Main > Series > Chapters > Fame Book 1 > Chapter 23

By eight fifty-five in the morning, most of the breakfast crowd had cleared from Edelstein's Deli. They left only a couple of misplaced tourists and a few older customers in no particular hurry to get anywhere.

Edelstein had sold out and gone to Florida ten years before, but the name had stayed. The current owner had run a roadside diner in upstate New York before buying the lease and taking over the business. Since coming to the city he'd been robbed once, and his street window broken twice, and had had his best day's business when crowds had gathered on the pavement outside to watch a would-be suicide tottering indecisively on a ledge five floors up. For six hours the leaper had hesitated before allowing himself to be talked back inside, in which time the deli owner had turned over enough profit for his wife to refurnish their entire apartment.

Joe Grabowski reckoned that he'd seen enough of it all to recognise any problem before it actually arrived in his lap.

But he'd never seen anything quite like this.

About a dozen kids came sneaking in like they were commandos in a war movie. They were boys and girls, alternating like the teeth in a zipper, and as if at a command they spread out and took seats in the booths and at the tables in a way that suggested they were following some floor plan.

Two of them came to the counter; Grabowski noted with some alarm that they were awfully close to the cash register. The girl had a cassette recorder that she put on the counter by her menu.

'Two coffees, please,' Coco said brightly as Grabowski went towards her with his order pad, and then she indicated all of the other kids who had followed her in. 'Just coffee for them, too.'

'All of them?' Grabowski said, surprised.

'Yeah. And put it on my check.'

As the owner lined up the coffee cups for filling, Leroy sat and drummed his fingers on the counter top. The more he thought about this - and he'd been thinking about it a lot - the more doomed the whole enterprise seemed to be. Coco, however, appeared to think that they couldn't miss.

She nudged his arm. 'That's him!' she said in a fierce whisper.

Leroy looked along the counter to the Danish case. He saw a man in his fifties, fairly handsome, expensive suit and a sunbed tan. When he looked back at Coco, he saw that she was hiding her face behind her menu.

'You don't have to do that,' Leroy said. 'He doesn't know who you are.'

'I know what I'm doing,' Coco said, and she gave everbody the standby signal and then hit the play button.

Charles McKay was just being handed his regular order, when the roof seemed to blow off the deli.

Coco had wound the volume of the cassette recorder up as high as it would go, and as the first bars of Bet Your Life It's Me shook the walls all of the kids leapt from the booths and fell into place behind Coco McKay, Grabowski, and the rest of the regular customers just stood or sat around with stunned expressions as they suddenly found themselves sitting in the middle of a Gene Kelly movie.

The dancers launched into their routine, Coco launched into the song, and from Bar One the whole deal started to com unstuck.

They bumped, they clashed, they missed cues. It was a bad time to find out that a routine hammered out in a studio couldn't be transferred without preparation and rehearsal to a real-life venur; people and furniture were in the way, and the composition floor was too slippery. Leroy almost took a fall, and someone else got tangled up in the hatstand when they should have been doing a spin. There was just enough time for it to look really bad, before the recorder's batteries started to give out.

The music sagged, it warbled. Finally it ground to a merciful halt, and so did the team.

McKay blinked once, paid for his coffee and Danish, and headed for the door. Coco caught up with him before he got there, leaving the debris of her big chance scattered around the deli behind her.

'Mister McKay,' she said breathlessly, 'I'm sorry, but I couldn't get into your auditions, so this was the only way. We didn't have time to rehearse . . . and I forgot to check the batteries . . . and . . . ' Coco realised what she must be sounding like, but she couldn't help it. She'd be sounding like an outright amateur, one of those no-hopers who appeared on cable TV talent shows singing Feelings while someone played a Yamaha organ for accompaniment.

'Anyway,' she finished lamely, 'here's my résumé.' She thrust the three stapled sheets of paper into his hand. 'I think I'd be perfect for Angela.'

Charles McKay, dancer turned choreographer turned movie director turned fugitive, finally made it out of the door.

'Know what?' Leroy said as Coco looked forlornly after the disappearing figure out on the sidewalk. 'You were right. You should've kept your face hidden.'

He went out, and the others followed. Fiasco hadn't been the word for it.

And she still had to pick up the check for fifteen coffees.

