Death at a Fixer Upper by Sarah T. Hobart – Guest Post

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Death at a Fixer-Upper_Hobart - newDeath at a Fixer Upper by Sarah T. Hobart
A Home Sweet Home Mystery
May 17, 2016

In Sarah T. Hobart’s wickedly funny and fast-paced Home Sweet Home mystery series, small-town real estate agent Sam Turner discovers it’s bad for business when her clients keep dropping dead.

Newly armed with her real estate license, Sam Turner loves Arlinda, her quirky seaside hometown in Northern California. But life by the beach isn’t exactly a breeze: She and her teenage son, Max, are being evicted from their apartment, her long absent ex-husband unexpectedly resurfaces, and her possibly romantic relationship with sexy Chief of Police Bernie Aguilar is, well . . . complicated. All Sam wants is a quick and easy sale. What she gets instead is a killer headache—or three.

Sam’s trying to drum up interest in 13 Aster Lane, a rambling Victorian fixer-upper that’s more than a little neglected—and possibly haunted—so when a trio of offers arrive out of the blue, she can’t help thinking it’s too good to be true. But after a new client drops dead on the property, she fears she’s lost more than a commission. Before Sam’s out of house and home, she must unmask a killer targeting her clients, or the only property she’ll be moving will be plots—at the local cemetery.

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Gravity vs. Our House

by Sarah T. Hobart

I’m not new to working against a deadline. Not at all. For years, I was a roving reporter for two of our local town newspapers. It’s a bit of a stretch to call it investigative reporting, but when a herd of cows boldly broke down their fencing and went on the lam, I investigated the heck out of it.

So deadlines don’t worry me. At least . . . well, a novel isn’t something you throw together over the weekend between Giants’ innings and with a handful of Ghirardelli dark chocolate chips to help fire your synapses. It takes time. And sometimes, life gets in the way.

Last weekend, for instance, our house fell down.

beam3Not all of it, fortunately. But enough so that if one were to boldly step out the front door, one would plummet twelve feet to the concrete below.

A little history is required here. Fifty years ago, a couple of guys discovered a set of home plans in the bottom of a box of Kellogg’s Cornflakes along with a Secret Agent Invisibility Ring (because after using the plans, they were never seen again, with one notable exception).

The plans were beautiful in their simplicity: a living space comprised of two walls leaned against each other, dropped onto a platform of twelve parallel beams. The two fellows, who we later discovered were habitual substance abusers, thought “Swiss ski lodge,” and oriented the home westward to capitalize on sweeping views of the southbound lane of State Highway 101.

treesThey built the house into the hillside, and when they stood back and saw what their hands had wrought, they fled the state.

An investor moved in and finished the interior with the cheapest materials available, cutting costs all the way. Interior lights in the main living space? A needless extravagance. Garage? Plenty of room to park in the above-ground basement (so what if the builders had neglected to put in a door). Vented plumbing? If hydraulic systems were meant to be vented, we’d all have PVC coming out of our . . . ears.

We bought the place against our real estate agent’s advice, and found charm in the open-beamed ceilings, so mysteriously marked with size nine Converse Allstar shoeprints. We did a few things to make it our own, such as tearing out the paper-thin institutional carpeting after it began wriggling one day. And we were happy. On a clear day (i.e. two times per year), you could almost see the Pacific Ocean, and with a little imagination the constant rumble of freeway traffic became the regular crash of waves on our own private beach.

That was before the twelve beams holding up the house and deck began to rot away. We called our agent.

“I warned you,” he said.

We had a contractor take a look, and he told us to buy a Sawzall and some prayer books.

What it is about power tools that transform a man? Because when the Sawzall came home, my darling husband, Mr. W, mild-mannered number-cruncher, became Rambo. Dryrot-riddled wood fell before him; wood-boring beetles fled in terror. Eleven beams were trimmed down, shored up, glued, screwed, sanded, shimmed, spackled and painted. Our house was saved.

beam6 Except for number twelve. But we put off repairing number twelve, because trimming down and shoring up weren’t going to do it here: the whole 40-foot beam had to come out. We decided to wait and see if the problem would fix itself.

It’s funny how that almost never happens. Finally, after our teenager suddenly dropped eight inches while walking on the deck above number 12, we knew it was time to act.

So on Saturday, Mr. W got up on a ladder with his Sawzall and cut away the old beam.

beam1 Watching Mr. W work is like watching poetry in motion. He handles his tool like a master, bracing with his entire body; his strokes are smooth and sure, the tension building to a ground-shaking release of wood and debris. Excuse me while I go splash some water on my face. Ah, that’s better.

A man and his tools share a unique bond, as fundamental as that of mother and child. And there’s a special place in the hearts of wives for men who can fix things.

The key here is confidence. When Mr. W works from the very top of a stepladder, his feet planted on either side of the label that reads “DO NOT STAND OR SIT AT THIS LEVEL” and operates a 10-inch reciprocating blade, I know he’ll be okay. And if not, I know his term life policy will provide me and the boys with a modicum of comfort.

Back to our home builders. One evening around sunset seven or eight years ago, a man wandered up the driveway and stood in our yard, looking at the house. We went out to see what he wanted.

“I built this place,” the man said.

He was close on 70, grizzled, bent and twisted and reeking of stale malt liquor. He told us some stories about how the house went together, including how he’d signed his name in various places and left little “treasures” inside the walls. “Those were good days,” he said, shaking his head.

My husband noticed the bedroll on his back and slipped him a bill, asking him if he had a safe place to stay for the night. The man cast an eye over the sagging structure he’d created.

“I got a place,” he said. “Do you?”

About the Author

SARAH HOBARTSarah Hobart is a real estate agent and former newspaper reporter in Northern California, where she lives with her husband and two children in a majestic fixer-upper overlooking State Highway 101.


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