JULIE was so wonderful. For a long time after they were married Lank Jordon used to wake up every morning holding his breath, afraid she wouldn't be there.
She wasn’t there now but that was only because she got up at seven o’clock these days to hurry off to her job in “Ten-percent” Petree’s booking office.
It was late morning before the sun, soaking through the asphalt roof, awakened Lank. He yawned, gloomily contemplating the “elegant, housekeeping room for two in refined neighborhood.” He saw the $10 bill almost the first thing. Julie had left it for him on the dressing table.
Lank had a jaw like half a brick, and full lips, hard from playing trombone. His whole lean face tightened as he sat up and glared at the money. It was Julie’s, and last night he had let her know with harsh and dramatic finality that he wasn’t having any part, of it.. He might be a hot-horn bum, like her father said, but that didn’t mean he had to live on his wife.
He swung his long legs off the bed and padded to the screened-off corner of the room. Sometimes Julie left a note on the gas plate. Lank felt hot and cold as he picked up the one that was there now, because after last night anything was possible.
But the note just said: “That’s fresh bacon grease in the cup outside the window. Use it, to fry your egg, honey. Love you.”
There was a postscript. But Lank didn’t pay much attention to that. Not at first. About all that registered was where it said, “Don’t ever forget ...”
He ran his hand through his long black hair, tousled from the pillow, and scratched at himself through the wilted pyjamas. Don’t ever forget what? That she loved him? Or about the egg or the bacon grease?
A hep chick, Julie, but the wackiest out of the West. This note, now—just like they hadn’t snapped and snarled last night until the violence of their quarrel had exhausted them both. Frightened them too. At least it had frightened Lank. Their other spats had been only because they loved each other so much. This one was different. He had even let Julie go to sleep crying.
He had felt like a heel and there had been a wrenching tightness inside his chest. But Julie had said such stinging things; she was so wrong and he was so right that he couldn’t bring himself to reach over and pull her close and comfort her. Not for a long while. By the time he could, she was asleep. If she went to sleep first, did she care as much as he did? Worry about that had kept him miserably awake for another hour.
But now Julie’s note—just like nothing had happened. Hey, wait a minute! This postscript! He rubbed the last vestige of sleep from his eyes and read again—with a jolt, of alarm.
“P. S. Anyway, Pops—most of it’s been good fun, hasn’t it? Don’t ever forget, will you?”
Hey, didn’t that have a sound like past tense or something? Like the good fun wasn’t going to be any more but he should keep remembering for old times, sake. Aw, nuts! Just Julie’s wacky way of putting her words down. But before he convinced himself he felt one awful twinge in the pit of his stomach when he thought what it would be like without Julie.
He pulled off his pyjamas, picked up the soap and a towel and looked out into the hall. He could see that the bathroom door was open. He regarded it speculatively. In the end he turned back and grabbed up a coolie-coat thing of Julie’s.
The sleeves were wide. He could get into it all right. It covered the top two thirds of him. Julie had laughed all morning the first time he put it on. She was going to get him a robe of his own for his birthday.
Back from the shower, he lit the gas burner for the coffee and started dressing. In front of the cloudy mirror he spent a lot of time with a knitted tie. A big knot to fill in between the long points of his collar. Sharp stuff. Mighty sharp. And dig the peg in those pants. Terrific! And pleats long and deep, pressed by Julie.
Today he was going to be seeing a new agent. This one would probably turn out to be as square as the rest. Promise you a lifetime with Dorsey, and end up tossing you a Saturday night fill in on schmaltz, eight to the bar.
Well, what could you do? Except it was tough on Julie. Poor kid, since she’d come out of the tall corn and started banging around with him she’d sure taken a beating. And never any squawking. Well, not till lately. Who could blame her, anyway—cooped up in this crumby room with a man who mooded around all the time, jumpy and snarly because of no work. It would dish him up proper if she just walked out some morning and didn’t come back.
