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Remodeling Hell
Remodeling Hell
Remodeling Hell
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Remodeling Hell

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Remodeling Hell includes a Salvation Guide packed with money-saving tips and lessons learned about the home remodeling process. The book contains often hilarious, but always valuable lessons of what to do and what NOT to do when building a new or remodeling an existing house. Readers will benefit from author Charles Irion's journey as he endeavored to build his dream house.

Release dateDec 5, 2009
Remodeling Hell
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Charles G. Irion

Charles G. Irion is a publisher, best-selling and award-winning author, successful entrepreneur, adventurer, philanthropist, executive producer, and actor. For several decades, he has served as the sole proprietor and broker for U.S. Park Investments, a leading operator of Manufactured Home and RV communities in the United States. Before that, he was a pharmaceutical representative for Johnson and Johnson, McNeil Laboratories after completing his Masters of Business Administration in International Marketing and Finance from the Thunderbird School of Global Management. One of his life-long passions is for the written word. Determined to make his dreams a reality, he wrote and published fourteen books comprised of the Summit Murder Mystery series, and the Hell series. Inspired by his 1987 attempt to climb Mt. Everest, and a 2011 summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro, each book in the Summit Murder Mystery series is set atop the highest point of the world's seven continents. Deaths from falls, avalanches, illness, heart attacks, and high altitude sickness are a matter of course, and when you add in murder, action and adventure, the combination makes for unforgettable reads. The climb begins with the first book in the series, Murder on Everest, and is followed with WIKI ARTICLE Murder on Elbrus, Murder on Mt. McKinley, Murder on Puncak Jaya, Murder on Aconcagua, Murder on Vinson Massif, and ends with Murder on Kilimanjaro. There is also a novella, Abandoned on Everest. The Hell Series includes, Remodeling Hell, Autograph Hell, Car Dealer Hell, and Divorce Hell. He also published a fun novelty cookbook for outdoorsmen called, Roadkill Cooking for Campers - "The Best Dang Wild Game Cookbook in the World." Many years ago, Irion's first medical mission was to Benjamin Hill Senora, Mexico with the Phil Am Lion's Club. Even then, he knew that medical missions were experiences he wanted to continue. Charles is currently a Director of the Phil-Am Lions Club in Phoenix, Arizona and has participated in medical missions in a village near Subic Bay, Philippines and in Caborca, Mexico to provide approximately 300 free cataract surgeries to needy patients. He also traveled to the Municiple Hospital in San Pablo City, Laguna Philippines with the 3000 Club, to administer eye and diabetic screenings for those in need. In June 2011, Irion went on a trip to Mt. Kilimanjaro with the K2 Adventures Foundation. They took Project C.U.R.E. supplies and used them to examine more than 200 patients. The following year, he visited Lima, Peru to help translate for the doctors and nurses at a C.U.R.E. clinic for a day. In addition to philanthropy trips and translating services, Charles participated in the training session at the Denver headquarters to become a certified Needs Assessment Representative. He went to Burkina Faso, Africa for the field training requirement and his first assessment alone was in Cuenca, Ecuador to conduct assessments on a hospital and a mobile surgical unit. His next assessment trip to Nicaragua included assessments of Project C.U.R.E. Clinics, where he translated for the doctors and passed out medicines and vitamins to children and adults. Since then, he has also conducted needs assessments to Ouanaminthe, Haiti; El Banco,Colombia; Santa Marta, Colombia; Buenaventura, Colombia; Cali, Colombia; Boma, DRC; Lumbumbashi, DRC; Kalemie, DRC; Lima, Peru; Machu Picchu, Peru; Bahia Kino, Mexico; Nogales, Mexico; Benjamin Hill, Sonora Mexico; Santa Cruz, Bolivia; Belize City, Belize; Cuba; Antigua, Guatemala City, Guatemala; San Jose, Costa Rica; Jaco, Costa Rica; Panama City, Panama; Zambia, Zaire, DRC; Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Moshi, Tanzania; Manilia, Philippines; Zambales, Philippines; San Pablo, Philippines; Kenya, and Mumbai, India. He loves being involved with such an amazing organization and helping those that really need it. In that spirit, his slogan is One World, One PeopleTM Irion's passion for adventure has encompassed the full gamut. He has traveled to over 60 countries throughout the world. SCUBA diving is a favorite hobby of Irion's and he has seen the underwater world from California to Mexico, Costa Rica, the South China sea, Belize, Colombia, Rio De Janeiro, the island of Phuket in Thailand, Bali, and in Subic Bay of the Philippines. Irion has also skydived throughout Arizona, loved the thrill of white water rafting on Pacuare River in Costa Rica, and in 1988, Irion completed a week long course in High Wall Mountain Repelling conducted in the Bavarian Alps.

