Her next step was a planning and waiting game. To her amazement Stillwell never contacted her proving that he’d never gone back to the old broken down ranch house and read his letter. She didn’t make any waves and she was very quiet about what she planned lest she tip off the retired rancher spending his days at his apartment. She, and her husband drew up plans for streets in their own drafting room of their office downtown, but never let on just what their full intentions were. Indeed, they let the very fact that they had purchased it slip into antiquity. The sheriff’s deed was logged in but no one noticed or even cared. The two years passed, and Claudette began her planning in earnest. She had been in west Texas about nine years now and had grown as patient as the lizards that crawled on the rocks down by the river. She commissioned a company in Houston to fly out and begin the project. The streets were designed to be wide, far more than was required, in anticipation of the private planes that would move about and leave from the private landing strip she designed. The quality of the streets was far better than what was in the little desert town. They needed to get the streets paved, and this was a considerable sum of money to be spent. Claudette met with the mayor and key members of the council and for the first time, behind closed doors, over bar-b-qued brisket and scotch, she let them in on what she proposed to do. She was designing a subdivision that would cater to retirees and quality buyers from all over the state, indeed from the entire country! But even the word “subdivision” didn’t tell the enormity of the project. The Bend would dwarf the town it sprang from. The homes could be no smaller than three thousand square feet, and no home could be anything like any other home in the Bend. The lots would start at one acre, but she would entertain any idea as to size of a lot for a proposed home. The marketing would be statewide in the beginning, and then nationwide if need be. The landing strip would make it accessible to all areas of the nation, via the airport in El Paso. This “Bend” would be a hub of activity. The residents of the area would be true citizens of the world, free to fly and work and retreat back to the relative seclusion of west Texas.
The scotch was poured and the discussion began. “How large will the area be Claudette?”
“We have proposed the entire Stillwell ranch to be used for this development. As you gentlemen know, it consists of over twenty-two hundred acres, mostly level, with the river flowing right through it and if the project fly’s, we will of course, attempt to obtain other adjacent lands.”
“How many homes,” one of the councilmen asked?
“At least one hundred, no more than one fifty, I’m sure. Some buyers will go for the acre lot, but I’m after the home owner who wants five, or even seven acres, if need be to assure the space, and privacy this area can afford.”
The mayor looked into his glass of scotch and then looked at Claudette, “And what will bring all these people to our fair city?”
She smiled at him. They knew there must be a card she wasn’t showing. She didn’t invite them for a meeting, and buy all this scotch for nothing. “That eighteen hole world class golf course you fine people are going to put running right through the middle of the neighborhood!”
More than one glass sat down quietly on the oak tables of the council chamber. “Now, Claudette, just why would we want to go and do something like that?”
“Because I’m going to give you the land to put it on. You are going to pay me in asphalt, not to mention the taxes on my homes will be through the roof with people rich enough to pay them!”
“City water? City sewer?”
“But, of course.”
“And the layout of the streets?”
“The streets are to be forty feet wide”
They looked at each other. “Why so wide. I can see a little more, but forty feet?”
“To accommodate private planes.”
“Yes, some of my clients will have private planes, and the streets need to be wide enough to accommodate the trip to a little landing strip we’ll have built at the edge of the subdivision.”
“Do we need this?”
“Where are we going to get the kind of money to develop that course? Look at us. We’re a small town in west Texas! We don’t even have oil here! Even the fuckin’ Injuns got oil!” The members of the council laughed.
“But you’ll have the Bend!”
“That’s the name of the subdivision. It’ll be called the Bend, after the bend in the river where my husband and I have our lunch.”
The men all milled a moment. Then the mayor said, “Claudette, you need to attract some interest in your little subdivision. You do that, and then come back, and we’ll have this little chat again!”
