The Dark Sleep Chapter 3

I asked Adelle Taylor if she had any new work coming up. Between that and the compliment, the conversation ran itself all the way through to the overture. She could talk fast, a necessary skill in radio, and filled my head with more information about herself than I could ever remember. It made the lady happy. The men were silent, though I caught Dalhauser giving me one of his long steady looks as if to say he knew what I'd done.

Ted Drew got his Melodians going for the second time, and the drunken Bill began making his rounds of the upper tier of tables. You could tell who in the audience had seen the show before and who was new by the grins on some faces and looks of embarrassed horror on others. The same guy knocked Bill onto the dance floor, starting the show in earnest.

Knowing what was coming added to my enjoyment, and the performance seemed even better than before. Everyone was warmed up, confident of their reception, and thus free to have fun. Bobbi's caperings as the Chinese dragon were broader and more bold, the dancers more in time with each other, the singing more expressive, the muggings at the audience funnier. The reward was laughter, applause, and another ovation. The latter was more raucous but shorter; the hour was late and everyone was pretty well-oiled.

I spared some attention for the others at the table, having the strong feeling that Bobbi might want to know Archy Grant's reaction to the show. He seemed to like it, laughing in the right spots, listening with concentration at others, particularly when Bobbi had a solo.

Adelle watched a little more coolly, turning away once to order a fresh drink. She asked everyone if they wanted another as well. Grant was the only one to say no, with an abrupt throwing-away gesture; the rest of us took a second or two to give her a whispered yes or no-thanks.

Ike LaCelle was so engrossed I thought he'd leave eyeball prints on the girls. He hung on every word, laughed the hardest at every joke, clapped the longest at every bow. He was trying too hard, but seemed unaware of it.

Dalhauser smiled a few times and applauded appropriately. Once or twice he'd throw a look of mild annoyance at LaCelle. He nursed his one drink through the whole hour.

As the lights came up and the applause died down, Archy Grant turned around to the table, a big grin lighting his face. "Well, as the man said, she is one hot pippin-if you don't mind my saying so, Mr. Fleming."

"I'll pass the compliment on to her. She won't mind."

Adelle and Dalhauser both noticed what I had not said about who minded what. She made a tiny smile, hiding it by taking a drink from her empty glass. He shifted his gaze to me for a second and the corners of his mouth twitched ever so slightly. He had my number all right. Archy was a good-looking SOB, famous, and apparently taking the stunning woman next to him for granted. If he was the predator I pegged him to be, then I was more than prepared to keep him a good arm's length away from Bobbi when she came by for the after-hours party.

Ike LaCelle looked like he had similar feelings for my girlfriend, and though he was also good-looking, I had little to worry about. Bobbi had met hundreds like him since she started singing and knew how to deal with them.

By now I'd long figured out that Archy Grant's presence at the club was no happy accident, and that he was certainly on the list for the party. Most likely Gordy had invited LaCelle and asked him to bring Archy. The lovely Adelle was a bonus. How Dalhauser fit in, I didn't yet know, or if he was even part of the group. He and Ike were certainly acquainted, but whatever other links they had, I'd have to learn from Gordy.

Our host had been completely absent throughout, which was not too surprising. He was usually a busy man.

The paying audience thinned and departed, as did most of the performers, though a number of the Melodians and costumed chorus girls remained to keep the place from echoing. Hot food appeared on a line of tables, and everyone but me gorged like starving lions.

"You sure can tell the talent from the rest," said Archy, nodding at the line. "Never get between an actor and his food."

I knew that the general idea applied for most other professions as well, but just to be friendly, I agreed with him.

"Are you an actor, Mr. Fleming?" he asked.

One of Escott's favorite sayings came to mind. "We're all poor players on the world's stage, aren't we?" I asked, quoting him exactly, but without the English accent.

Grant froze for the briefest moment, his lips compressing into a thin line before he forced them into a brief, tight smile. My apparent youth was working against me again. I was probably his age in years, but my condition had shaved a decade or more from my face. Maybe he saw me as some smart-ass kid. Well, he was half-right, and not about the kid part.

