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Chapter Six. IT was dark when Johnny awoke
IT was dark when Johnny awoke. He was in a strange room. His head felt logy, heavy. He groaned and stretched his arms.
There was a stir in the bed beside him. He started in sudden surprise as his outstretched hand encountered warm, soft flesh. He turned his head.
In the darkness he could barely see the face of the girl sleeping beside him. She was lying on her side, one arm under the pillow. He sat up slowly, trying to remember what had happened last night. He remembered Joe ordering more wine. They were all getting drunk. Painfully it began to come back to him.
It had started when he came into the studio about five o'clock. Joe had told him they would be working because it was the only day some of the girls they had hired would be free. These girls worked in a burlesque show during the week and this was a chance for them to pick up a few bucks extra.
When he got there, Joe was in the midst of a hot argument with one of the girls. She was screaming at him. At first Johnny couldn't make out what it was all about, but then he gathered it had something to do with the clothes she was wearing. Bill Borden was standing near by, wearing a worried look that Johnny had come to recognize as customary for all picture men. Joe stood there calmly waiting for the girl to stop screaming. Johnny stopped near the door. No one even noticed his entering.
At last the girl stopped yelling. Joe looked at her for a moment, then turned to Borden. "Give her her time, Bill," he said calmly, ignoring the girl. "We can't afford temperament in this business."
Borden didn't answer. The worried look on his face grew deeper.
The girl started to shout again. "You can't do it!" she screamed at Joe. "I'm supposed to have the lead in this picture. My agent'll sue you!" Her voice grew shrill.
Joe looked at her calmly for a moment; then he suddenly exploded. "Who the hell do you think you're gonna sue and for what?" he shouted back at her. ''Why, for Christ's sake, we pay you more here for one day's work than you make all week hustling your ass on a burley line! Sue us an' you get no work from any of the picture people!" He stepped close to her and shook an angry finger in her face. "Now, if you want to play the lead in this picture, take off your Goddam dress and show your chemise! And don't give me any bull about being modest. I seen you on the stage of the Bijou without nothin' on! Thass the reason I hired you!"
The girl fell silent in the face of this sudden tirade. After a few seconds of looking at him thoughtfully, she said: "All right, I'll do it. But there's one thing!" With a sudden motion she stepped back from him, drew her dress off over her head, and threw it at Joe's feet.
A gasp rose in Johnny's throat. The girl didn't have a stitch of clothing on under the dress.
Quickly Joe picked up the dress and rushed to cover her. Borden threw his hands over his face and groaned.
The girl smiled as Joe reached her. "You'll have to lend me a chemise," she said sweetly. "It was too damn hot to wear one."
Joe began to laugh. "Yuh shoulda said so in the first place, baby," he managed to say. "We would've saved ourselves a pack uh trouble."
A few minutes later the girl was dressed in a chemise, and I lie camera began to roll. Joe looked up and saw Johnny. He went toward him, a smile on his face. "See what I gotta go through?" he asked.
Johnny grinned back at him. "Yeanh. Pretty tough, isn't it?"
Joe laughed at Johnny's answer. "No foolin', though," he said seriously. "These kids are crazy, you never know what to expect from them."
Johnny grinned again. "I didn't see nuthin' to complain about."
Joe shoved him gently by the shoulder. "Go on into the projection room an' look at those pictures, you unsympathetic rascal," he said in a friendly voice. "I should be through by the time you are. Then we'll go to eat."
"Okay," Johnny said, starting to turn away.
Joe called him back. "I was just thinkin'," he said with a smile on his face, "it might be a good idea if we took a couple the babes along with us. The kinda life you been leadin' up in Rochester ain't too good for yuh."
"Decent of you to worry about me," Johnny told him with a derisive smile on his face. "I suppose you can get along without dames".
Joe smiled comfortably. "I kin take 'em or leave 'em. But I remember the time when you were about sixteen an' yuh got so randy over that contortionist, Santos had to take yuh over an’ get yuh fixed up."
Johnny's face grew red; he started to reply to Joe's statement, but just then Borden came up and hurried him off to the projection room. When he came out, Joe was waiting with two girls.
