Adriana Island Cats #4 (Humor)
When Holly Sutton learns that squatters have taken over the old house scheduled to open as a heritage museum for Adriana Island, she promises to get rid of them. But Jason and his partner, Jody, surprise her. His colored pencil art work is brilliant and Jody is blind.
Holly and husband Ben invite them to live at Holly Haven, their five-acre farm, with them and their fur menagerie. Then they all, including tabby/Siamese King George the Magnificent, have to deal with Jody’s parents who believe her incapable of living unsupervised and will go to any length, including having Jason arrested for dealing drugs, to regain control of her.
Meanwhile, Ben’s mother, Maggie, agrees to foster an unmanageable cat from a shelter, though she fears the danger to her own four-footed clan. Looming over all is Holly’s up-coming sixtieth birthday. Will she really carry out her threat to fly off to Tibet just to avoid a not-really-a-surprise surprise party?
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CHAPTER I – SQUATTERS
When I lugged my laptop and a briefcase full of papers into the private party room at the back of The Yellow Duck, Duff and Joanna were already there. The first thing out of Duff’s mouth was not his usual cheery hello, but, “Holly, we’ve got more trouble with Brentwood Park.”
“Oh, Duff, don’t say that! What could go wrong that hasn’t already?” I put my gear on the big round table and Joanna pushed a mug of coffee toward me. I’d been looking forward to the monthly meeting of Adriana Island’s trustees and catching up on the gossip, but the other two were looking worried. “On the phone last week, you told me the contractors were doing a great job.”
“They are.” Duff ‛s white grocer’s smock was open and he sat back in his chair, hands resting on his ample stomach. “Or they were. The plumbing and wiring are done and the work’s been inspected and passed. The Carlsons were supposed to start painting and wallpapering this last Monday.”
“So what’s the problem?” In cooperation with the Adriana Heritage Society, we were repairing the old Brentwood farm house, now nearly eighty years old, so it could be used partly as a museum to commemorate the history of Adriana Island and partly as a tourist bureau office.
“Squatters.” Duff said the word as if it had dirt on it.
“Squatters? Is that all?” I opened my laptop. “They couldn’t possibly be as difficult to deal with as Trevor Brentwood.” Trevor’s mother, Norma Brentwood, had deeded the old farm, a hundred and sixty acres, to Adriana with the stipulation that it would be kept as a park forever. Trevor, a wealthy surgeon living in Victoria, had done everything in his power, including a lawsuit, to get the property for himself. Not because he had fond memories of family life there, but so he could develop it and make more money.
“You’re right about that.” Joanna ran a hand through her short, wavy gray hair. “I don’t think anybody will ever forget what he did when he lost the lawsuit.”
I knew I wouldn’t forget; Norma had been a dear friend. When she died, six months ago, Trevor had arranged to have a moving truck strip absolutely everything out of the house. We all thought he was salvaging what little money he could to make up for losing the land, but we were wrong. He sent it all to the dump: Norma’s clothes, family photographs and treasures, furniture, linen, books, even the fridge and freezer and all the food in them. My mother-in-law, who had been living with and looking after Norma at the time, was left stranded with no vehicle, no power, no water and no food, not even for Norma’s four animals. He’d taken the cat carriers, too.
“Well,” Duff said, “it’s for sure the squatters don’t have the money to start a lawsuit, but they’re refusing to get out. The young guy says it’s a park, and that parks are meant for people to use, and that they’re just exercising their rights. They won’t budge.”
“Have you talked to Russ yet?” I asked. Corporal Russ Parsons was our local RCMP officer. “He’d probably love having something to do besides patrol for speeders and listen to Sarah Perkins complain about somebody trying to steal her dog off the back porch in the middle of the night.”
“Does she really do that?” Joanna asked. She liked hearing about Adriana’s eccentrics, so she could compare them to the ones living on her own island. One of the three trustees elected for each Gulf Island was always from a different island. Joanna’s farm was on Melfort, five minutes away by speedboat when the sea was calm. When the wind was howling across the Strait of Georgia, her life was more complicated. Then she had to travel by ferry to the main island, drive thirty kilometers south and take another ferry to Mora Bay to get to a meeting.
I took a welcome gulp of my coffee. “Apparently so. Russ is pretty sure what she hears are raccoons going up on the porch to steal the poor dog’s food and water. But Sarah is convinced someone wants her pooch. I don’t know why; he’s so old and arthritic he can barely walk.”
”Sounds like my next-door neighbor,” Joanna said. “He complains about everything but I think it’s because he wants attention.”
Duff cleared his throat. “To answer your question about Russ and the squatters, Holly, Russ isn’t very keen. He could arrest them for trespass, but it seems ridiculous to put two healthy young people in jail when they haven’t done any damage.”
“Could we get a restraining order?” Joanna asked.
“I suppose so,” Duff said, with a sigh. “But that would take forever. You know what the court system is like. And Betty Good is in a hurry. She found a bunch of period furniture for the place and she’s anxious to get it out of her basement.” Betty Good was president of the Adriana Heritage Society and a formidable organizer.
“Let’s get the regular business out of the way.” Joanna refilled her mug from the coffee carafe Mitch always provided for us. “I’ve got ewes ready to lamb and I’ll have to go right home if one of the silly creatures decides to do something stupid.”
After an hour of dealing with correspondence while I made hasty notes on the laptop, Duff looked at me. “I take it Ben doesn’t want the use of Norma’s big vegetable garden.”
I shook my head. “He has enough to handle with our own garden and greenhouse. He said her garden wouldn’t produce enough to make up for the cost of gas to run over there every day.”
