The Morton Building at the edge of the Granum complex was a stadium-sized toy room for farmers: cultivators, planters, sprayers, two giant tractors all in bright red like a showroom floor. This was Wyatt’s favorite place on the Granum campus. It felt like Dorothy getting a look behind the curtain far removed from the lab munchkins and office flying monkeys. At the center of it all was Billy, the true wizard of this Oz.
“Hey, Billy,” Wyatt called from the dock door.
Billy gave him a wave with his mangled hand. A dozen years ago, Billy lost four fingers to the cooling fan of his International Harvester when it overheated during harvest season. It made the papers because his wife called the neighbor to take him to the hospital while she finished combining the field before it rained the next day.
“Wyatt, my boy,” Billy called back. His whole body swayed side to side as he moved like a life-size Weeble Wobble. He filled his coveralls like sausage in a casing. Billy slapped one of the enormous tires on the 485 horsepower, four-wheel drive tractor.
“She got an oil change this morning.” Billy paused and ran a hand over the rubber of the front tires, pulled a small flashlight from a deep pocket and shone it on the pitted rubber. “2600 hours on this girl. ‘Bout time for new tires.”
Billy talked about the implements like a sailor might talk about his boat and always with a feminine pronoun. “Mr. Jonas called me yesterday and asked to get this seed in the next field we plant.” Billy attempted to zip up the front of his coveralls. He danced around and shrugged his shoulders forward, and the zipper finally made the trip over his bountiful belly. Wyatt thought of the physical comedy of the late Chris Farley and wondered at the pounds of pressure on those tiny, plastic zipper teeth.
Large metal supply closets lined one long wall of the building, each crammed full with oil, belts, air filters, halogen light bulbs, oil filters, and enough spare parts to start their own Case dealership. Billy waddled by several cabinets to one marked with chemical hazard stickers. He stooped to a bottom shelf and withdrew two full mask respirators that looked like relics from some distant, forgotten, jungle war and handed one to Wyatt.
“What’s this for?” Wyatt asked. In his seven years working fields for Granum, high school summers as a farm hand, he’d never used a respirator.
“For you, chucklehead.” Billy used his remaining digit on his right hand to motion for Wyatt to put on the respirator. Billy then handed him a pair of thick rubber gloves, like he might find in one of the labs rather than the leather work gloves that stuck out of Wyatt’s back pocket.
“Can’t run this seed through the hydraulic auger so we have to fill the hoppers by hand.” He pointed toward the forklift which held a pallet of seed bags which did not bear the Granum logo, instead bore a handwritten K-90 on the brown bags.
“Why the respirators?”
“Doin’ what them lab boys tell me.”
Wyatt scaled the ladder Billy positioned next to the backend of the planter, while Billy used the forklift to hoist the pallet of bags next to him. Wyatt straddled the top of the ladder, pulled the lid off the seed hopper and began dumping in the forty pound bags. He watched the iridescent green orbs flow into the chamber.
Only organic or hobby farmers planted heirloom seeds anymore, so he wasn’t expecting it to look like corn, but this was different than any commercial seed he’d worked with before. Seeds varied from turquoise to neon pink depending on brand and chemical treatment. Hell most varieties were patented as a pesticide rather than as food. But this seed caught the light and almost glowed in the hopper like some deep sea creature that created its own light. It was also about fifty percent bigger than any other variety that Granum produced. Wyatt closed up the hopper and climbed back down.
Wyatt pulled off the respirator and tucked it under his arm. “Boy, they’re not fucking around with this stuff,” Wyatt said. “Ever make you worry what they’re exposing us to?”
“Too late to die young,” Billy said and reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a battered pack of Marlboros, flipped one out of the pack and pulled it out with his teeth.
“That enough seed?” Wyatt asked.
Billy’s eyes focused on something beyond Wyatt like he was seeing the calculations on a chalkboard over his shoulder. “Thirty thousand seeds per acre. The Richardson field is a hundred sixty tillable acres. You should have half a bag left over in the hopper when you head back this afternoon.” Calculations like this were a matter of muscle memory for an old farmer like Billy.
“I’ll hold you to it,” Wyatt said.
“Wanna make it interesting?” Billy asked with a mischievous glint in his eyes like a feed store Santa.