Wes Boyd's
Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online

Cattail
Wes Boyd
İ2010, İ2011



Chapter 18

It was just starting to get dark when Roger and Catalina got back to the Amish camp that evening, to find several of the Amish men out in an open area, playing a game of stickball. They'd learned that their Amish friends liked to play around as much as anyone, but they just didn't often take the time to do it. Batting an old rubber ball someone had found around with a board from a destroyed home was fun, and they enjoyed the chance to do it. Even Aaron was out there messing around with the rest of the men.

As it got too dark to play and the Amish were getting ready for bed, they sat around for a while with Aaron and Michael, and briefly went over the events of their trip, saying they were mostly satisfied with the way things had turned out. Aaron told them it wasn't going to be necessary to clear the next lots after all. A little gentle pressure here and there had resulted in a crew of men with a big yellow machine removing the majority of the rubble from the next lots to be worked on. Aaron said there was still small stuff on the lots needing redding up, but he didn't think it was going to be a big deal. Roger had remembered to bring his chain saw, but it looked like it wouldn't be needed after all.

The next six weeks were busy. The crew continued work at their usual pace, six days on and one off, completing three or four houses a week. They were not big or fancy houses, to be sure, but small houses that the people in this not necessarily well-to-do neighborhood could live in, and houses that were probably better built than the ones Katrina had blown away. As before, Roger and Catalina mostly ran the Skil saws, and it seemed like a never-ending process. It still gave everyone, Amish included, a great deal of pleasure and satisfaction to watch families move into their new homes after months in FEMA trailers and shelters. None of the workers received a cent for their efforts, but seeing that sight over and over again made them feel like they were well paid.

Almost always Roger and Catalina spent the night in the motor home parked right on the job sites. They mostly kept the hours of the Amish, which is to say dawn to dusk, and on Sundays took the time for such maintenance and shopping as they thought necessary. They were usually in bed not long after dark, but sometimes after they'd finished eating supper with the Amish they'd go back to the motor home and talk about one thing and another. After some discussion they agreed this motor home would do for the summer if they couldn't find something they liked at a price they thought would be reasonable, but that didn't keep them from making a list of things they'd like to have in a new one.

One of those discussions led to something about as close to a fight as they ever had. Both of them agreed that the business of having to drive a separate car so they'd have a way to get around was a pain in the neck. And, they agreed it made a lot of sense to get a small vehicle to tow behind the motor home when they were on the road going from one place to the next. It was there that the difference arose: Catalina thought a Geo Tracker would be a good vehicle since it had high clearance, four wheel drive, and would be nice to drive with the top down on nice days. However, Roger drew the line at that -- he was a Ford man through and through, and the Geo, while it was nice, had been sold by General Motors. Worse, it had been based on a design by Suzuki, in other words, Japanese, which was the height of hypocrisy to a good United Auto Workers member like he had been. There was no way he was going to be caught dead in what was, for at least some practical intents and purposes, a Japanese Chevy. A Ford Escort, or maybe an old Festiva if one could be found in good shape, would do just fine, though.

Catalina responded that the Festiva didn't have the back-road qualities of the Tracker. Besides, while it may have had a Ford nameplate on it, it was basically a Kia, designed and mostly built in Korea, so it was about as hypocritical for a UAW man like Roger to be driving a Festiva as a Geo.

They never really reached any agreement on the issue; about the best that could be said was that it died out after a few days but that negotiations were pending in the future. They did agree that either the Taurus or the Mustang was going to have to go to make room for the new vehicle, whatever it proved to be.

As March progressed, weather reports from up north indicated the weather was moderating and Spring might actually come after all. As the month drew to a close, things were winding down for the Amish, and the nightly discussions mostly revolved about getting back to their farms and homes and starting to think about getting crops in. Roger and Catalina could see that packing was going on around the Amish camp, and more and more discussions of plans to return home were brought up around the supper tables.

The Amish actually wound up continuing work a day longer than they'd originally planned, to be able to finish up the last house on a particular block. The last day they had a huge crowd working on the place, mostly finish work, and Aaron told them that in a lot of ways it reminded him of a barn raising. Finally the last nail was driven into the last piece of molding, and the job was done; they all trooped back to the Amish camp for a real celebration of having completed a good winter's work. Aaron had long since told them they planned on being back in Pass Christian roughly about the first of November, and Roger and Catalina were more than welcome to come and join them for another winter. Roger told him they planned on doing it unless something unexpected came up.

