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Chest of Hope Ch.8

The sun was well into the sky when the workers approached the farm. Jim knew it was just about nine and he also knew that soon Pastor Miller would see a smaller congregation at the church. No one there had offered any work to them when the mill closed or any help with food or clothing in the following months. Not one elder came to the east side to see if any help was needed. So let the congregation be a little smaller, Jim thought as he walked into the yard. Mr. Odie came from the barn and eyed his crowd of men. He saw in their eyes they wished they were still in bed. He laughed to himself and then thought, it is all right to wish to be in a better place when you are somewhere else keeping your word. At last all were there when Jim received the work orders for the day. "Have your men get the new gloves out of the barn and bring the shovels too. We are going to pull up all the hedges from the front this morning. This afternoon we begin taking down the fence posts and wire from the field.” Mr. Odie said and took notice of the men’s faces. "It beats using an axe on trees for the making of planks!” Those words spoken from a big man heading for the field holding a double blade axe on his shoulder brought a wince from many. The men went to the barn for their equipment and began pulling out the hedge.

When the bell tolled for the noon break, Mr. Odie was at the rim of the woods as Willie came across the field in a dead run toward him. Breathlessly Willie called out, "Mista Odie, come quick!" "What is the matter? Is there trouble at the barn?” Willie, having a hard time catching his breath, was smiling and shaking his head. Finally he managed to say, "Mista Odie, you ain't gonna believe what's happenin' out front.” "Let me hear first, then we will see if I believe or not!" Mister Odie said relieved that there was not any emergency. Willie straightened up and turned to walk back toward the farm. He was still giddy by the occurrence of the things that Jim was taking care of by the road. He stopped when Mister Odie grasped his shoulder. "Willie, tell me why you are here.” "Men Mista Odie, men is comin' to work, lots of men!” Willie said, as he noticed the large fingers tapping his shoulder. "What kind of men?” Mister Odie asked, removing his hand and walking toward the barn as Willie tried to keep pace. "All over the town, they is coming for the work I think. Some are from our side. They were working the trucks and just got into town last night. I think some are from the lumber yard. Its been cutting back on people.”

They reached the farm yard and both could hear voices by the road as questions were being answered by Jim. Mister Odie came around the barn as most of the work crew sitting down having their meal. The entire front was cleared of the overgrowth of hedges and blackberry bushes that had grown from the lake road all the way around the house and up to the barn. Mister Odie viewed the remains out in the field where the ashes of last nights fire still smoldered. The workers watched the boss man as he walked up. Some were whispering and smiling as they talked among themselves. If they didn't believe those stories before, they surely believed them now. The crowd of about fifty men was still asking questions of Jim. They fell back silently when Mister Odhinsunar appeared still carrying the axe over his shoulder. Jim didn't have to turn around to know who was present. "What do you have here, foreman?” Mister Odie, asked in a low tone, that even the men at the rear could hear plainly. "Well sir, these here men wanna know what kind of job they can do here, and how much money can they make.” Jim answered. "How many of you were at church today?” Mister Odie's voice rose to the crowd. Almost the whole crowd said me or I. However, Mister Odie saw four men shuffle their feet. Mister Odie addressed one of the men, "What about you?” The man turned to see if this giant was speaking with someone else, but as the arm rose and the finger pointed he answered. "I overslept this morning, but I do go regularly.” Mister Odie's gaze shifted to the three other men standing together. One man started to say that he had also overslept when the man next to him replied. “Hell, don't lie to the man. Capt'n we worked hard all week over in Bama. We got home late, played some cards and got drunk on homebrew. We were outside this morning and saw this parade go by and just came to see what was going on.” Mister Odie saw the other men's heads hang at this statement, but the man talking was still looking up at him. "Do you want work close to your families?” Mister Odie asked. "Yes Capt’n, I do. And the boys here will work too, besides the job is finished in Bama, and there's not much else here anyway.” The short but sturdy man answered. "The three of you go to the man with scribing tools. Give your name, your skills, and your rate of pay. The foreman will tell you what is to be done shortly.” Mister Odie ordered and pointed to Adam. "You mean the boy sitting there?” The man next to the truth sayer asked. "No! I mean the man of not as many years as the rest, but one who shows respect for all, and by merit, deserves the same.” Mister Odie's tone changed in mid speech and the man's head fell down to his chest again. “Yes sir,” were the only words the man said as he moved from the crowd. "Do you need a mason?” Called a man from the back of the crowd. "Scot or York?” Mister Odie asked locking onto the eyes of the questioner. The man's eyes went wide, then he noticed the crowd was also staring at him and wondering what was meant. "Be careful brother. We're pilgrims in a harsh land," the man next to him said, tapping his arm. "York.” The man shot back to the giant, and saw the broad grin on his face. "You have traveled far upon the deep water. Come to port for rest.” The men moved together as they made their way to the scribe.

