Life Is Change
Copyright© 2016 by Ernest Bywater
Smoky hasn’t seen any of the US so Mia has a good trip planned for their honeymoon. On the first day they drive down to Mobile, Alabama, via Interstate 65 to see the Gulf for a few days. Then a morning drive along Interstate 10 to New Orleans, Louisiana, for a couple of days before taking a day to continue along Interstate 10 to Houston, Texas, for their next multi-day stop to see a few tourist attractions plus visit with some of Mia’s relatives who couldn’t make it to the wedding. Followed by another short drive over to San Antonio for more tourist sites as well as family visits. The morning drive to where Mia was born in Fort Stockton is a long day due to a few stops to visit with relatives along Interstate 10. So it’s very late at night when they check into their hotel for the night. This is going to be their longest stop so Smoky can meet the bulk of Mia’s family he hasn’t met yet.
Although actual dates aren’t booked yet their return trip will be up through Abilene, Texas, to Fort Worth and Dallas, Texas, for a few days. Then up through Texarkana to Memphis, Tennessee, for a couple of days. Over to Nashville, Tennessee, for a few days before heading home via Chattanooga, Tennessee. They’ll firm up the dates for the return trip when they finish visiting with the family in Fort Stockton as there’s so many people to see they’ve kept the time there open. The trip is giving Smoky a look at some of the countryside and many tourist sites in the states while also introducing him to Mia’s family and childhood friends.
On their third day in Fort Stockton the newly-weds are having an evening meal with a large group of family at one of their homes when a cousin mentions a shopping centre that’s closing down and is for sale. However, Smoky can’t understand why the whole mall is closing just because it’s being sold, so he asks, “Carlos, why do they have to close the mall because they’re selling it? Can’t the businesses stay in operation?”
Carlos shakes his head no as he replies, “I understand your confusion, but you have the situation turned around. They’re selling the mall due to the businesses having to close down.” Smoky frowns, so Carlos adds, “The current owners haven’t been keeping up the maintenance and now a lot of the air-conditioning system has to be replaced. Without the air-conditioning working in much of the mall the businesses have to close due to health and safety laws. The owners haven’t got the money to do what’s needed and due to the reducing income they’re selling the mall. They’ve had it on the market for over a year and no takers. The problem has been known to them for two years but things didn’t start to fail until six months ago. As more and more of it stops working more shops have to close. The worst part is it’s the only mid-sized mall in this part of town. With the amount of shop space reducing the other mall owners are all putting up their prices due to the higher demand for space, thus making it harder for a lot of the small businesses to operate at a profit.”
Smoky slowly nods his head while saying, “Thanks. I understand it now.” He looks over to Mia, raises an eyebrow, and shakes his head no. She nods her understanding he doesn’t want to talk more about it right now, but she knows he does want to discuss it later, in private.
Over the next two weeks Smoky meets so many of his new relatives he has a hard time remembering the names let alone linking them to the right faces. Mia’s family have lived in this area for hundreds of years so there are quite a few of them still around despite many of the family members moving away for better work opportunities.
A few days after the meal with the talk about the mall Smoky and Mia are at the mall in question to check it out. Two thirds of the shops are empty and some others have closing down signs on display in them. While they’re walking around a man walks up to Smoky, holds out a piece of paper in one hand, and says, “The place looks a lot worse than it is. You need to fix the air-conditioning and the toilets, but the rest is cosmetic. I’d simply pull the existing air system then put a whole decent new one in, cheaper than trying to fix the junk here.”
Smoky slowly nods while he takes the report off the inspector. He glances down it, skimming over the details to the summary. He looks up and asks, “These repair figures you quote, how accurate are they?”
The man smiles while handing over another sheet of paper, a quote for the work stated. He says, “My wife’s cousin says he’ll stick with the price quoted if you place the work order within thirty days.”
