Five hundred couples followed the band and the torch-lit skiers out past the lake to the slalom course. Making a lark of the weather, the marchers sang their college songs, their faces flushed with cold, houseparty cocktails and the titillating possibilities of Mardi Gras night. Suddenly, inexplicably confident, Shep found himself enjoying it again.
“How you feeling, Manley?” he asked as they marched along with the stragglers.
“I could climb Mt. Blanc, if a St. Bernard’d just follow me along with a brandy bottle.”
It was a classmate of Shep’s, Bill Bonner, with a pert, pretty girl on his arm.
“Try some of our anti-freeze.” They all passed the bottle around during introductions and went on together.
“You’re not the Manley Halliday,” said the girl.
“No—T. Manley Halliday. T stands for Torrio, Johnny Torrio, my godfather. I dropped it when they rubbed him out.”
The impromptu zero-weather flirtation made him feel a little better. The brandy bottle went from hand to hand, all the way to the hill.
“How’d you like to be in our movie?” Manley Halliday asked the girl.
“With my pug-nose, I’d look a fright.”
“Well Shep ’n I’ll write in a part for a fright. Parts written in while you wait’s our motto.”
Everybody laughed, thanks to brandy. Manley was more like his old self, or at least the self of the flight East, Shep was glad to see. Maybe everything was going to be all right.
At the bottom of the hill had been erected a papier-mache Bavarian village. Swooping down on it with torches in their hands were members of the various ski teams in Bavarian costumes. Aski clown kept taking outlandish falls and then would struggle ludicrously to get to his feet.
“Reminds me of us trying to write our story,” Manley Halliday said. He had the bottle in his hand, having more or less appropriated it from Shep’s classmate.
To a platform in the middle of the village, pages escorted the twelve most beautiful girls who had passed through the gate. At the top of the hill appeared the ski champion, wearing a suit of silver and a silver crown to personify King Winter. Followed by six torch-bearing courtiers he flashed down the hill in a series of graceful turns to glide into the village, where he mounted the stage to select from among the twelve aspirants his Winter Queen.
“You wouldn’t mind if we had one little drink from our jug, old man?” Bill Bonner said. Manley Halliday had been drinking the brandy in great gulps.
“No’tall,” he said, handing it over with a magnanimous flourish. “Jus’ don’ forget where you got it. I borrowed it from a frena mine—a St. Bernard—an’ he’s liable t’ bite me if I don’t give it back.”
“Take it easy,” Shep said.
“Shep thishis really a beau’ful sheremony. Thishould make a beau’ful shequence.”
“You’ll make a beautiful corpse if you don’t lay off that stuff.”
“Shep, tha’s cruel. Shows how young you are. When y’get to be my age you won’ joke about death. Death’s too close, death’s …”
At this moment a giant spotlight was bathing the new Queen in a silvery, momentary glory.
“Why, looks like—it is—Savannah!”
The almost too perfect blonde model they had met on the train was looking up at the cheering crowd with a triumphant, professional smile.
Over the loudspeaker system came the forced cheerfulness of a mechanical voice: “And now—for the crowning of Queen Winter. The world-famous author Manley Halliday who has honored us with his presence this week-end was to have officiated at the coronation. Unfortunately, Mr. Halliday has been taken ill …”
Loud, rude laughter rose from the crowd and it was several moments before the loudspeaker could regain its attention. “Mr. Halliday’s place will be taken by the eminent motion-picture producer Mr. Victor Milgrim, who will feature our Queen, Savannah Castle, in his forthcoming picturization of this Mardi Gras, Love on Ice.”
But the last words of the announcer were lost in the mounting laughter of the crowd as it saw the miserably bedraggled figure start forward in a hesitant, shaky, opera-bouffe approach to the platform. Several times he almost lost his balance and the youthful onlookers, quickly entering into the spirit of the impromptu performance, shouted whoops and then laughed and cheered when he regained his footing again.
“Manley! Manley!” Shep screamed and ran after him into the illuminated village. The audience was enjoying an unexpected comedy act. Manley Halliday had almost reached the steps to the platform. Then he raised his foot too soon, lost his balance, went reeling backwards and flopped Leon Errol fashion into a snow-bank. The young spectators rocked and shrieked with laughter.
Shep reached him a few moments later. With the help of someone he got him back on his feet and off to the sidelines. Somehow they got him through the crowd to a car. In the car Manley Halliday lay his head back on the seat and breathed heavily with his mouth open. “Shouldna tried to come out again,” he whispered. “I’ve seen all this. Baby, I’ve seen everything before.”
