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"I want you to marry my wife," the boss told him, and handed him a fat check for the expenses

"The Bargain"

by John J. Coffey


Sir Knight

Vol. 1 No. 10 1959

     CHARLES CONNERLY, President and Chairman of the Board of Westco Chemicals, looked up from his desk and studied the young man standing before him, then motioned to a chair, and said, "Sit down, Meadows."
     "Yes sir," replied Dick Meadows, picking a chair farthest from Connerly and nearest the door.
     Connerly glanced at a legal sheet, lying on his desk and said, "You have been employed as a clerk in the shipping department for the past six months?"
     "Yes, sir."
     "You're single, no dependents and your pay is $86.00 a week?"
     "Yes, sir."
     "You live in a rooming house in a quiet neighborhood, date twice a week and play an excellent game of golf on Saturdays, right?"
     "Well, I guess that's about it," Dick stammered.
     "Answer yes or no, Meadows, I'm a busy man."
     "Yes, sir."
     "You are twenty-five year's of age, three years of college and intend to save enough money to finish law school, is that correct?"
     "Yes, sir."
     "Yet you bought a second hand car and you are in debt in excess of eight hundred dollars. Just how do you expect to finish your schooling, win the Irish Sweepstakes?"
     Dick felt his neck and face getting hot and he angrily replied, "Mr. Connerly, I believe that is my own personal business."
     "The hell it is," retorted Connerly, "all of my employees' personal affairs are my business. I want to know about each and every one of you, your family life, your good and bad habits, your loves and hates; in fact, everything you do on your free time reflects upon your job at Westco Chemicals. As far as you are concerned, Meadows, you're not much of a shipping clerk. I can replace you in five minutes with at least a dozen men more qualified than you who, in turn, will make a career with the firm, not just a stepping stone to a law office. In other words, Mr. Meadows, as of now you are no longer connected with Westco Chemicals, you're fired."
     Dick could hardly restrain himself. He felt like walking over to Connerly's desk, reaching across and smashing him in the face. "Mr. Connerly, I've never heard of a so-called big shot discharging or reprimanding a lowly clerk. You have heads of departments, supervisors and foremen to do your dirty work and as I am no longer in your employ, would it be too much to ask why I was brought up here, like a lamb to slaughter?"
     Charles Connerly stood up, looked very sternly at Dick, then slowly his face softened and broke into a completely disarming grin. "Well spoken, Meadows, I couldn't have done better myself," he said.
     The turnabout, catching Dick off guard, left him limp as a rag and all the more bewildered. He slumped hack into his chair, his eyes never leaving Connerly. He was fascinated by this strange man.
     "Meadows, with your background, education and ambition, I am doing you a favor by discharging you. The manner in which you have been conducting yourself on the job and the circle you travel in certainly is not in line with your present position. Now, I am going to offer you the equivalent of four months vacation with pay and at the end of four months I am going to give you a certified check for twenty-five thousand dollars. Naturally I expect something in return. Let us say a little bargaining is in order."
     "I'm listening. Mr. Connerly."
     "Meadows. I want you to marry my wife. Is it a bargain?'
     ''You what?"
     Charles Connerly leaned back in his chair and, picking each word carefully, he continued. "Meadows. I have been separated from my wife for almost a year. I want to remarry but she won't give me a divorce and being a wealthy man, I pay her eighty thousand a year. I wish to be taken off the hook. Mr. Meadows, I want you to marry my wife, Mary. Whether or not you remain married will be your affair, but on the day she files for a divorce I will hand you this certified check for twenty-five thousand dollars."
     Dick sat up straight in his chair and stared unbelievingly at Connerly and the check he waved back and forth in his hand. "But why me, I don't know your wife. How do I know that she would marry me? Why, this whole conversation is ridiculous, Mr. Connerly."
     Dick stood up and started for the door.
     "Just a minute, Meadows, I haven't finished yet. Sit down and hear me out."
     Dick sat back down in the chair and remained silent.
     "That's better," said Connerly, "I've been watching you for some time. As a matter of fact, I've had you investigated thoroughly. Meadows, you are exactly the type of man Mary would be interested in...believe me, I know. This isn't any child's play, but strictly a business deal between you and me. I've al ready taken the liberty to lease a suite in your name at the swank Sussex Arms with a new convertible in the garage, also in your name. Tomorrow I'll take you to my tailor's for a complete wardrobe." Connerly opened his top drawer and withdrew a checkbook. "Here is a sizable amount to draw from." he said, "You have exactly four months in which to contact, entertain and propose marriage to my wife. Well, Meadows, what is your decision? Remember, you are now among the unemployed and quite heavily in debt."
     Dick's head was whirling, the office felt stuffy and hot and he longed for a cool drink of water.
     "Mr. Connerly, I don't know what to say. I know what I should say, but you have me over a barrel. I'll sleep on it and give you my answer in the morning."
     "Like hell you will. I want your answer before you leave this office. I'll give you three minutes. No more."
     Dick looked up. sighed and in a resigned voice replied. "I'll try it, sir."
     "That is more like it, Meadows, but I don't like the word try. Is it a bargain?"
     "It's a bargain."
     "Fine. Be at the Bohemian Club at ten o'clock tomorrow morning and I'll brief you on Mary's current activities and give you a membership card to her golf club. From there on in it's up to you, but remember--four months from tomorrow I want divorce papers on my desk."
     As a signal to end the conference. Connerly again flicked the knob on the intercom and instructed his secretary to escort Dick to the cashier's cage and pay him off in full. "He is no longer in our employ," he said.
     Dick mechanically walked to the door, he was in a complete stupor.
     "Remember, tomorrow at ten, Meadows."
     Dick didn't hear Connerly as he left the office and when he arrived back in his room, he couldn't recall how he got there, nor could be account for the money he had in his billfold.

