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Cafe Society ~ A Capsule Movie Review

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Cafe Society

Café Society ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp

Now in his eighties, Woody Allen is still writing and directing movies. His latest is Café Society, a bittersweet romance set in the late 1930s, among the snobs and elitists in the movie industry in Hollywood and, later in the movie, in New York among the “café society,” which means people who can stay up all night drinking liquor and dancing and socializing because they have plenty of money and don’t have to get up early and go to work the next day.

Young Bobby Dorfman of New York (played by Jesse Eisenberg) is dazzled by the glamour of Hollywood when he first arrives. Luckily he has an uncle named Phil Stern (Steve Carell), who just happens to be a high-powered agent in one of Hollywood’s dream factories. Phil Stern sets Bobby up in a job that is essentially that of errand boy, but Bobby doesn’t mind as long as it means he can be near Phil’s secretary, Veronica (Kristen Stewart). Veronica (“Vonny”) shows Bobby around Hollywood and soon he decides he is in love with her. She seems a little aloof, though. After a while she confides to Bobby that she has been having an unhappy love affair with a married man for over a year. Bobby learns by degrees that this married man is his uncle, Phil Stern. So, Bobby and his uncle are both in love with Vonny. Doesn’t that mean that somebody is going to end up disappointed?

Meanwhile, Bobby has an interesting and colorful family. His gravel-voiced mother (Jeannie Berlin) has all the clichés at her command of a Jewish mother. (When she discovers near the end of the movie that her older son is a murderer and has converted to Christianity before going to the electric chair, she says she doesn’t know which is worse.) Bobby’s older brother, Ben (Corey Stoll), is a gangster. If you have somebody you want taken care of, all you have to do is tell him. Ben and Bobby’s sister Evelyn is married to a left-wing intellectual named Leonard with communist sympathies. When Evelyn and her family are bothered by a bullying neighbor, Evelyn gets brother Ben to take care of the neighbor, but not quite in the way she anticipated.

When Vonny tells Bobby that Phil Stern is leaving his wife of twenty-five years and marrying her, Bobby goes back to New York in a disillusioned state. He decides he is a true New Yorker and that Hollywood isn’t for him.

In need of a job, he goes into the nightclub business with brother Ben, the gangster. The nightclub is a huge success and he meets and marries a pretty, blonde socialite who, ironically enough, is also named Veronica. He believes he is happy until Vonny from Hollywood shows up with her husband Phil Stern. It seems she wants to pick up with Bobby where they left off. Is he still enough in love with her to cheat on his wife?

Woody Allen provides off-screen narration in Café Society, as he did in Radio Days (my favorite Woody movie) in 1987. He is still writing some of the best dialogue in movies (you’d know it was his just by listening to the rhythms) and still touching on some of the familiar themes of family, romance, infidelity, disillusionment, punishment (or lack of it in a godless universe) and existentialism. And, as always, he finds a romanticism in the past that just doesn’t exist in the present.

Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp  

Since Yesterday ~ A Capsule Book Review

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Since Yesterday cover

Since Yesterday ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp

The 1920s were a time of economic prosperity and optimism in America. Ordinary people—factory workers, store clerks, school teachers—were able to turn a profit in the stock market. Everybody seemed to think the good times would last forever, but they didn’t. Too many people were investing in the markets “on margin,” meaning they were borrowing the money they were investing and didn’t necessarily have a way to pay it back if their investments didn’t turn out well for them. The big bubble burst in 1929 and the economic structure in America and just about every other country in the world came crashing down, ushering in the Big D: the Depression. No matter what else happened in the 1930s, the entire decade was marked by depression and a painful realignment of the economies of the world. In retrospect, people saw that things just couldn’t go on the way they had been since the end of the First World War.

Herbert Hoover of Iowa occupied the White House at the time of the stock market crash of 1929. He was more of an administrator than a politician and, no matter how hard he tried, he wasn’t able to stop the economic decline or do much of anything to improve it. He was defeated for re-election in 1932 by Franklin Roosevelt, former governor of New York. Roosevelt had a very big job on his hands going forward. One of the things he did right away was to repeal Prohibition (the Volstead Act), which, by almost any standard, was a failure and had led to a rise in crime.

