"No. I'm just kind of in the looking stage at the moment."
"Well, it helps to know what's on the market. Are you currently in ownership?"
"Do you own now? Are you selling?"
"Oh. No, I rent. I'm looking to buy. Something small like this."
LeValley opened the door and called out a hello just to make sure no one was home. When there was no answer, she waved Cassie in first.
"Then this should be perfect. It's just two bedrooms but the living spaces are large and very open. I think it's just darling. You'll see."
They walked into the house and LeValley put her briefcase down. She then offered her hand and introduced herself again.
"Karen Palty," Cassie lied as she shook the broker's hand.
LeValley gave a quick description of the attributes and assets of the house. From her briefcase she took out a stack of printed fliers containing information on the house and gave Cassie one as she talked. Cassie nodded occasionally but was barely listening. Instead she was intensely scrutinizing the furnishings and the other belongings of the family who lived in the house. She stole long glances at the photos on the walls and on tables and chests. LeValley told her to go ahead and browse while she set up the sign-in sheet and information packets on the dining room table.
The house was very neatly kept and Cassie wondered how much of that was due to the fact that it was being shown to potential buyers. She moved into a short hallway and then up the stairs that led to two bedrooms and bathroom above. She stepped a few feet into the master bedroom and looked around. The room had a large bay window that looked out on the steep rock hillside at the rear of the house. LeValley called from below, seemingly knowing exactly what Cassie was looking at and thinking.
"Mudslides are not a problem. The hillside out there is extruded granite. It's probably been there for ten thousand years and, believe me, it's not going anywhere. But if you are seriously interested in the property, I would suggest you get a geological survey done. If you buy it, it will help you sleep better at night."
"Good idea," Cassie called down.
Cassie had seen enough. She stepped out of the room and crossed the hall to the child's bedroom. This room, too, was neat but cluttered with collections of stuffed animals, Barbie dolls and other toys. There was a drawing easel in one corner holding a crayon drawing of a school bus with several stick figures in the window. The bus had pulled up to a building where a red truck was parked in a garage. A firehouse. The girl was a good artist.
Cassie checked the hall to make sure LeValley had not come up and then stepped over to the easel. She flipped over some of the pages containing prior drawings. One drawing depicted a house with a large green lawn in front of it. There was a for sale sign at the front of the house and a stick figure of a girl stood next to it. A bubble coming from the girl's mouth said Boo Hoo. Cassie studied it for a long time before breaking away and looking around the rest of the room.
On the left wall there was a framed movie poster for an animated film called The Little Mermaid. There were also large wooden letters spelling the name JODIE SHAW, each letter painted a different color of the rainbow. Cassie stood in the middle of the room and silently tried to take it all in and commit it to memory. Her eyes fell on a photo which stood in a small frame on the girl's white bureau. It showed a smiling girl standing with Mickey Mouse amidst a crowd at Disneyland.
"Their daughter's room."
Cassie almost jumped at the voice behind her.
She turned. Laura LeValley stood in the doorway. Cassie had not heard her on the steps. She wondered if the broker had been suspicious of her and intentionally sneaked up the stairs to catch her stealing or doing something else.
© 1999 by Michael Connelly
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