Chapter Forty

"You sure you don't mind the talk?" Zane asked after Annie and Josh had left and Max had gone to bed a very tired boy from where Zane had him out helping with the smaller stuff in the brush pile.

"Mind? Yeah but probably not for the reason you think. I just don't like people watching me. I always wonder what they are seeing and why they are doing it."

"Because that's what people do … get into other people's business rather than take care of their own."

"I guess," I said yawning. "I'm out of paper bags."

"Huh?"

"Sorry. I guess my head is all over the place tonight between work, no work, and what was on the news."

Zane chuckled. "I'm still lost. Take it one at a time."

"I'll try. Work … I got all the meat hung down in the cold cellar, which was a freaking brilliant idea to build on your part I might add. Daddy loved it. I just wish he could see it in action. Anyway that's what I mean about the paper bags. I used all my bigger ones to cover the hams and shoulders and most of my smaller ones to cover the sausages. It looks a little weird when you go in there and see all these bags hanging from hooks in the ceiling but pretty at the same time. Guess I need to sew up some muslin bags in case we get more."

Zane got comfortable and propped his stump on the ottoman after grabbing what was left of the bowl of popcorn I had popped after dinner. "Like that do you? Well so do I. If the lake freezes this year we might try and dig an ice cellar out in the barn. The dirt is soft enough and the shading of the building would help it stay cooler than the surrounding ground even in summer."

"Wouldn't a hole like that collapse?"

"That's why you have to dig it out and shore it up right. I was reading this book once that described how to do it. It would be easier if there was a dry cave though."

"How big?"

"How big what?"

"How big of a cave? And can it just be sort of a crevice and not a real cave?"

He suddenly looked at me with interest. "Sounds like you know where such a thing might be."

"You know that pile of granite and limestone gravel behind the barn? Well under it is a capped off crevice type thing. Grandpop capped it off when Sam and Kevin were little boys because they liked to play fort down there. Grandpop was afraid they'd go down there and get snake bit or so I was told. But if it was full of ice snakes wouldn't want to go in there right?"

Zane had plans floating behind his eyes. "Did your dad have plans for that gravel?"

"We just use it to fill in holes in the drive and to keep the mud and dirt under control near the porch steps. The county dumped it there when they were working on Lake Road during the off season but they never cleaned it up so we've been using it a bucket or shovel at a time. There's not that much of it left."

"Hmmm …"

I laughed. "I think I know that look. You want your idea book?" I asked referring to a dog-eared composition book Zane carried all over the place.

He belched and said, "Not tonight, I'm beat. Now what did you mean about no work?"

Sighing I popped a piece of popcorn in my mouth before answering, "Well you know that sales at the shop have gone way down. They're still getting some sales but they're small and it is the tourist stuff like t-shirts, mugs, and junk like that; not the real bread-and-butter stuff that keeps things going. Annie says they're going to drop the number of days per week they have the shop open and Annie is considering on having the restaurant open on the same days … primarily the weekends … and that while they'll continue to serve breakfast when they are open, she'll only be open during the lunch and dinner schedule."

Zane turned thoughtful. "Wow. That's a different picture than I got from Josh. He says he's got as much work as he can handle but it's more for the serious hunting and fishing crowd than the trophy hunters and backcountry campers like he normally gets. He managed to swing a job interview for John with the Forest Service as a river inspector and it's looking good because of John's waterway experience. That's rough about the shop and restaurant though. Just … wow. Doesn't bode well for the tourist season from the sound of it."

"Yeah. But apparently Junior and Annie are 'reviewing their options.' "

"Uh oh. If I know them they're coming up with a scheme and they're trying to pull you into it."

"I gotta make some money somehow but I'm not sure about their idea."

"And that idea might be?"

"You know how the closest thing there is to a grocery around here is the Bait n' Tackle? Well rumor is they're going to be shutting down the gas pumps because they can't compete with that big one that was built two years ago right at the highway intersection. They'll still sell propane … but they'll ration it because of the new regs. Well on top of that Junior heard that they might start closing early too and may close down for the whole season instead of just during the holidays like they've always done."

"You've got to be kidding me. It'll cost me more to go to the highway for fuel just to pay a few pennies less per gallon. Crap."

"Might be able to get around that some," I told him. "By using those metal barrels in the barn. They're fuel barrels to start with … Daddy bought them from a dealer at Savannah Speedway earlier this year. He'd intended to fill them with fuel and store them here but never got around to it because he couldn't secure them to his satisfaction."

"I didn't see any barrels."

"They're covered by a tarp and blocked by the body of that old chevy Uncle Hershel stored up here. That's another thing, we might could make some money scrap …"

"Heck no! Old Chevy?! Syd, that is the body of a '59 Impala and it is in doggone good shape."

