Emend by Eclipse
Copyright© 2020 by Lazlo Zalezac
August 17, 1976
It was nearing noon and the temperature had just hit 91. Benny had been walking around the property since 10:00 and he was nearly dead from the heat. He headed back towards the house, wanting to cool off in the air conditioner. He spotted another plant and stopped to hit it with a couple blasts of weed killer, known as Agent White, which the State Police had provided him.
He continued on his way to the house. Reaching the back door, he put down the canister next to the door before going into the house. Inside, he stood there for a moment enjoying the cool air of the air conditioner. He headed to the kitchen to get something to drink. He washed his hands very thoroughly at the sink. He opened the avocado green refrigerator and grabbed a bottle of Gatorade. He chugged it down so fast that it hurt his throat.
Tim was kneeling down next to the wall painting the baseboard. He looked up at Benny and whistled. Benny didn’t look so good. He was clearly overheated.
Benny said, “It’s got to be in the mid-90s.”
It wasn’t, although the heat index made it feel like 96. He knew that he had been out in the heat for too long and without enough fluids.
“You don’t look so good.”
“I never look good.”
Tim laughed knowing that Benny was being honest. “I didn’t mean it like that. I meant you look pale. You should be looking flush.”
“I kind of stayed out there too long.”
“Get in the shower. Remember, tepid water will cool your body faster than cold water.”
“I know. I was the one who told you that.”
“You’d better get in there now before you pass out. Take the Gatorade with you. You need to replace the salts you’ve lost through sweating.”
Benny knew the drill. He stood in the spray of warm water for ten minutes. At first the water felt warm, but the longer he stayed there the cooler it felt. He was positioned such that the water ran off his body over his wrists, groin, thighs, and feet to get maximum effect from the cooling water. He would chug a little of the drink from time to time.
A lot of people thought that taking a cold shower would cool off the body fastest. The problem was that the body reacted to cold water by restricting blood flow to the skin. It did this in order to conserve heat. When you’re overheated, the last thing you want to do is to conserve heat. Showering in tepid water kept the blood vessels open and allowed the tepid water to carry away the heat from the body. There were a number of places where the blood flowed particularly close to the surface. Making sure the water flowed over those areas was a way of maximizing the cooling effect.
Finally, he started feeling better. He knew he had pushed not hydrating for too long. The problem was that the idea of drinking anything while handling herbicides bothered him. Tim was always talking about people he knew who died of cancer because of exposure to agent orange in Vietnam. Agent White had also been used in Vietnam. He had never heard anything about Agent White killing anyone with cancer, but he still didn’t trust it.
He walked out of the shower without a shirt, socks, or shoes. Sandra and Cathy had just returned from a run to the hardware store to get one last quart of trim paint. The interior was painted completely except for the trim in the kitchen. The carpet guy could come in and put in the shag carpeting. He was scheduled for tomorrow and they wanted to get it done.
Cathy said, “Hey, hot stuff. Trying to get us girls all hot and bothered by strutting your stuff?”
“Who are you talking to?” Benny asked.
“No. I’m trying to cool off.”
“I was just teasing you,” Cathy said shaking her head. “So what do you think of the paint job?”
“It looks nice.”
Sandra said, “Tomorrow the carpet guy comes. We plant some shrubs in the flower bed, plant a few late summer flowers, and the house is done. We will finish it two weeks before school starts.”
“I know.” Cathy said, “I can’t believe Cynthia is asking forty-six thousand for it.”
“We can always go down in price, but we can’t go up.”
Sandra said, “She’s had two couples come out here twice already.”
Having heard them talking, Tim stuck his head out of the kitchen. He pointed at the bag Sandra was holding. “I need that paint.”
Sandra carried it over to him. He grabbed it and headed back into the kitchen. She returned to Cathy and put an arm around her.
“Do you think she can sell it for that?”
“She’ll probably come close to it.”
“That would be wonderful. We were talking about it on the drive back from the hardware store. If she was to sell it for just $40,000 our share would be around $6,000.”
“That’s about right. Don’t forget we’ll also split up what is in the escrow account. That will bring you another five hundred or so.”
“What will we do with all of that money?”
“You’re making enough that the capital gains taxes will hurt. Still, you should invest it.”
“We asked Cynthia to find a winter house for us to fix up. It won’t make the kind of money we’re hoping to get out of this one, but it will grow the nest egg a bit.”
There were times when Cathy couldn’t quite believe just how much money Tim and Benny had made. She kept the books, so she knew how much Two Guys Working was worth. Depending on the value one put on the office cleaning business and this house, they assets worth somewhere around $80,000.
