Posted on 2012-10-31
It was raining the night Kit Morland met Hank Tilney. The streetlight outside the diner flickered and its dull orange light silhouetted him in the doorway as he shook off the water streaming from the gutter. Kit looked up from idly wiping down the counters and ticked off the details in her head: tall, broad shoulders, shabby trench coat turned up at the collar to keep out the rain, equally shabby fedora pulled down over his face, revealing only a grim mouth and square chin. She shivered with delight, but only inwardly. Izzy was always telling her not to reveal how she felt so much. She'd never be Discovered if she kept acting like a dumb country girl.
The man in the doorway crossed to the counter and leaned on one elbow.
"Hey there, doll," he said, in an appropriately deep voice.
Then he took off his hat, turned down his collar, smiled at her, and ordered coffee. He didn't even demand it black and strong, but had the indecency to take it with two sugars and a generous slop of cream. Nor did he pull out a flask and add something stronger.
Not only that, his eyes, instead of being either dark, and shadowed with a nagging pain, or piercingly light and cynical, were green and crinkled at the corners.
Still, Kit did not succumb to disappointment. Maybe he was a scouting agent who would point to her dramatically and tell he he'd make her a star. Or he'd fall in love with her, but have to bid her a stoic goodbye in the rain because he was already married.
She looked over, but his left hand was hidden behind the counter.
"Still pouring out there, mister?" she asked him.
Izzy always said it paid to be nice to the customers, especially if she wanted to be Discovered. Kit's drawling accent was too cute, Izzy said, and then spent an hour trying to mimic the way Kit added syllables to all her words. Kit wasn't sure she wanted to be cute. She thought she'd rather have a deep, sophisticated purr of a voice. No one else in LA spoke like she did. But Izzy always knew what she was talking about.
Her customer laughed, and nodded. "Past cats and dogs now - I think it's cows and horses. How long you been in LA, sweetheart?" Of course. She wished he hadn't laughed, though, even if it was a nice laugh.
"'Bout three months."
"You like it?"
"Love it!" she said fervently.
He laughed again. Probably didn't know he was supposed to have a grim chuckle. "Of course you do. I suppose you are just gathering life experience for when you get discovered. You watch people at the diner and practice impressions in the mirror every night."
Kit's eyes widened. "How'd you know that?"
"Lucky guess. What's your name?"
"Nice ring to it. I'll look for it in lights."
Kit knew he was teasing her, but it wasn't a mean kind of teasing.
"What's yours? Maybe I can send you an autograph when I'm famous," she said, trying to match his joking.
"I'll treasure it. Make it out to Hank Tilney." He flipped her a quarter for the coffee.
She caught it just as two more very wet customers came in, calling out for coffee and hot soup before they even reached the counter. By the time she filled their cups and took the soup orders back to the kitchen, the tall man had disappeared.
No, not quite disappeared - when she took an order to a table at the other side of the diner, she saw him at a booth way in back, where it was shadowy. And even better, he was sitting with a large man in a fur coat, whose small eyes glinted over an enormous cigar. He was probably a mob boss, Kit decided. She hadn't even seen him come in, and she'd been working all evening. But that was how mob bosses did it. Or maybe - Hank Tilney was a private detective, and the big man was a wealthy client with an unsavory mission he wanted kept secret. That was probably it.
She had to take soup to the new table next, but then she asked Izzy if she'd seen a large man with a fur coat come in.
Izzy narrowed her eyes. She'd been flirting with her on-and-off boyfriend Fred while Kit served, and she hated to be interrupted. But when Kit pointed out the large man she softened.
"He's probably a director," she said. "This could be your chance, Kit. Go wipe tables over where he can see you, and look cute." She mimed wiping a table with her chest stuck out and tossing her head coyly at the same time. Kit thought it looked a little silly, actually. But she did go over to the back corner. She was curious, after all. Hank and Mr. Fur Coat were leaned over their table, talking in low voices. Because it was so dark in their corner, Kit was able to move closer without them seeing. She pretended to wipe down the backs of the chairs while she listened.
"What about this Darcy character?" said Fur Coat. He had a growly voice, of course.
"Yeah, I admit he's in the way," said Hank. Kit thought he sounded reluctant.
"He'll have to go."
Kit froze. Were they planning to knock someone off?
"Oh come on, you think -?" it was Hank again. Kit was pleased that he wasn't too happy about murder.
"You know it's the best way."
"But we could set up the heist with him as a fall guy."
