FICTION

CYNTHIA INC.

Em was smart at selling smartness to Other women—but it took love to sell smartness to Em herself

PAUL ERNST July 15 1947
FICTION

CYNTHIA INC.

Em was smart at selling smartness to Other women—but it took love to sell smartness to Em herself

PAUL ERNST July 15 1947

CYNTHIA INC.

PAUL ERNST

THE OFFICE was as modern as a cabin in tomorrow’s space ship. The desk was a slab of black glass with no drawers and stainless steel tubes for legs; the chairs were ingenious ovals of steel with little English sidesaddles for seats; the lounge was an illustration out of solid geometry; and the rug was pure, pure white, like the motives of Cynthia Inc., which existed only to beautify the human female and not at all for profit. Or so the publicity would have you believe.

The publicity had been excellent since M. B. May of the legal department of the Manhattan Commercial Bank took hold. Before that, when staid, elderly Mr. Mykoff had been running a staid, elderly cosmetics concern called Cynthia Inc., the publicity had been nonexistent. So, almost, had the business. Then Mr. Mykoff had passed leaving the luckless Manhattan Commercial Cynthia. They’d sent their Miss M. B. May over to see what could be done.

The bank soon had occasion to chuckle drily and rub its scaly hands. For Miss May was good.

First, market analysis, revealing a fair retail following for Cynthia Inc. Then a beauty salon, smart in glass and steel. Then three more, where for the first time women could have the Cynthia Product applied to skin and scalp instead of buying just the product itself. Then increasing publicity smartly chiselled into print by M. B. May. Finally, stroke of genius, Madame Cynthia herself!

Never was there a finer queen for beautyland. Five feet eleven on her moderate heels, with eyes outbluing the Capri sea, and liair made of the platinum cobwebs they use in optical instruments. She was terrific. No trouble getting Madame Cynthia into the papers. She was a refugee from war-torn Europe, induced at a tremendous salary to head Cynthia Inc. The assumed name, Cynthia, hid a royal background. At least that’s what the whispers said.

The new concern boomed with the acquisition of the big blonde, part of whose job was to loom magnificently in New York’s smart places. Men and women stared after her platinum-crowned altitude and murmured, “Madame Cynthia. She’s certainly her own best ad.”

If Em May resented Madame Cynthia’s glory, at least she never said so. Madame Cynthia had been worth her weight in press agents ever since Em saw her in Jackson Heights, where she lived with two kids on a wireless operator’s widow’s mite. And now, thought Em, the real pay-off was due. “It’ll be the real pay-off,” she said to the gorgeous Cynthia, whose name was Use, but who had been born in Queens and must watch her accent with columnists and reporters.

Em May, in that place of Beauty for All, struck a slightly discordant note.

She was tall and her bones were big. Her hair was ink black and lustreless; her features were large; her eyebrows black and straight over coffeecolored, intelligent eyes. Her skin was next door to sallow. Her feet were shod for comfort rather than effect, and her dark suit had been tailored for a sensible woman in business.

“The best publicity yet. If he comes,” she said. “Martin Traynor, I mean.”

“He’ll come,” said Madame Cynthia, huge and beautiful in the boss’ chair,

“Em, I’m scared.”

“What of?”

“They say he’s a perfect you-know-what. Temper like a nervous fuse, and doesn’t care what he says to anybody.”

“He’s just a punk of a playwright.”

“You’re whistling to keep up your courage.” Madame Cynthia was not dumb. “They say he’s awfully clever, too.”

Em knew that and was apprehensive. No one was being cheated by the Cynthia masquerade; it wasn’t fraudulent for the brains of M. B. May to lurk behind the beauty of Use. But a man with intelligence and malice—and Martin Traynor was

reputed to have both—could make a farce of it that might laugh the firm right into the red.

“We’ll have to be more careful than usual with our lines, that’s all,” said Em. “There’s no reason why he should catch on more than the others. You’re the boss, I’m your secretary. We’ll put it over. It’ll be the answer to prayer. A play of Traynor’s is good for at least a season. Imagine one based on a beauty salon with everybody whispering that it’s really Cynthia Inc. Every out-of-towner who sees the show will come here for a beauty treatment so she can brag back home-—”

The buzzer burred. “Mr. Traynor to see Madame Cynthia.”

