Call South 3300: Ask for Molly! (Beacon #176, 1958)#

Another early Hitt that has salesmen, call girls, booze and a con scheme to make big bucks.

The novel jumps back and forth between POVs with a man, Slade Martin, and a woman, Ann Frank.  Slade is lead sales manager of All-Channel TV, a manufacturer of television sets that employs 1200 people. Ann is a secretary there, and a former prostitute at Molly’s, a cathouse in the red light district; she still works there one weekend a month, taking calls from special clients, to pay rent on her apartment, which she could never do with her low-paying job.  But she likes having a normal job, rather than working full time at the brothel, which tends to get raided now and then by the cops.

She also has her eye on Slade — he’s handsome, looks like “a movie star,” and has bedded just about every woman working at the company.  he’s also an alcoholic and a liar — he’ll do anything for a big sale.  All-Channel does not have a “new” model to compete, especially with sets that have the revolutionary concept of a “remote control.”  All they have is a older set, and too many units — Slade is tasked to hock this set as their new model at a product convention.

The con is to get Mortimer Kane to make a huge order — Kane is one of the biggest buyers in the country, and when he buys, others follow his lead.  If Slade doesn’t pull in a big order, All-Channel could get out of business, and 1200 people could lose their jobs, and that would have a detrimental effect on the local economy…

How to butter Kane?  Slade determines the best way is pussy — get a woman for Kane, a woman who will do anything, a woman who will convince him to order 500-2000 sets from All-Channel.  That woman, Slade thinks, is a hot number working in the promotion department: Ann Frank.

Ann is easily talked into it, because she would do anything to get on Slade’s good side; her ulterior motive is to land Slade as a husband and get out of hooking once and for all. But she wants to be subtle about it. Slade has also promised her $1 for every TV Kane orders. She could use the money — it’d keep her from having to work at Molly’s once a month.

But things don’t work out as she plans — sure, she goes to bed with Slade, and he falls for her, but she feels nothing.  It’s like being with a man at the brothel — she goes through the motions, says words of passion that are fake, but the fire of love and lust that she expected would happen isn’t there.  It’s what she was looking for: to experience free passion, outside of paid-for sex.

She does find this feeling in an unlikely place: a 19 year old guy she knows from home, whom she messed around with once when drunk, knows she works at Molly’s, he’d seen her, and he blackmails her: have sex with him, or he’ll tell her mother and father what she really is.  She gives in to the blackmail and is surprised that it turns her on, that “he could ignite in her the fire that burned, the fire that other men extinguished” (p. 88).

Some girls, she knew, kept men for their own individual pleasure. They paid the men’s rent, bought them clothes, and had their fun with them when they were off-duty. It gave them a feeling of superiority they could find no other way, a feeling of ownership; it provided one small part of their lives they could control […] She was a prostitute and she had found her man. Maybe she didn’t love him the way they wrote about love in books — but she loved him, and for a deeper and more purposeful reason. (p. 84-86)

One conflict: ol’ womanizing Slade has fallen in love with her and has misgivings about using her to seduce Kane.  And if he knew the truth, that he did nothing sexually or romantically for Ann, his ego would be shattered.

She works on Kane at the convention — a big, beefy older man she doesn’t like much, but she has a job.  It looks like he isn’t going to order more than 1,000 sets, and the goal is 5,000, so she pretends to be drunks, goes to his hotel room, acts like she’s asleep when he has sex with her, and claims he raped her.  She says she will go to the cops. Kane is terrified — he could go to prison, this could ruin him. He offers her hush money; instead she says she wants a check for $5K as a down payment on 5,000 TV sets. Kane knows he’s been set-up but pays, and the company winds up with orders for 15,000 sets in all.

One thing many of Hitt’s novels that involve sales and business have are keen insights on how various blue and white collar businesses operate — from insurance sales (Shabby Street, Affair with Lucy)  to hotel management (Hotel Woman, Hotel Girl, Summer Hotel)  to farming (Two of a Kind, Violent Sinners)  to frozen food distribution (Bad Wife), to mail order catalogs (As Bad As They Come, Bold Affair), to car sales (Sheba), magazine and encyclopedia sales (Door to Door, Woman Hunt) TV repair (Dial M for Man), hired hand work (Hired Lover), radio ad sales (Ladies Man, Tormented Passions) and photography (Sin Doll, Campus Tramp).  And these were all jobs Hitt had before writing full-time, jobs he knew inside-out and could write effectively about. In Call South 3330: Ask for Molly!, Hitt shows us the sneaky things salesmen do to keep a fairly big company afloat — and how their tactics can backfire and hurt people down the line.

Do Slade and Ann get together?  Slade gets another girl at the office pregnant and Ann gets taken financially and emotionally by Eric, the boyfriend she pays for…

Not a bad novel.  On the Hitt Scale, an 8.

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