I Can Get It for You Wholesale, page 25
A guy can stand just so much, even from his own mother.
“But what the hell kind of talk is that?” I cried, raising my voice to a shout suddenly, and jumping out of my chair. “What kind of ‘changed’? I feel the same way I ever felt. I act the same way I ever acted. Where do you get this ‘changed’ stuff? Maybe I have a little more money. Maybe I’m a little smarter. But what—?”
She turned the hot water tap on full, and the sudden rush of water against the dirty dishes almost drowned me out. She shut it off again, quickly.
“You say you’re not changed,” she said over her shoulder. “But in the old country, Heshie, we have a saying. We say, what you do, you are.”
Twisting her wrist, with a gesture of finality, she sent the hot water thudding down noisily on the dirty plates in the sink.
ONE OF THE GIRLS from the office stuck her head into my room.
“Miss Olincy of Butler Barnwell is in the showroom, Mr. Bogen,” she said.
“Ah, hell,” I said. “Did you tell her I was in?”
“No, not yet.”
“Good,” I said. “Don’t. She’s a pain in the rear end and she’s not important enough, anyway. Say, what the hell have I got a squad of salesmen for, anyway? What do you think I’m paying them for, they should play mumblety-peg while I have to take care of every two-by-nothing buyer? Tell Schwartz to take care of her, or Niederman, or any one of them. You got a half dozen out there, what do you have to come bothering me for?”
“Yes, Mr. Bogen.”
“Oh, Miss K.”
Her head came around the door again.
“Yes, Mr. Bogen?”
“Get me the garage on the phone right away, will you?”
“Yes, Mr. Bogen.”
Yes, Mr. Bogen. No, Mr. Bogen. Yes, Mr. Bogen. It sounded like a musical comedy sketch, but boy, did I love it!
When the phone rang I picked it up and said, “Hello, West Side Garage? This is Mr. Bogen of Apex. Bring my car around right away, will you? Yeah, on the Thirty-Eighth Street side. I’ll be down in ten minutes. All right?”
What, no Mr. Bogen?
I jiggled the hook until the girl in the office got on.
“Yes, Mr. Bogen?”
Ah, that was better.
“Riverside 9-0437. Get it right away.”
“Yes, Mr. Bogen.”
It wasn’t as bad as it sounds. I only dropped in a few hours a day, now, to see the important buyers and give everything the once-over, so I only had to listen to it for a small part of each day. Not that I objected, really. I was paying them, wasn’t I? So I figured along with the work I got out of them, I might just as well get the trimmings, too.
“Yes, Harry. How are you, dear?”
The little bitch. From the way she deared me all over the lot, you’d think we’d been sleeping together since the Armistice.
“I’m great,” I said. “And you?”
“How about a little lunch?”
“Well, I want to do a couple of things before we eat. I want to show you something. What do you say?”
“I’ll be up in a half hour, then.”
“Harry dear, give a girl a chance to dress!”
“You don’t have to work too hard at it,” I said. “You look good to me as is.”
Oh, Harry, my ass.
“So what do you say, will you be ready when I get there?”
“I’ll try, dear.”
“Okay, then, ʼbye.”
On my way through the office the bookkeeper stopped me.
“Will you be back, Mr. Bogen?”
“I don’t know. I might. What’s the matter?”
She waved her desk diary at me.
“We’ve got to make some payments to-day, Mr. Bogen, and if—”
“Put the checks on my desk,” I said. “I’ll sign them when I get back. And if I don’t get back, it won’t kill them if they get their checks a day later.”
The car was waiting for me at the curb. I’d had it for three days already, but it was such a beauty, that every time I saw it I had to stop for a few seconds and just look at it.
“There she is, Mr. Bogen,” the man from the garage said.
I got in and drove uptown.
I didn’t say anything to her until we got out of the elevator and into the street. Then, instead of hailing a cab, the way I usually did, I walked her over to the car and reached for the yellow door.
“Why, Harry, don’t tell me this is yours!”
All right, so I won’t tell you.
She clasped her hands and said, “It’s a beauty, Harry. When did you get it?”
“A couple of days ago. But a couple of things on it had to be adjusted.”
She walked around it and ran her hand along the edge of the door and said again, “It’s a beauty, Harry.”
“Hop in,” I said, “and we’ll see how she runs.”
I drove down to Seventy-Second, turned right, and brought the car to a stop in front of the Montevideo.
“Where are we going?”
I grinned at her and said, “I want to show you something.”
The doorman opened the car and I helped her out. She held back a little as we walked into the large foyer, but I patted her shoulder and said, still grinning, “Don’t you be afraid, little girl. You’re safe. There’s a carpenter and a plumber and a couple of painters upstairs that’ll act as chaperons.”
The elevator stopped at twenty-one without my saying a word. There’s some difference between the elevator operators in a loft building and the elevator operators in a classy apartment house like the Montevideo.
