“Nobody wants to buy a property where a person was murdered. Not without an enormous discount, anyway.”
The property we’d set our sights on this time was, ironically, not much to look at. The abandoned one-story motel dated back to the 1960s, when men with mutton-chop sideburns and women with bouffant hairdos pulled into the place in their Chevy Chevelles, Plymouth Barracudas, or Ford Fairlanes. Currently, the place sported sea-foam green stucco and scratched pink doors, along with plastic tarps and plywood. Years had passed since anyone had paid taxes on the place, slept in its beds, or swum in its now-cracked pool. But with my mental crystal ball, I could envision the twelve motel rooms turned into six one-bedroom condominiums with contemporary conveniences and a charming retro façade that incorporated the guitar-shaped neon sign in the parking lot. With the property’s prime location just across the Cumberland River from downtown Nashville, we could earn a huge gain—assuming we were the highest bidders at today’s tax auction.
We checked in with the clerk at a table outside the room where the auction would be held.
“Name?” she asked, looking up at my cousin and me.
I spoke for us. “Whitney and Buck Whitaker.”
She wrote our names down on a sheet of paper and held out a numbered paddle. “Here you go.”
I eyed the paddle. Number 13. Call me superstitious, but I got a bad vibe. “Any chance we could get a paddle with a different number?”
The woman eyed the line forming behind us and sent me a sour look. “No. Sorry.”
Buck pushed me forward into the courtroom and muttered, “You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.”
“I wasn’t throwing a fit,” I said. “I just don’t want to be jinxed.”
But jinxed we appeared to be. There, in the front row, sat Thaddeus Gentry III. Even from behind, I recognized his stocky physique and thick, wolf-like salt-and-pepper hair. His lupine resemblance didn’t end at his hair either. He was a predator, slinking around the city as if it were his territory, searching for unsuspecting prey. Thad Gentry owned Gentry Real Estate Development, Inc., referred to as GREED Incorporated by those who disliked his tactics, including yours truly. Gentry was a ruthless real estate developer who swooped down on older, unsuspecting neighborhoods and rebuilt them, running off long-term residents in the process. Rather than rehabbing rundown areas in modest and affordable ways that would allow residents to remain, he strategically purchased plots, razing old homes and building new, bigger, upscale houses in their stead. Older homes would end up sandwiched between his expensive new structures, which caused lot values to soar. The neighbors would find themselves unable to pay the increased property taxes on homes they’d lived in for decades. Gentry would buy them out when they were forced to put the homes they could no longer afford on the market.
Buck and I had a much different philosophy about real estate. While we were in the house-flipping business to make a living, profits were not our sole concern. Our focus was on providing a safe, well-constructed, and visually appealing residence for the people who would someday call it home. The two of us also enjoyed the artistry involved in revisualizing an outdated eyesore, as well as the simple satisfaction that comes from physical labor.
Not long ago, Gentry and I had butted heads when he’d purchased the house next door to the one in which I now live. He’d attempted to have the adjacent property rezoned from residential to commercial, which would have caused the value of my house to plummet. He’d been suspected of bribing a member of the zoning commission, then settling the matter to prevent the truth from coming to light. I’d managed to beat him then, but could I beat him now? It was doubtful. Our funds were limited. Gentry’s, on the other hand, were limitless.
I elbowed Buck in the ribs to get his attention and jerked my head to indicate Gentry. Rubbing his side, Buck followed my gaze and frowned. He knew why Gentry was here. For the same reason we were. To put in a bid on the Music City Motor Court. Although the land on which the motel sat was a mere half acre, its location and skyline view made it a potential gold mine.
Buck and I slipped into the back row and put our heads together.
“We can’t let Thad Gentry steal this chance from us!” I whispered.
“How can we stop him?” Buck asked.
I bit my lip and raised my palms.
Buck’s eyes narrowed as he thought. “You think the Hartleys would make you another loan?”
Marv and Wanda Hartley owned Home & Hearth Realty, the real estate company where I worked part-time as a property manager. They’d generously loaned me the funds to buy the Colonial that Buck and I had recently flipped. They’d give me another loan if I asked, but I’d really hoped the arrangement would be a one-time thing, that Buck and I would be able to buy another property on our own this time, without help. My parents would gladly loan me some money, too, as would Buck’s. But with me having reached the big 3-0 and Buck being on the backside of thirty, we were getting a little too old to run to Mom and Dad for money. We earned decent livings and could support ourselves, even save a little. But if we couldn’t manage this on our own, maybe we were trying to bite off more than we could chew.
Before I could respond, the courtroom doors opened and in walked Presley Pearson on a pair of four-inch heels. Designer, no doubt, though I’d be hard pressed to identify any footwear brand not sold at Tractor Supply, where I purchased the steel-toed work boots I wore when making repairs at rental properties or helping out in the family carpentry business. Presley was smart and chic, with a short angular haircut that framed her dark-skinned face. Presley could be the solution to our problem—if she didn’t still hold a grudge against me. She and I had a checkered past. I’d bought my current home from her former boss, and she’d been rightfully upset that he hadn’t offered the house to her first. But by the time I’d learned she was interested in the property, the deal was done. Her boss was later found dead in the front flowerbed, so she’d dodged a proverbial bullet. Buck and I were now stuck with the unmarketable house. Nobody wants to buy a property where a person was murdered. Not without an enormous discount, anyway.
From Murder with a View by Diane Kelly. Used with the permission of the publisher, St. Martin's Press. Copyright © 2021 by Diane Kelly.
A former tax advisor, Diane Kelly inadvertently worked with white-collar criminals. Lest she end up in an orange jumpsuit, Diane decided self-employment would be a good idea. Her fingers hit the keyboard and thus began her Death and Taxes romantic mystery series. A graduate of her hometown’s Citizen Police Academy, Diane Kelly also writes the hilarious K-9 cop Paw Enforcement series. She recently launched a House Flipper series and has published many romantic comedies.
Diane’s books have been awarded the prestigious Romance Writers of America Golden Heart® Award and a Reviewers Choice Award.