Authors: Horace McCoy
‘And now, before the derby starts, I’d like to introduce a few of our celebrities—’ He looked at a piece of paper. ‘Ladies and gentlemen, one of our honour guests is none other than that handsome screen star, Bill Boyd. Will you take a bow, Mr Boyd?—’
Bill (Screen) Boyd stood up, taking a bow, while the audience applauded.
‘Next, another screen and stage star Ken Murray. Mr Murray has a party of distinguished guests with him. I wonder if he’d come up to the platform and introduce them himself?—’
The audience applauded loudly. Murray hesitated, but finally stepped over the railing and went to the platform.
‘All right folks—’ he said, taking the microphone. ‘First a young featured player, Miss Anita Louise—’
Miss Louise stood.
‘—and now Miss June Clyde—’
Miss Clyde stood.
‘—Miss Sue Carol—’
Miss Carol stood.
Tom Brown stood.
Thornton Freeland stood.
‘—and that’s all, folks—’
Murray shook hands with Rocky and went back to his party.
‘Ladies and gentlemen—’ Rocky said.
‘There’s a big director over there he didn’t introduce,’ I said to Gloria. ‘There’s Frank Borzage. Let’s go speak to him—’
‘For what?’ Gloria said.
‘He’s a director, isn’t he? He might help you get in pictures—’
‘The hell with pictures,’ Gloria said ‘I wish I was dead—’
‘I’m going,’ I said.
I strolled down the floor in front of the boxes, feeling very self-conscious. Two or three times I almost lost my nerve and turned back.
‘It’s worth it,’ I told myself. ‘He’s one of the finest directors in the world. Some day I’ll be as famous as he is and then I’ll remind him of this—’
‘Hello, Mr Borzage,’ I said.
‘Hello, son,’ he said. ‘Are you going to win tonight?’
‘I hope so … I saw “No Greater Glory”. I thought it was swell,’ I said.
‘I’m glad you liked it—’
‘That’s what I want to be some day,’ I said. ‘A director like you—’
‘I hope you are,’ he said.
‘Well—’ I said, ‘good-bye—’
I went back to the platform.
‘That was Frank Borzage,’ I said to Kid Kamm.
‘He’s a big director,’ I explained.
‘Oh—’ the Kid said.
‘All right—’ Rocky said. ‘Are the judges ready? Have they got their score sheets, Rollo? All right, kids—’
We moved out to the starting line.
‘Let’s not take any chances tonight,’ I whispered to Gloria. ‘We can’t fool around—’
‘On your marks, there, kids,’ Rocky said. ‘Stand by nurses and trainers—Hold your hats, ladies and gentlemen Orchestra, get ready to give—’
He shot the pistol himself.
Gloria and I jumped away, pushing through into second place, directly behind Kid Kamm and Jackie Miller. They were in front, the position usually held by James and Ruby Bates. As I went into the first turn I thought about James and Ruby, wondering where they were. It didn’t seem like a derby without them.
At the finish of the first lap Mack Aston and Bess Cartwright sprinted in front of us and went into second place. I began to heel-and-toe faster than I ever had before. I knew I had to. All the weaklings had been eliminated. All these couples were fast.
I stayed in third place for six or seven laps and the audience began howling and yelling for us to move up. I was afraid to try that. You can pass a fast team only on the turn and that takes a lot of energy. So far Gloria was holding up fine and I didn’t want to put too much pressure on her. I wasn’t worried as long as she could keep propelling herself.
After eight minutes I commenced to get hot. I yanked off my sweatshirt and tossed it to a trainer. Gloria did likewise. Most of the girls were out of their sweatshirts now and the audience was howling. When the girls removed their sweatshirts they wore only small brassieres, and as they trotted around the track their breasts bounced up and down.
‘Everything is fine now unless somebody challenges us,’ I told myself.
Just then we were challenged. Pedro Ortega and Lillian Bacon sped up alongside, trying to get inside at the turn. This was about the only way to pass a couple but it was not as easy as it sounds. You had to get at least two paces ahead on the straightaway and then swing sharply over at the turn. This was what Pedro had in the back of his mind. They collided with us at the turn, but Gloria managed to keep her feet and I dragged her through, holding our place.
