'Let's Do Lunch'

by Phineas Redux

—OOO—

Summary:— Stephanie 'Stevie' Garroch, 34, and Kelly Humber, 32, are lovers, film producers, and part-owners of Redoubtable Films Inc, a 'B' film Poverty Row movie studio located in Hollywood and New York in the 1930's. While in New York they meet various producers, managers, and agents.

Disclaimer:— All characters are copyright ©2020 to the author. All characters in this story are fictional; and any resemblance to real persons living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Caution:— There is some swearing in this story.

—O—

The Reinhardt Hotel on W. 57th St. was one of those fast-growing entities a skyscraper Hotel. It's 100 yard frontage rose 16 floors into the sky, topped by an eight foot cornice overhang of solid granite blocks; the roof itself being flat except for several high chimney blocks of brownstone and brick. The hotel's social standing, on this day of June 1935, was as a meeting-point for high-rolling business persons in many industries, including Music, Theatre, Radio, and Cinema. This last category supplied the reason for the presence this morning, in the Rochester Restaurant on the first floor, of Stephanie Garroch and her long-term lover and partner Kelly Humber, both Producers for Redoubtable Films of New York and Hollywood.

Their primary reason for being there was to meet with several producers and others who made things tick in the film world; film production always being a multi-layered arrangement at the best of times.

"Right, I got our schedule here." Kelly starting-off as she meant to go on, ruthlessly; as they sat at a table in the noisy crowded dining-saloon. "In half an hour, here in the Garnet Suite Grill, we meet with Harold McKay, from P-L-R, the big boys; all about their star Gilda Grahame—they have her, we want her loaned out, OK?"

"Yeah, yeah; haddock kedgeree, or bloaters?"

"What? Good Grief, get your mind off breakfast for one minute, lover, time's movin' on, here."

"OK-OK, don't push me; anyway, I ain't had brekker yet, so there."

"God, women!"

"What?"

"Nuthin." Kelly wisely letting the topic slip. "Then, at half ten, hopefully, comes Kenneth Northam, producer for Baycock Films; they're a Poverty Row unit, but they do have the Cowboy star Bronco Dave Carter; he goes down big, especially when he sings round the campfire—which event takes place in every flick he makes."

"Why'd we want him?" Stephanie still bowed in thought over the breakfast menu.

"Because we need him for our up-coming crime thriller, 'The Dark Street'. The Director, Lomax Barker, says he's, Carter, got what it takes to break into the private dick genre. What?"

"Didn't say anythin'."

"Yeah, I know." Kelly being mean, from simple spite. "Then after lunch, we're meetin' Felicia Connors, the agent for Mona Stephens."

This did bring a response from Stephanie.

"Oh, God! Ain't lookin' forward t'that." She looking-up to give her companion the stare of a sad beagle. "La Stephens, as everyone in the film industry knows, is half off her rocker, and the other half hasn't any brakes, from the moral point of view. This flick we're workin' on with her as star is gon'na be a gigantic bust, mark my words."

"That's right, keep our spirits up in time of most need, darlin'." Kelly nearly laughing out loud. "Then, after that, we have to grab a cab an' make our way to Brooklyn to meet Henry Coxon, agent for Larry Banister; a movie star who's gon'na cost us a bloody bomb, only sayin'."

"He's the matinee idol of the moment, can't fail in anythin' he's in." Stephanie looking to the bright side for once. "We could put him in a B movie with a script by a ten year old and it'd still make money 'cause he's in it."

"Rrrr!"

"Is that the end of our day, after Coxon?" Stephanie eyeing the escape clause of the schedule being read out.

"Yeah, we can go home after that." Kelly admitting defeat. "Something we'll both be in need of, by that time, I expect."

"Har!"

—O—

"Mr McKay, how nice t'meet you." Kelly starting with a large dollop of soft soap. "Happy days in the film industry these days, don't you think?"

Before replying Harold McKay, something big in the higher echelons of P-G-M, the second-biggest film corporation in Hollywood, pulled his chair out and settled himself comfortably at the table in the dining-suite, looking around to judge the quality of the surrounding populace.

"Hmm, nice place; this the menu?" He flicked through the thin pamphlet with interest. "What time's it? Nine-thirty? Late breakfast still on; les'see, where's the waitress? Ah, lady, I'll have a bowl o'grits, followed by three pancakes with syrup, an' a large pot o'coffee, hold the cream or milk, thanks. So, Gilda Grahame?"

Stephanie, through years of past experience in the same rut, knew better than to reply immediately to this statement; she instead taking time to consider what her reply ought to contain.

