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Spring 1999, Volume 16.3

Fiction

 

David F. Epsteinphoto of David Epstein.

You Get What You Pay For


David F. Epstein holds degrees in Classics from Harvard and Yale and in Business from the University of Chicago. He has published,
Personal Enmity in Roman Politics, 218-43 B.C., and numerous articles on Roman social history. He is currently the Director of Corporate Communications at Telephone and Data, Systems Inc.

 

Chicago feels masculine. Perched on the shoulder of Lake Michigan, it stretches for miles north and south along the Great Lake's shores. Streets are broad, straight, and numbered. Buildings, measured in floors, stand at right angles to the flat terrain. Architects design them to rise until the top floors require so much room for the elevators that the office space is no longer profitable. That is why the plan Frank Lloyd Wright left for a mile-high building has never been realized.

The city has preserved its lakefront, in sharp contrast to other Great Lakes cities like Cleveland, where the urban or industrial blight extends right up to what could be a beach. Chicago's blight is better concealed. The park space along the lakefront, which mediates between water and city, looks green and inviting from a distance. In reality, flotsam washes up equally from both sides and ferments in the ever-sinking landfill that was stuffed into the marsh beside the lake when the city struggled to define its boundaries. Chicagoans hardly walk the lakefront the way Parisians stroll through the Bois de Boulogne or Berliners through the Tierpark every Sunday afternoon. You are much too likely to bump into the teenage dregs of American urban society who scream obscenities and might even hurl a broken bottle your way. Never walk the lakeside strip on a full stomach. You cannot be sure what kind of dead and decomposing fish, bird, or mammal you are likely to see or smell. Stay away from the overstuffed garbage cans, which frequently contain week-old, casually tossed-in dog or cat carcasses. The park service empties them only occasionally—usually after they have overflowed for days, even weeks.

Chicago is famous for its architecture. From a distance, however, the skyline is straight and functional, entirely unsubtle. The buildings don't stand out individually, but taken together they impress with their compactness and functionality. They allow hundreds of thousands of workers to ply their trades within a few blocks of one another, sheltered from the temperature extremes of the harsh northern mid-continental climate.

Chicago's mid-continent geography offers the most convenient national convention site. That accounts in part for the great success of O'Hare International Airport, the hideous asphalt spur north of the city. It is the world's busiest. The space could not be more valuable if the runways were paved with gold and lighted with jewels. Thousands of Chicagoans earn their livings from servicing the planes and their passengers. Countless additional jobs roost in hotels, bars, restaurants, theaters, and ballparks because of the convention and tourist trade. Every evening lonely conventioneers, separated from their spouses, move from hotel meeting rooms into bars and restaurants where profits blacken the bottom financial lines of the large hotel chains that offer deep discounts to keep their rooms full.

Most of a conventioneer's escapades are harmless: one more drink than you might have if accompanied by your spouse, and, later on, a mildly pornographic movie in the privacy of your hotel room. The logistics of daily family and professional life make one-night stands very difficult after college. But they live on in the imagination, richly fertilized by solitary hotel rooms.

Harsh reality quickly punishes any active deviancy. Try picking up a girl if you are gray, balding, and overweight. You fear rejection not just because of inadequacy or innate incompatibility but also because she probably has an existing relationship. No human competition is tougher than the quest for an attractive mate. Think of how the female supply curve narrows after you eliminate those women who are too old, too ugly, or simply unavailable. Demand for that ever-shifting pool of the attractive and the available is virtually infinite. An attractive woman can make her own market and act like a virtual monopolist.

Nondescript men (the overwhelming majority whether measured by appearance, personality, or income) find their opportunities in the viciously competitive sexual marketplace sharply curtailed. Most must content themselves with spouses who have lost the mystique, the body firmness and libido required to draw their mates, dry-mouthed and breathing heavily, to bed on a Saturday after a champagne brunch.

Harvey Mudd was a short and dowdy 55yearold who looked every day of his age. His marriage had run through thirty dull years with its vows technically intact. Harvey and Caroline genuinely enjoyed each other's company and both would have described themselves as happily married, albeit with reservations. So many shared experiences over the years created an easy closeness, facilitated and even strengthened by passionless predictability. The Mudd relationship offered comfort and security, but no novelty or excitement. It never stopped Mudd from mentally prowling for sexual adventures, however implausible.

