Real Men Don't Break Hearts

By: Coleen Kwan

“I’ll contact my lawyer to exchange contracts as soon as possible,” Mr. Cummings said, still grinning like he couldn’t believe his luck.

Well, the old man was lucky. Who would have thought he’d sell his investment property to a bloke having a drink in the Red Possum? He probably thought Nate would renege on the deal when he had a moment to reconsider, hence the rush to exchange contracts.

“Of course,” Nate assured him. “But you don’t have to worry. We shook on it, and my word is my bond.”

“Capital! Shall we have another round to celebrate?” Mr. Cummings heaved himself out of his seat and waddled over to the bar on the other side of the room, his tartan suit stretched tight around his hips. He started talking to the bartender, gesturing toward Nate with a big grin split across his moon-shaped face.

At least someone around here was glad to see him, Nate thought. These days he didn’t come down to Burronga too often, but people here had long memories. Years ago he’d been evicted from this very bar for underage drinking, and later he’d been thrown out more than once for starting a brawl. No wonder the dour bartender had looked askance at him when he’d first entered the pub. Despite his slick city suit, Nate’s bad reputation lingered on him like a rotten egg smell.

Mr. Cummings returned to the table with two whiskies and offered one to Nate. “Here’s to my glorious retirement in sunny Queensland, where I plan to do a lot of fishing and not much else.” He raised his glass. “And to your canny investment in one of Burronga’s finest buildings.”

I wouldn’t go that far, Nate silently quipped. He was well aware that he was paying top dollar for the heritage-listed, nineteenth-century former post office. Burronga was a prosperous midsize town, situated between Sydney and Canberra, with a growing population. But a brand-new shopping mall on the outskirts of town had depressed the price of retail property, and he knew without a shadow of a doubt that Mr. Cummings would have lowered the price if Nate had bothered to haggle.

Mr. Cummings gulped his whisky in one swallow, smacked his lips, and set down the glass. “Now,” he announced in a voice that wouldn’t brook argument, “why don’t we wander over to the building, and I’ll introduce you to your soon-to-be tenant?”

“Sure.” Nate stood and re-buttoned his jacket. He had an hour or so to spare before heading for Robbie’s house. His house, he ought to say, since it had been his for almost a decade, but he still thought of it as Robbie’s, even though his older brother had been gone all these years.

On his frequent business trips to Canberra he sometimes checked the house en route. He never stayed more than a couple of hours, but this time the place needed a thorough inspection, and he planned to stay overnight. For some reason he’d felt reluctant to go directly there. He’d arrived in Burronga midday Friday, but instead of heading straight for the house, he’d cruised around the area for a while, ended up at the Red Possum to kill some time, and by mid-afternoon had bought himself an old post office.

Talk about stalling.

They left the pub and stepped into a mild spring afternoon. Nate’s new property stood a few hundred meters up the road, at the intersection of what had once been a main coach road. They passed the electronics store where years ago he’d been busted for shoplifting. He pushed ahead until the two-story former post office came into sight. The ground floor had been converted into a shop, while the upstairs was a small apartment.

“You’ll only be dealing with one tenant,” Mr. Cummings said to Nate. “She rents the store and the apartment above it. Lovely girl. Took over the gift shop after her grandmother couldn’t continue. They’ve been my tenants for ages, and the girl works so hard. Terribly hard. It’s not her fault she’s behind on the rent.”

Nate slowed down. “Excuse me? She owes you money?”

Mr. Cummings started to blush. “Oh, not very much, and she’s good for it, I’m sure. Not that any of this will affect you,” he hurried to assure Nate. “I’ll take care of it with her directly.”

Yeah, but that still meant she was a lousy tenant. Damn. He didn’t want to make a fresh start in Burronga by evicting longstanding renters. Everyone would just shake their heads and say, Well, what can you expect from Nate Hardy? He wasn’t going to fall into that trap, but neither could he support a charity case. If the store owner couldn’t pay her expenses, then she had no right to be in business.

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