Darla Dearing's clothes had once been stylish and her make-up was professionally laid on, but it looked like a new paint job on an over the hill jalopy. Her eyes had an intensity and depth I had seldom seen and they bothered me. So, although she hadn't been sent by an agent and I had never heard of her, I thought she deserved a chance at the job and set up an audition before a live audience.
Phil the piano player vamped until she was ready to come in. She hit the first note head on with no slide and no wobble and with a golden thread led the melody and our hearts through a musical labyrinth to the stars.
It was an everyday ballad, certainly not a tear jerker, but with the last note there wasn't a dry eye in the house. Deep in song she was young, and vibrant, and beautiful. Back on earth again, she was just another has been, having an occasional good day. Or so my cynical mind thought. In fact, her good days were coming one after another and she seemed to get younger every day.
"I remember her," Ernie, a singing waiter told me. "Five years ago she had Broadway by the short hair and she never played to a less than packed house. Then she suddenly disappeared, and I never heard of her again until she showed up here with a new name."
She was a mystery. Why was she here in the boondocks? Why not clubs in Manhattan? Certainly they would have paid better than the Two O'clock Club.
Clubs such as ours expect their entertainers to pay their own way by mixing with the customers and letting them buy watered down drinks for them. Not this one. Between sets she sat in the kitchen, drank coffee and talked to the chef and to me. Even with this unforgivable habit, we continued to book her because she dragged in the crowds.
Acts that were just passable on their own seemed to gain stature on the bill with Darla. Things this good just can't go on for long. So they didn't.
The end came with a Mediterranean-type stranger in an expensive suit who refused to park his violin case with the hatcheck girl. His icy gaze turned "Hot time in the old town tonight" into "White Christmas."
Instead of heading for the kitchen after the set, Drama went out the back door and out of our lives.
But I couldn't let it end there. I started digging. I learned that about the time she had previously disappeared--the body of a Mafia "made man" had been found dead in her motel room. Witnesses said the man had charged into the room and was striking her. She shot him with his own gun. Police investigation determined that the shooting was accidental and in self defense. But the brotherhood didn't accept that ruling.
Therefore the flight and new name. Since then she had laid low and accepted slim pickings. But her new fame was spreading and an item in a Broadway column was her downfall.
The fact that a brilliant career could be flushed down the tube by an oversexed gunsel and that even a modest renewal was cut short by his former associates bothered me no end. But I was in no position to tangle with the mob.
A few months later I received a letter with no return address. And no signature. It read "Running a dress shop in a no-horse town. Love the people. The only places I sing are in the shower and in the choir.. Thank you for being such a nice guy." I rubbed out the postmark before I threw it away. Just in case.