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   Chapter 5 The Ravenwood Arms

The Ravenwood Arms By Valerie Gaumont Characters: 26111

Updated: 2018-03-14 10:24

Chapter 5

When Gracie picked me up for the auction the next day, I was beginning to have second thoughts. After going to the bank and getting the required cashier's checks I realized I was carrying more money around with me than I ever had before. While the funds I carried weren't necessary for my day to day survival, carrying so much money made me feel like a target. Not wanting to just carry the envelope with the checks in it, I grabbed an old messenger bag from my closet. To make the bag look like it was carrying more than just an envelope of checks, I added a note book, a handful of pens, my wallet, keys and a large handful of the individually packaged soft peppermints we kept by the door of the shop for patrons. My bag still looked rather empty and as Gracie appeared I was eyeing my tools, wondering if a couple of screwdrivers might provide an adequate heft to the bag.

"Ready?" Gracie asked. She bounded into the work room looking a bit like Tigger from Winnie the Pooh, a fact enhanced by her faux fur, tiger striped coat. I heard Mason chuckle and shake his head as he turned back to the sofa he was reupholstering. While everyone liked Gracie, she was often a source of amusement as all of us tended to be rather low key while she favored the dramatic. In addition, her accident prone nature made everyone almost hyperaware of her presence when she visited, keeping one eye on her at all times.

"I'm ready, " I told her, still feeling a little dubious about the situation. I wasn't entirely certain I wanted a house let alone a house suffering from a potential host of unknown problems. Wanting to know what I might be in for, I spent the previous evening scanning some of the shows I knew Gracie favored and inspired the day's outing. The fact that so much could go wrong with any one house was somewhat terrifying.

"This is so much fun, " she told me hooking her arm through mine and guiding me towards the door as though afraid I would bolt at the last minute. Since this was the same maneuver she used to get me to go on blind double dates in college, I guessed she sensed my desire to bow out of the proceedings. She shared none of my misgivings.

"It can't hurt to go, " I mentally reminded myself, oddly enough the same thing I told myself on some of those dates. No one was saying I had to buy anything. Attending would be an experience, that's it. It would be an hour or so out of my life, nothing more. A thought occurred to me as I settled myself in the passenger's seat of Gracie's electric blue Mini Cooper.

"You aren't planning on buying one of the properties today are you?" I asked nervously. I had the feeling Gracie buying a fixer-upper would be tantamount to a suicide mission. I could see a million ways in which she would be completely over her head financially, even if she didn't manage to kill or maim herself in the process.

"Possibly, " she said airily. Her bright smile increased my fears.

"Are you sure you wouldn't just rather go to lunch?" I asked as she piloted us towards what I was beginning to suspect was certain doom. "My treat?"

"Oh, quit being a spoil sport, this will be fun."

The drive was a quick one and Gracie found a parking spot with ease. It made me think of the three fates, sitting on a celestial couch while they watched the human race with amusement. I was fairly certain I could hear one of them nudge the others, point to us and say 'watch this'. It was not an encouraging thought.

"At least they'll have to fight over the one eye they pass between them so all three fates can't watch at once, " I told myself. It was scant consolation.

Reluctantly, I followed Gracie into the building. The auction was being held in an auction house, which I suppose shouldn't have surprised me. Somehow I expected something more courthouse themed. Instead we found ourselves in a warehouse-like building surrounded by various statuary, furniture, jewelry cases and other bits and pieces of other people's lives. The entire building reminded me of when Sean and I had to clean out our grandparent's house after our grandfather died. It had the same smell to it, the scent of dust, dark corners, and forgotten memories.

Gracie confidently led us up to a plastic folding table where a woman with close cropped gray hair sat with a cash box. As Gracie stepped forward the woman picked up the glasses hanging around her neck by a beaded chain and fitted them over her nose.

"Well let's see what we have here, " the woman said as Gracie handed her an envelope. The woman checked that Gracie's cashier's checks were in order.

