The Aristocrats

A man walks into a talent agent’s office. The agent, one David Mushnik, recognises him.

“Say, I know you from somewhere,” says Mushnik.

“You sure do,” says the man. “We used to know each other; back in 1949, William McKinley High School?”

Mushnik laughs. He gets up and vigorously shakes the man’s hand. “My god, Bill! Bill Dulworth! Good to see you! How are things?”

“Well, I’m mostly okay, Dave, but I’ve been feeling kinda under the weather lately, to be honest.”

“Huh. Well, you been been checked out by a doctor lately? Could be something important.”

“Not yet. I’m sure it’s only a cold or something… annoying, but I can handle it. Been so busy, you know, with this new act…”

“Haha, of course, you’ve got an act! Tell me all about it.”

“I, er, sure – “

They both sit down. Bill pauses, swallows hard.

“My god, Dave, I do not feel good at all. I don’t suppose you could ask your secretary to get me a glass of water?”


Mushnik presses his intercom. “Janice – could you get some water for my client, please?”

From the intercom comes a reply: “Certainly, Mr Mushnik”.

“Hope you’re okay, Bill,” says Mushnik. He starts to put aside the papers he was looking at as he talks. “That’s Janice, by the way. She’s been with us for not very long, but she’s already been a huge help around here. Last lady I had, she was nice enough, but… ah, she couldn’t remember a damn thing. Kept forgetting all kinds of stuff, embarrassed me a whole bunch of times, y’know, not telling me about some important appointments… had to fire her. Totally incompetent. Janice is so much better, she’s always on top of everything…”

Mushnik finishes what he’s doing, and places a folder to the side. “Anyway, Bill, tell me about your act.”

Bill does not answer. He seems to be looking down slightly at the desk, a little sweaty.

“Bill? Sorry, you okay?”

Bill still does not answer.

At that point Janice comes in with the water.

“Here’s that water your client wanted, Mr Mushnik…” No sooner has she placed the glass down on the desk that she senses something has happened.

“Mr Mushnik, is your client…”

“…He’s not speaking,” says Mushnik.

Janice takes a look at him. She realises that Bill has gone into some kind of severe cardiac arrest. She knows she has to act fast.

“Mr Mushnik, help me get him onto the floor!”


“I think he’s gone into some kind of cardiac failure. I trained in first aid a while back, I know the signs. Help me!”

The agent springs to his feet and helps Janice lift Bill down onto the floor. She takes his pulse.

“Nothing,” she says.

She then immediately starts to do CPR. Sharp, repeated pushes on his chest, followed by blowing oxygen into the mouth.

“Jesus Christ… is there anything – “

“No, Mr Mushnik,” says Janice as she starts another round of chest pushes. “It’s best if you phone for an ambulance. I’m not getting a response.”

Mushnik then grabs the phone, dials 911. “Yeah! Yeah, we’ve got a man here having a heart attack,” he begins. “His name is Bill Dulworth… we’ve got someone doing first aid on him, yeah…”


Janice has been doing CPR on Bill now for a while. She knows deep down that it may be too late for him, but doesn’t want to give up just yet. Finally the ambulance crew run through the door.

It doesn’t take long to confirm it. “He’s dead.”

Mushnik doesn’t know what to think and he doesn’t know how to feel. And slowly memories start to resurface – relatively recent ones, but dark and troublesome. He’s lost in the past as they take poor old Bill out of his office, covered with a sheet.

He snaps himself out of it. “Janice – I’m not seeing anybody else today. Out of respect.”

Janice nods. She walks out of Mushnik’s office to inform two increasingly concerned gentlemen who’ve been sitting nearby all throughout this – Splendid Sam The Spoon-Bender and the ventriloquist The Marvellous Wabbo – that due to the tragic death of Bill Dulworth, Mr Mushnik cannot see them today.

“Any idea when we’ll be able to get another appointment?” asks the Spoon-Bender.

“I can’t say right now. Ring us in the morning.”

As they leave, Mushnik tells Janice to shut up the office for the day.

Mushnik drives back home. Those memories start to come back into the foreground again. Not so long ago, but it feels like a lifetime. A screaming woman’s face. Explosions, gunfire. Why is he remembering these now?

And then his mind manages to wrench itself away from that to Bill. They had some good times together, them and all the guys in the gang. How ridiculous life is, how absurd it can be. You meet an old friend in the most unexpected place, and then the even more unexpected happens…

And then Mushnik’s mind switches gear again, back to the battles he fought in a distant land. Another woman’s face now, looking up into his eyes, lit by a dim electric light. Warmth. Ecstasy. A love that Debbie must never know about.


“I’m back early, Honey.”

Deborah is watching her soap operas on TV.  Despite wanting to know if Lynda Ralston will survive her operation, she switches the TV off.

“Dave? Why are you back now?”

“I… it was a pretty bad day today. Had to close the office for the rest of the afternoon.”

“My god. Is everything alright?”

“Yeah, it.. well, not really. Just… I don’t want to talk about it. Not right now.”

Deborah is not exactly put at ease by what he’s saying. “Dave, what’s happened – “

“I said I don’t want to talk about it,” says Mushnik. “But I’m assuring you, everything’s okay. I’m getting a scotch.”

At the drinks cabinet he pours himself a good helping.


“Debbie, it’s FINE. Go back to your soaps.”

Deborah turns the TV back on and sits back down. She’s not able to concentrate on it too well now. But the world continues to turn.

At the end of the evening, they’re both in bed. Deborah’s reading a dimestore romance novel. Mushnik is lying on his side, resting; waiting for Deborah to finish and switch off the bedside lamp.

Deborah’s still not been told anything about whatever it is that happened at Mushnik’s office. All through dinner and the final TV shows before bed, she’s been wondering. And though Mushnik told her not to ask, and she knows he’ll rebuff her again, she places her book on her lap and says: “Dave… I’ve got to know. Tell me what happened last night.”

“Someone died at my office,” says Mushnik, and he’s surprised at how easily the words came out of his mouth. So is Deborah.

There’s a silence while Deborah’s imagination runs riot. And then Mushnik continues.

“It was an old friend of mine. Dropped by the office. I knew I had a client by the name of Dulworth coming, but didn’t know it was Bill Dulworth – I knew him from high school. Hadn’t seen him in years. He had an act he wanted me to represent, and we’re just settling down when he says he doesn’t feel well… cut a long story short, he passed away in front of me. I didn’t even realise it had happened at first. Anyway, I had to close the office and cancel the rest of the day’s appointments out of respect.”

Deborah looks at her husband for a little while. And then she gently places her hand on Mushnik’s shoulder. She doesn’t say anything, but this is all the comfort he needs.

For a brief terrible moment Mushnik thinks he’s going to cry – but he successfully holds back the tears.

“I guess I’m done reading, dear,” says Deborah. She puts a bookmark in her novel, places it on the dresser. Switching off the lamp, the two of them can now settle down to sleep.

Then a thought occurs to Deborah. She doesn’t know why it’s just popped into her mind, and she doesn’t know why she feels compelled to ask it. But she does anyway.



“This act that your friend… Bill… this act that he had. What was its name?”

There is a pause.

“You know… as it happens, I never did catch it.”

“Goodnight, darling.”