Arnold Grey Trilogy by Martin Green

Sunday, June 3, 2012
The quiet romantic life of Arnold, a research analyst from California, by Martin Green.

Part 1 - Being in Love (Click to go to Part 2: Getting Married, Part 3: Struggling On)

Arnold Grey had been asked to lunch, for the first time, by his boss Tommy Flowers. They were at a trendy (and expensive) restaurant in downtown San Francisco, frequented by ad agency, public relations and media types. The luncheon invitation was a reward for Arnold's working eighty hours the previous week on one of the surveys being done by Flowers' research firm, a small one but well-known locally because of Tommy's political connections, his father having been in the state senate.

"Have a drink," said Tommy, ordering one for himself.

"No thanks," said Arnold.

"You don't drink and I know you don't smoke," said Tommy, as he lit a cigarette. "You're going to ruin the reputation of the firm. Should I ask you about girls?"

At that moment, a beautiful young woman, blonde, tanned, dressed in an immaculate white suit, entered the restaurant and stood for a moment looking around. Arnold's attention, like everyone's in the restaurant, was focused on her, as if she stood in a spotlight.

Evidently seeing whomever was waiting for her, the young lady moved gracefully and purposefully through the crowded tables. As she passed them, Tommy Flowers said, "Hello, Julie." She stopped and said hello. Tommy knew everyone and everyone knew him.

"Allow me to introduce you to one of my new colleagues," said Tommy. "Arnold Grey. He's from New York. Arnold, Julie Landis. She's with Popper and Tuttle."

Arnold stood up quickly, letting his napkin fall from his lap and knocking a fork off the table. Julie Landis was almost as tall as he was. She extended her hand and smiled, showing brilliant white teeth. Her grip was firm. Arnold thought her eyes were grey, or were they green? After a long moment, he realized he was still gripping her hand and let it fall. She looked amused. "Welcome to San Francisco," she said.

"Thanks," said Arnold. His voice sounded strange to himself, as if he'd run out of breath. He sat down as Tommy said, "I'll give you a call, Julia. Let's have lunch."

"Fine, Tommy." She smiled again and continued making her way through the tables.

"Smart girl," said Tommy. "And not bad-looking. She's assistant research director at P and T. Of course, they don't have much of a research department. We've done a couple of jobs for them in the last year, always an emergency."

"How old is she?"

"I don't know. In her late twenties, maybe. Why?"

That would make her only two or three years older than him. "Just curious."

The waiter came back with Tommy's drink and they ordered lunch. Tommy knew a good many stories and he told them well. Ordinarily, Arnold listened with fascination. But this time he hardly heard what Tommy was saying, thinking about Julie Landis.

The next day when Arnold left work (he lived on Hyde Street and was able to walk to his downtown office), he thought he saw Julie Landis walking ahead of him on Montgomery Street. He hurried along but when he got closer he saw that it was another tanned blonde young woman. There were quite a few in San Francisco. That weekend he got up early on Saturday, cleaned his small studio apartment, did some shopping and wrote a letter to his parents back in New York. He also wrote his monthly checks, including the car payment for the used Volkswagen he'd bought when he first came out to San Francisco. When he was done, he was pleased to see that his balance was a little higher than it had been the month before.

That night Arnold went to a party at someone's apartment on Steiner Street. He'd been told about it by one of the media salesmen he'd met at work. The apartment was already filled with people when he arrived, all talking loudly. Arnold suspected that very few of them knew each other and that most had heard of the party second-hand as he had.

He looked around. He'd thought that Julie Landis might possibly be there but even as he looked he realized that it had been a far-fetched notion. The only person he recognized was Paul Marks, who did research in the local branch of one of the national ad agencies. Paul was in his early thirties, also from New York. He and Arnold had met at meetings of the San Francisco Marketing Association and they occasionally played tennis with each other. Paul always had a lot of information about the ad agency scene in San Francisco and sometimes it was even accurate.

"How're things at the firm?" asked Paul.


"Business not falling off?"

"Not that I know of. Have you heard anything?"

"Not really. But it's a pretty small place, you know. Maybe you should start looking around for some bigger outfit."

"I like it being small. I'm getting a lot of good experience. I met Julie Landis the other day, the assistant research director at P & T. Do you know her?"

"I've heard about her. Supposed to be quite a dish. I hear she has a thing going with the agency president, George Armstrong."

"Oh." They talked a little more and arranged to play tennis the next weekend. Arnold left early. Back in his apartment, he considered Paul's comment about Julie Landis and decided to discount it. He imagined calling Julie at her agency and asking her out but knew he'd never do it.

During the next two weeks, Arnold worked normal hours at the firm. Tommy Flowers seemed to be out a great deal. Then on a Friday morning Tommy called him into his office and Julie Landis was sitting in the visitor's chair. She was wearing another suit, this time a dark green. Her short skirt showed off her legs and Arnold couldn't help looking at them. "You remember Julie, don't you?" said Tommy. "P & T wants us to do a phone survey for them. A quickie. They need the results by the end of next week. I'd like you to do the number-crunching. It'll be more overtime."

Arnold coughed to clear his throat. "That's okay," he said. "I'm just about caught up."

"Good." Tommy stood up from behind his desk and handed him a folder. "Take a look at this." He turned to Julie. "Are you ready for lunch?"

Julie stood up. "Do you have any questions?" Tommy asked Arnold, who was still standing in the doorway, watching Julie.

"No," said Arnold. He was evidently not going to be asked to join them for lunch. "I'll look this over right away."

The telephone survey was ostensibly to find out about people's shopping habits but its real purpose was to ask about a new household product from one of P & T's major clients, which was being test-marketed and had been on the shelves for three months. Arnold quickly read through the survey plan and the brief questionnaire, asking if the product had been bought and, if so, how had people liked it. Respondents were encouraged to answer by the offer of a one-dollar off coupon.

The phoning started the next Monday and by Tuesday afternoon Arnold was getting computer printouts of the results. He worked late every night, assembling figures into various tables, by sex and age, location, income, number of times shopping in a week, stores patronized. The client wanted a very detailed report.

Arnold was still working on his tables around seven Thursday night. Everyone else in the office was gone. He heard a noise and, looking up, saw Julie Landis. "Hi," she said. "I thought I'd come over and see if you needed some help. Our client's been calling about the survey every day."

"Hi," he said. "If you don't mind doing some calculating. There's still a dozen or so tables to finish."

"I'm an old hand at calculating. How's it look so far?"

"Not bad. A pretty good market share for a new product and most people liked it. I've changed the geographical areas a little. The ones you had seemed too broad and gave some strange results."

She came over to his desk and stood next to him, looking at the tables. He could smell her perfume. Although she wore her usual suit, he was acutely aware of her breasts beneath her blouse and jacket. As always when he was near her, he felt out of breath and his throat seemed clogged up. "I see what you mean," she said. "That's much better. Can I use that desk over there?"


She briskly took off her jacket, sat down and got to work. Arnold tried to focus on the figures before him, which appeared to be swimming around on the paper. "Be professional," he told himself. "Be professional."

They finished at ten o'clock. Arnold showed her his report summary, everything boiled down to one page so that the client could see the survey findings at a glance. Julie read it quickly, then made a few penciled notes. "Just cosmetic," she told Arnold. "I know the style they like. I think it'll go over well."

After Arnold had put his draft on the secretary's table, to be typed first thing in the morning, they left the building. The street outside was deserted and the night air was cold; the famous San Francisco fog had come in. "I hope I can get a cab," said Julie.

"I'll drive you," Arnold said quickly. "I knew I'd be working late tonight so I drove in."

She hesitated. "Are you sure you don't mind?"

"No. It's fine."

They went to the building's small parking lot, where Arnold's Volkswagen was the only car left. She told him where she lived, a Pacific Heights address. When they arrived there, she said, "Come on up for a drink. We have to celebrate."

"Well, okay."

She turned on the lights as they entered and said, "Sit down and make yourself comfortable. I'll be right back." The living room was large and nicely furnished but somehow the apartment was not as impressive as Arnold had thought it would be. He'd imagined a place high up in some tall building with a view of the city. He walked over to the window and looked out. There was no view, only other buildings with the fog swirling in between. Well, ad agency researchers, even those with a title, didn't make a lot of money. That was reserved for copywriters and account executives.

When Julie came back, she opened a cabinet, which Arnold saw contained a number of liquor bottles. "What will you have?" she asked.

"Whatever you're having."

"All right." She came over with a glass for him. Lifting her own, she said, "Here's to a happy client."

She'd taken off the suit jacket and also her shoes because she was now definitely shorter than Arnold and somehow seemed less formidable. "Sit down," she said, and they sat at opposite ends of a long sofa. "So, tell me why you came to San Francisco."

Arnold told her of going to New York University on a scholarship, majoring in English because he really didn't know what he wanted to do, then of his long search for a job because everyone seemed suspicious of an English major who didn't want to go into teaching. Finally, he'd been hired by a market research agency and discovered he had a flair for numbers. He went back to school at night to take courses in statistics. All the while, he was becoming dissatisfied with New York. It was expensive and he had to remain living with his parents because he couldn't afford his own place. His mother was constantly after him to find a nice Jewish girl and get married. He kept on hearing what a great city San Francisco was and so he'd decided to give it a try.

She told him she'd come to San Francisco four years ago, from Minnesota.

"Minnesota? I thought you were a California girl."

"No, not at all. My family are Swedes. That's where the blonde hair comes from. I think I came here to get out of the cold." Arnold had almost finished his drink and the unaccustomed alcohol had made him a little light-headed. Or was it the proximity to Julia? Somehow they had moved closer together on the sofa. He made a decision. This was probably going to be his one and only chance. He kissed her.

He waited for her to push him away. But she put her arms around him and pressed her lips against his. After a few minutes, she said, "Let's go to the bedroom."

