After a morning of interviews, Bud returned to the office to organize his notes, talk to others on the case, throw out some speculations (there were plenty of speculations), and update his captain on developments. Thankfully, he had a commanding officer who was not attempting to take the high profile case from him, and had faith in him and his abilities, even if White knew there was pressure from above to solve this. After all, if a beautiful and successful young woman like Savannah Hunt could be murdered in cold blood in her own home, in one of the safest areas in New York City, then no woman was safe. Bud had no doubt in making an arrest – it was simply getting those little ducks in a row…and what a crazy bunch of ducks he was coming to know!
He was therefore shocked when his desk phone rang right before he started thinking about heading out, and Sidney Lydecker was on the other end! Would it be a violation of policy or a conflict of interest if they dined together? That way, Sid could better tell him, privately, about…things.
It was definitely a first for Bud, and once again, he consulted his captain while Sergeants Grant and Wells listened in, bewildered, and wondering what had led to the invitation. Most suspects wanted to stay as far from the police as possible! None asked the lead detective to dinner, but at 7:30, Bud was at an informal little Italian restaurant filled with couples and small groups of older, unattached ladies, and Lydecker was already there, seated at a table for two near the deck, a glass of red wine in front of him.
As throughout the morning, Sid was attractively attired, only now he wore a more unfussy two-piece suit with a linen shirt. The signature carnation was prominent, the candlelight playing off it and the silver at his temples, making his youthful features even more distinguished. But even perusing the menu was a cause for the trademark expressiveness and pomposity, although the wait staff was delighted to please and appeared to know Lydecker very well.
“Ah Lieutenant…thank you for joining me….Thank you, Santino,” he told the maitre d’, who had escorted White to the table. “I was uncertain if you were officially on-duty or off, so I didn’t place your drink order yet.”
“Beer’s fine, thanks,” he said, unbuttoning his jacket, and the waiter standing nearby, nodded and hurried off to place the order.
Bud had not expected such a casual location. Even Sid was more relaxed than he had ever seen him – outside the bathtub – and before long, over drinks, then antipasto, and deciding on entrees (‘I suggest either the veal scaloppini or the chicken parmesan, but if you have a taste for beef tonight, the Tournedos Rossini is quite good. In fact, it’s better than at some fancier restaurants.’); the conversation finally steered to the topic at hand.
“This is our table…Savannah’s and mine,” the strong voice intoned, while a string quartet in the background – ironically – performed that tune from the victim’s turntable, the piece Kim Barrett had called ‘not exactly classical…but sweet.’
Bud noticed Sid’s use of the present tense; as if still unwilling to admit that the dame was dead. Dame. Might have to reconsider calling her that. He had given that portrait a final look on the way out of the apartment and realized, in those few seconds, that the columnist was correct. A dame had nothing to do with any of this.
Sid continued, gently turning the stem of the wine glass and staring straight ahead. “We spent many quiet evenings here together. I remember we dined here the night before her twenty-second birthday, only a few months ago….Just we two…happy…making plans for her future.
“But this was a far cry from the girl who walked into my life at the Algonquin Hotel five years before.”
And Bud remained quiet, listening, permitting himself to be carried along on Sid’s memories. It was no longer 1941 but 1936, and the setting was not this little restaurant, but the elegant, sophisticated bistro for one of the most famous hotels in the world….
Sid was so involved with the work on an upcoming article, as well as his appointment book and his lunch (That’s it! I must acquire a full-time secretary or assistant), the small group of gawking young people at a corner table hardly caught his attention. Had he bothered to see them, he would have wondered whether it was now Algonquin policy to permit entrance to ‘just anyone’ curious about the setting for the old Round Table – of which, naturally, he was once a part – and those sorts of persons always bored him. He would have thought these silly children wished themselves as brilliant as George Kaufman, Robert Sherwood, Robert Benchley, Dorothy Parker, Alexander Woollcott, Heywood Broun, and yes, Sidney Lydecker, along with the other legendary names, but they would have been way out of their league on any level, and ended up at the sharp end of the barbed tongues that was the circle.
He would have thought this lot so obviously working class, belonging at the corner diner, and yet here they were, whispering amongst themselves. Until one stood, gathered her belongings, acknowledged when a friend said, ‘Good luck,’ and with all her strengths focused upon this moment, made her way to Sid’s booth, occasionally and politely whispering ‘Pardon me….Excuse me….Excuse me,’ as she slipped between the crowded chairs.
Sid sneered up from his plate. Before him was a young girl, lovely, eager hazel-green eyes glowing from a sweet, round face, currently framed by the duplicate of a small hat he swore that Judy Garland once wore to an afternoon tea. Petite of stature, Sid imagined that beneath that unattractive brown coat might be a woman’s body – difficult to tell. She was dressed like thousands of New York working women, living on budgets, desiring to be attractive, but this one….
“Mr. Lydecker, how do you do?”
He did not respond, instead, analyzing the voice. Her speech was self-assured, the accent an odd mixture of the South, the Midwest and even possibly the North, making him wonder where in the devil in the United States had she been born and raised.
