Saturday, December 9, 2017

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire - Hanging in the Closet

Hanging in the Closet
Sooner or later I guess I have to get into the stories involving properties where people had hung themselves. In and of themselves they are naturally not happy stories. That they usually involve the use of drugs is of no comfort to the grieving families, but life goes on and as a real estate agent it is not my job to bury the dead or console the families, but to sell the property and allow them to move on.
That said, the peripheral stories of buyers can be quite amusing. I guess enough time has passed to make them so. Here’s one such story. Just to look at them was enough to put a smile on your face. He (Stuart) was a long streak of humanity, a very pleasant man with a natural curiosity about everything. She (Molly) was about half his height, also very pleasant to talk to and with more than a casual interest in everything around her. I immediately got the distinct impression that she wore the pants in the family and he went along with whatever pleased her. It was certainly a nice relationship.
I don’t remember exactly how we met, but being that he was an old railroader is enough of a clue. Mind you, he was on disability for whatever reason I never knew. What he did to amuse himself was to buy and repair clocks of all sorts, making more money at that than his disability money. Well, we won’t go into that. Molly was a teacher with plenty of time off in the summer.
They were living in an apartment, just the two of them and wanted to move into the country; some place with a picturesque view where they could relax and enjoy one another. Given that information, I began scouring around and wouldn’t you know it, there was a place right near Scotty Macgregor’s old place that had come up for sale. It was a nicely treed property on five acres with a fabulous view. The only problem was that one of the teenagers who lived in that house had hung himself in his bedroom closet while his parents were away on a weekend.
We looked at a number of properties, but that one caught Molly’s eye and she zeroed in on it. She immediately wanted to know which bedroom the hanging had taken place, under what circumstances and how long he had hung there before he was found. She basically took a cursory view around the house but honed in on the bedrooms to see if she could find signs of the hanging. I’m sure if I had asked what the living room was like, or the bathroom, she wouldn’t have been able to tell me. Perhaps it had something to do with her being a teacher that tied her to the situation and the plight of the dead boy.
Nevertheless, that was the house she wanted. As for Stuart, well, there was enough room for a workshop for him so – go for it Molly, he said to her. So they did. Well it was not so simple. It appeared that the whole family was more than dysfunctional. There were gazillion liens against the property to start with. There was a conflict with Hydro who had cut across the corner of the lot, restricting their access and causing them to drive on Hydro property to get to their place. Yurofsky, the lawyer I had recommended to them (luckily) had no idea of what he was getting himself into when he took the case on. But he knew it was going to be a long haul.
It was indeed a long haul. Every time the lawyer found one thing to hold up transfer of title, he found another thing. In fact, there were people suing people who were suing the owners. I imagine at some point the owners threw their hands up and went on living, ignoring all the legal issues and leaving a total legal mess. Yurofsky certainly earned his fee in this case.

Ultimately, as the legal issues unraveled, conditional possession was given to Stuart and Molly and they took up residence while waiting for the rest of the issues to be resolved. At that point I lost touch with them and the only communication I had was with Yurofsky himself reporting on the extremely slow progress. Finally it was all done and so was Yurofsky. He sadly died a short time later and the world lost a good and honest Real Estate lawyer. 

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire - Speaking of Trader Russ

Well, Speaking About Trader Russ . . .
I honestly don’t remember how I often got into the various situations I did. But I remember the players and the circumstances surrounding each transaction and whether they were successful or not. That being said, Ruth Givens called me one day about a small six – plex I had for sale. It was one of the ones left over from Russ’ properties.
The problem Ruth had was that she had no money. Well, she had money – quite a lot of it. The only problem was that it was tied up in a rather small hotel in Jamaica. She could sell that property there but couldn’t move the proceeds out of the country. Was there some way I could help her resolve the problem? Ho ho! Could I solve the problem?
“Hey Russ,” I said, “Wanna buy a small swanky hotel?”
“Sure,” he says, “where is it and what are the details?” I could feel his ears go up.
“Kingston Jamaica”, I said matter of factly.
There was a long silence on the phone. Finally there was an explosive “YEAH!” on the other end. “Give me the details.”
I did that, giving him pictures, financials and so on. By now he could hardly stop drooling. Well, let’s face it. Kingston was not a bad place to spend a holiday and it was a whole lot cheaper than renting a place there, especially if you were the landlord.
Now you have to remember that I wasn’t the only one Trader Russ was dealing with. He was busy trading this for that and that for the other thing etc. I don’t really know how he kept track of anything he owned. Suffice it to say he needed to get a few things through land titles and into his name to swing the deal in Kingston. I won’t even pretend to know all the things he was manipulating to get the job done, but a little over anxious, both parties proceeded with their respective offers. The only thing they didn’t count on was Land Titles. Oh, Land titles, that awkward government agency that records all these land transfers, sometimes at their own leisure. Any attempt to rush them for any reason causes them to pull up an impenetrable skin over their entire countenance that anyone just bounces off. Well, that’s what happened in this case. Russ was trying to get some of his purchases through land titles so they would show up in his name. He was racing against the clock to meet the time deadline for his new purchase in Kingston.

Well, it did come out of Land Titles – one day late, nullifying his assessment of value. So after all that, the deal collapsed. I don’t know what happened to Ruth after that, but I lost touch. As for Trader Russ, his optimism was infectious and we went on looking for other strange deals. 

