Main > Series > Chapters > Fame Book 2 > Chapter 17

Wednesday. Alumni Day.

     Although the official events weren't due to start until the end of the afternoon session, there was a general party atmosphere about the day. It was generally recognized that little academic work was going to be done, but there was more than enough compensation in the fact that a number of the school's former pupils who had moved on into their various professional fields had offered to come along and sit in on lessons, give 'criticism and advice, and generally pass on the gossip about the hard commercial world that most of the kids were hoping soon to enter.

     Angelo Martelli and Charlotte Miller came along early, too; Charlotte brought the recipe that she'd promised, and Angelo brought an apron and a supermarket bag full of flour and everything else that he'd been told he'd need.

     Mrs. Berg showed them to a little-used kitchen around the back of the building that had a fine view of air vents that were splashed with pigeon droppings.

     'I suppose this was a home economics class, back when the building was used as a school for normal people,' Mrs. Berg explained. 'Now we just use it for plays that have eating scenes in them, mostly.'

     Angelo looked around with some relief. He'd been afraid that they'd have to use the large cafeteria kitchen with its industrial-sized equipment for feeding ravenous high school appetites, but this was closer to what he was used to at home. The years of living singly and bringing  up a boy had given him basic cookery skills, but knowing which end of a can opener was hardly turned him into an Oyster Bar standard chef.

     Charlotte said, 'We'll only need it for a little wile, Mrs. Berg. Thank you very much.'

     I'll be just down the corridor. Call me if you need anything,' Mrs. Berg said, and then she left them to it.

     Angelo fired up the oven and cleaned down all of the dusty work surfaces, watching as Charlotte Miller demonstrated the first batch of cookie mix. She had him grease a couple of metal trays, and then she loaded up an ovesized icing bag with cookie dough and started to squeeze out evenly placed dollops onto the sheet. 'You put them about an inch apart, like this,' she explained.

     Angelo followed, a little unhappily. 'How much of this stuff do I need?' he said.

     Charlotte, for the first time, betrayed the fact that a lot of her attention was elsewhere. 'What?'

     'The globs. How many do I need to to feed the dance crowd?'

     'How do you expect me to think of globs when our children may be facing a crisis?' she demanded, emphasizing her point with a wave of the icing bag. A glob dropped neatly onto Angelo's shoe.

     'I'm facing a crisis, too,' he said, grabbing a piece of kitchen roll to wipe the dough away. 'I have to make cookies for thousands of people.'


     'Well . . . hundreds,' Angelo amended. 'But hundreds of people can eat thousands of cookies.'

     'Listen,' Charlotte said, barely controlled. 'I will help you with the rest of your stupid cookies if you will help me with our stupid children.' And then, almost at once: 'I didn't mean to say that.'

     'Well, you did say it!'

     'Well, I didn't mean to!'

     The escalation of annoyance was ended by Mrs. Berg, sailing past the door as she set off on some unexplained errand. 'Something's starting to smell really scrumptious in there!' she called sweetly.

     Charlotte and Angelo looked at the tray. It wasn't yet near enough to the oven even to get warm. Charlotte let her anger abate, added a few more globs, and said, 'That should be enough for this batch.'

     She laid the icing bag aside as Angelo slid the tray into the oven and set the timer. As he stepped back, he said, 'Are you sure you don't want to change jobs?'

     'No, thanks. I like the one I have.'

     Angelo sighed. 'But you will help me with the cookies?'

     'Will you help me with the kids?'

     'I would if I thought there was anything to worry about.'

     They pulled out a couple of kitchen stools, and sat waiting for the timer to count its way down. Angelo had already laid out a wire tray for the cookies to cool on. Charlotte explained about the telephone conversation that had first aroused her suspicions.

     'I couldn't hear everything,' she said, 'but I definitely heard her say something about "what they would be doing later Wednesday night".'

     'You sure she was talking to Bruno?'

     'She called him by name.'

     'Yeah, that'd be a giveaway.'

     Charlotte shook her head. 'I always thought Bruno was such a nice kid.'

     It took a moment for this to register with Angelo. Then, affronted, he said, 'What is that supposed to mean?'

     'Well, I'm sure this wasn't Julie's idea.'

     'What makes you so sure?'

     'Because I know Julie.'

     'And you think I don't know Bruno?'

     Charlotte gave an elegant shrug. 'I don't know. Do you?'

     But now, Angelo was really angry. 'I do,' he said. 'And if anything is going on, I'm sure it's because he was talked into it.'

     Charlotte Miller met fire with ice. 'Mister Martelli,' she said. 'No young man would have to be "talked into" . . . ' for a moment, she searched for a suitable phrase. 'Talked into being attracted to my daughter.'

     Angelo reached for an expression that he'd once read in a magazine whilst waiting for a haircut. 'You never heard of peer pressure?'

     For Charlotte, this conjured up an image of a line of boys all urging each other on as they waited for their turn. She was about to blow, she knew it and couldn't help it . . .

     But then the timer rang.

Doris was no lip reader, but she knew when she was being talked about.

     At least half a dozen of her key people had gone missing, and she'd been looking for them for almost twenty minutes. Now that she'd found them, she was sorry she'd started.

     They were in one of the music practice cubicles, insulated from the outside world by a double-layer of glass and a thick, tight-fitting door; Doris had once been told that the spaces in the walls had been packed with sand for extra soundproofing, increasing the weight load on the floor and giving the Education Department's building inspectors a  long-running headache. Doris stood outside, keeping back so that she wouldn't be noticed.

