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06 The cheat

Three years after King Omri put Obadiah in charge of his finances, the king bought the hill of Samaria and sent Biah to start his olive oil business. Biah and Prince Ahab sat in the dining room of Samaria’s new inn. The smell of roast mutton wafted in from the kitchen.

So tell me, Prince.” Biah dipped a cucumber slice in olive oil. “What’s it like being married to the daughter of King Ethbaal?”

Ahab rolled his eyes. “Come on, Biah. You know why my father makes those trips to Tyre. It’s a military necessity.”

Biah nibbled and nodded. To help secure Israel’s northern border, King Omri negotiated an alliance with the king of Tyre, and to cement the alliance, King Ethbaal sent Jezebel as wife for Ahab. Biah chuckled. “Is she different from your other two? I mean, isn’t she the only wife who brought four hundred Asherah-priest servants with her to the fort?

Ha!” Ahab pointed a cucumber slice at him. “So far, Biah.” Ahab sat quietly for a moment. “What’s different is the whole thing. I’ve seen how Yedidah’s eyes light up for you. My wives don’t look at me like she looks at you. None of them. They just don’t.”

From across the plaza, the shouts of workmen building Omri’s palace mingled with the ping of hammers and the ffft-ffft of saws. The open door let in snatches of a yellowhammer’s song along with sunlight reflecting off fresh puddles. Biah’s driver came up the path and stopped at the door. “Twelve applicants for grove manager have arrived.”

Thank you. Bring one in.”

The driver gave a quick nod and jogged back down the path.

Biah sighed. “You’re father overestimates me, Ahab. How am I going to run olive groves and still take care of business down at the fort?”

The only thing my father overestimates is your speed. You’ve got twelve men out there ready to go to work. Just hire them, would you? So we can get going.”

Only the good ones, my prince. Only the good ones.”

The driver led a man around the puddles and toward the door.

Ahab stood. “Here comes manager number four.”

Biah also stood but did not speak. Merom? How did he get in here?

Merom extended his hand, and Biah shied as if it came from a leper.

Ahab’s eyebrows rose.

Merom’s face lit up with a broad smile. “Good to see you again, Biah. I was glad to hear you are hiring grove managers. You know my record. Ten years at Shiloh. Every tree greener and more olives. When would you like me to start?”

Biah stared. Was the man as unfazed by silence as he acted?

Merom glanced toward the kitchen. “Smells good in here. Garlic and onions on that?”

Biah looked him square in the eye. “Actually we won’t be needing you. I’m sorry to waste your time, but there’s been a mix up, and we can’t use you.”

Ahab took a step back.

Merom glanced at Ahab, at the guards by the entrance, and then at the guard in each corner. He turned back toward Biah, opened his mouth, but said nothing.

Biah raised his chin. “I’ve got another appointment, and I’m sure you have a full schedule. My driver will show you out.”

Merom followed the driver down the path and glanced back as he rounded the corner.

Ahab edged up to Biah’s side. “Why did you tell that man, no?”

Business basics, my prince.”

Ai-yah! You’re impossible. The man’s been doing groves for ten years, Biah. Did I hear wrong?”

You heard right. Ten years at Shiloh. Every tree greener. More olives.”

So why wouldn’t you talk with him?”

Trust.”

Ahab stood in the doorway, faced Biah, and folded his arms.

Biah planted his feet wide. “He cheats on his wife, my prince. Any man who cheats on his wife will cheat on me.”

The prince stomped his foot. “Wife, shmife. You can’t mix marriage with business, Biah. Get with the times. Everybody cheats on his wife.”

I don’t.” Biah waved at a guard. “We’re getting nothing done here. Bring me the next man.” He stuck his chin up against Ahab’s chin. “And I don’t hire cheaters.”

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