John D MacDonald – Barrier Island

A man could build a construction office for half the last offer. He turned it down. He said to Wade, “Boy, it wasn’t what I was selling. It was who I was selling it to. Daggs knew I had no respect for him after the cheap shoddy construction his firm did on the high-school annex. And maybe he knew that when his name came up anywhere, I’d find a way to mention the high-school job. So it wouldn’t be I was selling him just the garage. I would be selling him the chance to go around saying that Ed Rowley had helped him out in a time of need when he got caught short needing a construction shack and wasn’t that a decent thing for Ed to do? Friends do favors for each other. And it wasn’t worth thirty-two hundred dollars for an eight-hundred-dollar garage, to be tied in with a man like Daggs.”

And now, Dad, I am tied in with one of them. He too goes around buying approval. Doing favors, and calling them in when he needs them back. He can say, “Me and Wade Rowley? Sure, we’re right close. I run a lot of stuff through Rowley/Gibbs.””

And you can sit out here in the hour before dawn, boy, and think virtuous thoughts and tell yourself how noble you are and all that shit, and you are going to lay back and hang on to the money, because that is the way the world keeps score. Not your way. Not lately.


Wade Rowley did not have time to check out the people on his list of eleven names until Wednesday. By early afternoon he had cleared his desk and answered his calls and signed his letters. He called Ellie Service in and had her shut the door and sit across the desk from him. The relationship was good. Ellie was a widow in her late forties. She was a comfortable woman, stocky, self-assured, quiet and quick. She wore rimless glasses, tailored suits and sensible shoes. She wore her gray hair in a smooth Dutch cut with bangs that came down to her thick dark eyebrows. She peered out from under her bangs with a look of skepticism and irony.

He knew that Ellie resented Bern having the larger office even though they were equal partners. Ellie had an intense loyalty. She resented being required to do secretarial work for the sales staff while Bern’s secretary, Dawn Marino, worked only for Bern Gibbs. Her resentment was tempered by her understanding of the situation. Bern, with all his service clubs, charity drives, civic memberships and special committees, had a heavier load of outside work. He often took Dawn along to take notes. And Bern probably did not know that the office staff kept track of all the times the two of them returned an hour or so later than was reasonable. Ellie was especially conscious of it because when Dawn was gone, Jeanie Nash, who handled the switchboard and the bookkeeping, patched Bern’s calls into Ellie’s extension.

“How are things out there?” he asked.

“Ah yes. Out there on the floor. We have a demonstration of one of the first rules of galley slaving. If you put all the rowers on one side of the boat, it goes in a circle.”

“Who this time?”

“Mr. Mettler. He’s making up this promotion thing. He has a new little Sony camera…”

“He showed it to me. It makes tapes he can play on his VCR.”

“So he’s making a tape movie of the office, of all the people. He pans on you, whatever that is, and you have to smile and look sincere and then he does this ‘voice over,” which means that he speaks very loud and slow and says, “And this is Miss Joyce Kindred, one of our most valuable salespersons. Joyce has been with us now for umpty years and she specializes in residential properties and condominiums.” As I understand it, he will take a tape player with a little television screen on it and carry it about and play it for anybody who will watch it. It will improve our image. I think he wants to write off his equipment. What he does, he erases everybody about nine times before he gets an interview he likes.”

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