     They were having a meeting of some kind. Darlene 'Smokey' Smolinsky was clearly in charge, and she was presiding over a debate that had a lot of give and take in it. The central point of interest seemed to be a sheet of paper that was being passed from hand to hand; kids were reading it through and then adding their signatures.

     A petition! They were getting up a petition of protest against the way that she'd been running the Alumni Day preparations. They couldn't even have waited until the dance was over. Bruno Martelli was adding his signature now, and he hadn't even bothered to read the text. Perhaps he'd even helped to draw it up.

     So she'd even managed to alienate Bruno, one of her best friends in the whole school. And all because she'd said that one of his dance numbers had a few glitches that she could help iron out! Couldn't they see why she was doing it, and who she was really doing it for?

     Well, obviously they couldn't. Perhaps she ought to just walk away right now, take all of the plans and the rosters and the duty lists that she'd devised and let the struggle through the evening on their own.

     But she couldn't do that. She couldn't cave in, give up.

     But then, she hardly felt encouraged to go on, either.

     She needed to think this over. Slowly, she descended the stairs towards the school auditorium. It was about the only place that she could think of where she'd be alone for a while.

     The auditorium, was almost dark, the only glow coming from the emergency exit lights that had to be kept on all of the time. Through the twilight, she could just make out the result of the weekend's efforts; even in this light, it didn't convince. It was supposed to be based on a postcard of the interior of  Bird Cage theatre that was still standing in Tombstone, dusty and peeling now but still the same building where Lola Montez had danced for the men from the silver mines. What it looked like was a school hall with a few painted canvas flats along the walls, and Western-style posters that would have looked unconvincing in Bonanza. Why were things always better in your imagination than they ever turned out to be in real life?

     It was tempting. Very tempting. This was Will's last night in New York for what seemed like and eternity. They'd blame her if she walked out now - but then, they were blaming her anyway.

     Doris gave a start. Somebody was sliding into the seat next to her. In the dull green glow of the emergency lights, Doris was that it was Elizabeth Sherwood. There was concern in her eyes.

     Doris tried to put a brave face on it. 'What do "Alumni Day" and a three week vacation in the Bahamas have in common?'

     'I don't know,' Elizabeth said.

     'Not a damn thing.'

     Elizabeth tried to adopt a conversational tone. As a member of the staff, she was used to having a feel for the emotional temperature of the school without always needing to know the specific details of a situation. We she'd seen Doris heading for the auditorium with all the cares of the world seemingly on her shoulders, she'd followed. Doris had asked for her help once, and perhaps she'd be needing it again now.

     She said, 'I hear the kids have been working pretty hard.'

     'So have I,' Doris said. 'That's what it takes. you tell us that all the time - all the teachers do.'

     'And it's true. But when people are working hard they need a little praise along the with the criticism.'

     Doris sighed. 'I just want so much for the whole thing to work out.'

     'I know,' Elizabeth said. 'But sometimes a pat on the back works a lot better than a slap in the face. Sometimes that's an easy thing to forget.'

     'They hate me,' Doris said flatly.

     'No. They're mad at you; they don't hate you.'

     'How do you know?'

     'Because I used to think Leroy hated me. He didn't - doesn't. He's just got a lot to be angry at.'

     Doris managed a smile. It wasn't much, but it was a start.

     'You just ended a sentence with a preposition,' she said.

     Elizabeth smiled back. 'Keep my secret,' she said.

In the teachers' lounge, David Reardon was sitting back with the telephone receiver crammed between his shoulder and his ear. He had a glass of wine in one hand, half of a Giro sandwich in the other, and a broad smile on his face as he waited for his Florida connection to come through. The wine came from a visiting alumnus, a member of the class of '74 who'd quit performing and who now managed a thriving supermarket chain in Hartford, Connecticut; every year he came back, and every year he brought a case of Paul Masson for the staff. It was against the rules, but Alumni Day was a day on which the rules tended to get bent a little.

     After three rings, the phone at the other end of the line picked up. A voice said, 'Garabaldi's nursery.'

     'Hi,' Reardon said, settling back a little more. 'Is this Mister Garabaldi himself?' It was. 'Terrific. My name's Bernie Rettig, Mister Garabaldi, and I've got a little place in Daytona Beach, not too far from you. The reason why I'm calling is that I've decided to get into gardening in a big way, and your ad in the phone book says that you're the biggest supplier of fertilizer in the area. Now, I want the real thing . . . organic, you might say.' Reardon glanced up; Benjamin Shorofsky was standing only a few feet away, a look of total puzzlement on his face.

     Mister Garabaldi wanted some details. 'Two tons, I suppose,' Reardon said, and then: 'No, better make it three. Wouldn't want to run short, would I? Just dump it in the front yard. Okay, now here's the address.'

     Reardon turned over the piece of paper that had been resting on his knee. On one side was a list of fertilizer suppliers that he'd compiled from the Florida Yellow Pages on his second visit to the library, and on the other was the address of Bernie Rettig's place in Daytona Beach. Reardon had seen a snapshot of the house; it was one-storey, two bedroomed frame building in a sedate-looking neighbourhood.

     This was Reardon's third call so far. By the time he'd finished, Bernie would need a shovel and a truck to get to his front door. He wasn't going to be too popular with his neighbours, either.

     He smiled at Ben Shorofsky, and raised his glass. 'Cheers,' he said, and then he started to dial the next number.

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