I Can Get It for You Wholesale, page 17
“Well, gee whiz, Harry,” he began, “I don’t—”
“Don’t worry about it, Tootsie,” I said, putting my hand on his shoulder. “There’s absolutely no other way out of it for me. The way I am now, what the doctor told me, I’ve got to get away and I’ve got to do it quick. And I don’t care what the hell it costs me to do it, either. I’d rather have my health than anything. Maybe in a year or two, when I come back, and I’m all right again—maybe—then, if you still feel the same way about it, maybe then we’ll be able to get together and work something out, maybe we’ll be able to tie up again the way we did. But right now, Tootsie, I’m just a sick man, that’s all. I can’t waste any time. I’ve got to get out and I’ve got to get out in a hurry. There’s nobody I know I’d rather turn my end of this thing over to than you, Tootsie, and I want you to have it.”
He scratched his head. That made the third time.
“I know, Harry,” he said, “I guess I understand how you feel about it and all. But the only thing worries me, is whether I got enough money to buy your end. I mean, what the hell, a thing like this—”
“You just said you had thirty-seven hundred, didn’t you?”
“Sure, but what’s thirty-seven hundred dollars for a—?”
Well, if he felt that way about it!
“All right, then,” I said, smiling at him. “If it’s really gonna make you feel bad, suppose we make it this way. Thirty-seven hundred in cash, and let’s say another—oh, another eight hundred that you can slip me in a week or so, or you can mail me a check, when the collections come in. So that’ll make it an even four thousand five hundred bucks, and everything’ll be one hundred per cent okay right up to the minute. All right?”
“Well, gee, Harry, still—”
“That’s all right,” I said, patting his shoulder. Big-Hearted Bogen. “Just forget it and don’t worry about it. For you, Tootsie, it’s all right. You can have the whole works for the forty-five hundred dollars.”
“Well, gee, Harry—”
“What do you say?”
“Well, if that’s what you want, Harry, then it’s all right with me. You know that.”
Well, I’ll admit, I did have a suspicion.
“That’s fine,” I said, taking his hand and shaking it. “We’ll go down to Golig to-morrow and we’ll have him take care of the whole thing.”
“Well, it’s Monday now,” I said, “And if we clean up the whole thing to-morrow, then I’ll be able to get away by Wednesday. I can do all my packing to-night and to-morrow and I’ll be all set.”
“You certainly must be sick, Harry,” he said. “I swear I’d never think it just by looking at you.”
In a way he was right, too. My stomach was giving a combined imitation of the Chicago fire and the San Francisco earthquake.
“Well, that’s how those things are,” I said. “You never can tell how you stand.” Where have I heard that before? “So we’ll go down to Golig to-morrow, okay?”
“Okay,” he said, and got up. He put on his hat and coat, but I didn’t move. I figured if I remained seated, and didn’t do anything, there was less chance of my giving myself away.
“I’ll be here all day, and maybe a little late to-night,” I said, “just in case you want me for anything. I want to clean up my desk and write a couple of letters and things like that.”
“All right, Harry,” he said. “I’m going out to see a couple of the clients. They’ve been kicking about the rates a little, something about they can get it cheaper from somebody else and all that.”
“They’re crazy,” I said quickly. “Just go up and talk to them and if they get tough, tell them to show you some figures. But don’t worry about those little things.”
“I’m not,” he said.
“Okay, then,” I said, “to-morrow at Golig’s.”
“Right,” he said and went out.
As soon as I heard the outer door close I picked up the receiver and said, “Get me Toney Frocks again, will you?”
“Hello,” the girl at the other end said.
“Mr. Teddy Ast, please,” I said. “Is he in yet?”
“Yes, he’s in. Who’s this, Mr. Bogen?”
“Yes,” I said. “How’d you know?”
“Well, for one thing, I recognized your voice, and for another—”
“You can stop right there,” I said, “I feel flattered enough.”
