The Assistant: Chapter 3
Morris’s fall has reopened the wound in his head, and the doctor has ordered him to stay in bed for a couple of weeks. Frank Alpine, who has been in the store all day while Ida and Helen remained in the hospital with Morris, turns in fifteen dollars in sales at the end of the morning, shocking Ida and convincing her to allow him to stay and help while Morris is recovering.
Frank works hard, keeping himself busy with odd jobs and cleaning up the place, although when Ida is not around, he eats food from the store. Ida watches Frank suspiciously at first, but gradually begins to trust him and teaches him the business. Frank is content having a place to sleep, safe from the cold world outside. He is befriended by Tessie and Nick Fuso.
Frank’s sociable and cheery manner brings in flurries of new customers and encourages the drivers to chat with him. Otto Vogel, the German meat supplier, advises him not to work for a Jew, while Al Marcus the paper salesman warns him that a store can become a tomb and that he should get out before it’s too late.
Meanwhile, Frank grows more interested in Helen. He fantasizes about her and longs to get to know her, but Ida keeps them apart. One day he calls Helen down with the lie that there is a phone call for her in the store. When she comes down to get the phone, he tells her that the caller must’ve hung up. He then feels guilty for having tricked her with a lie.
Ida’s respect and good will toward Frank grows as she notices how the store’s business has begun to improve with him behind the counter. The customers seem to like Frank and he is more of a salesman than Ida or Morris. They are now earning sometimes six or seven dollars more in one day. In gratitude, Ida gives Frank a small pay raise. However, this makes Frank feel guilty, as he has been stealing a dollar or a dollar and a half each day from the register.
Frank justifies his stealing in his own mind by thinking that if he weren’t working there, they’d be making less anyway, but he still feels remorseful. Finally he decides that he can do something to make himself honest again: he can dispose of the gun that he and Ward Minogue used to rob Morris. Now for the first time, we the readers learn that Frank was involved in that crime. Karp was the intended victim, but since he got spooked and left, Frank and Ward robbed Morris Bober instead. Now Frank goes to see Ward again to retrieve the gun. Instead of giving it to him, Ward asks him to participate in another robbery. He is still intent on robbing the liquor store, saying that he hates the Karps. Frank refuses, and Ward taunts him about his relationship with the Bobers, suggesting that he is there to have his way with Helen. Frank leaves without the gun.
When Frank returns to the store, he spies on Helen having a shower. He is filled with joy and longing at the sight of her naked body, comparing her breasts to birds in flight and her backside to a flower.
Analysis of Chapter 3
In this chapter, a conflict is created between the good and bad sides of Frank. On the one hand, Frank is helping the store become more profitable through his hard work and easy manner with the customers. On the other hand, he is stealing regularly from the cash register and is unable to stop himself. Not only that, but he is revealed to have been one of the men who robbed the store and hurt Morris, and he spies on Helen while she’s naked. We as the readers are left to wonder what Frank will do next. He has the potential to harm the Bobers—will he do it? Or will his good side win out? Also, the sinister character of Ward Minogue is still lurking, threatening to expose Frank or commit another crime, possibly plotting a return to attack his original target, Julius Karp. Suspense builds in this chapter as we wonder what will happen next.