This is my third book. The original title was "Texas Jews." It is the one book that I do not completely stand behind; it suffers from its origins as a screenplay (about my family). I dread to reread it, but offer it to completists.
(Or you can read it here, formatted as plain text:)
The Millionaire in the Top Bunk
2 -- 12/8/98 (file date)
Dorothy drove East in her powder-blue Thunderbird, she could still see the
casino signs in her rearview mirror.
They looked so forlorn in the harsh morning light. Her vision got blurry with tears; after
blotting her eyes there were mascara stains on her palm. She knew that she must look awful but
didn't care to tilt the mirror to see just how awful.
didn't want to leave Las Vegas. It
wasn't her fault, not even a little bit--it was all Max's fault. He'd taken one two many bites from the
apple and now she was getting thrown out
of paradise. But she couldn't tell
Max just how angry she felt this morning.
Max was dead.
was dead because he was dumb, dumb enough to get caught stealing from the wrong
worry, we'll pay all of your moving expenses," Leo had told her at the
not planning on moving."
think you'll be happier back home.
I really do," Leo had quietly insisted.
the desert was so big and brown and empty it made her want to cry again. It was a long drive back to Houston,
but if Dorothy had to start all over, there was no place like home.
the Thunderbird crested a hill, the casino signs vanished from the rearview
mirror. Las Vegas had been a
perfect home. Except for Max. And Leo.
eyes got blurry again, but she was determined to stop all this crying. There was no point in dwelling. After all, tomorrow was another day.
Christmas Eve, 1973
stood at the white Formica cashier island like an admiral on the bridge,
surveying the store with his arms folded, sensitive to every nuance in the
brightly lit room. He had to notice
everything because no one else did, certainly not Milton. Nineteen years ago Dad had drawn the
names out of the hat and Harold's it had
been. Well, if the store had been
named Milton's, he was sure that
he would still be working just as hard.
was well-dressed and well-tanned.
He was thirty-five years old and he worked on his tan. He worked at keeping his hair just so,
getting it barbered twice a week to keep it from getting too curly. Harold worked hard at looking
great. He worked hard, period.
the cashier, stood behind Harold busily ringing up a sale, not a frosted hair
out of place, her red lipstick looking quite seasonable tonight. Faye had taken it upon herself to be
the store's hot number, and the holiday season meant that she could wear her
favorite color every day--flaming red.
pulled back his cuffed sleeve and checked his watch. He secretly turned on the little G.E. TV on the counter,
keeping the sound low. Harold
couldn't help but smile; regular as clockwork, there he was, on the little
black and white screen, bigger than life.
I'm Harold. I dress seventy, I
talk eighty, and I shoot ninety--when my putter's hot. Y'all come down to Harold's in the Heights. We've got everything from three-piece suits to three-par
golf slacks, a big man's shop, and western wear. Right, Willie?"
the Oilers' star halfback, stepped on screen beside Harold and smiled
painfully, as if facing the Steelers' front line. "That's right, Harold."
be looking for you at Harold's this
nodded agreeably to himself and turned the little TV off. He wondered if he had looked a little
stiff. Maybe it was just the TV
set. And Harold knew that he could
be overly critical about himself.
think you look cute on TV," Faye whispered.
nodded, bolstered by her compliment.
was sitting stocking-footed behind his massive and neatly organized oak desk,
in a high-backed leather chair.
His office was upstairs; through a one-way mirror on the door to let
Milton see the comings and goings in the tailor shop.
jacket was off, but there was nothing casual about his appearance. Milton's Oxford-cloth shirt was freshly
pressed and a Tiffany tie clasp anchored his Countess Mara tie in place. Milton was thirty-eight, three years
older than Harold, though he looked more youthful. His skin was much paler than Harold's--Harold was a sun
worshipper, but Milton was a night person. Milton worked hard too, but took pains to make working hard
the credenza behind the desk was a photograph of Milton shaking hands with
Richard Nixon. Two closed-circuit
monitors let Milton keep tabs on the goings on down in the store. On one of the monitors he saw Harold
put away the TV set now that his commercial was over.
got out his long-handled chrome-and-leather shoe horn. He thought it was time to put his
tasseled loafers back on and put in an appearance downstairs, but he lost
interest before he had the first shoe on.
He opened up his credenza.
Inside was a phone tap box that he had secretly installed four years
ago. Milton put on the pair of
Koss Headphones and flipped a switch.
His eyes narrowed as he listened, idly glancing at the photograph of
himself and ex-President Nixon as he tried various lines looking for an
informing or at least an entertaining phone call. Milton put his stocking feet up on the desk and leaned back
in his leather chair, at peace with himself this Christmas Eve as he
listened. "Silent Night"
was playing over the store's Muzak system. Now that was funny, Milton thought, but it wasn't a joke
that he could share.
eyes narrowed unhappily, creating tanned crow's feet, when he saw the three
off-duty cops come in.
Christmas, y'all." With a
pained smile Harold looked around and saw One Iron saying good-bye to a
customer. "One Iron, you help
these boys here with some of the special Van Heusens. You boys have a good one."
and thin, One Iron looked good in the golf clothes that were one of the store's
specialties. No one at the store
played the game, but One Iron looked like a golfer and did pretty well selling
the golf clothes. Milton had given
him the nickname, and Milton had never held a club in his hand, except for a
putter. "The Van
Heusens?" he asked Harold.
the sharp-looking high tabs for our friends in blue," Harold said with a tight smile.
walked stiffly through the shoe department and into the back office. Even with a window overlooking the
parking lot, the office always felt dark and cramped compared to the rest of
the store. His smile gone, he
marched over to Lillian's desk.
was on the phone, smoking a cigarette.
Her hair and make-up were casual and unfussy; Lillian wasn't as vain
about her looks as Harold. She
totaled up a line of numbers and passed the sheet of figures across the desk to
Jolene. Lillian was Harold's older
sister, with paler skin but a sunnier personality. Though Harold was always upbeat with customers and
strangers, Lillian knew that he was a brooder, prone to worry about any and all
pleasantly overweight, sat in awe of Lillian. She had taken to eating Baby Ruth candy bars to give her the
energy to keep up.
Stugeon had commandeered Jolene's phone and smiled blandly back at her dirty
looks. He was a short man who
always seemed to be on the phone.
A salesman who specialized in western wear, Stugeon was dressed in a
western-style suit, ostrich-skin boots, a black Stetson tilted on the back of
goddamn goniffs came in," Harold announced as soon as Lillian had hung up
cradled the phone against her shoulder. "What?"
goniff cops. I gave them the high
collared Van Heusens that no one wants."
lit a fresh cigarette, taking a moment to straighten up a batch of invoices
while she soothed her little brother's latest worry. "Why are you so worked up? Big deal, they want a little hand-out. When was the last time you were robbed? When was the last time?"
frowned. Even though he was
thirty-five years old, and Lillian was forty-two, Harold always felt like a
little boy whenever his older sister questioned him.
was the last time?" Lillian repeated.
Harold wearily answered.
right, never was the last time, so you give the goniffs some shirts that no one
else wants and don't get so agitated."
easy for you to say..."
I do the books, I know how well the store's doing. You're a millionaire, Harold. You can afford to give a couple of shirts away."
nodded to himself, but looked unconvinced. Stugeon finished his phone call and was sidling out of the
room as Faye came in with a deposit bag.
Stugeon gave her a friendly pat on the ass in passing, which Lillian
wondered if Harold even noticed.
swear to god, Stugeon spends half his time on the phone."
what? He's on commission, he makes
his sales. And he provides a
never thought we'd have a goddamn bookie at the store." Harold shook his head and walked
woefully back out on the floor.
the evening sky enormous clouds were blowing in from the Gulf. The curling red letters of the Harold's sign glowed against the last of the twilight. The parking lot was almost empty. Three of Detroit's finest were parked
under a custom fiberglass awning: a Lincoln Continental, a Cadillac Seville,
and a Buick Electra. Inside the
store, lights winked out; Ernie the Cop was locking up the store for the
took Jolene aside and walked her to her Plymouth Duster. "You know we've got a policy about
personal calls, Jolene."
blushed and stammered. She had
suspected that Milton listened in on phone calls; now she was certain. Others in the store had heard
mysterious clicks on the line and had compared notes. Milton knew things that were otherwise impossible to
know. "Yes, Milton. I'm sorry."
touched her arm to reassure her.
"Don't worry about it.
Have a happy holiday. Are
you ready, One Iron?"
thing." One Iron unlocked the Continental and slid behind the wheel. Milton center-folded his sport coat and
got in the passenger side. "A
merry Christmas to all and to all a good night," Milton said cheerily as
they drove away.
frowned as he unlocked his Cadillac and got behind the wheel. Why couldn't Milton drive him own damn
brooded as he drove home down Buffalo Speedway. He looked at his watch and started fiddling with the radio,
hitting the pre-select buttons until he found the right station.
I'm Harold. I dress seventy, I
talk eighty, and I shoot ninety--when my putter's hot. Y'all come down to Harold's in the Heights..."
listened with a smile. It sounded
even better on the radio. How many
people were listening? Maybe Herb
down at the agency could get him some figures. It would be nice to know how many people heard his voice all
at once, in how many cars. Of
course, if the numbers were low no one else need know. Something had to be working--it was
their best Christmas season ever.
Way curved along the same gentle lines as Brays Bayou, three blocks away. A smattering of Christmas lights
decorated some of the red brick houses.
Iron pulled the Continental into the Wiesenthal driveway and parked in
back. Milton lazily got out of the
car and stretched.
heard metal scrape as Harold's Cadillac clipped the corner of the curb and
bounced up the driveway. Harold
wasn't a reckless driver, just inattentive. He parked his Cadillac next to the Continental. "I just heard my Christmas ad on
the radio," Harold proudly announced. "Did you guys hear it?"
hope it was worth it," Milton said.
it cost. It's a little late for a
Christmas ad to bring in any Christmas business."
sure sounded good..." Harold
shrugged philosophically. "If
you're happy, then I'm happy."
Iron gave Milton a mock salute and walked out to the street where his Chevy
Malibu was parked. "So what
me up after dinner."
Milton and Harold came inside, Goldie was up on a chair, peering into a
cupboard at cans of peaches and coffee, as if inspecting her provisions for a
siege. The chair put her on an
even footing with her two sons, making it easy to kiss them hello.
Brousshard, at the stove serving dinner, turned to smile her own hello. Nellie, a Black Creole, was taller than
Milton, but she managed to seem smaller than Goldie. Nellie, who was practically one of the family, deferred to
Goldie in all things.
you get my coffee?" Goldie asked.
"No. What coffee?" Milton asked.
called the store. I told
didn't tell me," Harold said.
got a cabinet full of coffee," Milton observed.
moved some cans aside. "I've
got room for more. Five pound
Folger's is on sale."
was annoyed and amused by Goldie's tenacity. "It'll be on sale tomorrow."
"No. Only today," she insisted. "And you're late for dinner."
dinner the Wiesenthal family sat in the den in a semi-circle around the TV, as
if gathered around a campfire, each with their own TV tray. On the knotty pine walls were family
pictures and middle-brow lithographs of Jerusalem. The yellow linoleum floor was spotless but worn.
had to lean forward to reach their plates, but it was like using chopsticks;
practice made one skilled at eating dinner from a wobbly metal TV tray. The seating order was as codified as a
State Department dinner. Emmanuel,
the pater familias, sat closest to the
TV, on the couch, with Goldie next to him. Next came Milton, and then Harold, in the chintz-covered
armchairs. Next to Harold sat his
sons, Michael, thirteen, and Daryl, eleven, with their chairs angled so that
they too could face the TV during dinner.
The seating order was chronological, from the oldest to the youngest.
had always lived at home, except for the year and a half that he was away at
Texas A & M.
had his own house for the four years that his marriage lasted, at which point
he moved back to Aberdeen Way with the boys. Harold wasn't particularly paternal, but the boys were
Wiesenthals and it was unthinkable that they wouldn't be raised with the family. Truly unthinkable in that Harold didn't
think about bringing the boys back with
him, he just did it. Eleanor, his
wife, was too worn out by Harold's benign lack of interest in all matters not
relating to Harold's in the
Heights to protest. And once
Harold was back home with the boys and bunk beds had been sensibly obtained to
make a reasonable sleeping arrangement possible for the three of them in a
single room, Harold didn't pay as much attention to the boys as he did to Harold's. Harold
was his most dad-like at dinner, sitting as he did next to Michael and
Daryl. But even then his thoughts
were elsewhere. He was usually
thinking ahead to his evening campaign for Harold's in the Heights, a tray-table Napoleon plotting
strategies of self-promotion, although Harold didn't consider promoting the
store to be self-promotion; it was to everyone's benefit, because the better Harold's did the better they all did.
fact that Milton and Harold, both grown men and both successful, still lived at
home with their parents seemed unremarkable to any of the Wiesenthals living in
the little house on Aberdeen Way.
It was just common sense, like keeping at least fifty pounds of coffee
on hand to guard against the unexpected.
Peanuts Christmas Special" was on TV and no one except Daryl cared about
it. The flickering image was like
a campfire, a light to stare into.
Dinner was baked chicken, with potatoes and carrots, a dish over which
Goldie had complete mastery.
Milton liked to have a scotch and soda with dinner, Johnny Walker Black,
but everyone else drank prune juice.
A niece had given Goldie a glass of it the first day she got off the
boat in Galveston, over fifty years ago, and to her the taste of prune juice
was synonymous with freedom and the new land. She'd served Emmanuel prune juice as part of their courtship
and probably wouldn't have married him if he hadn't feigned passion for the
nectar. It had played hell on his
bowels the first year of their marriage, but after that it had the same effect
as drinking tap water. All of
Goldie's children, and now her grandchildren, had grown up drinking the stuff,
and it seemed a natural and appropriate beverage for any meal or time of day. Goldie didn't approve of Milton's
drinking. Emmanuel had tried to
convince her that after a man was thirty he should be allowed to drink what he
liked, in moderation of course.
Goldie did not agree, but in this one matter she reluctantly held her
saw that Michael and Daryl hadn't touched their vegetables. "Eat your carrots," he told
and Daryl looked over to Goldie and Emmanuel to see what to do. "Eat your carrots," Goldie
commanded and they reluctantly obeyed.
Goldie and Emmanuel were really raising the boys, though this was never
you should have driven me to Weingarten's today," Goldie said
Emmanuel ignored her question; suddenly,
he was profoundly interested in the antics of Snoopy on TV, as the goyish dog
tried to put a Christmas Tree on top of his doghouse.
Goldie tried again, then quickly shifted over her attentions to Harold. "Harold?"
had been thinking how nice it would be to see the Harold's commercial here at dinner with everyone, on the
color TV. It would look so much
better in color. He looked over at
Goldie. "Sure, I'll have some
didn't ask you if you wanted more food.
Can you drive me to Weingarten's after dinner?"
felt trapped. "There's a
Christmas party at Champions and another one at River Oaks. I need to stop by both. The mayor will be at the River
can you drive me?" Goldie asked.
got a meeting," Milton said.
very disappointed. Very, very,
disappointed," Goldie said, as the evening took a turn towards martyrdom. One day they would all want Folger's,
they would beg for Folger's, and there wouldn't be any because they were all
too selfish to help.
had heard enough. Enough was
enough. Goldie just didn't know
when to quit. She never quit, she
never let go. "Goldie, I'll
drive you to get the damned coffee.
I can't see so good at night but that's not important as getting another
goddamn five pound can of Folger's.
Just let me eat my dinner in peace!"
I'll go," Harold said, giving Milton a dirty look that Milton acted like
he didn't notice. Harold had real
business to do, promoting Harold's, and
Milton didn't want to do anything except be Milton and have fun, never thinking
about the burden Harold had to carry.
Having a store that bore your name wasn't a blessing, it was a curse. "No, I'll go," Harold
repeated, annoyed that Milton would not volunteer for what the oldest son
should gladly do without having to be asked.
no, no," Goldie said, her martyrdom naturally leading to the self-effacement
that was one of the most noble characteristics of selfless martyrs. "You have important things to do,
Harold. The Folger's isn't that
important. I can live without
course you can live without it," Milton said.
it's not on sale often," Goldie added, fearful that her self-effacement
had gone to far.
said I'd drive you," Harold said, completely exasperated.
ruining my dinner with this constant Folger's, Folger's, Folger's!"
Emmanuel said bitterly, but he didn't stop eating. "I'm trying to eat my dinner in peace!"
peaceful," Goldie said. And
she was. She was truly
was dressed for the evening in his wool crepe sport coat and gray flannel
slacks. His silk tie was red and
green and featured little Santas playing golf.
the Snowman" played softly over the Weingarten's loudspeaker. Goldie walked slowly down an aisle, her
eyes as bright and greedy as a child's.
For a woman from the old country, Weingarten's was heaven. Harold dutifully pushed the grocery
cart. Five pound cans of Folger's,
the impetus for the journey, were almost buried underneath the bottles of prune
juice, the sacks of sugar, and the cans of peaches that Goldie was
accumulating. Harold had to walk
very slowly to keep in step with Goldie, who was taking her sweet time. She was in her favorite place in the
whole world, so what was the rush?
Harold felt that life was moving as slowly as those replays on Monday
Night Football. There was no point
in walking ahead of Goldie, it wouldn't make her move any faster. He pointedly looked at his watch, but
the point was lost on her.
"Mom, please, just Folger's and prune juice, you promised."
smiled serenely as she removed the rubber band from the wrinkled envelope that
held her coupons. "I think
Emmanuel found a coupon for the fruit salad that you like." It took her an agonizingly long time to
look through the pile of coupons.
And when she didn't find the one she was looking for, she started all
don't worry about the coupon. I'll
be glad to pay full price for the fruit salad. I'm running late.
Time is money."
you can't just waste money."
but you can waste time."
found it--see, I knew I had a coupon."
added the fruit salad to the cart and continued on at a leisurely pace.
is the last aisle we're going down. I mean it." Harold wasn't sure that Goldie heard him. How could she smile so serenely? "I really mean it, Goldie."
Iron pulled the Continental into the carport of the Bali Hai, a two-story
Polynesian-themed apartment building off of Buffalo Speedway. He and Milton walked past the courtyard
pool. Some of the doors sported
holiday wreaths and there were Christmas lights entwined in the metal railing
of the second floor walkway. Even
with "Silent Night" drifting through the air, the Bali Hai would
never be a very Christmasy place.
But Milton looked as happy as a little boy about to unwrap a big
present. "What are their
names?" he asked.
and Eve. Eve is mine," One
door was unlocked, but Milton gallantly knocked before opening it. The apartment was furnished with the
bachelor basics. It had a wet-bar
with mirrored tiles behind. Dean
Martin's "White Christmas" was playing on the RCA home entertainment
console, the walnut model. Two
women were sitting on bar stools.
They both had big hairdos and wore tight dresses.
Christmas, ladies!" Milton said.
and Eve, meet Milton," One Iron said.
held out her white-gloved hand.
One Iron slid behind the bar and refreshed the girls' martinis before
pouring drinks for Milton and himself.
as in Christmas Eve?" Milton asked.
as in Adam and Eve."
your name on Easter? Bunny?"
laughed, a richly toned laugh that had gained its coloratura from years of
puffing Virginia Slims. She slowly
withdrew a fresh one from a hard pack and held it up. One Iron picked up the onyx lighter but Milton caught One
Iron's eye. Milton clicked with
Eve. Would One Iron mind terribly
if they traded girls? One Iron
shrugged almost imperceptibly, the quietest possible way of saying "no
problem." And it really
wasn't. They were like
brothers. Milton felt more relaxed
with One Iron than with anyone, certainly more relaxed than with Harold. Even though Harold was masterful at
flattering and complimenting people, he never flattered Milton. Of course, Milton never flattered Harold
Iron was remarkably resourceful when it came to finding willing girls. And Milton always closed the deal. He took out the twenty-four karat
Playboy lighter than One Iron had given him for his birthday last year to set fire
to Eve's cigarette. She held his
wrist as she blew the flame out and smiled.
took out a white leather cigarette case and tamped down the tobacco on her
Salem. One Iron was quick to light
it with the onyx lighter. The
girls looked at each other and smiled.
Joyce raised her plucked eyebrows and asked, "Are you two
One Iron answered.
lives here?" Eve asked.
Milton's place," One Iron said.
where I entertain," Milton said.
smiled and sipped his martini.
Where had One Iron found these gals? He'd have to remember to ask him later. It was a hell of a nice Christmas Eve.
Harold arrived at the River Oaks Country Club, the porte-cochére was clogged
with Cadillacs. The liveried
doorman was helping a frosted blond in a mink coat into a Coupe de Ville. Harold nibbled at his lower lip and
hurried inside, fearing that the party was well past its peak. He muttered "fuckin'
Folger's" under his breath until he stepped into the main hall and saw the
gregarious crowd, the well-heeled sorts who didn't spend Christmas Eve at
home. And who spent money on
joined the first cluster that he saw.
"Hi, I'm Harold, real pleased to meet you...I like that tie. We've got some new Countess Mara's at
the store that I think you'd just love...Hi,
I'm Harold..." Like a
politician, Harold was determined to shake every hand. "Hi, I'm Harold" seemed to
start every other sentence that he spoke.
McCormack, a tall, well-fed oil man grabbed Harold. "I knew you'd be here, Harold. You're at every damned party in town. There's someone I want you to
tucked his arm through Harold's and led him across the room. It pained Harold to pass people he
really should be saying "Hi, I'm Harold" to, but he would work his
way back. Well, Tuffy had him now,
he needed to make the best of that, see where it led. "I've seen you in that suit before," Harold said.
sold it to me, bubba," Tuffy said.
you wear it to the Cattleman's Banquet?"
I did, I don't remember..."
for a new suit, Tuffy. And I mean
Christmas, my Semitic friend."
the day after. Dress for success,
the more reason, then."
you are a sketch. Listen, I got
this syndication I want to put you and Milton in. Six sweet little wells out in the oil patch."
doesn't like oil wells. Unless
there's a huge tax break."
"I'm not talking
to Milton. I'm talking to you, and
I'm..." Tuffy saw someone who
turned his head. "Wait a
sec--you know Mary Beth? Hey, Mary
Beth!" Harold saw that Mary
Beth was a petite brunette wearing lot of jewelry; he offered his hand. "Hi, I'm Harold."
Beth smiled back. She recognized
him from the commercials. She
thought that Harold looked much better in person and demurely offered her
hand. "Ah, Harold!"
Milton!" Eve cried.
Eve!" Milton said.
giggled and gripped the Scandinavian headboard, identical to one in his bedroom
at his parent's house. Milton was
a creature of habit.
party at the River Oaks was winding down.
The steward in the Santa Claus suit was passing out elaborate candy
canes to the last of the departing guests, eager to get out of the itchy red
wool suit and home to his wife.
Harold found himself alone under the porte-cochére with another man, as
they both waited for valets to bring their cars. They accidentally caught each other's eye and nodded
politely, in the Christmas spirit.
Harold couldn't resist.
"Hi, I'm Harold," he said and stuck out his hand.
was lying face down on the bed, dead to the world, her big hair in ruinous
collapse, her arm thrown carelessly across Milton's chest. Milton gently lifted her arm off of him
and climbed out of bed. He pulled
on a maroon silk robe identical to the one he wore at home and gingerly stepped
across the tangle of clothes on the floor.
den was empty, except for the martini glasses rimmed with lipstick prints. Milton found a fresh glass and poured
what was left in the martini shaker.
He opened the front closet and pushed some coat hangers aside. Tacked to the closet wall was this
year's Vargas calendar. It being
late December, Milton sipped his martini and flipped through the calendar,
reflecting on the year just past.
There were women's names, many different names--Patty, Liz, Julie,
Paula, Lois--written on various days, mostly Fridays and Saturdays. He found the square for Christmas Eve,
December twenty-fourth and wrote "Eve" then added an exclamation
he added "Piece on earth, good will
to men." One Iron would get a
kick out of that.
was late in the year, but Milton wondered if he'd be lucky enough to write
another new name in his calendar of conquests before closing the book on
1973. He capped his fountain pen
smoke billowed up into the crisp blue December sky from the fifty gallon custom
smoker. As Carerra marble was the
preferred material of Florentine sculptors, the oil drum was the favored
contraption for cooking real Texas barbecue. Milton had carefully positioned his smoker downwind from the
mimosa tree that Goldie doted over.
He wore a navy cardigan
sweater, its side pocket filled with Harold's envelopes, and gray slacks with a razor-sharp crease. While he carved the ribs, Nellie stood
by his side, wearing her Sunday best, patiently holding out the platter. Milton cooked pork ribs because they
were leaner and more flavorful than beef.
He didn't like pork meat in general, but for ribs he made an
exception. He had been born a
Texan and regarded barbecue as a form of transubstantiation, which transformed
the blatantly unkosher into the transcendently tasty. Besides, it was his birthday, so he made the rules. Goldie had been suspicious six years
ago when he had boldly made the switch to pork ribs, but Milton had bent the
truth, and the ribs were so delicious that Goldie didn't question their
provenance too closely.
Milton came inside, Faye smiled a friendly hello. Her burly husband, Bert,
nodded deferentially. He wasn't
wearing his police uniform, but his sport coat was a size too small and his
shoulder holster was plainly visible.
The neckline of Faye's blouse plunged lower than usual, and even though
Milton was tall she endeavored to lean down when she gave him a kiss on the
cheek. She was always trying to
get Milton to notice her. She'd
heard stories about the apartment and was dying to wangle an invite, but Milton
never seemed to take any of her
hints. "Happy birthday,
Milton, and many happy returns of the day," she said, and handed him a
little package with a frilly bow.
Christmas, Faye," Milton said.
He took the stack of envelopes out of his cardigan pocket. They were store stationery, with the
heraldic red script Harold's on each upper
left hand corner. Milton found the
envelope with Faye's name and handed it to her. It was indeed Christmas Day and they had exchanged gifts,
just as Milton would exchange gifts with everyone else at the party. But the ritual had only an accidental
relation to Christmas. Faye had
given Milton a birthday present, and Milton had given Faye her Christmas
bonus. Attendance at Milton's
annual birthday party was hardly compulsory. If someone missed the party for some reason, the Christmas bonus
would most likely be received the day after. But this was theoretical; no one had ever put the theory to
a test by missing the Christmas Party.
Besides, the barbecue was superb, and everyone who worked at Harold's had had enough of their relatives by the time the
afternoon rolled around. Christmas
was the only day of the year when they could sample pork ribs at a Jew's house,
as long as they were careful not to let Goldie in on the secret of the meat.
are things on the force, Bert?"
seemed to straighten up, as if his duty officer had called him to
attention. "Very quiet. Now come tonight, there'll be a fair
share of domestic disputes, but I'm off-duty until tomorrow."
Christmas, y'all," Stugeon said as he joined them with a big tumbler of
bourbon in his hand. He shook
Bert's hand and gave Faye a lingering kiss on the cheek. Bert frowned suspiciously, but Stugeon
didn't have a care in the world.
"Good ribs, good whisky, good football. Are you a gambling man, Bert?"
Bert said stiffly, "but you look to be."
Christmas, Stugeon," Milton said as he handed him his bonus envelope. One Iron and Jolene and the others were
gently crowding around, incited to a polite feeding frenzy by those special
red-and-white Harold's envelopes that
Milton was handing out. Milton was
having a ball. It gave him a
genuine kick to play Santa on his own birthday.
stood off to the side, against the knotty pine wall, nursing a prune juice on
ice in a highball glass. Passing
out the Christmas bonuses was Milton's big moment of glory, and Harold
begrudged it. It wasn't just
Milton's money to give away, it was both of theirs, but Milton got to have all
the fun, passing out the envelopes.
There was an elaborate spread of food on
the dining room table. On a side
table, under one of Goldie's begonias, was a pile of birthday presents for
Milton. Goldie and Emmanuel, both
dressed up for the party, were sitting on the couch kibitzing with their
brothers and sisters. Milton's
party was the one day of the year that the living room was full of life. But this didn't deter Daryl, who, golf
club in hand, was trying to practice his putting through a forest of adult
was relieved when Willie arrived.
Even standing peaceably to the side, Willie was physically
imposing. Football players always
seemed to look bigger in person, Harold had noticed, not because he was in
particular awe of their physical prowess, but because he had mentally imagined
them wearing a different size suit.
It was a relief having Willie to talk to, or not talk to, as the case
may be. He was just comfortable
standing around with Willie.
you think I should do a commercial for Sam The Rocketman Olds?" Willie
you want an Oldsmobile?" Harold asked back.
was nervous talking to Milton about business stuff, because Milton made him
feel like he didn't know what was what, but with Willie he could explain
things, and that was one of things that made him feel good about being around
Willie. "Sam The Rocketman is
small potatoes. You should only be
doing national commercials.
Except, of course, Harold's."
smiled and pulled his jacket tight. "Hi, I'm Harold," Willie said,
mimicking Harold's drawl.
was pleased with the effect.
"That has a nice ring to it," he said.
slapped Harold on the back, not very hard, because he had hurt Harold once
being a little too boisterous and now was quite measured with his
backslaps. They looked at each
other and laughed, like two school boys cutting up. Willie just had to say it again, "Hi, I'm Harold."
two teenage daughters, Stephanie and Fredell, came bursting through the front
door. Lillian and her family lived
at the end of the street. Lillian
and her husband Buddy had bought the house ten years ago, moving away from the
old McGregor neighborhood where Lillian and Goldie had lived only three houses
apart. Goldie then decided to
move. Lillian felt a little hemmed
in to have Goldie again living on the same street, but at least they were seven
houses apart this time. But
Lillian never said anything about it to Goldie, and Goldie never openly
acknowledged her need to keep close to Lillian.
ran up to Milton and held out a long, skinny over-sized present. "Happy birthday, Uncle
Milton," she said and kissed him.
"For the man who has everything."
is it?" Milton teased, already guessing from the size and weight what the
gift most likely was.
it and find out," Stephanie said.
impolite to open presents at parties," he mildly reprimanded.
came through the front door. But
it was the friend that she had brought with her that caught Milton's eye. Dorothy was a vivacious redhead;
everything about her was bright.
Her lipstick was an incandescent red and her flouncy silk dress was
seasonably red and green, a size too tight, just enough to attract the right
kind of favorable attention to her pleasingly endowed chest.
impolite to stare," Stephanie said.
Milton asked, too distracted to pay full attention to his niece.
ahead and open it," Stephanie insisted.
looked away from Dorothy. He'd
seen enough and needed to sort a few things out before looking at her
again. The birthday present was a
welcome distraction. He even
forgot his edict and tore open the wrapping paper, revealing a gold-plated
Playboy golf putter. "Very
funny," Milton said, giving Stephanie a thank-you kiss, "but I don't
you're a playboy. And you like to
use your putter," Stephanie said.
a mouth," Milton said, amused.
runs in the family."
turned back to look at Dorothy, but she was no longer in the doorway. He saw Lillian leading her over to meet
Harold. Milton felt a twinge of
jealousy, and he felt anxious, but he knew it wasn't his moment. Milton was strategic; he knew how to
wait, that was always the best way to get what he wanted. Rushing never seemed to work,
especially with women.
Lillian's husband, came in, removing his Stetson Open Road from his balding
head and his unlit cigar from his mouth as he went over to pay his respects to
Goldie. He was a pleasingly
overweight man who seemed to enjoy food and life and being married to Lillian,
and was quite content to try and keep up with whatever his strong and
sharp-tongued wife was up to.
Clearly, Dorothy was Lillian's Christmas Day agenda and Buddy was
content to watch from the sidelines, preferably from somewhere near the buffet
I want you to meet Dorothy," Lillian said.
was struck by Dorothy's beauty, so struck that he said the three words that
came most naturally to him in new and unfamiliar social situations.
I'm Harold," he said and stuck out his hand to offer a vigorous handshake.
Dorothy said, amused that Harold seemed so shy with her. But men were like that, if they thought
her pretty, as Harold so clearly did.
Like everyone else, Dorothy had seen Harold's ads on TV and seen the big
billboard over on the Katy Freeway with Harold smiling down at all those
drivers. She didn't think he'd be
so flustered by her, though it was
flattering. Then again, he sold
men's clothing, not women's, so his worldly success did not depend upon his
ease with women. She would almost
have thought that Harold was a virgin if Lillian hadn't told her that he had
Harold was at a loss for words he began to flatter. Flattery came naturally when nothing else did. "I love that dress on you,"
Harold said, then sensed a lingering implication that he would like to see the
dress off of her, which, though he
might, he would never, ever, imply such a thing so blatantly. "I mean, it picks up the color of
your hair. And eyes," Harold
said, worried that he was going too far.
It wasn't like she was a customer.
