Allen drives his Advanced Plumbing Services van up to an attractive suburban house. He is relaxed and happy; this is his last house call of the day; and it is Friday, his Bowling League night. He is greeted by the Mrs. Fry, the home owner, a sour-faced middle-aged woman. She scowls at him with the words,“You guys took your time.” She goes on to complain that she has guests and the sink in their bathroom is clogged. “Now, I ask you,’ she continues, “how could a sink which is hardly ever used get clogged?” She concludes “My guest bathroom, how embarrassing, how could you, plumbers, create such a stupid design with a sink that clogs itself?”
It annoys Allen that she should be blaming him for her problems, after all this is the first time that he has ever been to this house. He mumbles, “There could be a number of reasons. Let me see. Then, I’ll be able to tell you what’s wrong.”
She escorts hm through her home, past expensive furnishings. Allen spots an elegant gun display case. He thinks how interesting this would be to his bowling partner Tommy. They reach the guest bathroom and Allen looks under the vanity. He immediately has an answer to her question. He explains that the air conditioning overflow drains to this sink. He tells her that it is a common problem. Over time the slow drip pan overflow blocks the drain with small scales of dirt and drip pan residue.
“Hmm, crazy design!” she comments, “I suppose, you’d better fix it.”
It seems to Allen that this grumpy Mrs. Fry is blaming him for the blockage, but he ignores the implication and gets to work. Generally home owners help empty cabinets to create a workspace but this woman stands and watches with a look of distain. Allen is annoyed by her lack of assistance, but he still takes care as he places extra toilet rolls, hair dryer, soap and towels on top of the granite vanity. Soon he is on his back, with his head thrust into the cabinet. He turns his wrench slowly as he tries to coax a particularly tight P trap into coming loose. He has a bowl ready to catch the black junk which he expects to gush out when the pipes come apart. This job is so routine that he lets his mind drift. He thinks about home, and his two children who always give him a hug when he arrives home. He thinks pleasurably about his bowling night with the boys. He wonders if he will tell Tommy about this job, but thinks not. He feels content, he tells himself that “Life is good”.
The P trap comes loose and suddenly Allen’s routine task becomes more complex. Along with the offending black gunk something heavy falls into his waiting catch-all. It hits the bowl with a clink. Allen pokes the object with his wrench. He expects a child’s small toy or a toothpaste cap but, instead he sees a woman’s ring. It catches the light and shines as it nestles in the dark slime. He glances toward the door. He is alone, the watching home owner has stepped away for a moment. Allen scoops up the ring. He stands and rinses it in the second vanity sink.
Allen knows little about women’s jewelry but the ring looks like a bigger, nicer, version of the diamond and gold engagement ring that he gave his wife years ago when he proposed. He suspects that it is valuable. He doesn’t know what to do. His conscience tells him to give it to the homeowner; such an action would confirm the position of trust expected of all APS employees who make house calls. On the other hand, he tells himself, Mrs. Fry is wealthy, and treats him like the scum in her clogged drain. He thinks that no-one would know and she doesn’t merit a surprise gift. He stands reminding himself that he has been honest his whole life so he ought to do the right thing. On the other hand, he knows that his bowling buddy, Thomas, would be able to find a fence and sell it. He smiles as he thinks about what he could do with a little extra cash. While he is hesitating Mrs. Fry returns and stands, arms akimbo, in the bathroom door. Her critical stance puts Allen on the defensive.
“Well?” she demands “Why are you dawdling? Have you forgotten where you are?” Allen Looks at her angry face and slips the ring into his pocket.
“I was right. It is the P-trap” he tells her, “I’ll have it all cleaned up and reassembled in a jiffy.”
Normally Allen is helpful and, after his cleanup, helps put anything disturbed back in their place. Today, his disgust at Mrs. Fry is magnified by his own guilt and he leaves the vanity strewn with the lower cabinet’s contents. He remains perturbed while he drives home and thinks about what he should do about the ring. He decides that he will mention it to Tommy. He suspects that Tommy lives slightly outside the law because every week he surreptitiously presses Allen to become a look-out and to tell him about his house calls and in particular which houses have valuable contents.
“Did a strange job today.” He tells Tommy while they watch a gutter ball swirl toward the pins.
It is Tommy’s turn, “What do you mean?” he asks as he lifts his ball from the carousel and prepares to throw. Later, when they are sitting side by side Allen elaborates, “A ring fell out of a P-trap that I was unclogging. Never happened before.”
“So, what did you do?”
“Kept it. That’s the weird part.”
“You see the house was affluent, full of antiques and gun cabinet collections and things. Even then I’d have told the owner, Mrs. Fry, except she was so snooty and condescending, I just couldn’t.” Allen says this in the hope that Tommy understands and to exonerate his action. It almost makes him feel justified.
Tommy is already ahead of Allen, “Yes, yes, I’ll fence your ring, no problem. What are friends for anyway?” He pats Allen’s knee and goes on, ‘But the house, you say that it is full of guns – now that is interesting. You can do me a return favor and give me the address. After all she is an affluent undeserving bitch isn’t, she?” Allen, flushed because he just threw a strike, tells himself that it is OK to share this one address and gives Tommy what he wants.
That night Allen hardly sleeps. He keeps going over the events of the day. His inner voice tells him that, unpleasant as Mrs. Fry was, it was as wrong of him to give Tommy the address, as it was to have kept the ring. He decides that he can’t have Tommy fence the ring and he can’t throw it away any more than he can return it to Mrs. Fry. He tosses and turns and finally gets up and hides the ring in an old prescription bottle in his bathroom medicine cabinet. He feels better with it hidden and hopes that in time he will know what to do with it. Only a few weeks later this decision is taken away when one of the guns missing from Mrs. Fry’s house turns out to be a gang related murder weapon. The police call on Allen with a search warrant. They look everywhere including the medicine cabinet. They find the ring. It doesn’t take long for Mrs. Fry to identify it as her daughter’s lost engagement ring.