GERSTL: OLDIES BUT GOODIES SHOW

63,700 words

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OLDIES BUT GOODIES SHOW
A Novel

By Hugo N. Gerstl

©2004 by Hugo N. Gerstl

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In 1984, the Great Communicator, Ronald Reagan, was overwhelmingly re-elected to his second term in the White House. The stock market had started going straight up, but, then again, so had the value of houses, the interest rate, and, in case you’re interested, ladies’ hemlines. It was the year of the Pet Rock, and America’s musical tastes were very much post-heavy metal and prerap. It was the last hurrah of the live D.J. – before the megamonster chains took over the world, before the Internet was widespread, before computers ruled the universe, before there was an AOL or even a Silicon Valley. Heck, it was even before Britney Spears. It was a human fun time. Of course, all that pales in comparison to the really big story of that year. #

Bernie Schwartz -- no, not the one who changed his name to Tony Curtis, that's a different one -- swears it happened this way. In and of itself, that might not put the gold star of credibility on it, but Bernie's mother also swears it happened this way. And who's not going to believe a nice little old Jewish widow who plays canasta every Monday, goes to Hadassah meetings once a month, and sits on the board of trustees of her local chapter of B'nai B'rith Women? It all started on June seventeenth to be exact. At five thirty-five in the afternoon if you're really a stickler for details. Bernie had driven his three year-old Chrysler LeBaron into the driveway of his happy home, a three-bedroom, two-bath, two-story "Holyoke Estates Chief Executive Model," which the builder had advertised, "For those who've made it and want to show they've made it!" Eighteen hundred square feet of superior living space. The kitchen cabinet handles still came off in his hands every so often, the toilet got stopped up twice a month, the wall-to-wall carpeting showed frays on the edges and cut lines in odd places, and the "king sized bath" was too

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3 small, even for his five-foot-seven-inch frame. Never mind, it was home sweet home, even down to the white picket fence. Even down to Harry. During the late seventies, Bernie had aspired to be part of the "in" crowd. Big dogs were "in." Toy poodles and cocker spaniels of the early seventies were out. Golden retrievers, black Labradors, sleek Dalmatians, Irish setters, and those perennial old stand-bys, German shepherds, were choice accoutrements to the wardrobe of any successful Person of Prominence. When Bernie had seen the price of these icons, he gasped once, swore he would never spend five hundred dollars on a dog, and immediately drove to the SPCA. That was three years ago. The result had been Harry. Harry was no one's idea of a sleek puppy, even then. He had looked like a small, shaggy, black-and-white rug with unkempt head and hair in his eyes. He'd matured into a large, shaggy, black-and-white rug with unkempt head and hair in his eyes. When Bernie told the woman at the SPCA that he'd been told a Shepherd would grow up to be smooth and sleek like a Labrador, she'd responded, "But he's not a Shepherd, he's an English Sheep Dog." "What's the difference?" Bernie had shot back. "Take a look. You can see the difference." So Bernie the Yuppie was stuck with Harry the Carpet, and by that time Harry had become a fixture. One that ate a lot. As a result, Phyllis sent Bernie into the postage-stamp sized back yard every Saturday to shovel Harry’s voluminous droppings. As if this weren't enough, Harry cheerfully humped the legs of anyone, male or female, who happened to be a guest in the Schwartz home. Bernie Schwartz was forty-eight. He combed his hair from one side of his head to the other to cover his balding pate, and wore suits a size too small in a vain attempt to hide a middleaged paunch. More than anything else, he resembled a slightly taller Danny DeVito. Bernie was a man of modest, but ingenious, success, whose ship was always "just over the horizon." He was President, Chief Executive Officer and, along with his wife, sole shareholder in Schwartz-America

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Corporation, a company that imported gadgets from Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Korea and Malaysia. Last year, he almost "made a million dollars." He had the exclusive license to sell a key ring you could never lose. If you thought it was missing, you clapped your hands four times and it played "How Dry I Am," or it beeped. The deluxe model did both. The idea had never quite taken off. The year before that, Bernie had "almost" made his fortune with the automatic brownercrisper, which was unconditionally guaranteed to make anything you put into the microwave look like it had really been roasted or fried. Alas, it not only didn't work, it blew up a few customers' microwave ovens before it was recalled. Thank God he'd had insurance! From then on, that was the first bill paid. Bernie wasn't thinking about such near misses as he inserted his key into the front door lock. In fact, Bernie wasn't thinking about much of anything. Although he'd started out with dreams of worlds he'd conquer, by the time he'd hit what sociologists euphemistically call "middle age" -- anywhere between forty and death -- he'd learned that dreams don't come true very often, and that Holyoke Estates was about as far as he realistically could expect to go. And yet, Bernie still believed that if you followed the straight-and-narrow, kept your nose to the grindstone, went to Synagogue twice a year, and were kind to your mother, things would turn out all right. The latter was not always the easiest thing in the world. Bernie sighed as he inserted his key into the front door lock. Tomorrow night they'd have mama over for dinner, just like every Tuesday evening. Then he'd call the following day and get the running commentary on how Phyllis was so skinny, or so pale, or how the house was so messy, or any one of a hundred other little complaints about the woman he'd married. Actually, Phyllis wasn't a bad sort. Slender enough at forty-five, she always worked on what she perceived as her too-small chest and her too-large derriere. Unquestionably his wife had a sharp tongue and seemed to gossip more than she should, but Bernie had learned to accept this over the years. Back when he'd gotten married, the Rabbi had told them both to be a little bit deaf when it came to listening to angry words, and a

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little bit blind when it came to seeing faults in one another. Bernie, always obedient, had swallowed that line and obeyed it as best he could. He was surprised that mama saw so many faults in his wife, but then Jewish mothers are never satisfied. Until the day they die, it's them against any female lucky enough to end up with their precious little boy. As Bernie entered his happy home, Harry came bounding up to the door, slobbering and drooling on the tiny parquet floor. Harry was a good sort, always ready to play, completely, blissfully ignorant of both Bernie's shortcoming and his own. Harry had gas. When the dog got excited, usually when the Master of the House came home, he greeted Bernie with Eau de Harry. It would have been nicer to come home to the smell of a delicious home-cooked meal, but that didn't usually occur nowadays. Not that Phyllis had ever loved to cook, but lately when Bernie asked what she'd made for dinner, her response was, "Reservations." Or that she'd made a telephone call to the sushi restaurant, the vegetarian bistro, or the new "California cuisine" place about a mile from where they lived. After petting Harry, Bernie walked the three steps through the "Executive Foyer" -- not much of an excuse for a formal entry hall -- and stopped in his tracks. His wife Phyllis looked positively radiant -- and held onto the arm of a six-foot-tall, blond-haired, blue-eyed Aryan a good ten years younger than Bernie. "Phyllis?" was all he could say. Bernie had never been known for his conversational panache. "Hi, Bernie," she replied, smiling sweetly. "This is Georgie." "Hi, champ!" The hulking poster-model-come-to-life reached over and crunched Bernie's delicate little hand in his apelike paw. Bernie winced. Mama'd always said how beautiful his hands were and how he should have been a professional musician. "What is this all about?" Bernie recovered his composure. "Georgie and I are in love," Phyllis said, giggling like a schoolgirl. She reached up the

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hulk's muscular arm and linked it through her own. "You're what????" "Georgie's brought me new life." "But you weren't even dead yet!" "Georgie's such a warm, loveable, sweet little teddy-bear. He wanted to be here with me when we told you." The ox stood there grinning. Bernie began to intuit that whatever else Georgie was, he wasn't supplied with an overdose of gray matter. "Did it ever occur to you that you and I are married?" Bernie blurted out in stunned shock. "That we've been married for twenty-one years?" "Of course it's occurred to me, darling. Lots of people have little affairs on the side. That's the modern way." She winked coyly at Georgie. The blond man looked from one to the other, grinned sheepishly, and said nothing. Bernie didn't know what he felt at that moment. He was hurt, angry, betrayed, humiliated. Yet, Bernie was a gentle man, "a nice Jewish boy," his mother had so often said. He stared down at the floor numbly, noticing how the grains of one parquet block ran perpendicular to those of its neighbor. Phyllis finally broke the silence. "Let's face it, Bernie, the past few years have been dullsville around here. All you seem to know is the rabbinical position ...." "Missionary!" "Whatever. A girl needs a little change once in a while. Variety is the spice of life." "But you never told me you were dissatisfied." "I want some excitement." She reached up, pulled Georgie's head down, and nibbled at his neck. "Awww, that tickles," the hulk said. "Are you telling me I'm not as interesting as Mister Excitement over there? Lest you forget, Phyllis, twenty-five years ago I was in the entertainment business. I almost produced a hit

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record! We could have made millions!" "What hit record? Twenty-five years ago, you got four Black kids together, spent a couple of bucks in a dilapidated recording studio, and paid to have your own records pressed because you couldn't get anyone to buy that would-be hit. One hundred copies. Big deal. To me that is not a hit record. And it is certainly not excitement, any more than having dinner once a week so your mother can spend the next few days running me down." "That's not fair. Mama's an old lady." "Bernie, Bernie, Bernie," she sighed impatiently. "You're not getting the point. You're a nice guy, a sweet guy, but that's not enough. I want romance, far away places with strange sounding names, making love in the back seat of a convertible." "But what about your hot flashes?" "Screw the hot flashes, Bernie! I want someone who worships the ground I walk on, someone whose idea of sex goes beyond a perfunctory `Are we gonna' do it tonight, babe?' Someone whose idea of foreplay goes beyond twenty minutes of begging and pleading." "And ... and Horst over here can give that to you?" "Georgie. And yes, he can. We're leaving on a round-the-world voyage tomorrow morning!" "Where are you getting the money for all these fun-and-games?" "I used a hundred thousand of your United frequent flyer miles. That'll get us as far as the Orient. From there, it's `The World on Five Dollars a Day!'" "But, Phyllis, you're a Jewish American Queen, for God's sake. Jewish American Queens do not live in tents!" "Bernie, any woman can be happy living in a tent, provided she sleeps in that tent with the sheikh of her dreams." "You've got to be kidding." "Never more serious in my life. Look on the bright side, Bernie. Think of all the fun you

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can have while I'm away. Open marriage and all that." "I'd never think of something like that. Most people at least go through the nicety of filing for a civilized divorce." "Divorce, schmivorce! Who the hell said anything about divorce? I just want a little time away to clear my head." "What about Harry?" "What about Harry?" "Don't you have any feeling for his ... his feelings?" "Harry's a gassy, horny mutt. He's always been your pal, not mine. I'm sure the two of you can make beautiful music together while I'm gone." "How long will you be gone, Phyllis?" "Who knows? When I come back, then I'll know. Life's got to be lived for today!" Bernie looked over at the towheaded block of concrete who was his competition. His initial shock gave way to anger, then resignation. He made mental comparisons between himself and Georgie. "C'mon, champ, be a sport, OK?" The incongruity of this blockheaded statement hit him with a wallop. If this is what Phyllis wants .... Suddenly Bernie smiled. "Why not?" If she could do it, maybe this was the modern way. He'd read somewhere that the Germans had fasching once a year when all marriage bets were off. He'd have to be very discreet, of course. That evening started the whole thing. Maybe it would have happened even if Phyllis hadn't have left. But you'd never convince Bernie of that.

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They say that things somehow always work out for the best. Bernie could never figure out who they were, although he'd seen a funny Gary Larson cartoon about it once. When Bernie arrived at his office on September fourth, he was surprised to see Phyllis's big, blond hulk waiting for him. "Georgie. To what do I owe this pleasure? Has your lover deserted you?" "In a manner of speaking. That's why I'm here, champ." Again with the comradely "champ." All that muscle and a brain to match. "How so?" Bernie asked. "Maybe you better sit down, Mister Schwartz. Maybe I'd better sit down." Bernie's presidential chambers were utilitarian, not elegant. Although his executive chair was comfortable enough, the two chairs that faced him across his desk were dated Danish modern, leftovers from when Phyllis had gone on to another style at home. "O.K. We're both down. Now, you wanted to tell me something about my wife?" "Well, you know how vivacious Phyllis is -- was?" "We're talking about the same person? Phyllis Levinthal Schwartz?" "Yeah. By the way, champ, while you were with her, did you find that she talked a lot?" "Endlessly." "I thought you'd say that. You know, she never stops -- never stopped -- talking?" Yes, thought Bernie, and if you don't get on with what you have to say, neither will you. "Well, champ, it seems that when we were in China, up by the Mongolian border, Phyllis got interested in the regional ping-pong championships they were having there." "Don't tell me," Bernie said. "She ran off with one of the warlords of the ping-pong world?" "No, we weren't with any warlords. We were ..."

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"I know. In China, up near the Mongolian border. Go on, Georgie." "OK, champ. Where was I?" Bernie began to think that he'd found proof positive that certain matter -- Georgie's head, for example -- was denser than lead. "A ping-pong tournament, in China?" "Oh, yeah. Anyway, Phyllis volunteered to referee the finals match. They thought it would be a big thing, an American and all, even though she didn't know the first thing about the game. Well, all she did was chatter away during the whole match. Did she talk a lot when she was with you?" "Yes, Georgie, we've been over that already," Bernie said patiently. "She never stopped talking. I was always surprised that any human being could go on so long without stopping for breath." "Come to think of it, she never closed her mouth much during our whole trip. Anyway, she kept chattering away, and the two Chinamen who were playing the match jabbered back at her in Chinese. I think they told her to shut up or something. You can't ever tell with those guys. They rattle on in that funny language of theirs and who in the world can understand them? I mean, you'd think after all this time they'd learn to speak English like real people." Bernie stifled a yawn. His mother got to the point of stories faster than this ape-man with brain to match. Georgie's train of thought was obviously derailed. "You said you were at a pingpong match?" "Oh, yeah. Well, after the jabbering died down, they started playing again. Phyllis kept talking. The Chinamen kept getting madder and madder. Finally, one of them slammed a pingpong ball in her direction. Now nobody's gonna' get hurt by a little ping-pong ball, no matter how hard it's hit. But old Phyllis, her eyes opened as wide as saucers and her mouth opened even wider. Damned if the little ping-pong ball shot right into her mouth, jammed in her throat and choked her. Died right there, she did." "What???? What did you say???"

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"Choked on the goddam ping-pong ball. Just like that, keeled over and died. The Chinamen jabbered a little bit more, then they figured there wasn't much more they could do. They asked me to referee the rest of the game. Well, there wasn't much I could do about Phyllis either, and it was awfully quiet for a change. I figured I might as well officiate, 'cause she wasn't about to complain in her condition, if you know what I mean. Anyway, they started playing their game again. The smaller guy won, twenty-one seventeen. You ever play ping-pong Mister Schwartz?" "No, Georgie," Bernie said, as politely as his shock would allow. The big Aryan, who was never going to be a serious threat either to Sylvester Stallone, or, for that matter, to J. Fred Muggs, the chimp who’d been on TV back in the fifties, went on talking, completely oblivious to Bernie's wide-eyed stare. "After that, we all drank some of their joy juice. We even toasted her life. Not that she was in any shape to join in, you understand." As Georgie droned on, Bernie thought, "this has got to be the stupidest human being that ever walked the face of the Earth." Then he thought, "that line has already been used in the movie `Ruthless People.'" Aloud he said, "My God, what about her -- her remains?" "There wasn't any ice available. Everyone said she'd smell pretty ripe by the time we got her back to Beijing, so I went along with their idea of cremating her remains. When they got done, they gave me a pretty china pot, kind of a purple color, and they said, `Well, here's your friend. Thanks for refereeing the game. Your were a good sport.' After that, I figured she wouldn't do either of us any good, so there was no great hurry to get her back. You'd be proud of me, champ. I sent her back to you C.O.D. Don't worry, though, it'll only cost you fifty bucks." "Fifty dollars? You couldn't have brought her -- what's left of her remains -- back with you? I mean, how much extra would it have cost? You could have packed her with your carry-on luggage!" "To tell you the truth, I didn't think of it at the time. I'd bought one of those fancy Chinese carpets and there just wasn't any extra room."

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12 "Let me get this straight, Georgie. My wife took you around the world. She died while

she was with you. You're sending her remains back. And you expect me to pay for this -- her??? C.O.D. yet?" "I suppose you could refuse. You'll have plenty of time to decide." "What do you mean?" "The captain agreed to take her as far as the coast. He said his brother was a crewman on a coastal freighter that was going as far as Thailand. He thought the brother's cousin might be able to smuggle the jug aboard a cattle boat bound for Sri Lanka." Georgie went on and on. If everything worked out just right, various relatives would eventually move the cargo to the Arabian peninsula, around the coast of Africa, eventually crossing to Brazil. "But that could take six years!" "So? What possible use would she be to us in her present shape? She'll get the chance to finish her world cruise, and you don't have to pay the fifty bucks 'til she gets here." "You're talking about a living, breathing woman, my wife!" "Not anymore, champ. Unless you think of her in terms of powdered milk or powdered eggs. I doubt if she'd look much like she did, even if you added water." He laughed loud and long at his heavy-handed humor. "Say, champ, you don't happen to have a Coke or something to drink?" Bernie was thankful for the idiotic request. It gave him the opportunity to stand up, walk around, and get the circulation going. His feelings were mixed. Duty told him he must grieve for the woman who'd been his companion -- such as that companionship had been -- for the last two decades. Guilt cast its vote right alongside duty. But there were two dissenting opinions, relief and Martin Luther King. Martin Luther King? Yes, the guy who'd said, "Free at last, free at last, thank God a'mighty, I'm free at last!" Bernie returned from the coffee room with a can of Coca Cola and a Styrofoam cup. The gargantuan blond took the can, popped the lid, and downed the beverage in one quick session.

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Then he crushed the can in his palm. "Sorry I had to be the one to break the news to you, champ. It's a hard job, but someone had to do it. Thanks for the Coke, and by the way, you shouldn't use Styrofoam cups. Economically unsound." "Ecologically, Georgie." "What?" "Ecologically unsound." "Whatever. Anyway, I've got to be going. Thanks again, champ." # After Georgie left, Bernie thought back to the good times he and Phyllis had had together. He had to admit that they'd been few and far between during the past several years. After half an hour, having given due silent tribute to the departed, he stood up and paced from one end of his office to the other. Fifteen paces heel-to-toe, the same from side to side. The pictures on the wall were prints of Oriental modern art. Refugees from his living room. Phyllis's living room. Handme-downs, he thought. For the last fifteen years, my office -- my castle -- has been furnished by hand-me-downs from Phyllis's home. His wife -- his late wife -- had fancied herself an interior decorator. With nothing better to do in her life, she insisted on her right to furnish her husband's office, to substitute her taste for his, since "women always know more about these things than a man." His executive chair and desk had been the only things he'd selected. Massive, solid, manly oak. The chair was rich, black leather. When you sank into it, it enveloped you, protected you. Phyllis had hated the set. Now, with Phyllis out of the way -- er, deceased -- she'd never come to his office twice a week again. She would never bitch about how nothing matched again. Matching chairs, he thought. I want a pair of chairs and a sofa to match my executive set. Dammit, I may just get one at that! But can we afford it?

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As if an inanimate object could read his mind, the telephone jarred him from his reverie. "Bernie? Sam here." "It's not April fifteenth or anywhere near it. Why would my favorite accountant call me today of all days? Before you get started, I think you should know, I learned about an hour ago that Phyllis died." "Oh, my God, Bernie, I'm so sorry. I didn't know." "I'll try to bear up under it. Would you believe, her goddam boy friend was the one who told me?" "Gee, Bernie, I don't know what to say." "How about giving me some good news for a change?" "Sorry, Bernie. The quarterly financials are in. They're pretty grim. Do you have any new products in the fire? Something that could give us a leg up on sales for the Christmas season? What a friend we have in Jesus and all that?" He chuckled at the oldest Jewish merchant's joke in America. "How bad is `grim?'" "You'll survive, but it could be beans and tortillas for a while. How about cutting costs? You're carrying a helluva lot of insurance. I hate to sound ghoulish at a time like this, but Phyllis isn't around any more, you haven't got kids. Who're you gonna' leave things to?" "Sam, don't start that again. You know how I feel about insurance. That's the last thing to go." Suddenly a shaft of realization shot through Bernie Schwartz like a lightning bolt. He felt dizzy. The "Hallelujah Chorus" from Beethoven's Ninth went through his head. "Sam?" "Yeah, Bernie?" "Did we carry any insurance on Phyllis's life?" "Of course. She was the chairman's wife." "Are the premiums current?"

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"Uh-huh. We pay 'em once a year." Bernie's eyes took on a strange glow. Like a starving cat put in a cage full of fat, arthritic mice. "Who's the beneficiary?" "You are, of course. We built it into the corporate buy-out, remember?" "How much insurance?" "Five hundred thousand – half a million dollars. Bernie? Bernie? Is something the matter, Bern? Bernie?" "`Bye, Sam." Bernie's face broke into a broad grin. Five hundred thousand big ones! He felt like shouting to the world, “I'm rich! I'm rich and I'm free! Ho-ly shit!” But that would have been unseemly for the President, Chief Executive Officer and sole surviving shareholder in SchwartzAmerica, Inc. And a widower to boot. He walked over to a humidor he kept at the side bar of his office. It was strictly for show. He invariably offered a cigar to Shiro Hayakawa, Park On Kee, or whatever other poo-bah Asian businessman traipsed through his offices. A big shot -- a real big shot -- invariably smoked a cigar. A Havana, no less! Forgetting that he didn't smoke, doing his best to imitate Zero Mostel in "The Producers," he clipped the end, lit it, and took a hearty drag on the cheroot. And almost ended his own life. His eyes went green, his face went greener, and his lungs exploded in a most undignified, unsophisticated, unexecutive manner. He'd never be able to carry off that part of being a successful rich man. So he settled for the next best thing. He leaned back in his black leather executive swivel armchair -- soon to have two matching friends who'd repose on the other side of the desk -turned around and looked out the window, surveying the kingdom over which he reigned, a scruffy, half-filled parking lot, with a three-year-old Chrysler in the President's space. Five hundred thousand dollars, eh? That would pay for vertical blinds, some nice, green plants to shade his view from the parking lot, and something a little more Bernie than an aging

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imitation Cadillac.

Bernie had serious business to attend to. He grinned as he got into his car. Serious business with one sonofabitch who deserved it. Insurance companies erect the biggest, grandest buildings in the United States. Modern, glassed-in edifices proclaiming elegance and money. Money from millions of little people who plunk down their premiums and bet the company they'll kick off before they've paid ten percent of their contracted-for premiums. The fact that the insurance companies, and not the little guys, own the huge, modern buildings testify eloquently to who usually wins the bet. As P.T. Barnum used to say, "There's a sucker born every minute." But insurance salesmen, that's something else again. Usually they operate out of a storefront, on commission. Joe Hutchinson was no exception to the rule. The fading sign outside his office showed the symbol of the company which owned his soul, and the words, "Hutchinson & Associates, Insurance Agents -- Life, Health, Casualty. Bail Bonds. Notary Public." Big deal. Joe Hutchinson, "your friendly insurance man, Bernard, always ready to help a friend," didn't seem quite as friendly as he'd always been when Bernie announced he was here to sign papers to collect on an insurance policy. "Hmmm," Joe said. "Of course, Bernard, now that you'll be a wealthy man, you'll want to increase your own policy?" "Not a chance, Joe." "Well, then, we'll want to invest the benefits from Phyllis's policy prudently, won't we, Bernard?" Hutchinson was the kind of man who always called Bernie by his formal name. What was worse, he generally repeated the name several times during each conversation. Ten years ago, he'd taken an insurance sales course where they taught him that someone's name was the nicest sound that person could hear. Besides, if he used it enough, he'd never forget that mark's -er, prudent insurance buyer's -- name. Bernie hated his given name. He'd always found Joe's

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habit particularly annoying. For that matter, he'd always found Joe particularly annoying. He had told Hutchinson, at least fifty times, "Just call me Bernie, Joe, will ya'?" But the blockhead had never learned, and it had become progressively more difficult to deal with the man. Bernie had wanted to get rid of Hutchinson for years, but the insurance salesman was Phyllis's cousin. Today, Bernie was about to get even. "As I was saying, Bernard," the insurance man continued, "we can invest in Universal Mutual's Variable Appreciable Annuity product, which gives us a choice of mutual funds, real estate, aggressive stocks, money markets." "What do you mean `we,’ Joe?" Bernie asked archly. "Are you planning on investing with me?" "Heh, heh, heh, a little figure of speech, Bernard. What I'm talking about, Bernard, is a way of preserving the equity you've worked so hard to achieve. Put something of that windfall -I'm sorry, that was a harsh choice of words for a time like this. What I mean is, you should think of a way of perpetuating Phyllis's memory by a program designed to enhance the value of the benefits. So many people see insurance proceeds as tax free money all at once. They squander it on the most ridiculous things, Bernard. Wine, women, song, insane business ventures. Someone who's just come into a lot of unexpected money is a sitting duck for every salesman that ever lived." "Quack, quack." "What?" "Nothing, Joe. Private joke. You said that someone who's just come into a lot of unexpected money is a sitting duck for every salesman that ever lived." "Indeed I did, Bernard." "Yourself excluded, of course?" "Of course." The insurance salesman was oblivious to the irony in Bernie's tone. Hutchinson and Georgie might have made a good pair of bookends.

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"I'll give your proposals due consideration, Joe. How soon can I pick up the check?" "The check? I thought we'd agreed to invest it in the Variable Appreciable Annuity, Bernard, let it stay in there and grow." "When can I pick up the check, Joe?" The insurance man's voice turned cool. "I imagine it would take several weeks to obtain statements that Phyllis truly is deceased, to file a proof of loss, verify signatures, things like that. Of course, if we invested you in the V.A.I. now, I'd call the company and we could get these things started right away, contact the American Embassy, and handle everything posthaste. You could be invested in a week at most." "That's just what I want you to do, Joe. Call the company right now. Use my credit card if you want. Have them start the wires buzzing. And when the week goes by and your company has all the proof it wants, I want the proceeds from the policy wired into my First National checking account. I'll pay all the wire charges. I believe the law says that interest runs on the proceeds from the policy at ten percent per annum from the day they become due. I'm sure that as a prudent agent of your very prudent company you'd like to save them that extra expense, which calculates out to about twenty-five-hundred dollars per month." "But Bernard, that's not our normal business practice." "It's mine. Do I make myself reasonably clear, Joe?" The insurance salesman blinked rapidly several times. Then he smiled his most ingratiating smile. "Of course, Bernard. As I've always said, I'm your friendly insurance agent, always ready to help a friend. Would you consider, perhaps, extended coverage on the added inventory you'll no doubt be purchasing, Bernard?" "Can it, Joe, OK? Bernie's the name -- B-E-R-N-I-E -- and cash is the game. I expect the money will be in my account at the earliest possible moment." After he left Joe's office, Bernie did something he hadn't done in as long a time as he could remember. He took the afternoon off and went around to selected car dealers. Habit

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propelled him to the Chrysler dealership, where he quickly discarded the thought of buying a Plymouth Voyager ("a mini-van for one person and a dog?") or a Chrysler LeBaron ("nice, very nice, but it would simply perpetuate my present image"), His innate ethnicity and sense of value drove him to the foreign car dealers. The Honda Civic was priced right and got forty miles to the gallon. That made a lot of sense. But wait a minute here, he was going to be a half-millionaire. He didn't need to worry about that kind of stuff anymore. Besides, he'd read that those little cars were downright dangerous. His conscience troubled him. Maybe Joe was right, maybe when a fool gets money he is parted from it very quickly. It took less than two minutes for a jolly, likeable little devil to kick the shit out of the little figure of Jiminy Cricket that Bernie perceived as his conscience. "Bernie," the little devil said. "You've been small time all your life, pinching pennies while the broad you were married to spent it all. It's time you thought of yourself for a change. You're such a damned goody-two-shoes you didn't even want to spend a few hundred bucks to get yourself the right kind of dog, for God's sake. Oops, did I take the Deity's name in vain? Anyway, where was I?" "You were talking about dogs," Bernie replied. "Yeah. As I was saying, this time why not do it up right? What have you got to lose, your virginity? Heh, heh, heh. Inside joke. Listen, Bernie, a man like you wants to be a somebody, right? That means you buy a prestige car, a Cadillac, a Lincoln, a -- dare I say it? -- a MERCEDES." "Jews don't buy that kind of car." "Bullshit." "I'll look, but I don't promise anything, OK?" "That's all I ask, Bernie. That's all I ask."

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20 3

For the first ten days after he'd received the news about Phyllis's death, Bernie wrestled with his conscience. He was a recent widower. He knew he'd soon come into unexpected wealth, but the money wasn't here yet. Memories of Phyllis continued to fade in and out. Memories. And loneliness. Freed from the bonds of matrimonial constancy, Bernie still found it difficult to frequent the "meat markets" of the city. Another two weeks went by. Bernie never got up the nerve to hit on anyone. Harry's luck was no better. Harry was the first of the two to come home with a girl friend. Alas, it was a Chihuahua. No future in that. Dinner with mama expanded to three times a week. He read a lot. He took Harry on lots of walks. He'd heard somewhere that a dog was the "Open Sesame" to introductions to the opposite sex. But Harry, God love him, was not sleek. He slobbered and he smelled decidedly doggy. As time went on, Harry abandoned his normally docile personality and decided that he was responsible for Bernie's well being. That meant if anyone -- particularly female anyones -approached Bernie, they got a most inhospitable growl. If Harry wasn't getting any, why should his master? One day, Bernie treated himself to a stereo set, a really good one that he bought wholesale from a friend who had a friend in the business. It had one of those snazzy dual cassette recorders where you could make a tape of yourself and then record over the top of what you'd already recorded. Sing along with Bernie. That got boring after a while, particularly since Harry could invariably be heard howling in the background. And always, the sheep dog was off key. 'Way off key. Harry was great company. Mama was great company. But it was not enough.

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21 #

Bernie looked around his mother's apartment, which housed so many memories. Bookends made from his first pair of shoes -- bronzed, of course. A hammered copper ashtray he'd made in junior high school metal shop. A yellowed print of five-year-old Bernie Schwartz in knickers. Knickers, for God's sake! He smiled involuntarily. That photograph had embarrassed him for as long as he could remember. Yet it held the key to what was so different between mama's home and Phyllis's house. Phyllis had always insisted on modern, modern, modern. Spare, teak furniture. When that went out of fashion, she brought in chrome and glass – lots of it. Japanese prints with strange, unrecognizable figurines. No personal touches at all. By contrast, mama's apartment was a happy mishmash of overstuffed furniture, easy chairs, an old oak coffee table, end tables, and myriad lamps that never quite matched. For all the mess, it was more comfortable than his Executive Home had ever been, even though mama always kept the temperature hovering as near to eighty as she could get away with. "Did you hear me, Bernie? I'm talking to you." "Yes, ma, I heard you." Bernie the dutiful son listened with the patience of a saint, which, for a Jewish boy, isn't that easy. "Look, Bernie, she's been gone a month now. She's not coming back. Take my word for it, would I lie to you? Your own mother lies to her son? Better I should get hit by a garbage truck." "But ma, I just don't think it's right." "What do you mean it's not right? Sharon Gordon is a beautiful, lonely widow. She's forty-two, just the right age for you. Her kids are grown. She's a real gem. And a figure? My God, I wish I'd have a figure like her, not that I didn't when I was her age." "Ma, I'm not looking to meet a wife, OK? I'm still grieving, for God's sake."

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22

"Yes, but for how long? Why don't you at least travel like she did? Go off to India or Turkey or the Belgian Congo ..." "It's not the Belgian Congo, Ma. They changed the name years ago." "Whatever. Don't talk back to your mother. Not that I mean to speak badly of the departed, Bernie, but I told you from day one, she was a strange one with funny ideas. You wouldn't listen. Big shot Bernie. Had to go and marry Phyllis Levinthal." "You liked her at the time." "I pretended I liked her. After all, you were happy and all I've ever wanted was your happiness. So you didn't give me grandchildren, it's no big deal. Everyone at the B'nai B'rith shows me pictures of their grandchildren. Some of the old ladies even have great grandchildren. And what have I got to show? Nothing." "Ma, it's not necessary to go through that again. You know Phyllis didn't want children. All I said is that I don't want to date another woman yet." "Who said anything about date? You should meet this woman, that's all. Just like you'd meet a new customer, or like you'd meet one of your son's girl friends, you should only have a son to bring home a girl friend." "Somehow, I get the feeling meeting this Sandra ..." "Sharon." "Whatever, Sharon. I get the feeling this would be something different than meeting the butcher at the supermarket." "What do I know from such things? You meet one another. Maybe have dinner once or twice. Talk a bit. Play the piano. How long has it been since you touched the piano?" "Months, mama. Maybe even years. You know that. Don't start hassling me about that, too." "Ten years I gave you lessons. With Hortense Knox yet. Twenty dollars for a fortyminute lesson, when everyone else's mother is paying sixteen-fifty for a full hour. But no, I

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23

wanted my son to have only the best. You think I don't know you didn't really practice? You came home and flipped through the pages once and then you told me and your father, may he rest in peace, that you'd practiced an hour. No wonder all you wanted to do was play that Negro music." "Black music. For God's sake, they're human beings just like us. And it was good stuff, ma. That was the very beginning of rock and roll." "It should have rocked itself over and rolled into a graveyard. Noise is what it was. I don't know why you kids couldn't have enjoyed good music like your father and me." "Because Guy Lumbago was no longer hot stuff." "Lombardo." "Whatever. Look, we had our heroes just like you. Elvis Presley, Chubby Checker, Fats Domino, LaVerne Baker. The kids today have a different set." "That isn't even music they have today." "On that we agree." "Bernie, listen to your poor old mother. What would it hurt you to meet this lady? She's lonely like you. She's a widow. She's got nothing to do at night any more than you do. What've you got to lose?" "My virginity?" "You'd talk like that to your mother? I ought to wash your mouth out with soap. "Don't rush me, Ma. Let me think about it, OK? After all, I'm still a married man." He looked at his watch. "Oh, my gosh," he said nervously. "It's nine-thirty. I left Harry in the house most of the day. He'll explode if I'm not home in ten minutes to walk him." "You'll think about what I said?" "Yeah, yeah. G'night mama." She turned her cheek so he could kiss her. In that respect, mama and Phyllis were very much alike.

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24 #

Surprisingly -- shockingly -- mama was right when she'd said Sharon was a "find." She was five-feet-one, with dark, curly hair, and a figure that was certainly more than adequate. She had an attractive, earthy unpretentiousness. Let's face it, Bernie, she's one helluva sexy girl. Bernie couldn't help thinking of her as a "girl." After all, he was a regular "guy." Sharon didn't look a day over thirty-five. Nice boobs. Why was it he couldn't bring himself to say "breasts" without getting a hard-on? Good old Jewish-American guilt, that's why. Mama always referred to her "bust" or "that woman's bazooms," or, "Phyllis has such a small chest." It didn't take Bernie long to learn that Sharon was a great cook. All the nice Jewish stuff that Phyllis had never bothered to learn to make. Cholesterol city, but what a pleasure! Sharon seemed interested in everything he had to say. She listened when he talked about the business, made a tactful suggestion here or there, encouraged him to rebuild his office in a way that would make him happy -- after all, if he had to live there eight hours a day, why shouldn't it give him pleasure? It wasn't long before Bernie started making comparisons in his head. Sharon beat out the rapidly receding memories of Phyllis every time. Harry adored her. And she and mama got along just fine. At the end of the month, Sharon's youngest son, Darren, a handsome, slender fellow, who partied a lot, drank a lot of beer, and undoubtedly was making it with a lot of young co-eds -Bernie hid his jealousy very well -- went off to university where he'd determined to major in telecommunications and film --TCF, the coming career for the mid-eighties and beyond. Bernie and Sharon started having dinners alone. Evenings alone. One thing led to another. Before Bernie knew it, the kissing started. First it was nothing more than a goodnight peck on the cheek. Then it was real kissing. The bells were starting to

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25

ring and the fireworks were starting to explode, but every time he tried to go farther, Sharon politely but firmly pulled his groping hand away. "Why, for God's sake?" Bernie panted, almost nightly. "Because we both need time, that's why." "What do you mean? We've done everything but." "A few kisses is not `everything but.' As long as there's still the `but,' I'm true to my own morality." "You mean you don't want it?" "More than anything, Bernie. I've been two years without a man. I need it as much as you. I'm not saddled with the hang-up that sex is dirty or wrong. It's just it's not time for us yet." "Why don't you think about my feelings?" he wailed. "That just what I'm doing, you sweet man," she said. "But even when she was alive, Phyllis as much as told me I was fool if I didn't play around." "Then go ahead. Play around, my dear. But not with little Sharon. This here's serious stuff." "So am I." "That's what all you men say. But that thing sticking up under your pants speaks louder and more eloquently than any of the words you speak, my knight in shining armor." He looked down, embarrassed. "So what do you suggest?" "Saltpeter. Or a nice, cold shower." # Harry had tolerated Phyllis. He loved Sharon. When Sharon curled up in Bernie's arms on the sofa, Harry concluded that what this happy relationship needed most was not sex, but rather a lap dog. Sixty-five pounds worth. When Bernie shoved Harry onto the floor, the dog minded not at all. He simply curled up at their feet and went to sleep.

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Sharon rearranged the furniture in Bernie's living room. It seemed hard to believe that with just a few touches -- the addition of The Joys of Yiddish on the coffee table, three or four bulky throw pillows, an odd snapshot here and there -- Sharon had made the place seem so much warmer. One evening, the kissing became passionate enough that Sharon sensed her control slipping. Of a moment, she stood up and tried to lighten the subject. "Your mom told me you play piano," she said, huskily. Bernie colored. "I used to play piano. I haven't touched it for years." "I'd love to hear you." "You'd only laugh. Besides, I don't even know what I'd play." "Anything would be just fine. I've always loved the piano." "I hated it. My mom sent me to Hortense Knox for years. Miss Knox. She was very certain we all knew that. Not Missus or Mizz. It was Miss Knox, and you damn well better not forget it. I think she was a Lesbian." Sharon giggled. "How could a young boy of tender years have known that?" "I didn't at the time. I just hated it when I had to come home from school every day and practice the goddam piano when I could've been out doing something else." "Such as?" "What we were just on the way to doing." "Be serious." "I don't know. There are always so many `such as's' when you're fourteen." "When did you start playing pop music?" "How did you know that?" "A little bird told me." "More likely an old hen." "That's no way to talk about your mother."