Mudd had worked his entire career at the Williams Company of Columbus, Ohio, a multinational manufacturer of light fixtures. He spent his first decades in sales, then moved into marketing where he occupied a midlevel management position that everybody recognized as a final plateau for him. A long career off the fast track, with no MBA or other useful advanced degree, condemned him to a dull working life. His only motivation and inspiration was the prospect of a comfortable retirement. He had carefully built his savings to finance an early exit and was already counting the months until his 60th birthday when the truly enjoyable part of his life would begin—watching football games and working crossword puzzles at home interspersed with regular golf and travel.

Every year, Mudd attended several lighting fixture industry conventions along with a cadre of executives from Williams and other companies in the same business. The meetings were designed to spotlight trends in the industry and incidentally to offer networking opportunities. Whenever the convention was in an attractive city, Mudd took advantage of the company policy that allowed employees (Williams called them associates) to apply any money they could save on airline fares by staying over a Saturday night toward their personal weekend expenses. Occasionally Caroline would join him. Generally they went their separate ways during these weekends—Harvey was more interested in technology and sports, Caroline in culture and shopping. Caroline was especially partial to Chicago. The Art Institute and the Symphony, together with world-class restaurants, provided all the diversion she needed from the dull routine of Columbus.

During the past year, however, Caroline had not traveled at all. She was too busy caring for her eighty-six-year-old mother who had moved in with the Mudds after being diagnosed with rapidly worsening Parkinson's Disease combined with troubling signs of Alzheimer's. Her dwindling life entwined ever more tightly with Caroline's. The two stayed up late together, often not talking, just sitting in front of the TV. Mudd went to sleep alone and was out of the house and at his desk at Williams long before Caroline or her mother woke up. He felt increasingly neglected at home, and he hated to see Caroline's time consumed by this shriveling shell of a person he had always resented.

But he never complained. "She's bound to die soon," he reassured himself. "Then life will return to normal."

Mudd had been eager to get away from home all year. This year's annual trade industry convention in Chicago (which provided manufacturers the opportunity to showcase all of the year's new lighting fixtures) was especially attractive because, by ending at noon on Friday, it allowed conventioneers to maximize their free time in the city. He was surprised when Caroline announced casually the week before the conference that she wanted to fly in Saturday morning for the weekend.

"Mom can make it for two days by herself. Elizabeth has agreed to invite her to dinner on Saturday and has promised to check in on Sunday before we get back," Caroline told Harvey. Harvey was irritated; Caroline had never once suggested that they spend even one evening together since her mother had moved in. Evidently Chicago was a stronger drawing card than Harvey.

The industry's trade association rented McCormick Place, that cavernous indoor show space (one of the largest indoor spaces in the world) that sits on Lake Michigan just south of Chicago's downtown area. Mudd conscientiously worked the floor on Thursday and Friday morning. He introduced himself to the sales representatives at the vendor booths who vie with candy, tee shirts, and live performers to get the visitors' attention, and he carefully took notes on each product—size, durability, color choices. Most of Mudd's fellow conventioneers walked the floor once, grazing the booths for an assortment of souvenirs for their children or grandchildren, then headed for the exits to enjoy the city. Some visited the nearby Field Museum, the largest natural history museum in the world, or the Shedd Aquarium, with its newly constructed Oceanarium housing whales and porpoises in a beautiful glass-enclosed structure that looks out over the huge lake, skillfully creating the illusion of an ocean vista. Others simply headed for Chicago's famed ethnic restaurants and bars.

Friday evening after the convention had closed Mudd settled back into the Daniel Hotel. He had dinner with his department—some eight people. This kind of dinner out of town was the only time he socialized with his colleagues away from the office. Everybody was always too busy to entertain in their homes back in Columbus.

Dinners on the road broke up early. Too much gossip without the intimacy and security of friendship put a damper on conversation as soon as the first wave of alcoholic gaiety spurred by Manhattans and Martinis dissipated. Back in his hotel room, Mudd felt restive. Channel-flipping on the TV yielded nothing. He had already read the paper. He decided to take advantage of the executive lounge on the hotel's 12th floor—an amenity for "executive clients" providing free drinks and hors d'oeuvres throughout the evening and continental breakfasts together with newspapers in the morning. Mudd had been upgraded to the lounge floor because all the hotel's regular rooms were taken. That evening, the lounge—a large converted hotel suite—was full of guests talking at pleasant levels without any interference from the loud bands or CD players that often frustrate conversations in bars and nightclubs. Off in one corner, a small group of devoted fans sat huddled closely underneath an overhead television which played a college football game almost inaudibly.

