For a while it felt like it would never happen.
And when I realize that I published Buyer's Remorse: A Mitzy Neuhaus Mystery TWO years ago, it almost did never happen!
But here it is: Frozen Assets! The long awaited fourth Mitzy Neuhaus Mystery!
Mitzy crossed the living room in five steps, again. “This house is really small.”
“Umm hmm.” Alonzo sat in his leather recliner, watching football on his twenty-year-old projection TV. The cords from his high-def conversion box, VCR, Internet streaming box, Blu-ray, and equally ancient surround sound hung down the sides of the giant box like a bad wig.
“No, like really small. My sectional didn’t even fit.” She stood in front of the picture window and stretched her arms out. “I can almost reach from one wall to the other.”
“That’s because you are an Amazon.” He turned the volume up.
Mitzy crossed the room, this time with long, exaggerated steps.
“Now it’s only four steps.”
“Did you think it would grow?”
Mitzy flipped the light switch a couple of times. The TV shut off. “We don’t have enough outlets in here.”
“Hey now.” Alonzo grabbed up the remote and clicked the TV on. It warmed back up slowly.
“You should add at least three more for the entertainment center.”
“Touchdown!” Alonzo leapt to his feet. “I think we’re going to win this one.” He sat down on the edge of his seat and leaned forward with his elbows on his knees.
Mitzy flipped the switch again.
“Knock it off! We’re in overtime!” Alonzo hit the power button on the remote again. He scowled at the television as it flickered back into life.
“We can’t turn the light off without turning the TV off. Isn’t that a problem for you?”
“Ooh,” Alonzo groaned and leaned back in his chair. “They lost possession.”
“And there’s overhead lighting in the living room. I just… I don’t know. It’s just wrong. Can’t you fix that?”
“It’s all over now. They don’t stand a chance to win.” Alonzo stood up and turned off the TV. “I can’t believe we lost that. No Superbowl for the Hawks this year.”
“Who are the Hawks?”
“Seahawks. Our team.”
“Aren’t they Seattle’s team?”
Mitzy stood in front of the picture window again and stretched her arms out. “I can touch both edges of the window.”
Outside, a slushy rain fell, like blobby white snowflakes that made cold puddles on the sidewalk.
Alonzo meandered into the kitchen. He opened the fridge and scrounged around. “Where’s the lasagna?”
“I took it to work for lunch.”
“Humph.” Alonzo took out last night’s roast. He put the whole thing in the microwave to reheat.
“We’re having dinner in, like, an hour. Are you really having that now?”
“Don’t you have a house to sell?” Alonzo watched the timer on the microwave.
“I took the day off. Let’s go out to dinner.” Going out had been Mitzy’s plan all along, and his picking out the leftovers were a direct offensive move against that plan. The likely result of her accidentally shutting off his game.
The microwave beeped.
“That can’t be warm yet.” Mitzy checked the big hunk of beef for any sign of steaminess.
Alonzo set the plate down and leaned over it, guarding it with his arms. He ate a forkful of the lukewarm meat without a comment.
Mitzy poured herself a cup of coffee and sat down at the table with Alonzo.
Alonzo swallowed. “Okay. We can eat out tonight, but, babe, don’t do that during a game again, okay?”
Mitzy nodded and took a drink of her coffee. She looked out the window at their back yard. The backyard neighbor still hadn’t put siding up. For as long as Mitzy had been with Alonzo, that house had needed siding. Now, the pink vapor barrier that was supposed to be underneath the nonexistent siding was ratty and faded with long fibrous strands blowing in the wind.
“We could do some renovations,” Alonzo said.
Mitzy turned back to Alonzo. He smiled at her, his face creasing into crow’s feet and dimples.
“We could renovate.” Mitzy turned her eyes back to the window.
“But we’d still be in Felony Flats.”
“You don’t want your kids to go to school here, do you?” Mitzy asked.
“You can live anywhere and go to Central Catholic.”
“Let’s not start that.”
“Hey, Mom offered. We’re not turning down free school just because it is Catholic, are we?”
“We don’t even have kids yet. We’ve not even been married a year.”
“You brought up kids.” Alonzo prodded the meat on his plate. “I think you don’t want to renovate this house because you got something else in mind.”
Mitzy attempted to suppress a smile, but it quirked at the side of her mouth.
“Ah-ha. Let me guess. You want the house Miramontes Developers are renovating, don’t you?”
“It’s such a great house.” Mitzy grinned. “It’s perfect for us!”
“It’s not for sale.” Alonzo took another bite of his pre-dinner pot roast.
“When it is for sale,” he said around a mouthful of food, “we can’t afford it.”
“Of course we can. Didn’t you marry the only successful Realtor left in town?” Mitzy took her now-empty coffee cup to the sink and rinsed it out. “And who says we have to wait? Wouldn’t you rather buy it now and renovate it to your own taste?”
“No, I’d rather keep renovating it the way the owner wants me to and get paid for it. I’m doing the job because we need the work. Not because I love renovating homes.”
“You’re doing the job because your guys need the work, not because we need the money.” Mitzy sighed. “It’s such a great house.” She loved the house for its quirky ‘80s style and she loved the neighborhood—the 1987 Fantasy Homes Street.
“I’d rather have the clients pay my men to tear the place apart.” Alonzo stabbed the pot roast with his fork. “Listen Mitz, I get to run my business, and you get to run yours, okay? Don’t try and undo the work I’ve got going.”