Arnold had returned to his apartment at about two AM, quickly undressed and fallen into his bed but when the alarm rang at six-thirty he was wide awake. After a quick breakfast, he walked to work. Last night's fog was gone and the sun was shining, sparkling off the windows as he strode along. Between buildings, he caught glimpses of the bay, a bright blue. Once or twice he saw a blonde woman and thought she was Julia but he knew by now that it wouldn't be and he wondered if this would be happening the rest of his life.

When he arrived at his building, he noticed for the first time its elaborate architecture, all the swirls and contours. As soon as he entered the office, the secretary who was already typing up his report on the telephone survey called him over with a question and he was caught up in the business of the day.

Just before lunch he called the P & T agency and asked for Julia but was told she was in a meeting. He left a message but she didn't call back. He called again several times in the afternoon but each time was told she wasn't available. The last time he left another message, just his name and home phone number and asked that she call him. He stayed in all day Saturday in hopes that she might call but the phone, no matter how long he stared at it, never rang. On Sunday, he felt he had to get out and on an impulse he drove over the Golden Gate Bridge to Marin county. He went as far as Santa Rosa before he told himself this was foolish and turned around to go back.

He was about to go home from the office on Monday when Julia called. "Did you get my message?" he asked.

"Yes, but I was away all weekend. I wanted to tell you that our client was pleased with your report."

"That's good. When can I see you?"

"This is not a good time. I'm tied up with meetings all week and then I may have to go to Los Angeles."

"Will you call me when you get back?"

"I'll try. I have to go now. Good-bye."

Two weeks later Arnold went to the annual meeting of the San Francisco Marketing Association. It was a large affair in the ballroom of a downtown hotel. He thought he saw Julie in the crowd and this time, when he made his way closer, it was her. She was talking to a tall white-haired man in an obviously expensive suit. "Hi, Julie," he said.

"Arnold. How nice to see you. This is my boss, George Armstrong. Arnold's the one who did that phone survey."

"Oh, yes. Very good work." Armstrong spoke with a faint British accent.

Another man came up to them and Arnold was introduced to him but forgot his name immediately. Suddenly they seemed to be in the center of a swirling crowd and Julie was being swept away from him. "I'll call you next week, okay?" he called out. He couldn't quite hear what she replied but he thought she nodded her head, Yes.

When Arnold finally talked to Julie the next week she again said she was busy but agreed to meet him on Friday for lunch. Arnold considered all the places to eat and made reservations at a small restaurant which was not an ad agency hang-out and where he hoped they'd be able to talk.

But Thursday night he started feeling unwell. He couldn't believe it as he was never sick. He took some aspirin and went to bed early. The next morning he felt dizzy and could hardly stand up. It was clear he couldn't go anywhere that day. He called his office and then left a message for Julie that he was sick and wouldn't be able to make it.

All weekend he hoped that Julie would call, but she didn't. By Monday he was feeling better and went into work. He called her again and as usual she wasn't available. He left a message asking if they could have their lunch that week. On Wednesday night he was surprised when she called him at home. She was glad he was feeling better. "Why don't you take tomorrow off and we'll go for a ride?" she said.

"But they're expecting me in the office."

"Do you have anything that can't wait?"

Actually, he didn't. In fact, things had been slow since the phone survey. "No, I guess not."

"I'll do the driving this time. Give me your address and I'll pick you up around ten."

She drove a little red sports car convertible with the top down. "Where are we going?" he asked.

"For a ride in the country. You'll see. And we're having a picnic. I have everything packed in a basket. It's in the trunk."

At the rate of speed she drove and with the car's top down, it was impossible to talk. She took the same route as he'd done when he'd gone on that aimless drive a few weeks before. She drove over the Golden Gate Bridge and then up toward Santa Rosa but then she turned off the main highway and went toward Sonoma. It was a fine day. The sun shone down on lush green hills. Every now and then they passed a herd of grazing cows. She turned down another road and they were off in the country with no one else in sight.

She drove a little way along a dirt path, then stopped and jumped out of the car. "Here we are," she said. She handed him the picnic basket and took a blanket out of the trunk. She led him up a hill and spread the blanket out on the grass beneath a large tree on its crest. They could see other hills and a blue pond in the distance.

"This is a great place," Arnold said.

"I found it driving around last year. Are you fully recovered?"

"I think so. But I called in this morning and told them I'd had a relapse and couldn't come in."

She opened the basket and spread out bread, cheese and fruits on the blanket. She also took out a bottle of wine and two wine glasses. "We used to go on picnics all the time in Minnesota," she said. "They don't seem to do that in California."

Julie was wearing a white tee-shirt with a light blue sweater over it, jeans and tennis shoes. She looked younger and, thought Arnold, absolutely adorable. She continued to talk about her days in Minnesota. "My parents were shocked when I told them I was going to San Francisco. They couldn't believe I was going to that sinful city."

"My mother told me that if I left I needn't come back. She was disowning me."

"Poor parents," she said.

They ate and talked, then Arnold took her in his arms and kissed her. He put a hand under her tee-shirt and felt for the clasp of her bra. "No," she said. "Not now. Just hold me." They lay down on the blanket and looked up at the puffy white clouds. Every now and then, he kissed her lightly or caressed her hair or ran his hand over her breasts. But she wouldn't allow him anything more.

Eventually it became cooler and then cloudy. "We'd better be going," said Julie. They packed up and she drove him back to his apartment. "It was a nice day, wasn't it?" she said.

"Yes. Do you want to come up?"

"I'd better not. I have a dinner I have to go to tonight. An agency thing."

"When will I see you again?"

"Arnold, I don't think we should. My life is, it's too involved."

"Oh. Can I call you every now and then?"

"Please don't. It would make it harder. Maybe the agency will need another survey and I'll see you again." She leaned over and kissed him. "I really have to go now."

In his dark apartment that night, Arnold lay on his unmade bed, clasping his arms around his chest. He hadn't known it would hurt so much. When he'd had the flu, or whatever it was, he'd taken some pills and it had gone away. But there was nothing he could do to make this pain go away.

A few weeks later, Tommy Flowers gathered together his small staff and announced that, owing to various financial problems, the firm was being closed. Everyone would get severance pay and of course good recommendations.

When he looked back on it, Arnold realized he should have suspected something. He remembered Paul Marks asking him at that party how the firm was doing and suggesting that he look for a job with a larger organization. Then there were all of Tommy's unexplained absences from the office. He should have known something was going on. But the only thing he'd been thinking about then was Julie Landis.

Arnold had noticed that often when you thought about a person you met him soon after. He ran into Paul Marks on Montgomery Street after a discouraging interview with an employment agency that specialized in research jobs.

"Yeah," said Paul, after hearing about the interview. "A couple of agencies have cut back on research, a couple of the big companies, too. A lot of people are looking out there. Say, you know your friend Julie Landis? I heard she just married her agency head, George Armstrong. I guess that's getting job security. Look, I gotta run. Call me and we'll do lunch."

"Sure." They both knew that they wouldn't.

Arnold looked out the window of his small apartment. He'd just gotten back from work. In the dusk, snowflakes were falling down onto the streets of Manhattan. He'd been back in New York for almost six months. His parents were happy, even though he was now making enough money so that he had his own place.

He glanced at the day's mail, as usual nothing, then sat down in his one good chair. He felt bone tired. The research project he was working on was large and complex. He closed his eyes. Julie Landis came in. Smiling, she bent and kissed him. He felt her lips brush his. He opened his eyes and she was gone.

A couple of weeks later, he went out on a date, a girl whose number a cousin had given him. She was nice, a nice Jewish girl who'd graduated from Hunter College and was now a teacher. "Will you call me?" she'd asked, when he'd brought her home and kissed her good night.

"Yeah," he said. "I'll try."

Part 2 - Getting Married (Click to go to Part 1: Being in Love, Part 3: Struggling On)

Arnold Grey sat alone at a table for two in a restaurant on Polk Street in San Francisco. As he doggedly consumed a dinner which was large but not very good, he reflected that eating was probably the number one problem for a single male living by himself.

Cleaning his apartment was a pain, but that could be done only once a week, if that often, and his studio apartment was so small it didn't really require much. Besides, as nobody else ever came into his place, what did it matter? Taking his dirty clothes to the laundromat was also a pain, but that too was only once every week or, if he stretched it, two weeks.

But eating was something that had to be faced every day. Should he eat in or go out? Lately, he'd been trying to economize by cooking his own meals. But cooking for one was tedious and time-consuming, made even worse by having to clean up afterwards. He could always fall back on TV dinners, but he'd never felt these were real food, and they weren't that cheap, either.

In his previous stay in San Francisco, Arnold had never even considered eating in, much less cooking for himself. Dinner meant going out to eat. But in those days he was making a good salary. Now, on his meager pay as a novice State employee, going to a good restaurant was a luxury he couldn't really afford. This was why, after getting home after a frustrating day in the office and feeling too tired to fend for himself, he'd gone to an inexpensive neighborhood place.

There was also the discomfort of eating out alone. In this restaurant, fortunately, a dozen or so other diners were men, sitting, like Arnold, at small tables against the wall and trying to be inconspicuous. Arnold looked around and saw one man, in his mid-thirties, recognizable in that his head seemed to be set directly upon his shoulders, whom he'd seen in the restaurant before, and whom he thought he'd seen working in the State building.

It was funny but there seemed to be an unusual number of odd-looking people working for the State. He'd noticed a woman who looked like a dwarf, a tall man who wore a beard which gave him a resemblance to Abraham Lincoln, and another man with an eye-patch giving him a piratical look. The State seemed to be a haven for people who wouldn't fit into a normal work setting, certainly not in the offices downtown where he'd worked before.

Maybe, thought Arnold, that's why he'd gravitated toward a State job; he didn't fit into a regular job anymore. The first time he'd come out to San Francisco from New York he was twenty-five and he'd worked in a small but prestigious marketing research firm owned by the scion of a well-known San Francisco family, Tommy Flowers. He'd enjoyed working there for three years and liked Tommy, whose protege he'd become. Then, amidst rumors of shady dealings, the firm had suddenly gone bankrupt and closed down.