Ike LaCelle laughed more than was necessary at my observation; even a chuckle would have been too much, but he didn't know that now. He'd been packing the drinks away like Prohibition was about to come back, and though he must have had a hell of a capacity, the load was starting to show. He was a happy drunk, though, if a bit boring for Adelle. For the last half hour he'd been trying to tell her some involved story featuring an encounter he once had with Laurel and Hardy. I think she stopped listening after he began with the question "Did I ever tell you about the time I met... ?"

"I'm curious, Mr. Fleming," Grant continued. "What's your line? I mean, besides playing escort to one of the most beautiful women in Chicago." He added a laugh, the same distinctive one he used in his radio show. Several heads turned in our direction and some people laughed as well, though they couldn't have heard anything. Grant had been recognized, and those in the know quickly informed the rest.

"A lot of different things," I answered, trying to decide how much he needed to hear.

"Yes, I suppose a young man like yourself has all sorts of prospects ahead of him. It might be hard to choose."

Great. Friendly words, condescending delivery. If I'd really been the age I looked, I might have picked a fight with him.

"Archy, dear," said Adelle, smiling steadily at me. "You might take a moment to notice that Mr. Fleming's tuxedo is worth at least a week's pay."

"Leave it to you to count how much money a man has, darling." He said it like a line for his Variety Hour and made his signature laugh to let people know he was only kidding with her. There was just enough edge underneath not to be funny, but Adelle went along with it. Her smile did not reach her eyes.

Before anyone else could fill in the gap a cheer and applause went up across the room. Gordy appeared from the right-hand wings with Bobbi on his arm. She beamed and delivered a mock bow in acknowledgment. There was some hooting from a few, but it came from the other performers in the show and was of the good-natured sort.

I excused myself to one and all and made my way along the tables to meet them as they crossed the dance floor.

Bobbi looked spectacular in a deep blue dress with a high collar and long sleeves that opened at the shoulder and closed up again at the wrists. It was in a floaty, clingy fabric that made her look like she'd wrapped herself in a slice of midnight sky. She wore a silver necklace with a modest sprinkle of tiny diamonds to serve as stars against the blue background. The only thing about her with more gleam and glitter was her soft cap of platinum hair, where she'd pinned the white orchid Escott had sent.


"Something wrong?" she asked, stepping up to me. She had on a special rose-scented perfume that went right through my skull-in a nice way.

"Don't tease 'im, Bobbi," Gordy advised. "The poor schmuck's ready to keel over."

I woke up fast. "Not tonight, I ain't. Bobbi, you look... you... I mean-"

"Just as I said." Gordy again.

She slipped from his arm onto mine. "Keep looking at me like that and you don't have to say anything, lover."

Just as well. I couldn't think of any words that could come close to saying how I felt. And I had delusions of being a writer.

"I gotta do some business tonight, Jack," she said by way of a warning. Gordy had gone ahead of us; Ike LaCelle was busy introducing him to Adelle and Grant.

"I figured as much when Archy Grant turned up at the table."

"It was Gordy's idea to get him here to see me."

"I figured that, too. You angling to get on the Variety Hour?"

"Exactly. He's probably aware of it, so I can't be too anxious or obvious."

"Scheme away, my lovely. Make yourself rich and famous, just don't forget your old friends."

She planted a peck on the edge of my jaw. "Have you met Archy? What's he like?"

"He's okay, I guess."

"I thought you enjoyed his show."

"I do, but the jury's still out on whether I like him or not." Privately, I'd already pegged him as an asshole, but there was no need to prejudice Bobbi against him. She had enough to think about. "On the surface he's smooth enough, but he doesn't give much of himself away."

"He is pretty famous. Some people have to close themselves off like that to keep everyone from taking away pieces.

You've seen me do it."

"I have. But the jury's still out." After all, it wasn't like I was starstruck around him, as other people were. I'd met celebrities before. Hell, once I even lost twelve bucks playing pinochle with Chico Marx. "Grant seemed very interested in you-"

"Was he?" That pleased the hell out of her.

