Main > Series > Chapters > Fame Book 2 > Chapter 11

That afternoon, the school was hit by a whirlwind.

     The whirlwind was Doris Schwartz, back in top spirits. People were finding themselves cornered by the lockers, in the classrooms, within the sound-proof doors of the practice cubicles; by three o'clock, she'd recruited her army and handed out their assignments. Signs were to be painted, posters were to be hung. Two separate squads of decorators were to assemble materials from the scene shops and work on the main hall and the corridors. Tickets were to be printed that same afternoon, and suddenly everybody was a ticket agent. Within the space of half an hour, she'd got together two live bands and a disco.

     And when she ran out of kids to pressure, she started on parents.

     Without specifically explaining her intentions, Doris had decided to fix her sights on co-opting single parents - the widows, the widowers, and the divorcees - into carrying out lightweight supportive duties like a spell of door security or cloakroom supervision. Doris saw it as worthwhile social work; for somebody like Julie's mother, Charlotte Miller, who wouldn't have been seen dead in a singles bar, it would be a chance to mingle with unattached people of her own age that she'd never find elsewhere. Doris never said as much, of course, nor did she allow anybody to find out how selective she was being in her approaches; although she nearly blew the game by humming Matchmaker, Matchmaker as she walked away from Julie after getting a promise that she'd bring up the subject with her mother that evening.

     Bruno agreed to mention it to Angelo. He still hadn't raised the subject of Nancy, and he wasn't sure that he ever would; although Bruno didn't like the idea of keeping such a secret from his father, he had the feeling that, given a couple of weeks, there wouldn't be anything to cover over. Like a puddle in the noonday sun, Nancy had said; trying to carry on was only going to make it hurt more in the end. They couldn't date because of her job, and if they could they had hardly any common interests; and beyond that, mutual respect would prevent the relationship from turning into anything more seamy . . . dammit.

     Doris admitted to some of the same feelings. 'I don't know what to do,' she said. 'I never liked a guy that liked me back . . . and I really like this guy.'

     'Yeah,' Bruno said. But somehow, there seemed to be nothing unacceptable in the idea of a girl getting together with a man who was seven or eight years older than she was; his own case was different. He went on, 'I never liked a woman who was thirty years old, either. Do you realise that when she was my age, I was in kindergarten?'

     Julie's advice to Doris, as the two of them and Coco Hernandez cleared up their books at the end of Elizabeth Sherwood's English lesson that wound up the afternoon, was offhand and frank.

     'Just remember,' she said, 'you've got to play hard to get. You can't just always be there for him because then he'll lose interest.'

     'She's right,' Coco added. 'She really is.'

     'Make him think you have other interests,' Julie said. 'That the sun doesn't rise and set on him.'

     This was all new to Doris; her life so far hadn't exactly been filled with a parade of paramours, and she found it hard to adjust to the idea that she should regard Will as a fish on a line to be played and finally netted or thrown back.

     'You make it too easy,' Coco warned, 'and he'll be gone.'

     Enough was enough. 'I'm going to an expert,' Doris announced suddenly. 'I'll see you later.'

     Elizabeth Sherwood had almost made it to the teachers' lounge when Doris caught up with her. Elizabeth immediately started running through a list of pre-prepared excuses to avoid further involvement in the Alumni Day plans, but she soon realised that none of them were going to be necessary. Doris's problem was personal, and she was looking for advice only.

     'I met a guy,' she explained as they walked along, 'and . . . well, this is all new for me, and I'm a little confused . . . and I thought that you'd be the best one to talk to. You know, about guys, and relationships.'

     For a moment, Elizabeth wondered with a twinge of horror whether the word had finally got out concerning  her one brief dalliance with video dating, around the middle of the last term. The truth was that it hadn't been the disaster she'd feared; Dennis Mitchell was a nice guy and they still met for occasional dates, but on the light summer evening that they'd taken a horsedrawn cab around Central Park she'd wanted to sit there with a paper bag over her head in case one of the students saw and guessed the truth. Not that there would have looked like an ordinary date, but Elizabeth had felt as if she was wearing the Lonely Hearts stigma like a tattoo.

     Her first reaction was of evasion. But then she said, 'Okay, Doris. Go on.'

