Frank watched the countryside drift by. Dust lifted off the road behind the car and the divots from the local tractors jostled him in his seat. He was glad for the silence. For the first hour, Micky O. would not shut up. He talked about the still he had at the funeral home and how many batches he made trying different recipes. How many had failed and how much he had sold. It wasn’t until he had asked Frank’s plans for volume and price points that he finally shut up. He pulled out a notebook and started to calculate his original recipe for larger production.
Charlie pulled the car off the dirt road and drove through an overgrown path between some trees. Micky looked up from his notes as they crested a hill and saw a little farm spread out before him. From the sight, he sincerely hoped it had electricity and plumbing, but it was doubtful. It’s only temporary, he told himself. Once things were up and running he was sure he could upgrade to a place in town or if he was a success, a nice place back on the coast.
Charlie parked the car in the middle of the barnyard. He got out and opened the door. Frank got out and looked around. A man appeared from the barn. He was stocky and on the shorter side, but his chest was broad. He wore a flat cap pulled low to shield his eyes from the sun. He took off his work gloves and wiped his hands clean. He held it out.
“Vern Morrison, sir. I’ve been cleaning up around here for the past couple weeks,” he growled in introduction. Frank shook his hand and nodded.
“Yes, Charlie said you were from out this way and knew the area already. It’ll be helpful,” Frank replied. He waved Micky forward. “From now on you’ll be reporting to Micky O.” Vern nodded. He turned to Micky and held out his hand. Micky shook it and Vern was struck by how cold and clammy his hand was despite the early summer heat. A black suit too in this weather. Vern bit his lip to help keep his comments to himself.
“Do you want to take a look around?” he asked. Frank cut Micky’s reply off.
“Vern, why don’t you take Micky’s bag in the house. I have a few things to go over with him.” Charlie pulled the satchel out of the car and handed it over. Frank put a hand on Micky’s shoulder and steered him towards the barn. They stepped into the shade. Micky was staring at the worn floor and the dust motes that floated in the sunlight. His heart fell at the lingering smell of manure.
“This is it. This is the Farm, Micky and you’re in charge. I expect turn out very soon, so don’t dick around,” he said firmly. “Use Vern for whatever you need. If you need to get ahold of me, there’s a telephone at the diner in town. Are you paying attention?” Micky tore his attention away from a moldy harness on the wall and made eye contact with Frank.
“Yeah, I’m listening,” he assured him.
“You better be, because I have only one rule and if you don’t follow it, this isn’t going to work out,” Frank wagged a finger at him. Micky glanced down at the finger inches from his chest and back to Frank’s eyes.
“Don’t leave the Farm alone, unless I tell you to. If you need to get supplies, you go with Vern. No hanging out in town, no socializing, no girls. You’re here to work for me and the fewer people that know about this place the better.” Micky’s heart plummeted a little more. Frank poked him in the chest. “I expect some progress reports and you better call me the minute there’s something worth sampling.”
“Yes, sir,” Micky agreed sedately. Frank studied him hard to make sure he understood. Then he walked out of the barn. Micky heard the car fire up and toss up gravel as it turned around. Vern appeared in the doorway.
“So what’s the plan, boss?” Vern asked.
“Can you weld?” Micky sauntered back out into the sunlight.
“Reckon so,” Vern grumbled. Micky pulled out his notebook and flipped to a page.
“First order of business is to make this,” he showed Vern a sketch. The farmhand squinted at it. He had never made anything like it before, but the measurements made sense even if it’s purpose was over his head.
“I think I can do that,” Vern replied. He started to wonder just how much work he was going to have to do for this dapper man. He wasn’t sure what kind of work Micky had done before now, but it wasn’t welding, building or farming. Maybe he had the opportunity to stay in school while people like Vern had to work for their supper. “I’m going to need some cash for the metal.”
Micky reluctantly dug in his pocket for part of the start up cash that Sicero had given him. He held a few bills out of Vern.
“I expect receipts,” Micky said, as Vern took it. The farmhand kicked the dirt on the ground.
“I was in the process of emptying out the hayloft when you arrived, perhaps you could pick up where I left off,” Vern muttered before he turned towards the truck and walked off. Micky watched him drive off and he stood alone in the farmyard. He cast a glance up to the hayloft before strolling over to the farmhouse. He opened the door and stepped inside. His satchel sat on a worn table with rickety chairs clustered around it. A single bulb hung from a wire on the ceiling. At least the house had electricity. A hand pump sat at the sink and through the window he could see an outhouse. He started to wonder if this job was worth it, but stopped himself. This was all he had.
Micky took off his jacket and vest hung them on a chair. He striped to his undershirt and pulled his suspenders back up. He had a lot of work to do to get this place running. He walked back out to the barn and started clearing it out. The whole time his mind was working. It organized the operation step by step. He envisioned the warehouse and the workshop all the cases and bottles they would need. He’d make it work. It’d be the last thing he did.