FOR PILGRIM Pictures,” read Miss Shaw tonelessly, “one kriss, three shrunken human heads, two elephant rifles and a set of false teeth.”
“Check,” said the round-faced boy, sliding off her desk. “Any particular color on those shrunken human heads, Dodie?”
“No, Alvin. Any color at all. Give them to a messenger right away. They’re shooting the scene this afternoon.”
Dodie Shaw rose shakily to her feet, a small, shapely girl with quick eyes that now held a worried look. This was the crisis at last; this was the time to be strong. Setting her red mouth into a firm line, she squared her shoulders and marched out of her cubbyhole office into the dimlit vastness of the Hollywood Mercantile Company’s second-floor loft.
Her step began to lag as she went by a pile of decoy ducks, and as she passed a row of carpetbags she became downright panicky. True, she thought, Richard was not the violent type physically, but his temper did have a low combustion point. The poor lamb, left with a business for which he, of all people, had little talent and, naturally, no taste at all. For although he had taught ancient history, his knowledge of antiquities was purely academic and in no way related to the problem of supplying motion picture studios with whatever oddments their directors or writers thought of in moments of exalted creation.
She let her gaze wander. Except for Max, the handyman, whose little shop was off to one side, she was alone, lost in a turbulent sea of strange objects. Stock tickers, sewing machines, mummies, grandfather clocks, guns. And, stretching back into dark recesses, the vast horde of bric-a-brac, one hundred thousand strong, collected by the elder Mr. Locke, now deceased. One hundred thousand objects, each of which had played its part, for a modest fee, in thousands of motion pictures. This sword had been wielded by was it Fairbanks? And oh, the beautiful heroines who had worn that jewelled crown. Item: one crown two dollars a day.
Down a flight of stairs and up another to a balcony. There, in an office overlooking the boulevard, an office brimming over with more odds and ends, she found Richard Locke.
He was examining his precious collection of snuffboxes, his head bent studiously over a table. It was a large head that started with a sensitive chin and worked up through Nordic features to a broad expanse of brow capped by a shock of uncombed red-brown hair. He didn't notice her until she said, “Hey, you!” Then he lifted mild grey eyes and said, “A première is the first public showing of a film. Correct me if I’m wrong, Dodie.”
She shook her head wonderingly. Three months in Hollywood, and he still wasn't sure what a première was. She said, as to a child, “Yes, dear. It is usually accompanied by brilliant searchlights stabbing a starlit sky. It gives the movie stars a chance to show their expensive clothes, and it’s a Roman holiday for autograph hunters.”
“Oh.” He nodded. “Because someone, I don't know who, sent me two tickets. Would you like to go with me tonight?”
“Yes, I would, Richard,” she said eagerly.
“I was going to give them away.”
“I’d love to go,” she said hastily.
He turned back to the snuffboxes on his table. The subject of premières, apparently, was closed. She hovered behind him a moment, gathering nerve. Then she sat herself on his desk and said, “I want to have a serious talk with you.”
"Some other time.”
“Right now. Richard. It took your father ten years to build up this organization, while you were gathering knowledge in cloistered halls. Now. in three months, you’ve succeeded in cutting business in half—”
Her outburst served only to make him indignant, as she knew it would. Soon he would become sullen and brood about his sorry lot. He would speak of going back to his instructorship at the university, from which he had been drawn by his father’s death and the inheritance of a going business.
Then, if things got out of hand, he would remind Dodie of her status in the organization. “You’re only my secretary,” he would point out. And he would rake up her case history, letting her know that she had almost starved trying to get work in the movies; that she had been merely a car-hop at a drive-in lunch counter when he had hired her because she looked moderately well-bred and intelligent, not for the reason that she showed executive ability or was pretty, because you stepped on scads of pretty girls every time you took a step in Hollywood . . .
“Look,” she said desperately, “when a studio calls up for a property you haven’t got in stock, what do you say?”
“I say I haven’t got it,” he stated sullenly,
Dodie threw wide her hands. “There you are. Our arch-competitor, James P. McNulty, never says no. If he hasn’t got it, he goes out and gets it. In that way, he has trained studio property men to call his office first.”
