Brad, amazing me with a sudden burst of energy, went around to all the brokerages in town within a couple of days. Then, even more quickly than I had predicted, he was accepted as a trainee by one of our major competitors. Quitting his job in early May, he immediately began an intensive course in the city. I was thankful not to have Brad in our office. It was only too easy to imagine him quarrelling with David Larsen.
The news that Brad would soon be occupying a cubicle down the street caused no great stir among my colleagues. There were a few witticisms, but it was overshadowed by the drama due to unfold in our own office.
My first involvement came when Jim Maloney asked me out to lunch. When he then ordered iced tea, it was obvious that he had something extremely serious to discuss. A big handsome man in his late thirties, Maloney, but for his drinking problem, would have been successful almost anywhere. People naturally liked him, and I was tempted to myself. On the other hand, he was occasionally drunk and obnoxious, and he sometimes smelled dreadfully. He was probably sinking, but he still hadn't given up. He said,
"I haven't come to plead, but I know I'm in danger of losing my job. You have access to more information than I do."
There was no point in evasion. I replied,
"I really don't know whether they mean to keep you. I'm sure it would make a great difference if you could control your drinking."
"Alcoholics can't usually do that. It's a matter of stopping altogether. I know I'm a drunk, but being a teetotaler sounds worse."
With that, he waved his glass of iced tea derisively. I tried a little more.
"I've been told that people often give up drinking after a shock, like being fired. That seems so unfortunate. If you can just reverse the order and stop on the point of being fired, you'd come out so much better."
"Thanks, Adrienne, but you can't reason with a drunk. If I get fired, Donna will probably leave me, and I can go on welfare. She must hate me by now. She hates you, too, incidentally."
"I know. That's too bad, but I guess we have more pressing things to worry about."
"Yes, indeedy. I want to send a message via you. I think I've been offered a way of keeping my job without giving up drinking."
I indicated ignorance, and he explained,
"One of our colleagues mentioned to me that we might need an outreach man. I had never heard the term. It means a man who finds new business. Wallace Stimson does it by making thousands of blind telephone calls. He mentioned Stimson. He said the trouble is, once Stimson has done all he can for a new client, he loses him altogether, usually to someone in another brokerage. It would be much better if he handed the client over to someone else in our office."
Maloney smiled broadly, like someone putting up a brave show while the dentist probes an abcess in his tooth. He then added,
"That's what an outreach man is."
I now knew why Bret Halvorson preferred Maloney to Stimson. Not only was Maloney much more engaging and able to find new clients without the indignity of making thousands of blind telephone calls, he was desperate enough to hand over all his best clients to Halvorson. Maloney asked,
"Can you imagine who said that to me?"
"Yes. I can."
There could be no doubt. The whole idea would be repugnant to David Larsen. But I could imagine Bret saying,
"I'm only suggesting a way for him to keep his job."
There was only one thing to say to Maloney.
"I had no part in any of this. Nothing like it would ever have occurred to me. Nor to David Larsen either, I would say."
"That, Adrienne, is just the point. You realize, of course, that no one has put any proposition to me. On the surface, it was just an offhand comment about another person, Wallace Stimson. But we know it was more than that, don't we?"
"Ok. Well, someone has to explain to Larsen that I'm willing to accept. I'll find clients in bars or wherever I have to. But I understand that a drunk can't be trusted with a large account. So, whenever I get someone with real money to invest, I'll talk him into transferring to one of the rest of you. I keep my job and make small commissions. My wife stays with me. Ain't that great? And the rest of you do very nicely."
"I'll never accept one of your clients like that, Jim."
"Don't be hasty, Adrienne. You'll find that it doesn't hurt so very much."
"If your wife ever found out, she'd really try to kill me."
Maloney flashed his winning smile.
"She won't find out, not even when I'm soused. I may take off my pants and climb the tree in the front yard and sing like a cuckoo bird, but I won't talk."
With that, he waved to the waitress and ordered a double Beefeater on the rocks. Things then went downhill fast. He eventually reached rock bottom, saying,
"Adrienne, if you don't pull this off, I might wind up floating in the harbor."