     THE MONTHS ROLLED past at an alarming rate. It had been too easy for Dick; on the fourth day after his interview with Connerly he filled in at the Country Club in a foursome and drew Mary Connerly as a partner. He was mildly surprised to find Mary so young, attractive and pleasant and playing his usual excellent game, he found Mary to be a capable golfer also. Before departing they had a drink at the nineteenth hole and Dick casually remarked that he would enjoy being her partner again in the near future. Mary readily accepted and that was it. For the next four months Mary's picture was seen frequently in the society pages and the personable Dick Meadows was seen either accompanying her or somewhere in the background.
     On the day terminating the fourth month, Connerly instructed his secretary to have Dick in his office at ten the following morning, but it was two in the afternoon before Dick finally sauntered in. He had the air of a wealthy playboy, completely at ease.
     Connerly stood up and appraised him closely. "Well, Meadows," he said. "you certainly are a changed man. Amazing what money can do, isn't it?"
     "It's a very comforting commodity," replied Dick casually.
     "Meadows, I didn't send for you to pass the time of day. I have been following you closely and I must admit you have done an excellent job, as I knew you would, except in one department. I think I am entitled to, shall we say, a progress report ?"
     "Mr. Connerly," said Dick seriously. "I have found Mary to be a charming companion and a wonderful woman. I believe she is very fond of me, but not fond enough for marriage--yet. Your wife is a very patient and cautious woman."
     "I know all that, Meadows," said Connerly, "but I want results, not alibis. Damn it, man, you've spent almost forty thousand dollars in four months. Hell, I expected you to be in Reno by now."
     "I feel that I can win Mary over, Mr. Connerly, but I need at least two more months. As I said before, Mary is a cautious woman."
     "Well, perhaps you're right, two months but not a single second more."
     "Sure, Mr. Connerly," said Dick grinning broadly.
     "I deposited some more money in your checking account, you were overdrawn, as usual. For God's sake, take it easy."
     "Mary and I are going to Sun Valley next week and to Las Vegas the following week, so I hope you deposited plenty," replied Dick with a touch of sarcasm.
     "Las Vegas, eh, Meadows? See to it that Mary establishes residence there for about six weeks. All right, I guess there's nothing further to discuss, but I'll be keeping a close check on you during the next two months. Good day, Mr. Meadows."

