'Quitters, Inc.'
by Stephen King

Part Two

 

After Donatti let him out, Morrison walked for over two hours in a complete daze. It was another fine day, but he didn't notice. The monstrousness of Donatti's smiling face blotted out all else.

 

'You see,' he had said, 'a pragmatic problem demands pragmatic solutions. You must realize we have your best interests at heart.

 

Quitters, Inc., according to Donatti, was a sort of foundation - a non-profit organization begun by the man in the wall portrait. The gentleman had been extremely successful in several family businesses - including slot machines, massage parlours, numbers, and a brisk (although clandestine) trade between New York and Turkey. Mort 'Three-Fingers' Minelli had been a heavy smoker - up in the three-pack-a-day range. The paper he was holding in the picture was a doctor's diagnosis: lung cancer. Mort had died in 1970, after endowing Quitters, Inc., with family funds.

 

'We try to keep as close to breaking even as possible,' Donatti had said. 'But we're more interested in helping our fellow man. And of course, it's a great tax angle.'

 

The treatment was chillingly simple. A first offence and Cindy would be brought to what Donatti called 'the rabbit room'. A second offence, and Morrison would get the dose. On a third offence, both of them would be brought in together. A fourth offence would show grave co-operation problems and would require sterner measures. An operative would be sent to Alvin's school to work the boy over.

 

'Imagine,' Donatti said, smiling, 'how horrible it will be for the boy. He wouldn't understand it even jf someone explained. He'll only know someone is hurting him because Daddy was bad. He'll be very frightened.'

 

'You bastard,' Morrison said helplessly. He felt close to tears. 'You dirty, filthy bastard.'

 

'Don't misunderstand,' Donatti said. He was smiling sympathetically. 'I'm sure it won't happen. Forty per cent of our clients never have to be disciplined at all - and only ten per cent have more than three falls from grace. Those are reassuring figures, aren't they?'

 

Morrison didn't find them reassuring. He found them terrifying.

 

'Of course, if you transgress a fifth time -'

 

'What do you mean?'

 

Donatti beamed. 'The room for you and your wife, a second beating for your son, and a beating for your wife.'

 

Morrison, driven beyond the point of rational consideration, lunged over the desk at Donatti. Donatti moved with amazing speed for a man who had apparently been completely relaxed. He shoved the chair backwards and drove both of his feet over the desk and into Morrison's belly. Gagging and coughing, Morrison staggered backward.

 

'Sit down, Mr Morrison,' Donatti said benignly. 'Let's talk this over like rational men.'

 

When he could get his breath, Morrison did as he was told. Nightmares had to end some time, didn't they?

 

Quitters, Inc., Donatti had explained further, operated on a ten-step punishment scale. Steps six, seven, and eight consisted of further trips to the rabbit room (and increased voltage) and more serious beatings. The ninth step would be the breaking of his son's arms.

 

'And the tenth?' Morrison asked, his mouth dry.

 

Donatti shook his head sadly. 'Then we give up, Mr Morrison. You become part of the unregenerate two per cent.'

 

'You really give up?'

 

'In a manner of speaking.' He opened one of the desk drawers and laid a silenced .45 on the desk. He smiled into Morrison's eyes. 'But even the unregenerate two per cent never smoke again. We guarantee it.'

 

The Friday Night Movie was Bullitt, one of Cindy's favourites, but after an hour of Morrison's mutterings and fidgetings, her concentration was broken.

 

'What's the matter with you?' she asked during station identification.

 

'Nothing . . . everything,' he growled. 'I'm giving up smoking.'

 

She laughed. 'Since when? Five minutes ago?'

 

'Since three o'clock this afternoon.'

 

'You really haven't had a cigarette since then?'

 

'No,' he said, and began to gnaw his thumb-nail. It was ragged, down to the quick.

 

'That's wonderful! What ever made you decide to quit?'

 

'You,' he said. 'And. . . and Alvin.'

 

Her eyes widened, and when the movie came back on, she didn't notice. Dick rarely mentioned their retarded son. She came over, looked at the empty ashtray by his right hand, and then into his eyes: 'Are you really trying to quit, Dick?'

 

'Really.' And if I go to the cops, he added mentally, the local goon squad will be around to rearrange your face, Cindy.

 

'I'm glad. Even if you don't make it, we both thank you for the thought, Dick.'

 

'Oh, I think I'll make it,' he said, thinking of the muddy, homicidal look that had come into Donatti's eyes when he kicked him in the stomach.