I hadn't sworn or used obscene language for years. Words I hadn't thought I knew came pouring out. People began to stare, and I realized that I was shouting. Even then, it took me a couple of minutes to bring myself under control. When I did, I saw a woman hustling her children away from the disgraceful scene. Maloney was laughing. He said,
"Everyone thinks we're having a lovers' quarrel. Probably you're pregnant and I'm telling you it's no affair of mine."
"I'm getting out of here. You stay behind and pay the bill."
It appeared that I again had a message to deliver. I was anxious to talk it over with Brad before doing so. He was in New York on his training program, and it took a long time to reach him. After I had explained the situation, I asked,
"Why do you think he came to me with his proposition instead of taking it directly to David Larsen?"
"He seems to think you can be more persuasive. And, then, it's a humiliating proposal to have to make. A lot of men would rather deal with a woman than a man in those circumstances."
"He's close to being beyond humiliation. He even hinted at suicide if I fail."
"You sound angry."
"I am. I didn't need that. I created quite a scene."
Brad wanted details. He, too, seemed to think it funny. I responded,
"God knows who might have been in the restaurant. I suppose everyone there must have heard me."
"You worry about your reputation too much."
"Perhaps. Anyway, I'd tell him to go to Larsen himself, except for one thing."
"If Maloney does go to Larsen, it'll probably come out that it was Bret Halvorson's idea. That could destroy the working agreement between Larsen and Halvorson. And a good deal else."
"You think Larsen would disapprove that much?"
"I think he'd find the arrangement extremely offensive and never again trust anyone who had anything to do with it. Depending on what Maloney said to him, he might think I had a hand in it."
There was a pause on the line. At length, Brad said,
"You might be projecting, Adrienne. You have more moral feeling than you admit to. Larsen might not be so very outraged."
I had seen Maloney on Tuesday, and, just as I was preparing an approach to David Larsen at quitting time on Thursday, David asked me out to dinner. It was what I call the "disguised date" approach. He began by asking, seemingly spontaneously, whether I felt like a bite to eat. When I agreed, he immediately mentioned a fairly fashionable restaurant.
David had met Brad at the Halvorsons' party, but David wasn't nearly as much a salesman as the others. Salesmen can sell each other anything, but David, his feet squarely on the ground, had been the only one not taken in by Brad's act. It was, oddly enough, David's lack of imagination that seemed to enable him to see clearly where livelier minds went astray. In any case, he had evidently concluded that Brad was little more than a genteel drifter. David, knowing that he himself was as far removed as anyone could be from being a drifter, must have decided that he had a good chance with me.
For my part, a possible marriage to David was decidedly unappetizing. On the other hand, marriage to Brad would be disastrous, and I needed someone to counter-balance him. Each would remove all risk of my marrying the other.
It would, of course, be tricky if one half of this arrangement was my boss. I didn't need extra favors, and Larsen was the sort of man who might bend the other way to prove that he wasn't showing favoritism. Still, if our office was to be radically restructured, it could do no real harm to be able to anticipate a few changes.
It turned out to be a rather peculiar date. David was trying to be chivalrous, and I had business to propose. It therefore divided into two halves. In the first half, he did his thing, and I responded with moderate encouragement. In the second, I brought up Maloney.
"I don't know why it is, David, but people keep coming to me with messages for you. It may be that they're afraid of you, and would rather deal with you at a distance."
"Who is it this time?"
"Jim Maloney. He thinks you don't have much patience with alcoholics. He's afraid you're about to fire him."
"If he's that worried, he might stop drinking."
"He didn't say anything about that. I don't think he's really capable of it."
"You mean he has no visible desire to enter an alcoholism program or anything like that?"
"I don't think so. You might ask him, of course."
"I will before I fire him."
"Well, his message is quite different. He thinks that, even drinking, he can drum up clients, good ones. They're often other people who drink too much. But he says he knows a drunk can't be trusted with a good account. So he recognizes that they should be re-assigned to someone else."
Larsen was looking at me as if I were crazy. I immediately added,
"This wasn't my idea, David. I swear it."
"Did it come from Halvorson?"
"I've never heard Bret say anything remotely like that."
"He might have suggested it to Maloney without telling you."
"Maloney insists that it's his own idea."
"I might as well say that I think it's absurd and unconscionable. If I'm willing to employ a man at all, I'll never take his clients away from him."