Mister Odie finally decided on thirty of the fifty men and said to the rest, "By the end of next week you will be able to return. There will be more work to be done by then. Please tell others who need work to come also.” The men said they would and began to walk away. Two men stood and talked to each other in whispers. “You were right. He's got them black and whites working hand in hand. Johnson's gonna need to hear this.” "Yeah," the other answered, "and the pastor ain't gonna like this working Sunday either. It will take a bite out of the collection plate for sure.” They turned to leave as the first said, "I heard those boys got back late from Bama. They must have got paid off. I think I'll just visit that Luke and see what I can get for my trouble.” They turned the corner and headed north for town.

Mister Odie was scrutinizing his increasing work force, and with a weary ear, had overheard every word those men had said. By two p.m., the workers were busy taking down the barb wire fence and pulling out the old fence posts. The wire was being spun on a reel and the posts were being placed on the debris pile. Three men were with Mister Odie as he was showing them his drawing for the A-frame house to build. The two masons were Kenneth and John Douglas. Martin Proctor was a carpenter who had been employed by the lumber yard, but had been let go because of slow business. "The foundation will need to be poured and the sides will have to be reinforced to sturdy the roof joists," Ken said and nodded to John. "Is the length of this structure in feet or yards?” Martin asked still viewing the drawings. Mister Odie observed the drawings again and noticed that all the numbers didn't have a designator to decide the scale. He thought a moment and asked, "Do we have enough room if that's in yards?” "Do you have any survey charts here?” Martin asked. Mister Odie placed a roll of mapping paper on the table inside the barn. Some minutes of discussion, head scratching, and more discussion, the trio agreed that there was enough room if the house went on the south west, north east direction of the property. "Good enough, now let's hear more about the foundation.” Mister Odie said. "Well, the ground has to be tested first. Then you have to dig and level the entire area before you set up the forms. All of the construction can be done by that building company out of Baton Rouge.” John Douglas said, and was stopped by Mister Odie shaking his head. "No, the work will be done here by these men and yourself.” Mister Odie said, in a matter of fact voice. "It's going to be hard work, even for this many. Do you have any power tools that could help?” Martin Proctor asked. Mister Odie turned and walked to the first stall and opened the storage container. As the doors parted, the battery lamps lit, and the interior was illuminated. The men gazed upon an entire workshop filled with electrical and gasoline powered equipment. "Will these do the job?” Mister Odie asked, with a sly look on his face. The men went into the room and were fascinated by all the different types of machines. Martin even laughed when he saw the lathe and table saw. The Douglas brothers were the first out and John was examining the barn and then he walked outside. Kenneth followed him and watched as John went to the side of the barn and looked up. "What's up, John?” "No wires!” John answered. "What?” Ken now was peering around. Mister Odie and Martin exited the barn while Martin noticed the brothers strange behavior asked, "What are you two searching for?” "Wires! Electric leads for the power equipment.” John answered. "You won't find any on the property. The closest Utility-pole, is across the street. They want a king’s ransom to run new lines passed the city limits.” Mister Odie said as he pointed to the pavement and dirt crossing. "By the way, what time is it?” Mister Odie questioned Ken. "Two-forty sir, why?” "They're late!” Mister Odie announced, quietly.