"Yeah, she's pretty much in the Public eye these days, as long as such lasts." She trying hard not to seem too wishful of further acquaintance with said celebrity. "Figure, though, we at Redoubtable could use her for an upcoming thriller we're in the process of producing. Any offers?"

On his part, being a high-flying executive in a fast-paced industry, Harold took this first slash in the swordfight of too-and-fro discussion on his shield, deflecting the attack back towards its source.

"Why should we loan her out?" He looking up from his bowl of grits which had just arrived on the table in front of him. "She's popular, lots'a pulling-power in cinemas, and we have a whole stock o'films in the works for her. Nah, we ain't got any break in her schedule that'd let us loan her anywhere, sorry."

Stephanie, as did Kelly also, knew better than to take this opinion at face value; it being the stock first move in the chess game of switching stars between studios.

"Oh, it ain't as if we weren't offering the goin' rate, Harold." Kelly jumping in with her wide knowledge of figures and where they most effectively added up to a profit. "We can offer two thou down, and another two when the movie, ours, is complete."

"Ha-ha-ha!" Harold clearly delighted with what he took to be a joke. "That's a good 'un. Here, lem'me finish my grits before I choke on 'em."

"Harold! Harold!" Kelly shaking her head at this reaction. "Four thou in the hand is better than a hole in an empty pocket."

But Harold was too skilled an old-hand to fall for this.

"Never mind the holes in my pockets—the which are my own personal concern—but take P-G-M-'s bank account. Ten thou there'd make everyone happy; what'd you think about that?"

Now that they were well into the full-blown give and take of the argument Stephanie sat back to let her companion take first base in the attack.

"Two thou down, an' three when the job's done." Kelly raising a critical eye at the mighty producer, as if saying how can he argue against that.

"Peanuts, lady, peanuts." Harold falling back on the huge organisation behind him. "Five thou'd just about cover Miss Grahame's wardrobe for her next flick; you got'ta do better'n that. Mmm, these pancakes is great, must come back here."

Before coming to this point in the argument Stephanie and Kelly had earlier worked out a complete policy beforehand; so now they were ready with an answer of import.

"Castin' Miss Grahame's wardrobe aside, which she won't be doin' in our movie, we think five thou's a reasonable offer, even for Miss Grahame." Stephanie making her position plain. "You may push her as popular in the public eye, but still she ain't a first-level star, not yet, anyway. So give over with the big ideas an' come back down t'earth. We, Redoubtable, are offerin' five thou in total for six weeks work on our flick. That's fair an' square by any light anyone of sense can shine on the matter. Take it or leave it."

"Take it, we pay this breakfast tab." Kelly being as mean as she felt. "Leave it, an' you pay your own tab, is all."

"Oh, that is mean." Harold staring across the table at his Nemesis. "Lem'me think a moment. Five thou? You couldn't see your way t'six, meb'be?"

Stephanie glanced at Kelly, keeping her inner feelings to herself while doing so; but still a magnetic understanding quivered between them.

"OK, six it is—is that the deal then?" Stephanie quick to close said deal now that it had been made.

"Yeah, yeah, that's it—six thou for six weeks, startin' next Monday, OK?"

"Yippee, been great doin' business with you, Harold." Kelly as bright a spark as any seen in New York this last month or so. "Hope you enjoyed your breakfast?"

"Uu-ur!"

—O—

The dining-room of the hotel was beginning to clear of the early diners as Stephanie and Kelly repositioned themselves after their late success.

"Hi, waitress! Yeah, thanks, could we have another pot o'coffee? Great!" Stephanie flicking through some thin files she had on the table in front of her. "That went well, doll."

Kelly on her part was already smiling widely.

"Yeah, we came in willing to go to ten thou, an' topped out at six; that's what I call a success."

"We got ten minutes before Ken Northam, from Baycock Films, arrives; want some more coffee?"

"Yeah, thanks; an' I wouldn't say no to a couple of waffles an' syrup." Kelly letting her animal nature come to the fore. "That breakfast of Harold's made me hungry."

"Ain't but an hour an' a half till lunch, ducks."

"Waffles,—now." Kelly putting her foot down. "An' no more talk o'ducks; I'll have them for Lunch, thanks."

"God!"

"So, Bronco Dave Carter—we accounted some three thousand dollars for him, right?"

"Yip," Stephanie nodding as she studied her notes. "but let's start at fifteen hundred; won't do any harm, eh?"

"Sure, the less the better." Kelly agreeing wholeheartedly. "An' here comes Ken now. Hi, Ken."

