Four or five drinks (he couldn’t be sure how many hours) later Manley came back to the Waldorf. The session at the Ship Ahoy had been just what he needed. He came in singing “I’m on the Crest of a Wave,” parodying under his breath the uninhibited bleat with which he had heard Harry Richman render it so often.
Shep hurried to the door. “Jesus, Manley where the hell have you been?”
The violence of the young man’s accusation brought Manley’s head up stubbornly. His body stiffened, sobered, with a sense of outrage. Who was this young snip to talk to him this way? The trouble with him was he was too nice to people.
“Why all the excitement, Stearns?”
“Milgrim is here! Called just a few minutes after you left. He’s been phoning every half hour to know where you were. I’ve been covering for you. Said you had to see a doctor. Then he got on the phone himself. Said he’s concerned about your health—your agent promised you were physically fit. So I said you wrenched your foot getting off the plane. God, I’ve been going nuts!”
“Stearns, I—I ’predate your efforts in my behalf. But I don’t need anyone to cover up for me. I’m—not in the habit of being covered up.”
“But look, Manley, I could tell Milgrim was getting sore, and I didn’t want him to think …”
Manley swayed slightly. If Milgrim fired him now he’d be through. And if he was through in Hollywood … damn it these Hollywood jitters. His pride made him sound a good deal surer of himself than he could possibly be.
“Young man, if you want to make screen writing your career—” he closed his eyes and struggled for the lines like an actor in trouble “—let me give you a little advice. What Hollywood needs is a new generation of writers who won’t trouble,
I mean tremble every time a producer picks up a phone. If screenwriters are ever going to amount to anything they’ve got to be as independent as we were when we were starting in to write twenny”—he made a conscious effort to articulate—“twenty years ago. We didn’t give a damn for the public or the critics or anything. If they didn’t like us it just showed us how much behind the times they were. We were cocky. I never saw a good writer yet who wasn’t cocky.”
“Sure, sure Manley, but listen: we’ve got to go up and see Milgrim right now!”
“Remember something, Shep. Essentially the producer is, I mean the producer is ’sentially our inferior. Because no matter how low they stoop, the executive element is helpless without the creative element. That’s why Milgrim treats me with—well, notice the respect? And I’ll tell you another thing, he doesn’t want me to start truckling to him. That’s what he pays me for—so he can look up to me. I know these first- and second-generation tycoons. Inferiority complexes a yard wide.”
“Okay. Okay. But do you mind if I call him and tell him we’ll condescend to come up and see him this afternoon?”
Manley glared at him. “Tell him I’ll be ready to see him in— fifteen minutes.”
At the entrance to his bedroom he paused. “And don’t let your voice sound as if you’re—genuflecting.”
Feeling rather pleased with the performance, he went into the bathroom. There his confidence began to falter. He wasn’t sure about the dosage. He couldn’t even remember if he had had lunch or not. And the caloric content of the whiskey would have to be figured in. Damn it, this lousy trip—for all those months before it he had been so careful. Ann and Dr. Rubin would have a fit if they knew.
In the elevator up to the Towers Manley decided that he was sorry to see the look of annoyance souring Shep’s good-natured, conscientious face. As a peace-feeler, Manley produced a smile.
“Sorry I blew my top,” Shep said. “I guess no sleep and the damned story on my mind and Milgrim needling me …”
“Don’t worry, baby, we’ll work that touchdown play yet and both win our big block M’s.”
Milgrim’s suite in the Tower combined the hectic activity of his office with the full-staffed solicitousness of his home-life. William, Mr. Milgrim’s personal valet, opened the door. Mrs. Chenery, the English social secretary, greeted them. Mr. Milgrim was in conference and she hoped they would not mind standing by. They were shown to seats in a wide entrance-way that had been converted into a waiting room. Already there, with the set, bored expressions of those who have waited and are prepared to wait and wait, were a pale young man undoubtedly seeking stardom and a publicity underling from the New York office with the lay-out of a half-page ad on Live Tonight for Tomorrow, the World-Wide picture for which a gala opening was being planned upon Milgrim’s return from Webster.
The waiting, Shep thought again, the waiting. But this time Manley had no objection. It provided a brief cooling-off period in which to collect himself and perhaps force his mind back to the story.
