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Title: You're on the Air
Author: Heyliger, William
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "You're on the Air" ***

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Digital Library.)



                           You’re on the Air

------------------------------------------------------------------------

                        THE CAPTAIN OF THE NINE
                        AGAINST ODDS
                        OFF SIDE

                           Boy Scouts Series

                     DON STRONG OF THE WOLF PATROL
                     DON STRONG, PATROL LEADER
                     DON STRONG, AMERICAN

                             Lansing Series

                             BATTER UP
                             STRAIGHT AHEAD
                             FAIR PLAY

------------------------------------------------------------------------

[Illustration: “First an actor and now a producer. You should try script
writing, Carlin.”]

------------------------------------------------------------------------

                           You’re on the Air

                          By WILLIAM HEYLIGER

                             Illustrated by
                             NEIL O’KEEFFE

                      D. APPLETON-CENTURY COMPANY
                              Incorporated

                         New York        London
                                  1941

------------------------------------------------------------------------

                          Copyright, 1941, by
                   D. APPLETON-CENTURY COMPANY, INC.

                All rights reserved. This book, or
                parts thereof, must not be reproduced
                in any form without permission of the
                publisher.

                The names of all characters used in this
                book are purely fictitious. If the name
                of any living person is used, it is
                simply a coincidence.

           Copyright, 1940, by the Sprague Publications, Inc.

                PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                             ILLUSTRATIONS


    “First an actor and now a producer. You should try script
    writing, Carlin”

    Vic Wylie said, “Don’t let it tear you apart, kid. You can’t
    change it. It’s show business”

    “Now, now, folks,” Tony Vaux said. “I don’t mean it’s a bad
    show”

    Lucille’s performance held Joe spellbound. “Brilliant,” Pop said
    softly. “I salute her”

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                           You’re on the Air



                               CHAPTER 1


Joe Carlin awoke. At once his mind, still partly drugged with sleep,
began to worm restlessly through a hungry channel.

How did you go about getting on the air?

His hand reached for a radio beside the bed. A station came in, swelled,
and filled the room with a crash of music.

Mrs. Carlin protested from the floor below. “Joe! Do you have to blast
down the walls?”

The boy turned down the volume. Wide awake, he sat on the side of the
bed.

How did you become a radio actor?

Then he remembered that this was Saturday. Nothing but orchestras, and
singing and the Woman’s Club program. Yesterday the _City Boy_ program,
with Sonny Baker in the lead, had gone off the air for the summer. He
turned a button and the radio was still.

In envious excitement his thoughts stayed with Sonny. Every Sunday on
the Crunchy Bread show, every Wednesday night on the Perfect-Burning
Coal program, and five times a week, Monday through Friday, with _City
Boy_. Two hundred dollars a week, easily. Last month the _Morning
Journal_ had estimated that two hundred thousand listeners listened to
the _City Boy_ show. Money and fame—there was a combination! And Sonny
Baker was only about eighteen years old.

“My age,” said Joe Carlin, lacing his shoes. How had Sonny broken in?
How did anybody break into radio? How did you climb to the spot where
people watched a clock for your program and you earned two hundred
dollars a week?

The photograph of Fancy Dan Carlin mocked him from the bureau. Fancy Dan
Carlin, actor. There the Fancy one was, rakish silk hat, jaunty cane,
immaculate tails, looking as though he might come dancing gaily right
out of the silver frame.

“I guess I’ve got show business in my blood, Uncle Dan,” Joe said, and
remembered a routine his uncle had taught him last summer. His feet
became sharp castanets against the bedroom floor.

“Joe!”

Joe sighed. He lifted a shirt from a chair and under it found part of
the costume he had worn in last night’s high-school play. He opened the
door.

“Did Dad leave the _Journal_, Mother?”

“It’s here.”

Joe came downstairs. “What kind of press did we get?”

“Fancy Dan Carlin speaking,” Kate Carlin said plaintively. Suddenly she
began to laugh. There was something so rich, so special in her laughter
that, somehow, the boy laughed, too.

“That’s show business talk, Mother. A show gets a good press or a bad
press.”

“You’re not in show business, Joe. Or must I remind you?”

The boy caught himself in time. He had almost blurted that he intended
to go into show business.

A headline in the _Journal_ said:

                   Joe Carlin Stars in Annual Hi Show

Hunched in the breakfast nook, he read every word of the story: “An
audience of eight hundred that packed the Northend High School last
night—” What was eight hundred when Sonny Baker played to two hundred
thousand? He carried dishes to the sink and asked a tentative question.

“Don’t you think radio’s swell, Mother?”

“Not when I get it for breakfast, dinner, and supper. Sometimes you tune
in for a noisy midnight snack.”

“I mean dramatic sketches,” Joe said hastily. “Aren’t they swell?”

“Some of them.”

This, Joe thought, might represent encouraging progress. Perhaps this
was the moment, while his mother was in the mood to like something about
radio, to drop a hint of his plans.

“Some are pretty bad,” Mrs. Carlin added with conviction.

“Well—some,” Joe said unhappily. Back in his room, after packing the
costume, he tried to give his tie a Fancy Dan Carlin touch—a tweak here,
a pinch there. The effect wouldn’t come. He came downstairs with the
costume in a box. How did you arrange for a radio audition?

June roses bloomed on a trellis in the next-door yard, and the sky was a
June blue. All at once the courage and faith of young spring were in Joe
Carlin’s blood, and problems and perplexities were miraculously gone.
Why, no station could give you an audition unless it knew you wanted an
audition. It was as simple as that.

The corridors of the high school, brisk and alive during school hours,
were shrouded to-day in Saturday darkness and gloom. Somewhere in the
building a janitor’s mop knocked against a wall and filled the stillness
with hollow echoes. Joe pulled at one of the great doors leading to the
auditorium. Instantly light and clamor burst upon him.

A girl shrieked, “There’s Joe.”

They all had _Journals_. A boy on the stage did some steps and sang
_sotto voce_. He paused with one leg back at an eccentric angle. “I see
you made the headlines, Joe.”

A very dark, very intense girl said rapturously: “Joe, you were perfect.
Absolutely perfect. You ought to be an actor.”

The boy on the stage stopped his dance. “You’d give all the stars
something to worry about, Joe.” He sounded envious.

Joe wondered what they’d say if he told them, casually, that he intended
to be an actor. Soon he’d have to tell his father and his mother. All at
once his throat was dry.

Mr. Sears, teacher of English and faculty dramatic coach, checked his
costume. Mr. Sears was engulfed in costumes.

“Who hasn’t turned in a plumed hat—a red hat? Who—Will you please keep
quiet?”

The very dark, very intense girl rushed across the auditorium and rushed
back with a red plumed hat.

“Joe!” she cried. “You’re not going?”

“Something to do,” said Joe.

“Listen, feller,” called the boy on the stage. “We’re going to have a
jam session.”

“Can’t,” said Joe. They’d had a good time last June, ad-libbing and
turning what had been a good show the night before into a travesty. But
last year he hadn’t been thinking of radio. He pushed open the
auditorium door and went through the darkened corridor.

The boy on the stage snapped his fingers. “Mr. Joe Carlin,” he
announced, “has gone upstage”—which was a way of saying that Joe
Carlin’s head was starting to swell.

Joe caught a bus at the corner. Downtown, the streets, laid out before
the coming of the automobile, were entirely too narrow for modern
traffic. The bus, in spurts of progress, triumphed over one tight,
snarled intersection after another. Stores, stores, stores went past—a
parade of stores. The parade varied. Hotels with potted palms and
canopies, office buildings, Munson’s eight-story department store, the
banks. They crept past a store with a long black and gold sign above the
door and windows: LAW BLANKS—STATIONERY—BOOKS—OFFICE SUPPLIES. A
gold-lettered name on the window read: THOMAS CARLIN.

Joe dropped off at a stagnated corner and walked up Royal Street. The
luncheon-hour crowds jostled him, threw him out of step, got in his way.
His fascinated eyes never left a red neon sign running down the face of
a stone building:

                                   F
                                   K
                                   I
                                   P

The building’s entrance was narrow. A loudspeaker in the hall rasped out
the station’s program of the moment. An elevator disgorged a group of
noisy musicians; a fat man with a cello had trouble worming his way out
through the door. The elevator shot upward, while its own speaker
continued the program.

“Fourth,” said Joe.

He stepped out into a cheerful reception-room done in blue leather. Here
another speaker gave forth FKIP’s gift to the air waves. The blonde,
good-looking girl at the reception-desk smiled. “Back again?”

Joe managed an uncertain grin. People lounged on the blue leather
settees built out from the windows and the walls; people occupied the
scattered blue chairs. Too many people around to ask about auditions.

A man burst into the reception-room out of nowhere, made a sprint across
its length, and disappeared to the right toward the broadcasting
studios. The blonde girl glanced at the wall clock.

“He’d better step,” she said as if this were an everyday occurrence. “He
has twenty-two seconds.”

The radio program signed off. Abruptly a new voice said: “Miss America
and what she’ll wear. Munson’s brings you to-morrow’s styles—” The voice
was somewhat breathless. Joe was sure the announcer was the man who had
raced through the reception-room.

Another elevator stopped, and a woman and three girls stepped out.
Nonchalantly swinging a gold chain, the woman marched off toward the
studios and limbered up her singing voice with complete unconcern. The
three girls stared after her in round-eyed wonder.

The blonde receptionist laughed. The laugh seemed to insinuate that
everything connected with radio was slightly wacky.

Joe said an abashed: “Guess I’ll look around.”

A turn to the right out of the reception-room brought him to a corridor.
Another speaker, set in the corridor wall, continued to tell him what
Miss America would wear. He pushed against a door marked:
Studios—Quiet—No Smoking. The door closed on his heels.

And now, for the first time since entering the FKIP Building, the
insistent blast of radio was gone. He stood in a soundless, glass-walled
visitors’ gallery that had broadcasting studios on either side. He knew
this gallery as he knew the hallway of his own home. Studio A, first on
the right, high-ceilinged and vast, for symphony concerts; Studio B, on
the left, for the song-birds of the air. Studio C.... Blue lights in a
square frame said: STUDIO C—REHEARSAL.

He could look into Studio C, through the glass wall, upon a producer and
a cast. Not a sound came out to him. The producer, slouched in a chair
with his chin on his chest, leaped to his feet. His red hair was wild;
his eyes were wilder. He seemed to be playing out a whole scene, and the
cast, pencils out, furiously marked script. The rehearsal began again,
and the producer, back in his chair, held his head and rocked to and
fro. Then the cast must have hit what was wanted. There were smiles,
good humor, and a producer who no longer looked wild.

“I wonder,” Joe asked himself hungrily, “if I’ll ever be doing that?”

Without warning another blue light burned in another frame. STUDIO G—ON
THE AIR.

Curtains had been drawn and Studio G was blacked out. Joe’s heart
hammered. People were dropping their tasks and tuning in. North, south,
west—Boston, Washington, Pittsburgh. Perhaps lonely ships at sea to the
east on the lonely Atlantic. Six feet beyond the drawn curtains lay
mystery, the alluring secrecy of the unknown. Radio!

The blue light burned steadily: STUDIO G—ON THE AIR.

“I’d give my right arm,” Joe said hoarsely. There might not be so many
people in the reception-room now....

The corridor speaker gave out a woman’s voice, hard, clipped, metallic.
Joe, recognizing the voice, knew that the _Years of Danger_ show was
coming out of Studio G, with Lucille Borden in the lead. Lucille Borden
always played tough-girl parts. He’d heard her in lots of shows. She
must be another big money-maker, like Sonny.

The reception-room was almost empty, and excitement stirred him. He
leaned across the reception desk. “I’d like to know—I mean, can you tell
me—”

“You write a letter to the Director of Auditions,” said the blonde girl.

Heat crawled up the boy’s neck.

“I’ve seen so many. I always know. Tell them how old you are, where you
live, what experience you’ve had, what parts you’ve played, your
telephone—”

Joe managed to say: “Only high-school plays. Northend High.”

“Tell them that.” The blonde girl took a sheet of paper from a drawer.
“Write it now. I’ll send it upstairs.”

Joe’s hand felt like two hands, and the pen was hard to hold. _Years of
Danger_ went off the air and was followed at once by an oil company’s
broadcast of a baseball game. An unnoticed base on balls rode down with
him in the elevator; an unimportant three-bagger fell on deaf ears as he
reached the street-level hall. He’d done it! He’d done it! Passers-by
craned their necks to look back at him. Embarrassed, he lost himself in
the Royal Street crowd.

There was a shock of awakening as he came to the store with Thomas
Carlin on the window. Suppose—He stopped on the crowded street and a man
bumped into him from the rear. Suppose his father would not hear of it?
Well—He went on slowly to the store.

Black gleaming show-cases ran up the center of the polished floor;
gleaming show-cases ran parallel with the two long walls. Immaculate
shelves held immaculate stock. Clerks, busy with customers, gave him a
swift, unobtrusive sign of greeting, and he wriggled his fingers in
return. He liked the store—its brisk quiet, its atmosphere of unhurried
alertness. He liked the flashing facets of light that glinted from the
chrome parts of typewriters; he liked the smell, pungent and sweet, of
ink and paper. He liked it all but—but not enough. Not the way he liked
radio. Not the way radio burned him up.

A clerk carried a package toward the wrapping-counter. “How’s the
Thespian?”

Joe grinned and moistened his lips. Suppose his father didn’t
understand.

Tom Carlin was at the telephone in the compact rear office, and the boy
knew a moment of relief. At least he wouldn’t have to tell his father at
once. In the deserted book department, Frank Fairchild, his father’s
right-hand man, quietly checked through some papers. The book department
had always been something of a disappointment.

“Hello, Joe.” The man calmly clipped the papers together. “Been reading
anything lately?”

“No time,” said Joe.

“A remarkably busy world,” Mr. Fairchild commented dryly. “Nobody has
time for reading. And yet here”—a sweep of his hand took in the
department—“here’s everything. Humor and pathos, the stories of great
nations and great men, drama, and poetry and essays. You can take a book
and travel to the end of the world. Romance and adventure. It’s all
here. Have people forgotten the magic land of books?”

“Why not remind them?” Joe asked.

“How?”

A woman entered the department and Mr. Fairchild went forward to meet
her.

Tom Carlin called from the office. “I’m leaving in a half-hour. We can
go home together.”

A half-hour meant a half-hour of respite. The boy’s mind drifted back in
excitement to FKIP, to the audition letter he had written, to the
unknown producer rehearsing in Studio B, to the _Years of Danger_ show.
He thought of Mr. Fairchild and of books, and the two streams of thought
somehow drew together and mingled. An announcer’s voice, breathless,
echoed in his memory. “Munson’s brings you to-morrow’s styles.” He began
to tingle. Why couldn’t people be told about books, too? Thomas Carlin
presents—

“All set, Joe,” his father said.

The thought stayed with him while they took the car from a parking lot
and moved in crawls and spurts through the downtown traffic.

“What was the talk with Fairchild, Joe?”

“Books. He isn’t satisfied.”

“We could do much better there.”

“I’ve been thinking about that.” Joe was eager. “I have an idea....”

“An idea?” The man was pleased and interested. “We’ll talk it out after
we get home.” He swung to the left and passed a cruising taxi. “So
you’re beginning to think about the business. Fine! I’ve been counting
the days until you’ll come in with me. That name on the window will be
changed some day. Thomas Carlin and Son.”

Joe swallowed. What a spot! He tried to talk.

“I—”

“Yes, Joe.”

The boy couldn’t swallow. He blurted: “I want to be an actor.”

Tom Carlin drove six blocks in silence and stopped at a red light. Then
he drove a mile in silence.

Joe sighed.

The scent of roses mingled with the scent of newly cut grass as they
swung into the driveway. Still silent, the man stepped out of the car,
and Joe followed him to the porch. Mrs. Carlin sat there stirring a
pitcher of lemonade.

“Kate,” Tom Carlin said without preamble, “Joe’s told me he doesn’t care
to come into the store. He wants to be an actor.”

The stirring spoon was motionless. “An actor?” Kate Carlin said faintly.

The man’s voice was bitter. “I suppose Uncle Dan filled you full of show
business last summer. Are you planning to pack up and join him?”

Joe stared. “I don’t want to be a hoofer. I want radio. We have five
stations here in town. Why should I go trouping?”

“Well!” said Kate Carlin, relieved, and poured lemonade.

“Why radio?” the man demanded. “Why an actor at all?”

Joe shook his head. “You get to thinking....” He didn’t finish.

“About thousands tuning you in?” his mother asked.

Joe was grateful. “You see it, Mother, don’t you?”

“I don’t,” Tom Carlin snapped. He put down the lemonade, untouched.
“Joe, I want you to think clearly. Sometimes Uncle Dan doesn’t come here
for two or three years. Why? He’s broke. Fancy Dan Carlin! If he doesn’t
come with fancy money, he doesn’t come at all. That’s show business.
You’re rolling in it to-day, and you’re down to a thin dime to-morrow.
Is that what you want?”

“That’s not radio,” said Joe stoutly. “I’m a nobody. If I got on a
fifteen-minute five-a-week show to-morrow they’d pay me twenty-one
dollars.”

“A week?”

“A day. Six dollars an hour for rehearsal and fifteen dollars for the
show.”

Mr. Carlin was incredulous. “Twenty-one dollars for less than two hours’
work?”

“That’s the radio scale.”

There was no arguing with an amazing twenty-one dollars a day. Tom
Carlin reached for his lemonade and drained the glass. His wife pushed
the pitcher across the porch table. He shook his head and turned the
empty glass around and around in his hands.

“I don’t want you to make a mistake, Joe. Show business has no roots.
Uncle Dan used to earn three hundred dollars a week as a vaudeville
performer; then came moving pictures and after that the talkies. What
became of most of the stars of the silent screen? Where are the band
leaders who were headliners ten years ago? Artie Shaw’s broken up his
band and gone out of business. He found it a health-breaking game. Don’t
you see how it works? Where are you?”

Joe said nothing.

“There’s no glamor in stationery. I don’t get fan mail. But if something
new comes out I’m not thrown into the street. I buy the new merchandise.
A shift in public taste doesn’t lay me away in moth-balls. Don’t you see
it?”

Joe saw it. But—He stared at the rose-trellis next door.

The telephone rang and Mrs. Carlin answered. She did not come out again.
Tom Carlin stood up and walked toward the hall.

Joe thought: “I’m hurting him and I don’t want to.” He felt low and
mean. “Dad.”

Tom Carlin stopped.

“I was telling you about an idea....”

“What idea?”

“About books. Mr. Fairchild calls it the magic land of books. Why can’t
we sell that? Make people think of books that way.”

“Newspaper advertising?”

“N—no. Tell it to them. Put some feeling into it. Make it live.”

“Are you by any chance suggesting radio?”

“Munson does it. He puts on a style show to sell women’s clothing. If we
could put on a sort of book show ... why couldn’t it be done with
books?”

Tom Carlin held up his hand. “Thanks, Joe,” he said with finality, “but
one Carlin in radio is enough.” He went into the house.



                               CHAPTER 2


On Tuesday, three days after he had written his application, Joe Carlin
received a letter from FKIP:

    We have arranged a dramatic audition for you on June 22 at 2:15
    P.M.

    The reception clerk at the fourth floor desk will direct you to
    the proper studio.

    Please bring with you to read for us two or three excerpts from
    plays. The selections need not exceed fifteen or twenty lines in
    length and should be varied in type.

An everyday Joe Carlin, not expecting to hear from the studio for
several weeks, had taken the letter from the box on the porch. An
agitated Joe Carlin had noted the FKIP in the corner of the envelop. An
almost incoherent Joe Carlin burst into the house.

“Mother! A letter—”

“Yes, Joe.” She took it from his frantic hands.

“It’s about an audition. A radio audition.”

“That’s what it says. An audition.”

“To-morrow. An audition to-morrow.”

“I understand that.” She shook him gently. “What are you going to read?”

“Oh!” said the boy. Her calmness washed the incoherence out of him.
“I—I’m not sure,” he said and went upstairs. After that he paced his
room with a book. The sun passed over the front of the house and sent
long, slanting rays out of the west across the lawn. And still he paced.

“Joe!” his mother called. “Do radio actors bother with food?”

He ate, spoke to two shadows who were his father and his mother, and
went upstairs again. At midnight, when Tom Carlin looked into the
bedroom, he found Joe standing in front of the mirror trying to achieve
gauntness by lengthening his face and sucking in his cheeks.

“I’m reading an Abe Lincoln part,” the boy croaked. “I’m getting in the
mood.”

Tom Carlin closed the door and stared helplessly at his wife.

Kate Carlin’s laugh was pure joy. “Don’t look so tragic, Tom. This is
priceless if it doesn’t become a pose.”

Joe managed a sizable breakfast next morning, but shrank from lunch. He
came downstairs with three books under his arm.

“Shaky,” he said, his voice high and cracked. “Why should I be? Bing
Crosby, Jack Benny, Fred Allen—they all had to audition for the first
time. Why should I be shaky?”

“Nonsense!” his mother told him. “I’ve seen you with the jitters waiting
for the curtain to go up on a high-school play.”

He considered that. “You didn’t tell anybody I’m taking an audition?
Please don’t.”

His mother watched him go down the street. “Tom,” she said, “I don’t
think we need to worry about pose.”

Cold panic gripped him on the bus. The parts he had read over and over
again last night seemed bloodless and thin. He tried to call them up, to
recreate them in his mind, but panic scrambled his thoughts. If he was
bad.... That’s what gave him the shakes. An audition either started you
off or stopped you right there.

The blonde receptionist gave him a warming smile. “Your letter must have
caught them arranging an audition. Fifth floor, Studio K.”

The fifth floor had none of the ornate trappings and blue leather of the
fourth floor reception-room. This was the part of the world of radio
that did not have to put on a display for the public. There was no
glass-walled gallery looking into glass-walled studios. Joe found
himself on a barren floor of unpretentious wooden doors, plastered,
roughly painted walls, and shabby corridors that led to hidden quarters
occupied by the mechanical departments and the engineers. A door almost
at the elevator had painted on it: Studio K.

But the fifth floor was also FKIP. A speaker filled the barrenness with
“Miss America and what she’ll wear. Munson’s brings you to-morrow’s
styles.” ...

Joe sat on a hard wooden bench. The loudspeaker went on and on, the only
sound, the only evidence of life on this floor. Once the elevator
stopped and a porter carried a kit of tools into one of the corridors.
The hard, lonely bench became harder, lonelier. Joe’s legs began to
shake and twitch. Ten minutes past two, and he was still alone in this
tomb of a fifth floor. So this was radio, was it? Two-fifteen. A
trickling river of sweat ran down his back.

The elevator stopped again and two men and a girl stepped out. One of
the men was short and stout. The other was tall, lean, and brisk, with a
penciling of black mustache across his upper lip. The short stout man
took some keys from his pocket and they walked past the bench. The girl
said: “Only six scheduled for to-day.” They went into Studio K.

Joe’s heart gave a smothering thud.

The door of the studio opened again. It was the girl. “Mr. Carlin? This
way, please.”

Joe’s feet were lifeless, without feeling. Studio K might have been any
one of the smaller studios he had seen from the fourth-floor
gallery—same microphone, same chairs along the walls, same control-room
at the far end. Behind the glass front of the control-room sat the stout
man and the brisk man with the microscopic mustache. The girl joined
them, going into the little room through a door at the side. It seemed
to Joe that all three glared out at him with malice. He dropped two of
his books on a chair.

The stout man spoke from the control-room through the two-way mike.
“What are you going to give us, Mr. Carlin?”

“A bit from—”

“The other side of the mike, please. You’re on the dead side.”

A badly confused Joe Carlin crossed over. “A bit—”

“A little closer. Don’t be nervous.”

But Joe’s nerves were tight clamoring strings. He opened the book and
found his page. “Robert Sherwood’s _Abe Lincoln in Illinois_.” He tried
desperately for control. “Abe is at the cabin of Mentor, the
school-teacher. Mentor remarks that Abe seems to do a lot of thinking
about death. Abe replies—” Joe struggled to create a drawling twang:

    “‘I’ve had to, because it has always seemed to be so close to
    me—always—as far back as I can remember. When I was no higher
    than this table, we buried my mother. The milksick got her, poor
    creature. I helped Paw make the coffin—whittled the pegs for it
    with my own jackknife. We buried her in a timber clearing beside
    my grandmother, old Betsy Sparrow. I used to go there often and
    look at the place—used to watch the deer running over her grave
    with their little feet. I never could kill a deer after that.
    One time I catched hell from Paw because when he was taking aim
    I knocked his gun up.’”[1]

Joe closed his copy of the play.

In the control-room the stout man said impatiently: “What does a kid of
his age know about death? Why do they come in here and try to read stuff
crammed with emotion? They’re not mature enough.” He pressed a button
and at once the two-way mike was open so that Joe could hear what was
said in the control-room. “Anything else, Mr. Carlin?”

“Deval’s _Tovarich_,” said Joe, “adapted by Mr. Sherwood.” This was more
like his own voice. He brought another book to the mike. “Mikail and
Tatiana, formerly chamberlain and lady-in-waiting at the Russian court,
are in Paris without a franc. Tatiana has suggested that they go into
domestic service as butler and housemaid. Mikail speaks in excitement:

    “‘My sainted darling! I believe it is possible! I see myself
    again, throwing open the windows of the Imperial Palace and
    announcing: “Majesty, there is snow”—and then, with perfect
    grace, presenting belt and tunic to Nicholas Alexandrovitch. And
    you doing the fair hair of Her Imperial Highness, fetching her
    gloves, telling poor Frederiks that her Majesty will not be
    visible to-day. We were good servants, Tatiana. We will be good
    servants again! I must find my boots!’”[2]

The stout man sighed and touched the button. “Haven’t you anything a
little more juvenile?”

Joe said an uncertain: “Well—” Evidently he hadn’t been so hot. He went
over to the wall and brought back another book.

“How is he?” the brisk man with the thin mustache asked in the
control-room.

John Dennis, director of programs for FKIP, shrugged.

Joe was back at the mike. “A twenty-two-year-old boy has inherited a
factory. But he finds the factory closed as the result of a trade war. A
friendly old lawyer advises him to sell it for what he can get. The boy
speaks:

    “‘I inherited a property worth $35,000. Can I get $35,000 for
    it? No. Why? Because one man says I can’t have its value. One
    man says he’ll leave me penniless if I try to create its value.
    A dollar isn’t worth a dollar up here; it’s only worth what Jake
    Grimmer says it’s worth. I can’t swallow anything like that.
    Maybe I’m a fool for not accepting $7,000 for the plant and
    letting them short-change me out of $28,000—$7,000 would be
    better than nothing. But if I took that $7,000, for the rest of
    my life I’d be licked. A shadow would be walking at my side day
    and night and talking to me. What about Eastport? Why had I let
    them kick me out and refuse me what was mine? Don’t you see, Mr.
    Graves? I wouldn’t be selling the factory for $7,000. I’d be
    selling my self-respect.’”

In the control-room John Dennis said: “There you are, Amby. That was
much better: he wasn’t shooting at rôles out of his reach. A good voice
when he doesn’t strain it.”

Ambrose Carver’s interest quickened. “Think he has something, John?”

“I have a show in mind. I may be able to use him.”

Mr. Carver became avid. “Is his letter here? What’s he ever done? Let me
get a line on him.” He read Joe’s letter rapidly.

The program director touched the button. “Thank you, Mr. Carlin.” That
was all.

The girl came out of the little room of fate and led Joe to the door. A
middle-aged man now sat on the wooden bench. The girl said: “Mr.
Westfall? This way please.” The door of Studio K closed.

Joe Carlin laid the three books on the wooden bench and mopped his face.
He was tired and weary, discouraged and whipped. You read a rôle, and
eyes glared at you from the control-room, and you didn’t have the
slightest idea whether you were good, bad or indifferent. Nobody
bothered to tell you. “Thank you, Mr. Carlin.” They might just as well
tell you to get out and let it go at that. Get out and let the next
victim come in. Didn’t they have any heart in radio? Didn’t they know
what an audition meant—the worry, the nervous, sick all-goneness, the
strain? Didn’t radio care?

The door of Studio K opened with a hasty rattle of the knob. “Mr.
Carlin.”

Joe swung about.

The man with the shadow of black mustache shook hands warmly. “I was
afraid you’d get away before I got out here. Congratulations. I wasn’t
surprised and John Dennis shouldn’t have been, either. That was the
stout man—director of programs. Great friend of mine, Dennis. I told him
you’d wow them.”

Joe knew an unbelievable, an incredible warmth. “You mean I was good?”

“Ambrose Carver don’t call them wrong. Last week I saw you at Northend
High in—in—” Mr. Carver snapped annoyed fingers. Why couldn’t he
remember that letter?

Joe said eagerly: “_The Prince Laughs Last_.”

“When you see shows, shows, shows, titles get away from you,” Amby
Carver said ruefully. A nice touch, he assured himself; just
matter-of-fact enough. “I spotted you before the first-act curtain.”

Joe’s lips parted.

“I came to tell Dennis to call you in for an audition and there was your
letter on his desk. I told him here was a kid he wasn’t going to keep
waiting; it had to be now. Well, wasn’t it? Weren’t you in there to-day?
That’s record speed for an audition. Ambrose Carver’s telling you.”

Yes, Joe thought, he’d been in Studio K to-day—and all at once he was
living the bleakness of his discouraged walk back to the wooden bench.
“Did Mr. Dennis like me?”

“He thinks you’re tops.”

“He didn’t say so.”

“You don’t know radio. They never say so. If they like you, some day you
may get a call. If they think you smell, you’re never sent for. Get the
picture?”

Joe didn’t.

“Suppose you come in for an audition and Dennis says you’re colossal.”
Amby Carver was brisk. “Your father and mother tell the neighbors—FKIP
says you’re colossal. Down the street some family thinks its daughter is
colossal. They send her in, and all Dennis gives her is a ‘Thank you.’
So what? Anybody can write that answer; that’s no _Information, Please_.
The girl’s mother, father, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, and nieces
all gang up on FKIP. Now do you see why everybody gets a ‘Thank you’ and
no more? Dennis steps softly and keeps FKIP out of trouble. That’s
radio.”

The memory of heartache in Studio K was gone from Joe, and the warmth in
him grew and swelled. “Are you with FKIP?”

“Well—not officially.” Amby Carver’s voice took on a vast tolerance.
“Why tie up with even a 50,000-watt station? Why cramp myself? I’m a
discoverer. Actors, singers, bands, script-writers, gag men—that’s my
field. Talent. I find it and market it. We all make money.”

Joe caught it. “An agent?”

One of the man’s hands made a flourish. “Mr. Carlin—”

The boy said: “My name’s Joe.”

“Mine’s Amby. Let’s go where we’ll be more comfortable and talk
business.”

Joe gripped the books. He had read about agents and the part they played
in show business. No actor could get any place without an agent; but no
agent would bother with an actor unless the actor was good. His head
swam.

They rode down to the lights and the ebb and flow of visitors, to the
cheerfulness and blue leather of the fourth floor. The receptionist
looked questioningly at Joe; he put his hands together and shook them.
The blonde seemed pleased. The loudspeaker gave them Lucille Borden
tough-girling through another episode of _Years of Danger_.

Amby Carver led the way to one of the blue window-seats. “You’re
eighteen, Joe?”

“Yeah.”

“How would you like me to handle you?”

Joe said a fervent: “What could be sweeter?”

“Not much,” Amby admitted without hesitation. “When Ambrose Carver says
he’s putting a man over, that man’s over. You’re going to be a
headliner, Joe; I’ll have your name in lights. I’ll have you playing
coast-to-coast chain shows. I’ll—Is your father home nights?”

“Except Wednesdays. That’s bowling night.”

“I’ll drop in and see him to-night. About eight.”

Joe couldn’t figure that. “What for?”

“You’re a minor. I’ll bring a contract for your father to sign.
Everything open and above-board.”

A real contract, legal and binding, with a real agent! Joe’s cup was
full.

A man came like the wind from the glass-walled studio. Joe saw a wild
disorder of reddish hair, a tan raincoat trailing along the ground from
one arm, a brief-case only partly closed. Somebody cried “Vic!” and the
raincoat was jerked up from the ground. The hidden voice went on: “You
forgot that script.” A hand went into the brief-case, came out with a
mass of papers, and waved them impatiently. Somebody came running from
the direction of the glass-walled studios.

“Know him?” Amby Carver asked.

Joe didn’t. “I saw him rehearsing a show.”

“Then,” Mr. Carver said with brisk conviction, “you saw the best
producer in the city in action. That’s Vic Wylie. Great friend of mine.
Won’t work for any station—produces independently. A great pal.”

The producer was again on his way toward the elevators. His eyes were
the eyes of a man with fifty things to do and an hour to do them in.

Amby Carver’s voice throbbed with good fellowship. “Hi, Vic! How’s the
boy?”

Vic Wylie looked around, saw who had called the greeting, glanced at Joe
and back to Carver—and grunted. The elevator took him down.

“A great kidder,” Amby Carver said jovially. “A rich kidder. You’ve got
to understand a guy like Vic. Dramatizes himself. Gets up in the morning
and puts on a rôle with his collar. Plays it all day. I’ll bet he’s
doing a show with a hard heavy; he’ll be a Simon Legree until the show’s
in the bag. To-morrow, if he’s producing a Pollyanna, he’ll be smiling
like an angel and God-blessing everybody. A great guy. A great pal.”

Another elevator carried them down. FKIP was now broadcasting baseball
from Chicago. The speaker in the car said: “Right over the dish, but too
low. Ball two.” The lobby speaker roared. “There it goes—goes—and it’s
gone. Mac hits into the right field bleachers—” They passed out into
Royal Street.

“Amby,” said Joe, “are you Sonny’s agent?”

“Who?”

“Sonny Baker?”

Amby’s laugh rolled out, mellow and deep. “Joe, that’s funny. A great
friend of mine, Sonny, but you can’t stay in this agency racket on
friendship. You got to have winners. Also-rans don’t pay off.”

“But isn’t Sonny—”

“A winner? Momentarily, Joe; momentarily. He had no competition last
season. He happened to be the only available juvenile who had anything
on the ball. That happens in radio sometimes, when you get away from the
big broadcasting centers like New York, Chicago, and Hollywood. The
parts were there and he fell into them. One was a good, fat part. Next
season when he auditions for a show, he’ll find somebody named Joe
Carlin reading script.”

“The fat part,” said Joe, “was that in _City Boy_.”

“That was it.”

“You—” Joe had to wait a moment. “You think I’ll have a chance for some
parts?”

“A chance?” The agent rolled his eyes skyward. “You think Ambrose Carver
goes out to the Northend because he feels like taking a bus ride? To-day
you wouldn’t have a chance, but to-day isn’t September. By September
I’ll have had you under my wing for three months. You and Sonny won’t
belong in the same league. That’s how I do it.”

Joe’s blood ran fire.

Amby Carver’s hand made a flourish. “Eight to-night, Joe.”

Joe Carlin bought a _Journal_ at the corner and waited for a Northend
bus. His brain built golden, gleaming air castles. Next September he
might have Sonny Baker’s fat part in _City Boy_. And there’d be other
shows, other parts. Or perhaps some new sponsor would come along with a
new five-a-week and he wouldn’t try out for the part in _City Boy_. He
felt sorry for Sonny. It would be tough to play a part one season and
lose it the next.

There were plenty of empty seats on the bus. Money? Next fall he ought
to roll in money. He opened the _Journal_ to the radio page. A column of
gossip and comment carried a short, routine paragraph:

    Sonny Baker, local radio star, left this morning for the coast
    to play in summer stock. There’s a whisper that Hollywood talent
    scouts engineered the engagement.

Hollywood? Talent scouts? That could mean only a possible moving-picture
contract. Perhaps another Mickey Rooney in the making. Fame. The real
money.

Joe Carlin thought in dizzy happiness: “And Amby says I’m going to be a
better actor than Sonny.”

-----

Footnote 1:

  Reprinted by permission of Charles Scribner’s Sons.

Footnote 2:

  Reprinted by permission of Random House, Inc.



                               CHAPTER 3


Ambrose Carver, freshly shaved and barbered, sat in the Carlin
living-room and talked about Ambrose Carver. Tom Carlin held a cold pipe
between his teeth; Kate Carlin was quiet, non-committal. Joe thought in
dismay: “Dad won’t sign.”

“Fifty per cent of all Joe earns until he’s twenty-one,” Tom Carlin said
bluntly, “seems like a lot of money.”

“Mr. Carlin,” Amby said earnestly, “you’re looking at this from the
wrong angle. I don’t mean I get Joe four stars overnight. I’m good; I
admit it. But I’m not that good. It takes time. Until I get Joe some
contracts, I make nothing. Does anybody work for you for nothing?”

“Hardly.”

