The Writers Voice
A Knight in New York
"I am known to be an honest man, Mister Alotl. You must believe me. Yes, it is only one half of one carat -- but, I beg you, look at the perfection of the setting. Excellent craftsmanship isn't it? The setting is everything."
Max Merlinsky held the modest diamond ring under the brilliant light in his tiny booth in the Diamond Exchange and passed the loupe to Lance.
"I just don't know," Lance equivocated. "She's so .... so .... impressionable, you know. Something this small .... I just don't know." He stared at the insignificant diamond held by four tiny prongs in the white gold setting. The ten power loupe gave it a stature that quickly disappeared when it was taken away.
"I have larger diamonds, Mister Alotl."
"I know you do. They're really beautiful, but $350 is all I can afford."
He wanted Gwen so badly and she was so unattainable. He could offer her next to nothing in her glitzy world of show business, fame, and Hollywood contracts. A half carat engagement ring couldn't possibly compete with Carol Selznick and his thirty-five foot long Lincoln Continental. Perhaps he should wait until he could afford a bigger one. No! That would never do! If he did that she'd be off to Tinsel Town and he'd never see her again. He squared his shoulders, after all .... he was making a commitment, wasn't he? Surely, that was worth something.
"I'll take it Mr. Merlinsky."
Max Merlinsky ran Lance's credit card through his machine. It seemed reluctant to approve the purchase at first, but finally -- seemingly with a sigh of resignation, it accepted the charge.
"Mazeltov. Mr. Alotl. May you both be
blessed with happiness."
He reached in his pocket and fingered the
tiny velvet box within which sat the half carat diamond engagement ring. He
nervously snapped its cover as he watched Gwen sing "It's Hard to Say No
to You." She sang it well, but only on
Wednesday and Saturday matinees -- never at the evening performances. That was
Vikki Devlin's territory, (unless she was too hung over). It was an upbeat song,
loud and brassy and Gwen really sang it well -- so well in fact that Carol Selznick had flown in all the way from Hollywood to see and hear her. He had
come in for the Wednesday matinee, and here he was again on Saturday. Lance felt
he was going to lose her for sure. He fingered the little box again -- once Selznick got his hands on her she would be gone forever. Well, it was now or
never. Tonight was his last chance. He had reservations for dinner at the Plaza,
that would impress her -- and then, during dessert -- he'd whip out the ring and
pop the question.
"The waiter, dear. He's stopped by three times. We really should order."
"Well, if I must .... something light, you know. I'm only doing two shows a week -- a lot of people get fat unless they're in the cast every day. I think I may be like that .... I've got to keep it down. A salad, I guess, and the trout. How big is a trout? They're not too big a fish are they? What are you doing with the wine list, Lance? You're not going to order wine are you?"
He did of course, a rare Montrechat that was brought with much fuss and feathers. The sommelier tasted it before presenting it to Lance. It was a special occasion after all, and Lance was well aware that this dinner at the Plaza would probably cost as much as the tiny half carat diamond ring.
In the middle of the strawberries flambeau, Lance withdrew the tiny plush box from his jacket pocket and put it on the table in front of Gwen.
"What's that?" she said.
"Open it, dear."
"Oh Lord," she mumbled. "It isn't what I think it is, is it?" The look in Lance's eyes told her all she had to know. "Damn it, Lance, you know I can't get involved with something like this now, don't you?" She flipped the lid open and looked at the tiny diamond.
"Very pretty, Lance. Nice setting. But please take it back, will you? I've got so much on my mind now -- you'll have to excuse me. I know I should be flattered and all that, but the idea of getting engaged when I may be headed for Hollywood next week is a little silly, isn't it?"
"All I want is for you to wear it, Gwen. Then I'll know -- you know -- that we both know -- and that come what may we'll always know .... that .... "
"Oh Lance, you're sweet and all that, but get off my back, okay? What will Mr. Selznick think if he sees an engagement ring on my finger when I go out there next week? I already told him there were no strings on me -- I want to be somebody, Lance." She snapped the lid shut again and pushed the box across the table, dug in her bag for a tissue and blew her nose discreetly. ".... want to finish my strawberries, Lance?"
"No, not really." He called for the waiter, and for the second time that day he surrendered his beleaguered credit card to a higher authority. It sat on the tray with the lengthy bill like a lost soul.
There was still a hint of light in the sky when they exited the Plaza. They walked along Central Park South arm in arm. It had been an expensive evening for Lance, he had given it his best shot. If only he could make her see things his way.