She went out and began a statewide advertising campaign to sell “choice” lots at the Bend. The area was nice, the river adding more color than the surrounding semi desert area, but it was still just a dilapidated old ranch with a “gate” at the front six months later. Try as she might, Claudette simply could not generate interest in the land in any large circles. She was not interested in selling land to any of the local farmers and she was very aware that Stillwell was sitting back counting his days. She wondered if he understood just what had transpired. He had surprisingly taken the loss of the ranch well, and perhaps was more than slightly amused hat Claudette and Bill couldn’t do any more with the land than he had done when he had it. Then, one afternoon a phone call came to her office from L. A.
A certain well-known retired talk-show host called her
“Hello, did my agent tell you I’d be calling?”
“Yes, how can I help you?”
“Well, someone in my organization saw one of your ads when he was in Houston last week, and I would be interested it exploring the idea of putting a home in your ‘Bend.”
“Well, of course we’d be interested in accommodating you, Mr…
“Don’t say my name over the phone. One of the main reasons I want to go there is for my privacy. I want to have at least one home that I can rest in without the press, or fans, or anyone bothering me. That, and I like golf, and I want to have a home near enough to a world class course that will allow me to play undisturbed.”
“Ok, I think we can do that. Can I fly out to L..A. and talk with you more?”
Claudette seized on an idea. She flew out to L. A. and shot him a proposal that Don Corleone would have been proud of. She would be happy to build him his home. He looked at her proposed floor plans and said, “I want one of my people here in L. A. to help in design. I like the California style, I just don’t like California right now.”
She agreed and the architect was pulled into the mix and began drawing. Claudette was so impressed by the man’s work that she invited him to submit several proposed floor plans to her and her husband to put forward to future homeowners in the Bend. This gave the area a decidedly different look from the usual west Texas fare. The Spanish tile type of roof and the stucco that graced so many California homes captivated Claudette’s imagination. Then Claudette began to discuss with the star her problems with the city and her golf course. One of the problems she had was the design of the course. Saying you were going to have an eighteen-hole course was one thing, but designing it was altogether a different thing. She knew that it would take about two hundred acres to complete it, and she actually toyed with the idea of a thirty-six- hole course, but ruled it out for the more comfortable one.
“I think I can help you with that. I have a friend who, like me, is looking for a home away from the crowd. Let me call him and see if he can help you with those little logistics.”
Right after that a certain well-known golf pro called Claudette and actually flew down to the little town to meet with her. They went out to the proposed subdivision and paced off all eighteen holes. The man was brilliant! He showed her how to conform the future course to accent the imaginary neighborhood that would build up around it. Choice lots could actually tee off from the back yard. He put in little things that he’d always wanted to have on a course. This course would be like no other course in the world, and one day it would host great golf tournaments with players from all over the country.
She went back to the city fathers and explained to them the caliber of buyer she was accruing in the Bend. They were impressed, but they still couldn’t sell enough cows to build the golf course she envisioned. She flew back to L. A. Once there, she arranged a meeting with the talk show host, and the golf pro, and put a venture to them. She offered to build their homes at cost, if they would front the money needed by the city to develop the course.
“What do we get in return?”
“I will go to them and work out a plan that will be equitable for you.”
She met with the city fathers one last time and explained the situation to them.
“I now have the money needed to build the course.”
They all looked at her in amazement. “How?”
“I have arranged for a loan for the city to develop all eighteen holes.”
She began to walk among them and lay documents on the table before them explaining the amount of money it would take to build a world class, eighteen hole golf course. They viewed the documents but no man in the room could put meaning to the words until the mayor asked, “How do we pay it back?”
Claudette sat. “The Bend will be the premier gated subdivision from San Angelo to Phoenix. People will covet it. People will come from far away to view it, and desire to live there. You men will be sitting on Camelot!”
“How do we pay the money back?” The mayor leaned back, crossed his arms and looked her right in the eye.
She drew in a breath, “On these two men,” she shoved two new home contracts across the table to the mayor, “you will never charge any taxes of any kind, either now, or ever. These two homes are to be forever tax exempt!”
“Even state taxes?”
“The city will pick up the tab for so long as members of these men’s families shall live within the walls of these two homes.”
“What if they sell?”
“So long as it’s family, taxes paid!”
