ROBERT J. HOGAN
PETE saw her from the doorway of his elevator car. She came into the building, fresh and clean as a prairie breeze, with an eagerness that almost shouted, “The world is mine and this is the moment I’ve been waiting for.” She sort of bounced to the directory board, or she would have in lower heels instead of the French heels that she wasn’t used to.
As she was, she wouldn’t be perfect for a photographic model, Pete decided. He was something of an authority, since he ran an elevator in the building that housed the Norton Model Agency.
She was looking at the “N” list, so Pete said, “Norton Model Agency is 608. Up, please?”
Quickly, she turned, smiled, and stepped into his elevator. “Thanks a lot,” she said.
Red Connelly, the elevator starter, gave Pete the buzz to start up. Pete swept her over with a professional eye. She looked like a small-town girl who was accustomed to being spoken to often and in a kindly manner.
She brightened, suddenly, as the thought came to her. “How did you know where I was going?” Pete said, “Does Truman ask Attlee if he’s British?”
She had a quick, gay little laugh. She laughed as if she were with a few close friends. She said, “I like that.”
Mr. Wilson of Wilson, Manger and Cannon, on five, chuckled behind Pete, and Mr. Sallas of Empire Television, on the top floor, coughed like he was smiling. Pete permitted himself a generous grin, and let Mrs. Farraday off on three with her silver foxes.
As Pete started up he made another brush study of the girl. She was about five-seven. She had a lovely figure. Her measurements would be perfect, and she had the most beautiful eyes Pete had ever seen. They tied little knots inside him when she looked at him. They were lively eyes, wide with spirit and happiness and wistfulness and fear. They made Pete want to help her. They made him want to encourage her and help her very much, so he said, “You’ll make it all right, only—”
There was sudden wonder and curiosity, too, in her eyes. She said, “Only what?”
Pete couldn’t very well tell her right now that her face was a little too young to go with her sophisticated outfit. He couldn’t tell her, just yet, that she should get lower heels to start, and that the sleek black dress was tnuch too old for her face. And he couldn’t say, at this time, that her lovely brown hair should hang in soft cascades over her graceful shoulders instead of being drawn up tightly on all sides, with a black drum of a hat strapped on at the back.
Ann was sweet as a prairie wind, and Pete’s heart went up like an express elevator when he saw her. Then he learned about Freddie
He let Mr. Wilson out at five, and said, “Well, first, you’ve got everything that doesn’t go with a bored expression,” hoping that might hold her so she wouldn’t notice they were passing floor six. “And you should practice smiling with your eyes wide open—but naturally.”
“With my eyes open?”
Pete nodded and headed the elevator for the top floor for Mr. Sallas. “Sure. Mr. Norton says the eyes are the light of the soul. You should smile without squinting.”
“Oh,” she said. “Oh, I see. You mean like this?” She tried.
“Wonderful,” Pete said. “You’re a natural.” He looked over at Mr. Sallas. He was a comfortable little man, the chief engineer of Empire Television. Since Pete had taken the elevator job, he had come to know Mr. Sallas real well. “She’s a natural, isn’t she, Mr. Sallas?”
Mr. Sallas smiled at her with his pleasant round face. “You are a very lovely girl,” he said.
“Thank you.” She blushed more than slightly and it made Pete feel pretty good about her. Mr. Sallas got off at 20, and Pete held the car there, waiting. The girl looked around in surprise. She said, “Oh! When do I get off?”
“We’ll go back down to six pretty soon,” Pete said. He was enjoying her alone. “I thought I’d keep you around a little longer ”
“Really?” There was a touch of frost on the word.
“I want to give you more dope on this modelling business.”
“I think you’d better take me down to six.” She sounded more firm than angry. She moved a little away from him and stared fixedly through the open door. Her straight nose grew a little straighter and neater. It was real cute.
Pete said, “We’ll go as soon as Red gives me the buzzer to start down.”
She pressed her lips very tightly together, and Pete said, “You look nicer blushing than trying to put on the freeze.”
“I’m not trying to look nice,” she said.
The buzzer sounded and Pete began closing the door. He said, “You better had try to look your best—after coming all the way from Saskatchewan to be inspected.”
“Manitoba,” she said stoutly.