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire - The Business of Trading Properties

The Business of Trading Properties
Well there is a whole new concept of real estate I never thought I’d encounter. In fact, to this day I have no idea of how I managed to acquire the commercial listings I did or even the buyers wanting to do business, but I did so I might as well explain my view of the concept.
See, the whole idea is that you’ve got your various properties, mortgages, money, all with buyers and sellers wanting to make a deal to their own advantage. What you do is to take all these things together and throw them all into the air. How high you throw them depends on how complicated the deal gets. Then all these things come drifting down like confetti until they all settle in their rightful (new) place. It all makes perfect sense if you look at it that way (once it all clears Land Titles). Well, that’s the concept anyway.
Enter Mel Burry, lawyer and property manager whose client wanted to dispose of several properties. I won’t go into details of how we met or how I was selected to represent his client. Suffice it to say that I was our office’s “commercial” agent.
Also enter Russ Wright, a buyer who was interested in the properties I had advertised. I call him Trader Russ. Russ had a keen interest in a medical building I had for sale not too far from the Victoria Hospital. The building was not very old and there was room for expansion. The only problem was that Russ had a number of small residential rental units he owned or had equity in and needed to dispose of in order to buy the building, but he was really keen on doing the deal.
I discussed the whole business with Mel. To my surprise he said, “Let me get back to you.” A few days later he said, “Let’s have a list of what he’s got.”
It took a couple of days but Trader Russ, obviously excited, brought me a fairly detailed list of all his properties, including appraised value, mortgages owing, equity etc. It was impressive. Well, we ‘back and forth’ed’ for a few days, getting familiar with each other’s properties, and Russ put in a complicated offer. I won’t bother you with the details, but it took some doing. Finally, all done, Mel wanted to meet together with his client to clear up some details and sign off on the thing.
We met at my office, exchanged pleasantries and got down to business. It was a fairly long discussion, what with all the details of the various properties, values etc, but it all worked out in the end, except when it came to my commission. Now with a million and a half worth of real estate, especially with such a complicated sale, my commission was to be no chump change (at least in my mind). Stephan the client however, had other ideas. In his mind I was just the clerk who had put together a collection of things he might want and by way of thanking me he would give me a measly $1,000 bucks which he thought was generous enough.
This was obviously not my way of thinking and it completely surprised me. Now I make it a point to never get angry, but when called upon I can put up a pretty good act, so I launched into a lengthy lecture about honesty and honor and the commission rate signed on the listing agreement, and how I had been convinced he was a man of his word and how disappointed I was at his character and I don’t know what all else, but when I was done I was all out of breath and pleased with my self-righteous tirade.
Stephan sat there like a log of wood, eyes somewhat glazed over as though he hadn’t heard anything I had said while big Mel seemed to shrink in his chair, turning from a swarthy complexion to a pale white by the end of it. Stephan merely said in a dead pan voice that was the deal – take it or leave it. I think I replied with something like I would take it just to get rid of this whole messy transaction and that he – Stephan could live with his conscience. He left without shaking hands, leaving Mel and me sitting there.
“What the . . . . Where did that come from?” he wanted to know.
“Not bad eh?” I asked. “What’d you think?”
“I thought I was listening to the Sermon on the Mount for a minute there and was afraid you might be tagged. You just don’t deal with these Sicilian immigrants like that. Maybe I should have told you more about them ahead of time.”
My blood suddenly ran cold. Well, you know the rumors you hear about Sicilians and the Mafia. Mel said, “I’ll see if I can fix it.”
Mel obviously fixed it because the deal finally went through and I got my thousand bucks and another listing to boot. So you see, everything came drifting down to fall into its designated place.

Whew! 

