The movies throw Cupid for a loss and \ a gambler watches Death throw th
“Sneak preview of ‘Marriage Minded' at the Avon tonight—” The magic news speeds through Westwood Village, Hollywood suburb, to reach Flora Kimball, who has worked long years grooming her beautiful young niece, Gay Orvis, for stardom. Aunt Flora promised Gay's dead mother that she would have the career her mother had been denied. If “Marriage Minded" is a hit, Gay will be hailed as a new find. Yet Gay herself is strangely indifferent to talk of fame.
Gay wants to marry Paul Hyland, young Hollywood-born architect who scorns all Hollywood’s “phony glitter,’’ typified by the cheaply-pretentious facade of the Spencer Arms, where Gay and her aunt live and swelter. So there is a terrible (¡narre!, when aunt Flora insists Gay break a date with Paul to attend the preview. Gay feels like telling her she is through with pictures for good but finally gives in.
All aflutter over the big event, Mrs. Rhoda Spencer, loud, unstylish but lovable owner of the Spencer Arms, lets Sam McCabe in on the secret. Sain makes lots of money from the movies doctoring poor pictures, but spends too much, of it on drink.
McCabe carries the good news to Sarah Forrest whom he finds in tears. Sarah is married to Neal Forrest, a professor who taught writing before he determined to become a movie author himself. Hut Neal hasn’t sold a line except, for a campus scene in “Marriage Minded.’’ When Sarah urges him to go back to his college job, Neal grows angry, slams out. of the apartment to go for a lonely walk. Sarah cheers up quickly at. Sam’s news; but she knows she no longer loves her college professor—her love has changed to pity.
She and Sam both secretly wonder if they can be falling in love.
Lou Brock, Gay’s casting agent, is disgusted with himself for gambling a way all his money and all hope of ever winning back his first wife, Maybelle, all because he can never resist, a tip on the horses. He swears to reform and make a comeback with Gay Orvis. Mona DeLys has found nothing but bad luck in Hollywood. And to think that she tossed up big money as a New York strip-tease artist to crash the movies under a new name! This she did to appease her brother who is training for the priesthood. None of the alleged “big shots’’ who invite her on wild parties ever carry out their promises of contracts.
Her money is going fast.
(Third Part of Six)
LO, MAC,” Mona said. “Got a j pinch of coffee to loan a gal? I’m out.”
“No—not, not with me, anyway.” Sam McCabe pulled himself out of deep thought. Looking at her more closely he said, “You look as if you need coffee.” Mona put a hand toward the door of the Forrest apartment. “Need it? I’m dying for it.”
Sam said hurriedly, “Don’t ask Mrs. Forrest—better not. She’s a little upset.” In response to Mona’s enquiring face he added, “Guess my good news was too much for her. Come on, Mona, I’ll buy you a whole quart of coffee over at the drugstore. And breakfast, if you can take it.”
Mona gave him a dazzling smile, the sort she usually reserved for men who had casting influence around studios. “Mac, you’re a gent.” Curiously she asked, “Do you often come peddling good news to the housewives of the Spencer Arms? My apartment is 5-D.” Sam took her arm and started her toward the stairs. “Almost never,” he said. “This was something special. They’re sneaking a picture tonight at the Avon that Neal Forrest did some work on. I just happened to hear.” “What is it?” Mona preceded him down the stairs.
“ ‘Marriage Minded,’ they call it. From the Classic lot.”
Mona halted and looked up at him. “ ‘Marriage Minded!’ I tried my darndest to get into that picture. Funny thing, too,—I thought I had it, they gave me tests and everything.”
“College cheer leader. I’m not the type, it seems. I’m never the type. Isn’t this the picture our own little cutie pie worked in, Gay Orvis?” “Sure, and don’t be catty about the neighbors.” “I’m not. Can’t a girl kid?”
“What was it you didn’t have that the casting director wanted, Mona?”
“I dunno. I think they draw the names out of a hat or something. I mean stage experience like I’ve had doesn’t mean a thing to them. About once a year, maybe, they want a sweet-faced young mother type —heaven help me!—who sits outside a child clinic or some place, holding her baby and not speaking a line, just looking soulful. So I get the job. Atmosphere character, that’s me.”
They had reached the last step and were crossing into the foyer. As if a spring had been released, Mrs. Spencer’s door flew open. She appeared surprised to see them there.
“Oh,” she said, startled. “I thought it was the man with the groceries. He’s new. He doesn’t know enough yet to come around to the service entrance.”
“I’m going out for a cup of coffee with Mr. McCabe.” Mona didn’t mind the landlady’s curiosity. Spencer was a kind person, lenient about the rent. In return she demanded a small part of the lives of all her tenants. She scurried back into her apartment, embarrassed.
“If I were a casting director,” Sam said, “and took one gander at your curves, I’d cast you as—” “A strip teaser, I suppose.” Mona laughed hilariously at the ridiculous idea.
“Why not? An actress is supposed to be able to act, not just be herself. I bet Garbo could play a strip teaser as well as she could play Saint Cecilia.” “All right, so could I.” To herself, Mona added, “And I’ve done it, both at the same time. Try that, Garbo.”