The bellboy helped Shep get him up to the room. Shep laid him on the lower bed of the double-decker, loosened his collar and his belt, unbuttoned his shirt and started removing his shoes. “Ooo, that foot,” Manley Halliday groaned. Then, with his eyes closed, he suddenly began to speak:
“Bet you’re getting a bang outa this—having t’ take care of Manley Halliday. Somethin’ t’ tellya friends, huh?”
The tone was bitter, nasty, resentful, and it made Shep mad. It was part of something Shep did not understand and he was sick and tired of it, tired and sick of this man, this lodestone—no he didn’t mean that, though he was that too—this millstone, hemeant, whatever it is that, tied around your neck, won’t let you run or even straighten up.
“Well, the hell with you,” he heard himself saying, “Who asked you to rise from the dead anyway ? Why couldn’t you stay dead? You’re a bum, just a goddam bum—just another hopeless derelict from the Twenties, staggering into snowbanks, a laughing stock. Take off your own goddam shoes—solve your own goddam life—from here on in I don’t give one good goddam what happens to you.”
Manley Halliday’s eyes opened to trembling slits. “Don’t talk to me like that. I’m sick. Can’t y’see? Not just the booze. I’m sick.”
“Oh, balls. I’m sick too. I’m sick of paying for your fun.”
Manley Halliday closed his eyes again and began to make a peculiar moaning sound that startled Shep when he realized what it was—not moaning at all but the sound of quiet chuckling.
While Shep stared, shaken, the chuckle spread to laughter. “This whole day’s really funny. The face on the President’s stooge when he was frightened by how I looked an’ trying to be p’lite at the same time. An’ that Abercrombie ’n Fitch outfit Victor had on. Y’know ’till today I couldn’t figure out why he was such an ass. It’s because he’s such a tyrant with us an’ such a toady with people he thinks outrank him socially.” He was laughing again, but out of a face that did not look as if it were laughing. “An’ these kids, the way they talk so cocksure, the way they handle the slang, sort of possessively, arrogantly, ’sif they made it up. Most of it’s the same old stuff brought up to date a little bit combined with Negro jive talk. Heard one little number with a Boston a telling her boy friend to ’relax in your slacks before you collapse in your chaps.’ Almost worth coming up for, notice I say almost …”
Shep, flabbergasted: “How the hell you could see that much in your condition …”
“ ’Member, wrote it all twenny years ago. Baby, no one ’ll ever do it any better. Had a talent once, baby. Got enough left for one more book. Two or three if I pace myself …”
His grin had the chilling effect of a death’s head. His eyes were shining up at Shep’s but they saw nothing but their own tortured dreams. Suddenly he screamed out, half-rising on his elbows as again a girl’s voice from the busy corner below rose to them, “Yoo hoo, here I am!” and Manley whispered, “Hear that? She’s here, she’s here! They’ve let her out for the weekend …”
“Manley—you’re at Webster—Webster, remember?”
“Then I’m going to her. I know where she is now. She’s at Sloan’s. The place near Katonah. I’ll get her. I’ll take her away. We’ll go somewhere. Some—some island. A cottage on the beach. We’ll swim in the moonlight.”
This goddam romanticizing of everything, Shep thought, as Manley Halliday, in this strange and agonized sleep, began to rise from the bed. It could never be a real home any place, always a cottage small, a villa at Sorrento, a beach in the moonlight.
Manley weaving but insisting, “I’m going—gonna get Jere,” and actually starting forward to the door one step and then another, swaying to catch his balance and then groping for the door knob where Shep was grabbing him, shoving him back toward the bed while he kept stubbornly pushing forward: “Damn it, lemme go! What you got against Jere? All my frien’s against Jere. Well, hell with you all, I’m going, gotta find Jere…”
He lurched for the door and almost fell, his knees giving like the joints of a break-away chair. He had started down when Shep caught him. He was limp in Shep’s arms now and Shep carried him back to the berth with disturbing ease, for there was so little weight to him, a mere bag of memories and bones. His eyes were closed at last and from his mouth came no longer the frightful voice that had been so mysteriously clear as to seem disembodied, came no sound at all but that of exhausted breathing.
