“Oh, we just went for the weekend,” Junior said. He leaned back in the chair across from Joe’s desk and crossed his legs. He tossed the matchbook on the blotter. “If you’re ever in town, go there. Great food.”
Joe picked up the book. “I like Italian.”
“Who doesn’t? But it’s not red Italian. It’s white. They have some red dishes but oh, the looks you’ll get if you order them. Me, I’m through with the red. The white’s the stuff. Anyway, thought I’d bring the match over, see if it gives you any ideas.”
“If we get a client that’s white and Venetian I’ll keep it in mind.”
“I tell you, people don’t think Chicago is a dining town, but it is. It’s got steak, of course, but you can only eat so much of that. It has a French place my wife loved, although don’t ask me where it was. We were poured into that cab to head back to the Palmer, and I don’t know if I tipped the guy ten bucks or nothing.” He laughed. “You spend much time in Chicago?”
Joe shook out a cigarette and lit with Junior’s matches. He shook his head. “A few visits. Things seem to take me east more than west.”
“Yes, the Apple.” He uncrossed his legs and leaned forward. “Have you ever eaten at the Palm Room? No? You’d love it. Drawings all over the wall.” He looked around Joe’s office, as if expecting there should be celebrity portraits framed behind glass. “You still do art? Aside from our products, of course.”
“Some. Not enough time. I’d like to get back to it, though. Draw big. Small is a challenge but so is big.”
Junior nodded, not listening. “Say,” he said. “You should really try your hand at magazine illustration. My wife, she doesn’t go for the modern stuff, and she says the guys who draw for magazines are the real artists nowadays. And they make money.”
“It’s probably a hard racket. Lots of guys came out of school with the right skills, and now photography is knocking them out of the business. I’ll bet your top names are getting squeezed, and the new guys have to take the scraps.”
“Unless they have a new style. I don’t know, you could try.”
“I appreciate the support.”
“Any time.” He smiled and put his hands on his knees. “Well! Just came by to see if the ol’ shop was still standing, see if there’s anything you need.”
Straight talk about the future, Joe thought, but he let it pass. “We’re fine. But as long as you’re here -”
“Yes?” Junior suddenly looked a bit pale, but the smile held.
“They’re modernizing the building. New walls, new doors, knocking down some of the interior spaces - no one’s said anything to us, but I’m wondering about the lease.”
“Oh, I haven’t the faintest. The accountant takes care of that - but I’m sure if it was coming up he would have said something. Say, now that you mention it, they do seem to be giving the old barn a spiffing. I got off on the floor below and it’s like something from Perry Mason, all light woods and modern lettering and recessed lighting. Very attractive. And I’m sure very expensive.” He frowned. “And you say they’re doing the whole building?”
“Most of this floor is emptied out. They’re waiting for us, I think.”
“Are they! Well, maybe we can get them over a barrel on that - but on the other hand, do you really want to stay here?” He looked around the office again, slowly, as if it was so big it took time to behold. “Dad liked this building because it had a good address, and he liked to have an office that showed the client he was dealing with a going concern, as he put it. But do you meet many clients in here?”
“Not really. Mostly field work now, or going on the road - Clarence takes that.”
“If we had to move, we could.” His cigarette had produced a stabbing pain in his temples, and he stubbed it out. “But I’d miss the neighborhood. Well, I’d miss the coffee shop. That’s handy. I meet clients there sometimes.” And if she comes back that would be the place she’d go to find me.
“Hmm. Well, they all have coffee shops. Or there’s one nearby. Say, do you know we had lunch at a Woolworth’s in Chicago? It was delightful. It smelled just wonderful, all those onions and burgers. My wife said she couldn’t get the smell out of her hat or coat, but I liked it. Reminded me of college.” He stood. “Well, old times, old times. I’ll talk to the accountant and see if anything’s afoot. See you later, Joe.” He reached over and shook his hand. Joe watched him leave; he waved at Clarence as he went past. The door clicked shut; the elevator door dinged down the hall a minute later. Joe counted to five, and Clarence was at his door.
“What did he say?”
“Nothing. Talked about finding a new office, some place smaller and cheaper, perhaps. If he’s going to sell, why look for a new office?”
Clarence pushed up his glasses.
“Because he’s negotiated a price that takes the old office contract into account for the next year, and he wants to pocket the difference between our current rent and cheaper rent between next month and the handover.
“You’re a suspicious man, Clarence.”
“Seems a logical step,” said Clarence. “I would have done the same.” He shrugged and went back to his office.
Joe picked up the Venice Villa matches, looked inside. There was a phone number. He wondered who would answer if he called it.
He wrote the number down on a pad, ripped off the sheet, and tucked it in his wallet.
Time for coffee, he thought.
“I’m going down,” he said as he passed Clarence’s office. “Need anything?”
“No. By the way, I couldn’t help overhearing. Do you think you could make a living drawing for magazines?”
“I’m strictly a miniaturist, Clarence. Why is everyone so concerned about my artistic development here? It’s not like the world’s losing a Rembrandt because I’m doing pictures of dry-cleaning deliverymen.”
Clarence blushed - blushed! First time for everything. He turned back to his work.
“A man should be fulfilled in his work,” he said. “That’s all.”
“I’m fulfilled,” Joe said. “Except I have a hankering for Italian and I don’t know where to get some.”
“There’s the Venetian Palace around the corner -”
“Red, Clarence. I’m in the mood for red.”