hyacinth wilde looked around the dark, cozy dining room of the three butterflies.
the three butterflies was a new, very small restaurant a bit off the beaten path on east 63rd street. joe slattery, the noted broadway producer, had suggested it for their meeting as a place where they would likely not find theater aficionados or tourists who would want hyacinth’s autograph or otherwise disturb them.
hyacinth lit a cigarette as a busboy removed the remains of the main course.
joe was looking across the table at her with a touch of nervousness.
“that was very nice, joe. very nice.”
“yes, it’s always a pleasure when these new places turn out as advertised. and a bit of a pleasant surprise. heh, heh.”
“new. new is good, right? in with the new - and out with the old, eh?”
joe laughed nervously. “you have been talking to artemis boldwater and angus strongbow.”
“no, i have not,” hyacinth replied. “they have not been returning my phone calls - the dirty rats. i was almost starting to think they were avoiding me.”
“well, they have been busy, i am sure. artemis’s new play - “
“yes, blossoming midnight. excellent title, don’t you think?’”
“well - angus is quite excited about it, at any rate. but he feels strongly that it needs work, and he has been driving poor artemis like a circus animal - “
“what kind of work?” hyacinth interrupted. “writing out the female lead?”
“ha, ha. not exactly.”
“then what, exactly?”
“actually, artemis is strengthening the female lead. and even more to the point, he is strengthening the part of the older sister - “
hyacinth smiled. “ah, the truth revealed at last - and i am to play the older sister, no?”
joe hesitated. hyacinth was taking this much better than he expected. “in a nutshell - yes.”
hyacinth, still smiling, stubbed her cigarette out in the ashtray. “go on.”
“artemis - at angus’s urgings, you understand, has made the lead almost an ingenue part - and - well we all agreed that constance waterbury - you’ve seen her, of course, and met her - would be perfect - “
“indeed i have met her - a charming child. but here is our coffee and dessert.”
the waiter put a big slice of chocolate cake in front of joe and a small dish of vanilla Ice cream in front of hyacinth and began pouring coffee for each of them.
hyacinth pointed to her ice cream. “i will have another one of these,” she told the waiter. “and with hot chocolate sauce on it.”
“yes, miss. would you like some chocolate sauce for this dish, too?”
“no, thank you. that won’t be necessary.” hyacinth began stirring cream into her coffee and the waiter departed.
joe was delighted that hyacinth was taking the news so well, but did not want to come right out and say it. instead he said, “i am sure you will enjoy working with constance.”
“and giving her the benefit of my long years of experience.”
“why not?” joe answered a bit uncertainly.
hyacinth laughed. “what did you think i was going to do, joe? make a scene, start throwing things, in this nice little place? say the usual things about miss waterbury - that she looks fourteen years old, that she looks like a boy? no, no. everything is fine. it’s all cool, daddy-o, as they say down on 52nd street.”
joe relaxed a little. “i knew you’d be a professional.”
“yes. and since we are being professional - i assume, that at least this time, i will get the same money i would have gotten as the lead.”
“of course, of course. i mean, as far as i am concerned. but i will have to talk to the backers. to the backers. i don’t have to tell you how tight things are now for dramas, even by artemis boldwater, what with all these musicals springing up like mushrooms -“
“right, right.” hyacinth took a spoonful of her vanilla ice cream.
“and as for billing,” joe went on, “you will be billed right below dan foster, with ‘introducing miss constance waterbury’ below. you know the drill.”
“yes, in big letters. i know the drill.”
joe smiled. “so we are all set, then.”
“all set.” hyacinth looked up. “but there is just one little thing, one little favor you can do for me.”
“and what might that be?”
“see if you can find phil wheeler for me.”
“you must remember phil wheeler. he was one of those guys who was always around, back during the war and just after. one of those guys who knew everybody, who could always fix things up, get things done.”
“I’m - i’m not sure.”
“you must remember him. he was a friend of stan’s.”
“stan?” joe asked innocently.
“yes, stan. stan slade. stanley slade, the jewel thief. the notorious international jewel thief. who, as they say in the funny papers, busted out of the hoosegow, got captured, and is now back in. that stan slade.”
“oh, yes, i remember.” joe had thought that stan slade was not to be mentioned around hyacinth. “i remember him, my dear, if you do.”
“good. and i am sure you can find phil wheeler for me.”
“i will do my best. that’s all i can promise.”
“fair enough.” hyacinth finished her ice cream and put the little spoon in the little dish. “drink your coffee before it gets cold, joe, and eat your cake before it gets stale. everything is going to work out.”
the waiter returned with hyacinth’s second dish of ice cream.