"-but if he gets fresh I'll see to it his face makes friends with the sidewalk."

"Oh, Jack!" She squeezed my arm. "You are so damn cute when you get jealous."

"I'm not jealous, just looking out for your interests."

"Well, thank you, but-"

"Okay, I know, and I'll back off. It's not that I don't trust you; it's all the rest of them. They should look at you with respect, not like you're a piece of fresh meat."

"You'll hate this, but Marza said nearly the same thing earlier today."

Marza Chevreaux was Bobbi's accompanist on the piano, and she had no liking for me at all. The feeling was mostly mutual, but for Bobbi's sake we lived by a sort of half-assed truce, only drawing blood when she wasn't around to hear us.

"You called it right, sweetheart. Me and Marza agreeing on something? Did hell freeze over and I miss it?"

"She's like you in wanting to protect me from the cruel, cruel world, but there's no need. After all the stuff I've been through, I think I can handle most anything."

"I bet you could."

"I know I can-but it's nice that you want to cover my back."

That called for a kiss. A peck on her forehead seemed the most appropriate, so I delivered.

She straightened my tie a little. "Now, where Mr. Archy Grant is concerned, it is strictly business. I'll charm his socks off, but that's as far as the undressing goes. Besides, he's sort of engaged to Adelle Taylor."

That surprised me. "Engaged? Jeez, the way he treats her I thought they were married."

"Oh, yeah? Tell me-no, never mind. Gordy's waving. It's show time."

She didn't really square herself as others might have done to face an important situation, but a subtle change did take place in her. I could almost feel the electricity she could generate suddenly building to charge through and around her like a small, intense storm. I don't know what it was she did or how she knew to do it, but when she went into it she seemed bigger and brighter than before. She radiated enthusiasm and energy and people got caught up in it in spite of themselves. Some liked it and hung around like moths wanting to burn themselves up, and others gave her a wide berth, but one way or another everyone felt it.

She was different than she'd been when I'd first met her. The potential had been there, but she was so under the control of her mob lover she didn't dare use it except onstage. Once clear of him, and once she understood I wasn't about to make his mistakes, she cut loose and really pressed ahead with the serious business of being herself. It was a wonderful process to watch, and God help anyone, myself included, who dared to interfere.

Of course, I still had a protective streak toward her that was a few miles wide. I couldn't pretend otherwise, but kept it well in check. If there was one thing she couldn't stand, it was having anyone looking over her shoulder for her own good.

With this in mind I hung back by half a step once we reached Gordy's table. As host, he presented her to them all.

The men stood and acted suitably impressed, even Dalhauser. Adelle shook hands with a big, sincere-looking smile and complimented her on the show, giving the rest the signal to fall over themselves delivering their own praise. Ike had the most to offer, comparing her to Ginger Rogers and Carole Lombard, both of whom he just happened to know. We took our seats, and Grant spared us from another of Ike's involved reminiscences.

"This is a quite a change from that jungle review you did for the Top Hat Club a few months ago," he said to Bobbi.

"Goodness, you saw that? Thank you for remembering."

"Not at all. You showed then that you have the rare quality of good comedic timing; that's something you have to be born with."

"So I've been told."

"After this club date, what are your future plans?"

"That depends on what my agent turns up for me." It was her standard reply for anyone who bothered to ask. This time she did not follow it up with further information, such as what she expected would come her way. That was to be Grant's job if things worked right.

"What would you like to do?" he pressed.

"Anything that pays."

"Well, now..." he began, doing an Eddie Cantor roll of the eyes.

She picked up on it and laughed. "Anything with singing and dancing, I mean."

"You are versatile." He milked it for exactly two seconds, then damped it down to a more serious level. "Would you be interested in singing on my show?"

"Who wouldn't, Mr. Grant?" She beamed him her sunniest smile.

"Archy, please. If we're going to work together it has to be first names all around. Isn't that right, Adelle?"

"Perfectly right, darling," she said, unconcernedly taking a cigarette from a gold case with her initials engraved on it. Gordy, sitting between her and Grant, offered her a light.

