THE DAY was hot for October and Manhattan lay limp beneath a swelter-blanket of late afternoon golden sunlight. Summer, officially laid away for the year almost three weeks before, was stalking through the avenues and cross streets of the slimwaisted island in the determined misbelief that August had returned.
It was shortly after four-thirty when Jim Leavitt dragged himself from the elevator on the thirtysecond floor of that downtown shaft of steel, concrete-and granite facing which was called the Stuyvesant Building and moved slowly towards the glass-walled office cubicle, half of which was his own.
Jim was tired, hot and discouraged. Heaving a long sigh and wishing that office protocol permitted the removal of his coat, he glanced without hope at the clean green rectangle of blotter that topped his modest wooden desk. Upon its verdant expanse reposed no envelopes, no telephone memos. No clients had left orders which meant commissions while he was out soliciting more clients for a sagging list.
Slowly, carefully, he sat down and plucked vainly at knees of his trousers in an effort to restore their crispness. Looking up, he saw his cellmate, Tommy Vietor, regarding him with cynically amused bloodshot eyes.
"Old Bat Wing wants to see you, Jim," Tommy said turning his head slightly in Jim's direction as he spoke. His body was in a state of crisp relaxation, tilted far back in his chair. More annoying, he looked crisp, cool and comfortable. When Jim made no immediate reply to his statement, he added, "How'd it go today? Did you finally manage to sell the Brooklyn Bridge to a yokel?"
Jim shook his head. He had never approved of Tommy's casual attitude toward the Stuyvesant Trust Company. To him there was nothing to be taken lightly in the matter of looking after the fortunes of those clients who chose to repose their hopes for a secure and prosperous old age in the firm's financial discretion. Besides, there was the fact that Ruy Stuyvesant had been his father's friend, had been the one among that erstwhile legion to offer Jim a job when the trouble came.
However, an increasingly recurrent gnawing at his diaphragm was causing Jim to wonder just how far such friendship would go. He had been drawing sixty dollars a week from the firm for almost two years and had so far managed to come in with but a bare handful of pitiably small accounts. An introvert from birth, intense awareness of the poverty forced upon him by his father's failure, disgrace and suicide had made his shyness the more painfully acute. It was difficult for Jim to sell himself, much more so to sell trust accounts for the firm. And now Old Bat Wing--Ruy Stuyvesant himself--had summoned him to the presence. It was highly possible--even probable--that this summons meant his finish as an employee there. Which in turn meant another bad time following up want ads and dribbling away the meager little security he had so painfully managed to attain.
Tommy Vietor, chuckling faintly at Jim's obvious reactions, was constructed along much the same general physical lines as Jim. Like his cellmate, he was a fraction of an inch under six feet tall, was also possessed of medium coloring and dark blue eyes.
But at that point, all likeness ended. Jim, save on such occasions as the present, was always rigidly neat--in garb as in habits. He invariably wore squaretailored dark suits, starched white shirts and ties and socks of modest hue that, more often than not, matched. He budgeted himself rigidly to a half dozen glasses of beer a week, smoked half a pack of cigarettes a day and went to the movies on Saturday afternoons because the Sunday rates were higher.
Tommy, on the other hand, seemed to reap by far the fatter rewards through sheer lack of steadiness and sobriety. In lurid Saxony gunclub checks and casual gray flannels, in shirts that would have blinded Bing Crosby and ties and socks that never matched, he seemed always the better dressed. He could outsell steady, hard-plugging Jim by seven or eight to one--and did so, even though he only took a job to have something with which to occupy his pre-evening hours.
"Good luck, Jim, old man, old man," grinned Tommy as the staid if sweaty young man rose reluctantly from his chair and moved with dragging feet toward the door. "And don't forget for a moment, old chap--virtue is its own reward." Jim didn't say anything. He knew that Old Bat Wing couldn't want him for anything good. Nothing good had happened since he had joined the Stuyvesant Trust. Therefore it had to be something bad.
His knees wobbled mildly and the palms of his hands perspired as Old Bat Wing's middle-aged, hatchet-faced woman secretary ushered him into the austere presence.
Ruy Stuyvesant, Old Bat Wing only when he was well out of earshot, regarded Jim through a pair of rimless spectacles, from which a heavy black silk ribbon depended to his collar, with malevolent interest. The effect was something like that of an almost bald-headed spider on a starvation diet examining a choice species of lepidoptera caught in the toils of his web.