“Miss Shaw,” said Richard, suddenly caustic, “when I hired you—”
SHE SIGHED. His tone signalized failure, and now that she had failed there was another issue to face. “Suppose, Richard,” she said quietly, “a director—Milton Ketchum of Magnalux, let us say—calls up to ask if we can get him a steam roller which he needs for a gag in a picture.”
“Don’t bring up silly examples.”
“As a matter of fact,” she said slowly, “he did call me— and for just that.”
‘Indeed? Naturally you told him we couldn’t get it.” “As a matter of fact”—she swallowed with difficulty— “I told him we could.”
The next few minutes were among the most painful in all Dodie’s young life. Richard grew very pale and asked where on earth could a man get a steam roller in Los Angeles at ten in the morning. Dodie said it was patent that he, Richard, had no desire to get one anyhow. And she was right, for Richard told her where Director Ketchum could go, with or without his steam roller. He said, furthermore, that he had a good mind to sell out to McNulty, as the latter had suggested. (“Sell out to McNulty?” she cried in alarm. “Oh. Richard, no!”) Yes, McNulty, he said, which made Dodie’s lips pout as she tried not to cry. Against that he had no weapon, so he jammed on his hat and strode out of the office.
In the candid light of sober consideration, Dodie condemned herself for her wilful conduct. In the first place, she told herself, Richard had a right to run his business as he saw fit. Secondly, when you paused to deliberate, where could one get a steam roller?
Nevertheless, she had committed herself and Richard to Magnalux, and she had no intention of going back on her word. For an hour she sat in her office, thinking very hard. When no solution was forthcoming, she took up her morning routine of studying auction sale announcements in the daily papers. Presently she drew a circle around one advertisement and called Alvin, her assistant, into the office.
“I want you to go out to a public auction at Hermosa City,” she said before she could change her mind.
“ ’Way out to Hermosa?” the boy asked. “What for?”
“A fire engine.”
“Oh, a city auction.” His round face became dubious. “It’ll cost about fifty bucks, Dodie.”
She had a momentary qualm, but a surge of optimism followed. “We’ll get that back on one day’s rental,” she said, adding morbidly to herself, “if I can get somebody to rent a fire engine for a day.”
Specifically, she was wondering if she could get Director Ketchum to rent a fire engine instead of a steam roller, and in a short while she had arrived at the Magnalux lot to find out.
Tim, the policeman at the west gate, let her through, and she hitched a ride on a studio utility wagon to stage 22, where Milton Ketchum's picture was shooting. For a seeming eternity she waited outside the drab grey building in a broiling hot sun. At length, when she was sure she had acquired sunstroke, the red light at the entrance went out as the vaultlike door swung open.
Extras, their skin covered with a weird brown make-up, dribbled out of the door on their way to lunch. Then Director Ketchum emerged, and Dodie experienced an instant of doubt, Milton Ketchum’s pose in life was that of a genius forced, in a material world, to mingle with boobs in order to earn his bread.
But speaking to him today was not the usual ordeal of talking fast and hoping for an answer. Now he was acting the benevolent despot, for his picture was rolling smoothly ahead of schedule. When the great man saw her, he smiled fondly upon the comely peasant girl, saying, "Hello, Dodie. Your hunch on Flying Flash in the third was most fortunate.”
“Hunch, Milton?” she said eagerly, drifting into his tow a little behind and to the side of him. “I spoke to the horse before I gave it to you. The horse said. ‘Tell Milton I’m ready to go.’ ”
Director Ketchum, who was notable for a sense of humor that was queer or at best nonexistent, nodded his head. “Dodie, my dear,” he said kindly. “I am on my way to lunch with my writers at the Derby. Would you care to join me?”
That was the opening she had been waiting for. “No, thanks,” she said gratefully. “Your property man called us for a steam roller this morning. I have to pick one up.”
Now that the subject was open, it was merely a matter of drawing him out. Of course, all ideas had to come from Milton Ketchum or they ware worthless. She trotted at his side like a pet spaniel, hoping for the best.