The birds that had been singing stopped abruptly as the sound of high pitched whirling filled the air. Dust started blowing around the sides of the barn and the workmen were covering their ears and mouths. All eyes went to the sky, as two large helicopters appeared over the field and barn. Slung under the first craft was a large crate. Under the second, was a large net, filled with all sizes of boxes. "Your watch is running a little fast.” Mister Odie commented with a tap to the man's wrist and went to the field. The crew-chief of the first aircraft saw the large man crossing the field, oblivious to the prop wash that was kicking up all hell down below. But this was his second trip here and this was the second time this guy off-loaded the cargo. Still the crew-chief wondered how this guy could see through all that hair and where had he learned all the hand signals he used. After the drop was made, both helicopters rose and went back to the southwest. Mister Odie observed the men resuming their work, and the trio by the barn still watching the helicopters leaving. "I need twenty men for this job Jim. Send the rest to the first stall and unload the container.” Mister Odie's voice brought all attention to him. The next hour was spent emptying the container and making the barns interior into a workshop for handling lumber and metal working. Outside, to the side of the barn, sat a 20-kilowatt generator with lead lines entering the side door. A tank truck had arrived and unloaded a 200-gallon diesel tank, accompanied by a 100-gallon gas tank. They were placed as close to the field as the ground would allow. After the truck pulled out, Jim came to Mister Odie and told him the crew would continue with the fence work. Luke Holland asked in passing, to no one in particular, "Where's all this stuff coming from?” Mister Odie only smiled, and went inside to talk with Martin. "The fence will be down by sunset today. How long will it take to get the forms built for the foundation?” Mister Odie asked. “What type of wood will we be using, Pine or Ash?” Martin inquired. "Oak, the whole project will be done in oak. From the very trees out back.” Mister Odie answered. "After the barking and planking, we should have the foundation form ready in two days.” Martin stated. "Where will the stones be obtained from? Some out of a state quarry?” John asked, as he examined the sketch once more. "Both of you know a great deal about stones, don't you?” The Douglas brothers nodded. "Follow me and tell me how much outside rock we will need.” Mister Odie led the pair from the barn. The three men walked over the field without a word. As they came upon the stone wall, John ran forward to it. "It's pink granite!” He said to his brother, as Kenneth wiped some leaves away. The brothers could make out a covered wall, which stretched in both directions from where they stood. "There's more, if you care to follow.” Mister Odie said softly.

They walked though the oaks and were speechless as they saw the side of the burnt mansion. The brothers went silently around the outer area and contemplated the hours of work that had to be finished to make such a structure. The men entered the house through a hole in the side. The floor was covered with cigarette butts and beer cans, but that did not tarnish the marble flooring. As they left, the brothers took a last look around. "At one time, this would have been spectacular in this part of the state.” Ken said. "The wall alone must have come from Arkansas. The floor is from Georgia or maybe the Carolinas.” "North Carolina,” Mister Odie answered, "hauled here on wagons, horses and, finally, on the backs of slaves. They placed each piece by hand. You could say they built their own piece of hell. Now, the same people will tear it down.” The brothers didn't understand the man's meaning, but they could see that the wall had taken many years to complete. "With two or three trucks we can have this wall down in two days.” John said, as they were walking by the wall on the way back. "No trucks,” Mister Odie stated with a frown, "the men will take the wall down, the same way it was built. One stone at a time, they will bring them to the farm and make an embankment around the A-frame.” "Sounds just like you're making another wall for just another plantation.” Kenneth said, without thinking. John snapped a sharp look at his brother and was about to say, shut up. "Walls are built for only two reasons,” Mister Odie said, "one is to keep things you want in and the other is to keep things you don't want out. It all depends on the placement of the good people. Are they in or out? It is up to them to decide, and no one else.” The four men walked back to the farm in silence.