“You better had, anyway,” Pete said. “They’re pretty fussy.”
He opened the door on 15, for a couple of Horne and Ramsey jewellery customers, and he tried to think how to tell her what changes she must make before having the test pictures taken that the agency would demand. It would take a lot longer to put across what he had to say than the time it would take him to drop the car, from where he was, to six.
He stopped at eight for a man in a black suit, probably a customer of Enterprise Mortuary Supplies, and he couldn’t think of any way to say what he had to, so he stopped at six and he said, “This is your floor,” to the girl, and smiled. “I just meant to help. But you’ll make it. Remember about the smile.”
“Thank you,” she said, and looked almost
“Good luck,” Pete said and watched hei' walk on eggs in her high heels.
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He closed the door with slow reluctance, pitying the scared kid and wishing he hadn’t been so harsh.
For the next half hour he kept stopping at six. Finally she got in his car and he was happy again. He gave her his best smile. “Everything okay?”
Now she seemed more puzzled than annoyed. She said, “Yes, thank you,” and Pete let her go at that while he gave the early lunch hour crowd the “Step back in the car, please,” treatment.
At the ground floor he said to her, “I’m off in 20 minutes. If you’ll have lunch with me, I’ll explain all about the test pictures and what you should do.”
Half an hour later they sat at Luigi’s, and she was saying, “Pete, I’m terribly sorry for being short with you this morning, but—”
“Forget it,” Pete said. He smiled back at her long enough to almost make him forget what he wanted to tell her, then he remembered and said, “Now about these test pictures. They mean that you passed the first inspection and now they want to see if you’re photogenic. The studio’s just over here another block. All the agencies require test pictures. They take six different poses under strong lights that show up all your defects.”
“Oh, dear!” she said with that scared look coming into her eyes.
“Don’t worry. Everybody’s got defects,” Pete said. “Take Miss Tilton Soup, for instance. She’s got a wart the photographic studios have to fuss with.”
“Do you know Miss Tilton Soup?” She sat up straighter in a little excited movement that was almost a hop.
“Sure,” Pete said. “She’s a Norton girl. Name’s Kay Bond. Nice kid. Home’s in the West too. What part of Manitoba did you come from, Ann?”
“A little town near Winnipeg,” she said.
“Nice country,” Pete said. “I just saw it from the train. But I’ve got to hurry and tell you what to do for these tests. I’m due back in half an hour. You say your appointment at the studio’s at three?”
“Yes,” she said. She looked at a small piece of note paper she took from her bag. It had “From Harry
Norton” printed at the upper lefthand corner of the memo, and below was written, “Miss Ann Parsons. Three o’clock.”
“Okay,” Pete said. “Now listen carefully. I want you to go to Marge and have her fix you up the way you should be. Those test pictures will cost you $12.50. And then tonight at six-thirty I’ll pick you up at—where you staying?”
“Swell. I’ll pick you up at sixthirty and we’ll have a bite of dinner before I have to get uptown to night school at eight. You can tell me how you like your new self then.”
Ann took a quick breath, saying, “Wait, please. First, who is Marge?” “She’s a friend of mine—works at the Elite Beauty Parlor over here, one block. Here.” He wrote the address on a paper napkin and gave it to her. “Go over there and ask for Marge, as soon as we get through here. I’ll phone and tell her what’s got to be done.”
“Pete, wait a minute,” she said seriously. “Look, Pete. I appreciate everything you’re doing for me. But I won’t let you spend your money on me. If I go to dinner with you tonight, I insist on paying my own way.” *
Pete got a warm feeling about her. He smiled. He said, “Forget it, Ann. My old man owns the building.”
“No, seriously,” she said. “I won’t have it any other way.”
Pete took a deep breath. He said, “Okay. So you have to see the financial statement of Pete Mason, but quick.” He glanced at his wrist watch. “I run an elevator, partly for the 30 bucks a week and partly because the Empire Television Studio is on the top floor, and by running an elevator I can get to know Mr. Sallas, the chief engineer for Empire. He already has promised me a job in the engineering department of Empire as soon as I graduate from my night school course, which should be in about two months from now if I am a good boy and get to know my kilocycles and such 100%.”
“Oh!” she said in a pleased little upswept voice.