The collar about which his spectacle ribbon hung was a remarkable structure in itself. Straight and stiff it rose, almost to the tips of the Stuyvesant ears. It was thrown open at the front by a pair of enormous wings below which flowered an immense graysilk ascot tie, adorned with a single pearshaped pearl.
Above it rose a square-cut, almost bulldog face which appeared to have reached middle age reluctantly and then dared time to push it further. Firm, rather thin lips that turned slightly downward at the comers were overhung by a brown mustache with carefully waxed ends that bristled with inherent defiance.
The mustache was in turn overhung by a highbridged aquiline nose which was set between wide set gray eyes made slightly larger by the lenses that covered them. Scant brown hair without a trace of gray was brushed carefully across a gleaming bald pate, and unsagging cheeks marked faintly with a tracery of purple veins revealed a love of living to the hilt.
Below the ascot tie was the black broadcloth coat, supported by striped cuffless trousers, that had been the Stuyvesant office uniform since the dawn of time. This uniform encased a body that was trimly thick, whose middle height could somehow assume the stature needed to dominate a room. At the moment it was dominating in directors' meeting style, and Jim felt his fears increase before the awfulness of this wrath to come.
"I dislike on principle summoning you from your earnest efforts to improve Stuyvesant and Company, Leavitt," Old Bat Wing said with dry and entirely unsubtle irony, "but you seem to have achieved the impossible. I am curious to know how you have managed it. Incidentally, as you have doubtless noticed, I am not alone in my inquisitiveness. Even the newspapers are interested."
"I--I'm afraid I don't understand, sir," said Jim, whose tongue was showing an annoying tendency to cling to the roof of his mouth, making his speech sound as if it were wrapped in flannel. Ruy Stuyvesant smiled with all the friendliness of a Borgia offering a poison cup.
"Neither do I, Leavitt. Neither do I," he went on in an ominously honeyed voice. "I hope you will pardon one very personal question."
"Certainly, sir," said poor Jim, whose bewilderment was increasing with each passing moment. He was casting madly about in his memory, vainly seeking a cause for this carpet-hauling.
Old Bat Wing did not let him remain long in doubt. He cocked his head like a sparrow, or perhaps like a hawk, and said, "You don't, by any chance, have a personal income beyond what this firm pays you?"
At Jim's negative, the old man's whole face turned crimson. He rose stiffly to his feet, grasping a folded newspaper in his left hand. Tapping a penciled item with his forefinger, he held it out toward his terrified employee and spoke in a voice like an iron file.
"Then how in the seven shades of Hades can you, on a stipend of sixty dollars a week, take out an insurance policy of half a million dollars? I am considered a wealthy man. In all modesty, I may say I am a wealthy man. I have a home, taxes, a daughter to support--all items which do not trouble your carefree bachelor existence. But even so I make free to say that my wealth is a thousand times yours, Leavitt. I'd say you were a penny pincher if you had five hundred dollars salted away in the bank right now, young man."
"Yes, sir--I mean no, sir," stammered Jim.
By this time Old Bat Wing had attained a fine shade of magenta. He gave the folded paper a flick with the back of his hand that sounded like a rifle shot. "Then how," he roared, "do you do it? It keeps me scrambling to pay the premiums on a fifth of that amount. It's not only impossible, Leavitt, it's insane. Dammit, man, where are your dependents? Who gives a hoot in hell whether you die or not?"
He sputtered into silence, seemed unable to pick up the thread of his speech and sat down abruptly. Taking off his eyeglasses, he began to polish them with vigor.
Timidly, Jim picked up the newspaper and scanned the marked paragraph. Yes, incredibly it. was there, in a list of the most highly-insured men in Manhattan. James A. Leavitt, five hundred thousand dollars. They even had his picture, an old class photograph that looked absurdly juvenile flanked by hard-bitten veterans of business and finance. Once more he had to gulp.
"If you'll excuse me, sir, there must be some mistake," he said. "I haven't taken out any insurance at all."
"What!" roared Ruy Stuyvesant, half rising. "A mistake? Impossible! Insurance companies don't make mistakes with half million dollar policies. Good God, man, that's Communism!"
Jim Leavitt's chin moved out an eighth of an inch. He was bewildered, upset. His orderly life was out of its orbit, but he was beyond caring. "I took out no such policy," he repeated. "I have nothing more than a Postal Savings account. With your permission, sir, I'd like to look into this immediately."