“In show business the answer is ‘Yes.’ Show business is different. It
pays off different. You see, Mrs. Carlin?”

Kate Carlin drawled: “Are you worth fifty per cent?”

“Ah!” said Amby briskly. “Now we are getting places. Without an agent
what happens to Joe? Who knows him? Is there any producer or casting
director who says: ‘Carlin was good in so-and-so; call him in’? No,
because Joe has never had a part. So he has to make the rounds of the
stations, day after day, round and round. He is not a radio actor; he is
a race-horse. But when I am his agent, I do the round and round. I keep
the directors remembering there is a Joe Carlin.”

Joe counted seconds of silence.

“You may have something there,” Kate Carlin admitted.

“Ambrose Carver always has something there. Take another angle. Without
an agent Joe tries to sell himself where there is no market. One station
is foreign language; another has mostly spot commercials and recordings.
There’s nothing for Joe at these stations, but he doesn’t know it. He
finds it out in time. I save him all that time. For fifty per cent he
buys everything it has taken me years to learn. I save him from
mistakes.”

The silence lingered.

Amby asked shrewdly: “Would it be worth money to be saved from mistakes
in your business, Mr. Carlin?”

Tom Carlin cleared his throat. Joe waited anxiously. Nothing was said.

“Another mistake,” Amby went on, “is to think because Joe has a good
audition he’s a radio actor. He has to learn. Will a station teach him?
No. Not after he’s sixteen; they say eighteen is too late. They haven’t
time. So who rehearses him? I do. I worry for him, and think for him,
and plan for him. You know what radio stars get? You know what is paid
for the Eddie Cantor show?”

“Don’t give Joe those ideas,” Mrs. Carlin said sharply.

“Mustn’t he have a beginning?” Amby asked. He walked to the table and
laid a fountain pen beside the contracts.

Tom Carlin glanced at his wife. Whatever he saw there sent his glance to
his son’s face. Slowly, after a moment, he picked up the pen.

“Here,” said Amby expansively, “is where we start to go.” He folded one
copy of the contract. Joe went with him to the porch.

Tom Carlin spoke in an undertone. “Why did you want me to sign?”

“You saw Joe’s face?” Kate Carlin was quiet. “He won’t wake up to-morrow
thinking we hanged him.”

“A successful agent couldn’t waste time with buses. He’d have a car.”

“Carver hasn’t fooled me, even though he’s dazzled Joe.”

“But if he’s a bag of wind—”

“It’s a short contract. When it terminates, Joe will still be Joe. Is
anything more important than that?”

Flushed and jubilant, Joe returned from the porch. “Thank you, Dad.”
Half-way up the stairs he paused. “Amby wants me to report at his office
at ten to-morrow for a rehearsal.”

“Where is his office?” Mr. Carlin asked.

“McCoy Building.” Upstairs a door closed.

“One of the old, run-down rat-trap buildings,” the man said slowly.

But to Joe Carlin there was nothing dismaying about the McCoy Building.
The elevator creaked and groaned and finally reached the sixth floor.
Down at the end of a drab hall pale sunlight came in through a smudged
window, and motes of dust danced in the pallid shaft of light. To Joe,
the dust was a thrilling reminder of the dusty wings, and the dusty
drops and props of the stage of Northend High. Even the mustiness of the
hall brought memories of the damp brick wall at the rear of the high
school stage. Joe thought in fascination: “It smells the way an agent’s
building ought to smell—a stagey, theater smell.”

He tried the door of 615. The door was locked. He banged on the panels.

An elevator boy in shirt sleeves left his car and came to the bend in
the hall. “You looking for Carver? He telephoned downstairs to wait.”

Joe waited. The wait dragged. He paced the dusty hall, forgot himself
and leaned against the dusty wall, tried to see out through the dusty
window. At noon the elevator door complained harshly and Amby Carver
arrived.

“Sorry, Joe. Got tied up. Waiting long?”

“Two hours.”

“Took me more than an hour to get John Royal long distance. You
know—Royal, N.B.C., New York. National Broadcasting. Great friend of
mine. Interested in one of my singers.” A key turned in the lock of 615.

“What singer?” Joe asked eagerly.

Amby shook his head. “No can do, Joe. My pet superstition. Had a
baritone last year; thought I had him in the bag for five hundred
dollars a week; talked about it. Contract fell right out of the bag.
Don’t mention names anymore until a contract’s signed.”

The office was furnished with the bare essentials—desk, typewriter,
chairs, and a filing cabinet that looked second-hand. But what caught
and held Joe’s attention raptly was a microphone in a corner, probably
discarded by some studio.

“Bring it out,” said Amby. “I keep it around to get young talent
acclimated. Let them be around a mike long enough, even a dead mike, and
they’ll never get mike fright. Just one of my little tricks.” There had
been several letters pushed under the office door. The agent opened them
and became absorbed.

Joe lifted the microphone to the center of the floor. The instrument was
unwired, unconnected, dead; and yet the feel of it, the look of it, sent
electric currents through his nerves. He lost himself completely in its
magic spell, and Amby’s shabby office faded and was gone. He began to
whisper bits from _The Prince Laughs Last_, feeling the part again as he
had felt it on the stage of Northend High. A door slammed somewhere on
the floor and Joe came back to the McCoy Building with a start. Amby,
delicately fingering the suspicion of a black mustache, was staring at
him.

“I’m coming in a door,” Amby said without preamble. “You greet me as
though you’re overjoyed to see me. All right; let me hear you. Remember,
you’re overjoyed.”

Joe tried to call up a mental picture of the scene. He cried with
ringing gaiety: “Amby! If I’m not glad—”

“No, no,” said Amby. “Just ‘Hello.’ And into the mike. You got to talk,
talk into the mike so that it becomes instinct.”

Joe tried again.

Amby’s finger tapped his upper lip. “Not quite overjoyed—just glad. You
do not like me when I come in. Give me a hate ‘Hello.’”

Joe spoke a thin, cold: “Hello.”

“Better. If you speak ten words and two are sour, you still have eight
words to put you over. But with only one word, it must be everything on
that one word. When you can do it with one word, you are acting. Hate,
scorn, love, doubt, fear: you do it all with one word. ‘Hello.’ You get
me, Joe?”

This, Joe thought, was real coaching, coaching that went tirelessly into
minute details, the professional stuff. He said: “I get it.”

“Good.” Amby rubbed his hands together briskly. “You stand right there
at the mike and practise. Hello, hello, hello. All kinds of
hellos—pride, joy, dismay, surprise. Emotion all wrapped up in one word,
Joe. I’ll be back.”

Joe talked into a dead mike in an empty room. By and by it grew on him
that his stomach was empty. But if he left, the door would close on a
snap latch. Suppose he couldn’t get back? He tried for a greeting of
gaiety, the light touch. “Hello?” The steady echo of his voice in the
strange, empty room became appalling. Hunger and thirst finally drove
him out. He picked up a sandwich and a cup of coffee at the soda
fountain on the first floor of Munson’s department store.

Amby telephoned the Carlin home at six o’clock. “What time did you
leave?”

Joe’s answer was short. “Quarter of four.”

“Sore, Joe? Listen. Don’t get touchy on what you don’t understand.
Staying all alone at a mike is discipline. Mental discipline. Discipline
and concentration. I’ve been working for you. Got you an audition date.”

Joe’s soreness was gone. “Where?”

“FFOM. You audition Friday afternoon. Two o’clock. See you to-morrow.”

“What time, Amby?”

Amby was silent a moment. “Better make it noon.”

Joe had to wait only ten minutes next day in the dusty hall of the sixth
floor. Amby was, as usual, a cyclone of brisk energy.

“Rushed to death, Joe. Got to arrange an audition for you at FWWO. We
won’t bother with the other two stations. Quick now on a pick-up from
yesterday. I come in a door. You’re a little surprised, a little amused
to see me. Give.”

Joe caught a chuckling, good-natured, rising inflection. “Hel—lo.”

“Nice,” said Amby. “You’re learning.” He rummaged in a drawer of the
desk and brought out a script. “_City Boy_. You take Al Treacy, Joe.
That was Sonny Baker’s part. Always in front of the mike; don’t forget.
I’m due at FWWO.”

How, Joe asked an empty office, could an agent coach you if he was never
around when you rehearsed? The question bothered him. Of course, Amby
knew what he was doing, but.... The “but” gave him his first uneasiness.

He had never before seen a production script. Fascinated, he began to
read. Why, it had everything—dialogue, directions, sound. As he read
memory stirred and came alive. He’d heard this show. It must have been
two or three months ago. He turned back to the first page and there was
the date of production. March 18th. Of course!

To-day he became lost again in glamour. He spoke lines as he remembered
Sonny Baker, the Al Treacy of the show, to have spoken them. There was
one scene toward the end.... He searched the script and found what he
wanted:

    Sound—Closing of door.

    Al: (Earnestly) Listen, Mister. I like you—

Joe began to read the scene to a dead microphone:

    Al: Listen, Mister. I like you. I think you’re all right. But
    this neighborhood can’t make you out. It’s a friendly
    neighborhood; there’s a lot of music, and singing, and loud
    talking and visiting back and forth. You don’t talk much,
    Mister. You don’t make friends. The neighborhood’s beginning to
    whisper about you. They say you’re not their kind. They say
    you’re queer. Don’t you see? You got to snap out of it....

A clear, cool voice said: “Any idea when Amby’ll be back?”

Joe spun around. The door was open, and a slim, dark-haired girl stood
on threshold. He said: “Perhaps in the next five minutes; perhaps not
for hours.”

“An exact statement of an Amby schedule! I didn’t know he was spreading
out with an office boy.”

Joe said stiffly: “I happen to be an actor.”

“Poisoned catfish! Another one?” The girl stepped inside the office.
“Where do they all come from? What have you been on?”

“Nothing yet.”

“What have you done?”

“High-school shows.”

“And Carver picked you up? Next he’ll be lifting them out of the cradle.
A nice boy, Amby, if you like them that way. Well, a part’s a part no
matter where it comes from. Tell him to list me in his file. The name’s
Lucille Borden.”

Joe stared, stupefied. “Lucille Borden? You don’t mean the Lucille
Borden of _Years of Danger_. You don’t sound—”

“I’m fed up, done, finished.” The girl’s voice was hard and clipped,
tough. She laughed. “Satisfied now? What’s your name—or are you old
enough to have a name?”

“Joe Carlin.”

“You’re nice, youngster. An unspoiled kid. That’s a _City Boy_ script
you’re reading. I was in that show. I was shot. I’m always getting shot,
or stabbed, or smashed up by automobiles. I end up every show on a
stretcher. Sometimes I think the script writers are trying to kill me
off. You were trying to read the part the way Sonny Baker read it.”

Joe was flattered. “Was I that good?”

“You were laying an egg. A pretty bad egg. Never imitate anybody. Be
yourself. Give the part Joe Carlin. Well, don’t forget to tell Carver.
The tramp may find me a part.”

She was gone, and Joe continued to stare at the door through which she
had passed. A real actress, the first one he’d met face to face. Lucille
Borden. Why, she wasn’t tough and hard at all. Were all actors and
actresses so quick and generous with help and advice? A glow, a pride
that he was an actor, too, ran through him. He turned to the mike and
read again. He tried to give the part Joe Carlin, but all the days he
had listened to Sonny Baker got in the way.

“Lucille Borden was here,” he told Amby when the agent finally returned.

Amby tried to hide his surprise. “Lucille? See how they’re starting to
run to me, Joe? What did she want?”

“A part if one turns up.”

Ambrose Carver rubbed his hands briskly. “A great girl, Lucille. One of
my best friends. She thinks I’m aces.”

Impressions were beginning to register on Joe. Everybody was one of
Amby’s best friends. He said: “How about that FFOM audition to-morrow?
Are you coaching me before I go to the studio?”

Amby, in his desk chair, stretched out languidly. “Give them what you
gave FKIP. It was good enough there.”

On the way home Joe tried to understand what was becoming a muddle.
Didn’t your agent want to see you get better and better? Why had Lucille
said: “A nice boy, Amby, if you like them that way.” And there was
another sentence she had used: “The tramp may find me a part.” Why had
she been so caustic, so critical of Amby?

Amby went with him to FFOM and sat in the control-room. Station FFOM
wasn’t quite in the same class with Station FKIP. It was in a smaller,
less ostentatious building; there was no glittering reception-room with
leather chairs, there was no expensive glass gallery. Joe went into a
plain, small, matter-of-fact studio and began to read. This time he
carried two plays to the mike so that, when he finished the first, the
control-room would not ask him if he had anything else. He told himself:
“They won’t know I’m so green; they’ll think I’ve been around.” Finally
he gave them the juvenile bit.

“Thank you, Mr. Carlin,” the control-room said. That’s what he’d
expected, that, and no more. He was learning. Soon nobody’d have to tell
him: “That’s show business.”

Amby joined him. “Joe, you were terrific; better than FKIP. You’re a
knockout. Now you’re on file at two stations. Don’t forget you audition
at FWWO Monday.”

“What about to-morrow?” To-morrow was Saturday.

Amby’s hand caressed the thread of black mustache. “A short day, Joe.
Not worth your while coming down.”

Joe would have been glad to come down, if only for a ten-minute
rehearsal. Saturday, discontented and restless, he lazed in his room and
kept turning the dial of his radio. Downstairs, the telephone rang. He
leaned over the banisters hoping that this was for him and that Amby had
changed his mind. But the call was from his father.

Kate Carlin brought a bulky envelop out into the hall. “Dad brought
these papers home last night and forgot them this morning. Do you mind
taking them down?”

It was the boy’s first visit to the store since the day he had told his
father he wanted to be an actor. There was the same air of unhurried
alertness, the same quiet atmosphere of sureness and efficiency. The
typewriters had been moved back; the first of the gleaming center-floor
cases held a display of cameras and snapshot enlargements. Every
enlargement showed a mountain, lake, or seashore scene. With the
vacation season almost at hand, trust to his father, he thought, to know
how to enhance the appeal of a camera. And old pride, warm and swelling,
stirred in him; he had never been in another store quite like this one.

Tom Carlin said: “You made good time. Stick around and I’ll take you to
lunch.”

Joe wandered into the book department. And suddenly a thought, forgotten
since his last visit, was back. A magic land of books that people had
forgotten! Why couldn’t their interest be aroused, awakened, and
quickened? Why couldn’t they be told in such a way that they’d be eager
to listen? Thomas Carlin Presents To-day’s Book.... How? Anything that
went on the air had to be planned shrewdly and knowingly. How and what?

An undecided boy was in the book department, and Mr. Fairchild was
showing this small customer the same deference he would have shown a
collector placing a large order. Pride stirred in Joe again—Thomas
Carlin service. The boy went out at last with the tale he had selected.
Joe’s mind still groped. Thomas Carlin Presents.... How could it be
done? That it could be done he had no doubt. Thomas Carlin Presents....
His father had said: “One Carlin in radio is enough,” but that day his
father had been upset. Perhaps, since then....

“Mr. Fairchild, did Dad ever say anything to you about pepping up the
book department?”

“Something about radio, Joe? We talked it over. Your suggestion, wasn’t
it? Your father thought the cost would be prohibitive. We’d have to sell
six hundred more books a week to get our money back. That’s a lot of
extra books.”

It was. And yet, if radio could sell clothing for Munson.... “Perhaps,
if I bring it up again—”

“Don’t press your radio luck too far, Joe.” Mr. Fairchild’s smile was
shrewd.

Joe thought: “He knows I’m not in radio with Dad’s blessing.” But his
father had at least considered the idea. He might have known that would
happen. He felt better. But he wasn’t, he thought stubbornly, through
with the idea.

Monday afternoon he auditioned at FWWO. The station was smaller than
FFOM and loosely run; the audition was called for two o’clock, but it
was three o’clock before he was brought into a studio. Chairs and music
stands had to be pushed away from the mike. An impatient voice from the
control-room said: “Keep it within ten minutes, Mr. Carlin.” Amby was
not present.

Joe knew he gave a poor reading. Out in the street he debated about
going to the McCoy Building. What was the use? Amby’s door would be
locked. He started for the bus stop at the corner, depressed. FWWO had
got on his nerves. The reading had been worse than bad.

“Joe! Joe Carlin!” Amby, elbowing and jostling, came hurrying through
the crowds of Royal Street.

Joe said: “I muffed it.”

“FWWO? Forget it. Does Ambrose Carver put over his talent? Get an earful
of this. FKIP’s cutting a platter. You’re in.”

The flags outside the hotels along Royal Street became gay, royal
banners. The weight that had come down on Joe’s heart at FWWO was gone.
“A good part, Amby?”

“A bit. It’s a bit show. _I Want Work!_ FKIP hopes to sell it to some
sponsor as a good-will buy. People out of work tell their stories.
People who can give them jobs write in or telephone. You’re a kid whose
father’s home with a busted leg. The furniture’s due to be heaved into
the street.”

Joe was puzzled. “I thought people in need of work told their stories.”

“Don’t you get it? FKIP gets in touch with churches and welfare
organizations. Men and women come in; script writers take their
hard-luck stories and put in the zing. A professional cast puts on the
show.”

“But people think they’re listening to—”

“The actual men and women who need the jobs? Sure. That’s radio. Radio
runs on a clock; a fifteen-minute show is a fifteen-minute show. _We
Want Work_ must be drama. How you getting drama out of anybody you
happen to bring in? How you going to hold them down to fifteen minutes?
Some will want to talk all night; some will get mike fright and won’t
give. A professional cast has to fake it. A real kid came in with the
story you’ll read.”

So that, Joe thought, was how it was done. Something else he’d learned
about radio. “What time do they want me?”

“Two o’clock Wednesday. John Dennis’ office. That’s the little fat man
who auditioned you.”

Riding out to Northend Joe saw what Amby had meant by “bit show.”
Everybody in the cast would have a short, terse part to read. He’d get
on only when some boy had a plea to make. Perhaps he wouldn’t get on
more than once or twice a month. But rehearsals were six dollars an
hour, or part of an hour, and every show would be fifteen dollars. Not
bad. The bus dropped him off and he walked rapidly toward home.

“Mother!” He was going to be calm about this. “I have my first part. I’m
in my first show.” Calmness exploded. “Boy, do I feel grand.”

“Joe!” The warmth of his mother’s understanding made him feel even
better. “How nice.” She led him out to the breakfast nook to pie and a
glass of milk. While he ate he told her of how radio put on its personal
experience programs like _I Want Work_, and about Lucille Borden, and
about money. Six dollars for rehearsals and fifteen dollars for the
show.

“The day you go on the air,” Kate Carlin said whimsically, “there’ll be
no dinner prepared. I’ll be too excited. Your father’ll probably have to
come home and cook himself an egg.”

They laughed together. Joe thought, as he had thought many times before,
how easy it was to laugh with his mother.

John Dennis’ office was on the third floor of the FKIP building, a small
out-of-the-way sort of room at the building’s rear. This third floor
might have been the fifth floor where Joe had auditioned in Studio K.
Given over to the pick-and-shovel work of radio, the third floor spent
no money for glitter and blue leather. Four people, all talking at once,
were crowded into the office with Dennis; three others, in the hall,
walked about, bumped into each other, and read script aloud.

“Carlin.” Dennis tossed a script. “You’re Young Mr. X.”

Lucille Borden said: “Hello, youngster. You know these people?” She
introduced him around. He shook hands with Archie Munn, a tall, very
straight and very thin man with an amazingly deep voice, and bowed to
Stella Joyce, a small, bird-like woman with a bird-like, fluttering way
of talking. The others of the cast of _I Want Work_ were shadows. He got
away, out to the hall, and found his part:

    Announcer: And now we’ll hear from you, Mr. X—or should I say
    Young Mr. X? How old are you?

    X: I’m fifteen.

    Announcer: And you’re looking for work?

    X: Not for myself—for my father. He’s a tool-maker. Last winter
    he fell on the ice and smashed up his leg. He hasn’t worked
    since. It costs money to be sick and his money’s gone. The
    doctor says he can go back to work next week, but he has no
    work. And now my mother’s sick—

John Dennis and the all-talking-together cast went past him. He closed
the script.

The parade ended on another part of the third floor in a long, narrow
room next to the press-radio bureau. Somebody closed the door and the
clatter of the machines, bringing in news from all parts of the world,
was still. Dennis walked past a dead rehearsal microphone and sat at a
table. There was a telephone on the table.

“Twice around the mike,” said Dennis, “coming in on the live end and
passing out on the dead end. Let’s go.”

It had all been written into the beginning of the script. The cast came
down upon the mike. Voices implored:

“Give me work! I must have something to do. I want a job! My father
needs work badly....”

The second lap was completed. The announcer swung in with his
introduction. The show was on.

It was, to Joe, an amazing rehearsal. Actors walked to the mike as their
bits came up, walked away as they finished. Nobody, apparently, paid any
attention; nobody listened. When the telephone rang and Dennis answered,
the reading of parts went right on. Those not at the mike conversed in
undertones. It was all haphazard, without order, a sort of chaos.

“We’ll run through it again,” said Dennis. “Carlin, not so fluent.
You’re supposed to be a fifteen-year-old kid. You’ve been brought into a
studio to plead for your father; you’re nervous. Stumble a bit.” Before
the cast could start another circle of the mike the telephone rang.
“Yes,” said Dennis. “I’ll be right back.” He stood up. “Ten to-morrow
morning,” he said abruptly and hurried from the room.

Lucille shrugged. “Well, that’s radio. We may have to come back half a
dozen times.”

Why grumble, Joe reflected, if you earned six dollars for each
rehearsal? A new wonder grew on him. In all the madcap confusion and
lackadaisical inattention of the rehearsal, John Dennis had heard him
read his part. Later, in the McCoy building, he spoke of this to Amby.

“That’s radio,” said the agent. “It’s like no other business in the
world.”

Next morning, in the same room, the cast went back to rehearsal. Dennis
began to stop the reading of lines, to coach for a different
interpretation. But the telephone still kept ringing; there was still,
apparently, a careless happy-go-lucky confusion. At noon the director of
programs called a halt.

“Four o’clock,” he said.

Joe had a sandwich with Amby at Munson’s soda counter.

“Eat here always when you’re downtown,” Amby told him. “I hear Munson’s
going in for a five-a-week in the fall. He walks around the store a lot
watching business. Let him see us here. It doesn’t do us any harm.”

It seemed to the boy a queer angle from which to sell a radio show. But
then, everything about radio was a law unto itself.

At four o’clock he was back at rehearsal. And now, suddenly, all the
light-hearted chaos was gone. Dennis ran them through the show against
the watch. A minute and a half too long. Lines were cut from the script,
lines and more lines. This was the never-ending, nerve-racking struggle
of radio to compress shows into time limits. Strain crept into the room;
Joe felt tension drag at his own body. Another rehearsal, and they were
forty seconds over. More lines came out. They rehearsed a third time.
The eyes of John Dennis were glued to a watch; a pencil hovered over the
script, noting minutes and seconds.

“Bingo!” he cried. “Fourteen minutes, leaving a fat minute for the
commercial plugs. Ten to-morrow. A dress, and then we cut.”

“Dress,” Joe knew, meant a dress rehearsal. The dial in the tower of
Munson’s department store said seven o’clock. He clung to a strap in a
crowded Northend bus and felt drained. He was late for dinner.

“Tired?” his mother asked.

“Dead,” he said. “It takes it out of you. We finish to-morrow. With
rehearsals and the cutting I ought to get about fifty dollars.”

“For about eight hours of actual work,” his father commented.

Food had revived Joe. The thought of fifty dollars didn’t make him feel
any worse. He grinned. “That’s radio, Dad.”

In the morning the cast was through with the narrow room off the
press-radio bureau. Dennis led them to Studio K. The dress was smooth.
Just before Joe stepped to the mike, Vic Wylie came into the studio. His
reddish hair was in disorder; his eyes had their perpetual look of a man
hard pressed for time. He whispered to Dennis as Joe began to read; he
looked at Joe once, finished what he had to say to Dennis, moved toward
the door, and stopped. Joe finished reading and left the mike.

Vic Wylie said: “When you find time, kid, drop in at my office.
Something may turn up.”

All Joe could think of was what Amby had said: “The best producer in the
city.”

“On the nose,” John Dennis cried. “Right to the second.” The cast went
to the mike, one by one, and spoke a few words. A voice came back: “Too
close.” Joe looked at Archie Munn.

“The engineer,” Archie said. “Leveling sound for the platter.”

Then they were ready. The cast lined up for its circle of the mike.
Dennis had his eyes on a watch; one hand was raised. The hand fell.

Nobody talked or whispered now. This was the real thing. Joe’s part came
up; he read from his script and stepped away. The best producer in the
city! The best producer wanted to talk to him. Abruptly there was
silence. The show was made.

“Come along and hear it,” said Lucille Borden.

Joe followed the cast along a corridor to an engineer’s room gleaming
with bakelite—transformers, switches, dials, knobs. Amby was there.

“I picked it up here, Joe,” the agent said gleefully. “You came in
swell. You’re colossal.”

Joe grasped Amby’s arm. “Wylie wants to see me.”

Amby blinked. “Vic? Vic Wylie.” It dawned on him; he recovered and
beamed. “Great guy, Vic; one of my best pals. I’ve been talking to him
about you. Didn’t I tell you the sky was the limit?”

The engineer picked up the platter that had just been cut. “You ought to
sell this show,” he said to John Dennis and set the platter on a
turn-table. A needle came down upon it gently. Words, uncanny words,
pleading and imploring, filled the room:

“Give me work! I must have something to do. I want a job! My father
needs work badly....”

Joe was stone, carved and motionless. It was coming to his part. The
announcer said: “And now we’ll hear from you, Mr. X....” His own voice
was in his ears.

He shook, and went hot and cold, and hot and cold again. He saw Lucille
watching him and tried to stop shaking.

“We’ve all had the thrill,” Lucille whispered, “of listening to our
first platter.”

It was over. His voice still rang in his ears. If he could only go off
some place, and sit down, and rest! Radio certainly took it out of you;
you earned what you got. The cast was drifting around, breaking up. He
went out with Amby. He could still hear his voice. After all, what
difference did weariness make? It passed away. And Vic Wylie wanted to
talk to him, and FKIP owed him about fifty dollars. The fifty dollars
was more than money. It was a symbol, a promise for all the future. It
meant that a radio station thought he was a good enough actor to pay
money to.

“Amby,” he said, “when do we get paid?”

“For what?” Amby was startled.

“The show.”

“This _I Want Work_ show?”

“What other show did I work?”

“You mean money? You expect to get paid some money?” Amby’s voice
thinned to a squeak. “Where do you think you are, New York?”

Joe thought: “And I boasted to Dad....” Something was wrong. He saw his
agent staring at him, gaping at him, and his heart drained. He was cold
again, and this wasn’t the kind of strange chill that brought a thrill
in its wake.

“Listen, Amby.” Could this be the same voice that had come off a
platter? “I worked three days on that show. Yesterday I started at ten
and got through at seven last night. Three hours yesterday afternoon in
one stretch. For what?”

“If you mean money—”

“Don’t I get anything?”

“Sure, sure. Give me a chance to tell you. You, Lucille, Archie—you all
get something.”

“What?”

Ambrose Carver said: “You get experience.”



                               CHAPTER 4


“The name,” Joe Carlin said bitterly, “is sucker. My name, Amby.” He
knew now that he should have asked what FKIP paid for cutting a platter.
“I shouldn’t have taken fifty dollars for granted.”

Ambrose Carver was aghast. “You expected fifty dollars? Fifty?”

“I didn’t expect to work for nothing.”

“But fifty dollars....” Amby bleated in horror.

“I thought there was big money in radio.”

“Sure there’s big money. Does Jack Benny work for peanuts? Use your
head. Does Edgar Bergen work for three cheers? Does—”

“I did.”

Amby mopped his face with an agitated hand. “Wouldn’t I like to see you
make a fortune? Don’t I get half?”

“Not a fortune. Fifty dollars.”

“But what for?” Amby began to squeal.

“Didn’t I rehearse a show? Didn’t I cut a platter? Isn’t there a scale?”

“Did I say there wasn’t? But where? Here? You think it’s here?”

Suddenly Joe was bewildered, uncertain. “What does that mean, Amby?”

And, just as suddenly, Amby put the agitated handkerchief away and
became brisk. “Joe, it’s time somebody wised you up. We can’t talk on
the street. Let’s go to Munson’s.”

Munson’s main floor fountain was three deep with the lunch-hour rush.
Eventually Amby spotted a table for two.

“Look, Joe. At Hickville you pay a quarter to see a movie. It costs you
a buck to see that same movie at the Music Hall, New York. Why? I’m
telling you. Because New York is New York. Big time. Tops. Show business
has only a few big-time spots—New York, Chicago, Hollywood, and Los
Angeles. That’s where almost all the sponsored chain shows originate.
Sure there’s an established scale. But get this, Joe: the scale’s only
for New York, Chicago, and the coast. Every place else is small time. In
show business, small time pays small time. That’s how it’s always been.”

Joe’s coffee cooled, unnoticed. Disillusionment crushed him. “Suppose
the _I Want Work_ platter gets a sponsor?”

“Maybe you get five dollars; maybe three dollars. It’s only a bit.”

“What if I’m on a five-a-week sustaining?”

“Nothing changes. It’s a sustaining show, isn’t it? You get experience.”

A nerve in Joe’s cheek twitched. “Isn’t that generous?”

Amby pleaded. “Listen, Joe. Your curtain’s only going up. Some day you
crash the big time. Then you wear diamonds. You stick with a good agent,
and he gets you big time. I’ve told you about John Royal of N.B.C. A
great friend of mine. A pal. When I take you to New York, Royal
listens.”

“Take me to New York now.”

Amby gulped coffee. “Sure Royal listens. Because he’s a great pal of
mine he might give you a low-down. He’d say: ‘Joe, you’re not ready; you
need more experience.’ So what? You’d come back here where you could get
experience. That’s why small-time radio pays in experience; you can’t
get it any place else. Didn’t Colonel Stoopnagle come out of an upstate
New York station? Ambrose Carver’s your agent, Joe, and Ambrose Carver’s
telling you.”

“Suppose I go on a five-a-week commercial?”

“Now you’re talking something else. That means a sponsor. Five dollars a
show.”

Joe’s finger drew a slow diagram on the table. “Sonny Baker was on a
commercial five-a-week. He also had two once-a-week commercials. How
much did he earn?”

“Maybe thirty-five dollars.”

Joe stood up. “And he’s what the _Journal_ calls a local radio star.
Lucille Borden and Archie Munn have been around a long time. They worked
to-day for nothing. If that’s radio, you can have it.”

Amby’s hand went up to the foppish little mustache. “You’re not
quitting, Joe,” he said softly. “To-day you cut your first platter. You
heard the playback. You’re not going to forget listening to your own
voice. Come back to FKIP.”

“What for?”

“To look around a studio; to see another mike.” Amby picked up the
check. “You’re not quitting, Joe. You can’t.”

The boy bit his lips.

“My office,” Amby announced briskly. “About noon to-morrow.”

Riding home on a Northend bus, Joe stared out at passing corners and saw
none of them. Amby was right. It got into you. You took a beating and
came back for more.

“Joe,” his mother drawled, “let me see what real radio money looks
like.”

The truth had to be told. “We get paid only if a show has a sponsor.”

Tom Carlin laid down his newspaper. “What’s that? Didn’t you say there
was a scale of twenty-one dollars...?”

“My mistake,” said Joe, expressionless. “The scale is only for big-time
stations. We take our pay in experience.”

“Humph! I pay my clerks every Saturday.”

“This is radio,” said Joe, and went upstairs to wash.

Anger grew in the man. “Kate, I don’t like this. Apparently the station
gets a lot of entertainment for nothing. I don’t like to see Joe
exploited....”

“Is it exploitation,” Kate Carlin asked quietly, “or a condition radio
hasn’t yet solved? It must have been a shock to him. He’s taking it
well.”

“Sometimes,” Tom Carlin said at last, “I wonder if you’re very wise or
whether you’re spoiling him.” He found Joe in the bathroom. “You may
need a little money,” he said, and handed his son five dollars.

Emotion made Joe’s voice gruff. “Dad, you’re—you’re tops.”

Next morning some cash in his pocket raised his spirits and youth’s
eternal hope flowed in him again. At noon he was on the sixth floor of
the McCoy Building. Amby’s office door was locked. To-day, instead of
waiting, he went back to the elevators.

“Seen Carver?” he asked.

“Carver’s been in and gone out,” the operator told him.

Joe went out, too. He had no heart to wait for hours in the dusty
hall—not so soon after yesterday. July heat made the narrow streets
sultry. He didn’t want to go home, and neither did he want to make a
round of the studios. Not to-day. He thought of Vic Wylie. Presently he
was walking toward Royal Street.

Amby had once pointed out the building in which Wylie had offices. Joe
found a line on the directory board. VIC WYLIE PRODUCTIONS, 921. In the
outer office of 921 a young, rosy-cheeked stenographer talked into a
telephone.

“He didn’t say, Mr. Lake. I know he’s read the script.” She looked at
Joe. “Have you an appointment?” Before Joe could speak the telephone
rang again. “Mr. Munn? Mr. Wylie would like you to be here about four.
Yes, to read a part.”

Joe said: “Mr. Wylie asked me to come in.”

“He won’t be here until about two,” the stenographer told him.

The telephone rang once more. The telephone kept ringing. A young man
came in and talked to the stenographer about a script. He was, Joe
thought, the Mr. Lake who had telephoned earlier.

And then the door of 921 flew open and Vic Wylie arrived. “Did Munn
call, Miss Robb?” He charged for the inner office, swinging the
inevitable brief-case, and saw Joe. “With you in a minute.” He saw the
other man. “A good script, Curt, but I can’t find a spot for it. Take it
to New York and show it to Kate Smith’s agency. Now and then her show
emotes.”

“What would it pay?” Curt Lake asked.

“Fifteen minutes on a Kate Smith? About two hundred and fifty dollars.”
The door of the inner office closed upon Wylie and the script writer.

An intangible flavor of show business lingered in the outer office, and
words echoed in Joe’s mind. Script—two hundred and fifty dollars—Kate
Smith—emote. Emote meant, of course, that the Kate Smith show
occasionally used a highly emotional sketch. There had never been talk
like this in Amby’s office. Joe thought with a thrill: “This _is_
radio.” What did Wylie want with him? The inner door opened, and his
heart began to throb.

“No more scripts,” Wylie told Curt Lake with decision. “If Munson can’t
make up his mind about the show after reading ten, he’ll still be yes
and no if he reads fifty. If he yells for more, we’ll shoot him a
synopsis.”

Lake was gone, and Wylie was at the desk of Miss Robb. His finger
snapped.

“Telegram. Thompson, Chicago. _The Wings in the Sky_ platter goes
air-mail. See that it makes the three o’clock plane.”

“The three o’clock plane,” the stenographer repeated.

Wylie stood lost in frowning thought. Abruptly he motioned to Joe and
was on his way back to the inner office.

Six words went around and around in Joe’s head: “The best producer in
the city.” His heart was a hammer. Following Wylie, he found himself in
the strangest room he had ever seen, a room that spoke of a
preoccupation which brushed aside as trivial matters that would have
been important to other men. A wide flat desk, that must at one time
have been beautiful, was charred with hundreds of black scars as though
an absorbed man had carelessly laid down lighted cigarettes and then
forgotten them. There was a disordered stack of papers, probably
scripts. There was a lustrous radio as badly cigarette-burned as the
desk. There were dozens of photographs on the walls—autographed
photographs of men and women who were important in radio, in Hollywood,
and on the stage. The cushions of chairs and of a settee, badly scuffed
and lumped out of shape, suggested long hours of feverish argument when
comfort was ignored. But strangest of all was the absence of what had
been the highlight of Amby’s office, a dead, unwired, rehearsal
microphone.

Or was it, Joe wondered, so very strange?

Wylie, from a swivel chair behind the desk, shot out a command. “Give me
your background.”

“Eighteen,” said Joe. “High-school graduate. Four years in high-school
plays. Made the cast my first year.”

“So you’ve decided you’re an actor?”

“I don’t know. I hope I am.”

“Anybody in show business give you any encouragement?”

“Ambrose Carver. He’d heard about me and came to Northend High for the
June play. He told FKIP to call me in for an immediate audition.”

“Who gave you that story? Carver? Is he your agent?”

“Yes.”

“Written contract or verbal agreement?”

“My father signed a contract.”

“All nicely poisoned with legality.” Wylie’s voice was acid. He swung
around in the chair and sat with his back to the room, nervously tense.
Abruptly he swung back as though jerked by invisible wires. “I’m giving
you a chance at something that may never happen. Munson’s store wants a
serial. That’s no secret; everybody in radio knows it.”

Wonder was sharp in Joe. Was that why Amby had known, because everybody
else had known?