"Nice t'meet ya both, ladies." Kenneth Northam's voice sounding like the Knell of Doom on a dark night in the forest. "Coffee? Sure, thanks, no milk or sugar. God, sugar, the bane of my waistline these days, I'm afraid."

Kenneth stood some five feet ten inches on a solid frame made of more muscle than fat; thick dark brown hair and a square face; the face of a bruiser who usually came out ahead in his bouts.

"Kelly's just about t'dig into some waffles, want some?" Stephanie spreading seeds of joy and happiness like a farmer in his field.

"I'd love some—but I can't; my doc told me, just three days ago, if I wan'na keep my waist I got'ta leave off the calories bigtime."

"Urr, well, shall we get along?" Stephanie sheltering behind her own coffee cup, watching Kelly digging into her waffles.

"Sure; so, Bronco Dave, you wan'na piece of him, right?"

"I wouldn't quite put it that way; but, yeah, we're in the market to have Dave Carter loaned out." Stephanie switching into defence mode. "Redoubtable was thinkin' along the lines of, oh, twelve hundred straight-up?"

Kenneth used the pause opened up by taking a long swallow of his coffee before replying; but when he did so he replied in kind.

"Twelve hundred? That'd be the weekly expence of Garrard Jamieson's weekly cigar spending." Kenneth's tone now taking on the aspect of an Abbot meeting an atheist round a corner. "Garrard, as I'm sure you know, bein' Head of Baycock."

"Bully for Baycock." Stephanie coming to the far edge of her patience. "And twelve hundred is fair in the circumstances. We're talkin' about Bronco Dave Carter, the singin' cowboy, not James Cagney."

Kenneth took another slow sip of coffee, frowning over the situation so presented.

"He's our singin' cowboy, an' makes us whopping profits every year." Kenneth sticking to the specifics of his position. "We may loan him out, but we'd need some good reasons before we did. Twelve hundred ain't a good reason—try harder, ladies."

The tone he made this request in penetrated past Kelly's all-consuming interest in her rapidly diminishing plate of waffles. She sat up straight, looked at their visitor, clearly found him wanting, and set out to prove her point.

"You really have a deep love for Bronco Dave, don't you?" She using all the sarcasm available in her nature. "He's your Golden Egg, apparently; but what you don't seem t'realise is those eggs are rather small of their kind, and their source is finite. One day, possibly quicker than you imagine, Dave'll be done in the singin' line—then what?"

Kenneth took this in with a grimace suggesting stomach problems, placing his coffee-cup down with a distinct clatter.

"He's doin' fine at the moment."

"That moment ain't infinite." Kelly sticking to her point. "Last year he was big; this year he's big; next year he might well still be big; but in five years I think we can pretty well agree singin' cowboys ain't goin' t'be the icing on the cake anymore. Right now, today, Redoubtable's got an offer on the table, and that offer's twelve hundred for Dave's loan for our flick. Think about that twelve hundred in your pocket, then take it."

Kenneth bowed over his cup, leaning both elbows on the table which creaked under the strain; then sighed softly.

"Two thou—two thou's the least I can ask for his loan. Two thou, or we're through."

The women looked at each other with impassive expressions; Kelly finally coming to the fore with their answer.

"You'd be the one breakin'-off discussion." Kelly pinning her victim like a fencer pinking their opponent in the chest. "But, two thou? Oh, OK, we'll settle on two thou—agreed?"

"Yeah, agreed."

"Great." Stephanie coming back into the fight. "We'll have our Front Office get in touch with yours by the end of the week. Nice talkin' with you, Ken,—'bye."

"—'Bye." Kelly returning, somewhat impolitely, to her waffles.

"Uu-umph!"

—O—

The ladies took a few minutes, after their last guest, to relax and sort themselves out for the rest of their day.

"What time's it? Eleven-thirty?" Kelly consulting her wristwatch. "An hour and a half before we need t'return here for Felicia Connors. Enough time t'go further down Fifty-Seven an' hit the shops."

"Got something in mind, lover?"

"A new frock, dear." Kelly well aware of her needs in this area. "Harrity's Fashion Emporium has a new stock of Grayfern Couture outfits; saw them in the front window on our way here earlier. Just time t'hit the joint, scrabble through what's on offer, an' grab what I like."

"Got the spondoolics t'cover your needs, lady?"

"—'course, I'm loaded today." Kelly rising from her chair confidently. "Come on, follow me, I know the way out t'the street."

"Idiot!"