"I think Maloney realizes that. Anyhow, it wouldn't work unless the client were willing. His idea is to tell the client that he deals only with new accounts, and to then persuade him to go with someone else. All it takes is your tacit consent."
"I don't like it because it's taking advantage of someone who's desperate. Send Maloney to me if he wants to discuss his future. The only thing I want to hear is that he's joined AA."
The discussion then moved to more pleasant topics, in particular, running. David had never entered a race, but he had run a few miles every week for years. He seemed a good prospect. As I said,
"I can easily imagine you gritting your teeth and hanging in there the last few miles."
David gave one of his infrequent laughs.
"I've been told that I'm too compulsive. Maybe I'll overdo it and drop dead at the end of a race."
After my session with Maloney, this wasn't the sort of thing I wanted to hear. However, I made yet another allowance for the trauma of divorce.
When Jim Maloney approached me the next day, we arranged to meet for drinks after work at a place where none of the others would be likely to go. It was a little lounge and restaurant on the edge of town, and I was surprised to find, not Jim, but Donna Maloney. She said,
"Hi Adrienne. Jim's in the men's room. I know you didn't expect me, but it's my future too, and I wanted to find out what the score is."
I nodded and sat down. Donna had once been beautiful, and, though she wasn't quite any more, she still had the poise and bearing of a very proud woman. While we didn't like each other, I recognized that she was worth three of her husband. I spoke to the point,
"I saw David Larsen. He accepted the deal, but Jim's also got to enter some sort of detoxification program, and at least appear to stop drinking."
"You know he won't really stop, don't you?"
"Yes. David isn't going to count bottles in your trash, but Jim's got to avoid drinking in front of the others. He can come to a place like this, or he can drink at home. I think he'll be fired if he shows up drunk at the office, even once. But David won't ask any questions if Jim calls in sick."
At this point Jim returned. Donna explained the situation to him, not entirely hiding a certain pleasure. Jim blustered and fumed and complained. Donna said nothing. I said,
"We're not asking you to stop drinking, Jim. All you have to do is go home instead of going to the lounge with the others."
Donna smiled unpleasantly.
"Part of the problem, Adrienne, is that he doesn't want to come home. I might place demands on him. Not sex, of course, but perhaps a little conversation. The other problem is that Jim likes, not only being a drunk, but having the image of a drunk."
Maloney looked at her with surprising loathing, and said,
Donna ignored him, and spoke sweetly to me,
"Let's just suppose, for the moment, that my husband can manage that much. To whom are his better clients to be assigned?"
"David won't assign them to anyone. He doesn't want to hear about it at all. The arrangement Jim put to me, and I put to David, is that Jim will himself persuade these clients to transfer."
Donna smiled gaily and said,
"Oh, that's so much more compassionate, isn't it? So much better for the poor dear's self-esteem. You can manage that, can't you ducky?"
Maloney swore softly, but Donna again asked,
"Who, then, is going to get Jim's better clients?"
"Bret Halvorson is our best broker. Anyone with real money should be sent to him."
"What about you, Adrienne? Don't you get to share?"
"As I imagine you know, I specialize in people about my own age, particularly the women."
Maloney actually laughed when he broke in,
"With a few exceptions, such as your old sugar daddy."
"I'm going to get an apology for that!"
Suddenly, and to my total surprise, Maloney affected homosexual gestures and simpered to his wife,
"I'll have to apologize, dear. You can't imagine how violent Adrienne becomes when she's crossed."
Donna spoke wearily to me.
"Apologies from Jim are worthless. You also won't get any gratitude from an alcoholic. They come to hate anyone who tries to help them."
I responded in more practical terms.
"Okay. Here's what you have to do, Jim. Go to David Larsen and tell him you're joining AA and not drinking any more. Really join AA and go to a few sessions. Don't say anything else to Larsen, nothing about your accounts. Now, if you don't really stop drinking, Halvorson and I and some of the others will probably know. But Halvorson will support you and keep you there as long as you persuade your better clients to switch."
Maloney started to say something, but didn't. His wife might have kicked him under the table. She said,
"It's a deal, Adrienne. I guess it's time to go home."
