Monday, April 11, 2011

Part 14: Work So Deftly Done

Part 14: Work So Deftly Done

This is the garden’s magic,
That through the sunny hours
The gardener who tends it,
Himself outgrows his flowers.
-Marie Nettleton Carroll


I was up early the next morning, even before the crew’s shift change. I waved at Lou Chin who beckoned me over; I went as far as the gate.

“Morning Lou!”

“Morning ma’am. Um … I have what may sound like a strange question but I’ve been wondering. Do you have any recipes for seaweed?” At my considering look he added, “Don’t look at me like that please. It ain’t ‘cause I’m Chinese … I’m only quarter Chinese actually … and I hate sushi. It’s because I’ll be transferring to a camp set up along the coast when we get back from this run. Just something you said yesterday triggered a memory from when I was a kid. My great grandmother was raised in Ningbo; mostly fishing was a good living back in those days but there were times when she said God turned His face away and they would nearly starve. Sometimes it would get so bad that they survived on seaweed alone. So anyway, I’ve heard that you can harvest seaweed near where this camp is going to be and I was wondering if you had a recipe for it that doesn’t involve raw fish or octopus.”

I smiled. “I’m not a fan of sushi either though Mateo likes it.” I made a face and shuddered remembering what the fillings inside some of those round little packages looked like. “However I do happen to have a recipe you might like. I was introduced to it by a friend of my dad’s who was a commercial fisherman. It’s called Seaweed Chowder.”

You take two ounces of dried seaweed and soak it in water for fifteen minutes to an hour then drain it and transfer to another bowl. In a blender combine three cups of water, one cup of pine nuts, two cloves of peeled garlic, a quarter cup of lemon juice, and a half teaspoon of sea salt. You serve the liquid “soup” with the seaweed, no cooking involved. “I like the chowder part with or without the seaweed so even if the seaweed is something you decide you don’t like you won’t be wasting much.”

“Cool,” he said before going in to write up the directions down. Before he got all the way inside I told him, “You might also want to note that seaweed makes a good addition to compost as long as the salt has been washed out of it. When I’m short on green stuff for our compost piles I skim the scum and algae from the ponds and canals. Algae, seaweed, and moss add nitrogen to compost and help to get some heat action going.”

He nodded before closing the door and when I turned I was startled to find Mateo behind me. “You’re up early,” he said.

I sighed, “I’m nervous. I know I shouldn’t be … I have confidence in you … I’m still a little anxious though.”

“Oh. So … you’ll miss me today?”

I playfully threw the dandelion head I had just picked at him and asked, “What kind of question is that? I’m going to have to keep myself busy all day long until you get back just to keep myself from worrying and getting silly.”

He shrugged a little too casually and I knew immediately that something was up. “Mateo Jakob, what is on your mind?”

“I thought that perhaps … all of these young men around to admire you and …”

I turned my head so fast to look at him my eyes nearly crossed. “What on earth? That’s insulting … and … and … saying it right before you go off … and …”

Mateo shook his head, “I’m an idiot.”

“Yes you are. I can’t believe you.”

“I said I was an idiot.” Unfortunately he only seemed to be saying it to appease me so I stomped off towards the kitchen. He caught up with me and finally admitted, “I’m a huge idiot.”

“Yes you are. Honestly, what is with you this morning?”

He sighed, “I don’t like the competition.”

I growled, “Better change that to ginormous idiot. Do I look like a bone to you, one to be fought over by a bunch of animals?! Do I seem to be the kind of woman that would put up with that sort of tug o’ war nonsense? And exactly what do you think of my character that I would …”

“Whoa,” he said trying to forestall my temper that rarely if ever was directed at him, especially the quick hot flash that I was sending his way at that moment. “All right, I’m a ginormous idiot. There isn’t a word for how big an idiot I’m being. Mi Corazon, mi Amor, mi Tesoro …”

“None of that. I’m not going to fall for it this time Buster. Seriously, what on earth set you off on this course? Mateo … you really have hurt my feelings you know.”

