Emend by Eclipse
Chapter 26

Copyright© 2020 by Lazlo Zalezac

June 1, 1976

The school year was over, the temperature was comfortable, the wind wasn’t blowing hard, and it was dry. This was the first day that they could begin scraping the exterior of the lead house. Until then, the weekends had been too cold to work outside, or too windy for scraping, or both. Since they could only work on the weekends during the school year, they knew it would have taken more than a month to remove the lead paint. Now that school was over and the weather was nice, they could get to work.

Bright and early that morning, Benny, Tim, Cathy, and Sandra were out dressed in overalls, masks, and goggles ready to scrape the exterior of the building. They spent a few minutes walking around the exterior, sizing up the job.

They spread out thick plastic sheets on the ground around the building and put ladders up so that they could work the walls starting at the top of the building. Then, with spray bottle of water in one hand and scraper in the other, they went to work removing the loose flakes of lead paint.

The paint came off easily, dropping to the ground sheets below like a snow. The biggest factor in how much the lead paint was stuck to the wood was exposure to the sun. The paint on the sides with the most exposure to the sun was the most flaked and the paint came off the easiest. On the sides which didn’t receive as much sun, the paint was still stuck to the wood.

Benny, working on the wall with a southern exposure, flew through his side of the house the quickest. He left almost totally bare wood behind. Cathy, working on the wall with an eastern exposure, was struggling, leaving the wood mostly covered in white. The paint on her side wasn’t peeling off, but was fractured like a spider web with a few loose flakes in the middle.

Upon finishing his side, Benny went to help Cathy since it was obvious that she was making the least progress. Sandra finished her side and went around to help, also. Then Tim, whose north side was almost as difficult to scrape as Cathy’s, finished scraping his side of the house.

It was two o’clock when they finally finished scraping. They had worked through lunch. The fact was, it hadn’t taken them as long as they had anticipated to get the flakes off. They knew the long hard part was next, sanding to feather the remaining paint. They took a break to eat the lunch they had brought with them.

It was time to feather the areas where the paint remained on the wall. This time, all four of them tackled the same side of the building. Since Cathy’s side had the least wood showing, they figured that it would take the least work. They would only have to feather a few spots and then they would be done. They started with the wet sanding, but it quickly turned into a slow miserable task. More paint flaked off while they sanded. The bare spots kept getting larger and larger. Despite four of them working on the same side, they weren’t able to finish it before they had to stop sanding for the day and get ready to head over to the office buildings, for cleaning duty.

They tiredly cleaned up the job site. The ground cloths were carefully folded to prevent the paint chips from spilling onto the ground. Then the ground cloths were placed in plastic bags, that were sealed tightly, and then placed in a trashcan with a good tight lid. Their masks, goggles, and coveralls went into plastic bags which were then placed in the trashcan. They took turns taking a shower in the house to remove the paint dust.

They spent the evening cleaning offices with arms that felt like lead. While they were used to pushing a vacuum cleaner around and other physical activities, they weren’t used to the motion of scraping and sanding. Walking like zombies, they dropped their crews off and headed out to eat at an Italian restaurant. The spaghetti was cheap and filling.

“We’re almost done with Cathy’s side.”

“I thought it was going to be the easy side,” Cathy said.

Tim said, “To be honest, so did I.”

“We’ll finish it fairly early tomorrow. Which side would you want to work on next?”

“Tim’s side would probably be best. It is nearly as bad as Cathy’s.”

Tim said, “I really want to get the sanding done by Thursday at the latest. We can clean up the ground around the base of the house Friday morning. We’ve got to distribute the advertising envelopes Friday afternoon if we’re going to paint curbs Saturday.”

Benny said, “We can put the primer on Monday and the finish coat on Wednesday.”

“I just want to get it done.”

They weren’t clearing as much this year as they had last year. An average day was around $700 after paying off their crews. That was still a lot of money for four teenagers to earn for a single day of labor. They appreciated not having to mow lawns all morning. They were making money and Two Guys Working was still increasing in value.

“Any news about the shit house?”

“No.”

“Damn.”

Tim said, “We’re going to clear some money on this house, but it’s not going to be anywhere as much as we had hoped. It’s really not going to cover our time.”

Cathy said, “That’s not true. Even if we sell it for only $24,000 we’ll clear $4,000. That’s a fifty percent return on our investment in less than six months. That’s not bad.”

“If we had been able to buy the shit house, it would have been done by now. We probably would have been at the same point as we are today on the lead house.”

Benny said, “We can’t buy the shit house until that other problem is solved.”

“If they don’t solve it soon, we’re going to be looking at another house to purchase.”

They had been waiting for some sign that someone in authority was removing the marijuana crop at the house. Over the winter there hadn’t been much to see other than noting that someone had harvested every plant growing on the place. Their last drive past the property had shown that the plants were coming back in force.

“We’re not married to the shit house.”

Cathy asked, “Why do you call it the shit house?”

Tim said, “That’s because the story we have is that someone smeared excrement on one of the walls and they never cleaned it up.”

Both Sandra and Cathy made faces of disgust. They would really have been disgusted it they had smelled the air which had billowed out when Tim and Benny had visited the house. The odor had been vile.

“That’s gross.”