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    Remodeling Hell - Charles G. Irion

    How the Unpredictable Demons of

    Remodeling and Construction Taught

    Expensive, Hellish Lessons to a Trusting Guy



    Published by Irion Books at Smashwords

    Copyright © 2009 by Charles G Irion C.I. Trust.

    Second Edition 2009

    10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

    ISBN 9780982598641 Ebook Version

    All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in, or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

    Smashwords Edition, License Notes

    This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person you share it with. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then you should return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

    Cover Design by Johnny Miguel, www.johnnymiguel.com

    Book Design by Jason Crye

    Irion Books


    4462 E. Horseshoe Rd.

    Phoenix, Arizona 85028

    email: mailto:charles@charlesirion.com


    I am dedicating this remarkable story to my wife, Rose, and daughter, Chriselle, who were the glue that held me together during the many months of remodeling hell — mahal kita!


    Chapter 1: My Deal with the Devil

    The Devil himself, disguised as a contractor, lures me to sell my soul when I think I am buying services.

    Chapter 2: The Tempting House

    An emotional, shimmering vision of the palace of my dreams hides the entrance to remodeling hell. Common sense is missing in action.

    Chapter 3: Mat, Piggie and Zoey

    The unlikely trio of professionals who will take us to hell and back. One of them is a stone statue with mysterious powers.

    Chapter 4: Know Yourself to Survive the Trial

    You may die in remodeling hell if you have not learned resiliency from your life experiences. I was lucky. I survived.

    Chapter 5: Colliding Worlds of Light and Darkness

    A helpful angel named Zoey appears in the depths of the conflict in Hades and saves the day.

    Chapter 6: Emails To and From Hell

    The Devil begins to slip up and reveal his true identity in emails. It isn’t pretty.

    Chapter 7: Food and Ghosts

    While I unwittingly become a food bank for construction workers, a ghost haunts the premises. Or does he?

    Chapter 8: Demonic Scorpions

    Ugly, stinging scorpions teach me to love my neighbors and understand that their problems are mine, and that my problems affect them. Not that the scorpions care.

    Chapter 9: Fateful Decisions

    While the remodeling project screams for hundreds of decisions, workers scream for money. I learn how to decide without screaming.

    Chapter 10: Faux Hell vs. Real Heaven

    While the Forces of Faux try to divert the intrepid remodeler to cut corners on everything from landscaping to the home entertainment center, Heaven is found in claiming the Real.

    Chapter 11: Don’t Trust the Trusses

    Trusses hold up the roof, but mine practically collapse on my project when an inspector notices serious problems. No one is responsible, naturally!

    Chapter 12: Pepe’s Shadow World

    A short guy with a hairy mole knows more about electricity than he does about showing up, paying his workers, and getting organized. Is Pepe worth the juice, or is he a blown fuse?

    Chapter 13: Fire and Brimstone

    While Mr. Evil lies about money, a humble workman eventually completes the roof, but not before the Thunder and Rain God drenches part of my beloved renovations. Meanwhile, fireplace disputes turn up the heat.

    Chapter 14: The End Times

    When the boss is away, everybody plays! The final battle of Armageddon draws nearer when the Devil froths at the mouth.

    Chapter 15: Settling Into Our New Dominion

    As if it isn’t bad enough to move into the chaos of an uncompleted home, we discover that some workers have made it their home too.

    Chapter 16: Demon Plumbers and Angelic Carpenters

    A smelly, sweaty plumber is better at spitting tobacco juice than running pipes. While the Devil demands more money and finally gets the boot, a family of carpenters earns my respect.

