John D MacDonald – Barrier Island

It was a lovely September morning, with the clarity that mornings used to have along the Gulf Coast. And that helped the sale. The two women let Tom believe he was making the decision. When he feigned reluctance and questioned the price, Helen said she might be able to get it for a hundred and eighteen five. And so then they went to lunch where Helen phoned Fred and asked him how he liked eighteen five, and Fred told her she was a genius and she told him they were both geniuses, so she, told the Morans the deal was on and it turned into a celebration lunch which Mr. Moran insisted on buying. And then they went to the bank, signed papers, presented a check to go into escrow, worked out the mortgage terms and arranged a date and time for the closing at the Mississippi Title Insurance Company.

Helen was back in the office by three-fifteen. She saw through the open door that Bern was in his office alone, so she went to his doorway and said, “Hey, we just sold the Willoughby house.”

“Great,” he said flatly. “Come on in and close the door and sit down.”

“Well yes sir, Colonel sir!”

“Sorry, Helen. I apologize. I’m kind of distracted. I wanted to give you some advance news. Some early news that you have to keep to yourself. Okay?”

“Well sure.”

“We’re going to split up, Wade and me. One of us is going to get to keep the corporation, but we don’t know which one yet. Let’s say it’s a personality conflict.”

“I’m sorry it has to happen. I really am. But it… it isn’t a great big fat surprise exactly. I mean things haven’t been a lot of laughs around here lately.”

“It’s fair to tell you that I think I’ll wind up with the agency. I have some very promising negotiations going on right now with Tuck Loomis. Helen, I have a lot of respect for your ability in this field. You’re the only one I’ve talked to. I would certainly feel a lot better about this split if I knew you would stay with me, with the company. I’m sorry we had that little problem in the past.”

“It’s forgotten.”

“No, it isn’t forgotten. I was a damn fool. I wouldn’t have come on to you like that if I hadn’t had one or two drinks too many. And I forgot you were married to Buddy at the time.”

“I still am.”

“I mean you were still living with him. Anyway, it was a bad move on my part, and I’m sorry it happened. It made a lot of awkwardness. I just want you to know that it won’t ever happen again. I don’t know why it ever happened in the first place.”

“Neither do I. God knows I’m no debutante. I don’t ask for problems but they keep happening. I guess in a way it’s flattering. But it can be a damned nuisance.”

“I want to say I appreciate you not telling Nita.”

“Why should I? She’s a friend. And it isn’t like you got anywhere near first base. I never told anybody, Bern. I don’t have so many women friends I can afford to waste one. Matter of fact I don’t have hardly any.”

“I think that when I have this agency after the Bernard Island thing is settled Tuck Loomis and I are going to have a very long and profitable relationship. And you fit into the picture of the agency the way I want it to be.”

“Will Wade be opening his own agency?”

“If I end up with this one, I guess he will. There’s nothing in our agreements to prevent either of us from opening up a new place after a buy out.”

“Thanks for letting me know, and ”

“You don’t have to make a decision right now. It’s an important step. Just think it over carefully, Helen. That’s all I ask. And I might say that if you decide to stay with me providing I buy Wade out, of course we’ll review your commission arrangements with an eye to making things a little sweeter for you.”

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