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Rain In The Doorway


Thorne Smith



THAT same evening at nine Satin and Hector Owen had the somewhat dubious pleasure of meeting the wives of the partners. Mr. Larkin's town house stood in a side street only a few yards removed from one of the main thoroughfares of the city. It was difficult to distinguish it from the neighbouring cafés, the senior partner having conceived the quaint idea of placing tables before his front door and shielding them from the sun with parasols of startling floridity. A waiter stood in attendance. The same festive atmosphere was maintained within the house itself, the dining-room having all the earmarks of a first-class bar-room.

In the hall a check girl was waiting to relieve the callers of anything with which they cared to part. She gave Mr. Owen a check and an after-hours smile. He felt at home immediately.

The reception room was wildly luxurious. It gave the impression of veering like its owner. In it awaited the wives. The introductions were almost touchingly simple.

"This is Nana," said Mr. Larkin, indicating a small, dark woman of middle years with youthfully wicked eyes.

"Shall I kiss him on the lips," asked Nana, removing a cocktail glass from hers, "or shake him by the hand?"

"Why not bite him on the ear?" suggested Mr. Larkin.

Nana looked for a moment into Satin's glittering eyes. One look was sufficient. She shook Mr. Owen's hand.

Dinner's wife was tall and rawboned in a good-looking way. Although no longer in her first blooming, she was still in full possession of her sex and wore her blonde dye recklessly. She was referred to as the Kitten, for no reasonable reason at all. The Major's source of dissatisfaction was undeniably plump. Snow-white hair fell round a pink, youthful face. There were dimples in the face. Her name was Aggie, and like Nana and the Kitten, she too, was a little drunk. The partners were surprisingly sober, a social error they made haste to rectify.

The party came to rest against the bar in the dining-room. It occupied one entire wall. Behind it were two red-faced, benevolent individuals with the most meticulously brushed and parted hair Mr. Owen had ever seen.

"We've been running these poor men ragged," the Kitten explained, "all day long. They're exhausted mentally as well as physically. Can't think up any more drinks. We've tried them all."

"You know," put in Nana, trying to look naive and failing most lamentably, "we get so lonely when our husbands are away——"

"As they always are," put in Aggie.

"——that the only thing left to do is to drink like fish," Nana concluded.

"Please don't, my dear," said the senior partner hastily. "Don't mention fish in my presence. We had such an unfortunate time with a whale only last night. Stayed up with the monster till dawn. You can't imagine how troublesome a whale can be until you've actually met one."

"Good! " exclaimed Nana. "I like that better and better. One can hardly go to bed with a whale."

"But if anyone could go to bed with a whale," quoth Aggie, "those three men would be the ones."

The partners looked distressed.

"Would it be possible to veer this conversation into more savoury channels?" suggested the senior partner with a delicate lift of his eyebrows. "The mere idea of going to bed with a whale makes my reason totter. Harry, a triple Martini, if you please. Serve it in a stein."

"And what do you do at the store, my dear?" asked Nana, turning to Satin. "Are you a model?"

"I sell dirty books," said Satin, and Mr. Owen thanked his God she did not add, "lady."

"Marvellous," cried the Kitten. "Simply marvellous. And you go around with a lot of dirty men—our husbands."

"Come, come," put in Major Barney. "Take us off the pan for a while. There are worse husbands than we are knocking about this town."

"A depressing thought," said Aggie.

"Incredible," added Nana. "Say something, Mr. Owen. We've hardly heard your voice. Do you lech, too?"

"Do I what?" asked Mr. Owen, shrinking a little at the very sound of the word.

"What I meant was," explained Nana, "are you a lecherous man?"

"May heaven turn my toenails blue," exploded the senior partner. "What a question to ask a guest! Do you lech? Hold me before I begin to careen all over the room."

"I wouldn't call him overly lecherous," answered Satin for the stunned Mr. Owen.

"Then you know, my dear. You've found out," said the Kitten in tones of delight. "I do hope he's promiscuous, at least. There are so few fresh faces. His is not unattractive."

The three wives looked closely into Mr. Owen's face then nodded significantly at each other. Mr. Owen drank steadily and endeavoured to appear at ease. Presently he succeeded far better than he had intended.