"I've got an eye for these things, professionally, but that aside,
you look quite nice."
thank you. I'm not used to such intelligent compliments," Dorothy said, herself a masterful
flatterer. She could already see
that he shared her taste for good clothes.
was pleased by the galvanizing effect that Dorothy so instantly had on
Harold. It had been a stroke of
good fortune running into her at Alfred's Delicatessen. Dorothy was the best marriage prospect
for Harold that Lillian had seen in quite a while. Wouldn't it be nice to get Harold married again and get
Michael and Daryl into a normal home, instead of sharing a bedroom with their
father, Lillian thought.
was married to Max Rosen. You
remember Max?" Lillian asked Harold, to get a conversation started.
course. Max, yes. I played basketball with Max at the old
the old neighborhood," Dorothy enthused. She could enthuse about almost anything, Lillian noticed.
just moved back to Houston. You
two have a lot in common," Lillian said.
couldn't help looking down at Dorothy's dress. At her chest.
The fabric was stretched so tightly there. He quickly looked back up but was embarrassed by the knowing
twinkle in her eyes. Always look a
man in the eye, that's what Emmanuel had taught him at the army surplus store,
where Harold had gotten his schooling in retail. But looking a woman in the eye, especially away from the
store, that was a different thing altogether. "Really?" Harold finally asked.
both love Houston," Dorothy
she seemed a step closer, Harold thought, but he hadn't seen her move. He caught himself starting to look down
at that tightly stretched fabric again and stopped before he further damaged
her opinion of him with any discourteous looking.
you're both single," Lillian added.
laughed in a delicate way that Harold found thrilling. He didn't know quite what to say to
that. "And well-dressed. At least you are, Dorothy," Harold
will get you everywhere," Dorothy beamed, never afraid of a useful cliché.
was pleased to see Harold finally talking to a nice Jewish girl. That was a welcome change. Better a nice Jewish girl than spending
the whole party standing like a bump on a log next to the mishugeneh shvartza
football player. She watched as
Willie went down the buffet line with a plate. Goldie delighted in feeding people, but only if they were
deserving--family, and those nice boys and girls who worked for Harold. But it pained her to see Willie putting
so much food on his plate. Did he
really have to take so many of Milton's delicious beef ribs? Those ribs were meant for everyone, not
just Willie. Goldie had been
meaning to talk to Willie about that.
In fact, she had been meaning to talk to Willie about a number of
things. She had planned to call
him, but this was better. It was
better all around if she really gave that young man a talking to.
touched Willie's arm. He smiled
down at her. Willie liked the
feisty old lady. Goldie reminded
him of his own Gramma. "I've
seen this jacket before," Goldie said.
was flattered that she noticed.
"I wore it on the Harold's
commercial," he said proudly.
Harold give it to you?"
he did," Willie said. That
was what made the jacket special.
He always thought of Harold when he wore it.
looked at the plate of food that Willie was holding. So much food he was eating. "Harold's a sweet boy," she said.
he is," Willie agreed.
don't like him being taken advantage of," she told him.
felt Goldie crowding him as forcefully as a Steelers' lineman. And the way she kept staring at his
jacket and his plate, Willie had lost his appetite. "No..." he politely agreed with her.
sells clothes," Goldie said, as if explaining the Golden Rule to a naughty
child. "He doesn't give them
away, because he'd go out of business if all he did was give clothes away. I don't like you taking advantage of my
boy. Not one little bit."
"No..." Willie was shocked; his face flushed
red with embarrassment. Goldie
kept staring at him. Willie almost
wished that she would tackle him, do something physical. That he could deal with. But Goldie turned abruptly and walked
carefully set his plate down on the table and walked stiffly out of the
room. His abrupt exit went
unnoticed by the other Wiesenthals.
had watched quite enough of Harold and the belle. He walked over, ostensibly to kiss Lillian hello, which
conveniently placed him next Dorothy.
was less than thrilled to have Milton join them before he got a good
conversation going with Dorothy.
Maybe she was interested in football. Some women were.
They could talk about football, that was always easy. He could even introduce Dorothy to
Willie, maybe give her an autographed ball at the appropriate moment. He looked for Willie to gesture for him
to join them, but Willie seemed to have left the room.
Birthday," Lillian said and kissed Milton.
Birthday, Milton," Dorothy brightly added. "You don't remember me, but I remember that you used to
tease me on Wentworth Street when I was a little girl."
never teased little girls," Milton smoothly replied. He liked her better the closer he
got. Milton knew the type well,
someone who liked attention and knew how to get it without overtly asking for
it. She was a Jewish Southern
Belle. And a Princess. Milton had grown up with just such
girls and at a younger and more "eligible" age he had been expected
to marry one, but that wasn't a game he had cared to play. But this one was affecting him
differently. He felt something,
well, different than he had felt with any of the other belles, not that he had
thought about Jewish Southern Belles in he didn't know how long. Of course he thought about women, like
last night, but that was a separate compartment, fun and comfortable, and easy
to deal with. This was, well,
Milton would have to think about this one. She was the real deal.
was distressed by how relaxed Milton seemed.
you've always been a terrible tease," Lillian said.
if I thought that the little girl would grow up to be such a beautiful big girl," Milton said.
threw back her head and laughed.
The light caught her loose hair and the dress stretched tighter as she
leaned back in seemingly spontaneous good humor. Harold found it instantly depressing that Milton could so
easily make Dorothy laugh. He
wasn't supposed to be the funny one.
love being called a girl! Which says something about my
age." Dorothy held out her
hand to Milton. "Dorothy
gave her a lingering handshake, nothing like the pumping hail-met-hearty
handshake of Harold. "You
were married to Max?" he asked.
smiled coquettishly. "Well,
maybe you do remember."
Dorothy could immediately see the challenge of Milton. Unlike Harold, he wasn't afraid of
was pleased that both Harold and Milton were so obviously interested in
Dorothy. That was more than she
expected. Too bad there was only
one Dorothy, but it doubled the odds of getting at least one of them married
and out of this crowded house.
"Dorothy, would you believe that these big boys, my little
brothers, both still live at home with
their Mommy and Daddy?"
so cute!" Dorothy said, beaming at both of the brothers. It pleased her that finally Milton was
as embarrassed as Harold.
their Mommy takes good care of them," Lillian teased. If nothing else, this moment made her
day, to see Milton and Harold blushing side by side. That was no mean feat.
But Lillian played poker with the girls every week and well knew to
leave the table when she was ahead.
She tugged Dorothy's arm, ready to quit winners. "Come on, Dorothy, I want you to
boys!" Dorothy said gaily as she
waltzed off arm and arm with Lillian, both of them giggling like teenage girls
and whispering in each other's ear.
and Milton looked at each other.
Lightning had struck.
ago, before World War Two, Emmanuel had a store downtown on Preston
Street. He had called it E & W
Army Surplus. His initials were
EW, but he thought E & W sounded better and he was right. When he put up the money for his sons'
store he said that a single name, either Harold's or Milton's, would sound
better than Harold's & Milton's
or H & M, but the naming of the store was more complicated than that. Even though Milton was the oldest son,
Harold had been the family favorite, the sunny personality. Harold liked to be with people; he knew
how to make them feel good, especially about buying clothes. Milton seemed too quiet to succeed at
retail. Emmanuel had really set up
the store for Harold, even though technically the brothers were partners. Milton always suspected that when they
had drawn the names from the hat to pick the store's name, that both slips had
said "Harold." Milton
wouldn't put it past Emmanuel, or even begrudge him fixing the deck. Business was like that, family or
the early years, Harold's did okay, but
it was nothing special. Then
Harold got drafted and went into the Merchant Marines as a safe alternative to
was 4-F. He'd lost his right lung
thanks to a quack doctor when he got pneumonia his sophomore year at A &
M. That was the end of college,
the end of what might have been another life. But when Harold was off to sea, Milton came into his own. Quiet or not, he had a remarkable flair
for business, and the store flourished.
For the first time, Emmanuel came to respect the wily business skills of
the elder brother. When Harold
returned it was to a thriving business.
Milton didn't care for the see-and-be-seen, press-the-flesh backslapping
that Harold excelled at. So let it
to be called Harold's; Milton would
laugh quietly all the way to the bank.
day after Christmas, Harold was back on watch from the cashier's island. Faye was ringing up a sale. Business had been brisk all morning. But Harold was on the phone and he was
troubled. "...Is Willie
okay? He left the party without
saying good-bye. You have him call
me, please... Thank you much..."
he hung up, Harold's gaze drifted toward the shoe department and the back
door. The parking lot was in the
rear of the store. The back door
had, over the years, become the front door. Gary Plotkin was waiting there, ready to snag the next
customer. Plotkin wasn't family,
but Harold smiled at him with something close to familial fondness, because
Plotkin was a kindred spirit. He
didn't sell to live, he lived to sell.
Plotkin saw the Judge walking across the parking lot, he smiled and fussed with
the hair that he had combed over his mostly bald head and hairsprayed into
place. Plotkin knew he could run
the Judge's tab up to a thousand, easy.
had spent seven wasted years at his dad's pharmacy, three blocks east on
Heights Boulevard. There was no
commission on sodas and sundries, and it was a blessing in disguise when the
old man had sold out to Rexall and moved back down to Galveston. Plotkin had turned down the pissant
manager job and quit the store to work at Harold's. A
month later he quit his Thursday night poker game. Retail was as much fun as gambling, and you didn't even have
to ante up. Each face through the door
was like a fresh hand to play.
Ernie the Cop, off-duty, but still wearing his
powder blue H.P.D. uniform, tipped his cap and held the door open for the
holidays, Judge," Plotkin said in greeting.
Judge, a silver-haired man in a gray suit, took off his Stetson. "Merry Christmas, Barracuda. Or should I say Happy Chanukah?"
chuckled appreciatively. He didn't
like boats and thought that fishing was perhaps the stupidest activity known to
man, but a sport fisherman partial to size forty-eight poplin suits had called
him Barracuda eight years ago and the name had stuck. It sounded a hell of a lot better than Salesman of the Month
or Salesman of the Year. "The
eight nights of Chanukah are a done deal, but Happy Chanukah all the same. What can I do you for, Judge?"
need a sweater to wear to my daughter's house tonight."
was off to the races, gently guiding the Judge back towards the shelves of
sweaters. "I just got in some
beautiful mohair, the softest wool you ever felt..." Thank god for cold weather.
hurried over to shake the Judge's hand.
"Hi, Judge, how ya doing?
wish her happy holidays for me."
Judge chuckled and patted Harold's arm as Plotkin steered him gently toward the
appropriate merchandise. Plotkin
smiled unhappily when he saw Tim Stugeon ambling their way, nervously fussing
with the brim of his black Stetson.
generally discouraged salesmen to wear hats inside the store except during
Rodeo Week, when even Plotkin made it his business to sell cowboy clothes. Dr. Feinlich, a psychologist, who
reliably bought four new suits a year from Plotkin, had once explained that
Stugeon had a short man's complex.
Stugeon didn't seem at all complex to Plotkin; he just always had
something to prove--namely, that he was a big deal and should be thought of as
such. Plotkin knew that this made
Stugeon a piss-poor salesman; a salesman should always be making the customer
feel like a big deal--preferably by spending money for nice clothes. Plotkin knew for a fact that Stugeon
barely made enough in salary and commissions to cover the cost of the
western-style suits that he favored.
Stugeon was probably just as bad a bookie, barely covering his own bets
with the ones that he placed for customers. Plotkin was annoyed to have Stugeon break his rhythm, but
placing a bet could often put a man in a hopeful mood to buy more clothes. That was an angle that a shrink like
Dr. Feinlich might be able to explain.
holidays, Judge," Stugeon said, tipping his hat.
holidays, son. What's the line on
A & M?"
Aggies with four points."
me down for a C."
got it, Judge. You're with the
smart money on this one."
Stugeon hurried off to place the bet.
are you drinking, Judge?" Plotkin asked.
with a splash."
waved over a black man in a polyester sport shirt and Sans-A-Belt golf
slacks. "Cochise. Wild Turkey with a splash for the
looped his thumb and index finger together and flashed the A-OK sign to Plotkin
and went off on the errand.
Cochise's real name was Raymond.
No one remembered that except Milton, who had discovered him shining
shoes and doing errands at Westwood Country Club. Milton was fanatical about his shoes and knew of no one with
a touch to match Cochise's.
one remembered who nicknamed him Cochise.
Except for Cochise, who had done the nicknaming himself. The dudes at the club had taken him to
calling him chief, as in, do this for me, chief, do that for me, chief. And he realized if he was going to be
called chief he might as well really be called chief and Cochise had been a
hell of a chief so why not Cochise?
Besides shining shoe leather, Cochise served up the liquor. It was Milton who made sure that they
served decent liquor in the store.
Harold was a teetotaler and threw a fit about it, until he saw how the
customers liked it and tended to be a little freer with their wallets with a
couple of drinks under their belt.
fanned out the sweaters on a glass top display case. "Aren't they sharp, Judge? These are all size forty. Gray and blue, your colors."
Judge was impressed. "You
the important things."
Judge soon had a drink in his hand and was wearing a gray mohair sweater with
the price tag dangling. He sipped
his scotch and admired himself in the three-fold mirror as Plotkin knelt to fit
him for a pair of slacks.
this flannel, Judge, these are exactly what you need with that sweater--I can
get these tailored for you in ten minutes, you can wear them tonight--and see
how these socks pick up the color?
Judge laughed with a baritone that made plaintiffs tremble. "Jesus Christ, Plotkin, don't you
marked the inseam with his tailor's chalk and smiled up at the Judge. "No, sir, I'm just a simple
country boy trying to make you look good, Judge, and I mean all of you.
Have you seen these boxer shorts with the Santas? Aren't they a scream?"
Plotkin, now you're selling me
holidays only comes once a year, Judge.
Think of the look of Merrily's face when you take off your pants
tonight. You might even get a
Judge held up his hands in mock surrender.
double-folded the twenty dollar tip from the Judge as he walked back toward his
shoeshine stand in Western Wear.
The store was a series of rooms leading into other rooms, having annexed
adjoining stores as it expanded.
The Big Man's Shop had been a toy store. The Sportswear Salon, its walls covered with photos of
Harold "golfing" with an odd mix of celebrities--Dwight Eisenhower,
Mickey Mantle, Flip Wilson--had once been an alley, and was sometimes still
referred to as such. Western Wear,
which marked the current frontier of eastward expansion, had once been a
cafeteria. Besides Cochise's
leather and brass shoeshine stand, Western Wear was graced by a life-size
cut-out of Harold and Willie, a Jewish clothier and a black halfback, both
completely duded out as cowboys. A
more unlikely pair of cowboys there never was, but if there was any irony it
was lost not only on Cochise, but on Harold. Cochise put the finishing touches on Milton's alligator
loafers. He then climbed a steep
set of stairs.
in the tailor shop it was hot and bright and busy. Cochise walked all the way to the back where a full-length
mirror was mounted on a door. He
knocked lightly on the mirrored door as he stared at his own reflection.
a second," a muffled voice came through the door.
heard a bumping sound, and wondered for the umpteenth time what Milton was up
to behind that mirrored door. But
Milton had a whim of iron, and Cochise knew better than to barge in.
in," Milton finally
said. Only then did Cochise turn
the doorknob and step into the office.
was sitting stocking-footed behind his big oak desk, just closing up the
credenza. "Cochise, que
and shined until they look so fine," Cochise said as he carefully placed
the alligator loafers down on Milton's immaculate ink blotter. The leather chair creaked as Milton
leaned forward to look closely at the shoes, like a general reviewing his
troops. Cochise stood at parade
rest in front of the desk. Milton
lifted one of the shoes to take a closer look.
waited patiently. Milton's office
was the nicest place in the store.
Milton was a fanatic about his shoes and his hair, and luckily Cochise
didn't have to have anything to do with Milton's hair. And the shoes were no big deal, as
careful as Milton was about where and how he walked. Cochise knew that lots of the others at the store were
scared of Milton. But Cochise knew
that as long as he did right by Milton's shoes, then Milton would do right by
Cochise, nice," Milton finally said.
you. I disappeared that little
ding on the instep, Mister Milton."
why you're my main man."
Plotkin was at the back door, sending the Judge on his way with three new
sweaters with matching pairs of slacks, a new sport coat, six pairs of socks,
and a pair of Santa-patterned boxer shorts. Plotkin watched a powder-blue Thunderbird park but was
disappointed when he saw that it was Dorothy in the car, freshening her
lipstick in the rearview mirror.
She got out, straightening the pleats of her frilly floral-print dress
as she sashayed toward the door.
Plotkin thought that she was pleasing to the eye, but an unlikely
candidate for menswear. If he had
to choose between sex and selling, the choice was easy. Sex usually was a whole lot of bother,
and selling never was. With sex
you never knew exactly where you stood and with selling you always did. Hell, you could have sex with yourself
if you got desperate--and with Irene for a wife that was more often than
not--but selling always took at least two people; it had foreplay, it had an
afterglow, shoot, it had it all.
the Cop tipped his hat and held the door open for Dorothy. Despite his low expectations, Plotkin
was all smiles, because you just never knew. "Howdy, ma'am, welcome to Harold's. How
can I help you today?"
watching as always from the cashier's island, was startled and thrilled to see
Dorothy enter the store. Lillian
hadn't told him that she was coming out to visit, but then that was like
Lillian to let him be the last to know.
"Dorothy! How nice to
see you. You look great again
today. I'm beginning to suspect
that you always look great," Harold said with a big smile.
I'm beginning to suspect that you are a charmer," Dorothy replied with her
went over to Heights Savings. You
just missed her," Harold said.
presuming that I came here to see Lillian," Dorothy teased.
"Oh?" Harold felt flattered. Harold supposed that he should invite
her out to lunch. But maybe he
should show her around the store first, that would impress her. That would be the polite thing to do,
give her a little look-see and let that build up to a lunch invitation, so as
not to be impertinent.
before Harold could speak Dorothy said "I was invited here by Mr. Milton
Wiesenthal. We have a lunch
Harold said, shocked. Then
disappointed. But he knew that it
was important to not look disappointed, to keep smiling, make the best of it. "Well, I'm glad to see you. And glad you could see the store. If I'm not being too presumptuous,
would you like a little tour of Harold's?"
thank you, I'd be delighted," Dorothy answered. She gaily hooked her arm through his.
found the touch of her arm enormously exciting. In fact, he tugged at the hem of his coat, startled that he
had an erection and at great pains to keep that knowledge private. Milton might have gotten the jump on
the dating deal, but Harold was always selling Harold's. He
would make it his mission to sell himself, Harold, to Dorothy, beginning now. "Well, as you see this is the main
floor, shirts, ties, accessories, Gary Plotkin you met yesterday at the
was all smiles, seeing Harold with a girl on his arm, even if the girl had put
her arm there. That was amusing,
but Plotkin was on to the next sale, the next fresh face through the door.
was grateful to have the store to talk to Dorothy about. That was the easiest thing in the
world. "And this is Tim
Stugeon..." Harold said.
tipped his black Stetson. "We
already met at Milton's Christmas party.
Pleased to see you again, ma'am," he said in his
I'm-just-a-good-ole-boy style, then hurried off to the telephone to place another
led Dorothy over to the cashier island.
"And this is Faye."
Dorothy and Faye exchanged a tepid, wary handshake. "Hello, Faye. What a cute blouse."
was jealous of Dorothy's dress, which she could never afford, and Dorothy's red
hair, which she was sure was a dye job.
Dorothy thought that Faye's neckline was too low, too eager to display
Faye's cleavage, and that Faye's make-up was too bright, too obvious. As they faced each other with brittle
smiles there passed a moment of recognition. Both women were well aware of the effect that they had
on men. Faye didn't feel
threatened by Harold's obvious attraction to Dorothy, because until now Harold
had seemed to have no interest or aptitude for women. But working at Harold's,
Faye was used to being the only pretty woman in sight, the only suitable target
for flirting, and she was glad to have things return to this preferred natural
state as Harold led Dorothy off the main floor, if indeed he was really doing
right through here is the Big Man's Shop," Harold said.
what a lot of different rooms," Dorothy marveled as they stepped into the
first of many interconnected specialty areas.
sidled over and secretly played footsie with Faye. If his intentions were romantic then something was lost in
the translation as he nudged her with his pointy-toed goatskin boots. Faye was grateful for the attention and
even acted like she enjoyed it.
a Texas firecracker, that one is," Stugeon mused, "I think Harold's
got a hard-on for her. Which is
pushed Stugeon firmly but decisively away. She didn't care to listen to another woman receive
compliments, no matter how backhanded, no thank you.
watched Harold escort Dorothy stiffly through the store on the grainy black and
white closed-circuit monitor that he had in his office. He put on his sport coat, tightened his
tie, and checked his hair in the mirror.
Milton didn't want Dorothy to see his office; that was too personal for
a first date. Milton looked
forward to lunch with the Princess.
He hadn't tangled with a Jewish Southern Belle in quite some time, and
he relished the challenge.
at a very good table at Herbert Ritz, the finest Creole restaurant in Houston,
Dorothy was very pleased. She
expected no less than the best, but men rarely met her expectations. The ornate filigree and rococo
paintings, the brocade dining chairs, the delicate linen, they were all so
perfect. After those delicious
ribs of Milton's yesterday, she was anticipating more barbecue today. Men were so like children; once they
found something they liked, then they wanted that one thing over and over
again. When he only ordered a cup
of seafood gumbo for lunch, that too had surprised her, but he said that he
often skipped lunch, that it was the most over-rated meal--present company
excepted, he had sweetly added.
watched Dorothy tear into the grilled pompano. She ate with extraordinary gusto for a woman with such a
trim figure. "You have a good
appetite," he complimented her.
have a great appetite. For many things," Dorothy
mockingly replied. They laughed
easily with each other. "I
had no idea your store was so clever. All those little boutiques," she
for everyone," Milton said and sipped his wine.
just loved those cowboy clothes.
It made me want to be a cowgirl.
Of course I've always been a sucker for big silver belt buckles. Dressing up like that is my idea of a
took the bottle of Chardonnay out of the ice bucket and refilled their
glasses. "And what else is
your idea of a good time?"
smiled at his expert way of making everything sound vaguely suggestive. He really had it down. "There are different kinds of good
times, for different times of day."
Dorothy took her sweet time sipping the wine now that she had the
floor. "Having lunch with
such a charming gentleman as yourself ranks fairly high on my list of how to
pleasurably spend the noon hour.
And what's your idea of a good time?"
smiled, pleased with how well she kept up the repartee, how easily she threw it
back at him. He hadn't dated a
genuinely smart woman in a long while and he found it exciting. "That entirely depends on the time
of day," Milton said.
"There are so many ways to have fun--if you're a fun loving
dress so elegantly for such a free spirit," Dorothy teased.
I happen to think that it's fun to wear nice clothes."
who helps you pick out your clothes?" Dorothy asked.
one," Milton said.
laughed and shook her hair so that it caught the light. She always liked that effect. And the effect that it had on men. Oh, he was a fun one; she could play
cat and mouse with Milton all day.
Milton came home from work, he was still a little buzzed from flirting with the
sat in a chintz armchair, studying the stock page with a magnifying glass. Milton's impeccably tailored suit
looked out of place in the den--it retailed for more than the matching sofa and
business?" Emmanuel asked, lowering his Houston Chronicle.
"Excellent. Dad, I heard about a piece of property
out on Westheimer. Let's drive out
there tomorrow and take a look," Milton said.
told you?" Emmanuel asked.
he selling it?"
why isn't he buying it?"
thought that was a damned good question--why wasn't Chen buying it? Emmanuel's sharp business acumen
constantly impressed Milton.
walked toward the back of the house.
There were three bedrooms along the short central hallway. Milton's was the first door, then
Harold's. Emmanuel and Goldie had
the master bedroom at the end of the hallway.
king-size bed filled most of the limited floor space in Milton's bedroom. The headboard was of blond Scandinavian
wood, and matched the desk and dresser, the nicest furniture in the house. Although there was barely enough room
to squeeze between the pieces of furniture, it was the only room in the house
that was uncluttered.
opened the closet door to hang up his jacket. There were over forty suits, organized by color. A custom set of shoe trees held in
excess of a hundred pairs of shoes, all flawlessly shined. As Milton took off his tie and hung it
in its proper place, among a hundred and fifty other ties, he felt neither
tired nor excited, but somewhere in between. He was surprised to still be thinking about Dorothy, her
gusto in attacking the grilled pompano at lunch. He saw no percentage to sweating things. The only sweating that he wanted to do
was in a sauna.
When Milton stepped out of his room
wearing a maroon silk dressing gown and slippers and carrying the latest issue
of Playboy, Harold was waiting.
"Milton? Do you have a
detoured into Harold and the boys' room.
The bedroom was the same size as Milton's, but it held a single twin bed
and a set of bunk beds. The bunk
beds were Nellie's idea, coming as she did from a large Creole family that had similarly
crowded sleeping arrangements.
Harold's oldest son, was sprawled on the top bunk raptly reading an Archie
comic. Harold was leaning against
the dresser, anxiously waiting to talk to Milton. On the dresser was a jumble of papers, receipts, cufflinks,
tailor's chalk, and football tickets.
The mirror behind the dresser had pictures tucked along the edges:
Harold smiling with Alan Shepard, Harold smiling with Joe Morgan, Harold
smiling with A.J. Foyt. "I'm
worried," Harold said.
worried about Tim Stugeon."
we talk about it later?" Milton asked. He knew that Harold was really worried about Milton's lunch
with Dorothy, but wouldn't dare broach that topic.
worried about it now. Is it
illegal for him to take bets?" Harold asked.
course it's illegal. It's called
he get in trouble? Can we get in trouble?"
Harold. Even the Judge lays down
bets with Stugeon."
piece of information did little to mollify Harold. He bit his lower lip a little harder. "Maybe you should talk with
started to look at his watch, then realized that he had taken it off. It wasn't that long until dinner and he
didn't want to spend the time rehashing business. That's what you were supposed to do at the store. Not at home. Unless you were Harold. Milton had better things to do. "Christ, Stugeon's piddly little book is good for
business. Guys feel like big shots
if they can lay down a bet. It
makes them feel like they're part of the club. Half those jokers don't even bet unless they're out at the
store and Stugeon asks them. I
wish I had a piece of that book myself."
remained unconvinced. The more
Milton talked about it, the worse it all seemed. "I really am worried. Aren't you?
Milton was gone.
walked faster than usual as he crossed the backyard. The cold air cut right through the silk. No one had ever seen Milton hurry, and
no one saw him now. He went
through the chain link gate, past the wooden slats of the old water cooling
tower. The house had central air
conditioning now, but the old unit had never been hauled away.
went into the detached garage.
Emmanuel's car, a vintage green-and-white '56 Chevy Bel-Air, was parked
alone in the garage. To the side,
where a work shop might have been, there was a large sauna. Milton took off his silk robe and
wrapped a towel around his waist.
He stepped inside and breathed in the welcome heat. Nellie turned on the sauna at four
o'clock every afternoon so that it was heated and ready to use when Milton got
home. The sauna was state of the
art, paneled with Lebanese cedar.
In a recessed niche that he had custom ordered there was a telephone and
a sixty-four band radio. When
Milton wasn't in the mood for music sometimes he listened to the police radio
for kicks. Tonight he dialed the
FM to the easy listening jazz that he liked best. Milton reclined on the cedar bench and opened the
Playboy. But Miss December didn't do
much for him. He needed to blow
off some steam tonight, to get the Princess, Dorothy, off his mind. He picked up the phone and dialed. "Hey. It's me. So
Joyce's friend--what's her name again?"
"Milton! Dinner, Milton!" Goldie's voice traveled across the
backyard and penetrated the sauna's cedar walls. Milton sat up; it wouldn't do to dawdle. "Pick me up around nine," he
told One Iron and hung up.
next day when Dorothy pulled her Thunderbird into Harold's parking lot, by instinct she parked in the space
next to the fiberglass awning for the three Wiesenthal cars. It was raining, a sudden squall in from
the Gulf of Mexico. The sky was
spectacularly dissonant, with brilliant patches of sunlight breaking through
gray rain clouds. One of those
rain clouds was just passing over the Heights and Ernie, wearing his yellow
H.P.D. rain slicker, hurried out from under the awning with an umbrella that
had the distinctive red-scroll Harold's logo on it. "Nice to
see you again, ma'am," he said as he held out the umbrella for her.
to see you, Ernie."
was kibitzing in the shoe department, slouching comfortably in a
cracked-leather chair. Harold
stood with folded arms beside the cashier island. They saw Dorothy come into the store at the same time and
both waved hello. Dorothy waved
gaily back and opened the door to Lillian's office, which was located beside
the rear entrance.
Dorothy stepped inside, Lillian was talking on the telephone, smoking a
cigarette, and punching numbers into the adding machine, working its lever like
a slot machine. Lillian covered
the telephone. "I need the
accounts receivable for the last two months, Jolene," Lillian said and
went back to her phone call. At
the neighboring desk, Jolene was struggling to keep up. Lillian saw Dorothy standing inside the
door, a bit awed by all the commotion coming from two seated women and waiting
to get a hello in edgewise.
"Dorothy! Just a
sec--Ed, give me until closing time tomorrow? You're a love."
Lillian hung up the phone. She leaned back in her padded office chair and smiled at her
friend, admiring Dorothy's spiffy faille dress.
chance to gab with Dorothy was a welcome break from the grind of holding the
nuts and bolts of Harold's
together. Dorothy was eight years
younger than Lillian--thirty-four to Lillian's forty-two. Even when she was a little girl,
Dorothy's humor and coquetry had amused Lillian. Dorothy had been away from Houston for fifteen years, the
duration of her marriage to Max and then some. Lillian thought it very exotic that Dorothy had lived in Las
Vegas for so many years and still managed to keep her fair skin. Two weeks ago, out of the blue, she ran
into Dorothy at Alfred's, the only delicatessen in Houston. Dorothy had moved back to Houston only
the week before. And now, if they
put their heads together, they might wind up sisters in law. Dorothy was still young enough to have
children, but she had to hurry.
"Aren't you a picture!" Lillian said, impressed.
gave a tiny curtsy of thanks.
"I'm here for another lunch date. Today, it's Harold."
know. And Harold never ever dates," Lillian said.
if you call it lunch then the little
boys find that less threatening," Dorothy said with a mischievous smile.
laughed as Dorothy came over to her desk.
Through the window Dorothy could see her Thunderbird parked beside
Lillian's Electra, Harold's Cadillac and Milton's Continental. The rain was rolling off the fiberglass
awning and beating down on her poor little car. It didn't seem fair.
Dorothy looked down at Lillian's desk, at the chaotic and complicated
paperwork; there was so very much to keep track of. But Dorothy was more interested in talking about the
brothers than all those frightful bills and things that spilled across
Lillian's desk. "Does Milton
know that I'm going out with Harold?" Dorothy asked, eager for Lil's insider
Milton knows about everything,"
just called me yesterday."
here the walls have ears. And they
all report to Milton," Lillian said knowingly.
you never know if big brother is listening," Jolene added and pointed to
was astonished, and quite acted the part, bringing a hand to her lips, careful
not to smear her fresh lipstick.
"Well, I'd hate to come between two brothers," she drawled,
sounding like a latter day Scarlett O'Hara. Lillian thought that Dorothy's accent was thickening a
little more each day.
on, you know you love it," Lillian said, amused by her friend's sardonic
to tell you the truth--I do," Dorothy smiled, and they all laughed.
lit a fresh cigarette with the stub of a dying one. "Once upon a time, Harold actually got married and
moved away from Goldie, so he is at least capable of doing it, we know that
Milton's a clean slate. That has
it's advantages," Dorothy countered, as they weighed the relative merits
of the two brothers as marriage material.
either of those boys out of the nest, good luck," Lillian said.
came in, receipts in hand. He
looked determined, his jaw clenched with the man-in-charge-look that he thought
would suitably impress Dorothy.
and Lillian and Jolene all stopped talking, and the liveliness that he had felt
when he stepped into the office was suddenly gone. Harold wasn't afraid of people, he was a people person,
everyone said so, so why this?
Dorothy was just another form of people. "Hello, Dorothy.
This makes three days in a row that I've seen you. It could get to be a habit,"
Harold said to puncture the ladies' amused silence. It wasn't received as breezily as he had hoped.
is a habit. Visits are a little more carefree," Dorothy said, and
Lillian and Jolene laughed at a shared sentiment.
was grateful for the papers in his hand, the most immediate proof for Dorothy
that he was also a busy businessman.
