Getting By
Chapter 29

Copyright© 2010 by Shakes Peer2B

Jamaal and Grey Eagle, having heard the exchange on the walkie-talkie, were just entering the cafe as Amanda and I got there. I held the door as Jamaal helped Grey Eagle up the steps. I don't know why, but Jamaal has taken it upon himself to take care of my old mentor as it gets harder for him to move around.

Ruth came out from behind the counter with her order pad as we entered.

"Usually don't have this kind of crowd for dinner except on special occasions," she observed. "What's it going to be? Our special tonight is fresh venison. Somebody brought in a big buck today and I got there just as they finished butchering it."

I smiled but refrained from telling her who had brought that buck in. She probably wouldn't have believed me anyway. My lack of skill with the bow was legendary.

"We've got visitors coming Ruth," I told her. "If the count from the guards at the west gate is right, there'll be twenty three of them. Might as well put Jamaal and Grey Eagle's food on the tab, too. I'll pay it out of the administrative account."

Ruth nodded and looked at Amanda. "I'll just send you the bill in the morning, if you like, since I've already made my daily deposit."

"That's great," Amanda answered. "I wasn't planning on going back to the bank tonight anyway."

"Okay," Ruth began, "if you guys will give me a hand, we can put some of these tables together and..."

"Tell you what, Ruth," I told her thoughtfully. "These folks sound like they want to talk business, and that's not going to work if all twenty-three of them try to get in on the negotiations, so let's just leave things the way they are, and Amanda and I will take the corner table. They can pick two people to represent them and the rest can find their own places to sit."

"Okay," Ruth recovered. I saw her eyes lingering fondly on Jamaal as he helped Grey Eagle to a seat near the corner table where we would be doing our business.

Amanda nudged me, but I was already making the offer. "Why don't you let your staff do the serving tonight, Ruth, and you can join your husband. You've got them pretty well trained and I think they can handle it for one night."

Ruth is what we used to call a 'control freak' and I could see her waffling back and forth between her desire to spend time with her husband and her need to make sure everything went smoothly.

"Come on, Ruth," I told her gently. "It's not every night you get a chance to eat dinner with your husband. You'll still be able to see that they do the job right."

Finally, a smile broke across her face and she laughed. "Am I that obvious?"

"You are, and we love you for it. Ah! It seems our guests are arriving!"

A number of horses pulled up out front and their riders tied their reins to the railing that ran along the front of the low porch. We had never taken the time to install hitch rails, but there were plenty of places to tie a horse while one conducted one's business.

It was a motley crew that tramped through the door, weary and dusty from a long ride. If they really came from Silicon Valley, it must have taken them several days to get here on horseback.

"How can I help you, gentlemen," I asked.

The one who wore an old A's baseball cap answered, "I was told we'd find a Gavin Thompson here."

"You were correctly informed," I answered, "and this is my wife Amanda. You are... ?"

"Scott Simmons," he answered extending a hand for shaking. He winced as I gave him our usual firm shake in return. Not much muscle tone there. "This is Marcus Thibideau and..."

"I'm pleased to meet you, Scott, and Marcus," I interrupted, "but it has apparently been a long ride for you folks, and I'll never remember all of your names if you introduce everyone right now. I assume you are the leader of this bunch?"

Simmons nodded, a little put off by my brusqueness. Good. If there was business to be done I wanted him as uncomfortable as possible without being downright hostile. He came to me, so he must want something pretty bad.

"Well, Scott," I continued, "If you and your second will join Amanda and I at our table, we'll discuss your business over dinner. Your meals are on me, tonight, so tell your men to order whatever they want."

I hadn't yet decided whether I wanted them spending the night in Phoenix so I thought it best to get down to brass tacks. They wouldn't have much to complain about. Ruth's Cafe serves very good, wholesome meals, and many of those with whom we did business turned right around and spent whatever money they earned at Ruth's. These folks were going to get the first meal free.

"I'll get right to the point, then, Mr. Thompson," Simmons said, seating himself opposite Amanda and me. Thibideau sat next to him.

We had deliberately placed ourselves with our backs to the wall which left our visitor's backs to the door and windows. Things were tough enough where they came from that this made them nervous and both turned a bit sideways so they could use their peripheral vision to cover the places from which an attack might come.

"Please do, Mr. Simmons," I said. Then, to Tracy, who was Ruth's best waitress, "I'll have steak and eggs with rice and whatever vegetables you have on hand."

"We're here from Silicon Valley," Simmons said, after ordering his own meal, "and we have a proposition for you, but, well, your name is unusual enough that I have to ask; were you the CEO of TeleSoftCon before the Sickness?"

Only mildly surprised, since TeleSoftCon had been a rising star in the industry, I answered, "Yes, but that was a long time ago."

