Who is the pastor? Why is he manipulating Vicky? What is the deal with the three wives?
Over the next month, Vicky was true to her word about attending the pastor’s Sunday services. The fuel economy for her truck increased so much that she did not have to get gas as often, even with the additional trip to Alma. While not particularly pious, Vicky still had a sense of gratitude. She elected to express it by sharing the amount she would have spent on gas before all of this happened. That didn’t amount to a huge sum of money. At the same time, Vicky was still recovering from Tom, that freeloader. In any case, whatever she gave was more than Pastor Harris would have gotten before.
As the first few cool snaps preceding fall came through, she had to admit that things smoothed out a lot. Vicky sometimes saw one of the Federal cars trailing her on the highway between Holdrege and Alma. The frequency of those sightings grew less over time. If she ran the operation, Vicky would have figured out some other way to do it. After all, every one of those Federal people earned more than she did. Then there was what it cost to house them away from home.
Maybe there was a connection with the pastor. He didn’t say or do anything more since that first meeting. The timing did seem too good to be true, that first day. At the same time, the subject of Paul Fortek never came up again, even in passing. That included the bank and everywhere else in town.
Vicky wasn’t surprised when he stopped her after the church service.
“You appear far more relaxed and happy than that first day we talked.”
“I don’t know if my life is any better. As far as I can tell, nothing has gotten worse.”
“That is a positive thing. It is time for you to help the situation going forward. I have already done what I can.”
Vicky nodded, knowingly. “I thought you might have had a hand in a few things recently.”
“Oh? What things would those be?”
“I noticed something a week ago. The sandwich shop started serving young amaranth greens as an option on their daily specials. I had it and thought it tasted quite good. Then there was the cafe. I’ve never known them for being adventurous in their menu choices. They suddenly had a contest to see who could guess the new vegetable served as a side dish. It turned out to be the mature amaranth leaves. There’s only one place around here that could supply that product.”
“I did that to help everybody. I have extreme difficulty trying to contact Mr. Fortek. After all, he does not have a phone or internet. That’s where you can help him go forward.”
“How is that?”
“One of the people in the church is willing to take his produce to a farmer’s market. They are taking a bit of a chance since they aren’t growing it themselves. We need for you to go out to Mr. Fortek’s place and get some of the young leaves along with the more mature leaves and take it to the market. He’ll accept them on consignment. What he can’t sell will go to a homeless shelter. Here’s his card.”
“Why can’t he get it himself?”
“It just won’t work out for him. You’ll need to go out there this afternoon and take the produce to Mr. Jackson’s house in Holdrege.”
Vicky sighed. “What if the Feds descend on me again?”
“I don’t think it will happen. If the Feds ask, you can say you’re doing a service for your church. That will be the truth, by the way. Mr. Jackson will bring the money next Sunday. That will include something for your time and effort.”
“Reimbursement of any kind for side trips would be something new. My boss seems to think the mere promise of something is as good as actually doing something.”
Vicky took the card and headed out, keeping an eye out for wandering lights in the sky. She never saw any, but that didn’t mean much. As for tracking her, all the Feds had to do was put an electronic tracking device on her truck. Then, they could watch her trekking back and forth in the comfort of their home office. If she needed to prove mileage for something, she should be able to refer the tax people to this agency. Needless to say, Homeland Security would neither confirm nor deny anything.
The now precise steering enabled her to miss most of the potholes going up to the house. All the mechanical parts and pieces stayed together. It turned out to be a good thing that nothing broke because Paul Fortek was not at the house. Instead, she got to deal with the three wives, who came bouncing out of the house to greet her.
“Paul is preparing a new field,” the raven-haired wife informed him. “We knew you were coming and everything is ready.”
The blonde wife opened the passenger door and placed two boxes inside, one on the seat and the other on the floor. Each box was full of bags of amaranth leaves.
The red-head grinned at Vicky through the windshield. “You think this is a television show and that we’re all acting — playing parts. You’re right, but not in the way you think.”
Vicky blinked. Strange as he was, she would have preferred to deal with Fortek. “Since you don’t have a phone or internet, is that a message I’m supposed to relay to Pastor Harris?”
“He is a nice man, isn’t he,” Raven replied. “We have ways to let him know necessary things. Tell him anything you like, dear.”
Vicky suddenly had a thought. “I think the three of you could do very well, selling at the farmer’s market. You ought to give it a try.”
It wasn’t until she said it that Vicky realized she had just volunteered for something she didn’t want to do.
“We love that idea. The problem is that we have no way to get there.”
Vicky sighed. Yes, that was the whole point of this game. Pastor Harris undoubtedly designed the whole thing. “I suppose I could take you there. You could sell out of the back of the truck until you get enough money to get a table and other things.”
“Why, thank you! We’ll do that next week.”
The man of the hour strolled up then. Vicky again noted how precise the comings and goings of this entire cast of characters managed to be. She should compliment the director. Vicky put it on the list of things which she should do but would never get around to doing.
“How is your truck running?” he asked.
Either Fortek just dropped out of character or else he projected a learning curve completely off the scale.
“I certainly can’t complain. It’s running better than it ever has. Fuel economy has improved dramatically, and it handles just fine.”
One thing that hadn’t changed was the look he gave her. It was all the more unsettling with the three wives climbing all over him while he gazed at her.
“I need to get going,” she said nervously.