A trade for good, p.1
A Trade For Good, p.1Bria Daly
A Trade for Good
~ Book I ~
A Trade for Good Series
A Trade for Good ~ Book I
A Trade for Better ~ Book II
A Trade for Keeps ~ Book III
Also by Bria Daly:
A Plan Worth Changing
The Spoon Tree ~ A Family Series
Small Town U.S.A
The Old Place
The Flip Side of Crazy
Sisters Out of Rank
A Tail in Two Cities ~ A children’s story
COPYRIGHT © 2015 by Bria Daly
All rights reserved. No part of the book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing by the author or publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote passages in a review.
The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Cover Art by A&L, Creative Designs
Edited by R. M. Green
TO My Family
Jeff looked at his watch. It was nine in the morning; a decent time to call. He dialed the number from memory and prepared himself for another busy signal. Yesterday he had called the same number three times with no success.
The message left on his voicemail from yesterday morning sounded almost hysterical, but not in a funny way. It was apparently from a very distressed client, and in the landscaping business that usually meant a broken pipe, some shifty sprinklers, an industrious gopher, or a neighboring tree dispute. The problem was he had no idea who called!
“You’ve reached 555-1347.” Jeff got out of his chair and quickly shuffled through the papers on his desk to recheck the number he had scribbled on his desk calendar. The number was the same, but he found it hard to believe he had finally gotten through.
The voices he heard on the recording were those of a couple of kids, followed by the happy trill voice of someone who had to be the children's mother, topped off by some barking in the end. It would have been cute had he been in the mood.
The person who called had left a number, but no name, and unfortunately, Jeff’s files weren’t set up to do a reverse phone lookup, so he had no idea what this was all about.
“Hi, this is Jeff Mason, from Mason Landscaping. You left a message yesterday. Please call me back ... Uh, and thank you.” Another incomplete task.
He pulled out a cardboard box from the top right drawer of his desk, and sifted through the paper pile. Most of what was in there were letters or bills that were strewn about haphazardly. Others he wasn’t sure what they were, because they were mysteriously hidden under the guise of a generic white envelope.
He looked at the task ahead of going through the endless piles and tapped his fingers on the desk. Moving on … he put the box back into the drawer it came from. He didn’t feel like paying bills, answering letters, making calls or looking at ads. Maybe he’d throw this pile in another box and take them home to work on at home while he watched a game or something.
Jeff was tired, and in a rut. It was work, work, work, but he didn’t feel he was getting ahead; he was just working and doing nothing else.
He looked down at the scribbled phone number he had called ten minutes earlier and decided to give it another go.
“You’ve reached 555-1347. Sera, P.D., Melle, Charlie, Em, and Buddy are either away from the phone or just don’t want to talk! Please leave your name and number, and who knows, we might just call you back!” Jeff slammed the phone in its receiver. That was the second time today he had gotten that same stupid message with the three voices and a dog barking on cue.
Damn it! He didn’t even know why he was fixated on calling the woman back. Maybe it was because of the desperation in the voice he heard on the other end when she left a message the morning before. Or it could also be that he had no idea what it was about and not knowing bothered him. Not that it should. If she had a pipe leaking in her yard, she should have at least left her name and not just a number...
Wait a minute. Jeff looked at the phone number again and decided to check on something. Out came another cardboard box, this time from the bottom drawer of his desk, and in it was a card file of current jobs, or maybe these were the upcoming jobs. It looked like they were all in one place. More things to sort through later.
He looked through the first five and found it. 555-1347 ... there it is! He looked at the number again. Yup, same number, and now that he had the paperwork in front of him, he even remembered the guy who ordered the work; he remembered him well. Some stuck-up asshole who argued over every penny, and even after he was given a discounted rate nothing seemed to please him.
Apparently this guy, Sinclair was his name, had asked around and finally ended up calling Mason Landscaping when he heard they were really good, and their prices were super low.
That’s what everyone said. Apparently that’s what was bringing in clients, reviews and prices. But the only reason why the prices were so low was because Jeff hadn’t bothered to change them. Because it would be a bother; it would be a pain in the ass, that’s what it would be. Jeff had to do something about that. One thing was staying competitive, but another was giving stuff away. The only thing that kept him from raising prices right now was that he had to re-do all financials, forms, and advertising to show the changes. And with all of the work he had on his plate, that prospect was way too daunting.
The guy owed him over ten grand for a landscaping job that was supposed to have started over a month ago, with paid building materials in storage, Jeff was waiting for payment in order to start digging.
Mystery over, Jeff picked up the phone and hit redial.
Sera heard the phone from the other room and yelled out to the kids, “Don’t answer that!”
She waited, making sure the phone wasn’t picked up, hoping it was a call from Ed McMahon, calling to say she won a gazillion dollars from Publishers Clearing House. Then again, it would most likely be better news for Ed McMahon if he called, since he had died a few years back.