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27

"Whose side are you on, anyway?" "When did you start?" "About the time I was fifteen. I started my own band." "Do you miss it?" "The band?" "The band, playing piano, the whole thing?" She ruffled what was left of his hair affectionately. "I don't know. I've never given it much thought. All I can think of when I sit at the piano is suffering through Czerny, Chopin and Rachmaninoff." "Your mom said you made records." "A record -- as in one. It's funny, though. That I truly miss. I guess everyone dreams of some kind of fame. That was my dream. I was twenty-three at the time, and I'd never even been in a recording studio. I saved my money for weeks -- heck, they only charged fifteen dollars an hour back then -- got a group together ...." His eyes clouded over and suddenly he was a much younger Bernie. "You know, they played happy music back then. It had a beat, it didn't make a lot of sense, but it was a happy sound. No messages. And they could put you deep into an `echo chamber' at the flip of a switch. It sounded so great, so alive!" Sharon looked at him and saw an inner sweetness, an innocence that years of living had not taken away. Bernie continued, "OLDIES BUT GOODIES SHOW, that was the name of the record. We thought our fortunes were made." He sighed, wistfully. "But that was long ago -- another lifetime ago." "Do you have a copy of it?" Sharon asked. "Somewhere, packed away among my memories," he said. "I suppose my mother has a copy as well. As far as I know, they're the only two copies left on the face of the earth." "Why don't you play something for me?" she said, subtly changing the subject.

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"What'll you do for me if I do?" "Give you a kiss, maybe. Or make you a nice dinner." "That's all?" "Depends on how good a pianist you are." Bernie sat down and ran his fingers over the keys. The piano sounded much richer and his fingers seemed more supple than usual. He tried a few chords, swung into "Begin the Beguine," and then started banging out "The Twist." "Not too shabby, Sir," Sharon said, smiling. "Not too shabby at all. Can you play `"Til?'" "That old song by the Angels? Sure. Incidentally, I'll have you know that I called my group `The Angels' years before I ever heard 'Til." He started playing the slow broken-triplet in C-major, the easiest key in which to fake it. After he'd played the first chorus, Sharon asked, "Do you mind if I sing?" "Of course not," Bernie said gallantly. "Be my guest." As Sharon sang, Bernie melted. Her voice was naturally warm, throaty and husky, her phrasing unbelievably seductive. But there was also a piquant, very special, little-girl timbre as well. Bernie was hypnotized as he accompanied her and she spun out the words. "'Til ... the moon deserts the sky, 'til all the seas run dry, 'til then I'll worship you. 'Til ... the tropic sun turns cold, 'til this young world grows old, 'my darling, I'll adore you ..." He felt cold chills run up as spine as she soared into the bridge. "You ... are my reason to live, all my love I would give just to have you adore me. 'Til the rivers flow upstream, 'til lovers cease to dream, 'til then I'm yours -- be mine."

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29 Bernie had never played piano as well, or as tenderly, in his life. It seemed as if his fingers

were lifted to new dimensions by the sound of her magic voice. Before Sharon had even finished the last verse, he knew this was the voice he'd been searching for all during his teen years. Sharon was shaking when it was over, and there were tears in her eyes. Funny, he'd never noticed how beautiful her eyes were before. "My God, what a voice. What a voice!" He was almost worshipful. "Thank you, kind sir." "How come you never went professional? The style, the soul, it's all there." "The usual story that's been told umpteen hundred thousand times before. I was the star in my senior high school musical. Then, I fell in love in my senior year and married my high school sweetheart while I was an undergrad at the university. Then our three kids came along, and before I knew it, I was your typical everyday housewife. Life is what gets in the way when you're planning something else." "And you never wanted to get back into it?" "Didn't you?" "Same `yes but's' as you, I'll bet." She smiled. An engaging, lustrous smile. A Sharon smile that went deep inside Bernie's being, like nothing he'd ever felt before. "At least you made OLDIES BUT GOODIES SHOW," she said. "It seems that record wasn't much to be proud of." "Not according to your mother." "Does everything have to be `according to my mother?'" "Not really. I suppose all Jewish mothers are the same, me included. I know exactly how she feels. She's proud of you, Bernie. Take that as a given." "I suppose you're right. Listen, I've got an idea. Have you ever thought of recording your voice?" "Once in a while. But it's been a very long while."

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30 "I just bought one of those new dual cassette stereo recorders last month. Why don't we

record a couple of songs?" "Fine by me." For the next hour, they recorded everything they could think of, mostly ballads. Sharon's voice was powerful enough to bang out the rock songs, but it was really made to caress the romantic ones. Bernie made a duplicate of the cassette, gave her one and kept one for himself. After he dropped Sharon off that night, he made another extra copy. During the next several days, he kept the cassette in his car, surprised at how frequently he listened to it. Her voice alone was enough to make him fall in love. More and more he found himself reduced to daydreaming about what life would be like with her, dreading what it would be like without her. More and more it seemed that Sharon was everything he'd ever wanted. A nice Jewish girl. A very sexy nice Jewish girl. One that mama actually liked. Children? Dinner with mama and Sharon twice a week, maybe three times. His reverie was interrupted the ring of his office phone. "Bernie?" Her voice never failed to reach out and caress him. He felt a tingly tickle inside. "I'll see if he's in. Who's calling please?" As if he didn't know. "Lady Godiva. Listen, Bernie, what are you doing for Thanksgiving?" "I plan to be out pressing several thousand records when the powers that be decide they did me a grave disservice many years ago and OLDIES BUT GOODIES SHOW becomes the biggest hit of the eighties." "Can't you ever be serious?" "All right, how does this sound? I've got a stable full of ladies-of-the-night waiting to pounce on my body." "That's fine with me. Just don't bring home a disease. By the way, you haven't answered

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my question. Yes or no for Thanksgiving?" "I'll have to think about it." "You've got five seconds to do so. And I'm sure your mother would not be impressed if I had another man for dinner." "You eat men?" he said salaciously. "Only if they're turkeys," she shot back. "Gobble gobble." "Does that mean `yes?'" "I suppose." "I never ceased to be charmed at how romantic you are, Bernie. Five o'clock next Thursday. Don't be late and don't you dare forget."

# The insurance check arrived the day before Thanksgiving. Bernie tried to call Sharon to give her the news, but found she'd gone to the airport to pick up her son, Darren. Mama congratulated him, but said she couldn't go out for a celebratory dinner because she had a Hadassah meeting that night. Ah, well, never mind. He'd treat himself. After all, he deserved it. That evening, Bernie dined alone. He didn't exactly dine. He went to the Lonesome Cowpoke and gorged himself on the thirty-two-ounce cowboy steak, complete with all the salad and beans you could eat, seventeen-ninety-five. Damn the calories, damn the cholesterol, damn the gas, and damn the price, this was a night to celebrate! What a shame Sharon couldn't be here to share this moment with him. Ah, well, he lifted his wine glass in toast, "Thank you, Phyllis. No harm meant, but this is the first time in twenty-one years you've ever taken me to dinner. L'Chayim! Strange, Bernie thought. Here I am toasting a dead woman with the phrase "To Life!" It was nine-thirty by the time he left the restaurant. He wasn't the least bit tired. The

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32 adrenalin kept pumping. He tried to envision what to do with the five hundred thousand dollars. Sharon would no doubt have some sensible ideas. He'd tried calling her from the restaurant, but she still wasn't home. Neither was his mother. Clip coupons from the five hundred grand? That didn't make sense. He'd be lucky to net thirty thousand a year before taxes. Hutchinson's Variable Annuity Program would probably net out better than that. Go back into the record business? Dream on. He'd been out of it for more than half his lifetime. Besides, he couldn't warm up to the garbage they played nowadays. Heavy metal, hard rock, thirty-one different kinds of weird. The stuff they called "New Age" was a perfect example. Whale calls and one hour flute solos. Or strange chords repeated in sequence with no melody. Billed as "thinking man's music." Only if the listener's head was as dense as Georgie's. Unconsciously, Bernie punched the "on" button in the car radio. The light green digital dial pointed to ninety-point-one. The ghastly cacophony of a bizarre duet filled the air. The male "vocalist" sounded as though he were in the midst of a particularly difficult and painful bowel movement and the female singer sounded as though she were being raped. Lovely. Mercifully the "Ba-a-aby turn me on!" and the grunting stopped after a minute or so. It was followed by a particularly obnoxious and tasteless commercial for SUPER ACNE BUSTER TEN, "To blitz the zitz!" and an inane jingle touting, "W-H-I-Z THE BIG NINE-OH!" A turbocharged, disembodied male voice pumping out decibels came on the air. Bernie was just about to switch to the CBS Night-Time Theatre -- Arch Oboler stories were always fun --but the voice -- why was it that every disk jockey's voice ended every sentence with an exclamation point? -- commanded him to leave his dial on ninety-point-one. "We're counting down the minutes 'til midnight! Two hours and Number One W-H-I-Z blasts off into the second half of the eighties! We're leaving `Fawlty Towers' behind! You should see the new equipment they trucked in today! Au-to-MA-tion, baby! We're about to become the hundred kilowatt pilot station for the NEW AMERICAN GIANT! Yessir, with Thanksgiving two

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hours away, WE'VE sure got a lot to be thankful for! "Now we've got a real W-H-I-Z surprise in store, a NUMBER ONE EXCLUSIVE! While we were cleaning out the old equipment today, we came across a dusty old forty-five, must be a hundred years old, stuck in the corner in back of the old Ampex! When we played it just to see what that stuff used to sound like, WHOO, BOY! Thanksgiving means TURKEY TIME, and this one's as big a turkey as I'd ever heard! Talk about a one-shot wonder! But the big W-H-I-Z is going to give you a chance to hear it for yourself, since it's two hours before our forty-five player collapses from old age! "It's by a group called `The Angels' -- not the girl group that did `Til' a few years back -believe me, you'll hear that soon enough! -- and it's on a label I've never heard of in my life, `Schwartz-America!'" The announcer could not suppress a wild giggle. "One of those one-of-akind things that are so bad, they're really B-A-D, if you get my drift! So, here it is, folks, for the first -- and probably the last -- time anywhere -- OLDIES BUT GOODIES SHOW by the Angels. And remember ..." It took the disk jockey a full five seconds to stop his out-of-control laughter and choke out, "You heard it FIRST on NUMBER ONE, W-H-I-Z, THE BIG NINE-OH!" Bernie stared at the dial in utter shock. This was a dream, right? Wrong. He heard the voice of a much, MUCH younger Bernie Schwartz shouting, "HERE WE ARE EVERYBODY, WELCOME TO THAT OLDIES BUT GOODIES SHOW!!! WE'VE GOT THE SHIELDS, THE MEDALLIONS, THE GALAHADS, ELVIS PRESLEY, CHUBBY CHECKER, LA VERNE BAKER, CHUCK BERRY, THE CHORDS, THE PENGUINS, LET'S HEAR IT FOR THEM ALL!!!" buried at the end by the screaming cheers of "hundreds" of people -- actually, seven of Bernie's friends and half-a-dozen musicians clapping and carrying on like lunatics -- and the voices of his four "stars" belting out what sounded like a re-write of "Down By the Riverside" to the rhythm of the old hand-jive.

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"Come on, let's go ... To that Oldies but Goodies Show Come on, let's go ... To that O-ohl-dies but Goodies Show, I wanna' Be ... the first ... to get out on that flo' at that Oldies but Goodies Show --u-oh, oh U-oh, oh ... oh-whoa-oh ... We're gonna' do ... the old hop Just like we used to do, and Before the night is over There's gonna' be some twistin' too And I know ... Mary Lou ... is gonna' Do the `Mess Around' at that Oldies But Goodies Show, the Best thing, that ever came to town!" Thankfully, the street was virtually empty. Bernie was able to pull the Chrysler over to the side of the road before he got into an accident. He was pale. His head buzzed. He felt hot and cold at the same time. His stomach was up in his throat. His face and hands broke out in a cold sweat. Oh, God, don't let it be a heart attack. Dear God, not now! Ho-ly shit! Oh, my God! Ho-oh-whoa-ly SHIT! He was hyperventilating. If he didn't get some fresh air soon, he'd faint. Or puke. Maybe both. He cracked the window open. A blast of chill, November air brought him back to his senses. Was this whole day some kind of a dream? A ghastly joke? One piece of overwhelming news he could accept. Two, maybe. But this was impossible. He'd read somewhere that the chance of winning the lottery was one in twenty-three-million. The chance that someone would find one of the fifteen records he'd ever taken around to radio stations, pick it up, and play it twenty-five years later, was maybe one in twenty-three trillion. Bernie stopped at the nearest all-night gas station. His hands trembled as he tried to find W-H-I-Z's number in the phone book. Finally he did. He tried for ten minutes to get through. The line was busy the whole time. He tried Sharon's number. It rang twelve times. No answer. He tried calling his mother. Not home. Then he remembered Harry hadn't been fed. Wait 'til you

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35 hear what happened to me today, Harry, old boy! Do I ever have a story to tell you! You'd never believe it. What the hell, why should you believe it? It was 'way before your time. Frustrated and freezing, Bernie hopped back into his car and turned up the volume on WHIZ in time to catch a breathless announcer. "I don't understand it folks! I've never seen anything like it! The phone lines have lit up like a Christmas tree since we played OLDIES BUT GOODIES SHOW! No, I don't know where you can buy it! Heck, I don't even know if the people who made that record are even alive! I've put all the lines on hold! Yes, I'll play the record again! All night if you want! I mean, what else do you do with a turkey at Thanksgiving? You eat it up, and that's what you people out there seem to be doing with this record! I don't know if this is some sort of joke or not! If it's real, mama tell your little ol' baby boy he's dreamin'! Here it comes again -- the name is OLDIES BUT GOODIES SHOW, the artists are called `The Angels' and it's Schwartz-America record number one-oh-one!"

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36 4

Bernie tossed and turned the whole night. At six the next morning, he hopped into the Chrysler and drove out to the old neighborhood where he'd enjoyed his one shot at entertainment immortality. Memory lane was different than he'd remembered it. For one thing, it was greasy looking. The trash looked like it hadn't been picked up in three weeks. A sour smell issued from dozens of overstuffed, overflowing waste bins. Herman’s House of Hamsters, Lola’s Lingerie, and Dickie’s Quickie Chickie had replaced the once glorious Blue Star Recording Studio. You can't go home again. All three of these dynamic commercial centers were closed for Thanksgiving. Yes, the neighborhood had sure changed. Herman, Lola, and Richard (he presumed that was the King of Chicken's real name) advertised their wares in both English and Spanish. The hamster cages in the front window had burglar-proof bars on them. Lola's display was not exactly Lord & Taylor. Rather, it looked like Lola sold Frederick's of Hollywood hand-me-downs. The low-cut, brightcolored, large-zippered samples in the window looked as though they weren't meant to be worn for long stretches at a time. Bernie peered through the window of Dickie's, the third store in the row. In addition to chicken the proprietor provided pork ribs, Kosher hot dogs, Polish sausage, tacos, burritos, black-eyed peas, chitlins and sushi. To top it all off, Bernie saw several bottles of Pepto Bismol stacked in a pyramid behind the counter. Either Dickie had a sense of humor or he was a shrewd businessman, probably both. After shedding a silent tear for the demise of the place where so many memories reposed, Bernie looked up and down the street, searching for any of the old businesses he remembered. Sure enough, there was one beacon of light from his childhood, Arthur Murray's Dance School. It was still on the second floor of the building where it had been when he was a kid. Alas, the door was locked. But wait! His eyes lit on a little card in the window. "In case of emergency, call 565-6060."

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Wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles, there was a pay phone within fifty yards of the place. Bernie picked up the receiver and dialed the number. "Hello, Arthur Murray Dance Studio?" "No, this is the answering service. How can I help you?" The voice sounded lower east side. "How may I help you?" "Don't get fresh with me, buster! I'll find out where you're calling from and pop ya' in the chops real good." Bernie swore he could hear the sound of gum cracking somewhere in the background. "I need to get through to the owner." "The owner's on vacation in the Philippines." Bernie had a sneaking hunch there'd been a change in ownership. Jews who run dance studios do not vacation in the Philippines. "Is there anyone with whom I could speak?" "Sure, buster. You're talkin' to me. This ain't one of those fancy answering machines, y'know." "I'm sorry, Miss." "Mizz." "Mizz. Is there anyone from the studio with whom I could talk? It's really urgent." "How urgent?" "Real." "Just a minute." There were squeaks and squawks in the line. A mechanical computer-generated female voice broke in, "Your three minutes are up. Please deposit one dollar and sixty cents for the next three minutes." Bernie fumbled around in his pocket for change. One-fifty. Period. Shit! He flipped the

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receiver up and down with his finger. And immediately broke the connection. Three credit card calls and two busy signals later, he was reconnected to Mizz Answering Service who, after rebuking him for having the nerve to hang up on her when she was only trying to help, connected him at last to the Arthur Murray employee, who answered in a five-thousandword-per-minute barrage of Spanish. "En-ge-leeze, por favor?" Bernie croaked. The speaker bombarded him with another blast of Latin invective. Bernie was about to hang up when a soft female voice came on the line. "My father said you wanted to speak, Sir?" "Yes. I'm trying to find out if anyone in the neighborhood knows where the Blue Star Recording Studio went?" He heard a flurry of incomprehensible words. Then the young female voice came on line again. "My father says they moved out before he came to work at the dance studio." "Does he know where the owners went?" There was another noise-polluted pause. Then, "He says if you check with the old man who lives in the white house on the next block, he might know." There was an angry torrent of words in the background. "He says the old f- -- the elderly gentleman makes it his business to know everything that goes on in the neighborhood." Bernie thanked her and quickly departed in the direction she'd given him. To say that the inhabitant of the white house was conservative was an understatement. If any of the more recent inhabitants of the neighborhood had seen Horace Fancher's living room, it would have sparked a race riot. A steel, black-faced jockey with white outfit, holding a ring out, supposedly to tie a horse. A black-and-white framed photograph showing two gringos with a gun to Pancho Villa's head. Someone had written a caption and glued it to the bottom of the frame. "Batches? We don't need no stinking batches." To the right of the cheap, stone fireplace was an American flag. On the painted mantel, there was a plaque bearing the VFW insignia and the words, "I'm Proud to be an American!" To the left of the fireplace, was a yellowed certificate

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proclaiming that Mister Fancher was a charter member of the John Birch Society. The house smelled of the cold musty dampness one associates with elderly bachelors living in spic-and-span, if somewhat dingy, quarters. Of course Bernie would never use the word "Spic" in front of Mister Fancher. Mama lived alone, too, but her apartment had a much different smell. It didn't take long for Bernie to learn that Horace Fancher's hearing wasn't what it had once been. "I'm trying to find the Blue Star, Mister Fancher?" "A new car? Sonny, there isn't a new car dealership within five miles. Why, I haven't had a new car in years. Fact of the matter is, they took my driver's license away three years ago." "No, Sir," Bernie shouted, as politely as one can shout, into the man's ear. "The Blue Star Recording Studio!" "Yep. It's three different places now. All the hookers on the street buy their stuff at Lola's. I haven't got any teeth left to chew the stuff they have at the Chicken Place. Don't need any of the goddam hamsters. All they do is shit all over the cage." "Mr. Fancher," Bernie tried again, as patiently as he could. "I am trying to find Slim Loader, the fellow used to run the Blue Star. Young guy, slender, blond hair?" "Loader? Loader? Oh yeah. Bald, fat old sonofabitch. He retired upstate. Piney Pond or something like that. Hey, mister, don't be in such a hurry you can't close the door." # At precisely the time Bernie was expected to arrive at Sharon Gordon's home for Thanksgiving dinner, he was one-hundred-fifty miles away, knocking on the door of a ramshackle house abutting a small pond. The man who answered the door weighed over three hundred pounds and wore a wrinkled pair of overalls. What was left of his hair was wispy. He looked like a rumpled Burl Ives. Bernie stared at the man, aghast. Slim Loader had been a young man. "Mister Loader?" he asked, tentatively.

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"You got him, son. What can I do for you?" "I'm Bernie. Bernie Schwartz?" "I don't really recall the name or the face. It's been so long and my memory's not what it used to be." "OLDIES BUT GOODIES SHOW? Twenty-five years ago. Black quartet -- Joe, Lucius, Alphonse, Flutsie? Sounded like an updated rock version of `Down by the Riverside?'" "Son, I've recorded more Negro quartets in my time than there are tires on cars in that city. After the first couple hundred, they all sound alike." "Did you keep any of your master tapes?" "Most all of 'em. Can you describe the tape?" "Scotch brand, high output, quarter inch, two track." "I've got more than five thousand tapes that match that description. You're welcome to go down to the basement and check 'em out yourself. I've got an old Ampex player hooked up. You need any help running it?" "No, Sir. I think I can manage." "Good. The tapes are either in boxes or lined up on the shelves along the wall. Good luck, son." Bernie was lucky, damned lucky. He found the tape at four the next morning. It was the fifteen-hundred-twelfth tape he'd tried. #

Bernie awakened at noon to the smell of freshly brewed coffee, bacon and fried eggs. He and Loader discussed the record industry. It brought back wonderful old memories. "How long ago did you retire, Mister Loader?" "Call me `Slim,' son. Fifteen years ago. I was kinda' skinny back then. Put on a lot of weight up here, as you've probably noticed. The living's easy, no pressure. Quiet. Kinda' what I

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always wanted to do." "Really? I thought the excitement of the record business kept you going." "Excitement? Hell, it wasn't exciting to me. You saw kids come and go. Every one of 'em -- yourself included -- was climbing the ladder to the stars. Every one of 'em was the next Elvis Presley or Chubby Checker. Get a guitar, kid. It's the only way out of the ghetto. Doesn't work that way, son. Eventually you find that if you don't have it inside you, nobody's gonna' put it there. Nope, Mister Schwartz, I'm much happier up here. The old neighborhood was on its way downhill when I left. Haven't been back since. What's it like now?" "Pretty awful." "I imagined it would be." "So you've been out of the business fifteen years?" "Yep." "Do you keep any of your old connections?" "What do you mean?" "Would you know where I could go to get pressings made from this tape?" "You might try Allied. They were pretty big back then. I imagine they're still in business." "Could I use your phone? I'd be happy to pay you." "Go ahead. No skin off my back." When Bernie called, he was happy to find that the number was still active. "Allied Plating." "Hi, Bernie Schwartz here. I'm calling from upstate. I need twenty-five thousand fortyfives from a master tape immediately. How soon could you get them out?" "What is this, some kind of joke? We haven't manufactured forty-fives in ten years. You planning to ship stuff to India or something?" "Is there anyone in town who can get 'em out for me?" There was a long pause. "There's a guy named Jose Campos who bought our old

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equipment. He can press about five hundred an hour. Here's his number ...." Bernie felt that if he was going to get anything done, it would have to be hands-on, faceto-face. He made it back to the city in record time and called the number the Allied man had given him. "Jose?" "Si." "I need twenty-five thousand forty-fives. How soon can you get to 'em?" "Forty-five RPM records, Senor?" "Si." "Where you wanna' ship em? We do a lotta' work for Togo, Bangladesh, places like that." "Right here in the good ol' U.S.A." "What're you, one of those guys who collects old juke boxes?" "Something like that. How much would you charge?" "Fifty cents apiece." Bernie calculated in his head. "Twelve thousand, five hundred dollars? I used to pay ten cents each." "Yes, but Señor, I'm the only one in town who can do this for you." "How long do you need?" "Four days." "I haven't got that long." "It's the weekend, Señor." "How much if you work overtime?" "Fifty percent extra." "Eighteen thousand, seven hundred fifty dollars?" "Si." "But they only sell for a dollar a record."

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43 #

"Hey, Señor? Where you been all these years? Them things are collectors' items now."

Bernie gulped a couple of spoons of Maalox before he made the next call. He felt like a little boy who, in the span of one hour, had hit a baseball through an old lady's glass window, got caught cheating on an arithmetic test and sent to the principal's office, and accidentally wet his pants on the way there. "Sharon, I don't know where to begin." "Now you have the nerve to call? Now??? After you humiliated me, made me look like a fool in front of my children? In front of your mother?" Her tone was acid ringed with hurt. "Sharon, if you'll only let me explain...." The phone slammed down. Women, he thought. Why can't they see the big picture? # "This is the biggest contest W-H-I-Z has ever sponsored, folks! Find Schwartz! We're talking about OLDIES BUT GOODIES SHOW, the record produced by Bernie Schwartz! We've checked it out with Tony Curtis in Hollywood. He swears it's a DIFFERENT Bernie Schwartz. Not him." "The big Nine-Oh will pay Ninety -- that's Nine-Oh -- Dollars per hour for every hour until the real Bernie Schwartz is found! W-H-I-Z will pay up to Nine Thousand Dollars reward on proof that the Bernie Schwartz you find is the one who produced the biggest smash ever introduced on WHIZ, the Big Nine-Oh, the BOSS of the City!" Bernie couldn't believe his ears. The number one station was playing the record three times an hour. Other stations had started playing OLDIES BUT GOODIES SHOW, admitting, largely to avoid lawsuits, that they'd pirated it by taping WHIZ broadcasts. Sam Goody's placed a full-page ad in the Times promising they'd be the first to stock the CD "as soon as it comes in." An ugly rumor spread that the Mafia owned the rights to OLDIES BUT GOODIES SHOW and were suppressing its release until the demand became so great customers would pay five, ten, even fifty times the price of an ordinary CD just to be first on the block to display this

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collector's item. The internationally acclaimed artist, Isaac Kandinsky, announced over the classical music station, that he intended to produce a one-of-a-kind collage of OLDIES BUT GOODIES SHOW records which he intended to donate to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Bernie may not have had a lot of long green, but when it came to business, he had a lot of gray matter. He arranged for Harry to take a much needed vacation at the best kennel in town, where the woman promised he'd be bathed, groomed, walked and loved. He stored the twentyfive thousand records in a Public Storage warehouse on the outskirts of town. Then, he rented a $19.95 special, a two-year-old Honda Civic under an assumed name, and drove to Summer Lake. Tourist season was most definitely over. He secured a cottage for fifteen dollars a night, one that had a black-and-white television set. Bernie had gone underground. Contrary to its legend-in-its-own-mind mentality, not everyone listened to WHIZ. But everyone sure as hell watched TV. Within two days of Bernie's disappearance, his mother caught the story on the six o'clock news. By eleven that night, mama was on the news, urgently appealing for her son to come home, everything was all right. She hinted -- although it was severely edited --that the forces of darkness had conspired to kidnap her only child. She beamed as she held a copy of the record in one hand and a check for Four Thousand, Three Hundred Twenty Dollars, issued by WHIZ, in the other. Bernie caught the news that night, and figured it was time to come out of hiding.

#

Distributors used to be everything in the business, back when OLDIES had originally been cut, and they still were. The independent distributors had always been ensconced in the shabbiest, most rickety-looking storefronts to be found anywhere in the city. There were ten-by-ten inch cardboard boxes of CD’s and cassettes stored in haphazard piles from store to ceiling everywhere. Bernie remembered the sweet-plastic smell of hundreds of pounds of vinylite giving a certain zest

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45 to the air inside these places. Every last one of these big shots had turned Bernie down when he sought distribution on OLDIES BUT GOODIES SHOW twenty-five years ago. The storefront image hadn't changed. In the back and up the stairs, Sidney Fineman, the Prince of Pop, sat in his glassed-in office, surveying his domain. He addressed Bernie over an ashtray filled to the brim with half-smoked butts. Fineman's digs were not the best advertisement for the American Heart & Lung Association or the American Cancer Society. No sooner had Bernie'd told Fineman what he wanted, the distributor exploded. "Twenty-five thousand records? You pressed twenty-five thousand records? What planet have you been living on? Nobody's used vinyl records for the past ten years! Where the hell've you been? The other side of the moon or something?" "Look, they told me you were the biggest distributor in town and that you had the biggest independent network of distributors in the country. Are you interested in handling it or not?" "Of course I am! But you're talking stone age here! What'd you pay for 'em?" "Seventy-five cents a pop." "O.K., I got an idea. We auction 'em off for ten dollars each. Make like they were the original original pressings. That'll put two-hundred-fifty thousand gross in the till." "Two-hundred-fifty thousand! That's more than three hundred percent profit!" "Gross. But you gotta' spend money to make money." "What do you mean?" "You gotta' get me two-hundred-fifty thousand single cassettes and another hundred thousand single CD's. That's what the kid are buyin' nowadays." "How much?" "Plan on laying out the two hundred thousand you get for the records." "You said two-fifty." "Less twenty percent for me. Plus another hundred and a quarter. That'll get you started." "What do they sell for?"

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"Wholesale, two bucks for the cassettes, three for the CDs." Bernie took out his pocket calculator and made some quick calculations. Eight hundred thousand dollars in gross sales, less one-sixty to this robber, less another three twenty-five outlay. The net profit would still be three hundred fifteen thousand dollars. He'd written up a contract to pay the singers five percent and figures another ten percent for everything else. That would still leave two-hundred-eighty-three thousand, five hundred dollars, not counting the money from personal appearances. The most he'd ever taken out of Schwartz-America in a year had been eighty-K. "What's the risk?" "They don't pay 'til they've sent back the returns. Then it's NET." "You mean the dealers get to stock it for free?" "Yep. But they've got to pay before they get any more." "What if they think they're going to have a big seller and order their whole expected sale out front?" "The big ones do just that. Wherehouse, Goody's, Tower." "That's putting all the risk on me." "You got it, baby. That's why the small guys get gobbled up. The only way you protect your investment is you have a second one ready to go. That way, they've gotta' pay before they get the second release, and that's where you make your money." "What if you don't have a second one?" "Down the tubes, Bernie." Bernie considered what the distributor had said for a few minutes. It had been a sucker's game twenty-five years ago. It was a bigger sucker's game now. Only the stakes were about six times as high. Likewise the value of the brass ring if you could grab it. Bernie had always known that the guys with the money, the ones who had the reserves to wait it out, were the ones that ended up with all the chips. The real estate tycoons, the stock

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47 manipulators, the oil barons. He'd always sworn if he ever had the grubstake to do it, he'd be king of the hill. Now it was there, in the form of an unexpected, tax-free five hundred thousand dollar nest egg. He could move the twenty-five hundred records at ten dollars a pop, net the hundred-fifty or so he'd make, and sell out to MCA, EMI, or one of the other biggies for six percent of the take. Or he could reach for the stars, go for the gusto. Soar with eagles or trot with turkeys? Lion or lamb? Sheep or goat? Bernie the baron or Bernie the boot-licker? Was there ever an easier decision? "I'll do it! What's the next thing you'd advise?" "Find the group. Get them back together. Do what you've gotta' do but find 'em at all costs. Mount a U.S. tour, even a world tour! Get the hell back in the studio immediately! You should have had an album ready to go two weeks ago, and your follow-up release already pressed." "Anything else?" "Yes, Mr. Impresario. Sign on the dotted line so I can start putting the whole thing together."

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48 5

As soon as he'd made the appointment, Bernie pictured in his mind exactly what the place would look like. A grimy old building with dark halls, a set of creaky stairs, and a wavy-glass wood-framed door with chipped and peeling ersatz gold lettering. Once inside, he'd find himself in a cramped, smoke-filled room, with pin-ups of Betty Grable, Lana Turner and Jane Russell. He'd sit in a cheap, hard, wooden chair and stare over a mass of unkempt papers at a huge block of a man in a rumpled, shiny suit, smoking the biggest cigar he'd ever seen. Bernie had seen too many old detective movies. His image became a bit fuzzy the moment he saw the building where the agency was housed, a ten-story amber-glass monstrosity out of the next century. After he'd parked his car in the underground garage -- two dollars for the first twenty minutes, twenty dollar maximum -- he was whisked up to the sixth floor in an elevator that had a mirrored ceiling, floor, and three walls. The fourth wall was glass, and allowed him to gaze at the street below for the ten seconds it took the elevator to make its ascent. The Predator Detective Agency was obviously not the old Sam Spade operation. No sooner had he walked in the oak door with its raised lettering than he felt he was underwater. Except for a small, barely visible indentation at the far end of the reception hall, a huge aquarium surrounded the entire room. The greenish light from the tank provided the only illumination in the room. Four small sharks swam lazily about. On a long table in front of him, were several blueand-white, Styrofoam hats shaped like sharks, imprinted with the logo, "Predator Detective Agency -- Beyond the Technology Gap." A little card in the center of the table said, "With our compliments." There was no receptionist anywhere. Bernie was about to knock on the small indentation when a soft, well-modulated female voice issued from recessed speakers in the ceiling. "Good

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49 morning. Welcome to The Predator. Please have a seat and enjoy a cup of hot, steaming coffee, tea, hot chocolate or Ultra Slim diet drink with our compliments. An agent will be with you momentarily." Bernie gawked as he looked around the room. One of the aquarium walls turned one hundred eighty degrees on a set of silent runners, revealing a set of four comfortable-looking, beige-green foam chairs, a reading lamp, and a series of spigots coming out of the wall. To the left of the spouts, marked "Coffee," "Tea," "Hot chocolate," and "Ultra Slim," there were four sets of china cups and saucers, a silver pitcher of cream, silver sugar bowl, and four tiny silver spoons. All genuine. Bernie sat in one of the chairs, which was filled with water, and immediately felt seasick. An instant later, the wall opposite him turned inward. He found himself facing a floor-to-ceiling screen. He heard a soft whirr and the same pleasant female voice as before said, "Welcome. We'd like to take this opportunity to introduce you to our world and give you an introduction to The Predator." For the next few minutes, the screen was filled with fullcolor pictures of a group of sharks in feeding frenzy, a pride of lions communally munching the bones of a fallen gazelle, a group of spear-hurling Ethiopians being mowed down by Mussolini's tanks, and a mushroom-shaped cloud. "It's a big, rough, cruel world we live in," the pleasant female voice said, in decidedly upscale, electronically caressing, comforting tones. "You need someone who can play hard ball with the big boys. The Predator makes your world easier." The movie zeroed in on a bank of computers, manned by a horde of nameless, faceless automatons. "The Predator uses state-of-the-art technology in every search." A world map appeared on the screen. A hundred red lines radiated from Predator's headquarters to every place on the map. "No one on earth is beyond the reach of The Predator. We are in instantaneous communication with the world." The map disappeared, replaced by a satellite circling the earth. "And when man soars to the stars, you can have confidence that The Predator will be there. Thank you. Please make sure your safety belt is fastened." Bernie's mouth was still agape as he looked down and saw that while he'd been watching

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the motion picture on the wall, a pair of automatic restraints had encircled him. His chair started to move silently toward the indentation on the far side of the reception area, which slid open with only the barest hint of sound. The chair continued its journey on smooth rails down a softly lit hall. At the fourth door, the chair peeled off from the main path and deposited Bernie inside a small cubicle. He faced a bland-looking man of indeterminate age, neither short nor tall, fat nor thin, with sand-blond hair. His host was wearing a plain, charcoal, single-breasted suit. "Good morning, Mister Schwartz. I'm Wes Wiggins, The Predator. Good to see you, Sir." The way he said it, he could have been The Predator, but more likely he was one of a hundred, perhaps a thousand faceless agents. The operation was smooth, slick, something out of a science fiction movie. Wes Wiggins pumped Bernie's hand automatically, the grip absolutely consistent, neither too hard nor too soft. "Please check the information sheet and initial it if it's correct." The man handed Bernie a small, manila folder. Usually when he went to a doctor's office, a lawyer's office, anywhere for that matter, Bernie was asked to fill in an information card. His eyes went wide as he opened the folder. Not only did it contain recent photographs of himself, Phyllis and Harry (a discreet caption under Phyllis's picture read, "Deceased") it contained everything of substance about his family, even down to his blood type, shoe size and work habits for the past five years, the exact date and place of Phyllis's demise, the bank accounts in which he'd deposited the proceeds from the insurance policy, and the last time Harry had gone to the veterinarian for a checkup. It even contained a photocopy of the invoice for the new office furniture he'd purchased day-before-yesterday. "We try to know our clients as human beings even before we know them, if you know what I mean," bland-face chuckled. "Uh ... yes, of course," Bernie blurted. "You've had some major surprises in your life, Mr. Schwartz," the agent continued. "A

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51 half-million dollar insurance benefit, a rather stunning entertainment coup, a would-be girlfriend whom your mother's promoting, but who won't talk to you. Incidentally, you show very good taste, Mister Schwartz. Mrs. Gordon is a remarkably attractive, intelligent woman. Your distributor, Sidney Fineman, says you must record an album immediately and you must have a second single ready for release no later than one month from today. You want us to find the four African-American singers who made OLDIES BUT GOODIES SHOW. You have no idea where they are and have precious little information you can give us to go on, except their names were Joe Jackson, Lucius Sharp, Alphonse Fisher and Charles Lewis Stevens." "W--w--w---?" "You're interested in our charges, Mr. Schwartz. Ordinarily we charge ten thousand dollars per head for each target. In your case, we offer a package deal. Twenty-five thousand dollars, payable in advance. Of course, the physical retrieval of the subjects will cost substantially more, should you wish The Predator to accomplish that mission. You've brought your checkbook with you today and your account in Capital Federal Savings Bank shows an outstanding balance of One Hundred Twenty-Thousand Dollars. A word of advice. Close out all of your accounts there before five tonight. At eight tomorrow morning, bank examiners will announce they're taking over Capital Federal's operations." "B--b--b--?" "How long will we take? Ten days, Mr. Schwartz. We will have complete profiles and addresses on all four subjects. There's nothing more for you to do, sir. I suggest you relax and spoil yourself. You've never had the nerve or the money to do it, and you've always wanted to." "N--n--n---?" "The Pritikin Spa might be a good place to start. Ferragamo shoes, Eva Gabor toupé, custom made clothes from Morris. If you're going to lead this world tour you must look like -what do you Hebrews call it? -- a mensch." #

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52 When he learned what the Pritikin Spa cost for a week, Bernie elected to go to one of its

wholesale competitors just over the border. Some immoral types often referred to the place as "Rancho Grab-Ass," no doubt due to the skimpily-attired guests who cavorted about, and the private parties which were said to go on in the separate little cottages until all hours. It was "healthy, healthy, healthy everybody," from the incredibly -- obnoxiously -- clean-cut, robust smile of the trainer who greeted Bernie, to the sexually provocative appeal of the tiny girl with the incredibly big boobs who served as the trainer's assistant. The food was awful. Dried beans, legumes, no oil, no salt, no meat, whole grain this, vitamin enriched that. "No artificial vitamins or stimulants here, boys and girls. Everything is natural, organically grown with no poisons or pollutants. "Remember, folks, healthy, healthy, healthy. Your body should be as fit at ninety as it is at nineteen, right gang?" At the end of the first day, Bernie felt his body had enough gas to fly him to Pittsburgh. The routine was worse than the food. Up at six-thirty, oatmeal, citrus fruits, then a halfhour run around the perimeter trail. Turkish bath, sauna, massage, twenty-minute aerobic workout, steam bath, shower. One hour of lecture on "Increased Endurance and Putting Life back into Your Life." Then lunch. Black bean tortillas, white bean paste, tofu burgers, raw green vegetables. Rest time. Afternoon aerobics. Run around the perimeter. Baths, workouts, steam, lecture, dinner. Whole-grain brown rice, wheat husks, Calistoga water. Last run around the perimeter. Last lecture of the day. Bed time eight p.m. At night, the sounds of laughter, and later the rapid breathing and moans of more "adult" activity, permeated the paper-thin walls of his "cottagette," piquing his interest -- and his male member. But he was here for serious business. While the spirit was willing -- indeed eager -- the flesh was weak and exhausted from the day's travails, and he soon fell asleep to sounds somewhat more enticing than the Movie of the Week. And he'd thought boot camp was bad back when he was in the Army! By the following Sunday, when it was time to leave the Paradise Health and Beauty Spa,

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Bernie had lost ten pounds. Gone was the paunch. He felt great, albeit unfulfilled in his determination to find out why they called it "Rancho Grab-Ass." When he gazed at his reflection in the mirror, he saw the lean, mean look of an athletic Tom Selleck -- without the moustache, of course -- staring back at him. Now for the next step in becoming a mensch. The first thing Monday morning, he placed a long-distance call to Dallas, Texas. "Good morning, Morris International." "May I please speak to Mister Morris?" "Did you wish to speak to Morris of Hollywood, Morris of Paris or Morris of New York?" "Is there a difference?" "Of course." "Which is the best?" "They're all good." "Why do you say that?" "Listen, are you by any chance Jewish?" Bernie detected the unmistakable New York accident of a coreligionist. "Yes. Why do you want to know?" "I'll let you in on a secret. All of the Morrises are the same guy. Morris Fountain owns the place." When Bernie arrived at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, he was whisked away in a black limousine bearing the logo, "The Morris Group -- Haberdashers to Royalty," and an impressive gold crest. When he walked into the palatial office -- now here was the office of a real entrepreneurial success! -- he was surprised when he was greeted by a bald-headed, pot-bellied man of sixty-five, who looked like a little, Jewish tailor from the lower east side. famous Morris Fountain?" "Morris Fountain? You're the

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"Vots wrong mit dat? You ain't never seen a famous man before?" "It's just that you look -- seem -- a little different than I pictured." "You were picturing I should look like something out of a men's fashion magazine? Look, my friend, you want good merchandise, I give you the best merchandise around. You know what I charge wealthy gentiles for such shmattes?" he said, using the Yiddish word for "rags." "I don't think I want to know. Morris Fountain? That's certainly not a Jewish name." "It vasn't my original name." "Oh?" "Before I came to Texas, I lived in France for a while. When I was there, I called myself Maurice Fontaine." "Oh?" "Before that, I lived in Germany, where I was known as Moritz Shpritzwasser." "So your real name was Shpritzwasser?" "No. As a matter of fact," he said, shrugging his shoulders, "in the little town in Lithuania where I was born, they called me `Moishe Pisher.' You're a forty short, seven-and-a-half C shoes. Thirty-four inch waist." "Thirty-two," Bernie said indignantly, sucking in his stomach. "I'm talking after the diet and the Spa foolishness wears off. Waist thirty-four. Chest forty. Total ten thousand." "Ten thousand???" "Three suits, two thousand each. Monogrammed shirts, monogrammed underwear, monogrammed socks, five power ties." "Ten thousand dollars???" "Shh. That's wholesale. Don't talk so loud. If anyone ever heard I sold it to you so cheap, I'd lose my professional standing. Incidentally, Mister Schwartz, do you know why God created gentiles?"

