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Chest of Hope Ch.9

Monday morning came to the farm without any events. The workers were busy with the construction of the sleds. The generator was supplying the needed power to the equipment but the hammering of nails was done by hand. “Why don't I just get a truck and drive it out to the wall?” Luke asked Jim. “Mista Odie says he wants sleds and we gonna do it with sleds. He be knowin what he wants and I'm here to see he gets it.” Jim answered, as Luke shrugged his shoulders and picked up another ski to be placed on a sled. When the five sleds were finished and the men had tied long ropes to the tongues, they hauled them out over the field. Jim and Willie had been wondering for the first two hours of work where Mista Odie had got off to. They had checked the barn but didn't find anything but his axe. They were at the wall and the men were waiting for the first hit by Jim to get them started. Jim stared hard at the full length of the wall as it stretched into the oaks. With the sixteen pound sledge hammer and all the strength he mustered from the need to complete Mister Odie's assigned task, and the need to destroy this structure for reasons he did not know, he swung into the granite. The hammer hit and pieces flew into the air. A large stone cracked and fell to the ground. Jim handed the sledge to Willie and picked up the first of the stones that were to be moved. As Jim grasped the large rock and began to put it in the sled, a small sliver cut deep into his palm. "Oh damn!” Jim cried out. Willie dropped the sledge and went to Jim's side. The rock fell to the ground and Jim balled his hand into a fist. Blood seeped though his tightened fingers. Luke came up and tore his shirt off, taking Jim's hand. "You’ve got to open your hand, so I can wrap it up.” Luke said trying to get Jim's hand opened. "I kin' take care of my own brother!” Willie said, as he grabbed at the shirt. "Do you know how to stitch up an open wound, or irrigate a cut?” Luke growled at Willie. "No, do you?” Willie asked with a worried look on his face. “I was a medic in the army.” Luke said, taking Jim's hand and starting to open his fingers. “That's where I learned to drive trucks.” Luke studied the wound and wrapped his shirt tightly around the hand and wrist. “It’s a deep cut. I'll have to get him to the doctor.” Luke helped Jim to his feet and started for the farm. Jim stopped and turned to Willie saying, “You'se the foreman now. Get the job going. I'll be back later.” Jim smiled at Willie as he pointed to him. Jim and Luke walked over the field and out to Luke's truck. “Why you doin' this for me?” Jim asked, about halfway to Doc Holiday’s. “Hell Jim, one day in the desert I brought back over a hundred guys to see the doctors, for a lot more than that scratch you got today.” Luke smiled but never took his eyes off the road. “But you was in the army and that was your job. This is different.” Jim replied pressing the question.

Luke pulled into the doc's driveway and stopped the truck. He turned to Jim saying, “If you haven't figured out that you're in the army right now, you're as blind as a man without eyes in the dark.” Luke opened the door and went around the truck to help Jim inside. After the doctor had treated the wound and made mention about workers who fail to wear gloves, Luke and Jim were on the road back to the farm. "What army?” Jim finally asked, as they pulled in the front drive of the farm. “I've only been here two days and you already have a supply depot, supply clerk, top sergeant; you, corporal; Willie, and of course a commander, Mister Odie. So far you guys have set up a command post, the barn, and you've cleared a fire zone around your operations. Now the troops are fortifying the positions with those granite rocks. Now if you think you know what's going on, you tell me.” “We's just fixin up ah' ole farm, that's all.” Jim said, his mind whirling with Luke's words. “Oh really? What’s this farm for? You don't believe for a minute that Mister Odie is really a farmer do you?” Jim got out of the truck and walked with Luke, silently thinking back to the wall. As they went, they saw the men hauling the sleds back and forth across the property. “What'd the doc say Jim?” Willie yelled, as he ran up to them. “Where's yo' gloves?” Jim asked his brother when he was standing next to him. “Hey Jim, you know I haven't worn gloves since I was a kid.” Willie said smiling and holding out his calloused hands. “The doc gave me ten stitches and a shot in the ass for not wearing gloves. I want every man out here to get, and wear them gloves. Right now, you hear?!” Jim said, scanning the workmen and only saw two men wearing any protection, and Willie saw that Jim was serious. “Yes, Jim. I'll go an' get the ones we bought the other day and hand them out.” Willie said as he headed for the barn. Jim called out for a break and had the men gather around. Luke whispered to Jim, “Just like the top sergeant issuing new orders to the ranks.” Jim thought about this as the men listened to what he had to say. Most of them complained softly they had no gloves, but that died down when Jim told them that he'd get them for the crew. Willie brought a box of gloves from the barn and passed out twenty pairs to the men and said he'd go to town for more. Jim instructed him to stay and keep the work going. He would go because he couldn't lift anyway. Jim stopped and examined the progress of the fortification, no, just a wall, that was being placed next to the road, in front and to the side of the farm. Jim wondered, as he crossed the dirt to the pavement, how high Mister Odie wanted this wall built, and why?

