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Rain In The Doorway
ESTABLISHING A LINE OF CREDIT
BY the time the last quartet of cocktails had been drained from what Mr. Owen had at first feared was going to be an inexhaustible shaker but which now he regretted was not, the partners felt themselves suitably set up to call on Mr. Hadly, the president of the bank with which the store did business in its casual way.
"We'll establish a line of credit for you, Mr. Owen," growled the Major like a jovial thunderstorm, "or I'll tear the hinges off the safe with my own two hands."
"And I'll help you," vowed Mr. Dinner. "What good is a bank unless you can establish a line of credit with it, I'd like to know?" As no one seemed prepared to tell him, he added, disgustedly, "They're so drunk I can't even hear them."
"I do feel so good," exclaimed Mr. Larkin. "I believe the four of us could establish a line of anything if we set our minds on it. What say you, Mr. Owen?"
"I say stick to credit," said Mr. Owen wisely. "Once we have our credit we can set about establishing other things—a reign of terror, for example. Some sadistic strain in my composition has always craved for a reign of terror. Also, I've always wanted to carry a cane."
"Let's all carry sticks," cried Mr. Larkin. "Heavy ones. They might intimidate that skinflint Hadly."
He rang a bell on a flower-heaped desk, a girl entered, received the order together with various flattering but uncalled-for observations from all the partners, and in a surprisingly short time returned with four heavy sticks, so large and heavy, in fact, that Mr. Dinner experienced some difficulty in handling his and himself at the same time.
"Speaking of sadism," remarked Mr. Larkin easily, slipping on a pair of light yellow gloves, "did you ever beat a defenceless child?"
In spite of the cocktails, Mr. Owen shuddered as he vigorously shook his head.
"Neither did I," went on Mr. Larkin, "but I've heard it's lots of fun."
"You might try it on my nephew," volunteered the Major. "He's an exceedingly snotty child. Last time I played cards with his father the young scamp pulled four aces from my sleeve."
"Any child should be beaten who does a thing like that," observed Mr. Dinner. "Maybe his father put him up to it."
"Quite possibly," replied the Major. "There always was a mean streak in my brother. Anyway, he'd been losing heavily all evening, what with one thing and another."
"If you'll give me a little room," put in Mr. Larkin, "I'll make an honest effort to veer myself through that door. We really must be going."
The senior partner thereupon veered through a private door giving to the street. Behind him veered his three companions, diligently swinging their sticks. Mr. Owen could not remember ever having veered on to so pleasant a thoroughfare. He drew a sharp breath and tried to remember all the things he had ever heard about Paris. This street, he felt sure, was far better than anything Paris had to offer. Surely there had never been such inviting-looking women seated at such convivial-looking tables. And as he walked past them he became inwardly elated on discovering that the women gazed at him with eyes of undisguised approval.
It was jolly to be looked at that way for a change. He could not help wondering if the cocktails had not only improved his mental outlook but also his physical appearance. If they had, he decided to become a confirmed drunkard. Too few women had paid any special attention to him in the past. Only the out-of-luck souls had seemed to drift his way. Now he was coming into his birthright. He was being admired by the opposite sex. And he, in turn, was admiring. He was returning these women's glances with brightly acquisitive eyes. He was lusting after them all. The world at last was his barnyard. Why didn't everyone get undressed and start in to chase one another? He could not decide which one he would chase first. Probable he would try to run in all directions at once.
It was a friendly sort of day, with a fair blue sky overhead. Beneath it the boulevard gave the impression of running away into friendly places. Other streets branched from it. He caught glimpses of spacious parks and plazas and lovely, interesting buildings. It seemed to be the sort of city he would have built himself, had he been given a free hand. Even the theatres wore an especially attractive aspect. One announcement read: "The only piece of cloth in this show is the curtain." Another play was called Just As We Are, and Mr. Owen, looking at the photographs of the girls, decided they would be just like that in this wholly desirable metropolis. He was very favourably impressed with everything. Delighted.
Their progress was necessarily slow, owing to the wide acquaintance of the three partners with various ladies and gentlemen they encountered in the course of their walk. Even Mr. Dinner, as small as he was and as drunk as he was, appeared to be greatly in demand. At one table Mr. Owen was introduced to a lady who in his exalted state impressed him as being the most beautiful woman in the world. When he extended his hand to take hers she deftly slipped her café bill into his.