They weren’t the only ones doing well. The other day, she had looked at her bank statement for her savings account and had been shocked to discover that there was nearly $2,000 in it. She’d been depositing the money from painting house numbers on curbs without even keeping track of it. That was a $150 per weekend and this summer the weather had cooperated with them. They’d had eleven nice weekends in a row.
When she had mentioned it to Sandra, they discovered that she was doing even better. She had saved her regular paychecks from office cleaning, working in the office, and the money from painting curbs last summer and this summer. She had almost $8,000 in savings because she wasn’t spending much of what she made. She was living at home and not paying rent. Her parents were paying her car insurance, but she was paying for her gas.
Even Cynthia was doing better, now that she had moved into the office. She hadn’t made a sale yet, but she was listing a number of houses already. She also had a number of house flippers taking a lot of interest in her. She had gone to every lousy property in the listing directory that wasn’t handled by her old firm. She had walked through each one taking note of everything that was wrong with it. She wrote a new kind of sales brochure that wasn’t for the average person. Instead of focusing solely on the number of bedrooms, baths, and size of the garage, she listed the current asking price, the issues with the house, and the probable sales value of the property once the issues were fixed. They could do the math on how much the repairs would cost and estimate just how much they could make on the deal. She had proved to them that she understood their needs. She even sweetened the deal. If she handled the purchase of the property to begin with and was given the contract for the sale, she would reduce her percentage of the commission down by 1%.
Cathy knew that Tim and Benny were working against some master plan. They never talked about it in front of anyone, but she could always tell when they’d had one of their chats. The one move they had made was to open an investment account for the company with a stock broker. They had then put $1000 in the S&P500. Then they promptly ignored it. When she had asked Benny about it, he had replied that they had just propped open a door a crack so that they could charge in when the time was right.
Not everything was going well in Cathy’s world. She and Sandra had not had a chance to be alone with each other since Cynthia had moved into the office. Benny had suggested that they use the outbuilding, but that had gone over like a lead balloon. She kept thinking about moving into an apartment of her own. She had looked at a couple of them without telling anyone and found one she thought she could afford.
That raised the biggest issue in her life at the moment. She was getting worried about Gladys. The elderly woman was starting to look old. It might seem strange to say that, but it was accurate. It was as though she was moving, talking, and generally behaving differently all of a sudden. There were soft little grunts when she lifted something, almost like it was too much for her. She would just kind of slowly come to a stop when talking. She acted like every action she took, required her to think about it twice or even three times. She was slower in answering questions.
She said, “I’m thinking about moving into an apartment.”
Benny looked at her for a second. Then the expression on his face changed. She’d never seen that particular expression before. It was one of those ‘oh shit I stepped in it’ looks. She wondered what she had said that caused that reaction.
“Get out here.”
“I’ll finish it. You have to go to city hall.”
“We forgot something very important.”
“The one dollar houses.”
Tim swore loudly, startling Sandra and Cathy. They had never heard him swear like that before and wondered what had caused that reaction. He came out of the kitchen looking irritated.
“We completely forgot about them,” Benny said.
“I can’t believe we forgot about that. We had talked about that from the very beginning.”
“What are you talking about?”
Tim answered, “The city repossessed a number houses, something like 10 or 12 of them, last year for non payment of taxes. All of the houses belonged to the same guy. He was basically a slum lord, renting them out to very poor people like college students and drug users without doing any maintenance on them. He got into some trouble of some kind and couldn’t pay the taxes. The city went after him and confiscated the houses for back taxes.
“When they went in and inspected them, what they found was an absolute disaster. There were holes in walls and floors, leaking roofs, out of code wiring, and heating systems that were likely to burn the house down as its preferred method of increasing the temperature inside the house. They pulled the certificates of occupancy on all of them.
“Some council member came up with the idea that people might want to get the houses to fix up and live in rather than use as rental properties. They are offering the houses for a dollar plus the owed taxes, which aren’t very much. There are some conditions though. You have to put up money in an escrow account sufficient to restore it well enough to qualify for the certificate of occupancy. You have to complete the work in a year. Then you have live in it for two years before you get full ownership of it. They want to prevent flippers from moving in on them.”
“You say you have to live in them for two years.”
“Yes. They are right next to the Central State University.”
“So what are you going to be doing after you graduate high school?”
“Going to college ... I see.”
“I’m a senior so we’re going to buy one house for me, and fix it up. I graduate and I move in. Next June, we buy three more, one for each of you, and we fix them up. You graduate and move in. We’ll have four houses. We live there for as long as we’re going to school. We graduate, we sell them.”
“Why are you sending Tim there if the house is for you?”
Tim answered, “He plans and I deal with people. We need to get a listing of the houses and all of the conditions. I’m going to have to network to see what hidden conditions there might be on the sale. There has to be some ‘gotchas’ in there, somewhere.”
“So get painting, Benny. I’ll be back in a couple of hours.”