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

Cattail
Wes Boyd
İ2010, İ2011



Chapter 20

John's words put a new twist to Roger's thinking about the land. If John was right -- and Roger had to assume the old man knew more about it than he did -- it put a different spin on things. Up to this point they'd been going on the six hundred and fifty thousand dollar figure that had been thrown around for months. John's words meant that it could be worth closer to a million!

It was hard for Roger to believe that a hundred and sixty acres of farmland could be worth that much. The figure seemed astronomical. Roger knew from listening to Max talk that farming was a lot bigger business with a lot more money involved than most people understood, but still, Roger was a retired factory worker and didn't think in numbers that big. All of a sudden, the $650,000 it would take to put a valid offer on the table in front of Delmer and deBoer began to sound like a bargain investment. But was it one worth taking advantage of? Would it be worth paying the interest needed to take full advantage of it, or do the administration and detail work involved? It was a damn good question, and he knew he wouldn't have an answer until he talked to Catalina, and probably not then.

Still, he couldn't help but examine the options as he loaded the Gator back on the trailer, then drove John back home, only half listening to the stories coming from the far side of the truck cab. It would probably kill the idea of going out west to spend the summer at Cedar Breaks. There was too much that would have to be done over the summer, and that put a twist into his thinking, too.

He still was thinking about it when he got to John's house. "John, I really appreciate your helping me out on this," he said. "At least I finally have some idea of what we're talking about. What do I owe you?"

"Not a thing," John told him. "It was nice to be able to get out in the woods for a few hours, and that was payment enough. I've had to spend enough hours inside looking at the TV set the past few months. I'm just glad to have been able to help you out."

"Well, it's appreciated. The next time I catch you in Becky's some morning, breakfast is on me. Now I suppose I'd better get this rig back to Max before he starts wondering what happened to me."

It only took another few minutes to get back to Max's house. Not knowing where Max wanted the stuff put, Roger just parked in the yard and went looking for his brother-in-law. He found him out in the shop, still puttering with the big green John Deere tractor that would start getting its seasonal workout in a few days. "So," Max said. "How did it go?"

"Pretty interesting," Roger said, realizing that he'd get better advice about what to do out of his brother-in-law, who was a farmer and who had to understand how to think about those kinds of numbers better than he did. "John said there was a lot of timber there that was worth a pretty good price." He went on to explain some of John's observations, and some of his ruminations about the numbers.

"Well," Max said. "I can't tell you about the woodland part of it that much since I've never dealt with it. Farmland, though, I can tell you this much: the prices go up and down. In the long run it's usually a good investment to buy land, but in the short run you can get your butt shot off. Prices go up and down, but the bottom line is not what the land is worth to you but what it's worth to a buyer, and whether you have a buyer around who will pay the price you want. I can tell you that's just as true of trees as it is of land. If you're willing to sit around and hold onto it until you can get your price, that's one thing, but you might have to wait years."

"Yeah, I've seen that fly in the ointment since this whole deal came up," Roger admitted. "The problem is that it's a lot of money."

"It is a lot of money," Max pointed out. "Even if you're used to having to deal with those kinds of figures. Sometimes you can get short-term and long-term value mixed up. Now, I decided to take a breather from working on this thing while you were gone, so I headed in and made some phone calls. It started out just trying to find someone over in that area who might be interested in a lease on sixty acres in case you needed it, but I heard an interesting story."

"What might this be?"

"Now, no names were mentioned, but it's breakfast-shop talk over in that neck of the woods that some guy has a hundred and sixty acres, sixty farmland and the rest woods, that's tied up in an estate. Sound familiar?"

"Pretty familiar," Roger smiled. "Delmer, you think?"

"I honestly don't know. No names were used, but it sure sounds like it. Anyway, it seems this guy has a big note coming due that's been extended a couple times, but his cousin has been sitting on the settlement to drive her share up. He's really pissed about it, because he has an offer to purchase the land sort of sitting under the table for enough to pay off that note, if she'll settle for what he offered."

