Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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The Willies were real, Jones found, and worse yet he was doomed to become one.
THERE wasn't anything very breathtaking about Willowby Jones. In fact many people went so far as to call him a jerk. Bernice Adams hadn't called him that, but she might as well have.
Willowby stood very much alone in the center of the office. He picked up Bernice's picture from his desk and held it high above his head. Puckering his lips horribly, Willowby let the picture fly with all his strength against the far wall. It showered glass on the carpet.
Utter, horrible silence answered this outburst. Almost at once Willowby Jones realized that he was just as jealous as ever. He walked toward the coat-room, adjusted his brown tie and felt his Adam's-apple working at terrific speed.
There was a lump in his throat that he couldn't work loose. Darkness was already closing in around the office of Fox and Laird, Advertising Agency. Wandering toward the elevator, Willowby knew how the fog horn beyond the pier felt, sending its bellow of pain in through the open window.
Bernice Adams was very young, exceptionally sweet, and Willowby had thought until tonight, in love with him. If he just hadn't waited for her to leave the office. Willowby would have been a happy man had he not tired of waiting at the parking lot and returned to the office in search of Bernice.
It had all happened with a suddenness that left him gasping. He had gone in quite softly, trying not to disturb those who were still working. Then, turning from the door, his eyes glued themselves on the opaque window of Mr. Fox's office. He saw two clear shadows standing close to each other. He knew the slim, shapely one belonged to Bernice and that she was lifting a tall glass of something to her lips. Her laughter rang out clearly and the man who drank with her chuckled. Willowby didn't know who the fellow was and although they didn't actually embrace he was sure they would very soon.
Willowby crept softly towards the men's wash-room and, with the door open just a crack, waited until Bernice and Jimmy Bauker came out together. Willowby decided on the spot that to murder Bauker would be a perfectly normal action on his part.
Jimmy Bauker, poised and polished, was the youthful owner of the town's biggest whiskey plant. Tall and sought after by women, Bauker had points that Willowby could never hope to acquire even with the wildest stretch of imagination.
Jimmy Bauker had placed a healthy advertising contract with Fox and Laird and now it was pretty obvious why he had done it. At least, clear enough to burn Willowby to the depths of his soul.
They had hurried out and Willowby stayed in his hiding place for a long time after the glass door closed. Damn Bauker and his money. They could get someone else to do that full-page layout for Bauker Whiskey. He, Willowby, was through for all time. He was thoroughly miserable and fed up with the whole business.
OUTER DRIVE was a mass of traffic. It hesitated, plunged ahead through gaps in itself and then stalled to wait for another chance to spring. Willowby Jones drove carefully, peering short- sightedly through the windshield. At Wilson Avenue it was impossible to see more than a few feet ahead.
Suddenly the car hit something with a sickening thump. He felt two sharp bumps under the wheels and his throat was suddenly dry and raspy. He drew the car in toward the curb and was out of it in a reluctant dash.
An incredulous look of disbelief fanned his thin face. There was nobody in sight. Traffic rolled along as usual and the cop on the corner didn't even look around.
Puzzled but greatly relieved, Willowby returned to the wheel and drew out a large clean handkerchief. His face was damp and sticky. At a much reduced rate of speed he managed to reach the Acorn Arms Apartment Hotel and park the car in the garage.
Then it occurred to Willowby that a hit-and-run driver was the lowest type of person imaginable. What would he do if the morning papers carried accusations against him? He fumbled for his key and entered the apartment feeling very ill. Sitting down, he came face to face with the full length mirror in the bathroom A very pale young man of twenty-six years stared at him guiltily. He was dressed in a neat, if slightly damp brown suit, white shirt and brown tie. There was an undignified, wavering expression on his face. The look of a hunted man.
The bottle of Bauker whiskey had been on the kitchen shelf for months. Willowby suspected little of its power but suddenly felt in need of healing. He hated to drink anything with the Bauker label on it but it was whiskey and he needed something in a hurry. How such a cool-looking, amber fluid could possess the double-barreled kick of a mule, Willowby never quite found out. The first gulp went down with a fierce smoothness that silenced his Adam's-apple for all time.