Old Bat Wing eyed him appraisingly. Then he rapped the gold-tooled antique leather desk top with his knuckles. His color was subsiding now and he shook his head wearily as passion left him.
"All right, Leavitt," he said. "Go ahead. I'll have to take your word for it. And if you do learn anything, I'd appreciate your letting me know. I don't mind repeating that I'm curious. It's utterly fantastic. I shall be at home all evening."
When Jim had departed, Old Bat Wing continued to clean his eyeglasses absently. Like his youthful employee, he was baffled and this was a condition he resented thoroughly. For some months now he had been regretting the impulse. Loyalty to an old friend which had led him to put Leavitt on his payroll. Not that sixty dollars a week would break an organization like the Stuyvesant Trust, but the young man had seemed such a Milquetoast. Yet, in the scene just over, the boy had stood up to him surprisingly well. Old Bat Wing knew to a hair how terrifying his anger was which she had come in contact had developed the same shy-away feeling that money men and gamblers of her acquaintance were apt to feel when she appeared upon the scene. For Amy's inherent dislike for stuffed-shirtism was equalled only by her disregard for protocol.
This was the woman behind the unexpected rise in the utility stock. Old Bat Wing roared at her when he heard the hoarse rumble of her voice on the other end of the phone.
"Amy--Ruy Stuyvesant. What in God's name are you trying to do with Transwestern?"
Sounds like low-pitched static indicated that Amy was chuckling. "If you had the energy to lift the back of your lap from a chair and get out and see things for yourself once in a while, Ruy, you'd know what I'm doing."
Old Bat Wing rumbled and growled, but he knew he was licked. If he began quoting the opinion of his highly paid experts, she would laugh in his face--and it was a ninety-nine-to-one shot she'd be right. Besides, disapprove of Amy Brewster as he might, to dislike her was impossible.
He cast around for something to divert the conversation. The puzzle of Jim Leavitt and his unexplained insurance policy popped into his head.
"I've got a problem that's right up your alley, Amy," he said, mustering, all the sweetness his nature would merit.
Amy chuckled. "When you dip that wasp's tongue of yours in honey, you old goat, I begin to look around for the fire door."
"I'm serious, Amy. Did you see page three of this evening's Sun?"
"The theater and sports news," she conceded. "What else is there worth looking at?"
"Page three," replied Old Bat Wing succinctly.
"I have it here," growled Amy. "What the hades you--oho, I suppose it's this insurance story about young Jim Leavitt. Is he old Jerry Leavitt's son?"
"Right," said Stuyvesant.
"Nice to see the kid doing so well for himself," rumbled Amy. "He's had a lot to contend with. That picture makes him look like a jamb among wolves. It seems to me I heard he was a sort of clod."
"He's a clod of the first water," said Old Bat Wing, warming up to his task. "Before his father went broke, I used to be afraid Juliana was sweet on him. The idea of my daughter marrying that sanctimonious jackanapes gave me the fantods."
"So what?" said Amy, creating more telephone static with another chuckle. "He wouldn't be the first straw man to get on top in the Street."
"But, dammit all, he isn't on top!" shouted Stuyvesant. "I had a weak moment and gave the kid a job two years ago when his luck was out. Started him selling accounts at sixty a week. He hasn't brought in peanuts, and he's still getting sixty a week. How do you figure it out?"
"Why don't you ask the boy himself? Surely he should know."
."That's just it, Amy, I have, and he doesn't. Claims it's all a ghastly mistake or words to that effect. Why don't you put that mighty brain of yours to work on it?"
"I might," she said. "After all old Jerry Leavitt was more sinned against than sinning. If his boy's in trouble, I suppose I owe it to him. By the way, Ruy, I'm dining with your daughter tonight."
"With Juliana?" said Old Bat Wing. "She didn't tell me."
"Why should she? You're only her father. I flatter myself that I'm her friend. Naturally she would turn to me for help in her romantic troubles."
"God dammit, is that girl in love again?"
"Worse," said Amy. "She's not sure whether she is or not. She wants me to look the lad over."
"I'd rather you'd looked into young Leavitt's trouble," said Old Bat Wing plaintively. He knew the uselessness of combatting either Amy or his daughter.
"Maybe I will--once Juliana knows her own mind. But you're probably as wrong about young Leavitt as you were about Transwestern."
"I hope so," said Stuyvesant. He added, "But don't give Juliana any wrong advice, Amy. She's a nice girl."
"About time you discovered the fact," barked Amy. "When have I given anyone wrong advice?"
She hung up.