The producer went on in a nervous rush of words. “The Everts-Hall Agency
has the Munson account. They haven’t been able to come up with a show
Munson’ll O.K. We’re giving it a whirl. We have our own ideas about the
kind of show Munson should have. A heroine for the lead because a
department store sells mostly to women. A widow fighting to give her son
a chance in life. _Sue Davis Against the World_. You’re Dick Davis, the
son. You’re fifteen. You want to get out of school and help.” Wylie
tossed a script across the desk. “Page four. Read me the speech
beginning ‘Mother, don’t shake your head....’” The chair swung again and
the man’s back was to the room.

Joe Carlin found the place. Joe Carlin, who was becoming a veteran, who
had had three station auditions, who had rehearsed a show and cut a
platter for FKIP began to read:

    Dick: Mother, don’t shake—

The chair spun around. “Mo—ther!” The voice that came out of the chair
had a mocking, infantile bleat. Startled, Joe stopped.

“Mo—ther!” Vic Wylie’s frantic hands were in his reddish hair. “You’re
not a five-year-old brat whining for a lollypop. You’re fifteen. You
feel you’re a man. You’re suddenly aware that the most wonderful woman
in the world is fighting a hard battle. You want to help. Put that into
your voice.”

Joe tried again.

“No, no. Not ‘Mo—ther’ with a valley between the two syllables. That’s
the way a young child pules. You’re fifteen. You feel that you ought to
be the man of the family. You’re long past the ‘Mo—ther’ stage.”

Joe put snap into it. “Mother.”

Wylie groaned. “Too abrupt; too cold. You’ve got to get that ‘Mother’
with a depth, a feeling.... Try it again.”

Joe drew a breath. “Mother.”

“Now you’re swinging back to the cute stage. Something in between the
two. Get it.”

A shaken Joe Carlin obeyed the will of an inexorable taskmaster. Sweat
beaded his upper lip; sweat ran down his cheeks. For fifteen minutes he
struggled to put into one word what a slave-driver wanted put into that
one word. Then Wylie snapped his fingers.

“Carry that last ‘Mother’ in your ear. That’s the inflection I want.
Give me the rest of it.”

Sweat dropped on page four of the script. Joe read:

    Dick: Mother, don’t shake your head at me like that. You must
    listen to me. I’m not trying to duck out of high school. I can
    get through at night. I can get college at night. Oh, I know
    fellows talk about night study and never get to it. But I know
    what you’re trying to do for me. Mother, I won’t let you down.
    But I can’t get it your way. How long would it take me to become
    a doctor? Ten years? What would I be doing for those ten years,
    living off you? Letting you hustle off every morning to a job? A
    man can’t let a woman support him like this if he’s strong
    enough to handle a job. Don’t you see, Mother?

Wylie leaped from his chair. “I’m your audience this minute and I see
nothing. No picture, no emotion. You give me nothing. Nothing but words.
You don’t act. You read. Anybody can read.”

Joe Carlin sighed.

“Can’t you feel the scene? Can’t you see it? Are you a stick?” The
producer appeared to be on the verge of horrified tears. “Take eight
words: ‘A man can’t let a woman support him—’ Delicious. Remember, this
is from a fifteen-year-old boy. Delicious comedy. But it’s comedy
touched with pathos, and the high courage of youth, and the glorious
dreams of the young. This boy must speak as a man. Doesn’t he call
himself a man? A man’s speech with the boy showing through. Act it. Live
it. The man with the boy showing through. Sir Galahad in knickers.”

Joe was desperate. “If you’ll give me time, Mr. Wylie—”

“Time,” the producer groaned. “There’s never enough time in radio.” He
went back to his chair.

Joe was picked apart. Sometimes it was a word, sometimes a phrase,
sometimes a complete sentence. Wylie became a wild-eyed, goading fiend.

Miss Robb knocked on the door. “Mr. Munn, Mr. Wylie.”

Vic Wylie looked at Joe broodingly. “You’re only a kid. I must forget
that. I must sweat you until you give me what I want. If you can’t stand
the sweating, don’t come back.”

“I’ll be back,” said Joe.

“Make it the early afternoon. I may be able to give you a half-hour; I
may not be able to give you a minute.”

“I’ll be back,” said Joe a second time. In the outer office Archie Munn,
tall and thin, chatted with the stenographer.

“Hello, Joe. Reading a part for Vic?” The actor studied the boy’s face.
“When he gets through with you, you’ll have something.”

Joe thought wearily: “I’ll have nervous prostration.” A cup of coffee at
Munson’s began to revive him. Excitement stirred. At least, when you
rehearsed with Wylie, you rehearsed. There was no hocus-pocus in a
deserted office with a dead microphone. You sweated and you panted, and
there were moments when you hated Wylie. But you were learning every
minute. And, strangely, you looked forward with a kind of eager hunger
to what would happen next.

With Amby, nothing ever happened. Joe thought: “I’ll have to tell him.”
He walked to the public telephone booth in the rear of Munson’s.

“Why didn’t you wait?” Amby chided him briskly. “I came in only a minute
or two after you left. Where’d you go?”

Joe was still learning. When you kept an appointment at Wylie’s office,
Wylie would be there. He might not be able to see you, but you knew that
in advance. You wouldn’t wait and wait in a dusty hall. He said coldly:
“I went to see Wylie.”

“That’s exactly where I was going to send you. What did he want?”

“I’m reading a part.”

“Vic didn’t tell me that. One of my best friends; I guess he wanted to
surprise me. A great pal. What show?”

“Munson’s.”

Amby became excited. “Didn’t I call the turn on that? Look, Joe, that’s
big. Munson’s tops. He buys plenty of radio time; he spends plenty of
money. You didn’t go begging Wylie for a job; he came looking for you.
He wants you on that show. That puts you in the driver’s seat. Tell him
you want ten dollars a show.”

Joe had few illusions left concerning Ambrose Carver. “Are you still my
agent? I thought agents handled salary demands.”

Amby coughed. “I’m pretty busy, Joe. As soon as I get around to it—”

“Sure,” said Joe, “you’ll tell Wylie.” He hung up.

A new day colored yesterday and softened it and made yesterday’s
sweating agony yesterday’s romance. Joe counted impatient hours until it
was time to walk into Vic Wylie’s office. Miss Robb, the stenographer,
greeted him as one had been admitted to an inner circle. Tall, thin
Archie Munn cast aside a copy of _Variety_.

“What’s Vic got you reading, Joe, the Munson show? Dick Davis? A fat
part. Lucille Borden auditioned for Sue Davis. No dice. Vic’s giving the
part to Stella Joyce. You remember her. She worked the _I Want Work_
platter.”

Joe remembered the small, bird-like woman with the fluttering, bird-like
voice. “What was the matter with Lucille?”

“Too much on the Tug-Boat Annie side. The script makes Sue Davis the
self-sacrificing mother type. The part wants sweetness and light. Stella
fits. That’s the curse of show business, Joe; you get typed, and that’s
the only way they want you.”

Joe thought: “What’s the difference so long as they want you?” The
telephone was never still for long. He tried to concentrate on
yesterday’s rehearsal, to run lines through his mind, but the closed
inner door proved a disturbing fascination. Every time that door opened,
Wylie’s quick, nervous voice reached the outer office with some talk of
radio.

“Another year of sitting hour after hour in producers’ offices,” Archie
Munn’s deep voice rumbled, “and they’ll stick pins in me to see if I’m
alive.”

Show business throbbed through the rooms like a living pulse. Somebody
came in from FKIP and passed inside. Somebody else arrived whom Joe
remembered having seen at FFOM. Two girls walked in and talked to Miss
Robb. They were singers, Joe gathered; a sister act; part of a road
company that had disbanded. Miss Robb explained that Wylie produced only
radio dramatic sketches and eased them out. Then a beefy, red-faced man
was with them. “Howdy, folks, howdy,” he called and joined Wylie in the
inner room.

Archie Munn, sitting on his spine in a chair tilted against the wall,
pulled in his long legs. “Tony Vaux, Joe. If we’re lucky, we’ll see a
lot of that boy. Head of Everts-Hall’s radio department. Munson’s
agency. If _Sue Davis Against the World_ goes on the air he’ll be
handing us our checks every week.” The actor glanced at his watch.
“Four-thirty. Three and a half hours is long enough to sit in any
producer’s chair. Be seeing you.”

Joe continued to wait. At five o’clock Miss Robb put on her hat and
opened the inner door.

“Good night, Mr. Wylie. Mr. Carlin’s still waiting.”

Wylie, disheveled and harassed, popped through the door. “Couldn’t get
to you; tied up. Eating downtown?”

Joe nodded. “I could.”

Wylie popped back and closed the door.

“That’s his way of telling you to wait,” Miss Robb smiled.

It was seven o’clock before the door opened again to let genial Tony
Vaux out. Vic Wylie cried in a temper: “When it comes to radio, I’m
boss. Tell that to Munson. I don’t handle plopperoos.” A motion of the
brief-case swept Joe toward the hall and the elevators. The two soon
found themselves at the farthest table of a restaurant off Royal Street.

Wylie’s elbows were on the table; his hands ravaged his hair. “Love,” he
groaned. “A two o’clock love serial. The air lousy with love shows in
the afternoon and Munson wants to toss in another one. A sure
plopperoo.” A waitress set down rolls and butter, and the producer
looked up. His eyes cleared. “You’ll get used to me talking to myself,”
he said to Joe and broke a roll.

Joe burned with curiosity. “Why does Munson want another show? He’s got
_Miss America and What She’ll Wear_....”

Wylie jabbed a wad of roll into his mouth. “That’s going off.”

“But all the women in our end of town—”

“We know the ratings, kid; we can tell you just how many listeners the
show grabs. But it isn’t bringing Munson business. A sponsored show is
advertising. It must produce. Not only listeners—business. If it doesn’t
bring in the boxtops, it lays an egg. That’s radio.”

Learning, Joe thought; learning every day. And then his thoughts were
back in the book department of his father’s store. Thomas Carlin
Presents.... He had based so much on the Munson show! Something in him
crystallized to conviction. Clothing was only clothing, but books were
romance and adventure. You could always sell romance and adventure.
There was only one question—how?

“Mr. Wylie, why does one show bring in the boxtops while another show
fails?”

“Kid, National or Columbia will pay a fortune to the man who can answer
that.” Wylie opened the brief-case and laid a script on the table. It
was the _Sue Davis Against the World_ script.

“You want me to read?” Joe asked, incredulous. His glance swept the
restaurant; tables, diners, waitresses. “Here?”

Wylie’s hands were brusque, impatient. “I’ve heard a trouper speak his
lines from a hospital bed. If you live that scene you won’t be Joe
Carlin reading to Vic Wylie in a restaurant. You’ll be Dick Davis
talking to his mother.”

Joe read. Wylie picked him up on the first sentence; the sweating agony
started. The supper hour passed and restaurant tables emptied, but at
the last table a man whose hair had become wild goaded and harried a boy
who tried to do miracles with his voice. The sugar bowl was upset and
blocks of sugar, unnoticed, lay strewn across the cloth. Joe, draining a
water-glass in a momentary respite, thought of something he had read in
high school: “Genius is the infinite capacity for taking pains.”
Sometimes the producer, frenzied, swooped on the accent of a word,
sometimes the cadence of a phrase. A shade of difference, a mere shade.
Often that was all Vic Wylie asked.

A porter came to the back of the restaurant with mops and pails. The
producer, hearing the clatter of chairs being lifted from the floor and
stacked on tables, shook his head as though to clear it of a mist,
stared at the spilled sugar, and was all at once quiet, inert.

“What time is it, kid?”

“Eleven-thirty.”

“A long day.” Vic Wylie put the script back in the leather case.

Royal Street had the exhausted midnight desertion of an avenue given
over during the day to brisk business and the shuffle of crowds. A
parked taxi waited hopefully at a corner. Fog was coming in on a damp
east wind.

“You’re a worker, kid,” Wylie said. “You’ve got to work in this game.
When you put on a show, the listeners hear it only once; it’s got to be
good that one time. I don’t spare myself; I don’t spare my casts. I like
an actor who’ll go along with me and take it.” He stood on Royal Street
and rubbed his chin. “What’s Carver doing for you?”

“He got me station auditions,” Joe said. It came to him with a shock of
surprise that he hadn’t thought of Amby all day. Or of the McCoy
Building.

“Nobody has to get anybody station auditions. Anything else?”

“He got me a bit part in _I Want Work_.”

“Funny! I always thought FKIP picked its own casts. What’s he getting?”

“Fifty per cent until I’m twenty-one.”

Wylie made a sound with his lips. “Think you could leave word some place
that Carver’d pick up?”

Joe nodded. “I think so.”

“When I use an actor who has an agent, I like to talk to that agent.
Tell Carver I’ll be looking for him to-morrow.”

There was an oasis of light and life outside the FKIP Building where a
loudspeaker from the hall brought the blare of a late program to the
street. The Northend bus carried a handful of sleepy passengers. Joe
thought with surprise: “I’m not tired to-night.” Radio dealt you a life
that was so full, so packed with surprise, so different. Amby Carver,
for instance. He had ideas about Amby, but he wasn’t quite sure. Archie
Munn in a tilted chair, philosophic, resigned. Did all radio performers
haunt producers’ offices and spend anxious hours in anterooms? Lucille
Borden, too hard, too tough for the lead in the Munson show. Two young
singers “at liberty,” probably almost broke in a strange city, looking
for an engagement and trying to hide their worry behind a mask of
sparkling animation. Show business! Vic Wylie going into wild, creative
trances. Vic Wylie pleading, Vic Wylie storming, Vic Wylie cutting you
into inch pieces, Vic Wylie insulting you with maddening sarcasm. You
hated him. You loathed him. You—you’d do anything for him any day in the
week, every week.

A light burned upstairs in the Carlin home. “That you, Joe?” his mother
called.

“A late rehearsal,” said Joe. “You’d never guess where. In a
restaurant.” All at once he began to laugh.

And yet, as he dropped off to sleep, his thoughts were not with a
strange rehearsal in a restaurant, but with books. Romance and
adventure! How could his father sell romance and adventure on the air?

A nervous Ambrose Carver telephoned him in the morning. “What does Vic
want, Joe?”

“He says he likes to talk to an actor’s agent.”

“Well—Did he say what time? How about three? You can go in with me and
sort of break the ice.”

“What ice? Isn’t he a great friend of yours?”

“A pal, Joe, a pal. I haven’t been seeing much of Vic lately....” There
was a moment of silence. “Make it three o’clock sharp.”

Joe Carlin walked into the office of Vic Wylie Productions at half-past
two. The door to the inner office was closed. Behind that door a voice
was lifted momentarily in audible protest. Joe swung around to Miss
Robb.

“Carver?” he demanded.

The stenographer said: “Ambrose Carver. Know him?”

“He’s my agent.”

“I can tell him you’re here.”

“I’ll wait,” said Joe.

He took the chair that had been warmed for hours yesterday by Archie
Munn. Amby had distinctly said three o’clock. Not once, twice. Why had
three o’clock been so strongly stressed the second time? To make sure
that he did not come in until three? But Amby’s original thought had
been for them to go to Wylie together. Word by word, the telephone
conversation came back to Joe. He had reminded Amby of a claimed
friendship. That, he decided, was when Amby must have shifted his plans.

Why? Joe got up from the chair and walked to a window near Miss Robb’s
desk. What was Amby anxious to hide? As he debated this question, one
fact became clear. To-day his suspicions concerning the agent would be
verified or dissipated. For, when the brisk man with the trick mustache
came out of Wylie’s office, what had been between an agent and an actor
would be cemented with a stronger bond or else it would be destroyed. He
didn’t know how or why. All he knew was that this was so.

Behind that closed door Vic Wylie was speaking words of scorn.

“Carver, you’re a chiseling crook. You never went out to Northend High
to hear Carlin in a school play. You had nothing to do with FKIP calling
him in for an audition. You’ve made a few friends around the stations;
you’ve oiled yourself in on auditions. When you find them putting some
kid down as a possibility, you get to that kid quickly. The kid’s green,
awed, gullible. You sell him a bill of goods.

“You’re a phony. You’ve hung around studios, you’ve watched producers at
work, you’ve picked up a smattering of technic. You don’t know radio and
you never will. But if you can gather in twenty credulous kids, that
will set you up, won’t it? Fifty per cent from twenty kids. They have
some talent or a station wouldn’t have listed them. In time they’ll get
a little work. Perhaps they’ll earn ten or twelve dollars a week. Half
to you. That leaves them six dollars a week. They’ll manage to live, God
knows how. But Mr. Carver, the agent, collects at least one hundred
dollars a week. Mr. Carver gets himself a nice racket; Mr. Carver lives
soft.”

Amby’s lips were dry. “You’ve got me wrong, Mr. Wylie. I’ve been working
for Joe....”

“You’ve been working for nobody but Carver. I could expose you to the
kid, but I’ll let him find you out gradually. He’s young. He’ll learn
about the rat-holes of show business soon enough. You’re taking an
agent’s ten per cent and no more. You’re not entitled to that, but the
easy way is best. I don’t want you trying to make trouble on the
contract.”

The word “contract” gave Amby a sudden boldness. “A legal contract,” he
blustered. “Nobody can get around that. Joe’s father signed.”

Wylie leaned across the desk. “You’re mailing Joe’s father a new
contract. A ten per-cent contract. You can give him any reason you
like.”

Amby sprang to his feet. “That contract’s iron-clad. Why should I take
ten? Do I look dumb?”

“I’ll let you write the answer,” Wylie said. “Radio wants the good will
of the public; it can’t let itself get hurt. I’ll go to every station in
the city and show them how they’ve opened their doors to somebody who’ll
hurt them in the end. How long do you think it will be before they bar
you? Who do you think they’ll listen to, a gyp agent or Vic Wylie?”

It didn’t take Amby long to write the answer. If the stations tossed him
out.... He had come to this meeting wearing spats and a panama and
sporting a jaunty cane. He ran the cane thoughtfully through one hand.

Wylie glowered. “Speak fast.”

“To-morrow,” Amby said reluctantly. He could find no “out”; he had to
take it. He smoothed his hair and straightened his tie. Wylie opened the
door.

Joe swung around from the window.

Amby’s cane made a flourish. “Joe, Vic and I have had a long talk about
you. No time to give it all to you now.... An agent isn’t all
pocket-book, Joe. Sometimes he sees big things shaping up and he plays
ball. He voluntarily shortens his end. This gives an actor more
incentive. You see, Joe?”

Joe was expressionless.

“I mean I’m clipping myself. I’m cutting my end from fifty to ten.”

Joe stared, steady, unblinking.

“You won’t need Joe to-day, Vic?” Amby asked, ill-at-ease.

Wylie said: “Not to-day.”

Amby’s cane made another flourish. “All right, Joe; we’ll be getting
along.”

Joe Carlin did not move from the window.

The agent went alone to the door. The situation was becoming awkward.
“Hot, isn’t it?” he asked in the lame way a flustered man speaks who
feels he has to say something.

Nobody answered.

Amby cleared his throat. “I’ll take care of that, Vic.” He was making
conversation. “First thing in the morning. Nice lay-out you have here. I
may move into this building when my lease runs out....” He gave it up.
“Coming, Joe?”

“Not now,” said Joe.

The jaunty cane faltered on a flourish. Ambrose Carver opened the door
and stepped out into the hall.



                               CHAPTER 5


Radio lay in its cocoon of summer coma. Most of the chain serials and
most of the local dramatic programs were off the air until September,
and no new shows, chain or local, stepped into the vacated spots. The
blight hit actors, singers, and musicians. It also hit auditions: FKIP,
FFOM and FWWO would not hear eager, aspiring talent again until the
fall. Heat baked the city, and a torpid world of radio counted the weeks
until September.

For Joe Carlin, life had changed: the dusty McCoy Building and the
stage-effect microphone in Ambrose Carver’s office became something that
had happened in the past. His days were now spent in Vic Wylie’s office.
If Wylie, in the agony of putting together six shows for the fall, could
give him only half an hour, that half-hour became something to look back
upon. If the disheveled, wild-haired producer could give him no time at
all, there was always the possibility of a half-hour to-morrow. And even
if he caught only fleeting glimpses of Wylie for two or three days at a
stretch, every moment of those days he was living and breathing the
atmosphere of real, exciting show business.

Radio people were at liberty, and “at liberty” meant, bluntly, out of
work. Suddenly Vic Wylie’s office became a gathering place for idle
actors and actresses, a sort of unofficial club. Some passed into the
inner office to audition for parts in the six shows coming up; others,
slanting constant glances toward the closed door, lounged in the outer
office and chatted with a gay light-heartedness that seemed to Joe to
fill the place with magic. The entrancing gossip of show business was
all about him.

“I understand FKIP’s auditioned the _I Want Work_ platter a dozen times
and can’t hook a sponsor.”

“I don’t put much faith in novelty shows. They’re too big a gamble.”

“What isn’t a gamble in radio?”

“Who ever dreamed the quiz shows would get four stars?”

“Anybody hear that He, Inc., may put on a show?” He, Inc., were
outfitters for men and boys.

“I heard that, too. Yesterday, at FFOM.”

There was quick interest in the room.

“Who’s got it?”

“Probably the Everts-Hall Agency. They’ve always had the He account.”

A woman powdered her nose. “That means Tony Vaux will be the producer.
Good old Tony! He used me twice last season. I might drop in on Tony and
give him my best smile.”

A man said: “No chance, child. This show will go stag.” “Stag” meant an
all-male cast.

Joe drank it in. He came to know them all—the fortunate few who passed
into the inner office and the idle group that was very often
thoughtlessly in Miss Robb’s way. They gave Joe a rich sense of warmth
and comradeship. Spontaneously he was Joe and the others became Barbara,
or Jane, or Bill, or Jim. The free-and-easy familiarity filled him with
a glow. Once, hearing these persons on the air, he had looked upon them
in envy as beings miraculously set apart, and now he was one of them,
accepted. Archie Munn had pointed out Tony Vaux and he had been awed;
but now, when the red-faced agency producer breezed toward the inner
office with a boisterous “Howdy, folks?” his voice lifted freely with
the others. “Hi, Tony.” He was in show business. He belonged.

But easy familiarity faltered at two places. Something about the
brooding Vic Wylie.... Everybody else said “Vic,” but the “Vic” stuck in
Joe’s throat. And there was a gentle old trouper the group hailed as
Pop. The Pop also stuck. To Joe, these men were Mr. Wylie and Mr.
Bartell.

Pop Bartell came in every morning, always wearing the same blue suit
with the white pin stripe, always with his linen immaculate. Often he
would walk into the office so quietly that Miss Robb would not know he
was there until he spoke. From the rear his slim, straight back gave him
an appearance of youth. But his voice, the way it broke on a word,
stamped him. Pop was old.

“Good morning, Miss Robb.” His greeting, courtly and deferential, never
varied. “Is there a letter this morning? A telephone message? I’m
expecting a call—there’s a fat part coming up. No? Thank you. To-morrow,
perhaps,” Miss Robb would agree.

If the old man was ever disappointed, he gave no sign. Bright-eyed, he
would give the room a gallant greeting.

The day came when anger mounted in Joe. The morning loungers had trouped
out and taken away their gay, bright gossip; he and Archie, Lucille and
Stella Joyce remained, as they remained each day, for the moment when
driving, demanding Vic Wylie might need them. At one o’clock they went
out to eat at a thirty-five-cent restaurant.

Pop Bartell was on Joe’s mind. “If somebody’s promised to write or
telephone, why don’t they do it?”

Pity lay in Lucille Borden’s eyes. “Don’t you understand?”

“What’s there to understand? Somebody’s promised him a part. Why do they
keep him hanging on a hook? It’s cruel.”

“Pop doesn’t expect a call,” Lucille said. “Walking into a producer’s
office and asking about a call gives Pop a chance to keep up a front. He
can pretend he’s not a washed-up has-been.”

Joe was shocked. “You mean—”

Archie Munn tapped a fork against the table. “It’s tough, Joe, but it’s
show business. Pop’s an old timer. He’s been through it all—medicine
shows, street carnivals, burlesque, road companies. After forty years of
it, one-night stands took it out of him. He turned to radio; after all,
show business is all he knows. Vic’s been able to throw him a few bits.”

Joe was still shocked. “You mean he doesn’t get much work?”

“You’ve heard his voice. How many radio shows have old-man parts?”

Compassion tied a knot in Joe’s throat. To come to this after forty
years must be bitterly hard. But were they sure about the forty years?
It didn’t seem possible. There wasn’t a gray hair on Pop’s head.

Stella Joyce seemed to read his thoughts. “You’ve heard of hair dye,
Joe? If Pop were in a bread line, his shoulders would be back. It’s all
front.”

“Everything’s front in show business,” Archie Munn said roughly.

Lucille Borden’s voice was quiet. “A brush can keep one suit going a
long time. An actor with one shirt washes it every night and hangs it to
dry while he sleeps.”

So that was how it was! Joe, his throat still tight, ate food that was
tasteless. They went back to the office.

Vic Wylie, impatient, awaited them. “Stella! You, kid! We have about an
hour.” Hours were measured in this office in precious minutes. The door
to the inner office closed.

“Something new, Vic?” Stella Joyce asked.

“The same _Davis_ show.” Wylie mauled among the papers on his desk.
“Tony thinks Munson may be ripe for an audition. This is one of the
scripts we’ll give him.”

Joe tried to rise to the occasion, to feel the old thrill of rehearsing
for Vic Wylie. But to-day the typed words were meaningless. He thought:
“This is about the fifteenth time we’ve run through this script. Last
time Mr. Wylie rubbed his hands and said he was satisfied.” He should
have known better. Wylie was never satisfied. And gentle Pop Bartell
would come in to-morrow....

Stella was reading. Joe thought in desperation: “I’ve got to forget
Pop.” He’d have to pick up the story in a moment. Wylie’s outstretched
finger wavered, waited for Stella’s last word, and then swung toward
him.

Joe, as Dick Davis, began to give the identical passage he had read for
the producer his first day in this office:

    Dick: Mother, don’t shake your head at me like that. You must
    listen to me. I’m not trying to duck out of high school. I can
    get through at night. I can get college at night. Oh, I know
    fellows talk about night study and never get to it. But—

“Stop!” Wylie’s flat palms pounded the desk. “I’m only human. I can
stand only so much.”

Stella gave attention to a button on her blouse.

“I’ve coached you, kid. I sweated blood over you. Last week I said to
myself: ‘The kid improves with every performance.’ And what do you do?
What do you give me to-day? To-day you give me a performance that
reeks.”

The room on the ninth floor was so quiet they could all hear the purr of
automobile traffic from the street.

Abruptly Wylie turned around and pointed a clawing finger at Stella.

The girl, giving no sign that she had witnessed a typical Wylie
rehearsal storm, began again at the beginning. Joe tried to whip himself
to pitch. His moment came:

    Dick: Mother, don’t shake your head at me like that. You must
    listen—

Wylie’s face stopped him.

“Are you alive?” the producer whispered hoarsely. “Let me feel your arm.
You are alive? Then why don’t you pour life into it? You’re not talking
to a broom. This is a scene between two human beings, mother and son.
You’re not Charlie McCarthy; you’re Dick Davis.”

Joe knew he was wooden. He tried to take the knot out of his throat,
tried and tried.... They ran through the scene, again and again. Sweat
wilted the boy’s collar and he pulled off his tie. He no longer knew
whether he was good or bad.

And then suddenly Wylie was smiling, Wylie was chuckling, Wylie was
beaming. “Kid, that was the knockout. Now you’re giving it to me. I knew
we’d pull the cork. Carry it on.”

Stella Joyce, as unruffled as though she had just begun to read, carried
on the script.

“Pretty.” The wild Mr. Wylie was actually jovial. “But—not quite. A
little more hokum. Just a little, Stella.”

Stella gave the script a shade more heart throb. Wylie closed his eyes
and became beatific. Joe waited for his cue. He began to read:

    Dick: We’re in this fight together, Mother. We’re partners. At
    least we’re supposed to be. But we can’t be partners when you
    carry all the load and I just ride along. I—

“Please!” Wylie wailed. “Don’t you get this scene at all? Your mother’s
fighting the world to keep her little home together and you want to
help. Do you have to read it as though you’re arguing to put one more
pickle in the picnic lunch?” A beaming face was transformed to fury. “Do
you have to insult me with such a performance?”

Joe laid down the script “I can’t read to-day, Mr. Wylie.”

“What?” Wylie seemed to freeze with horror.

“I’m not in the humor.”

Wylie’s moan was that of a man whose soul was in agony. “He’s not in the
humor! An actor, and he must be in the humor. Do you think an actor is
somebody who can read his lines only when the wind’s in the east?
Suppose Munson were listening and this was an audition? Suppose this
script were on the air? Suppose—”

“Vic,” said Stella.

Wylie glared. “Would you like to produce this show?”

“He heard something to-day that hit him hard.”

“We all hear things that hit us hard.”

Stella said: “He got the truth about Pop Bartell.”

“I see,” Vic Wylie said slowly. Madness went out of him. He picked up
Joe’s discarded script, folded it once, and ran a fingernail along the
crease. When he spoke his voice was quiet. “That’s all.”

Joe was bleak. Show business had a code, a stern, rigid code. “The show
must go on.” Generations of actors had lived that code, but he had
failed. Stella was walking toward the outer office. Wylie’s voice halted
him.

“Come back, kid.”

Joe went back.

Vic Wylie’s deep-set eyes brooded. “Kid, you have imagination. You feel
deeply. That’s a blessing and a curse. You’re the kind’ll run into
things in show business that’ll make you feel sick inside. It isn’t all
music and lights and twinkling toes. That’s the mask. Every so often the
mask slips, and you see behind it, and that’s when you’ll get sick
inside. The old Pop Bartells make you want to cry. How about the young
Pop Bartells? You had a bit in the _I Want Work_ platter. That was about
the best cast you could assemble in this city. The best, kid. There
isn’t one of them averages more than twenty-two dollars a week for the
year. Some earn less than that. If they have a family, then there’s
somebody to take care of them when they get sick. If they’re holed up in
some shabby furnished room, they end up in the charity ward of a
hospital.”

Joe thought of the gay, light-hearted gathering in the producer’s outer
office. His lips were stiff. “But they’re so—so—”

“Sure. The grandest people in the world. Many of them are artists, real
artists. That’s what makes it all the tougher.” The hand of this new Vic
Wylie was on Joe’s shoulder. “Don’t let it tear you apart, kid. You
can’t change it. It’s show business.”

[Illustration: Vic Wylie said, “Don’t let it tear you apart, kid. You
can’t change it. It’s show business.”]

But show business had changed for Joe Carlin. Pop Bartell’s appearance
at Miss Robb’s desk to ask for mail or telephone calls became poignant
with pathos. And the loungers were no longer a happy-go-lucky group of
care-free Bohemians, snapping their fingers at to-morrow and laughing at
to-day. Knowledge had come to the boy, and with knowledge had come,
also, a stark understanding. The bright chatter was all at once a little
too bright and brittle, and the gaiety was tarnished. Listening and
watching, he caught the hidden nervous tension, the moments when smiles
faltered, the meaning of those swift glances to the closed door behind
which Vic Wylie had shows in the making and parts to be given out. He
knew now how unsure were all their to-morrows, how precarious, how
uncertain. All the light-hearted magic of their easy fellowship was gone
and they were stripped of their masks, of what Archie Munn called “a
front.” They were ordinary human beings, men and women beset by the
everyday worries of getting a job and never knowing how long the job
would last.

Joe thought, with the knot back in his throat, “Oh, but they’re brave!”
That was what hit him hardest—their unquenchable optimism, their
unbreakable hope. To-morrow they might crash the big time. It was always
to-morrow. Hadn’t it taken Frank Bacon thirty years to reach Broadway
with _Lightnin’_? Pop Bartell had been the first to tell him about Frank
Bacon; remembering the day, he could also remember the wistfulness, the
yearning in Pop’s eyes. Brave, gallant people who, forever living in
uncertainty and doubt, could nevertheless put on a mask each day and
live out each day with a smile.

Panic touched Joe Carlin. He didn’t want to live like that. The gallant
heart of show people, yes; but not the constant uncertainty. He wanted
the feeling of security, if there was such a miracle as security in
radio. He couldn’t go on forever talking of a mythical to-morrow and
never having an actual to-day. He couldn’t go on loafing in an outer
office and having his father leave money each week on his bedroom
dresser. He couldn’t let somebody else support him.

Then what was he doing all day, every day, at Vic Wylie’s? There were a
few other independent producers, there were radio stations, there were
advertising agencies with accounts that bought shows and radio time.
Wasn’t it common sense to make the rounds? Why didn’t all those gay,
idle show people make the rounds? He asked Archie Munn.

“You don’t make a dash for the 5:30 train at 4:30,” Archie told him.
“Radio’s dead until the end of August. If something breaks suddenly, the
producers know where to find the people they want.”

“How many producers know me?” Joe asked, anxious.

Archie Munn said: “Vic takes care of his people. Leave it to Vic.”

Joe was lulled, but after that the shadow of uncertainty was never very
far away. A milk company signed one of the six shows, and the inner
office knew the fever of refining one production. Joe fretted idly in
the outer room, went out to the thirty-five-cent restaurant with Arch,
Lucille, and Stella, and fretted away the hours of the afternoon. Wylie
now had time for only the one signed show.

Stella Joyce’s fingers, lately, always had to be nervously busy with
something. “I thought Tony said he had Munson about ready for a _Sue
Davis_ audition.”

Joe caught the thin thread of strain in her voice.

Lucille Borden stood up suddenly. “You had a ten-trip ticket to New
York, Archie. Any of it left?”

“Three rides.”

“I had a letter this morning. N.B.C. wants me in for an audition
to-morrow.”

Archie Munn took the ticket from his pocket. “Lucky gal,” he said.

Lucille said: “Perhaps.” Joe weighed a tone, an almost imperceptible
breathlessness.

Next day Lucille Borden was gone. Why, Joe asked himself, three rides
left on a ticket? Why a ten-trip ticket? Had Archie Munn tried to crash
the big time in New York and flopped? The same crowd, the same merry
voices filled the outer office; the same veiled, hungry eyes watched Vic
Wylie’s door. Noon came, and then one o’clock. And then it was 1:15.

“Aren’t we eating to-day?” Joe asked.

“I’m not particularly hungry,” Stella Joyce said slowly.

Archie Munn’s deep voice was casual. “Suppose we have a bite in here?
Crackers, cheese and a container of coffee. Fifteen cents apiece ought
to do it.”

Joe made the purchases. Archie took cups from one of Wylie’s filing
cabinets and they spread the food on the sill of an office window.

“Mmmm!” Stella said appreciatively. “Good.”

And she had said she wasn’t hungry! The truth dawned on Joe. A
thirty-five-cent lunch yesterday; a fifteen-cent lunch to-day; perhaps a
ten-cent lunch next week. And Lucille borrowing a railroad ticket
because she couldn’t afford to pay train fare. Show business!

Panic had him again. Vic Wylie had said: “The best cast in the city.”
What would they do if their money ran out? Where would he be but for
help from his father? He thought of Pop Bartell.

The urge to do something, anything, became imperative. Anything that
wouldn’t let the hours pass as they were passing. Agencies, radio
stations, producers—but where should he start? What would he say? And,
if this was not the accepted time to look for parts, what sort of figure
would he cut? Unable to make up his mind, he sat through the afternoon
in the outer office.

Next day Lucille was back. How had it gone? She shrugged. New York put
on a lot of dog. Uniformed attendants, a fortune spent on lavish
furnishings, studios that were the last word in luxury. But the net
result had been the same: “Thank you, Miss Borden.” New York might have
been FKIP.

Then, all at once, Stella Joyce was gone.

“Summer stock,” said Archie Munn. “The Pasture Players. Forty miles up
in the mountains; a vacation colony. A theater that was once a barn.”

Days of stress followed with Vic Wylie looking hollow-eyed and wilder.
Three more of the Wylie shows were auditioned, but sponsors were coy.
Suppose the _Sue Davis_ show failed to book Munson? The thought stayed
with Joe. And yet, bringing in a one o’clock lunch of coffee and
sandwiches—a single sandwich for each—he put on a front.

“The Ritz,” he announced, “à-la-Wylie.”

Lucille, sipping coffee, said: “Sonny’s coming back.”

Joe was staggered. Sonny Baker? Why, Sonny had had the lead in _City
Boy_ last season over at FKIP. Sonny had gone into summer stock on the
coast with a company near Hollywood. The _Journal_ had had an item on
the radio page....

“What about the story that the movies were keeping an eye on Sonny?” Joe
asked.

“If they were,” Lucille said coolly, “they saw all they wanted to see.
Sonny’s been getting urgent letters. Those letters are bringing him
back.”

Joe, pouring second cups of coffee, suddenly put the container down.
“Who’s been writing those letters?”