I walked to the door at the end of the small hallway and threw the door open. I didn’t see a carpenter, but the two painters who were working in the large living room looked up at us and I could hear the plumber in the bathroom.
“There’re your chaperons,” I said.
She looked at me sideways, smiling a little, and walked in. We paraded through the living room, into the bedroom, out into the living room again, into the kitchen, peeked into the bathroom, came back into the living room and parked ourselves in front of the wide windows that looked out onto the park.
“Well,” I said, “what do you think of it?”
“What am I supposed to say, Harry?”
“Oh, there’s no script,” I said, waving my hand at her. “You can ad lib.”
She looked around the large room again, then out the window, and then at me.
“Who’s it for, the Salvation Army or something?”
“No,” I said, laughing, “it’s all for a very close friend of yours. A gent by the name of Harry Bogen. Remember him?”
“I’ve got a faint recollection,” she said, looking around the room once more, then at me, with her tongue in her cheek a little and the kind of a look in her eye that is sometimes referred to as calculating. “What’s the big idea?”
“Oh, I don’t know. I just got tired of the old dump, that’s all. And now, of course,” I added, “now that I’m traveling around in such high-class company, you know”—she bowed a little and I bowed back—“why, I figured it was time I moved into a decent place. See what I mean?”
She said she saw.
“Now tell the truth, Martha, what do you think of it?”
“Well,” she said, laughing, “all I know so far is that it’s one of the nicer apartments at the Montevideo. Which is enough, believe me. But to tell you the truth, Harry”—she waved her hands to take in the room—“it’s still kind of empty, isn’t it?”
“That,” I said, “is where you come in.”
She looked at me quickly, and I realized suddenly what I’d said. But I didn’t bother to correct
“We’re going out this afternoon to buy me some furniture,” I said. I patted my breast pocket. “I got the old checkbook with me, and anything you pick out, that’s what I buy.” Almost anything, anyway. “What do you say?”
“I say okay.”
“Great,” I said, putting my arm around her and walking her to the door. “Let’s eat first.”
With her around, it was almost a pleasure to sign checks. She had so much class, that when we walked into a store, the salesmen fell all over themselves for the chance to wait on us. And she had taste, too. None of this fancy crap for her. Personally, I didn’t much care what she bought. As long as the furniture included a double bed, I was satisfied. But she was particular. And so long as her being particular didn’t mean more money out of my pocket, she could be particular until the salesmen passed out.
After three hours I said, “All right for to-day. We’ll get the rest to-morrow. You tired?”
“No,” she said; then, “well, maybe a little.”
“Come on,” I said, “we’ll get a hot drink of something and then go for a drive in the park. All right?”
“All right, Harry.”
I was a little tired myself, so I drove back to the garage, left the car, and took a cab.
I put my arm around her and held her hand in my lap. After the cab entered the park, I didn’t speak for a while. Then, still holding her close, and looking out the window, I said, “What have you got against me, Martha?”
“Nothing,” she said, “I’ve got nothing against you, Harry.”
The fact that she wasn’t surprised showed she knew what I was talking about.
“Don’t you like me?”
“Sure I like you, Harry,” she said. Then, as though she were afraid she hadn’t made herself clear, she added, “I like you a lot, Harry.” Boy, she was smooth.
I figured the time was ripe for a straight shot, right through the middle.
“Why do you turn me down, Martha?” I said, still looking out of the window.
She stiffened a little in the bend of my arm.
“I’m not turning you down, Harry,” she said. “I like you a lot and all that, but, well—I’m just not that kind of a girl, Harry.”
And I was Little Lord Fauntleroy.
I didn’t say anything. I could feel her head turn a little as she tried to get a look at me to see if it had registered. But I continued to look out of the window, without speaking.
“I like you, Harry,” she said again, to drive the point home, “but it’s just that I don’t know you well enough.” She began to talk more quickly, as though she’d been struck by a better idea. “That’s the trouble with you: you’re so sure right away that you’re in love, that you want the woman to be the same. But a woman has to take time, Harry, and be really sure. She has too much to lose.” What the hell did she have to lose? “A woman can’t rush into those things.”
All right. Call it love. I had my own word for it. We’d soon see which of the two was more accurate. I still had a couple of blank checks on me.
I leaned forward and tapped on the glass.
“Driver,” I said, “take us to Tiffany’s. Thirty-seventh and Fifth.” And, to drive my point home, I repeated, “Tiffany’s.”
IF IT WAS ANY OTHER guy I would have said he was a horse’s ass and she was taking him over. But I didn’t say it for two reasons. Nobody calls me a horse’s ass, and nobody takes me over. I knew she thought I was a big sucker. But she wasn’t putting anything over on me. I knew what I was doing.
I picked up the receiver and spoke to the girl at the switchboard.
“Send in one of the boys from the back,” I said.
Then I wrote two checks. One to Mama for thirty and the other to cash for five hundred. I put the first one in an envelope, addressed it, sealed it, and sat back to wait for the boy.
