Change of Major Chapter 20
Holland stood glaring at the gate as Ernie closed it behind him. The hill people, "his" people had abandoned him and gone back to their homes leaving him exiled and alone.
Holland originally came from the Chicago area and upon completing college, was employed as a librarian one of the city libraries. In the eyes of his coworkers, the profession was noble as it served the community as a way to share literature and combat illiteracy and ignorance.
For Holland, it was nothing more than a dreary job best left to those with lower standards and aspirations. Holland coveted the finer things in life and envied those who them. Expensive European made cars, symphony tickets, fine wines, gourmet foods and vacations to exotic locations. None of that would be accessible on his public employee wages.
Out of anger and frustration, Holland discovered a way to get what he felt he was owed even if the means were illegal and highly unethical. He devised a scam whereby he researched and located grant monies from government programs and non-profit sources designed to help inner city and urban problems and took the for his own.
Since this was long before the internet, Holland used his position at the library and working long hours into the night created a number of false front organizations allegedly charged with combating childhood illiteracy in poor neighborhoods.
Writing carefully crafted proposals and petitions for funds, he applied for small, almost unnoticeable grants and was delighted when the first check arrived at his PO box one night after work.
He reported his efforts with fraudulent accounting records and wrote glowing letters trumpeting the wonders of his so-called programs and applied for more grants from hundreds of sources he located in the library.
All the funds, of course, went into a number of bank accounts he opened using his fake, non-profit status, and which financed the life he felt he deserved. A meal at a fine restaurant was listed as a "meeting with a donor". A trip to Italy was deducted as attending an "international literacy symposium".
In all, over a thirty year period, Holland bilked well intentioned foundations and donors of more than a half a million dollars all which was originally intended to help the needy. Holland could care less about the victims of his activities as the victims were in his eyes, nothing more than vulgar trash beneath his social standing.
While he spent a good deal of the money, he tucked a large amount away and when combined with his generous public employee pension, social security and personal retirement funds, he looked forward to a carefree retirement.
With a streak of paranoia cultivated over the years of larceny and embezzlement, he decided at retirement to sell his Chicago home and use the proceeds to purchase his Class A mobile home. Now he could live on the road beyond the reach of some meddlesome future researcher who might uncover his earlier activies.
Or so he thought.
Now Holland was homeless, penniless and standing on a road in the middle of Hayseed Flyover Country with nothing more than the clothes on his back and one bag of personal possessions. Further, he had no more than a couple of days of food and water and neither the ability or intention to get more through work or purchase.
Surely, in this new world, there must be something a man of his talents could offer to the right employer. Something that would also allow him to get the revenge he so badly wanted.
He started down the road not knowing where he was going or what would happen, but his anger directed him all the same.
Wow. That's all I can say after seeing those two girls. Both were equally attractive and after spending the better part of three weeks with Chuck and Curtis, I really wanted to meet both of them.
Our plans were laid at nines. When our heads resumed their forward position after turning them like an owl in the direction of the house, we were facing a stern faced Celina.
"Good, I am glad we had this happen now than later.
Those two are off limits, not that I have worry about them, they could kick your city butts all day long, but all the same, don't get any ideas."
Your job is to work and nothing more. Now, leave your stuff on the porch but put it out of the way so I don't have to walk around it. You, hippie boy, wait here. Tracy and Brenda will be showing you the barn. I want it mucked out front to back.
You, four eyes. You are with me. You are going to learn what a hoop house is. And you, you are with Delbert. Now, get. I don't have all day"
Celina briskly walked past me and pushed Chuck in front of her to get him moving leaving me with Delbert.
If you have lived in this part of the country any amount of time, you would know a guy like Delbert. If not, here's your description. A big guy, usually stronger than he looks and faster too.
No matter the age, He might have a gut hanging over a western belt buckle holding up a pair of Wrangler jeans. Usually wears Justin work boots or ropers depending upon what he is doing. Western shirt and a hat, straw or felt, again depending upon the season.
Disposition? The attitude of a pent up bull combined with the sense of humor of a five year old boy and the cockiness of a rooster in the ring.
If Delbert is your friend, you have the best back up around if you find yourself in the parking lot of a honky tonk after 2AM and are surrounded by a bunch of drunk ropers who think you had too many dances with their girls.