“My name is Savannah Hunt, and I’m with Bullitt and Company. You know, the big advertising firm, and I’d like to talk something over with you, if I may.”
Glaring, Sid replied, “You can hardly fail to realize that I am engaged in eating my lunch.” It was a statement, not a question, and with that dismissal, his concentration returned to his notebook.
“Yes, I know, and I’m awfully sorry to interrupt this way…but it’s so hard to get to see you the regular way, and…” with the greatest ease, she removed a large canvas – half the size of a movie poster – from her presentation case, “…this will only take a minute, really.” Carefully making sure that it was not too near Lydecker or his plate and possessions, she positioned it to his visual advantage. “Now this…”
“Young woman…” Sid arrogantly began, wondering why his notorious stare had not sent her scurrying away like some frightened maiden in fear of the Frankenstein monster, “…either you have been raised in some incredibly rustic community…where good manners are unknown…” He took a bite of his meal, allowing her to wait, which was what she deserved. “…Or you suffer from that common feminine delusion…that the mere fact of being a woman exempts you from the rules of civilized conduct.” He savored the broiled salmon and capers, loving how the Chardonnay reduction set it off to perfection. “Or possibly both.”
“Possibly…” she admitted.
My God…she was undeterred, and Sid imagined the tiniest smile on those rosy-hued lips, obviously the foolishness of youth making her so bold.
“…but here’s what I wanted to show you. It’s for the Wallace Flow-Rite pen. I know my company would be glad to pay you $1000.00 if you’ll endorse the ad.”
Sid scoffed, “I don’t use a pen….” He bit into an asparagus spear. “I write with a goose quill dipped in venom.”
“Yes, but this is a very fine pen, Mr. Lydecker…the best on the market. Wouldn’t you at least consider endorsing it?”
Now the fork and knife were placed upon the bone china as Sid glared, ignoring her bearing, her looks, the damn canvas marring his view. “I’ll neither consider, endorse or use the Wallace pen,” he snapped. “I hate pens, and if you knew as much about me as you claim, you would never have approached me with such a bizarre proposition. If your employers wish me to publish that statement in my column…you may tell them that I shall be delighted to oblige.” He was pleased to notice the first sign of panic flashing across her features.
“Oh no. You mustn’t do that. Don’t blame Bullitt and Company, Mr. Lydecker. They…They don’t know anything about this. It was my idea to see you.”
Her confession made him pause. So the firm had not put this silly young innocent on the firing line, as he first believed, but it was difficult imagining that she was this audacious, until he placed the entire conversation into context. No, he should not be surprised. Most modern women were much like her, annoying and pushy, but…. “Indeed?”
“Yes. I know they’d give anything down at the office to get your endorsement…only they think there’s no use asking.”
They were right of course. Sidney Lydecker endorsing some cheap pen to be fawned over by the masses – it was absurd!
“So I had this ad made up all on my own,” this Savannah Hunt explained, “because I thought, well, what’s the harm in trying? There was always a chance that you might, Mr. Lydecker.”
Sid – for the first time – gave the canvas closer inspection. The colors were luminous, vibrant. He realized she had studied the works of Titian and Leonardo, but was not simply copying them. She chose a suitable style for the ad’s presumptive endorser, and yes, it somehow worked, even down to the use of a fitting quote from one of his articles, as well as an imagined ‘approval’ and the spot for his signature. Nothing was slap dashed. It was carefully designed and thought out, but still….
“Just think what it would mean…” he heard her tell him, but he raised a hand.
“You seem to be completely disregarding something more important than your career.”
She shook her head. “What?” she innocently asked.
“My lunch,” and taking the silver back in his hands, he cleared his throat and returned to enjoying the salmon.
The comment deflated her. “Do you really believe that?”
“Implicitly.” Sid looked over the tasks remaining on today’s calendar. So much to do….
“I never heard of anything so selfish.” The hurt was carefully hidden beneath her disappointment.
“In my case, self-absorption is completely justified,” he answered. He had lived long enough to have become jaded and egotistical – it was what he was, what made him famous, and the opinion of some chit of a girl could hardly matter. “I have never discovered any other subject quite so worthy of my attention.”
Savannah was still astonished. “But…But you write about people…with such real understanding and sentiment. That’s what makes your column so good; what sets it apart from so many others.”
“Sentiment comes easily…at fifty cents a word.”
Now the disappointment was replaced with disillusionment. “Well…if that’s the way you really feel…you must be very lonely.”
Lydecker sighed, rolling his eyes. “Will you kindly continue this character analysis elsewhere? You begin to bore me,” and he looked away again.
“You’re a poor man,” she said, quickly packing her things. “I’m very sorry for you and I’m very sorry to have disturbed you at your lunch. Excuse me,” and before he could hurl another sting in her direction, she was gone.
But although he returned to his meal, it no longer tasted as he remembered a few moments before.
