When not tending New York holdings, Guy Grand was generally, as he expressed it, “on the go.” He took cross-country trips by train: New York to Miami, Miami to Seattle—that sort of thing—always on a slow train, one that makes frequent stops. Accommodation on these trains is limited and, though he did engage the best, Grand often had to be satisfied with scarcely more than the essentials of comfort. But he didn’t mind, and on this particular summer afternoon, at precisely 2:05, he stepped onto the first Pullman of the Portland Plougher, found his compartment, and began the pleasant routine of settling in for the long slow trip to New York. As was his habit, he immediately rang the porter to bring round a large bottle of Campari and a thermos of finely-iced water; then he sat down at his desk to write business letters.
It was known that for any personal service Grand was inclined to tip generously, and because of this there were usually three or four porters loitering in the corridor near his compartment. They kept a sharp eye on the compartment-door, in case Grand should signal some need or other; and, as the train pulled out of the station, they could hear him moving about inside, humming to himself, and shuffling papers to and fro on his desk. Before the train made its first stop, however, they would have to scurry, for Grand’s orders were that the porters should not be seen when he came out of his compartment; and he did come out, at every stop.
At the first of these stops, which was not long in coming, Grand quickly went to the adjoining day-coach and took a seat by the window. There he was able to lean out and observe the activity on the platform—attracting little attention himself, resembling as he did, with his pleasant red face, any honest farmer.
From the train window one could see over and beyond the station the rest of the small New England town—motionless now in the summer afternoon, like a toy mausoleum—while all that seemed to live within the town was being skillfully whipped underground and funneled up again in swift urgency onto the station platform, where small square cartons were unloaded from the central car.
But amidst the confusion of the platform, there was one recognizable figure; this was the man who sold hotdogs from a box he carried strapped to his neck.
“They’re red-hot!” he cried repeatedly, walking up and down parallel to the train and only a foot from it.
Grand, after a minute of general observation, focused all his attention on this person and, at exactly one minute before departure, he began his case with the hotdog-man.
“Red-hot!” he shouted; and when the man reached his window, Grand eyed him shrewdly for a second, squinting, as through appraising his character, before asking, tight-lipped:
“Twenty-cents,” the man said hurriedly—for this train was about to pull out—“…mustard and relish, they’re red-hot!”
“Done!” Grand said with a sober nod, and as the train actually began to move forward and the hotdog-man to walk rapidly in keeping abreast of the window, Guy Grand leaned out and handed him a five-hundred dollar bill.
“Break this?” he asked tersely.
The hotdog-man, in trying to utilize all their remaining time, passed the hotdog to Grand and reached into his change pocket even before having looked carefully at the bill—so that by the time he made out its denomination, he was running almost full tilt, grimacing oddly and shaking his head, trying to return the bill with one hand and recover the hotdog with the other. During their final second together, with the hotdog-man’s last overwhelming effort to reach his outstretched hand, Grand reached into his own coat pocket and took out a plastic animal-mask—that of a pig—which he quickly donned before beginning to gorge the hotdog in through the mouth of the mask, at the same time reaching out wildly for the bill, yet managing somehow to keep it just beyond his finger’s grasp, and continuing with this while the distance between the two men lengthened, hopelessly, until at last the hotdog-man stood exhausted on the end of the platform, still holding the five-hundred dollar bill, and staring after the vanishing train.
When Grand finally drew himself back from the window, it was to face a middle-aged woman across the aisle who was sitting half twisted in her seat, observing Grand with a curiosity so intense that the instant of their eyes actually meeting did not seem to register with her. Then she coughed and glanced away—but irresistibly back again, as Guy Grand rose, all smiles, to leave the day-coach, giving the woman an affectionate wink of conspiracy as he did.
“Just having a laugh with that hot-frank vendor,” he explained, “…no real harm done, surely.”
He returned to his compartment then, where he sat at the desk, sipping his Campari—a drink the color of raspberries, but extremely bitter—and speculating about the possible reactions of the hotdog-man.
Outside the compartment, even at the far end of the corridor, the idle porters could often hear his soft odd chortle as he stirred about inside.
“Grand-Guy” Guy Grand was a billionaire. He had 180 millions cash-deposit in New York banks, and this ready-capital was but a part of his gross holdings.
At 53, Grand had a thick trunk and a large balding bullet-head; his face was quite pink, so that in certain half-lights he looked like a fat radish-man—though not too displeasingly so, for he always sported well-cut clothes and, near the throat, a diamond the size of a nickel.
