It was almost a month before Danny had heard enough to put what happened into some kind of proper timeline. First the posse; they’d rounded up quite a few people and all of them gave information that it was Barry Bartolo that ran things. Most of those that talked died in prison within days of being taken into custody, some by their own hands after hearing how the others were being taken out in the dark with shives by other prisoners or by “accidents.” You could hear Mr. Hunter’s screams of frustration all the way from Leesburg that the prisoners were dying even after being put into solitary confinement … one was poisoned, one suicide that shouldn’t have happened, and one seemed to die of fright.
Barry was brought in for questioning and claimed he was being framed despite four days of heavy interrogation; then he cracked. Danny still didn’t know what they used to do it and she pretty much didn’t care one way or the other. What she did care about was that the weasel tried to implicate Butch and that he got taken in by the Tallahassee big boys. Butch walked away from the questioning but he was shook up, sick, and on unpaid leave until the last of everything gets straightened out.
Bartolo was put on house arrest – he had a lot of political clout – but you just don’t hack off certain people or make them start getting worried about what you might say. Danny had seriously considered calling in some favors but before she could decide whether there was enough profit in the effort someone shot the guards on Bartolo’s house and dragged him out and hung him in his front yard … an intentionally bad job that didn’t break his neck but had him slowly strangling to death as a form of public torture. Then they raped and beat up his wife, kidnapped his two little kids, and torched the house to destroy any hidden evidence there might be. They didn’t even bother trying to cover up that it was a clean up job by the people that owned Bartolo. As a message it was a powerful one.
Danny’s most immediate concern however was that Butch was sick. Between the beating he took, then before he was healed being “interrogated” by the big boys, and then the mental depression of after having proven his loyalty over and over still being considered a suspect, his immune system was weak and while in Tallahassee picked up a virus that had him closer to dead than alive.
Not even Hunter could change the quarantine laws and without anyone willing to take him he would go into the sick house, usually a death sentence. Danny heard and nearly scorched the earth in every direction. It was one thing for her and Butch to have a personal feud, it was another thing for someone else to go after Butch, especially for something he hadn’t done. Danny talked it over with Mr. and Mrs. Maddox and they agreed to hold her position and then she cut a deal with the local monitors. She grabbed Butch and took him back to the RV. By that time he was too weak and depressed to do much arguing which worried her more than any other symptom he had.
“Butch, either drink this or I will drown you in it.”
“Daniella …” Cough, cough, cough.
It took over a week but Danny finally made headway against the virus. Butch was still weak and anytime he tried to get angry he simply got sick again so he gave up being angry.
“People are going to talk.”
“So? People already talk. Just tell them that it wasn’t your idea and that I’m part dragon and a bitch on top of it. I wanted my way and that was all I would accept.”
Danny sighed after helping him to finish getting dressed in a fresh undershirt. “Butch, let it go. I know I didn’t have my wicked way with you and you know I didn’t have …”
“Enough. Do you need to rub my nose in it?”
“What? You want me to have my wicked way with you?”
“Stop already. I know. How wrong I’ve been. Years of being wrong.” Butch sighed.
“Don’t start. You didn’t think any differently than anyone else. Eddie and Delia both tried to warn me. I refused to listen. The decency committee has been after me for years despite never being able to get a thing on me. Just because I can deal with men, and even make deals with them, it never meant that I was sleeping with them to get my way.”
He wheezed, “Why didn’t you say something?”
“And look like an even bigger fool while everyone stood around telling me what a liar I was? No thank you. I learned to handle it. Or do you think you are the only one that the gossips have me in bed with?” Danny chuckled cynically. “Most of the men they have me sleeping with I haven’t even met. According to some I’ve had more bed partners than Cindy Brewster and her headboard has so many marks it is nothing but a toothpick these days. It’s just entertainment value for the masses … what they used to call bread and circuses. Forget it, it is a battle that can never be won. Here’s some lemon and honey water. Sip on it. I’ve opened up as many windows as I can but it is still going to get stuffy in here. After I finish in the garden I’ll come back and hopefully the sun won’t be so fierce. If you aren’t asleep by then I’ll help you outside to sit under the palmetto canopy. Maybe you are ready for some fresh air. Hmmm?”
But Butch was already half asleep so Danny left quietly to tend to her garden and greenhouse. She tried not to let on how much Butch’s lack of spirit bothered her by focusing on what she was harvesting. If music was her father’s legacy to her, gardening was her mother’s. Despite the odds, most of the plants her mother had been transporting had survived over the years. Eddie and Delia had never been interested in the plants, in fact had been annoyed by them. But Danny loved them and in the end had pitched such a royal fit and been so outrageously bad, they had stopped trying to toss them and let her 8 and 9 year old self have her way.
