Main > Series > Chapters > Fame Book 2 > Chapter 4

Elizabeth Sherwood had considered it from all angles, but there was obviously going to be no easy way for her. Whenever she started feeling sorry for herself or detected any trace of bitterness at the fact that the problem had been dropped in her lap, she had to remind herself that her difficulties were nothing compared to Jenny McClain's. And Jenny McClain wasn't the battle-scarred survivor that Elizabeth considered herself to be; she was a sensitive girl of high school age, and those years were tough enough without the addition of other, invisible burdens.

All the same, the temptation not to interfere was enormous. When the new day's session was abou to start and she was sitting in her classroom waiting for the hallway monitor to bring Jenny to her as she'd asked, Elizabeth took a few moments to identify what she was feeling deep inside. It was dread, long forgotten but now remembered in all its force.

'You wanted to see me, Ms. Sherwood.' Jenny came into the classroom with some books under her arm. Elizbeth couldn't help wondering if they'd been as carefully 'revised' as the Melville or the story text.

'Yes, Jenny,' she said, 'that's right. Come and take a seat.' She tried to keep it as light as she could to avoid making the child even more nervous, but it wasn't easy.

'Jenny,' she said, I'm just going to jump in, okay? And if I'm out of line, you let me know.' Jenny nodded, but she neither spoke nor met Elizabeth's eye. 'What's got us stumped,' Elizabeth went on, 'is how such a creative and talented human being could have come out of an atmosphere that seems so . . . well, restricted.'

'You mean censored,' Jenny said drily.

'I mean censored.'

'It's a fair question. And the answer is that it wasn't always that way.' The words were coming with difficulty, but they were coming. 'When my dad was around, we read everything. He read to us, we read to him, plays, novels, comic books, everything. The problem was that he wasn't around very much. And then he wasn't around at all - he just took off one day.'

'I'm sorry,' Elizabeth said, and Jenny gave a thin smile.

'When mom met Richard, we were a couple of basket cases. All that Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore stuff isn't as easy as it looks. But Richard's there. He's solid. And what he's doing, I mean with the books, it's a way of showing that he cares. I know it doesn't seem that way, but it is.'

Elizabeth said, 'So, that's Richard. But what about you?'

This was the tough part. Jenny shook her head. 'I don't know how to ask him to stop,' she said. 'The book for next week, the one we're supposed to précis for Thursday's lesson, he took it. He didn't just black out parts, he took it. He said it was banned once, and it should stay banned.' Jenny struggled for a moment, and then said, with some passion, 'I want to read it.'

Elizabeth sat back. Probably a third of the kids in the class wouldn't even have bothered to look at the book by the time that Thursday's lesson came around, and then they'd try to fool her by embellishing the dustcover notes with a few fantasties of their own. Sometimes, you just couldn't recognise a freedom - until someone took it away.

Elizabeth said, 'Would you like me to talk to him?'

Jenny's eyes lit up with new hope. It was slow to increase, but it was there. 'Would you? she said.

'I can try.'

Jenny stood up, close to tears. 'Thank you,' she said, with a catch in her voice. 'I owe you one.'

Elizabeth watched her leave the classroom with new spring in her step. We owe each other , she thought. All of us.

'It's a crazy idea,' Doris said. 'You must be insane.'

Insane or not, Danny and Leroy were prepared to sell their idea for all it was worth. Unfortunately, Doris didn't seem to think that it was worth much.

'Split the difference,' Danny suggested. 'Call us desperate.'

Doris stepped back from the dress dummy that she'd been working on, and surveyed the results of her labour. Her clothing allowance for the half-year was all used up; if she wanted cowgirl gear this was the only way she was going to get it.

'Let me get this straight,' she said. 'You are going to steal the other team's playbook?'

'Well, how else are we supposed to make a copy of it?' Leroy said, as if the conclusion ought to be obvious.

'You can't do that. It's . . . ' she was about to say illegal or immoral, but the truth was that it was the only feasible solution that she could see to their problem. Danny and Leroy were in a deep hole without a ladder.

'You're right,' Danny said, and there was an odd kind of triumph in his voice. Doris had the feeling that she'd just unwittingly comfirmed something that she wasn't going to like. 'We can't do it.'

'They've already seen our faces,' Leroy added.

It sank in, like a stone through a pail of milk.