Repealing Prohibition, though, was easy compared to solving the country’s economic problems. Roosevelt instituted what was called the New Deal, which turned out to be a huge expansion of the power of the federal government. Millions of unemployed people were put to work as essentially employees of the government in “public works” projects. And, for the first time, the United States government became an enormous distributor of assistance to the needy.

Of course, during the 1930s, there were other things that happened besides the Depression, the repeal of Prohibition and the New Deal. In the plains states, millions of acres of topsoil blew away in epic dust storms caused by over-cultivation of the land. The region became known as the “dust bowl” and tens of thousands of farmers and their families were displaced and forced out of their homes. The Ohio River flooded, laying waste to Louisville and Cincinnati and destroying thousands of acres of crop lands. A freak tropical hurricane blew through New England, creating much destruction and killing 647 people. (I think there’s a pattern here.) “Lighter than air” transatlantic transport received its deathblow when the Hindenburg caught fire and crashed in Lakehurst, New Jersey, in 1937. In the “crime of the decade,” aviation hero Charles Lindbergh’s infant son was kidnapped from his New Jersey home and later found dead. One Bruno Richard Hauptman, a German immigrant, was convicted of the crime and executed, proclaiming his innocence to his final breath. The 1930s also saw the rise of labor unions and sometimes bitter strikes between labor and management. To ease the pain of all the terrible things that were happening, Americans flocked to the movies. There were Mickey Mouse, Mae West, the Marx brothers, Shirley Temple, Clark Gable in It Happened One Night and Mutiny on the Bounty, Greta Garbo making a triumphant transition to talking pictures in Anna Christie, Marlene Dietrich in Shanghai Express and The Garden of Allah, Ronald Colman in Lost Horizon, and countless others to help people relieve the pain of living during such difficult times. There were tremendous strides also being made in the arts: music, painting, theatre, and literature. Unemployed painters were being put to work by the government painting murals in post offices and other public buildings. Classical music became popularized on the radio with regular programs by famed conductor Arturo Toscanini and other concert artists. “Swing” music with performers like Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller and the Dorsey brothers became all the rage. In 1939, the New York World’s Fair opened. Called “The World of Tomorrow,” it called on people to look forward to the future with hope and optimism and set aside, as least for a time, the troubled past.

The 1930s were not to end on a very happy note, though. Whereas the beginning of the decade arrived with great economic uncertainty, it would end with fear of another war and foreign dictators: Mussolini but most particularly Hitler. He seemed to be gobbling up all the countries around him. What would the United States do if Hitler invaded its allies Britain and France? Most Americans were against getting involved in another European war. It was a time of great unease in the country.

Since Yesterday: The 1930s in America is an informal (meaning easy to read, not academic and not scientific) account of the 1930s—from September 3, 1929 to September 3, 1939—by a person who lived through it and was there, historian Frederick Lewis Allen. He writes on nearly every aspect of American life during the 1930s. If you remember the 1930s, and even if you don’t, this is a very entertaining and informative journey down memory lane. Now it’s on the 1940s. If you lived in the 1930s, you were probably better off not knowing what awaited you just around the corner.

Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp

The Girl With a Face Like a Pekingnese

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The Girl With a Face Like a Pekingese ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

As the wheelchair bumped over the separations in the sidewalk where weeds were growing, Ouida gave a little grunt of pain or alarm, but Verlean kept pushing forward, ignoring Ouida’s discomfort as well as her own. About halfway to Miss Lyle’s house, Ouida wanted to stop and rest under the shade of a big sycamore, even though Verlean was doing all the work.

“Give me a Lucky, honey,” Ouida said.

Verlean lit the cigarette in her own mouth and drew on it a couple of times to get it going good and then handed it to Ouida.

“I can’t do much of anything else, but I can still smoke,” Ouida said.

Ouida was seventy-eight and her bones were falling apart. She could take a few baby steps when she had to, but mostly she stayed in the wheelchair or the bed, pulling herself with her arms from one to the other when it was called for.

Finally they arrived at Miss Lyle’s house. Verlean’s arms were so tired she thought they would drop off and droplets of sweat had formed on her brow. Miss Lyle had been watching for them and when she heard them coming she went out and helped Verlean pull the wheelchair up the two little steps and into the house.