It was hot for April, the warmest year they’d had since the chaos of the Year of the Flare. The flare didn’t just fry the electrical systems on most of the planet it seemed to aggravate the earth itself, setting off earthquakes, volcanoes, and as a result messing with all sorts of atmospheric stuff. It was a domino effect where one calamity caused another which caused another which caused … on and on for many months. Even the parts of the planet that hadn’t been affected by the original solar flare suffered from the resulting geologic and meteorological catastrophes.
There were rumors of places that still ran pretty much as they had operated pre-flare but that’s all they really were; rumors. There were some places better off than others however and they became havens for the rich and powerful or those that were valuable to the rich and powerful. But even such places as that didn’t run just like things used to run. And it wasn’t just because of the temporary interruption of advanced technology. Weather and lawlessness play a huge role in the level of success that people in an area experience.
Wildwood’s microenvironment had allowed Danny to keep the plants and container garden protected with only the use of a home built green house and a fireplace but it had been a near thing in the beginning. Central Florida experienced their own weather catastrophes and citrus fruit was no longer its main commercial crop though its cultivation hadn’t completely died out. Danny knew she really needed to repot some of the trees and bushes in her greenhouse but she hadn’t been able to accumulate enough of what she needed because her assets always seemed to come in with a reason for them going right back out. And even if she did she had a feeling that she would lose some things to the changing weather no matter what she did.
At least her strawberries had done well this year. She had traded most of them to the tavern, holding some of the crop back to make strawberry wine and strawberry soda as well but those she held back in storage in the RV until they would bring more money. She also sent some strawberry leather to the boys and even sent a box of fruit leather and preserves to Delia and Nita. She’d never done it before and had been surprised by a letter from Delia saying thank you. There had also been a letter from Emery’s sister asking for the recipe and giving a report of Nita’s school progress. Seems Nita found out the hard way that Emery’s sister that ran the school only had one way of doing things … her way. Danny tried not to laugh but failed and when she wrote back with the recipe she expressed her appreciation at how efficient and constructive the school was being run. It wasn’t exactly gloating but she put her last worry about Nita from her mind knowing that even if Delia tried to spoil their little sister there was someone there that would balance it out and do their best to see that Nita had something between her ears besides cotton boles.
The strawberries had given out the end of March as had the loquat and lemon harvest. The loquats were common old Japanese plums but she always did nice things with them that most people didn’t. Danny made loquat pies for the tavern and loquat pasties to sell to the tavern guests for boxed meals to take on the train. She canned up left over loquat pie filling to have for off season baking. An old cookbook that Delia had scavenged from the refuse of the old truck stop gift shop had a recipe in it for Loquat jelly that didn’t require added pectin and Danny had gotten a lot of mileage out of it over the years. Sometimes Mrs. Maddox would make a to die for loquat cobbler. When jelly was too much work Danny made loquat jam which was basically stewed fruit (one cup of cooked pulp to three-quarter cup sugar) that she would can up. Spiced loquats and pickled loquats were two of Tito’s favorites so Danny put a couple of small jars in his box of supplies. He wrote back almost immediately to tell her that his commander’s mother wanted the recipes, please and thank you. Fulfilling that request gave her an excuse to check on the boys without making it seem like she was checking up on them. Another item she made for the tavern besides the pies was loquat salsa. Some guests didn’t know what to make of it but the regulars would fight over who got to dip their chip first.
There were two things that Danny made from the loquats that she had to do carefully or risk attention she didn’t need; loquat wine and liquor made from loquat seed pits. Loquat wine has to age at least a year before it is fit to drink so Danny was always playing catch up to the demand for it. Mr. Maddox liked to wink and tell anyone who asked it was a specialty item and hard to come by and charged a premium per glass and a huge commission when someone ordered a bottle to go. Danny didn’t mind because he always share the extra income with her. And a good thing he did because the cost of the special yeasts, enzymes, and the campden tablets she had to have to continue her winemaking business weren’t exactly cheap and often had to be shipped in from out of state or purchased from the import trade negotiators which was a bureaucratic nightmare sized headache. Lucky for Danny she wasn’t above doing a favor to get a favor down the road, and because of this flexibility now had a couple of negotiators that kept her towards the top of their customer lists.
The liquor from the pits was a whole lot cheaper to make with the only thing being costly the vanilla beans she had to ship in special from South Florida. The rest was basically just loquat pits, rose petals and lemon balm from her own garden, sugar, water, and the 90 proof ‘shine that she bought off of the same man that sold to the tavern. When finished the liquor tastes close enough to amaretto that most people can’t tell the difference. In fact if Mr. Maddox is running low on Amaretto before his next shipment comes in he’ll buy a bottle or two from Danny to tide him over until he can fix his inventory shortage.
