I saved Billy Ames for the next day. I called him after breakfast on a mid week morning. I got him directly. He didn’t even have a secretary buffer. Times must be hard for Ames Enterprises, I thought. We first went through the usual catching up song and dance. I found out that Billy was married and had a daughter 12 years old.
Of course there was the usual, my daughter isn’t allowed to watch your show, but she knows who you are. She would love to meet you. He thought that was a compliment. Most of the jerks did for some reason.
So Billy, I’m looking for a building cheap. One that I can renovate into a downtown condo units. Jennifer said you might have something in your holdings that you would part with.” I suggested.
“I got the old NCNB building. It would do pretty well for that,” he replied.
“That thing is a monster,” I said. It was one of those downtown banks built in the sixties. Even though Aster was a small town those downtown branches at that time were big buildings. At least big for the size of the town. The building was about 30 feet wide 60 feet long and five stories tall. It was a bit more building than I could afford. Especially since it was a total gamble.
“I don’t know Billy, that’s a bit more than I can handle. The renovations on that would eat me alive.” I admitted.
“How about the old downtown pharmacy,” he suggested. “It’s 42 x 68 and three stories tall.”
“I don’t know the dimensions aren’t what I would like, but I would be more than happy to take a look at it,” I admitted.
“When are you free,” he asked.
“Let’s do it after lunch,” I suggested.
“I’ll meet you in the parking lot at 2PM, if that is okay?” he asked.
“2PM in the rear works for me just fine. I’ll see you there,” I said. I sat down in my own living room to stare out the window at the downtown pharmacy. Yes it was right across the street from me. That particular building might date back to Aster’s mill era. Those mills were built around the turn of the century.
Mostly they were moved to Aster for the cheap labor, but some for the availability of building materials. At that time one could still find the lumber to cut post and beams for simple construction. Also bricks were available from the new brick company just outside town. Cheap labor and abundant building materials made for the easy building of factories of every kind. Factories put money into the economy, and that created the new improved downtown of the thirties, forties and fifties. Those days were gone, but the grand old buildings remained even if they stood empty at that moment.
From my front window I could see that the building was empty sure, but all the front glass was still intact. It also was free standing. Unlike my building it was on a corner lot. It had streets on two sides and alleys on the other two. The door and display windows had been replaced but even the replacements dated back to the sixties at least, maybe even farther back.
The first floor had been the display area and it was open except for the post and beams. There most likely would be a small office area at the rear. There wasn’t much reason to speculate about what was inside the building, I might as well wait and see for myself.
Eve and I rode the bikes around town since the day had gotten warmer than most had been recently. Our rule was anything over 35F degrees was good enough to ride. It helped me keep my weight down and my stamina up. Eve just did it to hang out with me, I expected.
As we pulled the bikes into the rear parking lot of the downtown house, I was giving lunch some thought. I might not have gotten so close to the homeless man, if I hadn’t had my mind on the housing and the lunch situation. I would surely have realized that he wasn’t any of the usual homeless who hangout in the downtown area. It had always been my biggest fault that my mind only works on a couple of things at a time.
Of course I did notice him, when he walked toward us. It was at that time that I moved my hand close to the .38 while I watched his hands. I could never really forget that people wanted me dead. Since that was the case, every stranger was to be taken seriously.
“Hello there,” I said to the man. “Can I help you?”
“They tell me you are good for a meal, I haven’t eaten in a couple of days,” he said.
“I can do that, “ I said as I reached into my pocket for my wallet. I kept my eyes on his while I worked the piece of cardboard from the canvas wallet. “Now you take this card to the corner of Lexington and Main streets and they will give you lunch and charge it to my account. Then you walk out Lexington Avenue till you get to the Light House Family Ministry. Go in there and they will give you a place to take a shower, some clean clothes and a bed.” I kept my eyes on him.
“It would be easier if you just gave me five bucks,” he said.
“Sweetie, if they told you I would give you a meal, they also told you I don’t give cash to strangers. Now take the card and get the meal, then go find a place to get off the streets at the mission, or just move on.” I said as kindly as I could and still be stern.
He chose to grab my arm to make his next point. “Then I will just take the money,” he said holding a large folding knife in front of him. He was obviously no killer. He was more into intimidation.
