I Can Get It for You Wholesale, page 23
“Everybody happy?” I said, putting my arms around two of them.
“Oh, Harry. It’s you.”
“Harry Bogen, I want to congratulate you. You little louse, you’ve got the hottest line on the Avenue, do you know that?”
“Thank you, my dear,” I said, bowing from the waist and grinning. “But that’s the general idea I had.”
“You can take it from me, it is—Oh, by the way, Harry. Do you know Miss Boonton?”
“Why, no,” I said, bowing again. It’s easy, once you get used to it. “I’ve never had the pleasure.”
If meeting Miss Boonton was a pleasure, then so is a case of piles. She had a figure like a subway kiosk and a face like the state of Texas done in three shades of pink.
“All right, then, here goes. Miss Boonton, Mr. Bogen. Mr. Bogen, Miss Boonton.”
“How do you do?” I said.
“Lousy,” she said in a voice that started somewhere about eighteen inches below her feet. “But seeing a line like that makes me feel better already. Who’s your designer?”
“Of Pulbetkal?” she said, surprised.
“How in the God damned hell did you ever get the little kike away from Pulvermacher?”
I tapped my nose and winked.
“My hidden charms,” I said.
“So that’s the kind of guy you are, eh?” she said, and we all burst out laughing. “Seriously, though, how come I haven’t seen any of your stuff before?”
“We were making sixteen-seventy-fives up to now.”
“I get it,” she said, giving me a shove. “Getting high hat, eh?”
I grinned. I couldn’t talk. That gentle shove of hers had knocked the wind out of me. It looked like I’d have to join a gym if I wanted to sell the higher-priced trade.
“Well, just watch out you don’t get so high class you don’t know the difference between a good dress and a lousy one.”
“Not me,” I said, waving my hand from side to side. “I wrote a poem to remind myself.”
“Listen, brother,” she said, grinning, “Maybe that’s the way you got Babushkin, after all. A poem!”
“Sure,” I said, grinning back at her. “I always write poems in my spare time. In fact, I’m just about the world’s champion lavatory poet. Most of my stuff is unpublished, but if you’ve ever seen the walls of a men’s toilet, you’ve seen—”
“Jesus Christ,” she said, “you got me all excited. How does it go?”
So I had her all excited.
“Like this,” I said, and swung into something real dirty.
All of a sudden she broke into a squeal and collapsed into my arms. Now I know how it must feel to support the Woolworth Building when it begins to lean over too far. She shook up and down for a while until she recovered her breath. Sometimes I wished I could get as much pleasure out of my own jokes as the dopes I told them to did. It looked like I was the only one who knew they were lousy. Well, at least there was some little kick in knowing that I could adopt the right tone in a conversation, even down to the crummy jokes.
“Mr. Bogen,” she said finally, “or maybe I better call you Harry. Yeah, Harry. Harry old kid,” she said slapping me on the shoulder, and drying her eyes with her sleeve, “do I get a poem like that with every order I place with you?”
“You bet,” I said.
“Shake, kid,” she said.
We shook, and she slapped me on the back once more. I didn’t wince, though. I was getting used to it.
“Hey, Molly,” she yelled suddenly at a woman across the room. “You wanna hear something?” And she went charging across the crowded showroom, shoving people out of her way like a cowcatcher going through a snowdrift. She left just in time. My constitution isn’t what it used to be.
I turned toward the rest of the room, and stopped with my mouth open. Standing near the platform, talking to two men, was the neatest-looking brunette I’d ever seen. She stood so that I saw her in profile, and for a moment I couldn’t catch my breath. She had the kind of tits you could see coming around a corner ten minutes before the rest of her body followed. Ma-ma!
I walked over to Teddy and pointed her out to him.
“Who’s the dame?”
He looked at me in surprise. “What are you, screwy?” he said.
“You don’t know who she is?”
I looked again. She wasn’t a buyer, she wasn’t one of my models, and she wasn’t wearing one of our dresses.
I shook my head.
“That’s a hot one all right,” he said, screwing up his lips. “You’re paying her, and you don’t know who she is.”
“You mean she’s from Smile Out Loud?”
“Sure she is.”
“Well, how come she isn’t modeling one of our dresses, then?”
“Aw, she’s not just in the chorus. She does a specialty number. She sings or something.”
“Oh, yeah? You know so much about her, how about a knockdown?”
He looked disgusted.
“Aw, Christ! Why don’t you keep your mind on your work for a change, Harry? What do you want to bother with those pots for?”
Get an earful of that! He was giving me advice!
“Listen,” I said, “I’m paying her, ain’t I? All right, then. Come on.” I took his arm. “By the way, what’s her name?”
“Martha Mills,” he said.
THERE ARE TWO KINDS of dames. The kind you want to put, but with whom you wouldn’t be found dead. And the kind you not only want to put, but with whom you get a kick out of being seen walking down the street. All the others don’t count.
This dame was in class two.
For three weeks in a row I took her out every night. We had dinner and talked until it was time for her to go to the theatre. After the show I called for her and we made the rounds. Always, when the time came to take her home, I thought maybe to-night. But always that’s as far as I got, her front door.
