John D MacDonald – Barrier Island

Bern’s face was screwed into a strange disharmony, a most odd expression. He buried his head in his arms on the desk top, and for an unreal moment Wade thought the man was laughing. But he was stifling sobs. He got up quickly and spun away from the desk, mopping his face with his handkerchief.

“I’ve tried so goddamn hard,” Bern said in a soft voice. “It’s down the tube. All the way down.” “Look, the man is a blowhard, partner.” Bern came over and leaned his fist on the corner of the desk so that he could bend close to Wade’s face. “I hate you, Rowley. Every one of these past three or four years I’ve hated you more. I don’t know when it started or how it started. I hate your bland dumb face, and the lazy way you float around, and I hate your magazine-story marriage and your fairy-tale wife and kids. I hate the way everybody that works for us tries to break their ass to keep you happy. I hate the way you turn your back on the realities of the business world. Most of all I guess I hate doing eighty percent of the work and bringing in eighty percent of the money and collecting fifty percent of the net.”

Wade looked up into that taut twisted face, into the reddened eyes, and had the sudden conviction that the man was in some unexpected way quite mad. But at the same time he felt a sense of relief. There had been quarrels, but none like this. And there had been a lot of other things which were now swept away. The backyard steaks while the kids played, the shared triumph at deals which worked out well, the shared anxieties of the early days when they first started out. Gibbs/ Rowley or Rowley/Gibbs? The first was alphabetical, the second easier to say. Bern had pulled the short straw.

“If you’d look at the books, Bern, you’d know that eighty percent figure is nonsense.” “So call it seventy then.” “If anything, it would be closer to sixty.” “So is that fair to me?”

“You like to go out there like the Lone Ranger and cut deals by yourself so you can pull commission. But lots of times, pal, you have screwed up because you haven’t had enough backup. Sometimes I’ve been able to save those deals of yours. Not too often, though. I have bird-dogged deals and brought in our own people in the beginning, and cut up the commission schedule. This isn’t any big secret around here, Bern. Everybody knows how you like to work. You like to join the clubs and sing along and take three-hour lunches and fuck up the deals we could have brought home. And this Loomis mess is just another of your fuck-ups. So don’t hang over me and glare. Okay?”

“You son of a bitch!” Bern whispered and swung at Wade’s face. Wade ducked away from it and the fist hit him just above the left ear, a painful blow that dazed him for a moment. Bern Gibbs went dancing around the office, bent forward from the waist, holding his right hand against his belly.

He stopped and straightened and looked at his right hand. “I think I broke it,” he said in a wondering tone.

“You had another of those long lunches today,” Wade said. “And you are still sloshed.” He reached and picked up the memorandum Bern had been marking and read some of it and put it back on the desk. “This is a lot of mush, Bern. The words sound important but there is no meaning. What depreciation schedule? What zoning restriction? These people want facts, not a lot of important sounds.”

“I want you out!”

“Fott want me out? What is that supposed to mean?”

“I mean I want this partnership ended!”

“Rick Riker drew up the papers to begin it and he’ll draw them up to end it. I agree. After this little scene, Bern, there’s no way we can go on. But it makes lots of problems. Let me point out a couple. We each have fifty percent of the stock.

The mechanics for appraisal of the value of the whole corporation are spelled out. Let’s for the hell of it say the value including the equity in the building comes to one million. So I have to pay you fifty thousand a year for ten years or you have to pay me.”

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