Blood King Rising – Intro 3

Arnie Maron - December 1928

Arnie dismantled his specially-designed rifle, dropping each unscrewed part into a waiting pocket in either his satchel or his long coat.  It was a little warm to be wearing the fabric duster in this balmly L.A. yuletide climate, but it was better than being nabbed by the local constabulary for carrying an obvious weapon without a license.  It had taken a long time to get the design just right – especially when the pieces had to also look innocuous and serve a viable, secondary, non-lethal purpose – but the care taken had served him in good stead.  It meant that he could take care of business and walk out without a care in the world, invisible, a disguised wolf amongst sheep.

The cleaning job this time had been more of a favour for a friend – kind of an addendum to the task they had been sent to this city to accomplish, a city that prized the unreal over the real.  Though, if the people living here had realised just how unreal some things could be, they would probably move to Alaska.  He chuckled quietly at the thought – even Alaska wouldn’t be far enough to escape the Eldritch Terrors growing in the shadowy places; that Wen-di-go had not been the easiest creature to subdue and there was no guarantee that another unlucky group of lost travellers would not fall victim to the curse and become the next crazed cannibal killer in that cold tundra.

It had taken him most of a day to locate the best vantage from which to make the shot.  The need to be able to see into the first-floor office window and have a clear view of the street door, while still maintaining complete invisibility for an extended period in broad daylight, had been a complete headache.  Fortunately, he had already been familiar with the area – having been engaged to clean up a particularly nasty gangster who had been making trouble for a local moving picture studio about six years ago.  “And now he’s part of the bedrock of the city.”  Literally.

He finished converting his rifle, settled his felt hat comfortably, and took off the slightly-heavier coat.  He slung the leather satchel strap over his shoulder and fed the coat through so that it draped across the bag.  His shirt was a blue-check cotton, well-worn, topping a pair of sturdy moleskin pants.  He wouldn’t fit in with the monied crowd, but he’d be one of many on the dusty streets outside – especially now that there were so many people out of work.  Anyway, even though he’d not done so in the last year or two, he still thought of himself as a grave digger – someone not afraid to get their hands dirty, and even less afraid of hard labour.

He slipped out of the cheap flophouse room – leaving it in the shabby state he’d originally found it, so that the usual occupant would return and find nothing amiss.  A tiny smile flickered on his lips.  That self-same occupant would even now be enjoying the best day they’d ever had – having discovered a wallet overflowing with cash.  It had taken some manoeuvering on his part to ensure that the right person discovered that bounty.  Although almost anyone in this establishment would have pocketed the money with no questions asked, at least this way they couldn’t finger him, and the room he’d actually paid for was on the opposite side of the building.

He navigated the stairs and joined the people beginning to mill about as sirens grew louder.  He flowed with the growing crowds, easing his way from one group to another, his hat brim low to shade his eyes and partially hide his face.  So long as he didn’t linger near the office building across the way, he shouldn’t attract the attention of the bulls or their photogs.  He cadged a light from a nearby stranger, cupping the open flame to ignite his coffin nail, thanked him gruffly and moved on.

The consistency of the crowd was beginning to change.  It had started with the common work-a-day folk, caught up in the wonder of something different, but it was now beginning to swell with the pretty ones – the young set that wanted to make a name for themselves, that wanted their names on the marquee, that believed their youth and beauty entitled them to everything.  He watched them as he worked his way down the long street.

In New York, the police presence at an office building would have elicited a form of watchful indifference.  In Boston, the elite would have carefully skirted the edges as they made their way elsewhere, hoping to avoid being drawn into the growing imbroglio.  In L.A., based on scattered conversations he became privy to, these mooks were gathering to be seen.  The potential crime being investigated in the usual ham-fisted manner was incidental, it was simply an opportunity to show off themselves, to put their entirety on display in the hopes that the fickle finger of fate would point to them next.

Arnie shook his head.  With everything going on in this crazy world, how could they live their vapid lives without seeing any of it?  Or were they in a constant state of denial?  In the last month, Connie and he had dealt with a bunch of skin-changing monsters masquerading as talent agents and would-be producers.  As best as he could figure, they had simply been collecting new skin-suits from anyone unlucky enough to encounter them alone.  He never figured out what happened to the bones and flesh that used to reside within the skins – he simply had to assume they consumed it whenever they claimed a new form.  The tribe, covey, whatever noun fitted a mess of shape-changing monsters, were now dust in the wind and no-one here would ever know how close to extinction they’d come.

