Fiction

Drink to the Moon

Brad had written so many movies he thought he knew all about people. Then he tried to write a scene into his life for a girl called Marty

W. L. KNICKMEYER June 15 1948
Fiction

Drink to the Moon

Brad had written so many movies he thought he knew all about people. Then he tried to write a scene into his life for a girl called Marty

W. L. KNICKMEYER June 15 1948

Drink to the Moon

W. L. KNICKMEYER

I WAS in my office that day, working on the script for the new Frances Delaney pictures when Marty Evans came in. In the two years she’d been out here doing publicity for Cosmic, I’d seen quite a bit of Marty. She was a fine girl and we got. along well toget her.

“Brad,” she said, “I want you to meet a friend of mine. Jim Fallon. Jim, this is Brad Roberts.” Marty was always turning up with strange characters, but this time it was different. The difference was in her voice. Her hair was all gold in the sunlight, her blue eyes shone at me and her voice was a song.

Like she’d made the guy up herself and held the copyright.

I said “Hi, Marty. Hello, Mr. Fallon.”

He was a tall, rangy sort of joe with sandy hair and grey eyes and a cowboy hat t hat he kept turning around and around in his hands. He had a nice grin.

“I thought I knew everybody on the Cosmic lot,” I said. “You just sign up with us?”

He twisted the hat around. Marty put a hand on his arm.

“He isn’t signed up with anybody. He just got here today, from my home town in Oklahoma.” “Of course, I'm just a writer,” I said. “But I can introduce you to Walt.” He looked blank. I explained: “Walt Gordon, the producer. He needs a cowboy.”

Marty broke in. “You don’t understand, Brad. Jim isn’t an actor.”

“Who said anything about actors? He can ride a horse, can’t he?”

She made an impatient sound. “He doesn’t want a job at all. He’s visiting. I’m showing him around.”

Weren’t they running tours any more?

I said “Oh” again. I wasn’t ¡«terested in visitors. “Well, nice to have met you. If there’s anything I can do—”

“I thought we might take him to Delaney’s party tonight,” Marty said. “She wouldn’t care, would she?”

She probably wouldn’t even know it.

“She’d be insulted if we didn’t,” I said. I got up and shook hands with him. “Bring your horse if you want. Say about eleven?”

“Fine,” Marty said. She looked at Fallon. “You run along* darling. I want to talk to Brad. We’ll see you tonight.”

He split one of those shy grins between us. Then he went out. It wasn’t until after he’d gone that I realized he hadn’t said a word the whole time.

HOW did you like him?” Marty was sitting on the edge of my desk with her head on one side and an anxious look in her eyes.

I shrugged. “Seems all right. If he could talk we might sell him to Walt.” I thought about it. “Or if his horse could talk. That would be even better.” “I’m serious, Brad.”

What made her think I wasn’t? A horse like that would be a gold mine.

“What do you want me to say? He’s probably good to his cows.” I looked at her hard. “What’s all this with you and cowboys?”

“He isn’t a cowboy, he’s a rancher.”

“Rancher, cowboy, it’s all the same. What plays, sweetheart?”

Marty wasn’t herding a cowboy abound just for the laughs. It was in her eyes and in her voice and in the way she twisted her fingers together.

“I’m going home,” she said.

“Home!”

“With Jim.” She looked past me. Her voice was hushed. There were stars shining in her eyes. “I’m going to marry him ...”

I felt my grin going away. I didn’t have any use for it now. I let if go. All of a sudden it wasn’t funny any more.

I looked at Marty and I was seeing things clear. Things I ought to have known, but hadn’t. Things that had been building up inside me for two years. Things . . .

Marty and I riding for hours along the coast in the moonlight, Marty and I swimming at the beach. Marty and I at the lake, up in the mountains: fishing, walking in the woods, sitting in front of an open fire.

Marty and I.

There was a tight feeling in my chest. I watched the memories going by, two years of them and each of them gave it a little extra twist.

“You can’t do that,” I said. My voice sounded louder than it needed to be.

Marty looked surprised. “Why not?”

“Why, because it’s ridiculous, that’s all. You hardly know the man.”