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"No." "Someone has to pay retail." The little tailor guffawed at his own humorous remark, broadcasting spittle on Bernie's shirt. "Where can I go for the other stuff?" "Buy 'em off the rack. Ferragamo shoes, Gucci belt, Christian Dior wallet. Just make sure you wear the mark of Morris on your toches.

#

The Great Western American Wholesale Outlet Center, Bernie's next stop, was located thirty miles southwest of Dallas. Bernie found the Eva Gabor Wig Outlet Shop tucked in among the Bass Shoe Outlet, the Florsheim Shoe Outlet, the Thom McAn Shoe Outlet, the Kinney Shoe Outlet, the American Tourister Luggage Outlet, the Samsonite Luggage Outlet and the Hoffman Leather Outlet -- not a very safe place if you were a cow, but after all this was Texas, world headquarters for cattle and oil. After trying two or three of the "Super Reduction -- Everything Must Go" Specials, "Marked Down a Further 50%!," Bernie began to learn why they'd been priced so low. They looked like dead rats when he tried them on. He approached a the manager, a bald man with dark moustache. "How about one of these three?" he asked, indicating a special "Premier Rack." "I'm afraid honey-blond simply wouldn't go with your coloring, Sir." "But dark hair is so -- so Jewish." "How about red?" "Ugh. Can you make it at least wavy?" "Waves went out twenty years ago. Permed curls are in vogue." "How much in vogue?" "Fifteen hundred dollars each. You'll need four hairpieces, one for each week between

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haircuts. And you should have a spare." "Two will be just fine." "But you want to look well groomed at all times, a handsome young fellow like you." "Three then." # When he returned to the city, the peacock strutted his stuff at his mother's apartment. Harry, who'd been living in Mrs. Schwartz's cramped quarters, was so delighted to see his master that he sneezed and slobbered all over Bernie for a full minute-and-a-half before he lay down and started snoring again. "Well, Ma, what do you think of your son, now? Is this a somebody or is this a somebody?" "Who could recognize you as my son? Listen, Bernie, it's not what's on the outside that counts. You lose weight, you buy fine clothes, you want to be something you're not. You want to look like a Hollywood celebrity with the open-necked shirt and the gold chains, the gold watch, the gold bracelets and all that junk, that's your business." "Aww, ma. That's just part of the act." "And you change your name from Bernie Schwartz to Ben Savage? As far as I'm concerned, it's the same B.S." "Ma, I didn't really change my name. I'm just calling myself that for the tour." "You think I don't know that George Burns is really Nathan Birnbaum, that Jack Benny was Benjamin Kubelsky, that Gypsy Rose Lee was Rose Hovick? Scratch Piper Laurie, you get Rosetta Jacobs. When you pull down Tony Randall's pants, what's between the legs belongs to Leonard Rosenberg." "Ma!" "You couldn't use your real name? It didn't hurt Steven Spielberg or Jascha Heifetz." "That's different. This is rock and roll."

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57 "Your crazy dog sits around and drools all day until I take him walking. When I take him

out, I may as well have my arm wired on, he pulls so hard." "It's just that it's all so new to Harry. I'll make it up to him." "And you haven't called Sharon in weeks!" "Twelve days, ma." "Nu? That's weeks." "Besides, she won't even talk to me." "That's your fault." "So I missed Thanksgiving. It's not the end of the world. I forgot, OK? "Listen, Bernie. Sooner or later you're gonna' find that you have to put your values in the right priority." "My priorities are just fine. This is the one golden opportunity I've had in all my life. God finally says, `Bernie, you've been a little nothing all your life, now I'm gonna' give you your opportunity. Phyllis, God rest her soul, is gone. I have a little money for a change, and I've got the chance to really earn some big money. Get you the house you've always wanted. Help pay off the mortgage at the synagogue." "Bernie, I like my apartment just fine the way it is. You want to make a donation to the synagogue, it doesn't really matter if its a dollar or a million so long as it comes from your heart. Whom do you need to impress? A somebody is more than fine clothes. A chicken is ugly and a peacock is beautiful, but I get more joy from eating a chicken than I do looking at a picture of a peacock." "You'll talk different when you see what happens." "Maybe. But I've been alive for more years than most people care to count. I think at the end you may be surprised. Enjoy your little game while you can, Bernie. It should be in good health."

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What had started as a local joke soon became a national smash. The networks picked up the rags-to-riches story with relish. Ben Savage -- formerly Bernie Schwartz -- was interviewed on Today, Good Morning America, Sally Jessie Raphael and Oprah Winfrey. The "original" OLDIES BUT GOODIES SHOW forty-five RPM records had done better than expected at auction. They were now more popular than Mickey Mantle Bubble Gum cards in the resale market. The value of a single disk was pegged at Four thousand dollars on Wheel of Fortune. Tapes and CD's seemed to be moving faster than Robert Ludlum’s latest best seller. It had been ten days since Bernie had plunked his twenty-five thousand down and set The Predator off on his hunt. While it was great fun being close-mouthed when interviewers, then the public screamed, "WHERE ARE THE ANGELS?" Bernie soon realized he'd better deliver pretty damned quick or the goose that laid the golden egg would die a sudden, merciless death. True to its word, the detective agency contacted Bernie promptly on the date promised, at two in the afternoon. After a brief interlude of Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance, the nameless, faceless female automaton voice came on line. "Another mission accomplished. No one escapes The Predator. Please hold the line for a few moments, your agent will report all details to you." The voice that came on line was only slightly more human than the electronic woman. "Mister Schwartz -- oops, sorry, I understand you're calling yourself Mister Savage these days -Wes Wiggins, The Predator, here. I've got great news for you! We've located all four of your Angels. It was more difficult than we thought. They're spread all over the country. Do you want to seek them out yourself, or would you prefer that The Predator's net to drag them in to the city?" "How much extra?" "Another twenty thousand dollars." "I'll do it myself."

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59 "Fine, Mister Savage. I think you'd better know, they may be somewhat different than you

remember. If you can arrange to come in later this afternoon, The Predator will provide you with your pre-prepared dossier of their names, home addresses, business addresses, telephone numbers, and a thumbnail sketch of each of them. It's a pleasure to be of service to you, Sir."

# Once again, Bernie missed his chance to call Sharon and make up with her. But the distributor had said it was now or never and he'd damn well better get his ass in gear. # Detroit was not the greatest city in the world for a Caucasian to wander around in after dark. But The Predator had told him it was the best time to catch Joe. Bernie was careful to leave his jewelry in the safe deposit box of the Dearborn Hilton. He dressed in one of his old suits, which now hung shapelessly on his new-dimensional frame. As he exited the lobby of the Hilton, he deliberately looked for the oldest, weakest-looking cab driver in the line. The one who'd be least likely to mug him. When Bernie gave the cabbie the address, the old man smiled knowingly. Bernie hopped in. Soon the taxi was moving through the city. "You seem to know this address pretty well," he said to the elderly driver, eager to demonstrate an uncomfortable camaraderie to this emissary from a different world, who was his only guarantee he'd make it to his destination -- maybe -- without being mugged, killed, or something even worse. Come to think of it, could there be anything worse than getting killed? "Are there that many religious people in Detroit who go to church at night?" "This church they do." The old man winked conspiratorially. After fifteen minutes, they pulled up to the strangest church Bernie had ever seen. The façades on both sides of the elegant double-doors were festooned with garish red neon outlines of generously-endowed young women, similar to cartoon-figures he'd seen on the rear-flaps of some

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60 eighteen-wheeler trucks. Each lady had a neon halo over her head, a single winking neon eye, and two winking lights at the tips of more private protrusions. Over the eve of the door was a green neon sign that read, "Apostolic Church of the Fallen Angels -- No need to wait for heaven – We'll bring it to you Right Here!" As Bernie exited the taxi, a huge Black man in a white silk robe with red ermine collar opened the church's front doors and approached him. "Bernie? Bernie Schwartz? Holy shee-uht, man, it's been twenty-five years!" Seeing the cabbie's expression, this much larger version of Joe Jackson than Bernie remembered made the sign of the cross. "Bless you, Brother," he said to the driver. He reached into his vestments, drew forth a small vial of water, and sprinkled it on the car. "And bless your most respectable means of conveyance as well. Permit me, kind sir, to add to the beneficence cast upon you this day by my dearest and oldest friend and companion of twenty-five years." He handed the man a ten dollar bill. "I insist you keep this for your labors, Brother. As they say in the Bible, the day is long and the wages steep, the workers are tired and they strive ceaselessly in the fields of the Lord. A blessed good night to you, Sir." As the yellow automobile departed, the huge pastor of the Apostolic Church of the Fallen Angels embraced Bernie. "Come, my friend, come into my study. Let us commune with the Lord. Let us sit eye to eye, ear to ear, cheek by jowl. In short, let's cut the bullshit and go inside...." The Reverend's office was palatial. Bernie could not help comparing it to his own, which looked like a dump beside this one. Books lined an alcove to the right of the door. Bibles, encyclopedias, medical books, law books, scientific treatises, and an array of fine literature graced this corner of the deep-carpeted room. A locked glass case held leather-bound volumes. At eye level, Bernie saw an assortment of select liqueurs and Bohemian crystal glassware. The room spoke with understated, quiet elegance. "Do you prefer cognac, armagnac, perhaps Amaretto, my friend?"

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Bernie was overwhelmed at the change that had come over the blustery man who'd palavered with the cabbie in the language of the ersatz holy man. "VSOP, please. Beautiful office, Joe." Bernie rubbed his hand over the highly polished teak conference table. The matching leather chairs all around had obviously not been purchased from a showroom. The custom desk was massive, with ball-and-claw footings. The Reverend's chair looked as though all that was missing was a hook on which to hang a crown. "I'd say I did pretty well for an uppity Nigger from the city," the man said, with not a hint of false pride. "It's ... it's ... amazing." Bernie looked about the room. There was a small Picasso, a large, eighteenth century painting, and an Otsuki serigraph, all originals, all in the finest taste and arranged with a discerning hand. "What's amazing, Bernie? That an Afro-American can display European grace and style? That I can spend my money on the same things as Caucasians aspire to?" "Well ... yes," Bernie replied, somewhat uncomfortably. "Don't feel embarrassed, my friend. We've known one another for a quarter century. I may not share your skin color, but I do have a certain amount of sechel, brother! Do you have any idea why I'm able to live such a wealthy lifestyle?" "No, why, Joe?" "Because I learned to laugh at myself early on. Back in the sixties, there was a lot of anger on all sides of the racial fence. Niggers, dagos, spics, wops, kikes, chicanos, honkies -every one of them trying to show how much weaker, more maligned, more oppressed, more vicious, smarter they were. It got a lot of people all upset, but in the end, not much changed. Oh, sure, they put Sherman Helmsley and The Cosby Show on the air to show that Afros could be Oreos -- Black on the outside, White on the inside -- and some brothers got parts in the movies and on TV. You even saw a few Latinos on the nineteen-inch screen. But it was never natural. The Black man was never the villain of the piece, 'cause then everybody'd protest. Slowly,

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everyone became faceless, a not-so carbon copy of everyone else. "Bernie, do you remember when we were first growing up? There were shows like `Life with Luigi,' `The Goldbergs,' `Amos n' Andy.' We celebrated our differences then, and we gloried in those differences 'cause that's what made America what it was. Today, it would be `Life with Jones', `Molly Smith,' and `John and James.'" "That still doesn't explain how you succeeded so well, Joe." "P.T. Barnum knew what he was talking about. Give the folks what they want. White folks, Black folks, hell, everyone hungered for the old days. They wanted a stereotype? I gave them one in Spades, you should pardon the pun. They wanted the big Nigger who was a caricature of what they wanted the big Nigger to be. The brothers? They wanted someone who could drive as big a Cadillac as the `massah.' Let me tell you a long story of how I got started in everything you see today." An hour later, the Reverend, well-fortified by now with liquid refreshment, concluded his tale. "So you're not Joe Jackson anymore. You're the Reverend Josiah Christian Jackson Muhammad COHEN?" "I got all the bases covered, baby!" "Let me get this straight. You were a -- a pimp?" "Uh-huh. Got arrested twice. Then I figured this wasn't a way for a decent Black boy to live. I saw those hell-fire-and-damnation preachers on television making a fortune. `That's where the money is,' I said to myself. By that time, I had a stable of twenty girls. You just don't abandon family like that. So I brought the issue up and we all agreed. Just like the commercials for the Ford cars. Jackson had a better idea. Completely legal. I write the whole thing off for taxes. I'm not only considered a respected Man of God, but the Whites see me as a spokesman for the Black community." "And all the while you're still running the girls?"

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"That's rather a crass way of looking at it. Let's just say that donations are always welcomed -- with open arms as it were. We have several rooms in the next building where our fallen angels may appropriately give thanks." "They do it next door to a place of worship? "Why not? Nothing actually takes place in the prayer hall. The police around here act like they're on Valium. For the appropriate -- umm -- benefits we confer upon them, they've learned that our Constitution guarantees separation of church and state." "But that's -- that's sacrilegious." "No more so than what Jim and Tammy Faye were doing before they got caught. We're just more open about human needs. Come on, I'll show you around." Bernie saw that the Reverend Josiah Christian Jackson Muhammad Cohen certainly had a good thing going. Entertaining as well. The meeting hall was an exciting place, with garish redand-black velvet-seated pews, a proscenium, and a high podium. When Bernie entered, an economy-sized edition of LaVerne Baker was beating a big bass drum and leading a chorus of some thirty women of all ages in the chorus to, "I'm Saved!," which had been a hit record when Bernie was growing up. There was high-spirited clapping and foot-stomping. Bernie had the sensation that this was exactly where God would come on His night off if he wanted a helluva good time. This was neither Anglican Protestantism, Dogmatic Catholicism, nor Reform Judaism. Dignity was not this Church's long suit. Soul was. At the conclusion of the song, the Reverend ascended the raised platform. After the usual series of "Hosannah's" and "Hallelujah, Brothers and Sisters," he introduced Bernie. "Brothers! Sisters! Members of my little flock. This here's Mister -- uh -- Mister Ben Savage, who I've known for many, many years. Mister Savage has come to take me from here." Breast-beating and shouts of "No! No!" erupted from the multitude. "But only for a little while, my chilluns. Only for a little while." Bernie noticed that the Reverend had lapsed into what he'd privately called his "Nigger patois," and winked in his friend's

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direction. Shouts of "Amen! Hallelujah!" replaced the moans. "He's takin' me far away, chillun'. Far away beyond de horizon." "Lord have mercy!" a woman shouted. There was writhing and wailing. "But I'm a'comin' back soon, and when I do, there'll be money to build the new social hall." "Praise de Lawd!" in unison. "We'll be goin' to Jordan! "A-men!" "And comin' to de Promised Land!" "A-men!" "Sing it, chilluns!" The congregation broke into chanting the spiritual "A-Men" before Bernie could even say hello. After that, they sang another five rousing numbers, appearing to forget that Mister Savage even existed. Finally the singing died down. The Reverend addressed the parishioners once again. "This here Mister Savage, he bring glad tidings! He be de messenger o' de Lawd!" "He be de messenger o' de Lawd!" the chorus sang out. "He be de prodigal son!" Josiah shouted. "He be de prodigal son!" the chorus responded. "He leadin' us down to Jordan!" "A-men! Hallelujah!" That was the signal for the chorus and congregation to hammer away at the Lord's songs for another twenty minutes. Before he knew it, Bernie was clapping in rhythm, shouting with the members of the flock, having the time of his life. "Why not stay the night?" the Reverend asked him quietly. "I don't know. All my stuff is at the hotel.

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65 "The Lord provides. We've got you a nice room, shower, shaving stuff, clean underwear,

the works. We'll have your clothing cleaned, pressed and ready to go by tomorrow morning. Besides, a nice little honkie like you certainly shouldn't be out after dark in Dee-troit." "Gosh, Joe, I appreciate it, but ...." "Hey, we're gonna' be on tour for a month. We may as well get used to living together." "You mean I'll share your quarters?" "No. I mean we're going to be in close proximity." # The room was more plush than his digs at the Hilton. The decor, however, was most unHiltonish. It was downright different from what he'd expected when he was in the church. Flocked, red-and-black wallpaper portrayed men and women in a series of "different" positions, some almost physically impossible. Paintings on the wall were "Deep Throat Modern." The black plastic box on top of the twenty-five inch television set gave Bernie his choice of twelve different movies -- all hard core. Incongruously, the Gideons had been here. The Bible that graced his bedside stand appeared to have seen little use. No sooner had Bernie gotten into bed, he heard a click, as someone tripped the lock and opened the door to his room. His eyes widened as the intruder entered silently and relocked the door. She was five-foot-eight and wore a skin-tight, shiny black outfit. Her skin was dark, her facial features well-sculptured. There was an aura of raw, animal lust about her. Below the gorgeous face, her body looked as though she had been designed by a sex maniac. Bernie's first thought was, "She'd cause a stone statue to have an hard-on." His second thought was that he had suddenly developed the biggest erection he'd ever experienced. "Hi." The voice was smoky. It reached out and caressed his testicles. "I'm Tawnee. The Reverend was worried that your bed might get cold." "Hi, yourself." Bernie tried to lower his voice to a masculine, booming bass. It came out

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66 a squeaky croak. "Do you generally invite yourself into strange men's bedrooms?" His imitation of Humphrey Bogart's macho wit was pale indeed. "Just the cute ones." She winked at him. He almost exploded right then and there. Bernie reached lamely for a conversational gambit. Tawnee walked over, put her fingers against his lips to silence him, and reached under the cover for something else. "Nice," she purred. "Very, very nice. I think you and I can figure out something to do with this little fellow -- a warm place to put him, perhaps." Her voice, beautifully modulated, was as thrilling as the rest of her. But who the hell wanted to listen to her voice at a time like this? In a single, fluid motion, Tawnee peeled the satin-skinned outfit off. She wore nothing but an inviting smile underneath. "Move over, big boy," she said huskily. "It's cold out here." Only a couple of months ago, Bernie had fantasized about what it would be like with a Black woman. Now he was in a soft cage with a tigress who exceeded any fantasy he'd ever had, on a battlefield where each would come out a winner. At this point in time, words would have been a burden. Aside from gasps, moans, shrieks, cries, bellows, and assorted other noises intended to convey extraordinary pleasure, Bernie and Tawnee weren't burdened further that night. By next morning, Bernie was wildly, blazingly in lust. Starved for years, he'd suddenly been thrust into Caesar's Palace's Sunday morning buffet, multiplied by ten. Tawnee taught him lessons he'd never learned in school. What a shame Phyllis – may she rest in peace – couldn't see him now! Rabbinical position, eh? He'd discovered a hundred new ways of giving and receiving sublime pleasure. Momentarily, his mind strayed to Sharon. He felt a sharp stab of guilt. But that part of him somewhat lower down said, "Forget her, Bernie baby! You'll never have as good a time as you're having now. I certainly won't!" Tawnee was indefatigable -- translation, unlike any woman he'd ever known in the Biblical sense (which amounted to Phyllis and one other girl with whom he'd had a quick grope in the

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fifty-five Chevy he used to drive before he met Phyllis) -- she was ready to rock and roll on a moment's notice. That evening, the huge woman who'd been beating the big bass drum the night before called him aside. "Honey," she said. "I'd be mighty careful if I were you. Tawnee's a delicious woman, but no one man can ever satisfy her kind. She's gotta' have lots of men, all the time." "Don't worry about me, Mama." The proud little bantam was strutting his stuff. "I've got the energy of a hundred men. She's gonna' find she won't need any more men than The Savage." "Man, you sho' do talk!" she mimicked herself. "Don't fo'get, I been around that gal a long time. The panther don't change her spots." "Leopard." "Leopard's white folk. Tawnee's a black gal, just like me, only about half my size. Panthers have spots too, you know." "What does that have to do with me?" "Like I said. Be careful. Don't you go fallin' in love with that gal or tryin' to have her all to yourself. It ain't gonna' happen that way. She's not the type that will ever be satisfied with one man." "What do you suggest?" "Have fun. Don't get too serious. Give her your pecker. Just don't give her your heart." # Two days later, after a jet flight to Little Rock and a puddle-jumper ride into Fayetteville, Bernie rented a car and started driving toward the place he'd been told he'd find Lucius. It was a very long drive. Fort Deatherage was aptly named. Although no one had ever been killed there, so far as anyone knew, it had the feeling of a morgue. The buildings were aged beyond comprehension. If the chipped, peeling paint on the sign above the entry, which read, "The Army Starts Here," was to be believed, then recruits could easily conclude that there was nowhere to go but up, and that

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things could not possibly get worse. Deatherage was a boot camp, sixty miles from anywhere. "Anywhere" was a town of four hundred called Mule's Ass -- locals were proud, damned proud, of that name, and if anyone snickered they might end up shot. The training camp had four seasons. Summer, which lasted from April through July. A hundred degrees in the shade. Monsoon season, August first through mid-September. A hundred degrees in the shade and three inches of rain a day. Indian summer, which lasted from September twenty-third through October sixth. Beautiful. And freeze-your-ass-off season, which lasted into March. The land surrounding Fort Deatherage was so barren that when it was founded a hundred-forty years ago, the Indians threatened to immolate themselves in gasoline -- never mind that they didn't even have gasoline back then -- rather than go there. The local Indian word for the area was translated, "The Great Spirit's Shit-Hole," or something remarkably similar. Bernie arrived in the middle of freeze-your-ass-off season. The Motel Six was Mule's Ass's only deluxe hostelry. The local Lions, Kiwanians, Rotarians and Jaycees all held their meetings there. The haute cuisine consisted of sandwiches, which they brought from home, and candy bars and soft drinks from the machines adjacent to the lobby. Bernie quickly decided that the wig, gold jewelry and fancy duds would not go down well at the military base. The following morning, he arrived bright and early at the commandant's office and introduced himself as Bernie Schwartz, proprietor of Schwartz-America Corporation -- "We manufacture and distribute goal-oriented support systems for the enhancement of military preparedness as demonstrated by our ever more sophisticated fighting force." Translation: occasionally one might be able to find a Schwartz-America gewgaw on sale within five miles of an army post somewhere in the world. "Is this an official visit, Mister Schwartz?" "No, General Gebhart ...." "Colonel, son. Lieutenant Colonel."

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69 "Oh, did I inadvertently mistake your rank? I'm sorry, Sir. I simply assumed that someone

with your obvious stature was of star rank." "No matter, Mister Schwartz." The commander chuckled warmly. Any kind of visitor at all was a welcome change. Fort Deatherage was one of the few places in the Army that was virtually immune from inspection. This was not an elephant's graveyard. It was a hole filled in with dead elephant shit, and when the wind cut across the barren flatlands around the post, it sure as hell smelled that way. Thank God, today was one of the very few days when there was no wind. Siberia was paradise compared to the Fort Deatherage. "Say, do you by any chance play dominoes?" "I do." "Well, son, I'm glad to hear it. Our rules and regulations strictly prohibit gambling of any kind, but the regs don't really affect civilians. Would you be willing to go five cents a point?" "Why not?" "Good. Cigar? Whisky? Not allowed of course, but, as between two gentlemen, who the hell has to know, eh?" Bernie politely declined the cigar, harking back to his earlier memories. Within two hours, he was down ten dollars. He really didn't care at that point whether he was down a hundred dollars. He wasn't sloshed, but he wasn't quite sober either. "You here for any reason, boy?" The commandant, who'd hit the sauce a little harder than Bernie, belched and farted simultaneously. "Looking for Lucius Sharp, Sir." The colonel came alive at the name. "Sharp-the-Sadist? What on earth do you want with that bad-assed old bastard?" "You know him, then?" "Who doesn't? That old Nig -- nighthawk's a goddamm legend at Fort Deatherage. Been here a dozen years. He's driven the toughest men we've ever had to tears. Harsh sonofabitch."

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"Oh?" "That isn't the half of it, Mister Shorts." "Schwartz." "Whatever. The Army outlawed quirts and billy clubs a hundred years ago. Someone forgot to tell that to old Macho Man Lucius. No one'll challenge him on it -- not even me. It's best not to mess with him. The guy's never taken a day's leave since I've been here. He's piled up three years' accumulated leave and no one'd shed a tear if he took every one of those days and then some." "Hard man?" "Like the old song says, `Meaner than a junkyard dog." "Where could I find him?" "Over yonder. He'll either be in Charlie Company barracks or the drill field, your guess is as good as mine." He found Lucius on the drill field. The wind had picked up and sliced through Bernie's suit, his shirt, his skin and deep into his bones. The sky was a sullen gray, but it sure-as-hell wasn't going to drop any rain on this place. Sleet maybe. Ice most likely. Lucius W. Sharp, Master Sergeant, US Army, resembled nothing so much as a tall, black block of granite. Granite face, granite chin, granite chest, granite voice. Despite the cold, he was dressed in open-necked, short-sleeved shirt. He carried a whip, which he cracked menacingly over the heads of the fifty men doing marine pushups on the frozen ground. "All right, you lily-livered pickled-pigs'-ass excuse for soldiers!" he bawled when he saw he had company. "Come to attention! At rest! Thirty-two minutes for lunch. Thirty-two minutes exactly. If you're one minute early or one minute late, you do thirty-two perfect pushups, understand? Dis-missed!" Granite mountain approached Bernie menacingly, daring the smaller white man to invade his territory. "What do you want?" The tone was flat, uninviting.

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"Lucius?" "Depends. Just who the hell might you be? Another goddam bill collector seeking to hit on one of my little recruits? Tell me who the flaky little asshole is and you'll have your goddam money quick enough. Sonofabitch, you guys have your nerve coming out here, but I figure that's what you get paid for." "The name's Savage -- about as savage as you look." Bernie chuckled nervously. Very nervously. "But if you're reasonably polite, I'll let you call me Bernie Schwartz." "Bernie? BERNIE SCHWARTZ?" "You got it!" "Holy shit! No kiddin', baby? What're you doin' in God's Shit-hole?" The granite not only cracked, it shattered in a million pieces, revealing a warmly grinning face that suddenly looked twenty-five years younger. "Trying to get you to take a much-needed vacation with pay, Lucius. Lots of pay!" "You've got my interest, Bernie." Sharp glanced down at his chrome-colored Timex watch. "You've got twenty-nine minutes -- exactly -- to tell me all about it." # When Bernie entered the affluent, rolling, River Heights area of Kansas City, he thought he must have the wrong address. After the sleazy brilliance of Detroit and the desperation of Fort Deatherage, the decidedly upscale address of the Kansas City Medical Group was a revelation. Surely The Predator had slipped up. The medical complex was surrounded by well-manicured putting greens in front of each building. There were umbrella pines everywhere. When he entered the spacious lobby of the address he'd been given, Bernie scanned the building directory and quickly found the entry "A. A. Fisher, MD, Proctology and Endoscopy." A. A. Fisher, MD? Alphonse? Impossible! Alphonse Fisher, a tall, shy, gangly kid. The group nerd. The only Black kid Bernie'd ever met who had no sense of rhythm. A proctologist in Kansas City? The Predator was pulling his leg. Or biting it.

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72 A young Caucasian receptionist greeted him. "Doctor Fisher is unavailable until the end of

next week. Is this an emergency, Mister Savage?" "Yes, it is, Miss. I need to see the doctor." "Doctor's on holiday, Mister Savage. He's been gone three weeks. Doctor Hendershot's seeing all of Doctor's patients while he's gone. I'm certain she could see you." "No, Miss. I'm afraid you don't understand. I must see Doctor Fisher. Excuse me, Miss, but could I ask a personal question?" "I don't know, Mister Savage." "I promise it's not intrusive. Is Doctor Fisher by any chance a man of color?" "He's Black, if that's what you mean." "Middle aged?" "Yes. I'm not sure I should be answering these questions." "Miss, I'm a friend of Doctor Fisher's from another lifetime. It's truly important I reach him. Is there a number where I might possibly do so?" He discreetly pressed a fifty dollar bill into her palm. "Yes, Sir, Mister Savage. Doctor'll be checking into the Crystal Palace, Room twelvetwenty-seven in Nassau this evening. He's on his way back from holiday in South America." No wonder Alphonse hadn't tried to get in touch with him. Alphonse was half a planet away from WHIZ. Half a planet away from anywhere. "How long will he be in the Bahamas?" "A week." A week Bernie could ill afford. The distributor had said "Now!" and he'd meant now. The garish Air Bahamas 737 was scheduled to touch down at Nassau's International Airport just after one-thirty the next afternoon. After reading the brochures, Bernie'd decided that this was the place to don his most elegant finery. It was only after the plane was in the air that Bernie remembered his passport was back home.

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Not surprisingly, a hundred dollar tip managed to convince the customs inspector that a library card really was an acceptable means of proving his American citizenship, particularly when Bernie'd arranged to hire the man's cousin to drive him to Cable Beach. Soon enough, he reached the shocking pink, multi-storied monstrosity that dwarfed its older, more sedate neighbors. Another twenty dollar tip, and the bell captain cheerfully pointed out Bernie's prey. Bernie looked at the slender, elegant man from behind a series of potted palms. It was Alphonse, all right. A little older, but the facial structure was the same. He approached the rattan settee on which his former second baritone was seated. "Doctor Fisher?" "I am he." "I'm Ben Savage." "The name means nothing to me." The man looked and sounded exactly like James Earl Jones. "You are Doctor Alphonse Fisher, the proctologist." "Yes, I am, sir," the man answered stiffly. "And I'll thank you not to humor me with the allegedly smart remark that I'm `in the arse end of the business.'" "Look, Doctor Fisher, might we have a quiet word somewhere? The bar, perhaps?" "You may choose to imbibe. I, sir, will have a cup of tea on the veranda, just beyond the swimming pool. It is that time of the afternoon, you know." When a fat boy of ten, barreling down the huge water slide splashed water all over his toupé, Bernie stared stolidly ahead, praying silently that the wig would stay in place. Mercifully, it did. Bernie sat in a webbed chair in the tea area. It was wet, and thoroughly uncomfortable. "Alphonse, you really don't remember me?" "Should I?" "Bernie? Bernie Schwartz? A recording session a quarter century ago?" "OLDIES BUT GOODIES SHOW?" The man's eyes lit up in immediate recognition.

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"My, but that brings back the memories. My first and only foray into the entertainment field. I believe I may yet have one of those old records left about. Goodness me, what ever happened to you, Bernie? I really did get into the arse end of medicine, but I've made a good living at it, and Kansas City's not a bad place for `little Black Sambo' to end up. What have you been doing, Bernie?" "Until recently, I was in import-export. Gadgets, things that never quite made it to the big time. You haven't heard about OLDIES BUT GOODIES SHOW, then?" "If anything's happened to that old turkey within the past few weeks, no. I went to a medical convention in Buenos Aires and stretched it out into a pleasant holiday. We left the kids with our au pair, scaled the heights of Macchu Picchu, and had a long-delayed fifth honeymoon. You're fortunate you caught me when you did. We just got back from Blue Lagoon Island and I was waiting for my wife to join me in a foray to the Straw Market. But what's your news about OLDIES BUT GOODIES SHOW?" "That `old turkey' as you call it, took wings and became an eagle. Listen, Alphonse, how'd you like to extend your holiday by another month or so?" # Bernie would like to have stayed in Nassau, even for one extra day. The delicious warm water, the palm trees, the steel band music of the Caribbean, the charming, crowded jitneys that rolled between Cable Beach and Nassau town. Tawnee would have fit right in, here. Hell, she would have been the queen of the Bahamas. But business called, and there was a direct United Airlines flight from Miami to Los Angeles. He arrived at midday and called the business telephone number The Predator had given him. "Flutsie of Hollywood." The voice could have been male or female, and glissandoed up the last word. "I'd like to speak to Charles Stevens please."

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"I'm sorry, do you have an appointment with Mister Steven?" "No, but ...." "Pity. Mister Steven is coiffing Mister Sidney Poitier this afternoon and he really cannot be disturbed." "Wait a minute! Who is `Mister Steven?' I asked to speak to Charles Stevens." "Oh, you dear, dear tease, you. Mister Steven used to be called that in an earlier incarnation. Are you by any chance a personal acquaintance?" "Listen, Charles Lewis Stevens and I were in the entertainment business several years ago. It's imperative I speak to him immediately, as in today." "Oh, you don't have to be so rough. I told you, he's taking care of Mister Poitier today. Tomorrow he'll be doing Johnny Mathis and the next day it'll be Michael Jackson. You call up without an appointment and you're so demanding!" "Look, Flutsie or Tootsie or whoever you are!" "Oh, you sound so cute when you're angry!" "Listen! You tell Mister Steven or Mister Flutsie or whatever that sonofabitch calls himself nowadays that Bernie Schwartz, as in OLDIES BUT GOODIES SHOW, will be around to see him at seven tonight and he'll talk to me or I'll hold you hostage, you little fruit, is that clear?" "Oh?" the voice beamed delightedly. "You sound so big and mean. Do you do whips and chains?" Bernie slammed the receiver down. The Predator had given him Charles's address and telephone number. The agency had hinted at the other information, but didn't quite spell it out. The Predator was not into libel suits. "Flutsie of Hollywood" lived in El Cerrito, southeast of Los Angeles, in what may once have been a grand dame of a house. However, a garish pink seventy-five year old residence is no more attractive than a garish pink, painted seventy-five year old woman. Bernie pressed the doorbell. The response was eight bars of the theme from "Love Story."

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76 A man dressed in pink lounging robe floated to the door. "Yes?" The rising inflection was that of this afternoon's queen. "Bernie Schwartz to see the master or the mistress or whatever Charles calls himself or herself nowadays." "Well! I just don't know what to say, you barbarian, you." "That's enough, Inigo, Dear. You needn't be so rough on our visitor." Bernie glanced up to see what he took to be the fourth member of the quartet, dressed in a pink lounging robe which matched Inigo's. Flutsie descended the staircase, mincing and graceful. "And who have we here, dear heart?" he asked. "Or is it whom have we here? I never can get that straight." "Charles?" "You may call me Mister Steven, or, if you are a friendly, cuddly type, you might call me Flutsie. But how could you ever dredge up such a silly old name as Charles, my darling little lamb?" "Charles Lewis Stevens. Cut the shit! You wanna' make big bucks or not?" "I'll have you know I do make what you so vulgarly call `big bucks,' you mean old chappie. Inigo and I live quite comfortably, don't we, sweetie?" Inigo glared at Bernie. "We certainly do!" "All right, Charles, have it your way. If you want to float through the air like the greatest of queens, go ahead and do it. I'm talking about twenty-five years ago and a record called OLDIES BUT GOODIES SHOW. I don't know what planet you've been on for the past three weeks, but that sucker's number one with a bullet on Billboard. Casey Kasem, Rick Dees and every other disk jockey whose name means anything in this country is playing it every hour. You were the high voice on that record, back in another life. If you want to do it again, I'm giving you the opportunity." "Holy shit! You got to be kiddin' m' man!" The high-voiced hairdresser instantly changed

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from Flimsy Faerie to Clubhouse Chuck. "Are Joe, Lucius and Alphonse in on this?" "Bet your sweet ass they are. We're all meeting back at my house in twenty-four hours. I've got a prepaid ticket for you -- one way -- if you're interested." "Man, you got yourself a tenor! What about Inigo?" he asked, returning to his more natural unnatural self. "I mean Inigo'd just die without me, wouldn't you sweetums honey lambsie pie?" "Oh, yes, you wicked, wicked man." Inigo leered at Flutsie and stuck his tongue out daintily at Bernie. "Fine with me. You pay for your own wife or husband or whatever. One thing's for sure. We've got to tear ass out of here pretty quick if we want to stay on top." "What about Johnny Mathis and Michael Jackson?" Inigo pouted. "They're just dying to have you do their hair." "Shee-uht, man," Flutsie shot back. "In another month, I'll be so popular they can do mine!"

