Main > Series > Chapters > Fame Annual 1985 > Morloch's Monday
“Look, mister, I don't care how many layers of sound insulation you say I'm going to need, or how many miles of wire you'll have to have to fit the recording consoles, the amount of money you're asking would fund the space shuttle programme for the next mine months. Yeah, and you have a nice day, too. Goodbye. What can I do for you, Lydia?”
Quentin Morloch clattered the desk phone back into its cradle, turned to face the latest visitor to his office, reminded himself that it was still only Monday morning, and tried to rearrange the scowl on his face as a smile. From the floor below, the sound of Bruno Martelli playing alternative fragments of a still unfinished piece echoed around the corridors. Lydia looked at Quentin Morloch and wondered whether she should break the news to him. The last time she had seen him like this was when the two of them had come around the corner of a corridor and found Danny Amatullo giving an impersonation of the vice principal for the benefit of his fellow students.
“Come on, Lydia, spit it out,” said the vice principal. “It's got to be bad news or you'd have told me already.”
“All right. But you're not going to like it. I've got a dancing part in a movie they're making on location at Radio City Music Hall. The work lasts for about three months and it means I'm going to miss some classes. You're going to have to find someone else to teach them.”
“Thanks a million,” said Morloch. “That's just what I needed. Does it never occur to you, or the kids that you're teaching, what it takes to run this place?” He reached into the flat wire basket on his desk and brought out a sheaf of papers clutched in his large hand. “All of these have to be answered. And these,” - he picked up another sheaf of papers - “these are all estimates for the new, soundproofed studio I promised Professor Shorofsky, and you know what? Every one of them is out of my league.”
“You sound like you've got problems,” said Lydia sympathetically.
“Problems isn't the word. This morning when I get here there's a message for me from the secretary to the board of governors. They say the new music room's going to be too expensive. Either I get the estimates down or the scheme's going to have to be shelved. I've spent all morning trying to work something out and all I've got is one guy who say's he'll come down forty dollars if I don't care what colour the door handles are. Apart from that, zilch.”
Lydia asked him what he was going to do and Quentin shrugged.
“We may be five behind the final innings but the game's not over yet. I'll just keep trying and worrying, worrying and trying, until they take me away to the crazy house. It'll be like the rest home after this place. Oh, and Lydia, just by the way.” He smiled suddenly at the dance teacher as she turned towards him in the doorway. “Congratulations on getting the part.”
As soon as Lydia had gone the phone rang again. Quentin looked at it and hesitated in much the same manner a naturalist might hesitate when confronted with a new, and most probably venomous, breed of toad. When he picked it up it was the governors' secretary on the line again. She said the governors had to have a decision on the music room by tomorrow morning. Morloch told her that they'd have it and went out to lunch.
As he sat at the lunch counter with a coffee and a sandwich and the previous night's football scores spread out on the back page of a newspaper beside him he found himself wondering how a man who had spent more than half his life in baseball had come to be the vice principal of a school dedicated to the performing arts. Anybody who'd ever heard him under the shower would vouch for the fact that he couldn't sing. No matter how slow his mind pitched the notes his mouth just couldn't hit them. His dancing was even worse. And he could have written what he knew about the theatre on the back of his little fingernail. Still, he reflected, the board of governors in their wisdom had thought him the best man for the job, and who was he to argue with them when all he'd ever wanted from life since he was a kid was to hit the winning run in a World Series play off?
Thinking of the governors brought him back to the problem of what to do about the new music studio. They were right, he thought, you couldn't spend what you hadn't got. Then he thought how much a new studio would mean to Professor Shorofsky and he resolved to phone round the same sixteen building companies again that afternoon.
Back at the school a group of students looked nervously at him as he passed them on the stairs and he realised that he must be frowning again. The sound of Bruno
s keyboard - he'd got a day off and was visiting old friends - still rang around the stairwell although now the music it played was beginning to take shape. Through an open doorway he saw Lydia watching Coco, Leroy, and Chris running through a routine and he paused for a moment to watch.
Their dance was deliberately slow, a graceful mixture of exuberance and restraint, whilst their faces had become masks of stillness. Quentin found he was enjoying himself. It was the same kind of pleasure you got from watching a pitcher wind up on his mound or a quarterback faking a running play, he thought. There was the same concentration of energy and co-ordination of movement, half natural, half learned, the same sure, quick pulse of invention as the dance and its dancers became inseparable.
As the music and the dancers came to a halt Quentin Morloch found himself smiling. Maybe the kids weren't the only people in the school with something to learn. He watched as Lydia clapped her hands, praised what was good, and then took them back over their mistakes, and then, realising that hs presence was making the dancers nervous, he made his way up the next flight of stairs to his office.