"Pay that and I'm yours," she said in a thrilling sort of voice.
Mr. Larkin took the bill from the amazed Mr. Owen, scrutinising it closely, then clapped his hand to his forehead.
"Do you mean for life?" he asked the woman.
She shrugged her handsome shoulders eloquently.
"Nobody wants me for life," she replied.
"They might want you," the senior partner declared gallantly, "but, my dear, only a few men could afford to feed you. Is that just this morning's bill, or have you been living here for years?"
"You know how it is," she smiled. "Just dropped in and felt thirsty. Got a bit hungry. Ordered a few things. That's all."
"The way you say it sounds cheap as dirt," Mr. Larkin said, returning her smile with interest. "If you hadn't let us see this bill we'd never have suspected you were sitting there filled to the scuppers with five quarts of champagne— of the best champagne, let me add, not to mention various other small but costly items."
"I know," protested the woman, "but I have to act this afternoon."
"What in, a free for all?" he inquired. "Or are you fortifying yourself for the entire chorus?"
"Oh, of course," retorted the woman, "if you don't care to pay it——"
"But we do," broke in Mr. Owen.
"You mean you do," the Major amended.
Mr. Larkin quickly passed the bill to Mr. Owen.
"I don't know how much money you have," he observed, "but you'd be simply mad to have as much as that."
Mr. Owen did not have as much as that. And it was such a nice day too. A man should have no end of money on such a day as this and in the presence of such a woman. He looked about him helplessly. Mr. Larkin took the bill and called for the captain.
"Charles," he said smoothly, "this is our new partner, Mr. Owen, Mr. Horace Owen—no, I mean Mr. Hector Owen. I grow confused in the presence of so much beautifully concealed champagne. Anyway, it doesn’t matter. They both begin with H. Why did I call you, Charles?" Charles, who was evidently both fond of Mr. Larkin and quite familiar with his ways, bowed and smiled quite happily.
"Has it to do, perhaps, with the presence of Madame Gloria?" he asked.
"Tremendously, it has," cried Mr. Larkin. "The very woman herself. Now Mr. Owen, our new partner, desires very much to sign her cheque. He will sign the store's name and his own initials, H. O. Even I can remember them. As this bill stands now, it is a worthless scrap of paper. Signed, it becomes even more so. If it doesn't bring money, we may be able to outfit your staff. Is everything understood?"
"Fully," the captain replied with another bow.
"And Mr. Owen gets the woman," went on Mr. Larkin. "Remember that, Charles. She's his until bent with age. This is a monolithic bill. It makes one crawl to think of it. Sign, Mr. Owen, sign."
Mr. Owen signed the bill, and Charles, still smiling, departed with a generous tip provided by Mr. Dinner, who seemed to be the senior partner's peripatetic desk and cash register.
"You owe the firm five dollars in cash," said Mr. Dinner, making a note, "but you might as well give it to me."
"When he gets that line of credit," Mr. Larkin told the small man. "Which reminds me, that line is yet to be got. We must spurt. We must actually tear along."
"Thank you," said Madame Gloria sweetly to Mr. Owen. "I am yours for life."
It was exceedingly indelicate, thought Mr. Owen, the way everyone kept referring to his ownership of this woman, including the woman herself.
"We'll take that up later." he explained to Madame Gloria.
While pondering upon how fast they must tear along, Mr. Larkin had fallen into a mood of deep abstraction. At Mr. Owen's words he looked up thoughtfully.
"Did you say up or off?" he inquired. "The size of that bill makes off almost obligatory." He paused and beamed upon the fair lady. "You may call your friends back now," he said. "I've detected them hiding about in places for quite some time. You've established your line of credit. We must now establish ours. The next time you give a barbecue I hope it will occur to you to stick one of our competitors, or at least wait until we've collected the insurance for some diamonds we lost this morning. Don't know which damaged us most, you or the thief."
As they hurried from the presence of this adorable woman, Mr. Owen was dismayed to see four gentlemen and three ladies converging upon her table from various places of concealment. Then all of them sat down with cries of gladness and anticipatory expressions.
