Drake took one look at Kayla’s red swollen eyes and put his arms around her. “What’s happened?”
She began to cry again. “Mrs. Langley died this morning.”
He silently waited for her to get composed. He was probably thinking that was why she had called him.
She wiped her eyes and blew her nose. “I’m sorry. That wasn’t why I called you.”
She explained about what happened that night with Stephanie and why she entered the apartment. Then she described what she found there.
“I don’t know if I violated any law by going in there, but I didn’t go in to look the place over. I went in there to make sure the sitter was okay.”
He nodded. “But you did look around while you were there, and you may have uncovered a lot more than you realize.” He glanced around. “Where’s Stephanie now?”
She nodded toward the study door. “She’s busy on my computer.”
He took her elbow and led her to the kitchen. “We need to talk. I know you didn’t want me to, but I talked to a lawyer. He knows I inherited this business, so the questions were no surprise.”
Of course. She had been turning to Drake as someone with experience about landlord/tenant complications. He had taken over a business he knew little more about than she did. The difference was that he had the connections that she didn’t have. He had a friend who was a lawyer, but more importantly, he had enough faith in his parents that he didn’t discard their established method. What a fool she had been. She didn’t listen to her parents when they advised her not to let Marcie rent from her. At first, she hadn’t listened to Drake, and then she had refused any assistance from him. She was going to listen now – only it might be too late.
Drake guided her to a chair beside the table. “Sit down. Do you have any coffee?”
She turned toward the cabinet. “I made some this morning. It’s in the coffee maker….”
He gave her a wry smile and pointed at the chair. “Didn’t I tell you to sit down? Believe it or not, I’m perfectly capable of serving coffee. You, however, need to start accepting assistance.”
She pulled out the chair. “The mugs are….”
Here she was directing again, as if he didn’t have the vision to see six mugs hanging on a holder beside the coffee pot.
He filled two cups and set one in front of her. He set his on the table and pulled out a chair. Once seated, he continued.
“As I said, I talked to a lawyer, and it appears that you have three options at this point. Of course, the first is to go into default. Sad as the situation is with Mrs. Langley, it might make that option less painful.”
“It wouldn’t make me feel any better knowing that after she passed on, I betrayed her son.”
He took a sip of his coffee and nodded. “For someone like you, I guess it wouldn’t.”
She wasn’t sure how he meant that, but there were more important things right now. “What are the other two options?”
You have given her the notice that your contract has been terminated. Now you need to give her a ten-day eviction notice. Hopefully she will leave, but I doubt it. Obviously, you can’t physically throw her out, and you can’t do things like shutting off her electricity or removing the front door.”
Kayla gasped! “I would never remove the door. Who would do a thing like that?”
His smile sardonic. “Apparently it’s been done before.” He sobered. “You could go to the court house and file an unlawful detainer form. Unfortunately, they don’t provide the form. You’ll need to go to a lawyer to have one written up.”
“How much will that cost?”
He grimaced. “There is a filing fee and then a fee to have the sheriff’s office serve papers, plus the lawyer’s fee. Depending on the lawyer, it could be anywhere from $800 to $1500.”
“But she signed a contract and she has broken it. Why do I need a lawyer?”
“I asked the same question. You see, you’ve done everything you were supposed to do, but she hasn’t. She has rights too, and one of them is to legally contest you. The purpose is to protect tenants from draconian landlords.”
Warmth flooded up her face. She should understand that. Hadn’t she viewed Drake that way? They had taken the word draconian, which meant unwarranted harsh punishment and acquainted it with Drake and dragon. They had thought it was funny then. It wasn’t so funny now…now that she had a clue what she was talking about. The shoe was on the other foot now and it didn’t fit right.
She sighed. “I understand, but…I have a tenant who is living on my property against my wishes. She is living there rent free – now with a bunch of other people. She is forcing me into default and thus threatening my abode. She is destroying my property and my credit. In order to prevent this, I must borrow money, with no hope of return, to pay officials who have already been paid with my tax money, to do the job they were hired to do - protect me from criminals.”
He nodded. “And you don’t even have the option of selling your property to get out of debt until you can get her out and repair the place. Now you see why there are so many clauses in what should be a simple rental contract, and why it is necessary to charge two months in advance. That’s how long it usually takes to get people like that out using due process of law.”
It wasn’t going to do any good to whine about it. She was in this up to her eyeballs now. She lifted her chin. “What is the third option.”
He looked uncomfortable. “It’s not something I discussed with the lawyer. What you told me earlier made me think of it. This is my observation only. I’d advise you to get a lawyer.”
“It won’t hurt me to listen.”
He smiled. “Maybe.” He placed his elbows on the table. “You could turn Marcie in for child neglect. In fact, you may even be legally obligated to do so because of what you found.”
She frowned. “I hardly think she would be in any legal trouble for taking in friends and having a messy house. At least she separated Stephanie from the others. If she doesn’t have any money, she couldn’t pay the rent or the electric bill.”
