Main > Series > Chapters > Fame Book 2 > Chapter 15

Of all the people who'd promised to come in over the weekend and help out with the major moving and set decoration of the school, just over half put in an appearance. Doris reflected wearily that this was about what she should have expected; hanging streamers and punching staples just didn't have the glitter about it that was needed to pull people in from their spare time activities. Half the numbers meant twice the work; the worst of it was that she had to call Will at Kickers and explain why she was going to have to break both of their Saturday and Sunday night dates. He'd said that he understood, but she still felt anxious; what if he thought that this was just some coy attempt to play hard to get? He knew that she was young, but she didn't want him thinking that she was immature as well.

     The kids on the lighting course slowed everything up, running cables wherever she wanted to hang banners and making the banner-hangers wait around until they'd finished; and then, when the banners were finally up, the crew would come along and tear them down again because they'd miscalculated and had to run the cables by other routes. Some of the hay bales were breaking up, and some of them contained distinct signs of life; and the brewery barrels were filthy, and had to be taken out back of the school and scrubbed down under the jet of a hose.

     Doris thought that she'd never in her life greet a Monday morning with such relief.

     She still had a long list of things that had to be done, but these were last-minute jobs that would have to be fitted in around classes and after school. She was finding that the staff were, for once, unusually tolerant of her absences and omissions; it was a simple fact that, if Doris's efforts fell through, they themselves would probably have to take over the task of organization.

     Doris probably couldn't have said why she'd willingly taken on such an enormous burden. Perhaps it was just the most basic motivation of all, that she wanted to be liked. She didn't have Julie Miller's looks, and she didn't have Coco Hernandez's go-get-'em energy; Michelle and Smokey Smolinsky were being pestered for dates all the time, and nobody got up and walked away from a conversation when Kelly Hayden had just joined it. No, when you were Doris Schwartz, you had to work at it.

     Unfortunately, the harder she worked, the further away her popularity seemed to get. Like at Friday's mid-afternoon meeting, when she'd asked Michael Kesey if he'd finished the copy for all of the signs yet.

     'Doris,' he'd said, 'we've gone over the copy three times. And you've changed it three times.'


     'So when you decide what it is you want to say, we'll make the signs.'

     Then she'd asked Smokey Smolinsky about the decorations.

     'Which ones?' Smokey had said. 'The ones you decided should be soft and subtle, or the ones you wanted to have "zip" and "pizzazz"?'

     'Didn't we decide to go with bright, sunshiny colours?'

     'We did, until you changed your mind.'

     'Well, okay. Just make sure we get plenty of texture. I'll give you some ideas later. Maybe we should schedule another meeting for after school.'

     The general groan that had gone up at the suggestion of yet another meeting had been the first indication to Doris that she wasn't exactly top of everybody's poll at the moment. It came as something of a shock. After all, who was she working for, if not for them? And then the low weekend turnout - she found that she was beginning to take it personally. More than anything, she wanted to go to Will Gunther and explain. Will would make her feel better.

     But, until Alumni Day was over, she'd have to make do with the occasional snatched phone call. She was tied up at the school every day and for the early part of the evening, and he was working until late at Kickers. Until Thursday, that was, when he and the rest of the band would be climbing onto a plane for Miami and flying away to a six-week engagement that would seem like forever . . . life wasn't exactly at its best for Doris Schwartz at the moment. It was difficult to believe how high she'd felt only a few days back, compared to how low she was beginning to feel now.

     But there was only going to be one way through it. Clear the mind of all distractions, and carry on.

     She used Monday's study hall period to compile the list of alumni escorts. These were kids who were going to give up some of their time on the Big Day to take groups of the former pupils around the school and give an account of current work in progress. They mostly didn't know it yet, but that's what they were going to do; Doris made a point of running down the list on her clipboard and picking out the names of everyone who'd promised an appearance over the weekend and then hadn't delivered. This wasn't going to do her popularity andy good, either, but it was better than asking for volunteers and getting only a show of bowed heads.

     When she'd made copies of the lists and was trying to pin them together, the library's stapler jammed. She tried to free it, and nearly broke a nail. Oh, great, this was all she needed. She picked up the papers and the stapler together, and headed down towards the school office.

     Mrs. Berg was behind the counter, sitting on her swivel chair with her nose buried in a tabloid newspaper. She didn't seem to hear Doris when she came in.

     'Mrs. Berg,' Doris began, 'are there some pincers or pliers or anything around?' But it was immediately clear that Mrs. Berg was a million miles away and hearing nothing.

     'Earth to Mrs. Berg,' Doris said. 'Come in, Mrs. Berg.'

     The office clerk now half-acknowledged Doris, absently waving a hand of farewell in her direction.

     'Come back later,' she said. 'Much later.'

     But the Schwartz curiosity had been aroused. Doris leaned across the desk to see what it was that had Mrs. Berg so engrossed. It was a colour tabloid with big splash headlines, the kind that are mostly sold at supermarket checkouts.

     'Mrs. Berg!' Doris said, with some surprise. 'You read the National Investigator?'

     Mrs. Berg looked around at once, in case anybody had heard. 'Of course not,' she said, getting up and moving over to the counter so that she could keep her voice down. 'I never even knew such a thing existed. But someone . . . some horribly twisted person . . . pushed one through my door this morning.'

     'And you had to read it from cover to cover to prove how awful it was.'

