Friday, July 3, 2020
Benicio was running into problems managing Delta Township and the surrounding areas.
In the beginning, people were glad to be alive, glad to have a strongman to get things organized and tell them what to do.
The immediate terror of Ebola was over. Refugees were trickling into Delta Township and Lansing. They owed Benicio nothing.
Furthermore, it is one thing to manage an organization that is, perhaps, 2% of the native population. Benicio could hire-and-fire. His organization extracted wealth from the other 98% to pay the organization’s expenses.
As the leader of Delta Township, he had limited ability to hire-and-fire because they weren’t employees. He was stuck with what he had.
Another issue is that competitors were springing up. There was nothing that came anywhere near the size and power of his organization but it was troubling if only because it nibbled away at his revenue base.
Benicio was a “go-and-see” manager. This morning he was inspecting a grocery store that had been gutted during the night. It was one of the grocery stores that he provided “protection” for so it was a direct attack on his authority.
Benicio’s education in business and economics came from Lansing Community College. Unlike all the other students, Benicio absorbed the information like a sponge. A big reason for that is that if he played his cards right, he was in line to run an organization with revenues north of $100 million a year.
Business problems don’t go away just because the products it sells are not legal. If anything, they become bigger.
On one hand, Benicio had to deal with this challenge to his authority.
On the other hand, Benicio had to deal with the pressures that led young men to twist the tiger’s tail. That is, lack of jobs. The economy of Delta Township was moribund.
If you wanted to have an audience with Benicio you had to be cleared by his phalanx of protectors, your business had to personally interest Benicio and you had to walk with him as he managed his business. No high-status office. No comfortable chairs. No dainty cups of coffee. No cute secretary.
Steve Straeder was walking with Benicio. Steve caught Benicio’s eye. Not many people had the cajones to attempt a trip to Iowa in the middle of the winter. The plalanx parted when Benicio indicated he had an interest in speaking with the young man.
“What can I do for you today, Mr Straeder?” Benicio asked. It was a courtesy. If there was a market for flies and one caught more flies with honey than vinegar, Benicio had the flexibility to present honey.
Steve correctly interpreted the question as “What can Steve Straeder do for Benicio, today.”
“I have come to ask for your blessing” Steve replied.
“Do I look like a Priest?” Benicio asked with a humorless laugh. “I know you don’t want my daughter’s hand in marriage. She is too young and I know you are already married.”
“I have come to ask your blessing for a project” Steve said. “Nothing more.”
“Why?” Benicio pressed. “Why my blessing.”
“Because what you bless, prospers. What you curse, fails” Steve answered.
That was a very accurate assessment of the situation.
“And what would you have me bless?” Benicio asked.
“I am building a railroad” Steve said.
That caused Benicio’s eyebrows to go upward a millimeter.
“And where would you build this railroad?” Benicio asked.
“I intend to reactivate the tracks from Durand, Michigan, through Lansing and Delta Township and then all the way to Huntington, Indiana” Steve replied.
“Why Durand and Huntington?” Benicio asked. They were not cities he was very familiar with.
“Durand has a railroad museum that has a working, steam locomotive. Huntington is on the Canton, Ohio – to – Oceola, Iowa railroad” Steve said. “Connecting to the COOI railroad connects us with 700 miles of middle-America.”
“You seem certain that the COOI will be built?” Benicio said.
“They are already running trains” Steve said.
That was news to Benicio.
“So how would this benefit me?” Benicio asked.
Steve looked around and inhaled. “So far, we have been lucky. We beat Livingston County because they were invaded by force from Ann Arbor. We get to fight them next. Maybe we win. Maybe we lose.”
“Someday we are going to run out of luck. Then we lose” Steve said. “Unless we have oil and coal and industry.”
“Somebody is going to tap into the COOI line. If it is Ann Arbor, then they get oil from the oil fields east of Fort Wayne. Then we lose for sure.”
“If we beat them to the COOI line, then we get the oil. Oil means fuel. Gas means we can make far more ammonia and explosives than we can now...maybe ten or twenty times as much.”
Benicio did not need to be told the benefits of oil and explosives.
“And how long do you think it will take to get the tracks ready, once you start?” Benicio asked.
“It is 170 miles from Durand-to-Huntington” Steve said. “The first sections of track the towns in Indiana and Illinois activated took about two miles-a-day. So, once I get the go-ahead, I figure I can be pulling freight at reduced speeds in a hundred days.”
“How many men were working on the rails down in Illinois?” Benicio wanted to know.
“I don’t know. Maybe ten or twenty at a time, tops. These were small towns of a few hundred people. There weren’t a lot of strong backs to have” Steve said.
Benicio looked at the young men milling aimlessly about, sidelong glances bespeaking of resentment and anger.
“How fast can you go with two-hundred men?” Benicio wanted to know.