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Hardcastle and McCormick:
Virtual Season Four

ACT III

McCormick arrived home at three-thirty again the next day, this time going directly to the main house. He tried the front door, which was unlocked, then stuck his head in and said, “Judge?”

“The ambassadors from Norway are joyfully returned.”

McCormick snorted, opened the door further and stepped through. “Not Norway, and not too joyfully. I had to sit through two hours of torts today.”

Hardcastle was sitting at his desk, chin propped on his hand and his copy of the script open in front of him. He tapped the page once with his other hand. “Ya know, I think it’s starting to come back to me. Fifty years.”

“Guess it’s true what they say,” McCormick dropped his briefcase on one chair and himself into another, “it’s all part of your permanent record.”

The judge covered the bottom half of a page with his hand and muttered something, then shook his head and took a peek and sighed. “Still, I’m glad I’ll have the cue cards.”

McCormick leaned back and started to put his feet up on the coffee table.

Hardcastle glanced up. “Don’t get too comfortable. We gotta leave in fifteen minutes.”

“Uh-huh,” Mark muttered. He was staring at something dark blue, swathed in a dry cleaning back, draped over the arm of the sofa. “Your costume?”

The judge looked up again impatiently. “Yeah.”

McCormick leaned over and lifted the plastic for a peek. It was navy, lightweight wool, with lapels that screamed 1949, or thereabouts. “It fits?” he asked curiously.

“It better. It’s mine. I wore it to my wedding.”

“It fits?” McCormick said doubtfully.

“Yeah, well, Nancy had it let out for our twenty-fifth anniversary. Hers still fit.”

McCormick thought about that one for a moment: the approximate dates involved and other reasons why Nancy Hardcastle might have had no difficulty fitting into the clothes she’d worn twenty-five years earlier. He grabbed for the nearest goofy substitute to dwelling on the past.

“She had a blue suit, too?”

Hardcastle snapped out of his reverie. He made a face. “Nah, jeez, she had a dress—ivory satin, orange blossoms in her hair and everything.”

“Hmm.” Mark nodded, and then suddenly frowned. “Hey, you got to wear a suit—how come I had to put on a tux?”

The judge apparently had no problem with the segue.

“That,” he pointed out patiently, “was a morning coat, not a tux. It had tails. And I wasn’t getting hitched to some oil sheik’s daughter.” He grimaced at the recollection and then added, “Next time, wear a suit. They’re more practical; you can use ‘em again.”

“Better than tights, at least.”

The judge had opened his mouth to reply, but the doorbell rang and he said, “That’s Frank,” instead.

“How did you—?”

“He said he was coming.”

McCormick got up to do the honors. It was Harper, as predicted, though he didn’t look very pleased about whatever news he was bringing. He had a file tucked under his arm.

“Did the M.E. say anything yet about the death?” Mark asked, ushering him into the den.

The lieutenant shook his head. “You know how backed up they are? Anything that doesn’t have an entry wound is gonna take at least three days—longer if you’re waiting on toxicology.”

Mark sighed. “As long as somebody down there doesn’t hold that nitro bottle up to their forehead and just write ‘M.I.’ on the death certificate.”

“Which is probably what it was,” Hardcastle muttered. “Anything on Wolf Bradford?”

“The heir unapparent?” Frank said. “You mean besides him being the only one who definitely didn’t kill Martin Warfel?”

“You sure about that?” McCormick asked, reaching for the file. Hardcastle beat him to it.

Frank released it with a shrug. “He’s in Minneapolis, practicing law.”

“No record,” Mark asked. “Nothing?”

“There’s some links to the Norwegian Mafia,” Frank said dryly.

McCormick frowned. “I didn’t even know they had a Mafia.”

“You’ve never heard of Olaf Jorgenson?” Hardcastle grumbled. “Last I heard he had a four-state dairy operation.” He looked up. “Frank, tell him when you’re making a joke, will ya?”

“It was a joke, Mark.”

“We got nothing here.” Hardcastle shut the file in disgust.

McCormick had pulled something out of his shirt pocket. He glanced at what was in his hand and then at Frank. “I think I ought to reconsider giving these to you.”

“The lieutenant had brightened considerably. ”Tickets?“

”Two, front row, on the aisle.“

”How’d you get ‘em? I call the box office this morning and they told me they were sold out.“

”Griggs gave ‘em to me last night. I’d told him you were interested.“ Mark handed them over and then smiled serenely at a scowling Hardcastle.

Frank was staring down at his booty with a slightly puzzled expression. Mark shrugged and added, ”They were intended for Warfel, but naturally he won’t be going …“

The lieutenant smiled uncertainly for a moment and then nodded and stuffed the two tickets in his pocket. ”Thank him for me, will ya? Claudia’ll be excited.“

”A chance to see the judge chewing up the scenery?“

”Ah, well,“ he hesitated, ”she’s a big fan of that Med-Star show—I didn’t know she liked those Doctor Kildare kinda things.“ He glanced at his older friend and grinned, ”… and of course she couldn’t wait to see Milt in tights.“

”No tights,“ the judge grumbled.

