Sunday, February 8, 2015

Part 118


I was really interested in seeing what Lucy had brought in the pack but no sooner had she taken off than ten of the biggest mish-mash of men show up and all but growl about me better having something decent to eat.

If they thought I was going to let them intentionally intimidate me then they had another think coming.  Toddie's friends had treated me this way for years and I was completely immune.  I had also had to deal with Moses and the other men in the group.  But I suspected, just like Toddie and his friends as well as the rest of the men that I've run into, if you feed them they shut up quick enough.  Besides, I'd dealt with puss brains and perverts way too much; compared to that these guys looked like pussy cats ... dirty pussy cats but yeah, definitely on the manageable end of things.  So I told them, "Yeah, yeah.  Keep complaining and see what happens to your lunch.  You're cooks.  You should know what happens when you hack a cook off."

They looked at each other like a frog had suddenly sat up and started singing ... like I might be interesting after all.  Maybe.  But they were still gruff enough that one little push back from me wasn't going to completely stop them.  I hadn't figured it would, and their running commentary during the meal about short people, girls, and how they would have done things better had me real tempted to spike their coffee with some senna that I had found in an herbal shop after I left the Northern Woods.  It might not be as powerful as it had been fresh but I was pretty sure it would still have them hopping to the latrines for the rest of the day if I gave into tempation.  Instead I saved my supply of constipation fix and blew them off ... some things matter and some things don't.  Although I swear, the way they acted they sure could have used a fix alright.

After breakfast they tried to get up and get away with not cleaning their dishes and I said, "Do I look like your Mom?  There's the pan of hot water, have at it.  'Cause I guarantee if you don't I won't and you'll be eating lunch off of a dirty mess kit."

There was some grumbling over that but I think mostly because they thought they'd be able to trick me.  Uh uh.  I'd listened to Lucy and the other women enough to pick up a few things and one of them was that everyone was responsible for their own gear ... including their eating utensils, canteens, and mess kits.

I was very happy to see them go and from the look on the other cooks' faces up and down the area we'd been allocated for our test, the others were too.  I was trying to pull my head together for the next go around when I saw a couple of boys close to my age running around delivering stuff to the other cooks.  I stopped them with an offer to let them lick the spoons where I was mixing cake batter for supper's dessert.  I said to them, "Hey, got a question."

"Figures," the blonde one said.  "Girls always have ulterior motives."

"Not always but close," I admitted.  "Anyway, look do you know if it is against the rules if I add my own stuff to the ingredients I was given?"

The redhead shrugged his shoulders.  "Don't know why it would be.  All the cooks do it when they are out in the field.  You are kinda expected to make what you're given go further."

I cross my arms and muttered, "Well, woulda been nice if someone had mentioned it but thanks for the info."  They were kinda skinny and there was a cool breeze blowing so I said, "Bring your mugs over here and have some Sherpa Tea.  It's not much of a thank you but at least it is something."

The blonde seemed to be the more suspicious of the two and looked over into the pot of tea that I had brewed for myself and asked, "What's in it?"

"Water, tea, powdered milk, butter, honey, and some spices.  I don't like coffee see, and I haven't seen chocolate in a long time, so this is the next best thing I could come up with.  My brother's Boy Scout troop drank it a lot when they were camping in the winter."

Redhead said, "My brother was going for his Eagle BOR before Z-Day. That's board of review."

"I know what a BOR is," I told him.  "My dad sat on the one in the Council where we lived.  My brother made Eagle before he went off to college."

"Is he ...?"

I shrugged.  "I'm pretty sure he is."  Uncomfortable and irritated by the questions I asked, "You want some or not?"

"Yeah," they said in unison.

The readhead asked, "So what are you gonna add ... to the supplies I mean?"

"Squirrel.  They've been driving me buggy trying to get into stuff.  One almost bit me when I tried to shoo it off this morning.  I can't believe there are so many around here.  I figure people would have hunted them into extinction."

The blonde said, "We've only been set up in this location a couple of days.  As soon as the suttlers get wind of our knew location they'll get took out soon enough."

"The suttlers or the squirrels?" I asked a little confused at the way he phrased it.  "And what are suttlers?"

