Eve used an apple...these guys used steel
"Watch Those Car Guys" provides a window into the hectic, fast-moving and free-wheeling world of the automobile business during the post-war period. The absence of standardized factory prices for automobiles provided the dealer with the opportunity to manipulate prices in order to confuse customers. Quick sales by any manner were the primary objective. The pre-war practice of providing good service at fair prices for the purpose of repeat business was all but gone.
Marty Stein is transformed from a respectful college sophomore into a devious automobile dealer. The greed and irresponsibility in his life parallels the practices evolving in the automobile business. His fifteen-year journey from a college sophomore to a felon leaves behind a wake that contains scores of deceived and disgruntled customers, a lover who almost dies from a bungled abortion, a son he may never see and the suicide of a trusting friend that was to a large extent Marty's fault.
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.19(d)|
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Watch Those Car GuysEve used an apple ... these guys used steel
By Sandy Grasso
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2010 Sandy Grasso
All right reserved.
Chapter OneLooking Back
The war was well into its second year but that was of little consequence to Marty Stein. He was on a roll ... well, it seemed that way.
Bob Iverson had introduced him to the "BBB" club. No, not the "Build Better Boys" club, but, rather, the "Bread, Booze, and Broads" club. Filet mignon, rack of lamb, lobster, manhattans, highballs, martinis ... and the women. Marty felt like he had died and gone to heaven. The women in those Chicago high-rise apartments looked like movie stars. And making love ... those women were the best. It didn't end there either; the free tickets to the professional football and basketball games were like icing on the cake.
Not bad for a twenty-one-year-old sophomore straight out of an NYU business program. He hadn't asked to go to Officer's Training School (OCS). Rather, he was given a choice; go to OCS or join the other thousands of guys who might get their asses shot off. What would you do?
Right! He made the "smart" choice. So they called him a "ninetyday wonder" and under their breath, they called him worse things. He could live with the remarks and the sneers but the thought of Tony Simone hung heavily on his mind.
He and Tony had been buddies since junior high. They lived in a predominately Irish neighborhood and minorities were expected to toe the line. When tempers flared, it was not uncommon for Tony and Marty to be referred to as Guinea Wop and Jew bastard.
Marty's father, Joseph, had an auto repair shop. Tony worked there each summer and after school. When Marty went to college, Tony started working full-time as a mechanic in the shop.
In one respect, Tony was less fortunate than Marty. While Marty was living the good life, Tony had been drafted and found himself serving as a mechanic in a motor pool unit.
Tony's group was part of an Allied offensive against Monte Casino and during the fighting, a German pilot sent a round through Tony's leg, leaving him with a noticeable limp. In some strange way, Marty would hold himself responsible for Tony's injury.
Another ghost haunted Marty. He suspected that Bob's largesse would come at a price ... and so it did.
His first assignment was to monitor a contract that Bristol Industries had with the Feds. Bristol was under contract to build an improved bombsight for a fixed sum of money. During the course of this assignment, Marty met Bob Iverson, a seasoned PR man. Bob had used his "magic" to prepare Marty so that when the final cost of the project came in above the original contract price, Marty would react favorably as he performed the audit. More importantly, Bob would cause Marty to undergo an evaluation of his moral convictions.
Bob supplied Marty with all the supporting documentation but Marty found himself being less diligent than the situation demanded. He went through the motions of doing a thorough review of the data. But the taste of the pleasures Bob had provided and the desire for more diminished his ability to look critically into the data or to suggest to his superiors that the cost overrun was unjustified. Bob had seduced Marty as he had done to other unsuspecting Second Lieutenants. For the first time in his young life Marty had learned that if you know a person's needs or desires, you have found a way into his soul. The lesson would remain with Marty for the rest of his life, as would the thought that Bob had bought his soul ... at a discounted price.
Another of Marty's responsibilities was to monitor the cost of a truck-manufacturing contract that the Feds had with General Motors.
He had occasion to visit one such plant, where he was scheduled to meet with a "Mr. George Moore." Moore was Iverson's counterpart, but he had no need or desire to bribe government personnel. The GM contract was straightforward; each truck had a specified price and there was no need for any deviation from the contract price.
When Marty arrived at the plant, Mr. Moore gave him a tour of the facility. Marty was impressed with the complexity of the plant and how efficiently the work seemed to be progressing.
When the tour was over, Moore led Marty back to his office and invited Marty to share coffee with him. While Moore's back was turned, Marty gazed at a nearby wall and saw three pictures. The first was of a young Boy Scout with various medals. The second was a picture of a football player getting ready to throw a pass. The third was that of a young man in army fatigues. Marty surmised that the photographs were of Moore's son.
Moore poured out two cups of strong black coffee, handed one to Marty and sat in a chair directly across from Marty. Now, Marty met Moore's gaze.
"What did you think of what you saw?" asked Moore.
"It was very impressive. Seems like GM and the workers are doing a great job for the war effort."
No sooner had Marty spoken the words "war effort," he sensed that he had said the wrong thing.