Archie Munn gave him a glance. “The boy’s fast on the catch.”

“Amby Carver?”

Nobody answered.

There was a cold feeling in Joe’s insides that hot coffee couldn’t warm.
He had met Ambrose Carver twice since coming over to Vic Wylie, and the
agent had been effusive. But Joe knew now that the little, dapper man
with the trick mustache had not forgiven him. Six weeks ago Amby had
told him in effect that last season Sonny had been the only adequate
juvenile—the programs had had to use him. “Next season,” Amby had
boasted, “when Sonny auditions for a part, he’ll find Joe Carlin
auditioning for the same part.” The stage was the same, but Amby had
shifted the scenery. Joe Carlin, auditioning a part, would find Sonny
Baker competing, reading the same part.

Lucille held out her cup. “I always figured Amby as a sort of tramp.”

That, Joe told himself, didn’t change matters. When a juvenile part came
up, it could be played by only one actor. The agent had, undoubtedly,
made some arrangement with Sonny. Certainly not a fifty-fifty
arrangement. Sonny would be too wise; Sonny had been around. But
whatever the arrangement might be, Amby had brought more trouble into an
uncertain profession already loaded with plenty of trouble.

Wylie popped out of the inner office as though he were on wires. “Kid!
Tony Vaux’ll be here at three o’clock. Come in with him.”

What did this mean—the _Sue Davis_ show at last? Tony Vaux was the
Everts-Hall Agency, and the agency had the Munson account.... The hope
in Joe died—the quick hope that the show might be sold before Sonny’s
return. They couldn’t audition without Stella Joyce, and to-day Stella
was probably playing a matinée forty miles away.

Tony Vaux arrived boisterously. “Howdy, folks; howdy.” Joe went in with
him. Wylie had a script ready.

“That one passage, kid.”

It was the _Sue Davis_ show. It was the speech over which Wylie had made
him slave and toil. He disciplined his mind and forced himself to forget
Sonny Baker and Amby. The show must go on! To-day it seemed that all the
coaching the fiery, temperamental Vic Wylie had pounded into him flowed
out in fulfilment. He felt a sense of mastery as he read the familiar
lines:

    Dick: Mother, don’t shake your head at me like that. You must
    listen to me. I’m not trying to duck out of high school. I can
    get through at night. I can—

To-day he was Dick Davis. He finished the speech and looked at Wylie.

Wylie, dark circles under his eyes, spoke a single word to Tony Vaux.
“Voice.”

Tony spoke another word. “Character.” He reached for the telephone.
“Will you get me my office, Miss Robb?” The call came through. Tony said
to somebody: “What are my appointments for to-morrow?” The telephone
gave out metallic sounds; the man put it down. “Think you could find
your way over to the agency at noon to-morrow?”

Joe knew the question must be for him. He still looked at Wylie.

“Tony wants you to read a part,” Vic said.

Another show? Joe Carlin’s world became a world of exultation. That gave
him a chance at two parts. Later he remembered that neither Wylie nor
Tony Vaux had said anything about his reading, about the quality he had
given the lines. They had spoken only about his voice. It didn’t seem
important at the moment.

With a noon appointment at the Everts-Hall Agency, there was nothing to
take him to Wylie’s office next morning. And yet the never-failing
excitement of a roomful of actors and actresses, the vitality of their
crisp conversation, was a potent lure. He arrived early to find Stella
Joyce at a window looking down at the street.

“Anything wrong?” Joe asked. The girl had expected to stay in summer
stock until Labor Day.

Stella made one of her quick, bird-like gestures. “Nothing that hasn’t
happened before. Rain; poor business. If I want to eat beans out of a
can there are lots of beans down here; I don’t have to play in cowbarn
drama.”

Joe didn’t understand.

Stella said: “The ghost had bunions.” She gave a wry smile that trembled
at the corners.

Joe understood that. In show business the ghost walks or the ghost
doesn’t walk. A walking ghost is a paying ghost. When the ghost doesn’t
walk, there’s no money.

“The cast hasn’t been paid in three weeks,” Stella added without rancor.

Joe was learning—the mask, the off-hand casualness, the front. “Well,”
he said, “that’s show business.” His mouth held a bitter taste.

Noon found him at the agency. The Everts-Hall people had an entire floor
in a downtown building. The reception-room was a wide, fan-shaped space
of floor facing the elevators. The reception clerk telephoned inside.
“Mr. Carlin to see Mr. Vaux.” A boy led him to Tony’s room.

The room was vast. There were eight windows, an immense rug, stacks of
scripts, shelves of books, some of which might later be dramatized for
radio, and a great table of magazines. And there was red-faced Tony Vaux
in a vivid pepper-and-salt suit.

“Howdy, Joe. Right on the minute; never keep a curtain waiting.” The
inevitable script appeared. “This is a show for the He crowd. A Curt
Lake script.”

Joe experienced a sense of confidence, as though he had walked into a
room with uncertainty and had found it peopled with friends. _Sue Davis_
was also a Curt Lake script.

“The He crowd want a show that’ll have a man-and-boy pull. There it is.
_Bush League Larry_. A baseball script with two principal characters.
Larry Logan, coming off a farm to pitch for a team in an alfalfa county
league and old Ike Totten, who lives alone and has one interest in
life—baseball. The He crowd may go on the air early in September with a
three-a-week. Capitalize right at the start on the growing interest of a
coming World Series. In the script we have Larry catch the eye of a
scout and be signed for a spring try-out. We’ll run Larry and Ike
through the winter on a string of adventure. Larry loses a finger in a
hunting accident. Will he be able to pitch with three fingers? There’s
your suspense. The script opens with Larry’s arrival at the alfalfa
town. I’ll be Ike.”

A man came in with some advertising lay-outs and talked to Tony. Joe had
a chance to scan the script:

    Sound—Train Coming on to Mike and Stopping at Station

    Conductor (above escaping steam): Ticeville. Here’s where you
    get off, young fellow. All a-a-aboard.

    Sound—Train Panting Leaves Station. Fades

    Ike: Looking for somebody, stranger?

    Larry: I’m looking for Bud Wilson.

    Ike: If you’re a salesman trying to sell Bud some baseball
    goods, you’re wasting your time. Bud’s Ticeville team ain’t been
    going so good. When a team in these parts don’t win, folks stay
    away.

    Larry: I’m to meet Bud Wilson at the ball park. Is it far?

    Ike (eagerly): You a ball player?

    Larry: I hope so.

    Ike (in rising excitement): A pitcher? Tell me quick. You got a
    fast ball?

    Larry: Back home they call it the ‘There it ain’t’ ball.

    Ike: Son, if you’ve got a smoke ball and you don’t need a
    surveying party to show you where the plate is—

The man with the advertising lay-outs left.

“All right, Joe.” Tony Vaux chuckled jovially. “Let’s you and me play
some baseball.” He mumbled Ike Totten’s opening lines, feeding them
merely as careless cues.

Joe picked up the part. Wylie, hearing him read the first time, had
ripped his first sentence apart with a fiery tongue. Tony, offering no
criticism, kept mumbling dialogue. The audition went on to the script’s
end, one person doing no more than making sounds, the other trying to
breathe character and atmosphere and feeling into words.

“You almost make me feel you’re a green rookie,” Tony chuckled. “But not
a scared rookie. Get the point, Joe? You’ve never been off the farm.
You’re a big, husky, corn-fed kid; you’re scared and you’re homesick.
You’re not going to let anybody see you’re scared. You play tough. Not
too tough. Some of the scare peeping through the toughness. Let’s try it
that way.”

They went through the script again.

“Better, Joe. You pick up fast. Now, a little more uncertainty in the
toughness. Remember your first audition? FKIP, wasn’t it? I’ll lay a bet
you were a lost pup. Well, Joe, this time it’s baseball, not radio. Once
more.”

They read the script five times. Tony was always a bland, kindly mentor
sugaring his criticism with a chuckle. There was no hair-tearing, no
stricken horror, no mortal agony. The telephone tinkled. Tony said: “Ask
him to wait,” and mumbled Ike Totten’s lines for the sixth time. Joe
began to vision two systems. Tony Vaux got results, too. But no Tony
Vaux show, he suspected, would have the passionate perfection of minor
details, the small refinements of a Vic Wylie show.

“That’s reading,” Tony pronounced mellowly. “You get it over.” He shook
hands.

Joe thought with a quick, tingling lift of the heart: “This part’s
mine.” It would be the beginning. He’d be on the air. He reached the
fan-shaped reception-room; and there, all in a moment, the tingling
uplift oozed out of him.

Ambrose Carver stood with his back to the room, intently studying a
painting on the wall.

So Amby was the person Tony had asked to wait! Then the agent knew about
the He show and was going to bat for Sonny Baker. Sonny would come
speeding east. Perhaps Sonny would fly east and be in town to-morrow.
Perhaps Amby would have him in Tony’s office reading the Larry Logan
part to-morrow afternoon.

Joe had only one thought—to get out of there before the agent faced
about. He didn’t want to look at a little trick mustache; he didn’t want
to listen to what the brisk Amby might have to say. He pressed a down
button and a door slid open. As he stepped into the car a startled voice
called his name. The door closed and the elevator plunged toward the
main floor.

A clock in the lobby gave the time as one-thirty. Archie Munn would have
gone out for coffee and sandwiches; a Ritz à-la-Wylie lunch would be
over. He debated about food without interest and ended by going to the
thirty-five-cent restaurant. He ordered, but he scarcely touched what
the waitress brought. He was afraid. Sonny could bring to a part two or
three years of experience. Summer stock and radio experience. And all he
had behind him was two auditions and a bit part in an FKIP platter.

At three o’clock he returned to Vic Wylie’s office.

“Joe!” Miss Robb cried. “Where have you been? I’ve telephoned every
place. They’re auditioning the _Sue Davis_ show.”

Joe was instantly breathless. “Where?”

“FKIP. Studio D. Mr. Wylie’s frantic.”

“What time?”

“Four o’clock.”

Joe bolted.

He had plenty of time—a whole hour. And yet he went along narrow,
crowded Royal Street as though a gale were at his back. Sonny might
audition for Tony Vaux to-morrow, but to-day the field was clear.
Loudspeakers blared in the FKIP building. He rode to the fourth-floor
reception-room of blue leather. Stella Joyce and three others of the
_Sue Davis_ cast were grouped at the window-seats. With them were Archie
Munn and Lucille Borden.

“There’s Joe,” Stella called, as though she had been watching the
elevators.

Archie Munn hastened toward the glass-walled studios to the right.

A loudspeaker in the reception-room hammered out FKIP’S program,
baseball play by play.

Archie Munn was back. “That’s one worry off Vic’s mind. You had him four
miles in the air, Joe. He was flying kites.”

The elevator brought up Tony Vaux and a party of men and women. Tony led
them toward the studios.

Joe could feel himself tightening. The clamor of the loudspeaker got on
his nerves. Who cared about baseball to-day? How would the audition go?
Couldn’t they shut that speaker off?

Wylie, rumpled and wild, burst into the reception-room, stopped
abruptly, stared with unseeing eyes at his cast, swung about and went
back toward the studios. Almost instantly he was again in the
reception-room, this time lugging the brief-case. An elevator carried
him down; five minutes later another elevator brought him back. He was
talking to himself as he made for the studios.

Joe’s right knee began to tremble. He shifted his weight to the other
leg, but the tremor grew worse. His hands were clammy. Was he going to
get mike fright? He had to keep up a front. Maybe he ought to talk.
Talking might help. He said: “Does it always affect Mr. Wylie that way?”

“Sponsor audition?” Archie Munn’s voice was bitter. “You don’t know the
strain, Joe. The uncertainty. Munson won’t come in with a few of his
store executives and the Everts-Hall people. He’ll bring in his uncles,
and his cousins, and his aunts. He’s likely to drag in a couple of his
office stenographers and a taxi driver. What do they know about whether
a show’s good or bad? Somebody says: ‘I just don’t like it,’ and Munson
gets cold feet. Isn’t this show for the public, and isn’t this somebody
who doesn’t like it one of the public? Perhaps the show really isn’t
good. You can’t blame a sponsor for being careful. A coast-to-coast
hookup may cost $250,000. Even a single-station, local show is
expensive. The sponsor has to pay for script, production, cast, radio
time, perhaps music. It runs into money. But if a sponsor wants advice,
why doesn’t he rely upon people who know? You see what Vic’s up against?
He spends weeks and weeks whipping a show into shape, and then any
little nit-wit can throw in a monkey wrench. Or the sponsor may throw
the wrench.”

Joe was sorry Archie had told him. His left knee began to tremble.

“Radio has a name for it,” Stella said. “Sponsor trouble.”

Jovial Tony Vaux appeared suddenly. “All right, folks; we’re ready for
you.”

The cast filed into the glass-walled corridor between the glass-walled
studios. Blue lettering outside Studio D announced the rehearsal. The
tremble in Joe’s nerves became a hard, uncontrollable jerking. The
microphone was an unreal upright looming through an unreal light across
miles of unreal studio floor. The control-room was crowded. He saw
Munson, Wylie, Tony Vaux, Curt Lake, the script-writer, a woman.... The
studio itself sheltered another audience. Perhaps the uncles and aunts,
the cousins, the stenographers, and the taxi driver. They sat in a long
row along one wall. They looked, to Joe, like a row of stuffed, sardonic
owls—blank, expressionless, motionless, lifeless, staring. Couldn’t one
of them so much as cough?

Somebody passed out script. Stella’s hand was on his arm.

“Nervous?” the girl whispered.

The front failed. Joe was pinched and wan.

But Stella’s hand was warm, human. “Forget them, Joe. When you’re on the
air you’re talking to thousands. They’re only a handful of stooges.”

She heartened him; he hoped she’d keep her hand on his arm. Wylie was
speaking from the control-room over the two-way mike. They’d give the
first three scripts; then they’d give the tenth script to show the
program after it had run for a while.

The cast was clustered at the mike. They watched the control-room.
Wylie’s hand was in the air. It descended in an arc, and a finger
pointed at Stella.

The girl began to read. The finger hovered and pointed at Joe. The
finger went back to Stella again. So Vic Wylie timed and paced his
shows.

Stella’s hand was gone, but her encouraging smile flashed to Joe with
every cue. His tongue loosened, and the cords of his throat were free.
All at once he was rid of the ghosts of sponsor trouble and the chill of
the silent listeners in the chairs. They no longer existed. Nothing
existed but the script.

And then there was no longer a script. The script was life—the life of
Dick Davis and his mother. This, then, was what Wylie’s plea to “live
it” meant. The cast fused, blended, and became like a mighty, moving
chord from an organ. Time ceased to be studio time; time was time in the
life of the Davis family. They were playing the tenth script. Joe poured
words that should have been old by now, but which to-day were new, into
the microphone:

    Dick: Mother, don’t shake your head at me like that. You must
    listen—

Stella Joyce spoke the curtain line of the script. There was a brooding
hush, as though the world was held in a spell.

Wylie’s voice, hoarse with feeling, broke the stillness. “Thank you.
That’s from my heart.”

The studio echoed with the confusion of an audience breaking up. Chairs
scraped, people gathered in groups, voices made a blurred buzz of sound.

Stella said: “The woman with Munson is his wife.”

Wylie appeared to be in violent argument with somebody in the
control-room. But then, Joe thought, Wylie was always having a violent
moment about something.

He left with Stella. When would they know? Mingling with the listeners,
they passed along the glass-walled corridor. Men and women stared at
them curiously.

The ball game was still on. They got a part of the ninth inning in the
elevator. Out in Royal Street they heard the last play of the game.

“Well?” Joe demanded.

Stella’s head made a quick, bird-like movement. “We gave them a show.”

They waited. Vic Wylie might come out in a few minutes and tell them
something. But when the producer appeared, he was with Munson, Mrs.
Munson, and Tony Vaux. All four entered a taxi. Wylie appeared to be
still engrossed in argument.

“There it goes,” said Stella. “Yes or no. We have a job or we haven’t.”

Archie Munn and Lucille Borden came out of the FKIP building. Archie,
seeing them, made a writing motion in the air with his right hand.

“Munson’s signing the show,” Stella cried.

“I caught Vic for a moment,” Archie reported. “He said the audition was
a honey. Munson fell hard.”

“You’re sure?” Joe demanded.

“They’ve gone over to the Everts-Hall Agency to put through the
contract.”

Then, Joe decided, it was true. Hadn’t he watched the taxi leave?

“Look!” he said, happily reckless. “I have four dollars.”

“Infant,” Lucille drawled, “you don’t know how much wealth four dollars
is until you need four dollars. Hold on to it.”

“I’m buying the dinners. We celebrate. Do you know where we can get a
good seventy-five-cent dinner, Arch?”

“Mr. Carlin,” Archie’s deep voice pronounced gravely, “I know them all,
from swanky hotel dining-rooms down to the joints where you eat for a
dime.”

Oh, but they were gay. Gay as only show people can be gay when luck is
running. Archie brought them to a table for four in an Italian basement
restaurant. The food was good. But the talk, Joe thought, was better.
Archie, Stella, and Lucille were all at their best. There was a bright
play of drollery and a great deal of laughter. This, too, was show
business.

A happy Joe Carlin, still chuckling over some of Archie’s quips, rode
out to Northend. To-morrow Ambrose Carver might steer Sonny Baker into
the He show, but the Munson show was his. Once, the time FKIP had cut
the _I Want Work_ platter, he had hurried home with a false alarm. What
he would have to tell his folks to-night would be real.

Inside the house the telephone rang as he reached the porch. He heard
his mother’s voice:

“I’m sorry; he’s not here now. If you’ll leave your num—Just a moment. I
think I hear him on the porch. Joe!”

“Who is it?” Joe called.

His mother met him in the hall. “That Carver person.”

Joe thought: “What can he want?” He went to the telephone.

Amby’s voice was briskly, softly effusive. “Still stringing along with
Wylie, Joe?”

“Why shouldn’t I?”

“I didn’t know. After to-day’s sponsor trouble—”

“What trouble? Mr. Wylie sold the Munson show.”

“I know that, but—didn’t you hear about Mrs. Munson? You haven’t heard?”
The agent made a clucking sound. “I’m sorry I have to be the one to
break the bad news, Joe; Wylie should have told you. You’re sure you
didn’t hear anything about Mrs. Munson’s nephew? The actor?”

Joe’s hand gripped the telephone.

“A favorite nephew. You know how some women go daffy over a favorite
nephew? This kid plays with an amateur group at Baltimore. Mrs. Munson
thinks he’s tops.”

Joe had a sudden, vivid recollection of Wylie arguing violently with
somebody in the control-room. The knuckles of the hand that gripped the
telephone were white. “If you’re trying to tell me something, Amby—”

The agent’s voice grew softer. “I’m telling you it’s time you dropped
Wylie and came back to popper. Mrs. Munson declared herself. Sponsors do
that sometimes. You’re out of the cast and the favorite nephew’s in.”



                               CHAPTER 6


In the broadcasting studios, along Royal Street, or in the office of Vic
Wylie Productions, Joe Carlin would have tried to greet disaster lightly
and to put up a front. But the Carlin home was sanctuary. Here, with the
shades drawn and all the rest of the world shut out, he did not have to
pretend. He did not have to carry a fixed smile.

To-night he could not have pretended. Was it to-night he had bought
dinner for Stella Joyce, Lucille Borden and Archie Munn to celebrate
both the selling of a show and his first radio part? Was it only an hour
ago the four of them had been boisterously light-hearted around a table
in the Italian restaurant? That hour seemed ages ago, an hour out of a
long-ago past.

“Stella said we gave them a show,” Joe said, low-voiced, almost as
though he were talking to himself. “Mr. Wylie thanked us from the
control-room—he meant it. He told Arch the audition was a honey. I
thought everything was set.”

Tom Carlin, his pipe filled, neglected to light it. “How were you, Joe?”

“Nobody said I was bad. Maybe I was. Maybe the cast was good and carried
me along.” Joe’s morale was low.

“Would Wylie have given you the part if you were bad?” the man asked
sharply.

Joe thought of the torture of a Vic Wylie rehearsal. “No.”

“Then you weren’t bad. You’re sure Munson liked the show?”

“Mr. Wylie said he fell hard.”

“In other words, if Mrs. Munson didn’t have a nephew—”

Joe said with an effort: “She must think he’ll play the Dick Davis part
better. Sponsors don’t buy shows and scramble them.”

Kate Carlin’s voice was quiet. “You have only Carver’s word for this,
Joe?”

Tom Carlin’s jaws clamped on a cold pipe-stem. “Joe, won’t you go
through some of this same worry and anxiety every time you audition for
a part?”

“Well—”

“I know,” the man said slowly. “It’s show business.” He laid down the
pipe. “Haven’t you had enough of show business?”

Joe tried to find words to explain the unexplainable. Why, after all he
had seen of the tinsel and make-believe, the gay, masquerade lightness,
wasn’t he fed up? But show business was still a land of glamour. He said
uncertainly: “If I do get this part—” That didn’t explain anything,
either. He glanced helplessly at his mother.

“Anything good on the air to-night?” Kate Carlin asked.

Tom Carlin took the hint.

Next morning FKIP’s ten o’clock music program blared at Joe as he walked
through Royal Street. What would to-day bring? He dreaded entering Vic
Wylie’s office; he dreaded staying away. He took a deep breath in the
hall and steeled himself for whatever Wylie would tell him. Smiling, his
hat cocked a little to one side, he opened the door. The bright babble
of light, gay voices met him; Lucille, Stella, and Archie were in their
accustomed corner. He walked toward the corner, and all at once it was
as though he saw his three friends individually and apart, each one
watchful, wary and withdrawn.

Joe’s nerves were tight. He thought: “It’s true; they know.” He hung up
his hat and drawled: “Amby phoned me last night.”

There was an instant of profound silence.

“I thought he would.” Lucille’s voice had become hard. “Little Sunshine
Carver.”

Joe was casual. “How did Mrs. Munson’s nephew get into this?”

“Amby has an idea he’d like to work himself into the Munson store.
Public relations, radio—a nice job. He heard that Mrs. Munson had a
nephew in Baltimore who was ambitious to get into show business. Anybody
want to guess the rest?”

“So the nephew,” Stella fluted, “was brought up here to read to Amby.”

“That must have been good,” Archie Munn commented dryly.

“Anybody want to guess,” Lucille asked, “what Amby told Mrs. Munson?
Well, Mrs. Munson fell for it.”

Joe’s front was perfect. “This Lucille gal should work for a newspaper.
She gets all the news.”

“Amby talks,” said Lucille.

Archie’s deep voice said: “I’d figure myself in until Vic told me I was
out.”

“Has Munson bought the show?” Joe demanded.

Archie Munn shook his head. “Not yet.”

All at once the outer office was brighter, and the charming, crisp talk
all around Joe seemed gayer. If the show had hit a snag, he was the
snag. Wylie wanted him in the part. Violent Vic Wylie was fighting for
him.

A voice called: “Hello there, Pop.”

Pop Bartell was among the gay group, the pin-stripe suit without a
wrinkle, his linen spotless. Miss Robb, watching for him, stood up at
her desk.

“I have a call for you from Mr. Vaux, Mr. Bartell.”

The old trouper stopped short. “Tony Vaux? Of course. I’ve been
expecting—” He had to clear his throat. “You’re sure it was from Tony,
Miss Robb?” The quavering voice was stark with a pleading appeal.

“He wants you in at four o’clock to read a part.”

“At four?” Gentle Pop Bartell began to fumble.

Joe could not bear to look on. Lucille Borden, the tough girl of last
season’s _Years of Danger_ show, bit her lips.

“I think I can make it.” Pop Bartell was in control of himself; he had
his front. “I’m sure I can be there at four. Quite sure.”

Not until the old man had departed, gallant and gentle, did Joe turn
back to the room. All the frothy gossip of the loungers had stopped.

“Pop,” Archie Munn murmured, “that was an exit.”

Joe thought: “Tony wants him to read the Ike Totten part in the He
show.” How long since Pop had had a part? The boy experienced an
exhilarating excitement, as though this were happening to him.

The hands of the clock ran out the morning; the inner office door
remained closed as though Vic Wylie had shut himself away.

“Who’s in with him?” Joe asked from a chair tilted against the wall.

“Nobody,” Miss Robb answered.

Joe stood up quickly. “If I could see him for just a moment—”

Archie Munn said: “I wouldn’t, Joe.”

All at once Joe found it hard to swallow. He said: “So Mr. Wylie won’t
talk.”

Lucille drawled: “That’ll be the day.” It was all carelessly off-hand.

But Joe knew the cold, frightening truth. He wasn’t out of the _Sue
Davis Against the World_ show, but neither was the part his. It might
never be his. Lost in worry he strode across the room, strode back.

“Joe’s rehearsing for a walk-on,” Stella said.

Without warning, the strain of carrying a front broke him. “It’s the not
knowing,” he said.

“That’s what always puts the knife into you,” Archie Munn said bitterly.

“Infant,” said Lucille, “we’ve all been there. Not one of us has a sure
part for next season.”

Joe was startled. “But when _Years of Danger_ went off last June—”

“They announced the program would be resumed in the fall. Well, the
sponsor’s changed his mind. Mamma must find herself another meal
ticket.”

Stella’s bird-like voice fluttered: “Casting starts next week.”

All their fronts had momentarily cracked. In that moment Joe Carlin felt
very close to them. He took up the collection for lunch.

“See if you can get me a fat part on rye,” Lucille drawled. They were
gay and casual again. Show business!

Coming back with the food, Joe was all at once conscious that the outer
room had undergone another change. Once more his friends seemed to stand
alone, individual and apart. Once more they had become watchful and
wary.

“A gorgeous day,” Archie Munn said. “I’m going to take a stroll. Who’s
with me?”

Lucille held out her cup. “I can be ready in about five minutes.”

Stella was breathless. “Let’s all go.”

Joe looked thoughtfully from the two girls to Archie Munn. Archie,
ignoring the scrutiny, took his hat from a rack.

“Care to come along, Joe?”

Joe, groping, found the answer. They were trying to get him out of here
and get him out in a hurry. Why? Lucille, in front of the mirror above
the watercooler, patted a stray curl into place. The rapid-fire click of
a typewriter ceased and Miss Robb carried letters in to Vic Wylie. A
voice came from the inner room:

    Were in this fight together, Mother. We’re partners. At least—

Miss Robb came back and the door closed.

Archie looked at Stella, shrugged, took off his hat, and placed it back
on the rack.

Joe made a point of carefully, deliberately pouring more coffee. The
Dick Davis part in the Munson show! His part. “Who’s reading, Arch?
Sonny Baker?”

“Mrs. Munson’s nephew.”

They had tried to save him the agony of waiting for the audition to end.
He thought of Vic Wylie. Wylie, hiding behind a closed door all morning
and keeping him locked out. Wylie, calling somebody in for an audition
and telling him nothing. Wylie, whom he had believed in, worshiped....
He dumped what was left of the coffee into the cooler drain.

Archie Munn’s voice was deep in the silence. “Mrs. Munson says her
nephew’s made for the part. She’s repeating Amby, of course. What can
Vic say? That he isn’t? Vic’s never heard him.”

Joe was cold. “I thought Mr. Wylie was insisting on his original cast.”

“He’d still have to call the nephew in. Amby’s recommendation doesn’t
mean a thing, but.... Suppose the nephew _is_ made for the part?”

Words ran through Joe’s mind in numb reiteration. “That’s what puts the
knife into you.” Lucille, Stella, and Arch were all seasoned performers,
and yet, at this moment, were any of them better off than he? Didn’t
they all know the feeling of the knife? Hadn’t Arch said so? Ten years
from now he might still be doing what Lucille, Stella, and Arch were now
doing—waiting, hoping for a part. Years made no difference—look at Pop
Bartell. Show business was show business. Show business put the knife
into you, again and again.

There were no sudden, muffled Wylie outbursts from behind the closed
door. Was Mrs. Munson’s nephew so good that an emotional, hair-trigger
producer could close his eyes, relax, and listen to a perfect reading?
Unable longer to sit still and keep a death-watch on a closed door, he
sprang to his feet, walked to a window, and stood there looking down at
the crowds flowing through the street nine stories below.

The street seemed full of ants. Puny, scurrying, human ants bustling in
a ceaseless tide. Ants who didn’t suffer through Vic Wylie rehearsals,
who didn’t know the strain of a sponsor audition, who didn’t see
themselves dropped after they’d slaved to help sell the show.

Stella and Lucille went out; he did not hear them go. Archie Munn stood
beside him.

“I was offered a job yesterday,” the actor said abruptly. “Salary and
commission. I used to be a salesman.”

“Any money in it?” Joe still stared down at the street.

“About sixty dollars a week. I turned it down.”

Joe’s eyes held bitter wisdom. When it got into you, when you ached to
make people laugh and make them cry, nothing else mattered. But ants
would be satisfied with sixty dollars. Ants would never know the feeling
of a knife as they waited in a producer’s ante-room.

He envied ants.

The rattle of a knob, voices, swung him around from the window. The
inner office door was open.

“If I could have had a few days to study the part, Mr. Wylie, I could
have given you a much better reading.”

“I don’t look for a finished performance on first reading.”

“What do you look for, Mr. Wylie?”

“I can’t say. But I always know when I get it.”

“It—it seems to be a good show.”

“I don’t have anything to do with bad shows.”

“If you’d care to have me read something else....”

“That won’t be necessary.”

“Well—thank you, Mr. Wylie.”

“You’re quite welcome.”

Mrs. Munson’s nephew sauntered through the outer office. About twenty,
Joe thought, and wondered if he’d copied the rakish panama and the cane
from Ambrose Carver. Wylie stood in the doorway, dark and brooding.

“I’ll see you now, kid.”

Joe knew how a man on trial must feel when he rises to hear the verdict
of the jury. _Sue Davis Against the World_ scripts were scattered across
Wylie’s desk. How many had the producer given Mrs. Munson’s nephew to
read? The knife that turned in him now was a cold knife, blue with chill
and frosted with apprehension.

Vic Wylie, behind the desk, enacted a one-man tragedy. He talked to
himself in scorn; he began to laugh—short, savage outbursts of derision.
He put a coy finger under his chin, smirked, and said something in a
falsetto simper. Abruptly he began to growl indistinguishable words. He
picked up the _Sue Davis_ scripts, held them a moment and hurled them at
the desk.

Joe picked them up from the floor.

Wylie stared at him, shook his head so that the reddish hair tumbled
left and right, and ran a hand across his forehead. When he took the
hand down his eyes had grown calm.

“Kid,” he said, “Carver has a knife out for you a yard long.”

All at once suspicion whetted the knife. Joe thought in dismay: “No; it
can’t be.” But suspicion grew. Amby Carver, trying to force Mrs.
Munson’s nephew into the cast, was understandable; through the doting
aunt, Amby hoped to ease himself into a fat Munson job. But why should
Amby have a knife out for him? Wasn’t he one of Amby’s assets? Vic
Wylie, posturing and simpering, began to look like an actor playing a
scene well rehearsed.

“Mr. Wylie,” Joe said with an effort, “there’s something here I don’t
get.”

“You’re afraid you do get it, kid. I don’t fool easy. You’re afraid I’m
using Carver as a stage prop to give you the hook.”

Joe’s face reddened. “He’s my agent, isn’t he?”

“Suppose you play in the show. Carver’s commission would be two-fifty a
week. Big money.”

Suppose you play! Wylie had said that. Joe gave up faith and all hope.
“Why should Amby throw two-fifty away?”

“An agent on the level throws nothing away. He’s out to get all he can
for his client. But an agent on the level doesn’t try to call Sonny
Baker back from the coast to blast his client.”

Joe had forgotten Sonny. As suddenly as suspicion had been born,
suspicion died. And he’d practically accused Wylie. His throat grew
tight. Oh, he’d forgotten so much! Amby Carver claiming to be a pal of
all the great and the near-great of radio; shyster Amby Carver putting
him through the burlesque of meaningless auditions. His mother’s voice,
usually soft and low, saying with acid contempt: “That Carver person.”
Lucille Borden bluntly calling Amby a tramp.

“Vic,” Joe said humbly, “try to forgive me.” It was the first time he
had called the producer by his given name.

“Kid,” said Vic Wylie, “there’s nothing to forgive. You were backed into
a corner and you threw a punch. You threw it wild. You don’t know show
business and you don’t know the Carvers. Show business is lousy with
agents. The good ones are worth all you pay them; the chiselers are
rats. You found Carver out and you gave him the ice. You gave him the
ice before an audience the day you let him walk out of here alone. He’s
vain and he’s cheap. You wounded his vanity, and that’s the worst thing
you can do to a heel like Carver. He’ll never forgive you. He’ll toss a
commission over his shoulder any day for a chance to cut your throat.”

The telephone rang.

“Hello. Who? Oh, hello, Tony.” Vic Wylie squared around to the desk and
chuckled with acid humor. “So Mrs. Munson’s been calling you. Isn’t that
nice? Yes, he’s been here; here and gone. Of course I heard him read. In
fact, Tony, I let him read until he ran down. How was he? A nice little
boy who used to be brought into the parlor to speak pieces for the
company. He wanted to know if he didn’t remind me of Clark Gable.”

Sounds came out of the telephone.

Wylie’s voice snapped. “Do you know me, Tony, or don’t you? He can’t
act. He hams every line. I wouldn’t take him if diamonds went with him.
If he had a voice, I might make that voice give something. He’s a blank.
He has nothing.”

The telephone sputtered.

“I know your agency’s in a spot, Tony. I know Munson’s one of your best
accounts. Blame Carver. He sold Mrs. Munson the idea her nephew’s a
knockout. What’ll you tell her? Pass the buck to me. Tell her I said to
ship him back to Baltimore.”

The producer put down the telephone and was somber and silent.

Joe’s heart pounded. “Vic.”

Vic Wylie brooded. “Don’t get any wrong ideas, kid. Don’t think I’m
handing you something because I like you. I wouldn’t be in show business
long if I ran a Vic Wylie Friendship Club. I don’t like Carver any more
than I like a polecat, but if this ham he sent me had dynamite on the
ball, you’d be out.”

Joe’s hands, hidden in his pockets, gripped the lining.

“I’ve cast this show, kid. For my money, it stays cast. You’re playing
the Dick Davis part.”

Lucille and Archie Munn took the breaks in their stride—good breaks or
bad breaks. Joe tried hard to be nonchalant. “I wasn’t sure, Vic.”

Wylie still brooded. “Don’t try to front me, kid; I’ve seen too much of
it. When you deal with me, deal clean.”

Joe said, honest and humble: “I was scared stiff.”

He was no longer scared, and the knife was gone. Archie, Miss Robb told
him in the outer office, had left. He called the house.

“It’s all right, Mother,” he said out of an overflowing heart.
“Everything’s all right.”

Standing at the window, brushing his hat with his sleeve, he looked down
again at the street. There they were—ants. Everlastingly sweating and
toiling through the same crowded runways, doing the same dull tasks
to-day, to-morrow, next month, and next year. No two of his days would
ever be alike; no day would ever be dull. He’d go on the air; his voice
would go out to unseen thousands; he’d make them laugh and he’d make
them cry. He’d know knives again; it was show business. But for every
knife there’d be a supreme moment of glory like this.

He pitied ants.



                               CHAPTER 7


Labor Day saw the end of radio’s coma. Overnight Stations FKIP, FFOM,
and FWWO stirred with new life; overnight the unofficial players’ club
that had lounged away the summer in Vic Wylie’s outer office disbanded.
Where there had been a great deal of brightness and gaiety, there was
now only the strictly business-like ring of the telephone and the steady
clatter of Miss Robb’s typewriter.

And so Joe Carlin started on the rounds at last. There was an
unaccustomed buoyancy to his stride, a lilting sway to his shoulders.
Amby Carver had unconsciously given him that. If Vic would kill a Wylie
Productions show rather than release him as a co-lead, he must be good.
Very good. Better than he had thought. Better than Wylie had ever
admitted.

Hot with anticipation and expectation, he swung into the tide of show
people making the rounds. Flowing from studio to studio through the
crowds of Royal Street, the tide was somehow brightly set apart. It
eddied into the broadcasting company buildings vivid with a color all
its own; talkative and animated, it swirled up in the elevators. Talk
was all around Joe, endless and continuous—the feverish talk of show
business. FWWO was auditioning for a commentator to do a night broadcast
of local news. FFOM wasn’t due to think about casting until to-morrow.
One of the night clubs was canvassing the talent bureaus of the radio
stations for a blues singer. A girl announced breathlessly that she had
worked up a show for the little tots—FFOM wanted to hear it. A man said:
“A good kid show keeps you in the chips. Uncle Don’s been running a long
time on WOR.” A tide of show business patter carried Joe to the office
of John Dennis, FKIP’s casting director.

