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Authors: Ruby Preston

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BOOK: Showbiz, A Novel
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“I see I struck a nerve.”

             
“As producers go, I’m glad I’m learning from the best. No one else has his track record of rave reviews and hits, as I’m sure you know. But as soon as I can get a project of my own off the ground, I’d love to have my own producing office.”

             
Their second round of champagne arrived.

             
“As you should. Cheers!” They clinked glasses for the second time.

             
“Rumor has it they’re taking applications for the critic position at the
Banner
,” Scarlett
said
. By now, news of the contest had circulated the Broadway backrooms. There was no way Reilly hadn’t heard, but she was curious to know his thoughts as a journalist himself.

             
“Can I be honest with you?” he said.

             
“I assumed you were,” she said with a wry smile.

             
“You know what I mean,” he said. “I haven’t told anyone this, but I actually threw my hat in the ring for the position.”

             
“Really?” she said, raising her eyebrows.

             
“Hey, don’t sound so surprised. I’ve been around the block.”

             
“Oh, don’t get me wrong. I’m sure you’re more than qualified. It’s just that it seems like such a lonely job.” She thought about it. “But I guess in your world, it’s probably the top spot.”

             
“I’d just love to see some things change. I think it’s time Broadway had a less…How shall I put it?...
biased
reviewer. Let the shows stand on their own merits.”

             
She shot him a puzzled look.

             
He paused, seeming to consider how he’d frame what he was about to say. “Does it ever feel like it’s not entirely logical why some shows get panned and others get raves?”

             
“That’s showbiz, I guess,” she said. She took a sip of her champagne as he continued to look at her intently. “Wait...are you saying you think it’s rigged? That’s not possible! Margolies, for one, would have put an end to that.”

             
“Or would he?” Reilly
said
cryptically.

             
“What are you implying?” She was getting agitated. She pushed her champagne away.

             
“Hold on. I’m not implying anything—it’s just something I’m looking into.”

             
“The article you mentioned last week...”

             
“Look, just forget it. It doesn’t matter.” He seemed suddenly in a hurry to change the subject.

             
“But the implications…! Reviews can make or break careers and fortunes, put hundreds of people out of work or make people stars. Kanter closed our last musical with his review—”

             
“I’m sorry I mentioned it. I’m sure it’s just me looking for a story where there isn’t one.” He reached across the table and took her hand. “Now, don’t tell me you showed up tonight, looking like that, to talk about work.”

             

Scene 13

 

             
Candace walked in the door to her Greenwich Village brownstone where she had lived alone since the divorce. She poured herself a bourbon on the rocks before even taking off her coat. There was a knock on the door. She rarely had company and wasn’t expecting anyone that night. She tossed back half her drink before answering the door.

             
“Well, look what the cat dragged in,” she said, leaving the door hanging open and walking back into the small living room to retrieve her drink.

             
Margolies didn’t need an invitation to enter the house he had once called home. He had lived there with Candace a lifetime ago. It had been nearly twenty years since he’d been back, but not much had changed. Candace’s drinking certainly hadn’t changed, either, he thought, eyeing the drink in her hand. But she had a hardness about her now that was new to him.

             
“How many have you had?” Margolies
asked
, holding up the bottle of bourbon to gauge how lucid she’d be that evening. He wondered for the millionth time why he’d ever actually married the pathetic woman.

             
“Grab a glass for yourself. Oh, that’s right. Never touch the stuff. You really should try it sometime.”

             
“Because you make it look like such a good idea.” He regretted the insult. He hadn’t come there to fight.

             
Candace sat down heavily on the couch. “What the hell are you doing here? Just wanted to come by and insult me? Thanks, but I’m not in the mood.”

             
She had never been “in the mood” thought Margolies, remembering their frigid marriage. There were exactly two things they had had in common when they’d met—a hunger for power and the ill-advised infatuation of young lust—neither of which made for a happy marriage.

             
“I just thought I’d check in on you. Figured you’ve been having a rough time of it,” he said, making his best effort to convey sincerity. Candace wasn’t fooled.

             
“Cut the crap. We had a deal. Now Kanter’s dead. Game over. I don’t need you anymore.” She finished off her drink and slammed the glass onto the coffee table.

             
“You wouldn’t even be there if it weren’t for me,” Margolies
said
, stepping in front of the bourbon bottle as she got up to pour herself a refill. He could see the web of wrinkles across her once-smooth face. The circles under her eyes not quite disguised by makeup. Her once-thick blonde hair was thinning and flat, these days. She had been so beautiful, he thought.

             
“And you wouldn’t be the Great and Wondrous Margolies,” she said sarcastically, “if it weren’t for me and that idiot of yours, Kanter. But apparently he couldn’t take it anymore. Now, thanks to his grand gesture, I’m practically getting a promotion, and you’re screwed.”

             
She pushed past him, grabbed the bourbon off the counter, and took a defiant swig directly from the bottle.

