Keep 'Em Happy
The Carrs were a nice, normal, not very efficient family— until Gregg the Butler turned loose his executive touch
WHEN I came home from the office I noticed that part of the lawn had been cut. That meant great events were in the making; Lois had found another couple.
I parked the car in the garage, strode hopefully across the driveway and watched the front door open. Ronny, slightly smudged but otherwise intact, said, “Hello, Daddy. Look what I got!”
I looked. He had the model of a full-rigged ship tied to a string. He’d been sailing it across the hall rug, and with each bump he was destroying hours of work by a master craftsman.
“Where’d you get that?” I asked.
“Gregg give it,” he said, cracking two delicate spars with an affectionate hug. “Nice Gregg.”
“Does he want you to break it too?”
Ronny stared wide-eyed, then he nodded. “Nice Gregg,” he repeated.
I went upstairs, past a tantalizing kitchen aroma, and found Lois in front of her vanity table. She was dabbing the tips of her ears with her best $20 perfume. She was blond, sparkling and fresh. She looked 18 and ready for the Technicolor cameras.
I kissed her where it tasted nicest and said casually, “Help problem solved?”
She nodded happily. “They came for the interview with all their baggage. By noon Marta was settled in the kitchen and served me the most delicious lunch. Gregory took care of Ronny all afternoon and
I was able to leave the house for the first time in a week.”
“Don’t overdo it,” I said. “A man doesn’t like to spend his time taking care of a kid—even a kid like Ronny.”
“Gregory loved it,” Lois exclaimed. Then she frowned slightly. A ray of sunlight caught her hair and made it dance in gold. Her small mouth narrowed and the oval of her face lengthened. “Gregory’s quite a character,” she said.
As usual, she was understating the facts.
We were in the living room when Gregg made his first appearance. He had a butler’s regulation white jacket, a voice like a foghorn and an earspread like Dumbo’s. And he stood in the doorway and trumpeted.
“Hey!” he bellowed. “Chow’s ready.” And he gestured with a thumb in the general direction of the dining room.
Lois winked at me, as if to say, “See what I dug up?” Then she rose and observed quietly, “Thank you, Gregory.”
He looked puzzled as Lois swept past him, but he
recovered quickly. As I reached the doorway he slapped me on the back and whispered, “And wait till you see what we got! Something special, boss.”
I grunted. I’ve never stood on ceremony, but my first impression of Gregg was a mixed one. Something, say, between a guardian angel and an executioner. The impression persisted throughout dinner, with Gregg shoving platters in our faces and keeping up a running comment.
“Chicken casserole—nothing like it in the world . . . Take a little more of them carrots . . . Hey, watch it! You’ll spill the stuff on me . . . These plates are too fancy. You ought to get something solid that don’t break so easy.”
I took my cue from Lois. After all the house was her business and it was up to her to hire and fire. If she could take it so could I. I like to get along with people. Keep ’em happy, I say, and they’ll work themselves to the bone for you.
Besides it was the best dinner I’d had in years. If Gregg was a character, Marta, whom I hadn’t seen yet, was a genius.
We were having our coffee when the phone rang. It was Edith Feldman, which meant that lois would be busy for at least 15 minutes. So Í was glad when Gregg st rode in.
“How’s fora game of pool, boss?” he said “How about the dishes?” I retorted.
“Nuts,” he said. “Marta will take care of them. She always doc«.”
I didn’t want to cross him the first night, so I decided to humor him. Keep ’em happy. Besides I had an idea forming.
I’m no mean pool player. I might not be able to make a living at the game, but I didn’t put that table down in the basement just for looks, I’d take him on for a couple of games and put him in his place. Then I’d walk out without saying a word. That ought to soften him up a bit.
I led the way down to the rumpus room, selected my favorite cue and began chalking it. “A buck a game,”
I said casually.
He didn’t even blink. “Sure,” he said. “If that’s your speed, make it a buck.”
1 took a dollar bill out of my pocket and put it on the window sill. He hadn’t figured on cash, but he realized he’d started this and couldn’t back out. He went through his pockets as if he didn’t really expect to find anything, but in the end he came up with a folded, crumpled, moth-eaten piece of paper which the Government had originally issued as currency. He dropped it alongside my bill.