     As Elizabeth steered them into the nearest vacant classroom - it was now the end of the day, and the School of the Arts was emptying fast and leaving only the dance rehearsal crowd - Doris said, 'I don't want to do the wrong thing, Miss Sherwood. Because if it doesn't work out, I know I'll feel bad - but not as bad as I'll feel if I know that I screwed it up, if I know that I lost out on something that could have been really good if only I'd done the right thing. Do you know what I mean?'

     Elizabeth considered before speaking. Doris plunged into the gap, and rattled straight on. 'Julie says I've got to be cool,' she said. 'Play hard to get, because guys only go for the challenge. And then once they've got you hooked, they lose interest and move on . . . Coco says the same thing. But that doens't make any sense, does it?'

     Elizabeth took a breath - but an Amtrak express would have been easier to get off the rails than Doris Schwartz in her present frame of mind. 'Because couples would never get together,' Doris went on. 'And if  you have to ignore someone to keep their attention, well, who wants to be with someone who ignores you? I think that if you feel it, you should put it out there because  that's what relationships are all about. I mean, it wouldn't be fun for me if Will didn't let me know how much he liked me. That's what I like the most! So why shouldn't I let him know how I feel? And besides, if he isn't playing hard to get, and I'm not losing interest, then why should he lose interest if I don't play hard to get? I mean, it's just so much fun letting each other know how we feel. Do you know what I mean?'

     There was a long silence as Elizabeth tried to absorb the Schwartz monologue. She thought that she'd got the point that Doris had been trying to put over, but she couldn't be entirely sure.

     'Well,' Doris said, almost plaintively. 'Do you?'

     Elizabeth chose her words carefully. 'I think that what you mean is that men and women seem determined to put up obstacles that stand in the way of really getting to know each other. I think you're saying that romance can be the most wonderful and terrible and delightful and painful thing in the world. And if you're asking a question . . . I'm here to tell you that I don't think there's an answer.'

     She wondered if she ought to be putting it so brutally, but then she saw that Doris was almost beaming.

     'Thanks, Miss Sherwood,' she said. 'Talking to you always helps clear things up.' And she headed for the door; there were tickets to be collected, posters to be checked, and more friends to be blackmailed.

     'Any time, Doris,' Elizabeth called after her, and she tried to think over what she'd said.

     Apparently, there was great wisdom in there somewhere. It seemed a shame to be missing out on it.

Reardon had spoken to Leroy briefly to congratulate him on landing the main role in the Alumni Day show, albeit by a roundabout route. Leroy hadn't exactly seemed cheered by the news, and when Reardon had asked why he'd explained about the clash of the match and the dress rehearsal. Furthermore, the tailing-off of involvement that he'd been counting on to give him more coaching time had now become an intesification as he worked every evening to get the routine right. Reardon had almost been on the point of making another offer, but then he'd told himself no. It was Leroy's fight, and Reardon couldn't take it over. Besides, he simply didn't believe that the team could be brought up to any kind of standard in less than a week; it was barely enough time to get them forming straight lines in practice sessions. Brother Timothy had taken over the coaching for these last few days, and Reardon had decided that somebody in that line of work had a better chance of influencing events than an army of PT instructors.

     On his way home from school, Reardon stopped by a small photo processing laboratory close to the Statler Hilton. A 'Discreet service' was what they offered, which meant that they handled a lot of work from the low-grade porno studios around the Times Square district, the kind of place where ordinary Joes came in off the streets and paid twenty-five dollars for the hire of a camera and ten minutes' heavy sweating in the presence of a nude model. The shots were mostly shaky and hardly ever in focus, but the Joe had paid for his prints and was entitled to value.

     Reardon's purpose in visiting such a place was to get his hands on the rehearsal photographs from Saturday afternoon before anybody else did. Rather more than his face was on display; the world had been getting by so far without his appendicitis scar being made public, and he was determined to keep it that way. He knew that Morey, friend of the weirdo director and so-called photographer, had been planning to collect the prints at seven, but Reardon beat him to it by an hour. He claimed that he'd forgotten the green slip that he was supposed to bring along, but since he could describe the contents of the shots and was recognisable in a number of them, the dealer handed them over for fifteen dollars cash with no objections.

     'Listen,' he said as he slid the envelope across the desk. 'I don't mean to cause offence. But will you tell your friend, I only handle straight obscenity here? I mean, no more orgies. I got a fifteen-year-old boy working in the back, and I got to think of his moral welfare.'