"So, Bobbi, you think you could have something ready by this Tuesday? I know it's very short notice, but-"

"Oh, I could do it, but I don't know how to work it into my schedule. Your show's on at the same time I'm doing mine."

"You don't have to sing in the studio. We could set something up to broadcast right here from the club. With Gordy's permission," he added.

Gordy gave a slow nod. "It'd be good publicity for everyone."

Things moved pretty fast after that; even though I was stone-cold sober, I couldn't keep up with it. I had better luck paying attention to what was going on beneath the negotiations and planning.

It seemed clear to me that Grant was attracted to Bobbi, but smart enough not to move on her in an obvious way.

All he really had to do was play up his brand of charm, flash the perfect teeth, and be vastly amused at anything witty she said, using his familiar laugh. It went without saying that he was very famous and in a position to do her a lot of professional good. Most other girls would have been dazzled and eager, but Bobbi wasn't of their number. If any dazzling was to be done, that was her job. Ike was thoroughly caught up in her spell, and even Dalhauser looked more animated than was usual for him.

Throughout it all she would occasionally slip her hand under the table, find my knee, and give it an affectionate squeeze. It was an unconscious gesture on her part, for all her concentration was on Grant, but because it was unconscious it meant more to me than anything she could have done on purpose.

I also got the impression that Grant was out to annoy Adelle in a not-too-subtle way. She tried hard to pretend not to notice anything. Gordy wasn't blind and leaned over to whisper something in her ear, which resulted in a smile from her. Not a big one, but after that some of the stiffness left her shoulders. When the business talk died down Gordy signaled someone behind me, and one of the staff brought over a tray stacked high with fancy sandwiches and caviar.

Someone else delivered more drinks. Bobbi had another grape juice, this time chilled.

"Aren't you eating, Mr. Fleming?" asked Adelle, sliding black fish eggs onto a cracker. I wondered if it had been baked by Miss Sommerfeld's family.

"I had something earlier." Actually, I'd fed heavily at the Stockyards last night, but she didn't need to know that.

Bobbi's hand happened to be on my knee again. She gave me a playful pinch.

"That's a very smart outfit, Adelle," she said. "Is it a Schiaparelli?"

"No, a Banton. Is yours a Greer?"

"An Adrian."

This set off an intense discussion as they batted names like Chanel, Irene, Orry-Kelly, West, and Tree back and forth.

The men, myself included, looked either bewildered, bored, or blank. The end result for the women was a date for lunch and shopping tomorrow.

One of the braver chorus girls, egged on by her giggling sisters, approached Grant and asked for an autograph. He flashed her his public smile and troweled on the charm. This brought more girls, one by one, all smiling, maybe hoping to do what Bobbi had just accomplished. Things were too crowded, and the stink of the food was getting to me. Bobbi still had more talking to do, so I quietly excused myself and slipped away to more open spaces. Gordy managed to do the same thing and joined me.

"That went like you wrote the dialogue," I said, straddling a chair up on the empty second tier.

"Better than planned," he agreed, leaning on a rail to watch things a few steps below.

"What if Grant hadn't been interested in putting Bobbi on the show?"

"Then I'd drop a word in Ike's ear so he could suggest that Grant get himself interested."

"Ike doesn't strike me as the kind who would have much influence with too many people."

"He's got plenty."

"How so?"

"Ike's cash and connections is what got Grant started back in New York in the first place. They been thick for years."

"So that's why Grant puts up with him."

"Don't underestimate Ike. He's starstruck and likes dropping names, but he knows how to do tough."

"And I should be friends with this guy?"

"He's a handy shortcut to a lot of talent."

"How much of that talent owes him?"

"A few, but not in money. For them, he mostly does favors."

"When he's not setting up crap games?"

"You got it, kid."

"What kind of favors?"

"Nothing too illegal."

That covered a wide range of possibilities "Such as... ?"

He thought a minute. "There was some Broadway singer playing around with his costar in a show, only his wife in California don't know it. She comes to New York for a surprise visit. Ike got wind of it, got to the hotel first, and had the girl dressed and down the back stairs as the wife was getting out of the elevator. It saved the production from looking for a new leading man."

