I Can Get It for You Wholesale, page 34
“Well, you can—” she began angrily, but stopped before the crack passed her lips. She took another stab at the pals-in-time-of-need bull. “If you got back into the swing again, Harry, you’d be a new man. I’m sure of it, Harry.”
“Thanks for the advice, Martha. You don’t know how much I appreciate it.”
I grinned as I threw the string around the bundle of books and papers and drew it taut. She seemed to notice it for the first time.
“What’s all this piling and wrapping and tying? What are you going to do?”
“Don’t worry about me so much,” I said. “I’ve got a couple of irons in the fire.”
The pals-together attitude collapsed with a bang.
“Look out you don’t put the fire out,” she snapped.
“That’s another thing you don’t have to worry about. I manage to keep hot.”
I reached for the bundle of books on the dresser. She followed me with her eyes.
“What are you doing, Harry?”
I hesitated for a moment. Then I figured what the hell. She might as well know.
“You’re right about that three months of loafing, Martha. Women aren’t enough of a career for any man. So what chance does one woman stand?” I took a card from my pocket and tossed it into her lap. “From now on I’m going to be busy during the day. If you want to reach me, you can get me at that number. At night, of course, I’ll still be right over there.” I pointed to the empty bed. “For the time being, anyway.”
She picked up the card.
“Certain Service, Inc.,” she read. “Resident Buyers.” She looked up at me curiously. “What’s that?”
“That’s me. I’m taking myself out of storage and moving into my new office now.”
She swung her legs over the side of the bed and stood up.
“Harry!” she said. “What—?”
“I’m in a hurry now. I’ve got work to do.” I opened the door. “Maybe, if I’m in a good mood, I’ll pick you up at the theatre after the performance tonight and explain it to you.”
I GOT OUT ON the eighteenth floor of the loft building and walked down the hall looking for the right place. When I found it, I stopped for a moment to compare the name on the door with the name on the list in my order book. Koenig & Probst, Inc., Misses’ Dresses. It was the right place. I pushed through the swinging doors and went into the showroom. I walked into one of the empty booths and sat down. I put my leather order book on the table and pushed my hat to the back of my head. Then I lit a cigarette and waited.
In a few minutes a guy came over.
“Yes, sir?” he said. “What can I—?”
“I’d like to see Mr. Koenig.”
The smile set a little and the eyebrows cracked in the middle like pup tents.
“Well, I—” he began. “I don’t know if—”
I took out a card and dropped it on the table in front of him.
“It’s very important,” I said. “I must see Mr. Koenig personally.”
“Certain Service,” he said as he picked up the card. “Well, I’ll tell Mr. Koenig you’re here, Mr.—?”
“Just show him the card,” I said. “He’ll see me.”
“All right,” he said. “I’ll tell him.”
“I’ll be waiting right here,” I said.
I caught the tail end of his dirty look as he disappeared around the partition of the booth, carrying my card. A few moments later the card came around the partition again. This time the man attached to it looked all right. He was a little shorter and a lot fatter and twice as sloppily dressed and he didn’t have any waves in his hair because he was bald.
“Mr. Koenig?” I said.
“Yeah,” he said slowly, looking at the card in his hand, “but—?”
I grinned and held out my hand.
“Bogen’s the name,” I said. “Bogen of Certain Service.”
“How do you do, Mr. Bogen,” he said, still hesitating. “But, uh, Mr. Pepper. Mr. Pepper is the one I—I mean. I usually—”
“Mr. Pepper is in Florida,” I said. “I bought him out a coupla days ago and he left right away. I took over his whole list of clients and I’m doing the buying for them now.” I spread the grin out a little. “You’re talking to Certain Service now, Mr. Koenig.”
“Oh!” he said, waving his hand and smiling with relief. “Like that it’s different. I mean, like that it’s all right.” He laughed quickly. That was in case I should happen to be sensitive. “You know, my salesman, he hands me the card, I see it’s Certain Service, I come out and I expect to find Mr. Pepper, like I all the time find him. But instead Mr. Pepper, I come out and I find—”
“Bogen,” I said. “Harry Bogen.”
