The Project Gutenberg eBook of Filthy Rich

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Title: Filthy Rich

Author: Fred Sheinbaum

Illustrator: Paul Orban

Release date: July 3, 2019 [eBook #59849]

Language: English

Credits: Produced by Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the Online
Distributed Proofreading Team at


He was worse than Dillinger, the James
Boys, Captain Kidd and Benedict Arnold
put together—all because he was



[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Worlds of If Science Fiction, April 1957.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

The Thursday morning executive meeting of the General Products Corporation was adjourned, as usual, with the Consumer's Pledge. The same pledge recited each morning by children in schools across the nation.

J.L. Spender, Assistant Vice-President of Cotter Pin Production for Plant Five was proud to put in these extra Thursday mornings. Let the common herd work their three day, twenty-one hour week. He was part of the management team, working behind the scenes, constantly raising the standard of living of the American Consumer.

A silent elevator whisked J.L. to the roof of the Administration Building where the heliport attendant rolled out his new helicopter, a June, 1998 Buick Skymaster. It was a sculpture in chrome and plexiglass; a suitable vehicle for the assistant vice-president as prescribed by Consumer's Guide. A loyal consumer, he bought the new model every six months.

Once in the air and on course, J.L. set the Ultramatic autopilot—a new feature on the '98 model—and pushed the chrome seat control lever to semi-reclining. Scarcely a cloud marred the pristine blue, and below nestled the neat, colorful homes of happy American consumers, but his problem was not to be soothed by sinking back to enjoy the crisp spring air.

Life, J.L. felt, would be all sweetness and light were it not for the unaccountable affection his pretty young daughter, Glory, bore for an ascetic looking young man of doubtful integrity as a consumer.

There had been a parade of acceptable young men through his front door, none of whom had excited more in him than apathy.

But this one. He wore spectacles with heavy black frames when almost everyone used disposable contact lenses. His suits were at least a month behind the current style. And with all those young men to choose from, Glory picked him to ask to dinner that evening.

Glory had been taught to respect the might of the dollar and the disaster that comes of not spending it. She was a credit to her family; a sound, patriotic consumer. She could spend money faster, more sensibly than any of her frivolous friends. One fortunate young man would find her an excellent wife. No dollar-hoarder would fill her mind with subversive notions if he could prevent it.

Much as J.L. disliked having that particular young man to dinner, it did afford the opportunity to spend some of the extra money that always collected if you didn't watch very carefully. Being forced to pay a savings tax wouldn't do his career or social position any good, and he certainly wouldn't think of putting it into a secret bank account.

The Hudson river was beneath him. He would soon be home. The thought reminded him that though the family had already passed the five year mark in this house, he had still not made an appointment with his architect.

Just before landing J.L. took the controls. The autopilot was supposed to land itself, but somehow he felt better doing it himself. A control on the dash opened the garage, another retracted the overhead rotors. He drove in, closed the garage door, and got out.

He paused in the hall only long enough to throw his hat and top-coat into the waste receptacle. From the kitchen he heard the familiar crackling of packages being unwrapped.

"Home at last," he sighed, pecking Marge, his wife, on the cheek. "What did you buy today, Honey?"

It was a treat to watch the pleasure with which Marge unwrapped packages. J.L. bought most things out of a sense of duty, but Marge and Glory really enjoyed spending money, God bless them.

"Oh, lots of things," Marge answered. She held a cut crystal goblet to the light watching it sparkle. "A new set of china, this exquisite stemware, and the loveliest linen tablecloth, and ... oh, and they're sending a genuine oak table for the dining room. The shop I bought it in has the cleverest service. The man who delivers the table cuts up the old one so it can be used in the fireplace. Isn't that practical?"

"That is clever," J.L. said. "It's a pity to waste it all on that good-for-nothing, whatever his name is."



"That's his name, Ernest Stringer. Why is he a good-for-nothing? He does dress oddly, I admit, but Glory seems to like him."

"That's exactly why I'm worried. If she asked him for dinner there's no telling what's going on. A person like that is a bad influence." J.L. said, punctuating by jabbing the air with his index finger.

"Now really, Dear. You hardly know him."

