I can get it for you who.., p.32

I Can Get It for You Wholesale, page 32

 

I Can Get It for You Wholesale
 



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  “May I have a word, Your Honor?”

  The Referee nodded.

  “I respectfully submit,” Siegel said, “that it seems perfectly clear from the evidence taken to-day, Your Honor, that this business was shockingly milked with the deliberate intention and purpose of defrauding its creditors. I respectfully call Your Honor’s attention to the fact that I intend to bring a turnover motion in this court against Mr. Babushkin for thirty-two thousand five hundred dollars.”

  “The court,” the Referee said, “can take no cognizance of your intentions, Mr. Siegel, until such time as the proper papers are filed with it.” He picked up his diary. “Do you want an adjourned date, Mr. Siegel, on this 21-A hearing?”

  “No, sir,” Siegel said. “I shall file my turnover papers with Your Honor to-morrow.”

  “Very well,” the Referee said. “Hearing adjourned.”

  37

  I DIDN’T KNOW HOW long I had been walking like that, back and forth, from one end of the living room to the other, telling myself that there was nothing to be nervous about and that if I’d only sit down everything would be all right. But I did know that the advice was lousy. Because when I finally did sit down, it didn’t help. I jumped up in a minute and began to parade back and forth again.

  For once I was almost sorry I didn’t drink. I’d heard of enough guys who carried themselves over the rough spots by getting pissed to the ears. But I knew it wasn’t worth trying. The most I’d get out of it would be a bellyache.

  Suddenly I got an idea. I took my hat and went out quickly, before I could start thinking about something else again and drive it out of my mind. But when I got in front of the joint I didn’t go in. I kept on moving down the block. I didn’t want to get laid.

  I walked to Broadway and looked around. The Paramount was nearest. I went in and got a seat in the orchestra. But then I thought it would be nicer to sit in the balcony. I went up and found a seat. But that wasn’t any good, either. I went out of the theater, looking back at the marquee to see what was playing.

  When I turned my head again, I saw a United Cigars Store. I fingered a nickel in my pocket, but I didn’t go in to make the call. I made up my mind, though. I bought a paper and went into the subway. I began to feel better at once. I actually sat still and read the paper all the way up.

  But the moment I came into the house I knew I shouldn’t have done it. Mother wasn’t alone. I could hear voices in the living room. I walked toward them and stood in the doorway.

  “Hello, Ma,” I said.

  She was in the armchair, her hands folded on the apron in her lap. Across the room, on the sofa, sat a young woman with a baby in her arms. She was plump and had dark hair and was neatly dressed. Before anybody spoke I knew who she was. And I was struck at once by her resemblance to Ruthie Rivkin. There was in her face that same softness, that warmth that was so appealing and that Mother called chein.

  “Hello, Heshie,” Mother said, getting up and coming toward me. “We were just talking about you.”

  She took my hat and put it on the table.

  “This is Mrs. Babushkin,” she said.

  I bowed and smiled.

  “Glad to know you, Mrs. Babushkin,” I said. “It’s really too bad that we should finally have to meet at a time like this.”

  She didn’t smile.

  “Sit down, Heshie,” Mother said.

  I took one of the straight-backed chairs. I crossed my legs and lit a cigarette.

  “Where’s Meyer?” I asked.

  “He’s home,” she said, staring at me.

  What the hell was she looking at? I had a clean shirt on. And I’d shaved, too. Maybe she was fascinated. It began to look like I had a fatal attraction for the warm Jewish type.

  “That’s the best place for him,” I said. “He should be resting up for to-morrow?”

  “He’s not resting,” she said.

  What was I supposed to do, act surprised?

  “Well, I guess he doesn’t need it, really, Mrs. Babushkin,” I said. “There’s nothing to what’s going to happen to-morrow. A little hearing, a few questions, a few answers, and it’s all over.”

  She shifted the baby into a more comfortable position in her arms.

  “I didn’t tell him I was coming here to-day,” she said quietly.

  That was a nice way for a married woman with a baby to talk, wasn’t it? It was lucky Mother was there to act as chaperon.