Without being too vain about it, it wasn’t a bad change. I’d seen Pepper two or three times.
“I find Mr. Bogen!” he said. He laughed again. “Lemme tell you, you know, it’s a sort of a surprise.”
“I guess it is a little hasty,” I said. “But Mr. Pepper decided to sell out in such a hurry, I didn’t have time to send out announcement cards.
“Of course,” he said. “I understand, Mr.—”
“Bogen,” I said. “Harry Bogen.”
“Of course,” he said, shaking his head at himself. “Mr. Bogen. I got such a bad memory for names. Mr. Bogen. Don’t worry, I won’t forget it any—” He stopped and squinted at me. “Say,” he said, “that name sounds a little familiar to me. I don’t know why, but—”
“I used to be in the dress business myself,” I said. “There must be plenty of Bogens around.”
“Maybe that’s how I remember it,” he said. He trained the smile directly on me. “Well, Mr. Bogen, what can we do for you today?”
“Well, I’m a buyer, Mr. Koenig. So I guess you can sell me some dresses. I got clients from Buffalo to Los Angeles laying in their stores with their tongues out, waiting for Koenig & Probst numbers. What do you say we get started?”
“Fine.” He clapped his hands and yelled, “Sam!”
“Yes, Mr. Koenig?”
“The line,” Koenig said. “Bring out the rack with the late numbers and let Mr.—”
“Bogen,” I said.
“Let Mr. Bogen see the line so he can—”
“Yes, sir,” Sam said.
He disappeared behind the partition and Koenig turned to me.
“How’s business, Mr. Koenig?” I asked.
“Don’t ask,” he said.
“If it gets any worse,” he said, “I’ll maybe go into your business.”
Once I got started, there wouldn’t be room for two.
“I could wish worse things on you,” I said.
Sam reappeared, trundling the rack with the sample dresses.
“All right,” Koenig said. “Now take them off one at a time, Sam, and let Mr. Bogen see what—”
“That’s all right, Mr. Koenig,” I said. “He doesn’t have to bother. Just leave them on the rack like that.”
“You don’t want to—?” Koenig began.
“No,” I said. “I can look at them the way they are.”
Koenig motioned with his hand to Sam and he disappeared again.
“Say,” Koenig said, “this is the first time I ever had a buyer who didn’t want to—”
I pulled out the empty chair from under the small table and motioned to it with my hand.
“Sit down, Mr. Koenig.”
“Let me ask you, Mr. Bogen,” he said curiously, “what are you—?”
“Let me ask you, Mr. Koenig,” I said. I opened my order book and shuffled the pages. “See those orders?”
“Today,” I said, “I’m in the market for roughly a thousand dresses. I can use that many to fill my orders. And the class of clientele I got, I can use your stuff almost exclusively, Mr. Koenig. Ten-seventy-five stuff.”
His eyes began to bu
I held up my hand and he stopped.
“I’m interested in your stuff,” I said, “but I’m not interested in your price. Frankly, Mr. Koenig, I’m looking for a job lot of a thousand dresses. Can you sell them to me?”
He scowled and stroked the corners of his mouth.
“Why should I sell you job lots,” he said finally, “when my stuff is new goods, new styles, new—?”
“For two reasons,” I said. “Because you need money in a hurry pretty badly and because you’ve sold job lots to other people this week.”
He started to get out of his chair angrily.
“How do you—?”
I put my hand on his arm and settled him back gently.
“What do you think this is, Mr. Koenig?” I asked, “Minsk? This is Seventh Avenue, Mr. Koenig. You blow your nose here in 498, they hear it over on Broadway. I don’t hold it against you. Other people been tight for cash before. Hell, when I was in business for myself, plenty of times I let stuff go at a sacrifice.” I snapped my leather notebook shut. “What do you say? You interested in cleaning a thousand dresses off the racks in one blow?”