“I’ve known him for years. We went to school together. He always said he was going to marry me when he got a ranch of his own. And now he’s got the ranch.”

SHE dreamed. The sun shone. I spread out my hands on the desk and thought about a night two years ago.

The party at Walt Gordon’s. The beach was white and still in the moonlight and the waves coming in and breaking and washing out again. I’d broken away from the party and gone out to look at the Pacific. In a sport jacket and slacks, without a helmet, without a carbine, I looked at the Pacific. It looked good.

And there was this girl, this Marty. I was standing there making like a civilian and suddenly there she was. A black dress and her hair shining in the moonlight. She made it complete.

We talked for a while—about what, I couldn’t tell you. But we were both starting out in new jobs, both working for Cosmic and the war was over and it seemed as if there ought to be a ceremony to go with it.

We looked toward the moon. Her eyes smiled at me.

I said, “A good moon and a good life.” We drank to both of them.

Now I sat in the office and it didn’t add up right. Marty on a horse. Marty chasing a bunch of cows. Marty riding hand in hand into the sunset with a character in a cowboy hat.

It was the wrong ending for Marty’s story. For mine. For ours.

I said, “You wouldn’t be happy among the cows, honey. You’ve lived in Hollywood too long.”

She gave me a funny look.

“That’s just it, Brad. I’ve been out here too long. Now I’m going back where there are real people, living real lives.”

What did she think I was, a zombie?

“You’ve been seeing too many B pictures,” I said. “Don’t go, Marty. Don’t throw your life away.”

“It’s my life, isn’t it? What difference does it make to you?” • •

I should stick my neck out. I should say, “Darling, because I love you.” I should say, “I’ve known you for two years and it’s just now occurred to me I can’t live without you.” I should say, “I just happened to think.”

And then I should listen to her ringing girlish laughter.

And yet, that was how it was. Don’t ask me how I’d missed seeing it before. It crept up on me, that was all. A little here and a little there, until it was ' time to pull it up and the roots were everywhere. And pulling on them hurt.

I said, “Marty, you’re not the type. Not for that guy.” I said, “He won’t even be able to say ‘I do.’ He’ll have to use sign language.”

Her eyes got dark, her cheeks got pink and she jumped down from the desk. Continued on page 45

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Brad had written so many movies he thought he knew all about people. Then he tried to write a scene into his life for a girl called Marty

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“Sharp, aren’t you?” she said. Her voice shook a little. “I’ll bet you go to bed in a sheath at night to keep from cutting yourself.”

She said, “Just because Jim doesn’t make with the dialogue you think he’s stupid.”

She said, “I hate snobs. I hate smart alecks. I want to go where I’ll never hear another smart remark for the rest of my life.”

“That’s where you’re going, baby.” She was on her way to the door, so I raised my voice a little. “If you marry that guy, you won’t hear any kind of remarks—unless you can teach the horse to talk.”

The door closed like she meant it.

AFTER she’d gone I sat there looking . at the Delaney script. It was all about her losing her man and it was full of throbs and heartbreak and Delaney staring hopelessly into space. After a while I pushed it away.

I had some space-staring to do myself.

The more I thought about it, the more it was wrong. Of course, I’d never said anything about marrying her, but she could have guessed, couldn’t she? What did she want me to do, send her a telegram?

I looked out the window. The sun shone, the breeze blew, a bird sang. Marty was going away. Marty was going to marry a cowboy. Marty was going to saddle Old Paint and round up the dogies.

No, she wasn’t. Maybe the script read that way, but who ever followed a script? There was Delaney and Delaney’s party. And I made a living by having ideas. Delaney’s mind didn’t track very well if you went over two

syllables, but Delaney was a friend of mine and I knew lots of one-syllable words.

I went out to look for Delaney.

The party that night was like any other party, only more so because it was Delaney’s. More people, more noise, more music. The only thing missing was a troupe of trained seals and they’d probably show up later.

Everybody was there, from Walt Gordon on down the line. About midnight I saw Marty standing alone, near a prop totem pole. She was frowning.

I went over to her. “Having fun?” I said.

She made her lip curl.

“Fun! Look at it, Brad. Is it any wonder I want to leave Hollywood?”