Ten-percent Petree would like that swell. Boy, would he ever! That flesh peddler had been after Julie ever since she started working there. It was no place for Julie in that booking office. She met too many coarse characters. That went for Ten-percent Petree too. It was part of what he had been trying to tell Julie last night.
He picked up Julie’s coolie-coat thing, and for just a flash it was like she was in it. He carried it to the closet and let it brush against his face when he hung it up on her side.
That was when he noticed that the dress was gone. The good dress, the one for special. The blue dress. Blue like Julie’s eyes, and soft, caressing her all the way down when she wore it.
More disturbing still the plaid skirt that Julie had been wearing to work lately was still here. She must have worn the blue dress to work. Why? It had a kind of crisscross lacing over the shoulders and down the arms a little way where Julie discreetly—and provocatively—showed through. It wasn’t a working dress at all.
It was a dancing dress. Whenever he used to play a good hotel spot Julie went with him and wore that dress. The wolves were always digging her. She could have had every dance. But she wouldn’t. Every other one she’d wait out for him. At a table close down, or just standing against the wall, swaying a little with the music and dancing with him—dancing with her eyes. She’d smile and he’d knock himself off the earth, playing that number straight at her.
But there hadn’t been any good hotel spots for a long time now. Julie hadn’t worn the blue dress for a long time.
“Don’t ever forget,” the note had said—like there had been something that wasn’t going to be any more. Times lately, feeling low-down and yielding to a contrary impulse to heap the grief on higher and higher, he had thought, what would be the worst thing that could happen to him in his life? The worst, thing was always Julie walking out. That was so unbearably awful that it had the opposite effect of snapping him out of his mood. It worked that way now.
He sold himself on that and went and fried the egg. Then he took the $10 to the pawnshop and got his horn out of hock. But it didn’t make a guy feel any happier to have to depend on his wife for everything from a fried egg to a trombone.
Back at the rooming house he lugged the trombone case up three flights and opened it on the bed. The case was incredibly scuffed and worn; but the horn was shiny, deep and golden. He picked it up and he felt better. A guy always felt better with a horn in his hands.
He fitted the mouthpiece to the instrument, worked the slide a couple of times, and wet his lips. He started out by playing little figures up and down the scale in soft tones. Warming up, he settled into “Under a Blanket of Blue,” a slow even groove.
Near the end of the chorus he broke from the steady tempo and played a few special riffs—a cadenza ad libitum to the longhairs—but to Lank Jordon a break ad-lib, a chance for a hep guy to play freely the figures that came into his head, to pour on with the righteous stuff, the solid stuff that Armstrong, Teagarden, and the Chicago cats turned out.
A break ad-lib and a high ending. He lifted the slide and started the climb for the high ones. Up and up—higher, higher, and still no strain, no forcing. Up and up, until at the last he was working under pressure, his lips and jaws one welded knot of iron, eyes pushing at his lids, sweat bursting from every pore.
He pulled in a breath and set himself for the ending. There it was. The top note—high like a house, way up. Terrific!
He sat down on the bed, the tingle still in him. He could do it like this when he didn’t have to. Why couldn’t he do it when he did have to?
Dejection gripped him as he thought of the last time he had tried. It was the one big chance that comes to a guy in a lifetime, a sit in broadcast with a big name outfit.
Jiving with the band he’d done all right. But on the second chorus where he was supposed to stand up and solo . . . It was only a break ad-lib and a high ending, like he’d just played. They were all depending on him: the band, the mike, and Julie behind the double glass at the broadcasting station, chewing her fingernails t o splinters; Julie, so proud of him, so glad, but so scared for him too, because this tryout meant so much . . .
He’d muddled through the break but when he’d lifted the slide to climb for the high ending his lips had gone rubber on the mouthpiece, his hands clumsy as two bales of hay. A dismal blat had dropped from his horn to go coast-to-coast on the nation-wide hookup, and by short wave to Europe and Asia. The whole world—the world and Julie—had been in on that turkey.
From out in the hall he could hear a high-heeled scampering. Julie! A hot day, and on the third flight Julie still could scamper. The door opened. She bounced in.