By sunset the wire had been spun on eight spools and the fence posts were adding to the small fire in the field. Jim had knocked off the work crew and as the last left, he walked up to Mister Odie. "Mista Odie, what does you want us to be gettin to in the mornin'?” Mister Odie studied the men leaving, especially Luke Holland. "Get the men to rig sleds for moving heavy loads. When they have at least five sleds, have them take the retaining wall down at the manor house and move the stones here.” Jim stood straight as a board and the words caught in his throat, "The manor?” "Jim, you take the first stone and have Willie take the second. I'll see you in the morning.” Mister Odie patted Jim's shoulder and started to walk into the barn. Jim muttered all the way home, The Manor!

Luke Holland walked into the house, as his son said, "Dad, you look terrible. Where were you?” "You need a shower, babe, real soon!” Luke's wife said, as she came to hug him, then backed away. Luke thanked her for the news broadcast and went to the bathroom. Twenty minutes later, refreshed but still tired, Luke came out, and his wife asked him to go to the store for milk. Luke wanted to rest but his son wanted to go with him. So, he put on his boots, and with his son, started to walk to the corner market. As he passed under an unlit street light, he heard a voice call out. "Hey Holland, wait a minute.” Luke stopped and turned trying to see who was walking up. He didn't recognize the faces of the men, but he did recognize the shape of a pistol in a hand. Luke could have run, but his boy was too close as the other man grabbed him. "Now! Give us your money, or the kid sees what daddy looks like all bloody.” One man said as he held the gun on Luke. Luke reached for his wallet and handed it over. The man opened it, and a five-dollar bill, fell to the sidewalk. "Where's the rest of it? I guess we have to go back to your house. Maybe even play some games with that young wife of yours.” Luke was about to lunge for the man, to keep him from hurting the boy. Before he could move, he saw the man slump down. Then came a blur, and a breeze past his face. The pistol was no longer visible, but the sound of metal being dropped, was coming from behind the other man, who was turning around. His eyes went to the sound at his feet. They were trying to make out the assorted pieces of metal, when he saw the handle of his pistol. All the images were now becoming clear, his gun had been completely disassembled. Then he spotted the boots, a very large set ot boots, standing by the remains of his weapon. The man had two things happen at once. His legs were trying to go in one direction, while his head wanted to stay and see what was atop of the shoes. He took in the size of the giant standing there, at chest level. His legs won the contest, almost. A large left hand came down on his shoulder and the fingers clamped down sharply. The man let out a small sigh, as he was picked off the ground. Luke stood and watched as the man's outstretched arms fell to his sides, as a marionette's would if the strings were cut. Luke's son clutched his father's leg and buried his face. "You killed them!” Luke said to the darkness. "Not at all. This was something a pointed ears gentleman did once.” The low toned voice responded, as the limp body was laid on the walk. "Don't worry about these, ah, men. I'll take care of them, you go and get the milk. The store is only opened for a little while longer. I'll see you tomorrow.” Luke was backing away as he saw a man's body lifted into the air, followed by the other. As the bodies went under the next street light, Luke saw that they were being carried away by something completely covered in black fur, except for the head, which was covered in a thick reddish blond mane. Luke turned to walk for the store when he remembered the money on the sidewalk. He came back and picked up the bill and saw the parts of the gun were gone. Was it all a dream, Luke wondered then remembered the last words, I'll see you tomorrow? Tomorrow! That was Mister Odie! He thought suddenly. "Are we going to the store now Daddy?” His son asked bringing him back to the present. "We sure are son. Let's get Mommy a surprise too.” Luke tried to tell his wife what had happened, but she said he should go to bed and get some rest, he'd obviously been working too hard. It wouldn't be until mid afternoon, the next day, when the story of the two hanging laundry sacks on the courthouse statue, and the tied men inside started Luke's wife believing her husband's story.