Main > Series > Chapters > Fame Book 2 > Chapter 18
As the school day ended, the real schedule of Alumni Day moved into
gear. There was just enough time for people to run home and change or else
to grab a shower at the school, during which the alumni gusts would be
fed at a buffet in the cafeteria. The show would follow at seven, and was
expected to run for no more than an hour; after this would come the dance,
which would probably carry on until the evening come to its own conclusion
or else the janitors threatened to go home and take the keys with them.
The results of the work that Angelo and Charlotte
had been doing all afternoon wouldn't be needed until the later part of
the evening, but both wanted to see the show. Mrs. Berg saw them coming
down the stairs from the Home Economics classroom, each carrying two large
boxes and trying to see over them so they didn't trip, and said, 'This
is wonderful. Now I can check the last two items off my list.' She looked
at Charlotte. 'You're security?'
'I certainly am,' Charlotte said.
Now Mrs. Berg looked at Angelo. 'And you're
'He certainly is,' Charlotte said, before Angelo
Bruno found Julie as seats were being taken for the performance. The
Western decor was getting a lot of comment, all of it favourable; even
though there had hardly been any money to spend, Doris's teams had managed
to catch the od dancehall atmosphere. Two mock-up chandeliers hung overhead,
and the houselighting had been dimmed and angled to simulate candlelight;
there was even a realistic flicker caused by a bad connection that the
kids on the lighting course were desperately trying to track down. Tickets
were being torn by ushers in dancehall costumes; overblown satin dresses
for the girls and waistcoats and armbands for the boys, all of whom were
brilliantined and looked like old-time piano players.
When Julie realised that Bruno was alongside
her,, she said, 'Have you seen Doris yet?'
Bruno shook his head. 'Nope.'
'I'm worried about her. I'm afraid she might
not show up.'
'She'll show up.'
'You might show a little concern,' Julie said,
with a hint of an edge in her voice. 'We're supposed to be her friends.'
'I know that, Julie. And I also know that Doris
is too professional not to show up tonight. She may be depressed about
the arguing that's been going on, but she'll be here.'
Bruno had a point, and Julie had to admit it.
'I'm sorry,' she said. 'This whole thing has got me unsettled.'
'Doris, you mean?'
Julie leaned against the back wall of the auditorium.
Suddenly, she seemed confused and weary. She said, 'My mom's been acting
kind of weird all week.'
'Must be contagious,' Bruno said. 'My dad's
been the same way. Ever since they started working on this thing together.'
Julie looked out, across the rows that were
now almost filled. Both of them had seen the show in rehearsal; it was
their intention to let the guests get seated and then take whatever places
She said, 'Does your dad ever talk about how
lonely being single is?'
'Sometimes,' Bruno said. 'Does your mom?'
Slowly, they turned to look at one another.
The Kickers sign was just being switched on as Will Gunther bumped his
car across the rubble-strewn parking lot. It was murder on the suspension,
but what the hell - it was only a three hundred dollar car, bought to see
him through his six months in New York and with no expected life beyond
that. He'd arranged to hand it over to his landlord instead of the extra
two weeks' rent that he'd been demanding to cover the inconvenience of
Will's short-notice checkout; privately, he hoped that the old buzzard
would roll it over and give himself a heart attack. Could you put a curse
on a car? It might be worth a try.
He nosed the blue Fury alongside Bob Tanner's
pick-up truck, and killed the engine. Bab wasn't prepared to be parted
from his wheels, not even for six weeks; he was going to set out driving
that very night, and swore that he'd be meeting them in Miami the following
evening. Sure, Will had said, but in what kind of condition? Bob had just
stretched out his hands and closed his eyes. I may fall asleep, he'd said,
but I can keep on playing. That explains a lot, their drummer had said
as he passed.
Will grinned, and swung himself out of the
car. His first professional experience had been at parties and dances,
most of them at the agricultural colleges around home, and he'd been 'on
the road' ever since. He'd never known any that were quite as remarkable
as Doris Schwartz.
Schwartz! If he'd dated a girl with a name
like Schwartz back home, they'd have sent a doctor around to examine him.
In a lot of ways, he was glad that he'd left. His friend Pernell Ward had
once dated a nice Mexican girl, and after that he hadn't been able to drive
his dad's truck past the feed store without getting stones thrown after
it by the young men who lounged in the shade under the feed store porch.
Last he'd heard, Pernell was a lawyer in Chicago. The stone-throwers, meanwhile,
were probably just getting older and fatter and more discontented on the
same patch of arid land.