The closing was sudden, to Arnold anyway. At the time, he'd been aware of not much more than his infatuation with Julie Landis, the research director of one of the largest local advertising agencies. Soon after the bankruptcy, Julie broke off with him, not, he had to admit, that there was anything much to break off. Having lost both his job and Julie, Arnold had decided to return to New York. He'd worked two years there for another research firm before realizing he didn't really want to spend the rest of his life in a city that was becoming increasingly hostile to any kind of civilized life.

Before returning to San Francisco, Arnold had assured himself that his infatuation with Julie was over. But he still kept away from the downtown ad agencies and research firms where he might run into her. Living in a seedy (but cheap) boarding house, called a guest house in San Francisco, he'd looked in vain for some other kind of job. His unemployment insurance had run out and his savings were almost gone when, by a chance encounter with someone in a park, whom Arnold suspected was gay and was trying to pick him up, he learned that one of the agencies in the State building at the Civic Center might be hiring research analysts. The next week he was hired for an entry-level job, paying less than one-half of what he'd been making before. As soon as he had his first paycheck, he'd moved out of the boarding house to his seedy (but cheap) studio apartment.

Arnold walked the two blocks back from the restaurant to his apartment building on Pine Street. It was August and so still light but already getting chilly, a typical San Francisco summer evening. He took the day's mail out of his box and opened the front door. As he entered, another tenant came in with him. She was young, no more than twenty-one or twenty-two, and quite pretty. "Hi," she said to him. "Are you new?"

"I've been here about three months."

"Oh, look," she said. A small black and white cat had appeared in the hallway. "Is it yours?"

"No, it's not mine."

"It doesn't have a collar. I wonder if it's a stray who got in."


She reached down to pet the cat but it darted around a corner. "Well, I'll see you," said the girl.

Arnold walked up the three flights to his apartment. It was small, a kitchen and a living room with a sofa-bed which he pulled out to sleep on at night, one battered armchair and not much else. He sat down in the chair and looked through his mail, which consisted of appeals for him to buy something, subscribe to something or donate to something. He remembered that he'd had a letter from his mother in New York two weeks ago which he hadn't answered. He'd do it on the weekend.

He stood up, went into the kitchen and washed some dishes which he'd left in the sink, then he picked up a few days' worth of newspapers which were strewn around. After this, he got out one of his old statistics textbooks and placed the armchair so that he could look out of the window. His apartment faced west and if he looked out at an angle he could get a glimpse of the Bay Bridge. The apartment had been advertised as having a great view.

Arnold opened the book. In two months, the State was giving an exam for the next level of research analyst, which would pay a few thousand more a year, so he spent most of his evenings studying his old textbooks. Even a few thousand dollars more would do a lot for his standard of living. He'd also like to move on to another job.

The small unit Arnold now worked in made surveys of the earnings and hours worked by employees in various industries. It wasn't clear exactly what was done with the information produced by these surveys, but evidently there was a state law which mandated that they be done. The next survey being planned was of drug store employees. In the past, questionnaires had been sent out to each and every drug store in the State. Arnold had proposed surveying just a sample of drug stores and he'd spent most of that day trying to explain how this could be done to his unit chief and boss, Mr. Sprague.

Sprague's job title was Senior Research Analyst but Arnold was sure that he knew next to nothing about actual research methods. He was also a typical State manager in that he was deathly afraid of trying anything new. Although Arnold had come up with figures showing how much cheaper a sample would be, Sprague was opposed to it because that had never been done before.

Arnold read for an hour or more before his mind started to wander. By this time it was dark and the lights of the cars streaming across the bridge were like a string of diamonds. As usually happened at night, his thoughts involuntarily drifted to Julie Landis. He closed the book and watched some mindless television for a while, then he went to bed. Before falling asleep, he thought about the girl he'd just met. He hadn't even asked her name. Well, she was awfully young. Arnold would be thirty on his next birthday.

Arnold and a co-worker, Hank Barrow, were in the Foster's cafeteria across the street from the State Building. Hank was the one who'd discovered that the cafeteria had a small bar which served surprisingly good drinks and they'd taken to dropping in on Fridays to celebrate the end of the workweek. Hank was about Arnold's age and had been hired at the same time. Like Arnold, he'd had an interrupted career path. Arnold thought that was why they'd become friends, or at least friendly. Hank had a master's degree and had taught at a small college before deciding he didn't like teaching. Arnold suspected that Hank's parents were as upset about this decision as his had been about his deciding to move to San Francisco again.

They exchanged the usual talk about their jobs. Hank asked Arnold how he was getting along with Mr. Sprague.

"He's still against my sample proposal but he's going to let me write a memo about it. I have no idea where it'll go from there."

"If he lets Mr. Rose see it, maybe you'll have a chance."

Mr. Rose was the agency head and possibly the only manager, in Arnold's opinion, who might really know something about statistics and research. At least, whenever he saw one of the new employees, Mr. Rose always had a mathematical riddle to ask them.

"Maybe," said Arnold, "but it's probably only his way of covering his ass if someone brings it up later. He can say that he seriously considered it."

"Well, you never know. They have to get up to date sometimes. Are you ready for the big exam?"

"I hope so."

"I bet you ace it. Do you want another drink?"

"No, I'd better be going."

"Hey, are you doing anything this weekend?"

Hank had asked that a few times and each time Arnold had answered, untruthfully, that he was busy. But now he said, "No, not really."

"My sister is having a little party tomorrow night. Why don't you come?"

Arnold was on the point of automatically refusing, but then he told himself, Why not? He didn't have to be a complete hermit. "All right," he said.

Hank gave him the address and he wrote it down. "Thanks for asking me," he said.

"Sure. See you tomorrow night. Come around eight."

Arnold's apartment building was a twenty-minute walk from the Civic Center. Mickey, the stray cat he'd taken in, greeted him at the door. Arnold patted Mickey's head, then opened a can of cat food for her dinner. He sat down in his armchair and looked through the day's newspaper. After a while, Mickey jumped into his lap. Arnold thought about the party to which he'd been invited. He knew Hank's sister was older than him and was a doctor at a hospital in Oakland. From remarks Hank had dropped, his parents were happy that she'd embarked on a successful career while Hank was still struggling to find his way.

The next day Arnold spent an hour at the laundromat, then did some shopping at the local market. In the afternoon, he took a walk through his neighborhood. He had a TV dinner, read for a while and played with Mickey. At around eight, he went to the party Hank's sister was giving.

Hank greeted him at the door. About a dozen people were there, standing around with drinks and talking. Hank introduced him to his sister Anne. She was a woman in her mid-thirties, who looked a little like Hank, on the short side and stocky. She gave Arnold a firm handshake and looked him over carefully. He wondered if she was curious about what kind of strange people her brother worked with at the mysterious State building or if, as a physician, she was examining him for signs of some infectious disease.

At any rate, after she'd asked him at least a dozen questions about their workplace she seemed satisfied and introduced him around. Most of the other people at the party also worked at the Oakland hospital. Arnold wasn't very good at remembering names and faces but he did take notice of one girl, woman, he supposed. Her name was Ellen Carter and she was pleasant-looking, with long brown hair and greenish eyes behind round glasses.

He found out that she was an occupational therapist. After graduation, her first job had been at Bellevue in New York, working with mentally ill patients. She'd come out to California just six months ago and now she was doing the same thing in Oakland. She had a soft voice, a welcome contrast to the harsh accents he was used to in New York, and it turned out she was originally from the South - Atlanta, Georgia. Before their conversation could go any further one of the other guests, a tall fellow wearing a tweed jacket and khaki pants, came over and joined them. Ellen introduced him as Dr. Something-or-Other. They seemed to know each other pretty well.

After listening to them talk for five or ten minutes about hospital matters he didn't at all understand, Arnold excused himself and drifted around the room talking sporadically to one person and another. He ended up talking to Hank and after a while to Hank's sister Anne, who was very interested in the exam they had coming up. She wished that Hank was doing more studying for it. When Arnold saw that it was ten o'clock he felt he could decently leave. He thanked Anne for letting him come and left. He was happy to get back to his apartment. He sat for a long time looking out his window, stroking Mickey in his lap, and thinking about Julie Landis.

The next week Hank told Arnold that the girl he'd met at the party, Ellen Carter, had asked about him. He had her phone number, which his sister Anne had given him. "Why don't you give her a call?"

Arnold recalled the intimate conversation Ellen had been having with her doctor friend. "Maybe," he said. He took the piece of paper with the phone number that Hank gave him and put it in his wallet, along with other forgotten papers he was holding onto for no particular reason.

The research analyst exam finally came and Arnold thought he'd done fairly well. The exam was on a Saturday. That night he went to a movie by himself, thinking that he deserved a night out. He couldn't help noticing that almost all the other people in the theater were couples. On Sunday, he drove to Golden Gate Park and spent most of the afternoon at the De Young Museum. That Monday night he remembered Ellen Carter's phone number in his wallet. He debated with himself for over an hour, arguing that by this time she would have forgotten him and in any case there was that doctor. Finally, he steeled himself and dialed her number.

"You probably don't remember me," he said, thinking at once that this was a stupid way to begin. "Anyway, this is Arnold Grey. We met at Anne Barrow's party a while ago. I work with Anne's brother Hank at the State."

"Oh, yes," she said. "I'd thought you'd forgotten me."

"No, it's just that I've been pretty busy. We had a promotional exam coming up and I've been studying for it. There were a lot of statistical questions and I was pretty rusty so I had to bone up. Anyway, the exam was last Saturday so it's over with now." What was he babbling about?

"Well, that must be a relief. How do you think you did?"

They talked for a while, then Arnold asked, "Are you doing anything next Saturday night?"

"Yes, as a matter of fact I do have plans."

"Oh. Well, maybe I can call you sometime again."