"Holy shit!" Roger said. "That explains a hell of a lot that has never made sense before!"

"Sure does, doesn't it? Now this is just coffee-shop talk, but the offer is supposedly around four hundred thousand and change, so I suppose you can tell where the ninety thousand dollar settlement figure came from."

"Yeah, that much of it makes sense. So what it comes down to is that he wants to sell a million dollar piece of land for less than half that so he can make a third of it, with Catalina getting the short end of the stick."

"That's about the size of it," Max grinned. "The problem is that he needs the money in the short term so is willing to let go of the long term. It may sound stupid, but it may not be from the viewpoint of the guy who's got the bill to pay."

"So, you're saying that if the bid goes low to someone else besides him, he's screwed," Roger noted, a couple more things coming into focus.

"Pretty much. But if he can get it low, then he makes out like a bandit. There are a lot of screwy things around auctions, and this isn't the screwiest I've ever heard of."

"A lot sure has changed today," Roger shook his head as he mentally explored the ramifications, some of which he barely saw. "I guess I'd better go have a talk with Catalina and see what she thinks about it."

"You might want to run it by your attorney, too," Max pointed out.

"Yeah, him too," Roger agreed. "But Catalina first."

• • •

Roger and Catalina went to bed early the following Monday night, but set the alarm for midnight. At that, they didn't sleep very well, if they slept at all. They'd talked over the whole deal for several more days, coming to some conclusions, changing their minds, talking some more, and changing their minds again. Roger was lying in bed wide awake when the alarm went off, and although he and Catalina had tried to be quiet, it proved she wasn't asleep, either. "Well," she said. "I suppose that means we ought to get up."

"Yeah, that's how I figure it," Roger agreed. "I guess we'd better go do it."

"Nothing else to do," she agreed. "At least we've worked out what we're going to do. There's no point in talking it over any more, just play it like it comes and hope it works out for the best. If we wind up winning the bid, we win it, with all that means. If we don't win, we can start looking for a motor home to take out west, so I guess we win there, too."

"Right, we come out of it winning something," he agreed. "I'm still not sure whether I really want to win it or not."

"Me, either," she sighed, throwing the covers back and sitting up. In the low light of the room, Roger could see the cattails tattooed on her back as she started to get dressed. The tattoo seemed to still make her unbelievably exotic to him, even though they were so much closer now than they had been when he saw the tattoo for the first time. Most people didn't even know the tattoo was there, but somehow to Roger it made her even more exceptional. "Whatever happens," she said as she fastened her bra backwards around her obscuring the cattails in the process, then slid it around to put her arms through the straps, "I guess we just do the next thing."

"That's what we agreed," Roger said, conceding the need to get his own act together and get out of bed. "I guess we'd better dress warm. It looks like it's going to be chilly out there."

In a few minutes they were dressed; Roger had pulled on Catalina's father's old Red Wing boots for good luck, or something. He wasn't exactly sure why, but it seemed like a good idea to wear them. A few hours before they'd set the timer on the coffee pot, and the aroma of fresh coffee filled the kitchen. They poured travel mugs full, and put the rest in a thermos to take with them. Soon they were in the Mustang, heading for the auction.

Wychbold seemed dead at that hour. It was indeed dead; there might have been a few people awake in town besides them, but it couldn't have been very many. The familiar road to Amherst was just as dead; they only saw a couple vehicles moving. As they drove along, they could see that the sky was mostly overcast, but every now and then a nearly full moon showed through a break in the clouds. "I wonder how many people are going to show up," Catalina commented once.

"Hard to say," John answered. "Maybe not many. I sure would like to have a lot of buyers who could bid the price right up. That'd be the best of both worlds."

"I'm not holding my breath," she shook her head. "We might get a few people who will come out in hopes of grabbing a bargain, but they'll probably drop out when things get serious."

"You never know. I've never spent much time around auctions, but Max says you never can tell."

"Well, I'm hoping we can go looking for a motor home tomorrow," she said. "That's after we get some real sleep."