Miss Lyle’s house was cool and dark and smelled like some unidentified herb. She watched as Verlean settled Ouida’s wheelchair in the corner of the room facing out with her back to the wall. Verlean sat on the old sofa, folded her arms, crossed her ankles, and hoped that she might go to sleep while Ouida and Miss Lyle “visited.”

Miss Lyle was famous for her hospitality and always served “refreshments.” She went to the kitchen and came back with cans of malt liquor for herself and Ouida and a bottle of ice-cold root beer for Verlean. Miss Lyle and Ouida tapped their cans together before they drank.

Ouida and Miss Lyle were the same age and had known each other since grammar school. Miss Lyle had had three husbands, all dead, and she was only four feet, seven inches tall. She made her own clothes and what she didn’t make she bought from the children’s department at the clothing store. When people called her half-pint or shortstop or midget, she pretended not to hear but was deeply offended, anyway.

Buster, hearing that company had arrived, yipped from the kitchen and came bounding into the room. He was an elderly Pekingese, Miss Lyle’s friend and companion. He sniffed at Ouida’s feet and then, deciding she was of no interest, ran to Verlean, kissing her ecstatically as she picked him up and held him on her lap.

“He’s just a little baby!” Miss Lyle said.

“Do you think he’s cute?” Verlean asked.

“Well, of course he’s cute!” Miss Lyle said. “I never saw anything cuter!”

Verlean had hoped that Ouida would answer the question herself because she was thinking of the time that Ouida remarked what an ugly face Buster had and how she, Verlean, had a face just like his.

“He’s the smartest thing in the world,” Miss Lyle said. “He knows what I’m thinking.”

“Do you know what he’s thinking?” Verlean asked.

“Sure I do! He’s thinking how happy he is and how lucky!”

“Why is he so lucky?”

“Because he is loved.”

“He doesn’t know anything,” Ouida said. “That’s what makes him happy.”

“When I die, I’m going to have him buried with me,” Miss Lyle said. “Keep me company.”

“What if you die before he does?”

“Well, we’ll figure that out when the time comes,” Miss Lyle said. “I’ve asked the Lord to let us both die on the same day, though.”

“It’ll be a neat trick if you can pull that one off,” Ouida said.

It was time for Ouida to smoke another Lucky and after Verlean had lighted it for her in her own mouth, she got up and went to the mantel and looked at herself in the cloudy mirror that hung there, trying to see if there was any similarity at all between her face and Buster’s. Her eyes drifted from her own image to the framed picture of Miss Lyle’s son when he was younger.

“Where is Turk now?” Verlean asked.

“Still on the run from the police,” Miss Lyle said.

“Doesn’t he ever call you or stop by and see you?”

“No, he knows the police are keeping an eye on me, expecting him to do that very thing. They been here a dozen times asking me questions. As long as I don’t know anything, I can’t tell them anything.”

“What did Turk do? Did he kill somebody?”

“No. Killing ain’t his style. He was involved in the rackets or something. I don’t know for sure and I don’t want to know.”

“What’s the rackets?” Verlean asked.

“It’s better for you not to know.”

As always, Verlean was charmed by any picture she ever saw of Turk Lyle. There was something about his dark eyes, looking serenely out at her, that stirred something inexplicable in her. If he wasn’t quite as handsome as Robert Taylor, Errol Flynn or Clark Gable, he was much more interesting. He had been places and done things.

“I’m going to marry him,” Verlean said.

“What did you say, honey?” Miss Lyle asked.

“I said I’m going to marry him.”

“Marry who?”

“Turk! I’m going to marry Turk!”

“You’ll have to catch him first.”

“Has Turk ever said anything about me?” Verlean asked.

“Why no, child! Why would he?”

“He’s never even noticed me or anything?”

“I think he’s got other things on his mind, now, honey.”

“When you see him, tell him I said ‘hello’.”

She sat down and drank the rest of her root beer and, while Ouida and Miss Lyle talked about things that didn’t interest her, she thought about Miss Lyle being dead and herself and Turk living together in that very house with its big rooms and antique furniture. She could fix it up so cute if she had the chance! And one day there might be a baby or two, but if there wasn’t she wouldn’t mind. If it was just her and Turk, that would be enough.

Verlean excused herself to use the bathroom and when she came back, she picked up Miss Lyle’s issue of Vogue and began looking at the pictures. She pretended not to be listening to what Ouida and Miss Lyle were saying, but she was taking in every word.

