Author: John Morris
Publisher: Tribute Books
Date of Publication: May 2012
Morgan thought he had it made. He owned a cozy if dilapidated house in Aspen’s otherwise-fashionable West End, had lots of friends, a great business, threw the best parties in town.
Then his beautiful-but-aloof neighbor Risa sued him for a million bucks-- for killing her dog. (Seriously. And he hadn’t even been there.) She was asking the judge to throw him out of town, too. (It’s a local tradition.)
For Morgan, the money didn’t matter. He didn’t have a nickel to his name. But he couldn’t imagine not living in Aspen.
His only hope: to win a 2-million dollar golf tournament (held on the sly at the local links) and pay Risa off. Either that or discover her deep, dark secret and blackmail her. Until his best friend/lawyer suggested Option #3: “Why don’t you just get her to fall in love with you?”
About the author:
John Morris lives in Aspen, Colorado, with his loving wife and two wonderful children. Having worked many of the same cowboy / construction / bartender / ski-patrol jobs as his fictional counterpart Morgan, he can vouch for how easy it is for a good-looking guy to get in trouble there.
Morgan Somerville lived in the sole surviving do-it-yourself duplex in Aspen’s otherwise fashionable West End. Slapped together in the 50’s by a Swiss ski instructor with a free summer and a very casual approach to theft, the forget-about-plumb brown shoebox had tall doors, short doors, big windows, little windows, sagging 2nd-floor decks, no shutters, walls that weren’t quite vertical and a roof that was flat only in the sense that the ocean is flat. Most folks assumed it was the 20 coats of shellac that kept the whole thing from collapsing, but it also served as a humble reminder of the stove-in-from-a-helluva-lot-of-snow sort of place Aspen once was.
“The Quiet Years,” those times were called. Post-1893, when the price of silver plummeted and the population shrank to 800, when there was one schoolhouse, two trains a week, people made their own clothes, their own whiskey, and all the old trucks sat rusting in the weeds.
This was followed by the boom years, or “Aspen as we know it.” Post World War II, when the young men of the 10th Mountain Division came back, when skiing was born, nightclubs were built, a bunch of pretty girls showed up, and life became about as much fun as you could have at 8,000 feet.
The only real concern-- after the skiing and the parties and the girls-- was finding a place to live. Because no matter how
much fishing and climbing you did, no matter how good you were on skis or on horseback and no matter how many famous writers and movie stars you knew, eventually you had to put a roof over your head. And even in the summer, a teepee up Hunter Creek wasn’t gonna cut it with the girl of your dreams.
Whom you’d probably met the night before at the Tippler or the ’Horn or the ’Onion.
The old mining town would never have enough places to live. The Roaring Fork hemmed it in on the east and the north, Castle Creek ran down the west side, and Ajax climbed straight up from Durant Street to the south, so town was never gonna get any bigger than 10 blocks by 20.
And most everything was one-room miner’s shacks or simple two-story houses. Only the Wheeler Opera House and the Hotel Jerome stood three stories high, and if you’d suggested putting up anything taller, you’d have gotten run out of town. The only things in Aspen that grew over 30 feet high were chairlifts and trees.
So when Morgan showed up, many years ago now, his first order of business had been to put a roof over his head. And little did he know that his first-ever flophouse would wind up being “home” for literally decades to come. Because almost on Day One he happened upon...
Chalet Sepp. Not that it was called that. It was too much of a dump even then to merit a name. But that’s what it was: a listing, two- story slab of wood owned and operated by a crotchety old goat named Sepp. Whom nobody in town could stand.
Morgan found an ad on the community bulletin board, wandered over to Sepp’s stunningly stark tenement house and signed on to inhabit the smaller (darker) half with two other young guys who needed a place to crash. Even if the place might burst into flames any day (or night), or maybe just fall over.
And not surprisingly, by the following spring it was Chalet Sepp that was still standing and the two roommates who were gone. One of them couldn’t hack the long winter, the other went back to law school. So Morgan found himself all alone. He figured he’d have to move out, but Sepp told him not to bother, not to even recruit new roomies. Things were better with only the two of them, Sepp seemed to think, and he didn’t really need the rent money. He just wanted to have someone around who was nice to him.