    Chapter 17: Taking Charge—Turning Darkness into Light

    Taking charge brings both freedom and enormous responsibility. Everything from cabinets and electronic installations to draperies and alarm systems demand decisions. But clear leadership helps the crew pull together.

    Chapter 18: Lessons from Remodeling Hell

    Practical lessons learned by earning a Ph.D. in Remodeling from the School of Hard Knocks. Follow them to avoid paying the tuition that I paid for 18 months of hell.

    Chapter 19: Salvation

    A succinct, practical, how-to primer on home remodeling and construction. A must-read guide for anyone doing a remodeling project or building a new home.


    It seemed like a good idea at the time, though that thought gave me no comfort during the hell that followed.

    The plan was simple enough. I’d just bought a very nice, though dated, house situated beside a pristine expanse of Southwestern desert on the sunny slope of a mountain preserve. I’d have no new, or even old, neighbors obstructing my view, and could enjoy the striking scenery as well as the myriad wildlife that populated the area. My plan was to take what was already a basically sound house design, expand on it, and landscape and remodel the remainder, turning the totality into my dream home.

    I felt no hesitation as I stood poised on a dizzying precipice I didn’t know existed. I’d remodeled houses previously, taking, on average, three months each time, and falsely believed the experience had prepared me for what was to come. Sure, this job was bigger, more ambitious, costlier, and, though I had a general vision of what I wanted going in, I understood there would be a thousand details, vexatious and otherwise, along the way that would have to be decided before that vision was fulfilled. But I was up for it, even excited at the prospect.

    Now, I’ve done well in my career, a lot better than most, though I’m not in league with say, Donald Trump. I was making a mortgage payment on my existing house and would make another on the house I was about to buy, but as a result of a fortuitous business deal, I had the cash set aside to pay for the work. That same deal left me with what I believed would be sufficient time on my hands necessary to supervise and see that the job was done right. I expected to learn a great deal and, frankly, I was of the opinion going in that this would be fun.

    Which only goes to show how little I understood what I was up against.

    I suspect everyone who has ever remodeled a house is of the opinion that if only they had had more time, and a lot more money, the experience and outcome would have been much better. I’m living proof they are wrong. Remodeling isn’t about money or time; it isn’t even about hiring skilled professionals to do the job.

    Remodeling, I’ve learned to the crux of my being, is God’s punishment for something we did wrong, if not in this life then one before. Either that, or He/She’s got a very nasty disposition and a wicked sense of humor.

    There are essentially two ways to accomplish a major remodeling job. The first is the traditional approach. You contact several established licensed contractors — the ones who have to charge hefty fees to pay for all their advertising, pretentious houses and fancy cars — you tell them what you want, and you receive in return a fixed bid. After that you write a check, step aside, let them go to work, then accept what they build.

    The problem with this approach is that you must make all of the important decisions at the very beginning, before you really know what you want or even what is available. You are compelled to envision your completed house from sketchy drawings, even from verbal descriptions and reassuring, if vague, promises, then permanently live with the consequences. Worse, once you are locked into a fixed price the contractor is free to increase his profit margin by scrimping at every opportunity. Do you know, for example, what gauge electrical wire is in your walls? Most people don’t, and this is why. But with today’s electronics and the continuing evolution of home entertainment systems, you need quality wiring everywhere. You shouldn’t be taking someone’s word for it, either.

    But it isn’t just wire. It’s also the quality and size of pipes, the kind of roof you get and roofing material they use, how far apart the studs are spaced in your walls, how much and what quality paint is used; it’s an all-but-endless list of things you can’t see that will hurt you in the long run while making the contractor a few extra dollars. A friend told me about an office he had built onto his house. Only years later did he learn the workers had not installed any of the insulation he’d paid for. No wonder, he told me later, the room had always been so hot or cold. All of these are the realities you face, along with a higher price, when you elect to go with an established general contractor.