"So he and the costar are Ike's good friends now?"

He opened his hand, palm out, in a "what do you think?" gesture.

"Did Bobbi know you planned to have Ike promote her with Grant?"

"I told her. She didn't like it."

"But she went ahead anyway."

"She told me if she didn't get a job on Grant's show on her own, then I was to tell Ike to forget it."

"Would you have?"

He grimaced and finally nodded. "You gotta be honest with a gal like her. On the other hand, Ike would have gone ahead and told Grant anyway. Just look at him. He's goofy for her."

"That would let you off the hook."

There was a look of definite satisfaction on his mug. "I win both ways."

"So does Bobbi." Of course, singing "Chinatown, My Chinatown" on Grant's show was probably not going to make her an overnight sensation. She'd had more to do on another national broadcast last fall and nothing had come of it. But with Grant backing her she might get more recognition than before. I could hope so.

Down on the dance floor some of the band members brought their instruments out and started an impromptu session. They'd been fed and watered and this time were playing for the love of their craft, not the money.

"That's good," I remarked. "Seeing 'em do that."

"How so?"

"It means they like it here, feel comfortable enough to hang around to have some fun. It didn't used to be that way." The atmosphere of the club was different with Gordy running things. There was still an air of risk about the joint, but now it was more in the line of forbidden fruit, rather than the imminent danger of getting killed.

"I guess," he said, watching the dance floor. Some of the men were leading girls onto it. Those girls left over danced with each other.

"What guess? It's all your doing. This has become a class place. It's because of this club I want to try my hand at having one."

"Huh. It's because of Bobbi."

No disagreements there. If not for her, a lot of things would be different for me, and Gordy wouldn't still be alive.

We both owed her.

"She won't be doing clubs forever," he added.

"So you've said." I felt a tug inside. Sadness and pride rolled around in my gut. I loved her, and knew she loved me, but if she was going places and moving up, I couldn't hold her back. To do so would be to lose her.

Archy Grant had Bobbi on his arm and was taking her down to the dance floor. I kept a wary eye on things, but he behaved himself and didn't hold her too closely. Good. He was either too smart to try anything with her, or had determined that she was unavailable. Or maybe he'd wait until her inconvenient boyfriend was out of sight. If he thought by having her on his show he could expect her to be grateful beyond just saying thank you, he had another think coming.

At the table Adelle kept Gil Dalhauser company; Ike was busy dancing with a chorus girl.

"Is Dalhauser in their group?" I asked.

"In a left-handed sort of way."

"I heard he's in the trucking unions."

"He works one. Coal hauling. Almost legit. His company sponsors Archy's show. Ike was the one to talk Gil into backing the Variety Hour."

That explained all the coal commercials during the station breaks. "Everyone in each other's pockets."

"It's the way things work, kid."

"Dalhauser don't look like he's having much of a good time."

"He don't have to. He's just keeping an eye on his assets."

"Then he must be blind. A woman like Adelle Taylor sitting right there and he looks like he swallowed a bad lemon."

"He's not moving in on Grant's territory, is all."

But Grant didn't act like he cared and seemed oblivious to everything but Bobbi as he floated across the floor with her. I couldn't blame him much, she was a knockout and then some. Adelle's gaze strayed to him now and then, but not in an obvious way. She would make an extraordinary poker player with that air of supreme indifference, except that a sharp person could see she was wearing it like a fur coat in the summer. All I saw in her eyes was pain.

"Later," said Gordy, excusing himself. He went back to the table and spoke to Adelle. She smiled up at him in a brittle way and took his offered arm. The music was down to a slow waltz, which suited him. For a big man he moved well, but anything faster might have strained his dignity. He led her around the floor, managing to look graceful rather than ponderous. Adelle's tension eased, and by the end of the dance she was laughing again. Who'da thought he had it in him?

I thought of cutting in on Bobbi and Grant, but held off. She looked past him and caught my eye, but only winked and smiled. If she'd wanted a rescue she would have mouthed the word "help" and made a face.