I heard the audience gasp and I knew that meant somebody was staggering. In a moment I heard a body hit the floor. I didn’t look around; I kept pounding. This was old stuff to me now. When I got on the straightaway and could look without breaking my stride, I saw it was Mary Hawley, Vee Lovell’s partner, who was in the pit. The nurses and trainers were working on her and the doctor was using his stethoscope—
‘Give the solo the inside, kids—’ Rocky yelled.
I moved over and Vee passed me. Now he had to make two laps to our one. He glanced in the pit as he passed, a look of agony on his face. I knew he was not in pain; he was only wondering when his partner would be out …On his fourth solo lap she got up, coupling on again.
I signalled to the nurse for a wet towel and on the next lap she slammed it around my neck. I stuck the end of it between my teeth.
‘Four minutes to go—’ Rocky yelled.
This was one of the closest derbies we’d ever had. The Kid and Jackie were setting a terrific pace. I knew Gloria and I were in no danger as long as we held our own but you never could tell when your partner would collapse. Past a certain point you kept moving automatically, without actually being conscious of moving. One moment you would be travelling at top speed and the next moment you started falling. This was what I was afraid of with Gloria collapsing. She was beginning to drag on my belt a little.
‘Keep going!’ I shouted to her in my mind, slowing down a fraction, hoping to relieve the strain on her. Pedro and Lillian evidently had been waiting for this. They shot by us on the turn, taking third place. Directly behind me I could hear the pounding of the others and I realized the entire field was bunched at Gloria’s heels. I had absolutely no margin now.
I hitched my hip up high. That was a signal for Gloria to shift her hold on the belt. She did, changing to the right hand.
‘Thank God,’ I said to myself. That was a good sign. That proved she was thinking all right.
‘One minute to go—’ Rocky announced.
I put on the steam now. Kid Kamm and Jackie had slowed the pace somewhat, thus slowing Mack and Bess and Pedro and Lillian. Gloria and I were between them and the others. It was a bad position. I prayed that nobody behind us had the energy for a spurt because I realized that the slightest bump would break Gloria’s stride and put her on the floor. And if anybody hit the floor now …
I used every ounce of my strength to move up, to get just one step ahead, to remove that threat from behind …When the gun sounded for the finish I turned around to catch Gloria. But she didn’t faint. She staggered into my arms, shiny with perspiration, fighting to get air.
‘Want a nurse?’ Rocky yelled from the platform.
‘She’s all right,’ I said. ‘Let her rest a minute—’
Most of the girls were being helped into the dressing room, but the boys crowded around the platform to see who had been disqualified. The judges had handed their tally sheets to Rollo and Rocky, who were checking them.
‘Ladies and gentlemen—’ Rocky announced in a minute or two. ‘Here are the results of the most sensational derby you have ever seen. First place—Couple No. 18, Kid Kamm and Jackie Miller. Second place—Mack Aston and Bess Cartwright. Third place—Pedro Ortega and Lillian Bacon. Fourth place—Robert Syverten and Gloria Beatty. Those were the winners and now, the losers—the last team to finish—the couple that, under the rules and regulations, is disqualified and out of the marathon dance. That is Couple No. 11—Jere Flint and Vera Rosenfield—’
‘You’re crazy!’ Jere Flint shouted, loud enough for everybody in the hall to hear. ‘That’s wrong—’ he said, moving closer to the platform.
‘Look at ’em yourself,’ Rocky said, handing him the tally sheets.
‘I wish it had been us,’ Gloria said, lifting her head. ‘I wish I had thrown the race—’
‘Sh-h-h—’ I said.
‘I don’t give a damn what these score cards say; they’re wrong,’ Jere Flint said, handing them back to Rocky. ‘I know they’re wrong. How the hell could we get eliminated when we weren’t last?’
‘Are you able to keep track of the laps while you’re racing?’ Rocky asked. He was trying to show Jere up. He knew it wasn’t possible for anybody to do that.
