"Yes, yes, of course I remember; I dealt with it. It went through here."
"Do you remember what the price was, the one I quoted?"
"Let me see ... well, I can't say offhand, but just a minute, I can get it for you in a tick." As he made to get up Whelan said, "You needn't, only to confirm it. It was six thousand, five hundred for having the garage extended, the car park made, ladies room put up and so on."
Harry screwed up his eyes before saying, "That's right. But what about it?"
"Then why was it raised ?"
"Raised?" Again Harry was screwing up his eyes.
"To my knowledge it's never even been confirmed, I mean by Halliday ...
Wait a minute." He got up quickly and went to a cabinet by the side of the window and, opening a drawer, he flicked through some files; then pulling out a folio he said, "Here it is, a copy of the estimaic, sia inuwi. u^ ^vA ^ni^iv.
"Did you send that out?"
"No, I don't send them from here, not now, they go from the next floor, Rippon's office. It's a new arrangement, since they started on the buildings and contracts."
"Well, look at these figures, will you?" Jim Whelan now handed a sheet of paper across to Harry.
"I've taken them letter for letter from the correspondence that was sent to Halliday. The typist there's my niece.
We got talking and this is what came out of it. "
Harry looked down at the paper in his hand and read: Teamarsh's estimate to Halliday for work on garage, etc. " seven thousand two hundred and fifty pounds. Lovell's estimate to Halliday for work on garage, eight thousand pounds."
Harry stared at Jim Whelan and said slowly, "Lovell's? What's Lovell's got to do with this? We only took them over a month ago. We haven't started doing anything under their name yet, I mean nothing new, we're only finishing off the jobs that were already in hand, at least the contractors are. What does it mean?"
"It means that somebody sent an estimate from the firm of Peamarsh to Halliday quoting in the first place seven hundred and fifty pounds more than the reasonable price, and at the same time they've answered Halliday's letter to Lovell's firm asking for an estimate from them too. How was the poor bugger to know that Lovell's was Peamarsh's and some clever Jack was working off one against' the other on him?"
"I can't believe it. And the risk I' " Risk. What do they care about risk when there's lucre involved? They were out to show how much cheaper Peamarsh's j could do _ the job and at seven hundred and fifty above, what ( I put in at that. And my estimate of six thousand five hundred ^ was leaving them a warm profit, I can tell you. "
Harry looked grimly down- on the figures on the paper; then drawing in a deep breath he said, "Leave this to me, will you " Yes, I'll leave it to you, Harry. But mind you, I want this straightened out; I don't like to see people taken for double suckers.
Single suckers yes, it's happening every day, but this is a bit much.
"I'll see to it right away, Jim."
"Will you give me a ring?"
"I'll give you a ring."
"So long. Harry." Jim Whelan got up and made for the door. And he had reached it before Harry said, "So long, Jim."
When he was alone again, Harry sat staring down on the evidence of jiggery-pokery. He didn't need to ask himself whose work this was, he knew. He had a father-in-law with what was called a business head.
But business head be damned, he wasn't going to get away with this.
For his own peace of mind he must see that he didn't. Over the years he had closed his eyes to one piece of chicanery after another, but there was a limit.
He took the lift to the top floor and stepped straight on to a thick pile, cherry-coloured carpet. This was Peamarsh's directors'
There was a wide oak-panelled corridor with two doors on either side.
The name plates on the doors said: "Mr. Arthur McMullan'; " Mr. Tom Vosey'; "Mr. Frank Noland'; the fourth door said " Gentlemen'. The corridor opened into a hallway studded with more doors. These were named: "Mr. Graham Hall'; " Mr. Peter Waters'; "Mr. David Rippon'.
Another door had on it the simple statement " Boardroom'.
He thrust open the door marked "Rippon'. Miss Bateman was sitting behind her desk. She looked up and said, " Oh, Mr. Blenheim, I was just going to ring the pool. "
"Oh, that's all right, Miss Bateman. As I said there's no hurry, I just want a word with Mr. Rippon."
"He was on the 'phone a moment ago. I'll see if he's free."