April hadn’t been quite as profitable as March but she had still managed to put away the next two months of lot rent in scrip, pay Joey’s school bill, and send Tito the things he would need for next term. She harvested both true jaboticaba and false jaboticaba which was actually called “blue grape” though it wasn’t any more of a grape than it was a jaboticaba. She also harvested cherry of the rio grande, grumichama, and pomegranates. All five of those were from container bushes and trees her mother had started. They wouldn’t live much longer in their pots and Danny knew she had to decide pretty quickly what she was going to do … give them up or watch them die, either/or meaning that she was going to lose them in the near future so she enjoyed them while she had them. The jaboticabas (both true and false) and the grumichama was turned into jelly and what was left was eaten fresh saving Danny some grocery money.
The Cherry of the Rio Grande was a great container plant and she would give a lot to have a whole hedge of them. The two she had produced like crazy with the only downside is that since they didn’t last long after they became ripe they have to be picked and used daily which meant she either ate a lot of them fresh or made jams and preserves in small batches. But Danny loved the flavor because it and the grumichama was the closest she had to something cherry-flavored. True cherries were just too expensive for her purse even if Danner’s did sell them dried like raisins and cranberries. This year she has had enough fruit to juice them and experiment with a cherry-flavored wine. It will be months before Danny knows whether her experiment succeeded or failed.
The pomegranates Danny has are dwarf bushes and so are the fruit they produce. She has made a few small batches of pomegranate wine but she is still allowing it to age. What she makes mostly is homemade grenadine which helps in the tavern when people ask for a mixed drink. It doesn’t happen too often though, most people these days just want a beer or glass of wine or a glass of the hard stuff straight up. Not too many fancy customers stop at the tavern preferring the hotel in Leesburg that is closer to the rail line.
The most prolific producer of everything she has harvested in April is the mulberry. The problem with the mulberry is that is the most prolific … and it comes in all in the same month instead of being spread out. The mulberry trees were here before the flare and have survived everything that weather or man has thrown at them. There are now so many of the mulberry trees since areas are no longer mowed regularly that Danny doesn’t even have to worry about the birds getting them all before she can get her fill.
As always Danny’s first order of business is to set aside enough to make at least one batch of wine. The thing about the mulberry however is that the berry is kind of bland so in addition to the berries and other wine making ingredients she has to throw in some grape juice concentrate that she cans at other times of the year. She supposed she could make a plain mulberry wine and use a bordeaux type yeast but the one time she tried it the wine was just too insipid and got used in cooking instead of drinking.
With the winemaking out of the way Danny turned her hand to making jams and preserves, canning left over juice, and making mulberry muffins for the Sunday Brunch Buffet that the tavern always put on for their Saturday night customers when they had any which wasn’t as often as the old days after the rail line decided that trains wouldn’t run on Sundays at all.
Today however she was trying to come up with something that would jumpstart Butch’s appetite or at least put him in a better mood. She remembered a couple of years ago there had been a carnival and she and Delia had made mulberry candy and hoping to raise a little money to pay for new shoes for Tito whose shoes at the time were being held together by bailing wire that they had scavenged from an old roadside ditch. Danny had already been working with Danner’s to sell her wares under an assumed name and the candies had actually proved very popular. Delia said that she’d even seen Butch buying some and then coming back later for more and being disappointed they were all sold out.
There hadn’t been a carnival since then so maybe Butch would remember and maybe he wouldn’t but either way Danny was willing to try anything at this point. She mixed ground mulberries with equal parts ground nuts. All she had was a mixture of pecans and walnuts but it would have to do. Then she rolled the resulting mess into balls and rolled the balls in sugar. All she had this time of year that wasn’t already set aside for the wines was peloncillo. Peloncillo is unrefined pure cane sugar formed into cones. You use it by grating the cone to get a coarsely ground sugar. Not exactly like the ones they made for the carnival but hopefully close enough.
“What’s all the noise?” Butch asked through the window.
Silence. Then, “I’m not much for surprises.”
“Me neither but this one isn’t a bad one. Give me a minute and I’ll bring them in.”
She carefully put the small candies into a tin and after washing her hands carried them into the RV. She put them in Butch’s lap and said, “Here. To sweeten your disposition.”
She walked away not wanting to draw attention to how badly she wanted him to like them. After gathering up the dirty clothes and sheets she was heading back outside when Butch said, “I’ve seen these before. Where have I seen these before?”
“Who knows? I’m going to …”
“Daniella I’m serious. I know these. It … it was that thing … that carnival. The one right after Eddie left. Did you get the recipe out of Danner? I remember every woman in town tried for weeks and he just kept his lips sealed. One even tried to bring a complaint against him because her husband kept pestering her so much about it.”
Danny smiled. “Something like that.”