"I know him well enough. You are the one who claims to be such a good judge of character. Look at those glasses he wears. Why doesn't he wear disposable contact lenses like everyone else. It's positively unsanitary. And did you see that suit? I'll say he dresses oddly. That thing hasn't been in style for a month. I bet he doesn't spend half his salary."

"Oh, I don't know." Marge said, abstractedly. She was admiring the floral pattern on her new china. "But do be nice to him. Don't say anything to embarrass Glory."

"Oh, I'll be nice all right. I guess I know how to act. You and your daughter have trained me. And there are worse things than being embarrassed." He would have gone on, but at that moment Glory sauntered into the room.

"Hi, Dad. Back from the grind, I see." Her hair was the color of lemon and in her blue eyes was reflected a youthful zest for life.

"Do you like the new dress? It comes in seventeen colors. I bought them all. And hats and shoes and gloves and bags to match." She said, walking as she had seen professional models walk, with arms akimbo and swinging hips.

"Very pretty," he said, "but shouldn't there be a little more to it? Style is style, but leave something to the imagination. They can't be using up much fabric with a number like that."

"See, Mom. Didn't I tell you exactly what he'd say? Daddy is so mid-century. Aren't you, Darling?"

"Glory, at the risk of seeming ... ah ... mid-century, I think you owe your mother and myself some information about this person you've asked to dinner."

"What kind of information? You've met him," she said. Her eyes narrowed slightly.

"Yes, I've met him. What is his background? What does he work at? What kind of a consumer is he?"

"Dad, you are not being fair."

"Not fair? Why not? Are you ashamed of him?"

"No, I'm not ashamed of him. Ernie is a dear sweet boy. He lost both of his parents when he was very young. Bringing himself up has made him different from most people, I guess. But he has done very well. And all by himself, too. He's an OE, you know."

This only added heat to J.L.'s burning suspicion. "I don't want to sound narrow minded, Glory, but I've met a good many Opinion Engineers in business and darned few of them are fit company for a young girl. They picture themselves as independent thinkers. They don't spend their money as they should."

Glory's lips whitened as she pressed them together. J.L. saw the gathering storm in her eyes. "That's not fair," she said. "Ernie is perfectly all right. He just needs looking after. Mother, help me."

Marge smiled calmly, and said, "Your father is just acting like a father, that's all. He is trying to protect you."

"Well, I'm twenty years old, almost. And it's practically the twenty-first century, but it looks like the middle ages around here. I'm sorry I asked him to come. I'll never ask anyone again." She threw her head back and pressed the back of her hand to her forehead.

"Now don't start getting dramatic. I only want what's best for you, J.L. said. But it was only bluff. He knew when he was licked.

"All right, all right," he said, trying to prevent her tears from brimming over. "I promise to be good tonight." It was time for him to retreat, as gracefully as possible, to his study and the latest issue of Consumer's Guide.

Which he did.

At a quarter of seven J.L. tottered into his living room. He was fully dressed except for a bright red sash hanging slack, like a sail in the doldrums, just brushing the tops of his patent leather shoes.

Dressing was a nerve-jarring, thirst-making business. He was in full sympathy with the need for changing men's styles so frequently, but those overpaid designers could surely dream up easier outfits to get into.

He separated a decanter of bourbon from its fellows on the mirror-backed shelves and from it poured a lavish helping. Using the tip of his index finger, he twirled the ice cubes and, with a sigh, lifted the golden fluid to his lips.

Over the rim of the glass he saw Glory come floating into view. She was dressed, mostly below the waist, in yards of a light gauzy fabric that seemed to have life of its own.

She stopped at the door while her eyes slowly swept the room. J.L. was reminded of a spider making sure the web would be cosy. Her glance came to rest on the portly figure of her father.

She exhaled a sigh of controlled exasperation. "Daddy, your sash is hanging. It looks like a flag at half mast."

"I am perfectly aware that my sash is hanging." He wasn't sure he approved of the tone of her voice.

"Well tuck it up then. Ernie will be here any minute."

"It refuses to stay up. How do you know? Maybe it is supposed to hang. Those designers should be forced to dress themselves in these things before they loose them on an unsuspecting public."

She glided towards him and, with a few deft touches, the sash was neatly in place. "Dad, promise you'll be nice to him."