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire - More Farmland Stories

More Farmland Stories
While I’m at it, I might as well include another amazing farmland story. So help me, I couldn’t make this up if I tried. It’s the most amazing tale of appraising and selling farmland in my book.  
A year or two before, I had spent time in the Altona area. I was promoting log homes and underground shelters and had somehow come in contact with the Altona Credit Union, perhaps enquiring about mortgages for that purpose. The only thing that came out of that was one day Helmut Dyck from the Credit Union gave me a call, asking if I was interested in giving an appraisal on some property west of Winnipeg and submit it to him. They had three parcels they wanted to dispose of in a quasi bankruptcy situation and would appreciate my help. (It was more like a forced sale.) I would be competing with other realtors but I should give it my best shot. I would, and I did, so they gave me the co-ordinates in their terms and the name of the owner/occupant. I could get hold of him at Arc Used Autobody Parts. His name was Nate Fingold.
I tracked Nate down in the messiest junk yard I’d ever seen. There was junk everywhere, up against the counter, on the counter, behind it and into the shop. Two or three people were waiting on customers, all the while yelling at Nate to find this or that. Every time he would come up with the part out of all that rubble. It was amazing. He seemed to know where every piece or part was. I could have stood there all day watching this.
When I finally got his attention, Nate suggested we go down the road to the Salisbury House where we could talk in peace. We got our coffees and sat down to talk. It turned out that Nate was really a cattle man, even in his native Poland. When he came here he started up again, doing quite well. The Auto Parts business came from a lack of things to do and it turned out to be handy in terms of cash flow.
His wife, he said, while being a good manager, was fairly high maintenance so he had to do a lot of juggling to keep things afloat.  His troubles lately had come from cattle prices dropping due to “mad cow disease” in England. They just bottomed out and wouldn’t recover so he had to give up his beloved cattle and rely more and more on the Auto Parts business. It was really a bad patch for him.
Finally we got round to the location of the properties which were not too far away. I had to just go down Jefferson Avenue until I hit the number 7 Highway and it was right there on either side of the road west of the Highway. I couldn’t miss it. He also gave me the dimensions of the three parcels, where they began and where they ended. Somehow it sounded strangely familiar. I took Nate back to his shop and headed for Jefferson Avenue. It was not much of a ride, what with washboard gravel, pot holes and overgrown spots.  Finally I hit the number 7 Highway and my mouth fell open.
‘Oh for God’s sake!’ I muttered under my breath. I found myself at our boyhood playground! To the left was the big old elm tree we had all shinnied up and carved our initials in. It was right beside the pond we used to swim in. On the north side of the road was the bigger pond that I now supposed had been a gravel pit at one time. It held a body of water that was fed by an artesian well. Oh my, the stories I could tell you about that place!
After I got over the original shock, I drove on to the farm yard. There was a long, low unoccupied bungalow there and a few outbuildings – nothing much to speak of. Of course nobody was home so I didn’t bother to poke my nose in anywhere. It was clear that Nate was a frugal cattle man, allowing for his animals to shelter under an open roof. There was a separate area for hay storage and a machine shed that I presumed held his equipment. There were no longer any animals on the property.
Stopping again by the old elm tree site I had another good look around and then headed back to my office by a more familiar route. Assessing the real value of the property wasn’t as easy as expected. I had to take into account the inflated prices of the East Reserve and even to the West where the farm dealers were steering their customers. That was all fine and dandy if you were prepared to wait a year or two (or three) for the right set up to lure European buyers in. My understanding with the Credit Union was that they wanted to sell it and get out of the farming business. Actually it was more that they wanted to get away from Nate Fingold who had already agreed to make a payment in person, but given his busy circumstances, the only day he could come in was December 25th. (He chuckled at that the next time I met him.)
Of course, if you live in Altona and its Christmas Day, you’re either in church or at home with family and friends. That’s one day you don’t do the devil’s dirty work! Nate, the wily old fox knew that and exploited it as much as possible.
So I set about doing my sales comparisons from about every angle I could, including the number of days until a sale was made. It was quite an extensive survey. What I came up with was quite a different number that what was floating around presumed land prices. So I wrote it all down with an explanation of my findings and sent it off to the Credit Union.
When the owner of the company I worked for saw a copy of my letter to the Credit Union, he literally flipped out. I could make a list of all the things he called me, but it would be too long. Suffice it to say that I told him I was off to Altona this afternoon to pick up the listing agreements. He would most certainly be welcome to write whatever offers he had in mind as soon as I got back. I left him fuming in his office and went about my business.
Of course there hadn’t been a lot of happy faces at the Credit Union Board room either when they discussed my proposal, but as detailed as my analysis was, the choice they had between my assessment and that of the other realtors was relatively clear in ridding themselves of Nate Fingold and the whole property issue in a relatively short time, so I came away with all the listing agreements.
Within a week all the properties were sold and the whole business wrapped up nicely to everyone’s satisfaction, even Nate’s who no longer had the burden of the farmland on his back was living leisurely with his wife in their Garden City home. While he was reluctantly out of the cattle business, he’d never given a rip about the land except as a means to feed his cows, so he could now concentrate on his Auto Parts junk store exclusively.

It was a happy ending pretty well all around.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Liar Liar Pants on Fire - Small Town Politics