"Yeah, me too," he said. "We got lucky on the motor home." That had indeed worked well; while they'd still been working at cleaning out the previous week, Larry had stopped by from next door to see what was going on. When he found out that Roger was planning on selling it, Larry had said he knew someone who was looking for an older cheap motor home, mostly to go to races and not have to drive back home half drunk. When he asked Roger what he wanted for it, Roger quoted a price a thousand dollars higher than he'd paid for the thing, just to leave him some room to dicker. The guy showed up a day later, and after giving it a good looking over, met the price. It had been a little sad to see the motor home head out of the driveway without them, because a lot of good things had happened to both of them in it during the last seven months. But it had been a worthwhile bargain all the way around. The thousand dollars extra Roger had gotten on the sale more than paid for the repairs, the gas he'd burned going down to the coast and back, and the campground fees for the few nights he'd had to pay them. He hoped it would bring as much luck to the guy who bought it.

"We did," she smiled. "Maybe that means this is going to go our way, whatever way that is."

They'd wanted to pull into the auction a little early, if for no more reason than there was the possibility that someone might not be able to tell time, but that didn't prove to be a problem. The auction was being held near the corner of the two intersecting roads, and they found cars parked along the road in all directions. In the dark, it was hard to tell, but there may have been a couple dozen of them. Roger pulled the Mustang off the road as far as he dared, and he and Catalina got out after topping off their coffee cups.

They'd already agreed they were going to stay back in the darkness until the auction got under way, just so Delmer wouldn't know they were there. That had been on the assumption that only a handful of people would show up, but with the relative crowd of a couple dozen or more, they weren't sure it mattered anymore. In any case, they decided to stick with the plan they'd made.

However, they were looking for one person, Ralph Gerjevic, and soon found him, thanks to the big Cadillac Escalade he drove. "Looks like it's going to be a few minutes yet," he said after Roger tapped on the window. "Bigger crowd than I expected."

"Yeah, me too," Roger agreed. "But I think maybe we'll stay outside until it gets going."

It was chilly out there, and there was a nasty wind blowing that made it feel better to be standing in the wind shadow of the big sport utility, just talking with Ralph for a minute while they sipped on their coffee. Eventually they heard someone call, "All right, everybody, let's gather around and get this over with."

"Guess it's time," Ralph said. He got out of the vehicle and joined Roger and Catalina as they walked down the darkened road to where the auctioneer stood, lighted up by the headlights of someone's pickup truck. Still, the three of them hung back in the shadows at the rear of the crowd; they still hadn't seen Delmer, and hoped he hadn't noticed them in the few instants that the clouds let the light of the nearly full moon shine on the little group.

"For those of you who don't know me, I'm Bruce Berkshire, and I'll be conducting this auction," the auctioneer said. "I have to admit, in all my years as an auctioneer this is the only time I've ever held an auction at two in the morning, so I'm glad to see such a large turnout. I know this is a ridiculous hour to be out of bed, so let's get this show on the road so we can get out of this wind. What we have on the block tonight is a single parcel consisting of a hundred and sixty acres, sixty tillable and a hundred wooded." He glanced at a sheet of paper to read off the legal description of the land, then said, "Do I hear an opening bid?"

"Ten thousand dollars," they heard Delmer say.

"Guess he was still hoping for a fast one," Catalina whispered.

"Let's not fool around," another voice in the crowd said. "It's cold out here. Two hundred thousand."

"All right," Berkshire said. "I have two hundred thousand, two hundred thousand. Anybody give two and a quarter, two and a quarter, two and a quarter? Do I hear two and a quarter?"

"You've already beaten Delmer's offer," Roger whispered back as they heard Delmer say in a voice that sounded like he was extremely angry, "Two and a quarter."

"All right, I have two and a quarter, two and a quarter. Anybody give two and a half? Two and a half?"

"Two and a half," they heard someone say.

"All right, I have two and a half, two and a half, anybody give me two and three quarters? Two and three quarters? That's two hundred and seventy-five thousand dollars, people, anyone give me two and three quarters?"

