The Second Hundred Years
Copyright© 2010 by woodmanone
Please read the previous chapter. It will help to understand the characters and how they got to this point in the story.
Constructive comments and emails are welcome and appreciated.
Thanks for taking the time to read and follow this story.
"Your ex fiancée?" William asked. He didn't need an answer; he'd heard Lewis the first time. But he did need a few seconds to adjust to the woman that had dumped his grandson being on the ranch. Remembering his manners he said, "Hello Miss Adams."
Jim looked back and forth between Lewis and the girl. He realized that this was the woman that Lewis had briefly mentioned. Looking closer at the woman he decided he didn't like her looks. She looks flighty and like she'd need a lot of takin care of, he thought.
Julie waited for Lewis to say something. Finally she said with a smile, "Well say something Lewis."
"Hello Julie," he responded. "What the hell are you doing here?"
"Lewis," she scolded. "That's not very nice. Aren't you glad to see me?"
"Not really. How did you find me? And I repeat, what are you doing here?"
"I saw an article in the financial section of the paper that said that a Lewis Randal, owner of the Eagle's Nest ranch had turned down an offer from Center Corp to buy his place. I did some checking with a friend that works for the VA and found that this is where they mailed your checks. So I came to find you. Can we talk in private Lewis?"
"We don't have anything to talk about Julie. You made that clear in your letter when you returned my ring."
"Please Lewis, I made a mistake."
"What happened to the guy you fell in love with?"
"When you came home and then left right away, I realized that it is you that I love. Carl and I broke up because of the feelings I still have for you. I want for us to go back to the way it was; I want us to be together. Please forgive me."
Lewis looked at the woman he'd planned to marry and realized that he felt nothing for her. No love, no regret, no depression or anger at being dumped. He chuckled to himself and thought the only thing I feel is relief.
"Okay, I forgive you Julie." Julie smiled and stepped toward Lewis. He held up his hand to stop her. "I forgive you and actually I'm grateful to you. If you hadn't broken up with me, we would have made a terrible mistake."
"Yeah, we would have gotten married. That would have been a bad mistake because we don't love each other; not really."
"But Lewis ... Julie began.
Lewis continued, "People in love would have written more than once a month while I was in Iraq. People in love would have made use of the email accounts available to us. I would have called at least a couple of times when I could have." He paused for a moment. "I missed my life while I was over there. You were a part of that life but thinking back on it, just a small part."
Julie was crying now, knowing that she and Lewis would never get back together.
"Do you know when I realized that I didn't love you the way I should have?" Julie didn't answer and Lewis continued. "It was when we were caught in the fire fight. I wasn't thinking of not seeing you again; I was thinking that I wouldn't see this place, Eagles Nest again. If you weren't first in my heart, how could I be in love with you? And if you loved me you wouldn't have run around with Carl and fallen for him. Don't you see, neither of us really loves the other?"
William and Jim had gone to the far end of the porch, leaned against the rail, and watched the meeting between Julie and Lewis. Now Lewis gave them a small smile.
"Julie, I think you should go home and find someone that wants the same things you do. I don't anymore; I'm going to make my life here. Go home Julie."
She nodded and Lewis stepped to her giving her a hug. He walked her to her car and opened the door for her. "Have a good life Julie," Lewis said, turned his back, and went into the house. He didn't watch Julie drive away.
William and Jim waited a few minutes and then went to find Lewis. He was sitting at the kitchen table drinking a glass of orange juice.
"You all right son?" William asked.
Lewis smiled and nodded. "Did you notice that she didn't start looking for me until she saw the story about me owning the ranch and Center Corp's offer? I bet the amount of the offer was in that story too. Julie likes me well enough and she thought she'd like to be the wife of a millionaire."
Jim nodded. "I didn't know about that offer but that's the way I read her too. Use to have a horse like that. That animal wouldn't eat hay; she had to have oats and corn. She didn't like to be ridden much and when you did ride her, she expected you to brush and curry her or she wouldn't let you saddle her the next time."
"How'd you cure her of those bad habits?" Lewis asked. William was interested too.
"I shot her," Jim replied with a straight face. Then he laughed out loud at the look on their faces.
"C'mon, let's go talk to Benson about some cattle," William suggested after he quit laughing.
They arrived at Josh Benson's ranch just before 11 AM. As they drove up to the front of the ranch house, a tall slender man came out to meet them.
Josh Benson was about William's age and was even taller than Lewis. If he hadn't have been so tall you would call him stocky. Benson had broad shoulders and large work worn hands. His salt and pepper hair was worn in a long pony tail, hanging down between his shoulders.