Em went to the small desk in the corner, inserted paper in the typewriter rack, and grinned at Use, who said in her slow, deep voice, “Send him in, Miss Allerton.”

Em, looking at the door with the polite indifference of the perfect secretary, thought a mistake had been made and that this was the man to move the filing cabinets. For Martin Traynor, noted for his delicate handling of character and situation, was at least six feet three, with shoulders made up of slab on slab of brawn. Little grey eyes burned so deep in the bony structure of his face that all you saw were two intolerant pin points of light. His

manner was overbearing, too. He looked at Cynthia’s large perfection, wolf-whistled, and said, “Sold. I’ll take the place, if you come with it.” Cynthia started to say something and a soft chatter came from Em’s typewriter. Traynor turned in surprise and irritation. Then Cynthia said, “I hope you will find what you need here. We are prepared to give you all co-operation.”

“Fine, I may remind you of that later on.”

Em’s machine was going again, and this time Traynor jerked toward her. “Who are you? Why are you hiding in that corner?”

“Beg pardon?” murmured Em.

“I said, what are you forging in that foundry while I’m trying to interview Madame Cynthia?” “The machine is noiseless, sir,” said Em.

“So I only think I hear the clatter. What are you doing in here? Taking notes? I can’t have that.”

Cynthia Inc. let her slow voice smooth the

Em was smart at selling smartness to Other women—but it took love to sell smartness to Em herself

unreasonable prejudice which Traynor seemed to have formed on sight for M. B. May. “If you don’t mind, I have my secretary always take the notes here. I try to speak English with correctness but my tongue and ears are slow. Sometimes I must review later what has been said.”

“If I have to conduct this to the constant accompaniment of a rivet gun . . .” Cynthia smiled and Traynor rasped, “Oh, well . . .”

Em viciously punched the keys.

“I have not met with men who write plays before,” said Cynthia. “It is perhaps their manner of putting one at ease, to enter as you do?”

“What’s wrong with the way I enter?”

“You came in like the lion,” Cynthia speculated’ over the brrrt-brrrt of the typewriter.

“And go out like . . .?” Traynor laughed suddenly. “I think I like you. I like this whole setup. What part of Stockholm are you from?”

As Cynthia only stared peacefully, his voice got back it3 rasp. “Well?”

“Your pardon. I hesitate because I do not quite know how to say. I lived in many sections, no one part.”

Silence, with Em’s typewriter burring venomously. Em’s face was expressionless.

“Where was your beauty shop there?”

“I had no shop,” said Continued on page 38

Continued from page 21

Cynthia. “I had secrets of the profession, handed from mother to daughters.”

“Umph,” said Traynor.

“These secrets I carry to my clients now. I do not advertise. I do not know till lately how my name is talked around so that I am known in this country.”

“I could get that junk from your publicity department,” Traynor growled. “That’s not what I want.” “What is it that you do want?”

“If I try a play around the beauty racket I’ll have to get all sorts of material. All sorts. I’ll want full details on the lives of your operators, I’ll want to stroll through your factory. I’ll want to hide in a corner and soak in the kind of hen talk customary here.” “I am afraid we could not—

“And I’ll need a great deal of time with you, of course.” Traynor’s gaze lingered complacently on Ilse. “Ah, well, it’s all for art.” His little eyes bored at Em. “Was that a sniff?”

Em lifted a polite eyebrow.

“It was a sniff. And who are you to comment? Plain soil from which the lily blows. Do they carry you in and out of here rolled up in a carpet?”

“My secretary and I will be most happy to help you whenever we can,” said Cynthia hastily.

“What do you mean, your secretary and you?” demanded Traynor. “Do you run this dive or does she?”

Cynthia glided gracefully around that one. “It is necessary for the notes to be taken. Always to be taken.”

“You mean she’ll tag along with pencil and notebook?”

“She is extremely necessary,” said Cynthia, with her large calm. “Now, if you please, I shall turn you over to my most experienced operator who will give you any aid he can. In reason.” She flowed to a standing position and touched a button. Miss Allerton stuck

in her exquisitely coifed head.

“Jacques will take care of the gentleman, Miss Allerton.”

“Till tomorrow, Fujiyama,” Traynor said. The door closed behind him. Em snapped up from her desk with her hands on her hips and her mouth open wdth rage.

“The conceited hound! The ill-mannered dolt! Do they carry me in and out wrapped up in a . . . Why, blast him!”

