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

Danny Amatullo was going to get himself carpeted for something. He couldn't imagine what, but there was an indefinable feeling of impending humiliation in the air. It had started when Mrs. Berg had brought him the summons, and it increased with every step he took towards Lydia Grant's dance studio.

He tried desperately to think what it might be. He hadn't fouled up on anything serious in at least three weeks. He hadn't skipped a class, he hadn't even been late. So why did standing outside the door with Mrs. Berg as they waited for the session to end give him goosebumps?

He took a peek through the glass in the door, and couldn't help grinning. They were going through the whole Martha Graham bit, a dance of spring that made everybody look like a slowed-down version of Snoopy at suppertime. They really needed gossamer gowns and little laurel crowns to complete the effect. Gross-out. Even Lydia Grant semed to be hating it, tapping off the beats with her dance staff as if she was counting out the seconds until they could dump this child-of-nature junk and move on to some more rewarding part of the curriculum.

But what could she want him for? Now she was moving down the line of dancers, and when she got level with Leroy she stopped and made a sudden sharp rap on the floor.

'Leroy,' she said, 'you're supposed to be a woodland spirit and you're dancing like Howard Keel. This is The Rite of Spring, not Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.' Leroy unhooked his thumbs from an imaginary waistcoat as she turned to the rest of the class. 'Okay, gang,' she said. 'Take five. Leroy, you come with me.'

Leroy was looking as puzzled as Danny when he emerged from the studio into the corridor. Lydia said, 'Thank you, Mrs. Berg, I'll take over from here,' and the two of them barely had the time to exchange a questioning glance before Lydia was on them.

'Well,' she said, 'I trust you are both thoroughly ashamed.'

'What about?' Danny said.

'I was never so mortified in my entire life!'

'What'd we do?' Leroy said helplessly.

'You were in charge of the props at the play last night, yes or no?'

Leroy frowned. The play was a simple on-acter that had been mounted by the freshman students; Danny and Leroy had been co-opted to make up the backstage numbers, and the idea had really been that they should stick around and be ready to give a hand to the kids who were new to the stage-management course. It hadn't needed two of them, and Lydia had agreed that they could alternate nights if Dave Reardon had no objection. He'd agreed, and so Leroy had taken himself along to Doris's Country and Western gig whilst Danny had taken charge of the shop. Could it be that Lydia had forgotten that she'd given approval?

'We were in charge,' Leroy began, 'but . . . '

'And in the party scene, all those wine glasses those people were drinking out of were filthy! Absolutely filthy.'

'They were not,' Danny said with the suddenness of someone who knew that he was right. 'I washed them myself.'

But Lydia fixed him with her best stare, the one she used to melt brass. 'No excuses, Amatullo.'

'I wasn't even there,' Leroy Muttered, and for a moment Lydia seemed to have been thrown.

'Beg pardon?'

'I wasn't even there,' Leroy repeated. 'You got a problem, it ain't my fault.'

But Lydia wasn't going to be put off so easily. 'I said, no excuses.'

Leroy could hardly believe what he was hearing. You're going to blame me when I was over on the other side of town? With witnesses?'

'I certainly am,' Lydia said, and she leaned back against the corridor wall with her arms folded. 'Matter of fact, I'm thinking of taking the both of you out of Alumni Day activities to teach you a lesson.'

The soft thump was of two jaws dropping to hit the floor. What was she saying? Alumni Day was when ex-pupils from the School of the Arts came back to see how the old place was doing. Some of them were now producers and directors, influential people in their own right; getting seen and remembered by them was a useful stake in a professional future where contacts and first impressions would count for a lot. Danny and Leroy must have been looking too mortified for Lydia to bear, because she said, 'However - maybe there is another way.' And then she dipped into the top of one of her legwarmers and brought out a folded piece of paper.

The two boys were now looking as if they'd grab at any straw that could save them. Lydia went on, 'I know Doris Schwartz is handling the in-house arrangements for this Alumni Day gig, but it's been up to me to get in touch with some of the graduates we planned on inviting.' She held up the slip of paper, just out of their reach. 'This gentleman here needs a little help in order to be able to join us. I want you to go to his place and do whatever it is he needs done. When I hear from him what a big help you've been . . . then you're off the hook. Do we have a deal?'

'We have a deal,' Danny and Leroy chorused together, and when she held out the paper it disappeared so fast that it almost made a friction burn on her fingertips. She waved the pair of them towards the lobby.

