Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
"Boy, isn't that just about like Delmer all over?" Bonnie said a few minutes later when they gave her a summary of the phone call. "There's no way in hell you can trust him as far as you can throw a fit. I knew he had to be up to something."
"We're just lucky Ralph caught him at it while there was still time to do something about it," Roger shook his head. "What it all comes down to is that we've got to hit the road. There's stuff we need to do in Wychbold next week to get ready for this, so there's no point in hanging around the Gulf Coast any longer."
"Yeah," Bonnie replied thoughtfully. "I think you'd better get going on that mortgage application as soon as you can, because you may well wind up having to pay full price on the thing. Bankers may say it only takes a couple hours but they usually mean a couple weeks when they say it."
"Well, it's not like I want to win the bid, I just want to bid it up as high as I can," Roger said. "If Delmer wants the land so damn bad he's willing to pay six hundred and fifty big ones for it, I think Catalina will be glad to take his money."
"He won't go that high, but he'll be prepared to go higher than a minimum bid, just in case," Bonnie told them. "He's been involved in land auctions before, he knows how that works."
"I pretty well figured that," Roger said. "While you can bad mouth him all you want, the bottom line is that he can't be stupid and still come up with this kind of a deal. Dishonest, sure, and after this I believe it, but stupid? I really doubt it."
"Stupid enough to think he's going to get away with it," Bonnie said. "So, you're saying to leave tonight?"
"We could," Catalina said. "But that would mean an extra night on the road. Of course, if we're taking the motor home we could find some place to boondock, so it might not cost any more. How soon can you be ready to go?"
"You're taking the motor home?" Bonnie asked. "I thought you were going to leave it here."
"No, we've made up our minds we're going to try and sell it, then get a bigger one to go out west with," Catalina told her. "That means taking it with us, unless we're in a huge-ass hurry to get home, and that would mean we'd have to come back down here to get it."
"Well, that simplifies things," Bonnie said. "Look, I don't want to have to rush around to pack up to be gone in an hour or so, and now that we're getting some people here I'd kind of like to hang around for a few days. But I'd like to be back for the auction, just in case. Roger, why don't you just leave the Taurus here, and I can drive it home in a few days?"
"That would work," Roger said. "Especially considering that we may well not be able to get back down here this spring. If something gets screwed up and I win the bid I may have to stay up there until I can get some arrangements made for the land, like having to get someone to get crops on it if I can't turn it over in a hurry. Plus there's several other things needing to get done."
"If we left Mom the Taurus, we'd have the Mustang up there to run around in," Catalina pointed out.
"Oh, I'm sold on the idea," Roger said. "Bonnie, you don't have to be back for the auction. Besides, if you went to it you might say something at the wrong time and wind up owning a half million dollar piece of land. I'd say to stay as long as you like. I probably ought to have the Taurus back before we head west, but I don't know when that'll be. Worse come to worst, you could drive the Taurus back home, hang around for a few days, and drive your own car back down here."
"All right, I'll figure on staying for a while, then," she replied. "Maybe if we're looking at a stretch of bad weather I could make a quick trip back."
"All right, then," Roger said. "Cattail, let's get started tearing the motor home down so we can get on the road."
• • •
Roger and Catalina were on the road heading north in the motor home in less than an hour. "Well, this beats having to tag along behind in the Taurus," she said as soon as they were out to the highway.
"Yeah, it does," Roger said. "Too bad we can't tow it, but we're not set up for it, and I don't think this thing would have the guts to do it anyway. Having your mother bring it home in a few days probably works out for the best. I got the impression that she wasn't real anxious about having to come home."
"Me, either," she replied. "Hell, if we see her at all before we head west it won't be for long. I'll bet she's planning on staying the summer. After all, she's going to be with her boyfriend at a nudist camp on a beach. What's to come home for?"
"It'll sure be interesting to see how that one comes out," he smiled.
"Yeah, I think so, too," Catalina said reflectively. "And I'll tell you what, I think I'm glad to see it. She's been at sort of loose ends ever since Dad died, and all the fooling around she's done has mostly been to kill time and keep from getting bored. Bill seems to be a nice guy, and they really get along well. I'll bet we're going to be spending more time at that place in years to come."
"Yeah, I suspect you're right," he said. "Of course, the best thing about spending time at a nudist camp is that I get to see your tattoo in full glory."
"Well, the best thing as far as I'm concerned is getting to show it off to you," she smiled. "I sure haven't had the chance to do it much the last few months, what with working with the Amish and all."
"Well, we're going to be home for a month or so, maybe more," Roger said. "We ought to be able to get plenty of time in the hot tub."
"Yeah, there's that," she said, her mind on something else. She was silent for a couple minutes before she spoke. "Roger, are we really going to be together for the long term?
