Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
The ground was free of snow their first day out, but they started to see signs of a recent snowfall after their night stop near Nashville. By the time they got well into Indiana it was clear that the snowstorm had been a major dumper from the amount of snow piled along the road, although the roads were clear now and they weren't slowed down at all. It was getting dark by the time they got into Wychbold, where they'd agreed to spend the night so they wouldn't have to go to Amherst before the meeting the next day.
It was definitely a lot colder in Michigan than it had been in the panhandle of Florida, and their week down there spent mostly outside in spring-like conditions made it just seem colder still up north. In spite of the fact the trip back was less stressful than the trip down south had been, they were all still road-tired by the time Roger parked the Taurus in the garage next to Catalina's Mustang. Fortunately, he'd thought to call ahead the night before to have Larry turn up the heat in the house and in the hot tub, so they at least had that to look forward to after looking at snow for most of the day. It didn't take any of them long to get into the tub, either.
"You know," Bonnie said while submerged up to her chin in the warm water to ward off the nearly zero conditions, "It would be really neat if Bill had something like this."
"The problem with that is that it would take it a little out of the range of 'primitive,'" Roger protested. "I think he likes to have things left real simple, and I can't say as I blame him."
"You could be right," she replied. "But I'll tell you what, all this snow is making me wish I'd just stayed down there, Delmer or not. It seems like forever before spring will get here."
"Michigan does seem kind of pointless this time of year, doesn't it?" Roger agreed. "It sure makes me anxious to head back south, especially since I don't have anything much to do around here."
"Well, maybe we'll get lucky," Catalina smiled hopefully. "I'm with you. I'd rather be down south and out of this weather, too. I doubt that we're going to get anything settled tomorrow, but maybe we won't have to hang around for long, either."
Everybody's skin was a little wrinkled by the time they got out of the hot tub, got dressed, and made a dinner out of the odds and ends left in the freezer. In the evening there wasn't much to do but sit around and watch TV, not that there was anything any of them thought was worth watching, so they decided to head for bed early. That meant they were up early the next morning, and were soon down at Becky's for breakfast.
While they were on about their fourth refill of coffee, Jason Daugherty, the real estate and insurance guy, came in and sat down at his regular place at the big table. "I want to talk to that guy for a minute," Roger told the two women. "I'll be right back."
"Take your time," Catalina replied. "We've got plenty of time to kill."
Roger got up, taking his coffee with him, and found a place at the half-empty table next to Jason. "So," the younger man asked. "How you liking the weather?"
"It's a hell of a lot better down south," Roger replied grumpily, then got down to business. "Hey, just as an off-the-cuff question, you have any idea what my place would sell for?"
"Not having been in it, I suppose it would go for over a hundred, if it's in reasonably decent shape," Jason replied. "Are you thinking about selling?"
"Just thinking about it," Roger told him. "At this point I'm just looking for more food for thought. I haven't made up my mind yet by any means, but it's clear to me that it's awful big for just me."
"You going to be around town for long? I could slide over there sometime when I don't have anything better to do and be able to give you a better estimate."
"I don't know," Roger said, explaining that he had to attend some meetings involving Catalina's problem with the settlement. "I'm guessing that I'll have to be around several days, but I don't know for sure. How about just giving me a call when you have some free time, and coming on over if I'm not doing anything? It won't be today, I can tell you that."
"Sure, I can do that. Let me know if there's anything else I can do."
Roger headed back over to the table where Catalina and Bonnie were waiting for him, but his mind was on selling the place. It was really awful big for him and was a pain in the neck to keep up, but even before he sat back down he'd made up his mind that it was nothing that had to be dealt with quickly. What happened between Catalina and him would probably have a great deal to do with his decision, and that was still up in the air as far as he was concerned, too.
"What was that all about?" Catalina asked as soon as he sat back down.
"Just a real estate question I needed to clear up in my mind," he explained, not really wanting to get into the details with the other things on their minds today, and not with Bonnie present. This was a question he'd have to work out with Catalina, and there was no point in complicating things right at the moment.
• • •
They'd had all the coffee they needed and then some time before the appointment with Ralph Gerjevic rolled around. Of course, as soon as they arrived at his office, Linda, his secretary, asked if they'd like some coffee while they waited, and of course, out of neighborliness they accepted. It took a few minutes for Ralph to get free of whatever it was he was busy with, and then Linda ushered them into his office.
