Diana rang the doorbell as Max rolled the snake unit up the cobblestoned walkway.
A pudgy red-nosed man in golfing attire opened the door. “What do you want? Damn it, I’m going to be late!”
Max pointed at the ‘Drain Queen’ logo embroidered on his jacket. “Sir, we’re the plumbers. Your wife called to say the upstairs bathroom sink had stopped up.”
“Damn near flooded the damned the bathroom and bedroom fooling around with the plunger.” He turned and yelled. “Margaret, the damned plumbers are here. Come see to it, damn it. If I miss tee time that bitch Lorelei will take my spot.” He charged between them, head down and muttering, the golf clubs sounding like yapping chihuahuas chasing after him.
A woman in pencil thin denim jeans and a silky white blouse with wet blotches came to the door. She looked at Max and said, “The guest bath sink upstairs clogged up because my daughter stays up there when she’s home from school and washes her sweaters in the sink. I told her to use a basin but she never listens to her mother. She learned that from her father, not me, I guarantee you.”
Diana leaned toward the woman. “I’m the master plumber, ma’am. Can you take us to the scene of the crime?”
That startled the old thing in the overstuffed jeans. “You? A girl?”
Diana had to stop staring at dear Margaret’s face; it looked like somebody had stretched plastic from ear to ear. She tapped her badge that stated ‘Master Plumber Lic. 5763PP82’ and smiled. “Yes, ma’am, I am fully qualified and would love to see that awful sink.”
Margaret snorted and led them upstairs, Max carrying the snake unit.
Back at the Drain Queen office, Diana flopped into her chair and swiveled to wake up the computer. “Why wouldn’t she pay up? Invoice! I hate writing up invoices; no pay for a month if then because the customer forgets how nasty that plugged toilet looked.”
“You’re upset about that ‘girl’ comment and being told to mop the floor.”
“I’m upset because we have four accounts over 60 days already and the rent on this dump is due. I need the cash, my friend.” She drummed her closely trimmed fingers on the desk. “I’ll have to change the name. Pete’s Plumbing , Butz and Sons, The Clog King, Walter the Water Master, Clog Killer. People would pay up then.”
“No they wouldn’t. They’re not stiffing you because you’re female, it’s because they can. Use the friendly dun letters I made up for you. I emphasize again that getting a signed contract first would make recovering payments owed much easier.”
“Nobody else does that, so please stop bringing it up. What name strikes you as manly and professional?”
“I’m going to Colorado.”
“That wasn’t a choice.” She slumped. “When?”
“Today is my last day, I left you a letter two weeks ago.”
“You did not!”
“See that unopened envelope under your coffee cup? It’s for a big pot grower. I can finally use my Plant Physiology degree.”
Deadpan, she replied, “Max, I’m deliriously happy for you. It’s lunch time, out you go so I can get some work done. Take the rest of the day paid as my gesture of appreciation for your kind assistance over the last few months.” Neither over them waved as he snagged his backpack and left.
She would have the money she would have been paying him, but no help. At a customer, she’d have no man standing there to convince him or her that at least one of the two would know what they were doing. Head in hands, she said, “Stop blaming everything on gender. Get off your ass and ask Mathieu’s Heating, Cooling and Plumbing for some work because you know they get more than they can handle. Do it. Off ass.” Tears. She hated crying, a sign of weakness. Looking up, she watched a tow truck drive on by; no repossession of their nice van today. Tomorrow?
Diana pulled open her desk drawer and picked the hankie off of the gleaming black revolver with the illegal ivory handle. It had been her Daddy’s. She had apprenticed with him after her eight years in the Navy as a Machinist’s Mate. He’d encouraged her to get that Master Plumber license as he battled emphysema. On the day she got it, he shot himself and left her the business with the stipulation she remove his name from it. About to touch it, an old man in a picnic-checkered shirt came in.
She shut the drawer. “Can I help you, sir?”
“I hear you looking for a plumber’s helper. Please consider me for that job. I got lots of experience.”
Her heart leapt and she felt foolish for it. Had Max spread the word? “I can only pay $15 an hour to start. Do you have a resume?”
He hesitated, came to an internal decision, and handed it to her. “You’ll see I learned plumbing in prison. A long time ago I accidently killed my girlfriend while high as a kite. I got out back in May and cain’t find no job; nobody hire somebody with such a record.”
“Can you get around? I mean, sometimes we have to get into crawl spaces and into attics.”
“I look old, but I’m just 54. I can work hard and get anywhere I need to, I promise you.”
“If one customer after another assumes you can’t be as good as the fat white guy down the road, what would you do?”
“I wouldn’t take it to heart; I’d just do the job the best way I know how. You got to build up a good reputation, that’s solid gold it is. We build up that reputation, we up easy street.”
Why she felt such an instant kinship with this rail-thin man, this man that that apprenticed in prison, she could not say. This man would never give up; she saw it in his auburn eyes. He didn’t look for others to blame. The desk phone rang. “Drain Queen Plumbing, how can we help you?” She smiled. “Yes sir, we’ll be right there.” Hanging up, she looked over to Gregory Payne. “A water pipe broke at Jemison’s Art Supply. Let’s hustle over there and see what you can do.”