Fats Marchesi settled his ample frame into a chair. The Cabaret manager fluttered about him to ensure his comfort. He had been instructed by Mr. Sicero to meet any of the patron’s needs as they arose. The fat man just wanted his cocktails to keep coming and a clear view of the stage. The house lights were dim. The attention of the scattered patrons was focused on the stage even though it was empty save a gauzy blue back drop spangled with glittering stars.
A muted trumpet began a breezy ditty. After a few measures it was accompanied by the tapping of the show girls’ heels. Six of them entered in a rhythmic shuffle. Their costumes only made of strategically placed bead and fabric stars. They swirled around the stage and were soon joined by papier-mâché clouds.
Fats Marchesi laughed and lit his cigar. An ash tray appeared deftly at his elbow. The manager hovering a safe distance behind him. Fats didn’t pay him any attention. His hungry eyes were on the stage as two other girls clad in white feathers glided in dancing as doves. Moira’s movements were smooth as she visualized floating through the air on wings. She didn’t even look at the faces in the audience. She was imagining freedom.
The stars drifted off the stage as Moira mirrored the other dove. This dance was slow, ethereal, meant to open the imagination of the viewers and cause a sense of wonder. Fats slurped his drink loudly. He didn’t care about art. His appetite was more primal.
Lights brightened behind the backdrop as if dawn were breaking on stage. The clouds clustered. Moira moved to the far right as her partner moved left. They pantomimed calling out to the clouds, and the clouds rose to reveal a platinum blond dripping in gold beads and nothing else.
Fats displayed his pleasure with a hearty laugh, “That’s the stuff!” he exclaimed. He placed his cigar between his teeth and applauded loudly. Moira saw the Sun’s eyes flash like daggers for the briefest second, but her face remained smiling. Bea was the most dazzling actress that Moira knew. She took her work very seriously. Moira watched her every move and tried to imagine how she could become as good of a dancer as Bea. The doves perched while the Sun did her dance. Shouts and hollers were tossed up onto the stage until the curtain dropped.
Moira darted backstage to change costumes. A frowning Bea stomped past the other girls changing and disappeared into her private dressing room.
The manager knocked wildly and then rushed into the room after Bea.
“The man Mr. Sicero told you about is here. He loved your performance and wants a private meeting,” he said. She leaned over to a mirror and checked her lipstick.
“The man from New York?”
“Yes, Mr. Marchesi, he owns a theatre there,” the manager nervously wrung his hands, “Does this mean you’re leaving us?”
“Perhaps. There’s not a chance in Hell that I’ll become famous working in this sleepy seaside town,” Bea snarled. Then in a flash she put on her smile, “Why don’t you break out the champagne, put in on SIcero’s tab and tell this, Marchesi, that I’m on my way.” The manager nodded and hurried out of the dressing room. Bea’s eyes followed him and she noticed that Moira was watching her.
“Mind your own business, you!” Bea snapped and she slammed the door.
“Ignore her,” Myrtle, the other dove said as she pulled off her white stockings. “If she’s going, we’ll have to work harder than ever.”
“What do you mean?” Moira asked.
“We have to look our best if we want any chance at getting the top spot,” the girl said, “Good enough to catch Mr. Sicero’s eye.”
“Is that what Bea did?” Moira asked.
“Well…,” Myrtle paused, “I think it was a bit different.” Moira stared at Myrtle with large curious eyes. Myrtle hesitated and shot a look at Bea’s door. She leaned in close and spoke in a whisper.
“They did have a fling, but she’s…difficult. He gave her top billing to get rid of her. That was the price for her to leave him alone. Haven’t you noticed he doesn’t come here often and she never participates in the preview at Libellule?”
Moira thought about it. Myrtle’s story made sense. She never did see them together.
“And now he’s arranged this man from New York?” She fell silent as Bea’s door opened. The platinum blonde stepped out in a silk dress, a big fur wrapped around her shoulders. She scowled at the other dancers as she passed them.
“Move aside, worms!” she sneered. The general chatter of the dressing room had fallen into silence. She strode out of the room and left a wake of renewed babble behind her. Myrtle jabbed Moira with her finger.
“Hurry, we still have a dance to do,” she said. Moira nodded and quickly started to change.
Bea made her way to the private lounge. A footman pulled the curtain aside and she made her entrance beaming. At the sight of Mr. Marchesi, she balked in her tracks and fought to conceal the look of alarm that passed over her complexion. Mr. Marchesi, whom she had never met and certainly had no idea that he was referred to as ‘Fats Marchesi’ for a very good reason, took up half the table. His expensive suit was wide enough to fit two men into it. His hairline had receded considerably and as she paused he was using his handkerchief to mop his brow.
Bea regained her composure, “Hello,” she said sultry, “I don’t believe we’ve been introduced.” She came forward and held out her hand, “Beatrice Stevens.”
“Ah, bellissima,” He took her hand in his sweaty grip and kissed it. “I am Fredo Marchesi and Mr. Sicero was right. You’re a feast for the eyes. Please sit and we will open this champagne.” A waiter stepped forward as Bea took her seat. He opened the champagne with a pop and poured them each a glass. Bea kept her smile on. So this is another one of Frank’s gags, she thought. He must be laughing at her in his office right now. It made no difference to Bea, she’d do it. If this man had a theatre in New York and would make her a star, she’d do it. Let Frank have his laugh. She’d be the one laughing in the end.
Fats Marchesi put a hand on her knee and she listened as he talked. She coolly asked questions about New York while her inner fire roiled with anger.