Authors: Horace McCoy
‘My name is Maxwell,’ he said. ‘I’m the advertising manager for Jonathan Beer.’
‘How do you do, Mr Maxwell,’ I said, reaching over to shake hands with him. ‘This is my partner, Gloria Beatty. I want to thank you for sponsoring us.’
‘Don’t thank me,’ he said. ‘Thank Mrs Layden. She brought you to my attention. Did you get your packages today?’
‘Yessir,’ I said, ‘and they came just in time. We certainly needed clothes. These marathon dances are pretty hard on your clothes. Have you ever been here before?’
‘No, and I wouldn’t be here now if Mrs Layden hadn’t insisted. She’s been telling me about the derbies. Are you having one tonight?’
‘A little thing like a wedding couldn’t stop the derby,’ I said. ‘It goes on right after the ceremony—’
‘So long—’ Gloria said, walking off.
‘Did I say something wrong?’ Mr Maxwell asked.
‘No, sir she’s got to go down there and get her final instructions. The wedding starts pretty soon.’
He frowned and I could tell he knew I was merely lying to cover Gloria’s bad manners. He watched Gloria walking down the floor a minute and then looked back at me. ‘What chance do you have to win the derby tonight?’ he asked.
‘We’ve got a good chance,’ I said. ‘Of course, the big thing is not so much to win as it is to keep from losing. If you finish last you’re disqualified.’
‘Suppose Jonathan Beer offered twenty-five dollars to the winner,’ he said. ‘You think you’d have a chance to get it?’
‘We’ll certainly try like the devil,’ I told him.
‘In that case all right,’ he said, looking me up and down. ‘Mrs Layden tells me you’re ambitious to get in the movies?’
‘I am,’ I said. ‘Not as an actor though, I want to be a director.’
‘You wouldn’t like a job in the brewery business, eh?’
‘I don’t believe I would—’
‘Have you ever directed a picture?’
‘No, sir, but I’m not afraid to try it. I know I could make good,’ I said. ‘Oh, I don’t mean a big feature like Boleslawsky or Mamoulian or King Vidor would make I mean something else at first—’
‘Well, like a two—or three-reel short. What a junkman does all day, or the life of an ordinary man—you know, who makes thirty dollars a week and has to raise kids and buy a home and a car and a radio—the kind of a guy bill collectors are always after. Something different, with camera angles to help tell the story—’
‘I see—’ he said.
‘I didn’t mean to bore you,’ I said, ‘but it’s so seldom I can find anybody who’ll listen to me that when I do I never know when to stop talking.’
‘I’m not bored. As a matter of fact, I’m very much interested,’ he said. ‘But maybe I’ve said too much myself—’
‘Good evening—’ Mrs Layden said, entering the box. Mr Maxwell stood up. ‘That’s my seat, John,’ Mrs Layden said. ‘You sit over here.’ Mr Maxwell laughed and took another chair. ‘My, my, don’t you look handsome,’ Mrs Layden said to me.
‘This is the first time in my life I ever had on a tuxedo,’ I said blushing. ‘Mr Donald rented tuxedos for all the boys and dresses for the girls. We’re all in the wedding march.’
‘What do you think of him, John?’ Mrs Layden asked Mr Maxwell.
‘He’s all right,’ Mr Maxwell said.
‘I trust John’s judgement implicitly,’ Mrs Layden said to me. I began to understand now why Mr Maxwell had asked me all those questions.
‘—Down this way, you kids—’ Rocky said into the microphone. ‘Down this way—Ladies and gentlemen. We are about to have the public wedding between Couple No. 71—Vee Lovell and Mary Hawley—and please remember, the entertainment for the night is not over when the marriage is finished. That’s only the beginnin’—’ he said; ‘—only the beginnin’. After the wedding we have the derby—’
He leaned over while Socks Donald whispered something to him.
‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ Rocky announced. ‘I take great pleasure in introducing the minister who will perform the service—a minister you all know, Rev. Oscar Gilder. Will you come up, Mr Gilder?’
The minister came out on the floor and walked towards the platform while the audience applauded.
‘Get your places,’ Socks said to us. We went to our assigned positions, the girls on one side of the platform and the boys on the other.