"Two and three quarters," they heard Delmer say, this time sounding a little resigned. The auctioneer noted the bid, and asked for three hundred thousand, which someone in the darkness quickly met. The next call was for $325,000, and they heard Delmer jump on the bid quickly.

The bidding continued to go up quickly at twenty-five thousand dollars a crack, which moved things right along. Delmer met each offer up to four hundred thousand, but was slower to answer the call at that price. Some of the bargain hunters had dropped out now, but there were still several people bidding. Things slowed at four hundred thousand, and it was a lower figure than Roger wanted to see the land go for -- the higher the price could be run, the more would be in it for Catalina. Just to keep things moving, when it looked like the auctioneer was willing to let the land go for four hundred thousand, Roger decided to jump in at $425,000.

"All right, I have four and a quarter, four and a quarter, anybody give me four and a half? Four and a half?"

"Four and a half," they heard Delmer snap. Whatever interest he'd had in keeping the price low had evaporated; he must have realized his under-the-table deal had gone down the tubes, and he now wanted to run the price as high as possible.

"And I have four and a half, four and a half," Berkshire said. "Four and three quarters, anyone."

"Yah, four and three quarters," they heard a new but somehow familiar voice say. Almost instantly they heard Delmer snap back with a bid of five hundred thousand.

In less than a minute between Delmer and the new bidder, the bidding had reached six hundred thousand, where Roger and Catalina had agreed they'd stop bidding. They had decided they might go higher if the circumstances were right, but that was starting to push it and the bidding didn't slow down very much.

The new bidder, the one whose voice somehow seemed familiar was taking his time making his bids, as if to draw out the agony, while Delmer snapped his bid back in what seemed like anger and frustration. The new bidder topped Delmer's bid with six and a quarter; Delmer came back with six and a half. The new bidder bid six and three quarters, and Delmer bid seven hundred thousand.

"All right," Berkshire said. "I have seven, seven, seven hundred thousand dollars for this fine parcel. Anybody give me seven and a quarter? Seven and a quarter?"

He continued calling for the new figure until it looked like Delmer's bid was going to win, but at close to the last second the other bidder out in the shadows said softly, "Yah, seven and a quarter."

"It's yours," Delmer said. "That's all I can go."

"Just to be on the safe side, anybody give me seven and a half?" Berkshire said. "Seven and a half? Seven and a half?" He paused for dramatic effect if nothing else, then said one more time, "Last call for seven and a half?" Again there was a pause, and he said, "All right, sold to the gentleman, whoever it was, who bid seven and a quarter. Come on out here so we can do the paperwork."

"Yah," they heard, and saw movement in the shadows. In a moment a middle-aged Amish man stepped into the headlights, followed by an older Amish man with a big gray beard.

"My God!" Catalina whispered. "That's Michael and Aaron!"

• • •

The crowd rapidly drifted off; they could hear cars starting and see lights coming on as people headed back to their warm beds. "I'm just as glad we didn't win it," Roger said. "You came out of that about as well as you could."

"Yeah, about three hundred and fifty thousand after expenses," Catalina said. "I'd have been happy with a lot less."

"Well, if we'd been able to grab it for under six like we talked about," Roger said, "There'd have been considerably more in the long run, but the way things turned out we didn't have a chance at it."

"It's probably just as well," she said. "The money would have been nice, but it really wasn't anything I wanted to deal with, and making out on it might have been a gamble that would have kept us from doing what we really wanted to do. At least this way we're sure of what we have."

"True, and it's off your neck, now," he said. "If we'd had a chance to do it in an orderly fashion and know what we know now we might have been able to do better. At least this way we don't have to worry about it. You want to head for home?"

"Not just yet," she said. "I'd like to say hello to Michael and Aaron before we leave."

"Well, yeah, me too," he agreed. "I guess we can come out of the shadows now."

They drifted over to the group clustered around in the headlights of the pickup truck, waiting for the paperwork to get done. While they stood there Delmer noticed them. "I hope you're satisfied with this screw job you've given me," he snarled.

"Screw job?" Roger snorted. "Delmer, we know about your side deal to sell this property for four hundred thousand or something like that."

