"I'm sorry, Mr. VanWinkle, I guess I really need to just hit the highlights as it's getting late and I know you are tired."
"Josh, not only am I interested in Joshua Elijah Taylor as the acting executor of his late great-uncle's estate, but also as a person. As a matter of fact, if I take the terms of his will seriously, I need to hear it all, not just the highlights. At the same time, it not only is getting late, it is late. It's almost midnight and that is late for an old man. I can't be driving this late at night so, if it's ok with you, I'll bunk out in the second bedroom and you can continue in the morning. After all, you have nowhere you have to be and neither do I." He chuckled, "I was actually in my son's office when I saw you. Young Mr. VanWinkle is actually a grandson. I haven't lawyered for ten years, but when my uncle Jordan VanWinkle called and asked if VanWinkle, VanWinkle, VanWinkle and Adams could act as executor of Elijah's will in his behalf since you were located here, I knew I had to handle this estate myself even though it could have been passed to my son."
"Sounds like a plan, Mr. VanWinkle. Should I leave a wake-up call?"
"Sure, for nine, although I doubt I'll sleep that late."
"Neither will I, I'm sure."
The suite had two bedrooms, but shared the bath. Josh suggested Mr. VanWinkle go first. He giggled when he came out of the shower, wrapped in a terry robe, and said, "Takes me back to my younger days when I slept bare. Well, goodnight, Josh."
"Goodnight, Mr. VanWinkle."
Josh showered, brushed his teeth and climbed into bed. He didn't expect to drop off to sleep quickly and he didn't. He thought back over the day and the emotional toll it had taken. Telling of his love for Alex brought it back to the forefront of his heart. It had been almost eight years since he'd seen him and the ache and pain were still fresh. Oh, he'd managed to push it out of his mind, but it was always in his heart. He thought about the fact that as one life ended—his life at Blankenship Ltd—he was being shoved into another, into a very unknown future. Maybe after he heard Mr. VanWinkle's story he would know what he had to deal with. You have to know what you're dealing with and right now he didn't. But that had also been true for some time.
Sure enough, the wake-up call was canceled and the two men were downstairs having breakfast at nine. They were both up at 7:00 and Mr. VanWinkle suggested they go for a brisk walk rather than hitting the machines in the fitness center. The waterfront was wrapped in the famous San Francisco fog as they walked briskly along streets which were coming alive. They walked three miles before returning to their room where they showered, shaved and got dressed.
After breakfast, they relaxed with the newspaper and commented on some of the things being done in the name of preventing terrorists attacks. "I hate to have to say this, but Blankenship Ltd has made millions off of terrorism since 9/11," Josh said.
"I'm afraid that is always true. The powerful and the rich generally do well while the powerless and poor fight their war for them. One thing about having a draft is that the sacrifice is spread across the board," Mr. VanWinkle said.
Both men needed to get rid of their morning coffee which was now giving them uncomfortable bladders and after they had done that, Mr. VanWinkle said, "So you flew to see Susan and Winston."
"Before I left, I called Senhor Soares and he said he was clear and to make travel arrangements for two. I called Prue and asked her to handle that and let Senhor Soares know the arrangements. I was in the air by 9:30 and called Winston from the plane and had him meet me at Longview airport.
"We talked on the way to his place and, being Winston, he wasn't bitter about what had happened. 'You know these people. You know how they treated you and Alex. They're just that way. Nothing I can do to change them. They'll get tired of having to go to Longview for every repair to their trucks, cars and tractors, but they'll never change. Susan told me about the offer to work where you work. That's a lot of money. I hope I'm worth it.'
"I told him he might just be working part-time for Blankenship Ltd and running a garage part-time. 'Prue, my secretary is looking into a couple of things as well as housing. Thought you and Susan might like to go have a look and then if you think things are ok, Susan and I could fly the boys and your mom out as well. But first I get to see the boys.'
"We arrived at Winston's house and Susan ran out of the house and grabbed me in a hug. 'Josh, you are really a sight for sore eyes,' she said, kissing me on the cheek.
"Mrs. Mason was standing on the porch with two boys peeking out from behind her. I embraced her and said, 'Mrs. Mason, it is good to see you, but it seems you have developed appendages since I saw you last.'
"'Alexander, Joshua, this is your Uncle Josh. Now give him a hug,' Winston said.
"'You're Uncle Josh?' one of the two asked, his eyes getting large. I squatted to be at their level and said, 'I sure am. Are you Alexander or Joshua?'
"'He's Zander,' the previously silent one said. I looked up at Winston and said, 'I suspect I see the end of using Alexander's full name.'