Mudd moved toward the very last seat available in the room on a love seat before a crackling fire. He recognized the girl seated on one side as one of the very presentable check-in clerks from the hotel's front desk. She was dressed in hotel work clothes, a demure skirt and matching blouse with her name tag pinned just over the outline of her right breast. The richly colored, lemon yellow uniform set off her long blond hair and blue eyes and accented her naturally slender figure, still too young to exude the stress of enduring the constant hunger pangs and exercise fatigue that form the crucible in which older bodies must forever writhe to maintain their shape.

Mudd generally had trouble making small talk with women. His interests were male-oriented—hunting, football, and basketball during the fall and winter, fishing, baseball, and barbecuing during the spring and summer. His reading consisted of the Wall Street Journal's "Money and Investing" section, an occasional crossword puzzle, and the sports pages. He was obsessed with his personal fortune, especially the many shares of the Williams Corporation he had accumulated over the years. So carefully did he follow the financial fortunes of his company that he subscribed to a paging service that coughed up stock quotes on the Williams Corporation twice each day together with the scores of the Boston Red Sox, his favorite team since childhood.

On this occasion, though, conversation with his new acquaintance came easily. "Do you mind if I sit down? I'm Harvey." He offered his hand. "I remember you. You checked me in this morning. Thanks for upgrading me to the executive floor. Nice to get a free nightcap down here in the lounge."

She took his hand. "It was my pleasure. I guess we overbooked the hotel. Who could imagine there would be so many lighting fixture salesmen?" She motioned for him to sit down. "I'm Catherine." She turned out to be a literature major at DePaul University working odd jobs to pay her way through college, hoping, as she said, "to graduate with less than $25,000 in debt." She explained the Daniel Hotel's policy of encouraging those employees it calls "interns" (only the parttime help who manned the checkin and concierge desks) to join the guests in the executive lounge after work. The hotel's executives responsible for customer loyalty believed that the young people created an attractive environment that encouraged the hotel's best customers to keep coming back far more effectively than offers of bonus miles on airplanes or points to apply toward free stays. And, she insisted earnestly, it boosted intern morale as well: "It gives us the opportunity to mingle with the hotel's prominent clientele, to meet some really fascinating people. We all want more substantive client contact than you get at the front desk by asking for a credit card and dialing Visa for an authorization. And the drinks are free for us too. I should say the drink—we are strongly advised to have just one."

The alcohol that lingered from Harvey's dinner conspired with Catherine's warm smile and casual banter to destroy just enough inhibition to encourage him to pursue the conversation: "Must have walked 10,000 meters at McCormick Place today. At least it was walking. Last time I was on my feet for so long was at the 1993 All Star Game. Standing is much harder on the legs than walking."

Catherine laughed. "Have you made an appointment with our masseuse? You can order an entire session for your feet. She's remarkably versatile. You would be amazed how wonderful a foot can feel in an accomplished hand."

"I don't think I could get that kind of expense past our eagle-eyed auditors."

"You need to work on your auditors. What's a salesman good for without his feet? Would it help if you were able to report that the masseur was a male?" She paused to consider. "We could turn Mark loose on you. I have been under his hands, and believe me he will either heal your feet or break them." Catherine began to reel with laughter. "I wonder whose agony would be greater? Mark's?—the connoisseur of sensuous and wealthy backs and necks—or yours?"

Harvey didn't feel at all insulted. She seemed to be reckoning with his heterosexual virility.

Executive lounges close early so as not to take the lucrative late-evening business away from the hotel bar. Attendants don't like to ask guests to leave. Instead they ostentatiously begin to remove the alcohol and replace it with breakfast staples. Suddenly the rows of brightly colored liquor bottles and buckets of ice disappear, replaced by boxes of corn flakes and bowls of granola. The message is unmistakable. At 10:15 an attendant came up to Mudd: "I'm sorry to interrupt, but we do close at 10:00, sir. We open for breakfast at 6 a.m. But do take your time and finish your drink." He went back to his work, but not before directing a colleague's good-natured but firm glare at Catherine.