I looked at it. The artificial moon, the Cossacks, the performing dogs, the Hawaiian dancers in grass skirts. A guy in leather pants was playing a guitar and singing. Delaney liked variety.

“Oh, I don’t know,” I said. I looked around and made myself sound innocent. “Where’s the cowboy?”

For a minute she didn’t say anything. I felt her looking at me. Finally she said, “He’s dancing.”

He wasn’t hard to find. His head stuck up out of the crowd. His hair was mussed, he looked uncomfortable. He was with Delaney. She was dancing close to him, with her face turned up and her lips parted.

I said, “She seems to like him, doesn’t she?”

Marty watched Delaney. Her lips were straight and tight.

“Yes,” she said.

“Or maybe she’s just being polite.”

“Maybe.”

I looked at her. “What’s the matter? You don’t sound happy.”

She frowned. “It’s disgusting. She

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must be forty, at least. She’s making an exhibition of herself.”

With what she had to exhibit, why not? I watched her walk off the floor with the cowboy, gazing up at him with rapture, with awe, with the old Delaney appeal. At the box office it was worth millions. And he was getting it for free.

“Twenty, forty, sixty,” I said. “She seems to do all right for herself.”

Marty didn’t say anything.

Delaney moved closer to the cowboy. She had a glow that registered all the way across the room. I could hear Marty breathing.

Delaney had his lapels now. She stood on tiptoe. Her arms went around his neck.

And she kissed him.

“Oh!” Marty said. She was choking. Her face was pale and she wore fists. “Somebody ought to kill that woman!” “Now . . .”

“I mean it. A fine, clean, unspoiled guy like Jim. What does she think she’s trying to do, anyway?”

It didn’t seem like a good time to answer that.

“You know Delaney. She doesn’t mean anything by it.”

Marty looked at me, with sparks. “I suppose it’s her idea of a harmless little prank. Like giving a baby a hotfoot.” I got uncomfortable. It had seemed like a good idea when I’d thought of it, but maybe it was a little raw. He was just a big innocent cowpuncher, and Delaney was—well, Delaney.

It was murder.

I moved my feet around and coughed. “Maybe she didn’t realize what she was doing.”

Marty sniffed. “I guess it was an accident. I guess she was trying to get a cinder out of his eye and her foot slipped. I guess—”

Delaney came over to us. “That guy’s not human!” she said. She stood there with her hands on her milliondollar hips and a frown on her milliondollar face and she was puzzled and hurt and indignant. “Do you know what he did to me?”

“I don’t even want to know,” I said. I made signs at her to shush but it didn’t work. Maybe she didn’t know sign language.

“I gave it everything,” she said. “I gave him the works. I was better than I was in ‘Dark Bridal.’ And do you know what he did? He ran out on me!” She pointed. “Look!”

The guy with the leather pants and the guitar was yodeling about coyotes and. graves on the prairie. And Jim Fallon was following him around like a dog after a steak.

“He’s not human,” Delaney said. She looked at me like it was my fault. “Anyway, I’m through. The next time you think up a cute joke, leave me out of it.”

She gave me one last dirty look, said “Cowboys!” and went away.

I STOOD with my hands in my pockets, not looking at Marty. There was a lot of silence around. It wasn’t the chummy kind.

Finally Marty spoke. “A cute joke,” she said. “But maybe she didn’t realize what she was doing.”

I shoved my hands deeper into my pockets. There wasn’t any answer for that one.

“Smart alecks.” It didn’t sound like Marty’s voice at all. “Hollywood wise guys. I didn’t think you were like that, Brad.”

I had to say something, whether she believed it or not.

“So I muffed it,” I said. “So I was wrong. But it wasn’t a gag. I wasn’t trying to be smart.”

“I suppose your foot slipped.”

I said, “I was trying to show you

something. That your cowboy was no different from anybody else. That you were making a mistake.”

She pulled out a nasty little laugh for me. “The mistake I made was in thinking you were different.”

There wasn’t any answer for that, either. I shrugged.

After a minute Marty said, “Jim’s planning to leave tomorrow. I don’t think there’s any reason for us to see each other again.” She gave me a long look. “Good-by, Brad.”