'Get going,' she said, 'and I'll cover for you last period. Sooner you get over there, the better.'

She could see that they weren't exactly thrilled about it, but they went. When Lydia turned to go back to her class, she found that Mrs. Berg was still there.

Mrs. Berg was also looking worried. 'Miss Grant,' she said, 'it may not be my place to criticise a teacher, but I think I really have to say I don't think you were at all fair to those two young men.'

Lydia smiled. 'You're right, Mrs. Berg, I wasn't. That was all part of the plan.'

Mrs. Berg struggled with the idea for a few moments, but then realisation came. 'Oh,' she said 'it's part of a plan. Well, that's different. Accidental cruelty is very difficult for me to deal with, but if it's all part of a plan I suppose it must be all right . . . ' And she turned and headed back to the safe haven of her office, where she at least had her filing system as a buffer between herself and the frequent irrationalities of the world outside.

Lydia Grant sighed, and turned back towards the dance of spring with a heavy heart. The summer couldn't come soon enough for her.

Down in the locker room, Leroy and Danny were pulling on their jackets for the crosstown trip they were going to have to make.

Danny glanced across at Leroy; Leroy was studying the slip of paper as if it was a list of winning lottery numbers. Danny said, 'Where do we have to go to?'

'The Village,' Leroy said. 'Downing Street. But I don't think you're the right colour, if you want to know the truth.'

'What the hell's that supposed to mean?'

'Don't get bent, man, but look how she wrote down the guy's name.' He held out the paper for Danny to see. 'Brother Timothy. The dude is blood.'

Danny looked it over. Leroy seemed to be right, but still something didn't seem to fit.

Since when did a soul brother have a name like Timothy?

On his way through the upper corridor alongside the music practice rooms, Benjamin Shorofsky saw something that made him stop and go back. Bruno Martelli was carrying the compact keyboard section of his ARP synthesizer into one of the cubicles; this in itself was no new sight to the school's head of music. It was one of the incidental details that had caught his attention.

'Mister Martelli,' he said, 'your top lip is out of focus.'

Bruno stopped, with the cubicle door shouldered halfway open. 'Oh,' he said. 'Well, I didn't shave my upper lip this morning. I'm thinking of growing a moustache. Make me look older.'

At the moment, the thin sprinkling of down that was gracing Bruno's top lip wouldn't have provided a hiding place for the smallest of bugs. Bruno might have been dark and Italiante, but hirsute he wasn't.

Shorofsky said, 'Why would you want to look older?'

'Young people want to look older;old people want to look younger.'

'I don't want to look yournger.'

'That's because you're right in the middle,' Bruno said, diplomatically.

'Only if I live to be a hundred and twenty,' Shorofsky said, and he leaned across and held the door open so that Bruno could shuffle through.

'I am not being a snob,' Julie Miller insisted as they pushed their way through the crowd in the school's back stairwell, but Doris wasn't going to let her get away so easily.

'You are, too,' she said. 'And a coward.'

'What? How am I being a coward?'

Because you're too afraid to admit you're a snob.'

They had to stop for a moment, and hold back for two violas that were coming through at head-height. Doris took the opportunity to get a little closer in. It was always better to be as close as you could get when you started to twist the knife.

'A new life experience, Miller,' she said. 'Open yourself up a little.'

'Doris,' Julie said with patience that had thinned down to the consistency of skimmed milk. 'I have heard hillbilly music.'

'Country and Western is not hillbilly.'

'What's the difference?'

'Designer jeans and cleaner boots.'

The blockage cleared, and they pressed on. There were no more than a couple of minutes to go before the start of the final session of the morning; two minutes in which Julie had to get to Shorofsky's class and Doris was supposed to be in the drama studio on the other side of the building. But still Doris hung on, with the tenacity of a terrier.

'You'll have some fun and meet some interesting people,' she insisted. 'Why am I having such a hard time convincing you to come along?'

'Because,' Julie said with some exasperation, 'I don't want to be a hypocrite.'

'Meaning?'

'Meaning I honestly don't care for the music. And if I go along with you, somebody will ask me how I like the music, and . . . well, it's awkward. I'd either have to lie or hurt somebody's feeling.'

So lie, Doris thought, What's so hard about that? But what she said was, 'When you first came here to the School of the Arts, who was your first friend?'

'Montgomery.'

'After him?'

'You.'