Grand’s associates, wealthy men themselves, saw nothing extraordinary about him: a reticent man of simple tastes they thought, a man who had come into most of his money and had preserved it through large safe investments in steel, rubber, and oil. And though it was true—as happened often enough at conference table—that Grand would come forward with the incisive remark expected from men of his station, he was called “Grand-Guy” because of some forgotten thing he had done as a young man, or perhaps more than anything else, because he properly looked the part of a billionaire, dressing as he did, a cut above the rest. What his associates managed to see in Grand was actually a reflection of their own dullness: a club-member, a dinner guest, a possibility, a threat—a man whose holdings represented a prospect and a danger. But this was to do injustice to Grand’s private life, because his private life was atypical. For one thing, he was the last of the big spenders; and for another, he had a very unusual attitude towards people—he spent about ten millions a year in, as he expressed it himself, “making it hot for them.”
This rather grandiose pastime had begun a few years previously, when he bought a large movie-house in Cleveland and made inserts into the first-run films shown there—simple inserts: a quick cut to a groping hand, an eccentric grimace, a cryptic smile—all professionally done and technically indiscernible from the rest of the film; they were usually of only split-second duration, but were unmistakably seen by anyone not half asleep. Very often these inserts had the effect of completely misplacing the emphasis and direction of the film. In a popular movie called “Mrs. Miniver,” for example, there is a scene, quite early on, where the good school-master, Walter Pidgeon, is sitting quietly at his desk in his fire-lit study; he is writing in his journal about having that afternoon made the acquaintance of Mrs. Miniver, and he pauses momentarily from this to take a small knife from the desk and sharpen the pencil in his hand. In the original scene, the camera remains on his face, which is hopeful and meditative—so that the intended emphasis of the scene is quite clear: his genteel and wistfully ambitious thoughts concerning Mrs. Miniver. Grand’s insert, however, consisted of a cut, away from the face and down to the knife in his hand, holding on this for about two seconds. Given such emphasis, the fire-glint blade seemed to portend dire evil, though afterwards, of course, the film rolled on again, without further surprise or incongruity—while high above the dark audience, locked in the projection booth, Grand Guy Grand stumbled from wall to wall almost choking with laughter.
Later he might go down into the lobby and listen to the comments about the film from those leaving, and as often as not, he would join in himself:
“What was that about the knife?!?” he would demand querulously, stalking around the lobby, striking his fist in his hand. “He had that knife—Christ, I thought he was going to kill her! I don’t get it!”
Some of Grand’s inserts, though, were a good deal more flagrant, and his cinema was eventually sued by several of the big studios; you can bet it cost him a pretty penny in the end to keep his own name clear.
Leaving the great west door at Penn Station, Guy Grand’s gait was brisk indeed, considering his girth—small sharp steps, rising on the toes—it was the gait of a man who appears to be snapping his fingers as he walks.
Half a block on he reached the car, though he seemed to have a momentary difficulty in recognizing it; beneath the windshield-wiper lay a big parking-ticket, which Grand slowly withdrew, regarding it curiously.
“Looks like you’ve got a ticket, bub,” said a voice somewhere behind him. Out of the corner of his eye Grand observed the man, in a dark summer suit, leaning idly against the side of the building nearest the car. There was something smug and terse in the tone of his remark, a sort of nasal piousness.
“Yes, so it seems,” mused Grand without looking up, continuing to study the ticket in his hand. “How much will you eat it for?” he asked then, raising a piercing smile at the man.
“How’s that, Mister?” demanded the latter with a nasty frown, pushing himself forward a bit from the building.
Grand cleared his throat, slowly taking out his wallet as he did—a long slender wallet of such fine leather it would have been as limp as silk, had it not been so chock-full of thousands.
“I asked what would you take to eat it? You know…” Wide-eyed, he made a great chewing motion with his mouth, holding the ticket near it.
The man, flaring, took a tentative step forward.
“Say, I don’t get you, Mister!”
“Well,” drawled Grand, chuckling down at his wallet, browsing about in it, “simple enough really…” he took out a few thou, “I have this ticket, as you know, and I was just wondering if you would eat it, for, say…” a quick glance to ascertain, “…six thousand dollars?”
“What do you mean, ‘eat it’?” demanded the man in a kind of snarl. “Say, what’re you, anyway, bub, a wise guy?”