They exchanged pleasantries for a minute or so, mostly talking about how much warmer it was in Florida, before Ralph got down to business. "First off," he said, "I have no idea where Mr. Smith and Mr. deBoer came up with whatever they used to establish the valuation of the land, but it's sheer fantasy, whatever it was. An independent appraiser I know managed to make it over there just before the snow hit, and he came back with a real valuation of the land at around $600,000. If anything, that's on the low side, because he says there's some nice timber there, but he's not a forester and doesn't want to put anything more than an average of the value on it. I thought about having him take John Castle over there for a little better idea of that, but then the storm hit. John's getting to be a little too old to be screwing around in the woods on a snowmobile in the kind of weather we've been having, but he's willing to take a look when things lighten up a bit. It wouldn't surprise me if he were to tell us the timber on it is worth another fifty or a hundred thousand dollars more than the appraiser estimated."
"The one time I looked there seemed to be some nice old growth timber on it," Roger said, "Not the spindly stuff you often see in the woods around here."
"Yeah, but it's going to take a while before we could get a good reading on it," the attorney conceded. "However, based on the likelihood that a timber appraisal is going to come in higher than the land appraiser suggests, I'm proposing a settlement based on the assumption that the land value is $650,000. An even split would be $325,000, less taxes and transfer fees, of course."
"Maybe we'd better take earplugs," Bonnie wisecracked. "I can just hear Delmer scream now."
"I imagine deBoer will be screaming right along with him," Ralph grinned. "But I'm really just proposing that figure as something to open negotiations with. I can't imagine Mr. Smith would be willing to settle for that amount."
"You and me both," Bonnie said, not wisecracking this time. "In fact, I doubt he's willing to settle for a cent more than the ninety thousand he offered first."
"Which is why we set out a high dollar as an opening position," the attorney said soberly. "It tells him that we're onto him and we mean business. In the interests of getting this settled, I've also prepared a proposed settlement that assumes the value of the land is ten percent less, or $585,000. An even split would be just under three hundred thousand, in fact, $292,500, again less taxes, transfer fees, and things of that nature. However, if you concur with the idea, we should keep that figure among ourselves, and just let it be the figure we've agreed we're not going to go below. What's your thinking on that, Miss Smith?"
"I wouldn't mind getting this settled, just because I don't want it hanging over me for years," Catalina said. "I'm not planning on being around this area very much, and I don't want to have to make any number of pointless trips to get the high dollar. If we can get him to settle on the basis of $585,000, fine, but I don't think we'd better go any lower."
"I'd be reluctant to go that low," Roger pointed out. "After talking with my brother-in-law back at Christmas, he's of the opinion that the value of corn land will be going up considerably in the next few years."
"That's my guess, too," Ralph agreed. "And of course, if this drags out very long we probably will have to have a revised appraisal before we can reach a final settlement. However, I'd advise against letting this drag out to try to reach a negotiated settlement. Miss Smith, if you have your heels dug in anywhere near as firmly as Mr. Smith, there's no way the two of you are ever going to get together on a number."
"I can tell you that without even driving over to Amherst," Bonnie snorted. "So, how does this get settled?"
• • •
Roger had not had many reasons to drive to Amherst over the years, although he knew the way and had been there a couple times recently. He didn't have to follow Ralph Gerjevic, who was driving to the meeting alone in his big SUV. Roger, Catalina, and Bonnie didn't have much to say about the upcoming meeting; they'd already said about all that could be said over the last week and more. Although the numbers Gerjevic had come up with were a little higher than had been batted around before, they really weren't all that much higher, so there wasn't much room for comments that hadn't already been made and made again. Still, there was the dread of having to face an ugly scene, and now that they knew the real numbers they had some idea of just how ugly they could get.
"Mom," Catalina warned as they pulled into a parking space near deBoer's office, "Please don't fly off the handle. Let Mr. Gerjevic do the talking. You may know where the bodies are buried in the family, but he's the one with the numbers."
"I'll try," Bonnie promised. "But the sack of shit that Delmer's family pulled on Doyle just makes me boil."
"Mom, that's in the past," Catalina frowned. "This is a whole new sack of shit. Let's not drag old feuds into it."
"All right. It's going to be hard, but I'll try."
"There's probably nothing to be gained by losing tempers," Roger advised. "We're walking into this with our ducks as close to being in a row as they're going to get, and there's no reason to kick them out of line. Let Ralph do the talking."
They headed on into the office; Roger couldn't help but think it was something like walking into a dragon's mouth.
"Good morning, Mr. Gerjevic," deBoer's secretary said as soon as they walked through the door. "How can we help you today?"
"We're here for the meeting on the Smith inheritance," Ralph replied.
"We weren't expecting you," she replied. "I didn't know you were Miss Smith's attorney. I thought this other gentleman was."
"Afraid not," Roger grinned. "I'm just a friend who's along for the ride."
"Oh, sorry for the misunderstanding," she said sweetly. "Mr. deBoer said to have you wait in the conference room. He's in his office, and I'll let him know you're here."