The only record of the extermination would be a carefully worded report filed in the Boston offices of Malloran, Astrid and Drago Investigations.  He chuckled drily, blowing out a blue cloud of tobacco smoke.  They’d certainly picked the right name for their Agency.  MAD Investigations.  You had to be mentally off-centre to work there and, if that wasn’t the case when you started, you certainly would be if you survived your first year.  He and Connie had been involved with the Agency for going on a decade now, so that had to make them both certifiable.

His silent musing continued all the way to the narrower alley that housed his current favourite eating establishment.  It wasn’t a posh place, though plenty of swells liked it enough to show their faces.  It wasn’t a dive either.  It sported a sizeable inside room with tables – where the locals could get out of what they considered to be an unseasonable cold snap – and an outside courtyard with more tables that spilled out along the length of the building.

It was nearly lunch time, so many of the tables were filled.  More customers were turning up, all excitedly talking about the shooting of some Atalanta Pictures producer in broad daylight.  Fortunately, the bulk of them wanted indoor seating, so by the time Arnie reached the outer edge of the establishment there were still tables free.

“Mister Maron,” a dulcet voice greeted him cheerfully.  “Welcome back.  Just grab a seat and I’ll be with you in a minute.”  The speaker was a brunette with a not-quite chubby face, a physique that could get a rise from a dead man, and an effervescent personality that bubbled out of her like an endless spring.  She had what some in this burg might describe as star quality.

“Thanks, Irene,” he nodded, touching the brim of his hat in salute.

The waitress smiled in return, a fulsome smile that dimpled her cheeks, before she turned away to clear dishes from one table while taking an order from another.

Arnie’s smile remained as his eyes slid from the waitress to the blonde woman seated with her back to the wall.  She was another who had a quality about her, though there was an incipient hardness about the eyes that threatened to flaw her lustre.  He had seen her the moment he stepped into this side-street and counted the seconds until she finally noticed him.  It had been pleasing when she raised an artful eyebrow and pursed her lips in recognition long before he was standing in front of her.  She had come a long way from the cocksure street-wise frail he’d met in front of another eatery a decade ago.

“How’s it hangin’, old-timer?” the blonde bombshell drawled, her lips twitching slyly, eyes alight with merriment.  “You look like you need a chair.”  The second chair slid out from under the table with a metallic grating sound.  “Take a load off.”

“Don’t mind if I do,” he drawled, drawing the chair round until it too was facing away from the wall.  No matter how strange it looked, there was just no way he could sit with his back exposed to the street.  He dropped his satchel and coat onto a third chair, hooking the strap so that a snatcher would tip the chair before they were able to make off with the bag.

“Nicely done,” she told him.  “Shame the civvie secretary had to be privy, though.”

“No plan is perfect,” he shrugged, watching his favourite waitress undulate her way toward him.

“What can I getcha?” Irene asked, possibly hinting at more than was on the menu.  She had an intoxicating sensuality about everything she did – and she didn’t even seem to realise it.

Arnie ordered a large black coffee and whatever passed for a sandwich in this city.  He looked to Constance, who ordered a light salad.  “With a side of bacon.  Oh, and a side of French-fried potatoes.  With coleslaw.”  The waitress nodded without changing her cheerful expression and turned away.  “And another large coffee.  With milk.”

Arnie hid his growing grin by scratching a non-existent itch.  His fingernails rasped as they encountered a half-days’ worth of stubble.  He could see that Irene was wondering if the ordering was finished.  He watched until she nodded and turned away once more, knowing that there was more to come.  Constance had a bit of a mean streak at times, though she thought it was funny.

“And a big slice of that lovely cherry pie,” Constance added before Irene took more than two steps.  “With cream.”  She smiled beatifically when Irene turned to look at her for a third time.  “A girl’s gotta eat,” she shrugged.  “Thanks a bunch, sweetie.”

Arnie’s eyes were drawn to Irene’s form as she wended her way back to the main door and disappeared inside.  To his great amusement, he noticed that Connie’s own eyes were fixed on the young woman’s jaunty posterior view.  He chuckled.  Connie had a way of making you feel alive.

“Mind out of the gutter, Maron,” she told him, her sharp eyes piercing.  “I’m just enjoying the scenery.”  Her red lips curled upward.  “This is one hell of a town for scenery.”

“Makes no never mind to me.”  He kept his voice light as though they were discussing something inconsequential.  “I was surprised you didn’t break Whitlow’s arm or nose when he was getting a little over familiar.”