She pressed a 'button and listened, and said, "He's still on but I don't suppose he'll be a minute. Take a seat, Mr. Blenheim."
It was all very formal; it was always formal with Miss Bateman. He could call his own secretary Ada, but he would never dream of calling Miss Bateman, Marie.
Miss Bateman was a power in Peamarsh's. Before the building had been reconstructed and the top floor given over to the directors Miss Bateman had run the staff, and this included the men in the packing department, and now, not because she ner domain of power reached only to the floor below, where she continued to wield it firmly; except over Ada Cole, who, having worked in Peamarsh's longer than Miss Bateman, would have none of it. Harry had always been vaguely surprised that his own able but timid secretary refused to be pushed around by The Paragon.
Marie Bateman was in her early forties. She was of medium height and thin, and from her fair hair to her long narrow feet she was perfectly groomed. Altogether she gave off a kind of restrained elegance, which deceived you into thinking she could at one time have been pretty.
Looking at her now. Harry understood why she intimidated most people.
But no matter how off-putting her manner, she was a good business woman and secretary, or else his demanding father-in-law would never have kept her on.
"He's finished now."
"Thanks." He tapped on the communicating door and went in to Dave Rippon's office. "
"Hello there. I expected you."
Harry paused in the middle of the room and Dave Rippon added, "I knew Esther wouldn't be able to keep that."
"Keep what! The car, of course. I told her not to mention it until after the holidays, but that's women for you, same all over. Sit down, sit down. Well what do you think? Do you want it?"
"This is the first I've heard of it. You mean your car ?"
"Oh, so she didn't tell you then." Dave Rippon leant back in his high-backed, black swivel chair and laughed. It was a small sound coming from so large a man. Then he passed his hand over his forehead and on to his thick greying hair before he said, "Well, I'm ready for a change, it's over two years. Esther said you liked it."
"Yes ... yes I like it." His tone held no enthusiasm.
"But you always put your old one in for exchange, don't you?"
"Usually. But that one of yours must be dropping to. bits."
"It's a good car, it's only five years old."
"Only five 1' The voice was scornful.
"It might as well be fifty.
Anyway there it is, it's up to you. As you know, it cost me nearly two thousand. They'll give me fourteen hundred for it or more but I'll let you have it for twelve fifty. It's up to you. "
Harry looked at his father-in-law, at his round fleshy face, at his round pale blue eyes, which you could have called a sailor's eyes, far-seeing; and the description was certainly true in his father-in-law's case for Dave Rippon was far-seeing where Dave Rippon was concerned. People said he was a handsome man, a fine figure of a man, a man you would never put fifty- five years to, fifty yes, even forty-five on some days. His body was big, thick and hard. He had been an athlete in his time and the effect was still with him in spite of his sly drinking, although that was showing now in a thickening above his belt.
He had never liked his father-in-law, perhaps because he knew that everything Dave Rippon did for him was really for his daughter. He was where he was, he knew, because he had married Esther. This knowledge hadn't irked him during the first years of marriage, but latterly it had got under his skin, more so as he took his father-in-law's real measure. He knew for instance that his father-in-law couldn't make a straight deal if his life depended on it. Even about the car he had to be crooked. He wouldn't get fourteen hundred for it; it had only cost him eighteen hundred in the first place not two thousand. If he got twelve hundred he'd-be lucky, and that's what he wanted him to pay.
Moreover the car wasn't two years old; by his reckoning it was three, nearer four.
"I'm a fool for letting it go in any case." Harry blinked as his father-in-law leaned across the desk towards him.
"I'm just going to get the same type, same colour in fact I think, but you know after a couple of years things start going.
"Oh'--he leaned back again and napped his hand towards Harry--'that's bad business, isn't it? I'll have to look out, I'm slipping. Well, you know how she's been taken care of, there's nothing wrong with her really."
Harry just stopped himself from saying, "No, you've only beaten the guts out of her."