"You're just putting it off. Didn't anyone ever tell you to kill your darlings?" Fur Coat gave a sinister chuckle, exactly like the kind of chuckle Hank should have had, but didn't.
Kit shivered, with apprehension instead of delight this time. What should she do? Should she call the police? If she were brave like a girl in a movie, she'd follow them when they left. Unfortunately, all the movies she could think of in which a brave girl tried to track the villains ended with the brave girl needing rescue at best. She could just sneak back to the counter and pretend she'd never heard them, but then she'd have someone's blood on her hands.
While she stood there trying to make up her mind, Hank spotted her.
"Let's get a real second opinion," he announced. "Come over here, sweetheart."
Kit went, fascinated and terrified. He wanted to ask her whether to murder this Darcy?
Hank waved his hand at Fur Coat. "Kit Morland, Abbot North," he said, proving he did remember Kit's name.
Fur Coat shifted his cigar. "Most people call me the General," he growled. "You were listening in, weren't you, girl?"
Kit stared at him, sinking into the booth's shabby upholstery as her knees gave way beneath her.
"I don't think murder is ever right," she managed to squeak. She swallowed, and found her courage. "Look, don't kill Darcy, and I won't call the police."
Hank burst out laughing, to Kit's disgust. She was sorry she'd ever admired his broad shoulders. He must be a hardened criminal.
"See?" he said to the General. "I knew Kit was a dame with sense."
"She don't understand what we're talking about," said the General. "Has a weak stomach for this kind of thing. What does she know about plot necessities?"
So it was a plot. "I know killing people is always wrong," Kit retorted, feeling encouraged that apparently she wasn't going to be shot, at least not immediately.
"We're not talking about killing him off, darlin', we're making him never have existed in the first place."
Kit was really confused now. "Is that your code word? Not existing?"
Hank started laughing again. He laughed so long he almost choked and had to take a gulps of his now-cold coffee and cream. "Oh Kit, Kit. You're too much. She thinks we were talking about actual murder," he said across the table. "Don't you?" to Kit.
She felt her face heating up. "I heard you say, get rid of Darcy, and then that you can't have him in the heist."
"Who did you think we were?" Hank wanted to know. "I bet you thought he was a mob boss."
Kit was by now too embarrassed even to nod, but Hank saw it in her eyes. "Hear that, North, you're a mob boss now. Hey, Kit, don't cry. Stop that. We're not mad."
The General chuckled too, though it had a hard edge to it. Hank stopped laughing and threw an arm around Kit's shoulders. "Now I think of it, that's about the bravest thing I've ever seen anyone do, confronting two murderers. You're a heroine. Okay, I'll quit. Here's the story - I'm a screenwriter. The General here is a producer. Did you really not recognize him?"
"I've only been here three months," Kit reminded him, sniffling.
"Right, well, we're talking about my next film. I'm polishing up the script now. Darcy is a character in it, and he thinks I should delete him. Says he's useless. He's a hapless cab driver who sees the heist happening, you see, and -"
"Hank gets too attached to his characters," rumbled the General. "Doesn't serve a purpose, and distracts from the girl and her discovery of the plot. You don't want the audience sympathizing with this drunk cabbie just when they should be in suspense about the potential romance developing."
"Speaking of the girl," said Hank in a different voice. "Weren't you going to consider hiring an unknown?"
There was a long pause. The General put down his cigar for the first time, and looked hard at Hank, then at Kit. "I was, but - no. Not the type. I wanted a blonde."
"She was going to be a dancer."
"Lessons. Didn't you want an ingenue, sweet girl-next-door kind of appeal?"
The General groaned. "You're lucky I like you, Hank. All right. Tomorrow at eleven."
Hank whooped, and hugged Kit. She had been trying to follow the back-and-forth, too hesitant to think it might mean what she thought it meant. She was done trying to make guesses, after this.
"He means you can have a screen test," said Hank, taking pity on her. "This is it, Kit, you've been discovered. Thanks, old man."
"You owe me Darcy," said the General, heaving himself to his feet. "I don't want even a hint of him in the next draft."
"Done," called Hank, dancing Kit around the tables. "When do you get off, sweetheart? Wanna go for a drink with me?"
Thus Kit found herself in a cab, being driven to a club, not one of the seedy ones near the diner, but a proper club with a band and snobby waiters. And a screen test tomorrow morning. She felt so dreamy she had to grab Hank's arm as he helped her out of the cab. She hardly even heard him as he paid the cabbie, who seemed to be a pal of his.
"Don't wait, Darce," he said.The End