His face twisted into an expression of sneering disdain for anyone who bragged of taking their whiskey "straight." After the third drink, it was too late to pause for reconsideration.
Willowby's fingers closed over the neck of the bottle and drained it of every sparkle.
Suddenly the mirror looked straight at him and said in a lisping voice:
"I wouldn't do that if I wath you."
WILLOWBY dropped the bottle and stared at himself in dismay.
"But you are me," he said and the humor of the situation pleased him. "I'll do as I damned please."
Another voice came from his right elbow. It was rather nasty, he thought.
"He said he wouldn't do it, and he means it."
Willowby jerked his body around so suddenly that the bottle toppled from his lap and hit the floor with a crash.
"There!" he shouted. "Now damn you, look what you've done."
He arose unsteadily and staggered toward the mirror. Something pushed him back against the cushions and his head dropped to one side. Willowby felt very sick.
Someone, or something lisped in his ear.
"Get hold of yourthelf, Joneth. We haven't got all night."
"Right," the sharp voice sliced in. "He said get hold of yourself."
Willowby cocked one eye open wisely and studied the room. He wiped a damp hand across his face. Something was very wrong at the Acorn Arms, and he suspected he was it.
"Please!" he begged the mirror. "Stare at me like a dope if you must, but don't talk. I can't stand it."
There was a dry chuckle from the davenport. A match flared in mid-air, touched the tip of a floating cigarette and passed to another a few feet away. The cigarettes started to puff on themselves contentedly. Willowby stared at the mirror and the image of himself stared back, pop-eyed with fright. His eyes were bloodshot and his mouth hinged wide open.
"Thith can be very painful," the lispy voice said suddenly. "We mutht convinth him at oneth."
"Very painful," Sharp agreed. "How shall we do it?"
Willowby was on his feet again.
"Do what?" he shouted. "I'm all right. I got the willies, that's all. I can't take my whiskey. I'm—I'm not the drinking..."
His voice trailed off helplessly.
"Why am I talking?" he groaned.
"You're talking with uth," Lispy answered coolly. "Go on, we're interethed."
"Yea!" Sharp staccatoed. "We're interested."
"But it doesn't make sense."
Yet, in spite of his growing head, the whole thing did make sense. There were two voices in the room, and two smoking cigarettes.
"Who are you? Who, where and for God's sake, HOW?"
"We are the Willies," Sharp explained. "We are what you got for drinking."
"And we got a bargain to make," Lispy added softly.
Willowby tried to convince himself that he was only drunk. Filthy drunk.
It didn't work. Whoever the Willies were, they were very much with him. He decided he didn't like them.
"Go on," Willowby begged. "What's the bargain?"
He retreated slowly toward the false safety of the bathroom door.
"Look here, old man," Lispy became patronizingly sweet tongued. "We have no quarrel with you. Ith about our brother. You ran over him thith afternoon, you know."
WILLOWBY'S body jerked upright and his brain started to whirl about at an amazing speed. So that was it! He tried to escape, but firm, invisible hands grasped his shoulders.
"I didn't see..." he stammered, and was silent.
This explained the sudden collision on Wilson Avenue. The feeling that he had hit something, But how could anyone prove...?
"Don't be frightened, Joneth," Lispy begged. "We didn't like our brother very well, anyhow. We're glad you hit him. Ith juth that hith death bringth up complicationth."
"Yeh!" A broad, heavy hand swooped down and collapsed Willowby's shoulder. "His death brings up complications."
"I should say so," Willowby whispered. "I've never killed a-a man before."
He started to fold up and felt them holding him on his feet. Once more in the chair, he sat very still. Stretching out as comfortably as he could, he watched the cigarettes with slitted eyes. A wet towel floated from the bathroom and wrapped itself around his feverish head. A tall glass of water drifted in from the kitchen and stopped at his lips. He gulped feebly and felt a little better. Closing his eyes tightly, Willowby felt the room go around at high speed. He opened them again, wondering dully how long the cigarettes could burn before blistering those invisible fingertips.
