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Thorne Smith


No Job for a Lady

SALLY'S position in the office was becoming increasingly more difficult. There were times when she was called upon to dash off pieces of copy on the spur of the moment. She grew to dread these sudden demands on her depleted supply of inspiration. The results of her best efforts were usually quite unsatisfactory. There was no Tim in the offing to call upon for assistance. She was forced to rely on her own vast inexperience. What did she know, poor girl, about drop forges, lubricating oils, Never Flap union suits, and a number of other unsympathetic, not to say inimical, products thirsting for popularity through the medium of advertising? She was beginning to crack under the strain of the situation into which Mr. Ram had plunged her, and she, too, cursed that colourful little gentleman from the bottom of her heart. Grudgingly she admitted to herself that the business of being a good provider for a family even of two was not as easy as it had once seemed. There were times when she even wished that she could change positions with Tim and do things about having a baby. He was making an awful mess of it, getting himself all worked up and nervous.

All afternoon she had been labouring uninspiredly on one of these rush-copy assignments when a person no less than Mr. Gibber himself saved her. He summoned her to his presence and spoke with unwonted feeling.

"Willows," he said, "Tom Burdock is in the city and we can't get him out. He's our best client. We have to handle him with gloves. A club would be better, but, as I say, he is our most important and profitable client. Already he has both physically and morally shattered three of our most hardened account executives. It is now your turn—your opportunity, I should say. Get Tom Burdock out of town and you are a made man here. The sky is the limit. Stick to him. Don't let him out of your sight. Here's two hundred dollars. Give it to him and get him to sign this slip. Draw as much money as you need yourself. It's on the house. Now, Willows, I don't hold with excessive drinking. Never have. But this is an exceptional case. I feel that any steps you see fit to take to get Tom Burdock on a train headed back home will be fully justified. After all, his wife and children might like to see what he looks like. Use drugs if necessary. And remember, he is our most important client. Be smooth, be tactful and—you know—be convivial. Above all, stick to your man."

Sally may live to witness the stars go mad in their orbits, volcanoes gush forth ill-tempered jets of flame, and the Empire State Building stand jauntily on its head, but more vivid, more demoralising than any of these manifestations will be the memory of her attempt to stick by Tom Burdock.

He was a large, jovial man with a crop of defiant red hair, a livid face, and an all-pervading thirst. She found him sitting on the bed in his hotel room in the attitude of Rodin's Thinker. When she gave him the two hundred dollars, the great man changed his position and looked upon Sally as if she were a messenger from on high. Immediately thereafter he began to distribute largess to the hotel staff. As a result of this generous conduct numerous flasks and bottles began to make their appearance, and as a direct result of their arrival Tom Burdock was soon back where he had been on retiring the previous evening. It was in this exalted state that it occurred to him it would be a benevolently paternal act to buy a doll for his youngest daughter. As long as Tom Burdock could think he acted, and even after he had ceased to think he still continued to act. Sally found herself in the street sticking to the great man.

"Willows," he declared, "I'm going to buy me a doll—for my youngest daughter—it will get her on my side. When I get back home I'll need every friend I have on earth as well as many who have indubitably gone to hell."

Cheered by this harking back to home, Sally encouraged him in his mission. When they left the department store she found herself carrying the largest and most lifelike baby doll she had ever seen. The thing even felt like a baby as she carried it along the street, Burdock, in his impatience with details, having stripped off the wrapping, which like all wrappings had untidily come undone. The doll attracted no little attention and comment on the part of passing pedestrians, and it was this that started the trouble. Mr. Burdock conceived the idea that Sally was carrying the doll all wrong.

"Here, give me that doll," he said, looking critically at Sally. "I'll show you how to carry a baby. Watch me."

Not only did Sally watch him, but also everyone else on the street. Burdock's method of carrying the doll was brutal in the extreme. With one huge hand he seized the lifelike object round its neck and dragged it along after him, its legs dangling gruesomely against the pavements. In spite of her knowledge that Mr. Tom Burdock's burden was as inanimate as a doll could be, Sally was unable to repress a slight shudder of revulsion on seeing it thus handled. The fact that at home Tim was busily if reluctantly evolving a real baby did not help matters. Sally was sensitive about babies.