With her maid carrying a number of large white boxes in front of her, Mrs. Milgrim came in from what she called her shopping spree. She was a real English beauty, faded, but pleasingly so, with a cool grace. Although she had not seen him in years, she recognized Manley Halliday at once. “So nice to see you again, Mr. Halliday. I know Victor is delighted to have you working with him. I hope we’ll see something of you while we’re all in New York.” Her voice was gentle, cultivated, and perhaps just a little more British than it should have been after all these years in America.
Manley was gallant, in a quiet, tired way that appealed to Maud Milgrim as becoming reticence. She wished Victor would hire more writers like him, distinguished and well-mannered. It would help elevate Hollywood social standing. Although Halliday hardly looked distingue in his baggy suit. And he could stand a shave. And his eyes were red-rimmed. The poor man must have been working terribly hard. Victor was such a slave-driver, driving everybody as hard as himself.
“I know Victor won’t keep you any longer than he has to. The poor dear always wears himself out so when he comes to New York.”
They only had to wait twenty minutes. Then they were ushered in by a Peggy Dillon considerably more restrained now that she had to function within earshot of the Great Man. She did manage to mumble for Shep’s benefit, “Greetings, Buster. Welcome to our little madhouse,” as she led them into the large sitting room where Milgrim reigned. He was wearing a dark silk lounging robe, in excellent taste, and a manicurist was doing his nails while an Eastern magazine writer tried to sell him an original.
Clearly disconcerted by the entrance of Manley and Shep in the middle of his presentation, the writer said, “Of course I don’t tell it as well as I could write it …” and paused uncertainly, which both Manley and Shep recognized as a fatal opening to give a man like Milgrim.
Milgrim said, “I can see where you’re going, Pierson. And I’m afraid it’s not my sort of thing—not enough importance.”
“I think you’d like the ending,” Pierson suggested unhappily.
“Tell you what you do. Write me a letter outlining the whole thing. Thanks for coming up, Pierson.”
Pierson rose reluctantly. He wanted to defend his story, but he did not know where to begin. He hesitated, and then suddenly turned to Manley, with a false heartiness meant to cover both his embarrassment and his genuine respect.
“Halliday, you probably don’t remember me. We met in Marseilles a helluva long time ago—at that hotel out on Grand Corniche.”
“By God, yes. That’s what I call a good memory.”
“I used to have a better one.”
“Well, I-uh-have to dash. But I-uh-want you to know I thought Shadow Ball was a honey of a job. My better half thought so too.”
“Thank you,” Manley said, using only his head for the bow. “And thank the ’better half’ too.” His voice italicized the phrase with gentle scorn.
“She passed away six years ago,” Pierson said, and then he was gone, leaving the compliment in Manley’s hand like a faded flower.
“How’s your foot, Manley?” Milgrim said suddenly. “ I hear you tripped or something getting off the plane.”
The or something was vaguely accusing.
“Oh, it’s—it’s coming along. I’ll be ready to run against Yale,” Manley said.
“If it gives you any trouble, let me know. Dr. Lobell, the best orthopedist in New York, is a great pal of mine.”
“A little hot water and a good night’s rest,” Manley said, uncomfortably.
“Christ, be careful, will you, fella?” Milgrim’s warning was still good-natured. “We don’t want anything to happen to the star on the eve of the big game.”
The manicurist, finished, put her things away with such practiced efficiency as to seem invisible. Milgrim admired the shiny pink surfaces of his nails.
“Well, I suppose you’ve got the screenplay ready for me to read?”
It was always delivered in the same laughing tone, this tired industrial joke.
“Nize baby, et op all de screenplay.”
Shep looked at Manley, trying to warn him with his eyes. But Manley would not look at him.
Milgrim (sharply): “What’s that, Manley?”
Manley (mildly): “You make a joke. I make a joke. Score’s fifteen all.”
Milgrim looked at Shep, asking a wordless question. Shep lowered his head as if in thought. But he could see Milgrim’s eyes shifting appraisingly from one to the other.
“Well, gentlemen, if it isn’t asking too much—” Milgrim still managed to retain what he believed to be his sense of humor “— I’d like to hear the new attack on the story.”