After checking another paper he has in his pocket Smoky gets out his phone to call the agent handling the building. The man answers, and Smoky identifies the building before saying, “I’m looking at the building now. My inspector has given me a list of work to do. If you’ve got the paperwork to show the building is clear of debt and the owner will take fifteen percent less than the price on your website I’ll buy the place for cash today. I’ll be here for another hour or so, why don’t you ask the owner about my offer?” A few more words are exchanged and they both hang up.
The trio continue to walk around the mall checking things. Smoky asks, “Why are most of the customers of Mexican heritage?”
Mia replies, “This part of town is mostly Mexicans so it makes sense for most of the locals to be Mexican.” He nods while the others laugh.
Fifteen minutes later two men are rushing through the mall while looking all around them until the inspector with Smoky calls one by name and they come over to speak to them.
One of them says, “Hello, Dave. Did you do the report for Mister Grey?” Dave nods yes. The man turns to the other one and says, “I know you know Dave is the best around here. What he said is good.”
The other man sighs, nods yes, and says, “I’ll take the offer if he can pay me today. That way I can save an interest payment.”
Dave introduces them and the first man shows Smoky some papers and hands him a contract to look at. Twenty minutes later Smoky is on the phone organising an electronic payment for the purchase of the mall with the help of Alicia. She even has a nice ‘shelf company’ they can use to put the property into. Smoky doesn’t have enough money to buy the mall himself and he doesn’t want to have a trust property so far from their base of operations so this will be a separate company. The papers are all signed and the transfer is soon confirmed. The owner leaves as soon as he gets the confirmation. He’s happy to be rid of this albatross, but sorry he didn’t get as much for it as he wanted. The real estate agent follows him after he finishes sorting out the paperwork with Smoky.
They watch the two men leave before Smoky turns to Dave, saying, “Call your wife’s cousin. Tell him to get down here with a decent work contract plus a schedule for the work. I want people on site starting the work in the morning.” Dave smiles and makes a phone call. When he hangs up Smoky asks, “Is there a good real estate agent close to here?”
Mia laughs as shed says, “My cousin has her office on the other side of the mall we haven’t looked at yet. She’s a real estate agent. Why?”
“We need to sign up someone to manage the mall for us. Take rents and see it’s properly maintained as well as find tenants for us.”
A few minutes later they’re in the real estate agent signing a contract for them to manage the mall for the new company, S & M Holdings. The cousin to do the work finds them there and Smoky sets up for the real estate agent to supervise the repairs while he signs the work contract.
Smoky hands the signed paperwork to the contractor while saying, “I want you to start on the other side to get it finished as soon as you can. That way we can move the remaining clients over there.”
Mia ask, “What will the rent be and when will you put it up?”
“Dave will do a new evaluation after the work is all done. The figure will be put into the standard rent formula Gina has so she can come up with a new rate per square foot and she’ll inform the current tenants then. No changes in rent for existing tenants until all of the work is done. No new tenants or contracts until you have the new rates. We’ll honour existing contracts but no extensions at the current rates.” All four of his listeners nod their acknowledgement.
Gina asks, “Smoky, interested in buying a trucking depot with some local delivery trucks?” He looks at her and raises an eyebrow. She adds, “One of the bigger trucking firms had their regional manager working a con on them but he got caught before he could finish it. However, the company now owns a depot they don’t need plus a number of old trucks. They redistributed the new trucks through their network and the drivers who collected the new trucks brought in some old ones for disposal. However, none of the truck buyers want them. I can probably get you a good deal on the lot.”
Smoky sighs and asks, “Where is it? It won’t hurt to look. But I need a mechanic to check the vehicles over.”
“The building across the road is the depot and the twelve trucks left are in it. I can call Carlos to look at them for you.” Smoky nods yes, glances at Dave, and tilts his head at the other building. When he starts to leave to inspect it Gina says, “Take these,” while holding up some keys. It’s clear she has the contract to sell the building. Dave takes the keys and Smoky picks up the file on Gina’s desk to read about the building.
