Mr. O’Neil called Jim into his office and told him to sit down. Then, Mr. O’Neil shut the door and returned to his big desk. He sat in the padded leather chair behind it and ignored Jim, looking instead at a paper he lifted from the desk top.
Jim waited patiently for the boss man to speak. He had no idea why he had been called in; it worried him, although he knew that he had done nothing wrong.
After several minutes, Mr. O’Neil looked up, unsmiling, and kind of wiggled the paper at Jim. “Do you know what this is, Myers?” he asked.
Jim shook his head. “No,” he said.
“Well, it’s not good, I’ll tell you that. We run a good company here: Our product is good and our service is good. That’s our reputation. I’ve worked my whole life to make sure that the O’Neil Fence Company is a name to respect.” He looked at Jim in an unusually unfriendly way.
“Yes, sir,” agreed Jim, wondering what was going on.
Mr. O’Neil told him. “This,” he said, shaking the paper again, “is a letter of complaint! This lady, Mrs. Walters, says you and Brian put in a lousy fence around her yard and part of it collapsed and some big dog got in and killed her little dog! Sounds like she’s going to sue me. It’s a mess!”
Jim thought back over his last few months of putting up fences and remembered Mrs. Walters. Wow! She was going to sue? A friendly old lady, living way out in the country in a nice little house with fields all around it. She’d seemed like such a nice lady and happy with the job he and Brian Gorse had done for her. He even remembered her little dog, a little rat terrier. Now it was dead? Nothing made sense to him.
“She seemed pleased with the fence. Four-foot high chain link, two gates. It was sturdy, should still be up.”
“Well, it’s not, according to this letter. You’d better read this, Jim. I’ll be going to check the damage. Maybe offer to redo the fence. The dog, that’s not fixable. Too bad. She sounds real upset.”
Jim took the letter and read:
25 Sycamore Lane
Pomroy, Mo 65203
August 19, 2017
O’Neil Fence Company
3110 W. Stratton Road
Redden, Mo 65201
Dear Mr. O’Neil:
I am writing to tell you that the fence those two young men of yours put up in my yard didn’t last long. I am so disappointed.
Yesterday, that big Pit bull came right through it and killed my little dog Frisky. The fence didn’t stop what happened at all. Frisky didn’t have a chance.
I don’t like the idea of going to court. Money won’t bring Frisky back, but I’ll need money to fix things, won’t I? I just don’t know how much, so we need to talk, you and I.
“It sure does sound bad,” agreed Jim, “but that fence was put up strong like all the ones we do. I don’t see how some dog, pit bull or not, could knock it over.”
“Well,” said Mr. O’Neil, “I’m going to have to talk to this lady. She sounds real riled up, and I ought to send a lawyer, probably, but I’m going to talk to her myself; try to smooth things over.”
“Yes, sir,” nodded Jim, thinking about the fence: good strong posts set in cement. He couldn’t see it falling over.
“And you’re coming with me.”
“Is that a good idea?”
“You’re the main one putting it up. You were in charge. You’re the she’s probably mad at. You’re coming.”
The way from Redden to the tiny town of Pomroy took them along winding two-lane roads through some of the prettiest farmland around. Mrs. Walter’s house was on the far outskirts of the town. It had a long, gravel driveway and a collection of little garden statues, ducks and windmills and rabbits, in the front yard.
Jim remembered driving out here with Brian, rolls of fencing in the truck bed. He knew his boss was a fair man and liked him, but he also knew that something like this, a customer complaint, could cost him his job.
Mrs. Walter, tiny and cherub-cheeked like a little Mrs. Santa Claus, answered the door. Her thick eyeglasses made her eyes look enormous and startled.
“Oh, come in, gentlemen,” she said. “I guess you need to verify the damage.” She led them through her tiny living room to the back door. Frisky’s little round pillow still sat on the floor near the TV.
They walked into the backyard where the four-foot chain link that had stretched across the backside of the yard lay in the grass, mangled and snarled. The side fencing still stood, but lopsidedly.
“Oh, my gosh,” whispered Jim, shocked by what he saw. “What kind of monster dog from hell did this?”
Mrs. Walter looked at him strangely. “Dog? What dog? I told Mr. O’Neil in my letter that Mr. Pit’s gigantic bull got loose and plowed into my yard. He stepped on poor little Frisky! It was horrible! Mr. Pit ought to pay for fixing the fence, but he’s a real disagreeable man and says he will countersue because Frisky was barking through the fence! I don’t want to mess around forever in court if I don’t have to! I miss my Frisky so much, and my sister’s Cockapoo just had puppies. She wants to give me one, so I need a fence as soon as possible.” Turning to Mr. O’Neil, she asked, “Now how much money are we talking about, to get this thing fixed? I know it’s going to cost me a lot, so I might have to pay you in installments, but I really want my fence back up, nice and straight, like it was. I can’t wait on Mr. Pit to do the right thing.”
“Ma’am,” said Mr. O’Neil, “We’re going to fix your fence for free.”