Fiction

NOBODY HAS A HUNDRED DOLLARS

His need was grim; he must ask his friends the hundred-dollar question. He found dollars, dollars everywhere but not a dime to lend

HANS HABE December 1 1949
Fiction

NOBODY HAS A HUNDRED DOLLARS

His need was grim; he must ask his friends the hundred-dollar question. He found dollars, dollars everywhere but not a dime to lend

HANS HABE December 1 1949

NOBODY HAS A HUNDRED DOLLARS

Fiction

His need was grim; he must ask his friends the hundred-dollar question. He found dollars, dollars everywhere but not a dime to lend

HANS HABE

ROY SPENCER, young and ardent screen actor, awoke on this Friday, the 15th of June, as no man of his sanguine nature should. Doom was straddled firmly across his chest. Uneasily, he shifted, looked at the traveling clock on his night table and shut his eyes to the persistent California sunshine. It was nine o’clock. To the rest of the world the hour merely indicated breakfast, housework, office routine, dental appointments or funerals. But to Roy, lying with tightly closed lids, it meant that in only six wretchedly short hours the bank would be closed. In his wallet was seventy-eight dollars. That was exactly one hundred dollars less than he needed.

He hadn’t had a job in months—not through any fault of his - or anyone else’s for that matter—but just because it happened that way. He was talented, good-looking and a tireless worker. His physical condition was excellent and his mind keen. He never drank before sundown and, after it, consumed a good deal less than most of his friends. People were drawn to him as he was to them. Should he elect to telephone a producer or director there was never any question but that he would be received cordially and they were ' invariably enthusiastic about his ability. It was only a matter of bad luck that at the moment they were casting “types” or “characters.” But nothing that would suit, him naturally. Naturally. A great deal of conviviality went into the farewell handshake. “Better luck next time, old man,” and “I won’t forget you.” Yet, his telephone remained as silent as a Trappist monk.

Now, June 15th had arrived with the utmost stealth. Days like these always do. They stalk you, creep up, and suddenly when you’re least prepared t hey sit on your chest and almost suffocate you in your dreams. They demand, quite unreasonably, that by three o’clock of this very day you deposit one hundred and seventy-eight dollars in the Clark Street Branch of t he Bank of America or else or else you will be deprived of your beautiful maroon convertible.

True he’d had some sort of inkling. An amiable bank clerk bad telephoned the day before and “suggested” pleasantly that he drop by with a cheque any time during the day at his convenience. (“Any time you’re ready,” the hangman said as he adjusted the noose.) Roy cleared his throat: Yes, of course. There was conviction there-—the conviction that he couldn’t exhume that amount of money if he knew where Captain Kidd was buried, and the even deeper conviction that he was not going to part with his car under any circumstance. His attachment for the smooth, leather-lined convert ible was great.

In ’47 when he’d seen it in a window, purchased it lightly, jobs were more frequent and the matter of installments therefore a simple amenity. It had been love at first sight then—sheer, luxurious love. But now, he sighed with remembrance, romance had been punctured by the crass finger of reality. He needed that car desperately. To get from Santa Monica, where he lived, to Paramount, Universal, and more recently, Monogram, without a car was no less than a barefooted pilgrimage over spikes.

AS HE stirred his coffee broodingly, he realized - that his only solution lay in a “touch.” Not since college bad he the inclination or necessity. It wasn’t quite his stylebut a guy’s got to live.

Well, who would it be? With no little satisfaction he reflected that his list of friends was long, opulent and unquestionably willing. There was only one snag. In this town you had to lie careful, careful that gossip landed you in the columns only when you whispered it yourself. And who in his right mind would run around Hollyw'ood advertising that he was hard up for dough. Not Roy Spencer. He’d enjoyed sufficient success to understand that

you can’t get work unless you’re working. Jack Barrymore always used to say that his hardest role was to pretend he didn’t need a job.

