Not long after Ed Niles finished barber college he got a part-time job in Harry Frazier’s shop, and one morning Mr. Moss came in. All the other chairs were full, except Ed’s. Ed didn’t know Mr. Moss from Adam, but when Harry apologized for not having one of the regular barbers for him, Ed knew Mr. Moss was important. Mr. Moss looked around and said, “I just want a shave, and I am in a hurry. This new man won’t cut my throat, will he?” So Harry let Ed take him.
Ed was extra careful with Mr. Moss, and he hardly said a word. While he was lathering the back of Mr. Moss’ neck, Mr. Moss said, “Quietest barber I ever saw. Don’t know a quiet chauffeur, do you?” Ed said no, he didn’t. Mr. Moss said he and his family were driving through to California and his regular chauffeur didn’t want to leave the East. Ed said, “I’m not a regular chauffeur, Mr. Moss, but I am a good driver. And I’d sure like to go to California.”
Mr. Moss said for Ed to come around to his office the next morning. Ed took him out in the big Packard and Mr. Moss liked the way he drove. So he hired Ed to drive him and his wife and their two little girls out to Los Angeles.
They got out there and went to visit Mr. Moss’ sister on a fruit ranch a few miles outside of Calabasas, which is just north of Beverly Hills. It was a big place, but they were kind of crowded at the ranch, so Mr. Moss got Ed a room right in Calabasas and told him he could have a week off to see California. With pay.
At the house where he had this room there was this girl and her mother. Janey Kirk was her name. They seemed to have money, because neither one of them had to work. Janey was going into the movies. A talent scout, or somebody had said she was just the type, and she certainly was, so they had come out there and she was going to dramatic school in Hollywood.
Ed met them the first night he was there. He met the mother first, and she said, “I guess you are the new young man who just moved in today, aren’t you?” Ed said yes, he just came out from the East. “I’ll just bet,” Mrs. Kirk said, “that you came out to go into the movies. You are certainly the type.” Ed said, well, he hadn’t decided yet. He was just kind of looking around. So Mrs. Kirk said he must meet her daughter, Janey, because she knew they would like each other.
Janey was a blonde, something like Joan Blondell. Slim, with a very good figure. Not like Jane Russell, but you would certainly look twice. She took to Ed right away, and Ed took her and her mother out to dinner that night. Prices were pretty high, but Ed had almost a hundred dollars, so they splurged.
After dinner Mrs. Kirk said she was tired and was going back to her room, but Ed and Janey needn’t go back just because of her. So they went for a long walk, and Janey told Ed all about herself, how she had been offered a part in one of the new pictures but she knew she wasn’t ready for it so she had turned it down.
“A girl has to have experience,” she said “and training." I don’t want to take a part till I know I can make a big success.”
“I don’t know about that,” Ed said.
“A girl like you, with talent and looks and all, you’d make good. I’ll bet you’ve already got more training and experience than most of them.”
“Do you really think so?” Janey asked. “A girl doesn’t know about these things. Men are so much wiser. And I haven’t any man I can ask.”
They stopped in a park and sat down, and she said one thing she liked about California, it was so romantic. When Ed finally kissed her she said, “Ed, I don’t think I have ever been kissed like that in all my life. I feel like I’d just come to life, the way Mr. du Moulin said I would some day. I just couldn’t seem to feel things, down deep inside. I had never been awakened.”
He kissed her again, and he knew what she meant. He felt awakened, too.
The next day Ed and Janey took a bus down to Popango Beach, which is just below Malibu. Janey’s bathing suit was the kind that folks back East didn’t take up till a few years later. On some girls it might have seemed daring, but it was sure cute on Janey.
She wasn’t a very good swimmer. Twice she got out beyond her depth and Ed had to help her. He carried her in his arms, the second time, and she said he was a real hero, because she was sure she would have drowned. After that they just lay on the sand, and she asked him about himself. Ed said he was a kind of soldier of fortune.
“Do you know what I’ll bet you would really like to do?” Janey asked. “You will probably think I am awfully bold, but I am going to say it anyway. I’ll bet you would like to have a pretty wife you could be proud of who was a movie star. And between pictures you and she could travel.” “There’s certainly something to be said for the idea,” Ed said.
“You know,” Janey said, “the right man can bring out an actress. Like last night. When you kissed me, and I was awakened for the first time.”
