In the middle of June, I had a call from Jackie. She was, of all things, getting married. It had been arranged the night before, and was going to take place in only a couple of weeks' time. I did wonder if she might have gone back to Max after all, but, before I could think of a tactful way of asking, she said,
"I'm more convinced than ever that Max would never have married me. This man is named Sheldon, and I guess that says it all."
"Do you love him?"
"Oh Adrienne, only you would ask that! Whatever love is, I suppose I'm gradually growing into it. Sheldon's a very nice man, much nicer than Max, and we get along fine. The only trouble is, my friends compare him to Max, and I'm sure they all think he's much less interesting. You'll think so, too. But, anyhow, will you be my maid of honor?"
"Certainly. I'd be delighted. Don't be so sure of my ideas about Sheldon. I was never that thrilled about Max. I'm glad you didn't marry him."
I was pretty sure from Jackie's tone, quite apart from what she said, that she was making a mistake. But it looked as if she had already committed herself. I was maximally supportive on the theory that a mistake needn't be a disaster. Jackie didn't question my sincerity, for which I was thankful. She added,
"I'm leaving it up to you whether to invite Brad. Because, if we do, you'll be thrown together for the whole weekend. Besides which, most of our friends will wonder if you're going to marry him."
"Yes. They certainly will. On the other hand, he's somebody you would have invited, apart from me, isn't he?"
"Probably. But it's no big thing. If you don't feel comfortable about it, I won't."
"Ok. Let me think about it for a day or two."
After hanging up, I did some thinking. Of our original group of five, one had married early, and had married a man of her own caliber. They had been happy ever since, and had three children. We still kept in touch with Joanne, but didn't see her often. When we did, her husband was usually present. There had been no intimate little chats in years.
A second one, Anne, had had a series of affairs, most of them with highly successful men who were somewhat older. All of them seemed to have been married. She then had a psychological collapse. Immediately after "recovering," she married a social worker who had counselled her at one stage. He was far inferior to Anne, actually rather dumb in a rigid sort of way. They had a child, but Anne was having affairs again. Divorce loomed soon.
Another of our group, Donna, had been the second to marry, seemingly very successfully. However, too many other women had wanted her husband, and he wasn't the man to refuse. Divorced with no children, Donna quickly acquired another glamorous man. He dallied for five years, and then left her for an eighteen year old girl. Donna then, within a few months, married a man almost old enough to be her father. He was nice, but had never been spectacular. Above all, he gave her rock-bottom security. Donna talked with us often and said she was happy enough, particularly compared with what had gone before.
Next came Jackie. She, too, had apparently settled for someone much less talented and intelligent than herself. Perhaps, like Donna, she would be happy enough. Unlike Donna, she would probably have children. That, together with her job, would keep her well occupied.
That brought me to myself. Would Brad marry me? Very possibly. Would my friends think I had settled for someone convenient but second class? No.
What about David? Would he marry me? He'd probably marry almost anyone. What would my friends think of him? Strictly marginal.
The next afternoon, there arose a business problem of a new sort. Jim Maloney called, the sounds of a bar clearly discernible in the background. He was with one of the clients whose account had been turned over to me, and then to Janey. The client had just been persuaded by the TV set over the bar to buy, not the product, but two hundred shares in the company that made it. This was, obviously, Maloney's sale. But, since he no longer had the account, I would get the commission. I should have anticipated this situation, but, in the event, waffled in an embarrassing way. Indeed, there was a problem. The client should really have spoken directly to me to give the order, but I had the feeling that Maloney hadn't told him that his account had been switched. Then, again, it wasn't unusual for one broker to take an order for another who was, for example, on vacation. Maloney didn't seem to have any misgivings. He wasn't drunk, and said,
"Go ahead and take the order, Adrienne. It's part of the deal."
"Okay, I'll execute it right off."
