I had already gotten past the obvious first impressions by the time I found out Jennifer sent them to me. I tried to hold off forming any more. “Well then you are my lunch companions, please sit down.” I said it standing. Even though I didn’t have to. I wanted to readjust my pistol for easier access. It was something about James that caused me to want easier access to the pistol. He never smiled, and he had a serious dead eyed look about him. The man had, at the very leas, seen too much in his life. Either that or he suffered from severe depression. He wore a look of great sadness, or the total disconnect of one who is no longer capable of any honest emotion.
James scared the shit out of me, because I saw that face looking back at me from the mirror every day. I hid mine better than James did, but we both had serious depression issues.
Ruth on the other hand was the total opposite. Her attention was spread all over the place. Her eyes seemed to flit from one place to another without any apparent reason. She checked out every inch of the balcony before she sat down. She didn’t study it as if she were trying to burn it into her memory, she seemed more to be shifting her gaze from place to place randomly as if it were an old habit.
After we were seated, I passed around the bags. “These are all exactly the same, so it makes no difference who gets what. I hope you placed your order with Jennifer, since she placed it with me.”
“Oh don’t worry, James and I eat anything. And if your friend Helen made this, we know it is wonderful.” She turned her attention to James trying to force him into the conversation. “Don’t we James?”
“Yes honey,” he said. I could tell something about me interested him,
“So how long have you guys known my friend Jennifer?” I asked. I wasn’t ready to dig into the big question just then.
“Oh we just met her last week, but it was love at first sight,” Ruth said. “Oh my that didn’t sound just right.”
“I know what you mean, Jennifer is charming. She is the kind of woman who makes other women, jealous, nervous, and sort of sorry they are straight. I can only imagine what she does to men.”
Ruth said, “That’s exactly it.”
So they had met her in the swamp, that wasn’t the best of news, but it did explain things. It for sure explained James’s interest in me. James was an operative in the black bag game, or he was an assassin. Either way he was a stone killer. His interest in me was not love or lust it was survival instinct pure and simple. Just as I had stood to make getting to the .38 easier because of his look, he kept his eyes on me because he recognized mine as well. I wasn’t positive but I was pretty sure I was going to like him. Ruth probably not so much.
“So exactly what is it that you need from me?” I asked.
“You know like when you go to a foreign place, where you don’t speak the language or anything, you look for a guide who does?” she reminded me.
“Of course,” I agreed then shut up.
“Well James and I were so impressed with the things Jennifer told us about this town. And of course the TV show is remarkable in showing how you live here, so we decided to come look around. We are both ready to retire.”
It was a bomb. It was the one thing I would never have guessed. They were trying to recruit me alright, but it was as a friend. Maybe not James but Ruth and Jennifer were.
“Like Jennifer, I would be thrilled to see you settle her, but I have to warn you this place is like Jesica Fletcher’s Cabot Cove. Some kind of shit is always happening here. We have had the Russian mob, the Chinese Tong, and the Mexican drug cartels here. It isn’t the sleepy little town it looks like.”
Ruth’s eyes suddenly stopped darting around. “You surely don’t think we came here without knowing all that. We also know something you probably don’t. There is an understanding among the various factions. It is that none of them will do business in this little town or in Tryon. Even those who are unaffiliated are warned, if you do business in Aster or Tryon, you do so at your own risk. No organization will support you in any way.” If you think about it, there is probably no safer place in the world than right here. Plus the cost of living is much less than New York or California.”
Just as soon as she finished her speech she went back to scanning the area. I drank the last of my Coke before I said, “Well what do you want to do first?” It was my way of surrendering.
“There is a stable north of town. It’s only about 3/4 of a mile from the town limits. I would like to convince the owner to sell it to me,” James said. It was by far the most he had said to me. “I think it would be easier if you went along. I don’t want him to be intimidated by our being strangers.”
Or just plain strange, I thought it but didn’t say it. “Sure do you want to go now?” I asked.
“Yes, if that is convenient?” Ruth added.
“Sure Jennifer sent you because I’m fully retired at the moment.” I said.
“Sweetie, we know who you are, no need to sugar coat things for us,” Ruth said. James just kept a very close eye on me. I finally figured out that it was mostly because of Ruth. The love of his life was his responsibility and I was a shit magnet.
“Do you know the way to the stable?” I asked. Ruth nodded so I said, “Then I’ll follow you.”
