“This is what you spent our money on?”
“It’s wunderbar, ja? What a beauty.” Paul Bowman grinned as he wiped a spot of dirt off the white trailer bearing his name in large black letters on the side. It might look like a big white box with windows but it was his future. It sat parked inside their uncle’s barn out of the weather.
His brother, Mark, shook his head. “Beauty was not my first thought.”
Paul stepped back to take in the full effect. “Paul Bowman Auction Services. Has a nice sound, don’t you think? A friend did all the custom work. He found this used concession-stand trailer, stripped it to a shell, then installed the sliding glass windows on each side, rewired it for battery power as well as electricity, installed the speakers on the roof and customized the inside to fit my needs. It did smell like fried funnel cakes for a while, but the new paint job took care of that.”
Mark sighed heavily. “This is not what I was expecting.”
Paul walked around pointing to the features he had insisted on having. “It is mounted on a flatbed trailer with two axels and radial tires for highway travel. The front hitch is convertible. It can be pulled by horses or by a truck if the auction is more than twenty miles away.”
“What were you thinking?”
Paul didn’t understand the disapproval in his older brother’s voice. “I told you I needed a better sound system. People have to be able to hear the auctioneer.”
Mark gestured toward the trailer. “I thought you wanted a new speaker. This thing looks like a cross between a moving van and the drive-up window at the Farley State Bank. It’s huge. And white. Our buggies must be black.”
“The bishop won’t object to the color. It’s not like it’s sunflower-yellow and it isn’t truly a buggy. It’s my place of business. It has everything I need.”
“Everything except an auction to take it to.”
“The work will start rolling in. You’ll see.” He pulled open the back door. “You have got to hear this sound system. These speakers are awesome. It all runs on battery power, or I can plug it in if there is electricity at the place where the auction is being held. The bishop allows the use of electricity in some businesses so he shouldn’t object to this.”
“You will have to okay it with him. It isn’t plain.”
“I’ll see him soon. I’m not worried.”
“And if he says nee, can you get your money back?”
“He won’t.” Paul stepped up into what was essentially an office on wheels.
The trailer was outfitted with two desk spaces, two chairs and a dozen storage bins of assorted sizes secured to the walls. Sliding windows on both sides opened to let him deal directly with customers and call the auction without leaving the comfort of his chair. A third window at the front with an open slot beneath it served as a windshield so he could drive a team of horses from inside.
The feeling of elation that it all belonged to him widened Paul’s smile. Mark didn’t understand how much this meant. No one in the family did. They thought being an auctioneer was his hobby and nothing more. Maybe that was his fault.
He was the joker in the family. He was good at pretending he didn’t take anything too seriously. He was a fellow who liked a good joke even if the joke was on him. He enjoyed light flirtations but avoided serious relationships at all costs. Auctioneering was his one true love.
This trailer was the culmination of three years’ work to fulfill his dream of becoming a full-time auctioneer.
Detaching the microphone from the clips that held it in place while the vehicle was in motion, he flipped a switch and began his auctioneer’s chant. “I have two hundred, um two, two, who’ll give me three hundred, um three, three, I see three. Now who’ll give me a little more, four, four, do I hear four?”
He slid open the window and propped his elbows on the desktop as he looked down at Mark. “What you think?”
“It’s mighty fancy for a fellow who has only been a licensed auctioneer for a couple of months.”
Paul wanted his brother to share his enthusiasm, not dampen it. “I completed the auctioneer’s course and served my year of apprenticeship with Harold Yoder. He’s one of the best in these parts. I have called twenty auctions under his supervision. I have earned my license, and I’m ready to be out on my own.”
“There’s a difference between going out on your own and going out on a limb. How much did you spend on this?”
“Enough.” All he had saved plus the money he had borrowed from Mark and a four-thousand-dollar loan from the bank on a short-term note. Paul kept that fact to himself. He didn’t need a lecture from his always practical older brother. Sometimes life required a leap of faith.
It was true he had expected to be hired for several major auctions by the time his custom trailer was finished, but he’d had only one small job so far. His commission had barely covered his expenses for that one. He’d been forced to borrow the money to pay the builder when his trailer was ready. No Amish fellow liked being in debt, but sometimes a man’s business required it. Paul closed the window, switched off the microphone and stepped out.
