By Portia Bennett
Introduction: What is discovery? Perhaps it’s finding something that you didn’t know existed. Maybe it’s finding a hidden treasure. Maybe it’s finding out something about yourself that many were aware of but you just didn’t know it.
Steve is safe and the murderers are in jail. Certainly this is not the end of the story. There is the matter of the disposition of Ben Martindale’s estate. Also, what are Mannie and Steve going to do with the rest of their lives? You gotta do what you gotta do.
This work is copyrighted by the author and any publication or distribution without the written consent of the author is strictly prohibited. This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance of the characters to persons living or dead is coincidental.
“Those three started singing like canaries when I brought them over to the county jail. They swear they had nothing to do with Ben Martindale or Steve’s shooting. They claim the only thing they did was paint the trailers and take the truck tractor out to Andy Bennett’s duck club. Of course they are being held on kidnapping, wrongful imprisonment and attempted murder charges. When we get the ballistics information back I’m sure there will be capital murder and attempted murder charges filed against Andy Bennett and Leon Baker. I never did like Andy much.
“All the paperwork’s done, so now it’s up to the prosecutor. Too bad there’s no death penalty in North Dakota. They’d swing for sure. However, because of the nature of the crime, they’ll get life without parole. I ran the numbers on the guns. The Glock belonged to Ben. They must have gotten the drop on him before he could do anything. Leon shot him with the .44 and then they shot him with his own gun. Ben was always armed when he was at the ranch. Of course, he had a permit to carry. He always lived on the edge, and I’m surprised he lasted as long as he did.”
“So you knew about him?” Mannie asked.
“I don’t have a clue what you’re talking about,” John Craig replied with a wink.
“What do we sell? What do we leave? What do we give away?” Allison asked no one in particular. The ranch covered 7,680 acres more or less. Much of it was in grass for the cattle and small buffalo herd. Several thousand acres were planted in wheat and alfalfa, and quite a bit was the way it had been for the last hundred years or so.
“I think we do exactly what we said we would with the land,” Mannie said. “Do you want to keep the house? I’m sure that can be arranged.”
“No, now that Ben’s gone I don’t really have any reason to come up here. I might visit every once in a while, but I’d stay elsewhere.”
“We can discuss it with the lawyer. He should be here in a few minutes. John Crawford said the lawyer would have some news for us.”
It was snowing again; although it was not like the blizzards they’d experienced a few weeks before. Winter had returned without a doubt. Efram Lemansky pulled up in his rented car a few minutes later. Ben had left Allison with special instructions in the event of his death. She’d never bothered to read them until Ben had actually been killed. They outlined the provisions in his will, and basically, Allison and Mannie were his sole heirs, inheriting all his possessions and property. They were sure there were details to be worked out.
“Good afternoon Ms. Argerich, Miss Argerich. My goodness this place is out in the boondocks; however, my GPS led me right to the entrance.”
“Would you like some coffee?” Allison asked.
“Thank you, it’s just damn cold out there.”
“Sugar and cream?”
After a few more pleasantries, he got down to business.
“As you know, well maybe you don’t, there is no estate tax in North Dakota; however, there is basically a 40 percent tax on everything over $5,340,000. So each of you would be liable for any amount over that.”
“I guess that means we won’t have anything to worry about,” Mannie said.
“On the contrary …” Mr. Lemansky paused for a moment. “You really don’t have any idea, do you?”
“Idea about what?”
“Your uncle was quite wealthy. The land alone is worth millions. The buildings and improvements are worth right at a three million. There is about a million in cash in his bank account. I have the paperwork here,” he said rummaging through the pile of papers he’d taken out of his brief case, “for you and your mother to sign. That’s his personal account, by the way, not the business account for the farm and ranch. That’s another matter we have to take care of. The business aspect of this place leased the land from your uncle, now you.”
“As you explained in your letter there are ways around some of those taxes,” Allison asked.
“That is true.”
“Mannie and I agree with your suggestion and we want to go forward with it.”
“Good, I have those papers completed; however, before you execute those papers, you need to be completely sure about what you want to retain.
