Chelsea Green Publishing - the leading publisher of sustainable living books since 1985.


Spring was late, and so was he. An unusually warm day made Tom Johnson not in the mood to hurry on his way to an appointment that Betsy Morelle lined up with a real estate salesman, or woman.
Betsy is some woman, thought Tom. All the right stuff to make an old dog like me sit up and take notice. "Arf, arf." Tom startled himself with the outward show of feelings.
Back into his silent reverie, Good thing no one heard me or I’d have to do a whole lot of explaining. Glancing at his stereo clock he fumbled inside his light tan blazer for the piece of wrinkled paper with the directions written on it.

see old paragraph

"Hello, Betsy," Sally Morris answered the phone in less than cordial tones. "Best friends tend to press in with business, especially when you're my boss. Sally flounced into a sitting position. "Never mind that you upset the neat order of goofing off I had arranged to nurse my bad case of spring fever."
Pouting lips emphasized her reluctance to leave the lounger in her most comfortable, sunny spot.
"I know I’m being lazy, Betsy, but I’m not supposed to have to work today," The pout threatened to be a storm. “And you said that Mr. Johnson didn’t want to see the house until tomorrow.” Sally scratched at the sweatband circling her tawny head of light brown hair.
“Ok, this afternoon I will go out and open the house to air it out and I will make sure the driveway is clear. Okay?” Sally snatched the headband off her head and slapped the telephone.
“Don’t worry! I will take care of Mr. Johnson,” she said, slamming the receiver down on the phone.

Betsy Morelle hung up the phone. The old property outside of town would be the ticket for the first sale of the year for Sally, she thought.

She startled at the jangling phone on her desk. Answering she went into her sales pitch. "Don't be alone without your own home! And how may I help you today?"

"Oh, hi, mom. I was just talking to Sally. You know I have a soft spot for my dear friend who is on her own for the first time in her life."
"Yes, that old Smith house will need enough work to involve Tom and interest Sally. Could be the two of them would have enough in common to hit it off.
"Nooo, mom. I'm not matchmaking. Just getting two nice people together."
"What did you call about?" Betsy arranged the real estate contracts on her desk.
"No, I hadn't heard that Larry is missing." Betsy stood up. "Who saw him last?"
Betsy paced a couple steps. "When did he go out there?"
Cutting her mother off, she ended the conversation.
"I really have to get busy, but I will let you know, if Sally sees him," Betsy searched on her desk among the papers.
"Talk to you later. By for now. Hugs."

Larry turned into the Smith house drive and slammed into an abrupt stop.
"Whoa, where'd that come from?," he exclaimed. "Good thing I keep a chain saw in the back!" He shut down the utility van and stepped out.
The small tree, broken limbs and shattered trunk, blocked his view of the house. "Glad I got here before Sally," he muttered. After about thirty minutes he had the drive cleared.
"Now, let's see what's up with this house," he said, starting up the truck.

Drooping willow branches hung over the litter strewn winding drive. Johnson followed a set of tracks over broken branches, crumpled trash and drifts of dead leaves. He moved forward slowly to avoid scraping the brown paint off his nearly classic Ford. Through the tangled bushes and trees, he got his first glimpse of his ‘dream’ home.
Betsy has a real sense of humor, he thought. Then he saw the tracks ended at a sleek red sports car with the top down.
"Hello?," he said. "And who owns the heat and air van?" Johnson stopped his car short. Slapping on the horn, he blasted the ears of anyone within miles of the old house. It appears no one is here. Johnson opened the Ford’s door, got out, took his jacket off and threw it in the seat. "Too dastardly hot out here! I would need some heat and air for this house." Then he went in search for the driver of the little red sports car.

“Yo, anybody here?” He tilted his head and listened for a response. All quiet except for a blue jay scolding him. Johnson stepped forward on the thick carpet of damp leaves to find a way into the house. The missing driver left a trail of piled branches Tom crunched and stumbled over walking into the carport. “Hey, are you guys cleaning up?”, he shouted. “Where are you?”

“I am in here!” A weak reply sounded from the back door halfway open. Musty algae and other smells hit his nostrils when Tom pried the door open to enter the kitchen. “Gag a maggot,” he said, stepping over decaying material of unknown origin. “Where did you say you are?” Tom ducked hanging ceiling pieces looking for a door out of the kitchen.

“Come into the living room!”

“Easy for you to say.” Tom found the old oak door with stained facing and tarnished fittings. He turned the brass knob and pushed. It opened easier than expected and he burst into the next room sliding on the damp carpet.
“Hold it or you’ll fall!” Sally grabbed at his shoulder and hit him in the nose.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I mean …excuse me.” Sally stammered.

“Are you the one Betsy sent to show me this house?” Tom Johnson roared. “Where did she have to go to find you two?” He did not go on, but stepped back a couple steps to regroup.
“Never in my life will I do this. No, no, thank you.” He swung around to the kitchen door. It closed behind him and he couldn’t turn the knob to reopen it.

“I know what you mean. Please settle down.” Sally stood in front of him calmly. Tom caught his breath and it wasn’t because of his slide. She shimmered in the dimness of the room. Ummm, old man. What is this?, he thought. “What is your name?”, he asked sounding too much like the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood.

"My name is Sally Morris." She put her hand toward Tom. He took it in his big hand. “Betsy Morelle sent me. She is my boss, technically. I am a real estate associate with her company.” Her hand was moist and cold.

“Glad to meet you.” He didn’t loosen his grip. “Why did Betsy pick this crummy house for me? She knows better.” Tom moved closer to check out Sally’s wide open blue eyes and cascading blond hair. He moved her around looking at all points of her tailored business suit. She shook loose from his grip.

“Mr. Johnson, I presume.” She tried to open the door. “Ms. Morelle sent me to show you this house. But I can’t because I can’t get out of this room.” She paced few steps toward the living room and back. “Vines and stuff have grown over the windows and the what used to be the carpet squishes,” she said looking down at her mold covered shoes. “Slime covers everything.”

Tom patted his hip as if searching for something. “Nuts. I left my flip phone in my jacket. We could have help, but no phone, unless you have one somewhere.” His face lit up in hope.

“Forget it, Big Guy. My purse is in my car along with my phone, and tools.” She pointed at the kitchen door, “If I had my pocket knife, I could get out of here.”

"Where's the guy, Larry, with the heat and air truck? He could get us out of here!"

"I haven't seen him. When I came in the door was like you saw it. I thought I heard a big burp echo from the air conditioning ducts," she said wringing her hands. "Larry was always playing tricks, so I hollered at him to stop," Sally starts to cry.

"Oh, no, you don't." Tom wasn't consoling. "Did you see his tool box anywhere? Maybe he stepped out back for a smoke!"

"Larry does not smoke! I found his hat in the corner, just laying there like he threw it down!"

"Ok, calm down." Tom had to get a grip on himself, before he said anymore.

Page Two

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