It would have been wrong to say that Coco's spirits made any fast recovery, but at least by the time that the mid-day break came around she was able to make an appearance in the lunchroom. In the middle of the usual chaos, Coco was an island of silence. Apart from promising Leroy some help with his semester showcase - she could hardly do less, considering what she'd put him through - Coco sat back and let Doris make most of the noise.

Doris had forgone her ususal lunch in favour of a brown bag that appeared to contain nothing more than celery stalks. Danny and Julie Miller were seated on either side of her, and she was favoring them with alternating looks of irritation.

'Is it really necessary to flaunt all that food?' she wanted to know.

'We're not flaunting it,' Danny said as he unloaded an apparently bottomless lunch bag, 'we're eating it.'

Doris looked at the tray that Julie had brought from the hot lunch counter. 'From where I sit,' she said, 'it's definitley flaunting. I mean, who has three beef tacos with chocolate pudding?'

'Doris,' Julie said with a stab at tact, 'you might be expecting too much if you think food is going to disappear. You can't expect the rest of the school to go on a diet with you.'

'Why not? I go on fire drills with everybody else, the least they can do is go on a diet with me.'

Julie shook her head sorrowfully. 'Too bad celery can't have a million calories and chocolate cake have zero.'

Danny said, 'Then she couldn't live without celery.'

The exchange went on, but Coco wasn't listening. One of the music freshmen had stopped by the table with a note for her that had been sent up from the office by Mrs. Berg; after unsealing the envelope and reading it through, she simply sat staring at the paper in her hand. Leroy was closest to her, and with no trace of shame he leaned across and read over her shoulder.

Enjoyed the show very much, the note said, not to mention the chutzpah. If you can act, too, come to my office on Friday and read something for me. It was signed Sincerely - Charles McKay.

Too stunned to speak right away, Coco handed the note around. When she was finally able to find words, she said, 'It worked! It actually worked!'

'Great stuff!' Danny said, and there was a chorus of much the same from the others.

Julie said, 'How does it feel?'

'I don't know . . . wonderful.'

'Aren't you nervous?' Doris wanted to know.

'Nervous?' Coco said. 'No way. This is my shot, it's what I've been dreaming of all my life. I'm too high to be nervous.' She turned to Leroy. 'Come on, Leroy,' she said, 'admit it. You were wrong.'

'I wasn't wrong,' Leroy said. 'We were fools. How'd I know that's what McKay was looking for?'

But Coco was too high to be brought down. She pushed her chair back and stood, suddenly full of purpose and direction. 'I've got to go find Reardon.' she said.

'Hey,' Leroy called after her, 'what about my showcase?'

'Next week!' she called back over her shoulder.

'It's supposed to be ready next week!'

But Leroy was wasting his time. Coco was already out of the room, disappearing through a crowd of new arrivals in the doorway. There wasn't more than a half-second's pause before Doris was on her feet and following.

She managed to catch up before Coco had reached the teachers' lounge; if Reardon wasn't there, at least they'd be able to tell Coco where he was. Getting level, Doris said, 'Look, I know you're in a hurry. But I need you for thirty seconds.'

'Can't it wait?'

'What are you, a bakery? I have to take a number? No, it can't wait.'

Coco could see that Doris was serious. 'Okay,' she said, 'thirty seconds.' Thirty seconds was about the most that she felt she could manage standing still without exploding.

Doris took a breath, and launched in. 'All the rest of us, we screw up sometimes. We think we want one thing and then we think we want another thing. But you - you never lose sight of it. How do you do that?'

It wasn't a question that Coco had ever given any great thought to. She said, 'I don't know. I honestly don't. I just do what feels right.'

'We all do that, Coco, but with you things actually happen. They call it "Halo effect".'

'"Halo effect?"' Coco said. The term was new to her, but it sounded good. Although she wouldn't have wanted to admit it, a secret and ungenerous part of her mind was urging her to look upon this conversation not as a sharing between equals, but as a meeting of celebrity and fan. 'I don't know,' she said. 'Maybe you're right. Things are going good right now.'

'Don't you ever get . . . lost?'

'Sometimes. Usually I just go to Bruno, and he manages to say something that puts me back in focus.'

To Bruno? Doris had been thinking that she was the only one who leaned on Bruno when times got rocky, but it seemed that she was wrong.

'Thanks for the thirty seconds,' she said. 'Go start the revolution.'

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