A very tall man stood on the dirt drive holding a manila folder and a handkerchief that he kept using to wipe the sweat off his red face. He was wearing a wrinkled grey suit and a sideways smile.
“I’m sorry Miss. I didn’t mean to startle you,” he said in a proper southern accent. If his clothes weren’t a dead giveaway for not being a local, his accent would have done the trick. “I’m looking for a Miss Andrews?” the man asked again, holding up the file to shield his eyes from the sun as he watched me climb down from the ladder.
“Who wants to know?” I asked, turning around to wipe my eyes, picking up the broken broom handle from the grass and tossing it back onto the porch.
“My name is Ben Coleman and I’m here on behalf of The Sun…” I didn’t need to hear him finish his sentence to know why he was there. The Sunnlandio Corporation were vultures and assisted in my mother’s downhill decent into crazy before falling off the side and taking my dad with her.
Ben Coleman didn’t seem to notice the crime scene tape floating in the wind. He stood on the driveway on a Tuesday night, wearing a wrinkled grey suit and dripping so much sweat it looked as if he’d been caught in the rain storm that I could see in the distance but hadn’t yet come.
Ben approached and extended his hand to me. I folded up the ladder and walked right past him toward the shed on the side of the house. “You can leave Mr. Coleman, I know why you are here and I want nothing to do with it.” I set the ladder in the shed and shut the door.
I could smell the approaching rain before I could see it. I used to make fun of my dad for saying he could smell the rain, but as I got older I could feel the shift in the air and I learned to recognize the sweet pungent zip of fresh oxygen before the clouds rolled in, turning off the stars and changing the night sky from black to grey. “Miss Anderson, I just need to go over this with you. We have the groves best interest at heart.” Ben said, holding out the folder toward me.
I laughed. “Did you have my parents’ best interest at heart when your company cancelled the contract the grove had with Sunnlandio since the 60’s? Because I would ask them if they felt like you had their best interest at heart but I can’t. And judging from the look on your face you know why I can’t. So for whatever reason you are here, go sell it to someone else. I’m not interested and on top of that I don’t have time. I have a meeting with the sheriff.”
The wind picked up, zipping around the house, blowing my hair into my face. Ben’s suit jacket blew open as he continued to follow me on my way to the front of the house.
That’s when I spotted his gun.
Either he was the kind of businessman that was used to southerners shooting at him or he was no businessman at all.
The rain was already drenching the open field next to the house, it was only a matter of seconds before it found its way over. “Cut the shit, Mr. Coleman. If that’s even your name. What is it that you want?”
“I need you to come look at this file. Tell me what you think. It’s an offer to buy the grove. A generous one at that.” He held out the manila file.
“Get off this property right now and take that with you,” I warned.
“You’re going to make me have to play hardball with you, Miss Andrews. I was willing to make you a proper offer, but you leave me no choice. Since you weren’t yet eighteen when your parents died and they had no living will on record this property isn’t yours and it won’t be yours until it goes through an expensive and rather lengthy court process. And I hate to state the obvious but without a contract with a distributor like Sunnlandio the grove isn’t worth anything anyway. There is also the little matter of you potentially going away for a very long time and I assume that’s what your little meeting with the sheriff is about. But we at Sunnlandio would rather we take care of this now and we rather put the money up front then wait for the judge to deed us the property.”
That’s when the gravity of the situation hit me, what evil lurked in suits and ties and concealed their misdeeds in folders and briefcases. “That’s why you did it? That’s why you cancelled my parents’ contracts isn’t it? To devalue the land then screw them over with some bullshit offer?”
“Miss Andrews, I don’t make those decisions, but I will admit that the law is on our side here. We’re just trying to streamline the process by having you sign off.”
“I’m not even eighteen yet, I can’t sign anything,” I said.
“Your birthday wasn’t two days ago on July the twelfth?” Mr. Carson asked, flipping open his file and reading off the date before closing it again.
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