“My lucky buck,” he observed.
“Shoot for the break?”
We shot. I won, of course. I know the roll of that table and I can put the ball where I want it. I did just that. Then he racked up the balls and 1 shot. Nothing fancy. I dropped one in the corner pocket, put away a hanger and an easy one and then sank a pair down at the other end of the table.
Gregg’s ears seemed a little farther apart than before, but he lost none of his serenity. He showed mild interest, perhaps, but not the admiration I’d expected. 1 deliberately picked a hard shot, just to show him, and missed by a hair.
He studied the table. The easy one I’d passed up was still there but the hard one hadn’t changed.
“Ten-ball, same as you tried,” he said. “Only you should have done it like this.”
He sent it clear around the table and put it away neatly. Then he cleaned up the remaining balls, picked up the two bucks and said, “Another?”
1 nodded. It was still his turn. He’d l>een t>orn and brought up in a pool hall and he won the second game before l even got my lick. I handed him another dollar and he put it in his pocket.
"I better see how Marta’s getting along,” he said. “The first night in a strange place she always needs a little organizing.” He went out as if he regretted the fact that 1 couldn’t give him real competition.
1 followed him upstairs. Lois had finished her phone call and she slipped her arm cozily through mine. “How do you like Gregory?” she asked.
“His wife’s the best cook weever had,”
Isiis beamed. “1 knew you’d like him,” she said, with her peculiar brand of logic. “Shall we go over to the Feldmans for the evening? 1 told Edith that we might.”
1SAW Marta at breakfast the next morning. She was a mild, meek woman with orderly features. The biscuits she'd baked slid down my throat like butter, and she made coffee the way it is supposed to be made. When I complimented her she smiled in embarrassment. For a moment 1 was afraid she was going to say that Gregg didn’t like strange men to give her compliments. But whatever was in her mind she didn’t say it.
Gregg had the car waiting in front of the door when 1 came out. I climbed in and said, “Thanks.”
He looked at me critically. “This heap of yours is in lousy shapes” he remarked.
“Yes ” 1 said. “You can’t get a mechanic around here unless your car’s falling apart. However, you can overhaul it any time you feel like it.” And I drove off. When I got home that evening the lawn was mowed
and the upstairs faucet didn’t leak any more. I remarked about it to Lois.
“Yes,” she said. “It’s a funny thing about Gregory. The man who fixed the lawn mower yesterday tried it out on that one strip. Then today it didn’t work and he had to come back. He mowed the rest of it. I’m wondering how it’ll get done next time.”
1 ga%'e her a sharp look. “About this faucet— we’ve been trying for six months to get the plumber here. I know darn well he won’t go anywhere unless it’s an emergency.”
“But it was,” said Lois. “We had no water, and that’s what brought him. The faucet was an afterthought once he was here.”
“What was the matter with the water?” I asked. Lois shrugged. “I don’t know. Something was clogged, but Gregg fixed it while the plumber was on his way over. So he just worked on the faucet.”
“So Gregg fixed the water, eh?” I repeated. I was beginning to respect Gregg.
After dinner I went down to the rumpus room to have a heart-to-heart talk about the water, but Gregg smiled when I mentioned the plumbing.
“Just one of those things,” he said. “They go haywire and then they’re all right again.”
I lost two bucks, but Lois and I went out.
On the third night, for the usual two smackers, I
BERTIE THE BEAVER
learned from Gregg’s own lips that he was an expert auto mechanic, an electrician, a mason and a born woodsman.
“If you’re such a good mechanic, why couldn’t you fix the power mower?” I asked.
“That’s different,” he said. “But wait till the week end, when 1 can work on that heap of yours. She’ll run like new.”
“You’ve tried your hand at a lot of things, haven’t you? Ever been a butler before?”
He sent one the length of the table and dropped it in a corner pocket. “Sure, ’ he said. “I usually worked on big estates where it was kind of an executive job, but I don’t mind a joint like this. The simple life— that’s me. You owe me another buck, boss.”
On Saturday I asked Gregg to chop down the big oak that had begun to rot. I figured he’d be at it all day, that his hands would be blistered, and every muscle in him would ache. I’d take him over at pool in the evening. He was $10 ahead of me; I’d play him 10 games, no more and no less.
