The adventures of Ed & Johnny—

a pair of screenwriters shooting for the big time in '40s Hollywood, armed only with inexhaustible energy and a very strange set of ideas.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Chapter Three. Boys Meet Girl

Ed liked the flashy girls. He would have gone for Ava or Rita or Lana in a heartbeat. That was flash! But as none of Hollywood’s flashiest dames would have him, he was satisfied to swing on the next rung down. Actually, it was more like two or three rungs down, but Ed didn’t bother his head with such distinctions. In a town where every dame wanted to be an actress, flash was a dime a gallon. By day, Ed’s girls might wait tables, or take dictation, or clerk in department stores, but as they spent all their money on clothes and make-up, come night you could hardly tell them from the real article. They had the walk down, with the hips swinging just so, and they had all mastered the pout, the one that said they were looking for a real man to save them from the doldrums, and they all came with the smoldering eyes that left no doubt they’d found him when they gazed into yours. Ed liked spike heels and bright red lipstick and fishnet stockings and chokers. Sometimes he even noticed the girl that went with them.

Johnny liked none of the above.

He liked real girls. He hardly ever noticed clothes or poses or attitudes. He liked girls to look just how God made them, warts and all. Not that he liked warts in particular, or plain girls in general. He liked pretty girls as much as the next guy. It’s just that he thought every girl he ever met was pretty, and he liked them unadorned and unadulterated. He liked girls that smelled like girls, not like perfume. He liked to feel skin when he nuzzled a girl’s neck, not rouge and powder. He liked clothes that came away easily in his hands, not a bunch of hooks and clasps and snaps to grapple with. He liked girls who liked Johnny, not the guy who wrote for HOLLYWOOD. He liked girls to play cards with, to take in a picture with, to cook for him and eat his cooking, to go for a walk in the park with and for a long drive on a Sunday afternoon. On the rare occasions when he noticed they’d bought a new blouse or changed their hair, he always remembered to compliment them.

Ed and Johnny were reminded of all this by their latest attempt at a double date. Spring had come to California and with it a new buoyancy to the boys’ steps. With Bill Faulkner’s encouragement still ringing in their ears and J.L. Warner’s money still jingling in their pockets, they treated themselves to a broader social life: catching Opening Day at Gilmore Field, buying rounds for the rummies at the Wet Whistle, even asking a few girls out on the town. And of the many they asked, the two who accepted happened to do so on the same day.

In his heart Ed knew that exposing his date to Johnny’s critical eye wasn’t a good idea. Johnny gaped at her, a peroxide blonde so garishly painted that even Ed blanched when he first saw her outside the light of a bar. But Ed cared even less for Johnny’s companion, a self-described “nature girl” who actually wore blue jeans for a night on the town. The distaste each of them felt for the other’s date was so palpable, in fact, that they barely spoke during the entire evening, leaving the women to grope vainly for common conversational ground. The moment Ed signaled for the tab, the girls headed for the bathroom together, and when they returned twenty minutes later they announced they had to get up early the next morning and were going home immediately. Alone.

Afterwards the boys chided each other for his incomprehensible taste in women, but they were pleased to find the chiding gradually turning to wisecracks and laughter. The evening had not gone exactly as planned, but at least they’d both come out of it more certain than ever that the one thing they never had to worry about was a dame coming between them.

And then they met Leona Sands.

They were on the Warner’s lot, having been hired to doctor a script for a period picture. Thanks to Bill Faulkner’s kindness, they were now in Jack Warner’s good graces, and scarcely a month had elapsed since the Don Juan imbroglio before Jack had thrown them this bone. Better yet, he’d agreed to a pitch meeting if they brought the costumer in under deadline. As the deadline gave them five whole days, it was not only a lead-pipe cinch that they’d finish it with time to spare, but that they could use the extra time to start cranking out a screenplay before they pitched it.