Shep waited for ten minutes, until he was sure it was real sleep. Then he felt an irrepressible urge to put some measure of time and distance between himself and Manley Halliday. For days and days—he had lost all sense of how many—he had been closed in with this man and his terrible afflictions, in offices, airplanes, hotel rooms, Pullman compartments, diners, back-seats, men’s rooms and finally here in this incredible attic. Desperately he needed to get away, talk to ordinary people, have a cheerful drink, maybe dance with a pretty girl—anything to escape from this wreck of a man with his racking obsessions, his malignant dreams.
He tiptoed out, shut the door noiselessly behind him and felt an absurd elation when he realized he had made it and that he was outside by himself, on his way to the Phi Delt house where he might find old friends, Pat Jackson, Roy Moorhead and the rest of the gang. He hurried past fond couples walking in step, ready to give himself to the party atmosphere of the fraternity house, the drunks being walked outside by patient friends, the riotous crowd in the hallway, the same old jokes of the stags, the house snake, the girl who plays so innocent, the knowing male laughter, the dim lights, the undergraduate band with the bespectacled drummer coming in on the vocal jeepers creepers where’ d ya get those peepers and the babes in their smooth evening gowns with the eyes in their young faces closed in practiced ecstasy.
Feeling better, Shep went downstairs to the bar, crowded and smoky and “drunk out tonight” he heard a smart-looking brunette announce. With a glass in his hand, feeling better all the time “ ’Lo, Gene,” he said, seeing Hoffman down the bar. “Where’s your little friend?” Hoffman asked, carrying a load now. “Getting a little rest?” He didn’t even want to think about it.
“If you ask me he needs a permanent rest.”
“Nobody’s asking you.”
“Can’t you fellas make a good movie once in a while? I saw Gunga Din last week. Gong.” He made the sound of that’s all on the Major Bowes program. Everybody along the bar laughed. “You sul-lay me,” said a really good-looking straight-haired blonde. The way she said it, it sounded obscene. She was with someone else who was beginning not to like the attention she was giving Hoffman. Hoffman went stag to the Mardi Gras every year just for this sort of thing. Upstairs they were playing—andthe tall blonde sang along with them—This Can’t Be Love Because I Feel So Well …
Shep caught sight of his old roommate Pat Jackson. Pat had been captain of the swimming team and vice president of the class.
“Shep, you old bastard!”
They punched each other fondly. The harassed bartender finally got around to their empty glasses. “Well, here’s lead in your pencil,” Pat said.
Hasn’t changed a bit, Shep thought happily, with a young man’s exaggerated sense of what two years could do. Pat was still a great guy. Hard to explain but it always made you feel good having him around. A happy-go-lucky and yet with something to him underneath. “First one since the last one,” Shep said, feeling at once the psychological effect of the drink, able for the first time in days to feel his nerves slacking off. He lowered his glass, beginning to look around and see the sights, beginning to join the party and it was then that he felt the hand on his shoulder.
Somehow he knew without looking around that it was all over with his little outing. He accepted this so completely that he didn’t even wonder by what drunken miracle, what quicker-than-eye sorcery, poor old Manley had risen from the dead and followed him. It was as if Manley Halliday merely had to reach out to pull him back into the nightmare again. Watching him standing there blood-shot, heavy-bearded and unkempt among all these immaculate young shirt fronts, Shep thought you couldn’t dream it up worse than this, couldn’t imagine anything more unfortunate than what happened when Manley Halliday called the bartender and Gene Hoffman looked up and said, “Well, if it isn’t Mr. Two-Thousand-a-Week.”
“Yesh, an’ worsh it too, what you thinka thash?” Manley demanded, trying desperately to hold himself in one place.
“I think you must’ve left your false teeth in your room,” Hoffman said.
Behind him Shep could hear the Greek chorus building: You mean that’s Manley Halliday? Manley Halliday, the famouswriter, that drunken bum. Sure, didn’t you see ’im at the Coronation? God, he was funny when he went on his keester out there…
Sometimes a test-tube blows up in your face, does it? Well, Shep was ready to blow. Ready to cry out, Listen, you dressed-up dummies, this drunken bum will be remembered and respected when you’re nothing but a lot of forgotten names on neglected tombstones. Something really dramatic, a big tell-off scene that only seems to happen in plays. Maybe it might even have happened here, but Shep never had a chance to find out because something else had actually begun to happen. Ultra-formal, almost as if he were about to bow and suggest a drink, stiffly formal and wobbly drunk at the same time, Manley Halliday was addressing himself to Hoffman:
“Thash a remark that c’d only be made by a callow mind too shtupid to—lowest type o’ Sturm Abteilung humor.”