"I'm not busy Friday night."

"Okay, would you like to go out for a couple of drinks?"

"That would be fine."

She lived with two roommates on Clay Street, not far away. Arnold said he'd pick her up at eight.

That Friday Arnold and Hank had their usual after-work drink at Foster's. "So you're taking her out?" said Hank.

"Yeah. But she said she was busy on Saturday, so I don't know. She seemed to be very chummy with that doctor at the party."

"Hey, that was a long time ago. At least she remembered you, so you must have made some kind of impression. Give it your best shot."

Arnold didn't know exactly what Hank meant by that but he said, "Sure."

The place Arnold had chosen for their first date was a bar on California Street, which he remembered as being quiet and low-key. When they got there, he realized at once that it had changed in the last few years. There was a piano player and the music was loud rather than soft. The place was crowded and noisy. They found a small table next to a large one with a dozen or so young people who seemed pretty far gone, talking and laughing loudly.

When their drinks finally came, Arnold said, "This used to be a much quieter place."

"That's all right. It's Friday night and everyone is blowing off steam. Look, we have popcorn. Good. I had to work late and didn't have much of a supper."

"They used to have little frankfurters here, too, by the fireplace. Let me see if they have any." Arnold got up to look but found nothing. "Sorry," he said.

"I'll have to eat a lot of popcorn. So, when do you get your exam results?"

"I'm not sure, maybe not for a couple of months. That's how the State works. It's not exactly a streamlined process."

They talked some more about the exam and Arnold's hoped-for promotion. He told her something of his previous stay in San Francisco, how he'd lost his job and gone back to New York, and how he'd decided to return. He didn't mention Julie Landis. She was curious about Tommy Flowers.

"What happened to him?" she asked.

"I heard he's gone to Sacramento. He's an aide to some assemblyman or state senator, something like that. That's about all I know. But I'm sure Tommy landed on his feet, whatever he's doing."

"Why don't you call him? Maybe he can help you with the State."

"I don't think so." The truth was that Arnold had mixed feelings about Tommy. You couldn't dislike him but he felt Tommy had let down everyone in his firm. "I don't even know his phone number."

"You could probably find out."

"I'll wait for the exam results and then I'll see."

After they'd finished their drinks, Arnold said, "Look, I have an idea. Speaking of Tommy, let's go to Tommy's Joint, since you're hungry, and get something to eat."

"The popcorn will be enough," said Ellen.

"No, let's go. I feel hungry, too, and Tommy's Joint will be better than putting up with those drunks at the next table."

Tommy's Joint on Geary Street is a San Francisco institution famous for its good food, served Hofbrau style, its Irish coffee and its selection of beers from all over the world. It turned out that Ellen, although she'd heard of it, had never been there. They split a roast beef sandwich and had dark German beers to go with it. A group of four men between ages forty and fifty sat next to them at the long table and, as often happened in San Francisco, one was from New York. They talked about New York and San Francisco and, when they learned that Ellen was from Atlanta, the South. After finishing the beers, Arnold got Irish coffees. They stayed talking until around midnight, after the group of four had bought them a second round of Irish coffees.

When Arnold brought Ellen to the door of her apartment, she told him she'd had a great time. He asked her about going out with him the next weekend. This time she wasn't busy on Saturday.

The next week Arnold attended a meeting on the drug store survey with Mr. Sprague. Mr. Rose chaired the meeting and several other agency managers were present. After a little discussion, one of the other managers, Arnold thought he had something to do with finance, said that the survey budget was awfully high and couldn't they find some way to cut it. Mr. Sprague, after some hesitation, said they might be able to cut costs by doing a sample instead of, as in the past, surveying every drug store. Mr. Rose said that sounded interesting. Mr. Sprague said he could have a memo to him by the end of the week. After the meeting, he told Arnold to re-write his memo and provide a detailed budget for Mr. Rose.

That Saturday was warm and sunny although it was already early October. Arnold picked up Ellen in the afternoon and drove her over the Golden Gate Bridge to Sam's Anchor Cafe in Tiburon As with Tommy's Joint, she'd heard of Sam's but hadn't been there. Sam's as usual was crowded but they managed to find two wooden chairs by a wooden keg that served as a table. Sam's, unlike the Laurel Lodge, was pretty much as Arnold remembered it. People sat back in the wooden chairs taking in the sun while gazing at the view of San Francisco across the Bay.

He ordered two Samburgers and two beers. While they ate, noisy gulls swooped around, looking to grab food off someone's table. This was also as Arnold remembered. "Careful," he told Ellen. "Hang onto your food."

He told Ellen about the meeting and the latest development about the drug survey. They were waiting to hear from Mr. Rose. She told him about her week at the hospital. Taking this as his cue, Arnold asked about the doctor she'd talked to at Anne's party. "I did go out with him a few times," she said. "But he's like all doctors. He thinks he's God." When Arnold brought her back that evening he kissed her and she responded, holding him close to her. She asked him to come over for dinner the next week.

Work had become more interesting, and much busier, since Mr. Rose had approved using a sample for the drug store survey, a cost-saving idea which Mr. Sprague duly took credit for as his own. But Arnold didn't mind, or not too much. He spent his workdays developing what's known as a stratified sample, where drug stores were separated by employee size and a sample of each size range was selected. Of the many small-sized stores, only a few needed to be sampled and all of the very large stores were to be surveyed.

Arnold saw Ellen two or three times a week. He learned that her father was a lawyer who'd retired early because of severe arthritis. She had a younger brother who was still in college. Her family had lived in Georgia for three generations. She was the "wild" one who couldn't wait to leave home and see different parts of the world. While working at Bellevue she'd saved enough money to go to Europe for a year, then she'd worked a year in Vancouver before coming down to San Francisco. But Arnold had the impression that she'd had her fill of travel and wanted now to get married and with marriage would come a family.

Arnold also had a younger brother, who'd married right after college, and his idea of a family came from Harold's tiny apartment with two small boys racing around it, Harold's wife screaming uselessly at them and Harold complaining about how it was almost impossible to make ends meet on his salary. He hadn't visited Harold very often while he'd been in New York.

By now, Ellen had been to Arnold's apartment and had met Mickey, who liked her, choosing to climb into her lap rather than Arnold's whenever she was there. Then one Friday evening, after he'd stopped thinking about it, the exam result came in the mail. Arnold had finished second statewide. He immediately called Ellen with the news.

"That's wonderful," she said. "Does this mean you'll get a promotion?"

"No, it just means that whatever job at that level comes open I'll be interviewed for it."

"But what about the job you're in now. Can't they just give you a promotion?"

"The State doesn't work like that. I'll ask first thing Monday, but Sprague has already just about told me that it won't happen." Arnold didn't tell Ellen that the best chance for a promotion would be in Sacramento, the state capital, where almost all of the State agencies had their headquarters.

"That doesn't matter. I'm sure something will come up soon. We should celebrate."

"Well, the exam was the good news. The bad news is that my car's in the shop. The guy said I'll probably need a valve job."

"Is that very bad?"

"Yeah, a couple of hundred dollars."

"Oh, that is bad. But look, let's still celebrate. I'll buy some food and Marge can drive me over to your place."

"You don't have to."

"I want to. Besides, I haven't seen Mickey for a while."

When Ellen got there, she brought a bagful of groceries, which included a steak, a package of frozen French fried potatoes and a bottle of wine, which she unloaded onto the kitchen table. She also had another small plastic bag.

"What's in that?" asked Arnold.

"You'll see later."

They finished dinner, which Arnold told Ellen was great, then sat on the sofa-bed. Ellen pressed close to him and Arnold kissed her. After a while, Arnold said, "It's getting late. Do you want me to walk you home?"

"That won't be necessary." She got up and opened the plastic bag. It contained a short nightgown, a make-up case and a toothbrush.

"I don't know what Mickey will think," said Arnold.

But when they opened the sofa-bed and got in it, Mickey curled up placidly in the armchair and went to sleep.

A few weeks later, Arnold was walking through the Civic Center on his way back to the office after lunch when he heard his name called. It was a tall, curly-haired fellow in a bulky coat, who said, "I thought that was you. Remember me? Pete Mancuso. You did a couple of research projects for us."

Arnold remembered. Pete was in the marketing department of a large paper products company on Montgomery Street. "Yeah, sure. What are you doing in this part of town?"

"I had a lunch meeting. I haven't seen you around for a long time. What have you been doing?"

Arnold gave him a quick summary. He thought that Pete smirked when he heard that Arnold was now working for the State.

"So you're feeding at the public trough, huh?"

"That's it."

"Say, didn't you used to know Julie Landis?"

At the mention of her name, Arnold felt a shiver go through him. "Yeah, a little."

"I thought so. She married her boss at the agency, you know, what was his name, Armstrong or something."

"Yeah, I heard that before I went back to New York."

"The word is now that they're splitting. It didn't last very long."

"Do you know what she's doing now?"

"I think she's with another agency, marketing director or something. I also hear she might be going to Los Angeles. She'll get to the top, no matter what."

"Yeah, I'm sure she will."

"Well," said Pete, "I gotta run. Another meeting this afternoon. You know how it is. Hey, give me a call and we'll do lunch."

"Right," said Arnold. He knew the chances of this were less than Sprague's offering him a promotion. He returned to his office and spent the rest of the day with his sample design.

Ellen was going home to Atlanta for the holidays but the agency's Christmas party was held early, around mid-December, so she was able to go to it. Arnold was surprised that the party was held in one of the city's better restaurants. Everyone was dressed up in his or her best. Mr. Rose wore a blazer and one of his natty bowties. Even Mr. Sprague wore a suit which was less crumpled than usual.

During dinner, which was excellent, Mr. Rose made the round of tables. When he came to theirs, Arnold introduced Ellen to him. "Why haven't you brought this lovely young lady around before?" demanded Mr. Rose, then without waiting for a response, he said to Ellen, "I don't know how much longer Arnold is going to be with us. I wish we could promote him here, he's saved us a lot of money on a survey we're doing. But our hands our tied."

