Charles Ray was a popular juvenile star in the 1910s and ’20s, but by the ’30s, his career was on the rocks, and he turned to writing. Here’s another in a series of offerings from his book, Hollywood Shorts, a collection of short stories set in Tinseltown.
Windows, windows, nothing but windows up and down the narrow hotel court. He had sat counting them many times lately, during the long hours of waiting for a telephone call from Central Casting Office.
But the waiting was all over now. Thoughts of a possible career had faded. He would have to seek employment at anything he could find. This was the end.
Momentarily his eyes rested on the lighted window straight across the court—her window. He had never met the occupant of that apartment, but had often gazed into the windows from the dark recesses of his own room. Not a nice thing to do; yet his actions were not those of a peeping Tom. They were more like a Romeo, with Romeo’s mood and lines:
|“O that I were a glove upon that hand,
That I might touch that cheek!”
Just now, as he saw his dream girl move into view to answer her telephone. “Tomorrow,” he read easily on her lips, and from her expansive frown, realized that the single word did not satisfy the party on the other end of the wire.
Quite distraught, she started pacing the floor, twisting her handkerchief, seeming ready to burst into tears.
He could not summon any pity for her. His own troubles surmounted any that another human could possibly have. No one could be placed in the same miserable, deplorable condition as he.
The girl’s pacing and turning afforded clear scrutiny of her beauty. Jet-black hair fell in fluffy waves over a well-chiseled brow, crowning a lovely face with glory. He sensed long lashes, veiling eyes that he felt sure were golden brown. Too thin a figure, he criticized unconsciously.
Stopping abruptly in her pacing, the girl lifted her head haughtily and said: “Come in.”
The door swung open, revealing the clerk. He carried a bunch of keys, and ordered the emotional girl into the hall.
The eviction made the boy’s blood run cold. Grabbing several envelopes, he rushed out to the mail chute, and stood as if occupied, to listen.
“But had I only known,” he heard his dream girl plead.
“You can’t tell me that the manager hasn’t warned you many times,” the clerk insisted, demanding her key. “Six o’clock tonight was the limit of his endurance, he told me to inform you. I do hope you will understand that this duty is painful to me,” he concluded, bolted the door, and left the evicted girl crying against the wall like a child locked in a closet.
Edging very close, the sympathetic boy stammered: “May I—could I be of any assistance?”
She looked up through moist eyes which he saw were hazel.
“I suppose almost anyone in the world could,” the girl mumbled through a damp handkerchief. “I’ve just been locked out in the hall from all my earthly possessions. One can’t blame the management. The story is simple: an unpaid bill, long overdue.” She sighed. “You know, I’ve always been able to laugh things off. I can’t seem to any more. I guess this is the last laugh.”
“Sure, that’s the thing to do. I always laugh things off,” he lied. “Now come into my room until you get yourself collected. Bathe your eyes and you’ll feel better.”
Presently she emerged from his bathroom with clear-washed eyes and took a chair opposite him. Feeling stymied for conversation, she scanned the room.
“Surely this can’t be your apartment,” she speculated. “It seems empty.”
“It is empty of everything but furniture. This room is mine until morning. All my things are next door. I have a few hours of grace in which to make a payment on my bill—or else. I’m locked out too.”
Her eyes welled up again, met his, and fluttered down to her feet.
“What a plight,” she breathed and sighed softly.
In a moment she rallied.
“That’s my room across the court. I see the window is partly raised.” With a faint smile, she said: “We might make a human bridge, if we had someone to walk across. I saw Tom Mix do that stunt once.”
For a brief moment he basked in her weak smile, then took his hat, and moved toward the hall door. “Well, goodbye. I’ve wanted to meet you for a long time, tremendously, I mean. But I’m sorry it had to occur under such circumstances.”
“Where are you going?”
“I don’t know,” he answered too quickly.
“Just what do you mean? Do you imply that you are going to sleep in a park somewhere? Listen, this is too much chivalry. Be sensible, or I won’t accept your hospitality.”
“You wouldn’t think of going?”
“I will if you don’t stop being foolish. Say, this is like being shipwrecked! I’ll coil up here on the divan and hope that sometime before dawn I can think of somebody to whom I can send an SOS.”
“No, you take the bed. I’ll use the divan.”