SHE YANKED a disreputable powder puff from her bag and gave herself savage straight-arms in the face with it. “Did you ever hear of any one so unpleasant? And he’s supposed to have brains! All he can see is pink and white, like a sophomore on a bus top.”

“Do we call it off?” asked Cynthia. Em glared at the door. She took a deep breath. “One, two, three, four . . . No, we don’t call it off. He’s insufferable, but a play by him would still be marvellous publicity. After all, we take castor oil for our own good sometimes.”

It was in the spirit of one taking castor oil that Em dressed next evening for dinner with Traynor and Cynthia.

Em’s apartment bell rang as she was snarling under her breath at his tardiness. A cab driver said, “Guy named Traynor tells me to pick you up and take you to Margot’s.”

Em stalked with latent fury into the place made famous by its sauces, checked her sensible fur coat because it might not be decorative over a chair back in this haunt, and ignored the hat check girl’s glance at her dinner dress, which she hadn’t worn for nearly a year and which shouldn’t have been that shade of blue in the first place.

At a ringside table Traynor’s bulk inclined engagingly tow’ard Cynthia. Traynor didn’t see Em till she stood at the third chair with her knuckles white over its back. Then he got up, looked at her negligently from the chin down, and rasped, “Chartreuse.”

“What?” snapped Em.

“The dress. It ought to be chartreuse. Tricky shade, but all right with your rather Haitian complexion.”

“I’m afraid you don’t know much about color, Mr. Traynor,” Em said acidly. “If I put yellow against my skin with its slight tendency to be . . . sallow . .

“Oh, well,” shrugged Traynor, “if you want to go around looking like that it’s your business. Dance, Cynthia?”

He walked with the regal beauty mistress to the dance floor, where they were so matched, with her nearsix-feet against his six three, that even the waiter nodded approval.

“Got your notebook ready?” said Traynor when they returned. “Cynthia and I have a lot to discuss.”

“Possibly Madame Cynthia misled you yesterday,” Em said smoothly. “Only in the office do I actually take notes. At more informal meetings I’m only along to straighten misunderstandings that might occur because English is not Madame Cynthia’s mother tongue.”

“Nuts,” said Traynor.

“I beg your—”

“I’m just ordering,” said Traynor. “What would you like? Pecans, almonds, walnuts?”

“Almonds are nice,” said Cynthia. “In Stockholm—”

She moved her leg quickly under the table and said, “Have you decided what you would like for dinner, Miss May?”

“Broiled liver,” snapped Em. “Skewered kidney. Chopped heart. Something like that.”

“Make it sole Margot for all of us,” said Traynor to the politely puzzled waiter. “There’s that music again. Cynthia? We can talk later, Miss . . . er. . . ” he said to Em.

There was no talk that evening that could conceivably help Traynor put a play together, Em thought later in her apartment. She took off the blue dress and kicked it under the bed. It had been a wasted three hours. Traynor had talked only generalities, all of them directed at Cynthia’s beautiful head. He had danced every dance with Cynthia. By the end of the evening he’d had a moon look on his homely face that was sickening to behold. Em simmered through several wakeful hours. She was still simmering in the morning when she entered the office.

She came to a boil when big Use said, wide-eyed, “Why, Em, where’d you check the hips?”

“No place,” Em said stiffly. “I just needed a new girdle, that’s all. Can’t a gal get a new girdle without-—?”

“I didn’t mean to kid you or anything.”

Em sighed. “Sorry, Use. I’m not used to staying up late, I guess. I’m jumpy this morning. And of course just the thought of that orangoutang. Is he due today?”

“Coming this afternoon. You know, he’s not so bad.”

“If he were any worse he’d die of his own bite. I wish I could go to the bank while he’s here, but there’s always a chance of a slip. I don’t want him to find that our Stockholm celebrity came from Jackson Heights.”

“You needn’t have kicked me under the table last night just because I mentioned the word,” said Cynthia resentfully.

“He’s lived in Stockholm for years,” said Em. “It’s a fine town for you to stay away from.”

“How do you know that?”

“I looked him up in Who’s Who.” Em shrugged. “It’s only common sense to know a little about the big lx>or. I’m going out to the shop for a while.”

She went out very casually and

located Jacques. “Got some time, Jacques? Can you slide me in between appointments?”