On that memorable day Ed was seated as usual at the desk, fingers flying over the keyboard. One of the legs on the desk was shorter than the other three, but they’d stuffed a couple of oily rags under it that they’d found in the office, and the desk was now reasonably stable. Johnny was doing his customary pacing. At one end of the office he had to watch his head, as the room was located at the far corner of the Writers Building and the ceiling sloped dangerously low, and at the other end he had to be wary of tripping over the coiled rolls of electrical cable and the piles of asbestos sheeting.

Ed was saying, “How about if it’s all a flashback while Napoleon leads his battered army home from their defeat in Moscow?”

“That’s screwy,” Johnny said, squinting to see if he was being ribbed. “France and Russia are allies. Don’t you remember that series we had to write for Stars and Stripes, ‘What We Owe the French and Russians,’ and we pulled that salad-dressing gag that made the Captain blow his gasket?”

“This was a different war,” Ed said. “France was fighting Russia and England then.”

“They switched sides? The dirty Frogs.”

“Or we could frame the flashback with his imprisonment on the island…”

“Wait. You said an island?”

“Yeah, Corfu. Why?”

Johnny’s eyes glazed over. “How about he’s alone on this island with nobody to talk to, see, but there’s this basketball…”

And then they saw her.

One moment the open door had been bright with sunshine. The next it darkened as a figure blocked the sun, a form momentarily silhouetted in a nimbus of springtime. Then she stepped forward out of the glare.

The choker was the first thing that caught Ed’s eyes, a strip of green silk binding the slim column of her neck. From there his eyes fell to a black sweater of a fabric so soft and clinging that it looked as though it and her breasts had been cast in the same mould. A tight green skirt hugged her hips. Black nylons sheathed the graceful curve of her legs, the calves swelling just so as they poised on black pumps with three-inch heels.

He finally raised his eyes and took in her face. He saw a full-lipped mouth with lips the color of roses at sunset, haughty cheekbones, and black shoulder-length hair that he could so vividly imagine spread over his pillow that he almost gave an involuntary cry. Only her eyes troubled him a little, dark green pools from which a challenge was flung, where he would much rather have found surrender.

Johnny started at the eyes and got no further. He couldn’t have described what he saw there if doing so would have earned him a screen credit. They just made him feel things. He felt giddy and very young and a little breathless. Staring into their depths, he found himself remembering the swimming hole under the sycamore tree on his parents’ farm, and he seemed to feel the coolness of the water against his skin when he’d gone for a dip on summer afternoons. But he quickly dismissed the vision. It reeked too much of poetry, and poetry was something he’d never trusted.

“Hello,” the girl said. “You must be Ed and Johnny.”

It took a few moments for the boys to find their tongues, and even then they were only able to mumble their greetings.

“I’m Leona Sands,” the girl said, dimpling as she smiled. “I’m with the research department and I dropped by to see if I could be of any assistance.”

“How very thoughtful of you,” Ed said, the first to fully recover. “I could lie and say we were in desperate need of your services, but that would only be a cheap ploy to keep you by our sides a little longer. I must admit, alas, to being somewhat of a history buff.”

“All up on our little Napoleon, are you?”

“Glory is fleeting, my dear Leona, but obscurity is forever.”

Leona put her hands together and clapped. Ed beamed from ear to ear. Then she turned to Johnny. Her lips parted as if she was about to speak, but their eyes locked, and this time she was robbed of speech as well. She quickly broke the eye-contact, said that they could find her in the Administration building if they needed her, and with a little wave turned on her heel. Then she was gone and once again only sunshine filled their doorway, but sunshine that now seemed watery and bereft of warmth.

Ed and Johnny turned to each other and simultaneously uttered the same words. “Sweet Jesus!” they cried.

They both recoiled. There was a moment of stunned silence. Then they were both trying to laugh it off, pretending their words hadn’t meant a thing. But when they tried to get back to work, suddenly nothing seemed to click anymore, and the lines came like molasses.

