Last Day's Work

John Gregson thumbed through the leather-bound book that was filled with his handwriting.

“Mr. Simon Elliott, allergic to shellfish -- but forgets after several drinks … Mrs. Elizabeth Phelps, sleeps late and snores; prefers a back bedroom on the west side of the house … Miss Pamela Harris, has pet Boston terrier, named ‘Waffles,’ eats waffles…”

Thirty-five years in the Fallon house, he thought, and here were the habits, quirks, and traits of houseguests, family, and friends. On other pages were notes about the house staff, gardeners, a local tailor, a valued fix-it man, and the best purveyors of meat, fish, and wine.

In the back were indexes to Christmases and birthdays -- with lists of gifts given and gifts received, and there was a calendar of dinner parties – with the courses served, the guest lists, and what the lady of the house wore that night. This was the butler’s bible, “the pantry book,” handed down from one butler to the next, the invaluable volume that made each of them seem a genius.

And, tonight, Gregson would give the book to his successor, a young man trained at Ivor Spencer’s School for Butlers in London and who had already been in the house for three weeks, watching and learning.

Gregson, sitting on-board Flight 241, the second leg of the return trip from Mexico City to Philadelphia, looked like a business traveler: white, button-down shirt; dark vest; striped tie. Only the day gave him away; businessmen don’t need suits on a Sunday.

(End of excerpt)