—O—

Harrity's famous Fashion Emporium, rather high-class even of its kind, had clothes—although their wares were never described in public in front of customers by this coarse denominator—of the very latest and highest designs, mainly from the well-known French Couture Houses. If a lady—for it was predominantly female persons of this class who favoured the joint—I mean, deigned to enter its refined doors and inner ambience—required only the finest of designs and materials Harrity's had it to hand—at a price—a huge price; but, of course, if you needed to ask the price of anything on offer you shouldn't have entered the Emporium in the first place!

Kelly, accompanied by her trusty maid, i.e., Stephanie; sauntered in as if she owned a percentage of the place—which, in a way, wasn't far from the truth. Some couple of years since the investigators had pulled-off a coup in discovering and helping to capture a group of thieves specialising in High Fashion, thereby helping Harrity's out of a deep financial hole—since when the ladies had been given the honour of shopping there with a 40% discount on anything they required; which Kelly in particular had grown to love and almost use like a bad habit.

Ladies Underthings in Harrity's was, curiously, on the second floor; their basement being used only as a series of stockrooms; Ladies, of course, needing pure bright daylight to admire and examine the costly wares on show.

"Camisoles an' knickers." Kelly focusing on the needful as they entered the long bright room. "Heard they have a cargo of Paquin, just recently arrived."

"Jee-sus! Livin' the Vida Loco, sure enough!"

"Easy, gal, easy." Kelly ogling the counters with the eye of an eagle. "Say, there's somethin' worth takin' note of—come on."

Five minutes later they were in the confines of a private dressing-room, Kelly stripping as if readying for a race in Ancient Sparta. Accompanying them as representative of the House was a middle-aged manageress of long experience, she having seen several hundred naked women in her career; though she was not of a nature to take full gratification of this work associated perk.

"Mrs Greatorex, what about these pink cami-knickers?" Stephanie taking a personal interest in her lover's style, particularly these more intimate items.

"Paquin, madam, at her finest." Mary Greatorex spinning her company's wares to the best of her immense capability, turning to her particular customer. "No greater stylist in the world. Is madame ready?"

"If ya mean stripped t'the bone, yeah." Kelly, from past visits having no remaining iota of embarrassment in this condition, turning to the counter with a plethora of possible choices with bright hope. "How's about these, with the white leg fringes? I'll try them first."

The next twenty minutes were taken up with that most delightful of hobbies, trying on new fashionable clothes—even if, at this point, these were only the merest foundations of what was to come. But all good things come to an end, and finally even Kelly had enough knickers and such to suit her needs.

"Six camisoles, an' three pairs of knickers?" Stephanie impressed in spite of herself. "Sure you're well enough set up there, partner?"

"Not really, but they'll do for the time being." Kelly coming back strongly as she finished buttoning her blouse. "Thanks, Mrs Greatorex, always a pleasure."

"Thank you, ma'am. Come again."

"Oh, definitely." Kelly knowing her intentions clearly as she turned to Stephanie. "OK, lady, fourth floor beckons—that's where the new Couture lurks. Stairs or Elevator?"

This remark was addressed directly to a particular worry of Stephanie's, which raised its head on occasion; being trapped in confined spaces that were difficult to exit in an emergency. She, Stephanie, having once been trapped in an elevator for three hours when in her teens and still not fully over the trauma.

"Stairs, doll, why ask?"

The fourth floor was the epicentre of all that was foreign, and therefore up-to-the-moment if not actually ahead, in anything stylish. Predominantly French in origin, with some British, Belgian and Italian adding even more exoticism, the highest in all that was fashion was on show, for those who could afford such fripperies; with her huge discount under her arm Kelly was now definitely in this group and knew it.

"I really need some Autumn skirts, not t'mention suits." Kelly laying out the groundwork for her immediate fashion plans. "Oh, look—Redfern, I love Redfern, so sporty, don't you think?"

Stephanie reserved her judgement on this question, merely sighing softly as they headed for yet another dressing-room.

This time the large room was packed to its limits with Paquin inspired dresses. Lanvin creations, Poiret ensembles, and Chanel conceptions hot from the clothes presses in Paris, France; Kelly making the most of her opportunity and no mistake: so much so, in fact, the accompanying fitter had a female apprentice along to lend a helping hand. And then the happy work commenced.

"Oh, madame!

"Ooh, perfection!"

"Aah, madam is tres elegant, non?"

"Ooh!"

Finally, Stephanie broke under the strain.