Which Morgan was.
Which was way more than you could say for anyone else in town. Most folks, actually, pretty much hated Sepp Wegner. “Crusty old shit” sounds quaint, but in a small town, when people hate you, they just hate you.
So Morgan stayed on. Kept paying his modest share of the rent, kept being nice to Sepp. Listened to the old guy’s stories, helped him out with repairs, walked Sepp home from the Elks Club when he’d had too much to drink. Watched TV with him, talked about skiing, heard about all the famous European downhills Sepp had raced in, and made sure Sepp got invited to all the backyard parties Morgan started hosting as a way to get known around town. Chalet Sepp may have been the ugliest house in the West End, but it also had the biggest back yard.
So the years rolled by with Morgan and Sepp living side-by- side lives. Summers and winters came and went, pretty girls came and went, most of the miners’ shacks in the West End got torn down, replaced by designer second homes, but Chalet Sepp-- somehow-- endured.
Til the day arrived when Sepp himself stopped enduring. Lung cancer, they said, maybe the only thing that could’ve killed him. Face it: When you’ve got an asbestos-removal business and smoke 2 packs a day, something’s gotta give.
And after the surprisingly well-attended funeral, Morgan was equally surprised to get a phone call from a lawyer informing him that he-- Morgan Somerville-- was the sole beneficiary of Sepp Wegner’s estate. Because there was no long-abandoned wife, no long-neglected kids, no brother back in St. Anton. There was nobody.
There was also (of course) no secret stock portfolio, no unspoiled spread up in the Yukon, no 20-dollar bills tacked inside the walls. Just... Chalet Sepp.
And the estate taxes. The property taxes. The water bill, the electric, the trash. Various liquor-store bills, the inevitable IOU’s that old farts in small towns never forget (or forgive). But at least there was no spoiled-brat nephew popping up out of nowhere wanting to bulldoze the place. Kick Morgan out, build a trophy home, take the money and skip back to Florida.
There was nobody, so Morgan got the house. He got the house, both sides of it, so he could do whatever he wanted with it, short of spending money on it. Because he didn’t have any.
But he could do whatever he wanted. He could throw old mattresses out the back door, leave the Christmas lights up all year long, crank up his garage band every night of the week.
Most importantly, he wouldn’t have to move out. Wouldn’t have to pack up all the furniture, athletic gear, musical instruments, car parts, tools, the wine collection and the trampoline, and find another place to live. (And you don’t just find another apartment in Aspen. It’s never that easy, even if you’re rich. Getting thrown out of your home in Aspen is basically the end of everything.)
And moving downvalley wasn’t an option. If you’re an Aspenite, you live in Aspen. You don’t live in Basalt, you don’t live in Carbondale. It’s not about being snotty. It’s just that Aspenites live in Aspen, and if you’re not gonna live in Aspen, you may as well move to Alaska.
So by inheriting the place, he wouldn’t have to move out or move to the Klondike. The only thing he couldn’t do was make Chalet Sepp livable. As in: Renovate it, re-build it, re-furbish it. Maybe put up some shutters, re-do the decks. Rent out Sepp’s half. Be a landlord. (Which might be asking for trouble, he knew.)
In the end he borrowed some money from the bank, upgraded Sepp’s side enough to fool an unsuspecting out-of-town buyer, and turned it over to a friend in real-estate to sell.
Which the friend did. In no time. This being Aspen.
Morgan unloaded Sepp’s side of the building almost overnight and pocketed a fair amount of change in the process. Which meant he should’ve been able to rest easy. He should’ve been able to coast.
The one major worry for any working-stiff Aspenite, securing a long-term place to live, had been for him forever resolved. He had cash in his pocket. He had his health, his business, a respected place in society, his fair share of friends. Everything should’ve been great.
In fact, if you’d seen Morgan shortly after he’d sealed the deal, after he’d signed the contract and handed over the keys and cashed the check, you’d have seen a guy who thought he was on top of the world. Who thought the toughest question he was ever gonna face was...