It might be his only chance to get out of debt.
February 21, 2014
A VG Serial: Borrowed to the Bone
The Saturday dawned crisp and sunny. Tee and Joe Henry arrived at sunup, barely glancing at their offices as they watched strangers mill around the downtown square at first light. Ben Tom’s antiques were on tables and on the grass in two vacant grassy lots and scattered all along the sidewalk. Two of his downtown buildings were also scheduled to be auctioned. It was an event the likes of which Riverby had never witnessed.
Tee pulled his hat down and put on the denim jacket he had pulled from behind his pickup seat and carried on his arm during their first look at the antique and junk-filled tables.
“Can’t believe it’s this cold. Glad I had this jacket in my pickup.” Tee examined the green wool sweater that his friend was wearing. It was full of holes, decorated with evergreen and snowflakes, contrasting sharply with the lawyer’s black ostrich boots and 50X beaver black hat. “See you’re ready for Christmas.”
“I don’t like to keep my good garments behind my pickup seat. This is all I could find in there.”
“Looks like it’s been in the floorboard and picked up a little grease.
“We can’t all be clotheshorses like you.”
Tee focused on the tables scattered across the grassy lot. “Don’t know about you, but it looks like he’s still holding out on the good stuff. The buildings will have to go for a good price to raise the money he needs. This junk sure won’t do it.”
“Yeah, he’s got some really good western stuff I hoped to buy myself. Don’t see it out here.”
“I knew he would hold back, keep the things he loves most. Where you reckon he is?
Tee pointed. “There he comes across the square now. I don’t like that posture. He looks pissed.”
They intercepted Ben Tom in the middle of Texas Street. “When does it start?”
“Eight.” Ben Tom, always affable, was clearly irritable.
Tee had never seen him like this. “You seem a little irritable. Something not going to suit you?”
“Nothing suits me. I been up all night, guarding all my stuff left out here in the open. People who suggest auctions don’t give much thought to all the things that go into putting one on.”
Tee had half expected this reaction. Ben Tom felt the auction had been wrongfully forced on him. Tee was an easy target, because he had suggested it. “It was either have your own auction or watch the bank take your stuff and have one of their own. This way, you get at least some semblance of control and you save your credit rating.”
“My credit is first rate, top notch.”
Joe Henry could see an argument coming. “Look at this way. This auction will raise enough money to get you out from under most of your debt. Give you lots of leeway for the future. If the bank had foreclosed, and the auditors would have forced them to, your credit would take years to repair.”
Ben Tom still bristled. “I got news for you two. Look around. You see any antique buyers?”
The crowd’s scruffiness was only interrupted with a few farmers who looked well-to-do. “These are farmers, junk dealers, curiosity-seekers, and people looking to pick over my bones. The farmers are the only ones with money and I ain’t got much in the way of farm equipment.”
Tee looked at Joe Henry. He did not want to remind Ben Tom that he had urged him to take another week, to mail postcards to the antique dealers and buyers he knew. But once the auction decision had been made, Ben Tom’s attitude was like a criminal sentenced to death who wanted to go directly to the chair.
When the auction started, each shake of the auctioneer’s fist and the sound of “sold!” was like a hot branding iron on Ben Tom’s heart. Watching him flinch with each sale worked on Tee and Joe Henry. Trying to stay ahead of the auctioneer and select some things they could buy to help out, they wandered away from Ben Tom to the next area to be auctioned.
They were back on the square buying hot dogs from a vendor at noon when they saw Penny trotting toward them. “Do you know where Ben Tom is?”
They both shrugged as Tee answered. “Thought he might be back inside having lunch with you.”
She looked desperate. “I looked in every building downtown. Can you help me find him?” She touched Tee’s arm, a rare gesture by the ultra-shy Penny. “You know about Wallace Briscoe, the retired doctor who’s buying up cattle and horses and land around here as fast as he can?”
Joe Henry nodded. “I know him. Did a little title work for him.”
Tee had a knowing expression on his face. “Did he make a firm offer on the buildings?” He had been present weeks before where Dr. Briscoe had made Ben Tom an offer on the old JC Penney building and another building that formerly housed Woolworth’s five and ten.
“Yes. He said he would up his previous bid, but I don’t know by how much. I spoke to the auctioneer and he said we had two hours to firm it up. Otherwise, they go on the auction block.”
Joe Henry looked at Tee. “Is he making a fair offer?”
“It was a lowball, for sure, but who knows what might happen in the auction. I don’t see any real estate speculators here. It could go for next to nothing. I urged Ben Tom to take it. If he’s increased it, I would take it for sure.”
“You go to Mesa; I’ll head to the farm. He’ll be at one or the other.”
Chapters of the serial are published on Friday.
You can learn more about Borrowed to the Bone and other titles by Jim H. Ainsworth on his Amazon Author Page.