She rose to go: "They don't pay the attendants overtime here. We need to get going—I have to work with these people tomorrow. You can't afford to be on bad terms with your coworkers. We really ought to leave him a generous tip since we stayed so late."

"Just five more minutes," Harvey pleaded. "I'll make it worth his while. Or maybe I could take you home?"

"Don't worry, I'll be fine. We live in the hotel. It's just a short elevator ride. There's a suite of staff rooms in the basement that most people never see—especially the guests and the inspectors who rate hotels with luxury stars. If they did, believe me, we'd drop several notches in the rankings."

"Why don't we go on talking in my room? We can move straight to my mini-bar."

Catherine looked shocked: "But that would be improper."

"No, no. You have the wrong idea. I just want to talk. It's only 10:15."

She ignored him: "How did you guess that I was for sale? I didn't think I was being that obvious." She put her hand on his. "What kind of hotel do you think this is, sir! Company policy expressly forbids consorting with guests. One bellboy rats and I'm fired. And there is no severance pay for summer employees. Every risk carries a price." Catherine leaned back, the better to shape her breasts and outline her nipples. Her eyes twinkled.

Mudd took out his wallet and put 25 dollars on the table: "This is for your friend here in the lounge for staying late. I'll give you the same if you'll come and have another drink in my room."

"You must be joking. Don't you think I'm beautiful? $25 won't even buy a textbook these days."

"Of course you're beautiful. But you have the wrong idea. I just want to talk some more."

"No, you have the wrong idea, Harvey. We don't need to go to your mini-bar to talk. I will give you my very deepest discount—$200."

"You drive a hard bargain. $25 is all I want to spend."

She burst out laughing. "Not enough. Your customers don't expect you to sell your lighting fixtures below cost, do they? If they did, the smart ones would know they were getting exactly what they paid for. I know I'm worth a hell of a lot more than $25."

They parted at the elevator. He felt regret as soon as he reached his room. Every man should have the experience of paying for sex, he thought. What's $200? Who would ever find out? When would he ever meet another call girl so easily? He thought about the occasional propositions he had received from heavily made-up street walkers with sagging breasts and thighs—no comparison with what Catherine offered.

Mudd had enjoyed his share of whore talk over the years, usually with friends who had been in the army: he remembered hearing about a Korean woman who kept her hands tightly clasped behind her head while entertaining a long succession of men, in strictly enforced 15minute segments. And listening to a Vietnam Vet who related his experiences during R&R in Japan in a high-class whore house where you could choose a girl to rent for a long weekend. "Didn't like the first one I got. Smelled like a fish. But the next one was perfect. You'd be surprised what a pro can do with a little Coca Cola in the mouth! Best money I ever spent!"

Mudd paced his room in restless frustration. Should he track Catherine down and meet her terms? But his business mentality triumphed. After a stiff negotiation, you don't simply surrender. At most you agree to continue negotiating at the bargaining table. Otherwise you lose your credibility. He would start by offering $50.

Paranoia paralyzed Mudd as soon as he reached for the phone. What if she had already found another client? Maybe she was a police officer ready to handcuff him as soon as he reached for his wallet. Or an experienced thief who would take his $50, then slip away with everything he had. Does one pay high-class whores in advance, and if so what does she do with the money while the service is performed? What if she tried to blackmail him? Senior management at Williams would not take kindly to the peccadilloes of its conventioneering managers. Perhaps Catherine had AIDS. Maybe she was one of those carriers whose bitterness drove them to infect as many men as possible.

He poured himself another bourbon from his mini-bar to help him sleep. He should have known better. After falling almost immediately into dreamless unconsciousness, he woke with a start just after midnight with an alcohol-inflamed thirst and no hope of getting back to sleep any time soon. Anticipation of the comfortable and familiar routine that lay ahead the next day—lunch at the Art Institute with his wife, an afternoon's loaf around Chicago—finally steadied him. He fell back into a fitful sleep, vividly punctuated by waves of inchoate dreams that replayed tangled variations of the evening's events.

