I Can Get It for You Wholesale, page 18
“I know,” I said. “But this one is new.”
“Yeah,” he said. “Like my girl friend.”
“See, it’s this way,” I said. “First they cut a hole in the ice. Then they—”
“Yeah,” he said, taking another bite of the sandwich and examining it to see how much damage he’d done. “Try again, Bogen,” he said.
“Well,” I said, “they can’t all be new.”
“No,” he said, “but they don’t have to be that old.”
He swallowed some beer and attacked the sandwich again.
“How about the he-virgin and the nurse?” I said. “Hear that one?”
“Probably,” he said.
But when I finished and said, “Get it?” he squinted his eye and stopped chewing for a second.
“No,” he said.
That was the wise guy that knew all of them. They were all new!
“Lemme explain,” I said, and did.
“Oh, yeah, sure!” he said. “That’s right.”
Yeah, sure, that’s right! He knew it all the time!
“Not bad, eh?” I said, laughing.
He finished the sandwich and lit a cigarette.
“Say, that’s pretty good, you know?”
No, I didn’t know. He was telling me.
“When you get to the gag line,” I said, “You have to get the break in when you say the second ‘cheap.’ Like this: ‘Cheap is chea-eap!’ˮ
“Cheap is cheap,” he said to himself, memorizing the words. “That one’s pretty good, all right. Wait’ll I tell that to a couple of the buyers. They’ll die laughing when—say, that reminds me.” He looked from me to Babushkin and then back at me. “I hate to rush out on you like this, gentlemen, but I’ve got a couple of important buyers coming in, and, well, you know how those things are—”
“Sure,” I said, “we know.”
What the hell, I figured, Babushkin might have known, too. Maybe I wasn’t lying when I spoke for both of us.
“So how do we stand, gentlemen?” he asked.
“We stand okay,” I said. “It all depends on you now. Mr. Babushkin here and I, we’re all set. We’ve got our money ready, both of us, and we’re all set. Any time you say okay, all we have to do is make an appointment to go down to the lawyer and we’re all set to go. We’re just waiting to hear from you.”
“Then you don’t have to wait any longer,” he said, spreading his skinny fingers out like a fan. “I’m all set any time you are. My money is ready now.”
“Then we’re all set?” I looked at Babushkin, who nodded, and then at Ast, who jerked his head up and down. “Fine. Let’s see. To-day is Monday. Suppose we make it for Wednesday? Wednesday all right with you? All right, then. Wednesday at Golig’s office. I don’t know exactly what time, but I’ll call you both up to let you know. Then it’s Wednesday at Golig’s office?”
They nodded. Ast stood up and shoved his arms into the sleeves of his coat that the waiter was holding for him. I got up, too, and Babushkin followed.
“How’s my old friend Mr. Schmul of Toney Frocks?” I asked.
“You know Schmul?” Ast said, surprised.
“Do I know him?” I laughed. “I’ve been trying to forget him for over a year. I worked for the punk.”
“You worked for him?”
“About a year ago.”
“A year ago? That’s funny. I’ve been with him over two years already, and I don’t remember you.”
“That’s because you never go into the back,” I said with a laugh. “No salesman ever goes into the back.”
“What do you mean, in the back?”
I figured I might as well give him a little jolt. It might shake a little of the cocksureness out of him and make him realize that he wasn’t dealing with a schmoogie.
“I was one of his shipping clerks,” I said.
He stared at me. It isn’t every shipping clerk that can dig up ten thousand bucks with which to go into the dress business.
“You mean that?”
“I sure do,” I said.
“A year ago?”
I bent down for the check, but I could feel the look of surprise he had trained on me, and I fumbled a little with the tip on purpose to give him a chance to recover. I didn’t want him to get sore or anything. I just wanted him to think about it.
On the sidewalk, in front of the restaurant, we stopped.
“Which way you headed?” I asked.
“This way,” they both said, pointing down.
“I’m going up,” I said. I wasn’t, but I said it anyway. No anticlimaxes for me. “Then it’s Wednesday at Golig’s office. I’ll call you both up and give you the exact time. Okay?”
“Okay,” they said, and walked off together.
I laughed a little to myself as I saw them go down the block, and I hoped they wouldn’t get themselves run over or killed. They didn’t know it, but they were worth their weight in—well, no, not even they were that valuable, but they were worth a lot to me. Two men make a dress business. A designer and a salesman. I was neither, but that didn’t stop me. I took it easy. I picked and chose. And out of all of Seventh Avenue, I picked them. I hoped they would have brains enough to feel properly honored.
I grinned when I thought of what Pulvermacher’s face would look like when he found out I’d taken away his factory man. But when I thought of that son of a bitch Schmul, and what his face would look like when he found that Toney Frocks, Inc. had lost the services of Theodore (Teddy to his pals and partners) Ast to me, I laughed out loud. A couple of people looked at me, but I didn’t care. Meal or no meal, this called for a drink.
I went into Schrafft’s for a soda.