Naturally, I was annoyed by the incident…but she had something about her, that girl….I had to speak to her again. I had to see her….
Disregarding the remaining tasks and making a phone call to cancel and reschedule an appointment, his chauffeur drove him from the famous 59 West 44th Street address in Manhattan to the Bullitt and Company Advertising Agency not far away. The firm occupied one full floor of a skyscraper, and as Sidney stepped off the elevator, he looked for directions – not to the executive offices – but the Stenographic and Art Departments. He would begin there. The Hunt girl would not yet be in the front offices : she was a beginner…a talented beginner…an exceptional beginner, and like most – gifted or not – she would be languishing here, among so many similar others.
He was nearly knocked aside by the rush of people, all going about their duties and errands. One phone after another was ringing, and the voices attempted to make sense over the din. He imagined it was worse than Times Square at New Year’s.
Strolling up to the receptionist desk, he waited to be acknowledged, but when the woman continued at her busy duties he said, “Miss…would you mind if I…”
“Just a moment, please,” she politely said, returning to the phone call. “I’ll tell Mr. Bullitt right away. He’s on the telephone. Thank you.”
Putting the call on hold, she became busy with the intercom system, leaving Sid to stand there, wondering why he was not recognized and especially wondering why he was not being properly feted. Oh well, belly of the beast and all that. He would simply take matters into his own hands, and ignoring the receptionist, he moved further into the department, past desks occupied by loud males and females, and finally, near the center of this world, his gloved hand pushed open the single swinging door, giving him entrance to a quieter area with fewer tables and desks. A half-dozen boys and girls were all at work, and there he caught sight of her, sitting upon a stool, concentrating on the poster board before her, completely unaware….
That profile…stunning, classic.
A messenger was about to squeeze past him, but Sid used his walking stick to bar his passage. “Boy – Sidney Lydecker to see Miss Savannah Hunt! Announce me!”
Although the area had not been as noisy, everything came to a complete halt…except for Savannah, who continued with what she was doing.
Without her looking up, Sid heard the voice answer with “Johnny, please tell the gentleman I’m busy.”
Johnny Ryan stood more erect, as if he was a bodyguard. “Miss Hunt says…”
But Sid eased him aside and walked over to Savannah’s desk. “Miss Hunt…I have something to say to you.”
Savannah still did not pay him heed, but carefully pasted a figure onto the canvas. “You’ve already said it, Mr. Lydecker.”
“I wish to point out that you caught me at my most difficult moment….Ordinarily…Ordinarily, I am not without a heart.”
“Really?” She sounded doubtful.
“Shall I produce X-ray pictures to prove it?” How in the world had this child put him in such a position? “I wish to apologize.”
She gave a half-smile and briefly looked at him. “Your apology is accepted.” Her eyes refocused on her duties. “Good-bye, Mr. Lydecker.”
Sid was not deterred. Now that he saw her in these surroundings, he was struck by how lovely she was, how even more beautiful she might be, in the right hands. A glimpse of her current work again revealed so much; how she had such a clear grasp of what the world of advertising was like, but still hoping to bring it a class of which most of these fools had no conception. And finally, he could better see her form: the coat was gone, and a plain white blouse and brown skirt hung simply off her figure. Hmm…not at all flattering. He might imagine her instead in…
“If you come a little bit closer, my boy…” Sid said without turning around to look at Johnny Ryan, who had crept so near, he was nearly breathing down the noted man’s neck. “…I can just crack your skull with my stick.” In fact, everyone in the room had moved nearer, shocked that the great columnist and critic was actually there, and not to see the executives but their friend, Savannah.
The boy sprinted away and the females giggled, stepping back as well. No need taking chances.
But Sid again softened as he spoke to Savannah once more. “And now…for reasons which are too embarrassing to mention…I’d like to endorse that pen.”
Savannah nearly fell off the stool as she swiveled about. “Mr. Lydecker!” She sprang up and rushed to where the prepared advertisement was carefully propped in a corner, turned slightly askew as though she could not bear to look at it.
He followed the short distance, his blue eyes taking in her movement, her excitement….How old was she? He doubted she was older than twenty, but there were those his own age – and he was hardly that old – that did not possess her confidence.
“Thank you,” she gently said, giving him a pen so he might sign the board, the first step in what would become his contract with the firm. “And I apologize for how I behaved. I shouldn’t have interrupted your lunch, and I know I must…”
Lydecker shook his head. “All is forgotten and forgiven, Miss Hunt.” Funny, he had perhaps not said that to anyone in his entire life. He usually neither forgot or forgave, however, for her…
“You’re a very strange man.”
He stopped writing, startled, and turned to her. “What?”
“You’re really sorry for the way you acted, aren’t you?”
Sid playfully grimaced. “Let’s not be psychiatric, Miss Hunt…but in a word…yes.”
Savannah proudly watched as he signed the mockup advertisement. “It’s very kind of you, you know.”