”But we better hustle,“ Mark said, glancing down at his watch. ”Make-up and all that.“

00000

They parted ways with Frank in the front drive and, with McCormick behind the wheel, made the silent drive to the theater—Hardcastle still studying his lines. He didn’t look up until he heard McCormick mutter, ”What the—?“ as he made the turn into the parking area.

The ambulance was just pulling out. The back stage door was still open and Theodora was on the steps along with a few others, talking among themselves.

McCormick pulled into a spot. The judge was out almost before the truck had halted, hustling toward her. Mark grabbed the dry cleaning bag and followed along behind.

She turned to them and said, ”Oh, you’re here—did you bring your costume?“

Mark held it up. Her tense smile of approval barely concealed her anxiety. She grabbed Hardcastle’s sleeve and tugged him away from the rest of the crowd, who were mostly drifting back inside anyway.

”I didn’t have time to call you,“ she said in something approaching a stage whisper.

”What happened?“ he said.

”Another accident—a fall down the steps. Jimmy Wainwright—one of our stagehands. They found him a little while ago but nobody’s sure when it happened. There were a few people here early, getting things set up.“

”Dead?“

”No—but it doesn’t look good. He was barely breathing.“

Hardcastle shot a sharp look at McCormick. ”Think it was his ticker? Call Frank and give him the latest, will ya?“

”Frank—that policeman from last night?“ Theodora asked anxiously. She knit her brows. ”Do you have to? It’s only a few more hours.“

Mark glanced at Hardcastle who frowned and said, ”Call him.“ To Mrs. Kemp he said, ”Theo—one guy’s dead and one’s in serious condition. And we don’t know who’s gonna try what next.“

She bit her lower lip and then nodded once, sharply. Then she sighed and said wistfully, ”Those stairs are very steep—and not at all well-lit.“

A middle-aged woman stuck her head out the door and looked around, her eyes alighting on Hardcastle. ”There you are—anyone else missing? Make-up, now. We’re behind.“

McCormick handed him the dry-cleaning bag and muttered, ”Watch your step in there.“ He watched the judge and Theodora head inside. As he stood there for a moment, hands in pockets, wondering where he’d find the nearest phone that offered some privacy, he became aware he was being watched.

The usual clutch of young females was there, moved a little further off during the emergency, but now starting to drift back into their usual orbit. Most of them were focused on the stage door, but one stood a little apart from the rest and she was staring at him.

He met her eyes straight on. She didn’t flinch or look away. He made the first overture, taking a couple of steps toward the truck. She parted further from the crowd, glancing around surreptitiously. None of the rest were looking in her direction.

She approached him cautiously. She wasn’t the girl from the day before, Mark was certain, not unless she’d changed her hair color and put on ten pounds.

”You’re in the play?“ she asked, when she got close enough to speak quietly.

Mark shook his head.

”Oh … I thought—“ she started to turn away.

”I’m sort of part of the crew,“ he improvised hastily. ”I’m helping out some.“

She paused, looking back at him. ”Yeah, I saw you yesterday.“ She frowned. ”You know Rory?“

”Ah … some.“

This seemed to buy him a little credit. He hoped it wasn’t the main purpose of the thing. She stood there for a moment, studying him, and finally let out a sigh, decided the waters were warm enough, and dove in all at once.

”It’s Marnie—she wants to know if she’s in trouble.“

”Is she about five-seven, brown hair, shoulder length?“

His informant nodded. He looked around but didn’t see the girl in question.

”She’s not here—I told you, she’s scared she might be in trouble.“

”Marnie’s last name is …?“

”None of your business, if she’s in trouble,“ the young woman said sharply.

”Maybe you could tell me what she told you—I mean, I have to know what happened if you want me to help.“

The girl appeared to weigh that, then gave it a nod. ”I suppose.“ She leaned in a little, assuming a confidential tone. ”She’s been a fan of Rory’s forever.“

McCormick’s eye’s narrowed slightly. ”How big a fan?“

She looked at him and frowned. ”No, not like that.“ She cast a look over at the rest of the crowd by the door. ”Marnie’s, like, way different. When she fans someone, she just wants to know everything about them—maybe talk to them, but that’d be it.“

”And she knows a bunch about Rory?“

The girl nodded enthusiastically. ”Bunches. I mean, everything—like, from before he was famous even. She’s amazing.“

”Gotcha. She just kinda collects people—things about them. Details.“

”That’s Marnie.“ The girl smiled slyly. ”She even has a copy of his birth certificate and one of his dental x-rays. Like I said, amazing.“

”I’d like to meet her.“

”Uh-uh. I saw you with that cop yesterday—the plainclothes guy.“

”Did she do anything wrong?“ Mark said practically.

The girl shrugged. ”Wrong place, wrong time, mostly.“

”What did she say she saw?“ He was willing to settle for hearsay at this point but even that was a disappointment.