‘Before the grand march starts,’ Rocky said, ‘I want to thank those who have made this feature possible.’ He looked at a sheet of paper. ‘The bride’s wedding gown,’ he said, ‘was donated by Mr Samuels of the Bon-Top Shop. Will you stand, Mr Samuels?’
Mr Samuels stood, bowing to the applause.
‘Her shoes were donated by the Main Street Slipper Shop—Is Mr Davis here? Stand up, Mr Davis.’
Mr Davis stood.
‘—Her stockings and silken—er—you-know-whats were donated by the Polly-Darling Girls’ Bazaar. Mr Lightfoot, where are you?—’
Mr Lightfoot stood as the audience howled.
‘—and her hair was marcelled by the Pompadour Beauty Shop. Is Miss Smith here?’
Miss Smith stood.
‘—And the groom’s outfit, from head to foot, was donated by the Tower Outfitting Company. Mr Tower—’
‘All the flowers in the hall and that the girls are wearing are the gift of the Sycamore Ridge Nursery. Mr Dupré—’
Mr Dupré stood.
‘—And now, ladies and gentlemen, I turn the microphone over to the Rev. Oscar Gilder, who will perform the ceremony for these marvellous kids—’
He handed the microphone stand to Rollo, who stood it on the floor in front of the platform. Rev. Gilder moved behind it, nodding to the orchestra, and the wedding march began.
The procession started, the boys on one side and the girls on the other, going down to the end of the hall and then back to the minister. It was the first time I had seen some of the girls when they weren’t in slacks or track suits.
We had rehearsed the march twice that afternoon, being taught to come to a full stop after each step before taking another. When the bride and groom came into view from behind the platform, the audience cheered and applauded.
Mrs Layden nodded to me as I passed.
At the platform we took our places while Vee and Mary, and Kid Kamm and Jackie Miller, the best man and the maid-of-honour, continued to where the minister was standing. He motioned for the orchestra to stop and began the ceremony. All during the ceremony I kept looking at Gloria. I hadn’t a chance to tell her how rude she had been to Mr Maxwell, so I tried to catch her eye to let her know I had plenty to tell her when we got together.
‘—And I now pronounce you man and wife—’ Dr. Gilder said. He bowed his head and began to pray:
The Lord is my shepherd
I shall not want. He maketh me lie down in green pastures
He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul. He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death
I will fear no evil
for thou art with me
thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies
thou anointest my head with oil
my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
When the minister had finished Vee kissed Mary timidly on the cheek and we swarmed around. The hall rocked with applause and shouts.
‘Just a minute just a minute—’ Rocky yelled into the microphone. ‘Just a minute, ladies and gentlemen—’
The confusion died down and at that moment, at the opposite end of the hall, in the Palm Garden, there was the clear, distinct sound of glass shattering.
‘Don’t—’ a man screamed. Five shots followed this, so close together they sounded like one solid strip of noise.
Instantly the audience roared.
‘Keep your seats—keep your seats—’ Rocky yelled …
The other boys and girls were running towards the Palm Garden to see what had happened, and I joined them. Socks Donald passed me, reaching into his hip pocket.
I jumped over the railing into an empty box and followed Socks into the Palm Garden. A crowd of people were standing in a circle, looking down and jabbering at each other. Socks pushed through and I followed him.
A man was dead on the floor.
‘Who did it?’ Socks asked.
‘A guy over there—’ somebody said.
Socks pushed out with me behind him. I was a little surprised to discover Gloria was directly behind me.
The man who had done the shooting was standing at the bar, leaning on his elbow. Blood was streaming down his face. Socks went up to him.
‘He started it, Socks,’ the man said. ‘—He was trying to kill me with a beer bottle—’
‘Monk, you son of a bitch—’ Socks said, hitting him in the face with the blackjack. Monk sagged against the bar but did not fall. Socks continued to hit him in the face with the blackjack, again and again and again, splattering blood all over everything and everybody nearby. He literally beat the man to the floor.
‘Hey, Socks—’ somebody called.
Thirty feet away there was another group of people standing in a circle, looking down and jabbering to each other. We pushed our way through—and there she lay.
‘Goddam—’ Socks Donald said.
