Prompts: audit :: smother :: lost property :: plumber :: Disneyland
The Diamond as Big as the Ritz
If hair oil and attitude could stand up on two legs and growl, thought Josephine, then they’d look just like this guy. Six foot five with overalls like the inside of a coalmine, he clutched a wrench as long as she was tall and grimaced down at her like she was something that had bubbled up out of a sewer.
‘What the hell you think this place is, Disneyland? Don’t give me that,’ he said.
‘All I asked was…’
‘I know what you asked!’ he replied, leaning down to give her the full benefit of his meat-breath. ‘I heard ya.’ Jo stepped back a little, wishing she could close her nostrils like a camel in the desert.
‘Look,’ she said, once she’d regained her composure. ‘The guest says it fell down the drain in her bathroom. Isn’t it, I dunno, logical that it’d end up here?’
‘Listen, sweetcheeks,’ he said, pulling a rollup from behind one encrusted ear, ‘I’m a plumber, not a magician. You watched me take that pipe apart. Did you, or did you not, see a diamond ring?’ He ran his liver-coloured tongue up the length of his homemade cigarette before slipping it between his lips. ‘You did not see a diamond ring, my friend, because no diamond ring exists. Ergo.’ He pronounced it ‘ergot’, like the fungus, not like the Latin, and Jo struggled not to correct him.
‘Do not light that up, Valentine,’ she said, knowing even as she spoke that it was pointless. Her eyes began to water as the rancid stink of whatever he was smoking filled the tiny, closed space between them. He bared his teeth in what he probably thought was a grin, his tectonic shoulders shaking in a silent laugh.
‘Are you saying the guest is lying? Because, you know, that’s a serious accusation, Val.’ His only response was a shrug and an eyeroll. ‘She’ll be coming down to Lost Property at 4pm, so we need to have something to show her before then.’ He fixed her with a glare and exhaled a thin stream of poisonous smoke straight into her face. She did her best not to smother, as she wasn’t sure what Val would do with her body. Stuff it in the pipe and hope for the best, she reckoned, with a shudder.
‘So, what? You expect me to find a ring that ain’t there in case an over-pampered human poodle decides to sue, or something?’ He looked like he wanted to spit.
‘Look, nobody said anything about suing anyone,’ said Jo, coughing slightly. ‘But – you know. She may ask for an audit of the entire premises, or a hotel-wide search, or even a systemic scouring of every square inch of pipe in the place. Right? So if you don’t want to spend the next six weeks scrubbing God knows what out of God knows where…’
‘Find the ring, right, right,’ muttered Val. ‘Who is this broad, anyway?’
Josephine licked her lips as she thought about how to reply.
‘Think billionaire lawyer’s wife crossed with Hollywood royalty crossed with actual royalty,’ she said. ‘And then double it.’
Val’s eyes bugged out. ‘Am I right in thinkin’ this ring’s more than just a fancy finger-bauble, then?’
Josephine nodded, slowly. ‘It’s probably worth more than the entire hotel,’ she said. ‘I’m not joking.’
‘All right, all right,’ grumbled Val, adjusting his grip on the wrench. He bent to the pipe once more, sizing up which bolt to loosen next. ‘Get outta there, a’right? A man needs room to work.’ He leaned in to the job before Jo had a proper chance to get herself out of the way, and a rusty, foul spray of something she didn’t want to think about fizzed out, all over her regulation navy pencil skirt.
‘Valentine!’ she shrieked. ‘Watch what you’re doing!’
‘Sorry! Jeez! It’s only water, okay? Quit the yellin’!’
‘Jesus!’ She scrubbed at the front of her skirt, but it was soaked through. A dark stain was already spreading itself over her lap. ‘I can’t work the rest of my shift in this.’ She glared at Val, but softened when she saw the contrition written all over his face.
‘I’ll pay for your cleaning bill, you know, if…’
She cut him off with a wave of her hand. ‘Please, Val. You earn less than I do. Look, just carry on with the job, okay? I’ll go and change, and I’ll be back as soon as I can.’ She risked a grin, and he gave her a grimy thumbs-up as she got to her feet.
‘Okay, then. Well. Let me know if you find anything, won’t you?’
‘You know it,’ said Val, already shifting his focus back to the pipe.
‘And – Val?’ she said. He shot his eyes back toward her again, something like nervousness in his eyes. ‘Put that cigarette out, okay? It’s completely against regulations in here.’ He huffed out a sudden chuckle before pinching the cigarette out and slipping it back behind his ear in one practised motion. She smiled her thanks before turning away and hurrying, click-clack, down the hall and back up toward the hotel proper. Val watched until she’d reached the utility stairs and climbed them, and he listened for the bang as the fire-door slammed closed.
Only then did he reach into his breast pocket and retrieve the tiny, shimmering ring which had been nestling there all along. He allowed himself a minute to imagine it adorning his Millie’s wedding finger before dropping it back into the murky sludge inside the pipe that lay, in pieces, on the floor.
‘She wouldn’t wear it anyway, and if it’s that fancy I couldn’t sell it, neither,’ he muttered. ‘Ain’t no good to nobody.’
He sighed, and settled back against the wall to enjoy his cigarette in peace. He’d have to leave it at least twenty minutes, maybe more, before going to break the good news to Jo. Plenty of time to enjoy a smoke, and daydream about asking for a raise.