To his surprised there was someone there waiting for him. She was a tall, high cheekboned woman with her hair pulled back severely from her temples and fastened behind. She introduced herself as Sarah Holmes. She wore an elegantly tailored black trouser suit and Morloch noticed that the gold ring on her index finger was mounted with a sparkling stone almost as big as a National League baseball. He asked what he could do for her.
“It's about my nephew, Mister Morloch. I would like him to attend your school. You see, the theatre runs strong in our family. I was a dancer once myself, until I met Mister Holmes, God bless him. Now Mister Holmes has passed on and since my own dancing days are over I thought it would be fitting for Bobby to continue the tradition. His mother was a dancer and his father was a piano player. He traveled all over the country with them, so you see, the life is in his blood. It's just that he's so terribly shy. I've looked after him since his mother and father were killed in a car wreck on their way to an engagement in Las Vegas. I have no children of my own and I worry about him so.”
“This is a scholarship school, Mrs. Holmes,” said Morloch. “Your nephew has to sit a written exam and go through a series of auditions before he can be considered.”
“That's where my problem lies,” said Mrs. Holmes, turning from the window. “You see, Bobby has already passed the written exam but something went wrong at his audition. Perhaps it was nerves. Perhaps he just froze. Exactly what it was I couldn't tell you, as the poor boy has been ashamed to come home since. He telephones me sometimes but he refuses to talk about it.”
“If the kid had nerves then tell him to come back again,” said Morloch.
“I was hoping, Mister Morloch, that you could see fit to waive the audition in this instance,” said Mrs. Holmes. “You see, my dear departed husband Henry has left me a woman of some considerable means. I've got money and nothing to spend it on. My nephew has talent and I know he would benefit from the training your school could give him. If there was anything that your school was in need of a donation of some sort . . .”
Quentin looked at Mrs. Homes. He thought of Professor Shorofsky and the music room that he ha promised him. Then he thought of Coco and Leroy and Chris downstairs, of how hard they had worked for their chance, and of how many other kids there were in the city looking for the same chance. However talented Mrs. Holmes' nephew turned out to be, he would be betraying them all if he accepted her offer.
“I'm sorry, Mrs. Holmes. I'm sure that you care about your nephew, but I can't do that,” he said, and to his surprise he noticed that Mrs. Holmes was smiling. It was a sad, regretful smile, but as smile nonetheless.
“I was afraid you'd say that, Mister Morloch. But in a way I'm pleased. It was just a lonely woman's attempt to get back someone she loved You see I loved the theatre, I loved dancing. Until I met Mister Holmes it was my life. Now I'm old and all my friends have forgotten me. But they were good years. I remember the way people looked after one another then, whether they had money or not. I wanted the same for Bobby.”
As she was speaking an idea came to Quentin Morloch. He asked her how she'd like to work for a couple of months as a dance teacher. Mrs. Holmes looked at him curiously and Quentin Morloch took hold of her arm and let her gently from his office, explaining as he did so that one of his dance teachers was going to have to miss her classes for the next few months and that he was looking for someone to fill in for her.
“Of course, the pay won't seem much to a woman in your position, but you'll be meeting people and doing something that you love,” said Morloch as they walked down the empty stairs to Lydia's dance class.
As they entered the room Lydia turned from her pupils and gave a gasp of surprise. “Sarah!” she said, “Sarah Markowitz!”
Mrs. Holmes put a finger thoughtfully to her lip and tilted her head to one side as if trying to remember something. Then, satisfied with the memory, she smiled. “You're Lydia, aren't you? You danced third from the right in the chorus line. We opened in what as then the New Tiffany Theatre and was later the Old Tiffany and is now no more than a dreary arcade selling postcards and cheap sunglasses. You can't have been more than eighteen then.”
“Nineteen,” said Lydia, smiling.
“How come you only met on the first night?” asked Morloch.
“The show closed on the second,” said Mrs. Holmes with a smile. “Two days later I met Henry and a week after that I was married to him. I gave up dancing them, I didn't think it would be fair. We wanted a family, you see. As things turned out we never had children. Perhaps that's why things have been so difficult with Bobby.” She paused and her eyes welled with tears.
“Wasn't Bobby your sister Carol's son?” asked Lydia.
Mrs. Holmes nodded and told her the same story she had told Quentin Morloch. She was in tears when she finished and Quentin fished in his pockets and offered her a large, tartan handkerchief.
She shook her head and Lydia put a comforting arm around her shoulder.
Quentin shrugged awkwardly and put his hands in his pockets. “What are you looking at?” he growled at Chris.
The young dancer hesitated, his customary confidence apparently undercut by Mrs. Holmes's tears. “I couldn't help overhearing what Mrs. Homes was saying,” he said nervously. “Your nephew Bobby. Is his name Bobby MacAlister?”
Mrs. Holmes nodded dully, then looked up, suddenly bright and hopeful, and asked Chris if he knew where her nephew was.