There was a pause. Afraid of what Manley might say, Shep decided to head him off. “Well, we …” he began.
But Milgrim wasn’t looking at him. Milgrim was waiting for Halliday and Shep’s words faded from inattention.
Manley ran his hand back and forth across his forehead. In the silence, Shep tried not to look at Milgrim. It was a little silly to be so frightened, but after that inquisition of the waiter…
When Manley began, however, he gave a surprisingly able digest of the various story lines they had discussed. There was no cheap attempt to sell, nor to gloss over difficulties. As Manley spoke, Milgrim pushed out his full lower lip, which Shep had come to recognize as a sign of thinking in a deeply troubled way.
“I had hoped you’d be a little further along,” he said when Manley had finished.
Manley seemed calm and poised and Shep began to admire him again. His mind was still in the room. Shep had been uneasy about that.
“This is the period of gestation, Victor. In my own work I often think for weeks without getting anywhere. Then one day everything seems to drop into place.”
“I suppose regular screen writers are geared a little faster,” Milgrim acknowledged. “I know when you do come up with something, it will be a real Milgrim idea. I wouldn’t try to rush you at all, Manley”—Shep wasn’t there at all for Milgrim—“if it wasn’t for this damned second unit at the Mardi Gras. When we get up there we’ve got to have enough of an outline to know what stock and process backgrounds to go for.”
“In other words, you’re not rushing us,” Manley said with an insolent smile, “just giving us one more day.”
“I once rewrote an entire screenplay in nineteen hours,” Milgrim said.
“I wrote a short story in a day once that’s still being anthologized. But …”
“But—?” Milgrim waited.
A puzzled look came over Manley’s face. “But what?”
There was a different kind of pause this time, disturbing to Milgrim, confusing to Manley, painful to Shep.
Mrs. Milgrim looked in from the doorway. “Victor, dear, I don’t want to rush you but we’re dressing—and you know how long it takes you to dress.” She smiled at her husband’s writers graciously. “Forgive us for letting you in on family secrets.”
“All right, Maud. We’ve gone as far as we can now anyway.”
Shep tried to catch Manley’s eye to say: Mr. Milgrim may run everybody else but Mrs. Milgrim runs Mr. Milgrim. But Manley was unreceptive. His eyes were not glassy; they merely had seemed to lose interest in what there was to see.
The fine blond head of Mrs. Milgrim popped in again. She was a busy woman.
“Just had an idea, Victor. Maybe Mr. Halliday would like to join us and the Swopes for dinner and the Bea Lillie show— what’s the name of it again?”
“Set to Music,” Manley mumbled.
Shep was constantly being reminded of Manley’s ability to deal in specifics, even when he hardly appeared to be thinking or listening.
“Yes, of course. I’m sure Bea could get us an extra ticket,” Milgrim said.
“Thanks, but—didn’t even bring evening clothes,” Manley said. A brightness came into his eyes. “I’m just the plumber—brought nothing but working clothes—only came in to fix a few leaky pipes.”
Milgrim and his wife laughed hollowly. Then he said: “I have a notion Manley wants to work tonight anyway. Say, I have an idea. When I get back from the theater tonight, why don’t we huddle again? What do you say I give you a ring around one or two?”
One of the occupational risks of Milgrim writers was this compulsive habit of avoiding sleep.
“You really think that’s a good idea, Victor?” Manley said curtly. “With a strenuous week-end coming up?”
“In case you’ve turned in, leave word at the desk,” Milgrim persisted.
Apparently still unaware of Shep’s presence, the producer walked Manley to the door. The would-be star and the publicity man and the pale boy were still waiting but Milgrim did not see them either.
“You wouldn’t want to come back and have one drink with us and meet the Swopes?”
Manley shook his head. “I’ll see you in the morning, Victor.”
As the door closed, Miss Dillon was telling the publicity man he could show the lay-out to Mr. Milgrim in the bedroom while the producer was dressing. The beautiful girl and the pale young man would have to try again tomorrow.
On their way down in the elevator Manley said, “I may have to work for Milgrim. But I’ll be damned if I let him show me off like a gold key on a watch chain.”
“The gold key and the invisible man,” Shep said.
