The thought of starting a new life was breathtaking.
August 7, 2013
A VG Serial: An Unlikely Arrangement
Johnny the Nose thumbed through the money in the envelope Eric Horton handed him. The springs on his office chair chirped as he leaned back and stared at the ceiling. “What a chump. Little does he know, I’m headed to Windsor, Canada. He waltzes in here and hands me all this dough. Can anyone be more stupid? I ought to check out this Peter Kirby anyway, though. Hell, if I can’t recruit the mug, I might put the squeeze on him. Might not hurt to check out the dame, too. Either way, I got that bag of shell’s moola. Whatever way the situation turns out, I win.” He picked up the telephone and dialed. “Yeah, Moose…Johnny here. I gotta little job for ya.”
At precisely two o’clock in the afternoon, Peter arrived in front of the boarding house as promised. The front door opened, and Hattie stood dressed in her good, gray-blue dress, ready to go. “Good morning, Ms. Morgenstern. You look very nice. Ready to go?” He offered an arm.
One gloved hand wound its way through his bent elbow, and side by side, they descended the steps. “I am very excited, Peter. I’m so glad you came up with this idea and relieved you know a banker who can draw up the agreement.”
“Now, Hattie, I didn’t say I know him well, and an unsettling change of events dictates I use another banker.” He paused at her startled look. “Never fear, we will present our proposal and see what they say. If they refuse, we will seek another. I keep my promises.”
“But, they must say yes. It’s the perfect solution. Nothing has delighted me so much since I left the homeland.” Hattie squeezed his arm. “To think I could have security, start a new life. It’s rather breath-taking.”
Peter smiled. “Let’s not put the cart before the horse—one step at a time.”
The bank was bustling…people coming and going, the lines at the tellers long. Peter maneuvered through the crowd toward the head teller.
“Hey, buddy, watch where you’re going.”
Peter’s arm brushed across the shoulder of a man at the end of one line. “Excuse me, sir. I’m in a hurry. I didn’t see you there.”
“Yeah well, wait your turn.” The man drew his jacket aside to reveal the butt of a gun, and closed it quickly.
Peter recognized the glint of steel and pulled Hattie in the opposite direction. “Today is not the day. We need to leave.”
“But, why? We just got here. I’m counting on doing our business today.” Hattie extracted her arm from Peter’s grasp.
“Please, just follow my lead. Trust me, this is not a good day. We can go to another bank.” Peter flinched as a hand clasped his shoulder.
“So, we meet again, Mr. Kirby. Who have we here? Is this your Ruth?” Eric Horton gave a sweeping bow. “I am at your service, no waiting.”
“No, Mr. Horton, this is not Ruth, and we have come on other business. If you will excuse us…”
“Whatever business you have at this bank, I can help you with, Peter. Come to my office.” Eric walked toward his office door.
“No, I think we need to see another loan officer.” Peter steered Hattie away.
“Oh, no, I insist. I’d like to talk…”
“Hey Mac, this guy bothering you?” The gun-toting miscreant placed himself between Eric and Peter.
Horton’s face drained of color.
“Not at all, sir. On second thought, maybe we should talk to you, after all, Mr. Horton.” Peter backed away and gripped Hattie’s arm.
Eric Horton, nonplussed, nodded, and scurried toward his office. Hattie stomped a foot and wrenched her arm away. “What in blazes was that all about?”
“Please, the other man had a gun, Hattie.” “A gun?”
“Be quiet,” Peter hissed. “The newspapers are full of sinister activities of various gangs in the city. Just be on your guard.”
Hattie lowered her voice. “What gangs are you talking about?”
“I don’t know. I believe they call themselves the Purple Gang. They run things around here. I’ve only read about them. The guy flashed the gun after I bumped into him. His clothes…well, he looks the part. Maybe we should leave.”
A whiny voice hissed across the crowded foyer. “Kirby. Follow me, hurry…I don’t have all day.”
“Coming, Horton.” Peter steered his charge toward the hall.
The officer of the bank led them down a window-lined hallway. Rows of typewriters behind the glass chattered away, women’s fingers flying over the keys, bent to their work.
Peter squeezed Hattie’s elbow. “Maybe you could get a job here.”
“I can’t type.”
“Well, it was a thought.”
The room on other side of the hall contained rows of men in business suits talking into Dictaphones. Peter whispered in her ear. “I wonder if they do that all day. The confinement would not suit me, at all.”
At the end of the hall, a door opened, and Eric ushered them into a very large, impressive office. Rich, wood wainscoting, large windows encased with heavy, moss green drapery, and leather chairs reflected the personality of the man Peter came to see.
“Horton, this isn’t the office I was in last time. Did you get a promotion?”
“No, no, this is the Vice President’s office. He is out of town. I didn’t want everybody watching our business, if you know what I mean. This is more private.”
“May I present Hattie Morgenstern.” Peter gently pushed her forward.
“Exquisite to meet you, Ms. Morgenstern.” Eric bowed and kissed her hand. “Won’t you have a seat?” Without another glance at Peter, he pulled a chair out. Once she was comfortable, he crossed the room to the large desk.
Hattie wrinkled her nose and whispered to Peter. “A bit arrogant isn’t he?”
“Shh, we need to stay on his good side.”
Hattie wasted no time in stating her purpose. “I’m here to procure a loan. I wish to buy a business.”
“Yes, so Peter advised me when we spoke on the phone. My dear, I would truly like to accommodate you, but unfortunately, you are not a citizen of this country nor are you gainfully employed. The other matter concerns collateral.”
Peter interrupted, “We’ve gone all over those points. I told you, I would be responsible for the loan if Ms. Morgenstern found herself unable to make payment.”
“And a gallant offer, to be sure. One requirement, however, I cannot overlook. She has no income. Even though the boarding house offers revenue, the expenses will far out way any money brought in by boarders. A job is necessary.”
“I’ve just come to this country, what should I do?” Hattie leaned forward and placed a hand on the top of the desk.
“What did you do in your country before you came here?” The banker sat back in his chair.
“I was a teacher.”
“Ah, then, teach!”
“I like you, Ms. Morgenstern. Let me make some inquiries. I have connections. Give me a few days, and I will phone you. Oh, by the way, Peter. Where is your Ruth? I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting her. You never returned the papers I gave you. No trouble in paradise is there?” Eric held Peter’s gaze, a sly smile twitched at the corner of his mouth.
Peter returned the stare. “Things have been postponed for a while. Unforeseen circumstances…you understand, I’m sure.”
“Yes, I believe I do.” Eric’s smile widened. “I’m afraid I have another engagement. If you will excuse me?” He turned to Hattie. “I will call you in a few days Ms. Morgenstern.”
“Fair enough. In the meantime, I will inquire at a few schools close by. Maybe they will transfer my certificate.” Hattie rose.
Peter joined her and stopped at the door. “One more thing, the man in the lobby has a gun. I would be remiss if I didn’t warn you.”
“Yes well, I know the man. He actually guards the lobby most days to ward off any unsavory characters, if you know what I mean.”
“Well, in that case, I have done my duty. Good day, sir.”
The door closed behind them.
Chapters of the novel appear on Monday and Wednesday.
You can learn more about An Unlikely Arrangement on Amazon.