He had agreed to meet Caroline for lunch at the "Top of the Park," the restaurant in the Art Institute. Mudd didn't care much for the clientele (too many imperfectly restored or inadequately propped up female socialites), but he enjoyed the food, which was traditional French unaffected by most of the health concerns that have made nouvelle cuisine so fashionable and successful. You always got plenty to eat at the Art Institute, with especially rich desserts. And the knowledge that there was priceless art only footsteps away added inimitable refinement and mystique to the atmosphere, regardless of whether you were a connoisseur or even an art lover.

He arrived on time at the restaurant, asked to be seated, and ordered a martini. Mudd could recall the so-called three martini lunch that went out with the health consciousness of the 80s. In fact he himself had never had more than one, and even that was considered brave in the Midwestern, pre1980 corporate world. Drinking anything alcoholic at lunch was now absolutely taboo at Williams. Five p.m. was the iron dividing line, the beginning of the Happy Hour that most of the executives enjoyed regularly. A drink in the middle of the day, even if it was on Mudd's own weekend lunch time, helped to nurse his spicy sense of rebelliousness.

Caroline was chronically late. This time it couldn't be her fault as she was coming directly from the airport. Still, irritation gnawed at Mudd. He ordered another martini to take off its edge. At 12:30 he saw her wispy, amorphous figure. She looked around for him anxiously in the waiting area, then sat down in the seats provided without speaking to the receptionist. She immediately took out a pocket mirror from her purse and hideously contorted her face to make herself up. Mudd was annoyed that she hadn't looked harder for him—after all, it was his job and his company that was making this long weekend possible. She seemed to take it all for granted.

The mild intoxication enhanced Mudd's pleasant sense of solitude and made him reluctant to trade it for the typical banal marital exchanges. He continued to watch his wife furtively. She was completely self-absorbed as she waited, her face frozen in that characteristic expressionless frown that settles so easily on faces that don't realize they are being watched. He could see her just well enough to make out the increasingly prominent contours that her skull outlined under the tightened skin. Never had she seemed so old. Perceptions readjust in spurts. The corrosive damage that age gnaws into the human frame can fester undetected for years until it is ready to be seen, advertised by the right set of conditions.

Finally, he rose and went over to his wife. Harvey smiled a welcome and beckoned Caroline toward his table; the Mudds had long since given up any physical greeting. Caroline seemed a bit unsteady as she stepped forward. The waiter came over to take drink orders. Harvey asked for the wine list.

"None for me, thanks," Caroline said testily. Harvey was surprised. She always joined him for a glass of wine on convention weekends. He felt self-conscious drinking alone and, seething inwardly as he felt his mild intoxication abate, informed the waiter they had changed their minds. As he took the list away, the waiter's expression turned quizzical, with eyebrows slightly raised.

Conversation sputtered. Harvey was too annoyed and preoccupied to ask Caroline about her flight, or about her plans for the weekend. An awkward silence settled over their table—a silence which, however unbearable, became more difficult for either to break as each minute joined its silent predecessors. There was a time when they had scoffed at restaurant tables where spouses didn't talk and even seemed to avoid eye contact. What kind of marital life could such a couple be sharing?

Caroline dissected her grilled breast of chicken with surgical precision. It was one of the few selections on the menu that was accompanied by the heart symbol, the sign of a low-fat, healthy dish. Each morsel of skin or fat, together with as much lemon caper sauce as possible, was carefully excised and exiled to a distant corner of her plate. The spectacle deprived Harvey of the pleasure he had anticipated from his filet mignon. His thoughts turned to the millions of cancer-causing bacteria that each bite of the perfectly cooked pink meat was shooting directly into his colon and to the artery-hardening lipids that would shortly course through his veins.

Suddenly, he remembered that Caroline had been to the doctor the day before for an annual mammogram, and asked about the appointment.

"Not good." Caroline replied. "They found a suspicious lump in my left breast. It may well turn out to be benign. But modern doctors always prepare you for the worst. They tell you everything—sometimes even what questions you should be asking. Dr. Jake told me that if it turned out to be malignant, he would recommend a doctor who believes strongly in the most aggressive surgical treatment—radical mastectomy. He claimed that procedure yields the highest five-year survival rates. After all, I'm in my mid-fifties. What possible use could I have for a breast? He also told me to stop drinking and to avoid fat. Complete abstinence. Said it wouldn't help in the short term, but nothing is more important over time."

