By Cindy and Walt
The ninety day assignment was up so I was all loaded to leave the tiny apartment. I put what few possessions I had into the bed of the pickup truck and covered them with a tarp. I had said my goodbyes to my boss Howard and my partner Stonebridge. I didn’t give a crap about the others.
I had to choose one of the properties offered by the state sight unseen. The plan was to give me a home where they could monitor me, I assumed. The state had at least given me a description of my choices. I chose to stay away from any that had been meth labs just in case the boys might come back to recycle the place.
What I decided on was a two bay service station which had been converted to a convenience store. It had been used in its last incarnation as a stop for human traffickers. A kind of way station on the new version of the underground railroad. Instead of slaves it was trucks filled with illegals headed to Boston.
My last night in Capitol City I stayed up late since there was no hurry to get to my new home. I had an idea it would be a rat’s nest. I figured the pickup would be in use to haul off trash for days. Even so I was still excited about owning a home of my own. That was the case even though I didn’t quite know who I was going to be at the time.
The name on my new driver’s license was Rose Seabold. Presumably that would be my new name in the new community where I was to locate next. I had a new prepaid ATM card in the same name. So I just needed to run it through an ATM machine to find out how well I had been paid over the last three months work.
I checked on line before I left the apartment and found I had just under ten grand in the bank. I probably would need every penny of that and then some to make the convenience store livable.
Since the place was used to house illegals even for just a few days at a time, it would likely be in the middle of nowhere. The building was built in the 1940s as a two bay service station. That was back in the days when the State two lane highways were the latest technology.
In the sixties there were a few interstate highways, so a large number of cars deserted the two lane roads in favor of them. With that loss of traffic the roadside repair garages pretty much lost favor. For a while the building continued to work as an automobile and farm equipment repair facility, but in the end the owner decided to retire and no one wanted a small repair shop as it couldn’t rustle up enough business to make ends meet.
The next incarnation was as a country store. It sold a little gas and a little beer but it had just too much rural land around it. Not enough people shopped locally to create enough business to stay open.
In the new century it became a way station for the trafficking of sad humans. That and several other operations brought it to the attention of the SBI, and the Feds. It was closed down completely five years before it was offered for sale to me.
I figured the picture of the cinder block building was at least five years old. It was rundown when the picture was taken I knew. I had no idea how much worse it could be, but I was pretty sure it was at least some worse. Those were my thoughts as I made the three hour drive into the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Two hours into the drive I pulled into one of those highway plaza shopping center for lunch. I didn’t want to spend anymore time than necessary, so I gassed the truck before I went inside the convenience mega store. Inside I had a hot dog and bag of chips. I also had a donut probably brought in from a factory five hundred miles away. Even so it wasn’t a terrible meal. Best of all I was back on the road in minutes.
I had to rely on the GPS device to lead me to the old style service station. No care had been taken at all in its maintenance or upkeep. The lot was overgrown and the building was in need of repairs. It looked like a something out of the zombie Apocalypse. Even so it was my first home, so I was looking forward to cleaning it up and changing the nightmare appearance of it.
The fancy dancy GPS the controller dead dropped for me, led me to a small farm community with an even smaller than small bed and breakfast. At seventy-five dollars a night the bedroom B&B was no bargain. I determined one night would be my limit. No matter what it took I would get enough done to stay at my country store, as I begun to think of it.
I asked at the desk and got the number of a handyman who might be available to help. “If he isn’t available today, he might be soon,” the matronly woman said. “He doesn’t book too far ahead. He mostly does odd jobs, but he is good. You know most of the laborers are foreigners now.”
“I see,” I said not knowing exactly what she was trying to tell me.
“It’s not farming season now, so he might know some other’s who could help you,” a younger woman agreed. She was obviously the daughter.
I made the call. “Hello sir, my name is Rose Seabold, and I’m trying to find someone who can help me remodel a building. Would you please call me, I need to get working on it as soon as possible,” I said into the recorder.
It was an hour later when the phone rang. “Senorita my name is Carlos and I got your message. What exactly do you wish to have done?” he asked.
“Carlos to be honest I haven’t looked at the building yet, so I do not know what needs to be done, but I assure you there is a lot,” I said. I went on to explain where the building was located, and what the general plan was for it.
“I am familiar with the building, but like you, I have no idea what will need to be done. I am working on a pack barn tomorrow, but I can leave my brother there and meet you at the building at lunch. We can walk through it then, if you like?” he suggested.
“I agree,” I said since I had no other choices available to me at that moment. “Tomorrow lunch will be fine. In the meantime I will walk through it tonight to determine what I would like to do. You, however, are the expert and I’m sure things will change after our talk.”
After he hung up the phone I went on a scouting mission. There were two things that I would need for damn sure. A place to eat breakfast and either a Home Depot or Lowe’s. Both had delivery service so I expected to use the closest one to my little country store.