Mr. Rose asked Ellen some questions about herself, where she was from, how she liked San Francisco, then he passed on to another table. "I think he knows it's you and not Mr. Sprague that came up with that sampling idea," Ellen said to Arnold.

"Mr. Rose usually knows what's going on in the agency."

"It's too bad he can't give you a promotion here."

"Yeah." Arnold was on the point of telling Ellen that getting a promotion would most likely mean going to Sacramento, but he decided this wasn't the right time. He'd bring up that subject when she got back from her holiday vacation.

"Well, I'm sure something will come up."

Something did come up, much sooner than Arnold had expected. Two days before Christmas, he got a call from a DeWitt Bender of the State's giant Health Department in Sacramento. The department had an opening for a mid-level research analyst. So during the week between Christmas and New Year Arnold found himself driving in the rain to Sacramento. After being passed around among three secretaries, Arnold, holding his wet raincoat and a dripping umbrella, was ushered into Bender's office.

"Sorry to make you drive up on such a day," said Bender, standing up behind a large desk to shake Arnold's hand. "One of our analysts left quite suddenly and we have to fill the position as soon as we can." He told the secretary to take Arnold's wet things and asked him if he'd like some coffee.

Arnold would have but said, "No thanks," as he didn't want to be juggling a cup and saucer while answering questions. Bender looked to be at least in his fifties. He was a gaunt man with furrowed cheeks and a shock of white hair. He sat slumped in his chair looking unbearably weary, as if he'd seen all the inane things that could happen in a State agency and nothing would surprise him any more. He was the assistant research director for the department.

Bender had Arnold's resume in front of him and asked about his previous experience. When Arnold described his work with Tommy Flowers, he said, "There's a consultant of that name working for the Legislature, I think."

"That's the same one."

"I see. Well, tell me about your present work."

Arnold gave a summary of the drug store survey. Bender seemed impressed with the sample design as well as with the questionnaire Arnold had developed. Then he said, "We're trying to set up a computerized information system for one of our programs. Do you know -" and he mentioned a computer language then widely used.

Without answering the question immediately, Arnold quickly detailed all of the computer experience he'd had, which primarily had to do with tabulating survey questionnaires. He tried to sound as knowledgeable as possible, then concluded by saying, "I'm sure I could learn a computer language if I had to."

Bender said nothing to this, just slumped a little further down in his chair. They talked a little more and Bender asked if he could contact Arnold's supervisor. Arnold said that was no problem, then added that he could also call his agency chief, Mr. Rose. Bender said that he knew Rose from way back; he was quite a character. Arnold agreed. Bender concluded by telling Arnold they had two more candidates to interview and that he'd try to get back to him as soon as possible. He stood up and extended his hand, indicating that the interview was over. Arnold gathered up his coat and umbrella and left the building. He told himself that he'd have to find out about learning the basic computer languages if that's what it took. At least it had stopped raining. He got into his car and drove back to San Francisco. He wondered if he should call Ellen about the interview and decided not to. There was no point to it unless he actually got an offer.

It was New Year's Eve. Arnold was again at the apartment of Hank Barrow's sister Anne, who was giving a small and very sedate party. Ellen had called him earlier in the day and told him she wished she was there with him. Arnold said he wished she was, too. Hank came over to where he was standing by himself. "Well, did you hear about the job yet?"

"No, nothing."

"You'll probably get a call next week. There's no question you'll get it."

"I don't know. I didn't know anything about actually writing computer programs."

"How many State research analysts do? Don't worry, the job is yours. So, what are you going to do about Ellen?"

"What do you mean?"

"Well, if you're going to Sacramento, you'll obviously have to take her with you. Have you popped the question yet?"

"You mean ask her to marry me?"

"Sure. She'll have to make an honest man of you."

"I hadn't really thought about it," Arnold lied.

"Come on, you can't expect her to wait around for you while you're way up there in the boondocks."

"Actually, there's no reason why we can't see each other on the weekends. It's only a two-hour drive. I timed it."

Anne suddenly materialized beside them, a frown on her face. "You mean you'd go up to Sacramento just like that. You'd be a fool to leave her behind. Ellen's a wonderful girl. If you don't marry her, you deserve to lose her."

"Maybe she doesn't want to go to Sacramento," objected Arnold. "She has a good job here."

"There are hospitals in Sacramento."

"Well, I may not even get the job."

"That's fudging it," said Anne firmly.

Before Arnold could think of a reply to this true statement, someone said, "It's almost midnight." The TV was on, and thanks to tape delay, they watched the ball coming down in Times Square. Everyone sang Auld Lang Syne, then turned to the nearest person and kissed. Anne was the nearest woman to Arnold, but he didn't think this was the time to kiss her. He sipped his champagne, then at the earliest opportunity went back to his apartment and wished Mickey a Happy New Year.

Arnold's parents called him on New Year's Day. He told them about the interview in Sacramento. He'd casually mentioned in one of his letters that he'd been seeing a girl named Ellen, just "seeing" as anything more than that would have his mother making wedding plans, and they asked him about her. He said that she was visiting her parents for the holidays. They said she sounded like a nice girl to be doing that. Arnold agreed that she was a nice girl. "So are you getting serious?" demanded his mother. "You're not getting any younger, you know."

Arnold said he'd see what happened when he knew for sure about the job. He changed the subject by asking after his brother Harold and his family, then hung up as soon as he could.

The job offer came during the first week of January, brought to Arnold by Mr. Rose himself. Mr. Sprague objected that they were in the middle of the drug survey and he couldn't afford to lose Arnold. Mr. Rose told him not to worry, they had a replacement already lined up, a UC Berkeley graduate with a degree in statistics.

Bender called soon after to make it official and Arnold accepted. At lunchtime, he told Hank, who asked him if he'd told Ellen yet. Arnold said, "No, I'll call her tonight." Hank looked pointedly at him but said nothing. In the afternoon, on an impulse, Arnold decided to call Tommy Flowers. He called the information number for the State legislature and eventually was put through to a secretary, who told him Mr. Flowers was busy and he'd have to leave a message. At that point, Tommy's familiar drawling voice came on and said, "That's okay, Miss Flynn. I'll take this call. Arnold, it's been a long time. How are you?"

Arnold told him he'd returned to San Francisco, had gotten a job with the State, and would be coming up to Sacramento soon. Tommy said, "Yeah, I know. Old Bender gave me a call and asked about you. I told him you were a decent enough researcher."


"Yeah. I also told him you could learn any computer language in no time flat."

"I hope you're right."

"Don't worry, you'll be okay. Call me when you get here and I'll buy you lunch."

"Sure. I'll see you." Arnold hung up. He thought he'd always have mixed feelings about Tommy but he felt better for making the call.

That night, as he'd told Hank he would, Arnold called Ellen to tell her about the job offer. She said she was thrilled that he'd be getting a promotion, then stopped, clearly waiting for Arnold to say more. Arnold had talked to some people in the office who'd once lived in Sacramento and he relayed to Ellen what they'd told him, that Sacramento was hot in the summer and foggy in the winter, but that housing cost much less than in San Francisco and of course, for a State employee, that was where the jobs were. Ellen didn't say much in reply, but when Arnold said he was going up there that weekend to try finding an apartment she offered to go with him and help him look.

The next day Arnold received a phone call in his office. "Hello, Arnold." Arnold hadn't heard Julie Landis's voice in over two years but recognized it instantly.

"How did you know I was working here?" he asked.

"I have my spies. It's too bad you had to take a job with the State." Arnold was about to tell her of his impending promotion when he transferred to Sacramento, but she went on. "We have a research job here that I think would be perfect for you."

Arnold's world suddenly seemed to turn upside down. "You have?"

"We have to fill it right away. Can you stop by my office at, say, six o-clock? Almost everyone else will be gone by then and we can talk."

Arnold was off at five. "Yes, he said. "I can be there." After all this time, he would be seeing Julie Landis again.

Julie's agency, Arnold could see, was a large one, located in one of the new buildings on Montgomery Street. A pretty receptionist greeted him and said that Ms. Landis was expecting him. When he entered, Julie stood up, walked around her desk and shook his hand. He was reminded of their first meeting, in a restaurant where Tommy Flowers had taken him to lunch and when he'd instantly fallen in love with her.

"You're looking well for a bureaucrat," she said.

"Just a humble civil servant," said Arnold. "You're looking well, too." She was, he thought. Julia was nearly as tall as he was, and slender. She was a blonde; blue or green-eyed, he was never sure which; tanned and healthy-looking. When he'd first met her he'd thought she was the quintessential California girl and he still did even though he'd since learned she was from Minnesota. She was as beautiful as ever, even though he could now see tiny lines around her eyes and she looked somewhat tired.

Instead of going back behind her desk, Julia sat down in an armchair and motioned Arnold to one next to it. "Let me tell you about the job I had in mind," she began.

Arnold listened but barely heard what Julia was saying. He was thinking that with this job he'd be back where he was when Tommy Flowers' firm went under. He'd be with one of the top agencies in town and he could stay in San Francisco, the lovely city by the Bay. He could forget about moving to Sacramento in the hot, dusty valley. He came to when Julia finished speaking.

"Well, how does it sound to you?" she asked.

"It sounds good."

"And of course we'll be able to see each other." She leaned forward and put a hand on his knee.

The landlady, Mrs. Fish, was a blowsy heavily made-up woman of about sixty who waved a cigarette about while showing them the apartment. From the way she beamed at them, it was clear she thought Arnold and Ellen were married. "How soon will you be moving in?" she asked.

"Uh, I'll be moving in," said Arnold. "Ellen is just helping me look."

"Oh," said Mrs. Fish, her smile vanishing. "Well, I'll leave you two here to look around. I have to feed my cats."

"That reminds me," said Arnold. "I have a cat. Is that okay?"

"Mmmm. Normally, I don't allow pets. I'll have to think about it."