* * *

Jack Warner tossed the Napoleon script on his desk and said, “Good enough. Now let’s have the pitch.”

Ed and Johnny were a little disconcerted. They’d barely managed to come in under the deadline with the rewrite, and they were feeling a bit unsure of themselves. Could anything that took so long to write be any good? But they were old pros, and they quickly rallied.

“It’s a winner, J.L.,” Ed said.

“Picture this, J.L.” Johnny began. “The president of these United States has just won a reelection, see, but word leaks out that he was spying on the opposition party!”

“Trying to glom onto their campaign strategies, see?”

“His ops broke into this hotel and…”

Warner held up a hand. “Hold on.” He cocked his head so that they were looking into his left ear, which he proceeded to cup. “Did I just hear you right? The president of the United States cheats his way to victory?”

“Well, I don’t know if I’d use the word 'cheat,'” Ed said, having sniffed the wind.

“I wouldn’t exactly think of him as a crook,” Johnny said.

“Maybe if we get Jimmy Stewart to play the…”

“STOP!” Warner yelled. He was breathing noisily. “What are you guys, a couple of fucking feebs?”

The boys were too shaken to respond.

Warner turned questioningly to Primo Concordato, who had hitherto stood unobtrusively in the corner. “Feebs, J.L.,” Primo said.

Warner suddenly slumped back in his chair and sighed. He rubbed his jaw with the palm of his hand. He gritted his teeth. All the time he was gazing at Ed and Johnny quizzically, as if he just couldn’t get a handle on them. “Look boys,” he finally said. “You came through well enough on the Faulkner job, and for that I’m indebted to you. And hell, I even like the both of you slobs, God knows why. But let me give you a little advice.”

The boys leaned forward eagerly in their seats as Warner pondered his next words. At length he said, “Look, I know you’ve got some talent. This Napoleon schlock is…well…good enough. But these things you call your original ideas? To hell with them! Put the kibosh on them!”

“But J.L.,” Ed said, “our ideas have made us the toast of the town.”

“Sure, J.L,” Johnny said. “People line up to hear about ‘em.”

“So the advice I’m gonna give you, if you ever in a million fucking years want to get anywhere in this town, is that you keep it the fuck simple. And I mean basic. You write up a boy-meets-girl picture. You hear of that maybe? There’s a boy and he meets a girl? You give it a little twist, see, but just a little twist. You make it a little different, but not too different, and in the end it’s still boy-meets-girl. Simple, see? Primo, you think maybe they hear what I’m saying?”

“I think they hear what you’re saying, J.L.”

“Boy-meets-girl,” Ed said, tonelessly.

“With a little twist,” Johnny mumbled.

“So go write your boy-meets-girl,” Warner said, “and when you finish it you come see your uncle Jack. Now get the fuck outta here.”

* * *

Ed was seated in front of the typewriter, but his hands lay still on his knees. Johnny was staring out the window at nothing.

“Jesus Christ,” Ed said, “what the hell is the matter with you?”

Johnny spun away from the window. “Me? You’re the one who’s had his head in the clouds.”

Ed barked a laugh. “Maybe you’ve forgotten that you’re supposed to be the idea-man in this little combo. And as this boy-meets-girl thing apparently has you licked, what does it matter if my head’s in the clouds or buried in the sand? I can’t very well contribute anything if we don’t have anything to work on, now can I?”

“I’m not just talking about now. You were a lunk the whole time we worked on that Frog script too.”

“I don’t exactly remember you setting the room ablaze with your creative fire either!”

They stared at each other angrily. Then Johnny threw up his hands and said, “Aw, forget it.” “It’s already forgotten.”

“I’ve got a stinking headache,” Johnny said, rubbing his temples. “I’ve got to get some air.” Ed held up his fingers and wiggled them. “I think my arthritis is acting up anyway.”

“I didn’t know you had arthritis.”

“I didn’t either. Until now.”