"Last time I wanted undergear an' skirts, three month since, I went t'Joe Cartwright's Five an' Ten, over in Lanchester Street, Hollywood." She bringing this contemptible fact to mind without an iota of shame. "Whole lot, cami's, knickers, skirts an' blouses, only came t'twenty-five dollars."

An icy silence descended on the sophisticated room, icicles beginning to form on the wooden beams of the ceiling and hang down; everyone but the perpetrator standing still as if fixed in place by shock, then Kelly broke the ice.

"That Chanel over there's goin' t'waste, Mrs Borewood; throw it over, there's a dear. Don't take no note o'certain folks, they ain't got no Goûte, as they say in Paree."

Put down so thoroughly, Stephanie retreated wordlessly to a chair in the corner; taking no further vocal part in the immediate goings-on, except to smile encouragingly from time to time when this seemed required. At last, half an hour later, they were on their way streetward again; Stephanie, of course, bearing the brunt of the many parcels and boxes now under the sole ownership of Kelly.

"That went well; think I got most of what I wanted."

"You think!" Stephanie already gasping under the strain as they hit the sidewalk. "Ya spent over three hundred dollars; if it wasn't for that enormous discount we have it'd been three times that at least!"

"But it wasn't, which is all the fun, don't you think?" Kelly showing no moral embarrassment at all. "Come on, here's your sedan; pack most of these boxes in the trunk, I'll take these few parcels inside with me."

"God, now I know what an old-time mill-worker in England must'a felt like."

"Snap to it, gal, our next appointment at the Reinhardt's only half an hour away."

"God!"

—O—

The trouble with Felicia Connors and Mona Stephens, as everyone in the know in Hollywood knew, was that they made an almost impregnable double-act. Mona had a sharp idea of her own worth and merit as an actress, while Felicia could talk a tiger into turning vegetarian without breaking sweat. Mona was around five foot eight, a trifle tall for a leading lady, considering the lack of such eminence in many leading men of the day; while Felicia made up in solidity what she herself lacked in height; this, allied with a temperament that might well have withstood the barricades of the Paris Commune of 1871, and you had two formidable women.

"Hallo, Felicia." Stephanie pouring out the soft soap at once as the lady in question arrived at their table in Reinhardt's Restaurant, now beginning to fill with customers on the prowl for afternoon tea. "Nice t'meet ya; this here bein' my partner, Kelly Humber."

"Mmrrph, where's the menu, I'm bloody starved."

The important business of the day eventually being fully attended to Felicia sat back, glared at her adversaries, and got down to the nitty-gritty.

"Mona Stephens ain't gettin' pulled in'ta no dime a dozen Skid Row gumshoe flicks. No sirree, she gets per up front or there's no deal, is what. Wha'cha say?"

Faced with the harsh reality of harsh reality personified in their present visitor it was Kelly who first put her head above the trench-parapet.

"Who said she wouldn't get per?" Kelly using her well-rehearsed whine of astonishment routine, almost always a winner in trying circumstances. "Mona'll get what she's worth, don't fret."

"I ain't fretting, I'm just making sure." Felicia grinning like a panther faced with the choice of a blind antelope or a three-legged deer for lunch.

"We got the contract pre-written, with all the important details," Stephanie handing across the table a sheet of notepaper. "workin' hours, how many days on set weekly, how many days off, her salary over the course of the seven weeks we'll be shootin' here in NY. Everything you could possibly wish covered. OK?"

Felicia bowed over this important document, giving it all the attention King John must have, one hopes, given the Magna Carta.

"Yeah, well," She finally admitting, after scrutinizing the paperwork three times over. "looks pretty fair; but I'll have t'run it past Front Office o'course, they bein' the experts; if there's any funny business goin' on they're the boys, an' gals, who'll find it."

"Ya needn't worry there." Stephanie speaking proudly about the Film Studio closest to her heart. "Redoubtable don't renege on its contracts, ever. Ya got a concrete foundation there, Felicia, for sure."

"One thing?"

Both Stephanie and Kelly sat up straight at this remark, especially at the tone in which the film mogul had made it.

"Oh, yeah? What?" Kelly as suspicious as a lamb in a lion's cage.

"Mona's halfway towards signing t'do an oater with John Wayne, shootin' t'start beginnin' of August, so you'll have t'push your flick with her back about six, meb'be eight, weeks, OK?"

This unexpected news didn't sit comfortably with either of the representatives of Redoubtable; Stephanie making a strange choking sound in her throat, while Kelly merely turned a peculiar shade of puce, preparatory to attempting to equal the famous eruption of Krakatoa way back when.