"There's one other thing you may not realize, Adrienne. I'm getting some goodies, too. Since I'm the outreach man, there's not much point in my spending much time in the office. I should be out reaching out. That's what I told Bret. He agreed. So I don't have to sneak drinks sitting on the can in the men's room. The surroundings here are a lot easier on the nerves."
"Sounds good, Jim. Has David agreed to that, too?"
"Bret's going to tell him, probably already has. I've decided that Bret's my boss."
I took the order in to Janey. She wasn't otherwise occupied, so I sat down, closed the door, and said,
"I'm a little worried about David. Managers can be fired too, and we now have some reason to keep him."
"Is he in trouble for dating us, me specially?"
"Bret thinks he's stupid to do it, but that's not the problem. No one takes orders from David. He's lost control."
I then told her about Maloney's attitude. She replied,
"I guess Bret has pretty much taken over. He must've just wanted David to come in to fire those people."
"I think Bret still wants to keep David because he does all the administration. Bret doesn't want to hire and fire the secretaries or deal with the roofers and interior decorators."
"Isn't David safe then? Our total volume's up, and nobody seems about to complain."
"I'm worried about Sam Hanks. His volume isn't up. He's still mad because Lentz was fired, and he looks worse every day. If he kicks to the head office, they'll send someone to investigate. They'll interview people like Wallace Stimson, and all kinds of things will come out."
"Including your arrangement with me. Is that against the rules?"
"No, but that's just because they haven't thought of it. They'd probably try to make us stop if they knew."
"I'm getting to like brokering. And I'm making about twice what I did before. So are you, aren't you?"
"Yes. Since the great firing, I'm doing just fine. We don't want any changes. So, what should we do?"
"What does Bret think?"
"I don't know. I don't think he's sensitive enough to realize how unhappy Hanks is. Then, too, a man as secure as Bret might just ignore people like Hanks."
"Why didn't they fire Hanks along with Lentz and Stimson. Wallace, anyhow, was much better."
"Bret and David independently made up lists of who they wanted to fire. Hanks was probably so neutral and inconspicuous that he was overlooked completely."
"Yeah, I can imagine. I think you'd better tell Bret what you're worried about."
Bret was on the phone all afternoon, but I caught him just as he was about to leave.
"Can you spare me a minute, Bret? I've got a problem."
"Only if you make me coffee and are real nice to me. Oh God, have I had a day."
Bret flopped in my chair with a great sigh. I puttered around him, started coffee, and gave him a cookie. In fact, I treated him just the way I had Heston before I discovered how little coddling the latter needed. I said,
"You may be tired, but I bet you've made lots of money today."
"Lord yes. I haven't even tried to count it. At this rate I may need to take a vacation, though."
When he was properly relaxed, I explained the problem. He asked,
"Are you trying to save Larsen because you and Janey are going out with him?"
"No. Neither of us is serious. We laugh and compare notes. But how many other managers would tolerate the arrangement you set up with Maloney or my deal with Janey?"
"Yours is no problem. Everyone has their assistant take orders when they're out or busy. That's what they're there for. I'm the only one who knows you cut her in on the commissions, aren't I?"
"That won't come out, then. Larsen knows she's good with customers and gave her a raise. That's within his rights."
"What about Maloney?"
"That could be embarrassing for Larsen. You and I are perfectly clean, but, as you say, we want to keep him."
"I can't imagine anyone except Hanks complaining. But I'm better at reading faces than you are, Bret. He's about to blow."
"I suppose that's not so surprising. His kind of business will never grow much, but, at the same time, he sees us going great guns."
"And we fired his buddy. I do know that Lentz keeps in touch. He still doesn't have a job."
"We could fire Hanks. The reason we didn't was that he'd move down the street like Stimson. However, Hanks' old ladies have some money."
I said nothing, but Bret continued,
"Even if they could be switched to me, which I doubt, I couldn't deal with them. I'm okay with old ladies who have their shit together and can make decisions. But the kind Hanks has just dither. They'd drive me crazy."