“Leah, I … I’m sorry.” He sighed. “It isn’t you I don’t trust, it … it isn’t even those other men. If I didn’t trust them I wouldn’t be leaving today. I don’t know where it came from. I suppose … perhaps I am not quite the assured man of the world you imagine me to be.” At that moment the only thing I was imagining was him barely ducking from my cast iron skillet in time to avoid serious injury but I didn’t tell him that. “Am I forgiven?” he asked.

“Of course but geez Mateo, don’t do that again. I don’t consider it the least bit complimentary even if women like Rachel did … or do … or whatever.”

“What does that hell cat have to do with this?” Mateo asked stupefied that I’d bring up his old girlfriend.

“Everything and nothing. Apparently all the other women you’ve ever dealt with were like Rachel … and as we are both well aware, I’m not. I don’t have the least desire to live that kind of drama, playing one man off of another, so please don’t make the mistake of putting me in that category.”

“Hmmm,” he muttered. “I suppose you would see it that way, but I wasn’t thinking in those terms. Either way my lesson is learned.” After a moment he asked, “It truly doesn’t bother you to have so many men around with me away for the day?”

I shrugged and told him, “They’re just Tag’s puppies for the most part. Besides are you forgetting Liz and Juliet?”

Ignoring the names of the other females he persisted, “These men are not puppies like Decker.”

“I suppose not but that still doesn’t change my confusion over why bring this up at all.”

He sighed, “I’m jealous.”

“And have I ever given you are reason to be jealous?” I asked nearly irritated all over again.

“No. At least not intentionally.”

“Then what’s the problem?” I asked, not real happy with how he phrased his answer.

“You are a great asset Leah.”

“Thank you Mateo I’m glad you think … wait … that didn’t sound like a compliment.”

He shook his head. “If I explain I’ll only be digging my hole deeper.”

“If? If you explain?” I asked impatiently.

He shook his head again and reluctantly smiled. “You look like a fuzzed up kitten. Only a wise man would realize that you’ve got sharp claws under all of that fluff.”

I tapped my toe and wanted to tell him that a wise men would know that calling me a fuzzy kitten in my current mood wasn’t the smartest course of action. “You’re definitely digging your hole deeper … and you’re stalling.”

He nodded. “Yes I am.” He sighed. “You are an asset Leah. Figuratively and literally”. Leaning on the counter while I packed his lunch he added, “I overheard Montrose and Baines talking. They said you’d have all the single men – and probably some of the married ones as well – at the Base vying for your attention. You could have your pick and maybe some that wouldn’t even mind sharing. It isn’t just your youth and vitality but all of the knowledge you have … apparently your brain is very sexy.”

I couldn’t help it, I laughed. It was just too absurd. “Oh Mateo. That has to be … oh my … the most backhanded compliment I’ve ever heard.” I finally stopped and wiped my eyes on my apron. I noticed he was looking disgruntled. I hugged him and then kissed his chin since he wouldn’t bend down. “Come on Mateo. Can’t you just see Rachel’s face if you said something similar to her? That her looks wouldn’t buy her anything but a sexy brain could …” I was back to trying to control my laughter.

Slowly Mateo unbent and reluctantly smile. “She would be appalled.”

Gasping I said, “My point exactly. Mateo, frankly I don’t care what anyone else … male or female … thinks of me in that respect. You’re the one I’m with, the only one I’m with, the only one I want to be with. So long as you think my brain is sexy I’m satisfied.” I lost the battle and giggled again. “Now stop it, all right? Honestly, the things that go through your head sometimes. If you start worrying again just remember that if not for you I wouldn’t be here … I’d probably have gotten sucked up into some refugee camp if I had even survived that far.”

“Do not say that,” he grumbled. “And besides, I don’t want you here because you feel like you have no other choice or out of some sense of gratitude.” I hugged him and he finally relaxed.

