Bad Counsel (part three)
“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 were gone. Andrée shrugged, jogged down the stairs, came round the opposite way, to the parking lot. Leo at that moment was stepping the woman off the curb, 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, looked over her shoulder, stepped up to the door and looked over her shoulder again. Leo, hand at hip level hooked in a pocket, flapped just the fingers, saying without saying, “Get on.”
The office door opened and closed.
Leo never was 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 place is get it rented.” He was walking away, down the incline, under the concrete arch, out to the sidewalk. He was speaking, and so Andrée supposed they were having a chat. This might be one of his grandfatherly days. She could hear in the neighborhood somewhere the jingle of an 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. “Say twenty units, thousand a month. I’m gonna tell someone like Mrs. Chickering, over there”―he jerked his head 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 strolled up the street, coming to a shaded corridor between two hacked-off curb maples and a yew hedge along the complex’s brick façade. The foliage trapped 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 attention, she said: “Gravy.”
“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 his straw hat. This was true. The arch was well-coated 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. Place looks like trash, you’re not gonna get a decent tenant. See how they can nickel and dime twenty grand outta you 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 had known Leo four years. She’d 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?
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?” Maybe Sam and Leo don’t play this game to clinch a deal. Andrée has never seen the Magruder twins together since.
So maybe her mother never piled on tenants for Leo, not bothering to vet them, so just at those times he decided to sell a property, he could boast it was full. Karen had bought this little house. Eight years ago, after Andrée had moved out of their apartment. Andrée has been back under her mother’s roof for two years.
But it seems to her Karen has chafed only since her last birthday, since she passed the age of twenty-five. As though a dropout who can’t hold a job must undergo some maturation approaching thirty, from roadblocked 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; still last night’s exasperation, just 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)