‘I can’t do that,’ Jere said. ‘But I know we didn’t go into the pit and Mary did. We started ahead of Vee and Mary and we finished ahead of ’em—’
‘How about that, mister?’ Rocky said to a man standing near-by. ‘You checked Couple No. 11—’
‘You’re mistaken, fellow,’ the man said to Jere. ‘I checked you carefully—’
‘It’s too bad, son,’ Socks Donald said, coming through the crowd of judges. ‘You had tough luck—’
‘It wasn’t tough luck; it was a goddam frameup,’ Jere said. ‘You ain’t kidding anybody. If Vee and Mary had been eliminated you wouldn’t have a wedding tomorrow—’
‘Now now—’ Socks said. ‘You run on to the dressing room—’
‘Okay,’ Jere said. He walked over to the man who had kept check on him and Vera. ‘How much is Socks giving you for this?’ he asked.
‘I don’t know what you’re talking about—’
Jere turned sidewise, slamming the man in the mouth with his fist, knocking him down.
Socks ran over to Jere, squaring off, glaring at him, his hand in his hip pocket.
‘If you pull that blackjack on me I’ll make you eat it,’ Jere told him. Then he walked away, going across the floor towards the dressing room.
The audience was standing, jabbering, trying to see what was going on.
‘Let’s get dressed,’ I said to Gloria.
… upon the
19th day of
in the year
of our Lord,
HOURS ELAPSED: 879
Couples Remaining: 20
been very morbid. I asked her a hundred times what she was thinking about. ‘Nothing,’ she would reply.
I realize now how stupid I was. I should have known what she was thinking. Now that I look back on that night I don’t see how I possibly could have been so stupid. But in those days I was dumb about a lot of things …The judge is sitting up there
making his speech
looking through his glasses at me
but his words are doing the same thing to my body that his eyesight is doing to his glasses—going right through without stopping
rushing out of the way of each succeeding look and each succeeding word. I am not hearing the judge with my ears and my brain any more than the lenses of his glass are catching and imprisoning each look that comes through them. I hear him with my feet and my legs and torso and arms
with everything but my ears and brain. With my ears and brain I hear a newsboy in the street shouting something about King Alexander
I hear the rolling of the street cars
I hear automobiles
I hear the warning bells of the traffic semaphores
in the courtroom I hear people breathing and moving their feet
I hear the wood squeaking in a bench
I hear the light splash as someone spits in the cuspidor. All these things I hear with my ears and my brain
but I hear the judge with my body only. If you ever hear a judge say to you what this one is saying to me, you will know what I mean.
This was one day Gloria had no reason to be morbid. The crowds had been coming and going all day, since noon the place had been packed, and now, just before the wedding, there were very few vacant seats left and most of them had been reserved. The entire hall had been decorated with so many flags and so much red, white and blue bunting that you expected any moment to hear firecrackers go off and the band play the national anthem. The whole day had been full of excitement: the workmen decorating the interior, the big crowds, the rehearsals for the wedding, the rumours that the Morals League women were coming down to set fire to the hall—and the two complete new outfits the Jonathan Beer people had sent Gloria and me.
This was one day Gloria had no reason to be morbid, but she was more morbid than ever.
‘Son—’ a man called from a box. I had never seen him before. He was motioning for me to come over.
‘You won’t be in that seat long,’ I told him in my mind. ‘That’s Mrs Layden’s regular seat. When she comes you’ll have to move.’
‘Aren’t you the boy of Couple 22?’ he asked.
‘Yessir,’ I said.
‘Where’s your partner?’
‘She’s down there—’ I replied, pointing towards the platform where Gloria stood with the other girls.
‘Get her,’ the man said. ‘I want to meet her.’
‘All right,’ I said, going to get Gloria. ‘Now who can that be?’ I asked myself.
‘There’s a man down here who wants to meet you,’ I said to Gloria.
‘I don’t want to meet anybody.’
‘This man’s no bum,’ I said. ‘He’s well-dressed. He looks like somebody.’
‘I don’t care what he looks like,’ she said.
‘He may be a producer,’ I said. ‘Maybe you’ve made a hit with him. Maybe this is your break.’
‘The hell with my break,’ she said.
‘Come on,’ I said. ‘The man’s waiting.’
She finally came with me.
‘This motion picture business is a lousy business,’ she said. ‘You have to meet people you don’t want to meet and you have to be nice to people whose guts you hate. I’m glad I’m through with it.’
‘You’re just starting with it,’ I said, trying to cheer her up
. I never paid any attention to her remark then
but now I realize it was the most significant thing she had ever said.
‘Here she is—’ I said to the man.
‘You don’t know who I am, do you?’ the man asked.