”She wouldn’t tell me. She just seemed scared.“

”The safest thing would be to tell someone.“

”Maybe. Not the cops, though.“

”Then me.“

She gave that some thought and said, ”Maybe.“ She sounded tentative. ”I can ask her. It’d have to be someplace public.“

”You watch a lot of TV, huh?“

She shrugged again. ”Yeah, maybe … I know how it’s done.“

”Great. You talk to her, see if she’ll talk to me.“ He looked around and then at her again. ”Once the show starts everybody will be inside. I could meet her right here at, say, eight o’clock?“

”Make it nine. I’m not promising—“

”Try.“

The girl nodded, mostly to herself. Then she looked up and said, ”Say ‘hi’ to Rory, will ya?“ Then she turned and headed across the parking lot, away from the theater.

It briefly occurred to McCormick that he might follow her, a notion he quickly dismissed, as it appeared she was heading for the bus stop. Offering her a ride might have made a little more sense, but it had the feel of a wild goose chase, and one that would probably take him away from the theater for an unconscionable period of time.

He headed for the steps, ignoring, and being ignored by, the rest of the girls. A quick rap on the door got him entry, let in by an older guy he didn’t recognize, but who looked like a retired cop.

”You got a pass?“ the man asked.

”I’m with the band,“ Mark quipped.

The guy gave him a puzzled look and said, ”I didn’t think it was a musical.“

Mark had been on the verge of opening his mouth when Theodora stuck her head out of an alcove and said, ”That’s all right, Phil. I didn’t have a change to get him signed in yet.“

The guard waved him through. ”So whaddaya play?“

”First base, mostly.“ Mark nodded as he ducked by.

Theodora took him by the arm once he was inside. ”Could I impose on you to help me sort through Milt’s cue cards? I need to make sure we have them in the right order.“

”Why, Mrs. Kemp,“ Mark said, looking sternly at her, ”I do believe you are trying to distract me from my duty.“

She let go of him, looking a little chagrined.

Mark dropped his voice a notch. ”We both heard him. I’m supposed to keep Frank informed. I don’t think they’re going to come in here and close the place down for a safety violation.“

Her lips thinned and her eyes narrowed. ”We are so close to pulling this off.“

”And if we’re right—the closer it gets, the worse the risk. Whoever’s doing this may be getting pretty desperate—if Jimmy’s fall wasn’t an accident, and Marty’s ticker didn’t quit on him—“ He shook his head. ”I hate to say this, but I almost miss having a nice clear-cut murder to work with.“ He frowned for a moment and then sighed. ”Now, do you have a phone I can use? Somewhere where there’s a little privacy? How ‘bout that room I was in yesterday.“

”That’s our accounts room—where we keep the books and the box-office receipts for deposit. I was just going there now.“

She led him, though he already knew the way. ”I’ll stop trying to distract you,“ she promised, ”but I really will need some help with the cue cards during the performance. We lost a couple more crew members since yesterday—“

”More accidents?“

”No … people are frightened. They don’t know if there’s a jinx, or a curse, or what. Theater people can be very superstitious. Here we are,“ she ushered him into the room.

It looked much the same as it had the day before. The phone was on the desk, a five-button model with three outside lines, all of which were lit up and currently in use. He slid in behind the desk and took a seat, prepared to wait. Theodora edged past the desk and lifted a framed poster from the wall.

Mark looked up at the now-revealed wall safe with distant and abstract interest. It had an inset combination lock and a no-frills practical style.

Mrs. Kemp glanced over at him with no particular hostility. ”I’m not supposed to let anyone see the combination.“

”Ahh,“ Mark nodded and swiveled his chair to face away from her.

He tried not to notice the poster propped against the opposite wall: ”All That Jazz“—a nearly black background with perfectly reflecting glass in front. Sure the dial was small, and backwards, but it had been a matter of pride that he could pick these things up, at least within a number or two, on one go.

She’d finished up. The door swung open. She screamed.

00000

The door was closed, fortunately. Mark was up out of the chair and at her side in a flash. The scream had been cut short but the residual pallor told him that had been a supreme act of self-control. He helped her over to the seat. She gasped—gesturing at the open safe.

”What?“ he said, looking into it and seeing nothing but the usual shallow metal box, the kind used to sort and store ready cash. There were some papers under that—curled slightly along the one edge, as though the door pressed up against them when closed. He turned back toward her. She still looked stricken. ”What?“ he asked again, impatiently.

She finally caught a breath and squeaked, ”He’s gone.“

A glimmer of a notion formed in McCormick’s brain. He glanced back into the safe. The empty spot next to the box was about the right size. He swallowed squeamishly. ”That’s where you keep … Amos?“

She nodded.