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Three days later, they were all gathered in Bernie's living room. Bernie knew this was going to be the pitch that would make or break them for the next several weeks. "First things first, guys -- and Flutsie and Inigo. We've got to do two things immediately. One, we've got to tour with this record. Two, we've got to have another one in the can waiting to be released the minute this one starts dropping off the charts. I've got us booked on "Tonight," "David Letterman" and "Saturday Night Live." That'll get us instant exposure. We don't have to learn a helluva lot for those shows. We can pretty well go with OLDIES BUT GOODIES SHOW and TENDER BELOVED, the backside. Any of you remember who sang what part in that dogsh... -- that `B' side?" Nobody did. "Just as well. I doubt we'll be asked to sing it. The hard part is, we haven't been together in half a lifetime. We don't know what we can do and what we can't. We'll have to play it by ear, figure something out as we go along. We'll start the tour and do the album in between. We'll have to work sixteen hours a day to put things together." Bernie was ringmaster of this circus and he was enjoying himself immensely. "Bernie, you've got to understand, we're going to need some privacy to carry on with our own lives," the Reverend Josiah Jackson Christian Muhammad Cohen addressed his producer. "I don't know about the rest of these guys, but I've got a -- a parish -- to run. My girls -- uh, congregants -- need to have some direction in their lives. It's always been my job to find suitable male companions -- elder brothers in the church -- to escort them and help them carry out their God-given tasks." "Cut the crap, Joe," the doctor snapped. "What you're telling us is that you're still running the girls the same way you were back when you were pimping. You've just put a different spin on the game and you're worried someone'll cut into your action."

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79 "That doctor man, he sho' do speak the truth!" the Reverend said, mocking his roots and

beaming. "At least I don't go lookin' up peoples' asses in my business! Loosen up some, Alphonse. You just might enjoy yourself with one of my congregation." "That's enough, guys," Bernie said. "If we work things out right, there'll be time for everyone. I'm not saying any of you have to cut into your own lives forever. We're talking about three weeks, a month at the most." "What if something happens and it lasts longer?" the sergeant asked. "Such as?" "What if the follow-on record takes off, Bernie?" "Lucius, you're a year from retirement. As big and as tough as you are, the Army's lookin' for younger men. Computer scientists, technicians, little boys who play with electronics. Hell, you’ve read about some of the new toys coming down the line. You better believe the Army's lookin' to divorce old Lucius Sharp. “Alphonse, you make a helluva good living, but you're still nothing but a high-priced wage slave. You yourself made that bitter joke about twenty years in the ass-end of the medical business. “Flutsie, you fool yourself into believing that because you style hair and kiss the asses of famous people, you're some kind of success. You're still slaving for "the Man" who lives in Brentwood, Bel Air, or Beverly Hills. You aren't one of them. Not because you're Black and not because you're gay, but because you're nothing more than servants to their vanity, and you'll never be more than that. “Joe, you might be the Reverend this and the Reverend that. You've tasted the real bucks so you know what I mean. You're a reformed pimp who never quite reformed. You know it and so does everybody else. Just like Lucius and Alphonse and Flutsie, you're living off someone else's star, or their body, or their illness. "I'm no better than the rest of you. All my adult years, I've been beating my head against a

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80 wall, always `just about to be successful.' My wife left me because I was boring. I’ve got a house right out of a ten year old magazine, a neurotic dog who's so horny he'd screw a knothole in a tree. I'm not saying we can or even that we should stay in show business. But it's our chance -our one chance -- to break away from lives of quiet desperation. "None of us is as young as we were when we made this record. The fact that someone turned a joke into a dream might just be God saying, `Look, little guys. You've paid your dues. I'm gonna' finally give you one chance at some fun, maybe even a small taste of immortality. Let's make the most of this chance, OK? It may not be much, but it's the only one we've got." The silence that followed was interrupted by soft sobbing. "That was so beautiful, it brought tears to my eyes." "Je-sus! A friggin' watery-eyed queen!" Sergeant Sharp said. "Thank God it's only for a short time. I don't know if I can even be in the same room with him much more than an hour." "Listen, Mister Macho," Flutsie responded. "What I do is my own business. You don't have to worry I'm going to try and make it with you or give you AIDS or any of that crap. If you've gone around hiding your feelings all these years, that's your problem. I am what I am, but I'm not going to have a heart attack and an ulcer and a stroke when I turn fifty-five, 'cause I say what I feel, when I feel it, and I live my life on the outside. If you’re so goddam tough that Bernie's words didn't get to you, that's your problem. He's right. What have you got to show for your years in the Army except a bunch of stripes? Hell, a zebra's born with more stripes than you've got." "Easy, fellows," Bernie said. "Enough's enough. Whether we love or hate one another, we've got to be a team, if only for a short time. We're really all we've got. We go on the Tonight one week from now. I've hired a choreographer, a director, a clothes designer and a voice coach." "A choreographer?" Sharp was aghast. "One of the queer's little friends?" Flutsie glared at him. "No, Lucius, he's not anyone's little friend. He's six-foot-five, the only guy in the city who

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81 could knock you on your ass, and he's had five successful Broadway shows in the past five years. And yes, we do need all those things. We're just a little out of practice, or hadn't you noticed?" After the Angels left, Bernie leafed through ten days' worth of mail. The usual junk mail, advertisements and the like. His eye lit on a bill from a Doctor Elliot Nagel. The address was one of the fancy high-rises near The Predator's office. He'd never heard of a Doctor Nagel before. When he opened the envelope, Bernie's eyes widened. Below the crisp letterhead, which announced "Elliot Nagel, DVM, FACCP, Practice Limited to Canine and Feline Psychiatry," was a printed invoice and a bill for Four hundred dollars. Four hundred dollars! Harry had cost less than half that! "Harry! Come here right now, this instant!" The dog, who'd been listening patiently to the business discussions between The Master and The Angels, yawned, stretched, and lazily ambled toward Bernie. "Just what in hell is this all about?" He read the brief billing detail, "Post-traumatic stress syndrome; diagnostic consultation with patient; discussion of sexual dysfunction and abstinenceinduced depression; three therapy sessions .... Harry, just what the hell is this anyway? A dog psychiatrist?" The dog wagged his tail, licked Bernie's hand and slobbered on The Master's pants. Clearly the mangy mutt was no help in resolving the problem. Nor was his mother. "What do you mean, why did I take him to a dog psychiatrist? He moped around here for days. He didn't eat and he looked listless. Listen, Bernie, when you didn't get well after a couple of days and an enema, I took you to the doctor, too." "Enema? You gave Harry an enema?" "What do you think, I'm crazy? Of course I didn't give him an enema. But he looked like he needed one, so I took him to the doctor." "And the doctor recommended a psychiatrist? I've never heard of such a thing." "Listen, Mister Big Shot, you're the one who told me that everything's different now. I

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figured dogs take after their masters, why not let him have the same privileges as you?" "But four hundred dollars?" "If nothing's too good for my son, why should it be too good for his dog? After all, it's not as if you'd given me a grandchild. Speaking of which, have you by any chance called Sharon yet?" "Ma ...." "Never mind, I won't meddle. If you're going to be away on tour, maybe I should leave the dog with her. An apartment is no place for a big dog like that. Sharon has a large fenced yard. Just right for a dog and some little children." "Ma, I get the picture, OK? I've got a show to do." "You're welcome." "You're welcome?" "I didn't hear a `Thank you, mom, for taking care of my dog for me.'" "Oh, yeah. Thanks mom." "It was nothing." Harry, apparently bored with the conversation, had fallen into a deep, satisfied slumber, undoubtedly dreaming of ways to cure his sexual dysfunction. # After working with all five members of the group -- Bernie was going to reprise his role as the barker bringing everyone to that Oldies But Goodies Show -- the choreographer concluded not only that each of The Angels had two left feet, but that they were probably clubbed feet as well. Finally, he struck on the perfect idea. "You're doing a song that's twenty-five years out of date. Back then, every group did a one-two-three-kick routine. They all looked like elephants trying to do a ballet. Things have tightened up a lot in the last few years. Almost every act performs something out of the latest

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Broadway musical. There's no reason we shouldn't go back to one-two-three-kick. It'll be a breath of stale air!" "Not funny," Lucius growled. "I'm not trying to be," the choreographer replied. "Do you have any better ideas?" For the next twenty-four hours, they studied kinescope clips of "perfect" acts. Danny and the Juniors, The Penguins, Frankie Lyman and the Teenagers, Dion and the Belmonts, The Medallions. All the big legends, none of whom had seen stardom for the last three decades. By the end of their second day, they fulfilled the choreographer's dream of looking absolutely stiff, tense, nervous and out-of-step. And they did it so naturally. "Hot damn! If I didn't know better, I'd swear you were born to be buffoons!" "Watch those racial slurs, my man, or you'll get a whip up your backside!" the sergeant snarled. "Easy, Lucius," Bernie said. "He said buffoons, not baboons." "Oh. I'm sorry. I didn't know he was paying us a compliment." The choreographer rolled his eyes, silently trying to calculate whether any amount he charged was enough. The clothes designer ran into trouble from the beginning. Each member of the act had a different idea of what would be ideal. Alphonse felt the time was right to show that AfroAmericans had risen to the rank of gray flannel suit. He pointed out that very few entertainers went on The Tonight Show looking like refugees from Ed Sullivan. Lucius went along with Alphonse's idea, but thought the suits should be of a military cut. "It'd be a real salute to the army if we wore colonel's eagles on our shoulders and rimmed hats with scrambled eggs." The glares he got from the rest of the group put the kebash on that idea. Flutsie suggested blond, shoulder-length wigs, "so we can attract today's Pepsi generation." "But we're Black," Josiah said.

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"It doesn't matter, Reverend," the tenor responded. "I can tell you from experience, it's true that blonds have more fun! Besides, we can say we're Albino Blacks." "Charles," the doctor said. "I don't know if you've noticed, but we all have naturally kinky hair and dark coloring. Not even a `high yaller' among us." Many jokes are made about Polish weddings -- the kind where the bride wears white – and red, blue, green, purple, pink, yellow, orange, and whatever other colors happen to be around. These combinations were subtle indeed, compared to what the Reverend proposed. When Bernie saw the prototype, he said, diplomatically, "Joe, it's just wonderful for when we tour Botswana, Nigeria, and Angola, but wouldn't it be better to leave that kind of things to Pollacks in the U.S.? They seem to have cornered the market on tastelessness." In the end, the choreographer resolved the problem for them. Baggy black slacks. White shirts with French cuffs and cufflinks. Black cummerbunds and matching bow ties. Red flannel jackets with silver sparkle threads -- lots of silver sparkle threads -- woven through the material. "But won't that much glitter take away from the dance steps they're doing?" "Precisely. That's exactly why the outfits are ideal." So much for the first part of preparing for the tour. There's an old saying, "You shouldn't try to teach a pig to sing. It doesn't work, and it annoys the pig." Alas, when the time came that The Angels had to sing, Bernie found that the old saying had more than a little truth. To give the devil his due, Bernie could still do a pretty good imitation of a shouting pitchman. But the rest of The Angels had fallen a long way indeed. For one thing, the highest note Flutsie could hit was at the top of the baritone range. Lucius was perennially hoarse from his years of barking orders. Alphonse never had much rhythm to begin with, probably one of the few Blacks in history so deprived. What little he had, had been lost over the years. Finally, there was Joe. Joe was not really bad. It was just that Joe was never there. Rehearsals were constantly interrupted by a steady stream of phone calls and directives to Letitia, Drusilla, Genevieve, or any

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of a dozen other ladies who chose to ply their religious trade at night. When The Angels tried to sing and dance, it was like watching a man who only had one arm, trying to rub his tummy in circular motion and pat his head at the same time. It simply didn't work. "We've got to try lip synch," the director finally said, in exasperation. "It's the only way. It's been proved over the years." Although he didn't add, "And if I've ever seen a group that'll need lip synch to survive, this one's it," the innuendo was obvious to them all. Surprisingly, they brought off the Tonight show in style. OLDIES BUT GOODIES SHOW was the only tune they were asked to perform. No one pressed them to do an encore. When they were interviewed, their very ingenuousness proved charming. Next day, Bernie got the good news that the distributor had shipped another hundred thousand CD's each to New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. "How're sales going?" "Dynamite, my friend, dynamite! We'll need another thirty thousand dollars by next week for a new pressing." "Can't you just take it off the money you owe me?" "No way, José. We haven't been paid all that much yet, and we've got to hold a mammoth reserve for returns. It'll all come out in time. I'm sure you'll be ecstatic when we do the quarterly accounting." "How many have we actually sold?" "Don't worry, my man!" The cigar-chomping distributor actually pinched Bernie's cheeks. "You got a number one record in all the major markets and all you can think about are sales? This'll be a big one! You don't gotta' worry about anything! But I do need that thirty thousand by weeks' end." # "It'll be a four week blitz, Ma. Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington ..." he rattled

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86 off the names of the twenty-four cities they'd be covering. "That's only the beginning. When the follow-up record comes out, it'll be a world tour." "And just who's paying for all this, my financial wizard?" "It'll all come out of the royalties on the other end." "You mean the hotels and restaurants and all those nice people are waiting for their money?" "No, Ma. They want it now." "So who's laying out all this money they want now? Certainly not Fineman, your big shot distributor." "Well, uh, no ..." "Who, then?" Bernie fumbled about. His mother was no fool. "How much is this costing you, Bernie?" "Two hundred thousand dollars. But that includes the cost of the recording session for the follow-up songs. I've got the finest arranger in the business, orchestra, synthesizers, ten voices...." "And where is my son, the next Rothschild getting such a tidy sum?" "There's still money left from Phyllis's insurance. I've got nineteen credit cards. The bank's agreed to lend me the rest, secured by the receipts from the record and a financing statement on Schwartz-America assets." "Are you sure this is something you want to do? For what you're spending, you could have a nice wedding. You're still not too old to give me grandchildren, you know." "Ma, stop pushing me, OK? We've gone over what you want time and time again. This is what I want. It's the dream I always wanted but I had to put it away to earn a living. Haven't you ever wanted to kick up your heels and do something for yourself just because it felt good?" "Bernie, my happiness is you. When I see you making a success of yourself, I'm proud, I'm pleased, I'm happy."

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87 "Mama, stop it with the guilt, OK? I'm asking you for an honest answer. Was there never

a time you did something just to do it, with no plan and no idea of how it would come out? To dare the absurd with the thought that you just might achieve the impossible?" "Bernie," she replied. "Life is more than silly games. What you're doing now is fun. It's your fun, and I wish you all the best. But that's not what life is all about. What do you do when reality hits? You think you're a big shot in this business? You're not RCA Victor and you're not Columbia. You're a little fish in an ocean full of sharks. You think you can compete with the big guys? You can't. You got yourself a hit record. That's wonderful, but don't you see it's only a dream? “When you were growing up, how many `stars' do you remember that disappeared after one record? Where do you think they are today? Singing that one hit in a dive in the worst part of town? Looking at old, faded pictures of themselves, while they stand in the welfare line? Even those who had many big records and put some money away are still pretending they're young stars, that tastes don't change and that they've kept up with the times. They still believe that their next hit record is just around the corner." "Ma, I know it may only be a one-time thing, but it's more than I've ever done before. For fifteen minutes or for a month or for however long it is, I'm a celebrity. For one isolated moment, I'm more than plain, old Bernie Schwartz. For once in my life, I don't have to die inside every time I say, `No, I'm not the Bernie Schwartz who changed his name to Tony Curtis, I'm the other one.' All my adult life, I put up with `almost' making it, living a little life with little victories and little defeats, with no significance or meaning. For once in my life I'm happy, really, truly happy. I'm doing what I want to do. If I lose it all in the end, I can look God in the eye and say, `I did it! I grabbed for the brass ring, and even though it turned my finger green and maybe even tore my finger off, I had the glory for an instant.' Can't you understand that, mama?" "Nice words, Bernie, but they don't pay the bills. Just what do you expect to do when the bubble bursts? Or don't you have any contingency plans?"

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88 "Why can't I just live for today for a change? Who knows what'll happen when it all ends?

I could play piano in a nightclub and be happy. For once in my life, I've got no responsibilities. No wife, no kids. Just me." "Is that a way for a mensch -- a real man -- to live, Bernie? Is that what I raised you to be? To think of yourself and no one else? When's that last time you tried to call Sharon? When's the last time you took your dog for a walk? They may as well not exist as far as you're concerned." "Aww, mom, don't start with that again. I just don't have time for that right now." "And you may never have. Sharon’s angry and she's hurt, but she cares about you." "She hung up on me last time I tried calling." "And when was that?" "What does it matter? She as much as said she doesn't want to see me again." "What do you feel?" "How do I know what I feel? To be truthful, there's, uh, there's another woman in my life right now?" "Oh??? Is she Jewish?" He thought about Tawnee and forced himself to suppress the blush he felt rising. "I haven't had a chance to ask her yet." "What's her name?" "Tawnee." "Tawnee? That's a name for a Jewish girl? Who knows? Nowadays, they name them anything. What does her father do?" "Look, ma. We'll talk about it another time, OK? Right now, I'm late for rehearsal. We start the tour in two days. I've got to run. I love you." # The tour started with a bang. Twenty thousand people crowded Fenway Park. The

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89 "Oldies But Goodies Show Revue" got off to a rollicking start, as the twelve piece back-up band, augmented by several of Josiah's flock as chorus, provided a dynamite showcase for Chuck Berry, James Brown, Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin, who'd agreed to do the first night sendoff after Bernie had announced that he was donating every penny over costs to the Apollo Theatre Restoration Project. It was a good thing the real stars had volunteered, because the Angels were good for one song -- and only one -- on their own. They could manage the "Doo-Wops," "Shoo-bee-doos," and "Sha-la-las" necessary to back up their infinitely more talented co-performers, but that was about it. Bernie, who acted as master of ceremonies, had the best time of his life. After the show, Bernie could have died from sheer joy when the real stars posed for photographs with him. Years before, in Atlantic City, Bernie had posed with a cardboard cutout of then-President Kennedy. The Kennedy mock-up had been slightly smaller than life-sized so, for a change, Bernie looked taller than JFK. When the group portrait was taken, Bernie resolved that the older picture was destined for the scrap heap. After the pictures, there was an "Oldies But Goodies Show" pig-out for the performers and cast. Everything from champagne to caviar, from boned squab to chicken Kiev, to downhome ribs, chit'lin's and sweet potato pie. No Dickie's Quickie Chickie here. By two in the morning, the Angels were as high as they were going to get without flapping their wings, and the party became an all-night Revival. Unfortunately, next morning came rushing up, going a thousand miles an hour. Bernie and his Angels were supposed to be on their chartered bus to the Meadowlands by ten a.m. Bernie, whose lifestyle generally had him in bed by ten and who was not used to mixing wine and whisky, felt like every pebble, every crack, every small depression in the road was like a thousand kettledrums beating in his head. The remainder of the group fared no better. The "boys" -- if one could charitably call them that -- were on their own the second night, without any other major acts to make the show worth the $44.95 that thirty-five thousand people

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had shelled out. After the rapidly falling Angels suffered through half a dozen false starts, each punctured by a growing chorus of boos and catcalls, Big LaVerne, the woman who'd warned Bernie not to get too serious about Tawnee, saved the night by staging her own mini-revival meeting, bass drum and all. LaVerne was magic, a one-woman show, who combined the charisma and "I dare you not to join me and have fun" feeling of Billy Graham and Mickey Mouse, a Black Ethel Merman who shook the stage when she hoisted her three-hundred-pound bulk onto it, and shook the audience still more when she belted out songs that had thrilled a nation for thirty years and more. Songs her mama had sung to her mama, and songs that her grandaddy's grandaddy had sung before those of her race were even considered to be people. She had them laughing, crying, shouting and stomping, drained of all emotion and clapping as if each person in the audience was an active rider on the train to Kingdom Come. A half-hour after Big LaVerne started, the customers forgot that they'd come to see an entirely different group, an entirely different kind of show. They'd gotten their money's worth -- more than their money's worth, and when they left, a large number of them were singing, humming and clapping as they headed back to Manhattan, Jersey City, or a hundred other little places and notso-little places on either side. The atmosphere in The Angels' dressing room was less than euphoric. "Ben Savage" had a serious Maalox moment. Even the loud passage of gas from both ends did little to relieve the gnawing he felt in his gut. Unlike in the commercials, that feeling didn't go away as soon as he'd gulped down spoonfuls of mint-over-chalk tasting liquid. If this was a preview of coming attractions -- and LaVerne was leaving for Detroit the following morning to act as "Associate Pastor" during Josiah's absence on tour – there were bad times ahead. The thinly-knit spider web of old friendships, which had bound the four vocalists together, was already starting to unravel. Each blamed the other for the fiasco. "For a proctologist, you sure as hell had your head up your ass tonight, Doctor Alphonse," Sharp began. "In all your medical studies did you ever learn to count to four, as in `a-one and a-

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two and-a' or have you spent all your time listening to Lawrence Welk Reruns on the Old Fart's Network?" "Hey, good Sergeant, I don't need no lessons from you!" "Any lessons," the hairdresser interjected. "Say which?" "Any lessons," Flutsie repeated. "It seems for all that doctor language, you's just like Alex Haley. You keep going back to your `Roots' and talk just like any other brother when you get upset." "Easy, guys," Bernie said, attempting to defuse the situation. "We've all got a case of second night jitters. It'll be better tomorrow night." But Bernie was beginning to have serious doubts that it would. For one thing, despite Alphonse's huffy posturing, even he must suspect that he had no rhythm. Zilch. And for a brother, that was probably the one and only unforgivable sin. Even worse than being an Episcopalian or a Methodist. Flutsie tried -- God how he tried -- to reach the high notes, but any time he came close, the strain was so great that he farted, something that did not endear him to those standing close by. Lucius's voice was a throaty growl, not bad for a bass singer. Except that over the years, the sergeant's voice had developed a three-note tonal pattern. Bernie suspected that all that shouting and cursing had notched ridges in Lucius's vocal cords, which were now so deep that when he tried to sing anything but the three growls, the result was unfortunate. Sort of like a teen-aged boy whose voice is changing and cracking, only in Lucius's case it sounded like an off-key foghorn. To give Joe his due, the huge preacher/pimp was as sharp as ever. His lead voice still carried well, although it did not blend with the other three, mostly because Lucius and Flutsie weren't capable of carrying a tune, and because Alphonse was always two-thirds of a beat behind or ahead of the others.

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92 The difficulty was that Joe was, first and foremost, a hustler. It hadn't taken him long to

set up an adjunct Church of the Fallen Angels, albeit one that specialized in one-night-stands -wham, bam, thank you ma'am. This created an administrative nightmare. For one thing, Joe didn't know the cops in New Jersey. Giving them "freebies with the flock" wouldn't give the female congregants time to make profitable connections for the Lord. Worse, one never knew when one of these ungrateful servants of the state might decide that Joe's "church" really didn't fill a useful religious purpose. Thus, between hustling, accounting, proselytizing (God forbid anyone should call it pimping!) and keeping a wary eye out for the law, Joe had difficulty concentrating on the words or the tunes. His timing and rhythm might be excellent. It's just that he seemed, in the words of a famous writer of yore, to march to the beat of a different drummer. A tense, if much earlier, night, no booze, and a nine hours’ sound sleep at the Hilton tempered tempers. By the time they reached the outskirts of Philadelphia, the bus was rockin' and rollin' to a host of most-unlordly music with lyrics that would have been banned in Boston, or anywhere else for that matter. The third night went a little better because it was lubricated by generous draughts of Lone Star beer and Jack Daniels. Primarily it went a little better because anything goes down well in Philadelphia. But Bernie noted with some alarm that the audience was down to fifteen thousand, barely over the break-even mark. By this time, the term "stinky singers," applied not so much to the way The Angels sang as to the way they smelled. The director had skimped a little on the quality of the boys' outfits. The red ones "bled" all over the vocalists' white shirts. They soaked up every bit of perspiration The Angels could manufacture and they had the unfortunate habit -- if inanimate clothing can have habits -- of regurgitating the odor from that sweat at odd times. Bernie was oblivious to it all. He and Tawnee retired backstage after each performance and got high on music of their own making. Inigo was a sinister shadow who draped a pink smoking jacket over Flutsie as soon as the almost-tenor left the stage. "Our Mr. Steven mustn't catch cold, you know. Such a delicately perfect voice. Such sweet hands. And you beastly, dirty

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old men simply get much too close to him during the soiree performances." Maybe that was it, Bernie thought. Perhaps if Lucius and Alphonse had a little diversion, they'd relax a bit more on stage. When he mentioned this to Tawnee, she stretched languorously, catlike, and said, "Maybe they would relax at that." After he fell asleep beside her, she thought, "They're all so different, it might be fun to try."

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94 8

EMI-America Studios was as different from the old Blue Star operation run by Slim Loader as the Keystone Cops movies were from "Terminator II." Gone were the huge console, single-track Ampex machines, the RCA-73 mikes which could leave a bump on your foot the size of an egg if they fell on you. Gone was the equalization board with eight sliding switches. Now the recorders used forty-eight track tape and were geared for video performances. Each performer had two button-sized, wireless microphones. Those sounds made by human beings -- now in the decided minority -- were instantly computerized, digitized, folded, stapled and mutilated to come out in freshly packaged microchip bytes, bits, or whatever they were called nowadays. Bernie had insisted, even though the director had told him it was hopelessly out of date, on a small orchestra made up of real people: three saxes, three trombones, two trumpets, two guitars, stand-up bass, keyboard, drums, and six live violinists, and a chorus made up of three males and three females. Never mind that the Korg synthesizer could duplicate the orchestra and chorus better, cheaper and with complete consistency. Bernie wanted real people. But, for insurance, he acquiesced to the director's suggestion that maybe they should have the Korg available, just in case. Bernie hired the hottest arranger in the business. The director had chosen twelve songs, a perfect mix of old and new. The orchestra and chorus were pros. A single two hour rehearsal and they had it down pat. Bernie had booked an eight hour block at the studio, at five hundred dollars an hour. OLDIES BUT GOODIES SHOW had been cut in one hour at a cost of fifteen dollars for the sound room. Bernie figured they'd have a "wrap" on at least half the album, six songs, by the end of the session. He chose to divide the time half and half, hoping that the orchestra, chorus and synthesizer

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95 would be able to lay down the tracks -- have the entire background completed and taped -- within four hours. He was pleasantly surprised when, at the end of three-quarters of that time, he had twelve performances which he'd have killed to get twenty-five years ago – full, rich, and dynamic. Twelve guaranteed hit sides if he was any judge, no matter how badly the Angels tried to muck it up. The "boys" weren't due for another hour. The arranger came over to Bernie and said, "Well, Mister Savage? Are you satisfied?" "A thousand-and-one-percent. You were magnificent!" "Listen, you've paid for the full four hours. Do you have anything else you'd like us to do? Maybe an old song you heard somewhere and liked? We could lay down a good background you could use later, something like that?" Bernie thought for a moment. He looked at the myriad dials and switches, toggles and scientific monstrosities. He hadn't given Sharon much thought in the last few weeks, but then again, one never knew. "I have a cassette out in the car. I recorded a friend of mine a couple months ago. She sang, I played piano. If I wanted to surprise her by beefing the cassette up a little bit, do you suppose it could be done?" "No problem at all." For the next half hour, while the background instrumentalists and chorus rehearsed the number in the key Bernie had given them, the engineer punched Sharon's voice into the digital computer cruncher, separated out the piano track. "Sharon" was filtered and ready to go by the time the arranger nodded that he was set. "Mister Savage," the arranger's echo-chambered voice piped through the console, "would you like to do the accompaniment live?" "Why not?" Bernie grinned and went into the studio, his first time in years. He felt as excited as a kid on his first date as he sat down at the piano -- a real Steinway -- and waited for the arranger-conductor to give the downbeat.

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96 When the Angels arrived, Bernie was still recording. He told them to relax, get a bite to

eat, and come back in a couple hours. He hadn't had so much fun since he'd recorded OLDIES BUT GOODIES SHOW. All too soon, it was time to go into the engineer's booth and see what the computer gods had wrought. When he heard the result, Bernie almost wet his pants. A full-throated, thrilling Sharon Gordon soared over the notes with the grace and style of Barbra Streisand or Whitney Houston, but her voice, that way of caressing the notes, was all her own. The arrangement made her sound as if she were backed by the New York Philharmonic, accompanied by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. It was glorious. It left him breathless. Why even bother with those yo-yo's waiting to go into the studio? "We've got the original tapes nailed down, Mister Savage. Did you want a cassette for your personal use?" "Yes, please," he replied. "Make an extra if you will. I'd like to give a copy to the lady. Some day." Bernie had forgotten about Sharon. He hadn't played the cassette -- deliberately -- since she'd hung up on him. Now that he heard her again -- now that he heard the miracle she'd become through the artistry of engineer, arranger, and musician, he knew he was totally hung up on her. He resolved to call her that very night. What was it his mother had said? Something about her still caring very much for him. Right after the session, he'd pick up the receiver and punch the buttons. After all, he was Ben Savage, Ruler of the Universe, dressed in Morris International clothes, coiffed in an Eva Gabor toupé, body by Pritikin. What in the world did he have to fear? By golly, he'd do it! He'd call her right after the recording session ended. There might still be time to ask her out to dinner. # Life plays strange tricks. The computer was capable of filtering the individual voices of the four Angels. But the computer was not capable of making words mesh where the singers

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were disparate, nor could it bring together four rhythms which bore no relevance to any other rhythm. Before the computer could go to work, it had to have something to work with. Three hours later, they had not performed a decent take on a single song. The Angels pulled off a scientific miracle of sorts that night. They so confused the computer that it was incapable of synthesizing, unifying, or even patchwork quilting what they were trying to sing. By one a.m. tempers were short and all Bernie had to show for it was twelve wonderful backgrounds. He'd ceased knowing good from bad by that time and decided to call it a night. "Listen, fellows, no big deal. We can record another day. We've got to be in Indianapolis tomorrow night. What the heck, we'll simply come back next weekend when we're fresh and have everything rehearsed and ready to go. Good try, guys." But Bernie had his doubts that these four would ever be able to bring it all together. It was too late to call Sharon. For the first time in weeks, the thought of Tawnee's sleek body did not turn him on in the least. In his heart he knew that while God might be in his heaven, all was most definitely not right with the world. # By the time they reached Omaha, the show had taken on a tolerable habit. Two days before each stop, the road director auditioned several acts. The best of these would compete in a "battle of the bands," for the first hour-and-a-half of the concert. Then there was a half-hour fireworks show, followed by Bernie selecting three or four girls in the front rows of the audience to, "Climb the staircase of stardom by singing with the Angels." Usually the girls were so loud, or they "danced" so "scandalously" that they covered up the flubs made by the real Angels. Even if they hadn't diverted attention from Joe, Lucius, Alphonse and Flutsie, by the time the girl wannabe's came on stage, the audience was high enough that they didn't give a damn. As far as they were concerned, the Angels might as well have been Señor Wences from the old Ed Sullivan program. Hell, they'd have given a standing ovation to Guy Lombardo. This had a salutary effect on the Oldies-but-not-so-Goodies. They began to feel they

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98 really were as great as their billing. When they returned to the city by week's end, they were hot to trot, full of piss-and-vinegar, and ready to knock the recording studio on its ear. Alas, sic semper no talent. Audiences lied. Microphones, computer chips and tape recorders didn't. The Angels were in high spirits. They thought they were doing just great. Bernie and the engineer simply rolled their eyes. Then Bernie came up with an idea. He kept the session going for another hour, making sure the Angels recorded a different song each time. "Great, fellows, just great!" he'd shout jovially after each fiasco. "That's a take! You wouldn't believe how great that sounded! Wait 'til you hear it! Mag-ni-fi-cent! Stu-PEN-do! You guys are true artists! My God, that twenty-five year rest did wonders for your performance! You'd better each get ready for your own star on the sidewalks of Hollywood!" In truth, each attempt was worse than the last one. Bernie acted as though each song was a gold key into the music Hall of Fame. His excitement mounted. The Reverend Josiah was no dummy. "I don't understand, Bernie. We wasted hours and hours and seemed to get worse with every take. Now all of a sudden, we're hitting pay dirt on the very first take each time. Something doesn't seem quite right." "Don't worry, Josiah," Bernie said smoothly. "This is the latest craze in recording, candid tracks. Warts and all. Gives the whole project a much more human sound. You know, identify with the audience. They'll think of you as extensions of themselves, with all the same imperfections." "You're shittin' me." "Would I do that, Reverend? Mess around with a man of God?” "It still sounds off-the-wall to me." At the end of the session, the Angels clamored to hear the result of what Bernie'd termed, "The greatest, most professional, smoothest, fastest, most successful session in the history of recorded sound." "Hey, not yet, OK fellows? You know they do all kinds of stuff with the computer

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nowadays. Mix and match, put echo and reverb over the whole thing, equalization, the whole nine yards. I want to surprise you. Heck, when it's all tamped down and mastered, you'll have difficulty even believing it's really you. Why don't you guys take the night off? The next show's not 'til Monday night. You've got tonight and Sunday to paint this town any color you want." He smiled, peeling off two fifties and five twenties for each of the outstretched hands. "Oh, yeah. One thing more. Here's a bottle of Johnny Walker Red for each of you. It's an appreciation gift for a job well done. Have a ball, guys! I wish I could join you, but you know how it is with us producers. No rest for the wicked. I'll see you Monday at the airport." After they'd left, Bernie turned to the engineer. "Were you able to get them?" "Yep. Best cover group we've ever used." "Not the same guys who did the Milli Vanilli coverup a few years back?" Bernie's heavyhanded attempt at humor did not draw a smile. "No, Mister Savage. These guys know better than that. They're expensive, though." "How much?" "A thousand per song. Each." Bernie did the mental arithmetic. Ten songs. Forty thousand dollars. This had better be worth it. Worth it, hell. What choice did he have? As promised, the four replacement "Angels" were sharp, professional, right on time and right on the money. The voices blended perfectly. Twelve songs were recorded in under three hours. What a shame they couldn't have been the real Angels. They were tall, clean-cut, all in their late twenties or early thirties, all with delightful personalities. And they were the Blackestsounding Caucasians Bernie had ever heard. Ten hours and fifty-five thousand dollars later, Bernie left the studio smiling. The longplay CD and the follow-up record were in place, ready to rock and roll. There was something for everyone. Hip hop, funk, ballads, heavy metal, soul, even a couple of old-time rhythm and blues. All that remained was to decide which one would be the next single, and get ready for the money

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to roll in. Bernie felt he owned the world. He stopped at a restaurant for dinner. While he was there, he picked up the phone and punched in Sharon's number. After four rings, an answering machine clicked in. Strange, she'd never had one of those before. Her voice sounded unnaturally bright. "Hi, you've reached five-five-six oh-one-eight-oh. If it's Sharon you're looking for, you've got her. Only this time you'll have to speak to a microchip. I'm out of town for the weekend. Don't ask where. Ask me no questions, I'll tell you no lies. If you want to leave a message of any length, please do so at the beep. 'Bye." Bernie hung up the phone without saying anything. Oh well, what the hell. There's always Tawnee. Somehow she hadn't seemed so exciting to him lately. Probably close to that time of the month. He dialed her number, half hoping she wasn't there. His half-prayer was answered. Ma? Naww. Not tonight. He laughed as the old Sam Cooke refrain bounced along in his head, "Another Saturday night and I ain't got nobody I got some money 'cause I just got paid Now, how I wish I had someone to talk to I'm in an awful state." Not hardly, he thought. Not hardly. # Monday night. Kansas City. Alphonse's home town. Sellout crowd. Same exercise as in Omaha. Same results. Tomorrow night, it would be more of the same in St. Louis. The tour was half over. It was starting to wear thin. Was this what Mick Jagger meant when he'd said it got old very fast? Bernie was bored. He supposed it would have been far more exciting had the Angels been able to do more than play their one-string-fiddle of a song. Actually, it would have been more exciting if they'd been able to play their one-string-fiddle of a song.