The redhead snorted into his mug and the blonde one rolled his eyes but said, "The squirrels.  Geez.  Suttlers have tents they set up like the old strip malls used to be.  You buy stuff from them.  Although, come to think of it, you get around some of them suttlers long enough and you'll wish it was them you could catch and skin.  Man, they'll take you for every bit of pay you got if they can."

The redhead said to him, "They ain't all that bad.  You're just sore that that woman sold you them boots that were supposed to be water proof only they ain't.  Now you got foot rot and you're in trouble with Dr. Matthews for not reporting it sooner."

The blonde growled like he was irritated at being remind.  I didn't say anything.  I learned from Doc early on that taking care of your feet was as important as taking care of your eating utensils ... both could kill you from infection if you weren't careful.  The discussion did remind me however that I might finally have the opportunity to get a new pair of boots or at least get the ones I was wearing fixed somehow.

Redhead asked me, "What ya gonna make with the squirrel?  Stew, fry it, what?"

"Pizza."

Both boys looked at me like I'd suddenly grown a third eye on the end of my nose.

"You ain't either," Blondie said only it was more of a question than a denial of what I had said.

"I am too.  Geez, call me a liar and not even know me."

Redhead asked, "Seriously?  Pizza?"

"Yeah, what of it?  Is it like forbidden or something?"

"Heck no," he said.  "Just ... you know it costs a pretty penny to get a pizza when you can find a suttler that can bake it.  And you don't have no oven from what I see.  How you gonna fix pizza?"

"Geez, it isn't that hard."  I explained how I was going to do it as I started making homemade corn tortillas.

They were only half way listening to me as they watched me make a pile of them.  To shut their mouths on the questions that were about to fall out I handed them a couple to taste test for me.  Finally the blonde says, "You don't look Mexi."

I rolled my eyes.  "I'm not.  My dad had a friend that was married to a woman that was from Honduras and she taught Mom and me how to make these.  Easier than having to bake bread all the time and cheaper than getting it from the grocery store too."

That flew right over their heads.  I guess when there were still grocery stores they were too busy being boys to notice.  Redhead gives me a squint and then says, "What say you and me make a bargain."

I don't care what age they are guys are still guys and I scooted a little away from him before asking, "What kind of bargain?"

"Not the kind you think I mean.  And don't worry about thinking it.  I got a sister ... she works in supply.  She tells me what she has to put up with so I figured it must be the same for all females."  He pronounced it fee-males like he wanted me to understand he didn't mean just girls or just women but all of them combined.

I nodded and said, "Ok but that isn't telling me what bargain you are trying to make."

The blonde elbowed him and redhead gave him a dirty look.  "Don't try and tell me you don't want some."

"Want some what?" I asked even more suspicious.

"Squirrel pizza.  I figure it can't be worse than the slop they dish out in the chow line and you look like you know what you are doing so ..... the bargain is if I bring you some squirrels will you trade them for a slice of pizza?"

Relief swept through me.  "Is that all?  Don't be stupid.  Sure.  If you bring me, hmmm, let's say eight to ten squirrels ... the plumper they are the closer to eight but if they are skinny I'll need the full ten ... and leave their furs on and I'll trade you a pizza."

Surprised the blonde said, "A whole pizza?"

"Isn't that what I just said?"  I looked at the redhead and added, "But you can't take too long because I'm going to have to skin and cook them before I can use the meat for the pizzas."

The redhead said, "For a whole pizza I'll gut and skin 'em for you."

"Can you skin them without wrecking the fur?  I need to patch my coat where my pack has worn it threadbare in places across my back.  I'm starting to see the stuffing between the layers."

He nodded.  "Got the same problem only Dorrie - that's my sister - says I don't have enough on Account to get a new jacket yet and that I'd outgrow it anyway before next season so I'm making do.  How you aim to fix your jacket?"

"Just get the squirrels and I'll show you.  I gotta finish the filling for these Coyote Tortillas before those men show back up."

The blonde gave me a stupified look and I shook my head.  "Geez you're gullible.  No, there isn't coyote meat in the filling.  They're named after the coyotes - they're men - that used to get illegals across the border for a price.  They have to travel fast and at night so food has to be portable and easy to eat too.  Now get if you want any pizza."

They jogged off and I turned to find Lucy had materialized out of no where and was watching me.  She said, "Making friends already?  I'd watch it if I were you.  You could get a reputation."

It was two second before I realized what she meant.  "Ew.  No.  It's just a barter ... you know, a trade.  There wasn't any meat in the supplies so I ..."