When Mrs. Fish left, they sat down on the two chairs in the small living room. "It's not much, is it?" said Arnold.

"It can be fixed up."

"At least it is a one-bedroom. You know, I bet the two of us can live here as well as one."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, what I mean is, I'd like you to come up to Sacramento and live with me. If you can give up your job. After we get married, of course."

"Arnold, is that supposed to be a proposal?"

"A proposal. Yes, it is. Wait a minute." He stood up, then knelt beside Ellen's chair. "Ellen Carter, will you be my wife?"

"Arnold Grey, I will." He kissed her. "I never thought you'd come out with it," she said.

"I had to. I know Mickey couldn't live without you."

"Mickey? What about you?"

"And me."

When Mrs. Fish came back, Arnold told her that Ellen would be moving in with him after all; they were getting married. Mrs. Fish said there'd be no problem with their having a cat.

The night before the wedding, Arnold took Hank to dinner at his neighborhood restaurant. "The food's not very good here, you know," said Hank.

"I know, but it's cheap. In a way, I'll miss it. I wonder if I'll ever eat at a place like this again." He looked around. The same single men, including the man with no neck who actually did work at a State agency, were sitting at the little tables along the wall. Well, he'd no longer be one of them.

"You won't be missing much," said Hank. "So you start work next Monday?"

"Yeah, Ellen, too. It was nice of Anne to call that Sacramento hospital about a job for her."

"I'll tell you something, I think she called over a month ago. I remember you telling me at that New Year's Eve party that you hadn't even thought of getting married. Actually, you never had a chance."

"I guess not."

"Think you'll miss San Francisco?"

"A little, but it's time I moved on. Once we get settled, we'll start looking for a house."

"And then come the kids."

"One step at a time." Yes, he'd miss San Francisco. An image of Julie Landis flashed across his mind. That part of his life was over. He was getting married.

Part 3 - Struggling On (Click to go to Part 1: Being in Love, Part 2: Getting Married)

In Sacramento, the capital of California, where I've now lived most of my adult life, February brings a "false spring," when, in between the rain and fog of December, January and March, the sun appears, the warmth makes the almond trees blossom, grass and shrubs grow, and homeowners rush to nurseries for plant seeds, then bring out the gardening tools and lawn mowers which had been stored in garages over the winter. But on this warm Saturday morning in February during the early 1970's, my neighbor Earl Harper and I had escaped from our respective houses to a nearby park for an hour or so to partake of the sport which had suddenly become so popular at that time, tennis.

The tennis court on which we played, one of two in the little park, had grass growing in its cracks and a net which sagged in the middle. This didn't bother us as it matched the quality of our games, typical of two thirty-something hackers whose strokes would make any tennis pro cringe. The truth was that our weekly tennis was more an excuse to get away for a brief time and discuss the problems of our lives than anything else.

"How's Ellen?" had been Earl's usual first question, referring to my wife, who was then three months pregnant.

"She's fine, but I'm still in shock," I said, giving my usual answer. My wife told me afterward that I'd gone into a depression for months after learning we'd be having a completely unplanned-for third child to go with our sons Ken, age five, and Jack, age almost four. I think she exaggerated but I admit the news put me in a rather somber mood. My salary (recently reduced) as a mid-level research analyst for the State barely covered our expenses as it was. Our house, seemingly so large when we'd moved in childless (but with Ken on the way) was adequate for two kids, but where would we put a third? Then, down the road, there was the prospect of working another five years to put a third child through college, if indeed I still had a job.

I asked Earl about his family in turn. He and his wife Mary already had three children, two boys, Eugene and Mike, approximately the same ages as mine, and a girl, Vanessa, two years old. "They're okay, driving me crazy."

I doubted this as Earl, unlike myself, had the calmest disposition of anyone in the world. The families disposed of, I said, "I may have a car problem. The Dodge wouldn't start the other day. I brought the battery in and had it charged but I'm afraid it may drain again."

"I'll come over this afternoon and look at it," said Earl, as I knew he would. Earl was my advisor on all car repairs, which were many as the six-year old Dodge was our good car and we were trying to keep our 15-year old Volkswagen running so we'd have a second car. He was also my advisor on house repairs, which seemed to be required as often as repairs for the two cars combined. But the current problem, a leaky kitchen faucet, I thought I could take care of myself.

When I returned to my house after splitting two sets with Earl, I found my wife Ellen in the back yard pruning the roses. Her first words to me were, "They're covered with aphids. I tried to hose them off but we're going to have to spray them."

Ah, yes, I thought, the annual aphid attack. "Okay. I'll check in the garage and see if we have any spray left. If not, I'll pick some up. Where are the boys?"

"In the house. Ken has been bad all morning. Eugene came over on his bike so he tried to ride it and still couldn't. Then he got mad and hit Jack. I put him in his room to cool off. Jack's watching television."

This was not an uncommon report. We'd bought Ken a two-wheel bicycle for Christmas, which seemed like a great idea at the time. The trouble was that he refused to ride with the training wheels (because none of the other kids did) and couldn't keep his balance without them. "I'll take them shopping with me," I said. "How are you feeling?"

"Tired. I didn't sleep too well last night."

"Why don't I get out the barbeque and cook some hamburgers tonight?"

"That would be good."

After quickly showering and dressing, I went into Ken's room, where he was carefully lining up his collection of cars on his bed, something which he could do for hours. "Come on," I said. "It's shopping time."

"Dad," he said, "I don't want to ride my bicycle again."


"Maybe I should give it to Jack."

"Well, I don't think Jack's big enough to ride it. We'll just keep it in the garage until you're ready to try it again."

"I'll never be ready."

"We'll see."

I'd gotten into a routine of taking Ken and Jack with me to the Town and Country shopping center on Saturday mornings. At that time it had a delicatessen, which we called the "rye bread store," as that's what I bought there, and also a small library, where we'd stop in for books. On this morning, we found a large book with car pictures for Ken and a Curious George book, one of his favorites, for Jack.

I spent the afternoon pruning the many shrubs we had, all of which seemed to have doubled in size since I'd last seen them the previous fall. As he'd promised, Earl came around and looked at the Dodge. He said it might need a new alternator, which could cost up to $150. Ellen came out and we talked about the recent neighborhood scandal, John Bach, a realtor, leaving his wife Bonnie and six-year old son Craig.

"Is he out of the house?"

"Yes," said Ellen, "he packed up last week. Bonnie said he wants to marry his secretary, who's 25 years old."

At five-thirty, with Ken and Jack assisting and mosquitoes buzzing around me, I barbequed the hamburgers. Afterward, the boys actually played quietly for a couple of hours while Ellen and I watched television. Then we gave them their baths, and I told them their nightly "chapter," which is what we called each episode of a never-ending story of a group of explorers marooned on an island with two boys amazingly named Ken and Jack assisting them while they contended with large apes, dinosaurs, cavemen and an evil person named Mr. X along with his sinister henchman Chang. In other words, the story was an amalgam of movies and comic books I remembered from when I was a kid. As I did every night, I left them with a cliff-hanger, this time Ken and Jack trapped in a cave by Chang and his minions, and then Ellen and I mercifully had the rest of the night to ourselves.

We read for a while longer, then I asked, "How are you feeling now?"

She replied, "Still pretty tired," which was code for we're not doing anything in bed tonight beyond sleeping. We talked a little more about the Bachs and would Bonnie stay or move, then checked on the boys and went to bed. I kissed Ellen good-night and another day was over.

It must have been in March that I had lunch with my some-time mentor DeWitt Bender because it was pouring down rain when I walked over to the Mandarin Palace, the downtown restaurant where legislators and high-level State executives who could afford the prices habitually met to eat and conspire. Henry Chin, the proprietor, as always gave me a dubious look as I entered and told him I was meeting Mr. Bender. I'd had an occasional lunch at the Palace during the ten years I'd been in Sacramento, but Henry knew I was far from being one of the movers and shakers and never really accepted that I belonged with them.

Nevertheless, he gestured to a flunky to take my dripping coat and umbrella and lead me to the corner table where Bender always sat. "You expecting Mr. Grey?" he said in a questioning tone, and when Bender nodded, he shook his head and left, washing his hands of the matter.

DeWitt Bender had been in his late forties when I'd come to Sacramento, so he must have been then almost sixty, although he hadn't changed in the least, possibly because he'd already looked old at our first meeting. He had a shock of white hair, furrowed cheeks and a look of incredible weariness as if he'd seen all of the silliness working for the State had to offer. I noticed he was drinking mineral water instead of his usual mid-day martini and recalled that at our last lunch, maybe six months before, he'd told me his doctor had stipulated no more alcohol.

Bender was research director of the State's giant Health Department. I considered him my some-time mentor because, although he'd hired me to my first job there and in a way had watched over me since then, we'd had a number of clashes along the way. These were usually when he wanted me to manipulate, "massage" he called it, some set of statistics or data to be presented to the department head or a legislator. Of course, he may have had a different slant on the matter. I wanted to present "honest" data. He said I never seemed to realize we operated in "the real world."

We ordered; then, folding his hands on the table, Bender said, "Well, Arnold, I gather you're in trouble again."

"Yes," I admitted.

"I hear they want to cut the budget for that stupid committee, what's it called, the Health Advisory Council?"

"Yes, the HAC."

"Does that mean your position will be cut, too?"

"Nobody seems to know, but it's a possibility."

"I bet Pomeroy would love to do it."

"Probably, but he hasn't the guts. I don't think so, anyway. But it's still a lousy situation and I have to get out."

"Should I say I told you so?"

"Please don't."

A little personal history is in order here. After becoming a mid-level research analyst with the Health Department, a promotion, I'd stayed there five years, getting a five percent "merit" pay increase each year, but no further promotion. These were lean years for the State and whenever I'd ask Bender about it, he'd tell me he was just trying to keep any positions from being cut.

