It didn't say anything about this potential problem with the yard in the advertisement. Cassie looked down and read it again.
BRING ALL OFFERS!
1931 Classic Calif. Craftsman
2/2, spacious living/dining, huge wooded lot.
Highly motivated and anxious!
Reduced and priced to sell!
Cassie had noticed the for sale sign on the property during a routine drive-by three weeks earlier. The sighting had thrown her life into turmoil, which was manifested in insomnia and inattention at work. She had not sold a single car in the three weeks, her longest absence ever from the sales tote board.
Today's showing was the first open house as far as she knew. So the wording of the ad struck her as curious. She wondered why the owners would be so anxious to sell that they would already have reduced the price after only three weeks on the market. That did not seem right.
Three minutes after the open house was scheduled to begin, a car Cassie didn't recognize, a maroon Volvo sedan, pulled into the driveway and stopped. A slim, blond woman in her mid forties got out. She was casually but neatly dressed. She opened the trunk of her car and removed an open house sign, which she carried toward the curb. Cassie checked her hair in the visor mirror, reached to the back of her head and pulled the wig down tight on her scalp. She got out of the Porsche and approached the woman as she set up the sign.
"Are you Laura LeValley?" Cassie asked, reading the name off the bottom of the for sale sign.
"I sure am. Are you here to look at the house?"
"Yes, I'd like to."
"Well, let me open it up and we'll go from there. Nice car you've got there. Brand new?"
She pointed to the dealer blank in the front license plate holder of the Porsche. Cassie had taken the plates off in the garage at her home before driving to the open house. It was just a precaution. She wasn't sure if brokers took down plate numbers as a means of tracing leads or backgrounding potential buyers. She didn't want to be traced. It was the same reason she was wearing the wig.
"Uh, yes," she said. "New to me but used. It's a year old."
The Boxster looked pristine from the outside but was actually a repo with almost thirty thousand miles on it, a convertible top that leaked and a CD player that habitually skipped when the car hit the slightest bump in the road. Cassie's boss, Ray Morales, was letting her use it while he dealt with the owner, allowing the guy until the end of the month to come up with the money before putting the car onto the lot. Cassie expected that they would never see a dime from the guy. He was a deadbeat through and through. She'd looked at the package. He'd made the first six payments, late every time, and then skated on the next six. Ray had made the mistake of taking the guy's paper after he'd gotten no takers from the outside loan companies. That was the tip-off right there. But the guy had talked Ray into taking the paper and turning over the keys. It really bugged Ray that he had been beaten. He'd personally gone out on the rig when they hooked up the Boxster outside the deadbeat's hillside box overlooking Sunset Plaza.
The real estate woman went back to her car and removed a briefcase, then led Cassie up the stone walkway to the front porch.
"Are the owners going to be home?" Cassie asked.
"No, it's better when no one's home. Then people can look where they want, say what they want. No hurt feelings. You know, people's tastes are different. One person will think something is gorgeous. Somebody else will call it hideous."
Cassie smiled to be polite. They got to the front door and LeValley removed a small white envelope from her briefcase and took out a key. As she opened the door she continued the patter.
"Are you being represented by a broker?"
© 1999 by Michael Connelly
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