Moore straightened up in his chair, his head high above his thin neck.
Marty could see the two deep creases that emerged from the side of his nostrils and ended on either side of thin, narrow, purple lips. Moore had a high forehead from which strands of fine gray hair were combed backwards against his scalp. His gray eyes seemed empty and lifeless. His skin had the pallor of someone who had not seen the sun in months and the first three fingers of his right hand had turned yellow from the countless cigarettes he had smoked.
"No, Lieutenant, the war effort was in the trenches in the Argonne. I put in six months of effort in those trenches. We ate, slept, shit, and died in those trenches. If the machine guns didn't get you, then it was the mortars, or an artillery shell, or maybe a bayonet thrust. And there was always the gas ... waiting for you.
"My son exerted much more effort than I did. One of his buddies wrote me and said that a shell from a German '88' went through the thin armor of his tank. I'll bet that once it got in, it must have gone round and round and when it stopped, my son and his two buddies looked like Swiss cheese."
Marty grimaced as a sharp pain gripped his scrotum. As Moore continued speaking, his mouth stretched into a thin grin and his head swayed slowly from side to side. The words now came out like hissing sounds, and Marty imagined that he could see Moore's tongue.
In Marty's mind, Moore's head assumed the appearance of a cobra swaying back and forth with its tongue flicking the air for a scent of the prey. Now the words came out through clenched teeth.
"No, Lieutenant, what you saw was business."
The word business came out like the hissing of a snake.
"Everybody here is in business. You, me, GM, the banks, the government, we are all in business. Before the war, most of the 'patriots' here didn't have a pot to piss in. Now they take their pay from this business, and drop it on the bar at another business. Before the war, the big corporations had to compete to stay in business. Now, Uncle Sam guarantees the profits. It doesn't end there, Lieutenant. The war will be over in a year or two, and GM and the rest will be ready to serve the boys ... if ... they come home. It will be business as usual. There's no war effort here; it is simply the effort of business."
When the tension in his body had subsided, Moore grew quiet. His face returned to its normal look and the smile receded from his lips. Perspiration caused Marty's shirt to cling to his shoulders. He had never witnessed such intense emotion. He could not fathom the grief attached to the loss of a son, especially in such a grotesque way. Marty wanted desperately to get out of the situation and as he arose from the chair, he barely managed to speak. But he finally said, "Mr. Moore ... I ... I appreciate the time you have given me and the interesting tour of the plant. I don't want to take up any more of your time. I'll do my best to give your payment requests a quick turn-around."
Marty quickly walked out of the building and into his car. He started the engine and turned on the radio. Finding a station that was playing music, he turned the volume up to its highest setting. The deafening sound still rang in Marty's ears.
The experience with George Moore added to Marty's dissatisfaction with his own conduct.
His mind drifted back to his last conversation with Bob Iverson.
* * *
"Marty, we better eat well tonight. Who knows what the next contract will bring? Besides, I've been stuck in Chicago for two years ... can't wait to get back home. How about you?"
"To tell you the truth, Bob, I don't even have a girlfriend. That's funny when you think I was the most popular guy in high school."
"With your good looks, I'm sure that you'll have no trouble finding a girl."
"How about adding rich and good-looking. You've spoiled me with these little jaunts."
"You don't want much, do you, Marty?"
At the end of the dinner, Bob handed Marty two business cards.
"Bob, I know what this card is for but what about the one for Gail?"
"If you get horny, give her a call and mention my name. Everything is in place for you ... even transportation."
"Hey, you guys have this thing down to a science."
"We do what we can to help the war effort ... charge a fair price ... and keep our friends happy," Bob said, smirking.
Marty answered, "The last time I heard talk about the war effort, it was the saddest experience I ever heard. I met this guy, George Moore, at one of the GM truck plants. You know what he told me about the war effort? He said it's all ... bullshit. The guy lost a son in North Africa. I think he was right. For you, me, Bristol, GM, and the rest, the war simply means business. You talk about a fair price. Does that include a slush fund to have firms entertain guys like me?"
Marty knew that this was the wrong thing to say, especially after he had accepted the perks. But the thought of Moore's dead son and Tony's limp forced Marty to acknowledge that the wining and dining and all the other things that went on in the name of the "war effort" were wrong.
"Marty, that's a low blow."
"Don't take it personal. Got nothing against you. It seems to me that we get caught up in the tug of war between our strengths and our weaknesses. If your firm wasn't fooling around with the numbers, there'd be no need to massage me. Shit, I enjoyed the whole fucking thing. Now, I have to convince myself that the cost overrun was justified. God, Mr. Moore was right. It's all fucking business ... and I'm a part of it."
Bob now realized that Marty's scorn was not with the contractors or anyone else, but with himself. How could he tell Marty that he was wrong, when one of his duties was to soften up government accounting personnel?
"Marty, I'm going to level with you. This shit goes on all the time. Like you said, it's the price of doin' business. Is it the right thing to do? Who the hell knows? I just don't think about it."