There was an answer for that. It wasn’t the kind I liked, but it was the only one.

I gave it to her: “Good-by, Marty.” I watched her walk away from me. She was slim and straight and her hair shone pale gold and this was the way things ended. No explosions. No screams. Somebody walked across a room quietly and went out a door and that finished it.

I looked at the party. After a while I went out on the terrace. The beach was down below, white and still in the moonlight and the waves coming in and breaking and washing out again.

Well, she was gone and so what? I had my health. I had a good job. And there were plenty of other girls in the world. What difference did it make?

The answer to that was: a lot of

difference. Because I wasn’t in love with the other girls. Because without Marty what was the job worth?

There was a pebble lying on the terrace. I picked it up and tossed it in m3' hand. The waves came in and broke and washed out again. The moon shone.

After a while I threw the pebble down onto the beach and went inside.

I was heading for the door, to go home, when 1 ran into Walt Gordon. He had a special gleam in his eye.

“Brad,” he said, “tell me one thing. Who was the big handsome jerk who left with Marty Evans?”

I stared at him. I took a couple of deep breaths and maybe there was a gleam in my eyes, too.

“That one?” I grinned and took Walt’s arm. “Let me talk to you for a minute. I’ve got something you’ll be interested in.”

I SAT in my office all day with the Delaney script on m3' desk. Don’t get the idea I was working. I sat and waited. I smoked two packs of cigarettes. I shot a little crap, right hand against left.

And I waited.

The day was almost over and I was beginning to worry, when the door opened and Marty came in. She wasn’t smiling and she didn’t say hello.

“You!” she choked. “Oh, YOU-3TOU finagler!”

I might as well be innocent. “Why, hello, Marty. What brings you here?” “You know why I’m here! I suppose Walt got that idea all by himself?” “What idea?”

She sputtered like a bad fuse. “The utterly ridiculous notion of putting Jim under contract to Cosmic.”

“Why not?” I said. “He’s goodlooking. He’s got a nice smile. He can ride a—”

“He can’t act!”

“He doesn’t have to,” I said. “He couldn’t improve on the way he is.”

She made her lips tight. “You’ve ruined that boy’s life! You’ve made him just another Hollywood cowboy!” I didn’t say anything.

“It’s all your fault. You’ve spoiled everything, just to show what a smooth operator you are.”

I thought it was pretty slick myself. Marty said, “I hate 3rou, Brad Roberts!” Then she reached across the desk and slapped me.

And then she began to cry.

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“Marty,” I said. I went around the desk and touched her shoulder. She twisted away from me. She was crying.

“Marty,” I said. This I hadn’t figured on. “Cut it out, will you?”

She cried. She wiped at her face with a handkerchief and I got my own out and wiped my forehead.

“Marty, I’m sorry. I thought it was just a romantic dream.”

She cried.

I said, “Everybody wants to leave Hollywood and live on a ranch. Delaney talks about it. Walt Gordon talks about it. But nobody does anything. I didn’t know you meant it.” Her shoulders were shaking. She had her hands up to her face.

Finally I said, “How could I guess you loved the guy?” 1 looked at her back. It was sunset and the light slanted through the windows onto her hair and she was still crying.

I said “Okay, okay, okay. I’ll fix it for you. Wait’ll cut my throat, but I can take care of him. Now come on and cut out the bawling.”

She was all red and weepy. Her eyes stared at me.

“Wh-what are you going to do?” “I’m going to marry you off to a cowboy,” I said.

I took her arm and started for the door.

IT WAS dark by the time we got to the airport. There was a breeze blowing and a full moon shining and the eastbound plane was warming up.

I parked the convertible and switched off the lights and motor.

“We’ve got fifteen minutes,” I said. “Are you sure this is right?”

“He left word for me to meet him right here.” She sounded like somebody else instead of Marty. That made us even—I didn’t feel like Brad Roberts.

“Well,” I said, “it’s a nice night for flying.”

She didn’t answer. We sat there, not saying anything and I didn’t feel so good. I’d been scared enough before, but it hadn’t seemed quite real.