“Mannie, your uncle wanted me to give this envelope to you. As you can see, it is sealed. Ben put some items in there for you and your mother. I know what they are; however, I don’t think I will be much help as I have never been here before. He did give me some hints.”
Mannie popped the seal and opened the envelope. She slid a key out but had to reach in to pull out a folded card. “It’s a birthday card to me,” she said unfolding the card. “Is that a safety deposit box key?”
“I don’t think so. You should find the safe deposit key in a little while. No, this key is to something else. I’m sure there’s a matching key in his dresser or on his key chain; however, without my being here you may not have known its function.”
Mannie decided to wait for Steve to come in. He’d just driven up after having spent the morning with his friends going over future plans.
“Mr. Lemansky, this is my fiancé, Stefan Chavez.
“Steve, Mr. Lemansky is our lawyer. We’ve just been going over a few things.”
“And, when did this fiancé thing happen, daughter mine?” Allison said obviously a bit perturbed.
“On the ride back from the interrupted hanging. We’ll make it official soon enough. It seems that since I saved his life, he is now my responsibility. I guess I’ll have to make do.”
“Well, congratulations are in order. You make a handsome couple.
“Now, back to the task at hand. What is this key for? I guess I’d better show you. Follow me.”
He led them to the den and the wall of gun cabinets. “Ben told me all about this, but I’ve not seen it until now.
“Mannie, open up the gun cabinet by the fireplace.” The cabinets for the moment were unlocked. The keys were in the locks.
“What do you see?”
“Okay, we need to take the guns out.”
They placed the rifles on a nearby couch. Steve went back to the open cabinet and started exploring it. “Hey, this felt is loose along the bottom, and there’s a keyhole under it.”
It was a simple matter to insert the key and give it a twist. Some muffled clicks were followed by the section of cabinet moving outward then pivoting to one side. Behind the cabinet was a large door to what was most likely a safe. In the center was a twelve key keypad. Above that was what looked like a camera and a small plastic shelf.
“The ball is in your court, Mannie,” Mr. Lemansky said.
“I don’t have a clue,” Mannie replied.
“Sure you do. The answer was in the envelope.”
“Shit, it’s my birthday. But how do I enter it?”
“Knowing Ben, I’d use the military date: two digit day, month and year. That thing that looks like a camera is going to read the retina of your right eye. Put in the combination; rest your chin on the shelf, look at the lens, and press star. If we got it wrong, we have two more tries before it locks up for 24 hours.”
They needn’t have worried. The door was obviously heavy, but Mannie could have opened it with one finger.
“Holy shit!” was all that Mannie could say. Her mother could only come up with “Oh my God.” Steve was speechless.
Stacked on the left side of the safe, five across and twenty deep, were 100 gold bars. It would turn out each bar weighed approximately 100 troy ounces: 6.85 pounds avdp. or 7.5 pounds troy. Next to the stacked bars were shelves filled with tubes containing American Gold Eagles, Canadian Maple Leafs, Krugerands, Pandas, and many others. There were also boxes of things, very interesting things.
“I have the current inventory. He would update it weekly.
“Ben was scrupulously honest when it came to his finances. He paid his taxes, and was audited every year. The IRS was never able to find a thing wrong.
“I have made arrangements for an armored truck to transport this and some other things to the bank of your choosing. As far as your finances are concerned, I would advise you to pay the taxes on the bullion and other stuff. They’re insignificant compared to what you have.”
“That’s what we intend to do,” Allison said. “Hopefully we can use the same accountant.
“That will not be a problem.”
“What’s that stuff worth?” Steve asked.
“Gold today is going for about $1,500 an ounce. Each of those bars weighs 100 troy ounces. That means each bar is worth about $150,000. Do the math. There’s also about 1,000 one ounce gold rounds from various countries.
“Miss Argerich, I wouldn’t spend it on lottery tickets. You and your mother are quite wealthy.
“I’d close the safe for now. By the way Mr. and Mrs. Williams are fully aware of much of this.
“Now, do you want to do these other things? There’s time for me to leave the papers off at the county court house. We can probably do most of the remainder of our correspondence by FedEx. I need to get back to New York.”