"Please!" he said. "I'm in no condition for this kind of thing. Let me in on the joke, will you fellows?"
"Thith," Lispy assured him in a shocked voice, "ith no joke. We're short a man now, and you have to take over thith job."
Willowby decided to humor them. His stomach cooled off a little and he sat upright. His head wasn't quite so fogged.
"I'll gladly pay my debt." He shuddered. "I didn't mean to run over your brother."
From the position of Lispy's cigarette, he knew the willie was nodding in agreement. The stub tossed itself into an ash tray and the other followed.
"You're entirely right," Lispy said. "He didn't play fair. He could have made himthelf vithible before crothing the threet."
"Yup!" Sharp chuckled. "He didn't play according to Hoyle, but that don't cut no ice. Let's get out of here."
"Don't hurry," Willowby said, and arose to hold the door open. "I'm a late sitter. Take your time."
"You're not sitting tonight" Sharp said quickly. "You're going with us."
Willowby felt himself propelled speedily across the room toward the closet.
"Get your coat," Lispy ordered. "Ith a methy night and you might catch cold."
"But I don't feel well," Willowby protested. "I'd rather stay in."
His arms jerked back and the brown coat slipped over his shoulders. His hat flipped to his head and slipped down to a devil-may-care angle.
"I can't go out looking like this," he protested. "These clothes look terrible. Wet, you know."
"You won't care how you look with us," Sharp assured him.
"I really haven't a place in the world to go," Willowby protested weakly. "I'm not the type to run about a lot."
The room was very silent for a moment. Lispy chuckled.
"I don't gueth you've ever had the willieth, have you?"
"Did I get you from drinking that terrible stuff in the bottle?"
Sharp snorted angrily.
"Awful stuff? Why, what would we do if no one ever drank? After a few highballs you'll find we ain't half bad to get along with."
WILLOWBY felt himself propelled toward the lobby and into the street. With the willies' assistance he staggered toward Sheridan Road. Willowby had trouble keeping his feet under him. Bauker whiskey was rough stuff. He had trouble keeping himself in the center of the sidewalk. Although Lispy and Sharp had remained silent since they left the building, their presence was very evident. When Willowby managed to walk more than three steps in a straight line, they would bump him about until he sprawled full length on the cement. His hat popped off at the most unexpected places and Sharp's foot tangled with his knees until tears sprang into Willowby's eyes. People were staring, but it was useless to protest. If he tried to plead with the willies, onlookers would be even more apt to wonder at his sanity.
Somehow they reached the end of the street and Willowby found himself pushed quickly to the side of a waiting bus.
"On with you," Sharp whispered hoarsely. "Don't try to give us the slip."
Willowby grabbed the upright bar at the bus door and felt an invisible arm around his waist. Before he could get a firm grip, the arm sent him spinning full length on the floor. At the same time his coat flew open and the necktie jerked tight against his Adam's-apple.
"Ouch!" Willowby yelped.
"On your feet, Bub," the bus driver said. "This ain't any place to take the cure."
A very fat lady had settled in the cushions beside Willowby's resting place on the floor. She grasped her ribs suddenly and with a face red with horror, turned on him.
"You worm. Pinch a lady, will you?"
Her broad palm came down with a loud smack on his cheek.
Sharp and Lispy were on the job. When Willowby felt himself winking at the blonde across the aisle, he knew that Lispy's thumb against his eyeball was doing the trick. Yet, he managed to live through this nightmare and find his way out of the bus a bit south of Madison Street.
"Where—where do I go now?" he asked helplessly. "I don't really think this is necessary."
Sharp, standing close to him in the rain, laughed aloud.
"You don't think it's necessary, do you?" His voice was cold and wicked. "Well, you're gonna get drunk. And I mean swimming drunk. You're gonna get drunk and have fun."
"But this is the first time I've ever touched intoxicating beverages," Willowby protested. "I really don't like them at all."