  “Why, you could—” I began.

  “You see, Mr. Bogen,” she said, looking me right in the eye, “my husband trusts you.”

  I dropped my eyes to grind out my cigarette.

  “Mrs. Babushkin,” Mother said, “let me talk.”

  I looked at her quickly. And I could tell at a glance that I was in for it. She wasn’t on my side, either.

  “Mrs. Babushkin has been here for more than an hour, Heshie,” she said. “She told me the whole story, the things that happened and the bankruptcy and everything.”

  It must have been a regular field day.

  “Well, I can’t help that, Ma,” I said irritably. “The creditors just cracked down on us, that’s all. But there’s nothing to worry about. I told Meyer it was nothing. There’s gonna be a little hearing to-morrow, the same as the last one, and everything’ll come out the same as the other one did. Two weeks from now our business’ll be running again. That’s how things happen in business. I can’t help those things. It’s not my fault that those crazy credit men—”

  “Nobody says it’s your fault, Heshie,” Mother said.

  They didn’t have to say it. I could tell from the way they looked.

  I lit another cigarette.

  “Then what can I do?” I said.

  “Mrs. Babushkin told me,” she said, “that her husband trusts you, Heshie.”

  Why not? Didn’t I trust him?

  “That’s right,” Mrs. Babushkin said.

  I turned to her with a sarcastic grin.

  “But you don’t, Mrs. Babushkin,” I said. “Is that the idea?”

  “Yes,” she said quietly.

  “Well, now look here, Mrs. Babushkin—” I began.

  “I don’t know what happened downtown, Mr. Bogen,” she said, breaking in. “My husband used to talk everything over with me before he did it. This thing he didn’t talk over with me. I didn’t know what happened until a few days ago. A couple of months ago, he came home and told me about a special bank account you had opened together. I didn’t understand it very well from his explanation.” I couldn’t blame her for that. “But he said it was to cheat the government out of income tax.”

  “Oh, I wouldn’t say ‘cheat,’ Mrs. Babushkin,” I said.

  “That’s what it was for, though, wasn’t it, Mr. Bogen?”

  “Well, yes, I suppose so,” I said. “If you want to look at it that—”

  “I warned him at that time not to do it,” she said. “I told him it wasn’t right.” Her face pinched up around the mouth. “But he said it was too late. He said you had started already. He said there was nothing to worry about,” she said slowly. “He said you would take care of everything.”

  “And I did, Mrs. Babushkin,” I said quickly. “That had nothing to do with the bankruptcy. This thing is just—”

  “Maybe it didn’t,” she said in a low voice. “But it was the only time he didn’t listen to my advice, Mr. Bogen.”

  “I’m sorry you feel that way about it, Mrs. Babushkin, but I assure you that that account had nothing to do with it. That’s a separate thing from this bankruptcy entirely. There’s nothing—”

  “I don’t say there is, Mr. Bogen,” she said again. “But it was the only time he didn’t listen to what I told him.”

  Go ahead, tell me again!

  “I tell you once more, Mrs. Babushkin, that account had absolutely nothing to do with—”

  “Never mind, Heshie,” Mother said suddenly. “Let me talk.”

  “Okay,” I said, waving my hand. “Go ahead. You
re doing most of it anyway.”

  “When Mrs. Babushkin came to me an hour ago, Heshie,” she said, “and she told me what was happening, I asked her what she wanted me to do. She said she wanted me to make you promise that nothing would happen to her husband.”

  “For crying out loud, Ma,” I said. “I told Meyer Babushkin a dozen times if I told him once. Absolutely nothing is going to happen to him. We’re both in this thing and it’s one hundred per cent. It’s all a big misunderstanding. The creditors think that we haven’t got enough money to pay our bills, but they’re crazy. We’ve got plenty. What more can I do? You want me to walk around with Meyer Babushkin and hold him by the hand and see that he doesn’t get run over or anything like that?”

  “When she was here an hour ago,” Mother continued calmly, “I told her there was nothing I could do. I didn’t know where you were. But now you’re here, Heshie. Now you—”

  “What difference does it make where I am?” I said. “I can say it just as well in the Bronx as I can say it downtown. Nothing is going to happen to Meyer Babushkin. You satisfied?”