A tall, thin man with trunks and sunglasses and a shock of dark hair came striding up the beach. Janey gasped. “That’s Mr. du Moulin!” she whispered, and sat up. “He’s my teacher at dramatic school.”
Ed saw that Mr. du Moulin thought pretty well of himself. When he came a little closer, Janey waved at him, and he came over to where they were and took off his sunglasses.
“Hello, Janey,” he said. “Taking a day off, I see.”
“Yes, Mr. du Moulin,” Janey said. “I want you to meet my friend, Mr. Niles. Mr. Ed Niles.” Mr. du Moulin stood there with his hands on his hips and looked at Ed with eyes like ice cubes. “Hello,” he said, and his voice was just like his eyes.
Ed said hello, he was glad to meet him. Mr. du Moulin turned to Janey and said, “They are going to start casting ‘Seventh Sin’ next week.” Then he smiled at Janey in a way Ed didn’t like, and he put on his sunglasses and walked on up the beach without even looking at Ed again.
“Let’s go get something to eat,” Ed said to Janey when Mr. du Moulin was out of sight. “Let’s go up to that lunch counter and get a hot dog and a Coke. I am starved.”
After that they took the bus back to Calabasas, and that evening he took Janey and Mrs. Kirk out to dinner again. But right after dinner Janey said she had a part to learn, so Ed took them home, then went to a movie alone.
The next morning he met Janey as she was going to catch the bus to Hollywood for a two-hour class. Ed went along with her to the door of the dramatic school and he said he would meet her there after class, because he had some things to attend to. Then he walked down Hollywood Boulevard, looking in the shop windows. He saw two very swank barber shops, and one of them had a long line of customers waiting so he went in and sat down and watched for a while. Then it got to be almost his turn, so he went out and walked around some more. He went back to the building where the dramatic school had the second floor, and he still had almost an hour to wait. So he went around the corner, and in the same building he found a little barber shop with just two chairs. Only one barber was working. Ed got in the chair and ordered a shave and massage. While the barber was working on him Ed asked about his business.
Business was lousy, the barber said. So bad the man who owned the place only worked part time, in the afternoons. Seemed like half the barbers in the country had come to Southern California. Nobody was making any money. Practically all haircut business. Ed was the first man he had shaved today. Safety razors had nearly killed the business. That and ten-cent tips. Used to be, a barber could count on giving a customer a shave and a massage and a haircut and a tonic, and he often got a dollar tip. Now it was just a haircut and no tonic. And ten-cent tips. Business was lousy.
Ed knew the line. He had heard it before. From barbers who were afraid they were about to get fired.
He gave the barber a quarter tip and went around to the door where he was to meet Janey. She came out just as he got there.
“Darling!” she cried. “The most marvelous thing! Mr. du Moulin said I was the best I have ever been. He said I was just about perfect, and he is recommending me for a part in ‘Seventh Sin!’ Isn’t that just wonderful? He said I was really awakened ! You know why, don’t you?”Ed didn’t know what to say. “Don’t you?” she asked again, holding up her lips. “Oh, of course you do!” And she kissed him.
They had lunch in a big restaurant on the Boulevard, and Janey told him everything Mr. du Moulin had said. She said she was too excited to eat, but she ordered a two-dollar lunch and seemed to enjoy it.
After lunch she said she had to do some shopping, and wouldn’t Ed help her. “We’ve simply got to celebrate, just a little bit, because I have practically got a part in ‘Seventh Sin. ”
She wanted a negligee. They went in several shops, and Ed felt embarrassed, looking at all those filmy things with her. But she couldn’t find what she wanted till she saw a negligee in a window that she said was simply out of this world. It was black and shimmery and had gold sequins at the neck.
They went in, and a salesgirl brought one in Janey’s size. Janey held it up to herself, and the salesgirl said it was just her type; it wasn’t every girl, she said, who could wear this number. Janey said she couldn’t tell, just holding it up this way. The salesgirl said why didn’t she try it on, and then her husband could see how it looked, and Janey winked at Ed and said, “I think I will.”
Janey went into a dressing room, and pretty soon the salesgirl came and told Ed his wife was ready and led him to a little alcove behind a rack of dresses.
Ed gulped and tried to look at Janey’s face. The negligee was so thin he could see her legs when she moved.
“Do you like it, darling?” Janey asked, drawling the words and turning slowly around.
