I was looking around for the story online and found this essay. Apparently characters were based on the Salem Witchcraft trials, and Elizabeth Style was the one accused, and the floozy receptionist that is hired briefly corresponds to the accusing child. This just adds yet another layer to these complex stories.
The hints were subtle, but I got that Elizabeth and her partner? boss? Robert Shax were lovers, and perhaps that's why she pulled him away from the agency where she was first hired and the two created this lifeless agency together. I thought perhaps Shax meant to replace her but Elizabeth assumed he meant to replace their receptionist Miss Wilson. That wouldn't just be a matter of replacing Elizabeth in the company, but as a lover. If so he chickened out and ducked out, hoping the situation would make it obvious to her. She was determined to be obtuse. Really though, I suppose it was the receptionist who was to be let go, and the eye-candy Daphne Hill was to attract gullible authors.
Elizabeth let the new one go, and parceled out what little money she had to get through the week. She was meeting Jim Harris, one of their authors, to see if she couldn't dig up more authorial leads. Hmmm, this Mr. Harris doesn't seem very daemonic, at least not until Elizabeth starts fantasizing about a life she didn't get and a future she will likely never have.
A Fine Old Firm
I got a ways into this when I realized that Mrs. Concord's son Charlie most likely wasn't writing to her at all while away at war. Yet he wrote to his sister (her daughter) Helen, and to his buddy's mother, Mrs. Friedman, who creates the instance of this story by coming to call.
"I'm Mrs. Friedman," Mrs. Friedman said. "Bob Friedman's mother."I had to read it over again to verify. Indeed Mrs. Concord seemed pretty clueless about any news from her son. I thought perhaps it was to save face that she was sorry he couldn't join Mr. Friedman's law firm, because her son Charlie already has a position assured with a friend of his father's at a "fine old firm."
"Bob Friedman," Mrs. Concord repeated.
Mrs. Friedman smiled apologetically. "I thought surely your boy would have mentioned Bobby," she said.
"Of course he has," Helen said suddenly.
Now at the third look I realize it's because the Friedmans must be Jewish. Not only would Charlie have avoided this mention then, but Mrs. Concord would make sure there would be no such connection once the boys got home. Fine old firm = WASP to the teeth. Oh yeah, the Fine Old Firm is Satterthwaite & Harris. Uh oh, Harris. Charlie's doomed.
If a person subscribes to the New Yorker, the story can be accessed here.