Dennis’ small office, crowded, sounded like a happy-go-lucky, madcap
picnic. Joe, stranded in the hall’s overflow, was much wiser than he had
been last June. This was the bread-and-butter hunt, restlessly anxious
beneath the brightly vivacious surface of the tide. What did you do when
you got in to Dennis, ask point-blank if he had a part for you? He
should have asked Archie Munn. He hadn’t seen Stella or Lucille.
Apparently when show business hunted radio’s bread and butter, it hunted
alone.

Listening, Joe discovered that nobody was asking about parts. The
pattern became plain. You made light-talk and kept up a front. You
showed yourself, day after day, so that casting directors wouldn’t
forget you. A gale of laughter swept out of the room. A woman came into
the hall and John Dennis’ voice followed her: “To-morrow at four, Babe.”

Joe had it. You walked in and cracked a gag. You might not have a dime
in your pocket but you made sure the gag was good. If they wanted you,
they gave you the nod.

A voice behind him said: “Dennis thought the _I Want Work_ show was a
sure five-a-week. Yesterday they were glad to sell it for Tuesdays and
Fridays.”

Another voice said: “Bit parts. A lot of us will get a piece of that.”

Joe Carlin’s feet itched to go into a Fancy Dan Carlin step. He was in
at last. He’d have a bit in the first show. Hadn’t he been one of the
cast that had cut the platter for Dennis? If you were good, you could
make even a bit part stand out.

By ones and by twos actors and actresses left John Dennis’
bread-and-butter shrine and made room for one or two waiting in the
hall. Joe noticed how the unworried, smiling mask went on at once, how
they stepped across the threshold with an entrance line to catch the
casting director’s attention. The lines must have been good, for
laughter was hearty and continuous.

Joe got in at last. He couldn’t think up a gag—not a good gag.

“Hello, Joe.” Fat John Dennis was cordial. “Have a good summer?”

“Swell,” said Joe. He waited to be told to report for the _I Want Work_
show. Somebody else came in with a bright entrance, and there was more
laughter. The circle of interest that had formed around Joe shifted to
the newcomer. The bantering talk was full of allusions to happenings in
radio last season. That had been before his time; he didn’t understand
the allusions. He felt isolated, one of the crowd but not a part of it.
An actress included him in a sally and he laughed with the others
without knowing what it was that caused the laughter. He decided to get
out before he began to look like a clown.

“Guess I’ll be pushing along.” He took his time getting to the door.

“Glad to have seen you again,” said John Dennis. Not a word about the
show.

An FKIP loudspeaker, scratchy and metallic, tin-panned the harmony of a
quartet as Joe went toward the elevators; his shoulders swayed. The
first moment of disappointment had passed. The voice in the hall, he
told himself, had been one of those things; the _I Want Work_ platter
was still a turkey. Long before this every producer, every casting
director, every station must have heard the story of how Vic Wylie had
ridden along with him. If the _I Want Work_ show had sold, he’d have had
a part. He couldn’t miss. He carried Wylie’s stamp of approval and Wylie
was tops as a picker. If he was good enough for Wylie, he was good
enough for any of them. He watched a dial that announced the descent of
the elevator. The elevator stopped, and Amby Carver stepped out.

At sight of Joe Carlin the agent’s eyes blinked. Then the cane made a
flourish. “Joe, you’re just the man I’m looking for. I’m getting a
couple of parts lined up—”

“Doesn’t Mrs. Munson’s nephew want them?” Joe asked. He pushed back his
hat.

“Joe,” little Amby said earnestly, “you got me wrong. All wrong. Look!
Sure I was after a job with Munson. Why not? Do you know when I tried to
bring the nephew in? After I read the script. If you want to click with
an afternoon show it’s got to have yum-yum. Is there any love in this
Sue Davis show? Amby Carver’s asking you. I told Munson the script was
stinko. Does your agent want you in a stinko show that ruins your
reputation? So I try to get the nephew in. I tell Munson the show is
such a stinko only a good actor like his nephew can save it. That leaves
me in the middle. If the show flops, hadn’t I warned him? Even his
nephew couldn’t save it. If it gets orchids, his nephew did save it.
Either way, Amby Carver’s in right.”

“Why didn’t you tell me this at the start?” Joe asked.

“Look! You expect me to call you at Wylie’s? That’s out. I’m off Vic.”

“I have a telephone at home.”

“The last time,” Amby said with heat, “somebody calls that it’s that
Carver person. Am I supposed to like that? I’m your agent. I’ve been
hustling for you. I—”

“You tried to get Sonny Baker back from the coast,” Joe drawled.

Amby pulled out a handkerchief and mopped his face. “I want to tell you
about that.”

Joe said: “Don’t bother.”

Amby’s eyes studied the boy obliquely. The handkerchief touched the
microscopic mustache delicately, and his voice was soft. “I wouldn’t
swallow everything I’m told, Joe; Vic’s picked lemons before. Some day
when you find Sonny Baker in your hair, don’t come weeping and wailing
to me. You’ve asked for it.”

The next elevator carried down a well-pleased-with-himself Joe Carlin.
Amby Carver now knew he couldn’t be pushed around. Let the agent bring
Sonny Baker back—Sonny was no longer anything to worry about. When you
were good enough for sneering, insulting Wylie, you were good enough for
any of them.

The tide of show people through Royal Street had thinned. Old Pop
Bartell swung past, very straight and very gallant. With FFOM not
concerning itself with the casting problem until to-morrow, the entrance
to the FFOM Building was almost deserted. Joe went on to FWWO. He had,
he reflected, been inside this station only once, the day Amby had
arranged for him to audition. It had been his worst audition.

FWWO, one of the smaller stations of the city, didn’t have the crowd
that had besieged FKIP. Joe found three show people in the office of
Gillis, the casting director. They drifted out.

“Hello,” said Gillis. “Glad to see you again. Your name is—let me see
now—Lawton?”

“Carlin,” said Joe. “Joe Carlin.”

“Carlin. Of course. What was your last show with us, Carlin?”

Joe explained that he had auditioned last June.

“That’s right; that’s right. I remember now.” But the director’s
vagueness made it plain he didn’t remember at all. “Have a pleasant
summer?”

Joe made his exit. Stella Joyce was coming through the hall.

“Any calls, Joe?”

“Nothing,” he said wryly, and nodded back toward the office. “They
didn’t remember me.” That wouldn’t last. “Did you hear the talk that
FKIP had sold the _I Want Work_ show?”

“They have sold it.”

Joe went numb. He said slowly: “Dennis didn’t call me.”

“I saw the script, Joe; the part’s out.” Stella’s bird-like voice
fluttered. “Weren’t you the boy who was pleading for a job for his
father? The father’s working.”

Joe drew a breath and the shock passed. He might have guessed it was
something like that. When you were good enough for Wylie, you were good
enough for any of them.

Still hot with anticipation and expectation he came down to Royal
Street. Where now? Tony Vaux? He’d already auditioned the Larry Logan
part in the show the Everts-Hall Agency was trying to build for the He
people; when Tony wanted more, he’d call. Vic Wylie? Vic, producing an
early afternoon show over FFOM and a later show over FKIP, would be at
one of the stations in an agony of rehearsal. And yet it was to Wylie’s
office that the boy found himself irresistibly drawn.

Miss Robb typed in a deserted room. Somebody coughed in the inner room
and Joe looked in the door. Archie Munn sat at a portable typewriter
surrounded by newspapers.

“You are witnessing,” the actor announced gravely, “the finish of one
who might have been a brilliant news commentator.” He took a page of
script from the typewriter and tore it in half. “FWWO’s filled the spot.
One of the _Journal’s_ reporters. It’s not bad publicity for the
_Journal_ and FWWO gets a free news broadcast.” He looked at his watch.
“Well, somebody was thoughtful enough to die. I get a funeral to-night.”

Joe stared.

“Pall-bearer,” Archie said, matter-of-factly. “You have to own a tux.
Three dollars for an afternoon funeral service and five dollars for an
evening service.”

Joe was profoundly shocked. Why, Archie was one of local radio’s stars.
He said uncertainly, “You mean—you have to?”

The actor tapped a cigarette against the desk. “Stella gets two nights a
week as a waitress in an all-night restaurant. Lucille thought she was
all set to go into a night club as a cigarette girl. The club folded
up.” A match flamed and touched the cigarette. “I don’t have to do it,
Joe. I love funerals. Didn’t you know?”

In two sentences Archie had painted a picture. Once Joe would have said
lightly: “That’s show business.” Now he couldn’t be flippant. He knew it
_was_ show business—their show business. Rehearsals for hours, cutting
platters that probably never sold, perhaps playing a rôle in a
sustaining show day after day! And nobody paid you a dollar. Going
hungry, perhaps; washing out your single shirt, as Pop Bartell did, and
hanging it to dry while you slept. You dug up a job so that you could
eat, but it had to be a skimpy, part-time job that permitted you to keep
body and soul together, and you lavished that body and soul on radio.
You lived on a sustaining hope, a feverish, burning hope, that some day
all the mean, petty economies of small time would be behind you and
you’d know the glory of the fame of big time.

Joe said doggedly: “It won’t be that way with me.” In Wylie’s book, he
had top billing. If he was good enough for Wylie, he was good enough for
any of them. Time would do it. He had made the rounds to-day and had
found nothing. But to-morrow....

To-morrow became another yesterday, and then another yesterday. A week
passed. And still he had nothing. Once John Dennis said an automatic
“Have a good summer?” as though forgetting this was not his first visit.

That was the day the sway of Joe’s shoulders lost easy naturalness and
became front. The bread-and-butter tide had dwindled. Those no longer
making the rounds were working. Perhaps not getting any money, but at
least rehearsing and auditioning. Archie Munn had caught on with a
sponsored Sunday show. Soon the commercials would all be cast. After
that there would be only occasional bits in shows like _I Want Work_, or
the sustaining shows, originating in the studios, that paid only in
experience. And actors and actresses that the producers had thus far
discarded would still make the rounds, and smile a smile that was
becoming fixed and mechanical, and pray for a chance at even these
starvation crumbs.

In show business, Joe told himself, you had to get the breaks. The
breaks hadn’t yet come. They would. Either Wylie had judgment or he
hadn’t. The boy was sure he had. He believed in Wylie. And yet, to-day
when he reached the building that housed Vic Wylie Productions, he could
not go in. With the red-headed, dynamic producer present the office was
magnetized; with Wylie absent, the place was only four barren walls. He
couldn’t stand barrenness—too many other things were barren. Undecided,
he kept walking and approached his father’s store. He thought with
surprise, “I always seem to end up here when show business gets tough.”

The display in the immaculate cases down the center of the room had been
changed once more. Black lettering on a card said simply: SCHOOL DAYS.
The cases held fountain pens, typewriters, leather brief-cases,
book-ends, and desk sets. Joe thought: “Dad certainly is up to the
minute.” But it was toward the book department that he went at once.

Mr. Fairchild was taking some books from the shelves and placing them on
the reduced-price table. “Joe,” he said, “don’t ask me if we’re selling
any books. The subject is painful.”

The jackets of books made exciting, vivid splashes of color along the
shelves. Titles paraded in rows, quickening, challenging, and
mysterious. Books and radio again began to tumble about in Joe’s mind as
they had tumbled before. Thomas Carlin Presents To-day’s Book.... But
his father had said that the cost of a once-a-week would be prohibitive.
And yet, if there was a way to tell people about a grand book.... But
how could you tell them so that they’d want to read the book?

The door of his father’s office was closed. Shadows moved upon the
glass.

“Who’s in with Dad, Mr. Fairchild?”

“We’re carrying a new typewriter. An official of the company’s down to
talk advertising appropriation with your father.”

“If we advertise the typewriter, the company’ll pay part of the cost.”

“It’s their typewriter, isn’t it?”

Joe stared at the shelves. Books and radio were doing another tumble
through his mind. His breath quickened.

Clerks covered the cases with dusters at the closing hour and came back
to the rear.

“Are you on the air, Joe?”

“What program? I keep tuning, but I don’t get you.”

“What happens in radio, Joe?”

Sitting on a table in the book department Joe described rehearsals,
sponsor auditions, the cutting of a platter. He told them about Vic
Wylie and Tony Vaux. But he did not tell them that this was all small
time and that show people in small time radio had to piece out their
incomes as pallbearers, and as night-shift waitresses, and as cigarette
girls in night clubs.

The advertising discussion in his father’s office ended. Tom Carlin came
upon a rapt group in the book department.

“Trying to lure my boys into radio, Joe?” he asked dryly.

One of the men laughed. “It sounds exciting, Mr. Carlin, but I prefer my
own job.”

Whatever Tom Carlin started to say was bitten back. Father and son left
to get the car.

“Dad, you said a show would cost too much....”

Tom Carlin laughed. “When you get your teeth in, you hang on, don’t
you?”

“How much would it cost?”

“I don’t know. I learned what radio time would cost. I stopped right
there.”

“Suppose you plugged a book. Would the publisher go in with you? It’s
their book.”

“Assume,” his father said at last, “that I wrote to a publisher. He’d
want to know what kind of show. Well, what kind?”

Joe had no answer.

After supper he turned on the radio. He swung from station to station,
recognizing the cast of every local show. The old hunger was on him. How
close had he come to getting any of these parts, or had he been
considered at all?

“Joe,” his mother said gently, “you look done in.”

Not done in, he told himself; discouraged. He couldn’t shake off a sense
of shock. Archie Munn picking up a few stray dollars as a pallbearer!

The telephone rang.

“Joe,” Tony Vaux said jovially, “I’m calling you and Pop in for a
reading. The He people are warming up. Early. About nine-thirty.”

Joe was no longer discouraged. “An audition,” he called back over his
shoulder.

The bell rang again.

This time Lucille Borden’s voice sang over the telephone. “Joe, I’m
rushed; only a minute. N.B.C.’s called me to New York for a committee
audition. Wish me luck.”

Joe didn’t know what a committee audition was. But whatever it was, it
was good. The people Wylie picked were beginning to get the breaks. They
were going places.

The morning brought one of those dark days of lowering skies and gray
gloom. Pop Bartell was already at the Everts-Hall Agency, his one shirt
spotless.

“Hear about Lucille?” Tony Vaux boomed. “The first local artist to get a
committee audition in three years.”

“What is a committee audition?” Joe asked.

“The real thing, Joe. One producer hears your first reading at N.B.C. If
he turns you down, you can’t go back for a year. If he passes you along,
you’re called before a committee of five producers. Usually you’re
called back in a week. Somebody must have slipped on Lu.”

Joe thought with envy: “Five producers; big time.” His heart lifted.
Good luck, Lucille!

Ceiling lights burned in the room, and the misty day, dark and damp,
pressed against the windows. Pop was as slim and straight, as sprightly
and spry, as a stripling. Joe scanned the _Bush-League Larry_ script:

    Sound—Train Coming on Mike and Stopping at Station

    Conductor (above escaping steam): Ticeville. Here’s where you
    get off, young fellow. All a-a-aboard.

    Sound—Train Panting Leaves Station. Fade to

    Ike: Looking for somebody, stranger?

    Larry: I’m looking for Bud Wilson.

    Ike: If you’re a salesman trying to sell Bud some baseball
    equipment, you’re wasting your time. Bud’s Ticeville team ain’t
    been doing so good. When a team in these parts don’t win—

Tony said with a chuckle: “All right, folks. Take me out to the ball
game.” He made sound effects of a sort and Pop Bartell came in on his
cue:

    Looking for somebody, stranger?

Joe was surprised by the character richness of the old man’s voice. He
thought: “Pop, this is going to be swell.” He spoke his own line:

    I’m looking for Bud Wilson.

Pop was on the mike again:

    If you’re a salesman trying to sell Bud some base—ball
    e—equipment, you’re waste—you’re wasting your time. Bud’s
    Tice—ville team ain’t—been going so good—

All the smooth, rich flow was gone. Pop, stumbling, sounded like a
novice with stage fright. Tony Vaux’s red face had become a mottled red.

“What’s the matter with you, Pop? Can’t you read your lines?”

Pop drew himself up. “I can always read my lines. A slight
indisposition. I assure you I shall be myself directly.”

“Are you sick?”

“Tony!” Joe’s voice was impulsive. “Give him more light.”

Red-faced, Tony looked at the boy and then at the dark day grown darker.
He crossed the room and brought back a standing lamp.

“Try it again.”

Somebody came into the room. Pop’s voice, enriched by forty years of
acting, rolled out the lines once more, gave them a tang and a flavor.
And yet there came to Joe, as the reading went on, a sense of something
missed, of something that did not quite touch. He made his last speech.

Vic Wylie, rumpled and tense, was in the room. Tony Vaux scratched his
chin.

“What do you think of it, Vic?”

Wylie was abrupt. “I never poke a finger in another man’s show. You know
that.”

Tony took a fat cigar from his bulging vest and chewed off the end.
“What’s wrong with it?” He raised plump hands toward Joe and Pop. “Now,
now, folks. I don’t mean it’s a bad show. It’s like one of these salads
that need a pinch more of this or a pinch less of that.” He puffed on
the cigar.

[Illustration: “Now, now, folks,” Tony Vaux said. “I don’t mean it’s a
bad show.”]

Joe began a hesitant: “Perhaps—”

“Again, Joe?” Tony chuckled. “What is it this time?”

“Perhaps Mr. Bartell comes in too fast. He’s supposed to be a retired
old man with no worries except baseball. Sits around in the shade and
enjoys life. Never in a hurry—that’s what I mean. Doesn’t Pop come in
too crisply? You sort of lose the mellow, unhurried old man. If he came
in leisurely, a little drawly....”

Joe knew that Vic Wylie was watching him intently. Had he been too free
with his opinion? Tony rolled the cigar across his lips.

“Give it a go, Pop.”

Joe was amazed at the changed shading, the difference in timing, that
Pop gave his lines. He didn’t have to wonder if this were better. Vic
Wylie would still have struggled for greater perfection; but Tony Vaux,
rocking back and forth on his heels, exuded a bluff, red-faced pleasure.

“Folks,” he said heartily, “that’s a show. If the He people don’t cool
off, we’ll lay them in the aisles.”

Joe thought: “That’s always the trouble with show business—the if.” You
had to sell a sponsor while he was hot; next day or next week he began
to wonder if the show was as good as he had thought. That was the
sticker with _Sue Davis Against the World_. Too much time had passed
since the audition. And these two shows were the only hopes he had.

Pop Bartell departed. Joe had a shrewd idea the old actor would have
nothing to do with eye-glasses. Glasses would take from his front of
lingering, gallant youth.

The door closed slowly as Joe followed Pop. Vic Wylie’s rasp of
irritation was audible:

“You’ve heard _One Man’s Family_, Tony? A honey of a script, but what a
cast. Without a cast, what have you? I’m standing pat. Munson’s option
on _Sue Davis_ runs out Monday. Monday I’m throwing the show open.”

The door closed with a soft click and Tony’s reply was lost. But to Joe
the dark day was no longer dark. There was still hope. This was Tuesday.
Six more days to Monday.

Pop Bartell waited outside the building in the street. “Joe, I happen to
find myself in a little difficulty. Momentarily, you understand; only
momentarily. A mere trifle. I expect to be called for a part. Could
you—” The old man coughed. “Only until I’m called for the part, of
course. Do you—” Again the cough. “Do you happen to have a spare
dollar?”

This, Joe thought with a pang, was what a good trouper came to after
forty years. “Make it two dollars, Mr. Bartell.”

“Joe, you place me eternally in your debt. As soon as I’m working—” Pop
Bartell went off through Royal Street, his stride youthful.

Again on Wednesday, Joe made the rounds in vain. There was no word from
Tony Vaux. Thursday was also barren. He counted days. Four more days
left of the Munson option.

Thursday Lucille Borden returned from her N.B.C. audition in New York
looking tired and pale. Make-up could not completely hide her pallor.

“One of the producers liked my work,” she said. “He held me over another
day for a sponsor audition.”

That meant big time. Joe asked eagerly: “Did it go?”

“Infant,” Lucille drawled, “a sponsor audition gives you a beautiful
view of a lot of frozen faces.”

Joe knew. He had had one sponsor audition.

Then it was Friday. The days of hope had dwindled to three. The
searching bread-and-butter hunters had developed a stock question. Joe
heard it on Royal Street and in the elevators. “Anything yet?” And there
was a stock reply that fooled nobody, that was part of the front. “No,
but I’m expecting a part next week.” Pop Bartell expected a part next
week. Joe knew it was all hollow and unreal.

John Dennis was not at his office at FKIP. His secretary said: “Mr.
Dennis has you down for something.”

“I’ll be back,” Joe told her. Perhaps, he thought in growing
disillusionment, Dennis wanted to ask him had he had a good summer. He
went on to FFOM and from there to FWWO.

Gillis said: “Two o’clock to-morrow, Carlin. We have an open spot that
must be filled in a hurry.”

A sustaining show that would pay no salary. And yet Joe walked out going
hot and cold by turns. His first call from a station since the _I Want
Work_ platter. True, one of the smallest stations in the city, but a
call. Now, if there was something at FKIP.... Not wanting to miss Dennis
again he called from a booth in the lower hall.

“Joe,” said John Dennis, “I have a part I want to hear you read.”

Joe’s hand was hot on the receiver. “To-day?”

“To-morrow at two.”

Joe sighed. “I’m auditioning at two to-morrow.” He came out of the
booth. What should he have done, called off the FWWO audition and gone
over to the more important FKIP? Or did you cancel once you’d told a
station you’d be in?

Saturday he was at FWWO at a quarter to two. The Munson time had shrunk
to two days. There were four people in Gillis’ office, three actresses
and an actor. Joe had met them all, on and off, at Wylie’s during the
summer.

The clock moved around to 2:30. Gillis did not appear.

“Is this another FWWO over-ripe tangerine?” a voice asked.

At three o’clock Gillis walked into the office. “Sorry,” he said
gruffly. “I had an idea for a swell show.”

“Is it off, Gil?” one of the actresses asked. Her voice was dead.

“Upstairs changed its mind and gave it the hot foot.”

The cast filed out. Joe was torn with helpless resentment and aching
disappointment. His first call. And he had turned down FKIP—for this.

A morbid curiosity sent him to the FKIP Building. Dennis was rehearsing
in Studio B. One look through the glass-walled gallery, and the boy’s
sense of loss grew. Archie Munn was in the cast, and Stella Joyce, and
Lucille Borden. When you had a chance with a cast like that....

Presently the rehearsal was over. Dennis gathered up script and went out
through the empty control-room. Joe walked to the door through which
Archie and the others would come to the gallery.

The door opened before he reached it. Archie Munn hurried through the
gallery, disappeared into the reception-room, and hurried back in a few
moments with a glass of water. Studio B received him.

Mystified, Joe looked in through the glass. Lucille sat in a chair and
Stella stood beside her. Lucille drank the water slowly, looked up at
Stella, and tried to smile. Archie came out into the gallery.

“Anything wrong?” Joe asked.

“Lu said she felt faint.” Preoccupied, the actor took a cigarette from
his pocket, held it unlighted in his hand, and seemed to talk to
himself. “That New York audition took an extra day. She had to go to a
hotel. She was probably down to some loose silver when she got back.”

Joe was still mystified.

“There’s not much nourishment in a roll and a cup of coffee,” Archie
Munn said bitterly.

The sun touched one side of Royal Street, and the Saturday shopping
crowds moved leisurely. Joe, his head bent, moved numbly with the crowd.
Stanch, warm-hearted Lucille Borden! She hadn’t worked since June, and
the night club had gone into bankruptcy, and the _Years of Danger_ show
hadn’t gone back on the air. He bit his lips.

Lights burned behind the glass door that said: VIC WYLIE PRODUCTIONS.
The producer, in the inner room, was at the telephone.

“Miss Robb’s on her way over with an envelop, Arch. Take Lu to a
restaurant. Give her the envelop and send her home in a cab.”

Joe was motionless, silent. Wylie put down the telephone.

“Arch tells me you were there, kid.”

“Yes.”

The producer sat with his head in his hands. “She’s a type,” he said
harshly in the silence. “She hasn’t much range. But give her a type part
she fits and they don’t come any better. You hear that, kid? They don’t
come any better. Look what happens to her. You think that’s rare? You
don’t know the stories small-time radio can tell. Why do they stay in
it? Oh, I know. The big time. It’s a dream; it’s like a drug. Not one in
a thousand ever cracks the big time. I’m sick of watching them trying to
live on crumbs. I’m fed up. But I can’t get out. My father and my mother
were show people; I was born in a theatrical boarding-house. I toddled
across a stage when I was five years old.” His head snapped up fiercely.
“What else do I know?”

The telephone rang.

Joe stumbled out. He bumped into a chair and pushed it aside. His throat
was choked. He was waiting at the elevators when Wylie’s entrance door
swung open.

“Kid, come back here. Come back.”

Joe went back.

Wylie grabbed him by the shoulders. “That was Tony, kid. Munson’s
signed. It’s in the bag and the string’s tied. A thirteen-week try-out.”

Joe had often tried to imagine what this moment would be like. His first
contract; his first show. Now that the moment had come, he could not
rise to what the moment demanded. He was thinking of Lucille.

“We go on the air Monday week. Rehearsals start to-morrow. All day.
We’ll give them a show, kid, that’ll rock the town.”

Gone was the black depression. Wylie’s eyes blazed with excitement. He
began to laugh as though Lucille Borden did not exist.

But Joe knew better. Somebody had once told him that Wylie took care of
his people. Lucille was one of Wylie’s people, and, spontaneously, his
hand had gone into his pocket for her. Another page was filled in the
boy’s book of understanding and experience. Day after day you witnessed
contradictions. You marveled at outbursts of temperament, mercurial and
erratic. You watched an old trouper stride along Royal Street owning the
world because he had two dollars. You soared in the clouds and you
plunged down into the depths. You were in show business.



                               CHAPTER 8


Joe Carlin thought he knew the harsh exactitude of Vic Wylie’s demands.
Hadn’t he already rehearsed for Wylie? But those rehearsals had been for
the _Sue Davis_ show at a time when it might never reach a sponsor
audition. This was the prelude to a _Sue Davis_ show actually going on
the air. In the past Wylie had been an unremitting slave driver. Now he
became a sarcastic, sneering, insulting monster. Each hour he seemed to
find words that made the last hour’s ordeal seem tame.

“After a season with Vic,” Stella Joyce fluttered, “your skin is gone.
You turn to leather.”

You had to be tough, Joe thought, to take it. That first rehearsal was
held in an office building quiet with the Sunday hush. Only one elevator
was in service. But the suite of Vic Wylie Productions was articulate
with the heart-rending echo of the producer’s suffering and anguish.

Beginning at nine o’clock the rehearsal ran, with a few scattered rest
periods, until early in the afternoon. Sometimes they spent half an hour
on a dozen lines. “No, no,” Wylie moaned. “You’re driving me to murder.
I could get away with it, too—nobody’d ever miss you. And if they did
discover the bodies I’d get a public vote of thanks. Why do you give me
da-da-da-das? I want blood in it. I want it human. I want it to have
feeling and life.” Once he took Stella’s part and read a scene. He was a
man, and his voice was grotesque in a mother’s rôle, but he managed to
throw a ray of illumination on the part. Every line he spoke took on
unexpected possibilities. And once he stormed out and slammed the door,
and sulked in the outer office for ten minutes.

The whole cast was assembled—Stella, Joe, an actor named Bert Farr who
played the heavy, and two minor characters. Previously, Joe had read
from three scattered scripts; to-day he began to get the _Sue Davis_
story. A widow, after the death of her husband, comes with her son to
her sole inheritance, a run-down cottage in a small, hidden, mountain
village. But plenty of land goes with the cottage, and the dead husband
had a passionate faith in its future. Some day a highway would come over
the mountain and run past the door. Some day that land, cleared and
level, would be the spot for a profitable gas-station tea-room
tourist-cabin business. And so the widow and her son struggle to keep
the little that is theirs and dream of the day when that little may be
great. But a local skinflint, Israel Tice, played by Bert Farr, also
knows the potential value of the property and schemes to secure the
ownership. That was as far as Curt Lake, the script-writer, had gone.

“What happens later?” Joe asked during one of the rest periods. “Does
Sue open a tea-room?”

Wylie snarled: “Worry about the script you’re reading.”

They stopped for lunch and were working again within an hour. The
respite seemed to soothe Wylie into amiability. For fifteen or twenty
minutes the rehearsal was unruffled and serene. With Joe reading, the
producer all at once became a hair-tearing maniac.

“Mo—ther!” His stinging burlesque had just enough of truth to be
perfect. “Do we have to have that again? Do you think you’re cast as a
babe in arms? Do you want Stella to rock you and lullaby you to sleep?
How often do I have to tell you?” A bony forefinger was a spike in Joe’s
face. “Give me the ‘Mother’ I want.”

Joe gave it.

At half-past ten they stopped. Circles had formed under Stella’s eyes.
Joe’s head was light.

“And I have to go through this for thirteen weeks,” Wylie moaned. “I’m
buying coffee and sandwiches. Who’s coming?”

They all went with him. In the restaurant he took a script from the
brief-case and pored over it. “Ah!” He was on fire as though this were
the beginning of the day. “Suppose we play it this way?” He read a
scene, interpreting all the characters and etching the lines with a
changed sense of value. But, brain-fagged, they could only goggle at
him.

“Don’t ask us to go back,” Bert Farr pleaded. “We’ve been going for
almost twelve hours.”

Wylie, smoldering, stuffed the script back into the case. “Nine
to-morrow morning.”

“Vic!” Stella protested.

Wylie glared at her.

Stella’s laugh was resigned. “All right, Vic; nine to-morrow.” Waiting
with Joe for a bus she said: “This period’s the hardest. After the
show’s on a week or two it shakes down and the cast falls into a
rhythm.”

Rehearsals became a nightmare. Joe got so he dreamed rehearsals.
Rehearsals in the morning until Wylie had to rush off for the first of
his two shows; rehearsals after the second show until, sometime in the
night, weariness halted them.

Tuesday Curt Lake, the script writer, brought in more script. “How is it
going, Vic?”

The producer held his head. “It reeks. I’m afraid to open the windows
for fear the city’ll back in a garbage truck.”

Then, on Saturday, Vic Wylie ceased to be a fiend. The rehearsal shifted
to Studio B at FKIP, and a sound engineer joined the cast to give the
show its sound effects. The producer knew he had molded them as far as
they could be molded. What he had now was what he would get Monday.
Monday he wanted them easy and relaxed. And so, as they read the opening
script three times, he was mild, almost gentle. On Sunday they ran
through the script only once.

Joe Carlin no longer stalked the broadcasting stations for a part. The
early days of a Wylie show left you time only for Wylie. The need to
hunt bread and butter at FKIP was past. He was on an FKIP commercial; he
had the station’s attention. Later, he’d call in once a week at FFOM and
FWWO. Munson might drop the show after thirteen weeks, and it was wise
to make the rounds and keep in touch.

Monday the walls of the Carlin house pressed in upon him and suffocated
him. He watched the clock, he kept roaming upstairs and down, he turned
the radio on and off. Vic’s two o’clock show was on at FFOM, his four
o’clock at FKIP. _Sue Davis_ went on the air at four-thirty. But Wylie
would have to walk only from one FKIP studio to another.

How would it go? The house became unbearable. He called: “You won’t
forget to listen, Mother?” and was gone. Afterward he was never able to
remember whether the day had been clear or drab. Stella Joyce was in
Wylie’s inner office reading script.

“Here’s yours, Joe. Vic’s incoherent. He timed the show for a minute
opening announcement, but the agency changed to a two-minute Munson
plug. Curt Lake had to rewrite script.”

Joe was scared. If Vic tried to jam them through a last minute rehearsal
just before they went on....

“No new business,” Stella said. “Curt had to drop lines.”

Joe was relieved. After that he waited with growing impatience. Stella
picked up a magazine from Wylie’s desk and turned the pages idly. There
was an awful emptiness in the boy’s stomach. Was she watching the time?
Presently the actress put the magazine down.

“Joe,” she said impulsively, “I’m glad you’re playing this. If Sonny
Baker were in town, Amby would probably have sold him to Munson. Vic
would have auditioned him. He might have walked off with it.”

“I followed him in _City Boy_ last season,” Joe said soberly. Against
his three months of radio experience, Sonny could show two years. “I
thought he was good. Is he?”

Stella nodded. “Quite upstage, but good. Lucille despises him. He’s a
show stealer.”

“He won’t steal this one,” said Joe and followed the girl out.

Studio B was dark. Stella turned on lights. The sound engineer’s
equipment was already in place. A clock in the control-room told them
they had an hour to wait. Bert Farr arrived and was followed by two
minor characters.

A page opened the door from the gallery. “Mr. Wylie wants a cast
report.”

“All ready,” said Stella.

The afternoon they had given the Munson audition, with listeners in
chairs along the walls, chairs and people had seemed to hem them in
closely. This afternoon, with only the cast of five present, Studio B
was a yawning cavern. Joe felt swallowed up, shrunken, and small. Had
the clock stopped? Nervous, he took script from his pocket.

“Don’t do that,” Stella warned. “You’re perfect in the part. You’ll
confuse yourself.”

Bert Farr said: “Four o’clock. Vic’s other show’s on.”

Half an hour more! In reception-hall, corridors, elevators, and lobby
the Vic Wylie show was coming out of FKIP speakers. Here there was only
silence.

The sound engineer arrived. An announcer strolled in and walked about,
looking bored.

“The other show’s off,” said Farr.

The tips of Joe’s fingers were ice. If the other show was off, where was
Vic?

The control-room began to fill as it fills for an opening. The
technician who would regulate volume came in first. Munson arrived with
the President and the Vice-President of FKIP. John Dennis was there next
with Curt Lake. People gathered in the gallery and stared in through the
glass.

Then a storm burst upon them, and the storm was Wylie. His face was
lined with strain. “Everybody got the new script?”

Everybody had.

“Watch the control-room. Come in on my signs. Don’t start too fast.
You’ll be in the groove in half a minute.”

Wylie was gone, to appear next in the control-room. And now, in the
deeper, significant silence, Farr cleared his throat.

A minute to go. To Joe, that became the longest minute he had lived. The
cast gathered at the mike. There was a moment when he thought he was
choking.

Suddenly the silence was broken. The announcer was reading:

“To-night Munson brings you the opening chapter of Curt Lake’s radio
drama, Sue Davis Against the World, the story of a widowed mother’s
struggle—”

An incredulous voice cried out in Joe: “You’re on the air!”

It became unbelievable. Actually on the air! And then everything became
unreal. Vic Wylie, glaring through the glass panels of the control-room,
became a distorted Vic Wylie; the announcer’s voice hung lingeringly in
space. Wylie’s commanding finger took on a dreamy haziness. The finger
wavered away from the announcer and indicated Stella. Joe’s eyes were
wide open and staring as though he were in a trance. In a queer sort of
drugged fog he thought: “My cue’s coming.” The finger, as though moving
leisurely in a timeless arc, wavered toward him.

He began to read his part. There was no nervousness nor anxiety. There
was only that hypnotic sense of unreality:

Mother, don’t shake your head at me like that. You must listen—

He did not know that he had become an automaton. He did not know that he
was suffering a form of mike fright that afflicts the young radio
performer with an emotional paralysis. But Wylie had pounded at him,
rehearsal after rehearsal, until a pattern had been carved deep in his
mind. Subconsciously, his mind reproduced that pattern as though it were
a platter. He read as Wylie had insisted that he read.

By and by all the dream-world voices were gone, and there was silence.
People began to leave the control-room. Joe drew a breath and reality
came rushing back upon him. Why, it was over. He’d been on the air—and
it was over. All he could remember was fog and haze.

A wise, knowing Vic Wylie, who could be as tender as a woman, was in the
studio. “All right now, kid?”

“What—what happened to me?”

“Something that happens to most of them. You came through, and it’ll
never happen again.”

Joe wanted to ask a question and didn’t dare.

Wylie didn’t have to be asked. “You were tops, kid.” He smiled at the
cast, and his haggard face was lighted. “You were all tops. Get
something to eat and report at six.”

“How about all eating together?” Stella asked.

“In a minute,” Joe told her. It was still all unbelievable. He squeezed
into a telephone-booth. How could you be tops when you didn’t know what
it had all been about? He dialed a number.

“How was it, Mother?”

“Joe!” That was all Kate Carlin could say for a moment.

“Did you like it?”

“It was splendid. Dad wants to speak to you.”

Tom Carlin said gruffly: “Until to-night, Joe, I thought you were making
a mistake.”

Joe knew the end of doubt. Then it had been good! Glowing, he pushed
back the door. Little Ambrose Carver waited for him ten feet from the
booth.

“Congratulations, Joe.”

“Thanks, Amby.” He hadn’t expected this. The glow deepened.

“Does Amby know how to pick them? I’m asking you if I’m a picker.”

“You certainly are.” If Amby wanted to be friends, why not? Joe was in a
mood to give friendship to all the world.