'Who taught you the subways?'

'You,' Julie said, forseeing a buildup of irrelevant pressure that she wasn't going to be able to resist. But ...'

'Who introduced you to Bloomingdales?' Doris pressed on.

'You.'

'And chocolate-covered champagne truffles?'

Any more of this, and they were going to be late. Julie said, 'Doris,' in a tone that told Doris Schwartz that it was time to move in for the kill.

'There is a bill due, Miller.' she said, 'and now is the time to pay it.'

As they reached the classroom corridor, Julie said, 'Why? Why is it so important that I go to this place with you? Can you at least tell me that?

Doris hesitated. And then she said, 'No, I honestly can't tell you.'

'But the bill's still due?'

Doris nodded seriously. She almost ran into Shorofsky, who was checking the corridor for late-comers before closing the classroom door.

'Either I've switched your major,' he told Doris gravely, 'or you're about to be late.'

The ringing of the final bell put an end to any possibility of continuing the conversation; backing off, wanting her answer even though every sense was screaming at her to run, Doris said, 'Please?'

Any resistance that Julie had left had been thoroughly stripped away. 'Okay,' she said with resignation.

It was like firing a starting gun; Doris's thanks were wafted back in the slipstream as she took off puzzlement as she went into the classroom and pulled the door closed behind her.

Hillbilly music. What was this sudden obsession with hillbilly music?

Over most of Manhattan, the street plan is logical and easy to follow; the streets run West-East and the Avenues run North-South on a square block pattern, and streets and avenues alike are identified by squential numbers rather than names. Only Broadway goes diagonally against the pattern, and one exception is easy enough to remember.

South of Fourteenth Street, the pattern starts to break up. Thoroughfares acquire names instead of numbers, and they intersect at messy angles as if suddenly too many buildings are having to fight for a footing on the narrowing Southern part of Manhattan island. It's within a few blocks of this area that Greenwich Village begins.

Danny and Leroy found Downing Street to be a short diagonal link between West Houston and the Avenue of the Americas. They walked up and down it twice, rechecking the address on the paper as they went.

However they read it, they got the same answer. The only building at the address Lydia Grant had given them was a church.

Danny nodded. 'Brother Timothy,' he said.

'Don't say it,' Leroy warned, but Danny reckoned he'd earned it.

'The dude is blood,' Danny said happily.

They went up the church steps and tried the door; it was open. As they stepped inside, silence came down over them like a dome. They were standing in the special kind of twilight that seems to be reserved for religious buildings and which is never found anywhere else; it was also a few degrees colder than the street outside. Danny closed the door behind them, and the sound that it made echoed all the way up into the darkness under the high roof.

'Where would this guy be?' Leroy said, keeping his voice low.

'How would I know?' Danny whispered. 'I've never been here before, either.'

'Well, I figure you've been in this kind of church a lot more than I have.'

'You kidding? You know how long it's been for me? I can't even remember the last time I went to confession.'

'DANNY AMATULLO!' The Voice of Doom thundered from the air all around them, and Danny was suddenly more drained of colour than the Pilsbury Dough Boy. Leroy, with only slightly more presence of mind, looked up to the choir loft.

The owner of the Voice of Doom was an ordinary-looking man in his early thirties, wearing glasses and starting to lose his hair. He was wearing a casual shirt over a pair of jeans, and there was a polishing rag in his hand. He was leaning over the choir loft rail and looking down at them.

'And you'll be Leroy Johnson?' he added, and Leroy managed a nod. 'Which one of you is the ball player?'

Ball player? What was he talking about? Before either could reply, the man said, 'Stay there, I'll be right down.'

They could see him descending from the back of the loft by a spiral staircase tucked in behind one of the church's supporting pillars. Leroy said, 'Man, I don't know what this is about, but I'm not about to be no ball player for nobody.'

'Well,' Danny said with equal determination, 'whatever it is, I'm not going through it alone; make book on that.'

The man was almost at ground level; he'd stuck the polishing cloth into the back pocket of his jeans and was wiping his hands on his thighs as if making ready to shake.

Leroy said quickly, 'We've got to get a signal between us so we can tell each other we want out of this thing, whatever it is.'

'Right,' Danny agreed. 'If either of us uses Shorofsky's name in a sentence, that means we aren't going to do whatever this guy wants us to do.'

The bargain was sealed in an instant. The man came out from behind the pillar and crossed the stone floor towards them, hand outstretched.

