Bodie stayed out of the way of the investigators as they worked the scene. The local JP conferred with Mr. Connor’s physician who had arrived and revealed he’d been battling a serious heart condition for several years. That was news to Bodie as Mr. Connor never mentioned it and always seemed in decent shape for a man his age. The JP ruled Mr. Connor died of natural causes and arranged for the body to be transported to the morgue until all the estate legalities could be handled.
Bodie thanked everybody for their services and at the sheriff’s suggestion locked Mr. Connor’s residence and took the key. Bodie needed to bring Monroe up to speed on what had happened.
On the way to the ranch, Bodie shared the news with Red and Tommy, advising them to keep it quiet. He didn’t want word to circulate that Mr. Connor’s home was unoccupied.
“So what’s going to happen to us now, Bodie?” Monroe asked.
“We just keep doing what we’ve always done until the estate attorney tells us otherwise,” Bodie replied. “Just keep up with normal operations and projects as though he is still with us, I guess.”
Bodie was mentally exhausted. Rather than staying on the Lazy C he decided a fishing trip might be good therapy. His Tran Cat SVT hadn’t been on the water in a while and the weather looked about right for finding some winter trout.
Bodie was checking things at the boat stall and preparing to lower the boat when Red pulled up on his golf cart.
“I’m truly sorry about Mr. Connor,” Red offered.
“Yes, Red, it’s a sad day, for sure.”
“Well, are you here to work on the boat or thinking of going fishing?”
“Well, actually, I’m thinking a few hours of fishing might help clear my mind.”
“Got room for one more? I’d love to join you.”
“Sure, go grab your gear. I’ll pick you up at the bait shop pier.”
Bodie pulled his waders on and grabbed a pair of rod and reel outfits from the locker before lowering the boat. He cranked the big 250 Suzuki and was just about to shift into reverse when Tommy came flying through the door.
“Hey, Bodie, can I go with you?”
“Sure thing, Tommy Boy. Go get your gear and meet me at the bait shop pier.”
Tommy was off like a scalded ape. Bodie mused how he’d love to see the look on Red’s face when Tommy showed up at the pier.
Bodie idled for a few minutes in the ICW to warm the engine before pushing it up on plane. Rounding the corner to the pier he could see Red waiting. He idled in and was tying to a cleat as Red stepped aboard.
“We may have to wait a few minutes, Red. We have another one joining us.”
Red rolled his eyes and took a seat to pull his waders on. Just as he was tying his last boot lace, Tommy came down the dock at full gallop, tossed his gear aboard and nearly crowning Red with his wading net. Red promptly tossed it overboard. Tommy went to wailing, grabbing frantically to retrieve it before it drifted away.
“Alright you two, this is not the time for your childish bullshit. If it’s going to be like this all afternoon I’ll throw you both off the boat and go fishing by myself!” Bodie exclaimed angrily.
Not another word was said. Red sat red-faced behind the console with his arms folded while Tommy went to the bow to get into his waders.
Bodie idled from the pier and turned the bow toward his favorite wintertime trout spot. Red climbed up and took the seat next to him asking where they were headed. Bodie pointed to the GPS screen and Red nodded his head.
Bodie slowed to idle about a hundred yards off the edge of the reef to check for bait. Noticing a raft of mullet milling nervously in shallow water he switched the engine off and dropped the Power Pole.
“Looks like we have some bait activity ahead, boys. Let’s see if there’s any trout with them.”
Red opened the ice chest to grab a bottle of water. “Hey Bodie. There’s plenty of drinks in here but no ice,” he announced.
Bodie shook his head and muttered something about having a lot on his mind as he tied on a new leader and a lure. Red and Tommy went over the gunnel in a flash, headed toward the reef. In less than two minutes he heard Red whistle and looked up to see his rod bowed and Tommy setting the hook.
Bodie was sliding into the water when his phone rang. Fishing it from his wader dry pouch he noticed Pamela’s number on the screen. Had it been anybody else he’d have let it go to message.
“Hello, my dear! Are you calling from Europe or are you back in Texas?” he asked.
“I wish,” she replied. “I’m in Germany. We received word of Mr. Connor’s passing and thought I better check on you.”
“Right now, I’m in knee-deep water with a fishing rod in one hand and my phone in the other. But I’m fine, thanks for asking.”
“Well, I know you must be upset and I just wanted let you know I was thinking of you. That’s all.”
“I appreciate that. News travels fast these days. I’m fine, Pamela, but very sad.”
“Doug is in a meeting but he says to call if you need anything. He also asks that you let us know as soon as the funeral arrangements are announced.”
“That’s very kind of him, please tell him how much I appreciate the gesture. I will call as soon as I can about the arrangements.”
“Oh, Bodie, Doug’s calling in right now. I’m very sorry but I have to go. I’ll call you later.”
The call ended so abruptly that he couldn’t even say goodbye. Zipping the phone safely back into the pouch he looked up to see Red fighting another fish and Tommy adding one to his stringer.
“I guess I better get with the program before those two yahoos clean them all off that reef,” he muttered to himself.
Bodie’s first cast was met with a solid thump but the fish managed to shake loose before he could land it. A few minutes later he strung his first trout of the afternoon and hooked another on the very next cast.
“Looks like there’s some pretty nice fish here this afternoon,” he called to Red who was already headed back to the boat with a limit.
Tommy strolled up a few minutes later and held up his stringer with three nice trout. “I let several nice ones go, Bodie. These three are all I need for a couple fish suppers.”
Bodie went ahead and finished his own limit with several more three-pounders, in hope that Pamela would be back from Germany in a day or two, and thought maybe she’d enjoy some fish and chips – Texas style.