I told him, “Don’t worry, I’m not.” To top it off I gave him what was supposed to be a sultry look but it only made him laugh … but in a very male, my pride has been assuaged, kind of way. I swear, there is nothing truer than a man simply thinks completely differently from a woman. But perhaps, had I been faced with seeing Mateo in the midst of a bunch of females and overheard the same thing I’d be a bit touchy, especially after having him to myself for so long. Mateo was a catch … Latin good looks that were only getting better with age and experience, just enough machismo to keep life interesting without getting irritating, all combined with his own bit of “sexy brain.” You live, you learn and still your pasts will sometimes collide in unexpected ways. I resolved to be more circumspect in my dealings with other men in the future. Growing up I had noticed my parents took great pains to never be alone with the opposite sex. They always said that it was so that nothing they did could incite gossip but perhaps it was also a sign of respect to each other. I certainly wouldn’t be taking Mateo’s feelings on the subject for granted from that point forward.

After I watched Mateo ride away in the transport I had to shake myself so that I could to settle down to business. August would normally have been excruciatingly hot but instead it was warm yet still pleasant except in the interior of the swamp. The difference from what it was and what it should have been inspired me to cover the changing weather patterns and how they had influenced and nearly dictated my plans.

“The weather is actually what instigated the covered raised beds,” I told the Ag crew. They followed me back to the gardens right after the patrol left for the day. “For the most part, as you’ve seen, I start all of my seeds indoors in newspaper pots or something similar and then transfer them to the raised beds after I harden them off. I can’t be the only one that has noticed the bloom schedule is off for a lot of the trees and plants.” At their nod I continued, “Instead of the normal planting chart that you would find in books for this area I’ve actually had to keep a close eye on the temperatures – the lows and highs and frost dates – and then I plant based on the recommendations that were on the seed packets. For instance when the night time lows don’t fall below fifty degrees or so many days after the last frost. It hasn’t assured success but I’ve had fewer false starts that way.”

Dog nodded, “The first crops that we tried to plant were a complete disaster. Luckily for us we had enough seed to try a second time but not all of the camps were so lucky. Up north was really bad.”

I asked, “Just how bad is it up north?”

“It was real bad there for a while and a lot of people are really worried what this winter will bring. Last winter unheard of lows every day, ice storms, blizzards, waterways were frozen solid and all of the damage that comes from those things were just made worse by the fact that there were no road crews to clear the roads, clear fallen trees, salt the bridges, or anything. Spring barely came in some locations, summer was a complete no-show, and we’ve heard they’ve already had snow storms in a couple of places and it is still August. Chicago never did thaw out because of all of the cold air coming off the Great Lakes. Maine … communication in the backwoods of that state is so rare that any news coming out of it is a big deal. Canada is a huge popsicle, the only difference being that they seemed to be better prepared for the weather shift in the beginning than we were.”They didn’t lose as many up front as we did percentage wise but their attrition rate from starvation and disease is on par with what our northern states are exhibiting now.”

Still concerned I asked, “And food?”

“It’s going further than they thought because so many have died.” At my stricken look he said, “Sorry, I keep forgetting that what is common knowledge to us is brand new to you.”

“Common knowledge it may be but it still doesn’t change the fact that a lot of people have died unnecessarily, all for the lack of a plan.”

“Try millions died over this last winter,” Liz added. “We’ve been shown pictures of trash incinerators that have been converted to huge crematoriums just to keep more deaths from disease from occurring.”

I was already a tad depressed but every bit of news that morning seemed to heap a few more coals on the fire. For every good thing that I learned, two or three bad things would be added to the other side of the balance sheet. West Nile was all but wiped out as was Lyme Disease … but TB was running rampant in some refugee centers as were all sorts of gastro diseases and diseases that can be transmitted by mice, rats, and fleas. I couldn’t take any more and finally stopped asking questions.

At lunch time I didn’t have an appetite but Nydia came to me begging to have “crunchy fries and ketchup” for lunch. Joseph and Juliet overheard and you could see the hopeful look on their faces as they gave me puppy dog eyes. I had to laugh despite the stern look that Dog tried to give them. “You might not like my fries and ketchup … they’re good for you.”

Crestfallen Joseph said, “Let me guess … there’s another experiment coming.”

Juliet sighed and said, “You know, there are some things in life that just aren’t meant to be good for you.”

That set everyone off laughing and I thought, “Why not?”