But you put your life in your hands if you go out with Delbert's little sister and get a little too fresh too fast. Look out.
In this case, Delbert is giving me "The Stare". In his mind, he is trying to find out if i was ten pounds of fertilizer in a five pound bag or if I looked like I could carry my weight.
"You don't need to carry that shotgun with you, go put it on the porch." Delbert says first.
"Fat chance. Where I go, it goes." I say back.
"Hmph. You point it at me, I'll shove it up your back side." he says back.
"Don't give me cause to" I say right back.
"Follow me." he said after a pause.
We start walking in the direction of one of the barns when I ask him, "Are you related to Celina like the other guys?"
"What do you care, ugly? You aren't gonna be here in a few hours so what does it matter? Unless you want to say something? Do ya?" he snaps back.
"I'm not planning on going anywhere. Unless you and Celina want to send me back to WinterHaven right now and consider the pig paid for." I respond.
"You ain't going anywhere until I sez you're done and then I am gonna make you work some more. But you'll quit, I guarantee it."
Delbert and I went into the barn and climbed into the seat of a backhoe parked inside. After he fired up the engine, he yelled down to me,
"Well? What are you waiting for? Get up here!"
I climbed on the side step and hung on while he pulled out of the barn and drove behind the out buildings and into the open field behind.
The field was barren and only a few brown stalks poked out from the broken furrowed soil. The farm was clearly not devoted to a single crop like wheat, but broken into smaller plots and separated crop areas.
We drove around to the back of another barn where there were several large open containers, each measuring about six feet across and four feet deep. Next to each was a stack of dirty hay and another of soil.
"These are compost heaps, big ones. Your job is to put a layer of hay, followed by a layer of soil and finally a layer of cow manure. After you get this one full, you need to climb in the next and fork it around. Questions?" said Delbert.
"Good, I got to roll over to the barn where the hippie kid is working and pick up some more cow paddies for you. Get busy."
I started forking the first bin and was on my third layer of hay/soil/manure when Delbert steamed around the corner and dumped a load of fresh cow and horse manure on the ground and on my boots.
I looked up at him and he gave me a big grin and backed off to get more. I shook my head and went back to scooping and forking.
Three hours later, I was on my third bin. My boots were caked and there was mud/poop up to the knees of my jeans. While I was wearing gloves, I knew I had blisters on my hands. My shoulders and arms were burning.
Delbert sat on the backhoe watching and waiting for me to falter, quit or pass out which was not going to happen. They weren't going to break me.
"Alright, ugly. Come on out of there and bring that fork with you. I got something else for you to work on." Delbert yelled.
I climbed out and stamped my feet and stretched my back and walked over to the backhoe.
"You walk in front of the hoe and everytime you see a cow pattie, I want you to throw it in the shovel. Go on, git."
And so we drove through the area between the barns and one of the paddocks with me stooping and picking patties and tossing them into the shovel attachment up front.
After I could not find any more in the immdiate area, Delbert turned the backhoe around and drove over to the barn leaving me standing in the field alone.
Lined up next to the barn and stretching in multiple rows were dozens of plastic covered half barreled shaped shelters. It was then I realized these were some sort of greenhouse and probably the reason Celina was able to deliver fresh produce to WinterHaven and others.
Delbert shouted at me from the barn to wake up and head up towards the house. It was getting dark and I hoped they would just let me lay down somewhere out of the way and sleep all night.
I hoofed over to the house and found Chuck and Curtis waiting and looking equally miserable and dirty.
"I think they are trying to kill us." said Chuck. "I must have stretched a million feet of plastic over those hoop houses. And then went back and checked each one again and again to make sure I did it right."
"That's nothing. They have two of the biggest barns full of cow poop in the world," said Curtis.
"And don't let them fool you. Those two witches are the meanest girls in the world. I don't think I like Celina anymore, either."
"Oh, really?" said a voice behind us. Swell, Celina had snuck up on us and caught our conversation.
"I am flattered that you liked me in the first place. Serves you right to fall for a pretty face. Not that I can say the same about you three."
"Alright, I want all three of you to grab your stuff and march over to the barn. On the north side, there is a shower stall along with some old towels and soap. Scrub down, dry off and take your dirty clothes into the barn."