"Lillian, here are the morning receipts," he said with a
friendly formality and put the papers down on her desk.
looked at Lillian. They could have
made it easier for Harold by saying that right something, but they didn't. Seeing him squirm a bit like this was
too much fun.
you ready to go have lunch?" Harold finally asked.
we finish our girl talk," Dorothy said with a smile that both made him
melt and shooed him away.
of course." He tried to think
of something more to say, but that something eluded him. He smiled tightly, nodded in a way that
he felt would look decisive and walked stiffly back out of the office. As the door closed, he thought he heard
returned to the cashier island and paced back and forth like Ahab on the
quarter-deck waiting for the white whale to appear.
a rolled up set of blueprints, Milton leaned forward in one of the comfy shoe
department chairs to talk with Frank Brooks, an architect who wore preppier
clothes than Harold's sold. Milton leaned in close, encouraging the
architect to speak confidentially.
"I'll draw up some furniture layouts, but you really need an
interior decorator," Brooks said in a sotto voice.
that absolutely necessary?" Milton asked.
absolutely. Let me send over some furniture catalogs for you to look
through," Brooks said.
send over anything, Milton said.
"I'll stop by your office.
This deal is still secret.
Let's keep it that way."
you say, Milton, but please, start thinking about furniture," Brooks
gently insisted. "We've got
to furnish your beauty just right."
is a beauty," Milton said softly as he saw Dorothy come out of the office,
all smiles, walking toward him with a nice sway that was awfully close to
sultry. "She is a
beauty," Milton repeated softly.
ambled to his feet and smiled at Dorothy.
Harold asking her out to lunch, and the very next day, had been a real
surprise. He didn't think that
Harold had it in him. But he had
to give his brother credit for knowing a good thing when he saw it.
they saw it.
had never competed over girls.
Three years was a huge age difference when they were growing up, and
even back in their school days Milton had been interested in different sorts of
girls than Harold. He had been
interested in girls period, whereas Harold had been interested in Jewish girls,
nice Jewish girls until, at Goldie's insistence, Harold had married one. Then he had seen how nice they mostly
Goldie had railed against at Milton's bachelorhood, but by then he was
secretive enough that Goldie didn't have much in the way of specifics to rail
was the first woman that both he and Harold were keen on. Milton was ready to throw aside his
lifelong prejudice against nice Jewish girls, particularly the belles, the
Jewish Southern Belles, to make a play for her.
I want to thank you again for that delightful lunch yesterday," Dorothy
do it again," he said with a smile.
will," Dorothy said and smiled back, impressed again with what a cool
customer he was. She'd like to see
him lose his cool. She'd like to make him lose his cool. She wasn't just smiling at Milton, she was smiling at her
own secret ambition as she gave him a little wave good-bye and walked across
the terrazzo floor to Harold at the white Formica cashier island.
Stugeon, One Iron, Plotkin, and the others stood by like a Greek chorus in
sharp sport clothes, keeping close tabs on the action.
Dorothy. You look real nice
today," Stugeon said with his bookmaker's smile.
you, Tim," Dorothy replied with a graciousness she did not feel for such a
weasly man. "I'm all yours,
Mr. Wiesenthal," she said to Harold with an ironic curtsy.
fine then." He always felt very in control when he was
near the cashier's island. He
wanted Dorothy to see that he was the
man, Harold of Harold's. "Plotkin, if Nolan Ryan comes in,
please get him to sign that box of baseballs under the counter." Harold felt proud but self-conscious. She was so damned pretty standing
beside him. "And if the
Murphys get here before I'm back you know what to do. Shall we go?" he asked her.
the walked toward the door something was still nagging at him. Right: Willie. "Willie never called back?"
Harold asked Faye.
Faye said, her arms folded, cautiously watching Dorothy.
if he does..." Harold's voice
trailed off. It bothered him that
something was off with Willie.
take care of it," Faye said, shooing him away, and Dorothy with him. Harold wasn't used to going out to
lunch. It was a time of day that
businessmen came in to shop and Harold hated to leave the store at a
potentially busy moment. But
Dorothy was worth making an exception.
always brown-bagged it. There was
a window in the stockroom here he could eat his lunch and keep an eye on the
parking lot. That was the beauty
of a tuna fish sandwich--you could put it down when a car pulled into the
parking lot and be waiting with a smile at the backdoor, ready to get your
teeth into the next wallet.
hooked her arm through Harold's.
She could feel him jolt at the contact. What a nice feeling, that simple power, and from such a
trifle, a touch. "I have to
warn you, Harold. I'm very, very
hungry," Dorothy said as he held the door open for her. The storm clouds had passed and
sunlight sparkled on the wet concrete.
and Stugeon and Plotkin all exchanged a look, and a smirk, as they watched
Harold open the door of his Cadillac and gallantly help Dorothy get in.
Wiesenthal on a date. What kind of
odds you got on that, Stugeon?" Plotkin asked.
fingered his string tie while he guess-timated. "I'd say Harold and twenty-one. He's a serious underdog against the
Plotkin let out a braying laugh.
in the shoe department, there was a sparkle of jealousy in Milton's eyes as he
watched the Cadillac drive away.
felt distracted with Dorothy in the car.
He never thought much about his driving, his mind was never really on
it, and he had always managed to get safely from one place to another. Only today, with Dorothy in the car, he
was self-conscious about his driving and that made it tough. Somehow she threw him off his game. "Do you like football?" he
asked, anxious to break the silence.
liked football. I wouldn't say
that I had a passion for it.
Why? Do you?"
"What?" He had been thinking about how nice she
smelled and hadn't really heard what her question was about.
a passion for it?"
football," Dorothy said with a smile.
he was amusing her, that was good, Harold thought. "It can be very exciting at times. The reason why I
asked is, would you mind if we stopped by the Oilers' practice field? I want to say hello to Willie."
"Sure. That sounds like fun."
never much liked football until I started watching it from the sidelines, after
I got to be friends with the players." He hoped that it didn't sound like bragging because he was
just explaining, that was all.
"It's a lot more exciting up close," he added.
of things are more exciting up close," Dorothy teased.
smiled politely back, nervous about saying the wrong thing. Teasing was a different kind of deal
from just talking, especially this flirting kind of teasing. "Such as?" Harold asked with
a friendly, hopeful smile.
smiled coyly back. "Why all
kinds of naughty things are more exciting up close. How did we get to talking about the birds and the
blushed. "I thought you meant
like golf or tennis."
laughed as if Harold had told a very witty joke.
flirting deal took a whole lot of work, Harold thought. It was hard to do and drive too. He saw dark clouds ahead of them, south
of the Astrodome, but the sun was shining along Brays Bayou as Harold drove
toward the practice field. Roads
were supposed to be slick with oil after it rained, Emmanuel was always telling
him that, and Harold was worried about oil slicks as he drove along the wet
streets. He slowed his speed even
though he wasn't sure what an oil slick would look like after a rain, when the
whole street looked slick. Driving
slower, it seemed to Harold like time was passing slower and it was his turn to
say something. "So Max passed
away?" he asked a bit abruptly, but it was something he was very curious
a heart attack," Dorothy said.
"Oh. I thought it was a car wreck."
had a heart attack while he was
driving--which caused the
accident. They were never sure
what really killed him, I mean, if he was dead before the car crashed, because it, well, sort of blew
up," Dorothy explained. "It sounds a bit morbid,
sorry, I didn't mean to bring up a painful subject."
put on a brave face for Harold.
"Don't worry, you won't have a weeping widow on your hands--doesn't
that sound just awful, that I have to
call myself a widow?"
I suppose that does sound kind of sad," Harold said, agreeing with
her. He was eager to agree with
whatever she said.
smiled at him in a special way that made him feel that he was a partner in her
story. "And I'm not a sad
person at all. Not even a little
bit. You know, I think that's what
we've got in common, that we're both very positive people."
Harold smiled hopefully. "Dorothy, you're about the
farthest thing from a weeping widow that I can think of."
what a sweet thing to say," Dorothy
was pleased with how well their lunch was going, and they hadn't even eaten
yet. Driving wasn't half-bad with
a passenger like Dorothy.
oil derrick bearing the Houston Oilers'
logo towered over the team's training facility. The practice field abutted rain-swollen Brays Bayou. Harold led Dorothy from the parking
lot, trying to pick ground that wasn't too squishy. She was appalled but thought it best not to be too finicky
about muddying her suede pumps.
The important thing was to seem game.
going to like Willie. He's good
people," Harold said.
they got to the sideline, the offensive team was scrimmaging in their practice
suits. The field was wet and muddy
and everyone was miserable and jumpy.
With mud covering most of the numbers, it took Harold a while to spot
Willie, just as he ran past.
"Hey, Willie!" he called out.
saw Harold and double-clutched. He
looked sheepish and kept on running.
Harold was confused. Why
was Willie acting so strangely?
And in front of Dorothy, that made it even worse. "Willie? Willie?!"
Harold called out again.
reluctantly stopped running.
Harold walked over, embarrassed that Dorothy was tagging along behind,
and he didn't know how to tell her not to. Even speaking softly, she would probably hear
everything. "I've been trying
to call you," Harold said quietly.
"I thought we were supposed to meet at the club last night. And we've got that charity dinner
tonight for the Big Brothers."
stared down at his cleats and kicked nervously at the muddy grass.
was starting to feel desperate. He
glanced over at Dorothy, who was discreetly hanging back. He was grateful that she wasn't
crowding him, but he still felt awful.
"What's wrong? Is it
something I did? Something I
said?" Harold asked.
kept staring at the ground, feeling awful too. "Harold, I don't know..."
is it?" Harold asked in a troubled voice. "What's wrong?"
looked Harold right in the eye.
"Do you think I'm taking advantage of you?"
was stunned. It was such a crazy
question. "What? What are you talking about?"
I don't need any free clothes. I
like to pay my own way."
felt dizzy. This was all so damn
crazy. "There is no way in
the world that you are taking advantage of me. I thought we were friends."
looked back down at the ground, then reluctantly met Harold's eye again. "I thought we were friends
me what happened," Harold pleaded.
"Will you please tell me what happened?"
Momma talked to me at the party and she said I was taking advantage of you,
taking free clothes, and she didn't want me taking advantage of her boy."
face reddened. "What! She told you what?!" he exploded.
you made your living selling clothes and that you couldn't just be givin' them
away to me," Willie said with a shrug. He already felt a whole lot better, seeing how upset Harold
was with Goldie. Willie was sure
glad he wasn't her son.
she is so far out of line that there's not even a line. You and I, we do stuff for each
other. We always have. We're friends," Harold said.
nodded thoughtfully now that the whole thing was clear. Harold's Momma was haywire, that's all
it was. Willie held out his hand
and they shook.
goddamnit, we got a game to get ready for!" the offensive coach yelled
from the scrimmage.
saw that the team was lining up to run the next set of downs. He turned shyly back to Harold. "See you later?" he asked.
you later," Harold said, relieved.
Willie gave him a pat on the back and ran back into the scrimmage. Harold turned to Dorothy.
everything okay?" she asked.
everything okay? Other than my
mother alienating the biggest sports figure in the city, sure everything's
fine. Goddamn!" Then he remembered. "I forgot to introduce you to
Willie. God, I'm sorry."
was intrigued by the drama and emotion.
It was even worth getting her shoes muddy. All she'd expected to see were some big lunks tossing a ball
back and forth. "Maybe we
should have lunch another day," Dorothy suggested.
no, no, I've got things straightened out now. Let's go eat.
You like Sonny Look's?" he asked.
fine," Dorothy said and tried her best to look enthusiastic. After all, lunch wasn't just about food.
Look's was a classy steak house, with quotation marks around classy. Instead of linen on the table, there
was sawdust on the floor. It
wasn't Dorothy's kind of place, but lunch wasn't really about the place. And her sirloin was rather tasty. Harold sawed at his T-bone without much
enthusiasm, still looking upset.
After seeing Willie at the practice field, he had gotten quiet. But Dorothy usually could succeed in
getting men to talk about themselves.
It was at least a topic in which the gentleman in question was usually
didn't mean to eavesdrop, but my gosh.
You must be very
frustrated," Dorothy said.
am very frustrated," he said, looking deep into her eyes, grateful at last
for someone who really understood him.
Why, Dorothy didn't have to say hardly anything, and Harold just knew that she understood. Somehow he could tell from the easy way that she smiled at
him. "When the name on the
door says Harold's and you're
responsible for everything, it's not always easy. And then Goldie pulls a stunt like that. The jackets I gave Willie aren't jack
compared to the advertising bang we get with him. But the important thing is that Willie's my friend. Shoot, it's hard to stop thinking
shook her hair, trying to let the light, as pitiful as it was in here, catch
it. "Well, maybe I can
distract you. I've been known to
distract people before. In a positive way. I
think you mended things very nicely.
Very nicely, indeed. You
should look on the bright side.
This kind of thing can make a friendship stronger."
really think so?" Harold asked.
do. Trust me," Dorothy said
with a reassuring smile. She put
down her steak knife and touched Harold's hand. Gosh, he liked how that felt. He couldn't remember ever getting this excited by a
woman. It had never been like this
with his wife, not even in the beginning.
Harold was glad they were seated at the table because he surely didn't
want her to see how excited his lap looked.
Harold came home Goldie was standing on top of one of the kitchen chairs,
inspecting and rearranging newly acquired five pound cans of Folger's. It had taken some ingenuity to get all
of the coffee into a single cupboard. But that meant dividing her bags of sugar
into two cabinets. She preferred
keeping each kind of food together, but for the time being she would sacrifice
her system. She really needed more
cabinet space to properly provide for the family and was glad to see Harold
home early so they could talk about that.
After all, she couldn't do it all alone. If they wanted to make sure there was enough food on hand,
then they all had to help.
"Mom! It's none of your business what I give Willie!" Harold exploded.
stared at her packed shelves, unperturbed by his words, inspecting her
provisions with a pleased smile.
They had enough coffee now for at least three years. That was something to smile about.
kept herself very busy at the stove; loud voices always scared her and she was
desperate to stay out of the way.
The Wiesenthals never hit each other like they did in the Brousshard
family, but boy could they talk loud, and that yelling could make you feel
worse than a smack on the cheek.
"Mom! Listen to me! It's outrageous!" Harold said louder, frustrated by
Goldie's placid indifference.
finally turned to look at him--it wasn't healthy for him to get so excited. Standing up on the chair put her at
Harold's eye level; maybe she should get up on a chair whenever she needed to
give Harold a serious talking to.
"I thought he was taking advantage of you," Goldie patiently
crazy! He gets paid ten
thousand dollars to do other local ads--and
he does my ads for free! And
anyway it's none of your business."
still your mother. Of course it's
my business!" Goldie said,
starting to get really steamed.
don't want you talking to Willie again,"
Harold nearly shouted, furious with Goldie's obstinacy.
he comes into my house then he's going
to hear what I have to say,"
she said defiantly.
and Daryl were both doing their homework at their TV trays, but they didn't pay
much attention to the yelling because no one was yelling at them.
was trying to read the stock quotes with his magnifying glass, and she was
making him crazy. "Goldie,
goddammit! Will you listen to
Harold!" Emmanuel yelled at her.
if he listens to me! Who
wants to buy clothes from Willie?
What does Willie know about clothes?"
Emmanuel shouted back.
didn't answer. Emmanuel went back
to studying the stock quotes.
Goldie got off the chair and moved it in front of the next cabinet. She was worried. About the canned peaches. She wouldn't bother to count them, just
get a sense of what they had on hand.
The middle cabinet was a bit thin, but that was understandable
considering all the canned peaches they'd eaten this last week. "Harold?"
looked at Goldie, ready for the apology she owed him.
you take me to the store after dinner?"
stormed out of the kitchen, muttering to himself as he stalked down the hall to
his bedroom. As he passed Milton's
room, he saw his brother reclining on the bed, in T-shirt and chinos, reading
the Wall Street Journal.
will you talk to her?" Harold asked.
the point? You already squared
things with Willie," Milton said with a shrug and took a sip of ice tea.
point is...the point is I don't want it happening again. Ever!" Harold said.
was the last time that Goldie apologized?
For anything?" Milton asked.
stared at Milton, unwilling to answer.
was the last time Goldie apologized?" Milton asked again.
wasn't fair, Harold thought.
Milton should be angry too; Willie did the commercials for the store,
for both of them.
was the last time Goldie apologized?
Never. Never was the last
time," Milton said, answering his own question. "So what's the point?"
point is...the point is I don't want it happening again."
easy for you to say," Harold said.
thought about it. "You're
right," he concluded.
rolled his eyes in frustration and retreated to his bedroom. Someday Milton would see, someday they
would all see, someday they would finally appreciate him.
"Boys! Dinner!" Goldie called. If she was worried about anything, it
was that her meat loaf be eaten while it was hot.
heavy rain had drummed through the night and violent brown water was coursing
through swollen Buffalo Bayou. But
the skies this morning were a soft winter blue. Allen Parkway followed the gentle contours of the bayou, and
as Lillian drove her Electra along the parkway she looked at the bright day and
thought it perfect for shopping.
Thankfully, the traffic was light and Lillian could drive safely. The second year of her marriage when
she was just learning to drive, she had scraped the passenger side of their
Buick Special on a low fence post that was well-nigh invisible. It was the first new car that her
husband Buddy had ever bought, and when he saw the scrape, and before she could
properly tell him about the accident, he yelled at her for the first and only
time in their marriage. He had
immediately and profusely apologized.
Nevertheless, after that, Lillian made a point of giving a wide berth to
the passenger side whenever she drove, afraid of what low-lying obstacles might
be lurking there. The method that
she had settled upon, particularly when driving on a nice four-lane road like
the Allen Parkway, was to center the road stripe beneath her. That way she could be sure that there
was plenty of clearance for the passenger side of the car. Drivers behind her often honked, but
let them honk, they'd get to where they were going. What was a little honking when she had a foolproof method of
keeping her car intact and Buddy happy.
Dorothy was in the passenger seat of the Electra, not paying any attention to
Lillian's driving. She only paid
attention to a man's driving, because it was a clue to character. In the back seat were packages from
Joshke's and Foley's and Sakowitz's, the bounty of their shopping spree.
glad you talked me into this," Lillian said.
is like sex. You have to stay in
practice," Dorothy replied.
looked at each other and laughed.
seemed like more fun than sex, Lillian thought. There was no one else's happiness to worry about, it was all
for her, and when was the last time that she had done something all for her.
Lillian couldn't even remember.
She was thankful to be under Dorothy's influence, to be encouraged in
indulgence, if only for a morning.
"I forgot how much fun it is just shopping for me--not for Buddy or
Stephanie or Fredell. That's the
problem. You spend a day away like
this, having fun, then you never want to go back. Never."
is a problem," Dorothy mused and pushed in the car lighter to light a
how's the dating game going?" Lillian asked.
took the first drag of her fresh cigarette. The first puff was always the nicest one, the freshest
one. "I don't know, Lil. I like them both, but do you think that
either one is ever going to move away from your Mom and Dad?"
smiled mischievously to herself.
Dorothy asked, intrigued by her smile.
want to show you something," Lillian finally said.
drove the Electra down Heights Boulevard.
The once elegant street had a wide esplanade. With two lanes on either side, Lillian could drive in her
preferred manner, with the lane stripe centered beneath her. The street had devolved into a weird
mix of run-down gothic mansions, small apartment buildings, and beer joints,
mingled with a smattering of magnificent turn-of-the-century palazzos that had
been meticulously maintained.
parked in front of a two-story brick mansion that was being restored. Landscapers and contractors were busily
smiled slyly and motioned for Dorothy to follow her through the portico. The interior walls of the original
mansion had been gutted, creating an enormous central room with an upstairs
balcony running the length of the house.
It was a Texan's idea of what a Texan mansion should be. Painters and carpenters were installing
a parquet floor. The workers paid
little attention to Lillian, but they were checking out Dorothy, looking her
over in a manner to which she had been accustomed since the first stirrings of
puberty. Dorothy was well aware of
how much an attractive woman could do without doing anything.
you know the owner?" Dorothy asked.
building this house for you?"
Lillian said, flattered.
"It's my brother's."
looked around, pleased with the information. Very pleased.
She saw the house in a different light, through different eyes. "So, Harold built this. Good for him."
Milton," Lillian said, amused by Dorothy's mistaken assumption.
"Milton?!" Dorothy said, shocked.
a secret. I mean it, Dorothy. He doesn't want anyone to know until
it's finished and he moves in."
strolled toward the back of the unfinished house. "It's an awfully big place for one person,"
never lived alone. I can't imagine
him living here without One Iron," Lillian said.
can't imagine anyone living with One
Iron," Dorothy said and Lillian laughed.
reached the far end of the enormous room.
A crew was installing a glass elevator.
two-story house and he's putting in an elevator," Lillian said, shaking
her head. "Milton says that
it's for Goldie, but Milton hates to
climb stairs. Come on, I'll show
you the rest of the house."
we take the elevator?" Dorothy asked.
yet, ma'am. Maybe tomorrow,"
a worker chimed in.
"We'll take the stairs," Lillian said and took Dorothy's hand. Upstairs, Lillian hurried to keep up
with Dorothy as she rushed along, eager to see it all. At the end of the balcony was a room with
a bay window. "Oh, this would
make a wonderful sewing room," Dorothy beamed. She could imagine the wallpaper she would use. A very pale yellow, with tiny lavender
didn't know that you sewed," Lillian said.
don't. But I love the idea of a sewing room," Dorothy said and continued
her wanders with a dreamy smile.
snagged her nylon hose on a protruding electrical wire. "Shoot," she said examining
you okay? Dorothy asked.
fine. But these hose are
shot," Lillian shrugged and lit a cigarette.
left my purse in the car, Lil.
Mind if I bum a smoke?"
Lillian gave Dorothy one of her Salems and lit it. Dorothy leaned on the balcony railing
and blew out a puff of smoke like a genie casting a spell. She looked dreamily down at the living
room. "The store must be
doing very well," Dorothy said.
store is doing very well." Lillian felt adventurousness being in
Milton's unfinished house, on a secret visit. Seeing all those men at work helped create a mood of
possibility, that dreams could become real, if you just tried. "And I've got an idea that could
make the store do even better," she shyly told Dorothy. "I have this idea for a ladies'
could call your store Lillian's," Dorothy said, feeling dreamy too. She could see this house finished, all
the carpets and colors, the furniture, even the tulips in the vase, every last
detail, it was all so clear.
it wouldn't be a store. It would
be a ladies' department at Harold's," Lillian said.
Harold's is a men's store. Why would ladies shop there?"
Dorothy asked, pulled out of her reverie about the marvelous possibilities for
get a lot of women who come out to the store with their husbands. Now what do you think they do? That is, besides pick out clothes for
smoked thoughtfully now. Her
fantasies about the house and the fresh flowers that should be in the house
blurred as she started to grasp Lillian's concept. "I had a husband, honey. Picking out his clothes only kept my little brain
half-occupied. Men complain about
us shopping. It takes them forever
to try clothes on. Brother, are
they ever lost."
"Exactly! Watching a man buy clothes isn't any
fun," Lillian said, excited that Dorothy thought her idea had some
promise. "I think that a
ladies' department could do very well.
I'm tired of being in the back office."
might be on to something," Dorothy said.
it'll never happen. Harold's will never change," Lillian said, shaking her head. It was her one day off in she couldn't remember how long,
and here she was talking about the store.
She couldn't get away from it, even when she was away from it. All of a sudden she started feeling
Dorothy said agreeably. She sensed
the downturn in Lillian's mood, but Dorothy wasn't at all blue. Quite the contrary. The store was so interesting.
many new things were so interesting.
peered down into his closet, carefully weighing his options. There were over a hundred pairs of
shoes to chose from, but there was only one perfect pair of shoes for this evening. He felt like wearing something stylish
but playful, a flirty kind of shoe.
That was the signal to send tonight. And they had to be comfortable, very comfortable, because he
didn't want to think about his shoes once he put them on. Milton picked his tasseled alligator
loafers. It was the right choice
knotting his tie, he used a hand mirror to inspect the back of his hair. Then he put on a new hound's-tooth
check jacket; it felt invigorating.
Milton came into the den, Emmanuel, Goldie, Harold, Michael and Daryl were all
seated with their TV trays, eating Goldie's traditional Monday night dinner,
roast beef and broiled potatoes.
Milton's empty chair was a gap in the semi-circle of TV trays. Monday Night Football was on TV. Goldie was the first one to look up and
see Milton. "You look very
nice," she said.
are you going?" Emmanuel asked.
got a date," Milton said with a twinkle.
who?" Goldie asked.
nice Jewish girl."
one, except Harold, knew whether or not to take Milton seriously. He was always kidding around, about
everything. They were used to the
way that he would say the craziest things like they were true, so after a while
you didn't know what was a joke and what wasn't. Lillian had once tried to explain to Goldie that Milton's
sense of humor was called irony.
But Goldie kept saying "Ironing?" refusing to believe that
Milton's idea of a joke had anything to do with laundry.
One Iron driving you?" Emmanuel asked.
I'm driving myself."
you sure that you remember how?" Harold pointedly asked.
I'm sure," Milton said,
annoyed that they were all making such a big deal about his driving.
when he got behind the steering wheel of his Continental it did feel strange.
He took a minute to adjust the seat and the rearview mirror, and to get
used to where the turn signals and such were located. Backing out of the driveway he didn't trust the mirror, so
he turned his head all the way around and got a crick in his neck. The car seemed an awful lot bigger
behind the wheel than it did as a passenger. Well, any idiot could drive, and once he was rolling down
Aberdeen Way, past Lillian's house and then left on Buffalo Speedway, the
driving got much easier. The driveway
had been the hardest part. The
longest part of a journey was the first step--Milton remembered that from a
fortune cookie at Lee's Den, the Chinese joint over on South Main.
was renting a small house in West University. The sidewalk was sagging and the yard looked like hell, what
he could see of it at night. She
made a point of not inviting Milton in.
seemed much nicer after they'd taken the elevator up to the Summit Club, atop a
high-rise just off the Gulf Freeway.
It was a private club and the lights of downtown twinkled promisingly
through the floor to ceiling windows.
Milton marveled at the gusto with which Dorothy ate her cold-boiled
shrimp. A trim woman with an
appetite, what more could you ask?
leaned toward Milton, speaking with intimate fervor, well aware of the
flattering effect of the candlelight on her hair. "...think about all
those women who come out to the store with their husbands. Maybe they help hubby pick out a tie or
a jacket. But they're bored. And they want to get even. They want to spend some money
too..." She liked dining up
here at the top; it was the right place for her to be.
stared nervously at the confusing mass of ties that had accumulated on his tie
rack. Luckily, he found the red
rep tie that he thought best to wear with his navy blazer, but unluckily when
he pulled it free a snake-like mass of silk ties fell to the closet floor. Harold checked the time on his Rolex
Presidential. It was a gift from
Flip Wilson for helping with the wardrobe for his comedy special; Harold had
gotten it out of the store safe just to wear tonight. No, there wasn't time to deal with the fallen ties. In fact, the whole closet was a
disaster. Everything in the
bedroom just felt too damned crowded tonight. Even the mirror.
All those photographs of celebrities were crowding him, making it hard
to see if his tie was properly knotted.
Harold pushed aside the picture of himself with Flip Wilson to clear
enough room to see if his Windsor knot looked okay.
Goldie, Milton, Michael and Daryl were seated at their TV trays eating their
traditional Thursday night dinner of beef brisket, mashed potatoes and cooked
carrots. Tonight Harold's
folded-up TV tray broke the family circle. They were watching "M*A*S*H," one of the few shows
that Milton liked.
felt great, on his way out, walking past Milton. "Don't wait up for me," he said.
have we ever waited up?" Emmanuel asked, puzzled by the remark.
you sign my permission slip?" Michael asked without taking his eyes from
permission slip?" Harold asked.
the zoo trip. I told you about it
a million times."
it on my bed, I'll sign it tomorrow," Harold said.
you want to sign it now?" Michael asked, his eyes still glued to the TV.
I'm late," Harold said, anxious to be on his way. He was annoyed at Milton for not
seeming at least a little jealous.
sign it," Emmanuel said.
Dad." Harold checked the
time, hoping that Milton would see the Rolex Presidential, but Milton annoyed
Harold by not noticing. Harold
pulled his starched cuff back down over the watch.
won't wait up," Milton said, finally looking up at Harold with a sly
smile. Was he daring Harold to
keep Dorothy out late? No, Harold
decided that Milton was just taunting him.
gave Harold a big smile and he felt grateful.
you pick something up for me at Weingarten's on the way home?"
tonight," Harold said.
so different about tonight?" Goldie persisted.
had feared it would be sawdust on the floors and A-1 Steak Sauce with the sirloin. She was pleasantly surprised when
Harold took her to Westwood Country Club, one of several country clubs that
Harold belonged to, but the only one that was predominantly Jewish. They sat at a window table overlooking
the eighteenth green.
leaned forward into the warm glow of the hurricane lamp. What made a restaurant elegant wasn't
just the food, it was the lighting.
The finer places understood that it was lighting that made a woman look
good. Out of the corner of his eye
Harold vaguely registered the presence of the Sandlers, the Kaplans, and the
Kahns, but his instinct to go over and say hi, ya'll come on out to Harold's was on hold as he listened raptly to Dorothy.
these women who come out to the store and they help their husband pick out a
coat and tie, but they're bored and they want to spend some money
too." Dorothy paused to take
a sip of her ice tea. She would
have preferred white wine or even a martini, but Harold never drank, and didn't
think to ask Dorothy if she did.
Harold had gotten very drunk one night in the Merchant Marines, in
Virginia Beach, and he had hated how that felt, to be that out of control, that
emotional, not to mention the hangover,
and had never touched alcohol again.
Harold said thoughtfully, looking at Dorothy, at her lips, and quite intently,
wondering what it would be like to kiss her. He was determined to kiss her tonight. It had been building between them, he
could feel that, and it felt real.
He would kiss her tonight.
He couldn't let her slip away without a kiss goodnight.
it or not," Dorothy continued, quite pleased with Harold's attentiveness
to her idea, "I spent several years selling women's clothes when Max and I
lived in Las Vegas. Maybe that's
why I thought of this idea."
gave Harold a big smile. What she
said made so much sense, he could kiss her for it right now. If only she were that type of girl. Dorothy was so lively, so
yet she never seemed to be encouraging when it came to kissing her, even just
kissing her goodnight, Harold thought as he lay awake on the top bunk, arms
folded behind his head.
wound up sleeping on the top bunk most nights. When they had first gotten the bunk beds, the boys had
fought over the top bunk, and Michael as the oldest had prevailed. But two years ago he had developed a
phobia about sleepwalking and falling down from on high. Michael had inspired Daryl to acquire
the same phobia, and now neither boy could be persuaded to sleep up there. Harold had found the single bed too
narrow to share with one of the squirming kids and was resigned to sleeping up
in the top bunk.
heard the Continental pull into the driveway, as he saw the wash of headlights
across the ceiling, just a few feet from his head.
Iron parked the Continental next to Harold's Cadillac. Milton and One Iron got out and
stretched, looking pleased with themselves and with the world.
placed a hand on the hood of the Cadillac. The engine was cold. He smiled.
Harold had the date with Dorothy, but Milton was the one that had
scored. He was tempted to take his
younger brother under his wing and give him a few pointers, not about Dorothy,
but in general, about women. But
then he thought about those damned Harold's
commercials and the Harold's
billboard on the Katy Freeway and decided once again, for the thousandth time,
that what the hell, Harold made his own bed, let him lie it. Alone.
they really sisters?" Milton asked, putting an imaginary x through the calendar for tonight.
man. No lie," One Iron said.
and Judith. Quite a Thursday
night. Milton thought. "Evelyn looks a little like Hot
her hair--that style's popular.
What time should I pick you up in the morning?"
usual. Catch you later, One
Iron," Milton said with a yawn and walked across the back patio. One Iron yawned and waved goodnight as
he walked toward his Chevy Malibu, parked on the street.
Milton loosened his tie, and opened the refrigerator. Other aspects of life were uncontrollable and unreliable,
but he could always count on finding a good snack in Goldie's
refrigerator. He found a Corning
Ware dish with cold chicken and noodles that he ate leaning against the
came in wearing his pajamas without a robe. He didn't even own a robe. Milton was the robe man in the family. "I heard you come in," Harold
are you doing up?" Milton asked.
shrugged. "I haven't been
home that long."
just nodded, quite enjoying the cold chicken. Harold felt nervous talking to Milton, and he was nervous
that Milton would sense his nervousness.