"You will," Lispy said softy. "And we know juth the plathe to learn. Come with uth."
A sudden kick in the seat of the pants, a jerk on his necktie, and Willowby Jones was off on a wild gallop down Michigan Avenue. He crossed the street with a howl and a whoop, the necktie still standing out stiffly before him, held by Sharp's willing hand. Willowby Jones was well on the way to experiencing his first drunken spree.
THE Night-Owl was a warm, smoky little place on Wabash, where friends met after work until it took on a personality of its own. At eleven o'clock, Willowby Jones, a shadow of his former quiet self, flew like a projectile through the open door and sat down on a bar stool.
About to taste his tenth drink of the evening, he realized suddenly that the glass was doing strange things. Sharp had picked it up from the bar and it hung at his lips in mid-air. The bar-tender, a washed-out little man with flappy ears, saw the glass hanging without support. He jumped forward trying to catch it. Willowby, realizing that he was again being made a fool of, knocked it from Sharp's fingers and the glass shattered on the floor at his feet. The man with the flappy ears sighed, turned crimson around the neck and walked quickly away.
"No more drinks tonight," he muttered darkly. "Getting the willies again."
Then Willowby Jones saw something that made him very glad that he was drunk. Something that would have made the sober Willowby a demon from hell. Jimmy Bauker, tall and darkly handsome in a blue topcoat, came through the door. Bernice Adams was walking close to him, her arm in his. Willowby wanted to stand up and fight at once. Somehow his legs failed to respond and he knew the willies were holding him tightly around the waist.
Willowby watched the smiling couple as they passed and chose a booth on the far side of the room. His presence had gone unnoticed. Bernice, small and lovely, was staring up at Bauker with what Willowby chose to call moon-eyes. There was a sort of smooth warmth about her slim body that started Willowby's heart flaming all over again. A sucker could tell that Bauker admired those long-lashed blue eyes, the blue-black hair that slipped down in careful curls against her white neck. It hurt even worse to realize that he, Willowby, had never even seen the revealing little dress that she wore tonight. He had never seen her so alive and exciting.
Anchored to the tall fascination that was Jimmy Bauker, Bernice sat down gracefully in the secluded booth.
Willowby realized that he must approach the couple coolly and in a disinterested manner. This sounded quite simple and, without the assistance of the willies, he might make the trip safely. Perhaps if he pleaded with them?
"Look, fellows," he said. "That's my girl. Give me a break, will you? I can't keep up this business of being pushed around all night."
The bartender, ears redder than ever, leaned toward him over the bar.
"Look, Buddy," he pleaded. "I don't like to see a guy get to talking to himself, see. You better go home and sober up "
Willowby wanted to hide his embarrassment at being caught talking to no one. It didn't work. One of the willies sent a thick finger digging into his ribs.
"Ouch," Willowby shouted. "Lay off, will you?"
The bartender shook his head sadly.
"Okay—Okay!" he said. "But don't say I didn't...."
His voice faded as he walked away.
SOMEHOW Willowby staggered to his feet, neatly dodged Sharp's fifth attempt to trip him and swayed toward the booth where Bernice and Jimmy Bauker were sipping their drinks. He approached warily, knowing by this time just about when the willies would again attempt to sabotage his progress. He reached the table, and bracing both arms firmly against it, leaned forward over the surprised couple.
"Willowby!" Bernice looked up at him, a welcome smile on her lips. "I'm so glad you found us."
Bauker stood up.
"Glad to see you, Jones," he pushed a friendly hand forward. "Sit down old man, and join us. The drinks are on me."
Willowby paused uncertainly, felt Sharp's hand against his back and dropped to Bernice's side just as the willie applied pressure.
"I'm glad too," he said in a slightly off-key voice, "and that makes everyone glad. You're glad you got my girl. She's glad she's got you, and me—I'm glad because I got the willies."
Bernice laughed, and to Willowby Jones it was pure sarcasm at his condition.
"Laugh over my coffin," he urged sadly.