Before I could tell him that he had made a terrible mistake, and before I could stop her, Eve had him by the throat. “Eve don’t kill him. He doesn’t mean to harm us, he is just stupid beyond belief.”
She took his weapon and pushed him hard against the brick wall of the downtown house. “Take the card friend and move out, or I will call the cops and an ambulance.” I smiled at him with a wicked smile. He might as well know that we were the wrong two women to jump in the middle of the night. He should know, because he might stick around town. I would do for him to get killed, because he was ignorant.
I had to go inside to calm down. Eve had no such problem. She hadn’t changed her demeanor at all. She would have been totally calm while she broke his neck. To her it would have been no more than snapping a twig physically. Emotionally I had no idea how she would react. His killing could have been perceived as saving a life, mine. So it wouldn’t violate her first directive, if that was indeed her first directive. I still wasn’t sure what that directive was.
We had a couple of hours to kill so I asked, “How about we go pick up some real food and go to the marina for lunch?”
“I like the marina fine, you know I don’t eat but I’ll be happy to sit in the sunshine while you do,” she said. So that’s what we did, while we waited for time to meet Billy for our tour of the drugstore. Lunch turned out to be a large garden salad with fried chicken bits, corn chips, and a coke. As promised Eve sat in the sunshine and just seemed to recharge, which is exactly what she did in any sunlight.
The time passed quickly since it was a pleasant day. Those always end too soon. We arrived about ten minutes early for our meeting with Billy Ames. While we waiting in the cruiser behind the drugstore, I saw the homeless man walking down the alley behind that block of main street. “What do you reckon, he is up to?” I asked Eve.
“Would you like me to ask him?” she suggested with a smile. There was that almost human element again.
“No, I prefer to keep us both out of jail. Not that I’m sure they could jail you.” I suggested.
“They could, if they didn’t give me a physical,” she said light heartedly. While she spoke, I watched the homeless man rattling doors. He knew we were in the car, but he didn’t seem to care. I wondered what that was all about. Something about it didn’t seem right.
From out of nowhere it dawned on me. He had smelled wrong. That and the fact that I didn’t recognize him was the tip off. He hadn’t smelled of after shave or anything so obvious, but he also hadn’t smelled of the street. The street smell was different from body odor, It was more the smell of decay. The man didn’t have that smell, nor did he have a huge body odor. If a homeless man didn’t have the street smell, then he had the smell of disinfectant from the Mission. The man wasn’t homeless at all.
He was an operative, whose I had no idea. Why an operative would confront me especially with a knife was hard to fathom. I decided that if he was still around after my meeting with Billy Ames, we would need to have a talk. One in which he did most of the talking. In the meantime I could get him hassled a little just for the hell of it.
I dialed 911. “911 what is your emergency?” the male voice asked.
“There is a homeless man in the alley behind north main street just past the railroad. He is rattling doors trying to get into the vacant buildings. You might want to send someone to check on him.”
“Who is calling please,” she asked.
“This is Maxine Stone,” I said.
“Very well Ms Stone we will have someone stop by. Do not approach the man, he might be dangerous.”
Or not, I thought. “No problem,” I said in agreement.
Two young patrolmen arrived at the same time as Billy Ames. “I explained to the patrolmen about the homeless man without going into the knife incident, or his lack of street smell. Let them work it out with him, I thought.
Billy, Eve, and I went inside the rear door of the abandoned drugstore. It was dark inside without the power but Billy had a powerful lantern. The space was longer than it was wide. It was 42 feet wide Billy informed me and 68 feel long on each of the three floors. I had already been told that. What I was trying to figure was whether there was anything worth renovating in the space.
The views would be the opposite of mine. Sunrise from the rear and sunset from the front for views. On the top floor they might be quite nice views from large windows and small balconies. The sun dipping behind my downtown house would be the evening view, but that still might be acceptable. I could get four shotgun units from the building as well as the downstairs entertainment area. Unlike the last place I looked at the heating equipment was in a utility room on the ground floor. Since it had been a steam boiler it had thick heavy walls around it. I thought serious bar, when I saw it. Not so much open to the public bar, as tenant space bar. I would need to give that a lot of thought. All in all the place had potential, but it all hung on the money as it almost always did. I had too many balls in the air. Hanging there waiting for money to fall.