Her voice began to break as she struggled to maintain her fluid, matter-of-fact tone.

Harvey felt a brief surge of superiority. Caroline had nagged him relentlessly for years about the abuse he meted out to his body by not paying attention to diet and exercise. Nevertheless, his body was evidently holding up better under life's continual bombardments than hers. He could have had a woman half her age the night before. But the sight of her newly vulnerable figure and the thought of a breastless marriage quickly chased away any sense of pride. His mood turned somber at the thought that Caroline's breast would be their first body part to fail, the first sign of the spiral of pain and decline that suddenly seemed much closer for both of them.

His introverted silence pained Caroline. Her medical confession cried out for sympathy and concern. She couldn't look at him. Her first impulse was to get up from the table, get back into a taxi (there was always a line of them behind the Museum), and return to the airport. But she was afraid to be alone. No amount of sudden antipathy could entirely destroy the steady comfort Harvey embodied after thirty years of marriage.

She was surprised to feel Harvey's hand close firmly over hers. The touch increased her confusion. Her voice became incoherent, almost hysterical: "I want to forget everything this weekend. Let's keep moving. Don't let me brood." Caroline stood up. Harvey sensed that she was close to a cracking point. He needed to pull her away from the edge, to fill what remained of their weekend in Chicago with constant activity.

The waiter rushed over with the bill. Harvey looked at it, and quickly paid cash as he headed toward the door: "Sorry to leave so quickly. My wife isn't feeling well."

It was glorious late-summer weather when the Mudds emerged a few minutes later onto Michigan Avenue and began to walk north toward Chicago's fabled Gold Coast. They soon reached the "Magnificent Mile," that stretch of commercial excess that rivals 5th Avenue in New York in its assortment of overpriced shops and boutiques that always have so much trouble staying in business. Elegant hotels face each other across the Avenue with officious, overdressed doormen ready to smile and whisk you into their lobbies at the slightest expression of interest. Caroline's mood picked up as they passed famous emporia like NeimanMarcus and Saks Fifth Avenue. Harvey dutifully tagged along as his wife looked in at the latest fashions. The buzz of humanity in the streets and stores and the thrill of looking for bargains reanimated her steps and features.

They quickly reached Water Tower Place, the city's shopping mecca. It was built as one of the first truly urban malls—a vertical strip completely insulated from Chicago's often brutal elements, designed to rival the most expensive shopping swaths in the world. Shops and restaurants (built without doors so as to beckon more importunately) are stacked floor after floor and connected by escalators and glass-encased elevators.

"Why don't we look for some clothes for you?" Caroline suggested. Harvey was pleasantly surprised, even though he had never taken much interest in his wardrobe. Several summers ago on a visit to London he had suggested that they visit the famous tailors of Saville Row, who specialize in custom-made suits. He thought that would be a unique English experience as well as an opportunity to rehabilitate his closet. But Caroline told him to go by himself—she wasn't interested in looking over fabrics and watching Harvey get measured. "Men's clothes really aren't that interesting," she had said.

Now they took the elevator to Bigsby and Kruthers, an upscale Chicago clothing chain. One of the highly motivated salesmen, eager to sell the newest fashions, took the Mudds in hand as soon as they triggered the electric eye that patrolled the store's boundary line by setting off a subdued jingle when anybody crossed it. He directed them to rows of $1,000 designer suits by Boss, Armani, and Brioni and plucked one from the rack. "Here is a suit that will add ten urbane years to your life," the salesmen assured Mudd. "Try it on." Harvey dutifully moved to the dressing room and came out beltless with shoes untied. The casual shirt he was wearing looked ridiculous against the elegance of Boss's extravagant linen.

"Looks like it was made for him," the salesman encouraged. "All we need to do is shorten the sleeves and let out the pants a touch. I'll show you some shirts and ties to accentuate that color and style."

"What do you think?" Harvey turned to his wife after the salesman moved away. Caroline looked him over carefully with an ironic yet very warm smile.