He looked at me from under his eyebrows.
“Where’d you hear it, where?” he demanded. “Who told you we—?”
I shrugged and started to get up.
He pushed me back into my chair.
“A thousand dresses,” he said, “for cash?”
“Spot cash,” I said emphatically. “As soon as I get the shipping receipts from you that they went out to my clients, you get my check.”
“All right,” he said. “What are you paying for them?”
“That’s a question to ask, isn’t it?” I said. “You know I’m not gonna pay a nickel more than the others paid.”
He became excited at once.
“Hey, now, wait a minute!” he said. “Just because I let one guy get away with—!”
“It was three guys,” I said calmly, “in two days. And they didn’t buy no more ’n a hundred and fifty to two hundred garments each. I’m buying a thousand. If anything, I ought to get them for less than five bucks each.”
“Less than five each?” he cried; “Say, do you realize those garments cost me—?”
“We’re not talking what they cost you, Mr. Koenig. Sure they cost you. But you need dough now and you need it bad. So you’re taking less than they cost you. You’re taking five bucks a piece.”
“All right,” he said finally.
Not yet, it wasn’t.
“One more thing,” I said. “I’ll give you the list of orders, with the quantity for each client,” I said in a low voice. “But I want you to bill the dresses out to them at nine-seventy-five each.”
He stared at me in amazement.
“You pay five,” he cried, “and I should—!”
“Not so loud.”
“You pay five,” he repeated in a low hiss, “and I should bill them out to your customers for nine-seventy-five? You want me to—” He stopped and narrowed his eyes. “What do I get out of it?” he demanded. “What’s in a thing like this for me?”
“Ah extra half a buck a piece per dress,” I said promptly. “You bill them out for me at nine-seventy-five and you can have five and a half for each one instead of five bucks.”
He bit his lip and went on from there for further nourishment to his fingernails.
“I don’t know,” he said slowly, “it ain’t honest.”
“That’s a way to talk?” I demanded. “Look, Mr. Koenig. My client gets a stock ten-seventy-five garment for nine-seventy-five. If he bought that dress in the open market, if I went out and bought it in the open market for him, he’d have to pay ten-seventy-five. That’s what I’m authorized to buy them for my clients. But I’m smart. I’m not just an ordinary dope of a resident buyer. I look out for my client’s interests. I get him the same dress that his competitor pays ten-seventy-five for, for nine-seventy-five. For a service like that, don’t you think I’m entitled to make something extra for myself besides the regular lousy little commission my clients pay me?”
“Yeah, but hell, Mr. Bogen,” he said slightly horrified, “you’re not entitled to make four-seventy-five on each dress!”
“Who says I’m making four-seventy-five on each dress?” I demanded. “You’re getting a half buck out of that. All I’m making is four and a quarter on each dress.”
“Hell,” he said slowly, “suppose it wasn’t a job lot? My God, you could go into a regular manufacturer and buy a ten-seventy-five dress and tell your client you paid fifteen-seventy-five for it! It’s the same thing. One is just as—”
I stared at him in amazement. The fourteen carat ideas you can sometimes get from the most unlikely places were enough to sit you on your bottom with a thud. But I recovered quickly. Recovering quickly is one of the choice items in my repertoire.
“I’ll tell you what,” I said briskly. “I’ll make that an extra buck per dress for you. Six bucks each for the thousand if you bill them out for me at nine-seventy-five each. What do you say?”
So I’d only make $3,750.00 on the deal instead of $4,250.00. It was only a difference of $500.00. And I owed him something for putting me on the trail of a bigger take, even if he didn’t know it.
“Nothing doing,” he said firmly. “You should make three-seventy-five on each dress and I should make only a dollar? And I’m gonna do all the work yet, making out the charges, shipping, and all the rest?”
I eyed him carefully.