Harold needed a drink to calm his nerves. He opened the refrigerator and got out the bottle of prune
juice. He poured himself a
tumbler, and silently gestured to Milton, did he want a drink too? Milton nodded yes.
drank their prune juice in silence.
been wondering something," Harold said and took a meditative sip. "How well are we doing with Western
looked sharply at Harold and took a sip as he sized up the question. "Fair. Just fair. But
in terms of sales per square feet, we give it too much space for the sales
took his prune juice over to the Formica kitchen table. Milton carried his drink and the
Corning Ware dish over. They sat
opposite each other, Harold in striped pajamas, Milton in his raw silk canary
yellow sport coat. Goldie had left
a poker chip caddy and canasta dealer in the middle of the table.
we should take some of that space and put in something new," Harold suggested, quite casually he
makes sense to me. Western Wear
should really be one of our seasonals, just during Rodeo Week and Pioneer
Days," Milton replied.
sipped their prune juice in silence.
The house was quiet and they could hear the muffled sound of Emmanuel's
snoring from the master bedroom.
started to ask a question, thought better of it, then finally decided to
ask. "Feel like playing a
hand of gin?"
deal 'em up."
dealt the cards. He was grateful
that the deck had been on the table.
Cards helped make Harold pokerfaced, even if the card game wasn't poker. Milton was pokerfaced naturally.
we're going to open up a new shop it should be something really new,"
Milton said casually.
at London Fog has been begging us to expand," Harold quietly suggested.
take a bath if we got in that deep on London Fog," Milton said.
Milton repeated. "It's your
Harold said and picked up a card and began to rearrange his hand. "We could expand into kids
clothes. We get kids in the
low-end," Milton said.
"And we'll alienate the adults if there are a bunch of brats in the
else could we tap into?" Harold innocently asked, proud of how skillfully
he was dancing around the real subject.
He discarded a queen.
Milton quickly picked it up.
"Shoot," Harold said, annoyed with himself, "I should
have guessed that you were collecting queens."
just shrugged, not seeming to pay much attention to Harold as he intently
studied his hand.
took a sip of prune juice. He was
feeling this enormous pressure, and Milton didn't seem to be helping. He thought that maybe he should
politely ask Milton about his date, then thought better of it. Nothing good could come from that kind
finally discarded a card that Harold didn't want.
drew a card that was useless and threw it down on the pile.
drew again and added the card to his hand. He discarded a card that Harold didn't want, and they
continued taking turns, neither of their hands seeming to improve.
took another nervous sip of prune juice.
It looked like if he didn't say something, then nothing would ever get
said, dammit. "We get women
in the store," Harold offered, "A lot of women, if you think about
paused, pleased that Harold had made the opening bid. "That's a thought," Milton said, and left it at
do you think?" Harold finally said.
"I mean, the store is called Harold's Menswear."
everybody just calls it Harold's. Right, Harold?" Milton said pointedly.
was half-inclined to let the jealous remark slide, but Milton had this sardonic
smile, challenging him. "Hey,
we pulled the name out of a hat," Harold said diplomatically. "That's ancient history."
parry answered, Milton was happy to continue to game. "Actually, recently, someone very interesting fell into
our laps," Milton said.
"Someone with just the right personality to sell."
looked expectantly at Milton and asked,
kept playing out the hand. Milton
kept picking up and discarding, reworking what he had. It was hard for Harold to keep track of
what Milton was after. Harold was
still trying to build on the pairs that he had been dealt.
we should try setting up a ladies' department," Milton said
sportswear or casual, but couture, dresses, cashmere sweaters. The kind of thing with a decent profit
might not be interested," Harold said, quite pleased with himself for this
bit of shrewdness.
we'll find someone else. I'm sure
Lillian knows someone," Milton said.
felt depressed. Maybe Dorothy
really wasn't seriously interested in the job.
saw Harold's dour perplexity.
Hell, they both wanted Dorothy and they both wanted Dorothy in the
store. "A ladies' department
would take, say, at least three hundred square feet, probably four,"
Milton speculated. "We could
put it in the north end of Western Wear.
You want to take a flyer?"
what have we got to lose?" Harold said with a sense of relief. He had lost track of what cards Milton
was after, but he held a queen of spades that wasn't doing him any good, and
all the other cards held possibilities.
He cautiously laid down the queen.
gleefully picked it up, then laid down his hand. "Gin!"
"Hi, I'm Harold. I dress seventy, I talk eighty, and I
shoot ninety--when my putter's hot."
He was wearing loud golf clothes, a marigold Banlon shirt and cerulean
blue slacks. The big colors showed
up well on TV. So did Harold's big
smile. "Y'all come on down to
Harold's in the Heights. We've got everything from three-piece
suits to three-par gold slacks."
The camera panned to follow Harold into the Ladies' Department. "And ladies, we've got a new
department just for you, with the finest in summer fashions. Right, Dorothy?"
stepped on camera next to Harold, in her own big colors, with her own big
smile. "That's right,
y'all come on down to Harold's in the
Heights." Harold started to
put his arm around Dorothy, but didn't.
There had only been one complete take of the commercial, costs being
what they were, you could never get one where everything was perfect, so the awkward moment was still there,
but you really couldn't see it, not unless that was what you were looking for.
feel right at home," Dorothy said.
turned off the little TV. He was
watching it by himself back in the stockroom. He wanted to see it alone, without any unwelcome comments. From anyone. And he had to say, it looked pretty good. He and Dorothy had looked awfully good
standing together like that. Like
a couple. Maybe he should have put
his arm around her. It might have
been a nice touch.
Lillian smoked a cigarette she stared pensively past Jolene. Through the window she could see the
newly elongated fiberglass awning.
Underneath it, protected from the scorching summer sun, sat Harold's
Cadillac, Milton's Continental, Lillian's Electra and Dorothy's
Thunderbird. Lillian shook her
head; the awning was for family cars and in no way was Dorothy family. If the boys wanted to give awning
privileges to an employee, then they should give it to Plotkin for god sakes,
he sold enough clothes to put an awning over the whole parking lot.
the utility closet behind Lillian's desk there was a hammer. Lillian wanted to take that hammer and
smash all the windows in Dorothy's smug blue Thunderbird. She knew that she would never do it,
but it was pleasing to daydream about.
was some brilliant idea, Lillian thought, bringing Dorothy to the Christmas
Party. As she reflected back on
that fateful encounter in the delicatessen when Dorothy had unfortunately
reappeared in her life, Lillian realized that it was Dorothy who had invited
herself to the party, half-joking--"You should bring me as a birthday
present, Lil, I'm looking for an eligible bachelor."
sure took the bait, Lillian thought.
She and Buddy liked to go crabbing down in Keemah when they could get
away. Hook a piece of horse meat
on a string, throw it into the bay, and pull up the crabs, too dumb to let
go. But weren't Harold and Milton
the crabs hanging onto the horse meat?
Or was Lillian? One thing
was certain, Dorothy was pulling on the line. Harold and Milton weren't hooked so much on the idea of a
ladies' shop as they were hooked on the idea of Dorothy. She was kind of a hooker, come to think
of it. So did that make her a
hooker throwing the hook into the water?
Of course, with a hooker the guy got some sex as part of the bargain and
from the looks of it, Dorothy had closed the deal without putting out. Such a
nice Jewish girl.
and Milton were already steamrollered when they presented Lillian with Dorothy's idea
for a ladies' shop. It was a done
deal and there was nothing Lillian could do about it, except to complain, if
she cared to. Dorothy tried to get
Lillian to believe that they had both had the idea, that Dorothy might have given Lillian the idea, but either way Dorothy still
wanted to be friends and let bygones be bygones. Yes, Dorothy had a heart of gold, as long as it was someone
else's gold--the Wiesenthal's in this case. Lillian felt powerless. It was the family store, and even though she was the oldest,
Emmanuel had set up the store for Harold and Milton. It wasn't her store, it was her job, and if she didn't like it then she should go get
another one. The Leff Brothers,
just on the other side of Heights Boulevard, would be glad to have her.
it rankled her leaving Dorothy queen of the roost. That wasn't like a Wiesenthal. Wiesenthals weren't quitters.
looked across her desk at Lillian, determined to say something, just as soon as
she finished with this column of numbers, or maybe the next one. The phone rang. Lillian usually liked to answer it, but
when she didn't stir, Jolene took the call, from Murray at Sans-a-Belt
verifying an invoice number.
she finished the call, Jolene was ready to talk to Lillian, but thought that a
cigarette would help. It would
make it more like a cigarette break with both of them smoking. "It's just not fair," Jolene
looked at her. They both knew
exactly what Jolene was talking about.
were always talking about how we should sell ladies clothes," Jolene
to you," Lillian said.
Dorothy," Jolene added.
stole your idea, Lil."
didn't say anything. She felt
herself getting angry all over again, very angry, and what good would that do?
felt hesitant again, but was determined to press on. Lillian had done so much for her, teaching her how to do the
books, how to place the orders, do the collections. It was the least Jolene could do, to encourage Lil. But it was hard for Jolene to tell
someone like Lillian, someone who knew everything, how to deal with a creature
like Dorothy. "Aren't you
going to do anything?" Jolene persisted.
already made up their minds," Lillian quietly said.
they're your brothers. They'll
listen," Jolene encouraged.
took a thoughtful drag from her cigarette, as if she were a prisoner in front
of a firing squad, savoring her last smoke. "They don't want me out in the front. They want me in the back office. Goldie is their Mommy at home and I'm
their Mommy here at the store."
why Dorothy?" Jolene said, disgusted. "I mean, what was Harold thinking?"
has very little to do with it," Lillian said with a rueful smile.
what about Milton? He always uses
smiled with some of her old twinkle.
"Jolene, which head are you talking about? The big one or the little one?"
didn't understand Lillian's joke.
And then she did, coughing smoke as she laughed. "You're so bad!"
the little heads that Dorothy's talking to," Lillian added, and they both
laughed together, not without bitterness.
At least she and Jolene were still together, Lillian thought, and back
here in the office there wasn't quite as much doggy doo to step through.
came in, carrying an invoice, and they quieted down. "I'm glad that y'all are having such a good
am I," Lillian said abruptly.
have you seen this invoice?" he said with some urgency.
see everything," Lillian said, unimpressed.
handed her the invoice from Oscar de la Renta, waiting for her to share his
outrage. "Four thousand
dollars! Jesus H. Christ, what was
ordered these," Lillian calmly said.
Harold quietly said, his wrath suddenly gone. He wasn't sure what to think. But he was thinking.
it? Oh?" Lillian pointedly asked. Harold's abrupt and ridiculous
about-face spurred her to attack.
Enough was enough. Enough
was in fact too much.
Harold stammered. He couldn't
exactly attack Dorothy, not at this delicate juncture.
well?" Lillian mockingly repeated.
selling..." Harold said, trying to put the matter in a business
perspective since after all this was a business and they were talking about a
Ladies' Department is doing very well," Harold said, hoping this would
successfully quell her challenge.
doing okay sales. The inventory
could choke a horse," Lillian said.
She handed the invoice back to Harold.
had hoped Lillian would take care of things. That was how they had always done it before. But now he held the invoice
unhappily. He couldn't hand it
back to her, much as he would like to.
approved those invoices. Complain
to him, not to me." She
stubbed out her cigarette, and picked up her pencil, determined to get some
Mom called?" Harold asked, eager to change subjects.
wants you to pick up some canned peaches," Lillian said without looking up
from her spread sheet.
peaches...canned peaches..." Harold repeated distractedly as he walked
somberly out the door, the offending invoice still in his hand.
sighed and lit another cigarette, trying to lose herself in her work.
lit a fresh cigarette and shook her head.
"It's just not fair," she said again, not that Lillian needed
any more reminding.
walked across the sales floor pensively studying the invoice. He saw One Iron at the cashier's island
ringing up a customer.
"Where's Faye?" Harold asked.
her break. The pause that
refreshes," One Iron said ironically.
was sitting in the shoe department, wearing a new sport shirt. He liked to come out to the store at
least once a week. The chairs in
the shoe department were comfortable and he could watch everything from
there. He saw Tim Stugeon come out
of the stockroom, hitching up his pants like a proud cowboy fresh off his
saw Emmanuel watching him. He put
on a big good-old-boy smile and came over to kibitz with the old man. "Mr. E! Got any hot tips?" Stugeon cheerfully asked.
your corn early," Emmanuel said.
It was his joking advice for all occasions. He had spent his boyhood on a farm in Poland where they had
grown potatoes, not corn, which is maybe why Emmanuel thought the advice so
absurdly humorous. Emmanuel saw
Faye come out of the stockroom, straightening her blouse. He nodded to himself, putting two and
two together, or rather one and one together to make a temporary if clandestine
glanced nervously at Faye. Mr. E.
always made him nervous.
"Plant your corn early," Stugeon repeated with a polite
be very careful where you plant your
corn," Emmanuel added. That
was the great thing about farming advice, it always seemed to apply.
again?" Stugeon asked.
your corn on your own property," Emmanuel explained.
Stugeon reddened, embarrassed and, if truth be told, a little afraid. If the old man could see that he was
getting some nookie then Stugeon supposed that anyone could.
Then again, maybe Mr. E. was the only one watching closely. Stugeon promised himself to keep his
hands off Faye on Mr. E's visiting days.
thought that Tim Stugeon was slow on the uptake for a bookie. But then again Stugeon probably wasn't
much of a bookie, which made him exactly the right kind to have out at the
gave Harold a nice smile when she returned to the cash register. But he wasn't in any kind of a mood for
a nice smile unless it came from a customer or from Dorothy. He especially didn't care to see a
smile from his wandering cashier.
Half the time One Iron forgot to add in sales tax and the store had to
eat it. Once Harold had tried to
get One Iron to pay for his mistake but One Iron had raised holy hell that he
wasn't the cashier and Milton had backed One Iron up. Harold gave Faye a dirty look. "That's the
second time this morning that you've left the register," Harold
me a break," Faye said, still feeling tingly from Stugeon's hurried
do," Harold shot back, "Two a day. One in the morning
and one in the afternoon."
Faye said. "I've got the
curse, and, well, I needed to go to the little girl's room again."
saw Harold start to blush like he always did when she mentioned the curse. But it wouldn't do to mention it too
often. She saw One Iron smirking
at her ploy and gave him a dirty look.
One Iron shrugged it off, inured to Faye and her curses.
smiled hello to a couple of cardiologists that Plotkin had snagged as they came
through the door.
have y'all been?" Harold drawled and shook the doctors' hands.
is good, Harold. Lots of heart
transplants to do."
Texas industry feeds another," Harold said with a smile.
that, Harold?" asked one of the doctors. He always got a kick out of visiting Harold's in the Heights.
the more Texas steaks folks eat, the more work for you boys at the medical
center," Harold said.
cardiologists got a good laugh out of that one. Harold had been saving the joke, but he couldn't really
enjoy its effect because the damnable invoice vexed him. "Is Milton in his office?"
Harold asked after Plotkin had steered the doctors into Sports Wear.
king is in his counting house," One Iron said.
walked out of the main room with the disputed invoice in hand.
his problem?" Faye asked.
needs to get laid," One Iron said.
knows that he's trying," Faye said, and tried again to smooth out those
fresh wrinkles in her skirt.
annoyed Harold that he had to walk upstairs and through the tailor shop if he
wanted to talk to Milton. And it
annoyed him that Milton could so pleasantly sit around with his shoes off while
Harold was on his feet all day on the floor. Downstairs was a lot more area to cover than an upstairs
office. They were after all
partners. Harold threw the invoice
down on Milton's desk.
put aside the bank statements he was studying and looked at the invoice. "Why did you order so many
sweaters?" he asked.
didn't order them," Harold said.
"So? Talk to Dorothy about it."
talking to you because I thought we agreed that you were going to authorize all
the Ladies' Department orders that Dorothy wanted to place. But four thousand dollars? For sweaters? In the summer?
That's more than we spend on men's sweaters from a single vendor in the
lose your shirt," Milton said, amused by Harold's ire.
like to lose some of those sweaters, but Oscar de la Renta has a no return policy. I think you should talk to Dorothy
about this," Harold said.
thought you liked to talk to Dorothy," Milton teased.
about this," Harold said, nibbling at his lower lip. "It's not fair to make me the hard
guy, just because I'm down on the floor."
the hard guy with everyone else," Milton said.
has to," Harold said, feeling put upon.
someone has to deal with the bank and the loan company and the city inspectors
and the vendors. You want to trade
H. Christ," Harold said, feeling a little less put on.
you like me to talk to Dorothy?" Milton volunteered now that Harold was
acting a little more respectful of Milton's duties and obligations.
pleasure," Milton said. He
picked up the chrome-and-leather shoe horn and slipped on his calfskin loafers
without bending down.
left without saying thanks or good-bye.
They rarely said thanks or good-bye to each other. Some things were just understood. But this was a different kind of dirty
work and Milton thought that it wouldn't have hurt Harold to say thanks, just
this once. Sure, it would have
been a break in routine, but he was breaking his routine to go downstairs to
read Dorothy the riot act. Of
course he'd have to make it sound like a bedtime story.
Milton crossed through Western Wear, which had been reduced to half its former
glory, into the Ladies' Shop, he felt like he was walking though an Old West
saloon and into a fancy bordello.
The two departments faced each other. Western Wear was decorated with raw redwood paneling, ropes
and fancy saddles. The Ladies'
Shop was white and frilly. Dorothy
sat at a curvy white desk that held displays of boldly patterned silk scarves
and chunky decorative jewelry.
Stugeon eyed Dorothy warily from his diminished domain, like a cowboy
watching the plains getting fenced in, wondering if his extinction was finally
at hand now that civilization and womenfolk had arrived. Cochise had relocated his custom
shoeshine stand to the far corner of Western Wear. Despite his superficially Indian nickname, Cochise was a
black man and a survivor, and he didn't care to intertwine his fate with a
pissant white trash peckerwood such as Stugeon. Even when Western Wear disappeared--and from the looks of
Dorothy and the looks that Mr. Harold and Mr. Milton gave her, it was when and not if--when that day came, his shoeshine concession would retreat across the
Rio Grande into Sports Wear.
Milton paid no attention to Cochise and Stugeon as he went up to Dorothy's
desk, with the controversial invoice in hand. "How's business?" he cheerily asked.
pointed to the ladies' dressing room and motioned Milton to bend down so she
could whisper, "Sophia Fratelli is in there trying on a two thousand
dollar Bill Blass."
tried to act suitably impressed as he showed her the invoice. "I want to talk to you about these
lowered her eyes. She had always
found looking through her eyelashes to have a positive effect on a man during
an argument, or even a mild disagreement.
The proper comportment could always make the conversation less
disagreeable for the man.
"I've been a bad girl.
But I can explain," Dorothy said contritely but flirtatiously.
can explain anything," Milton suavely replied.
I can especially explain that," Dorothy said. She hadn't expected her eyelashes to completely do the
trick, not with Milton.
line one," Faye said over the speaker box. Dorothy smiled then quickly remembered to turn the corners
of her mouth down.
"Oh. Shoot. I wonder if that's the call." She composed herself, for Milton's benefit, and picked up
"Hello?" She held
her breath and strained her chest muscles in a way that she knew made her face
flush red. "This isn't a good
time to talk," she said into the telephone, then covered the receiver and
looked up at him. "Excuse me,
Milton. I've been dreading this
had been annoyed, but now he was intrigued.
I got the notice in the mail..." Dorothy said quietly, her eyes getting
watery. "I've been talking to
nodded a quick good-bye and walked away, retreating through Western Wear. Dorothy looked quite pleased with
herself as she watched him go.
"You're doing great, Fred.
Keep it up," Dorothy whispered quickly into the telephone.
hurried back into his office. He
unlocked his credenza, put on his headphones, and flipped some switches, in
quick, practiced motions.
don't give a good goddamn what your lawyer says. You're going to be out of that house in a week!" Milton
heard a man yell.
you could just give me a little more time..." Dorothy meekly replied.
the man said curtly.
was shocked by what he heard, and concerned. He certainly hadn't expected this. But that was the magic and the mystery of telephone calls,
they could be so surprising. That
was what made the effort so worthwhile.
Milton hunched forward, his hands holding the headphones tight to his
ears, caught up in the drama.
give me, say, two weeks while I look for another place. Please. And I've got to pack and there are expenses that I just
don't have the money for right now.
A little time would help me out so much. Please," Dorothy
pleaded. Milton heard the tears in
her voice. And it hurt. It surprised him how much it hurt. Maybe that was love, a sign of love,
no, no, no, no!" the man said in loudly mocking sing-song. "You've been served your papers,
and if you need some help vacating, the County Marshals will be glad to
assist! Now good-bye!" The line clicked dead. Milton thought he heard a sniffle
before Dorothy's end clicked off.
took off the headphones and leaned back in his leather chair. What he just heard certainly changed
the nature of his relationship to Dorothy. He had paid big bucks to install the wiretap, but it was
cheap at any price for the edge it had given him these last four years. Milton was staring ahead as he had
these musings, and it dawned on him that he was staring at the photograph of
himself shaking hands with Richard Nixon.
It was one thing to listen to conversations, but it was damn stupid to
tape them. The dumb son of a bitch
had been too smart for his own good.
But people were impressed with the photograph, so what the hell, he had
to put something up on the wall.
was startled to see Dorothy standing at his office door, staring into the
one-way mirror, trying to hold back tears as she dabbed at her eyes. Milton put his wiretap equipment back
into the credenza and locked the cabinet.
When Dorothy finally knocked, Milton was ready. "Come in," he said.
stepped into the office. Milton
stood and saw that her eyes were puffy and red.
sorry that we got interrupted by that call," she said, her voice a little
ragged. "I can explain about
the invoice. I know I said that I
was only going to order six of the cashmere sweaters, but..."
something else wrong?" he said, and came around the desk.
"Why...nothing. Nothing that I'd care to talk
about," Dorothy said, her voice trailing off. Milton was a smart guy, he was a sensitive guy, and he was
an overly-confident guy. He would
pick up a clue, and take charge.
Dorothy knew that he would do the manly thing, what with her providing
the perfect opportunity.
I know that you're upset about something.
You might as well tell me," he said with a friendly smile. "I find out everything
smiled back at him, not gaily, no, that would be inappropriate, but
grimly. Yes, she knew there was
such a thing as a grim smile and it was exactly the right smile for Milton
right now. He was the kind of man
who knew what to do about a grim smile.
Why, get rid of the grim, turn it into a grin. "We're like two peas in a pod, you and me," she
confided. "Always prying out
the beans," Milton said gently, and lightly touched Dorothy's arm. Almost like the way Harold had wanted
to put his arm around her when they were filming the commercial, except that
Harold didn't and Milton did, Dorothy thought. They were both lovable, but in different ways. She was fond of both of them, as far as
fondness went, and fondness only went so far. Dorothy liked Harold's gentle charm. Milton was charming too, but in his own
way, without the same gentleness as his brother. That was the problem with ladies' men, the gentleness always
seemed to get a bit frayed, like a rope that had pulled the bucket up from the
well too many times. But Milton
was the brother who had built a castle, and every castle needed a princess.
took a deep breath and looked at Milton, her eyeliner streaked with tears. "I'm getting evicted from my
house. It's a crummy house, and
it's all my fault. I've always
been terrible with money, especially now that I'm on my own. And people expect me to dress like a
queen, especially now that I run the Ladies' Shop."
dabbed at her eyes. "But you
don't need to hear all this.
Please don't yell at me about ordering those extra sweaters. Not today. You can yell at me tomorrow, if you like." Dorothy stopped. She'd seen enough shows during her Las
Vegas years to know that you always left the audience wanting more. That was the only way to get an encore.
should have come to me sooner," Milton said in a tone of mild reprimand.
I couldn't," Dorothy said, shaking her hair. Even now, in the middle of this, she could admire how nice
the down light was from the recessed fixtures that Milton had in his office. "I respect you so much. And I want you to respect me."
wiped away the last of her tears, before they had overstayed their
welcome. "You shouldn't have
gotten me started," she said, as if playfully accusing Milton for all her
worrying," Milton said, attracted to this vulnerable side of Dorothy that
he was now seeing.
can I not worry?" she asked. She tried to laugh, but not too hard,
just enough to remind Milton of her pluck.
worrying because I'm going to help you out," Milton said.
looked up at him and smiled gratefully.
"God, my face must be ruined.
How can you even stand to look at me?" She took out her compact, which she had conveniently slipped
into her pocket. She'd met very
few men who didn't like to watch her fix her make-up, because it gave them a
chance to look at her unobserved, or so they thought. She could have done a better job of it if she had used
Milton's wall mirror, but that would have meant moving away from him, and he
was standing the perfect distance from her, close enough to smell her Chanel
perfume, but not kissing close.
"I've got to get back to Sophia Fratelli. She's had plenty of time to squeeze into that Bill Blass. Thanks for listening."
stop worrying about your problems," Milton soothed her. "Worry about selling Sophia
Fratelli that dress."
smiled gratefully up at him. She
had always liked tall men, and she especially liked tall princes. "You're a love," Dorothy
said. She squeezed his hand,
letting her fingers linger as she walked away.
watched through the one-way mirror as Dorothy walked through the tailor shop
and disappeared down the stairs, his red-headed angel descending.
plopped down in his chair and recklessly kicked off his loafers without benefit
of the shoe horn. What a morning,
he thought. Thank god that Harold
had given him the dirty work. Or
he might never had known. He idly
wondered what love might have been like before there were telephones. Those must have been disadvantaged
times Milton decided. Tricky Dick
seemed to be smiling right at him.
Funny how he had the kind of eyes that seemed to follow you around the
room, just like George Washington's eyes on a one-dollar bill.
lounged in the shoe department while One Iron finished with Kenny Meltzer, a
dentist who was finicky about his pleated slacks. Harold hadn't said anything, but Milton could tell just from
the way that Harold stood at the cashier's island that he appreciated that
Milton had been the one to reprimand Dorothy for overspending. Harold even looked a little smug about
having sidestepped the thorny issue of having to discipline Dorothy's spending
while dating her. Finally, One
Iron was done with the sale, but he wasn't too happy about leaving early with
Milton; after all, he needed the commissions, as Milton sometimes failed to
stepped out of the air conditioned store and into the muggy August air. Houston seemed swampiest than on these
summer evenings when the humidity soared near one hundred percent. Milton was perspiring before they got
to the car. Like most Houstonians,
weather was something that was experienced as one moved between different air
conditioned environments. One Iron
put the Continental's air conditioning on maximum and Milton gazed wistfully at
Dorothy's powder blue Thunderbird as they drove away. Once they were cruising down West Nineteenth, Milton slouched
down and lit a cigarette, staring up at the live oak trees passing by overhead.
home?" One Iron asked.
drive over to the new house," Milton said.
Iron turned onto Heights Boulevard.
As the Continental approached the mansion, One Iron took a remote
control out the car's center console.
The garage door slid open and the Continental glided inside. One Iron had a remote control for the
garage, but only Milton had a key to the house. He unlocked the door and they went inside.
admired once again the enormous semi-circular couch flanked by the two huge
stuffed armchairs. He was glad
that the architect had persuaded him to go with off-white. But as he walked the length of the
baronial hall, it didn't seem like his house. It reminded him of a hotel lobby. A very nice hotel lobby, mind you. But it just wasn't homey, though it seemed a bit late in the
day, with everything done, to start worrying about homey. Milton wandered through his house like
a middle-aged Hamlet, with One Iron his Horatio, still deciding how much he
liked the house, and persuading himself that he really, really did. He had read "Hamlet" twice,
once in college and once after, and it had stuck with him. There was something to
Shakespeare. He was outsize. Shakespeare would have been a pretty
good Texan, Milton decided.
when are you going to move in?" One Iron asked, breaking Milton's reverie.
been saying that for weeks," One Iron said.
didn't reply. He almost mentioned
Shakespeare to One Iron, but it wasn't the kind of thing they ever talked
place is a pussy palace," One Iron marveled. "Why don't we bring chicks here instead of to the
Milton said. "The apartment
is the apartment. This is my
Iron nodded like he understood, but he really didn't. If this was Milton's home, why didn't Milton just move in
and be done with it? And if it was
his home and they didn't have to worry about Goldie, then why didn't they bring
chicks here? Hell, last
President's Day he and Milton had gotten looped and brought a swell pair back
to Aberdeen, sneaked into the sauna and things had gotten really hot. And that was right under Goldie's nose,
even though it had been a one-time pretty wild kind of deal.
nodded to himself. He kept seeing
Dorothy crying in his office. What
a day. One Iron was right to ask
him when was he going to move in.
reached the glass elevator. Every
house should have one. One Iron
pressed the button and the glass and chrome doors slid open. But for once Milton didn't get on,
breaking the routine of their visits.
go," Milton abruptly said. He
started the long walk back to the front of the house. "I need to pick up some canned peaches on the way
you mind if I bring a chick here?"
One Iron asked, thinking it worth another try. "I mean, it's tragic, letting this place go to waste. Come on, Milton, be a sport."
smiled to himself. He couldn't
remember ever hearing One Iron use the word tragic.
Harold drove down Aberdeen, he saw the Oldsmobile Cutlass and the Ford
Fairlaine in the driveway, and remembered that it was canasta night. He was feeling good after the Rotary
Club mixer. The barbecue was tasty
and the fellows were nice. None of
them were big spenders, but they were loyal, and they were regular
parked his Cadillac on the street behind the Continental. As he walked up the sidewalk he saw
that he had parked two feet from the curb. He didn't want to scuff up his whitewalls, so better safe
and Emmanuel were at the dining room table playing canasta with two other
couples, Philip and Rena and Emil and Sara Ida. Philip was Emmanuel's brother and Sara Ida was Goldie's
sister. There was a spread of nosh
food on the sideboard. Goldie had
laid down her cards and was busy refilling everyone's plates. She was always worried that her guests
were afraid to take extra helpings.
knew you shouldn't have raised," Goldie told Emmanuel as she sat back down
and picked up her cards.
didn't see my hand," Emmanuel said.
knew," Goldie insisted.
you know so much, then why am I winning and why are you losing?" Emmanuel
you're lucky," Goldie said.
Emmanuel frowned, then Goldie imitated Emmanuel's grumpy
expression. Philip and Sara Ida
moving out," Emmanuel said, furious that Goldie questioned his card
playing, and when he was winning, no less. "I swear to god, I'm packing a suitcase and moving
smiled at him, unperturbed.
Philip said soothingly. He took
the threat seriously. Emmanuel had
packed his suitcase a number of times, and twice in the last twenty years he
had indeed moved, and to Philip's house.
Three days the first time, and a day and a half the second time. Philip also knew that any discord with
Goldie only made Emmanuel play cards even better.
let him play his cards like he wants," Rena added.
let him play his cards," Goldie said and lovingly touched Emmanuel's
arm. "But I can make a
comment if I like, it's a free country."
with the comments!" Emmanuel said loudly, refusing to look up from his
cards. He shook his arm free of
grow up," Emil said.
"Deal another hand."
win a hand and she complains," Emmanuel said, wanting the last word.
win and she complains. You lose
and she complains. She likes to
complain. She enjoys
complaining," Emil philosophized.
it's not for you to say," Sara Ida told her husband.
sitting at the table, I can say," Emil said.
Sara Ida said, hoping to shut him up by agreeing with him.
can talk, I can talk. So deal the
cards," Emil said, fond of the last word himself.
dealt the cards in silence.
here," Goldie said urgently to Harold when she saw him come in.
didn't understand what could be so urgent, but came over just the same.
didn't kiss me good-bye this morning," Goldie said and gave him a kiss on
the lips. She didn't care if her
sons said good-bye, but a kiss she always expected.
Harold said, embarrassed.
bad luck not to kiss me good-bye.
Did you have bad luck today?"
thought about the question.
"No," he finally decided. The day had been pretty good. Even the unpleasantness about Dorothy's over-spending had
been smoothed over.
you were lucky. But don't forget
again," Goldie said and pulled affectionately on his ear as if he were
still five years old. Putting out
all that nosh food always got Goldie in a frisky mood.
who's winning?" Harold asked.
ask," Rena said. "It's a touchy question."
is winning," Philip fearlessly stated.
he could be winning more," Goldie fearlessly amended. "Are you hungry?" she asked
I just had barbecue. And I'll eat
something at the game."
started to protest but the card game got her attention and Harold seized the
moment to quietly escape without a plate of food.
the kitchen, Nellie stood at the sink peeling carrots. She always stayed late on canasta
night, in case Goldie needed some extra help. She usually didn't, but Nellie enjoyed staying late. Over the years she had developed a
powerful taste for lox and pickled herring and every second Thursday was her
chance to freely indulge the vice.
She also used the time to get ahead in her carrot peeling.
and Daryl were playing cards at the kitchen table with two of their
friends. "The bank always
gets ten percent," Michael explained as he dealt. "That's how they play in Las
Vegas. Right, Uncle Milton?"
was slouched on the couch reading the Houston Chronicle in a white T-shirt and chinos. He looked up from his newspaper,
amused. "That's right,
are you the bank?" one of the kids asked.
I own the chips," Michael explained.
when?" Daryl protested. "They're Goldie's chips."
brought the chips to the table tonight, so tonight I'm the bank," Michael
said. "Ten percent. That's one blue chip apiece. Ante up."
boys," Harold said as he came in.