"That's the way we do things here," Mr. Larkin explained. "We boggle at nothing and nothing boggles us. A nice word, boggle. I'm fond of the two g's."
Mr. Larkin said so many things that made any sort of answer seem hopelessly inadequate. Hector Owen was not prepared to commit himself about boggle. He had never considered the word. However, almost any word was a good word on a day like this.
A short time later, in the office of the bank president, Mr. Owen found himself being presented to a large but florid gentleman whose impressively worried expression concealed a weak but generous character. Although habitually called a skinflint by the partners, the appellation had no justification as applied to Mr. Hadly. Anyone who did not immediately respond to the amiable proposition of their inflamed imaginations was automatically classified as a skinflint or worse.
"Well, gentlemen," he began fussily when they had seated themselves in his luxuriously appointed office, "I suppose you have called to see me about those bad cheques we took the liberty of informing you about in this morning's mail."
"The liberty!" exclaimed the Major aggressively. "I call it decidedly bad taste. An imposition! Cheques can't stay good for ever. I say——"
"One moment, Major," cut in the suave voice of the senior partner. "Save that for later. Your words might befog the issue—even sink it entirely." Here he turned to the president and literally showered him with smiles. "You'll forgive the poor dear Major," he continued. "He's such a God damn fool. You were saying in your nice, friendly way something about cheques. Ah, yes, I remember. It was something about bad cheques, wasn't it? Well, let's not talk about them. We would never get anywhere that way. They're like spilled milk, no good sobbing over them. Let the dead bury the dead. And another thing, we omitted the detail of opening the mail this morning. You see, we take turns and this morning we forgot whose turn it was. So we didn't open the mail at all. There it still is. Quite unopened. Naturally, we can't go on. You can see that for yourself, my dear, good Hadly."
"Although for the life of me I can't," his dear, good Hadly replied in a weary voice, "I'll try to if you'll endeavour to bend your brilliant faculties on this."
"Did you hear that, gentlemen?" Mr. Larkin demanded proudly. "For once a bank president has spoken the truth." He addressed himself to Hadly. "If you'll overlook those cheques I'll do more than bend my faculties. I'll wrap them about anything you may have to say."
"Good!" exclaimed the president. "Wrap 'em around this. Your stockholders have placed in my hands for collection all of the guaranteed coupons for dividends due to them since you first took over the store. Naturally, I must do something about it."
"I should say you must," remarked Mr. Larkin, deeply moved. "You must throw those coupons right back in their double faces. Those coupons are not worth the paper they were printed on. Never were. If the truth were known, the words printed on them are not worth as much as the paper. I didn't make up the words, anyway. As I remember, Dinner did, and he was drunk at the time. Everyone should know that a drunken man's words shouldn't ever be taken seriously. If we believed what you said when you were only half drunk you'd be owing us the bank."
"As it is," replied Mr. Hadly, unable to keep a note of bitterness from creeping into his voice, "I've practically given it to you."
"Well, we've given you things, too," put in Mr. Dinner hotly. "Shirts and socks and even the drawers to your legs. And you still owe us for a mink coat you gave to that foreign——"
"One moment," Mr. Hadly interrupted, glancing uneasily at the door. "Let's save our recriminations for the bar-rooms. I give you boys credit——"
"How did you know?" the Major asked in surprise. "That's just what we came for. We wanted to establish a line of credit for our new partner. And here you go giving it to us before we've even asked."
"I wish the Major were dead," said Mr. Larkin. gazing dreamily into space as if seeing laid out upon it the large, dead body of his partner. "Everything would be so much simpler then. And if Dinner would only sicken and die, I might even yet be able to snatch a few moments of happiness from life. However——" He broke off with a shrug and turned to Mr. Hadly. "I didn't want it to sound so bald when the matter was first presented to you. It wouldn't have sounded nearly so bad the way I was going to put it—the way I am going to put it, in fact. You see—"
"I'm not going to do it, whatever it is," the president broke in desperately. "And that's flat."
"I should say it is." Mr. Larkin agreed. "So flat it's silly. Now, listen, if you please. No more temper. I don't like it. You know how I am about temper. Easy on, easy off, or whatever you say."