 

He slept badly that night, dozing in and out of sleep. Around three o'clock he woke up completely. His craving for a cigarette was like a low-grade fever. He went downstairs and to his study. The room was in the middle of the house. No windows. He slid open the top drawer of his desk and looked in, fascinated by the cigarette box. He looked around and licked his lips.

 

Constant supervision during the first month, Donatti had said. Eighteen hours a day during the next two - but he would never know which eighteen. During the fourth month, the month when most clients backslid, the 'service' would return to twenty-four hours a day. Then twelve hours of broken surveillance each day for the rest of the year. After that? Random surveillance for the rest of the client's life.

 

For the rest of his life.

 

'We may audit you every other month,' Donatti said. 'Or every other day. Or constantly for one week two years from now. The point is, you won't know. If you smoke, you'll be gambling with loaded dice. Are they watching? Are they picking up my wife or sending a man after my son right now? Beautiful, isn't it? And if you do sneak a smoke, it'll taste awful. It will taste like your son's blood.'

 

But they couldn't be watching now, in the dead of night, in his own study. The house was grave-quiet.

 

He looked at the cigarettes in the box for almost two minutes, unable to tear his gaze away. Then he went to the study door, peered out into the empty hall, and went back to look at the cigarettes some more. A horrible picture came: his life stretching before him and not a cigarette to be found. How in the name of God was he ever going to be able to make another tough presentation to a wary client, without that cigarette burning nonchalantly between his fingers as he approached the charts and layouts? How would he be able to endure Cindy's endless garden shows without a cigarette? How could he even get up in the morning and face the day without a cigarette to smoke as he drank his coffee and read the paper?

 

He cursed himself for getting into this. He cursed Donatti. And most of all, he cursed Jimmy McCann. How could he have done it? The son of a bitch had known. His hands trembled in their desire to get hold of Jimmy Judas McCann.

 

Stealthily, he glanced around the study again. He reached into the drawer and brought out a cigarette. He caressed it, fondled it. What was that old slogan? So round, so firm, so fully packed. Truer words had never been spoken. He put the cigarette in his mouth and then paused, cocking his head.

 

Had there been the slightest noise from the closet? A faint shifting? Surely not. But -Another mental image - that rabbit hopping crazily in the grip of electricity. The thought of Cindy in that room -He listened desperately and heard nothing. He told himself that all he had to do was go to the closet door and yank it open. But he was too afraid of what he might find. He went back to bed but didn't sleep for a long time.

 

In spite of how lousy he felt in the morning, breakfast tasted good. After a moment's hesitation, he followed his customary bowl of cornflakes with scrambled eggs. He was grumpily washing out the pan when Cindy came downstairs in her robe.

 

'Richard Morrison! You haven't eaten an egg for break-fast since Hector was a pup.

 

Morrison grunted. He considered since Hector was a pup to be one of Cindy's stupider sayings, on a par with I should smile and kiss a pig.

 

'Have you smoked yet?' she asked, pouring orange juice.

 

'No.'

 

'You'll be back on them by noon,' she proclaimed airily. 'Lot of goddamn help you are!' he rasped, rounding on her. 'You and anyone else who doesn't smoke, you all think ah, never mind.'

 

He expected her to be angry, but she was looking at him F with something like wonder. 'You're really serious,' she said. 'You really are.'

 

'You bet I am.' You'll never know how serious. I hope.

 

'Poor baby,' she said, going to him. 'You look like death warmed over. But I'm very proud.'

 

Morrison held her tightly.

 

Scenes from the life of Richard Morrison, October-November:

 

Morrison and a crony from Larkin Studios at Jack Dempsey's bar. Crony offers a cigarette. Morrison grips his glass a little more tightly and says: I'm quitting. Crony laughs and says: I give you a week.

 

Morrison waiting for the morning train, looking over the top of the Times at a young man in a blue suit. He sees the young man almost every morning now, and sometimes at other places. At Onde's, where he is meeting a client. Looking at 45s in Sam Goody's, where Morrison is looking for a Sam Cooke album. Once in a foursome behind Morrison's group at the local golf course.

 

Morrison getting drunk at a party, wanting a cigarette -but not quite drunk enough to take one.

 

Morrison visiting his son, bringing him a large ball that squeaked when you squeezed it. His son's slobbering, delighted kiss. Somehow not as repulsive as before. Hugging his son tightly, realizing what Donatti and his colleagues had so cynically realized before him: love is the most pernicious drug of all. Let the romantics debate its existence. Pragmatists accept it and use it.

