If there was one thing in the world that flapped the unflappable Maurice, it was work badly done and the distant sight of Kirby's rattletrap truck squatting on the lawn beside the Stone House patio bore down on him like a hot dog's bad breath. Kirby was working on the bathroom floor while the Bertram's were away and Maurice had known he'd be there, but he had deliberately buried this unpleasant information in the dim netherworld of his consciousness. The implications of that rusty, brown truck on the Stone House lawn were unequivocal. First, Kirby would leave and someone from the family would discover the slipshod mess he'd made of the Bertram's bathroom floor. Next, a family meeting would be convened during which Lydia Bertram would demurely express her puzzled dissatisfaction with the uneven tiles, all the while defending Kirby's credentials to do the job. Her daughter-in-law Sallie (Joe's wife), would busy herself scraping tile grout from the wallpaper, while Lydia's husband, George Bertram, refusing to be mollified by Joe, would storm about making pronouncements on the criminal state of the world as evidenced by this shoddy workmanship in his very own bathroom. At this point Kate would step in and announce that the only thing to be done was to have Morris take up the floor and do it right. She would then chastise her mother yet again for giving every out-of-work stray she found a job on the farm without consulting the rest of the family, and the whole flap would end with Lydia in tears and George loudly defending her large, warm heart.
Maurice was familiar with this scenario. It had occurred when Kirby fixed the plumbing in the Poolhouse and the toilets shot geysers with every flush; he'd seen it when Kirby replaced Augusta's aging gas stove with a less aged one that leaked and nearly blew up the Gardener's Cottage; it followed with haste after Kirby put down nearly new carpet in the Guesthouse that promptly hatched a swarm of fleas when it warmed up inside. In fact, every time Kirby showed up on the farm, a crises ensued that Maurice had to fix. Not that he minded the work, not at all; what he minded was doing again what should have been done right to begin with. In Maurice's book proficiency and frugality were writ large, know-how was indispensable, workmanship counted for something. Cutting corners was for cabbageheads. In the case of Kirby the evidence pointed decidedly in that direction.
Maurice took a deep breath and unclenched his teeth. Without realizing, he had stopped in the driveway at the top of the hill right next to Daisy's nest. At some point in his ruminations, Samson had added himself to the sleeping pile and was now spooned comfortably against the belly of the renter's little girl who was tucked in turn into the bunchy folds of Daisy's sweater, boots at attention by her side. Maurice's thoughts drifted from the brown truck to the yellow boots. He'd had a pair of boots like that awhile back. Bigger of course, with thicker soles, but tall and yellow just like these. Good, sturdy, useful boots. It was probably for the best that she'd parked them there beside her in the drive. If you were going to fall asleep in the middle of the road, it was a good idea to put out a flag so you were sure to be seen. The yellow boots were just the thing. With an appreciative nod, he stepped over the cozy mound just as Felix careened down the drive and slammed on the brakes.
"For crying out loud Maurice!" he was yelling out the window and waving his hand, "Why's that kid sleeping in the middle of the road? She could get herself killed lying there like that."
"Warm in the sun?" shrugged Maurice.
"If you hadn't been there I wouldn't have stopped," Felix turned off the car and launched himself from the seat, "I would've run right over her! Someone needs to tell her parents to keep track of their kid."
Felix was shaking and a gray sheen of sweat covered his face. He looked down at the tranquil pile of sleepers.
"You'd've seen the boots," said Maurice, also looking down at the pile.
"The yellow boots. You'd 've seen 'em, like a flag." He paused, a smile tickling the corners of his mouth, "If you slowed down some."
Felix looked up sharply.
"No harm done," observed Maurice. Without further comment, he continued up the drive and disappeared into the Guesthouse garage.
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Mad Tom Winter: Gray ManGeneral Fiction
Maurice Diggersby, the handyman at Mad Tom Farm, likes to see that things are done right, and keeping things up and running on an estate that houses four generations of one eccentric family is no small task. When odd things go missing and mysterious...