“I wish she could find a husband,” Ouida said, “as long as it’s not Turk.”

“What’s the matter with Turk?” Miss Lyle asked.

“Well, he’s a criminal for one thing.”

“She could do a lot worse, criminal or not.”

“I’m all the family she’s got,” Ouida said. “I worry about what will happen to her when I die. She can’t take care of herself. She’s simple in the head.”

Verlean sighed but Ouida and Miss Lyle didn’t notice. It was as if she wasn’t even there.

“Who wants to marry a girl that’s simple in the head?” Miss Lyle said.

“Nobody!” Ouida said. “And when I die, she’ll end up a ward of the state.”

“They’ll put her on one of them work farms where they’ll make her dig potatoes all day long!” Miss Lyle said.

Ouida looked around to see where Verlean was, if she had come back from the bathroom. “Light me another Lucky, honey!” she said.

When Verlean and Ouida left Miss Lyle’s house to go back home, Verlean pushed the wheelchair silently over the bumpy sidewalks with her head down. She didn’t want Ouida to know that she was hurt by the things she and Miss Lyle had said about her not being right in the head and how she would never be able to find a husband and how she had a face like Buster’s and would end up living at the poor farm. She wasn’t going to let them get her down, though. She had a plan. She would have a husband and, if everything worked out the way she hoped it would, she knew exactly who he would be.

At suppertime, Verlean stirred one teaspoon of poison into Ouida’s soup. She didn’t know what one teaspoon of poison would do, but if nothing happened she would do the same thing tomorrow and the day after that. Over days, the poison should have a cumulative effect. When Ouida became ill and had to be taken to the hospital, the doctors would just think her bad heart and smoker’s lungs and the condition of her bones falling apart had finally got the best of her.

And then there was Miss Lyle. With Ouida gone, Verlean would go to work on Miss Lyle, or maybe try a different approach. Startle her into having an old-age heart attack or push her down the cellar stairs and make it look like an accident. Any number of ways it might be done.

Of course, with his mother out of the way, Turk would stop his wandering ways and return home, where Verlean and Buster would be waiting for him with open arms. And when that happened, Turk would see—the whole world would see—that Verlean wasn’t as soft in the head as everybody thought she was.

Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp

Anita Page

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Anita Page

Anita Page (1910-2008), successful Hollywood film star of the silent era and early sound films, retired at the pinnacle of her success. Italian dictator Benito Mussolini was an ardent admirer of Anita’s and wrote her dozens of fan letters. She turned him down when he proposed marriage, though, which was probably the right decision, considering all that happened later.

The Scream of Nature ~ A Painting by Edvard Munch

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1893 --- The Scream by Edvard Munch --- Image by © Burstein Collection/CORBIS

The Scream of Nature (1893) by Edvard Munch

Edvard Munch was a Norwegian painter and printmaker who lived from 1863 to 1944. His most famous painting is the expressionistic The Scream of Nature (1893), popularly known as The Scream. It is today considered an icon of modern art and can be found in the National Gallery in Oslo, Norway.

The Mask of Apollo ~ A Capsule Book Review

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The Mask of Apollo cover

The Mask of Apollo ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp

Mary Renault’s 1966 novel, The Mask of Apollo, is historical fiction, based, in large part, on historical fact. The main character is Nikeratos (“Niko” to his friends), an Athenian actor who is relating the story in his first-person voice. Nikeratos is a fictional construct, but most of the other characters and incidents, including a very young Alexander the Great at the end of the story, are real.

The setting is Greece about four hundred years before Christ. Nikeratos, being the son of an actor, is born into acting. He finds success in his calling early in life and moves up through the ranks of desired actors. To me the most interesting parts of the novel are the descriptions of the stagecraft of the period, which, even by today’s standards, were very elaborate and sophisticated. Plays were the entertainment of the masses, instead of just the cultured few. Theatres seated as many as fifteen or twenty thousand people and plays often began before dawn, with the rising sun sometimes used as an effect in the play. Only men were allowed to act on the stage, so men played in women’s roles. People in the audience never saw the faces of the actors during a performance because they wore elaborate masks (mask-making was a craft in itself). Underneath the masks the actors spoke the lines the playwrights had written. The best and most successful actors became celebrated.