"How'd you hear about that?" he said. "It was supposed to be a secret."

"It's no secret in the coffee shops around here," Roger smiled. "But look, how much did you stand to make on that deal? Around three hundred thousand?"

"Three hundred and ten," he admitted. "That would have paid off the note I have on my machinery."

"Well, you're getting three hundred and sixty and change, less expenses," Roger smiled. "Now does that sound like a screw job?"

"And, to top it off, you were ready to sell a piece of property that's worth probably close to a million for four hundred thousand," Catalina added. "When you woke up and smelled the coffee, were you going to realize that you were the one getting screwed?"

"Where do you come up with that million-dollar figure?" he snorted.

"I came over here with a retired lumberman, and we checked this place out last week," Roger told him. "That was the figure we came up with. Hell, you could have been fair about it and both you and Catalina would have both come out better on the deal."

"You're sure about that?" he said.

"Sure, I'm sure," Catalina said. "We did our homework, like you ought to have done."

"Well, I guess you're right about that," he sighed. "I hadn't thought much farther than the three hundred and ten I have due on the machinery."

"Oh, Miss Smith," they heard deBoer say. "I'm glad you're here. If you want to sign this, we can settle this now and you don't have to come over to the office to settle the deal."

"I'm not signing anything from you unless my attorney has gone over it," she said. "But he's here tonight, and I'll be willing to let him look it over."

"Let me take it over to my car where the light is better," Ralph suggested. "This should only take a few minutes."

"Sure, I have no problem with that," deBoer said. "But I wouldn't mind getting this wrapped up and get back home to bed."

While Ralph took the paperwork back to his sport-ute, Catalina and Roger turned to Michael and Aaron. "You're about the last people we expected to see here," she said. "And I can't believe you'd be willing to bid seven hundred and twenty-five thousand for this place."

"It's cheap at the price," Michael told her. "We expected to pay more. You see, Aaron and I got interested in this place when you told us about it down at Pass Christian, and when we got back up here it was no problem to find out where it was. I spent several days over here last week checking it out thoroughly, and you were right, Roger. It does have some nice trees on it. We shall make a penny or two on them."

"Yah, and the tilled land will make a nice farm for a young couple," Aaron added. "The profit from the trees will help other young couples to buy land to raise a family."

"I know I've asked you some really dumb questions," Catalina said. "And some of them may have seemed rude, but I have to comment that I couldn't imagine an Amish community having the kind of money it would take to bid on this place."

"It is a common mistake," Aaron smiled. "We may be plain people and prefer to keep our lives simple, but that does not mean that we're poor people. Land has always been expensive for us, Catalina. Always and forever. But there is a continuing need to buy more land, as our families are large and we are always looking for more land for our children. We have always had to pay the price, and sometimes that means we as a community have to make the land pay for itself by more than farming it. Michael and his logging crew will allow this land to pay for more farms for our children, so we deeply thank you for drawing this property to our attention. It will eventually bless the lives of many."

"In that case, I guess you got a bargain," Roger said. "I was over here last week with a retired lumberman to get a better estimate on the value of the timber, and he said it was at least three hundred thousand higher than the appraisal."

"Yah," Michael said. "I saw you and John Castle in a green ATV, but I never got the chance to get close to you. I've known John for a good many years, and if he said at least three hundred thousand he was probably guessing low. We had been prepared to go higher, so at the price we paid it is a great bargain to us."

"I guess I remember you saying you did some logging," Roger commented. "But I guess I never put two and two together. I wish I'd known you knew about this land, and I wish I'd let you know."

"Ah, but you did, with that unauthorized ad in the Amherst Advance," Aaron smiled. "Yah, we know about that business, too. I'm just glad you were able to help us out as we were able to help you out. A fair deal makes both sides happy. So, is it still the plan for you to join us in Pass Christian in November?"

"At this point," Catalina said. "But you never know what's going to happen."

"Well, keep in touch," Aaron said. "We're never quite sure about it, either, but the Lord has a way of providing."


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