Quitters, Inc. by Stephen King
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.
‘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 G*d, 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 b**t in gear or get your b**t 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 h**l. Then I met a guy who told me about an outfit over on Fortysixth 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.
Stop Going Up in Smoke!
237 East 46th Street
Treatments by Appointment
‘Keep it, if you want,’ McCann said. ‘They’ll cure you. Guaranteed.’
‘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?’
‘And on the basis of that -‘
‘Yep.’ He smiled at Morrison, who thought: Well, it’s happened. Jim McCann has joined the smug b******s.
‘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?’
‘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, D**k. 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, D**k.
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.