“I’m not kind. I’m vicious. It’s the secret of my charm.” But he was smiling…and so was she. “But if you choose to think me kind…I’ll call for you at six o’clock.” The room filled with gasps, the most prominent of which came from Savannah, stunned that the last minutes had taken such a turn, when a short time before, all she wanted to do was hide away in shame. For Sidney Lydecker though, only her reaction mattered. “All right?”
“All right,” she beamed as he returned the pen to her, their immediate transaction at an end.
Her career began with my endorsement of the pen. I secured other endorsements for her…introduced her to important clients. I gave her her start…but it was her own talent and imagination that enabled her to rise to the top of her profession…and stay there.
Sid quickly listed many of the people in his circle that he felt would suit the rising career of his protégé; his amazement at how she delighted them, honestly charmed them, had such incredible ideas, despite – at the time – being only seventeen. The board of Bullitt and Company finally noticed it too, and less than a month after presenting them and their client with the Wallace Flow-Rite/Lydecker collaboration, Savannah Hunt moved from the Stenographic and Art Departments to her own desk near the upper echelon of the firm. Within a year, she had her own office, bringing along those that worked best for both her and the organization, and it soon became obvious that she was a true force, using both her intelligence and her femininity to push her to the forefront, particularly in a field that some men could not handle.
She had an eager mind always. She was always quick to seize upon anything that would improve her mind…or her appearance.
Sid paused, sipping his wine. Bud White – just from his expression – was engrossed, only now and then eating the delicious chicken parmesan on his plate.
But she deferred to my judgment and taste. I selected a more attractive hair dress for her. I taught her what clothes were more becoming to her.
He recalled the first of their shopping trips, not long after she began her ascent. No longer for her the plain ready-to-wear outfits or simply shampooing her hair at home. Now her life was not only filled with work, but visits to the finest haute couture houses in the city, and expatriate French designers and Americans with houses in the now occupied Paris (and forced to return home) were not only happy to serve, but to design for and fit a young woman like Savannah Hunt. It was delightful to find their names attached to someone so beautiful – and connected to Sidney Lydecker – and soon, she and their clothing, jewelry and accessories were appearing on the social pages of the newspapers, and within the covers of Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue. Many proclaimed that Chanel’s ‘little black dress’ had never looked better. Sid found the best salon for her, and she became a regular: for her hair, for her manicures, pedicures and cosmetics.
And always, overseeing it all – until she became quite proficient – was Sid.
Through me, she met everyone: the famous and the infamous. Her youth and beauty, her poise and charm of manner captivated them all. She had warmth, vitality. She had authentic magnetism. Wherever we went, she stood out.
Men admired her. Women envied her. She became as well known as Sidney Lydecker’s walking stick…and his white carnation.
But Tuesday and Friday nights we stayed home…dining alone, listening to my records. I read my articles to her….The way she listened was more eloquent than speech. These were the best nights.
But now, Sid’s face went blank.
Then one Tuesday, she phoned and said she couldn’t come. It didn’t matter, really. But when it happened again the following Friday, I was disturbed. I couldn’t understand it. I felt betrayed…and yet I knew Savannah would never betray anyone.
He shuddered, recalling that cold January evening, when the wind and blowing snow nearly tossed him aside. I walked a long time. Then I found myself before her apartment building. The lights were on. It pleased me to know she was home…’til I saw she was not alone. But I waited. I wanted to see who it was….It was Maximus Meridias, the Spanish artist who had recently painted her portrait. I never liked the man, although I had recommended him. He was so obviously conscious of looking more like an athlete than an artist.
I sat up the rest of the night writing a column about him. I demolished his affectations…exposed his camouflaged imitations of better painters…ridiculed his theories. I did it for her, knowing Meridias was unworthy of her. It was a masterpiece because it was a labor of love.
Almost nothing had given him more pleasure than to sit in her bedroom, while Bessie Clary served her breakfast in bed, and he watched her read the article…then laugh in agreement at his words.
Naturally, she could never regard him seriously again. There were others, of course…but her own discrimination ruled them out…before it became necessary for me to intercede…until…one night at a party at Chloe Treadwell’s….
It was one of her usual roundups of bizarre and nondescript characters corralled from every stratum of society.
Sid would have preferred root canal surgery to this, and was equating the party to a new Ring in Dante’s vision of Hell when the butler opened the door to permit him and Savannah admission. The couple entered the hallway, then the drawing room, and was immediately be set upon by a number of guests, a male saying, “This is Mr. and Mrs. Preston. They’ve been waiting to meet you.”
Neither Sid nor Savannah noticed the dapper young man standing off to the side, but he saw them the moment they walked in the room, had actually been awaiting them, so it was time to make his move, he considered, putting his liquor glass on the nearest tray. Nothing – not even the pretty blonde approaching him – would make him stop.
“Hello Kim,” the girl said, grinning into his face, but he placed a hand on either shoulder and unceremoniously scooted her aside. That one could wait. There were thousands like her…but only one Savannah Hunt.