By the time they had finished with the bar the dinner was in even a worse condition than the diners, yet no one seemed to mind, as the courses were snapped through and set aside in favour of wine.

"He bit a bear yesterday," Mr. Larkin announced, pointing at the guest of honour, "and the bear swooned."

"If he bit me," retorted Aggie, "I think I'd swoon, too —right in his arms. Will you bite me sometime, Mr. Owen?"

"Try not to be so mollish," interposed the Major.

"And he saved our three lives," put in the small Dinner from behind a large glass. "We were drowning and he saved our lives. All three of them."

The wives looked reproachfully at Mr. Owen.

"Why did you do that?" demanded Nana. "Have you no consideration for us?"

"But my dear lady," protested Mr. Owen, "I couldn't let my partners drown right before my eyes."

"We could," said the Kitten. "We could even go so far as to help them to drown."

"Pay no attention to them, my boy," Mr. Larkin called out from the end of the table. "Our wives have a sense of horror instead of humour. If you want to make a hit with them, although I can't understand why you should, just take them to the morgue for an outing. They'd love it dearly." He glanced at his watch, and uttered an exclamation. What do we do with time?" he said. "It's eleven o'clock already."

"We tossed time over the bar in great handfuls," his wife told him, "and besides, we didn't begin operations until well after nine o'clock."

"I must get in touch with the Mayor," continued Mr. Larkin. "Something has just occurred to me. Owen, I loathe policemen. They're always under one's feet. I feel so splendidly now I'd like to assault a cop."

"It's been a dream of mine," replied Mr. Owen, "a beautiful dream unfulfilled."

"Well," said the senior partner, "it's become a mania with me. Therefore, I suggest that by way of entertainment we indulge in a little concentrated cop baiting. The Mayor is my brother-in-law. He is putty in my hands as well as in those of his bosses. I must make some arrangements with him for the protection of our various bodies and persons."

"It would do me a lot of good to bash a cop in the eye," Mr. Dinner declared as the senior partner left the room to arrange things with the Mayor.

"It would do the cop no harm," his wife replied. "You're such a little man."

"And it would do me even more good," the little man went on dispassionately, "to bash you in the eye."

"Is that so," replied Mrs. Dinner. "I'd have to sit on the floor, my midget, to give you a chance."

Mr. Dinner's bitter retort was interrupted by the slightly swaying entrance of the senior partner.

"It's all arranged," he announced. "Larry, the Mayor's secretary, is going to sit by the wire. We will be permanently connected."

"What did you tell his honour?" inquired Major Barney.

"Merely that we were going to have a bit of a lark," replied Mr. Larkin, "and we didn't want any police interference. Larry has been instructed to take care of that side of the business. All we have to do is to assault or insult an officer, then run like hell to this house. You see, we must lure them in." He paused and thought deeply for a moment, then addressed himself to his wife. "Nana," he said, "as I remember it, you have somewhere about the house a sort of a heavily stuffed leather bar we foisted off on the women of this city under the guise of a flesh-reducing device. Will you get it? While not being exactly lethal, it will make a decidedly effective weapon."

The senior partner, with all the solemnity of a chief of staff giving instructions for an approaching engagement, turned to Major Barney.

"Major Britt-Britt," he began, "on our first sortie from the house you are to remain behind and close to the door. When we lure a policeman in, you whack him with the leather bar with the object in view of reducing his flesh to atoms."

Nana, who had left the room, returned with a long, felt-packed leather bar. The Major took it and swished it through the air. Then he smiled a trifle grimly and sat down, looking infinitely pleased. It was going to be a good evening.

Then began one of the maddest and most undignified adventures in which either Mr. Owen or his partners had yet taken part. It was reprehensible in every detail, in conception as well as in execution, and yet like so many reprehensible exploits it was entirely and most satisfyingly successful. It was not that these thuggish gentlemen had any personal score to settle with the minions of the law, but merely that as private citizens they felt it only fair that they should get their innings once. And in extenuation of their conduct it must be borne in mind they were still suffering from the effects of the previous night as well as from an overdose of Minnie, the female sperm whale.

Leaving the Major at the front door, Mr. Larkin led his two partners from the house. They looked about at once for a policeman. Unfortunately for him one was standing on the corner. As Mr. Larkin approached the officer he, the senior partner, thought of the lowest and most objectionable word he could fling in the man's face. When he found this word Mr. Larkin shivered a little himself and wondered if he could get it out.