"Winston laughed and said, 'Wait until you hear your name.'
"'Then who are you?' I asked the other boy.
"'Josha,' he said, pointing to his chest. 'I'm Josha.'
"'Uncle Josh, you really, really have a black horse?' one of the boys asked.
"'I do and we'll see him before I leave.'
"'Well, come on in,' Mrs. Mason said. I had not noticed until then Winston and Susan were living with her.
"Once inside, she said, 'I don't suppose you have heard from Alex?'
"I shook my head, knowing I'd be crying like a baby if I spoke. I couldn't stop a few tears running down my face.
"'I suppose since you are excommunicated, you indulge in all sorts of things. Would you like a cup of coffee?' Susan asked.
"'I would love one,' I replied.
"She brought all of us coffee and we sat down. I found myself on the sofa with a boy on each side of me. They were handsome children, just shy of that label I had worn, 'too pretty to be boys.' They were definitely boys. 'Ok, I need to know how to tell you two apart. I think you are Joshua,' I said, 'because I think I remember you were wearing the red shirt.' The two giggled and I realized their shirts were different, but both were red.
"'Susan mouthed, 'Tell you later.'
"'Ok, I guess I'll just have to wait,' I said and turned to the matter of the situation with the Masons. 'I think we need to get some of the serious business out of the way here so I can make some plans. Mrs. Mason, I didn't realize Susan and Winston were living with you. I'm not just being nosey, but need to know if that is by choice or by necessity.'
"'Actually, it's both,' she replied. 'I had a mild heart attack last winter and needed someone to stay with me. The garage was feeling the pinch after the photo appeared, so money was short. Then after I recovered, I could help out with the boys. It's a big house so we have our private space, but I love the arrangement. Susan, Winston, now's the time to be honest. There'll be no hurt feelings.'
"Susan said, 'To be honest, when it seemed the only answer, I was pretty upset. I could see mom telling me how to raise the boys, how to keep house, in general, making me into a little girl. I knew Winston had been the man of the house since he was fourteen or fifteen, but that was different. I was afraid mom would deal with me as most women around here seem to deal with daughters-in-law. But that hasn't happened. She has been a real help when needed and otherwise allows us to live our own lives.'
"'I'm glad she's with us and lets us be us. She always has treated me that way and she does the boys,' Winston said.
"'So, if we can find a large enough house, you'd rather keep together than having two houses?' All three nodded. 'Then how does this look?' I showed them the picture of the house in Oakland. 'It has more rooms than this house—three large bedrooms up with two baths and one down with a bath. The upstairs was remodeled to add a bath and enlarge the closets from what had been a fourth bedroom. In addition to the bedroom and bath, the downstairs has a huge kitchen with a breakfast alcove, formal dining room and living room. What had been a back porch has been turned into a large family room which is partially open to the kitchen. Small front yard, but a very large back one which is fenced. The house is in immaculate shape except it needs painting inside and outside.'
"'Sounds perfect, but it must cost a mint,' Susan said.
"'The price will seem steep since you're comparing it with Wellsburg, but if you sell this house and the garage, you should get at least half of the price. Winston's salary from Blankenship Ltd will allow you to live in the same manner you are living here or better. If he takes on the garage job, he can expect about double what he made here and his Blankenship Ltd salary will be cut by only a fourth. I can assure a thirty-year loan at four percent with no penalty for payments on the principal.'
"'I don't understand most of that. What do you think, Susan?'
"'Sounds too good to be true. What do you think, mom?'
"'Any offers on the garage?' I asked.
"Susan laughed. 'Several people have approached Winston who tells them they have to deal with me. I guess they think Winston's stupid. They give me this pitch about how they are willing to take it off our hands before we lose it. I quote them an impossible price, they go back to Winston who tells them they know how women are and gives them a price just under mine. Word gets around that they better deal with Winston directly and we have a couple bidding against each other, but we haven't thought about the house since that is mom's.'
"'Look, we know the house will go. There are seldom any houses around for sale and this is a great one, but to make sure you get out from under both, make it a package deal. You buy both or you buy none.'
"Susan and Mrs. Mason both got big grins on their faces. 'That is really going to start people trying to work a deal. You're right, Josh.'
"'Speaking of which, Josh, did you know the Williamson place is for sale?' Winston asked.
"'Wait a minute, that's mine. I need your phone.' I called the lawyer in Longview I had talked to before when the teachers were shunning me and asked him to look into what was going on. 'Don't let anyone tell you it's being sold for taxes. There is money in the estate from the pasture lease,' I told him. He said he'd call me back before I left tomorrow.