His Gibson guitar was on the back seat of the
Fury, and he reached in to lift it out. He didn't mind leaving his twelve-string
acoustic at the club to be locked up at night, but the Gibson was special.
It was the genuine article, not like the Fender copy that the bass player
owned, and it had cost Will twelve hundred dollars second-hand. he certainly
wasn't going to leave it in the car for any length of time, not with a
dropped door and an unreliable lock - and besides, the paper with Doris's
phone number was inside.
He'd promised to call her at home after the
final set and give her the time of their plane in the morning; she'd be
back from her school dance by then, and she wanted the details so that
she could see if it would be possible to slip out of school and get the
airport bus to see them off. He hoped she'd be able to make it.
He slammed the door, but it didn't catch. He
slammed it again, and then turned to walk to the club's entrance.
Somebody was blocking his way.
The kid looked about seventeen. He was wearing
dirty jeans and a black leather jacket that had been decorated with swirling
patterns of paper-fastening studs. His hair was an unkempt mop, and there
was a scar on his upper lip that pulled it into a permanent sneer.
'Always wanted a guitar of my own, man,' he
Will tensed, but he didn't let it show. He
said, easily, 'Just keep putting those pennies in your piggy bank, and
I know you'll get there.'
But the kid didn't move. 'That guitar there
would do fine, cowboy,' he said.
'Is that so?'
'That's right.' The kid didn't seem worried
or nervous; he probably thought that Will was one of the soft city dwellers
with Audie Murphy dreams who make up most of the Kickers clientele. Well,
he was going to get a big surprise.
Will said, 'I think you'll have a little trouble
taking it.' He was weighing the Gibson in his hand, feeling the balance
of the case under the handle. If the kid took a step forward - and there
was nothing else that he could do in the narrow space between the two cars
- then Will could just tip the case and wind him with the sharp end before
he knew it was coming. He wouldn't even have to skin his knuckles.
'Oh, no,' the kid said. 'It ain't going to
be no trouble.' And then Will saw the five or six twilight shapes that
were emerging from their hiding places behind the other cars.
The kid smiled, his scar twisting into something
that was more than just ugly. 'It ain't going to be no trouble at all.'
The dance was going well. When the first live set was through and the
disco took over, word went around that Leroy Johnson was having a very
deep-looking conversation with an ex-drama major who was now a West Coast
agent. The dance role that Leroy hadn't wanted had brought him more attention
than anything he'd done before.
After nine o'clock, there was a subtle change
of gear as the Howard Curtis All-Stars took the stage. Howard Curtis was
fifteen years old and had what appeared to be a near-terminal case of acne,
but his style on the saxophone was so smooth that it raised goosebumps
on anyone who listened. The All-Stars specialized in slow 'thirties
and 'forties numbers, what Danny Amatullo called 'smooch music'. Slow smiles
started to break out all around, and the evening moved into its mellow
Charlotte Miller had been tearing tickets and
issuing pass-outs with only one fifteen-minute break in the whole night,
and so when she asked Benjamin Shorofsky if he'd mind taking over for a
short spell he was only too pleased to help.
'But bear in mind,' he warned as he took the
box of stubs and the hand-stamp. 'You many have a black belt, but mine
is only light pink.'
Charlotte smiled her thanks, and went looking
for Angelo Martelli, He also hadn't quit his post by the refreshment table
all evening, even though there was nothing more for him to do; he just
couldn't believe the way that the cookies were disappearing, and the way
that people were actually coming back for more.
Charlotte came up beside him 'Excuse me,' she
said. 'Would like to dance?'
Angelo blinked, and looked around to see who
she was talking to. They'd argued for most of the afternoon, and it seemed
hardly likely that the invitation was addressed to him; but it was.
He said 'Are you serious?'
'You want to dance with me?'
Charlotte smiled warmly. 'I want to dance with
They moved out onto the floor, and after a
couple of beats they joined into the slow glide of the dance. Both of them
nodded too Elizabeth Sherwood; she was dancing with her date, a pleasant
looking guy called Dennis whom she'd met somewhere outside of the school
and outside of show business altogether - 'out there in real life', as
she'd described it with a wry grin.
Angelo said, 'You know, I've been thinking.
We make a big deal out of our kids not talking to us about what's bothering
them, and we're afraid to talk to them about what's bothering us.'