"Can you pretend to laugh?" asked Mr. Larkin of his partners in a low voice. "Irritatingly. You know—tauntingly?"

“I'll be able to make some sort of offensive noise," replied Mr. Owen, "although I still find myself a trifle awed by the majesty of the law."

“You must both wait until I've done my stuff," continued the senior partner, "then, like a Greek chorus, you're to come in with peals of taunting laughter. After that we must run like hell."

"That part I will play to perfection," Mr. Dinner muttered.

Walking snappily and with every indication of purpose, the three men swung up to the unsuspecting policeman and confronted him.

"Officer," said Mr. Larkin in a businesslike voice, "are you listening?"

"No," snapped the officer. "Whatta you want?"

"Officer," continued the senior partner quite distinctly, "listen well. Officer, you're a punk, and I'm going to tweak your repellent nose."

Before the policeman could recover his stunned faculties Mr. Larkin's hand shot out and affixed itself to the man's nose which he proceeded to tweak with both skill and vigour.

"Laugh," murmured Mr. Larkin to his partners. "Tauntingly."

Weird noises issued from the throats of Messrs. Owen and Dinner. They sounded more terrified than taunting, yet they served one purpose. They brought the assaulted policeman back to life and fury with a snap.

"You're a low punk, officer," Mr. Larkin assured the appalled policeman in his rather precious accents. "Try to paddle those great flat feet."

It is needless to say that the policeman did try. He tried his level best. Down the street he pounded after the flying heels of the partners. At the door of the house they paused and looked back. The officer was close at hand.

"Here we are, low punk of a policeman," called the senior partner, then ducked into the house, his companions close behind him.

"Be ready. Major!" Mr. Larkin cried, darting for the telephone. "The blow is intended to outrage more than it is to maim."

The officer did not hesitate until the resounding whack from the stuffed leather bar brought him to a full stop. As the weapon struck him across the stomach he exhaled vastly great quantities of air, then sat down on the floor. His face was working furiously, while inarticulate sounds issued from between his lips. Presently, as he pulled himself together, these sounds formed themselves into words.

"A punk, am I?" he was heard to mutter. "Holy Saint Patrick preserve us, they'll never get over this. Never. I'll tear them all to pieces. I'll torture them for years."

Mr. Dinner glanced at Mr. Owen and discovered that he too was taking the policeman's words very much to heart. By the telephone Mr. Larkin was calmly sitting, the receiver in his hand. Slowly the officer rose from the floor and advanced into the room, his eyes alight with the fires of madness. Before he could bellow his rage, the senior partner addressed him in a voice of authority.

"Officer," he said, "you're wanted on the telephone. The Mayor's office speaking."

The officer paused and glared at the speaker.

"If this is some more monkey business," he muttered, "I'm goinna drag your insides out by their roots."

With this dire threat he seized the telephone and applied the receiver to his ear. And as he listened the red flush of his face changed to a light green.

"Donovan speaking," he began. "I've just——"

"It doesn't matter what you've just done," came the voice at the other end of the wire. "I'm speaking for the Mayor. This is Larry. The boss says you're not to lay a finger on the four gentlemen in 33 Harvest Street. There's no harm in them."

"What!" almost screamed Donovan. "No harm in them. They're dangerous maniacs, I tell you. Do you know what they did?"

"What did they do?" asked Larry, who liked to be entertained.

They called me a punk," Donovan whispered into the telephone. "A low punk of a policeman. That's what they did."

"Well, aren't you?" asked Larry easily.

The officer gasped and strangled. Finally he collected his voice.

"And—and," he continued, "one of them tweaked my nose right in front of everybody. A mighty tweak, it was. And his accomplices laughed at me, very nastily they laughed. And that's not all. For God's sake, Larry, can't I do a thing? I'm that upset—all aquiver."

"What would you like to do?" inquired the voice at the other end of the line.

"Shoot 'em," replied Donovan without a moment's hesitation. "Shoot 'em in painful places."

"You can't do a thing," said Larry, "except to go back to your post. Hurry away now, Donovan, and don't keep me here all night."