“It’s a great gag, Milton,” she told him, “but as you said, Lee Porter ought to ride up to the church in the final scene on something that makes noise.”
“Did I say that?”
“And you’re right. Something on wheels that makes noise. Whee! Clang, clang, clang!”
“Yes, that’s what I was thinking, to tell the truth. Something with pictorial and sound values.”
“I wish I’d thought of that,” she said. “A steam roller is too slow and silent. It ought to be something that travels fast. Whee! Clang, clang!—as if it’s going to a fire."
“Let me see,” he mused. “What travels fast, as if it’s going to a fire?”
Dodie groaned inwardly. She felt like shouting; "A fire engine, you sap!”
THEY ARRIVED at the front gate, where Milton Ketchum’s chauffeur stood smartly beside an olive-green phaeton. When the director clambered into the car, Dodie had a sinking sensation. This, it seemed, was one long-shot not fated to come through. Her efforts had gone for nought.
“Clang, clang, clang !” she said hopefully.
And miraculously, he was inspired. “We could use a fire engine,” he exclaimed. “Dodie, can you get me one?”
“In a minute. Milton,” she said enthusiastically.
“Then the steam roller is out. I'll tell that to my writers. Will you be here when I return, my dear?”
“I’m glued to the spot.”
She leaned against the wall of the administration building. Within her was a cool, beatific feeling that made her forget the heat of the day. The world was suddenly a heavenly place, and Milton Ketchum was public angel number one.
Her pulse was slowly returning to normal when Lee Porter came by on his way to the commissary. Lee was a pleasant, too-handsome boy who had labored up through feature work to his big chance, a starring part under Milton Ketchum’s divine guidance.
He said affably, “I’m off this afternoon, Dodie. In the mood for some tennis at the club?”
“No, thanks, Lee. I have a big night ahead of me, and I don’t want to upset my hair-do.”
“The première, I suppose,” the actor nodded. “Probably with that schoolmaster.”
“Richard Locke, yes—and he’s not a schoolmaster, my pretty glamour boy.”
Lee Porter grinned. “It had me stumped for a while. I couldn’t understand why you were hanging around that pawnshop posing as a secretary. Secretary loves boss. A corny setup, Dodie. You need a couple of new script writers.”
“I’m glad you didn't say a new leading man,” she replied sweetly.
“Cute kid.” Lee smiled, chucking her under the chin. “Just for that I don’t invite you to lunch, which, be it known, has nothing to do with tennis this afternoon.”
She stood a while, when Lee had gone, in pleasant contemplation of the evening ahead of her. First she would await Milton Ketchum’s return. Then she would stop at the dress shop to pick up her gown. In her mind she planned her ensemble carefully, minutely, even to the particular lace handkerchief she would carry. She had given all the day before to the hairdresser, had purchased an intricate, high, exotic hair-do. Little enough trouble when you considered that this was the first time Richard was taking her out. because the three awful lectures to which he had escorted her—with infuriating indifference now that one thought of it—could not strictly speaking be called “dates.” Perhaps today’s coup, she mused, would arouse in him stark admiration. And when he realized that, besides making directors rent fire engines instead of steam rollers, she was—ah, me—a woman as well as a secretary . . .
Her thoughts were terminated abruptly by a commotion near the studio gate. She had a premonition then. The premonition had to do with Richard; it had to do with trouble. She went toward the front gate until the enlarged view of things outside resolved her premonition into fact. For woe! there was Richard, hanging from the side of a steam roller!
His tie was undone, his hair mussed and his long, sober face aglow with wild exultance. Behind him in the driver’s seat was a muscular little man of swart complexion who was crooning sadly to himself. When Richard saw her, he swung heavily off the steam roller and came toward her. She devoutly wished, at this horrible moment in her young life, to effect some kind of process-shot disappearance, or perhaps a montage effect that would land her in Siberia.
He stood before her, sort of wagging his tail and waiting to be praised, like a big pup that has fetched a ball.
“You got the steam roller after all,” she said in an unnatural voice.
He grinned proudly. “No fault of mine. I happened to pass one, and learned that a ten spot and three bottles of beer can move a steam roller to Magnalux studios accompanied by an Italian love song.”