The clock above the bar showed two p.m. The bartender was setting up four more beers on the counter for his customers. The front door opened. The bartender eyed the clock and then his wristwatch. He was puzzled by the appearance of the owner this early in the day. What he saw next made everything too clear for him. Mister Johnson, followed by Sheriff Thomas, and a couple of other men went past the bar and into the meeting hall. The bartender got a tray with four drafts and four shots of whiskey and followed the men into the meeting hall. “Bring two more setups, and then make sure we're not disturbed.” Mister Johnson said as the foursome took seats at a card table. “You two want to tell us one more time what you saw and heard out there?” Sheriff Thomas asked, before he drank the whiskey and started on the beer. Jasper Cooper nervously peered at Bob Jones. Both had a bad night sleep. The fact that they woke up inside burlap clothing bags, hanging fifteen feet off the ground didn't help. Their legs and arms were still sore. “Sheriff," Bob started, “he's got about fifty men out there. About half and half, working from sunup to sundown. They already got that old house tore down and we saw the barn fixed up real good.” “How much is he paying these men?” Johnson asked the two men. “That's a real funny thing.” Jasper spoke first. “The men set their own pay rates,” Bob finished. “What do you mean, the men set their own pay rates?” Johnson asked and finished his beer. Both men told Johnson about the ledger and how the men figured their pay per day, by the work they did. Johnson and Thomas thought about this while the bartender picked up the empties and left new drinks. “When is payday?” Thomas asked the pair. “Fridays at sunset.” Jasper replied. “That's not too bright. Most of them will go out, get drunk, and not show up Saturday. This guy don't know much about these workers at all.” Johnson said. “Don't matter much. There’s no work on Saturdays, anyway.” Bob spoke up. “Not bad only working five days, but I still don't like the way they are getting paid.” Thomas said. “Six days, Sheriff. They work six days a week.” Jasper supplied. “Now, Bob just said they don't work Saturday. That leaves five days.” “They work six days a week, sunup to sundown, Saturdays off, pays on Friday. You look at a calendar and figure it out.” Jasper said and gulped his beer. Johnson was put out by the tone in Jasper's voice but before he could speak, Thomas said, “That may explain the short till in Sunday's collection plate. There were only about twenty workers out there before that.” More refills were brought in and the men sat quietly until the bartender left. “If he gets any more workers for that Sunday work, the church is going to be hurting really soon.” Thomas said to Johnson. Johnson nodded his head slowly. “I think we should do something about this. Let's pass the word for a special meeting for tomorrow night. Ya’ll go back out there and watch what's going on. Keep your distance and don't ask too many questions. The Sheriff and I have to go talk to someone right now.” Johnson rose and Thomas followed him out of the room. Bob and Jasper finished their drinks and left the bar. They stopped by their houses and got fishing gear to go to the lake. As they passed by the farm, they saw the beginnings of a rose granite wall.