The next day a large box truck pulling a long horse trailer showed up at the Amish camp, along with an old school bus, both rented by the Amish community and driven by English friends. Loading up the truck and trailer didn't take long; it was big enough for the two buggies that had been brought down earlier. All too soon Roger and Catalina were standing on the curb next to their motor home, watching as their friends started their long trek back to Indiana and Michigan. "Boy, I'll tell you," Catalina said after they pulled out of sight, "It's been a long time since I've been in a school bus, but I'll be damned if I would want to go that far in one in two days."

"Darn right," he said. "That would be hard on the old hind end, that's for sure, but you'll notice there's not a lot of padding on the seats of those buggies, either."

"Yeah, I guess it helps if you're used to it, and I'm not. If we ever decide to do that trip like we talked about, I'd bet we'd get used to it, though."

"You're probably right," he said. "That's something we've got to talk about. I still think I'd like to do it, but it's probably not going to be something we'll do next fall."

"I guess," she shrugged. "I suppose we could find some other crew to work with for a few days, but I don't think I'd get the fun out of it. I don't see any point in hanging around here. Let's go over and see Bill and Mom for a few days, and then head north. I think I've had enough of cleaning up after a hurricane to hold me for a while."

• • •

Not fifteen minutes later they were on the road heading eastbound. Because of the late start they had in getting out of Pass Christian, it was after dark before they pulled into the campground at Wamputa Beach. By now the daily temperatures could be expected to be in the high seventies or low eighties, which made for pretty reasonable conditions to be a nudist, so the place was getting pretty full. It turned out that Bill had saved them a convenient spot since he'd been anticipating their arrival, and soon they were settled in for the night.

It was still cool in the mornings, and Roger didn't have any problem wearing jeans and a sweatshirt under those conditions. Catalina, however, had more than had her fill of having to keep her cattail tattoo covered up from the Amish -- none of them even knew about it -- so was out in the buff at the first opportunity. While Roger had gotten used to going nude with Catalina and her mother, even with Bill in the mix, to do it with a crowd of strangers around was a little strange and a bit tough, but he realized it was like the Amish all over again. It was a different culture, and when in Rome and all that. He felt really awkward the first few hours that afternoon, but after that didn't think about it very much.

Mostly he helped Bill with piddly projects around the camp in the mornings for those idyllic days, and just basically hung out with Bill, Bonnie, and Catalina in the afternoons, occasionally doing something active like heading down to the shore for a swim. When he'd thought about nudist camps in the past, which wasn't much, considering who his girlfriend and her mother were, he'd figured it would be interesting to be around a bunch of beautiful nude young women. That didn't prove to be the case; at least this time of year, Catalina was the youngest woman there and some of them were considerably older, and she was far and away the most beautiful one present, with Bonnie running a distant second in his admittedly prejudiced mind. Privately -- and this was something he decided he'd better not tell Catalina under any circumstances -- most of them would have looked better if they'd had clothes on to cover up some of the deterioration that time had brought on them. But again, people had a right to be different, and the nudists had as much a right to be different as the Amish. Roger felt he could tolerate being around the nudists, and what the hell? In time he might even come to enjoy it.

Friday afternoon was coolish, and not weather in which Roger felt like he wanted to spend time outside in the nude, so for once not feeling very sociable, he decided to just hang around the motor home and finish reading a book he'd started days before. It was a good J.D. Robb murder mystery set in a rather dystopian future, and it held his interest for a while, but soon he finished it and found himself trying to think of something else to do. All of a sudden, he realized he hadn't checked his e-mail since Tuesday, so he got out his cell phone, rigged it up to his laptop, and logged on to the account.

There was the usual spam, and an e-mail from Ralph Gerjevic, with the subject line reading, in all capitals: " WE GOT TROUBLE -- CALL ASAP!" He opened the e-mail and read, "Catalina was right. Delmer Smith and Harold deBoer are trying to pull a fast one. We can block it but it's going to take your help. Call now!" It included the phone number.

