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June 10, 2024


By Ronald Paxton

Granville Ford drained his eighth beer of the night and tried to focus on the television screen. The Powerball drawing was next. Granville had purchased a ticket at the convenience store earlier in the evening.

A woman in the room next door screamed. Ford was living in a low-end motel populated primarily by pimps, hookers, drug dealers, and assorted hustlers.

It hadn't always been this way. Granville had married a girl who had been captivated by his boisterous, devil-may-care attitude. The marriage quickly soured when Granville's bride realized there wasn't much substance beneath her husband's grinning facade. The paycheck from Ford's construction job covered his beer, cigarettes, gambling debts, and monthly truck payment. Somehow, his wife managed to scrape together enough money for groceries.

The pregnancy had been unplanned. His wife had been excited at the prospect of becoming a mother. She had always wanted a family. Granville, on the other hand, had been enraged by the "mistake." He began to withdraw from his wife, spending most of his evenings in clubs and bars. A week after David was born Granville packed his bags and left without a word.

Ford had spent the past thirty-five years watching his life slowly slip away. He had lived with a succession of girlfriends, each of whom had eventually kicked him out when they grew tired of his shallow, self-absorbed behavior. The girlfriends were long gone. Age and hard living had stolen his looks, and the real estate crash had taken his construction job. So, now here he was, one step away from living under a bridge.

Granville turned up the volume on the television and stared at the stub in his hand as the Powerball girl read the winning numbers. Ford turned off the television and continued to gaze at his ticket. A smile spread slowly across his face. Finally, something in his life to celebrate. Granville opened another beer.

David Ford saved the entry to his computer spreadsheet and answered the phone.

"Did you see the morning papers?" the caller asked abruptly.

"Yes, I did, Granville," David replied. "Congratulations."

"Congratulations is right," Granville crowed. "Eighty-two million after taxes. What do you think of your old man now?"

"I don't think anything, Granville," David replied. "Is there something you wanted? I've got a meeting in fifteen minutes."

"I'm going to need an accountant and a financial advisor," Granville said in a subdued voice. "Interested?"

"I'm not a financial advisor and I'm not taking on additional tax clients," David replied. "I already have more than I can handle. I can recommend a couple of my associates."

"I don't think you understand, David," Granville said, fighting to control his exasperation. "I'm in a position to do something for you."

"You had your chance a long time ago, Granville," David replied as he ended the call.

David Ford leaned back in his chair and stared at the wall. He sincerely hoped that his biological father would take his windfall and move far away. Granville had never been part of his son's life, but it was a small town and David ran into the man occasionally. He was determined to remain estranged from the person who had so casually walked out of his life. David was happily married now with two beautiful daughters and a prestigious position as managing partner for the town's largest accounting firm. Granville Ford was not welcome in his home or his life.

David's mother had remarried when David was four years old. Dr. Noah Thompson was the man David called 'Dad' and the person most responsible for his success. He had pulled his mother out of a downward spiral and treated David like his own son. Without this man in his life David was convinced he would either be flipping burgers or making license plates for the state.

David's intercom buzzed.

"Mr. Ward is here," his assistant announced.

David stood and checked his smile in the mirror before walking up front to greet his client.

"Guess where I am?" the caller asked.

David Ford's shoulders slumped as he recognized the person's voice. He had neither seen nor spoken to Granville in over a month and was beginning to hope the man had taken his riches and left town for good.

"I'm on my way out the door, Granville," David replied.

"Echo, Montana," Granville continued, excitedly.

"Where?" David asked.

"Echo, Montana," Granville laughed. "It's an old western ghost town. It was advertised for sale on the Internet and I bought it."

"Is there anything there?" David asked with reluctant interest.

"Actually, there is a main street with a saloon, sheriff's office, hotel, livery stable, post office, and general mercantile store," Granville said.

"Really?" David said in amazement.

"Well, there isn't much to them," Granville admitted. "They filmed a few westerns here back in the 70's and 80's. The movie producers left what they built, but it's basically just a stage set right now. I'm going to spend some money and really fix this place up right. My own personal ghost town."

"You're the only person living there?" David asked.

"Oh, yeah," Granville laughed, "and that's the way it's going to stay. Nobody else would want to live here, anyway. I'm out in the middle of nowhere. Helena is a good three hours to the south."

David remained silent.

"Listen, David, I was thinking your girls might get a kick out of seeing this place. Maybe they could come out and visit for a week. I could pick them up at the airport in Helena. I'll pay for their tickets, of course."

David could hear the blood roaring in his ears.

Leave my family alone! his inner voice screamed. Why don't you take your money and go chase hookers, shoot heroin, blow your brains out, anything. Just leave me alone!

"David?" Granville asked, hesitantly.

"Sure," David heard himself reply in a dead voice. "Let's set it up."

Money can do strange things to people. In Granville's case, it forced him to look at a lifetime of selfish and profligate behavior. David's reaction to his good fortune had made Granville feel ashamed and small. He learned that money could make a lot of things possible, but purchasing the respect and forgiveness of his son wasn't one of them.