With an expression of incredulity in his strained eyes the policeman put down the receiver, and regarded the occupants of the room. Coolly the partners returned his stare. The women looked sympathetic. Suddenly he uttered a wild scream and, springing from the chair, seized Mr. Dinner by the nose.

"Mayor or no Mayor," he grated, "you're going to stand for this."

Mr. Dinner stood for it with fortitude and calm.

"It didn't hurt at all," he announced to the interested gathering. "This punk cop hasn't the strength of a flea."

Donovan's lips were mumbling as he looked hatefully at the telephone. Then with a sound like a sob he staggered from the house and arrested the first citizen he saw on a charge of criminal loitering. From this point on Mr. Owen was scarcely in a condition to remember the remainder of the evening with any degree of clarity. The assault of Officer Donovan had moved him deeply. It had addled his brain and doubled the potency of the drinks he had already consumed. The fact that an officer of the law could be so treated with impunity filled him with a sense of loss. It was like some great upheaval in nature—a fundamental change in the structure of the universe. His amazement temporarily outstripped his satisfaction.

After the crazed departure of the policeman the air was filled with the sounds of popping corks and general jubilation. Some time later he became hazily aware of a terrific battle taking place between the partners and their respective wives. He was impressed by the extreme bitterness and vitriolic quality of this brawl. They were reviling one another with recriminations of the most shocking nature, in the midst of which he fell asleep, his head on Satin's shoulder.

When he awoke the following morning, he was not in bed with one woman as he had expected, but with three, his partners' wives in the fullness of their rage having left their husbands more or less flat. On a day bed by the French windows through which the sun was streaming, Satin was sleeping with the confidence and grace of youth.

There are men who, upon finding themselves so well placed, grow both elated and grateful over their great good fortune—three women in bed and one in reserve. Mr. Owen was not one of these men. He was panic stricken and fearful. For one awful moment his heart stopped beating, then frantically leaped into action. He himself was unable to move, being wedged in between Nana and the plump person of Aggie. And while he was considering the situation with all its shocking implications, his consternation was further intensified by the inquiring scrutiny of three pairs of eyes.

"Look," exclaimed Aggie. "There's a man in bed between us."

"I know it," was Nana's gloomy reply. "I don't have to be told when a man is in bed with me. He's the new partner."

"First drunkenness," came the sleepy voice of the Kitten, "and then dishonour. It always works out that way. Sordid, I call it."

"It's lucky," resumed Nana, "that this is an oversized bed. Otherwise we would have had no sleep at all."

"I don't even remember the name of this threefold seducer," the Kitten observed.

"It's Owen" replied Aggie. "Hector Owen."

“Mr. Owen," inquired Nana, "would you mind giving us a brief résume of what has gone on in this bed?"

"I can't tell you," said Mr. Owen, a weary groan escaping his lips. "All I can say, ladies, is I'm shocked to the quick."

"To the what?" exclaimed the Kitten, her head popping up.

"Don't ask," replied Nana. "We don't care to know."

"Do you all remember anything?" asked Mr. Owen timidly. "No details, of course."

"I don't, worse luck," replied Aggie, "but I can draw my own conclusions."

"Oh-h!" exhaled Mr. Owen. "What have I done?"

"Use your imagination, my dear sir," said the Kitten from her side of the tremendous bed. "It is only too clear to me."

"But I couldn't have slept steadily through the night?" pleadingly asked the man.

"That would have been an insulting thing to do," observed Nana, "as well as foolhardy."

"Rather dishonour," said Aggie, "than such gross neglect."

The Kitten laughed shortly.

"No fear of that," she told them. "A man might neglect one woman, but he could hardly keep out of the way of the three of us, especially a man who bites bears and saves lives and deals in pornographic literature."

"And to think," murmured Nana, "I wanted to know if he leched."

Once more Mr. Owen groaned.

"Don't use that word," he pleaded. "It isn't a verb, anyway. People can't lech."

"Then how would you put it?" snapped Nana.

"I wouldn't even bring up the subject," Mr. Owen replied.

"He must have started over here," the Kitten reflected aloud, "and grimly worked his way across. I've just found one of his socks."

"Have you anything on, Mr. Owen?" asked Aggie, fumbling with the bedclothes.

"Don't! " cried Mr. Owen. "Don't look underneath. I'll find out for myself."