This was real. This was happening. There was the plane and in fifteen minutes Marty would be on it with her cowboy. It was all over. There wasn’t anything more 1 could do.

I said “Marty.” Her head was bent so I couldn’t see her face. Her hands twisted a little black and silver bag in her lap. The moon shone. She didn’t say anything.

“Marty, I’m sorry it’s ending like this. I don’t want you to think I’m a complete heel.”

She twisted the bag.

I said, “I only wanted you to be happy. We’re still friends, aren’t we?” “Of course. It’s all right.”

“It isn’t all right. Something’s bothering you.”

She said “Sharp, aren’t you?” But there wasn’t any bite in it.

I looked at her for a minute. “If you’re worrying about the cowpuncher, don’t. He’ll be here.”

I waited, but she didn’t ask me how I knew. I told her anyway.

“While you were packing I got in touch with Walt. And there’s no contract. It seems Fallon isn’t a real cowboy after all. He can’t sing . . .” I watched her face. It didn’t even rate a flicker. At least I was trying, wasn’t I? What did she want—Abbott and Costello?

I said, “Snap out of it, sweetheart. You’re getting everything you wanted. Why don’t you laugh? Why don’t you dance and play?”

She still didn’t say anything. I quit trying. 1 couldn’t think of any funny stories and I didn’t hear any gay dance music playing anywhere.

All the time I kept thinking about the night I'd met Marty, a tall slim girl in black and the moon on her hair and the waves coming in and breaking and washing out again.

She was wearing black tonight, too, only this time everything seemed to be washing out. The game was over and it was time to cash in the chips.

And my stack didn’t amount to much.

I looked at her.

“A good moon,” it came out soft and if it was a little bitter, too, I couldn’t help it. “A good moon and a good life.”

1 waited. She didn’t move.

Then she turned and looked at me and her arm went back and came forward and she slapped my face.

I said “Hey! What’s the idea?”

She was half turned in the seat to face me and her face was pale and tight.

She said “I could slap you and slap you and slap you !”

She probably could, at that. I was in no shape to defend myself.

“But why?” I said. “What’s the matter with you tonight?”

“Why! Why!” Her eyes were dark shadows and her lip began to tremble. “What’s the m-matter!”

1 kept looking at her, and maybe my mouth was hanging open.

“What are you trying to say? Make sense, Marty.”

She crumpled down on my shoulder. She was crying again.

“You’re sending me away,” she said, crying. “And I don’t want to go. I want to stay with you. I can’t stand it. Oh, Brad . . .”

I sat there. My brain went around. 1 was sending her away.

“But, baby, you said—”

1 stopped. 1 took a deep breath. Some day I’d sit down and work it out with a pencil and paper. Right now, though, a little action was indicated.

1 knew some that would be convincing.

AFTER a minute I thought about . something. I raised my head. Marty said, “What’s the matter, darling?”

“Just one thing,” I said. “The cowboy.”

We looked at each other. There were shadows in Marty’s eyes and I guess in mine too. It was a rotten deal for Fallon. A poor innocent cowpuncher who’d come all the way from Oklahoma to marry Marty and what was he getting?

“Maybe he doesn’t really love me,” Marty said. She sounded hopeful. “He never said anything.”

What did she expect from Fallon? “It’s a dirty trick,” I said. “I feel like a stinker, Grade A and tripleplated. 1 ought to—”

I stopped. A cab pulled up behind us and a long tall guy in a cowboy hat got out. This was it. Marty and I climbed out of the convertible.

Fallon looked uncomfortable.

“Jim,” Marty said. “I don’t know what to say. But you see—Brad and I —we—”

She stopped. A girl was coming out of the cab behind Fallon, a girl with million-dollar legs.

“Delaney!” I said. “What are you doing here?”

She smiled, all wistful and dreamy. She said, “Darlings, I’m so proud and happy!”

Fallon’s face wrinkled up in that grin. He was just a poor innocent cowpuncher, a lamb among wolves, and if I ever meet another one I hope I’ve got sense enough to run.

He grinned at us. He put his arm around Delaney and lifted her hand so we could see the ring.

“Meet the missus,” he said. ★