"What! What!" Kelly going-off the deep end straight into the Atlantic Ocean. "You got'ta be jokin'! Listen, babe, Mona's ours, as per contract, from July to October, no change taken or accepted. John Wayne can cool his heels in the nearest pond for the duration till then, an' that's all there is to it, see!"

Faced with this level of opposition Felicia gave her adversary a sharp look, decided that resistance would be, in this particular circumstance, entirely futile and sighed softly in defeat.

"OK-OK! Don't get so super-heated—you got her, OK? Wayne can keep a few weeks, I expect."

"By-the-by," Stephanie feeling this was a good moment to bring the point up. "how's Mona doin' these days? Still takin' her medication, one hopes?"

This snide remark was too much for Felicia, however. Already forced onto her back foot, re the Wayne flick, she felt that defending her client's reputation against such insidious insinuations was now paramount.

"There ain't nuthin' the dam' wrong with Mona's intellects, dam'mit!"

Finding she had raised her voice a trifle too loudly in the course of this defensive diatribe, Felicia sat back, glancing round suspiciously to see if many diners had taken note of her words.

"Listen, Mona's fine; she may have had a little, er, situation six months back, but she's fine now."

"Situation?" Kelly wasn't having any of this shilly-shallying round the historical event. "She shot her co-star on 'Birthday Surprise', no half-measures—pulled a thirty-eight an' plugged Roger Macklesfield in his arm, on set—there bein' film t'prove it. He, as I recall from the news-rags, didn't like it."

"A moment of ill-judged animosity, is all." Felicia feeling this conversation was getting out of hand. "Can't anyone be angry at someone now an' then? Anyway, it all melted away—"

"At some almighty cost t'your company, I believe?" Kelly not giving up without a fight. "Just tell dear Mona from me, if she tries same on my pic I'll draw on her first myself faster than a rattler an' plug her good, a'fore she gets a single shot off, at anyone,—OK? An' I ain't jokin'."

Felicia put down her coffee cup, looking daggers at Kelly, unable to counter what was literally public knowledge.

"She'll behave; she's been on a course, the head doctors goin' over her like a cat with fleas." Felicia curling a disdainful lip in making this known. "She's had—er, treatment, if ya get my drift. She won't be shootin' anybody else, take it from me."

"Well, let's hope so; 'cause my partner here never tells a lie—when she says she'll shoot Mona that means Mona better have taken out a good life policy aforehand, is all." Stephanie placing the facts of the matter on the table. "That looked a nice cream cake ya ate—good, was it?"

"I'm leavin' now—gim'me that contract."

"Oh, sad—OK, here." Stephanie handing over the couple of sheets of notepaper in question.

"You'll find everything taken care of," Kelly nodding happily, she knowing the agreement inside out, having helped to prepare it. "in the fine print for certain, if not the heavier type. 'bye."

"That everything? Right, 'bye." Stephanie giving what could only be categorised as a cold farewell to the film producer.

"Rr-rh!"

—O—

"How long's this ride gon'na take?" Kelly settling herself in the rear of the cab with the aura of a Princess in her throne-room.

"From Fifty-Seventh, here?" Stephanie taking what room on the rear bench seat was left over for mere plebs. "Well, we're goin' directly south, hit the Brooklyn Bridge, then wend our way t'Court Street. Let's see, the state of the traffic this time in the afternoon, I'd say just over half an hour. We may only be that much late for our appointment with Coxon."

"Jeez!" Kelly not impressed. "I've heard this Coxon's, Henry is it, not an easy-going guy, all the same!"

"Never worry, we're the buyers, he's the seller; who d'ya think'll be more anxious over the concern?"

"Ha, if only." Kelly still not happy. "Hey, driver, can't you go faster? There's a snail on the sidewalk beside me here, that's racing well ahead of us."

"Dames!" Came the reply from the cab's driving-seat, in a heavy Bronx accent. "Don't I get it all dam' day long? Listen, sister, we got the whole o'Manhattan t'penetrate, an' this's workin' up t'the rush-hour. Be lucky, this traffic, we make the Bridge this side o'the next hour, hour an' a quarter. Rest yer bones; we'll get t'Brooklyn, sometime ter day, jes' don't quote me on that, is all."

"Gawd!" Kelly defeated across the board.

In fact, the run to the Brooklyn Bridge being relatively smooth and untroubled, they made it to the outskirts of Brooklyn itself in just over three-quarters of an hour. The fact it took another half hour to penetrate the wilderness of traffic therein to reach Court Street hardly being the cabbie's fault; though, on arrival, Kelly was less than anxious to dole out the requisite fare never mind tip.

