Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Delmer was still arguing with deBoer as Roger, Catalina, and Bonnie made it out the door. Getting out into the sunshine was enough to cool Bonnie's temper, at least as far as Roger could see. "'Counselor?' 'My colleague?'" Catalina laughed. "I didn't know my boyfriend was a lawyer."
"Your boyfriend is just a retired factory rat," Roger laughed. "All you did was introduce me as your friend, and he took it from there. I'm glad he did, though. We had to get out of there before a war broke out."
"I saw that," Bonnie smiled. "That's why I pitched a hissy. Why in hell does Delmer have to have this settled today, after waiting all this time? He's got something else pressuring him to get it done, and knowing Delmer, it's underhanded."
"No fooling about that," Roger agreed as he opened the doors of the Taurus for the ladies. "I may be just a retired factory rat, but even I could see there was a hell of a lot wrong with that offer. Catalina, there's no way you should touch it without talking to a real lawyer."
Catalina shook her head. "What did you see wrong with it?"
Roger got in behind the wheel before he answered. "Two big things," he explained. "First, you remember when deBoer was talking about the taxable value of the land at $2500 to $3000. Catalina, do you know the difference between taxable valuation and assessed valuation?"
"Ohhhhh," Bonnie said from the back seat. "That son of a bitch!"
"See, your mom knows, but she's a property owner and you aren't, so you've never had reason to learn," Roger teased as he started the car. "Taxable valuation is the value the land is taxed on. For whatever reason, probably to fool the general public, years ago the Michigan legislature set the definition of taxable valuation, of land and other real property as half the assessed valuation, or market value. He was trying to railroad you over the difference."
Catalina frowned. "You're saying the land is worth twice as much as he offered?"
"Yep, at least as far as the assessor is concerned," Roger grinned as he pulled the Taurus out onto the street. "I'm not a farmer, either, but I have a brother-in-law who is. One day last summer he was bitching about the fact that farmland had gotten so expensive, like five to six thousand an acre, unless it was real shit land. I don't think things would be that different over thirty miles."
"Why that son of a bitch," Catalina shook her head. "He was really trying to shove it to me, wasn't he?"
"You betcha," Roger grinned. "And that was just the first part. Right off the top of my head I suspect he was trying to get you for half as much again."
"How do you figure that?" Catalina asked, just a little dazed at the revelation.
"Do the math," Roger said. "Unless I missed something, and I don't think I did, he made the offer based on the value of half of sixty acres of farmland at $3000 an acre, or $180,000. That ignored the value of the hundred acres of woods, or figured it at nothing, and even a dumbass retired factory rat knows that just ain't so."
"All right, Roger," Catalina sighed. "Just tell me. I know I'm just a dumbass English teacher."
"You're not dumb by any means, you just haven't thought things through," Roger smiled. "What's the main thing you find in a woodland? Trees, right? Just yesterday, I had a retired sawmill owner tell me that good quality walnut veneer logs are going at up to $2,500 a pop. I don't know what this woods is like, but odds are there are at least some valuable trees there. And even then there's a property value. People like the woods, for hunting, for homes, and not just for the wood. All that tells me that whatever the woodland is worth, it's something more than zero."
• • •
Needless to say, the first thing Roger did as soon as they got back to Bonnie's house was to call his lawyer friend Ralph Gerjevic back in Wychbold. If anything was clear at all, whatever happened was going to involve him. Unfortunately, Gerjevic's legal secretary told him Ralph was in court and was going to be there all day. The best that could be done was a 10:00 AM appointment the next day. "Well, if that's the best we can do, that's the best we can do," he told the two women.
"I guess," Bonnie agreed. "I sure as hell would like to know what bug is up that son of a bitch's ass, though."
"Yeah, there's something going on there for sure," Roger agreed, thinking for a minute while the two women exchanged obscenities about Delmer. When he finally got a chance to get a word in edgewise, he said, "You know, it might be interesting to see just what he's so worked up about. Have the two of you ever been out there?"
"If it's where I think it is, I've driven by it but I've never gone in it," Bonnie reported. "As far as I know, it's just a patch of woods."