Beverly Hills looked airily expensive as he drove through and, encouraged by the placid houses with their manicured lawns, it seemed absolutely natural that he should ask Virgil Payne for this small favor. Virg was a school friend and fraternity brother. He had chosen a more circumspect path though—studied law. And he was a darn good lawyer darn successful too. Roy smiled. Good old Virg lives right here in Beverly. He would—the solid citizen!

No one answered his ring at the doorbell—not the third nor the fourth time. An unnatural silence, Roy observed with misgiving. Virg’s two kids were forever whooping around somewhere, zooming down the lawn on bikes and scooters. At least, they always had in the past.

What a queer, queer silence.

The door opened finally, slowly.

“Hi,” Roy extended his hand.

“Corne in,” Virg said.

He was still in his dressing gown, half-shaved.

“Be back in a minute, Roy, make yourself comfortable.”

rpilE silence of the house expanded oppressively.

I Roy glanced around. It was like waiting for a suppressed force to burst. He sauntered up and down lifting objects idly from tables, examining them without seeing them. Restively, he even began to wish Virg’s wife Helen were here to alleviate the silence w:th her inexhaustible observations on psychoanalysis and surrealism.

“I didn’t know you were such an early riser,” Virg said as he re-entered the room.

Roy thought that his friend looked pale—could be shaving powder, he concluded. But then that wouldn’t account for the dark circles under his eyes. Come to think of it., he looked downright bleak.

“Don’t you feel well, Virg?” Roy asked.

“I feel all right. I’m fine. What’s—er—cooking?”

Roy grinned. Then, casually:

“I’m in kind of a jam,” he said. “Nothing serious, but—you can do me a little favor. That is, can you lend me a hundred bucks—I mean just for a couple of days, of course.”

Virgil rose wordlessly and circled the silent room. His face was earnest, almost morose. Oh no, Roy thought, he can’t be that depressed because I need a hundred dollars.

Virg came to a halt in front of the fireplace.

“Listen, Roy,” he was whispering, “I have to tell you something. I haven’t told anyone yet.” He paused uncomfortably, hesitated, then continued: “Helen has left me. She took the kids and—” He finished the sentence with a gesture of his hands.

“What do you mean?” Roy was instantly solicitous. “She left you! I had no idea. When did it all happen?”

“Yesterday. I mean, she left yesterday but, well you see Roy, our marriage really went on the rocks about a year ago. For a while we tried to ignore it. Maybe we didn’t dare face it. We just went along hoping for the best I guess. It isn’t her fault and I’m not even sure that it’s mine.” He tried to shrug jauntily but the movement didn’t quite come off. It was sad.

“But where’d she go?” Roy was bewildered. Virgil had Helen—everybody believed they were an ideal couple. She always seemed so devoted, not a woman to go tossing a marriage around. Virgil would miss her, no doubt about that.

“She’s at the Beverly Hills Hotel,” his friend answered. “Of course, nothing is decided yet. I’m still convinced that we can straighten things out.” Eagerly, he began to develop a theory. “You know, sometimes these things help a marriage along. Give it a shove in the right direction.”

He started to navigate the room again, measuring it into halves and quarters with precise steps. Finally, he dropped into a chair: “I don’t like to talk about it, Roy. I wouldn’t have if 1 didn’t feel so badly about not being able to lend you the money. But, you know how it is, with Helen and the two boys at a hotel and the lawyer trying to squeeze a ridiculous fee out of me—as if he

didn’t know I’m a lawyer myself. It’s just too much. You understand.”

“Oh, I do,” Roy responded fully sympathetic. “I’m really terribly sorry about the whole thing.”

ME WAS relieved to escape from the house, and as he drove down Santa Monica Boulevard he felt uncomfortably like a costumed celebrant who, arriving at a party, learns that his host and hostess have died. Besides, his problem was still unsolved and one precious hour was gone.