Johnny started shrugging into his suit jacket. “I guess I’ll take the car for a spin.”

“Wait a sec!” Ed cried. “I was going to use it.”

“And drive with arthritic fingers? Don’t be screwy.”

Ed bit the inside of this cheek. “Maybe you’re right. Go ahead and take it.”

He waited until he heard the Nash clanking off and dashed out of the apartment. At Edna’s door he knocked impatiently. The door opened and before Edna could say a word Ed blurted, “Edna! I just got wind of a great job—busboy at DuPar’s! Johnny took the car and I don’t have any way to get there. Please tell me you’re going to let me borrow yours!”

Edna vanished into the house and return in moments, brandishing the keys to her Chrysler. “Good luck, Ed! I knew you’d make me proud one of these days!”

Twenty minutes later Ed drove into the Warner lot and stopped in front of the north end of the Administration Building. He felt terrible as he got out of the car. He knew everything Johnny had said was right. His head had been in the clouds, the one specifically designated nine. And if he didn’t get her out if his system it was going to remain there. It just wasn’t fair to Johnny that he do nothing about it. If he could have her for just one night then he could get back to the business of being the collaborator his partner deserved.

* * *

Johnny parked the Nash in front of the south end of the Administration Building. He sat in the car for a few minutes, composing himself. Thoughts of her had been gnawing at his brain for days, and he knew that if he didn’t see her again he’d never originate another idea or write another word. If nothing else, he owed it to Ed. Although Ed was indispensable to him—after all, without his mastery of the language and encyclopedic knowledge their scripts wouldn’t amount to a hill of beans—he knew that Ed depended on his fertile brain to get them rolling. And if he didn’t get this girl out of his system he feared that they’d never get rolling again. Finally he climbed out the car, paused to fix his tie and comb his hair, and with a deep breath made for the entrance.

He checked the numbers on the doors and realized her office would be about halfway down the length of the long hallway. He shoes beat a tattoo on the linoleum as he increased his pace. His heart pounded rapidly, his breath came in short gasps. He couldn’t remember ever having felt so excited over seeing a girl.

Then he heard something odd. It was as if his footsteps were echoing back to him, but slightly out of synch, like in those old Vitaphone talkies he’d see when he was a kid and the projectionist was drunk. Slowly it penetrated his brain: he was hearing another set of footsteps. He looked up and there in the corridor ahead of him, approaching from the opposite direction, was Ed. He was staring at Johnny with his mouth hanging open. They came together right in front of the office they wanted, but neither appeared to notice the number on the door.

“Why, you no-good sneak!”

“You’re one to talk, you lying mug!”

“Now I know where your head’s been!”

“No wonder you couldn’t come up with any ideas!”

“Why, I got a good mind to take a poke at you!”

“Yeah? You just try it!”

“What seems to be the trouble, boys?”

Their heads snapped around on their necks. At once they realized where they were. They couldn’t see the number on the door anymore, because the door was now open. And in the doorway stood Leona.

“Oh, geez,” Johnny said.

“Oh, cripes,” Ed said.

“Let me guess,” Leona said. “A historical dispute that only the research department can settle.”

“Not exactly,” Johnny said.

“But a dispute, yes,” Ed said.

“And you can settle it,” Johnny said.

“Not about Napoleon,” Leona said.

They both nodded. Leona raised a cigarette to her lips and took a drag. She blew the smoke toward the ceiling, but without ever taking her eyes off the boys, regarding them with cool appraisal. After what seemed like an hour she said, “Do you fellows like spaghetti?”

It took a minute for her words to sink in. Then they were both nodding vigorously.

“Then I’ll see you both at eight. I’m at the Coral Gables. Room 318.”

She offered them a ghost of a smile and disappeared into her office.

* * *

The Coral Gables was all pink stucco and glass brick. The dapper lad at the desk twirled his Errol Flynn mustache while he called her room. He muttered something into the phone, then announced, “Miss Sands will receive you now.”

