Read A Stranger in the Mirror Online

Authors: Sidney Sheldon

Tags: #General, #Suspense, #Fiction, #Mystery, #Mystery & Detective, #Fiction - General, #Mystery & Detective - Women Sleuths, #Women Sleuths

A Stranger in the Mirror (9 page)

and low-cut blouses, exchanging dirty jokes over a shot of cheap whiskey or a glass of beer. The floor show took place in a small cleared area at the far end of the room, where three bored musicians played. A homosexual singer opened the show, followed by an acrobatic dancer in a leotard, and then a stripper who worked with a somnolent cobra. Toby sat at a table in the back of the room with Clifton Lawrence and O'Hanlon and Rainger, watching the other acts, listening to the audience, trying to gauge its mood. "Beer drinkers," Toby said contemptuously. Clifton started to retort, then looked at Toby's face aad checked himself. Toby was scared. Clifton knew that Toby had played places like this before, but this time was different. This was the test. Clifton said gently, "If you can put the beer drinkers in your pocket, the champagne crowd will be a pushover. These people work hard all day, Toby. When they go out at night, they want their nickel's worth. If you can make them laugh, you can make anyone laugh." At that moment, Toby heard the bored ME announce his name. "Give 'em hell, tiger! " O'Hanlon said. Toby was on.

He stood on the stage, on guard and tense, appraising the audience like a wary animal sniffing for danger in a forest. An audience was a beast with a hundred heads, each one different; and he had to make the beast laugh. He took a deep breath. Love me, he prayed. He went into his act. And no one was listening to him. No one was laughing. Toby could feel the flop sweat begin to pop out on his forehead. The act was not working. He kept his smile pasted on and went on talking over the loud noise and conversation. He could not get their attention. They wanted the naked broads back. They had been exposed on too many Saturday nights to too many talentless, unfunny comedians. Toby kept talking, in the face of their indifference. He went on because there was noth- I. ing else he could do. He looked out and saw Clifton Lawrence .and the boys, watching him with worried expressions. Toby continued. There was no audience in the room, people, talking to one another, discussing their problems their lives. For all they cared, Toby Temple could have i a million miles away. Or dead. His throat was dry now fear, and it was becoming hard to get the words out. iftfom the corner of his eye, Toby saw the manager start ' ,^ward the bandstand. He was going to begin the music, pull ;','Hie plug on him. It was all over. Toby's palms were wet and '- :Bos bowels had turned to water. He could feel hot urine trickle 'tlown his leg. He was so nervous that he was beginning to mix tip his words. He did not dare look at Clifton Lawrence or the writers. He was too filled with shame. The manager was at the bandstand, talking to the musicians. They glanced over at Toby and nodded. Toby went on, talking desperately, wanting it to . "|be over, wanting to run away somewhere and hide. ^ A middle-aged woman seated at a table directly in front ^of Toby giggled at^one of his jokes. Her companions stopped s|o listen. Toby kept talking, in a frenzy. The others at the Stable were listening now, laughing. And then the next table. A And the next. And, slowly, the talking began to die down. ,;';!They were listening to him. The laughs were starting to come, 'l|long and regular, and they were getting bigger, and building. ,%;And building. The people in the room had become an audience. Ai&nd he had them. He fucking had them! It no longer mattered S]a&at he was in a cheap saloon filled with beer-drinking slobs. %3C?hat mattered was their laughter, and their love. It came out ^(t Toby in waves. First he had them laughing, then he had fi^Svum screaming. They had never heard anything like him, not ^llfi this crummy place, not anywhere. They applauded and they ,i|i^tieered and before they were through, they damned near tore t?;the place apart. They were witnessing the birth of a phenomejoon. Of course, they could not know that. But Clifton Lawrence ^i-nd O'Hanlon and Rainger knew it. And Toby Temple knew it. ;& God had finally come through.

-S1'1 ^ Reverend Damian shoved the blazing torch into Jose^jSffiine's face and screamed, "0 God Almighty, burn away the evil in this sinful child," and the congregation roared "Amen!" And Josephine could feel the flame licking at her face and the Reverend Damian yelled out, "Help this sinner exorcise the Devil, 0 God. We will pray him out, we will burn him out, we will drown him out," and hands grabbed Josephine, and her face was suddenly plunged into a wooden tub of cold water, and she was held under while voices chanted into the night air, beseeching the Almighty One for His help, and Josephine struggled to get loose, fighting for breath, and when they finally pulled her out, half-conscious, the Reverend Damian declared, "We thank you, sweet Jesus, for your mercy. She is saved! She is saved!" And there was great rejoicing, and everyone was raised in spirit. Except Josephine, whose headaches became worse.