Constance shuddered in revulsion at the memory, her eyes darkening.  “Even back before this little earner, before I got smarter about the value of negotiations, I wouldn’t have let that stinky walrus get that close.”  Her knuckles whitened as she gripped the arm of the chair tight.  “I just needed to be absolutely certain before…”

“It’s done, kid,” Arnie jumped in.  There was no need for her to finish that sentence.  He knew what she meant.  She’d seen a lot of death over the last ten years, much of it so alien that the mind just blotted it out in self-defence, but she’d rarely been the direct arbiter of a human life.  Although, her first accidental use of a shotgun had vapourised a man’s head.  He guessed that didn’t really count.  The film producer was a death that she instigated and arranged directly, even if she didn’t actually pull the trigger, so the blood was on her hands.  “I was happy to provide my services.”  He glanced at her from half-closed eyes.  “You played your part swell.  Who knows, you might get to be an actress some day.”

His deadpan delivery elicited laughter.  “Everyone’s a comedian.”

Irene carefully traversed the distance between the main door and their table, a large tray overfilled with precariously balanced plates and mugs.  They watched her approach in companionable silence.

“Okay, folks,” the waitress smiled as she began to deposit the food in front of them.  “Here it is.”  She finished by finding empty spots for the coffee mugs, then stood back and surveyed the table, making sure that nothing was missing.  “Enjoy.”

“I’m sure we will,” Constance answered with a warm smile of her own.

Arnie nodded in agreement and they both waited until Irene left to serve another table before speaking.  “You know she’s an actress, right?” he got in first.

“Aren’t we all, darlin’,” Connie grinned.  “What’s she been in?”  Her eyes narrowed slightly and she cocked her head to consider him.  “And why do you know this?”

Arnie shrugged.  “I’ve been comin’ here for coffee for the last month.  I keep my ears open.”  He took a bite of his sandwich, chewed, then swallowed it with a mouthful of bitter, black coffee.  “That hits the spot.”  He took a second, smaller bite of the fresh bread filled with cheese and piccalilli, chewing slowly to savour the flavour mélange.  When he was certain that Connie had grown impatient enough, he continued to answer.  “She’s been in a few Broadway musicals.  Just supporting roles from what I understand and is heading back to New York early next year.”

Constance appraised the other woman with pursed lips.  “Yeah, I guess I can see it.  If she swings those hips much further, she’ll do someone a mischief.”  The waitress was leaning over chatting to a couple of guys at the furthest table – she seemed quite animated and joyful.  “Looks like she’s found a friend or two, sorry, Arnie.  You’re out of luck.”

“Ah well,” Arnie shrugged.  “Plenty of fish in the sea.”  He hadn’t actually been interested in the woman for that reason, but it wasn’t anything Connie needed to know about.

“She’s quite the angler,” Connie said admiringly.  “If she keeps that up, she’ll have a ring on her finger before she gets back to the Big Apple, and a bun in the oven before she gets back on stage.”

“Is that a bad thing?”

Connie poked him with a sharp and colourful nail.  “Worst thing that can happen to a serious actress.”  She shuddered dramatically.  “It’s a bit hard to audition at all hours for parts when you’ve got a little rugrat draining yer mojo.”  She popped a crunchy piece of bacon into her mouth and chewed it with relish.  “Damn, that’s good.”

Their conversation devolved to a few scattered grunts and groans of enjoyment while they consumed their repast and drank their coffee.  Irene refilled the mugs when Arnie gestured to her, before drifting casually back to the end table to continue her own discussion.

“I can’t believe I was that hungry,” Constance finally sighed, pushing her empty pie plate away after chasing the last of her cream with a finger.  She sucked the finger clean without a hint of embarrassment.  “Yum.”

“It’s a pretty typical response,” Arnie confided.  “Part of the fight or flight system.”  His sardonic grin belied the mischievous sparkle in his eyes.  “If I were even ten years younger, we’d be busy making whoopee right now.”

Her mascara-rimmed eyes widened slightly.  “In your dreams, old man,” she snorted indelicately.  “That’s one Christmas wish you can scratch out.”

Arnie’s teasing grin widened into a full smile.  “Speaking of Christmas, I got a telegram from Malloran.  He’s got another job lined up for the new year and would like to brief us tomorrow.”  Well, the telegram hadn’t actually included Constance.  “I’m catching a private charter flight tonight.  There’s room for one more.”