Then I'd had the chance for a temporary assignment as what was called a research specialist with a ten percent pay increase. It was with the Health Insurance Division (HID) of the State's retirement system, which administered a dozen or so health plans for State employees. The assignment was to conduct a survey of the health plans, how much employees used them, how much employees still had to pay, how satisfied they were with them, and other such questions, which the Retirement Board, for some reason, had decreed be done. The Board had a special fund to pay for the expenses of the project, including my salary.

Bender had warned me against taking the job. Robert Pomeroy, the HID chief, was an ignorant fool, he said, and a crooked one at that. My impression from the one interview I'd had with Pomeroy was the same, but I'd still taken the job. This was at the time when Ken was about a year old and we'd just learned that Jack was on the way. I needed the extra money and I thought I could handle Pomeroy. Besides, I'd figured the survey would take two years at most, about a year to plan, then a year to carry out. Then, with the completed survey under my belt I'd be in a good position to advance to senior research analyst, either back in the Health Department or somewhere else.

In the event, the survey had taken over four years. For one thing, it was ostensibly under the direction of the Retirement Board's Health Advisory Council, a group of doctors who knew nothing about surveys but who had to be consulted every step of the way. For another, Pomeroy, who had the insecure bureaucrat's fear of any new project, did his best to delay it. When the survey was finally completed, hundreds of copies were printed and distributed and, what do you know, nothing happened. The lean times for the State had gotten even leaner and a job freeze had been imposed. I went back to being a mid-level researcher, at mid-level pay, with nothing in particular to do and a Division chief who, in private industry, would have immediately fired me.

By this time, our meals had come and Bender asked me what, if anything, I was doing to occupy my time.

"I have the annual hospital survey coming up." This was a little mail survey I'd initiated in my first year with the Division, for a sample of hospitals to get their current room and board rates. "I'm developing a survey to ask employees who change health plans during the open period why they're leaving the old one and why they're changing to the new one. I figure this is a good indication of employee satisfaction. Meanwhile, I'm working with EDP (this was Electronic Data Processing) to unscramble our so-called master file so we can know how many employees are in each plan, ages, sex and so on. And of course I'm writing a novel about my experiences which is bound to be a best-seller."

"Well, you were always good at finding things to do," said Bender. "But I don't think I can find anything for you to do in the department. There's the job freeze, as you know."

"But people retire, die, leave the country. Something must open up sometimes."

"That's just it. Whenever someone does leave, the position is wiped out and the people left do the work. It's called salary-saving."

"So I'm stuck?"

"I'm afraid so. I'll keep my eye out and of course someday the freeze will have to be lifted. But right now you're stuck."

I must have looked pretty stricken at hearing this because, when the bill came, Bender actually paid for both our lunches, the first time in history this had happened. As I walked back to the office in the rain, I thought that this wasn't much consolation.

As if the lunch hadn't been depressing enough, the first person I encountered when I got back to the office was Felix Rathbone, supposedly our office manager but whose real function was gofer for whatever Pomeroy demanded. "Where have you been?" he at once demanded, ostentatiously looking at his watch. "It's after two o'clock. Mr. Pomeroy has been looking all over for you."

I thought this was highly unlikely as Pomeroy almost never returned from his own lunch before three, if at all. "Well, you can tell your master I'm here," I said, as I went into my office and closed the door. I sat down, contemplated the open period survey stuff on my desk and then stared out the window. Keeping my private office after the survey was done had been the issue of one of my fiercest battles with Pomeroy. He'd wanted not only to demote me but move me to a desk in the outer office, which had a noise level equal to that of a fish market. I'd refused to move, told him I'd file a complaint with the employees' association (even though I didn't know if I could) and was going home. I was on the way out when he'd relented and said I could stay "for now."

After a few moments, Judy Trotter, a pretty girl in her twenties who'd been my secretary during the survey project and was now Rathbone's assistant, came into my office. "I told him you were probably over with EDP," she said. Judy, despite her transfer and despite Rathbone, still acted as my secretary.

"Don't worry about it," I said.

"You have some messages. The repair shop called about the car. It is the alternator. EDP called; the last run bombed. Oh, and your wife called."

"Thanks for all the good news."

"I'm sorry."

"I'm kidding. Thanks for covering."

I called the repair shop and told them to put in a new alternator. I called EDP and set up a meeting for the next day. My wife's news was that the dishwasher seemed to be leaking. I told her I'd look at it when I got home, then I'd probably call Earl.

When I'd hung up the third time, Rathbone came in uninvited and said I was to join a meeting in Pomeroy's office at once. To my surprise, when I opened the door I saw that the office was packed with what appeared to be a dozen or so people. Besides Pomeroy and Rathbone, Pom's constant friend and companion, our Assistant Chief, Bob Watson, was there; the others were strangers.

To my further surprise, Pom greeted me cordially and introduced me as the Division's crack research analyst to the assemblage, all of whom were from the State's Department of Alcohol and Drugs (DAD). Aside from finding it interesting that such a small department had so many managers, I found the DAD people to be interchangable, with one exception, and that was a notable one.

One of the most attractive women I'd ever met in a State office smiled when Pom named her as Lydia Syms, DAD's research head, and shook my hand firmly. I judged her to be in her late thirties, slim, blonde, poised, well-dressed in a cream-colored suit whose very short skirt displayed very shapely legs. She reminded me of the type of women I used to see in San Francisco advertising agencies when I worked there in my twenties. In fact, I realized that she reminded me of Julie Landis, with whom I'd then been madly in love.

With all of these thoughts whirling about in my mind, I sat and listened while Pom explained that DAD was considering contracting with our Division for a pilot program under which State employees would be treated for alcoholism by our health plans, the funds coming under a federal grant they'd just received. Like everyone else in the Division, I knew that Pom and Watson, the Bobsy Twins as they were inevitably called, had been holding a lot of meetings with DAD but, as the outcast, I had no idea what these had been about. Now I knew and I also understood why I'd been summoned. The meeting had gotten around to just what treatment data should be collected, and how, and what was all this going to prove. So Pom wanted to show the DAD people he had a genuine live research person in his own agency.

There followed the kind of interminable discussion leading nowhere which a meeting of this kind was bound to produce, ending with a date set for another meeting. As everyone walked out, Lydia Sims came up to me, slipped her card into my hand and suggested we meet on our own later in the week. As this was the best proposition I'd received in months, I readily agreed. Maybe things were looking up.

Lydia and I had our meeting on Friday and then other meetings in the following weeks. Although I learned that she had a seemingly inexhaustible supply of suits, all with short skirts, which gave me the opportunity to continue my study of her legs, these meetings were all businesslike. She made no secret of her belief that Pom was an idiot, that she'd advised DAD not to have any contract with our Division and that she considered the alcohol pilot project a waste of time and money. But if it was to be done, which seemed to be the case, she wanted to get some useful information from it.

Together, we determined what data our carriers should provide and in what form they could deliver it. Our larger health plans, I told her, should be able to give us computer tapes. The small plans could deliver their data on forms, which would be then put on the IBM punch cards that in those ancient days were used for computers. Monthly reports would then be produced showing how many employees were treated, for what, and how much it all cost so that the federal funds were not all used up before the project ended.

I might have known that this unexpected period of professional research work (and with a woman who could be a fashion model to boot) couldn't last. One afternoon in early May our Assistant Chief Bob Watson came into my office and informed me that the administration had indeed eliminated the money for the HAC. Moreover, an audit of the Division was being done with the object of cutting positions and mine was at the top of the cut list.

I got along fairly well with Watson, who tried to act as a buffer between the Division's staff and Pom's more unreasonable demands. In a way, he was like Bender, trying to accommodate the "real world," which unfortunately in our office was surreal. I even suspected that underneath all of Watson's incessant talking there was a glimmer of intelligence. If only that in every showdown with Pom he didn't eventually cave in.

Watson wanted me to prepare a list of research projects, giving all the reasons I could why they were essential to the functioning of the Division. "I'll do the best I can," he assured me, "but they really have their knives out this time." He also told me to do my best to avoid having any more battles with Pom. I told him I'd try, but I knew this would be difficult.

By this time, Ellen, in her fifth month, was feeling terrible. She had morning sickness, her legs were swollen and her back hurt. As if sensing her vulnerability, the boys had gotten really wild and since she was too tired to keep them in line that became my job as soon as I returned home every night.

Besides this, there was a new problem in the neighborhood. Bonnie Bach couldn't keep up the house payments after her husband had left and so had sold to a family called the Drakefields. The husband was a drugs salesman, the wife a substitute teacher and their two kids, 9-year old Perry and seven-year old Mizzie were brats. They harassed the younger kids, including Ken and Jack, and almost every week I had to go over there and talk to them.

On top of all that, we were having a spate of large bills, larger than usual, that is. The dishwasher, despite Earl's attempts to fix it, had to be replaced. The Dodge, even with its new alternator, still wasn't running right and I'd had to get a new starter and a new voltage regulator, not to mention a new battery. The Volkswagen was simply wearing out. And now, as Ellen informed me just as we were about to go to bed one night, the refrigerator was making "funny noises."

It took me a long time to fall asleep that night and when I did I had a vivid dream. I was standing in a large yard along with a few hundred other people, all State workers. Every minute or so a voice would call out a name through a loudspeaker and that person would be fired. I awoke in a sweat and then, unable to go back to sleep, tried to mentally review our finances to see what would happen if indeed I was fired. As far as I could see, we could last a month or two before running out of money.

It was the next week when a strange event occurred. We were having a farewell party for one of the girls who was leaving our Division for another agency. The party was in one of the restaurants in Old Sacramento. Lunch was over and most everyone else was at the bar having drinks. I found myself still sitting at a table, by myself, which I thought was appropriate as my fellow workers, especially the younger ones, had been shunning me for some time. I suppose that to them I was one of those State workers who'd come to a dead end. I'd been in the Division five years, with no promotion and apparently no qualifications that would persuade anyone else to hire me. And now I might even be let go.