She interrupted, "Yeah, we heard."

"We?"

The other three women in the unit jumped down from the tree they'd been sitting in.  Sherry was the leader and looked the part.  She was pretty once - reminding me a bit of Dr. Ponytail - but the life she had picked had done its best to erase it.  Gayle was the emergency medic and had already tried to give me the once over though I'd avoided what I could of it.  She struck me as cold but she seemed to think of the other three women as her sisters and treated them that way.  I had a feeling that she'd be a bad person to get on the wrong side of.  I wasn't sure what her ancestry was but it was either Asian or Eastern European because her eyes were a strange almond shape that didn't match the rest of her features.  Josie had announced that her biological mother was Haitian and her father French but that she'd been orphaned during an earthquake and then adopted by a childless couple here in the States.  I think she'd been trying to egg me to tell my story but I was having none of it because I didn't need anyone - least of all four strangers - pick it apart or use it against me in some way.  None of them spoke of having any family left alive and I sure wasn't going to ask.  None of my business.  I figured the more I stayed out of their hair the more they'd stay out of mine.

Instead I scowled and asked, "What's up playing panther?  Don't think I can behave myself?"

Josie - apparently short for Josephine though she promised to cut my tongue out if I ever tried to call her that - snorted good naturedly which I'd already learned was a bad sign.  "So ... you like to play with the boys?"

I gave them all a dirty look.  "You soooo obviously don't know me."

"You like girls then?  That your thang?" Gayle asked.

Getting upset I told them, "Nothing is my 'thang'.  Leave me alone."

Shelly gave me a hard look and then told Josie and Gayle to knock it off.  "Yeah, we were checking up on you to make sure you weren't getting into trouble.  Heard Gibson complaining about the fancy breakfast he had to eat and how it was giving him indigestion."

"If he's who I think it wasn't the peach french toast that gave him indigestion but the snuff he had in his cheek while he was eating it.  That has got to be the most disgusting thing I've ever see ... peach juice and snuff juice running down his chin at the same time ... and I've seen some gross junk alright."

Shelly snorted and nodded.  "That's Gibson.  You think the snuff habit is bad, trying being the one that has to eat his cooking.  I think he flavors everything with his spit."

"Carp, now that is gross."

Lucy laughed and told the other three, "See, I told you she can't even cuss."

"I can too cuss ... I just choose not to.  Well most of the time.  It's ... it's how I ... Never mind I'm tired of explaining it to people.  You don't like it then don't listen.  Look, I'm behaving so what else do you want?  I'm kinda busy here."

Lucy was the one that asked, "You serious about Squirrel Pizza."

"Geez, does everyone around here need to clean their ears out?  Yeah.  Squirrel Pizza.  It's no big deal."

Josie demanded, "We want one."

Fully prepared to appease them if it meant that they would go away I told her, "Fine.  Whatever.  Come back around six and I'll have one for you.  Now go away, I'm busy."

And I was.  I had a big bowl where I was mixing cooked rice, salsa from a can of it from the supplies I was given, and a couple of cans of drained black beans as well.  I hadn't been able to find a grater so I was having to shave the block of cheddar cheese I had been given with a paring knife and it wasn't the easiest thing to do and talk at the same time.

Gayle said, "You need a better edge on that knife before you cut your thumb off."

"It has a good edge ... just did it this morning.  It's just this cheese is as hard as a rock.  It would probably save time just to crumble the stuff."

Shelly said with her own edge, this time in her voice, "You going to give us that pizza?"

"Not right this flaming second," I snapped as she had said it looming over me and I really had almost sliced my thumb off.  "Come back at six o'clock like I told you."  I heard grumbling coming from down the path and snapped.  "Will you please scat already?  Here they come and if I'm going to pass this test I don't need you making them grumpier than they already are."

Lucy asked, "Who said that's what we were going to do?"

I rolled my eyes.  "Oh I didn't just ride several hundred miles on a train with you.  Nope, you all are a bunch of bo beeps just looking after your short little sheep."

Lucy grinned and was soon followed by the others but they did fade away before the grumpaholics showed up and said, "Lunch better be better than breakfast was."

1 comment:

  1. Ooooh, yummmy, new chapters. Why this is nearly as good as Valentine's candy.
    Thanks Kathy.

    ReplyDelete