Kloee glared at Emery, as Dakota held up a dried cob. "So this is the big deal you found to get us some extra money?" Kloee and her kin were meeting in Papaw Murray's barn because it was the one place they could go without some adult looking over their shoulders. Kin in this case meant her brother Emery, her sister Dakota, little brother Zackie, and sort-of-cousins Freddie Bates, Franz Meyers-Bates, Wilhelm Engling-Bates, called WB, and Sybella Doebling-Bates, who everyone just called Sybie. Some up-timer, some down-timer, but all family.
"You know that me and Emery go with Papaw Murray when he goes out," Dakota said proudly. "Well, Papaw's friends, the Knapps, kind of pick up something for him. And that got me an idea how to make some money." A conspiratorial look appeared on Dakota's face. When no one asked her what the Knapps bought for her grandfather, she blurted, "Tobacco! Papaw smokes when he ain't home and Granny Murray can't catch him."
Kloee laughed. "Like Granny Murray don't know everything Papaw does. Papaw ain't half as smart as he thinks."
"So what does a dried-up, broken corncob have to do with anything?" Franz asked.
"Well, how do you think Papaw smokes his tobacco?" Dakota responded sharply. "Ain't you heard anyone complain about no paper fit to roll cigarettes or how expensive pipes are?"
Freddie tugged at the skull-and-cross-bone earring he wore. "Sure," he mumbled. "I hear that sorta thing from Frau Meyers. She has bugged Papa about finding a way to make paper for cigarettes."
"Okay, Dakota, go ahead and tell us how a no-good, broken corncob's going to make us some spending money," Kloee ordered. She was rewarded with an icy stare from Dakota.
"Well, Papaw says that down-timer pipes is too expensive and he just holla's out an ol' corncob and a elderberry twig and makes his own pipe. Don't cost nothin' to make and lasts awhile."
"I don't think we can make money that way," said Sybie.
"Sure we can," WB interjected. "Papa says that there are lots of people smoking tobacco 'cause the English, French, Dutch, and Spanish is all growing and selling it right now and ain't a lot a people saying it ain't good for you."
"I don't know," Kloee said. "How we going to sell them if we do make them? I don't know no one that smokes and I sure ain't gonna stand on a corner in Grantville and sell them." Becoming a street vendor would be very undignified and spoil her image in school. After all, she was fourteen now and had an image to maintain. She wasn't like Dakota, who kept her hair cropped short and dressed like a boy. Besides, selling pipes at school would be a quick way to get expelled. That wasn't happening, either. She could just see her friends buying corncob pipes and smoking. How gross would that be?
"We make them and my grandmother can sell them," Franz said proudly.
"Sure; and the Hun will take all the money and save it for us, too," Freddie added scornfully. Frau Meyers showed each of them the money she put into their own accounts every month—accounts they couldn't touch. She even put half their allowances into the bank for them. Mama Margaretha thinking it was a great idea and Papa not wanting to go against Frau Meyers on the matter of banking didn't help, either.
"Don't call my grandmother 'the Hun,'" Franz snapped. His peevishness drew snickers from WB and Sybie.
"I don't want old Frau Meyers managing my money or anything else," Dakota spoke up. "I don't care if she is Franz's granny, she's a nasty old woman."
"We need something we can make and sell ourselves so we can buy some things we want." Kloee commented in order to head off a battle between Franz, Freddie, and Dakota and because she could think of a bunch of things she wanted that no one would buy for her or give her the money for right now. It seemed she would have to make the money to buy them herself.
Her comment had been too little too late. The meeting broke down when everyone started yelling and arguing. Freddie and Franz were near blows over comments about Frau Meyers. Sybie and Dakota were arguing about the way a girl should act at school—nothing to do with money at all. WB was just sitting off to the side, looking irritated and ready to leave.
"Enough!" Kloee yelled. "Let's just get back to the stupid pipes." If the bickering kept up, Granny Murray would be out here, giving all of them grief.
"Good. I'm tired of this squabbling," WB said. "Go ahead, Dakota."
Kloee's sister smiled at the fourteen-year-old boy. Dakota had a nice smile and it wasn't lost on WB.
"Okay, this is how this works," Dakota began. "You have to have a good corncob to start with. Just any old cob ain't gonna do."
"Papaw says it needs to be from something like the corn Granny Murray and Auntie Phyllis grow, not from some of that big fancy stuff that everyone else likes to raise. Anyways, the corn has to be barely ripe, not full yet. You gotta get the corn off the cob, dry the cob good, and then holler it out like this." For the purpose of demonstration, Dakota broke out her pocket knife and started removing the pithy inside portion of the half cob.
"Papaw told Emery that all the soft stuff had to come out. Course, you can't get all the soft stuff out; that's why someone's gonna hafta smoke each pipe a couple of times to burn it out."
Kloee felt herself turn green. She and Cherie had tried a cigarette and both had become violently sick, possibly because the cigarette was yellow with age and had come from an old pack one of the other girls had found; but whatever the cause, her experience had convinced her that smoking wasn't cool.
"I can do that," Freddie volunteered.
