By Cindy and Walt
Both of the bait dogs were female Brittany Spaniels. They were also both Brown and white long hair beauties but very troubled with sad eyes. I adopted them both instantly. They were damaged ladies much like myself.
The first day they wouldn’t eat at all. The one I called Lady limped and the one I called Tramp was covered with scars. I wanted to cry every time I saw them. I didn’t even ask what the vet said about their injuries. I knew they were more damaged inside than outside. How I knew I didn’t understand, I just did.
“I wish ghost were real, I would hunt that bastard down in hell and make sure he suffered even more than his crimes called for,” Liam said.
“Too bad,” I said.
The second day they ate at the little food station I made for them in tool shed. I did that because they wanted to be totally alone. They wanted nothing, but to be left alone.
“Give them a few more days, then we will try to civilize them again,” Sterlin said.
“No, if they never want to come out, we won’t force them. They have had enough terror in their lives. Let them do whatever they want as long as they are not harming themselves,” I said.
“Rose, we have to be able to put a leash on them. They need to learn we are not the enemy. They need to learn that all people are not bad,” he said.
“Sterlin, we can’t teach that. They have to just see that we love them, unconditionally. They have to feel that. Then we can try to get them to interact with us. In the mean time, move their houses into the shed. Put a little dog bed inside the house. Something to ease the pain of Lady’s joint and something they can cuddle with,” I demanded.
“They only need one house. They sleep huddled together even on warm nights,” Sterlin said. His voice was gentle when he spoke about the dogs. Much more than when he spoke about people. I had the feeling he only tolerated people. I could certainly understand why he might feel that way.
To be honest Lady and Tramp kept me on the farm longer than I planned. I would have loved to take them on walks, but they didn’t seem interested in any of us. They kept to themselves.
Every morning since their first full day, I had brought them an egg biscuit from the Dairy Queen. I walked into the shed and sat on a small milking stool. I would have sat on the concrete floor, except Lady and Tramp were not house trained. They usually went outside but not always. After the first week they were curious enough about their surrounding to venture onto the grounds.
By the second week they walked along the fence line where the fighting dogs were constrained. The new kennels were complete, so only two of the huge Rottweilers roamed there. The spaniels almost seemed to be saying they forgave the Rotties. I know that is silly, but it seemed that way.
After a week Lady and Tramp came to the back of the cabin for their biscuit without being lured. I knew then that it was time I put my plans into action. I had the Williamston lawyer set up the finances to match the plan.
It was four weeks and one day after Sylvia’s wake when I called the two men into the cabin. “Well I see you have already returned Andrew’s travel trailer.”
“We moved out of it the week after the memorial service,” Steve Explained.
“Good let me explain something. I am going to move off the farm. I have three choices. One is to sell it to that mega farm corporation. The second is to stay here and run it from town, while you manage it Steve. The third option is to sell it to you two. So, would you be interested?” I asked.
“You know I don’t have that kind of money to buy this place,” Steve said.
“Me neither,” Sterlin said.
“Well I have a plan, I’m going to lease it to you. The big boys offered me five million.
I propose to hire you two until the next harvest. Then I propose leasing it to you for a percentage of the profits. You will have to pay it off before I sign it over to you. You will have no equity in the farm until it is all paid off. On the other hand, if you walk away, you owe nothing. You will have it in writing that as long as you are working the place, and paying the percentage you can’t be turned out,” I explained. “In other words the place will be yours from the first lease day. Run it anyway you want. I think I ran it efficiently, but if you can do better, more power to you.”
I added, “There is one condition. Those dogs we have here are to be cared for. Their food and other expenses are to be considered operating expenses. They will be deducted before we figure profit or lease payments. If you agree, I’ll have the contracts drawn,” I said.
“I can’t for the life of me see a downside to this,” Sterlin said.
“Remember this, you accumulate no equity until the five mil is paid in full. If one of you walks away, then the other one gets his share of the equity. You two are going to have to get along for this to work. You will have to work together,” I said. I knew it would do them good to be forced to work together. Each understood the night terrors of the other one. They had the land and the dogs to help them work through their fears. I should work, I thought.
“Have your shyster draw the papers,” Sterlin said looking at Steve who nodded.