“Thank you very much,” Pete said. “So you will kindly refrain from further reference to money, since I was only planning to take you to a little Russian place called the Black Bear, where we eat for six-bits each,
including some nice music on threecornered banjos.”
He rolled spaghetti on his fork. “Now about the change-over,” Pete said. “You and your clothes and your hair-do have to fit you. Have you got something for the tootsies with lower heels, not flat, but just about between those French heels you’ve been hobbling around with, and flats?”
“Why—why, yes,” she said, looking pretty startled.
“Then put those on, and while you’re at the YW get off that black bored-with-Park-Avenue hat and put on something as young as you are. Will you do that? Better take three or four numbers over to Marge and let her pick one for you.”
“No buts!” Pete glanced at his wrist watch. “Say, I’d better get going.”
Ann got up rather dazedly. She said, “But, Pete—”
He patted her shoulder and picked up the check. He said, “Look. Be a good girl and do that, will you? And I’ll call Marge.”
They went out together. “See you tonight,” Pete said, then he left her and broke into a trot back to his job.
Red Connelly was running his car when he got there, so he took over and stayed with it for an hour before he asked Red to relieve him while he put in a phone call. He called Marge then. He said, “Marge, that girl, Ann Parsons, with the beautiful eyes, I sent over. Look, I want you to—”
Marge had a rather high, soft voice that rose when she seemed surprised. She said, “Nobody by that name has come in, Pete. Was she coming over this afternoon?”
Pete caught his breath and felt a lump come up to shut off his vocal mechanism. “She hasn’t?” He wanted to groan, but he said anyway, “Well, when she does come, she’s getting fixed up for test photographs for Norton Model Agency. She’ll bring dresses, maybe, that will go better with her face. She’s trying to look sophisticated, for some crazy reason, and she’ll spoil the whole set of pictures, because she isn’t the type. They haven’t got time at Norton’s to tell her all this. You know how pretty girls coming into Norton are a dime a dozen, Marge. So get her hair down, like you think it should be with her face, and you know, Marge. Fix her up. By three, Marge. That’s when her appointment at the studio is for. Okay, Marge?”
It was okay with Marge. She’d do what she could. For Pete she’d shove other appointments around and work in this Ann Parsons.
When he got back to his car, Red said, “So it’s love at first sight, eh, Pete? I don’t blame you.”
“Bet your life,” Pete said, when he felt more like saying, “Don’t worry, brother. I’ll probably never see her again.”
But when he went to the YW that night, Ann was ready, and the way she looked picked him right up off the floor, because she had on a lovely, gay little print number that was just right for her aqua eyes and her brown hair. And the hair, incidentally, was down over her shoulders, just the way it should be. Pete said, “Hey, you’re wonderful. You must have done what I told you.”
“Of course,” she said. “But I don’t know why, really.”
“I thought you weren’t going to Marge,” Pete said. “I called her an hour after I left you and you hadn’t come.”
They got on a bus and they found Ann a seat and Pete stood beside her, eaying, “You half scared the life out of me. What took you so long to get to the YW and then the beauty parlor?”
Ann frowned and smiled at the same time. She said, “Well, I had to think it over, didn’t I?”
“Good girl,” Pete said. “You’re just right?”
“You think the pictures will be all right?”
“They’ll be perfect,” Pete said.
But he thought she kept on looking kind of disappointed, so when they were at a table in the Black Bear, Pete said, “What’s bothering you? Afraid you won’t make it? You will.”
“Thank you,” she said, but he wasn’t satisfied, because she kept right on looking disappointed. Then the balalaikas began to play a popular tune they could dance to, and she was just as nice on the dance floor as she was to look at. It took his mind off his curiosity. She was warm and almost like part of him in his arms.
He was going to ask her what was troubling her, when they got back to their little table with the soft light and the red shade, but before he could bring it about, she said, “I’ve been wondering just how you happen to know so much about getting in as a model.”
“When you run an elevator,” Pete said, “you get to know a lot about most of the businesses in the building. I hear more talk about the Norton Agency than any other house. I hear the girls talking about it, and sometimes a couple of the Norton staff get in and they’re still talking about something that’s happened.”
Ann gave another little excited hop in her chair, just a slight movement of excitement, and, as she had at lunch, she leaned toward him with her hands before her. “Please tell me more, Pete.”