"How could it possibly be that much? You sure? Look at the clock? I dam' well will, too! Oh, alright, an' here's five over, just be thankful for it, buster."

Henry Coxon, being the Head of Production at Titanic Pictures, actually resided during working hours in the company's HQ here on Court Street, in it's own greystone four-storey wide-corniced building; rather happily called, instead of what might have been, The Carrington Building.

"What's this?" Kelly all agog as they examined the structure from its immediate exterior. "They've rented the ground floor to a high-class tailor!"

"Bee movie companies have'ta make a profit wherever it shows up, dear." Stephanie taking the pragmatic view. "Come on; bet they don't have an elevator, it'll be a long haul t'the third floor."

On arrival at the requisite floor and entering the rather forbidding main door of the office the ladies found that Titanic Pictures had obviously taken over a failing Victorian business who had last modernised their premises in 1895, the which style still remaining solidly in situ. Dark oak paneling from floor to ceiling, heavy desks made to outlast the millennium, chairs that looked as if built to withstand a reclining rhino, and filing cabinets looking as if they had been stolen from the Greek and Roman Department of the British Museum, all tended to antagonise the unready visitor into a case of the Blue Devils—a situation which certainly had its full effect on Kelly at least.

"God in Heaven, what a dump!"

"Can I help, ladies?" This from a competent looking middle-aged woman behind the public desk who eyed her visitors with a certain level of dubiety.

"Stephanie Garroch and Kelly Humber—Redoubtable Films—for Henry Coxon."

Without consulting her appointment book the lady regarded the interlopers with open disdain.

"You were expected over half an hour ago." She taking no prisoners, apparently a personality trait of hers. "Mr Coxon is a very busy person, you know—"

"So are we, lady; don't underestimate us." Kelly meeting this attack head-on. "We're producers for our film company—probably more successful than Coxon'll ever be. So, tell him the glad tidings from Ghent, an' rustle us up a coupl'a cups of coffee, thanks. Where's the meeting-room?"

Dealt with so surely, if a trifle harshly, the lady behind the counter buckled under the strain and silently turned away to disappear through a side-door to her right.

"Wonder if we'll ever see her again?" Stephanie making what she felt a likely prophecy.

But in slightly less than five minutes the ladies found themselves in a high-ceilinged room with windows all along the left side flooding the room and long table therein with bright sunlight. At the far end of the table, like King Arthur in command of the Round Table, sat a large, even bulky, man; apparently Henry Coxon in person.

"Sit, ladies. I had half a mind to cancel this meeting when you failed to show up on time but, being—"

"Hi!—Hi!" Stephanie not standing for this cold reception in any way. "Hold yer horses there, pard. Who in hell'd ya think you are—the bloody President! We're both high-ranking Producers in our own right. Probably far more successful and important in our own niche than you'll ever be; so nix the all-mightier-than-thou attitude right-off, an' come back down t'earth, OK?"

At this point, taking the worst of the heat from the simmering drama, a young secretary entered bearing a large tray with all the fixings of coffee and biscuits which she placed on the table beside the visitors, before leaving as silently as she had arrived.

"Mmm, smells good; don't get in'ta your spiel till Kel an' I've slaked our thirst, will ya, Harry." Stephanie bringing the egotistic producer even more down to size than before. "Ya wouldn't believe how dry it makes one, takin' a long cab ride through Manhattan at rush hour. Mmm, yeah, that hits the spot; you good, Kel?"

"Mmmph, that's good; yeah, I'm ready for anything," Kelly following her lover's lead with verve. "—even you, Harry. So what you got for us, laddie?"

Confronted and battered in such a disdainful manner Coxon gobbled like a sick turkey just informed of Thanksgiving, opening and closing his mouth a number of times before articulate speech returned allowing a rather feeble counter-attack.

"What d'ya mean? What d'ya—, I mean, I'm Head of Publicity for a major company—"

Stephanie was, however, up for this weak repartee.

"Major company! Titanic? You got'ta be joking." She grinning like a hungry hyena along the table towards her foe. "Titanic's a two-bit concern at best; we at Redoubtable are Bee movie material, sure, but you're just broken-down Poverty Row straight an' true. So, ya got a fairly reliable actor in Larry Banister, so what? He'll last ya a coupl'a more years, probably, then where'll ya be? We're lookin' t'take him off your hands for a few weeks at a great profit to you; the kind'a deal that doesn't have any bad sides to it, far as you're concerned. Would'a thought you'd be dancin' in the street at the prospect?"