“Good, I will be a tenant on the farm till I get a place to go. I’m going to stay in Mossberg, I just don’t know exactly where. I will arrange for the lawyer to count a reasonable rent toward your five million.
If Mossberg had a town square there would be four blocks on it. The tea factory on one side, the three semi attached buildings were across from the tea factory. A block of three attached building on a third and a vacant lot on the forth.
However there was no square, so the Tea Factory and the vacant lot were on the north side of the main street. On the south side of the street sat the building I renovated. Running beside that building was an alley then two attached buildings. One of those building was the Cafe. The old timers said it had always been a Cafe. Beside the Cafe was a two story building of about the same size and age. Since Bart and I did our things to the downtown the owner decided to covert it to indoor storage areas. He had installed fences of chain link and a security system including a code lock on the outside of the front door.
Across the street that paralleled with the river, and cut through main street, sat the forth block. It contained three attached buildings with a half block of parking on the river side. The river was two more blocks away from downtown. On those blocks were smaller businesses in much smaller and newer buildings.
You guessed it I bought the last empty block. I got the three rundown building and the parking lot for seventy five thousand cash. I think I was paying seventy four thousand for the building and one thousand for the parking lot. Since there was almost no downtown traffic, the parking lot had no real value to me. The building had on street parking, so I could have done without the parking lot. I guess the owner figured it was his only chance to dump it on some fool, so he bundled it with the buildings.
I bought it knowing full well that the real money would be in renovating the buildings. The buildings had been occupied by different offices over the years so they were in different stages of deterioration.
The corner building had last been a variety store or thrift shop nobody knew quite what to call it. The center building had been home to the small county newspaper. Then it had been the office of the phone co-op, and finally a land survey office and storage facility. The building on the parking lot side was in the worst condition of the three. It had been some kind of small hometown bank, then just sat empty for years. It had been rented out now and then as a temporary headquarters for everything from a national produce buyer, to a State Representative’s campaign office.
First of all I hired a structural engineer to inspect the building. He informed me, “They just don’t build them like this any more and it’s a damn good thing. The foundation is solid but the mechanicals are shot all to hell. The Elevator is toast and the roof structure is still solid, but the deck and all the roofing is going to have to come down on all three buildings.”
“Of course your windows are a mess but they probably can be re-caulked and painted. The wooden trim seems solid but there is no guarantee. It looks like the owner took some steps to protect his investment but not enough.” That was the engineer’s verdict.
“So securing that roof is the first thing to do?” I asked.
“Yeah then get the electrical redone so you can work on the buildings. I would say after that you have time to make good decisions on how you want to spend your half million bucks,” he said.
“God, I hope you are quoting Mobile prices,” I said.
“Good luck with this thing. It is definitely worth bringing back to life,” the engineer suggested.
After he left I walked the three blocks to the river and gave it some thought. I decided I would replace all the roofing material at one time. Then once I had stabilized them I would work on one building at a time.
I sat by the water to call the only three roofers in my online phone book. I also called the man who six years before had worked on the tea factory’s roof. Only the man who replaced the roof on the factory showed any real interest. He was interested because we had a history. He knew I paid in cash and on time. That brought him over on the third day.
“So take a good look at that roof. I want you to give me a price for the work on the combined roof repair. Tell me what it needs and then what you will charge me to fix it right,” I said.
It was Friday before he got back to me but he did one more thing for me. He told me where I could get someone to remove the elevators for the parts. Rehabilitating an old building is like a spider web. Every crew knows another crew. Sometimes that second crew is good, sometimes not so much.
“So you got two elevators, I guess the last building didn’t want an elevator,” he said. “Okay we can take the elevator cage out and the motor. Those are about the only things of value. The cables are good but worthless. We can’t removed the rails, they are part of the building’s structure. The elevator is on the first floor now. We can dismantle it where it sits. We can also take the doors out. Let me make a suggestion. If you are sure you don’t want the expense and hassle of an elevator. I can rig it so that you have a dumb waiter in both buildings. You will be able to load heavy or awkward stuff on the dumb waiter then go up upstairs and call the dumb waiter. Since lives aren’t involved, they aren’t so complicated.”
“I’ll have to think about it. So what kind of price are we looking at here?” I asked.