“Solid, Pops!” she said. She was breathing hard, and her eyes were shining. “I caught you from way down the street. As good us Dorsey or any of the boys.’*
Not a word about last night—just as though it hadn’t happened. Lank stared at the blue dress, not quite trusting himself to talk.
Julie looked down at herself with a kind of guilty flush. “Oh, yes,” she said quickly, “the dress. I—I’ll tell you about it in a minute.”
She came close, blowing at a wisp of hair that clung damply to her forehead, and when that didn’t work, lifting her hand and batting the hair back with force. When it wasn’t mussed, like now, her hair was a creamy flow to her shoulders, so unbelievably blond that hardly anybody gave her credit for it being natural.
The glow was in her eyes still. “Why don’t you ask me what I’m doing home so fast in the middle of the day?”
“Ten-percent fire you?”
“You would think of something nice and cheerful like that.”
“So maybe he started making passes when he saw you in the blue dress, and you had to do a fire engine . . . ”
“Listen, Pops.” Some of the sparkle left her eyes. “Do we have to go all over that again? You know how it’s been about Ten-percent Petree. He might make a play once in a while but to me he’s always been strictly from hunger.” She pouted, then let her glance filter up through her lashes. “You big lug.”
Lank grinned weakly, and she came against him with a little rush and held her face up and he kissed it all over. She sighed and let her head stay against him while he patted her back.
“What makes us fight so much I lately?” she wondered plaintively, then pulled away with a little gasp. “Why, I haven’t told you; you’re in, Pops!”
“In?” He sounded dubious.
“Solid with Sy Solinger!”
“You’re off your track.”
She shook the blond hair. “No—I mean it. You’re taking Mose Hamlin’s place on first trombone.”
“Feed it down, chick,” Lank invited, but patronizingly.
“Dig this,” she said. “Mose Hamlin has slipped his contract for a studio job on the coast. That leaves Sy sitting sad, because he’s just signed for a cigarette commercial. His manager is tearing hair, and lining up men for auditions this afternoon at the Sky High Roof, right after the dance session.”
“Sy Solinger!” Lank’s voice was hushed, awed. “He’s been coming up like a comet. Doing the same spots now as Goodman, the Duke and the rest of the boys.” The bed creaked as Lank sagged back on one elbow. With a return of his old dejection, he said, “Every sliphorn in town will be making that try.”
“But only the best one will get the job,” Julie said quietly. “You’re the best.”
Lank wouldn’t meet her eyes. He said, “Well, I don’t know, Julie.”
“Quit making with the mouth, Lank,” she told him severely. “The ! chance of your life, and you sit and alibi. Do you want to just keep on doing schmaltz hotel spots, when and if? Make a lot of lah-de-da, and smile pretty for the patrons? Never getting a chance to play the kind of music that you feel, the real jazz, the righteous stuff that you’re always talking about?”
Her voice changed then, alarmingly. Her whole manner changed. “Is this your idea of something special, Lank, living in a room like this? I—like I told you last night—I’m getting tired babying you, Lank.”
Julie could break your heart with her softness. Like a high sweet note on a violin. Or she could blow your head off, like a trumpet with the derby down. But she had never sounded off quite like this before, her voice tight with a kind of controlled bitterness, her eyes dry and bright.
Lank started to explain all over again, with quiet desperation, about how he could play all right alone, or where it didn’t matter, but on something important, with people depending on him . . . That bust on the broadcast had done something to him. Something permanent. There was nothing a guy could do about it.
It was like a—a flier who cracks up and loses his nerve and can’t go up again. Yeah, like a flier. She could see how that would be. Well, why couldn’t she see how it was with him and the horn? Air shy or horn shy, it was the same idea. There was even a scientific name for it—phobia, mental hazard, or psychological barrier, or something.
Toward the last he faltered because Julie’s face stayed blank and he could tell he wasn’t impressing her any more than he had last night, or any other time.
“When you try out this afternoon with Sy Solinger,” she said, “forget the band, forget me—forget everything. Get too mad to be scared.”