Willowby's hat, which he had overlooked, slipped from his head suddenly and settled down gently on the table.
Lispy was on the job. Bauker chuckled.
"Quite a trick," he said. "Do it again, will you?"
Willowby didn't appreciate the sound of Bauker's chuckle. The world seemed upside down right now and Willowby felt as though he was clinging to the under side with both feet in the air. Through the mist of floating images he could make out six Baukers and four Bernices all leering at him as though he were a one-man sideshow.
"I—I guess I won't stay," he managed to murmur. "I just happened...."
Before he could finish, the hat lifted itself from the table, floated up and settled on his head once more. Then it arose once more, circled the table and dropped on Bauker's smoothly combed top deck. Bauker's mouth dropped open at a wide angle.
"Why Jones, you're a miracle-man," he said in admiration. "I didn't realize that such a trick could be done. Hidden strings, I suppose?"
WILLOWBY'S lips quivered visibly and the table lurched almost out from under him. His stomach felt as though it had turned over and started to function backward.
"It's—its nothing much," he mumbled modestly. "I practice at home."
Bernice had been silent, admiring him with eyes that grew three shades more blue with pride.
"How can you say that?" she demanded. "Why—Jimmy and I hadn't thought you...."
So it was Jimmy already?
Willowby stood up as quickly as the invisible men on his shoulders would let him, grabbed his hat from Bauker's head and slammed it down on his own.
"I had no intention of disturbing you," he growled. "Just go ahead and have a good time. I'll have to be...."
"Say," Bauker protested. "Sit down again, Jones. I want to see more of those wonderful tricks."
Willowby opened his mouth to pour out words of bitterness. He tried to speak, but invisible fingers clamped over his lips. Instead of his own voice, Sharp's came from the thin air behind Bauker.
"Magic? Say, I can do that stuff all night. Born in me."
Bernice's pretty lips popped open in surprise and Bauker grinned happily.
"Why, the man's a genius," he said. "He not only does magic, but he's an expert ventriloquist as well."
"I'm not," Willowby said flatly. "That's just—just...."
His arms jerked backward and he slipped across the smooth floor. The willies were removing him bodily from the Night Owl. Removing him under strenuous objection. They released him a few feet from the table and he stood very still, a sickly grin across his face.
"Good night," he said thickly. "I'll be seeing you."
The couple at the table were much too occupied with new events at hand to hear him. Bernice's glass went into the air suddenly, took a tail-spin and crashed. Bauker's arms jerked skyward and his coat slipped away from him. It floated across the room and settled down on a waiter's head. The waiter, intent on an armload of drinks, ducked wildly and went to the floor in a crash. He came to his feet slowly, holding Bauker's coat aloft in holy reverence.
"That's the oddest thing I ever saw," the waiter said. "It just flew across the room at me."
"Yeth! It wath odd, wathunt it?" a lisping voice agreed at his shoulder. "It muth have grown wings."
"I can't understand...." The waiter turned toward the owner of the sympathetic voice and suddenly realized that he was talking to no one. He turned away quickly, eyes glazed with horror and sought the safety of the bar.
When Jimmy Bauker had once more retrieved his coat and returned to the booth, Willowby Jones was not in sight. Willowby realized the time had come for retreat. His last act was the end. Any relationship he may have had with Bernice and the Fox and Laird Advertising Agency had ended abruptly.
WILLOWBY was miserable. Why he had come to the office of Fox and Laird was a mystery to him. After the experience he had undergone at the Night Owl, he felt like seeking out the quietest place in the world. The office at three in the morning was just that. Opening the door softly, he held it while the ever present Lispy and Sharp followed him inside. The main lounge was a symphony of black and gray. Hastening across it, he found his desk and turned on the low light over it. With his head down on the drawing board, Willowby tried to sleep. His head felt very large and like a pumpkin complete with triangle eyes.
"A rotten trick, that's what it was," he said loudly.
The creaking floor told him that the willies were close to him, listening.
"Thath gratitude for you," Lispy protested. "Take a man out and teach him the ropeth and thath what we get."