I asked at the desk and found that the nearest shopping plaza with a home improvement superstore was outside Roaring Gap. Roaring Gap was a small community, but it was near the intersection of four interstate highways which made it an ideal place for a shopping plaza. Being on the outskirts of town, Roaring Gap was no more than a postal address for the commercial stores.
With that information in hand, I didn’t need to worry any more about getting building supplies. I did need a place closer than the Roaring Gap plaza for food though. For that I found something I had no idea still existed. It sat on the north side of the crossroad of a well used county road and an old State highway. I was also about five miles from my country store.
Helen’s Crossroads Diner was in what for all the world looked like a double wide trailer. I counted the number of seats. The total at the bar and in the small dining room was exactly thirty four adults and four high chairs. It also had a deck on the front with two iron tables.
I figured finding it was luck. There was a sign on the door not to be ignored. The sign read, “We speak English, if you want service you should do the same.” Then a second sign read, “If you plan to rob us, be warned our cook learned his trade in prison.”
“Is that sign for real?” I asked.
“Yeah we only speak English,” the really rough looking middle aged waitress said.
“I mean about the cook,” I added.
“The owner Helen did learn to cook in prison,” she said with a smile.
Damn, I thought. What have I gotten myself into? Even so I ordered a hamburger and fries. According to the menu they had several burger options. The one that sounded the best to me was called a ‘Beer Joint’ Burger. It was a quarter pound burger with mustard, chili, slaw and onion shaved so thin you could see through them. The french fries were thick and obviously cooked some before deep frying them, because they were done completely and delicious. The Ice Tea wasn’t very good though. Everything else more than made up for the tea.
“Is there anything else?” the waitress asked. I didn’t really want it, but I had to know what it was.
“I would really like a cup of coffee,” I suggested.
“We have Regular, Decaf, and Cell Block Six coffee,” she said with a straight face.
“What the hell makes it Cell Block Six?” I whispered aloud to myself. When the coffee came I found it strong, but not bitter. It really was quite good. I wanted the recipe, so I asked the waitress.
She answered, “There is no chance of that at all. People always ask.”
I paid the quite reasonable bill, then drove straight to the boarded up convenience store. When I arrived I found that the front door had been replaced by a piece of plywood. It must have been done several years ago. The information brief said the police released the crime scene five years before. The building had been vacant and boarded since that time at least. The building was in disrepair showing signs of damage dating farther back than six years. Likely the people, who were using it as a drop off point, had done nothing at all to it.
I was once a girlie girl. I would have never started removing things from the outside of the building, had I not been through Church Camp. Since Church Camp, I knew that nothing I did that night would make a damn bit of difference in the final outcome of the project. Since that was the case, I ripped down the door and window coverings using the tire tool and a hammer I found in the tool box of the truck.
First of all the outside walls needed some paint and patching. The building was old enough to have a conventional roof not a tar and gravel thing. That would make re-roofing it easier. Okay I didn’t really know that till I met with Carlos the next day. What I did notice was that it had a steep roof with two small dormers on the front. Inside I found out why. It was so that the shop would have nice high ceilings. Actually there was no ceiling, but the roof structure was at least thirty feel above the garage area at its highest point. There was a lower ceiling over the office area which was very small. The area above it was used as storage space. The office occupied the empty space left after two bathrooms had been installed on the side of the garage area.
The two bay garage had been used as the convenience store’s display space. The office was used as the checkout area, during the building’s second incarnation. The whole thing had been trashed while it was a stopping point for illegals. The State had ordered a hazardous waste clean up due to all the human feces covering the building’s floor. It had been cleaned, then abandoned several years before I bought it. It at least didn’t have the shit smell, I noticed with some satisfaction.
On the rear side of the building I noticed a couple of roof trusses had collapsed. There was also some broken limbs lying about. I also noticed that the outside needed painting and the small windows needed replacing. The plumbing would probably be a wreck as well. The boarded over large windows would have to be turned into walls of some kind. It was going to be a massive project. The ten grand wasn’t going to do it. I might not know much about building, but I knew that much for sure.
I went back to the bed and breakfast to call Carlos again. “Carlos I just came from my building. I need you to send someone over in the morning. The first thing I need is to secure the building, so that I can sleep there tomorrow night.” I said.
“Senorita that will not be possible. I to went to look at the building. That roof is not safe,” he said. “There are several other things to do before it can be used.”
“Carlos you don’t know me and what I can do,” I said that while remembering the primitive condition at Church Camp. Send me a man familiar with plumbing. If I can get water and some security I can manage.”
“I will send my brother, he can start work and I will come by before the end of the day and negotiate a price with you. Okay?” he asked.