That’s how I ended up walking around a place that smelled of horse shit. Sure they call it manure, but it is still horse shit. James actually smiled when he stepped from the Swamp Thing SUV. I also had to smile at that sight.
“Hello there,” the young man in jeans and a blue work shirt said as he approached us. “You must be James?”
“I am,” James said extending his hand. “You are Edward?”
“Everybody calls me Eddie. So that would make you Ruth?” He said smiling at her.
“It would indeed,” she replied.
“Hello Maxine, it’s nice to see you in the sunlight. I was beginning to think that you might be a vampire.” he said.
Ruth and James both looked at me questioningly. “I know Eddie from the local beer bar.” I said.
“One of the local beer bars. We do have more than one, but I guess only one that caters to our kind of folks.” he said.
“And what kind of folks are those,” James asked a little too seriously.
“Cowboy truck drivers, and bad ass women,” Eddie said with a smile. He was cute but naive. “The kids and mall chicks go to a different place.”
“I see,” James said. “So is the offer to show us around still good?”
“You bet,” Eddie replied.
“I think I’m going to wait in the car.” I suggested. “You guys go right ahead, I’m just fine alone.”
“I knew that,” Ruth said.
“Me too,” Eddie said. “I have seen you in action remember.”
“Eddie, shut up,” I said it with a smile.
“Eddie, we will definitely be making you an offer,” James said when they returned. I just need to do some research.”
“He means he needs for me to do some research,” Ruth said.
“Good enough,” Eddie said. “See you again Maxine.” Then he got in his truck and left us standing in the parking area.
“So what’s the deal with him?” I asked.
“Eddie’s father and mother owned this farm. His dad built the stable for him to board horses. It was kind of a part time job for him while he was in school. Then of course Eddie grew up. He decided that he wanted to be a trucker instead. The place has been vacant for about five years.
Since Eddie’s mom died last year, his daddy has decided to sell just the stable and ten acres around it. Just enough for pasturing a half dozen horses,” Ruth explained.
“So you want to make an offer to buy the stable?” I asked.
“More than that. We want to buy the ten acres and thirty more. It will leave the old man with the house, barn and about ten acres to give him a feeling of still being connected to the land. But he really needs the money, and to retire as well. According to Eddie, he doesn’t have the heart for the place any more,” James informed me.
“So you are going to run Eddie’s dad through the company’s background program,” I asked.
“No, I’m going to call the same man that Jennifer used to get you a clear title to that boat. He can tell me what the farm is worth, and how badly Eddie’s father needs to sell. A motivated seller is good for a motivated buyer,” Ruth informed me.
“Well why don’t you come back to my place while you work it out.” They accepted my offer. There was just enough space in the alley behind my building for my two cruisers and the SUV.
Once inside the house Ruth was on my computer within minutes. “Ruth just to save you some time, the porn and the links to more are in a folder named recipes.
“Thanks, that will save me a lot of time,” she said with a teenager’s giggle.
“James have you ever ridden a motor bike?” I asked.
“Sure, I rode lots of them over the years,” he said.
“Like this one.” I asked as I led him into the storage closet by the rear door. He stood grinning again.
“What the hell is that thing?” he asked.
“It’s a motorized bicycle. I ride it everyday. I usually don’t even move my car, when I’m just puttzing around town. You want to try it?” I asked.
“Sure I do,” he said. I got him out the door and off on the bike in just a few minutes. Ruth was still doing her research It was probably disappointing to her that it was the new computer from the Florida Wal-mart with nothing but porn and movies on it. She had probably checked my bank account while she was waiting.
“Holy shit,” James said grinning like an idiot when he returned. Where the fuck do I get one of these things.
“When you move in, I’ll introduce you to the people who build them,” I suggested.
Ruth was suddenly downstairs standing beside us. “Morty says anything under 200k is a good deal. If we have to go 250K, it will be an okay deal anything more is a pure gut shot.”
“Shit that place is a half million dollars anywhere else in the country,” James said. “So let’s go back there and settle this thing.”
“Not today honey, we all need time to cool down.” Ruth said.
“And cooler head prevails,” James said.
“So Ruth are you going to be the farm wife?” I asked.
“I really don’t want to do that. We were looking around for a place to stay. Since they turned the last B&B into a rehab facility, you don’t have a really cool place anymore. I might just open one.”
“Let me tell you about this really cool place in Biloxi,” I said with a smile.