Small Town Politics
Now that I think of it, I probably got the joint listing for the property out west because of the Matlashewski farm. Well that, and the fact that the owner of the company I worked for was busy bringing in foreigners from Europe to buy farmlands at exorbitant prices. But the small town agent was known to me over some other matter so he chose me to co-list with him, much to the chagrin of my boss. I think I wrote about this some time ago but I can’t find it in my computer anywhere, so I’ll do it again. This series of disasters is too good to keep hidden.
The other agent in question, I’ll call him Club Wilson because he always carried a flask of Canadian Club in his vest pocket (for emergencies) was on the town council, a veritable pillar of the community. The property in question had been in the Green family for generations and Elmer Green, the long time mayor of the town had sold the whole bundle to his two sons, Stan and Earl at going prices which were exceedingly high at the time. Well it was a time of the European influx so the boys had no trouble getting a huge mortgage from the TD Bank.
As I said, it’s not what you know, but who you know that counts in this game of high stakes real estate. That would certainly play out in this case. Of course, the boys had to submit a business plan for all of this to fly and they did that too. That was something they were good at. They were after all university graduates – one in civil engineering and the other in agriculture. They could write a proposal like nobody’s business.
The proposal all done and the cash in the old man’s pocket, the boys set out to execute their plan. Each lived in a house on opposite ends of the land that they got busy renovating and they began building huge feeding stations for their cattle. It was a very efficient operation as far as I could tell. The idea was to feed and fatten the cattle from their own grain and then ship them off to South America.
Well I’m not much of a farmer but I couldn’t see how the Green boys would compete with the Argentinean cattle market (from what I’d read). I guess the bank didn’t notice either because they kept shoveling money into the boys bank account like there was no tomorrow.
And this was no cheap operation either, what with Stan flying up to wherever in South America to talk to buyers and so on. They had the same idea with the sale of their operation by the time I got into it. Well, of all things, they wanted me to hire an aerial photographer to take a picture of the farm operation. THAT certainly wasn’t in MY budget.  That’s one thing you can say about the Green boys: they weren’t cheap with the bank’s money, or mine either.
I should explain how this whole deal came to be. At the time of their business plan and proposal, interest rates had been extremely low and so seemed to work, which is why it was approved in the first place. Then suddenly the banks deemed it necessary to raise the rates to some 23 – 24 percent – more than double what it had been. Well on a multimillion dollar mortgage, this was a real blow. It just didn’t work anymore. Old Elmer wasn’t about to step in. He had his cash out of the deal already and he was keeping it. Neither of the boys was worried either, nor was the bank. This was the time Europeans had been coming over with deep pockets and an appetite for Manitoba land. And so the bank let the Green boys proceed with the operation.
Well now I had to come up with a sales strategy that satisfied them and fit into my budget. I reckoned (rightly or wrongly) that having an aerial photo taken would take weeks to accomplish while I, with my Polaroid camera could shinny up one of the ninety foot silos and accomplish the same thing while I was right there on the farm. They bought the idea and I removed my coat, strapped my camera to my belt and started up the outside ladder of the ninety foot silo. NINETY FEET? UP AN OUTSIDE LADDER? What had I got myself into?
As my Missus likes to quote, ‘once you say “a”, you must also say “b”.’ So I stiffened my resolve and started up. It was a straight ladder all the way to the top with a sort of flimsy cage around it (supposedly to prevent being blown off the ladder by the increasing winds). That was a time when I could run up stairs two at a time – just like Rocky Balboa. I kept this in mind as I ascended (slower and slower).
Finally I was at the very top, railing against the wind, taking pictures furiously and hoping they would turn out. Looking neither up nor down, except for where the next step was, I came whizzing down like a lead balloon. I made a mental note never to do anything that stupid again.
For whatever reason, the Europeans didn’t materialize. It could have been the wrong time of year, or there were better deals elsewhere, or it was too cold here. Well, they just didn’t show up. It came to the point where the bank was putting on the brakes, so the boys had to consider doing something else like pursuing their professions.
Well I never did sell the property, but I heard some of the back story which was just as interesting. The bank finally foreclosed on the property and as far as I know they still own it. Old Elmer, with his bundle of cash stashed firmly away somewhere, convinced the bank to allow subdivision of the property to the extent of the two residential properties so they boys could live there (which they continue to do) and give up the rest of the property to the bank. I guess that cost him a penny or two but he got it done.

I’m sure there might be some differing opinions but as far as I’m concerned everybody was a winner in this situation. For one, I got an education of what it was like to climb straight up a ninety foot silo and get down in one piece. The boys managed to stay in their homestead houses now completely renovated and pursued their professions. Old Elmer still had most of his ill gained money which was stashed somewhere safe and could rightfully retire, having done a good turn for his boys. As for the bank, well . . . . Don’t get me started.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire - The Legals and the Gauthiers

The Legals and the Gauthiers
Ste. Genevieve isn’t even a town or a siding. It’s more of a place to put people called Legal and Gauthier than anything else. It seems that’s all there are there is Legals and Gauthiers. I kind of think they must all be related, because they all get along. It’s not like the Martins and the Coys where everybody’s shootin’ at one another. Actually, they’re probably all intermarried and related to one another.
I really have no idea as to how I got out there on real estate business in the first place. It was not an area I was familiar with. But travelling to new places is always an adventure, so off I went down highway 501. All I knew was that I was looking for Gauthiers in a brand new two storey house along the highway. I couldn’t miss it. Oh yeah? I certainly could – and did. Finally I stopped at a mailbox that said “Gauthier” on it and drove in. It wasn’t the place I was looking for but maybe the people here would know where to look. They did and I ended up a mile and a half down the road and a quarter mile south of the highway.
I pulled in to a great modern edifice that stuck out like a sore thumb in this community of small, modest homes. I didn’t quite get that Mrs. Gauthier was waiting for me at the front door until I heard about her parents living in the little place on the highway corner. They had phoned and signaled my arrival.
It was indeed a lovely two story home, a bit unusual in that there was a gigantic picture window facing north on the second floor. That notwithstanding, they invited me into the sizable kitchen to sit at the table around which we could have our conversation. I was awe – struck at the cabinetry which was, of all things, made out of rough plywood, stained and lacquered to perfection. It was, in its own style, as attractive and professional as any I’ve seen and it set the tone for the kitchen which was the anchor of the main floor. Oh, of course there was a dining area off the kitchen, a sitting room and so on, but none was as important as the overriding kitchen.
Mrs. Gauthier, a diminutive woman in perhaps her forties, called upstairs for her daughters to come down and greet me. Two drop dead gorgeous teenage girls came skipping down the stairs, shook my hand and introduced themselves. Oh my, I hadn’t seen such manners from youngsters in a long time.
“Mr. Epp wants to come up to view the upstairs in a few minutes and I want to be sure it’s clean and tidy up there,” she said matter of factly.
As polite and eloquent as Mrs. Gauthier was, I couldn’t help but notice that the velvet gloves she was figuratively wearing covered two iron fists that regulated the household. The girls went skipping upstairs, laughing and giggling to one another.
Well, you wouldn’t really notice it on Mr. Gauthier, even though I knew who the boss was in that household. He was itching to show me the bathroom which was his piece de resistance.
Eventually we got upstairs (which was immaculate) and viewed the rooms. I must say it was an entirely efficient design with a laundry room off the bathroom, and at last, the bathroom. As we entered, Mr. Gauthier seemed to puff up with pride. There at the back wall was a giant hot tub, directly across from the floor to ceiling picture window. If you sat in it you could see out all the way to highway 501.
“Well,” Mr. Gauthier started, “by the time I got the thing home I realized I couldn’t get it up the stairs so there was only one thing to do and that was to bring it into the room from the outside. It meant I had to knock the wall out and order a new window. But it was well worth it. In order for us to be in the south pacific every day, we just need to go to the bathroom. It saves money in the long run.” There was a smug look on his face as he told the story.
“But why in the world,” I started, “would you want to leave this place now that it’s all finished?”
“Well, I have an opportunity to take over a family farm up north of here. It’s something that I’ve always wanted and now I have the chance.”
“But the utopia you’ve built here – you’ve done all that work and it’s just completed. And now you want to abandon it all? I don’t understand.”
“Well, you wouldn’t. You see, with us Gauthiers it’s a matter of tradition. I promised my wife  I would build her a place that offered everything she could ever want and I did it. We’ve been here for about two years now and have enjoyed every minute of it. But now it’s time to move on. The family farm needs looking after and you can see that I can do whatever I put my hand to I can accomplish. My wife and I have already agreed on it.”
“What about the girls,” I asked.
Gauthier just grinned like a Cheshire cat. “There’ll come to a time they will thank me for that,” he said, and nothing more.