William and Benson greeted each other and as they talked Lewis and Jim inspected him. Jim nudged Lewis and whispered, "The man's no fool. We'll work for everything we get from him."
Benson invited them into the house. Inside William made the introductions. "Josh, this is my grandson Lewis and our cousin Jim Randal." They'd decided to introduce Jim as a cousin; it seemed easier than trying to explain any other kinship. "Boys, this is Josh Benson."
"Howdy boys, grab a seat. I'll have my granddaughter bring us some coffee." He led them into what looked like his office. Benson went to the door and hollered back into the house. "Alyssa, bring some coffee to my office please." He sat down behind his desk.
"Alyssa is my son's girl. My boy, Edward and his wife Sally, doesn't like ranch life; he lives in Los Angeles. Said this place was uncivilized. Alyssa didn't agree with them and when she turned 18 she moved in with me. That was 4 years ago and I don't think you could run her off with a bullwhip. I lost my wife, Patty, a few years back and Alyssa sure has warmed the place up some."
A young lady came into the room carrying four coffee mugs by their handles and a coffee pot, putting them on a table. When Lewis saw her he stood up. She's about the prettiest thing I've ever seen he thought.
"Boys, this is my granddaughter Alyssa. Alyssa these men are our neighbors, the Randals." Benson pointed to each man as he said their names. "This is Jim, William, and his grandson Lewis."
Alyssa was tall at 5 feet 9, with a slender but sturdy build. Her long auburn hair was in a pony tail and hung down her back almost to her waist. She had a pixie like face with a few freckles across her nose and startling green eyes.
Jim and William smiled and nodded at the girl. As Lewis stepped toward her to shake hands, he tripped and fell into her. He caught her in his arms before she went down and his face turned red with embarrassment.
As Lewis sat Alyssa back on her feet, he apologized again and again.
She smiled and said, "Shaking hands won't be much fun after that." Alyssa tried to ease his embarrassment. "Let's try this again," she said extending her hand still smiling. "Hi, I'm Alyssa Benson and you must be Lewis Randal. Pleased to meet you."
The other three men in the room laughed and Lewis had to join in. He shook her hand and replied, "Thank you Miss Benson, it's nice to bump into you."
Alyssa's smile got bigger and then she laughed. "Good come back Lewis, and it's Alyssa. Well I'll leave you men to your business."
She turned to leave but William said, "Why don't you stay if it's alright with your grandfather? I need Lewis to pay attention to our talk; not wondering where you are or when he'll get to see you again." William, Jim, and Benson laughed again. Now it was Alyssa's face that turned red. She nodded and sat down next to her grandfather.
Josh stopped laughing and asked, "What can I do for you William?
William, assisted by Lewis and Jim, told Josh their plans for turning Eagle's Nest into a working cattle ranch. "Heard you wanted out of the cattle business and we thought we might be of help to each other. If the price is right, we'd like to buy your herd."
"You heard right. I, we," Josh said nodding toward Alyssa, "want to raise quarter horses; nothing big mind you. We figure to carry about 50 head at the most."
Josh's herd consisted of 215 head of cattle and he wanted to sell them as a bunch. There were 114 cows, 46 calves under a year old, and 55 steers. "There are 32 steers and 80 cows that can be ready for market this fall. The spring price for cattle is about $650 a head and it's usually a bit higher in the fall. Even at the spring price, that's close to 80 thousand dollars for the lot," Benson said with a calculating look.
William nodded but it was Jim that replied, "That's if you graze them all summer and if nothing happens to the market between now and then."
Lewis hid his smile and thought to himself, Jim may be operating on skills learned over a hundred years ago but wheeling and dealing was always the same. For the next hour the two sides went back and forth negotiating a price for Josh's cattle. Lewis mostly listened and learned while Alyssa took notes.
Finally a compromise was found and a deal was made. Josh would take 85 thousand for the herd. The Randals would give him 55 thousand now and the balance when the cattle went to market in the fall. If the market fell below the spring price of $650 a head, the Randals would get another year to pay the balance.
"I'll just type up my notes," Alyssa said. "Then we can take the contract over to Cole's and have it notarized."
Josh gave a little laugh and William smiled. Lewis, William, and Jim shook hands with Josh who said, "This is all the notarizing needed Alyssa. We've given our word and that's good enough." He looked at her, a little sadly, and added, "You lived in L.A. too long honey."
He reached down into the bottom drawer of his desk and took out a bottle. "Know it's a mite early but we should drink to our deal," Josh said. "Good bourbon goes down easy no matter what the time of day."