    The other approach is to hire an architect and an interior designer, then essentially sub everything out. With this approach you negotiate fixed fees with the professionals you’ll need, then pay for the rest as you go. There are inherent advantages to this method. As the construction proceeds you can see what is happening for yourself and decide if it’s going to really look like you imagined it on the blueprint or from the software program. You get to see everything before the walls are buttoned up and shoddy work is sealed, not wait until you have to pay someone to do it over. You get to pick the tile and roofing material yourself. And if something really dumb is being built you can ask questions and/or tell the workers to stop, then figure out what’s wrong and change it before you are in too deep.

    It’s also, in theory, less expensive to take this approach. You aren’t, after all, paying for all those advertisements. You also have, again in theory, more control over the project so that you are much more likely to end up with what you want.

    But there are pitfalls.

    It’s tough to control costs in such a fluid situation. You have to be physically present on the job just about all the time. Every hour you are away is a window during which bad things you won’t know about can happen. Being on the job site means getting too cold or too hot, being dirty and miserable most of the workday, and becoming preoccupied with what is taking place the rest of the time.

    It also means entering a world you are unlikely to have ever previously experienced or to want to experience again.

    For example, workers, who move from one remodeling job to another, are often irresponsible and undependable. Trusting the construction of your dream house to subcontractors and their crews is akin to putting your money in a high-yield account; you want to keep a close eye on the situation.

    But I was certain I could do this, and never gave much thought to hiring a general contractor and simply turning the job over to him. Doing it myself meant I would manage the project from beginning to end, monitor the costs carefully, see that things were done right, and when all was said and done, I believed, I’d have built exactly what I wanted. It was a house with plenty of potential and a great location. How could I go wrong?

    So I set aside what I was certain was enough money and calculated that six months was more than enough time to finish the job and do it right. That was also the amount of time I could afford to take away from work. I’d stay in my current house during construction so I wouldn’t have to put up with living in the dust and dirt.

    I had it all worked out and it seemed perfectly doable. Well, six months became two years, I had to double the money I’d set aside, and for 12 months I was forced to live in the midst of a remodeling nightmare.

    And despite my best laid plans, I experienced my share of construction errors. The lovely, intermittently curved fence wall my architect laid out for me with such pride was a foot over my boundary line in more than one place, an error discovered only after it was built. Various desert insects, but especially venomous scorpions, were driven from the work site and adjoining desert into the yards and bedrooms of my neighbors, causing one to hastily sell his house. Trusses carefully measured and specifically constructed for the unique shape and pitch of my new addition were installed backwards. Marvelous devices made possible by the latest in technology didn’t work once installed and required months of telephone calls, repeated visits and additional cost before they did.

    Along the way, I learned that it is too much to expect people to do their job; that it is unreasonable to have people complete the tasks you pay them for and to require that they do what they promised. I was compelled to realize this often become of someone I didn’t like very much, a man who was manipulative and coercive. I learned to live with always being the bad guy.

    While I had thought ahead to avoid such problems, many in general were within the range of those you can reasonably expect in such a project. But over those torturous long months I experienced situations that were well outside the boundaries of reason or rationality. I learned a great deal I’d never suspected about the human condition. I witnessed slices of the lives of others I’d just as soon not have seen. I’d arrive early at the house, for example, and find empty beer cans scattered about, having been pitched there at random by a worker who’d slept on the construction site. My dream house was to be a home away from home for more than one worker.

    Over the interminable months, boundaries became blurred. Without constant supervision, the personal demons of workers bled over into their work lives. Workers slept with co-workers. Irate wives would arrive at the site with dirty, crying children, demanding to see their errant husbands. Workers bummed cash off me so routinely I took to keeping a roll of twenties in my pocket, and a receipt book to record the advances. These lives were so dysfunctional I came to understand why my job wasn’t getting done, or was getting done the way it was. Their part in building my house was just one dimension of a life dictated by chaos.

    Let me mention but two examples. Sewage lines were laid out with the apparent expectation that gravity would suspend its nature and permit affluent to run uphill. They not only had to be redone, but a portion of the addition had to be redesigned to accommodate the change. At the front of the house I had the same problem. Fountain drain lines didn’t drain because they ran uphill and had to be rebuilt.