“‘Wise’ guy of ‘grand’ guy—call me anything you like… as long as you don’t call me a ‘late-for-chow’! Eh? Ho-ho.” Grand rounded off with a jolly chortle, but was quick to add, unsmiling: “How about it, pal—got a taste for the easy green?”
The man, who now appeared to be openly angry, took another step forward.
“Listen, Mister…” he said in a threatening tone, half-clenching his fists.
“I think I should warn you,” said Grand quietly, raising one hand to his breast, “that I am armed.”
The man seemed momentarily dumbfounded, staring down in dull rage at the six bills in Grand’s hand; then he partially recovered and cocked his head to one side, regarding Grand narrowly, in an attempt at shrewd skepticism, still heavily flavored with indignation.
“Just who do you think you are, Mister?!? Just what is your game!?!”
“Grand’s the name, easy-green’s the game—play along?”
He brusquely flicked the corners of the six bills, and they crackled with a brittle, compelling sound.
“Listen…” said the man, tight-lipped, flexing his fingers and exhaling several times in angry exasperation, “are you trying… are you trying to tell ME that you’ll give me six thousand dollars…to…to EAT that?!?” he pointed stiffly at the ticket, “…to eat that TICKET?!?”
“That’s about the size of it,” said Grand. He glanced at his watch. “Its what you might call a ‘limited offer’—expiring in, let’s say one minute.”
“Listen, Mister,” said the man between clenched teeth, “if this is a gag, so help me…” he shook his head to show how serious he was.
“No threats,” Grand cautioned, “or I’ll shoot you in the temple—well, what say? Forty-eight seconds left.”
“Let’s see that god-damn money!” exclaimed the man, quite beside himself now, grabbing at the bills.
Grand allowed him to examine them as he continued to regard his watch. “Thirty-nine seconds remaining,” he announced solemnly. “Shall I start the big count-down?”
Without waiting for the latter’s reply, he stepped back and, cupping his hands like a megaphone, began dramatically intoning: “Twenty-eight…twenty-seven…twenty-sex…” while the man made several wildly gesticulated and incoherent remarks before seizing the ticket, ripping off a quarter of it with his teeth and beginning to chew.
“Stout fellow!” cried Grand warmly, breaking off the count-down to step forward and give the chap a hearty clap on the shoulder and hand him the six thousand.
“You needn’t actually eat the ticket,” he explained, “I was just curious to see if you had your price.” He gave a wink and a tolerant chuckle. “Most of us have, I suppose. Eh? Hooho.”
And with a grand wave of his hand, he stepped inside his car and sped away, leaving the man in the dark summer suit standing on the sidewalk, starting after him, agog.
Grand drove leisurely up the East River Drive—to a large and fine old house in the Sixties, where he lived with his two elderly sister-aunts, Agnes and Esther Edwards.
He found them in the drawing-room when he arrived.
“There you are, Guy!” said Agnes Edwards with tart affection, she who at 86 was a year senior to Esther and held the initiative in most things between them.
“Guy, Guy, Guy,” exclaimed Esther happily in her turn, and with a really beautiful pink smile for him, but insisted then upon raising her teacup, so that all to be seen was her brown, softly clouded now as ever in maternal concern for the boy. Both women were terribly, chronically, troubled that Guy, at 52, was unmarried—though perhaps each, in her way, would have fought against it.
Guy beamed from the doorway, then crossed the room to kiss them before going to his big sofa-chair by the window where he always sat.
“We’re just having tea, darling—do!” insisted his Aunt Agnes with brittle passion, flourishing her little silver service-bell in a smart tinkle and presenting her half-upturned face for his kiss—as though to receive it perfunctorily, but with eyelids closed and tremoring, one noticed, and her other very this hand, as in reflex, starting to rise towards their faces, wavering up, clenched white as the last lace at her wrists.
“Guy, guy, guy.” Cried Esther again, sharpening her own gaity as she sat her cup down, quickly enough but with a care that gave her away.
“You will take tea won’t you, my Guy!” said Agnes, and she conveyed it in a glace to the maid who’d appeared.
