The warm rays of the morning were appearing in the distance beyond the small farm as Sam Fulton loaded the last batch of fresh tomatoes on the bed of his pickup. He looked at the multitude red fruits, organized between the neat grid formed by the white, wooden crates and thought about the hard work that went into producing the crop. The year had followed suit from every year of the previous decade in the unforgiving nature of farming conditions, but this time he prevailed. He felt fortunate to have been able to fill even one box, let alone a whole truckload. None of Sam’s neighbors in the small town of Millbrook had been similarly blessed.
Sam pulled a folded green tarp from behind the driver’s seat and spread it across the bed, fastening it to the wall in several places to keep its weight off the crop. As he tightened the last bit of rope through the small brass ring of the covering and tied it, his wife called out from the porch, “Sam, come inside and have some breakfast before you leave!”
Sam looked at his watch and computed the time from the placement of the hour and minute hands, fuzzy in the low light with his fading vision: 5:05AM. He needed to get his truckload to the city by 8:00 at the latest, so he figured he had about thirty minutes, factoring in the always unpredictable city traffic.
“I’ll be right in, Alicia. But I’ve got to hit the road around 5:30,” he answered after his minute of deliberation.
“That’s fine, I’ve already made your toast and coffee. You can eat it as fast as you want, but you need to eat before you go.”
“Alright,” Sam said wiping the dust off his hands and onto his jeans, worn soft from years of solid use. He stomped his shoes on the mat by the door, checking the soles for straggling mud before entering. Sam knew he would never hear the end of it if he tracked anything inside the day after Alicia finished cleaning the whole house, so he opted to slip the work shoes off and leave them. Alicia gave only a quick glance to his feet when he walked into the kitchen, but Sam could tell in that instant she was pleased with his decision.
On the table was his simple breakfast, burnt toast with generously applied butter and a cup of coffee so black it could easily have been confused with Texas Tea.
“What do you think you can get for it?” Alicia asked as Sam took a sip from the still smoldering coffee.
“It’s impossible to say, really. But I think it could be significant. Tom told me a few days ago he was optimistic,” Sam responded before biting into the toast with a loud crunch.
“Well, that’s good. Lord knows we need it.”
Sam finished his breakfast as Alicia gave him the rundown on her schedule for the day, “I’m going to stay home from work today because I’ve scheduled everyone to come to the house. The plumber, cable man, and the HVAC guy are all coming at different times. You know they give ranges on their arrival that are like three-hour spans, so who knows when each will get here and how long it will take them. I just decided it was better to get it all done in one day, so I’ll be here when you get back from the city.”
“Sounds like a good idea. Always better to kill as many birds as you can with that stone,” Sam responded, knocking back the last sip of coffee and rising to take his dishes to the sink.
“Here, let me get those,” Alicia said, taking the platewear from her husband so he could wash his hands. “I guess it’s better to wash them after you eat instead of never…”
Sam smiled and rolled his eyes as he dried his hands on the red and white, checkered hand towel.
“Did you save some for us?” Alicia asked.
“I set a few bunches in a basket on the porch. Treat em nice, won’t you?” he replied with a wink.
Alicia leaned in to steal a goodbye kiss from her husband before he headed back outside and into the glaring sun, fully developed by that time and sitting just atop Dutchess County. He climbed into the truck and jimmied the key to get the engine to start, which was something he never took for granted. Sam pointed to the heavens in thanks, a habit of his since the odometer passed the 300,000-mile mark, as he pulled away from the house with Alicia waving from the stoop.
Sam drove on, out of the area’s agricultural land and into the town’s rolling acreage of green grass dotted with quaint colonial homes and more-than-respectable estates. It was quiet as usual for that time of day, so Sam enjoyed the tranquility of the open road and the soft roar of the engine. He put down the windows to invite the comforting hush of fresh air, which he much preferred to anything the radio could produce, as he pulled past the “Welcome to the Village of Millbrook” sign and headed south on 82 toward the city.