"I think I was back there once or twice with Cousin Doyce when I was a teenager," Catalina said. "About all I can remember was that it was pretty hilly."
Bonnie frowned. "Catalina, what were you doing back there with Doyce?"
"Making out, of course," Catalina snorted.
"You were making out with Doyce Smith?" Bonnie asked, the disbelief still evident in her voice.
"Hell, I was a kid. I didn't know any better," Catalina replied. "We never did anything other than kissy-face and touchy-boobie anyway."
Sure that this discussion was heading way off topic, Roger butted in, "I wish I hadn't worn a suit and tie, now. If I was dressed for it I'd say that we go out there and take a little hike around. But hell, I could run back to Wychbold and get something. It would only take an hour and a half or so, and we've got plenty of time today."
"Maybe you won't have to head back," Bonnie said. "I'm pretty sure there must be something of Doyle's in the attic that might fit you. That's one good thing about never throwing anything out, you might need it some day."
"Yeah, if you can find it," Catalina shook her head. "There's so much crap up there in the attic I don't know how you find anything."
"Oh, I pretty much know where everything is," Bonnie protested. "It's worth a quick look, anyway."
There was a little discussion one way and the other before Bonnie headed up the stairs. "I have to admit," Roger told Catalina with a headshake, "Your mom is a real pistol, but she seems to be good people."
"She is good people," Catalina replied. "But 'real pistol' doesn't even begin to describe it. You haven't even seen her warmed up, yet. A lot of people consider her to be a nutcase, and I'm not so sure I'm not one of them. That's one of the reasons Delmer is such a bastard toward us. No one in that family was very happy when Dad married Mom, and she didn't have it in her to suck up to them. The story I always heard is they had Dad all lined up for the next thing to an arranged marriage with some gal in their church, which is a weird bunch of dudes. Then when Mom got pregnant and Dad married her it loused that up, and this other family, whoever they are, got real pissed with the whole family."
"Yeaahhh," Roger smiled slowly. "I think I already got the impression that there's not a whole lot of love lost between you two and this uncle of yours."
"I think that's a fair statement," Catalina nodded. "When you get right down to it, this is just another shot in a war that's been going on for over forty years."
Roger smiled and nodded his head. "Well, that explains a lot about why Delmer's doing this to you."
"Because he can. Or at least, because he thinks he can."
• • •
It only took Bonnie about five minutes to come back down the stairs carrying an armload of her late husband's clothes. Roger stripped out of his suit and tried them on. Doyle Smith must have been a touch shorter and heavier, since the pants were too short and loose in the waist, but not so bad that a belt wouldn't take care of the problem. The shirt was also loose, although the sleeves were short but wearable. The same could be said for a medium-weight jacket; the well-broken-in pair of classic Red Wing hunting boots fit like Roger had worn them himself for years. Since Roger expected they'd be walking around a bit, that was fine with him.
While Roger had been changing, the women had also been getting into clothes more appropriate for woods walking. In a few minutes they were in the car, heading for the quarter-section, which proved to be about eight miles out of town to the east on a poorly paved side road. A somewhat better paved road crossed at the northeast corner of the property. The tillable farmland was all in the east section of the property, facing the roads on two sides. They didn't need to get out of the car to see that it all had been planted to corn that year, since the field was all corn stubble. For their purposes farmland was farmland, and they could see it had been profitable enough to have planting done this year.
"Anybody want to bet the estate didn't see a dime of whatever the profit or lease was on that land this year?" Bonnie scowled.
"Shit, no bet," Catalina agreed.
"Something else to mention to Ralph tomorrow," Roger said, trying to keep the bitching down to a dull roar, and changed the subject. "The real mystery to me is the woods. With the leaves down we should be able to see pretty well, but it's nothing like an open field, either."
After a little bit of searching they found a faded two-rut lane running back into the woods. Roger wasn't too sure about it, so he pulled the car to the side of the little-used road and walked back up the lane for fifty yards or so. "We can drive back enough to get off the road, anyway," he reported to the women. "The ground seems pretty hard for a little bit, but there's a hole a little farther back I don't think I want to risk with a road car."
