Fine things

Chapter 1

It was almost impossible to get to Lexington and Sixty-third Street. The wind was howling, and the snow drifts had devoured all but the largest cars. The buses had given up somewhere around Twenty-third Street, where they sat huddled like frozen dinosaurs, as one left the flock only very rarely to venture uptown, lumbering down the paths the snowplows left, to pick up a few brave travelers who would rush from doorways frantically waving their arms, sliding wildly to the curb, hurling themselves over the packed snowbanks, to mount the buses with damp eyes and red faces, and in Bernie's case, icicles on his beard.

It had been absolutely impossible to get a taxi. He had given up after fifteen minutes of waiting and started walking south from Seventy-ninth Street. He often walked to work. It was only eighteen blocks from door to door. But today as he walked from Madison to Park and then turned right on Lexington Avenue, he realized that the biting wind was brutal, and he had only gone four more blocks when he gave up. A friendly doorman allowed him to wait in the lobby, as only a few determined souls waited for a bus that had taken hours to come north on Madison Avenue, turned around, and was now heading south on Lexington to carry them to work. The other, more sensible souls had given up when they caught their first glimpse of the blizzard that morning, and had decided not to go to work at all. Bernie was sure the store would be half empty. But he wasn't the type to sit at home twiddling his thumbs or watching the soaps.

And it wasn't that he went to work because he was so compulsive. The truth was that Bernie went to work six days a week, and often when he didn't have to, like today, because he loved the store. He ate, slept, dreamed, and breathed everything that happened from the first to eighth floor of Wolffs. And this year was particularly important. They were introducing seven new lines, four of them by major European designers, and the whole look of American fashion was going to change in men's and women's ready-to-wear markets. He thought about it as he stared into the snowdrifts they passed as they lumbered downtown, but he was no longer seeing the snow, or the stumbling people lurching toward the bus, or even what they wore. In his mind's eye he was seeing the new spring collections just as he had seen them in November, in Paris, Rome, Milan, with gorgeous women wearing the clothes, rolling down the runway like exquisite dolls, showing them to perfection, and suddenly he was glad he had come to work today. He wanted another look at the models they were using the following week for their big fashion show. Having selected and approved the clothing, he wanted to make sure the models chosen were right too. Bernard Fine liked to keep a hand in everything, from department figures to the buying of the clothes, even to the selection of the models, and the design of the invitations that went out to their most exclusive customers. It was all part of the package to him. Everything mattered. It was no different from U.S. Steel as far as he was concerned, or Kodak. They were dealing in a product, in fact a number of them. And the impression that product made rested in his hands.

The crazy thing was that if someone had told him fifteen years before when he was playing football at the University of Michigan