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JEFF SAMPLED HIS MARTINI—straight up, no rocks—and approved, which seemed to surprise him. He was even more meticulous about martinis than about most things. Outside the states he travelled with a little vial of vermouth in his inside pocket and always ordered straight gin. The drink judged worthy of the toast, he met Julie's eyes and proposed: "To your own by-line by this time next year."
Julie wrinkled her nose and murmured thanks. She turned her glass round and round, an orange blossom that, sooner or later, she would be expected to drink. Finally she lifted it: "To Paris and to you."
"In that order?"
She grinned. "I'm very fond of both of you."
The restaurant noises picked up as a party shuffled its seating arrangement. Someone was explaining that the guest of honor must face the door through which, at Sardi's, the rich and famous were presumably in constant transit.
Jeff scowled and sipped his drink. Sardi's was not his favorite restaurant, but it was Julie's the last time he'd asked and he insisted on it. The occasion was more noteworthy for her solid year of employment on the gossip column, Tony Alexander Says ..., than for Jeff's departure later that night for Paris. Geoffrey Hayes' Times assignments took him to distant and troubled places, Julie's to where her legs could carry her, so to speak. She suspected he was already half way to Paris and envied him the depth of his work, its significance. "Where do you start when you get there?" she asked.
"I'll skirmish around a bit and try to improve my contacts. France is a conspirators' marketplace. I'll be shopping for discarded loyalties. How's that?"
"Very fancy," Julie said.
Jeff laughed aloud.
She conjured a picture of him sitting in a smoky bistro, drinking beer and waiting for someone who would walk past the place twice to get a look at him before going in. She had not questioned whether he would be in danger. Risk was to be taken for granted. So was caution. He was going to do a series on the neo-Fascist movement. "I'd like to be going with you," she said. "I'd like to work on something that important."
Jeff made a sound in his throat that suggested satisfaction with things as they were. He neither under- nor over-valued the job of legman for Tony Alexander. It was where he too had started his newspaper career.
She laid her hand on his across the table. The grey in his hair was becoming dominant and made him even more distinguished-looking. The probing dark eyes suggested a worldly wisdom, the firm mouth, self-assurance almost to a degree of self-satisfaction.
"You should work on your French," Jeff said. "We could speak it at home, couldn't we? Good for both of us."
She felt slightly irritated, no doubt because she was self-conscious about her French. His was always going to be so much better. She was on the point of suggesting that it might improve their communication and then held back. They did not communicate well when they were together too much. Their marriage thrived on honeymoons and separations.
He squeezed her hand and released it. "Why do you always look your most enchanting when I'm on my way to the airport?"
She bit back the answer to that one too. "Rhetorical question, right?" But she knew that she took more patience with her makeup and dressed better when he was home. With the job she would keep it up to some extent, but part of her longed to revert to jeans and sneakers and something with pockets. Then almost at once she preferred her present chicness. Maybe the gamin in her was forever banished, and no one would miss it more than Jeff ... his little girl, his elf. Let her go. God bless her, but let her go.
"I'm not your only admirer," Jeff added. "There's an old boy at a wall table who can't take his eyes off you."
"Always the old boys," Julie said and shifted her position so that she could discreetly glance in the direction Jeff had indicated. "That's Jay Phillips, the press agent. He was one of the first people Tony sent me to and he's been great to me ever since."
"In my day we steered clear of publicity handouts," Jeff said and took up the wine list. "Tonight you'll have wine." He always said it and she always did have wine nowadays. She even enjoyed it, but Jeff had missed the transition. "A roughish Burgundy," he mumbled to himself. He settled for a Pommard, trusting the importer, a name he knew better than he knew the cellar of Sardi's. "Pommard is a chancy wine, but very good with duck if you get the right one."
"And the right duck," Julie said.
Jeff's second martini came with their shrimp. He looked at his watch: he was not in that much of a hurry.
"Eight o'clock curtain," Julie said in defense of the express service.
He ignored the shrimp for the time being and sipped his drink. "Do you like working for Tony, or are you proving something?"
"Both. I'm hanging in there and I like that. And I do like the job and I don't settle for handouts."
"Of course you don't," he soothed. "Don't misunderstand. I'm very proud of you."
"Thank you," she said, bristling underneath at the fatherliness. There were times she resented Tony for the same reason. The person whose parent-like advice she accepted was Fran, Tony's wife, who was about Jeff's age and a lot younger than Tony. She had not seen her for months. "Jeff, why don't we see the Alexanders socially anymore? Is it because I work for Tony?" She knew Jeff and Tony often met at the Press Club.
"Julie, it's not your fault."
"I didn't say it was." But she had a habit of taking blame whenever it was available. "I miss Fran. That's all."
"Then why don't you stop at the shop and see her?" Fran owned a flower shop on Lexington Avenue. "Or call her up and take her to lunch. She'd like that. She's always been very fond of you."
