"Mm," he says.
"Ah, here it is," she says, and finds the key to the lockbox, and then opens the box, and removes the key to the front door. "The owners are up north," she says over her shoulder, "they also have a home in North Carolina." She inserts the key into the lock on the front door, twists the key, opens the door, turns to him, and says, "Please come in."
The view is truly breathtaking.
From just inside the front door, one can see through the living room to the sliding glass doors at the rear of the house, and beyond those doors to the wooden platforms that drop gradually from one to the other, down to the dock where a thirty-two-foot Seaward Eagle is moored to the pilings. Out over the bay, a squadron of central casting pelicans swoop low over the calm silent waters.
"Nice," Webb says.
"And you get this same magnificent view from every room in the house," she says.
"Was it a boating accident?" he asks.
"Yes," she says briefly, and leads him through the living room, past the fireplace...
"That's fossil stone," she says. "The chimney's been restored, with a new flue and top. The cedar floors are new, too, throughout the entire house."
"Out here on the Bay?" he asks.
"The Gulf," she says, again briefly, and opens one of the sliding doors. "All the windows and doors were replaced during the renovation, this hardware is all new," she says, and steps out onto the first of the platforms.
"The decks were all replaced and enlarged, too," she says. "Highest grade, clean-cut, dense dry wood and stainless steel screws..."
...and walks him down to the dock itself.
"Note the swimming pool and privacy garden just off the master bedroom," she says.
The Allenbys' power cruiser sits bobbing gently alongside the dock.
"The dock is new, forty feet long. It can hold one large and two small boats, or a second boat up to twenty feet. Dual 50 AMP service to the dock. Full access to the Gulf of Mexico, no bridges on the way."
"When did you start selling real estate?"
"Almost six months ago," she says.
"Lots of widows in the real estate game," he says.
"I hadn't noticed."
"Widows and divorcées. Keeps them busy, I suppose."
She wants to tell him that this is more than busywork, this is her way of starting a new life, her way of coping with the aftermath of her husband's senseless death, when her very existence was shattered...
She catches herself, looks out over the water.
"It's so utterly still here," she says.
She allows him to stand on the dock in silence for a while, savoring the solitude and the majestic view.
"Come," she says, "let me show you the rest of the house."
Inside again, she shows him the kitchen with its custom teak countertop and hand-built, hand-painted kitchen cabinets, its Miele and Thermador appliances...
"A water softener has been added to the entire house," she says, "and there's a new two-zone air-conditioning system with all new ducts. All the plumbing and plumbing hardware was replaced, too, including a new line to the street. There's a new irrigation system, a new well pump, a new shell driveway. In effect, you'd be getting a brand new house that just happens to be a historic landmark as well."
She takes him into the large room on the southern end of the house. From Frank Allenby's spacious desk, the view over the bay is spectacular.
"This is actually a second bedroom," she says, "it has its own private bath. But the Allenbys live here alone, so Frank uses it as an office."
"They say it takes a year," Webb says.
"I beg your pardon?"
"To get over a divorce or a death."
She says nothing.
"I've been divorced for nine months now. You suppose they're right?" he asks.
From Alice in Jeopardy, chapter 1, pages 3-23. Copyright © 2005 by Hui Corp. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher.
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