"Yeah!" Sharp sounded almost dejected. "A good willie has no cooperation these days. I'm all for the good old days when we didn't know the meaning of a bromo. With his girl stepping out on him, what's he got to lose?"
Willowby thought of that for a long time. It was true that Bernice had played a rotten trick on him. Willowby searched for a pen and with it in his hand, he felt better. He found a clean sheet of paper. Perhaps a sketch or two would help clear out his head. He started to draw crooked, meaningless lines on the paper's clean surface.
Gradually his interest in the drawing grew. Something of the misery in his heart came out of that pen point. Working feverishly, Willowby changed pens. Green, blue, yellow. The colors were brutal and wild. He drew across the paper all the hate and misery that was in his soul. He sketched the willies as he pictured them, with long pointed ears and wild grins. He was rewarded by the silence about him and their sudden gasps of surprise.
"How does he know what we look like?" Sharp whispered.
Willowby didn't answer. He drew himself, bent over and dejected at his desk. In the drawing the willies were pounding and torturing his miserable body as they had done all night. When he finished he threw the pen across the office and heard it hit the wall.
Willowby felt much better.
"Say!" Sharp said suddenly. "This isn't getting us anywhere. I left a couple more bottles at the apartment. Let's go back and you kill 'em."
Willowby arose reluctantly. He decided it was no use to fight the willies. They seemed to do as they pleased with him. Locking the door by force of habit, he wandered out into the street. Footsteps close behind him on the wet pavement told him the willies were close.
WILLOWBY spent eight tossing, pillow wrinkling hours in bed. When he awakened someone was shaking his shoulders and his head throbbed painfully.
"Time to wake up." It was Sharp's voice, eager and friendly. "Got to have another drink before last night's wear off. Can't be sobering up this early in the game."
Willowby felt himself being lifted up not too gently and a full glass of whisky danced before his lips. He drank quickly and the empty glass flew away toward the kitchen.
"Thath a good boy." Lispy hadn't deserted him. "You'll feel better almoth anytime now."
Willowby felt a strange suspicion arising in his mind.
"How long do I keep drinking this stuff?" he asked quietly.
"Hey!" he shouted toward the kitchen. "Joneth wanth to know how long doth he have to drink?"
Sharp's voice responded, clear and ugly.
"I'll be right back with more," he answered. "Three more bottles found their way in last night."
Lispy chuckled again, and it was downright nasty.
"Good," he said approvingly. "Thereth more where that came from."
Willowby sat up, adjusted the pillows and tried to reason things out.
"It seems to me" he said aloud "I ought to sober up pretty soon."
Lispy's voice was filled with alarm.
"Oh! No you mustn't...."
"But why not?" Willowby protested. "I just can't stay in bed and drink forever."
Another glass was on its way across the room.
"And why not?" Sharp had heard his protest. "It's been done before."
"Keep quiet," Lispy begged. "If he...."
There was a sudden loud crack of palm against cheek.
"Thay!" Lispy howled. "You didn't have to hit me...."
"Opinions on that differ," Sharp answered bitterly. "Don't go giving him ideas."
WlLLOWBY'S eyes narrowed and a thought planted itself slowly in his brain. There was something fishy here. Could it be these two were afraid he would sober up. Would it make a difference?
"You're afraid of something," he said slowly. "I believe you want to kill me with that stuff."
Silence for an instant, then Sharp said in a fatherly voice:
"Why Jones, how can you think such a thing? We made a man out of you overnight. We can have lots more fun."
"Of courth," Lispy chimed in. "Here—take another thip."
A full glass of Bauker whiskey wavered doubtfully at Willowby's mouth. For an instant he weakened, and then his thin lips closed in a determined line.
"No!" he said.
"Aw! Just a little sip won't hurt," Sharp pleaded.
"Try it," Lispy begged. "Juth for old timeth thake."
"No!" Willowby said again. "I've had enough. I get in trouble when I drink."
Sharp steadied the glass and put it down on the bed-table.
"I can see" he said wickedly "that we are going to have trouble."