"I don't need to tell you that rich old ladies don't like uppity young women like me. Or sex symbols like Janey."
"No, Janey isn't what's needed in this case. But here's something. I happened to notice that Hanks starts his vacation next week. In the past, he and Lentz covered for each other, but it just about has to be you now. We could hardly let Maloney loose on them. You can go visit them without being uppity. Can't you wear a pink cashmere cardigan or something like that, and be real sweet?"
"They might like me then, but they'd assume I didn't know anything."
"Hanks isn't a hard act to follow. I'm sure you can do it. Then, if you can attach, say, half his customers, we can fire him when he gets back."
"He might still complain to the head office."
"People who've been fired usually don't. The others didn't. Besides, we'll tell headquarters that we've just finished clearing out the dead wood. They'll put any complaints down to sour grapes."
"Ok, I'll try."
Bret got up and started to leave, but then stopped, saying,
"I certainly have wondered about Larsen. There was one day that he came in looking as if he'd slept in a tree. You know as well as I do how much appearance counts in this business. We can't afford to have him just fall apart."
"I'll talk to Janey about that. Maybe we can do something to glue him back together."
Janey was gone by that time, but I stopped by her place on my way home. Her solution to the high rent problem was to live in an artist's studio in a fairly large brick building which had once been a railway freight house. Her neighbors were all artists, most of them female, and they, too, lived in their studios. Although Janey didn't paint, there were a good many paintings of her, both nude and otherwise, scattered through the building.
It was an amusing place to visit, and, by this time, I knew a few of the residents. Janey was in the shower, so I talked with Sophie, a neighbor and printmaker, until Janey came through in a bathrobe with a towel on her head. She sat down in the large studio while Sophie busied herself at a table in the corner. I told Janey,
"I caught Bret as he was leaving. He thinks the solution is to fire Hanks before he can cause trouble, and have me take over his old ladies. He also thinks that David may be falling apart, and he hopes you and I can keep him functioning."
"There's never a dull moment with you around, Adrienne. So another one gets to walk the plank. Before, there were eight brokers. That takes us down to two, plus the manager, plus Maloney, and plus me."
"Well, total volume is up. Bret and I are way up and Maloney, even subtracting what he turns over to us, is doing better. He finds more investors as he trolls the bars and lounges than he ever did in the office. That's where a lot of them are, after all."
We talked for a while of the possibility of my detaching Hanks' customers, concluding that I would need clothes appropriate for taking tea at stately homes. However, as I pointed out,
"That's assuming that I get invited. Hanks will be gone for only two weeks, and most of them will probably wait until he gets back to do anything."
"Would he call them up before he leaves and tell them you're covering for him?"
"Probably. I've never had any differences with Sam. If I ask him what to do with his clients while he's gone, it might help. His normal reaction would probably be that nothing needs to be done. But, if I make it sound as if I thought he's in the middle of selling securities to each one of his better clients, he might be embarrassed enough to pretend that he is. Then, we'll have to talk about them. I might even get him to introduce me to a couple."
"If that doesn't work, you'll just have to call them the first day he's on vacation and introduce yourself. If something scary happens in the market, you'd have an excuse to call them again. You can say he told you to. If he's fired while he's on vacation, they'll never know any different."
"You're certainly catching on, Janey."
I noticed Sophie in the corner giving us a funny look. Artists, after all, can afford to have higher standards of ethics than businesswomen. I added, mostly for her benefit,
"Some of this might not be totally ethical, but, anyway, it's better than armed robbery."
Janey nodded, apparently taking me literally, and replied,
"I felt bad about Wallace Stimson, and even a little about Walter Lentz, but not the others. McCarthy was an asshole, and I was glad. Hanks just hasn't got much about him to make you care."
Janey unwrapped the towel from her hair and led the way to her room. She said,
"I may've already started doing what we need to do about David without knowing it."
