“Angels and Bagels,” Fiction

By Richard Lawless

   When his once beautiful East End Avenue view was blocked by a new high-rise, Seth T. Schmule, Esq., had to stop using his telescope. He had recently taken the developer to court for obstructing his view, and lost. Now Seth could only stew in his misery. That is until one lonely night peering through the glass and seeing a new tenant serenading a nubile young woman, or to be more precise, a new strain of gold digger.
    “Why,” screamed Seth, “she’s young enough to be a cheerleader! I’ll have you in court by the time you zip up your fly.”
    Seth was about to build a case against his neighbor when the doorbell chimed a song he had programmed it to play: Rosemary Clooney singing, “There’s no business like show business, like no business I know. . . .” He buttoned up his black-with-red-trim smoking jacket and opened the door. There stood his muse, the love of his life, even if she didn’t know it.
    Nicki Blake wasn’t over the hill, she was over the Tasmanian glacier. Once a Hollywood Golden Girl, she soon went down the tubes from too much of everything. Her third husband had seduced Nicki’s daughter from a teenage fling, and Nicki cut off his only asset while he slept.
    Fleeing to New York more from embarrassment than from the law, she was arrested and Seth T. Schmule had defended her and put up the money for her bail. He got her off with probation. The two went back to New York, and many years later Seth found her a spot pitching a wrinkle cream, which played on late-night TV.
    He then invested in her resurrection, starting with her face and down her body until she looked a little like, well, a cartoon, and only those blinded by vanity would appreciate this hard-earned metamorphosis.
    Next up, her singing career, and Seth promised that in a few years she would, no doubt about it, be playing Carnegie Hall, backed by a pack of bikini-clad, Afro-American, top-hatted dancers. The dancers all in black bikinis, Nicki in all white. She sang like she looked, but beauty was in the eyes of Seth, and he alone would die with his secret.
    “Didn’t you ask to be announced?”
    Nicki blew past Seth and over to the bar. “Oh, darling. I never notice doormen.”
    Half an hour and two glasses of wine later, Nicki was sprawled on the sofa while Seth was rereading the screenplay he wrote just for her —  a saga of the Incan downfall titled “The Legacy of Maria Munoz.”    
    Rosemary Clooney sang, “Everything about it is appealing, when you are stealing, that extra bow. . . .”    
    “Now that’s how to sing,” he murmured in Nicki’s direction but his words fell on self-obsessed ears.
    Seth opened the door to his, hopefully, new investors, Mel and Stella Zine.
    “My Angels! Come in, come in. Nicki get up!”
    “Seth.”
    “Mel.”
    “Oh, Seth, what a wonderful place, but the view. . . .”
    “Forget about the view. Mel, Stella, the star of our movie, Nicki Blake.”
    “Hi, can I get you a drink? I’m having wine.”
    “Maybe just a small one,” said Stella,  “Mel’s heart you know. He’s just had a quadruple.”
    “Then I won’t make him a quadruple.” said Nicki, giggling.
    Seth took his angels’ coats into the bedroom and on his way back he quickly gazed into the telescope. “Careful buddy, you’re on thin ice.”
    It was Christmas Eve and snowing. Mel was on the sofa next to Nicki, while Stella (who had a high school crush on Seth) tried to read the screenplay. “This is hard to understand, Seth.”
    “It’s like a map for the director.”
    “Oh, okay.”
    “Let me show you the bedroom,” gushed Nicki, “it has a gorgeous view.”
    “Yeah, my only view.” said Seth. “When you two beauties finish your chatter, maybe you could defrost some bagels. I got pumpernickel, Mel’s favorite.”
    He sat on the sofa, close to Mel, who looked worried.
    “Wasn’t she in some kind of trouble way back out in Hollywood?” asked Mel.
    “Yeah, the bastard got what he deserved, but I got her off,” answered Seth, blowing on his fingers and rubbing his jacket.
    “It’s a lot of money you want. I don’t know much about movies; we’re in fashion for big gals, as you know.”
    “Of course I know. Who the hell helps with your books? You two turned an obsolete wig factory into a successful and much-needed business.”
    “I’ve been thinking about my idea for the Immaculate Bowl,” continued Mel, “I think I might be safer going with that.”