“Love some,” said Guy Grand, giving his aunts such a smile of fanatic brightness that they both squirmed a bit. He was in good spirits now after his trip—but soon enough, as the two women could attest, he would fall away from them, lapse in to mystery behind his great gray Financial Times, for hours on end: distrait, they thought; never speaking, certainly answering, yes—but most often in an odd and distant tone that told them nothing, nothing…
Grand’s work in cinema-management and film-editing apparently did not diminish his strong feeling of for the dramatic theatre, so that with the cultural ascension of television-drama he was all the more keen to get, as he put it, “back on the boards.”
“There’s no biz like show-biz,” he liked to quip, “…oh, we have our ups and downs, sure—but I’d trade one whiff of grease paint on opening night, by gosh, for all the darn chateaux in France!”
Thus did he enter the field, not nominally of course, but in effect. There was at this time a rather successful drama-hour on Sunday evening. “Our Town Playhouse” it was called and was devoted to serious fare; at least it was described to the viewers as being serious fare—truth to tell thought, it was, by any civilized standard, the crassest sort of sham, cant, and weak-kneed pornography imaginable. Grand set about to interfere with it.
His arrival on the scene was fairly propitious; the production in dress-rehearsal at that moment was called, “All Our Yesterdays,” a drama which, according to the sponsors, was to be, concerning certain emotions and view-points, more or less definitive.
Beginning with this production, Grand made it a practice that he or his representatives contact the hero or heroine of each play, while it was still in rehearsal, and reach some sort of understanding about the final production. A million, tax-free, was generally sufficient.
The arrangement between Grand and the leading actress of “All Our Yesterdays” was simplicity itself. During final production, that is to say, the Sunday night nation-wide presentation of the play, and at the top of her big end-of-the-second-act scene, the heroine suddenly turned away from the other players, approached the camera, and addressed the viewers, point-blank:
“Anyone who would allow this slobbering pomp and drivel in his home has less sense and taste than the beasts of the field!”
Then she strode off the set.
Half the remaining actors turned to stare after her in amazement, while the others sat frozen in their last attitudes. There was a frenzy of muffled whispers heard coming from off-stage”
“What the hell!”
“Fade it! For Christ’s sake, fade it!”
The there was a bit of a commotion before it was actually faded—one of the supporting actors had been trained in Russian methods and thought he could improvise the rest of the play, about twelve minutes, so there were one or two odd lines spoken by him in this attempt before the scene jerkily faded to blackness. A short documentary about tarpon-fishing was pt on to fill out the balance of the hour.
The only explanation was that the actress had been struck by temporary insanity; but, even so, front-office temper ran high.
On the following Sunday, the production of “Main Street, U.S.A.” took an unexpected turn while the leading actor, in the role of an amiable old physician, was in the midst of an emergency operation. His brow was knit in concern and high purpose, as the young nurse opposite watched his face for a sign.
“Dr. Lawrence,” she said, “do you…do you think you can save Dr. Chester’s son?”
Without relaxing his features the Doctor smiled, a bit grimly it seemed, before raising his serious brown eyes to her own.
“I’m afraid it isn’t a question of saving him, Miss Nurse—I only wish it were—it’s a question of saving my dinner.”
The nurse evidenced a questioning look, just concealing the panic beneath it (for he had missed his cue!) so, laying aside his instruments, he continued, as in explanation:
“Yes, you see, I really think if I speak one more line of this drivel I’ll lose my dinner.” He nodded gravely at the table, “…vomit right into that incision I’ve made.” He slowly drew off his rubber gloves, regarding the astonished nurse as he did with mild indignation.
“Perhaps that would be your idea of a pleasant Sunday evening, Miss Nurse,” he said reproachingly, “…sorry, it isn’t mine!” And he turned and marched off the set.
By the third time something like this happened, the producer and sponsor were very nearly out of their minds. Of course they suspected that a rival company was tampering with the productions, bribing the actors and so on. Security measures were taken, directors were fired one after the other, rehearsals were held behind locked doors, and there was an attempt to keep the actors under constant surveillance. But Grand always seemed to get in there somehow with the old convincer.
In the aftermath, some of the actors paid the breach-of-contract fine of twenty-five or fifty thousand; others pleaded temporary insanity; still others gained a lot of publicity by taking a philosophic stand, saying that it was true and they had been overcome with nausea at such drivel, that they themselves were too sensitive and serious for it, had too much integrity, moral fiber, etc. With a million behind them, none seemed to lack adequate defense arrangements. Those who were kicked out of their union usually became producers.