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"I've gotten you a booking in Las Vegas," Clifton Lawice told Toby. "I've arranged for Dick Landry to work on ur act. He's die best nightclub director in the business." "Fantastic! Which hotel? The Flamingo? The Thunder- d?" "The Oasis." "The Oasis)" Toby looked at Cliff to see if he was ang. "I never --" . "I know." Cliff smiled. "You never heard of it. Fair enough. They never heard of you. They're really not booking u--they're booking me. They're taking my word that u're good." "Don't worry," Toby promised. "I will be."

Toby broke the news to Alice Tanner about his Las ;gas booking just before he was to leave. "I know you're jug to be a big star," she said. "It's your time. They'll pre you, darling." She hugged him and said, "When do we tvc, and what do I wear to the opening night of a young mic genius?" j, Toby shook his head ruefully. "I wish I could take you, He. The trouble is I'll be working night and day thinking a lot of new material." She tried to conceal her disappointment. "I understand." it held him tighter. "How long will you be gone?" a "I don't know: yet. You see, it's kind of an open booking." She felt a small stab of worry, but she knew that she was being silly. "Call me the moment you can," she said. Toby kissed her and danced out the door.

It was as mough Las Vegas, Nevada, had been created for the sole pleasure of Toby Temple. He felt it the moment he saw the town. It had a marvelous kinetic energy that he responded to, a pulsating power that matched the power burning inside him. Toby flew in with O'Hanlon and Rainger, and when they arrived at the airport, a limousine from the Oasis Hotel was waiting for them. It was Toby's first taste of the wonderful world that was soon to be his. He enjoyed leaning back in the huge car and having the chauffeur ask, "Did you have a nice flight, Mr. Temple?" // was always the little people who could smell a success even before it happened, Toby thought. "It was the usual bore," Toby said carelessly. He caught the smile that O'Hanlon and Rainger exchanged, and he gririTh'd back at them. He felt very close to them. They were all a fam, the best god damned team in show business. The Oasis was off the glamorous Strip, far removed from the more famous hotels. As the limousine approached the hotel, Toby saw that it was not as large or as fancy as trie Flamingo or the Thunderbird, but it had something better, much better. It had a giant marquee in front that read: OPENING SEPT. 4TH LILI WALLACE TOBY TEMPLE

Toby's name was in dazzling letters that seemed a hundred feet high. No sight was as beautiful as this in the whole god damned world. "Look at that!" he said in awe. O'Hanlon glanced at the sign and said, "Yeah! How about that? Lili Wallace!" And he laughed. "Don't worry, Toby. After the opening you'll be on top of her." The manager of the Oasis, a middle-aged, sallow-faced man named Parker, greeted Toby and personally escorted him to his suite, fawning all the way. "I can't tell you how

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pleased we are to have you with us, Mr. Temple. If there's a anything at all you need--anything--just give me a call." !Sg The welcome, Toby realized, was for Clifton Lawrence. 'ISThis was die first time the fabulous agent had deigned to book s'lieoe of hi(> clients into this hotel. The manager of the Oasis ^Itoped that now the hotel would get some of Lawrence's fefcally big stars. he The suite was enormous. It consisted of three bedrooms, IJifl, large living room, a kitchen, a bar and a terrace. On a table ilia the living room were bottles of assorted liquors, flowers lljland a large bowl of fresh fruit and cheeses, compliments of 'Sjlithe management. llf-! "I hope this will be satisfactory, Mr. Temple," Parker Ulsaid. &, Toby looked around and thought of all the dreary little "fecockroach-ridden fleabag hotel rooms he had h'i-;;d in. "Yeah. ""|fs okay." "Mr. Landry checked in an hour ago. I've arranged to the Mirage Room for your rehearsal at three o'clock." "Thanks." "Remember, if there's anything at all you need --" And ie manager bowed himself out. Toby stood there, savoring his surroundings. He was :g to live in places like this for the rest of his life. He Id have it all -- the broads, the money, the applause. IBMostly the applause. People sitting out there laughing and ;g|jtheering and loving him. That was his food and drink. He ^did not need anything else. IS1 'S^s- Dick Landry was in his late twenties, a slight, thin man A^with an alopecian head and long, graceful legs. He had started ^aut as a gypsy on Broadway and had graduated from the it'lpehorus to lead dancer to choreographer to director. Landry 'K'ihad taste and a sense of what an audience wanted. He could rifAot make a bad act good, but he could make it look good, '^VDd if he was given a good act, he could make it sensational. ^ Until ten days ago, Landry had never heard of Toby Temple, 3