Mr. Larkin stopped and looked at the president as if expecting an answer. Not knowing what else to do, Mr. Hadly nodded, although he obviously hadn't the remotest idea what he was nodding about. However, he had always found things went better if he nodded occasionally when Mr. Larkin was in full cry. The nod seemed to satisfy the senior partner, for he continued in his best manner.
"You see," he said, "Mr. Owen here, as our new partner, quite naturally has at heart the best interests of the bank with which we do business. Just how we do business and what business it is we do, need not enter into this discussion. We must all remember that. For it is very important that we should not embarrass the issue with facts. As soon as we talk facts we get to calling each other nasty names which are even harder to stand than the facts themselves. Is that understood?"
From the various expressions on the faces he inspected it was almost impossible to ascertain whether it was understood or not. Nevertheless, it was not denied.
"Very well, then," he resumed. "To continue. Mr. Owen, being who and what he is, does not want to give the wrong impression of the bank to our innumerable important friends. He does not want people to think he is dealing with a stingy bank, a penny-pinching, close-fisted, blood-sucking institution such as any bank would be that refused him a line of credit. I hope I'm not boring you with these obvious little details?"
"Not at all," said the president politely. "You've merely sickened me."
"Good!" exclaimed Mr. Larkin. "That's one way of breaking down resistance. But don't start me veering. I'd hate to begin rotating like crops." He paused and cleared his throat. "Nor," he resumed, "does our Mr. Owen want it to get about among his friends and influential business connections that the president of his bank is a man of low character, with the appetite of a swine and the instincts of a torturer. He doesn't want people to say as he passes them on the street, 'There goes old Owen, poor fellow. It's a damned disgrace how that chap's bankers keep him short of cash. I wouldn't deal with bankers like that if I had to go out of business. Hadly, from what I can learn, is a big hunk of cheese. It would hurt him to hear things like that. It would hurt us all. But most of all it would hurt the bank. Most of all it would hurt Hadly, here, the president of the bank. And we don't want to do that."
"May I ask," inquired Mr. Hadly in a weak voice, "what you do want to do?"
"Merely to establish a line of personal credit for Mr. Owen," replied Mr. Larkin, "that would enhance the prestige of the bank we honour with our account. I will not permit it to be said that we do things on a small scale."
"You have, of course, collateral to secure this credit?" Hadly inquired more for the pleasure he would derive from infuriating the partners than from any hope of security.
"Are you mad?" three voices screamed in varying degrees of rage.
"You've already got in those beastly vaults of yours," boomed the Major, "practically everything we own in the world save our women and personal attire."
"Let's beat him up with our sticks," suggested Mr. Dinner, almost in tears. "He's gone too far this time. He'll be asking us for our list of telephone numbers next."
"No," said the senior partner. "I've got something that will hurt him more than that. When my new yacht goes into commission next week we won't invite him to come along. That will break his heart. That will simply burn him up."
"How much does he want?" asked Mr. Hadly wearily.
"How much can you spend?" Mr. Larkin promptly demanded of Mr. Owen. "I mean without stinting—without giving the wrong impression?"
"I don't know," faltered Mr. Owen. "I don't need a great deal. Never had much to spend."
"He doesn't know what he's saying," Mr. Larkin said hastily to the president. "Your sordidness has deranged him. I think he should have for his personal use about fifteen hundred a month."
"Fifteen hundred!" gasped the president. "What does he intend to do—drink, gamble, and run around with women?"
"What would you want him to run around with?" the Major demanded. "Cows?"
"I don't know," muttered the president. "I don't want him to run around at all."
"No," observed Dinner scornfully. "You want him to stay home and grow old economically."
"No, I don't," retorted Hadly. "I don't mind a man having a bit of fun now and then, but with fifteen hundred dollars a man can't have anything else but fun. Wouldn't one thousand be enough to keep up the prestige of this bank? We wouldn't expect too much, you understand."
"Let's toss a coin to see whether it's a thousand or fifteen hundred," Mr. Larkin suggested.
"All right," replied the president. "A gambling chance is better than no chance at all."
For a few moments the five gentlemen waited uneasily to see who would produce the coin. They waited without result. No one produced the coin.
