The Mansion, Part 2

By David Armstrong

Read Part 1.

When Jack and Francine arrived at the real estate office on their first day, the agent was waiting for them. He dispatched Jack to a homeless shelter across town, and he sent Francine to pick up laundry from an elderly lady just a few blocks away and gave her a stack of quarters to take the clothes to a nearby laundromat.

Day after day the couple reported in the morning to the agent’s office, and each day they received instructions for their tasks. The jobs varied from one day to the next, but the agent always gave them the same final instruction—they were to tell the proprietor or person they worked with that they were there as representatives of the agent’s corporation and to leave a business card.

Most of their assignments made no sense—walk the dog for a man with a broken leg, clean litter from a vacant lot, listen to an old man in a nursing home reminisce about his days in the war, weed the garden for a man who had suffered a stroke. They never took any payment from the people they served. They had no idea how the real estate agent knew who was in need. More times than they could count, the recipient of their service tore up the business card and tossed it on the ground.

Jack wondered many times if he was up to a task he was given. Mowing a lawn was easy, but building a fence was definitely outside his wheelhouse. On the big, difficult projects, someone always showed up at just the right moment to give him a hand.

Francine felt the same about many of her assignments. Always just a little more than she thought she could handle. She made many mistakes, but the agent promptly showed her where she went wrong and gave her another chance to try again. He was the most forgiving boss she had ever worked for.

At the end of each week, the agent handed them a commission check. No matter how the people responded when Jack and Francine told them who they worked for, the agent counted every encounter as a success and added up the commissions. The amount of the check varied every week, but there was always enough to pay their rent and other expenses and put a chunk of money in their down payment fund. The agent never missed a week of paying them, and the pair never missed a week of depositing money in the bank.

The day finally arrived when they had the required amount of money for the down payment. They went to the bank and asked the teller to draw up a cashier’s check. They proudly walked into the office, check in hand.

The agent beamed his congratulations, not just on earning the money but on their faithfulness and their service. He handed them the deed and the keys to the mansion. Jack’s hand trembled as he held the paper and read his and Francine’s names as owners.

His knees buckled, however, when the agent handed him back the cashier’s check. Francine guided Jack to a chair and then dropped into the seat beside him.

The agent’s eyes were moist. “I don’t need your money. Our contract was never really about money, it was about your development. When I met you, you were good, honest people full of worldly worries and selfish desires. You are different people today. Don’t you agree?”

Jack was slack-jawed, speechless. Francine nodded. “These have been the best, happiest years we have ever had together. We are different people now.”

The agent pulled the contract from his briefcase and leafed to the last page. He laid the sheet on the table next to Jack. “I think you may have missed the fine print at the bottom, just below your signatures. You didn’t bother to read this last paragraph at the original signing. So let me tell you what it says. With possession of the mansion, you two are now licensed agents of my father’s foundation and are responsible for finding more families to whom the foundation can give mansions. In other words, you now get to do for others exactly what I have done for you.”

Recovering from the shock, Jack immediately started thinking about the people he and Francine had met as they served. A bright smile lit his face. “Francy, we’ve got real work to do.”

Francine took her husband’s hand. “I can’t wait to tell people the good news of what they can have. We’d better get going!”

The two stood and shook hands with the agent. The thought came to Jack that they had never asked the agent about the details of who his philanthropic father was who set up the foundation to help people buy houses.

The agent smiled. “Oh, I thought you had guessed already. My father founded this town many years ago. He owns this real estate firm and is a silent partner in every business within the city. Everything you see around you is his, one way or another. As hard as he tries to give away mansions, some folks choose frame houses in the suburbs or tenements downtown. It’s human nature.”

He brought out a briefcase from beneath the table and handed it to Jack. “You two had better get going. You have a mansion to look after and a lot of people to talk to.”

Photo by Charles Parker on

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