     DICK RETURNED TO the city six weeks later, but Mary remained in Las Vegas and Connerly was quite pleased. He had sent his investigator to check the court records. He was certain Dick had succeeded in his quest for Mary's hand, and even though the investigator returned sans information, Connerly was still confident that in a few days, or even hours, he would be well on his way to becoming a free man. He discharged the investigator and waited patiently for Dick to come in and pick up the certified check he kept in his desk drawer.
     The day before the two months were up he was pleased to learn that Dick was in the outer office awaiting an interview.
     "Send him right in," he said anxiously.
     Dick stepped into the office, sat down, lit a cigarette, inhaled deeply and after a few nervous puffs, he said flatly, "Mr. Connerly, I'll need at least another month."
     "Nothing doing," replied Connerly.
     "How about two weeks?"
     "Absolutely out of the question."
     "One week?" asked Dick meekly.
     Connerly jumped to his feet. "Listen, Meadows, for the last six months I have gambled over sixty thousand dollars on you. Now get this straight, you'll go to Mary now and ask her to marry you and to start divorce proceedings against me at once, is that clear?"
     Dick stood up and faced Connerly. "Will I?" he asked slowly. "For the past six months you've been ordering me around like a little tin soldier, you've had your nose in every move I made. Investigators have been shadowing Mary and me constantly. Charles Connerly, Captain of Industry, playing a game of chess with his wife and a shipping clerk. You make me laugh." Dick pointed to Connerly's vacant chair. "Now you sit down and let me tell you something."
     Charles Connerly plumped him self down and stared in amazement.
     "Connerly, you're a god-damned fool. On the fourth date I had with Mary, over five months ago, I was so disgusted and ashamed of myself I told her about the whole stinking scheme you cooked up. In other words, Mary Connerly and I have been playing you for a sucker--sucker Mister Stuffed Shirt." Dick was shouting now, "Do you understand, Connerly? Sucker!
     "Get out," roared Connerly.
     "Furthermore, I've milked enough out of you to put me through law school, with plenty to spare and do you know, Connerly, there isn't a damn thing you can do about it either."
     Struggling to get up from his chair, Connerly screamed, "Get out of my office before I throw you out."
     Dick walked over and shoved him back in the overstuffed chair and whispered hoarsely, "Not until I finish what I have to say, Connerly, so listen carefully. From the very beginning, I've had no intention of marrying your wife and I feel certain Mary has no intention of marrying me and never did have. During the past six months you have probably wondered whether or not Mary and I have been living together. Well, Connerly, you can figure that one out for yourself. Unfortunately, we all have an Achilles Heel and Mary is no exception. She's still in love with you, Connerly. Why? Christ only knows. She has your pictures scattered all over the apartment and each morning she dusts them off very carefully. It's always Chuck this and Chuck that and I wonder if he is well and I wonder what he is doing now? And just what are you doing, Mister Connerly? I'll tell you. You're playing footsie with a washed out bottle blonde who is trying to take you for your bundle and doing a damn good job of it."
     "Just a minute," protested Connerly, with a feeble motion of his hand. "I will not be talked to in this manner."
     "Oh, shut up," replied Dick, "and what you don't know, Connerly, is every time you go out the front door of that woman's apartment her gigolo comes sliding in the back door and you're footing the bill. Try your private investigator on that one for size."
     "You'd better be sure of that statement, Meadows, that's a serious accusation to make without proof." 
     "Don't worry, mister Big Shot, I'm sure of it. The grass may look greener on the other side of the fence but you've been playing second fiddle all along when you have a whole orchestra at home waiting for you."
     For a fleeting second Dick almost felt sorry for Connerly but he quickly thought of Mary and decided to give his former employer a parting shot.
     "Mary's been employing a private eye too," he said. "In fact he's the same one that's been working for you. Another double payday, Connerly, and you're going to ante up for that too."
     Dick snatched his hat from Connerly's desk and started for the door. Hesitating, he turned towards Connerly, now slumped, dejectedly in the chair and staring at the floor.
     "If I were you, Connerly," said Dick a little more kindly, "I would call Mary up for a game of golf. That will give you eighteen holes to square yourself. And, Connerly, if you have any self-respect or manhood left in you, which I doubt. you'll crawl every inch of the way. She's worth every bit of it and much more."
     Dick quickly left the private office, slamming the door on the way out. He drove straight to Mary's apartment and was ushered into the living room by Mary's personal maid.
     As Mary entered the living room, Dick sheepishly looked up at her and grinned.
     "The party's over, Mary, the end of six of the best months of my life. I just came from your husband's office and I might add, I gave him both barrels."
     "Tell me all about it, Dick," ask ed Mary eagerly. "But first, let me pour you a drink. You look as though you were run through the proverbial wringer."
     Dick slowly sipped a scotch and soda as he told Mary of his final interview with Charles Connerly. He left nothing out and Mary howled with delight. "I would have given the whole eighty thousand just to see the look on Chuck's face when you told him we were playing him for a sucker. Just how did he look, Dick?"
     "Gosh, Mary, I was too scared to notice. I think I had better duck out of town for a while though, before he comes gunning for me. You know, Mary, discretion is the better part of valor?"
     "Relax, Dickie boy, Chuck's not the shooting type. Right now I would guess he's eating cottage cheese and drinking milk to calm down his ulcers."
     "Seriously, Mary," said Dick. "I've swindled enough from my so-called expense account to finish school and I want to go east and register. My job is done here. My only regret is the inference I left with him that we were living together."
     "You know, Dick, I haven't been exactly fair with you," she said. "I guess you'd call it being female, but I knew from the very first day that Chuck sent you. At first I thought you were spying on me so I figured I might as well play along and see what would happen next and, Dick, I'll never forget the evening you told me of your bargain with Chuck. It was like a wave of clean, cool, fresh air striking me in the face after being in a hot, sticky, dirty swamp for four weeks. I was terribly proud of you then, Dick. You completely restored my faith in mankind and displayed a hell of a lot of intestinal fortitude on your own part. A thing like that is hard to do."
     "But how did you know?" interrupted Dick, blushing at the compliment.
     "Simple, Dickie boy," quipped Mary. "You must have thought I just fell off a haystack. I'd never seen you around the club before so I checked and found that you were given a card on Chuck's recommendation. There's where I smelled a rat. So, when you drove away, I took note of the dealer on your car plates. Chuck always buys his cars there and I discovered that he bought yours too. Simple eh, Dickie? Want more? I checked Chuck's clothier and I found..."
     "That's enough, Mary," pleaded Dick, throwing up his hands. "Connerly's investigator couldn't hold a candle to you."
     Dick stood up, put his arms around Mary and kissed her tenderly.
     "Well, that should just about wrap everything up, Mary," said Dick. "You're over the hump now, Mary, and I have a sneaking suspicion that your husband will be checking in soon. Let him work for it this time, Mary."
     Mary looked up at Dick and her eyes softened. "I wish you every bit of luck, Dick, you've been simply grand. Just the right tonic for a very lonely woman."