”When did you see him last?“

”This morning. I came in to check if we needed any additional cash for the concessions. He was smiling.“

”I’d kinda figure he’s always smiling.“

”Yes,“ she nodded anxiously, ”but particularly so on April twenty-third. I’ve always thought so.“

”And who has the combination—maybe someone took him out already, you know—make-up, a little polishing—?“

”No, no, I’m the only one who has it. I always bring him to the prop-mistress for the graveyard scene and take him back after the final bows.“

”He gets a bow?“

”Of course. He’s very beloved. He’s the only member of the cast who’s been in all twenty-four of the productions.“

He studied the framed poster propped against the wall. He supposed the next question ought to be, ”How many people have been in here when you’ve opened that safe?“ but he kept his mouth shut. He glanced down at the phone—all three lines still in use.

”I noticed nobody uses the lobby doors during rehearsals.“

”No, they’re kept locked. They open from the inside, of course, but there’s an alarm system.“

”And you’ve got someone watching the stage door?“

”Since six this morning.“

Mark nodded. ”Then I’d say there’s a good chance Amos hasn’t left the building. Whoever took him just needs to be certain he’s not available for today’s performance. They don’t want to be caught with him.“

A look of hope blazed Theodora’s cheek. ”Do you think? Oh, you’ve got to find him.“

”Me?“

”I’ll help, but you’re good at this sort of thing. It’s a rescue mission.“

Dubious did not begin to cover McCormick’s expression. He thought her assessment was more a function of her desperation rather than his track record. But he finally let out a long sigh and said, ”Okay, I’ll poke around a little. I need a cover story.“

Mrs. Kemp thought for a moment and then looked up again. ”The mousetraps—there’s a crate of them in the utility room. We’ve had an infestation. Jimmy was supposed to handle it but we’ve been so busy.“

”Nobody is going to believe that.“

She drew herself up, her eyes darkening. ”I don’t care what they believe. You have the full authorization of the board to go wherever necessary in pursuit of this rodent infestation.“ Her chin quavered slightly. ”It’s not just the play—the theater … you’ve got to find Amos.“

00000

He found Hardcastle, who was sitting in a well-lit corner having make-up applied by a young lady.

”This is Shelly,“ the judge waved a hand, ”she’s thinks I’m a winter. Shelly, this is McCormick. He’s responsible for the frown lines.“

She smiled. ”Almost done—and we call those ‘character features’.“ She tilted his chin left for a final inspection and then snapped her case shut. ”On to my next victim.“

Mark nodded as she sashayed off, case in hand.

Hardcastle snapped his fingers—”Hey, you call you-know-who yet?“

”Huh? Oh … I tried. You know this whole place has only three phone lines? Anyway,“ he dropped his voice several notches, ”there’s been a kidnapping.“

Hardcastle stared at him in disbelief for a long moment and then finally said, ”Must be the Norwegian Mafia again.“

”Nope. And I’m serious. Amos Bradford vanished from a locked safe sometime after nine-thirty this morning. Mrs. Kemp discovered the crime, and she’s the only one who has official access to the safe where he was kept, in the very office you and Frank and I conferred in yesterday. Got the picture?“

”You didn’t take it, didja? Some kind of weird practical joke?“

”Judge, get serious.“

Hardcastle frowned as seriously as possible and thought for a moment. ”Well, it’s probably still in the building.“

”That’s what I said. And guess who she appointed inspector general?“

”You better not have taken the darn thing in the first place,“ Hardcastle muttered.

”I didn’t.“ This time McCormick looked genuinely peeved. ”I didn’t even know it was there until it was gone.“

”Okay, sorry. You got some kind of excuse for snooping around?“

”I do. This is your ACME Catch-n-Release Rodent Reservoir, model 175—patent pending. I have six dozen of them. I am going hunting.“

”Break a leg,“ Hardcastle said.

00000

The witching hour was getting inexorably closer. Hardcastle had tried to call Frank—both at the office and at home, and presumed he was already on the way to the theater. He heard the muted murmur of the first few guests trickling into the hall, but hadn’t caught sight of McCormick since he’d set out to find the essential Amos. Moss was back in the crossover, conferring with the Phelpses. It looked a bit intense, thought they were keeping their voices low.

He wandered in that direction only to find they’d stopped abruptly as they noticed him approaching. It was too abrupt, and naturally they started up again, in a misguided attempt to not appear to conspire.

”Anyway, I thought it was agreed,“ Roger Phelps said crisply. ”We were to have top billing in the program.“

”I know,“ Moss flustered, ”and I told the graphics people that’s how we wanted it.“

”No matter, though,“ Phelps smiled, suddenly gracious. ”We’re all professionals here—it’s the performances that matter, and getting Amos’s little theater the recognition it needs.“

But his wife apparently couldn’t put it down. ”He must have gone over your head,“ Ruby sniffed. ”I don’t like him, not a bit. He turns that charm of his on and off like a switch.“

”I don’t know, dear,“ Phelps smiled slyly at her, ”He reminds me a little of you. Anyway, I think that’s why the third act is so effective. You two are so nasty together. It’s positively Freudian. And it probably wasn’t him—I’d put my money on that agent of his.“

Ruby nodded in arch agreement. ”You know we used to call him ‘Awful Warfel’. No starlet was safe in the same room with him.“ Her lips narrowed. ”Maybe that’s why he and Amos got along so well together.“

The Phelpses nodded their farewells and slithered off. Moss looked relieved enough at the arrival of a neutral party. He smiled thinly at his newest cast member.