“Yes, that will be fine. Have him at the building at 7 AM. Be sure he knows getting the plumbing working is priority one,” I said.
“Si Senorita,” Carlos said.
I left the room to check with the owner of the B&B again. “They gave me the name of their electrician who agreed to meet me at the building sometime the next morning. I actually had a lot accomplished by 9 PM when I checked my mail. Since there was nothing in the box, I went to bed.
I was out the door of the B&B at 6 AM I did pick up a pastry and coffee on the way out. I drove to the country store to sit and wait for someone to show up. Two hours later the old pickup truck arrived with Carlos’ brother Juan at the wheel.
“Glad to see you,” I said.
‘No habla Ingles,” he said. He then rattled off a lot of Spanish. All I could do was shake my head.
“Water,” he said getting a tool kit out of the truck. I shook my head and led him to the bathrooms. When I turned the faucets of course nothing happened.
“Want water,” I said.
“Si Senorita,” he agreed then went out toward the road. He was looking for a master water knob to turn on. Of course I had no idea what he was doing at the time. I didn’t really know till the water began to flow.
Well I knew then that I had county water I also knew that most likely I had a septic system for waste. I went into the bathroom before he left and I flushed the toilet. Since it drained perfectly I was happy for the moment.
I left a note on the post in the front yard then went for coffee at the Crossroads Diner. They gave me one to drink and one to go. I put it in my stainless steel thermos. On the way back to the country store I stopped for some comet and sponges at a way overpriced convenience store a few miles down the road that was on the way to Roaring Gap.
When I returned I began cleaning the bathroom, while I waited for the electrician. He showed up and turned on the power but explained that the hole in the roof makes the electrical service dangerous. I promised him I would have it fixed first thing.
When Carlos came he had his son with him. While he and I did a walk through he took notes. He also sent his son to buy a tarp for the roof. By 2 PM the roof was as weather tight as possible without the repairs being completed.
“So let’s talk price,” I said.
“Very well, first of all can we work in the garage space while we are completing the repairs?” he asked.
“Yes I think that would be just fine,” I agreed.
“So first thing you want the roof repaired?” he asked.
“Yes and walls where the plywood covers the openings. At least the walls that were giant windows,” I said.
“Repair the structure and then new roof and walls of blocks will be five thousand dollars, if I buy the material. You can buy the materials and I charge you $150 per day, per man,” he said.
“How long will it take,” I asked.
“I will give you a list of materials, you have them stored inside. We will complete the project in one week or five working days if my brother and I do the work. If we bring in other men we can finish sooner.”
“I think I would prefer it be just you and your brother. So make me a list and I will purchase everything tomorrow, and call you when it is here,” I suggested.
He went to sit in his truck to make the list. The list came with a bill for one hundred dollars. Since I had heard the stories about plumbers and considering the roof tarp job as well, I felt it was fair. When he left it was almost dark. Since spring hadn’t arrived yet it I still had some time to work.
I immediately drove to the Home Depot in Roaring Gap. Once I arrived I found an old man in the commercial sales department. I handed him the list first then asked, “Will getting the things on that list together, then having them delivered tomorrow morning be a problem?” I asked.
“No Ma’am, I’m sure we can have it at the site before noon. That’s our guarantee anyway,” he replied.
“Okay let’s do it,” I agreed. “Would you point me to a stiff broom and the cleaning solvents while you total the bill?”
When I got to the cleaning supplies, I was surprised that I had filled the cart. It was full of things I hadn’t realized I needed until I saw them. After I paid for the materials and the cleaning supplies it came to over eight hundred dollars.
Once back at the site I began cleaning the walls and floor of the office area. I planned to make it my temporary bedroom. I didn’t finish until midnight. It appeared that the controller missed one thing at least. There was no cell phone coverage in the area of the country store. I would be out of touch with everyone till I arranged for a landline. I had given my cell phone number to the clerk at the store as well as Carlos.
The air bed and the plastic shoe box holder I had used for clothes storage in the Capitol City apartment fit in the office. There was little room left for anything else. I fell asleep almost instantly even thought the room smelled of bleach and cleanser. It helped that I was exhausted from all the cleaning.
The next morning I was up and running at 6 AM. Since it was cold as a mutha inside the country store, even with the electric ceramic furnace blasting away, there was no incentive to lay around in the cold bed. I ran for thirty minutes then got in the truck before I cooled down. I managed to get the heater working before I got a bad chill. I slowly warmed up as I drove to the Crossroads Diner. It was the only place to get breakfast within twenty miles, so I felt I had no choice.
The prison system must have been good at teaching inmates, because the breakfast was first rate. I ordered the Cell Block Six coffee and found it just as good as the day before. The scrambled eggs were cooked just a hair past the runny stage which made them soft and fluffy. I really enjoyed the meal and the five dollar price for everything was more than reasonable.