If Nikeratos’s life isn’t interesting enough as an actor, he becomes involved in political intrigue in Syracuse, a powerful Greek city state at the tip of the island of Sicily. Syracuse has been controlled by despots, first by Dionysius, and then after his death by his son, Dionysius the Younger. Nikeratos befriends Dion, a moderate politician and pupil of the philosopher Plato. (They never become “lovers” in the Greek sense because they are of different worlds, but there is definitely an attraction going on there.) Dion is trying to bring stability and democracy to Syracuse by teaching Dionysius the Younger about more tolerant forms of government. Dion entrusts Nikeratos to convey sensitive political documents between Syracuse and Athens. Plato and Dion attempt to restructure the government of Syracuse along the lines of Plato’s Republic, with Dionysius the Younger as the archetypal philosopher-king. Of course, things don’t work out the way they had hoped.

The Mask of Apollo is a readable classic, somewhere between pop fiction and literature. It’s plenty engaging enough, but for me the political intrigue began to grow thin and meandering toward the end of the book. History tells us that things didn’t end well for Plato and Dion, but the last hundred pages or so seemed kind of anticlimactic. It might have been gripping but isn’t. All in all, though, it’s an interesting and informative journey to the ancient world, an escape from the dreary times we live in.

Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp

If I Had a Heart

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If I Had a Heart ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

“I feel like firing somebody today,” Mr. Punsley said. “Who shall it be?”

“I don’t know,” Mr. Cundiff said. “Go down the list and pick somebody.”

“Well, now, let me see,” Mr. Punsley said, folding his hands and going down the list of names. “We have lots of suckers to choose from. Are there any standouts? Yes, there are many, many standouts. Anybody you’ve found especially offending lately?”

“Otis Nadler spends too much time in the men’s room,” Mr. Cundiff said.

“He has a chronic bowel disorder,” Mr. Punsley said, “so I don’t think we could get him for that. He might counter with a lawsuit.”

“How about Tenny Peterkin?” Mr. Cundiff asked. “I’ve noticed him staring off into space a couple of times lately when he ought to be working.”

“He just lost his wife to an automobile accident,” Mr. Punsley said. “We gave him three days’ bereavement leave, but I think it takes longer than that to get over the accidental loss of a wife. Sometimes it’s a good idea to have a heart, or at least pretend we do.”

“Yes, you’re right, of course,” Mr. Cundiff said. “As usual.”

“Always being right is what got me where I am today,” Mr. Punsley said.

“Well, now, let me see,” Mr. Cundiff said. “Judith Traherne comes to mind for some reason.”

“Can’t fire Judith,” Mr. Punsley said. “She makes the best coffee in the office and, anyway, her father is on the board at the country club. We don’t want to make him mad.”

“How about Florence Lawrence, then?” Mr. Cundiff said. “She’s put on a lot of weight lately. That means she’s not carrying her share of the load.”

“She’s carrying a load, all right,” Mr. Punsley said. “Haven’t you noticed she’s going to have a baby?”

“No! I just thought she had been eating too many donuts,” Mr. Cundiff said.

“You can’t fire an expectant mother, no matter how much you may want to,” Mr. Punsley said. “Pick somebody else.”

You pick somebody,” Mr. Cundiff said. “Somebody good. Just let me alone for a while. I feel one of my headaches coming on.”

Mr. Punsley and Mr. Cundiff managed the company, or at least they thought they did. In reality, they did practically nothing, having no idea of what needed to be done or how to do it. When there was any real work to be done, they put it off on one of their underlings and sat back and took the credit (and the profits), if there was any to be taken.

Mr. Cundiff locked himself in his office to be alone to try to make his headache go away, and Mr. Punsley continued looking down the list of company employees for prospective firees. When this task became tiresome, he called one of his current mistresses, one Mona Montclair, on the phone and chatted with her for close to an hour about sundry personal matters, including her two pet poodles and the lousy manicure she had from a manicurist who was obviously high on drugs. Then she told him about how she had been taxing her intellect looking at travel brochures, trying to decide on a vacation destination (the French Riviera or Paris?) and grew pouty when he told her he didn’t know when he would be able to get away to join her.

“You don’t know how difficult it is to run a large corporation with thousands of employees,” Mr. Punsley said.

“Have one of your little secretaries handle things while you’re gone,” she said. This was a reference to the dozens of female employees of Mr. Punsley’s of whom Mona Montclair was jealous.

