Copyright© 2020 by Graybyrd
Jim Brightman almost never lost his temper. Vi rarely heard him speak a harsh or angry word. Today was an exception.
Jim charged onto the back porch, flung the door open, slammed it behind him and jerked open the kitchen cupboard door. He grabbed a cup, splashed coffee into it, clattered the blue enamel percolator back onto Vi’s kitchen range, and yanked his chair from under the table.
He sat with both hands surrounding the cup. It was shaking. His face was flush with anger; his mouth set in a tight line. After a moment he reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a legal-size envelope. He extracted a cover letter attached to several sheets of onion-skin property description sheets.
Vi stood silently in the doorway between the dining room and kitchen, waiting for Jim to speak. After a moment, he did.
“They’re taking our road.”
“What? How? How can they do that ... who is they? Vi asked.
“That Colorado land outfit.”
“But, how?” she asked again.
“It’s all in here in this letter. They claim to have a recreational development lease on the National Forest land surrounding us, including the strip that our ranch road crosses. They also claim that our road easement was improperly filed and the easement contains an error in the property description. According to their attorneys, our road easement is null and void.“
“And that means, what, exactly?” Vi asked.
“They’ve ordered us to cease and desist trespassing across their leased land. According to them, we have no legal access to our ranch, our home.”
“But they can’t do that!” Vi protested. “It doesn’t make sense. Nobody can just ... just deny a homeowner access to their home, can they?”
“They claim the right, Vi. But they very generously offer a solution. They’ll buy us out for thirty thousand. With two weeks to vacate.”
“But that’s far less. Their last offer was ninety thousand with a sixty day move-out option, if I remember right?”
“You remember right. They’ve withdrawn that offer. Now it’s thirty thousand and two weeks with no explanation. I can only think that they’re being vindictive, punishing us for refusing to sell. They must think they have us at a disadvantage. Lawyers cost big money and lawsuits take months, sometimes years, to settle.”
“But we’ll fight, right?”
“Yes. But there’s something else. They’ve given us two weeks’ permitted access across their land. In two weeks from the date of this letter, which was three days ago, that permission expires. They intend to chain and cut our road. If we attempt to enter, they threaten to prosecute for trespass.”
“Chain and cut? What does that mean?”
“Where the road climbs the grade. It’s narrow. There’s the steep cut on one side, and a drop off on the other. They’ve included a drawing. They intend to install gate posts with a heavy chain padlocked in place. We can’t go around. We’d have to cut the lock or saw the posts. That would be malicious damage, according to them, and they’ll prosecute for trespass and sue for repairs.”
“So we’ve got eleven days. Two weeks minus the three that letter took to get here.” Vi pulled her chair away from the table and sat. She wrung her hands together in confusion, staring at the letter and papers scattered in front of Jim.
“I called Purdy at Ambrose’s place, to fill him in. He suggested we use his lawyer in Okanogan, Abner Goode. I’d already decided that was our best shot, so that’s what we’ll do. After I talked to Purdy, I called Abner. We’ve got a morning appointment.
Ellie greeted Jim and Vi from her desk; she smiled brightly and asked if they’d like refreshments. Vi hesitated; Ellie shooed them forward. “Abner is expecting you. Go in. I’ll bring coffee and some lovely breakfast rolls. The bakery boy delivered them only ten minutes ago.”
Vi marveled at the elderly secretary who rose to greet them. She wore a lacquered black straw hat, its low flat crown surrounded by a narrow brim. It sat pinned at an angle atop her gray hair gathered into a bun at the back. A high-necked white lace collar emerged from a black velvet toreador jacket, high-waisted and tightly fitted above a crushed black velvet skirt, flared over a muted red petticoat. The jacket’s black sleeves and a flare of brilliant white lace at her wrists were held back by scarlet satin arm garters.
Jim smiled to himself, and gently nudged Vi to move ahead. He leaned down and whispered in her ear: “If you think she’s exceptional, just wait... “ They emerged into Abner Goode’s office and Vi froze in her tracks. Jim stopped just short of stumbling into her. She stood staring at the most imposing man she’d ever seen.
“Come in, come in!” Abner Goode rumbled. “Take a seat.” He motioned to a pair of chairs, part of a circle around a six-place conference table in the corner, just off the end of his massive desk.
Jim introduced Vi, shook Abner’s hand, and handed across the letter and documents he’d received from Alpine-Colorado Corporation. He’d also brought the earlier purchase offer documents. They smiled again when Ellie followed them in and placed a tray of coffee cups and pastries on the table.
“You folks do realize that their threats cannot stand,” Abner started without preamble. “They know that, of course, but that’s not the point. This is harassment intended to intimidate, delay, and cost you folks real money. I hope you’re not intimidated by these bullies?”
“Well ... a little,” Vi answered.
“More than a little,” Jim added. “They’ve made some serious threats.”
“Yes, they have. But the threats are baseless, in my opinion. I’m certain that a judge will agree. So here’s what we need to do.”