'Quitters, Inc.'
by Stephen King

Part One

 

Morrison was waiting for someone who was hung up in the air traffic jam over Kennedy International when he saw a familiar face at the end of the bar and walked down.

 

'Jimmy? Jimmy McCann?'

 

It was. A little heavier than when Morrison had seen him at the Atlanta Exhibition the year before, but otherwise he looked awesomely fit. In college he had been a thin, pallid chain smoker buried behind huge horn-rimmed glasses. He had apparently switched to contact lenses.

 

'Dick Morrison?'

 

'Yeah. You look great.' He extended his hand and they shook.

 

'So do you,' McCann said, but Morrison knew it was a lie. He had been overworking, overeating, and smoking too much. 'What are you drinking?'

 

'Bourbon and bitters,' Morrison said. He hooked his feet around a bar stool and lighted a cigarette. 'Meeting someone, Jimmy?'

 

'No. Going to Miami for a conference. A heavy client. Bills six million. I'm supposed to hold his hand because we lost out on a big special next spring.'

 

'Are you still with Crager and Barton?'

 

'Executive veep now.'

 

'Fantastic! Congratulations! When did all this happen?' He tried to tell himself that the little worm of jealousy in his stomach was just acid indigestion. He pulled out a roll of antacid pills and crunched one in his mouth.

 

'Last August. Something happened that changed my life.' He looked speculatively at Morrison and sipped his drink. 'You might be interested.'

 

My God, Morrison thought with an inner wince. Jimmy McCann's got religion.

 

'Sure,' he said, and gulped at his drink when it came. 'I wasn't in very good shape,' McCann said. 'Personal problems with Sharon, my dad died - heart attack - and I'd developed this hacking cough. Bobby Crager dropped by my office one day and gave me a fatherly little pep talk. Do you remember what those are like?'

 

'Yeah.' He had worked at Crager and Barton for eighteen months before joining the Morton Agency. 'Get your butt in gear or get your butt out.'

 

McCann laughed. 'You know it. Well, to put the capper on it, the doc told me I had an incipient ulcer. He told me to quit smoking.' McCann grimaced. 'Might as well tell me to quit breathing.'

 

Morrison nodded in perfect understanding. Non-smokers could afford to be smug. He looked at his own cigarette with distaste and stubbed it out, knowing he would be lighting another in five minutes.

 

'Did you quit?' He asked.

 

'Yes, I did. At first I didn't think I'd be able to - I was cheating like hell. Then I met a guy who told me about an outfit over on Forty-sixth Street. Specialists. I said what do I have to lose and went over. I haven't smoked since.'

 

Morrison's eyes widened. 'What did they do? Fill you full of some drug?'

 

'No.' He had taken out his wallet and was rummaging through it. 'Here it is. I knew I had one kicking around.' He laid a plain white business card on the bar between them.

 

QUITTERS, INC.

 

Stop Going Up in Smoke!

 

237 East 46th Street

 

Treatments by Appointment

 

'Keep it, if you want,' McCann said. 'They'll cure you. Guaranteed.'

 

'How?'

 

'I can't tell you,' McCann said.

 

'Huh? Why not?'

 

'It's part of the contract they make you sign. Anyway, they tell you how it works when they interview you.'

 

'You signed a contract?'

 

McCann nodded.

 

'And on the basis of that -'

 

'Yep.' He smiled at Morrison, who thought: Well, it's happened. Jim McCann has joined the smug bastards.

 

'Why the great secrecy if this outfit is so fantastic? How come I've never seen any spots on TV, billboards, magazine ads -'

 

'They get all the clients they can handle by word of mouth.'

 

'You're an advertising man, Jimmy. You can't believe that.'

 

'I do,' McCann said. 'They have a ninety-eight per cent cure rate.'

 

'Wait a second,' Morrison said. He motioned for another drink and lit a cigarette. 'Do these guys strap you down and make you smoke until you throw up?'

 

'No.'

 

'Give you something so that you get sick every time you light -'

 

'No, it's nothing like that. Go and see for yourself.' He gestured at Morrison's cigarette. 'You don't really like that, do you?'

 

'Nooo, but -'

 

'Stopping really changed things for me,' McCann said. 'I don't suppose it's the same for everyone, but with me it was just like dominoes falling over. I felt better and my relationship with Sharon improved. I had more energy, and my job performance picked up.'

 

'Look, you've got my curiosity aroused. Can't you just -' 'I'm sorry, Dick. I really can't talk about it.' His voice was firm.

 

'Did you put on any weight?'

 

For a moment he thought Jimmy McCann looked almost grim. 'Yes. A little too much, in fact. But I took it off again. I'm about right now. I was skinny before.'