Feeling the pressure, and so facing his assailants with some circumspection, Coxon tried what he took to be an unassailable argument.

"Banister's one of our biggest assets; a big star all round." He began puffing out his vast cheeks in the effort to take in as much oxygen as he needed for this argument. "Just last week, you know, we almost had feelers out from Universal about him; so, er, think yourselves lucky we're, here at Titanic, taking note of your proposal, first, eh?"

Having listened to this drivel Kelly had reached her personal saturation point; taking-off, metaphorically speaking, her velvet gloves to reveal the triple-armored steel gauntlets she regularly wore under them.

"Coxon?"

Henry, somewhat disturbed by the lady's tone, gazed at Kelly a trifle anxiously, as well he might.

"What? What? My time's taken—"

"You ain't got no time left, buster." Kelly ruthlessly firing her main armament. "You've had a coupl'a successes with Banister over the last six months; you ain't got anything on the stocks for him as we speak; your company's teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, like a scaredy-cat hovering on the edge of a cold swimming-pool—yeah, I've done my homework on your two-bit concern; we're offering a deal that'll more than likely enable Titanic t'see the year out, at least; all you got'ta do—all you can do in these circumstances, is sign our dam' contract an' sigh in relief at the extension to your careers it allows you-all. Sign—we got places t'be, an' time, your time, is running out like a sand-glass with a big crack. Wan'na borrow my pen?"

Without speaking further Kelly took a thin file she had ready, put her hand on it and with expert aim pushed, sliding it along the table to come to a halt immediately in front of the obnoxious producer at the far end.

"Aa-ah! I, that is, I—ahum, er,—"

"Lem'me make our position plain, Harry." Stephanie taking the lead like an Admiral on her bridge. "We want, simply out of the kindness of our hearts towards lesser entities, to rent your actor Larry Banister for a movie we have on the stocks. He has a certain cachet as a popular actor, which we feel we can build on, so we're making an offer, OK? And, as every Joe an' Sheila in the street already knows, Titanic's at that point in its fiscal year when any profit on the account books is something to be wished-for beyond all compare."

"There you go, Harry," Kelly stabbing her quarry even deeper while she had him on the point of her dagger. "take your time reading it—it being our one an' only offer. No discussion or argument; you take what we offer, or Steph an' I walk out in the next thirty seconds—we having far more important appointments t'day than you could ever imagine, OK?"

Coxon merely gazed at the file for an appreciable period, like a Shakespeare villain suddenly realising Act Five had arrived; at last he sat forward, opened the file, read the first page which contained the meat of the offer in clear and true figures, sighed unhappily, and looked up at his adversaries for a few seconds.

"Oh, OK. OK, ya got him; happy now, are ya?"

"Happier when you take your pen an' sign along the dotted line you'll find at the bottom of the last page, Harry." Kelly taking no prisoners.

"G-dd-m!" But all the same Coxon, obviously violently against his will and with the mien of a depressed and defeated retainer, scrabbled in an inside pocket before producing the object of most import to the moment, using same to inscribe the contract with his official signature. "There, d-m'mit, it's done. Happy?"

"As fleas on a mink, laddie." Stephanie treating the producer as she had first found him, with contempt; claiming the completed contract as it slid back along the table to her waiting hand. "Well, adios, places t'be, things t'do, y'know. Have a good day, 'bye."

"Cheerio, Harry." Kelly sliding the knife in further, just because his attitude riled her natural instincts. "You've given us a real bargain there, boyo,—thanks!"

"Urr-gh!"

—O—

The interior of their cab, not the same one as earlier, smelt of rich leather and the remaining traces of a fine perfume from some recent high-rolling female passenger; but Stephanie and Kelly were too taken up with their success to notice.

"That went well." Kelly examining the signature on the contract, just to make sure. "Yeah, he signed with his real name, just checking."

"Har, I'm with you there; not a nice character whichever side you take him on." Stephanie agreeing wholeheartedly. "So, what's t'do now, babe?"

Kelly put the contract carefully away in the heavy leather briefcase she had bought especially for the purpose.

"Well, with all our business done for the day, I was thinking—Mario's, then a musical show on Broadway; then back t'our hotel for who knows what shenanigans?"

Stephanie considered this evening schedule for all of three seconds.

"Works for me, babe; but back t'our hotel shack first, for a shower—me claiming first dibs, of course."

"Ha," Kelly not standing for this impertinent attitude one little bit. "Not if I can help it, lady, not if I can help it!"

The End

—O—

The next 'Redoubtable Films' story will be along shortly.

—OOO—