“Nah, I’ve got a few more leads to work here.  It might take me a while to put them to bed.”  Her eyes flicked toward him and away, almost nervously.  “I might need a bit more help cleaning house though.  Especially if the leads pan out.”

“Anytime, toots,” Arnie agreed amiably.  “You saved my life last year.  It’s the least I can do.”  He meant it too.  If Constance hadn’t turned up when she did, both Delvert and himself would have been chum for the cosmic sharks.

“We’re in it for each other,” Constance shrugged, making light of the event.  “You’ve saved my sweet patootie more than once.”  Her playful tone altered, almost imperceptibly, becoming more casual.  It was almost a study in nonchalance.  If Arnie hadn’t known her so well, especially after the last few months, he might almost have believed it.  “Do you ever regret not putting your name on the letterhead?”

Arnie gave the matter a moment’s thought, then shook his head.  “Nah.  That much exposure could make life in the cleaning business a little too exposed.  I’m happy to work in the shadows – especially when we get paid the same anyway.”  He looked intently at her.  “Do you?”

Connie huffed and waggled her hand from side-to-side.  “Mostly no, but it keeps me up some nights.”  She stared down the street, eyes unfocussed, blind to the pedestrians passing with their armfuls of gaily wrapped parcels.  “I wonder what it would be like to have that name recognition?”

“The people who care already know your name,” Arnie told her quietly, seriously.  “Don’t buy into this ‘name in lights’ malarkey.  This burg eats people up and spits them back out without remorse.  It’s a meat grinder and likely will only get worse.”

“Jeezum, rain on a girl’s parade, why don’t you.”

“You can take the girl out of Kansas…” he laughed.

“Yeah, yeah,” she smiled, making shooing motions.  “I’m still going to make it big.”

Arnie had no doubt that she would.  This deceptively demure chit had more gumption and drive, or ‘piss and vinegar’ as his old sergeant used to say, than many of his old buddies from the war years.  “It’s been five years.  Why now?”

“The stock market crashes, people are taking the long step down to the street, and so many others are left with nothing to show for their life’s work.  Yet here I am with a seemingly rosy future.”

“Malloran’s a shrewd investor.  He’ll have made out like a bandit.”

“He’s certainly not short,” she agreed.  She licked her red lips.  “But he’s not like any businessman I ever met.  Five years ago, out of the blue, he announces that he’s folding Malloran Investigations so that he can open a new agency.  One owned equally by all of us.”

“I remember,” Arnie nodded.  He wondered where this was going.

“I wanted to make my own way, so I couldn’t get my name mixed up in shady shamus shenanigans.  I half expected him to get angry when I rejected the offer.  Hell, I expected to have my retainer stopped and find myself back on the street.”  She sounded bemused.  “Instead, he tells me I’m still a director of the new agency, still going to be paid my equal share, and that he’s proud of me.”

“I know the feeling,” Arnie agreed.  “I was expecting something similar when I refused without giving my reasons.”  He didn’t tend to talk about his cleaning activities with anyone for obvious reasons.  Constance had been the only one he found himself confiding in and he still didn’t know why.  Her lack of judgment of what he did may have had something to do with it.

“So here’s the kicker.”  She leaned toward him, her voice dropping to a whisper.  “He’s already given me a well-paying gig, time to practice my craft, and only expects me to help out on those dangerous investigations that could see my soul being snacked on by some Eldritch Entity with a penchant for pretty actresses, when I’m willing to do so.”

Arnie started to speak, but Constance held up a finger and stopped him.

“Not finished venting yet, pal,” she chided, snorting with amusement when Arnie simply rolled his eyes.  “Anyway, long story short, stock market crash, banks are callin’ in loans hand over fist, and good people are suddenly out on the street.”  Her momentary cheer crumbled and became bleak.

Arnie suddenly had an inkling about where this was headed.  “Your folks?”

Connie nodded, her blonde curls bouncing.  “And my little sis.  Final demand came three days ago.”

Arnie grimaced.  “Tough break, kid.”

“Yeah.  Seems the farm has been in trouble for a while.  Pa never told me.  Too proud.”  She paused momentarily to take a slug of coffee.  “Not that we kept in touch all that much anyway.  He didn’t think much of my lifestyle.  Man, if he knew the truth, he’d disown me.”  She swallowed thickly, her eyes dangerously moist.  “I’d send money home when I could, but I blew most of the rest of it on parties, friends, yada, yada, yada.”  She shrugged helplessly.  “I figured I’d always have enough, but the crash wiped me out too.  I couldn’t help my family when they needed me.”