By lunchtime Mr. Cundiff’s headache was better and Mr. Punsley had had enough of the office for one morning, so the two of them left to have a steak-lobster-martini lunch at the most exclusive restaurant in the city.

They made it a rule never to discuss office matters while lunching, so Mr. Cundiff didn’t ask Mr. Punsley who, if anyone, he had chosen to fire. Mr. Cundiff trusted Mr. Punsley’s judgment and he knew that Mr. Punsley would pick somebody who would be absolutely crushed at losing his job and would probably cry or maybe become violent and have to be bodily ejected by the security staff. It would certainly spice up the afternoon.

Mr. Cundiff had a dull, dowdy wife in the suburbs and four miniature Cundiffs, so he was always eager to hear about Mr. Punsley’s exploits with the opposite sex. Mr. Punsley had never been married, had always steered away from it, in fact, because, as he said, he would lose too much in a divorce settlement. He would lead women on, though, and make them think he was going to marry them, and then, pull the rug out from under them, in a manner of speaking, just as they believed they were on their way to the altar.

After two hours of excellent food and drink—and after Mr. Punsley had ogled all the women in the place from seventeen to seventy—Mr. Cundiff and Mr. Punsley paid their tab and left.

Once back at the office, Mr. Cundiff retired for a little siesta, while Mr. Punsley again sat down at his desk with the list. Now that his mind was clear after a good lunch and six martinis, he settled on the name of a person to fire: Nelson Dunwoody. When Mr. Cundiff emerged from his period of rest refreshed, Mr. Punsley greeted him with the news.

“Which one is Nelson Dunwoody?” Mr. Cundiff asked.

“He doesn’t talk much,” Mr. Punsley said. “He didn’t get drunk at the office Christmas party the way everybody else did. In fact, he wasn’t even there.”

“I still don’t know who he is,” Mr. Cundiff said.

“He always keeps his head down and doesn’t try to flirt with any of the ladies,” Mr. Punsley said.

“You’ll have to give a reason to fire him,” Mr. Cundiff said.

“Well, somebody told me he uses a lot of soap and paper towels when he’s washing his hands in the men’s room,” Mr. Punsley said.

“He must be very clean,” Mr. Cundiff said.

“And that he has arrived for work five minutes late two times in the last year,” Mr. Punsley said.

“Well, that was the commuter strike and the snowstorm, I’m sure,” Mr. Cundiff said. “Everybody was late those days!”

“Somebody else told me they saw him put a packet of sugar in his shirt pocket, obviously to take home with him,” Mr. Punsley said. “Now, when employees begin stealing sugar from the company, you know it’s time to take some action!”

“Truer words were never spoken!” Mr. Cundiff said.

“And, if all that wasn’t enough, there’s simply something about the fellow I don’t like,” Mr. Punsley said. “I think it’s the way he carries himself when he walks. He seems just a little too sure of himself.”

“He’s cocky,” Mr. Cundiff said.

“Yes, that’s it exactly!” Mr. Punsley said. “I can always rely on you to find the right words.”

“Have your secretary show the man in, then, and we’ll get right to it!” Mr. Cundiff said.

Mr. Punsley and Mr. Cundiff both greeted Nelson Dunwoody with enthusiastic smiles, shaking his hand and patting his shoulder.

“Take a chair, please, sir,” Mr. Punsley said.

Nelson Dunwoody sat in the large leather chair in front of Mr. Punsley’s desk, crossed his legs and folded his hands in his lap. Even now, Mr. Punsley thought, when he’s obviously in trouble, this Nelson Dunwoody person is entirely too sure of himself.

“What can I do for you gentlemen today?” Nelson Dunwoody asked.

“You’ve been with the company now for about—what is it?—sixteen months?” Mr. Punsley said. He was nervous and seemed to be having trouble getting the words out.

“Yes,” Nelson Dunwoody said.

“And how do you like it here?” Mr. Cundiff said.

“Well, I have to say I’ve found it very enlightening,” Nelson Dunwoody said.

“In what way?” Mr. Cundiff asked.

“I’ve accomplished everything I’ve wanted to accomplish and more,” Nelson Dunwoody said, smiling confidently.