Michael and Daryl offered him tepid hellos, caught up in their card
game. Harold walked past Milton
without saying anything. And
Milton didn't look up from reading the Houston Chronicle because he knew it was Harold. Milton knew that Harold was taking
Dorothy to the Astros game tonight and they spoke little to each other on those
nights when one of them had a date with Dorothy. Harold supposed that was what you would call an unspoken
agreement. But Harold was suddenly
seized by an idea and he doubled back to sit down beside Milton on the couch.
you do me a favor?" he asked in a lowered voice. "Can I borrow the key to the apartment?" Harold knew all about the
apartment. He had even borrowed
the key a couple of times, but that had been years ago. He had never had much luck there, but
he hadn't had much luck with women, period, after the divorce. It wasn't that he couldn't talk to
women, or at least start a conversation.
It was that most of the women he met, at the country clubs or the
parties, were in the same social circle as his customers, and it would have
been awkward to get, well, intimate, sleep with them, so to speak, because then
he might have to get serious, which might mean getting married, and his one try
at that had been a cold hell on earth.
No, the awkwardness that a night or two of fun might cause business-wise
wasn't worth it. Hell, he'd rather
help himself to Milton's stack of Playboys than do something that would take
the fun out of going to River Oaks Country Club or Westwood Country Club. He hadn't met the woman who was worth
he could never get a chance to talk to her, not alone. Somehow he could never maneuver her
into the right situation. Boy, was
she ever hard to maneuver. She
didn't want him to come into her house.
She said she was embarrassed by it, lord knows why, and besides, she
said it was improper for a divorcee to ask a man into the house, and Harold had
to respect that, he supposed, even though he wasn't sure exactly why. But it wouldn't do to press the point,
not with Dorothy. Harold had tried
to kiss her in his car, but she just giggled and pushed him away saying that
she promised herself the day she graduated from San Jacinto High School to
never again kiss boys in cars.
Milton's apartment was nice enough, as Harold remembered it, and it had
a wet-bar. It would be just like
going to a cocktail lounge, except that they would be alone. Harold was sure that Dorothy would
never allow herself to be kissed in a real bar. But she just might let him kiss her at the apartment. Hell, Harold was willing to have a
drink himself if that would loosen things up. He was already thinking about proposing to Dorothy, but it
seemed like they should at least do a little serious kissing first, that would
be the proper prelude to popping the question. He had to at least see if she really liked kissing him and
vice versa. That was the sensible
way to approach marriage, he had to agree with the Playboy Philosophy on that
question startled Milton. He
lowered the newspaper and gave Harold his full attention.
not what you think," Harold said hurriedly to Milton, detecting a
lecherous smirk. "We just
need a quiet place to go and talk."
Milton asked with a smile.
and have a drink," Harold amended.
you say," Milton said with a skeptical shrug. He took out his key ring and detached the key. "It's been a long time since
you've been over to the apartment," he said hoping to draw Harold out a
little bit. But Harold just waited
in silence for Milton to hand him the key.
Harold said and went into his bedroom, pleased with the key and with the night
give 'em enough rope, Milton thought.
He had just handed Harold quite a sufficient length of rope to
competently hang himself. If
Harold had asked his advice, Milton felt fairly certain that he would have told
his brother that taking Dorothy to the apartment was a bad idea, a very bad idea.
Fairly certain, because all's fair in love and war, and it wasn't his
duty to educate the enemy even if that enemy was his brother. Harold's claim that he just needed a
quiet place to talk, as ludicrous as that sounded, was probably true. The funny thing, Milton thought, was
that Harold was fairly smart about people. He could make people like him and had a real flair for
getting folks out to the store. He
was also good at riding herd on the floor, keeping things running
smoothly. But people skills
weren't exactly lady skills, because ladies weren't exactly people, not where
guys were concerned. Something
more complicated was going on with the ladies. It required being a bit devious and indirect and Milton knew
that those tactics came more naturally to him than to Harold. Milton knew that much, just as he knew
that compared to Harold he wasn't regarded as the people person. Milton could imagine that the spotlight
felt pretty nice, but he was making do okay without it.
Astrodome glowed against the night sky, the self-proclaimed Eighth Wonder of
the World, bigger than the Roman Coliseum, but lonelier looking, standing
forlorn in an enormous flat parking lot.
Inside the great dome, contained within the white steel girders and
milky white panes of fiberglass, was an enormous mass of chilled air. The Astrodome was a great monument to
the upper ring of the stadium, high above the green baseball diamond, at the
apex where the domed roof closed in the sky, were the Skyboxes, luxury boxes
with royal blue seats. Harold and
Dorothy were sitting in the swanky Skybox of Sam the Rocketman, Houston's biggest
Oldsmobile dealer. Dorothy was
wearing a sequined Oscar de la Renta jacket that she had bought at cost when
she placed the store's last order.
For Harold, Astros' baseball games were just a distant distraction from
the schmoozing here at the upper elevations of the Dome, but tonight was much
more about Dorothy than about schmoozing.
I've got to say, that is a gorgeous jacket," Harold complimented.
thank you once again," she said with a pleased smile.
really brings out the color of your hair."
glad you noticed, Harold. I wanted
to look nice for you."
felt bashful again. "Well,
thank you," he replied, uncertain if he was complimenting her or vice
would you do if you were invisible?" Harold suddenly asked.
don't know. Listen to
secrets? Why, what would you
brightened. He had been waiting
for Dorothy to ask him that.
"If I were invisible, I'd walk up behind people and whisper in
their ear: shop at Harold's, shop at Harold's, shop at Harold's."
threw back her head and laughed; it was such a funny thing to think about.
was glad that he had saved the jokey idea just for her.
white-jacketed waiter offered them little hot dogs in puff pastry from a silver
tray. Harold felt both proud and
distracted with Dorothy by his side.
He ate one of the little hot dogs carefully, wiping twice with one of
the cocktail napkins with the Rocketman logo, just to be sure there were no
pastry crumbs left on his lips.
Dorothy seemed to eat her hot dog in a single bite, and took another one
from the waiter for good measure.
Dorothy didn't have to worry about crumbs. Harold thought that she lived magically apart from such
nuisances. There was the distant
crack of the bat and a cheer from the crowd far below.
just happened?" she asked.
looked down at the playing field.
"The Astros just got a hit.
A double." Harold was
intent upon doing the manly thing and answering Dorothy's sporting questions
quickly and decisively.
you explain baseball to me?" Dorothy asked, feigning helplessness. "Max never had the patience."
Harold said, grateful for the opportunity. "How much do you know?"
know that it's played with bats and balls," she said coyly. "And I know about first base and
second base and third base. And
scoring." She smiled at
Harold. "Those are terms I've
heard for years. Guys are always trying to get to first
base. But then they're not happy
with first base, in fact, they're quite desperate to get to second base. Guys always like getting to first base
or second base, but they seem to like scoring a whole lot better."
smiled at Dorothy; he could take a hint, he was a grown man. He felt the key in his pocket and was
awfully glad it was there.
"You already seem to have a pretty good grasp of the game."
the game," Dorothy teased. "But what about baseball?"
had no idea you were this interested," Harold teased back. "We could have sat down in the
no, I like it way up high," Dorothy said. She didn't feel like sitting in the bleachers, or whatever
they were down there. No, it was
much nicer up here with the canapés on the silver trays. That was the kind of all American
pastime that Dorothy preferred.
The white-jacketed waiter was headed their way with a tray of the cutest
little hamburgers. It was funny
how much more appealing a hamburger looked if you put it on a silver tray.
thought you'd like the Skyboxes," Harold said.
were right," Dorothy smiled.
"This is just heavenly."
the closest thing to it in Houston," he smiled back.
he can be a charmer, she decided, once he relaxes. She devoured one of the little hamburgers and quickly
reached for another. After all,
they were small.
cracked opened his eyes and drowsily looked at the clock, surprised that he had
fallen asleep in the sauna. Even
in August he used the sauna regularly.
Sure, all of Houston was a sauna, but a half-assed one. The city's climate was muggy, but it
lacked the cleansing, penetrating heat of a real sauna. He picked up the telephone and dialed
the apartment. When it took six
rings for One Iron to pick up, Milton knew that something was up. "You can't use the apartment
tonight," Milton said, even before One Iron said hello.
I am using the apartment," One Iron replied. He was standing in the den with his shirt off and his belt
know it's a drag, but you've got to get out of there now," Milton said in a way that didn't brook
argument. But reclining in the
sauna, he had to smile to himself as he visualized One Iron's agony.
don't understand, Milton," One Iron pleaded, his voice getting reedy as it
rose in register, "I've already got this broad in bed--and undressed. You're going to make me
blow the whole deal."
her to a motel. I'll pay for
it," Milton said. He shared
One Iron's taste for the pleasures of the flesh. But this time One Iron would have to bend to a higher sense
of strategy. "This is
important. Just get out of there now."
One Iron muttered as he looked forlornly toward the bedroom. "If I make her put her clothes
back on it's going to be a bitch trying to get them back off. You know how that can be, Milton. Timing is everything."
not asking you to do this. I'm
telling you to. And straighten
things up. Make it look like no
one has been there. Got it? Comprendé, partner?"
Iron knew better than argue. This
broad wasn't worth it. And maybe
he could get her clothes off a second time. She'd been willing enough in the first place. "Can I take her to your new
place?" One Iron asked hopefully.
Iron shook his head. That was the
last of his good ideas. Well, next
time he wouldn't answer the phone.
"This is cold. What've
you got cooking? Can't you use the new place?" One Iron pleaded.
press it," Milton said impatiently.
"Now get a move on."
had a move on," One Iron said
bitterly. "Shoot." He hung up the phone and looked toward
the bedroom. Now what the hell was
he going to say? And what the hell
was her name? Lois. Right. Because they had been joking about Lois Lane and Superman.
you go, hon?" Lois called from the bedroom. "I want to see your putter, One Iron."
Iron painfully buckled his belt and reluctantly went back into the bedroom, and
not for anything fun this time.
"The Rocketman" Schwartz was short and bald, but he stood tall in his
Skybox, as if he was standing at the peak of a mountain of the seven thousand
three hundred and thirteen Oldsmobiles he had sold to get here. His blue suit was one of Harold's finest, but Sam the Rocketman would always seem like
an ill-dressed car salesman.
"Harold! How do you
like the game?"
a very interesting match," Harold said, with a glance at Dorothy. She smiled appreciatively at the
teasing. Flirting, really. Hell, Harold was flirting like mad and
it wasn't too hard not when the other half helped. "Sam, I want you to meet Dorothy Rosen."
Sam beamed. "Were you married
to Max Rosen?"
I was," Dorothy said.
"Pleased to meet you, Sam."
sorry about Max," Sam said, consoling her as if he couldn't get a Cutlass
for her in the color she wanted.
"He and I went way back.
had so many friends," she said, sounding as sincere as a car salesman in
her own way. "He was a real
people person. Like Harold. And like you, I think."
what makes you think that I'm a people person?" Sam smiled, and gestured
expansively at his crowded Skybox, at the bounty of little hamburgers and hot
dogs on silver trays. They all
shared a laugh up there at the top of the Dome.
is running the Ladies' Department at Harold's," Harold said proudly.
Sam said, and he might even have meant it.
need to come on out to the store with Marilyn," Harold cajoled.
Harold could sell ice to the Eskimos." He touched her shoulder lightly. She was his new best friend. "I thank my lucky stars that Harold didn't become a car
take it easy, or Dorothy will think I paid you," Harold said, though he
would have paid Sam, or at least discounted a sport coat, if that would have
helped his pursuit of Dorothy.
put an exaggerated hand to his mouth.
He was famous for his bad acting.
His TV commercials were even worse than Harold's. "You should have paid me a little
less, Harold, if you wanted the soft
you gents excuse me? I need to go
powder my nose," Dorothy said and sashayed up the aisle. Sam watched her admiringly. Too admiringly, Harold thought, feeling
I am impressed," Sam said.
she something?" Harold said proudly.
Hell, maybe he'd pop the question and then do some serious necking.
If the necking didn't work out he could always back out of the deal.
pistol. A real pistola.
Criminy, you've got balls dating her. Once you're married to the mob, then you're always married to the mob. Whew!" Sam
shook his hand like he had just gotten burned. "That's too hot for me to handle!"
do you mean?" Harold asked, nibbling at his lower lip, suddenly troubled.
late, great Max Rosen was in the mob.
The Jewish Mafia."
just a rumor," Harold said, but he'd heard stories before. Stupid stories. Silly stories.
shumor. Max's Dad worked for Meyer
Lansky, back in Brooklyn. That's a
known fact. Max was running
numbers when we were in AZA together.
That's right, Harold, Max and me were in the same AZA chapter. Max was the number two guy at the
Stardust when he got caught with his hand in the till. He was the shark that got eaten."
don't believe that crap," Harold tried to bluff, but he was shaken.
remember when he died?"
shook his head no, dreading Sam's next tidbit.
buddy Bernie who retired to Vegas, he told me it was a big story out
there. The newspapers said Max had
a heart attack that caused him to crash his car. Whoosh! Bernie
says to me, sure, if you consider an ice pick as a legitimate form of heart
attack. Kind of hard to tell with the
body getting accidentally cremated like that," Sam cackled. Then he saw Harold's long face. "Hey, Max was always a putz. No one cried. Hey, it is what it is.
And she is a pistol, but..."
what?" Harold asked, not that he looked forward to the answer.
know what they say about pistols," Sam leaned close to Harold. His Brut after-shave was
overpowering. "Pistols go bang!"
Sam cackled at his own joke and patted Harold on the back.
smiled uncertainly. Sam could see
that this was all news to Harold, and bad news at that. Well, Sam thought, if I've got to
suffer with a wife like Marilyn, Harold can stand to do a little suffering
himself. As Dorothy slinked back
down the aisle, Sam thought how very much he would like to see her with that
sequined jacket off.
did I miss?" she cheerily asked, her fresh red lipstick glistening in the
light of the Dome.
left a man stranded on second.
They couldn't bat him home," Harold said and smiled uncomfortably,
still flummoxed by Sam's tale. But
Sam the Rocketman was a short man who had told tall tales before. Well, fuck Sam and the rocket he rode
in on, Harold decided, because looking at Dorothy, she looked a whole lot
prettier to believe in than Sam.
But Harold still felt uncertain and unsettled.
kids enjoy," Sam said with a smile and a pat good-bye on the back, letting
his hand linger for a friendly second or two on the back of Dorothy's sequined
jacket before continuing making the rounds of his Skybox.
In The Heart Of Texas" began playing over the loudspeakers, and the crowd
stood up for the seventh inning stretch.
As everyone more or less sang along, the music and voices echoed through
the cavernous Dome. Dorothy
clapped gaily at the places where you were supposed to clap and sang loudly,
right to Harold, like she was serenading him. Dorothy did everything gaily. Harold had never been serenaded and it was a heck of a
thing. He could see Sam four rows
up, beside his sour-puss wife, looking down at Dorothy, jealous as hell. Harold guessed that standing up there
made Sam feel taller--that and the tall tales.
you want to stay for the whole game?" Dorothy asked brightly.
we've pretty much done this deal."
He hesitated now that it was time to suggest what he had been waiting
and wanting and dreading to suggest all night. "We could go somewhere and have a drink."
don't drink," she teased; Harold's abstemiousness was common knowledge at
inspire me," Harold said.
Dorothy smiled; she was never one to mind a compliment. "I know a quiet place," he
looked around the crowded and noisy Skybox. "I like quiet places," she told him.
work the room and get out of here," Harold said.
smiled at him. She liked to work a
room and had never been with a man who said and did just that. Sure, she'd been with outgoing men, but
Harold was more of a kindred spirit, he was both shy and outgoing, and Dorothy
preferred to think of herself as that way too. If you were going to think of yourself, why not think of
yourself in the most flattering light?
offered Dorothy his hand to help her up.
They turned their back on the game. "That's Bobby Liebowitz and his wife Leslie," he
whispered to her. "He's got
the biggest plumbing supply in Houston." Harold put a hand on Bobby's shoulder and shook his
hand. "Hello, Bobby! Helluva a game, huh?"
bad the season's already shot," Bobby said.
Leslie, I want you to meet Dorothy.
She runs the Ladies' Department at the store."
got a Ladies' Department?" Leslie asked, after they had said their hellos
you seen our new ads on TV?"
guess I have, Harold--I just tried to forget them," Bobby joked. "Of course, compared to Sam the
Rocketman, I suppose you deserve an Oscar."
like that sweater, honey," Leslie said.
bet I've got one in your color," Dorothy beamed.
what's my color?" Leslie said.
blue, like those beautiful eyes," Dorothy said. It wasn't too tough of a guess, because Leslie did have nice
blue eyes, even though her mascara was much too thick. And that hideous silk blouse she was
wearing was blue. It didn't take a
genius, and Dorothy knew from experience that no one ever questioned a
compliment too closely.
haven't I seen you out at the store?" Harold needled Bobby, but in a
been meaning to get out there,"
Bobby sheepishly replied.
if you come out to the store some noon, I'll take you down the street to
Rosenberg's for lunch," Dorothy said.
better watch out, Bobby," Leslie laughed.
you're killing me," Bobby said.
you out in the Heights," Dorothy trilled good-bye.
walked down the curving corridor of steel and concrete to the elevators. God, Harold thought, was it ever fun
having a cutie like Dorothy by his side beating the drum for Harold's. He'd
spent enough years beating the drum alone. With Dorothy's natural gifts, she had the potential to be as
effective a salesman as Gary Plotkin.
Harold felt proud and lucky and excited all at once, and it felt good to
have feelings. He put his arm
around Dorothy's shoulder and gave her a little hug. She smiled in mild surprise at the display of
affection. The exit corridor of
the Astrodome wasn't the most romantic of places. "You did good back there, Dorothy. I bet Leslie will be out to the store
by the end of the week. You're a
only my hairdresser knows for sure," Dorothy teased and tossed her hair
back to catch the light, such as there was up here in the Dome.
Harold drove his Cadillac along the
gently undulating curves of Braeswood Boulevard. An unseasonable wind was blowing from the north, and the
night was warm but not hot.
Dorothy asked Harold to roll the windows down; she liked the effect of
the wind in her hair. Dorothy
could smell the sluggish waters of Brays Bayou, but she couldn't see the bayou,
just the eternally green grass of Houston. Harold's was a
Houston institution, and Dorothy felt pleased that she was now part of Harold's. It had
been a smart move coming back to Houston, Dorothy decided, as she enjoyed the
balmy night scenery. The Spanish
moss hanging from the live oaks had never looked prettier.
wasn't paying much attention to where Harold was driving. She expected they would wind up at
someplace predictable and hopefully elegant, the bar at the Warwick Hotel
perhaps. It confused her when
Harold parked in front of a rather tacky apartment building. Dorothy was immediately suspicious of any
place in Texas that called itself the Bali Hai. "What is this place?"
keep it for out-of-town customers, sales reps, that kind of thing," Harold
extemporized. He was still glowing
from being in the Skybox with Dorothy, from working the room with her.
looked skeptical when he came around the car and held open her door. But he had always behaved properly,
Dorothy reasoned, as she followed him through the courtyard.
palm felt sweaty holding the key.
As he fumbled to get the key in the lock, he had a moment of panic that
Milton had fucked it up, maybe intentionally, by giving him the wrong key. But the key worked fine once he had it
turned right side up. It was just
nerves. Harold found the light
switch and escorted Dorothy inside.
looked suspiciously at the tacky decor and sized the place up for what it
was--a fuck pad. The air
conditioning was set on low. The
air was only slightly cooler than outside, but it was damp and smelled
stale. She thought she could smell
cheap perfume. And the residue of
a thousand cigarettes. She was
very surprised at Harold, but with men you never knew. Except that you always knew.
Yes, that was the surprising thing, that they really were all the same
once you cut through the bragging or the bashfulness.
are you drinking?" he asked, feeling rather excited and grown-up as he
slipped behind the wet-bar.
Dorothy said coolly, frowning demurely as she deigned to sit on one of the
imitation leather barstools.
Harold opened the little refrigerator and was thankful that there was an
open bottle of white wine. He was
pretty sure that Chablis was white.
He found a couple of glasses and poured two drinks. He hadn't had wine since, well, the
Merchant Marines, and that hadn't even been wine, but tonight was special.
came around and sat on the barstool next to her. It seemed awfully quiet in the apartment, just the hum of
the air conditioner, but he felt awkward stepping away from her to try and get
the stereo working. He usually
didn't have much luck with gadgets, so he didn't even try.
took a sip of wine and puckered her lips because it tasted so vinegary. "Why did you bring me here?"
talk," Harold said and sipped his wine. It tasted terrible, but he'd never liked the taste of
alcohol so it was probably fine.
talk?" Dorothy repeated, with raised eyebrows. Well, that was one word for it.
for a little privacy," Harold replied nervously, though feeling a bit
suave with a wineglass in hand.
"When we're at the store there's always someone else around. It seems like we're never alone."
we are now," Dorothy said in a way that she thought clearly conveyed how
displeased she was with the situation.
Harold wasn't listening closely.
He could smell her perfume.
This moment had been so long coming, he knew what was expected of him,
she was too much a lady to be brazen about it and Harold knew that she liked
him or she wouldn't be here alone with him like this. Harold wanted to do it. He just had to do it.
looked more amused than surprised.
That wasn't what Harold had expected, not at all. He thought she would kiss him
passionately back and all the rest would be happily ever after, or that she
would shut him down flat and that would be that. But this was something in between and Dorothy was looking,
well, cryptic, in a way he didn't know how to read. What a fool he had been to think anything like this could
ever be simple. He wasn't sure
what to do next so he took another sip of the wine--god, it tasted awful. "You know I have...feelings for you," he finally declared.
looked amused, but not in a friendly way.
"Is this our baseball lesson?" she asked.
base," Dorothy explained, "Second base? Scoring?
Harold, I have feelings for you too," her tone softening just a
little. It was a delicate balance,
keeping him wanting her without getting her--until she got what she wanted.
And Harold had gone too far, even just bringing her here. There was a protocol for treating
saw that Dorothy was thinking and was sure that she was thinking of him, that
he was in her thoughts. That felt
nice, almost as nice as those red, red lips of hers. How long it had taken him to get her alone? And how long would it take to get this
far along again? He kissed her
again, meeting her unyielding, pressed-together lips. He tried to hug her, but leaning from his barstool to hers
was awkward, and she wasn't helping.
not go too fast," Dorothy said and easily broke apart his hug, just like
Willie breaking a tackle.
"Fast? It's August. I've been seeing you since Christmas, for chrissakes," Harold said, his voice rising
in a way be couldn't quite control, "You've let me kiss you before."
was different. Those were
goodnight kisses," Dorothy said.
She found that once you started talking about kissing, debating about
it, then there was very little likelihood that any more actual kissing would
get done just then. Harold was a
polite and reasonable man, and she had found over the years that reasonable men
were the easiest to reason with.
these can kind of be goodnight kisses too," Harold said.
define goodnight kisses as what happens on a respectable lady's doorstep, or in
her parlor, if you're polite enough to be allowed inside," she said with
Harold said tenderly. He put a lot
of feeling into her name, real feeling, and he tried to hug her again, putting
his hands discreetly on her appealing torso where he hoped to get a better grip
than on those slippery shoulders.
Harold wished that they were drinking their wine over on the couch
instead of on these damnable and slippery barstools where their knees knocked
and being close didn't offer all the advantages that being close on a couch
you lose something?" Dorothy asked.
"No...why?" He was disappointed that holding
her torso, the middle road so to speak, offered no advantage over the high
road, the traditional shoulder hug, which had already failed.
your hands seem to be searching for something," she said curtly.
let go and retreated to his barstool.
He'd never really left his barstool, but he was no longer touching
Dorothy, not even his knees knocking against hers. She seemed very close and very far away, at the same
time. It was certainly
vexing. Especially since she was
smiling. Though her smile was
prim, her lipstick was its characteristic unprim red. Didn't she know that he noticed so many things about
her? Certainly that should count
for something. Harold took another
sip of wine, for lack of anything better to do, and it tasted even worse. The wine wasn't helping at all. He wished he had iced tea or a Dr.
Pepper instead, but it was too late for that.
looked at her distorted reflection in the awful mirrored tiles behind the
wet-bar. What was Harold thinking,
bringing her to such a tacky, stale-smelling room? "It is very important that you respect me. I'm beginning to suspect that you have
brought me to this place with less than honorable intentions," she said, striving to sound both peeved and
even-toned at the same time.
"Harold, I work for you.
That makes things a little complicated."
work for yourself--you're on commission," Harold countered. He'd had too much ice tea in the Skybox
and there really hadn't been a good time to go to the bathroom up there and now
she'd gotten him excited without that really going where he hoped it might go
and Harold suddenly found it impossible to think with all the pressure on his
bladder. The way the conversation
was going, taking a break might help.
"Will you excuse me for a moment, I need to, uh..."
your nose?" Dorothy teased him, with the cutest, sweetest smile.
to speak," Harold smiled back, marveling again at how damn sweet she could
be, as long as you weren't asking for the wrong thing. He slid off the slippery barstool and
went down the hallway. Harold
wasn't sure exactly where the bathroom was, but it couldn't be too hard to find
in a two bedroom apartment.
fanned her face. No air
conditioning would be better than this tepid, fetid air. She took off her sequined jacket;
underneath, she was wearing a sleeveless linen blouse. Dorothy wasn't very concerned about
Harold misinterpreting her removing the jacket, it was just too stuffy in here
to keep it on.
got off the barstool and looked for a place to lay the jacket down. In an ashtray on the coffee table,
Dorothy saw a cigarette butt with lipstick marks. Well, she'd like to hear Harold explain that before he
talked anymore about kisses, goodnight ones or otherwise.
decided to hang the jacket in the front closet, if there was anything other
than a wire hanger in this uncouth place.
She was surprised but then not surprised that all the hangers were
wooden, and bearing the red Harold's
logo. As Dorothy reached for one
she saw an airbrushed nude, the Vargas calendar girl for August. She pushed the hangers aside, fascinated
with the discovery. Why keep a
calendar in the closet, she wondered.
It seemed more of a bedroomy thing, and not her kind of bedroom at that.
she saw the annotations in the squares for various days. Janice. Susie with two exclamation marks. Eve. Janice
again with the initials "bj."
BJ, Dorothy wondered.
BJ? Harold kept track
of blow jobs on a calendar?
here you are playing like a bashful schoolboy, Dorothy thought. And men thought that women were
devious. Really. Really!
didn't care to spend another second in this awful place. She walked straight out of the
apartment, preferring to put her jacket on outside where at least she didn't
have to endure the smell of some floozy's cheap perfume.
looked around the neglected courtyard.
Dead magnolia leaves were floating in the pool. She really didn't care to imagine what
tawdry scenes this courtyard had witnessed.
came out of the bathroom feeling better, feeling relieved, certainly.
But Dorothy wasn't on the barstool where he had left her. "Dorothy?"
didn't see her in the kitchen. It
was hopeless, but still he hoped.
Was she waiting for him in the bedroom? Then he saw the open closet door.
walked over, wondering what Dorothy was doing over at the closet. And inside the closet, he saw the
Vargas calendar. He'd heard One
Iron joking about that calendar once.
The dishonor roll he had called it. Harold felt his heart skip a beat. He spun around and saw
the open front door, feeling dizzy. No woman liked to look at naked girls. "Dorothy?" he called out in a
"Dorothy?" he repeated, desperately. He saw her standing beside the Cadillac with her arms
folded. Even her red hair looked
can explain," Harold said as he hurried toward her.
don't want you to," Dorothy said, her voice so calm and flat and cold that
it scared him. How could
everything change so totally in one single, stupid minute? And over something that he had nothing
to do with? Nothing.
can explain, really I--"
I told you that I do not want you to explain. Please respect my wishes
and drive me home immediately, or
call me a cab."
started to speak again but thought better of it. He unlocked the passenger door in silence, and in silence
his passenger got in, never uncrossing her arms.
rode home in silence. Harold had
tried to talk to her, then given up.
got out of the car without saying goodnight.
spent the rest of the night lying awake in the top bunk.
it was all for the best if the Mafia business was true. Life was too short to risk having it
wasn't enough room to toss and turn in the bunk bed. He stared sleepless at the ceiling, occasionally reaching up
to touch it to break the monotony.
got to the store early the next morning in the hope that Dorothy might have
spent her own sleepless night. But
she had waltzed in her usual fifteen minutes late and had walked right past him
without even acknowledging his good morning. He was determined to clear the misunderstanding up before
lunch and eventually saw his opportunity.
Cochise was out on a liquor run and Dorothy's last customer had just
stepped out into the parking lot, her double-knit dress nicely packaged in a Harold's red and white vinyl hanging bag. The sky was cloudless and the parking
lot was as hot as hell, but it felt more hellish here in the central air
conditioning to Harold.
made the long walk back to the Ladies' Department. Dorothy was alone.
She sat at her curvy white desk greedily studying the St. Johns'
catalog. When she looked up at him
her look was cold and clear and brooked no small talk.
smiled contritely, but his smile remained unanswered. "Dorothy, that was not my calendar,"
Harold said emphatically.
do not want to hear about it," she said brightly, so bright she was
brittle. Even her hair looked
stiffer to Harold, hairsprayed into place. Today there was nothing soft about her.
not even my apartment," he said, trying not to sound like he was pleading
with her even as he was.
not what you said last night," Dorothy reminded him.
said it was the store's apartment, not my personal apartment, god no. And it's not really even the store's
apartment," Harold tried to explain.
Dorothy smiled at him in a blank way that Harold thought shouldn't even
count as smiling even though it deceptively looked like it was. "I lied about that," he
added, desperate for her to know the truth.
you could have lied about other things."
I'm not lying. It's not my calendar," Harold said, eager, desperate, to
get to the real truth.
don't want to hear about it."
Milton's," Harold said.
There. Done. The obvious truth.
said I don't want to hear about it," Dorothy repeated, acting as if she
indeed had not heard.
swear it's Milton's," Harold
looked Harold in the eye. He met
her gaze. Solemnly. The
truth. And the truth shall set you
free, Harold remembered that from somewhere, school maybe, or a Optimists Club
the more you say, the deeper the hole you dig," Dorothy finally said. "It's enough that you brought me
to such a disreputable place. Then
to have to slander your brother."
it really is his place," Harold said meekly because the belated truth
wasn't working too well with Dorothy.
"I just borrowed the key."
don't want to hear any more sordid details." Dorothy picked the St. Johns' catalog back up. "If you please, I have work to
you work for me," Harold said, almost to himself, trying to reckon with
this new and terrible situation.
thought I worked for myself. That's what you said last night when,
apparently, you would say anything
to try and get your way with me.
Now if you please," Dorothy said, and resumed browsing the
didn't feel that she was avoiding looking at him. No, it was like he just wasn't there anymore. She was acting like he was invisible. And in his own damn store. He stalked away, or maybe it was more
like slinking, or both at once, because he felt both angry and defeated, the
one feeling mixing with another in a confusing, maddening way.
was a long walk back to the cashier island, through Western Wear, Sports Wear,
and the Big Man's Shop. The walls
of the main sales floor felt as if they were closing in, squeezing him, and
there was Milton, cool as a cucumber in the shoe department, shooting the
breeze with Howard Chen, a trim Chinese businessman. Harold watched Gary Plotkin working Chen. Even as the world was feeling out of
kilter, there was Plotkin, as aggressive and relentless as the Texas sun,
chipping away at a customer.
Harold was anxious to go over to talk to Milton, more than anxious, but
with Chen there he painfully bided his time, feeling trapped inside the Formica
counters of the cashiers island.
Chen, I've got your shirts and ties boxed and bowed and ready to go,"
Plotkin enthused. "Tony'll
make the alterations lickety-split and I'll deliver the suit to your house
myself this evening. Anything
else, sir?" Plotkin asked, deferential and assertive at the same time.
don't think there is anything
else," Chen said.
shirts," Plotkin quickly added.
"How about a couple of real sharp sport shirts for the Sunday golf
game. You've got to dress for
success even out on the links."
guy, he never stops," Chen laughed and shook his head.
me pick one out for you," Plotkin said, giving Chen a smile filled with
too many teeth. "Just
one. The pick of the litter. Take it home and if you don't like it,
I'll take it back when I deliver the suit."
