Hi folks, thanks for all your encouraging comments on the story. Barbados Free Press crew, a special thanks to you. I'm going to double up on installments today and tomorrow because I won't be able to blog after Wednesday until the middle of next week. Blessings.
Trading Hearts is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons in coincidental. Photo courtesy of www.islandhideaways.com.
“Tasha, got a minute?”
Natasha looked up from her laptop to see her father standing in the doorway of her office. He was still dressed in his overalls, having just returned from servicing the pool of a south coast hotel.
Despite his daughter’s insistence that he oversee the pool cleaning aspect of the company’s operations and take a break from active duties, Frank still enjoyed driving out to the various properties. He had made many good friends at hotels, villas and private residences all over the island and through such valuable contacts had been able to assist Natasha in expanding the business.
Natasha noted the concerned look on his face and quickly minimised the spread sheet she was unsuccessfully working on. She was having a hard time concentrating, and she blamed it on a certain sexy builder. Although she made a point of avoiding Michael during her recent visits to Emerald Bay, she found roses waiting for her on the bonnet of her vehicle, along with short notes from him wishing her a good day. She hated to admit it, but he was beginning to get under her skin.
Frank dropped into the chair opposite her desk and rubbed a hand through his salt and pepper hair. “Your mother just called. Apparently we’re invited to some town hall meeting tonight on proposed developments for our neighbourhood. I get frightened when I hear that word these days.”
Natasha frowned. “What type of development? And who’s the developer?”
“According to what she heard in the gap, some big company wants our land, and is willing to pay top dollar to convince us to move!”
Natasha’s family lived in a quiet, working class suburb about 10 minutes out of Bridgetown. Formerly tenanted lands on which residents had set up their chattel houses, the community had developed into a patchwork of stone and timber dwellings interspersed with Government housing units. In recent years, its proximity to the busy Warrens area made it a haven for commercial activity.
She sank back in her leather executive chair, contemplating his news. She then sat up abruptly and grabbed her phone. “Let me make a call to Barbara at Town and Country Planning. If plans are in the works, her department should have them by now.”
After several attempts, she was finally put through to her friend. Ten minutes later, she found out what she needed to know. Frank looked at her expectantly as she hung up.
“Barbara found the file. Apparently King Properties already owns some land in our area and wants to expand it into a mega shopping mall. Obviously, to make that work, we have to be relocated.”
“King Properties!” he exclaimed. “Well, you better tell that man Goddard to forget it ‘cause no matter what they offering I don’t want it. We just finished remodeling the house last year. You think at my age I’m thinking about starting over?”
“Calm down, Daddy. We’ll go see what they have to say tonight and take it from there,” she reassured him, but her mind was working furiously. Natasha didn’t believe in coincidences, and she hoped there was no correlation between her commission with King Properties and the land deal.
Since taking on Emerald Bay several weeks earlier, Brian Goddard had complimented her on her work and had outsourced the property management of two more properties to her company. She had been overwhelmed by his generosity, but now she wondered if the King Properties manager had ulterior motives.
Later that evening, the Taylor family filed into the hall of the community centre where the meeting was being held. The large room was packed with scores of concerned residents. Members of the media jostled for the best vantage point, anticipating a battle between “the big developer” and “the small homeowner”.
Natasha spotted the parliamentary representative for the area at the head table, along with other government officials. The MP mopped his brow nervously, glancing several times at the growing crowd. Natasha snorted. She generally didn’t have much sympathy for politicians, but she knew the man was probably caught between a rock and a hard place. Although most types of development were desirable in the eyes of politicians, the relocation of residents was always a touchy issue on the island, and could lead to the downfall of an elected official.
“What the hell’s he doing here?” Kim exclaimed suddenly, and Natasha turned to see Matthew Sealy entering the hall, accompanied by Brian Goddard.
Five years had elapsed since Natasha had last seen her former boyfriend. He had called several times to scream at her over the champagne incident, but kept his distance. Despite the pain he had inflicted on her, there was a time when she hoped he would change his mind and come back to her. The photos of Matthew and his beaming bride in the social pages had changed all that, and later, announcements of the births of his children had closed that chapter for good.
