At last I got a lucky break. It happened I was the first to arrive in the back room that morning. I was alone when the phone rang. It was Dolores calling her brother, Fat Moe. When I realized it was her lyric, voice coming over the wire, the unexpectedness of it left me tingling and speechless for the moment.
Then all the pent−up hunger for Dolores burst its dam. I asked, I pleaded, I reasoned, I cajoled until she graciously surrendered and granted me a date for the same afternoon.
“All right, all right, Noodles,” she laughed at my insistence, “your eagerness bewilders me. All right, then, today, but I have a matinee, and I won’t be able to make it until five−thirty. Is that all right?” Then, with a touch of coquetry, she continued, “Did you see me in my show yet?”
Did I see her dance in the show? If she only knew how many times I had sat there in the dark orchestra, sick with longing for her.
“No, but I would like to,” I lied.
“All right, Noodles, the treat will be on me. I’ll leave a ticket for you at the box office and meet you at the stage door twenty minutes after the show. All right?”
“Impatience will be my middle name until then,” I said.
Her pleasant laugh came over the phone. “I doubt it, but you have learned to say nice things. Now, please, put Moe on before I forget what I intended to ask him.”
I called out, “Hey, Moe, your sister Dolores is on the phone.”
“Who? Dolores? Oh—okay.”
I watched fat, clumsy Moe at the telephone and compared him to the lithe, dazzling, graceful beauty of Dolores. They’re as alike as an orchid and a stinkweed. I waited for Moe to finish the conversation. I couldn’t help overhearing. She wanted to make an appointment with her brother to visit the graves of their mother and father before she left town for somewhere. I tried to catch her destination, but I couldn’t. She wanted to make the appointment for Sunday.
I heard Moe say, “I’m not sure I can make it. Maxie isn’t here.”
I called out. “It’s okay. You can take Sunday off.” As an afterthought I added, “And I’ll supply a car and a chauffeur for the day.”
Moe turned around with a pleased smile after he hung up.
He said, “Dolores said to thank you very much for the chauffeur and the car you promised, Noodles.”
I said, “It’s okay.” And as casually as I could I asked, “Where’s she going, on a trip?”
“Yeh, didn’t you hear? The kid got herself a Hollywood offer. She got a bit dancing part in a musical picture.”
My heart sank.
I said, “No, I didn’t hear.”
I hurried out to avoid Maxie. On second thought I went back and left word with Moe, “I’ll be gone for the rest of the day on some personal business. I’ll call Max and explain later.”
I felt like a schoolboy going on his first date. I grabbed a cab to my hotel, and began frantic preparations. I took all my suits out of the closet and laid them on the bed. I picked out a dark blue with a very thin pencil stripe. It was practically new, conservative but dressy.
I rummaged hurriedly through my shirt drawer and picked out the starchiest and whitest one in the lot. I examined my collection of shoes. None of them suited me. I decided to run over to Fifth Avenue later to buy a new pair. While I was there I’d get a new smart tie at Sulka’s. Might as well get a new hat, too. Maybe a derby. A derby? No good; I dismissed the idea. Not with my face—too red and beefy. I laughed to myself, beefy? I wasn’t beefy. I looked at myself in the long mirror on the closet door. There was no beef there, neither in the face nor body. It was all bone and muscle. I was in tip−top shape. I didn’t need any padding in my shoulders like some guys. Well, maybe just a little, so the jacket would hang right. I’d better take the harness off. The roscoe would spoil the fit. Yeh, the shiv I’d keep. I’d feel naked without it. Not a bad−looking guy, hey, Noodles, old boy? Almost six feet, well, all right, almost 5’n”. That’s almost six feet in anybody’s arithmetic.
Damn, after all these years a date with Dolores. That’s what I needed, a date to shatter this illusion, this phobia. Jesus, I was beginning to worship her. Why? I didn’t really know her. I had spoken to her maybe five times in about ten or twelve years.
Boy, she sure had something that attracted. So she finally condescended to give me a date? Who in the hell did she think she was? She was only a broad from the East Side, a piece of lay, for all I knew. I probably had a better one than her hundreds of times. Aw, what the hell was the matter with me, always thinking and acting like a hoodlum.
There’s only one Dolores: a sweet kid, pure and clean, from the day she was born. She’s culture—a Hunter College graduate, beautiful, and, I’d bet, loyal and tender, too. A girl you could trust. Some woman, my Dolores baby! When she danced in those flimsy veils with the lights on her and you got a glimpse of her body, just like some goddess—I don’t know how I controlled myself. Some day I’d crack up just thinking about her.
