Here's part of Chapter 5 of Conduct in Question where we come to understand a bit of Harry's background and his attitude toward money. Money is a major theme in the book. How much money is enough?
In this scene, Harry Jenkins has just met with a new client, Albert Chin, who is about to draw him into a money laundering scheme. Harry is taking the huge retainer check to the bank and is reflecting on the role money has played in his life.
Conduct in Question
by Mary E. Martin
Better get Chin’s money into the trust account, thought Harry. One million for the deposits and two hundred thousand for legal costs. Surely the huge retainer must include work on the rezoning applications.
Harry nursed a deep-seated grudge against banks. Usually his stomach rebelled as he approached them. Banks are not your friends, he reminded himself while riding down in the elevator. In good times, bank managers—beaming like carnival hucksters—lured solvent citizens into the valley of debt. Scowling in the bad times, they tallied up arrears and heartlessly called in loans. This particular bank, the Toronto-Royal, had refused to finance his attempts to buy Crawford out.
Memories of his father’s own battles with banking institutions leapt to mind. Vividly, he recalled one night at dinner, when he was eight. The banging at the door had made him drip spaghetti sauce over the stove‑top.
There, in the porch light, had stood a tall, burly man.
“You Stanley Jenkins?” the man demanded, thrusting a sheaf of papers into his father’s hand. The top page was decorated with a bright red seal. “Greetings!” it began.
Dad’s shoulders sagged and his chest caved in. Shaking his head, he sighed and turned the pages as Mother hovered in the doorway.
“What is it, Stan?”
The house was entirely silent, except for the ticking of the kitchen clock. Finally, well-educated, hardworking Stanley Jenkins looked up at his wife and said, “They’re going to sell the place, Alice.”
“The bank,” he said quietly. Then anger flared. “Who else, God damn it?”
Harry and Anna were shocked, less by the swearing, than by the lonely frustration in their father’s voice.
Harry wasn’t old enough to be really worried, even when he and his sister, were sent to bed early. Lying in the darkness, he listened to the rise and fall of his parents’ voices. He was puzzled by a phrase his father used over and over again.
“In arrears, in arrears.” His father’s voice peaked in frustration. “We’re three months in arrears.” To Harry, it sounded like a jail sentence.
Harry knew about money. Sometimes, he could almost hear it sloshing up and down the financial canyons of the city. But not enough of it was his.
Money…always the money! He sighed. He knew his wife had other standards, but her family’s wealth spun a soft cocoon that protected them from the rest of the world. From within their silken web, her parents peered out at the populace in general and at Harry in particular. Their intense scrutiny was more than disconcerting. A tilt of the jaw or the pursing of lips spoke volumes. He could seldom measure up against their silently shifting boundaries. Money was the only true and absolute indicator of success. It poisoned their love.
Awed by her beauty, he used to love stroking her soft blonde hair. Once, her green eyes had been filled with love for him. Now they appraised him with brisk efficiency.
As an art dealer for Sotheby’s, she had recently invited Harry to an auction. “Harry, come with me. It’ll be fun.” He had not realized it was a last attempt to draw him into her world.
“Oh, I don’t know,” he hesitated, but could find no excuse. It was foreign territory to him, and he railed at any form of profligacy or flamboyance.
The auction was held in the ballroom of the Royal York Hotel. Immense crystal chandeliers and heavy brocade drapes graced the room. Silent tension hung in the air. The auctioneer, handsome in his pin-striped suit, rapped sharply with his tiny gavel, driving the bidding even higher.
“Eight hundred and fifty thousand.” Looking expectantly over the sea of impassive faces, he called out, “Do I hear nine hundred thousand?” At the back of the room, a small yellow paddle shot up. “Sold…going…going…gone.”
Harry’s stomach had sunk as the figures danced ever higher. Shocked by Laura’s intense excitement, loneliness crept over him. She gloried in this recklessness so foreign to him. She was betrothed to her career and a family would only interfere.
“Why not a child?” Harry used to ask, years back.
“Not yet, darling. Perhaps next year, when the projects at the museum are done.” But there was always another project.
After the auction, they had driven in silence past dark mansions on Sherbourne Street, now a jumble of converted rooming houses. At Gerrard Street lay the Allan Gardens, where men drifted about and fought for park benches. At the end of Sherbourne Street they turned into the tree-lined crescents of Rosedale. Before he knew it, the house in which Laura had grown up, loomed ahead. He gazed at the portico and the stately, broad oak door.
“Home sweet home,” said Harry. He thought the remark was innocent.
“Why did you come this way?” Laura’s voice was flat and hollow. Surprised, Harry glanced at her. Lights of an oncoming car illuminated her thin, drawn face.
“Just trying to get to the parkway.” He hesitated, “Something wrong?”
Angrily, she twisted around in her seat. “You hated the auction, didn’t you? You couldn’t stomach watching people spend money.”
“What?” Harry was alarmed.
“You don’t need to spell it out.” She waved at her old house, grand with its columns and porticos. “Just because I grew up here doesn’t mean I measure everything in money. Am I supposed to apologize for our money?”
Harry was silent. There was no stopping a bursting dam.
“You’re so superior about your ethical values, Harry. As if having money were a crime.”
“Laura, I didn’t say a word.”
“You didn’t need to. It’s written all over your face.”
After several moments of silence, Harry spoke evenly. “Actually, Laura, I was just thinking how well the auction went. You and Dr. Stover must have worked very hard.”
Laura glared at him. “What has he got to do with this?”
He tried to placate her. “Nothing at all. Can’t I give a compliment without getting into trouble?”
Laura stared out the window in silence. At last she spoke as if setting down a heavy burden. “Harry, I think we need time to think things through.”
They were on Bayview Avenue sweeping northward along the Don River. Red taillights crept up the parkway on the other side of the river. The city, always so familiar, seemed hostile and foreign to Harry, as if he had lost his bearings in the dark.
“Us,” she said.
“Yes?” He tried to maintain an even tone.
Her voice was weary. “We’re in completely different worlds, Harry. Your old clients, with their Depression-era thinking, hoard their fistfuls of money, never taking a moment of pleasure in life.”
“And that’s what Dr. Stover gives you? A sense of pleasure in life?” Instantly, he regretted his words. Now they were hurling stones at each other.