Put so simply, it was hard to understand why
it hadn't been obvious before. 'Mister Martelli,' Charlotte said, 'you're
Bruno and Julie watched their parents dance
by. It was a perfectly normal sight, but it increased the unease that had
been growing in the two kids since the beginning of the evening. For Bruno,
it was as if the perspective of his whole world had shifted a little; it
was like the day that he'd found out that the little green people in Sesame
Street had normal-sized real people working them from underneath.
Julie said, 'She's been trying to talk to me
'Same with my dad,' Bruno said.
'I just kept cutting her off.'
Over by the door, Shorofsky was welcoming the
opportunity to sit without feeling guilty for not circulation; there were
a lot of well-remember faces around tonight, and for a while he just wanted
to rest and enjoy the glow of satisfaction that he'd received form meeting
them. Some of them had been special to him, as Bruno Martelli was special
to him now; great talents in the making ready to strike out with confidence
into the unknown territory that was life.
Someone needed his attention; he looked up,
and recognized the McClains. 'Leaving early?' he said, but Charles McClain
smiled and put his and out for a passout stamp.
'Just heading around the corner for some coffee
and a quiet place to talk,' he said.
Shorofsky put a little blue asterisk on the
back of his knuckles, and then did the same for Patsy McClain. Jenny was
still picking up praise for The Awakening Land as she had been all evening.
He said, 'You must be very proud of your daughter.'
There was a slight pause before he answered,
and then Charles McClain said, 'I certainly am, Mister Shorofsky. Thank
It was the pause that told Shorofsky everything
that he'd been hoping to hear.
The McClains went out into the hallway, but
as they moved on towards the outside door the space that they left wasn't
'Well, Doris,' Shorofsky said. 'There you are.'
'Hi, Mister Shorofsky,' Doris said. her downcast
manner was something of a contrast to her party dress.
Shorofsky indicated the dance behind him. 'You
should be very proud,' he said. 'Everything's going wonderfully.'
At this, a little hope seemed to dawn. 'Really?'
she said. The dance certainly looked like a success from where she was
standing; the sounds of the All-Stars were wall-to-wall velvet, and the
dance floor was crowded out. On the near fringe she could see David Reardon
with Lydia Grant; she was hugged up against his chest with a broad smile
and her eyes closed, and Reardon was looking laid-back happy. As they turned,
Doris could see that he was wearing a printed sweatshirt that someone had
given to him; across the back were the words, Meet the Blond Tiger. It
was a size too small, but he was wearing it anyway.
'Go on, Doris,' Shorofsky urged. 'Enjoy yourself.'
Well, she thought, perhaps it wouldn't hurt
to just wander around for a while and see how it all worked out.
The number ended, and Charlotte and Angelo
started to make their way off the floor. As soon as there was sufficient
distance between the two, Julie and Bruno moved in.
'Mom,' Julie said to Charlotte, 'we've got
'I couldn't agree more,' Charlotte said. 'I've
been trying to talk to you all week.'
'About what you and Bruno have planned for
later on tonight.' God knows where I'm getting the nerve for this, Charlotte
though, but please, keep it coming.
'You know about it?' Julie said, with a mild
kind of disappointment that was the last reaction that Charlotte would
have expected. 'Oh, doggone it. We wanted it to be a surprise.'
'A surprise . . . ?' Charlotte said faintly.
'Sure. It'd be more fun that way, with all
the kids watching and everything. Cheering, applause, the whole bit. I
suppose that just sounds too sentimental to you.'
Sentimental? Had times changed as much as that?
Charlotte said, 'Julie . . . are we talking about the same thing?'
Julie looked puzzled. 'The Thank-You plaques?'
'What Thank-You plaques?' Charlotte said weakly
giving silent thanks of her own.
'That's what Bruno and I have been trying to
keep secret all week.'
A similar conversation was taking place only
a few yards away; except that there, the roles were reversed.
'Dating Mrs. Miller?' Angelo said, registering
some shock at the suggestion. 'No.' But then he glanced across, and thought
it over for a moment. 'But maybe that's not such a bad idea.' He put his
arm around Bruno. 'You know, it's amazing how mixed up things can get if
you don't keep them honest and out here.'
'It sure is.' Bruno agreed fervently.
'You have my permission to give me a swift
kick if I'm ever not straight with you again.'
'You have my solemn promise.'
Angelo made a brief appeal to the heavens.
'Seventeen years of lip,' he said, 'and the first time I get a "solemn
promise", it's to kick my behind. Great kid.'
Something was happening over on the stage;
the All-Stars were taking a break, and Danny Amatullo was adjusting the
microphone from sax height to speaking height. Doris knew that this wasn't
anything that she'd scheduled; obviously, they were getting along fine
without her. It would probably be best just to disappear before anybody
made a point of coming over and telling her so.
