A LIFE EXTRAORDINARY
Chapter one; House Hunting
Marla Banks looked out the front window of her realtor's office and sighed. The petite blond coming up the front walk looked to be about twelve years old. Even the business suit and stylish short haircut couldn't hide her new client's extreme youth.
"They get younger every year, don't they?" she muttered to herself.
"No, Darling," said her partner, Elliot Clayton, as he walked through the outer office. "We're getting older. But don't let it get you down; you're still fabulous." He looked past Marla to the young lady approaching the front door. "My goodness. She's adorable."
"We were all adorable once; shopping for that first home, that first cozy little hideaway, thinking it would protect us from life…"
"Stop right there." Elliot warned. "You're supposed to sell the dream, not tank it. You are not some wicked has been; you're Miss Minnesota Runner Up 1982!"
"I was only Miss Mankato Runner Up, and it was 1985. But thanks for the vote of confidence."
"You will always be Miss America 1995 to me. Now, get your game face on, she's here." As he spoke, the door swung open and the newest entrant to the home buyers market walked into their office.
"Hi!" the girl said to both Elliot and Marla "I called earlier. I'm your eleven O'clock appointment?"
"Of course you are!" Marla put out a hand. "It's so nice to meet you face to face, Mrs. Mars, is it? I'm Marla and this is Elliot. I'll be helping you today. Come on in."
She led the young woman into her large, sunny office and shut the door, arching one eyebrow at Elliot's smirking face.
"Please, have a seat." Marla invited. "Let's talk houses. You said on the phone that you're newly married?"
"Yes." The girl smiled fondly at the simple, tiny stone on her left hand. "My husband is still on the West coast. I was hoping to have narrowed the search a bit by the time he gets here."
"What brings you to the Twin Cities? Business or just good luck?"
"Both, I guess. I've been assigned to the St. Paul office and at first we were like 'what? Where?' But a quick Internet search had us both feeling pretty lucky. We had no idea how beautiful it is here."
"Well, don't tell anyone." Marla smiled, conspiratorially, "We kind of like having the reputation of winter wasteland. Keeps out the riff-raff."
"I'm actually looking forward to winter. I've never lived with snow." Mrs. Mars admitted. "A working fireplace is one of the things on my list."
"Lovely! What else is on that list? My job is so much easier when a client knows what she wants."
"Well, this is our first house, obviously." Mrs. Mars rummaged through her purse. "Oh crap. It's not here." The blond suddenly sat up. "Oh! I remember..." She reached into her jacket and pulled out a folded piece of paper. Her jacket was only open a moment but long enough for Marla to gasp.
"Are…are you wearing a gun?" she blurted.
"Oh. Yes. Sorry. I came straight from the office; it's my lunch hour. Don't worry; I'm licensed." With that statement, the girl pulled out an ID badge and held it up.
"You're FBI?" Marla gaped. "Are they recruiting right out of high school these days? I'm …you look like you're about twenty!"
"I am a bit younger than the average rookie. I was part of a special program that fast tracked me through the academy training as part of my college credit. I'm really excited but it does add to the pressure to do well and not …stick out like a sore thumb."
"Well, you don't look like a sore thumb at all. That outfit looks wonderful on you."
"Does it? Thank you." Veronica Mars laughed. "I was kind of afraid the suit just screamed 'fed'. I'm trying to strike a balance between 'professional' and 'cop'. It's not easy."
"You look fabulous." Marla said, looking her in the eye. "Extremely professional and I never would've guessed you were with the government. Welcome to Minneapolis. Is Mr. Mars also with the bureau?"
"No! No." she giggled. "He…hasn't quite figured out what he wants to do yet. Currently, he's running a website with a friend from college. I still don't know how they make any money but they seem to be doing okay. Best of all, he can do it from anywhere so he's happy to follow me wherever."
"Oh! How liberated of him! You're very fortunate."
"Thank you. I think so. My husband and I have a lot of ideas about what we want. The list isn't terribly long but certain things are non-negotiable."
"Well, we want a house. Not a condo or a townhouse; a real house. I swear, I never want to live in an apartment again. My husband works at home, so something private and quiet. We would really love to be close to a lake. He loves water sports and they're so beautiful…"
"The lakes are the best part of town. I have to warn you, however; the closer you get to a lake, the more expensive the property. What did you say your husband does?"