J.L. smiled. Much as he protested, he liked being fussed over. "Of course, I'll be nice. When am I not nice? I just said those things about him because ... well, I wanted you to be wary."

"Don't worry about Ernie. He's a dear. And, please, no economics lectures. That business about thrift being a menace to prosperity may have been a new idea when you were young, but now every kid in school is taught it. So spare us. It makes you sound like an old fuddy duddy."

Fuddy duddy? J.L. was about to make a stunning rejoinder when he heard the whirring of helicopter rotors overhead.

"There he is." Glory said, excitedly, "Let him in."

"Where are you running?" he asked, surprised. She was as fully dressed as she was likely to be.

"You know I can't be here when he comes in," she said.

"Can't be here? Where else should you be?" J.L. asked. The situation was getting out of hand.

"Strategy, my dear parent. I can't just be sitting here waiting when he walks in. He is supposed to be waiting for me ... with bated breath. It makes my entrance more effective. Ta ta for now." She was gone.

The prospect of dining at the same table with the young man was repellent enough. Now he would have to provide entertaining conversation until Glory chose to appear.

The door chimes sounded.

J.L. drained his glass, stiffened his spine, and strode to the door pulling it open with a jerk, like a doctor removing adhesive tape.

Any hope J.L. might have had was dashed when the door opened to reveal Ernest Stringer, his piercing brown eyes, a tight lipped smile, and the traditional gift of candy under his arm.

"Good evening, Mr. Spender," he said. "You are, I believe, expecting me." He was so thin that the current, tight fitting style made him look very like a figure constructed with pipe cleaners.

J.L. did his best to appear gracious. "Come in, come in," he said, taking his hat and coat. "Glory will be in soon."

The suit was up to date, but J.L. spotted other telling details. His heels were slightly lighter in color than the rest of the shoes, indicating they had been reheeled. It was also evident, to a trained eye, that the collar and cuffs of his shirt had been resized, proof that the shirt had been laundered; perhaps, even more than once.

"What can I get you to drink?" J.L. asked, leading the way into the living room.

"Nothing, thank you. I seldom take alcohol," the young man said.

"Is that right? A young fellow like you. It certainly is fortunate that the rest of your generation doesn't share your prejudice. Alcoholic beverages account for more than five percent of total consumer purchases."

"Five percent. As much as that? Well, in that case I should have something. Ah ... a glass of sherry, I think," he said, smiling with lips unparted.

"Sherry? Sure you don't want something more ... more substantial?"

"Sherry will do nicely, thank you."

A sherry drinker is capable of anything, J.L. thought. He poured the wine into a high stemmed glass and mixed another bourbon for himself; this time going a little easier on the ice.

The young man held the stem between spidery fingers, turning it slowly, delicately sniffing the bouquet.

J.L. wished Glory or Marge would rescue him. He couldn't think of a thing to say. What could one say to a male sherry drinker?

"What do you think of the international situation?" J.L. asked, just to break the uncomfortable silence.

"What international situation?"

"I mean do you think we are headed for war?" J.L. was sorry he had asked the harmless question.

The young man laughed derisively. "What an idea. Of course there won't be a war," he said.

"Why do you say that?" He wanted to see how far Stringer would go.

"It's quite evident isn't it? War has been threatening for more than fifty years. It will probably continue to threaten for fifty more. It gives our government and that of our enemies the excuse to build enough munitions to take up the slack in the economy between production and the ability to consume what we produce."

"That's ridiculous. I've never heard such nonsense." The young idiot, he thought, anyone with sense knew that to be true, but no one made a fuss about it for fear of upsetting a system that worked so well.

It was an accepted fact of life, certainly preferable to actual war, and never mentioned in polite society.

Stringer continued, speaking slowly, as if explaining to a very small child. He clasped his long fingers over his left knee hugging it almost to his chest, and rocked himself slightly. "Don't you see? If there was a real war millions of consumers would be taken out of the market for the duration, and many permanently. But this way governments can spend as much as they need to on war goods, to balance the economy, without disturbing the consumers at all.

"The politicians love it, too. It supplies them with political issues, not easily come by these days," Stringer concluded. He seemed pleased with himself.

J.L.'s glass was again empty. He rose to fill it saying, "That is a very interesting theory. Have you told it to many people?"

