T is for Trespass - Page 49/144

I took a minute to scan the premises, which looked like a movie version of a prison. I was staring at four three-story buildings, arranged to form a square with the corners open and walkways between. Twenty-four apartments were lumped together in each unadorned block of stucco. Junipers had been planted along the foundations, perhaps in an attempt to soften the facade. Unfortunately, most of the evergreens had suffered a blight that left the branches as sparse as last year’s Christmas trees and the remaining needles the color of rust.

Across the front of the nearest building, I could see a short row of slab porches, one step high, furnished with the occasional aluminum lawn chair. An apologetic inverted V of roof had been tacked above each front door, but none were large enough to offer protection from the elements. In the rainy season, you could stand there, house key in hand as you fumbled to get in, and by the time the door finally swung open, you’d be drenched. Summer sunlight would beat down unrelentingly, converting the front rooms into small toaster ovens. Anyone climbing to the third tier would suffer heart palpitations and shortness of breath.

There was no yard to speak of, but I suspected if I went into the interior courtyard, I’d see covered barbecue grills on the second-and third-floor loggias, clotheslines and children’s playthings in the grassy patches at ground level. The garbage cans were standing in a ragtag line at one end of the structure that housed empty carports in lieu of closed garages. The complex had a curious unoccupied air, like housing abandoned in the wake of calamity.

Compton had nothing but complaints about his tenants, who were sorry sunza-bitches (his words, not mine). According to him, at the time he’d purchased the property, the units were already overcrowded and ill used. He’d made a few repairs, slapped a coat of paint on the exterior, and raised all the rents. This had driven out the least desirable of the occupants. Those who remained were quick to bellyache and slow to pay.

The tenants in question were the Guffeys, husband and wife, Grant and Jackie respectively. The previous month, Compton had written them a nasty letter about their failure to pay, which the Guffeys had ignored. They were already two months in arrears and perhaps intent on garnering another rent-free month before responding to his threats. I crossed the dead grass, went around the corner of the building, and up a flight of outside stairs. Apartment 18 was on the second floor, the center one of three.

I knocked. After a moment the door was opened to the length of the burglar chain and a woman peered out. “Yes?”

“Are you Jackie?”

A pause. “She’s not here.”

I could see her left eye, blue, and medium-blond hair caught up on rollers the size of frozen orange juice cans. I could also see her left ear, which had sufficient small gold hoops stuck through the cartilage to mimic a spiral-bound notebook. Compton had mentioned the piercings in his description of her, so I was reasonably certain this was Jackie, lying through her teeth. “Do you know when she’ll be back?”

“What makes you ask?”

Now I was the one who hesitated, trying to decide on my approach. “Her landlord asked me to stop by.”

“What for?”

“I’m not authorized to discuss the matter with anyone else. Are you related to her?”

A pause. “I’m her sister. I’m from Minneapolis.”

The best thing about lying are the flourishes, I thought. I myself am a world-class practitioner. “And your name is?”


“Mind if I write that down?”

“It’s a free country. You can do anything you want.”

I reached into my shoulder bag and found a pen and a small lined notebook. I wrote “Patty” on the first page. “Last name?”

“I don’t have to tell.”

“Are you aware that Jackie and her husband haven’t paid rent for the past two months?”

“Who cares? I’m visiting. It’s got nothing to do with me.”

“Well, maybe you could pass along a message from the guy who owns the place.”

I handed her the eviction notice, which she took before she realized what it was. I said, “That’s a three-day pay or quit. They can pay in full or vacate the premises. Tell ’em to pick one.”

“You can’t do that.”

“It’s not me. It’s him and he warned them. You can remind your ‘sister’ of that when she gets home.”

“How come he doesn’t have to live up to his side of the deal?”

“As in what?”

“Why should they be prompt when the son of a bitch takes his time about making repairs, assuming he gets to them at all. She’s got windows won’t open, drains backed up. She can’t even use the kitchen sink. She has to do all the dishes in the bathroom basin. Take a look around. The place is a dump and you know what the rent is? Six hundred bucks a month. It cost a hundred and twenty dollars to get the wiring fixed or they’d’ve burned the building down. That’s why they haven’t paid, because he won’t reimburse ’em for the money they spent.”