Mark shook his head. “I hope you know what you’re doing.”
Paul grinned. “I talk fast. That’s the secret. You’ll see. This is a goot investment. You’ll get your money back soon.”
“I hope so. I’ll need it to pay for the new ovens we’re putting in at the bakery. Have you told Onkel Isaac about this purchase?”
“Not yet. I hope he approves, but I know this was the right decision for me even if he doesn’t.” They both walked out into the early morning sunshine.
“He will support your decision, but if you fail at this business venture, don’t look to him to bail you out. Or me. Lessons learned by failure are as valuable as lessons learned by success.”
“I know. It’s the Amish way.” Paul had heard that many times in his life, but it never meant as much as it meant now. When his loan came due in two months the bank could repossess his van if he didn’t have the money. He was starting to worry.
Maybe he could get an extension on his loan. His uncle did a lot of business at the bank, but Paul’s finances were what they would look at.
He crossed the farmyard with Mark and headed toward their uncle’s furniture-making business, where they both worked. As they entered the quiet shop, they went their separate ways. Mark went out back to start the diesel generator that produced the electric power for the numerous woodworking machines, lights and office equipment. When Paul heard the hum of the generator start up and the lights came on, he raised the large door at the rear of the building so the forklift operator could bring in pallets of raw wood and move finished products to the trucks that would soon arrive for the day’s deliveries.
He saw a car turn into the parking lot and stop, but he knew Mark would be up front soon to deal with any customers. A man got out of the car and walked toward Paul instead of going to the entrance to the business. He was dressed in khaki pants and a blue polo shirt. Definitely not an Amish fellow.
“I’m looking for the Amish auctioneer?”
Paul grinned and clapped a hand to his chest. “You found him. I’m Paul Bowman.”
“I’m Ralph Hobson. I recently inherited a farm and I am no farmer. The place is a pile of rocks and weedy fields fit for goats and not much else. I’ve been told that an auction is the easiest and fastest way to get rid of the property.”
“Auctions are very popular in this part of the country. The buyer can see he’s getting a fair deal because he knows what everyone else is offering. The seller gets his money right away, and my auction service takes care of the details in between for a ten percent commission. Does that sound like something you’re interested in?”
“It does. How soon can you hold an auction?”
“That depends on the size and condition of the property and the contents of the home if you are selling that.”
“I am. The farm is a hundred and fifty-five acres. How much can I expect to get for it?”
“Farmland in this part of Ohio sells for between five and six thousand dollars an acre depending on the quality of the land.”
Ralph’s eyes lit up. “It’s a good thing I didn’t take the first offer I had. That weasel was trying to cheat me. So roughly seven hundred and seventy thousand, give or take a few thousand?”
Paul wondered who the weasel was and how much he had offered. It wasn’t any of his business so he didn’t ask. “Minus my commission. It could go higher if there is a bidding war.”
“That’s when two or more bidders keep upping their bids because they both really want the item.”
“That sounds interesting. What keeps the seller from putting someone in the crowd to drive the price up?” Ralph slipped his hands into the front pockets of his pants. “Hypothetically, of course.”
“I won’t say it never happens but the bidder is taking a chance he could get stuck with a high-priced item he doesn’t want or can’t afford if the other bidder quits first.”
“I see.” Ralph smiled, but it didn’t reach his eyes. “I guess we can both hope for a bidding war since you earn more if I make more. Right?”
“Right. Are there outbuildings? Farm equipment? Livestock? I’ll need to make an accurate inventory of everything.”
“A few chickens, three buggy horses and a cow with a calf are the only livestock. A neighbor has them for now. The rest is a lot of junk. My uncle rarely let go of anything.”
Paul tried not to get his hopes up. “One man’s junk is another man’s treasure. I’ll need to look the place over.”
“I can drive you there now.”
This was too good an opportunity to pass up. To handle an entire farm and household sale could bring him a hefty commission. Enough to pay back Mark and the bank loan plus get his business off to a good start. “Who owned the farm before you?”
“My uncle, Eli King.”
“I think I know the place. Out on Cedar Road just after the turn off to Middleton?”