No message? No such luck ... the recording on the machine was probably still going.
“…If Buddy could answer, he would,” the message continued as a resonant dog’s bark seemed to respond on cue, “but since he can’t, and we're not home, please leave a message after the beep and we'll be sure to call you back.”
What followed were goodbyes from mother, children, and some howling at the end, with the help of the dog.
Holding her breath and to see if it was the landscaping guy, she wondered how on earth she was going to pay for landscaping when she might soon be losing the house.
Jeff sat back down, adjusted himself in his seat, and waited for the recording to end, ready to leave a message. Beep…
“Hi, this is Jeff Mason, from Mason Landscaping, I tried calling several times but ..." the phone clicked.
“Hel ... sorry, hello?” The person on the other end was out of breath when she answered and didn’t sound anything like the happy voice he had heard on the recording the day before.
Jeff picked up a paper, looked at it, and turned it over to write on the blank side just in case he had to take notes. He was about to introduce himself once again, when she saved him the trouble.
“Hey, I’m so glad you called. I was beginning to wonder if I’d hear from you,” she laughed and a loud screeching sound erupted in the background, making it very hard for Jeff to hear what followed. The voice had apparently continued as if she didn’t get the screech
“…So I’m really sorry, but we’ll have to cancel the job.”
What the ... At this Jeff jumped to his feet and would have pounced on her had she been anywhere near.
“What do you mean cancel the job? I’ve got thirty bags of cement, 500 pounds of river rock, and a top-of-the-line sprinkler system on order, not to mention a truck with the best quality soil available, ready and waiting to be delivered to your address!" He knew he was yelling into the phone, but he didn't care.
"There is no ‘we’ll just have to cancel’, because we have a contract," and with a slight hesitation he added "and it's binding!”
The screech in the background continued and the woman raised her voice higher to be heard, but also to match his volume. Apparently she did hear the screeching, so it wasn’t only on his end.
“Mr. Mason, weren't you listening? You can do the job if you’d like, but I can’t pay you. You'll just be wasting your time and your money.”
No, he hadn’t been listening. The screeching in the background had made it hard for him to focus. Jeff started tossing papers all over his desk and shuffling through them as quickly as he could. This was one of those times when he thought that clearing his desk and filing things might actually help his business.
There was a system to the chaos that surrounded him. Basically, his filing system followed the unorthodox order of what job came first. The top papers being jobs that were in progress, and the papers that came next were jobs coming up, and on the bottom he had a small stack of estimates and potential clients. The system had worked for him for the past seven years and he prided himself on being the only one who could understand it.
There. He found the contract he was looking for and pulled it out from under at least two dozen very similar contracts. He looked at one of the contracts and realized it was a few months old; he never said the system was perfect.
A key fell out of the stack as he was pulling out the contract and he gave it a quick glance, not knowing what it was for, he put it in his pants pocket to figure that one out later. Pulling the Sinclair contract from the pile and looking at it more closely, he scratched off a stain on the letterhead that looked suspiciously like mustard and continued.
“Listen lady, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but there’s a contract with everything I just told you on it, and I’m looking at it right now." Jeff stretched his long legs and rubbed his eyes with the free hand that was not holding onto the phone.
"It says the job starts on June 15th – that’s ...” he sat up straighter, “that’s tomorrow. Yup, June 15th. It also says the estimated cost of materials plus labor is $14,000.00, which by the way is a bargain, so whoever negotiated this contract got a great deal for you. A great bargain.” He added lowering his voice and once again thinking he had to do something about his pricing.
“Listen, and I don't mean to be rude," the woman interjected, "but I don’t care what it says. The bottom line is I don’t have any money to pay you, so you'll just have to cancel.”
“No, you listen to me. I don't care what your finances are. From the moment you signed this, you had a legal obligation. It says it on the bottom of the page. That’s the only reason we buy the materials ahead of time for you. We use our money in advance, but by buying more, we get the best rates. Everyone wins, that is if I get paid for the money I already put out."
Jeff heard some scraping sound in the background, like furniture being moved, and then the same screeching noise from before.
"This contract is binding. I have your signature here. It’s uh ... right here. There’s a P. Sinclair. Your scribble is right here in front of my face.”
The screech in the background grew even louder to the point where Jeff had to pull the phone away from his ear, but somehow, that didn't even phase the harried woman who quickly responded.
“That’s Peter Sinclair for your information, and I’m Sera Henderson Sinclair. So see, it’s not me after all”.
Jeff adjusted the phone a little closer to his ear this time, but instead of just listening, he hit the side of his head with the receiver a few times, trying to unclog his brain before speaking. All the while, the screeching in the background grew louder.
He was used to jackhammers, saws, loud cement mixer trucks, but whatever was on the other end of the phone was painfully noisy and almost otherworldly.