"I know, believe me, I know," Simmons answered. "I was CTO of AdvanceChip and I remember seeing a couple of articles about you and some of the innovations you put in place over there. Too bad we didn't get to see how they turned out."

I wasn't feeding him to listen to him reminisce, and I doubted that that was why he and his people had ridden all this way, either.

"That's water under a very rusty old bridge, Mr. Simmons," I told him. "What's on your mind?"

He exchanged glances with Thibideau as if looking for support, then started in on his spiel. "After the Sickness, some of us wanted to try to preserve as much of our technology as we could. As you may remember, the Silicon Valley was home to many of the companies that invented that technology, as well as manufactured it."

"You don't have to give me a history or geography lesson," I told him.

"No, of course not," he said, a little put off.

"So what's your proposition?" I said, making him even more uncomfortable. I seemed to have put on my old business persona for this meeting, and I wasn't sure whether that was a good thing or not.

"Anyway," he took up his narrative again. "After everybody died, a few of us got together and tried to figure out how best to preserve the technology represented by the companies in the Valley. We took over Moffett Field and the Lockheed facility next door, and fortified them as best we could, then we started moving equipment and computers from companies that manufactured components at all levels. We also collected hard and soft copies of every piece of software we could get our hands on. Anyway, when we were done, we had the essential equipment for manufacturing everything from ICs to batteries to solar cells, as well as most of the intermediate and larger components. Then the power went out. Still, we thought that if we preserved that equipment, power would eventually be restored and we could once again put the equipment to use."

Neither Amanda nor I said anything, though he clearly expected us to.

Simmons looked at his second, who decided to take up the narrative.

"Well, we had collected all this equipment," Marcus said, "but had only gotten food and stuff when we needed it, so when the power went out, there was this mad scramble to collect essential supplies and food and such. Pretty soon, we discovered that we needed weapons as well, if we didn't want others to take what we had. We managed to grow some vegetables, and by tapping into the local water supply, we've had water, though the quality is deteriorating as time goes on. The reservoirs fill up again each winter, but nobody's maintaining the pipes and such. Anyway, we're running out of edible food, and the water's not going to be drinkable for much longer, and we wondered if we might be able to trade..."

He broke off as Simmons poked him in the side.

"We want to make a deal with you," Scott took over again, "food and water for technology. We hear you're trying to bring civilization back and what we've got can help you do that. You have the trucks to transport heavy equipment. You have the power to run it. You give us food and water and we'll give you the means to manufacture whatever you need."

I paused, looking at Amanda. She thought she knew what I had in mind and gave me that 'It's a good deal' look, but I was thinking further down the road.

"How many of you are there?"

They were cautious enough to know that could be a dangerous question to answer, so I helped them out.

"If you can afford to send 23 on a trip this long, you've got a substantial group, probably at least ten times as many adults as you brought here," I could see that I had hit pretty close to home with that estimate, "so what I propose is this: We annex your group. You go off in small groups to our training facility in the desert to learn how to be Phoenicians, and we all keep your technology and put it to work."

I had no more to do with naming our state 'Phoenicia' than I had to do with renaming Springville to Phoenix. People had simply started aggregating the land we claimed under the label of 'Phoenicia' and it just became habit. I couldn't blame them. They were justly proud of our adopted symbol and what it represented, especially since it looked like we had a good chance to fulfill its legend.

"What!" Simmons shouted, automatically reaching for one of the weapons that had been taken from him at the gate. "You think you can just waltz in and take over? We'll never allow it!"

"Actually, we probably could just 'waltz in and take over' but that's not what I propose," I answered calmly, keeping a hand on my sidearm in case the guards at the gate had missed something. "If we were to do that, people would die on both sides and neither of us wants that. You don't realize it yet, but what I'm offering you is a much better deal than you originally proposed. Think about it. By your proposal, you and your people go on living hand to mouth, trading tidbits here and there for food and water to keep you going a little longer. By my proposal, you become citizens of Phoenicia with all rights, privileges and supplies that that entails. You will earn what you get, but you will do it the old fashioned way - with hard work, the same way we do."

"Marcus," I said, changing the subject a bit to lighten the mood. "Are you enjoying that venison?"

"It's delicious, but what... ?" Thibideau answered through a mouthful of that very meat.

"I shot that buck with a bow and arrow this afternoon and my son and I hauled it down the mountain," I told him, watching Ruth's eyebrow's go up as I spoke. "We brought it in to Central Stores and were paid for the time it took us to bring it in. Ruth then bought some of the meat for her cafe, and that's what you're enjoying. How about you, Simmons? Good ribs, huh?"

"Well, yes..."

"I'll bet neither of you has had fresh meat in a very long time, have you?"

"Well, no..."

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