The Investment House
“We could use it as a haunted house for Halloween,” I told my husband, after we bought a dilapidated sixty-five-year-old house to renovate.
The kitchen appeared dark with its scarred wood cabinets and greasy filth-filled grout lines. Paper hung off walls. I shivered in the murky walk-out basement. The back yard resembled the city dump.
Its saving grace—an appealing neighborhood, well-kept houses and yards near a popular parochial school. The next-door neighbors seemed disappointed when we told them we weren’t planning to live there.
“Why did the previous owner let it get so run-down?” I asked.
The wife looked at her husband. He frowned.
“I noticed the kids weren’t supervised,” she said.
“We didn’t get to know the people,” he said. “There were various comers and goers over there.”
The wife looked around, came close, and said in an undertone, “We suspected drug dealings.”
Over the next few months, we worked evenings after our day jobs, weekends, holidays, and vacation time to bring the big house up to its potential. My handyman hubby and I painted inside and out, removed piles of trash, nailed loose floor boards, and installed new drywall in the basement. The house needed more than TLC. We paid to have a new roof, new air conditioner, and foundation pilings installed. Our jubilant high-fives punctuated the progress.
At one point, I designed a logo and had a sign made to advertise our enterprise. We hoped to sell the renovated house by owner.
One summer afternoon, I was struggling and failing to remove a stuck vacuum cleaner plug from an old outlet when a balding man and a woman carrying a large handbag came to the door claiming to be a Realtor and his client looking for a house.
“I’m with J.D. Nichols,” the man said. “I’d like to show your house.”
I knew agents sometimes showed For Sale by Owner houses and asked for half commission if they sold it. Maybe some Realtors wore T-shirts? After a little hesitation, I invited them in to look around.
The two walked past the living room to the second floor stairway. When they came down, they didn’t pause to look at the kitchen, other first floor rooms, or our amazing new rec room in the basement. The man waved as they left, and I noticed the woman’s purse appeared larger. I shrugged. Nothing up there to steal, I thought.
Wait. I mulled that there was a J.C. Nichols and a J.D. Reese but no J.D. Nichols, for whom he had claimed to work. Who were these people? Did they have drugs or drug money hidden somewhere? I walked outside to peer at their bright red car and its license plate number. Then I rushed inside to write down my observations. Now, what would I do with this information? It might not mean anything.
Contemplating the notepaper in my hand, I left the house and walked toward our neighbors’ door. Perhaps they’d have insight into my suspicions. Before I reached the edge of the lot, the red car screeched up to the curb, and the man hopped out. His tight mouth and the squint of his eyes made my insides quiver. I stuffed my note into my jeans pocket.
He scowled at my pocket as if he’d like to pick it. “I need another look.”
“Oh. Uh, our neighbor asked me to help with something. Can you come back this weekend when my husband is here? He’s the decision-maker.”
Before I could take two getaway steps, the man grabbed my arm. He leaned toward me with a sinister smile. His vice grip made me wince.
“Listen, I know your phone number.” He inclined his head toward our sign. “I can find out your home address, and I know you’re working here alone this summer. You look smart enough to know when to keep quiet. Are you?”
I nodded until my head almost broke loose.
“Then let’s go back inside the house. I’ll have my look, and you can just keep this whole visit to yourself. Or—do you need more convincing?”
I shook my head from side to side as if screwing it back on.
We headed for the front door, and Mr. Mean Eyes beckoned to the young woman waiting in the car. The next events felt as if they happened in time-lapse sequence.
The villain pulled me to the basement door. We heard Ms. Ultra-curves scream, “Cops.” The fake Realtor yanked me into the living room where we could see through the front window. One policeman grabbed the berserk woman, and another proceeded toward the house. I watched my captor calculate his choices for half a minute. He pushed me away, and I fell into my abandoned vacuum sweeper. Its cord pulled tight across the room from the outlet and tripped the culprit as he fled. The officer swept in and cuffed him.
Near the street, the shackled woman ranted. “Shit! I told him we should break in at night. But, no, that idiot came up with this dumb real estate agent scheme. We saw the gal watch us. He said we had to come back to be sure we’d cleaned out our basement stash. Make sure the broad wouldn’t talk.”
She shrieked when her accomplice was led out. “Great plan, jacka…!” The policeman helped her into the patrol car.
Reporters love to create a big story. But I was no hero. The heroes were the neighbor who dialed 911 when she saw me being accosted and the police who captured that sleazy drug dealer who had violated his witness protection plan. House owned by U.S. Marshalls--no wonder we got it on the cheap.
The relapsed witness and his floozy went to prison, but I felt nervous to show the house as For Sale by Owner. Irrational, I know, but we ended up spending money to hire a real real estate sales agent who sold our renovation without mentioning unsavory past residents.