'Mister Amatullo,' he said, 'Mister Johnson . . . ' Leroy stood a little taller as he shook. He wasn't used to being addressed as 'Mister' by someone who sounded as if he actually meant it. The man went on, 'I can't tell you how pleased I am that Lydia was able to arrange for you to help us out. I'm Brother Timothy. You can call me Timothy if that's easier.'

'Well, uh, Timothy,' Leroy began, but neither of the suggested forms of address seemed to come easily to him. 'No last name, huh?'

'Afraid not.'

'Well . . . it's just that we don't know what it is we're supposed to do here.'

Brother Timothy seemed surprised. 'You know about the choir? he said.

'We don't know about the choir,' Danny said.

'You know about the basketball team?'

'We don't know about the basketball team,' Leroy said.

Brother Timothy seemed to have been taken a little off-guard. 'Well,' he said, 'As I explained to Lydia, we have a boys' choir here and they're enrolled in a church athletic league. Now, I can get the choir sounding like the original host of angels, but I don't know the first thing about basketball. And as I told Lydia, it clearly means a great deal to the boys.'

Leroy said, 'So you and Miss Grant go back a ways, do you?

Brother Timothy smiled. 'We were in a road company together way back when. She's a great lady.'

'You were a performer?' Danny said with new respect. In his mind, Brother Timothy had just been moved from the section where status was automatic and didn't necessarily have to be earned - a division reserved for people like priests, teachers and the Mayor of New York - to the more exclusive section where the heroes belonged. 'How'd you get side-tracked into this gig?'

'Odd,' Brother Timothy said, 'but I never thought of it as getting side-tracked.'

'Oh,' Danny said quickly, ' no disrespect intended.'

Brother Timothy smiled. 'None taken. Anyway, she volunteered the two of you.'

This was the part that Leroy couldn't understand. 'Volunteered us to do what?'

'To get the boys into shape and coach them into becoming a competitve team.'

Danny and Leroy both spoke at once.

'Shorofsky,' the blurted.

Danny was later to say that Brother Timothy took it pretty well; even though he was in the forgiveness business anyway, it couldn't be easy to smile at such a letdown.

'Obviously,' he said when they'd explained about their lack of basketball skill and the other pressures that they had to handle, 'I'm disappointed that you don't think you could help out . . . '

'Well,' Leroy said, 'it's just that there's so much studying we've got to do. Biology and stuff like that.'

'Yeah, we're both into biology,' agreed Danny, who had come close to throwing up over the frog that he'd had to dissect only last term.

Brother Timothy held up his hands in an oh well gesture. 'Fair enough,' he said without bitterness. 'But you'll have to tell the boys yourselves. They know I was going to try to find someone to help, and I want them to see that at least I made the effort.'

Well, that was fair - even if it would be an embarrassment. Danny kept telling himself that he had nothing to feel guilty about as the two of them followed Brother Timothy down a dim, wax-scented corridor along the side of the church. Somehow, telling himself didn't help. He knew that the letdown wasn't his fault, but he couldn't help it.

They could hear the choir some way before they got to the rehearsal room. To Danny, it was like a warm breeze from the past passing through him deep inside. Church-going had been a central feature of his family's life up until he'd been twelve years old; that had been when his grandmother had died, the last of the immigrant line from the old country and the figure around whom they'd all grouped on any big occasion. From the day of her funeral, the drifting apart had continued. Danny hadn't exactly been telling the truth when he told Leroy that he couldn't remember his last confession; he could remember it only too well. His grandmother was only three days in the ground, and Danny had struggled to explain through the confessional screen his shame at feeling nothing at her loss; no great pain, no particular regret, just a relief that he'd no longer have to dress up in his little-boy suit and go around to her house on Sunday afternoons. The priest had been so mad that Danny had almost expected him to come around and haul him out of the booth and start leathering him before the rest of the congregation. After that, he'd decided no more. He'd pretended to go as usual, but he'd spent the hour just sitting in a nearby park.

Brother Timothy halted for a moment outside the rehearsal room door. 'Brother Marcel's just taking them through a few pieces for a wedding this weekend,' he explained, and then he quietly opened the door and beckoned them through.

The sound washed over Danny and Leroy as they followed Brother Timothy into the room. It was as pure as crystal, and for a moment Danny was expecting to see the usual tiers of white gowns and surplices topped by scrubbed-pink faces. What he saw instead was a crowd of about twenty boys, ranging in age from eight or nine to thirteen, dressed in windcheaters and sweatshirts and jeans and sneakers.