“—And for another thing,” she continued, “the girl at your switchboard just told me who’s calling when I asked her.”
“Well, now that the preliminaries are over,” I said, “what are the chances of talking to Mr. Ast?”
“Very poor,” she said. “He’s busy in the showroom with a customer.”
“Aah, hell,” I said. “Is that guy ever free?”
“Once in a while,” she said. “But you always call at the wrong time.”
“Well, that certainly is lovely,” I said. “Here I have an appointment with him, and I can’t even get him on the phone to find out if—”
“But I have a message for you from Mr. Ast,” she said sweetly.
“Is that right?” I said. “Well, hell, what’s your rush? Why don’t you wait until—?”
“Now don’t be sarcastic,” she said, “and I’ll tell you what he said.”
“Mr. Ast said,” she said, reciting like a kindergarten kid, “that if Mr. Bogen calls him, Mr. Harry Bogen, I should tell Mr. Bogen, Mr. Harry Bogen, that Mr. Ast, Mr. Teddy Ast, told me that he, Mr. Ast, Mr. Teddy Ast, would be on time to keep his appointment with Mr. Bogen, Mr. Harry Bogen, at the Beaux Arts to-day at two-fifteen. Is that all right?”
I love them when they get cute. If I had her near me, I’d’ve pushed her face in.
“I guess so,” I said, “but I’m not quite sure yet. I’ll have to decipher it first.”
“Well, I’m sorry,” she said, “but that’s the best I can do.”
“The best?” I said.
“Well, I mean, on the phone.”
“Oh, that’s different.” Maybe it was all in my voice, after all. “Well, thanks,” I said, “and if everything turns out all right, I’ll bring up that box of candy one of these days.”
“You don’t have to wait till you’re free,” she said. “You can send it up with a boy.”
“What’s the matter,” I said, “you think the boy’ll be able to do better than me?”
“I wouldn’t be surprised,” she said, “and don’t get so fresh,” she added and hung up.
After a week end with dimwits, it was a pleasure to talk for a few minutes with someone that gave you a chance to sharpen up your shots.
I put on my hat and took my coat over my arm and went out to the switchboard.
“I’m going to the barber, Miss Marmelstein,” I said, “and then I’ve got a luncheon appointment. I’ll probably be gone most of the afternoon, but I think I’ll be back later.”
“All right, Mr. Bogen,” she said.
You bet it is, I thought.
I ENTERED THE RESTAURANT five minutes late on purpose, but Babushkin was already there. He was at the small table I’d reserved way over in the corner, hunched over the menu because he was scared of the waiter that stood a little way off and kept looking at him.
Everything he did was so in keeping with the way I’d figured him out, that it looked like a gag. But he wasn’t playing dumb. He wasn’t that good an actor.
I came late because I knew he’d be there ahead of me.
He was the type that was always on time for appointments. That was a good sign. When a guy can manage to hit the time of an appointment right on the nose, the chances are he’s been devoting quite a bit of time to reminding himself that he should be there, which means that his mind isn’t exactly what you’d call a beehive, which means that he’s at least a couple of notches lower than a genius, which means he was right up my
“Hello there, Meyer,” I said, shoving out my hand and giving him a healthy shot of the old personality smile, grade A.
“Hello, Mr. Bogen,” he said, getting up to take my hand.
“Stay right where you are,” I said, pushing him back into his chair and taking one that faced him, with my back to the wall. That’s my Chicago training, you know. Keep the whole room in front of me. “Sorry to be late, but I couldn’t help it. They had me tied up on the phone till just a couple of minutes ago. I came down as soon as I could.”
“That’s all right,” he said, “I know how those things are.”
Maybe I had a genius on my hands after all. He knew how those things were!
“How’s the missus?” I asked.
“She’s all right, thanks.”