What if the wrist watch had cost four hundred bucks? So what? First of all, half of that was really coming out of Babushkin’s pocket, although he didn’t know it, which made that all right. And secondly, I wasn’t even thinking about the price. Some dames are worth ten times that amount. Maybe not to other guys. But what the hell did I care about other guys? I figured like this: when I took, I took hard. And when I gave, I gave hard. If I took more than my share—well, there were some things you had to give more for than they were worth. Like Martha Mills. What if she did cost a lot? To me she was worth it. And until I got what I wanted I’d keep on giving, just as I’d keep on taking.
The boy came in.
“Yes, Mr. Bogen?”
“Take this down to the bank right away and bring back the cash,” I said, holding out the check to him. “Get three hundred in twenties and the rest in tens.” He took the check and I picked up the envelope. “And drop this down the chute on your way out. Step on it.”
“All right, Mr. Bogen.”
He went out and I lit a cigarette.
Love? Love my eye! Every one of these guys that goes around looking like he ate something bad and telling you how much he’s in love with some tomato is either just shooting you a line of bull, or he’s kidding himself. I don’t mind when they shovel it at me, but when they throw the shovel at me, too, that’s where I draw the line.
I thought of Ruthie Rivkin and I knew that something was cockeyed with my figuring. I got up and walked to the window. But watching the people and the cars passing in the street below didn’t help. I knew I was right. I was positive about that. Then how about Ruthie Rivkin? It didn’t add up. Where was the mistake?
I threw the cigarette out and lit another one.
“The hell with it,” I said. “If I begin to think too much about it, I’ll begin to think maybe I’m wrong.”
And I knew I wasn’t.
I went back to my desk and propped my feet up on the pulled-out top drawer. If it didn’t add up, then the hell with arithmetic, that’s all. I knew I was right.
Love? I knew what I wanted, and Martha Mills had it. And I was going to get it if it cost me ten times what I’d spent already. And it was going to be good, too. Because I could have gone through the whole chorus of Smile Out Loud and half of Broadway besides, for what she was costing me. But I didn’t want the chorus of Smile Out Loud. I wanted Martha Mills. Do me something.
There was a knock on the door and the kid came in holding the check.
“What’s the matter?” I said. “Where’s the cash?”
“They wouldn’t cash it, Mr. Bogen. The guy at the bank said—”
“They wouldn’t cash it?”
“That’s right, Mr. Bogen. The man said—”
“Why the hell not? Why wouldn’t they—?”
“No funds, the man said. He said there wasn’t enough in the—”
“Okay. Okay. Gimme the check.” I grabbed it out of his hand. “Okay. You can go back to work.”
The kid went out and I picked up the receiver.
“Send Miss A in here right away,” I said. “Tell her to bring in the cash book and the checkbook.”
She came in carrying the books.
“What the hell is this, Miss A?” I said, waving the check at her. “I tried to cash this thing and the bank tells me no funds. What the hell is this?”
“Well, I don’t know, Mr. Bogen,” she said, screwing up her lips. “My cash book shows a balance of—of”—she looked into the book—“of a little over eighteen hundred.”
“So little? Eighteen hundred?”
“Well, it’s the tenth of the month, Mr. Bogen.” She didn’t have to use that tone of voice. I wasn’t as dumb as all that. I’d managed to graduate from kindergarten on my own brains. “We’re always low at the tenth, because we pay all our bills then. In a couple of days, when the customers’ checks start coming in, our balance is back to normal, that’s all. It’s always that way, Mr. Bogen, every month.”
“Yeah? Then how about this?” I held up the check. “The bank said no funds.”
“Oh. Yeah. Well, I did draw a couple of checks. All right, Miss A,” I said. “You can go back.”
“Will you give me a list of those checks you drew, Mr. Bogen, so I can adjust my books?”
“Oh, uh. I’ll tell you what,” I said. “I’ll give you a total figure a little later in the day. I’ll figure it up and give it to you later.”
Before she went out she gave a last quick exhibition of all her talents. She screwed up her face and she shrugged. Well, I wasn’t interested in her accomplishments. She was hired to be my bookkeeper, and if she displayed any more interest in appointing herself guardian of my private affairs, I’d get myself a new bookkeeper. Because I needed a bookkeeper, but I was perfectly capable of handling my private affairs.
I only hesitated a moment or so before I picked up the receiver.
“Miss K,” I said, “remember that Mr. Maltz that used to call me up pretty regularly and I told you always to tell him I was out?”
“Yes, Mr. Bogen. He—”
“Well, let me ask you. Has he called me recently?”
“Yes, Mr. Bogen. He called you only last week.”
“He did? All right, then, Miss K. I’ll tell you what. See if you can get him for me, will you?”
“Yes, Mr. Bogen.”
I hung up and lit a cigarette. It was a good thing I hadn’t told him to go to hell. But it wasn’t an accident. I don’t get into fights unless it’s to my advantage.
The phone rang.
“Here’s Mr. Maltz, Mr. Bogen.”
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