    Seth poured Mel another glass of wine and sat even closer to him. “Listen, Mel.  You’re respected on Rag Row and now you’re rich, but it’s time to spread your wings.”
    “But I was never happy. . . .”
    “Oh course not.”
    “My stomach was always upset. . . .”
    “That’s because all those years of Pepto Bismol had you constipated and overworked your heart, and wham, bypass.”
    “I was nervous, Seth. My entire life, my mother kept saying, ‘Now Melvin, you’re our only son, so just remember, should we go down to Florida and should the plane crash, just remember, that the key to the strongbox is in the frozen ass of the turkey in the freezer.’ ”
    Seth placed his hand on Mel’s knee.
    “Of course, Mel. I remember when it did crash, and who sued the airline — Seth T. Schmule. And who dug out the key from the bird?  That’s right, your good friend. And while we waited for it to defrost, I held you as you cried.”
    “You’re a true friend, Seth.”
    “And now you want to invest in something that nearly killed you in the first place. A product for cleaning toilets.”
    “I never looked at it that way before. You have a point.”
    “Agreed, the Immaculate Bowl is a good idea, but not a great one. This movie will be great. And as a senior investor, you can look on it with pride. Now, Melvin, I just want you to ask yourself this, do you want to sit down there in Miami in retirement and every time you leave the bathroom, turn around and look at a clean toilet, or would you rather park your Yom Kippur Clipper and see hundreds of happy people coming out of a movie you helped make? And the video sales, my god, Melvin! You could never make a tenth from a toilet bowl product, no matter if everyone on the planet all took a dump on the same day!”
    “The Immaculate Bowl doesn’t have that glamorous ring to it the way a movie does, does it?”
    “Now you’re getting it. Just keep repeating to yourself, toilet bowl, movie, toilet bowl, movie.”
    The girls came out from their chitchat arm in arm, fast friends, not for life, but at least through Christmas Eve.
    “Bagels coming right up,” beamed Stella. Nicki went over to the piano and placed her red-painted talons onto the ivory.
    “Hey, everybody, listen up, Nicki’s going to sing ‘Misty.’ ”
    Stella came out of the kitchen with a bag of frozen bagels, totally enthralled. Mel took this moment to refill his glass. Nicky cleared her throat and coughed out, “Look at me, I’m as helpless as a rabbit up a tree. . . .”  but her cough worsened and she tried to cure it with another glass of wine.
    “Nicki likes to inject her own lyrics, but she won’t do that in the movie.”
    Mel suddenly was overcome with thought. He looked at Seth, then over at Stella, who quietly shook her head no.
    “Seth, I’ve been meaning to ask you, how much money WAS in that turkey?”
    “Whatever it was, Mel, when it thawed out, I gave it to you and you put it in the bank, remember?”
    “I could have sworn she said there was a lot more in there.”
    “Well, Mel, maybe some still stuck to the insides of the bird. Anyway, let’s get back to the movie.”
    Nicki got her choking fit under control just in time to help Stella serve the pumpernickel bagels. Seth sat across the room reading the screenplay. Mel was obsessing over the turkey and on his second bite began to gag, cough, and turn blue.
    “Seth, Seth,” yelled Stella, “call 911! Mel! Mel Oh, my God, he’s having another one.”
    Seth and Stella laid Mel out on the sofa as he gasped for breath. Nicki rushed over and attempted mouth-to-mouth, but couldn’t go through with it and returned to the bar. Seth rushed to the phone and dialed 911.
    Fifteen minutes later as the paramedics rolled Mel into the hallway, he muttered, “ Stel, the key to the strongbox. . . .”
    Nicki was back at the bar, and Seth said to Stella, “I’m going to change and we’ll meet you at the hospital. Take it easy, Mel,”  he shouted.
    “Is he going to. . . ?” asked Nicki.
    “Come on, get your coat. I can’t believe it,” said Seth as he went over to the telescope, peered through, and mumbled, “I’ll be right back you cradle snatcher.”
    “On Christmas Eve too,” slurred Nicki.
    As Seth put on his coat and hat, while snow fell heavily over East End Avenue, a short-circuit in the doorbell went off and Rosemary Clooney sang, “There’s no business like show business, like no business I know. . . .”


    “Angels and Bagels” is an excerpt from “Tess: A Comedy With No Manners,” a stage play by Richard Lawless. He is a resident of East Hampton