“I’m trying to tell you . . .’’ he began wearily.
“Sorry,” she stopped him, just as wearily. “The record’s worn. Play the other side.” Her hair swished forward, hiding her face, as she bent pulling at a stocking and starting for the door. “I’ve got to get back to the office.”
Lank watched her grimly. Now he really had woman trouble. “I should have left you in the West,” he growled. “You were sweet there. In that booking office you’re getting as tough as Ten-percent Petree.”
She looked back at him. “Not tough, chum—practical. And you can leave Tommy out of it. When it’s all comptometered, he’s a pretty right guy.”
“Oh, so it’s Tommy now. It used to be Ten-percent, but now it’s Tommy. And you telling me all the time he’s strictly from hunger.”
Julie was sarcastic too. “I guess you never heard about a girl changing her mind.” Then in a softer tone, one that was pleading with him he realized afterward, she said, “You’re mind’s made up, Lank. Isn’t it? So—so is mine, Lank. But I did run home to you first. You—you can’t say I didn’t try.”
She ducked out so fast then that she was skimming the stairs on the next flight down before Lank had pulled himself together and reached the hall. “About that dress,” he bawled, “the blue dress you’re wearing ...”
She stopped and looked up through the staircase well. “Oh, yes,” she said, in a voice that sounded about a mile away. “I didn’t tell you, did I? Well, I’m going out—with Ten-percent.”
“In the daytime?”
“He said we’d start with afternoon tea.”
Lank glowered down at her. “The closest Ten-percent Petree ever got to a cup of tea was in prohibition when they served gin that way.”
“I know. Ten-percent just talks that way. Where I guess he’s taking me is dancing at the Sky High. He had a finger in Sy Solinger’s new contract. He said we ought to celebrate.”
“Oh.” Lank’s voice got a lot smaller. “Where you going after?”
“I don’t know. Dinner and—somewhere.”
Lank felt his fingernails gouging into the old paint of the stair rail. He didn’t want to say it, but something made him. “Julie, you’re not going to run out on me?”
In the dimness of the stairway he could see her shoulders, under the blue straps, lift. “I don’t know, Lank. I really don’t. It—it all depends.”
“Depends on what?” It was only a vocal reflex that made him ask, because her strategy was suddenly clear, and the small panic went from him. Wacky Julie! Working it so he’d agree to tryout for this trombone job—using Ten-percent Petree for bogeyman.
Precious Julie! So obvious with her little tricks. Like the time right after they were married when he had a chance at two jobs, one in the West and one in the East. Julie had invented a passionate boy friend in the West, thinking it might be a plug for the Eastern job, because Julie had always wanted to go East.
And now she was going to say, “It all depends on you.”
But she didn’t.
She said, “It depends on Tommy.” Lank had always thought that if it ever came to anything like this, that he and Julie would be calling names and tearing each other’s clothes, with maybe Julie scratching his face, and he having to slap her down. Something, anyhow, human and intimate. Not just staring at each other, like strangers, from a floor apart.
Because this was it, brother! If it didn’t depend on him, or on Julie, but on Ten-percent Petree, then this was it. Ten-percent had been after Julie from the first. And he was smooth. He knew how to wait—like all old guys. He was up in his thirties somewhere. Once Lank had pointed this out to Julie.
“He doesn’t seem old to me” was all Julie had to say.
Her face swam now in the stairway gloom, the lipstick stark against the curve of her mouth. Her chin puckered. She ducked her head and moved back out of sight. Lank could hear the scampering strike of her heels hurrying down the steps.
He could go after her. But what would it settle? This wasn’t any whim of hers. She had known last night what she was going to do. It was on her mind —and maybe her conscience. That was why she had fussed and quarrelled and cried. She was soft that way. But once she made up her mind trumpets out of hell couldn’t budge her. She had been strong-willed enough to marry him in defiance of her father. And she was strong enough to walk out now.
He went back to the room and sat down on the creaking bed. He didn’t see the horn in his hands until he had already picked it up. Even then he didn’t see it. He just knew it was there. He used to say a guy always felt better with a horn in his hands.