Meanwhile the show went on. People started turning in to see what new outrage would happen; it even appeared to have a sort of elusive comic appeal. It became the talk of the industry, scandalously so. And the rating soared—but somehow it looked bad. Finally the bewildered producer and sponsor were put on the carpet before
Mr. Harlan, the tall and distinguished head of the network.
“Listen,” he said to the sponsor as he paced about the spacious office, “we want your business, Mr. Levet, don’t get me wrong—but if your guys can’t control that show of yours… well, I mean goddamn it, what’s going on over there?!?” He turned to the producer now, who was a personal friend of his.
“…for Christ’s sake, Max, can’t you get together a show, and put it on the way it’s supposed to be without any somersaults… is that so hard to do?… I mean we can’t have this sort of thing going on, you know that, Max, we simply cannot have…”
“Listen, Al,” said the producer, a short fat man who rose up and down on his toes, smiling, as he spoke, “we got the highest trendex in the books right now.”
“Max, goddamn it, I’d have the FCC down on my neck in another week—you can’t schedule one kind of hour, have something go haywire everytime and fill out with something else… I mean what the hell have you got over there, two shows or one for Christ’s sake!”
“We got the top trendex in the biz, Al,” said the producer, who was having to think very fast now.
“Hell yes, you’d have the top trendex if you put some hot broad up there pulling her snatch open too—but there are some goddamn things that are against the law, Max, and that kind of stuff you had going out last week, that ‘I pity the moron whose life is so empty he would look at this,’ and that kind of crap cannot go out over the air! Don’t you understand that? It’s not me, Max, you know that. I wouldn’t give a good goddamn if you had a… a mule up there throwing it to some hot broad, I only wish we could for Christ’s sake—but there is a question of lawful procedure, and…”
“How about if it’s ‘healthy satire of the media,’ Al?”
“We got the top of the book, Al.”
“Wait a minute…”
“We got it, Al.”
“Wait a minute, Max, I’m thinking for Christ’s sake… ‘healthy satire of the media’… It’s an angle, Max, it’s an angle. Jones might buy it… Jones at the FCC… if I could get to Jones first…. He’s stupid enough to buy it. Okay, it’s an angle, Max—that’s all I can say right now…it’s an angle.”
The critics for the most part, after lambasting the first couple of shows as “terrific boners,” sat tight for a while, just to see which way the wind was going to blow, so to speak—then, with the rating at a sky-rocket height, they began to suggest that it might be worth a peek.
“An off-beat sleeper,” one of them said, “don’t miss it!”
“New comedy,” said a second, “a sophisticated take-off on the sentimental!”
And another: “Here’s humor at its highest!”
All agreed in the end that it was healthy satire.
After interfering with six or seven shows, Grad grew restive. “I’m pulling out,” he said to himself, “it may have been good money after bad all along.”
It was just as well perhaps, because at the point when the producer and sponsor became aware of what was responsible for their vast audience, they began consciously trying to shape each drama toward that moment of anomaly which had made the show famous. And somehow this seemed to spoil it. At any rate it very soon degenerated—back to the same old tripe—and, of course, it was soon back to the old ratings as well… which, as in the early, pre-Grand days, was al right, but nothing really to be too proud of…
“Guy…” Agnes Edwards began, turning her cup in her hand and forcing one of the warm playful frowns used by the extremely rich to show a degree of seriousness felt.
“Yes, Aunt Agnes,” said Guy, unnecessarily, even brightly, actually coming forward a bit on his chair, not turning his own cup, but fingering it, politely nervous.
“Guy… I’ve asked Ginger Horton for today,” she said, giving her nephew a clever look, “and, well, I’m hoping you’ll ask her to stay on for dinner!”
Ginger Horton was one of several women his aunts pretended to force on Guy; he hadn’t seem much of her though since recommending her to his personal dentist, Dr. William Thorndike.
“Sounds like fun,” said Guy with a pleasant smile…
Grand made quite a splash in the spring of ’57 when he entered the “big-car” field with his sports-line of Black Devil Rockets, a gigantic convertible. There were four models of the Rockets, each with a different fanciful name, though, except for the color combination of the upholstery, all four cars were identical. The big convertible was scaled in the same proportions of an ordinary automobile, but was tremendous in size—was, in fact, longer and wider than the largest Greyhound Bus in operation.
“There’s Power To Spare Under This Big Baby’s Forty-Foot Hood!” was a sales claim that gained attention.