The traffic picked up with the Manhattan skyline just coming into view through the haze, causing Sam to sit idle in the truck. At first he was unfazed by the lethargic and intermittent movement of the mass of cars, but as the clock ticked beyond 7:30 he got increasingly frustrated. The only thing he could do was tap his foot anxiously against the heavy plastic mat and hope the gridlock would soon break. When it finally did, Sam noticed the culprit: the back doors of a furniture delivery truck had flung open and donated to the road everything necessary to furnish a cozy family room or a classically cramped studio. He sped up after passing the scene and was deep into Manhattan by around 7:45, behind his preferred schedule but still on time.
Sam pulled up to the back of the building and a man came out to the curb to greet him.
“Morning Sam,” he said, leaning in the truck window as he ran his fingers across his forehead and through his long, dark hair.
“Hey Tom, sorry I cut it so close. There was furniture all over the Parkway,” said Sam.
“Furniture?” Tom asked with an appropriate measure of confusion folded on his brow.
“Yeah the back doors of a delivery truck gave way, and the stuff was everywhere.”
“Well good thing you left when you did at any rate. It’s not a problem. We still have enough time. By the way how much were you able to put together?”
“I filled the bed with a single layer of crates. I’ve got seven rows of five, so there are thirty-five in there that are all full. Each probably weighs about twenty pounds.”
“I won’t believe it till I lay my eyes on em! Let’s take a look,” Tom said as Sam hopped out of the truck and began untying the tarp.
“Crop looks real good Tom, I’ll tell ya,” he said peeling back the covering to reveal the ripe red passengers glistening with their slight condensation.
“Wow Sam, I could almost cry. Tomatoes like this… I haven’t seen any in a long time,” Tom answered in a cloud of nostalgia.
“Well, I’d be lying if I said I couldn’t use the money. Things have been running pretty tight.”
“Yeah, I know it, Sam. Well let’s get all these crates inside. It’s five till eight already. Come on boys,” Tom said calling a few of his coworkers to assist them in moving the cargo into the building. The men worked quickly, and by eight o’clock the last of the tomatoes were inside and Sam’s truck bed was back to being an empty steel shell, the folded green tarp its only accent.
“Thanks again Sam. I’ll give you a call as soon as they sell and let you know,” Tom said extending his hand to Sam’s.
Sam gave Tom the kind of hearty handshake that speaks to genuine trust and replied, “Thank you, Tom. Alicia and I would love to have you and Sally over for dinner this weekend if you’re free.”
“We’d love that, Sam. I’ll give Sally a ring to double-check. When I call you about the crop, I’ll let you know. Take care.”
“Sounds good Tom,” Sam answered as he put the car in gear and began the journey back to Millbrook, hoping the return trip would be more fluid. Tom walked back inside the building and counted the crates to make sure all thirty-five were together and accounted for. He picked up a bunch with five juicy tomatoes hanging gingerly from a supple vine, and took a strong sniff of the fresh, crisp smell. He placed the bunch back down with care and quickly examined the rest of the collection. To his great satisfaction, all of the tomatoes looked similarly perfect.
“Tom, give me the one that looks the best,” a man, dressed in a tailored, navy-blue suit said entering from the hallway. Tom scanned the boxes and selected the one that fit the bill.
“Are they up?” Tom asked.
“They’re next,” the suit responded as he disappeared back down the hall. The man waited in the doorway situated off to the side of the stage where there stood an even more formal gentleman at a podium with a gavel.
“Next is Lot 7, fresh tomatoes from a small farm in Millbrook up in Dutchess County,” he said motioning for the man to bring the example to the stage. After the crate was set on the pedestal he continued, “Christie’s is pleased to bring you the these tomatoes, the first available at auction in New York in ten years. Not only are these exceedingly rare, but they are also some of the finest tomatoes you’ll ever see.” The energy level in the room picked as if its occupants had been shot with epinephrine. “We have thirty-five crates, which represent the entire crop for the season. If you want tomatoes, this is the only chance you will have to purchase them. Let’s start the bidding at $15,000 per crate,” he said, causing all the paddles in the room to shoot up eagerly.