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Authors: Robert Ward

The Sandman (6 page)

BOOK: The Sandman
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Beauregard sat on the edge of her bed, smiled at her and shook his head.

“You, my dear, are … how would Mrs. O’Shea put it … ever so charming.”

“I get that from you, Dads. I get being sloppy and other stuff from Mom.”

“A lot of it is good stuff,” Beauregard said, rearranging her quilt.

“Dad?” she said.

“Yes.”

“Do you like Miss Shaw very much?”

“Yes,” Beauregard said. “I like her very much.”

“Oh,” Sarah said.

“But not as much as your mother,” Beauregard said. “I don’t like anyone nearly that much.”

“Oh,” Sarah said.

Sarah laughed a little and picked up her copy of Catcher in
the
Rye.

“Next week she’s coming back, Dad.”

“I know,” Beauregard said.

“Dad, do you think maybe …”

“I don’t know,” Beauregard said. “We still have problems. Big ones. But I hope …”

She squeezed him so tightly that he was shocked by her strength. He patted her blond head, and when she loosened his neck, he put his big hands on her shoulders and then wiped the tears away.

She sat back on her pillow, and Beauregard kissed her on her nose.

“Good night, Sarry. I love you.”

“Love you, Dad,” she said.

Then he shut the door and headed down the hall where Mrs. O’Shea was waiting with his topcoat. His hands and wrists felt as if they were prickled by needles, and when he looked into the hall mirror, he saw a face that was not a doctor’s or a theater-going sophisticate’s. He saw a father’s face, and he thought it was the nicest and yet most frightening of all the other faces combined.

6

“I don’t think we can get any closer, sir,” the gradstudent cabbie said apologetically to Beauregard as they pulled up half a block away from the Booth Theater on 45th Street.

Beauregard regarded the huge black limousines in front of him and shook his head. He was still tired from the day’s trials at Eastern and he wondered if he shouldn’t just tell Rodney Epstein, Interpersonal Development Major at NYU, to turn around and take him right back to his apartment. But then he thought of Lauren Shaw, her smile and her grace, and he smiled at Rodney and reached into his wallet.

“Thanks a lot,” Rodney said. “Listen, I enjoyed sharing space with you.”

“Right, pal,” Beauregard said. “Your space is my space.”

“Out of sight,” Rodney said.

Beauregard shut the cab door and watched Rodney back into an alley and disappear. Funny, Beauregard thought, all the hell raised in the 60’s about the New Consciousness and the only thing to come out of it was a lot of babbling, humorless nonsense about space and biorhythms. It made one recall the old line “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing,” with a new respect for the Bard’s wisdom. It had all seemed so damned profound at the time. Hell, he’d even tried a group therapy session on one of those marathon weekends with Heather. All that had been achieved was several levels of hysteria, and Beauregard had proved a terrific flop at hysteria.

Up ahead, Beauregard recognized Morris Blaustein, one of the principal backers of the show. Blaustein was a successful young lawyer, agent, and P.R. man, a kind of hip P. T. Barnum. Beauregard had met Blaustein through Lauren, and now he smiled at him, wondering if Blaustein would remember him.

“Beau,” Blaustein said, moving through a group of tuxedoed men and signaling to the police to let Beauregard through.

“Hello, Morris,” Beauregard said, shaking his hand. “Well, this is quite a night.”

Blaustein smiled and shook his head.

“You’ll like Lauren,” he said. He emphasized the last word and then patted Beauregard on the back and went over to some more tuxedoed men who looked nervous. Beauregard recognized one of them as Billy Acton, the playwright. Acton was a big, lumbering guy and he looked ill-clad in a tuxedo. He was sweating profusely and his eyes darted to and fro, over to Marion Mott and Phillip Desmond, the critics for the
Post
and
Times.
Tonight, they were his judges, and Beauregard felt pity for the poor guy.

Beauregard watched as more limos arrived and more stars appeared. Each one of them got a special greeting from Morris Blaustein. Beau found himself enamored of the whole scene. Tonight was fun, a good night. Enough of the hospital, the sick, the dying, the hopeless, the stupidity and arrogance of the surgeons. Lord, let him relax and have a good time. He reached into his pocket, pulled out his tickets, and went inside the theater and directly to his seat.

Morris walked down the aisle toward Beauregard and sat down next to him. Beauregard felt both delighted and wary. Blaustein never did anything without a motive.