You've got to sober up, Willowby's inner man said. They didn't bother you before and perhaps they can't when you don't drink.
He threw the bed-covers back carefully and pushed bare feet over the edge of the bed.
"That's the spirit," Sharp said approvingly. "Get up and stagger around a bit. You'll feel more thirsty in a minute."
Willing arms helped Willowby to his feet. They were close to the bathroom door.
Now! the inner man yelped. Give 'em a push and you can make it.
Willowby pushed with all his strength, heard surprised grunts as the willies toppled backward, and dashed quickly toward the open door. His bare feet pattered on the cold tile and he slammed the door closed behind him.
He snapped the bolt into place and leaned against the door with his hand on his forehead. Shooting pains played up and down his back and his head whirled. Outside there was a great commotion. Sharp was pounding on the door.
"Hey! Open up in there, do you hear? Open up before I pound the door down."
WILLOWBY staggered across the floor and pushed a finger down his throat. Shooting stars tore through his head and he gave everything he had to the effort. The door started to bend under the combined weight of Lispy and Sharp.
Willowby sat down. He was still sick but Bauker whiskey had lost its power. The pounding on the door stopped.
Lispy's voice came to him, pleading and far away.
"Joneth, pleath let uth in. We've got a drink for you. A nith cool one."
"Go away," Willowby said.
He held his head under the cold-water tap and then under the shower. His body started to awaken and feel alive again. Sharp's voice came no more, but Lispy was still trying.
"You'll be thorry, Joneth!"
"Nuts," Willowby shouted. "You're going for good. I'll never drink again."
"You'll mith uth," Lispy pleaded.
"Yeah!" Willowby agreed. "Like an earthquake."
It was better now. Better until he suddenly remembered his standing with Bernice, Jimmy Bauker, and Fox and Laird. Willowby Jones, sober again and tired of life would hold no place of love in the heart of his associates. He hoped that Jimmy Bauker had forgiven and that for Bernice's sake the contract had not been cancelled. He hoped she would be very happy with the young whiskey millionaire.
If nothing else, Willowby was a gentleman at heart. Now that his weaker self had been conquered, he must return to Fox and Laird, tell them that he was a heel and take his punishment.
TIME had played a trick on Willowby. He had thought that only the night before his evening with Sharp and Lispy had been a reality. Now, as he entered the main floor of the Majestic Building, the calendar on the information desk told him that the shock of whiskey had done strange things to his body. Bernice and Jimmy Bauker had long since left the Night Owl club. In fact he clearly remembered the night as being Monday. It was still Monday, but the clock had made fourteen complete turns since Willowby had first entered the net of his downfall. For a time he stood very quietly in the lobby.
He stared at the calendar with unbelieving eyes. It never lied. A week had passed and history had been made while he, Willowby Jones, had floundered in a cesspool of drink. When at last he entered the office of Fox and Laird, it was with narrowed eyes and bowed head. He felt much like a small pup who had been whipped and stoned until his head would never rise again.
Willowby crossed the office, sidestepped several desks and sat down at his own.
"Willowby! Where have you been?"
The voice was glad and musical. A soft hand touched his arm and he looked up into Bernice Adams' cool blue eyes. He saw love and concern for him in them.
"Why—I—I...." Something choked his throat and he couldn't talk. Willowby had expected the walls to crush him, and here instead was gladness at his returning.
"Just you never mind," Bernice bent over his shoulder and planted a kiss on his cheek. "Mr. Fox has been waiting for you to come in."
"Yes!" Willowby answered uncertainly. "I sort of thought he might be."
"Oh! It's wonderful, Willowby, just wonderful!"
"Yes!" Willowby remembered the jumping hat and the flying coat. "But, I guess I couldn't do it again."
He felt himself being tugged gently across the office toward Fox's office. It was through these same opaque windows that he had first seen Bauker and Bernice together, happy in each other's company.
A returning hunger for her hurt him deep inside. He thought of Jimmy Bauker and how fortunate the man was to have a girl like Bernice Adams. Still, she had kissed him, and that was something.