They had not progressed very far when they were accosted by an indignant but, unfortunately, myopic old lady who informed the genial Mr. Burdock that if he persisted in subjecting an innocent child to such inhuman treatment she would be forced to call a policeman. The situation seemed to tickle Tom Burdock. He proceeded to make it worse.

"Innocent child!" he exclaimed huskily as he grabbed the doll's neck with two powerful hands and began to choke it before the horrified eyes of the old lady. "Innocent child!" he repeated. "I like that. Why, this child has the heart of a fiend, you old owl. It won't go to sleep. It won't do a damn thing. I'm bored to tears with this baby and, madam,"—Tom Burdock lowered his voice—"I'm going to strangle it to death before your very eyes. Observe."

The old lady's piercing scream collected a crowd with such startling swiftness that Sally gained the impression its individual members must have been rehearsed in their parts and had been merely awaiting the old lady's signal to rush into action. In spite of Mr. Gibber's adjurations to stick to Tom Burdock, Sally felt strongly inclined to remove herself as speedily as possible from the neighbourhood of the Nationwide Advertising Agency's most important client and to stay removed. Above the crowd Mr. Burdock towered, the doll raised aloft, its head shaking so violently that it gave every appearance of life and animation.

"I'll murder the child," gritted Burdock. "It's illegitimate, anyway. Better dead than alive."

The doll was moving so rapidly now that it was virtually impossible for the spectators to ascertain its true character. Several men covered their eyes with their hands in an endeavour to blot out the unnerving sight. The women stared as if fascinated and the old lady screamed.

"Gord," breathed a girl to her escort. "The poor kid must be used to such treatment if it doesn't even cry."

"Can't very well get used to a thing like that," answered the man. "By the time you do you're damn well done in."

Sally began to fear that the most important client was beginning to lose his head, to take his part too seriously. He was laughing like a demon and his eyes were flashing wildly. The success of his acting had overstimulated him.

"Innocent child!" he cried, addressing himself to the crowd. "Ha! See what I do with it. I choke it. I twirl it. Thus."

And Mr. Burdock began to twirl the doll above his head.

"I can stand very little more of this," gasped a well-dressed gentleman. "I'm not very fond of children myself, but such treatment of a mere baby is going altogether too far."

"Stick out your tongue at the lady," said Tom Burdock. "Go on, stick it out, you black-hearted brat."

"He's gone mad," ejaculated a woman. "He doesn't know what he's doing. For God's sake get a policeman."

But already several members of the crowd were beginning to suspect the true state of affairs. They smiled with tolerant amusement and waited for further developments.

"Are you a friend of this gentleman?" a man asked Sally.

"Merely a business acquaintance," Sally replied hastily.

"He's more than that," cried Mr. Burdock, who had overheard the question. "He's the father of this baby. He refuses to give it a name."

"Then why don't you do something about it?" the old lady demanded of Sally. "Are you willing to see your own baby murdered?"

"Yes," replied Sally in a voice that carried conviction. "I don't want it. Small children disturb me. And anyway, I can't stop this madman. He might take it into his head to twirl me about. That would never do."

"Oh!" exclaimed the old lady. "I've never experienced such cowardice and brutality in all my born days. Why doesn't a policeman come? Why don't you men do something?"

She kicked Mr. Burdock sharply on the shin, and that gentleman uttered a howl of rage.

"Stop that!" he shouted. "You're only making matters worse for the baby. I'll snap the thing's head off"

"Don't worry, lady," a spectator said soothingly to the old woman. "It's not alive."

"Do you mean to say it's dead?" she asked. "Then that means murder. And every one of you are accessories before the fact for looking on and letting him do it."

And with this she lifted up her voice and called piercingly for the police. Presently Patrolman Riley sweated a path through the crowd. At the sight of the policeman Tom Burdock redoubled his efforts. The doll fairly sizzled in frantic revolutions.