I grabbed a good sized jicama out of the root bin and scrubbed it before slicing it so it looked like a pile of French fries that I then put into a bowl. Over the top of the “fries” I drizzled two tablespoons of olive oil, one tablespoon of paprika, one tablespoon of onion powder, and a little sea salt to taste. I let this sit while I prepared the ketchup. I took my hand blender and mixed together a quarter cup of onion powder, a quarter cup of apple cider vinegar, a quarter cup of raisins, a tablespoon of sea salt, and one-half cup of dried tomatoes that had been soaked for a couple of hours and then drained. I put a few fries on some small plates and then let them spoon out some of the ketchup.

“Oh … my … gosh,” Juliet said. She turned to Liz and said, “If they served this in the mess hall I can tell you that the kids would be lining up to do anything you said just so they’d get a chance to have them again.”

I rolled my eyes and gave the rest of mine to Nydia and Neeno and Dog and Liz gave theirs to Joseph and Juliet. While the kids noshed on their treat I pulled out my little bottle of virgin sangria base and then using one of the few small bottles of club soda I had left fixed the adults a beverage more suited to our age and tastes.

“Give me the recipe?” Liz asked.

“Sure but you won’t get the fizz unless you can add some carbonation.”

Dog grinned and winked, “Not a problem. A little baking soda, a little citric acid … it’s not the perfect solution but when it’s all you got you learn to be satisfied.”

The afternoon was filled with garden maintenance, adding another couple of covered beds and planting them, pruning some trees, and prepping harvested items for the dehydrators. I kept listening for the sound of Mateo returning and he finally did right before I could get truly anxious.

The kids got to Poppy first but I wasn’t far behind and he was in a fantastic mood. “Leah, look what is in the back.”

Of course I did so without being cautious and I squawked like a chicken and nearly fell over when I opened the back door and was greeted with the glassy eyes and inch long teeth of a freshly killed bull alligator. “Mateo!”

“Not the gator Leah, the rest of it,” he joked.

I had definitely missed everything else and after warily making sure the large gator was well and truly dead I climbed up and tried to make heads and tails of the jumble. I just shook my head. “You’ll have to explain it to me in a bit. Let’s get that gator over to the butchering area before it gets ripe. I assume you want to grill out tonight?”

Sgt. Ortiz grinned nearly as big as Mateo which told me that a hunting story was going to be told. I just rolled my eyes at the whole male thing that was definitely going on. The Ag Crew were interested in the story of the gator’s demise and the processing of his meat. I on the other hand had a marinade to prepare and a grill to warm up.

In the end it was a real group effort and eclectic meal. The gator tail was cut into kabobs and the ribs were marinated in a citrus mix and brushed with a marmalade sauce while they cooked. I made a couple of different salads from our garden and sliced some homegrown beefsteak tomatoes. The others donated some lentils and enough rice to make a huge skillet of pilaf. For dessert I added some cane juice sweetened fresh fruit to their dried fruit cocktail mix. A couple of skillets of seasoned cornbread served as our bread.

While the men manned the grill I cut up the remaining meat for smoking and canning; the canned meat we would put in our storage but the smoked would be eaten in the coming days. We all ate hardy. It had been a while since I could remember being that full. It didn’t take the children long, despite the excitement, to fall asleep. I was coming back onto the lanai after putting them both to bed and caught Dog patting his belly.

“I can’t believe how well you all do on meat protein. Liz’s little brother is apprenticing in the nutritional medicine department – he works with Roger a couple times a month – and despite the manpower devoted to it, it’s always a struggle. We’ve managed to have meat protein three times a week the last few months …”

Liz broke in, “… Thanks to the Major setting that camp up on the coast with a Guardsmen base camp to guard them.”

Dog nodded before continuing, “We have some kind of seafood every Friday. Then the other two days are whatever we can … beef is rare but we do have it on occasion, fowl is more often but not necessarily chicken but don’t tell the refugees that, goat meat and something out of the wild is what we have most often.”

“Then why the surprise?” I asked.

“It’s one of the biggest complaints … not enough meat. Meats and bread. That’s all anyone seems to think about. If they only knew how lucky they are to have the Major coordinating things. We have one of the best intake bases in the state.”