Roger stared at the e-mail for a moment. It had seemed to him like the worst of the trouble surrounding the land settlement was in the past, but apparently it wasn't the case. He glanced down the list of other e-mails and didn't notice anything that seemed to draw his attention, so logged off the connection and went to get Catalina.

She wasn't hard to find; she was sitting in the lounge, talking with Bonnie. "Catalina," he said. "I just got an e-mail from Ralph. He wants us to call right away. Apparently, there was a fly in the auction ointment after all."

"Hell, I could have told you that," Bonnie snorted. "Delmer has never done anything fair in his life if there was something he thought he could get away with."

"My cell phone is in the motor home," she said. "I suppose I'd better go out there to call. Roger, I think I'll need you with me."

"Let me know what it is," Bonnie said. "I suppose the two of you can snuggle up to one cell phone, but it'd be difficult for the three of us."

Out in the motor home, Roger and Catalina snuggled together in the dinette seat, then called their attorney in Wychbold. It took a minute to get past the secretary, but they were soon talking to Ralph. "Jesus, I was wondering if you were ever going to call," he said. "I only found out about this yesterday, but Catalina, Delmer and deBoer are pulling a fast one on the auction."

"What's this?" Catalina asked.

"I got the notice on the auction a week ago," he said. I saw that the auction was set for two o'clock at the site on April 11, that's a week from Tuesday. For some goddamn reason or another I didn't notice the auction is set for two o'clock AM, not for two o'clock PM. Or if I noticed it, I thought it was a misprint, and I didn't think anything about it."

"Oh, shit," Catalina said. "And I suppose at two in the morning there aren't going to be many people who will turn out for an auction."

"Right, I'd expect they're hoping there will be only one bidder, and his name will be Delmer Smith. Hell, with no reserve price on the property if he was the only bidder he could bid one dollar, and win."

"Well, shit," Roger said. "That sucks big time."

"No shit," Ralph agreed. "And that's not all. I really hadn't done too much looking around for advertising for the auction, since I don't get the local papers for Hawthorne County, but when that came down I started making some phone calls. There has been one ad placed, in very small type, in the Lawrence Express, which is a weekly about as far away as you can get from Amherst and still be in the county, so I have to assume that not very many people know about the auction."

"Can he actually do that and get away with it?" Catalina asked, obviously seething.

"Yes, he can. The rules on such auctions state they have to be advertised for two weeks in, and I quote, 'a newspaper of record in general circulation in the county.' The Express qualifies in strict legal fact, but it's just barely legal in my opinion."

"Well, that really sucks," Catalina said. "Is there anything we can do to stop this?"

"In terms of stopping the auction or changing the time, no. I already brought it to the attention of Judge Langley, and he said he'd approved the application, so it has to go on as scheduled. If I had to guess, I would say his decision came from a couple of local buddies deciding to put the shaft to an outside attorney, namely me, but I can't prove it and don't have any grounds to take action from that angle, even with the Bar Association. However, there are some things that can be done to maybe mitigate the action, but we're going to have to get hot on them, and pretty quickly."

"What's that?" she asked.

"Well, in thinking about it, we have three possible courses of action. The first and most obvious is the fact that if Delmer and deBoer get a valid offer to purchase the land of over $650,000, then they have to accept it. Now, that can be done. I had a talk with Sam Fisher down at the bank, and he said that considering the fact that there has been a recent assessment done on the property, he could arrange for a mortgage on it pretty quickly, certainly in time to make the deadline."

"There's a little problem with that," Roger pointed out. "We have to find a buyer who's willing to shell out six hundred and fifty thousand dollars on short notice."

"Right," Ralph agreed. "And I'm figuring that you would be a candidate for that, more so than Catalina. You're already a property owner with good credit, so that would speed things along. Now, just because you'd purchase the property doesn't mean you have to own it forever. If you list the property and market it aggressively, you might even make a few bucks on the deal."

"Or I could sit on it and lose my shirt," Roger said. "I'm not ruling it out but I'm not saying yes, either. What are the other options?"

"Well, the second option is sort of the same thing," Ralph told them. "However, in this case, you could attend the auction and bid Delmer up to a reasonable level. I suspect he's thinking he's going to steal the property, so he won't have made preparations to go very high in a bidding war. You might be able to come out of it, for, oh, let's say three hundred thousand, just to name a number."

"I don't have six hundred and fifty thousand lying around with nothing to do with it," Roger told him. "I don't have three hundred thousand, either."