One of the other council members spoke up, “But what if we only have these two homes? I mean, these two guys can build their big houses and then just be two guys with two big houses and a private golf course. This entire thing is based on other people buying into this and coming here to spend their money.”
The mayor took that under consideration and looked toward Claudette, “What do you say to that?”
She thought for a moment, “Mr. Mayor, we have nothing in this area. No real agriculture, no oil, nothing! About the only thing we have to offer is a good climate. We, I think, are standing on the brink of a situation similar to the people in Branson, Missouri when they decided to become a little Nashville. Now they are the premier live entertainment center of the country.”
The mayor thought again for a moment, “Claudette, you’re from Memphis. I grew up here in this ‘nowhere’ as you call it. Can you give me some kind of assurance that you can do this thing?”
“Yes! I will sell this land!” Something about her demeanor put a form of electricity in the room.
The mayor leaned back and smiled, “I think it will work.”
The rest of the council quickly agreed and scotch flowed, and the golf course at the Bend became a reality!
The logistics of the construction was left to Claudette’s husband. He made the foundations happen. Using a floor plan from the L. A. architect, Bill constructed a large, well-endowed country club to compliment the course. He made the golf course become a reality, but Claudette was the power! She was the intellect that made the money flow from L. A. to west Texas, and her power of persuasion was what made the Bend happen!
June’s stepfather hired on to the building project and was the hands on man in most of the construction. Bill had the “builder know how” but Ray actually made the nails fly and the walls rise. During the entire phase of construction Ray was there. When the project wound down he went back to light plumbing and working around west Texas as if he’d never been to the Bend at all.
One buyer didn’t make a big deal of his purchase, however. Juan Sanchez came back and met with Claudette in her little Real Estate office downtown one evening and paid her the first of four payments securing a lot near the river. He had a crop harvesting business and looked forward to building a house large enough to accommodate his entire family during the off-season. He didn’t listen to his friend, Ray. He wasn’t really impressed by the golf course, thinking it to be a nice view only. Still, Juan had other goals in mind. His main interest was in the land itself. His lot must be the one nearest the river. His front door must face east, toward the rising sun. His daughter worked in a local pub, but she was the daughter of his old age and he was more a grandfather to her than a father. No one really knew where Juan had come from, or who he really was. Some suspected he was a “wetback” that just hung around until the law got tired of deporting him and simply let him stay. He was surrounded by a tribe of Mexican people who looked at him with a combination of fear and respect.
Juan was a leader of his people. He was the spiritual father of his family. He had been so long that no one could really remember how long it had been. In hushed circles, only at night, they spoke of his power. Juan could leave his body and go to places far away. Juan could walk through walls. He would take the holy smoke into his lungs and sit transfixed for the longest time, returning with a start, and he would never tell anyone where he went, or what he had done. He had no sons. There were rumors that he’d had some, but that they had all been still born, leaving him only Sabrina, a daughter, as his heir. He confided in few, if any people. Ray was about the closest thing he had to being a friend.
But Claudette wasn’t worried about all this because she now had another selling point. She used the remote location with its privacy option and the course with the country club and her “rock bottom” prices, which were roughly one third those in L. A. or Phoenix, or even Houston. Soon, she was getting calls from everyone from country music people to retiring postmasters about how they could purchase a track at the Bend. And, while no country music stars had moved into the Bend, Claudette came up with yet one more idea that was novel. She paid for and assisted the city in putting in a state of the art recording studio in the rear rooms of the country club, with a two- bedroom apartment, complete with kitchenette. When she made her frequent trips to Nashville she’d spread around the offer that any star who wished to develop a record, or album could book time and do so for free in the little recording studio at the Bend provided they would give one free Saturday night show at the country club in payment for said time. The idea brought name acts to the little desert town. The houses went up; the streets went in, and Claudette and Bill were on their way to becoming multi millionaires!
Then, about a year into the project the retired rancher came into her office one day. He knew that Claudette had purchased the land for back taxes, but he knew the statute dealing with the buy back of the property, and he was waiting for the land to be well developed until he made his move. Mr. Stillwell was crazy, but he was also an opportunist. He’d seen Claudette around town, and while he’d not pushed hard on her husband Bill, he thought he might just have an edge on this tall Tennessee woman.
