Noel snapped the wireless off. Ah, dear God, Hancock was excruciating. If talent was making an half hour seem like a life time, then he was a master.

He looked out, was it night or was it day? Damn peasouper. Ah, The Royal Court, Opening Night, this meant canapes. It was the new Rattigan misery play, so they would have to put on a bit of a spread to cheer the audience up. Let it not be vol-au-vents though. Really, anything, anything, anything but vol-au-vents. Or that indefinable fish paste they had the audacity to identify as salmon mousse.

Ah, tomorrow couldn’t come soon enough. The travel documents were propped up amongst the nest of portrait photos of his much younger self. A more glamorous time, a far more literary time, when he had been the boy wonder. He glanced from the photos of himself to the mirror. Ah, yes, he still had it. People on voyages tended to think he still had it as well. His sort of people. Used to the finer things in life, who could appreciate witty word play, masterly musicianship and an entertaining evening made up of both.

He scooped up his cigarette case and gloves from the mahogany table and then, very precisely, wrapped himself in his cashmere coat, silk scarf and homburg for the last time. They would not be required in Nevada.

When Cole had told him what the offer was, his cheroot had dropped from his mouth in disbelief. Cole had the presence of mind to retrieve it before it burnt another hole in the Persian. They had been able to hide the damage from last month’s inebriated horse-play with the Moroccan crowd, but two holes in the rug would have necessitated a very ugly furniture re-arrangement.

“Ah, Cole, you have got it wrong. I didn’t make that sort of money during the whole 2 year tour of Private Lives. This is some broken down bordello in the back of beyond who can’t get their zero’s in the right order. What calibre of audience can we hope for exactly? Use your head Cole, we say you’re my agent, do try BEING my agent. ”

A telegram came the next day. Cole’s figure was confirmed. And they wanted a cabaret.

Ah, a one-man show? A soiree one could say? He sniffed an intriguing opportunity. Their money came from oil, he surmised? Cole had suggested he didn’t ask. I see. New Money then. Ah. Here lay ignominy and also temptation. But taking the money would not necessitate losing artistic integrity. These culturally starved well to do new millionaires were obviously looking for a touch of old world class and sophistication.

So what if it topped up the bank account and paid off the debts to boot; well, only P.G. Wodehouse would have something to say about it. Old has-been.

Sonny Farenti surveyed the photos of Frank, Dean and Sammy on his office wall. These were quality guys. They showed up, looked the part, knew the score. But Moe had told him to make room for this English guy. Some Lord. This would mean … accommodations.

From the penthouse office, he saw him arrive in the Lobby. He hadn’t been expecting a guy in his 50s. Walked funny. He dressed good though. Maybe a bit over-done for the time of day, what was with the umbrella? We’re in the desert.

Sonny greeted him as he walked through the door:

“Welcome to the Desert Inn, Sir Coward”

He was taken aback by the cool limp hand he was offered in return.

“Ah, just Mister dear boy.”

Sonny offered him coffee that had just been made, but it seemed he wanted to get right down to some business.

“Ah, two shows per night? Mr. Farenti, I’m not your performing pony.”

“It’s in the contract Mr. Coward. Talk to your agent.”

Sonny noticed some very small spots of colour form on Noel’s neck.

“I have been here a week already. I see Liberace is not doing two shows a night”

So this guy is comparing himself to Liberace already. Unusual choice. But, sheesh, who did he think he was?

“Lee is in the Riviera. Here we got 400 seats – and cheaper tickets. So, we gotta pack ‘em in. Two sittings. A dinner show and then at midnight.”

Was this guy having trouble breathing?

“You mean to tell me they will be supping on their fruit cup or chewing their T-bones while I am on stage? Oh dear God.”

Sonny sat comfortably into the back of his leather desk-chair. He gazed at this tight ass, perched on the edge of the opposite seat. He obviously had some misgivings. Well who didn’t?

“Ah, now, you have provided me with a young musician, Peter to rehearse with. But I’m afraid he really is finding terribly difficult to simply play the music as I have written it. These are classics Mr. Feranti. People will want to hear them as I intended them to be performed. He simply doesn’t have the background, the training, basic musicianship. Could I ask for him to be replaced please? It is rather taking its toll.”

Peter Matz was Moe’s nephew. This guy had to be kidding.

“I’ll talk to Peter. I’m sure he can find a way to make it work”

“Ah, yes, but I can’t.”

“Leave it with me. I’ll talk to Peter. It’ll work.”

Colour moved up this Englishman’s face which was now becoming pink. Sonny sighed.

All these little guys were the same. They thought the size of the fee meant something. They thought they were actually worth this money. They thought their act, their show, their performance was the point of the exercise.

They didn’t realise that their fee was small change in the tax scam that drove Las Vegas.

“Now, look, Mr. Coward. We want you to be happy here. We want for you to feel part of the family. Tomorrow, why don’t you come join the audition panel for the dancing girls for your show? 2pm.”

So now this Englishman’s face had gone completely white. Sonny needed for him to feel good.

“Hey Mr. Coward,” he said “We’re gonna make you a star.”

Lesley Strachan