"We are as far as I'm concerned," he told her. "I'm ready to have you for as long as you'll stay with me. What we do about the long term is your decision, just like it's always been. Do you have something in mind?"
"I think so," she said. "If we're going to be in Wychbold for a month or six weeks, do you think there'd be time to get my stuff out of Mom's house and over to yours?"
"We can make the time and in that big a house there's more than enough room. There's no big rush on moving your stuff I can see."
"I don't know, either," she said. "Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but I keep thinking that if this gets halfway serious between Mom and Bill, she may want to think about selling her house in Amherst. Of course, that means she'd have to sell all the shit she's accumulated in her house, and that could turn into a huge damn garage sale that could last all summer. Or maybe, God help us, an auction."
"You think it's that serious?"
"It could be," she said. "But if she decides to do it, I think I'd just as soon have my stuff out of there in case we're way the hell out in back of Bourke, as an Aussie friend of mine used to say. We might have to store some of it for her."
"We could do that," he conceded. "There's a lot of space going to waste in that house, and since it looks like Erin is never coming home again we could use it constructively."
"You know of anything at Mom's house you might like?"
"I don't really know it that well," he said. "But I'll be honest, I wouldn't mind having those Red Wing hunting boots of your father's. They fit me so well it was like I'd broken them in."
"They're yours as far as I'm concerned, and I'll square it with Mom later," she smiled, and then added. "I always knew it was going to take a good man to fill Dad's shoes, and it looks like I've finally found him."
• • •
While the motor home was a comfortable ride, even compared to the Taurus, it wasn't quite as fast, and it seemed like it took them longer to get where they were going. They boondocked the first night out at the Walmart in Dothan, Alabama, and the second night out in a truck stop parking lot north of Nashville. Late on Sunday night they pulled into Roger's driveway in Wychbold, and were glad to be there for once.
Things had changed a lot in Michigan in the six weeks they'd been gone. Where, in the middle of February, there had been hip-deep snow all over the place, the snow was all gone now, replaced by bare trees and brown grass left over from the previous year. Here and there things were starting to show signs of green, and the mud that's usually common right after a major snow melt had mostly dried out. Michigan didn't seem like such a bad deal as it had six weeks before.
They didn't waste any time getting into the hot tub -- once again they'd called ahead to tell Larry to turn the heat up -- and it felt good to have it take the road weariness out of them.
They'd talked about what needed to be done in the next few days most of the way back from the Gulf Coast, and they couldn't help talking about it some more. Obviously, the first thing on their list was to see Gerjevic as soon as they could get an appointment in the morning, and anything to do with preparing for the auction was going to have to take priority over other things. But they'd also agreed that a high priority was to get everything possible out of the motor home to prepare it for a possible sale. If it turned out they wound up having to take it west, then at least it could be reloaded with things that would be needed for the summer -- lots of carpentry tools wouldn't be needed at the campground at Cedar Breaks National Monument, for instance. It seemed likely that the motor home might be worth more on a private sale than it would bring as a trade-in. That meant they wanted to at least give selling it themselves a quick try before they got involved in looking for a new motor home, which could wait until after the auction. Looking for a new one could also wait until after the auction, when Catalina's financial picture would be clearer, but there was still a lot to do before the middle of May and their projected date of leaving for Utah.
The next morning they were at Becky's for breakfast well before Gerjevic's office opened. Jason Daugherty was there, of course, and asked, "So, Roger. Have you had any thoughts about selling your house?"
"Yeah, and I'm not going to do it just yet," he said. "Things have changed a little since I talked to you about it. I may, and I emphasize the may, have something else for you to list. You remember that piece of farmland and woods we were talking about last winter?"
"Over around Amherst, as I recall?"
"Yeah. I don't want to go into the ins and outs of it just yet, but I may be forced to buy it at an auction. If I do, it's going to be up for sale immediately, and I'll want to be able to turn it over without getting stung on the deal. Do you think you might be interested in that?"
"Possibly, but it's a little out of my area," Jason said. "I'll help you out on it if I can, though. How soon are you going to know about it?"
"I'll know one way or the other a week from tomorrow. I really hope I don't have to be in the barrel on this one but it's beginning to look like I may not have the choice."
"Just to throw in a thought, you might want to split the property," Jason suggested. "The farmland might go quickly at a high dollar this time of year, but you might have to sit on the woods for a while until some buyer comes along who can see it as an investment."
"Yeah, that's an angle I hadn't thought of," Roger said. "Farmland is one thing, but a woodlot is something else. I'll have to kick it around."
They sat and talked about it for a few minutes, and then since Roger didn't want to get into the details of the deal too completely the talk drifted to other things. A minute or two after nine Catalina called over to Gerjevic's office, where Linda told them to come on over. "Actually," she said, "I'm a little surprised the two of you weren't waiting at the door when we opened."
"About one more sip of coffee and we'll be on our way," Catalina told her.