I took a cold shower, went downstairs to the barber shop and had the works: shave, haircut, shampoo, massage and manicure. I told Angelo to go easy on the hair tonic, I didn’t want to smell like a pansy. Then, I called up Carey’s for a limousine and chauffeur. The girl over there asked for my name.
I kidded her and said, “I’m surprised you don’t recognize my voice. This is Mr. Dupont.”
“I’m a new girl here.”
I gave her the address and assured her I was engaging the car and chauffeur for the day.
When the chauffeur arrived he had Mr. Dupont paged. I stepped out. He looked at me out of the corner of his eye. Then, with his hat off, he explained, “They didn’t have you on the books. I’m extremely sorry, sir, but my orders are to collect in advance.”
I took out a C note, tore it in half, and said, “Okay, pal, at the end of the day you get the other half as a tip. Will that cover everything?”
A smile spread over his face. He clicked his heels, gave me a snappy salute and said, “Yes, sir.”
“Cut the ‘yes, sir’ crap. With me it’s horseshit. I’m a boy from the boyus.” He understood the East Side colloquialism. He laughed and said, “Yeh, you look too regular to be a society guy.”
I smiled as I got in next to him. “I guess you meant that as a compliment?” I asked.
“Yep, them kind act as if their shit don’t stink.”
I told him to drive over to Fifth Avenue. He helped me do the shopping I planned. I bought him a five−buck tie. We stopped at a Riker’s and had a couple of hamburgers without onions, coffee and doughnuts. I went into the florist on Fifty−Seventh Street for a corsage, and got orchids, something special.
We drove to the theater. My orchestra ticket was waiting for me at the box office. All I could get for Jimmy was a seat in the rear balcony.
Jimmy said, “It’s okay. I got good eyesight.”
Dolores’ dance was bewitching. Her part was over far too soon, and I was too fidgety to watch the rest of the show, so I walked out to the car, parked outside the stage−door entrance. I stood leaning nervously against it.
Finally, the show broke. Jimmy came running out.
“Boy, that was some show,” he said. “I sure could go for that cute babe in that dance number, the one with the veils. I sure developed a yen for her. Where to, now?”
He was all out of breath.
I said drily, “We wait here until that cute babe you developed a yen for hangs up her veils and comes out.”
Jimmy said, “Oh,” sort of embarrassed. I stood there puffing on a cigar, waiting. When she came walking towards me, I actually felt confused, yeh, me, Noodles, flustered and nervous.
Her greeting was so different from my awkward and mawkish one. She had a proud, sure manner, warm and friendly. She gave me her soft, thrilling hand and smiled her breathless smile.
“How are you, Noodles? I really am glad to see you after all these years.”
I hadn’t realized she was so tall. Almost my size in high heels. I was about to open the door, but Jimmy, his eyes shining his admiration and approval, beat me to it. He closed the door and in an exaggerated, respectful tone said, “Where to, sir?”
I heard myself saying curtly, “To Ben Reilly’s Arrowhead Inn, James.” Then, lamely, to make amends, I added, “Hey, Jim, do you know where it is?”
He turned around with an understanding smile and snapped a pleasant “Yes, sir.”
“Will we have time to drive all that distance? Don’t forget I have to be back at the theater by eight or so,” she said.
“I promise to get you back in time.”
I took her willing hand and held it. I gave it a gentle squeeze. She smiled and returned the squeeze. A thrill seemed to shoot from her fingers to mine and, like a hot, sharp electric current, through every part of me. I was tingling and breathless. I leaned back in the far corner of the limousine, and gazed at her. An exquisit perfume enveloped her, a scent that left me giddy with desire. I took a deep breath and made believe I was faint. She looked at me, amused.
“Oh, Noodles, come now, surely I don’t affect you that much?”
I sat there actually overcome by emotion. How could I assure her she did affect me that deeply?
In the tone of a Delilah she said, “Oh, Noodles, you are a character.”
She made all the conversation. Everything and anything she said was fresh, scintillating, delightful. I just sat dumbly fondling her little hand, watching the movement of her lips, her silky lashes, her shining green eyes.
I admired her simple, chic, expensive ensemble, and I told her so. Everything about her was in perfect harmony.
The forty−minute ride seemed like two minutes.
The maitre d’Hotel of the inn gave us his personal attention. The sumptuous, ten−course dinner Dolores prompted me to order was a gourmet’s delight. Dolores ate with the zest of a healthy, beautiful animal. I was too engrossed in my companion to eat, or maybe it was the hamburgers that Jimmy and I had eaten at Riker’s. Anyway, I nibbled my food like a lotus eater.
Dolores patted my hand and said, “It would be a nice gesture if you asked the chauffeur to have some dinner with us.”
I called to the headwaiter and told him to ask Jimmy in to dinner.