'Me?' Doris said.

Danny smiled, ingratiatingly. 'Who better?'

'Who better?' Doris exploded. 'Anybody better! The Mormon Tabernacle Choir would be better!

'Schwartz, come on. We need . . . '

Leroy interrupted, with a hand on his friend's arm. 'Danny, let it go. If the girl says she can't do it, she can't do it. Period and out.'

But there was a subtle distinction here, and Leroy knew it. Doris, as planned, rose to the bait.

'I didn't say I can't do it, I said I won't. Big difference.'

Leroy was looking mournful as he moved slowly towards the door. 'Yeah,' he said, 'I guess you're right. There is a big difference. And I guess those kids in the choir will know what that difference is. I'll tell them about this girl who could help them, but won't. Tell them about this girl who could let them know what it's like to be a winner . . . but won't. Tell them about this girl who could make their lives worthwhile . . . but won't. I'll tell them, and they'll understand for sure . . . '

'Jerry Lewis does it better,' Doris said.

'Doris, think,' Danny urged. 'We get Julie to bat those baby blues at the other coach. He looks the other way. You get to the playbook and copy it. What an adventure story. What a challenge.'

'What a crock.'

Leroy said from by the door, 'Does that mean you won't do it?'

She looked back and forth between the two of them. The sense of illicit delight in the room was almost palpable.

'Did I say that?' she said. 'I don't think I said that. As a matter of fact, I know I didn't say that.'

With the co-operation of Doris guaranteed, Danny moved on to the persuasion of Julie Miller whilst Leroy went to dance class. Danny switched on all of his charm and his most polished technique; Julie told him to can it and get to what he really wanted to say.

It wasn't as tough as he'd thought it would be; perhaps it was just that, compared to the commando part of the operation that Doris would be carrying out, the task that they were asking her to perform looked like almost nothing.

The implied flattery did Danny's chances no harm at all, either.

Leroy's day didn't proceed quite so smoothly. In class he was visited with an honour and a letdown, both at the same time.

The problem lay with the guest spot from Willcox. He wouldn't even be in New York until two days before the dress rehearsals for the alumni show; this wouldn't be much of a difficulty as long as they had a well worked-out routine that he coud fit himself into in a couple of intensive sessions, but for this they needed a male dancer of real ability to stand in for him. The choice of Leroy was so obvious to everyone that they didn't even have to make a pretence of arguing it through.

But then came the letdown. After being Willcox for a few weeks, Leroy was going to have to step aside to let the real Willcox take over. This meant either dropping out of the show, or just moving to the back of the stage where an extra dancer could be accommodated without too mcuh refigging of the routine. Neither alternative appealed too much; to walk out of the spotlight would be bad enough, but as he'd always said, he hadn't got into this game to be no chorus boy.

As Leroy was thinking it over, Danny went looking for Julie for the second time that day. He found her between classes, emerging from the music room with Bruno Martelli.

His attention was momentarily diverted from the business in hand by Bruno's lip fuzz. 'Hate to tell you this, Martelli,' he said, 'but you should wash more often. You've got mould forming.'

'It's supposed to make me look older,' Bruno protested.

'You want the truth?'

'I'm not so sure.'

'It takes about five years off your age. Makes you look like a little kid who's trying too hard. Face it, Martelli, Bluto you ain't.'

Bruno mooched off, puzzling it through, as Danny drew Julie aside. Coco Hernandez saw them and came over; she'd been brought in as a co-conspiritor mainly because she'd been the only one around to lend Julie a dime for the phonecall.

'What's the news on Operation Playbook?' Danny wanted to know. Julie looked modestly at the floor, and Coco put a proud arm around her shoulders. 'That coach was crawling through the phone to get her.'

'You already got in touch?'

'Well,' Julie said, 'I called the guy and told him I worked for the school newspaper.'

'No kidding,' Julie said with faintly-feigned shock.

'Tell him what you said,' Coco urged, and then she explained to Danny, 'This person is not one to get tied down by truth.'

I just told him that we were thinking about organising a sports programme here, and his name was mentioned as being one of the best coaches in the city and would he come over and do an interview for us, kind of help us out.'

'Yeah,' Coco said, 'but it was the way she asked. This girl could make a living taping those obscene cassettes they sell around Times Square. It was lethal to listen to.'