I should have gone to Sam Farley in the first place, he lamented. Farley had been a czar in the days of silent pictures, one of the great pioneers of Hollywood. Artistically aghast when his puppets of the screen began to talk and sing, he fled to his t.wo-hundred-acre sanctuary in the Valley. There, among horses, swimming pool and orange groves, he lived in simple retirement. And old Sam had become a sort of Little White Father to indigent

movie people. He could be counted on to sponsor any charitable function, no matter how great, and his parties for the benefit of unemployed actors were publicized in every newspaper in the country. Good old Sam just couldn’t escape publicity. In brief, the small man whose chocolate button eyes twinkled in the face of a sun-kissed lemon had never actually said “no” to anyone—never actually.

AS HE stood in the lavish entry hall waiting - for the butler to announce him, Roy looked at the clock on the wall. It was a quarter past eleven.

A minute later the old English servant returned with a message that Mr. Farley would be delighted to have Mr. Spencer join him at breakfast.

“Great to see you, son,” Sam beamed, as a second place was laid before the guest. “What would you like? Couple of boiled eggs? Three minutes?”

“Four,” Roy thanked him with no idea in the

world why he’d said it. He always took them at exactly three. It was as though he needed that extra minute to gain breath, strength, courage to plunge into the fresh assault.

“I had a terrific party here last night,” Sam began, “Terrific. Must have been at least 180 people by midnight. Sorry you couldn’t make it, Roy. The Holborns are here from New York. I gave it for them, you know the Holborns.”

Roy hadn’t the faintest idea who the Holborns were, and in any case, hadn’t “made” the party because he hadn’t been invited. Suddenly it seemed picayune to ask

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a hundred dollars of a man who on the night before had entertained 180 people in the Holborn’s honor, and who, on the morrow, would most probably entertain 360 for other famous personalities equally unknown to him.

Nevertheless, as lie choked down his second breakfast, he tightened his muscles, made the effort to speak. 'Hire«* o’clock was looming and unless (IH* friendly bank clerk had his hundred and seventy-eight dollars bv then, Roy’s very own convertible would he quartered in some unfriendly garage.

“1 I guess you’re surprised to see me this early,” his voice was tentative, hollow.

“Not at all,” Sam interrupted.

He’s not making it easy for me. Roy worried.

“It’s ridiculous really. I—”

Sam continued to look benign.

“I mean this silly little affair that brings me here is — ”

Fingers shaking, he lit a cigarette thereby gaining another second—a second in which to formulate tremulously: “Can you do me a favor,

Sam?”

“Speak up, my boy,” Sam’s voice was rich with paternal understanding.

“It’s not easy,” Roy sounded the prototype of erring but penitent youth. “I guess 1 really shouldn’t have bothered you at this hour with such a petty affair

“Nothing close to our hearts is petty,” Sam reminisced with closed

eyes.

“It’s not so much my heart ns my pocket hook,” Roy joked faintly. “You see, I happen to need . . .” he took a d«M“p breath “a hundred dollars this afternoon. I’m in a spot. I never do have much cash on hand. Of course, I could have sold a couple of shares.’ Then quickly, “I could have, hut I—I forgot.”

He’d had no intent to lie, hut there

it was. Anyway, Sam Farley couldn’t possibly understand that he, Roy Spencer, lacked a hundred dollars in cash or otherwise.

“I know exactly how you feel,” the old maa comforted. “I’ve been in the same situation many a time in my life.” He smiled and the sweet chocolate eyes melted right out of the citrous face. “I know how it feels all right, because I happen to be in the identical situation right now.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Roy rejoined coldly. He wasn’t going to feel sorry for this old bird on top of everything. Firmly, he patted the pocket containing the wallet with the seventyeight dollars—and he wasn’t going to be taken for any soft touch either.

Sam continued blandly: “Don’t feel sorry for me, son. I guess you might say it’s all I deserve. I should never touch a card.”

“I didn’t know that you did.” Roy looked at his watch.

“Very few people do. I’m not a spectacular gambler. I don’t even

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gamble often—but when 1 do I go the whole hog. It’s like drink with some people; stone-sober for months and then, bang, off they go.” He brought his fist down resoundingly on the table and the Spode eggcups rattled unpleasantly.

Ruefully, Roy recalled that altogether he had eaten four eggs that morning and he could never really manage more than one without feeling bilious. Four eggs, and two of them had been overcooked.

