|From Bristol With Love
by Ian Fleming
The smell of a salesfloor
at eight in the morning is nauseating.
Once past the unobtrusive velour draperies that separated the salesfloor from the inner sanctum, Peacock paused for a moment before the washroom door, listening, all his senses alert. He flung the door open and landed on the balls of his feet, slightly crouched, in the doorway. The empty washroom sneered back at him. He relaxed and moved to the looking glass. His reflection told him his suit was pressed and his red carnation still perfectly nestled in his lapel, but betrayed a stray lock of hair that hung like a comma over his left eye. He brushed it back into place, staring for a moment at the steely blue eyes that gave his face a cruel authority.
Peacock checked his watch; R. would be expecting him. He knew what the meeting would be about. Lally & Willet's was set to expand their empire again. Only now, if the furtive whispers he'd been hearing all week were true, this time the target was Grace Brothers itself. Peacock now noticed his eyes narrowing in anger. He'd had a friend at Cranborn's when they'd been taken over by Lally & Willet's, and within a month the entire sales staff had left. Good Brits, all, but helpless against the lowest pay structure in the industry.
Peacock needlessly straightened his tie and re-entered the corridor. It was a short walk to his destination, which lay behind a plain, unmarked door. He entered without knocking and found himself face to face with Miss Moneypussy, R.'s efficient, protective secretary. Dressed in a fringed suede jumper whose deep neckline served up a generous portion of her ample bosom, Moneypussy straightened up when Peacock entered and coaxed a few stray brunette hairs behind her ear. She would be pretty, Peacock thought, but for her flat brown eyes, so matter of fact, that quickly assessed, then often as not quickly dismissed, anyone violating the privacy of her beloved, overworked superior.
"Good morning," she said evenly, moving to her desk. "He's expecting you." She pushed a button on her intercom. "Captain Peacock has just arrived, sir."
R.'s voice, although rendered thin by the small intercom speaker, nevertheless commanded attention and respect. "Ask him to stand by a moment, Miss Moneypussy."
"Yes, sir." She turned to Peacock and nodded toward the green baize door. "He's been on the phone for an hour."
Peacock frowned. "Must be important."
Moneypussy raised those damnably brown eyes toward the ceiling. "Boardroom level," she said quietly.
For a minute Peacock turned his bowler in his hands and regarded the hatrack in the corner, measuring angles and inches. He'd just decided to try his luck when the small blue light over R.'s door came on. "Right," said Moneypussy. "In you go."
Peacock looked once more at the barren hatrack, which sat in its corner, mocking him. There would be another day.
by Mario Puzo
He sat at his ornate walnut desk, alone in the book-lined study of the late Gothic manse tucked into a cul-de-sac in St. John's Wood, his narrow chin resting on his small, trembling fist. At his elbow a sherry glass sat, most of its contents in small puddles around it. The Hon. Geoffrey Rice Grace, O.B.E. was, as he had instructed his secretary to tell anyone enquiring, indisposed.
It was not easy for Young Mr. Grace, as he was now generally known, to sit idle. Not far away, down the long hallway, past the age-darkened portraits that came from Wales, from Somerset, Scotland and beyond, in the chilly west wing, his brother Henry -- Old Mr. Grace -- lay in his four-poster bed, gaunt and feeble, ancient but in a mocking way somehow not as ancient as his younger brother. Henry didn't get about much now, the younger Grace knew, but he was gathering strength, biding his time. Plotting. There would come a day when his brother would leave his sickbed and once again set his feeble eye on running the family business. And he knew he must be ready for it.
He sighed and again glanced at the datebook before him. His quivering fingers flipped the pages back, uncovering the records of deeds already done, favors already granted to loyal members of the organization. Always they came to him, hat in hand, their voices hushed, seeking help. Seeking justice. And they knew that he could not refuse them. The woman -- Annie was her name -- who'd begged him to reconsider her son for a position, had offered herself to him -- hadn't he relented and taken the lad on? When morale had run low, hadn't he turned over Room 5 to the sales staff for their club? Hadn't he expanded their morning break, seeing to it their coffee was delivered straight to their department? And the dispossessed Ladies' assistant, with nowhere to go, no place to set up her meager things -- hadn't he offered the Fifth Floor to her, and her precious pussy?
No, these people depended on him. He would not abandon them to the jaundiced grip of his brother. And there could be no slowing down, he knew, for he would never again get back to speed. No, he must carry on. His bony finger, after a few tries, finally found the button on his intercom. "Goddard?" he said. "Bring the car around, will you, and come collect me. I'll be going to Mr. Grainger's dinner after all."
He switched his stress indicator back on, then brought the tottering sherry glass to his lips.
|For Esme -- With Soap and Onion
By J.D. Salinger
The first thing you probably want to know about is my lousy childhood, and how my mother had to take in Oriental boarders, and how I had to share the batteries from my shaver with her so she could use her deaf aid, and all that kind of crap, but to tell the truth, I really don't feel like talking about it. But I guess I should tell you about some of the madman stuff that happened to me today, before I wound up here in hospital for an X-ray.
To start off with, nothing ever goes right. I finally got this bird from the country that I told you about to come up and horse around, seeing as how I finally got my mother out of the house for the day. I figured I could show up at work and tell them I had a streaming cold and all that, and that I better just go back home again. Like I said, nothing ever goes right. Clay came in with his back all out of joint from doing yoga or something, and said forget it, that you had to be dead to get out of work at our place. That even if you were paralyzed, they'd make you stay and model clothes like a dummy, for crying out loud. Good old Clay. He really kills me. He's been here for a hundred years or something, and he won't even take a day off when his back is twisted up, but he can still make a joke about everything.
Then ol' Grainger comes in, and I never even got the chance to ask him if I could go home, because he kept running to the kharzi because he had gastric troubles again. That was perfect. I mean, you take a guy like ol' Grainger. He's been here, like, two hundred years, and even he won't stay home when he's ill. He spent most of the morning in the kharzi, which is not my idea of a great time. Half the time it's bunged up. And someone's always writing "fuck you" on the kharzi wall. Like there's not enough places to write "fuck you" outside of Grace Brothers. You have to look at it in your own kharzi, for crying out loud.
Anyway, I tell Mash about the whole thing, and he comes up with this idea about pulling the wool over ol' Peacock's eyes by using some soap and an onion to make it look like I'm sick and all -- said it worked for him on D-day. He's a prince, that Mash, a regular prince. But I wound up swallowing the soap and getting the hiccoughs, and Peacock said I smelled like Lancashire hotpot and that I should go over and stand behind the cabinet until I recovered, so I did.
I'm so damned co-operative, I really am. I mean, ol' Peacock could just say to me, "Mr. Lucas, take your salesbook and go to hell," and I would say "Yes, Captain," and proceed to hell. I really would. I'd just leave quietly. In fact, I'd probably ask him if he'd like a postcard, or if there was anybody he wanted me to say hello to when I got there. Mr. Go Quietly, that's me.
(c) 1999-2002 John F. Crowley