Sequence: Brickbats (part three)
“Ethan, make Harvey an offer on this place, why don’t you? Harvey doesn’t like me for a friend. But he likes you.”
“You’re wrong, Junior,” Harvey said. “I doubt anyone likes Ethan. Now I think of it, I suppose it would not tarnish your reputation much, taking him on as a silent partner. Assuming he can be kept silent.”
Harvey’s practice, on all days but Mondays, as he exited his apartment―whether to inflict his wit on cronies (Planter sometimes even lunched at the Imperial), or to walk his small dog, Ulalume―was to tap at the Durcos’ door. The maid, answering, would be told, “Please inform Mr. Durco that once again my sleep has been disturbed by noise from his second floor lounge.”
Durco’s practice was to drop by, an hour or so before the Imperial opened for the evening, and apologize. “I can solve your problem,” he would tell Harvey. That was enough conversation; he no longer offered to purchase the building. Harvey, he knew, meant to wait out the lease. It puzzled Durco. Harvey was nobody’s Aunt Gertrude.
He had thought already of tripping him up in front of a witness, and far from stepping in the trap, Harvey had openly used the word “prostitution”, smiling—but modestly—when Durco flinched.
Planter could not, at some fortuitous moment, happen to notice unlawful conduct under his own roof. His product, as Durco analyzed it, wasn’t a thing badly wanted, and plenty of others could supply it. So by rights, any scandal would strip away a mere drama critic’s veneer of respectability, put a man like Harvey Planter out of business.
Wouldn’t hurt him much, either, letting go of this. He lived on his portfolio’s dividends, and didn’t need the work. Durco, whose customers would always be there, could better handle the ups and downs. His old pal Gersome, chairman of the vice committee, provided him another safeguard. Yet Harvey acted like a man holding an ace. Durco knew of only one thing…
He could not see what Harvey Planter had to do with it.
If he ceased paying courtesy calls on his wife, passed by her room without asking how her day had gone, and left the choice to Rose, would she (lonesome perhaps…was it possible?) feel spurred at last to speak words of consequence, to say to him what she held back? They had not always been either silent with one another, or semaphoric, gaining passage from one day to the next by bowing out of each other’s way.
Durco remembered Rose hurling a dinner plate against the plate glass window. Nine in the evening, he’d dart out of the club and come up for supper. The Springer building across the street towered over No. 302, its upper floors glowing, a patchwork of electric lights. He could see people in their apartments, and supposed they, too, could look down and see the Durcos eating. The Armstrong Hotel’s new corner sign winked off, and began again.
(2016, Stephanie Foster)