Which left me at loose ends, but not bored. From this perch it was like watching a fishbowl. People were still grazing at the food table and making serious headway in exhausting the supply of booze. This inspired louder-than-normal talk and laughter, but no one seemed to mind, even the bouncers looked relaxed, and a few of them had already paired off with some of the chorus. One little redhead was receiving more than her share of attention from two of the bigger guys and seemed to be having trouble making up her mind.

When the waltz ended and the band started up with something faster, Gordy escorted Adelle toward the wings. I wondered if he was going to give her a tour of the renovated backstage or give her the business. Maybe both. I wished him luck.

Ike LaCelle cut in on Grant and took Bobbi away for a few turns. Some of the extra girls threw hopeful looks at Grant, but he headed back to the table to finish his drink. He nodded at Dalhauser, who had not moved, and said something to him. Dalhauser's eyes flashed once in my direction, then moved on. Grant was a little too careful about not glancing my way.

I could figure that Grant was wondering who the hell I was in the setup of things, and any interest he had in me was linked to his interest in Bobbi. Dalhauser couldn't tell him much, only that I was a regular at the joint and for reasons unknown could see Gordy anytime I wanted. There were plenty of other wiseguys who would like to know how I managed that.

Fine, let 'em all guess. No one would believe the truth of it, anyway.

I saw Bobbi's face as she peered past Ike LaCelle's shoulder. He wasn't doing the fox-trot so much as dragging her around in time to the music. She raised both eyebrows high and showed her teeth at me in a kind of sickly grimace.

Jack-to-the-rescue time.

The song ended just as I made it down there; my cutting-in operation went so smoothly Ike didn't know what hit him. Before he could get wise, one of the hardier-or more-determined-to-further-her-career-girls found her way into his grip and off they went. Between the two of them I wasn't sure who was trying to lead.

"You drifted clear in a quiet way," said Bobbi, melting into my arms as we made slow turns.

"From the table? Well, yeah. You and Adelle started speaking in that foreign language."

"On the fashion designers?"

"Sounded like a bunch of passwords to get into a speakeasy to me." I led her gently to the left, looking over her head. Grant and Dalhauser were still talking. "How did you get on with Archy?"

"Do you mean did he ask me for a date?" She giggled at my reaction. "Yes, he did."

"And him engaged and all. He should be ashamed of himself."

"I don't think he knows the meaning of the word, but he did ask very nicely."

"What was your answer?"

"That I don't date guys I'm working for, and I gave Gordy as an example."

"Grant might think you'll date him after the singing job is finished."

"No, he was smart enough to get my meaning. After that he changed subjects. We talked about his work, then about my work, and eventually he brought it around to talking about you."

"He brought it around?"

"Took him a while, but he managed. Once I was onto his game it was quite entertaining to see him play."

"What'd you tell him?"

"Only that I thought you were terrific, but he wasn't interested in that."

"What then?"

"Where you came from, what you do. I said you were a writer from Ohio; it seemed the most harmless answer."

"Don't bet on it."

"I don't think he believed me, anyway. Did I do wrong?"

"Never. He probably thinks I'm a jobless gigolo living off my rich and famous girlfriend."

"I'm not rich and famous."

"Not yet, you aren't. After next week, who knows?"

"I can hope so. You going to tell him different?"

"No, if he's so interested in my life, he can ask me for himself."

"Maybe he wants to date you," she joked.

I gave her a cockeyed look. "Then you should introduce Archy to your costar."

"Not necessary. He does all right for himself." She nodded toward the remnants of the band. "Bill" was crooning a love song, but directing it toward the trombone player, not the dancers.

"Are they all... ?"

"Yes, dear. That's why they didn't want to go home. Lonely is lonely no matter who you are."

She had that pegged solid. I held her closer and counted my blessings. Somehow they all had to do with Bobbi.

"This shopping with Adelle, is it part of your business deal?"

"No, just being friends, though it's not without ulterior motive-on her part."

"What does she want?"

"You know the saying about keeping your friends close and enemies closer?"