"If you win an auction and don't have the funds to pay for it, your $10, 000 check to hold your place in the auction is forfeited, " she reminded Gracie who nodded enthusiastically. The woman took the check held for the reserve from the envelope and placed it in the cash box. She wrote down Gracie's name, and gave her a bright pink piece of paper to serve as a bidding paddle. In a flash, she was registered. That apparently was all that was needed. The speed and ease with which she was registered made my stomach flip. Gracie moved to the side and the same process was repeated with me. Once settled we went to join the others in the auction.

The group waiting for the auction to begin was small, maybe eight people other than the two of us. There was one other woman present and the rest were men. Most of the men wore sunglasses so their eyes were hidden. I guessed it was for the intimidation factor or something of that nature as it was nowhere near bright enough to need sunglasses in the indoor space. I wondered if they waited until they were in the auction space to put them on as walking through the auction house with the sunglasses on could cause incidents involving rather expensive breakage. The path from the door to the sign in table was fairly narrow and lined with delicate items. I knew I would find it difficult to navigate with sunglasses on and would probably ricochet like a demented pinball.

As I wondered about their visual acuity, all of those waiting looked Gracie and me over. The eyes I could see looked appraising and territorial. Gracie radiated enthusiastic good cheer at all of them, her attitude undimmed by their dispositions. The auctioneer joined us and Gracie and I were dismissed, all attention focused on the thin, gray haired man in front. He quickly went over the rules and without any more ado, the auction began.

"First property up for auction, three-bedroom, two-bath, " he began giving the address and the starting required bid. He let us know the bidding would go up in one thousand dollar increments.

"Do I have a bid for one ninety, " he asked. The words barely left his lips when a slip was raised and the bidding begun. The bidding was fast and furious. I found myself watching the people as the numbers escalated. Some had phones in their ears, clearly taking bids from someone not present. Some glared at the others when their bids were topped and all of them looked rather grim. They looked more like they were preparing for a death march rather than buying property.

The first property went for two eighty and the second was brought up. Again the bidding began. I cringed when I saw Gracie bid, but was relieved when she was quickly out bid and the property sold to a grim-faced man wearing mirrored sunglasses. He cracked a smile when he won the property and then dropped back into his sour demeanor as if irritated by his own brief spasm of enjoyment.

After the fifth property sold, Gracie nudged me. "Aren't you even going to bid?" she whispered, clearly wanting me to get in on the fun. She bid on every property but the first, and seemed just as enthusiastic as she was at the start, despite her bids being quickly trumped.

"Sure, " I told her trying to get into the spirit of the thing. I doubted my bid would win, especially if I put it in early since everyone else seemed so determined. My ears perked up as I heard the auctioneer call the next property. It was an eight unit apartment building located on a street a few blocks from where I lived, although I couldn't bring the building to mind. For some reason the regulations popped into my mind. As someone capable of creating shields, I could, in theory, buy an apartment building, shield it and rent it out to whoever I wanted. I decided I would try my hand at bidding on this property. The attempt might at least silence the mocking voice of Bradford in my head for a little while, soothing my conscience, as well as making Gracie happy, even if my bid was immediately trumped.

The auctioneer finished his spiel and opened up the bidding. I raised my slip of paper to start the bidding. "A bid from number 138, " he said reading the number off of my bidding slip and acknowledging me. He called for other bids. There were none. My heart plummeted into my stomach. Silence ruled the group. No one moved, lest a stray twitch be determined as interest.

"Going once, going twice, " he paused. No one spoke. "And sold to number 138. Next we have a four-bedroom, three-bath, " he continued with barely a breath between the sale of the apartment building to me and the next house up for auction. I stood dazed as the auction progressed. Beside me, Gracie nearly vibrated with excitement, her thrill encouraging her to bid more, even though she continued to be out bid.

'I bought an apartment building, ' I thought to myself, paying little attention to Gracie or the rest of the auction. I blinked feeling dazed. 'Dear God.'

The auction ended, Gracie having bought nothing. She followed me over to the table where the short-haired woman congratulated me on my purchase and took my money. I signed papers, she signed papers and in less time than I thought reasonable, Gracie and I were heading out of the door, property officially mine. Gracie waited until we were in her car before her verbal explosion began.

"Oh my God, that was so exciting, " she gushed. "I can't believe you got a building, and for so little, " she continued.

"I can't believe no one bid against me, " I said. "I wonder what's wrong with the building."

