Bad Counsel (part three)
He was selling the property. He rattled each unit’s knob, with the woman (her tennis skirt and visor, Andrée thought, were like from one of those catalogs, with the electric scooters and inflatable pillows, that the old lady tenants got) following him along the hallway from one concrete stairwell to the next.
“Every one of these is rented,” Leo told her. He commented, peering at Andrée: “They gotta sweep the rug. What’s that doing?” He pointed to a ceiling panel, askew in its slot over the exit sign. Leo kicked away the door stop—a smashed pop can—put a hand on Andrée’s shoulder, guided her onto the landing…then shut the door in her face.
“Kid!” she heard him yell. “Is that locked?”
“Yeah,” she called out. Had he heard?
She twisted the knob back and forth. They’d gone. Andrée shrugged, jogged down the stairs, and came round the opposite way, to the parking lot. Leo was at that moment stepping the woman off the curb, with his two hands touching her elbows.
“Karen has some kind of software she uses. I don’t know anything about it. You can get your numbers from her. Over that way. See the sign.”
The office was a garage-sized building on an island in the middle of the lot. The woman scooted ahead. She looked over her shoulder. She stepped up to the door and looked over her shoulder again. Leo, hand resting at hip level, flapped just the fingers curled over his palm, saying without saying, “Get on.”
The office door opened and closed.
Leo never was really polite to his prospects, and it never made much of a difference. That was part of his philosophy.
“Most people think this is a way to make money. Property. Kid, I’ll tell you a secret. All I need to unload a piece of property is get it rented.” He was walking away, down the incline, under the concrete arch, out to the street. He was speaking, and so Andrée supposed they were having a talk. This might be one of his grandfatherly days. She could hear, in the neighborhood somewhere, the jingle of the ice cream truck.
“Say, for the sake of argument—” Leo said. “I don’t mean the Palisades. Easy numbers.” He paused for a second or two. He went on. “Say twenty units, thousand a month. I’m gonna tell someone like Mrs. Chickering, over there”―he jerked his head back towards the office―“you could pull in two forty grand a year, gross, with this place. Huge write-offs. Under ten years, it’s paid for, then it’s all gravy.”
“But it isn’t,” Andrée guessed.
“I said, could. If you want to be in the rental business, maybe so. I never tried it.”
The two of them began strolling up the street. They came to a shaded corridor between two hacked-off curb maples and a yew hedge planted along the complex’s brick façade. Here, the foliage entrapped a strange, cold smell of storm drain and basement laundry, cigarette smoke, softener sheets. Leo began to stretch his neck. He looked up the street like he was looking for his car, which made no sense.
“I ask you,” he said.
If he asked, Andrée would try to answer. In an attitude of listening, she kept to his side.
“Twenty thousand. Ballpark figure. People think that’s money. You lose a tenant, you gotta fix the place up. You get water in the basement. Some kid graffities the arch…” Over his shoulder, he jabbed the straw hat he carried. This was true. The arch was slathered in spray-paint. Andrée felt like Leo wanted her to rat on someone.
She had no friends in the Palisades. Maybe she would rat, for ice cream, if she did. “Another thing to fix. If the place looks like trash, you’re not gonna get a decent tenant. See how they can nickel and dime twenty grand before you know it? It’s all pie in the sky, rentals. All the money I ever made in property was from turnover. I don’t keep a place two years. Two years,” Leo added, “would be a long time.”
And then, at the sunny corner ahead, she saw the ice cream truck pull up, into the prohibited space in front of the bus shelter. Two sat there inside the Plexiglas. Both stood. One was Leo.
Andrée had been twelve at the time. She’d known Leo four years. She thought she had.
“Hey, Sam,” he said.
Leo seemed to have imparted, on that day, all the wisdom he intended for Andrée. Leo in his khakis and blue shirt, oxford cloth, his twin in broadcloth; one shirt lighter, one darker. Would it strike anyone…supposing, like Andrée, you hadn’t known?
It’s not that Leo is mean. He is…chummy, maybe; rather than nice. But Sam is nice. A Mrs. Chickering might never notice the color of a shirt. She might blink, and ask herself, “Now, what was I thinking?” It may be that Sam and Leo don’t play this game to clinch a deal. Andrée has never seen the Magruder twins together since.
And it might be that her mother hadn’t piled on tenants for Leo, not bothering to vet them, so that just at those times he’d decided to sell a property, he could boast it was full. Karen had bought this little house. She’d bought it eight years ago, after Andrée moved out of their apartment. Andrée has been back under her mother’s roof for two years. But it seems to her Karen has only chafed since her last birthday, since she passed the age of twenty-five. As though a drop-out who can’t hold a job must undergo some maturation approaching thirty, from only road-blocked to hopeless.
They are not friends; but they are having an experience together, eavesdropping. Yesterday’s fight over the laundry makes Andrée reluctant to speak. She thinks the look on her mother’s face is not conciliatory; more last night’s exasperation, lukewarm after hours on the back burner. Karen is not so agog as Andrée over Melody’s scheming. Her ire may encompass Leo’s daughter, but with a penetrating eye on Andrée’s, Karen is focusing the beam.
(2017, Stephanie Foster)