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101 The afternoon before the scheduled show, Alphonse invited Bernie and the Angels to a

grand reunion with his family. They had a picnic in a lovely park abutting a bluff over the river that divided Kansas from Missouri. Hot dogs, hamburgers, sirloin steak and chicken breasts. Baked beans and roasted potatoes. Alphonse's wife was a tall, svelte, exceedingly lovely woman with a warm, husky voice that reminded Bernie of Sharon. Slim hips, short, stylishly-cut hair. Alphonse's eldest son came home from the university at Lawrence to celebrate the day. He was a junior in pre-law. Two teen-age daughters giggled as they shyly asked Lucius, Flutsie and Joe for autographs. They seemed not to realize that their dad was one of the four stars. It was Middle America -- capital M, capital A -- and Bernie felt a gripping sadness for the kids he'd never had. The Alphonses of the world would float to meet their level, regardless of whether they were Black, White, Red or Yellow. Others of any race might as easily sink into the mire of lethargy and fear. What a shame man had not learned to measure man by a simply, uniform, human standard. Bernie Schwartz, budding author of "I was a Teen-Aged-MutantNinja-Philosopher." Alphonse was not a happy camper when he returned to do the show that evening. "Bernie," he said, "I'm leaving the group after tonight's show. Enough's enough. I'm not cut out to be an entertainer. I've had it up to here with these bozos. I have absolutely nothing in common with them. A macho bully who never grew up, a homosexual hairdresser who floats through life on a pink cloud, a pimp by any other name who's still a pimp? I don't even have much in common with you anymore. You're a loveable, overgrown kid, living out your teen-age fantasies twenty-five years later. It was fun the first week. We all had a run at the excitement. Like Andy Warhol once said, `Everyone's a celebrity for fifteen minutes.' But those fifteen minutes are over for me, Bern." "How can you say that, Alphonse? We've got a whole album cooking. A second hit about to be pressed." "Bernie, level with me, ok? I heard you going through that `Wunnerful'a wunnerful' crap

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102 during the session. Give me credit for enough intelligence to know that we sounded shitty, plain and simple. I'm not a dumb-ass nigger, although I'll concede my skin's darker than yours. But if you did anything other than throw the garbage we did in the can, I'd be very surprised -- perhaps disappointed is a better word. If you had an ounce of smarts in your head, you'd use the great background tracks, get some real singers, and have them make the recordings." "How can you say that?" Bernie replied hotly, through a veil of guilt. "That would be fraud." "Oh, come off your high horse, Bern. Everyone does it and you know it. The Milli Vanilli people got greedy and dumb and spilled the beans. They had cover groups even back when we were recording. The Crystals, the Girlfriends, Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans -- they were never made up of the same singers. I read in Ebony about a girl group in L.A., the Blossoms, who'd been known by more than fifty different names at one time or another. Besides, to twist Shakespeare, `Methinks the gentleman doth protest too much.' Don't worry, Bernie, I won't betray your little secret." Bernie was silent for a few moments. He gazed at Alphonse with a warm, sincere respect. Damn! This had been one helluva nice kid, and he'd grown up to be one helluva class man. "You know, Bernie, part of the problem is we're trying to be something we aren't -- maybe something we never were to begin with -- and none of us knows how to handle it." "What do you mean?" "Take you, for example. You've got fancy duds, a wig, even a make-over teen-age body, although I've noticed you're putting on some weight. Or take me. I don't fool myself about who I am or what I am. I don't have rhythm and that's just fine with me. Occasionally I sing in the shower. That's the extent of my pretense. I sing my kind of music. It's not what people want to hear, but it helps me get up and face the day. I don't think our audiences would understand any of that. When you're sixteen, you've got the world by the short hairs and you're out for yourself. Your biggest worry is whether or not the little chick in the third row of your history class will let

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103 you feel her boobs tonight. Or if she does, what the hell do you do then? When you go smashing into what folks charitably call `middle age,' things are a little different." "But people can do lots of things, make waves in lots of ponds." "Oh? Can you imagine Stephen King writing pornography for some under-the-counter men's magazine or Len Deighton writing cookbooks? Or James Michener writing something other than God's long-range view of some place's history? Of course not. But each of them wrote different things early in their careers. Amazing what you have to do to get published nowadays. If they tried that today, they'd be drawn and quartered." "I don't believe that. If you're good, you can do anything and your audience'll appreciate it." "Bernie, you're wrong. I'll give you an example. There's an author lives somewhere back east, Gary Jennings. Ever heard of him? Most people haven't. Some years ago, the guy had a single best seller -- one. I read somewhere that he'd worked his ass off, scrounged quarters to buy time on a rental typewriter. Went to Mexico where he starved on tortillas and beans. Wrote a book on a goddam bunch of Aztecs. Who the hell would've believed a book on Mexican Indians would do anything? Sonofabitch took off like a rocket. Like OLDIES BUT GOODIES SHOW. Only this guy wasn't a fluke. He was good, damned good. And he kept writing damned good stuff, stuff that was infinitely better than anything Michener ever had written. Best stuff I ever read. But he wrote what he wanted to write, and if the audience chose not to ride along with him, well that was their tough luck. You know, there are still those of us who wait for the guy's next book to come out. And we keep saying the guy's too damned good not to have another best seller and then another. But it doesn't always work out that way." "Right now our act is the top of the world, Alphonse. I'll bet you could sing the alphabet or the times table, not that any of you guys seem to have great voices, and the savants in our audience would buy right into it." "You think so? A hundred dollars says you're wrong."

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"What do you mean?" "Midway through the show tonight, I'll prove how wrong you are. And collect the easiest C-note I've ever made." Bernie agreed to what Alphonse proposed. After all, the show had already been changed, reshaped, refined so many times, what the hell would one more twist make? After the group demolished "Twist and Shout," Bernie stepped up to the podium. "Ladies and gentlemen," he began (although one could hardly qualify the audience as either containing ladies or gentlemen), "if I may have your attention please. Our second lead, Alphonse Fisher, is going to show his extraordinary versatility tonight," he deliberately stretched out the words, "by performing the unexpected." The Reverend Josiah rolled his eyes. The other Angels looked as though someone had jerked their haloes off their heads. Alphonse do a solo? For real? On stage? Alphonse??? Bernie played a lead-in of slow triplets on piano. The show orchestra, which had been forewarned, came in two bars later, as Alphonse Fisher stunned the producer, the director, even Bernie-the-impresario, by his rendition of "The Quest," which those who didn't know the real name called, "The Impossible Dream." Alphonse displayed a smooth, strong, polished voice. He gave depth and meaning to the lyrics, hitting every note with solid consistency. His phrasing was impeccable. When he roared into the final chorus, Bernie felt chills reminiscent of when he'd heard Sharon's recording at the studio. At the end, Bernie finished with a flourish of grand chords. Alphonse stood quietly. Bernie stood up and applauded 'til he felt his hands would fall off. Alphonse's family, five strong, and ten friends he'd invited to the concert shouted encouragement and clapped vigorously. The rest of the audience of twenty thousand applauded desultorily, politely at best. Then they started shouting, "We want Oldies But Goodies Show! We want Oldies But Goodies Show!" Others took up the chant, and soon the mob was so filled with their own power that they forgot that Alphonse was still on stage.

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"See what I mean, partner?" he said quietly to Bernie. "That was absolutely amazing, Alphonse. Why in heavens name didn't you tell me you could sing like that?" "Why bother? You saw what happened. The audience wasn't buying." "But we could release you as a single act on your own. An album of ballads, love songs." "No, thank you, Mister Savage," Alphonse said, winking. "I think it's just about time for this doctor to go on home where he belongs and start curing folks again. My wife loves me, my kids love me, even my shower loves me. That's a pretty good average. I think I'll quit while I'm ahead. But I will take the hundred and bet it on a number for you next time Lysette and I visit Las Vegas." "You're really leaving the show then?" "Yes, Bernie, I am." "What in the world will we do to replace you?" "You're a bright man. You'll figure it out. Why not use Flutsie's little friend, Inigo? That ought to go over well with Master Sergeant Sharp." "Alphonse?" "Yeah?" Bernie felt a rising lump in his throat. "It's been fun. You're a good man." "You know, Bernie, I wouldn't have traded this couple of weeks for the world. It was fun. It was different. Hell, I even dropped a few years off my life for the first few minutes. One last question?" "Shoot." "Did you or didn't you?" "Did I or didn't I what?" "The new record." "Ask me no questions and I'll tell you no lies."

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"Gotcha' pardner. Salud good buddy. Ciao and all that."

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As Alphonse predicted, Mister Macho Master Sergeant Sharp went wild when he heard Bernie's proposal. "Inigo? Shee-uht, I'm not going to go on stage with two flaming faggots and that's final!" "Lucius, we've got two weeks left on the tour. You don't have to sleep with them. You don't even have to touch 'em. I'll put the Reverend between you." "You don't understand, Bernie. In four days we're doing a benefit at Fort Deatherage. Fort Deatherage, for God's sake! Can't you see what it'd look like? The toughest-assed sergeant in the whole goddam army singing on the same stage with two fairies?" "Fourteen more dates, Lucius. That's all I'm asking. You won't even need the military when this is all over. You'll make more in three weeks than you made all last year." "What do you mean, I won't need the military? It's been my whole life for the last twentytwo years. No wife, no kids to tie me down. It's been more than a career." "Granted that's so, Lucius. Nothing is forever. The clock's ticking on all of us. For all we know, this may be the last two weeks any of us'll ever have in the spotlight. What do you have to lose, my friend? What do you really have to lose? A hard bunk in a place a hundred miles from Mule's Ass? A life where nobody cares if you live or die once they've left the confines of your training field? Lighten up, man. Inigo and Flutsie may be what you call `faggots,' but they're tied up with one another. Neither one of 'em's after your ass." "O.K., but they better keep the hell away from me." By the time they got to Fort Deatherage, the Angels' dress code was shot to hell. Three nights before Deatherage the band costumes, no great shakes to begin with, had literally fallen apart on stage, like tired, old paper. The next night was worse. Alphonse had been polite when he'd said that Bernie was getting a little of his tummy back. In fact, just after the tour had started,

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108 "Ben Savage" discovered that hot dogs, ribs, burgers, steak, French fries and ice cream tasted one helluva lot better than Ultra Slim and black beans. So his belt wouldn't quite cinch to the last hole anymore. Big deal. It was probably because the belt was shrinking from the constant exposure to perspiration and bright lights. Bernie also noticed that his formal shirts were harder to button than they had been two weeks ago. Twice when he sneezed, the top button had popped off, no doubt from continued changes from hot to cold to hot temperature again. Tragedy struck at the Dallas Civic Auditorium, before a sold-out crowd of thirty-five thousand screaming kids, some almost young enough to be his grandchildren if he had started siring early enough. It was a pleasant night. Bernie'd ignored the old showman's adage of never eating before a show. This time it had been a whole slab of baby pork ribs ("Gevalt!" his shocked mother would have said), baked beans, fries, sweet sauce and, to wash it all down, two Pepsis. As usual, Bernie was double-miked and super-amplified for his screaming introduction to the Angels' monumental hit record. He'd just taken a deep breath and started to belt out the familiar, "HERE WE ARE, EVERYBODY, WELCOME TO THAT OLDIES BUT GOODIES SHOW!" when the unthinkable happened. While Bernie's top half exploded "HERE WE ARE!," his bottom half exploded in the longest, loudest, most monumental fart he'd ever heard. Everyone in the audience heard the amplified passage of wind. The surge of derisive laughter was far louder than the amplified passage of gas. Humiliated beyond anything he'd known before, Bernie turned his back to the audience and bent his forehead to his arced palms. Suddenly, there was a loud R-R-R-RRRIPPP, followed by a still louder gale of tumultuous laughter. The entire bottom of his pants had burst from a combination of food, fart and fat. Bernie's flowered underwear stood out in bold relief. Ever the cool, collected showman, Bernie managed as dignified a stroll as his condition would permit, straight into the dressing room where he remained for the rest of the night.

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"Hello, Morris?" "Nu? Who should it be? The Golem of Prague?" "This is Ben S .... Bernie Schwartz." "Oh, yeah, OLDIES BUT GOODIES SHOW. How much bigger you need? Two sizes?" "How do you know that?" "You know the term `too big for his britches?'" Morris cackled merrily at his foray into the world of humor. "Not funny, Morris." "How many sets you need? Four? Five?" "Whatever." "Oh, and Mister Schvartz?" "Schwartz." "Whatever. You should perhaps by a dozen pair of underwear, also two sizes larger. You never know when someone will see your underpants. You want they should be clean and they should fit." "What are you, my mother?" "Not at all. You just never know what will happen when you go out of doors." #

Next day, enroute to Deatherage, Bernie was outfitted in a new tux, two sizes larger than the disloyal outfit that had spelled his shame. Fort Deatherage was experiencing its usual pre-winter chill. Impromptu bleachers had been set up in the gym. The Angels came out in their new, "action" attire. Flutsie and Inigo wore matching pink outfits. Pink shirts, pink ties, pink jackets, pink slacks and pink shoes. Little pink clouds topped by little black heads. Lucius wore senior non-com chevrons on military khaki. The Reverend Josiah had to be seen to be believed. He was preceded on stage by four

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scantily-clad ladies waving bubble-wands in and out of soapy water. (The Reverend was no dummy. He knew exactly where he was going and what this night could be worth to him. He'd imported his entire flock and he'd arranged to split commissions with two other pimps -- er, entrepreneurs -- who regularly worked Fort Deatherage. Josiah wore a flowing gold lamé gown, edged in shiny black fur, most likely cat, and a gold crown of ersatz thorns. His feet were shod in black-and-gold harem slippers with turned-up pompons. He carried a huge shepherd's staff. Two other young "congregants" held up the five-foot-long train of his robe. Big LaVerne followed him in, beating a huge bass drum. As soon as the man-with-all-the-bases-covered was in place, his entourage disappeared off different sides of the stage. Bernie had the unsettling feeling it was going to be ONE OF THOSE NIGHTS. He popped four Maalox pills into his mouth, chewed them all together, and gulped them down. When the fart came, it was as long and nearly as loud as the night in Dallas. Thank God he'd turned the amplification off. The Maalox moment passed along with the gas. Inigo was a great tenor. He hit the high notes better than Flutsie ever had, he had a great sense of rhythm, and he was the only one of the Angels who was a competent dancer. He was jiving up a storm during the best performance the group had yet done, when he accidentally stepped on the train of "His Holiness's" robe. The normally placid Josiah, etc., etc., Cohen stopped dead in his tracks. There was instant silence. "Son!" Reverend Josiah began in a voice designed to make the Lord himself tremble. "Did you, by any chance, tread where you ought not to have trod?" "Say which?" "You heard him, you little pink faggot," Lucius Sharp snarled in an undertone. "You have embarrassed a fellow performer and a man of God." "Hey, easy, Lucius," Flutsie tried to calm him down. The sergeant would have none of it and pushed past Flutsie. Inigo, startled, started running around the stage. Lucius snatched a whip from somewhere back-stage and gave chase. It

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was weave-and-dodge. The audience, believing it was all planned, shouted encouragement. The Reverend, ever resourceful, exited stage right. He returned less than a minute later, holding a big, green hose. Lucius and Inigo were so busy chasing one another, they did not notice when Joe turned the hose on first one, then the other. The startled Lucius went after Joe with the whip. The Reverend calmly stood his ground. "Up the water!" he shouted, and aimed a strong spray directly into Lucius's face. It was more than the audience could take to see one of their own held at bay. Several men sneaked out. When they returned, they wheeled in a cart full of left-over pies from the evening's mess. Before anyone could stop them, they were hurling pies toward the stage. Flutsie, first to see what was happening, ran front-center stage and shouted, "Watch it! Watch i...!?" His kisser was socked with lemon meringue before he could finish. Joe turned the hose on the audience and all hell broke loose. By the time the Security Police arrived at the scene, the pies, the water supply and the participants were exhausted. Bernie, who'd quickly exited to the hastily-contrived dressing room, emerged only when the sound had died down. He gazed upon a scene resembling something between the end of the world and a Marx Brothers movie. Oh, shit! As John L. Sullivan, or was it Gene Tunney, had once said after he'd gotten rear-ended by a car in upstate New York, some damn fool will have to pay for all this. And with my current run of bad luck, Bernie thought, it will probably be me. # The "current run of bad luck" got worse. The following night, after the performance in Denver, Tawnee announced she was leaving the show and going back to Detroit. Bernie was thunderstruck. "How can you even think of such a thing? After all we've meant to one another? Our plans, our hopes, our dreams?" "What are you talking about, man? We rolled in the hay a few times, had a few laughs.

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What do you mean plans?" "But ... but I thought ... that is, you and me ... me and you ....?" "Bernie, listen. You're a nice guy and not a bad lay, but surely you didn't expect me to ...." She dropped her crisp, precise English and launched into a parody of the way most Whites believed her race normally spoke. "What would yo' mama say if'n you showed up on de do'step with someone the likes o' me?" "I don't care what she'd say," he babbled, ignoring the deliberate stereotype. "What difference would it make, anyway? True love conquers all." "Love? Did you say `love' Bernie? That never entered into the picture." Bernie felt a palpitating in his heart, something akin to what one reads in bad fiction. "I may be having a heart attack," he said, dramatically. "Shee-uht, Mistuh Savage, that ain't nothin' but another of your many Maalox moments." She tossed him a bottle of the tablets. He chewed and swallowed two of them quickly. Remarkably, the pain eased instantly. That woman could be a naturopath, or whatever they called those weirdos who practice `holistic medicine' he thought. But enough of scientific inquiry. Back to the matter at hand. "Are you sure you want to do this?" he said, in his best pathetic, aging actor manner. "Yeah, Bernie. It's been fun. With the exception of Inigo and up-tight old Doctor Fisher, who never really got with the program, all of you have been fun." "All of us?" he raised his voice, alarmed. "You mean you've been ....?" "I sho' 'nuff have, honeychile," she said, sweetly. "But that's ... that's ..." he blustered. "Lots of fun. Every one of you has been different. Take old Sergeant Sharp. He's kinda' small between his legs, but whips and chains can add a lot of excitement." "Flutsie? You did it with Flutsie???" "Hey, don't come on so strong. If that man can swing both ways, it doesn't bother me.

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My hair never looked so good, both before and after!" "Surely you didn't do it with Joe?" "The Reverend? My mama always taught me, `Leave somethin' fo' de Lawd!' And that's just what I did." Bernie was scandalized. Titillated, but scandalized. He felt himself hardening. His heart might be broken, but another part of him was ready for action. Tawnee saw it too, and grinned. "Just like any other man," she sighed. "Led around by his pecker. Oh, well, let's have one last romp for the road, OK?" Bernie didn't argue. And Tawnee's swan song was very sweet indeed.

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Next morning, the telephone in Bernie's hotel rang promptly at nine o'clock. "Mister Savage? John Donaldson here. I'm a free lance reporter. I was wondering if you could give me an interview this morning?" "Well, uh ..." Bernie looked over at the clock on the night table. "We've got to be out of here by noon. Our plane leaves for Phoenix at two." "I'd be happy to make it at your convenience, Mister Savage." The voice sounded earnest and quite young. Bernie unwound himself from Tawnee and stretched. His member was hard, but not from lust. "What did you say your name was?" "Donaldson. John Donaldson. Look, Mister Savage, I hate to awaken you so early. I know how hard-working impresarios such as yourself, need to sleep in late. You don't have to leave the hotel 'til noon, three hours from now. I'd really like to get an in-depth interview with someone of your status. Could we meet in forty-five minutes down in the hotel's coffee shop? It would really mean a lot to me." Bernie's chest swelled with pride that a reporter wanted to speak with him. The other part of him swelled with the sure knowledge that if he didn't go to the bathroom pretty damned quick, he'd urinate right on the floor. "Uh, sure, Mister Donaldson. I'll be happy to meet you downstairs." "Great! Thank you so much, Mister Savage. You don't know what this means to me." Tawnee stirred lazily. "One more for old time's sake, hon?" "No time. Gotta' make a wee and meet a man about important business." "Make a wee? Did you say `Make a wee???'" "Yes." Bernie blushed. "Is something wrong with that?" "Well, Lawd ha' mercy, now I dun heard ever'thing." He glared as she drifted back into

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115 her patois of the night before. "I've heard about pissin' and even urinatin', but `makin' a wee?' If that don't beat all." She winked at him. "Bernie Schwartz, you are one cute hunk of a man! You are gonna' make some nice li'l ol' Jewish gal one helluva husband. I'm really gonna' miss you." "Sure you won't stay?" he asked. By this time, he really didn't want her to, but he felt it was the gentlemanly thing to say. "No, honey. By the time you get back from your important business, I'll be on the plane back to Dee-troit City. But drop in and see me some time, OK? It'll always be there, and, as far as you're concerned, the price will always be right." Bernie chose his attire carefully. Andy Warhol, as translated by Alphonse Fisher, had said that everyone had fifteen minutes of celebrity. Bernie wanted to insure that his quarter hour was stylish. He wore highly polished Ferragamo alligator shoes, charcoal slacks by Morris, custom tailored open-necked shirt by Gucci, colorful silk scarf by Christian Dior, toupé by Eva Gabor, and heavy gold jewelry by someone who purveyed the worst schlock of Hollywood. Bernie was "Mister Elegance," a walking advertisement for the most overpriced brands in the world. He looked in the mirror. Something was missing. Ah yes, man's purse by Ralph Lauren. Thus ready for the world, "Ben Savage" strode down the hall to the elevator. He had a date with destiny. John Donaldson was in his mid-thirties with whitish-blond hair and a thin moustache. He was slim, slightly taller than Bernie, and rather seedy-looking, with nicotine-stained teeth. The word `sleazy' wafted through Bernie's mind, but only for an instant. After all, reporters worked day and night, always hunting a story. They were entitled to look tired. "Mister Savage, I can't tell you how much I appreciate your taking time out of your valuable day to speak with me," Donaldson gushed. Sleazy? Bernie must be crazy. This gentleman was the pinnacle of urbane charm, despite his slightly tired look. "No problem. Do you have a tape recorder or one of those things that all reporters use?" "I do, but I've always felt it hampers a person's style when he or she has to talk into an

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116 electronic gadget. I prefer the good, old-fashioned way of reporting. Do you mind if I just take notes?" "Of course not. What paper did you say you worked for?" "I didn't. I'm a free lance reporter. I find important, interesting personalities and try to learn as much as I can about them. Human interest stories. Get beneath the veneer. Then I try to sell the piece. Papers always look for a new slant. I make my living that way." "Do you write for the New York Times?" "Something like that. Why don't we order breakfast and we'll talk, like two old friends?" "Sounds good to me." The interview took longer than Bernie thought it would. The reporter was thorough. He seemed genuinely interested in everything Bernie had to say, and scribbled notes furiously. The more interested Donaldson was, the more Bernie waxed eloquent. Soon Bernie began to realize what a remarkable, wonderfully interesting man he really was. The questions and answers ranged from Bernie's history to his innermost thoughts. "What was the most exciting thing that every happened to you before the record took off?" "One day while I was visiting Manhattan, I was alone in the same elevator with Jacqueline Onassis. Of course, it was only from the fifth to the twelfth floor, but it seemed awfully exciting to me at that time." "What do you think of Jessica Tandy?" "The actress who starred in `Driving Miss Daisy?' I thought she gave a passionate performance and deserved her Oscar." "How about Meryl Streep?" "Everything she touches turns to gold." "Did you ever see the movie `Three Men and a Little Lady' a few years back?" "Yeah. That little girl who played the role of the daughter was cute as all heck, but

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117 naughty. There were a couple of scenes where I would have put her over my knee and whacked her." The reporter chuckled. "You seem to have a way with children. Did you ever have any of your own?" "No, Phyllis -- my late wife -- didn't want any." "Your late wife?" "Yes. We were separated, actually. She died of an extraordinary accident while she was visiting China." Donaldson looked down at the ground. "I know that's always a difficult time in a man's life. Would you feel I was probing too deep into a freshly-scarred human heart if I asked you to talk about it?" "Not really." Bernie launched into the story of Phyllis and Georgie and the strange way in which his former wife met her sad end. "You were involved in import-export before OLDIES BUT GOODIES SHOW hit the charts?" "Yes. Let me tell you, Mister Donaldson, you meet some strange people in that business." "Would you care to speak about any of your experiences?" "Sure. They try to sell you all kinds of stuff. One of the funniest items I remember was a battery-operated clock from Taiwan -- that's where they make some really goofy stuff. Every hour on the hour, some female voice that sounded like it was six years old and had a Chinese accent said something like, `The time is ten-thirty, a.m.' Her report was immediately followed by what could best be described as a Chinese chicken who'd been strained through an electronic synthesizer crowing cock-a-doodle-do until you shut him off. Weird!" "Really?" "Yeah. Apparently the word got out that it's really easy to get through my door. You wouldn't believe some of the sicko products -- perverted actually -- that people try to sell me.

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118 There was a vibrator-massager shaped like a plastic penis that had a wind-up clock, sort of like those cooking timers? After a pre-set period of time, it actually shot warm water out of the front end. `Nappie nookie' the guy called it. I told him I didn't handle that kind of garbage, he should go to those adult bookstores if he wanted that kind of action. I mean, I've sold some strange stuff, but I've got some morals." "I congratulate you for that. Would you mind if I used your real name in the article, Sir?" "Not at all. Everything I've told you is the truth. You know, Mister Donaldson, I feel like I could talk with you all day, but it's eleven-twenty. I've got to pack out. Is there anything else you'd like to cover?" "No, Mister Savage." He smiled, stood up, and shook Bernie's hand warmly. "You've given me enough of a story to go to more than one paper. Would it be all right with you if I sold the story in installments?" "That's fine with me. Say, don't you guys have anything you ask people to sign? A release or something like that?" "Some reporters do that. I believe in trust. You know, everyone sues everyone else nowadays for libel and slander. That's not the way I operate. I feel a man's word is his bond. Maybe that's not the right way, but it's my way." "Look," Bernie said expansively. "I really would feel better if I wrote you out some kind of release." "Very well, if you insist." Donaldson tore our a fresh piece of paper and printed the words, "I hereby release John Donaldson and the newspapers with whom he does business from any liability in printing this article. Everything I have stated is the truth." Bernie signed the piece of paper. The two men said their goodbyes to one another. When he returned to the room, Tawnee was already gone. Just as well. Bernie was suffused with a sense of accomplishment. He has visions of seeing his name and biography in People, Time" and USA Today would be just fine.

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119 #

"Bernie? There's a man named Donaldson who called me earlier today. Said he was a reporter. He wanted all kinds of strange information. Should I call him back?" "Yeah, ma. Go ahead. I talked with him yesterday morning. Who knows? My picture and the story'll probably show up in Newsweek." He laughed. "Just make sure you're not getting too big for your britches, Bernie." "How big is `too big' Ma?" "Don't get fresh with me. I'll talk to him, but only because you say he's all right." "Thanks, Ma. By the way, have you heard from Sharon?" "Why?" "I just thought I'd call her, that's all." "It's a little late, wouldn't you say?" "It's only nine o'clock back there." "That's not what I mean. You're gonna' have to work awfully hard if you want to put Donald Dumpty back together again." "Humpty Dumpty, Ma." "Whatever. I can't keep all these grim fairy tales straight. When're you gonna' call her?" "In the next coupla' days, ma." "Do you want me to see what I can do to help?" "I'd appreciate that." "After all, my only happiness is to see you happy. That's what mothers are for. And Bernie?" "Yes, Ma?" "When you go out, make sure you wear clean underwear. You can never tell, you might be in an accident, and you wouldn't want them to find you with dirty underwear." "Yes, Ma."

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120 As he put the phone down, a thought suddenly appeared to Bernie. Donaldson? Hadn't

he heard that name before? Donaldson? Holy mackerel! The famous reporter who covered the White House beat! And he'd spent more than an hour-and-a-half with Bernie! Now for sure, Bernie'd be a celebrity. Unfortunately, Bernie had confused Sam Donaldson with John Donaldson. As he was soon to find out, there was a difference.

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"Bernie? Bernie??? What the hell is going on?" Bernie was shocked. As far back as he could remember, he'd never heard his mother use profanity. "What do you mean, Ma? We're on tour. We've got five more dates to go and things are going well." "That's not what I mean at all and you know it! Have you been to the supermarket lately?" "No." "What about a newsstand?" "No. The hotel delivers the paper to my door every morning." "I think you'd better go down to the newsstand. The sooner the better. Then call me back." His mother's words were ominous. When he reached the gift shop in the hotel, Bernie soon learned why. America has several hundred legitimate journals that transmit news, education, and information to a literate nation. The National Enquirer, the Star and the Examiner are generally not categorized in the same league with these, but their circulation is such that their rivals sneer with a combination of disdain and outright envy. Additionally, it seems that these beacons of enlightenment and their brethren -- some jealous soreheads call them `journalistic garbage disposals' -- have spies or blood relationships between them, because each invariably comes out with virtually the same headline story as the other every week. It took Bernie less than ten seconds to see that the Enquirer and the Star carried the same lead. The Enquirer shouted, "POP RECORD PRODUCER REVEALED AS PERVERTED KING OF KINKY SEX!

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122 NO WOMAN, WHATEVER AGE, IS SAFE! DID HE ARRANGE FOR THE MURDER OF HIS EX-WIFE?"

while the Examiner proclaimed, "`OLDIES' MOGUL AND JACKIE O. TRYST IN SECRET LOVE NEST!" Both papers guaranteed readers an "Exclusive" story. The Star wasn't quite so blatant. Its headline blared, "HUNDRED-YEAR-OLD-MAN AND EIGHT YEAR OLD CHILD BRIDE GIVE BIRTH TO THREE-HEADED MONSTER! `We never thought it would come to this, God has brought the devil's curse on us,' tearful couple reveal!" Immediately below and on the right hand side, there was a smaller headline, "PHOTOGRAPHS OF HIT RECORD ON URANUS PROVE CONCLUSIVELY THAT THERE IS EXTRATERRESTRIAL LIFE!" with a black-and-white picture of an old 45-RPM copy of OLDIES BUT GOODIES SHOW. Bernie's prurient interest overcame his initial shock. He purchased the three tabloids and the national edition of the New York Times, stuffed the scandal sheets inside the Times, folded the papers over, and walked as calmly as he could back to the elevator. Three older ladies rode up with him. Each had a copy of the Enquirer in hand. No sooner he'd gotten to his room than Bernie closed and double bolted the door, sat down on the bed, and rifled through the Enquirer until he found the full-page article. There were three pictures. The first, taken a few months earlier, showed Bernie in front of a building that prominently displayed the sign, "Schwartz-America Corporation." The caption underneath read, "Smut emperor at the door of his kinky kingdom." Bernie looked exactly as he had before the record had taken off, a pudgy, rather nondescript, middle-aged Jewish merchant. The second photo showed him as he'd looked when he started the tour. The words below read, "Schwartz changed his name to Savage and modified his appearance, but he couldn't fool our intrepid Enquirer reporter." The coup de grace was in the middle of the page. A close-up

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123 shot of a balding Bernie Schwartz with radiating lines to several small photos featuring Phyllis, Jacqueline Onassis, Jessica Tandy, Meryl Streep and a six-year-old child. Thank goodness, there was nothing about Sharon. Underneath the picture was the caption, "Record producer linked to lovers from six to eighty." My God, can they do that? he thought. His hands trembled as he read the article. PERVERTED POP PRODUCER REVEALS RANK REPERTOIRE! Kinky King's Salacious Past Undressed! Special! Exclusive to the National Enquirer! by John Donaldson The innocuous-looking producer of the current hit CD/Tape, Ben Savage, has been revealed as none other than Bernie Schwartz, a lecherous, middle-aged smut distributor who may well have engineered the murder of his wife in order to satisfy his unbridled lust for females ranging in age from the six to eighty years old! In a lengthy and exclusive interview with Schwartz/Savage, this reporter learned the most intimate and bizarre details about this musical Machiavelli whose sexual fantasies spread over decades. Apparently Schwartz's fantasies began at an early age. According to his mother, she frequently found paperback books secretly stored in the upper reaches of Schwartz/Savage's bedroom closet. Sometimes she'd clean them out. "What can I tell you? They were the usual girlie-type stuff," she said. Undoubtedly the stuff of wicked dreams. An early would-be conquest, who refused to give her name, no doubt fearing reprisals, said, "There was something strange about Bernie all right. His hands were sweaty and he never tried anything fresh. I wondered if maybe something was wrong with him." As your reporter had grounds to discover, this was indeed an understatement. Your reporter had little reason to know what a monster he'd be interviewing the day he met Schwartz/Savage in the coffee shop of a hotel which will remain nameless to protect its

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reputation. Carefully, expensively outfitted, he appeared to by a typical entertainment world figure. This reporter soon learned otherwise. Before the incredible success of his current release, OLDIES BUT GOODIES SHOW, Savage, then known as Bernie Schwartz, ran a company which brought in merchandise from outside the U.S. He admitted that over the years he'd dealt with "strange people in that business." Schwartz/Savage spoke candidly of a "battery operated ... female voice that

sounded like it was six years old and had a Chinese accent" and that this "Chinese chicken who'd been strained through an electronic synthesizer" really made his "cock crow until you shut him off." The following is a direct quote from Mister Schwartz-Savage: "It's really easy to get through my door. ... sickening products, perverted actually. ... There was a vibrator-massager shaped like a plastic penis that had a wind-up clock, sort of like those cooking timers. After a pre-set period of time, it actually shot warm water out of the front end. `Nappie nookie.' ... I mean, I've sold some strange stuff." Strange stuff indeed. Schwartz/Savage refers to eighty-year-old Jessica Tandy as "passionate." In almost the same breath as he talked about his "Nappie Nookie" vibrator, he leered and said, of famed actress Meryl Street, "Everything she touches turns to gold." In describing his relationship with a six-year-old child actress, whose picture appears as part of this article. "I ... put her over my knee and whacked her." Kinky, Bernie. Very, very kinky. People have been sent to state prison for years for that sort of thing. Your reporter learned that Schwartz/Savage was married for several years to the late Phyllis Levinthal, no doubt a coverup for his nefarious activities and a shield for his expanding lust. Schwartz/Savage's mother related that she never knew "any [other] reason why [her son] would have married her. She couldn't cook, she couldn't clean a house. I mean, I don't like to talk about the dear departed, but ..." The implications were very clear.

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Last July, four months prior to the unparalleled success of OLDIES BUT GOODIES SHOW, arrangements were made for Schwartz's wife to go oversees. She died in China under mysterious circumstances. Although Schwartz/Savage gave your reporter an obviously concocted story about her demise during an athletic endeavor, it was clear that Phyllis Levinthal's death was premeditated, probably occurred with the connivance of one of Schwartz/Savage's Oriental connections, and was quickly hushed up. The body was never found. Shortly after Phyllis Schwartz's reported death, Schwartz received the proceeds of a huge life insurance policy. Insurance agent Joseph Hutchinson, who wrote the policy, questioned Schwartz's motives, particularly since Schwartz/Savage refused a proffered investment program and insisted that he be paid "all cash, right now." Did Schwartz/Savage arrange for his wife's convenient demise? What is known is that even before his wife's untimely death, our "hero" was seen in the company of a sexy and beautiful Madam X, said to be a widow, whose name we won't disclose here to protect her identity. The finger of suspicion can only point in one direction. Immediately after his wife's death, Schwartz/Savage started spending money like it was water. Strangely, this coincided with the rocket-like rise of OLDIES BUT GOODIES SHOW. Schwartz changed his name -- unofficially of course -- to Savage to evade detection. He secretly went to a spa. The next time anyone saw the new producer, he had shed a dozen pounds, sported fancy duds, even a toupé. Schwartz/Savage has checked into hotels alone during the current American tour. Yet members of his troupe claim that he was constantly seen in the companionship of a young, dusky, beautiful woman, "Miss L." Schwartz/Savage's accountant says that the business of "Schwartz-America Corporation" was borderline when "all of this craziness with the record started" and that the financial position of the company is now "desperate, desperate." Yet Schwartz/Savage continues to spend more every day. Where is he getting the money? From the cold blooded murder of his wife? From his

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126 "Nappie Nookie" empire of sin, sleaze and sex? Or from the rape of our nation's young, who are flocking to the stores in droves to plunk down their $5.99 on Schwartz/Savage's satanic verses set to an innocent rock beat? At this moment, the answers to these, and other critical questions, remain in the dark. But your reporter thought it necessary to bring the most current information to your attention so you could read the truth and judge for yourself. Prior to publication of this article, Schwartz signed a statement that reads, "I hereby release John Donaldson and the newspapers with whom he does business from any liability in printing this article. Everything I have stated is the truth. Signed, Bernard Schwartz, also known as Ben Savage." Bernie was trembling with a mixture of rage, disgust, self-loathing, and -- though he would be the last to admit it -- self-admiration when he finished the article. All this about him? He really was a somebody after all, no matter the context was slightly negative. He scanned the rest of the paper. Finding nothing more about himself, he turned to the Examiner. He didn't have to turn so far back in the paper to find the article, and it wasn't nearly as large, occupying only a quarter of the page. However the pictures were larger. The same Bernie as was pictured near Schwartz-America's entrance was shown apparently dancing with Jacqueline Onassis. Although their bodies seemed to be different sizes -- anyone who really looked closely could see that two photos had been superimposed on one another -- it was clear that they were in close proximity. Bernie couldn't stifle a laugh when he saw the second picture. It was the one he'd had taken on the Boardwalk. A tall Bernie Schwartz with his arm around a shorter, smiling John F. Kennedy. The caption under the Bernie-Onassis picture read, "In the arms of his reputed lover," and beneath the second photo he read, "Conversation between two powerhouse buddies." This article also bore John Donaldson's by-line. However, any similarity between it and the diatribe Bernie'd read in the Enquirer was purely coincidental.

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IMPRESARIO SAVAGE SAYS "I WAS JACKIE'S LOVE SLAVE!" What kind of a man is Ben Savage, the power behind the current smash OLDIES BUT GOODIES SHOW? A strong man? Or one constantly plagued by memories of a secret tryst with Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis? A love slave to the bewitching widow of an assassinated President and a deceased Greek shipping magnate. Does guilt motivate Ben Savage, whose real name is Bernard Schwartz? This reporter recently spent an entire morning with Savage and learned the entire heartbreaking tale. Bernard Schwartz met Jacqueline Onassis several years ago when the two of them spent time together in a room with no windows. He related, "it seemed awfully exciting to me at that time." Little was he to know that this chance encounter would be the most gratifying moment in his life up to the time that OLDIES BUT GOODIES SHOW took off. From there, the obviously heartsick Schwartz refused any further comment. There was only speculation. But Mr. Schwartz's eyes misted, undoubtedly with the memory of the love of his life, as he related courteous comments about other women, young and old, who've influenced him. He described Jessica Tandy in glowing terms, attesting to her "passionate performance deserving of an Oscar" in "Driving Miss Daisy." Asked about Meryl Streep, he responded in quiet, refined voice laced with sadness, "Everything she touches turns to gold." Your reporter was moved to tears when Schwartz, admitting he and his wife, who'd died tragically in an accident while promoting international goodwill, were childless, spoke tenderly of the movie "Three Men and a Little Lady." Yet through it all, his lifelong fascination with the elusive Jackie O predominated his thoughts and his words. Bernard Schwartz is no stranger to the halls of power. Before the success of OLDIES, he ran a successful import-export distributorship, further contributing to international peace,

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128 goodwill and understanding. He eschewed any but the finest products, insisting that he handled only family-oriented items. At present, Bernard Schwartz, who uses the name "Ben Savage" to mask his gentle, quiet ways, is on tour with his group, the Angels. An officer of the bravest caliber, leading his troops into battle, facing a vicious and determined audience often made up of gang members and hooligans, he demonstrates not only by word, but by deed, the consanguinity of Black and White, as he rooms each night with his troupers. During one stop on the tour, in the deep South, the proprietor of a restaurant told the impresario, "I'm sorry, sir, we don't serve Blacks." With humor, courage, and grace. Schwartz stood his ground and boldly replied, "That's all right, I don't eat them anyway." Yet underlying this humorous facade, this powerful man of peace lives each day haunted by a memory. A memory that has haunted a President, a shipping magnate, and scores of others. His unrequited love for an American queen -- Jackie Oh." Bernie laughed out loud at the article. John Donaldson had a well-developed sense of humor, that was for sure. The third story, the one in the Star, bore no by-line and was back on page seventeen, squashed between an advertisement for the Mark Eden Bust Enhancer, one for Doctor Stanley Holworth's cosmetic surgery -- Breast Reduction a Specialty, and a large one announcing, "You, Too, Can Qualify to Buy Government Repossessed Property. Buy a house, a luxurious car, even a business for only One (1!) Dollar!" The Star article was unbelievably dull. Worse, it didn't even mention him by name. Not even once. According to the anonymous writer, a private, hitherto secret, space probe, commissioned by the East German government, had flown by the planet Uranus, enroute to "Outer Space." Because of its use of superior German optics, it had been able to photograph close-up shots of that planet, and on one of the passes, the camera-telescope had found a stack of old 45 RPM records. The top one was OLDIES BUT GOODIES SHOW.