“Yes, I feel bad about that. I certainly don’t want to hog this thing. When our picture comes out I’ll make sure you get equal credit.”
“Don’t let it worry you,” Shep said.
“It’s really very funny in a way.” They both began to laugh. They had forgotten to give the elevator boy their floor number and had gone all the way to the lobby.
“I’m hungry,” Manley said.
“Don’t you think we should clean up?”
“Oh, let’s just go out and get a bite and then come back and polish off the outline.”
“But we can’t go out this way—snowing outside—no coats.”
“Spur o’ the moment.”
“Always used to do things spur o’ the moment. Never make plans, Jere ’n me. Go t’a nightclub, like that. Europe, like that. Bed, like that. Divorce, like that. Suicide, like that.”
Shep looked at him and Manley quickly reassured him. “Don’t be frightened. I was joke-making.”
They were under the marquee, waiting for a cab. Air’s supposed to sober people up, Shep thought. Seemed to have just the opposite effect on Halliday.
“Listen, Manley, it’s a lousy night. I think we really ought to go back …”
“Suppose you think I’m trying to commit suicide by catching my death of pneumonia. Lis-sen. No suicide in my family. We Hallidays ’re stronger characters ’n we look.”
As the doorman opened the taxi door for the party ahead of them, Manley hurried forward and jumped into it first. There were righteous accusations and angry words. Shep waited uneasily on the perimeter of the tense circle.
“Aw—so’s your old man,” Manley was saying. He never said these things seriously, but always with a sense of satire.
“Get out of that cab, god damn it, or I’ll pull you out,” said a man who looked as if he could.
Manley started out to meet the challenge. Shep leapt in and slammed the door. “Let’s get away from here fast,” he told the back of the head behind the wheel.
“That loudmouth wasn’t there first.”
“Yes, he was, Manley.”
“Well, I didn’t see him.”
“Manley, do you consider me a friend of yours?”
“Ho, ho, how many people have asked me that!”
Shep didn’t say anything. He looked out at the soiled slush.
After a few moments of this, Manley said, “Okay. Okay. Be a friend of mine.”
“Let’s go back to the hotel, sleep till midnight, then get up and work on the story.”
“Well, where you wanna go?” a gravelly voice demanded from the front seat.
“Twenty-one,” Manley said.
“Haven’t you seen enough celebrities?”
“Have to eat somewhere. This’ll give me a chance to pay an old bill.”
Monty on the door, dour by disposition, affable by profession, knew his business. “Mr. Halliday,” he said. “Haven’t seen you in a long time.”
As they entered the long cellar room with the auburn lights, Jack came over. Manley Halliday had been a good customer in the old, even 49th Street days and such things were not forgotten here. “If you’ll send a blank check to the table, I’ll pay an old debt,” Manley said right away. Having once had pride in his reputation as an easy spender, he was sensitive about his fall from financial grace.
“We’ve been awfully worried about it,” Jack said nicely, with a wink at Shep.
Passing the bar on their way to the tables they saw Dick Watts and Quent Reynolds and at the big table reserved for him in the corner, John O’Hara. Afraid Manley might stop for a drink, Shep took his arm and piloted him on to one of the small tables against the wall.
A big man across the room who must have been quite handsome once, before all the drinking, looked over and nodded. Manley said, as if the name itself had significance, “Larry Bane.”
The name was a blank to Shep.
“Larry Bane?” Manley said. “You’ve heard of The Grouch? One Million a Year?”
“Must be BMT,” Shep said.
“BMT,” Manley caught it. “Before my time? Is that used much?”
“It’s one of Sara’s,” Shep said. “The New Deal influence. Calls her story editor FOB. For fascistic old bitch.”
“Well,” said Manley. “BYT Bane had two hits running on Broadway at the same time. Even Nathan liked ’em. Popular ’n satirical. Like Barry, only better. The critics kept waiting for him to write that great American play.”
“What happened to him?”
The captain was ready to take the order. Shep could have used a drink but he decided to pass. More important to get Manley back on the story.
“Let’s have a drink,” Manley said.
“I thought you were hungry.”
“Oh, we’ll eat. Let’s have a drink first.”