"'Well, it's near lunch time. How about we hop over to Longview and have lunch then take a look at some black horses.'
"'You can't hop all the way to Longview,' one of the boys said.
"'Then I guess we'll have to drive.' Susan had a SUV which would take all of us and as we were walking to the car, she whispered, 'Joshua has a tiny mole on his left ear.' I took a quick look and saw it.
"I picked him up and put him in a car seat as I said, 'In you go, Master Joshua,' then turned to Alexander and said, 'Now you, Master Alexander.'
"He giggled and said, 'You know.'
"In the restaurant, the boys were, from what I had observed over the years, very well behaved for three-year-olds. They ate their food and didn't play in it too much. They had wanted spaghetti, but Susan ruled that out. 'You don't want the horses to see you all messy do you?' That settled that and they were happy with a plain cheeseburger and fries. 'You'd think that was a treat for them since they rarely have a burger and fries. Occasionally their father sneaks them out to McDonald's, but I am determined the men in my life will eat right.'
"As I was paying the check, I asked Winston to call Jack and tell him we were on our way. When we arrived, he greeted us like long-lost friends. 'I have a few surprises for you,' he said as we walked toward the stables, Joshua sitting astride my neck and Alexander Winston's.
"'You have black horses?' Joshua asked, 'Uncle Josh said you had black horses.'
"'Indeed I do.'
"When we approached the corral, Prince and Princess both started whinnying and prancing around, tossing their heads. They finally calmed down and both walked over to where I was leaning against the fence and started butting me as Prince had the first time he saw me. I hadn't noticed, but Jack had walked to the stable and opened a gate. Two colts, I'd guess six months old, came bounding out. It was obvious the two were twins. Even Joshua noticed it. 'They're like us. They're twins.'
"'They are indeed,' Jack said.
"'Princess dropped them?' I asked.
"'She's the dam and Prince is the sire.'
"'You bred a brother and sister?' I couldn't believe it.
"'Josh, they are brother and sister only in your mind. I caught Prince when he was about the same age as the twins. He was running with a herd in Arizona. Princess is from a herd in southern Utah. Not likely they have any ancestors in common for umpteen generations. I hoped you'd see them while they are still colts.' One of the colts started acting up a bit and Prince soon put him to rights. 'Prince and Princess have trained the colts well. Very unusual, but I think they look upon the two as their herd. They will bring a fancy price.'
"'More than is in my stud fee account?'
"'I'd say, off hand, maybe a thousand more.'
"'You sure about that? What do you think they'd bring right now at auction?' Winston was being Winston. The outcome of that was that the colts belonged to me, Jack had my stud fee and any stud fees earned in the next three months. 'And don't you dare make Prince fuck himself to death!' Winston added.
"'Actually, there's enough sperm stored to take care of that and a bit more,' Jack laughed.
"'Well, don't try to put a temple garment on him either,' referring to a garment good Mormons wore which some claimed prevented temptation and therefore unmarried sex. Jack was in stitches.
"Jack turned the horses into the pasture and said, 'Have a new sideline. Walk over here.' We headed to a new group of stables and the corral beside it. Jack went into the stables and opened some stalls and four beautiful ponies came out. The boys began bouncing on Winston's and my shoulders and yelling 'Horses, horses.' There was a palomino, a paint, a bay and a black.
"'They are used to kids,' Jack said. 'If you like, I can saddle up two and they can ride around the corral.'
"'Do it,' I said.
"Winston and I had sat the boys on the corral fence and they were talking to the ponies. The bay completely ignored them, the paint came over, sniffed each boy and walked away. The black stood as Joshua stroked her head while the palomino approached Alexander, but remained out of reach. He would take a step toward the boy, then back away. I expected Alexander to become upset and probably frighten the pony away, but he just kept talking softly and reaching out toward the animal. Finally the pony nipped at his fingers with his lips, then walked forward and leaned his head against the boy.
"'I guess I know which to saddle,' Jack laughed. I joined him and we walked to the tack room and picked up the saddles for the ponies, saddled the animals and placed the boys on them. Winston and I led them around the corral until we were both tired and, in spite of the fact they were ready for more, I was sure the boys were as well. Susan and Mrs. Mason walked them to the SUV while Jack, Winston and I unsaddled the ponies, stored the saddles in the tack room and gave the animals a brief rubdown.
"When we had finished, I sent Winston ahead so I could talk with Jack. 'Jack, the ponies belong to the boys. How much?'
"'I have been getting five hundred for the broke ones. You can have the two for nine hundred.'