An hour and a half later Carlos is handing Smoky an evaluation of the trucks while saying, “They’re in fair condition but not worth a cent to any of the big firms. A small firm or individual would buy them at the prices I’ve listed here.”
Smoky places it with the valuation from Dave plus the information from Gina and asks, “Carlos, do you know anyone who wants to run a small local delivery operation around here?”
He replies, “My brother and I would love to. But no one will trust us to run theirs and we don’t have the money to start one. Why?”
Smoky grins and says, “Hang around for a bit, please.” He turns to Gina, saying, “Call the owner and tell him I’ll pay ninety-five percent of what he’s asking for the building in cash today if he’ll throw the trucks in for free. If he agrees he needs to organise the paperwork right now.”
Gina grins and makes the call. Then she spends a few minutes on the phone while working on her computer. At the same time as she hits the send button for an email she prints a contract. Smoky looks at the contract for the building and contents for the value stated, it lists the vehicles as being part of the contents. He smiles and has Gina email it to Alicia. Ten minutes later Alicia rings back to say she has a copy of the contract signed by the owner, his office is in the building beside hers so she contacted him. He’s signed and she’s paid him, all it now needs is Smoky’s signature so she faxes it over for him to sign and fax back.
After the paperwork is all sorted out Smoky turns to Carlos, saying, “Now you and Diego have a job to do fixing those trucks up to be in the best condition possible. You also have to think of a name for the truck company then sort out staff and clients to get the new trucking business going.” Gina and Mia laugh at the stunned look on Carlos and how his eyes keep going wider while Smoky talks.
There’s a moment of silence after Smoky finishes talking before Carlos grins, thanks him, and races across the road while calling his brother to take their tools over there. Mia sticks her head out the door and yells, “Carlos, want these?” while waving the building keys at him. He looks a little sheepish when he walks back across the road to get the keys from her.
Smoky calls Alicia back and says, “Carlos will ring you with the name the trucking company will be trading as. I want both operations in the name of S and M Holdings but as two sub-units. I also want to have one hundred thousand shares set for the company. Work out the share value based on the costs to get both operations working and round up to the next ten dollars.”
Alicia replies, “I can do most of that, but it’ll be a month or two before we have a share value. How do you want to distribute them once I have an individual share value?”
“Initially I’ll own all of the shares. However, when you have a value I want you to contact all of the people working in both companies to see if they want to buy any of the shares at that price. Any income from share sales is to go to reducing the loan until it’s paid off. I also want the company articles of association changed to permanently stop anyone from owning more than five percent of the shares except for me, but I can’t buy back any shares until after I’ve sold off ninety-six percent of them. That’s so I can control the initial distribution but no one can take control after I’ve spread them around.” The two spend another fifteen minutes talking about the establishment and operation of the company.
Alicia agrees to co-ordinate the establishment of the one accounts office for both operations in the trucking company’s buildings.
When he hangs up Gina says, “You know you probably just created about thirty jobs here?” Smoky half frowns, so she adds, “We’re in a sort of hollow pocket here, freight wise. All of the big runs go through either San Antonio or El Paso into and from Mexico. From here we can do runs to both of them plus the Fort Worth / Dallas area and down into Chihuahua. Then there’s all of the local ranches and small towns that have trouble getting small deliveries arranged at a reasonable price. With the mall repairs and upgrades some of the businesses that have closed down will re-open, and that’s another twenty or so jobs here. Thus you’re making a major contribution to the employment and economy here, Smoky.”
He shrugs and replies, “People need a local mall. I could organise it without losing money, so I did. With the trucks I figured Carlos would be able to organise a local delivery service, so that made sense to do. Also, I don’t want or need to own operations this far away. I hope to sell out to the people working in the companies when they can afford to buy the shares. I’ll sell the shares for what they cost me.”
The next day Alicia is briefing her boss on Smoky’s actions of the day before she says, “I’m damned if I know how Smoky got onto the deals or worked them so well, but he bought a mall plus a trucking depot with some used trucks for about seventy-five percent of their real worth by the time he pays to make them fully operational. The funny thing is I can tell he’s setting them up to sell out to the staff who work them for him. I doubt he’ll make much profit on the deals after he pays the interest on the loans he took to make the purchases. Sometimes I don’t have a clear understanding of why he does things!”