In a few minutes they were sitting in a comfortable chair in the attorney's office. "For the most part you know what the options are, and we covered them pretty well on the phone Friday," he said. "Linda and I pulled together an ad, and we made the deadlines of several of the local papers in the area Friday, and she'll be working on the rest of them this morning, so there's that angle covered."
"Good," Roger said. "Having someone else buy the property at a good price is the best answer as far as I can see."
"Yeah, but like several things it's a gamble," Ralph told them. "You're still going to have to have your mind made up to be able to make a bid if the selling stalls at too low a price, with all the hassles that will entail. I made an appointment for you with Sam down at the bank for ten so you can get going on the letter of credit. You probably ought to be able to get that wrapped up today."
"Jason made an interesting comment over breakfast," Roger said. "He said it might be possible to split the land and sell the farmland on a quick sale for a good price, but it might be worthwhile to hold onto the woods as an investment until someone comes along who knows what timber is worth."
"That might not be a bad idea," Ralph told him. "But just as a word of advice, up till now we've just been going on the assumption that those trees were worth something. I think before you decide to do something like that, it might be worthwhile for you to find John Castle and some sort of an ATV that wouldn't be too bad for him to ride in, and have him tell you what the trees on the property are really worth. That might have some bearing on how high you might be willing to go at the auction."
"I hadn't thought it out quite that far," Roger admitted. "But that's a good idea. I'll see if I can track him down in the next day or two. My brother-in-law has a John Deere Gator he sometimes uses to get around his farmland, and a trailer to pull it on behind his pickup. I can talk to him about it."
They talked about a few more things and issues. The main one outstanding at that point was just how high Roger and Catalina were willing to go on a bid. "Since the assessment on the property is still six hundred and fifty thousand, I doubt the bank will want to go any higher than that, but you probably should have the letter to go that high if you need to," he told them. "However, unless John tells you the timber is higher than that, I'd be very reluctant to go that high if you want to make a quick sale."
"I figured that much out," Roger said. "I'm willing to talk five. Catalina and I have agreed on that, and if the timber is worth more I might be willing to go a little higher. Six and a half isn't going to make for a quick sale, though. To be honest, I'm not real crazy about investing with borrowed money unless there's a good deal in there somewhere. Let's face it, while I want Catalina to get all the money out of this she can get, there's a limit to how much hassle I want to put up with."
"One other thing," the attorney pointed out. "You might want to keep the fact that you're considering bidding on the land a little quiet. Since we're advertising this auction Delmer may get the idea that we're up to something, but then again, he may not. If he stays fat, dumb, and happy, especially the dumb part, he may not bother to get a bank letter of credit figuring that no one is going to bid against him. You might wind up buying the property at a steal."
"That's very doubtful," Catalina said. "My mother says Delmer has been involved in land auctions before, he knows what the deal is."
"Still, it might not be a bad idea to keep it a little quiet," the attorney pointed out. "But that doesn't mean you shouldn't have your ducks in a row."
The stop at the bank was long, tedious, and took the rest of the morning. As it got to be time for lunch, Sam Fisher was satisfied with the application that Roger and Catalina made. "There are a couple things I need to check out," he said. "But that's mostly for the sake of having all the blanks filled in. If you want to stop by the first thing in the morning I should have the letter of credit ready for you."
"Well," Roger said as he and Catalina walked out of the bank, "That went easier than I expected it to."
"Yeah, I figured it would take all week," she said.
The interest rate is pretty high, but if we wind up buying the land we won't hold on to it long enough to pay a lot of interest," he said. "Let's go over to Becky's and get some lunch, and then we can go out to Max and Arlene's so I can see if I can borrow the Gator."
After lunch they found Max out in the machinery shed, working on equipment to get it ready for spring plowing and planting. "Won't be long now," he said. "About another week, maybe two if it turns cold again, and I'm going to be up to my butt in work. What have you got in mind?"
Roger asked about borrowing the all-terrain vehicle, along with a truck and trailer to haul it with, so he could take John Castle to check out the woods on the property he was planning to bid on. Max said it was fine with him, but asked what it was all about. Between them Roger and Catalina told him the whole story. "Anyway," Roger ended up. "If I wind up buying the property I'm probably going to want to find someone to lease the farmland to for the summer. Would you be interested?"
"Probably not," Max told him. "I can always use more land to plant, but that's a hell of a long way from here for me. But I know some people here and there over that way so I can ask around."
"Try to do it a little quietly," Roger warned. "I guess, maybe don't be too specific. I don't want Catalina's cousin to know we're on to him if I can help it."
"I can do that," Max smiled. "I've been involved in some of these deals before. I sort of know how that goes. Go see if you can track down John. I shouldn't need the truck and the Gator tomorrow, and the weather is supposed to turn crappy for a couple days after that."