“Well, he’d know,” Duff said, and grinned.
My husband’s reputation as a former cost accountant who was still passionate about numbers and budgets was becoming well known.
“I’ll get somebody to till it and seed it to grass then.” Duff shuffled paper into his briefcase. “I spread the word about the garden but nobody else seems to want it either.”
That wasn’t surprising. Adriana had good soil and most people cultivated their own gardens. “I’ll go dig up some of Norma’s violas and California poppies and transplant them to my own place.” It would be good to have those as a way of remembering her.
“You should have done that last fall,” Joanna said.
“I know.” I closed the laptop. “I meant to do a lot of things last fall and most of them still need doing.”
Duff raised his eyebrows again. “Should you be the one to deal with plants, Holly?”
I sighed. My own reputation for having two black thumbs apparently was spreading as fast as Ben’s reputation for strict budgets. “It’ll have to be me. It’s spring, you know. Ben’s up to his ears in seeds and plants and fertilizer.”
“Let’s go out to the bar and have a beer and a hamburger.” Duff pushed his chair back and rose. “Joanna? Surely another hour away from the woollies won’t matter.”
She glanced at her watch, then took her cell phone out of her jeans pocket and stared at it as if willing it to tell her the latest news. “Heather hasn’t phoned, so I guess I can risk it.”
We wandered out to the main room and found a table by a window overlooking the harbor. April sunlight sparkled on the water and it was tempting to take a table outside on the deck, where we could listen to tiny waves splashing around the pilings underneath, admire the boats in the marina and watch cars come off the ferry from Vancouver Island. However, the April breeze was chilly and the deck would be in shade for another hour.
“If you’re going to Norma’s to get plants,” Duff said, after we’d heard all the news about his niece and her husband renovating their house and I had reported all the latest disasters perpetrated by the six Siamese cats and one clumsy dog who ruled over Holly Haven, “how about seeing what you can do with the squatters? You’re a writer. Surely you can come up with the magic words that will make them go away.”
“Somebody certainly has to do it,” I said, trying to sound a lot more confident than I felt. “We need to have that house operational as an office by the May long weekend.” I paused for a sip of my own beer. “You said they were young. Any sign of drugs?”
Duff shook his head. “Not that I could see. Or smell. And the young man I talked to was very polite, but very firm in his opinions.”
“I’ll try. But if they won’t listen to me, I don’t think we have any choice but to get the RCMP involved.” I leaned back while the waitress slid our food onto the table, the plates clinking against beer bottles and glasses and the mouth-watering aroma of hot beef and melted cheese rising to tantalize my taste buds. I didn’t want to play the heavy, but I’d worried so much and we’d worked so hard to get Norma’s property tied up forever as parkland that nothing would make me back down now, even if the squatters were dirty, drugged and belligerent to boot.
Mitch, the owner of the Yellow Duck, brought our coffee, then leaned his hands flat on the table, bent forward and said in a low voice, “Duff, you hear what happened to your cousin Trevor?”
“I wish you wouldn’t call him my cousin,” Duff said. “That was purely an accident of birth. If the law allowed a person to disown his cousin, I’d do it.”
“I was over in Victoria visiting,” Mitch went on, ignoring Duff’s quibble, “and my brother said Trevor had to apologize to the doctors he bad-mouthed before the hospitals would give him permission to use their operating rooms again.”
“Oh, fantastic!” I was delighted. “He would absolutely hate that.” Then I had another thought. “Where did your brother get that juicy bit?”
Mitch nodded at me. “Steve knows somebody who knows somebody who knows a doctor who used to play golf with Trevor at the Victoria Golf Club.”
Of course. Why had I even bothered asking? Gossip traveled on Vancouver Island the same way it did on Adriana Island.
“I’m glad he got his comeuppance,” Joanna said.
Mitch smiled. “That wasn’t the only thing. The Medical Association slapped his wrist for overbilling and he got an official reprimand and a fine. Steve didn’t know how much, though.”
“Good.” I was smiling, too. “I guess he’s not playing golf any more.”
“Yes, he is.”
“But the Victoria Golf Club blackballed him because of how he treated Norma,” I protested.
“More than one golf club in Victoria, Holly.” Mitch picked up the beer bottles and glasses. “According to Steve’s friend, he joined the Royal Colwood.”
“Thanks, buddy,” Duff said. “You have definitely made my day. Maybe even my whole week.”
Mitch went off to get rid of dirty glasses and we sorted out the lunch bill, then stood up and reached for jackets. I was surprised that Duff hadn’t come up with one of his weird facts. He rarely missed.
“All right, girls,” said Duff, “I bet you didn’t know that tooth enamel is the hardest substance in the human body?”
Joanna snorted. “Not in Trevor’s body, Duff. The hardest substance in his body is his heart.” Her cell phone rang. “Oh, that’s it! I knew it! There’s trouble.” She hurried out to the deck and down the steps to the wharf. We watched her leap into her runabout, back out of her parking slot and zoom off across the water toward Melfort.
“Why is she in such a hurry?” Duff wondered. “She didn’t even wait to find out if that was her niece calling.”
“Maybe she never gets spam calls,” I said.
Duff gave me an unbelieving look and buttoned his smock. “Tell Ben to give me a call, will you, Holly? I’m going to need more lettuce and green onions for the weekend.”
I promised and walked on out to my car. Should I go to Norma’s house now? No. If I intended to dig up plants as well as be an enforcer, I needed to change into my grubby clothes. If the squatters hadn’t been impressed by Duff’s capitalist persona, maybe they’d go for a woman of the soil.