Matthew Huckabee was a rich man. Not billionaire rich, but a comfortably safe, seven-digit millionaire. When he found out the company bookkeeper hadn’t paid his taxes correctly, he was understandably upset. The accounting firm told Matthew that he could make a donation of $100,000 using that as a tax deduction or he could pay more than that in fines and penalties. Matthew had a few more days to decide if he would help out a worthy cause, bypass the penalties, and be a hero. To what cause did he want to give?

Matthew said he needed to think about it, leaving the accountant’s office still burning from the sting. Didn’t the government take enough from him already?

When he got home, he poured himself a stiff drink, turned on the television, and put his feet up. Renata, his ten-year-old daughter, walked into the living room.

“Hi, Daddy!” this chubby little girl with her mother’s hair came in from the kitchen, melting Matthew’s heart.

“Hi, honey. What are you up to?”

“I want to go swimming. Can you come?”

“Give me half an hour, and I will.”

“Oh, thank you, Daddy!” Renata put her arms around him and gave him a bear hug and a smooch. “Can I have a munch a crunch?” He could deny her nothing.

“Sure.” Renata ran out in search of her treat. “But only one,” he added, thinking about Renata’s size.

The commercial on the television struck Matthew. They had paired a beautiful song to crying, hungry children. He was sickened by it, and it made him angry. He was about to turn it off when he realized that this cause, hungry children, was just the charity he should invest the money he owed.

Bread for America would not only feed hungry kids, so he was doing something about a problem, but it was also going to be the donation he needed to get out of a massive tax fine. He took the number down, thinking he would have the accountant make the call.

Matthew was feeling better about the whole accounting error. He owned a bread company, and he would use his wealth to give bread to the poor. It would be a great way to look good in the eyes of the very people he was selling to and in his daughter’s eyes.

He finished his drink, got into his trunks, and called up to Renata to let her know they were hitting the pool. She came down the steps looking as if she was an overstuffed sausage in a hot pink suit. Matthew could see that his child was overfed, especially after seeing those starving kids on the television commercial. The kids he’d seen weren’t third-world kids, either; they were kids that lived here in America. It was a shame that a country as rich as the United States had any child going hungry.

Matthew cannonballed into the pool. Renata giggled as she followed him in. They horse-played until both were breathless. Then they climbed up on the floating swans and floated around talking.

“Mr. Huckabee, what time would you like dinner?” called Maria, their housekeeper, and nanny. She lived in the pool house.

“What time is it now, Maria?”

“Five o’clock.”

“I think if we eat in an hour, that would be wonderful. Thank you!”

Matthew had a nightmare that night of kids starving while all the extra food went down his daughter’s gullet. It was horrible. How could he have spent his life so ignorant of the trials and tribulations of others? He saw Olive lying on the bed with a trail of vomit coming from her mouth, her eyes wide open when she gasped for air at the end. No one was there to help; she died alone. A half full container of oxy with someone else’s name on the prescription sat on the nightstand, next to the empty vodka bottle. What kind of Hell did Olive live in that she would take her own life? Matthew cursed God in his dream. He was still tired even after a night of sleep.

He called the accountant from his office the next morning, determined he should do something for someone else for a change, but his heart wasn’t in it. Matthew couldn’t get over the thought about there being so much money given to people who would never make it in this world without a handout. All he was doing was giving them more and training them like a dog to beg, and it disgusted him. He was not giving with charity in his heart.

Matthew sighed as he hung up the phone from his accountant. It was better to receive recognition for donating $100,000 than to pay for his ignorance. Matthew would have to talk to the company bookkeeper, Mr. Veck, who he felt should have changed his deductions when Olive offed herself. Veck should have known better; he worked for him and was well paid. Everyone in the office donated toward a plant for Olive’s funeral. He scowled when he looked at the plant in his office. He buzzed his assistant.

“Miss Danby, please locate Mr. Veck and tell him to see me immediately.”

“Yes, sir.” Matthew paused, trying to wear down his anger with deep breaths. He knew he should have called Veck and changed his dependents when it happened. Matthew was responsible for his taxes. With a quick knock, Paul Veck came through the door.

“You wanted to see me, Mr. Huckabee?” Matthew had to refrain from screaming. The man did not know how angry he was right now, losing $100,000 over an accounting error.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Huckabee. I knew she had passed. It must have slipped my mind. I will change it immediately and make sure I take out for it on your next paycheck. I should have known better.”