“What’s on your mind?” I asked.
He slapped the table sharply.
“I bill them out for nine-seventy-five and you wanted I should take five apiece for them,” he said. “All right, I’ll tell you what. We split the difference on the four-seventy-five, you half and me half, and it’s a deal.”
It was my turn to go into the lip-chewing act. But I supplemented the performance with a pencil. On the back page of my order book I did some figuring. Half of four-seventy-five was two-thirty-seven. That meant on a thousand dresses I would be making about $2,370.00. It wasn’t as good as $3,750.00, but it was still good pay for a day’s work. I dropped the pencil and looked at him.
“For a dollar extra per dress,” I sneered, “it wasn’t honest. But for two-thirty-seven extra per dress, it’s honest, hah?”
“Was it my idea, Mr. Bogen?” he asked. “From you I learned it, didn’t I? And anyway,” he added, “for a young man like you, Mr. Bogen, I think it’s enough for one day if you make only twenty-three or twenty-four hundred dollars.”
“Maybe you’re right,” I said, getting up. “Is it a deal?”
“It’s a deal,” he said.
I handed him the sheaf of orders.
“The addresses of my clients and the quantity of dresses for each store is in this stack,” I said. “Send the shipping receipts up to my office tomorrow morning, and I’ll give your boy my check for—”
“For seventy-three hundred and eighty dollars,” he said promptly.
I grinned at him and shook my head.
“With a brain like yours, Mr. Koenig, it’s a wonder to me you should ever find yourself in a tight spot for money and you should have to let job lots of dresses go at a sacrifice.”
He aped my grin and swung it back to me.
“You don’t look like such a jerk to me either, Mr. Bogen,” he said.
We both laughed.
“The smartest of us get caught once in a while, eh?” I said.
“Even the smartest,” he agreed.
“That calls for some kind of gesture,” I said. I grinned at him again as I took out the cigar he had given me and handed it back. “Try this,” I said, “I hear they’re made up special.”
“Thanks,” he said, slipping it into his breast pocket without cracking a smile. “I’ll smoke it after dinner.”
I DIDN’T SEE HIM go into the restaurant, but I could tell by
Keeping track of Seventh Avenue characters was like seeing the animals in the zoo at feeding time. All you had to do was know their habits and you could predict exactly where they’d be at any hour of the day. From twelve-thirty to one they were on the sidewalk in front of Schrafft’s, telling each other how good business was or how bad it was going to be. From one o’clock to two they were inside, buying lunches for buyers and telling them how good they were and how bad other buyers were. From two to two-thirty, depending on how early or late they had started, they came shooting out through the revolving door, waving good-by to each other and rushing off down the street so they could get back to their showrooms in a hurry and start the same process all over again.
Promptly at two o’clock I took up my post on the sidewalk and began to sun myself. I didn’t get into any conversations, but I got a few quick double looks and was responsible for several “Don’t look now, but” huddles. I grinned to myself and pulled my coat down a little in front.
It was ten after two when the revolving door spilled him out into the street. If it had been any other kind of door, I might have missed him because he was so short and thin that two people standing on either side of him could blot him out completely. Then the crowd parted and he came bouncing along jauntily toward me. I dropped my cigarette and fell into step beside him.
“Hello, Teddy,” I said.
He stopped and stared and his hard little face squeezed up tight until the long nose stuck out over his thin lips like a toothpick from a cocktail olive.
“Well, Jesus Christ,” he said, “if it isn’t the boy wonder.”
“The same,” I admitted. “A little older, and maybe a little smarter, but the same.”
“Maybe?” he said. “What do you mean, maybe? You must be slipping, Bogen. Any time you go around saying you got any doubts about the fact that you’re getting smarter, you’re slipping, boy.”
I grinned at him and took his arm.
“Sure, I’m slipping,” I said, “up.”
He freed his arm and we began to walk up Broadway together.
“Well,” he said, “so far I’ve only got your word for that.”
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