THE BLINDING sun hit them full in the face, as they walked through the iron grillwork door which McCabe said turned their humble home into a castle. He claimed they paid an extra ten dollars a month for that door and the impression it made on friends who came no farther. There was class to
the outside of the Spencer Arms, yellow stucco and plenty of ironwork, palms and poinsettas and all the tropical Spanish embroidery.
They moved in out of the heat and sat at the drugstore counter.
“How about a pasteboard for tonight, Sam? I want to see what my successful rival did so wonderful out there on the gridiron. Maybe 1 can figure out why I don’t make the grade.”
“I’ll see there’s a couple at the box office with your name on them. But no booing. Go on, eat something, Mona. Order up a real breakfast. Gosh, I don’t know why I’m so big-hearted today. It isn’t like me.”
“Sure it is,” Mona said, feeling the caffeine take charge of her blood stream. “Or maybe you’ve been touched by the brave struggle we women have to make against the world.”
“You’re righter than you think, Beautiful.”
Between mouthfuls of toast she asked, “In love, Sam?” and watched his face. The woman would be pretty lucky, she thought, because when the girl-proof bachelor Sam feil, he’d fall hard. He’d give everything he had.
“Listen, have some scrambled eggs. Build yourself up for tonight,” Sam said.
“All right, you needn’t tell me. I mean you don’t need to say yes.”
“I’m saying nothing. Except, if you wish to take an elderly gentleman’s advice, I think you’re going at the picture business the wrong way. You know what I mean, jamming around at late parties and getting nothing but bags under your eyes.”
“Go on, Daddy. Tell me how to forge ahead like Gay Orvis.”
“Well, all right, I will. You did a lot of little theatre work, you tell me. Did you have to snuggle up to the right people to get casting? No. You had to work like the devil at the business of acting. It’s the same here in Hollywood. Gay Orvis has worked, and she’s going ahead. You watch.”
Walking back they sought the shade of a row of palms. As they neared the entrance of Spencer Arms, Mona broke the silence to say, musingly, “If I were Gay Orvis 1 wouldn’t care whether I went places or not in pictures. But I’d go places, any places at all, with that boy who’s in love with her, that Paul Hyland. Ever seen him?”
“Sure, lots of times. I’d have to be blind not to, around here.”
“He makes these Hollywood dream boys look sick. Gay’s crazy to let him run around loose, all the female wolves there are out here. Good men like him are scarce.”
Sam studied Mona’s face. “Gay’s got her career. She can’t be bothered by men.”
“You mean aunt Flora’s got Gay’s career. It’s pathetic. That poor kid can’t think for herself. She ought to can the whole business and marry him.”
“Gay’s going to be a star,” Sam said seriously. “I’ve seen them before at her stage in the game. She can’t miss. Would you turn down all that for aman?”
“For that man, I mean for the right man, yes.” She said it with so much fervor, he laughed.
“What’s so funny?”
He held the heavy iron door back for her to enter. Spencer was in the foyer, examining her letter box though she must have removed her mail, if any, hours before.
“You are,” Sam said. “I can’t make you out. You’re not simple. You’re a couple of people.” “You said it!” She shot upstairs past Mrs. Spencer, outstripping the bulky Sam, and called back from the landing. “Thanks a lot for the food!”
AT ONE o’clock Paul Hyland, humming a dance - tune, handed over a check to cover freight charges on a carload of red-cedar shingles, and stood waiting for his receipt.
“Seems to make some people happy to give up money,” commented the round-faced little man behind the grill, peering at Paul through thicklensed glasses. He twitched at his black cloth sleeve protectors. “Mostly I get a lot of grousing from F.O.B. consignees.”
“Well, sir,” Paul beamed on the freight agent, “this happens to be a great day with me. I wish everyone in the world was as happy as I am today.” “Must be a girl in it.”
“A girl? The girl. Say, if you ever saw her you wouldn’t wonder I go around looking foolish.” “Good luck!” The man gazed after Paul wistfully as he swung out of the office and slid himself behind the wheel of his car.
As Paul turned into Wilshire Boulevard a policeman’s whistle shrilled a command to stop. Paul went right on against the red light, barely missed tangling with the cross traffic. The furious policeman strolled ominously to the side of the car.
“Y’ color blind?” he asked sourly, resting a foot on the running board.
“No, 1 saw the red,” Paul began, “but I guess—” “Oh, you saw the red, eh? And maybe you think that’s something to grin about?”
“Well, I Officer, all I can say is my mind was on something else. I can’t help laughing for being so dumb, I mean crashing the light.”
“Your mind was on something else! And where would we all be if every driver’s mind was on something else?”
“Now, wait a minute. Think back. How did you co-ordinate on the day you were going to get married? Answer me that?”
The policeman glared indignantly at being questioned by a culprit. Then his features relaxed.
“Never mind about me. It’s an old stall, this hurrying-to-the-preacher’s gag. But there’s something about the looks of your face makes me believe it’s true. Go ahead, pull out of here. And kiss the bride for me.”
“I’ll do that,” Paul called back as he rolled on. It had been a stall, of course. And he hadn’t actually said he was going to get married that day. Just the same there was an idea in it. Why shouldn’t this be their wedding day, Gay’s and his? They had been planning it for months, waiting for the right time to come.
