The Landlord

The man standing in front of me on the front porch of the Orange House certainly looked like he could be the landlord. He was casually dressed, wearing a pair of beige slacks and a short, black leather jacket. Despite that, everything looked expensive. Backing that up was the shiny new, yellow BMW sedan parked directly out front. Without consciously thinking about it, his nameplate appeared.

Joel Spoketsky, Capitalist (D2)

“I’m taking out the garbage. Just doing a little cleaning.”

“Whatever. Get out of my way. Is Cutter here?” he asked, trying to ease me to the side. I set the garbage bags down and remained where I was.

“I don’t know anybody named Cutter.”

“Or Kutta, or whatever he calls himself. He owes me two months rent.”

“I just moved in, and the only other person living here is Smokey.”

“That burnout in the robes? Where’s Cutter? And what do you mean, you’re living here now too? There are only two bedrooms.”

“I took over the top floor yesterday. If Cutter was the guy staying there, I’ve heard he’s in prison now. Smokey hasn’t been paying the rent?”

“No, he hasn’t been paying the damn rent. Do you think I come here this late at night for no reason? I swear, I should have listened to my sister when she told me not to rent to Shadows.”

That was a new one for me. As slurs went, I really liked it. Shadows had a nice ring to it.

“Listen, Joel. Do you mind if I call you that?” I said, catching his attention and trying to channel my most serious, adult self.

“Why are you wasting my time? If Smokey’s the only one left get him out here. I’m going to call the Sheriff’s department and start the eviction process if I don’t get my money.”

“Hold up, Joel. Smokey’s not available at the moment, but I am. If Cutter’s in prison, then we don’t have a lease here. What are you owed for rent?”

Joel looked me in the eyes, calming a bit as he realized that he had no one to enforce a lease on. We were just people squatting in his property at this point.

“Two months rent, February and March. Four grand.”

I controlled the burst of anger I felt at Smokey. Not only had he been failing to pay the rent after Cutter went away, he’d inflated it on me. Without some intervention on my part the house would soon be without any utilities and the Sheriff’s Department would evict us. I knew that process took a while in California, but avoiding it entirely seemed like a better idea.

“I really like this place, so let me propose a deal to you. I’ll pay you the rent owed. I’ll be a good tenant to you. Before I can do that, I’ll need a new lease. One with my name on it. We can leave Smokey off of it.”

He wasn’t so desperate for the cash that he jumped on my offer. “Honestly, I’d rather just have you all gone. I’m always getting complaints from the neighbors about this place. They complain about the way the yard looks, or how noisy my tenants are. On Friday night it was that the front yard was full of kids drinking and smoking. What kind of adult man has a party with high schoolers? This place is a constant headache.”

That must have been the friends of Gloria and one of Smokey’s ‘small, intimate’ gatherings.

“Let me fix that. No more loud parties. I’ll clean up the yard. I’ll remove that pain, and this property will go back to being passive income for you. You can transfer the damage deposit from Cutter over to the new lease.”

I knew that some of this was his doing. The busted up fence, the flaking paint. That certainly wasn’t my responsibility as his tenant, but one step at a time.

He visibly relaxed a bit. “That’d be nice. Let’s say I agree to this. When can you get me the back rent? I’m not going to draw up another lease without it.”

In my head, Dad was yelling at me for being so irresponsible. Was I really going to take on an additional $4k debt, plus $2k in rent per month and whatever the bills were going to cost me? I had my 25% of the Merc coming to me still, which would be enough to cover it all. Still, it wasn’t cash in hand. In the end, though, this was just another opportunity I wasn’t going to let slip through my fingers. So the answer was yes. You’re not my real dad anyway, in-my-head dad.

“I can pay you one month right now. The rest in a couple of days, a week tops.”

Joel took my measure, and it seemed like I passed. “Then we have a deal—on one condition. You get that fucking burnout out of my house. Smokey’s gotta go.”

“Oh believe me, it will be my pleasure,” I replied.

I handed over the two grand, and it hurt. Like deep down in my guts pain. Every cent I’d earned that day and more gone, leaving me with only $135. I was broke, again. Once again the ambitious plan to pay off Brass Lee on Thursday receded.

“Once I get the second payment from you and Smokey is gone, we can sign the new lease,” Joel said, pocketing my cash.

“I’ll need a receipt for that,” I said.

“Sure,” he said, pulling a notepad and a pen out of an inner pocket. He started to scribble on a blank page.

“Why are you wearing sunglasses, anyway? It’s the middle of the night.”

I couldn’t resist. “So I can keep track of the visions in my eyes.”

He just looked confused. Another great song hadn’t made it across to this world. Sorry, Mr Hart.

“Never mind, just a song lyric. My eyes are very light sensitive.”

That was an obvious lie, as I had the glasses pushed down my nose so I could see, but he just shrugged. As one of the rare people that rented to us ‘Shadows,’ I was sure that he was used to odder behavior than mine.

I finished up with Joel, making sure to check the receipt before he drove off. It was correct, although if he decided to screw me I didn’t know if there was anything I could legally do. Not that I was limited to the legal options. There were many ways I could collect a debt from a guy walking in the light, if I needed to.

After leaving the bags at the curb, I returned to the house. It was still quiet, and I didn’t feel like cleaning any longer. I spent some time gathering the bills in one place. All three of the utilities were starting to threaten disconnection if ‘Kutta’ didn’t pay. Yes, that really was the name on the bills. First amendment for the win, apparently it even applied to putting your Shadow name on legal contracts. Although after seeing the Registrar I now expected contracts like that were more than just simple paperwork and probably involved some system ‘magic.’

I locked up the house and brought the bills upstairs with me. Even though it was late, I spent the next forty minutes fixing the chaos in my room. I felt a lot better once all of the clothes were off the floor, and the mess in the bathroom was cleaned up.

I didn’t forget about the junkie in the basement, and made sure to wedge my door closed. With how many other things Smokey had lied about, I didn’t doubt he actually did have the key to the deadbolt on my door. That was a problem for another day.