The Taurus wasn't out of sight of the road, but at least was far enough off it to not be easily noticeable when he pulled to a stop and they got out. "Well, it's a woods, and it's got trees," Bonnie observed.
"Some good big ones," Catalina added.
"Just because a tree is tall doesn't mean it's lumber material," Roger told them. "They need to have a good shape and girth to them."
For being just a few days short of Christmas, it was a very nice day for a walk in the woods. The temperature was below freezing, but not very far; the air was calm and the sun beat down through the leafless branches enough to make it seem warmer than it really was. Not having a clue of where they were going, they just followed the thin trace of the two-rut road back through the woods to see what they could see.
The first thing they found out was that it was indeed pretty hilly. None of the hills were particularly high, but there were a lot of them and they were fairly steep -- probably too steep to plow with a tractor, and maybe too steep to plow with a horse, Roger thought. There were several highly rotted stumps that seemed to indicate that there had been some trees cut in the far-distant past, but there were no signs of recent logging. Through the bare trees in several places they could see expanses of buttonwood swamps, areas with standing water filled with the brushy, woody shrub. In one area of fairly large trees, they found indications of a small intermittent stream that might flow during wet seasons.
All in all, they spent a couple pleasant hours poking around in the woods, an area a half mile deep by roughly two thirds of that wide. "Nice woods," Roger summarized as they made their way back to the car. "If you cleared it, it still wouldn't be worth a damn for farming, but there are some trees here that are worth some money. On top of that, someone who likes being out in the country might be able to find several pretty interesting home sites. I don't have any idea what it's worth, but I'm sure it's worth more than nothing."
"It would be nice to know," Catalina observed. "But I don't think I'd like to ask anyone around here because it might get back to Delmer that we're on to him."
"A guy I sometimes have breakfast with in Wychbold does some real estate on the side," Roger said, thinking of Jason Daugherty, who normally dealt in insurance. "I'll bet he could give me a pretty good off-the-cuff guess."
• • •
They drove back into Amherst and stopped for lunch at a little place downtown that put Roger in mind of Becky's back in Wychbold. There wasn't much they could say about their walk in the woods except that it was a nice walk in the woods. Mostly they told Bonnie about some of the things they'd been doing down on the Gulf Coast, but the subject of Delmer and what he might be up to kept coming up again and again.
When they got back to Bonnie's house they found her phone answering machine was beeping. When she punched the button to check it out they found at least six calls from Delmer, each more agitated than the last. Considering that the first call was pretty agitated, the rest of them were even more frantic. By the last, Delmer was swearing about every third word, saying he knew Catalina was there and demanding she call him back immediately.
"That son of a bitch," Bonnie snorted, repeating herself for at least the dozenth time in the last hour. "Any damn minute now he's going to be over here pounding on the door."
"Yeah, and maybe carrying a gun," Catalina added, visibly worried. "Mom, maybe we'd better get out of here until he cools off."
"I was just thinking the same thing," Bonnie replied.
"Roger, will you take us home with you?" Catalina asked. "I doubt if he'll be able to figure out where we are since he doesn't know you. Besides, maybe we can use the hot tub."
"That would be nice," Bonnie grinned.
"It's fine with me," Roger told them. "The only thing is that it may have to be for a few days. I got to thinking about it while we were out in the woods. Christmas is this weekend, and it wouldn't surprise me if the lawyers don't get their acts together before the middle of the week at the earliest. And that's assuming the whole week isn't blown up."
"Yeah," Catalina agreed. "Mom, let's pack up stuff to stay away several days."
Delmer called again before they could get out of the door, but they didn't pick the phone up. At least he wasn't pounding on the door, Roger thought, wondering once again what all the fuss was about. It was safe to say everyone breathed a sigh of relief once they got out of town, with Roger driving alone in the Taurus and the women following along in Catalina's car.
As soon as Roger got home, he called Jason Daugherty, the insurance and real estate guy. Jason told him while it would be difficult to assess the value just on the phone, patches of woodland around Wychbold were going for around $3,000 per acre.