Ed and Johnny had donned their best clothes for the occasion, which they’d purchased on credit (with only a token down payment required, as advertised) at Fingerman’s Clothing Emporium. Ed was wearing a shiny green double-breasted suit with a violet pinstripe, a tie to match, and a yellow shirt. Johnny’s suit was of a tan color with a hound’s tooth check, and made from some material that approximated wool with a questionable degree of accuracy. They both wore dark gray fedoras and black wingtips.

They didn’t say a word to each other as they rode up in the elevator. They’d hardly exchanged a word all day. The elevator operator, an old geezer with a pitted nose who reeked of bay rum, had to announce the floor twice before they seemed to hear him. They squared their shoulders and marched down the hall to room 318.

Leona came to the door in an emerald green housecoat and tufted slippers with two-inch heels. She greeted them warmly and stepped aside. The boys might have noted the modern Danish furnishings, and then again they might not have. It would be difficult to say if they heard Artie Shaw’s clarinet issuing from the record player. Even the aroma of tomatoes and garlic that filled the air didn’t seem to reach them. All their senses were attuned to Miss Leona Sands.

She took a cigarette from a lacquered box on the coffee table and Ed leapt to light it for her. “So how did the Napoleon script go?” she asked.

“J.L. loved it,” Ed said.

“No problems with the historical details?”

“Oh no,” Ed said airily.

She indicated a teak dinette set and the boys sat down. An open bottle of Chianti breathed on the tabletop. “Johnny,” she said, “would you do the honors?”

It wasn’t until Johnny had filled three glasses nearly to the rim that he realized he was probably being gauche. He wished for a moment that he could do it all over again and pause maybe two-thirds of the way up, but then he shrugged philosophically. He’d been gauche (a word he’d learned from Ed) too long to change now.

“I don’t know why I worry, anyway,” Leona said, taking up her glass but not sipping from it. “No one pays attention to me anyway. They keep insisting on putting their sixteenth-century Spanish conquistadors in golillas, the stiff collars you see in Velasquez paintings. But the golilla wasn’t adopted until the reign of Philip VI, two decades into the seventeenth century.”

Ed laughed. “Of course! Everybody knows that!”

She gave him a long level stare. “Actually, I’d venture to say that very few people know that. But I have a whole stack of research to prove it. Not that the moss-backed maidens of wardrobe could care less.” She turned to Johnny. “Did you know that? About the golillas?”

“I don’t think I recognized three words you said,” Johnny said, and grinned.

Leona showed him her dimples.

A timer went off in the kitchen and soon they were eating. Ed used a spoon as a backstop with which to scoop up his spaghetti. Johnny shoveled and sucked. The garlic bread was hot and crisp. The Chianti seemed to evaporate and Leona produced another bottle. When she pushed her plate away and brandished another cigarette, Johnny let Ed light it again. Ed lit one of his own and Johnny held up a cigar. “Do you mind stogies?” he asked.

“Not at all,” she said, staring into his eyes.

When Johnny got his cigar going, Leona invited them to tell her all about themselves. Without even thinking about it, they plunged straight into their Hollywood sojourn. 

Listening to them, you would have thought they’d been born, suckled, and reared on a movie lot. That Johnny’s years on the farm and Ed’s in a tenement had never occurred. That they’d never written for the pulps or the comic books or the Police Gazette. That their years in the Army had been but illusion. It was Hollywood this and Hollywood that. They talked about all the pictures they’d worked on, and all the credit they’d been cheated out of on all the pictures they’d worked on. And they spoke of their dream of hitting the big time with one of their originals.

“Originals?” she asked. “As in plural?”

“Boy, they must keep you sequestered,” Ed said. “You haven’t gotten wind of our reputation?”

She shook her head and looked straight at Johnny. “Tell me about it,” she said.