Fronting the glittering crystal dash were two “racing-cup” seats with a distance of ten feet between them—and the big “Gang’s-All-Here” seat in back would accommodate twelve varsity crewmen abreast in roomy comfort.
“Buy Yourself One Whale Of A Car, Buddy!” read the giant ads. “From Stem To Stern She’s A Flat One-Hundred Feet, Buddy! Lady-Like Lines On A He-Man Hunk Of Car!”
Performance-figures were generally glossed over, but a number of 3-color billboards and full-page ads were headed: “Performance? Ask the Fella Behind the Wheel!” and featured, in apparently authentic testimonial, one of the Indianapolis speed kings behind the wheel of the mammouth convertible. A larger than average man, he was incredibly dwarfed by the colossal dimensions of the car. His tiny face, just visible at the top of the wheel, was split in a grin of insanity, like a toothpaste ad, a madman’s laygh frozen at the nightmare peak of hilarity, and it was captioned:
“Getting the feel of this big baby has been on real thrill, believe you me!”
The fur identical models were shown at a display room on 5th Avenue, and though considered to be out of the price-range of most people, were evidently sold. At any rate, on the last day of the exposition, they were driven away, out and into the streets of midtown Manhattan during the five o’clock rush.
Despite their roominess, power, and road-holding potential, the big cars proved wholly impractical in the city because their turning-arc—for the ordinary 90-degree change of direction—was greater than the distance between the street-angled buildings, so that by 5:30 all four of the sleek Devil Rockets were wedged at angles across various intersections around Columbus Circle, each a barrier to thoroughfare in four directions, and causing quite a snarl indeed until cranes and derricks could be brought up from the East River to pry the big cars out.
City authorities were quick to respond to the flood of protests and got an injunction to prevent Black Devil Rocket Corp. from further production.
“Personally,” said one high-ranking city official, in an off-the-record remark in defense of the court’s ruling—which was, after all, a rather flagrant infringement on the rights of free enterprise—“…personally, speaking for myself, I frankly think the car is an ugly car and a… pretentious car, and, a experience has shown us, it is an impractical car. I’ll bet it’s plenty expensive to run, too.”
At least account thought, Grand—himself fairly well in the background—was carrying on, pressing his fight to get the go-ahead and swing into full production with the big baby…
At that moment the maid stepped inside the door to announce the arrival of Mrs. Ginger Horton and was almost bowled over by an extremely fat lady, who entered the room wearing an enormous Trapeze sun-suit and carrying a Pekinese.
“Guy!” she cried, extending her hand as he, rising, came forward, “how too good to see you!”
“Say ‘Hello’ to Guy, my Bitsy!” she shrieked gaily to the dog, pointing him at Guy and the others, “…say ‘Hello’ to everybody. There’s Agnes and Esther, see them, Bitsy?”
The dog yapped crossly instead, and ran at the nose.
“Is Bitsy-witsy sicky?” cooed Mrs. Horton, pouting now as she allowed Guy to slowly escort her towards a chair near the others, he maneuvering her across the room like a gigantic river-scow.
“Hmmm? Is my Bitsy sicky-wicky?”
“Nothing too serious, I hope,” said Grand with a solicitous frown.
“Just nerves I expect!” said Mrs. Horton, turning arch now and fairly snapping. “The weather is just so… really abominable, and then all the nasty little people about… Now here’s your Agnes and Esther, Bitsy!”
“How very nice to see you, my dear,” said the two elderly women, each laying thin fingers on her immense hand.
“What an adorable little sun-suit! It was kind of you to bring your Bitsy—wasn’t it, Guy?”
“It was extremely kind,” said Guy, beaming as he retreated to his own great chair near the window…
Grand had upset the equilibrium of a rather posh Madison Avenue advertising agency, Jonathan Reynolds, Ltd., by secretly buying it, en passant so to speak, and putting in as president a pygmy.
At that time it was rare for a person of this skin-pigmentation or stature—much the less both—to hold down a top-power post in one of these swank agencies, and these two handicaps alone would have been difficult enough to overcome though perhaps could have been overcome in due time had the chap shown a reasonable amount of savoir-faire and general ability, or the promise of developing it. In this case however, Grand had apparently paid the man to behave in an eccentric manner—to scurry about the offices like a squirrel and to chatter raucously in his native tongue. It was more than a nuisance.