Dave Rippon waited for Harry to make some comment, and when none was forthcoming he blew his nose on a silk handkerchief before adopting his business attitude and saying, "Well,
f it wasn't about the car, what brought you up on this the slack est morning of the year, for I don't expect there'll be two penn' orth of work done in the whole building today? "
Harry swallowed, wetted his lips, then said, "I've come up about the Halliday estimates."
There was a long pause before Dave Rippon spoke, and then he said one word, "Yes?"
"Whelan got the estimate out."
"I'm aware of that."
"It was for six thousand, five hundred."
There was another pause before Dave Rippon said, "I'm aware of that also, so what?"
He held his father-in-law's eye as he said, "The estimate was sent out to them for seven thousand, two hundred and fifty."
There was no reply from Dave Rippon now and Harry, wetting his lips again, said, "And there was another estimate sent to Halliday, apparently from Lovell's for eight thousand."
"Now look here, Harry." Dave Rippon was sitting very straight in his chair, his two hands flat on the desk.
"This is not in your department and I'll thank you ..."
"But I think it is, Dave. You see, the letter came to me from Halliday; I got Whelan to make the estimate and that came to me too."
"And then it came into this office. Prom then on it isn't your business."
Harry took a deep breath and dared to say, "I don't like it. To me it's bad business."
If he had thrust out his arm and punched his father-in-law right in the middle of his face Dave Rippon couldn't have been more taken aback, so much so that he could only stare at his daughter's husband and think, once again, she let herself in for something there. But his agile mind told him at this moment that he would -have to tread carefully with his son-in-law, because it would never do for this to get around, at least off this floor. He made himself lean back, take a deep, deep breath, and smile; then his voice calm-sounding, he said, "You know. Harry, right from the first I knew you weren't cut out for business, you're not ruthless enough. Now this is just a simple business deal; you've been long enough with the firm surely to realise " You sent an estimate supposedly from Lovell's for eight thousand for the same job. "
Dave Rippon took a folded handkerchief now from his breast pocket and wiped something from the corner of his eye, stretching his mouth wide the while; then he said, "Well, that's easily explained. But it shouldn't need any explaining because you know yourself you send out an estimate and some of these beggars will beat you down to the last penny. They say A, B and C have put in theirs at hundreds less; you know this quite well, you're getting them every day. Well now, the job was six thousand five hundred, right?" He paused, waiting for a reply, but when Harry continued to stare at him he went on, "We put on another seven hundred and fifty. Why? Again because Halli- day is a new customer and if we can drop a few hundreds, say, down to six five, the original estimate, we've got him for good and all... see?"
"Yes, yes, I can see that." But even as he said it he 5s:new that Halliday's estimate would never be dropped to six five not while his father-in-law was dealing with it.
"Now about the Lovell's estimate; nobody outside those immediately concerned knows we've taken over Lovell's yet. Lovell's was a small private building company; their work was very high class and you've got to pay for high class work; so, therefore, when Halliday sent to Lovell's for an estimate I gave an estimate according to the work that Lovell's would likely have put in ..."
"But that's the point. You'll give this job to Bradley or Kershaw or one of the others; they're not of Lovell's standard."
Dave Rippon closed his eyes and leaned against the back of his chair, and then he said, "If you were getting an estimate in from one firm for seven thousand two hundred and fifty and for the same kind of work you got an estimate for eight thousand from another firm which would you take? Go on, tell me which one you would take? You know damn well which one you would take." Again he was leaning forward, his forearms stretched across the desk now, his hands flat as before.
"We sent Lovell's out just as a matter of business. It's BUSINESS.
We're not thieves or gangsters, we're business men. This is a business house. Oh lord! " He now rose to his feet, thrusting his chair back against the wall.
"At this stage of your career I shouldn't be giving you a lecture on business ethics."
"Perhaps you should."
"What!" Dave Rippon turned and looked down on Harry.
"What if Halliday, being a finicky kind of man, I don't know if he is, but just say he is, what if he plumps for Lovell's estimate?"
"Then he deserves to pay eight thousand, that's all I can say." Dave Rippon was bending down to Harry now, his face on a level with his head, and below his breath he said, "Why these scruples all of a sudden?"