Emend by Eclipse
Chapter 18

Copyright© 2020 by Lazlo Zalezac

August 22, 1975

During the summer, Fridays were usually the worst day of the week for Tim and Benny, particularly on Fridays before a Saturday which the weatherman had said would be nice. Fridays were already a little stressful because it came at the end of the week after everyone had been working. Then the morning was spent mowing lawns in the heat. After they finished the lawn, it was payday for the mowing crews and paying people actually took a lot of time. The afternoons were spent going from door to door dropping off the sales and payment envelopes in the area where they planned to paint curbs. They had to walk two, and sometimes three, blocks for a street and then they would cover twelve to eighteen streets. That typically meant a hike of about 8 miles during the hottest part of the day. After that, they would clean offices in the evening. It was an 8:00 am to 8:00 pm day with three showers and three changes of clothes.

This particular Friday they had agreed to meet Cynthia at the first of two houses she wanted to show them at 3:30 in the afternoon. To get there on time, they had double timed the march through the neighborhood where they were planning to paint numbers. It had been in the 90s the entire time. They had grabbed their lunch on the fly. With the way the sweat was rolling off of them, they were drinking Gatorade as fast as they could. Still, they both felt a little nauseous from the heat.

When they reached the house, Cynthia was already there. She waiting for them in her car while enjoying the air conditioner in it. Since neither the van or the truck had an air conditioner, they were stuck with what they jokingly called the 2-40 air conditioner: driving 40 mph with both windows rolled down. She got out of her car and met them as they walked up the drive to her.

“Hello, Cynthia.”

“Hello, you two.”

“What have we got here?”

“A bank repo. Three bedrooms, two baths, living room, dining room, and kitchen. It’s sitting on an acre of land in a cul de sac of a very nice neighborhood.”

“What’s the price?”

“Fourteen thousand.”

“How firm is the price?”

“Very firm. No negotiating on it.”

“If it were in good shape how much would it bring?”

“Thirty-six thousand, easy.”

“What’s wrong with it?”

Benny answered, “Marijuana.”

“What?”

“Grass, pot, weed, or whatever you want to call it.”

“What about it?”

Pointing off to the side of the house, Benny said, “That garden over there is full of it.”

Cynthia looked over at where he was pointing. “Oh. My. God.”

Tim said, “That may be a show stopper. What else is wrong?”

Shaken, Cynthia answered, “Some guy tried to create a commune out here.”

“That would probably explain the marijuana,” Benny said.

Cynthia continued, “Drinking, drugs, and free love turned into drunken brawls, bad trips, and jealous fights. Things got out of hand. Ultimately, some were arrested by the police and everyone else took off for the hills.

“Before they left, they tore up the place. There are holes in the wall. It’s really bad in the kitchen. They broke the tile in there. There was a broken window that let water in and that did a lot of damage. The carpet in just about the entire place is rotten. The story I heard is that some girl tried LSD, had a bad trip, and smeared excrement all over one of the bedroom walls. They closed it up and avoided using the room.”

“Hazmat,” Benny said. “We’ll have to wear respirators, goggles, overalls, gloves, rubber booties, and hats. Everything will have to be bagged and thrown away. We’ll be throwing away our clothes every day we work until the place is cleaned out. If there’s crap smeared on the wall, we will have to tear everything out down to the studs. Cleanup will probably cost two or three thousand dollars.”

Tim said, “The build out will be around six or seven thousand. We’re talking drywall, carpet, fixtures, and appliances.”

Cynthia added, “And a few doors.”

“So, that would be twelve thousand dollars in profit.”

“And life in jail if someone wants to bust us for having pot plants on the property.”

Tim said, “We would have to get that taken care of before we buy it.”

“It’ll grow right back. There’s a reason they call it weed.”

“We can take care of it,” Tim said.

“How?”

“We talk to Detective Banks, and put the monkey on his back.”

“He’ll love us to death,” Benny said.

Tim said, “I wish I had a Dick Tracy watch. I’d give him a call right now.”

“Me too, but first I’d give a lawyer a call.”

Tim and Benny had taken to referring to cell phones as Dick Tracy watches. People in 1975 knew what they were, even though they didn’t exist. It was a whole lot better than trying to explain cell phones or smart phones.

Cynthia asked, “Do you want to look inside?”

Tim said, “I guess we should.”

“Not me. I’m not going in there without a Hazmat suit. The dust is probably deadly.”

“We can look in from the front and back doors. We can peek in the windows.”

“Okay.”

Cynthia unlocked the front door and opened it. The air that boiled out was stale and stunk to high heaven. There was no way that air was healthy. The condition of the interior of the house was even worse than she remembered it.

Tim said, “That’s bad.”

Cynthia said, “That’s real bad.”

Tim asked, “What do you think?”

Benny answered, “I want to see the other place. On my list of houses to remodel, this is on the bottom.”

Tim said, “I’m going to walk around and look in the windows.”

“Go ahead.”

