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chapter 1
The First Vice-President of the William Howard Taft National Bank and Trust Company, the gentleman to whom Miss Orison McCall was applying for a job, was not at all the public picture of a banker. His suit of hound's-tooth checks, the scarlet vest peeping above the vee of his jacket, were enough to assure Orison that the Taft Bank was a curious bank indeed. "I gotta say, chick, these references of yours really swing," said the Vice-President, Mr. Wanji. "Your last boss says you come on real cool in the secretary-bit."
"He was a very kind employer," Orison said. She tried to keep from staring at the most remarkable item of Mr. Wanji's costume, a pair of furry green earmuffs. It was not cold.
Mr. Wanji returned to Orison her letters of reference. "What color bread you got eyes for taking down, baby?" he asked.
"Beg pardon?"
"What kinda salary you bucking for?" he translated, bouncing up and down on the toes of his rough-leather desert boots.
"I was making one-twenty a week in my last position," Miss McCall said.
"You're worth more'n that, just to jazz up the decor," Mr. Wanji said. "What you say we pass you a cee-and-a-half a week. Okay?" He caught Orison's look of bewilderment. "One each, a Franklin and a Grant," he explained further. She still looked blank. "Sister, you gonna work in a bank, you gotta know who's picture's on the paper. That's a hunnerd-fifty a week, doll."
"That will be most satisfactory, Mr. Wanji," Orison said. It was indeed.
"Crazy!" Mr. Wanji grabbed Orison's right hand and shook it with athletic vigor. "You just now joined up with our herd. I wanna tell you, chick, it's none too soon we got some decent scenery around this tomb, girlwise." He took her arm and led her toward the bank of elevators. The uniformed operator nodded to Mr. Wanji, bowed slightly to Orison. He, too, she observed, wore earmuffs. His were more formal than Mr. Wanji's, being midnight blue in color. "Lift us to five, Mac," Mr. Wanji said. As the elevator door shut he explained to Orison, "You can make the Taft Bank scene anywhere between the street floor and floor five. Basement and everything higher'n fifth floor is Iron Curtain Country far's you're concerned. Dig, baby?"
"Yes, sir," Orison said. She was wondering if she'd be issued earmuffs, now that she'd become an employee of this most peculiar bank.
The elevator opened on five to a tiny office, just large enough to hold a single desk and two chairs. On the desk were a telephone and a microphone. Beside them was a double-decked "In" and "Out" basket. "Here's where you'll do your nine-to-five, honey," Mr. Wanji said.
"What will I be doing, Mr. Wanji?" Orison asked.
The Vice-President pointed to the newspaper folded in the "In" basket. "Flip on the microphone and read the paper to it," he said. "When you get done reading the paper, someone will run you up something new to read. Okay?"
"It seems a rather peculiar job," Orison said. "After all, I'm a secretary. Is reading the newspaper aloud supposed to familiarize me with the Bank's operation?"
"Don't bug me, kid," Mr. Wanji said. "All you gotta do is read that there paper into this here microphone. Can do?"
"Yes, sir," Orison said. "While you're here, Mr. Wanji, I'd like to ask you about my withholding tax, social security, credit union, coffee-breaks, union membership, lunch hour and the like. Shall we take care of these details now? Or would you—"
"You just take care of that chicken-flickin' kinda stuff any way seems best to you, kid," Mr. Wanji said.
"Yes, sir," Orison said. This laissez-faire policy of Taft Bank's might explain why she'd been selected from the Treasury Department's secretarial pool to apply for work here, she thought. Orison McCall, girl Government spy. She picked up the newspaper from the "In" basket, unfolded it to discover the day's Wall Street Journal, and began at the top of column one to read it aloud. Wanji stood before the desk, nodding his head as he listened. "You blowing real good, kid," he said. "The boss is gonna dig you the most."
Orison nodded. Holding her newspaper and her microphone, she read the one into the other. Mr. Wanji flicked his fingers in a good-by, then took off upstairs in the elevator.
By lunchtime Orison had finished the Wall Street Journal and had begun reading a book an earmuffed page had brought her. The book was a fantastic novel of some sort, named The Hobbit. Reading this peculiar fare into the microphone before her, Miss McCall was more certain than ever that the Taft Bank was, as her boss in Washington had told her, the front for some highly irregular goings-on. An odd business for a Federal Mata Hari, Orison thought, reading a nonsense story into a microphone for an invisible audience.
Orison switched off her microphone at noon, marked her place in the book and took the elevator down to the ground floor. The operator was a new man, ears concealed behind scarlet earmuffs. In the car, coming down from t............
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