"There aren't many people who have that kind of money lying around for a land auction," the attorney told him. "Usually, when someone goes to an auction like that, they don't either. What they do have is a letter of credit from some bank stating the bank will mortgage the property up to a certain figure. Now, when I talked to Sam about it, he said he could be amenable to you, or possibly you and Catalina together, getting a letter of credit from him like that. You might not want to go to six hundred and fifty thousand, but if you went to, say, half a million you could probably turn the land over at that price before you had to make a payment. It's getting to be spring; there are people looking for bargains, and if the assessment is as correct as we believe it to be, half a million is a bargain you wouldn't hold onto for very long."

"Yeah," Roger said. "I could do that, and at least Catalina would get something like her fair share out of it. The problem with that is Delmer would still get something out of it."

"That can't be helped," Ralph reminded him. "He's going to walk out of it with something; there's no way to avoid it. What you want to do is make sure he gets as little of it as possible, or, at least, Catalina gets as much out of it as possible. If, for example, Delmer isn't prepared to go high on a bid because he thinks he's got a lock on the deal, you might be the one to get it at, oh, fifty thousand to name a number. He and Catalina would get twenty-five thousand each out of the auction, in that case, and Catalina could stand to gain half a million on the sale."

"That sounds better, but there's a lot of ifs involved in that," Catalina said. "I can't believe Delmer is going to set up a deal like that and not be prepared to have to bid it up to a reasonable figure. Hell, he could do it if he was prepared or not."

"True, and that's why auctions are gambles," the attorney said. "But that leads to the third option, and that's to see if we can find someone else who would be willing to bid him up while you stand back and watch him sweat. That's a little iffy, and would cost you some money, but if he's not going to advertise the auction honestly it doesn't mean that you can't do it yourself. It might cost you a thousand or two to get advertising for the auction in all the local papers, daily and weekly, around here, but I think it would be money well spent. The problem is that we're going to have to move quickly on it. We don't have a lot of time if we're going to hit some advertising deadlines at some of those papers. A couple of the weeklies will be today, or at best the first thing Monday."

"It sort of burns my butt to say it, but you're right," Catalina said. "It seems to me to be the simplest option. However, I don't have that kind of money sitting around, either."

"Just a second, Ralph," Roger said. "Let me talk to Catalina." He put his hand over the mouthpiece and said, "I'd rather spend the money on advertising than I would on giving a commission to a realtor if I can help it. I'll front you the money, you can pay me back when it's settled."

"OK, Roger," she said after a moment. "You have a big heart, and I guess I'll have to take you up on it."

"You're not going to lose money on it in the long run, Cattail," he said. "You might not make as much as you hope, but you're not going to be out money, either."

"Jesus, am I glad I've got you around to back me up," she said. "Roger, I don't know what I'd do without you. Let's go ahead and tell Ralph."

Roger took his fingers off the mouthpiece and said, "OK, get some ads started and make sure they're big enough to be noticed. Maybe we can make the little dink sweat a little."

"Good enough," Ralph replied. "I take it you're planning on being at the auction as a possible bidder if need be?"

"Well, yeah," Roger said. "We're going to have to talk about this, you, me, and Catalina to see just how high I'm willing to go for the property. I guess I don't mind being a pivot point on a quick sale, but I don't want to have to be stuck with it and making payments on it when I could be doing other things."

"That's not going to be an easy decision for you to make, since there are some intangibles involved," Ralph said. "Somewhere in there is a balance point between Catalina getting her fair share and how much trouble you're going to want to go to in turning the property over. Now, I don't know what you're doing down there, but if you can make it back up here pretty soon, it'll make life a heck of a lot easier when we get down to discussing those details."

"I agree," Roger said. "Let me talk with Catalina again." Not bothering to cover the mouthpiece this time, he just pulled the phone away and said. "It's Friday now and nothing's going to get done this weekend, but we could be back Monday."

"Yeah," she said. "I think we'd better head back. Maybe not tonight considering it's getting late already, but first thing in the morning."

"Sounds reasonable," he said and pulled the phone back. "We should be back in Wychbold Sunday night, Monday morning at the latest unless we get caught by weather or something."

"Good enough," Ralph told them. "We're going to beat this joker at his own game yet."


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