MORE UNWELCOME CONVERSATIONS
Sammy Miller was dead. My college buddy, Sammy Miller. That wasn’t right, I had just seen him Friday night. He was full of life chasing that tall blond around. He couldn’t be dead. Sammy and I had spent a good amount of time together in college. He grew up in Newell, a town about forty miles away. I had even spent time at his house over the years. Crap! His poor folks, what were they going through? Sammy was their pride and joy.
“Mitch, did you want some more coffee?” I came out of my head to the real time surroundings of the Main Street Café. Sweet Mary was standing over me with her coffee pot. “Well, do you?” I declined and Mary went off shaking her head at the banker.
After leaving the café that left me wondering all afternoon. Could Art actually be involved in running drugs? His wrangler Pinky sure fit the bill but Art didn’t make sense to me. He has what appears to be a successful rodeo stock contracting business and a ranch. Why would he want to get involved in something illegal? Had Art or Pinky been the one that killed Sammy? Sammy knew Art too. They had never had cross words that I could remember. But Sammy and Art had both been more inclined to recreational stimulants than I was. When I thought back on it, I remembered them traveling together a few times. My mind was jerked away from the murder when Reggie Klein burst into my office.
“Hey, Mitch. Did you decide on that Crow Peak lot yet?” No hello, no how are you, just right to what matters to Reggie.
I had forgotten Reggie said he would stop by after lunch. Too bad, I could have tried to dodge him. He must be trying a new cologne – I could smell it from my side of the desk. “No, Reggie, I have not made a decision. It would help if I could get a cost estimate from Monty. Then I might be able to decide.”
Reggie brushed that off. “You got a ton of money out of the option on your mineral rights. You need to spend some of it.”
“It wasn’t that much money, Reggie. And I already have spent some of it. I don’t want to give Monty a blank check.” Reggie stopped to think up a fresh argument but I didn’t give him time. “I’ll try to catch Monty and get a cost estimate and then let you know. Okay?”
“Don’t take so long that you let the option expire. I have some other interested parties. That development is taking off.” I thought I was through with Reggie but he turned back at the door and added, “I almost forgot. Emily says you are some hot shot with community donations these days. She said you should give some money to her theatre company.” He could see by my blank expression that I didn’t know what he was talking about. “She and a group of ladies started a theatre company and are going to do their first play in the old Matthew’s Opera House on Main. They have that young drama coach from the college as a director. Anyway Emily says you should cough up some dough.” With that Reggie was gone.
Reggie had done me a favor. He reminded me that I wanted that building estimate from Monty. When it was time for a break in the afternoon, I walked down Main Street a block to a restored warehouse converted to office space. The first floor was a garage with Monty’s collection of antique vehicles. Some were vintage and some were rusted out hulks. The 1965 Austin Healey 3000 MKIII was front and center in front of the big glass garage doors. I pounded up the stairs to his office on the second floor.
Monty’s Fifth Avenue looking secretary greeted me. “Good afternoon. May I help you?”
I played along with the not knowing me routine. “Good afternoon to you, Michelle. Is Monty available?”
“Who should I say is calling?”
That hit me wrong. I had been to the office multiple times and paid Monty some sizable fees already. Michelle had been at the office every time. For her to act like she didn’t know who I was when she was someone I knew since she was in pre-school didn’t set well. I growled a little and said, “Cut the crap, Michelle. Just let him know I am here.
She cut an annoyed glance my way and decided from my expression not to challenge me. She pressed a button on her intercom and said, “Mr. Larue, a Mr. Tobin is calling for you. Do you have time to see him?”
I expected an answer back on the intercom from his office. Instead, I heard a holler from the open garage bay below. “Send him down.”
I looked a little bewildered so Michelle said, “He will see you now, Mr. Tobin. He is in the auto display room on the first floor.”
“You mean the garage?” She didn’t grace that with an answer. She nodded her head and indicated the stairs.
