Tact and resolve rule the roost during Clementine’s 27th adventure at The Happy Store.
Tuesday morning began with a truck that was supposed to have arrived by 7:00 a.m., but did not.
Athena Eliopoulis, the assistant manager, frantically phoned the transport company to locate the missing vehicle (a double load since The Happy Store had been pretty much cleaned out after Christmas), but the new spring merchandise was nowhere to be found.
When the doors opened at 10:00 a.m., Walter Graybill, the store manager, surveyed the bare spaces on the showroom floor where bookshelves, end tables, ottomans, armchairs, and huge Grecian-style urns ought to have been, and he quietly got busy with the scarcity of items that were left.
Clementine Fraile’s first customer of the day was a stocky, middle aged man with soft brown eyes and a pugilistic nose.
In a gruff but not unpleasant voice, he’d called out, “Hey, Miss. Over here.”
Clementine followed him to the tableware section of The Happy Store, where he stopped in front of a man seated on a dining room chair. He was in his 50s, slim, with silver hair, an aristocratic face, and beautiful hands. There was a black Labrador retriever at his feet.
Sensing their presence, he looked up. “To whom do I have the pleasure of speaking?” he asked.
Clementine introduced herself, and with a smile in her voice, said, “And whom do I have the pleasure of assisting?”
The blind man answered, “I am Andrew. My friend here is Lefty Larry.”
Lefty grinned and bowed. Then he unfolded a piece of paper, thrust it at Clementine, and said, “Mister Andrew is giving a dinner party tonight. He needs these here things.”
In awkward block letters and with several misspellings, the list specified: Two ornamental vases. Different sizes, different patterns, for either side of an Victorian mahogany sideboard; faux flowers to fill the vases; and dinnerware for twelve, preferably blue.
As Clementine and Lefty explored The Happy Store together, she learned that he was once the middleweight boxing champion of Pittsburg, and that he had met Andrew when he was driving a cab in New York City. Andrew, once a famous set designer for the Metropolitan Opera, had hired Lefty to drive him and help around the house after he lost his sight.
“I’m his factotum,” Lefty Larry said proudly.
The party that night, he went on, was for the family of Andrew’s daughter’s fiancé, and (as Lefty put it), “the boss wants to freshen up the house and get a whole lot of new crap.”
For the next forty minutes, Clementine brought her customer items that she thought he might like for his tactile inspection. Of each, he inquired, “What material is it made of? What color is it, and be specific? Is it light blue or dark blue? Navy or sapphire? Glossy or matte finish?” And so on.
Eventually he chose a turquoise mosaic vase for one end of the sideboard and a gold and silver crackled glass vase for the other. Clementine talked him out of stems for the vases, assuring him that they were sufficiently decorative in and of themselves. And she heartily agreed with his selection of the Chateau Claire indigo blue pattern for the dinnerware.
Meanwhile, Walter rearranged his meager supply of merchandise to make a vast space look elegant instead of empty. He created room settings atop rugs, accessorizing the last two sofas in the store with arm chairs, coffee tables, throw blankets, pillows, and (because he had them) even more pillows. He did the same for the dining room tables, arranging chairs around them that could be described as not too “matchy-matchy” – the clear implication being that matched sets of dinnerware or matching chairs were beneath contempt.