Earnest

Earnest by Kristin von Kreisler Read Free Book Online

Book: Earnest by Kristin von Kreisler Read Free Book Online
Authors: Kristin von Kreisler
plate?” Ted stooped down and picked up a clump of barely recognizable plastic.
    â€œThat’s it,” Joy said. “It was old, but it worked.”
    â€œOur investigators will look it over. They’ll be here to figure out what caused the fire.”
    What if it was our Mr. Coffee? Anna wondered with a shiver.
    â€œWhat happens once you know why the fire started?” Lauren asked.
    â€œWe send our report to your landlady’s insurance company. After their own investigators come here, the cleanup crew takes over.”
    â€œDo we have to move out?” Anna asked.
    â€œThat’s not for me to say. Gamble’s building official should be here this afternoon. He’ll decide if this place needs to be condemned,” Ted said.
    â€œBut we have to keep our shops going. The kitchen’s the only part that’s really wrecked,” Anna argued.
    â€œYou’ve got renter’s insurance, don’t you,” he said, implying it was an established fact.
    Anna, Joy, and Lauren looked at each other.
    â€œNo,” Anna said, glum as rain. They’d canceled their insurance in order to save money for the house.
    â€œRenter’s insurance would have replaced everything you’ve lost. It would have paid for you to set up somewhere else.” Ted gazed at the floor. He might have felt too sorry for the women to look directly at them. “That’s too bad. A damned shame.”

    While waiting for the insurance company’s cleanup crew, Anna, Lauren, and Joy got on their hands and knees and mopped the entry with smoky towels so no one would slip in the puddles. Lauren’s boa feathers, which had been white and fluffy that morning, now looked like they’d been plucked from an exhausted turkey vulture. Anna’s denim skirt was drenched and streaked with grime.
    â€œIf our Mr. Coffee started the fire, you think Mrs. Scroogemore could sue us for negligence?” she asked.
    â€œIt was an accident. No way could she claim we set out to burn down the house,” Joy said.
    â€œBut we knew he wasn’t working well. We could be liable. I’m worried. Mrs. Scroogemore could come after us with lawyers,” Anna said.
    Lauren wiped ashes off a baseboard. “It’s weird she hasn’t shown up. Anybody call her?”
    â€œI did. She didn’t sound upset to hear the house was burning,” Joy said.
    â€œI know why.” Anna sat back on her heels, blew her bangs off her sweaty forehead, and broke Kimberly’s unspeakably horrible news to Lauren and Joy. “If the house burned down, Mrs. Scroogemore wouldn’t have to pay for the demolition. She’d be thrilled.”
    Joy and Lauren stared at Anna, speechless. It might have been the first time since birth that Joy had not had an opinion.
    â€œIt’s the truth,” Anna said.
    Finally, Joy asked, “She’d tear down this house?”
    â€œMore tenants mean more money. That’s all she cares about,” Anna said.
    â€œHow do you know about this?” Lauren asked.
    â€œI just heard it from Jeff ’s assistant. He’s the damned architect.” The way Anna said “architect,” the word smoldered with disdain. “His assistant said he was filing for permits at city hall today, and his new building would replace ‘some old Victorian house.’”
    â€œMaybe it’s not ours,” Lauren said.
    â€œWhat other house could it be? We’re the only one with a big enough yard,” Anna said.
    â€œThat odious toad! I want to smack him,” Joy snarled.
    â€œMrs. Scroogemore is as much to blame.” Lauren’s boa feathers looked even darker than before. “I can’t believe Jeff would do that, Anna.”
    â€œMen betray you all the time. Ask my ex-husband, the Twit,” Joy said.
    â€œJeff’s not that type. He’s a good man,” Lauren said.
    â€œAs of now he’s a vile slug,” Joy

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