She put money on the table, grabbed her husband's hand, and led him out. A couple of men looked at her appreciatively as she passed the bar, but she looked neither right nor left.
Right after work, I went home and got into my running clothes. Within minutes, I was moving easily through the shopping streets, not trying for speed, but still moving quickly past pedestrians and shop fronts. Waiting briefly for one light and cutting diagonally across a street with slow moving traffic, I then proceeded along a road which goes out to a point on the east side of the harbor. As one nears the point, one passes former summer cottages which, due to the astronomical real estate prices, have long since been winterized.
I ran hard to the point, where the road disappears into the beach, and turned left on to a lane which leads in front of another row of refurbished cottages. Most of these have been severely damaged by the infrequent hurricanes, but the cost of rebuilding, or even replacing, them is as nothing compared to the cost of the land. I took it easy along this stretch. At the end is an old bridge, closed to cars for a good many years, which crosses to a long low island. The summer cottages on the island are particularly vulnerable to storms, and are entirely cut off from automobile traffic. Except for an occasional artist or hippie, they're empty most of the year.
As I went up the curving approach to what had never been more than a rather flimsy bridge, the sun, setting behind me, illuminated the narrow estuary of a stream to my left. It was high tide, and the salt marshes surrounding the stream were flooded almost to the tops of the stalks. The minute I came down the other side of the bridge, a large silver-gray dog appeared suddenly and barked furiously.
I had discovered the bridge and island the previous November, on a cold day with snow flurries. While the prospect of a deserted island with only one bridge was not one to calm the nerves, it had promised such a good run that I hadn't been able to resist. At least until I met this same dog.
That first time, it was easy to think that Erika, her powerful jaws open, meant to tear me apart. I stopped and remained still, recognizing her as a large Malamute. She also stopped, some six feet away. I slowly put out my hand, palm up. She didn't object. I took a slow step toward her. She growled. I took a step away, and then another. She followed complacently, her mouth closed. Instead of going back over the bridge, I turned slowly and moved along the dirt road, first walking and then running. Erika followed, never close enough to touch, but never more than ten feet away. She has ever since continued to accompany me on my runs around the island.
The island segment of my run is easily the best. Even in high summer, with people in the scattered cottages and children on the beaches, it's pleasant and pastoral. At other times, with only Erika and the wild sea-birds, it's exhilarating and exciting.
Erika is, in fact, almost pure wolf. Her companionship is of a quite different sort from that of dogs, and involves little touching and no lapping. Communication takes many subtle forms, and I can always tell, simply by Erika's behavior, whether her master, Mr. Haberle, is at home.
After we had rounded the point and were running along a narrow path between dunes, Erika moved slightly ahead of me and barked to announce us. Mr. Haberle, alerted by Erika's original greeting to me, was standing in the path with a glass.
An artist of sixty or so who lives on the island all year, Mr. Haberle was out that first time to see what was going on with Erika. A surprisingly hearty man for one so isolated, he was amused at the situation and offered me refreshment. I convinced him that water is the beverage of choice, and we usually converse for a few minutes while I drink it. I was originally concerned that I might be disturbing him, but he was credible when he said that he welcomed a little diversion now and then. It was in that way that I discovered Erika's history and true nature.
Another part of Erika's nature is that she makes it clear when she thinks it time for me to move on. She then escorts me to the bridge and comes up on the span. She always stops when she reaches the middle. On that day, full of the Maloneys, it was good to look back see Erika, watching me from the bridge.
As I ran home, I still felt the need to talk things out. At one time, I would have called Jackie. But she didn't know the Maloneys, or the other players in our little drama. Moreover, even though she did know Brad, she was now so involved in her own opposite sex problems that her advice in that area was somewhat suspect. I instead picked up my car and made for Janey's apartment. She was much less educated than Jackie, and less sophisticated in some ways, but probably smarter than either Jackie or myself. More to the point, her position as a secretary allowed her to be much more objective than the active participants in our conflict.
Janey happened to be out in front of her building enjoying the early evening when I swooped up and gestured for her to get in. It wasn't exactly a polite approach, but she seemed to understand, asking whether anything was wrong as she got in. It didn't take very long to explain about the Maloneys, Bret, and David. By the time that we arrived at one of our little cafes, I was able to ask,
"What do you think?"