“Excuse me, honey,” he drawled, his eyes focused like a beam upon the beauty in front of him. He did not stop moving until he was at her side, but she never saw him. Right now, her attention was focused in the mirror of her compact as she touched at the flowing light brown tresses neatly falling about her bare golden shoulders. The white mink was gone, revealing a body-clinging white gown of Greco-Roman design, making her even more stunning in person than in the black and white newspaper photos, so had he not been interested in her before, he would be now.
“You’re Savannah Hunt,” he greeted, grinning a Cheshire-like smile.
She turned, her features indicating that she had no clue as to who he was. “Yes?” she politely asked.
“Hello, I’m Kim Carpenter Barrett. Want to dance?” the incredibly forward request was asked.
Savannah courteously smiled and with her head, indicated Sid’s presence. “I’m not alone.”
“Oh, him? I’ll bet he’s still doing the minuet,” Kim derided, smirking, but instead of finding humor in his comment, Savannah looked displeased and was about to respond when….
“Excuse me, please,” Sid told the Prestons on hearing the insult, for it was time for him to make his own move against this silly upstart he had noticed out of the corner of his eye. “Yes,” he announced, staring the boy down, “Betsy Ross taught it to me.”
Now Savannah and the others around her erupted into laughter, and Kim – to cover his discomfiture – laughed with them.
Chloe, behaving as the most perfect hostess within the crowded penthouse, finally reached them, and taking her niece by the hand said, “Hello Sidney. Darling, how are you?” she asked Savannah as the two women exchanged kisses.
Chloe glowed with excitement. “I see you’ve met Kim.”
“Unavoidably,” Sid mumbled, not hiding his annoyance.
“He was awfully nice to me in Louisville at the Derby. His family’s from Kentucky, you see.”
“Sharecroppers, no doubt,” Sid fairly yawned while those within earshot chuckled, and linking one arm within his protégé’s he said, “except for the loveliest creature to ever emerge from that state.” He gently smiled down at Savannah so that she would know that the ‘sharecropper’ remark was intended for a lowlife such as Barrett. And as always, she understood.
“Louise…Louise for the last time, will you marry me?” Kim asked Chloe Treadwell’s devoted head cook.
The woman shook her head. “I won’t…but I’ve saved some chicken livers for you,” and she gave him a small saucer.
“Oh, you’re an angel. In the meantime, darling…you think you could get this spot out for me?” and he pointed at a stain on his evening jacket. “I can afford a blemish on my character, but not on my clothes….Mmm…couldn’t eat another mouthful,” and he swallowed more of his particular favorite dish.
Louise shook her head. “I’m afraid it’s rouge.”
Kim sighed. “I’m afraid it’s liquor….Louise…” but right then, Savannah Hunt entered, and all thought of the spot was gone.
“Excuse me. Louise, may I have a glass of milk for Mr. Lydecker?”
“Of course, Miss Hunt.”
And now was the time to act, while that haughty Lydecker was out of sight for a change. The man was way too protective of her; no wonder she was not currently attached to any man of her immediate age. Lydecker was a mother hen, nanny, puritanical chaperone and prison guard rolled into one. Putting on his best smile, Kim started talking as if their conversation was never interrupted. “I forgot to tell you: I also read palms, I cook, I swallow swords, I mend my own socks, I never eat garlic or onions. What more can you want of a man?”
“Don’t listen to that scalawag, Miss Hunt,” the cook said, filling an empty glass with the bottled milk.
Savannah was still uncertain what to think about the incorrigible Kentuckian. He seemed to think that if he didn’t talk fast enough about himself he would never have the opportunity to let her know what he was about. She was also puzzled as to why he was in the kitchen. He behaved like one of the old Southern aristocracy, and you would definitely never find them among the help. “I didn’t expect to find him here, Louise.”
Kim looked aghast. “What do you mean? We’re old friends. She feeds me, humors me, repairs me…and refuses to marry me, don’t you, honey?” He kissed Louise’s cheek.
Savannah smiled and headed for the kitchen door. “She has good sense. Thank you Louise.”
“Now, wait just a minute,” Kim started, but the girl of his desires – and plans – had already disappeared. “Thanks Louise.”
“You’re wasting your time. She’s got good sense too.”
“You’re jealous!” he called out as he returned to the party.
It did not take long to locate Savannah – she could not help but stand out, and after a few moments of playing more the perfect Southern gentleman and less the obnoxious cad, she joined him on the balcony while he had a smoke.
“And what does it feel like, Mr. Barrett?” she asked, hands gracefully placed behind the svelte curve of her back as she relaxed against the brick wall.
Kim blew a smoke ring, once more admiring the beautiful figure in front of him. Not too skinny, not too plump. He loved the way the gown clung to her, leaving much to the imagination, but revealing just enough…. If he had the talent, he would have written a poem in her honor. Did men still do that? No, now they wrote songs. And men like that Maximus Meridias had the honor of painting her, and he wondered whether it even caught what he saw before him. “What does what feel like, Miss Hunt?” he replied, hoping she did not realize that every part of his lower regions felt on fire. He propped one foot higher, feeling incredibly relaxed around her.