  “Is that the truth, Mr. Bogen?” she asked, leaning forward with the baby in her arms.

  I looked her right in the eye.

  “That’s the truth,” I said firmly.

  “You promise me that, Mr. Bogen?” she said.

  I stood up and waved my arms to the ceiling.

  “Jesus Christ alive!” I said. “What do you want me to do, put it in an affidavit for you? You want me to run a full-page advertisement in the paper about it? I just told you nothing was going to happen to him, didn’t I? What do you want me to—?”

  “Stop hollering,” Mother said, “and sit down.”

  I sat down.

  “Nobody is going around asking you to make out affidavits,” she said, “or anything like that. All Mrs. Babushkin means is you should promise her that you won’t do anything to hurt her husband.”

  “I shouldn’t do anything?” I cried. “Why would I want to hurt him? What did he ever do to me? He’s my partner, isn’t he?”

  “Then that’s all she wants,” Mother said. “She just wants you should promise that nothing’ll happen to her husband through anything you do. Is that right, Mrs. Babushkin?”

  “That’s right,” she said.

  They were both looking at me.

  “Do you promise, Heshie?” Mother said.

  “That’s a nice state of affairs,” I said sarcastically. “My own mother and my partner’s wife, they want me to promise that I’m not going to do anything to get my partner in trouble. Boy, that’s pretty good, that is!”

  “Don’t talk so much,” Mother said. “Just say one word, yes or no. You promise?”

  “Sure I promise,” I said. “Of course I promise. What do you think I am, anyway?”

  “That’s all I was worried about,” Mrs. Babushkin said, getting up. “Thank you, Mr. Bogen.”

  “Don’t even mention it,” I said.

  Mother put her arm around her and guided her to the door, patting her shoulder and tickling the baby’s chin.

  I stood in the middle of the living room, listening to them saying good-bye to each other outside, and complimented myself on being the biggest sap in four states. With the whole thing practically in the bag, I had to go looking for trouble. I had to come home to make promises. What a grade A putz I turned out to be!

  38

  GOLIG AND I HAD Babushkin between us in the taxi going down to the Referee’s office.

  “There’s nothing to be afraid of, Meyer,” Golig said. “A turnover action is no different from a 21-A. They’ll just ask you the same questions, and maybe get a little tough with you. But you just answer the same way you answered at the 21-A hearing and you’ll get off the same way. Understand?”

  He shook his head up and down a little.

  “But suppose the judge grants the turnover against me?” he said, turning his worried face to Golig. “Then what?”

  “He can’t grant the turnover against you,” Golig said, “because the law says they not only have to prove that you took the money, but they also have to prove you have the present ability to pay it back. See? And you haven’t got thirty-two thousand bucks, have you, Meyer? So you see how that works out? They can’t do you a thing.”

  “Yeah,” he said, shaking his head again. Then, in the same worried voice, “But suppose he does grant the motion against me? That means I go to jail, doesn’t it? I got a wife and kid, Golig, I can’t—”

  “Aah, stop worrying about it, will you?” Golig said. “I’m telling you they can’t hang a thing on you. Just to show you, Meyer, listen to this: in the last ten years there were only two turnover motions granted in this whole district, and both guys got suspended sentences because they showed they didn’t have the money to turn over.” He was wasting his time in the law business. He should have written fiction. “Yeah,” he added, “and the only reason those two motions were granted was because those two guys confessed.”

  I put my arm on Babushkin’s shoulder.

  “Listen, Meyer,” I said. “You and I are partners, aren’t we? And when this thing blows over, we’re going back into partnership, aren’t we? So what are you afraid of? Would I give you a bum steer, Meyer?”

  “It ain’t that, Harry,” he said. “It’s just that—”

  “So forget it,” I said, patting his shoulder again as the cab pulled up in front of the Pine Street office building. “They ask you questions, you just answer like you did last time. You don’t know from nothing. And don’t worry about it. If the worst comes to the worst, you just tell them I can explain everything. Let them call me. Okay?”