“Okay, a drink,” Shep said. But he made Manley order dinner at the same time. Manley ordered elaborately, Chateaubriand with Bearnaise sauce, Pommes de terre allumettes, broccoli Hollandaise, tossed green salad …
Shep went back to pick up the conversational stitch. “Why does everyone blame it on Hollywood?”
“On Hollywood?” Manley had forgotten.
“This great playwright Bane.”
“Oh. Oh, Bane. Bane was brilliant—best we had. Charley Brackett in the New Yorker, I think it was, said Bane and Eddie Mayer—you know Eddie Mayer?”
“But, Manley, this Hollywood stuff. Why must Hollywood always take the rap? Why didn’t Bane have enough guts to stay with his plays?”
“Temptation,” Manley said. “That’s writers in America.”
“Maybe in your time. But if you mean the new writers, I think you’re wrong as hell. They know where they stand. It keeps them moving forward.”
“Too easy,” Manley said. “Always too easy.” His eyes were almost closed and it hardly seemed possible that he could be concentrating. “Your high mortality on writers, that goes on all the time in America. Y’know why?” He was signaling the waiter for another drink. “American idea of success. Nothing fails like success. Write one bestseller here, one hit play, Big Success. Do one thing, get rich ’n famous. Writers get caught up in American system. Ballyhoo. Cocktail parties. Bestseller list. Worship of Success.”
He paused. “Gotta find the Johnny. They moved it since I was here last. Whole place turned around. Don’t know where I am.”
He rose and wandered off. When their next round arrived, Shep sneaked a third of Manley’s behind the waiter’s back and refilled it from the water glass. Then he watched Manley threading his way back between the tables. He had better remind him to shave and change his clothes before they saw Milgrim again. How long had it been since they left the Burbank airport? Was this only the second night? He could have believed it the twentieth or the two thousandth. Sara, California, normal life seemed remote and unreal. A few tables away Shep saw Manley stop and bow to a lady of uncertain age expensively dressed and still attractive in a fleshy, dissipated way. Shep saw her take Manley’s hand and talk up into his face with a great show of animation.
“My God, Mimsey Layton,” Manley said when he squeezed in behind the small table again. “Shep, take my advice. Never grow old. Too painful to see the women. Bad enough for the men. Always hate to see an All-American ten years later. But the women. Mimsey. That Mimsey. She was the cutest little hell raiser. Married three times—each one richer. Hadda funny hobby—collecting writers. Ever meet those women who aren’t really readers—just made up their silly minds that authors ’d make the most interesting lovers? That was Mimsey.” What he was thinking made him snicker. “Good ol’ Mims. Pro’lly the greatest living authority on the sex lives of American authors. Wrote a book once, or had it written, Faithful in My Fashion, in which all the lovers became ’dear friends.’ Some of us thought it was fascinating in a horrible way and some of us thought it was horrible in a fascinating way. Charley MacArthur was the one who said ’Both schools are wrong. It’s horrible in a horrible way.’” He was sipping from the watered highball. “Poor ol’ Mimsey. Still trying to have a figure. And the Martinis. And you should have heard the gay chatter. Wants me to drop up for cocktails. Doesn’t know I don’t drop up for cocktails any more. I’ve put away my childish toys. Jere thought I was in love with her once. Maybe I was, one afternoon at a garden party, for about five minutes.”
Shep said, “You can still see a little of what she must have had.”
“We had some sexy babies. Or maybe I was just younger. Mimsey was the original flapper. Something new on the face of the globe. Full of merry hell in a way that women had never known how to be before.” He smiled vaguely. “Remember one time …”
He paused and finished his drink. The Chateaubriand had arrived and Shep was wolfing his. Despite the flourishes of the waiter, Manley was letting his get cold.
“Yes?” Shep prompted.
“What was I talking about? Slipped my mind.”
“Something about Mimsey. Something you just remembered.”
Manley caught the waiter’s eye and held up his glass.
“Another Scotch and soda?” the waiter said.
“Never say another. Bad manners. Just say a Scotch and soda. Good waiter never rubs a guest’s nose in his own lack o’ will power.”
“Manley, you’d better eat,” Shep said.
“Stop nursing me. I’m going to get awfully goddam sick of you if you keep on nursing me.”