When I got back down to ground level Monty hallooed from the back of the garage area. “Mitch, good to see you. I’m back here.” As I approached he motioned to the beat up wreck beside him. “Isn’t she beautiful? This is a 1976 MGB GT V8. That is the last year this model was made. Do you know what MG stands for?” He didn’t wait for me to answer. “MG stands for Morris Garage. Generally only collectors know that. By the time this one was built the company had morphed into British Leyland Motor Corporation. I’ve been wanting to get my hands on one of these for a long time.” Monty was stroking the dented front fender like it was a desirable woman.
I took the break in his monologue to ask, “So, Monty, do you have my cost estimate ready?” Now it was his turn to look blank. “You know the one you said you would get done for me when you visited the building site on Sunday.”
Monty didn’t bat an eye or act shame faced just a straight, “No, I haven’t got around to that yet.”
My jaw dropped while my head spun. He was working on an old piece of junk instead of working on my house estimates. “Monty, I asked you for those estimates many times over and you keep ignoring me. But Sunday you said you would get right to it.”
Monty was already tuning me out when he said, “I haven’t got around to it yet. I have been busy.”
My anger button was being pushed dead center and I struggled to keep it under control. “You mean you had more important things to do like drag this piece of junk in here.”
The sarcasm didn’t touch him. “This isn’t a piece of junk. This is a very rare car and it is a work of art. Wait until you see it when I am done restoring it.”
“So you will get my estimate put together for me when you have this car restored?” Monty was raising the hood and I had become an annoyance. He entirely missed my inference that it might take him years to get the estimate done.
“Sure, Mitch, whatever you say.” With that my audience with the mighty Monty was over. I stood there for a while waiting for him to come back out from under the hood. When that didn’t happen, I left steaming. It is hard to get rid of your anger when you limp away. It is not the same as storming out.
The limp was the least of my issues as I headed back to the bank. Emily, my ex-wife, slithered into view. I think the lady emptied Reggie’s pockets with all the plastic surgery she had done. Then she emptied all of his credit cards buying clothing to compliment the work of the plastic surgeons. She was hanging on the arm of a tall slender guy a little older than our son TT. I tried to shrink into a nearby doorway but I was too slow. “Mitch. Mitch, come here and meet Chris, Chris Fergo. He is the director for our play.” I still held back hoping she would go away. As she followed me into the doorway she added, “You know, for our Community Theater.” She drug Chris over and said, “Chris, you need to meet Mitch Tobin. He is in charge of public donations for the bank. He’s the one that is going to get our theatre group some money.” Her demanding voice tried to drip honey as she said, “Aren’t you, Mitch?”
I didn’t answer soon enough to suit her and she was about to jack me up when Chris said in a tenor voice that was slightly breathless, “It really is a worthwhile cause, Mr. Tobin. We would make good use of the funds.”
Emily leaned on his arm and snuggled close. Mocking me she added, “Yes, Mr. Tobin. We would use the money wisely.” Coming from Emily that was a straight out lie. But calling her out in front of Chris was not going to happen.
I tried to put a skid on the conversation. “Have you filled out an application?”
Chris was honestly surprised. “Oh, is there an application.” He turned to Emily and exclaimed, “You never said anything about an application.”
I piled it on some more. “It’s on the bank web site. Fill the application out and we’ll see if it meets our qualifications.” Chris looked overwhelmed by the thought of filling out an application. “Maybe Emily can help you.”
Chris looked like a puppy who has just been saved from a big dog. “Oh would you, Emily?”
Emily got a nasty sly grin and said, “I could come over tonight and work on it with you. How would that be?” She was making bedroom eyes at him as she added, “I’ll bring along some wine. It might help our creative juices as we work.”
Once again I had unwittingly been a foil for my ex. She gathered up Chris and swung her hips down the sidewalk showing off her remodeled body and her new conquest. I wondered if Emily’s husband, Reggie, knew about the real attraction Emily had with the theatre. That at least explained Emily’s newfound dramatic interest. As long as she was married to me she had never been to a school play let alone had an interest in theatrics.
The office routine actually helped me settle down after the discussion with Monty and the run in with the Ex. If my leg had felt better it would have been a pleasant afternoon.