I don’t remember who I sold the property to or even if it was my buyer, but when it was all done, I had the feeling of having been a part of much more than just a real estate transaction. It was a good feeling, which is why I remember it.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire - McEwen's Purchase

McEwen’s Purchase
I don’t know exactly how I got to meet McEwen. I suppose it was over some of my advertising of my country properties. In any case, we formed quite a relationship over time as we traveled around the country side looking at properties to meet his needs. I discovered he was quite a storyteller in his own right over the time we went around the different properties (as you’ll see).
We finally found him an unlikely place in a little town east of Winnipeg that was little more than a siding, but it suited his purposes. It was a rustic looking place that turns out to have largely been a cover up job by someone who was definitely not a carpenter. But the location and the yard was ideal for McEwen and there was nothing I could do to dissuade him from it.
Well, as if to reinforce the logic of his choice, he told me the following story which I’ve paraphrased into a story for this book. It’s as follows:
McEWEN vs. McMUFFIN
He thought the thing was dead. Well, before that he thought it was just a piece of somebody's garbage that had been dropped by one of the long line of trespassers who used his yard as a shortcut to the convenience store. He was going to kick it into the snow at the edge of his walk but thought better of it, opting instead to pick it up in his gloved hand. If he'd told those kids once, he'd told them a hundred times to not throw garbage in his yard.
He reached down to grab it by a tattered end, still muttering under his breath. The thing suddenly moved and squeaked.
"Jesus!" he exploded and dropped it, crossing himself to atone for the utterance. Not that he was still a practicing Catholic, but it was a reflex from boyhood. Besides, it allowed him to cuss with a relatively clear conscience whenever the mood struck him. Well, you never knew about these things and McEwen wasn't one to take a chance with the powers that be, just in case.
The thing was alive! Was it one of those giant sewer rats that had come out of the big complex? He knelt down for a closer look. It was a cat, for God's sake - a mostly dead, mostly frozen alley cat barely hanging on to life by the slenderest of threads! Its fur wasn't really fur anymore, just clumps of matted hair sticking out in spiked tufts here and there. The face was battered and bloodied. Even as he was thinking it would be kinder to leave the wretched creature there to die in peace. McEwen headed for the house; quickly returning with the oversized cushion from his couch and the blanket he loved to lie under while he watched television.
Kneeling down again, he gently laid the cat on the pillow not knowing whether it had already expired, and covered it with the blanket. His eyes were seeing double again as he rose. 'Damned pills,' he thought, crossing himself again. They sure played havoc with him. Ignoring the inconvenience, McEwen headed back to the house. If the cat was going to die anyway, it might as well be comfortable. He'd want the same courtesy for himself. That thought had crossed his mind more than once since he had contracted an aggressive form of diabetes in the lab where he worked.
Inside, McEwen busied himself spreading out enough old newspapers on the floor beside the massive desk that pretty well contained his whole material world. Tea kettle, tea bags, giant ashtray, remote control, computer, all those things necessary to a man's existence were there. It was his command center, so to speak. From here he could do just about anything that needed doing, including communicate with his ex-wife who had left him partly because of his odd habits such as this. Gently he laid his packet down on the newspaper, making sure there was enough space under the blanket for the cat to breathe. He placed two little bowls; one with milk and the other with water at the edge of the cushion where he remembered the head was and put the kettle on.
There was little else to do now but wait. McEwen opened a new pack of smokes, sat back in his chair and puffed away until the kettle boiled. His eye fell on the blanket when it began to whistle. There was neither sound nor movement. He poured the steaming water over the used tea bag already in the mug. 'Should have washed it first,' he thought. “Nah, next time.” Then he settled back and puffed away at another cigarette. It was strange, McEwen thought. He was feeling as wretched as ever he did after taking those blasted pills - nauseous, crampy, and his head ached. None of that seemed to bother him just now. It wasn't important. He just sat there beside the cat, sipping his tea and sucking on his smoke.
Almost trance-like he found himself humming softly, crooning a lullaby from somewhere in the distant past. It surprised him, just coming out like that. Not bad voice either, he thought. All the whiskey and cigarettes hadn't quite killed it yet. McEwen could see himself sitting there, keeping vigil over the pathetic creature he had dragged in. It was almost an out of body experience. Everything was as it should be, he thought.
Three cups of tea, half a pack of smokes and four trips to the bathroom, McEwen was sitting in his chair, quite content. Then out of the corner of his eye he caught a slight movement of the blanket. He kept on humming, eyes locked on to the cover. Another movement, then another, then a small nose poked out from under it, inching toward the milk. Slowly the nose moved along until it found its mark. The wee beastie must have been starved as much as beaten, McEwen thought as the entire bowl of milk vanished.
He glanced up at the clock on the wall. Two-twenty it said. Two-twenty a.m. it must be. Uh-oh, McEwen thought. He'd been sitting there for nearly eleven hours with no supper. If he didn't get something into himself right quick, he might go into insulin shock. There was nobody here except him and this pathetic creature. Mrs. Martens the cleaning lady wouldn't show up until ten in the morning. By that time, well -.
Wearily he dragged himself to the kitchen and picked up a banana on the way to the fridge. He changed his mind. The banana would have to do. He was just too tired to make supper. It seemed a supreme effort to get himself to the couch where he collapsed and promptly fell asleep.