     Reardon sneaked a peek at the prints on the subway, and found that it was possible to flush hot and cold at the same time. He'd never seen anything that embarrassed him so much, and he reflected with relief that it was the best fifteen dollars that he'd ever spent. He wasn't too hard pinning blame on each other to worry too much about a set of rehearsal shots. He could burn them later.

     Burning was exactly what he smelled as he climbed the stairs to his apartment. Bernie Rettig met him in the doorway, puffing on a huge cigar that put out more smoke than a '54 Buick with a cracked block. Seeing Bernie for the first time after all these years had been something of a shock; he'd put on a lot of weight and lost a lot of hair, and he seemed almost to be of another generation. Although Bernie didn't seem to have noticed, Reardon had been feeling edgy and uncomfortable since the beginning of the visit.

     He made his way past into the apartment. 'I asked you not to smoke those things,' he complained, but Bernie was unbowed.

     'Got to smoke them, man,' he said. 'They'll kill you if you eat 'em.'

     'Dammit, Bernie, I'm serious.'

     The switch in Bernie's manner was so sudden and unexpected that Reardon almost dropped his briefcase and all of his stuff.

     'Okay,' Bernie said, stubbing out the cigar. 'I'll leave.'

     'What . . . ' Reardon began, completely thrown, but Bernie showed his empty hands.

     'I'll leave,' he said. 'Take off.'

     'Hey, now, don't get bummed out just because . . . '

     'Actually,' Bernie went on as if he hadn't heard, 'I can leave now, seeing as I'm already packed.'

     These sudden shifts in gear were baffling to Reardon, as if he'd accidentally skipped a couple of pages in a book and was expected to carry on making sense of the story. 'You say you're packed . . . '

     'Started about three o'clock this afternoon,' Bernie said, and then he decided to take Reardon off the hook. He smiled and went on, 'When the paper called and said I had to go to Cleveland on assignment. They didn't even offer hardship pay either.'

     Now Reardon was feeling sheepish. He was also feeling guilty for hitting Bernie with a moan as soon as he got through the door; it was just that any kind of tobacco smoke made him want to gag, and the idea of the stuff stinking up his curtains and his furniture was enough to make his skin crawl. He moved into the sitting area, and dropped all of his gear onto the couch in a heap that he could sort out later.

     'I admit it,' he said. 'You had me going.'

     Bernie opened the 'fridge in the kitchen alcove, and brought out a six-pack of Coors beer. 'Well, some rock star from Cleveland got killed,' he said, peeling one of the cans off the plastic template and tossing it to Reardon. 'They want me to cover the funeral, get pictures of any groupies or lovers who might show up.' He saw then that Reardon's look was somewhat disapproving, and he said, 'Hey, it's a dirty job, but someone's got to do it.'

     'Why?'

      Bernie was blank. 'Say again?'

     'Why is it necessary to "cover" some guy's funeral just to see who he was involved with? Who does it help? Who benefits?'

     'Frankly,' Reardon said, popping the ringpull on the can, 'it seems ghoulish. I remember all that talk about journalism's responsiblility, and the role of an investigative reporter.'

     'Yeah, well,' Bernie said, with a shade of an edge. 'You were going to be a great actor; I was going to be a great reporter. We both made some compromises along the way. That's life.'

     'But when I do my job well, I'm proud of what I've accomplished. I'm proud because, in some way or other, that means I've helped a kid. I don't see where you can say anything like that.'

     For a few moments, Bernie Rettig's eyes were impossible to read. Then he said, 'Well, that "pride" stuff - that's a little hard to come by in my racket.'

     It was awkward, but Reardon knew that if he tried to apologise it would only sould false. Bernie took a drink straight from the can, and Reardon went into the kitchen alcove to get himself a glass.

     'Hey,' Bernie called to him after half a minute, the earlier mood apparently forgotten, 'I'm putting together a wall of pictures back in my place on the coast. Kid pictures, sweethearts, the people I worked with. You got any shots from when we were in school?'

     'I'm not sure,' Reardon said. For some reason, all of his glasses had migrated to the back of the cupboard where they were now jammed together like mortarless bricks. 'There's a box on the bottom shelf of the bookcase, there.'

     There was a silence, and then Bernie called through, 'I got it.'

     Out in the sitting area, Bernie hadn't moved from the couch. He didn't need to go over to any bookcase; one of the photographs that he'd just found in the envelope beside him would do fine.

     For what he had in mind, anyway.
 
 
 

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