     'Exactly.' Mrs. Berg's eyes were positively gleaming. 'I mean, some of the things they write about. There was this rock star from Cleveland, he was killed in a car crash last week and the funeral was on Friday. You wouldn't believe some of the faces they spotted in the mourners. You know, people he'd been . . . involved with. But there's something else, something you'd never guess. There's this article about . . . ' She strained a little to recall, leafing through the pages. By now, Mrs. Berg was getting quite excited and conspiratorial. 'It was about sex and the single men in our cities, or some such thing . . . and there are pictures.' She looked around, to make certain that she was unheard. 'Mark Spitz, eat your heart out.'

     'Mrs. Berg,' Doris said delicately, 'what you do in the privacy of your own home is up to you, but . . .'

     'I'm getting to the best part,' Mrs. Berg said, overriding her. 'The young man is Mister Reardon.'

     She spread the Investigator on the counter, turning it around so that Doris could see.

     It was true. It was true! The photograph was full-length, and David Reardon was wearing a little smile and not much else. She read the caption underneath the picture; This blond tiger is a perfect example of the predatory contemporary male presently roaming the urban sexual jungle . . .

     'Mrs. Berg,' Doris said urgently, 'I must borrow this. Life or death. Must.'

     'Well, I don't know,' Mrs. Berg said reluctantly. 'I was thinking of framing it.'

     But Doris had already worked the newspaper out from underneath Mrs. Berg's hands, and she was heading for the door with it.

     'I'll bring it back, good as new,' she said. 'Promise.'

     She had to get to a class. Drama technique, with David Reardon.

The eleven-fifteen acting class was Reardon's last period of the morning. Today's theme was concentration.

     'Concentration,' he said, pacing the open area before the class. 'At all times  you must concentrate on what's happening up there on the stage. If you don't concentrate, you can't believe in the situation, and if you can't believe in it, there's no point in expecting an audience to. They haven't come along just to hear you say lines and see you looking good under the lights. A lot of what passes for acting these days is no more than modeling, a kind of look-at-me-ain't-I-wonderful display. So-called actresses who spend more time under the hairdryers and getting their lip gloss right than they ever spend considering what makes a real human being function.

     Somebody tittered at the back of the class. Concentration was something that seemed to be decidedly lacking in the group this morning. Mildly irritated, Reardon said, 'Okay, well it seems we need a little exercise in this. You won't have a hope in any professional field if you can't influence your own state of mind in the same way that you can an object, and focus on it. Try to screen everything else out ' Someone giggled. 'It can be a chair, an article of clothing, a pencil' There was a snort from someone else. Oh, brother. Reardon hated Mondays.

     He scanned the group, wondering if there was something specific that was triggering them off. They'd told him on the teacher training course always to check in a mirror before going into the classroom, because there was nothing worse than an alfalfa spike of hair or a half-open zipper to destroy a teacher's air of authority. He knew that it was nothing like that - so, what could it be?

     Coco Hernandez was concentrating so hard on her chosen object before her, that her eyes were almost bulging. 'Coco,' he said mildly, 'don't stare. Just look.'

     'I'm lookin',' Coco said, with overstated reverence. 'Oh, I'm lookin'.'

     It was like a dam breaking. The whole class burst into laughter. He'd lost them, and was going to have to start all over again in the next lesson - there wasn't enough time remaining in this. He walked down the aisle to Coco, to see what had brought it all on.

     She didn't try to hide the folded newspaper that was on the desk before her. Reardon sighed; he didn't like playing the heavy-handed pedagogue and making confiscations, but sometimes he had no choice.

     As he was reaching out to take it, he saw the photograph that the page had been folded to show.

     He Froze.

Bernie Rettig was a fast worker, you had to give him that. The Investigator was distributed on a Sunday for sales first thing on Monday morning, aimed at the housewife who was trapped in the home all day with nowhere to go and no-one to see and nothing to spice her life except daytime television and some of the most unselfconscious dirt-searching that could be found outside of the libel courts. The copy deadline was probably sometime around the middle of Saturday, which meant that Bernie had probably had the article already written and packaged to go by special messenger to the newspaper's publishing offices in Florida. Whether by impulse or by preplanning, he'd certainly found a neat way to get back at Reardon for his smart remarks about pride and self-respect.

     He tried to tell himself that it was going to be a joke just confined to the class and carried no further. But who was he trying to kid? The Investigator had weekly sales of more than two million, nationwide. Housewives in Dayton, Ohio, would be goggling over his picture and avidly reading the description of the  'blond tiger'; down in South Carolina, preachers would be putting his image up on church doors as a warning. It was hard to get rid of the feeling that this was going to follow him around for life. All through his career as an actor, he'd tried to get his face known.

     But now, rather more than his face was involved.

     Maybe it would blow over. Anonymous faces appeared in newspapers and magazines every day, and all were promptly forgotten. Why should his case be any different?

     When he went down to the school office to check his mail cubby, he got an idea of why.

     Mrs. Berg was standing there behind the counter, looking at him with a small, slightly wistful smile. This in itself was nothing remarkable; no-one yet had come up with any reliable system for explaining why Mrs. Berg acted as she did or said some of the things that she came out with. He crossed over to her, and tried to smile as if nothing was wrong.

     'Penny for your thoughts,' he said.

     It was as if he'd pulled the plug out of a barrel. Mrs. Berg burst into embarrassed and somewhat ribald laughter. She shook her head, waving him away as she returned to the sanctuary of her desk.

     Oh, boy. Oh boyoboy.

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