The door of the bank opened about two fifteen and the large frame of Mister Odhinsunar entered. Mrs. Holmes looked up from her desk but didn't rise. Mister Holmes was staring out the window lost in thought and swiveled around in time to see the man at his desk. “May I help you with anything today, sir?” “My yes. Ya'll surely can. If it doan bothers you none to work with me a little.” Mister Odie said, with his eyes twinkling and a wide smile on his bearded face. Mister Odie was getting good at this southernease and Mister Holmes had to look twice to see if this was the same man speaking. “I don't understand your meaning, but I'll work with you.” “That is a lot better for customer relations.” Mister Odhinsunar said, as he pulled out a chair and folded himself into it. “Now, what I'm here for is this list.” Mister Odhinsunar produced a list of names of his workers that Adam wrote for him. “I know most of these men. What about them?” Mister Holmes asked, skimming the list. Mister Odhinsunar placed the paper down and announced, “First, I want to know which ones have a mortgage, which others pay rent. Next, I want the mortgages paid off and a list of the landlords for the rest. After that, I want to know who owns the graveyard and the lake properties.” Robert was busily writing down everything Mister Odhinsunar was asking about in his low rumbling tone of speech. “Margaret, would you please come here?” Robert asked across the bank. Margaret came over and her husband explained the requests and asked for her help on the project. Margaret nodded and went to the copy room returning in a short while with two printed lists. “Why didn't you ask these men about what you wanted?” Robert wanted to know. “I like surprises. I think these families will also.” Mister Odhinsunar said. Robert nodded and went back to the list. It took the Holmes’ about an hour to get all the information requested by Mister Odhinsunar, with the figures. It took Mister Odhinsunar about three minutes to compute the mortgage payoffs on Robert's calculator. “I'm buying the bank out for these payoffs. I want you to call the owners of the rental properties and find out what their selling prices are. For the ones, which don’t want to sell, find a good replacement for each tenant on that list.” Mister Odhinsunar again studied his list and frowned. “What does this mean, city property?” Robert explained the term and after some discussion, and one phone call to Judge Hart, a special city council meeting would be held at eight p.m. that night. “This is going to cut into your cash flow, a lot, sir. I hope it's all worth it.” Robert said, as he studied the calculator reading again. Mister Odhinsunar smiled a wily smile and produced an envelope from inside his tunic and handed it to Robert. After reading the letter, Robert regarded Mister Odhinsunar and replied, “You know, I'll have to have this confirmed.” Mister Odhinsunar pointed to the phone. “Yes, that's right. He has an open account, no limits. We’ve just received the fax message from London ourselves. How did you get the statement?” Mister White asked. “He has just handed me the original,” Robert answered. “He's there?! But, he was in London this morning only six hours ago. How?” White’s voice trailed off as he thought more. Anyone that can get Barclay's to authorize an unlimited account, must have a jet on call. “Never mind Holmes, just tell him I wish him well and welcome back . . . Yes, you too, goodbye.” The phone went dead and Robert hung up. “What do you think about the property, any problems?” Mister Odhinsunar asked, as Robert brought his attention back to the office in which they sat. “No problems at all Mister Odhinsunar, except maybe one. You see. We have five members on the committee. There's myself, Judge Hart, Doc Holiday, Mister Goldberg and Mister Johnson. We must know of your intentions for the properties. If the sale of the property will enhance the town, then no problem at all. Are you planning to put up a factory or a mill?”

The Game goes on. If I tell them what I intend, then perhaps no sale. If I lie, the game is over, Mister Odhinsunar thought deeply. “I will tell you tonight at the meeting. Do you think Paul Hart Jr. is at the courthouse?” Mister Odhinsunar replied. “He'd better be. He's taking me out to dinner tonight.” Tamry announced, as she came from around the teller cage. Robert noticed it was closing time and rose to walk Mister Odhinsunar to the door. “Would you mind if I borrow him for the eight o'clock meeting with the town council?” Mister Oh asked, as he gazed into her brown eyes. “Oh, I think we can be there. Besides, I don't think there's anything on television tonight, that could compare to that meeting.” Tamry said, as she went to the door. “I'll be here in the morning when you open for those papers. Please, have them ready, will you?” Mister Odhinsunar spoke softly to Robert. “Anything for you sir. I'll take care of everything.” Robert said as he held out his hand. Mister Odhinsunar smiled, and Robert's hand was engulfed by the huge right hand. Mister Oh and Tamry walked to the courthouse and found Paul in his father's study. After Mister Oh told Paul of his problem, Paul said, "Let's talk about it more, over dinner.” “I still have a date, don't I? Would you mind if Mister Oh joined us?” He asked, watching for Tamry's reaction, which was a nod. “All right we should have enough time to eat, talk, and still get back here before the meeting. So where do we go?” Mister Oh asked, noticing the anguish in the eyes of the two.