“Didn’t I predict you’d go up in lights?” The Carver cane gave a jaunty
wriggle. “Don’t forget to tell the Everts-Hall Agency I have a ten per
cent piece of you, Joe.”

Joe was deflated. Amby’s wait had been a money wait; Amby might really
think he’d laid an egg. It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered but Vic, and
Vic said he was tops.

An hour and a half later this same Vic Wylie was savagely, brutally
rehearsing the next day’s show and wailing his torment.

“Studio B to-morrow morning for the dress,” he told them finally and
dropped into a chair. “You need three more hours of rehearsal. You’re
not ready for a dress. What can I do about it? I can’t give you all my
time; I have two other shows.” His eyes closed.

“Did you eat?” Stella asked.

The producer’s eyes opened vaguely. “Did I? I forget. Don’t bother me.”

Joe went out and brought back coffee and sandwiches.

“Leave them there,” said Wylie. He had whipped himself back to work and
was reading script.

“Eat them now,” Joe insisted. “The coffee’ll get cold.”

“Another one who thinks I need looking after,” Wylie snarled. But he
ate. “Kid, don’t pay much attention to me when I blow my top. Everybody
in show business is nuts.”

If being nuts was the price of show business success, Joe was willing to
be nuts. There was no second attack of mike fright. He came to know a
certain tension just before the show and during the broadcast, but that
was a quickening excitement that filled him with fire. Studio B became
easy, familiar ground, and he was on terms of intimacy with every
announcer, and every studio producer in the city.

Life took on a deep, satisfying richness. The radio columns of the
_Journal_ gave him attention. He began to get fan mail. Royal Street was
paved with gold, and the FKIP Building was a gleaming tower.

But there were others who still walked Royal Street looking for parts;
there were actors and actresses who would always be walking Royal
Street. Archie Munn had picked up a few bits, in addition to his Sunday
show, and was getting by. Lucille Borden, a type player, had found
nothing. No station had a show that needed her type.

“Mamma,” she announced casually after _Sue Davis_ had been on a week,
“is going to sell hosiery for Mr. Munson. Until a part turns up. Main
floor, section twelve—in case you want to buy silk stockings, Joe.”

And Wylie had said she was one of the best. N.B.C. had approved her at a
committee audition. Joe blurted: “If I were a producer, you’d be
working.”

“Infant,” Lucille said softly, “don’t let it get in your hair. This
won’t be the first time I’ve crawled out on a life-line.” She bit her
lip. “It probably won’t be the last.”

Joe threw off a wave of bleakness. You couldn’t do anything about it—it
was show business. But after that, though each day brought its zest, its
rush of wonder, his exhilaration over being on the air was tempered and
subdued.

The _Sue Davis_ show clicked. The Everts-Hall Agency compiled figures:
the show had caught the public. Munson’s accountants compiled more
figures: the show was selling merchandise. A show that clicked both ways
might be good for forty weeks.

Joe Carlin became seasoned, seasoned and smooth. At least, he told
himself confidently he was becoming smooth. But gradually the restless
feet of show people had dulled the bright gold of Royal Street. What had
been gold to him, he saw, was merely cold stone pavement to many others.
Actors, always glib about the part they expected next week, began to
buttonhole him in the corridors of the broadcasting company buildings
and lead him into quiet corners. He lent them money. For a week he
bought Pop Bartell’s lunch.

“Any day now,” Pop would say, gallant and optimistic, “Tony’ll be
calling us into audition for the He people.”

Joe always agreed. He didn’t believe it. _Bush-League Larry_ had been on
the fire too long.

October crept toward its end and Indian summer lingered in the city. The
afternoon broadcast, the evening rehearsal, the morning dress, fan mail
and occasional calls at FFOM and FWWO filled Joe’s day completely. Fan
mail was a late development. At first he had answered the letters
himself, proud and thrilled. But his mail had grown, and now it was
handled from the Everts-Hall Agency on Munson stationery. He hadn’t
visited his father’s store in weeks. Show business engrossed him
completely. If he thought at all of books and how his father might sell
more books the thought was a shadow, gone as quickly as it had come.

Early in November the cast finished a Monday broadcast and was gathering
up hats and coats when Wylie walked into Studio B. Usually, the
appearance of the producer immediately after a show ended meant that
something had gone wrong. The cast waited for the storm.

There was no storm. Wylie said: “Tony tells me Munson’s signing the show
for another twenty-six weeks.”

The new contract would carry the show into June. Eight months of freedom
from the bread-and-butter hunt! Bert Farr and Stella jitterbugged up and
down the studio. Joe pranced to the piano shoved into a corner and
banged out a one-finger melody. People gathered in the gallery. But they
were used to people gaping in through the glass; they forgot they were
there.

A page opened the studio door. “Telephone, Mr. Wylie. Your office.”

Wylie left them. After that the celebration died down. Joe was slipping
into a top-coat when a voice, cracked and high-pitched, swung him
around.

“Kid!” Wylie was wild-eyed. “Munson’s closes in ten minutes. Get a
message to Lucille. N.B.C. wants her. A contract. She’s hit the
jackpot.”

“Vic!” Stella cried.

Joe was already on his way. Lucille Borden without a part in small-time
radio; Lucille Borden, hungry; Lucille Borden behind a counter selling
stockings. And then, when nobody expected it, Lucille Borden in the big
time. Show business! The down elevator stopped at every floor and
passengers took their time getting on and off. Joe stewed. The Munson
store was only half a block away but, reaching the street, he ran.

Lucille Borden, arranging boxes of hosiery, smiled at him. “Stockings,
Infant? Don’t tell me you have a sweetie?”

Words poured from Joe. “N.B.C. wants you. They called Vic’s office.”

The smile was gone. “Another audition?”

“A part. The show sold. You’re in, Lu.”

Lucille Borden’s hands gripped the edge of the counter; the knuckles
turned white. She said slowly: “At last.”

As though in celebration of Lucille’s triumph, the morrow dawned in
golden splendor; but as Joe rode downtown the day became clouded and
gray. The dress rehearsal at Studio B went off without a hitch.

“Kid,” Wylie said, “Lu leaves on the three o’clock.”

Joe stopped at the Everts-Hall Agency to sign the fan mail replies.
Lucille Borden on a coast-to-coast! One of Wylie’s people. If you were
good enough for Wylie.... The pen that wrote “Joe Carlin” wasn’t steady.
He was one of Wylie’s people.

Walking into Wylie’s office and finding Lucille, Stella, and Archie Munn
already there brought back the long, idle days of the summer when they
had always been together. In the rush of eager talk yesterday’s hard
road was forgotten; nobody thought of lunch. Stella, called for an
audition at FFOM, was the first to leave; Archie, with a bit on a two
o’clock FWWO show, soon followed. Joe carried Lucille’s bags to the
station.

“I’ll be listening,” he said. “Not only the opening—every day.”

“Infant,” Lucille said with a catch in her voice, “I’m going to miss my
old gang.”

A mist was falling when Joe came out of the station. Then, while he was
still two blocks from the FKIP Building, the skies opened and the mist
became a torrent of rain. Royal Street broke into confusion with
everybody running and getting in everybody else’s way. A river poured
down upon him. Wet and cold, he reached Studio B.

The studio was warm. He would, Joe decided, jump home when the show
ended, change, and hurry back for the evening rehearsal; but by the time
_Sue Davis Against the World_ signed off his chill had passed and he
went to supper with Stella. For once the evening rehearsal was short.
The cast sat around for an hour, and Vic sat with them, and they talked
of Lucille Borden and the big time. Joe’s clothing had dried.

He awakened to a new day with the early sun in his eyes. He said aloud:
“I’m hungry enough to eat—” The words died away, and he lay rigid. Had
that hoarse rasp come from him? He said again: “I’m hungry enough—” His
body broke out in a sweat. At nine o’clock, worried and shaken, he
walked into Wylie’s office.

“Vic.” His voice was down to a whisper.

Vic Wylie’s face paled. “You got wet yesterday,” he croaked, and then he
went into a frenzy. “Miss Robb! Dr. Zinn—twelfth floor. I’m coming right
up.” He dragged Joe toward the hall. Twenty minutes later he was back, a
wild-eyed lunatic. “Get Curt Lake.”

The stenographer made the call. “No answer,” she reported.

The producer pounded her desk. “Find him; find him.”

Miss Robb “found” him. Curt Lake arrived out of breath.

“Laryngitis,” the producer croaked. “The house sold out and the kid gets
laryngitis. The part’s got to be dropped. I’ve got to have new script.
You see what time it is?”

The script-writer whipped out of his coat. “Two o’clock, Vic?”

“With the show going on at four-thirty? Can I send them on cold? I want
script at noon.”

“Noon? Do you think I pick ideas out of the air? You’ll want another
script to-night for to-morrow.”

“Do I get script or do I get an alibi?” Wylie screamed.

Radio’s absolute master, the clock, was goading them with pressure and
tension. Come high water or low, storm or calm, sickness or health, at
four-thirty the Munson show had to go on.

Miss Robb appeared and closed the inner office door. Joe thought with
useless regret: “If I hadn’t gone to the train....” Curt Lake was
scowling and Wylie was glaring.

Suddenly Wylie was halfway across the desk. “How is this, Curt? In the
story you’ve had this son soaking stamps off discarded envelopes,
pasting them in an album—”

The script-writer swung around eagerly. “That’s it, Vic. Last night we
left them in a bad way. Almost broke, and the guy that wants the
property putting on the pressure. The son’s desperate. He decides to
take his stamp collection to a dealer in the city, two hundred miles
away. He’s already gone when the script opens—”

“A kid without money? How you going to get him there? Pullman?”

“Can’t he hike? Can’t he thumb rides?”

“Are you nuts? Don’t you know hitch-hiking’s in bad? Do you want the
Woman’s Club and the P.T.A. on our necks?”

“Do you want a script?” Curt Lake shouted. “Put him on a bus and he’s
there to-day and home to-morrow. How long is Joe’s throat going to keep
him out? How many miles does a hitch-hiker make? It’s all luck, isn’t
it—who picks him up and how far they’re going. We can string it along as
far as you need it. If Joe’s throat takes a week he’s away a week. He
sends back post cards to his mother. He’s off stage, but we keep the
spot on him.”

“What’s your curtain?”

“Rain. Some swell sound effects. Night and mother alone. She opens the
door and listens to the rain. Buckets of rain. You get it, Vic? ‘Where
is my wandering boy to-night?’”

“I get it,” Wylie snarled. “The last script-writer who used it was shot.
He deserved it.” He clawed for his hat, clawed for his coat, clawed for
the half-open, bulging brief-case. “It’s corny,” he groaned from the
door, “but it’s a script.”

Curt Lake stormed out to Miss Robb. “Does he expect me to give him an
Orson Welles show in an hour and fifty minutes?”

“You’ll give him a script, won’t you, Mr. Lake?”

“Vic?” The man was amazed at the question. “I’d give him my right arm.”

It was madly unbelievable, fantastic and unreal—and yet so very real. It
was show business.

Curt Lake paced the inner office. He sat before the typewriter, pecked
at the keys, paced restlessly once more. He ripped off his tie. He
drummed on the window, swore fervently, and opened his shirt. Suddenly
he was back at the machine and talking to himself. His fingers began to
pound. When he finished, shortly before noon, he had a pile of
manuscript.

Joe asked in a hoarse whisper: “Script finished?”

“Script?” Curt Lake’s voice was thick with scorn. “It’s tripe.”

Listening to the _Sue Davis_ show come out of Vic Wylie’s radio that
afternoon, Joe suffered. It was tripe. There was no spice, no spirit, no
punch. Lines and speeches that went on and on until they had gone on for
thirteen and a half minutes. Then they stopped. Vic was right; the
curtain was corny. He shut off the radio and went home.

Kate Carlin brought him a glass of hot milk. “Throat pain much, Joe?”

He shook his head. There was no pain. That was the maddening phase.

“Did I imagine the show was bad to-day?”

“It was very bad.” Talk was an effort. “They had to build a new script
in a hurry. To-morrow’ll be better.”

To-morrow was no better. He sat in on the dress, and it was torture not
to be at the mike reading the Dick Davis part. It was torture to listen
to dialogue that had become lifeless and spiritless. Vic Wylie’s eyes
seemed sunken.

“Five minutes after we signed off last night,” Stella Joyce fluttered,
“Amby Carver was around wanting to know what had happened. He knew the
script had been fluffed up with an egg-beater.”

“Amby’s worried about his ten per cent,” Joe whispered bitterly. Amby,
his agent, hadn’t bothered to phone him.

Wylie, strained, came from the control-room and drew him aside. “Kid,
stay away. I know how you feel, but worry won’t get you anything. The
script’s blue, the cast’s blue, and your face’s as long as four Sundays.
Forget radio until you clear up. Interest yourself in something else.
Read a book, steal a car, make a mud pie. Do anything so long as it
isn’t radio. See me Saturday.”

Vic had said to read a book. Books flashed a picture before Joe of his
father’s business. He tried to force his mind to dwell on how the Thomas
Carlin store could sell more books. Fifty thousand listeners! What could
you say that would make them book-hungry? Thomas Carlin Presents
To-day’s Book. Curt Lake had been right, too. You couldn’t snip an idea
out of the air; you couldn’t deliberately dig up an idea as you would a
garden bulb. Thomas Carlin Presents.... The effort died in failure. His
mind refused to freshen, to come alive.

A mound of letters awaited him at the Everts-Hall Agency. He signed them
and rode dully out to the Northend.

That afternoon’s broadcast was worse than the dress. The continuity of
the show had been broken, and weak, forced, hack-toiled scripts had
demoralized the cast. Stella Joyce sank with the others.

“Vic doesn’t want me to come to the rehearsals until I’m better,” Joe
said at supper in a hoarse whisper.

“Isn’t that wise?” Kate Carlin asked.

“Joe!” Tom Carlin picked his words carefully. “Is there any chance of
another actor being called in for the part?”

Joe didn’t want to think of that.

Lying in bed, wakeful, he had to think of it. He tried to think of it
coldly and calmly, as though he weren’t thinking about Joe Carlin at all
but about somebody else. They’d have to get a juvenile for the part.
What man could play the part of a young high-school boy? A man’s voice,
deepened and matured, would be a give-away; the mother-son illusion
would be shattered. Certainly they couldn’t find a juvenile in this
city. Amby had told him once that local radio was strangely shy of
juveniles who were tops, and he had since found this to be true. Last
season Sonny Baker had been here and Sonny had skimmed the cream. This
season it was Joe Carlin. He’d have had the lead in _Bush-League Larry_
had the show sold. He was playing opposite Stella Joyce in _Sue Davis_.
Who else was there?

The answer was plain—nobody. Would they bring somebody down from New
York? But what juvenile, with a chance to make the big time, would come
here to play in a five-dollar-a-day show? And again the answer
was—nobody.

Joe Carlin thought: “I’m in luck. They’ll have to wait for my voice to
come back.”

Friday’s show was so painful he could not bear to hear it to the end.

“When do you see the doctor again?” his mother asked.

“To-morrow.”

He was at Dr. Zinn’s door before the door was open. He sat in a darkened
room and a beam of light illuminated his throat.

“Better,” the doctor pronounced cheerfully. “Much better. Very much
better.”

“My voice isn’t any better,” Joe whispered.

“Sometimes these attacks prove stubborn. Once the voice begins to regain
its strength improvement is rapid. You must give it time.”

“How much time?”

“Another week—perhaps ten days. Nature does her own healing; she can’t
be rushed.”

Ten more days meant ten more scripts in which Curt Lake held the broken
threads of a show and tried to patch with the wrong colors.

“Can’t you rush this a little, Doctor?”

“Now, my boy, you mustn’t be impatient,” the doctor answered tolerantly.

Joe wondered what Dr. Zinn would think of patience if he were a radio
actor out of a show that was going to pieces. Vic Wylie’s office was
locked. The boy went to the Everts-Hall Agency. There were only three
letters to be signed.

“Tony wants to see you,” the publicity department told him.

Genial Tony Vaux was no longer the hail-fellow-well-met who boomed
jovially. He was quiet and thoughtful, almost reserved. “How’s the
throat coming, Joe?”

Joe shook his head.

“The He people have finally come around to it. They want an audition
Monday.”

“I can’t give a good show Monday, Tony. You know what I can do when my
voice is right.”

Tony scratched his chin. “The He people don’t.”

“But they won’t go on the air for another couple of weeks.”

Tony continued to scratch his chin. “When a sponsor buys a show, he buys
what he hears. You can’t sell him a package by telling how good it will
be in two weeks. Why isn’t it good to-day?”

“What time Monday, Tony? I might—” There was no need to finish. Tony
seemed to have withdrawn into some further reserve.

“I’ll give you a call, Joe.”

Joe thought: “You may have to.” When Wylie told a man he was tops, he
was tops. Where would they find another juvenile who was tops?

This time the knob on the door of Vic Wylie Productions turned. Miss
Robb’s desk was closed. The inner office door was open and Joe heard
voices. With a shock of amazement he recognized his own voice, Stella’s
voice, Bert Farr’s voice. Recognition widened and amazement grew. This
was one of the early scripts of the _Sue Davis_ show. What—? He walked
to the door.

Wylie, his chin sunk in the palm of one hand, glumly listened to the
playing of a platter. Two minutes, three minutes passed and the script
reached its curtain. The shut-off clicked and the platter ceased to
revolve.

“Kid, what did the doctor say?” Wylie had not moved.

Joe whispered: “A week or ten days. What’s that?”

“Wylie insurance.” The producer was harsh. “I can’t afford to leave
myself out on a limb. Suppose some member of the cast falls under a
truck. Can I bring in a new actor and tell him I want him to read like
So-and-so? Perhaps he’s never heard So-and-so. I give him So-and-so.
Every once in a while I cut a platter. The cast never knows it’s being
cut. When I have to recast, the new member of the cast gets a platter
diet. Again and again, hour after hour. That’s his part; that’s the
voice the audience associates with the part. When he goes on the air,
not one in a thousand suspects a new voice.”

Joe’s breathing was rapid and shallow.

Wylie brooded. “Kid, Munson’s dishing out the ice. He says the show’s
slipping. It is. It’s doing a nose dive. Five thousand radios have tuned
us out in the last three days. When they start to yawn and tune in
another station, it’s almost time to ring down the curtain. I don’t like
to hand this to you, kid, but you got to get it straight. Show business
pays off to the winner. You can’t have bacon and eggs without the bacon.
You can’t have a mother-and-son without the son. Munson bought a
mother-and-son show. He’s not getting it.”

Joe stared at the platter and was cold. Tony, and now Vic! If he lost
the Dick Davis part he’d be making the rounds again, haunting the
offices of casting directors, putting on a nice new front every morning.

“Who are you getting, Vic?”

Wylie took his hand away from his chair. “No Baltimore nephew, anyway,”
he snarled.

Joe was no longer cold. He had figured the set-up, and he had figured it
correctly. Vic had nobody in mind. Tony might fish around and be content
to do the best he could with a part, but not Vic. Vic never compromised.
You were tops or you wouldn’t do. Where was Vic going to find a juvenile
he’d rate tops? Perhaps he’d throw somebody in the part for a week for
the sake of the story, so that Munson would have a mother-and-son show.
But even a week of that would gripe the violent, temperamental producer.

Royal Street was crowded; Royal Street sparkled. Archie Munn stood in
front of the FKIP Building talking to a tall, languid young man who wore
his clothing with a careless, studied indifference. Joe nodded and
passed, and stopped at the corner to buy a _Journal_. He was waiting for
change when Archie overtook him.

“Better buy two copies, Joe. They give Lu a nice notice.”

Joe bought a second copy and nodded back toward the FKIP Building. “Show
business?” he asked in a hoarse whisper.

“Yes.”

“A newcomer?”

“Not exactly.”

“I don’t remember having seen him before. Who is he?”

Archie Munn’s deep voice was level and dry. “Sonny Baker. Amby rushed
him back from the coast. He got in this morning.”



                               CHAPTER 9


Monday Joe Carlin kept away from the world of radio. Sonny Baker was
shooting at the Larry Logan part he had expected to play and at the Dick
Davis part he had been playing—and he was licked. Licked by a little bug
that had invaded his throat. His voice was still a whisper. To-day,
either at Vic Wylie’s office or at Tony Vaux’s office, he’d have felt
like a Pop Bartell, wistfully hoping for a miracle. Old Pop,
pathetically youthful and gallant, at least had something to give a
microphone. He, with his voice gone, would have absolutely nothing. He
wouldn’t even have a front.

And so Joe Carlin, who up to last week had been an actor in the bright
world of radio, raked the yard and tried not to think that to-day Tony
Vaux was scheduled to sponsor-audition the _Bush-League Larry_ show and
that this morning Vic Wylie had held another dress of the _Sue Davis
Against the World_ show at FKIP. Toward noon the telephone rang inside
the house. His hands gripped the rake. Tony had said he’d call if— A
minute passed. Joe began to rake again.

He gave up trying not to think. Why should Tony have shied away from his
offer to come in to-day unless the Everts-Hall Agency producer had known
Sonny was on his way? Vic Wylie, brooding over a platter, must have
vetoed a suggestion that Mrs. Munson’s Baltimore nephew step into the
_Sue Davis_ cast. But Vic had not known that Sonny was back in town. Joe
was sure of that.

He raked slowly. If you took your time, raking could kill the crawling
hours of fate. Thinking built up facts, and facts fitted together like
bricks in a wall. Ambrose Carver still had Mrs. Munson’s ear. Sonny had
not been a glittering success on the coast, else he would not have
returned for a part in a show paying twenty-five dollars a week. Playing
small time on the coast, Sonny would not have accumulated money for a
return journey across a continent. Somebody had paid for his railroad
ticket. Amby? Joe couldn’t imagine the dapper little agent buying
anybody’s ticket. Then it must have been Mrs. Munson, still piqued
because of the failure of her nephew.

Joe put the rake away. Every leaf was garnered and burned, and raking
had become a fiction. When he came into the house, his mother was
upstairs. He dialed the radio, brought in FKIP, and left the station on.

By and by Vic Wylie’s four o’clock show went on and went off. A watch
company gave a spot announcement of the time, and a commentator gave
five minutes of news flashes from around the world. A quartet sang.
They’d be off in ten minutes. They were off.

A voice broke into the silence of the room.

“To-day Munson brings you a story from the pen of Curt Lake, _Sue Davis
Against the World_—” The Munson plug followed—a Monday, Tuesday, and
Wednesday sale of coats on the third floor. Then came that momentary
pause that always comes between the commercial plug and the show itself.
Joe’s mouth was dry. He had heard no sound on the stairs, yet he knew
his mother sat behind him.

“And now,” came an announcer’s crisp voice, “what has become of Dick
Davis? Six days ago, with slender family finances almost exhausted, he
left home to get to Fairfield as best he could, taking with him his only
possession of possible value, an album containing a modest collection of
stamps. For six days Sue Davis has anxiously awaited her son’s return.
Is he all right? Has he reached Fairchild? Have the stamps which he has
been patiently soaking from discarded envelops for several years any
real value? Perhaps we are to learn, for the scene is the small office
of Landis, the Stamp Man. The door opens and a boy enters. Listen.”

Voices came out of the speaker, and the first voice was boyish, and
troubled and hesitant:

    Are you Mr. Landis?

    Hello, son. Yes; I’m Mr. Landis. Close the door, please. You
    look as though you’ve been traveling.

    I have. I’m Dick Davis. I come from Maple Grove.

    That’s a good piece back in the mountains, isn’t it?

    Yes, sir. I—I thought—Do you buy stamps?

Something that was like ice prickled and crawled on Joe’s scalp. A
miracle was happening. Vic Wylie had prepared him for the miracle, and
yet he had not expected so stupendous a miracle. One of the voices
coming out the speaker was his. Not his exactly—but his.

Frozen, he listened. Curt Lake had written a good script. A show that
was dying on its feet was suddenly alive and glowing. The story unfolded
with a wealth of sympathetic feeling—a boy’s suspense as pages of the
album were turned, the sudden finding of some stamps of value, an offer
at last of thirty-five dollars. With the business completed, the stamp
man was ready to relax, and grow mellow, and talk shop. But the boy, a
fortune in his pocket, was on fire to be away. His voice throbbed
through the speaker:

    I can’t stay, Mr. Landis. Maybe I’ll come back some day and we
    can have a long talk. I can’t talk now. I—I want to get home.

It was the curtain line—a good curtain line. A curtain line for a good
show. Joe’s hand, leaden, turned off the radio.

“Who was it?” Kate Carlin asked.

“Sonny.”

“Sure?”

“A little of his own voice came through.”

“How did Vic Wylie do it?”

“Platters. He must have had Sonny listening to platters of the show for
hours. Any good actor can mimic a voice if he hears it often enough and
practises an imitation.”

“Do you think he played the part well?”

The admission was hard to make. “Yes.”

The woman stood up abruptly. “I like you better.”

“You’re swell,” Joe whispered huskily. Was his reading better or was his
mother voicing blind Carlin loyalty? Munson would like Sonny, but how
about Vic Wylie? How about Tony Vaux? If the _Larry_ show had not been
auditioned to-day for the He people, if something had gone sour and put
the audition off, his voice might be right for the postponed audition.
At least, he wouldn’t have to rake a yard and let Sonny walk off with
the plum.

He reached for the telephone. “Joe Carlin, Tony,” he whispered.

Tony boomed jovially. “Hello, Joe. How are you? Glad to hear from you.
You’re beginning to sound like yourself.”

Tony, Joe thought with cynical understanding, was putting on his “Howdy,
folks” act. To-day it seemed like the artificial sweetness on a doctor’s
bitter pill. “Did you audition to-day?”

“I’m sorry I couldn’t have you, Joe.” Tony sounded as though his heart
was torn. “If there was a chance to postpone— But you know how it is,
Joe. When a sponsor’s ripe on the tree, that’s the day you have to pick
him. We couldn’t get the spot we wanted at FKIP.”

So the show had been sold!

“We’ll go on at FFOM. I surely wanted you, Joe. Not that Sonny didn’t
give me a good show. Smooth as oil. But ... well, you seem to work
better with Pop Bartell. If anything turns up—”

“Sure,” said Joe.

Kate Carlin was back in the room.

“I’ve lost that show, too,” Joe said.

“Oh!” The word held distress.

“Something’s bound to turn up; shows keep coming along.” But Joe didn’t
try to tell himself that if you were good enough for Wylie, you were
good enough for any of them. He had been good enough for Wylie—and he
was out. And shows didn’t keep coming along this late in the season.

Tom Carlin came home an hour earlier than usual. Coming down the stairs,
Joe heard low-voiced talk in the kitchen. Conversation died away with
his appearance.

“Didn’t the show seem to have more body to-day?” his father asked.

Evidently there was to be no telling him the show had been bad. He was
grateful for that. What good was family loyalty that blindly deceived
itself?

There was no talk of _Sue Davis_ at the evening meal. Tom Carlin felt
through his pockets.

“Care to walk to the corner, Joe? I’m out of tobacco.”

Joe thought: “He wants to talk to me alone.”

“You told Mother something would turn up,” his father said as soon as
they reached the street. “I’ve been trying to figure out if you really
meant that. Men usually try to shield the women at home from their
business worries. Was what happened to-day a situation that turns up
habitually in radio or was it serious?”

Joe did not hesitate. “It was serious.”

“Munson didn’t want you originally and has resented you. Is that what
you mean?”

Joe nodded.

“Do you think you’re out of the show permanently?”

“I don’t know. I might never have had the part if Sonny Baker had been
in town last month.” He had never before talked to his father so freely
and so easily, man to man, without restraint.

The owner of the neighborhood store greeted them. “Glad to hear you back
on the air, Joe. You acted good—better than I ever heard you before.
Nothing like a little vacation.”

“Nothing,” Tom Carlin said dryly.

Joe winced.

Walking home, Tom Carlin said: “That hurt, Joe, didn’t it? I was working
at your age in a country store for two dollars a week. There was another
merchant in town with a more imposing store, and I expected to go to
work for him the next month for two-fifty a week. In those days a great
many persons bought bean coffee and ground it at home. A customer came
in for a coffee-mill. I took a heavy mill down from the shelf and
dropped it. It smashed, and the handle flew up and knocked off the
customer’s hat. He left in a rage. My employer fired me. The other
merchant decided he didn’t want a clumsy lout for a clerk. I was out of
the job I was holding and out of the job I had expected to hold. I
thought it might help if I told you.”

It seemed incredible that the man who owned one of the brightest stores
in the city should have lost two jobs in one day. Two jobs—two parts.

“It does help,” Joe said.

Suddenly he knew that to-morrow he’d go downtown. Downtown was his world
with or without a voice, with or without a part. But he wouldn’t go
downtown with a swaggering, theatrical front. Front was a fake.

Moving through the mid-morning traffic of narrow Royal Street, Joe heard
the familiar blare of FKIP’s speaker, broadcasting a tune that, having
leaped into the Hit Parade, would be murdered by radio bands before the
week was out. FKIP piled on the program in its usual pattern of gaudy
layers. One brassy layer that went out into the street, a tinny,
metallic layer for the hall, a softer layer for the elevator. Joe
sighed. It was raucous and overdone, but he’d missed it. The operator
started to close the door, craned his neck to look out into the hall,
and held the door open. Stella Joyce stepped into the car.

“Joe!” Her hands went out to him impulsively. “Say something.”

Joe spoke a few words from an old _Sue Davis_ script: “Mother, you must
listen—”

“Your voice is stronger.”

“A little.” He had noticed the change that morning. Six days too late!
He said: “You had a good show yesterday.”

“You should have been around last night,” said Stella, and cast up her
eyes. “Sonny had his teeth in the part and decided to do a little ad
libbing. You’ve seen Vic in his production rages, but have you ever seen
him in one of his subtle moods? He’s an artist. For one hour he had
Sonny on a page of script following each line the way a child reads and
stammers through a primer. He made Sonny spell every word; then he made
him read every word very slowly. ‘So you can actually read,’ Vic said
with an air of surprise. ‘I was beginning to have my doubts. Now let me
hear you read the part the way it was written.’ After that Sonny read
the part—the way Curt Lake wrote it.”

Joe’s lips twitched. The elevator let them out into the reception-room
and they sat together on one of the blue leather settees.

“I don’t think Vic’s troubles with Sonny are over,” Stella said
thoughtfully. “Sonny’s had a touch of the coast; he may have picked up
some of the Hollywood technic. When you get in a jam, yell for your
agent.”

Joe couldn’t picture little, dapper Amby Carver bearding Vic Wylie.
“Does Sonny make a steady practice of ad libbing?”

“It’s his specialty.”

“But doesn’t that ball up the cues?”

“Sonny’s only interested in building up his own part and stealing the
show. He’s clever. Very often he gets away with it.”

“He was in _City Boy_ last season. What happened there?”

“Ask the cast that played with him.”

“You mean he’s permitted to mangle the lines? Who produced that show?”

Stella said: “Tony Vaux.” She stood up. “Coming in?”

Joe hesitated. “I’m not in the cast now. Wylie may not want—”

“Don’t be foolish,” the actress said and took his arm.

Walking into Studio B was like coming home after a long absence. Bert
Farr, reading the radio department of the _Journal_, tossed the paper
away. “We are now cursed,” he said gloomily, “with a genius in the
cast.” He might be out of the show, Joe thought, but these people were
his friends.

Beside him Stella said in sharp undertone, “I thought so.”

Amby Carver and the tall, pale youth Joe had seen talking to Archie Munn
outside the FKIP building were in the studio.

“Vic around yet?” Amby asked briskly.

“No.” Bert Farr was short.

Little Amby Carver had steered a client into a sponsored show; little
Amby was beginning to count himself a somebody in show business. The
rebuff left him unruffled. He saw Joe and instantly the cane waggled
with pointed carelessness.

“Hello, Joe. Throat better? Too bad you weren’t around yesterday; I
might have been able to throw something your way. Why not drop in some
morning? I can’t promise to do anything for you, but there may be a
part.”

Joe’s neck burned. Amby’s front of superiority and condescension was
something he couldn’t take. He asked flatly: “Are you still in the same
rat-hole?”

Bert Farr chuckled.

Amby flushed. His hand touched the tracing of mustache. “Sour, Joe?” he
asked softly. “Does that get you anything? Sonny, this is Joe Carlin.”

“Who?” Sonny asked languidly.

“Carlin? You remember. Joe Carlin.”

“Oh!” Sonny held out a hand that was limp and moist. “Didn’t they try
you out in my part?”

My part! “No,” said Joe. “I played it.” He didn’t like this Sonny Baker.

“Really?” Sonny’s drawl was insolent.

“Sonny!” Amby chided in sly malice. “Is that nice? I ask you. Must you
forget Joe’s only a high-school amateur?”

Joe remembered the day he had found Amby out and had scorned him, and
how Wylie had said: “Kid, he’ll never forgive you.” But he was too
young, too raw and inexperienced, to cope with this acid baiting.

A light switched on in the control-room. The hollow eyes of Vic Wylie
stared out at them.

“This is a rehearsal,” the producer snapped through the two-way mike.
“Those not connected with the show will leave the studio.”

Joe walked toward the door.

“Not you, kid.”

Fire ran through Joe. If he was still connected with the show ... Sonny
Baker, languidly amused, was watching him.

“Look here, Wylie,” dapper Ambrose Carver cried angrily, “if you think—”

The light in the control-room snapped off. Vic Wylie came out to the
studio, hollow-eyed and tired.

“Where’s your spot in this show. Carver?”

“I’m Sonny’s agent.”

“That doesn’t mean a thing to me. I’m not dealing with agents on this
show.”

“You’ll deal with me,” Amby sputtered.

“Out of the way.” Wylie moved the microphone. It didn’t need moving, but
moving it gave him the opportunity to brush the agent aside.

Amby was pushed back on his heels. “You can’t do this to me. You can’t
hound Sonny. He’s an artist. He’s too big to be told he’s a Vic Wylie
rubber stamp. He’s no high-school—”

Wylie swung about with a snarl. “Get out.”

The impact of the two words jolted the little agent as though they were
blows.

The scrap of ridiculous mustache quivered. “Now, now, Vic—”

“Get out. If I have to tell you again, you’ll take your star out with
you.”

Amby Carver cleared his throat. Whatever he meant to say died under the
producer’s glare.

“This is no time to upset the cast,” Amby said pompously. “I’ll take
this up with you later.” The usually jaunty cane trailed as he made his
exit with an attempt at frigid dignity. Sonny languidly polished the
nails of one hand against the palm of the other and hummed.

Wylie said: “Five minutes to clear out the bad smell.”

Joe thought: “Vic wants the tension to ease before he puts on the
dress.” The sound-effects engineer superintended the arrival of a
sound-effect door, and the boy wondered if Wylie would blow up because
the property was late. The cast said very little. Sonny, still humming,
opened and closed the portable door several times.

“Why don’t you buy yourself a rattle?” the engineer asked.

Sonny gave him a slant-eyed glance, opened and closed the door again,
ran his hands into his trouser pockets, and unconcernedly strolled to
the control-room and back.

The five minutes were up. Instead of directing the dress from the
control-room, Wylie straddled a chair and motioned for the cast to
begin. Bert Farr handed Joe a script.

The show opened with a lonely, worried Sue Davis still awaiting the
return of her son. Then came a knock on the door and the appearance of
Israel Tice, the local skinflint who wanted to get his hands on this
piece of mountain property that would some day have value. Tice, played
by Bert Farr, knew of Sue’s desperate necessity. He renewed his offer
for the property, reluctantly edging up the price. Sue, for the first
time, wavered. Their credit at the general store was stopped, and there
seemed so little hope that Dick’s trip to sell his stamps would be
successful.

An absorbed Joe Carlin followed the script:

    Tice: I ain’t seen your boy, Dick, lately.

    Sue: No.

    Tice: Been away-like?

    Sue: For a while.

    Tice: You ain’t communicative, widder, are you? He ain’t trying
    to raise some money?

    Sue (alarmed): Who told you that?

    Tice (with satisfaction): Reckon I don’t need telling. It ain’t
    fitting for a boy to be out of school because his mother’s
    stubborn ’bout a piece of wuthless land. Suppose something’s
    gone and happened to Dick?

    Sue: Please!

    Tice: Widder, with some money handy there’d be no call for Dick
    to be away. You think of that for a while. Then you do some
    thinking on this paper—

    Sound—Crinkle of paper

    Sue: What is that?

    Tice: A paper, all legal, to sell for one thousand dollars. You
    put your name down here—

    Sue: No. I won’t.

    Tice: And this other paper, widder, is a check for one hundred
    dollars for down payment. Cash money. Cash money so a boy stays
    home where he belongs. One hundred dollars right in your hand
    and no call to be fretting about where a boy is and what
    mischief’s a-brewing. You think on it hard and I’ll be back in
    an hour.