“Yes,” Sam was saying, “this last week has been murderous. I had to call my own broker this morning. It was a question of selling some shares or having the cheques I gave last night bounce higher than heaven. I can’t afford a bouncing-baby cheque.” He chuckled conspira tonally.

Roy did not join in the merriment.

The old man walked with him to the door, patted his back.

“Don’t worry kid, you’re okay. I’m sure there’s still time to get in touch with your broker.”

“Oh Roy,” Sam’s voice followed him and he turned with illogical optimism, “if you need anything again, don’t hesitate to call on me.”

I1 T’S all my fault, Roy thought bitterly, as he turned off Coldwater into Sunset Boulevard. It’s always the same with the rich. They never have a penny. Sure, they can go anywhere, buy anything, nobody asks them for cash. I should have looked for some little guy with a regular weekly pay cheque, someone who can’t afford a divorce or cards.

He drove toward the Clark Street Branch of fhe Bank of America with a dim hope that the place might have burned down during the night. Lots of public buildings do—he tried to persuade himself. They burned the Reichstag, didn’t they? People passed unhurriedly through the door of the bank as he cruised by. Not a sign of an alarm. Yet, it’s not so darned implausible — spontaneous combustion or atomic fission or something, his thoughts dragged on as he pulled up in front of the Medical Building where his old pal, Dr. George Nathan, practiced.

“The doctor is terribly busy,” the pretty blond nurse turned on her professional coyness, “but I’ll squeeze you in somehow, Mr. Spencer.” “Thank you so much.”

She smiled now—the bright, encouring smile for paying patients and male visitors. He sat with the Bright Smile at his elbow, uncertain, as always, whether to strike up a conversation with her or pretend she was dead. He selected a magazine from the table. “What a gay tie, Mr. Spencer.”

Roy put down the magazine and resigned himself to her favorite parlor game. Dr. Nathan specialized in psychoneurotic diseases and, in Hollywood, enjoyed an almost flamboyant i success. He treated movie stars who I wanted to marry but couldn’t love, j and he treated movie stars who loved but couldn’t marry. The little blond j nurse offered these cases as a kind of I quiz program, and her hints were as I subtle as time bombs — a “certain”

I actress, five times divorced, was having frustration dreams, another’s libido was showing.

Roy suddenly began to wonder whether his financial worries might not j curtail his emotions toward the op! posite sex. When all this is over, I’ll I consult George, he decided, as the doctor’s door opened.

“Come in, Roy.”

George was a man in his thirties who j wore a Vandyke though he had a ! reasonably adequate chin. It served

no purpose. That was the kind of man George was.

“I swear I’m slowly going nuts myself,” he said. “I should have limited this practice to male paranoiacs. Women! If they’d only go quietly insane!”

He sat down behind a sumptuous desk and twiddled speculatively with a stilettolike letter opener.

“Anything wrong with you, Roy? Can I do anything for you?”

Roy suspected that his approach to Virgil and Sam had been all wrong. Anyway, this was one guy who should appreciate straight-from-the-shoulder talk.

“I’ll tell you what you can do for me,” he almost shouted. “Get your chequebook out and sign a cheque for a hundred dollars. I need the money—I need it now—right now.”

“You seem to be under a nervous strain, Roy.”

“Of course I am.”

“Tried a sedative?” the doctor asked absently.

“I don’t need a sedative. I need a hundred dollars. Can you lend it to me or can’t you?”

The doctor sighed.

“I wish I could, Roy,” he answered sadly.

Roy’s diagnostic ear caught the tone of his friend’s voice changing from dulcet professionalism to a tone he knew too well.

“I wish I could,” George repeated. “I can explain at length why—” *

“No, no,” George insisted. “I don’t want you to have the wrong impression. Look, Roy, look around here. You know, this whole office is a sham.” He rose and pointed accusingly at a vase of flowers, several leather chairs and a handsome Sheraton bookcase: “All

sham.”

Roy was on his feet about to leave.