     DICK MEADOWS checked out of his hotel room early the next morning. after making reservations on a plane east. He asked the desk clerk to order a cab, paid his bill, then reached in his pocket and pulled out a set of car keys. He tossed them on the desk in front of the clerk.
     "Mail these keys to Mr. Charles Connerly of Westco Chemicals and tell him to have my car in the garage picked up, will you please?"
     "Certainly, Mr. Meadows," replied the clerk.
     "That won't be necessary clerk. Give Mr. Meadows back his keys."
     Dick turned around startled at the familiar voice behind him. He stared at Charles Connerly in complete disbelief. He was wearing the loudest sweater and matching knickers Dick had ever seen. His waxed mustache, graying slightly, was reduced to mere pin-points at the corners of his mouth and a crazy plaid cap sat at a rakish angle on his head.
     "Mary and I are going to try that eighteen holes you spoke of so eloquently yesterday afternoon, Meadows. The car is yours. Drive it east and take up corporation law. You've earned it. Why, after that performance you gave yesterday in my office, I certainly could use a man like you in my firm." 
     Connerly shook Dick's hand warmly. "After all," he said, "a bargain is a bargain." He turned and strode out of the lobby.
     Somewhat stunned, Dick gazed absently in his direction, then turned to the desk clerk. Cancel those plane reservations," he said. "I'll be driving."

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