    Sound—Footsteps crossing floor and door closing

    Sue: What shall I do? What shall I do?

    Dick (off mike): Mother!

    Sue (overjoyed): It’s Dick. He’s home.

    Dick (coming on mike): Mother, wait—

    Sound—Door bursts open

    Dick (full mike): Wait until you hear—What’s that paper?

    Sue: Mr. Tice left it—

    Dick: Tice? What’s that other paper? A check from Tice? You
    didn’t—Oh!

    Sound—Door closes

    Curtain

Motionless, silent, Vic Wylie had sat through the dress. He lifted his
head.

“No. You’re expecting a bomb-shell and all you get is a bubble. The
curtain’s a phony.”

The studio was silent.

What was it, Joe wondered, that left that sensation of hollowness? There
should have been drama. Sue’s distress, Dick’s return—and a door closed.
That was all—a door closed. He brought his hands together with a clap.

“Got something, kid?” Wylie’s eyes, despite their weariness, burned.

“What happens?” Joe asked. “A door shuts. You don’t know whether Dick’s
simply shut the door or whether he’s walked out. It’s just a sound. The
show’s too human for that. It must end on a human note. The door’s an
anti-climax. Dick says: ‘A check from Tice? You didn’t—’ That’s where
the door should close, slowly, as though all the pep’s been knocked out
of him. Then he says that one word. ‘Oh!’ Isn’t that your curtain?”

Once before, on the day he had suggested a change in Pop Bartell’s
reading in the _Bush-League Larry_ show, the producer had studied him
with that strange intentness.

“I should have seen it, kid. Tired. We’ll see how it goes. Got your
script marked? Stella. Take it from ‘Mr. Tice left.’”

They read again:

    Sue: Mr. Tice left it—

    Dick: Tice? What’s that other paper? A check? A check from Tice?
    You didn’t—

    Sound—Door closes

    Dick: Oh!

“That does it,” Vic Wylie said at last. “The real McCoy. It stands.” He
picked up his brief-case and left them.

Sonny draped a top-coat across his arm. “First an actor and now a
producer. You should try script-writing, Carlin.” He sauntered toward
the door.

“He makes me furious,” Stella snapped. Joe had never before seen her
ruffled.

“In the movies,” Bert Farr said, “they tried to hog the camera. On the
stage they have a trick of spoiling another actor’s big scenes by moving
about and distracting the audience. How long will Vic put up with him?”

Stella looked at Joe. “I want to be around the day Vic lets down his
hair.”

Clear understanding came to Joe. Stella had suspected that Amby, flushed
with a new importance, would not be able to resist the temptation to
impress that importance on Vic Wylie; Stella had urged him into the
studio so that Wylie would make a fresh mental comparison.

“Thanks, Stella,” he said.

Stella gave a faint smile. “Not that Vic needed the lesson,” she said.

A new Joe Carlin walked out of FKIP, the old high-spirited lilt back in
his stride. Amby Carver sputtered angrily in Royal Street and Sonny
Baker listened with languid amusement. Joe’s dislike of Sonny increased.
Amby had brought Sonny back from the coast and had put him in a part;
the actor should at least have remembered that. But Sonny, Joe saw in a
flash of wisdom, would be a taker and never a giver, egotistical and
selfish, and contemptuous even of his friends.

One thought ran happily through the boy’s mind: Vic, ousting Amby as
having nothing to do with the show, had told him to stay. Sonny taking
liberties with script, and Amby trying to get tough! His voice couldn’t
have begun to come back at a better time. All his worries of the past
week had been unnecessary worries. Well, he’d be smart. He’d stay away
and, along toward the end of the week, call Vic and tell him he was all
right. After that, he might have another few days to wait. Waiting, when
you waited in sick uncertainty, was hard; but those last few days of
waiting would be comparatively easy. He’d be on his way back.

The heady pulse of show business once more throbbed in his blood.
Sentiment took him back to the restaurant off Royal Street where Vic had
once rehearsed him across a table. He had hoped to have the table to
himself, but a girl sat where Wylie had sat. Disappointed, he walked
past the table. Then the girl turned her head and he recognized Miss
Robb.

Vic Wylie’s stenographer said in a rush of words: “When did you get back
in circulation, Joe? Were you at FKIP? Did you hear Lucille Borden goes
on the air next Monday? The show’s a comedy—_Never Tell a Woman_. I
didn’t know she could play comedy. Did you?”

The girl was plainly flustered. Was she afraid he’d begin to ask her
questions about the _Sue Davis_ show, about Sonny Baker, about the
rehearsals? He had, Joe reflected, learned all he needed to know this
morning.

Miss Robb rattled on: “I saw a movie last night, Joe. _Guns Along the
Rio._”

Joe’s mind was elsewhere. “That’s an old picture, isn’t it?”

“Not so very old. Two or three months ago Cecil de Mille gave it on the
air. I thought I’d like to see the picture if it ever was revived. Last
night I discovered it was showing at a neighborhood playhouse. What’s
the matter, Joe?”

His inattention was gone. “You mean you heard a short radio version and
then wanted to see the complete picture?”

“Why, yes. I suppose what I heard whetted my appetite for more. Is that
so strange?”

“I suppose not,” Joe said slowly. “Does it happen often?”

“To me? It’s happened several times. It’s happened to my sister. It’s
happened to people I know. You do think it’s strange, don’t you?”

“Strange isn’t the word,” said Joe. He shook off a hovering waitress.
“No dessert; I’m in a hurry.” Miss Robb’s face showed relief as he stood
up to go. He shook that off, too. Strangeness lay in the fact that this
had been in front of him all the time and that he hadn’t seen it.

Royal Street swallowed him and hurried him along with the crowd. Thomas
Carlin Presents To-day’s Book! He’d always felt there was a way for his
father to put on a broadcast and sell books. The movies did a selling
stunt every day. COMING ATTRACTIONS, and then half a dozen shots from
next week’s picture. The trick was to dramatize a scene from a book and
make people want to read the whole book. Vic probably wouldn’t use him
until next Monday’s show. He had almost a whole week.

The Thomas Carlin store was busy with men and women from the tall office
buildings, shopping during the lunch hour. One of the clerks raised a
cupped hand to his lips and Joe shook his head. No; he wasn’t back on
the air. His father was out.

“I want a book,” he said eagerly to Mr. Fairchild, his father’s
assistant. “I don’t care whether it’s an old book or a new book, but it
must be a good book with lots of action.”

“The jitterbug influence,” Mr. Fairchild smiled.

Joe’s hands made an impatient gesture. “Life. Something you can feel.
The McCoy.” Vic Wylie might have been speaking.

“Something—dramatic?” the man asked with a shrewd glance.

Joe went blank. He didn’t want to say anything about this until he saw
how it worked out. Mr. Fairchild took a book down from a shelf; the
telephone rang, and he had to go to the office. Joe made his escape,
winking at the clerks as he passed out toward the street.

The next three days were busy days. He was making a show. A book to read
and one particular scene to be picked for dramatization. What scene?
Chapter Eight offered a scene tense and climactic. But the action called
for four characters. Four were too many—a twenty-dollar cast. There was
a scene in Chapter Two between the lead and the heavy. Was it strong
enough? He walked the floor of his room, reading the passage aloud.
Perhaps that run in Chapter Nine with three characters.... Sometimes his
brain grew bewildered. He thought of Curt Lake sweating, and swearing,
and knocking out a new script under pressure the day his throat had gone
bad.

There were interruptions—lunch, the _Sue Davis_ broadcast, the family
dinner in the evening. But even as he described Sonny Baker or told of
Amby Carver’s rout, his mind was upstairs with the book. It would have
to be the scene from Chapter Two.

He worked behind the closed door of his room and rattled a portable
typewriter. He knew the mechanics of writing script, and the dialogue of
the scene was before him on the printed pages. The first two sheets of
script spun out of the typewriter. Then Joe ran into a passage in the
book that analyzed the thought passing through a character’s mind. How
did you get a character’s thoughts into a script? Radio had to be
dialogue. He wrote, and tore up what he had written, and wrote again. He
gave up in despair and fooled with a cross-word puzzle. He pushed that
aside and went back to writing. Nothing would jell. He tried talking the
scene aloud.

Kate Carlin cried: “Joe, are you all right?”

Sure, he was all right. He was swell. Curt Lake could have
script-writing—he wanted no part of such a headache. Why couldn’t he
find the words? It shouldn’t be so hard to express a thought. Just about
two sentences. Inspiration came to him from whatever void it is that
gives birth to inspiration. He went back to the typewriter.

Thursday night he finished the script in an exultation of authorship.
Nine pages—that’s how long a Curt Lake script ran for a fifteen-minute
show. Now he had to have a signature that would mark the start of every
program, and he had to have an opening plug and a closing plug.

A rough idea for a distinctive signature came Friday morning. He put it
down:

    Voice: I am ink, and paper, and the thoughts of men.

    Sound—Faint rumble of printing press

    Voice: I am the printed word.

    Sound (full mike)—Rumble of printing press

    Voice: I am BOOKS.

    Sound—Press rumble fades to—

    Announcer: Thomas Carlin presents to-day’s book—

Absorbed, he worked on the plugs. He came to the close:

                   Life breathes in the printed word.
                   Read books and live with life.

He told himself that he had something.

In imagination he heard an announcer’s voice speaking the lines into a
mike. Boy, those lines were good. He had something there. The
fascination of creation warmed him. This was show business; this was
radio. But it was also something else he did not suspect.

It was _Thomas Carlin Presents_.

He read over what he had written. He read it over a second time and a
frown pinched his forehead. The plugs didn’t seem to have all the zip he
had thought was there. The feeling grew on him that he hadn’t quite
caught the boat. Probably, with a little tinkering here and there.... He
put the script in a small upper drawer of his desk where he kept razor
blades, cuff links, tie clasps, odds and ends. He wouldn’t hand his
father this show until he had licked it into shape. It had to be right.
If the plugs proved too much for him, if he couldn’t make them right,
he’d take them to Vic.

Instantly his thoughts were back with the _Sue Davis_ show. This was
Friday, about time for Vic to give the word. On the chance that he might
catch the producer he called his office.

“He’s not here, Joe,” Miss Robb said.

“Tell him my voice is all right, will you?”

“Why—yes. I’ll tell him, Joe.”

Joe thought: “The call ought to come to-morrow.”

There was no call the next day. And the telephone bell was silent all
through the long, dragging hours of Sunday.

Premonition whispered, and the long knife of radio uncertainty touched
him once more. Vic might be tied up. He knew this wasn’t so. The Monday
show had to be rehearsed Sunday afternoon or Sunday night. When had Vic
ever been so busy that a show went neglected? Perhaps he should have
spent the week downtown and not have buried himself in a dramatization.
But this wasn’t a case where he had to visit a station and keep himself
fresh in a casting director’s memory. This was a Wylie show.

Monday morning the telephone rang. He was halfway down the stairs before
his mother could call: “For you, Joe.”

Stella’s voice fluttered. “Lu’s show goes on at four. Are you picking it
up?”

“Wouldn’t miss it,” Joe told her. His heart was lead.

“None of us will be able to hear it. Her show goes off fifteen minutes
before we go on.”

“Leave it to me,” said Joe, and hung up.

“Was that Mr. Wylie’s office?” Kate Carlin asked.

“No; Stella Joyce. She asked me to listen to Lucille Borden.” He was
silent. “I’ll pick it up at Vic’s.” Now that he was ready to resume his
part, he couldn’t haunt Studio B. But Stella would want a report on
Lucille. He’d have a legitimate reason for waiting until the cast came
in from rehearsal. If Vic had anything to tell him, Vic could tell him
then.

An afternoon romance serial was coming to the inner room when he reached
Wylie’s office.

“That’s the station,” Miss Robb said. “Miss Borden’s show is next.”

Joe sat in Vic Wylie’s chair. Presently a mellow gong announced the
station and the interval between programs. The click of Miss Robb’s
typewriter ceased.

Lucille Borden’s voice, clipped, a little hard with a familiar hardness,
went through him. The voice seemed strangely enriched with a new, deeper
quality. It was impish, provocative, casually gay, and touched with
unexpected moments of tears and of laughter. Joe found himself
chuckling. Abruptly Lu put a yearning tenderness into a passage that
caught his breath. And then his head was back and he was laughing as she
gave drawling drollery to another line.

Lucille Borden’s premier was over. Joe knew she had scored a smash hit.
Miss Robb dabbed at her eyes with a handkerchief.

“I can’t help it, Joe. She was so wonderful.”

Joe had to clear his throat of emotion. “She was great.” He was thinking
of the day he had hurried to a Munson hosiery counter to tell a defeated
actress that her chance had come, and of the way her hands had gripped
the counter. The ups and downs of show business!

At 4:30 he tuned in the _Sue Davis_ show. Any program coming on after
Lucille’s triumph would have seemed flat; Lucille had fired him. He was
nervous and restless, eager to return to the cast. He roamed out to Miss
Robb’s desk.

“I’ll be glad,” he said, “to get back on the air.”

The girl, typing faster, did not answer.

“Vic may give me the word to-day,” he added.

Miss Robb slipped a letter from the carriage of the machine and carried
a carbon to the file. The cabinet drawer held hundreds of yellow
carbons. She placed the copy in its alphabetical compartment and did not
speak.

Joe went back to Wylie’s chair. The inner room throbbed with
memories—memories of his first days with Vic, of the hard grind of
rehearsals, of the thrill of his first days on the air. When would he go
back? Why hadn’t he played in to-day’s show?

Miss Robb, wearing her hat and coat, appeared in the doorway. “If you’re
staying, Joe, I won’t put the catch on the door.”

“They’ll want to hear about Lucille,” said Joe.

The girl drew on her gloves. “Show business is tough,” she said
impulsively, and was gone.

Daylight faded. Had she been trying to tell him something? Joe thought
of the crowded carbons in the filing cabinet. Sonny Baker playing fast
and loose with a script, little Amby Carver fussing impotently in Studio
B—these happenings were more or less public. And he had thought them
important. The real story might lie in letters locked away in the file.
Letters that Wylie had received; letters he had written. Office secrets.
But Miss Robb knew those secrets. He remembered her agitation the day he
had met her at the restaurant, and to-day she had blurted out that show
business was tough. Nobody had to tell him that. He knew it.

The inner room darkened and he turned on a light. Did Miss Robb know why
he hadn’t gone back to the cast? Wylie had had knowledge since Friday
that he had recovered.

The door from the hall opened and closed. Sonny Baker strolled into the
inner room.

“Around again, Carlin?” he asked. His eyes reflected a sleepy, mocking
amusement. He picked up a magazine and lolled on the settee.

Stella Joyce and Bert Farr came in together.

“Tell me everything,” Stella said eagerly.

Joe’s description of Lucille was a rhapsody. Stella wrote a telegram of
congratulation. She read them the telegram and the list of
signatures—Vic Wylie, Stella Joyce, Bert Farr, Joe Carlin.

“Miss Robb will want to be in that,” said Joe. “Why not Archie Munn?
What’s become of him? I haven’t seen him in two weeks.”

Stella said slowly: “You knew he was offered a selling job? He took it.
He had to. He couldn’t live on bit parts and a few funerals.”

“He’ll be back,” Joe predicted.

“I’m not so sure,” Stella said slowly. “There’s a limit.” She held the
telegram and looked toward the settee. “Want your name on this, Sonny?”

One of Sonny’s eyebrows lifted blandly. “I didn’t hear the performance.”

“Why don’t you get wise to yourself?” Stella snapped. “Lu was always
good.”

“Not bad,” Sonny murmured languidly, and returned to the magazine.

A door slammed, and Vic Wylie was upon them. The producer’s hat was
dented, his top-coat collar was half up and half down, the brief-case,
closed by a single strap and gaping at one end, swung past his knee. He
dumped the brief-case on the desk.

“You gave me a lousy show to-day,” he snarled at the cast. “Dish-water!
Hello, kid. How was she?”

“I never heard anything better,” said Joe. He spoke slowly and
distinctly so that Wylie could get the full, strong timbre of his voice.
Of course, Vic couldn’t very well talk up in front of Sonny. But he
could say: “Come out here a minute, kid,” and tell him where he stood.

Wylie’s tired face cracked into a smile. “A grand gal, Lu; one of the
best. Give her a part that fits her and she’s tops. What did she do with
the comedy shots?”

“She put them over beautifully.”

“I always figured she’d be tops on smooth comedy.” Wylie opened the
brief-case. “Let’s get going.” He distributed to-morrow’s show—a script
to Stella, a script to Bert, a script to Sonny....

Joe walked out.

He was bitter. Archie Munn had advised him in the early days to stick to
Vic, had said that Vic took care of his people. Well, he’d called
himself one of Vic Wylie’s people. He’d auditioned the _Sue Davis_ show;
he’d originated the Dick Davis role. Vic had told him he was still in
the show. He pushed through the crowd standing in the street outside
FKIP and was deaf to the news broadcast coming from the speaker. Had
Wylie kept him in Studio B as a piece of scenery, a prop threat to Sonny
Baker that Sonny had better be good? Was that what Miss Robb knew and
was afraid she might reveal? He said in growing bitterness: “Show
business!”

He ate a belated, warmed-over dinner in the Carlin kitchen. His father
sat across the table.

“See Wylie to-day, Joe?”

Joe nodded. “I don’t know any more than I did yesterday. Sonny’s playing
the show to-morrow.”

“Have you any plans?”

“No, sir.” But Joe did have plans. He’d lay siege to casting directors’
offices until he found a part. Did Vic think radio began and ended in
the office of Vic Wylie Productions? When Vic wanted him again, Vic
could send for him.

Next day Joe Carlin once more started to make the rounds.

He told himself: “I’ve been in a successful show; they know me now.” But
making the rounds didn’t have the hopeful outlook it had worn last
night. The bread-and-butter hunt depressed him. He had been all through
this before; he was back where he had started.

Now that he was at liberty, no actor, beginning to look a little seedy,
led him into a quiet nook to negotiate a small loan. None of the show
people mentioned the _Sue Davis_ show. Nothing else had changed. There
was the same sharp anxiety that showed itself only in off-guard moments,
the same glib talk of fat parts about to turn up, the same business of
having a bright gag ready for casting directors, the same sham front
that fooled nobody. Lucille Borden had carried a front while living on
coffee and rolls. But Stella Joyce had said there was a limit.

He made the rounds thinking about Archie Munn, who had at last reached
his limit. He made the rounds from FKIP to FFOM to FWWO. Casting
directors were brightly glib. “Hello, Carlin; how are you?” or “Hello,
Joe; how’s the boy?” Nothing more; nothing about parts. Casting
directors’ routine hadn’t changed, either. You might make the rounds for
weeks and for months. Playing a part in a successful show was something
that had happened yesterday. Hadn’t Archie played in successful shows?

Friday added another to the growing list of fruitless days. Gossip was a
thread running through the stations. Practically all the September
programs were renewing their radio time, and that meant few new shows
and few new parts. Joe, coming out of FFOM, met Pop Bartell. Pop was a
gilded lily—new suit, new coat, new hat, new shoes. Show business always
dresses when it is in the money.

“Joe,” the veteran announced impressively, “I owe you two dollars, and
an apology for not having discharged my obligation earlier, and a round
of dinners.” He made the paying of the debt a ceremony. “Are you
following Lucille Borden? Join me in a cup of coffee. I am familiar with
a coffee house that does very little business at this hour. We can pick
it up there. I highly recommend the cheese cake.”

The raftered ceiling of the coffee house was dark and smoky, the paneled
walls were lined with sporting prints, the tables were bare wood,
scarred and grooved. In the dim light thrown by the Dutch lamps Pop
Bartell seemed to have torn ten years from what the world calls age.

Lucille’s performance held Joe spellbound.

“Brilliant,” Pop said softly, “truly brilliant. A remarkable
characterization. I salute her. Have you heard my show, Joe?”

[Illustration: Lucille’s performance held Joe spellbound. “Brilliant,”
Pop said softly. “I salute her.”]

Joe flushed. “I’m sorry, Mr. Bartell.”

“I understand.” A hand patted the boy’s shoulder. “From the experiences
of thirty years of wisdom, permit me to cull you wisdom. When the bad
breaks come, never lose your front.”

“You never lost yours, Mr. Bartell.”

“Had I lost that, Joe,” the old man said gravely, “I’d have lost
everything. Are you remaining for the _Sue Davis_ show?” Slim and
straight, he strode toward the street. And in that moment Joe Carlin
knew why front, for all its hollowness and sham, meant so much to show
people. It was the hard stiffener when an actor’s precarious world was
shaken; it was sanctuary and armor.

He ordered more coffee. “Will you please get FKIP?”

To-day the _Sue Davis_ show rose to tense drama. The money Dick Davis
brought home after selling his stamps was almost gone; without warning,
tight-fisted Israel Tice offered $500 more for the widow’s property than
he had offered before. Sue was weary of fighting a battle that seemed
endless. Why not sell, she asked her son, and be done with heartache?
Why not find peace? Dick wanted to hold the property, but he saw how the
struggle was aging his mother and consented. She was to agree to the
terms when Tice stopped in that evening. Dick, who did not want to be
present at the meeting, went off into the mountains to search for wild
grapes. He came upon a picnic party; departing, they left behind a
newspaper published that morning at the State capital. The paper carried
the story of a new super-highway and a map. The map showed the highway
following the line of the unimproved county road that passed his
mother’s home. Their dream of a tea-room would be realized. But Tice
must have seen the story that morning; Tice knew what the mountain might
not know until to-morrow. Dick had to get home before his mother signed
the agreement to sell. Running down the mountainside, crashing through
thickets, he reached the house as she lifted the pen. He stuck the
newspaper under Israel Tice’s nose, and a thwarted skinflint departed.

It was hokum. Joe knew it for hokum. But it was good hokum, and it had
built up a terrific suspense. The kind of suspense a Curt Lake script
could give a show. Or had it been Sonny Baker’s acting?

Next day Joe walked Royal Street. Saturday was a poor day to make the
rounds, but when you were desperate for a part every day counted. FKIP’s
John Dennis sat in a deserted casting office staring at the ceiling.

“Come in, Joe. You’re just the man I’ve been thinking about. If I call
you in to audition a show that will go on at 4:15, will you be
available?”

Joe understood. Dennis wanted to know if he was out of the _Sue Davis_
program that went on at 4:30.

“What show?” he asked.

“Were reviving _Mr. America_. There’s a new part being written in that
should fit you like a glove. We put the show on last March and had three
sponsor nibbles before it went off in June. This time we think we’ll
sell it.”

Joe remembered _Mr. America_. A five-a-week sustaining. Front demanded
that he tell Gillis he was uncertain, that he might decide not to return
to the _Sue Davis_ cast. Dennis would probably know he was lying, but
that was the way front was played. He cast front aside.

“I don’t know, Mr. Dennis. Right this minute, I’m in the dark. I’ll let
you know.”

“I’ll have to know by Wednesday. Unless there’s a switch, we’ll start to
audition Thursday and cut the platter Saturday.”

“I’ll know definitely by Wednesday,” said Joe. He had vowed Vic would
have to send for him. All that was changed. He’d have to go to Vic for a
showdown.

Waiting for the elevator, unconsciously listening to an FKIP
loudspeaker, Joe felt that the future held a grim, mirthless humor. If
he went on the _Mr. America_ program, he’d still be in radio. He’d still
be on a five-a-week. Both shows would come out of the same station,
fifteen minutes apart. But the _Sue Davis_ sponsored show had been
paying him twenty-five dollars a week, while the unsponsored _Mr.
America_ would pay him only in experience. Show business!

John Dennis’ secretary came running along the corridor. “Mr. Carlin! I
wasn’t sure I could catch you. Mr. Wylie’s office called. You’re wanted
over there.”

Vic Wylie had sent for him at last!

“Will you phone back and tell them I’ll be there within an hour?” He’d
been waiting for more than a week. Let Vic wait an hour.

He ate a sandwich at Munson’s, killed time, and finally walked into Vic
Wylie Productions.

“I expect Mr. Wylie back in a few minutes,” Miss Robb said.

So he hadn’t kept Wylie waiting. The inner room still held memories.
Memories softened him. Why wrap himself in cold aloofness and let Vic
see he was sore? Vic would tell him to come back to the cast for the
Monday show and he’d go on from there, forgetting how tough the last
week had been, giving everything he had.

Wylie arrived without the usual accompaniment of fury and bustle. He
closed the door and placed the brief-case upon the desk with what, for
him, might pass for gentleness. He went around to his chair and, for a
moment, seemed to give himself up to contemplation of some thought far
away. He was gaunt and disheveled, apparently a little more tired than
usual. He hadn’t shaved.

“Kid,” he said heavily, “I’m not up to the light touch. I can’t spar
around with this. I’ve got to give it to you fast and quick. You’re
out.”

The blood drained out of Joe. Never again to play Dick Davis.... He
found his voice. “I’m out for good?”

“That’s the ticket.”

“Why?” This was some sort of wild dream or some mad joke. Only—Vic
didn’t joke about things like this.

“You heard yesterday’s show? Yesterday wrote the answer. I like you—”

Joe’s lips moved. “You can skip that.”

“All right; you shouldn’t have to be told. I’ve been holding off. Amby
Carver’s been telling things to Munson, Munson’s been riding
Everts-Hall, Everts-Hall’s been putting pressure on me. I got it three
ways; some of it was downstage, some from the prompter’s book, and some
from the wings. I didn’t want Sonny unless he became a must. If he
starts out again to put himself up in lights, he can ruin the show. If
he gets under my skin and I blow my top, I ruin the show. I told you
once I don’t run a friendship club. I might have an idea that cutting
your throat would be tops as a way to enjoy an afternoon, but if you
give me a show, I’ll toss the knife out the window. Yesterday Sonny gave
me a show. He’s a must.”

“He had a script.”

“A stage has scenery, but it’s only an empty stage until the scenery’s
set.”

Disappointment made Joe hoarse. “What did Sonny Baker do that I couldn’t
have done with the same script?”

“Kid,” Wylie said with weary regret, “he can act.”

Joe Carlin was stiff and numb with shock. Was Wylie telling him at this
late date that he was a flop? After auditioning him for weeks, fighting
for him when Mrs. Munson wanted the Dick Davis part for a nephew, giving
him the part when the show finally went on the air? Suddenly he was
white with anger. Wylie had either fooled him at the beginning or was
fooling him now. Either way, he had been betrayed.

“You told me I was tops.”

The producer’s hands made a weary sign. “I expected you to throw that at
me, kid. I had a show coming up; I wanted a Dick Davis; I knew exactly
how Dick Davis should sound. I couldn’t find a Dick Davis. Then I heard
you auditioning at FKIP. You were my Dick Davis. For that part, your
voice made you tops. You were tops until Sonny came along. When Mr. John
Public turns on the radio all he gets is voices. Voices must build up
the scene, the characters, the atmosphere in his imagination. The show
doesn’t have the help of stage settings, lights, costumes, and make-up.
You’ve got a million dollar radio voice, but that lets you out. You
can’t do much with it. You feel, but you can’t give. It took me weeks to
get you to give me one word, ‘Mother,’ the way I wanted it.”

Joe’s breath made a sound in his throat.

“You’re good, kid, but you’re not good enough. There’ll always be
somebody better. That’s the curse of small-time radio. Thousands of kids
working in radio all over the country, wild with ambition and dreaming
of the pot of gold. They’re good, but not good enough. You’ve got to be
better than good. Archie Munn was good; he’s out of radio. Stella’s
good; she’s working as a part-time waitress. Lucille Borden was good,
and she was selling stockings when she got the breaks. A part came up
made to order for her just when she auditioned, or she’d still be
selling stockings. Where will you be ten years from now? Exactly where
you are to-day. You know small-time radio; do you want that all your
life? Your voice gets you a couple of fat parts one season, and next
season you get bits. Year after year you make the rounds. By and by John
Public gets tired of your voice, or a new voice comes along. Then where
are you? Television’s only around the corner. John Public’s going to see
the setting, the action, and characters in costume; radio actors will
really have to act. What will you do then? If you had dynamite on the
ball I’d tell you to stick it out if you starved. You haven’t got it,
kid, and there’s no percentage in starving for what you haven’t got. I
knew a long time ago you didn’t have the stuff, but you were the best
Dick Davis I could get. I told you when Mrs. Munson’s nephew auditioned
you’d have been out had he been hot. I’ve never lied to you, kid. If
you’d played forty weeks in the _Sue Davis_ show you’d be hooked for
life. The bug would bite so deeply there’d be no cure. But you were only
on the air a few weeks—that shouldn’t be fatal. You can make your exit
while there’s still time.”

The indictment struck Joe with a paralyzing shock. He didn’t want to
believe. He couldn’t believe that this was true.

“I’m not getting out, Vic. I’m writing New York for an audition.”

The producer brooded. “That’s up to you.”

“A producer told Ezra Stone—”

“I know. A producer told him to go home and forget acting. That gets a
big play. But you don’t hear a word about the hundreds of times
producers tell the same thing to kids and are right. It’s a waste of
time to try to give the low-down to a stage-struck kid. Doesn’t he want
to act? He doesn’t know the difference between wanting to act and being
able to act.” The producer’s hand went up and ran through his hair; the
arms fell heavily. “Kid, what have I got to say to make you believe me?”
The sunken eyes burned.

Joe felt the first thin edge of doubt. He fought it off wildly. “Why
should you care what I believe?”

“Kid, do you have to ask that?”

A lump, quick and unbidden, formed in the boy’s throat. “I—I know you
think....”

“Think?” Vic Wylie cried harshly. “I don’t have to think about show
business; I know. Tough? There isn’t any game in the world that’s
tougher. I’ve seen it around the country: stage-struck kids working in
crummy night clubs or picking up a few dollars from movie houses that
run Saturday vaudeville. I’ve seen it at Hollywood: movie-crazy kids
storming the Central Casting Bureau because they’ve won a two-bit beauty
contest or have a straight nose. But at least, if you work at Hollywood,
you get paid. There’s no such thing at Hollywood as a sustaining movie.
Hollywood doesn’t fatten itself on gratis talent. Radio’s just a little
tougher than any other part of show business. Don’t you know it? Don’t
you use your eyes?”

Joe thought of bread-and-butter hunters making the rounds.

Wylie’s sunken cheeks were pale with intensity. “What do you think
you’re going to do in New York—show me up for a mug? I’ll tell you
what’ll happen in New York, kid. Maybe you’ll audition and a producer’ll
say: ‘Ah, a voice of great promise.’ Maybe you’ll go back for a
committee audition. Maybe the committee hears a voice of great promise.
Then what? Do you think you’ll snatch a part like picking an oyster from
a shell? You’ll be competing with the people who are tops. Who are you?
What’ve you done? You become a card—a Joe Carlin card. You’ll go into a
talent file. Do you know how many cards are in the N.B.C. file at WEAF?
The last time I heard, more than two thousand. Many of them are troupers
with years of stage experience, many of them have played big-time radio.
When a producer casts a show, those are the people he picks. He knows
what they’ll give him. Maybe a show comes up and the producer can’t get
the people he wants; they’re tied up in other shows. Then he goes to the
file. Maybe he’s forgotten Joe Carlin—some new cards go into that file
every month. It’s a grab-bag. Figure the chances of the Joe Carlin card
coming out. If you had great talent I’d tell you to stay with it if you
were down to your last pair of socks, if you were mooching your meals
and panhandling your friends. I’d help you. Great talent is rare. Kid,
what makes you think you’ve got it?”

Looking at Wylie, intense and drawn, listening to his impassioned voice,
Joe had to believe. Wylie had spent far more time on him than on any
other member of the cast. That now became significant. Memory leaped at
him with other scenes, all significant. Wylie talking to Tony Vaux about
his voice—only about his voice. Wylie almost frantic because he couldn’t
put something into the word “Mother” that the producer wanted put there.
Wylie slaving over him through the long evening rehearsals. But he had
dreamed a dream, and a dream always dies hard.

“Vic, why did you wait so long to tell me this?”

“Kid, I was on a spot. It didn’t take me long to learn you didn’t have
the spark. You’d never lay them in the aisles. What could I do, toss you
out? You were the best I could get for Dick Davis. Suppose you had no
special training for a business job? Suppose you couldn’t land a job?
Suppose radio was your only chance of nailing a dollar? Yesterday I
began to check on you. You never told me anything about yourself. How
was I to know your father owned that Carlin store on Royal Street?
What’s the matter, doesn’t he want you there?”

“He’d be glad to have me there.”

“Then get wise. That’s where you belong.”

Sometimes, Joe thought wanly, it was hard to be wise. The easy
companionship of show people, light-hearted despite its anxiety, the
feeling that came over him every time he walked into a station, the hush
that settled over a studio as the clock in the control-room crept toward
the opening, the thrill as the show went on the air! He couldn’t give up
all that.

“Vic,” he said, “I’m sorry. I still want show business.”

Wylie sat with his unshaven chin sunk down on his chest. “All right,
kid. I’ve laid it on the line to you and I feel better. If you want show
business, you want it. The acting door’s closed. Try the window.”

“What window?”

Wylie said: “Production.”

Joe was startled. A producer was an obscure figure in the background,
never heard, never seen. A producer was part of show business, but— Oh,
it wasn’t the same thing at all. He began to shake his head.

Wylie was the old Wylie, snarling. “I thought you wanted show business.”

“I do.”

“No, you don’t. You want the spotlight and the fan mail. Look, kid.”
Wylie came out of the chair and swung the boy about by the shoulders.
“As a producer, you don’t interpret one part. You interpret all the
parts. You set the tempo. You touch the strings and the cast vibrates.
You take a script and make it live. You make the show, molding it and
shaping it. You’re the show, all of it.”

Joe’s lips parted. Here was Wylie’s strange power to move him, to
galvanize him. Production took on a color of possibility. Hadn’t he been
trying to do something like this with _Thomas Carlin Presents_?

“I’d have to break in, Vic. Where?”

“The Everts-Hall Agency. Tony Vaux. Tony saw you put a finger on what
was wrong with Pop Bartell at a _Bush-League Larry_ audition. You’re a
possibility. You have an instinct. You put your finger on a bad _Sue
Davis_ curtain. Production’s no bed of roses; it’s show business and all
show business is tough. But you have a whole stage to play with. A show
becomes your baby.”

Joe was no longer stiff and numb. A regret that he would never act
lingered, but Wylie had cast a new light on production and had made it
desirable and exhilarating.

“I’ll see Tony this afternoon, Vic.”

“I’ve already talked to him. He’s out of town to-day. You’ll be a
glorified messenger-boy-office-boy-all-around-helper—”

“I haven’t the job yet.”

“Didn’t I say I talked to him? You go in Monday and hang up your hat.”
Vic Wylie went back to his chair, jerked around abruptly, and shot out a
thin, nervous hand as though it were a spear. “Do you know what you’re
going to do, kid? You’re going to school and take a night course.
Dramatics. When summer comes and radio’s dead, you’re taking a leave of
absence. You’re going into summer stock. You’re joining some company
playing in a cowbarn—”

“I thought I was through acting.”

“Did I say anything about acting?” Wiley rasped. “You’re going in as
assistant stage manager. Maybe you’ll get some money and maybe you
won’t. But you’re going to study stage business. You’re going to watch
audiences and find out what makes them laugh and what makes them cry.
You’re going to be a showman. Some day you’ll thank me.”

Joe said slowly: “I’m thanking you now.”

Worming through Royal Street he was feverish with the prospect of new
horizons. A whole stage to play with. You built shows, molding them and
shaping them. The picture grew in his mind, expanded in his excitement.
If he was some day to be a full-fledged producer, it was time he
finished his first show. It would be something to look back upon, a
milestone. All that the plugs needed was more direct strength, the right
touch. He ought to finish the script to-night. To-morrow he’d be able to
show it to his father.

Kate Carlin called from the kitchen. “Aren’t you home early?”

“I smelled apple pie,” Joe said. He watched her take the brown, fragrant
pies from the oven. “I’m through with acting.”

She almost dropped a pie. “Joe!”

“It’s all right. You and Dad never really liked the idea of my acting,
anyway. I’m going into production. I start Monday with the Everts-Hall
Agency.”

She followed him to the stairs. “Why, Joe?”

“Vic Wylie advised it. I was out of the _Sue Davis_ show. He told me I
was good, but that there’d always be somebody better. He said I’d never
make big time. It was hard to take at first, but, well, Vic makes you
believe him. You know he’s shooting straight.”

He went at once to the bureau. He’d wade into those plugs.... He took
the script from the drawer, and hard concentration gathered between his
eyes. He knew exactly how he had left the script and now the pages were
turned about, reversed. The frown deepened.

“Mother, were you looking over some papers in my bureau?”

“I don’t recall any papers. What drawer were they in?”

“The small top drawer on the right.”

“The only drawer I opened was the large middle one. I put away your
laun—Oh! I remember, Joe. Dad ran out of razor blades and went to your
room for a fresh blade.”