Allison called the Williams and asked them to come over to the house. They had something to discuss.
“Bob,” Allison asked, “do you happen to have a dollar on you?”
“I think so, why?”
“Please give it to me.”
Bob did as he was asked with a furrowed brow.
“Thank you Mr. Williams, we have considered your kind offer and accept it. Discovery Ranch is now yours, free and clear. All we ask is to have ample time to remove the contents we desire. Mr. Lemansky has some paperwork for you to sign. We, as the sellers, are handling all the closing costs.
“Do you have any questions?”
“Why are you doing this?” was the only thing Bob could think of saying. Maria was sobbing quietly while holding Bob, Jr. to her breast.
“Because this was always what Ben intended to do,” Allison said. “Because by doing it this way, you won’t have to pay any death taxes.”
“There’s another matter,” Mr. Lemansky interjected. “A mutual acquaintance has been doing some investigating of the drilling activities in the area. Ben Martindale refused to sell the mineral rights to the property in spite of being offered a substantial amount of money. Several have noted that there are a significant number of drilling rigs and operating wells within 1000 feet of the property lines. I believe the number is 42.
“Through means not to be disclosed at the moment, the drilling data for 36 of the completed wells has been obtained. Horizontal drilling for every one of them has crossed the property line. It’s a bit like the spokes of a wheel, and some of those spokes are under Discovery property. I am bringing suit on behalf of the estate of Ben Martindale. North Central Energy, NCN, is to cease all drilling activity within 2000 feet of the property. All wells within that distance must be closed immediately. The estate is to receive the full value of all oil pumped from those wells. Those details may have to be adjusted. There will also have to be some unspecified compensation for damages due to hydraulic fracturing. I am going to make things very uncomfortable for NCN. The injunction will be served tomorrow.
“What’s happening here is a drop in the bucket. It’s bad enough without them being dishonest. I think we will subpoena all the drilling records for these wells bordering no drill areas.
“I will be in touch.” With that, Mr. Lemansky gathered up his papers, shook everyone’s hands, and departed.
Mannie had departed Ozark months before a young woman who had barely tested the waters of womanhood. She returned driving a year old Toyota Tundra with a fancy camper shell pulling her bike on a trailer. Behind her was a young man driving a Ford F-250. They could see that Mannie was positively radiant, and the reason had to be the young man.
She pulled him up to her. “Okay, everyone, this is my fiancé, Stefan Ricardo Chavez. Depending on my mood he is either Steve or Stevie. Stevie was my roommate in college. Like you, he knew about me before I did. We’ll tell you the whole story later on.
“Okay, left to right are Mike and Linda Boyd. They own this place. Next to them are John and Shirley Crawford. I never asked, but I think they own some of this, too. John and my Uncle Ben worked together doing whatever they did.”
“Well sort of,” John said. “I worked more behind the scenes; more like Q. I’ve probably already said more than I should have.”
“Please have dinner with us,” Shirley asked. “We were going to have dinner at our place. There’s plenty of room.”
“We’d love to. Let us get cleaned up first. What time?”
“How about 6:30?
“We’ve kept an eye on the trailer for you,” Shirley replied. “We had that one nasty cold spell, and John turned off the water just to be on the safe side. I went over after you called us and made sure everything was up and running. We restocked your refrigerator a bit.”
“They are certainly nice folks. I can see why you like it here. I’m just wondering what I’m going to do here. I have no intention of ever leaving your side.”
“Good, you had me worried for a second. I think you will like learning about the wine industry. We will be running as green an operation as possible. I think you will have a lot to offer and there’s no reason you have to give up your Greenpeace activities.
“My shower is pretty small but I think we need to get cleaned up. It’s been a long day, and thankfully, we won’t have to travel for a while. There is so much to see around here. By the way, there is a frack water injection well just a couple of miles down the road.”
“That’s a fascinating story. Imagine what might have happened if you had driven the Prius up there,” Linda Boyd said. They were sipping some port at the moment. It wasn’t Hogeye’s but Mike was thinking about possibly adding port to their product line.
