Main > Series > Chapters > Fame Book 1 > Chapter 12

'It was all a mistake,' Doris Schwartz insisted. 'A dumb mistake.'

The detectives' Squad Room in the precinct house was a featureless office with a view of some rusty air ducts less than six feet out from the window. The room itself seemed to be kind of meeting point for all of the building's plumbing systems; painted pipes ran down each corner and across the ceiling. Every few seconds, a glugging would come from a different part of the room. It was like sitting in a giant's stomach and listening to the after-effects of an underdone pizza.

Leroy had been allowed one phonecall, and a scratch team had been sent out for his rescue. Doris and Coco Hernandez sat across a desk from a detective called Harmon, whose eyes were as expressive as a couple of chips of slate. Leroy was out of it, sitting at the end of the desk and looking steamed. He'd used up all of his resources of persuasion, and they'd got him exactly nowhere.

'You see,' Doris went on, 'We were in the library tring to figure who took the cello.' She glanced at Julie for support, but Julie was out of it for the moment. She was sitting some way apart, examining the instrument minutely for marks or scratches. A mother who'd grabbed her only child out of the hands of a would-be molester could hardly have shown a deeper concern.

'Danny came up with this idea,' Coco explained but Doris interrupted.

'I think it was really Bruno who came up with it,' Doris said.

'Oh,' Coco said, and she smiled and shrugged at Detective Harmon. Harmon sighed heavily, and his eyes seemed to chase an invisible butterfly up and out of sight. 'I wasn't there.'

'It was me,' Leroy said miserably, and they all looked at him. 'I was the stupid jerk who thought of checking the pawnshops. I'm getting what I deserve.'

Julie had checked the pitch on each of the cello's strings; now she began to play.

It was one of the slower passages from the Haydn concerto. There was no piano handy to complement her, but the cello line stood up pretty well on its own. All activity in the Squad Room had stopped; a pickpocket who had been in the middle of giving his statement to a sergeant on the next desk sat with his mouth hanging open.

Julie smiled. This was more like it. It was something to get a decent hearing of the Haydn for the first time, as well.

As she finished, Detective Harmon cleared his throat.

'If that ain't your cello,' he said, 'it sure as hell ought to be.' He turned to Leroy. 'Get out of here.'

Doris looked at Coco, and they both grinned.

There was just a pop of imploding air to denote where Leroy had beeen sitting only a moment before.

The cancellation of Norman Benzer's oboe tutorial had given Shorofsky a gap in his timetable; Norman's mother telephoned in to say that he had the 'flu, and it hardly seemed fair to insist that he should come in and play when he could barely breathe. Purple-faced woodwind player weren't in the greatest demand on the orchestra circuits, unless you included the Muppets in the survey.

The break was unexpected, but it was welcome. It gave Shorofsky a chance to catch up on his administrative paperwork, something that he'd allowed to slip by in the constant bustle of the last few days. Top of the heap in his neglected desk drawer were the forms for the Festival of the Musical Arts. Now that he lineup and the lead had finally been decided, he could get the papers in and beat the deadline by a good three weeks.

It was something of a relief, the way things had worked out. Troy was now attending the School of the Arts on three days out of the week, and his other educational needs were being covered at the Chase. His first two weeks in class had still been a little uneasy, but the wall had come down brick by brick as the other students had realised that they were doing themselves no favours by making allowances for Troy. Natural abiltiy had already put him a little way ahead, and they were just fixing to increase his lead.

No, the Festival and the run-up to it were going to be good for everybody. He'd already noticed one or two changes in Coco Hernandez; she'd been on top of the hill for so long that she'd been starting to regard it as a right, not something that she'd have to work to maintain. Knocks to the ego were never pleasant to see, but sometimes they were necessary. In any case, Coco seemed to be handling it well. The way that she'd come through the death of her abuelita, the grandmother to whom she'd been so close, had been evidence enough of that.

Bruno Martelli had been another worry; Shorofsky had begun to sense that there were difficulties, not in the work that he was turning in but rather somewhere behind it. Problems at home weren't uncommon at the School of the Arts - parents often couldn't understand the workload and the attitudes of mind that the school encouraged - but none of the usual reasons seemed likely to apply in Bruno's case. Shorofsky had met Angelo Martelli on more than one occasion, and he'd been impressed by the man's enthusiasm for what his son was doing. Bruno had several thousand dollars' worth of electronic equipment, all finance on a cabdriver's pay; Angelo carried cassettes of all his son's work and made a point of playing them to his customers.

Shorofsky smiled to himself as he rummaged through the drawer. Perhaps Angelo ought to take out some special insurance. Exposure to Bruno's style of music could come as a pretty nasty surpise to anyone who'd been raise on an exclusive diet of the classics. Something deep inside Shorofsky still twinged with pain when he remembered Edvard Münch; A Howling in the Void.