"Well, for one thing, I'm not in on all these special rules for brokers. You're not supposed to steal each other's customers, but they can transfer if they want. Heston was with Bret before he came to you."
"A long time before."
"Okay, but still. I don't see why Maloney can't send people to Bret or you."
"David was outraged because he thought it amounted to taking advantage of Maloney's desperation."
"Maloney's been desperate for some time. This arrangement won't make him more desperate. If anything, less."
"Yeah, that's certainly the way Maloney and his wife feel. Probably Bret, too. But, when Maloney told me what Bret had proposed, it did seem rather low and awful."
"That's because Maloney has become rather low and awful. Maybe you hadn't quite realized until just then."
"Perhaps it's because he's still a handsome vibrant man."
"I know. But he's beginning to fall apart. There are little signs in his face. It's just a matter of whether he's going to fall apart at Scripps Goodbody, or somewhere else. I don't personally mind having him around. Unless just looking at him makes your tummy do flip-flops, I'd let Bret do his thing. Everyone else takes advantage of whatever happens to be lying around."
It was funny what a different perspective Janey had. But it was like her. I replied,
"I guess your approach is, 'Cut out the bullshit and solve the immediate problem.'"
Janey laughed and said,
"More or less. I don't seem to get as upset by as many things as most women."
"And that's also your approach to men?"
"Sure. A lot of it's just sex."
That led us into something else. Janey liked to talk about sex in pretty graphic terms. Too graphic for me. Jackie and I, for example, didn't talk in those ways. But I had overheard some of our other secretaries talking about favored positions for sexual intercourse, not to mention who did exactly what to who the night before. Some, it turned out, used their lunch hours for quickies.
All of this rather repelled me. But I wondered. Was I just reflecting Vassar and its ideas about proper topics of conversation for young ladies? In any case, Janey was obviously curious about me. Then, when she told me about her first time at age fourteen, I pretty well had to respond.
"There were five of us who lived together in college, and it happened that we were all virgins when we got there."
Janey registered surprise, but then commented,
"I guess Vassar girls must have been pretty protected."
"Most are, but a lot of things happened there. I had a tutor who was married to his third Vassar wife. When I arrived at his office one day, I heard him say to the girl who was just leaving, 'Tell me, my dear, do you write poetry?' He was an English professor, so it was sort of okay to ask. But half those girls spilled out their inner feelings in poetry, and he knew where it would lead."
"Did it work on you?"
"No. I didn't find him attractive, and I never have written poetry."
"It does seem as if you'd write."
"I do. Not a diary exactly, but I try to explain things."
"In a way. I don't show these things to anyone else, particularly not to Brad. It's as if I were trying to explain things to a doctor. Not a psychiatrist, just a regular doctor."
"I've hardly been to doctors. And then only at the Free Clinic. The doctors there don't want anyone to explain things to them."
"Well, I had a lot to do with the doctors who worked on my legs when I was a kid. My parents bordered on the hopeless, but the doctors were mostly nice and patient. I don't have a particular one in mind when I write, but a vague kind of image."
I'd gotten off the subject of my first sexual experience, but Janey brought me back to it. I explained, this time to Janey,
"It was a group decision. We all five decided that it was time to stop being virgins. I hardly knew where to start, but one of my friends found a married real estate agent in his thirties named R. Gordon Bowker."
Janey laughed at the name, and I continued,
"He sold houses mostly to recently divorced women who needed to get rid of the big marital house and get something smaller. So he got two commissions. We later found out that he slept with most of these women, even the unattractive ones."
"So he wanted some pretty young girls to make up for the ugly older women."
"Uh huh. Most of these houses were in Wellesley, and he thought that the college was a great selling point. So we'd often see R. Gordon showing some dumpy overdressed woman around the grounds."
"I wonder how he got rid of the dumpy woman long enough to make contact with your friend."
"I don't know. But R. Gordon had imagination. He eventually had all five of us."
"Was he good at sex?"
"Fairly. I had nothing to compare. But he was gentle and considerate. A lot better than a couple of things I ran into later."
"No. I don't think I'm very fireworky. I don't know what'll happen if I ever do get it together with Brad."