”Hey, Milt—how’s it going? Any jitters?“

”Nah.“ Hardcastle stuck his lower lip out a bit—his face felt thick and … false. It reminded him uncomfortably of his brief run on that courtroom show a few years back. This, however, was business.

He wondered if Moss had gotten the word yet about Amos, and, deciding he hadn’t, just as suddenly decided not to tell him. A scene in the crossover was not what was needed right now.

”It’s a lot of work, huh?“ He jerked his thumb in the direction of the departing stars.

Moss’s gaze went a little unfocused, or maybe he was focusing on something farther back, beyond the dimensions of the stage they were on.

”Hmmph,“ he said, snapping back and blinking. ”Sorry—tired. Put in a lot of hours this week.“

”Here night and day, huh?“

”It’s like that most of the time,“ Moss smiled. ”But Hamlet is always a little crazy—and this one, well—I’d like to go out with a bang.“

”You’re quitting?“

”Retiring. I’ll be seventy next year, you know. This is my last production.“ He looked up and around. ”I probably should have moved on years ago. I had an offer—NYU’s theater program.“

”You didn’t take it?“

He smiled wanly. ”That was fifteen years ago. I always thought I could make something of this place—a theater mecca.“

”You got the Phelpses and this Grigg fellow.“

”He’s an anomaly. Even his agent thought he was crazy for sticking around. Hey, maybe that’s what make him such a good Hamlet—just a touch of obsession.“ Moss shrugged. ”Anyway, they say money is in movies and TV—Shakespeare is dead.“

”You got a sellout, I heard.“

”The girls are here to see the Med Star sidekick.“ As if on cue they heard some high-pitched squeals from beyond the curtains. Moss smiled again, stuffed his hands in his pants pockets, shrugged, and walked away.

00000

Seven ACME traps later, and otherwise empty-handed, McCormick found himself by the dressing rooms. This time he knocked.

”Later,“ Mr. Phelps said, and since his door connected with his wife’s room, Mark figured that went for both of them.

They weren’t very high on the list of suspects, anyway, though he intended to be thorough and it was always possible that Amos had been somewhere that wouldn’t point to the thief. He knocked on Griggs’ door next, where he got no answer. The door was unlocked—a bad sign for a potential hiding place. He stepped in, pleased to find the chair not occupied by a corpse.

His search was based on the efficiency of practice. He’d just completed it when he heard the door behind him open again. He turn as he heard Griggs say, more resigned than surprised, ”You again.“

He held up the trap—exhibit A. ”Rodents,“ he said.

”How now? A rat? Dead for a ducat, dead!“

Mark nodded once. ”That’s what I always say.“

Griggs smiled. It wasn’t the megawatt one that was featured in his head shot. This was something a little slyer, yet altogether more sincere.

”You are not the exterminator.“

”Nope, strictly catch and release.“

”So,“ Griggs went on, as though Mark had said nothing, ”who are you?“ He cocked his head as if he were making up his mind about something. ”Someone’s trying to shut down this show, but you knew that, huh? You and that other guy—Milt—you’re here to figure that out.“

Mark sat down slowly. ”Maybe.“

”Good. I really want to do this Hamlet.“

Mark considered him. The guy was painfully sincere. He had to ask. ”How come? I mean, it’s one performance.“

Griggs pulled the dressing table chair out, and straddled it backwards. He spoke, almost dreamily, ”That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain; At least I am sure it may be so in Denmark.“ He broke from his reverie with a crooked smile of his own. ”Where else can you get lines like that? And so many of them.“ He frowned again. ”So what are you looking for, anyway?“

It took him by surprise, or maybe that was just an excuse for telling the truth. ”You might be working with the coconut again tonight.“

Griggs didn’t immediately grasp the reveal.

”Amos—Yorick. Somebody snatched him. Any thoughts?“

The man’s face drained. It was quite remarkable. He finally said, ”You’re going to think I’m crazy.“

”Try me.“

”Moss. Three nights ago, after rehearsal, I sat down in here—I was so wrung out I fell asleep, right there in that chair. Must’ve been twenty minutes. Anyway, I woke up, realized everybody had gone. No problem, though, I just figured I’d let myself out the back.“

”Only you saw something on the way out?“

Griggs nodded. ”I didn’t make much of it at the time, but it was Moss, and he was stepping off the ladder that leads up to the catwalk.“

”Where the lights are?“

”Exactly.“

”Why didn’t you say anything?“

”Then? Why? Maybe he was checking something. He didn’t even see me.“

”And after the bulbs shattered?“

Griggs shrugged. ”He’s the director. It didn’t make any sense that he’d be pulling pranks like that. And, anyway, who was going to put this thing together in time if I started pointing fingers three days before the show?“

Mark thought about for a moment. ”Okay,“ he finally said, ”if Moss did have a reason—like maybe someone was paying him a big pile of money to sink the show—where do you think he’d put Amos?“

”You know they were friends,“ Griggs said. ”Him and Amos and Marty. All of them. Moss was kind of the poor cousin because he stuck with legitimate theater. Hah—and he outlived them all.“

”And Amos—we need to find Amos,“ Mark reminded him.