Shortly before the bank closed, one of my favorite loan customers showed up. Duke Corver of Corver Mobile Homes rolled in. I say rolled because Duke was about as wide as he was tall. Thankfully his ever present cigar was not lit. Duke’s graveled voice rasped out, “How’s tricks?” He didn’t expect an answer and I didn’t try to give one. “I hear you fall off a horse real well. An old cowboy like you should know enough to give those buffalo a little elbow room.” And then he let out one of his deep belly laughs, enjoying his own humor.
I smiled as I answered, “So how did you hear about my ‘incident’? Were you sitting at the bar like usual?” This was a safe response since Duke never touched a drop of alcohol since he went on the wagon about twenty years ago.
“Hell no – that’s where you and your buddy Frank get your information. Me, I go down to the hair salon and listen to the ladies. They know more about what goes on around town then the newspaper and confessional priest put together.” Another short belly laugh followed. “Mitch, I have to talk to you.”
He waited until he had my attention. “My line of credit with the bank is topped out. The homes aren’t selling to well. People are starting to feel better financially and so they want a stick built home not one of my factory made jobs.” He paused and let that sink in for a few seconds before he went on. “As you know, I could sell out and retire and not worry about this shit, but then what would I do – dry up and blow away?”
I resisted the urge to laugh. It was hard to picture a three hundred pound, five and half foot man drying up to nothing. Duke shifted his cigar in his mouth and went on. “Anyway, old Ned Tanner is trying to show me up. He has a new pickup after twenty years and he never misses a chance to rub it in. So I was wondering what the chances are for the bank to finance me on a new outfit?” Duke sat back and eyeballed me. He was expert at being quiet and forcing a customer to make a move. Now he was using that technique on me.
My brain was racing. I knew Duke was at his limit on his bank line and that he had already asked for an increase and been turned down by the Loan Committee. But the chance to help him get back on top with Ned was mighty tempting. His statement about slow unit sales was true and his prospects to payback another loan was not good.
I hedged with a question. “So how much did you figure on spending, Duke? I mean I just bought a new diesel and it wasn’t cheap.”
Duke jumped right on that statement. “You own that new outfit in the bank parking lot?” I nodded. “That sure is a beaut. I was thinking of one just like that.”
“Then I know how much to put down on your loan request. But, Duke, I’m not promising you anything. You know the answer is likely no.”
Duke was leaning forward excited by the idea of a new pickup. “You just remind Charlie how many loans I paid back to this bank over the years. He’ll help me out.” Duke got up to head out but stopped part way out the door. With a hopeful look in his eye, he said, “You aren’t about ready to trade in that old trailer of yours for a new one are you. I’ve got some great deals going right now. That double wide you have looked at a couple of times is marked down for a quick sale.”
I shook my head and said, “Sorry, Duke. I am building a new home myself. This will be stick built, so I won’t be trading up for a newer mobile home like we talked about.”
Duke grimaced and said, “Just like I said, everyone’s building a new house. Well, I gotta get to a meeting.” With that he left. I sort of knew what meeting he might be attending.
The bank had a community room that could be used by non-profits and civic groups. The room had a separate entrance that locked automatically on the way out if a group used it after bank hours. The only catch was someone had to be admitted to the bank to use the room before the staff left for the evening. As I headed toward the door, Duke was standing at the door letting people in for the local Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. He was still attending after all these years. Maybe that is how he stayed sober.
As I came out, Duke let Frank in the door. I was a little surprised to see Frank but automatically assumed he was there to drag me to the Silver Dollar bar. He frequently stopped to ask me to join him after work. I smilingly told him, “Hey, Frank. I don’t think I can join you tonight. I’m feeling kind of tough yet from the weekend and thought I would go home and take it easy.”
Frank gave me a defiant look and said, “I’m not here to see you, Mitch.” With that he passed me and followed Duke to the Community Room. That made me stop and think. Frank wasn’t headed to the Silver Dollar. He was headed for an AA meeting. Wonders will never cease.