Barracuda," Chen said.
waved away Plotkin, who quickly and quietly obeyed.
what do you think about Post Oak Boulevard?" Chen asked Milton.
saw Harold percolating over by the cashier's island, pacing back and forth, and
talking to himself, or at least muttering. Milton would have felt sorry for him if it wasn't so funny. Harold was in over his head. A woman like Dorothy, that was the big
leagues of the man-woman thing, and amateurs got burned in the bigs. "Post Oak is a nice street,"
he answered Chen.
do you think about the parcel?" Chen said and slapped Milton's knee.
what I call a deep pocket property," Milton said pleasantly.
nodded thoughtfully. He knew that
Milton could not be rushed.
couldn't stand it any longer; they could spend the whole day slouched in the
shoe department horse trading real estate. He came over, nibbling away on his lower lip. "Hi, Kenneth. How y'all doin'?" Harold asked
got all my money. I came here to
get Milton in a syndication. Now
I've got another suit that I don't need, but no syndication," Chen said
I talk to you, Milton?" Harold abruptly asked. He was really ready to burst. Surely Milton could see how badly he needed to speak to him. Milton was further maddening Harold by
acting like nothing was up.
you want to buy a unit in Ken's deal?" Milton asked amiably.
about that," Harold tersely replied.
Kenneth?" Milton said and touched Chen's knee. "I'm trying to sell for you. What's my commission?"
Barracuda," Chen laughed mirthlessly.
work too hard," Milton mused, "I like to float. I'm more like a jellyfish."
Man of War," Chen amended.
"You float but you sting."
like that," Milton laughed.
I'll start calling you jellyfish."
of War," Milton corrected Chen.
hovered nearby. Milton could see
that he was making Chen uncomfortable.
I better go make some money to pay for this expensive visit," Chen sighed
and got up from the comfortable oxblood leather chair.
got a bargain, Chen. I bet you
sell ten units in that new suit," Milton said.
not to you," Chen chided.
fluttered his hand in a gesture of maybe. "Send over the prospectus."
brightened at this and said his good-byes.
come back to Harold's," Harold
said, almost chasing him out the door.
you were making Chen nervous, and nothing
makes Chen nervous," Milton said.
got to talk," Harold said anxiously.
are talking," Milton casually replied.
slowly stood up, as if it took great effort, and leisurely walked toward the
stairs up to the tailor shop.
Harold knew better than to try and hurry him; it would only slow Milton
down even more.
in his office, Milton took off his Bally loafers and propped his lisle socks up
on his desk. He thought that
Harold failed to grasp the concept of the home court advantage, even though he
attended far more sporting events than Milton. Harold paced the pile carpet, riled about the apartment,
another of Milton's home courts where he had foolishly ventured.
got to tell Dorothy it's your calendar, you've got to tell her the truth,"
Harold demanded without any preamble.
I just loaned you the key. I
didn't take an oath or make any warranties. Buyer beware," Milton nonchalantly replied.
took the key out of his jacket pocket and slammed it down on the desk. The sound it made wasn't nearly loud
enough to suit Harold's black mood.
"Here's your goddamned key back. I hope you choke on it."
very particular about what I put in my mouth," Milton said and left the
key where it was.
it's your fault! She won't even talk to me!" Harold
your own damn dumb fault for taking her there. Dorothy at the apartment? Forget it!"
you knew what I was doing," Harold countered.
wanted me to tell you not to do it? Not to take her there?" Milton felt his temper rising--he'd heard quite enough
stupid accusations from Harold for one morning, thank you. "You would have been pissed off at
me. And you wouldn't have
if you had explained it," Harold
knew that to be the truth, but he'd never admit it, certainly not now. He could remind Harold that all was
fair in love and war, but Harold might jump over the desk and go mano á mano. Milton thought that unduly, but kept
the chrome shoehorn handy just in case he unwisely provoked his brother.
chrissakes, she thinks it was my
calendar," Harold lamented again.
felt himself weakening. Maybe he
should have talked Harold out of taking the apartment key last night, or at
least tried to educate him a little, warned him of the perils. Level the playing field. After all, Harold was his little
brother. It might be a little late
to begin educating him in the facts of life, but women were a fact of life, and
it probably was never too late to learn.
Too bad he couldn't have educated Harold before Dorothy came along,
before their romantic self-interests had collided. But they'd never talked about stuff like that, there had
been no reason to. And now that
there was a reason, it was the reason that kept them from talking. Like the song said, that's life, riding
high in April...
saw Harold looking expectantly toward him. "She thinks it was my calendar," Harold repeated, feeling self-righteous.
what did you say?" Milton asked.
it was yours."
sat very, very still as he absorbed Harold's words. It was as if his body could not move while his emotions were
shifting. The sympathy he had
started to feel for Harold's plight was completely gone. He was getting steamed about this whole
dumb deal of Harold's. "So
you have told her," Milton finally
I want you to," Harold demanded.
Milton said, his voice cool and steely, but tempered with anger, "because
I wasn't stupid enough to let her see it and I don't have to embarrass myself because of something dumb that you
won't speak to me," Harold said.
thought she just told you off," Milton replied.
was angry too, and Milton would just have to deal with it, in one way or
another. "I can't work with
Dorothy, not under these conditions."
blame Dorothy for something you did," Milton corrected him.
I didn't do anything except get her mad," Harold said plaintively.
did that much," Milton said.
this is no good," Harold said and shook his head. "It's just no good. And you're going to take her out
tonight, aren't you?"
got a date," he said and teased Harold with just the hint of a smile.
more important--Dorothy or the store?"
a second, Harold," Milton said, folding his hands on his oak desk, the
epitome of a sensible executive.
"Now let's say that you had screwed Dorothy's brains out last night
and given her an engagement ring, or given her an engagement right and then screwed her brains out--"
in his turmoil, Harold flashed on the idea that this is what he should have
done, given her an engagement ring first, that's where Milton would always be a
step or a base ahead of him.
I was shit out of luck. What
then?" Milton rhetorically asked.
"What then? I wouldn't
be too happy today but I'd live with it."
live it?" Harold asked skeptically.
live with it," Milton adamantly repeated. "Be an adult.
Accept disappointment. If
you lose one deal, move on to next one.
after all this, you're still going to take Dorothy out tonight?" Harold
asked, incredulous that he would even consider such a thing.
shrugged, untroubled by Harold's troubles. "You took her to the ball game. Now it's my turn at bat."
had stopped pacing. He folded his
arms and stared at Milton.
stared back. The contest seemed to
wear easier on Milton, maybe because he was sitting in a padded leather
turned and left without saying another word, but as far as Milton was
concerned, Harold had spent too long making the wrong argument for his silent
exit to seem righteous.
the Cop held the door open for Lillian and Jolene. "Goodnight, ladies," he said.
Ernie," they both replied.
They were the last to leave because it was the end of the month and they
had to close out the books. The
sun had set over an hour ago, but the August heat had not yet broken. A squall had passed over the Heights in
the afternoon, and what little moisture remained was steaming up from the hot
parking lot. It was the acrid
smell of damp, hot asphalt that Lillian inhaled as she walked over to her car. She saw that the Cadillac and the
Continental were gone, but Dorothy's Thunderbird sat next to Lillian's Electra,
as if the car's were still friends and companions even if their owners weren't.
wonders never cease?" Jolene clucked. "Is Dorothy working late?"
depends how you define working."
Lillian didn't have to tap phones to know what was going on in the
store. It was just like in that
movie on TV last Friday, about the two reporters who nailed Tricky Dick. "Just follow the money," this
character they called Deep Throat kept telling the reporters, and wasn't that
the truth. Well, Lillian followed
all of the money that went through the store, and all of the people who
followed the money. Dorothy was
with Milton, and, judging from his Diner Club statements, Lillian could even
guess what kind of joint they were at this Friday night--Italian--and not just
for the marinara sauce; Dorothy's rumored connections ran deeper than a
fondness for spaghetti.
that anyone was asking her.
Continental had moved from its daily perch under the fiberglass awning at Harold's to the concrete and plaster porte-cochére of Tony's
Restaurant off Post Oak Road. Only
the best shopping centers in Houston had porté-cocheres, and the red-jacketed
valets had given Milton's car a prominent parking spot underneath this
one. The car's headlights faced
across the street towards a promising-looking vacant lot that bore a sign for
Howard Chen Investments, as if the Continental were contemplating making an
investment in Milton's stead.
the Italian restaurant was dark and well-appointed. It was supposed to be Old World Charm with capital letters,
but that transplanted awkwardly to Houston. The most successful transplants in Houston were performed
down the road at the Houston Medical Center.
Lambrusco, a Neapolitan whose Italian accent was intact after twelve years in
Houston, came over to Milton and Dorothy's table. It was a very good table, but Milton considered all tables
good after years of dinner from a wobbly TV tray.
Rosen, how nice to see you again.
How very nice. I hope to
see you at the restaurant often now that you've come back to Houston. I was sorry to hear about Max."
thank you, Tony," she said with stoic charm, as the occasion demanded.
Wiesenthal," Tony bowed and shook Milton's hand. "How is Goldie?
I haven't seen your mother since the party."
thanks for asking," Milton said. "She'll outlive us all."
waiter brought over two champagne cocktails. "With my compliments," Tony said.
thank you, Tony," Dorothy said.
smiled back and returned to his podium near the front door.
used to go to Tony's first restaurant, when it was over by the ship
channel," Dorothy said.
liked Italian food, didn't he?" Milton asked.
liked all kinds of food," Dorothy wistfully replied.
Italian had a real hold on him," Milton said with a sardonic edge.
know you've heard the rumors," Dorothy said with her own sardonic smile
and devoured a breadstick.
would take more than a couple of insinuating questions to put a dent in her
appetite. Milton admired
that. He picked up a celery stick
from the glass boat on the table and matched her crunch for crunch. "What rumors?" he asked,
I know that you know everything," Dorothy reprimanded and flattered. She picked up a celery stick, took a
tentative bite, then made quick work of it.
how some women were shy about eating in front of men, and how other women
weren't. Milton always hoped that
it correlated with lack of shyness in other areas, but it never seemed to. "What rumors?" he blandly
leaned close to whisper. Milton
leaned close to accommodate her.
Leaning close to a gorgeous woman was always a pleasure. "That Max was in the, you know, the
mob," she murmured.
not a rumor," Milton said as matter of factly as announcing that the black
olive he picked up and popped in his mouth was black.
went back to the breadsticks. She
liked to eat things that had a crunch.
Milton marveled that she never made any crumbs. Maybe that was part of the magic of
had long ago realized the folly of trying to bullshit Milton. She gave him the kind of smile that
said yes you're right but let's not be blunt. Dorothy remembered reading in Cosmopolitan that the Eskimos had over a hundred words for
snow. She had over a hundred
smiles, any woman needed at least that number to properly maneuver around
that is not something that Max and I ever talked about," Dorothy finally
said, since it always seemed to take at least a little talking to put
disagreeable topics to rest.
"He was a good provider.
I personally don't care to know every little disgusting thing about a
person. I prefer things to be
sunny and pleasant and there's no reason why they shouldn't be, no reason at
all. Surely you didn't ask me out
to supper to dwell upon the past."
not," Milton agreed, impressed with how smoothly she had answered his
question while avoiding it. He
picked up his drink and clinked her glass. "Salute,"
Milton toasted, just to remind Dorothy that he wasn't easily sidetracked.
had sunk back into the dreamy white leather of Milton's Continental, feeling
"The veal picata was divine," she said.
Milton distractedly agreed. He
still wasn't used to driving and found that it took all of his attention, even
at a reduced speed on a street as serene as the gently curving Braeswood. It would send the wrong signal to have
Dorothy drive, that was too fundamental a violation of the girl-guy thing. But there must be some way that One
Iron could chauffeur them, Milton mused.
One Iron in a chauffeur cap, that would be a hoot, but it would take one
hell of a bribe.
thought the Spanish Moss looked even prettier than last night, which made her
sit up straight. This was the same
route that Harold had driven last night, but surely they weren't driving back
to the Bali Hai.
studied Milton for some clue; he looked inscrutable though faintly amused in
the green glow of the dash lights.
Milton sensed that she was looking at him and he turned to give her a
wink, or did he? Because in a
blink his eyes were back on the road.
The only thing poky about Milton was his driving.
want to show you something," he said.
are we going?" Dorothy suspiciously asked. If Harold could blunder so crudely, then she supposed Milton
could too. But over the same
a surprise," he said. She
waited for more, but Milton had fallen quiet. He was enjoying the unspoken drama. As the Bali Hai approached he even let
the speed drop below thirty-five miles per hour. God, it was fun making her wonder.
then they were past. Milton dared
not look at Dorothy, and he dare not smile. He was acting coyly oblivious to what thoughts and feelings
he might be provoking in the passenger seat. Even out of the corner of his eye he could sense her
tensing, then relaxing as they drove past the Bali Hai, the leather creaking as
she sank back into her seat, now that the moment of crisis was past. Milton was hearing that tune in his
head from "South Pacific,"
Bali Hai above, Bali Hai below. He started to hum the tune when he
caught himself. The beauty of
unspoken things was keeping them unspoken. Dorothy breathed a sigh of relief, just loud enough for
Milton to hear, as she glanced over at him, wondering what was next.
was thrilled when Milton turned on to Heights Boulevard and pulled the
Continental into the driveway, misjudging the turn and bumping over the curb
cut. She wasn't surprised but she
had to act surprised. Dorothy was
pretty sure that Lillian hadn't said anything about their secret visit to the
mansion, but she could no longer be sure of anything where Lillian was
concerned. Dorothy thought that
Lillian could be a little more forgiving and a little less short-sighted. Sure, the whole thing with the Ladies'
Department had been a bit sticky, but Lillian could have it all to herself one
day, Dorothy didn't plan to permanently park her butt behind that white
desk. The big deal with Lillian
had been to marry off one of her brothers, and Dorothy had pushed both of them
in that direction. Even if she
didn't marry one or the other, Lillian couldn't deny that they were both at
least thinking about marriage, and that
was the necessary first step.
parked in the driveway. He wanted
to park in the garage but he couldn't find the damn garage door opener. He came around the car and opened
Dorothy's door for her.
a beautiful place," she said.
"Who lives here? One
of your friends?"
one lives here. Yet."
house is it?" she asked in perfect innocence. Dorothy had always loved playing make-believe as a little
girl. And men so loved it when you
had a touch of the little girl.
Milton said and proudly unlocked the front door.
Dorothy cooed. It very much helped
that the house was newly furnished.
The furniture gave her something fresh to react to. "Oh, it's marvelous," she
said, letting her hand linger over the couch that was just too big and
masculine. That would have to
change. But she smiled like
Dorothy in Oz as Milton gave her the grand tour.
bought the property two years ago, and started remodeling last year," he
explained. She was his first
visitor, not counting One Iron.
"It was a big job.
Structural work. There's
been subsidence all along the boulevard.
It was a big job."
long have you lived here?" she asked.
haven't moved in yet."
very much wanted to ask why not, but that violated the rules of the dance, how
they were both careful to talk around certain topics.
me show you something," Milton said and led her over to the glass
elevator. He opened the filigreed
glass door. "I put this in for
when Goldie visits. She hates
own elevator," Dorothy marveled.
very own everything," Milton said as he placed his hand lightly on the
small of Dorothy's back to guide her onto the elevator. They stood quite close in the tiny
enclosure. Sort of like a glass
slipper, Dorothy mused, as the glass elevator rose slowly toward the second
let Milton lead the way down the upper hallway. All the rooms were furnished, but with such blah
personality. The interior
decorator had an unfortunate fetish for beige. Dorothy tried to see it all anew, willing herself into a
state of feverish enthusiasm for all she saw. She was accustomed to keeping her wits sharp around Milton,
but in his house his guard was relaxed.
He was too damn proud to calibrate her compliments.
took special interest in what she proprietarily regarded as the "sewing
room." It had twin beds in
it, and a frown passed uncontrolled and unbidden across her freshly powdered
face, quickly replaced by the delighted smile she wore like a mask. She lingered in the sewing room,
mentally removing the inappropriate furniture. A window had been left open and the balmy night air wafted
through the room like a warm perfume; the earthiness of Houston, redolent of
wet leaves and rotting pine wood and thick Bermuda grass mingled with the
crisp, centrally-cooled air. To
stand in this cool room and enjoy those warm smells, it was almost perfect,
Dorothy thought. With the right
furniture, of course.
I know that you need a place to live and I've got plenty of room here,"
Milton said, finally speaking what had remained carefully unspoken all through
dinner. Milton preferred being
direct, when it was the right time to be direct. Now. In this
room, alone, with Dorothy.
she said in mild protest.
me finish," he insisted.
"This is a huge house.
You can have this whole floor.
The whole enchilada. No
rent. And no strings
I could never accept that," Dorothy said without much conviction, just
enough to show that she did have her pride.
is way more than what I need. And
I want to help you," Milton said.
are the sweetest man. Just the
sweetest," Dorothy enthused.
Before Milton knew what was happening she melted in his arms, remarkable
because she seemed to step forward and melt at the same time, a heady mixture
of opposites, like the warm and cool air that was lacing through the room. Dorothy kissed Milton passionately,
without coyness, as if promising things to come. She came up for air like a diver who has gone too deeply too
quickly, then melted in his arms again, but in a different way that made it
very clear that whatever delights might lie ahead for them, things would go no
further tonight. But the kisses
had been a surprise and Milton took them for the gift that they were.
regarded him closely, her hands lightly on his cheeks, their eyes so
close. "Are you sure this is
okay? I mean, both of us living
under the same roof?"
a big roof," Milton demurred.
mean, people will think that we are living in sin," Dorothy said
coquettishly. She kept her body
close enough for him to feel, but not so close that they were coarsely
connected. Their contact was light
and teasing, with decorum and limits set by the ruling princess.
"Why? Do you think we'll sin?" Milton
said softly and pressed lightly toward her, unashamed of the erection he knew
to be obvious.
danced delicately back, as fluidly as if doing a tango, and fluttered
gracefully out of his arms.
"I didn't say that," Dorothy told him as she took a careful
step back. "But I've got my
reputation to think of," she teased.
kisses that had been so chaste and passionate in the same sweet breath. Oh, he knew that she played games, but
he played games too, and he was ready to gamble on their playing games on each
other and playing games together.
"Do you want to get married?" he asked with candidness and
that a proposal?" Dorothy asked back.
you want it to be?" he tested.
you're positively making my head spin tonight," Dorothy sidestepped. She studied him closely, working her
own calculus: the situation, the consequences.
you want to get married?" he asked again, challenging her. She found his self-confidence both
maddening and reassuring. Dorothy was annoyed by surprises, like
insistent questions that she wasn't ready for. Surprises that weren't surprises, such as acting like she'd
never been here in the sewing room, well, those were fine. "I'm not sure of anything right
now," she said. "Except
that I would just die to live in this gorgeous house. But what about my furniture? All the rooms already look so full."
didn't mind that the marriage question had been deflected. He hadn't asked "Will you marry
me?" No, his question had
been a tad more hypothetical, but specific enough for him to get a read. Marriage aside, if she agreed to move
in, she would be living here with him.
He did not want familiarity to breed contempt, not here in the dream
house, not between them. "You
can put this stuff in storage, if you like," Milton said. "I'm easy."
you're anything but easy," Dorothy
laughed. "Really, no strings
attached?" she asked just to get that part crystal clear.
smiled kindly at her kindred tactics, how smoothly she had moved to closing the
deal she wanted. Harold had said
Dorothy had the potential to be as good as Plotkin, but he had that part wrong. Dorothy had the potential to
out-Plotkin Plotkin. "You
take the upstairs. I've got an
extra bedroom downstairs. It'll
all work out. I really want it
to," he smiled.
smiled sweetly back and looked around at the offending furniture, soon to be
banished. "Me too."
gave him a brief kiss. A kiss
Milton fully expected, but he politely acted surprised.
they descended the tiny glass elevator, close enough to feel each other's body
heat, Dorothy thought that the glass slipper fit perfectly.
when do you want to move in?" Milton asked as they neared the ground.
hooked her arm lightly through his, though she needed no help with her
was a mother of a hot damn day, Cochise thought, and he didn't even have a
handkerchief with him. Sweat was
dribbling into his eyes and he blinked at the salty sting. He wiped his brow with his hand and
flung the sweat away, but now his hand was wet and his eyes still stung. With his hand raised, Cochise saw the
sweat stain under his armpit.
"Sonofabitch," he muttered, worried that his silk shirt was
ruined. The shirt had all kinds of
crazily colored flowers on it and was one his favorites. Cochise kicked half-heartedly at the
balding tire of the heavily laden U-Haul trailer that sat in the driveway of
Milton's bungalow. That's what
Milton liked to call it, the Bungalow on the Boulevard. Cochise shook his head despondently; it
was already the heat of the day and they weren't nearly half done moving
Dorothy's shit in.
the Cop was huffing up in the trailer, trying to move a dresser by
himself. Cochise took some small
consolation that the sweat rings that darkened Ernie's blue H.P.D. uniform were
bigger than those on Cochise's own shirt.
Cochise, give me a hand up here, I'm dyin'," Ernie complained.
Cochise muttered as he put his shoulder to the dresser, "she's got a lot
of shit. A lot of heavy shit."
hauled the dresser all the way back to the elevator, but the bastard wouldn't
fit on. At least it was
air-conditioned in the house, but Cochise and Ernie were both sweating like
pigs. They humped it back to the
front of the house and worked the dresser up the stairs, careful not to ding
the walls, both of them quite reasonably fearing the wrath of Milton.
was waiting for them upstairs, fresh as a daisy, wearing a flowered blouse with
a matching scarf in her hair that reminded Cochise of Lucy Ricardo. But Dorothy wasn't smiling like Lucy,
no sir, Cochise thought, feeling miserable about the stack of shit still left
to haul up.
do you want this?" Cochise asked, breathless.
the sewing room," Dorothy said and pointed to the far end of the hall.
and Ernie looked at each other, a shared moment of martyrdom, and put the
dresser down where they were standing.
Would it kill her to offer them a fucking glass of ice tea? Even draught horses got a regular
drink on a day like this to keep from dyin'. "Sewing room?" Cochise asked, feeling prissy just
one with those cute bay windows," Dorothy explained, smiling blandly, cool
drink of water that she was.
"Right across the hall from the elevator," she explained.
and Ernie unhappily hoisted the dresser back up. It was a long walk back to the elevator. Sewing room, shit, Cochise thought
darkly. Dorothy would poke you
with a needle and smile, but the only thing she sewed was her pants shut.
in the Wiesenthals' driveway, One Iron knelt backwards on the front seat of the
Continental trying to squeeze one last suit on to the clothing bar that ran the
length of the back seat. One Iron
had been careful to keep the suits in order, and Milton's dozens of suits hung
from the bar in harmonious shades of gray and blue and brown.
Milton stared into his closet. It
had been stripped bare, except for odds and ends, like the gold-plated Playboy
putter. He'd spent so many hours
standing exactly like this as he selected what to wear, it felt odd and
unsettling to be doing it for the last time. He found a wayward set of cuff links and pocketed them.
stepped aside as Michael squeezed past him and dropped a load of his stuff into
the closet. The rest of the room
was intact; Milton was leaving the Scandinavian bedroom set behind. Michael unrolled a Jethro Tull poster
and climbed up on the bed to tack it up behind the headboard.
was amused by the quickness of Michael's invasion. "You're not even waiting until the corpse is
do you mean?" Michael asked.
just an expression," Milton said and gave Michael an affectionate
hug. "See you, kid."
you," Michael said, preoccupied with hanging up the poster. He didn't stop to ponder Milton's
leave-taking. The Wiesenthals
weren't sentimental, and Michael was excited about finally getting his own room
where he could hang up his own posters.
Photographs of Harold took up most of the wall space of the other
bedroom. "Does this look
level?" he asked.
level as anything else around here," Milton answered.
Milton came into the kitchen he saw Goldie standing at the stove, overcooking a
pot of egg noodles. Emmanuel had
the Wall Street Journal spread across
the kitchen table and was underlining stock prices while he ate a bowl of
went to stand beside Goldie, but she didn't look up from the boiling
water. Her lips were tightly
pursed. He knew that she was
upset. He could stand here all day
and she would too, until the noodles just boiled down to glop. "Mom, I really want you to come
see my house," Milton finally said.
"It's a great place to live."
a great place to live in sin,"
Goldie said, without a trace of the needling and wheedling that she used to con
her boys into shopping safaris to Weingarten's. Goldie knew in her heart that one day Milton would leave. All boys did, eventually. But it should be the day after his
wedding, with Milton leaving to go live in a real house, with a real wife. Dorothy didn't even seem Jewish; maybe
some babies had gotten mixed up at the hospital.
just shook his head sadly.
not living in sin," Milton protested.
slowly stirred the pot with a wooden spoon. Not that it needed stirring, but she had to do
something. When Milton had
announced his big plans to move into the Bungalow with Dorothy, Goldie had gone
right into her bedroom and lain down.
She'd had a migraine even before all the words had left Milton's lips,
that was the god's truth. And then
all the talking afterwards. She
didn't like Dorothy, and she didn't like talking about her. "And I said I don't approve,"
"Mom. Please," Milton pleaded. "Don't be like this. This is a big step for me. It's a big house. Dorothy will be living upstairs. I'll be living downstairs. It's ten times the size of this house
and there's only two of us.
There's too much room for sin."
not family," Goldie said, unshakable.
was about to say that he had proposed to Dorothy. He had wanted to tell Goldie that. But it would come to no good, because how could be explain
why Dorothy wouldn't just marry him?
That would be something, trying to explain the Jewish Mafia to
Goldie. That mob widows were taken
care of, kind of like social security.
But supposedly only until they married again. Hell, Milton could only half explain it to himself, why
Dorothy didn't want to get married yet.
Maybe she just didn't want to jump in. Maybe she didn't love him--yet. Maybe she wanted it all--what Milton had to offer and the
Ladies' Department and the
under-the-table mob social security money. And what was the rush if she was living in the Bungalow on
the Boulevard rent-free? Milton
had seen it from that angle, and from a lot of other angles. But since when was love rational? Look at Goldie and Emmanuel, for god
sakes. Well, it wouldn't get
solved now. Goldie wouldn't let it
get solved, not in the way that Milton would like. Just a smile, a little approval, that's all Milton
wanted. If Goldie saw that glass
elevator, that might help do the trick, Milton thought.
a big mistake," Goldie quietly insisted.
was her quietness that upset Milton more than anything, because she was never
quiet, not like this. It wasn't
like he could just turn around, put the suits back in the closet. Or get Cochise to go rent the U-Haul
again and move Dorothy back to West University. Milton found that he was nibbling on his lower lip. He couldn't remember ever doing that
before. Maybe it ran in the
family. He gave Goldie a hug, but
she held her body stiff. He tried
to kiss her on the lips, as they had always kissed good-bye, but she would not
turn her head, so he had to settle for her dry, powdery cheek.
sighed and went over to Emmanuel, who didn't mind a hug. He didn't like Dorothy either but not
so much that he would begrudge his boy a hug and a kiss.
Milton sighed. He took a last look
around, as if he were a political prisoner going into exile. "So long."
he had stepped out the kitchen door and the screen door had creaked shut,
Goldie turned off the burner and looked accusingly at Emmanuel.
didn't you say something?" Goldie
accused. She knew that Emmanuel
agreed with her. They had lain in
bed talking about it last night, and then again this morning.
just shrugged. "Because you
had never been married, but he soon realized what married life might be
like. It was probably something
like the store, or living on Aberdeen Way, the day to day thing, the daily
routine. And he wasn't even
married to Dorothy. That part
remained uncertain. The rest of it
too. Those kisses the first night
he brought her to the house hadn't led anywhere, they certainly hadn't led her
into his bed or vice versa.
the daytime her Thunderbird was parked next to his Continental. In the evening, the cars migrated from
the store on Nineteenth Street to the house on Heights Boulevard, where they
sat side by side in the garage.
And now Milton had to drive that big Continental back and forth to work
himself because he feared Dorothy's reaction to having One Iron chauffeur him
such a short distance. At least
the cars were sleeping next to other, Milton mused ruefully and swirled the
scotch in his glass so that the ice cubes clinked against the heavy glass
was sitting in the redwood-paneled TV room. Milton had never quite owned up to it, but this TV room was
just like the den in the Wiesenthal house: a small room with a couch and
several arm chairs circled around the television. Milton and Dorothy were siting in neighboring armchairs
watching the last few minutes of "M*A*S*H." Hot Lips always got Milton horny, not that he needed much
help with Dorothy so close by. He
was wearing cotton slacks and a cashmere V-neck sweater. Living with Dorothy made lounging
around the house more formal than lounging around really ought to be. She was wearing a quilted robe over her
nightgown with the belt pulled tight.
She was dressed for bed, but primly so, and Milton admired the effect
even though it ran contrary to his romantic aspirations.
the show ended, Dorothy stood up and stretched. "I am dead on my
feet," she said.
too," Milton faked.
padded out of the room in her white leather slippers. He turned off the TV and followed after. But Dorothy was already getting on to
the glass elevator. Milton clucked
his tongue, disappointed that he had missed his opportunity for a goodnight
kiss. The best thing was to act
like he was headed for his bedroom, to remove any hint of puppy love
you," Milton called to her.
sweet," Dorothy said with a tiny smile as the elevator started to
rise. "You have sweet dreams
reached the door of the downstairs guest bedroom. It had been called the guest bedroom on the plans, and
Milton supposed that it still was, in that he was starting to feel like a guest
in his own house, while Dorothy was up in the master bedroom. That was a neat trick, come to think of
it, but then he remembered that it had been his suggestion. Why, he could just have easily have
said you take the downstairs, I'll take the upstairs. But that sounded wrong. Princesses always lived at the top of the castle, with the
balconies and the trellises and the ladies in waiting.
went into the room, grateful that at least it was bigger than his bedroom back
on Aberdeen. It had French windows
opening to the side yard. From the
garden fountain a concrete Cupid burbled water from his bow. Milton reminded himself to point Cupid
out to Dorothy at the right moment.
For now, he stood back in the doorway and watched her ascend in the
elevator to the upper floor.
plopped down on the bed, and ran his hand along the smooth mahogany night
stand. He felt like he was
sleeping in a hotel room. Bored,
Milton picked up the telephone. He
dialed the number at the apartment.
When he didn't get an answer, he tried One Iron's home number. "Hey, it's me," he said into
Milton," One Iron said from the other end of the line. "How's life in the Bungalow?"
"Great. So you're not using the apartment
tonight?" Milton asked One Iron, secretly pleased. He didn't like the idea of One Iron
getting something that he wasn't.
I used the apartment. Big
time. Wham bam thank you,
ma'am," One Iron bragged.
Milton said, trying to be appropriately enthusiastic.
then you know what happened?"
"No. What happened, One Iron?" Milton
asked, looking forward to some tale of romantic disaster.
bam thank you, ma'am, all over again!" One Iron crowed.
Milton said, starting to feel pretty down.
this Denise is a piece. I think
you'd like her. And I know she'd
Milton said, acting bored.
you were still in the market," One Iron diplomatically added.
wondered about slipping out. It
wouldn't be like he was getting it on the side, because he wasn't getting
anything here. But how to break
the news to One Iron? Because One
Iron would never believe that the King wasn't making time with the Queen or the
Princess or whatever she was. And
if One Iron did believe him, then Milton's stock would go down. Way down.
tell me what she's like, Milton," One Iron said with a giggle. "Paint me a picture in words,
man. Compare Dorothy to a known
quantity, so I can relate."
carried the telephone over to the doorway. He craned his neck and saw Dorothy walk down the upstairs
balcony in her nightgown, the quilted robe long gone. He watched her disappear behind the bedroom door. "One Iron, that would be kiss and
tell," he said smoothly, but the yearning in his eyes contradicted his
it's always been kiss and tell between us," One Iron reminded him.
but this one might be serious," Milton said and added a salacious laugh
for good measure.
what I was afraid of," One Iron sighed. "Shit, I'd trade a dozen Denise's for a night with
Milton said, sounding convincingly content with his good fortune, but willing
to settle for just one Denise right now himself.
was a drizzly fall day; the sky was the same dull gray across the entire soggy
horizon. Ernie the Cop stood
forlornly under the door awning in a yellow rain slicker.
was quiet at the store this morning.
Tim Stugeon stepped out of the stockroom between Sportswear and the
Ladies' Department, smiling like that cat that just ate the canary. He checked to make sure that the coast
was clear, then hitched his belt in a prideful fashion, and sauntered off to
Western Wear. If Cochise wasn't
too busy, he might have him put a little buff on his ostrich skin boots, which
were looking a bit molted, what with all the wet weather this last week.
the canary, stepped out of the stockroom, trying so hard not to look guilty
that she looked very guilty indeed.
But Harold was upstairs in the tailor shop this morning, giving them
hell over some damn thing. He was
on a tear most days lately, and she was thankful that her morning break had
escaped notice. Faye smoothed her
skirt and hurried into the Ladies' Department.