'Anyway,' Julie said, putting a firm end to that line of speculation, 'He's coming over this afternoon. And while he's here, Doris will be going over there.'

It was working out better than Danny could have hoped. 'You're a regular Mata Hari, Miller,' he said, but Julie wasn't exactly impressed by the compliment.

'Mata Hari ended up in front of a firing squad.'

'But I bet she had a smile on her face.'

Move over, Sharkey, and make way for Amatullo's Machine. Everything seemed to be going as well as he could hope for, but things were about to get even better.

As Danny was walking off down the corridor, he heard somebody calling his name. He turned, and saw David Reardon only a few yards behind and walking to catch up.

'Miss Grant tells me you and Leroy are coaching a basketball team,' the drama teacher said. 'Is that right?'

'Sort of,' Danny admitted. 'Let's say we're trying to coach a basketball team.'

'Need some help?'

'What we need is a miracle.'

'Well,' Reardon said, 'I'm on a kind of tight schedule at the moment, but I can always try to stretch things a little if you want me to give you a hand.

'I didn't know you played.'

'Are you kidding? They used to call me the fast break kid. I was real dynamite. I had my own cheerleader section.'

'Okay,' Danny said, after a pause for consideration that wouldn't have registered on even the most accurate stopwatch. 'You're hired.'

'Gee, thanks, coach,' Reardon said.

He knew that he was probably going to regret it, but he'd had to make the offer; if there was anything that David Reardon loved as much as life itself, it was basketball. There was a time when he'd considered aiming for a professsional career, but a height of rather less than seven and a half feet had dictated that he should turn his interests elsewhere. He was lucky that he'd then been bitten by the acting bug, because it had saved him from a lifetime of being an embittered spectator.

It was that same bug which was responsible for the pressures on his schedule that he'd already mentioned to Danny Amatullo. At first he'd intended to keep the whole thing quiet, but when Lydia Grant had shake him awake in the teachers' lounge for the third time in the previous week, he'd realised that it was only fair to explain to her why.

'I know what you're thinking,' he'd said, 'and you're in for a big disappointment.'

'And what am I thinking?' Lydia had wanted to know.

'You're thinking that I am involved in some mad, passionate affair with a woman who's been keeping me up nights rewriting the Kama Sutra.'

'Okay, so you knew what I was thinking.'

'And the thing is, this rehearsal schedule is a hassle and the director is a little . . . avant-garde. Keeps trying new things all the time.'

'Sounds a lot like a drama teacher I know,' Lydia had said.

So that was it; word was bound to get out sometime, and it might as well be through Lydia as any other way. He was probably over-extending himself, but there was an odd kind of exhilaration in the thought; after all, he'd be using muscles both mental and physical that had been distinctly underemployed in the last couple of years.

Stepping through the double doors of the drama studio, he was met by a breathless hall monitor. She'd been sent by Mrs. Berg, and had been looking for him for five minutes; apparently there was a long-distance phonecall for him, and the caller was on hold

Long distance? He wondered who it could be. He'd long since given up the notion that it could be Hollywood, going out of its way to notice him at last. He went down to the office to find out.

'Hello?' he said into the receiver, feeling slightly awkward as he sent his voice out into nowhere. 'This is David Reardon.'

'Davy! How ya doin'?'

'Who is this?'

'It's Bernie, Bernie Rettig. Remember?'

Remember? How could he forget? Bernie Rettig was his room-mate in college; the last Reardon had heard, he was taking postgraduate studies in journalism at some college out West. They'd been members of the same water polo team, and they'd once dated twin sisters who had switched places on them in the middle of the evening. Neither had noticed the change, and neither of the sisters would speak to them again.

'Bernie,' he said. 'Good to hear from you.' Even as he said it, Reardon was aware of a slim finger of doubt that was probing his soul. People just didn't ring you up after an eight year silence without wanting something.

'Listen, Davy,' Rettig said, 'I'm in town next week. You know, hitting the Big Apple and all that kind of junk. Any chance of a floor to crash on? I mean, you didn't get married or anything stupid like that, did you?'

So that was it; little enough, but then Reardon's life over the next few weeks was already about as complicated as he felt he could handle. But what could he say?

'Sure, Bernie,' he said. 'It'll be good to have you.'

Over extended? He was going to make Plastic Man look like a bad case of arthritis.

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