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 cookies?'

     'He certainly is,' Charlotte said, before Angelo could reply.

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?'

     'Partly Doris.'

     'What else?'

     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 were left.

     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 said.

     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 phase.

     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?'

     'Of course.'

     'You want to dance with me?'

     Charlotte smiled warmly. 'I want to dance with you.'

     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 absolutely right.'

     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 all week.'

     'Same with my dad,' Bruno said.

     'I just kept cutting her off.'

     'Me, too.'

     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 you.'

     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 empty.

     '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 to talk.'

     'I couldn't agree more,' Charlotte said. 'I've been trying to talk to you all week.'

     'About what?'

     '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 for you!'

     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.'

     'You can't!'

     'Watch me.

     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 the room.

     '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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