So quiet, so thorough!
Howie had seen an old-timer do the trick once. The old guy had wet his thumb and index finger and then carefully reached toward the wires, as though they were the business end of a loaded rattrap. The old guy had jerked his hand reflexively when the voltage bit him. He had winced, shook his head, and smiled at Howie. "She's hot all right!" he had said. Howie had nodded and smiled. That's the way a real man did things, he thought.
On the morning that Howie managed to weld his arms to the Kritzer's electrical panel, Cajun-cook his brain, and stop his heart for all time, he had been feeling adventurous. He had decided to try the old-timer's trick, but with a "Howie twist." Instead of checking the circuit by wetting the thumb and index finger of one hand, Howie would try two. He sucked deeply on the middle finger of his right hand, and then on the middle finger of his left hand. He held them both up, all shiny with saliva, and he smiled. This would be, he reasoned during the final moments of his short life, not only a test of high voltage, but also a testament to the way he felt about his job. He pointed his two wet middle digits at the panel in an obscene salute, reached in to test the circuit, and much to his astonishment, plugged himself into Eternity. The last thing Howie the Serviceman saw was a brilliant flash of blue light. His last thought (and it was a very brief one) was of the meter tucked safely under his truck seat.
Mrs. Kritzer turned to Mr. Kritzer who was watching Judge Judy shout at some guy on the TV. "That serviceman has been downstairs for a long time, don'’t you think?"
"He's thorough," Mr. Kritzer mumbled, not turning his attention from the old console. "It's good to be thorough." On the TV, Judge Judy was berating this guy who had damaged an old vacuum cleaner the plaintiff said she had brought to him for repair. "I like this Judge Judy," Mr. Kritzer said. "She tells it like it is! Too many of these service companies don't do a good job. You pay them good money and they let some moron screw around with your stuff. Judy knows how to handle those bums."
"But that serviceman got here at eight o'clock this morning," Mrs. Kritzer continued, "and now it's after four o'clock in the afternoon. That's a long time, don't you think?"
"All workmen should be as thorough as that guy," Mr. Kritzer said, lighting an unfiltered Lucky Strike. "It's good when they take their time. That way they’re thorough. They don't make as many mistakes. Look at this bum on the TV. He wasn't thorough." Mr. Kritzer stabbed his cigarette at the defendant. "Besides, we have a service contract, you know. The more time that serviceman spends in our basement, the more we're getting for our money. Don't complain!" He sucked deeply on his Lucky and exhaled a blue cloud. He hacked and leaned in on the TV. "You tell 'em, Judy!" He laughed and turned to Mrs. Kritzer. "She's a pistol, ain't she?”
"He's very quiet, don't you think?" Mrs. Kritzer said during the next commercial.
"The man in the basement. I haven't heard him working at all. There's no banging. You usually hear some banging. He didn't come up for lunch, or ask to use the bathroom, or go out for a smoke, or anything. I haven't heard a peep out of him all day long."
"Quiet is good," Mr. Kritzer said, turning his attention back to Judge Judy, who had just returned with her decision. "If he was noisy like some of the other bums we've had working in this house we wouldn't be able to hear ourselves think. Besides, he's not disturbing my show. You are! You should be as quiet as that guy is. You should be as quiet and as thorough. Everybody's in too much of a hurry nowadays. Now shut up and let me hear this." Mr. Kritzer stubbed out his cigarette and lit another.
Back at the shop, Eli was wondering why Howie hadn't called in. It was now after five o'clock. Eli had told Howie to call in after every job, but not to use the customer's telephone. "Find a pay phone," Eli had said. "We can't afford no stinkin' cell phones or radios. Use the pay phones. That's why they're out there on the street. Use 'em!" Eli believed in doing business the old-fashioned way.
Six o'clock rolled around and Howie still hadn't checked in. Eli wanted to go home. "You hear from Howie?” Eli asked his son, Gene.
"No, Pop, you hear from him?"
"Not a peep!" Eli said. "He must have finished up at Kritzer's by now. Maybe he went home?"
"Howie just might do that," Gene said.
"You got Kritzer's phone number?" Eli asked. Gene dug though the tickets and read the number. "Slow down!" Eli said as he punched the numbers into the phone. Mr. Kritzer picked up on the fifth ring.
"Who's this? Some salesman? You bums are always calling during the news or when I'm having my dinner. Whatever the hell you're selling I don't want any!" Mr. Kritzer started to hang up, but Eli caught him. "It's the heating company, Mr. Kritzer," Eli said. "I'm looking for my man. He was at your house today, wasn't he?"
"Yeah, and he's still here. That's a thorough man you have there. And quiet! I'll tell you, I'm impressed with this guy. He's been working like a dog all day long. I can't believe the service I'm getting from you people. So thorough. So quiet!"
"Who's that?" Mrs. Kritzer asked from the kitchen.
"It's the heating company," Mr. Kritzer said, not bothering to cover the phone. "He's asking about his guy. I told him we're very happy with the service we're getting."
"Can I speak to my man?" Eli asked.
"No. I don't want to bother him," Mr. Kritzer said. "He's hard at work and he's being thorough." Mr. Kritzer wanted to suck every ounce of service he could out of his service contract, and he figured if he called Howie out of his basement this bum on the phone would send the guy to another job. "I don't want to stop your man from working. He's doing a great job in my basement! Every company should have people like this. I'm going to tell all my neighbors about how good you people are. My neighbors will all want to do business with you too. You'll see. Now I have to go because I'm watching the news. Don't call here anymore. Your man will be done when he's done.” Mr. Kritzer hung up the phone.
Eli let the prospect of new business wash over him as he stood there holding the dial tone in his hand. He could use new business. "You find Howie?" Gene asked.
"Yeah," Eli said. "He's still there. Kritzer says he's being thorough. He says other companies should be as thorough as we are. He says he’s gonna recommend us to the whole neighborhood."
"You sure this guy's talking about Howie, Pop?"
"That's what he said. Kritzer said Howie was thorough. And quiet. I never thought of Howie in that way.” Eli shrugged his shoulders. "Guess you can never tell, eh? Maybe he's finally growing up. I suppose we'll hear from him when we hear from him."
The next morning, Mrs. Kritzer wondered if she should offer the serviceman a cup of coffee. He had been working quietly through the night without a break. He'd probably welcome a nice hot cup of coffee right about now. And maybe an English muffin?
Mr. Kritzer, who was watching the last minutes of the Jerry Springer Show, told her to leave Howie alone. "Don't offer him anything. Leave him alone. He'll come upstairs when he's through."
Mr. Kritzer had never seen such fine service!