No, any troubles that Bruno was having wouldn't be because he was meeting resistance at home. Shorofsky had been wondering whether to take him aside and fish around a little to see if he could help, but then he'd noticed something that reassured him. There had been a slight change in Bruno's approach to compostion; nothing too significant, just a shift in mood that told Shorofsky that the boy was finding his own way around his difficulties. As always, art and humanity were strengthening each other.

Two more layers down, Shorofsky found something that snapped his mind away from his responsibilities of supervision for a moment. It was the tutor's endorsement form for Julie Miller's scholarship entry. She'd given it to him - what? Almost six weeks ago? And it had been shuffled in with the festival papers. He turned it over, scanned down the notes on the reverse side.

Three days! It was only three days from the deadline! Putting all of the other papers to one side, Shorofsky took a Bic from his jacket pocket and spread the form on the blotter before him.

To miss the date would have been unforgivable. Without his endorsement, Julie's entry would have been disallowed. He spent so much time turning down excuses for the non-appearance of work that there was no way that he could go easy on himself for this one. Skin of your teeth, Benjamin. You deserve to sweat a little.

It would be a mistake to suppose that Julie didn't actually need the scholarship, just because she had all the appearance of a wealthy WASP background; white anglo-saxon protestants had their problems, too. Julie Miller's included her parents' wrecked marriage and a mother who took pride in the image of her daughter as a fine, sensitive cellist but who couldn't quite grasp the need for rigorous application that underpinned the image. Her father had moved out of town - Detroit, or somewhere further into he Midwest - and the costs of running two homes on a single executive salary meant that times had become as tight for Julie as they were for anybody.

Shorofsky got the form completed. He decided that he'd better make it a priority, and get it down to the school office and into the mail before he did anything else.

Mrs. Berg was in charge at the office, as always. Shorofsky's request was a simple one - to get an envleope typed and stamped so that Julie's form could go in the afternoon's mail - but with Mrs. Berg nothing was ever quite straightforward. Danny Amatullo had once been overheard by Lydia Grant saying that Mrs. Berg was a nice, nice lady blessed with a room-temperature IQ. Not too kind, but not too inaccurate, either.

Shorofsky was relieved to see that the form was passed to one of the other clerks to be dealt with . . . but Mrs. Berg wasn't going to let him go so easily. Her reason for handing the work along was that she wanted to persuade Shorofsky to buy one of a sheaf of charity football cards that she'd brought in.

'You see,' she explained. 'if the Rams win by four points, then that means they will cover this three and a half point spread. But if they only win by a field goal . . . '

'Are you sure this is a legal thing?' Shorofsky interrupted. He wouldn't have known a field goal if one had felled him.

'Oh, my,' Mrs. Berg said breathily, 'yes, the man who gave them to me said all the money you lose goes to this charity he runs.'

'And you believe him?'

'Oh, my, yes. You see, he also said you don't have to declare any money you might win. It's tax free because it comes from a charity, you see. He explained the whole thing to me.'

'Couldn't I just donate and get a receipt? That's the way most charities work.' A door opened behind Shorofsky, and Elizabeth Sherwood came into the office. He nodded amiabley to her as she went by, but the smile that he got in return seemed more than a little strained.

'That's the way most of them work,' Mrs. Berg went on as Elizabeth stopped by the mailboxes to check if there was anything for her, 'but he said this works differently.'

Shorofsky nodded. He didn't understand, but what the hell. It was only a dollar, even if they whole deal was probably as crooked as the slalom run in a skateboard park. He took out his Bic again, and started to fill out some of the choices on the card as Elizabeth joined him at the desk.

'Mrs. Berg,' she said, 'if you have a second . . . could you check my file and see how much sick leave I'm entitled to?'

'Right away,' Mrs. Berg said, and she moved away to the filing area.

Without looking up, Shorofsky said, 'Coming down with something?'

'I'm not sure,' Elizabeth said.

'There's a lot of that going around.'

There was a moment's silence, as if Elizabeth was regretting the transparent evasion and was trying to think of a way of showing it whilst still keeping the truth to herself. Then she said, 'Mister Shorofsky . . . do you ever get just plain fed up? Do you ever start to feel like you're beating your head against a stone wall?

Shorofsky thought it over. 'No,' he said. 'I've never known a day here that hasn't come up with at least one surprise and at least one thing to give me satisfaction.'

'You never had the feeling that you're doing the same thing over and over? You never want to do something far out and crazy . . . just to do it?'

Shorofsky slid one of the football cards over to her. 'Try filling out one of these,' he said. 'Far out, I'm not sure about, but crazy certainly applies.'