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Toby dropped his spoon. "A thousand a week? That's fantastic. Cliff!" "And I've had a couple of feelers from the Thunderbird and the El Rancho Hotel." "Already?" Toby asked, elated. "Don't wet your pants. It's just to play the lounge." He smiled. "It's the old story, Toby. To me you're a headliner, and to you you're a headliner -- but to a headliner, are you a headliner?" He stood up. "I have to catch a plane to New York. I'm flying to London tomorrow." "London? When will you be back?" "In a few weeks." Clifton leaned forward and said, "Listen to me, dear boy. You have two more weeks here. Treat it like a school. Every night you're up on that stage, I want you to figure out how you can be better. I've persuaded O'Hanlon and Rainger not to leave. They're willing to work with you day and night. Use them. Landry will come back weekends to see how everything is going." "Right," Toby said. "Thanks, Cliff." "Oh, I almost forgot," Clifton Lawrence said casually. He pulled a small package from his pocket and handed it to Toby. Inside was a pair of beautiful diamond cufflinks. They were in the shape of a star.

Whenever Toby had some free time, he relaxed around the large swimming pool at the back of the hotel. There were twenty-five girls in the show and there were always a dozen or so from the chorus line in bathing suits, sunning themselves. They appeared in the hot noon air like late-blooming flowers, one more beautiful than the next. Toby had never had trouble getting girls, but what happened to him now was a totally new experience. The showgirls had never heard of Toby Temple before, but his name was up in lights on the marquee. That was enough. He was a Star, and they fought each other for the privilege of going to bed with him.

The next two weeks were marvelous for Toby. He would wake up around noon, have breakfast in the dining room

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ere he was kept busy signing autographs and then rehearse an hour or two. Afterward, he would pick one or two the long-legged beauties around the pool and they would up to his suite for an afternoon romp in bed. And Toby learned something new. Because of the mpy costumes the girls wore, they had to get rid of their i)ic hair. But they waxed it in such a way that only a curly ip of hair was left in the center of the mound, making the :ning more available. "It's like an aphrodisiac," one of the girls confided to by. "A few hours in a pair of tight pants and a girl becomes having nymphomaniac." Toby did not bother to learn any of their names. They re all "baby" or "honey", and they became a marvelous, isuous blur of thighs and lips and eager bodies. During the final week of Toby's engagement at the sis, he had a visitor. Toby had finished the first show and 5 in his dressing room, creaming off his makeup, when dining room captain opened the door and said in hushed ies, "Mr. Al Caruso would like you to join his table." Al Caruso was one of the big names in Las Vegas. He ned one hotel outright, and it was rumored that he had hts in two or three others. It was also rumored that he i mob connections, bur that was no concern of Toby's. iat was important was that if Al Caruso liked him, Toby lid get bookings in Las Vegas for the rest of his life. He rriedly finished dressing and went into the dining room to et Caruso. Al Caruso was a short man in his fifties with gray hair, nkling, soft brown eyes and a little paunch. He reminded by of a miniature Santa Claus. As Toby came up to the Ie, Caruso rose, held out his hand, smiled warmly and i, "Al Caruso. Just wanted to tell you what I think of �, Toby. Pull up a chair." There were two other men at Caruso's table, dressed in k suits. They were both burly, sipped Coca-Colas and did t say a word during the entire meeting. Toby never learned ir names. Toby usually had his dinner after the first show. was ravenous now, but Caruso had obviously just finished

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earing, and Toby did not want to appear to be more interested in food than in his meeting with the great man. "I'm impressed with you, kid," Caruso said. "Real impressed." And he beamed at Toby with those mischievous brown eyes. "Thanks, Mr. Caruso," Toby said happily. "That means a lot to me." "Call me Al." "Yes, sir--Al." "You got a future, Toby. I've seen 'em come and I've seen 'em go. But the ones with talent last a long time. You got talent." Toby could feel a pleasant warmth suffusing his body. He fleetingly debated whether to tell Al Caruso to discuss business with Clifton Lawrence; but Toby decided it might be better if he made the deal himself. If Caruso is this excited about me, Toby thought, I can make a better deal than Cliff. Toby dedded he would let Al Caruso make the first offer and then he would do some hard bargaining. "I almost wet my pants," Caruso was telling him. "That monkey routine of yours is the runniest thing I ever heard." "Coming from you, that's a real compliment," Toby said with sincerity. The little Santa Claus eyes were filled with tears of laughter. He took out a white silk handkerchief and wiped them away. He turned to his two escorts. "Did I say he's a funny man?" The two men nodded. Al Caruso turned back to Toby. "Tell you why I came to see you, Toby." This was the magical moment, his entrance into the big time. Clifton Lawrence was off in Europe somewhere, making deals for has-been clients when he should have been here making this deal. Well, Lawrence would have a real surprise in store for him when he returned. Toby leaned forward and said, smiling engagingly, "I'm listening, Al." "Millie loves you."

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