They glared at each other across the barricade of time.
“At two thousand a week your dialogue oughta be brighter than that,” Hoffman said.
“I useta do a little boxing, Hoffman.”
This effort at menace made Hoffman laugh. He said to the tall blonde girl, loudly, “Listen to the little man. A champion— lush.”
It was painful to see Manley Halliday, leading from weakness, try to reach the strong young mocking face of Hoffman with a feeble roundhouse that Hoffman laughed away from. It was such a mismatch that Hoffman, embarrassed as to what to do next, swung on Shep who was trying to pull Manley back out of danger, while Manley brave in a crazy sick way was screaming “I’ll kill ’im! I’ll kill ’im!” and straining to get at Hoffman while young men from everywhere pinned his arms to his side and drew him out of danger.
It seemed to Shep not at all coincidental or melodramatic but simply according to the plan of this dark journey that Victor Milgrim suddenly should materialize with Queen Savannah to watch the wretched scuffling at the bar. In his Bond Street evening clothes, a model in tailored black-and-white, with the unreal beauty of Savannah Castle at his side it was all too muchlike a bad dream or a bad plot for Milgrim to say, “What are you fellows trying to do, get us laughed off the campus ? I want you to go to your rooms at once and stay there until I send for you.”
“Hear that, baby, r’stricted to quarters,” Manley Halliday said.
“What we got here, martial law? Heil Hitler!” He raised his arm in a mock salute. The bar crowd loved it.
Milgrim colored. “Immediately,” he said. “I’m very serious.”
“ ’raus mit uns,” Manley Halliday said. He insisted on putting his arm around Shep’s shoulder, which couldn’t have presented more blatantly the stereotype of two drunks. Conscious of this, Shep had an impulse to draw away, but his resentment of the house-party crowd for their mockery of Halliday carried him through. There was a touch of martyrdom in his walking out through the ridiculing laughter with Manley.
Along the cleared path between the snow-banks under the ice-stiffened black branches of the maples, still arm-in-arm in schoolboy alliance, they tried to keep in step together. The air was numbing cold and Manley Halliday in only his rumpled suit, too hurried in pursuit of Shep to bother with an overcoat, should have been frozen, but he was beyond reach of the elements now. The only sound was the rhythmic crunch of the hard snow under their feet. The sharp corners of the moon cut cleanly into the gray-blue winter sky, lighting the campus with a pale Christmas-card glow.
“ ’S really a beau’ful night. Wonnerful night.” “It is?”
Manley Halliday looked at Shep in hurt surprise. “Come on, Baby, le’s not worry about that sonuvabish. Le’s have a li’l fun. We oughta get a li’l fun outa this expedition. We worked. Day ’n night. I don’ feel guilty. Be damned if I’m gonna feel guilty. Be damned if I’m gonna feel beholden to Mister Victor Milgrim.”
“Come on,” Shep said, taking his arm. “It’s too damn cold to stand still.”
“I like you,” Manley Halliday was saying. “You’re gonna be my young man o’ the Thirties. ’Sfunny, I haven’t known a young man in the Thirties. Maybe some day I’ll write a book about a young man in the Thirties.”
What the hell would you know about young men in the Thirties, Shep thought.
“—I was sitting with his girl.”
“Jack Thomas’ girl.”
“The writer. Damn good writer. Could’ve been. She an’ Jack hadda fight. It was down in the old Stork an’ I was tryin’ to tell her it wasn’t anything—just a two-sided hangover an’t’ wait there while I got him t’ come down. An’ when I called …”
“When I called they had just found him, an’ I hadda tell the girl.”
“Tea for Two,” Shep said.
“Tha’s right. When I wrote it I made it a tea dance. I’m a son of a bitch.”
“Because here he was, a frena mine, dead, a talent finished off ’fore it ever got started an’ there I was tellin’ his girl an’ alla time I’m thinkin’ of how it c’n be ’mproved, the li’l changes I’ll make when I write it—like a cannibal eatin’ their flesh while they’re dyin’.”
“But you can’t help that, that’s—” he hesitated “—your job. Your art.”
“Sure. Sure. Tell me more, baby. Tell me what big eyes I got. All the better to see through you, my dear. To see through Webster.”