“Your mistake cost me $100,000.” He sent Paul Veck on his way after suggesting he should have been fired for this error, but because Matthew felt Paul had learned a good lesson, he was keeping his position. Matthew felt better having sent the man away with a transference of his anger onto Paul Veck’s shoulders.

Life, in general, had turned to shit since Olive had surgery. It was the pills from the shoulder surgery that got her addicted; she mixed them with booze. Matthew knew he should have reported her to the doctor to get her somewhere to rehab, but she hid it so well. He did an intervention, and for a while, she seemed okay. Then Matthew found out the hard way she was doing the drugs during the day, sobering up when he got home.

Olive hadn’t come down for lunch. Maria went to see if she was all right. His wife had aspirated on vomit. Before Olive’s death, Matthew barely interacted with Renata. Now, the devoted father ran home to spend time with her. Whenever Renata laughed, Matthew could see Olive’s face, and for a moment, he was able to ease the loneliness. Renata and Matthew’s relationship bloomed over the last year. It was the only good thing to come out of Olive’s death.

Matthew couldn’t get over his loss of money. It festered in him for weeks. A hundred grand was a lot to lose. He had to find a way to make that up. He was a proud man. His phone rang with an announcement that Bread for America was on the line.

“Mr. Huckabee, this is Alan Turner. I wanted to thank you and Huckabee Foods for the generous donation to us.”

Matthew could feel his mouth turning into a smile. At last, the recognition he deserved.

“Thank you for the call. I couldn’t think of a better charity to give to. I am a manufacturer of bread, and you help feed America. I wanted to give to your cause, which is so worthwhile.”

“We genuinely appreciate it. 100,000 goes a long way. It buys a lot of meals. It’s funny you should show up on my desk. I received a generous donation from another benefactor whose company processes wheat into hard flour.” Matthew picked up his pen; Alan was no longer praising him, and the conversation suddenly got boring. He flicked his roller pen up and down in rapid succession while pondering whether to end this call.

“Yes?” he asked impatiently.

“Well, I think that I can put you two together. There has been a glut of wheat this year, which drew the prices down quite a bit. The current price is about five dollars and five cents a bushel. Because my contact has so much extra, he is willing to sell his at a greatly reduced rate of three dollars and 75 cents per bushel.”

Now Matthew’s ears perked up. The company was already in business, so they had a standard to meet with their grain; this could be mutually beneficial to both parties.

“Please go on.” He felt the pull of greed and the smell of a good deal. It was as addictive as Olive’s opioids.

“I would be happy to put you in touch with the said company for a few dollars.”

Ahh, there was the catch.

“How few dollars are we talking?”

“Well, $5,000 would help me make this month’s quota.” Matthew huffed. One would think that a nonprofit organization wouldn’t be so slimy.

“Well, Alan, I need to talk to my people about it, and I will get back with you.” Matthew buzzed his assistant.

“Please get me Paul Veck again, thank you.” If Paul wanted to keep his job, he would find a way to make this deal work.

When the check cleared with Alan Turner, Matthew was placed in touch with Mark Galloway, who had the excess wheat. Matthew negotiated him even further to three dollars and 50 cents a bushel. The guy was desperate to unload his product. This deal was going to save him a ton of money. He stood to make well over a hundred grand back. Alan also offered to pay him to make bread for his organization. Matthew was making more money by adding a night shift to his company to make the contracted bread. He laughed, thinking he was making bread in more ways than one.

Matthew took home a couple of loaves of bread from the factory one evening. Renata loved his new product and begged for it from then on. Better than Huckabee bread.

Months later, there were whispers about people getting sick. The FDA had not zeroed in on the cause and source. Stomach ailments, skin rashes, malnutrition: something terrible was happening. Matthew never gave it a thought until he was called to the warehouse.

“What’s the problem?” The warehouse foreman pulled open the door. Thousands of rats in various stages were dying on the floor, some gasping for breath. Matthew was repelled.

“Oh my God. What is going on? Why are all these rats in here, and why are they dying?” The foreman hunched his shoulders.

“The question is what is in the flour that is killing them?” Matthew was struck with what the foreman said. Was the flour contaminated? Was this the reason so many were getting sick? Was his bread for America poisoned?

