John D MacDonald – Barrier Island

Frank Mettler was an enigma, a round brown bouncy man with a shaven skull and huge black eyebrows. Each time they had almost decided to start easing Frank out, he would perform some extraordinary service. And he had enlisted a cadre of housewives, widows and divorced women to work part-time for the agency. He had trained them, tutored them so they could pass the required examinations, and gave out little gilt stars for good work. They adored him and worked hard for him. He had turned pointless lifestyles into energy and money. Those who failed to adore him were eased out, quite gently.

He involved himself in general office administration, advertising and promotion, recruiter and coordinator of the part-time salespeople, and sometime salesperson himself. Wade knew he did not want to go and talk to Frank. Frank always stood too close to whomever he was honking at, grinning and twitching and shuffling his feet. He did not want to ask Frank why he was making a home movie of the office. He did not want to listen to the answers, all fifty-three of them. Maybe this project would not turn out to be an iron balloon, as did so many of his ideas. Maybe this one would fly. Maybe his growing platoon of part-timers adored being taped.

“I’ll wait and see,” he said.

“I thought you’d say that. Otherwise all is well out there. I mean as well as usual.”

“How’s your good friend at the Credit Bureau.”

“Kitty has a new friend. He’s teaching her to sail. She goes about in a constant condition of sunburn and the squints.”

“Could you get her to do a fast confidential survey of these eleven names? Very simple question. Would it be okay to sell each of them a building lot for a hundred and fifty thousand dollars, with a very small down payment and an adjustable rate mortgage?”

Ellie read the names. “No formal report?”

“Verbal is good enough. Maybe not over the office phones, hers or ours.”

“I can give her the list tonight and get it back Thursday night. Is that soon enough?”

It pleased him that she did not ask why things had to be kept confidential. She knew he would tell her in good time.

“That will be fine. Is Helen out there?”

“She’s probably still there. Send her in?”

Helen Yoder came striding in, smiling, and he waved her into the chair. She wore a baggy blouse of coarse white cotton with a blue stripe, and a narrow blue skirt.

“Very nice work on that Crown property,” he said. “When’s the closing?”

“September first. A Monday. Two in the afternoon at Citizens instead of the title company. The estate is in their trust department. It will be a clean deal. The estate will take back a first mortgage, no points charged.”

“How is the marina deal coming along?”

“Dead, maybe. His father backed out. Not exactly backed out, but finally told Andy he was lying about having that much money. I don’t think Bruce has the credit rating to swing it.”

“So what are you working on?”

“Some junk. I’m trying to find a house for a woman who hasn’t liked anything yet. Not ever. Not ever in her whole life. And I’m trying to talk somebody into giving us an exclusive on some raw land mostly on account of I have a friend in a law firm that’s splitting up and they are thinking of putting up a building and selling it and leasing it back. Other than that, nothing. Resting on my laurels. And straightening out my files. Once they’re in order, I want to ask Jeanie to put them on the hard disk. Is that okay?”


“She’s been teaching me how to access stuff. Maybe I

ought to get my own compatible, like Bruce has. Then I could tap into the multiple listings and get a fresh list every time, without the junk that’s been sold or withdrawn and not taken off. I could take a course.”

He was aware of her unusual vitality. Whenever she came in, she made his small office seem smaller. There was so much animation, such an almost palpable throbbing of life force.

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Categories: John D MacDonald