What if the crates were full of bombs or drugs?

More chapters from Borrowed to the Bone

A VG Serial: Borrowed to the Bone

Chapter 64

Several months passed before Joe Henry located the people who had a right by inheritance to the stolen jewels. They were heirlooms, and the family was thrilled that they had been recovered. In the Dallas County district attorney’s office, they signed agreements not to press charges against Ben Tom or any member of his family. Joe Henry represented Ben Tom, who firmly declined to attend.

He also declined the ten thousand dollar reward the family generously offered, telling the family to donate the money to a charity that focused on children and to send him a framed receipt. Said it would give him pleasure to hang it on his wall.

He kept Colleen’s car insured and registered and mailed her a subsistence check each month, even after he managed to get her qualified for a government disability check. He never returned Willy’s gun for fear that Colleen might try to use it on herself again. Trez had grown almost as fond of the gun as Willy had been and begged for it, so Ben Tom said he could keep it permanently.

Ben Tom had moved a lot of his possessions out to the property where the fish trailer was, so Trez had become his security guard. He also fed the two mares until they died.

The burden of Willy’s funeral expenses, supporting his widow, regular handouts to her children, and Trez’s increasing medical expenses began to show on Ben Tom. He needed to make some money fast.  He went further into debt to buy some properties he thought would flip quickly for big profits, but he set the price too high and they did not sell.

He tried out several pyramid schemes including a miracle cleaning product, a miracle food supplement, and a laundry ball that negated the need for detergent. None worked. Then he invented a pet feeder that could be used inside or out and kept pet food safely away from ants and other pests.

Dressed in full cowboy regalia that he considered a combination of Tee Jessup and Joe Henry Leather’s tastes in cowboy gear, he was visiting a new products show at the World Trade Center in Dallas on September 11, 2011. When terrorists flew their planes into the WTC in New York, officials worried that all trade centers in America were at risk.

In the middle of the show, Ben Tom and others were forced to evacuate and had less than an hour to gather up their products and belongings.

Ben Tom’s product prototypes were light and easy to manage. He loaded them in the wooden boxes he had designed for them, secured the lids, put them on his dolly, and wheeled them toward the exit. He thought a terrorist attack on the Dallas center was unlikely, but the world was turned upside down that day and one couldn’t be too careful.

As he passed an artists’ show on the way out, someone tugged on his arm. He turned and faced a bald fellow who spoke English well, but with a strong accent Ben Tom did not recognize.

“Are you a real Texas cowboy?”

It was the highest compliment Ben Tom could receive, but he could not accept it at face value. “Just a wannabe, I guess, but I do ride a little. Name’s Ben Tom Lawson.”

“Peter Umlauf. I’m in a bit of a dilemma. My sculptures just arrived by freight from the airport and now they are pressuring me to depart. I can’t just leave them here because they offer no secure place for storage. I’m unsure what to do.”

Ben Tom felt the familiar surge of warmth that always arrived when he was asked for help. “What can I do to help?”

“I noticed you in the parking lot. You have a rather large truck. Do you suppose I could pay you to transport my sculptures to a motel or other facility where I might find secure storage?”

Ben Tom looked at the packing crates, thought of the brand new set of tie downs waiting in one of his toolboxes. “Sure. Let me unload my dolly onto my truck bed and I’ll come back for your boxes.” He pointed at four crates. “Is this all of ‘em?”

“Yes. You’re sure you don’t mind. I’ll be happy to pay for your services. I am, as I said, in quite a dilemma. I can’t let these crates out of my sight.”

Thirty minutes later, Ben Tom ratcheted down the last tie-down strap across the last crate. “Mind if I ask where you’re from and where you want to go with these crates?”

“I’m from South Africa and I am embarrassed to admit I have no idea where to go. I checked out of my motel because of poor service and an unclean room. The Trade Center promised secure facilities for my sculptures. I assumed I would be able to locate another motel rather easily.”

Ben Tom was familiar with most of the respectable motels and hotels in the vicinity and they visited them all. No vacancies. The attack in New York and evacuation of various buildings had filled them to capacity and even their secure storage facilities were overflowing. Peter inspected one or two, but could not bear to put his sculptures in a room filled with items as mundane as luggage.

After two hours of conversation and searching, Ben Tom was thoroughly impressed with his new friend. He had never met anyone from South Africa, much less a world-renowned sculptor, and Peter’s melodious and accented English sounded like music to Ben Tom.

“Tell you what. How about coming home with me? I can provide a warm bed and put these crates in the same room where you sleep.”

Peter was incredulous. “You would invite a complete stranger into your home? This would not be safe in South Africa.”

“It is in Texas.”

“Do you have a ranch with buffalo or cattle and horses?”

“I have a few horses, but not a real ranch. I have a friend that does, though. Another one has a roping arena.”

Peter considered the invitation for several minutes. “I would love to meet more real Texas cowboys and see a Texas ranch, but I’m afraid I need to just get home. This attack will keep the world upset for days, if not weeks. Air travel might be restricted now and will only grow worse.

At the airport, they found that the restrictions were so bad that Peter could not get clearance to fly home. They told him it might take as long as two or three days, even a week.

So he went to Riverby with Ben Tom, who showed him around town like he was a trophy. Penny promised to keep an eye on his art while Ben Tom took his new friend to Joe Henry’s ranch and Tee Jessup’s roping arena. Peter was fascinated with team roping and calf roping. He stayed two days before even checking into shipping his artwork and himself back home.

He feared shipping his sculptures much more than flying home himself. He had enough influence in South Africa to request and receive special consideration and extra precautions in shipping his work to America. He was certain such amenities would no longer be available to him in the wake of nine-eleven. Airlines and freight companies confirmed his fears. As a foreign national, he would be treated like a likely terrorist and his crates would be considered possible bombs.

When he found that the crates would have to opened and their contents thoroughly inspected, he was distraught and showed it. Ben Tom did not know how to reassure him, but Peter came up with his own solution. He left his artwork in Ben Tom’s care and left on the first flight that would clear him.

Joe Henry and Tee were almost as fascinated with the South African sculptor as Ben Tom was. After securing their sworn secrecy, he showed them the crates he had stored in Mesa’s bank vault and the vault door he had re-installed.

Tee put a hand on the top crate. “What’s inside?”

“Don’t say nothing, but valuable artwork. This guy is famous in South Africa.”

Joe Henry tugged on his earlobe. “Maybe. But why would he leave something so valuable here?”

“I told you. He didn’t want to have to open it and they’re opening everything after the terrorist attacks.”

Tee nodded. “Artists can be weird. How long does he want you to keep it?”

“Didn’t say, but I expect he’ll send for it anytime. Said to look for a call from a freight company.”

Joe Henry dragged up a dusty cane bottom chair. “What if the crates are full of bombs, or drugs?”

 

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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