The pilot of the machine stirred himself. "Hi, Recchar’!” he called. “Where we go now?”
“Keep singing. Gianni,” Richard called back. “Everything is under control.”
WHAT COULD a girl say at a time like this? She said, swallowing hard, “Hit me, please.” She placed a finger on her jaw. "Hit me here, darling.”
“In front of everybody?”
"This is no time to be polite.”
“Don’t misunderstand me,” he said amiably. “I’m not gloating because I was able to lay my hands on an unusual prop. I still think the whole business is rather silly.” A startling idea seemed to strike him at that moment. He glanced at Dodie sharply over his cigarette lighter. “Why do you want me to hit you?”
“It's no fault of mine, Richard,” she said defensively.
“What’s no fault of yours?”
The menace his voice held made her back slowly to the rough cement wall of the building behind. But he stepped forward and trapped her with both hands held flat against the wall on each side of her. “What’s no fault of yours?”
“The gag is changed” she said, closing her eyes resignedly. “Milton Ketchum wants a fire engine instead of a steam roller.” She went on hastily as a low growl escaped him. “That’s movie business, Richard—” And when he stepped back with clenched fists, she added in alarm, “You’re not going to hit me, really!”
But Richard was the mental type. He preferred to give vent to his feelings in words. This he did efficiently, tossing barbed phrases at her like a knife-thrower. He pointed out that he had lowered his dignity, made a fool of himself, and for what? Furthermore (speaking acidly and revealing his baser nature) if she thought for a teeny-weeny moment that he was going out looking for a fire engine, well!... and he laughed a nasty laugh at the very notion.
By this time Dodie was able to adopt an attitude. Richard was being childish and unreasonable. “Very well.” she declared. “We’ll drop the whole matter. However, I ought to tell you that I sent Alvin to Hermosa to pick up a fire engine at auction. They’re probably wrapping it up for him now.”
This stumped Richard, as she meant it to. He could not very well maintain his stand of outraged dignity when the problem was so neatly cared for. He managed slowly to change his tone to gentle rebuke.
“Do you understand" what I mean, Dodie? I can’t afford to be playing games, like a school kid—you see—well, I’ll pick you up for the—uh—première at seven. We’ll have dinner together, huh?"
And on the wave of his penitence Dodie succeeded in shipping him off to Hermosa. With wonderful meekness he bowed to her suggestion. He would drive or tow the fire engine to the shop.
Once again a feeling of “God’s in his heaven, all’s right with the world” descended upon her. Once again she permitted herself to contemplate the evening ahead of her. She wondered if Richard would have sense enough to send her a corsage. If not, she would have to buy one herself. At two she was to pick up her dress.
She decided, at length, not to wait for Milton Ketchum but to snare him at his lunch. She found her parked car, a shiny little coupé with five years of service behind it, and drove quickly to the Brown Derby.
Milton had left. This unwelcome fact she came upon by one second of deductive thinking. The director’s three script writers were at a table, staring distastefully at their untouched food. There was an empty place in the booth and that was where the director should have been.
“Mind if I join the wake, fellows?” she said pleasantly. “Where’s the corpse?”
Ken Dolan, a bald-headed, plump man. looked up at her morosely. “There’s the corpse, Dodie,” he said, indicating a script in a blue jacket.
“Our baby, murdered,” said Irwin R. Lawrence, a very young and healthy-looking chap.
Ben Loeb, who reputedly was Milton Ketchum’s chief purveyor of gags and notions, groaned aloud. He took Dodie’s hand, pulling her toward him. “The picture industry is like horse racing,” he said dismally. “The producers put all their money on a script, shove it in front of a lot of yelling people and somebody starts beating it behind. So it runs. So it runs around in circles until it grows old or lame. Then when it’s no good for anything, they shoot it.”
Dodie shook her head in sympathy. “Tell mother all, my chicks,” she said. “I’m a dandy little crying pillow.”
Ken Dolan cocked an eye at her. “It’s our mutual friend, Milton. He wants a gag at the end of the picture. First it was a steam roller. When he came to lunch it was a fire engine. Before he left it had become a calliope. Honestly, we cried when we wrote the story. It’s heartbreaking. Milton cried when he read it. But he wants to end it with a gag.”