In the barn is a hand crank wash tub and clothes line set up next to the wood stove. After you hang your wash, put on clean clothes and come back here. You got thirty minutes so make it count. Git!"
We hustled over to the barn after grabbing our gear and took turns showering. The water started as warm and progressively got colder the longer we took. Chuck theorized there was a solar heating system somewhere, but it was operating off of reduced sunlight so, cold water.
After showering, we rushed into the barn and started washing clothes. One of us would start while the other two got dressed. We then swapped out so we were soon in dry clothing and hanging out the wash.
I picked up my shotgun and we headed back to the house where Celina was standing holding an old fashioned pocket watch. The light was fading from the day and I realized we had not eaten anything since breakfast and I had missed even that meal.
"You got one minute to spare, not bad. Now, wipe your feet and come inside." she said.
We went in and immediately smelled something good cooking. The dining room table was set just off the living room, but we were directed into the kitchen.
There, a smaller table was set against the wall. We stood in the crowded kitchen and before leaving, Celina said,
"You eat in here. Delbert will supervise you and then join us in the dining room. Dig in and don't waste food, it's too valuable".
Delbert stood in the corner, his AR leaned against the wall.
"Alright children. Get a plate, take only what you'll eat, leave the rest. You can have seconds if you eat everything on your plate.
They didn't have to ask me twice or Chuck and Curtis for that matter.
On the counter was fresh spinach salad, some kind of pale yellow cheese, hot corn muffins and wheat bread, real butter, a large omlette studded with mushrooms, fruit salad, and finally a tureen of stew with dark brown gravy.
"Wha did all dis come fwom?" I asked with my mouth full.
"Don't talk with your mouth full, ugly" said Delbert.
"You know where it came from ya moron. Celina grew it. The bread was made from wheat and corn harvested in the fall. She grinds it and stores it and was selling it to restaurants in Austin.
The spinich and mushrooms were harvested today or yesterday from the hoop houses. The eggs came from those things called chickens that walk around outside. The stew you are eating was made with a rabbit. That's an animal with big floppy ears you babies wait for on Easter."
"You always this irritated or only in the presence of intelligence and beauty?" asked Curtis.
"Intelligence? Lesse... I got a roof over my head, I didn't have to do any manual labor today, I drive a running car or truck when I want to go somewhere, I got plenty to eat, I will sleep in a nice comfy bed... warm house.. yep, if that makes me a dummy, what does that make you three homeless bums?"
"As for looks, I wouldn't talk about looks with that mop on your head. I think I'm gonna take the sheep shears to you tonight after you go to bed," Delbert added.
I only half listened to Curtis or Delbert. The only thing I could think of was fresh greens, real bread and butter. Something I had not had in weeks but took for granted for over twenty years. I almost started wondering if there was a place permanently for me around here.
After we wiped our plates from our third serving, we all pushed back from the table and let out some satisfying belches.
"What do you think happens now, girls? Get up and wash your dishes." Delbert said.
We took care of the dishes and cleared the table. Curtis grabbed a broom while Chuck wiped down the counters.
Celina made an appearance then and looked around. Except for the food on the counter, things looked ship shape to us.
"OK,you three, into the living room." she ordered.
We went in and were directed to sit down on three chairs across from the fire place. Celina then sat down on the couch and laid things out for us.
"You guys did an okay job today, better than I thought and you all stuck with it. I will expec the same thing tomorrow and every day afterwards, got it?"
"Yes ma'am," was the unanimous reply.
"We treat our workers fairly here, but we have some rules besides the obvious ones. First, don't steal. Not even a tomato off a vine or a biscuit off the table. Ask first.
Second, if you want to quit, tell me. I don't want you here if you don't want to work. If you do a fair day's labor, I will transport you off the property and send you on your way. If you have settled your debt, I might even give you some traveling food.
Finally, don't plan on bringing trouble here after you leave. We have more folks guarding this place than we let on and we are armed better than any group around outside of Austin. Got it?"
"Austin wasn't hit? What about Dallas?" I asked ignoring all she had said before.
"You didn't know? Well, Delbert can tell you what we know when he feels like it. We aren't running a newspaper here.
"OK, Delbert will show you your quaters. You will not be under guard while you sleep nor will you be locked up. But if you try anything funny, we will kill you." she said.
She wasn't kidding, you should have seen her eyes.