On the way back to Eagle's Nest Lewis said, "Guess we better go back and see Rutledge tomorrow or the next day and arrange for the loan. We sure don't have 55 thousand lying around."
William nodded in agreement but Jim was quiet and thoughtful. As they stepped out of the truck and started into the house, Jim stopped them on the porch.
"I'd like to help, if you'll let me," he said. "Feel like I'm free loading around here."
Lewis and William looked surprised. "Grandfather, you're the reason this ranch is still here. Eagle's Nest belongs to you," Lewis said solemnly.
Jim smiled, "No, it's been passed down through the family and rightfully belongs to you." He waved away their arguments and laughed. "If this crazy thing hadn't happened, I'd be nothing but a memory; an important one but still just a memory."
His next question really surprised Lewis and William. "Is that the barn that I built?" He asked pointing to the building.
"Yeah," William answered not sure of why Jim was asking. "There's been a few new roofs put on and the plank siding has been replaced with newer type of siding but it's still the same basic barn that you built back in 1885."
"Been anything done with the insides?"
"No, some of the stalls have been replaced but nothing major's been done inside."
"I'd hoped you'd say that. C'mon boys, I've got a surprise for you," Jim said motioning for them to follow him to the barn.
He led them to a little space behind the last stall and the wall. "A lot of people wondered why I put this flagstone down as a floor; most barns had pounded dirt or even wood floors."
"Yeah, people have asked me about that floor," William said.
"I never took to the idea of wading through mud in my barn and a wood floor would rot out over time, so I used flagstone. Me and Chante spent most of one summer hauling the stone from over by the Bradshaw Mountains."
Jim picked up a pry bar and knelt down in the small space. He stuck the flat end of the pry bar at the edge of one of the stones and lifted it up. William and Lewis grabbed the stone and lifted it out of the way. Under the stone in a cavity was a metal strongbox.
"Got this box from a friend of mine that worked for the Wells Fargo Stage Line," Jim said. He lifted the box out and handed it to William. "Set the box on the work bench please and let's put this stone back. Might want to use this hidey hole again sometimes."
William hefted the box as he put it down on the bench. Whatever's in it has some weight, he thought. Jim and Lewis joined him in front of the strongbox.
"This is my share boys," Jim said with a smile. There was a rawhide drawstring bag with a silver concho on its side lying in the box. When he tried to lift it out, the bag crumbled and fell apart.
"Guess it didn't hold up any better than my clothes," Jim observed. "It's what's inside it that matters though." He stepped aside so William and Lewis could see the contents of the strongbox. As they looked Jim said," I've got just over 85 ounces of gold in this box."
Lewis and William were more than surprised, they were stunned. "Where did you get this?" William asked.
"Every spring for about three years I would take a week or two and prospect in the Bradshaw's or around Lynx Creek and Groom Creek. The last year Chante went with me. Those creeks still around?" Lewis nodded. Jim continued his story. "I'd wait until just after the spring thaw and go prospecting for gold that the water had washed down." Pointing to the gold in the strong box he said, "That's what I found."
Jim ran his fingers through the gold nuggets and placer gold flakes in the box, remember the times he and Chante had spent together. "Never really had a chance to use any of it. Spirit Healer saw to that with his little ceremony up in the cave."
He sighed and took a deep breath. "The assay office in Prescott told me it was worth about $1600. I'd like for you two to use it to help get Eagle's Nest going again."
Lewis shook his head in disbelief. "Jim, gold prices have changed since your day", William said. "We're going to the bank tomorrow to see about that loan; we'll take the gold and stop by the assay office while we're in Prescott. If that's okay with you Jim?"
"Told ya, it belongs to the ranch now," he replied. "See y'all in the morning; it's been a long day for me."
William explained the schedule on the way into town. "The assay office opens at 9 and the bank at 10. Thought we could get some breakfast, go to the assay office, and then to the bank," William suggested. He looked at Jim and added, "After we get done at the bank we'll come back to the assayer and see how much your gold is worth."
Jim looked over his shoulder at Lewis and then turned and looked at William. "Am I gonna have to take a switch to you boys to make you understand?" He asked, only half kidding. "That gold belongs to all of us and to Eagle's Nest."
"Yes sir," both said together.
It was just after 9:00 when the Randals arrived in Prescott. They went to a little café for a late breakfast; well late for them. They'd finished breakfast by 9:30 and headed to the assay office. As they entered the office, William whispered, "We're in luck. Tom Casey's working this morning."