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The "actual photograph, smuggled out of East Germany by our death-defying correspondents" was a smudgy black-and-white background shot of something that could have been anything from a lunar landscape to a bowl of oatmeal mush. However there was a very sharp, clear stack of what looked like old 45-RPM records rising from the oatmeal. At the very top, one could barely identify what might have been a Schwartz-America label. In an "enlargement of the photograph above, enhanced to show detail," the top record in the "stack" was clearly OLDIES BUT GOODIES SHOW. Bernie grinned. Who in hell could possibly believe such nonsense? According to the paper's banner, "More than One Million Readers Every Week."

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"Bernie? Fineman here. Terrific. TER-RI-FIC! I never knew you had it in ya' bubbie! What a P-R coup! WHAT A P.R. COUP! How much did you have to pay for that spread?" "I didn't pay for it, and I don't know what you mean P-R coup." "Bernie, don't be an idiot! That run in the National Enquirer and the Examiner has got to be a stroke of bloody genius! O.B.G. was starting to slide off the charts. When those articles came out, the thing shot back up to number three with a bullet! I shipped forty thousand units out this morning! There are back orders for twenty thousand more. You are a celebrity in spades! Current Affairs and Hard Copy picked it up. Even Geraldo is looking for an angle on the story." "Sid, listen. Not one of those things is true." "Who cares if they're true or not, Bernie? Don't you see, they're making you a legend. The masses want heroes and villains. They want larger-than-life caricatures." "Sid, I'm not a hero and I'm not a villain. Hell, I just got caught up in this thing and lost control. The guy spent an hour-and-a-half finding out about my life and I gave him the honest scoop. What came out was an aberration." "What came out was solid twenty-four karat gold, Bernie. Spell it aberration, spell it lies, but it all translates to the same thing, M-O-N-E-Y. Speaking of which, I'll need another fifteen thousand by the first of the week." "Sid, the money's just about gone and I'm tapped out in the borrowing department. We've got to have some money coming in by now." "It'll come in, my friend, don't worry, it'll come in. The first returns will be in at the end of the month. Like the man says, you gotta' spend money to make money." "You don't understand, Sid. I'm not MCA." For the first time, it dawned on him that what his mother said was true. You can't compete with the big fish in this pond. "What do you want me to do, Bern? Stop shipping? It'll kill the goose that lays the

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golden egg. Your name'll be mud in the industry. I'll never be able to ship another SchwartzAmerica record. The minute they find they're dealing with a bankrupt, they'll hold back on payments." "I'll get the money, Sid. But it's getting close to the end." "That's what all the class people say, Bern. Good. I'll be expecting it first of the week." # "No, ma, of course none of it was true." "Then how come he was able to quote you, huh? Answer me that. Did you say those things or didn't you?" "Ma, it was taken out of context." "What's with this Jackie Onassis thing? You're in love with her for twenty years, a gentile, and you never told your own mother?" "Mama, listen. I am not in love with Jacqueline Onassis and I never have been. I told the guy that the most exciting thing that ever happened to me before the record came out was that I got caught in an elevator with Jackie Onassis that went from the fifth to the twelfth floor." "You never told me that. Did you bother to get her autograph?" "No, ma, I didn't." "My son in the elevator alone with a famous person like that. Can you believe it?" she beamed. Then her voice turned more strident. "What about these comments about Jessica whatsher-name..." "Tandy. Like in Radio Shack." "What?" "Nothing, ma. The guy asked me what I thought of Jessica Tandy's performance in `Driving Miss Daisy' and I said I thought she gave a passionate performance. Only the way he wrote it, it looked like I said she was a passionate woman. Heck, mama, she's eighty years old! Why would I even want to be in the same room with a woman that age?"

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132 "Bernie! I'll have you know that I'm -- in another twenty-five years or so, I'll be almost

eighty." "Ma, that means you were seven years old when you had me." "I don't need any lip from you, Bernie. I'm not the one being called the Sultan of Smut or whatever that TV person called you on Current Affairs. I'm simply the mother of the Sultan of Smut, God forbid. Your father, may he rest in peace, would turn over in his grave, do you hear? In his grave he would turn over!" "Mama, listen. It's not my fault. The guy didn't print anything I said right." "Then we'll sue him, Bernie. You can't take a man's name and rub it around in dirt and expect to get away with it." "I can't, Ma." "What do you mean you can't? When did I ever teach you the word `can't'?" "Ma, I gave him a release," Bernie said miserably. "Even if I didn't give him a release, I'm a `public figure.' Public figures aren't protected like ordinary people." "What do you mean you gave him a release? Did you read the article before you gave him this release?" "Of course not." "Aha! My son, the genius. Listen, I talked to Rivkin down the hall. He used to be a lawyer. He said there are laws to protect against that kind of thing." "Ma, I appreciate what you're doing, but Rivkin hasn't practiced in thirty years. Besides, laws are different now. It'll be all right, Ma, don't worry." "What do you mean `all right'?" "Listen. I know about this sort of thing, O.K.? I didn't just fall off the vegetable truck. The Enquirer prints something once. Next issue it'll be a different scandal. This whole thing will blow over in less than a week. When the next edition of the Enquirer hits the newsstands, it'll be somebody else's turn. This whole thing with the record was a fluke, a one-in-a-trillion stroke of

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133 lightning. I'm sure this'll die down in a couple of days. I guarantee you lightning does not strike twice in the same place. Besides, Fineman tells me it's been a shot in the arm for the record, which shot back up to number three with a bullet." "What's that supposed to mean?" "It means more sales. More money." "Have you seen any money from this venture yet, Bernie?" "No, ma, but it's coming." "What do you mean, `it's coming'?" "Mama, why does everything have to be the third degree? It's coming. I don't know when it's coming, but it's coming, all right. I don't know any more than that. How's Sharon?" "How should Sharon be? She's scandalized, she's miserable, she's unhappy, and she's taken to wearing a veil over her face like they do in the Middle East. God forbid anyone should know she's associated with you. They've been trying to beat down her door to get some kind of comment from her. Finally went to Bermuda for a week to get away from it all. I wouldn't be surprised if she sues you for invasion of privacy." "Mama, I never even mentioned her name to anyone." "Bernie, you don't have to mention names. People know. People have eyes. They saw you were dating. Everybody loves a good scandal as long as it happens to someone else. It makes their lives interesting, meaningful. Rivkin says you should be careful, she might sue you for invasion of privacy, that's all I know." "God, I feel badly for her. I really care about her a lot." "Nu, have you picked up the telephone even once to call her, Bernie? You last saw her before Thanksgiving. Chanukah is just around the corner. What kind of caring is that? If you cared about me like that, I wouldn't consider you my son anymore." "Ma, it gets worse every time I don't call her. I don't know what to say. We really had something going before this all got started and now I've lost it."

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"Do you intend to call her or not?" "I'm scared to call her." "Like the girl said in the Enquirer article, `sweaty hands?'" "No, ma, more like cold feet." She didn't get the humor. "Fine, you have cold feet, take a hot bath and call her." "But you said she's not there, that she's overseas someplace." "Did I? Oh, I forgot. Anyway, she should be home in about a week when this all blows over. You should give her a call then. Believe me, Bernie, the poor woman's heart is breaking." "O.K., Ma, don't push me. I'll do it." "Fine. And Bernie?" "Yes, ma." "If you're going to go on any of those TV talk shows, wear clean underwear. You never know, you could be in an accident or something and you wouldn't want them to find you with dirty underwear." As she hung up the phone, Yetta Schwartz squeezed Sharon's hand and winked. "The noose is tightening, my dear. It won't be too much longer now."

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Bernie was wrong. Sometimes lightning does strike twice. Not very often, but sometimes. Sometimes it strikes over and over and over. L'il Abner's friend Joe Btsfplk -- the little guy who always walked around with a rain cloud over his head -- found that out. Bernie Schwartz was about to learn a similar lesson. Robert Benchley once said that if you turned the country on its side, all the loose nuts would fall into Southern California. The last concert of the Angels' tour was scheduled to take place the following Sunday afternoon at the Los Angeles Coliseum, exactly twenty-four hours after the "big game," the UCLA-USC cross-town rivalry. Bernie's first inkling that trouble might be brewing occurred shortly after the United Airlines flight from Phoenix pulled in to Gate 73 at Los Angeles International's Terminal Seven. Bernie alighted from the jetway and glanced around to see who had come to greet whom. Since he'd dealt with numerous businessmen from outside the country, he'd often gone to the local airport bearing a cardboard placard with the name of the individual stenciled in heavy blank ink. Over the years, he'd developed a habit of looking for similar sign-carriers when he’d visited different cities on business. Generally, the hand-held signs read "TAUCK TOURS CLEVELAND HOLIDAY" or some other such depersonalized message. In all the years he'd been placardwatching, he'd never seen a Cohen or a Levy, or anything resembling a Jewish name. Thus, he was immensely surprised when he saw a discreet sign reading, "Bernard Schwartz." The other Angels weren't coming in 'til tomorrow night. No matter his scrubbed-up exterior, there was no way that Bernie was as readily identifiable as, say, Robert Redford, Sylvester Stallone, or even Doctor Seuss.

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The man with the card seemed to be glancing down at something in his hand. Bernie watched him look toward a nondescript fellow in a trench coat, who nodded slightly. The first man approached. "Excuse me, sir, but do you happen to be the same Bernard Schwartz who's on tour with The Angels?" Before Bernie had time to affirm or deny the confrontation, the man whipped out a sheaf of papers and handed them to him. "Bernard Schwartz, you are hereby served with Summons and Complaint in the cases of Volpino versus Schwartz and Heraver versus Schwartz." "What?" Bernie responded, angrily. "I don't know what you're talking about! You must be insane! I refuse to sign anything! I demand to see my lawyer!" All of a sudden, Bernie was nearly blinded by a battery of flashbulbs and strobe lights. Three rather seedy-looking reporters, who seemed to be cut from the same mold as John Donaldson, shouted, "Any comment on the lawsuits, Mister Savage?" "Does this tie in to last week's article in the Enquirer?" "What do you have to say about it, Mister Savage?" "No comment," Bernie stammered. Bernie was rescued by Fineman's Los Angeles agent. "Don't say a thing," he murmured. "It's got nothing to do with you, per se." The reporters and photographer continued to tail him until Bernie, seizing on an old scheme that he'd heard worked for others -- at least on TV -- said to Fineman's representative in a loud voice, "I don't know, officer. Can you plainclothes types really arrest people who won't let you alone?" Fineman's agent was quick. "Yeah, Mister Schwartz. We may not be able to make a conviction stick, but we can sure straighten the bastards up." When Bernie looked around, the hangers-on and the process server were gone. "Do you mind if I look at these papers and see what they're all about?" "No problem. The Plaza La Reina's half a mile from the airport, out on Century. There's a

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coffee shop there." No sooner had they sat down at a booth than Bernie stared down at the papers. Immediately beneath the imprimatur of the Court, he saw the caption, "PETER M. VOLPINO and CELESTE VOLPINO, on behalf of SUGAR VOLPINO and COLETTE VOLPINO, Plaintiffs, versus BERNARD SCHWARTZ, also known as BENJAMIN SAVAGE, legal representative of HARRY SCHWARTZ, Defendants. WHAT??? As Bernie read on, he blushed at the lurid details. It seemed Harry had finally scored all right. Only he'd scored a bit too well. The sonofabitch -- literally -- had impregnated two dogs in the same family! The paternity suit claimed not only that Harry was a lecherous, depraved animal, who'd brutally molested two sweet, previously virginal young near-puppies, but that Bernie, as Harry's master, had been grossly negligent, so that Sugar's and Colette's master and mistress were claiming not only pup support, but punitive damages and emotional damages which they had suffered as a result of Harry's X-rated activities. That wasn't the end of it. Immediately behind the first set of papers was another set of papers, worded the same way, except here the plaintiffs were "MICHAEL and SUSAN HERAVER, on behalf of DIMPLES HERAVER and BUNNY HERAVER (What the hell kind of name was "Bunny" for a dog, anyway?). In one fell swoop, horny old Harry had knocked up four young examples of pulchritudinous dogdom. So much for the dog psychiatrist! Bernie excused himself for a few minutes and immediately called Joe Hutchinson. Collect. "Why, Bernard, what a pleasure to hear from you. I suppose the newspaper accounts have made you think twice about investing in our Variable Appreciable Annuity product, eh, Bernard?" The insurance salesman's cloying voice, coupled with the asinine lawsuit and Bernie's recollection of the Enquirer article was just enough to push him over the edge. "No, Joseph," Bernie said, getting a perverse charge out of imitating the goddam name-repeater at last. "No,

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138 Joseph, I don't want to purchase any of your product, Joseph. What I want to know, Joseph, is the claims number for your company, Joseph?" "Why do you ask, Bernard?" "First of all, Joseph, I want to make a claim against my homeowner's policy, Joseph. It seems man's best friend decided he wanted some lady friends instead of me, Joseph, and I damned well better have coverage, Joseph. Secondly, while I'm at it, Joseph, I want the number of your malpractice carrier, you sonofabitch. You had no business going to the National Enquirer, or haven't you heard of invasion of privacy laws, Joseph?" "Now, Bernard," the insurance man said smoothly, "I'm sure we can straighten this out between us, old friends and all. Why we're almost family, Bernard. I would never say anything about you behind your back." "Joseph, I don't want any of your insurance agent double-talk, OK, Joseph? We're not almost family. We're not even close, Joseph. I bought your lousy coverage at twice the price I'd have paid for any other policy because of Phyllis. Phyllis is dead, Joseph, as in gone. And Joseph, as soon as the annual premium expires on my policies, which I calculate will be in about thirty days, you, too will be gone. I saw the goddam article. I didn't hear from you before that article came out, and I sure as hell can't think of anyone else who'd have such great information readily available." "Now, Bernard, don't get excited. You know, a heart attack or a stroke could cause raise the rates should you wish to purchase some of our other fine product." "Joseph, you're not listening. You have five seconds, Joseph, as in one-two-three-fourfive to give me the claims number of the company, and if you can't count that high, you'd better believe that if I don't have coverage for the goddammed dog and you don't have coverage for your goddammed mouth, I'm gonna' get the biggest shark in the country and he's gonna' chew off your goddammed balls. Do I make myself clear, Joseph?" When he returned to the table, Bernie was much calmer. He felt better still when the

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distributor drove him out Century Boulevard, and he saw three billboards in the space of two miles promoting The Angels' Sunday night concert. Beyond Figueroa Street, they turned left onto the northbound Harbor Freeway and drove ten miles to the downtown exit. By five-thirty, Bernie was comfortably ensconced in his room at the Westin Bonaventure. Within moments he was on the phone. "Ma, what's this about Harry?" "What do you mean, `What's this about Harry?' How many times have I told you to get him spayed?" "Neutered, mom." "Whatever. How many times have I told you to get the dog neutered?" "Not once." "All right, so I didn't tell you, but I thought about telling you a dozen times. Besides, you should have done it on your own." "Ma, enough with the lectures already. I want to know what happened?" "Bernie, how do I know what happened? The psychiatrist said it might be a good idea if he walked him a few nights. Don't worry, he said he'd only charge half price." "Half price? For what? So he could watch Harry's amorous antics on my dollar?" "Bernie, listen. Harry's never been happier since you left. You should have seen the expression on his face when he came home from the last walk and the psychiatrist pronounced him cured! It would have warmed your heart. That dog was absolutely grinning!" "Yeah, some grin! Four dogs pregnant, a lawsuit, and the SPCA will probably hold me up as their poster boy for this year." "Nu? You've got insurance." "That's not the problem, ma. Remember what you said about lightning striking twice? I just hope the media haven't gotten hold of this story." Bernie was wrong again.

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140 By six o'clock, Bernie had an inkling that something was not quite right. As was his habit,

he flipped the channel to the CBS World News just in time to hear the last snatch of a woman reporter saying, "...the National Association of Women condemned him and his dog as the grossest kind of manipulators of the female psyche. A spokesperson said that they planned a major nationwide rally outside the Coliseum on Sunday. On the lighter side of the news, three more California condor eggs hatched at Griffith Park Zoo, bringing the total of the endangered birds to forty-nine. We'll have more after this word from our sponsor." Bernie paled. Oh, shit! That seemed to be a recurring statement running through his head lately. ABC ran its world news at seven. Maybe Peter Jennings'd have something to say about it. Sure enough, it was ABC's headline story. "Good evening. Southern California has always witnessed the bizarre, the fanatical, the unusual, but what's shaping up for this coming Sunday can only be called the biggest three ring circus since Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey came to town. "Earlier today, the National Organization of Women issued a statement that it found the alleged manipulation of women from the age of six to eighty by Bernard Schwartz, producer of the hit record OLDIES BUT GOODIES SHOW, to be one of the most reprehensible demonstrations of anti-feminism in the last fifty years. Spokesperson Gloria Steinem, coming out of retirement, was joined by Erica Jong in calling for a massive demonstration at the final concert of the Angels' nationwide tour, set for Sunday afternoon at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. This statement was followed by an unverified report that Mister Schwartz's dog, Harry, was being sued in multiple paternity actions." Oh, shit! "The National Rifle Association immediately responded to NOW'S announcement by stating that the women's action was a threat to freedom of speech and association under the First Amendment, and that they would stage a counter-demonstration supporting Shwartz's right to

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speak and perform, and to carry a handgun to protect himself. "Less than an hour later, the National Coalition of Gays and Lesbians praised Savage for having two admitted gays as members of the Angels singing group, and said they would demonstrate on behalf of Schwartz. "They were joined by the Reverend Jesse Jackson, whose Rainbow Coalition condemned the National Organization for Women for instituting an anti-Black demonstration. All of the Angels are Black. On the other hand, LULAC, the National Hispanic Organization was outraged that not one member of Schwartz's entourage is Hispanic, and that Schwartz's dog was an English sheepdog. Southern California has the largest Latino community in the country, and spokesmen for the Hispanic organizations called upon every Latino in the area to join the NOW boycott." Maalox time. "The American Civil Liberties Union indicated it would file legal action to allow all demonstrations to take place as planned. "For more on this story, we go to Kate Dordon on location in our KABC-TV studios in Los Angeles. Kate?" "Thank you, Peter. There is tension in the air in Los Angeles tonight. Mothers Against Drunk Drivers have indicated they will support the National Women's Rights Organization in peacefully picketing the concert, indicating that it was concerned that the types who usually attend such events are inclined to use alcohol and drugs, thus placing the lives of innocent children in jeopardy. "The concert, which has been sold out for the last ten days, has become a scalper's paradise. Tickets are going for one thousand dollars each. "The National Council of Christians and Jews urged a time of peaceful prayer and reconciliation, noting that the Reverend Josiah Christian Jackson Muhammad Cohen, Spiritual Leader of the Church of the Fallen Angels in Detroit Michigan, a representative of three separate

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sects within the Council, is a vocalist with the Angels and that numerous members of his congregation are serving in a supporting role during the tour. "The National Humane Society indicated it would have a `pet fair' outside the Coliseum where it would give properly neutered animals to those who promised to give them good homes. NHS and the local SPCA issued a blanket condemnation, without mentioning any names, of public figures who insist on preserving their so-called macho image through the use of innocent animals. "The American Medical Association issued a statement indicating that injuries which are almost certain to occur at the concert can be addressed by calling AMA's twenty-four-hour hot line, something they say would not exist if Congress institutes any type of national socialized medicine program. "Back to you in Washington, Peter." "Thank you, Kate. The International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union urged restraint, noting that Mister Savage and all of the Angels had purchased American made clothing for their tour, and that as recently as last Saturday, Bernard Schwartz had personally purchased two dozen pair of fresh underwear certified to have been made by union workers. "At the center of this controversy, the focus of it all, Bernard Schwartz, also known as Ben Savage, could not be reached for comment. "ASCAP, BMI, Musicians' Union Local 47, the American Guild of Variety Artists, and the National Union of Procrastinators have indicated they are studying the situation and will issue a statement at the appropriate time. "In other news today, the President announced the closing of sixty-seven military bases at a savings of five-point-seven billion dollars and the award of a ninety-five million dollar contract for the development a new Jobs program. A typhoon in Bangladesh claimed the lives of twentyfive thousand people and the Federal deficit topped five trillion dollars. More on that as time allows. But first, we take you to New York for man-on-the-street comments about the planned

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series of demonstrations in Los Angeles...." Bernie shut off the TV. Don't worry, ma, this'll die down in a couple of days. I guarantee you lightning does not strike twice in the same place. It's all a tempest in a teacup, a feather blowing in the wind. Oh, shit! Bernie's happy reverie was interrupted by the jangle of the telephone. Oh, God, who now? Fineman? The media? Mama, God forbid? With trembling fingers, he picked up the phone. "Bernie?" "Sam? It's gotta' be late night where you are. D'you know what's going on?" "I sure do, Bernie. You've been away from the business for a month, we don't have a new product line, and you've blown Christmas." "What do you mean, Sam? I left a manager in charge. You knew I was going out on tour." "Yeah, great! The manager embezzled fifty grand and flew the coop to Brazil. We've got nothing to sell. The creditors are starting to buzz around the plant like vultures. For God's sake, Bernie, we need you back here now to get this thing moving or we're bankrupt, do you hear, bankrupt, as in broke!" Necessity is the mother of invention. More often, sheer panic is the shortest road to a nervous breakdown. Occasionally, just occasionally, the light bulb goes off in the victim's head and, as Ford used to advertise a few years ago, "a better idea" emerges. Bernard Schwartz was just about to prove why he was the President of Schwartz-America Corporation. It was a time for heroes. A time for genius. A time for out-and-out chutzpah! "Sam, listen to me. I want you to do everything I say, everything, do you hear? To the letter." "Shoot."

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144 "Call Dubinsky of the Garment Workers' Union at home, immediately, tonight. His home

phone number's in my upper right-hand desk drawer. You have all the keys. I want you to order five million cheap souvenir items -- T-shirts, sweatshirts, caps, shorts, any kind of junk he's got. Half of them printed with "I helped the Angels fly!" the other half with "I shot the Angels down!" and Sunday's date. I want a silk screen picture of me and the group on the back. Any color's fine, any material's fine, but make sure it's the cheapest grade. Have 'em print up ten thousand T-shirts with a picture of an English sheep dog and the words, "Way to go, Harry!" another ten thousand with the words, "Harry ... Now There's A Real Sonofabitch!" On second thought, make that thirty thousand of each kind. "Next, I want you to charter a seven-forty-seven, two of them if you have to. Ship everything to L.A.X. I'll arrange for distribution once they get here. "Third, call Fineman. Tell him I want a hundred thousand cassettes and a hundred thousand CDs out here by Sunday morning at the latest. The covers will have a tape-over that says, `Special commemorative edition -- I was there!' and Sunday's date. "Fourth, get Charlie at the bank and tell him he's gonna' have to short-term finance this thing. I don't give a damn what he says, I don't want any excuses. If he starts to give you any lip, tell him to turn on any newscast he wants and he'll know why I need the money. You might want to turn the TV on yourself. It'll probably answer most of your questions. "Fifth and finally, I want you to call David Cohen at Cohen International. I don't give a damn if he is the competition, do what I say and no questions, Sam, OK? Good. He's got twenty thousand liquidated stock of a little wind-up toy with four black musicians that jump around on a little stage. He paid twenty-five cents apiece for them at a going-out-of-business sale. Grab up every one of them. Give him thirty cents apiece, he'll think I've gone off the deep end. If he can find any more of that kind of garbage I'll take 'em all. Get paste-overs made that say `The Angels' and Sunday's date and get them out here. Charter another plane if you have to. Don't worry about Christmas, Sam. We're gonna' have a one day Christmas season and it's gonna' be the best

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goddam Christmas in the history of the company!" On Friday, Bernie's Los Angeles lawyers obtained a temporary restraining order prohibiting anyone from selling anything except licensed, copyrighted souvenirs, all of which were owned by Schwartz-America Corporation, at or within a thousand yards of the Los Angeles Coliseum. Bernie's west coast distributors canvassed every souvenir shop in Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura, Santa Barbara, San Bernardino, Kern, Riverside and San Diego Counties taking orders, selling concessions, making sure that the needs of the expected consumers would be met. No stone was left unturned. Schwartz-America issued licenses to sell "Ben Savage & The Angels" hot dogs, buttons, photographs, locks of hair, earrings, posters, pickets, every kind of schlock imaginable. If Lady Fortune had shat on Bernie's head, he planted a garden of the finest orchids available and used the excrement as fertilizer. The gods of fate had tossed Bernie a bunch of lemons, and he was about to become the lemonade salesman of the century. As the Sun rose over smoggy Los Angeles heralding a brilliant -- if hazy -- summery day in the middle of December, Bernie Schwartz, in more than one sense, was ready to rock and roll.

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By nine, Sunday morning, Bernie and the Angels were enjoying breakfast in Bernie's suite at the Bonaventure, about a mile as the crow flies from the Coliseum. By ten, it became apparent that the only way they were going to get there was as the crow flies, or at least as the helicopter flies. As he looked over downtown Los Angeles from the Penthouse, Bernie saw that the southbound Harbor Freeway was a huge parking lot. Ditto every major artery leading to the Coliseum. The area around the hotel was cordoned off for an eight-block radius. It didn't matter. A sea of humanity surged through the streets below, waiting for the Angels to exit the building. Bullhorns and loudspeakers blared a constant stream of incomprehensible noise. The cacophony had started half an hour earlier, when the first demonstrators broke through the barricades. As if on cue, they suddenly stopped the countervailing buzz. With a single voice they took up the chant, "Ber-NIE! Ber-NIE! BER-NIE!" over and over again. This time Bernie did not mouth the expletives of a few nights ago. His stomach was perfectly calm. He grinned, ordered a second helping of breakfast brought up to the suite, including bacon and sausage (Mama would have died, but mama wasn't around to stop him), and bestowed a generous tip on the room service attendant. He called the desk captain and directed him to charter twenty helicopters to ferry the entourage directly into the Coliseum. This accomplished, he turned on the twenty-seven-inch color television set and sat in the comfortable massager-chair. He pressed the remote control. Every station ran the same story. There were ten million people in the immediate vicinity of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The Pasadena, Hollywood, Harbor, Santa Monica, San Bernardino, Golden State, Santa Ana, Pomona, Riverside and San Diego Freeways were all in gridlock. Los Angeles International, Burbank, Ontario and John Wayne Airports announced that every flight on every airline had been filled and that security was working as hard as it could to filter people through the lines.

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147 Although Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm offered five-for-the-price-of-one tickets, they were ghost towns. Churches throughout the city reported the lowest attendance in fifteen years. The Governor had called up the National Guard and announced that he'd personally fly down to address the crowds. The two United States Senators from California and the Vice President of the United States were enroute to Los Angeles. The President of Mexico had been granted permission to address his North-of-the-border constituency. Former President Jimmy Carter urged restraint, and indicated that he might come out of retirement to address the crowd. No Maalox. No heartburn. Christmas comes but once a year! What a friend we have in Jesus! The concert was scheduled to begin at two p.m. At eleven, Bernie belched once, stood up, banged a water glass with a fork in his most professional after-dinner-speaker manner, and addressed his performers. The feeling was electric. "My friends," Bernie said. "I'm not running for any office. All I want to say is that no matter what happens today, each of you is a part of living history. Years from now, you'll be able to tell your grandchildren not only that you were here, but that you were the cause of what we're seeing today." "Cut the bullshit, Bernie." Trust the Reverend to say the right thing. "What does this mean in money, moo-lah, long, lean green?" "Joe, it means that for every ticket sold, for every shirt, cap, hot dog, set of earring, or gimmicky souvenir, one dollar is going to go into a special account. That account is going to be divided in the same percentage as we've divided the gate since we started. One share each for you guys, double share for me." "Holy shit, Bernie! That could be over a million dollars each!" "It very well could be at that, Josiah." "Praise de Lawd!" Together they all said, "Amen!"

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148 #

Fifteen hundred feet above the Coliseum, there were ants as far as the eye could see. They'd abandoned their tiny toy cars and walked the final couple of miles. It was as if a giant celestial magnet had been turned on full power. Bernie could hear the roar of humanity below despite the noisy whonk-whonk-whonk-whonk-whonk-whonk of the chopper blades. Suddenly, the helicopter pilot spoke to Bernie over the earphones. "Mister Savage, Sir, we've been ordered away from the area of the Coliseum for the next ten minutes." "Problems, Captain?" "I don't think so, Mister Savage. Air Force H-One wants to land ahead of us." "The Presidential helicopter?" "Affirmative, Sir. It seems that the President of the United States wants to address the crowd." #

"And so, my fellow Americans, let us make of this great gathering a new beginning, a festival of love and joy, peace and goodwill. It really doesn't matter who or what reason we have for coming together. What is important is that we have all come together in celebration of life. We know there are differences that separate us, just as there are disagreements in a great, loving family. Indeed, we are all part of the same loving family, the American family. A family that put a man on the moon, a family that worked together to bring Earth the greatest democracy mankind has ever known. "Let brother greet brother. Let Black man extend the hand of brotherhood to Latino, let Jew dine with Arab, let man and woman rejoice together, and let us realize that all people are created equal, equal in the eyes of God, equal in the eyes of themselves. God Bless You and God Bless the United States of America!" The cheer that went up was monumental, earth-shaking. The Chief Executive of the

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United States, leader of the free world, shook hands with Bernie and muttered, "Good luck, sucker." The great spirit of brotherly camaraderie among the crowd lasted until the second warmup act. It started to unravel slowly as part of the crowd took up the chant of "Ber-NIE! BerNIE! Ber-NIE!" while an equal part of the crowd started to boo. Then some brethren rudely spilled some of the licensed "Bernie Cola" on the heads of other brethren, who reacted by splashing "Angel-Up" in the faces of their tormentors. Since everything was piped out to the vast audience outside the Coliseum via the magnificent sound system, brotherhood's end quickly spread beyond the confines of the stadium. Since the National Guard was standing watch, there were no guns, bombs or other deadly missiles, but water pistols, hoses, plastic squirt bottles armed with ketchup, mustard, India ink, vegetable dye and chili sauce were available. The competing armies, who'd been joined in brotherhood a short time before, unleashed their weapons with a vengeance. When it was all over, there were ten thousand arrests and five thousand hospitalized. Completely oblivious to what was going on outside, Bernie and the Angels played happily away in their hundred thousand seat cocoon, secure in the knowledge that all sales to vendors and licensees had been made cash in advance on a no return basis. #

Two days later, thirty-six stories above Century Park East, Bernie fidgeted in the elegant conference room of the biggest law firm in the city. He was surrounded by three partners and five junior associates. Bernie had heard the options. Now he responded. "What do you mean we can't fight City Hall? You're supposed to be the best damned lawyers in L.A." "Bernie, all they want is a token payment. Five mil." "How much will that leave?"

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"About twenty. Gross profit." "The Angels?" "Take off another eight." "The planes?" "Two" "That leaves ten million dollars' profit for Schwartz-America?" "Less Federal and State taxes." "I don't wanna' hear all that crap, what's the bottom line?" "Including our fees?" "Yeah." "Three million." "Helluva lot of effort for that." "You ever made that in a single day before?" "The city'll take five and blow away?" "Yeah." "Go for it." "Merry Christmas, Bernie!" "Yeah, and Happy Chanukah to you."

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The following week, Bernie and The Angels eased back down into the reality of life. They flew up to the Monterey Peninsula and played tourist. They visited the Aquarium, the Fisherman's Wharf scene, and lost themselves among the ticky-tacky streets of Carmel. It was a time to unwind. Since the Peninsula regularly saw so many celebrities come and go, no one stopped to ask for their autographs. Bernie was disappointed at the lack of recognition, but he soon relaxed in his palatial suite at the Highlands Inn overlooking the Pacific. For the first time in weeks, he had time to think about his future. What a shame Sharon couldn't be here to share this, he thought. Would Sharon ever be part of his life again? The insurance lawyer called and advised him that the paternity cases against Harry were weak. Something about contributory negligence, all four female dogs being over the age of consent, and other legalese which meant nothing more than that Harry was essentially in the clear. The plaintiffs had settled for three months' dog food for the pups, plus assurances that Harry would not exercise visitation privileges. Bernie felt a bittersweet tug at his heartstrings when it was time for them to disperse to the four winds. "I guess this is it for a while, guys. Are you sure you don't want to go on that world tour I told you about?" "No, Bernie," the sergeant replied. "It's been a lot of fun. I'm wealthy for life. I don't care to risk my retirement. There's a lot of raw, young recruits out there. They'll be a lot easier to train when they see the gold record on the wall." "How long have you got to go 'til retirement, Lucius?" "Why?" "The follow-up record comes out next week. They may just force me to grab your ass and bring you back."

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152 "Who are you kidding, Bernie? We're one-shot wonders and you know it. Which cut is it

gonna' be?" "Sizzle." "I repeat, one-shot wonders." "Don't be too sure, my friend." "Even if it does take off, how am I going to spend the money I earned from last Sunday in a whole lifetime? Thanks, but no thanks, Bernie Schwartz-turned-Ben Savage. You need somebody else to tour. Get a real singer, someone that's got a voice left." Another voice piped up, "Believe it or not, Lucius, I'll miss you a lot." "You'll miss me, Flutsie? After all the crap I gave you? Come on!" "I mean it, Lucius. You and I took different directions in life. But for the time we were on this tour, I was young again. It didn't matter if you called me a fairy or a queer or a homo. It didn't even matter that you didn't want to stand real close to me, like maybe you'd catch AIDS or something. What mattered was that for three weeks we were eighteen again, with all the pissand-vinegar, knock-the-goddam-world-on-its-ass feeling that implies. And when it was all over, goddam if we didn't come up winners! That's something." The tenor had tears in his eyes. Bernie couldn't see them all that clearly because his own tears blurred his vision. "You're right, Flutsie," the sergeant replied gruffly. "It was a good thing. Stay happy, m'man! You got a helluva wife, husband, whatever. The guy loves you, y'know? That's something some of us never get." "What do the rest of you feel about going out on the road again?" Bernie asked. "Fine with me," Inigo replied. "I've got no roots. Where Flutsie goes, I go." "Joe?" "I've got to sit on my answer for a while, Bernie. I've got a flock of pigeons to take care of, and they've got a herd of sheep to fleece, if you know what I mean." "Joe, you had enough money before we started the tour. The stuff in your office could

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153 support your lifestyle for years, and with the money you've made during these past few weeks you could quit the whole religious, girlie business for good and clip coupons from stock dividends." "I could, indeed, Bernie, but you know, after so many years, it kind of gets in the blood. Mine is a small entertainment industry on its own scale. No one really gets hurt. It's as much fun as going on the road. Even dodging the new rookie cops with their brand-new `I invented law enforcement angles' gets to be a mental challenge." "What if the second record's a smash?" "We'll talk about it then. Like Lucius says, I think we're a one-time thing. We're all too old, too fat, we've been there, and done that. OLDIES BUT GOODIES SHOW was fun, but we made it at a time when we were all teenagers or in our early twenties." "You know what I regret most?" "What's that, Bernie?" "Before this happened, we were set in our ways, doing our own thing, but none of us -not even you, Joe -- had made it really big time. This whole thing was a dream. It had its nightmarish aspects, but it really was a once-in-a-lifetime thing. Whether we deserved it or not, God was good enough to give it to us. That's coming to an end, now. The record's slipping down the charts. Slipping, hell, it's dropping like a rock. Another two weeks and OLDIES BUT GOODIES SHOW'll be a memory, but a damned nice one. How do you top it? You're young as long as you've got a goal, as long as there's a great big mountain over the horizon and you've got the balls to try and climb it. We've climbed the mountain. We've stood on the pinnacle. It's down hill from here, and that means we'll start getting old. "I don't know about you guys. `Old' always scared me. When we made this record, `old' was anyone over the age of thirty. I guess I'm sad 'cause I never had a kid. This -- this thing gave me a shot at youth again. I don't mean Tawnee. I know all about you guys and Tawnee. She was part of the dream, too. She used to tease me, `Once you try Black, you never go back.' Maybe that's so, but I doubt it. There's a nice woman, a good woman, that I've probably lost because of

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154 this whole thing. Life's like that. It balances out. You win some, you lose some. I've had a ball, guys. I don't mind saying I'm gonna' miss it -- and I'm gonna' miss all of you. Thanks for listening to an old man." "It doesn't have to be that final, Bernie," Inigo said. Why don't we agree to get together once a year or so, say on the anniversary that OLDIES BUT GOODIES SHOW first hit number one on the Billboard charts? It can be in a different city each time, what d'you say, Flutsie?" "I'm game." "Me, too." "Count me in." "All right!" But after the United seven-thirty-seven dumped them at San Francisco International Airport and they waved their goodbyes as each dispersed to the different flights home, Bernie wondered if that would ever come to pass.

#

Home, wonderful home. The day of reckoning had finally come, and Bernie was not about to be put off. OLDIES BUT GOODIES SHOW was creeping along the bottom of the Billboard One Hundred. He and his distributor both knew that this week would probably be its last gasp at life. "Fineman, I want an accounting and I want it now." "Easy, Bernie, calm down. I've got it right here for you." The distributor puffed amiably at his large cigar and handed Bernie an official-looking print-out. "We show two-point-five million of each kind pressed. One million, five hundred thousand cassettes sold at two bucks a pop, net three million dollars. Half a million CD's adds another million. Gross take, four million bucks."