Red and Tommy were already out of their waders when Bodie made it back to the boat. Red was wearing a big smug grin while Tommy sat shivering like a wet dog.
“Bodie, you got any dry clothes on the boat,” Tommy asked through chattering teeth. “We left in such a hurry I forgot my extra gear bag.”
“Sure, Tommy Boy. I always come prepared. You of all people should know that,” Bodie answered. “I’ll even loan you a towel to dry off. I told you last year to ditch those old waders and get a new pair of Simms like mine and Red’s. Maybe you’ll listen this time.”
Of course Red ate that right up, but unlike the Red they both knew so well, he never said a word. Must have been Bodie’s little speech back at the dock.
Pulling in to Bodie’s boat stall, Tommy suggested they clean their fish and give him a few minutes to run home and change out of Bodie’s clothes before heading over to Haddon’s for dinner. “I don’t want everybody seeing me with pants legs rolled to the knee and shirt cuffed up like this,” he whined.
Red said that sounded good but Bodie wasn’t ready to deal with a lot of questions about Mr. Connor. “Y’all go ahead; I have some stuff in the fridge. I’m just not in the mood right now,” Bodie let them know.
When he got into his truck he called Monroe and told him to have someone check on Mr. Connor’s house and make sure the dogs were fed. Arriving home he added water to the bag of fillets and put them in the freezer. He’d fibbed about the leftovers in the fridge but bacon and over-easy eggs with toast would make a good enough dinner, washed down with hot coffee to chase the chill from his bones.
Finishing his meal he felt suddenly exhausted. The fishing had been a good diversion but it was wearing off. He slipped off his boots and fell face-first into his pillow. The lingering scent of Pamela’s perfume pleased him. He fell into a deep sleep and awoke with a start when the phone rang. It was Tommy checking on him.
The next morning Bodie drove to the ranch and found Monroe getting the crew lined out for the day’s work. They were discussing things when a man in a blue Suburban pulled up and Bodie walked over to greet him.
The man shook Bodie’s hand and said he was Mr. Connor’s personal attorney and that he needed to go over some things in private. Bodie showed him into the office and Monroe went back to his crew.
The attorney handed Bodie a business card and introduced himself as Robert Fisher of the Fisher Law Firm. Bodie poured them both a steaming mug of coffee and was pleased that Mr. Fisher took his black, the same way he did. Bodie motioned for him to have a seat at his desk.
“I’ll get straight to the point Mr. Allen. I have here the last will and testament of Earl C. Connor with instructions as to how he wanted his funeral arranged and how his property is to be conveyed. Mr. Connor desires a private funeral with you and a few others listed here to be present. He wishes to be buried under the windmill oak tree located on the coastal pasture. Do you know of this place?”
“I know it well, sir. Mr. Connor liked to go and ponder things.”
“Okay, very well then. As executor of Mr. Connor’s estate, I will take care of all the arrangements as he has specified. All that will be required of you is to prepare the burial site.”
“You want me to prepare his burial site?” Bodie asked with a look of surprise. “Isn’t that something a funeral director should handle?”
“There will be no funeral home or funeral director involved, Mr. Allen. It is Mr. Connor’s desire that his body be placed in a plain wooden coffin with no preparation to the body. He is to be buried in blue jeans, work shirt, and boots. You will select these items. He also asks that his favorite hat and cane be placed in the coffin. If you could arrange the grave to be dug at the location specified I will have his body placed into the coffin and delivered to you here. You will then transport it in the bed of a pickup truck to the gravesite.”
Bodie was speechless; this was unlike anything he could have imagined would happen. “Who do I invite to the funeral?”
“Mr. Connor’s wishes are that you, your foreman, and all the regular ranch hands be the only people present at his burial. I too will attend, along with a minister who I have already contacted.”
“Well, if that is what Mr. Connor wanted then that’s exactly what he will get,” Bodie assured the attorney. “I have to ask, though, what about me and the other people that work for the Lazy C. Will we keep our jobs here? What will happen to the ranch?”
“That will be up to you, Mr. Allen.”
“What do you mean…up to me?
“It will be up to you and you alone, Mr. Allen. You are the sole heir to Mr. Connor’s estate. You inherit everything in Mr. Connor’s holdings, which are considerable.”
Bodie’s head was swimming. “You’re saying Mr. Connor left everything to me?”
“That is correct. The entirety of the Connor estate now belongs solely to you but there is a lot of paperwork yet to be finalized and, of course, probate to follow. I need to convey durable power of attorney so you can write checks and run the ranch until everything is settled and in your name. As executor I will fulfill all of Mr. Connor’s wishes exactly as he recorded them and as reflected in his will.
Oh, also as executor, it is my duty to inform you that you may begin to occupy Mr. Connor’s residence immediately, if you so choose. There are no liens or debt of any kind associated with any of Mr. Connor’s holdings.”
Bodie was absolutely stunned.
“Thank you for the coffee and your time. I know that this is all very overwhelming, Mr. Allen. You are a very wealthy man now and I’d be happy to be your attorney and look over your holdings as I did for Mr. Connor, and my father did before me. Now if you will see to the gravesite; we can bury Mr. Connor first thing in the morning as was his wish. When that is finished I’d like for you to come to my office to sign some papers in front of a notary and we’ll go on from there.”
Bodie assured Mr. Fisher that he would prepare the grave and be ready to receive Mr. Connor’s body for burial early the next morning. The two men shook hands and Bodie watched him drive away.
Monroe walked up and asked, “So, do I still have a job?”
“You can have my job, Monroe. Let’s go into the office. You’re not going to believe this.”To be continued…