Paul had gone there last year with his cousin Luke looking for parts to fix an ancient washing machine. Ralph was right about his uncle collecting things but not all of it was junk. There were some valuable items stashed away. “Let me tell my uncle where I’m going and I’ll be right with you.”
“Great.” The man looked relieved and walked back to his car.
Paul found his uncle, his cousin Samuel and Mark all conferring in the front office. Paul tipped his head toward the parking lot. “That Englisch fellow wants to show me a farm he plans to put up for auction. Can you spare me for a few hours?”
The men looked up from reviewing the day’s work schedule. “Can we?” Isaac asked.
Samuel flipped to the last page on the clipboard he held. “It’s not like he does much work when he is here.”
Mark and Isaac chuckled. Paul smiled, too, not offended in the least. “Very funny, cousin. I do twice the amount of work my brother does these days. Mark spends more time at the bakery than he does here.”
Mark’s grin turned to a frown. Isaac patted his shoulder. “That is to be expected when he and his new wife are getting their own business up and running.”
“That’s right,” Mark said, looking mollified. “It takes a lot of thought to decide which type of ovens we need and where they should be placed, what kind of storage we need—a hundred decisions have to be made.”
Isaac’s wife, Anna, ran a small gift shop across the parking lot from the woodworking building. Mark’s wife, Helen, had been selling her baked goods in the shop and at local farmers’ markets, but the increasing demand for her tasty treats and breads made opening a bakery the next logical step for them.
A month ago the church community held a frolic to help Mark and Helen finish building their bakery next to the gift shop. The couple would live above the bakery until they could afford to build a new home. They were currently living with Helen’s aunt, Charlotte Zook, but her home was several miles away, making it impractical to stay there once their business was up and running.
“When is the grand opening?” Isaac asked.
“The dual ovens we want are back-ordered. We can’t set a date until they are paid for and installed.” Mark gave Paul a pointed look. It was a reminder that he needed his money back soon.
Paul winked at his brother. “Mark’s interest isn’t in the new ovens. Sneaking a kiss from his new bride is what keeps him running over there.”
Mark blushed bright red and everyone laughed.
Paul turned to Isaac for an answer. “Can you spare me today? I’m trying to get my own business up and running, too.”
Isaac nodded. “We will do without you. Any idea when you’ll be back?”
“I can’t say for sure.” He opened the door and saw his cousin Joshua and Joshua’s wife, Mary, coming across from the gift shop. Mary carried her infant son balanced on her hip. The happy, chubby boy was trying to catch the ribbon of her kapp with one hand and stuff it in his mouth with little success.
Mary called out, “Guder mariye, Paul. Is Samuel around?”
“Good morning, Mary. He’s inside.”
“Goot, I need to speak to him. Don’t forget about Nicky’s birthday party two weeks from Saturday. You can bring a date if you like.”
“I won’t forget and I won’t bring a date. Meet the family. Bounce the cute baby. That would be a sure way to give a woman the wrong impression,” he called over his shoulder.
“You can’t stay single forever,” Mary shouted after him.
“I can try.” He hurried toward Ralph Hobson’s car. He didn’t want to keep a potentially profitable client waiting.
On the twenty-minute ride Paul did all the talking as he outlined the details of the auction contract and his responsibilities, including advertising and inventory, sorting the goods and cleaning up after the sale. Hobson listened and didn’t say much.
Paul hoped the man understood what he was agreeing to. “I’ll send you a printed copy of all I’ve told you if you agree to hire me. A handshake will be enough to seal the deal.”
“Fine, fine. Whatever.” The man took one hand off the wheel and held it out.
Paul shook it. He was hired. It was hard to contain his joy and keep the smile off his face.
When Ralph turned into the lane of a neat Amish farmyard, Paul noticed a white car parked off to the side of the drive. Ralph stopped beside it. A middle-aged man in a white cowboy hat got out. He tossed a cigarette butt to the ground and came around to the driver’s side. Ralph rolled down his window.
“Good morning, sir. My name is Jeffrey Jones. Are you the owner of this property?”
“I am,” Ralph said.
“I understand this farm is for sale. I’d like to take a look at the property and maybe make an offer on it.”