    These were the result of incompetence. When it came to my well-recommended electrician the problem was often sabotage. When he decided he hadn’t been paid enough or was underappreciated he’d leave in a huff and not return for days or weeks. To assure that he got what he wanted he’d leave key electrical connections unconnected and allow the interior wall to be closed over them. When the electricity didn’t work I’d have no choice but to call him back on the job and pay his renegotiated fee.

    The situation with so-called professionals was scarcely better. Telephone calls weren’t returned, bills were padded, workers were encouraged behind my back to overcharge me, and money advanced for supplies was never seen again, and often, I believe, was spent on someone else’s job. New contractors/vendors walked the project, agreed to a price to do their part, took an advance payment to buy what they needed – and vanished, routinely.

    My relationship with certain essential ongoing players deteriorated once the contracts were written and money paid. Towards the end of the remodeling I was being cursed in person and through emails, condemned to hell and told I was evil. All because I was building a house.

    I gained a lifetime of experience along the way. I learned that you don’t anger your workers because they have a thousand ways to get even with you. They can not show up. They can take your money and run when they go for supplies. They can drive two nails to hold up something that really needs five. They can leave the remains of their lunch, or worse, inside your walls. They can pick somewhere you’d really rather they hadn’t to relieve themselves. They can come back at night and steal you blind. And all that’s just for openers.

    Most of all, I learned, the hard way, never pay in advance for work.

    All this took a personal toll on me, my wife, my daughter and our pets. My family was forced to put up with the new, not-improved me, and later tolerate the construction site I moved them onto. As a consequence, there were privacy and security issues that gave me constant concerns.

    We were also forced to live in an unsettled, cluttered, messy environment. It was necessary to have the house cleaned almost daily just to keep it habitable. The demands and unpleasantness were so extensive that I could readily understand why so many remodeling projects end marriages.

    But I learned a great deal, acquiring knowledge and experience that is invaluable to anyone considering remodeling or building their house. This is the book everyone should read before beginning a remodel or an addition, or even building a new home. The lessons are here for you to learn without going through the ordeal I survived. And it’s one hell of a story, if I do say so myself.

    What does not kill me,

    Makes me stronger.

    ~ Nietzsche

    Towards the end I was certain someone,

    or even the house itself, would kill me.

    ~ Charles G. Irion

    Chapter 1

    My Deal with the Devil

    I’d finally selected the right house.

    After nearly six months of searching, having walked through and compared somewhere between 80 and 100 houses for sale, valued at between one and three million dollars each, I was reasonably satisfied this one would work. It wasn’t perfect, and my very nice real estate agent wasn’t pressing me to bring my search to an end, but we could both see that the real estate market was just beginning a boom. It was time to commit before I found myself left behind. And it seemed as if I could make this house into my dream.

    Yes, I decided, this is going to be the one.

    That’s when I spotted my architect, Matyas, called Mat [yes, just one T],standing bent-kneed in the front yard, transfixed, or perhaps suffering from a sudden gastric attack, gazing at the rather plain house immediately across the street. As I approached he said with passion, Now that’s the house!! That’s the house!! You’ve gotta buy it!!

    About 60 years old, Mat worked locally as an architect, home designer and renovator. A Hungarian emigrant, he’d fled the Soviet invasion of his homeland in 1956 while a teenager, then made his way to the United States. Proud of his American citizenship, he’d been both a conservative and a liberal, Democrat and Republican, and now seemed to be essentially an anarchist with a chip on his shoulder. Or maybe I’m describing most anarchists. A relentless foe of Communism, he found a way to introduce his politics, religion and life story into every conversation, which is how I quickly came to know his history, or so I thought.

    Mat was a short man, though powerfully built, given to tight T-shirts, a flashy watch and large gold chains clustered about his thick neck. Balding, he shaved his head and in compensation grew an enormous mustache I suspected he dyed black every ten days or so. His bright teeth resembled piano keys, and I found it hard to not stare at them whenever he spoke, or on those rare occasions when he stood silent, his mouth slightly agape. They were also oddly shaped and had a tendency to capture bits of his meals, which was very distracting in conversation, especially since he stood close to you when he talked.

    Disturbingly, Mat never really met your eye, and the more passionate he became when talking the more his eyes darted about, touching, it seemed, almost everything in a certain wild abandon. In look and demeanor he was very nearly the stereotypical mad Hungarian.

