“It’s never too late to learn in life, Lena,”
Free Flynn On The Fattening Board
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That fall day Boss was short a driver. The Mississippi Delta’s weather during gathering time had been as good as the cotton harvest, but now rain was coming, and the dead stalks had to be cut before it arrived, meaning two drivers must operate the stalk cutter tractor night and day.
Remembering years when fall rains halted stalk cutting and delayed spring planting, Boss knew he must find a night driver. Then Flynn showed up, offering to work for free, if he was provided housing and food.
“What a stroke of luck, Ned,” Boss said to his manager.
Ned mistrusted Flynn. He’d once worked a man with cold, shark eyes like Flynn’s, a backstabber who would do anything to better himself at others’ expense.
“I’ll teach him to operate the stalk cutter,” Ned replied. “Will he eat on the fattening board?” Boss nodded. The plantation hands called Miss Lena’s table the fattening board. Boss’ wife was the best cook ever to light a stove.
True to his word, Flynn drove sundown to sunup, and Boss was mighty pleased when the stalk cutter tractor pulled into the shop just ahead of a heavy rain, with not a stalk left standing anywhere … so pleased he agreed to let Flynn stay on.
For once Boss didn’t see trouble coming. He liked this newcomer with a knack for saying what he wanted to hear, and he liked how Flynn offered snippets of information about other hands — about how they didn’t do all they were supposed to do, or used farm equipment for personal reasons.
Those who had worked on the farm for years were dismayed that “Free Flynn,” as they called him, could enter the farm office any time — even when Boss wasn’t there, something they weren’t allowed to do. And, he was still eating on the fattening board!
Ned noticed the demoralizing influence Flynn was having on these loyal farm hands and determined to get rid of the impostor — but he didn’t have to. When he saw Boss’ panicked face, he knew what happened. Flynn robbed the vault in the office and was long gone.
But Ned was no fool. He’d anticipated Flynn’s plan. The box in the vault marked “Stocks, Bonds, Deeds, Cash” was missing, but not its contents. Like Flynn, Ned knew where Boss hid the vault’s combination, and had removed the box’s contents. When Ned handed over the priceless possessions, Boss collapsed in relief.
That night as he and Lena were eating supper and watching the news, they saw a fettered, frowning Flynn being shoved into a sheriff’s car.
“It’s never too late to learn in life, Lena,” the old man said to his wife. “I favored that thieving phony above those who’ve proven their loyalty, and in so doing almost broke this farm. Henceforth, I’ll listen to doers, not talkers.”
Smiling, Miss Lena glanced at the thief’s empty seat and said, “You’re not the only one who’s glad to be rid of ‘Free Flynn on the fattening board.’”