chapter 40 - beginner's luck or gambler's conceit?The sinister-looking command center bus crossed from the end of the exit ramp toward the abandoned gas station. The silence of the hot summer afternoon was broken by the sharp sounds of the bus’s wheels slowly grinding stray rocks and weeds into the concrete as it rolled across the old parking lot toward Jack and the rest of the group.
The dark bus lurched to a halt and sat idling for a minute before the motor cut off and the bus doors swung open. Jack and the others watched as
a stout, pompous man strutted down the steps and onto the concrete. He stood with his hands on his hips and a sneer on his face like a warden in a bad mood. He wore sunglasses and a baseball cap with “Beer Czar” embroidered across the front. When he yanked off his sunglasses his eyes darted from one person to the next until they settled on Jack.
“Orphan Jack Piper,” said the Czar, spitting the words out as if they were rotten watermelon seeds. “Predictable, pitiful Piper. The criminal always returns to the scene of the crime. We lost you in Iowa City last fall, but I knew we would only have to wait until the next Ragbrai.” Then, as if to add force to his words, several other people stepped down from the bus,
a gang of young men who ran the gamut from mischievous gremlins to dangerous thugs. Some wore Miller and Budweiser delivery shirts and caps. All of them looked like frat boys who had just found out that spring break was cancelled.
Muscles in the Czar’s jaw twitched as he continued. “And now you are up to your old tricks again? The price seems a little high for coffee beans, don’t you think?” The crew behind the Czar laughed. He was referring to the plywood sign Jack had set up on the interstate, advertising magic Ragbrai beans for $500.
“Not at all,” answered Jack, surprised at the calmness in his own voice. He met the Czar’s glare with steady eyes and held up the small SIDI cleat bag with the beans. “If they were regular coffee beans, I’d be selling them at five dollars a bag. But these are
special magic Ragbrai coffee beans.”
The Czar broke into a mean laugh and turned to his gang of ruffians saying, “As special as the kids who ride your bus? So special I never heard of such a thing!”
Jack replied with patience. “I’d be surprised if you had heard of them. These beans were grown in soil enriched with
Chris Cake’s pancake batter, seasoned with spices from
the Pork Chop man’s grill, and watered with
beer straight from the keg.”
“They look like plain coffee beans to me,” scowled the Czar.
“Sure, they do,” continued Jack, warming up to the sales pitch. “But the roots of the coffee plants that produced these beans have been feeding on the same stuff that makes KYBO fertilizer so rich. Mark my words, a single bean properly roasted and ground could make you a pot of coffee so dark, so powerful, that it would satisfy your entire army of Ragbrai beer garden volunteers for the full week.”
“Hogwash!” scoffed the Czar. “Don’t you think I can
recognize regular coffee beans when I see them?”
Jack paused thoughtfully, scratched his chin, and said, “I see you’re a man who likes to drive a hard bargain. I’d like to sell you these beans. Make an offer.”
“We don’t need ‘em. I’ve got all the coffee we’ll need for the entire week already,” snorted the Czar.
“Sir,” said Jack drawing himself up straight and looking the Czar squarely in the eyes, “I’ll make a bet with you that I’ll accept any price you offer for the entire bag of magic Ragbrai coffee beans.”
“Any price?” said the Czar, with renewed interest?
“That’s what I said and I’ll stand by it. Any price,” said Jack.
The Czar rubbed his hands together while turning and smirking at the thugs standing behind him and asked, “I’m going to enjoy humiliating you before I have you arrested. How much do you want to bet?”
“No money,” said Jack. “As you can see, we have a bus with a flat tire and no spare. I’ll bet our entire Short Bus and all the contents against your spare bus tire that I’ll accept any price you offer. If you win the bet, you’ll have our bus and
you’ll have ruined Ragbrai for everyone here. If we win the bet, we’ll keep your spare tire.”
The terms of the bet that Jack laid out were so lopsided that he Czar couldn’t pass up the opportunity and the thugs standing behind the Czar made it impossible for him to back down from the bet in front of them.
to be continued...[a serial by little orphan dbax]