John D McDonald – Travis McGee 07 Darker Than Amber

It wasn’t quite right, of course. She wasn’t Vangie, but she was so close, so heartbreaking close it chilled the nape of my neck. I hadn’t realized how much all that hard work had accomplished.

Jake tore a sheet of paper off his desk pad, folded it once and held it up. “Sweetheart, I have written a word on this piece of paper. It is a word of great meaning. It is a word I have respected all my life. I am a fool. This word was in front of me and I couldn’t read it. Monday it will be added to your file, lovely girl. Later in the week we will take new pictures of you.” He trotted over to her. “I give you this piece of paper. Jake Karlo never writes anything foolish about something so great and wonderful and beautiful.”

She opened the piece of paper. She stared up at him with Vangie’s mocking smile. “Actress! Where have you been, honey? Don’t they let you out? Listen, you want to turn a five-hundred-dollar trick and have the john ask for you the next time he hits town, you got to be an actress. Right?”

Jake, beaming, turned and held his arms wide. “See? See?”

“Jake, darling,” she said. “Please don’t. You’ll make me cry, and it will spoil the eyes. And… all day I’ve been getting closer and closer to tears. For Vangie, I guess. There but for the grace of God, or something. The poor, sad, simple bitch. Jake, you make me very happy. Damn, damn, damn. I’m going to cry.” She got up and ran out of the room.

“We can use her a lot closer than I’d have thought possible,” I said.

“Not too close,” Jake said. “Not close to trouble.” He thumped the desk top with his little fist. “A man gets so busy he doesn’t look good at his own people. A sweet child like that, all of a sudden a hundred-and-ten-percent floozy. And she photographs like a dream. If she doesn’t freeze up, if she doesn’t choke when the lights go on, I can merchandise that dear little package. Discipline she’s got. What I got to do is set up a test, something where say she’s dancing, she comes running off stage, big applause. She’s happy. The guy is waiting there. He tells her something that breaks her heart. She gives it a very slow take. She can’t believe it. Then say she thinks it’s a joke and tries to laugh. Extreme close-up. Say she’s just made it. Real big. And the tests have come back. Leukemia.” He hit the desk again. “A take like that, in ten minutes I can sell her to Max on a seven-year deal, script approval, good options. I make her twenty-one years old. Merrimay Lane. It sounds good. Already you can hear it’s got star quality.”

Though he said good-by to us, and walked us to the elevators, I had the feeling we were getting not more than ten percent of his attention.

On the fast ride down I said to Meyer, “Was she that good?”

“Believe me, boychick, the broad was colossal.” At ten-thirty on that hot bright breezy Monday morning, the black taxi brought us in from the airport, down Nassau Street and east on Bay Street, to let us off at Rawson Square. I knew from the look of Bay Street that no cruise ships were in. In the hot months when there are no cruise ships tied up at Prince George Wharf or anchored out in the harbor beyond the lighthouse, Bay Street slows to a walk. The pretty little shopgirls stroll and chatter. Drivers doze in their cabs. Traffic is sparse and stately. The fat dark women yawn and gossip in the straw markets as they weave the tourist goods.

It is the rest period for that big machine which is Bay Street. The components of the machine are the heavily stocked shops with luxury items from all over the world. Solomon’s Mines, Trade Winds, John Bull, Cellars Wineshop, the Island Shop, the English China House, Kelly’s, Lightbourns, M’Lords, Mademoiselle, The Nassau Shop, the Perfume Box, Robertson and Symonette, Sue Nan’s, Vanity Fair.

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Categories: John D MacDonald