He smiled a farwell and then turned to go out into the lobby, leaving his card and his dollar on the desk behind him. At that moment, Mrs. Berg arrived with Elizabeth's file.

'Ten days,' she announced. 'It says here that you have ten days' sick leave entitlement left.'

Elizabeth nodded thoughtfully, and started away from the counter. After a couple of steps, she came back and reached for one of the football cards.

'I'll get this to you tomorrow,' she told Mrs. Berg. 'I've always been a sucker for a worthy cause.'

When David Reardon had passed the selection board to fill the vacant post of drama teacher at the School of the Arts, nobody had been more relieved than his father. When Reardon had first made the decision that he wanted to be a professional actor, he'd been around the same age as most of the kids that he now taught; his father had put a brave face on and made the best of it, saying that at least he now knew what kind of work his son was going to be out of.

But apart from a couple of really lean patches when he'd had to clear tables and wash dishes in the Flame Steaks restaurant on West Forty-Eighth and Broadway, Reardon had been able to keep up a decent employment record in a business where such an achievement tended to be exceptional. He'd always appeared young for his age, which meant that even up until he was twenty-three he was taking teenage parts with no loss of conviction but with a big reduction in headaches for theatre managements over state laws on the employment of juveniles. Afterwards, he just kept on working; he'd made his mark, and there were quite a number of casting directors who knew him and liked his work.

So teaching, for Dave Reardon, wasn't the refuge of a professional failure. He'd first been led around to the idea by a girlfriend that he'd been trying to impress at the time; she helped out with a youth theatre over on the West Side of Manhattan, and he'd shown a willingness to go along. He and the girl had gone their separate ways, but the bug had stayed with him. Teaching drama wasn't an alternative to acting; it was all of the same satisfations, plus an indefinable something extra.

The school itself and the people in it were also an endless source of interest and curiosity. You never knew what was going to be asked of you next - especially when it was someone like Mrs. Berg doing the asking.

'Mr. Reardon,' she said, catching him up in the corridor one day. 'Do you know much about sports and things?'

'Uh . . . a little,' Reardon said, wondering exactly what might be on the papers that Mrs. Berg was studying with such puzzlement.

'Well, then,' she said, 'Maybe you can help me.'

There didn't seem to be any escape. Reardon stopped, and waited to hear it.

'You see, I forget,' Mrs. Berg said, shuffling the papers and checking both sides as if she was looking for a ladybug that had somehow got mixed up in there. 'Is it the Raiders or the Chargers who never do diddley on artificial turf?'

Leroy had to walk around Danny Amatullo and Diana Huddleston to get into the English class. There were smack in the middle of the corridor, and there sure as hell wasn't any way to get between them.

He almost sighed. White folks looked so dumb when they fell for this whole love thing; a little surge of the hormones and they turned into Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald. Only three weeks ago, they'd had the knives out for each other - Diana because Danny had been feeding her bought-in dialogue, and Danny because Diana was swallowing it without a complaint. Now look at them.

Give it another three weeks, Leroy thought, and they'll be back to nodding Hi in the corridors as they pass.

Leroy had other things to think about, as well. His contribution to the team effort of the John O'Hara term paper was progressing exactly nowhere.

He supposed that there were ways around it, but he already knew that none of the obvious ones were going to get him anywhere. Doris Schwartz had already joked that the team was probably going to carry him, and there was no way that Leroy was about to let that happen. Cheating might get him through, but in the end the only one that he'd really be cheating would be himself.

No, Sherwood was always going on about how, if there was any problem or anything they wanted to ask, her door was always open. Well, now she was going to get a guest on the invitation. It had taken Leroy a lot of soul-searching to get this far; showing enough interest in school work to actually go to a teacher and ask questions - one-to-one, with nobody pushing him and nobody telling him what to do - tended to go against everything that Leroy in his earlier life had believed.

But that had been in his earlier life. That was before he'd discovered dancing, real, disciplined hard-work dancing as opposed to just freaking around to a boom-box in a back alley to impress the girls. Study was the price for going on . . . but for Leroy and dancing, no price could be too high.

He walked into the classroom. Sherwood wasn't there.

A substitute teacher was seated at the desk, glancing over her lesson plan. She looked up as Leroy came in, the first of the students to arrive.

'Good morning,' she said. 'I'm Miss Hardy.'

'Where's Sherwood?'

'I imagine she's sick.'

'What with?'

They don't tell me that. They just tell me a teacher will be absent and then they tell me where to go.'

The bell rang, and the classroom filled. Leroy sat in silence as the roll was called, feeling as if he'd been robbed. It had taken a week to get himself up to this, and now the enemy had run off and gone to ground. He couldn't talk to no substitute. It had to be Sherwood or nobody.
 
 
 

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