“A calliope?” Dodie gasped.
“A giant calliope,” Ben Loeb nodded. “Something on wheels that makes noise.”
She said, “Oh, my gosh!” very quietly, and she flopped into a chair.
IRWIN R. Lawrence looked at her askance. “Aren’t you overdoing it just a little, beautiful?” he asked. And Ben Loeb said, “Shut up, Irwin, Dodie and her boy friend probably have to get the prop for Milton.”
For the space of several minutes Dodie was too miserable to speak. It was as Ben said, and worse. When she was able to think with a degree of clarity, she said, “Listen, fellows, if Milton wants a gag at the end of the picture, it probably needs one. And even if it doesn’t, it will have one. You’d be doing me a great favor if you argued him into using a fire engine instead of a calliope.”
“The only argument Milton understands is ‘yes’, ” Ken Dolan scowled.
“Kenny, darling,” Dodie said pleadingly, “didn’t I have my friend Mitzi drive your new car in from Detroit and save you freight charges?”
“Well, sure, but—”
“And, Irwin, who gave you an idea for a story that you sold for two thousand dollars?”
But although the boys were willing and anxious to help her, they could hold out very little hope. Milton Ketchum, they informed her, had left to confer with their producer. That very moment, no doubt, the revision was being made in the script. Insert “calliope” in place of . . .
“Doleful, doleful,” Dodie thought. She sat at the wheel of her parked car, ruefully surveying the store front across the street. By no exertion of the intellect could she hit upon a way of avoiding it. She would have to tell Richard that Milton Ketchum had changed his mind again. She encouraged a forlorn hope that Richard had met with difficulty, that he would, for some reason, arrive sans fire engine. But the thought lent little encouragement. Her visions, mainly, were not of a gentle, forgiving Richard, but an enraged, bestial Richard who—the thought made her groan—would break their date for the premire.
Crossing the boulevard, she entered the front showroom with its shining glass showcases, its myriad trinkets and objets d’art.
“Ah, Miss Shaw.”
The voice seemed to come from a suit of armor in a corner. She was startled until she perceived the speaker.
“McNulty, the arch-competitor,” she sniffed. “What are you doing here? Spying?”
James P. McNulty came forward gracefully. He was a heavy-set man, but he moved as daintily as a leopard. His flat, earthy face suffered under a smile.
“Why can’t we get along, Miss Shaw?” he asked. “Why don’t you and Richard like me?”
Dodie surveyed him disdainfully. “You’ve swiped at least three picture deals from under our nose. Good rentals, too. Do you expect us to give you a whistle-boom-ah for that, you overfed pirate?”
McNulty sighed. “You aren’t being fair to me, Dodie. Frankly, I came here to offer a truce. As the foremost dealers in movie props we ought to co-operate with each other, help each other obtain the items called for by the picture companies. I can’t talk to Richard. He’s like his father, stubborn. But you could talk to him.”
“You’ve done enough talking to him already, telling him to sell out to you.”
He clucked sadly. “It was merely a helpful suggestion, out of the goodness of my heart. He seemed unhappy. But if I could help you in any other way—if we could help each other—”
She pursed her lips shrewdly. “Very well, Mr. McNulty. Let’s begin helping each other now. Do you know where I might pick up a giant calliope?”
“Who’s it for?” McNulty asked quickly.
He caught himself. “Not that I care.”
“No one in particular,” she said naively. “We’d just like to have a calliope on our back lot.”
Obviously McNulty didn’t believe her, but that didn’t matter. He said, "Yes, I know where you can get one.” His smile became ever so slightly canny. “Myself, I’d like to have a fire engine in stock. Can’t tell but a studio might call for it some time.”
Dodie tried not to let her face betray her thoughts. Inwardly she was laughing at McNulty. The fool had somehow got wind of Milton Ketchum’s needs, but he hadn’t reckoned with the director’s changeable mind.
“What a coincidence,” she said in honeyed tones. “I had the same idea, and Richard went to pick one up.”