 

Morrison losing the physical compulsion to smoke little by little, but never quite losing the psychological craving, or the need to have something in his mouth - cough drops, Life Savers, a tooth-pick. Poor substitutes, all of them.

 

And finally, Morrison hung up in a colossal traffic jam in the Midtown Tunnel. Darkness. Horns blaring. Air stinking. Traffic hopelessly snarled. And suddenly, thumbing open the glove compartment and seeing the half-open pack of cigarettes in there. He looked at them for a moment, then snatched one and lit it with the dashboard lighter. If anything happens, it's Cindy's fault, he told himself defiantly. I told her to get rid of all the damn cigarettes.

 

The first drag made him cough smoke out furiously. The second made his eyes water. The third made him feel light-headed and swoony. It tastes awful, he thought.

 

And on the heels of that: My God, what am I doing?

 

Horns blatted impatiently behind him. Ahead, the traffic had begun to move again. He stubbed the cigarette out in the ashtray, opened both front windows, opened the vents, and then fanned the air helplessly like a kid who has just flushed his first butt down the john.

 

He joined the traffic flow jerkily and. drove home.

 

'Cindy?' he called. 'I'm home.' No answer.

 

'Cindy? Where are you, hon?'

 

The phone rang, and he pounced on it. 'Hello? Cindy?'

 

'Hello, Mr Morrison,' Donatti said. He sounded pleasantly brisk and businesslike. 'It seems we have a small business matter to attend to. Would five o'clock be convenient?'

 

'Have you got my wife?'

 

'Yes, indeed.' Donatti chuckled indulgently.

 

'Look, let her go,' Morrison babbled. 'It won't happen again. It was a slip, just a slip, that's all. I only had three drags and for God's sake it didn't even taste good!'

 

'That's a shame. I'll count on you for five then, shall I?'

 

'Please,' Morrison said, close to tears. 'Please -He was speaking to a dead line.

 

At 5p.m. the reception room was empty except for the secretary, who gave him a twinkly smile that ignored Morrison's pallor and dishevelled appearance. 'Mr Donatti?' she said into the intercom. 'Mr Morrison to see you.' She nodded to Morrison. 'Go right in.'

 

Donatti was waiting outside the unmarked room with a man who was wearing a SMILE sweatshirt and carrying a .38. He was built like an ape.

 

'Listen,' Morrison said to Donatti. 'We can work something out, can't we? I'll pay you. I'll-'

 

'Shaddap,' the man in the SMILE sweatshirt said.

 

'It's good to see you,' Donatti said. 'Sorry it has to be under such adverse circumstances. Will you come with me? We'll make this as brief as possible. I can assure you your wife won't be hurt. . . this time.'

 

Morrison tensed himself to leap at Donatti.

 

'Come, come,' Donatti said, looking annoyed. 'If you do that, Junk here is going to pistol-whip you and your wife is still going to get it. Now where's the percentage in that?'

 

'I hope you rot in hell,' he told Donatti.

 

Donatti sighed. 'If I had a nickel for every time someone expressed a similar sentiment, I could retire. Let it be a lesson to you, Mr Morrison. When a romantic tries to do a good thing and fails, they give him a medal. When a pragmatist succeeds, they wish him in hell. Shall we go?'

 

Junk motioned with the pistol.

 

Morrison preceded them into the room. He felt numb.

 

The small green curtain had been pulled. Junk prodded him with the gun. This is what being a witness at the gas chamber must have been like, he thought.

 

He looked in. Cindy was there, looking around bewilderedly.

 

'Cindy!' Morrison called miserably. 'Cindy, they -'

 

'She can't hear or see you,' Donatti said. 'One-way glass. Well, let's get it over with. It really was a very small slip. I believe thirty seconds should be enough. Junk?'

 

Junk pressed the button with one hand and kept the pistol jammed firmly into Morrison's back with the other.

 

It was the longest thirty seconds of his life.

 

When it was over, Donatti put a hand on Morrison's shoulder and said, 'Are you going to throw up?'

 

'No,' Morrison said weakly. His forehead was against the glass. His legs were jelly. 'I don't think so.' He turned around and saw that Junk was gone.

 

'Come with me,' Donatti said.

 

'Where?' Morrison asked apathetically.

 

'I think you have a few things to explain, don't you?'