Manley began to laugh again. “Lord, that scene at the bar. Victor with neon lights across his dress shirt flashing How c’n you do this to me? Poor Victor’s dancing bear won’t dance pretty for the people when the impresario cracks the whip! Oh, God, it’s really funny, it’s funny …”
He faltered and put his hand to his face. Shep wondered about the crack in his voice. He looked down—was Halliday always that short or was he shrinking?—to affirm his fear that the man was crying. No, by Christ, he was revved up like a madman. He began to sing:
“Heigh ho heigh ho,
To the morrow’s work we’ll go,
But tonight our fun
Has just begun,
Heigh ho heigh ho …”
They marched along in step, Manley completely (Shep trying his best to be) forgetful of the shadow stalking them to the Inn. When Manley Halliday tired of improvising neat little rhymes he started in on the ribald Webster Mardi Gras Song:
“Oh, if all the babes at Mardi Gras were laid end to end
I wouldn’t be a bit surprised.
They come from Smith and Well-es-ley their honor to defend
But the first day they’re compromised.
The second day deflowered …”
“Didn’t think I’d ’member it any more,” Manley Halliday cried happily. “Okay le’s try it again. You sing the harmony. Ooooh—no, that’s too high. Oooh—that’s it!—Oh, if all the babes at Mardi Gras …”
They were approaching the lights, of the Inn. Manley Halliday was singing uninhibitedly. A couple passing in a sleigh recognized the song and looked at each other in laughing embarrassment. “Peace, it’s wonderful. Thank you, Father,” the boy called out.
“Better stash the song,” Shep said. “People.”
“Oh, nuts t’ them,” Manley Halliday said. “Le’s sex it up a little bit. Knew a funny fella used t’ say that at parties, ’c’mon kids, le’s sex it up a little bit.’ Randy Sears. Christ, he’s gone too. Why is, so many of the gay fellas were in such a hurry t’ get down they couldn’t wait for the elevators. Oh—come on, ’If all the babes at Mardi Gras …’”
He sang it with the desperate joy of second childhood.
“Say, baby, did y’ notice the smooth li’l babe at the end o’ the bar? Li’l finishing-school miss, I betcha, with yellow eyes saying Oh look lookit me I’m here I’m on my way. One in the gold lame dress—looked exac’ly like a li’l yellow kitten.”
He began to chant:
“Li’l yellow kittens
With pink li’l noses
Loving to be petted
Dancing on their toe-ses.
Li’l yellow kittens
With pink li’l ears
Waiting to be divested
Of their pink li’l fears.”
Shep couldn’t help laughing, at the same time wondering: Maybe that’s how he always lived. Always aware of and always trying to laugh off disaster.
Manley Halliday hadn’t forgotten where but when he was. This was a party with honey-eyed girls and crooning saxophones, plenty of booze and a campus to roll up and push to one side for the dancers.
“Le’s go get a drink at the Psi U’s. They prol’ly have the smoothest women.”
At the entrance to the Inn, Shep tried to steer him up the steps. “Come on. Here we are at Psi U House.”
But Manley Halliday caught it instantly. Far gone but not that far, he gave Shep such a look as he would never be able to forget, pulled his arm away and started running across the street. Shep just had time to notice how Manley was limping before an undergraduate car making a reckless turn bore down on him. Car and runner swerved from each other in a haphazard frenzy and Manley Halliday kept on in a jogging, limping stagger toward the Psi U House. He hadn’t forgotten where it was. Shep was chasing him. Oh, Lord, his foot—it was numb, asleep—if he could only outrun him. But Shep was overtaking him, grabbing him with strong hands against which he was squirming.
“Lemme go Lemme go!”
Shep didn’t say anything. He was pulling him back to the Inn. Halfway across the street Manley made a desperate try at escape. When Shep turned to regain and tighten his hold, Manley Halliday struck him in the face. In the reflex of anger, Shep struck back. Manley Halliday sagged. Shep caught him and half-carried, half-dragged him toward the steps of the Inn. It made two young couples on the corner laugh. “Sweet dreams, Grandpa!”
A quick shot in a crazy dream montage, Shep was thinking. Lugging across the street at the height of the Mardi Gras one of the all-time big ones, and nobody pays the slightest attention. Just another Mardi Gras drunk.
Outside the Inn Manley Halliday said suddenly, “Unhand me, offisher. ’M’all right now.” Shep, taking a chance, loosened his hold. “Let’s both hit the hay.”
Manley Halliday hesitated. He had to spread his feet to keep from falling and even then his body bent forward at a precarious angle.
“Cupa coffee. Maybe a san’wich. Kindadizzy. Prol’ly needa eat something.”