These glum thoughts were interrupted when my ex-secretary Judy Trotter came over with two drinks in her hands. She put down one in front of me. "Here," she said. "You look as if you need this."

"Thanks. Do I look that bad?"

"I think it's terrible what they're doing to you."

I was a little surprised at this statement. "Don't worry," I said. "I'll survive." Judy put one of her hands on mine. She looked at me with her sincere blue eyes and solemnly said, "You know I'm always there for you."

What was going on here? I looked back at Judy. She was about thirty, I thought. She was a pretty girl, woman, really. We'd become friendly during the four years of the survey, but I didn't really know much about her. Like many young people nowadays, she'd already married and been divorced. She'd had a boyfriend for a time but he seemed to have disappeared. Was she just trying to render aid and comfort to her poor old ex-boss, or was there something more involved?

"Well, thanks, Judy," I said. "But I'll be okay."

"You know the Bobsey Twins won't be going back to the office. I bet half the others won't be either. You and I can split and go somewhere."

Good grief, there was something more. Did being a haggard-looking old guy with job trouble endow you with some kind of sex appeal? "No, I can't," I told her. "I have a meeting with EDP this afternoon," which happened to be true.

"Well, don't forget what I said."

"Okay. And thanks."

I tried not to bring my office problems home as I figured Ellen had enough on her plate, and in her stomach, to contend with. But I'd kept Earl up to date, although the only helpful advice he could give me was, "Hang in there." The Harpers invited us over for a July 4th barbeque and while the women sat on the porch and the five kids ran around the yard I helped Earl cook the hamburgers and told him the latest.

"Are you looking around at other agencies?" he asked.

"All the time," I said. "I called my old boss at the Health Department again but he told me there's still nothing there."

"How about something outside the State?"

"I tried that, too. I answered some ads and got no response. I guess employers think working for the State disqualifies you from the private sector."

"Well," said Earl, "hang in there."

Afterward, while we ate our hamburgers and coleslaw and ice cream, we had a long discussion about our house accommodating the extra child who was due in about a month. Earlier that day, we'd put up bunk beds in Ken's room. Jack was going to move in there with him while the baby had his old room. That would take care of things for the time being, but who knew how long Ken and Jack could co-exist in one small space.

The Harpers had built another bedroom onto their house, Earl doing a good bit of the work himself. "How much do you think it would cost us to add on?" I asked. "Without me doing anything."

"I don't know, maybe $10,000."

"$10,000? Maybe we'll put up a tent."

When we got back to our house after an hour of setting off fireworks for the kids, Jack asked if he had to sleep in the bunk bed now. We told him he could wait until the baby came. He said he would.

Shortly afterward, the Retirement Board held a meeting, at which the contract between our Division and DAD for a pilot alcohol program was formally approved. There was even a photographer from the Sacramento paper there, who took a photo of the state senator who'd gotten the federal funding for the project. Pom and the chief of DAD, a tough-looking woman in her forties, also contrived to have their pictures taken. I wasn't there because I was interviewing for a job at an agency where nobody wanted to work, the Mental Health Department, whose head was a scourge and, as everyone said, probably needed psychiatric treatment herself. I'd later be notified that I didn't get the job.

The big San Francisco trip flap must have been near the end of July. The Bobsy Twins were going there for a Retirement Board meeting. At the same time, Lydia Syms wanted me to accompany her to a meeting there with one of our major carriers to discuss how they'd deliver alcohol treatment data, then go with her the next day to our major prepaid health plan (now known as an HMO) in Oakland for the same purpose. I in all innocence arranged to pick up a State car the first morning and reserved a room at the Civic Center hotel where State employees always stayed for that night.

The day before the trips, Rathbone told me Pom wanted to see me in his office ASAP. From the way he was salivating, I knew something was amiss. Watson was in there with Pom, sitting nervously on the edge of a chair. Pom himself was as livid as I'd ever seen him. He castigated me for having the nerve to go ahead and make my trip arrangements without first notifying him. "Don't you know we've used up just about all of our travel money," he shouted. "And I don't want you going off by yourself with anyone from DAD and committing us to something we don't know anything about."

To myself, I reflected that if the Division's travel money was almost all used up, it was because of the endless trips made by the Bobsy Twins, but I merely shrugged and said, "Okay, I won't go. It was only because I was asked."

"Who asked you?"

"Lydia Syms."

"That pushy bitch. Nobody ever told me about this."

"What if Arnold goes down with us," said Watson, "then meets her at the carrier."

Drive down in the same car with the Bobsy Twins, a fate worse than death. "No," I quickly said, "let's just forget about it."

"Wait a minute," said Pom. He punched a button on his phone and told his secretary to get him what's-her-name, the DAD chief. It appeared that she was in her office because Pom asked her if she knew about these meetings, then followed with a series of "uh-huhs." When he put down the phone, he turned to me and said, "All right, you can go if you want to. But it'll be on your own. We don't have any money to pay travel expenses."

"Neither do I."

"Let's talk about it," said Watson. "We'll let you know later."

On my way back to my office, Judy told me that I should call Lydia Syms right away. I did and she came on the line. "I understand you're having some travel expense problems," she said.

"So it seems."

"I'll pick you up in the morning."

"What about staying over?"

"If necessary, we'll pay for it, out of the pilot program money."

I had no desire to face Pom again so I stayed in my office and after a while Watson came in to tell me the issue was still up in the air. I told him of Lydia's offer and he said he'd see Pom about it.

It was over a hundred degrees when we left Sacramento and I was glad to get inside Lydia's air-conditioned car headed for the cool clime of the Bay Area. "Thanks for coming to my rescue," I said.

"Pom's an asshole. I called and told him that if you weren't involved we'd go ahead and cancel the whole contract."

"You wouldn't really have, would you?"

"Why not? You're the only one there with any brains. How do you work for that guy?"

"I can't find anything else. Do you need a researcher at DAD?"

"You don't want to come over to us. I'm doing my best to get out."


"Rita's a lesbo and she's packing the place with her buddies. It's bad enough when the guys hit on me, but when the girls do it's too much."

"That's interesting."

"You know your boss tried to hit on me first thing? I told him to take a hike."

I hadn't but I wasn't surprised. Now I knew why he'd referred to Lydia as that pushy bitch.

The carrier meeting went well. Bud Moncrief, their data man, who'd routinely told me that nothing was available whenever I'd tried to get something, was dazzled by Lydia's legs and promised her anything she wanted. At the end of the meeting, he asked her if she was doing anything that evening. She told him she was busy.

We checked into our hotel around six and arranged to meet in the dining room in an hour. When you stayed in the Civic Center area you didn't go out at night. Lydia's appearance in the lobby drew looks from all the men present. She was in a tight black dress, even shorter than her skirts. She reminded me more than ever of Julie Landis.

"You look OK for a government researcher," I said.

"I hope I don't look like a government researcher."

A waiter led us to what was undoubtedly the restaurant's best table. We both ordered the steak dinner. Lydia also ordered a bottle of wine. "Will your expense account cover that?" I asked.

"DAD will take care of it."

During dinner, Lydia told me that she'd only been working for the State for five years. She'd been married (and here she mentioned a high-ranking State official) but they'd broken up and, finding herself in Sacramento, she'd decided to work for the State. So, in half the time that I'd been with the State, she'd become head of an agency's research section. Of course, her ex-husband had gotten her that first job.

In my turn I told her something of my past life in San Francisco, then briefly sketched in my recent misadventures with the State. When I reached the point of describing my present shaky status, she put her hand on mine and said, "Don't worry. I'm sure you'll be all right."

After dinner, we took the elevator up to our floor. "Come into my room," she said. "I want to show you something." As soon as we were inside the door, she pulled me close and kissed me. What was going on here? Suddenly I was an object of women's desire. The thing with Judy was of course like high school necking compared to this. Why hadn't such things happened before I became an old married man?

I admit I kissed her back and briefly did some other things with my hands. After all, I was human and after all the months of Ellen's pregnancy I was hungry for sex. But I came to my senses and pulled away. "I can't do this." I said.

"Why not? We're two consenting adults. Your wife will never know. Maybe she wouldn't even mind."

"I don't know. Maybe it's because it's something Pom would do."

The mention of Pom's name seemed to break the spell. "All right," she said briskly. "Our meeting's at ten. I'll meet you for breakfast at eight-thirty."

She looked at her watch and I looked at mine. "Yes, sir," I said.

Back in my room I treated myself to an agony of second thoughts. As Lydia had said, Ellen would never know. Nobody would ever know. What harm would it have done? In the great scheme of things, what would it have mattered? But I knew why I'd drawn back. Because Lydia was so much like Julie Landis one night might not have been the end of it. And I was just too old for that kind of thing.

"So you're not going to be cut and you even got a promotion," said Earl.

"Well, I'm back where I was. At least for another year or two."

I'd just related the events of the last week to Earl as we prepared for another one of our great tennis matches. The alcohol pilot project, or APP, was to have a unit of two novice research analysts and a secretary, headed by a Research Specialist. I'd been appointed to the Specialist position. Watson had told me that Pom had been opposed to this but that DAD had insisted. I'd called DeWitt Bender and told him I'd still like him to keep an eye out for me in case the freeze finally thawed.

When I returned, Ellen greeted me with good, no, great news. Eugene had come over on his bicycle and Ken had gotten his bicycle out and had succeeded in riding it. "Daddy, daddy," he said. "I can ride now."

"Just a matter of time," I told him. But now, Ellen told me, Jack was sad because he didn't have a two-wheel bike. "We'll see," I said. "Maybe he'll be getting one."

After showering and getting dressed I told Ellen I was taking the boys to the rye bread store and the library. When I came back we could talk about an addition to the house, or maybe even moving to a bigger house, sometime in the future, of course. Meanwhile, there was that kitchen faucet, leaking again, to fix.

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed that - good story! Arnold is an interesting character. I can't believe I'm the first person to comment on this!