All Ed could manage was, “Um-hm!” Janey came over to him, looking down at the gold sequins. He hadn’t realized till then how low the neckline was.
“Are the gold sequins too much, darling?” Janey asked. “Don’t they look a little—well, gaudy?”
Ed tried to keep his eyes on the sequins.
“Hmmm-umm,” he said.
“Maybe it isn’t practical,” Janey said, moving away again and turning around once more. “Maybe I ought to get a housecoat.”
“It’s just your type, dearie,” the salesgirl said.
Janey fingered the material. “I don’t know...Do you really like me in it, Ed?”
“I certainly do,” Ed said. “Like she says, it’s just your type, and I like it, and if you like it, I’d say buy it.” He felt very warm. He wanted to get away.
“How much did you say it was, again?” Janey asked.
“Just thirty seven ninety five, marked down from fifty-seven fifty.” Ed escaped to the front of the store. A few minutes later the salesgirl came out with the negligee over her arm. She went over to Ed with her sales pad. “Cash?” she asked.
“Yes,” Ed said. “Cash, I guess.” She made out the slip and handed it to him. He got out his wallet and gave her four tens. That left him just twenty dollars. She brought him the change and the package, but he still had to wait another five minutes before Janey appeared.
Out on the street Janey asked, “Did you pay for it? It was simply horrible when I found I only had ten dollars with me. Just imagine!”
“That’s all right,” Ed said.
“Well,” Janey said, “it’s not as though you were a stranger. And I’ll pay you back, if you want me to.”
“That’s all right,” Ed said again. “Anyway,” Janey said with a laugh, “we are celebrating, aren’t we? And I am just about tired out, so why don’t we go to a movie and get rested before dinner. Because if you have never been there, we are going to The Town House for dinner. It is worth every cent it costs.”
The next morning Ed counted his assets before he went downstairs. He had exactly five dollars and forty-seven cents. Five dollars and forty-seven cents to last him until Sunday. And this was Thursday. Thursday morning.
He had a cup of coffee at a lunch wagon before he caught the bus. The bus only took him within half a mile of Mr. Moss’ sister’s ranch. He walked the rest of the way. When he got there he found that Mr. and Mrs. Moss had just gone to town and wouldn’t be back till after lunch. He waited.
It was half-past two when they arrived.
“Get tired of town?” Mr. Moss asked him. “Don’t blame you a bit.” “No,” Ed said. “I’ve been enjoying myself. Fact is, Mr. Moss, I ran into a little hard luck. I’d like to draw a week’s wages in advance.”
“Hmmm,” Mr. Moss said. “Haven’t been on a spree, have you, Ed?”
“No, sir,” Ed said. “I just—well, I spent more than I expected to.” “How much do you need?” Mr. Moss asked. “Five dollars do you?”
“I’m afraid not, Mr. Moss. You
“Ten,” Mr. Moss said. “Ten dollars should see you through till Saturday night.” He handed Ed a ten-dollar bill. “Glad you came out, because I wanted to tell you we’ve decided to leave for San Francisco a day early.”
He put his hand on Ed’s shoulder. “That’ll come out of your next week’s wages. Go ahead and enjoy yourself. We’ll stop past for you, somebody will, Saturday afternoon, to get an early start Sunday.”
Ed walked back to the bus line. Ten dollars would just about pay for dinner for Janey and her mother tonight. Then he would be down to five again. He went over and over the problem from every angle, and there was only one way out, as far as he could see. After all, if he didn’t want to go back East with the Mosses, he didn’t have to go.
When he got to town he took the bus to Hollywood and got off at the dramatic school. He didn’t go in. He went around the corner. There was only one barber in the shop. It was not the barber who had shaved him. Ed went in. The barber looked familiar, but Ed couldn’t place him. He swung the empty chair around and said, “Next.”
Ed shook his head. “I’m looking for the boss,” he said.
“That is who you are talking to,” the man said, and Ed thought his voice was familiar, too.
“How’s business?” Ed asked.
The man frowned at him. “Not bad. What’s your line? Tonics?”
“No,” Ed said. “I am a barber. Thought I might pick up a little work with you. The man you had in here yesterday talked like he was leaving.” The man glared at him with icy eyes, and then Ed recognized him. It was the white coat that had confused him, the white coat and trousers instead of bathing trunks and sunglasses.