The Coffee Shop was just a few doors down and Shep suddenly realized that he was weak with hunger himself. So he said all right, but no funny business, from the Coffee Shop straight up to bed. Maybe if they got a good clean start in the morning, pulled themselves together, brought Milgrim something on paper, this day could be erased.
But now it all seemed to be happening like the line of an old joke—accidentally on purpose—for who should be coming out of the Coffee Shop, in ski clothes, her lips made up, her cheeks becomingly rosy, so transfigured as hardly to be recognizable— Miss—Miss—Shep struggled to recall the name of the matronly stenographer they had hired in New York and entirely forgotten.
“Miss Waddell!” Manley Halliday managed to remember. “Oh, Mr. Holloway! Mr. Stearn!” She was overjoyed—“I want you to meet my friend Mr. Gilhooley.”
“Hello, boys,” said Gilhooley, a plump, short, out-door-complexioned, middle-aged figure in ski clothes.
“Mr. Gilhooley is the trainer of the Norwood College winter sports team,” Miss Waddell exuded new-found happiness. “He’s been showing me everything. We went for the most heavenly sleigh ride. Oh, really, Mr. Holloway, I think this is the most wonderful time I’ve ever had. Just to get out of the city—it—it …” There were simply no words for the metamorphosis of Miss Waddell. “It does something for you. Gee, Mr. Holloway, how can I ever thank you enough? It—” she looked at the self-possessed Mr. Gilhooley and actually blushed. “—why, I think it’s going to change my entire life.”
“Good,” Manley Halliday said. “Good. Haven’t changed anybody’s entire life in months.” Then he became abruptly businesslike. “Miss Waddell, we’ve been looking all over for you. Got some work t’ do. We didn’ come up here for an outing, y’ know. Have a lotta dictation.”
Miss Waddell quieted a little. “Why—why surely, Mr. Holloway. You—you mean right now?” “ ’F you don’ mind.” “I’d—I’d have to get my book.” “All right—get it.”
She looked appealingly at Mr. Gilhooley, who manfully stepped into the breach. “How long would you say she’ll be, Mr. Holloway?”
“Oh, halfa nour,” Manley Halliday said offhand. “Well—I’ll wait for you at the Skating Club. How’ll that be, Kitty?”
“All right, Monk,” Miss Waddell reluctantly surrendered him. “Le’s go in hava cupa coffee ’n then we’ll get started,” Manley Halliday said. “No—tell ya what y’do. Bring your book in there. We c’n dictate while we eat.”
The Coffee Shop was crowded with animated couples attractive in their evening clothes, fortifying themselves with coffee, getting ready to make a night of it. It wasn’t twelve o’clock yet. The big time was just getting under way.
Self-consciously Shep felt all these bright glowing faces made mock of his and Manley’s condition. Quite a few did laugh, especially when Manley Halliday lurched to an empty table and almost fell.
“Waitress—ma’moiselle,” Manley Halliday called, and snapped his fingers for service. This irritated the young lady and she took her time coming over. She was singularly unattractive.
“We’re from Hollywood—this is Mr. Stearns, the well-known screen writer and we’re very busy working on a movie,” ManleyHalliday began, while Shep wished himself at the top of the ski-jump, or the farthest reaches of Alaska, anywhere but here. “We’ve got a screenplay t’ write t’night so we’ll need fast service, toot sweet, n’est-ce pas? So let the others wait—they got nothing t’ do but go back n’ get plastered.”
“Are you ready to order?” the girl said.
Manley Halliday looked up at her. “Saay—you’ve got beau’ful eyes. Shep, why don’ we put her in our picture? You’ll be our discov’ry, our Savannah Castle.”
The waitress snapped her book shut and B-lined to another table.
“Manley, let’s forget the coffee. I think we better go right up.”
“Shhh. Don’ worry ’bout me. ’M’all right. I won’ dis—disgrace you.” He looked up slowly. “Ah, Miss Waddell. Well, anyway we ’complished something on this trip. Fairy godfathers, ’at’s what we are. Her Mr. Monk, I mean Mr. Dooley, he’s Prince Charming.”
He tried to rise for Miss Waddell but fell back into his chair.
“All righ’ le’s go,” he said. “C’mon, Shep, think. We gotta write our movie righ’ now this ver’ minute.” He hung his head in thought and then came up with a sickly smile and an idea:
“This’ll be called Campus Capers by S. Manley Hallenstearns the fearless surrealist …”
“You want me to take this down?” Miss Waddell asked.