What was there to wait for now? Gay had said, “Any time, Paul, after this picture is finished. Just come and get me some day.” He had been lying with his head in her lap on a sunny beach and she had stooped and kissed him. Her bright shoulder-length hair had made a golden silky tent over both their faces.
Today! Tonight! The picture was finished and this was the first real date they’d had for months. Instead of swimming and dancing they’d get on the ocean highway, northbound, and he’d show her the cottage he had built for them just south of Malibu.
Then they’d cut out from the shore and head for Yuma. You could get married in Arizona without a lot of waiting around. And from there they’d take a trip, Grand Canyon, the Petrified Forest, over to Yosemite for a week or so, then San Francisco.
Paul drove past the Le Brea Pits, where they’d found the saber-tooth tiger remains. He and Gay would stop there someday and peer at the reproductions of prehistoric animals, the way the tourists did. But he wouldn’t let her shop in May’s new store, because he hated that silolooking thing they’d built on the end of it.
Pointless architecture made him furious. The jumble of Wilshire Boulevard sometimes annoyed him, but more often made him laugh. Architecture meant human beings to him. The houses people lived in reflected their lives, ambitions, desires. Somehow the mad architecural jumble of Hollywood, Westwood and Los Angeles symbolized the mad tempo of movies, quick money, insatiable ambition, instability.
Gay accused him of wearing a perpetual look of belligerence. He couldn’t quite explain that it came from a lifetime of being out here, a lifetime of fighting this impermanence, of trying to build meaning into it, of replying thousands of times with that stereotyped phrase, “No, I'm not connected with the movies.”
A man was considered an oddity for that, in the film capital !
HE PULLED UP in front of his bank near the Beverley-Wilshire Hotel. He’d need some money for a honeymoon. Honeymoon. The thing was real. A tingle of excitement ran through him. He blessed the traffic cop for creating his wedding day.
A young girl wearing pink slacks and highheeled shoes stopped him suddenly with a gesture of joy and amazement. She was whipping out an autograph book. He glared at her, and she fled. His mood darkened for a moment. It was his cursed luck to be a living replica of Monarch’s newest he-man hero, Bob Drummond.
At least his prototype wasn’t a glamour boy, but a tough six-footer, who looked like an overgrown Dead-End kid. He grinned at the scared expression on that girl’s face when he gave her the icy stare, went into the bank.
A thousand dollars ought to cover the honeymoon, five hundred in cash and five hundred in traveller’s cheques. It was good to be planning tangibles. Nothing could stop them now. He let himself think for a short moment of taking her off today, before the sunset making her his wife. They’d dreamed of it so long. The dream had kept him working and struggling against odds to put over his new idea:? in this strange synthetic town.
From tomorrow on— take her away from aunt Flora, have her always beside him!
Shoving the stack of bills across to Paul, the teller said briskly, “Fives, tens and twenties,” then looking again at Paul added,
“You look like a man who’s off on a vacation.” “Better than that, a honeymoon.” Gay couldn’t chide him for a belligerent look today. Everybody could read his thoughts, his happiness. He felt a little remorseful now about the girl in the pink slacks. If she was still there when he went back outside he’d be big-hearted and give her Robert Drummond’s autograph. That’s how fine and magnanimous he felt.
Carefully Paul drove to Westwood Village, to • the Spencer Arms, fearful of his mood, not trusting the leniency of any more traffic cops. He had to look once more, he hoped for the last time, at the facade of that awful building that housed Gay, that architectural junk pile surrounding the sweetest person on earth !
It nauseated him, as did all the cheap imitation Spanish fronts and plain brick backs that had sprung up throughout this area between Hollywood and the ocean. No dignity, no utility; they held the sun and omitted the breezes; they were soaked through by the first rain; they fell to pieces when the earth shuddered. One of these days and not too long now, he’d show them all what could be done in the way of apartment building. He’d give them something that would make them tear apart and forget this movie-set housing. He could do anything, with Gay beside him, loving him, working with him.
He rang the buzzer of Apartment 3-H, four short rings so Gay would know who it was, then started up the stairs. Pie was taking three steps at a stride as he reached the third floor.
“Gay—darling!” She put one arm around his shoulders and gave him a tight hug. He kissed her lips and eyelids and chin and cheeks. “I’ll never live long enough to kiss you as many times as I
want to,” he said. Struck by a thought he asked, “Auntie around?”
“Out,” Gay said, leading him in. “My, it’s good to see you! I feel as if we’d been kept apart by heartless jailors or something.”
“We have. Which leads me to say let’s get out of here before auntie pops in again and gives me the cold eye.”
“She won’t. She’s off shopping for something to wear to the—Paul, sit down and compose yourself. Now, are you composed?”
“I’m anything you want. But I’m sitting down for only five minutes, maybe six. Just long enough for you to pack a bag.”
“Pack a bag?”
“Yep. Unless, of course, it’s already packed.
But even so, I’d suggest you open it and put in whipcord riding pants for desert wear, hobnailed shoes for some Grand Canyon exploring and maybe—”
“Paul, what is this? Are you trying to sell me a circle tour of the Wonders of the West?”
“Yes,” He caught her hands in his. “Personally conducted too, by me. Gay, let’s get married tonight, this evening, in Yuma. I’ve got it all planned, route, trip, expenses, everything.”