“You, Miss May?” Jacques closed his astonished mouth and recovered deftly. “Of course. You want . . .? Your hair . . .?”

Jacques wasn’t bad, at that. He gave her only the faintest of waves. The black hair was almost as it had been before, but in that word “almost” lay subtle differences. The hair swept back from her forehead and temples, out a little, up a little. If only her face were a trifle ... a trifle . . .

But there were depths to which M. B. May of the legal department of Manhattan Commercial would not stoop.

Back in the office, Use said, “My, your hair looks nice.”

“Just had it washed,” Em rapped. “You have to have hair washed now and then, don’t you? Which reminds me. I have a kind of a cold. Are those sun lamp things any good, Use?”

“I can’t use ’em.” Use regarded her enviable fairness. “The ultra-violet burns me.”

“So Traynor is coming this afternoon,” Em returned to the main subject. “Did you know he was 40? Flinging himself about like a schoolboy!”

TRAYNOR didn’t fling about that afternoon. With Em at the typewriter in the corner, he sat close to Cynthia Inc. and was almost amiable. He read from a tentative first act, agreed almost politely to delete an insulting passage, and said, “Tonight? Eight o’clock?” Cynthia nodded placidly and he tossed over his shoulder in Em’s direction, “I suppose that means you too, Miss . . . er . . .”

“So kind of you,” said Em, making punching bag noises on her typewriter.

“Your secretary is extremely efficient, Cynthia,” Traynor glared.

Em earned her salary in the next few days. The boredom of forcing herself to be with Martin Traynor, the constant alertness to guard big Use from a slip of the tongue,, the continual pinpricking she had to endure, were galling. She lived, she told herself wrathfully, only for the moment when he’d have material enough to go away and stop bothering them.

Fcur evenings after the experience at Margot’s, Em came to their table from a lonely entrance into Chez Harry. He looked vaguely at her and said, “Oh. The chartreuse.”

“This dress isn’t chartreuse,” snapped Em, sitting down. “It’s a kind of green.”

“Make it yourself?” Traynor asked absently.

Em, who had paid $140 for the dress, didn’t dare reply. She concentrated on the menu, with color in her face that Use could scarcely believe. Along with the color, Em’s skin had a clearer look than Use had seen there before. Also it was a trifle darker than it had been, a sort of light amber now. It looked as if Em had been experimenting with sun lamps.

“You look very smart, my dear,” said Cynthia. “Doesn’t she, Martin?” Traynor tore his eyes away from Cynthia long enough to glance at Em’s evening bag. It was not a very smart evening bag. “Yes, you look fine, Miss . . . er. . . Dance, Cynthia?” Em took to looking in her mirror more often. Eventually a grim resolve formed in her breast.

Em told no one, and pledged all the operators at the salon to secrecy, lacques, perhaps misreading her motives, took fire as a true artist does over an intriguing creation. So did various other experts.

By six o’clock five days later every-

thing had fallen neatly into place. At eight a cab called to take her to join Martin and Use. It was to be Margot’s again. Em was going to put a plaque on Margot’s that night to commemorate the utter rout of Martin Trayhor. She took one long, coldly careful look at herself in the glass and went down to the cab.

MARGOT’S is a basement sort of place, though such a plebeian description will be hotly countered by the management. You enter on street level, walk forward 20 paces as on a dais, and then descend four steps to the main room. While you are on that dais you’re almost as exposed as on a stage. Margot’s gets fashion shows because of this.

With the confidence of half a thousand dollars worth of physical improvement, Em walked slowly to the steps in sight of all.

She didn’t look for miracles; she didn’t expect that the dining room en masse would stop work with the cutlery and gasp; but she did know that she gave no pain. Her dress, a beautiful white tunic of a thing, flowed over a figure that might have been a debutante’s. Above it the sleek raven’s black of her hair was startling; and so too was the clear, light tan of her skin. The slim loop of brilliants around her throat was precisely right. Her smart cape carelessly thrown back from fine square shoulders, increased the confident pride of her carriage.

So the dining room did not collectively say “Ah,” hut those who glanced at her kept looking, the women with care, the men with interest. I’ve done it! she thought, with more satisfaction than she’d ever taken out of saving a company from bankruptcy. Big Ilse stared openmouthed as Em descended the stairs. But not Martin Traynor. Martin, as usual, had his gaze chained to Ilse. No matter, Em told herself. The effect would be even better if he saw her first at close range.

