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Dimitri Gerasimou AFTERWORD “It’s Auction Time!” BY BILL ADLER Lajitas Boy howdy, is it. We’re inside the Badlands Saloon in this no-horse town, here where the end of the earth meets the Rio Grande in a stormcloud of dust and a cavalcade of Suburbans. Outside, a stone’s throw from the shaded patio with the Tex-Mex buffet and mariachis \(“Make this one upbeat boys is Lajitas International Airport, a bacon-sized strip of land so lousy with execujets and helicopters it could be an S&L repo lot, circa 1986. But these high-fliers are different. They’re dotcommers and global gunslingers come to duel for the soul of a soulless town. Lajitas, a “full-service resort, complete with motels, hotels, condos and cabins, restaurants, golf course, retail stores,” is the creation of Houston developer Walter Mischer, now seventyseven and in failing health. His weak ticker and recent bout with prostate cancer, along with a string of annual losses on the place, convinced him the time was right to sell. So here we’re gathered: a rental car fleet of auction-house employees, perhaps a dozen in all, crisp, clean, white, identically clad: blue blazers, khaki pants, stars-andstripes neckties. Then there’s a covey of reporters flocked near the open bar; an assortment of sunbaked locals; and seated around a small cocktail table in the middle of the barroom is Founding Father Mischer, in Stetson and starched pale blue shirt, surrounded by a phalanx of family members. Scattered around the barroom, too, are Midcherville’ s seven suitors. No riff-raff among them: each bidder has anted up $100,000 earnest money. “Sell, sell, sell! That’s what we do, folks. That’s why we’re here!” Our auctioneer is T. Eddie Haynes, an agreeable Oklahoman with a televangelist’s silver pompadour and tongue. On the wall behind Eddie are a dozen or so Big Bend ranch brands; to his left, on the side wall closer to the bar, is an over-the-top oil portrait of a reclining nude. Once Eddie warms up his pipes with a few stale after-dinner jokes, he describes the properties up for grabs. In addition to the town proper, there are two other lots: one parcel of 7,770 acres and the other of 12,823 acres. But it is the town itself that has attracted these would-be desert magnates, these Lawrences of Lajitas; the undeveloped acreage is for tax accountants and scorpions. A preliminary round of separate bidding for each of the three lots serves mainly to I.D. the players, to offer Mischer, who’s retained the right to yank his fiefdom off the block if no serious bid emerges, a chance to see who’s hat and who’s cattle. All three lots go for a total of $2.82 million to Bidder No. 124, a mystery man in black polo shirt, a portly, ruddy-faced stranger. No one in the room save his two flunkies seems to know him. He swooped in by helicopter at High Noon, just two hours before Eddie Haynes commenced the proceedings. When the gavel comes down on the last of the first-round bids, reporters are intent on remedying the preliminary winner’s anonymity. We learn he is Stephen R. Smith, a 55-year-old Austin zillionaire who made his fortune when Excel Communications, the company he helped found, went public in 1996. We also learn he grew up in MARCH 17, 2000 38 THE TEXAS OBSERVER