DURHAM — Last year, the art world witnessed the most expensive piece ever sold at auction: a three-piece Francis Bacon series that brought a cool $199 million.
In the same week, bidders plunked down $83 million for a 59-carat diamond nicknamed pink dream again, the costliest jewel an auctioneer ever hawked.
But I think those puny marks will be shattered on Jan. 31 when the Durham County Sheriffs Office puts its grand prize on the block a 125-pound, bearded, curly-horned quadruped with a weakness for apples and sweet corn.
Yes, Bubba the outlaw sheep is for sale. Bidding starts at a tantalizing zero.
Bubba, an exotic breed known as Barbados-Mouflon, spent four months at large in Durham County, ranging from the neighborhood around Streets at Southpoint mall to the campus of GlaxoSmithKline, peering into windows and drinking out of bird baths.
$10 a day
He repeatedly evaded his captors with speed and a leaping ability that rivals an adult kangaroo. Deputies finally caught him in a manmade trap baited with fruit, but even then, they had to construct a special tunnel to transport the slippery ram from cage to truck.
Since then, hes been shacking up at a Rougemont farm at a rate of $10 a day. An ingrown horn, burrowing into his head, racked up a $300 vet bill, which also may explain his churlish behavior.
But demand for the shaggy ram has been just short of rabid. I get queries about Bubba more or less daily, and Ive never even met him. Youd think he laid golden eggs judging by the number of farmers and refuge workers shooting their arms in the air.
The county attorneys office says Bubba would have found a home immediately if not for state law requiring 30 days of confinement and an extra 20 days of auction notice, an antiquated requirement that attorneys secretly hope the legislature will change.
But heres the thing: The auction is open to any sheep buyer, regardless of intent. That means the sheriff must honor the bid of a grill master with a taste for exotic meat.
In theory, said spokesman Paul Sherwin when I asked. I dont know if theyre good eating.
Sweeter than beef?
Barbados-Mouflon burgers arent exactly a popular dish, but go ahead and run them through Google. Youll find recipes. I did. Its a little sweeter than beef, raved one conoisseur, not as grainy or sinewy, no gristle or grease.
I dont think thats going to happen. Too much fuss. And not too long ago, the county successfully auctioned off a pot-bellied pig. For 5 bucks. As a pet. And he wasnt nearly as agile as Bubba, or as interesting to describe.
This is one cool ram or sheep or goat or whatever, said Marie Inserra, assistant county attorney.
So Im going to be in the audience on the last day in January, not because Ive got room for a ram in my backyard, but because I want to see the auctioneer keep up with the tornado of bidders, waving arms, frantically bidding into the hundreds, thousands, millions, any price.
Or at least 20 bucks.