The three newcomers waited quietly at the back of the room as Brother Marcel conducted the choral piece to its end. As the echoes died, Brother Timothy moved towards the group; they all looked to him, and it was obvious to Danny and Leroy that Timothy's opinion counted for a lot with them.

One kid, and eleven year old black with a spark of mischief in his eyes that could have started a blaze in a swimming pool, just couldn't hold himself in. 'Brother Timothy,' he said, 'what did you think?'

The other boys didn't move, but several set of eyes rolling heavenwards told Danny and Leroy that one simply didn't ask such questions.

'Lucas Boyd!' Brother Marcel said with suitable shock, but Brother Timothy raised a reassuring hand.

'That's okay, Brother Marcel,' he said. 'I thought it sounded pretty good. What did you think, Lucas?'

'I thought it was hot!' Lucas said with obvious sincerity, but Brother Marcel had seen what Lucas was trying to do, and now he moved in to forestall the diversion.

'It happened again, Brother Timothy,' he said and Brother Timothy fixed Lucas with a steady gaze.

'You were late for choir practice?' he said.

But Lucas was ready for him. 'You see,' he explained, 'it went down like this; I got myself onto the seven-fourteen uptown just like I always do. Now we're headin' up Seventh, and what do you think happened?' Before Brother Timothy said, in a tone that suggested he'd heard many variations on the same theme from this source before. 'Lucas,' he said, 'We'll discuss this later.' He addressed the entire group. 'I'd like to take a minute to speak to you about the upcoming basketball game with St. Jane Frances.'

Suddenly, the group was a pack. Their eyes burned like wolves' in the night, and one or two kids almost looked ready to snarl. They leaned forward to catch every word. There couldn't be any doubt about the fact that St. Jane Frances, or at least the church's basketball team, was considered as a rival - if not an enemy.

'Now I know I said I would find you boys a coaching staff,' Brother Timothy went on, 'and I have.' He gestured towards Leroy and Danny. 'Mister Leroy Johnson and Mister Danny Amatullo.'

The kids couldn't help themselves. They broke into a wild round of applause. Danny was feeling about three inches high, knowing what was about to come.

Brother Timothy was motioning for the boys to be quiet. 'But I'm afraid Mister Johnson has something he has to tell you,' he said, and then he stepped aside to let Leroy take the unwelcome heat.

Leroy had seen it coming, but there was nothing that he could do. 'Uh, yeah,' he said, 'well. I'm really not so good at baseball . . . '

'Basketball,' Timothy corrected.

'Basketball. See what I mean? And I'm even worse with words. So I'm going to let my best friend, Danny Amatullo, tell you what we got to say. Danny.'

Leroy stepped aside, and the spotlight fell on Danny. This was not what he'd been expecting. He shot a look of daggers at his ex-best friend, and then tried to get an explanation together that wouldn't sound like an excuse. Somehow, he had a feeling that he wasn't going to succeed.

'Well,' he said, 'it sounds like this game is pretty important to you guys.'

The kid next to Lucas couldn't hold himself back. 'We're gonna cream those twerps!' he yelled. 'All we need is a little help from you guys.'

Danny glanced at Timothy. 'Is this some kind of a grudge match, or something?'

Brother Timothy tried to think of a diplomatic way to put it. 'Well,' he said, 'St. Jane Frances beat us rather badly last year, and they chose to indulge themselves in the sin of pride.'

'They rubbed our noses in it,' the kid alongside Lucas translated.

Leroy leaned towards Danny. 'Just tell them and get it over with,' he murmured.

'Right,' Danny said. 'Uh, well . . . if this game is so important, and I'm beginning to get the feeling that it is . . . then you guys deserve the very best of everything. That includes coaches, which we're not . . . '

These kids weren't slow. They could see exactly where Danny was leading, and disappointment was already passing over them like a shadow over the sun. The only thing that was keeping them together was the desperate wish that there perception might be wrong.

Danny stumbled on. 'So what I'm trying to say is that it just looks as if we're going to have to . . .' It was almost too much to take. The kid next to Lucas was looking at him like a puppy in need of a pat. Finally, the words just came tumbling out.

'We're just going to have to do the best we can!'

The kids went wild.

So did Leroy, but he saved it for later.
 

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