He bowed and explained, “He already has been served in the chauffeur’s room. It is the custom of the Inn.”
Dolores and I laughed as if it was a terrific joke on both of us.
We went outside for a fifteen−minute walk in the pleasant, almost countrylike surroundings. She contentedly smoked a cigarette. An odd impulse overcame me before I took a cigar out of my pocket. I looked down along the driveway, searching for a discarded cigar butt. I told Dolores what I was looking for. She laughed and took my hand.
She said, “A far cry from the old days, isn’t it? I’m so happy for you, honey, but—” she was grave; she shook her head sadly, “the terrible, awful life you boys lead.”
I kept quiet. She sensed I didn’t want to discuss my life. She changed the subject. I was secretly thrilled that she had called me honey. It showed she was interested in me. I was thinking, for you, darling, I will lead any life you pick out. I’ll retire; I’ll make a break and quit while the quitting is good. I had over a hundred grand in the vaults. I’d heap it all at Dolores’s feet and ask her to marry me. Yeh, I’d ask her on the ride back. I’d go into some kind of legit business out of town, a small town. I’d buy a house somewhere away from the stink of the city. Dolores and me, and baby makes three.
I began to hum, “The birds are singing for me and my gal.”
How the hell does the rest of it go? I’ll have Cockeye play it at our wedding. That’ll be a new twist. Maxie will be my best man. Boy, will they be surprised when I break the news. I’m going to get married to my darling and retire. Yeh, and she’s going to retire, too. No more dancing for her.
Boy, come to think of it, according to all the loused−up movie stories of hoodlums breaking away from the mob, he invariably gets the “business” if he quits. Boy, is that a load of malarkey. It never happened in real life. What the hell does a mob care if a member retires as long as the guy really quits and minds his own business? It leaves more for the guys who remain.
Dolores squeezed my hand as we walked to the car. “What are you humming and smiling about, honey?”
“I’ll tell you all about it, my pretty maiden, shortly, very shortly.”
I was floating on air. I helped her into the car.
“Drive slowly back to the theater, Jimmy boy,” I sang out gaily.
I tossed him a cigar. He grinned. This is an okay life. I’ll buy me a limousine, too, and ask Jimmy to work for me steady, but I won’t treat him like a chauffeur. I’ll treat him like a pal, like a human being. He’s a pretty nice guy. Yeh, I’m a pretty nice guy, too. I’m a conceited bastard, too.
I took Dolores’ hand and began, very sure of myself, “Dolores, honey, this has been the happiest day of my life. I have never felt so contented with anybody, or as comfortable to be with, as with you, honey.”
She smiled at me and said, “Really? I am glad.” She patted my hand.
Her statement that she was “glad” and her smile made me take things for granted.
Bluntly I began, “Dolores, honey, I love you. I want to marry you.”
Self−consciously I put my arm around her and attempted to kiss her. She gasped her surprise and moved away.
In an astounded tone she said, “We hardly know each other. Besides—”
I cut her off. “We’ll become better acquainted after we’re married—”
Soberly she interrupted, “I should have had a talk with you a long time ago. I guess now is as good a time as any. I was just about to say, I’m practically engaged to be married. Besides, I’m going to Hollywood. I have a picture contract. I hope to remain there.”
Shocked, I said, “What? When are you leaving?”
I felt myself sinking. What was the matter with me? Was I that obnoxious to her? What had happened to spoil the perfect mood we were in? She isn’t the same warm Dolores of a moment ago. She’s sitting there cool, out of my reach. Why? She seemed to reciprocate my feelings a moment ago. I was sure of it. Now this sort of talk. I couldn’t understand it. What was she, just a tease?
“Noodles, in the first place, I really never knew you, really I didn’t. I didn’t know you were such—such a nice boy.”
“Boy?” I questioned weakly.
“Well, then, such a nice gentleman. You like that better?” She smiled politely.
“Why, what sort did you think I was?”
“Well, I won’t go into that, but to be frank, I imagined that you had grown up entirely different.”
“Why did you? You never gave me a chance all these years to get acquainted.”
“After all, let’s be practical. I remembered you as—” She laughed, then she caught my eye. “Oh forgive me, Noodles, I wasn’t laughing at you. But you were,” she sighed. “Well, I remember you as—” she hesitated, “pretty vicious.”
I goaded her. “Go ahead and say it, a filthy, stinking East Side bum.”
“Oh no.” Her hand flew up in a gesture of hurt denial. “Believe me, Noodles, I meant nothing of the kind. I come from the same background as you do. I never meant to imply anything of the sort, only, somehow, I was always afraid of you.”
“You were afraid, all right. Then were there other reasons why you ignored me all these years?”