 

'Flight 206 now boarding at Gate 9,' the loudspeaker announced.

 

'That's me,' McCann said, getting up. He tossed a five on the bar. 'Have another, if you like. And think about what I said, Dick. Really.' And then he was gone, making his way through the crowd to the escalators. Morrison picked up the card, looked at it thoughtfully, then tucked it away in his wallet and forgot it.

 

The card fell out of his wallet and on to another bar a month later. He had left the office early and had come here to drink the afternoon away. Things had not been going so well at the Morton Agency. In fact, things were bloody horrible.

 

He gave Henry a ten to pay for his drink, then picked up the small card and reread it - 237 East Forty-sixth Street was only two blocks over; it was a cool, sunny October day outside, and maybe, just for chuckles -When Henry brought his change, he finished his drink and then went for a walk.

 

Quitters, Inc., was in a new building where the monthly rent on office space was probably close to Morrison's yearly salary. From the directory in the lobby, it looked to him like their offices took up one whole floor, and that spelled money. Lots of it.

 

He took the elevator up and stepped off into a lushly carpeted foyer and from there into a gracefully appointed reception room with a wide window that looked out on the scurrying bugs below. Three men and one woman sat in the chairs along the walls, reading magazines. Business types, all of them. Morrison went to the desk.

 

'A friend gave me this,' he said, passing the card to the receptionist. 'I guess you'd say he's an alumnus.'

 

She smiled and rolled a form into her typewriter. 'What is your name, sir?'

 

'Richard Morrison.'

 

Clack-clackety-clack.

 

But very muted clacks; the typewriter was an IBM.

 

'Your address?'

 

'Twenty-nine Maple Lane, Clinton, New York.'

 

'Married?'

 

'Yes.'

 

'Children?'

 

'One.' He thought of Alvin and frowned slightly. 'One' was the wrong word. 'A half' might be better. His son was mentally retarded and lived at a special school in New Jersey.

 

'Who recommended us to you, Mr Morrison?'

 

'An old school friend. James McCann.'

 

'Very good. Will you have a seat? It's been a very busy day.'

 

'All right.'

 

He sat between the woman, who was wearing a severe blue suit, and a young executive type wearing a herring-bone jacket and modish sideburns. He took out his pack of cigarettes, looked around, and saw there were no ashtrays.

 

He put the pack away again. That was all right. He would see this little game through and then light up while he was leaving. He might even tap some ashes on their maroon shag rug if they made him wait long enough. He picked up a copy of Time and began to leaf through it.

 

He was called a quarter of an hour later, after the woman in the blue suit. His nicotine centre was speaking quite loudly now. A man who had come in after him took out a cigarette case, snapped it open, saw there were no ashtrays, and put it away looking a little guilty, Morrison thought. It made him feel better.

 

At last the receptionist gave him a sunny smile and said, 'Go right in, Mr Morrison.'

 

Morrison walked through the door beyond her desk and found himself in an indirectly lit hallway. A heavy-set man with white hair that looked phoney shook his hand, smiled affably, and said, 'Follow me, Mr Morrison.'

 

He led Morrison past a number of closed, unmarked doors and then opened one of them about halfway down the hall with a key. Beyond the door was an austere little room walled with drilled white cork panels. The only furnishings were a desk with a chair on either side. There was what appeared to be a small oblong window in the wall behind the desk, but it was covered with a short green curtain. There was a picture on the wall to Morrison's left -a tall man with iron-grey hair. He was holding a sheet of paper in one hand. He looked vaguely familiar.

 

'I'm Vic Donatti,' the heavy-set man said. 'If you decide to go ahead with our programme, I'll be in charge of your case.'

 

'Pleased to know you,' Morrison said. He wanted a cigarette very badly.

 

'Have a seat.'

 

Donatti put the receptionist's form on the desk, and then drew another form from the desk drawer. He looked directly into Morrison's eyes. 'Do you want to quit smoking?'

 

Morrison cleared his throat, crossed his legs, and tried to think of a way to equivocate. He couldn't. 'Yes,' he said.

 

'Will you sign this?' He gave Morrison the form. He scanned it quickly. The undersigned agrees not to divulge the methods or techniques or et cetera, et cetera.

 

'Sure,' he said, and Donatti put a pen in his hand. He scratched his name, and Donatti signed below it. A moment later the paper disappeared back into the desk drawer. Well, he thought ironically, I've taken the pledge.

 

He had taken it before. Once it had lasted for two whole days.

 

'Good,' Donatti said. 'We don't bother with propaganda here, Mr Morrison. Questions of health or expense or social grace. We have no interest in why you want to stop smoking. We are pragmatists.'

 

'Good,' Morrison said blankly.