After lunch he disappeared. He had an axe on his
shoulder, and he was whistling. I gave him a couple of hours and then took a stroll. At the garage I had my first surprise. Jimmy Wilson, the mechanic, was buried underneath the hood of my car.
I said, “Hello, Jimmy.”
He untangled himself and grinned. “Oh, hello, Mr. Carr. I hope you don’t mind. That butler of yours was fooling around with the engine and he got me sort of interested.” Jimmy had a dazed expression. “1 don’t know just where he went—he was here a minute ago.”
“He’s chopping down a tree,” I said. “When you finish up, Jimmy, come inside and have a beer. I don’t know why you bother working on my car—”
He interrupted. “Oh, that’s all right. Asa matter of fact I have a little bet with Gregg. I stand to win 10 bucks if I get the knock out of this motor. I’ll win it easy. I’ll just check over everything. For 10 bucks it’s worth it.”
I turned away. That car has a trick piston that knocks. It has knocked since the day 1 bought it. I’d had a run-in with the dealer about it and lost. Gregg must have caught on fast. Still. . .
I heard the axe strokes as I went up the slope. Gregg was working hard. It remained to be seen how much he was accomplishing, but at least I had the satisfaction of making him sweat.
In view of my reasoning I was surprised to see, from the top of the hill, the recumbent figure of Gregg. He was leaning against a tree and smoking peacefully, but the axe strokes were vigorous and incessant.
Somehow I knew precisely what I’d find. I remembered Ed Borden, our town scoutmaster, saying Wednesday evening, “I’ve got those kids next Saturday and I’m supposed to teach them woodcraft. I haven’t doped out yet just what I’m going to do with them.” Gregg had doped it out for him. I approached a little nearer and saw seven boy scouts busy on the big oak. The assistant district forester, who lives in the village, was superintending. He was an ex-scout and used to head the annual drive for patrol funds.
I tiptoed back to the house. That evening I lost the usual two bucks.
ON SUNDAY Gregg and Marta had the day off and I lent them the car to get to the station. The last I saw of them Gregg was at the wheel, smiling and very evidently pleased with the way the car was running. Marta, quiet and meek as ever, was sitting next to him and staring at him in a daze of admiration. Probably he’d just told her how he’d fixed the car.
Lois and I went to bed early. We mentioned the new couple briefly. It was clear not only that Lois was pleased with the way the house was running, but that she was happier and less worried than she’d been in months. When I thought back to the succession of kleptomaniacs, dipsomaniacs, octogenarians and mental defectives who’d been with us for periods varying from a day to a month or two, Gregg seemed an easy thing to put up with.
At the worst, I told myself, he was a little unconventional. He cost me a few dollars at pool, but I enjoyed watching him handle a cue. And some day, I promised myself, I was going to beat him. Just once was all I asked.
But next night he gave me the usual trimming. As he pocketed the two bucks, he said, “I wanted to ask you something. There’s an uncle of mine wants to come up here for a little while. He’ll work around the place and make himself useful, and you won’t have to pay him a cent. Just the grub he eats. Okay, boss?” I knew what was up. The uncle was going to do Gregg’s work—what there was of it. Just how Gregg would manage I didn’t know, but I had a lot of confidence in his ability. And besides I had a scheme of my own.
A couple of evenings later the uncle arrived. He was a small, chinless man. The first I saw of him was just before dinner. Lois and I were playing with Ronny W'hen there was a shrill, strident whistle, reminiscent of a fight fan giving the raspberry.
1 looked up and saw a stranger standing there in Gregg’s white coat. As soon as he saw he had our attention, he saluted smartly and said, “Dinner is soived.” Then he
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did an about-face and vanished.
Lois burst out laughing. “How do you like Deauberry?” she asked. “He’s ¡ Gregg’s understudy and Gregg is training him.”
Ronny joined in the laughter. He began jumping up and down and shouting at the top of his lungs. “Dopey! Dopey, Dopey, Dopey!”
We went down to dinner, but Gregg did not appear in the dining room that evening. Deauberry took his place. As I walked in he tapped me on the shoulder.
“Listen,” he said. “Gregg wants to know whether it’ll be all right to raise the ante on that pool game.”
I blinked. I knew then how the uncle’s salary was going to be financed. And by whom!