His eyes caressed each feature of her face lovingly. “You said we would as soon as this picture was shot. For that matter, you’ve been saying it since way back, remember, in Junior High, when you were girls’ Tennis Champ?”
He expected her to smile and she didn’t. “I was holding down a bench, subbing on the scrub football team.” This didn’t make her smile nostalgically either. Watching her troubled face he said, “The picture’s done, isn’t it?”
“All done,” Gay said. “And that’s just the trouble.”
“It’s to be previewed tonight at the Avon, a sneak showing.”
“Well? You were in it. You don’t have to see it.”
“Oh, I do,” she wailed. “That’s just it, I do. I’ve even promised.”
“Listen, Gay, tell this guy Brock to stop pushing you around, or he might meet somebody who really is a pusher arounder. You tell him—”
“It isn’t Brock, Paul. It’s Flora. She went into a tizzie when I told her I had a date with you and couldn’t go with her to the preview. She pulled that awful old scene, invoked the memory of my mother, tremolo voice. Ah, darling—don’t look so murderous!”
“But that’s exactly how I feel, Gay. Flora’s fought me, fought us, at every turn, ever since we met. You know that.”
“Paul, now look. It’s just been her ambition for me that’s made her that way. It’s never been she doesn’t like you personally. It’s just that you’re a menace to what she calls my career.”
“Your career!” Paul said bitterly. His face was hard with resentment. He had been bucking Flora’s opposition for years and he was sick of it. Bitter words came to his lips, but he held them back. He took a moment to get himself under control, to get over the shock of jumping from elation to fury.
GAY,” HE SAID. “Flora knows, you’ve told her many times, that you’re not going on with pictures. She understands that, doesn’t she?”
“Yes, darling, but—”
“Wait, Gay. She has known for years we’ve planned to get married as soon as I got things rolling in a business way. Isn’t that so?”
“But Paul, I feel I’ve got to give her the satisfaction of seeing something, some result, from all her years of work and expense. She raised and educated me, Paul, with lots of sacrifice. She devoted eighteen years of her life to me.”
“Raised and educated you to do something you don’t want to do, that you despise doing. Listen, are you going to live your life or hers? You’re twenty-one now, fully capable of choosing, legally capable. It’s time you made up your mind about yourself, Gay.”
“That isn’t fair, Paul. You’re making an issue of something so unimportant. All she wants is to have me beside her as she swells with pride, poor thing, when I cavort across the screen and toss around bright lines. And it just happens this is the night for it.”
Paul stood up solemnly, conscious that the expression of belligerency Gay disliked was upon his face. “It always happens this is the night or this is the day we can’t do what we want because Flora has to be catered to.” He stood facing her. He Continued on page 22 asked, “Are you going to come with me, Gay, and get married?”
Continued from page 20—Starts on page 18
“Can’t, Paul. Not today. Don’t you see?”
“You mean you won’t?”
“Paul, we mustn’t quarrel. Why should we, after all these years, get to spatting over a postponed date? We’ve postponed hundreds of dates.” Her eyes pleaded with him to be reasonable.
“That’s just it, those hundreds of dates. And each time we’ve both given in and let her have her way. Gay, Pm simply not giving in to Flora this time.” He took a step toward the door.
“Oh, Paul! You’re playing oldfashioned drama. Choose between us, and all that. Now really!” Her laugh begged him to laugh with her.
“I’m serious, Gay. There has to be a showdown sometime.”
“You’re being very petty.” There was an edge of impatience in her voice.
“That’s your viewpoint. Well, is it still no?”
“It has to be. I promised Flora.”
“You promised me first. So Flora wins?”
“If that’s the way you want to take it,” she said evenly.
“Sorry, Gay, but I have to take it that way. I’m through being kidded along. I’m bowing out.”
He thought, “This isn’t me playing heavy to Gay’s ingenue. Things like this can’t happen to us!” But deep down in him was despair of her ever capitulating. Once she got the movie fever in her blood, she was lost, always just one more picture, just one more, and then “success is so short, I have to work hard while it lasts.” He knew. He’d seen it happen dozens of times out here, wrecking the lives of good people, destroying love and marriage. Mr. Gay Orvis. It wouldn’t happen to him!
He watched her stand there, her eyes flaming, a stranger. He thought, a few minutes ago I was practically on my honeymoon, drawing out money for the trip, making big plans. I was as sure of her as—
“If that’s it, good-by,” Gay said. How could she be speaking those words to Paul, her Paul?
Paul felt her watching him for a moment through the open door as he went out into the hall. He heard her call “Paul! Paul!” But he couldn’t go back. Crazy pride wouldn’t let him turn and take her in his arms.
She slammed the door hard, like a mad child, so hard it shook the flimsy wall.
HE WALKED down the stairs blindly, miserable now at what he had done, furious at Gay. An oncoming human projectile banged into him and a surprised muffled voice said“Ooops!” then “Well, hello I Paul. You—you look just terrible. As if you’ve been seeing ghosts.” “ ’Lo, Mona,” he said, then shook himself. “Sorry I wasn’t looking where I was going.”
“I don’t mind bumping into you any day,” she said, lowering her eyes demurely.
‘ Suddenly he heard himself saying,
“Say, what you doing, I mean this afternoon, tonight? Anything on?”
Her eyes were mischievous, full of excitement, her lips parted with amazement at his interest.