Joseph, not nearly as shy as he had been the first couple of days said, “We’ve had a lot of out-of-state people come to see how we do things. Most of them leave shaking their heads saying we’re being too easy on people. It doesn’t matter that it is working, that the dying has all but stopped in the camps except for what Roger there calls a natural mortality rate. What they don’t like is that it is more work for them to change.”

“Mom says,” Juliet stopped, blushing. “I mean the Major says that people will live up to your lowest expectation of them. If you expect people to act like animals and then treat them that way, that’s how they’ll act. If you expect people to act with dignity and then treat them like they have more than two brain cells to rub together to get a spark you’ll have fewer who … er …” She slowed down and noticing the pink in her cheeks I had to laugh.

“I can imagine what she says. Your mom has a colorful way of expressing herself on occasion.”

Relived Juliet said, “And how. She treats people the way she expects to be treated … until they hack her off then you just better watch out ‘cause she blow both barrels at you with no warning. She hates it when people forget to take their brains out and use them. She doesn’t put up with too much crud at all. And if you want to keep all of your body parts don’t tell her you can do her job better than she can and then refuse to prove it. Dad says she can’t afford to let things pile up or get out of control ‘cause she’s the one with her keester on the line for all the refugees under her authority … the staff and personnel too.”

“Uh huh. And anyone with sense wants the Major to stay,” Joseph said.. “I was sent to the camp when my foster family dumped me and that was before the bombs started falling. It turned into a nightmare before the Major arrived. We got fed once a day if we were lucky; MREs in the beginning but that didn’t last long. Right before the Major arrived we were down to a cup of rice or a cup of plain ol’ oatmeal a day. The water was bad. There weren’t enough latrines and they were all clogged and disgusting. The camp was full of fleas and roaches. I’d rather die than go back to living that way.”

“Is that why you are apprenticing with the Darnells? To make sure there is enough to eat?” I asked.

He got a sad look on his face. “Mostly. I’m hoping maybe …” He stopped and shrugged but peeped at Juliet.

I thought he’d joined to be with her but instead he was asking Juliet to explain. “The Major … she didn’t have much choice. Some people, especially some teens and college age kids, they didn’t like the rules … any rules, they couldn’t even follow their own. She wound up having to lock some of them up and on top of that putting a lot of them out on a work farm – it’s a converted juvie hall sort of thing. The worst of them – the ones that the farms don’t settle down or who do something really heinous – get sent to a prison off the coast. It’s an old oil rig that’s been stripped of everything but living quarters; supplies are dropped shipped once a week.”

“Isn’t that dangerous for the guards?”

Sgt. Ortiz said, “Aren’t any guards. No need for them. No way of escape. Too far to land to swim. No materials to build a raft strong enough to get you to shore. Even if they try it … and a few have of course … there are Naval and Coast Guard patrol boats out there and anything that isn’t supposed to be on the water gets sunk. The area around the rigs are mined to prevent anyone from approaching and either rescuing them or … otherwise.”

I must have looked shocked and of all people it was young Joseph who said, “I know how it sounds but do you know how bad you gotta be to be sentenced there? There’s all sorts of chances … starting with you can just walk away. The camps ain’t prisons, at least ours ain’t. You don’t like the rules you can just go. People do it all the time.”

Robert Driver who has to be one of the quietest people I’ve ever met in my life said, “Problem is most of those try and come back within a few weeks of ‘freedom’. Most of the complainers are too soft to make it on their own.”

Joseph added, “My brother did that; left and then came back. More than once. Second time he was put in Work Camp A for two weeks. Then when he came back to Base he got caught trading drugs for people’s food rations. That got him jail time. Then he tried to start a riot while he was in there so he got sent to Work Camp B which is like the State Pen. Last I heard he’s got two strikes against him in there and one more will see him sent off shore or maybe even shot if he does something stupid like attack a guard. If I can just get him to see things could be good, even better than we had it before, he’d stop.”