John proved easy to find -- he was at home, watching a satellite channel TV show about logging. "I've seen it before," he explained. "But at least it's something interesting to watch, and it's nice to see how they do it elsewhere. So what can I do for you today?"
Once again, Roger went through the whole story. He'd developed a few short cuts here and there to make the explanation quicker, but the gist of the thing was there. "The thing of it is," he said. "Ever since this came up back in the winter, the one thing up in the air about the whole thing is that no one seems to know what the trees on the property are worth, and there's a hundred acres of them. We've wanted to get you out there to look at it since the beginning, but we got snow up to our butts not long after things started."
"Wouldn't have wanted to do it until recently anyway," John told them. "I got laid up right after the first of the year and had to spend some time in the hospital. I'm pretty much better now, but for a couple months there I wasn't worth the powder to blow me away. I guess you know I don't walk too well anymore."
"Figured that," Roger told him, and explained about borrowing Max's ATV.
"Well, that makes things a mite different," John said. "It should be pretty firm back in those woods, and with no leaves coming on yet we should be able to get a good look pretty quickly. It would take days to get a firm estimate with a hundred acres to go over, but I ought to be able to give you a pretty good off-the-cuff estimate in two or three hours."
"Really, that's all I need at this point," Roger told him. "What I really need is to know if the trees are more valuable than the assessor says. If they are, then I might be willing to go higher."
"Well, if you wind up buying the property, I'm pretty sure I can find people willing to give you a good price for what's there," John smiled. "I may have been out of the business for a while, but I still know everybody around here who's in the business."
It took a while to get out of John's. He was a story teller and he had a lot of them to tell; the time spent listening to him was always enjoyable and never wasted, as Roger had understood for as long as he'd known the man, which was most of his life. The afternoon was pretty well shot by the time Roger and Catalina got back to his house -- well, their house, it more or less was now although it was still a little hard to think of that way.
"We've still got a little of the day left," Roger commented when he pulled Catalina's Mustang into the garage. "I suppose we could get started unloading the motor home."
"Oh, let's not today," she said. "There's only two seats on that ATV so there's no point in my going along tomorrow. I can pick away at it while you're out looking the land over with John."
"Yeah, I was wondering about that a little," he agreed. "I hate to stick you with a job like that by yourself, though."
"Oh, don't worry about it," she smiled. "I'm a big girl. I can at least haul most of the stuff into the house, but you may have to put some of it away, and that's especially true about the tools in your shop. I can fake my way through a lot of the rest of it. If everything goes all right tomorrow, and I can get the motor home cleaned out, maybe later tomorrow or Thursday we could sneak over to Amherst with it to get my stuff from Mom's."
"Yeah, if there's very much, then we're probably better off using it than your car," he agreed.
• • •<
The next morning Roger drove the Mustang out to Max's. Max already had the trailer hooked up to his big pickup truck; he gave Roger a five-minute course in driving the vehicle, and showed him how to load it onto the trailer. With that, Roger took off and drove the rig over to John's house. Soon they were on the road for Amherst, with John relating more logging stories and stories of dirty land transactions that seemed to follow them around; this kind of stuff was nothing new, it seemed.
Roger hadn't actually seen the property since before Christmas, but soon pulled into the little two-rut he'd driven the Taurus up months before. He went up it enough to be out of sight of the road, since he didn't want Delmer to see a strange vehicle sitting alongside the road if he just happened to drive by.
While Roger unloaded the Gator John took a look around. "Boy, some nice trees in here," he said. "If the whole woods is like this you're looking at some money."
"That's about the one thing in the whole affair we were pretty sure of," Roger told him. "The thing is the whole woods isn't like this. There's some swamp in here, but I don't think there's all that much of it. When I was here before I didn't cover all the ground, but I didn't notice much brushland or places with lots of toothpick trees."
"Well, let's go see," John said, getting onto the right seat of the ATV.
They spent a good two hours investigating all the hills and valleys. John's story telling was a little slowed as he was looking with a practiced eye at the woods they were going through. Several times John had Roger stop so he could get out and look things over a little closer. Finally, John said he'd seen what he needed to see, and they might as well head back to the truck.
Roger was willing to do just that; he could see the woods were filled with nice trees, but he wasn't capable of being more judgmental than that. "So, what do you think?"
"Nice woods," John said. "You wouldn't want to cut it over, since there's some patches of younger trees here that should be allowed to grow a bit. It's a little too rough for farming these days, anyway. Now, if you were plowing with a horse you might get away with clearing and farming some of it, but it's not worth the trouble with modern equipment."
"So what do you think it's worth?"
"Hard to give you an exact figure without looking it over a little more carefully. But if the assessor said this patch of woods was worth three hundred thousand, he was way low. There's that much maple, oak and walnut you could cut off of here and still leave it worth that much."