“One of these days,” I said, “I’ll have to invite her up to my house to try some of my mother’s blintzes. You ought to hear the bawling out my mother gave me for not inviting her up the other night when you were there. She was so sore I thought she was going to hit me with a frying pan or something. They were all right, those blintzes, weren’t they?”
“Yeah,” he said.
“I guess your wife’ll like them, too,” I said. “What’s a good night during the week for her? I mean, there’s no rush, but any time you have a free night, just let me know.”
“Well, I don’t know—”
“All right, then, I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll let you know, and then, if it’s not okay, why, we can change it for some other night.”
“All right,” he said.
“Don’t forget, now,” I said.
“I won’t,” he said.
Well, at least that made one of us who wouldn’t.
“And the baby?” I said. “How’s the baby?”
“All right,” he said. “A little cold it had, but my wife she took it to the doctor and he gave her some kind of oil she should rub on, but now it’s all right.”
“Only one you got?” I said. “Just one, right?”
“Yeah,” he said, “just one.”
“Well,” I said, with a laugh, “just wait till we get going good, then you’ll be able to afford to have another dozen if you want to.”
“Yeah,” he said.
Well, that was enough of that. No sense in ruining my appetite completely. I picked up the menu and put it down again.
“I wonder what’s keeping Mr. Ast?” I said, looking at my watch. “It’s almost a quarter after two already.”
“He’s probably tied up with a customer, I guess,” Babushkin said. Sure, either that, or it was because I’d told him the appointment was for later. But Babushkin didn’t have to know that. There were going to be a lot of things that Babushkin wouldn’t have to know about. “You know how it is with salesmen,” he said.
He was taking a hell of a lot for granted. That made two things I knew how they were.
“You bet,” I said, laughing. “I’m practically in the same boat myself.” I picked up the menu again. “I’ll tell you what. There’s no sense in our waiting for Mr. Ast. We don’t know how long he’ll be. And while I don’t know about you, Meyer, I know I’m nearly starved. Suppose we order, and when he comes, he can catch up.”
“All right,” he said.
“Waiter,” I called, but I didn’t really have to. He was practically sitting on my neck from the minute I’d drifted in.
I took my time about the order, making it sound complicated, and when I finished the waiter turned to Babushkin. He looked at the menu for a few seconds, rubbing his face a little like he had a toothache. Then he looked up and said, “Uh—I’ll—I’ll take the same.”
Just a make-it-two guy. Every time I met him he showed more qualifications for the job of being my partner.
He didn’t look very happy, and when the waiter brought the fruit cup and put it down in front of him, he picked up his spoon and went to work on it without a change of expression. I let him fiddle around with the cherry on top, until he got it onto the spoon and carried it to his mouth. Then I said:
“Well, what did your wife say about that proposition we were talking about the other night up at my house?”
He swallowed the cherry and began to talk to the plate of fruit in front of him.
“Well, she said it was a good idea, Bogen,” he said slowly. “Only one thing she said—I hope you don’t think there’s anything personal in this, Bogen—she only said a man has to be very careful of the men he goes into business with. I mean, she said you can’t pick your boss when you go to work for somebody, but, well, she said you ought to pick your partner pretty carefully when you go into business.”
So far that looked like his only drawback as a partner—his wife. Was I glad I didn’t act on that brainstorm I’d had about meeting her!
“She’s perfectly right, too,” I said as the waiter changed the plates in front of us. “Why do you think I went all over Seventh Avenue with a fine-tooth comb before I decided you were the best designer and factory man there was? If I wanted to rush this thing, hell, I could have picked up any one of a hundred dopes who know a little something about designing and cutting and things like that. But like your wife said, I knew that when you’re going into business with a man, the thing to do is be very careful and pick him like, hell, I don’t know, like you were picking an eye to put in your head.”
I dipped my spoon into the plate, but I didn’t carry it to my mouth. I’d rather have the soup get cold than Babushkin.