“You know what is real? The unpaid bills of my patients. Thousands of dollars of unpaid bills. You know, Roy, sometimes I believe there isn’t a soul in this whole town who owns a hundred dollars.”

“That,” said Roy, “I cannot afford to believe.”

George shook hands with him, but detained him for a minute before opening the door.

“Please don’t tell anyone about my situation.” He added shyly, “It’s a strange world. We all live on appearances. The minute people know that I don’t have a hundred dollars in cash, they think that I don’t know anything about psychoneurosis.” He tried to smile. “I should have followed the advice of one of my teachers. He said a psychoanalyst should always have his bills paid in advance. People develop inhibitions if they think there is still a bill to be paid.”

Roy didn’t return the smile. He nodded to the pretty nurse and pushed the button for the elevator with the energy of a man who has no inhibitions. I’m going to have one more try, he thought grimly as he rode down to the main floor.

THE heavy door of the car responded to his touch like a faithful dog, but he actually hated it at the moment. All this humiliation and anguish for four wheels and a chassis. He stepped on the gas viciously—it wasn’t worth it. Nevertheless, he determined stubbornly, I'll have one more try. It was almost as though he had forgotten about the real aim of his venture, as though he simply had to prove to himself that a hundred dollars was not an insurmountable handicap.

It seemed a good omen that Maxwell’s Bar on the Sunset Strip was open. Generally the place didn’t get going until late afternoon.

Joe Maxwell, proprietor, sat alone at the bar sipping a brandy. Roy and Joe had been kids together in Ohio and Roy’s father had helped Joe get on his feet.

“Have a drink, Roy,” Joe greeted him.

“Don’t mind if I do.”

“What'll it be?”

“A Martini, very dry. I need it.” “What’s eating you, old man?” Joe asked.

It was certainly good to see that manly, decent face of Joe’s again after the wise-cracking sophisticates one ran into. Not one of them measured up to Joe—Joe, who didn’t have a gag in his head.

“Troubles, Joe,” Roy said squarely. No need to double-talk that good, decent guy. “I haven’t had a job in months,” he continued, “and I took a loan on my car. The monthly payment is due today, and I don’t know what to do.”

Joe emptied his glass with one gulp, poured himself another. He shook his head in solemn despair.

“That’s really tough,” he said. “Why didn’t you come around sooner? The day before yesterday it would have been a cinch—”

“Something happen?” Roy interjected.

“Don’t ask. I’m so ashamed I can’t even mention it to my wife.”

“You can tell me.”

“I wouldn’t, except that I don’t want you to think I’d let a friend down. You know Fred—”

“Your brother?”

“Yes, that no-good so-and-so.” Joe brooded into his glass. “You know what he’s done this time?”

“What?”

“He forged cheques on my name. My own brother. What could I do? I had to pay them. Would you send your own brother to jail?”

“No, I wouldn’t,” Roy admitted gloomily.

He looked at his watch, asked for another Martini. Time was flying. There was something in a poem, he recalled, “Why dance ye mortals o’er the grave of time.” Well, he certainly hadn’t been doing any dancing today.

11 was already a quarter to two.

HUNGER began to gnaw at him. He was tired and depressed from the day’s effort, and convinced that further effort would only prove futile. The trouble with people was that they were sincere. They simply couldn’t help him. I f Virgil and Sam and Joe couldn’t help him, nobody else would. So, that was that. At least he could eat—for a while. He decided on the Players where he still had a charge account. As the parking boy took his car, Roy ran his hand lingeringly over the fender. He watched while it was being parked.

“Hello, Roy.” It was Hank Rogers, the byword of the bobby soxers.

They walked up the steps together. “Haven’t seen you in months,” Hank said. “Are you lunching alone?” “Yeah.”

“Why not join me?”

“Love to.” *

The terrace with the little white tables and bright umbrellas was almost empty. In one corner sat a rumpledlooking man of about forty, flanked by three young women who, judging from the variety of their tresses, had obviously been selected for Technicolor. They were starlets whom Roy had met on occasion. He nodded. The man with them was unknown to him, but he noticed that Hank was greeting him vigorously from the distance.