“I’ll talk that over with Gregg later,” I said. “And can’t I call you something a little more appropriate than Deauberry?”
“I’ll ask Gregg,” he said, “but it ought to be okay. The name’s Pete.”
After dinner I won the break, as usual. Not that it mattered. I think Gregg liked me to get the first shot because it gave me a sporting chance.
I chalked my cue and said, “Gregg, how would you like to earn some real money?”
I named theamount that I t hought his talents would be worth to me at the factory. The figure was a large one.
“What do I do?” he asked.
“Trouble shooter,” I said. I explained in detail. If someone could be on hand in the factory to iron out the kinks that kept coming up, I’d be able to spend more time at my desk. I was away behind in my paper work, and had no one who could handle the | factory end without running to me every minute. It was more a matter of smoothing out than of technical I knowledge.
Gregg listened. When I’d finished he heaved a deep sigh.
“Well,” he said dubiously, “for you, boss, I’ll give it a whirl.”
“Don’t hand me that,” I told him. “You’re doing it for the dough, and we both know it. You can start Monday.”
The first couple of days I showed him
the plant and pointed out the chief troubles. How, for instance, the paint shop slowed us up and added precious time to production costs. Gregg made no comments, but he looked at me as if I were a little thick, not being able to iron out a wrinkle as simple as all that.
When we got home the first night, Gregg disappeared immediately. Pete gave us spot news throughout dinner.
“He’s tired,” he said. “He ain’t used to that kind of work. He’s lying down.” A little later, “He just come out to the kitchen. Marta’s fixing him something special, but he’s off his feed.” With our coffee Pete said, “He’s sitting there looking at the ceiling.”
We didn’t play pool that evening. I was restless and missed the game. I fooled around alone for a while but it was no fun so I came upstairs and read a book.
The following evening it rained. The chicken was burned and the potatoes were underdone. It was the first time Marta’s cooking had been less than perfect.
“She was worried about Gregory,” explained Lois. “She was afraid he might skid.”
“She’ll get used to it,” I said. “After all, you did.”
“Somehow,” said Lois, “it isn’t quite the same without Gregory here. I had to stay away from my Home Bureau meeting and takecare of Ronny. He was quite unmanageable.”
“Maybe I ought to stay home and let Gregg go to the office.”
“Darling,” said Lois. “Such an evil thought!”
But it wasn’t evil; it was entirely practical. I hadn’t taught Gregg my desk work—yet—but the factory was running as it never had before. Gregg had set up a kind of headquarters in a corner of the plant, and problems seemed to drift to him. They never even reached my desk.
By the end of the week my cost figures had begun to drop. Nothing important had been changed, there’d
been no shop conferences, no new gadgets or schemes, but the paint shop wasn’t holding us up any more and wasted material was down to a minimum. My trouble shooter idea was working out.
At home Lois was grumpy, which isn’t like her. Ronny had tantrums, and Marta was putting too much salt in everything. The week end was a series of minor annoyances and I longed to get back to the plant, where things were running like clockwork.
On Sunday evening Gregg suggested a game of pool. I accepted eagerly, and we went downstairs. We shot for the break and I won, of course.
Gregg observed casually, “How about keeping it at two bucks a game? That one-buck stuff was chicken feed.”
“Sure,” I said. Once a week it wouldn’t hurt. 1 wanted to keep him happy, and I could afford it. So I said, “Sure, why not?”
Gregg smiled. “By the way,” he said. “About this new job of mine. I’m quitting.”
“Huh?” I said.
“Not my dish, boss. Ride with you through traffic every day of my life? Go down to the same factory and do the same things? I ain’t no slave. It’s not worth it for any amount of dough. Me, I like the country. It’s peaceful.”
I sighed, leaned over the table and missed an easy one. Then I watched Gregg go to work.
After all, I told myself, a man’s home should come first. And even if the arrangement was a little unusual, it fulfilled the important requirements. No domestic problems. Ronny taken care of, Lois happy. I could go to the factory every morning with my mind at rest.
Sometimes I wonder whether Gregg won’t get bored with his life. He has a cook and a butler working for him, and he has nothing in particular to do until after dinner, when we play our regular game of pool at two dollars per rack. 1 still think that someday I’ll beat him.