An account-executive, for example, might be entertaining an extremely important client in his own office, a little tête-à-tête of the very fist seriousness—perhaps with an emissary of one of the soapflake-kings—when the door would burst open and in would flu the president, scrambling across the room and under the desk, shrieking pure gibberish, and then out he’s go again, scuttling crabwise over the carpet, teeth and eyes blazing.
“What in God’s name was that?” the client would ask, looking slowly about, his face pocked with a terrible frown.
“Why, that… that…” but the a.e. could not bring himself to tell, not after the first few times anyway. Evidently it was a matter of pride.
Later the a.e. might run into one of his friends from another agency, and the friend would greet him:
“Say, hear you’ve got a new number-one over at J.R., Tommy—what’s the chap like?”
“Well, as a matter of face, Bert…”
“You don’t mean the old boy’s got you on the mat already, Tommy? Ha-ha. That what you’re trying to say?”
“No, Bert, it’s… well, I don’t know, Bert, I just don’t know.”
It was a matter of pride, of course. As against it, salaries had been given a fairly still boost, and titles. If these dapper exec’s were to go to another agency now, it would be to a considerable loss of dollars and cents. Most of the old-timers—and the newer ones too, actually—had what it took to stick it out there at J.R….
“Anyone have any news of Bill Thorndike, by the way?” he added matter of factly, as he sat down again.
Ginger Horton banged her cup irately.
“That…that damn nut!” she said, her cheeks puffing out like a great red frog’s. “No, and I couldn’t care less!”
“Who?” asked Esther.
“Dr. William Thorndike,” said Agnes, “that extraordinary dentist whom Ginger went to. He and Guy were friends at school together—isn’t that right, Guy?”
“Yes, quite good friends too,” said Guy. “Poor fellow, had a nervous breakdown or something from what Ginger says. I haven’t seen him in the longest. How was he when you last saw him, Ginger?”
Grand had made this inquiry any number of times, and then had always glossed over Ginger’s account of the incident, as though he could not fully take it in.
“The last time!?!” she cried, “why I only saw him once, of course—on your recommendation—and once too often it was too! Good Lord, don’t tell me you’ve forgotten that again? Why he was absolutely insane! He said to me: ‘These molars are soft, Mrs. Horton!’ or some such ridiculous thing. ‘We’d better get you onto a a soft-food regime right away!’ he said, and then without another word about it, while I was still leaning back with my mouth open, he dropped a raw egg into my mouth and rushed out of the room, waving his arms and yelling at the top of his voice! Raving mad!”
“Hmm—not like Bill Thorndike,” said Grand. “First rate medical-man, he used to be. You never went back to him then?”
“I certainly did not! I went straight to the nearest police-station, that’s where I went! And reported him!”
Grand frowned a look of mild disapproval.
“I’m afraid that won’t help Bill’s standing with the Association any.”
“Well, I should hope not!” said Ginger Horton as strongly as she could.
“How Uncle Edward used to love raw eggs!” said Esther. “Do you remember, Agnes?”
“It’s hardly the same thing, Esther,” said Agnes.
“Well, he always had them with a sort of sauce,” Esther recalled. “Worcestershire sauce, I suppose it was.”
“It could have been some new form of deficiency treatment, of course, Ginger,” Agnes said… “I mean if your molars were soft…” But in the face of Ginger Horton’s mounting exasperation, she broke off and turned to Guy, “…but what’s your feeling on it, Guy?”
“Bill always was up-to-the-minute,” Guy agreed. “Always on to the latest. Very progressive in school affairs, that sort of thing—oh nothing disreputable, of course, but, I mean to say as far as being on to the newest thing in…in dentistry-techniques, well, I’m certainly confident that Bill—“
“He just plopped that raw egg right into my mouth!” said Ginger shrilly. “Why I didn’t even know what it was. And that isn’t all—the instruments, and everything else were crazy. There was some kind of wooden paddle…”
“Spatula?” prompted Guy helpfully.
“No, not a spatula! Good Heavens! A big wooden oar, about four-feet long, actually leaning up against a chair.”
“Surely he doesn’t use that?” said Agnes.
“But what on earth was it doing there is what I want to know?” demanded Ginger.
“Maybe Bill’s taken up boating,” Guy offered, but then coughed to show the lameness of it, “…wasn’t too keen at school as I remember. Tennis, that was Bill’s game—damn good he was too—on the varsity his last two years.”
“I simply cannot make you understand what an absolute madman he was,” said Ginger Horton. “There was something else on the chair, too—a pair of ice-tongs it looked like!”