Plotkin and One Iron were watching the action from the cashier's island. Business was so slow that Plotkin only
had one eye on the back door. With
the other he glanced at his watch and said, "Now that's what I call a
pause that refreshes," One Iron added.
Faye takes her morning break tomorrow, I'm going in that stockroom for a size
forty-two Sans-A-Belt," Plotkin sniggered, "That should be a
is only half right, Barracuda.
Sans panties too," One Iron amended.
emerged from the Ladies' Department with some papers in hand and walked
purposefully past the cashier's island, avoiding eye contact with One Iron and
Plotkin as she took the supposedly important papers into Lillian's office.
the Lay," One Iron whispered.
But Plotkin saw the back door open and joke time was over as he moved
like his moniker to grab on to a lanky oil man who always spent big.
Plotkin beamed, pumping Al's rain-dampened hand. "When did you get in from Midland?"
flew in from the oil patch yesterday noon," Al answered. He liked all the attention Plotkin paid
him and thought him awfully amusing for a Jewish fella.
been holding some boots for you, baby turtle with a deerskin inlay, so soft
you'll think you've died and gone to cowboy heaven," Plotkin enthused.
could hear Plotkin's sales patter through the door, as steady as the rain. She tensely smoked a cigarette, and
stared out the little window, feeling as gray as the rain and as forlorn as the
wet, empty parking lot.
helped herself to one of Lillian's Salems. Sitting across from her day after day, Jolene was affected
by Lillian's mood, and found herself smoking a lot more cigarettes these days
to get through the morning to lunch, then smoking to get somehow from lunch to
wouldn't have minded a cigarette herself, but she would rather have smoked it
with Stugeon stroking her inner thigh.
Faye had already tempted fate once today, and she was in a hurry to get
back to the register before Harold did.
But Lillian just wasn't cooperating. "But these are from Dorothy, closing out the
month," Faye said again and tried for a second time to hand Lil the
handed the billings right back, holding them at arm's length, as if they had
cooties. "No thanks. No way. Dorothy has to close out her own paperwork."
never has before," Faye protested.
closes out his month. So does
Stugeon. So does everyone
else. And what are you doing delivering Dorothy's papers for her?"
Lillian asked, turning her attention to Faye.
no big deal," Faye stammered, feeling flustered by Lillian's intransigence
and still a little lightheaded from her recent dalliance in the stockroom. It was so unfair for Lillian to be
difficult about this. "I was
back that way," Faye said and laid the papers on Lillian's desk.
handed the papers back to Faye.
"Here you go," Lillian mimicked, "No big deal."
wouldn't hurt you to be a little friendlier to her," Faye said, with the
self-righteousness of someone who liked to think of herself as everyone's
was friendly to her," Lillian said regretfully. "And it did hurt."
frowned, but frowns worked much better with susceptible men. She unhappily left with the papers
still in hand.
out of the office, Faye saw that things had gotten busy again. Harold gave her a withering look,
furious about having to ring up a sale himself. But Harold was all smiles for the customer, the Jekyll and
Hyde of the Heights, Faye thought as she slipped back into the cashier's
you say hi to Marlene and I'll see you at the tournament," Harold effused
and gave Mel a gold-braided Harold's
cap. "This is one of the
special dealies, just for you."
put the cap on his bald head.
"Thank you, Harold.
Why, thank you much," Mel said, looking as pleased as if he had
been asked to join the River Oaks Country Club.
seein' ya, Mel. Y'all come back to
Harold's," Harold said to Mel, the
chorus he always sang to departing customers.
smile faded as the red Harold's cap that
Mel was now wearing disappeared into the gray drizzle outside. "Where the hell have you
been?" Harold said, turning on Faye.
"I'm not the damn cashier around here."
looked appropriately contrite but felt secure in her excuse as she handed
Harold the paperwork.
"Dorothy gave me these to give to Lillian," she explained.
why are you giving them to me?" Harold asked in annoyance.
wouldn't take them," Faye said, sharing his annoyance. "She said that Dorothy has to
close out her own month."
right," Harold said.
"She needs to carry her weight like everyone else."
never closed out a month," Faye explained. "She doesn't know how."
what are you doing with these? Are
you Dorothy's errand girl now?" Harold accused, his anger rising.
I was coming back from the bathroom and she asked me if I was going up to the
front," Faye said defensively.
I'm goddamn good and tired of people doing favors for Dorothy. Is she with a customer?" he asked.
don't think so," she answered, surprised by his vehemence.
her up here," Harold ordered.
Stugeon sauntered over to the cashier's island. He avoided looking at Faye, but when Harold's back was
turned Stugeon gave her a pat on the butt.
smiled coyly at Stugeon. She bent
down to speak into the intercom and said, "Dorothy, could you come up to
the front, please?"
was looking at Faye's legs and feeling a little horny again as he picked up the
telephone. "Two C's on the
Phillies to sweep the doubleheader..." he said softly into the receiver.
was extremely annoyed with the whole Dorothy thing, not just the romance deal,
that was done, but having her in the store every damn day. This wasn't some game, this was it. This was the store. And Harold had had enough of Stugeon's
bookmaking, tying up a business line.
carried an armload of purchases as he led Al over to the register. "Harold, you remember Al?"
Plotkin asked with a smile.
Plotkin thought Al was a perfect customer; he shopped fast and he
shopped big. In fifteen minutes Al
had bought enough clothes to make up for a piss poor morning.
course I remember Al," Harold said with a strained Lone Star smile.
"How are things in the oil patch?"
complain, Harold, can't complain," Al said amiably.
that's just fine," Harold absently replied. His smile tightened as he saw Dorothy clickety-clacking
toward him, her heels an angry staccato on the terrazzo floor. She stopped and looked up at Harold
with a brittle smile. "Yes,
master?" she mockingly asked in her best Barbara Eden style.
and Plotkin both gave Dorothy dirty looks. She had crossed the line, acting unpleasant and
disrespectful in front of a customer.
Al was smiling at Dorothy, he never minded smiling at a pretty lady, but
Harold positioned himself in front of her. "You make the Barracuda take good care of you,"
Harold drawled, the Texas in his voice thickening as it always did in moments
watching out for my friend," Plotkin said, moving around Al's other side,
completing the quarantine from Dorothy, the bitch. People had died for less. "I'm always snaggin' Al the good stuff."
my man," Al said affectionately.
Al had to kick butt out on his rigs to make the show run right, and he
sensed butt kicking in the air here.
He wouldn't mind watching that pretty redhead's butt get kicked, but he
had some leases to sign over at the Petroleum Club. "I better mosey on down the road," he said picking
up his packages.
gave Al a firm handshake and a big smile and said, "Nice seein' ya, Al. Y'all come back to Harold's." Plotkin escorted
Al toward the door.
Harold turned back to Dorothy his smile tensed and disappeared. He grabbed her by the elbow and took
her aside. "You can't turn
these in like this," he said and slapped the disputed paperwork into her
is how I've always done it," she peevishly explained.
it isn't how we've always done it. Every salesman is responsible for
closing out his own month."
not a salesman," Dorothy
protested. She didn't care for the
tone of voice that Harold was using with her, no she didn't, not one little
me," he said corrosively.
not merely a sales anything,"
Dorothy said, taking exception with his words and his snippy tone of voice.
sensed Faye and One Iron and Stugeon looking over at them, straining to hear
every word. The Greek chorus had
assembled to watch, ready for either a comedy or a tragedy. It was all entertainment to them. Harold did not want to have this
conversation, which had been building for ages, within earshot of either the
chorus or the customers, but here it was, it was happening, and he could not,
would not back down, no ma'am.
"Oh, really? And what
are you?" he asked Dorothy with a fury that left her a little stunned.
well, head of the Ladies' Department," she said, at a loss.
department of one."
not quantity," she curtly replied.
was trying hard to control his temper, but she was so tenaciously vexatious and
she was so out of line.
"Well, excuse me Miss Department Head, you're responsible for your
looked annoyed. Her glossy red
lips sagged into a pout.
"Lillian does the bookkeeping. I don't know why she's being so difficult." Dorothy was grateful to now have a
target more malleable than Harold.
Lillian had been troublesome ever since she had come to work in the
store, but Dorothy was confident she could bend Lillian, certainly enough to
help with something as little and silly as this paperwork. Looking put-upon, Dorothy stalked
towards Lillian's office with the stupid papers.
stalked off into Sports Wear, swearing to himself under his breath.
Greek chorus of salesman watched this latest development with interest. "Gentlemen, place your bets,"
Stugeon said with a smile.
take Lillian," One Iron said with confidence.
in the first round," Faye agreed.
Barracuda, you want to bet?" Stugeon asked.
frowned, more unhappy than entertained.
"I want to make some money selling clothes and this bullshit is
fucking with that," he said and went back to his post by the door. He'd much rather snag another customer
than shoot the shit with salesmen.
went into the back office, with a big smile for Lillian. She had avoided the office after she
came to work at the store, what with all the unpleasantness and petty jealousy. Dorothy always made it a point to smile
at Lillian, and Jolene too, and let bygones be bygones.
and Jolene looked up when Dorothy came in. The click of her high heels had announced her presence. They weren't impressed with Dorothy's
artificial smile and both turned back to their work without saying a word.
sensed their frosty mood, but chose to ignore it. "Good morning," she said pleasantly, hoping that
they would reciprocate her high-mindedness.
and Jolene looked back up at Dorothy, but neither of them spoke. It wasn't like they had ever planned to give Dorothy the silent treatment, but they had
no desire to exchange pleasantries with her.
you know how helpless I am with numbers," Dorothy said in light-hearted
I don't think that you are helpless with anything," Lillian said,
if that was only true!" Dorothy pressed on, certain she could win Lillian
over, at least on this one little bitty thing. She brought the papers over, but Lillian showed no
could do this in two shakes, Lil.
It would take you less time than it takes us to talk about it. Be a pal and I'll buy you lunch,"
Dorothy said, positively oozing appreciation. Maybe it wasn't worth quite so much as having to sit through
a lunch with a long-faced Lillian, but Dorothy was determined to walk back out
of the office with the paperwork done.
After all, she had to close out the month to get her commission.
smoked her cigarette and regarded Dorothy coldly. She did have chutzpah, there was no denying that. "No appetite," Lillian
sighed, not too thrilled with the alternative but she willing to be a good
sport. "Then I guess you'll
just have to teach me how."
let me just drop everything and help you right now," Lillian said.
would you?" Dorothy said brightly, eager to be done with the whole boring
laughed harshly. "You're a
piece of work," she said, shaking her head in amazement.
are you being so difficult?"
Dorothy pouted. Lillian wasn't
being at all fair about this. She
was being quite, well, petty. And
downright bitchy, Dorothy thought.
"Why? Because it feels so good," Lillian
said with a smile. And this
conversation was really the most fun that she had had in the store in she
couldn't remember how long, it really was.
stood staring at Lillian, forgetting to smile. She was at a complete loss because for once her charm wasn't
working. "That's very
unladylike," Dorothy said with, to her mind, more than justifiable
haughtiness. Really, with the way
that Lillian was acting there was no reason for Dorothy to keep bending over
backwards to be polite. "I'm
very disappointed," Dorothy added, "Very, very disappointed."
turned sharply on her heels and left in a huff. She looked back as she was going through the door and was
yet again disappointed by Lillian, who was smiling. She
should at least have the decency to respect real moral indignation when she saw
was some tempest in a teapot," Jolene said now that the tempest was gone.
a cracked teapot at that," Lillian added. She and Jolene shared a smile. Lillian was grateful for that small pleasure.
passed close by Plotkin as she marched out of Lillian's office. She was too perturbed to remember to
smile, but Plotkin gave her only a passing glance. His eye was on the parking lot. An H.P.D. cruiser screeched to a stop and, Bert, Faye's
husband headed for the door, the drizzle dampening and darkening his police
blues. Bert held little interest
for the Barracuda, who was trolling for a paying customer.
the cashier's island, Stugeon and One Iron and Faye watched Dorothy walk past,
papers still in hand. Dorothy gave
them a tense smile and they all smiled politely back.
Stugeon announced as the winner once Dorothy was out of earshot.
a first-round knockout," One Iron added.
came down the stairs from the tailor shop, smiling. This month's sales were up, the market was up, and he was overall
up. Dorothy turned the corner into
the stairwell and bumped right into him.
He felt her breasts against his chest from the head-on collision, but
while he was still sorting out the not entirely unpleasant sensation, she
grabbed his hand and tugged him into the Big Man's Shop. There were no big men shopping this
rainy day and Dorothy and Milton were all alone.
sister's put a bee in my bonnet," Dorothy blurted out.
such a cute bonnet," Milton said and gave her a kiss on the forehead, which
Dorothy was too agitated to even register.
always closed out my monthly paperwork and figured out my commission,"
Dorothy rapidly explained, "and now she won't close out the month and she
won't even teach me how to do it and Harold's acting the same way but Lillian's
the bookkeeper and she should just do it because it's her job, for god sakes
a sec, hon, slow down," Milton interrupted. He tried to put a comforting arm on her shoulder, but she
would have none of it and stepped away.
making me crazy!" Dorothy
complained, feeling every inch the victim now that she had a sympathetic
ear. "All I did was very politely ask for a little help because I'm terrible at math."
took the papers and looked at them.
"This is nothing," he reassured her. "I'll teach you how to do this in two minutes."
"See? That's what I mean?" Dorothy said,
pressing her case. "They
wouldn't even give me two minutes, Harold and Lillian both." She folded her arms for punctuation, having
successfully made her case.
bet you could be a whiz at math," Milton cajoled. "You just never had the right
teacher. Until now."
hell you're not! The hell you're not!" came
from the front of the store; Milton and Dorothy turned toward the commotion.
that?" Milton asked as he hurried out of the Big Man's Shop. He stopped short when he saw what was
his uniform wet from the rain, was at the cashier's island. He had Tim Stugeon backed against the
Formica counter and his police issue .38 was pressed against Stugeon's
nose. Stugeon had the red nose of
a daily drinker, but the pressure of the muzzle had turned his proboscis
white. Stugeon's black Stetson had
been knocked to the floor and there was a crease in his hair where the hat
always sat. Faye stared at Bert,
terrified and impressed. The other
salesmen stood perfectly still, afraid to move.
hurried in from Sports Wear and stopped when he saw the gun. Lillian and Jolene peeked out from the
office. Ernie the Cop thought it
best to stay outside in the rain and turn the other cheek for a brother on the
force. Harold wanted to call the
police, but Bert was the police, wasn't he? Harold thought the day of reckoning for all Stugeon's
book-making was finally here.
me that you're not fucking my wife!"
Bert yelled into Stugeon's face.
"I want to hear you tell me that!" Faye blushed at Bert's words.
your horses, Bert, hold your horses," Stugeon said hoarsely.
you tell me what to hold, you miserable sack of shit!" Bert hissed and
pressed the gun harder into Stugeon's nose.
name on the sign said Harold's, and
Harold felt it his sworn duty to do something. "Bert, please," he said and took a step
put the gun down," Milton said and moved closer, impressed by Harold's
courage and wanting to help his brother get things back under control.
THE FUCK UP! EVERYONE JUST SHUT
THE FUCK UP!" Bert screamed at Harold and Milton, and they both stopped
instantly. Bert turned his
attention back to Stugeon and yelled in his face, "Tell me that you're not
fucking my wife!"
Adam's apple bobbed as he took a gulp that everyone could hear in the deadly
cut him off and took hold of Stugeon's stubbly chin, looking him dead in the
eyes. "Because if you tell me
that you're not fucking my wife and
you're lying then I'm going to
blow your brains all over your boots." Bert wiggled his pistol against Stugeon's nose and asked,
"Are you going to lie to me,
Stugeon? Are you going to Lie?!"
throat was so dry with terror that he didn't think he could get any more words
out. He finally managed to croak,
are you going to say to me, Stugeon?" Bert said, his voice no longer
raised, and everyone, especially Stugeon, thought this quiet voice of Bert's
was even scarier than the yelling.
thought about the question. He
figured that he might only get one chance at the right answer.
was still scared, but Bert seemed awfully sexy to her, taking charge like
this. He must really love her.
are you going to say?" Bert impatiently asked again.
tried gulping again but his throat was now too dry and his Adam's apple would
no longer cooperate.
"Whatever you want to hear," Stugeon said hoarsely in
right," Bert said, pleased with the answer, playfully squishing the gun
into Stugeon's nose, "whatever I want to hear."
by Bert's turn toward a better mood, Stugeon, an inveterate gambler, pressed
his winning bet. "I don't
know what you think happened, Bert--"
tell me what to think!" Bert yelled.
not telling you to think anything," Stugeon said quickly, feeling a warm
wetness in his pants, realizing that he had peed his pants, that he had lost
control of his body and now his
mouth was dribbling words desperately, shamelessly, "I'm just saying that
whatever you think, you're right, and I'm wrong, and whatever you say
goes. Whatever you say, whatever
you say, whatever you say," Stugeon kept repeating as if his brain was
skipping like a broken record.
not just because I've got a gun to your head," Bert said, seeking
you say goes," Stugeon repeated.
eased the gun away from Stugeon's nose and it flushed crimson from the release
of the pressure. Bert took a step
back, but Stugeon was still afraid to move. "If you touch my wife," Bert said quietly, "I
mean, if you bump into her at the cash register or if you even shake her hand,
I'm going to hear about it and I'm going to do more than just come in here and talk to you, like this. I'm serious, Stugeon.
Next time I take action."
nibbled at his lip. It didn't look
like Bert was going to kill Stugeon, not today anyway.
sir," Stugeon said, his voice returning now that a reprieve seemed
is your warning," Bert said.
sir," Stugeon quickly replied.
only give you one warning," Bert said flatly, with utter conviction. "Either you get it or you
get it. Loud and clear,"
Stugeon said earnestly.
couldn't imagine why she'd ever found short little Stugeon attractive. He was the pushover, the wimp, not
flinched when Bert stepped forward and pressed the .38 forcefully back into
Stugeon's broken-veined nose.
"Feel this?" Bert asked.
sir, I do," was Stugeon's nasally answer.
is the nicest this gun is ever going to feel. Get it?"
get it," Stugeon said.
lowered the pistol and stepped back.
He looked around for the first time at his audience. Bert was pretty pleased with how things
had gone but he didn't smile. He
holstered his gun and hitched his belt.
"I'll talk to you later," he said testily to Faye. She nodded solemnly and obediently,
secretly thrilled by her husband's take-charge boldness.
Bert started walking toward the door, everyone in the store breathed a
collective sigh of relief.
turned to Harold and said, "Sorry if I interrupted business, Harold."
problem," Harold said.
you," Bert said.
seein' ya, Bert," Harold said by rote, "Y'all come back to Harold's."
next day Milton was back on Aberdeen Way for Thanksgiving dinner. Dorothy had gone over to her sister's
house and no one questioned her absence or even mentioned her name. Milton didn't need Thanksgiving to talk
to Harold or Lillian about Dorothy.
He could talk to them at the store, and even so, Dorothy wasn't a topic
that they were talking about.
had been a long afternoon for Milton as he bided his time to talk to Goldie
alone. Lillian and Buddy and a
handful of others were still in the dining room gabbing and noshing. Harold and Willie were watching the U.T.
- A&M game with Emmanuel and Emil and Philip. Willie had been the backfield star for U.T., and having him
over to watch the A&M game was like having Mickey Mantle come over to the
house to watch a Yankees game.
Goldie and Nellie were fussing around the kitchen.
waved Nellie out of the room, and with the Texas Aggie marching band blaring
from the TV he had enough privacy to talk confidentially to Goldie. He had wanted everyone to come to the
Bungalow for Thanksgiving. The
house was built to entertain. But
Goldie had turned the idea down flat.
Thanksgiving aside, Milton just wanted to get her in to see the
place. Maybe he could offer to
take her to Weingarten's and then steer the Continental north and hijack
her. No, he'd have to do that at
gun point, and Goldie wasn't his idea of a cooperative hostage. She was unapologetic and she wasn't
afraid of anything except having coupons for Folger's wastefully expire.
stood at the refrigerator, putting away the leftovers. The Frigidaire was full and she had to
deploy the containers with surgical skill to make everything fit. She knew why Milton was lingering in
the kitchen. He'd been watching
her all day. But Goldie had been
watching him too. She had seen how
Milton and Harold weren't speaking.
They had never really done much talking to each other, but now the way
they weren't talking was different.
Something was wrong, and Goldie was sure that that something had red
hair and red lips.
I want you to come and see my house," Milton said, jumping right to the
point. Beating around the bush
with Goldie never helped. "I
want you to come visit. I'll drive
you there and back. It's important
to me. I know how you feel about
Dorothy, but if you got to know her..."
you want me to visit your house or visit with Dorothy?" Goldie pointedly
both," Milton said, caught up short by the sharpness of her question.
don't have to go all the way to the Heights to visit Dorothy," Goldie said, a bit put out, at her age, to
have to come calling on someone who was living in sin.
about Dorothy. She doesn't have to
be there. I want you to see the
house I built," Milton said.
nodded, but Milton wasn't saying anything new. He was smarter than Harold, there was no arguing that, but
smarter in business. Not smarter
about Dorothy. "I'm not going
anywhere near that house until you send me an invitation," Goldie said.
I'll send you an invitation."
wedding invitation," Goldie demanded.
let out a whoop from the den; the Aggies had just fumbled and lost the
ball. Milton knew how that felt.
evening, and the Continental and the Thunderbird were parked side by side in
the garage, but Milton sat alone in the TV room. He was eating turkey and dressing leftovers from Goldie on
his inlaid oak TV tray, a step up from the dinged aluminum trays back on
Aberdeen. On TV they were
rerunning the Aggie fumble for the umpteenth time. Milton was talking on the telephone to One Iron for companionship. It probably would have just been easier
if he had had One Iron move into the Bungalow, but Dorothy would have no doubt
objected. Not that One Iron's
presence would have put any kind of crimp in the so-called romance.
with all the shit at the store, Dorothy had dinner at her sister's,"
Dorothy didn't get to experience Thanksgiving Day at the Wiesenthal
house," One Iron said drily.
well, this is a Wiesenthal house too," Milton said, sensitive about the
subject, "and she'll experience Thanksgiving night right here,"
Milton added, careful to keep up appearances or at least innuendoes for One
I'm sure there's a lot to give thanks for, depending of course on what all you
eat," One Iron cracked.
keep it clean," Milton half-scolded, protecting what so far needed no
protection, Dorothy's honor and maidenhood. As much as a widow could still possess maidenhood. Celibacy, to be precise. Milton could think of more satisfying
pastimes than making these kinds of distinctions.
and lean," One Iron said, careful not to step over the line.
heard the distinctive whir of the elevator. From where he sat in the den he could see the glass elevator
cab descending. "Got to go,
One Iron," Milton quickly said, anxious to wrap up the conversation. "Tomorrow's a big day."
tonight's a big night. For both of
us. I'm seeing Denise at ye olde pad," One Iron said, just so Milton knew
that he wasn't the only one scoring.
me up at nine sharp," Milton said and hung up. One Iron was once again driving him back and forth to
work. Milton could only make so
many sacrifices, and having One Iron drive him to and fro was a comfort that he
had sorely missed. If his romance
with Dorothy could be said to have progressed, then it was only
infinitesimally, frustratingly so, and that being the case, Milton figured what
could it hurt to have One Iron driving him again. If she needed a reason not to sleep with him, she already
had plenty of those, it seemed.
sister Nola had started cooking for Milton, but it wasn't the same thing as
eating Goldie's meals. Going back
to Aberdeen Way for Thanksgiving dinner had made Milton realized how uprooted
he felt, how alone in his own house.
No, not quite alone. But
not quite with Dorothy, not yet.
came in just as Milton finished cradling the telephone. She could see that he was silently
admiring her matching pink and black Adrienne Vittadini slacks-and-blouse
ensemble. She had put a lot of
effort into her evening casual look, mindful of keeping Milton's interest
piqued. Dorothy was equally
careful about were she chose to sit, in a chair across from Milton, close by,
but not intimately so.
a day," Dorothy sighed.
"Does everyone hate me?"
don't hate you," Milton said.
else does," she said, rather enjoying her persecution.
think that you're exaggerating," he soothed, hopeful that adversity would
bring them closer together.
bet they didn't miss me at your parent's house today," Dorothy said,
looking pouty, acting as if she had been excluded from some marvelous party.
they did," Milton told her, though he knew it was probably the last place
on earth that Dorothy cared to go eat turkey.
bet Lillian didn't miss me," Dorothy persisted.
take care of Lillian," Milton reassured. "And Harold. Just leave it to me.
I'll go in early tomorrow and straighten the whole thing out before you
looked just like a hopeful little girl, Milton thought. "Really. I'll take care of you."
like being taken care of. It makes
me feel good. Very good."
smiled at Milton in a way that he liked very much. He was waiting for her to speak, but then it seemed like she
was waiting for him.
"What?" he finally asked.
seemed to be deciding something. "Very,
very good," she said again.
She got up from the chair and in a fluid motion bent forward and gave
Milton a demur kiss on the lips.
"Thank you," Dorothy said and she flowed back down into her
chair before Milton had recovered from the shock of her spontaneous
affection. Yes, he wanted to take
care of her. Taking care of her,
that was what really mattered, not whether he drove himself to work or One Iron
Thanksgiving," Milton said.
It was late in the day but things were definitely looking up. He warned himself to guard against
presumption. Dorothy seemed quite
content just to smile at him from the safety and solitude of the armchair. He thought about surprising her with a
kiss of his own, but thought better of imitating her move. Should he have caught hold of her
bangled wrist and held on to her for another kiss? Would that have been too aggressive? Or had he not been aggressive
enough? "Would you like a drink?"
he finally asked her, his voice level and offhand, but he felt as nervous as a
schoolboy that kissing time had come and gone.
"Ummm. That would be heavenly," Dorothy cooed.
was thrilled and then he felt ridiculous, so ridiculous that he almost
laughed. A broad wanted a drink
and his pulse was racing. Well,
okay, this was a different kind of deal.
Dorothy wasn't a broad.
Well, she was and she wasn't.
Milton wouldn't have asked a broad to move into the Bungalow with
stood up to go make their drinks and on impulse, if there was such a thing as
impulse after living under the same roof with a woman for so many nights and
not having slept together or even seriously necked, he offered Dorothy his
hand. The Princess took his hand
without hesitating and he helped her stand up.
they were standing together.
with a twist," she said with a smile.
with a twist for the lady," Milton said smoothly. He wasn't feeling like a schoolboy
anymore. He didn't let go of her
hand. He was in no hurry; he felt
slow and steady and moving in one direction. Hell, he probably could have done this weeks ago, but the
whole bullshit with the calendar, even though he and Dorothy had never spoken
of it, had thrown him off his game.
pulled Dorothy close to him, with the grace of an Arthur Murray dance step, but
without the schmaltzy music.
Dorothy didn't resist, but she didn't exactly help. She was friendly, but not too
friendly. Milton didn't mind
standing with her like this, no, he didn't mind that at all. "I've got some wine in the sauna,"
Dorothy said in the spirit of protest, the loyal opposition.
nothing like a sauna to melt away the tension," Milton added.
not dressed for a sauna," she said, showing him how truly practical she
don't dress for a sauna, you, well..." Milton let his words trail off,
playing at being bashful.
Dorothy teasingly completed the thought.
slipped his arm lightly around her waist, the subtle beginning of an
embrace. Like two seasoned warriors,
they were engaging in battle carefully, cautiously studying the lay of the
land, mindful of how they could retreat with a minimum of casualties should the
conditions of warfare turn unfavorable.
"You could wear a bathing suit," Milton said in a flanking
could?" Dorothy teased, as if mocking such prudery.
anything you like," Milton said.
Without over-thinking it, he kissed her.
she let him.
kissed her again, more passionately.
Dorothy enjoyed flirting with Milton and she very much enjoyed those
kisses. He kissed very well. That was a gift. It wasn't just kissing often, there
were lots of men who kissed often but just were no darned good at it. Dorothy had really liked kissing Milton
in the sewing room, before it was even the sewing room, the first time she
visited the house with him.
Dorothy knew that she had to decide, and very quickly, how far she
wanted to go with this, how far she wanted to let it go. And the consequences of saying no.
"Milton." Dorothy said his name in a way that
also mildly said stop. She put her cheek against his, much as
a fighter clinches an opponent to stop a flurry of fists, a softer kind of
clinch, but the same holding action.
"Milton, things have been going so well for us," she said, as a way of reminding
him that her kisses weren't inexpensive.
Milton agreed, and not just because he wanted to kiss her again. You have to keep sharp around Dorothy,
Milton thought. And he liked that. On your toes, alert. It made everything more intense. He couldn't remember the last time that
he had been quite so interested in kissing. Or in the consequences of kissing.
do I feel like I'm sneaking around in my own house?" she asked. "Not my own house--but--you know
what I mean."
not sneaking," Milton said.
you're very sneaky," Dorothy said affectionately. "You always get what you
want," she added with a smile of complicity.
you don't?" Milton smiled back.
looked into Milton's eyes, both coolly and passionately. She had made another
decision. She knew as well as
Milton did that you could only spend so much time standing around kissing. Dorothy stepped back from the embrace still
holding his hand. He could let go
or he could lead her. Dorothy's
favorite story in school had been "The Lady and the Tiger" and right
now she felt like both. Certainly
she would give Milton every opportunity to be a gentleman. Any real lady would.
slid the glass door open and led Dorothy by the hand outside. It was a crisp fall night, and the cool
air was exotic and mysterious, being such a rare thing in the bayou city. Water burbled softly from cupid's
concrete bow, and as Milton led Dorothy past the statuary that ringed the
shimmering blue swimming pool, he felt like a naughty Greek god himself. He felt like he was holding hands with
the colonnaded pool house there was a damp chill. Dorothy shivered.
Milton liked to undress before getting into the sauna, but tonight was
different. He led Dorothy inside
the cedar sauna, a grander version of the sweat box on Aberdeen.
sauna was fired up and ready to go.
heat feels divine," Dorothy said.
Milton agreed in not so many words; he was already starting to sweat. It felt positively unkosher to be in
the sauna in his clothes, but he was here with Dorothy in her clothes, that was
why. He had let go of her hand,
but she was still waiting to be led.
Milton was sure that she wouldn't undress herself, that would be too
unladylike. As much as he wanted
to get out of his own clothes, he gladly obliged her, politely unbuttoning her
blouse. "Ladies first,"
a gentleman," Dorothy said, as anxious as he was to get out of her
clothes. She'd forgotten how hot
it could get in one of these things, and so fast. Everything was so fast, so sudden, tonight. She looked around. "Where's the bottle of wine?"
and Dorothy were lying in each others arms, spent and sweaty.
was a mistake," Dorothy announced.
was wonderful," Milton murmured and pulled her a bit closer. She had been coy for so long that it
was delight to discover that she wasn't shy.
usually smarter than this," Dorothy continued, not allowing herself to be
pulled any closer, not that there was much difference either way. "I can't believe that you talked
me into this."
lifted his head, alerted now. She
was sounding anything but frivolous.
"Talked you into it?" he asked, surprised that this was what
she was talking about, after what had just happened between them, and how nice
and, well, right it had felt. How
unhurried, in all ways, how long it had taken to get here, how many nights had
led up to this Thanksgiving.
not one of your calendar girls," Dorothy said flatly.
was startled to have the unspoken said out loud, and now. He raised himself up on an elbow. Their sweaty torsos disengaged with a
wet thwucking sound. "I asked
you to marry me," Milton
parried. "You never gave me
rewarded Milton with a smile. No,
he would never talk about the calendar, that was a sucker move, but a girl
could never be sure unless she asked.
"I'm thinking about it," Dorothy said. "Just don't rush me. Right now I feel very cheap. Very cheap and very sweaty." But she made no move to cover herself,
or wipe off the sweat, her legs entwined with Milton. It felt very peaceful to lie still in the sauna's heat. The only thing she felt like moving was
her mouth, to talk, and to smile.
meant it. Marry me," Milton
said and moved closer until they were slippery and together again.
snuggled against Milton and laid her head on his chest. "Maybe," she said. "Maybe," she repeated, as if
that was the only thing she was thinking of in their closeness, but Dorothy was
also thinking that she would have to wash her hair before she went to bed.
was thinking that it had finally happened. Not the sex, but the calendar. He figured that Dorothy would spring it on him at some
perfect moment. And she had. She hadn't disappointed him yet. This must be love, Milton got to
thinking. This must be love, the
whole closeness deal. So this was
what love was like.
sky was low and gray. Storm clouds
were blowing in from the Gulf, but no rain was falling yet. The storm front was moving so quickly
there might not be any rain in the Heights. The parking lot was mostly empty, except for Harold's
Cadillac and Lillian's Electra parked together under the owners' awning.
had agreed at Thanksgiving dinner to both get here early. Harold had thought a day was too long
to wait and after a sleepless night had gotten to the store by eight. When Lillian had arrived at nine, an
hour earlier than usual and rushing even at that, what with her girls home from
school and underfoot, Harold had already worked himself up into quite a
state. It was now a quarter to ten
and he had been pacing back and forth in the small office for most of the last
hour while Lillian sat and smoked.