“Living on the income from an estate.”
Well, that was like a cold shower. “Well…I…uh…I…”
“Or don’t you know?” Savannah bluntly said.
Kim chortled. “Well I did…until the sheriff took it over ten years ago.”
She nodded as they laughed, but appeared puzzled. “So why maintain the fiction? Why not work?”
Barrett briefly thought about it. He hated work, especially when someone of his pedigree should not have to, but regrettably the Fates had intervened – not due to the Civil War or the Depression, but his own spending and waste. Now, instead of enjoying the fruits of his birthright, he was like any other spoiled, minimally college educated neer-do-well, scraping by and living off the kindness of others. “Believe it or not, I asked one of my many friends for a job once….Executive of a big company…2500 employees. He could have pressed a button and done it, but he just laughed. He thought I was joking.”
Savannah seemed doubtful herself. “Weren’t you?”
“No. When I convinced him, he got embarrassed; said he’d phone me. That was months ago. Now whenever he sees me, he looks the other way.”
They laughed, but Kim could see that Miss Hunt was thinking, measuring him up.
“Do you really want a job?”
His own seriousness matched hers. “Yes.”
“Oh, here you are.” Sid’s voice – albeit soft – caught their attention, and the tension was broken as the young woman turned his way. “Savannah, dear, I cannot stand these morons any longer. If you don’t come with me this instant, I shall run amok.”
She tenderly smiled. “All right, Sidney,” but she approached Kim, took his hand to shake and in a most businesslike voice said, “Ten-thirty tomorrow, Bullitt and Company. You’ve got a job, Mr. Barrett. Good night.”
Kim was so pleased he did not notice the glare that Sid gave him as the pair told the nearby Chloe Treadwell good evening.
I concealed my annoyance with masterly self-control…but I sensed a situation which would bear watching.
“Savannah, take a look at this.”
That autumn evening at the Treadwell party had given way to a bitter New York winter, and now segued to a glorious spring and eventually summer. Kim Barrett was now a full-time member of the Savannah Hunt advertising team…and many suspected, something more. To the surprise of nearly everyone but his boss, Kim had revealed talent, both in art and slogan creation, so instead of being an encumbrance he became an asset and someone they all enjoyed working alongside.
Late one July evening, he was showing a series of artwork to her as she sat at her desk, going over some paperwork.
“Do you like it? Do you think it’ll make people want to bathe more often?” He sounded like an eager little boy, desiring approval.
Savannah smiled. “It should. It’s excellent,” and after signing the last page in a folder, she handed the latter to her assistant. “There you are.”
“Thank you. Good night, Miss Hunt.”
“Good night, Terri.”
“Good night, Mr. Barrett.”
“Good night, honey.”
Savannah’s attention returned to his work: the clip art, the catch phrases, the manner in which he worked in the photographs of a youthful brunette cutie with the bar of soap. “No, honestly, Kim, it’s really very good. Who’s the model?” She stood, stretched and went to the coat rack. It had been a long, but successful day and she was ready to relax.
“The model? Oh, a girl named Diane Redfern. You hired her yourself last week – don’t you remember?”
Savannah thought for a second and then said, “Oh yeah, yeah I do. I see so many of…”
“I know and you really ought to hire someone to do that for you. Take that duty off those lovely shoulders.”
“But I enjoy it, Kim. If I’m going to use them in my ad campaigns, I’d like to have some say in who works for one thing and who doesn’t.”
“If you say so,” and he kissed her on the forehead. “Well, let’s go moon of my delight. I am starved.”
“You usually are,” she joked.
“And I approve of that hat.”
“Mm-hmm. And the girl in it too,” he added, giving her a gentle squeeze.
“I knew there was something on my mind.”
Savannah put down her martini, looking across to where her boyfriend was sitting. “What is it?”
For the millionth time since becoming acquainted with her, Kim loved where his life was right now. It was not only the fact that he was dining at El Morocco, one of the best establishments in the city, but that the world was revolving around everything he prized and brought the meaning of success. At least there was no mother and siblings back home to care for and send money to. Whatever he earned, whatever he did, it was for him and him alone, and nothing gave him greater pride than to know that he was the most envied man in New York, and one of the most fortunate.
That in part was due to Savannah: selfless, devoted, and loving Savannah. Through her he became as recognized as she had because of Sid’s influence.
The other was in part to…well…he would think about her later, but he realized he was getting to an age when it was past time to settle down and enjoy whatever a lovely wife – or lovely patroness – might offer. These debonair looks would not last forever….
He realized that his beloved was waiting for a response, while he was busy gathering wool. “Oh, yes,” he finally said, reaching over to touch the back of her left hand. “Will you dine with me tomorrow night?”
“Maybe.” There was just a tiny more to complete their latest campaign, and then Mr. Bullitt was giving her not only a well-deserved bonus, but a long holiday as well, and even now at dinner, little ideas were flitting through her agile brain. “I’ll need to check my appoint…”
“No, that isn’t what’s worrying me,” Kim continued, a twinkle in his eyes. “It’s the next night.”