“Clean this up, get rid of the rats. I will deal with this later.” Matthew left in a huff. If he came forward, he was in big trouble. He was cheating the farmers, poisoning poor people. What should have been a hero-of-the-year-evoking event had now turned into a massive cover-up. The warehouse was rat-proofed and the foreman laid off with a wonderful parting gift. Matt had to get rid of this flour. He would not buy from Galloway again, but he had a large investment. No one had died from eating his bread. He hardened his heart.

Maria called him at work. Renata was ill. She felt she should bring Renata to the emergency room. Matthew agreed. He worried that his daughter had all the symptoms of appendicitis.

“Miss Danby, I am gone for the day,” Matthew said as he walked by. He caught up with Maria and Renata in the emergency room.

Tests, blood draws, X-rays. Poor Renata was put through the wringer, but they didn’t find anything. Renata was sent home. It was the start of a long illness. Matthew took Renata to specialists who were stumped with her test results as they tried to figure out what was causing Renata’s distress. She was missing a lot of school.

He arrived home one afternoon; Renata was in a good mood. She asked him if they could go swimming. Matthew was delighted. He thought perhaps that she was starting to feel better. He readily agreed.

He was in the pool when Renata came out in the pink swimming suit that hung on her. Wasn’t this the suit that just a few weeks ago he thought she needed a bigger one? My God, what was happening to his daughter?

Renata pushed her food around her plate at the supper table. It was hard not to reprimand the child. He was frustrated, but he was also panicked. He wanted her to eat. He was going to make an appointment with a nutritionist tomorrow.

More blood draws, allergy tests, Renata was a pincushion; it broke Matthew’s heart to see his daughter enduring such an assault to her now-slim body. A few days later, he got a call from the doctor with results.

“Mr. Huckabee, this is Doctor Manz from the Nutrition Clinic, and I have some grave concerns about your daughter. She has a high concentration of lead in her body. Do you have peeling paint in your home?”

“Lead? No, my home is only a few years old, built well after the lead paint era. What are we going to do about that?”

“First, we are going to take her off all processed foods. Your daughter has a high level, over 45, so we will put her on chelation therapy. It’s a pill, but we have to watch her closely. It can also rid the body of the metals we need like iron and zinc, causing kidney problems.” Matthew could not believe what was going on. Where had Renata been poisoned? He made the appointment for his daughter for the next morning.

After Renata went to bed, he turned the television to the nightly news where he found everything was depressing. Matthew was about to change the channel when he saw Mark Galloway being arrested and led away in handcuffs. He turned up the volume.

“Mark Galloway, CEO of Galloway Mills, a large grain growing and processing company, was arrested today after the Food and Drug Administration found he was knowingly selling unsafe wheat flour. Galloway Mills planted thousands of acres of wheat on a property formerly owned by Fontaine Paints, a lead-based product manufactured until 1977. Also arrested today was Alan Turner, Executive for Bread for America, a nonprofit organization responsible for feeding the hungry. Lead poisoning has sickened hundreds of children across the United States. Several manufacturers still-unnamed will be facing extensive fines and possible jail sentences for this unthinkable poisoning of American children.”

Renata! Matthew couldn’t contain the pain that flowed through his body. He had inadvertently poisoned his daughter.

The doorbell rang. Who could be here so late at night? Matthew opened the door.

“Matthew Huckabee, you are under arrest.” Maria came flying out of the pool house.

“Mr. Huckabee?”

“Maria, make sure Renata gets to her appointment tomorrow. That’s the most important thing.” Maria said she would. Matthew was placed in the back seat of the squad car in cuffs. He hung his head.

Greed. It was all done in greed. Matthew had nearly killed his daughter, along with thousands of children across America and probably in Mexico. He wanted to pray, but Matthew couldn’t think of what to say. Instead he remembered the Lord’s Prayer, something from his childhood, and could recite that by rote. When he got to “give us this day our daily bread,” Matthew lost it; breaking down, he could see the devil smiling at him. By Matthew’s indifference, he had allowed the devil to take his wife and nearly take his daughter. He felt he deserved to go to jail for the rest of his life and be further punished by having only bread and water. The bread, of course, would be made with the cheap flour he used to poison all those starving children who trusted Bread for America.