Try as he might, Marty could not convince himself that there was anything wrong in what he was doing.
* * *
That night, as Marty lay in bed, he wanted desperately to shove aside the painful experiences he had just recalled, and like someone changing radio stations, he turned his mental dial until something pleasant appeared. A smile came over his face as he recalled the night that he and Tony went to a dance at the Jewish Center.
He remembered that Tony had been reluctant to go to the dance because he didn't know what to do with Jewish girls. Marty reminded Tony that Jewish and Christian girls were all built alike.
It seems that Marty had been trying for months to get Barbara to have sex with him. Barbara had put up a good fight. But Marty was the best-looking jock at Columbia High and Barbara could not pass up the opportunity to have "bragging rights." However, Barbara had one little problem. Her best friend, Judy, demanded that as a condition of maintaining their friendship, Barbara would need to get Marty to provide her with a partner.
Days later, Barbara met with Marty in a quiet corner of the school library. She agreed to Marty's request and then went on to tell Marty about Judy. Marty made it clear that Tony was quite selective. But, if she vouched for the girl, Tony would cooperate. Barbara said that Judy wasn't beautiful, but that she was stacked in the right places.
* * *
Marty saw himself driving his father's 1937 Ford V8. The car, when new, sold for $640 and sported a V8 engine that delivered 85 horsepower. As Marty drove, he asked Tony if he had brushed up on his Hebrew. Marty laughed, but Tony wasn't showing any enthusiasm.
Tony was more interested in the fact that Oldsmobile had just put an automatic transmission into their cars.
"Where did you hear that, Tony?"
"I was at the diner when I heard it from one of the guys who works at the Olds place."
"Must be expensive."
"Nah, only fifty-seven dollars."
"Hey, Tony, what's so great about an automatic transmission?"
"It leaves one hand free to grab the chick beside you."
* * *
Marty saw himself driving up to the Recreation Hall and parking his car. As they walked into the dance area, he spotted Barbara and another girl. When they reached their table, Barbara, by far the prettier of the two, stood up and made the introductions.
Marty recalled being torn between laughing and crying as he watched the expression on Tony's face. Judy was not only a bit cross-eyed, but the bridge of her nose was curved and she had poured herself into a dress that was two sizes too small, causing her breasts to pop out on top and her butt to stick out behind.
In an effort to lessen Tony's burden, Marty made it his business to dance with Judy on a rotating basis. Neither was pushing Judy around more than half of the time. He recalled that Tony actually smiled once; a sure sign that Tony would not kill him. But things were soon to change. He hadn't told Tony that he had promised Barbara he would get Tony to have sex with Judy.
Following the dance, Marty recalled the trip to the Eagle's Nest. The Nest was a roadside hot dog house, but more importantly, it had a large, dimly lit parking lot behind the building that provided suitable space for making out.
Marty could still taste the hot dogs and his favorite root beer and how, when he thought the time was right, he nodded to Barbara. He and Barbara quietly left the table and slipped out the back door of the Nest. Later, he recalled Tony telling him that when he and Barbara went out the back door, he looked at Judy and noticed what he would call a shit-eating grin on her face-like the kind you see when someone knows something but is not telling. Marty and Barbara were gone for ten minutes and when they returned Barbara's hair was disheveled and her blouse was improperly buttoned. Marty had a big grin on his face.
He had watched as Judy signaled her readiness to "cooperate" by putting her plump hand on Tony's arm. Marty felt Tony's eyes glaring at his.
He could still see Tony's face tightening with anger. Tony had two moods: calm and explosive. Marty realized what was about to happen, and spoke out. He remembered the scene word-for-word.
"I think I am going to vomit. Something made me sick."
Marty stood up and headed for the bathroom. Barbara suggested that Tony accompany him. As Tony entered the men's room, he saw Marty standing near a sink.
"What's wrong?" Tony asked.
"Nothing," said Marty, "but I thought we should talk."
"You're damned right, Marty. You're a stinkin' bum. I thought we were friends. But you purposely brought me here knowin' I was expected to screw that fat sausage."
Marty recalled himself laughing when he said, "Tony, she's not too bad. Don't get so excited."
He heard Tony firing back, "My friend sets me up and then says, don't get excited."
Marty was now trying to soothe Tony's anger, and decided to confess.
"Tony, I admit that I didn't tell you the whole story, but I couldn't take the chance. I have been trying to get into Barbara's pants for a long time, but she told me that unless I found someone for Judy, she wouldn't put out."
Tony answered, "And so you dumped piggy-wiggy on me?"
"Okay, I got you into this mess-I'll get you out. Let's go back to the table and when I start my act, follow my lead."
When the two reached the table, Marty went into his act.
"I'm sorry, folks. Everything came up and now I have nasty stomach cramps."
The group agreed that it would be best if Marty returned home. As the four walked out the door, Marty saw Judy take Tony's hand and say with a smile, "I hope to see you again."
Excerpted from Watch Those Car Guys by Sandy Grasso Copyright © 2010 by Sandy Grasso. Excerpted by permission.
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