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Working the Arc Light

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“I will.”
“Who’s going to direct?”
“I am.”
“Who’s going to play the lead?” But we both know the probable answer to that. I don’t need scratch in the answer. I thought that maybe I hadn’t looked at the Duke’s eyes carefully enough. I searched them shamelessly for what I must have missed but Marks, sensing that his hook was bare, proposed lunch before any exploratory drilling could commence.
“When are you going to open,” I asked Duke Marks as I followed him into the kitchen. He found the flour and began with the noodles. “Tonight,” he said cheerily bending to his task. “I need someone to run the arc light. Will you do it?” “I’ve never run one before,” I answered, shy again. “Do you know any piano players,” Marks asked me. “Someone who can sight read.” I confessed that the only piano player I knew was the owner of the perpetually empty used bookstore across town. He was not a fellow to recommend as he had dangerous eyes. “Do you really expect to find someone by tonight?” I said incredulously. “I’m a magnate,” Marks boasted. “Someone will come to me.”
I looked around Boint’s kitchen. There was very little dishware. It was easy to note that the refrigerator was near empty when Duke had opened it to fetch butter and eggs. “Do you have a car?” Marks asked over his dough rolling shoulders. “I need someone to go to the meat market with Bill so that he can get what he needs. You should be back about the time the noodles are done. I’ll show you how to run the light after lunch. Bill’s a great chef. Have dinner at the show tonight. I’m performing the Noel Coward routine. The best Coward the music hall tunes: that is, if a piano player comes along. Otherwise, I’ll do my Twain. It’s the act that Hal Holbrook started with.” Marks was wiping flour off his hands and reaching in his pocket for a checkbook. “Is the check good?” I asked somewhat regretfully. “No,” Duke replied unhesitatingly, “but I expect a full house tonight and I’ll have it covered by morning.”
“What happens if you don’t get a full house?” I queried.
“Don’t worry, I’ve flushed the locals out,” Duke said snapping his fingers and happy with his pun. “I’ve advertised in the T.V. guide supplement of the Sunday paper and over the radio. The woman who sold me the newspaper advertising was a real witch,” Duke barked wryly. “She caught me with my guard down and roped me into a six month contract. But I’ll have that one screaming,” said Duke climbing into the thin air again, “that’s one I’m not going to pay.”
Taking the blank check out of Duke’s hand, I dutifully went to get Bill and make the run to the one superior grocer in town wondering behind the wheel of the car if the businessman would be fool enough to accept such tenuous payment for his goods. He was. Greed seemed to do the fellow’s better thinking in. It was undoubtedly the largest single purchase of the day and if the restaurant owner was going to be buying from him, buying superior meat instead of going wholesale, why shouldn’t he, a humble butcher, encourage this folly?
Marks was not there to greet the hunters home from the mart. A very handsome Black was admiring a waiter’s vest in the Duke’s dressing room mirror while two of his female admirers were sorting out the unmatchable pieces of silverware just driven in from the Salvation Army and Goodwill Industries stores. Boint proudly put the groceries into the larder and grabbed one of the beers that the meat was going to be cooked in. The dinner theatre goers would have a choice between chicken or beef. Rice pilaf, salad Nicoise, coffee, vanilla ice cream, asparagus. “It’s going to be fine,” Bill told the reflection glowering at him in the one still solid kitchen window. TURN PAGE

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