 

'We employ no drugs. We employ no Dale Carnegie people to sermonize you. We recommend no special diet. And we accept no payment until you have stopped smoking for one year.'

 

'My God,' Morrison said.

 

'Mr McCann didn't tell you that?'

 

'No.'

 

'How is Mr McCann, by the way? Is he well?'

 

'He's fine.'

 

'Wonderful. Excellent. Now . . . just a few questions, Mr Morrison. These are somewhat personal, but I assure you that your answers will be held in strictest confidence.'

 

'Yes?' Morrison asked noncommittally.

 

'What is your wife's name?'

 

'Lucinda Morrison. Her maiden name was Ramsey.'

 

'Do you love her?'

 

Morrison looked up sharply, but Donatti was looking at him blandly. 'Yes, of course,' he said.

 

'Have you ever had marital problems? A separation, perhaps?'

 

'What has that got to do with kicking the habit?' Morrison asked. He sounded a little angrier than he had intended, but he wanted - hell, he needed - a cigarette.

 

'A great deal,' Donatti said. 'Just bear with me.'

 

'No. Nothing like that.' Although things had been a little tense just lately.

 

'You just have the one child?'

 

'Yes. Alvin. He's in a private school.'

 

'And which school is it?'

 

'That,' Morrison said grimly, 'I'm not going to tell you.'

 

'All right,' Donatti said agreeably. He smiled disarmingly at Morrison. 'All your q~estions will be answered tomorrow at your first treatment.'

 

'How nice,' Morrison said, and stood.

 

'One final question,' Donatti said. 'You haven't had a cigarette for over an hour. How do you feel?'

 

'Fine,' Morrison lied. 'Just fine.'

 

'Good for you!' Donatti exclaimed. He stepped around the desk and opened the door. 'Enjoy them tonight. After tomorrow, you'll never smoke again.'

 

'Is that right?'

 

'Mr Morrison,' Donatti said solemnly, 'we guarantee it.'

 

He was sitting in the outer office of Quitters, Inc. ,the next day promptly at three. He had spent most of the day swinging between skipping the appointment the receptionist had made for him on the way out and going in a spirit of mulish co-operation - Throw your best pitch at me, buster.

 

In the end, something Jimmy McCann had said convinced him to keep the appointment - It changed my whole fife. God knew his own life could do with some changing. And then there was his own curiosity. Before going up in the elevator, he smoked a cigarette down to the filter. Too damn bad if it's the last one, he thought. It tasted horrible.

 

The wait in the outer office was shorter this time. When the receptionist told him to go in, Donatti was waiting. He offered his hand and smiled, and to Morrison the smile looked almost predatory. He began to feel a little tense, and that made him wa~t a cigarette.

 

'Come with me,' Donatti said, and led the way down to the small room. He sat behind the desk again, and Morrison took the other chair.

 

'I'm very glad you came,' Donatti said. 'A great many prospective clients never show up again after the initial interview. They discover they don't want to quit as badly as they thought. It's going to be a pleasure to work with you on this.'

 

'When does the treatment start?' Hypnosis, he was thinking. It must be hypnosis.

 

'Oh, it already has. It started when we shook hands in the hall. Do you have cigarettes with you, Mr Morrison?'

 

'Yes.'

 

'May I have them, please?'

 

Shrugging, Morrison handed Donatti his pack. There were only two or three left in it, anyway.

 

Donatti put the pack on the desk. Then, smiling into Morrison's eyes, he curled his right hand into a fist and began to hammer it down on the pack of cigarettes, which twisted and flattened. A broken cigarette end flew out. Tobacco crumbs spilled. The sound of Donatti's fist was very loud in the closed room. The smile remained on his face in spite of the force of the blows, and Morrison was chilled by it. Probably just the effect they want to inspire, he thought.

 

At last Donatti ceased pounding. He picked up the pack, a twisted and battered ruin. 'You wouldn't believe the pleasure that gives me,' he said, and dropped the pack into the wastebasket. 'Even after three years in the business, it still pleases me.'

 

'As a treatment, it leaves something to be desired. Morrison said mildly. 'There's a news-stand in the lobby of this very building. And they sell all brands.'

 

'As you say,' Donatti said. He folded his hands. 'Your son, Alvin Dawes Morrison, is in the Paterson School for Handicapped Children. Born with cranial brain damage. Tested IQ of 46. Not quite in the educable retarded category. Your wife -,

 

'How did you find that out?' Morrison barked. He was startled and angry. 'You've got no goddamn right to go poking around my -'

 

'We know a lot about you,' Donatti said smoothly. 'But, as I said, it will all be held in strictest confidence.'

 

'I'm getting out of here,' Morrison said thinly. He stood up.

 

'Stay a bit longer.'

