poked its head anxiously out from beneath a bureau across the room.
Several times it peeked out, paused, sniffed the air like a golden
retriever getting a fix, then scurried back to safety.
"Yes, Mrs. Martinowicz," I said. "I mean, no."
The insect was proving to be welcomed diversion to the endless harangue
falling from the woman's ancient lips. For hours, she droned on,
pausing only long enough to ask a brief question, never long enough to
hear an answer. She'd enjoyed a happy childhood in Poland, selling
flowers to the peasantry in her grandmother's shop. She moved to
America, met and married her husband, lost him only a year ago. A
yellow tear formed in the corner of one eye, beading up to enormous
proportions, then scaling its way slowly down a complexion so parched
and crinkled, you could have read the Preamble in it.
"You know, excuse me, Mr. Joseph, sir, such a
beautiful, such an elegant name as that ... excuse me for saying the
trouble with this America people is all this, this ... fooling around
that so many people ... and the women ... do. It's a sin,
excuse me, how these old hags who could scare the Frankenstein how they
smear all this makeup stuff all over their faces and they put on these
short dresses, these skirts, and it's a sin how they chase after some
men, now, isn't it? But, you know, Mr. Joseph, sir, I feel sorry for
them, because they're all empty people inside ... with this sexy
business and all. And I can't stand empty people. I can't
stand people who don't use the brains the good God gave them.
Excuse me for saying it, Mr. Joseph, sir, darling, but I just can't
stand no empty people.
"Mrs. Martinowicz ..." I pulled my legs under me
and boosted myself from the chair. "I'll take it."
Mrs. Martinowicz patted the ball of yellow hair
tacked to the back of her head. "Then you don't want it, no?"
"No. I mean, yes, I want it. I'll take the
"Oh, my God, can you believe it? Such an elegant
young gentleman like yourself, to want such an old apartment like this.
That is a gift from the God. Believe me, sir, a gift from the God."
"I have to go now, Mrs. Martinowicz. I'm on my
lunch hour from the bank. I don't have many things to move in here in
the way of furniture and all. Mostly clothes. A few boxes. I could do
it in a day, easy. Maybe this Saturday, if that works out with you."
I watched very carefully the way Mrs. Martinowicz
signed her name, "Mrs. Josephine Martinowicz," on the receipt, which she
folded twice and handed to me. I'd had some training in handwriting
analysis and found it fascinating, analyzing people's natures and then
comparing that to what their handwriting revealed. It was more than a
pastime with me. It was a vice.
"Then, Mr. Joseph, sir, I see you Saturday, around
My mind raced as I hiked the stairs leading to the
outside walk. What a God-awful hole.
Who would have imagined? Me, a rising,
button-down-collar man at the First. But, then again, it wouldn't be
intolerable. Within a coupe of days, if all went well, I'd be settled
in. Within a couple of weeks, I'd be rich.
* * *
The last two people filed out of the department. I
opened my bottom desk drawer and pulled out a stack of mimeographed
sheets. Slowly, I ran my finger up and down the list, stopping finally
at Account Number 74775.
"Martinowicz," I whispered.
Quickly my fingers followed the line of print after
her name. Address? Four east Maple, 60606, 659-1111. Credit
Rating? AAA. Loans in Force? None. Amount on Account?
The voice startled me. "What?"
"I say, aren't you going to lunch?" Fred Cox
learned over my shoulder. I wanted to close the sheaf of papers before
me ... or set them print-side down on my desk. But neither one would
do. That would surely make him suspicious. No, I'd just have to sit
tight and hope for the best.
"Oh. No, no." I pointed to a wrapped sandwich
sitting next to my phone. "I thought I'd just eat in today. You know,
catch up on a little work. I want to use the 5660 to run some figures
I've been working on." I hoped he wouldn't notice the sweat forming on
"Bernice?" Fred turned to the computer. "If she
can't do it, nobody can. Of course, you have to treat her right, you
understand. Just like any other woman. You can kick her around a
little and push her to the limit, get her all fired up as hell. Then,
just when you think the love affair is over, you give her a pat on her
processor, and she'll purr like a kitten." Fred winked.
"Oh ... yes, sir." I forced an awkward little
laugh. "Very good, sir. I'll have to remember that."
"Well, I'm taking off, now. Be back in an hour,
just in case anybody calls."
I followed the hollow sound of his hard-soled down
the corridor and across the hall.Pause. More sounds, and then the slam
of the elevator door as the fiberglass-and-steel cage whisked its
occupant to the 14th-floor cafeteria. My pulse suddenly dropped 20
points and I took my first breath in 30 seconds. Sweat rolled down my
Stupid, Joe. Very stupid. If I'm going
to do this thing, I have to do it right. No chance for slip-ups.
Absolutely none. Or I won't do it at all. I'm not going to spend the
next 30 years of my life in Joliet. No way!
I continued scanning the list, copying all the
information I needed, running the rest through the shredder in Fred's
office. Then I punched some figures into the computer and corrected the
master tape for Account Number 74775. After that, I went across the
hall to Internal Security. As I expected, the department was vacant
except for Marge.
"Hey. Hi, Megs."
"Joe. How you doin'? "
I shrugged. "Oh, you know. Busy, busy. Like they
say, no rest for the wick ... I mean the weary."
Some other time, I might have been tempted to stand
around while. You know, sling a little trash. Megs had the smoothest
curves and the sweetest smile I'd ever seen. And when she walked, her
firm, well-rounded rump swayed poetically--the kind of sway that tells a
man she's a woman of great knowledge ... all carnal. And anxious
to put it to use.
"Say, I've got to check out a signature on the
She threw her shoulders back and motioned with her
arms. "Let me know if you need any help."
I had to struggle suddenly to remember why I was
there. In fact, for a brief moment, I was tempted to feel her out on
it--just kidding around. Tell her I'd make her a partner, ask her along
for the ride. Something in the way she smiled told me she wasn't
exactly above it all. And she'd be good company along the way.
But it was too risky. I knew that. There was too
much at stake. Too much riding on everything going smoothly. I needed
a foolproof plan, 100 percent. And that meant no one else could know
what I was up to. After all, there were a million Margaret Millers down
in Mexico. Plenty to last me for the rest of my days. And with the
money I'd soon have, I'd be able to sample each and every one of them.