He told her how she had been passed by the Norton staff on her first inspection, otherwise they would not have asked her to go to the expense of having a photographic test made. Now the test pictures would be looked at and passed on by Mr. Norton himself. Mr. Norton was up at his country place, but he’d be back tomorrow, and Pete would speak to him about Ann. He’d give her a good buildup to Mr. Norton.
“But do you really think I’ve got a chance—a good chance?”
“You’re practically in,” Pete said, and he smiled assurance. “I’ll fix everything.”
“But do you really think you can?”
“Sure,” he said. And then, more seriously. “Of course I wouldn’t kid you, Ann. All I can do is give you the buildup to Mr. Norton so he’ll be sure to take more than a quick look at your pictures. It’s you that’s going over—you and the pictures.”
“You make me feel so wonderful,” she said.
“Likewise, I’m sure,” Pete said, and the world was a swell place to
be. And then, “How did you happen to think you’d like to become a model—from Manitoba?”
She sobered. She said, “Oh, it’s a long story, Pete.”
He looked at his wrist watch. She looked over at it. “What time is it?” “Seven,” he said.
“You don’t want to be late for night school,” she said. “How long will it take you to get there from here?”
“Twenty minutes,” Pete said. “How’d you get headed for modelling, Ann?”
“Well,” she said, a little hesitantly, “to begin with, my father is principal of the school at home. He wanted me to be a teacher. I didn’t want to be. I took up secretarial work. Then—” she hesitated again and looked pretty serious. “You’re sure you want to know?”
“Certainly.” Pete laughed a little. “Well, there is Freddie,” she said. “I’d always wanted to come here and see if I couldn’t be a photographic model. All my friends were sure I’d make it.”
“Hold it,” Pete said, and he sat motionless, watching her as if whatever she said next would be “yes” or “no.” “Who is Freddie?”
She studied him for what seemed to Pete a very long time, then she looked at the salt shaker standing before the lamp. “Well, Freddie is a boy—back home.”
“I think so.” She looked up at Pete as she said it.
Pete’s morale hit bottom and he sat waiting, hoping his spirits would bounce, just a little. They didn’t, but he didn’t want to let her know, so he said, “Home town boy makes country girl come to the big city to become a model.”
“Well, not just like that,” she said. “There was another girl—from Winnipeg—who came to town.” She looked at the salt shaker again. “She’s very nice. She’s attractive. She acts very sophisticated.”
“And Freddie thinks she’s the nuts? Right.”
“Well,” she said, “he seems to think so.”
“So you came here to show him. Is that it?”
She studied over that with her brow wrinkled slightly. She shook her head, not quite sure. She said, .“No, not just like that. It was—well, I think it was more as if the whole affair brought things to a head.”
Pete took a deep breath to try and relieve the pain in his chest and fill the empty feeling that had suddenly come over him.
She looked suddenly wistful and puzzled. “Why am I telling you al these things?” she said. “I only met you this morning.”
“And you forgot what your mother told you about strange men in the big city,” Pete said, and he was suddenly wondering why he’d told her so much about himself, his finances and his hopes. Then he said, “So that was why you wanted to look sophisticated?”
She blushed a little. She said, “You must think I’m awfully silly.” “Only because you’d go to all this trouble for a guy who’d drop you like a hot meat ball because some gal came down from Winnipeg.”
“He didn’t drop me,” she said.
“Okay,” Pete said. “The error is mine.”
They sat silently for an awkward moment, then she tipped her head a little to the side to look at his watch. She said, “What time is it getting to be?”
It was time they were leaving. Outside it was cool, and she walked beside him silently, with her head bowed, and when he had to leave her at the bus stop she didn’t look up but said, “Good night.”
“Good night,” Pete said, and because he had to hurry he was a couple of paces away when he called, “Let’s see those pictures when you get them.”
She didn’t answer. Maybe she didn’t hear him. He’d been riding for at least three minutes when he suddenly sat up straight, Hey, he thought, that kid was crying when I left her. He breathed a deep sigh. Probably over that dope, Freddie. The thought pained him not a little, and he tried to put his mind on television.
Ann came in next morning, about ten-thirty, with her pictures, and just the sight of her made him forget Freddie and tied little knots inside him. Pete said, “How’d they turn out?”