“Listen, Manley. I’m trying to help you.”
“You don’t know me. Why should you want to help me? And who the hell told you I needed your help anyway?”
“Forget it, Manley. Take it easy.”
“Think I’ma ’fraid of you? Pro’lly got thirty pounds on me and twenty years. But I’ll fight you. I’ll beat the living—whaddo I care if they hear? Come on. Right now.”
He started to rise. What he needed was air. He was very dizzy.
Shep said with authority, “Sit down.”
“Bet you’re pretty handy with the gloves.”
Shep said, “I’ve done some boxing.”
“You look like a boxer. Did I ever tell you how I boxed the ears off Freddy Welsh?”
“I know what you think. You think I’m an old bourgeois windbag. You think I can’t write any more because I don’t worship labor organizers. You think I drink because I’m aesthetically frustrated and—and decadent, isn’t that the word?”
“Manley, I’m telling you. You better eat something.”
“What in hell were we talking about again?”
“Oh, stow Mimsey. No, I shouldn’t say that. Though it was a mighty sweet little assignment once upon a time.”
“Doesn’t look so bad right now, if you remember the advice of Ben Franklin.”
The thought of Mimsey sobered him, or at least saddened him. “No, she’s just a ghost now, a ghost in a tight corset, pan make-up and a Martini mask.”
The waiter hovered solicitously. “Are you through with your deener, Meester Halliday?”
Manley waved the dish away with a nod of his head. “As a sign of my solidarity with the working class, I donate this meal to the culinary proletariat.”
It got the rise out of Shep that Manley had anticipated; that, in fact, had been his motive for saying it.
“Garçon—” At a certain point in his drinking Manley had a tendency to restaurant French—“deux Ecosses avec soda.”
“Manley, what do you say we cut out of here?”
“Have to have a nightcap, how would you say that, le bonnet de nuit?”
Again nature called Manley from the room (“Gonna trade these kidneys in for a couple of good sieves”) and again Shep worked his sleight-of-hand to dilute the drink. Again Manley stopped at Mimsey’s table and again he told Shep this was a girl he used to know.
“My youth tails me like a third-rate private detective too clumsy to keep himself from being seen.”
“Come on, Manley, let’s take off.”
“Shep, what were we talking about when we came in? Something we didn’t finish. Something important.”
For several minutes neither one could remember.
“It couldn’t ’ve been unimportant,” Manley laughed. “Oh—I remember. American writers. Here they come—there they go.” He sipped from the watered drink unprotestingly. “That’s it— wanted to finish my thought.” He closed his eyes, straining to bring the subject back into focus.
“ ’Merican writers, full o’ promise, tremendous promise; when they die, still promising. Can’t seem to keep their promises. Hart Cranes—all Hart Cranes, the best of ’em. Even Ernest. Ernest’s a promising writer. Maybe the most promising we ever had.”
Suddenly his hand flew up in an ascending line. “European writers, like that—but ’merican writers, like this—” His hand checked its upward flight and nosedived back to the table. “Know why?”
“I think I do,” Shep said. “Their unrealistic approach to…”.
“Oh, I read Granville Hicks too. Trouble with all our writers is they never read Marx. Poe, Melville, Dickinson, all of ’em frustrated ’cause they didn’t worship Marx. Booshwah. Banana oil. Baloney. Reason’s economic, all right. But more complicated. Writer starts as rebel. Hits out at his own roots. Spoon River, Sauk Center. Pottsville country club—wherever it is. Book’s a success—writer’s like a race-horse—moves up in class. Gets money —goes away—New York—Europe—starts writing things he doesn’t know—shoulda stayed home. Stayed put. Shoulda stood in bed. That’s trouble with ’merican writers. Most of ’em. Success
uproots ’em. Isolates ’em. Europe, a book is a book, a leaf o’ literature. America, a book’s a commodity, even the honest book, if it clicks, if it goes over big. Maybe lucky thing about Faulkner. Never went over big. Just a few thousand to read ’im and know what he is. Bill stays put. Writes people he knows, and his old man knew, and his old man. Sense o’ past. Sense o’ place. Sense o’ roots…”
Shep found it disconcerting, a little too much like having a corpse suddenly rise and deliver his own funeral oration, or, worse, perform his own autopsy.