Natasha noted with twisted pleasure that his once trim body had developed a paunch and his hair was starting to prematurely gray. Retribution sure is a b*tch, she thought cattily.
The meeting started a few minutes later, and the next three hours were filled with attempts by King Properties to explain how the mall would benefit residents, demands from concerned residents to know what was in it for them and peacemaking attempts by the politician. At the end of the evening, Frank Taylor and five other homeowners were the only hold outs, refusing to sell their land to King Properties despite promises of new homes and/or millions of dollars.
As the family prepared to leave, Natasha heard Matthew calling her name.
Kim was the first to react. “Wait, what you saying now, George Jefferson? How’s life on the east side?" she asked mockingly.
Matthew ignored Kim as well the cold stares aimed at him by Frank and Marie. “I need to talk to you, Tasha.”
Natasha looked him up and down. “What could you possibly want me for, Mr. Sealy?” she asked hostilely.
His jaw tightened. “Is it a crime to ask how an old friend’s doing?”
“Depends on who’s asking,” she retorted sarcastically.
He smiled tightly. “I’m still enough of a friend to tell you that King Properties isn’t going to be too happy that your father is holding up its land deal.”
Natasha held back her father as he made a move to confront Matthew. She beckoned to her mother and sister to take him outside. When they were out of earshot, she whirled around to face Matthew.
“Let me tell you something,” she hissed. “The same way that it’s the right of those residents to take your offer, my father has a right to hold on to his land and not sell. Your millions don’t attract a man like him. I’ll be happy to tell that to Brian Goddard personally.”
Matthew shrugged. “Fair enough. Just as long as you remember that you owe a lot of your business to King Properties. I wouldn’t want your company to suffer,” he added with a malicious sneer.
“Screw you, Matthew. You don’t scare me. I have a two-year contract with King Properties, and if they try to get out of it before then they better be prepared for a lawsuit,” she said defiantly.
At that moment, Brian Goddard walked up. He took in the furious glare Natasha was aiming at Matthew. “Is there a problem, Mr. Sealy?”
Natasha interrupted before Matthew could speak. “You tell me, Mr. Goddard. Matthew is under the impression that my commission with your company will be compromised because my father hasn’t accepted your deal. Your contract is lucrative to my company, but if it’s going to be used as leverage against him…”
Livid, Goddard gave Matthew an icy glare and the lawyer appeared to wilt under the onslaught. “I’m not sure what Mr. Sealy’s been telling you, but nothing is further from the truth. Of course we’re disappointed that Mr. Taylor hasn’t accepted the deal but that’s his prerogative. Your position is secure with us, Natasha.”
She tried not to show her relief. “Thank you, Mr. Goddard. I hope we can get through this without any further unpleasantness,” she replied, tossing a hard look in Matthew’s direction.
Natasha took her leave of the two men, and as she walked away she was pleased to hear Goddard continue to berate Matthew further.
As soon as he got home, Brian Goddard called Alan King to fill him in on the public meeting. His business partner listened without interrupting as Goddard outlined what transpired at the community centre.
“Things went better than I thought they would. Six hold outs are far fewer than I bargained for,” Alan said, pleased.
“True,” his friend conceded, “but Frank Taylor wields a fair amount of influence in that part of the community. If we don’t get him on board we may not get the other five to sign on either.”
On the other end of the line, Alan gave a lopsided grin. “Well, I guess we better make him an offer he can’t refuse.”
Brian grunted. “So much for hoping our connection to his daughter’s company would sway him. I believe she would break the contract first before going against her father.”
Brian filled Alan in on the spat between the property manager and her former boyfriend. Alan uttered an expletive.
“You better rein in that son-of-a-b*tch, Brian. One more stupid move from him and I want you to call Stanley Whittaker and have him taken off our account!”
The two men wrapped up their discussion a few minutes later, with Brian promising to sweeten the deal offered to Frank Taylor.