. The bore was dark but free from rust. She pronounced it good. The seals had dry-rot but those would have to be replaced on a regular basis anyway.

Fred had not say a word.

Rick cleared his throat and started the negotiations. “We can’t afford your price. How much lower can you go?”

The price of a horse had remained unchanged since pre-Ebola times. Before Ebola, you could buy a horse for 250 ounces of silver. For all practical purposes, that price had not changed

The seller's reasoning was that a fifteen horsepower motor can work around the clock and replace 45 horses. He also made the point that you did not have to feed the steam engine when it was not working. That was only partially true. The heating-cooling cycle was hard on the equipment. It was more efficient to keep it at-heat for a few hours than to let it cool and then re-heat it.

The seller demanded the price of 40 horses, or 10,000 ounces of silver. Mark Salazar had a thousand ounces that he was willing to kick in. John Wilder had a couple thousand more ounces he was willing to invest in war-bonds. The purpose of the taxes was to pay-back the men for fronting the cost.

John Wilder, for his part, had more than 2000 ounces of silver but he had other enterprises he needed to fund. He could only spare 2000 ounces.

Everybody else had hoards of silver that measured in 20-to-200 ounces. There was no way to squeeze that much silver out of Capiche.

Maybe Capiche could cough up four-thousand ounces of silver. Maybe.

“The price is ten-thousand ounces of silver, the price of forty horses.” the man held firm.

Fred spoke for the first time in two hours. “Why do you need so many horses? Your barn is only big enough to hold five.” His accent made him difficult to understand.

The man ignored him. Fred was clearly not one of the main bargainers.

The group was now outside. The seller’s back was to his house. The negotiating party asked about buying-on-time.

The seller insisted “cash on the barrel”.

Fred observed “Where I come from, there are malo hombres on every corner who will kill for the price of one horse.”

That earned a scathing reply from the seller. “Well, I have guns and I know how to use them. I would turn them into Swiss cheese if they broke into my house.

Rick and Milo asked if the seller would take timber or (gasp) a gassifier or some other kind of merchandise in trade.

Verbal wrangling went on for another five minutes.

The seller insisted on silver and maybe a couple of horses.

Fred’s calm gaze was not on the seller. He was looking at the house. “Silver does not burn.”

It took the seller a couple of minutes to translate and process the comment.

“What the hell does that mean, ‘Silver does not burn’?” the seller asked, testily.

“If your house burned down, somebody could shift through your ashes after they cooled and collect the silver.” Fred observed.

The seller settled for five horses, a set of tack and two-hundred ounces of silver. The horses were good, five-year-old-geldings and the tack was servicable but not fancy.

Fred said nothing on the drive back to Benicio’s headquarters.



  1. An offshoot of take my silver or my lead

  2. You can get more with a smile and a machine gun than with just a smile. Probably not how you'd want to do business all the time, but workable in a pinch.

    Of course, the seller was a fool. He should had offered it as a rental, not a sale. Capiche would have probably been amenable to reasonable rental terms of say, 50-100 ounces of silver a month.


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