"'Deal. Second, my place is being put up for sale and I have a lawyer working on stopping that. 'What I'd like to do, as soon as that's settled is find someone almost as good as you are—'cause you're the best—to take over the place and join you in breeding and raising Mustangs. I guess, now, ponies as well. He'd have full use of the whole place. Frankly, I never want to see it again. Should it ever be that I'd be in a situation where I could have horses, I'd get pick of the herd, up to half, up until that time, he'd get half of the income and the other half would be divided into thirds. One third would go into a trust fund for Winston's kids. I'd expect you to serve as adviser to the fellow. You'd get a third for that and keeping the four horses and two ponies and I'd get a third.'
"'Sounds like a good to deal to me. Frankly, I don't know of such a guy, but if you are willing to have a lady…'
"'Only problem given Wellsburg is she's an excommunicated Mormon and lives with another woman.'
"'Will serve Wellsburg right if she's willing.'
"'She's lived in tougher situations and, by the way, she and her partner are among the best at capturing wild Mustangs. I'll call her tonight. Right now she and her partner are working for chicken feed on a ranch in Wyoming. Name's Sally Wilkerson and her partner's Brenda Powers.'
"'I'm leaving tomorrow, but will be back Saturday. I'll give you a call. Understand, all this is contingent on getting the place in my name.'
"'By the way, Jack, could you throw a charger on the truck battery. She'll need it and the trailer.'
"I flew Susan and Winston to Oakland the next morning. We checked on the house, and I introduced Winston to Prue and the Old Man. Prue arranged for him to have a look into the purchasing department and an hour later, Winston had decided Blankenship Ltd was being ripped off right and left, and hinted that kickbacks were the order of the day. Some of those smart city boys better be getting ready to deal with a dumb cowboy or they would discover what walking the streets looking for a job or the inside of a cell looked like.
"The afternoon was spent at the garage which received high marks from Winston and he and Prue's friend struck a deal within thirty minutes of meeting. It was a strange combination. The owner was working on a MBA and Winston had barely managed high school, but both were definitely businessmen.
"We had an early dinner and decided Susan and Winston would stay in the room I had booked for them in Oakland and I'd fly to Longview and have Mrs Mason pick me up. It took some pretty straight talk, but I did get a promise the runway lights would be on when I arrived. Even at that, it was not an easy landing and I decided it would be my last night landing there.
"The boys were disappointed when their parents didn't arrive with me. I told them parents needed time away from boys so boys could grow up and they half bought it. I hadn't planned on telling them we would be flying tomorrow, but Mrs. Mason let the kitty out of the poke and we had a time getting them calmed down for bed.
"Once they were in bed, Mrs. Mason said, 'Josh, I forgot. Jack Kennedy called and said it was a done deal, whatever that meant.' I nodded. She asked about the day and I gave her all the details. She let me know she was very happy for Winston, Susan and the boys and herself as well.
"I was ready to head off to bed when the phone rang. 'It's for you,' Mrs. Mason said, after answering the phone.
"'Mark Jenkins, Josh. Sorry to call so late, but it's been a long day.' He laughed, 'Man, did you ever kick over a hornets' nest. You were right about thinking someone might be trying to sell the place for back taxes. It looks as though some of the county officials figured you were gone forever, one of them being Joseph Finch who is leasing the place. He stopped paying the lease payments and the bank account was soon emptied and you'd be surprised at the appraised value of that property. Seems it got a special appraisal which more than doubled the real appraised value. Back taxes piled up and Joseph, Jacob Anderson and Sid Carrigan all were arranging a 'midnight tax sale' after the sign had been up on the property for six months. I called in the FBI—since elected officials are involved—and the state boys as well. The tax office was perfectly willing to go along with the official appraised value. Jacob couldn't get the back lease payments in the bank fast enough. I paid the back taxes.' He gave me the amount of the taxes and his fee. I told him a bank transfer would be made as soon as the bank opened and I would put his name on the account. 'Would you be willing to look after my interests in Wellsburg for a monthly retainer?'
"'Sure, shouldn't require a lot of effort after this. Forty-five hundred a year sound reasonable?'
"'It does. Thanks, Mark.'
"'Don't mention it. Just did what I was paid to do and enjoyed every minute of it. Those three have been double-dealing people for years. Glad to catch them with their pants down.'
"We flew out to Oakland Saturday, the boys beside themselves when they found they were really going to fly. Sunday we found a suite with an adjoining room in a nice motel and rented it on a week-to-week basis while the closing on the house, the painting and minor repairs were done. It was Sunday evening before I returned to my place and found it empty and absolutely no evidence Kelly had been there since I left. I was puzzled and, I confess, worried."
Editors: Jesse and Scott.
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