“Who’s that,” Roy asked.

“Who’s that,” Hank repeated comically. “Nobody much. Just Tom McCallum. Just all of Texas and most

of Oklahoma—oil! Now he wants to buy himself a picture company or two. Have you got one on you?”

Roy pretended to enjoy the joke.

“He can probably manage twenty or thirty millions as a down payment,” Hank went on, “the rest would have to be installments.”

“I wouldn’t be interested in installments,” Roy said.

The oil king was shelved for the moment while Hank talked about his latest picture, and Roy competed with stories of interesting “foreign” offers he’d had. He was seriously considering an Italian deal, he hinted. In truth, he was considering the size of Hank’s wallet and the moribund hope of obtaining a hundred dollars therefrom. Yet this was fruitless speculation because he knew he’d rather die than ask Hank for a loan.

The three girls at the oil king’s table broke out in a rousing Greek chorus of laughter, and the two men glanced toward them.

“Has he really got millions?” Roy asked.

“Zillions.”

“Well, I don’t believe it,” Roy declared. “I don’t think he has one million, 1 don’t think he has a hundred thousand, I don’t think he has a thousand or—or a hundred.”

“You’re nuts,” Hank said, completely absorbed in the dissection of his lobster.

“I’ll tell you something, Hank,” Roy insisted stoutly. “I know life. My father always said, don’t believe anything unless you see it with your own eyes. Well, I go him one better. I say, don’t believe anything even if you see it with your own eyes. Once the curtain is lifted, you’ll find the healthy are ailing, happy people are heartbroken, and the rich are impoverished.”

Hank picked a shred of lobster from his tooth.

“You should have been a writer, Roy,” he said without malice.

However, Roy was launched again and wouldn’t yield.

“Okay,” he said, “I’ll make you a bet. Do you know that guy well?”

“Of course I do. I was at a party with him just; last week at Mocambo.”

“Could you borrow a hundred dollars from him?”

“Why should I?”

“Just listen,” Roy moved his chair in closer, “1 have an idea. I’m going to prove something to you. You go over

and ask him if he can let you have a hundred dollars. If he does, I’ll pay you a hundred. If he doesn’t you’ll pay me.” “That’s crazy, Roy. It’s the same as betting that Rockefeller doesn’t have a hundred dollars.”

“He doesn’t. Now listen—”

TT WAS well past the dessert before X Roy persuaded Hank to approach McCallum. He was to say that he needed the money at once and couldn’t sign a cheque without his business manager’s countersignature.

Roy, now a master of behaviorism, relaxed as he watched Hank seat himself at the other table, draw McCallum to one side. Well, one day’s practical research had taught him more about human nature than he’d learned in a whole semester of theory. Poor Hankout a hundred smackers. But he could afford it.

He looked on as the waiter served a bottle of champagne to the now hilarious group, then turned his back, embarrassed at the thought of the trick he’d played on Hank.

His own waiter approached with the bill and set it down in front of Roy. “Anything else, sir?”

“No thank you.”

Roy slid the check ever so discreetly toward Hank’s place, then glanced impatiently at his watch—only twenty minutes now until the bank closed. He looked up as Hank approached.

“Well,” Roy tried to keep his voice nonchalant.

“Well,” Hank repeated flatly. He leaned over the table to sign the luncheon check. “Imagine a guy not lending you a hundred dollars.”

Roy managed an expression of detached amusement.

“What did he say?”

Hank stared at him: “Are you

kidding? What should he say? He gave it to me, of course. Why shouldn’t he lend me a hundred dollars?”

Roy pondered the question—-but only briefly, because the answer was there, had always been there, buried within him. In this world there was always some generous soul, happy to lend you a hundred dollars—provided you didn’t need it.

He stood up, fumbled in his pocket for a nonexistent chequebook.

“I—I’ll have to . . .”

“Skip it,” Hank said, “you can mail me a cheque in the morning.”