Main > Series > Chapters > Fame Book 1 > Chapter 2

'You're late, man,' Leroy Johnson said as Bruno came in through the dance classroom door. Barely glancing at his friends, he headed straight for the piano and spread his music out on the stand. Coco Hernandez was over by the wall of mirrors, looking just a little cold and fierce, but Bruno knew that this would be frustration rather than anger; Coco was just too small a container to keep so much energy squeeezed up inside for long. It looked as if she and Leroy had been spending the time going through their dance number, but it was the song which needed the more work.

'A piano player is late,' Bruno said, running a couple of scales to warm up and get his hands relaxed. 'A pianist is detained.' It was a battered old instrument, twice-painted and with none of its castors matching, but the quality of the original tone was still there. He tried a little Chopin, a little Scott Joplin. Bruno had been working on his ARP synthesizer in the basement back home, staying awake until three a.m. to get Coco's arrangement finished, and he always needed a few minutes' practice to make the switch between the types of keyboard.

Coco came around to stand by him, looking over the music. 'Ready when you are, Liberace,' she said, and Bruno winced.

Playing only the right-hand line, he took her through the song. She only needed to hear most of it once, even though there was the muffled sound of Greek bouzouki music from the Dansette record player in the next room as the freshman class groaned through their stretching exercises. Bruno was half-expecting to hear selections from A Chorus Line or Annie filtering down from Shorofsky's music studio upstairs, but presumably the mid-term auditions that Bruno had seen announced on a blackboard down in the lobby hallway weren't due to start until later.

You had to feel sorry for Shorofsky, sometimes; for years he'd sat through audition after audition where kids without a scrap of real musical talent stood before him and sang Yesterday, and now later generations of the same bright-eyed hopefuls were standing up before him and singing Tomorrow. Philosophy was his only protection, because sometimes - just sometimes - it was possible to turn up some real gold from all the doors. Or to put it another way, as he'd once explained to Julie Miller as she'd bowed her way through a particularly unrewarding set of cello exercises that she'd been given on assignment, if you're hoping to marry a prince then you have to kiss an awful lot of frogs.

'Got it?' Bruno said as he finished the melody line, and Coco nodded. She was frowning slightly, her eyes still on the music, running ahead of Bruno and trying to second-guess some of the technical problems she was likely to hit when it came to the run-through. Watching her at work always reminded Bruno of a demolition team that he'd watched laying dynamite to bring down a Queens tenament block when he'd been six years old. The final effect had been overwhelming, but the real secret had been in the planning and the placing of the charges.

'I got it,' Coco said. 'Let's run it through.'

Leroy had stayed quiet up until now, and he held out a little longer as Coco tried the song, warming into it as she got the mood and the right angle of attack. She didn't drop a note or miss a cue, and even at this early stage it was possible to see the sketchy outlines of what would make an apparently spontaneous performance.

'Coco,' Leroy said as she finished, 'the gig is ours.'

'Leroy,' she said, giving him a narrow look because she knew that he was only doing it to provoke her, 'this is not a "gig". This is the International Festival of the Musical Arts.'

'So?' Leroy said, teasing her further.

'So there can only be one lead singer.'

'And who could that be?'

'It better be me.'

You bet, Bruno thought, flipping his score back to the opening for another run-through. There's one charging tiger I wouldn't care to try stopping. There was a feeling that Elizabeth Sherwood hadn't been able to shake all morning. She'd even forgotten to come down hard on her junior year English grammar class for making the school record in unreturned mid-trimester papers, and when David Reardon had stared to tell her about the role-playing exercise devised by some of his students in which she'd been portrayed as a thinly-disguised Oscar the Grouch giving hell to all of Sesame Street, he'd quickly wound up the story on seeing that she was unfocussed and only half-listening.

It wasn't that she couldn't identify the feeling; it was guilt. The tough part was trying to guess why.

At least she knew what had started it. On her way in this morning, not far from the Radio City Music Hall, she'd seen a sight that was hardly a rarity on the street of Manhattan; a man, presumably homeless, curled up and asleep on one of the metal sidewalk grilles in the shadow of the multimillion-dollar Rockefeller Centre. It was a common enough move practised by bag ladies and modern-day hobos, a way of keeping warm in the updrafts from the sixth avenue subway, and everybody passing by had simply stepped around to give him space. When a cop came along the man woud get moved, but until then it was nobody's business.

Elizabeth had glimpsed him for only a moment, hardly paying attention at all. He'd wrapped himself in a black coat, and the heels of his shoes had been worn right down to the nails and beyond. The only skin showing was on the knuckles that held the coat lapel closed, and just a little of the face that showed from behind that.

Fifty yards or so further down the avenue, she'd started to think about Nick.

She hadn't spoken to her ex-husband in a couple of years, and she had no reason to speak to him now. It was ridiculous. Nick would be doing fine, wherever he'd wound up; that brief image of a wasted life was a common street scene, not an omen. You can't live with someone and not come away with memories of occasional vulnerability, she told herself; Nick could also be strong and extremely self-assertive. In fact, that had been a lot of the problem - two self-assertive characters in such close contact had generated too much heat for comfort.

But still she felt guilty, and she didn't know why. Was it because they'd been out of touch for so long? But that was hardly a reason for guilt - they were divorced. Perhaps it was just because she'd made the connection, like the awful feeling she'd had that time after seeing an old lady berating an empty chair in the Chock Full O'Nuts and then having a sudden urge to phone her mother.

It was a riddle. If she couldn't solve it, then she'd have to drive it out of her mind.

Down in the school office, picking up the papers that she'd need to look over before sitting in on the eleven o'clock auditions, she found something that did the job in less than five seconds.

'Worst penmanship I ever saw,' Mrs. Berg commented as she handed over the first of the files with its hadwritten application form clipped to the front. 'I can barely make out the name. I think it's Phillips, Troy Phillips.'

Elizabeth saw that Mrs. Berg was right; the form was almost illegible, and looked more like the work of a six year old than of a child of high school age. She skimmed over the categories once and then, with a sudden jolt of horror, started to read again, more slowly.

'Something wrong?' Mrs. Berg said.

It was a moment before Elizabeth could react. 'No,' she began. 'I just recognised . . .' but then she let it tail away. 'Excuse me,' she said, and she gathered up the form and the files and headed out of the office.

There was a telephone free in the faculty lounge. Checking against the address on Troy Phillips' application form, Elizabeth looked up the Phillips number in the Manhattan Central directory that spent most of its time holding up one corner of a broken coffee table. She dialed, and waited. She had to do this, she told herself. She had to make sure that her first reaction had been a mistake.

After a few moments, the phone was lifted. 'Phillips', a woman's voice said.

'Helen Phillips?' Elizabeth sid with a sinking feeling, knowing now that there was no mistake.

'That's right. Who's this?'

'It's me, Helen, Elizabeth Sherwood. Remember?'
 

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