Johnny shrugged. “Well, I guess you could say we got a lot of ideas, and for some screwy reason everybody in this town wants to hear all about them. But when it comes time to shell out the geetus for them, forget it!”

“Well, I guess I’m everybody,” Leona said, “because I’d love to hear one too.”

Out of habit, Ed and Johnny locked eyes, as if searching for cues. Then they remembered they were angry with each other and their eyes quickly pulled away. But old habits die hard, and Ed began to trumpet. “Well, there’s the one we developed after collaborating with our good friend William Faulkner...”

Johnny jumped in. “There’s this Southern sheriff, see, and he gets such a bizarre murder dumped in his lap that he has to get help from a big-city dick…”

“Only the big-city dick turns out to be a Negro!”

They waited for Leona’s response. Her lips were parted and her eyes wide open. “My goodness,” she finally said. “That is so bold. And what a societal critique it can be!”

Ed bit his tongue. He had grown so accustomed to people raising objections that he had been poised to suggest that if she didn’t like the Negro they were sure a Hungarian acrobat could work just as well. “You really think so?” he asked.

“Oh, yes!” she said. “Your exploration of the white man trying to adapt as the Negro assumes his rightful place in the body politic can be an indictment of bigotry and at the same time a testament to the human spirit!”

In truth, following a brutal pitch meeting with Samuel Goldwyn, they had come to see the picture as a comedy starring Danny Kaye and Stepin Fetchit, and all they’d envisioned was a lot of madcap hijinks, but Ed decided not to…well, enlighten her.

Johnny said, “What does societal mean?”

Leona laughed and patted his arm. “Tell me another,” she breathed excitedly, and Johnny realized she thought he’d been joking.

“Okay,” Johnny said. “There’s this half-wit, see, and all he can do is run really fast, but somehow he keeps winding up at all these big historical events.”

“Brilliant!” Leona cried, before Johnny could even get to the part about the ping-pong tournament. “Modern history as ‘a tale told by an idiot,’ mm? Yes, I caught the metaphor instantly, although of course the mass audience won’t. What a vehicle to peel away the lies of propaganda and reveal the true forces of history!”

“And you can help us with the research!” Ed crowed.

“But of course,” Leona said, pouring their glasses full of wine. “So what have you got on the burner now? Are you still on salary at Warners?”

“Ha!” Johnny erupted. “That’s a hot one!”

“Well, although we may not be technically on the payroll, J.L. has assigned us a project.”

“Wonderful,” Leona said, patting Johnny’s arm again. “Something in my field that I can help with?”

“Quite possibly,” Ed said. “I’ve been thinking we should set it in Ireland during the republican uprising.”

“You have?” Johnny asked.

“James Joyce is among my favorite authors, you see,” Ed intoned.

“Mine too,” Leona said. “But he never wrote anything about the rebellion. You may be thinking of Sean O’Casey.”

Ed looked shaken for only an instant before a look of kind condescension softened his features. “Of course, you wouldn’t know,” he said, “but everyone in the writing trade has been buzzing about Joyce’s current book, an epic retelling of the rebellion. And long overdue, I might add.”

“Oh,” Leona said. “His current book.”

“In fact, Walter Wanger already holds the film option on it,” Ed continued, “and I understand that Johnny and I are being considered for the screenplay.”

“That’s wonderful,” Leona said. “So when do you think you should break it to Wanger that Joyce has been dead for five years?”

Ed’s hand lurched convulsively, and Chianti flowed over the table top.

“Better not ‘til we sign the deal,” Johnny said. “But why the hell didn’t you tell me about this?”

This had given Ed just enough time to recover his composure. He winked at Johnny and smiled. “Just a little joke, Johnny. I was only testing our lovely researcher here. And she really does know her stuff.” He laughed, but Johnny knew him too well to be fooled by it. He sensed Ed was seething inside, even though he couldn’t guess why.

Leona smirked, then returned her attention to Johnny. “When were you thinking of setting this picture?”