“I’m the guest. I use the divan or—“
“Guess that finishes that. And I guess you’re tired and don’t want to talk. So I’ll pull this screen in front of you,” he suggested and was sorry.
He took plenty of time tugging at a tall screen. When she remained silent, he was forced to do as he had outlined.
For a while, he paced the floor on his side of the side screen, and at length flung himself upon the bed. Muffling his anguish with the thickness of the pillow, he cursed the luck that had followed him like a hungry animal, and the fiend that had mocked him in presenting his dream girl as a guest when he was powerless to render aid.
Thoughts came and went in a throbbing brain, continually forming a hideous, futile circle, ever-ending at the same miserable, impotent starting point.
A soft voice from out of the darkness whispered: “Are you asleep?”
Happily, he answered in the negative, with a note of inquiry in his voice.
She cut the darkness with her tones of inspiration.
“I’ll have to give up picture work, for a while at least,” she outlined. “So I’ve been thinking of a possible job. Recently a friend drove me through the country, and strange to say, I now remember a sign which read: ORANGE PICKERS WANTED. It was at a place called Sunkist Farm. I’m sure it would be listed in the telephone book. Have you a nickel?”
“No,” he replied in anguish. “The last dime I had went for what I called dinner. Did you have dinner?”
She ignored his question.
“Do you suppose that they would a call to slip through from this room?” she mumbled hopefully.
“No. But if you wait until six o’clock when the day operator comes on, she won’t know immediately about your situation. Such a job would be a miracle,” he concluded, thinking aloud.
“Lord!” she moaned.
“I just thought of the fact that it’ll take bus fare to get there, if they do say they want help. I haven’t at my disposal the Rolls I was riding in, nor the friend.”
“I hope you can. I’ve thunk my last think. It’s all worn out upstairs.”
Long hours of thinking, and rolling and tossing with thinking, brought a reward of unconsciousness.
Dawn faded into the heavens. Then a rising sun splashed against court windows, reflecting into a room where inspiration was needed, and as if receiving it on a sunbeam which touched his brow, the boy catapulted acrobatically out of bed.
“What is it?” the girl gaped, and whispered: “The manager?”
“No. An inspiration.”
“Don’t talk in riddles!”
“Look! By taking this screen and placing it lengthwise on my window sill, it will reach over to yours. Think what that makes! Think!”
“The kink in my neck won’t allow thinking. What does it make?”
“It makes a bridge. At least I can do something that will aid you. I’ll crawl over to your room for some of your things. What do you need the most?”
With wide-eyed appreciation, she started enumerating necessities until futility swamped her.
“But what of it?” she groaned. “They won’t allow me to carry anything out of the hotel.”
“You don’t carry anything. Your frocks are flimsy; put two or three on under what you’re wearing. There’s the telephone book. While I’m doing this stunt, you put a call through to that ranch. See if they want two—two of whatever they want any of,” he stammered, dragging the screen to the window.
“My largest purse,” she whispered. “Cram all you can into it.”
In return, he whispered: “Don’t open that hall door until I crawl in again, no matter who knocks.”
With the speed of a stunt man, he was soon squeezing his way back through the window, holding a bundle of dresses and a large purse which bulged like a frightened cat.
“They do!” the girl exclaimed over and over again. “They still want orange pickers, both men and women. Imagine the luck. The call went through without a hitch. Do you realize that you have a job? Oh, but it’s miles and miles from here. Where will we ever get bus fare? What a—“
His strange appearance compelled her.
“Where did you get that overcoat you have on?”
“In my room next door. I went Tom Mix one better. I was my own bridge and hero combined. Look, got my studs too! I can pawn them. There’s our bus fare! So it’s goodbye Hollywood, hello ranch.” With a broad grin, he tossed her the bundle of clothes and naively advised: “Put on your trousseau, mama.”
With the ecstasy of released prisoners, they were soon walking through the lobby, passing the clerk stealthily. Elegantly they passed the sleepy busboy on the bench, and went out through the hotel portals like tourists, into the refreshing air of a new day.”
Half-way down the block, she scrutinized her escort, noting his peculiar stride.
“My, you look large. It must be that thick overcoat.”
“Don’t be silly,” he said elatedly. “I’ve got three suits of clothes on under it.”