Plugging along on #5, almost 70k words, and occasionally I decide to ‘play’ a little bit with something… This chapter is based on a young sailor, many years ago, showing me his great grandad’s rifle, and wondering what it was worth. This was in the parking lot of the hangar, and it was wrapped in a blanket. It was a Pattern 53 Enfield, and carved in the butt was 20th Maine. He also had a trunk full of uniforms and other ‘stuff’, that had apparently been found in his grandmother’s attic when she died. His great grandfather was at Gettysburg with Chamberlain.
Anyhoo, here goes… This one took about 3.5 hours of research, getting things right, including how the typical letter was written in the 19th century.
As always, unedited, comments appreciated.
An Old Gun
It was a slow morning, and Tom and the old farts, as Jesse thought of them, were BSing around the coffee pot in the corner. Toad had come in late last night, grumbling that he was getting behind on the orders for custom work, and had dragged Bob back into the hole as the guys called the workroom, needing help with something on a barrel not cooperating with being mated to an action.
The weather had turned chilly, and that had contributed to a lack of early morning shooters, with Fernando and Ed, being bored, deciding to clean up the ranges. That reminded Jesse, the brass buyer was due to come by on Monday, so they needed to box up what they’d recovered from the ranges and shoved into the barrels in the back of the storage area. Seven months had proven that they could stay afloat, as a company, but she was thankful they didn’t have to count on the income to live on.
Her accounting background and training caused her to want steady income and outgo month to month, but they weren’t seeing it. She was counting noses in the pistol and rifle cases, to see what they might need to order, when a very old, traditionally dressed Hispanic lady, escorted by what she guessed was a grandson, or maybe great grandson walked slowly to the counter. “Senora, how may I help you,” Jesse asked.
A spate of very fast Spanish followed, and the great grandson, said, “My bisabuela, our matriarca she does not speak much English. My name is Manuel, we are la Sanchez. We… come from Ozona, to your shop… Store? My English, I am learning.”
Jesse replied, “If you will wait, I have someone who can translate quickly. Can you wait ten minutes? Can I offer you a cup of coffee?”
Another fast back and forth, and the old lady and her great grandson went over and sat down by the coffee pot, as Jesse called Felicia on the cell, “Hey, can you come down here for a few minutes, I need you to translate for me.” Felicia said she would, since Matt was still in the house, he could watch the kids. Five minutes later, Felicia walked in, and Jesse walked her over to the old lady.
Felicia greeted her with a bow, and they spoke for about a minute, then Felicia turned to Jesse, “She is La Matriarca Sanchez, she had her Manuel bring her here, she has heard Mexicans are treated fairly here, and she has an old gun she would like to sell. None of her children, grandchildren or great grandchildren are interested in it, and she wants to use the money for school clothes for another great grandchild.
Jesse nodded, “Please tell her we will be happy to look at it.” Felicia translated, and Manuel went out the door, coming back moments later with a battered leather valise, sitting it carefully in front of his bisabuela. La Matriarca reached into the valise, and pulled out a huge old pistol, then carefully handed it to Jesse, with another spate of Spanish, and Jesse was pretty sure she caught the words, loaded.
Felicia said, “She says be careful, it’s loaded. It’s the pistola she keeps in her bedroom. She would like to get five hundred dollars for it, if possible. That is what her grandson thinks it might be worth.”
Jesse asked, “Can I take it over to the counter?”
Felicia translated, then nodded, and Jesse gingerly carried it over to the counter, placing it on the mat, and making sure it was pointed in a safe direction. Turning on the light over the counter, she was amazed at the condition, and immediately wondered if it was a copy of an 1848 Colt Dragoon. Picking up the magnifying glass, she started looking closer, and almost dropped the glass when she saw the inscription ‘B Company No 148’. Jesse looked up, “Felicia, tell her I must get our gunsmith to look at this, I will be right back.” As Felicia was translating that, Jesse made a bee line down the hall to the hole, sticking her head in, she said, “Toad, I need you to come look at a pistol, please.”
Toad glanced up, “Can it wait, I’m right in the middle of…”
Jesse glared at him, “No! Now. If this is what I think it is…”
Toad said, “Okay, okay… If it’s that important.”
She led Toad back to the counter and said, “She told me it’s loaded, so be careful.”
Toad glanced at it, “Looks like a copy of a Dragoon. Late 1840 design, maybe early 1850. Looks like a pretty good job of aging…”
Jesse handed him the magnifying glass, “Take a closer look.” As she stepped back, Felicia watched her, wondering what was going on. Jesse just shook her head, holding up a finger.
Toad was mumbling something, then Jesse heard him say, “Holy shit. This can’t… This has gotta be… No fuckin’ way.”
La Matriarca Sanchez said something to Felicia, who walked over, “She wants to know if there is a problem.”
Toad looked up from the pistol, “If this is real, yeah, there is a big problem.”
