What’s it All Worth, Anyway?

Billy Oswalling got out of his battered pickup, and came across the gravel driveway.

It is a gorgeous day, and about to get gorgeouser, Eric Tiodine thought. He wasn’t getting any younger and sitting on his veranda in the morning easing the aches of life was one of his last pleasures. He swung his left arm over his head to ease the ache in his shoulder. He sat on his veranda and waited. The shadows of the willow and cottonwood over the veranda shook with the breeze.

“Well, Billy, how’s it goin’,” Eric said. He wheezed when he spoke.

Billy Oswalling did not answer. He came up onto the veranda and turned to look under the tall cottonwood. He stood in the shadows with his hands in his hip pockets and looked down the valley. The first six hundred acres, the first mile, of that gaze was his. His wreck of a baler was a faded orange blur in the tidy green fields. Fifteen hundred dollars to get it running again. Fifteen he didn’t have and the hay laying in neat windrows turning into dust. Fifteen the bank wouldn’t come up with. Fifteen he could not get by selling five steers because the bank owned them too. Fifteen hundred that was just the tip of the iceberg of what would keep the place running one more season.

“Hey, have a seat,” Eric heaved a heavy breath, “Sit down, take a load off.”

“I need one and a half,” Billy said. He did not sit down. “I need that to pay the debt and for me and Judy to live on.” Six hundred acres that this useless fat pig wants so he don’t have a broken down bailer and a beat up old cowboy messing up his view.

“We been through this, Bill,” Eric wheezed. “It ain’t worth,” He breathed in and then out, “two thou an acre. Garl appraised it at eighteen hundred, max.”

“I guess I could just turn it over to the bank,” Billy said. It wasn’t much of a threat.

“Well, you could do that,” Eric said. “That is certainly an option. But why put a middle man in it? Hell, we save seventy,” Eric breathed again, “K in Realtor fees alone if we just deal, you and me.”

Billy huffed a snort. “I need one and a half for it,” he said.

“Like I say, It’s appraised at just over a mil. Why, at one and a quarter, (a wheezing breath) I’m giving you a deal.” Eric liked dealing like this. He liked how he could actually pay what Oswalling was asking. He liked having that and knowing he didn’t have to pay it. He liked working a smart deal. Some said he was a fat pig asshole, but that wasn’t the point. He didn’t get where he was by paying more than he had to to get what he wanted. It wasn’t being an asshole it was just doing business.

“I known you all my life,” Billy said. “You always managed to give a guy a break.” This lie was the only currency Billy had. Saying it disgusted him. He stood with his hands in his pockets under the shadows of the tall cottonwood. It had been appraised at one million one hundred and eighty-eight thousand dollars. Before that, before cattle had gone hell, when Tiodine first offered, it would have probably been more. Now, it probably wasn’t even worth that. Just hay drying to dust in a hay field.

“And it has been a good life,” Eric wheezed. “Hasn’t it.” He grinned and took another deep breath.

“I need one and a half,” Billy said.

“And it’s worth one,” Eric said. “I’m offering one and a quarter. And that’s (wheeze) a deal.”

Billy nodded, still looking down the valley. His did not mean his nod to mean acquiesce that he thought one and a quarter was a deal. The nod meant, “go to hell you useless fat pig.” Then he turned and walked back to his pickup, his boots crunching on the gray gravel driveway.

It wasn’t until Billy had backed around and driven through the gate, that the nagging little burning in Eric’s shoulder shot suddenly across his chest. One and a half is a deal, but one and a quarter is a good deal, he thought. He tried to stand, to wheeze in another breath, but it wouldn’t come. The chair he sat in toppled and he with it. Something slammed against his head. And that was that.

When Billy heard that Eric Tiodine had died, his first thought was, a mean justice well served. His second thought was that the bank’s ‘offer’ was all he had now. And finally Billy Oswalling thought how much nearer he was to his own coming doom.

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