Gracie shrugged, enthusiasm undimmed. "Maybe it's just because it is an apartment building and they are house flippers, " she suggested. "I'm sure nothing's wrong with it. Do you want to go over there now?"

"We might want to swing by the shop and pick up a few things first, " I told her. "Like maybe a flashlight and a drill to get through the front door lock and maybe a new lock to replace the one we'll have to take out." The foreclosure auction sold the properties, but they didn't give out keys to the locks, apparently leaving it up to the new owner to figure out how to get in.

Gracie nodded. "That's really smart, " she said apparently believing I knew what I was doing. "And we can tell Sean, you know he'll be super jazzed." I nodded, still feeling dazed by the entire process, worry starting to nag at my belly as I wondered why no one else bid on the property. Did they know something I didn't? What on earth had I gotten myself into? A million thoughts swirled through my brain ranging from the prosaic, like cracked foundations, to the fantastical, such as demons residing in the basement as the result of some sort of satanic rite by the previous owner.

We reached the shop and found Sean talking to Sammy. "Hey, " Sean said with a grin. "We found a buyer for that Edwardian…" His voice trailed off as he got a look at my face. His eyes immediately filled with concern. Apparently, I looked as shocked as I felt.

"We just came from the foreclosure auction, " Gracie told him delightedly. "Alice bought an apartment building. Isn't that so cool?"

"An apartment building?" Sammy asked, puzzled. "What on earth for?"

"An apartment building, " Sean repeated. I saw a smile tug at the corner of his mouth and I had the feeling he was thinking of the regulations. "That sounds like it could be a good investment."

"Alice wanted to get a few things before we headed over. Do you want to come?" Gracie said.

I left them to get the few things I needed from the back as Gracie gave a detailed and much more exciting replay of the auction. I picked up a large flashlight, a couple of screwdrivers, a drill and a new lock set from our supply closet. I looked around my workspace and tried to think of what else I would need.

"Possibly a therapy session to confirm that I have gone insane, " I muttered to myself. "Maybe a straight-jacket." What was I thinking bidding on a property? I knew furniture, not buildings. Sure, I had picked up a few skills after spending so many years running through construction sites, but not enough for this sort of project. This was way above my skill level.

'Why did no one else bid?' I thought as I turned away from my work space and headed back to the front. The thought gnawed at me. Sean decided to join us in our surveying excu

rsion and Sammy wished us well as we piled back into Gracie's car and drove the few blocks to my newly purchased building.

"Not far, " Sean said as Gracie parked and we got out. "Easy enough to walk over and check on things." He nodded with approval. I nodded, but focused on the building before me. It was set back a little from the street with two giant oak trees shielding the facade from view. There was a drive to the left of the fa?ade. It was gated off and held a sign claiming the space the gate protected as parking for The Ravenwood Arms Apartments. The gate was old chain link, but secured with a shiny new padlock. A broken concrete path led from the sidewalk, between the two trees and up to the front of the building.

I looked at Sean who maintained his half smile and Gracie who was fairly bouncing on her feet. "Here goes nothing, " I said to myself leading them up the pathway to the front door. As we approached the front entrance, the building came into view. The sight was unimpressive. From the outside, it looked like a three story box covered with solidified marshmallow fluff. Regularly spaced windows had been cut into the solid fluff and over the main door was a sign bearing the name The Ravenwood Arms and some sort of coat of arms.

"I guess it comes with parking, " I said to myself.

Once at the door, I handed Sean my giant flashlight and as I was given no keys, I quickly drilled out the lock so we could get inside. Unlocked, the doors opened easily and the three of us stepped into the building's lobby. The lobby was, more accurately speaking, a vestibule. The floor was some dark stone covered with dust and looked like it had been installed when the building was first erected. The walls were a yellow color that looked as though they might have started life white, and then spent a couple of decades living with a three pack a day smoker. Attached to the wall, to the left of the door, was a row of silvery mailboxes, appropriately labeled one through eight. Overhead, capped off wires dangled from the center of a plaster medallion. At some point the light fixture had been removed. The wires however looked new.