Janey had gone out with David a couple of nights previously. Having had dinner and drinks, she had brought him back to the studio. As she told it,
"None of the others were here, and I was feeling real wild. I decided to draw him and made him take off his pants. Of course, I can't really draw, but there are always materials lying around. He looked real funny in his shirt and tie and striped drawers, but I managed not to laugh until Sophie and Martha came in. Of course, there are often models posing, but not for me, and not ones like David.
My drawing was a joke, but everybody admired it, and we had a little party. Since David was my boss, we said he had to keep his pants off to make things equal. He was real funny trying to explain why we should give them back, but he had a good time. He likes to be surrounded by women."
I felt I could ask,
"How did things go from there?"
"We didn't really have sex. I didn't want to, and I don't think he's up to it."
She then looked at me uncertainly and said,
"I don't know if you're used to divorced men. There are different stages. There's one where they want to fuck everything that moves, but there's usually one where they can't do much at all. Or do it only pretending you're the ex- wife. I think David might be about there. His eyes might be bigger than his dick just now. Then if he tried and went soft, he'd be worse off than before. Besides which, a man is always apt to blame the woman."
I was concluding that nothing else had happened when she said,
"I did take him into my room, and we fooled around a little. Then we went back to the girls and had another bottle of wine."
"Bret complained that he came in one day looking as if he'd slept in a tree. I bet that was the next morning."
"He did sleep on the couch in the next room that night."
"Whether that's what David needs or not, I don't think I'm quite up to it."
"Don't try, Adrienne, it's not your style. I get a kick out of being cheap and trashy some of the time, and people accept it. If you yanked down a man's pants and grabbed his dong, he might have a heart attack."
"I'm afraid so. But I have an old friend in Wisconsin who keeps telling me how romantic I am. You don't think I'm romantic, do you Janey?"
"You've always seemed pretty pulled together to me. I don't even think I'm romantic, less inhibited maybe."
"Is Brad romantic?"
Janey considered for a minute.
"Yeah, in a sophisticated sort of way. He may not be Sir Walter Raleigh or a race car driver, but he's so different from other businessmen. I would say he's an exciting guy. Specially when compared to David."
"Is he more exciting than Bret?"
There was another pause for reflection.
"Well, Bret's a powerful kind of guy, entirely different from David. But he's pretty conventional and totally involved in business. For a woman he's not as exciting as Brad, maybe not very romantic at all."
"Do you have anyone as romantic as Brad?"
"Well, I've had some wild and crazy guys. But no one could marry them. They just aren't made for that."
"So, since I don't have men like that around me, the most romantic thing I could do would be to stick to Brad and marry him. Would you give me romance points for that?"
"I gave you some the minute I met him and saw that apartment of his."
When I was next alone with David, at lunch a couple of days later, I tried to gauge his state of mind more carefully than I had before. Before I could, he volunteered,
"Bret and I want to fire Hanks. I hope you're in agreement."
It was spoken in exactly the way in which someone might have announced the office picnic. There was in David's tone a bluff good-natured element, as if he were preparing something that would be fun for everyone. It was bizarre, but I tried to pick up on the spirit.
"I guess you have in mind making us a tight little group with no outsiders."
"That's right. I've even become reconciled to Jim Maloney. I know he still drinks, but he harms only himself. Business is good and God's in his heaven."
I supposed that David was in a divorce induced manic- depressive state, and that I had caught him in the manic phase. His eyes were certainly very bright. We went on, yet again, to talk about his divorce. It seemed that the visit of his sons was being postponed, or even cancelled. He might have to go back to Iowa and stay in a motel to see them.
After that had gone on for a while, David looked much better. He again asked what I thought of Hanks. I replied,
"Not much one way or the other. But I think he may hate you for firing Lentz. If I were in charge, I wouldn't keep someone I thought was an enemy."
As we returned to work, it occurred to me that Janey was giving David one kind of therapy while I provided another. Both were free, except that we got freedom from interference in return.