I rolled my eyes. "Means as much to me as a Greek tragedy. Honestly, if it was that big a deal Uncle Hershel would have done something with it a long time ago. It's been sitting in there as long as I can remember. That's like the third canvas cover on it, the other two rotted it's been in there so long. Just whatever, don't have a cow. I just brought it up 'cause over in that corner is where Daddy put the barrels."

"I'll move 'em around tomorrow if they're worth anything. I don't want to scratch up that Impala."

"It isn't a whole Imp-whatever … it's just the body. As I was saying Annie and Junior have been figuring and Annie thinks she can use her food license to set up a bulk food store of basic staples in the dining room she plans on closing off. She's already talked to someone that is interested in exchanging the upstairs apartment for providing night time security for the place. Apparently break ins at grocery stores and restaurants are turning into big business … and not for the cash in the safe but the food in the freezers. Reminds me of when the Duncan gang tried to shake you guys down."

Zane nodded, still thoughtful, and asked, "OK but where do you fit in?"

"Those things I was making for the shop? I'd make them for Annie's Place. If it works out maybe even expand into other stuff besides dips and soups. In fact she wants more stuff like that coffee I fixed today instead of what she calls tourist clap trap. She wants to primarily focus on what the local market needs since she thinks they will be the majority of customers fairly quickly."

"Yeah that coffee wasn't bad … tasted like that pumpkin spice flavored stuff you can get at the Wawa during certain times of the year. A little sweet for me but still good. I wouldn't have thought about it being instant if you hadn't brought it up." I sighed and he asked, "You don't want to?"

"It's not that. I'm just worried that if I say yes and get as busy as Annie plans on it being that Max will feel … betrayed or something. He gets so funny about … I mean not you but some of the others. He kept hiding out while Josh and Annie were here and it surprised me; I thought he was ok with them."

Zane nodded. "It's just he's afraid they're going to make him leave. See here he's got most of our attention. At Gran's he'll just be one of many and most of those many are younger than him. Because of John's attitude his kids don't care to be around Max much. It makes things awkward."

"That's … oh … ok I get it. But is that what Josh and Annie were here for? To see if I was a proper influence on Max?"

"If they wondered it wasn't for long. I think they were initially worried he is getting spoiled and ruined."

"He's not. Geez."

Zane nodded in agreement. "Not ruined anyway. Maybe a little spoiled but he needs a bit of spoiling so don't worry about it. As for this idea of Annie's and Junior's I can see it working just don't let them expect you to do it for nothing. They're my sister and brother but I've no illusions that their methods of making a buck can be a little pushy."

"Annie said she'd provide the materials and I'd get paid in groceries and a percentage of the profits. But mostly groceries to start with. She's still working out the accounting details so that I'll qualify as an independent contractor rather than as a straight employee she'll have to pay taxes on. She's already having to let a couple of the seasonal waitresses go and she said she'll catch grief for it."

"Sucks running your own business and that's a fact. It's why I never took on an apprentice or partner. But something else is bothering you. I can hear it in your voice even if you aren't complaining."

Figuring in for a penny in for a pound I said, "Zane … I … I only have enough cash to get through to January. I had to pay taxes and the check Daddy deposited to cover the quarterly expenses still hasn't cleared from the bank in Savannah. I've already decided to take the spring semester off school but all that's done is keep me from digging the hole deeper not helping me out of the one I'm already in. And … I don't have money for any more projects. I'm sorry. I know you were counting on …"

"Syd?"

"What?"

"Stop. Now. Before you get yourself all tied up and say something we'll just have to untangle before we can move forward. I know money is tight. I know … well I saw your light was on last night and I peeked in and saw you plugging numbers into your bookkeeping program and it was pretty obvious you were fretting. I don't want you apologizing because things are tight. Got it?"

"But …"

"But nothing. I've got that contract job I start on Monday at Brewster's Bar. We'll …"

"You aren't responsible for …"

"Well I would be if you let me."

My mouth hung open. Quietly I asked, "Really?"

"Yeah. Really. I'm not a kid Syd. And I've lived on my own and been out in the world. I know it takes money to live and pay the bills. The fringe benefits can wait until after we find out more about your family. They can't withhold that information forever. You see what is on the news."

"Yeah. But I also heard about the new banking and finance rules. And the new travel regulations. And that everyone might be getting ration cards along with a national ID – which is going to complicate Annie and Junior's plans. And that …"

He put his arm around my shoulders. "I heard it all too. And Jane's husband getting called up is not good. He's NG, not active duty. I think they're deploying the National Guard in hot spots here in the states to bolster local law enforcement. I just don't think they'll have them patrolling their home states."

"They don't want the NGs changing sides I guess and sticking with their friends and family."

"More than likely that is part of it. Not to mention the danger of taking their gear with them when they go. Possibly even heavy artillery and stuff like that."

"Are we going to have problems with that around here?" I asked getting really worried.

"No, but I bet we see places like Atlanta get some attention and if it isn't handled right it will only make things worse. They don't call it Hotlanta for nothing."