“At the Hermosa auction,” McNulty nodded. “I suspected it was you. I phoned, but the one engine on sale had already been disposed of.” He enquired slowly, trying to be casual. "You didn’t have any specific studio in mind?” She shook her head with credible candor, and he seemed to be relieved. ‘‘Then you would I be willing to sell it?”
"We’re helping each other, Mr. McNulty.”
AND THUS, by the time Richard arrived, they had settled upon a satisfactory deal. The fire engine could be sold—she had been very tactful in pressing this point—for twice the purchase price plus reimbursement for time and trouble.
It was not a large fire engine, nor a very modem one. Nevertheless it wore its dull coat of red paint proudly. Alvin was at its wheel, and it was attached to Richard’s car by a towline.
James P. McNulty was pleased. He surveyed it through the front window, rubbing his hands. Dodie, for her part, felt no elation. Richard looked peeved even before he learned of the newest developments. This was due, it turned out, to his having had an encounter with a traffic cop for passing a red light and obstructing traffic. When he was told of the sale of the fire engine he closed his eyes, leaned weakly against the showcase as if to say: ‘it is more than mortal body can stand!”
"Let me talk to him alone,” said Dodie.
She steered him up to his office while he was still under the anaesthesia of his own surprise. Speaking quickly and effectively, she told him that the gag had been changed, told him of her profitable deal with McNulty and that a calliope was available in Pasadena.
At length, mainly because he took pleasure in seeing McNulty outfoxed, he became reasonable. "I'm not blaming you, Dodie. I’m blaming the screwy business my father left to me. He was very proud of it, and it’s only in respect to him that I undertook to carry on. But nothing I do here is touched even faintly by success. I’m afraid I’m shaped for the quiet life of the university.”
"Don’t believe it. You’re doing fine,” she said earnestly. “The calliope will put Magnalux in debt to us. Soon they’ll be calling us regularly, instead of McNulty.”
After their competitor had given them the address of the man who owned the calliope—one Sam Gurney, a former carnival man—the sale of the fire engine was effected for two hundred dollars. Richard, overheated, tired and discouraged, departed at once for Pasadena with Alvin.
Alone in the office, Dodie called the dress shop and spoke to Miss Harriet. The gown was ready, waiting to be picked up.
“I’ll be right over,” she said eagerly.
The phone started ringing as soon as she hung up. A crisp, secretarial voice said, “Magnalux property department. Mr. Hines calling. Just a moment.”
Presently Mr. Hines was speaking. Director Ketchum, he said, had asked him to call in regard to a fire engine. Would she be so kind as to tell him if she had one available, and could she have it brought to the studio tomorrow morning?
“You must have misunderstood Mr. Ketchum.” she said with a laugh. “He wants a calliope, not a—”
"I'm not deaf, Dodie,” Mr. Hines replied. "He was here two minutes ago. He said ‘fire engine.’ ”
Dazedly she said, “Yes, sir, Mr. Hines. I’ll have it there tomorrow morning.”
The minutes that followed were bitter ones. In her mind, she damned James P. McNulty, his evil ways and his fool's luck. But for him everything would have turned out fine. “Well,” she figured with a shrug, “the fat is in the fire.”
A sudden decision made her reach for her purse. The decision had come in the wake of inspiration. She had influenced Milton Ketchum once, perhaps she could do it again.
On the way to Magnalux as she passed Miss Harriet’s dress shop, she experienced an emotional twinge. Perhaps she would not get the chance to wear the gown tonight.
With this morbid thought for company, she arrived at the studio where, in sound stage 22, Milton Ketchum was rehearsing a scene with thirty beautiful bridesmaids. He was a dynamo in the midst of lounging assistants. But as soon as he called a temporary halt, he relaxed. Seeing Dodie, he said, “Did you get the message, my dear?”
“Yes, Milton,” she said. "I was considerably surprised, too, because your notion to use a calliope on wheels seemed magnificent.”
He shrugged. “A fire engine is so much faster, so much funnier. A calliope is slow and mournful.”
He capped his hands. Someone blew a whistle as a signal for the actors to take their positions. The interview was ended.