It was Mrs Layden, a single hole in the front of her forehead. John Maxwell was kneeling beside her, holding her head … then he placed the head gently on the floor, and stood up. Mrs Layden’s head slowly turned sidewise and a little pool of blood that had collected in the crater of her eye spilled out on the floor.
John Maxwell saw Gloria and me.
‘She was coming around to be a judge in the derby,’ he said. ‘She was hit by a stray bullet—’
‘I wish it was me—’ Gloria said under her breath.
‘Goddam—’ Socks Donald said.
We were all assembled in the girls’ dressing room. There were very few people outside in the hall, only the police and several reporters.
‘I guess you kids know why I got you in here,’ Socks said slowly, ‘and I guess you know what I’m going to say. There ain’t no use for anybody to feel bad about what’s happened—it’s just one of those things. It’s tough on you kids and it’s tough on me. We had just got the marathon started good—
‘Rocky and I have been talking it over and we’ve decided to take the thousand-dollar prize and split it up between all of you—and I’m going to throw in another grand myself. That’ll give everybody fifty bucks apiece. Is that fair?’
‘Yes—’ we said.
‘Don’t you think there’s any chance to keep going?’ Kid Kamm asked.
‘Not a chance,’ Socks said, shaking his head. Not with that Purity League after us—’
‘Kids,’ Rocky said, ‘we’ve had a lot of fun and I’ve enjoyed working with you. Maybe some time we can have another marathon dance—’
‘When do we get this dough?’ Vee Lovell asked.
‘In the morning,’ Socks said. ‘Any of you kids that want to can stay here tonight, just like you been doing. But if you want to leave, there’s nothing to stop you. I’ll have the dough for you in the morning any time after ten. Now, I’ll say so-long I got to go to police headquarters.’
… in the
the laws of
the State of
across the dance floor, my heels making so much noise I couldn’t be sure they belonged to me. Rocky was standing at the front door with a policeman.
‘Where you kids going?’ Rocky asked.
‘To get some air,’ Gloria said.
‘We’ll be back,’ I told him. ‘We’re just going to get a little air. It’s been a long time since we been outside—’
‘Don’t be long,’ Rocky said, looking at Gloria and wetting his lips significantly.
‘—you,’ Gloria said, going outside.
It was after two o’clock in the morning. The air was damp and thick and clean. It was so thick and so clean I could feel my lungs biting it off in huge chunks.
‘I bet you are glad to get that kind of air,’ I said to my lungs.
I turned around and looked at the building.
‘So that’s where we’ve been all the time,’ I said. ‘Now I know how Jonah felt when he looked at the whale.’
‘Come on,’ Gloria said.
We walked around the side of the building on to the pier. It stretched out over the ocean as far as I could see, rising and falling and groaning and creaking with the movements of the water.
‘It’s a wonder the waves don’t wash this pier away,’ I said.
‘You’re hipped on the subject of waves,’ Gloria said.
‘No, I’m not,’ I said.
‘That’s all you’ve been talking about for a month—’
‘All right, stand still a minute and you’ll see what I mean. You can feel it rising and falling—’
‘I can feel it without standing still,’ she said, ‘but that’s no reason to get yourself in a sweat. It’s been going on for a million years.’
‘Don’t think I’m crazy about this ocean,’ I said. ‘It’ll be all right with me if I never see it again. I’ve had enough ocean to last me the rest of my life.’
We sat down on a bench that was wet with spray. Up towards the end of the pier several men were fishing over the railing. The night was black; there was no moon, no stars. An irregular line of white foam marked the shore.
‘This air is fine,’ I said.
Gloria said nothing staring into the distance. Far down the shore on a point there were lights.
‘That’s Malibu,’ I said. ‘Where all the movie stars live.’
‘What are you going to do now?’ she finally said.
‘I don’t know exactly. I thought I’d go see Mr Maxwell tomorrow. Maybe I could get him to do something. He certainly seemed interested.’
‘Always tomorrow,’ she said. ‘The big break is always coming tomorrow.’
Two men passed by, carrying deep-sea fishing poles. One of them was dragging a four-foot hammerhead shark behind him.
‘This baby’ll never do any more damage,’ he said to the other man …
‘What are you going to do?’ I asked Gloria.
‘I’m going to get off this merry-go-round,’ she said. ‘I’m through with the whole stinking thing.’