'You're from New York?'
'Queens,' said Olive.
'Los Angeles,' said Marjorie, chewing.
'Town girls, thank God,' Eleanor said, sitting on the bed and testing the springs. 'I was worried I'd be with some of our sisters from Ass-End, Nowhere.'
Olive's laugh sounded like an old windscreen wiper. 'So what's it like singing?' the girl asked. 'With a dance orchestra, I mean.'
'As a career I wouldn't recommend it,' Eleanor said, taking a Chesterfield from a tortoiseshell case and lighting it. 'Late nights, loose ladies giving your husband the eye, and the perpetual disappointment of your father... But I guess it's taught me to hold my liquor.'
Marjorie tittered behind her hand.
'Your father opened my school,' said Olive. 'He doesn't like the band?'
'Senators tend not to get along with bandleaders. Especially when a daughter marries one and gets talked into playing nightclubs wearing a one-piece bathing suit and a pair of high heels.' She exhaled a long plume of smoke, remembering the dismay on her dad's face when she'd sung him her version of 'Whoopee Ti-Yi-Yo.'
Whatever the excesses of her second career, she'd never let it interfere with her training. She recalled a night at the Century Club in Chicago, the place smoke filled and reeking of scotch. A hoodlum crowd if ever she'd seen one. After the show she'd stood drinks for the boys, but Herb went to bed, licked. And at two in the morning she was at the Lakeshore Pool, lap swimming,ploughing up the lanes as a mist billowed over the water. Her nose and throat were raw from the cold air, her every muscle honed to its purpose - not just to win, but to win spectacularly, with all the speed in her power.
A knock at the door, and a uniformed cabin boy entered with a bouquet almost as large as he was.
'One o' you ladies Eleanor Emerson?'
Eleanor took the flowers and opened the card. Good luck, Kid. No hard feelings? Herb.
A scent of lilies settled heavily in the confined space. But before she had time to dwell on Herb's gesture, Olive was holding up a small sheet of paper.
'Hey, who put this here? It was underneath my pillow.'
Eleanor and Marjorie lifted their pillows and found the same anonymous printed message. Eleanor read it out loud, her voice hardening as she realised what it was.
MEN AND WOMEN OF THE USA TEAM! GERMANY WILL SHOW YOU A SMILING FACE THAT HIDES ITS EVIL HEART. EVERY DAY CITIZENS WHO DO NOT THINK LIKE THE NAZIS ARE TORTURED AND MURDERED. PROTEST AGAINST THIS CRIMINAL REGIME BY REMAINING ON YOUR STARTING BLOCKS AT EACH RACE! DO NOT ALLOW YOURSELVES TO BECOME PAWNS OF NAZI PROPAGANDA!
'Gee, those boycotters don't let up,' said Marjorie, who had picked up a copy of Vogue and began flicking through it. She held up a page with an airbrushed portrait of Hannah Liebermann posing with her foil. 'Doesn't she look like Myrna Loy?'
'My mom got a letter from her union telling her I shouldn't be going,' said Olive. 'That the Nazis have banned the trade unions... or something like that. Didn't sound like such a bad idea to her. If the AOC says it's okay for us to go, that was fine by her.'
Eleanor crumpled up her copy of the note and tossed it straight through the open porthole. A thought crossed her mind - that her father had arranged for these notes to be placed here, that he was aiming one final guilt-tipped arrow at her before she sailed. But equally, she supposed, they might have been left there by any hothead from the boycott movement. There were enough of them.
'What I cannot understand,' she said, opening a compact mirror and inspecting her lipstick, 'is what the hell's it to do with Olympic sport?' She snapped the mirror shut. 'Why would anyone think there's something wrong with wanting to win gold medals for the USA?'
Excerpted from Flight from Berlin by David John. Copyright © 2012 by David John. Excerpted by permission of Harper. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
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