“The nice thing,” Mannie said, “is that we don’t have to worry about it. It’s a moot point. I want to change the subject for a few minutes.
“Before I left, the four of you were discussing expanding. Has there been any progress in that area?”
“I wish there were,” Mike said. “Unfortunately, the money isn’t there. We have an option on 500 acres of prime vineyard land, but we just can’t get the money. We basically break even every year. The backers just aren’t there. We want to at least double the size of the winery, but without the land for vineyards, there’s just no reason to expand. We could buy grapes from other producers, but that wouldn’t be the same thing. We don’t want to be relying on other sources for our business.”
“What would it take to get things where you want them,” Mannie asked.
“The land’s the least of our problems,” John said. “That’s $600,000. The problem is producing the wine. We’re looking at least two varietals plus several new blends. We’d have to double the size of the whole operation. I know where we can get a lot of good used equipment including fermentation and aging tanks; however, we’re looking at two and a half, three million at the very least.”
“Sounds to me as if you could use a major investor,” Mannie replied.
“Absolutely, but where is someone like that?”
“I think you’re looking at her. I owe you guys so much. I hate to think of what might have happened if it hadn’t have been for you. You’ve been my second family for more than five years. I love it here, and I want us to be part of it. Steve has his other projects, but he wants to be part of this one, too.”
“But you’re talking about three mil? Where are you going to get that type of money?” Mike asked.
“Well, Mom want’s to split with me. She thinks the winery has great potential. I think we need to get our lawyers together on this. I don’t want to own the winery, I just want to be part of it.”
“But how …?” Mike stuttered.
“It seems we are very wealthy, and the money isn’t worth a thing sitting in a vault. My uncle left us very well off. I think he would have wanted us to do this. He was very impressed with you and I think he knew when he visited you last year that this was where I wanted to be.
“There is a truckload of furniture being stored in Fort Smith. Steve and I need to look for a house; a big house. Any suggestions?”
“Gerry, I’d like you to meet Steve Chavez. This is the guy I sent the email about. We’re going to get married this summer, and before you start asking, Stevie was my roommate during college. It seems we’d been in love for quite a while and didn’t know it.”
“I think you did. I think you both did, but until you came out of your cocoon, the physical relationship wasn’t possible. If you hadn’t transitioned, you probably would have ended up as best buds; a not so ‘odd’ couple. I wasn’t a bit surprised by your email and your profession of your love for each other. It was that it happened so quickly that did surprise me a little. You had just been waiting for each other. It’s fortunate that you found each other so soon.
“Mannie, had you thought of trying to find Steve?”
“I had, but my uncle’s murder kinda put it on a back burner.”
“And you, Steve?”
“I was definitely going to try to connect. I think it would have been easier for me because I had a good idea where she was. Of course I had no idea what had transpired over the previous three years. It might have been a bit awkward for both of us, though. I couldn’t believe it when I saw her bike parked in front of the Antelope Bar & Grill. Finding her in Tagus took all of that out of the picture. It was thank God we don’t have to worry about getting over that bit of a surprise. That anticipation of meeting the new Mannie never happened. It was over in two seconds, and frankly, it was wonderful. Everything jelled.
“Poor John Craig; he was so infatuated with her. Hell, half the men in Tagus were. He’ll never get over her in some ways; however, Mabel is taking good care of things. He resigned as sheriff and he and Mabel are running the restaurant. It’s really doing well. Mannie and her mother made them an offer they couldn’t refuse. They might have 20 good years with it before the oil boom collapses. They’ll be retired by then.”
“Anyone ready for another margarita?” Steve asked. It was their turn to entertain their friends from the north. The Williams had brought several of their grandchildren. Their children were busy running the Discovery Ranch or going to college. John and Mabel Craig brought their ‘mistakes’, a boy and girl. It had been quite a shock to John suddenly being a father at 48 and then again at 50. He blamed Mannie for ‘causing’ it.
The Boyds and Crawfords would be arriving in a little while. They were bringing several cases of their newest pinot noir for the Craigs to take back to North Dakota.