“Let it rest.”
Alonzo was blind if he could go there to work every day and not realize it was the perfect home for them. Mitzy chewed on her bottom lip while she plotted her campaign. If she could sell a seven-hundred-square-foot hut in the middle of North Portland to an aging hipster, then she could sell her own husband the coolest house in Pleasant Valley. “You could fit three of this little house into my condo we sold.”
“Well? We didn’t need all that space. I own this house. It made good sense to sell your place and live here.”
“I owned the condo.”
“There were still association fees. It’s better to own your house outright. Be the king of your own castle.” Alonzo pulled the fork out of his meat. He covered it in the plastic wrap that still clung to the edge of the plate.
“Is the neighborhood association the reason you don’t like the fantasy house?” Mitzy wanted to determine the biggest weakness of the property so she could properly form her sales pitch.
“Yes. I also don’t like that it is not for sale and that we already have a great house.”
“A great house?”
Mitzy perched on his knee and draped her arm over his shoulder. She stroked the back of his head with her fingertips. “I love you, babe, but I’m a house girl. It’s my thing. It’s what I’m into. Please don’t ask me to live in a boring house.”
“When we’re done with the Pleasant Valley house, you can hire my guys to do this one. Deal?”
Mitzy shook her head. “No deal. How about as soon as I sell the house on Concord we buy the Pleasant Valley house?”
“The million dollar property?”
“Only $700,000. But there was a time…”
“Where you do plan to find big money for a house like that?”
“If I can find big money for that house, can we buy the Pleasant Valley house?”
Alonzo kissed the nape of Mitzy’s neck. “No.”
“Two can play that game.” Mitzy nibbled Alonzo’s ear and whispered, “Please?” She let her lips linger for a brief moment.
“What would we do with this place?”
“Put a renter in it.”
“I don’t like the idea, babe.” Alonzo placed his hands on Mitzy’s hips and pushed her up as he stood. “But I guess we can consider it. Why don’t I think about it while you sell that other house? Then we can talk again.” Alonzo took his plate of lukewarm meat back to the microwave.
“Think and pray, then. This could be one of those ‘love your wife as Christ loved the church’ kind of times.”
“Or it could be a good ‘wives submit yourself to your husbands’ kind of time.”
“You would know that verse, wouldn’t you?”
Mitzy pulled her shawl-collar cardigan around her and shivered. “This house has baseboard electric heat, Alonzo. I don’t know how much longer I can live like this.”
“Then I guess you’d better get that Concord house sold.”
The following morning was also cold, and the house was still small. But rather than worry over it, Mitzy sat cross-legged on the floor in front of Alonzo’s recliner, enjoying his warm legs against her back as she worked. Her laptop was open, and she was plotting how to sell an expensive older house fast. The house on Concord had listed two days ago, but no one had called for a showing yet.
Almost one year after their wedding, two years after the housing bubble burst, there really hadn’t been an uptick in the market. While the house she was trying to sell would have fetched a couple million dollars in about a week in 2006, now in 2011, finding a buyer at less than half that would be a serious challenge.
The house needed tweaking—little improvements here and there—but the owner had lived in it since it was built as a custom home. Staging the house would be a hard sell. Mitzy clicked through the pictures. Cluttered office. Tile in the kitchen instead of granite. Carpet in the main living areas. Without the top-of-the-line finishes like hardwoods and natural stone, the house would have to be staged to perfection.
Mitzy stopped at the picture of the master bedroom. A full five-hundred-square-feet of living space, antique French bedroom furniture, a tray ceiling, a chandelier, two walk-in closets: it was every newlywed’s dream room. But it couldn’t make a marriage work.
Mitzy leaned back against Alonzo’s knees. Their bed was shoved into the corner of the smallest room she had ever seen, and she had to use the third bedroom as a closet.
Her client, Karina English, seemed glad to have ended her twenty-year marriage, and now she wanted to unload the house her cheating husband had built for her. If Mitzy had been offered the choice between that life and her own, she would have kept her tiny dwelling and faithful husband, but frankly, she didn’t see why she couldn’t have a great house and a great husband.
She clicked to the outdoor shots. Not a single yard in Portland looked good on December 1st.
Her cell phone vibrated in her pocket. She dragged her mind away from the house and checked the number. It was Karina.
“This is Mitzy. What can I do for you, Karina?”
On the other end of the line, Karina was crying.
Mitzy lowered the tone of her voice. “Karina, I’m here. What is it?” She looked up at Alonzo.
He cocked his head, furrowed his brows, and mouthed, “What happened?”
Karina sobbed and make word-like sounds that Mitzy couldn’t understand.
Mitzy stood up and raised her shoulders. “I don’t know.”
She closeted herself in the bedroom they used as an office/closet. “Whenever you are ready, Karina, or do you want me to come to you? Are you at your house?”
Karina’s crying slowed down. “Yes, please come here. Arnold is dead.” She broke down again as soon as the words were out.
“I’ll be right there, Karina. I can be there in twenty minutes.” Mitzy kept the line live for a few moments longer while she put on her snow boots. When Karina eventually managed a sobbing “thank you,” they both ended the call. Mitzy stuffed her phone into the pocket of her ski jacket.
“Alonzo, will you come up to Concord with me? Arnold English is dead.”