Main > Series > Chapters > Fame Book 2 > Chapter 16 '

Reardon had tried to call the newspaper that afternoon, but the numbers given in the proprietorial information box on the inside front pages were for subscriptions and advertising rates only. Ma Bell's information operator could only give him the same story, and so after school he'd gone straight to the City library and started checking through the business directories. Calling in the evening had only got him in touch with a recorded answering service, and at Bernie Rettig's home number there had been no reply at all.

     It had given him plenty of time to get his anger stoked by the time that he finally got through from the teachers' lounge on the Tuesday morning.

     There was a long wait on hold with Mantovani playing on a wowing cassette, but Reardon was ready to stay on the line for as long as it took. He settled back on the squeaky vinyl couch, and listened to the wires singing all the way down to Florida. Elizabeth Sherwood crossed his line of vision as he waited, but he barely registered her.

     Finally, he was put through to the news desk. Bernie wasn't there.

     'Okay, then,' Reardon said. 'You better get out a pad and pencil, pal, because I want to leave a message.'

     There was a short wait, and Elizabeth said, 'Good morning, David.' Reardon only grunted.

     Pad and pencil had apparently been procured, because he then launched in with his message. 'Okay,' he said. 'You tell that cigar sucking hypocrite that if ethics were dynamite, he couldn't blow his nose. You tell him that if I'm ever driving and see him in a crosswalk looking the wrong way, it's all over. You tell him that if I ever catch VD, I'll turn gay just so we'll have something to share. You tell him . . . hello?'

     The message-taker on the other end of the line had apparently opted out of the conversation somewhere around crosswalk. Reardon jiggled the phone cradle two or three times, but the line remained dead.

     'That only works in the movies,' Elizabeth said. 'Tapping the button like that is just going to break the connection, if it hasn't already been broken.'

     Reardon replaced the receiver with some force. 'You're right,' he said. 'You know, I spent forty-five minutes yesterday going to every bulletin board in the place and taking that picture down?'

     'Waste of time,' Elizabeth said. 'They're back up.'

     Reardon groaned, sagging lower onto the couch. Elizabeth went to sit on the chair alongside him.

     She said, 'David, if you look at it with a certain sense of humor -' There wasn't much hint of humor in the glower that he gave her, but still she pressed on. 'I mean, a lot of people would be . . . oh,  flattered to have a picture like that in a national newspaper.'

     'Would you be flattered?'

     Elizabeth knew for a fact that she wouldn't. If she'd opened a newspaper and found a portrait of herself looking like that, she'd have either gone up the wall or died of shame, or both.

     'No,' she admitted, 'I suppose not. But that doesn't mean that everyone is disapproving.' She was searching desperately for something reassuring to say. 'Actually, I was talking to my mother last night. I told her all about the pictures.'

     'And what did your mother say?'

     'She asked if I could get your autograph.' It was a waste of time trying; she could see that Reardon wasn't about to be consoled. 'I've got to get ready for first period,' she said quickly. 'See you later.'

     On the way out, she passed Mrs. Berg.

     Mrs. Berg stood in the doorway for a long moment, until Reardon sensed her presence and turned around to look. She smiled at him pleasantly, and crossed the room to where there was hot water on the plate and a box of teabags alongside. She poured herself a cup of tea, and moved across to the central table. Reardon watched her every inch of the way, almost daring her to step out of line.

     They faced each other across the room. Mrs. Berg was still smiling.

     'Still waters run deep,' she said knowingly.

     With a strangled cry of frustration, Reardon leapt to his feet and stalked out into the lobby.

There was no getting away from it; even using the back stairs, he felt the eyes burning into him like lasers. Doris Schwartz saw him from a distance and hurried to catch up; Reardon looked around for a way of escape, and saw none. Whatever Doris was after, he didn't want to know. He'd already told her that he knew nothing about twirling a lariat or cracking a bullwhip, that he knew no country dances, that he couldn't play bottleneck guitar to save his life.

     But Doris wanted to talk about the newspaper picture.

     'I came to apologize, Mister Reardon,' she said, walking down the stairs alongside him. 'I'm the one who brought the picture into class. I just didn't think of the consequences. It's all my fault.'

     Reardon needed somewhere for his anger to go. He couldn't pour it on the director of the stupid limbo play, because Reardon himself had been the one who'd interfered to get hold of the rehearsal shots from the session at which he'd been fired. He couldn't pour it on Bernie Rettig, because Bernie Rettig wouldn't come to the phone in order to be abused. Now, as they reached the bottom of the stairs, he found that he couldn't pour it on Doris Schwartz, either.

     She was looking pretty miserable about the whole thing as it was. He put a hand on her shoulder, and said, 'It's okay, Doris. If it hadn't been you, it would have been someone else. The damned newspaper's everywhere.'

     She wasn't much cheered. 'Besides,' she said, 'don't' take it so bad. I can think of a lot worse things.'

     'The fact is, Doris. I'm not too comfortable about getting whistled at in the halls.'

     'It only means you're popular with the kids. Now if you were in my position . . . '

     'And what's your position?'

     She smiled wanly. 'Don't ask,' she said. 'Typhoid Mary was a social sensation compared to the Alumni Day administrator in this place. My date can't make it, and everybody else seems to think I should be in the same class as the guys who drove the gangs to build the pyramids. And when everybody's had a good time, I'll be the last one they'll think of.'

     'Hey , Doris,' Reardon said with real concern. 'Give it time, okay?'

     'Same to you, coach,' Doris said, walking away. 'Same to you.'

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