“Excuse me,” Jeff said, almost yelling again to match the noise on the other end. “Is that a fax line in the background? Cause I can't even hear what you’re saying?”
“No Mr. Mason," the woman said exasperated, "it’s not a fax, that’s my daughter. And before you ask, no, there’s no way I can quiet her down. She does this all day long.”
Jeff had nephews and nieces he claimed were almost inhuman at times. The way they moved nonstop, touched everything, put whatever they were touching in their mouths, and smelled foully, but none of them sounded like that. He almost found himself feeling sorry for Mrs. Sinclair, but not sorry enough to drop the small matter of a $14,000 job she was expecting him to suck up.
“So you're Sera Henderson - Sinclair. Fine, is Peter Sinclair your husband, then?”
“Well, uh ... I, you see,"
“It’s not really that difficult a question you know. Either you're married to him or you're not, but if you are, you're just as responsible for the bill as he is.”
“Mr. Mason, believe it or not that question is harder to answer than you think, but legally ... yes."
“Yes, as in Peter Sinclair is your husband?" Jeff wondered if the woman was on drugs. How hard was it to say the P. Sinclair on the contract was in fact her husband?
“Well then, that settles it. Your husband signed the contract so you are both responsible for paying the bills.”
Hell, Jeff knew he was no businessman. He was a landscaper, so he wasn't even sure about recourse in a case like this, but he was not about to let another client take advantage of him again. He had to at least pretend he had the upper hand. Truthfully though, Jeff was a lousy businessman, but he was an artist in the landscape business when given free reign. He was also really lucky in that he was surrounded by honest people for the most part. Those he worked with who looked after him, and those who loved his work.
The woman had stopped speaking.
“Mrs. Sinclair? Are you still there?”
“Yes, and you’re right. Okay, I'll pay you for the labor then. My husband can pay you for all of the materials.”
He smiled at that. Not bad… At least she was a quick thinker when it came to business and striking deals. Too bad she didn't know how landscaping worked.
“Just for your information Mrs. Sinclair," he added putting emphasis on her marital status, "labor is more costly than the actual materials.”
“I gathered that Mr. Mason,” she said smugly, "and since the labor won’t be done - because I'm cancelling the job - I have no problem with you billing my husband for the materials, even that top-of-the-line sprinkler system you mentioned earlier. So I guess that pretty much settles my part of the debt."
Quick thinking and smart, he thought reminding himself how lucky he was to be single.
“I'm sorry Mrs. Sinclair. I don’t know what prompted this, or what this is all about, but when we write up a contract, we do the job. The job consists of materials and labor." Jeff was starting to worry about tomorrow's delivery and the bill for specific materials he’d ordered that he wasn't ready to be stuck with, and probably couldn’t return.
"Did you change your mind on what you want done? You two – uh ... you and your husband - not agree on the layout? Are you moving, or did you find another landscaper?" Then hesitating, "I can't even believe I'm saying this, but I need to know what's going on if you want me to work with you on this."
The silence on the other end was followed by a strung out sigh that sounded like the air emptying out of a tire.
Well that was unexpected. Then again, some problems followed him like magnets. Jeff would have to check, but as far as he remembered, the ad he took out in the Yellow Pages said he was a landscaper, not a sucker or a counselor, not even a businessperson, but a landscaper.
The last time something like this had come up, he had promised to protect himself against anything that could screw up getting paid. The last one was the contract with the widow. Well, she wasn't a widow when she signed it, but she had done a lot of crying and now she had a beautiful yard, free of charge, and a new husband only three months after starting widowhood.
The business couldn't stand another case like that. No, there would be no more widows, divorcees, families with hungry children, or missing husbands. He was running a business, and emotions had nothing to do with business, other than the emotion caused from leaving a client with the thrill of a beautiful yard, patio, or garden, and a job well done.
“Fine,” he suddenly heard a voice from very deep within him say, “I’ll cancel tomorrow’s truck and all other deliveries." Then, running his fingers through his dark hair that had just a little bit of gray in it (most likely a result of the outcome of the widow's contract), he paused, and as if to himself, he said, "I don’t know what I’m going to do with all of the materials, but I’ll say one thing for your husband, he has good taste. He had me order only the best. Everything is top-of-the-line”.
"Yes, that sounds like him ..." her voice trailed off. Then, "You sound like a nice guy.”
Jeff was getting tired of hearing that.
“I'll tell you what,” she continued softly, “if you feel bad about charging my husband for materials that won’t be used, then as soon as I find out where he lives, I'll give you his address so you can dump every ounce of cement and rocks he ordered right on his doorstep. I’m hoping he’ll be standing there when you do.”
A Trade For Good by Bria Daly / Romance & Love have rating 3.7 out of 5 / Based on37 votes