She saw Use’s lips move as she neared the table. Martin stirred resentfully to get up and seat her. Then she was there beside them with the knowledge of her change like bugles in her ears. Traynor’8 gaze at last was swinging her way.

“Why, Em!” said Use weakly. It seemed all that she could find to say. But Em had not gone to all this bother to impress Use. She kept her triumphant gaze on Martin Traynor. He was the one to he knocked over, and then picked up, and then knocked down again while spike heels figuratively danced upon his face.

Traynor said vaguely, “Oh, good evening, Miss ... er .. . Dance, Cynthia?”

There are some shocks that take a while to penetrate, some possibilities that can’t be grasped at once. For several dozen seconds Em stood there, straight and tall in the proud white tunic. And then she shrank.

“But—” she faltered, looking down as a child might at the Sunday frock she had not known before was soiled. “But—”

“Something?” Traynor asked politely.

“But you . . . I . . . Don’t you like . . .”

Em began to cry. She was appalled. She was horrified. M. B. May, brains of the legal department of the Manhattan Commercial Bank—crying! In public. It couldn’t he. But it was. She sobbed. She blubbered. And the more she fought against it, and the more she hated, loathed and despised Martin Traynor, the harder she wept.

She heard Use say furiously to Martin, “I told you you were overdoing it, you big jerk.” She heard

Martin say, “Look, Em, look, baby, don’t. Please don’t.”

And then she ran.

“Get out of here,” she choked, as a burly body started to cram into the cab after her.

“Get out of here or I’ll—I’ll kick you in the face.”

Martin climbed in, holding her wrists in one hand and pushing her flying ankles down with the other. He gave Em’s address and said in answer to the driver’s doubtful look, “Pay no attention to my wife. She gets fits. From eating fish.”

“I’ll fits you!” cried Em as Martin got out with her at her building. “You should know how I hate you. If you try to go upstairs with me I’ll call the police.”

The lobby was one of those small discreet ones; the elevator was automatic, so no one witnessed the Manhattan Commercial Bank’s legal light being carried, kicking and clawing, up to her apartment. But even there Em hadn’t reached sanctuary. She got loose from him and ran into her bedroom. Before she could slam the door he had his foot in the crack, and he went on in with her.

“Will we have a heck of a life!” said Martin disgustedly

“You! In my bedroom! A man in my bedroom!”

“And high time, too. Shut up a minute, will you?”

“I’ll get you, so help me! I’ll sue you! I’ll—What do you mean—will

we have a heck of a life?”

“I mean if our domestic existence is going to be at all like this I’ll either have to beat you daily or keep you in a cage.”

“Hah! I suppose plain little Miss Er, who is carried in and out of Cynthia Inc. rolled up in a carpet, should feel flattered.”

Martin grunted. “I like brains. I respect them. I think they should get a better break in the way of fancy packaging than yours was getting. So now the job’s done and it had better stay that way.”

This was a bale past the last straw. “You have the nerve,” gasped Em, “you, the homeliest man I’ve ever met, to[insist on beauty in others?”

“Oh, well, now, I wouldn’t say beauty,” replied Martin. “But charm, attractiveness, fine mind in an appropriate envelope—yes.”

“Oh, stop it. You and Ilse! And don’t tell me she wasn’t in on it, I heard her at Margot’s.”

“Sure, I blackmailed her into it. Said I’d expose her if she didn’t help. Use, Jackson Heights, wireless operator’s widow. When I heard you tapping code letters to her on the typewriter, indicating what replies she should make, I had you both in the hollow of my hand. And I had you cast as the lead character in my play. Then, in about 48 hours, I’d gone further and cast you as Mrs. Martin Traynor—” “That’s what you think.”

“—because you’re probably smart enough to learn to write my plays for me so I can retire.”

He dabbed his handkerchief at her cheeks, where the tears were still not dried.

“I despise you,” said Em.

“That’s just because you’re so hungry,” said Martin. “Come on hack to Margot’s now and we’ll have something to eat.”

“After the scene I made there9” “Because of it. A second entrance will sponge it out of memory.”

“Think you’re clever, don’t you?

Well, nothing do--”

Martin kissed her eyes.

“Nothing d-”

He kissed her mouth.

“Oh, all right,” sighed M. B. May. ic