“Just to remove the two elevators and leave you with the holes, I will do it for the scrap metal. It will take me a couple of days is all. For the other, ten grand to install the dumb waiters. You will still have to enclose the shaft and add some kind of door.” he suggested.
“Let me get a general contractor hired and I’ll get back to you,” I said. Between running down prices, I worked on the farm, and worked with Lady and Tramp. I ran into town everyday to check on the roof during that second week I owned the buildings. By then Lady and Tramp had both learned on their own to ride in the truck with me. They were still very nervous and shy but they loved riding in the truck. I had to take them everywhere.
Sterlin and I had been able to teach them to go outside to do their thing. It had taken the better part of a month and some serious persuasion but Sterlin slowly cut off access to the sheds and to our living areas. He had them moved to their house where he had some control over them. Dogs do not do their business where they sleep unless they just can’t get outside. He had to change their thinking so that outside was outside of all buildings.
“The Rotties learned outside was outside their houses, but still in the run or the no man’s land run. They weren’t much trouble at all. Lady and Tramp were still miles behind the Rotties in socializing. We didn’t really care how the Rotties progressed. We just wanted to be sure they had enough food water and exercise. Otherwise they were just left to wander their zones.
Sterlin worked to rehabilitate Lady and Tramp. He was really good at what he did. It was his first time working with damaged animals, but he did well with them. I pretty much stopped worrying about him. He seemed to know what he wanted to do with his future.
The three of us all worked together in the greenhouses. “You really need to start thinking about some more labor. You need help when I’m gone and Sterlin is busy with the dogs,” I said to Steve. So start talking to Miss Sadie about some of her kin,” I suggested. That conversation happened even before the work on the first building was started in earnest.
Once the roofer tore the roofing materials off, he told me he could patch the old deck. It wouldn’t have to come off after all. I told him to hold on I wanted to see it. Once I saw what he meant, I agreed. He would rip out most of the deck around the chimney and then some around the plumbing vents. We also agreed he would remove the elevator access point and plywood over it.
I agreed to allow the use of exterior grade oriented strand board. I had seen the boards used everywhere but thought of them as pure crap. However he assured me it would do the job, so long as he used the exterior grade. We weren’t in a snow load area so that the strength of the boards weren’t an issue.
While he worked I carried Lady and Tramp to the boat launch by the fisherman’s cabin to run. They ran and played after we all ate hamburgers from the Dairy Queen. It was the only fast food restaurant nearer to Mossberg than Williamston.
When we arrived back at the compound, they went to take a nap while I helped Steve. Sterlin was cleaning up after his dogs. He did that after each of their morning meal.
Steve and I discovered early on that Sterlin was a half ass mechanic, which was way better than ether of us. He managed to keep the farm equipment working most of the time.
I was in the middle of pulling the misting machine through the houses when I got a cell phone call. “Steve there is an electrician at the downtown project. I have to go meet him,” I said.
“Okay I was going to apply the fertilizer to the beds, but I can handle that later. I need to mist that last house first,” Steve said.
“Listen when you get the misting done just come on downtown and meet with Miss Sadie. She will meet us at the diner, if it means a job for one of her kinfolk. Besides she owes me after that Hannah fiasco,” I said.
The electrician agreed to do all three buildings for the price of two individual ones if I let him do them at the same time. So I agreed to pay him on completion. By the end of that third week of renovation I should have the wiring done, I thought. As I had done before I went with the outside the wall conduit industrial look wiring. The small amount of existing overhead wiring would stay. Those boxes would be used for ceiling fans. They still had the old style pull cord switches and would never pass code as lights. But for some reason ceiling fans with the pull cord switches were acceptable. It was stupid but it worked for me.
Steve arrived right in the middle of the negotiations, so I sent him ahead to the diner while I called Miss Sadie. I told her Steve was waiting in the diner, but if she wanted to wait for me I would go there from the meeting. I also explained that I was in the meeting with the electrician.
It took another twenty minutes for me to cover everything, but Miss Sadie and Steve went ahead without me. When I entered the Cafe, they were all smiles. “Either this went well or you are both excellent actors,” I said.
“Miss Sadie suggested that she send three of her family members over. We agreed that I would pick the one I liked best,” Steve said smiling.