I got two cups of coffee to go. One in the Styrofoam cup and one in my stainless steel thermos. Then I drove back to the country store to see what I could do to warm it up.
I decided during the drive to limit the first renovation to a budget of $5,000. I had already spent about a thousand on materials. So I could only afford a few thousand in labor. I would have to learn to live with whatever I couldn’t afford to change.
The roof was the first thing to consider. It had to be repaired but did the shingles need to be replaced right away? The building was only 950 square feet, so it wasn’t large to begin with. The saving grace was the storage area above the bathroom and office. I could use it as a sleeping loft adding another 300 or so square feet to the building without any real cost.
So project one was to repair the structure of the roof and to return half the roofing material and replace just the rear half of the roof. I figured to save $500 at least on the labor and materials. In the grand scheme of things it wasn’t a lot but every little bit would help.
I knew that if I had a real life, I could have gotten a building loan, and then a mortgage for the required work. I also know that a loan approval for me was out of the question, and to even try would most likely be some kind of fraud. So I had ten grand max but I couldn’t be sure the State would deposit any more money in the account, so I set my limit at five thousand.
I changed plans. The blocks would really be needed in the office area where the window had been. Carlos would just have to block in the whole window. So much for aesthetics, I thought. I certainly hoped the place wasn’t going to end up looking like a bunker, but I couldn’t be sure about that.
I really needed a working shower. I just couldn’t compromise on that one thing. I explained the situation to Carlos along with the money problem. He agreed to return the roofing shingles and the fancy window. During the first day’s work he and his brother completed the roof and got into the removal of junk from the shop area. There was junk everywhere. I had no idea what the items were and didn’t care so long as they disappeared without costing me extra.
The little electric ceramic furnace the size of half a dozen paperback books stacked on one another kept me from freezing. It did not make the space anywhere near comfortable. I could manage it maybe one or two more days, but soon I would have to have a real heating system. I had some thinking to do about that.
After the roof and the windows were addressed on the first two days. I turned my attention to the spaces where overhead doors had hung. They were long gone and replaced by plywood covering those openings. I asked Carlos for inexpensive ideas. The best he could come up with was more concrete blocks.
That project took up most of the third day. Even washing in cold water couldn’t hide the fact that I reeked of body odor. On the fourth day we took on the shower problem. To solve it cheap they just knocked a hole in the wall between the two bathrooms and turned one into a shower stall. The drain in the floor had to be rerouted into the woods thirty feet from the country store. Carlos’s brother made short work of that. It worked fine after the drain was opened.
“Okay Carlos, why don’t I have any hot water?” I asked.
“Sometime in the past the heater broke down I expect. The owners at that time chose not to replace it. So now you will have to replace it,” he stated simply.
I had spent four thousand dollars to get to the point where I was. I needed some kind of heating system at least for the bathroom office area and with the sleeping loft above. While they were laying concrete blocks they had closed off the two doors and knocked holes in the wall of the office and the second bath. With a saws-all they had managed to square the hole for a door but I hadn’t bought it. The heating system and door were on my future to do list.
The plan was that someday I would turn that 24×24 shop with the thirty foot ceilings into a living room, but for now it would be a shop/storage area. The office would one day be a kitchen but now it served as a multipurpose room.
During the week I had managed to get a phone and internet service along with making the place almost livable. The largest thing I needed that late in the game was heat and hot water. I probably would have come up with something better, but since Church Camp the idea of wood for fuel had captured my imagination.
The internet gave me the information to make it happen. It came, from all places, a doomsday prepper site. It was pretty much what every luxury bunker needed. A wood heater that doubled as a hot water heater. I had no idea what the thermal footprint of the shit was. I just knew that I could heat water on demand so I had to plan when to shower. The thing had some pumps that moved the hot water through radiators and into the shower. I had no idea how it worked. I just knew that it had all kinds of testimonials.
I showed it to Carlos and he laughed. “I can get you one of these, but without all that complicated shit. I will use a fountain pump to move the hot water to the shower. We can cut a vent in the ceiling of the office and the hot air will rise into the sleeping loft. I can get the whole thing for a few hundred dollars. Let me check with the man who can make it.
That’s how I came to finally be comfortable in the country store/house after only three weeks. After everything was in place I began thinking about the next job. I wasn’t bored, but it was either work or find a hobby. I really wasn’t much of a reader so I checked with the controller.
I left a note in the revolving email account. If this is the second week in March, it must be the yahoo mail kind of thing. ‘So what is the plan? Do I work or play next?’ I asked in a draft.
The answer came the next day in the form of another draft. ‘If you are finished being a domestic goddess, we could use you in Port Charles. Unpack your dancing shoes and go to the Central Park in Roaring Gap tomorrow at noon. Be sure to lock up good.’