Stringer did not answer.

J.L. turned to see what had caused this sudden reticence. The young man sat with wide-eyed stare and loosely hanging jaw; obviously incapable of speech.

Glory had made her strategic entrance.

"Ah, there you are, Dear," J.L. said. "Mr. Stringer, here, has just been explaining international politics to me."

"Doesn't he have a fine mind, Daddy?" she said, catching the young man's hand and favoring him with a smile that set his adam's apple to dancing.

Fine? J.L. thought, narrow would be more accurate. He was about to make an audible comment along those lines when Marge called them in to dinner.

All through the meal Marge fawned upon the young man, indulging the predatory instinct of a mother with a marriageable daughter.

With the clam bisque she told of Glory's childhood; the prettiest child in the neighborhood. With the pressed duckling she told of an army of suitors, each more desirable than the last, that Glory had discarded like week-old overcoats. And with the fresh tropical fruit supreme she praised the condition of matrimony with such fervor that J.L. could feel the warmth of a blush on his cheek.

When the young people left for the evening Marge sighed and said, "Don't they make a nice couple?"

"Have you lost your mind?" J.L. replied, with almost saintly restraint.

"Is something the matter, Dear?"

J.L. threw up his hands in despair. "Is something the matter, she asks. Why did you butter him up like that? Did you see his face? He looked like a dog being scratched behind the ear. If he proposes to Glory tonight it's your fault."

"Well, I think he'd make a fine son-in-law."

"That non-consumer? I'd sooner drop him from the helicopter," he said. He noticed she was smiling. "Don't laugh, Marge. This is serious. I'm going to have a good long talk with Glory when she gets home. I'll put a stop to this."

"Be careful what you say, Dear," she said.

"Don't worry. I guess I know how to talk to my own daughter. I'm as modern as the next parent, you know that. But there comes a time when every child needs guidance, and I...."

"Don't stay up too late, Dear," Marge interrupted, squelching a yawn. She kissed his cheek and left the room.

J.L. poured another drink and settled in a comfortable chair to wait and to plan.

Perhaps he should be imperious. On the screen of his imagination he saw himself. He was taller. His arms were folded high on his chest; his legs were spread wide like two sturdy trees. He had grown a full handle bar mustache. "Glory," he could hear himself say, "I forbid you ever to see that man again."

Unfortunately the screen showed the probable result. She salaamed before him, touching her forehead to the carpet, "I hear and obey O Magnificent One." Sarcasm was more than he could bear. If only he had some proof. If only Marge hadn't been so approving.

The slam of the front door dragged him from a nightmare in which Glory, having married Ernest Stringer, was drowning in a roomful of coin and currency. The level of money had just reached her frightened eyes.

In the dim light of the hall he saw her leaning against the door she had slammed. Her shoulders were hunched with sobbing.

"Glory, what's the matter?"

She looked up, saw her father, and ran to her room.

J.L. heaved out of the chair and followed, slowly. Her door was open a crack. He hesitated, then knocked lightly. No answer. He pushed the door wide enough to see in. She was perched on the edge of the bed, elbows on her knees, crying silently in the darkened room.

"Mind if I come in?"

Still no answer.

He stepped in and sat gingerly on the bed beside her. Several minutes passed. "Want to tell me?" he said gently.

She shook her head violently without looking up.

Suddenly, she turned and pressed her face to his chest. The sobbing subsided a little and her words came haltingly.

"It was awful. He's a subversive—a criminal—and I didn't even guess." She caught her breath. "We flew over to Staten Island. He parked near the water. Then he said, 'I want you to marry me.' Just like that. I liked him a lot—but I didn't know what to say. Then he said—Oh Daddy, it was horrible—" Her sobs increased again and she fumbled for his pocket kerchief. "He—he said, 'Look at this'. And Daddy it was one of those secret bankbooks! He has one hundred thousand dollars—and he's only twenty-five—and he's proud of it! He's worse than the old time gangsters, worse than—oh, Daddy—he's a non-consumer...." The last word trailed off in a wail and she was sobbing again.

J.L. tightened his grip on her shoulders. "Be thankful, Baby," he murmured. "Be thankful you found the dirty so-and-so out in time."