Sam McCabe, winded by the effort of keeping up with Mona along the street, pushed past the two young people on his way up to his room.
“Excuse me, you kids,” he said. “I’ve got some pencil work to do.”
“Get your swim suit,” Paul said to Mona, ignoring Sam’s curious stare, as he stopped and looked back. “We’re going to wallow in the Pacific.” As she scampered on up the stairs, he turned and said, in a voice loud enough to penetrate apartment 3-H, “Later, we’ll do a little stepping, so come prepared.
“I’ll be in my car. And hurry. We’ll make a party of it.”
He sat in the car numb and frightened, waiting for Mona, furious with himself now for having asked her. He wouldn’t look up at a certain third floor front window to see if Gay might be looking down at him. Cheap and petty, that’s what he was, putting on this act to punish Gay.
Now he had Mona on his hands when he felt bitter and miserable as death itself; he had her aimless chatter for the next few hours. Hours that should have been spent with Gay, getting ready for the wedding, the honeymoon.
He cursed the traffic officer now, for putting such a ridiculous notion in his head. He wondered what would happen if he just pulled off and left Mona waiting, but he couldn’t do that. Not to a kid that had faced all the disappointments Mona had. He’d shake her after a swim. Make out he’d forgotten an important engagement.
She came hurrying toward the car, dazzling in a white sharkskin suit. Quick change she’d made, fast worker. That’s what Gay had often called her. He could feel Gay’s eyes staring at him from the front window of 3-H. She might have been with him, beside him. He might have been starting the motor for their day together, Gay’s and his, their life together.
“Wasn’t I quick?” Mona cuddled into the seat of the open roadster beside him.
“I’ll say you were.” He raised his voice a trifle, aware that sound travels upward. “Quick and cute. How about a cocktail just by way of leading up to lunch?”
“Swell!” she said, neglecting to mention she had just finished a heavy breakfast. Free meals, no matter how they were spaced, were something in this hungry town!
IN TOPAZ Canyon the air was spicy with the fragrance of eucalyptus berries. Neal Forrest, in midafternoon, trudged a footpath that led him, by easy ascents, to higher ground, where he walked knee-deep through dry mesquite scrub. He paused now and then to rest—a diet of canned soup doesn’t keep up a man’s strength-—and to look back into the valley.
He must have climbed, well, say a hundred and fifty feet above the canyon floor. That’s quite a height. You got a great view of the wide coastal plain, dotted with suburbs and towns that shelved down from the foothills to the sea. A great view. But not as fine a view as you got from the summit, another three hundred feet above.
The best view of all was from the high jutting cliff that he could see now from where he stood. Lots of people made the climb to that cliff to enjoy the view. Now and then a man or woman who had gone up there alone got too close to the edge and slipped, falling as far as—well, as far as if they’d fallen from a twenty story window. Only nobody ever falls out of a window accidentally.
Neal Forrest searched the cliff top with his eyes. Nobody up there today so far as he could see. He started on, scrambling past a blooming yucca without seeing its tall tropical spike of white flowers.
He felt a great sense of relief and freedom. A heavy oppressive weight had been lifted off his shoulders. Well, all right, he had shrugged it off his shoulders, then. Might as well be honest. That awful weight of trying, trying to dish out the nonsense, the twaddle, the inexplicable mixture from which they make motion pictures. Never again. It was like being relieved of a terrible pain that had been with you day and night for years. It was like being reborn, given a new chance at life and work.
But of course, nobody ever was reborn. Nobody ever got a new chance. If you messed things up, got into a pocket you couldn’t get out of, it was just too bad. No use moping over it or grousing about it. The thing to do at a time like this was think of the good times, the best times of your life. Yes, like a very old man looking backward. You have to look backward when there is nothing to which you can look forward.
The best times? They all came after he had met Sarah and fallen in love with her, from the day he saw her rare beauty shining out of that sea of schoolroom faces. He must have loved her immediately. When she recited the silly rules of composition he’d set her to learn, her voice was just as he’d dreamed it would be, low, exciting, filled with mysterious promise.
There was the hot summer night by the lake, just enough moonlight, when she was about to graduate. He dared to tell her that night how much he loved her, and felt her warm response and knew it was more hero worship with her than love.
All the happiness in his life came after that, brief moments, little flashes that come when you are least expecting them and make you choke up suddenly because they are so beautiful. The day he and Sarah had taken the steamer from Battery Park to Sandy Hook and back, Sarah standing at the rail, pointing like a child and saying, “That’s a freighter and that’s a barge, and that’s a ferry, and that’s—let’s see—that’s a sampan. I know them all, don’t I?” Something about it had been so sweet, so gaily playful and lovable, he hadn’t been able to speak.
The day he was granted his doctorate, when he and Sarah had been married a year, they gave a celebration party. They had a small
keg of beer and a buffet lunch and invited in about half a dozen young faculty couples. Sarah, singing for the crowd, had missed a final high note and run to his arms, saying to the company, “Well, if I can’t sing, Neal is now a Doctor of Philosophy, so every body have fun anyway !”
Sarah had cared for him then the way he still cared for her, her hero worship for the teacher had turned into love for the husband. He couldn’t blame her for changing. He hadn’t played a man’s part, hadn’t done anything to make her proud of him. This lunge at the movie-writing business had been his last try. And it had come to nothing.
