A Lassie James Novel Ch. 8

Yes, dear. Yes, dear.

I fixed the screen door, and I called the man.

I hooked up the wi-fi and rinsed off the pan.


Yes, dear. Yes, dear.

I bought a card for your Mom and fixed the hinge on her gate.

Your hair looks good, and I see you’ve lost weight.


Chapter 8

Siler found his true calling in real estate. He did one deal, got in and got out. And got set up for life.

A great aunt had left Siler 53 acres in Randolph County, North Carolina. It was an uninspiring parcel of clay and rubble in the rural Piedmont region of the state.

Because the land wouldn’t perc, it could not accommodate a septic system.

“No perc, no house,” the guy at the county office said.

So Siler couldn’t build on it. He couldn’t sell it to a developer. All he could do was pay the fucking taxes every year and curse his great aunt for leaving him the burden. The neighboring property owners laughed at him.

Liquored up one night, Siler found the solution.

He would start a pig farm. Or at least announce that he was starting a pig farm. With the waste lagoons, oppressive stink, noise and environmental hazards, pig farms had become the ultimate NIMBY villain.

No one, and I mean no one, would tolerate talk of a pig farm in their part of the Randolph County. It didn’t matter that the county may never issue a permit for such an enterprise. Siler banked on the idea that simply announcing his intent would so outrage the neighbors that they would buy his land – just to get him out of the county.

Give him credit. Siler made the play in a big way. He got the high school band out to his property by pledging to contribute to the booster club. He catered the event – pork barbecue, of course. He invited the county commissioners and the extension agent.

And on one sticky hot morning in August, Siler announced that he was bringing a pig farm to his Randolph County land.

Someone threw a trumpet at him. Siler erected a tent on the land and began sleeping there nights. He bought three little pigs and fenced them in on the property. Put up a big sign announcing the arrival of Three Little Pigs Farm – “coming soon.”

The sheriff had to post a car by the property out of concern for Siler’s safety. The Greensboro newspaper heard about the kerfuffle and sent a photographer down. Siler sold the idea hard, focusing on the “job creation” opportunities in a depressed area of the state.

Then the big pork politicians in DC – the men and women paid by the pork lobby to fight for every pig farmer in America – heard about the story and adopted Siler as their celebrity case. Why, they argued, any private landowner oughtta be able to make an honest living raising pigs. Lee Greenwood showed up at Siler’s pitch of clay and sang “Proud to Be an American” for the cameras.

Within 60 days, an attorney representing a collection of neighboring landowners came out to the tent to see Siler. It was 3 a.m. on a Tuesday. Very quiet. Very serious. Delivered a one-time, take-it-or-leave-it offer: End the media circus. Take down the signs, and sell the property on the spot. Sign on the dotted line without taking a breath, right there under the tent. Or get ready to face legal bills that would bankrupt him.

Siler signed. The attorney handed over a check for five times what Siler had been hoping for.

Forty-eight hours later, Siler had purchased a spot in Chapel Hill. Within a month, he opened Pig Farm Tavern.

There was a small stage at one end of the bar. Siler hosted open-mic nights and student bands a few times a month. He also did exclusive shows with musicians coming through town. He would sell 100 tickets for anywhere from $100 to $1,000 per, using the event as a fund-raiser for the labor association representing the housekeepers on the UNC campus. Those housekeepers have always been the most abused, put upon employees on campus. Siler had a soft spot for the housekeepers, based on his tenure in Connor Dorm. Over the years, his events spun off millions of dollars in donations for the men and women who clean up after the kids.

At the other end of the bar there were three booths.

In the middle was the pool table.

The place was long and relatively narrow, like a shotgun house swollen up to the size of a bar. There were 17 stools running down the patron side of the bar.

Siler, a man of simple brilliance, stocked seven varieties of beer, seven choices of liquor and seven options for wine.

He claimed it was a religious requirement. He usually had about a dozen pimento cheese sandwiches in a beer cooler, ones he picked up from Merritt’s store around lunch time. For friends of the bar. Then Time Out was the catering choice for late-night patrons.

During the right time of year, he kept a tin of persimmon pudding in the beer cooler by the sandwiches. Siler’s wife made the deserts by hand, including the pudding. She used fresh Chatham County persimmons.

Siler was on his third marriage. All to the same woman. Siler and Carla both had roving eyes. Gave each other a lot of leeway. So it was never clear just where the line might be found.

When Carla crossed the line enough, Siler divorced her. It was five years into the marriage.

Within 18 months, they were married again. A decade later, Carla filed for divorce. Wrote in the court papers that Siler was “deficient as a man, beyond what can be captured by English language sentences.” No one disputed that.

Two years later, they re-united at a Merle Haggard show. Siler was hanging backstage with the guitar techs and invited Carla along for the evening. Story was they fell into a deep kiss when Merle was singing “Yesterday’s Wine.” They seemed to have found some equilibrium. No one forecast a third divorce.

Today, he was settling up the NFL betting pool from the past week.

“You know, Lassie. This is supposed to be a friendly little pool. Everybody kicks in two bucks, and the winner gets $50. Where’s the harm in that?”

I saw no harm. He continued.

“But I’ve got a fucking degenerate ruining our setup. Maximillian Whitehall, some stats professor. He showed up at the start of the season and talked his way into the pool. Took a spot that opened up when Mallette pulled out. Fucking stats guys all think they’ve figured out a system.

“Now he’s running all these side bets and parlays with my guys. Five of them pulled out of the pool last week. Said they couldn’t take the pressure. Pressure? How is two bucks pressure? They told me they had gotten tangled up with Whitehall on these wacky bets. Most were winning money off him, but it was ruining the games for them. He’s relentless in begging for the action, but then he won’t pay up. Apparently owes money all over town.”

My soup was done. “So you banning him?” I asked.

“Yep. Today. Getting ready to send out an email to everyone on my list Putting the scarlet letter on Whitehall. He’ll never place another bet in this town again,” Siler said.

And like that, Whitehall was toast.


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