By Inanna Arthen
"Glad you could meet me out here,
, on such short notice and all." Sandy
Sandra, she thought as she shook Jim Stefanos' soft fleshy hand. His skin was cool and moist despite the buttoned Armani suit jacket, but his grip was so tight, the two heavy rings he wore hurt her fingers. He didn't notice--he was surveying the field sloping away from them, its tall grass paper dry and brown from the summer's heat.
"Oh, I'm very happy to do anything I can to accommodate you, Mr. Stefanos."
"I know. You've been a doll. I wish every agent I worked with was like you. Women realtors, you know, they're usually just slumming to pay for their manicures, not pros like you. 'Course, you've been at this a while."
Only long practice kept her smile from curdling at the edges. "You said you wanted to see the barn?" He started walking along the graveled drive past the farmhouse and she quick-stepped to keep up with him, thankful that she'd changed into low heels. She was damned if she was going to walk even one foot behind him.
"Right. I just wanted to take a look at it, the architect has some ideas. Could add some authenticity to the complex, you know, if the barn could be renovated, made over, club house, something like that, people love that kind of atmosphere."
The large barn seemed better maintained than the house, although both buildings badly needed paint jobs. Crickets trilled from the riding ring and paddock, neither badly overgrown. More agile than his physique suggested, Stefanos hauled open the rumbling barn door.
"This should be locked up, kids and everything..." he walked inside, his sharp glances snapping mental images. Sandra could see his expression register each shot: no dry rot, rafters good, lots of space, roof iffy, better check that second level, is that old fire damage up there?
"I think Mr. Donovan is still moving things out. You see the windows and loft hatch are all shuttered."
"When'd he vacate?" Stefanos stopped in the geometrical center of the central barn space, hands on his hips, turning to take in the stall doors, some of them scalloped with crib marks, the broad planked flooring, an end wall covered with empty wooden pegs.
"Monday, but he has until tomorrow to give me the keys."
Stefanos grunted. Sandra waited in silence as he studied the barn for a minute or so longer. The stuffy warm air was heavy with the smell of dry manure, unfinished wood and old leather.
"Okay. I've seen enough. Looks good." Stefanos strode out the door and pulled it shut almost on Sandra's heels. "He had animals, didn't he?"
"One or two horses, I think. He wasn't a farmer, he worked for a big company in
, until 2008." Worcester
Stefanos shook his head. "Man. I'd hate to be trying to unload those in this climate. Friend of mine has been trying to sell his sailboat for eighteen months. Not even a nibble. It's not the boat, it's the mooring, you know? You can't even give 'em away. Of course, there are always solutions, but not the kind you'd--"
They both stopped as they topped the rise and came in sight of the pull-in by the house, where a third car now stood. Stefanos cleared his throat uncomfortably as the car's owner emerged from the screened back porch.
"Mr. Donovan." Sandra's voice was so bright, the dazzling July sunlight ticked up a notch. "I'm so sorry, if I'd had any idea you'd be here, I would have called to let you know that--"
"Forget it," Donovan said mildly. "I just remembered something I forgot to pick up." He raised a large paper bag slightly. "You must be..."
"This is Jim Stefanos, the developer."
"Of course." Donovan walked over and shook hands. "Pleased to meet you in person. You've cut a very generous deal, Mr. Stefanos, I appreciate it."
"Well, it's a beautiful property. We're doing a cluster, you know, preserving the open space, it'll hardly change at all. Think we might turn that barn into club house. You've really kept it up." Donovan just nodded, his eyes distant. Sandra glanced down at his sneakers and noticed, mortified, that one of them had a hole in the toe. She fervently hoped that he only looked homeless.
"You had horses,
"Oh. Yeah. Couple of them. They were getting pretty old. My girls used to ride a lot, but they're both married now, and...well, thought the grandkids might enjoy them someday, but..." he shrugged. "That's the way it goes." He looked at Sandra, who inwardly flinched. "Here, take the keys, saves me a trip to your office tomorrow." She took them, angry with herself that her hands were shaking.
Stefanos wore a studious mask of sympathy. "That's rough. Chapter 7, wasn't it? Nothing to be ashamed of, lot of people in the same situation--some good friends of mine, in fact." Donovan just nodded again. "Well, I hope things turn around for you, Donovan. By the way...what did you do with the horses? One of your girls take them?"
Sandra caught her breath. Donovan looked at Stefanos soberly for a few moments. Then he turned his back on the pair and walked to his car without answering.
This story had me in tears, so I didn't want to preface it with anything. Many thanks to Inanna Arthen, author of Mortal Touch and The Longer the Fall, for the moving piece that affects so many horse owners now.
A fervent student of vampire folklore, media and culture since the 1960s, Inanna's non-fiction articles have been cited by countless websites and numerous scholarly books. Her contemporary fantasy series, The Vampires of New England, began with Mortal Touch in 2007 and continues with The Longer the Fall, released in June, 2010. A trained actor, speaker and artist, Inanna is a member of Broad Universe and New England Horror Writers and a contributing writer for Blogcritics.org. For more information about her activities, go to inannaarthen.com.
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