“Well, my attitude was silly, come to think of it. I should have acted more sensibly and answered your notes and calls. First, I didn’t want any outside interests interfering with my dancing. I’m very ambitious. I love dancing, and it took up all my time, and besides,” she said it quickly without emotion, “I have loved somebody for a good many years. A peaceful, conservative businessman whom some day I intend to marry. That’s why I went out with you today, to explain to you not to try and see me any more or to send me flowers—or things.”
I didn’t say a word. I kept looking the other way. Her words were digging into my heart. I was shocked, and my vanity was hurt. I looked out the window. Slowly I turned toward her. She moved away and kept gazing out the window. Then she turned. Our eyes met. Her hand crept into mine. She squeezed my hand.
“You know, Noodles, you’re a very presentable chap.” Her eyes were full of compassion. “I really like you.”
“Yeh, you like me, but you won’t have anything to do with me,” I muttered.
“Well—there are so many other attractive girls—”
Girls? Don’t I know there are girls? What the hell is she telling me? Something I don’t know about? Me, Noodles? I’ve had all of them, the ones Winchell calls Debutramps, who hang out in those Park Avenue “speaks” to Broadway tramps. If I could lay out in single file all the broads I had, they would reach from the Bronx to the Battery. What the hell is she handing me? Yeh, she’s only teasing me. There’s nobody else for me. I got to have her. She’s in my blood. She’s deep inside of me. If I don’t have her at least once, I’ll go nuts, I’ll crack up. A crazy thought struck me. Maybe, if I lay her, it will break the enchantment, this hold she has on me. I’ll give it to her now. It will force her to marry me. Yeh, I’ll use her. Then, so help me Jesus, I’ll forget her. That’s the way it works with me, lay them and forget them. The thought aroused a sharp, ungovernable excitement in me.
I sprang at her. I grabbed her in my arms and squeezed her hard, as if I could press the beauty and love out of her body into the aching, hungry void in mine.
She was crying, “Stop, Noodles, please, stop.” She was white with fear. She cried, “You’re hurting me.”
I showered her with my wet, hot kisses. I bit her lips till they bled. She was like a helpless bird in my grasp. With my knee I forced her legs wide apart. A glimpse of her black lace panties against her pink beautiful thighs stirred me to a frenzied pitch.
I pulled her dress down from her white shoulders. I broke the straps from her brassiere, exposing her two round firm breasts. I buried my face in them.
She screamed out. “Please, don’t! Stop it, please, stop it!”
The car came to an abrupt stop, throwing us both to the floor. The door opened. Jimmy stood there looking agitated.
He demanded, “For Christ sake, let up. You want to kill the girl? You want to get us arrested?”
Dolores lay crumpled and unconscious in a corner. In a daze I watched Jimmy trying to revive her. After awhile I realized Dolores was injured. Frantically I bent over her. I rubbed her hands. I called to her, “Dolores, Dolores.” Gently I patted her cheek. She fluttered her eyelids. She gasped. She opened her eyes wide and stared in fright.
I cried, “How are you? How are you feeling, baby?”
I mopped the blood from her lips. “I’m terribly sorry, Dolores.”
Gently I kissed her hand. She pulled it away. She cried out, “You’re a brute; you’re a wicked man.”
I murmured, “It’s true. I am terribly sorry. Please forgive me.”
We were parked on a deserted uptown street. She moaned.
“Let me out. I’m sick. I need some air,” she said.
We helped her out and walked her up and down the street. She was like a weak, broken little girl.
Suddenly Dolores gasped, “I’m sick, oh, I’m terribly sick.” She almost fell; then she vomited.
Jimmy jumped away. I held her tight. She retched all over my new blue suit. I didn’t mind. I held her closer to me. I wiped her face. She was crying. Her make−up was spoiled. Her mascara was running in black streaks down her soft cheeks.
Weakly she said, “Please take me home.”
I helped her back into the car. I told Jimmy to stop at a gas station.
I said, “Go into the ladies’ room and get washed.”
Obediently she went in. I went into the gents’ room and cleaned up the best I could.
On the way back I tried to talk her out of her silent dejection. I acted contrite and apologetic. But to no avail. I couldn’t shake her out of it. She sat in her corner looking out the window, morose and bitter. I didn’t know how to make amends. I had never felt so wretched and miserable.
I asked, “When are you leaving?”
She answered coldly, “It’s no concern of yours.”
“What time should I tell Jimmy to report with the limousine to drive you and Moe to the cemetery tomorrow?”
“We’ll take the subway. I don’t want any favors from you.”
The rest of the trip back to the theater, I felt ashamed. She didn’t say a word, not even goodbye as she got out of the car.
I gave Jimmy the other half of the C note. He said, “Thanks. You know you got a bum approach with the girls, pal?”