"Howdy Tom," William said as the man behind the counter looked up.
"Well how do William; haven't seen you for quite a spell. Been keeping out on the ranch have you?
"Yeah, I have to stay out there to keep the women off me. When they catch me in town I have a devil of a time gettin away from them," William replied with a grin.
"Sounds like what comes out of the south end of a north bound bull to me," Tom kidded back. Both men laughed and shook hands.
William turned to Lewis and Jim. "Tom was the range boss on Eagle's Nest for years, until I shut it down. After I quit ranchin he decided to stop actually workin for a living and became a government assayer."
"I know this rascal," Tom said to William pointing to Lewis. "That's your grandson, all grown up."
"Yes sir. I remember you Mr. Casey; you taught me how to hogtie a calf. Still got a scar on my shin from calves kicking me that day." Lewis smiled and shook hands with Casey.
"You're the spittin image of your Pa," Tom told him. "I would've sworn that was him walking in here today."
"This is our cousin Jim Randal," William told Casey. "He's been away for a while." Jim and Casey nodded at each other.
"You're running with a rough crowd in these two," Casey teased. Turning back to William he said, "I know y'all didn't come all the way into Prescott just to talk over old times. What can the U.S. Assay Office do for you?"
William put the strong box on the counter and opened it. "Jim here has been doing a little prospecting out west and we'd like to know how much this gold is worth."
Tom Casey looked into the box and saw several zip lock bags. William, Lewis, and Jim had put all the nuggets into the baggies and the placer gold and gold dust in others. Tom's eyes opened wide and he looked up at William.
"Ain't seen that much in one place in a long time," he said. "Found it out west you say?" He asked Jim.
"Thought we might leave it with you while we do some business at the bank," William told Tom. "A couple of hours give you enough time to do an assay?"
"Well ... I'm not overwhelmed with work right now, so give me about 15 minutes and I can give you an answer."
William nodded and Tom got to work. As he worked, he and William talked and gossiped about the town and some of the people in it. About twenty minutes later Tom finished.
Tom looked down at his calculator and said, "Jim, you got 85.5 troy ounces here; at today's price that's $71,285.63. That about what you figured?"
Jim's eyes got big and he sputtered for a second or two. William quickly spoke up. "Yeah, that's about what we figured."
"Well your wrong," Tom said laughing at his joke. "Pure placer gold and gold nuggets will bring a higher price because there's no smelting or separation costs with pure gold. Then the placer nuggets have gemstone value. I think you can expect more than the $71,000."
William paused for a few seconds and asked, "How would Jim go about selling the gold?"
"Well since you're family Jim, I can handle that for you, if you like. I'll call a buyer and have him come to the office. Probably have a cashier's check for you in a week or so. That work for you?"
Jim found his voice. "That'd be a big help Mr. Casey, thank you."
Tom smiled. "Ain't no Mr. Casey here, I'm Tom."
"Give me a call out to the ranch when the check is ready," William said. "We'll come back to town to get it and buy you a steak dinner."
"I'll do it," Tom promised. "Never turn down a free meal, I always say.
Tom gave them a receipt for the gold and the Randals left the office. They went back to the truck and stood around for a minute. William was the first to break the silence.
"Can you imagine that? More then $71,000." He turned to Jim. "Guess you had more for a buy in than you thought."
Jim was still in shock and Lewis wasn't far behind him. Finally Lewis asked, "Is there any need to go to the bank now? We've got money for the cattle and we can use the first year's profit to build the bunkhouse for guests."
"Don't see the need," William replied. "I feel like celebrating. What'da you say boys?"
"You want to get a drink at 10:30 in the morning?" Lewis said looking at his watch.
"I was thinkin more like the ice cream parlor," William replied. Bit early for bourbon, don't you think? He turned to Jim. "C'mon 'cousin', we'll show you another technical advancement."
Before they could leave, a man in a large black SUV parked behind them. He got out of the vehicle and walked over to the Randals.
"Hello Mr. Randal," he said to William. "I don't know if you remember me; I'm Sid Collier representing Center Corp. I'd like to talk to you again about buying your ranch."
"I remember," William said in an unfriendly voice. "Told you before, that even if I wanted to sell I couldn't. Eagle's Nest doesn't belong to me."
"We ... err ... I thought you would contact the owner and let him know about our offer."
"Nope, didn't see any need to talk to him about it. He feels the same way I do," William responded.
"Research shows that a Lewis Randal, your grandson, actually owns the ranch. We've tried to contact him but we can't seem to find him. Would you be so kind as to tell us where we can reach him?"