             
“You say
I’m
screwed?” Margolies turned to face her and pressed her up against the counter. He could see the look of lust that flashed in her eyes. A little late for her to decide she wanted him that way. She always was so easy to manipulate.

             
He cooed to her, “We’ve done okay for ourselves these past few years. We’ve made it to the top like, we always said we would, haven’t we, Candy?” She flinched at the nickname that she had banned as she ascended the ranks at the paper.

             
“We’ve talked more in the past few days than we have in twenty years,” she said, tilting her head back to look him in the eye. She was tall but he was taller.

             
“I think it’s time we discussed a new deal.” He returned her gaze.

             
The moment passed, and she slid out from the counter and got a fresh glass before taking the bottle back to the couch.

             
“Why should I do anything for you?” she asked. “I could ruin you. I’m sure more than a few people would love to know that you were paying off Kanter.” She smiled just a little. “Now it looks like I’m the only one in the world who knows your dirty little secret.”

             

Our
dirty little secret, you mean. I see you have a selective memory these days, Candace. Must be the booze. If I hadn’t pulled strings at the
Banner
, you’d still be a two-bit assistant editor. And it was
you
, need I remind you, Ms. Arts and Culture Editor, who’s on record for hiring Kanter.”

             
“We had a deal then. I don’t need you this time around. No blackmail. No pay offs. This time the public gets to pick the theater critic.”

             
Margolies changed tactics. She was so damned combative, and he desperately needed to get her to cooperate.

             
“I actually think your critic contest is a great idea, Candace. You did good.”

             
She stared at him, slacked jawed. Already through her second drink. Her bourbon-soaked brain was unable to process the compliment. She narrowed her eyes. “You’re joking.”

             
“Not at all. You’ll get public support of your guy. The new critic will take back the power of that position.”

             
“What’s the catch?” she asked suspiciously.

             
He went over to the couch and sat down facing her. He was getting somewhere now. So close, the smell of bourbon on her breath disgusted him. “You can still make sure the right guy gets the gig.”

             
She started to protest. He refilled her glass.

             
“I’ve done well these past few years. I can cut
you
in this time. Think about it. Put it away for retirement. Maybe get a place in Florida.”

             
He could see her considering the proposal.

             
“I don’t see how it could work. The public will vote.”

             
He always
did
have to spell things out for her. How she held onto her editor position, he had no idea—sheer force of will with a healthy dose of longevity, he imagined. The spark and drive she once had was now dulled by years of drinking.

             
“But who is selecting the top candidates?”

             
“I am.”

             
“And who is collecting the votes?”

             
“Me and my staff.”

             
He could see that his point was finally sinking in. “Bingo.”

             
She stood up and paced the room.

             
“I don’t know. It doesn’t seem right.”

             

Now
you have a conscience? This is a win-win, Candace.” He stood up, set her drink on the coffee table, and took both her hands. He needed to convince her. He hadn’t sacrificed everything to get where he was only to have it all fall apart now. “Just do this one last thing for me, and I’ll take care of you for the rest of your life. Don’t you want that?”

             
She hesitated, but she seemed to be seriously considering his plan. He hadn’t lost his touch.

             
She wrapped her arms around him and he stroked her hair as he calculated exactly how long he’d have to stick around.

Scene 14

 

             
The Margolies office was quiet the next morning. Scarlett had arrived later than usual, but Margolies wasn’t in yet. She vaguely remembered that the intern had taken the day off.

             
Margolies was likely over at the theater across the street. Rehearsals for
Olympus
were starting to get intense and Margolies was spending more and more time there, terrorizing the cast and crew in an effort to make sure his ambitious visions for the show were fully realized, as well as ensuring the already-astronomical costs didn’t get further out of hand.

             
Scarlett was supposed to be finalizing invites for the media event/investor reception she was organizing for the next month, a sort of “go team” event designed to build even more buzz around
Olympus
. But her thoughts kept straying to her date last Friday. If she wasn’t careful, she could fall hard for Reilly. They had unmistakable chemistry and had practically closed down the restaurant.

             
Remembering their goodnight kiss, or more accurately, good night kisses, as he put her in a cab home, was enough to stir the butterflies in her stomach again. Scarlett had been accused by more than one potential suitor in the past that her love affair with Broadway didn’t leave room for a boyfriend. For better or worse, when it came down to it, her career had always come first. There was no arguing with the fact that Broadway was an all-consuming, twenty-four-hour-a-day lifestyle choice.

             
With Reilly, however, it was different. He had the same passion for showbiz that she did. Instead of putting them at odds with each other, it was clear after one date that their mutual devotion to theater only brought them closer together. The only thing stopping her from falling into pure bliss was the nagging suspicion that there was more to the rigged review story than Reilly had revealed. Could he have been fishing for information that she might have? Or was she simply becoming cynical?

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