Oh Lord, the doorbell was ringing. That must mean Mrs. Martens would soon be showing her face. She always did that. She'd ring the doorbell and wait thirty minutes before entering the house. Doing housework, well that was one thing. She was very good and took great pride in her work. She didn't take any nonsense from McEwen either. If she put something where she thought it ought to go and he moved it to his liking, she darn soon set him straight. About being dressed proper when she arrived, that was another thing she was particular about. There was to be no lolling about in his underwear when she arrived, and no strange women in the house either. No point in having a clean house and a dirty old man in it, she reasoned.
Before he could raise himself, McEwen became aware that the little cat had crawled out from under the blanket sometime during the night and had climbed up on to his chest. It lay there sound asleep. Gently, he placed it back on the pillow and got himself together. By the time Mrs. Martens returned he had changed his clothes and fixed a neater corner for his new friend. She wouldn't like it but McEwen wasn't in any mood to argue. She'd just have to remember who was the employee and who was the employer.
She burst in the door just as McEwen was sitting down to his breakfast. Well at least he was decent, if nothing else. Mrs. Martens said nothing about the cat. In fact, once she laid eyes on it, she said nothing at all. But her cleaning activities went on at an accelerated pace - noisier too. That was McEwen's punishment - the silent treatment.
'Disapproval noted and acknowledged', he chuckled under his breath. No use in doing anything until she left.
"So its come down to this," he shook his head at the site of the two of them in the bathroom mirror, he in his shirt and trousers that had once fit him about forty pounds ago and the bedraggled furry creature in his arms. "Two half dead, used up orphans left alone to sail the stormy seas of life. It's a pretty sorry state of affairs, but at least you won't be alone." As an afterthought he added, "I guess now neither will I, come to think of it."
Cleaning the cat up proved to be more of a challenge than McEwen had counted on. She tolerated her bath surprisingly well until it came to her shoulder and her face. The left shoulder was visibly bruised and obviously sore. The face was another matter. What he had assumed to be cuts could now be seen as split skin from a series of blows.
There wasn't much to be done with those now except to soften the scabs with ointment. It was too late to do any stitching. In the end he settled for a bandage he suspected would be torn off as soon as the cat had a free paw. Done now and dried, the cat looked like a casualty from a refugee camp. In fact, what with McEwen's emaciated clothes rack of a body carrying his water soaked shirt and trousers, they were a matching pair.
Both were exhausted and McEwen had to eat. It was well past lunchtime. He had been so preoccupied with cleaning up the cat that he had forgotten again. That was happening a lot lately with this new, powerful cocktail of medicine he was being given. The side effects would just begin to wear off when it was time to take them and start the cycle all over again. Well, what could a person do? The alternative was not something he was prepared for yet. He would share a bran muffin with the cat and then go to the store for some real cat food. When he got home, they would dine together in style.
The cat literally attacked the bran muffin, wolfing it down in great chunks and leaving none for McEwen.
"You'd not care to wait and have a bit of butter on it," he smiled. Of course the cat must be starved. He would go right away and bring back some proper food. On his way out he grabbed another muffin.
Dinner was delightful to say the least. You'd think McEwen had a new lady friend over for a romantic dinner. He set a fine table with good dishes and cutlery for himself, brand new stainless steel bowls for the cat, tablecloth and candles too. Now he sat at one end and the cat at the other with the best cat food he could find.
McEwen watched curiously as the cat ate the food gingerly, looking up from time to time with what seemed to be disdain. Still she ate it all while giving the impression that such fare was beneath her. When she was done, she lay down in front of the bowl as if waiting for McEwen to finish. Well, it was nice to see she had manners, he thought. He had an idea. He sliced another bran muffin in two, slathered butter on both pieces and presented half on a saucer to his new friend. Instantly she attacked it with gusto. It was gone in a few seconds. A few laps of fresh water from the other bowl and she retired to her cushion.
What an unusual creature this cat was. She displayed an almost human behavior. Well then, she must have a name. Indeed, a name - what should it be? Of course, it should be Muffin since that seemed to be a passion for her. No, wait - that sounded all too common. McMuffin - that was better. McEwen and McMuffin - of course! McEwen set out his tray of five pills and began swallowing. He was well pleased all around. McEwen and McMuffin he mused, it had a ring to it.
He never used his first name anyway. It always embarrassed him. That's how unlikely it was. Mario was the name his mother had given him. A hopeless romantic, she had been enamored with that American tenor Mario Lanza at the time. She bestowed the unfortunate legacy upon her unsuspecting son. By the time he left the family nest to seek his fame and fortune, he'd had had enough of that name, so he left it behind too. Whenever anyone asked his name, he'd give out McEwen.  When they asked for his given name, all he would admit to was that it was the same. As far as anyone in this country knew, he was McEwen McEwen. At least the ribbing he took over that was in better humor.
            Ah, the tragedy of women was such an enigma. It wasn't that he disliked women. He loved them - every last one of them. Often that posed a problem. But they confused him with their strange ways. The few stabs he had made at getting to know them always ended in disaster. In the end he decided to regard them as an amusement - an entertainment. That way he could keep his feelings out of it and stop being emotionally steam rolled every time a relationship ended.