    Just look at it, Chucky!! Mat now shouted, squatting down even lower over the bright green winter grass as if to secure a better angle of view or to compensate for lower back pain. He raised his voice when excited and, I was coming to learn, he was excited a lot, about almost anything. See how it sits? Look at the natural light, the earth tones in the backdrop, the lovely natural shading. And look at the view, will you!! Just look at it!! Now I can make that a masterpiece! That’s the house!! That’s the house!! See the ‘For Sale’ sign? How much is that one?

    This last question was directed at my real estate agent, Florence. I’d met Florence at a wedding and been favorably impressed then, as I was now, these many months later. Florence was in her late 50s, a bit short, blond, and for a real estate agent, remarkably quiet. Originally from the Midwest, she was a transplant, a Christian, the wife of a marriage counselor, a hard worker and a very, very nice lady. I’d been impressed by the fact that she did what she said she’d do, a trait less common in business than you might think. She never missed an appointment to see a house, and followed up whenever she said she would.

    Florence glanced at Mat with an incomprehensible look, then walked across the quiet street with the quick click of her shoes. She confirmed there was a lock box on the door, then placed a call on her cellphone.

    This was taking place on a lovely, and very quiet, desert Sunday in February. Mat was now on the ground, yes indeed, in the grass, extolling the virtues of his discovery. Sublime! Magnificent! Transcendent!" These exclamations all emanated from him with equal energy and considerable force. If he kept up his shouting neighbors were bound to come outdoors to see what was up.

    What I saw across the street was nothing to generate all his excitement. It was a rather bland, slightly aging house set against the base of the gentle slope of the desert mountain preserve to its immediate west. From where I stood, the place appeared clean and functional, but nothing more. It was certainly nothing to instill awe in anyone.

    I’d known there were two houses for sale on this street at about the same price of just over one million dollars, but the one where I stood looked doable, so I’d given the other no thought. Once I’d decided this first house might do I’d simply given Mat a call to be certain he could make it work. In all he’d seen three or four of the houses I’d considered buying, and each time had pointed out deficiencies that made them too problematic for me and what I wanted. But today he’d never really looked at the house I’d all but decided on, never even left the driveway before he began worshipping the house across the street.

    I approached Mat, looked down at him, and said quietly, hoping my voice volume might be catching, You really think so?

    I didn’t know Mat all that well, and was still feeling my way when it came to his judgment. I had no doubt that he was an enormously talented man – I’d seen houses he’d constructed and remodeled – but still was uncertain he was a good fit for what I wanted to accomplish.

    Absolutely, Chucky, Mat answered with messianic certainty. He suddenly sat up from the verdant grass like in those movies where the corpse bounds upright in the coffin. Look at the virgin land behind it! The earth tones which will convert so easily to modern neutrals! The lack of a neighbor to one side! The vast yard!! His arms swept back and forth as if he were conducting an orchestra. That house uses the land very poorly, trust me. I can do what you want there!! The location is ideal!! That’s the house!!! Buy it!!

    As Florence waited patiently, gazing skeptically at my Hungarian, Mat babbled on nonstop while still seated on the grass. Finally, he rose, his rump stained green, took my sleeve, led me across the street, then pulled me to the side to show the spread of yard beside the house as well as the expansive space behind it. All the while he explained his vision [that was what he called it] of how he would transform this house into my masterpiece.

    Only easy permits! he assured me. There will be no problems. Approval will be simple, and you’ll end up with a two-story, 7,000-square-foot house. This is not difficult. Trust me!

    Ah yes, those two little words. Trust me.

    I’d met Mat the previous summer at about the time I was considering creating my dream house. I’d made a charitable contribution to a local golf tournament, and was standing in an increasingly drunken crowd under a tent drinking a 10-ounce paper cup of beer I estimated had cost me just under one thousand dollars when I head this voice drifting aggressively over the heads of the gathered local glitterati. The words had this Zsa Zsa Gabor accent thing going so I decided to see what was up.

    There was animated Mat, hands waving about like a windmill in a brisk Dutch breeze, words steaming out from behind those piano keys like bullets from a machine gun, the target of his attention the director of the

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