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"Keep going." "Seventy-five cents per pressing, total cost three million, seven hundred fifty thousand dollars. Twenty percent to me, that's four hundred thousand dollars. Five percent of all sales to the group, another two hundred thousand dollars." "But that nets out to a three-hundred-fifty thousand dollar loss!!!" "Yeah, but you've got a helluva backlog of these babies left to sell. A million cassettes, two million CD's. That's another six million dollars, less my twenty percent and less five for the group. You got a potential for another four million big ones, net cash in your pocket, baby!" "What's the chance of those selling?" "About the same as OLDIES BUT GOODIES SHOW leaping up the charts to number one again." "Why did you press so many of 'em if you knew they weren't gonna' sell?" "Who knows what anything's gonna' sell? Look, you got a two million seller! Do you know how many releases sell two million copies? Michael Jackson doesn't sell that many! Madonna doesn't sell that many!" "But you pressed five million, Fineman! Why, for God's sake?" "Bernie, the big guys have their own way of cost control. They press their own. They can get as many as they need within twenty-four hours. The little guys like you and me have to order more than we need, 'cause we're last in line. We buy from the independent pressers. We make the best estimate we can." "But five million??? Christ, Fineman, nobody's sold five million copies in twenty years!!!" "Look, Bernie, do I have to remind you that lightning struck twice in the same place? Hell, it struck three times in the same place. You get a record on the charts that's twenty-five years old. That's a goddam fluke. Then some down-in-the-mouth free-lance reporter gets hold of you. He rolls lucky dice and the scandal sheets pick it up. To top that off, the whole friggin' country picks up on it! Stop bitching! Forget about the record, how much did you net out on the

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tour?" "Three million dollars." "How much did you have when you started?" "Five hundred thousand, and a faltering business." "So?" "I guess that does put it more in perspective." "Listen, my friend, you don't make it on the record. You make it on the `after market.' You ain't RCA Victor and you're never gonna' be, but for a little fish you did all right. Is the new one ready to go?" "Yeah. How many copies should I press?" "Take it easy on the second one until it starts to show strength in the market. A hundred thousand of each should be plenty." "Another hundred-fifty grand?" "Nu? You're not starving." #

Bernie gave the BIG WHIZ a nationwide twenty-four hour exclusive to break "Sizzle!" to the American public. That was only fair, since it had been the first to air OLDIES BUT GOODIES SHOW. "Sizzle!" didn't exactly break records shooting up the charts. After the first week, it was ninety-seven on the local charts, not even putting a dent in the national charts. Bernie hired fifty kids to go into various record stores in the city and ask for "Sizzle!" Net sales, four hundred copies, all of which he paid out of his own pocket. Plus ten bucks an hour to the goddam kids. He took out a full page ad in Billboard. Still no excitement. The Billboard rating came out the next week. Although "Sizzle!" received the equivalent

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of a B+ rating, the reviewer damned it with faint praise. The record floundered about, reaching as high as seventy-five on the local charts and ninety-nine on the Billboard chart before the Reverend Josiah Christian Jackson Muhammad Cohen killed it in a fit of righteous idiocy. Bernie caught it on the eleven o'clock news while he was in Chicago, trying to promote the record. "On the national scene, the Most Reverend Josiah Christian Jackson Muhammad Cohen, pastor of the Church of the Fallen Angels and most recently a member of the wildly successful recording group, `The Angels,' whose OLDIES BUT GOODIES SHOW was the biggest selling record of the year, denounced as a fraud the latest Angels single, `Sizzle!' He stated that the singers on the current record are not the original Angels who recorded OLDIES BUT GOODIES SHOW twenty-five years ago. The Reverend called upon Bernard Schwartz, producer of the record, to own up to the deception. "Schwartz, was recently the target of several accusations made by the National Enquirer and various ethnic, racial, animal rights and women's groups late last year. Although none of the charges were ever proved, Schwartz, who reportedly became a millionaire from the proceeds of the first record, labored under a cloud of suspicion. which only quieted down after OLDIES BUT GOODIES SHOW dropped off the charts. "Other members of The Angels refused to comment on the Reverend's charges. Bernard Schwartz was reported as being out of town when we checked at the offices of Schwartz-America earlier today. "In other news of the day, a second round of summit talks on the continuing Middle East situation promised new concessions by each side. The Israelis were reportedly willing to give up ten yards of land on the West Bank in exchange for the bagel concessions in Amman, Damascus, and Riyadh." Holy shit! Maalox time again.

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Sizzle fizzled and died an unlamented death. Bernie's money did not make him any happier. January was a cold, blustery month in the city. Its sidewalks were, as usual, slick and dangerous with an accumulation of ice and garbage. He'd been playing Sharon's tape for two days now. Trying to get drunk on wine didn't help. It only upset his stomach and he felt worse. Damn! The tape sounded so good, so super good! Why didn't they make music like that any more? He called his mother for the fifth time that week. She had the same message. "Bernie, my big shot son, you blew it. I don't know what to tell you. You made three million dollars. Big deal. Does that buy happiness?" "Listen, Ma. Please do me a favor, will you? I know you're in contact with Sharon. Tell her that I love her and I'm going to call her at precisely seven o'clock Wednesday night. No excuses. No nothing. I'm going to call her, OK?" "You have to make an appointment to telephone a girl, Bernie? What's the matter, you can't just go over to her house with flowers or candy? You're almost fifty years old. Soon, you'll be able to join the American Association of Retired Persons." "Ma, I don't need this, OK? I can't just go over and confront her. I'm embarrassed. I'm sorry. I'm upset. I'm lonely. I don't know what to do, OK? I haven't courted a woman in -- since I was a much younger man." "What ever happened to your girl friend, what was her name, Tony?" "Tawnee, ma. That's -- she was only a friend. Look, I need your help. I don't know how to go about this and Sharon's not like a -- a date. She's different." He was speaking faster than normal. His heart pounded in his chest. His hands were sweaty. "All right, Bernie. You want I should call Sharon, I'll call Sharon, but I make no guarantees at all, do you hear? None."

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"I know, ma. Seven on Wednesday, for absolute sure, OK?" "Fine by me. It should only be fine by her." #

The day before Bernie's last promised commitment to Sharon there was a slight interruption in his plans. The mischievous gods of fortune were about to play more of their boywins-girl, boy-loses-girl games. This one started with a call from Bernie's accountant only an hour after the former rock impresario left his mother's apartment. "Bernie, you've got to come down to the office right now!" "But Sam, Wednesday afternoon's always been my day off. It can wait 'til tomorrow." "It can't wait 'til tomorrow! Take my word for it, Bernie. You remember that story you gave the guy from the Enquirer, the one about the clock gadget with the rooster or whatever the hell it was?" "Vaguely." "Well, it better get unvaguely very quickly. Takahashi Tokei's here and says that constituted a contract for you to distribute the stuff, and if you don't come down and negotiate to take delivery today, he's going to file suit and tie up everything you got while it's pending." "Come on, Sam. Tokei's nothing more than a teaspoon of salt in the tea garden of life. He's always threatening something or other." "Yeah, but this time, he's got the president of the company, why flew all the way from Taiwan to be here. What's more, they've got Arnold Feldbaum with them." "Feldbaum!!?? That shyster???" "Call him what you want, Bern. I think it's best you come down here right away!" When Phyllis had said that life with Bernie was boring, she'd missed the mark, if only by a few months. Sighing, Bernie played throw-the-stick one last time with Harry, who seemed far more interested in other things nowadays -- like trying to mount the small tree in the back yard.

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Bernie changed into his most impressive power suit -- one made by Brooks Brothers, not by Morris -- called his own attorney to meet him at the office, and piled into his new egomobile, a Mercedes 560SL, for the fifteen-minute trip to Schwartz-America. Negotiations went hot and heavy all afternoon. Bernie was surprised to find that the president of the company really wasn't a bad chap at all -- quite distinguished when you got right down to it. His name was Hymanaki Ho, and he'd picked up American ways admirably, "You need not engage in unnecessary formality when it's just the two of us. You may call me `Hy Ho.'" Initially, Ho had asked a hundred thousand dollars to call the whole thing quits. "That's too high, Hy," Bernie had replied, even though his lawyer had advised him to go for the deal. But the more Bernie saw of the crazy-ass clock-a-doodle-doodler, the more fascinated he became with it. There was no reason in the world why the damned thing couldn't sell! He offered Mister Ho some sake, not knowing whether Chinese drank Japanese rotgut or not. Ho did, and toasted Bernie's success. Out came the Havana cigars. Out came Ho's catalogue. Several items looked very promising for Schwartz-America. Seven o'clock passed. The lawyers and their clients were deep in conversation, deeper in their cups. Bernie didn't notice the time. The two industrial moguls signed papers in an odd scrawl that neither he nor Ho would recognize as their own handwriting the next day. Before they knew it, it was nearly midnight. "Still plenty of time to party. The shank of the evening. What the hell, a deal's a deal, let's go out and drink to it, Ho, old buddy." Bernie found it amazingly clever when he started singing the song from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. "Hy-Ho, Hy-Ho, it's off to play we go ...." "Maybe you should not be driving, Bernie-San." "Do Chinese go with that `San' crap, Hy?" "I don't know. Who gives a damn, eh?" The Chinese entrepreneur laughed and clapped Bernie on the shoulder and mimicked his culture. "We have velly good time, make mirrion dorrah, eh?"

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161 "You give a wonderful imitation of a Chinaman, Mister Ho! Did I ever tell you the one

about the man who went into a Chinese restaurant? When the waiter came by, the customer thought he'd be cute, so he said, `I'd like to order some flied lice.' The waiter, who was very dignified, looked down at the man and said, `It's pronounced fried rice.' Then he turned and muttered under his breath, `You plick!'" That set them into a bout of drunken giggles. Ho and Bernie made it safely to an all-night, all-nude joint, by cab. Bernie did not remember how he got home, but he did recall seeing a series of swimming clocks, all saying five. Promptly at nine, the phone rang. "Mmmmhhh?" "Bernie? This is your mother, remember me? Yetta Schwartz? Does the name maybe ring a bell?" "Mmmmmhhh?" "What's the matter, you can't hear or something?" Bernie struggled valiantly to open his eyes. His head felt like it weighed a ton. His tongue was asleep and his teeth itched. "Mmmmhhhh? Maahhh?" "Is something wrong, Bernie? You don't sound so good." "Jsta-momentma. I'm jstgetting-up." "Bernie, are you drunk or something?" "Nnno-ma. Jstaminute-OK?" He rolled over on his side and promptly fell out of bed with a loud thump. Shit! Recovering what composure he had and ignoring the phone, which squeaked, "Bernie, are you all right? Bernie, I'll call the doctor, you stay there. Stay on the phone, OK?" he made it to the bathroom. Heck, one more minute to urinate wouldn't make a difference. Afterward, he splashed cold water on his face and returned to the chattering phone.

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162 "Ma? Ma, it's OK. I'm all right, now. I was just in a deep sleep. Don't worry. I'm just

fine." He wasn't fine at all. His head felt like a watermelon and something was squeezing both sides of the melon pretty hard. "I had a late night last night, that's all." "I see." The tone was frosty. Very unusual for his mother. "Did you by any chance forget something last night?" Forget something? Hell, he'd forgotten the whole evening after they'd signed the contract, except that one of them, either he or Ho, had made some stupid Chinese joke. What could she be talking about? "I don't think so, ma. Why?" "Do the words `seven o'clock Wednesday night, no excuses, no nothing' refresh your memory?" "No." Yes. Oh, shit! #

"What was his excuse this time, Yetta?" "A business deal of some kind. Some big shot came over from Taiwan and threatened to sue him over a product. Pretty soon they got to talking. Then they got to drinking. Next thing you know, he was passed out in his own bed, drunk as a lord." "You believe that?" "I might not have, but Sam, his accountant, confirmed it. Sam said he left about nine and Bernie was trying to teach the Chinaman the words to OLDIES BUT GOODIES SHOW. Then they got to talking about free trade and how the Chinaman might be able to con some Indians or Burmese into believing the left-over CD's were floppy disks for a computer. I didn't get it all, but Sam said they were going hot and heavy. Bernie's lawyer swore to it, not that I trust any of those shysters." "So what am I supposed to do now? Wait around until he calls? Give him the cold

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shoulder? I really do feel sorry for the guy. He lived out a childhood dream and it became a nightmare." "Three million dollars is not such a nightmare, Sharon. You could do a lot worse, even if he is my own son and I do say so myself." "What do you suggest?" "Remember the Nazi who ran off with Phyllis?" "Georgie? Ugh! Mister pastrami-on-white-bread-with-mayonnaise with brains to match? No, thank you, Yetta." "I don't mean that at all. He's local, he's passably good looking, not that he's my type, and he's stupid enough to play along with the game. I'll talk to him. Can you be home Monday night?" "Do you have any other suggestions?" "Listen and I'll tell you...." #

"Bernie, I'll make it as easy for you as I know how. I'm going to be over to Sharon's house for dessert Monday night. She doesn't know I'm telling you this, but I know for sure she'll be home. It might be your last chance." They were finishing up the last of the roast brisket, mashed potatoes, and spinach that she'd made for dinner. He was back to coming over three times a week. "Why don't we just forget it? I'm sure she'll find herself a very nice guy. As for me -- well, I had my fun on the road." "You played around, Bernie?" "Not exactly, ma." "With that Tawnee person?" "Ma, I'd rather not talk about it. What makes you think Sharon would even speak to me?"

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"Mothers have an intuition about such things, Bernie. Who knows? When you least expect it things happen. Maybe not always good things, but things." "I'll think about it, Ma. I'm so humiliated by the way I've behaved, I'm afraid to do it." "What can it hurt? So she can tell you `no?' Nu? So what else have you got going?" "I said, I'll think about it, ma." Promptly at seven-thirty Monday night, a very chastened Bernard Schwartz picked up the telephone and punched in Sharon's number. After four rings, the answering machine cut in. "Hi! This is Sharon. I can't come to the phone right now, but if you'll leave your name and number and a short message at the beep, I'll call you back as soon as possible." "Sharon, listen! For God's sake, if you're listening to this phone and the machine's just a filter, will you please pick up the phone? It's urgent and it may be the only chance I've got, so please pick it up. If you don't my number is ...." "Hi, Bernie," Sharon cooed sweetly. "How are you? What in the world have you been doing these last three months?" "Sharon, please let me explain." "There's no need to explain, Bernie. I understand what a busy man you've become," she continued. There was no rancor or anger whatsoever in her voice. Strange. He'd fully expected that she'd either slam the receiver down or treat him to a dressing down that would turn a sailor's ears blue. "What I was wondering, Sharon, uh, that is, if you're, uh, not doing anything...?" "If I could talk to you? Of course, Bernie, any time. But I'm running a little late right now. You see, Georgie's just come by to take me out to dinner and..." "Georgie!!?? Georgie!!?? Big, blond hunk about thirty-five or so." Then another voice, a much deeper one, came on the phone. "Hi, champ!" Oh, God! That voice. He'd recognize it anywhere. "Hi, Georgie. Long time no hear from." As if he ever wanted to hear from that dorky

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Aryan again. "Yeah, champ! Funny, isn't it, how we keep chasing the same women." "Very funny." It was not the least bit funny. With Phyllis, it really hadn't made a difference. But this was Sharon. His Sharon. What the hell was he talking about? She was her own woman. He'd ignored her, treated her like chopped liver for three months, and now he was expecting her to be waiting for her knight in rusted armor to come traipsing home. "Listen, Georgie, could I speak to Sharon for a moment?" "Sure, champ! Happy to oblige." It must have taken him two weeks to learn that phrase. "Hi, Bern," she said gaily. "It's me again." "Listen, I thought my ...." He'd started to say, "I thought my mother was going over there for dessert tonight," then remembered that the information his mom had imparted to him was supposed to be highly secret. "You thought what, Bernie?" "I, uh, thought my, uh, uh, that is, I thought my invitation would be, uh, would be ..." "What invitation, Bernie?" "Nothing, I just thought." "Look, Bernie, I really don't mean to be abrupt, but Georgie is waiting to take me to dinner and tomorrow he's driving me to the university to see my son, Darren. Could you call me back next week some time? We'll have a good chance to talk then, bring us up to date on news that friends so often miss over the months?" The word "friends" stung. Badly. "Is that all we are, Sharon? Friends?" "I don't know what you mean, Mister Schwartz," she said, in the same lilting, light voice. "I don't recall there being anything else I can remember." Ouch. "Uh, all right, Sharon. When's a good time to call?"

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166 "I don't know, Bernie. Really I don't. You'll just have to try to catch me when I'm not out.

I know you're a busy man, poor dear, but if you get a chance, just pick up the phone and punch in my number. I'll always be available to speak with you, dear heart." "What about now?" "Now's not a good time, sweetie. I just got through telling you, Georgie's waiting. Just because you're my friend doesn't mean you should pout like a spoiled child, Bern. I'll be around. Ta-ta." She replaced the receiver. Gently. Then she turned and smiled at the lumbering hulk. "Georgie, you are one really nifty guy," Sharon said, patting him on the shoulder. "You played the part perfectly." "Gee, Miz Gordon, it was the least I could do. I mean, after Missus Schwartz bought me the new outfit, how could I refuse the little favor she asked?" "Georgie," Bernie's mother beamed. "I'd make you an honorary Jew, but I'd be afraid that within forty years we'd all start to look like you." "Yeah, I see what you mean, that wouldn't be too good, Missus Schwartz. There wouldn't be too many Bernies left in the world. But thank you for the offer, anyway. Do you need me for anything else?" "No, you can go now. Mrs. Gordon and I have a lot of things we want to discuss." After Georgie left, Sharon poured tea and brought out Stella d'Oro cookies and Sarah Lee cheesecake. "Do you think I might have overdone it, Yetta?" "Of course not, dear, what do you mean?" "The dinner bit wasn't excessive, but telling him Georgie was going to drive me down to the university sounded a little much, even to me. What if he drives ahead and tries to meet me there?" "Isn't that what every woman wants? A man fighting to the death to court his woman?" "Yes, but suppose he drives down and I'm not there? It's just like they used to say in the

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sixties, `What if they gave a war and nobody came?'" "You could always say you changed your mind at the last minute, or that Georgie stood you up. Women have a thousand excuses." "It's just that I feel so sorry for him, Yetta." "Sharon, I never had a girl of my own, but if I did I'd love her to be you. Let me tell you this. In any relationship, there's always the one that kisses and the one that puts out the cheek to be kissed. At least until you catch him, you be the one that puts out the cheek." Bernie was in agony. The Maalox wasn't helping. Drinking wasn't going to help. He listened to her tape for the fiftieth time that day. It made things worse. The love songs sounded like they were directed at him alone. He thought back to the beginnings of their courtship, if one could call it that, back to the night they'd made such beautiful music together. Two weeks before OLDIES. He turned on the radio and tuned the dial to W-H-I-Z. After an hour of hoping, he gave up. No OLDIES, no SIZZLE! No mention that those songs had ever existed. Harry came over and sniffed at Bernie's feet. Then he started licking them. Bernie the Yuppie and Harry the Carpet, two lonely bachelors reunited again. "Harry, I've been thinking," Bernie remarked offhandedly. "Dogs get neutered every day. Maybe that would solve your problem." Harry bared his teeth, growled, and slunk away into another room. "I guess that wasn't such a good idea after all, eh Har?" The dog returned with an I-forgive-you-but-you-better-not-even-joke-about-that-kind-ofthing-again look. Bernie flipped on the TV. The sitcoms were awful. He looked toward his bookcase. Nothing of interest there. Maybe Fineman could cheer him up. It was almost nine in the evening when he got hold of the record distributor. "Sid, Bernie here. What do you mean `Bernie Who,' Bernie Schwartz, for God's sake. OLDIES BUT GOODIES SHOW, SIZZLE, you know."

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"Oh, hi Bernie." The voice was cool, distant. "How're ya' doin'?" "Fine, just fine, Sid. Happy as a pig in shit. I thought maybe you and I could go out later tonight, have a couple drinks, a coupla' laughs." "Bernie, are you kidding me or what? I've got a wife and three grandchildren. I can't just get up and go roaming like some alley cat on a Monday night. What do you really want?" "I thought we'd be able to talk about the business." "About the business? Bernie, you had one hit record, a chance-in-a-million piece of garbage that happened to be there at the right time, at the right place. You lucked out, Bernie. You made a big bundle, but the follow-on was a fiasco. It showed you're just like a hundred thousand others. Like the old Don Juan joke. `One and you're done, Señor.'" "But Sid, you made a bundle from me." "Yeah, and you made a bigger bundle, hot shot. Listen, Bernie, take my advice. You came to the table to gamble. You hit big on your first and only outing. That happens sometimes to people who go to Vegas. Then they get greedy. They get gambling fever. Next thing you know they've blown their winnings and everything else they own besides. You're a good kid, Bernie. A little naive, a little old-fashioned, but you're not a shark. You gotta' be a shark if you wanna' stay alive in this business. I'll give you a little bit of fatherly advice. You came away from the table with three million bucks, more than you could ever hope to make in your life. Sit back, put it all in a CD -- I don't mean a compact disk -- and collect two hundred thousand a year before taxes without moving off your rear end. That's more than most people make in a whole lifetime. If you try to get back into this business, you'll spend a hundred thousand here, five hundred there, you'll be broke and in debt up to your ears within a year. Listen, why don't you marry that widow you talked about last year? There's still time for you to raise a family if you want. Hell, lots of people start second families at your age." "You're telling me you're not interested anymore? That Bernie Schwartz is a `has-been,' maybe a `never was?'"

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169 "Bernie, listen to me, you're a nice little guy. Lots of would-be big shots come through

this business and piss it away faster than they make it. That's fine. I've been around this racket for thirty years and God willing, I'll be in it another thirty. It's exciting, it's risky, but it's different with me. I'm playing with other people's money. I don't want to see one of my own get hurt. Leave it to the suckers or leave it to the big guys. You lived your dream, Bernie. Walk away from the table while you're a winner, do you understand?" "Yeah, I guess so. Thanks, Sid." "It's nothing." After he'd put the phone down, Bernie looked at the gold record hanging on the wall. Was it really "nothing?" He'd lived a month with the kings. He'd managed to sequester some of the royal treasure for himself and some for five other deserving guys who'd have had a little less spice in their lives but for him. "You're wrong, Sid Fineman," he said quietly, to himself. "Maybe you've been in this game thirty years, but you've been a watcher. I got to be a player. You're right, though, when you say it's time to pick up the chips, go on to something else, quit while I’m a winner. But you know what, Sid? There's one other prize. The biggest one of all. And I'm gonna' win it before it's all over."

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The following day was one of those false spring miracles that sometimes hits in the middle of winter. Bernie would have driven the Mercedes with the top down, except he'd never quite figured out how to get the hard-top off the little beast. What a wonderful day it would be to take Sharon for a spin. She'd never even seen the car. What would she say? Nice Jewish boys -- men -- weren't supposed to drive German cars, especially German cars that began with the letter "M." No matter, he could always tell her that the biggest Mercedes dealer in world was located in Tel Aviv. He thought fleetingly of stopping by her house, "just to chat." But then he remembered she'd said Georgie was going to drive her down south. Damn! He'd bet his bottom dollar old Georgie-the-Nazi didn't have a Mercedes. Probably the type that drove a dark sedan. Still, it would be so nice to glance down, drifting over those magnificent breasts to sneak a peak at those gorgeous legs. By eleven a.m., Bernie had developed a strong case of spring fever. The one thing he didn't feel like doing was working. Anything to get out of the crushing confinement of SchwartzAmerica. He decided to make a run to the bank to deposit the week's receipts. Not that he couldn't have had Sam do it, there wasn't much to deposit. It was just that the office had become oppressive, stuffy. He popped back into the silver SL, which fit his new image so much better than the old Chrysler. He parked the car in a twenty minute zone outside the bank. His business would take ten minutes at most. He saw no need to clutter the bank's parking lot. He was just starting up the sidewalk steps when a man slammed into him and knocked him to the ground. "Hey! Watch where you're going you clumsy ..." He looked back to where the man was running. Georgie??? Naww. It couldn't be. Georgie'd never moved that fast in his life. Wait a minute! Although he couldn't see her face, he was one hundred percent certain from the

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171 hairdo that was Sharon sitting in the right front seat. His Sharon. What was that she'd said about Georgie taking her to visit her son at university. Son of a bitch! Was Bernie a man or a mouse? He'd confront them right now, have it out with Georgie. He might muck up his chances with Sharon forever, but he might as well be hung for a goat as for a sheep. "Wait!" he yelled. He turned and started running toward their car. He'd gotten within ten feet of it when the dark sedan belched exhaust in his face and took off rapidly with a loud squeal of rubber. "You aren't gonna' take this one from me, you sonofabitch!" he shouted, to no one in particular. Bernie ran back to the Mercedes, jumped in, gunned the engine, and floored it. Nothing happened. Goddam brakes! He released the catch. The Mercedes leaped out of the parking space like a frightened cat. He heard the squeal of brakes and turned back to look at a car less than three feet away. In the instant it took him to look to his left, the car shot into the opposite lane of traffic. Like A.J. Foyt, he swerved quickly back into his own lane and gave pursuit to the rapidly disappearing sedan. The large car weaved in and out of traffic a block ahead. Bernie forgot he'd never been a trained race car driver. He'd seen enough car chase scenes in the movies to know exactly how it was done. Oblivious to his own safety, he tromped down on the accelerator. The eight cylinders responded smoothly and rapidly. He was gaining slowly on the sedan when he saw the light go red. Shit! Oh, well, screw the light, here goes nothing! He gunned the engine hard. The Mercedes bolted through the intersection. There was a three car pileup on each side of the street. Bernie didn't even hear the crash, so intent was he on catching Sharon. The sedan reached the freeway on-ramp. The Mercedes had narrowed the gap to five hundred yards. The car ahead of him picked up speed. Seventy, eighty, ninety. It was rapidly pulling away from him.

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172 "Come on, you mother! Show me that I didn't spend seventy thousand bucks in vain!"

Bernie prayed to the motor god. It would serve him right if he didn't catch the sedan. His mother had warned him about driving "that Nazi-mobile." Miraculously, the SL was not anti-Semitic, or, if it was, it didn't know its driver was Jewish. All that expensive advertising about "matchless German engineering" proved accurate. Without missing a beat or straining itself, the heavy little roadster accelerated from sixty to a hundred-five as easily as if it had been going from zero to twenty. Cars on both sides fell backwards. Now he was gaining on the sedan. Four hundred yards, three hundred. All of a sudden, he looked in his rear view mirror. Oh, shit! There was a veritable army of flashing red lights behind him. He couldn't tell if he was pulling away from them or not. The sedan shot off the freeway. Bernie cut across three lanes and followed it. The car carrying his love slammed through a red light, back onto the freeway on ramp, and kept going. Bernie mashed down the brake pedal. The 560SL sloughed three-hundred-sixty degrees, but somehow managed to stop a foot before the crosswalk. Cars in the intersection had collided every which way, like a child who's suddenly become angry with his Tinker Toy set and thrown the whole thing down. There was an S-shaped hole in the midst of the stack of cars. Bernie negotiated it perfectly, then flashed back onto the freeway. The red lights were virtually on his tail. The sedan was almost half a mile ahead, but he could still see it. He floored the gas pedal. Once again the reliable SL jumped ahead of the police car pack. He was gaining on the sedan. Damn! How could Sharon have gone for something like that moron? How dare she put up with such reckless driving? Soon they left the confines of the city. The freeway narrowed to two lanes each way. With a last surge of unbelievable courage -or stupidity -- Bernie fish-tailed around the last three cars between him and the sedan. Three hundred yards, two hundred yards. The speedometer read one-hundred-twenty. Now, he saw flashing red lights two miles ahead of him. The police cruisers behind him must have gone into turbo-overdrive. They were a quarter mile behind and gaining. Sweat pouring

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173 from his brow -- and everywhere else -- he drew abreast of the sedan and started gently edging it to the right, to force it off the road. The driver raised what looked like a gun. Damn Sharon! Damn Georgie! Damn the police! Damn! Damn! Damn! Bernie turned his steering wheel directly into the sedan and felt a loud C-RUNCH! The larger car went into an immediate spin. Faster and faster, then slower and slower. Finally, it came to a halt, two tires flattened, steam pouring from the front hood. The loudspeaker blasted shrilly. "HOLD IT RIGHT THERE! COME OUT WITH YOUR HANDS ON TOP OF YOUR HEAD! RIGHT NOW!" Oh, the ignominy of it all! First the Enquirer, then the Coliseum, then Harry, then Sizzle, and now this. All for the love of a woman. Bernie pictured himself in black-and-white prisoner stripes and heard the reverberating voice of the judge sternly intoning, "Five years in the state penitentiary!" The sound of the gavel echoed in his ears. Trembling, he stepped meekly out of the car, hands over his head as he'd been ordered to do. "Not you, Sir. You're a hero!" The voice was kind, but carried a most definite ring of authority. "Wh--what?" Bernie mumbled through a fog. "Do you realize you've managed single-handedly to capture a felon wanted for bank robbery in three states? I don't know what we would have done without you, Sir." "But he -- he was driving my woman friend, and ..." "Woman friend? Did you say `woman friend'???" The nearest officer was aghast, then started laughing out loud. "Sergeant, did you hear that? He was chasing after his woman friend!" There were loud guffaws. The man he'd been chasing emerged from the car. He was not Georgie. Under his breath he snarled, "You lousy sonofabitch. I can't believe I was caught by a fat-assed little turd in a Mercedes." "I'd watch what I was saying if I were you, Morrison," the nearest cop said. "He outraced you, outdrove you, outfoxed you, and did something a hundred cops have been trying to do for

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the last month." Bernie heard none of this. He was running toward the car. "Sharon, are you all right? Sharon? Sharon?" He stopped in his tracks. He could have gone on talking for the next year. For the next century, in fact. The upper torso of the mannequin seated in the car smiled serenely and stared unseeingly ahead. # A week later, the pre-spring thaw ended. The sky was gray and heavy, the streets slushy. Fifteen people, his mother, Harry, and four TV cameramen shot the scene on the steps in front of City Hall as the Mayor addressed the guest of honor. "And so, Mister Schwartz, it is my proud duty as Mayor to give you a Key to the City, the Presidential Medal of Valor, and to offer you my own humble congratulations for courage and bravery beyond the call of duty. Finally, Mister Schwartz, the banks who are so thankful for all you've done, have asked me to bestow upon you this reward check for twenty-five thousand dollars." The local TV gave it three minutes worth of coverage on the six o'clock news, ninety seconds on the eleven o'clock wrap-up. Sadly, the national media, which had made Bernie its darling only a month before, didn't know he existed. Sex, lust, crime, brutality sold. Scandal was NEWS. Heroism was worth the blink of an eye, nothing more. Worst of all, the one person in the world whom Bernie had desperately wanted to attend was "out of town." # Bernie was sitting in his office leafing through the Wall Street Journal, when his accountant burst in and broke the news. "Bernie, first quarter sales on the Ho's Clock-a-Doodle gadget are dynamite! I don't know what you did right, but everything's turned to gold since OLDIES BUT GOODIES SHOW hit the charts, even when it looked like a sad Christmas."

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"How good, Sam?" Bernie's tone was decidedly disinterested. "Twelve thousand units on the East Coast, twenty-five thousand to California -- that's expected, you can sell anything out there -- and another ten thousand in the Midwest. Close enough to fifty thousand units that we're getting calls from the heavyweights." "That's great, Sam," the president of Schwartz-America replied, listlessly. "Bernie, I've known you too many years to know something's bugging you. So your second record bombed. Is that a reason to give up on life?" Bernie stood up, stretched his arms above his head and rubbed his stomach, which was back to its pre-Spa size. He looked thoughtfully at the new furniture, the deep, rich maroon carpet. Turning around, he gazed through the muted vertical blinds at the silver Mercedes parked in the President's space. It had been repaired so well that no one could ever tell it had been in an accident. Sam was right. What did he have to complain about? He turned back to face his accountant, who'd been one of his best friends for the past fifteen years. "Would you like a cognac, Sam?" "At nine o'clock in the morning? Are you crazy?" "I guess I forgot what time it was." He looked at the Monet print on the opposite wall, a soft, blue impressionist gondola on a blue and white lagoon. Bernie had never been to Venice. Heck, he'd never been to Europe. "Sam, have you ever been across the Atlantic?" "Once to London. Nice town. Theatre on the West End, the British Museum, changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace. I was there for six days." "That's it? Theatre, museum, palace? Nice town?" "What do you mean, Bernie?" "I mean, we've got museums here. If I want to see theatre, I can go across the river. A palace? I can see the Biltmore House in North Carolina or the Hearst Castle in California. You know, Sam, I've never really taken the time to travel. Phyllis always wanted to go, but I had too much to do running the business. Now she's gone."

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176 "Yeah, and you're wealthy enough that you can travel wherever you want. What's to stop

you?" Bernie walked over to a large magnetically-suspended globe, another Schwartz-America distribution item, and spun it slowly. "Yeah, what's to stop me?" he said, almost to himself. Travel would be wonderful. But alone? That would be no better than sitting at home with Harry. He sat down in a chair next to his accountant. "Sam," he said. "Life is something you want to share. When we were on tour, I had the guys. They weren't exactly the greatest company in the world, certainly not what I would have chosen, but I had people to talk to at night. People with whom I could share a life experience, even if it was a fleeting time. Did you know there was a woman ....?" "You told me that." "She was no more permanent than Joe, Lucius, Alphonse or Flutsie. I knew that when we started the tour. I went in with my eyes open. With my fly open, too." He grinned sheepishly. "I suppose what I'm saying is that it sure would be nice to have one special person -- another human being -- with whom I could share a trip, share an idea, maybe even share a bed -- on a permanent basis. How long have you been married, Sam?" "Thirty-one years next August." "Happily?" "Who measures happiness, Bernie? We get along. The kids are grown and gone. That took some adjusting. We had to get used to facing one another across the dinner table again. I don't know that it's a big romantic thing. Why?" "Phyllis and I never had an overwhelming romance either. We were comfortable. Not even that, really. To tell you the truth, when Georgie came on the scene, I wasn't that upset. Sam, have you ever felt wildly, blindly in love, so much so that you had trouble thinking about anything else? Like when you think about her, your heart drops down into the pit of your stomach?"

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177 "I've had heartburn. Pastrami does that to me sometimes. Shirley's brisket with onions

doesn't always sit well either." "Come on, Sam, I'm being serious." "Bernie, listen. We've been friends for many years. Let's call a spade a shit shovel, OK? You moon around listlessly. You offer me a drink first thing in the morning, which is something neither of us do. You talk in circles. Travel one minute, loneliness another. You think I don't have ears, that I don't hear you play that tape over and over again behind closed doors? You're in love, Bernie, and for whatever reason you don't know how to make it work." "Is it that obvious?" "Yeah." "So what do I do?" "Me? You're asking me what do to do? I've been married for thirty-one years. For the little bit of loving I still get, it's hardly worth it to go through the effort. You know the old joke, `How do you define Jewish foreplay? Twenty minutes worth of begging and pleading.' That's me, Bernie. Whatever spark there was is a barely flickering pilot light. So how do you expect me to know what to do when a lightning bolt falls off a garbage truck?" "What?" "Never mind. The answer is, I don't know. You think maybe you should just call her and straight out say, `Look Missus, Miss, Miz, whatever they call themselves nowadays, there's a million and one excuses why I haven't been able to say ‘I love you,’ and I'll list them for you by the number if you want. Or I can tell you plain out, I love you, end of story.'" "That's what I love about you, Sam. You're such a deep-down, dyed-in-the-wool romantic." "Do you have any better suggestions?" "Not really." "Maybe you've got a female-type person you can talk to?"

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"My mom, but she's been a widow for a long time. What would she know about such things? She knows about cooking. She knows about keeping a nice, over-stuffed, over-heated house. But she's not from the romantics." "I wouldn't be too sure, Bernie. After all, she is a woman." "Yeah, I guess she is. Not that I ever viewed her as one." "Maybe you should try, Bernie." "Yeah, maybe I should at that." #

"Ma, I don't know what to do anymore. Can you imagine the chutzpah of that Georgie person, horning in on both my women?" "Speaking of both women, Bernie, not that I want to impose on the dead, but have you heard anything from the people who are supposed to be bringing back what's left of Phyllis?" "Not recently, Ma. Mister Ho checked it out. He said he'd never heard of the shipper Georgie used, and thought that the guy most likely sold the cremated remains to a company that markets goldfish food in America." "My God, you mean the poor girl could end up as Hartz Mountain enriched goldfish flakes?" "She could at that." "Such a shame. She was such a nice woman. I always loved her. I was so glad you married her. What a queen, what an incredibly wonderful woman! What a shame she didn't leave you any little Bernies or Phyllises. Not that it's too late, mind you. Sharon is still a young, beautiful woman." "Mama, stop talking like Yente the Matchmaker. Even if we did, for some reason -- well, you know, get together -- I'd be fifty, maybe fifty-two by the time.... That's ridiculous, ma. Could you see me with a kid? It'd be like having a grandchild, not a child."

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"Bernie, age is not a matter of years. Did you ever really grow up?" "Of course." He thought back to a month ago, when OLDIES BUT GOODIES SHOW was still rocketing to the moon. "Well, maybe not so `of course' after all." "Maybe that's why you never had a child of your own, Bernie. Raising children means childhood's end. You realize you're dealing with the next generation. Suddenly it doesn't feel so good. You know, Bernie, in my generation, we never had time to have a childhood or a teen-age. In yours, everyone's working so hard to avoid leaving their youth behind. We may not have given you the best of all possible worlds, but in my time we took responsibility for our mistakes. We were parents. Never mind today's `wisdom' that says you should be a friend to your child, or that your child should tell you how he should be raised. Your father and I brought you up without a child psychologist to tell me what I was doing wrong. If you didn't behave, you got smacked. You went to college, you finished in four years, period, and you paid for it yourself. Today, everyone's precious little baby says maybe he'll finish college in five years, maybe six, but he demands -- demands, mind you -- that his parents pay him support all the way through so he can go out and party and get drunk every night." "Sharon's kid's aren't like that, ma." "Sharon's kids aren't like that because she raised them right, the old fashioned way. A whole lot of love, a whole lot of discipline. You don't buy your kids' love. You let them know from the beginning that you expect them to love and respect you, just because you're the mother, and for no other reason. God knows that's reason enough. If you make mistakes, that's your problem, not theirs. It's so easy today for kids to use any excuse -- their parents divorced, their parents stayed together, their parents were too rough on them, their parents were too easy on them, their parents didn't feed them the right food. It all boils down to the same thing. Our children don't want to take any responsibility for their own lives. Maybe that's why I'd like to see what kind of child my son could produce, and why I'd like to see it be with a woman I know did it right."