This new friendship though was comfortable, so natural as if it was meant to be. The two of them would talk for hours, well into the night on many occasions. They would discuss anything from the pyramids of Egypt to Stone Henge to the 'Bloody Government' to use McEwen's terminology. The fact that McMuffin spoke only Cat didn't seem to hinder these dialogues at all. In fact her thick dialect suited McEwen just fine. He himself held on to his Scottish brogue and the colloquialisms that were so much a part of it. Not that he was putting on airs; he just liked the descriptive vividness of them. Words and expressions were things of beauty to him. What a dull, gray world it would be if it couldn't be painted in precise, eloquent words.
And McMuffin shared his views and his interests. She quickly familiarized herself with the place, with McEwen's comings and goings, and with his habits. She created her own time space as well as her physical space to be in step with his. It appeared she could be as happy pursuing her own interests as she was listening to a reading of Longfellow's 'Song of Hiawatha'. She had preferences too. She particularly liked Robert Service and Robbie Burns. Maybe, thought McEwen, she had a thing about anyone named Robert. One night, wanting to be sure that McMuffin had a grasp of his people language, he pulled out a copy of 'Mein Kampf' and began reading in a great loud German accent. McMuffin listened thoughtfully for a few minutes before becoming visibly annoyed. She put a paw up on the book and meowed thickly. McEwen could have sworn it was a Germanic growl. When he continued on, she unceremoniously hopped from the command center and stomped off to the kitchen. Amusing as the incident was, McEwen vowed not to intentionally annoy her again.
Up to now McEwen had plodded through the last few years like an automaton, putting one foot in front of the other without a great deal of enthusiasm. When his diabetes turned on him and became severely aggressive, he was philosophical about it. What could he complain about anyway? In his younger days he'd traveled the world, met people in high and low places, was still connected to them via the Internet. What else could anyone expect? He knew that immortality was not an option and was long ago tired of chasing rainbows. Still, his habit forced him to amuse himself with little things no one else would think of. It was certainly better than holing up in some sterile hospital room, waiting for the grim reaper.
Now suddenly, McMuffin had put a different slant on things for him. Oh, his health wasn't improving any and if this latest concoction didn't work, it would be curtains anyway. That wasn't the issue. Now at least he had companionship - intelligent, non-demanding, unconditional companionship. Whatever time lay ahead was at the very least going to be fulfilling in some measure.
For the first time ever McEwen allowed himself to open the door on something that had been a dream for years. A wee cottage in the country would be nice for him and McMuffin. The very thought surprised him since he didn't know where it came from. It had nothing to do with anything, yet it had everything to do with everything. When all was said and done, McEwen's real worry here in the heart of the city was that McMuffin might get out of the house and meet with a disaster worse than before. Even now she was still limping and disfigured. At least in the country the two of them would be able to enjoy a breath of fresh air without fear of traffic.
Brushing aside the other risks such as getting lost, foxes and coyotes, him succumbing to his illness alone in the country, McEwen and McMuffin proceeded with newfound enthusiasm. It wasn't long before the deed was done over the protests of Mrs. Martens, bless her straight-laced heart. Bossy as she was, she did have a genuine concern for McEwen's welfare.
It was a glorious time of discovery for both of them in their little Garden of Eden. They walked every inch of the grounds, inspected every tree, every bush, every flower. They sat side by side on the porch watching the sun set. McEwen even started feeling a little better though he tired very easily. Was it the change of scenery or was his medicine really starting to work? Time would tell.
McMuffin took full ownership of the place within hours of their arrival. On days when McEwen had either been up too late or wasn't feeling well enough for their morning constitutional, she would put her one paw on his nose from her now permanent perch on his chest to let him know she was off for about an hour. Anticipating her independence, he had installed one of those flaps in the screen door so that she could come and go at will. She appreciated it too and said so while she watched him put it in. She knew exactly what it was for. It worked just fine too as long as the inside door was open.
As one is wont to do, McMuffin started exploring the things that were natural for cats to explore. She wanted to savor everything and the tops of trees were no exception. It never occurred to her that there might be squatters up there who didn't appreciate her presence. That's a problem city folk run in to. Its not that they're rude or anything, they just don't know any better. Well, this particular morning McMuffin had decided it might be nice to climb one of the big oak trees up towards the front of the property. Her one shoulder was giving her trouble, but she figured it might help to give it a work out. What she didn't count on was that a big, fat, gray squirrel had its cache of food up there. Not only that, but the squirrel himself just happened to be in the tree at the time.
About half way up the thick rough trunk the squirrel noticed the advancing intruder. The question of 'Fight or Flight' came up briefly as the screaming squirrel started its barrage of threats and insults. It was quickly resolved though as he came barreling down the trunk and straight at McMuffin. She had the presence of mind to swing wide around the garden so as to give her a straight run in to her little private entrance. The squirrel wouldn't dare trespass there. Once her plan was in place she ran at lightning speed, making a screeching left turn at the wheelbarrow and headed straight for the door flap at top speed.