”I don’t think he’d just toss him in the bottom of a bin. It’d be somewhere … respectful.“

”Suggestions?“

”I don’t know. Everybody says Amos wanted to be an actor.“

A double stroke dimming of the lights halted that thought. Someone in the hallway announced ”Two minutes, places for scene one.“

Griggs rose, grabbed a fedora off the dressing table, and said, ”Find him—please.“

And he left.

McCormick went out into the hallway, which was rapidly emptying. He didn’t bother with the traps anymore, knowing that Moss would be up in the wings, observing. He continued his search, armed with Griggs’ impressions. Moss’s office was a warren of detritus from past shows. It occupied a half-hour, after which he knew he’d drawn a blank. He sorted through a quarter-century of weapons and other props, finding nothing even remotely useful, then back-tracked to the Phelpses’ suite, just on the off chance that Griggs was mistaken. From there he worked his way through the rest of the dressing rooms, finally coming to the one shared by Hardcastle and the guy playing Laertes—a long-limbed grad student from UCLA named Chip who was knotting a silk tie in the mirror.

”Can we have a moment?“ the judge jerked his chin toward the door.

”No problem,“ Chip said. ”Gotta go get some stretches in before the last scene anyway.“

Mark let him ease past and turned to Hardcastle. ”Your rouge is smudged.“

The judge started to turn toward the mirror, caught himself and glowered. ”You find Amos yet?“

”Would I be walking around with this if I had?“ He held up a trap and then let it drop to his side. ”I got a hint, though.“

”I think it might be Moss,“ the judge said abruptly.

Mark, mouth already half-open, shut it on a wondering, ”Damn.“

”Yeah, I know, it sounds goofy.“

”No,“ Mark shook his head. ”Griggs thinks he walked in on him pulling one of the dirty tricks—the one with the light bulbs.“

”Lamps—they call ‘em lamps.“ Hardcastle leaned forward, hand on his knee, elbow bent. ”It makes sense, though. We would’ve seen it sooner if he hadn’t been with Theo the night she came to us. He was the one who wanted to go to the cops—that would have panicked the cast. That’s probably all it would have taken to put a kibosh on the whole production.“

”Instead he gets stuck with us watching his every move.“ Mark looked up sharply. ”But what about Marty and Jimmy?“

The judge shook his head. ”I don’t see a connection. Marty had a bad ticker and Jimmy tripped in the dark.“

There was a tap on the door and someone said, ”Act three in two minutes.“

”Already?“ Mark said.

”Keep looking.“ Hardcastle was already on his feet and heading for the door.

Then he was gone. Mark got up, did a quick riffle through Chip’s stuff to ward off dramatic irony, and moved on to the next room, checking his watch frequently as he made slow but steady progress in determining all the places where Amos wasn’t.

After one final check of his watch, he broke off and headed for the stairs. Given his caution, it might have thought he’d timed it early but, no, there was Griggs in the wing. The shoulder holster wasn’t visible under his nattily cut but out-of-date pinstripe. Hardcastle had not yet taken his place behind the curtain, onstage, and Ruby, in a timeless red satin number, was draping herself across on a divan.

McCormick tapped Griggs on the shoulder. The man turned, a questioning look in his eye. Mark shook his head to indicate the results of the search so far. The he pointed to the holster.

”I checked it myself this time,“ Griggs assured him, but he also removed the gun and passed it to him. Another blank. This time Mark didn’t stick around for the murder. The costumes and stage lighting increased the creep factor considerably.

The audience seemed to think so, too. He was half way down the stairs this time, when he heard the shot, which was immediately followed by a gasp from the audience, which had probably drowned out Hardcastle’s big line. Mark had avoided the flinch, and even managed to take another step, after only a moment’s hesitation. He headed back to the rooms below, to continue his search.

Three more rooms. He was vaguely aware of a couple more scene announcements from the hallway, though there didn’t seem to be anyone hanging around down there. This was opening and closing nights, all wrapped up in one.

”And maybe the final performance for the theater,“ he muttered to himself, aware that he was now dripping with sweat and starting to toss things with limited finesse, like a midnight burglar.

He was finishing up in Rosenkrantz’s and Guildenstern’s room. Nothing but a bottle of Dramamine with a blue ribbon on it with a note that read: ”Have fun in London!“ signed by Peaches and Gail. He sighed and tossed it over his shoulder into a pile and sat down wearily. He heard the hallway proctor announce ”Four minutes to Act Five.“

Mark stood again and stepped out into the hall. There were two men there, wearing denim overalls and muddy boots, presumably the fifties version of rustics.

