What would they do if someone found his bones?
March 28, 2014
A VG Serial: Borrowed to the Bone
The Japanese art and the Umlauf crates had been gone for a few days when Colleen and Waylon walked across the street and trespassed in their old back yard. Ben Tom had helped them to sell their old house and purchase the coyote’s former house to live in. It was a slight improvement. The coyote had moved on when crossing the border and finding illegal Mexicans for low paying jobs became commonplace and no longer as lucrative.
Ruth Ann visited her mother and brother occasionally, but seldom stayed long. She and Colleen could not get along and Waylon had no use for her third Mexican husband.
The new owner of their old house and shop had immediately flipped the property for a huge profit to a franchised service station and convenience store. Construction workers had been digging holes for almost a week to install fuel tanks on the back of the property facing the highway. The whole area had been zoned commercial. Colleen still held the property flip against Ben Tom, accusing him of being in cahoots with the buyer.
The house and Willy’s shop had already been bulldozed, but a large backhoe digging pits for fuel tanks was perilously close to the well where Willy and Hoyle Broom of the Dixie Mafia had dumped the loan shark’s body.
Colleen shivered in the night air. “What are we gonna do if they find his bones?”
Waylon waved his arms in frustration. “Done told you, Mama. We don’t know nothing about no body in no well. Worse comes to worse, we’ll tell ‘em the truth. Can’t throw Daddy in jail now. He’s dead.”
“Yes, but they might find a way to bring me in on it. And you with a record and all. And if this causes problems for those mobsters your daddy was foolin’ around with, we could all find dead horses in our beds.”
Two days later, Colleen breathed a sigh of relief as they pushed away Willy’s rotting cover on the well and filled the hole with dirt. The following day, it became part of a paved parking lot.
A month after the art dealer left with Umlauf’s crates and the Japanese art, three checks for ten thousand each came in the mail; one for the Riverby Library, a second for to the Mesa Hospice, and a third to Rivers Crossing Church. The library would remain open, the Mesa Hospice would now have a small clinic in the church, and Josiah Welch could reopen his church.
A week later, a small crate arrived from Peter Umlauf via the art dealer. Inside Ben Tom found a small sculpture of a South African spotted leopard poised on a tree limb. It was number 100 of 500 reproductions of the original, but instantly became one of Ben Tom’s prized possessions. He framed the letter Peter wrote to him.
Apologies, old friend, for not getting back to you sooner, but I knew my precious work could be in no safer hands than your own. I returned to my native country under a cloud of suspicion that erupted while I was in your country. This suspicion regarding my loyalty was further clouded by the events of nine-eleven. I was simply afraid to contact you, fearing that my correspondence would be intercepted and misinterpreted by your government or mine.
Also, personal property rights in South Africa were precarious in 2001 and have not much improved since. When some of my art was confiscated, I took solace that the art work in your hands was protected.
But do not think too badly for my beloved country. I did some work for Frederik Willem de Klerk, the last president before Apartheid ended, and a few zealots held that against me, even though I also did work later for Nelson Mandela. They put me on a watch list of sorts and there has been much harassment. Things are better now.
This little leopard is only to remember me by. I can’t possibly repay you. What you did for me is priceless. I will be in your debt forever.
Ben Tom hung the framed letter on the wall behind the leopard sculpture, focused a spotlight of sorts on both. He read the letter regularly to whomever would listen.
In his secret blacksmith shop a few days after receiving the sculpture, he leaned on his work table, surveying the place where he loved to work, but where he always felt guilty about indulging his passion to create. He smiled as he stepped toward a darkened corner, pushed open a door that looked like a sheet of thick paneling, pulled a chain on a hanging light bulb.
The light was dim, but enough to illuminate the sculptures and works of art scattered in the secret room. They sat on giant antique oak and iron tables in what had been the stable. Like always, tiny glints of light off of brass, silver and gold leapt for joy at the sight of their creator. Ben Tom could clearly hear them speaking and singing to him. It always filled him with bliss.
He ran his hands over a post oak stump carved to look exactly like Kiowa chief Santanta had its usual stern, regal countenance that presided over the display. He wanted Tee to have that. Joe Henry would get the bois d’arc stump carved with a Texas Ranger Badge.
Sculptures of pewter, brass, and iron, mostly complete, littered a huge oak table, enough pieces to last for three years of gifts for his beloved Penny. He knew exactly which anniversary, Mothers’ Days, Valentine’s Day and birthday each creation was made for.
An iron table held metal and wrought iron sculptures of horses and longhorn cattle he had made for his children and ones of dogs, cats, deer and exotic animals for his grandchildren. There were also bows made from bois d’arc and arrow shafts tipped with arrowheads he had found on the banks of the Red River.
Another table held the creations he had made out of a sense of fun, such as a complete set of poker chips made from yellow pieces or bois d’arc; wooden and metal book ends shaped like horses and cattle; wallets; belts stamped with his children’s and friends’ names; knives with bone handles; a huge sheriff’s desk made from oak pegged with bois d’arc (no nails or screws allowed); custom branding irons; metal cutouts of Texas covered in leather with brands from the big ranches; walking canes; umbrellas; and Texas and US flags made from metal and leather.
He straddled the saddle he had made from scratch, ran his hand along the smooth, butter-colored leather he had used the make the custom chaps that lay across the cantle. The walls were decorated with bosals and hackamores he had made from rawhide, knotted horse hair headstalls, custom bits and spurs.
Stars cut from leather and iron littered the floor and walls. Ben Tom had a fondness for stars, took pride in being a native of the Lone Star State.
He had plans for almost every piece. He planned to train a horse to pull the buckboard he had designed and made, for example. There was a work of art for his mother and her sister, one each for Colleen, Waylon, and Ruth Ann, one for Josiah Welch and one each for the hospice ladies. He could keep for himself, of course, the ’55 Ford that was three fourths complete. Being without the one he had originally made had left a void in his heart.
He chuckled slightly as he made a mental note to see if anything remained that was not already meant for someone, if there was anything that he could sell to the art dealer. Maybe. Then again, he still had three dilapidated buildings filled with a lifetime collection of antiques. Where other people saw junk, he saw salvation.
Maybe he could sell a few pieces, just enough to build himself a real studio and barn where he could refurbish antiques and practice building the things that filled his dreams and most of his waking moments. Maybe he could raise enough money to hire some help with refurbishing the great house by the river.
He had always wanted to take Penny and hit the road, buying treasures. If he had a really nice place to bring them to, maybe he could rescue things lying unused and deteriorating in barns and homes all across the country, real treasures decaying like lost souls, calling him for rescue.
To Ben Tom’s way of thinking, humans who made things transferred a part of their souls to those things, and it was his job to rescue those lost souls so that they could help save other lost human souls. And God had given him the talent to rescue the pieces, to restore them to their original beauty, dignity and purpose, enabling them to bring years of pleasure to people who knew how to appreciate and use beautiful, old things.
He had always felt it was his mission in life to save things and to save people. But could he ever bear to part with the objects for money? Maybe he could give them away to the right people; people who would appreciate them, use them and take loving care of them.
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.