The shame of it was that Joseph believed it. But from the looks on the others faces he was the only one. Feeling bad for the kid I told him, “People have to make their own choices Joe. You’re going to have to accept that if your brother continues to make the kinds of choices he has been making then it is no reflection on you. It isn’t because you didn’t work hard enough or long enough or did the right or wrong thing.” He shrugged. Apparently he had heard that before.

Changing the subject Mateo said, “Corazon, perhaps you will give the directions for those things you call rawsages? They are not as good as your bean burgers but they are very good wrapped in a warm biscuit.”

Mateo was talking about the Italian Rawsages that I started making as soon as my lettuce came in. They aren’t bad at all. You take a cup of shelled pumpkin seeds, a half a head of lettuce, a half cup of olive oil, five cloves of garlic, a half cup of onion powder, a tablespoon of caraway seeds, a tablespoon of dried sage, and a half bunch of fresh basil and blend them all together in a food processor. Then you form the result mix into sausage shaped patties or “logs”. You can eat it as is at that point but I prefer to dehydrate mine until they are firm on the outside but still moist on the inside.

The party was late breaking up. We sat for a while, quiet and replete, and watched the bats as they hypnotically swooped and dived in the backyard. Because of all the rain the mosquito population exploded. At certain times of day we would simply retreat to the screened lanai and kill the ones that had followed us in. Without the bats, frogs, and ducks who ate the mosquito larva we’d have been overrun and sucked dry before we knew it. Eventually though they did go back to their trailer, though I noticed it was reluctantly for a few of them.

“It is pleasant to have company but I’m not sad to see them leave for the night either,” Mateo said as he stretched and popped. I snorted silently but he saw me roll my eyes since he turned unexpectedly. “Leah? Didn’t you have a good time?”

I sighed. “ Of course I did. It’s just there is some clean up that still needs doing and I’m beat on my feet. But since we don’t have a refrigerator it isn’t like I can leave cleaning up the food until the morning.”

He shook his head. “Ah Leah, I did not think … here, let me help.”

“No, go to bed. You are going out on patrol again tomorrow morning early and you need to rest. I’ll be fine.”

“Leah …”

“Go.” I wasn’t just being a martyr because I enjoyed it. Mateo really did need to rest, he was very dark under the eyes and there was a full day of salvage tomorrow because they had found a pretty good treasure trove of potentially useful things.

“I’ll make it up to you Love.” I shook my head with a nonverbal never-mind, turned him and gently pushed him in the direction he needed to go; and he did, but reluctantly. I knew though he’d be asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow; he’d had a long and productive day. As for me the mess really wasn’t all that bad, I was mostly tired too and complaining a bit just to let off some steam. It was stressful trying to concentrate on what I was doing, distract myself from worrying about Mateo’s absence, and assimilate all of the new information I was picking up from our visitors.

The haul they had brought in from the day’s salvage run was nothing short of stupendous compared to what we had been doing and it was all because of the stop they made at this big DOT maintenance warehouse. The place was completely collapsed on one end but on the other it was only dilapidated and partially destroyed. What was crazy was that no one had really gotten to it to take off with its contents. Sgt. Ortiz told Mateo that it was possible that it was either one of the last areas evacuated or there had been a clerical error showing that it had already been cleaned out.

What got to Mateo is upon opening the door it was like entering Wonderland. The first thing the military guys did was raid the offices for the coffee and condiments. There wasn’t a lot but Mateo let them have it. There were partial packs of cigarettes in a couple of desk drawers too that made Baines moan in ecstasy. Lopez hit the first aid supply cabinet and you could hear him mumbling a prayer of thanksgiving. Mateo on the other hand bypassed all of the immediate gratification of the small finds and headed straight for the open warehouse area and straight over to a line of forklifts. Unbelievably all of them had batteries still attached and there was a wall with heavy metal shelving that contained a couple of replacement batteries.

Once the men saw what he was doing JC and Bobby Driver ran out back and then called for Ortiz who came back in with a manic look on his face. “Matt, I’ll help you load anything in here that you want but we need that fuel out back.” He looked like he was ready to barter a few body parts for it and Mateo admitted to being tempted but he said, “Deal.” It was no skin off our nose as nothing we had used diesel. I suppose we could have come up with a use for it but the batteries and some of the other stuff Mateo found was infinitely more valuable to us.