“I’m really glad you could make the play tonight, Beau,” Blaustein said, in his suede voice.

“Yes, it’s just what I needed.”

“Just what Lauren needed, too,” Blaustein said.

“How’s that?” Beauregard said.

“Well, I don’t have to tell you that she’s become very, very fond of you. She seems a little stage-struck.”

Beauregard managed a laugh.

“Come on. Lauren and I are …”

“Just good friends?” Blaustein laughed. “I know. But she likes you very, very much. She gets so tired of show people. Everybody wants a piece of her now that she’s making it big. And it’s not easy for her to turn them down. She’s a very generous person. But it takes a lot out of her.”

Beauregard got the distinctly unpleasant feeling that he was being led somewhere, somewhere he had been led before. By patients who feared the worst.

“Has she been tired?” he said.

“Very,” Blaustein said.

His voice was grave, and yet even as he delivered the bad news, he saw another theater critic, Joyce Katel of the News, and he managed a sparkling smile and a gay little wave.

“She complains of head pains.”

“Headaches?”

“Well, yes, I suppose,” Blaustein said, “but she calls them head pains. She says she knows what a headache feels like and this isn’t it.”

“Hmmmmm. Depression. I’ll have a talk with her.”

“Good,” Blaustein said. “After the show we’re having a cast party at Sardi’s. It’s probably nothing, Doctor; she hasn’t done Broadway for some time and she is most likely going through that whole footlight trauma … you know … they never outgrow it.”

“Good Lord,” Beauregard said. “I should say not. I wouldn’t want to be up there.”

“No?” Blaustein said, smiling. “I was just looking at you when we were standing outside, thinking how easily you could be cast as a noble, caring doctor.”

Beauregard laughed and Blaustein smiled at him, and then the overture to In Charm’s Way started.

After fifteen minutes of
In Charm’s
Way, Beauregard understood that it was what Morris Blaustein had once described to him as a “percentage play.” That is, it was a totally commercial enterprise with just the right percentage of sex (not really sex at all, but mere titillation), just the correct percentage of mystery (Who had stolen Lauren’s priceless Degas?), and just the right percentage of laughs, which were mixed with the correct, civilized amounts of empathy. In short, the whole thing was a formula, tried and true, without a striking or original note in it. He propped his head up on the seat, composed his face in the receptive expression he felt necessary, and caught the first act. Lauren entered and he applauded loudly. God, she was beautiful, but he worried about her. She pushed herself too hard. In many ways they were alike. Both of them caught up by their careers to the point of maximum stress overload. That wasn’t good—it made for a constant, gnawing need to work, which in its own way was worse than a gnawing need to make money or achieve power. It hemmed you in, narrowed you. That was what he had really wanted to say to Cross … that you had to have time for people, had to go easy on yourself … then Lauren’s voice, as though it were far away, and in a second, in spite of his best efforts, he fell sound asleep.

“I’m so glad to see you, Beau,” Lauren said, smiling at him and pouring him a glass of champagne. “So very glad.”

He stood at the open French windows of Sardi’s upstairs room and looked down on the glittering lights of Manhattan. He took Lauren’s hand and pressed it tightly. Her hair was jet-black, her eyes beautifully hazel, and her complexion tanned and smooth as a child’s, though he knew she was thirty-five. Her body was firm, her breasts perfectly full and rounded, her waistline so tiny he knew he could pull her to him like a child. Yet, her legs were hard, long, a woman’s legs, and he thought, My God, my God, I’m here with one of the most desirable women in America and yet … Yet, there was something missing, some intimacy that he shared with Heather, that he felt he might never share with anyone else, and it made him feel tense, coiled inside.

“You were terrific in the play,” he said, before she could ask him how he liked it.

“Really, Beau,” she said, smiling at him and kissing him gently on the cheek. “Please don’t you be as sycophantic as the others. We both know it’s utter garbage.”

Beauregard smiled. She was utterly charming and without a trace of self-deception.

“Do you think it will be a hit?” he asked, trying to sound optimistic.

“Of course, darling,” she said. “Of course it will. It has the right blend. Low comedy, bad dialogue, and ersatz romance. It can’t miss.”

“What’s this I hear about romance?” said a voice behind Beauregard.

He turned and stood face to face with the most beautiful redhead he had ever seen. At least ten years younger than Lauren and wearing a dress cut down to her navel, she seemed to pulsate with sex. Beauregard actually felt startled looking at her.

