“Good morning, Mr. Ebenezer,” said the doorwoman and the coat check lad.
Without even a grunt of greeting, Elijah Ebenezer walked into the Hound and Flagon Club and tossed his coat to the coat check counter. Ignoring the maitre d’, he walked to his regular table.
Back at the entrance, the doorwoman said to the coat check lad, “Old Screw-You is in good form. Wonder who’s today’s casualty?”
Ebenezer knew what they called him. He didn’t mind. Other people’s attitudes; not his problem. His job was to look out for Number One. “Screw you once, my fault; screw you twice, your fault.”
His junior partner, Bob Marley, walked in, looking weird in his cheap business suit and dreadlocks. That idiot will have to get over his thing about the singer, Ebenezer said to himself, not for the first time, as Bob shuffled to the table and waited for a signal to sit.
Ebenezer sipped his Manhattan while Marley fidgeted. Finally he signaled for Marley to sit. “Performance Review time, Marley. What do you have to say for yourself?”
“I work hard, Mr. Ebenezer. I do my best.”
“Not good enough. You’re finished, Marley,” Screw-You said, after scowling at him for a moment. “Your deals keep going bad. You owe the firm more than you’ll ever be able to repay. You’re out; I’m taking over your share of the business.”
Marley slumped. Eventually Ebenezer had to gesture toward the exit to get him to move.
Six months later, walking out of church, Ebenezer overheard two of the worshippers, who didn’t notice him.
“Haven’t seen Marley at Rotary for a long time.”
“Screw-You ruined him. Last I heard, he was living under the bridge.”
Serves him right, the dumb schmuck, Ebenezer said to himself.
Two o’clock in the morning of a quiet, windless night. Thirty degrees Fahrenheit. A very drunk Ebenezer lurched up the walk and climbed the stairs to his front door — very carefully. It wouldn’t do to lose it this close to home, to black out on the walk or fall back down the stairs.
Slow and steady, he said to himself when he reached the door. Don’t want to drop the key. Find the keyhole with your left hand and guide the key in. Damn. This gets harder every night.
“And then let any man explain to me, if he can, how it happened that he, having his key in the lock of the door, saw in the knocker, without its undergoing any intermediate process of change: not a knocker, but Marley’s face.”
He rubbed his eyes and the face wasn’t there.
Then Marley’s voice behind him: “You need more exercise, Screw-You. Swimming is just the thing.” Ebenezer found himself half-dragged, half-carried down the stairs and across the street to the canal.
He heard himself say, “Can’t schwim wish all dese closh on.”
Marley didn’t seem to understand as he continued to drag Ebenezer across the street.
“Screw me once, your fault. Screw you once, my fault,” Marley said. “Swimming will sober you up.”
Marley held Ebenezer out over the water, with a firm grip on his collar. He pictured letting go and seeing him dragged down into the icy blackness by the water-logged great coat. Ebenezer would continue his refrain, “Can’t schwim wish my coat . . .” till the slurred voiced ended with a gurgle.
In the end he chose not to let go; he dragged Screw-You back across the street, up the stairs, and into his front hall. He pulled off the old man’s overcoat and let him collapse to the floor.
“Don’t catch cold, you old coot.” Slipping his own arms into the coat and buttoning it up to his neck, he celebrated its warmth as he went down the stairs.
The next year was bad for Ebenezer. A few of his most lucrative accounts defaulted. He was drinking more, which affected his deal-making. Meanwhile it was as if taking and wearing Elijah Ebenezer’s coat had given Marley new life, new confidence, new focus. He went to work for old Cartwright Moran, who was nearing retirement. The deals he made fed new life into the firm. Within months, Cartwright made Marley a partner. When Marley married the old man’s daughter, he became heir to the firm. Marley found it particularly gratifying that he was able to beat out Ebenezer on a number of deals, though he recognized that Screw-You was but a shadow of his old self.
Late one night, a year after the canal incident, Elijah “Screw-You” Ebenezer, staggering home drunk, fell into the canal and drowned. Marley bought what remained of Ebenezer’s business and re-wrote the contracts in terms more favorable to the other parties. Over dinner at their favorite restaurant, his father-in-law questioned the moves. Marley talked broadly about winning over the new clients and creating the potential for repeat business. To himself he added that good deals benefit both parties.
After dinner they went off to the firm’s holiday celebration.
If you like this, please remember the “heart.” And you might like my other stuff at https://medium.com/@ehb2013ehb . Thanks for reading.