Sometimes, after I’d had a chance to cool off a little and I wasn’t sore any more, I’d stand there on the sidewalk in front of her apartment house for a while and ask myself was I crazy or wasn’t I. If somebody would’ve told me that I’d be spending the time and money on any dame that I was spending on her, and not even getting to first base, I would’ve told him to go get his head examined. I would’ve told it to myself, too. Yet there I’d be, out on the sidewalk, with my hot pants to remind me that I wasn’t dreaming. Then I’d get sore and say the hell with her and go home.
Then, the next morning, sorting out the checks in my private office, going over the mail, I’d remember the way we’d looked the night before. I’d remember the jealous looks of the heels around the stage door when I called for her. Or the way all eyes turned to look at us when we walked into a restaurant or a night club. Or the line in Winchell’s column, “Martha Mills, the baby-voiced warbler of Smile Out Loud is doing the hot spots with what prominent young manufacturer of feminine haberdashery?” I’d think of how swell it made me feel just to be seen walking down the street with her, and how people looked after her, and then at me, and wondered who I was and wished they were me. I’d think of all that, and I’d reach for the telephone.
“Get me Riverside 9-0437.”
In a few seconds the girl at the switchboard would ring me.
“Here’s your Riverside number, Mr. Bogen.”
“Okay.” Then, “Hello, Martha?”
“How do you feel?”
“Sleepy. What’s the big idea waking me up so early in the morning?”
“Sorry,” I laughed. “I just wanted to make sure I was filing my application for to-night before the rest of the city. Anybody ahead of me yet, Martha?”
“You know there’s nobody ahead of you, Harry.”
Crap me easy, ki
This was the part I didn’t like. As soon as I’d hang up I’d begin remembering all the nights that had gone before, and I’d begin thinking of the one that was coming, and wondering if it would be the same. Then I’d begin thinking what a holy schmuck I was making of myself, and I’d get so sore at myself I felt like calling her back and telling her to drop dead.
But this time I didn’t get a chance to get sore. Because before I could put the receiver back on the hook the door opened and Teddy Ast came in.
“Hello, Theodore,” I said, “how’s the world treating you?”
He slapped a thin packet of blue-covered papers on my desk.
“I just been looking through the accountant’s report,” he said.
“Why, Teddy!” I said, surprised. “You didn’t tell me you knew how to read!”
“Never mind,” he said grimly. “I just been looking through it.”
“So’ve I,” I said, picking up my copy. “Looks pretty good, doesn’t it?” I leafed through it to the operating statement. “Eight thousand net for the month. Not bad. Not bad at all.”
His face squeezed up a little tighter and he turned to the schedule of expenses.
“Traveling and entertaining,” he read, “twenty-two hundred dollars.”
I picked my teeth with my tongue but didn’t say anything.
“Well,” he said, “what’ve you got to say to that?”
“You really want to know?” I said.
“Yeah,” he said.
“All I have to say is: in your hat and over your ears; you look good in brown.”
He snatched the report off the desk and rolled it into a thin line.
“Can that wise-guy stuff, Harry,” he said. “This is serious. I’m not kidding now.”
“My error,” I said. “I thought you were.”
He was so sore that his hand shook when he lit a cigarette. But I didn’t say a word. He was dumb enough to dig his own grave. He didn’t need any help from me.
“What are you gonna do about it?” he said.
He hit the desk with the rolled up report. “Don’t give me any of that, Harry. You know what. What about those entertaining expenses?”
“Well, what about them?”
“You gonna cut them out?”
“No,” I said. “I’m having a lot of fun spending that money, and it’s good for the business. If you got any objections, spit them out.”
“What do you think I’m doing?”
He shook off the interruption.
“From the first minute we opened up here, you’ve been throwing money around like water. I didn’t like the idea, but I didn’t say anything.” No, not much. “But this is different.”
I picked up a sheaf of orders from my desk and waved them under his nose.
“Where the hell do you think these came from? How the hell do you think we got these? Just by showing your phiz around to the buyers? Don’t kid yourself, Teddy,” I said, “you’re not that good-looking.”
“Don’t try to hide things. What do you think I am, a dope?”
“Sure,” I said, grinning.
He glared at me.
“Well, I’m not as dumb as you think. When you spent all that dough, I figured all right, it was on buyers, it was for the business. But you can’t keep pulling that crap on me. The whole damn market knows what you’re doing. When you start pissing away the firm dough on a pot like that, on an actress, where we don’t stand to make anything, then I got a right to object.”
“You all finished?” I said calmly.
He didn’t answer.
“Now you listen to me for a change,” I said. “First of all you’re such a dumb bastard you don’t even know what you’re talking about. And secondly, where did you ever get this ‘I got a right’ business? If I want to spend money endowing a hospital for cats, I’ll do it, and I won’t ask for any advice from you, either.”
“I don’t care what the hell you do with your own money,” he said, “but when you start spending firm money, then I got a right—”
“Yeah? Who ever told you that?”
“I’m a partner, ain’t I?”