“Claudette, you’re doing a good bit of construction on my place.”
She knew he’d be around. He was too tired to do anything with the land when he had it, and now that someone was doing something, he wanted his “share.”
“My place?’ Seems to me that the deed has transferred to me and my husband, doesn’t it?”
“Well, I been doing some checking, and I found out that I can buy back my land for the thirteen hundred dollars you paid in the back taxes. Now, I don’t want to do that. I just want me a house out here with the rest of the fine folks you’re roping in. You give me that and I’ll end my days right here, and make no trouble for nobody.”
She felt her anger rise, but she kept her temper. Claudette was respectful even when she was angry. She understood that this man thought that he had some kind of rights to the land, and in his heart he really thought he was being more than fair to her letting her off with just building him a house on the land that he had formally owned. But this was her land now! He gave up rights to it when he didn’t pay his taxes, and the State of Texas was nice enough to give him two more years to raise the money to get it back. It wasn’t her fault he didn’t read the papers! If he hadn’t been chasing teenage catfish girls down at Fat Eddie’s he’d have paid more attention to business. Besides that, had he gone to Chip and paid the money, they would have deeded the land back to him, and Claudette and her husband would have just had to find another project to peddle. He didn’t do that. He sat in his little apartment and watched Jeopardy until he smelled the asphalt being laid in the Bend, and now here he was with his hand out for his daily bread!
“Well, Mr. Stillwell, first of all the period of grace is two years. I believe it has been two and a half years since the land was auctioned. You have no claim.” She shrugged and smiled, “Sorry.”
He stared at her coolly from across the desk, “You mean to tell me you are developing a million dollar project on my land and I’m not even gonna get a brick?”
“Oh, no, you can have a brick. In fact, you can have a lot of bricks. Just go out and borrow the money and buy a lot from me and I’ll build you a home here.”
They both knew this was out of the question. He could not even raise the thirteen hundred dollars for the taxes, either then or now. He scraped by month after month on his Social Security check and ate on his food stamps.
“You robbed me!”
She leaned back, “Don’t get dramatic! As the song says, ‘This ain’t Dallas!’ You didn’t do anything for the land, to the land or on the land. You let it go. How long did you have to go to rack up thirteen hundred dollars in back taxes on that ranch? And you didn’t have the idea we had anyway. If you had you’d have approached me, or someone like me, and you would have been a full partner right now. No, you got what you deserve. Now go back to your little apartment. I think ‘All My Children’ is coming on!”
He stood up suddenly and slamming his fists down on the heavy desk, tried to intimidate Claudette by towering over her and reducing her with his stare, but she just said, “Go home, old man.” He turned and walked out of the office.
About a week later, he went to the bend of the river where Claudette and her husband had eaten their lunches so many times. He too, had picnicked there with his wife in his younger days. After his wife died, he’d brought another young lady to this spot, also. He had swum in the river with her back then. His father had left him the land. His grandfather had taken it from the Comanche, but he hadn’t been like them. He’d been too ignorant, and lazy to work the land, and his wife had died, and the young lady who had stayed in the house with him had gone to a younger man. He did indeed spend his hours watching TV, and on Friday nights he’d go to catfish. When he’d owned the land he was at least “somebody,” but a tall woman from Tennessee with a friend at the courthouse had taken his soul. Tears filled his eyes as he took out his old Colt Walker black powder “forty-four” from its case. Slowly, meticulously he took the powder flask and poured just the right amount of powder into one of the chambers. Then, adding a bit more. He put the conical shaped lead into the chamber. Pulling the leaver beneath the barrel, he pressed the bullet down onto the powder. Because of the extra powder, he had to take his pocketknife and trim the nose of the lead in order to make the cylinder turn freely. He didn’t put the grease in the chamber because he only needed one shot and there would be no fear of back flash. Then, taking one last look at the bend in the river and the mansions rising up behind it, he put the Colt into his mouth and rode into his final sunset.
The Butcher Shop