At the back of the vestibule was a second door, or at least the space for what should have been a second door. My guess was that it was a security feature. The door had however been removed. I led my small exploring party through the open doorway and into the hallway. The hallway was fairly wide. I could probably stand in the center of it with my arms outstretched and not touch either wall. Despite the fact that the lights here had been removed as well, the hallway was bright. Not only was there a large window at the far end of the hallway, but each of the doors leading to each apartment on this floor had been removed allowing light to spill in from their windows into the space providing illumination. On this floor were four openings for apartments. The fire door to the stairwell remained intact. Taking a deep breath to brace myself for whatever I was to find, be it peeling wall paper or a zombie army, I ducked into the first apartment.

I blinked in surprise as I looked around. Someone had apparently been hard at work in the recent past. The interior walls had been taken down to studs. Whatever insulation there was before was gone. White electrical wire, silver duct work and plastic plumbing pipes met my eyes. There was no plaster or drywall on either the walls or ceiling. It was as though the entire thing had been gutted and then abandoned. It felt a lot like the construction sites I visited. As I wandered through the space, I could see that even the kitchen and bathrooms had been stripped, bare pipes projecting, wire hanging and nary an appliance or fixture in sight. I shivered a little, realizing there was no heat in the building.

"Do you think someone bought it and then ran out of money?" Sean asked. "It certainly looks like someone was doing something."

"Could be, " I replied, the dazed feeling starting to fade under worry. I had no idea if the plumbing and electric were done to code. I didn't know if they had been inspected or not, let alone passed. I also had no idea how to figure that out.

"This floor is kinda strange, not like the hallway at all, " Gracie said frowning at the floor beneath our feet. I looked down.

"It's the sub floor, " I told her, pleased I at least knew that much. "The hallway has flooring, this doesn't. The flooring goes over it."

"Oh, " she replied. We left the first apartment and went into the second. It was a repeat of the first. The third and fourth apartments were likewise stripped to the bones. We finished the first floor inspection and I opened the fire door leading into the stairwell. It was heavy and felt as though it were made of solid steel.

"Up or down?" Sean asked when we stepped onto the landing.

"Up first, " I decided. We went up. Windows were placed so the stairwell was fairly easy to navigate, even without electricity. I could see wires sticking out from the walls where light fixtures would have been placed to illuminate the space when the sun was not available for the task.

While the second floor was also stripped, there were only three apartments. After looking in each, I realized they were larger. The four apartments on the first floor were all one-bedroom apartments; the second floor had three two-bedroom apartments. After inspecting the second floor we went up to the third floor and found one large four bedroom apartment taking up the entire space.

"And this is the penthouse I guess, " I said. I added the apartments up in my head and came up with eight. "I guess there are no apartments in the basement then."

"Maybe it is just storage, " Sean suggested. The three of us headed back down. While there were a couple of small windows in the basement, over all it was a shadowy expanse and Sean turned on the flashlight I handed him at the door. By its light we looked around.

"Wow, " Sean said when we arrived. "I guess we know where everything went." I nodded and looked around. While the open door marked 'Laundry' was empty, bare pipes sticking out of what looked like a fairly new concrete floor, the rest of the basement was far from bare. Against one wall was a row of bathtubs. They were older cast iron and some of them looked as though with a bit of work, they could be cleaned up and re installed above. There were a few heavy porcelain sinks as well, although there were no bases. Closer inspection found a pile of metal legs which had at one time no doubt supported the sinks. It didn't look like there were enough of them to support the number of sinks left behind.

Likewise, there were odd arrangements of cabinets, most in rather rough shape and nowhere near enough of them to furnish the number of kitchens above. No toilets or kitchen appliances were in evidence although we did find the motherlode of doors, their brass doorknobs gleaming in the light from the flashlight. I guessed that whoever was working on the building prior to going into foreclosure saved all that could be saved and hauled the rest away.

"No furnace, " I said to no one in particular as I saw my breath foam white in the air.

Satisfied that we saw all there was to be seen, we headed back to the front door. I took off the drilled out lock and installed a new one to discourage trespassers. While I did so, Sean went to the end of the corridor and looked out the back window.

"It's a pretty decent parking lot back there, " he reported. "About a dozen spaces with a fence around it." I nodded and finished my installation. We exited the building and I locked it up. I decided the inspection of the parking lot could wait as I hadn't brought either bolt cutters or a replacement padlock. Gracie quieted after our tour, her excitement dimming.