"I'm sorry, Lance. I want this one chance, you know? If I strike out I'll be back." She shrugged her shoulders. "Listen to me -- Mr. Selznick hasn't even called me out there yet. But he will though, I'm sure he will, aren't you? He came to both matinees this week, didn't he. He didn't have to come twice, did he? Once would have been enough if he didn't like me, wouldn't it?"
"How about a carriage ride through the park?"
"For old time's sake. It's a beautiful night .... they rent them by the hour. I've never done it, have you?"
"I swear, Lance, you're incurable. I should really be sitting home by the telephone .... but like you say, for old time's sake. It won't take long, will it?"
"No, not long. They go in the fifty-ninth Street entrance, cross over at seventy-fifth and then come back out again."
About twelve highly decorated calashes stood along fifty-ninth street, each with a tired horse and a driver dressed more like a chimney sweep than a footman. Their clientele were impressionable people -- men and women, who fantasized a bygone day; a time when the City of New York was a magical place of romance and wonder. Although neither Lance nor Gwen fit that category, Lance was bubble headed enough to think a carriage ride through the park might soften Gwen's resolute resistance to their engagement. Gwen, however, was lost in her Tinsel Town reverie, and felt much as Cinderella felt on her way to the ball. She looked at Lance sympathetically and reached for his hand.
"Poor Lance," she smiled. "You're much too good for me. But you do understand, don't you, Lance?"
"I guess .... I hope they don't turn your head out there .... "
"IF!" She reminded him. "If they call me. They haven't called me yet -- but I'm sure they will, aren't you? I mean .... after all, Mr. Selznick ...."
"I know, Gwen -- you don't have to tell me about Mr. Selznick."
The carriage man sensed something was keeping these two apart. He turned on a small tape recorder next to him, and the delicate strains of "Claire de Lune" floated back to them. He was a firm believer in the power that Debussy wielded over reluctant females. Personally, however, Debussy always put him to sleep, and had it not been for his horse, the gallant "Rosemary," and her unerring sense of direction, there were times when he, carriage, and loving couples would find themselves deep in the heart of the Bronx.
Gwen was about to mention Hollywood again when "Rosemary" stopped dead in her tracks. She whinnied loudly and reared up on her hind legs, her front feet pawing the air frantically. She blocked the view ahead momentarily, then she bolted wildly off to the left and as the carriage bounced over the curb Lance and Gwen saw what had frightened her. An enormous dragon stood in the road ahead!!
As large as a Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon, it blocked the width of the road. Its great head swayed from side to side, jets of green fire spurted from its nostrils and a roar like that of a departing jet issued from its gaping mouth. A long spiky tail whipped across the road, caught the bole of a prized elm tree and pulled it from the ground! That was enough for "Rosemary!" In her haste to escape she overturned the carriage; Lance and Gwen were sent sprawling in the grass at the side of the road. The carriage man was nowhere to be seen.
Lance pulled Gwen to her feet -- "We've got to get back under the trees," he shouted. Gwen, having lost a shoe and a good bit of the bodice of her dress, found herself completely dependent on Lance Alotl. She was far out of her depth and reduced to putting her life in the hands of a man whose engagement ring she had just rejected.
The rattle of the retreating carriage, and the fading shouts of the driver left no doubt to both Lance and Gwen that they were alone with the monster in the road ahead.
"What is it, Lance!" Gwen shrieked.
"It's a dragon, Gwen. Dammit, haven't you ever seen a dragon before?"
The dragon caught sight of them and roared loudly again. The sound reverberated from the tall apartment buildings along upper Fifth Avenue. It lumbered ponderously towards them. Walking erect, its claws could clearly be heard as they scraped along the concrete roadway. "Quickly!" Lance shouted as he hurried Gwen towards the trees that lined the side of the road. They ducked into the small shelter they offered and the dragon lowered its giant head to peer beneath the branches. Its hot sulfurous breath was overpowering.
As Lance and Gwen tried to conceal themselves behind an especially large and spreading rowan tree, Lance bumped his head on the hilt of an enormous sword protruding from its mighty trunk.
"Look at that!" He shouted to Gwen.
Gwen's interest was centered solely on the improbable dragon. The hilt of a sword embedded in the trunk of a tree did not register on her. She kicked off her one remaining shoe and tried to repair the bodice of her gown with a pin from her hair.