"Jeff, you're being—I don't know what exactly ..."
"Am I?" he said distantly and pulled the shrimp to where he could spear one of them. "Your friend the press agent is headed this way. He's sloshed if I'm not mistaken."
"You're not," Julie said, not having to look and not unhappy at the diversion. She wondered if what she and Jeff were doing was not a kind of ritual that prepared them for separation. She'd been through it before: distancing was the word that came to mind.
Phillips came up to the table, a big man, his face chunky and flushed. He was well known as a Broadway publicist and as a heavy drinker. He stood a moment, almost steady, and finally arrived at what he wanted to say. "I just wanted to tell you, Mr. Hayes, how much I admire your wife." He enunciated each word carefully. "Can't read you, I admit, but I do admire your wife."
"That's good enough," Jeff said gallantly.
Julie thought of introducing them. It seemed superfluous.
"A real lady. They don't make many of them anymore." He put a hand on the table as though to steady it.
Julie could feel the color rise to her face. The diners nearby were looking at them. "Could I stop around later at the theater and see you?"
"No, my dear, you could not because I won't be there. My services to Dorfman Productions have been terminated."
"I'm sorry." He had lost, it would seem, three of the biggest shows in town.
The man looked blubbery as he stared down at her. He lifted heavy eyes and settled them on Jeff. "How does someone as nice as her work for an s.o.b. like Alexander? Do you understand it?"
Jeff touched his napkin to his lips. "I try."
Phillips shook hands with each of them and drew himself up very straight. He walked from the restaurant like a man on a tightrope.
"As I was going to tell you in any case," Jeff said, "Tony and I exchanged compliments today. I'm an elitist snob and I called him an illiterate parasite."
"I thought Tony was your best friend. I thought that's why I got a job with him."
"You got a job with him because you could do the work."
"Okay, but I don't think he knew that when he hired me. I didn't know it myself."
"I did," Jeff said.
Which brought them back to square one. Julie was on the edge of becoming irritable again and there wasn't time to work it out. "Jeff, is Tony really an s.o.b.?"
"It's you that's worked for him this past year," Jeff said, a little mockingly.
"But he's your friend, damn it. And you worked for him once yourself."
"I don't test my friends by their virtue. No more do you. Stop and think: Sweets Romano?" He referred to the gentlemanly, art-collecting gangster with whom Julie had twice shared a most unlikely partnership in ferreting out criminal mischief. Her acquaintanceship with Romano had gone a long way toward recommending her for Tony Alexander Says.... Tony had expected a direct line to the underworld.
"Shall we call it a draw?" Julie said with a puckered smile that got to Jeff every time.
He nodded but both of them knew that the eleven o'clock flight was taking off for Paris just in time.CHAPTER 2
ON HER WAY TO WORK in the morning Julie figured out that Jeff would already have had his lunch. In the lobby of the New York Daily building the huge globe turned, the world on a sunken axis; a Japanese couple, the man with a camera and numerous attachments slung from straps around his neck, stood at the railing and beamed as Japan went by. On the back wall one of the clocks that told the times around the world showed it to be five minutes to three in Paris, September 15. In New York it was five minutes to ten of the same day. As usual, Jeff was way ahead of her.
Tony sat at his desk looking about as fresh as a ripe avocado. On early morning appearances he often looked as though he had not been to bed, and sometimes he hadn't. When Julie walked in he checked his watch and said to Tim Noble, the other of his apprentices, "I owe you a buck. She's early."
Alice Arthur, everybody's secretary, was clacking away, transcribing tapes. With Julie's arrival she took off the earphones and picked up her shorthand book.
Tony lumbered to his place at the head of the conference table. He had to be well into his sixties. His hair was white, his eyebrows black and ferocious, overhanging dark, bloodshot eyes. The white mustache was exotic though slightly tarnished at the tips from twistings. Jeff was right: it was ridiculous that she had worked with him for a year and couldn't say whether or not he was a bastard. She did have trouble with her father images.
Tony gazed at her morosely. "You're looking peaked this morning. Too much bon voyaging?"
"The eminent journalist did depart, didn't he?"
"In nebulae of self-importance?"
"Come off it, Tony."
"Tut, tut, tut. Only the truth will set you free."
He was a bastard.
Tony sat back and chortled as though he had read her mind. "Now. What have you got for me to sign off with for the week-end, either of you? I want something both frolicsome and wicked."
Tim brushed back a wisp of hair from his forehead and told of a presidential widow who was going to play the role of herself in a Broadway musical.
"Danse macabre," Tony said: "Write it up. And you, my peaked one, have something too?"
"I understand Jay Phillips has been fired from the Michael Dorfman shows."
"And do you know the reason?"
"I didn't ask, but I assume it's booze."