The children were playing in the swimming hole on the Mulberry River. The rear deck of the Chavez’s house overlooked the little clear water river. There were still a few float parties this early in the summer, but the river was pretty docile. The children had to prove their swimming prowess before they were allowed to swim. Mannie and Steve had hired a life guard just to be on the safe side. Their oldest two were swimming. The youngest two were taking a nap.
Mannie and Steve had decided early on that they wanted to start a family. They advertised for a surrogate who would be willing to bear two children approximately two years apart. Money can do interesting things. Steve’s sperm created the first baby, a little girl, not that that mattered. Two years later, they had a little boy. The stored sperm that Mannie thought would never be used helped create him. A second surrogate mother bore two more children, both girls, with Steve and Mannie again supplying the sperm.
Their wines were receiving national and international recognition, and they had recently purchased nearly 500 more acres of hilltop land north of I-40. It looked very promising.
Discovery is a drag bar in Little Rock. Discovery is a ranch in North Dakota. Sometimes discovery is what one has to do to find out who they really are. Discovery is also the name of a house overlooking the Mulberry River in west central Arkansas.
You gotta do what you gotta do.
Well, how many guessed what the opera the latter portion of this story was based on? I had two correct guesses early on with the aid of some hints. If the main character of the story, Minnie in the play and Opera, was to be transgender I had to go back and explain how that happened. In the opera it is revealed that Minnie and Dick Johnson (Steve Chavez) had met in the past. He is a highwayman in the original story. I changed that, but still let him be the ‘bad guy’ in the eyes of many of the locals. The sheriff was pretty much the same person. He had to give up the woman he thought he loved. Much of the action in the saloon was about the same as in the opera. The action during the blizzard was pretty close, except Mannie/Minnie didn’t have to cheat at cards to keep Steve/Dick Johnson from going to jail. I did have to invent ‘real’ bad guys to take the place of Dick Johnson.
For those who are familiar with the story, the motorcycle becomes obvious. In the opera Minnie rides a horse on stage and begs the miners not to hang Dick Johnson. Since these guys were really bad, I let Mannie have her way with them. They finally ride off into the sunset. In the case of this story, they rode back to the ranch with Steve on the back of the Harley. Obviously, we needed to know more about Mannie and Steve’s future.
The original play, “The Girl of the Golden West”, was written by a Californian, David Belasco. He also wrote the play “Madame Butterfly”. Giacomo Puccini wrote operas based on the two plays. He titled his opera La fanciulla del West (The Girl of the West). The opera premiered on December 10, 1910 at the Metropolitan Opera in New York with Enrico Caruso, the famous Italian tenor, in the role of Dick Johnson. Emmy Destin was Minnie. I have no idea who she was other than she was the lead soprano. It was not his best received opera; however, the music is wonderful and quite different in its approach from his other operas. I first saw it around 1958. I’ve always enjoyed it. The tenor aria in the last act before they start to string Dick Johnson up is quite beautiful. You can see and listen to the whole thing on YouTube.
I never intended this story to be an environmental soapbox. Changing goldmining to oil drilling was a natural direction to take the tale. The frack water in the creek scenario actually recently happened in Ohio, and a company president is going to jail for a long time. He basically ‘killed’ a river. The whole topic of fracking is becoming quite an issue in many areas. I have literally experienced earthquakes in Arkansas due to injection well activities. At first I was very doubtful that the injected water was causing the swarms of quakes; however, when injection activities ceased, so did the quakes. The current injection well near Coal Hill, Arkansas reaches different geologic formations, and so far has not been tied to any earthquake activity. I have been to this site, and have been over the entire area in detail.
Because of my job, I work closely with many who support the gas industry in Arkansas, right up to one of the main drilling companies. The gas boom is going into serious decline, and many who have invested a fortune in it are going broke. One company I visited three years ago hauled well shavings to a field where they are spread out for nature to take care of. They saw the handwriting on the wall and changed their business to flatbed hauling. I have watched companies come, over expand and go out of business overnight. The ones that made money got out before the down turn. The gas is still there; however, the field’s life, The Fayetteville Play, is not expected to last very long. It never was. Many people will be hurt as the boom ends if they are not prepared to move on to something else. Unfortunately, many are not.
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