Excerpt from Quality Time Pieces

by , under Excerpt, Short Story

This is an excerpt from a story I wrote in 2013. It is just a little too long to be published by a literary magazine (assuming that’s even an option). The character, Stuart Dulley, appears in four stories so far.

 

 

Stuart Dulley left the office with his hat in his hand and the list of crossed-off jobs folded away in his pocket. The reception area was crowded with men smoking cigarettes and cigars, smoke drifting down from the ceiling in a blue fog. There was nobody at the reception desk.

A man stood up and smiled at Stuart, pointed at the office door and raised his eyebrows, as though asking Stuart for permission to enter. Stuart nodded, not sure what the man meant. The man walked over to the office door. He paused, turned to Stuart and fired off a snappy salute.

Stuart felt sick in his stomach. On the way to his previous interview he gobbled a hot dog bought from a street vender for a nickel. It felt as though the hot dog and the smoke lay together in his stomach, twisting his intestines, filling them with gas. He hurried to the men’s room, pushed open the polished wooden door of the farthest stall, hung his jacket on the brass hook. After a while, he felt better.

He stood at the sink washing his hands. The man from the waiting room, the one who saluted, strode into the rest room. He held out his hand.

“I guess we’re the new boys! My name’s Fred Hayes. Call me Freddie!”

Stuart rinsed his hands and looked for a towel. He saw a roll towel rack on the wall. As he reached for it, Fred Hayes seized his hand and gave it three shakes.

Fred Hayes looked at his hand, now wet. Stuart smiled uneasily. He stepped to the roll towel rack. He pulled down the towel and dried his hands on it. Fred Hayes was smiling.

“Sorry,” said Stuart. “I don’t understand.”

“They hired me too,” said Fred Hayes. “I said I guess we’ll be the new boys together.”

Stuart felt his face grow hot. “Oh, no. I didn’t get the job. They didn’t hire me.”

Fred’s smile fell. “You didn’t get the job? Why not? Hell, a monkey could get that job. Easiest interview I ever had. Hired me on the spot!”

Stuart shifted on his feet. “They want men with experience.”

“So?” said Fred Hayes.

“Well,” said Stuart. “I told him I don’t have any.” Then, because Fred Hayes looked puzzled, Stuart added “Because I don’t.”

“Me neither,” said Fred Hayes. “I worked at my uncle’s grocery last summer. Before that I tasseled corn and did odd jobs. But I sure as kittens didn’t tell him that. Why would I? It’s not like they check.”

“But,” Stuart said.

Fred Hayes shook his head. “See, it’s like my old man told me. You gotta sell yourself. My old man told me that sales is all about confidence. All about looking a man straight in the eye. Make him believe that, no bull, you are a natural salesman. My old man told me to look ‘em in the eye, grab their hand and give it three good shakes, hard as you can. No bull.” He looked at himself in the mirror. He tightened his tie.

“But,” said Stuart, “he asked about experience. Did you—well, did you lie?

Fred Hayes looked astonished. “Never lie. A good salesman never lies, my old man told me. You distract with the follow-up. Take just now for instance. The man asked if I have experience. I told him sure I do. But I don’t say sales experience. Then I bring in the follow-up. I say I’m a natural born salesman who can sell anything. I use the follow-up to sell myself.

Stuart looked in the mirror and straightened his tie, too. Fred Hayes leaned against the row of sinks, striking an easy posture. He looked at Stuart in the mirror, in his backward eyes. “You see, I didn’t lie. I sold. I used the follow-up. He made up the story.

“He didn’t ask you for details?”

“Nope. Believed me right away. It was the follow-up did it.”

“But what if he had asked? Wouldn’t you have to lie then?”

“Nope. I just double down on the follow-up. I’m a born salesman. I have lots of experience. Then more follow-up. I would have looked around the room and started naming things I saw. Neckties. Typewriters. Ink Pens. Automobiles—Dodges and Hudsons and Buicks. See, he’d put the sentences together from the words I gave him. He’d make it story. I’m just naming things I see. I’m not lying. Simple.”

It did not sound simple to Stuart. He nodded and turned to go. Fred touched his arm.

“Just a second. I didn’t get your name.”

“Oh,” said Stuart. “I’m sorry. It’s Stuart. Stuart Dulley.”

Fred Hayes smiled and shook Stuart’s hand again, three good shakes. “Well, remember what I told you, Stu. Tell the truth, but use the follow-up. Sell yourself.

Don't just stand there.