“I ran into Betty Evans today. She told me something interesting.”
Fred sat across from me at the kitchen table sharing a pitcher
of home brew.
“Name sounds familiar but I can’t place it,”
he said and poured us both a glass.
This was dangerous ground but I needed to talk to someone. Fred had been a steady, though not my only boyfriend, for two years. He wanted to marry me but I still had some things I needed to do before I settled down. One of them was my job, something we’d argued about off and on for the last year and a half.
“Betty is the receptionist at Billings and Finley.”
I took a sip of beer, hoping its alcohol would steady me.
“Oh. So?” His voice questioned why this was important.
“She told me why I was fired.”
she say?” he drank his beer, running the back of his hand across his upper lip to wipe away the foam.
Reaching for the pitcher to refill our glasses, I said, “She
heard a rumor. A rumor that I knew something.”
He leaned towards me. “What could you possibly know? You were a bookkeeper, for crying out loud.”
Unable to stop myself, I fired back, “And I was a damn good
one, too!” Tears welled up in my eyes a mixture of anger and disappointment
at his reaction.
Either my anger or tears got to him.
“I’m sorry, Mattie. It’s
just that I never wanted you to work there in the first place.” He held
my hand across the table and softened his tone. “Won’t you just marry
me? I love you.”
“Marriage is not what I want right now. I’m not saying no, Fred, but I need more time.” Squeezing
his hand, giving him hope, he recognized my usual refrain.
Finnegan wants the rent. I heard him tell your mother she’s got till Friday. What’ll you do?”
The rent was overdue by two weeks.
Mother had come to rely on my income but that source dried up a month ago when Billings and Finley unceremoniously
declared that my services were no longer needed.
“There’s always the cherry factory.” Fred believed
factory work was better for a girl than office work.
“Yes, there’s that. But only if I’m desperate.” Which was my current situation at the moment.
“I’ve been going over what Betty said. That I know something. I can only remember one time when something
His glass empty, he refilled it from the half-empty pitcher. “Tell
me what you remember. Maybe we can figure it out.”
Grateful that Fred was listening instead of judging, I told him
“Well, you know that I am, or rather was, in charge of recording
all the transactions for customers. I’d have stacks of paper of one sort
or another on my desk.” I took a swig of beer, the incident becoming clearer
in my mind’s eye.
“One morning, I was sorting order tickets and came across
two for the house account. Max always entered those so I took them to his desk
and told him I’d found them in my pile. His eyes went big as saucers when he realized what they were.”
“Was he scared or angry?” Fred asked.
“I think he was more afraid than angry though he was gruff
with me. He said, ‘I’ll take care of these. Just forget about them.’ I watched him over my shoulder as I went back to my desk. He just shoved the tickets into his top drawer.”
“Maybe he was hiding something,” he surmised.
Musing aloud, I said, “Maybe, but I don’t know what
it could be.”
Fred had become very interested in my problem. He lit a cigarette,
offered me one and struck a match to both. “Mattie, do you think there’s a connection between your firing and
“I don’t know how else to explain it. In the eighteen months I worked there I had no complaints about my work even though it was my first job
as a bookkeeper. I was always on time, never sick, and stayed late whenever needed. No. We were too busy for them to fire
me. It’s got to be what I supposedly knew.”
He moved his chair a little closer to mine. “There’s
something else a little strange. You’ve had no luck finding a job at another
firm, have you?”
Fred’s questions were helping me sort out what had happened
since I was fired and I was thrilled to have him on my side for a change.
“I’ve been to every firm and bank in the city and
when I announced my name and who I worked for, they acted like I had the plague or something.
It happened again yesterday. I answered an ad for a bookkeeper at Harris. The
receptionist took my application only to return and say, ‘We’ll let you know if something becomes available.’ Stunned, I couldn’t think of anything to say so I just left. I thought I’d
at least get an interview since I had all the experience they advertised for.”
Crushing his cigarette in the ashtray, Fred sighed. “Mattie, I think you do know something. You may not know what you know, but from what you’ve
told me, it’s the most likely explanation.”
“So, if I know something but I don’t know what I know,
can I use this as leverage?” Fred’s eyebrows arched with surprise,
impressed with my thinking. He grabbed the deck of cards Mother kept on the kitchen counter and began shuffling.
“I have an idea. Are you up for a game of poker?”
he dealt two hands of what I assumed to be five card draw.
“Now? We have
more important things to discuss.” I loved to play but this wasn’t
the right time.
“Just go with me on this one, Mattie. As much as I dislike you working in that business, perhaps there’s another way to get you a job. And the one you want.”
This was a new side of Fred I hadn’t seen before. His unexpected support told me he loved more than any words he’d ever spoken. He finally seemed to
understand how important this was to me.
I picked up my hand of cards.
The next morning, I stood at the reception desk of Billings and
Finley. Though she recognized me, Betty Evans greeted me in her usual manner.
“Good morning. May
I help you?”
“I’d like to see Mr. Billings.” My voice sounded
more confident than I was, thank heaven.
Betty whispered. “Mattie,
you can’t tell him I told you.”
“Don’t worry.” I winked.
With a conspiratorial smile, she rose. “Just a minute.”
I waited in the lobby. On
the table, today’s newspaper trumpeted yesterday’s extraordinary news, “DOW PASSES 200!”
Before I had a chance to read more, Betty returned. “He’s not available.”
Recalling what Fred and I had decided the night before, I pulled
an envelope from my handbag and told Betty, “Give him this. I’ll wait for his response.”
While I waited, I skimmed the news story. Nearly every day of
1928 the market hit new records. I kept wondering how a firm as busy as Billings and Finley could let their bookkeeper go
without a replacement.
The swish of skirts behind me signaled Betty’s return. “Mattie?”
I turned, anxious to see if she had my envelope.
It was in her hand. She
held it out to me, a little smile turning up the corners of her mouth. “Mr. Billings bids you good day.”
Betty,” I managed as I left the office.
I got off the elevator, surprised to see Fred. I held the envelope
high above my head. “Here it is!” I announced.
He grabbed it out of my hand but I snatched it back.
“Fred, I have to be the first to know. Okay?”
“Sure, honey. You
earned it.” He put his arm around me and looked over my shoulder as I nervously
pulled on the flap, the little pink piece of paper peeking from inside. The very same pink slip I’d received over a
month ago dismissing me from my job.
On the back I had written, in careful print, “If I don’t get a recommendation for a job at Harris & Co., I’ll go to the papers with what I know.”
Last night I’d learned how to turn a lousy hand of cards
into a winner with a strategy called bluffing.
Below my handwriting, was Billings’ scrawl, “Harris & Co. will see you at 2:00.”
I yipped for joy!
“He believed me! He folded!” I yelled.
I threw my arms around my hero’s neck. “Oh, thank you, Fred.”
His fingers lifted my chin up to his face. “Kiss me, working
girl!” he demanded.
I was happy to oblige.