"This was your idea, Lance! You wanted a carriage ride through the park, didn't you? You know what you are?" She shook him violently as he reached for the hilt of the sword. "You're a romantic nut, that's what you are! .... What are you doing! .... Why are you playing with that toy sword when there's a dragon out there?"
Had Lance paid attention to Gwen, he would never have grasped the hilt of the huge sword buried in the tree. As the dragon roared just a stone's throw from them, he took the hilt of the sword in both hands and pulled with all his strength. He was about to give up and turn to face the dragon with his bare hands when the sword gave a little .... then a little more. Finally with a sound like a champagne cork being pulled from a bottle, it gave way with a loud "POP."
Gwen stood aghast as Lance with his sword held high turned to face the dragon. She realized intuitively that if he was devoured she would have to face the monster alone. "Watch yourself, Lance," was all she could say.
Lance stepped out from the cover of the rowan tree, and as he did the sword seemed to vibrate in his hands. The blade flickered and glowed greenish white, and from its tip spewed a fountain of bright orange sparks, like those of a Fourth of July sparkler. The pyrotechnics disconcerted the dragon momentarily and Lance was able to step in and drive home what proved to be a fatal blow. The wound, high up on the dragon's back leg, immediately started to froth and boil. In less than a minute the entire monster was consumed in flame and sank to the ground in a molten heap. At the same time, the sword, which had been glowing, throbbing, sparking and sputtering, suddenly went dead in Lance's hands as though someone had pulled its plug.
"I'll be damned," Lance panted.
"Oh my God, what have you done," Gwen sobbed. "You've killed it -- now what will you do?"
The burning dragon consumed itself on the ground in front of them. In less than a minute there was nothing left but a dark stain in the grass. All was suddenly quiet.
"You could be in deep trouble, Lance. Suppose that thing belongs to the city -- I mean -- maybe it was supposed to be here, like it might have been an endangered species or something. .... Oh, what am I doing here anyway? I should be home waiting for a call from Mr. Selznick."
"Gwen, cool it, okay? That was a dragon, a real live son-of-a-bitch of a dragon. It could have killed us -- would have killed us. Let's just walk ourselves on out of here and get a cab." Under his breath he muttered, ".... doesn't appear to be my night." The disheveled pair walked unsteadily across the sheep meadow and headed for the masonry wall that separates the park from Fifth Avenue. Gwen, stumbling in her stocking feet and unsuccessfully holding her bodice together, was quick to agree. Lance, dragging his useless sword behind him, checked to see if he still had the one half carat engagement ring in his side pocket.
"What a miserable evening," he grumbled loud enough for Gwen to hear. "Offer my hand in marriage .... pledge my troth, and all that .... get turned down .... hire a damn horse drawn carriage and nearly get killed by a dragon in Central Park. Now look at my cock-a-mamie sword! Dead as a doornail!"
"Just get me out of here, Lance, okay? I have to get home. Just look at me -- I'm a mess! I've got an image to maintain, you know? Suppose Mr. Selznick saw me now .... huh? What do you suppose my chances would be?"
"Look, Gwen! There's the stairs up to the street. We're almost out of here .... when we get to the street just keep walking. Walk like nothing was the matter, we'll get a cab and everything will be fine, okay?"
New York is a place that takes the unbelievable in stride, and a couple can get away with behavior that, in many smaller towns, would be unacceptable, yet Lance and Gwen managed to draw a sizable crowd when they stepped out on Fifth Avenue.
"My God, look at those two! what have they been up to!"
"They're advertising something, right?"
"Are they homeless people, Mommy?"
"I don't know Morris, stay with Mommy, take Mommy's hand."
Just when you need a taxi, you can never find one it seems. Gwen stood in her stocking feet at the corner of 75th street holding her bodice together and Lance waved his sword at the passing traffic. The crowd grew in number and finally a police cruiser from the Midtown Precinct skidded to a stop at the curb.
Patrolman Brian Donleavy leaped from the passenger seat with his revolver drawn, keeping the open door between himself and Lance.
"Drop the sword, and put both hands on your head," he shouted nervously.
The crowd gave the two men a wide berth, and Gwen took the opportunity to separate herself from Lance and mingle with them, figuring that Lance could handle the situation better without her. She broke free of the crowd and flagged down a cab whose curious driver had slowed down to see what was going on.
"Twenty-eighth and eighth -- the Wedgewood."
"What are they, shootin' a movie over there or what, Lady?"