"It looks like a lot of work, " she replied. "I think a house would be easier to fix up. Then you could buy pretty things instead of furnaces and toilets." She shrugged. "Maybe I'll get one at the next auction. Do you guys want a ride back to the shop?"

"I think I'll walk actually, " I told her, wanting a few minutes to process this strange turn of events and resisting the urge to comment on the likelihood of an essentially abandoned house needing a new furnace.

"I'll walk too I think, " Sean told her as well. "It's a nice day and good to be out of the office for a bit, even if it is cold. I'll get the blood flowing before I have to sit back down to the computer."

"Better you than me, " Gracie said. "See you guys later and congrats on the building, even if it is a lot of work."

Gracie pulled away from the curb and Sean and I watched her drive away. Once she was out of sight, Sean turned to me and grinned. "I can't believe you actually bought an apartment building. I mean I know from the rules and regulations booklet it is pretty much the only thing you could do that would make shielded apartments available, but I can't believe you actually did it." He gave me a quick, enthusiastic hug, lifting me momentarily off of my feet and causing me to laugh despite my concerns.

There was a note of pride in his voice and I decided not to tell him it was an accident. I kind of liked the idea that someone believed I bought the place on purpose with some sort of idea in mind rather than accidentally bidding on something no one else wanted. It made me feel a bit better about the fact that I had no idea what to do next.

"So what are you going to do now, " Sean asked. Like Gracie, he seemed to think I had a plan.

Our quick walk through of the building made me realize how much I didn't know about this sort of project. I decided the first thing I needed to do is call someone who did. "I was thinking about getting in touch with Davis, " I told Sean. "I think he might be located somewhere in the area based on the location of the projects I've worked on with him in the past and even if he isn't willing to work with me on this, he might know someone who would be."

Sean nodded. "And you've worked with him enough that you trust him, and would trust his recommendation. I like that better than just the cold calling of contractors for estimates. Besides, he's one of us isn't he?"

I nodded. Like Sean, I didn't refer to the magical community in anything, but vague terms when in public even if there were only a few people out walking at the moment. "He'd know what other contractors were around with the same background."

"Let me guess, " Sean said. "He gave you his phone number and told you to call him anytime you needed something?" Sean fluttered his eyelashes at me and laughed when I blushed.

"No, " I told him. "I was going to call James and see if he had the contact information and if he doesn't then I would just look up Davis Construction. I've seen the logo on his and his crews' shirts enough I could probably pick out the right Davis Company from their website." I thought about it for a moment and tried to decide if the possible ease of getting his info from James was worth explaining to him about my recent purchase or if the website would be a better option.

"I'd vote website first, " Sean said, echoing my thoughts. "Less questions."

I nodded. "And if by some chance Davis does show up here to look over the building, you will be nice. No innuendos or embarrassing comments, " I warned him.

Sean laughed. "Would I do that?"

"In a heartbeat and without any form of guilt or remorse."

Sean laughed again. "All right, I promise if the hunky contractor comes within my sphere, I will be polite and discrete."

I sighed. "That's the best I'm going to get isn't it?"

"If you want anything better, then you need to learn to date better. If you weren't so dating-challenged I wouldn't have to resort to assisting you."

"I am not dating challenged, " I replied. "And even if I were, isn't that one of those pot and kettle things? I don't recall your last few dates going so well."

"That is an entirely different matter, " Sean said. The two of us argued all the way to the shop over which of us outranked the other in the world of dating. Once at the shop I made certain the large piece I was working on was completely dry and then had Mason and Cole help me move it to the back room where the rest of the order waited.

"That should be the last of it, " Mason told me. He handed me the clipboard and the three of us walked through the space, counting furniture. We each came up with the same number, sure enough, every item present and accounted for.

"I'll let Sammy know, " I told the others. I headed towards the front and passed the information on. Given that I knew I wouldn't be able to keep my mind on work for what little remained of the day, I told Sammy I was taking off a little early. It was time to use my internet skills to track down Davis. With any luck, he'd at least be able to point me in the right direction.

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