As before, the conference room featured a large walnut table, and was lined with shelves of law books, giving it an imposing appearance. They found seats along one side of the table to wait on Delmer and the other attorney. "Well, that ought to make life a little more interesting," Ralph said in a low voice.
Roger didn't have to ask what that meant; someone must have figured out that he really wasn't an attorney, as deBoer had assumed at their previous meeting a couple weeks before. Before he could comment, another door in the room opened, and deBoer walked in, followed by Delmer, who had a very angry expression on his face. "Morning, Ralph," the attorney said. "I understand you're here to accept Mr. Smith's offer on the settlement on this estate."
"Couldn't be further from the truth," Ralph smiled. "We're prepared to discuss a reasonable settlement, but what was originally offered was about the furthest thing from reasonable that anyone could come up with."
"Come on!" Delmer exploded, "That settlement was perfectly reasonable and you know it! Why are you dragging your feet on this? You're just costing me money! And where the hell have you been, Catalina? I tried to get hold of you at your mother's but nobody's answering the phone."
"We've been out of state," Catalina said quietly.
"And we know you've been trying to get in touch with us to try to bully Catalina into accepting your line of bullshit," Bonnie snorted, breaking her promise to keep her mouth shut. "You filled up the answering machine, you filled my e-mail box, and while I haven't been over to look I'll bet there's fifty notes stuck to the front door. Delmer, you might as well get used to the idea that this sack of shit you're peddling isn't going to fly."
"Sack of shit? That's a perfectly reasonable offer."
"Well, I can see this is going to get nowhere," Ralph said. "Harold, I can see your client is in no mood to negotiate or to listen to the facts in the matter. We might as well get out of here, and I'll mail you the terms of the proposed settlement."
"But that's bullshit!" Delmer swore again. "There's no reason you can't settle this right here and now."
"Just a minute," deBoer said. "I think I'd better have another word with my client."
"Where do you get off thinking you're going to screw me for a cent more than I offered?" Delmer raged some more.
"Delmer," deBoer said, trying to be the voice of reason. "You're not going to get anywhere with this if you just keep pissing them off."
"Piss them off?" he shouted. "They're pissing me off because they won't get off their dead asses and sign the settlement."
"Delmer," deBoer said firmly. "If you have any hope of getting this settled at all, sit down and shut up. You haven't even heard what they want for a settlement."
"If it's a goddamn cent more than ninety thousand it's a fucking ripoff," he snorted in reply, although settling down a little bit -- not a lot, but a little bit.
"The way you're acting I wouldn't blame them if the price is going up with every word you say. You want this settled, fine, but you'd better be willing to at least hear what they have to say."
"Fine," Delmer said. "Let's hear what kind of shit they're trying to shove down my throat."
"I'd like to apologize for my client," deBoer said obviously without meaning it. "Counselor, could you give us an outline of what you propose?"
"I'll be glad to do that," Ralph smiled. "My understanding is that Mr. Smith's proposal is for ninety thousand dollars. I presume that's based on the half the taxable valuation of the land. However, the briefest amount of research at the tax assessor's office reveals that the property is assessed at approximately $360,000, which is, of course, twice the taxable valuation. I'm sure you've explained the difference to your client."
"It's a fair offer," Delmer muttered, drawing a glare from his attorney. "There are other considerations, too."
"Indeed there are," Gerjevic smiled. "The biggest one of them is that the tax assessment is still in Homer Smith's name. I need not remind you that the Headlee Amendment in this state limits the annual increase in valuation that can be placed on a given parcel. Homer Smith owned the land long before the Headlee Amendment went into place, while land values have been increasing at a rate considerably greater than the Headlee cap. As soon as a new owner takes ownership of the land, it's going to be reassessed at a considerably higher rate, probably close to seven hundred thousand dollars."
"Seven hundred thousand dollars!" Delmer came up out of his chair. "That's totally bullshit! There's no way in hell the property could be worth anything like that."
"I think you know better than that," Ralph said, looking Delmer right in the eye. "In fact, you probably know more about what it's worth than I do, which is why you've been trying to railroad such a laughable figure through on Miss Smith. All I know is I have an independent assessor's estimate of the land at six hundred thousand, with the provision that timber on the land is worth more than average. Out of the goodness of her heart and in the interests of getting this settled, Miss Smith is willing to accept the figure of value of the land at $650,000 and accept a settlement at half that value. In other words, $325,000."
"Three hundred and twenty five thousand? There's no way in hell I'm going to accept that kind of figure! A quarter of that would be fair!"
"Well, all right," Ralph said, gathering up his papers. "Miss Smith and I came here today with the intention of trying to negotiate a reasonable settlement, but since you're not willing to negotiate on the basis of facts, then I guess we're going to have to see you in court."