“I know that they can’t have anything questionable in their past, but I still want you to check them out. I was so embarrassed by the Hannah thing,” Miss Sadie suggested.
“It wasn’t your fault that she fell for the fake friends. We have all had people who wanted to use us. We really want to believe it’s us that they are interested in and not what we can do for them. It’s a hard lesson to learn, but we do eventually learn it, or not.”
I spent the next month working with Lady and Tramp as well as with Steve and Sterlin. During that month the whole block was stabilized and the unit known as unit one was completed. It was going to have three large loft spaces. The building was narrow. It was only twenty four feet wide but it was sixty feet long. The plan was to make me a third floor dwelling but leave the rest of the units just roughed in.
I made a drawing and floor plan of what I wanted. Since I was something of an artist, I was able to convey what it was that I wanted. It took most of the month for the workmen to get it more or less constructed on the top floor of the building. It still needed to be painted and the built in cabinets finished but it had all the bones in place. At that stage I had two hundred and fifty thousand in the project.
The working dumb waiter was in place at the front of the building. It would make moving some things easier but not furniture. The workers had used it for hoisting pant cans and dry wall cement.
After another month I was ready to move in. Lady and Tramp had become lap dogs and hung out in the house most of the time. I took them out for walks four times a day. Living on the third floor was going to present some real issues but some things were worth the effort. My contractor closed off the lower floor’s doors, so that only my door was attached to the stairway.
Then the fence man came in and enclosed the parking lot. A couple of electric locks and a couple of servo motors meant the dogs could go out without me. They could go no further than the parking lot, but it was something.
I’m sure the town’s residents thought I was quite mad when the landscape trucks pulled into the parking lot beside my building. The laborers began to lay top soil and a drainage system. They also rolled sod over the 30 x 40 play yard for Lady and Tramp. I suppose one had to be quite mad to spend eight thousand on a doggy playground. Hell I didn’t and never would have a real family, so they were my family. The dog park was the last thing to be done. It also ran the cost of the project past three hundred thousand dollars. The good news was I had at least two more units in the building where I lived. Those could be finished for twenty five thousand each. If I were in New York they would be worth a minimum of two million in a good neighborhood. Alas we weren’t even located in the two hundred thousand area of Mobile.
The only possible decision was to go with making the remainder of the building small efficiency units. Those would be twenty four by thirty. There would be a Juliet balcony with a fire ladder to the ground. The rear exit belonged to Lady and Tramp and that was that.
I would ask for nine hundred a month rent on each unit or sell them for one hundred thousand each. When I moved in people thought for sure it was a white elephant. Fortunately the costs weren’t going to bury me. I didn’t expect to sell any, but thought I might rent a few.
The first harvest the boys ran alone came up. I went with them to introduce them to the USDA guys. Everything went just as it always did. The guys got to see the paperwork needed to make the sale.
When it was all over we went to lunch. Okay guys, that is what you can expect to make per harvest. Roughly two hundred K a harvest four times a year. But remember there are expenses. About twenty five K per harvest at least. For me this one is going to be fifty K because I’m paying you a bonus as well as the usual salary. Beginning with the next harvest, I get half the net profit until it is paid off. But when it is, the money is all yours.
I still had money in the bank, a lot of money. Still I used the payoff from that harvest to finish the building’s renovations.
Buy the time the guys got their first harvest as lease to own proprietors, I was settled in. The construction of the other four units was complete. Lady and Tramp were settled in as well.
We were on a schedule. I woke at 5 AM and threw them out the back door. I left the downstairs door open while I went to breakfast. I usually met Bart, Steve and Sterlin for breakfast. When I got back, I divided the biscuit I brought back between the two dogs.
After breakfast I let them out again to finish doing their business while I showered and dressed. When a woman says she is getting dressed, it doesn’t stop with clothing. There is a whole other ritual involved. After all the rest of the time and effort spent making myself ready to greet the day. I brushed my hair, something which only recently became necessary. My buzz cut had slowly been replaced by a short page boy cut, then a long page boy style and finally by the time I moved back downtown it was a short shaggy looking thing. So when the two dogs were allowed back in the house, I was ready to greet the world, if it came to my door.