I am sorry to say that Osgood proved to be an utter worm. We visited his mother—of course she made us sleep in separate wings of the house because we weren’t married then. And we’re never going to be. The old bat must have gotten into the cooking sherry even before the warm gin before dinner and the Madeira with the turtle soup (why would anybody want to eat a turtle, anyway? They’re harmless and they’re kind of cute) and snifters of brandy after dinner. Sometimes you can kind of see why they went and passed Prohibition.
How dare she say that, just because I’m not a virgin and I used to live with a saxophone player, that I’m a floozy and not good enough to marry Osgood? And he didn’t stick up for me at all. So I took off my engagement ring (a big emerald, which frankly I should have taken as an omen because it had a big obvious flaw, with little diamonds around it) and threw it at his feet. And packed up my bag and baggage and went back to Sweet Sue and her Society Syncopators.
Now that I think of it, I should have kept the ring. Especially since after that whole business in Florida Jerry took my diamond bracelet and invested it for me in property. Beinstock said that it was probably all swamp and alligators. But what does he know? It’s because of him that we’re in this mess.
I sure wish we were in Florida but the fact of the matter is that we’re someplace very, very cold and with lots of snow. Also, we have no bookings and no money. We were lucky to get our cases off the train when it bogged down in the snowdrifts and we had to hoof it to the nearest town.
Which wasn’t all that near, especially for those of us who ruined a new pair of t-bar dancing sandals. So even though I’m not one of those Bolsheviks or anarchists you heard so much about in Chicago, if I’d still had the ring I swear I would have sold it and we could all have shared the money. Only I didn’t. So obviously it was time for Beinstock to get out his book of phone numbers, work his usual magic, and find us a new booking.
Except that now that I think of it, Beinstock was sniffling and snorting even before we got on the train. By the time we got to town and found a hotel and checked in, he was feverish enough to melt snow. Of course he got a room to himself and we girls were packed in like sardines. Typical! And I didn’t get to room with Sugar, I was in with the new saxophonist, Mavis Threeplehurst, who was very starchy and never let her hair down until we knocked together a few shakers of White Ladies backstage in the Palm Garden in Winnemuka.
Later I found out that Mavis was actually not that bad because it turns out she was English and it was not her fault. She ran away from a very tony family who wanted her to marry a Lord that she didn’t even like at all, much less like more than her saxophone. And later on another Limey heard about her and made up a show about her. Except, his name was Wood House, so maybe he was an Indian?
We needed a new saxophonist because, not too long after some evenings that I bet would have kept Sugar from marrying Osgood if she had ever wanted to, Jerry got another job in a male band and just took off in the middle of the night.
Paying the hotel took most of our money, and of course us girls never saved anything because even when we did get paid on time, we just bought new dresses and undies and mascara and sheet music for songs that Sweet Sue said were too primitive for the band.
I suppose it’s just as well that Beinstock had his own room, because once we had unpacked, we all crowded into his room. He was lying down, wearing striped pajamas, looking like death warmed over. Sweet Sue told him to be a man and get up and get us some new contracts, but all he did was lean over and…well, I wasn’t the only one whose shoes got ruined. And we all got out of there quick as bunnies because we all at least knew somebody who’d died of the Spanish Flu.
So there we were in the Writing Room, which is what all these old railway station hotels call a dingy little room with some tippy tables and hardly any light. Wilhelmina, the drummer, said that maybe we could play at the hotel in the afternoon so they could have a Tango Tea. Sweet Sue patted her on the head, went and yelled at the manager, and worked it out so at least we had our meals taken care of. So then Wilhelmina said that Sweet Sue should just go back to Beinstock’s room—maybe with a napkin over her face like a face mask because of the germs—and get his address book and start making phone calls even if we did have to play an extra Tango Tea just to pay for the phone calls.
Sweet Sue looked at her like she was crazy, and like she wanted to take back the pat on the head except you can’t. “This is an emergency,” she said. “I had to do something to keep this band going. But who’s going to do a business deal with a girl?
Now, Sweet Sue always reminds me of Sister Perpetua Paul, although Sister not only waved around a much bigger stick but used it to do a lot more violence. If you wouldn’t do a deal with them it was because you died of fright on the spot not because they were girls. In fact sometimes I wonder if Al Capone is really just a nun with a submachine gun. But where we were going to get a man, at short notice, who knew all about the band?
“I’ll go,” Sugar said. “Only, I’ll borrow some of Mr. Beinstock’s clothes and pretend to be a man. That way, they won’t give me the fuzzy end of the lollipop the way they do when they know I’m a girl.”
“Aww, fiddlesticks,” Frannie the flautist said. She undulated her hands expressively, but less attractively than the real Sugar. “Not only do you not look like a man, how would you know how to act? It’s like…a whole different sex.”
I put my hand up to volunteer. “I can coach her!” I said. “I have four brothers! Big, hairy, sweaty beasts!”
Nobody but Sugar and me liked the idea, but nobody had a better one either, so I fetched a suit and tie and shoes and a very respectable homburg hat and an overcoat from Beinstock’s room. Beinstock is kind of short and round so Sugar’s, well, protuberances fit into his clothes only sort of packed down like the snowballs for a snowman. And we practiced walking around in flat shoes and talking real low—low pitched, but loud.
Our first appointment was a big disaster. The booking agent leered, took his disgusting wet cigar out of his disgusting wet face, and told me to get rid of my chaperone. Sugar practiced her stomp-y waddle out the door but came running in when I shrieked. The nerve! He said, “You’re not much to look at, Daphne, but at least you’re a girl,” and he tried to kiss me and his fly was unbuttoned! The fiend! So I slapped his face and Sugar put her hand in the middle of his chest and pushed him down so he spun around in his swivel chair.
The next appointment, they were nice to us but said that there was no call for girl bands any more. The one after that, they said, what about the Crash? Like that was our fault.
But then we really struck oil. Sugar took out our big book of newspaper clippings. The booking agent was impressed. Then he came to the hotel for the Tango Tea. We played our hearts out, and Sugar sang more beautifully than I’ve ever heard her. The next day, we went back to the booking agent’s office (Sweet Sue told her to go by herself, but she stuck up for me and said I was her lucky charm). He kind of blinked, said that the vocalist was the bee’s knees. Sugar got so puffed up with pride that she nearly burst Beinstock’s buttons and said, yeah, she’s my kid sister, ain’t she swell?”
So we got a 16-week booking on the Albee Circuit. Each time the booker tried to push the contract at her, Sugar told him to take it back and make the number on the dotted line bigger. And then she threatened to tear the whole thing up before she even showed it to Sweet Sue, so he yelled, “You’re killing me!” and doubled it.
And then we went outside and grabbed each others’ hands and twirled around in the snow and had a snowball fight. Which Sugar won because she was wearing flatties.
Twice when we were on tour, Sugar got to go off by herself and sing on the radio. She was the best. I don’t want to hold her back, because she’s the best friend a girl could ever have, not just because she and I commiserate a lot about Osgood and Jerry and just generally how awful men are. Maybe she could even get a movie contract, because she’s so pretty.
I hope she stays with the band, though. Sooner or later she’s bound to find a good man and get married. Or, well, she’s a wonderful girl but her judgment isn’t the best, so I’m dreading that she’ll marry a bad one. There’s always Reno, but it would be perfect if we could just be old maids together forever.