  “Okay, Harry,” he said, but the scared look didn’t leave his face.

  The same gang was assembled in the Referee’s room when we got there. I nodded cheerfully to McKee, but he only gave me a dirty look in exchange.

  Siegel called Babushkin as his first witness. He opened his mouth to ask a question, then stopped.

  He turned to Golig, across the table from him, then to the Referee, and as he spoke, he swung his head from one side to the other, talking to both of them at the same time.

  “If it please the court,” he said, “it has just occurred to me that we could save a lot of time at this proceeding if my learned adversary, Mr. Golig, would stipulate on the record all the testimony taken at the recent 21-A examination. I intended to base my turnover action on the identical facts adduced at that previous hearing, and it would seem to me, Your Honor, that we could save a lot of time if the defense attorney would stipulate those facts, so that we would not have to merely repeat again what we did at the 21-A hearing.”

  “Such a stipulation would, of course, expedite matters,” the Referee said, “but it is entirely within the discretion of the defense attorney.”

  He looked at Golig.

  “All right, Your Honor,” Golig said, “I’ll stipulate the evidence taken at the 21-A hearing.”

  Siegel looked surprised, but said nothing. He waited until the stenographer made a notation on the record, then he turned to Babushkin.

  “According to the testimony that has just been stipulated into the record, Mr. Babushkin,” he said, “within ten weeks prior to the bankruptcy of your firm, you made withdrawals, in the form of checks drawn to your order, to the extent of thirty-two thousand five hundred dollars. Those checks you deposited in your personal account, and almost immediately after their deposit, you drew checks on your personal account, to the order of cash, endorsed these checks, cashed them at the bank, and took the cash away with you. You have admitted, Mr. Babushkin, that these moneys were not salaries paid to you by the corporation. And you have insisted, Mr. Babushkin, that you have used that money to pay the debts of the corporation, namely, labor and merchandise purchases. Is that right?”

  “Yes, sir.”

  “Is that the only explanation you wish to make, Mr. Babushkin, as to the disposition of that money?”

  “Yes, sir
.”

  “You realize, Mr. Babushkin, do you not, that if His Honor grants this turnover motion against you, and you do not turn that money back into the bankrupt estate, that you will be sent to jail?”

  Golig jumped up.

  “I object to counsel’s attempts to intimidate the witness.”

  “I’m not trying to intim—”

  “Counsel will confine his questions to the issues,” the Referee said.

  Siegel turned back to Babushkin.

  “You realize, Mr. Babushkin, do you not, how silly your explanation of the dispos—”

  “I object, Your Honor,” Golig cried.

  “Sustained,” the Referee said.

  “Do you want us to believe, Mr. Babushkin, that you spent all that money in ten weeks on labor and piece goods, and—”

  “I object,” Golig cried again.

  “Sustained,” the Referee said.

  “Do you think a normal man, a man like His Honor, for instance, would really believe, Mr. Babushkin, that you forgot every single name in—”

  “I object, Your Honor!” Golig shouted, jumping up and pounding on the table. “This is one of the most outrageous attempts at frightening a witness that I have ever seen. Mr. Siegel is well aware of the fact that his questions are unorthodox and beyond the pale of—”

  “Mr. Golig is right,” the Referee said. “You will refrain from this line of questioning, Mr. Siegel.”

  “Very well, Your Honor,” Siegel said. But as he turned away I could see him smile.

  And all I needed was one look at Babushkin to see why. He was so frightened, that his lips were actually quivering. He kept staring at Siegel as though he had never seen him before, and even from where I was sitting I could see the spit beginning to collect in the corners of his mouth. Boy, but that Siegel was slick. I had to take my hat off to him.

  He turned slowly to face Babushkin and asked gently, in a voice so low you could hardly hear him, “Is there any other explanation you now want to make as to the disposition of those moneys, Mr. Babushkin?”

  Meyer’s lips moved, but for a few seconds no words came out. He was the most frightened man I had ever seen. Gradually sounds began to come from his moving lips, but the stenographer could not hear him.

 

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