“But I happen to own sixty per cent of the stock,” I said, grinning at him, “and maybe I’ll endow that hospital for cats after all.”
“Not with my money,” he said, breathing quickly. “I don’t care what you say, I’m still a partner here, and—”
“Then maybe you and I better just stop being partners,” I said.
“That suits me,” he said, slapping the report onto the desk and turning on his heel.
“It can’t suit you any more than it suits me,” I said. “We’ll go down to Golig to-morrow.”
“The quicker the better,” he said, and slammed the door.
With the door closed behind him I couldn’t hold it any longer. I just had to laugh out loud. It couldn’t have worked out any better if he’d’ve been killed in a railroad wreck. He had taught me all he knew a long time ago. As far as I was concerned he’d shot his load.
I picked up the receiver and spoke to the girl at the switchboard.
“Tell Mr. Babushkin I want to see him right away,” I said.
AFTER THE WAITER PUSHED the chair under her and she had done things to her lips and hair she looked up at me with a smile and said, “Now go on with your story, Harry.”
“Where was I?” I asked, sweeping my eyes from her thick black hair, that looked like a greased helmet, down her tiny button nose and thick red lips to her chest. From there I couldn’t go any further. That chest, with the dress bunched up and drawn tightly across it, had never failed to stop me yet.
“I don’t know exactly,” she said, shaking herself a little and clearing my mind of any doubts as to whether she was wearing a brassiere, “but when you decided in such a hurry that we had enough of Seventy-Seven—By the way, why do you always want to go from one place to another? We’re no sooner settled in one place, than you want to get out and go some place else.”
“You want to know the reason?” I said, smiling at her, and watching out of the corner of my eye the way the people at the next table kept staring at us.
“Oh, so you have a reason. Well, what is it?”
“I get a kick out of walking in and out of places with you,” I said.
“Oh, Harry!” she squealed, covering her mouth to stop the laugh, and sending her chest shivering all over the lot in a way that made me grip the edge of the table to keep my hands from running away with themselves.
“That’s the truth, Martha,” I said. “Honest.”
“Oh, Harry, cut it out.”
“I mean it, Martha,” I said. “You’re not like other girls.” Which was the bull. Upside down they all look alike. “You ought to see the way people look at us, at you, rather, when we come into a place. And they look at us the same way when we go out. So I leave it to you. The more times we get up and go out, the more times we walk in, which means the more times people look at us, and the more kick I get. See?”
“Oh, Harry, you’re funny.”
“Well, I can’t help it,” I said. “So far, that’s the only real pleasure I’ve had from going with you.”
She looked at me quickly and then down at the tablecloth. Bull’s eye! Score one for the old marksman! For the time being this dame had me stopped. But I wasn’t quitting yet. I had too much of an investment in her already. And besides, to be honest about it, I couldn’t have quit if I’d wanted to. Not while she was built the way she was. And not while she was an actress. And not while every guy on Broadway that saw us together wished he was in my shoes.
“What about the rest of your story?”
“Oh, yes,” I said, putting my thumb in my vest, “my story. Now, ah, where, ah, was I?”
“Mr. Ast,” she said, mimicking my voice, and grinning, “had just told you he didn’t like the way you were running the business and he wanted you to—”
“Oh, yes,” I said. “So I said, Teddy, I said, my hearing isn’t so good these last few days, so maybe I didn’t get you right the first time. But did I understand you to say, I said, did I understand you to say that you didn’t like the way I was running the business? And he said yes. So I sort of leaned back in my chair and shook my head like I’d just gotten the news my mother died or something, you know, and I said, gee, Teddy, that’s too bad. That certainly is too bad, I said, because you know, Teddy, I’m a funny guy, and I wouldn’t be able to sleep well at night if I knew a partner of mine didn’t like the way I was running things.”
“What did he say to that?” she said, laughing.
“What could he say? Nothing. So I continued, and I said in that case, Teddy, seeing as how you and I don’t sort of, well, you know, sort of agree on things, then maybe it wouldn’t be a half bad idea if you and I, we stopped being partners from now on. Well, Martha, as soon as I said that, you should’ve seen the look on his face. He started to cry and this and that and the other, you know, and tried to talk me out of it, but I just shook my head like a pallbearer, you know, and I said sorry, Teddy, you and I, we couldn’t continue being partners if I felt that you didn’t like the way I was running things. He tried a little more crying, you know, because he knew what a dope he was for letting himself out of one of the most profitable businesses in the city.” If she couldn’t take that hint, she was blind. “So the only thing left for him to do was to get tough. Well, Martha,” I said, pausing to light a cigarette, “I’m not saying I’m the bravest guy in the world. If Jack Dempsey would get tough with me, then maybe I’d just say yes, sir. But when a baloney like Teddy Ast gets tough with me, then Martha, old kid, I get so tough myself that you’d think I chewed battleships and spit rust.”
“Well, what happened?”
“Nothing,” I said, waving my hand. “Nothing much, I just picked up the little heeb”—what the hell, Mama wasn’t listening—“I took him by his collar and kicked him out of my office. And that was the end of my partner Teddy Ast.”
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