“That’s fine!” Mr. Punsley said. “The reason we asked you to come in and chat with us today is…”

“Well, I’m afraid whatever it is, it won’t matter much now,” Nelson Dunwoody said. “I was just typing my letter of resignation when the secretary came and said you wanted to see me.”

“Oh? You’re leaving us?” Mr. Cundiff asked.

“Yes. I didn’t think it would be necessary to give you the usual two weeks’ notice since my work here is completed,” Nelson Dunwoody said, taking a folded letter out of his pocket and placing it on the desk in front of Mr. Punsley.

“No, of course not!” Mr. Punsley said, not wanting to admit that he didn’t know what work Nelson Dunwoody was talking about because he didn’t know what Nelson Dunwoody’s job was.

“I’ve already removed my personal effects from my desk and said goodbye to my co-workers,” Nelson Dunwoody said, “so I guess there’s nothing more to be said.”

He stood up and shook Mr. Punsley’s hand briskly and then Mr. Cundiff’s hand and went out the door, leaving Mr. Punsley and Mr. Cundiff at a loss for words.

“Well, I never!” Mr. Cundiff said.

“That’s very disappointing!” Mr. Punsley said. “I thought we would at least see a temper tantrum from the fellow and have to call security.”

“You just never know about people!” Mr. Cundiff said, shaking his head.

“Did you ever see anybody with more gall?” Mr. Punsley said. “He wouldn’t even let me fire him!”

“It takes all kinds,” Mr. Cundiff said.

“I wasn’t even able to make him feel humiliated,” Mr. Punsley said, “and I’ve always been so good at that!”

“Well, pick somebody else from the list,” Mr. Cundiff said.

“I’m afraid it’s going to have to wait until Monday,” Mr. Punsley said. “That fellow gave me a headache.”

“I’m going to take a little lie-down in my office,” Mr. Cundiff said.

At four o’clock, with one hour left to go before time to go home, Mr. Punsley was relaxing in his big chair in front of the window, thinking about where he was going to have dinner and with whom, when he heard a commotion in the outer office. Before he had a chance to go and see what it was, three men, with several others behind them, burst into his office.

“Mr. Cornelius Punsley?” the tall man in front asked.

“Yes!” Mr. Punsley said, showing his indignant side. “And just who the hell are you?

“We have a warrant for your arrest, sir!” the tall man said.

What?” Mr. Punsley said. “I believe there’s been some mistake!”

Mr. Cundiff, also hearing the commotion, emerged from his office.

“Are you Mr. Alonzo Cundiff?” the tall man asked.

“Well, uh…” Mr. Cundiff said, unable to go any farther.

“I’m afraid you’re both under arrest, sir!” the tall man said.

“What is this all about?” Mr. Punsley asked.

“You’ll have plenty of time to ask questions later,” the tall man said. “All we’re doing now is taking you in.”

“In where?” Mr. Cundiff asked.

As a diversionary tactic, Mr. Punsley began grabbing articles and papers from his desk and throwing them about the room. While the tall man and the others were distracted, Mr. Punsley grabbed Mr. Cundiff by the arm and they ran out the side door into the hallway.

“What now?” Mr. Cundiff said.

“I’m not going to jail!” Mr. Punsley said.

“Me, either!” Mr. Cundiff said.

“To the roof, then!” Mr. Punsley said.

They ran up to the roof before anybody spotted them and, joining hands, jumped to their deaths, thirty-three stories to the street. They created a monumental traffic jam in all directions and were the top story on the evening news.

While Mr. Punsley and Mr. Cundiff were sitting in Satan’s outer office, waiting to be admitted to hell, Mr. Punsley said. “Maybe we should have treated people a little better than we did. Showed a little more humility.”

“I think it’s too late for that now,” Mr. Cundiff said.

“You don’t think they’ll let us go if we apologize?” Mr. Punsley asked.

“I don’t think it’ll do any good now,” Mr. Cundiff said.

“Who would have ever guessed that Nelson Dunwoody was a federal investigator?” Mr. Punsley said.

“There’s no way we could have known,” Mr. Cundiff said.

“Who hired the fellow in the first place?” Mr. Punsley asked.

“It was you!” Mr. Cundiff said.

“No, it wasn’t me!” Mr. Punsley said. “I remember now! It was you!

“What does it matter now?” Mr. Cundiff said. “I do hope, though, that I get a nice room with a private bath and a view.”

Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp

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