Ralph frowned. “Where did you hear it was for sale?”
The man shrugged and smiled. “Word gets around in a small community like this.”
Ralph shook his head. “Your information isn’t quite accurate. There will be a farm auction in the near future.”
“Ah, that’s a risky way to get rid of the place. You should at least hear my offer. You’ve got no guarantee that an auction will top it.”
“I’ll take my chances,” Ralph said. “Keep an eye out for the date of the sale. You might get it for less.”
Mr. Jones stepped back from the vehicle. “Do the mineral rights go with the farmland or are they separate?”
“I’m not selling the mineral rights.”
“Smart man. I imagine leasing those rights to the local coal mine will bring you a tidy sum for many years. My offer for the farm expires when I get in my car. No one is going to want this place except maybe a poor Amish farmer. You’ll have trouble getting a decent price.”
If Ralph sold the land now Paul wouldn’t get a dime, but he had to put his client’s interest before his own. “You should at least hear what the man had to offer.”
“I have my heart set on an auction. Besides, I thought we had a deal. We shook on it.”
Paul grinned. It seemed his new client was an honorable man. “It’s up to you, but he is mistaken if he thinks all Amish farmers are poor. You’ll get a fair price at auction. You can put a reserve on it if you want. If the bidding doesn’t reach your set price it’s a ‘no sale’ and you are free to sell it another way.”
Ralph smiled. “I’m going to hope for bidding war.”
Mr. Jones appeared more puzzled than disappointed but he got back in his car and drove away.
Paul leaned forward in his seat to get a good look at the farm as they drove up. Both the barn and the house were painted white and appeared in good condition. He made a quick mental appraisal of the equipment he saw, then jotted down numbers in a small notebook he kept in his pocket.
“What is she doing here?” The anger in Ralph’s voice shocked Paul.
He followed Ralph’s line of sight and spied an Amish woman sitting on a suitcase on the front porch of the house. She wore a simple pale blue dress with an apron of matching material and a black cape thrown back over her shoulders. Her wide-brimmed black traveling bonnet hid her hair. She looked hot, dusty and tired. She held a girl of about three or four on her lap. The child clung tightly to her mother. A boy a few years older leaned against the door behind her and was holding a large calico cat.
“Who is she?” Paul asked.
“That is my annoying cousin, Clara Fisher.” Ralph opened his car door and got out, and Paul followed.
The woman glared at both men. “Why are there padlocks on the doors, Ralph? Eli never locked his home.”
“They are there to keep unwanted visitors out. What are you doing here?” Ralph demanded.
“I live here. May I have the keys, please? My children and I are weary.”
Ralph’s eyebrows snapped together in a fierce frown. “What do you mean you live here?”
“What part did you fail to understand, Ralph? I…live…here,” she said slowly, as if speaking to a small child.
Ralph’s face darkened with anger. Paul had to turn away to keep from laughing.
“You can poke fun at me if you want, but that is not an explanation.” The man was livid.
Clara sat where she was seemingly unruffled by his ire. “Eli invited us to live with him last Christmas. We moved in six months ago.”
“No one told me that. I didn’t see you at the funeral.”
“We have been in Maryland visiting my mother for the past month.” She stroked her little girl’s hair. “Sophie became ill and was in the hospital briefly. Eli’s friend Dan Kauffman called me to tell me about Eli’s passing. He knew Mother and I couldn’t return for the funeral. Surely he told you that, for I know he attended.”
“I don’t speak to the Amish and they don’t speak to me. You’ll have to find somewhere else to live. Uncle Eli left the farm to me.”
Her eyes widened with astonishment. “I don’t believe it. He told me he had amended the farm trust and made me the beneficiary months ago.”
Ralph looked stunned but he quickly recovered and glared at her. “Even if he did, he revoked that amendment three weeks ago when he made me the new trustee. He said nothing about you or your children. That’s why they call it a revocable trust, Clara, because a man can change his mind anytime. It’s irrevocable now that Eli is gone and this farm belongs to me.”
Paul wished he knew more about how such things worked.
“You’re lying, Ralph. Eli wouldn’t turn over his farm to you.”
“You make it sound like we weren’t on speaking terms. I came to visit the old fellow at least once a year.”