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"But Ma, I'm almost fifty years old." "And Abraham was an old man when he begat Isaac, and Jacob was an even older man when he begat Benjamin. Where is it written that someone can only raise a child when they're twenty-five or thirty-five or forty-five? Look, Bernie, I'm still raising you and I'm -- never mind how old I am, let's just say I'm not as young as I look. Your father, may he rest in peace, was still your father until the day he died. Now, what was it you wanted to talk to me about?" "Mama, I'm in love with Sharon, plain and simple." "So? Have you told her this?" "I'm sure she knows." "That's not my question, Bernie. Have you told her?" "Ma, I don't need the Spanish Inquisition, OK?" "Bernie, how do you know she knows?" "I'm sure she could tell from the way I've been acting." "Oh? You don't call somebody for three months, that's telling her you love her? When you finally get up the courage to call and she tells you she's going out with another man, you say, `That's nice, I'll call you again another day?' Bernie, you may not believe this, but many years ago -- too many to think about -- I was once young. Despite all this new-fangled talk about feminism, equal opportunity, and all that garbage, the world still runs the same way. A woman wants to be spoiled and pursued, courted and treasured, made to feel like she's the most important thing in a man's life. Why do you think Phyllis left you?" "That's a sore subject, ma." "Is it, Bernie? Well, maybe you'd better think about it. If we're going to call a spade a spade, I wasn't that crazy about Phyllis Levinthal, but I figured if she married you and made you happy, that was fine. As much as I love you, there were times when you should have taken her side, even if it meant you were rejecting your own mother. That's called having the courage of your convictions. That's how you tell a woman you love her. You stand up for her against the

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whole world. "You came over to my apartment, or you had me over for dinner once a week. That was very nice, just what a loyal, dutiful son should do. But it would have been nicer for her, and maybe it would have been better for my relationship with the poor woman, if maybe once a month you had taken her away for a long weekend somewhere, or if the two of you'd gotten away for three weeks a year to an exciting place." "But I took her to Mexico..." "You took her across the border to Juarez for an hour-and-a-half. You call that taking her to Mexico? My God, Bernie, for all your money -- or for all the money you didn't have until now -- did you ever take a risk of leaving the business to work itself out on its own? Maybe take your wife to Hawaii or Paris or Bermuda and just relax?" "I was busy making money so she'd have a nice house, a new car, clothes." "Bernie, for someone as intelligent as you are, you're acting very stupid indeed. A woman can be happy in a tent, provided the man inside's the sheikh of her dreams. And if a woman's happy, Bernie, she'll make her man very happy." "What's the point of all this?" "You came to me to tell me you're in love with Sharon Gordon and to ask my advice. Fine. Wonderful. If you make the same mistakes with Sharon as you made with Phyllis, she'd do better to find herself a Georgie before she even goes through with marrying you." "Who said anything about marriage?" "No one, but that's exactly what's on your mind, Bernie. Don't try to fool me. I changed your diapers, remember? You played at being a teen-ager when your record became a hit, but you're not a youngster any more and neither is she. Games are for children who don't know any better. You're almost fifty, Bernie. Act it." "So what do I do?" "Court her."

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"You mean flowers, candy?" "That's pretty ordinary stuff, isn't it? Nowadays, for three dollars and ninety-nine cents, any man can stop at a supermarket and pick up a bouquet of flowers, or a box of Barton's chocolates, and he thinks he's a great lover. If you're serious about winning Sharon, you'd better think of something more original." "A limousine ride to the beach? A night under the stars? Kidnapping her and waking up in the Bahamas?" "Better, Bernie. Not much. But better." "All right, already, ma. Enough with the games. What do you suggest?" "Have you ever thought of letting her know publicly how you feel." "You mean balloons, a telegram to the school, one of those big billboards that say `I love you, Sharon, Marry me!'?" "At least you're trying." "Still not enough? Ma, what do you expect me to do?" "My son the genius. I've told you you're getting warmer. Not hot, mind you, but warmer. You made a lot of money by using your head. I don't mean the record. I mean what happened after the record became a hit, that day in Los Angeles when you turned a complete fiasco into the best single-day Christmas season Schwartz-America ever had. I mean the man who parlayed what could have been an absolute disaster into a three million dollar fortune. From such a mind, I expect the answer to come. Why don't you go home and think about it?" After he went home that night, Bernie spent a long time thinking about it, and talking to Harry about his ideas. At first, Harry was receptive to everything Bernie said, wagging his tail in excited approval. But when it became apparent that Harry's earnest attempts to lick up to his master was not going to lead to a game of ball or a doggie sweet -- it was simply going to lead to more talk -- Harry became bored and went to sleep. Some friend.

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183 Bernie watched television for a while. Within an hour, he realized why he hated the boob

tube. The first program was a re-run of "The Newlywed Game." "And how did you win and woo Sheila, Harlow?" "Aw, it was simple, Chuck. I like to, uh, drag race, you know? Well, like, uh, you know, Sheila was going out with this, you know, big bozo, and one day I decided to paint my fifty-six Chevy candy-apple blue, you know. And I painted her name all over the [bleep]-in' car in silver letters, you know. Really a gas ...." "And that's the moment I feel in love with him, Chuck. Isn't that the most, you know, the most romantic thing you ever heard?" "Uh, yes, of course. Harlow and Sheila Dumfries, folks! And we'll be back in a moment after a word from our sponsor." No ideas there. By the looks of them, Sheila and Harlow didn't have the collective brain of an after dinner mint between them. On the other hand, Sheila and Harlow had each other. Which, at the moment, was a lot more than he had. The re-run of "The Love Boat," was even worse. In a single hour, Gavin McLeod presided over the usual three boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-regains-girl scenarios. Halfway through the show, Bernie took off his socks, lay down on the large, fluffy couch (a piece from mama's apartment which Sharon had insisted he take to make his house more `homey.') and soon the snores of Bernie and Harry blended in perfect harmony. When Harry nudged him to be let out, Bernie rolled over once, then looked at his watch. One thirty-seven. He let the thought sink in slowly. Harry's nudging became more insistent and he started to whine. "O.K., boy," Bernie said sleepily. "No reason you should have to hold it in all night." He rose, yawned, still half-asleep, and let Harry out the back door. A minute later, the sheep dog came trotting back in, much relieved. They returned to the living room. The television was still on. A big sign in the

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background proclaimed, "Stairway to Stardom!" and he caught the program just as the announcer's voice said, "Are you interested in showcasing your talent? It can be done, right here, right now!!! At this very moment, a talent scout from New York or Hollywood could be watching you!!! Call one-nine hundred-five-five-six-oh-seven-six-four and we'll give you full details on how you can be a STAR!!!" A nine hundred number? The cagey sonofabitch was making it both ways, Bernie thought. Even if you didn't buy the sucker line of a hundred bucks or a thousand bucks or whatever it cost to get on the show, they made a quick buck when you called the number to inquire. He stayed awake long enough to watch one act, a man who held hoops as three little mongrel dogs jumped through them and were supposed to do other tricks as well. A minute into the performance, one of the little dogs suddenly squatted and -- "Right there on stage before your very eyes, ladies and gentlemen!” he imagined the announcer saying -- the little fellow shat. There's no business like show business. Bernie chuckled to himself as he turned off the TV and walked toward his bedroom. Amazing what they put on television nowadays. Each channel was good for a minimum of twelve hours a day, but if you wanted to make money in the business, you had to stay on the air a lot longer. There simply weren't enough new programs to fill the void. Why hadn't he thought of that when OLDIES BUT GOODIES SHOW was at the top of the charts? The Angels were certainly the stuff of which sitcoms were made. Too late now. Besides, his goal wasn't to raise the fallen Angels from the dead. It was to win Sharon. "Have you ever thought to let her know publicly how you feel?" "You mean balloons, a telegram to her school, one of those big billboards that say, `Sharon, I Love You, Marry Me!'?" "At least you're trying." Money wasn't an object. What was it his mother had said? It didn't matter whether you had money or not. A woman could live in a tent, provided the man she lived with was the Sheikh

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185 of her dreams. He tossed in bed for a little while, and thought about the uselessness of money. "Finally, Mister Schwartz, the banks who are so thankful for all you've done, have asked me to bestow upon you this reward check for twenty-five thousand dollars." The TV cameras droned on. The TV cameras droned on. He tossed and turned some more. Something was coming. Something big. Like a tsunami -- they used to call them tidal waves. Now they used Japanese terms for everything, just like they used to use Yiddish terms for everything. Bernie knew that it was there. Just in back of his brain, just beyond reach. What was it they always said? Concentrate on something else, anything else so you're not searching directly and it'll come. You made a lot of money by using your head. I don't mean the record, I mean what happened after the record became a hit, that day in Los Angeles when you turned a complete fiasco into the best single-day Christmas season Schwartz-America ever had. I mean the man who parlayed what could have been an absolute disaster into a three million dollar fortune. From such a mind, I except the answer to come. Necessity is the mother of invention, panic the father of oblivion. You have to spend money to make money. Easy come, easy go. A man who turned a disaster into a three million dollar fortune. He went to the bathroom. Came back. Couldn't go to sleep. Went into the kitchen. His mind went into overdrive. There's got to be a way to win her. Think, Bernie, think! He went back into the bedroom and lay down again. Sleep came. A dozy kind of sleep. He pictured Vanna White on Wheel of Fortune. The scene shifted to Barbra Streisand singing "People," then to Alphonse singing "The Impossible Dream." Only the voice didn't sound at all like Alphonse. It sounded like Sharon, and the song was "`Til." His arms were around Sharon. He nuzzled her, felt the warmth of he sweet, full body against him. And woke up with a start. He had it! He smiled to himself. It was going to be a very nice day after all. Risky, but what did you get if you didn't take a

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risk occasionally? Soar with the eagles or trot with the turkeys? Lion or lamb? Sheep or goat? Bernie the baron or Bernie the boot-licker? Try Bernie the winner!

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Promptly at ten that morning, Bernie found himself in the General Manager's office at the biggest television station in town. A hundred dollar bill, dropped discreetly into the executive secretary's palm had worked wonders. No "Staircase to Stardom," garbage here. This was one of the big three, this was still where it was at. The walls of the manager's office were filled with pictures of General Sarnoff, Johnny Carson, Bill Cosby, presidents, prime ministers and newscasters. Emmys and award trophies sat on every hard horizontal surface except the floor. The television executive obviously thought Bernie was a kook, a moron, a loony, or one helluva practical joker when he heard what Schwartz-America's president proposed. "You've got to be crazy, Mister Schwartz. You're asking us to delay the Johnny Carson show for half an hour?" "Either way. You can cut the eleven o'clock news if you'd rather do that." "We're paying their salaries for the whole half hour, whether they go on or not." "I'll pay 'em." "But that could be ten thousand dollars!" "Does this let you know how serious I am?" Bernie peeled off a hundred hundred dollar bills. "Yeah, but then you're talking about buying a half-hour's worth of time on top of that." "How much?" "A thousand dollars a minute. Eleven o'clock's local prime time. Up 'til then, we're sucking national's territory." "No problem." He counted out thirty thousand dollars more in cash.

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"And there's the question of the technical crew, the lighting, the make-up man." "Here's ten grand more and another five for you to do with what you want. That makes a total of fifty-five thousand dollars for a lousy half hour. You never made so much money so quick in your life." "True, but yours is a very unusual request, Mister Schwartz. You know, people pay ten times that for a spot on the Super Bowl." "Yeah, maybe, but late night local TV in one market's not quite the same thing." "You don't seem to understand, Mister Schwartz. We're putting our reputation on the line. People might get the impression we can be bought." "And that's exactly what you'd like them to think. How much extra would it cost me to simulcast the whole thing on W-H-I-Z?" "AM or FM?" "Both." "Nine for the FM, one for the AM." "I remember when I was growing up, all they had was AM. You paid nothing for FM. It was a joke." "Times change. Prices change. Do you want the package or not?" "Sure. What's another ten thousand dollars?" "Quite the spender, aren't you? You know, that reminds me of a joke..." "Am I going to have to pay for your time to listen to it?" "Probably." The station manager grinned. "In that case, I'll pass. What time should I be here?" "Ten o'clock. The make-up man will have you looking like Tom Selleck, Kevin Costner, hell, even Madonna if you want." "I've got a special backdrop made up for the program." "No problem, Señor."

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189 "Since I'm spending sixty-five thousand dollars with you for half an hour, can you give me

an announcer to break into the programming?" "I suppose so, why not? I'm all heart when it comes to matters of the heart. Heh, heh, heh! Pretty funny, wouldn't you say?" "Depends. How much will you pay me if I laugh?" # Some lives run along smooth, straight roads with the regular clickety-clack of a railroad line with little, boring, quiet victories and quiet little defeats. Bernie's life had been like that prior to June seventeenth of last year. To say that it had not been quite the same since then would be an understatement. So why should things change now? Bernie had committed sixty-five thousand dollars cash. Worse, he had paid the whole thing in advance. Television was not a trusting medium. In an industry where ninety-percent of pilots never see the light of day and ninety percent of those that do collapse after four weeks, there was no reason why it should be. Bernie's idea had been so brilliant, so sure-fire, so absolutely perfect, that he'd not even bothered to check it with his mother. He knew in his heart that if this didn't work, nothing would. It was that single roll of the celestial dice that would either cement his emotional fortune forever or knock him into an abyss from which he'd never climb out. It was only right that God should give him a level playing field. He turned pale as a ghost when he heard what his mother had to say on the phone. "Ma, it's desperately important, it's a matter of life and death! She's got to watch the eleven o'clock news on Channel four!" "But she's visiting her son at university. She's not due back 'til tomorrow." "What???" "Didn't I tell you?" "No. How far away is it?"

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"Five hours' drive." "Is there an airport near there?" "I think so." "Do you have any idea of her son's address?" "He's staying in the dorm. I imagine she'll be taking him out to dinner." "Listen, ma. I've got to find a way to get her here. I don't care what it takes. Can you be up at eleven tonight?" "Of course. Listen, Bernie. I'm your mother. I demand to know what this is all about." She listened as he outlined his plan, then smiled. "My son, I think you've finally done things right. You're finally acting like a mensch." After Bernie hung up the phone, his mother turned to Sharon. "You, my dear, had better find a place to hide until tonight. I don't know what he's got planned, but I think it's finally coming to a head, and believe me when I tell you that this time around you shouldn't disappoint him." "I'll be at Allegro Ristorante. That's a sweet little neighborhood Italian place." "They say that it's Mafia-owned, did you know that?" "Isn't that the best kind of Italian place there is?" "I suppose." "Do you really think it's worth it, Yetta?" "Let me tell you, darling. If it's what I think it is, you've got nothing to lose. #

Bernie paced about his office for an hour. An hour he could ill afford. It was eleven-thirty a.m. Less than twelve hours to go. Then it became clear as a balmy day to him. Of course! The answer was at his fingertips. He let his fingers do the walking. Fifteen minutes later, he let his Mercedes do the rolling.

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At seven minutes past noon the silent chair wheeled him into the office. "Good afternoon, Mister Schwartz. I notice you're not using the name Savage any longer. That's good. Much more natural, you know. The wig really wasn't your style at all." "It's so kind of you to see me on such short notice, Mister Wiggins." "That's perfectly all right, Mister Schwartz. The Predator is ready for action twenty-four hours a day, three-hundred sixty-five-and-one-quarter days a year, any place in the world." "I know that, and I'm most appreciative. Now what I wanted was ..." "A kidnap, Mister Schwartz, plain and simple. Shall we not mince our words? While it's not our usual activity, it can certainly be accomplished. Of course, it is a felony, and since the subject, Sharon Gordon, is over the state line, a Federal offense as well. Not the kind of thing The Predator enjoys. We find them, but we leave it to less ethical types to, ummm, retrieve the prey." "You knew what I wanted before I even said it." "That's The Predator's business, Mister Schwartz. Where would we be if we weren't galaxies ahead of the rest? Of course, you know that from your earlier dealings with us." "Can you guarantee she won't be hurt?" "Certainly. We are not barbarians, Mister Schwartz." "And that she'll be at my mother's apartment by no later than ten forty-five tonight." "Guaranteed." "Do you have any idea where she is?" "We have ways of finding out. Our less ethical friends believe she'll be at one of their own places, an Italian restaurant, of course." "You mean your friends are....?" "Ah-ah-ah, Mister Schwartz. Naughty, naughty, naughty! We don't use such vulgar language in describing our associates. The capo would not be happy to hear you suggest such things, either."

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"Uh, yeah. But I don't want her hurt." "The Predator understands completely, Mister Schwartz. Velvet glove treatment all the way. She'll be blindfolded, but other than that, there won't be the slightest discomfort. The chartered jet will be waiting at the ramp for her arrival. She'll be whisked from our local private terminal to the destination by luxurious and comfortable limousine, American, of course. The Predator subscribes to a strict `Buy American' code of honor. Good for the balance of payments deficit, you know." "I see. What will all this cost me." "Fifty thousand dollars." "Fifty thousand dollars!!??" "Isn't love worth any price?" Bernie toted up the figures he was spending on this single night of romantic lunacy. It had damn well better be! #

The Predator Detective Agency prided itself on being the most state-of-the-art, automated, computerized, well-connected private investigative service in the world. Part of its mystique was its very facelessness. To the world of its clients, The Predator was a vast network of bland, featureless mannequins cut in the mold of Wes Wiggins. A client was always greeted with the same statement, the name of the agent followed by "The Predator." This preserved both anonymity and the sense of twenty-first century efficiency. The world did not know that when Wes Wiggins introduced himself as "The Predator," he did not mean "Wes Wiggins of The Predator." The Predator's cold, heartless excuse for a soul was shattered less than fifteen minutes after Bernie Schwartz left the office. Since it was still the noon hour, the agent of agents answered the phone himself. Now it was The Predator's turn to pale.

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"Jake? Jake Weinfield?" The blond-haired, crew-cut man blanched. "I'm afraid you must have the wrong number, Ma'am. The is the Predator Detective Agency and my name is Wesley Wiggins." "Wesley Wiggins, my toches! I lived on the same street where you grew up, you undergrown little pickle. Your father David ran a little hole-in-the-wall Sam Spade find-'em service. Don't you fancy-talk me." "Look, Ma'am, I don't know who you are, but ..." "Don't interrupt me when I'm talking to you, you hear? This is Yetta Schwartz. If you want, Mister Big-Shot Detective Agency, you can ask your father who I am. You've milked my boy Bernie for lots of bucks. That's just fine, but don't start that kind of stuff with me, you hear?" "Look, ummm, Missus Schwartz. I don't know what you want, but perhaps we could meet somewhere quiet and talk. Have a glass tea or something?" "Where you wanna' meet, Jakie?" "You tell me." "You like borscht?" "God, I haven't had borscht since the good old days. With sour cream?" "Of course, what do you expect?" "You don't, by any chance, make gefilte fish?" "Are you crazy? Of course I make gefilte fish. White fish and pike only." "I can't wait. Where should I meet you?" "Right here's just fine." "Right where?" "You're the Big Shark, remember?" "Predator." "Whatever. Stop pretending you're a dummy, Jake. You know exactly where I live. It's on the same street where you grew up." She recited the address to him. "And Jake?"

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"Yes?" "Make sure you're wearing clean underwear. You never can tell when you might get in an accident." #

The Predator belched. "Excuse me Mrs. Schwartz -- Yetta. I am so full and it was so delicious, I don't know what to tell you. I haven't had a meal this good since .... well, for a long time. Now, I want to know how you knew about all this?" "He's my son, what do you expect?" "Yes, but how could you know he'd come to me?" "You found his `artists' for him. Where else would he turn? Besides, as expensive as you are, he had enough to pay for it." "Does Sharon know about all of this?" "Well ... not all of it, but enough. She's no dummy, she'll figure it out pretty quick." "So why did you call me, if you knew it was all arranged and she'd be here anyway?" "It's not necessary you should have to put a blindfold on her, by the way. She gets motion sickness. The Allegro Ristorante's only a ten minute ride from here." "That's the reason you called me?" "No, Jakie. My son's planning a rather special -- situation -- tonight. I telephoned his five friends -- the Angels -- as soon as he called me. I bought each of them a round trip ticket. I wonder if you could pick them up and bring them to the television studio?" "Believe me, Mrs. Schwartz, it would be my pleasure." "Good. No charge, of course?" "Of course not. This gets more fun by the minute. What do you want me to do with the fifty thousand dollars?"

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"Keep it for your expenses." "I couldn't keep more than about a thousand dollars. That would be dishonest." "You're a good boy, Jake, and an honest one. I'm glad to see that your father's upbringing rubbed off on you. How is your father by the way?" "He's fine, thanks. A little lonely." "Oh?" "Yeah. My mom died about five years ago. In fact, that's the last time I had a really good meal like this." Yetta's face dropped. "I didn't know that. Beatrice Weinfield was a lovely woman." "You even remember her name?" "Of course. I remember your father used to call me up every so often when he got confused and couldn't locate someone he was trying to find. He moved out of the neighborhood eleven years ago. It's a shame about your mother dying and a shame that a nice man like your father has to live alone. Is he, by any chance, seeing anyone? A lady friend perhaps?" "Not at his age." "What do you mean, not at his age? He's only a couple of years older than me. What do you think, we stop thinking of such things when we get on in years?" The detective blushed. "I, uh, that is, I guess I never thought about such things." "Think about it, then, Jakie. You'll be a better detective and a better human being. It doesn't matter how many years you've got in your life. It's the life you've got in your years that counts. Remember that." "I'll try, Missus Schwartz." "Yetta." "Jake, how old are you?" "Forty-one." "Married?"

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196 "No." He blushed again. "I never really had time for that kind of thing, The Predator and

all." "Nonsense. You're not ....?" "No, of course not. Why would you even think such a thing?" "I didn't, Jake. Like I always said, if God had meant for there to be homosexuals He would have created Adam and Bruce. You know, there's a girl in my B'nai B'rith group. Thirtynine. Divorced with two kids. Nice kids. She's a red-head, by the way, you like that kind." "What makes you think that?" "When you were just a little chap, fourteen, fifteen, whatever, you used to follow little Sarah Sonnenschein around like a lovesick puppy dog." "My God! You remember everything! I've got banks of computers, sophisticated connections to every country in the world and they can't match what you know." "Jakie, there are some things a computer can't do. Such as feel." "What ever happened to Sarah Sonnenschein, anyway?" Strange, The Predator found himself trembling. "Grew up. Got married. Had two kids. Nice kids. Got divorced. Joined the B'nai B'rith." "You mean ...?" He felt flustered. "In the words of the old match-makers, Jake, `Have I got a girl for you!' Now about your father, where's he living, anyway?" Wesley Wiggins / Jacob Weinfield gave her the address. "Why do you ask?" "I thought maybe he'd like to play a little canasta, maybe go for a walk some time. Who knows? Does he like stuffed cabbage?" "His favorite meal in the whole world." "Really? I wonder how I knew that? Just a lucky guess, I suppose. When did he retire?" "Two years ago."

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"No lady friends, eh?" "None." "What's his phone number?" "Five five seven, oh-one-four-one. Why?" "No reason. I just thought maybe he'd like to see my son Bernie on television tonight. What time will you have the Angels at the studio?" "What time are they getting in?" "Between seven and eight." "I'll have 'em there by eight forty-five." "Good. I don't want Bernie to know they're there until after he goes on the air. You'll make sure the station manager knows?" "Yeah. By the way, Missus Schwartz?" "Yes, Jakie?" "I was just wondering. When you invite dad over for stuffed cabbage, would you mind if I came along?" "With or without Sarah Sonnenschein?" He looked sheepish. She glared at him. He assumed his best professional tone, "The Predator's got the picture, ma'am." "Aha, as you like to say, The Shark always gets his man." "Predator." "Whatever. Oh, yes, one last thing, Jake." "What's that." "I don't want the plan to work out exactly as my son wanted." "WHAT???" "You heard me. There's going to be a slightly different ending to this story. Now listen,

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here's how I want it done ...."

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It was the longest afternoon Bernie ever spent in his life. He called The Predator twenty times between two and three o'clock, stunned when the mechanical voice advised him that Mister Wiggins was "not available," that he was "in conference," that he was "out of the office for a few moments." The banner was too big, the banner was too small, the banner wasn't the right color, the banner was too bright, the banner was not bright enough. "Look, Mister Schwartz," the set designer finally said in exasperation. "I have made backdrops for Cosby, the Super Bowl, you name it. When they wanted a backdrop that was supposed to represent the entire Yankee Stadium, I made that, too. You wanted the best, you got the best. Trust me, for God's sake, I've done this sort of thing a hundred times before." "Are you sure it will look just right?" "Mister Schwartz, you got three hours before you got to set it up. If it doesn't look right, you can sue me, OK? Do you understand Yiddish?" "Of course." "Do you know what it is to hak someone in chainek?" "Yeah. It means to hit someone’s teakettle." "It means to bug the living daylights out of them. Mister Schwartz, please stop hakking me in chainek!" Three more calls to The Predator. Nothing. The trip to the tailor was agonizing. "The pants are too long." "They are not too long, Mister Schwartz. That's the way they're wearing them nowadays."

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"And this suit hangs on me like I'm Danny DeVito." "Look, Mister Schwartz, Arnold Schwartzenegger you're not." "Yeah, but Charley the Tuna I'm not either. How come when Morris did it, it looked so ritzy?" "It looked so ritzy because you were twenty-five pounds lighter and you had a different hair style. Look, if you want, we can sell you a nice girdle." "Never mind. You're sure it fits all right?" "Like a glove, Mister Schwartz." "I'm not buying a goddam pair of gloves. I'm buying a suit." "Fine. It fits you like a suit, then. Stop hakking me in chainek." Five more calls to The Predator. At last he got through to Wiggins. "Mister Wiggins, I've been trying for hours to get hold of you." "The Predator knows, Mister Schwartz. Twenty-seven phone calls logged at one-oh-four, one-oh-six-and-forty-four seconds, one at ..." "Thank you, Mister Wiggins, I appreciate that you know when the calls came in. Is everything going all right, that's all I want to know." "Every effort is being made fully to comply with your orders, Mister Schwartz. The Predator is looking to strike." "That's not my question, Mister Wiggins. I want to know if everything is going all right." "I just told you, Mister Schwartz, The Predator is operating in Standard Normative Organizational Operational Penumbra -- `SNOOP' we call it, heh, heh, a little inside joke in the detective trade." "I trust that means the answer is everything's OK?" "Mister Schwartz," the crisp voice said evenly, "I believe you Hebrews have a fancy set of words for what I'm about to say. Stop hakking me in chainek, heh, heh, heh. Clever turn of the phrase, that."

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Next stop, the florist. Two heart-shaped arrangements, one to go on either end of the banner. Plus two bouquets, each containing five dozen long-stemmed red roses. "You're sure they'll get to my mother's apartment at precisely ten minutes after eleven tonight?" "Certainly." "How can you be so certain? It's late at night. There could be a traffic accident. Your delivery driver could have had one too many to drink, he could be waiting for a pizza, anything could happen. Are you sure you have a backup driver in case anything like that happens?" "Mister Schwartz, The Royal Danish Floral Boutique has been in business for fifteen years. Stop hakking me in chainek, OK?" At six that night, Bernie rapped on his mother's front door. When she opened it, he presented her with two dozen pink carnations. "My, don't you look the fancy one tonight," she beamed. "Something special planned, I take it?" "You know better than that, ma. I've got butterflies in my stomach. I thought maybe you and I could grab a quick bite to eat before I have to get to the studio." "Sure, where would you like to go?" "How about the Allegro Ristorante?" Yetta Schwartz didn't miss a beat. "Oy, Bernie, that's one place I do not want to go tonight. Italian food always gives me such a heartburn." "Mama, how can you say that? The Allegro has always been your favorite place in town." "What are you talking about, Bernie? That place is run by a bunch of mafia no-goodniks. Besides I think I already have heartburn. Better you should stay here for a little while, I'll make you a nice Jewish meal, it'll take no time at all." "Ma, I have to be at the studio in less than two hours. It'll take you that long to make the

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meal. Let's just go to the Allegro, OK?" "Bernie, stop hakking me in chainek. I just told you I don't want Italian food, OK? Chinese maybe, and it's fast, it's just down the corner." "Bing Wong's? You've always detested that place." "I'm a woman, OK? Women have always been allowed to change their minds, OK? And I'm your mother. That gives me double the right to change my mind. Now, you want to take me out to dinner or not?" "Yeah, all right, ma. Oh, and by the way, these are for you," he said, handing her the flowers. "Thank you, Bernie, how sweet." She turned her cheek toward him and he dutifully kissed it. Just before he got to the station, Bernie tried telephoning The Predator eight more times. The last time, a distinctly Italian, male voice answered the phone. "Dis is da Predator Detecative Agency, see? If dis is Burnie Schwartz calling again, I got a message for ya'. Da Predator is on da job. Da Predator is operating at Strike Force Efficiency. Da Predator is out of da office until tomorrow. And stop hakking da Predator in chainek, y'hear?" Not a horribly gratifying message. The night wound down. Slowly. Eight o'clock. Nine o'clock. At nine-thirty the phone rang in the small waiting room they'd given him. He grabbed it. "Yes?" "Mister Schwartz? Mister Bernard Schwartz?" "Yes, go ahead." "The owner of a dog named Harry?" Oh, good Christ! Not a particularly Jewish thing to think, but it was the first thought that popped into his mind. "Yes?"

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203 "This is Jerry Conrad of Animal Control Services. It seems your dog got out tonight and,

uh, well there are three female dogs in heat within a mile radius of your house, and we got calls from the owners of those dogs that ..." Oh, no! Harry, Harry, Harry! Why tonight of all nights did you have to let your horny hormones take over? Oh, shit! Tomorrow, Harry you get neutered, I don't give a damn how you howl. Not tonight, Harry! "Mister Conrad, listen. Could you do me a favor? Don't take him to the pound, don't let him go. Could you please just bring him over to Channel Four's studios -- that's right, the TV station. There'll be fifty bucks in it for you." "Fifty dollars? That sounds great, Mister Schwartz. Do you want him cleaned and groomed before I bring him over?" "How much?" "How does another fifty sound?" "You've got it. Can you get him here before ten-thirty?" "Sure, no problem." "Great." Even in times of stress, Bernie was cool, calm and collected. In dealing with affairs of others' hearts, not his own. His hands were clammy. His heart was pounding a mile a minute. God, why couldn't he have been a dog? What an easy life. Lay around all day, lie by your master's side in the evening, and screw your brains out at night. And they called it a dog's life. Ten o'clock. One hour to show time. The orchestra he'd hired to augment the tape recording were gathering on stage. He could hear the musicians warming up their instruments. Bernie was shivering. He got up, walked over and glanced at the room thermometer. Seventy-five degrees. Then he looked at his watch. Fifty-one minutes to go. Fifty. He heard the director call, "All right, everyone, let's do a quick run-through," followed by the song. It sounded great.

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Should he try The Predator again? No. Italian voice had left the message loud and clear. "Don't calla' me, we'll calla' you."

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"Five minutes to show time, Mister Schwartz." Despite every anti-perspirant the make-up man had applied, Bernie felt the sweat pouring from his head as soon as he hit the hot lights. "Four minutes." The telephone rang. Bernie jumped. "It's for you, Mister Schwartz. A Mister Wes Wiggins." Bernie almost tripped, so anxious was he to grab the phone. He literally shouted into the receiver. "Mister Wiggins?" "Mister Schwartz. I don't know quite how to tell you this. The Predator's never failed before and I'm humiliated. Naturally, we're willing to make you a full refund..." "WHAT? WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?" "When we got down there, Sharon Gordon was gone. Flew the coop. Zero. Nada. I believe your race has a word for it, bupkes." "WHAT THE HELL DO YOU MEAN, GONE, YOU IDIOT??? YOU'RE THE BEST GODDAM DETECTIVE AGENCY ON THE FACE OF THE EARTH. I'VE GOT ONE MINUTE BEFORE I'M ON THE AIR. THE MOST IMPORTANT MOMENT OF MY LIFE AND YOU SAY YOU COULDN'T FIND HER??? WHAT THE HELL KIND OF SCHMUCKS ARE YOU, ANYWAY? DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH MONEY I'M OUT? YOU PROMISED, FOR GOD'S SAKE!!! YOU GUARANTEED IT, YOU SAID!!! WHAT THE HELL AM I SUPPOSED TO DO NOW?" Bernie was almost weeping into the phone. "Three minutes, Mister Schwartz." "I can't tell you how sorry I am, Mister Schwartz. You have to understand that no one, not even The Predator's perfect all the time." "LISTEN, YOU PASTY-FACED LITTLE HYPOCRITE!!! YOU TOLD ME THE

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206 PREDATOR ALWAYS GETS ITS MAN. YOU PROMISED ME, YOU SONOFABITCH! YOU GUARANTEED IT, FOR GOD'S SAKE!!! I'LL SUE YOUR COMPANY, THAT'S WHAT I'LL DO!! YOU THINK YOU'RE A PREDATOR, HUH? WELL, WAIT 'TIL YOU SEE THE SHARK I'VE GOT COMING AFTER YOU TOMORROW MORNING!!! WE'LL SEE WHO'S THE PREDATOR!!!" "One minute, Mister Schwartz." "Listen, Mister Schwartz, all I can say is she left the campus this afternoon at six. It's a four-and-a-half hour drive under normal circumstances. She was headed back to the city. She may just be listening or watching." "ALL I CAN SAY IS YOU BETTER GODDAM HOPE SHE IS, 'CAUSE IF SHE ISN'T..." "Contact!!!" "Good evening, ladies and gentlemen," the bass-voiced announcer intoned. "We interrupt our regularly scheduled program for a special message. The eleven o'clock news has been cancelled for this evening only. We repeat, stay tuned for a special message." The camera started with a long shot of the sound stage. As it slowly moved in, the blue sparkle on the pink background became clearer, finally revealing itself as the message, "I LOVE YOU, SHARON! PLEASE FORGIVE ME! BERNIE." The cameraman panned in on Bernie. The director nodded his head. Bernie didn't even have time to think of what he was going to say. The words came out on automatic drive. "Good evening. For those of you who may not know me, my name is Bernie Schwartz. No, I'm not the Bernie Schwartz who changed his name to Tony Curtis." He fumbled slightly, then went on. "Whoever's out there watching tonight, you're invited to a very private party with a very special message. You're welcome to eavesdrop. In fact, I hope you do, although I'd hardly expect this program to make the Nielsen ratings." He chuckled nervously. "This message is meant for a lady named Sharon Gordon, who teaches at Beverly Heights Elementary School. "I don't know is she's within the sound of my voice. She's got a son, Darren, who attends

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207 university a few hundred miles south of here. She was down visiting him as of noon today. The last I heard, she was on her way back here. "If any of you good people out there know where she is, I'd sure appreciate if you could help me out by calling her, and asking her to tune to channel four. Or, if you see her car -- it's a white Oldsmobile, License Number 2 WHA 222 -- if you could beep at her and tell her to listen to W-H-I-Z, please could you do that for me? For us. "But really, this whole program is meant for her -- for you, Sharon, wherever you are." He felt himself starting to choke up. "Sharon, I fell in love with you several months ago. Two weeks before Thanksgiving, to be exact. Probably even before that. A lot of personal things happened in my life that I was never able to tell you about. "A ghost came out of my past, a record called OLDIES BUT GOODIES SHOW. I thought it was the greatest thing that ever happened to me. Maybe from a standpoint of being able to live my dream it was. But if it took me away from you, if I lost you because of it, then it wasn't worth it. "I didn't call you. I should have, but I didn't. After I became too busy, I became too embarrassed to call you, then too guilty to call you, finally too shy to call you. When I got up the nerve, it was probably too late. I hope not. I hope not with all my heart. But maybe it was. "I know I'm babbling now, Sharon, and I didn't want to do that, not in front of all these people. I suppose all I really wanted to say was `I Love You, Sharon,' plain and simple. There are a lot of people who can write it better. Screenwriters, poets, novelists. Everyone who's ever thought himself a writer believed he was the next Shakespeare. Every man or woman who ever put a paintbrush to canvas thought he or she would make the world forget Rembrandt. I don't pretend to be able to do that. I own a small import-export business. One day, I thought lightning struck. A sudden hit record may be like lightning, but lightning won't keep you warm at night. It's the fire from within that does that.

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208 "Sharon, dear, dear Sharon ..." His voice started to break, but he recovered. "I thought

by having a smash hit, by losing twenty pounds, by having a fancy wig and fine clothes, that would make me a mensch. I found out the hard way, that feathers don't make an eagle and the roar doesn't make a lion. It's the heart that does that. Sharon, if I've won the world and lost you, I'm not a mensch at all. I'm simply a fool. And a loser. "I can never put it into words the way you did. One night, I sat down at the piano. You and I made the most beautiful music I'd ever heard. Since you said it so wonderfully that night, I'll let you speak for me -- for both of us -- now." Bernie buried his face in his hands as the slow triplets began. But there wasn't just a piano anymore. There was an orchestra -- a mammoth orchestra -- and a huge chorus. And soaring over it all was Sharon's voice. Sharon's lovely, lovely voice. "'Til ... the moon deserts the sky 'til all the seas run dry, 'til then I'll worship you ..... 'Til ... the tropic sun turns cold, 'til this young world grows old, my darling, I'll adore you ... Suddenly, there were new voices. Voices that blended perfectly with the recording. Enriched it. Gave it life. As Bernie looked up, he saw them. Flutsie, Inigo, Lucius, Alphonse and Joe, humming in perfect -- perfect -- harmony. And in front of them all, her eyes brimming with tears, his beautiful, wonderful, incredible Sharon. Their voices rose together in a final chorus ... “YOU … ARE MY REASON TO LIVE ALL MY LOVE I WOULD GIVE .... JUST TO HAVE YOU ADORE ME .... 'TIL ... THE RIVERS FLOW UPSTREAM, 'TIL LOVERS CEASE TO DREAM ... 'TIL THEN I'M YOURS ...... BE MINE !" Laughing, sobbing, Sharon fell into Bernie's arms.

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The General Manager of the station was awakened at his home by the insistent ringing of the telephone. He hadn't gone to sleep. He'd stayed up, more out of curiosity than anything else, to watch what Bernie Schwartz had wrought. "Hold on one moment, Mister Wheeler," the operator said. "I have a direct, person-toperson call from the President of the network." The President of the network? Calling him? At this hour of the night? The manager's hand trembled. "Hello, Jack? Is that you?" Jack? He didn't even knew the president knew his name, let alone his first name. "Yes, Sir, Mister President." "Call me Bill, Jack. Good work, son! Great work!" The manager felt bubbles in his head as the President repeated his message. "You're kidding!! You want us to patch into the Tonight show NOW???" "That's what I said. The phones have been ringing off the hook for the last twenty minutes. Don't even try to get through to your station. It can't be done. I took a chance that you were home this late. Even A.T. & T. sent a FAX to headquarters. They're besieged with calls. Everybody -- EVERYBODY -- wants to know where they can get that song you played on the air. They want an immediate replay! Hold on a minute, Jack, will you?" The Manager's hands and feet were tingling. The network president's strong voice commanded the phone once again. "That was my counterpart over at RCA Victor. That's right, he wants to give 'em a two million dollar advance. I can't talk now, everything's going absolutely crazy around here. You've got the capability to patch in to national directly. It'll be that new split-screen technique only without the split. They'll look like they're together in the same room. We've even had the set designers duplicate Schwartz's set. Our Nielsen ratings will go through the roof. We'll hook up a live

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remote from here. I've never seen anything like it in thirty years of broadcasting. The damn thing's an instant gold record -- hell, it's an instant platinum record -- before it's even out. Yeah, OK, I'll call you in the morning. Looks like I'm not gonna' get much sleep tonight. Great work, Jack! 'bye! And in the midst of it all, Bernie and Sharon and Mama and Harry glowed. And glowed. And glowed. -The End-