Sarah thought he could go back to his teaching job, but he couldn’t. He’d written to them and been told the job was filled almost immediately by another earnest young man like himself. The world was full of earnest young men with college degrees who had sense enough to stay in the little niches they’d won for themselves, if they had the luck to win them in the first place.
At least there was still an insurance policy left, a thousand dollars for one person would be better than a thousand dollars for two.
Neal stopped again, to rest. Lately, in his despair he had felt very aged ; now suddenly he felt young, younger even than his thirty-three years. He was free and ecstatic, almost happy. From where he stood now he could see the whole top of the cliff against the sky. There was no one up there. He’d be alone, alone up there to enjoy the view for a moment or two . . .
MRS. SPENCER looked up from her letter writing as she had done a score of times in the past hour. This time it was to check on the figure turning in from the front walk. It was Flora Kimball, carrying a big oblong box by its string. Mrs. Spencer was standing in her doorway by the time Flora Kimball reached the foyer.
“Well!” The corners of Mrs. Spencer’s mouth went up in her alert landlady smile. “ Y ou look as if you’d been shopping. And in all this heat! I just bet it’s another new dress.” She eyed the box as much as to say, “Open it up and let’s have a look.” “I suppose I didn’t really need a new dress. I’ve got a closet full of things up there. But, well, I wanted to do credit to Gay at the preview tonight. It will be such an important occasion for her. So I just bought a little evening gown, very simple, really nothing.” Flora started up the stairs. “I carried it home because I wanted Gay to see it and tell me how it looks. She’s got such good taste.”
“Nobody has better taste than you have,” Mrs. Spencer said admiringly. “I’m afraid Gay’s out. She left about an hour ago, and in quite a hurry.” This stopped Flora’s ascent, as Mrs. Spencer had been sure it would.
“Gay out? Why, she was just going to loll around and rest today.” Flora’s face tightened with apprehension, with fear something had gone wrong.
“Yes, she fairly flew down the street, I’ve no idea where to.” She watched Flora closely as she added, “It was just after Gay’sfriend, Paul — is it Paul?—-and Mona DeLys drove away together in his car. I never supposed, I didn’t imagine for a minute, that those two even knew each other, say nothing of startingoff on a picnic together or whatever it was.”
Flora Kimball stared. “Oh,” she said, as if her mind was too busy with speculations to produce words. “Oh.”
“I’d just love to see your dress,” Mrs. Spencer said, “though of course my taste in clothes can’t compare to Gay’s, or yours. May I give you a buzz in a few minutes and come up?” She was as wistful as a child outside a candy-shop window.
“By all means,” Flora recovered enough to say.
Mrs. Spencer stared after Flora’s ascending figure for a moment, her eyes glistening with admiration. There wasn’t anyone in the world Rhoda Spencer respected and envied so much as she did Flora Kimball. That woman had class. With not half the looks or figure Rhoda herself had, Flora nevertheless had smartness, chic, something Rhoda could never acquire in a million years. Something you needed to put you over nowadays in the business world.
Why, that woman hurrying upstairs could really go places herself if she weren’t so wrapped up in her niece and the niece’s future. She had ability and drive; she could get what she wanted every time. Not by pounding away at a thing either. Subtly. She understood human nature.
Rhoda would like to team up with a woman like Flora in some sort of business, something refined like a tearoom or a gift shop. Rhoda had enough capital for something like that left from her late husband’s insurance money, if she could get out from under this Spencer Arms before it ran her into the ground. It lay over her like a giant octopus, squeezing and pushing, never giving back what she put into it, never yielding quite enough to make up for taxes and special road assessments and repairs —constant repairs. Her nightmares were always clogged drains and leaky roofs and broken iceboxes and the persistent smell of dampness.
She walked slowly back into her own deluxe apartment, which had the soul of an office. Suddenly the black-lace dress draped over pink she had decided to wear for tonight looked silly to her, not just right, though shecouldn’t say why it wasn’t.
She slipped off her house dress and tried on a wine organdie with a wide straw hat, flower draped. Thát was wrong too. She wriggled her chubby figure out of it and hurried into a crisp mauve taffeta which she hadn’t worn for almost a year. It was too tight in the hips, fitted like a glove, so she tried the wine again.
She loaded on the full weight of her costume jewellery, did her crackly red-brown hair in a snood and then decided that looked wrong. She rolled it into a knot, but the ends stuck out, so she just ran a comb through it, little girl style, and wore it with a golden bandeau.
She surveyed herself full length in the door mirror, discouraged. She’d be dressed fancier than the star, and that would be stupid because she wasn’t even the star’s aunt,
just her landlady. So she peeled off some of the jewellery, and did her hair with a sapphire clip holding it at the side instead of the golden bandeau.
It made her feel happy to be brightly dressed and to have her hair return the light of the sun but, she was frightened, as if something about the very brightness shouted to people she was really only Rhoda Elizabeth Atkins, the ash man’s daughter in Oreville, commonly known as Liz.
She lived for a triumphal return to that town someday to show those Horner girls, who had snubbed her all through high school, that she’d gotten a lot farther than they had; and to show that snobbish Pete Daily who had dated her up only when it didn’t show, that she was better than the frump he’d married whose father owned a big department storcIt was a steady ache in Rhoda Spen cer, something she had to settle on. of these days.