He sat holding the horn, but he didn’t feel better. After a while, “Blues in the Night” came out of it, soft but pushing. “A woman’s a worrisome thing who’ll leave ya t’ sing ...”
He played on and on, the sobbing heartbreak kind of blues that sent a man out of this world.
WHEN Lank stepped from the elevator with his trombone at the Sky High Roof, Sy Solinger—“His Saxophone and His Band” — was still rocking them solid at the afternoon dance session. The way Lank had reasoned it, a guy couldn’t go wrong in hearing Sy Solinger and if he were coming up here anyway he might as well bring the horn.
He left it with the hat-check girl and looked in at the dance floor. There were plenty of girls in blue dresses but he didn’t see Julie in any of them. He kept looking and letting the music creep up on him.
The rhythm was heavy and pulsing with the reeds blending a subtle figure for the background and the brass coming in with brilliant bite notes. Sy Solinger, fronting the band with his tenor sax, settled into the release, picking up bunches of notes from one phrase and tying them up with another to weave a pattern about the melody, all of it making a little symphony in riffs.
Lank felt a delicious shiver. The music didn’t put Julie out of his mind, but the music did come into his mind. Dig that brass section! Listen to it cut! Terrific! What a band, and what a leader! Working under a handicap, too, with the depleted trombone section.
Some hepster from the floor shouted for “Under a Blanket of Blue,” a famous Solinger arrangement that had featured Mose Hamlin on trombone. It put Sy on a spot because his remaining trombone man was just a kid.
Sy gave him the green and the kid tried hard. But on the last chorus he got so shaky that Sy had to take it away from him, playing the break and the high ending with his sax. It went over because it was Sy Solinger playing. But it wasn’t trombone. The jazz-wise crowd remembered how Mose Hamlin had done it and their applause was more polite than enthusiastic.
The dance floor cleared and Lank saw Julie. She came from one of the alcoves where couples could dance dreamily behind a screen of trees growing out of green-painted tubs. Ten-percent Petree was with her, in white flannels and a rainbow tie, and a face pink and smooth from the barber shop. Julie’s hand rested intimately on his arm which gave him a possessive look that made Lank want to heave a trombone at him.
Lank stood his ground as they came close. Julie gave a start when she saw him. Her chin went a little higher, her hand tightening on Ten-percent’s arm. When they came through the door she said with an odd breathlessness, “Why hello, Lank—we were just leaving, Lank.”
Lank wasn’t brilliant either. He just said, “Yeah, I see.”
Julie giggled nervously.
As lightly and politely as any band leader, Ten-percent Petree disengaged Julie’s hand. “What is this?” he asked smoothly. “A family quarrel? Maybe I better move and let you two fight it out.”
Julie grabbed his arm again. “Maybe,” she said coolly, “we’d both better move on.”
They started moving, but Lank took hold of her and swung her around. “Aren’t you even going to stay and hear me play?”
It was a surprise also to Lank. Until then he hadn’t known for sure he was going to. “What do you think I came here for?” he growled.
He had been talking louder all the time and people were stopping to stare. Julie’s embarrassed glance moved between them. To Ten-percent Petree she started to explain, “Lank was going to try out after the dancing ...”
“I know. You were telling me.” Lightly and politely, but firmly this time, Ten-percent took her hand away. “How’s about if I pop across the street to the office and see what’s come in about those bookings? You stick around and catch Lank’s sliphorn if you want to, and I’ll be back in a little while and pick you up.”
After he had gone, Julie said, “That was nice of Tommy, wasn’t it?”
“You think so?” Lank asked her fiercely. “Old men know how to wait, that’s all.”
“You don’t need to shout at me,” she shouted.
“Are you going to run out on me?” Lank demanded.
“Let go of my arm.”
“I said are you going to run out on me?”
“I certainly am,” she said, “if he asks me to.”
He let go of her arm then. He just felt sick; that was all. They stared at each other until he couldn’t stand it. “Come on,” he muttered, “I’ll get you a table down front.”