The other thing McMuffin hadn't counted on was that on this particular morning McEwen would rise soon after she left on her constitutional. His command center was now in the long converted verandah overlooking the front yard. From there he could not only conduct all his business and amusement, but at the same time, see all there was to see in this lovely place. That would all have been fine too except that there was a stiff breeze blowing that morning, wrapping itself around his bare legs. He had absently shut the inside door and put on the tea kettle. McMuffin hit the door like a battering ram and collapsed in a heap, out colder than a wet mackerel. Startled by the loud thump, McEwen jumped up to see what had smashed in to his door. Seeing McMuffin lying there all crumpled up and limp, he had a sinking feeling. He looked up just in time to see the angry squirrel making his way back to the oak tree.
McMuffin wasn't herself for a good week. For one thing she had a big lump on the part of her head that had hit the door. Sensing a colossal headache, McEwen cared for her gently and gingerly. He played a lot of very soft Mozart and started singing lullabies again. It seemed to work. Hopefully she hadn't received too great a concussion, well maybe just enough so she wouldn't remember it was McEwen who had closed the inside door on her. Perhaps she wouldn't even remember the accident. That happened sometimes.
Presently she came around though. She soon resumed sleeping on McEwen's chest at night and waking him with her paw for their morning stroll. She again took up her post at the command center inspecting the computer monitor for new information and listening to his idle ramblings. Everything was back to normal.
McEwen got to thinking that McMuffin was just one of those accident-prone creatures who could make a disaster out of pretty well any situation. That was the second time he'd nursed her back to health. He had better start taking more care of himself too if for no other reason than to take care of McMuffin. Independent as she was, she would never manage this place alone if he kicked the bucket. Who would even know she was there? Funny - just a few short months ago, he didn't really care one way or another, and now he felt a responsibility. Well, so be it.
The place in the autumn was spectacular to say the very least. The colors of the leaves on a variety of trees were akin to giant fireworks, frozen in space. McMuffin's apple tree was the favorite. She had selected it after the oak tree incident. There was nothing on it to interest a squirrel. McEwen kind of liked it too. The apples shone in the sunlight like Christmas tree decorations. 
Unfortunately there was also a great female black bear who liked the apple tree as much as McEwen and McMuffin, but for a different reason. One morning the two were just returning from their stroll, chatting away unmindfully when a great roar brought them up short. There, between them and the house stood the bear munching on the ripe fruit. She was not pleased with the intrusion. What to do? McEwen's hundred and twenty pounds didn't even stack up against her one front paw. She could certainly out run him in the shape he was in. McMuffin on the other hand, had her own game plan. She headed straight for the oak tree. McEwen remembered thinking that it wasn't much of a good idea, given past experience. Nonetheless, she scampered noisily up the tree, howling and growling. Predictably, the squirrel started down angrily after her. That was what McMuffin was counting on. Waiting just long enough so the squirrel was committed to the chase, she headed straight for the bear that was already in the act of rearing up on her hind legs. Up her leg, her belly, her face went McMuffin, claws out as far as she could stretch them. The squirrel that couldn't care less about anything but the annoying cat was in hot pursuit. The bear on the other hand had just lost all focus on McEwen given the sharp-clawed furry fury that dug in to her nose and eyes not to mention the soft spot on her belly. McEwen was completely mesmerized. This was definitely a David and Goliath story. The bear thought so too. The painful pinpricks in her skin coming from places she couldn't even see plus the chattering of the angry squirrel were just too much. She thumped down on all fours and with one last roar, took off into the bush where she'd come from.
McMuffin now returned to McEwen and turned on her tail to face down the squirrel. He in his wisdom went blustering back to his oak tree. McEwen was still standing there with his mouth open in disbelief. McMuffin coolly wanted to know where they were before this untimely interruption. So they carried on as though nothing had happened.
Lying in bed that night, McEwen was reflective on their situation. McMuffin knew a long discussion was in the works. It was always that way when he stretched out like that with his hands folded behind his head. She settled herself in the hollow between his sparse ribs and waited in the dark.
            "You know," he began, "that was either the bravest thing you did today or the dumbest. Where did you ever get the idea for that squirrel to chase you?"
            McEwen was startled. In her cat reply, he was sure he heard the human word, 'idiot'. It struck him funny. What - was she learning to speak human now?
"The point is," he continued, "Here we are in our dream cottage in the country which pleases us no end. We are way out of our league here. If something happens to either one of us the other won't survive more than a few days." He was exaggerating of course, but it seemed reasonable at the time.
"We have to turn this in to a challenge just to make it interesting. If neither of us cares that much about our own welfare, that's one thing. But we do care about each other, right?"
What was his point?
"Simple," McEwen continued after a moment. How should he put this? "You need to try to keep me alive so that you can survive. I need to keep you alive for the sake of my own survival."
Hmm.
"It would be McEwen vs. McMuffin - kind of a grudge match to see who can keep the other alive the longest."
Now he was getting stupid. McMuffin put both her paws over his mouth, gave a yawn and promptly fell asleep.

Well, I wrote the story down and showed it to him after I’d done it. He agreed with the content and didn’t dispute any of it, so I imagine, given McEwen’s integrity, that it’s all pretty well true and so I pass it on.