As she was edging unnoticed back towards the
door, Coco Hernandez caught her arm.
'Hey, Doris,' she said. 'We've been looking
I bet, Doris thought, and she said, 'Well,
look quick. I've checked that it's all okay, and not I'm going to split.'
Howard Curtis and his cornet player improvised
a fanfare, and all heads turned towards the stage Danny Amatullo was holding
up his hands for silence, and Leroy Johnson was standing behind him with
a cardboard box in his hands. He was peering into it as if he'd been told
that there was a mouse asleep inside it somewhere.
'Okay,' Danny said, 'it's announcement time!
I guess you've noticed that we didn't exactly manage this whole thing without
help. A lot of parents have come in and given a lot of their time and energy
to bring this whole deal off, and this is our way of saying thanks.' Leroy
solemnly held up the box. It said Bumblebee Tuna on the side.
Danny went on, 'But the first award is for
the kid who worked so hard to put this all together - and who drove us
bananas in the process. Where is she?'
Doris wasn't really listening; against Coco's
protests, she was wriggling her way towards the door. A spotlight beam
zigzagged across the crowd, and then pinned her like an escaping prisoner
in a war movie. She stood there, dazzled and blinking, as Danny called
out, 'Hey, Schwartz! Come and get your prize!
Applause started around her, and then swelled.
Everyone was looking at her, and she had no idea what was going on. Coco
gave her a firm push towards the stage, and once Doris had started to move
the crowd parted before her and she kept on walking. Whistles and rebel
yells accompanied her as she climbed the steps onto the stage. She was
dazed, uncertain; but then Danny reached into the box that Leroy was holding,
and he brought out a framed certificate of some kind.
Close-up, she could see what it was. But the
last time she'd seen it, without the frame being passed hand-to-hand, it
had looked awfully like a protest petition. There was a short message of
thanks, written with a broad-nibbed pen in some of the neatest calligraphy
that Doris had ever seen. Below it were nearly a hundred signatures. The
whole thing had a red wax seal and was in a gilt frame.
They were cheering, they were stamping. And
all that Doris could see was a blur.
By the door, Shorofsky checked that nobody
was watching. Then he put two fingers in the corners of his mouth, and
gave a whistle that was piercing enough to scare pigeons off the roof.
It only added to the general roar of appreciation, but he glanced around
again to be sure that his dignity was still intact.
Unfortunately, it wasn't. Someone was waiting
to come in.
She seemed to be dressed for a party, but something
was subtly wrong. It wasn't just the way that she'd thrown a non-matching
street coat over her Western gear; it was more something in her manner,
an undercurrent of feeling that was at odds with the good-life glow inside
'Please,' she said to Shorofsky before he could
ask if she had a ticket, 'I have to speak to Doris Schwartz. It's very
urgent. Is she here?'
Shorofsky looked towards the stage, but by
now Doris had descended; Charlotte Miller and Angelo Martelli were sheepishly
ascending to collect their unexpected awards. 'You'll find here somewhere
over there,' he said, and he indicated; the woman briefly nodded her thanks,
and set off across the crowded dance floor.
If Shorofsky had ever seen bad news on the
move he was seeing it now.
Suddenly, there was something more important
to be done than keeping gatecrashers out. Shorofsky started to scan the
faces, looking for Elizabeth Sherwood. It would be a shame to break in
on her date, but Shorofsky had a powerful feeling that she was going to
be needed, and soon.
Doris hadn't made it more than ten yards from
the stage. With her Thank-You plaque hugged tightly underneath her arm,
she was getting patted and kissed and congratulated from all sides. She
kept wiping her eyes, but her eyes just kept streaming.
When she'd dampened her sleeve for the fifteenth
time, she looked up and saw the woman in the cowgirl clothes and the unbuttoned
street coat standing before her.
'Nancy!' she said, pleased to see her. 'Did
Bruno drag you down here?'
'No,' Nancy said. 'Is there someplace we can
go and talk?'
Nancy tried to stall, but she couldn't. 'It's
Will,' she said, taking hold of Doris's free hand. She had to struggle
to be heard as another roar of applause came up around them. 'Some kids
tried to mug him tonight as he was arriving at the club. They tried to
take his guitar.'
'His guitar?' Doris said, almost with a laugh.
'He'd never let anyone take his . . . ' she looked down. 'Why are you holding
my hand so tight?'
Elizabeth Sherwood arrived a moment later.
She was just in time to catch Doris before she hit the floor.
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