"Ah...Internet stuff." Veronica really didn't want to try to describe Gradeyourass.
"Excellent! Have you been pre-approved for a home loan?"
"No. I seriously just got to town two days ago. I would really love to be able to surprise him with two or three real possibilities."
"Okay." Marla bit her lip, thinking. What does a brand new federal agent make? Not that much. How am I going to get these two kids close to a lake? I love a challenge. She sat back in her chair. "You know, your timing couldn't be better. Five years ago, you couldn't get within a mile of a lake for under 400K but since the housing market tanked, homes that were getting a half a million in '07 are going for half that. They say it's an ill wind that doesn't blow some good and the collapse of the housing market has been a real boon to first time buyers like yourself. If we work quickly, you can still qualify for the first time buyers $8,000.00 federal grant."
"Oh, that would be great!"
"The Lake Nokomis area has always been the least expensive of the lakes neighborhoods because it's near the airport but you say that Mr. Mars needs peace and quiet, so that's out. There are some really lovely neighborhoods near Lake Harriet and Calhoun with lots of beautiful little places that might be just perfect!"
"Oh my God. I'm so excited." Special Agent or not, Veronica Mars looked like every other young newlywed about to go house hunting for the first time.
"Let's go find something cozy and quiet for Mr. Mars." Marla said, smiling.
"Mr. Mars. I love hearing that!" the blond sighed. Marla frowned. What an odd thing for a young wife to say.
"'Veronica Echolls'. I like the sound of that." she smiled dreamily, looking at her new engagement ring.
"I don't." Logan said. She looked up at him, eyebrows raised in surprise. "it's kinda ugly." he went on. "Too many hard consonants. I was thinking; 'Logan Mars'." He spread his hands as though describing a marquee.
"You were? Really?"
"Yeah." He slid his hands over her shoulders and locked his fingers loosely behind her neck. "I mean, who says the girl always has to take the guy's name? And why in the world would you want to associate yourself with that family, anyway?"
"I just want to associate myself with you."
"And 'Logan Mars' doesn't do it for you? I always thought you had a really cool name. And your dad...he's been better to me than mine ever was. I'd just as soon let the name Echolls die with Aaron."
"You've really thought about this, haven't you?"
"Yeah, I've been doodling 'Logan Mars' in my notebook margins since we were in high school."
"Ha. Sure you have." she laughed but looked thoughtful.
"The whole point of the name thing is to signify that we're part of the same family, right?" Logan went on. "Why should we use mine? I love your dad and I hated mine. I don't want our kids to have his name."
"You've...you've thought about our kids?" She put her hands on his hips.
"Yeah," he grinned. "Haven't you? Seventeen of 'em. All girls. They'll be awesome."
"We're not having seventeen kids." she laughed.
"We can if we want." He rocked his hips towards her. "Wait till you see how cool they are."
"Aren't little boys cool?" She asked, cocking her head to one side.
"Yeah," he said, sucking air in through his teeth, "But they're really naughty."
"I hope so."
"I just don't want them to be called Echolls. Look, I gave in to you about that grain of sand." he nodded towards her engagement ring. "You can let me have this. Why shouldn't we choose the name of the least fucked up family?"
"I love this ring." She held up her left hand. "It's elegant and understated. What I would NOT love is hauling around some two ton rock while trying to stay under the radar as a rookie special agent. I guess we can choose whatever name we want. It's pretty odd, though."
"For us? It doesn't even make the needle on the odd-meter move. Leaving the name 'Echolls' behind will be like taking off a 300lb coat of shit. You're think you're the only one who'd like to fly under the radar? That's been a dream of mine my whole life."
"Most people want to be famous."
"Most people are fucked up morons. That's why I can't stand most people."
"You don't think a move like this will land you right back in tabloid central?"
"Not if we keep it quiet. I don't see why we have to make a big deal out of it. I can keep my name for business purposes but privately...Logan Mars. I like it. I love it."
"I love you. Mr. Mars."
"I'm working with a Realtor," Veronica told Logan on the phone that night. "she seems to know the city very well. I told her we wanted to get near the lakes. I only had time to look at some photos today but I've got tomorrow off and we're going to look at some places. How much do you think we should spend?"
"I don't know. I have no idea what the market is like there. Look around, see what you like. I just want a place we both want to live in."
"Something cute and cozy?"