She didn’t look sure. She said, “Those lights are terrible, aren’t they?” She handed him the envelope.
He got them out and looked at them, first one and then another, and his car began to fill and Red gave him the buzz to start up with his load.
She was watching him. She said, “How are they?”
“Swell,” he said, and they were. “Mr. Norton’s up there now, and when he comes down for lunch, if I can catch him in my car, I’ll tell him about you.”
“Thanks an awful lot,” she said, and he couldn’t tell when he let her off at six whether she was just scared of the outcome or thinking about Freddie, but probably it was Freddie.
He slammed the door behind her and mentally damned Freddie for being the cause of Ann’s unhappiness. He must be a stinker, that Freddie.
She came down in a few minutes in his car. He’d been stopping at six for her, and she made him feel good, just being there, in spite of Freddie. She said, “They just took the pictures and said they’d let me know. Is that all right?”
“Sure,” Pete said, and he felt so sorry for her that he said, “It’ll be all right. I’ll see Mr. Norton when he comes down for lunch.” He couldn’t seem to help wanting to help her in spite of that apple knocker in Manitoba.
Pete didn’t catch Mr. Norton coming down for lunch, but he gave up his lunch hour and stayed on, and he did pick up Mr. Norton when he got in after lunch.
Pete talked to Mr. Norton about Ann Parsons, and Mr. Norton promised that he would pay special attention to the pictures of a girl who had attracted such wholesome attention by one so skilled in charmchoosing as Pete.
Late that afternoon Pete picked up Mr. Norton at six and brought him down. Pete said, “Did you see her pictures, Mr. Norton?”
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“Pictures? Oh, yes. The Parsons girl. Yes, I saw them. Lovely girl. But her face is a little too young for her figure. In another year or two I think we can use her very nicely. Meantime I think she’d better go back home and forget it until she looks a little older in her face.”
Pete thought a lot about it until quitting time. It was going to be a blow to Ann, and somehow he couldn’t help feeling that he’d like to be the one to break it to her—but gently.
He thought about his night school class. He hadn’t missed a night class since he’d started the course. Telling Ann seemed pretty important, somehow. Important enough to warrant skipping class tonight, so he called her up and they went to the Black Bear again for dinner. There, sitting across from her at the same table with the soft light and the red lamp shade, he wondered just how he was going to tell her, because tonight, for some crazy reason, she seemed so happy.
He got thinking that maybe he should wait until time for the dessert to tell her, because she’d maybe feel better with a good meal to soothe her, and he had wanted to take his time and pick the right moment.
So as they began their dessert he told her what Mr. Norton had said.
All the time he was telling her she just sat watching him. Her lovely aqua eyes never left his face, and they followed every move of his mouth and every change of his expression. It made him feel as if he was under a microscope. It made him feel very uncomfortable. Then, of all things, when he had finished, she began to smile, just a little at first, until her whole lovely young face was lighted, and she just sat looking at him and smiling, like that, for what seemed a long time.
Suddenly her expression changed. She said, “Oh, Pete, we’ve been taking too long. What time is it? You’ve got to get to your class.”
He looked at his watch, and it was ten minutes to eight already. She said, “Pete, you’ve got to go,” and reached for her bag.
“I’m not going to class tonight,” Pete said. “I’m kind of crazy, I guess, but I wanted to take all the time I needed to tell you how it was.
She settled back and smiled, but the smile changed to a puzzled, questioning look. She said, “You did?” as if she didn’t believe him.
“Why sure,” he said. “What’s funny about that? They won’t miss me one night.”
She began to smile again and then she said gently, “Pete, I don’t know how to tell you what—I mean this is wonderful of you—to do this.” She took a deep, soft breath and said, “What else did Mr. Norton say?” as if she just wanted to sit there and have him go on talking.
“That’s about all,” Pete said. “Just that you’d better go back home for a year or two until you looked older.”
She sobered instantly, and then her eyes began to glisten. She looked as if tears were close, so Pete said, “But I’ll bet Freddie will be tickled pink to have you back.”
She bowed her head very slowly, and took out a handkerchief and
raised it to her eyes, and her shoulders shook just a little.