Felicia cocked her head, “Why?”
Toad said quietly, “If this pistol is real, this is a half million dollars sitting here, at the minimum.”
Felicia blanched, “What? How?”
Toad said, “Tell her we’re looking some things up, and it will be a few more minutes.”
“Should I tell her…”
“No, don’t say anything about the value. I gotta make some calls.” He flipped the pistol over, and said, “Yeah, it’s loaded. Don’t do anything until I get back.”
Toad disappeared back into the hole, and Jesse pulled some pastries out of the fridge, put them on a tray, and took them over to where the old lady and her great grandson were sitting. She offered them, and they both took one, as Felicia explained that it would be a few more minutes. There was another spate of fast Spanish, and Felicia followed Jesse back to the counter, whispering, “She’s worried she wants too much.”
Jesse just shook her head, “I hate not telling her, but Toad is right. We’ll have to wait.”
Fifteen minutes later, a shaken Toad came back to the counter, reexamined the pistol and turned to Jesse, “I think… Based on what I could find out, I think this is the real deal. We need to ask her some questions.”
Felicia shrugged, “I’ll translate, but you’ll have to keep it simple. I don’t know all the terms and stuff.”
The three of them went back to where La Matriarca and Manuel were sitting and Toad smiled, looking at her and said, “Ma’am, do you have anything else that goes with this pistol?”
Felicia translated, and the old lady reached into the valise, pulled out a well-used saddle holster, three spare cylinders, an old tally book, and a set of crumbling sheets of paper. Toad looked at them in amazement, then turned to Jesse, mouthing, “It’s real!”
La Matriarca pointed to one of the sheets of paper, and one name, P.L. Buquor, as Felicia translated, “She says that is her grandfather. He served under El Captain Hays. She said he served and was called back in 1847 and went back for a year or two.”
Picking up the tally book, she started flipping through and looking at Felicia, she again pointed at the crabbed entries, and Felicia translated, “She says this is the book of… What he did, men they tracked and… things they did. And she wants to know what is wrong.”
Toad looked at Jesse, “You want to tell her, or should I?”
Jesse motioned Toad to continue, and he turned to the old lady, “We cannot afford to buy your pistol.” Felicia translated, and La Matriarca’s face fell. Toad rapidly said, “It is worth too much money for us to pay.”
When Felicia translated that, La Matriarca looked at all three of them, eyes wide, and asked Felicia a question. Felicia said, “She wants to know what you mean. It is only an old pistola. What do you mean it is worth too much?”
Manuel nodded, “Why too much, does not make sense.”
Toad leaned forward, hands on knees and said, “Please translate this- Ma’am, that pistola as you call it is conservatively worth up to one half million dollars if it can be authenticated. What I see here, it makes me believe this… This pistol is the real deal.”
Manuel crossed himself as he heard Toad say it, “Dios mío, Bisabuela, Dios mío…”
La Matriarca also crossed herself, and then put her hands over her mouth in wonder. Toad continued, “That is why we cannot buy it. We can help you get it authenticated, and help you with an auction company that can sell it, but you need to decide what you want to do.”
Felicia translated that, and listened as the old lady spit rapid fire questions at Felicia, who said, “She wants to know how is this possible. And where should she keep it, she has been keeping the valise under her bed. She said she shoots it once a month, to clean it out, before she reloads it.”
Another fast interaction and Felicia added, “How long would it take to veri… authenticate it?”
Toad replied, “Does she have any other things, papers, anything that might prove… That could… Ah hell, I’m at a loss for words here…”
Felicia smiled, and translated Toad’s fumbling question, and the old lady smiled, reached over and patted Toad’s hand, speaking directly at him. Felicia translated, “Something like a picture of her grandfather holding it? Would that help?”
Toad nodded, “Of course. But I didn’t think they had pictures back in the eighteen-forties.”
A quick answer was forthcoming, “A picture, probably from the eighteen-seventies, when he was the justice of the peace. He is leaning on a desk, holding the pistola and a rifle.” She reached in the valise and pulled out one more piece of folded paper, and an old badge fell out, clanking on the floor.
Jesse picked it up, turned it over, and said, “Oh, damn. How old is this?” She handed it to Toad, who whistled, “Well, that’s not… No, I’m not going to say that after seeing this pistol. Ma’am, where did you get this?”
She gently unfolded the creased paper, and Toad and Jesse read the handwriting together-
April 10th, 1875
I take this opportunity to answer your favor of this instant. While I applaud your willingness to volunteer for this dangerous endeavor, however we cannot use Texans from this area, due to the possibility of having to take family under fire. However, in honor of your history with the rangers, I would present you, Pasquale Leo Buquor, with this badge, our new symbol. And a symbol of your service to the state of Texas as a member of the original Texas Rangers under Captain John Coffee Hays from March 1840 and April 1847.
Your Obedient Servant,
Signed- Leander H McNelly. Esq.