Joe introduced them. One of them was the girl who had been with Joe; her name was May Daniels and from the way she took Joe's arm Johnny knew they were old friends. The other girl was a cute little blonde named Flo Daley.
She smiled at Johnny. "Yuh better be nice to him, Flo," Joe said laughing. "He's one of our biggest customers."
They had dinner at Churchill's. Joe was in a good mood. He had completed a whole picture that afternoon. After they had finished eating, he lit up a cigar and leaned back in his chair. "Did you talk to Peter yet?" he asked Johnny.
"Un-hunh," Johnny grunted. "Just this morning. I think he'll bite."
"I hope so." Joe leaned forward earnestly. "Borden's workin' on that new studio out in Brooklyn an' it'll be good if Peter comes in in time to take this one off his hands. It'll save us a lot of trouble."
"He will," Johnny said confidently. "I'm sure he will."
"Good." Joe leaned back in his chair again and blew a cloud of smoke toward the ceiling.
May leaned toward him. "Do you men always have to talk business?" she asked. "Can't you forget it just once and have a good time?"
Joe squeezed her knee under the table. He had drunk just enough to make him feel good. "That's right, baby," he said. "Let's have a real good time." He hailed the waiter. "More wine!"
It was late and they were arguing over how many theaters Johnny owned by the time they reached Joe's apartment. Joe had insisted it was twenty-one while Johnny insisted it was only twenty.
Flo had wondered how a man so young could be so successful. Joe drunkenly assured her that Johnny was an organizing genius and was so busy he didn't have time to remember how many theaters he had himself.
They staggered into the apartment. Johnny looked at Joe. "You're loaded," he said to him. "You better go to shleep."
Against Joe's protests they hustled him into the bedroom. He fell across the bed and passed out. They were trying to undress him when suddenly May had said she was too tired to bother and stretched out on the bed beside Joe and went to sleep.
He and Flo had looked at each other and giggled. "Can't hold their likker," he had assured her solemnly. Together they stumbled out of the room into the other bedroom.
She turned to him as the door closed behind them. There
was a smile on her face; she held her arms toward him. "Like me, Johnny?" she asked.
He looked down at her. Strange, she didn't sound as drunk as she had a moment before. He pulled her toward him. "Of coursh I like you," he said.
Her eyes were on his face, the smile still on her lips. "Then what are you waiting for?" she asked in a low, excited voice.
For a second he stood very still, then he kissed her. He could feel her body clinging closely to him. His hand found the open bodice of her dress and slipped inside it. Her breast was warm and exciting in his fingers. He moved her toward the bed.
He heard her laugh. "Wait a minute, Johnny," she told him. "You don't have to tear the clothes off me."
He let her twist out of his grasp and watched her as she undressed. "Joe was right," he thought wildly, "the life I been leading ain't normal." But another part of his mind insisted stubbornly that he didn't have enough time for this and everything else he wanted to do.
Her clothes lay on the floor around her as she stepped toward him. "See," she smiled, "it's much better this way, isn't it?"
He didn't answer as his hands pulled her to him and their lips met. Her body was as fire to his touch as he thrust all thoughts from his mind and gave himself up to the moment.
His head was pounding fiercely now. He got out of bed and, picking up his union suit from a chair, laboriously got into it. After a few unsteady steps toward the bathroom, he turned hack toward the bed. He looked down at the girl for a few seconds, then he leaned forward and picked up the end of the blanket.
The girl stirred and turned toward him. "Johnny," she murmured softly, still asleep. She had nothing on.
Memories of her body, warm against him, flooded through his mind. He let the blanket fall and staggered to the bathroom.
He shut the door and turned on the light. It hurt his eyes. He went over to the washbowl and turned on the cold water. The basin filled rapidly. He leaned over it, hesitated a second, then plunged his head into the cold water.
At last he began to feel better. He picked up a towel and dried himself. He looked in the mirror over the washbowl and ran his hand over his face. He needed a shave, but there wasn't time for it.
He went back to the bedroom and dressed, then silently left the house without waking anyone. The morning air was clean and invigorating. He took out his watch and looked at it. It was six thirty. He'd have to hurry if he wanted to make the early train to Rochester.
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