Gwen sat back in the smelly interior of the cab still holding her bodice together with one hand, while with the other, she fished for the emergency twenty dollar bill she always stashed in her brassiere. She could see the driver looking at her in his rear view mirror ....
"No questions, okay? This twenty is yours if you can get me there in twenty minutes."
Meanwhile, Lance was cuffed and frisked and
driven to the Midtown precinct.
His trusty but ineffectual sword was taken from him and unceremoniously
thrown in the trunk of the patrol car. As they shoved Lance into the back seat
of the patrol car and drove off to the Midtown Precinct, Patrolman Donleavy was
heard to say ....
"Where's da goil who wuz witch'yez?"
"C'mon get off dis dragon horse shit, Alotl. Ain't been no dragons in Central Park since the Barbra Streisand concert."
"And what's that about this here rusty old sword you wuz wavin' around in the street? Y'said y'pulled it out of a tree?! Wadd'ya think we wuz, born yesterday?"
"Did you ever hear of 'excalibur', officer?"
"I heard'a forty-five caliber, and thirty-eight caliber, but I don't know nuttin' about no x-caliber," A gulf stood between them, and Lance's attempts to explain only got him in deeper water. He decided to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth -- and let the devil take the hindmost.
"There wuz a broad witch'yez. Chick wit no shoes and fallin' out of her dress. How does she figger in this?"
Lance related the dinner at the Plaza, the engagement ring and Gwen's hopes and dreams of a Hollywood career. None of the officers were playgoers and hadn't heard of Gwen Devere, nor had they heard of "Anything Goes," for that matter.
Lance was put in a holding cell, and all things pointed to handing him over to Bellevue. But it was almost Sunday, and by the time Monday rolled around, many more pressing matters had developed. The captain of the Midtown Precinct decided to release him -- "He's just another nut, put him back out on the street with the other nuts. Tell'ya what though, Donleavy, don't give him back his sword, okay?"
Lance had no idea what time it was when Donleavy unlocked the door of his cell. "Okay there Ivanhoe, yer sprung -- yer out in the street widda rest of the goonies."
"You mean you believe me -- you believe what happened?" asked Lance hopefully.
"Get real, Alotl. Course not -- it's just that yer not nutty enough to stay in jail. Yer not gettin' yer sword back by the way. C'mon, put'cha shoes on, pick up yer stuff at the desk and get the hell outta here."
There he was on a bright and budding Monday morning as penniless as a pauper, his job petering out, and a half carat diamond ring in his pocket that nobody wanted. ".... let's see, first thing I better do is go back to Max Merlinsky, then check on the receipts for Sunday night, then maybe I'll check out Gwen .... well Gwen's apartment is on the way to the Diamond Exchange, maybe I'll stop there first."
She didn't answer on the first ring and Lance thought she wasn't going to answer on the second ring either. As he was about to walk back down the hall to the elevator, he heard a series of bolts being thrown back and her door slowly opened.
She looked as though she'd been up all night. Her eyes were puffy, like the eyes of someone undergoing extreme grief. "Oh, it's you .... come in and shut the door. They didn't keep you long -- what are you doing here? -- I haven't had my breakfast yet -- look at these circles under my eyes. You're going to ask me if Mr. Selznick called yet, aren't you?"
Yes, Lance thought, she was the same old Gwen he would always love. She hadn't changed a bit, still the lovable, self absorbed, empty headed Gwen Devere he had loved from the start.
"Mr. Selznick call?"
"No, the fink. I sat here all day Sunday. You didn't call either, why didn't you call me?"
"I was in jail."
"Oh, yeah. I forgot. Well, guess who did call?"
"You know Meyer the drummer?" Lance nodded. "He hears everything. He called last night -- that damn Vikki Devlin! She got the job! Meyer was with her when Selznick called, they wanted a name! Vikki Devlin, a burned out lush with a voice that can't hold water -- but she's got a name. She can't sing her way out of a paper bag -- but she's got a damn name. I tell you Lance, I've had it up to here with show business."
What a rare woman this was, Lance thought. All those terrible events of Saturday night were completely forgotten. Dragons, flaming swords, a stampeding horse and carriage. They would be etched in his mind for the rest of his life -- she had forgotten them completely. He loved her more than ever.
"I love you, Gwen," he said softly.
"Yeah, I know you do, you've said it a thousand times, and you know what?"
"I never said it back to you." She blew her nose loudly and wiped her eyes. "You still got that ring with you?"
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