Toad turned the badge over, looking at it closely, “Eighteen seventy-three. Mexican five peso, silver, five pointed star, plain front, just says Texas Ranger. Damn…”
Toad said, “We can help you sell the pistol if that is what you want to do. The pieces you have with it, which will help with authentication, is critical to the provenance…”
The old lady interrupted and asked a question, Felicia translated as, “What is provenance?”
Toad thought for a second, then said, “It’s a record of ownership of an antique, like this gun. Your documents and photo can be used to prove the authenticity. Very few of these guns exist, and fewer still with documentation that proves the lineage.”
Another quick exchange, and the old lady sat up straighter, Felicia translated, “She is asking if we will help her, and she will send Manuel over with the picture and other pieces. She also asks if we will keep the pistola for her, since she is no longer comfortable keeping it under her bed.”
Jesse said, “Yes, we will. I will give her a receipt for every item, and I will show her the vault where we will store it.”
Felicia translated, “That is acceptable, and she asked how long will it take to sell.”
Jesse looked at Toad, who answered, “It may take a couple of months. Once it is appraised, then the lady will have to make a decision who to consign the pistol to, and when the next auction will take place. Stress to her that we can only advise her, we cannot and will not act in her place.”
One more back and forth, and Felicia said with a smile, “She agrees, and that is understood. She trusts us to do the right thing.”
Toad said, “I will unload the pistol, and clean it before we get it appraised.”
With a laugh, the old lady made a gesture and said with a smile, “Dispara la pistola!”
Felicia laughed, “She said shoot it.”
Toad’s eyes lit up, and he smiled from ear to ear, “Really?”
The old lady patted Toad on the arm again, and Felicia translated, “She says that is how she empties it each month to reload it.”
Toad rubbed his hands together, “Oh my God. This… Will be unbelievable! I get to shoot… Yes, ma’am. We will only shoot to clear the cylinder.”
Jesse photographed each item, noted them in the spreadsheet, and carefully placed each piece back in the valise. Finally slipping the pistol into the saddle holster, and closing the valise. She printed off the page as a receipt, signed it, had the old lady fill in her information and countersign it, then led them down to the vault. Placing the valise on a shelf, she turned, “We will call you when we know an appraiser will be here, would you be available to come and meet with him or her, Senora?”
The old lady nodded, “Sin duda allí estaré.”
Toad looked at Felicia who said, “She said certainly, I will be there.”
As they walked back to the front of the store, she said, “Gracias, I appreciate your… Assistance. Good by.” They marched out of the store, got in their car and left.
Toad put his hands on the counter and exhaled, as the old farts crowded around, asking, “What the hell was that all about?”
Toad shook his head, “You won’t believe it. Lemme make some phone calls and calm down, then I’ll tell you, and show you.”
There was some grumbling at that, but it was good natured. Toad and Jesse went in the office, and Toad immediately got on the computer, doing search after search, until he narrowed it down, finally saying, “Michael Simens, at Historical Arms is the guy for Colts. I’ll call him.”
Three months later, the old lady, her son, grandson and great grandson sat in the store, in front of the TV, along with the old man, Jesse, Aaron, Matt, and Felicia, while the kids played in the play area, and Yogi and Boo Boo hid under the table. Coffee, cokes, and munchies sat on the table as they watched the internet feed of the auction from Christie’s in New York.
The pistol finally came under the gavel, with the auctioneer giving a brief description, “Ladies and Gentlemen, next is lot number two eight five. An authenticated Walker Colt, serial number one four eight, issued to the Texas Ranger P.L. Buquon in 1847. There is provenance associated with this pistol, and it comes unrestored and fireable, as demonstrated by the associated video, also with an original saddle holster, three additional original cylinders, and tools for making bullets.”
There was a prolonged murmur of noise, and the auctioneer started his patter at $500,000. It quickly rose to $800,000, stalled for a minute, then finally was gaveled down at $880,000. Jesse broke out a cake that had been made for the occasion, and Matt cracked a bottle of champagne, as la Sanchez sat stunned with tears in her eyes.
Turning to Felicia she asked, “How much…”
The old man answered in Spanish, “Sonora, it cost you $52,800 for Christie’s to sell it, which means you made $827,200 just now.”
The grandson, Pedro asked, “Why so much? Just to sell one pistola?
The old man chuckled, “Actually that’s only six percent. Until we got them in a bidding war, they all wanted to charge up to nineteen percent. If we’d had a couple of more people, we might have gotten it sold for no seller’s commission. There is also a buyer’s premium, which is, I believe, twenty percent for Christie’s. So they made $176,000 there, added to your $52,800, they made $228,800 dollars on your pistol.”
“Dos Mio! So much for nothing. How much did you charge us?”
Jesse shrugged, “Thirty dollars. That’s what we charge for a transfer fee. That, and we got to shoot it.”