thirty-three          

            "Two men working half-heartedly are still worth more than two men buried."

            "Punishment was needed."

            "I will not hear any more of your justifications, Mister Tune. You overstepped you authority and it cost me two good field hands. You should count yourself most fortunate you are still in my employ."

            Tune locks his jaw. (The impudence of this whelp—suggesting discipline ought to be anything but austere—rankles no end. A pair of shiftless niggers put the Master's life in jeopardy. Come down quick, and come down hardthe situation called for. This Tune did. To fret about two mere idlers when principle was involved, is a Yankee-doodle luxury. Zachary should be grateful; the incident set an example in no uncertain terms—opportune for an heir whose green authority stood untested. Yes, Zachary should be grateful; the slaves now take him seriously.)

            "I did not, however, call you here to rehash what has past. It is the future I am concerned about, Mister Tune. Commencing tomorrow morning, you will enact the following policies..."

            (More nonsense.) Tune listens with forbearance—working his tongue to dislodge a shred of bacon rind, having had to gulp his dinner... ("Massah Zach'ry wants you should see him in de Big House, Mistah Tune, and him say 'mediately"... having had to heed that good-for-nothing cripple Tessie—a bitch who had better watch her lumbering step. Tune has his eye on her. He has seen her once too often near the Quartersup to no good, he reckons. Such will be the next bit of mischief; hold the reins too loose and loose will be the consequences; i.e. rampant breeding. Zachariah would not have it. Breeding made slaves soft. And  Zachariah agreed with Mister Tune—there were too many niggers anyway; Whites who let slaves spawn unchecked were courting disaster; the state, the entire South, would be overrun.)

            "...one acre each of bottom land, to be..."

            (Castration was the obvious answerthough Zachariah had held that notion too extremecastration or a good swift kick to a nigger-woman's crotch; that would serveand did on rare occasions when women had run afoul of Mister Tune's sway.)

            "Passes are to be issued on the basis..."

            (Twice; it had happened only twice in twenty-eight years. But Tune had made the most of each occasion. And though neither woman died, both were left incapable of ever bearing young.)

            "And finally, no slave will be whipped without my personal approval. Have I made myself clear, Mister Tune?"

            The overseer weighs his position carefully. (Zachary may have power, but Tune maintains leverage; there are always sordid episodes in a noble family's history, episodes that are best left unexposed. A word dropped here, an allusion there, a glance, a tone of irony, all could serve as reminders of information held... though Tune's most clear-cut advantage stems from confidence in his methods, methods that get results, that translate into profits. Zachary Squire is rich. If the young scamp wants to stay that way, retaining Mister Tune's services would be well-advised—this liberal lapse into scruples destined to dissipate.)

             "Yes, sir. Is the Master goin' to announce his changes formally?"

            "Tomorrow."

            "I will do my best to see they are carried out. Is there anything else, Master Squire?"

            Tune's capitulation catches Zachary by surprise.

            "No... You may go... Thank you."

            Tune rises—spine as stiff as when first he sat, mouth as sourly drawn as when he gulped the scrap of rind, hands maintaining their stranglehold on the brim of his leather hat, chin tucked chest-ward in the semblance of an acquiescent nod—and steps two steps to the side, executes a pivot, and hastens to take his leave.