He was thrilled that David had agreed to send the girls for a visit. Granville was determined to be a good grandfather. It was too late for him and David, but it was not too late for him to try to do the right thing. Spending time with his grandchildren was a start.

Granville loved his new town. He had grown up listening to his parents boast about being descendants of Robert Ford, the man who killed Jesse James. The fact that Ford was also an outlaw and had murdered an unarmed James when his back was turned did nothing to reduce the pride Granville felt for his ancestor.

Granville had contacted a lawyer in Helena and made a will as soon as he arrived in Montana. The lawyer was also taking care of his money. Granville planned to return to Helena in a few days to purchase supplies and hire an architect and construction crew to begin the restorations to his town. He looked forward to the day when the saloon and mercantile were fully stocked and the other buildings and businesses were restored and furnished to their original state. In the meantime, Granville was camping out in the hotel and exploring his town and surroundings.

Dawn was breaking as Granville exited the hotel and headed for his car. The food pantry was completely empty and he had one bottle of water remaining. Time to make the trip to Helena, especially since the girls were flying out in less than a week. In addition to groceries, Granville wanted to pick up some books on the Old West that his granddaughters might enjoy.

Granville swore as the engine failed to start. He popped the hood and got out of the car to take a look. Cold sweat broke out on his hands and forehead. The distributor cap was missing and hoses and wires had been crudely severed.

Someone else was in Echo. Granville slowly scanned the street, looking for movement, listening for the faintest sound. Nothing.

Granville reached for his cell phone and came up empty. Now he was starting to panic.

Calm down, Granville. Where could you have left it? The sheriff's office! He had spent most of the previous afternoon pretending to be Robert Ford and practicing his quick draw with his phone.

Granville hurried across the street to the sheriff's office. The phone was right where he had left it, except that it had been smashed into a thousand pieces. A yellow, sticky smiley face looked up at him from atop the wreckage. Granville's mouth turned to cotton. He stumbled back out to the street and whipped his head around, seeking the intruder in his town. A nasty realization crawled into his mind.

I'm going to die.

She appeared on the fourth day.

Granville was fading in and out of consciousness.

"Who are you?" he croaked.

"Roberta West," the woman replied.

"Why?" Granville whispered.

"My full name is Roberta James West," the woman answered. "Jesse James was my ancestor. Now we're even."

Granville Ford stared at the woman and then closed his eyes for the last time.

Roberta West checked for a pulse and then placed the call.

"It's done," she said.

"Good," a man replied. "I'll wire your fee this morning."

David Ford hung up the phone and smiled.

"Problem solved," he whispered.

David Ford was in a hurry. He had promised his wife he would be home early to help with Halloween and he was already late.

He almost ignored the call that came in as he was leaving, but picked it up thinking it might be his wife.

Ten minutes later David hung up and walked slowly out to the parking lot. A lawyer from Helena had called to say that Granville had been found dead. After expressing his condolences the lawyer had gone on to explain that Granville had left a will. David had agreed to fly out to Montana the following day.

The next afternoon David walked into the law office of Jonathan Tate. Mr. Tate was a friendly, middle-aged man who looked like a farmer.

"Thank you for coming, Mr. Ford," Tate said. "I know this is a difficult time for you. We can do this quickly. As I mentioned on the phone, your father retained my services in making his will and overseeing his fortune."

David said nothing.

"Your father left his entire fortune to your daughters. I have set up individual trust accounts in their names. You are named as the trustee and your wife is named as successor trustee."

David felt sick to his stomach.

"How much?" he managed.

"Thirty-seven million, net of expenses, in each account," Tate replied. "He left you his town. He said you wouldn't take his money."

David sat in stunned silence.

"Can I get you anything?" Tate asked with concern.

David got slowly to his feet.

"Directions to Echo, please," he replied.

The sun was setting as David parked his car in front of the Echo Hotel. The perfect silence of the town made his head hurt.

David walked into the hotel and was immediately drawn to the sleeping bag in the corner where Granville Ford had spent the last hours of his life.

You killed your father, David. What kind of man does something like that? He was a horrible person but who are you to say he doesn't have a right to live his life? He left your daughters a fortune, for God's sake. He couldn't have been all bad.

David's stomach rumbled. He had skipped lunch. It wouldn't take long without water; no more than three or four days.

The girls were set for life and his wife had a good job as a nurse at the hospital. His investments and million-dollar life insurance policy would give her the option of staying home or working part-time.

It was better this way. Continuing his life was just too hard.

David crawled into the sleeping bag and inhaled his father's scent. For the first time in his life David felt close to the man who had turned his back on him so many years ago.

David snuggled deeper into the sleeping bag. November nights were cold in Montana, especially when you were sleeping in an unheated building.

David Ford yawned, closed his eyes, and waited for the end.

Article © Ronald Paxton. All rights reserved.
Published on 2013-02-25
1 Reader Comments
03:14:44 AM
Great suspense! This story would make
a great suspenseful play or movie!
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