“Only to see if you could beg money off him.”
“I admit my motives weren’t always the best, but things have been different lately. I cared about the old guy.”
“Cared about what you could get from him. Open the door at once.”
Ralph crossed his arms and leaned back. “You haven’t changed, cousin. You’re still trying to boss me around. I’m not going to let you in my house.”
“You have changed. You’ve gone from scamming Amish folks out of a few hundred dollars to stealing valuable things, like this farm.”
“If you feel that’s the case, cousin, call the cops. You can use my phone.”
Her lips narrowed into a thin line. “You know it is not our way to involve the Englisch law.”
“Yeah, I do know that. The Amish don’t like outsiders. Suits me.”
“Is that what you were counting on? You’re a man without scruples. You are a blemish on our family’s good name.”
Her biting comment surprised Paul. She might look small, but she was clearly a woman to be reckoned with. She reminded him of an angry mama cat all fluffed up and spitting mad. He rubbed a hand across his mouth to hide a grin. His movement caught her attention, and she pinned her deep blue gaze on him. “Who are you?”
He stopped smiling. “My name is Paul Bowman. I’m an auctioneer. Mr. Hobson has hired me to get this property ready for sale.”
Her angry gaze snapped back to Ralph. “I would like to see the document Eli signed giving you the farm that he had promised to me and my children.”
“That document is none of your business. My attorney has it.” He turned toward the car.
She stifled her anger. Paul saw the effort it took and felt sorry for her. She drew a deep breath. “Ralph, please, search your heart and find compassion for us. You know Sophie will need medical care her entire life. I will be hard-pressed to pay for that care without the income this farm will provide.”
Ralph turned back but didn’t look at her. “The church will take care of you. Isn’t that what they promise? Eli and I mended our difference. You should be happy about that. The Amish are all about forgiveness.”
“I wish I believed you.” Clara’s eyes went to Paul. “You can’t auction off this farm. It doesn’t belong to him.”
Paul held up both hands and took a step back. “This is clearly a family matter, and I don’t think I should get involved. Do you have a place to stay? My aunt and uncle will be happy to welcome you to their home.”
Her tense posture relaxed a little. “I’m grateful for the offer, but we have to stay here. My daughter has Crigler-Najjar syndrome. It’s a rare liver disease. She has a special blue-light bed she must sleep in at night. It is upstairs in the front bedroom.”
Paul had heard of the blue-light children but he’d never seen one. Clara’s daughter was a pretty child with white-blond curly hair and a golden hue to her skin. Her bright blue eyes regarded him solemnly. The boy shared the same blond hair and blue eyes. He glared at Ralph but didn’t speak.
Ralph gave his cousin a falsely sweet smile. “I don’t have the keys to the house with me, but you’re welcome to sleep on the porch.”
Clara’s scowl deepened. “My child can’t be without the lights. She needs to be under them for ten hours a day or risk brain damage. I have a set we travel with, but I left them with my mother to be shipped here later. You must let us stay.”
Paul heard the desperation in her voice. He caught Ralph by the arm. “This isn’t right. Let her in.”
Ralph jerked away. “You heard her say I’m a liar and a thief and you think I should help her? I’m going to call the sheriff and report her for trespassing. A night in jail might change her tune. Get in the car. I’m leaving.”
Paul cringed. He was about to lose a sale that would have paved the way for his future business. He glanced around and picked up a rock twice the size of his fist. “Do you have the key, Mr. Hobson? If not, I’m going to owe you for a new padlock and a smashed door. I’m not leaving here until she and her kinder are safe inside.”
Ralph pulled out his cell phone. “Go ahead. The sheriff can arrest both of you.”
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USA Today Bestselling author Patricia Davids grew up on a Kansas farm with four brothers. After college she began a wonderful career as a nurse. In 1973 Pat wrote a letter to a lonely sailor. Little did she know her talent with words would bring her love, marriage and motherhood.
An avid reader, Pat longed to write a book, but put her dream on hold as she raised a family and worked in an NICU. It wasn’t until 1996 that she began writing seriously. Today, Pat enjoys crafting emotionally satisfying romances where love and faith bring two people together forever.