Monday, December 16, 2013
Pleasure Doing Business
The latest winter snowfall to hit Talbot’s Peak had finally dwindled to flurries. Now the second flurry started, in the form of knuckles rapping on doors. “Shovel your walk, ma’am?” The eager young face beamed up at Mrs. Geaufeur.
Mrs. Geaufeur peered over her half-glasses at the two-plus feet of snow piled on her sidewalk, the three boys bundled up in coats to twice their normal size, and finally back to the pre-teen entrepreneur before her. “What’s this year’s going rate?”
“Forty dollars. That covers all of us.”
“Twenty-five,” she countered. “With hot chocolate and cookies afterwards.”
The boy hesitated. Once he would have protested, or simply stormed off with his brothers in tow. But times had changed in favor of the town’s senior citizens. Mrs. Geaufeur made a show of searching the street, to emphasize that point.
The brothers engaged in a flurry of silent looks and gestures. Finally the boy said, “Thirty.”
“Twenty-five.” She looked up the street.
“Okay,” he said hastily. He waved to his brothers. They set to work on the front walk. Mrs. Geaufeur smiled at the boy and shut the door.
“Who was that, Emily?” her sister Louise called from the living room.
“Some boys earning pocket money.” Emily returned to her seat and experimentally sipped at her coffee. She made a face. “Gakkk. Cold.” She set it aside with a shrug.
“It’s nice to see the pups show initiative,” Louise said. “But it’s gotten so expensive. Back in the day you could pay out a dollar and they were grateful to get it.”
“A dollar doesn’t go as far as it used to, and the pups all know it. Ten dollars apiece was quite reasonable, actually. I’m starting to feel bad about taking advantage of them. But not bad enough to pay full price.”
Louise lifted her brows. “You’re taking advantage?”
“I see you haven’t had to deal with our seasonal businessmen that often. Of course, your Barry does your walk. And why isn’t he over here clearing his Aunt Em’s sidewalk?”
“Because my Barry’s a lazy prick. I’m lucky he does mine, and he uses a snow blower.”
“Exactly. Those boys out there.” Emily nodded toward the front door. “They’re otters.”
Louise’s brows climbed higher. “And you got them to work?”
“Oh, they’re industrious enough. Eventually. After they’re done with the snowball fights and the snow castle building and all the sliding around. I used to think I’d be better off just letting the walk melt out. It was a question of which would happen first, them getting finished or spring arriving.”
“Did they at least do a good job?”
“I never had any complaints about that. They are energetic, and they’re thorough. It’s just that they’re easily distracted. And they’re only little boys. But then—” Emily smiled broadly. “The Barrs moved in.”
“Oh, yes, I know them. That nice family over on Brentwood. Aren’t they … ?”
“Bears. Brown bear, I think, but there must be polar bear in there somewhere. They don’t spend half the day in bed. They love the snow. They’re out in it constantly. The older ones started a shoveling business.”
“Aha,” Louise said. “Price war.”
“Free-market competition. That’s the American way. Those otters should be happy. It used to take them half the day just to do one walk. Now they have to dig in and work if they want to get to the customers before the Barrs do. They’re actually earning more. I hope they get whatever it is they’re saving up for. Although I do miss the snow castles.”
“You could pay them to make one for you. Lord knows Barry won’t bother.”
“Boys grow up more slowly than girls. Are you still planning to kick him out?”
“At the end of the week. If he comes crying to you, you put him to work.”
“Damn straight I will. If even otters can appreciate a day’s honest work, there’s no reason Barry can’t. You know, I think I’ll give those boys a tip when they’re done. Incentive.” Emily got up. “Would you like some more coffee? I’ve got fresh cookies to bake.”