”The graveyard scene?“ he asked

They looked at him. One nodded. The other was holding a coconut. ”When do we get the skull?“ He said. ”I’m supposed to hand it to Griggs.“

Mark winced. ”It’ll be a minute or two more. Ah,“ he pointed at the coconut, ”improvise.“

They didn’t look too convinced but both strode off down the hall, in the opposite direction of the stairwell to the left wing. Mark watched them go, feeling the passing of each second in the pounding of his pulse. His eyes focused on the last remaining door.

Supernumeraries and all others.

He cocked his head and then bolted through the door into a room that looked less comfortably inhabited than the others. No one made this home; it was just a place to park a coat. Nothing would look suspicious or out of place in here, because if it wasn’t yours, it obviously belonged to someone else.

It would have to be locked, though, a box, not easy to open.

He was moving fast, shifting piles of stuff, bags, things left behind by previous legions of spear carriers. Nobody ever cleans up other people’s stuff, and if you found something that didn’t belong in here, how would you know who to blame?

And there it was. He knew it, though he didn’t know how, the minute he laid eyes on it: an old-fashioned square box with metal reinforced corners and its handle riveted on. The padlock was ridiculously simple, almost decorative, just enough to prevent a random peek without generating any curiosity on its own. Simple, yes, but—

My kingdom for a set of picks—just one pick even.

He ransacked the drawers of the dressing table, found a coffee-stained script held together with a paperclip, and grabbed for it. It took longer to find than to use. The lock sprung open. He snatched it off, but opened the lid slowly.

He dropped the lid back in place. He didn’t really want to see if Amos was still smiling. Then he scooped up the whole case and ducked out into the hall, turning in the direction the two men had gone a moment earlier. The door at that end led to another hall, set at right angles to the first and lit only by a nightlight down near floor level.

He peered ahead, and saw a more open area with light piercing down from above, forming sharp rectangular puddles. He heard voices, too. The area was wider, but not particularly high. He almost brained himself on a crossbeam as he felt his way forward one-handed, clutching the box.

Overall-clad legs protruded down through one of the rectangular holes, the man’s boots resting on the platform below stage level. The grave trap, McCormick surmised, and from the audience’s perspective the man would appear to be sitting at ground-level, his feet dangling into the grave which he’d recently been digging.

There was the coconut, sitting next to the man’s left foot. Mark put his box down, opened the lid silently, and reached in, suppressing a shiver as he removed the contents. He barely spared it a glance, swapping it out for the coconut. As he picked up the box and started to retreat, he heard the man say—with more surprise than the line deserved—”Here’s a skull now; this skull hath lien you i’th’ earth three and twenty years.“

Mark smiled, ducking under the beam and making it all the way back to the dressing rooms without tripping over anything. Mission accomplished. He supposed it wouldn’t have mattered if Moss’s fingerprints had been on the skull. Surely he’d handled it in the past. Nearly any of the regulars might’ve made that claim. The box, on the other hand, could prove evidentiary. He decided to put it in Hardcastle’s room and had just set it there, in an out-of-the-way corner, when he glanced at his wristwatch.

9:05.

Something clicked. He had an appointment—though it didn’t seem all that important now, since they’d decided Marty’s ticker had been his downfall. Still, it wasn’t polite to keep a young lady waiting, and he could at least tell her she wasn’t in any trouble.

He slipped into the stairwell, trying to move as silently as the guy he noticed coming down. The man had an advantage, being Hamlet’s dad’s ghost—done with his fourth act duties and ready to hit the dressing room. Mark only glanced at him, though. Not backlit anymore, it was easy to see his features—good casting.

Mark kept the observation strictly internal, but to his surprise, the otherwise impassive visage gave him a slight but solemn nod as they passed. He returned it, and then joined the throng above, observing briefly from the wings. Griggs was holding the skull almost reverentially. The audience was silent, enrapt, even the young ladies who were ordinarily prone to shrieking.

That reminded him of his appointment again. He didn’t see Hardcastle, or the guard who’d been watching the door. Possibly the judge had recruited him to help keep close tabs on Moss. Mark gave it all one last look and then headed for the stage door, trying to open it as noiselessly as possible.

He stood outside, taking in the cool air. He hadn’t realized how soaked he’d gotten in his frantic search. A chill settled on him. The light from over the door cast harsh puddles of light into the surrounding shadows. He stepped down, to get out where he could adjust to the darkness.

He saw someone standing with her back against the wall, looking anything but relaxed and watching him warily. The general shape and size looked right so he took a chance.

”Marnie?“

She nodded.

”Your friend told me you were worried.“ He took a step forward. That was a mistake. She backed up twice as far as he’d advanced. It wasn’t a comfortable distance for a conversation.