"Assume. What a fancy word for a leglady, and one too much of a lady to ask."
"I'm not all that much of a lady." Not what she meant to say at all, but her reputation for femininity was getting out of hand. "I'll find out from another source."
"I wouldn't bother," Tony said wearily.
Across the table Tim Noble asked earnestly: "Do press agents ever make news, boss?"
"Only when it's in very short supply." Tony swung round on Julie again. "All right, sweetheart: I've got a story for you. Let's see what you can do with it. There's a place called Garden of Roses on Amsterdam Avenue up near Harlem. In the days of the big bands it was a ballroom. It's being refurbished by a character who proposes to revive the dance marathon—a fad or a phenomenon, whatever you want to call it—of the nineteen-thirties."
"I wasn't even born then," Julie said.
"I was already a handsome beggar, if I say it myself. I won two hundred dollars in a dance marathon—and these damned varicose veins." He pushed away from the table and planted a foot on its edge. He pulled up the leg of his slacks.
Tim Noble half-rose and peered down at the hairy leg through which the swollen veins were just visible. He looked at Tony over his glasses. Tim had a pixie-like quality and could get away with almost anything with Tony. "Never saw anything like it, Sir. Can you make them ripple?"
Tony withdrew the leg. He glowered at Tim, then at Julie and smiled ominously. "Why don't the two of you go up there and sign on as contestants?"
"Please, Tony, I don't want varicose veins," Julie said.
"Okay, sweetheart. But do me something with feeling."
He got up and crossed the room to the video data terminal, settled himself comfortably before the screen, took a handful of notes from his pocket and began to tap out the next day's column.
Julie searched the movie listings in The New Yorker hoping that They Shoot Horses, Don't They? was playing somewhere. Tim had suggested it for background information on the dance marathon. No luck. She was about to phone the Reference Room of the Public Library when she thought of Mary Ryan, an older friend, who was great on the New York retrospective, the theater, and such events as the blackout, two World Fairs, Mayor LaGuardia reading the funny papers....
"Oh, I remember them well," Mrs. Ryan said of the dance marathons when Julie reached her, "I wasn't long in this country. And let me tell you, it wasn't milk and honey we came over to in those days. Respectable men were on the streets selling pencils and shoelaces. I must have been in my second or third year of highschool and I remember, this chum and I thought it would be a great lark to stay out all night. Come over and have a cup of tea with me and I'll tell you about it. We wound up at a dance marathon, you see."
The trouble with going to Mrs. Ryan's was that you'd be asked on arrival to take Fritzie for a walk, and Fritzie was an elderly dachshund who took his time about everything. "Mrs. Ryan, let's meet at the shop, okay?"
"The shop" was a low-rental ground floor in a tenement building on West Forty-fourth Street, not far from the Willoughby where Mrs. Ryan lived. Julie still used it for an office. She had acquired it with Mrs. Ryan's prodding really. She had been on her way to buy a set of Tarot cards one day, largely for her own amusement, when she chanced to meet Mary Ryan with whom, until then, she'd had but a nodding acquaintance through their mutual interest in theater. It happened at a time when Julie felt rudderless—Jeff was away and her then therapist, Doctor Callahan, had said she couldn't help her until Julie was serious about helping herself. A job was strongly recommended. With almost childish pique, Julie took to the notion of setting up as a "reader and advisor," and Mary Ryan had cheered her on.
Julie had long since taken down her sign from the window, but she had hung onto the shop at Jeff's suggestion, a place of her own. Its location was highly symbolic of a side of her nature that she didn't understand herself, a fondness for people who worked at humble occupations. Dr. Callahan had called it a cop-out, a place where Julie had no relationship problems, where she didn't have to compete. Which was partly true, but not the whole story. The shop was less than a block from the Actors Forum, where she had once been an active member and still had many friends. There was always someone on the street to greet her as though she'd been there yesterday even when she hadn't been around for weeks. Mrs. Rodriguez, her upstairs neighbor, kept an almost constant look-out from her elbow cushion in the window. She had been invaded recently by her husband's relatives from San Juan. Julie felt guilty about not offering to sublet her place to them when they needed more room, but Rose Rodriguez didn't like the idea at all. "They pay me," she said and thumped her bosom righteously. "It makes up." What it made up for was the "trick" she could no longer entertain while her husband was working. Juanita, Rose's silent child, had finally gone to school. Now, when she played on the stoop, the dolls were neater and most of them had arms and legs and even hair. Julie figured out that Juanita was playing teacher instead of mother these days, and sometimes her two smaller cousins were allowed to attend school with the dolls. Juanita wasn't silent anymore either: she screamed at all of them, "Speak English!"
Excerpted from Lullaby of Murder by Dorothy Salisbury Davis. Copyright © 1984 Dorothy Salisbury Davis. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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