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Business and Ethics

In the dingy office of A. Slivowitz & Co., manufacturers of dyes, things were humming. Every clerk was bent over his desk, hard and cheerfully at work, and there was a general air of bustle and efficiency.

That was because A. Slivowitz stood in the doorway of his private office looking on.

The portly head of the firm watched the scene complacently for a few minutes. Then, catching the eye of his young but efficient private secretary, he beckoned him with an air of mystery to the inner sanctum.

The secretary, who was sharp of eye and alert of manner, rose at once and followed, though it was not the custom of A. Slivowitz to summon him thus. His employer sank ponderously into his swivel chair and motioned to the secretary to shut the door and take a seat. Then for a minute or so he was silent, playing with his massive gold watch chain and studying the young man through puckered lids. But if the secretary was perturbed he did not show it.

“Mr. Sloane,” began Slivowitz, at length, in his heavy voice, “you been with the firm now how long — six or five months, ain’t it?”

“Nearly six,” the dapper young man confirmed briskly.

“You’re a smart feller, Mr. Sloane,” his employer continued, examining the huge diamond on his left hand. “Already you picked it up a lot about dyeing. A fine dyer you should make. Now, Mr. Sloane, I’m going to fire you.”

The secretary’s eyebrows went up a trifle, but otherwise he showed no great perturbation. Perhaps a certain elephantine playfulness in the big man’s tone reassured him.

“By me business is good,” Slivowitz went on, with a fat chuckle. “I’m a business man, Mr. Sloane, first and last, and nobody don’t never put nothing over by me.”

Knowing something of his employer’s business methods, Sloane could have amplified. What he said was: “Thanks to your royal purple, Mr. Slivowitz. You’ve about cornered the trade.”

“They can’t none of ’em touch it, that purple; posi-tive-ly,” agreed the dyer, with much satisfaction. “But” — and he became confidential — “between me and you strictly, this here now Domestic Dye Works, they got it a mauve what gives me a pain.”

He hitched his chair closer and laid a pudgy hand on Sloane’s knee. “I’m going to fire you,” he repeated, with a wink. “I want you should go by Domestic Dye Works and get it a job. Find out about the formula for their mauve — you understand me — and come back with it, and you get back your job and a hundred or seventy-five dollars.”

Sloane started. For a moment he stared at his employer, his face going red and pale again; then he rose to his feet.

“Sorry, Mr. Slivowitz, but I can’t consider it,” he said.

“Oh, come now, Mr. Sloane!” protested the dyer, with a laugh, leaning back in his chair. He produced a thick cigar and bit off the end. “These here scruples does you credit, Mr. Sloane, but business is business; and, take it from me, Mr. Sloane, you can’t mix business up with ethics. Them things is all right, but you gotta skin the other guy before he skins you first, ain’t it?”

“That may be — ” began the secretary, as he moved toward the door.

May be? Ain’t I just told you it is?” Slivowitz paused in the act of striking a match to glare. “You needn’t to be scared they’ll find it out where you come from and fire you, neither, Mr. Sloane,” he added, more quietly and with a cunning expression. “I got brains, I have. A little thing like recommends to a smart man like me — ” The match broke. He flung it into the cuspidor and selected another.

Sloane paused with his hand on the doorknob. “Mr. Slivowitz — ” he began again.

“Of course,” continued his employer, “I could make it — well, a hundred fifteen, Mr. Sloane. But, believe me, not a cent more, posi-tive-ly.”

The secretary shook his head decidedly.

“What?” roared Slivowitz. “Y’mean to tell me you ain’t going to do it? All right; you’re fired anyhow, you understand me.” Then with an evil glitter in his eyes, “And if you don’t bring by me that formula, you get fired from the Domestic Dye Works; and you don’t get it no job nowheres else, too! Now, you take your choice.” This time the match lighted successfully.

Sloane smiled. “Quite impossible,” he said. “I was going to resign in a day or two, anyway.”

“Eh?” exclaimed the head of the firm, his jaw dropping and his florid face paling a little. In the face of a number of possibilities he forgot the match in his fingers.

“Yes. You see — you’ll know it sooner or later — the Domestic Dye Works sent me here to learn the formula for your royal purple.”

And the door slammed shut behind A. Slivowitz’s private secretary.


Redfield Ingalls was a writer and editor who was an active short story writer in the early 1900’s. He was born in Granby, Quebec, Canada.


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