"Go on," said the Major at last to Mr. Hadly. "You furnish the coin, or isn't there such a thing knocking about this dump?"
"I do wish you'd prevail upon your partners," Mr. Hadly complained to Mr. Larkin, "to moderate their manner of address somewhat. After all, I'm not quite a dog, even though I am the president of a bank. They really do owe me something."
"They owe you everything," Mr. Larkin replied hastily. "As I remarked before, it would be better were they dead and buried in their graves."
"You didn't say a word about graves," said Mr. Dinner.
"No?" asked the senior partner. "Well, I don't greatly care whether they bury you or not, so long as you're dead. However, I can't expect to get everything at once. Give me that coin, Hadly, and we'll toss for this line of credit."
"It's half a dollar," said the banker, looking closely at the coin before handing it over. "I shall expect it back."
"God," muttered the Major. "You're so damned cold blooded you could freeze ice cubes in the hollow of your tongue."
"Gentlemen," cried Mr. Larkin, tossing the coin in the air, "I cry tails."
"You would," declared the Major. "How does she lie?"
"Who?" asked Mr. Larkin, forgetting to look at the coin he had deftly caught in his hand.
"The coin! The coin!" cried the Major.
"Pardon me," said the senior partner, gazing down into his hand. "I was thinking of something else. Dear, dear me, now isn't this odd. It fell tails up. Mr. Owen, you're lucky."
"So are we," declared Mr. Dinner. "We can all borrow from him."
"But first he must have a cheque book," said Mr. Larkin. "Hadly, that's a dear boy, send for some cheque books. We all want some cheque books. And ask the head teller to step in. He should meet our new partner."
When the teller appeared, armed with a stack of cheque books, he was introduced to Mr. Owen. He was a sardonic-looking person with a pair of glittering eyes and a tongue that was awed by no man, regardless of how much he was worth.
"Not at all sure whether I'm glad to meet you or not," he told Mr. Owen. "Your partners' cheques are bouncing all over the bank, and now I'll have to play leap-frog with yours, I suppose. Don't you birds ever get tired of spending money? I know I am, of trying to find it for you."
"Our new partner has lots of money to spend," said Mr. Dinner proudly. "He's just established a splendid line of credit, and he owes me five dollars already."
"Write him a cheque," put in Larkin, "or you'll never hear the end of it."
"And while you're settling up," Mr. Hadly suggested, "you might as well let me have that half-dollar back."
"I'd like to sit next to you in hell," said Mr. Larkin admiringly to the president, "but I fear you would pick my pockets even while we shivered."
"Our hands would probably become entangled," replied Hadly, smiling at last, now that the unpleasant business was over. "Glad to have met you, Mr. Owen. Bear in mind that just because you have fifteen hundred a month you don't have to spend it all."
"Certainly not," said the Major. "We don't expect him to. We have all sorts of ideas about the disposition of his funds."
"I want a cheque for five berries," Mr. Dinner dully declared.
"Give him his cheque and let's pound along," put in Mr. Larkin. "That damned Kiarian luncheon has to be outfaced. Come along, gentlemen. We must thud. Drop round to see our new partner, Hadly, old crow. You'll find him immersed in a book in the Pornographic Department."
And with this merry leave-taking Mr. Larkin hustled his partners from the presence of the president of the most powerful bank in the city. At the door Major Britt-Britt paused and looked back at Mr. Hadly.
"When people come to see us," he announced, "especially old and valued friends, we'd consider ourselves lepers if we didn't give them a drink."
The door closed on the president's unprintable retort.
"Oh, dear me, yes," Mr. Larkin murmured happily as they strolled down the street. "That's how we do things here. It gives me a deal of pleasure to do old Hadly in the eye. Just the same, I don't believe all bank presidents are conceived in cold storage. Hadly really is a charming fellow."
"How long does this credit last?" asked Mr. Owen.
"Indefinitely, my dear fellow. Indefinitely," the senior partner assured him. "Forget all about it. We can do anything with that bank except dynamite the vaults. They wouldn't like that."
"Let's catch a spray of drinks before we join the Godly," Mr. Dinner suggested.
"Not a bad idea," said the Major.
"A good idea," agreed Larkin. "Then we'll feel better equipped to establish a reign of terror among the Kiarians."
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