Arnie was tempted to offer her some of his own money.  He’d never believed in banks or stocks, so he’d invested in property instead – under a variety of assumed names.  It was the easiest way to keep his big paydays under the radar.  Plus, he had cash squirreled away in numerous places for a variety of rainy days.  He resisted the unlikely temptation, knowing that there was an intransigent pride stiffening the beautiful young woman’s backbone.  Adversity builds character, or so his drill sergeant used to say before a Boche bullet got him right between the eyes in mid-rant.  He didn’t say much after that.

“Got a Christmas card yesterday.”

“Oh, yeah?”

“From Santa Claus.”

Arnie felt his eyebrows rise.

“Yup, you heard me.  Jolly old Saint Nick himself wished me a Merry Christmas and said he was sending me my present early this year because so many people needed help to remember the wonder of Christmas magic during this festive season.”

“What kind of present?”  He was now intensely curious.

“A great big manilla envelope.”

“Always useful,” Arnie observed.

“With the deeds to thirty properties in my hometown,” she continued.  “Including my Pa’s.”

Arnie felt as though he’d been sucker-punched.  “Oh,” he said, nonplused.

“Yeah,” she nodded bleakly.  “I wonder who played the role of Santa.”

It definitely wasn’t a question, but Arnie answered anyway.  “Someone with deep pockets who would have bought it for cents on the dollar.”

“What in tarnation do I do now, Arnie?  Pa would die afore acceptin’ charity.  And some of the neighbours are worse.”  She ran hand through her golden hair.  “I’d throw it all back in Corwyn’s face, but I don’t even know it was him, and then my Pa really would be homeless.”  She sounded almost defeated.

“Easy.  Don’t tell him.”  Her big eyes stared at him.  “Your Pa doesn’t have to know how the miracle occurred – just that there was one.  You could send him an official-looking letter telling him that some Angel investor has bought the paper and wants to set the repayments low.”

“I’d be lying to my folks.”

“Not for the first time, I suspect,” Arnie chuckled gently.  He laughed louder when Constance actually blushed.

“You’re a good man, Archibald Niblick Maron,” Constance nodded.  “A good man.”

“Aw hell,” Arnie blustered, feigning annoyance.  “You promised to forget that name.  Hell, we drank so much that night, how do you even remember it?”  He definitely regretted having ‘just one more’ – the hangover had been impressive, but the secrets he’d spilled about his personal life were mortifying.  At least it hadn’t been to anyone else in the agency.  That was a minor blessing.

Connie shrugged lightly.  “Clean living?” she hazarded, making him snort.  “The giggle juice didn’t touch the sides that night and I stayed stone cold sober the whole time.  I don’t think I slept for days afterward.  Those dreams…”  She shuddered for real this time, her tanned skin covered in gooseflesh.

“I hear you.  I thought my nights couldn’t get any worse, boy, was I wrong!”

“I hope Corwyn buried that damned stone twenty fathoms deep.  It was seriously bad news.”

Arnie had to agree with that sentiment.  The presence of the stone had drawn them into some cosmic web with the faceless spider drawing closer, slowly, hungrily absorbing their essential life force.  He had been able to harness his own visceral terror to break his paralysis and chivvy his still ensnared companions into making a break for it just in time.

“That was a nightmare from long ago.  What brought it to mind now?”

“Just a bad feeling,” Constance admitted uncomfortably.  “It’s like everything’s out of whack, slightly hinky, you know?”

The earnest, almost pleading tone made him think about it seriously.  He had been ready with a flippant response but it no longer felt right.  “I do understand the concern, Connie.  There are times when all the joy just leaches out of the world – leaving it grey, befuddled and hopeless.  I had been putting it down to old age, but if you’re feeling it too..?”

“Well, the best we can do is keep our eyes open.”  She closed her eyes, in direct contradiction to her own words, and took a deep steadying breath. When she exhaled, she opened them again and stood.  He followed suit.  “Perhaps mention it to big brain when you get back to Boston.  He might have a theory swimming about in his well of weird.”  She paused in consideration.  “Or maybe it’s just the bad vibes following the ex-Cultist.  Like karma, you know?”  Her nose crinkled as though she’d smelt something bad.  “And what about the way she follows him round with those puppy-dog eyes?  I mean, is anyone buying that snake-oil?”

