Dying for a Change
No Longer Available in Print
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The key went in but refused to work. I could feel tumblers move, but the door stubbornly stayed locked. I felt something else. Rain. It had been teasing all day and chose now, as I stood on the unprotected front porch, to let go. Water descended on my hair, slid under my collar and down the small of my back.
“Damn,” I said, and viciously poked the doorbell, more from frustration than hope. The house was unoccupied, the first clients in my one week real estate career were due momentarily, and I couldn’t get in.
“Why are you doing this to me?” I shouted at the closed door. I grabbed the knob and rattled it.
One leap and I was in the entryway, shuddering, shivering, and shaking like a dog. Of course! The door hadn’t been locked in the first place. I found a rumpled tissue in my jacket pocket, used it to mop my hair, then looked around. The blackening sky outside dimmed the entry and made shadows of the doorways. Lights. I needed lights. Was there electricity? The doorbell had chimed. A good sign. I found a switch and flicked it. Immediately, the overhead chandelier bathed the tile floor with light and chased away the darkness that had hidden the living room.
That’s better, I thought, letting hope return. Maybe there were other lights that worked. Maybe I’d actually be able to show this large, new house, and maybe the couple who called into the office only an hour ago would brave the rain and show up. If they didn’t, I’d never find them again. Unfortunately, in the excitement of making my first appointment, I’d forgotten to get their name and phone number. Tom Chambers, one of the agents training me at Harper’s Land Sales, had all but rolled on the floor with laughter. His wife, Nicole, had been more tactful.
“It’s all right, Ellen,” she’d said. “You can get all that when you meet with them. Here.” She’d handed me a file filled with papers. “In case they want to make an offer. You do know how to fill these out?”
“Of course,” I’d lied.
Nicole looked doubtful, but I’d taken the folder and fled.
I stood in the living room window, clutching my folder tightly, and looked down the street. Would they want to make an offer? Both real estate school and Sharon Harper, owner of the office where I now worked, had shown me how to fill out an offer form, but everything I’d learned seemed to have disappeared. Could I kput them off until tomorrow? Meet them in the office, with Sharon safely beside me? But maybe they wouldn’t like this house, and would want to see others. I tried to think of all the houses I’d seen this past week. I couldn’t remember one of them. I’m panicking, I thought. Have to relax. It’s only because it’s the first time, It’ll get easier after this. I took a deep breath made my fingers quit crunching the folder, and looked at my watch.
I was to meet them at four. It was only one minute past. Fourteen minutes to go before I could reasonably conclude they weren’t going to show, another five before I could leave, relief and dejection equally mixed.
The unrelenting rain rapidly turned the unplanted front yard into a muddy lake. It turned the dust on the empty truck parked by the side of the house into brown streaks . . .Truck? Wshere had that come from? Where was the driver? I thought about the unlocked front door and froze. Maybe I wasn’t alone.
I held my breath and listened. Stepping away from the window, I heard a break, and froze again. It took a second to realize it was my foot on the uncarpeted floorboards. Fear propelled my into the living room – there, a light switch. Ah – light. For a second I stood, hoping to hear the sound of a car. Nothing but the steady beat of rain. Another glance at my watch, only three minutes past four. All right, I’d have to wait, but not in the dark. Flicking each switch, I felt more confident as I blazed the downstairs with light.
At the base of the stairs, I stopped.
Real estate school had stressed, among other things, that female agents should never, ever, meet clients any place but in the office. Here I was, meeting someone whose name I didn’t know, waiting in an empty house where a strange truck stood outside the front door, its driver nowhere to be seen. Was the driver waiting for me? Lurking somewhere, ready to pounce?
“Ellen McKenzie,” I told myself,” you’ve lost it. You don’t live in the city anymore. “this is little old Santa Louisa. Nothing has ever happened here, and never will.”
Right. Sure. I’d been gone from Santa Louisa for over twenty years, and things had changed. Not that my tiny hometown was experiencing a crime wave. However . . . maybe I’d just check the street for my clients.
The downpour had eased into gentle rain, making it easy to see no car was in sight. This time my watch said ten after four, and I was out of excuses. Turing back to the staircase, I took a deep breath and headed up.
Work on the house hadn’t quite finished. The toilet sat in the hallway, waiting to be installed in the tile-floored bathroom. A bucket of paint sat beside some left over pieces of crown molding leaning against the wall in the master bedroom. A scattering of bricks lay next to the fireplace. It looked as though someone had pushed over the pile. Probably not. Just leftovers, carelessly stacked. I admired the federal mantel, tried to see the street from the french doors, flooded the master bath with a soft fluorescent glow and spent a moment envying some lucky person the luxurious bathtub. Ah, the walk in closet. Everyone in the office had talked about how spacious it was, how convenient, how . . . occupied. A man lay on what should have been an empty closet floor. A bloody, bashed, and very dead man.
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