Her marriage to Plarold Spencer, twenty years her senior, who manufactured his own cure for rheumatism, didn’t help any. Everyone in Oreville knew that no one else would marry Harold.
It was this unhealed ache in Rhoda that kept her beaming fatuously all the time, that made her wear too fancy clothes, and surround herself with too ornate furniture. It made her long for glamour and life, even the secondhand life of her tenants. It kept her writing books of letters back to her girlhood chum, Mattie Alsop, full of Hollywood news about her contacts with stars. Mattie was sure to spread it because she was friendly with the Society Editor of the local paper. Mattie sent Rhoda clipping accounts of her actions as reported the town newspaper.
Rhoda sank back at her desk, still wearing the organdie. Her smiledecked face was really happy now. With the tip of her tongue slightly out of the corner of her mouth she wrote: “The event is so important
that here in the apartment all of us women are getting new dresses to wear tonight. You never can tell who will be in one of these preview audiences. I mean people like Norma Shearer and Myrna Loy and Ann Sheridan are as likely as not to be sitting next to one, so ...
10U BROCK, at four that afterJ noon, was again alone in his office. For an hour, since Maybelle had called to tell about little tenyear-old Trudie, his hand had not left the telephone receiver. He had called number after number, asking, begging for a loan of money. He hadn’t been able to raise a nickel.
“Why don’t you hock something?” one man had said. He had nothing to hock.
“Lou, I like you,” said another, “But you’ll never learn how to play poker.” Andsoitwent. Noneofthem would believe him when he said his kid, his oldest child, was in the hospital, might even be choking to death with pneumonia that very minute. They didn’t even believe he had kids. He’d borrowed too often from them all before, used so many fancy stalls, told such extraordinary stories, and then lost their money. That’s what came of being a gambler.
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Continued from page 24
Maybelle. Her voice, that voice he loved, had come overthe wires to him and lifted him up to Heaven the way it used to so many years ago, ever since they were dirty-faced kids together. Then Maybelle told him why she called. The illness had struck suddenly and now Trudie, the image of Maybelle, was gasping her life out, in Westlake Hospital.
Frantically, Lou Brock had instructed the hospital to transfer Trudie to a private room at once, to put two, three nurses on the case, as many nurses as they needed. They were to give her the best, to spare no expense, to arrange for a consultation of doctors. Payment? An advance payment, it seemed, was customary. All right, they’d get an advance payment. Right away. But don’t wait on that. He’d double the money of everybody concerned if they pulled Trudie through the crisis.
Money, money, money. He’d spent it by the thousands in night clubs; he loaned it by the thousands to some of these same people who were turning him down right now. Money didn’t mean a thing when it poured in fast as it had a way of doing out here; only when you couldn’t get it, when it was there but just out of your reach, when you needed it for the life of your child, then it drove you crazy.
The whole thing drove him crazy. Here he was, Lou Brock, the great agent—what a laugh that was ! The great agent, who had fiddled away hundreds of thousandson dice, ponies, card games, and who couldn’t beg, borrow, or steal the few measly hundreds that would mean life for Trudie. Trudie, with her sweet little doll’s face like Maybelle’s.
Here he was claiming to love Maybelle more than man ever had loved woman, and failing her, completely! Failing himself, too. What a bum he’d been, what a bum he was !
Whom could he telephone to next? Who? Who? He’d tried every possibility in town, worn them all out. And he had less than ten dollars in his pocket. It had been sixty dollars this morning. He’d put fifty on Frosty Lady in the sixth race at Santa Anita. A twenty-to-one shot. He glanced at the clock. They would be running the sixth race about now. Maybe it was run, maybe the winner was . . .
“They’re at the post for the sixth,” said Pete, from the bookmaker’s office. “Hold the wire.”
Lou Brock, holding the wire, felt the blood pounding through his brain. He watched the trembling of his hand upon the desk. He saw an oxygen tent above a bed in a hospital room. He shook from head to foot with nervous ague.
“Hello,” came the nasal voice for which he’d been waiting. “Bessie B. j first, Bar Sugar second, White Tie third.”
“Frosty Lady,” Lou gasped. “Pete —tell me—what about Frosty Lady?”
“Pete—Pete—” But the nasal
voice had gone.
Lou laid the receiver back in its cradle. He had one more chance, ¡ just one. A gamble? Sure it was a i gamble. Like a horse race, exactly j i like a horse race. He’d lost on Frosty j Lady in the sixth. He had to win on ; Gay Orvis in “Marriage Minded.” If Gay Orvis came through with a performance that was any good at all, and it better be good, he could borrow real cash from three, maybe four, different casting directors he knew, casting directors who would be glad to exchange favors with him. He’d have the money before midnight, have it, that is, if, if . . .
Lou Brock rested his wide forehead on the glass of his desk top and rolled his head from side to side, moaning in agony.
THE HAIRDRESSER in Babette’s Salon de Beauté on Westwood Boulevard drew a brush again and again through Gay’s shining strands, preparing the smooth little skull cap of hair that would give accent to the loose waves above the forehead and below the nape of the neck.
“What lot are you on, dear?” the hairdresser said, flatteringly. “You’re in pictures, I know. I can always tell.”