 

'How can I face her? How can I tell her that I. . .I . . 'I think you're going to be surprised,' Donatti said.

 

The room was empty except for a sofa. Cindy was on it, sobbing helplessly.

 

'Cindy?' he said gently.

 

She looked up, her eyes magnified by tears. 'Dick?' she whispered. 'Dick? Oh . . . Oh God . . .' He held her tightly. 'Two men,' she said against his chest. 'In the house and at first I thought they were burglars and then I thought they were going to rape me and then they took me someplace with a blindfold over my eyes and. . . and. . . oh it was h-horrible -'

 

'Shhh,' he said. 'Shhh.'

 

'But why?' she asked, looking up at him. 'Why would they -'

 

'Because of me,' he said 'I have to tell you a story, Cindy -'

 

When he had finished he was silent a moment and then said, 'I suppose you hate me. I wouldn't blame you.'

 

He was looking at the floor, and she took his face in both hands and turned it to hers. 'No,' she said. 'I don't hate you.'

 

He looked at her in mute surprise.

 

'It was worth it,' she said. 'God bless these people. They've let you out of prison.'

 

'Do you mean that?'

 

'Yes,' she said, and kissed him. 'Can we go home now? I feel much better. Ever so much.'

 

The phone rang one evening a week later, and when Morrison recognized Donatti's voice, he said, 'Your boys have got it wrong. I haven't even been near a cigarette.'

 

'We know that. We have a final matter to talk over. Can you stop by tomorrow afternoon?'

 

'Is it -,

 

'No, nothing serious. Book-keeping really. By the way, congratulations on your promotion.'

 

'How did you know about that?'

 

'We're keeping tabs,' Donatti said noncommittally, and hungup.

 

When they entered the small room, Donatti said, 'Don't look so nervous. No one's going to bite you. Step over here, please.'

 

Morrison saw an ordinary bathroom scale. 'Listen, I've gained a little weight, but -'

 

'Yes, seventy-three per cent of our clients do. Step up, please.'

 

Morrison did, and tipped the scales at one seventy-four.

 

'Okay, fine. You can step off. How tall are you, Mr Morrison?'

 

'Five-eleven.'

 

'Okay, let's see.' He pulled a small card laminated in plastic from his breast pocket. 'Well, that's not too bad. I'm going to write you a prescrip for some highly illegal diet pills. Use them sparingly and according to directions. And I'm going to set your maximum weight at. . . let's see . .

 

He consulted the card again. 'One eighty-two, how does that sound? And since this is December first, I'll expect you the first of every month for a weigh-in. No problem if you can't make it, as long as you call in advance.'

 

'And what happens if I go over one-eighty-two?'

 

Donatti smiled. 'We'll send someone out to your house to cut off your wife's little finger,' he said. 'You can leave through this door, Mr Morrison. Have a nice day.'

 

Eight months later:

 

Morrison runs into the crony from the Larkin Studios at Dempsey's bar. Morrison is down to what Cindy proudly calls his fighting weight: one sixty-seven. He works out three times a week and looks as fit as whipcord. The crony from Larkin, by comparison, looks like something the cat dragged in.

 

Crony: Lord, how'd you ever stop? I'm locked into this damn habit tighter than Tillie. The crony stubs his cigarette out with real revulsion and drains his scotch.

 

Morrison looks at him speculatively and then takes a small white business card out of his wallet. He puts it on the bar between them. You know, he says, these guys changed my life.

 

Twelve months later:

 

Morrison receives a bill in the mail. The bill says:

 

QUITTERS, INC.

 

237 East 46th Street

 

New York, N.Y. 10017

 

1 Treatment $2500.00

 

Counsellor (Victor Donatti) $2500.00

 

Electricity $ .50

 

TOTAL (Please pay this amount) $5000.50

 

Those sons of bitches! he explodes. They charged me for the electricity they used to. . . to

 

Just pay it, she says, and kisses him.

 

Twenty months later:

 

Quite by accident, Morrison and his wife meet the Jimmy McCanns at the Helen Hayes Theatre. Introductions are made all around. Jimmy looks as good, if not better than he did on that day in the airport terminal so long ago. Morrison has never met his wife. She is pretty in the radiant way plain girls sometimes have when they are very, very happy.

 

She offers her hand and Morrison shakes it. There is something odd about her grip, and halfway through the second act, he realizes what it was. The little finger on her right hand is missing.


 

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