“Yea! I suppose she’s one of these hens whose husband ’doesn’t understand her’!”
“I don’t know. Maybe. He was killed in the war.”
Babbitt lumbered up, stood beside Paul patting his shoulder, making soft apologetic noises.
“Honest, George, she’s a fine woman, and she’s had one hell of a time. We manage to jolly each other up a lot. We tell each other we’re the dandiest pair on earth. Maybe we don’t believe it, but it helps a lot to have somebody with whom you can be perfectly simple, and not all this discussing—explaining—”
“And that’s as far as you go?”
“It is not! Go on! Say it!”
“Well, I don’t—I can’t say I like it, but—” With a burst which left him feeling large and shining with generosity, “it’s none of my darn business! I’ll do anything I can for you, if there’s anything I can do.”
“There might be. I judge from Zilla’s letters that ’ve been forwarded from Akron that she’s getting suspicious about my staying away so long. She’d be perfectly capable of having me shadowed, and of coming to Chicago and busting into a hotel dining-room and bawling me out before everybody.”
“I’ll take care of Zilla. I’ll hand her a good fairy-story when I get back to Zenith.”
“I don’t know—I don’t think you better try it. You’re a good fellow. but I don’t know that diplomacy is your strong point.” Babbitt looked hurt, then irritated. “I mean with women! With women, I mean. Course they got to go some to beat you in business diplomacy, but I just mean with women. Zilla may do a lot of rough talking, but she’s pretty shrewd. She’d have the story out of you in no time.”
“Well, all right, but—” Babbitt was still pathetic at not being allowed to play Secret Agent. Paul soothed:
“Course maybe you might tell her you’d been in Akron and seen me there.”
“Why, sure, you bet! Don’t I have to go look at that candy-store property in Akron? Don’t I? Ain’t it a shame I have to stop off there when I’m so anxious to get home? Ain’t it a regular shame? I’ll say it is! I’ll say it’s a doggone shame!”
“Fine. But for glory hallelujah’s sake don’t go putting any fancy fixings on the story. When men lie they always try to make it too artistic, and that’s why women get suspicious. And—Let’s have a drink, Georgie. I’ve got some gin and a little vermouth.”
The Paul who normally refused a second cocktail took a second now, and a third. He became red-eyed and thick-tongued. He was embarrassingly jocular and salacious.
In the taxicab Babbitt incredulously found tears crowding into his eyes.