Emend by Eclipse
Copyright© 2020 by Lazlo Zalezac
November 16, 1975
Sean McCray stood in the middle of the living room surveying the chaos of the place. He was 62 years old and hoping to retire. His parents had passed away four years ago with nothing in their estate except for this old house. He and his sister had inherited the place, but that wasn’t saying much. His father had never updated anything in the house since he bought it. The house was a white elephant. No one wanted to buy it as it currently stood, and it would cost more money than he had to repair it to a condition where someone would want to buy it.
He had despaired of ever selling the house. Then one day a real estate agent contacted him and his sister on behalf of two men. The offer they made was audacious. He’d never heard of anything like it before. They wanted to buy half interest in the house for the cost of fixing it to a point where it could be sold. It sounded like they wanted to steal half of the value of the house from him.
His first reaction had been to not only say no, but hell no. His wife’s calmer nature had blunted his reaction. The subsequent discussion with her had convinced him it might a good idea to listen to what the men had to say. What did they have to lose? Talk was cheap, and maybe what the men were offering was a better deal than it sounded.
He, his wife, his sister, and her husband had driven to an office in the middle of nowhere, to talk to the men who had made the offer. His first surprise of the day was when he walked into the office and saw the people waiting for them. Men? They were kids. They were still in high school. He almost turned around and left.
Two girls, they weren’t old enough to be called women, came out of the kitchen carrying a tray with coffee mugs and an electric peculator. He was headed towards the door when his wife and sister called him back to the table. They sat around drinking coffee until their lawyer showed up almost twenty minutes late. When he had sarcastically asked if they still played tiddlywinks, the one answered that they were businessmen. He then proceeded to outline exactly what businesses they owned. As far as he could tell they had more money than he did, and from the way they talked, they had earned every cent of it.
Once the lawyer arrived, the meeting began in earnest. It didn’t take him long to realize that these kids were sharp. They didn’t start off negotiations with an offer, they started with detailed list of everything that was wrong with the house. As they read the list, he felt his stomach dropping. It was extensive and the required repairs would be expensive. If they didn’t do the repairs, it sounded like they wouldn’t be able to sell the house for $10,000. He and his sister were asking $18,000.
Then they hit him with the really bad news, lead paint. Everyone on his side of the table was confused since they had no idea what lead paint had to do with anything. Then one of the boys, Benny, had started talking about lead poisoning and its effect on people. They pointed out that there was an effort being made to make lead paint illegal. Any house painted with lead paint, was going to lose significant value almost overnight.
He had asked the lawyer about it. His lawyer didn’t know anything at all about lead paint, or attempts to make it illegal. He made a few calls using the office phone and came back with the news that the boys were absolutely correct. There was an effort, one that was strongly backed by some very influential people, to make lead paint illegal. When the regulations were passed, there would be a massive media campaign about the dangers of lead poisoning. The media blitz could even start while the regulations were being debated as part of the effort to make sure that they were adopted.
Sean knew that if they didn’t sell the house within a couple of years, they’d be lucky to get $10,000 for it. He knew that the house was painted with lead paint. He had helped his father paint it. Listening to the two kids talk, he was sure that he and sister would be walking away with a pittance.
He wasn’t an evil or greedy man, although he did want to get a good price for the house. He had always expected that a young couple, short on cash would purchase it and fix it up. They’d probably fix the interior with simple things like replacing the carpet and painting the walls. Later they’d remodel the kitchen to where it was modern. Only after that, they’d paint the outside of the house. They’d probably have a kid or two before taking care of the lead paint. It was quite possible that even after repainting the house there would be paint chips scattered on the ground. He could be dooming a child to a life of retardation.
When they laid out the deal, he was convinced he wouldn’t walk away with as much as $6,000. They came out with a blunt statement that after the house was fixed and the lead paint removed, they felt that the house would sell for no less than $24,000. There was the commission that would have to come out of that, which was 6% of the sale price. He agreed with that figure. The two boys would put $8,000 in an escrow account to pay for repairs to the house to bring it up to a level where it could sell for $24,000. In exchange they wanted half ownership of the house. When it sold, they would take half the money and whatever was left in the escrow account. They guaranteed a minimum of $12,000 less commission for Sean and his sister.
After negotiations, he got the share for him and his sister to a minimum of $12,500 less commission. The negotiations had taken some time. He had tried to get more, but the kids were firm in their offer. This was when he realized they were serious about business and viewed this as a business.
Once the deal was completed, he was shocked at how quickly the boys moved. He had expected to find a work crew there pulling up carpet when he stopped by to see the progress on the house. Instead he found the four kids cutting the carpet into strips and carrying it out to a dumpster in the driveway. They were humping with all work and no play.
Right after he had entered the house, they had handed him a face mask and safety goggles. After one or two breaths of the dust, he appreciated the face mask. Although uncomfortable, wearing it really did make a difference in how easily he could breathe. The kids were dressed in coveralls with heavy work boots. It was 60 degrees out, and he assumed they were wearing something under the coverall to keep them warm. All the doors and windows were wide open.
He went outside and walked around the house. The paint was peeling off everywhere. He looked down at the ground along the wall and could see the paint chips just lying there. The boys had told him how they were going to clean up the lead, but it seemed like an awful lot of work to him.
He went back into the house in time to watch Tim haul out the last strip of carpet. The entire house was already carpet free and it was only 10:00. Benny was removing the carpet tack strips, or at least what remained of them. He was throwing the bits and pieces onto a sheet that was spread out on the floor behind him. Tim returned from his trip to the dumpster and joined him in removing the tack strips.
