Stiff:A Stepbrother Romance(7)

By: B. B. Hamel


“Please, come in,” I said.

I ushered her inside. She looked nervous, like most people I found at my door did. I sat down behind my desk and she sat in front of it, frowning down at her hands.

“What can I do for you, Mrs. . . . ?” I trailed off.

“Suarez,” she said. “Please, Mister Wright, you must help us.”

“Call me Easton,” I said in Spanish. “What can I do for you?”

She instantly looked more at ease as she switched into her more comfortable language. “I live with my family on Maple Avenue, in the apartment buildings at the corner of Maple and Brown. Do you know them?”

I nodded. “Drove by them yesterday.”

She looked a bit more comfortable. “Yes, well, the landlord is a very bad man. You see, many people from my home country live there, and many of us are just poor, hard-working immigrants. He constantly threatens to throw us out on the street and to raise our rents.”

“I can’t do anything about a rude landlord,” I said.

“But that isn’t the problem. You see, he never does his job. We have rats, bugs, the trash sits outside our apartments for weeks, and the washing machines are all broken. He does nothing for us, even when we complain.”

I sighed, shaking my head. It was a pretty common story. “And what do you want me to do about it?”

Her face fell slightly. “I heard you can help. With problems.”

“Mrs. Suarez,” I said, sitting forward, “it sounds like this landlord is breaking the law. Go to the police first, maybe even find a lawyer.”

“We cannot afford a lawyer,” she said quickly. “And if we go to the police, he will know.” She paused, frowning as she stared at me intently. “Please, you have to help us.”

I leaned back in my chair and crossed my arms. This was the hard part, the part I fucking hated.

“I cost fifty an hour plus expenses. I need one day of work up front.”

She looked down at the floor. “Mister Wright, I cannot afford that.”

“Please,” I said, “it’s Easton. What can you afford?”

She opened her purse and pulled out an envelope, sliding it across the desk. I picked it up and counted about three hundred dollars.

It wasn’t enough to cover even two days’ worth of work on this. I did need the money, but I also needed to be able to work real, paying jobs and not be stuck sidetracked on some hopeless landlord shakedown.

Then again, I knew about the place where Mrs. Suarez lived. It was notorious in town for being an awful shithole, and the landlord was well known as the kind of man who would take advantage a well-meaning older woman like Mrs. Suarez.

“This is plenty,” I said, already regretting it.

Her face lit up. “Oh, thank you so much,” she said and began to talk quickly in Spanish. I only understood about half of it, but I was pretty sure she invited me to marry whichever one of her daughters I wanted, or even a son if that was what I preferred. No judgment.

I held up a hand. “Please, Mrs. Suarez. I can’t promise results, but I will do my best.”

“Rosario Mendez said you are the best, Easton, so I will trust you.”

I nodded, remembering Mrs. Mendez well. I had helped her track down her drug addict son and get him straightened out. That one was pro-bono.

I stood up. “Come back in a few days and I’ll let you know what I find,” I said.

“Thank you so much,” she replied as I ushered her out of my apartment.

Once the door was shut, I leaned up against the jamb. Another quick job done on the cheap. When was I going to learn that I needed to take serious jobs? I couldn’t keep doing damn charity cases, or else I was going to be out on my ass at the end of the month.

Still, three hundred helped. It meant food and whisky for the week, at least. Plus, Mrs. Suarez seemed like a nice lady.

And I fucking hated scumbag landlords. Hated them almost as much as I hated killers. The bastards all preyed on the weak because inside, they were weak too.

Real men helped those that needed help.

I walked into the back room and poured myself more whisky. Suddenly, I found myself remembering my new stepsister and the way she had first looked at me. I knocked back my whisky and then pulled my phone from my pocket. I dialed a number and let it ring.

“Hello?”

“Susan, it’s your son,” I grunted.

“What can I do for you, Easton?”

I hesitated. Did I really want to bring someone into my fucked up world, especially some naïve college girl?

But then her body, her look, flooded my mind again.

“Tell my stepsister to be here by ten tomorrow morning.”

“Thanks, Easton. I’m really glad you’re doing this.”

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