Cynthia tagged along with Tim while he went from window to window. The more he saw of the interior, the worse it looked. Benny was right, they were going to have to tear it down to the studs. He kept looking over at the plant life around the place. He kept seeing more and more marijuana. He was afraid that they’d have to hit it with Agent Orange to kill it all off. The garden was a felony waiting to happen.

When they reached the back of the house, Tim stopped to stare at the boarded up window. It was plywood and had started to splinter and peel from weathering. He said, “I take it they didn’t replace the broken glass.”

“No, they didn’t.”

“This is bad.”

“I know.”

“Your boss must really love you to give you a property like this.”

“I can live without that kind of love.”

They walked around to the front of the house. Benny wasn’t where they were expecting to find him. He was over at the garden inspecting the plants.

“What are you doing, Benny?”

“Someone has been harvesting the buds.”

“I imagine every pot head within a mile of this place has been harvesting buds.”

“I don’t think so. This looks ... planned.” Benny said. He asked, “So what do you think of the house?”

“Totaled inside. Not bad on the outside. Outside of a criminal garden, we could probably fix it up and make a good profit.”

“And?”

“It’s on the bottom of my list of places to remodel.”

“I’m glad to see that we’re in agreement.”

Cynthia went over to the front door and closed it. She locked it and put the key back in her purse.

“The other place is a mile from here. If you’ll follow me, we can go right there.”

“I hope it’s better.”

“It’s much better.”

They followed her to the house. She parked in the driveway and Benny parked the van on the street. They stood back and looked at the house. The yard needed cutting. It probably should been cut a year ago. What might have once been a flower bed could possibly be hiding a Sasquatch, or at least the Oklahoma version of one.

“We’d have to re-sod the lawn and replant the flowerbed.”

“If we can find it.”

Cynthia said, “Most of what is wrong with this house is cosmetic or age.”

Benny said, “Peeling lead paint.”

“Oh, damn.”

Confused, Cynthia said, “So? You just scrape it, sand it, and paint it.”

Benny said, “It’s lead paint.”

“That’s a major problem.”

“Have you ever dealt with lead paint before?”

“Yes. It’s not fun. We could do it. It’s just another Hazmat job.”

“Damn. These properties seem to be fighting it out to be on the bottom of our remodel list.”

“I don’t understand what you’re talking about. It’s just lead paint.”

Benny and Tim looked at each other. Benny shrugged. Tim asked, “Isn’t lead paint illegal?”

“No. You can buy it from the store and paint your house with it. Oil paint is better, but lead paint is cheaper. People are all moving over to Latex now.”

Tim and Benny looked at each other. Benny said, “No. I couldn’t do that.”

“Neither could I.”

“We shouldn’t.”

“We can’t leave it like this. It’s another nudge.”

“It’d have to be done right.”

“I agree.”

“What’s the matter?”

Tim answered, “Lead, such as in lead paint, is a poison. It causes brain damage, particularly in infants and unborn children. Women who are pregnant should avoid exposure to lead as much as possible.”

“How do you know that?”

Benny answered, “I read about it. It’s been blamed for the madness of many of the Roman Emperors. They had a lead based additive that they put in their foul tasting wines to make them taste sweeter. The ones who like wine the most, like Tiberius and Caligula, went mad as a result of lead poisoning.”

“I’ve never heard of that.”

“Benny and I won’t allow lead paint to remain on any house we sell.”

“What about your office?”

“That was actually old fashioned whitewash. That was why it was so faded out. We repainted that with latex paint. There are no problems with that paint job.”

Benny said, “Let’s walk around the whole house and see what problems we can find.”

The exterior, outside of the lead paint that was peeling, didn’t look that bad. The roof was going to need to be redone. It didn’t look like it was leaking, but the shingles were curling, but only in the areas that received the most sunlight. There weren’t any valleys or missing shingles, which was a good thing.

There was a one car garage. The door showed signs of weathering and would need to be replaced. They didn’t see anything in the structure of the building that needed fixing. At least there weren’t any cracks in the pavement.

They went inside the house via the backdoor. It put them right by the kitchen. Tim whistled. “This has to be the original fixtures and appliances.”

“Yes.”

“That stove has got to be forty or fifty years old.”

“I don’t believe it. That floor is one solid sheet of Linoleum.”

Tim went over to one of the corners next to the stove. He dug a little and looked up, “It’s right on top of wood. It’s the original floor.”

“Excellent.”

“No disposal and no dish washer. There’s almost no room for the refrigerator.”

They went into the living room. Benny frowned. He bent down and looked at the carpet. “I think this is the original carpet. It’s worn so much you can see the flooring underneath it.”

“That’s actually a good thing.”

Tim knocked on one of the walls. He said, “The walls aren’t drywall. They look like plaster, but they aren’t.”

“What else could they be?”

After poking around a little at a worn spot, Tim said, “Oh shit. You know what they are don’t you?”

“No.”

“Rock lath with plaster skim coating.”

“What’s that?”

“It was a cheap way of getting a plaster-like wall finish. It lasts forever. It resists mold and mildew, but it is hard as a rock and twice as difficult to remove.”

“Are we going to have to redo it?”

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