Otto, in his wide-brimmed hat, was not used to doing business in this neighborhood. Still, he’d had a genuine referral for the sale, and, if nothing else, he felt it was his duty to help the world by bringing his product to everybody. He was even willing to give it away. His product sold itself, so it wasn’t a waste of the good stuff, the snowy white, cream-of-the-crop stuff. After the first time, his customers were always hooked.
He thought of himself as a savior, in a way: a savior who could turn lives around even in this Whole Foods, tofu-eating neighborhood.
He lurked in the shadows out back of the Whole Foods grocery, inhaling the reek of the dumpster. Where he lived, he’d smelled a lot worse. Rotting vegetables and shit were usual there. If he could bring his operation to this upscale neighborhood, he’d never have to worry about addicts who couldn’t pay. These people had money, and God knew it took a lot of the green stuff to keep his business afloat.
When he saw a man wearing an expensive business suit circle around to the back of the building, he stiffened. A suit wasn’t necessarily a tip-off, but it wasn’t what he was used to his customers wearing. Well, he would give the guy a chance. He really was a savior, helping desperate mothers and businessmen alike.
The man stepped into the shadows and turned up his nose at the smell. “You Otto?”
“You got the product?”
“It’s in my truck. You got the cash?”
“Sure, I got your money, but I want to see the stuff first. Is it clean? That’s all I want to know—that I’m buying quality product.”
Otto gave the man a discerning look. He was sweating, and his hands were fidgeting. He didn’t look too healthy, either, and he smelled of fast food and acrid body odor. Otto wasn’t certain whether he trusted him. More than anything, Otto smelled fear.
“Hey, no money today. I’m ready to give you a free sample.”
“Technically, I don’t sell anything. I like to bring neighborhoods into a kind of co-op, if you know what I mean. Everybody is part owner and buys shares.”
“I don’t know about that. I’m just looking for a steady dealer. My last one was sent up to state.”
Otto, normally mild-mannered, was suddenly furious. “You have anything to do with that? If you’re talking about Conrad, he was one of my men.”
The man backed up, his hands raised as though he was afraid Otto would bust his nose. “I didn’t do anything, I swear.”
Otto willed himself to remain calm. “Come with me, and I’ll show you what I got.”
Otto studied him again. There was something about the man that was wrong. He could feel it, if not smell it. But the referral was genuine, he reminded himself. Jane had given it, and she was one of his best customers. She would never double-cross him.
With trepidation, Otto stepped from the shadows and led him to the truck. What happened to Conrad could not happen to him. For a start, Otto was careful and always had been. Conrad was a risk-taker.
Once there, he unlocked the passenger door and retrieved a small container from the cooler. “Take a sample and make sure it’s pure. I don’t mind.”
The man sniffed at it, nodded, and then tasted it. “Oh, yeah, this is the best there is. Can I have some more? I need it to last me a few days.”
“Sure. I’m in a giving mood today.”
“Here, take some money. I can’t have it for free, can I?”
Otto pushed the money back at the man. “No, I don’t want your money. Not today. We’ll discuss that part of the arrangement later.”
“Think of it as a donation.” He pressed the bills into Otto’s palm.
Otto shrugged. “I guess a donation’s all right.” As soon as he said it, he knew he’d made a mistake.
The man’s body went rigid, and he yanked a taser from inside his suit jacket. “Put your hands up where I can see them!” he shouted.
“I never carry weapons with me; I’m a conscientious objector.”
Obviously, Otto’s peace-loving stance didn’t impress the man, because he found himself in shock, literally, the taser pressed into his side. His body jolted back against his truck, knocking out the cooler and all its contents with an enormous crash. After the black-suited thug let up, Otto was able to focus again and could see that the parking lot had rapidly filled with more black-suited thugs, who evacuated their black vehicles and trained guns at him.
Otto complied with them. He would have liked to be the savior of health for this neighborhood, but his finest supply of creamy, raw milk ran in rivulets over the grease-stained parking lot of the Whole Foods.
How had he convinced himself he wasn’t a risk-taker? Conrad’s situation should have been a lesson to him. Just like Conrad, he’d left the farm for greener pastures, and now he’d have to trade in his shady hat and black overalls for a pair of orange coveralls.
Otto didn’t like the color orange. He preferred black pants and white milk and his own green pastures. Sadly, he allowed himself to be cuffed and shoved into the back of an unmarked vehicle. He thought of his wife and seven children, and all of the other children who would have to live without his milk.
In the back of his mind, though, he knew he would go back into business as soon as he got out. And when he did, he would leave this tofu-loving neighborhood—his childhood neighborhood, actually—to their Whole Foods grocery, where they could only buy heavily pasteurized and homogenized sludge.
A prophet, he remembered, was never welcome in his own home town.