When I got out I felt pretty good. I walked down Broadway slowly, whistling a little and window-shopping. A black and white tie in Gillette’s window looked good to me, so I went in and bought it. On the corner of Thirty-Eighth Street I saw a women’s accessory shop and I remembered that I’d promised Mother a purse to go with her new brown suit. I went in and bought her a good large one, the kind she liked. As I turned to leave the shop, a blue bag in a stand on the counter struck my eye.
It was made of soft blue suede, with a white leather border and two large white metal stars, one in each corner, for ornaments. Looking at it reminded me of Ruthie, and the dress she had worn to Totem Manor over the week-end. For a moment I couldn’t think what the bag she had carried had looked like. And this one, aside from the color that matched her dress, seemed to have been made for her. Before I knew it, I had put my hand out and touched it, squeezing the soft sides gently.
“Did you want to see this purse?” the salesgirl said, moving down the counter toward me.
“Why, yes,” I said. “Sure, you can wrap it up for me.”
It was not until I reached the street and had walked half a block or so that I began to feel sore. It wasn’t the money. It was just the feeling that I must have been going soft in the head. What the hell was the sense of buying things for a dame when you knew you weren’t going to get anything back in exchange? What was I all of a sudden, Santa Claus? Where the hell did I get off playing around with a kike broad like that, anyway? Go buy her eight dollar purses! What the God damn hell for? Because my own mother had introduced her to me? The hell with that crap. If I was going around buying gifts, at least I ought to know enough to buy them for people who knew what was expected of them in return. A dame like Miss Marmelstein, for instance. She wasn’t making any of the members of the Harvard faculty worry about their jobs. But she was smart enough to know that if I gave her a purse it wasn’t because I all of a sudden thought it would be a good idea for her to have something that would match the color of her eyes.
I stopped walking and looked at my watch. Five-thirty. She should have been there yet. She’d been hanging around till after six for over a week. But it would be just my luck for her to skip out early this one night
I burst into the office breathlessly, and stopped short. She looked up at me from behind the switchboard in surprise.
“Why, Mr. Bogen!” she said. “What in the world—?”
I felt relieved and after I’d had a second or so to catch my breath I said, “I’m in a terrible hurry to get some very important letters out, Miss Marmelstein. I hope you don’t mind staying a little later to-night.”
“Why, of course not, Mr. Bogen,” she said, smiling quickly. That was a dame for you! “I’m not doing anything special to-night, anyway.”
It began to look like she did special things very seldom. Well, I’d see what I could arrange for her. After all, it wouldn’t make any difference after to-night. But she didn’t have to know about that.
“I’ll tell you,” I said, scratching my chin and looking at my watch. “It’ll take me about a half hour or so to get my papers in shape before I’ll be ready to dictate. I’ll tell you what you do. You go down and have a bite, or go out and buy yourself a new brassiere or something. And say you get back here about six-thirty. That’ll give me plenty of time.”
She was all smiles.
“Okay,” she said, and got up quickly.
“By the way,” I said, holding out the package with the blue and white purse in it, “Here’s a little trinket I picked up for you during the day.”
She took it quickly and tore the wrapper off.
“Oh, Mr. Bogen, how am I ever going to thank you?”
I’ll give you one guess, sister.
“That’s all right,” I said. “Just don’t disappoint me. Six-thirty to-night.”
“Don’t worry,” she said, “I won’t.”
As though I didn’t know that.
“I’ll be all ready by the time you get back,” I said.
“That’ll be good,” she said.
Good my eye. This was going to be lots better than just plain good. This was going to be my swan song.
I went into my private office and began to clean out my desk and put the things I wanted to take with me aside. When I finished, my watch said twenty after six. Which meant I had ten minutes to think about how Miss Marmelstein was going to look on the couch in my private office as she performed her last official act as a salaried employee of the departing president of the Needle Trades Delivery Service, Inc.
THE BUILDING HAD TWO entrances. One on Thirty-Eighth Street and one on Broadway. I walked in through the Broadway entrance, slowly, then out the Thirty-Eighth Street side. I did it a few times, maybe five or six. Each time I got the same brisk, excited feeling that the place was full of people moving, working, coining money. I was glad now I’d had the fight with Ast. Even though it had meant taking a chance on his getting sore and walking out while I still needed him, I was glad I’d insisted on this building over the one he had wanted. The hell with what he wanted. The sooner he learned who was boss, the better. I was in the right place.
I walked through the lobby once more, the last time, but this time I didn’t go out the Thirty-Eighth Street entrance. I went into an elevator.
“Twenty-nine,” I said, and the young guy with the tiny nose and the marcelled hair punched the button. I wondered how long it would take him and the rest of the operators before they would remember my floor. What the hell, I wasn’t a shipping clerk in the building any more; I was a tenant.
As we stopped at the various floors, I noticed that the doors that faced the elevator had the names of the firms that occupied those floors painted on them. Before I stepped out of the car onto the twenty-ninth floor, I noticed that our name had not yet been painted on the door facing the elevator. I made a mental note to remind the super about that.
It was a lucky thing I made a mental note of it. Otherwise I would have forgotten it. Because the second I stepped into our showroom I saw the carpet.