"So, that's another $300,000 in the pot," Roger said to the women as soon as he got off the phone. "That settlement ought to have been worth at least $240,000 or so to you, Catalina. It seems pretty clear to me that your uncle was trying to rip you off and railroad you into stabbing yourself in the back. Maybe he's just going apeshit because you're thinking it through and not letting yourself get railroaded."
"Could be," Catalina replied thoughtfully. "But knowing Delmer, there has to be something else going on."
"Jesus," Bonnie fumed.
"I need to make some more phone calls," he said, just to keep from setting Bonnie off again. "There's not much food in the house, and I don't think we want to eat out all the time. Why don't you two look into that and maybe head down to the grocery store?"
The women agreed and headed out to the kitchen to see what was needed. After just a bit of thinking, Roger decided to call out to his brother-in-law, where the family Christmas would be held. His folks were supposed to be flying in today the last he heard, and since no one had asked he assumed someone had made arrangements to pick them up. He wound up talking to his brother-in-law Max, and explained the question about the land value of the fields.
"If it had good corn growing on it, it's probably pretty good land," Max told him. "If it wasn't pretty good it'd probably be in CRP, the Conservation Reserve Program. The feds pay you to not farm marginal land."
"Nice work if you can get it," Roger snorted.
"Well, the theory is that it helps keep grain prices up," Max explained. "Of course, if the government is involved it's fucked up, by definition."
"So what's good corn ground worth these days?"
"Oh, at least five grand an acre, maybe more. Actually, in my opinion that's too high because the corn prices we're seeing today just can't justify it. But with the high fuel prices following the hurricanes last fall we're hearing more talk of ethanol again, and that'll send corn prices through the roof."
"More damn politics," Roger snorted. "So, are Mom and Dad there yet?"
"Not yet," Max replied. "Rebecca and Arlene went to get them. Arlene called on her cell, says the plane is late."
"Airlines rank right in there with politicians for being a pain in the ass," Roger replied. "So, what, another couple hours?"
"No, Arlene said it would be more like another six."
"Well, nuts," Roger said with some disappointment. "I was looking forward to seeing them. Well, there's always tomorrow."
"Yeah, if you came over tonight they'd be all beat to shit anyway by the time they got here. Aren't you coming to the big bash Sunday? Presents, and enough food to feed a starving African nation."
"I guess not," Roger replied. "I've got my girlfriend and her mother here; it's a long story."
"You? Girlfriend?" Max sounded amazed. "Roger, what's gotten into you? Bring them along, I'm sure the whole family would like to meet the girl who got Roger to looking around again."
"It's not that big a deal, and I wasn't looking," Roger protested. "Like I said, it's a long story, and it's not that serious. I don't want to set the family gossip tongues to going for the next five years."
"Well, still, if they're going to be with you over Christmas bring them along. There's more than enough food, so Arlene will have that many fewer leftovers to bitch about."
They talked a few more minutes about nothing much. Roger hung up the phone imagining Arlene chanting "Roger's got a girlfriend, Roger's got a girlfriend," like she had when they both had been teenagers. God, he thought, a lot of water had gone under that bridge, but in some ways his sister hadn't changed much.
"What was that all about?" Catalina asked as she and her mother headed toward the door, presumably for a grocery run.
"My brother-in-law," Roger said. "He wants me to bring the two of you to the family Christmas dinner Sunday. The whole thundering herd will be there; he says there's always room for two more."
"Wouldn't we be intruding?" Bonnie asked.
"Not really," Roger shrugged. "Every year there seems to be half a dozen people there who I'm sure I never met before in my life, and will most likely never see again. It'll be a huge mob of people, and you'll never get everybody straight. Hell, I can't keep half of them straight, and I grew up with most of them."
"It would be nice," Bonnie said quietly. "My family Christmases have been pretty quiet and lonely the last few years, especially when Catalina was in Korea. I've been to my sister's a couple of times, but it's just not the same. I can't tell you the last time I was at a big, noisy Christmas dinner."
"All right, we'll go," Roger smiled. "The word that I have a girlfriend is out, so I'm going to get asked about it whether we go or not. Just save me answering the barrage of individual phone calls. And you both, especially you Cattail, expect to be grilled mercilessly."