“There aren’t any tables down front.”
That half-a-brick jaw of Lank’s stuck out. “I’ll get one!”
He stopped a waiter. “Guests of Sy Solinger,” he told him.
He even intimidated the waiter into giving him a dime. Then he left Julie at the table and taking the dime to the hat-check girl got his horn and went backstage.
SY SOLINGER’S secretary checked his union card and waved him over to one corner where some other horns were already warming up. Lank kept j half an ear on them while he opened his case. What he heard didn’t worry him. When it came to playing trombone he didn’t have to sit back for anybody. Not here where it didn’t count, where no one depended on him.
He warmed up on “There Are Such Things,” working softly, making each phrase come clear and meaningful, playing around with the melody but not getting lost in extravagant flurries of notes. He finished a chorus and cut into a jump tune and looked up to see Sy Solinger watching him. It was between sets and Sy was catching a few drags on a cigarette.
“How’d you like to play first horn this set?” Sy asked.
Lank thought he hadn’t heard correctly. He just stared.
Sy smiled encouragingly. “You sound as though you could handle it. I’m willing to take a chance if you are.”
Lank looked down at his sport suit, and his hand waved out weakly to indicate Sy Solinger’s summer formal with the blue linen handkerchief edging the breast pocket. “I’m not dressed . .
“That’s all right,” Sy said easily. “I’ll tell ’em you came from 20,000 leagues under the sea. You practice any of Mose Hamlin’s specialties?”
“All of ’em.”
Sy Solinger said, “Solid.”
On the stage Sy stopped to say something to the piano man who looked up at Lank in mild speculation and began sorting out some manuscript sheets. A couple of the boys broke out a music rack and a chair. Lank stumbled to his place in the trombone section—and started sweating.
Why this setup was worse than the broadcast! It had everything the broadcast had: a microphone, big as the i world, a glitter band, and Julie—also, a few hundred jazz hounds who remembered how Mose Hamlin played and who would be expecting him to be somewhere near as good.
Lank threw a panicky glance at Julie’s table. No help there. Julie was watching the door—the door through which Ten-percent Petree had disappeared. Lank strained forward on his chair. She had to see him. He just wasn’t any good without Julie . . .
The tippy chair went out from under him. He went down, clutching his horn and taking the music rack along. Manuscript sheets fluttered everywhere. Sy Solinger frowned and over the big open roof quick laughter rippled. Julie saw him then, of course.
She blinked in surprise and started up from her chair. But then she composed herself and gave him her little short-armed wave—and a smile.
It wasn’t her old smile though, like when he was playing a good hotel spot and she dancing with him—dancing with her eyes. This smile said as plain as anything,
“Here’s wishing you luck, Pops—for old times’ sake.”
Even before he had flopped back in his seat her glance had strayed away. She looked down at her watch, and then at the door again. She had to keep looking for Ten-percent Petree to come back! She was so finished with Lank Jordon that she couldn’t even pretend to be concerned. Now, when he needed her most . . .
Sy Solinger gave the kickoff and the band hit the introduction of “Under a Blanket of Blue.” Lank was a little late getting in but except for a sax release the first chorus was ensemble and with some of the tension knocked out of him by his fall he did all right.
He got through the second chorus too. But the third . . .
The score was marked solo. With knees knocking a beat that didn’t spell out any swing rhythm, Lank stood up to take it. He played from the score and he got by. But then the score ran out.
Right after a fill in by the whole band Lank’s score was blank for a twelve-bar break. That meant he was supposed to improvise, to play the figures and fancies that came into his head, to pour on with the righteous stuff. Like Mose Hamlin.
During the brief fill in with the other instruments Lank didn’t contribute a note. He couldn’t. He remembered too well that other break with the high ending. The broadcast failure came back to jinx him. It stiffened his fingers, gave him a lip like sticky chewing gum.
Sy Solinger threw him a worried look. Lank didn’t see him because he was looking despairingly to Julie. Even that forlorn hope was out. Julie was watching the door, her hand high in an eager fluttering wave to someone beyond Lank’s view.