Chris hesitated again. Then he saw the look in Quentin Morloch's eye and he said, “He's staying with Bruno.” Morloch kept looking. “He got talking with Bruno the day he came down for his audition. He said he had nowhere he could go. You know what Bruno's like. He took him home. He wants to . . .”
But Quentin Morloch had already left the room, headed towards where the sound of Bruno's organ had been joined by a piano's calmer and more reflective counterpoint. When he opened the door to the music room he found Bruno and Professor Shorofsky playing together.
“Ah, Quentin,” said the professor, smiling and coming to clasp Quentin's hand warmly. “What can I do for you?”
Morloch wondered whether he should tell Shorofsky about the governors' decision. No, he thought, he still had till tomorrow morning. Then he asked if he could speak to Bruno.
“Bobby MacAllister's aunt is downstairs, Bruno,” said Quentin, “And she's a very worried woman.” Bruno looked down at where his hands rested on the keyboard. Then he raised his eyes until his gaze met the vice principal's. “Don't you think you should go down there and talk to her?”
Downstairs in the dace class they found Mrs. Holmes drying her eyes. Bruno nervously explained how he had met Bobby MacAllister as he waited for his audition. How Bobby had told him that he didn't want to go for the audition, that he was only doing it because he didn't want to hurt someone he cared about very much. In the end he just walked out.
“You mean he didn't even take the audition?” asked Mrs. Holmes in surprise.
“No Mrs. Holmes,” said Bruno, “He just doesn't want to go into the entertainment business. He says he had too many years of living out of a suitcase when he was traveling with your sister and her husband. It's sure a pity, though. He can make the old bass guitar I keep at home do things I wouldn't have believed if I hadn't heard them. He's going to be the funkiest farmer that the mid west has ever seen.”
“A farmer!” said Mrs. Holmes with alarm. “He can't be a farmer. His family are show people. They always have been. What does he know about farming?”
Quentin Morloch raised his eyes to the heavens. The time had come, he realised, for plain speaking. “Mrs. Holmes, don't you understand yet? Your nephew Bobby doesn't want to be an entertainer, it's YOU that wants him to be. That's why he hasn't come home. Now, if you promise me you'll let this idea of putting him through the school drop, I'll make you a promise. I'll have him back at your house tomorrow for you. There's just one condition. That whatever he wants to be, whether it's farmer, footballer, or circus acrobat - you let him be it. There are good people who will take care of him in whatever walk of life he chooses. But if he's not doing what he wants then the game isn't worth playing. I remember our coach saying . . .”
“Now look what you've gone and done, you big lump,” said Lydia angrily. “You've made her cry again!”
“Miss Grant,” said Quentin stiffly, “if you could explain the duties that our new dance teacher is going to perform during your absence then perhaps you'll let me get on with my job. Which - in case any of you have forgotten - is trying to make sure this school stays running.”
“Mister Morloch,” a voice called after him as he left, and he turned to see Mrs. Holmes sitting on a metal chair with Lydia's hands on her shoulders. He watched her smile and dab a handkerchief she took from her bag against her eyes. “After my dear Henry, Mister Morloch, I think you're the sweetest man I've ever met.”
Her remark had Morloch scowling, then blushing, then laughing, then scowling all the way over to Bruno Martelli's house.
Bruno explained in more detail about Bobby. “He told me right off about how he wanted to be a farmer,” he said “Who'd ever have figured it? I was worried about taking him in at first, I didn't want anyone to get hurt. Now I'm just glad things have worked out so well. You know that guy Bobby? He's fitted cupboards all along one wall of my bedroom. It takes all kinds. Bobby was so good I got him a job helping fit a refrigeration plant at the local supermarket. The kid's just got an aptitude.”
As Bruno spoke, a plan was forming in Quentin Morloch's mind. Bruno was right, he thought, you had to have an aptitude for your job. If you didn't then things were a struggle.
Morloch's chain of thought was interrupted by the front door of the apartment being opened. A thin, straw-haired young man with the same high cheekbones as his aunt came in and then, when he looked at Quentin, his jaw fell open in surprise. “Say, Bruno,” he said excitedly. “I didn't know you knew anyone famous. This is Quentin Morloch. You know in his rookie season he came in as relief pitcher and pitched seven straight shutouts? You know I used to have your photograph on the inside of my suitcase lid, Mister Morloch? My dad was a piano player, see, and we used to travel a lot. Mom was a dancer. I used to study the averages when they were working and then we'd bet nickels and on the day games. I always cleaned up.”
Quentin smiled and asked him how he'd like to meet Billy Berg. Bobby asked him if he meant the same Billy Berg who'd played catcher for Morloch in the playoffs.
“None other,” said Quentin with a smile. “He's got a farm up in Connecticut. Now an hours drive from here. I'll take you up there - on one condition.”
Bobby asked him what that was.
“Bruno tells me you've got an aptitude for building. I want you to help me build a new music studio at the school you don't want to go to.”
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