“That’s just what Teddy Ast told me the first time we even talked about it,” I said. “I said what we need more than anything else, Teddy, is a corker of a factory man. I don’t care so much about the other things, I said, if any of the other things aren’t so okay it isn’t so bad. But a factory man, that has to be absolutely the top, I said. And he agreed with me right away. ‘Get Babushkin of Pulbetkal,’ he said to me, just like that, without even batting an eye, that’s what he said.”
He nodded slowly. Maybe he was finally beginning to realize himself that he was a good factory man.
“So what do you say, Meyer?” I said, leaning across the table toward him, and looking serious. “When Ast shows up, do we tell him we’re in?”
“All right,” he said, “all right.”
I didn’t have time to let out the sigh of relief that I should have let out. And I didn’t waste any time complimenting myself, either. Because this was nothing. This was easy. The hard part was yet to come. I just leaned back in my chair and let my joints ease up a little. But in a moment they tensed up again. Because as I leaned back I saw two things. The clock on the restaurant wall, and that said twenty-five to three. And Teddy Ast, dressed to kill, bouncing across the restaurant toward us.
There were times when, seeing him as I did just then, my feelings toward Teddy Ast amounted almost to admiration. With all the handicaps of a body shaped like a toothpick and a face that had about as much distinction in it as a spoonful of mashed potatoes, he was still a snappy number. He was wearing a draped herringbone topcoat with a fly front and a gray velvet collar, tab shirt with a black knitted tie, peg-top pants, suede shoes, and a brown pork-pie hat with a black band and a tricky little feather stuck into it. I took it all in at a glance and filed it away for future reference.
“Here comes Mr. Ast now,” Babushkin said. But I didn’t have time to be astonished at the fact that he should have noticed something all by himself. I was too busy reminding myself that for the next few minutes I would be talking to Teddy Ast and not to Meyer Babushkin.
“Yeah,” I said, “That’s him all right.”
“Hello, Bogen,” he said, nodding briskly, and, “Hello, Babushkin.”
He slipped out of his coat and handed it to the waiter with his hat. The suit was a pepper-pot twe
“Hello, there, Ast,” I said. You have to put the “there” in. You can’t say “Hello, Ast.” It sounds dopey. “How’s the boy?”
“Pretty good,” he said, studying the menu. “Can’t kick. Say, waiter,” he said, tossing the menu down. “Just bring me a tongue on rye and a glass of beer. But the bread has to be thin, remember, and I don’t want any of that lungy stuff on the tongue. Tell him to cut all that stuff away, understand?”
The waiter nodded. They were all doing it. I guess it was an epidemic.
“Okay, then,” he said, dismissing him. “Step on it. I’m in a hurry.”
Then he turned to us and rubbed his skinny hands.
“Well, gentlemen? What’s the good word?”
“Pussy,” I said, and grinned. “That’s always the good word, isn’t it?”
“Right, my friend,” he said, jerking his face into a smile. “You getting much?”
I shrugged my shoulders and ducked my head and gave an imitation of a Seventh Avenue grease ball.
“End iff I go around makink complaindts, so it’ll help me maybe?”
He laughed and showed his teeth. They weren’t so hot. They were even and strong-looking, but they were yellow and sloped inward, so that his mouth looked like that of an old man, without teeth, sucked in.
“Well,” he said, “any time you run short, just call on Uncle Teddy, and I’ll get you fixed up.”
He was going to get me fixed up!
“That’s a promise?” I said.
“A promise,” he said.
The waiter brought the sandwich and set it before him. He dug in. I lit a cigarette and watched him. Babushkin just looked worried.
“Did you ever hear about the way they catch fish up in Alaska?” I asked.
He pushed the food into a corner of his mouth, and said, “Not since I stopped wearing diapers, I didn’t hear it.”
“No, this one is new,” I said.
He washed down the lump of food with a swallow of beer.
“They’re all new,” he said.
A wise guy. Well, that was all right. He was sure of himself. I liked them that way.
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