Thursday, October 9, 2014

the last book I ever read (Oranges by John McPhee, excerpt eight)

from Oranges by John McPhee:

One of the services that the Florida Citrus Mutual performs for the good of the growers is a program of theft prevention. In some years, particularly after freezes, as much as two million dollars’ worth of oranges and other citrus fruits have been stolen from Florida groves. After the 1962 freeze, Mutual set up a Central Intelligence Bureau. The central intelligence is Leslie Bessenger, a retired sheriff, who coordinates the efforts of sheriffs and deputies in thirty-two orange-growing counties. Bessenger is a heavy man with a leonine white head, and there is apparently nothing he would rather talk about than fruit thieves.

Sometimes thieves make a major haul, such as a whole semitrailer full of oranges; but the moonlighter, picking alone in the dark, is the most common kind. “The aggregate of the small steal is the major part of the big steal,” Bessenger explains. One night a couple seasons ago, a deputy in Bessenger’s network noticed a white Cadillac whose underpinnings were all but scraping the road. The car was riding low enough to be a Chris-Craft. It had three thousand five hundred oranges in it, loaded to the windowline. The driver admitted that he was making his ninth haul in three weeks, and said that he could pick a Cadillacful of oranges in the dark in three hours.

Fishing boats anchor off orange groves during the afternoon and the occupants fish until dark; then they jump out of the boats with burlap bags and fan out into the groves. More ambitious thieves sometimes hire innocent pickers and clean out whole blocks of trees. “But the biggest deal I know of was at a processing plant,” Bessenger said. “There was a seventy-one-thousand-dollar loss documented, but I believe it was well over a hundred thousand. The scalemaster was cheating—at a dollar seventy-five a box.” This was the scalemaster’s kickback for each box of nonexistent fruit he wrote up. Semitrailers roll into concentrate plants, one after another, all day long. Bessenger said that the crooked scalemaster was taking the plant for eight hundred dollars a truckload.

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