Savannah suddenly realized what he meant by all this and she giggled, blushing. “But Kim, I can’t be…”
“Good! What about three weeks from tonight and all the nights in-between?”
“Don’t you think I have any other engagements?”
“What about two months from now and the month after that?” he persisted.
She was won over. “What about next year?”
“That’s all settled. What about breakfast?”
Rolling her eyes she stood up, taking both his hands in hers. “What about dancing?” and she tugged him onto the floor where several couples were moving to the tune of Working Can Wait.
It could have been his theme song, Barrett thought. Who the hell needed to work when one was with the most gorgeous woman in town, especially when she was so willing to overlook his little faults, and so giving too? “What about lunch…beautiful lunches, day after day after day after day?”
Savannah smiled. “What about work…beautiful work, day after day after day?”
“Why Miss Hunt, the way you talk…you’d think I was in love with you.”
The couple laughed…neither noticing that Sid was at a table behind one of the wide marble posts, his right hand tightening more and more about the gold of his stick.
“Yes, Savannah, I heard everything he said,” Lydecker told her the next day when they met at his penthouse after work. The moment he saw her, looking so innocent and lovely in her new asymmetric suit, he nearly put the entire matter aside for another time, wanting only to be in her company, but the second she spoke of how well Kim was doing at the office, Sid realized that the time was now. “I went to call for you at your office and was told that the two of you had already departed for the evening.”
“I’m sorry, Sid.” She was sincerely apologetic – never wishing to hurt him, which encouraged him to continue with his plans.
“I know you are….” He did not blame her, which was why his tone remained calm; he blamed that rascal who had slithered his way into her life. “And that reminds me, my dear….Old Mother Hubbard has something in the cupboard.” He returned to the desk, holding up a thick dossier. “The results of my private investigation of that sterling character, Mr. Kim Carpenter Barrett.”
Sid never thought to see Savannah so angry with him until she refused to accept the ‘gift’ he held forward.
“By stooping so low, you only degrade yourself, Sid,” she said, her voice a rumble.
But Lydecker was not done. “Did you know that he almost went to jail for passing rubber checks?….That he was suspected of stealing his hostess’ jewels when he was a house guest in Virginia?”
Savannah turned away, irritably crossing her arms. “Naturally they’d suspect him because he isn’t rich.” She pointed at the file. “Those are only insinuations…the cheapest kind.”
“These aren’t only insinuations, my dear.” He threw the documents on the desk. “There you are. Read them, Savannah.”
She shook her head, cheeks burning with rage, but Sid was aware that no matter how much she protested, she knew the truth was revealed in the pages. “What of it? I already know his faults. A man can change, can’t he? This is what I hate about way too many of our acquaintances. People are always ready to hold out a hand to slap you down, but never to pick you up.”
Sid said nothing, continuing to accusingly watch her.
“All right…” she declared. “I’m helping Kim, but you likely knew that already. As far as I’m concerned, his past is his own affair. I only care about the present.”
“Uh-huh.” Lydecker looked straight ahead, unmoving. “Speaking of the changed Mr. Barrett in the present tense…he’s now running around with a model from your own office….Her name is Diane Redfern. Know her?”
The second he said it, he saw the hurt in Savannah’s eyes, as well as the rage, but not at Redfern, and definitely not at Kim. “I’m closer to despising you than I thought I ever would be.” She took a few steps, thought momentarily, then returned to his side. “I’m sorry Sidney…I should have told you before. Kim and I are going to be married next week.”
He expected that too. All the nonsense about tomorrow night and three months and a year from now; and all the breakfasts and lunches and dinners – of course it was the con’s way of proposing to her. As though Kim Barrett could stay faithful to any woman – even Savannah – for longer than a day. Quite calm, Sid stood, walked to one of the numerous cabinets, withdrew an item, and placed it on top of the folder. The second he did, he saw his protégé’s face go pale. “I believe you presented him with a cigarette case on his last birthday. Rather valuable, isn’t it?”
Savannah nervously touched it with one fingertip, disbelieving that the solid gold holder was there. “Where did you get it?” she gasped.
“From the pawn shop…where Diane Redfern took it after he gave it to her.”
“I don’t believe it! He probably needed money and was too proud to borrow.”
Sid gave a short laugh. “Barrett proud? Perhaps that is why the pawn ticket was in her name.”
She nearly stumbled out of her shoes, the blow felt so real, and shaking, she rushed to the telephone. “Before this goes any further,” she said, dialing Kim’s number, “I’ll just…”
“He isn’t home,” Sid bluntly told her. “He’s dining at Chloe Treadwell’s.”
Savannah hung up, stunned. “He…He can’t be. He asked me to dinner.” Even in her ears that sounded pointless.
“He would have canceled his appointment with her if you had accepted.” He sighed. “It’s such a shame. He treats her rather badly these days.”
Savannah started dialing again, Sid – without looking – knowing that it was her aunt’s number this time.