“It is what it is,” Benny said with a shrug of his shoulders.

“Is that what the problem is? You’re waiting for someone to clean up the place?”

“No. We’ll do that once we’ve bought it.”

“So what is the problem with the house?” Cathy asked.

She couldn’t understand why they didn’t just buy the house and get to work on it. The amount of money they could make on the place was incredible.

“We can’t talk about that in public.”

“Why can’t you?”

“It’s not safe.”

“What do you mean it’s not safe?”

Tim said, “It’s not safe to talk about the problem at the shit house in public. People can overhear and bad things could happen.”

“What kinds of things?”

Sounding cross, Benny said, “Cathy. We can’t talk about it in public. What don’t you understand? We can’t talk about it in public!”

“Sorry.”

Cathy backed off on the issue of the problems at the shit house. It was very seldom when Benny was cross so she figured that there had to be a good reason they wouldn’t talk about it. What did they mean by bad things? It almost sounded dangerous.

At the moment, Tim and Benny were just a little frustrated by the lack of financial opportunities that they were seeing. It wasn’t that they weren’t making good money, it was just that they had expectations of making more. Too many things were on hold.

The winter had been boring for Benny and Tim after the hectic times of the previous summer. The interior work on the lead house had been completed in February. They had painted the interior on one of the few nice days in the spring and had the carpet guy install shag carpet after they had painted. The exterior had to wait for warmer weather. This meant that the house had been sitting there for more than three months. Not only was their investment in it locked up, but they were having to pay monthly bills for water, electricity, and natural gas. Now that they could work on it, they were ready to get it done and move on to the next project.

Their workday evenings had been filled with cleaning office buildings, but their weekends had been empty. Tim and Benny took Sandra and Cathy out on the occasional weekend for a public date, just to reinforce the idea that they were dating. Most weekends, Sandra and Cathy would spend an afternoon or evening at the office together which left Tim and Benny at loose ends.

Their efforts to find a nice car to restore had not been successful. They had found a few cars that were worth salvaging, but nothing that was knock your socks off quality. They could have restored one of them, but selling it would have brought in just a little more than the cost of the restoration. They viewed the cars as investments and getting back a couple of percent after working on it for six months wouldn’t have been worth the effort.

In basically a week, maybe ten days, they would be finished with the lead house, and it could go on the market. The market at the moment was pretty bad, but there were signs that it was beginning to improve.

The conversation over dinner died a slow death. After they finished eating, Tim settled the bill charging it against the business. They all went home in their own cars. To be honest, Cathy was a little irritated that they hadn’t told her what the problem was at the shit house.

Tim parked the truck at curb in front of his home. There was a strange car parked in the driveway, but that didn’t mean anything. He walked past the car assuming that it belong to one of Calvin’s friends.

On entering the house, he announced, “I’m home.”

Then he saw his parents sitting in the living room looking tense. There was a stranger sitting on the sofa. He had a kind of official bearing about him. Tim didn’t recognize the man and knew he wasn’t from the city.

“Sorry, I didn’t know you had company.”

His father said, “Tim, this is Detective Cabrera of the State Police.”

“I hope you didn’t do anything wrong, Dad. I don’t know if we’ll be able to raise the bail money for you,” Tim said with a grin. He recognized the name, but didn’t react.

Not smiling at all, his father said, “He’s here to talk to you.”

“Why?”

Detective Cabrera asked, “What do you know about the property at 15 Culvert Road?”

Tim stood there for a moment studying the detective. He was trying to figure out if it was early in the investigation, or not. If it was, he was going to have to be very careful in how he answered. It had been six months since he had mailed out the letters. Surely they had a suspect by now. If the first words out of his mouth were to request a lawyer, there would be hell to pay.

“I know a lot.”

“Why don’t you tell me what you know?” Detective Cabrera asked sensing that he was about to strike it rich.

It might not be as big of a bust as the main one, but he figured this kid was harvesting a bit of grass and selling it on the side. There had to be a reason why he and his friend were driving by every other week to check out the property. No one had actually seen them take any of the marijuana growing on the property, but their continued interest in the place was highly suspicious.

“It was owned by a hippie guy who wanted to start a commune on it. As someone relayed to me, their drinking, drugs, and free love turned into drunken brawls, bad trips, and jealousy. They were busted by the local police and the house was repossessed by the bank. There’s fourteen thousand owed on it, which is the lowest offer the bank will accept.

“The interior is wreck. The story we were told was that some girl had a bad trip and smeared excrement on one of the walls.”

“So that’s what that was,” Detective Cabrera said in disgust.

There were going to be a number of people back at headquarters who were going to be upset to learn that. It was interesting that this kid knew more about the property than he did. That was a twist that he hadn’t expected.

“If you’ve been in the house, you know what I mean. We stopped at the front door, took one whiff of the air, and decided we wouldn’t go in without face masks, safety glasses, gloves, and coveralls. That whole interior has to be gutted right down to the studs. We were hoping to purchase it in the winter so that we could do the work on it out of the weather, but there’s a problem that we’ve been waiting to have fixed.”

The detective couldn’t believe what he was hearing. This kid was talking real estate and it wasn’t just wild speculation. He had done his homework on the property.

“What problem?”

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