With the stubbornness of despair, Dodie hurried out of the sound stage and walked rapidly to the writers’ building. Ken Dolan’s face was a brooding mask in the afternoon sunlight that poured through his office window.
“Well, we did the impossible.” He smiled wanly. "We told him a calliope was slow and mournful, like a hearse. That scared him, and he switched back to the fire engine.”
"Kenny, you’ve got to help me.”
Hastily she told him what had happened. “Talk to Milton. Tell him a calliope is funny.”
"If you love me. I’m appealing to your charitable nature.”
He shook his head regretfully. "Out of the question, honey. We piled onto him, Loeb, Lawrence and myself. We did a terrific selling job for you. He’s convinced that a calliope is decidedly unfunny.”
Ben Loeb dashed her hopes with a hollow laugh. Irwin Lawrence fixed her with a moribund scowl. By the process of elimination, Lee Porter was her last bet.
IT WAS fifteen minutes to the tennis club. Dodie gave faint smiles, curt nods to acquaintances. Her glance darted over the club grounds to settle finally on a bobbing black head in the swimming pool. Lee Porter paddled languidly toward Dodie in response to her hail. He hooked his elbows on the side of the pool and gave her a dripping wet grin.
"So you decided to accept my invitation, proud creature,” he said.
"No, Lee,” she said breathlessly. "This is important.”
“I’d draw myself up in haughty indignation if I weren’t suspended in water.”
“I’m in trouble, Lee.” She knelt at the edge of the pool, telling him the state of things in brief phrases.
“Fiddlesticks!” he said sadly. “I thought I’d be able to get you in debt to me with a favor, but this is impossible. To be honest, Dodie, Milton thinks I’m a complete dope. He wouldn’t take any suggestion of mine.”
"Tell him a fire engine is lacking in dignity. Oh, tell him anything. You’re allergic to fire engines. They make you break out in rashes.”
"That’s very well for you to say,” he grunted, pulling himself out of the water. "Anyhow, what’s so important about it? Certainly you won’t make a fortune on the rental of one prop.”
Faced with the question, Dodie realized quite clearly then why it was so important.
"If Milton doesn’t take the calliope,” she said in a low voice, "Richard will be completely fed up with the whole business. He might sell out to James P. McNulty. If he did that, he might—he might even leave Hollywood.”
“Oh, I get it.” He considered the matter, hugging his knees. “I'm positive it won’t do any good, Dodie, but I’ll speak to Milton.”
For the better part of an hour she sat beside her telephone at the office. Finally Lee Porter called to tell her that his director had shut him up almost before he had opened his mouth.
"I managed to get in the idea that I was dissatisfied with his plans for the ending,” the actor said. "He asked me who was I to be dissatisfied, and he had me there. Sorry, Dodie.”
She said, “Okay, Lee. Thanks,” and sank immediately into a brown study from which she was presently aroused by the arrival of her assistant, Alvin. He was mopping his round face strenuously with a large handkerchief.
“Well, we got it,” he announced triumphantly.
“I was afraid you would,” she said wearily. "Why aren’t you with Mr. Locke?”
“I drove his car back. He’s riding on the calliope wagon with Mr. Gurney, the guy who owns it. Gosh, I’ve never seen Mr. Locke so mad.”
Dodie swallowed painfully. “Mad already?”
“He’s fit to be tied. You see—”
Pretty soon Dodie saw—and she heard too. It came to her first as the faint but unmistakable hooting of a calliope. Then, when she ran to the door, it hove into view, steaming slowly, majestically down the boulevard behind a large sway-back horse. It was a gaudy affair, all gold paint and bright splashes of red. In the driver’s seat, proudly erect, was an elderly man in a brilliant, tasselled uniform. A banner fairly shouted that this represented Hally’s Wonder Show, the Greatest on Earth.
But that wasn’t all, for the mighty tones of the machine were being wrung out by none other than Richard Locke. His contortions were violent as he dived at the keys, and the din was terrific. Dodie thought she had never seen so ludicrous a sight—or so miserable a man. Somehow the weird notes of the giant instrument combined to form a horribly maltreated version of the Wedding March from Lohengrin.