Trust Freddie Bates to do something gross, Kloee thought. Of course, Freddie was almost sixteen and no one was going give him any crap about smoking.
Dakota held up a piece of wire and a thin branch from an elderberry bush. "This is the part that's tricky. You have to get the wire really hot and push it into the stem. The branch has to be the right size with enough of a soft inside for the wire to burn out.
"You can burn yourself real good if you pick up the hot wire. Emery sure did when he made his own pipe. Just wait 'til Papaw or Mama Melodie catch him with it."
Kloee didn't think that would take long for Emery to get caught.
" . . . the stem down so it fits tight in the hole in the cob," Dakota was saying. "Papaw says you don't want smoke leakin' 'cause the pipe won't draw right if the stem don't fit tight."
The meeting's discipline broke down again when everyone pushed forward to see the finished pipe Dakota had put together earlier. Maybe her sister wasn't so dumb after all, thought Kloee. Dakota had put the presentation together as neatly as a science demonstration at school.
As much Kloee hated to say it, Dakota might have something with her pipe. It sure wouldn't cost anything to make and there were six of them to do the work in their free time. The only problem was how to sell them.
The answer kept coming back to Frau Meyers; and Freddie was right, Frau Meyers wasn't a good person to get involved with. Maybe she could get Helene away from her job and boyfriend long enough to talk to her grandmother and fix it so Frau Meyers didn't mess them up.
"We have to get the cobs pretty quick," Dakota said. "If we wait much longer, the corn will be too ripe and the cobs won't be any good. "
Acquiring the corn would be another job for her, Kloee realized. They would have to have Granny Murray's or Auntie Phyllis' permission to harvest some of the corn early. She would have to negotiate some sort of work trade with them. After all, the corn not only fed everyone, it was also one of their major cash crops. She was the only one who would be able to work this out. Maybe she could catch Helene Monday after school. She could talk to Granny Murray today. Tomorrow wouldn't be a good time. After church, Granny Murray would be all religious and set in her ways worse than normal, making her down on anything dealing with tobacco.
The discussion went on for another hour before Granny Murray called them in to lunch. They wouldn't see each other tomorrow. Everyone would be at their churches.
Kloee helped Granny Murray wash the dishes from lunch. The other members of the infant Murray-Bates Pipe Company, except for Freddie, had taken off to play "What Time Is It, Mr. Fox." Freddie had taken off to help Uncle JJ work on his water wheel. One of these days, the thing would work the way he wanted it to. He had another car generator he wanted to hook to it. The old one had burned out for some reason.
"Grandma Murray, can I ask a big favor of you?" Kloee began.
Doreen Murray smiled. "So that's why you volunteered to help me clean up after your sister and friends."
Kloee wanted to protest her innocence but knew better than to fib to Granny Murray. Granny had no tolerance for fibbing. "Grandma Murray, we want to make money besides our chore money and we have a way. We need help from you and Auntie Phyllis, though. We want to make corncob pipes and need permission to harvest some of your corn."
Kloee braced herself for Granny's tirade about the evils of tobacco and the hell fire and damnation that accompanied its use. That lecture rated right next to drinking moonshine and listening to non-religious music.
Kloee wasn't disappointed. Granny Murray filled her ears with how those who smoked and chewed were accepting the Devil's temptation, and that led to worse things. Things a girl her age shouldn't be exposed to.
After twenty minutes of Kloee pledging not to ever do any of the things she was condemning, Granny Murray agreed to allow them to harvest a little of the corn early. But they were not to use the pipes themselves. Well, Freddie Bates could; but only because he was a godless heathen like his Papa JJ. It was bad enough they were helping sinners go to hell and burn in eternal fire, but they didn't need to accept temptation.
Granny Murray smiled. "Make sure you have someone sell plenty of pipes to them godless heathen that hang around the bars and taverns in Grantville," she said. "They can't get no worse. They're already on the road to ruin. Don't none of you go around them places though."
Granny Murray was on a roll again and Kloee braced herself once more. She was relieved to finally dry the last dish and head for home.
Kloee shifted the backpack to make it more comfortable. She was trying to work up the courage to enter the exchange. She peeked through the large window of the building and saw Helene putting out the lamp on her desk. It looked like she was getting ready to leave for the day, so Kloee waited by the door for her oldest cousin to exit the building.
"Howdy, Helene," Kloee said as her unofficial cousin stepped through the door.
Helene looked surprised. "Good evening, Kloee. "
"Can I ask you for something, Cousin?" Kloee asked sweetly, ignoring the airs Helene was putting on.
Helene seemed to think for a minute as she stood in the doorway of the Exchange. "Depends on what it is. I have to meet Anton at Cora's for dinner, then I have to get home before my grandmother starts asking questions."
"I can walk along with you," Kloee volunteered. "We can talk on the way to the restaurant."
Helene looked at her in irritation. "I have a date with Anton, and I would appreciate some privacy. It's hard enough getting any time with him without my grandmother getting wind of it."
"No, no. I don't mean I'll go into Cora's with you," Kloee responded rapidly. "I just need you to talk to your grandma for me. I need to get her help with something."