Pete watched her, helpless and hurt. He said, “Honest, Ann. I’ll bet 100 bucks that Freddie will even have the firemen’s band out for you when you get off the train.”
She tried to clear her eyes. She said, “I think you’d better take me back—to the YW.”
Pete said, “Well, okay,” and he couldn’t think when he’d ever felt so miserable.
It was clear and mild, and the sky was full of stars. They walked in silence until Pete said, “Look, Ann. Aren’t the stars pretty?” And after she didn’t answer for a couple of blocks, he said, “You can come back in a year or two and you’ll be the best thing in the Norton Agency.”
She seemed to want to walk, so he just walked beside her, and suddenly, she said, “I don’t want to come back.”
“Okay,” he said. “You don’t have to if you don’t want to.”
They walked three more blocks in silence. She wasn’t weeping now, at least Pete didn’t think she was. She was just walking beside him with her head up and her chin high and saying nothing at all. Then, as if she couldn’t hold it longer, she said, “Pete, what about Marge?” “Marge?” Pete said.
“The girl you sent me to at the beauty parlor?”
“Oh, Marge,” Pete said.
“She’s crazy about you,” Ann said. “She kept telling me how wonderful you were all the time she was with me.”
“No kidding?” Pete said.
“She said the most wonderful things about you.”
“Good old Marge,” Pete said. “She’s swell, isn’t she? I knew she’d do right by you for me. So she gave me the old buildup, did she? They don’t come any better than Marge.” She stopped under the light on the corner and looked up at him. She said, “You think a great deal of her, don’t you, Pete?”
“You bet,” Pete said. “Why wouldn’t I? Especially now, after that swell buildup.”
“What do you mean?”
“Why the buildup she gave me to you when she thought I liked you. That was swell of her.”
Ann looked lovelier than she’d looked at any time since he saw her coming into the building that day when she first arrived. She said, “You don’t? I mean you do? I mean—”
“Hey,” Pete said. “What do you mean?”
“I mean,” Ann said, “you’re not in love with Marge?”
“In love with her?” Pete laughed loud enough so it echoed over into the park. “Look, are you kidding? Marge is the sister of a pal of mine that goes to night school with me, and she’s in love with a handsome big lug that wrestles freight down on the docks. What’re you talking about?”
“I—Oh!” Ann let the air out of her lungs.
She began walking again. They crossed toward the park. She said, “And all the time I thought—” She hugged his arm gently and laughed
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softly and Pete put his hand on hers and laughed with her, mostly because she seemed so all at once happy, and happy was the way he liked to see her all the time. She said, “I don’t think I’m going back home after all, if I can get a job of some kind here.”
“You aren’t?” Pete said. “But what about this Freddie dope?”
“I built him up to more than he really was,” she said. “I really liked him, or thought I did, but not as much as I let you think. You see when I thought you and Marge were—”
“You mean Freddie doesn’t count?”
“He never did very much—not until the girl from Winnipeg came along and then—well—I wasn’t sure of anything and I felt hurt, so I decided to come here.”
Pete breathed deep and free of the warm air. He stuck out his chest. He said, “Nice town, this. It’ll grow on you.” And then he snapped his fingers. He said, “Say, didn’t you tell me you took secretarial work?” “Yes,” she said.
“How good are you?”
“I won second prize in typing and
third prize in shorthand at the fair last year.”
“Swell,” Pete said. “Mr. Sallas was saying only yesterday if I knew of a real good secretary to let him know. He’ll remember you. I’ll tell him you’re the girl with the beautiful eyes.”
She hugged his arm tighter and he held onto her hand. They gravitated toward the deeper shadows of some trees. Pete stopped her where it was dark enough and put his arms around her. He said, “Ann, darling, I’ve been nuts about you since I first saw you.”
A voice with a rich brogue interrupted. It said, “Excuse me,” and a big constable stepped out of the deeper shadow. He said, “Certainly is a fine night for it,” and he looked up at the stars in passing.
“Sure is,” Pete said.
“Well, good luck,” the officer said, “to both of you.”
“Thanks,” Pete said.
“Thanksalot,” Ann said, and then, more softly, “Pete, I’ve met the nicest people lately.”
“Lots of nice people here,” Pete said. “For instance, take me.”
“I certainly will,” she said.