There were a lot of things and people in that showroom. First of all, it was still full of ladders and pails of paint and brushes. Then some of the wrapping paper and excelsior and rope from the furniture was still lying around. And the pictures on the walls were new. They must have arrived since I had left in the morning. And there were three or four workmen moving around, too. But that didn’t matter. I noticed the carpet right away. It didn’t fit in with the way I had that showroom laid out in my mind. And after the fight I’d had with Ast over the money I was laying out on furnishings, I felt I’d earned the right to have everything just so. That was why, as soon as I walked in, I could see something was cockeyed. The carpet was supposed to be purple. But the stuff they had standing up in big rolls was the funniest looking purple I ever saw. It was red.
None of it was down yet. The workmen were just unrolling some of it and getting their tools ready.
“Hey, beyzon!” I called sharply from the doorway.
They looked up from their bent-down position.
I came a little further into the room and they stood up straight.
“What the hell do you guys think you’re doing?”
They were all wearing overalls, but one of them, a thin one with a cigarette in his mouth, had a regular vest and shirt and tie on underneath. He did all the talking.
“Whaddaya mean, what’re we doing?”
“Listen,” I said. “I only had two meals to-day. I don’t feel so strong. Don’t make me go around repeating things. I said what do you guys think you’re doing?”
“We’re layin’ a carpet, ain’t we?”
“I’ll tell you,” I said. “You just let me ask the questions.”
He shrugged and took the cigarette out of his mouth.
“Not in my showroom you’re not laying that carpet,” I said. “Not here you’re not.”
He just looked at me. All right, I’m handsome. But I’m not that much of an attraction.
“What’s the matter with it?” he asked finally.
“Nothing’s the matter with it. It looks all right to me. Only it’s red, that’s all.”
He turned to look at it, then turned back to me.
“See?” I said. “I told you. I’m a regular whiz at those things. I just looked at it once and I saw right away it was red. Just like that.”
He dropped his cigarette on the floor and stepped on it. Then he lit another one.
“Ah, nuts!” I said. “I ordered purple carpet. Purple, see? Not red. Purple. You can just roll that tiniff up and take it away. I ordered purple.”
He inhaled deeply without removing the cigarette from his mouth and bent his head a little, squinting his eyes, to see around the smoke that rose straight up from the cigarette.
“Mr. Ast saw it,” he said. “He said it was all right.”
Now, wasn’t that nice of him!
“Listen,” I said, “you heard me. Take that junk back and bring purple. And don’t worry so much about Mr. Ast. He made a mistake. He’s funny that way. He’s liable to make those mistakes every so often. You just take that crap back and bring purple.”
I waited till they began to roll up the piece they had opened, and then I went into the back.
Babushkin was sitting on a cutting table, watching the men around him setting up the machines. And Teddy Ast was standing next to him, leaning on the table and talking earnestly to him.
I didn’t even bother to walk up on them quietly. I wasn’t even interested in what they were talking about. It was just nice to know that Teddy Ast and I had gone to the same school. But I wasn’t worried. I was an honor student.
I called to them from the entrance to the factory. They turned around and Teddy smiled.
“Come on over, Harry,” he said. “Meyer and I were just talking about you.”
“What’s up?” I said, coming over and swinging up onto the cutting table.
“Nothing,” he said, which isn’t a bad way to begin. “Only we’ll be opening up
“I sort of get a rough idea,” I said. “But don’t let me stop you, Teddy. You go right ahead.”
“Oh, it’s nothing,” he said, waving his skinny hand, “just who’s gonna take care of this and who’s gonna take care of that and all that sort of stuff. You know.”
“That isn’t a bad idea,” I said. “Did you come to any agreement yet? I mean, anything definite?”
“Well,” he said, “I’ll tell you. It’s like this. First of all there’s Meyer here. He’s the factory man. Right?”
“Then there’s me. I’m the salesman. Right?”
I nodded again. But I didn’t smile the way I wanted to. This guy was smooth, and no maybes about it. If baloney were religion, he’d’ve been the next Pope.
“That leaves only you, Harry, see? So Meyer and I, we both thought the perfect set-up for you was to be a sort of office manager. Sort of superintendent of the whole works. You could run the office, and keep your eye on things in general while I was out selling and Meyer here was in the back in the factory, and sort of, well, you know, sort of superintend the whole works.”
I lit a cigarette and blew the smoke up toward the ceiling before I spoke.
“I get the idea, Teddy,” I said. “You want me to sort of superintend the whole works.”
“That’s right,” he said, shaking his head and looking at Babushkin. “That’s what we sort of figured out, wasn’t it, Meyer?”
Meyer nodded. Meyer was the greatest little nodder you ever saw. But I didn’t mind. In a three-cornered set-up you can’t afford to have the pair-off two and one. Especially if you’re on the short end. The best way out is for one of the three to be a hammerhead. At least then it’s one against one. And so long as I’m not outnumbered, I don’t worry.
“What do you think of the idea?” Teddy asked.
“It’s great,” I said. “It’s one of the greatest ideas I ever heard of.” Teddy grinned. “There’s only one thing wrong with it.”
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