He shrugged. “J.L. wants a boy-meets-girl picture. I don’t know boy-meets-girl pictures from a hole in the ground.”

“Oh, I’ve no doubt that you’ll come up with something extraordinary.”

“Afraid not,” Johnny said. “J.L. made it clear he wants something basic. Extraordinary is O.U.T. out.”

Leona shook her head and looked Johnny straight in the eye. “No, it isn’t. Not for you. Your ideas can’t help but be extraordinary. It’s who you are. Would you ask Coleridge not to envision Xanadu? Of course not. But this is how you play it. You give Jack Warner his boy-meets-girl, and you give it to him simple but just different enough, just as he wants. You give it a historical setting, so I can help you with it. I have some ideas for that already. Then you let your soul take flight. You let your raw, unlettered artistry infuse this simple story with all the profundity you’ve demonstrated to me tonight. You flood it with undercurrents that no one who sees it will ever be able to shake out of his mind again. You set this town on fire, Johnny! Uh, and you too, Ed.” She broke off and gave them each a searching glance. “Are you with me?”

* * *

They didn’t say a word going down in the elevator again, and as they walked across the lobby a bystander might have questioned whether they were even together. But when they got out in the street Ed said, “You can have her. She’s all yours.”

Johnny came to a halt. Ed had taken a few steps before he caught on. He turned and faced him. “What’s this?” Johnny asked.

Ed shrugged. “A little too take-charge for me, keed. I was looking for a lay, not a business manager.”

Johnny gulped. “You mean it?” he asked. “And no hard feelings?”

“Nary a one,” Ed said. “In fact, I’m relieved. When I get involved with a dame, I like to be sure that I’m the one with the dick.”

They grew quiet again as they walked the rest of the way to the car. Despite his words, Ed did not seem especially relieved. Johnny had his hands thrust deep into his pockets and was staring broodingly at the sidewalk. When they climbed into the Nash he hesitated before turning the ignition.

“You know,” he finally said, “I don’t think I want her either.”

Ed looked at him sharply. “You on the level?”

“Well…sure,” Johnny said, fumbling a little. “I mean…I can’t savvy half the things she says. She reminds me of you when you’ve had too much to drink.”

Ed snorted. “That’s a laugh,” he said. “Well, I’m glad to know you’ve got some taste in dames.”

“You betchum,” Johnny said with a pained grin, and he started the car. Then he took one last glance up at the lighted third-floor window in the Coral Gables, and released the brake.

Silence settled in again as they drove, until Johnny suddenly gripped the wheel and stared wide-eyed through the windshield. “I’ve got it!” he yelled. “I’ve got the perfect twist for our boy-meets-girl!”

* * *

“Okay, J.L.,” Johnny said four days later, and winked at Jack Warner who sat watching them warily. Although the boys had on many occasions finagled their way into pitch meetings, they’d never felt so optimistic. How could they possibly go wrong with an idea like this?

“This Irish guy makes friends with this English guy who’s supposed to be his enemy, see?”

“A Mick and a Limey,” Warner said. “Friends. I like it already.”

“But then the Englishman gets killed,” Ed said, and beamed when he saw Warner nod encouragingly.

“So the Irish guy goes to London, see, and he falls in love with the English guy’s girlfriend.”

“She a hairdresser, see,” Ed put in. “Strictly working-class, but a looker!”

“And how!” Johnny said.

“I like it, I like it,” Warner said. “You like it, Primo?”

“Yes, boss,” Primo concurred. “I like it.”

“You’re about to love it, J.L.” Johnny said.

“Wait till you hear this switcheroo!” Ed said.

“Okay, he finally maneuvers her into the sack, see,” Johnny said, and paused but a moment for dramatic effect before taking the plunge. “But when she whips off her skirt—he finds out she’s a MAN!”

The boys grinned, waiting for the verdict. It came, and suddenly they weren’t grinning anymore.