“Thought you were a barber the first time I saw you,” Mr. du Moulin said, and his voice was as cold as his eyes. “Knew it from the calluses on your fingers and the way you held your wrists.” Ed didn’t like the way he laughed. “You telling Janey Kirk,” Mr. du Moulin went on, “that you were a big dramatic coach from Broadway!”
“Me telling her what?”
“Now wait a minute,” Ed said, “who’s trying to fool who? Janey—” “You tab her for a film-struck little telephone operator who’ll fall for your line—”
“Telephone operator! Tel—”
“Trying to cut in on me, huh!” Mr. du Moulin came around the chair toward Ed. There was no mistaking his intent.
Ed swung first. He hit du Moulin high on the cheek, but before he could duck du Moulin had his fist in Ed’s mouth. With his next one Ed caught the bushy-haired barber flush on the nose, and he crossed with a left to the ribs. Du Moulin reeled back, caromed off the barber chair and fell against the glass shelf with all the tonic bottles. The crash was still echoing as Ed went out the door.
Ed had his lip pretty well patched up before they went out to dinner that night. Janey didn't even notice it. After dinner they took Mrs. Kirk back to the rooming house. Then he and Janey went for a walk.
Ed didn’t feel like talking. His mouth hurt. Janey told him all about “Seventh Sin,” what a big production it was going to be, and how Mr. du Moulin said maybe he would help direct it, if he could find time.
They went to the park where they had sat that first evening, and then Ed told her that he had received a telegram from San Francisco. He had to leave the next day.
“Tomorrow!” Janey exclaimed. "Yes." Ed said. “Tomorrow. You see, they are putting on a production up there, and they have got into trouble. So they wired me.” “Production!”
“Yes,” Ed said. “Just a small one. But they heard I was out here. I might as well tell you, I am a—well, a kind of a play doctor and a coach and a director. Trouble shooter, as we say on Broadway.”
“Edward Niles!” Janey laughed. “I knew it! I knew it the first time you kissed me. You knew how to awaken me!"
Ed smiled. “I came out here for a rest. Had to get away from it all, for a little while.”
“I told Mr. du Moulin,” Janey said, “I said to him, ‘Mr. Niles, that you met with me down at the beach, is a big dramatic coach from Broadway, and he has been giving me lessons.’ ” “This du Moulin,” Ed said, “he is not really a dramatic coach. I guess you didn’t know. Oh, he probably knows a little about it, but he is really a barber.”
“You know how to tell? Look at the calluses on his fingers, and the way he holds his wrists. I knew it the first time I saw him.”
“Oh, Ed, you know so much! And you have done so many things! I’ll just bet you even have a Broadway show that you are going to direct.” “Well,” Ed said, “as a matter of fact, I have. They are waiting for me to get back and take over. But I had to have a vacation.”
“And I’ll just bet there is a part in it for me, isn’t there? I shouldn’t be at all surprised if you came out here just to look for somebody to play that part. Somebody just like me.”
“Well,” Ed said, “we’ll see. Maybe I might have a part for you.”
“And you will send for me,” Janey said, “just as soon as you get back. Because you know what a really good actress I really am, with training and experience and all. All I needed was awakening, wasn’t it, Ed?”
“That’s just about all,” Ed said. “Oh,” Janey said, “I think you are just about the most wonderful man in this world!”
She kissed him with a kiss that would have awakened the oldest mummy in Egypt. It sent knives of pain through Ed, redhot daggers. Janey had pressed her teeth against his lip right where Mr. du Moulin had put his fist.
Ed could still taste the blood when he got back to his room. The lip was swollen as big as his thumb. It was still swollen the next afternoon when he walked from the bus to Mr. Moss’ sister’s ranch.
The telephone rang. Charley, the other barber, answered it. “Ed,” he called. “For you.”
Ed went to the phone, and Charley came back and whispered to Ed’s customer: “He won’t be long. It’s his wife."
“Ed is married?”
“Yeah. Married and got five kids. His wife is telephone happy. Used to be a telephone operator out in Hollywood. Calls him every afternoon and tells him what to bring home for supper.”
Ed was saying, “Yeah... Yeah . . . Okay... Yes, yes... Okay.” He hung up, returned to his customer. He worked in silence for a minute, then he said, “Yeah, like I was saying, I might have married a Hollywood actress. Told her I’d find her a part. I did. Not right away after I came back, but after I saved the money for her to come East. Only it wasn’t on any stage . . . Funny how things turn out, now isn’t it . How about some tonic?”