“Oh, God,” Lauren said. “Just when I was beginning to kid myself into thinking I was young again.”

“Oh, you are young,” the woman said. “Younger than springtime …”

She smiled and started to sing the song from
South
Pacific.

“This,” said Lauren, “is Lynne Carter. She is newly arrived in New York from the Coast. And if the reaction of the men in this room sets any precedent, I would say that she will have Mayor Koch sitting at her feet within twenty-four hours.”

“Just give me some work,” Lynne said, taking Beau’s hand. “Robert Beauregard?” she asked.

“Yes,” Beauregard said, “but how …”

“The papers,” Lynne said. “I have nothing to do between cattle calls but read the papers. Let’s see, this week you were in Liz Smith, Page Six, and Suzy’s column. That’s not bad. You must have hired Morris to do your P.R.”

“That’s terrible of you to say,” Lauren smiled. “Beau doesn’t like publicity, and if you remind him of it, he’ll surely race back to his germs and microscopes …”

“No, no,” Lynne said, grabbing Beau by the arm, “he’s the first male I’ve met all night who doesn’t have a beard, a shaved head, and tight pants. You mustn’t leave.”

“Well, if it’s that serious,” Beau said, “I might be induced to spend a few more minutes with you two poor ladies.”

“Oh, do … please do …” said Lynne, mocking panic.

Lauren and Beau both laughed, and Beau watched as Lauren tilted back her beautiful neck. Like Ava Gardner’s, Beau thought, getting a bit high from the champagne. Then, with no warning, Lauren Shaw began to fall. Her glass dropped from her hand, and she collapsed toward Lynne and Beau. Lynne dropped her own glass and grabbed her arm, while Beau quickly got his arms around her waist.

A crowd started to form, but Beau moved them back. Lauren had come to almost instantly and leaned between Lynne and Beau.

“It’s all right,” she said. “It’s all right … Just this opening-night tension.”

“How do you feel?” Beau said, motioning Lynne toward a chair near the buffet.

“Dizzy … a little dry in the mouth. I’m all right. Just nerves. And my head is aching like hell.”

“Here, sit down,” said Lynne.

She and Beau slowly lowered Lauren to a gold brocaded chair.

“I feel fine,” Lauren said. “It’s just a guilt attack. The artiste feels the pangs of remorse for playing in crap.”

Beauregard looked at her eyes.

“Follow my finger,” he said.

“Really, Beau,” Lauren said. “This is not Dr. Kildare time. You’ll make the backers nervous.”

“To hell with the backers. Just look at my finger.”

She did as he said. He watched her pupils carefully, and they tracked him easily.

“I see a huge ugly octopus,” Lauren said. “I see giant cans of Liquid Plumber …”

“Cut the comedy,” Beauregard said. “How long have you been having these headaches.” He took her pulse, which was up to 140.

“A couple of weeks,” she said. “It’s nothing new … I have had them for years.”

“Morris told me that you felt that these pains were different from ordinary tension headaches.”

“Oh, Morris … he’s the ultimate Jewish mother. No … it’s exactly the same. I feel fine … though it is a bit close in here. Why don’t you get my coat and take me away from all this?”

She blinked melodramatically and waved her arm pathetically as if she were a true damsel in distress.

Both Beau and Lynne laughed and shook their heads.

“You are impossible,” Lynne said.

“Yes,” Lauren said, getting up and smiling brilliantly, “I am, dear … but that is the privilege of stardom.”

So saying, she took the coat Beauregard offered her, flipped it over her shoulder, tossed back her head, took Beau’s arm, and headed for the door.

“Oh, Miss Shaw,” Lynne said, in the voice of a stage-struck little girl, “how you do carry on.”

As the limousine sped past the lights of Broadway, Lauren Shaw moved across the back seat and put her head on Beau’s shoulder.

“You okay?” he said.

“I am now,” she said, looking up at him.

“Fine,” he said, with a slight edge to his voice.

“My, that was a professional sounding ‘fine,’ “ she commented.

“Well … it wasn’t meant to be.”

She reached up and playfully boxed his ear.

“Poor, poor Beau,” she said. “I don’t know why I throw myself at you. You know I staged that whole thing just to get you away from Lynne Carter. I saw you staring at her fantastic body. I heard the wheels turning in your head.”

Beauregard smiled and held her hand tightly. “You are impossible.”

BOOK: The Sandman
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