No way he could quit cold turkey.

More chapters from Borrowed to the Bone

A VG Serial: Borrowed to the Bone

Chapter 67

Ben Tom seemed smaller as he sat in Tee’s office six months after he loaned his last cash to an alcoholic banker. Tee was peeved at his friend for doing it because he knew more about Mark Conley’s situation than ethics would allow him to reveal. The bank president had been drinking too much for quite some time and was a full-blown alcoholic when Ben Tom turned over ten thousand in cash to him.

Now, the bank was calling in its chips, trying to survive, to fight off regulators who wanted it closed.  Tee rapped on his desk because he did not feel he had Ben Tom’s full attention. “I looked over all your notes. Most of them are short-term and most have come due since this disaster started.” Ben Tom did not look up. “But you knew that, of course.”

“I never been late on a payment. Not once.” Tee knew that was true. Ben Tom had always been able to pull a rabbit out of his hat just when Tee thought he was going down for the count. Tee had always called him a creative genius and had to admit that Ben Tom was a shrewd buyer of antiques and artifacts. When he needed money, he usually located and bought one or more items and turned them before he grew too fond of them to let them go. The longer he held them, the more he raised the price. Pretty soon, nobody could afford them.

Of course, he had had a willing partner on financing in Mark Conley, who renewed all his short term notes without asking uncomfortable questions.

“Damned if I know how to criticize a man for being too generous, too caring, but that’s my job, I guess. You’re going to have to cut a few people loose. Stop the bleeding. Start thinking about yourself and Penny. Focus on that.”

Tee knew about his support for Willy’s family and for Trez, but he did not know about the dozens of aunts and uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins, derelicts and deadbeats that thought of Ben Tom as super rich, a ready source when they got into tight spots. Ben Tom knew he would have to start with Willy’s family. “Will it be enough if I slow the bleeding to a trickle instead of a flood?”

“Afraid not. You’re also going to have to raise some cash fast. Sell some stuff you want to keep. Drop the price on some real estate and turn it. You can get out of this hole if you can get your debt under control. You have enough assets. You’re not bankrupt.”

“How long you figure I got?”

“Six months, probably less. And that’s if you let the bank and the regulators in on your plan.”

Colleen and Waylon did not take the news well when Ben Tom told them things might change. They always figured the money he was doling out each month was rightfully theirs. Some figment of their distorted imaginations told them that Willy had left an estate that would feed, clothe and shelter them forever. This is spite of the fact he had spent his life dead broke.

Ben Tom warned them things were tough, but he kept right on doling out the money. In fact, doling it out during emergencies cost him more than the monthly stipend had because their lives were one emergency after another.

Trez also did not take it well. Ben Tom tried to stick to his guns. “Won’t hurt you to do without beer and cigarettes till I can get back on my feet.

“Since when is it any of your business what I do with my money? I get damn little else in the way of creature comforts living out here all by myself in a damn fish trailer, looking after your shit. I already told you I’m an alcoholic. You can’t just ask me to quit cold turkey.”

“You been after me for a long time to take you to AA meetings. They won’t cost anything. I can take you now.”

Trez felt he earned his food, clothing, shelter, as well as beer and cigarettes by feeding horses, dogs and providing security for the small farm where he lived. He also had a vastly distorted version of his net worth after liquidating his single valuable possession, his house.

But his major concern was that he would not receive the new hip he thought would relieve his pain forever. This in spite of orthopedic surgeons trying to lower his hopes and expectations, advising that he was not a candidate for replacement. They increased his pain meds to compensate for the bad news.

The pain meds worked better than beer for Trez, so well that he overdosed a few times, putting himself into a drugged stupor. Ben Tom hid the pills after the second episode and began doling out a daily ration. This further frustrated Trez. When Ben Tom applied for and obtained government assistance for Trez’s medical bills, Trez found a few docs who were more liberal with their scrip pads. Soon, he had pain meds that Ben Tom did now know about.

The drugs altered his brain chemistry, turned him from a happy, joke-telling, affable drunk into a man addicted to pain killers that sent him on a roller coaster ride from high mountains of euphoria to the deep, dark valleys of depression.

Ben Tom found him outside his fish trailer on a warm summer morning. He and his little brother had spent the entire day together the day before, and he had left Trez high on a mountain the previous night. The sight of his brother’s cold body dropped him to his knees with surprise and dismay. Trez had plunged into a valley of despair during the night. Willy’s .45 lay in the grass beside him.

Trez’s death affected Ben Tom much more than Purcell’s or Willy’s. He had been with Trez at least once, usually twice every day for years. He had comforted him when he was down, laughed at his jokes when he was up. Had seen to it that he had food, shelter, clothing, beer and cigarettes for more than a decade. He had taken him to doctors and hospitals, filled out paperwork for the hip surgery that never came, argued with care providers and bureaucrats on his behalf.

Trez had fed his horses and dogs, watered his plants, told Ben Tom he loved him every day, apologized after most of his fits of complaining or visits to the deep valleys of despair. He filled a need in Ben Tom that was deeper than Trez’s need for his older brother.

Ben Tom felt a deep sense of urgency to fill the hole left by Trez’s death, but he was out of brothers. Irene lived alone and took care of a sister, so she could not fill the need-to-be-needed void in Ben Tom. And there was the matter of troubles with the bank.

It took him almost a month to recover enough to sit down with Tee again and try to figure out a way to keep the bank from calling his loans and foreclosing on his real estate. Tee drummed his fingers on Ben Tom’s file folder, trying to put forth the image of a stern CPA helping a client who was not a close friend. “You refuse to lower your real estate prices. You refuse to part with antiques. You even keep buying, adding to your already bloated inventory. You’re out of time and out of cash.”

“How much time do I have?” Ben Tom, for one of the few times in his life, felt helpless. He knew of no rabbits to pull from a hat. He had no alternative plan that he could implement quickly.

“You asked me that six months ago and I told you six months, maybe less. Now, it’s more like weeks. If the regulatory authorities take over, they will not show you any mercy. They won’t know you from Adam.”

“So what can I do?”

“The only thing I can think of to raise the kind of money you need quickly is an auction.”

 

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.

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