"Delmer," deBoer said, "I told you that you were going to have to give a little if you wanted to get this deal done."
"Give? Give? Shit, all I've done on this is give! All I want is a fair settlement, and just pissing around in court makes it worse. Jesus, what are you people trying to do to me?"
"I expect the judge will agree with you on that," Ralph smiled, snapping his briefcase closed and standing up. "However, his idea of a fair settlement and yours may not be exactly the same thing. Come on ladies, Roger, we're not going to get anything done here today."
"You're not going to get away with screwing me like that," Delmer howled. "Three hundred and twenty five thousand is just bending me over a barrel and fucking me."
"Like I said, we'll see what the judge thinks about that," Ralph said, standing back so Catalina and Bonnie could head for the door first.
"We're not done," Bonnie said acidly. "Delmer, every phone call, every note on the door, every e-mail in my inbox causes the price to go up a thousand dollars. Is that clear? Now grow up and act like a human being. I know that's difficult for you, but you're just going to have to like it."
"Sorry about this, Ralph," deBoer said as Gerjevic headed for the door.
"Yeah, that's the way it works sometimes," Ralph agreed casually as he followed Roger out the door. "Catch you around."
• • •
"Well, now what?" Catalina asked as soon as the four of them were back out on the street. A cold wind was blowing and it bit at them -- and seemed even more bitter after the scene in the conference room.
"I hate to say it, but that's about what I expected was going to happen," Ralph shrugged. "I did a little investigating, and some little bird told me your relative is a few boards short of an outhouse. That makes me think you're even more right to not let him push you around. I guess I might as well take a swing through Hawthorne on the way back and drop off the petition with the probate court."
"I was hoping it wouldn't go that far," Catalina sighed.
"There wasn't much chance it wouldn't," the attorney told them. "Oh, there was a possibility that Harold might have talked some sense into him but now that I've met him, I agree it wasn't too likely. Now, my guess is that Harold is in there trying to talk him into a better offer but that it isn't flying too well. I wouldn't be surprised if in the next couple days he gives me a call and floats the idea of settling for, oh, a hundred and fifty thousand at a guess. You're not going to be up for accepting that, are you?"
"No way," Catalina said. "Not after that exhibition. In fact, you can forget about anything under three hundred thousand."
"Good, I was hoping you'd say something like that. If it goes to the probate court you may wind up with a figure something around there, based on the independent assessment. That is, unless I can get John Castle or someone who knows logging to head out there and give me a better assessment of the value of the wood."
"How long is it going to take to get into court?" Roger asked.
"Not real soon," Ralph said. "The last time I had a probate case in this county it took four or five weeks for a court date. However, they get them on the schedule pretty quickly. Someone will examine the petition for merit about as soon as I can file it. If it has merit, and I'm sure this does, we ought to know a date by the end of the week."
"I have what has to be a really stupid question," Roger asked. "But if Delmer wanted this settled so badly why didn't he take the proposed settlement to court?"
"Because he knew he'd be laughed out so bad it wouldn't be funny," Ralph grinned. "Why do you think he was trying to bully that crazy ninety-thousand-dollar figure through? He was hoping he could be a bad enough actor that you'd accept it."
"Makes sense," Roger agreed. "So is that going to make him even more desperate to get a settlement at a lower dollar figure before he gets into court?"
"You bet," the attorney grinned. "And the closer to the court date we get the more desperate he's going to be. I'm just guessing, but if he really starts to understand where the bread is buttered, he might get up to somewhere around a quarter million before he walks into court. That's if Harold can talk some sense into him, and that's something I wouldn't bet on. Want to take a side bet on whether your cousin has a different attorney when we go to court? That's assuming he can find someone who's crazy enough or hungry enough to take him."
"I don't know how far I'd trust that deBoer guy," Catalina smiled. "But it sounded to me like he even had his fill of Delmer."
"Harold has a pretty good sense of where the money is coming from," Ralph grinned.
"I think I'm beginning to understand why Delmer has been acting so desperate," Bonnie grinned. "The longer we put him off, the more likely Catalina was to find someone who knew what he was talking about."
"No shit," Catalina grinned. "If it hadn't been for Roger, I might have been willing to sign that agreement for ninety thousand two weeks ago. In my world, that's an awful lot of money. But I'll bet there's still something going on that we don't know about."
"Well, ladies, Roger, I'd love to stand out here and talk, but I think we've done about what we can do here today, and that wind is awful cold, so maybe I'd better get moving. You're planning on sticking around for a few days, aren't you?"
"We obviously haven't talked about it," Roger said. "But we might as well hang around until we find out what the court date is. After that, we'll have to see."