I picked up some groceries on the way home for making sandwiches. I hadn’t had a good sandwich since Thursday night and that was a long time ago. After putting groceries away it was time to do the evening chores before eating. Normally with beautiful fall weather like today I would try to get in a short ride before sundown. But with both Dan and I banged up I was going to pass.
I was halfway to the barn before a nicker from my mule, Biscuit, reminded me to go back for some sugar cubes. My horse and mule probably had the most cavities of any four legged critters in town. It was a nightly ritual that they got a sugar cube treat before I put out their oats and hay.
As the horse and mule ate I sat on a bale and talked. What can I say, they are the only two that listen without interrupting me. “The way you are eating, Dan, I think you are feeling just fine. You’re still moving a little slow but so am I. Remind me not to sign up for the buffalo roundup again. I think we can stick to chasing cows.
“Your friends Buttercup and Johnny Cash are no longer in separate pastures. I guess they are beneficiaries of a broken marriage. Laura moved Buttercup to Judy’s place, so Buttercup and Johnny Cash are together. It surprises me that Frank and Laurie would break up. But it surprises me more that Frank is at an AA meeting. I never thought I would see that. He must be pretty shook up about Laurie moving out.”
I took in the aroma of the little horse barn and the warm pleasant fall evening while Dan and Biscuit cleaned up on their food. Sitting like this is one of the most calming things I do in life. It didn’t matter if the barn was old and ratty. It was mine. “I wonder what it will be like when we get the house built up at Crow Peak Acres. You guys will have to stay down at the association’s corrals. It will be a lot further for me to come down and see you. And the barn will have about a couple dozen other horses around all the time. It won’t be this cozy. Of course that is assuming that ass Monty ever gets a house built for me. I wonder if he can pull his head out of that car long enough this week to get an estimate done. He sure is a pompous ass.” I was still feeling angry about my dismissal by Monty.
“Another thing you two haven’t heard about is Sheriff Rawlins asking me to be a narc. Well not really a narc but he did ask me to watch for anything suspicious at the roping Wednesday night. I wonder if there is anything to Rawlins thoughts on Art Kennedy. That wrangler of his, Pinky and his knife sure make you wonder. And what did Kennedy need to talk to me about. We never did have that conversation.”
“And, Dan, you probably don’t remember Sammy Miller. I think you were just a colt on the ranch last time he was up to Spearfish to visit. Rawlins as much as hinted Sammy was killed by Pinky. I still can’t believe Sammy is dead. I wasn’t going to help Rawlins with his spying. But now it’s different. Sammy was a friend. If I can find something that will put whoever killed him behind bars I am going to help. I wonder if Sammy was involved in dealing drugs.”
Talking about Sammy was weighing on me and ruining my evening time at the barn. I headed for the house and my supper. My fingers traveled through my index card file for sandwich recipes. Yes – recipes for bread to wrap around various ingredients. Other people collect pie recipes or cake recipes or hot dish recipes. I collect sandwich recipes.
I was feeling like some real nourishment – so nothing light. I decided on what I wanted and checked the fridge for the ingredients. They were all there. I heated up some shaved prime rib slices wrapping them in aluminum foil to keep in the moisture. I put some onion slices in a pan with garlic butter and let that simmer. Next I cut up a large green pepper for something crunchy. With the onions starting to brown I melted in a small amount of brown sugar. For bread I warmed a wheat hoagie bun in the microwave and then set it in the toaster oven to crisp.
Before putting the sandwich together I made a Jack and Coke with lots of ice. A small even spread of horse radish went on the bun followed by the beef, onion slices and green pepper strips. The garlic butter with the melted sugar was drizzled on top. This is known in my index file as the Dan Special. A special sandwich named after a special horse. With the Dan Special and my flavored ice cubes, I sat on the back deck to watch the sun set behind Crow Peak. The sun reached up and touched the clouds from underneath giving an explosion of pinks shifting to reds. The clouds were dressed for a sweet sixteen dance. A slight breeze brought scents of pines and dry grass along with a few whiffs of smoke from burning leaves. With the dry weather not a flying insect could be heard. If I could bottle that evening and sell it, I could be wealthy beyond belief. I would have held on to it as hard as I could if I had realized what was coming.