“Clamp, I suppose,” murmured Grand.
“‘Better safe than sorry, eh Mrs. Horton?’ he said to me like a perfect maniac, and then he said: ‘Now I don’t want you to swallow this!’ and he dropped a raw egg in my mouth and rushed around the room, waving a lot of those weird instruments over his head, and then out the door, yelling at the top of his lungs!”
“May have been called out on emergency, you see,” said Guy, “happens all too often in that business from what I’ve seen of it.”
“What was he saying when he left, Ginger?” Agnes asked.
“Saying? He wasn’t saying anything. He was simply yelling. Yaahh! Yaahh! Yaahh!’ it sounded like.”
“How extraordinary,” said Agnes.
“Not like Bill,” said Guy, shaking his head, “must have been called out on an emergency, only thing I can make of it.”
“But surely the receptionist could have explained it all, my dear,” said Agnes.
“There was no receptionist I tell you!” said Ginger Horton irately. “There was no one but him—and a lot of fantastic instruments. And the chair was odd too! I’m lucky to have gotten out of there alive!”
“Did she swallow the egg?” asked Esther.
“Esther, for Heaven’s sake!”
“What was that?” asked Grand, who seemed not to have heard.
“Esther wanted to know if Ginger had swallowed the egg,” Agnes said.
“Certainly not!” said Ginger, “I spat it right out! Not at first, of course; I was in a state of complete shock. ‘I don’t want you to swallow this! he said when he dropped it in, the maniac, so I just sat there in a state of pure shock while he raced around the room, screaming like a madman!”
“Maybe it wasn’t an egg,” suggested Esther.
“What on earth do you mean?” demanded Ginger, quite beside herself. “It certainly was an egg—a raw egg! I tasted it and saw it, and some of the yellow got on my frock!”
“And then you filed a complaint with the authorities?” asked Agnes.
“Good Heavens, Agnes, I went straight to the police. Well, he could not be found! Disappeared without a trace. Raving mad!”
“Bill Thorndike’s no fool,” said Grand loyally, “I’d stake my word on that.”
“But why did he disappear like that, Guy?” asked Agnes.
“May have moved his offices to another part of the city, you see,” Guy explained, “or out of the city altogether. I know Bill was awfully keen for the West Coast, as a matter of fact—couldn’t get enough of California! Went out there every chance he could.”
“No,” said Ginger Horton with considerable authority, “he is not anywhere in this country. There is absolutely no trace of him.”
“Don’t tell me Bill’s chucked the whole thing,” said Grand reflectively, “given it all up and gone off to Bermuda or somewhere.” He gave a soft tolerant chuckle. “Wouldn’t surprise me too much though at that. I know Bill was fond of fishing too, come to think of it. Yes, fishing and tennis—that was Bill Thorndike all right. As a matter of fact,” getting out of his big chair again, “I’ll have to be pushing along myself, I’m afraid.”
“Guy, I simply will not hear of it,” cried cross Agnes, snatching her glasses off her nose and fixing the man with a terrible frown. “Surely you shall stay for dinner!”
“Guy, Guy, Guy,” keened Esther, wagging her dear gray head, “always on the go.”
“Yes, only wish I could stay,” agreed Guy sadly. “Best push on though. Back to harness, back to grind.”
“But you just cannot go off like that, Guy,” said Agnes, truly impatient with the boy now, “surely you won’t!”
“Can and must, my dears,” he explained, kissing them both. “Flux, motion, growth, change—these are your great life-principles. Best to keep pace while we can.”
He bent forward and took fat Ginger’s hand in his own. “Yes, I’ll be moving on, Ginger,” he said with a warm smile for her, expansive now, perhaps in anticipation, “pushing down to Canaveral and out Los Alamos way!”
“Good Heavens,” said Agnes, “in this dreadful heat? How silly!”
“Always on the go,” purred Esther.
“It’s wise to keep abreast,” said Guy seriously, “I’ll just nip down to Canaveral and see what’s shaking on the space-scene, so to speak.”
“Guy,” said Ginger, squeezing his hand and sparkling up again on one monstrous surge of personality, “it has been fun!”
Good-byes were her forte.
Guy gave a courtly nod, before turning to go, in deference it seemed to her great beauty.
“As ever, my dear,” he whispered, and with a huskiness that made all the ladies tingle, “it has been…inspiring.”