He shook his head. “She made choices about how she spent her money.”
She hadn’t told him about Marcie losing her job. “She didn’t have any money. She lost her job and her boyfriend never had one.”
He sat up straight and looked confused. “Wait…when did she lose her job – and has she filed for unemployment?”
“She was fired. She wouldn’t be able to get unemployment, would she?”
For a moment he stared at her. “Why was she fired and when did all this happen?”
“I don’t know why. They said it happened about three weeks ago. I didn’t realize it until I tried to call her at work. I didn’t think they would tell me why she was fired and I didn’t ask. I did ask Stephanie if she knew where she was working now. She said she wasn’t working anymore. I asked about the boyfriend and she said he didn’t work.”
Drake groaned. “Kayla…”
She slumped in her chair. “I know. How did I let this happen right next door? I’ve already asked myself that question.”
He shook his head. “I wasn’t thinking that at all. Maybe you weren’t as observant as you should have been, but that’s because you were too trusting and innocent.”
Actually, she was too ignorant, but that was beside the point. She had committed no crime.
Drake leaned back in his chair and rubbed his face with both hands. “From what you describe, I would bet that there are drugs involved – with a minor in the house. My advice is to call the police and let them decide what needs to be done.”
“But they would take Stephanie away and put her in a foster home. I’ve heard stories about that. I don’t think Marcie does drugs.” She grimaced. “But then, there were a lot of things about her that I didn’t know.” She stopped. “Marcie told me that she had to pay for a hot water heater that needed to be replaced when she was renting from you.”
He shook his head. “I made her pay for the hot water heater she destroyed. I don’t want to discuss the details, but it was when Daniel was trying to move in with her. I suspect she didn’t do the damage, but she was certainly financially responsible.”
“She said she had to wash clothes in the bathtub and hang them in there to dry. Dad wondered why she didn’t dry them with her dryer. I thought maybe you turned off the electricity.”
He shook his head. “As I said, you can’t do that. Maybe she didn’t have a dryer – or washer, for that matter. Maybe she didn’t have the money to take her clothes to the laundry. I was looking at the hot water heater.”
“The washer and dryer were provided in the duplex I rented, and Mrs. Langley left hers here.”
All of that was neither here nor there. Whatever the situation, Marcie had lied – or at least didn’t tell the whole truth.
“I wonder why they fired her.”
He shrugged. “My first guess would be Daniel. She needs to stay away from him.”
She wished she had asked. She had an idea, but it would involve a certain degree of deception – and Marcie would have to be willing to cooperate. Drake would probably think she was crazy. It probably wouldn’t come as any surprise to her parents, either. Drake was watching her, as if he knew she had something on her mind.
“When the notice was delivered, that was the end of the contract, right? What if she signed a new one – and there were conditions to her staying?”
He frowned. “Kayla, you don’t want to get into another contract with her.”
“What do I have to lose? Before I can get her out of there and the place fixed up – assuming there are no more repairs like water heaters – I would have spent as much money. I’m never going to get my rent money and Stephanie might be separated from her home.”
He looked unconvinced. “You know how she is.”
“Do I? She has been a friend for a lot of years. Either she has recently changed, or I have very bad judgement when it comes to friends. If she has changed recently, what was the cause?”
He studied his cup and nodded. Finally, he lifted an amused gaze to her face. “If I said you had poor judgment in friends, I’d have to wonder about myself.”
She smiled. “That’s true. I hadn’t thought of that. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.”
He picked up his coffee mug and gave her a wry smile over the rim. He took a sip. “So, tell me your plan.”
She made a face. “I wouldn’t call it a plan – more like another option to explore.”
He nodded. “I’m listening – if you want to tell me.”
“Of course I want to tell you.” She straightened in her chair. “Since Marcie is a single mother, she could get assistance – especially now that she has no income. I’m not sure how it works, but they sometimes pay rent and utilities. I find it hard to believe she hasn’t explored that possibility, but since she was working, maybe her income was too high to qualify her. In her current situation, she’d probably be afraid to file. I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of that before.”
He gave a short humorless laugh. “Probably because she kept you unaware of her situation and you had too many distractions.”
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have gotten you involved. If I do something and get into legal problems; would it get you into trouble too?”
He met her gaze in a disturbing way. “I don’t know, but I wanted to get involved. I want you to realize that I’m not doing this to help a friend. You’re more than that to me.”
She reached out and took his hand. “And you’re more than that to me. That’s why I don’t want to risk getting you involved.”
He squeezed her hand. “I appreciate that – but I think you’d feel the same way even if it was a stranger. That’s one of the reasons I fell in love with you.” He released her hand and leaned back in his chair, glancing out the window. “The first thing we need to do is talk to Marcie – alone…and here she is.”
Kayla followed his gaze to the window and saw Marcie getting out of the passenger’s side of her car. She didn’t look happy – but then, she hadn’t looked happy for quite a while.
Drake stood. “Come on. Let’s get her in here. Now is as good a time as any.”