A half hour later we were sitting in Melinda’s office in Esperanza, dripping with sweat.
“There must be a way to convince them to put it back on the market.”
Melinda sipped her coffee, eying me warily. “Money usually works.”
“Let’s not get carried away,” Michael chimed in. “Why don’t you feel them out first? Give them a call; maybe they’ve changed their mind.”
She looked skeptical. You had to wonder how this woman clothed and fed herself. “Anyway, my colleague Armando was handling that listing. You’d have to speak to him.”
I glanced at Michael, anticipating an explosion. “Fine,” I said quickly, “how can we reach him?”
“Well,” she said laconically, shuffling the papers on her desk. “His wife’s pregnant, and he’s in the process of opening a restaurant—he’s a wicked little entrepreneur—so he’s hard to reach.”
“But I’ll ask him to give you a call at your hotel tonight.”
It was my turn to look skeptical. “Really?”
“Trust me,” she said, standing up to leave.
I wanted to, but I didn’t.
Amazingly, he called. And he sounded like an actual salesman—in other words, he gave every indication that he’d like to shift some cash from our bank account into his. I could hardly believe my ears.
“It’s a fabulous property,” he enthused. “I’ve always loved it.”
I remembered Michael’s entreaty not to appear too keen. “Yes, it seems nice enough.”
He laughed. “Oh come on, it’s nicer than just nice.” Armando was Puerto Rican, but his English was nearly perfect and his accent was charming.
“Well,” I allowed, “it has great views.”
“Stupendous.” His English was really very good.
“The owners are an old couple with a retarded daughter,” he went on, then stopped himself. “Oops, we’re not supposed to say that word ‘retarded’ anymore, right?”
In fact, his English was so good it occurred to me I might have a hard time keeping up. “So I’ve heard. I think people say ‘mentally challenged’ instead.”
A short pause. “Oh, okay,” he went on. “A mentally challenged daughter.”
Another pause. “Somehow that doesn’t sound right.”
“Look, I know what you mean. She’s slow.”
“Yes, slow, that’s better.” I heard a woman’s voice in the background—his expectant wife, I assumed. “Anyway, they put the house on the market last winter with another agent and nothing happened. I heard the agent didn’t try very hard. She has another business on the side.”
“Is this by any chance Clara?”
He almost swallowed the phone. “So you’ve met Clara.”
“I’m afraid so.”
“Frightening, isn’t she?”
I hesitated. This wasn’t a road I wanted to go down. “Oh, I don’t know, she’s okay.”
“Oh please,” he said. “She’s a monster. The people who own the house you’re interested in were scared of her. She kept trying to give them free yoga lessons.”
“She made us the same offer.”
“Don’t do it,” he warned ominously. “She’ll cripple you for life.”
“I’ll remember that,” I said, hoping to steer the conversation back to dry land. “So how did you get involved?”
Screaming sounds could be heard in the background now. Maybe his wife was going into labor. But he just kept talking. “Technically I’m not involved. I know the old man’s son. He told me a few weeks ago they might consider putting it back on the market for the right price.”
Oh god. “But if they didn’t have any offers the first time around surely they’re not going to ask an even higher price now. If anything, the market’s softened since then.”
He changed tack almost instantly. “Or maybe they’ll go down. I’m not sure.”
This was confusing but I wasn’t going to be diverted from my goal of seeing the house. “Could you call them and see if they’d consider selling?”
He laughed good-naturedly. “I just did. Before I called you.”
“And they said maybe.”
I was ready to crawl along the phone line and strangle this man, and I hadn’t even met him yet. “Meaning?”
“Meaning…” he paused, searching for the mot juste. “Perhaps.”
I took a deep breath, struggling to maintain my composure. “Can we see the house?”
I could hear the smile in his voice. “Absolutely.”
“When would you like to see it?”
“Sometime tomorrow. We leave Friday.”
“I’ll pick you up at your hotel at eleven.”
“Great,” I agreed, smiling through my teeth.
Normally I’m a one-martini man.
That night I had three.