THE PHONE SHRILLED again. Louella let the machine answer it. A subliterate voice mumbled something about the house she had to rent and gave a pager number. Yeah, sure, youd be an ideal tenant. I can tell right away, Louella thought, sipping cheap chilled white wine. She looked at her Swatch. Not yet nine oclock. Guess Id better get on with it, she thought. Got to rent the place out sometime. Since evicting her nephew from her Patterson Park rowhouse adjacent to her parents, shed noticed an amusing family pattern of behavior. Everybody was mad at her for putting Mason out along with his girlfriend and their baby girl. But since nobody had come forward to help him pay his back rent, they couldnt blame her altogether. Now her parents and her sister Candy, plus Mason and his gang, were all living next door to a vacant rowhouse that Louella could rent to--anybody. It was the first time Louella had ever felt she had real power over anyone. She was trying to figure out whether it felt good or not. She dialed a potential tenants current landlord for a reference. Hello! bellowed an elderly man. Speak up! I cant hear you! Mr. Dodson? This is Eleanor Preston. [Louella never used her real name any more; nobody seemed able or willing to pronounce Pryzbylewski correctly.] I aint buying nothin, lady. Sir! Dont hang up! Im not selling anything! I just need a reference on Gladys Jones. She said youre her landlord. Oh, she did, did she? Well, I dont want to get sued or nothin, so Im not talkin. You can take your own chances, same as I did, honey! He cackled. But cant you say whether she pays her rent on time? Or that she keeps the apartment clean? Cant say nothin! My lawyer told me I couldnt. They might try to get back at me. Thats all Ive got to say! He hung up. Louella sighed. This was the second landlord who wouldnt talk. Its just like trying to get job references! All theyll say is so-and-so worked there from such-and-such a date to such-and-such a date! She struck a home run on the third try, calling about Mr. and Mrs. Roland Adams. A Mrs. Bellamy was very forthright. Youve got the right person to talk about them! Theyre deadbeats, plain and simple! Lie to your face, they will! And theyve passed me a couple of bad checks. Plus the missus, I dont think she knows the meaning of the word clean. Take em! Ive got em on notice of eviction. Only thing is, every time I get to the point of putting them out I think about their three little kiddies being homeless and all and I cant-- Thank you for your time, Mrs. Bellamy, Louella interjected. I appreciate your help. She hung up. Masons starting to look pretty good, she thought. Isnt there anybody in Baltimore able to pay $400 a month plus utilities for a nice little rowhouse? Whats the deal here? Big car payments? Paying off hidden debt? She considered the fourth person on her list. She knew the woman was black, but she sounded nice and had a real job. She hesitated a moment, and then dialed the phone.