MR. FOX was talking as they entered. His voice dominated the room. Mr. Fox and his thunderous voice had been dominating rooms, empty and full, for twenty years.
"I tell you Bauker, it's the greatest thing I've ever seen."
His voice broke off suddenly as Willowby and Bernice entered.
"Jones! Good Lord, man, where have you been? We've been looking...."
Willowby stood meekly by the door with his hand in Bernice's fingers. Tall, handsome Jimmy Bauker was sitting on the far side of the desk. He eyed Bauker coolly.
"I've been home," he answered.
"Home?" Fox seemed thunderstruck. "By Gad, Bauker. That's the only place we didn't think to look for him."
Jimmy Bauker leaned forward in his chair, chuckled and stood up. His arm was outstretched.
"Jones!" He was trying hard to look business-like. "Congratulations, old man. It's the finest thing I've ever seen."
"I guess that I can only do magic when I'm drunk," Willowby confessed. "I'm—I'm not really very good at it."
Jimmy Bauker looked puzzled. Then he started to pump Willowby's hand vigorously.
"Oh! That! I wasn't referring to that act you put on at the Night Owl!"
"Oh!" Willowby was at sea again, wondering just what Bauker was talking about. "I thought...."
"Now—don't get me wrong," Bauker begged. "That business of playing the drunk was clever and the magic was like nothing I've ever seen before. I could appreciate what you were trying to illustrate, couldn't I, Bernice?"
Willowby waited, not at all sure of what he should say next. Bernice snuggled close to his side.
"The poor boy has been ill for a week, Mr. Fox. Please show him the advertisement. I'm sure he'll feel much better."
Fox seemed like a man who just remembered what he came for.
"Why! Of course!" He fumbled about the pile of papers on his desk and brought out a new copy of Collier's. "It's right here on the inner front cover."
WILLOWBY walked across the room like a man in a confusing dream, and stared wide-eyed at the full-page ad.
There at the top was a reproduction of the ink drawing he had made that horrible night with the willies. It showed himself, Willowby, leaning across his desk, and the pictures radiated his headache. Over his shoulders stared the willies, Lispy and Sharp. The whole thing was so terrible that it brought back memories that were better forgotten. Under his pictures in very black type was the blurb:
BAUKER WHISKEY WILL NEVER DO THIS TO YOU
There was a lot of print about it being a time of war and a time for safe drinking. Bauker whiskey was made for appreciative people who knew enough not to sabotage their brains with whiskey when they were needed on the job.
"One of the finest pieces of art I've ever seen," Bauker was saying. "That picture has sold an extra five thousand gallons of our stuff in three days."
Willowby knew he was supposed to say something but the small photograph at the bottom of the page caught his attention. It was taken in Fox's office. Bernice and Jimmy were lifting full glasses to their lips. Smiles adorned their faces and the caption read:
Bauker Whiskey—Made for Better and More Moderate Friendship.
"Moderate," Willowby mumbled. "That's the most wonderful word in the world."
"Right!" Bauker agreed warmly. "That shot of Bernice and myself gets across the friendly spirit, but for Heaven's sake, man, don't be so modest about your own work. You must have created it in a moment of artistic frenzy. It's grand stuff."
Willowby turned away from the opened magazine slowly. He took Bernice firmly in his arms and kissed her lips. He wanted to kiss Bauker and Fox in the manner he had seen a French army officer kiss the cheeks of his men. Instead he grasped Banker's hand firmly and nearly pumped it loose from his shoulder.
"I guess that I was in sort of a frenzy when I did that job," Willowby admitted. "Anyhow, I don't think I'll ever do another one under the same conditions."
"One is enough," Mr. Fox was beaming upon him like a very proud parent. "Willowby, there'll be a real reward in this for you. I can appreciate a sober, industrious man like yourself. Were they all as temperate as yourself, I'm sure both the company and their wives would be very grateful."
"Amen," Willowby whispered under his breath, and looked longingly toward Bernice.