“ ’Course take it down. Whattya think I’m dictating for—my own amusement? Well, I am.”
Troubled, Miss Waddell lowered her head to her dictation book.
“We fade in,” he began, “on the slick, bright ice-shiny surface of the ski jump. Dissolve through to the slick, bright shiny surface of an undergraduate mind …”
Shep laughed and Manley Halliday turned toward him, pleased. “Like that? Okay, Comrade C’lab’rator, take the wheel.”
“The undergraduate’s mind is divided into a series of watertight whiskey-tight compartments,” Shep ventured. “Camera moves up to a medium close shot of one of these compartments.
It’s a compartment on the B & M, taking the boys up to Quebec for a dirty week-end.”
Manley Halliday nodded and resumed. “Now, close up of upper berth, containing upperclassman. He leans down toward the lower berth t’ talk to the lower classman. He says ’Mach’— this boy is really Niccolo Machiavelli, an exchange student from Italy—’I just been thinkin’ about college. You on’y put into it what you take out of it.’ Young Machiavelli ’41 looks up. He has very bright eyes an’ a cynical smile. ’One must learn to balance one professor against another if one wishes to maintain his position of pre-eminence as a B.M.O.C.’ he says. Have you got that, Miss Waddell?”
Poor Miss Waddell, her mind divided between the glamour of Mr. Gilhooley and the glamour of finding herself involved with Hollywood madcaps, shook her head in bewilderment. “I’m only up to ’one professor.’”
“Miss Waddell, don’t let Mr. Dooley hear you say that,” Manley Halliday said broadly.
“Who we going to get to play Machiavelli?” Shep asked.
“Don Ameche, who else?” Manley Halliday said. “Don Ameche playing Nick Machiavelli, the designing captain of the ski team who wins for Florence by playing one rival team against the other.”
“Who’ll play Florence?”
Whether it was really this funny or merely a sign of cracking nerves, they were hilarious.
“Florence,” Manley Halliday considered a moment. “Florence Rice? Oh, I know—Toby Wing. We owe it to the readers of Film Fun t’ see to it that Toby Wing actually gets into a movie.”
“Good idea. Cheese-cake with whiter icing. But won’t Toby Wing look kinda out of place at a winter sports meet in those little panties she always wears?”
“Can’t have ya cheese cake an’ freeze it too? Well, take it from an ol’ Film Fun man, Toby Wing won’t catch cold, she’s a hot number.”
“Mr. Holloway, am I supposed to be taking this down?” Miss Waddell wanted to know.
“Almos’ finished,” Manley Halliday said. “Shequence one. Gotta end shequence one on a high note, Shep. How ’bout this? We see a skier in the distance moving slowly along the beau’ful sloping hill of snowy white dissolve through to the freshly manicured hand of Victor Milgrim moving slowly around the snowy white contours of Savannah. The hand moves down down to the white smoothness of the thigh that becomes a smooth white field that carries the skier Nick Machiavelli to the edge of a lovely woods. Leading into this luxuriation is a dark passageway and as Nick boldly glides in we slowly fade out while the music crescendos to an orgiastic crash.”
“In two words,” Shep said, “Tuh riffic.”
“If Don Ameche’s too busy we’ll get Fred Astaire t’ play Mach, turn the skier into a skater an’ he’ll do a tap dance on the ice.”
“Holloway, you’re on the front burner.”
“My feet feel as if they’re still in the icebox.” He looked at Miss Waddell. “’S ’everything perfec’ly clear?”
Miss Waddell’s face was a study in frustration. “Well, I wasn’t sure …”
Manley Halliday interrupted her. “ ’S all right. ’F you’re confused, so’re we, so just make it up yourself. Always takes a bunch o’ people t’ write a movie anyway.” He became businesslike. “Have that ready first thing in the morning. Original ’n five. You may go now, Miss Waddell.”
The woman rose uncertainly. “I’m not sure—is this all a joke? Or do you really …”
“You’re right,” Manley Halliday said. “ ’S ’all a joke. They laughed when I sat down t’ write Love on Ice.”
Miss Waddell hurried off as if she were slightly afraid of them. The waitress returned and stood over them righteously.
“Lissen, folks’re waitin’ for this table.”
“Now, miss, don’t get impatient. You don’ wanna be a waitress all your life, do ya? Smile at me ’n I might give ya a screen test. Make ya a star. You come upstairs with me ’n you’ll get a screen test.”