”Listen, we just want to know what you saw down there, that’s all. I’m not even a cop.“

”Are you a friend of Rory’s?“

There was something in the tone—he wasn’t sure how he figured it out, but he knew almost at once that the honest answer was also the right one.

”No—I mean, I just met him yesterday. Why?“

She edged toward him just a little, peering closely. ”That guy’s dead, isn’t he?“

”Marty, Rory’s agent? Yeah. Do you know what happened?“

”Maybe.“ She hesitated again and stepped closer and lowered her voice to a near-whisper. ”I snuck in; the door didn’t latch. I just wanted to get the note back.“

”Huh? Why’d you send it?“

”I didn’t. That was Kris. She said she signed my name to it.“

”Kris? Is that the blond girl I was talking to today?“

Marnie nodded. ”She thought she was doing me some kind of favor. She thinks I’m too shy.“

”You have any idea what the note said?“

”That I’ve been his biggest fan for ages.“ She waved her hand in little circles. ”Which is true, I guess—and that I knew all about him, which is also true.“ She sighed heavily. ”She says she just wanted him to know how devoted I was.“

Mark considered that for a moment and then said, ”Are you familiar with the term ‘stalking’?“

”It’s not like that at all,“ she insisted. ”I just want to know things about people … some people.“

”People you don’t have to actually talk to and become friends with?“

”There,“ she said, ”that’s it. Why doesn’t anybody get that?“

”Did you get the note back?“

She shook her head. ”I’d looked up the plans for the theater. I like things like that—layouts. Anyway, I knew where I was going. You know Malibu has a really nice library—and it’s right on the bus line. I moved out here last fall.“

”Because of him?“

She hesitated. ”Yeah, maybe.“

”Stalking,“ Mark said gently.

She shook her head again. ”No, I just spend a lot of time looking stuff up. Really.“

”Okay, so you got inside, and went down to the dressing rooms, then what?“

”I heard them. It was muffled, but there were two voices. One was Rory’s.“

”Arguing? Joking?“

”Arguing. Not loud, though. Then I heard some noises. The other man was coughing or something like that. Maybe he was having trouble breathing. Rory said something but didn’t sound angry any more. He didn’t.“ She sounded convinced, but not happy. ”And then it got quiet. I hid in the next room over.“

”Why?“

”’Cause it was empty.“

Mark shook his head. In a way, he thought the answer made perfect sense.

”And then I heard someone open the door—footsteps in the hall. I peeked out. It was Rory, walking away. I thought he was going to get some water. He had a cup in his hand—but he didn’t come back.“

”You still thought you could get your hands on that note?“

”Yeah.“

”But the other guy?“

”It was really quiet.“

”You knew he was dead. You knew Rory wasn’t going for water.“

”Maybe.“

”Kiddo, trust me, you’re not very good at this lying thing. But you didn’t kill anybody. You’re not in any trouble. Did you find the note?“

”No. I looked and … and that guy was sitting there in that chair the whole time. I’m pretty sure he was dead. I don’t think anybody could have helped him.“

”So you finally gave up looking and tried to leave—that’s when you ran into me, huh?“

”Yeah. I still don’t know where the note is.“

”Five’ll get you ten, Rory’s got it. And I don’t know why, but something your friend said must have scared him.“

”What?“

Mark frowned at her. ”Remember what I said about lying? You know something. Maybe your friend didn’t know what you know, but something in that note she wrote told him you knew too much. What was it?—Think.“

”His name’s not Griggs.“

”Okay, well, lots of people change their name when they go into show business.“

”He didn’t change it—I mean, the first time. He was only a month old. I found a photostat of the original birth certificate in the court records.“

”You got that legally?“

”Well,“ her eyes narrowed slightly, ”it might have been a filing mistake. Usually they redact stuff like that.“

”So he’s adopted.“ Mark hesitated a moment, and then said, ”Okay, whose name was on the papers?“

”Ruby Seddon—she was the mom. Rory’s name was Evan Bradford.“

Mark whistled, long and low. ”As in ‘son of Amos Bradford?’“

”It was some kind of private adoption. The family that got him was named Grabowski—he was Gregory Grabowski. When he turned twenty he petitioned to change it to Rory Griggs.“

”On the advice of an agent, I’d guess.“ Mark frowned. ”So when he went to change his name, he must’ve found all the same records you read. His parents, the ones who adopted him, never told him?“

”I don’t know. They were both dead by then. A car crash. This is really his first chance at happiness,“ she sighed. ”That was what I was hoping. I really wanted to be here for it.“

Mark considered that for a moment and then shook his head doubtfully. ”I don’t think this is going to have a happy ending. I think he killed the two people who saw that note. I’m not sure how he missed you—unless,“ he frowned, ”it didn’t matter anymore.” His frown deepened and then was replaced by a growing look of horror.

”Rory’s not here for a family reunion.” He turned and took off at a trot for the stage door, stuffing the note in his pocket as he ran.


NEXT ACT

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