Vision in Silver Page 32

In the compound, she had been battered and abused in almost every way one person could abuse another. He’d heard, in confidence from one of the island’s doctors, that she had a crosshatching of scars over several parts of her body and, in some places, layers of scar tissue.

Was she sane? No one wanted to make a diagnosis one way or the other. As long as she wasn’t a threat to the Gardners, the doctors and the terra indigene were willing to let her stay in the guest cottage.

Steve held up the camera. “Start of a new life, Jean, and a way to live outside again. Ready to try?”

She pushed away from the table. “I’m ready.” She paused. “And while you take the pictures out there, I will write a short note to Meg.”

CHAPTER 13

Firesday, Maius 11

“The two apartment buildings are in pretty good shape,” Pete Denby said, sitting at one of the tables in A Little Bite. “Eve says all the apartments need sprucing up—fresh paint and wallpaper, that sort of thing.”

“Nothing the new tenants couldn’t do for themselves,” Eve said. “You might want to hire a professional to check out the buildings, but we didn’t see any structural problems.”

“Then why sell the buildings?” Simon asked. Elliot, Tess, Henry, and Vlad had joined him in the coffee shop to hear the Denbys’ report. Since she was a member of the Business Association, he’d told Jenni Crowgard about this meeting, but she’d expressed no interest in joining them. That troubled him a little, but hearing about something wasn’t the same as having the opportunity to poke around someplace new, so maybe it was all the blah, blah that wasn’t of interest to the Crows.

“Lack of tenants,” Pete said. “The current owner of the buildings is behind on the mortgage payments because he’s not getting the rental income he needs. Each building has four two-bedroom apartments. Only half those units are occupied now, and all the tenants will be out by the end of the month, with no new ones moving in.”

“The owner and the real estate representative didn’t put it in quite those terms,” Eve said. “They talked about potential and a clean sweep—new landlord, new tenants. They were very careful not to say why tenants didn’t stay. Like I said, Pete and I didn’t see any sign of insect infestation or water damage or any structural reason why people wouldn’t want to live in those apartments.”

“Mayor Rogers told me the other day that there was a housing shortage in Lakeside,” Elliot said. “If that’s true, why are acceptable dens still empty?”

Pete looked uncomfortable. “Location.”

“Meaning the humans suddenly object to living so close to the Courtyard?” Vlad asked with chilling politeness.

“The real estate representative didn’t say that,” Eve said. She glanced at Pete. “But we both had the impression that was the reason the apartments hadn’t been filled when the previous tenants moved out at the end of last year—and why the existing tenants are leaving.”

Pete removed a piece of paper from his inner jacket pocket. “This is the asking price for each building. We did inquire about property taxes and the average cost of utilities. I think we were being told optimistic numbers.”

“More like numbers based on having two apartments in use in each building, and none of the tenants having children,” Eve said. “I’d double the figures for utilities for each building, minimum.”

“When asked, I told the owner that I was the attorney representing a business association that was looking at the buildings for an investment and income property,” Pete said. “One question I couldn’t answer was how my client intended to pay for the property.”

Simon frowned. “We give them money. They give us the papers that say we own the buildings. How else would we pay for it?” Did Pete think they would just take what wasn’t theirs? The Others in the Courtyard weren’t that human, no matter how well they could assume the form.

Then again, even animals fought among themselves to hold on to, or acquire more, territory.

“They were asking how you were going to finance the purchase,” Pete said. “Can the terra indigene get a mortgage from a bank?”

“Why would we want this mortgage when we have money?” Henry asked.

“Cash? You’re thinking of paying cash for both buildings?” Pete blinked. “Do you understand the asking price?”

Simon studied Pete and decided the man wasn’t trying to insult his education. “The city of Lakeside and all the farms that support it stand on land that is leased from the terra indigene through the Lakeside Courtyard. A quarter of the rent is due each season. We don’t need this mortgage thing. We have money.”

Eve stared at him.

Pete gave him an odd smile. “The land for a small town, like the one Eve and I lived in before coming here, is leased as a whole. The boundaries are set before the population grows to fill it, and the lease on all that land expires at the same time. But a city like Lakeside would have grown by parcels. Whether you call it willful optimism or a desire not to call attention to a basic truth, I don’t think the government ever negotiated with the terra indigene to consolidate those leases. Which means the land leases for different parts of Lakeside come up for renewal at different times.”

“Yes, they do,” Simon agreed.

Eve looked at Pete, then at Simon. “So what would happen if you didn’t renew the lease?”

“Humans would have to move off the reclaimed land,” Simon replied. “Just like the humans who had to leave the village of Jerzy when it was reclaimed by the terra indigene who take care of the West Coast Region.”

“Then all you have to do is wait for the lease to expire on the lots across the street. Once you reclaim the land, no one could live in those buildings without your permission,” Pete said.

“What you say is true,” Henry agreed. “But the land lease that includes those lots doesn’t expire for a few more years, and Ruthie and Kowalski need a place to live now. Since the buildings are for sale, we have decided to do this the human way and purchase them.”

“In that case, you should know that the woman who lives in the double between the other two buildings asked if my client would be interested in buying her house too,” Pete said. “Eve took a quick look while I kept the apartment owner occupied.”

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