The girls were sweeping the floor of one of the bedrooms with brooms to push the rotted under pad into a pile where it could be removed. They had already done the room where the boys were working. When they finished sweeping, they used a dust pan to put the pile of dust into a plastic bag. As soon as the pile was completely removed, one of the girls carried the bag out to the dumpster while the other started sweeping in the next bedroom. There wasn’t a wasted minute of work.
Sean walked out to the living room. The boys had almost all of the tack strips removed. He expected them to say something to coordinate their efforts, but they worked seamlessly without exchanging a single word. They’d remove a couple of strips, then pull the sheet to the next section, and get back to work with the pry bars. He watched wondering what they would do when they finished the room. All they did was drag the sheet into a room that had been swept and start back to work.
The girls came out of the last bedroom, one carrying a plastic bag with the remains of the padding. They went outside. He wondered what they were going to do out there. He went to watch the boys pull up more tack strips.
He hadn’t been watching for more than a minute when he was surprised to hear two engines start outside in the backyard. He went out the back door. He couldn’t believe his eyes. One girl was mowing the lawn. The other was edging the driveway. From the authoritative way they were using the equipment it was obvious that this was nothing new to them. He watched the girls doing the yard work feeling a little guilty. He was a little angry at the boys for letting the girls do the yard work, after all that was hard physical work. Of course, it didn’t seem like the girls even noticed.
The kids had set up an escrow account with $8,000. Based on how they were working, they were going to have a lot of that money left since they wouldn’t be paying anyone to do the work. After thinking it over, he decided more power to them. If they did the work, then they earned the money. Who was he to argue with that?
He walked around to the front of the house. The two boys were carrying the sheet out. They had rolled it up with the tack sticks inside and were carrying the roll by the ends. They got to the dumpster and tossed it, sheet and all.
He said, “Waste of a good sheet.”
“We bought it at a garage sale for a quarter.”
“Actually, we bought twelve sheets for three dollars. We figured that they’d be okay for ground cloths when we’re working inside the house.”
“Those carpet tacks can tear up your hands something awful. It was worth throwing away a quarter to protect our hands.”
“Besides, we don’t want to have to get a tetanus shot.”
“I see,” Sean said once again impressed by the kids.
Without saying anything else, they headed over to the van. They returned a moment later carrying two toolboxes each. He followed them into the house.
“It’s 10:30 and the antique dealer is coming back at noon. What do you want to do first, the stove or the light fixtures?”
“What antique dealer?” Sean asked.
“The one who is buying the stove and two light fixtures.”
“You sold the stove and two light fixtures?”
“Of course,” Tim said while opening one of the toolboxes.
Benny was at another toolbox digging through it for a wrench. He found what he wanted and stood up. Tim went through looking for a pipe wrench.
“How much is he paying for them?”
“It’s part of the money for selling the house.”
“No. It’ll be added to the ledger as soon as the guy hands over the check.”
“I thought you would throw that stuff away.”
“We wouldn’t throw away fifty dollars!”
“Never. Every little bit adds up.”
He followed them into the kitchen. Without any conversation they started disconnecting the stove from the gas pipe.
“Is the gas off?”
“Gas, water, and electricity are all off. That was the first thing we checked when we got here this morning.”
It didn’t take them long to disconnect the stove. They pulled it away from the wall. Benny hung over it and put an end cap on the pipe. He used a little plumber’s tape to keep it from leaking should anyone turn on the gas.
Tim said, “We don’t want to lose the house to a gas leak.”
“We have it insured for twenty-four thousand dollars, but we are extremely confident that we can get more than that for the house once we’re done. We’ve been looking at houses and seeing which ones sold for the most. We have a pretty good idea of which colors, carpets, cabinets, and appliances sell well. We’ll canvas more houses when we are ready to purchase the interior decor items.”
Once again Sean was surprised by the details in the plans the two kids had made. If he had been doing this, he would have painted the walls a basic white, gotten a nice neutral color carpet, and installed low cost appliances. He didn’t think of those things affecting price, but it appeared these kids did. He watched them work impressed all over again by their business acumen.
Now that the stove was disconnected, the two went about the business of taking down the light fixtures. Benny took care of the one in the kitchen. Tim took care of the one at the front door. They each put up a temporary replacement. In the kitchen it was a pull chain fixture with a ceramic base. The outside light was a jelly jar wall lantern. Neither one cost more than a dollar but would provide basic lighting until they were ready to replace all of the light fixtures. The antique light fixtures were placed on the stove for the dealer to take.
Benny and Tim headed for the van. Once there, they removed shovels, saws, and axes. Sean followed them curious about what they were going to do. It didn’t take long for his curiosity to be satisfied. They went after one of the overgrown bushes in the flower bed. They cut enough of the top away to give them access to the roots. Then they started digging. When they hit a root, they uncovered enough of it to have good access and then took the Pulaski axe to it. When they got enough of the root out, they went back to digging. They worked on it for almost an hour.
While the two boys were digging the roots out of the ground, the two girls had finished the lawn work. Sean lost track of them for a while and then went off to see what they were doing. He found them in the bathroom removing the medicine cabinet from the wall. They had already removed the other fixtures from the walls. He glanced in the bedroom and noticed that the curtain rods were gone. He stepped back into the living room and saw that the curtain rods there had been removed as well.
He asked, “What are you going to do after you finish in here?”
“We were going to start removing the cabinets, but we can’t do that until after the antique guy has removed the stove. I guess we’ll go pick up lunch.”
Slowly pulling the medicine cabinet from the wall, Cathy said, “We need to watch out for razor blades.”