“I’m afraid she’ll say he isn’t there.”
The receiver was slammed down in revulsion as the young woman groaned, her stomach knotting. When she faced her mentor once more, Sid could see the tears beginning to brim in her eyes; the expression one of uncertainty…about everything and everyone. There were few times in their relationship for him to see her so at a loss, and Lord knew, he would have preferred it be something important, such as her career, than mourning that worthless Kim Barrett.
“Sidney…why are you doing this?” she whispered, the words choked.
He stepped nearer, placing his hands on either side of her arms. “For you, Savannah….” It was time. “Shall we pay them a visit?”
She nodded, but as he prepared to change into something more suitable, she grabbed one of his wrists. “He won’t be there, Sid,” she assured him. “I know he won’t.”
Lydecker knew she was saying it more to convince herself than him. Why were the innocent ones always the last to know? But instead of teasing her or scolding her, he placed a hand against her left cheek and lightly patted it. “All right, dearest – we’ll see…but…” and he picked up the cigarette case, “don’t you want to take this little bauble along in case he is there?”
Savannah hesitated then snatched it, tossing it into her handbag.
“I’ll only be a few moments,” he said, slipping out of his smoking jacket. “Wait for me.”
The maid, Paula, answered the door, and as instructed, she followed her “Good evening” with “I’m sorry, Mrs. Treadwell is not at home.”
“Good evening and we know, dear,” and before the servant could answer, Lydecker eased by her, Savannah on his arm. Without pause, they proceeded through the drawing room and to the balcony. The male and female voices – their words unclear except for ‘But of course none of this…’ – suddenly ceased; silver struck the dishes, and Kim, grinning, stood. Only Chloe remained seated: staring, flabbergasted.
“Hello darling,” Kim delightedly welcomed. “I didn’t expect to see you tonight.”
“There you are, my dear,” Sid sighed. “In a moment of supreme disaster he’s trite.”
Kim remained unruffled. “You’ve been reading too many melodramas, Sidney.” His attention focused upon Savannah, who had neither spoken nor let her eyes leave her fiancé’s face. “I was just telling Chloe about our getting married.” No response, and despite pretending that it was the most normal thing in the world for his girlfriend and his girlfriend to be together, he could not help noticing that he had never seen Savannah so cold and distant. “Well, have you two had dinner?” Nothing. “Would you like a glass of wine?” Still nothing, but now he pulled out a chair. “Why don’t you sit down, dear heart?”
There was the sound of a zipper as the purse was swiftly undone, then the gold cigarette case crashed against the tabletop. Her face filled with rage, abhorrence and hurt, Savannah stormed off the balcony, heels clicking across the pavement until the carpet muted them.
Sid smiled smugly and triumphantly, jokingly touched his stick to the brim of his hat, then departed right behind her.
I couldn’t find out if she saw Barrett in the meantime. All I know is that on Friday she had lunch with Diane Redfern. What came of it, I hoped to hear that night….
It was to be their normal Friday night together, and Sid was carefully organizing things for the dinner, carefully selecting the dishes and wines, even the music, wanting even the slightest detail to bring her well-being and calm. He figured that after this long week, she deserved it.
I alternated between moods of over optimism and over pessimism. When the phone rang, I had a foreboding of disaster.
“I called to tell you, Sidney – I’m frightfully sorry,” the columnist heard on the other end. “I can’t have dinner with you tonight….Oh no…no, I’m not sick. I’m just dreadfully nervous….I’m going to the country for a few days….Yes…Yes, I’m afraid it’s about Kim….Oh, no…please…there’s nothing you can do….I’ve got to think this thing out for myself….I’m sorry….I’ll call you when I get back….Good-bye.”
It was the last time I ever heard her voice.
Over two hours later, the restaurant was vacant except for the staff, Lydecker and White. The dessert plates were empty; the last of the coffee gone, and Sid twirled the remaining port in the snifter, unable to finish as he completed the tale. “I was sure she had too much pride to forgive him, but…” He shrugged.
Bud rubbed his chin. He expected his host to talk, but this had been an earful. Now to sort it out….Another sleepless night…. “Where does this Diane Redfern live? You know?”
“Brooklyn somewhere, the private investigator told me. I imagine she’s in the phone book.”
The lieutenant nodded. “Come on – it’s late. Let’s get going.”
“All right….Waiter? Check, please.”
The bill was paid, the waiter chimed, “Thank you, Mr. Lydecker….Good night, sir. Come again.”
The men moved onto the front sidewalk, but while Bud was enjoying the breeze finally stirring the once motionless, hot air, Sid was present only in body.
“I shall never forgive myself for letting her become involved with Kim,” he said aloud to anyone listening. “It was my fault – entirely my fault. I should have stopped it…somehow.”
“Well, it’s too late now.”
Sid nodded, then without another word, wandered away.
“Thanks for dinner and the drinks!” Bud called. He watched Sid enter his chauffeured sedan, and continued to watch until the car was gone from sight.