Her boss smiles and says, “Alicia, who benefits from the deals when he sells out to them? I bet you’ll find the majority of the people will be some of his new extended family. Thus he’s helping out his family.”
Alicia frowns for a moment, makes a quick call, and says, “Damn, it, Boss! How did you know that?”
The man smiles as he says, “All the reports I’ve seen on Smoky say he likes to help people. He’s not out to grab a fortune but he is out to help people. He could have made a fortune from a few deals where he gave others the advice to help keep them in operation. Someone after money would have done it themselves, not given the advice for others to profit from. You only need to look at his actions with the Klan. He comes across them and he doesn’t think about himself, only about helping the others. The poor guy is a few centuries too late, but he’s doing well while he rides about on his white charger. He’s doing better than I expected.”
Both shake their heads about how Smoky does things as they wonder what happened to motivate him in this way.
Note: Thirty months later all of the loans are paid out, mostly by selling shares to the Fort Stockton staff working the businesses and putting the payment against the loan. Smoky has no shares now because he gave Mia five percent of the shares and he sold the rest of the shares to the staff working the businesses. The economy of the area is greatly improved by the two operations bringing in more business.
A New Home
Mia and Smoky enjoy their long honeymoon holiday and they return home with thousands of new photographs. They also return to their new apartment. They both know a one bedroom apartment isn’t big enough for when they start a family, but they both wish to stay in the same building. Thus they planned changes for the apartment and the work was all done by Marty while they were on their honeymoon.
During the original construction extra plumbing was done to allow for Smoky’s bathroom. Which is why his bathroom is beside the utilities section so the pipes go down through there to not interfere with any of the other businesses. Big changes are needed to go from a one bedroom apartment to a three bedroom apartment. The office area beside the bathroom becomes part of the bathroom area with an en-suite on the street side of the bathroom. The lounge room becomes the master bedroom with a door to the en-suite. The original bedroom has its door moved to the side. A new bedroom is built beside it with a new office by it along the street wall. The area between the new third bedroom and the bathroom becomes a new twenty foot by twenty-five foot lounge with a small kitchenette alcove in the corner with the bathroom. This is so they don’t have to go to the main kitchen for snacks and the like.
Changed Apartment Floor Plan
Smoky never did do much photographic work in the studio so the space taken up by the expanded apartment isn’t a loss to him. However, he does find the need to rearrange the studio after the work allows him to set up a few special niche areas on a permanent basis. Thanks to all of the photographs taken while on holiday he has a lot of work to sort them out into various categories based on the subject or locale.
When the honeymoon photos are sorted out Smoky submits a lot to a number of magazines for publication. Several hundred are published and twenty of them are entered in competitions. Six of them are award winners. Thus he starts to gain a reputation as a very good photographer.
Even with all of the extra work he gets as a photographer it still only takes up fifteen hours of work each week, on average. His work for the trust is about ten hours a week, despite it being his main job. H J and his staff are the ones to handle all of the smaller daily business matters and Smoky is only involved in the policy decisions or new business issues.
With all of the time he has on his hands and with the amount of time Mia spends in the restaurant it’s easy to see how Smoky ends up as a part-time worker at the restaurant to be with her and his new family.
Helping the children with their homework also helps fill his day. The ‘tutoring group’ size grows on a daily basis. It’s not long before it’s too big for the lounge room and he moves it to the main studio area.
One Monday H J calls Smoky to look at a building on the next block to the west, it’s a two story version of the Stables. At the moment it has two businesses on the street level and nothing on the upper level due to it not meeting changes in some of the building codes a year ago. The owner is looking to sell the property instead of upgrading it. There’s also some sort of an issue with one of the tenants, which is why the owner has the property for sale at eighty percent of its real value.