"The crazy horse won’t move,” Alvin explained, "unless the calliope is playing. You should have seen the boss go to town on ‘Chopsticks.’ ”
Dodie heard him as through a veil of horror. If Richard was mad now, she was thinking, he would be ready for a strait jacket when he found out that his Herculean effort had gone all for nought.
When the sound of the calliope had faded off in the direction of Magnalux, she gave herself over to despair. “Alvin,” she said, “you had better pick up Mr. Locke at the studio. And when he has calmed down a bit, tell him I’ll explain everything tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow? What about the première?”
“You little eavesdropper, do as I tell you!” She added in a hollow, tragic voice. “Milton Ketchum wants a fire engine now.”
She heard Alvin give a low, astonished whistle as she went out. It seemed to state the situation remarkably well.
THE DRESS was a creation to make you think of high school proms, gardens, stolen kisses. Pink pastel chiffon with a nip-in waist and plenty of billowing skirt. For a half-hour she had been ready and waiting in her modest Hollywood apartment. At least a dozen times, in a full-length mirror, she had examined Miss Harriet’s handiwork and the total effect.
Near dinnertime, she decided with infinite shame and regret that Richard was standing her up. She decided, too, that after all she had expected it to be so. Only perhaps it might have hurt less if he had called to break the date.
She sat beside the telephone hopefully. This was the sort of thing they wrote songs about. Deep blue songs to be rendered with a catch in the throat.
"Hill’s flower shop?” she said into the telephone. “I’m speaking for Mr. Locke. Please call back in a few minutes and suggest an appropriate corsage for a pale pink dress.” And she gave the florist Richard’s home telephone number.
After a quarter-hour of brooding, the doorbell rang. A messenger boy. A sweet little fellow. She could almost detect the wings sprouting from his shoulders. He gazed with due appreciation at the bill she pressed into his hand.
The card that accompanied the box said : “This is how I feel about the whole thing. Richard.” When she opened the box, she stared stupefied at the contents. The monster! No one could be so cruel!
She took up the bunch of scallions and threw them into a corner. Five minutes she spent face down on her bed, feeling miserable. Five minutes of hating Richard, then the doorbell rang again. Composing herself as best she could, she said quietly, “Who’s there?”
“Ready or not, here I am,” said the visitor, and it was Richard.
“Nobody’s home,” she said in a choked voice. “Go away, please.” She stood with her back to the door, a handkerchief pressed to her mouth.
There was a brief silence, then Richard’s voice came to her, repentant. “Maybe that was a crude joke, Dodie. I’m sorry. It’s been such a silly day—” The door opened under a determined hand. He stood beside her. “I feel so blamed foolish. The laughingstock of Magnalux Studios. Everybody was laughing at me, even Milton Ketchum—”
She turned toward him slowly, her petulance melting quickly away. “Milton Ketchum—laughing?’ She stared at him unbelievingly. “Richard, does that mean—did they take the calliope?”
“Naturally they did. We drove up to the sound stage just as everybody was coming out. I felt like a jackass. The horse wouldn’t move unless the calliope was playing, and a wedding march was about the only thing I knew. Everybody cheered and a bunch of bridesmaids started throwing flowers at me.”
As he spoke, he opened a box he was carrying. Dodie gaped at orchids, crisp and alive in their Cellophane case.
“Then Milton Ketchum came up to me,” Richard went on, “and said he hoped his leading man, Lee Porter, could do as well. It’s a crazy business, Dodie, but I’m beginning to like it—”
“Orchids!” she broke in rapturously. “Oh, Richard!”
He stood uncertainly in the middle of the room, looking as unsophisticated as one can in formal clothes. His mild grey eyes held a message that made her heart act strangely. He cleared his throat. “I’m awfully glad someone sent me these tickets to the première.”
“I’m glad, too, Richard,” she said over her shoulder. And she was very glad indeed, even if the tickets had cost her ten dollars apiece.
“Let’s make a big night of this, Dodie.”
Alone in her bedroom, she hugged herself and whirled in front of her mirror. “I never say no,” she called back gaily. “We’ll make it a whopping big night.”