"I got nothin' against cozy but I draw the line at cute. Something that never feels like a fuckin' hotel suite."
"You are going to be blown away by how beautiful it is here. You won't miss the beach at all."
"I miss you."
"When are you coming? Are you almost done with the arrangements?"
"Yeah. My accountant's an idiot but when I finally got him to understand what I wanted he said he could do it. He hates the pre-nup."
"I hate the pre-nup."
"I know you do but it was a deal breaker."
"You fuck head."
"Don't talk dirty to me when I'm not there to take you up on it."
"That was not an invitation and you know it! I hate the pre-nup! People will think I only married you for your money!"
"No, people will think you only divorced me for my money. I don't care if they think I married you for my money."
"Who ever heard of a pre-nup that states that if we split, I get everything? It's insane!"
"If you ever leave me, you may as well leave me penniless."
"You know I could never do that to you."
"Hence the pre-nup. It's genius."
"You're a lunatic."
"What are you wearing?"
"You know it makes me hot when you call me names. Are you naked? I'm naked. I mean...okay, now I'm naked."
Veronica laughed but somehow, they never got back to the subject of houses.
"Can you pull up the list of foreclosures for me?" Marla asked Elliot. "I swear, the Mars couple may be the luckiest kids to ever walk through our door! Two years ago, if some poor girl on a government salary with a slacker hubby told me she wanted a house near a city lake, I'd have had to tell her to buy a lottery ticket but now...there's a real chance I can find them something."
"Should I change my name to 'Clayton Elliot'?" her business partner asked. "I think it makes me sound more butch."
"Darling, if you want to be more butch, your name is not what you need to change. Foreclosures?"
"Here you go." He handed her a stack of documents. "You don't think I'm butch enough?"
"Enough for what? I didn't know you wanted to be more butch."
"Neither did I." He sighed. "Then I met Tracy."
"Elliot." Marla said severely, "If Tracy doesn't love you exactly the way you are, then Tracy doesn't deserve you."
"Oh. Do you know how much I love you?"
"Honey, you are no where near butch enough for me." Marla began to look through the listings. "You think there's any chance in the world those kids can swing 300k?"
"Well, she's got a government job, so at least they should qualify for a loan. Maybe. Really hard to tell before they even apply. We don't know what their student loan debt is."
"I know. I went back and forth all night about whether I was wasting time even showing her anything before we know what they qualify for."
"You didn't cancel the meeting."
"I decided that since I don't have any other pressing engagements this morning, I wasn't wasting my time. Mrs. Mars is new to town; she has no idea how expensive the lakes are. If I can impress upon her what the reality of the situation is, then I'm not wasting her time either."
"Brilliant. Show her Linden Hills. That's a dose of reality she won't be able to ignore."
So it was that two hours later, Marla sat in her car outside a $450,000 foreclosure nestled in the most sought after neighborhood in town (a gorgeous enclave between Lakes Harriet and Calhoun) listening to the most bizarre telephone conversation she'd ever heard.
She and Veronica had looked at four different houses; all sweet two and three bedroom homes within a mile of two lakes, all with pretty, well kept lawns, all near parks and all for between three and five hundred thousand dollars, the lowest priced being foreclosures. Veronica had loved each house and taken pictures on her phone, which she had promptly emailed to her husband on the West coast.
Marla had been pleasantly surprised that Mrs. Mars hadn't been completely stunned by the prices of the modest cottages. She had to remind herself that West coast prices were always astronomical. Perhaps the real wake-up call wouldn't come until this extremely young couple tried to get a mortgage. Home prices had plummeted but money was nowhere near as easy to get as it had been a few years ago.
Things had been going just swimmingly until Veronica emailed photos of the fourth house. Then she'd gotten a text from the distant husband that had made her burst out laughing.
"What did he think of that one?" Marla asked.
"He...ah...hmmmm," Veronica tried to control her voice. "He wants to know why I keep sending him pictures of out houses."
"These are lovely homes!" Veronica read aloud as she texted back to Logan. She squeaked indignantly when he texted back: They're sheds. I told you I draw the line at cute.
"Oh!" Veronica punched a number on her phone. "These houses are not cute!" she said the second Logan answered. "They are beautiful homes! And I'm putting you on speaker so Marla can see what I have to deal with."
"Hello, Marla." Logan voice filled the car. "I told Veronica I'm not interested in cute, so would you ladies please quit fucking around?"