“Know what you’re thinking,” Manley said suddenly.
“Said I knew what you’re thinking. You’re thinking this old windbag’s deflated. Uprooted. Ausgespielt. ’Mong my souvenirs. Well, I may fool you, sweetheart, ’s Al Harper ’d say. I’m not stewed—I mean I’m not through. Oh, sure, I see it in your eyes, methinks he doth protest too much. But my case’s different. I’m doing it, not just talking it. I’ve got a new book under way that’s …”
“What’s it about?” Shep was anxious to know.
He had almost told. He must be thoroughly potted to have gone so far. In the early days he had told. Kissed and told. Told and written. But he knew better now. Couldn’t afford to waste words now. Or emotions, or energy. They were his stock in trade. Sorry, no free samples. Couldn’t give anything away any more. Had to keep careful inventory when you worked on narrow margin. Had to marshal his strength, get back on the routine he had started before he came on this damned picture. No drinking, no late hours, no wasted conversations with expendable people. No (it was one of his most important words now) sloth. Keep in training, concentrated, dedicated.
A wreck, Shep was thinking self-righteously, a shell, a skeleton that will not give up the ghost and goes wandering through the capitalist wasteland.
“Marcel!” Manley was holding up his empty glass. “S’il vous plait.”
“Come on, Manley,” Shep said firmly. “Let’s get some air. I want to get out of here. I’m feeling a little woozy myself.”
“Okay, keed, let’s take off, as you say. As you say, let’s cut out. We gotta stick together, baby. We’re in this together, baby. We’ll travel along singin’ a song side by side.”
Manley paid the check with a flourish, tipping the waiter, the captains and the headwaiter in an open-handed way that would have interested both Veblen and the family psychiatrist. At the check-room counter there was a bad moment when Manley insisted that he had come in with a topcoat and misplaced his ticket, but Shep managed to ease him out onto the street and hustle him into a cab.
“Where to?” asked the hacky in a guttural, discouraged voice.
Before Shep could say Waldorf, Manley leaned forward. “Eddie Bell’s still open in Harlem?”
“Damn ’f I know, don’t get up there much any more.”
“Well, le’s take a look.”
“Manley, we can’t go up to Harlem tonight.”
“We can’t? I can.”
“Why don’t we do it on the way back? After we’ve been to Webster?”
“ ’Member what I told you. Spur o’ the moment. Only way to live, t’ feel alive. Two o’clock in the morning, go to bed, can’t sleep, Jere’d say le’s go up to Harlem. Went up in our pajamas once. Nigger cop tried to arrest us. We said we just came from a costume ball dressed as Time to Retire. Then we bought the nigger cop a drink and etcetera and ditto and at seven in the morning he came back to our place for scrambled eggs and started playing the piano and another party started that went on for two days. Luther. That’s his name, Luther MacDaniel. A dinge with a Scotch name. Grandmother on my maternal side’s named MacDaniel. That’s what the party was t’ celebrate. Luther got kicked off the Force for being AWOL and made a lot of money bootlegging. Haven’t seen him in—Lord—ten years. Almos’ half your lifetime. Seems like ten days. Goes so damn fast.”
At the Waldorf Shep tried again. “Manley, don’t you think you might as well come in with me?”
“No, that’s what I don’t think.”
“We have a hell of a lot to do.”
“We’ll do it. Promise. Work with you when I get back.”
“But, Manley, we’ve had no sleep. We’ll fall apart.”
“Miss Dillon’ll keep us alive with benzedrine. Show mus’ go on.
“Honestly, we should be in shape tomorrow.” “Okay. Then honestly close the door. Honestly go up to the room and grapple honestly with Love on Ice. It’s your story, baby, now grapple with it. I’m goin’ up ’n see Eddie. Use’d t’ be a wunnerful place. Just wanna see how it looks now. Stay coupla minutes. Hold the fort, baby. And if Victor calls, tell ’im, tell ’im to get some sleep.”
Shep shook his head, with a stylized look of resignation, and climbed into the cab. “Okay,” he said, in exactly the same tone Manley had used earlier in the evening, “Okay.”