“Here I am—see me?” the wave said.
Then Ten-percent Petree showed in the doorway. He saw her all right and he started toward her. It sunk Lank completely. Why had Julie bothered to stay and listen to him if it didn’t mean any more to her than this? If this was her idea of pampering him, babying him . . .
Lank hit the break in a rage, with his doubts, his fears and longings, all the agony in his soul transmuted to golden notes—pure gold that gushed from his horn in blue volcanic flow.
Some hepcat on the dance floor let out a “Wow!”
Lank kept pouring it on, round gorgeous notes. Feeling it. Making them feel it. Knocking himself and all of them out of this world . . . He lifted his horn and climbed for the high ones. Up and up. As high as Mose Hamlin. Higher. Higher than a horn could go!
He set himself and reached for the last one. Round and bright, he hit it! Sky high! Terrific! As good as Dorsey or any of the boys.
HE LOWERED his horn and stood trembling, looking for Julie. But the jitter-fevered crowd was ganging the stage. He couldn’t see her. He couldn’t even see her table through the milling maniacs, the high school chicks and their dates, tars and soldiers with a swing savvy that no uniform could contain, older fellows and girls too.
Later when he could see the table Julie was gone.
Sy Solinger gave him a drum roll and introduced him. The roof went wild again. The band threw away the sheets and jammed it then—all of Mose Hamlin’s specialties, with Lank standing out and giving them his own particular twist, pouring his mad and beautifully woven patterns from the horn, dealing out the righteous stuff, the real jazz, the kind he had always wanted to play.
But the first delicious taste of his success was gone. He didn’t feel bad. He just didn’t feel. Without Julie there wasn’t anything to feel. Even later, backstage, when Sy’s manager came, beaming, with impressive - looking papers to be signed Lank still didn’t feel anything.
But when he saw who was moving up behind the manager, he did. Ten-percent Petree with a tricky grin on his pink barber-shop face.
Lank bristled. ‘I thought — I thought—Where’s Julie?”
“I left her with you,” Ten-percent Petree said.
“But she was waiting for you!”
“That’s where you’re wrong. She was waiting for you.” Ten-percent said something funny then. He said, “Women know how to wait.”
Lank almost had it but not quite. He blurted, “You mean you didn’t go back to your office like you said? It wasn’t Julie you were after—it was me?”
“That’s close enough to it for the records,” Ten-percent said, and it seemed to Lank that his grin wasn’t so tricky now as it was just a little bit sad.
Ten-percent reached back and pulled a chair noisily across the floor. “Sid-down and sign something that robs me and Solinger both.” He poked Lank with his soft finger. “That gal! She’s all the manager you’ll ever need.”
Lank borrowed a dollar from Ten-percent Petree and tore home in a taxi. He swooped up the three flights to the hateful room. He opened the door. The room was dim. There was something on the bed. A huddle of clothes it looked like at first. But then he could hear Julie crying.
Down beside her, holding her face, her hot, wet face in his hands, “Julie,” he murmured, “Julie.”
She cried harder.
Gently he shook her. “I made it, Julie. I’m all right now. I’ll always be all right.”
“I know it. Wh-what do you think I’m crying for?” She squirmed around to look at him. “You—you’re not mad at me any more?”
“Mad at you!” It was an appalling thought. “What for?”
“For how we doubled up on you—Ten-percent and I. It was my idea to—to help you beat the jinx that broadcast put on you. It was mostly me, depending on you so desperately, that made you fail ...”
Lank gathered her closer. “Ten-percent told me how it was.”
“You let me finish. The news about the Solinger tryouts hit our office yesterday. So way last night I picked that fight with you, and this morning wore the blue dress and all ... I just thought if I could make you think—it didn’t mean anything to me any more, that—that maybe you’d get mad enough at me, and forget everything else, and pitch into that tryout and roll it up solid. And you did! You did get mad at me! You got awful mad. You did!”
Lank’s lips, hard from playing trombone, did what was required to keep her from starting to cry all over again.