“Give the girl a break, Constance.  She was brought up in a Cult for Christ’s sake.  They were about to sacrifice her when Brendan bowled on in and interrupted the proceedings.”  The rest of them had joined him after that and managed to subdue most of the members, but they’d been too late to save Maia’s twin.  “It’s no surprise she trusts him the most.”

“Well, I don’t trust her.”  She glared at Arnie.  “Don’t you think it was just a little too convenient that we were able to rescue her and that she came with us willingly?  Her bloody parents were the leaders.  They killed one of their daughters and still managed to get away scot free.”

“The death of her twin snapped her conditioning,” Arnie reminded her.  “Brendan’s sure of that.”

“He’d better be.  I just hope he’s not thinking with his little head.”

“Get the mouth on this one,” Arnie chuckled.

“You know what I mean.”

Arnie nodded.  “I do.  Everyone’s keeping an eye on her.  But she’s earned our trust so far.  And it’s been nearly two years since she joined up to help search for her parents.  Her insight into cult psychology has been particularly useful – especially as they seem to be multiplying like rabbits.”

Constance pursed her lips, then grudgingly agreed.  She abruptly lunged forward and embraced him.

Arnie allowed her to hug him.  He wasn’t a big fan of getting so close to people, never knowing when they’d take the opportunity to stab him in the back, but Constance felt safe for some reason.  He awkwardly joined the embrace and patted her on the back.

“Merry Christmas, Arnie,” she whispered in his ear.  “Don’t get too cold in that Boston snow.”

“Merry Christmas to you too, toots.”  He pulled away and looked into her eyes.  “Keep your head down and your guard up.  The monsters in this burg can seem all too human.”

“Keep in touch, old man, and keep me informed on this new case.  I might find a way to join in once I’m through filming and complete my investigation of Atalanta Productions.”

Arnie twitted her nose and grinned.  “You just want to get back to the studios to see if that frumpy skirt has called you.”

“How did you..?” Constance gasped, momentarily nonplused.

“I may be long in the tooth, kid, but I’m not dead yet.  I caught that jaunty attitude when you left the building.”  She had seemed mighty pleased with herself, he thought, quite the opposite of her usual grim demeanour when he needed to clean up.  “She should be done giving a statement to the local bulls by now.”  He chuckled warmly.  “She probably needs a shoulder to cry on.  So if she has called, it’ll be quite some night.  There’s nothing that spices up a bit of whoopee like a close call with the reaper.”  He tipped his hat to her.  “Go on.  Scarper.  I’ve got a plane to catch.”

Connie touched his face with her long cold fingers and smiled tremulously.  It was at times like this that he remembered how young she really was.  “You think I’ve got a shot?”

“Her loss if she can’t muster the courage.”

“Thanks, Arnie.”  Constance collected herself, nodded crisply, then headed off in a determined manner, head held high.  She looked back at him over her shoulder.  “Thanks for lunch, old man.”

Arnie started.  The little minx had stiffed him with the bill again.  He shook his head in admiration.  He fished his wallet out and pulled a couple of notes free.  He tucked them under a plate and looked around.  Irene caught his eye and made a beeline for the table.  “Thanks, sweetheart.  That really hit the spot,” he said as he headed for the main street.

“I’ll let cookie know,” she nodded pertly, her smile radiating warmth.

“You do that.  Hope the Big Apple treats you better in the New Year.  Your tip’s on the table.  Merry Christmas.”  He saluted casually, a couple of fingers touching the brim of his hat and walked off whistling.

Irene shifted the dishes into a better carrying formation and snagged the money before it blew away.  She glanced down at the notes to make sure that they hadn’t stiffed her, not that Arnie Maron was the type, and her mouth dropped open.  It had to be a mistake.  The five-spot would more than cover lunch and the usual tips.  The hundred-dollar bill though would be enough to cover her living and class expenses for the whole of next year.  She looked up and around trying to spot the old man, but he’d vanished into the milling crowds of shoppers.  His whistled tune hung in the air.

“Merry Christmas, indeed, Irene Marie Dunn,” she told herself, quickly tucking the hundred into a safe place.  “Look out, Broadway, here I come.”  She was so thrilled that she burst into song while collecting the dirty dishes.  The old man’s whistled tune was catchy and popular.  She’d memorised the words when auditioning for Eddie Cantor’s musical comedy play but hadn’t made the cut.  It was a cute song though.  Maybe one day someone like Bing would sing it – that would be swell!

Irene Dunne

Another bride,

Another groom,

Another sunny honeymoon,

Another season,

Another reason

For making whoopee.

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