"What's going on here?" demanded Riley. "What's all the trouble?"

Apparently the members of the crowd decided to let the officer find that out for himself.

"Arrest everyone," said the old lady. "Officer, they're all in it. They've let this madman murder a baby before their very eyes. And there's his friend, the father of the child."

Sally stood quakingly under the accusing eyes of the policeman, but at this moment a diversion occurred. The doll detached itself from one of its legs and described a jangling arc in the air. For a moment it poised over an open manhole in which some labourers were further confusing the electric system of the city, then dropped from sight within. Officer Riley, abandoning his tactics of tolerant inquiry, sped after the doll and followed it down into the manhole. For a moment Mr. Burdock stood looking at the leg in his hand.

"Can't do anything with that," he said at last. "Perhaps a cannibal's daughter might like it, but not mine. Here, old lady, you can have it as a little souvenir of your first murder."

He thrust the leg into the hand of the shrinking old lady and, breaking through the crowd, hailed and entered a taxi. Sally stuck to him.

A few minutes later Officer Riley emerged from the manhole with a disgusted expression on his face and a dishevelled doll in his arms. He approached the old lady and shook the bedraggled object under her nose.

"Here's your murdered baby," he snarled. "I've a good mind to run you in for making a fool of the law." He looked about for Mr. Burdock. "Where's he gone?" he demanded. "Did you let that man escape?"

"I couldn't stop him," the old lady faltered.

With a cry of rage the officer dashed the doll to the sidewalk and shouldered his way through the grinning crowd.

"Move on, the lot of you," he shouted, "or I call for the patrol wagon."

Slowly the crowd dispersed, leaving a bewildered old lady peering down at the doll lying crumpled at her feet.

Back at the hotel Sally was sitting on the bed and seriously considering Mr. Burdock, who was soothing himself with a bottle. She realised he presented a problem that would require some stiff solving. With the abandoning of the doll the man had severed the one tie he seemingly had with his home. She had an overnight job on her hands and a pregnant husband at home impatiently awaiting her return. Mr. Gibber had told her to stick to Tom Burdock. Her job depended on the success of her sticking powers. She would have to telephone to Tim.

"Willows," said Mr. Burdock, from his easy chair, "we know all about how to buy a doll, but we're not so good at getting it home. I think I'll have the next one sent."

"I would," agreed Sally. "To the Aleutian Islands, for instance."

Disgustedly she rose from the bed and put in a call for Tim. When she heard his familiar voice coming to her over the wire she followed her natural instincts and spoke to him as a wife speaks to a husband—that is, as she speaks at times.

"Oh, Tim, darling," she called in a soft, feminine voice. "Yes, dear, of course, this is Sally. And I won't be home to-night. No, not to-night. Don't use such terrible language. It's Mr. Burdock. Yes, yes, dear. Tom Burdock, a client. What's that? A what? Oh, Tim, he's a perfect dear. Yes, simply sweet. You understand. Will you miss me, old thing? That's nice. Good-bye. Take care of Baby. It's a big thing. Of course not. I don't mean Baby."

When Sally turned back to Mr. Burdock he was looking at her with a very peculiar expression in his eyes, a mixture of fear and suspicion.

"I always call my husband Tim," she said rather pointlessly, becoming confused herself for a moment.

"But I thought your name was Tim," Tom Burdock replied.

"That's right," said Sally. "We call each other Tim just for the fun of the thing."

It was Mr. Burdock's turn to become confused. He scratched his mop of red hair and looked consideringly at Sally. He failed to see just where the fun of the thing came in.

"Well," he said at last, "I guess the best thing for us to do would be to take a little drink." Then he suddenly elevated his voice and looked archly at Sally. "Do you drink, dear?" the great man lisped. This was followed by a roar of drunken laughter. Tom Burdock was under the impression that at the moment he was hugely amusing. Not so Sally. Quite cheerfully and without compassion she could have poisoned the man.

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