In the mid-afternoon Smoky meets the real estate agent at the site to look over the property. The plans H J sent show two shops plus a residence attached above each shop with a stairway between each shop and residence inside the back wall of each shop. Part of the problem is the two residences no longer meet the code for a residence but the cost of bringing them in line is only worthwhile if both are rented out. The tenant in the left hand shop, a bar, doesn’t want to rent the upstairs and he won’t approve for anyone else to walk through his business to rent upstairs. This is a major issue because the bar lease was to two brothers, and one lived above the shop. For accounting reasons the two properties were on separate leases. The brother who lived on-site died last year and that lease is over while the business lease has another five years to go. The result is a quarter of the property has no access and can’t be rented out. Thus it makes no sense to upgrade the property to rent out only part of it. Smoky and the agent look over the property in fine detail.
They check out the bar first. Everything is in order downstairs but the upstairs door is broken and it looks like squatters have been living there. Smoky has a good look around both the inside and outside, but there’s no way anyone can reach this level from the outside.
Back in the bar Smoky asks the tenant, “Do you know who’s been squatting upstairs?”
The man shrugs, shakes his head no, and says, “I don’t go up there so I don’t know anything about what it’s like. I don’t let anyone go up the stairs, either. So I’ve no idea how anyone got in.” Smoky is sure the tenant knows who’s been living up there, but Smoky can’t prove it.
On the way back up the stairs Smoky has a very close look at the construction of the stairway, the wall, the ceiling, and the floor of the upper level. In the flat he looks at the wall between the two sides. A few minutes later they’re back down the stairs and looking over the eatery next door. They have trouble getting in because it’s already packed.
The downstairs is a bit cramped due to the many customers and the upstairs layout is a mirror image of the other side, but this one is clean and empty. Smoky asks the agent for the printed copy of the building plans he has. He lays them out on the floor to carefully study them for several minutes while he traces various services pipes and conduits.
The tenant of this side had been living up here but he had to move out due to the code changes making it unlawful to live here. The rent has been cut back due to the loss of the residence for use. Thus none of the top floor is in use at the moment. Smoky gets out his phone to make a phone call, he gives the address, and he asks them to come for a visit.
Fifteen minutes later Marty walks up the stairs, greets Smoky and the agent then says, “OK. What do you want now?”
Smoky grins, shows him the plans, and says, “Look at these plans, and tell me how hard will it be to segregate this level from the bar. I want the stairs ripped out, the floor filled in, plus all of the wiring and pipes to come over to this side. It needs to be done without using any space in the bar because the tenant won’t like it being done.”
Marty studies the plans and replies, “About fifteen years ago they had to replace the floor on this level for some reason, I don’t know why. The floor is now reinforced concrete. If I can access through here I can rip out the bulk of the stairs without bothering anyone in the bar until we remove the very last of the stairs. I can also concrete in the hole from up here, but it’ll cost more than if I had access from below. There’s no internal structural walls on this level so they can all come out. The power is no trouble as the wires can be run across in the ceiling or in the walls. The water inlet is no trouble. The problem will be the toilet and drain pipes will need to be carefully located if they all have to go out on this side. Plus the old ones on that side will need to be capped.”
The agent asks, “How will you do the floor from up here?”
Marty grins, “After I rip out the top half of the stairs I drill some holes into the side of the floor to put re-bar into then make a steel frame to go inside the hole in the floor left from the stairs. Make sure the frame has holes to match up with the re-bar holes. The frame has some light steel plates across the bottom of it. Once it’s all in place I weld it together, then put the re-bar in to secure the new to the old. Put in the re-bar for the new floor area and pour the concrete. After that’s done I’ll need access below to put a ceiling on to cover it. You can turn the lower stair area into a storeroom with no trouble.” Both the agent and Smoky nod approval.
Back downstairs in the restaurant Smoky asks the tenant, “If I can do the work and you had access to the whole of the top level via these stairs as well as this area how would you like it to be set out?”