“When was that?”

“Tuesday or Wednesday. Are some papers missing?”

“No,” said Joe, swallowing. “They’re here.”

Tuesday or Wednesday—three or four days ago. This wasn’t a finished
script. It took a professional script-writer like Curt Lake to do a
finished script. This show was a sample, an indication of what could be
done. And his father hadn’t thought the script worth discussing.

All the fine fire of eagerness went out of him. Another egg. First he’d
laid an acting egg and now a script egg. He tossed the script back among
the razor blades and tie clasps, and closed the drawer.



                               CHAPTER 10


Joe Carlin “hung up his hat” in the radio department of the Everts-Hall
Agency.

“Joe,” Tony Vaux said jovially, “I hope you won’t find the job dull.
Over here we try to stay sane.”

Joe read this as a good-natured crack at Vic Wylie.

“How is Vic?” Tony boomed. “Still carrying fifty pounds of steam? They
tell me a Vic Wylie rehearsal’s an endurance contest.”

Joe grinned in affectionate remembrance.

“I wonder how long Vic would keep that up if he had to pay rehearsal
time?”

Joe had an idea that Vic, with a passion for perfection, would still
seek perfection. “No producer around here pays rehearsal time,” he
pointed out.

Tony chuckled. “Vic should be glad of that; he’d go broke. Besides,
Vic’s a free agent; we’re salaried employees. We have just so many hours
to spend on a show. If Vic doesn’t like a show he won’t touch it; over
here, all we can do is try to steer a client away from a bad egg. If he
still wants the egg, we have to produce it. If we were right and it
turns out to be a bad egg, he insists that it’s our fault, that we gave
him a bad show. You’ll get to know all about eggs over here, Joe; we
walk on them all day long. We try to smooth the sponsor, we try to
smooth Everts-Hall, we try to smooth the script-writer and the cast.
Sometimes it takes some doing.”

“The most miles to the gallon of pleasant gas,” said Joe.

Tony glanced at him sharply. “You might call it that. Did you know Mrs.
Munson helped Amby Carver to hook himself a job with her husband?”

“Did Amby get it?” This was news to Joe. “Is that a warning?”

“Now, now, Joe.” Tony spread placating hands. “We have to remember that
he has Munson’s ear. Temporarily, anyway. Munson doesn’t really want
him, and, some fine day, Munson’ll toss him out. But while he’s there,
he’s there. Hold down the fort and remember your eggs. When in doubt,
tread softly. I’ll be at FKIP until eleven.”

A literary agent arrived with a platter, and another platter came by
express. “The show radio’s been waiting for,” the agent assured Joe
earnestly. “Tell Tony to move fast if he wants an option.” A boy laid
mail on Tony’s desk, and in the mail were three scripts. The scripts
were accompanied by letters; each letter claimed that here was the show
for which radio had been panting. The platters would have to be indexed
and auditioned, the scripts would have to be indexed and read. An
Everts-Hall account executive demanded to know when Tony would return.
Joe began to understand why the ruddy, genial producer could give only
so much time, and no more, to a show.

Curt Lake brought in a week’s run of _Sue Davis_ script.

“I thought you gave these to Vic,” Joe said.

“Carbons. Reading copies. Everybody reads—agency, sponsor, producer.
Sometimes I think they call in a traffic cop. Anybody may throw a red
flag and then you may have to rewrite. Munson never used to bother with
script, but now he has a public relations radio counsel—Mr. Carver. When
Vic goes into rehearsal, he’s using script with a production O.K.”

“Do you do much rewriting?” Joe was thinking of a _Thomas Carlin
Presents_ script that would never be rewritten.

“Some,” Curt said dryly.

Ten minutes later the telephone rang. “Mr. Carver,” said the girl
outside.

Amby had blossomed. His cane gleamed with a brilliant polish and his
spidery mustache had taken on the elegance of waxed, pin-point tips.
“Joe, my boy, congratulations.” The little man was bursting with
effusive cordiality, but his eyes were shifty and apprehensive. “I’m
delighted. Absolutely. I had the word a week ago you were slated to come
in here with Tony.”

Joe took that with an inward hoot.

“Tony and I are great pals, Joe—like that.” Two of Amby’s fingers hooked
together to indicate a close relationship. “Did you get a boost? Amby
Carver’s telling you you did. Didn’t I bring you into radio? Didn’t I
get you your start? I went down the line, all the way.”

Amby was an open book. A future producer might some day prove valuable.
But Joe had been given his cue. In this shop you smoothed everybody.

“Thanks, Amby. That was nice of you.”

“Does Amby Carver ever forget a pal? Didn’t I tell you you’d some day
know you had me wrong?” Mr. Munson’s public relations radio counsel was
no longer apprehensive. “I’ve brought back some _Sue Davis_ script,” he
said pompously, “without my approval. Get a load of how I’m changing
this show, Joe. Sue gets typhoid. She doesn’t feel so good, but she’s
around. While she’s alone and getting delirious, she signs for Tice. She
doesn’t know what she’s doing. Will she lose the house? Suspense. Will
she get better? Big suspense. Dick has to fight Tice in court to get the
property back. More suspense. It’s colossal.”

“Where’s Dick getting the money for a lawyer?” Joe asked.

“That’s a detail for Curt to handle,” Amby said loftily. “He writes the
show. I want to see new script by Friday.” He added, as he left: “We
must have lunch together some day.”

Tony Vaux’s voice boomed in the reception-room, and his step volleyed in
the corridor.

“Anything stirring, Joe?”

“Amby Carver changing _Sue Davis_.”

Tony chuckled. “Yeah? Wait until Curt hears that.” He picked the script
from the desk and, as he read, he began to choke. “Typhoid? The
fat-headed lug! Can’t you see it coming, Joe? He’ll have a doctor fall
in love with Sue.” Tony held his sides and howled. “Typhoid! It’s a
four-star final; it’s a panic. What wouldn’t I give to show this to
Curt?”

“Won’t you?”

“Curt?” Tony pulled out a handkerchief and mopped a face that had begun
to mottle. “He’d run out without his hat and try to pull Amby through a
key-hole. No, no, Joe. This is where we do a smooth job with our eggs.”
He called Amby at the Munson store.

Joe heard the rasp of a briskly important voice: “Good morning. This is
the public-relations-radio office. Mr. Carver speaking.”

Tony boomed genially. “Hello, Amby. Boy, how do you think of them? Good?
It’s a natural. How _do_ you think of them? You ought to be writing
script. You come up with ideas in each hand and every idea’s a honey.
But look, Amby. Isn’t this too good to waste? I mean, if it’s used now—
Sure; that’s the point. We should build up to it; set the stage for a
big smash. You were thinking of that? You’re absolutely right, Amby.
Your idea, then, is to put it on ice for two or three weeks? Great.
Couldn’t be better.” Tony put down the telephone.

“What do we do when he starts looking for typhoid?” Joe asked.

“In three weeks,” Tony chuckled, “he’ll think up a new brilliant and
forget this one.”

The account executive came back seeking data for an Everts-Hall client,
a soap manufacturer, who might make a cautious test of radio advertising
in this area. “He doesn’t want to spend any too much, Tony.”

“They never do,” Tony boomed and brought out platters. Joe listened to
show after show until it seemed that the world must be full of unsold
radio shows.

“How about a spot?” the executive asked.

“FKIP’s open at 4:15.” Tony brought out the Crosley ratings and there
was absorbed discussion of the competition the 4:15 spot faced and of
the ratings of the competing shows.

Joe ate a hurried sandwich at a drug-store counter. This was the part of
show business hidden from the public. Show business behind the scenes,
the inside stuff.

An actress and an actor named Mander were in the office with Tony when
Joe got back. Mander told a story and told it well. Tony threw back his
head and roared.

“Folks,” he said, “here’s where I move along.” The actress went out with
him. Their voices drifted back from the corridor.

Mander waited until they were gone. “Got a half-dollar that isn’t
working, Joe?” he asked quietly.

Joe dug into his pocket. The bread-and-butter hunt had followed him to
the Everts-Hall Agency.

“Dennis is making another _Mr. America_ show,” Mander said. “He’s
calling me in. They expect to sell the show.”

Joe thought: “They’re always expecting to sell a show—to-morrow.” The
day ran on, and in the late afternoon he tuned Tony’s radio for
_Bush-League Larry_.

Sonny Baker, as a brash, hot-headed young man beginning to make his mark
in professional baseball, gave a good, clear-cut performance. But what,
Joe asked himself in dismay, had happened to Pop Bartell? When Tony had
been putting the show together for the He people Pop had been
superb—mellowly in character. To-day he was jerky and uncertain as
though he were having trouble with his lines. What was it, the old
trouble? Was Pop still trying to maintain a false front of youth and
refusing to wear glasses?

Tony was beaming when he returned from FFOM. _Bush-League Larry_ was
clicking; he’d been told the _Journal_ was giving the show a nice notice
to-morrow. Joe, ready to start for home, lingered.

“Is this a regular stop on the rounds, Tony?” He had never made any of
the agencies a stop.

“A small stop,” said Tony. “If we have a show coming up, we become a big
stop.”

“That 4:15 spot—Dennis is cutting a platter.”

“That’s off, Joe. He’s filling with studio music.”

So Mander would not be called in. Why, Joe wondered as he walked toward
the bus line, should the thought of Mander stay with him? He’d handed
out money to show people before. And as for Pop, he was probably all wet
on that. Hadn’t Tony said the show was clicking? Pop, reading with him,
had sounded swell; Pop coming out of a speaker sounded corny. Perhaps
there was no difference at all. Perhaps you merely heard the same
performance from different angles.

As the days passed, the range of Tony Vaux’s activities amazed him. The
booming, jovial producer had a Thursday night quiz show, _Time To
Remember_, a Sunday night musical-variety with guest stars, _Bush-League
Larry_ three times a week, and the _Sue Davis_ five-a-week which had to
be watched. And then there were agency clients who might go on the air
if they could find the right show, and clients the agency thought should
go on the air—and the spot announcements. This week there were
seventy-eight spots. A girl sat before a radio in a small room off
Tony’s office and checked a sheet as she tuned from station to station
and caught the spots. “Worth, the House of Watches, brings you the
correct time. It is now—” or it might be “Young’s, where your foot
always meets a friendly shoe—” The skill with which these spots were
shuffled, juggled, spaced through the day was almost uncanny. But it all
took care, and thought, and time, which was another reason why Tony was
limited on how much he could give a show.

“How’s the job going?” Tom Carlin asked.

“I like it,” said Joe. To-morrow they’d be playing platters for three
different clients. Tony Vaux called it “trotting out the drama.”

It was mad, this business of trotting out the drama—as mad and as
unpredictable as a Vic Wylie rehearsal. Perhaps the client wanted
comedy, and you played him every comedy platter you had. Then he decided
he didn’t want comedy after all: how about romance and heart throb? Or
perhaps you took out a forgotten turkey that had been gathering dust for
two years, and the client became rapt. That didn’t mean the show was
sold. For every show sold you had thirty you figured would sell, or
hoped would sell, or slowly gave up hope of selling. Sometimes a client
heard a platter and brought back officials of his company and kept
bringing them back. Finally he’d go out shouting a rave, and you’d think
the show was a sure sell for to-morrow morning—and that was the last you
ever heard about it. And sometimes a client heard a platter, and liked
it, and bought it. Actually bought it at once.

That’s what happened with the soap manufacturer. He heard three platters
and the third was _Poisoned Fangs_. Next day he returned with a
delegation, and the platter was played four times. The following morning
the contract was signed.

“Joe,” Tony said genially, “I was ready to ship that platter back. We
never know.”

“Nobody?” Joe demanded. Radio was a mad turmoil, but somebody ought to
know.

“Who?” Tony chuckled. “The boys in big time? We guess and they guess.
Amos ’n’ Andy were on sustaining. The station decided the show wasn’t
getting a tumble and took it off. Then came a flood of telephone calls
and letters. On the strength of listener response Amos ’n’ Andy went
back and found a sponsor. They’ve had a sponsor ever since.”

Another platter came in and Joe put it away. Platters and scripts, casts
and producers, sustaining shows and sponsored shows, the
bread-and-butter hunt—it was all mad. When a show came in to be sold,
you never knew what you’d sell. Vic Wylie, with a live cast, had sold
Munson what radio calls “a package”—production, script, and cast. The
whole show. But on _Poisoned Fangs_ the sponsor was buying only script.
Tony would select a new cast and make his own production.

“My first agency show from the beginning,” Joe told himself, and was on
fire to see production start.

No announcement of a new show was made; no hint of a new show appeared
in the radio column of the _Journal_. But almost overnight show people
made Tony’s office a big stop on the rounds.

Laughter, bursts of gaiety, lightened the heavy boom of Tony’s voice.
Show people strolled in leisurely, singly and in pairs. Nobody was in a
hurry, nobody asked about the new show, nobody spoke about a part. This
might have been John Dennis’ office at FKIP the first day Joe had made
the rounds. Bright, sparkling gags. This was a sponsored show; this show
was going to pay money. Sometimes the laughter was a little too eager
and too high.

Joe laughed with them. These gatherings of show people were grand if—he
tried not to look at an actress who kept moistening her rouged lips—if
you could forget that you’d been through it, if you could forget the
courage often required to maintain a front, if you could forget the raw
anxiety behind the mask of gay drollery. Laughter began to hurt.

Mander cocked his hat to one side, did an intricate little step, and
departed alone. But at the door he paused and, glancing back, caught
Joe’s eye significantly. Joe, exploring a pocket for a half-dollar,
joined him.

Mander wasn’t thinking of money. “What show is this?” he asked
hurriedly.

Joe thought: “I’m a kid in this game; he doesn’t think it necessary to
front me.” He said: “Drama. _Poisoned Fangs._ Four characters.”

“Any comedy?”

“A pop-off. Comedy relief.”

“Thanks, Joe; thanks a million.” Somebody else was coming out and Mander
went quickly toward the elevators.

Next day there was another parade of light-hearted gaiety, a new stock
of bright gags. “Did you hear this one, Tony—” But to-day tension was
tighter; it would be tighter to-morrow and still tighter the day after
that. There would be more and more laughter.

Laughter, Joe thought bitterly, was tragedy, a fake. The closer they
came to the hour the call would go out to audition, the more gaily
they’d laugh, the more spectacularly they’d wear a front of cheerful
vivacity. Tony had to be out for an hour in the afternoon, and he met
them alone. His smile, answering theirs, became fixed, wooden. When Tony
came back he disappeared into the little room where a girl checked spot
announcements.

“They seem to be awfully happy,” the girl said enviously.

“They seem to be,” Joe agreed.

He knew better. And suddenly he knew why Mander, borrowing fifty cents,
had given him a wrench, and why making the rounds after he was out of
_Sue Davis_ had depressed him. All the glamour was worn thin, and now
the tarnish showed. He couldn’t take it. Not this way. Not through the
peep-hole on show business that was called a producer’s office. He knew
why that was, too.

Making the rounds, he had had only fleeting glimpses. He had been a part
of the tide, meeting it as it passed and meeting it in fragments. But
here the whole tide came at him at once and overwhelmed him. The
laughter and the gay talk became vapor. All he could see was the
feverishness of hope, the sharp thorns of anxiety and uncertainty. And
they were such fine people, so buoyant and so brave on so little.
Small-time radio! Dreaming a dream that could never come true. Or, if it
did come true, it would be for only a few.

“Joe,” Tony boomed. He had to go out. “The blue slip,” said Tony, and
handed him script. The blue slip was the Everts-Hall rejection slip.

Mander sauntered in, his hat on the back of his head and his shoulders
swaying. “Tony, wait until you get this. I’m in a restaurant for a spot
of lunch and there’s an I Am boy at the next table. I’ll give him to
you.” Without make-up or props, Mander gave an impersonation of a
pop-off. He made it a cameo, a sharply-etched portrait of a living
character. He was good.

Tony looked at him thoughtfully.

Joe thought: “He must have rehearsed that for hours.” The
bread-and-butter hunt!

Next day was _Bush-League Larry_ day. With Tony producing the show at
FFOM, Joe again had to meet the gay crowd alone. He tried to rise to it,
to meet them smile for smile. He knew some stories, too. But Tony wasn’t
there, and the fever of anxiety made them restless. They didn’t stay
long. “Tell Tony I was in, Joe, will you?” Joe had a stock reply. “Too
bad you can’t wait.” He knew they wouldn’t wait and spend unprofitable
time with him. He wasn’t Tony; he wasn’t casting this show. He saw the
last of the crowd leave and felt tired, weary.

“All gone?” Tony boomed on his arrival. “I thought they’d still be
waiting. What a day! Thank God we don’t have a new show come up every
month.” He took a cigar from his pocket and studied the boy. “You don’t
like it, Joe, do you?”

“No,” said Joe.

Tony’s voice had changed. “You get used to it. It’s the system; it’s
show business. Will they feel any better if we slam the door on them and
lock them out? Anyway, we’re not guilty of sustaining. When we put on a
show we have a paid cast.”

Joe said slowly: “How long before you’re used to it?”

“I don’t know,” Tony said in that same changed voice. “I’ve been here
only five years.” He went to his desk, wrote for a while, and swung
around with a paper in his hands. “Last year I laid out more than four
hundred dollars in small loans. Most of it’s gone for good. How are they
going to pay back? Where are they going to get it?” He held out the
paper. “Call these people in, Joe. We’ll start to audition.”

Joe, sitting at a telephone, went down the list of calls. Mander at ten
to-morrow morning, somebody else at eleven, somebody else at noon. The
list ran two and one-half days. Fourteen actors and actresses coming
in—and only four parts. Waiting for a number to answer, he thought of
Tony with a stir of emotion. This Tony who boomed and glad-handed wasn’t
the real Tony at all. The boom and the glad hand were front. The real
Tony was as soft-hearted as brooding Vic Wylie.

Mander arrived next morning at ten sharp. Joe thought: “He’s dressed for
the part.” Mander wore a shriekingly loud tie, an exaggerated high
collar, and shoes glaringly yellow. Did this trick of dressing like a
small-town wise guy add anything to a reading? Joe wondered.

“Greetings,” Tony boomed. “Waiting for you.”

“Considering what you’re going to get,” Mander popped off, “you should
have stayed awake all night.” He looked toward Joe and made a blithe
motion with one hand. “A little music, Professor.”

Tony, chewing a cigar, mumbled cues, and Mander read.

And, while the reading went on, the elevators were bringing show people
to the reception-room, and the girl at the desk was telling them that
Tony was busy. That was all they had to be told—they went away. Soon the
news would spread up and down Royal Street that the Tony Vaux show was
cast. By late afternoon the Everts-Hall Agency would no longer be a big
stop.

The reading ended. Tony lit a fresh cigar.

“Let me hear it again, Frank.”

A fine dew of sweat appeared on Mander’s forehead.

“A little too much steam,” Tony said when the second reading was
finished. “Now, now.” Fat hands spread out in a placating gesture. “Not
bad; not bad at all, Frank. But I’m thinking of the other characters.
They’re tense with drama. If you give me high comedy I get too much
contrast. No belly laughs, just chuckles. Take it from ‘I don’t mean I’m
the best in the world—’ Page four.”

There was only a hair-line of change in Mander’s reading, but the part
shaded into an entirely different part. This was what Wylie meant by a
producer touching the strings and producing vibrations. But to give
these vibrations, an actor had to be an actor.

Tony beamed; Tony’s cigar moved from one side of his mouth to the other.
“A nice reading,” he said genially. “It’s your part, Frank.”

The dew was gone from Mander’s forehead. “How about a twenty-five dollar
advance, Tony? I’m in to my landlady for six weeks. The old girl’s
getting peeved.”

Tony chewed the cigar. “The office is starting to get tough on advances.
Can’t you tell her you’re working?”

“I’m afraid,” Mander said lightly, “she’s heard that one before.”

Tony wrote an order on the cashier. Mander, passing out, was a new man.
Pop Bartell had been a new man on two borrowed dollars.

One by one actors and actresses came in to read. Joe found this harder
to bear than the parade of show people making the rounds. On the rounds
they accepted the possibility of long, idle periods, but now everything
was crystallized into a single effort. A part in a sponsored show that
paid real money was won or lost in a single hour, perhaps in the reading
of a single line. They laughed and jested, but the smiles trembled under
the heightened tension of nervousness and strain.

Joe found escape in the little room of spot announcements.

The girl tuned a station, checked her list, and tuned another station.
“I’d love to be out there listening, Joe.”

“I guess I’ve gone sour,” said Joe. He hadn’t meant to say that. He was
startled.

The afternoon brought quiet. Tony was at FFOM and the last of the
_Poisoned Fangs_ auditions would be held to-morrow. It seemed to Joe
that it was weeks since he had heard _Bush-League Larry_. With the
office echoing with laughter and gag the radio had not been touched. He
tuned in FFOM and waited for the show to come on.

His mind wandered. Archie Munn and Lucille Borden. He never heard Lu’s
show any more. Amby Carver and Sonny Baker. He hadn’t seen Sonny since
the afternoon of Lu’s premier. Tony rehearsed at the studio and paid off
at the studio; the cast never came to the office. Amby had fawned, but
Sonny would have remained unchanged. Sonny would always be the whole
world to Sonny. Vic Wylie telling him he couldn’t act....

He stiffened. _Bush-League Larry_ was on. Good Lord, could that be Pop
Bartell?

It was Pop. But this was a Pop who murdered lines, who fumbled, who
didn’t seem to know what to say or how to say it. Character? There was
no character. Any ham could have read the part better. Joe shuddered and
turned a knob quickly. The office was silent. What, he wondered bleakly,
had become of the grand old trouper who needed only a word of suggestion
to tinge a part with a new color and new harmonies?

Tony Vaux came back from FFOM an hour past his usual time. To-day no
booming greeting to the girl at the reception-desk announced his
arrival. “I thought you’d be gone, Joe.” He took some papers from his
pocket and, preoccupied, tapped them against the other hand.

“I’ve been waiting for you,” Joe said. “I heard the show—part of it. Why
don’t you make Pop wear glasses?”

“It’s not glasses, Joe. He’s been wearing glasses before the mike since
the show went on the air.”

“What is it then?”

“Sonny’s pulling his old trick of stealing the show. Pop follows script
faithfully. Sonny reads a cue line and Pop starts to come in. But Sonny
ad libs an extra line or two and Pop is left floundering. He never knows
whether to come in or to wait. Years ago he’d have handled Sonny, but
now he’s too old for that kind of rough-and-tumble. He’s cracking wide
open. He’s lost. He’s shot.”

Joe trembled. “Are you standing for that, Tony?”

“I’m not Vic Wylie,” Tony said with bitter regret. “Vic answers to
nobody but himself. If he wanted to give Sonny the hook, he’d give it to
him. I’m a salaried employee. They give me a script; they expect a
production. Pop’s a stooge in this show; Sonny’s the star. Suppose I go
after Sonny the way Vic did? How long will I have a show? How long
before they’ll have me on the carpet inside? Am I a producer? Then
what’s wrong with me? Why don’t I produce? That’s the only question they
ask. Why don’t I produce a show?”

Stenographers and office clerks were on their way home; an orchestra of
feet shuffled and tapped along the corridor leading to the elevators.

“This can’t go on,” Joe cried in protest.

“It isn’t going to go on. The He people caught me at FFOM; I had to get
over there at once.” He opened a drawer of his desk and dropped in the
paper he had been tapping against his hand. “Pop’s out,” he said
roughly.

Joe couldn’t speak.

“Curt must write in a new character and thin Pop’s lines. Thinner and
thinner. Friday week he’ll be out of the show. Finished. Call him in for
two o’clock to-morrow.”

A one-word hammer beat against Joe’s mind. Even small-time radio would
have no place for a veteran who murdered a part. Finished!

He dreaded to-morrow, but to-morrow came. He dreaded the passing of the
morning hours, but they passed. Out in the city the noon whistles blew.
After that, time was a racing despair.

Youthfully slim and gallant, Pop Bartell was with them. “Good afternoon,
Tony. Good afternoon, Joe. A beautiful day.”

Tony did not try to beam. “Pop, I’m afraid I have bad news. The He
people want the _Larry_ show jazzed. They think the action’s too slow
and want more bang-bang.”

The old trouper took the news without blinking. “Is that definite,
Tony?”

“I’m afraid so.”

“And you think that’s bad news? Tony, my boy, you’re doing me a favor.”
Pop coughed. “A very great favor.”

Joe thought dismally: “Front. He knew this was coming.” The boy’s throat
was in a vise.

“Something else will turn up, Pop,” Tony said. “As a matter of fact, we
have a platter—”

Joe knew there wasn’t a platter in the cabinet that had a possible
old-man part.

“Tut, tut, Tony. Something has turned up.” Pop was actually twinkling.
“As a matter of fact, this relieves me from a distressing predicament. I
was going to ask you for my release if you could let me go without
putting the show in a hole. I have friends in Cleveland and there’s a
part coming up. To be exact, it has come up. A character part that’s a
lead. Something of a tear-jerker—_Sunset of Life_. The part’s waiting
for me. How soon could I be released?”

“Friday week.”

“This is providential, Tony. They’d like me to be at Cleveland Saturday
week. Actually providential.”

Joe’s heart lifted. This couldn’t be front. This was too real, too
sincere.

Tony had his hat and coat; Tony was booming again. “Then everything’s
jake, Pop? I’m auditioning a specialty for the Sunday night variety. If
I’m not back by five, Joe, run along. I’ll be seeing you, Pop.” Tony was
gone.

The lift in Joe’s heart became song. “Mr. Bartell, that’s swell.”

“All but the ride to Cleveland,” Pop Bartell said whimsically. “I had
ten years of one-night stands, Joe; I could live happily without ever
seeing a railroad. In case I don’t get over this way again”—his hand
made a sweep—“_au revoir_, Joe, and lots of good luck.”

“Send me your notices,” Joe said eagerly.

“From what I’ve been told, Joe, this new show should get some nice
notices. Some very nice notices.” Youthful and light of step the veteran
walked out of the office.

Joe Carlin’s lips were parted in breathless exultation. Kicked out of
one show and stepping right into another. Oh, but this was grand! This
was one of those moments that paid for the heartache of the
bread-and-butter hunt. Without warning the strain of the day took its
toll and his nerves were limp and ragged. He went to the cooler, but
water was flat. What he needed was a quick pick-up, coffee hot and
strong. He went along the corridor through which Tony and Pop had
preceded him and paused at the reception-desk. “I’ll be back in five
min—” His voice went dead.

Pop Bartell stood near the elevators staring into vacancy.

The mouth of the girl at the desk opened to ask a question and Joe
touched her arm for silence.

Abruptly Pop roused from his abstraction and stepped toward the
elevators. There was no change in his jaunty, youthful stride. He
touched a button. A down light flashed and he moved over toward the
indicated door. And then, in the interval of waiting, a quick, sick
change took place in him. Suddenly he seemed to shrink and to sag. His
coat wrinkled like an old coat across the shoulders, and his head
drooped as though there was no longer strength to hold it upright. An
elevator stopped, and he entered it with a faltering, uncertain step.
All in an instant he was a beaten, broken, hopeless old man.

“What did you say, Mr. Carlin?” the girl asked.

“Nothing,” Joe said hoarsely.

He went back to Tony’s office. So it had been front, the pathetically
brave front of show business. Poor old Pop! A languidly contemptuous
climber had thrust him aside as a relic, and this is what he came to
after forty years of gallant trouping. This was show business. And
making the rounds was show business, and washing out your only shirt and
hanging it to dry overnight was show business, and Lucille Borden eating
out her heart behind a Munson counter was show business. Radio
small-time! Hunger and uncertainty!

He sat at Tony’s desk and thought of the day Vic Wylie had told him he’d
see things that would make him want to cry. The telephone rang fitfully
and he made note of the calls on Tony’s desk pad. A clock whirred the
five o’clock signal and Tony had not returned.

Slowly, his lips stiff, Joe took a pen from his pocket, wrote a note,
and left it on the desk:

    Dear Tony: Pop was fronting; he cracked after he left here.
    You’ve been swell to me, but this isn’t my game. I’ll be through
    next Saturday. I’m sorry.

    Joe

He pushed back the chair and stood in thought beside the desk. As slowly
as he had taken the pen from his pocket he reached for the telephone and
called Vic Wylie’s office.

“Will you give Vic a message for me, Miss Robb? We’ve been auditioning a
cast and—I guess I can’t take it. Tell him Pop Bartell’s been dropped
from the _Larry_ show. I’m throwing up my job.”

Miss Robb was dumfounded. “Tony told us he was pleased with you....”

“I know,” Joe said wearily. “Vic’ll understand.”

Office buildings were emptying, and Royal Street was a packed,
shuffling, slow-moving canyon. Joe moved along with the mass until he
came to the Thomas Carlin store. It was almost the closing hour, and a
lone customer waited for a clerk to wrap a purchase. The lights were on
and facets of radiance gleamed from the polished glass of show-cases and
the polished wood of shelves. To-day Joe saw the scene with a vision
that had been cleaned and washed—its bright cleanliness, its subdued
brilliance of display, its subtle breath of pride and courtesy and
alertness. The faces of all the clerks—strange that he had never noticed
them before: friendly faces that were not merely a friendly front. The
lone customer left. “Hi, Joe.” The clerks grinned at him. “Hi, boys.” He
grinned at them.

“Some new books came in to-day, Joe,” Mr. Fairchild announced.

“Not now,” said Joe. He added an explanation. “Something on my mind.”

“No!” Mr. Fairchild prodded his ribs. “They’ll toss you out of the
Jitterbug Union for that.”

It wasn’t a brilliant gag. As a gag, it would have been scorned by any
actor making the rounds. But it was good; it was homey.

The store closed, and Joe walked with his father to the parking lot. The
man pushed the key into the ignition lock and reached his foot for the
starter button.

“What is it, Joe? Trouble?”

“Not exactly.” Joe was still thinking of Pop Bartell. “I’m through at
the agency. I’d like to come into the store.”

Tom Carlin’s foot did not touch the button. Horns honked and cars backed
out of symmetrical lines as an attendant directed parking-lot traffic.
Silence, brittle and strange, lingered in the Carlin sedan.

“I—I thought you’d be glad,” Joe said uncertainly.

“Is that your reason for telling me?”

The boy was startled. “Don’t you want me?”

Tom Carlin stepped on the button. The attendant waved an arm and he
shook his head. The motor idled, warming.

“When you told me you wanted to be an actor,” the man said as though he
debated each word, “I let you have your fling. Was there anything else
for me to do? I was afraid of making you a round peg in a square hole.
You failed as an actor. But you still stayed in show business and turned
to production. That’s the rub, Joe.”

“What?” Joe demanded.

“Let me put it this way: After you’d failed—don’t get the idea I’m
rubbing that in; as I told you, I made a miserable failure of my first
job—had you come to me after that first failure, I’d have welcomed you
instantly. A lot of persons change their first desires. I couldn’t ask
for a better man than Fairchild; he started out to be a mechanical
engineer. But you made show business both your first and second choices.
You’ve made the store a very bad third choice. You leave the impression
that you’re coming to me now because there’s no place else to go. That
doesn’t set so well, Joe.”

Joe’s nerves were raw from a day of chafing, and this disappointment was
crushing. “You mean I needn’t come around?”

“I didn’t say that. I’ll have to think this over. I’m trying to see the
situation from your angle as well as from my own. What will it benefit
you in the long run to use the business as a door of escape? If you come
to the store as a place of last resort, you’re still a round peg in a
square hole. It might be better for you to get a job on your own and try
yourself out in somebody else’s business. For a while, anyway.”

Disappointment and raw nerves united to make the boy stiff with anger.
“All right, Dad, if that’s how you want it.”

“That isn’t how I want it,” Tom Carlin said. “That’s how it seems to
be.”

They said little more to each other on the ride out to the Northend. But
they were talking as they entered the house, and talk was a lively
stream around the dinner table. Front, Joe thought, wasn’t confined to
show business; you could wear a front at home. The meal over, he found
that morning’s _Journal_ and went to his room.

Something that was part of this house worked its spell. His jagged
nerves relaxed and anger died in him. He began to see his father’s point
of view. He hadn’t been absolutely denied the store; it was simply that
his father questioned the wisdom of having him come in now. After all,
there was a lot to what his father had said. He _had_ made the store a
third choice. He must look like an irresponsible madcap, a harum-scarum
who didn’t know his own mind. Well, he’d have to prove himself. He could
do that. He’d find an outside job and make good at it. Then, after a
year or two ... but a year or two seemed so long.

He opened the _Journal_ and studied the _Help Wanted_ columns. Christmas
was approaching and all the large stores along Royal Street were
clamoring for packers, sales people, delivery men, and cashiers. He
could probably get a seasonal job at half a dozen places; certainly, if
you rolled up your sleeves and pitched in, temporary employment might
become permanent employment. But he couldn’t, he thought with a fresh
pang, get a job with his own father.

There was a tap on the door and Tom Carlin walked in. “Joe, Mother
thinks I may have been hasty. Her reactions are usually right. You’ve
heard what I have to say, but I haven’t heard your side. Do you mind
telling me why you were fired?”

Joe stared. “Fired? I wasn’t fired. What gave you that idea? I quit.”

The man reached for a chair, took a pipe from his pocket, and sat down
slowly. “Why did you quit?”

Joe tried to tell him. The story used up a great many words, and he felt
that he was telling it badly.

“I might have made a good producer. Vic thought I would and Tony told
Vic I was doing well. But if I became a producer I’d always be meeting
the sordid side of show business. All I’d see would be men and women
wearing an artificial front. They’d make me a big stop when I had a show
coming up. They’d stay awake nights planning to catch my attention as
Mander caught Tony’s. They’d audition and try to hide how much a part
meant to them. I don’t mean there isn’t struggle and uncertainty in
every other line, but—oh, show business is different. I’d know too much
about small time. I’d see too much: little corners of shabbiness, things
that were mean and grubby, fine people trying to hide worry and
apprehension behind a front. You get so you hate a front. I’d know they
were getting hard knocks to-day and would get the same hard knocks
to-morrow. I’d know that probably only one in a thousand would ever make
the big time, just as I couldn’t make it and for the same reason.
They’re good, but not good enough. Good enough for small time, and
sustaining shows that pay no salaries, but only good enough for that. It
got under my skin and did something to me. I used to turn on a radio,
and listen to a show, and think it was all glamorous; there’s very
little glamour in show business when you get behind the scenes. You see
too many of the wounds.”

Tom Carlin filled his pipe.

“And then, to-day, Pop Bartell. That finished me. Sooner or later I’d
have been finished, anyway. Vic says I feel too much. Maybe he’s right.
I’m not sorry I tried show business. If I hadn’t, I’d probably always
feel I’d thrown away a chance to see my name up in lights.”

Smoke was a thick cloud around Tom Carlin’s head. “Joe, I apologize for
what I said in the car. I didn’t understand.”

“Does what I told you make a difference?”

“All the difference in the world. Instead of being up in lights, your
name will some day be on a store window.”

“You mean I’m going into the store—now?”

“Any time you’re ready.”

Joe had never known it was possible to feel so good. “I’ll be ready
Monday.”

Tom Carlin knocked ashes from his pipe and refilled the bowl. “I found a
script in your bureau, Joe,” he said serenely.

Joe sat up straight.

“I had copies made and brought the script back. I saw no use talking to
you until I had something to talk about. I wrote to five publishers—four
in New York and one in Boston. Three are willing to pay a fair share of
the cost on a dramatization of their books. One is doubtful, and one is
definitely unfavorable.”

Joe’s voice was eager. “Are we going on the air?”

The man caught that “we.” “I’m more than half convinced we’ll have a
Carlin show next September.”

Joe went hot and cold. Not because this was radio, but because it was
_Thomas Carlin Presents_.

Tom Carlin puffed his contentment. “Every day we have customers who
telephone and ask to have some purchase delivered at once. That forces
me to take a clerk from behind the counter and send him out. I’ve been
thinking of hiring somebody to take care of some light work and make
these deliveries. This Pop Bartell. Do you think he could fit into that
job after forty years of show business?”

Joe was hot and cold again. “After what happened to-day, Dad, he’d think
somebody had given him a piece of Heaven.”

“Send him in to see me.”

“Perhaps,” said Joe, “I’ll run over a little later to where he lives.
He’ll sleep better to-night.”

After that they sat together in understanding silence.

A light step sounded in the hall and the door was pushed open timidly.
Kate Carlin stood on the threshold. Her eyes, clouded with concern, went
from her husband to her son and back to her husband again.

“Come in, Kate.”

Suddenly her eyes were clear. She smiled. “This is a night you’ve looked
forward to, Tom, isn’t it?”

“Yes.” He held out his hand to her. “Come in, Kate, and sit with us.
Carlin and Son are in conference.”





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