"Do you really like these European cuts? It makes you look like an aging swinger, with a few too many lumps to conceal and too much money to burn." She leaned against his shoulder as she patted his belly affectionately. "Hugo Boss isn't for everyone. People in Columbus might think you were a drug dealer or maybe a retired gangster. Beautiful designer cuts and fabrics can bring out bulges you never knew you had and can do very well without! Let's try on something else."

Harvey didn't argue. "I'll show you something more conservative," the salesman offered eagerly after overhearing Caroline's last words. "Why don't you try on something from our American Collection?" He steered them to a different part of the sales floor. "This is by far our most popular line. Here's a conservative blue pinstripe, for instance—standard issue for the board room or the corporate front office. It won't shock or offend anybody."

Harvey tried it on. When he came back, he handed the jacket to the salesman: "Not wide enough in the chest. Let me try a larger size." This time the clothes draped his figure, tent-like, completely submerging all unsightly protrusions. Harvey turned away from the mirror and stood facing his wife.

She rose and straightened the coat on him with a quick downward jerk, then moved around him smoothing out the folds with both hands. "Much better. It gives you a quiet, well-dressed look of honesty and dependability—exactly the impression you want for your customers and colleagues at Williams."

The salesman saw a chance to close: "The Collection is designed to bring out confidence and self-assurance. It gives our business customers that commanding look of integrity."

The Mudds quickly agreed to buy the suit and waited while it was packed in an elegant box which proudly set off the Bigsby and Kruthers name.

Caroline took Harvey's arm as soon as they were out of the store in the mall common: "Let's go dancing and take advantage of the big city. We haven't done that in a long time."

"Too long," Harvey replied.

Emerging once again into the bright sunshine of Michigan Avenue, the Mudds made their way west toward Rush Street, the heart of Chicago's entertainment district. They passed by many typical late-afternoon bar scenes—four or five overweight men drinking beer and talking to the bartender while they watched the football game on a big screen—before they found a place with a live band playing to a full house. The only seats left were in the bar area.

They sat down and looked for the bartender. She had her back turned to the customers because her cash register was stuck. All business was on hold while she struggled feverishly to get the drawer open. Every lost minute cost revenues and tips, especially since it was just after opening and many clients had not yet received their first drinks. Finally she began to pound the machine in total frustration.

"Give it a good one!" Some of the men began to cheer and shout advice with patronizing masculinity. She struck with greater force but to no result.

"Harder, harder," they urged. All eyes in the bar were on her.

Suddenly, she threw up her hands in despair and turned toward the customers, a helpless smile frozen on her face. It was Catherine. Mudd's hand shot up to cover his face. With exaggerated normalcy he tried to turn away toward the band.

It was too late. He watched with horror out of the corner of his eye as Catherine's face registered recognition, then stared the same contemptuous leer he had seen when they parted at the elevator the night before. This was a different face, still full of purpose, but without any of the playful twinkle that had attracted him the night before. She had changed her hotel uniform for tight blue jeans and a leather vest unbuttoned just low enough to show the tops of her breasts.

A man seated at the bar held up the palm of one huge hand: "Hit it with the flat of your hand, not your fist. That'll get its attention."

She turned back toward the cash register, drew her hand back palm down, then brought it against the register with desperate fury. Sure enough it popped open. She shrieked triumphantly and soon the bar area resounded with applause as the customers joined in. Catherine skillfully worked the entire room into a rhythmic clapping and stamping which quickly drowned out the band. It stopped playing abruptly when everybody turned toward the bar area. There was a visible upswing of business. Customers ordered entire rounds of drinks in mock celebration.

All eyes followed Catherine when the music started up again as she headed toward the Mudds with a victorious look on her face.

"And what will we be drinking to help celebrate? "

"Bourbon and water. My wife isn't ready yet."

Catherine looked over toward Caroline. She allowed her gaze to linger almost imperceptibly as she sized up the older woman.

"Just a coke for me, thanks." Caroline turned back toward the band, her business with the bartender finished.

Catherine wrote down the order with exaggerated thoroughness. Harvey's heart began to pound and he felt driblets of sweat forming on his upper lip. Catherine looked up and traced Caroline's shapeless body thoroughly, her gaze finally taking in the colorless, furrowed face. She grinned at Harvey as she turned back toward the bar. Then, raising her voice slightly to make sure it projected above the din to where Caroline was sitting, she said:

"You get exactly what you pay for!"

 

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