 

Morrison looked at him closely. Donatti wasn't upset. In fact, he looked a little amused. The face of a man who has seen this reaction scores of times - maybe hundreds.

 

'All right. But it better be good.'

 

'Oh, it is.' Donatti leaned back. 'I told you we were pragmatists here. As pragmatists, we have to start by realizing how difficult it is to cure an addiction to tobacco. The relapse rate is almost eight-five per cent. The relapse rate for heroin addicts is lower than that. It is an extraordinary problem. Extraordinary.'

 

Morrison glanced into the wastebasket. One of the cigarettes, although twisted, still looked smokeable.

 

Donatti laughed good-naturedly, reached into the wastebasket, and broke it between his fingers.

 

'State legislatures sometimes hear a request that the prison systems do away with the weekly cigarette ration. Such proposals are invariably defeated. In a few cases where they have passed, there have been fierce prison riots. Riots, Mr Morrison. Imagine it.'

 

'I,' Morrison said, 'am not surprised.'

 

'But consider the implications. When you put a man in prison you take away any normal sex life, you take away his liquor, his politics, his freedom of movement. No riots - or few in comparison to the number of prisons. But when you take away his cigarettes - wham! bam!' He slammed his fist on the desk for emphasis.

 

'During World War I, when no one on the German home front could get cigarettes, the sight of German aristocrats picking butts out of the gutter was a common one. During World War II, many American women turned to pipes when they were unable to obtain cigarettes. A fascinating problem for the true pragmatist, Mr Morrison.'

 

'Could we get to the treatment?'

 

'Momentarily. Step over here, please.' Donatti had risen and was standing by the green curtains Morrison had noticed yesterday. Donatti drew the curtains, discovering a rectangular window that looked into a bare room. No, not quite bare. There was a rabbit on the floor, eating pellets out of a dish.

 

'Pretty bunny,' Morrison commented.

 

'Indeed. Watch him.' Donatti pressed a button by the window-sill. The rabbit stopped eating and began to hop about crazily. It seemed to leap higher each time its feet struck the floor. Its fur stood out spikily in all directions. Its eyes were wild.

 

'Stop that! You're electrocuting him!'

 

Donatti released the button. 'Far from it. There's a very low-yield charge in the floor. Watch the rabbit, Mr Morrison!'

 

The rabbit was crouched about ten feet away from the dish of pellets. His nose wriggled. All at once he hopped away into a corner.

 

'If the rabbit gets a jolt often enough while he's eating,' Donatti said, 'he makes the association very quickly. Eating causes pain. Therefore, he won't eat. A few more shocks, and the rabbit will starve to death in front of his food. It's called aversion training.'

 

Light dawned in Morrison's head.

 

'No, thanks.' He started for the door.

 

'Wait, please, Morrison.'

 

Morrison didn't pause. He grasped the doorknob . and felt it slip solidly through his hand. 'Unlock this.'

 

'Mr Morrison, if you'll just sit down -'

 

'Unlock this door or I'll have the cops on you before you can say Marlboro Man.'

 

'Sit down.'

 

The voice was as cold as shaved ice.

 

Morrison looked at Donatti. His brown eyes were muddy and frightening. My God, he thought, I'm locked in here with a psycho. He licked his lips. He wanted a cigarette more than he ever had in his life.

 

'Let me explain the treatment in more detail,' Donatti said.

 

'You don't understand,' Morrison said with counterfeit patience. 'I don't want the treatment. I've decided against it.'

 

'No, Mr Morrison. You're the one who doesn't understand. You don't have any choice. When I told you the treatment had already begun, I was speaking the literal truth. I would have thought you'd tipped to that by now.'

 

'You're crazy,' Morrison said wonderingly.

 

'No. Only a pragmatist. Let me tell you all about the treatment.'

 

'Sure,' Morrison said. 'As long as you understand that as soon as I get out of here I'm going to buy five packs of cigarettes and smoke them all on the way to the police station.' He suddenly realized he was biting his thumb-nail, sucking on it, and made himself stop.

 

'As you wish. But I think you'll change your mind when you see the whole picture.'

 

Morrison said nothing. He sat down again and folded his hands.

 

'For the first month of the treatment, our operatives will have you under constant supervision,' Donatti said. 'You'll be able to spot some of them. Not all. But they'll always be with you. Always. If they see you smoke a cigarette, I get a call.'

 

'And I suppose you bring me here and do the old rabbit trick,' Morrison said. He tried to sound cold and sarcastic, but he suddenly felt horribly frightened. This was a nightmare.

 

'Oh, no,' Donatti said. 'Your wife gets the rabbit trick, not you.'

 

Morrison looked at him dumbly.

 

Donatti smiled. 'You,' he said, 'get to watch.'

 

 

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