The Problem of Copper
I wish I were going to college this fall. But it’s for the best. It’s important I be good at math and science, and not just learn what I need to pass the entrance exam. Fractions and percents are how I’ll know how much medicine to give the horses when I’m a veterinarian, so I need to be patient and make sure I get it right.
I hate being patient.
But good things are happening around here. Someone found out I was giving Patrick riding lessons, and told Eli. He investigated, and this week he called me into his office and told me he was taking me off some of my security duties and assigning me to help his wife Sabine with the lessons she gives the local children. I was a little intimidated.
“I’m not used to working with really young children,” I told him.
“That’s okay. What we’d like is your ideas. We had given up on Patrick, so we’d like to see what you did different.”
Great. The only thing I did different with Patrick was talk about fulcrums. I have a feeling that’s not going to go over too well with a group of six year-olds. But I’ll do my best to teach them what I know. And if all goes well, maybe it will mean an increase to my pay.
A pay raise would be nice, because we’ve already had our first major setback with the telephone company, and I’m worried. It seems our technicians can’t find enough copper wire. I’m not sure why it has to be copper in particular, but Sam says nothing else will do, the books all back him up, and who am I to judge?
Unfortunately copper has been a favorite with scrap metal thieves for decades. During the worst of the economic crises, people stole it from underground, inside walls, and from overhead lines. Now most of those old “analog” lines that would’ve been so useful to us, are gone. There’s another type of phone cable that people sometimes come across, but it’s plastic and requires computers to make it work. No one has parts to fix the computers, so the plastic cables are useless, except to the plastic-pickers.
So without enough cable, we have no telephone company. We'll have to find another source or give up. We've already paid the men making the switchboard, so there's a good chance our investment will be lost.
These were the things on my mind as I rode home from Lexington today with the mail. Sam had been in a bad mood over the telephone company, his customers had been surly and demanding, and there was no mail for me, so I was feeling grumpy, too. I arrived at Northwind anxious to deliver the mail and go off by myself for a little while. Riding through the bluegrass always cheers me up.
But Lee must’ve picked up on my mood when I gave him his letter from his sister, because I hadn’t gotten very far into the fields, when he came cantering after me. I thought about galloping off so I could be alone, but that would’ve been rude, and I haven’t been here long enough to not have to worry about my reputation. So I let him catch up and watched him sullenly from under the brim of my hat, hoping he wouldn’t ask me what was wrong.
To my relief, he didn’t. He merely drew up beside me, reined in, and walked his horse by mine. After a little while, he said, “Pretty day.”
“It’s almost fall. Leaves should start turning soon. Do the leaves turn color where you’re from?”
I started to mumble a reply, but my mind flashed on the golden poplars and shimmering aspens of home.
I was surprised to find a sudden lump in my throat. I tried to swallow, but my eyes stung and I swiped at my nose in frustration. I wasn’t going to start crying over a memory of yellow leaves, was I? I needed a distraction, quick!
“There’s a few problems with the phone company,” I said. I started babbling about copper wire, and it kept me from thinking of home.
“I would’ve thought they would’ve had a source in mind before taking investors’ money,” Lee said.
“They did. Or at least, they thought they did. The man found out what a big deal this might turn out to be, and raised his price.”
Lee cursed the scrap metal dealer’s stupidity. “I guess it didn’t occur to him to donate it or offer a reduced price in return for a partnership?”
“Sam says they tried to make him an offer, but no luck.”
“Some people are damn short-sighted.”
I agreed and we lapsed into silence. It was my favorite time of day, with the sun setting and the fields turning blue in the fading light.
After a long time, Lee said, “I wonder what it would take to convince the dealer to make a fair trade?”
“I think they’ve tried everything.”
“That’s impossible. Anyone can be persuaded. Let me understand something, though. Was there initially a deal, or wasn’t there?”
“I think there was a deal.”
“We don’t need thoughts, we need to know. It makes a difference.”
“Well, I had the impression. . .”
He sighed and looked annoyed. “Can you get someone to cover your afternoon shift, day after tomorrow?”
I thought about it. My work with the children hadn’t started yet, so I told him I probably could.
“Good. You and I are going to Lexington. We’re going to get this straightened out.”
Tonight I’m wondering just what Lee intends to do. It’s so frustrating to live in a foreign country! Back home, I would’ve known exactly what to do if something like this happened, but here, I’m dependent on other people to lead and advise me. I came out here for my freedom, and at times like this I feel so helpless!