"Logan." Veronica admonished.
"Sorry. Please quit dicking around?"
"Fine! Stop looking at miniatures and go find my house. What did you think I meant by 'cute'?"
"I thought you meant...cute." She looked at Marla and shrugged.
"I meant 'small'. I need big rooms. I need a view. And by 'view' I mean 'of a lake'. Not a field and not a bunch of other tiny sheds."
"Well, what did you mean by 'cozy'?"
"Small, brick fireplace?"
"Big stone fireplace."
"Logan, we're newlyweds." Veronica sighed. "Don't you want to live like the rest of the newlyweds?"
"Veronica," the voice on the phone mimicked her tone, perfectly. "We're multimillionaires. Don't you want to live like the rest of the multimillionaires?"
"They all live in Plymouth and that's too far from my office."
"Fuck 'em. I hate the rest of the millionaires anyway. It's why I quit the club. Marla, are you there?"
"Uh?" Marla started, her brain not quite keeping up with the turns this conversation had taken. "I'm... Yeah, sure. I'm here."
"Marla, I've been living in a hotel suite for five years. I need space. I want a house on a lake. I love my wife more than life itself, but apparently her definition of 'cute' is not the same as mine. I've been telling her she's cute for years and now I don't know what she thinks I meant by that. Apparently, she thinks she's an Amazon. Can you find my house?"
"Yep. I can do that." Marla said.
"What are you wearing?"
"Goodbye." Veronica hit end. She and Marla sat in silence for a few moments.
"Soooo...you're rich?" Marla finally asked.
"My husband has money." Veronica said quietly.
"Lots of money. Tons of it."
"You were so excited about the $8000.00 rebate."
"$8000.00 is still a lot of money to me."
"Not so much."
"I've lived in a two bedroom apartment with my Dad for seven years. They seem huge to me."
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"He said he wants to fly under the radar."
"What do you want?"
"I want to be an FBI agent. I've been working for this for years. See this?" She held up her left hand, indicating her ring. "He wanted to buy me a three carat diamond. Can you imagine a federal agent...a rookie... sporting a frikkin' bird's egg on her finger? I wouldn't even be able to draw my weapon for the weight of it. I need to be close enough to the office to be able to get there quickly at a moment's notice. He wants to be on a lake. We would both prefer privacy."
"Honey, this is Minneapolis, not LA. Prince lives here and no one bothers him. Vince Flynn lives here. Privacy won't be a problem."
"Vince Flynn lives here?"
"Well, in a suburb of St. Paul. My point is you and your husband won't be bothered by your neighbors here. I will find your house. But I need to go back to my office. I need a new set of listings."
"Okay." Veronica sat up and smiled. "Drop me at the hotel? When you've got the new list, call me. I can get some work done over lunch."
Marla threw open the door to Elliot's office.
"Darling, I have great news!" she said. "Our sweet little FBI newlywed is a TROPHY WIFE."
"Oh my God, I've always wanted a Trophy Wife!" Elliot breathed ecstatically.
"Me too!" Marla bounced up and down excitedly. "I showed her a bunch of gorgeous houses in Linden Hills, she emailed photos to her husband and he called them out houses. Then she got him on the phone and he told me to quit fucking around with sheds and get him a house on a lake with a view! Couldn't you just die?"
"I'm going to call Bruce."
"Oh Darling, don't be bitchy."
"Moi? Not at all. He thinks he's all that 'cause he's practically got a corner on the market when it comes to parkway homes and I'm just going to tell him that we've got a whale and he can fork over the keys. That's not bitchy. Well, if it is, I don't care."
"Fine. Call Bruce. I'm getting the listings on everything on Harriet, Calhoun and Isles parkways." Marla opened the top file cabinet. Just like she always wanted to.
"So...what did the rich hubby sound like?" Elliot asked.
"Distinguished." She shrugged her shoulders. "Mid forties. Silver haired. Fit..."
"Oh God, I'm in love."
"...straighter than George W. Bush."
"Oh, now who's being bitchy?"
"Call Bruce. Man, there are a lot of houses for sale on the parkways!"
"A lot of folks bought a lot more house than they could afford."
"And Bruce sold to every one of them. Go ahead and be bitchy to that rotten old queen. We've got a bonafide Big Fish."
to be continued...