Have you ever wondered where the expression “cowboy builders” comes from? …
After months of delay, their new home was ready.
It had couple of weeks since they had last seen the building, which was in the style of a huge Spanish hacienda. Since this stood in an isolated spot in the wild West of Ireland countryside it is difficult to feel sorry for Peter and Melissa Jones for what now ensues. Objections had been lodged once the planning permission had been granted for this monstrosity but Peter and Melissa had money and money talks, usually in a loud vulgar accent.
Now their builders, Ponderosa Homes, had told them that they could move in. They turned into their driveway in eager anticipation.
It was clearly coffee-break. The workmen were drinking it around a small fire burning in the middle of what should have been their lawn. At the sight of the Joneses the foreman rose from the rocking-chair on the porch and nodded curtly to the workers, who headed back into the house to apply the finishing touches.
The foreman, Jeb by name, strolled over and plucked at the front of his wide-brimmed hat in greeting.
“Mr Jones,” he said laconically, “Ma’am.”
Peter looked at the fire crackling in the centre of the garden, then around at the rest of it. The garden consisted purely of dirt, though with tiny pieces of blue crockery here and there (this was not the builders’ fault, dig anywhere, whether in the Sahara or at the South Pole, and you will come across little pieces of blue crockery). As he watched a ball of tumbleweed blew by.
“There were supposed to be water features, and statues of cherubs,” he said. “Where’s Claude?”
“Your landscape gardener?” said Jeb. “He was here, but he’s gone.” Something about the way he said it put an image in Peter’s mind of a man swinging from a rope. He shuddered involuntarily.
Melissa had said nothing. She was staring at what appeared to be a small goal on their front porch.
“What’s that?” she said.
“It’s a hitchin’ post,” said Jeb. “It’s what you hitch a horse to.”
“We don’t have a horse,” said Peter.
“Hitch your car to it then,” said Jeb. He spat a huge brown wad of what Melissa fervently hoped was tobacco into the dirt. “I suppose you folks want to see inside.”
He led them into the house, through two swinging doors that neither of them remembered having been on the plans. The entire ground floor consisted of just one room, with a small piano in one corner and a bar running the length of one wall. The workmen were setting out small round tables with chairs at each. A set of stairs climbed the far wall, on which was a mural of a man, cleverly painted so that it looked as if he was climbing the actual stairs. Over one shoulder he carried a woman wearing very high heels, a lot of make-up and red petticoats.
Jeb walked behind the bar. “Fancy a drink?” he asked.
“I think I need one,” said Melissa faintly.
Jeb put a shot-glass on the bar, poured something from an unmarked bottle into it and slid it along the bar. Peter and Melissa watched it shoot off the end and crash to the floor.
Peter finally found his voice. “But this isn’t what we asked for at all, you gobshites!” he said.
Silence fell over the room. The biggest of the workmen, a man called Bull, stood up, very slowly.
“Did you just call us gobshites?” he asked.
Peter was terrified, but stood his ground. “Yes,” he said.
Bull grabbed the bottle from the counter and smashed it over Peter’s head, which hurt a lot less than Peter would have expected it to. Melissa furiously punched Bull in the face and he fell back onto a table, which collapsed. A man swung a chair at Peter and Melissa but the couple ducked and he smashed it over the head of another workman by mistake. Upon seeing this one of the workmen sat at the piano and played honky-tonk music whilst all of the others began to fight each other in a furious flurry of fists and fragile furniture. One ran towards Peter and Melissa, but Peter linked an arm under each of Melissa’s armpits and she swung her two feet up into the man’s face, knocking him backwards through a window and out into the yard.
This went on for thirty seconds or so before there was a gigantic boom, then a tinkling sound. Everyone turned, ears ringing, to the bar where Jeb was standing holding a smoking shotgun. He had intended to fire it into the ceiling, but the shot had glanced off the chandelier (I forgot to mention that) and embedded itself in the wall, as a result of which the man in the mural now had a huge hole where the sun don’t shine (the sun didn’t reach that end of the room).
“If you folks ain’t happy with our work,” said Jeb quietly, “just pay us what you owe and we’ll be on our way.”
Peter, full of fight now, was about to say that he’d pay nothing (nuthin’, in fact) but Jeb cocked the shotgun again and Peter got out his cheque book.
Jeb took the cheque and touched the brim of his hat toward them again.
“Good day to you, Mr Jones,” he said politely, “Ma’am”.
He left, with all of his men trailing behind him. Peter and Melissa looked around the room helplessly.
“I don’t think we’re going to like the en-suite,” said Peter.
Suddenly the swing-doors opened again, framing Jeb. It must have been raining outside, because now he wore a poncho. He reached one hand underneath it and Peter reached for a stray chair-leg, but all Jeb produced was some pages, which he handed to Peter.
“If you folks could hand out these flyers to your friends I’d be much obliged,” said Jeb.
Peter looked at one of the pages. It had a picture of Jeb at the top and underneath was written “If you ever WANTED some buildin’ done, then JEB SMITH would REWARD you with an excellent job for less than €10,000.” Joe held it up to Melissa, who was standing a few feet away. From there all you could see was the photo, the words in capitals, and the price. She grinned at Peter.
“Don’t worry,” she said to Jeb. “We’ll put them up everywhere we can.”