"Sort of. It sounds like something Charles would come out with."

"I got it from him. That's what Adelle's trying to do."

I swung to the left, then to the right, and realized I'd lost the rhythm. "Say that again until it makes sense to me."

"She sees me as a threat to her place with Archy. Making friends with me might lessen the danger."

"I think I get it."

"So will she. Before the day is out I'll make sure she knows I'm not after Archy and will discourage any move he makes in my direction. She'll be reassured and then we can be real friends."

"She's going to a lot of trouble for a guy who doesn't seem to care much for her."

"But she cares for him-in a big way. They're not officially engaged, that's just the rumor. I think she can do better for herself, but she's too scared to try."

"Scared? Her?"

"She's pushing forty, darling, in a fickle line of work, and unmarried. She's terrified."

"You're kidding. She couldn't be forty."

"It can't be too far off. She was doing movies back when they were shooting stuff in New Jersey. By the time sound came along she was still only getting bit parts. She's been out to Hollywood, but I heard all they'd offer her were chorus parts in one-reelers. The only close-ups she ever got was when they smacked a cream pie in her face. This job with Archy is her last chance to make a name for herself."

"She's doing what you're hoping to do." But Bobbi was much younger and more likely to get spotted.

"And I gotta do it faster or in a couple of years I'll be in the same boat as Adelle: background chorus work or character parts playing the star's mother."

I'd heard it all before during our long talks in the dark when Bobbi told me of her dreams for the future. According to the movies, all women were either young and glamorous or old, overdressed biddies.

"I can help you there," I said. More than once I'd offered to place my own talents at her service. "All I gotta do is have a quick word with Archy and you could be a regular on his show like Adelle."

"I know." The way she said it, so neutral, so closed off, made me lose step again.

"Or... I could go outside and jump in the lake. I've tried kicking myself, but it doesn't work so good."

"Oh, Jack, I appreciate you trying to help me with this, I really do-"

"But it's not the way you want to win."


"Look, it's not that you won't win on your own merits, all you need is to get in front of an audience for five minutes and let them fall in love with you. What I'm thinking is that I just fix it so you have the opportunity to get in front of them in the first place." We'd had this talk time and time again. "It's not cheating for me to hypnotize someone like Archy into giving you a real break. Cheating would be for me to hypnotize everyone in the audience into calling for more, and that's something you do yourself."

She opened and shut her mouth once or twice, then sighed and shook her head, caught halfway between exasperation and affection. "You're a fast-talking nut, Jack, and I love you dearly, but no."

I knew when to back off. "Well, the offer's always there if you ever want to take it."

"Thank you."

"You won't forget?"

"No, not if you'll promise me something."

"Name it."

"That you won't do anything like that and keep it from me."

"But I'd never-"


I could have gotten annoyed that she would think I'd do anything like that, but considering the guy she'd been with before, I couldn't blame her for needing the reassurance. Besides, when she looked at me like that I'd have gone over Niagara in a leaky barrel full of bricks for her. "Cross my heart and hope to-"

"Oh, jeez, pick another!" She stopped cold, eyes wide. She'd spoken loud enough to draw attention, but had no mind for anyone staring at us.

"-not spit in the wind," I finished lamely.

She stared for a second longer, then fought to relax. "I'm sorry. It's crazy of me to be like this, but-"

"Don't worry about it." We'd each skated too close to death on a couple occasions for any light mention of it to be welcome to her. "You're an artist and allowed to be a little bit crazy. Charles is the same way about that Shakespeare play."

Mentioning his name brought some of her smile back. "Yes, I've heard him talking about it-or rather not talking about it."

I pulled her close and whispered into her ear. "And I'm the one who's sorry. I've said enough dumb things tonight to be drunk. I promise I won't help you unless you ask me to. And I promise never to go behind your back." It was easy enough to say, and being a basically honest person, I knew I'd stick to it.

She drew away just enough to look at me. "Thank you."

"My pleasure."

"No," she said, a mischievous glint in her eyes. "That happens later."

"Ho-ho." I pulled her close again and we kept on dancing even after the music stopped.

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