They left for a Bar-B-Q place, not far from town, and spent the entire dinner planning the words needed for the committee meeting. “If you can't even tell us what you want the land for, then how will you convince the committee to sell it to you?” Tamry asked, after the long debate on the property question. “My intentions for the property are exactly that, mine! But, if a reason is needed, then we will give the committee precisely that. A reason that they can't refuse. One that they will all agree to, for the good of the people, or for the greed of the people.” Mister Oh replied. “Mister Oh, surely we won't have to resort to any trickery to buy that unwanted land.” Paul said dryly. “What did you just say?” Mister Oh asked after some moments thought. “All I said was that we don't need to lie to the committee for the land purchase.” “No! You said it differently before. Now repeat what you said before, precisely!” Mister Oh had heard something that could solve this problem, but only had a piece of the solution. Paul being a bright lawyer, and a quick study, tried to recall his words. On the third attempt the word 'resort' surfaced into the text of his statement. “That's it!” Mister Oh proclaimed, loudly. The guests of the restaurant were stunned by the outburst and the waiter came to see if this large man could keep the noise down for the other customers. Mister Oh promptly announced that he was saddened for the disturbance and that the party was leaving. Paul took Tamry's hand and quickly followed Mister Oh to the counter. “Here we go again.” Tamry whispered to Paul as Mister Oh stopped by the register. Paul saw Tamry rubbing her finger together in the universal gesture of money. Before either Paul or Tamry could speak, Mister Oh produced from the inside pocket of his tunic a hand stitched, leather-pouch. From the pouch he extracted a small card that reflected a gold finish. He handed the card to the cashier and she ran it through the slot of her machine. In a couple of seconds the machine chimed and clicked away as the bill was being processed. The cashier handed a slip of paper and a pen to the large man and asked for his signature. Mister Oh glanced down at both items and picked the pen up like a knife. With two strokes he laid the pen down and viewed his mark. The cashier picked up the ticket and examined the autograph. She noticed that it was an O with a cross in the middle. She thought she had seen this somewhere before and it dawned on her where. It resembled the gun sights that appeared at the beginning of her favorite movies, James Bond. “Do you have any other form of identification, sir?” She asked. Mister Oh then produced from the pouch a small blue folder. He opened it and placed on the counter. The woman read the cards and handed the credit card back with a large smile and stated a cheerful, “Thanks you’ll. Be sure and come back now ya hear, sir.” To the visiting diplomat.

On the road back to town Tamry called from the back seat, “Isn't it nice to go somewhere and not have to have the police called out to solve little problems.” All three started to laugh, and enjoyed the rest of the ride to the courthouse. As the trio entered the meeting room, all the voting members were in place and Judge Hart was listening to Robert Holmes explaining what they were about to decide upon. As Mister Odhinsunar sat, the Judge, now the Mayor of New Hope, hit the gavel twice on the table and called for order to the proceedings. The introductions were made, for the record, and the meeting began. Questions were asked and answered by both Mister Odhinsunar and his legal counsel. Then the time for the hardest question came from Mister Johnson, with a scowl. “What do you want to do with the city property, if we decide to sell it to you?” Mister Odhinsunar stood and faced Paul Hart Sr. “It is my intention, after I acquire this property to develop a resort for the good people of this town. A place they can enjoy and reflect upon the heritage and the legacy that brought them together.” Mister Odhinsunar reseated himself and waited to see if the wording would work its magic. It didn't take long for the members to start the discussion. “That would be great for business. The closest amusement park is down in Baton Rogue. People would come here just because of the distance.” Mister Holmes stated, confidently. “That's true, and if they come they will have to eat. I'm sure I can add a fine deli to the market.” Mister Goldberg chimed in. “People will need to work in such a place and that means more families and more construction.” Doctor Holiday announced, and regarded Mister Johnson. Mister Johnson had heard the doctor but his thoughts were on other things. How much room would the bar need for the parents to stop by, while their brats were off playing on the swings and slides at the lake, he wondered? The Mayor then hit the gavel to calm the members down. “I think we should take a vote on the property sale and decide a fair price to the town.” Mayor Hart stated, flatly. “Yes, the price. That is to be the next item to discuss.” Mister Goldberg said to the panel, his mind still on an open air marketplace with side walk eateries and vendors around the town square. “How is the property zoned and what is the selling value?” Mayor Hart spoke to the town secretary, Robert Holmes. Robert had the folder open and stated, “The whole section is zoned agricultural, industrial, and in the other parts of New Hope, that property