William's face started to get red with anger. Before he could blow up at Collier, Lewis stepped in.
"I'm Lewis Randal, Collier. What do you want?"
"You are a hard man to find Mr. Randal. We've been trying to find you for several months."
"Didn't know I had to check in with Center Corp. I'm askin again, what do you want?"
"I'm authorized to offer you 3.5 million dollars for your ranch." Collier looked expectantly at Lewis. He took some folder papers out of his inside suit pocket and started to step closer to Lewis.
"No need to get closer Mr. Collier," Lewis said with a grim smile. Collier didn't know it but it was the same look Lewis had when he was fighting off his attackers in Iraq.
William looked at his grandson's face and thought, you better back off Collier. I've seen that same look from his father and you won't like what comes afterward.
Collier saw the anger in Lewis' face and stopped. "But Mr. Randal, Lewis I just wanted to..."
"I know what you want and I'll repeat what my grandfather said, Eagle's Nest is not for sale," Lewis interrupted Collier. "What did my Grandpa tell you when you made your first offer?"
Collier paled and stuttered for a few seconds. "He told me or rather Center Corp to stick the offer where the ... Well, he was very adamant with his refusal."
"I guess that about sums up our answer. One last time this ranch is not for sale; not for three million or ten million or thirty million. We don't need your money." Lewis paused as he stared Collier. "Now if you'll excuse us, we have an appointment at the ice cream parlor."
The three Randal men left Collier sputtering and walked a block to get some ice cream. Jim laughed at the way Lewis had handled Collier.
Walking back to the truck, Jim was licking as fast as he could at his three scoop ice cream cone. He stopped for a few seconds and said, "Now this is one improvement that I really like."
It was ten days before Tom Casey called and Jim answered the phone. "This is Eagle's Nest, Jim Randal speaking. Who's this?" He spoke in a loud, almost shouting, voice. Jim had never got use to the idea that people could hear him just fine. "Hold on Tom, I'll get William," he yelled.
William picked up the phone and Tom told him the check would be ready that day. "I had it made out to Lewis, just like you asked."
Lewis had suggested that the check be made out to him, as the owner of Eagle's Nest. "We can do things with the ranch as a business and get a break on the taxes." After a few seconds he added, "No need to get Jim noticed on the grid."
"Grid?" Jim asked.
Lewis nodded and took several minutes to explain the term. "I don't think you want a bunch of people out here poking at you and asking a lot of questions."
"No, I surely don't. Might make me run back to that cave," he said with a small grin.
William told Tom they'd come to town late the next afternoon and for him to decide where he wanted to eat. The office closes at 5 PM; at 4:50 the Randals walked in. "Decide where you want to eat Tom?"
"Thought we might go to the Dry Gulch Steak House," he answered as he handed them a check for $103,082. "They got the best steaks and BBQ in town. I figure the size of that check should get me a real fine meal and maybe a drink or two. Y'all go on outside and I'll finish lockin up."
The Randals stepped outside shocked at the amount of the check. Jim was the most affected; he kept looking at the check and shaking his head and looking back at the check. As they walked toward their truck they noticed a big black SUV parked next to them. "I think Center Corp is back," Lewis said.
A large man stepped out of the passenger side of the SUV. Lewis studied him as the stranger walked closer to the Randals. He has to be 6 feet 4 at least, Lewis thought. The man was dressed very nicely and he was smiling as he approached. The smile didn't reach his eyes.
"Mr. Randal, I'm Jake Sanders," he said to Lewis. He didn't offer to shake hands. "I work for Center Corp. Can we talk for a minute?"
"We've got nothing to talk about Mr. Sanders."
"Then listen while I talk Randal." All pretense of being friendly gone from his voice. "I suggest you take our last offer and save yourself a lot of trouble. We know you're going to apply for a loan from the bank to buy a herd of cattle from Josh Benson. We will see that the application is not approved."
Sanders stopped to see the reaction to his statement. Not seeing what he wanted he continued. "The only outside income you have is from leasing grazing rights. Benson won't need them when he raises horses. There goes half your income. We'll persuade Sims, that he doesn't need to graze on your land either. There goes the other half of your income."
Again Sanders didn't get the reaction he expected. "That means your only income will be from your pension," he said pointing to William, "and your disability checks. He pointed to Lewis. "As I said, I suggest you take the offer."
William had to grab Jim as he stepped toward Sanders. Lewis had a small grin on his face. Jim's from another time, Lewis thought. In his time if someone threatened or attacked you, steps were taken to protect yourself. Lewis stepped between Jim and Sanders.