We needed at least one more bid on our new retaining wall, so we invited Humberto, the guy who had smooth-coated and painted the side of our house the summer before, to stop by and take a look at the job.
He arrived in the same falling-apart truck (the fact that it was still running defied credulity, not to mention gravity) with his usual posse of assistants, including a translator. Maybe he’d forgotten that we knew he spoke fluent English.
Okay, maybe not the Queen’s English, but a lot better than he was letting on.
Five minutes into his United Nations routine I sidled up to him and said, “I think you overcharged us on our last deal.”
“No way!” he yelped.
I smiled knowingly “Gotcha.”
For a moment, he looked slightly deflated. Then he unleashed a volley of perfectly-constructed English sentences in my direction, a smile flitting across his features.
“You’re a funny one. I noticed you watching me from the beginning. It’s hard to fool you.”
“Oh not so hard, trust me,” I said. “You’re just not a particularly talented con artist.”
I thought he might be offended (or at least pretend to be), but instead he waved a dismissive hand in my direction and laughed again.
“So tell me about this project.”
I described what we wanted.
He scratched his stubble and nodded thoughtfully.
Corinne, having observed this exchange silently, spoke up. “Can you handle it?”
He furrowed his brow as she spoke, glancing toward his translator-friend, until he remembered himself (old habits die hard). “Yes. And no. It is big, but not too big for Humberto. And we’ll give you a bottom of the rock price because of Mr. Patrick and Mr. Michael.”
He called the next morning with his bid. $49,000.
I thought I’d misheard. Maybe he meant $4,900.
I asked him to say each digit separately. “Okay,” he began, “four, nine, zero, zero.” I knew it—$4,900!
“Zero,” he added.
“Um, is that three zeroes?”
“Is good price,” he continued.
“Is not good price,” I said, slipping into his idiom. “The other bid is $16,500.”
He whistled softly through his teeth. “This man, he cheats you.”
“He’s cheating me by charging one-third the price you’re asking?”
“He won’t do a good job.”
“He built Corinne’s house. It’s perfect.”
“I do $45,000. Just for you.”
“That’s still almost three times the other bid.”
“Alright, I’m going into the hole here, but how about $44,000?”
I tried to make a joke of it when I called Corinne.
“I’m calling to tell you Humberto’s bottom of the rock price.”
“Oooh,” she said excitedly.
“Oh my god.”
“What’s he planning to use, gold bricks?”
I laughed. “I’m sorry. I feel like a fool.”
“Sixteen five’s beginning to sound pretty good, huh?”
I deserved it. “Very.”
But she wasn’t one to dwell on things. “Know anyone else who could bid?”
“I’ll ask our property manager. Sorry again.”
“Island life,” she said. “Don’t sweat it.”
We got a third bid, for $39,000. The guy swore he was losing money on the deal.
We haggled with Falco and got him down to $14,000. He started work the next week, and finished two months later.
We painted it yellow to match Corinne’s house.
It looks great.
All in all, we’re delighted that the foundation of our house is no longer washing down the hill.