His back against the side of his truck, Casper Jayne braced for the bad news his gut said was coming. The same gut that had kept him in his bedroom when his old man had stumbled wasted through the door. That had sent him to the ground from his third story window when his old lady had waved guns and threats. That had told him nearly two decades ago to get the hell out of that house if he wanted to live.
The very house he was now standing in front of.
The one-page, handwritten letter folded to fit his back pocket felt bulky and heavy and made it hard to get comfortable as he watched the inspector circle the house he'd lived in before leaving Crow Hill at eighteen. The house was now his, as useless as tits on a boar hog, and would be hell to dump or to keep.
It had been a pit as far back as he remembered. His old lady hadn't done a damn thing to make it livable the years they'd called the rambling monstrosity home, or even later, when his life was rodeo, his old man in the wind, and she'd been the only one keeping the fires burning.
Gutting the interior and starting from scratch might be his only option, but first he needed to know if the structure itself was sound. Check that. He needed to know what it was going to cost him to make it so. Especially since he was cash poor and getting his hands on the money he did have meant barreling his way through the woman who held his purse strings.
A woman tighter than a ten day drunk.
He suspected he'd have an easier time getting her to give up what she hid beneath the suits she wore than the funds he needed. And he wasn't sure he wouldn't rather have the first than the second. But since both options hung off the edge of possibility's realm, what he wanted didn't matter a lick.
He took off his hat, ran a hand across the bristled buzz of his hair, resettled the beat-to-hell straw Resistol and pulled the brim low. But he didn't push away from his truck. He stayed where he was, crossing his arms as the man with the electronic gadget in his hand and acorns popping beneath his feet kicked at the sidewalk, the cement buckled by the roots of the yard's hundred year old live oaks.
The inspector pecked out another note on the screen before walking through the thigh-high gate missing two pickets and hinged at a cockeyed angle. He stopped, swung it back and forth, then screwed his mouth to the side before looking at Casper from behind sunglasses that hid his eyes but not his expression. They both knew there was more wrong with this house than was right, but Casper didn't care what the other man was thinking.
He needed an official report to back up his request for the cash to do what was needed. Even shouldering the bulk of the labor himself, the supplies would set him back the cost of a herd of good horses. He doubted the house had been worth that much when he'd spent his nights staring at the holes in the ceiling and hoping the balls of newspaper he'd used to plug them would keep out the biggest of the spiders at least.
"Sure you don't want me to take a look inside?" This was the third time the inspector had pushed to get through the doors. "Let you know what you're looking at with your heating and cooling systems? Your plumbing fixtures? Your outlets?"
Casper shook his head. He wasn't ready for that. Besides, there was no cooling system. Never had been, unless he counted opening the windows and praying for a breeze. The space heaters he and his mother had used had been no match for the lack of insulation or the gaps in the siding—and the two of them hadn't done more than try to control the temperature in the four of the two dozen rooms they'd used.
Summers and winters. Both had been hell. "Just give me the external damage. What am I looking at?"
The other man glanced at the house again—the wraparound front porch and badly canted columns, the Victorian gables over windows made of cardboard instead of glass, the oaks spreading from either side to meet in the middle, branches laced as if praying for the house to be put out of its misery—before turning to Casper with a shrug. "You could raze the whole thing and come out ahead."
Easiest solution, but it wasn't going to happen. "I know it needs a new roof—"
"A new roof's the least of it." Frustrated, the inspector made an encompassing gesture that took in the house and the tree and the entire half acre that resembled a landfill more a yard. "Your fascia board's rotted through most of the way around. Eaves and gables both. Same with the soffit. Kid hits a baseball against the house, the vents are gonna fall plumb out. Your gutters are hanging on by a thread, and you don't have a single attached downspout. Both of the chimney masonry caps, the support beams on all the porches, the grade of your lot…"
"Yeah, yeah. It's a piece of shit. I got it."
A shrug, and, "This house is not where I'd be pouring my investment money. Like I said. Razing's your best bet."
And, again, that wasn't going to happen. As long as Casper got his hands on the money, the risk of making over the house was his. What he did with it after that… He nodded toward the tablet the inspector held. "Can you print out a report on that thing? Give me a list or whatever?"
"I've got a printer in the truck, sure," the man said, making his way to where he'd parked his mobile office behind Casper's big black dualie.
"What about a fax machine?"
"Yep. I can send it wherever you want it to go." He opened the passenger door, glanced over as Casper approached. "I can send the bill, too. All I need is a name and a number."
For the first time since the letter from his old lady had arrived, Casper felt the hard tug of a smile. What he wouldn't give to be a fly on the wall of the office when this particular paperwork arrived.
"Send it over to the First National Bank."
His smiled tugged harder, and grew just a little bit mean. "Faith Mitchell."