The value of the batteries was only outweighed by the value of the individual pv panels that were meant to be attached to road signs. With those pv panels and batteries we’d be able to more than triple our energy storage. There were some skids and trailers and Mateo intended on hauling a couple of them back to expand our storage. When I asked him where he intended on us putting them I discovered that it was his plan to take over Gerald’s yard. I wasn’t thrilled. I still expected Gerald to come back and make a huge stink about everything we’ve done to the neighborhood.

That was when I learned the horrible truth. “Gerald is dead Leah. He’s not coming back. I doubt his wife or children will care to make a scene considering he was executed for the crime of espionage.”

“What?” I asked horrified.

“I don’t have all of the details but apparently he had been involved in some black market ring before we were all taken away from the neighborhood. He tried to continue the association after we were sent off to … boot camp I suppose is what you would call it, some kind of quasi-federally approved UN processing camp. He was trading information for luxury items like liquor, cigarettes, and good quality boots and it eventually came to the ear of the wrong person … or right one depending on how you look at it. He was caught red handed and was executed by firing line two days later.”

I didn’t know what to say and Mateo said there wasn’t anything to say. “It is old news to me Leah and I shouldn’t have told you, you’ll only worry and wonder about what else went on. Let’s just be happy with the largesse that we found.”

That was a lot easier to say than it was to do although thinking about the other things that they had found certainly was a distraction – a supply of concrete and asphalt, chains and ropes and wire, road flares, heavy duty shelving, office supplies, a couple of thousand gallon water tanks and one five thousand gallon water tank, cable and chain hoists, and all sorts of miscellaneous odds and ends. I wasn’t sure where we were going to put it all but Mateo said that it could go in the trailers until he could get everything organized the way he wanted it.

It just so happened that there was a small strip mall next door to the DOT offices. There wasn’t a speck of food to be found there but while ninety percent of everything had been cleared out of all of the stores there were a couple of extraordinary finds. From a bar located on the far end he brought me one of those industrial juicing machines; it looked like a Vita-Mix on steroids. The bar had apparently also specialized in one of those healthy juice and smoothie counters during the lunch time rush. In addition to the electric juicer there was a manual citrus press, stainless steel ice scoops that would work great for our grains and dehydrated veggies, bar towels, manual can openers, funnels and strainers, and other small ware. A Chinese restaurant had some janitorial supplies and a bunch of kitchen equipment that would hold up to open flame cooking. He found similarly useful baking equipment in a pizza place which gave me the idea to build a medieval style outdoor brick oven once the worst rush with the garden was over. A catering company had all sorts of goodies and those Mateo split with Tag’s people because it would be useful in starting a new community; we certainly didn’t need eleventy-dozen sets of silverware and plates though I did decide to put two dozen in storage in case I should ever need them. There was a dental office that Mateo said looked like a herd of elephants had trampled through it – probably looking for drugs of some kind – an accounting office with a cabinet full of copy paper but little else, some type of insurance underwriting office that was badly water damaged from leaks in the roof, a photography shop that was completely empty of all but the display cabinets, and a sewing machine repair shop. There weren’t any sewing machines in the shop but there were a couple of crates of material, bobbins, and thread that were likely used for testing and display purposes.

They wanted to finish salvaging in that area and then spread out for possible other finds. I wondered where all of the stuff had gone that had been “officially” salvaged from around town. Mateo said that a lot of it was simply “lost in shipping.”

“Excuse me?”

Mateo nodded, “Sounds like a stupid excuse for poor tracking doesn’t it? But I think it is the plain truth. My guess is that we’ll eventually find that much of it was either destroyed or sent offshore by the international aid workers. For myself I saw an entire warehouse of goods burned when it was found to be infested with bed bugs and lice.”

It was drops of information like that that kept rippling across my brain, taking my equanimity with it. But since I had finally finished cleaning up and putting everything away I was simply too tired to worry about it any longer. Maybe it’s better that I have to work as hard as I do otherwise I’d waste much more time than necessary on things I could do nothing about.

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