“When you get off go t’ the desk ’n ask for Victor Milgrim. I’ll be waitin’ for ya, girlie.”
“Go on, beat it.”
“Now, honey, don’ get sore. Y’know y’gotta live before y’c’n act…”
“I’m gonna call the manager.”
“Come on, Manley, let’s go.”
“I mean it, the manager. You c’d be arrested.”
“Don’t bother, miss, we’re going anyway,” Shep said.
He half-lifted Manley Halliday from his seat and hustled him out.
Everybody in the Coffee Shop had a laugh on their sorry exit. But Manley Halliday wasn’t seeing people any more and Shep was too preoccupied to care.
Outside on the pavement Manley Halliday no longer knew how frozen, how miserable, how near the edge he really was because exhilaration—an early stage of delirium—protected him.
“Don’ you think our script has posh’bilities?”
“Manley, the only possibility I’m interested in is flopping into bed before something else happens. I don’t even know if I’m drunk or sober. I’m beginning to meet myself coming back.”
“Don’ look so dour, comrade. Us masses gotta come out on top.”
“But we can’t wait that long. I mean Milgrim can’t wait that long. He wants something tomorrow.”
“T’morrow we’ll dictate that brainstorm you had this morning. Lord, was that on’y this morning? Today I feel as if I lived a whole life, died ’n was buried.”
He put his arm around Shep, who wasn’t playing any more. “All right, killjoy, back to the penthouse.” Staggering, he almost pulled Shep down with him into the snow. “Ooop—s’pose you think I’m drunk. Not drunk, just—my feet feel funny. Too much walking. Toes ’re asleep.” He tried to stamp them on the snow. Then he hobbled along at Shep’s side. He was snickering again. “Won’ it be a scream if the waitress really goes up ’n asks for Victor! That was a’ninspiration. That’s what put me where I am today. An’ where am I today? Up to my arse in snow, as Hutchinson ’d say, covered all over in sweet violets.”
As they turned the corner, laughing together, Victor Milgrim was approaching the Inn with the Dean and his wife. In his top-hat, his dress overcoat and his indignation, Milgrim seemed perfectly cast as a morality-play actor representing Outraged Respectability.
“Excuse me a moment,” he said to the Dean and quickened his steps to intercept Manley and Shep, as if the closer this drunken, dissolute, disgraceful pair came to sober, responsible, uncontaminated people, the worse would be their crime.
Even when Shep heard Victor Milgrim say, “The two of you are going to get into that cab, go down to the station and wait there for the next train back to New York,” it wasn’t real enough to have impact. Shep couldn’t adjust himself to the theatricality.
For Manley Halliday, who barely deciphered the meaning through the distortion of pain, exhaustion, alcoholism and a crisis of nerves, the theatricality—even to the corny device of the potentate in the topper confronting a battered drunk fallen from grace—was somehow inevitable, part of the dark pattern of deterioration out of which he had been trying to break away, as the drunkard breaks away from one bar to stumble into another. Yes, suddenly he could have foretold—damn it, he almost had foretold, only to let himself slip back and be illusioned— that his employment by Victor Milgrim on such a job of shoddy as Love on Ice would have to end with Milgrim in a top-hat and his own head bloody and bowed, at cross-words, crossroads, cross-purposes on this cold, dark, unlikely corner of the world. The chimes were actually chiming and Manley’s thoughts struck with them, gong gong going going goingngngngn goingngngngend dend deadend deadendnnn
Shep: “That cab? Right now? But our clothes? Our bags?”
Milgrim: “I’ll have Hutch send them down after you. I want you two” (lowering voice so the Dean couldn’t hear) “bastards out of town, right now, this minute.”
Manley Halliday heard this and, with considerable effort, raised his head. “Victor, thish is out-rageous. I won’ be spoken to ashif I’m jusht …”
“You’ll be spoken to for what you are—a drunken bum. I’m going to write every studio head in town and tell them whathappened. You’ll never get another writing job again. Now get into that cab and out of my sight before I lose my temper.”
From the depths, Manley Halliday managed to summon a last-ditch dignity. “F’ goodness sake, Shep, le’s get outa this town ’fore I lose my temper.”
He turned, and taking Shep’s arm like a habitual invalid, dragged himself toward the waiting cab. From the running board he half-turned and called back:
“ ’Farewell, you broad-backed hippopotamus.’”
Shep pulled him into the cab.