Dorothy situation has gone on for way too long," Harold ranted. "Christ, who does she think she
is? I mean, really, who does she think she is?"
Princess Whose Shit Does Not Smell," Lillian said, imitating that funny
Karnak bit on Johnny Carson.
her shit smells plenty bad, believe you me," Harold said, completely
missing her little jibe.
"We've got these goddamn battle lines in the store." He stopped pacing as if to referee the
feud. "Faye likes
Dorothy. Plotkin hates
Dorothy. One Iron is on Dorothy's
side because One Iron is Milton's whipping boy. Stugeon likes Dorothy because he's sucking up to Faye, but
after yesterday, Stugeon's probably off of Faye so he's off Dorothy too." Harold started pacing again.
had heard it all before, and twice over this morning. Harold never talked this much about one thing, and that in
itself showed how unglued everything had gotten.
can't have this, not now, not the day after Thanksgiving," Harold said,
gloom coloring his anger. The day
after Thanksgiving was traditionally the biggest day of the year in
retail. It was Harold's favorite
day, like the eight nights of Chanukah all at once, and Dorothy was ruining it. "We can't have this, not the day
after Thanksgiving..." he morosely repeated.
didn't like where this was headed.
When things weren't going well at the store, he started to feel blue,
because it meant so much to him.
He could get so depressed that it scared her. "Harold, Dorothy has got us just where she wants
us. Fighting among ourselves. She's a schemer."
looked at Lillian, as if he was a little boy again who wanted his big sister's
advice. "What do you think
will happen if we give her an ultimatum?" he asked.
really mean what do I think Milton will think," Lillian clarified.
Harold asked. He valued Lillian's
advice as much as Milton's, but this was one time that only Lillian could be
throw a fit," she said with a shrug.
"But that girl has got to shape up or get out. And we've got to stay unemotional about
this." She took a
contemplative puff from her Salem and said emphatically, "We've got to be
all business with Milton. You know
what he can be like."
be unemotional," Harold seethed.
"I'll be good and goddamned unemotional!"
stood outside the office door with her oversized purse and grocery sack of
Thanksgiving leftovers, but she was reluctant to go in while Lillian and Harold
were talking, or yelling, so to speak.
Stugeon was standing beside Jolene eavesdropping, glad that gossiping
about the Dorothy Crisis had supplanted the
Plotkin was there too, not to eavesdrop, although he was doing that, but
because the door to Lillian's office was adjacent to the back door, and crisis
or not, the back door was still where all the customers came in.
place your bets," Stugeon said, his willingness to make wagers unaffected
by yesterday's brush with death.
Plotkin scowled and looked at his watch, "we're opening in ten
minutes. I'm ready to get pretty
fucking unemotional about that bitch myself!"
stood pensively at the small office window. The gray November sky suited his mood. Hell, the sky could have been
black. Harold saw the Continental
glide into the lot and park under the awning. Milton and One Iron got out.
here," Harold somberly announced, as if he were Wyatt Earp and the
Clantons had just showed up at the OK Corral.
me do the talking," Lillian said with quiet authority and crushed out her
cigarette. "You're too
came through the back door with his jaw set, looking determined. The eavesdroppers dispersed, but
Plotkin stayed the course, remaining near the door as opening time was upon
them. "Day after
Thanksgiving, Barracuda," Milton smiled tensely, "Your favorite day
of the year."
sir," Plotkin said and smiled tensely back.
Harold?" Milton quietly asked.
think he's in there talking to Lillian."
nodded grimly, took a breath, and went through the office door.
immediately saw that Harold and Lillian were waiting for him.
started to speak but didn't, because he'd promised Lillian to let her do the
talking, and because once he got started, he didn't think he could stop.
and Milton were evenly matched at gin rummy. They were both excellent card players, and Lillian knew
better than to throw down the first card with Milton, unless she had to.
got to talk," Milton finally said.
sir, we do," Lillian said hopefully.
Except regarding Dorothy, Milton was always smart.
is the start of the Christmas season," Milton said as if he were
addressing a board of directors and not his brother and sister, "and we
can't let personal feelings and petty jealousies interfere with business."
nodded in heartfelt agreement. He
stopped nibbling his lower lip and there was the beginning of a hopeful smile
as it seemed that Milton had at long last come to his senses. Lillian lit a cigarette, waiting to see
the rest of Milton's hand.
know there have been some ruffled feathers and bad feelings," Milton said
and paused. Harold nodded
somberly. Lillian was pokerfaced,
but Milton had expected that.
the fact is that Dorothy is doing a great job and the Ladies' Department is
turning a handsome profit," Milton continued, not realizing that he had
just lost his audience.
"Quite handsome indeed.
I know that this is tough to hear, but you two have got to shape
up." There he had laid down
the law, without pulling any punches.
It was tough, but it was the truth and they had to hear it.
smile had evaporated and Lillian's pokerface had folded. "Shape up?" Harold shrieked,
Us?!" Lillian howled.
up and treat Dorothy with the courtesy and respect that she deserves,"
Milton said in an even tone, the calm hand on the wheel, the hand that would
ably steer the store through this squall.
Last night had been magical, not just the sex, but the talking. He could understand why Harold and
Lillian were jealous, for their own reasons, but they were just going to have
to accept Dorothy as a permanent fact of the store and of the family. Milton was sure that Dorothy's saying yes
was just a formality; he was determined to get to the bottom of the Mafia
rumors and get the marriage deal settled before the end of the year, by his
birthday preferably. Hell, he'd
been living under the same roof as Dorothy for months and it had taken him
until last night to really see how great she was. He knew that given time, Harold and Lillian would love her
not just as a sister-in-law, but as a sister.
you lost your mind?" Harold said, beside himself with anger. "You're telling me to shape up?! Just
because she's your girlfriend?!" Harold clenched his fist. He thought about hitting Milton in the
stomach. Just stepping right up
and popping him one, wipe that smug look of I'm always right off his face.
Oh, he hadn't hit Milton or vice versa since high school but he was
ready to step back and take a pop right now.
you're acting like this because she's not your girlfriend," Milton patiently explained just like he'd heard Dr.
Joyce Brothers do it on TV.
were you thinking, moving in with a woman with mob connections?" Harold
didn't seem to have any mob connections when you were dating her," Milton
sarcastically replied. "It's
obvious that you can't be objective and see what's best for the store."
can't see what's best for the store?!
I can't see?! That's
outrageous!" Harold spluttered.
His fists were still clenched but he knew that he wouldn't hit Milton,
even though thinking about it felt good.
No, if he hit Milton then Milton would look even smugger and start
telling him I told you so all over again
and Lillian would probably take Milton's side and then what was the point of
even calling the goddamned store Harold's anymore? Call the store Dorothy's and just be done with the whole damn deal.
turned to Lillian, acting calm, but his neck muscles were taut. He was more than a little rankled by
Harold's yelling, but he wasn't going to stoop that low, no he'd come here this
morning on the high road. "See?"
Milton asked Lillian, expecting her to help him draw Harold back from the line
that he'd crossed over.
Lillian lit another Salem. Of the three of them, she was the only
one who hadn't been interested in kissing Dorothy. But she was the dummy who had foolishly brought Dorothy into
their lives--thankfully, neither Harold or Milton remembered that this
morning. "Milton, I don't
think that you are seeing the full picture here. I never dated Dorothy and I can tell you objectively that
she's created more problems than we've ever had. More problems than any employee is worth." Lillian took a breath, hoping that she was getting through.
kept his cool. Someone had
to. But there was no sense mincing
words, some tough things were going to have to get said to get things back to
the way they should be.
"Lillian, can you look me in the face and honestly tell me that
you're not a little jealous of the success that Dorothy has had?"
not the point!" Lillian shot back, fed up with Milton's attitude. He was so pussy-whipped that he didn't
even know it, that's how good Dorothy was at pussy-whipping. And he was supposed to be the big
swinger. Lillian had been furious
when she found out two years ago that Milton had taken her daughter, Stephanie,
to see the apartment--and Stephanie barely understood what sex was all
about. Heck, Lillian didn't really
know herself, truth be told, and she had two kids from it. But then Lillian decided that Stephanie
could do a lot worse than to see the other side, it would only prepare her for
god knows what when she went off to U.T. or wherever. The fact that Milton was a swinger probably made him more
vulnerable to whatever wiles Dorothy had concocted. Milton figured he could handle any woman and Dorothy thrived
on Milton's underestimation of the enemy, so called.
exactly the point!" Milton exploded, unable to keep his cool any
longer. "You two are ganging
up on her! And I won't stand for
Harold yelled back, yelling at Milton for yelling at him.
crazy!" Lillian yelled, violently pushing back her rolling chair as she
then they were all yelling.
thought Lillian was going to slap Milton and to stop her from doing it he
decided to slap Milton first, that might make him come to his senses, but when
he stepped close to Milton slapping seemed stupid and wrong and anyway Milton
looked confused because Harold looked confused and they were just yelling each
other's names at each other anyway.
Harold didn't know what he was thinking because Milton had gotten him
too damn mad to think so he just grabbed at Milton figuring he'd wrestle him to
the floor and make him shut up.
saw what was happening and was yelling at everyone to stop yelling and yelling
at Harold not to grab at Milton.
He'd probably bite Milton's leg next, exactly as he'd done as a
toddler. But Lillian had plenty of
experience stepping between Harold and Milton and stepping between Stephanie
and Fredell and before Harold or Milton knew what had happened somehow Lillian
had split them apart and everyone was out of breath and confused but no worse
for whatever had just happened, which was hard to say exactly. Except that they were all on the floor.
a second," Milton said catching his breath, smoothing out the wrinkles
Harold had put in his jacket, acting both pained about it and above such
pettiness at the same time.
Christ, Milton," Harold said, pissed off and worn out.
me finish!" Milton insisted, determined to have the next word, which he
hoped to god would be the last word because he had absolutely had enough of
this shit. Lots of thanks he'd
gotten for taking the high road to straighten them out. "Let me finish, goddamnit! I've got a solution."
and Lillian fell silent. This was
something they wanted to hear.
Milton had their full attention.
and I will open our own store," Milton announced.
and Lillian's mouths both dropped open.
Just like in a cartoon, Lillian thought, her jaw dropped, but that's the
truth of a cliché for you. Of all
the things that Milton could have possibly said, from fuck you and the horse
you rode in on to I'm sorry, this was the most astounding and unexpected.
what?!" Lillian and Harold said together. Just like a cartoon, really, but not half as funny. No, not funny at all. And Milton probably thought he was
being as smart as the Roadrunner with this astounding idea, but he was more
like the Wile E. Coyote, Lillian thought, with the stick of dynamite about the
blow up in his face.
sat on the enormous white couch, dressed for work in black and red. If she had thought to wear her
hourglass brooch that would have completed the black widow ensemble.
paced back and forth in front of her, still agitated as he recounted the fight
blow by blow. Pacing might have
weakened the effect because he had stood his ground in Lillian's office even
when Harold had violently attacked him.
Milton had quite thoroughly, but fairly reported that shameful part of
the extraordinary morning.
Dorothy said breathlessly when Milton revealed the brilliant climax, the
decision that he must have been formulating somewhere in the back of his mind
for he didn't know how long because brilliant ideas like that didn't just come
along on their own unbidden.
"You told them what?"
Dorothy asked in a state of shock.
way that Dorothy was acting, Milton would have thought he had said the
opposite, that he had said sayonara, Dorothy instead of hello to a new life, a better life, for me and my future
stopped pacing and stepped closer to her.
If he kissed her then she would understand. A kiss would help explain it. Like last night.
They had done a lot of wonderful explaining then. Maybe he had been thinking about the
big idea last night, come to think of it, maybe that's when it had started
cooking, out there in the sauna.
told them that we were going to start our own store," Milton said
again. Dorothy was still frowning
and this confused Milton, but he pressed on. "We don't need them. They need us.
Well, too late for them, they blew a good thing." The more he thought about it, the more
excited he got. The more he
wondered why he'd never thought of it before. Because of Dorothy--she was the catalyst. She helped him to see what he had never
seen or dared to dream before.
"And guess what, hon?
I've got the perfect name for our
new store. The perfect
sat in disbelief, her red lips pressed tightly together. Milton might at least have had the
courtesy to notice her stony silence, he'd certainly seemed more attentive to
the nuances of her moods before.
Before the sauna, she decided, before the unfortunate sauna
episode. Oh, that had been
pleasant enough as those things go, but too sweaty for Dorothy's taste, though
she was willing to be a good sport for a good cause. No, the problem with fucking was that men lost their heads
over it, their sense of judgment.
She thought better of Milton than that, but she had been wrong, she had
seriously overestimated him. That
was dumb of her. Men were stupid
when it came to women, especially pretty women, and Dorothy was especially
pretty, and Milton was a man and he now was apparently quite stupendously
had expected a little more excitement, a little more of the jump up for joy
thing, but maybe Dorothy was more the let-it-soak-in-a-little type, the
this-is-too-good-to-be-true kind of person. He was glad she was paying such close attention to the best
part, the icing on the cake. No,
they wouldn't pick a name out of a hat this time, because it was Milton's own
damn hat. "Milton's," Milton said proudly. "We'll call our store Milton's. Milton's!" he laughed, thrilled with how great his name
sounded when it meant the name of a store, his store. "Milton's,"
he repeated fondly.
had had quite enough. The silent
treatment obviously wasn't working, and she was done with being quiet. She jumped to her feet. "Are you crazy?!" she yelled
stepped back in shock. The whole
world had gone crazy. "Don't
you see? This is my chance to go
out on my own," he explained.
After all these years, he finally saw that chance. He stepped toward her and took hold of
her arms, reassuringly stroking her.
"You and me, on our own, together," he said, hoping that she
would catch his enthusiasm, she just had
Dorothy hissed and furiously pushed Milton's arms away. She wanted no part of him touching
her. Oh, she had let him touch
her, and she was certain that this idiocy had come from that. "This was going to be my biggest
day of the year! My best customers
are coming in today! They've made
appointments!" The more she
thought of it the madder she got.
finally hit Milton that she wasn't seeing it, not just his idea, not just how
great Milton's could be, would be. She also wasn't seeing the Harold's part of it, that they didn't want her there any
more. "Dorothy, that's all
over," Milton said sympathetically.
"That deal is done and we've got to move on to something
you said that you'd fix things," her eyes getting wet with tears of
anger. "You promised!"
did fix things. I did this for
us," He touched her arms
lightly. He was still on her side,
they were the same side, they were really a team now.
pushed his hands away from her with even greater violence. "You go get me my job back!"
she yelled. She put her hands on
his chest and shoved him back toward the door.
was surprised by how strong Dorothy was, and she had been plenty strong last
night. He could feel her
red-painted fingernails digging through his Oxford cloth shirt as she pushed
like a Fury. "Dorothy, they
don't want you there," he half gasped as she pushed hard against his
chest. He was giving her the truth
straight up, ungilded, anything to make her see.
you make them want me!" Dorothy shouted
didn't know what else to say except what he had already said. Dorothy started to hit his chest with
her petite fists. They were
little, but they were sure hard.
And those rings she was wearing hurt like hell. But the fists weren't what hurt the
worst, no. Now Milton was the one
who was stunned, more stunned than he could ever remember, too stunned to stop
her from pushing him backwards, and what was the point of stopping the pushing
if she didn't understand, wouldn't understand, couldn't understand. How in the hell did he get from the
ecstasy of last night to the agony of today, Milton wondered, and then he
wondered what he was doing out on the porch, how had she managed to push him
this far this fast? He was
bewildered to be standing out there.
saw Milton's puzzled look, but he was a big boy, let him figure it out. She slammed the front door.
the shock wore off, or at least some of it, Milton felt his pockets. He had his keys. But if he unlocked the front door and
went back in, what then? Maybe
Dorothy would come to her senses if she had a little time, maybe his words
would finally sink in. Milton felt
his shirt pocket. He also had his
Pall Malls; extracting the pack he saw that it had been crushed by Dorothy's
onslaught. He removed a bent but
unbroken cigarette, straightened it out and lit it. That seemed a sensible thing to do.
were two benches on the porch, one on each side. They looked nice, but Milton had never sat on either
one. No one else had. It was usually too damn hot, but they
looked nice, they made the porch look homey, that's what the architect had
said, and he was right. Milton sat
down and was pleased to discover that the bench was comfortable. It was nice to discover one nice thing
today. As he smoked, he kept
seeing Dorothy, two versions of her.
Version one was in black and red and was yelling insanely in his
face. Version two was naked and
nice in the sauna.
sky was gray and he felt cold; for once his suit coat wasn't enough to keep him
warm. He tried hugging himself and
then stood up. What good was it
having a bench on a porch when you were either too hot or too cold sitting out
here? Maybe he'd have the porch
glassed in and air-conditioned. It
was stupid to stand out here in the cold.
No, she'd had plenty of time to cool off. He'd go back inside as soon as he finished his smoke. No reason to rush back in. He tossed the keys in his hand,
reassured by their substantial jingling.
heard Dorothy's foot steps approaching.
Well, finally. He knew she
would come to her senses.
opened the front door. Milton
smiled at her, very friendly, so she'd know that there were no hard feelings,
that she had a right to her temper.
saw his smile and smiled bitterly to herself, not to Milton, she was done
smiling at him for today. She
threw Milton's suitcase out on the porch and slammed the door.
he could even speak. Milton shook
his head sadly. Before he could
even speak. Didn't that say it
returned to Aberdeen after it got dark.
He couldn't say exactly what he had done the rest of the day, except
that he had done a lot of driving around in the Continental, more driving than
he had ever done in his life. He
had wanted to go back to Harold's and
had driven past the store several times, but he just couldn't bring himself to
go in, not after what he said and after what he hadn't listened to that very
morning. He was afraid to drive
too close to the parking lot because he didn't want to be seen, so he found
himself driving in ever widening circles through the Heights. He wasn't conscious of where he went,
except that he avoided Heights Boulevard religiously. He had no desire to return to the Bungalow on the Boulevard,
not as long as Dorothy was there; he'd completely lost his taste for the place.
dark he began to feel hungry and before he realized it, he was driving back to
Aberdeen Way. He'd have to face
Harold and Lillian and everyone else sometime and the longer he waited, the
more awkward it would be. It just
had to be done.
hardest steps to take were from the car to the back door. When he stepped inside, he saw the
family sitting in its customary semi-circle around the television. In Milton's prolonged absence, Harold
had kept the same chair, but Michael had leapfrogged ahead of him in the
rotation, taking the chair that Milton had vacated.
was shocked to realize that life had continued on in his absence from Aberdeen
Way, but what did he expect? He
just hadn't thought about it, not in detail, until now.
Wiesenthals, all of them, from Emmanuel down to Daryl in that chronologically
declining semi-circle, were shocked to see Milton, suitcase in hand, especially
tonight. They were so shocked that
they all stopped eating.
one was sure of what to say.
Goldie opened her mouth to speak.
No silence with her could ever be even semi-permanent. But Emmanuel touched her wrist and gave
her a look of such force that for once she shut up without having said a single
was appreciative of the silence.
They weren't in the habit of saying hello to each other and this would
be an awkward night to start, on top of all the other awkwardnesses that this
dreadful day after Thanksgiving had already accumulated.
walked back to the bedroom that had been his. He dropped his suitcase on the bed and looked around at the
familiar surroundings with a bittersweet smile. But he stopped short when he saw Jethro Tull staring back at
him from the wall behind the bed.
He felt defeated, and reasonably sorry for himself, it being only
reasonable to feel a little of that after what had happened today, granted that
he had brought it on himself. No
one had put a gun to his head to make him do what he had done. But he wasn't too defeated to push
Michael back into the other bedroom.
thought about sitting down on the bed, just to think about things, but he'd
spent all day sitting in the car thinking, and it wasn't thinking really, it
was just having a thing on his mind and not being able to get it off. He remembered that he was hungry.
didn't look forward to the walk from the bedroom back into the den, it was a
harder journey than that walk across the patio to go back into the house. It might be hard, but at least he would
get some dinner out of the deal.
went back into the den and saw that the Wiesenthals had resumed eating. Goldie was whispering dramatically to
Emmanuel, and he was even more dramatically shushing her.
the Wiesenthals saw that Milton had returned and was standing uncertainly in
the doorway, they all stopped eating again, except for Michael and Daryl, who
knew something was wrong but not wrong enough for them to stop eating unless
they were loudly told to, and no one had ever told them to stop eating dinner;
they had always been yelled at to hurry up and start eating.
wasn't sure where to sit. He could
eat at the kitchen table, or he could pull a chair over and set up his TV tray
next to Daryl. That would feel a
little strange, but everything felt a little strange right now. He couldn't imagine eating in the
kitchen, that was an exile almost as bad as being back alone in the Heights.
went into the kitchen.
got up from the chair and moved his TV tray back to where Daryl was
sitting. Daryl said,
"What?" but when Michael kicked him Daryl quit playing dumb and
scooted his chair and his TV tray back to the end of the line.
wanted to say thanks to Michael but his throat felt thick and his eyes felt hot
with tears. He wiped at his eyes
with the back of his hand like he was damping some perspiration. He couldn't remember the last time he
cried, and he sure as hell didn't want to now, but he felt torn up about a lot
of things tonight, the last on the list being how disobedient his eyes were
sat back down in his customary chair.
He sensed Harold sitting to his left and turned and shyly smiled at
him. Harold shyly smiled back at
carried a TV tray in from the kitchen.
Her jaws trembled with the need to speak, but whatever Emmanuel had
shushed her with was working. Even
as he felt flooded with feelings of gratitude at just being here again, here
where he had so stupidly left, Milton had to wonder what Emmanuel could
possibly said to have so effectively shut Goldie up. It had to be a one-shot deal.
put the tray down in front of Milton.
No Wiesenthal ever waited for another Wiesenthal to start eating, but
Milton waited until Goldie had reseated herself behind her TV tray. For the first time he understood why
everyone waited to start eating at the same time on Thanksgiving. Suddenly it made complete sense. Giving thanks.
took a bite of food. Everyone else
started eating again. Milton
understood this for the first time in his life as a moment of love.
cleared her throat, breaking the silence.
"No carrots tonight, Milton," she said and gave Harold an
accusing look, "because nobody bought me carrots."
it's the truth," Goldie persisted in her grievance.
take you after dinner," Harold said wearily, willing to do anything to
shut her up.
dinner is too late," Goldie said with an air of persecution, but Milton
detected a sly smile, as if she was performing just for his benefit, to make
him feel more at home.
Emmanuel said peevishly.
began eating faster, but enjoying every single bite, grateful for the music of
family life, grateful for Goldie's eternal yearning for more and more groceries,
grateful to be spared, for the moment at least, from painful questions.
reclined on his bed with his tie off, just staring at the empty closet, for he
didn't know how long. After dinner
he didn't know what to do. He
didn't care to do anything.
appeared in the doorway, jangling his car keys. "The crisis is over," he announced. "Goldie has got her carrots."
tried to smile about this, but he wasn't quite up to it. He sat up a bit in bed. Harold leaned against the doorjamb, not
really looking at Milton, but reluctant to leave him alone. For the first time, they didn't know
what to talk to each other about.
And it wasn't the same as their old habit of just not caring about
talking, or feeling the need of doing it.
sorry," Milton said with some difficulty. He wanted to say it, and badly, but it was still hard. "I'm sorry about all that stuff I
said this morning."
wanted to talk too, and he didn't find it any easier. "Yeah, well..." he finally got out.
sorry about the whole way the Dorothy deal went down," Milton said trying
to close the books, to close out a very bad month. "But that's all done now."
nodded in agreement. "Where
is Dorothy?" he asked.
shrugged. For once he lacked the
intelligence information to accurately comment. He felt like he had shown a lack of intelligence, period,
except for returning home. That
was a smart move, no question.
"She's still in the house, I suppose," he said with a tone of
defeat that Harold had never before heard in his voice.
didn't like the sound of that at all, and was determined that he should never
have to hear it again.
drove her powder-blue Thunderbird down Heights Boulevard. The sky was clear and bright and Herb
Alpert & The Tijuana Brass were on the car radio. She felt very up.
She had slept very well alone in the house and was confident she could
spend many more nights there comfortably alone. Houston was too big a city for her to miss a little bitty
place like Harold's very much.
pulled into the driveway and got a terrible fright when her car smacked into a
U-Haul trailer that had no business being there.
stood in the driveway, flanked by Ernie and Cochise and Faye's husband, Bert,
in uniform. Stugeon was there too,
and even though he and Bert weren't speaking, the fact that Stugeon was lending
a helping hand did some considerable fence-mending. The U-Haul had been loaded with Dorothy's things, and not
too carefully at that. Cochise concluded
that you sweated a lot less moving furniture in November than you did in
August. A locksmith was on the
front porch changing the deadbolt.
got out of the Thunderbird and inspected her car for damage, disappointed that
there was none to speak of.
you turn that car around, the boys will hitch up the U-Haul for you,"
Harold said. He didn't see the
percentage in any small talk with Dorothy, not at this late stage of the game.
she said sternly, with what she was sure was quiet authority. "You can't talk to me like
not talking to you at all. If you
don't want this trailer hitched, we're rolling your shit right out into the
against the law," Dorothy spluttered. Whatever had gotten into Harold could just get right back
out, Dorothy frowned to herself.
you'd care to call a policeman, Mrs. Rosen, we've got two within whistling
distance," Harold said. Ernie
stepped forward, and so did Bert.
It felt just like "Walking Tall," Ernie thought, swear to god,
it felt great.
got back into her Thunderbird, quite shaken. She slammed the door but it caught her dress and only made a
"Fuck you," Dorothy said to
Harold. She knew it wasn't very
ladylike but he certainly wasn't being very gentlemanly.
I've got the time. Let me check my
calendar," Harold said, with a smile just too damn big to be snide.
I'm Harold. I dress seventy, I
talk eighty, and I shoot ninety--when my putter's hot." He was wearing a sophisticated gray
suit, but his delivery was stubbornly unsophisticated. Not that Harold thought so. "We've got everything from
three-piece suits to three-par golf slacks. Right, Santa?"
He glanced nervously off-camera.
appeared belatedly beside Harold, dressed up in a red felt suit and a white
cotton beard, a black Santa.
"Ho, ho, ho, Harold!" he said right to the camera, looking
even stiffer than Harold.
ladies, remember--we've got a department just for you," Harold said
proudly. "Right, Lillian?"
appeared on the other side of Harold, wearing a flattering silk dress that was
a festive red-and-green.
"That's right, Harold.
We've got couture and casual and everything in between," she said
smoothly. It was her first
commercial and she already looked a lot more natural than Harold.
we've even got candy canes for the kids," Willie read from a cue card.
y'all come on down to Harold's in the
Heights," Harold said.
Somehow what he said everyday sounded unnatural when he tried to say it
to the TV camera.
family store for a family time of year," Milton said as he stepped into
the commercial and put his arm around Lillian.
ho, ho," Harold and Willie laughed together on cue. It wasn't exactly spontaneous laughter,
but it worked, it got the job done.
Christmas Day, 1974
knock on the door woke Milton from what he was sure must have been a pleasant
dream. But the sound of knocking
was so loud and so persistent that he immediately forgot what that dream might
have been. He felt around in bed,
just to make sure that he was alone.
"Milton. Milton!" Goldie called loudly
through the door. "Time to
get up. Time to start the
minutes, Mom," Milton groaned.
He now knew exactly where he was.
The dream, whatever it had been, was long gone.
pulled the sheet over his head, "Five minutes." He heard Goldie come into the
room. She pulled the sheet away
and loomed over him, a forbidding presence to someone intent upon sleeping in.
Mom," Milton said grumpily.
of bed now," Goldie said without
emotion, and he knew she meant business.
Milton sat up in his king-size bed. It didn't seem like he should have to endure such a rude awakening,
not on his birthday, and not in such a large master bedroom. It seemed to defeat the whole notion of
was still sleepy after he had showered and dressed. He kept wondering about that damn dream as he walked down
the upstairs hallway. Would it
have killed Goldie to let him have just five more minutes of sleep?
bedroom was empty, only Jethro Tull was in there.
Daryl's bedroom was empty; "The Partridge Family" smiled down from
his wall. That was the biggest
difference about living in the Bungalow.
Everyone had their own bedroom now.
Harold's room there was a life-size poster of Harold with Jerry Lewis. He was the one who made the most of
having all that additional wall space, filling his bedroom with pictures of
himself with all kinds of famous people.
and Goldie's room had been transferred intact from Aberdeen Way; it was crowded
with the heavy old-country furniture that they had bought the first year of
their marriage. Another advantage
of living in the Bungalow was that when Emmanuel had his fights with Goldie he
could credibly threaten to move out--and sleep downstairs until they
Milton thought, after a false start he had really moved into the Bungalow on
so had everyone else.
thought the Bungalow was a much better place for the Christmas party. The television set was bigger than the
one they'd had on Aberdeen, and he looked that much bigger and better when the Harold's commercial came on. The off-duty cops were all appreciatively watching the
commercial with Harold, wearing the unsalable Van Heusen shirts that they had
been given once again as Christmas hand-outs.
had ditched the beard and the Santa suit, but rakishly wore the red felt hat as
he tried to explain the finer points of broken-field running to Goldie. Last year's feud was ancient
history. If Willie thought the
Steelers were so tough, Goldie told him he should try getting a cart through
the produce section of Weingarten's on a Saturday morning.
was putting golf balls through the sea of legs. This year the indoor fairway was a lot longer.
descended the glass elevator with a stack of Harold's envelopes in the pocket of his cardigan
sweater. As he walked through the
living room passing out the bonus checks he was greeted with shouts of
"Happy Birthday!" and "Merry Christmas!" from all sides.
girls ran through the front door and made a beeline for the buffet. Then Lillian appeared in the
doorway. She gestured for Milton
to join her. "Milton, I'd
like you to meet someone," Lillian said and turned back to the open door.
stepped through the front door.
She was attractive but conservatively dressed.
this is my brother, Milton," Lillian said with a smile that Milton could
only call mischievous.
"Judy's an old friend of mine who has just moved back to
to meet you," Milton said nervously.
He didn't want to be impolite, not when Judy seemed at first glance to
be so nice, but Milton's first instinct was to run quickly in the other
direction. The more he looked at
Judy the more he liked her, and that in itself scared Milton, even though she
was far more demure than Dorothy ever was.
across the room Harold's eyes darted from Milton to Judy. As the people closest began to notice
Milton standing next to Judy, a wave of quiet swept through the room, until the
only sound was the Harold's commercial
playing back in the TV room.
looked toward Harold and they caught each other's eye. They had the same thought, at the same
time, and neither of them wanted the same thing, the Dorothy thing, to ever,
ever happen again.
Judy stepped through the door, but wearing a different dress. Milton blinked. He hadn't had a single glass of Johnny
Walker Black. Not yet. Harold blinked at the same damn thing,
and he never drank.
this is Marlene, Judy's twin sister," Lillian explained with a smile. Marlene and Judy smiled. Lillian had clued Marlene and Judy in
on the family history, careful to explain how it was and wasn't funny.
relaxed, now that it was safe to be charming with the ladies.
relaxed and came over to meet them.
else at the party relaxed.
really liked the look of Judy. He
hoped like hell that Milton favored Marlene.
was wearing a red velvet dress that was a little too tight, just the right
amount too tight. The neckline
plunged a little too low, but in just the right way too. She stood at the maitre d'
station. Being a hostess beat
selling clothes. She really
believed that it did.
Sinatra's "White Christmas" was being piped over the loudspeakers at
Tony's Restaurant. Dorothy didn't
really think about Christmas one way or another, except if it was to think
about presents. That is, if her
gentleman friend or friends had given her the appropriate thing. She was resolutely Jewish, but was
ecumenical about accepting both Chanukah and Christmas presents. The embraced all religions for the
month of December, in the spirit more of getting than of giving. Dorothy didn't give a single thought to
last Christmas, to that dreadful party with those dreadful people; no, she had
forgotten all about them, every single unpleasant detail.
in his tuxedo, gave Dorothy a pat on the butt in passing. But it was a discreet pat, because
Tony's was a classy place.
"Dorothy, please show Mr. and Mrs. Fusilli to table six," he
was certainly more pleasant when one was pleasant, Dorothy thought. Wearing a big smile, the hostess with
the mostest, Dorothy led the way.