He ducked his head under the bedclothes, then immediately popped it out.

"Little," he said in a hoarse voice. "Very little."

"I'm amazed you made that concession," declared Nana. "How are we fixed for garments?"

"Not at all," replied Mr. Owen. "My God, ladies, this is terrible. I kept one of mine, at least."

"Meaning, we didn't?" inquired Nana.

"I'm very much afraid not," said Mr. Owen in a low voice. "There seems to be nothing as far as the eye can reach."

"What did you do with our clothes?" demanded Aggie.

"I don't know," replied Mr. Owen hopelessly. "I can't remember."

"That will sound good to the judge," put in the Kitten.

"What a man! " observed Nana. "What thoroughness and determination!"

"Come out of that bed at once," commanded Satin from across the room. "What are you doing in there with all those women?"

"Nothing, dear," replied Mr. Owen placatingly. "I'm doing nothing at all."

"Not now, he isn't," sarcastically commented Nana.

"Satin," called Mr. Owen nervously. "All I have left are my drawers."

"They're poor protection against the attack of three full-grown women," said Satin with a dry laugh. "I'm surprised they left you with those."

"Don't blame us," the Kitten protested. "He didn't leave us a scrap—not a blessed shred."

A smothered ejaculation turned Mr. Owen's eyes to the door. The partners were standing in it, their eyes fixed on the bed.

"Heavens!" exclaimed Mr. Larkin. "He's slept with all our wives."

"Our partner," said Mr. Dinner. "Our dear brother in arms—in our dear wives' arms."

But I don't understand it at all," protested the senior partner. "I asked him only to dinner, and here I find him in bed with every wife we have. Isn't that going too far?"

"Owen," said the Major sternly, "what are you doing in bed with our wives?"

"Not a thing, Major," answered Mr. Owen. "Just lying here talking."

"The chat after the storm," observed Satin.

"That's not the way to ask it," Mr. Larkin said to the Major. "Ask him what he has been doing in bed with our wives."

"That would make good listening," Satin commented lazily. "I like droll stories."

"Listen," said Mr. Owen earnestly. "This is God's own truth. I don't know how I got here, why I got here, or what I did when I did get here."

"I never thought a man could cram so many unchivalrous statements into one short, compact sentence," remarked the Kitten indignantly.

"Three fair names dishonoured at one fell swoop," mused the senior partner. "It's almost like magic. You know, I wouldn't be a bit surprised if he had the cook and the check girl under the bed and the maid tucked in the closet."

"A new broom sweeps clean," Honor Knightly tossed in. "I'm actually proud of the man."

"I admire him a little myself," admitted Mr. Larkin. "Such industry. Such enterprise. Such dogged perseverance. I'd like to exhibit him in a show case."

"Madam," thundered the Major, "have you dishonoured my name?"

"Search me," Aggie answered. "I don't believe your name was mentioned."

"It would hardly have been in good taste under the circumstances, Major," put in Mr. Larkin. "I think she was right about that."

"Mrs. Dinner," demanded the small partner, "what have you been doing all night long?"

"Trying to get some sleep," the Kitten answered sulkily.

"My God!" exclaimed Mr. Larkin. "Was he as bad as all that?"

"Ask him," said the Kitten.

"I shrink from the very suggestion of such pell-mell activity," the senior partner declared. "This room must have been a bedlam. I'd actually wring my hands if I thought it would do any good."

"We can't stand here discussing this triple adultery all day," the Major broke in. "You three women are as good as divorced already."

"Of course," agreed Mr. Larkin. "A divorce is most necessary. We can't afford to be dishonoured en masse, especially by the same man. Owen, my boy, do hurry up and dress yourself and you, too, Miss Knightly. People buy pornography at the most amazing hours."

"Divorce and be damned," snapped Nana. "To live with you is about the same as staying single. If your face wasn't so silly I'd forget what it looks like half the time."

"It looks just the same during the other half," Mr. Larkin assured her. "We'll wait for you downstairs, Owen. Your night's work should earn a day's repose and all that, but we can't spare a man of your unflagging energy from the store. Hurry down."

As the door closed on the partners Mr. Owen, casting modesty to the wind, lunged out of the bed and wearily began to dress. Satin did likewise. The three wives watched them with interest, and then calmly went back to sleep.

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