would be sold for as much as five thousand dollars an acre.” He looked at Mister Odhinsunar and saw the man's eyes narrow. “However, as we all know, the south side hasn't been in too much demand lately, and the value would be less for that reason.” Robert breathed a small sigh of relief at Mister Odhinnsunar's small nod of approval. “That's true for now, but after the improvement, the surrounding value will go through the roof.” Doc Holiday stated to Mayor Hart. “That's if the resort takes hold, and only after the owner sinks much of his own capital in it at the start.” Paul Jr. interjected. Mayor Hart gave attention to Mister Odhinsunar and party. “Well, as Solomon would have decreed, from highest to lowest we must find the middle.” Mister Goldberg proclaimed, solemnly. “I say five thousand per acre is high and three is the low, so what do you say to four per acre?” The committee talked over the price and then they all agreed to the selling price. They asked Mister Odhinsunar if it was an acceptable price for him. Mister Oh glanced at Paul, then Tamry and both nodded. So, he also nodded to the Mayor. The vote was held and the judge asked for any other comments, none were voiced. The gavel came down three times, ending the special meeting of the town council. They rose and came around to shake the hand of New Hope's newest land developer, all except Mister Johnson, who was going out the front door to his car. Robert was figuring in long hand the purchase of the property by acre. When he finished, he whistled at the figure, fifteen million. The group stopped and looked at Robert. “Is there a problem, Mister Holmes?” Judge Hart asked. “No, Judge, not a problem. I just finished the computations for the sale and the total took me by surprise.” “What is the cost to the man?” Mister Goldberg asked. “Fifteen million, before taxes. That’s for the whole 3,750 acres.” Mister Holmes stated, frankly. Doctor Holiday, Mister Goldberg, even the Judge raised their eyebrows at that figure. “Can you afford such a price, and the financing?” Doc Holiday requested, with speculation. “The only thing Mister Odhinsunar has to do, is sign the paperwork. Isn't that true, Mister Odhinsunar?” Robert said to the group. “Yes, that is true. Have the bank issue a draft to the township in the morning.” Mister Oh stated, as he saw the look on Paul Jr. face. “Sometimes I wish for that kind of cash,” Doc Holiday said to the judge, “but I'd be afraid of what I might do with it.” Mister Oh smiled at the honesty of the doctors words, and said, “Judge, should we not have a toast to good fortune?” “By all means, please all of you come to my study. I think I have just the thing for this occasion.” Judge Hart replied. The group left and headed for the Judge's study where he produced a bottle of Scotch and filled glasses for a prosperous future of all concerned. On the courthouse steps after the meeting concluded Paul asked Mister Oh, “Do you want a ride to your estate?” “No thank you, Paul. Besides, I don't sign the contract until the morning. Then you may call it, whatever you like. For now, Farm still has the best ring to it.”

Paul wondered about that as he took Tamry home. Later, as he sat at his desk his eyes wandered over his books. They stopped on the Webster Dictionary. He pulled the book out and thumbed through the pages. The first word he looked up was resort. It said: 1. a place to which people go often on vacation; 2. a source of help, support. Paul thought and thumbed to farm. According to the book, it meant, a piece of land on which crops or animals are raised. Paul closed the book and replaced it on the shelf. Next to it was the thesaurus, he opened it to resort. He gasped as the first words took form in his mind. A place for rest or amusement. He quickly turned to farm. All the words for Farm were normal enough in context but a nagging feeling kept coming over Paul. Then one word stuck out from all the rest, nursery. The search went on through the book. Paul checked on Nursery, but his attention fell first to the root word, nurse. He read, nurse; attend to, aid, medicate, sustain, tend, treat. Paul sat at his desk and let the words dance around his head until he decided the meanings, so skillfully maneuvered by this diplomat. RESORT. A place of rest and peace, for the healing of the people. Yes, this diplomat had used the language well to complete his task. Now what is his task? Paul thought repeatedly, until he grew tired and went to bed. Tamry also found it hard to sleep that night. She enjoyed the dinner with Paul and enjoyed the town meeting, but the reaction of Mister Holmes to the payment on the property was very strange. Mister Holmes should have been happier then Simon Legree with that kind of bank transaction, but the Robert Holmes she saw tonight was completely opposite. The quote of fifteen million just went by with a whistle. Well, after all, Mister Oh did have gold to back the loan, in the bank. Then it struck Tamry, the words Robert Holmes had said, All he has to do, is sign the papers. She wondered more about the letter Mister Oh gave Mister Holmes and about the phone call he had made. Well, first thing in the morning, she was going to examine the account, of one Mister Thorran Odhinsunar. Seeing for herself, what’s going on. Tamry finally fell asleep in the early hours of the morning, having all sorts of dreams that had her tossing until she awoke at seven thirty to the sound of her alarm radio.