“None, right now.” Gay’s voice was without joy or accent. “But I’ve worked for most of them. I’m going to work for all of them, for the best of them.”
“Ah, you will, I’m sure. Such lovely, lovely hair is enough by itself to take you far.”
“What lot are you on, dear?” said the facial expert, rubbing away one application of cream to make way for the next.
“Classic,” said Gay, through tight lips. “I’ve just done a supporting part for them. I’m going to do leads, next—on contract. And for whoever offers the best pay.”
“With your features, with a skin like yours, you’re one of the lucky ones. You can name your price.” “What lot are you on, dear?” said the manicurist, buffing Gay’s untinted nails.
“Free lance,” said Gay, “from now on. I’ll work, I’ll work night and day. I’ll get there, get to the very top!” Something in her voice, a throaty intensity, made the manicurist glance up quickly into Gay’s face.
“I’m sure you’ll get there, dear,” the manicurist said soothingly. “With such hands as yours, so beautiful and expressive —”
“I’m going to be a star, a star! One of the big ones. Nothing will stop me, nothing! No man . . .” “Careful, careful, dear! Tears will spoil your facial. You wouldn’t want to have it all done over, now, would you?”
Twice Sam McCabe had left his typewriter and the fourteenth revision of the stage play on which he’d been working for two years, and had climbed the stairs to ask Sarah if Neal was back. Sam wanted to engage a table for three at Henri’s in Los Angeles, and tables at Henri’s couldn’t be had at the last minute.
“Sam,” Sarah said, when he appeared at her door for the third time, “I’m sort of worried. I shouldn’t be. But Neal was feeling so low wLen he left. He’s simply out walking somewhere, of course, but—well, I wish I knew where.” “We’ll find out where. Meet me out in front in two minutes. I’ll bring the wagon around.”
“Now,” said Sam, wheeling away from the curb with Sarah, “wrhere does Neal like to walk? South on
Wilshire? Out along Sunset? Or around the campus? I should suppose he’d go for the campus, sort of home ground, as it were.”
“The campus would be the last place, Sam. He steers away from it. It’s because—”
“I know. The academic atmosphere and all that. He’s turned his back on it. Well, where will we scout for him first?”
“He loves the canyons. Somej how the trees and shrubs make him j think of New England where he was | born. He says he can imagine himself back East in some of the canyons.”
“The lad’s probably very homesick. Lots of people get that way after a few months out here. I had it bad, years ago. Couldn’t eat. Almost couldn’t drink, think of that!”
Sam, working hard at it, put out a cheery monologue of chatter as they cruised along the village streets in case Neal might be returning through them. Glancing across at Sarah now and then, Sam saw she wasn’t hearing anything he said. Her searching eyes, filled with concern, were turned from right to left to check on each person they passed.
The look in her face reminded him of a mother he remembered seeing at Coney Island. Her child had wandered away and she had walked the beach to and fro, seeing everything there. On each returning trip she had drawn nearer and nearer the water.
It was strange loving a woman so much that, if bringing her man back to her made her happiest, you gladly did it. Nothing would stop you from doing it. Sam had never known such a love existed in the world. He had put it into dozens of pictures; but each time he thought it was hokum, honest hokum. People liked to think there was love like that. They wanted to believe in it.
And perhaps, he had always thought, they were the better for believing in it. Now he knew that it could exist, because it existed in him. In Sam McCabe, famous bachelor, wise guy, the man who knew all the answers. Funny, how smart you can be about yourself, about people, and not know the great truths at all, truths you’ve been standing face to face with all your life and failed to recognize.
The canyons ran back northward into the hills from Sunset Boulevard. Sam pushed into them one by one. In some he and Sarah got out of the car and walked to the ends of the footpaths. In the larger ones, they followed every winding road. It was difficult for him to keep his mind concentrated on finding Neal.
He had a feeling of peace sitting next to Sarah. She did something to him, gave him back the comfort of small towns, of the people he had known in his childhood. She awakened a tremendous nostalgia in him; and he thought, she’s really wonderful in that simple print dress and with her hair drawn back tight and falling on her neck. The Grecian hair made her eyes look more than ever like frightened doves. And her throat so smooth and fragile.
Women like Sarah were built to be protected and cared for, not to be dragged out to this heartless burg to starve in a garret. Sam felt a wave of indignation toward the inept young professor who had first claim on the loveliness beside him. It was wrong. He didn’t deserve it. Sarah was a jewel who should be cherished; she shouldn’t have to wear that look of dreadful anxiety. Pier calm lovely brow was made for peace.
With numbing impact Sam was struck with an apprehension. Here he’d been letting himself hate the poor professor, wallowing in pity for the man’s wife and for himself!
“Sarah, tell me quick,” he burst out. “Have you any idea, I mean, you’re always looking up, you don’t think that Neal— Sarah, he wouldn’t do anything foolish, would he?”
Her grey eyes grew dark with fright. “He might, Sam. He just might! He’s been so miserable, so horribly miserable.”
Sam moved fast. He turned the car around and raced out of the canyon to the main road.
“Hold tight,” he said. “There’s one place we’ve got to get to quick. That cliff above Topaz Canyon. We’ll have to go around through the pass and come back over the hills., reach it from behind, if we can hope to—to do any good.”
To be Continued