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Alex Peres Mystery 4 - Murder Came Second.docx
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Chapter 9

My plans for Friday morning had been to mount a bunch of photos and put them in their frames, ready to go to the various shops and galleries that carried them and needed replacements for those they had sold. Actually, I spent most of the morning on the phone.

Vance called. He and Dan just wondered if we were all right. We had been with them—and in perfectly good health—last weekend at the Poly/Cotton Club, but I thanked him for his concern, and no, no actors had yet arrived.

Lainey called, just wanting to make sure the blister on Cindy’s heel had healed properly. It had, nearly two weeks ago. No, no actors in sight.

Even Mary Sloan called. She and Ann hadn’t run into us in ages and were just wondering how we were. And had we met anyone famous yet?

Peter and the Wolf called, just to say “Hi.” “Hi” included a subtle question about “Anything new going on?” No, nothing new. Except our newfound popularity.

I looked at Fargo, who took that moment to walk to the door and give me a quizzical glance. “You are right, Dog of Dogs. It’s lunchtime, and I have accomplished nada. I think I’ll repair to my ‘other office’ and let the answering machine do what those clever people at G.E. built it for.” I eased around him and was out the door before he realized he was left behind. “I’m sorry, Fargo,” I called. “We go through this every summer. It’s just too hot!”

Ever efficient, I took the car and stopped by Gammon’s Nursery to pick up the forgotten mulch. Then, with incredible luck, I got a parking space right at the head of the alley leading down to the Rat.

The day was having trouble making up its mind what it wanted to do. I’d awakened to clouds, which gave way to sun. Now the clouds were moving in again.

Even at the Wharf Rat there was no escape from the world of drama. Joe’s opening words were, “Are they here yet?”

“Not as of half an hour ago, and I’m already sick of hearing about them. Just give me a Bud, Joe. My phone has rung off the hook for two days. How does word get around so fast?”

He beat his hands on the edge of the bar and intoned, “Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. Okay, one Bud. Want a pastrami? It’s nice and lean.”

“Why not?”

“Hi, Alex.” The aroma of garlic and beer was a sure ID.

“Hello, Harmon, how are you?”

“I understand you got a bunch of actors movin’ in next door at Bob Brownlee’s place.”

“Yes, but they aren’t here yet.” Maybe I could just tape this sentence and play it when asked.

“Well, Bob, he ast me to look after the yard while they’s away. I’m glad to do it, of course, they’re nice and they always pay good. But it’s a perfect excuse to be there a lot and keep an eye on things.”

Unthinking, I replied, “Oh, I think all the valuables are safely locked away, Harmon. You don’t have to worry about theft . . . not that I have any reason to think they’d steal anything. They’re probably perfectly honest.”

“Maybe, maybe not.” He raised his chin and straightened his stance. “I’ll be on the lookout, never you fear. You tell Sonny there ain’t no drugs gonna go in nor out of that place but what I know it. You tell him I’m on the job.”

“I will do that, Harmon.” And I knew Sonny would be thrilled. I had no idea if our unseen actors enjoyed an occasional recreational drug, or shot up heroin four times a day, or were clean as arctic snow. But I did know one thing: Bob Brownlee was going to have the best kept lawn in Massachusetts.

The weather had finally reached a decision. By the time I got to the car, the dust on the windshield was beginning to spatter into mud. By the time I got home, the rain had settled into a slow drizzle that looked as if it might stay a while. Pulled up in front of the Brownlees’ were two white vans. Or, more accurately, one van was parked in front of the Brownlee’s, the other was behind it, blocking my driveway. Eight or nine people milled around the vehicles, unloading enormous amounts of luggage.

I stopped in front of my house and opened the car door, to hear Fargo barking lustily and ceaselessly out the dining room window. What really intrigued me was that he seemed to be sitting on the little antique table Marcia had given us, and I wondered what had happened to the lamp that ordinarily sat on it.

I got out of the car, to be greeted by a good-looking big, tall guy with his hand extended.

“Hello. We’ve blocked your driveway. I’m sorry. I’ll get one of the drivers to move the van as soon as I can find him. We’re not quite organized yet. I’m Noel Fortnum, by the way.”

We shook hands. I knew who he was. I’d seen him in a revival of Mame, where he’d played Mame’s ill-fated millionaire husband. He’d done some TV stuff, too, I recalled.

“Welcome to a rainy Provincetown. I’m Alex Peres, and don’t worry about my car. It won’t melt.” I smiled. “Nor will I.”

“Well, let me at least see what I can do about getting some luggage out of here.” He turned toward the van and then back. “Oh, hi, Terese. Some of this stuff is yours, isn’t it? Point it out and I’ll get it out of the van for you. And Terese Segal, meet our next-door neighbor, Alex Peres.”

“Everything has an ID tag, all you have to do is look. My room is Number One upstairs. You can put it there. Careful with the laptop.” Ms. Segal, wearing a raincoat and hat with her wispy, carrot-colored hair now frizzled around the edges like some longunstarched lace trim, gave me a head to toe look and dismissed me as one of the dull natives. We did not bother to shake hands.

“That your dog?”

“Yes.”

“I hope he’s not going to be a nuisance. Why is he barking so much?”

“His original owner was a porn film maker. It traumatized the puppy so much he still is frightened of actors.” Actually, Fargo’s breeder was a lovely retired postman with a farm in Vermont, who probably thought Doris Day films were daringly risqué. And I had owned Fargo since he was eight weeks old. He wasn’t afraid of anybody. He assumed everyone he met loved him. Mostly, he was right. With the charming Ms. Segal, I wasn’t so sure.

“You wouldn’t believe what I’ve spent on shrinks for him. What part do you have in the play? Lady Macbeth?”

I heard Noel smother a laugh. Ms. Segal tightened her already small mouth and answered, “No, I’m not one of the troupe. I’m an embedded journalist for the A-List.” She favored me with a slight wiggle of her somewhat pointy nose, a professional prerequisite, perhaps.

I knew the A-List was one of those weekly magazines filled with information, disinformation and misinformation about various celebrities and wannabe celebrities and used-to-be celebrities. My only question was: with whom was Ms. Terese Segal currently embedded?

She took me aback with her next question. “Tell me, are there a lot of drugs in Provincetown?”

“I really am not up on that,” I answered. “They’ve never been my thing.” And then I had one of my ingenious, but not always wise, thoughts. “However, I know a fellow who does undercover work for the Ptown cops . . . closest thing we have to a narc, I guess. He hangs out at the Wharf Rat Bar, says he gets lots of tips there from the fishermen. Just ask the bartender to point out Mr. Harmon Killingsly, and he’ll be glad to help you, I’m sure.”

She scribbled Harmon’s name into a notebook, nodded and turned away without further comment. I had served my purpose, I no longer existed. Well, thank you, too, Ms. Segal.

Noel was at my side again, having unloaded the contents of the van onto the sidewalk. “She’ll be waiting awhile before I carry her bags up. I haven’t bellhopped since my college days in the Poconos. Since you’re here, why not meet the rest of us? We aren’t all that bad.”

“I’m sure.” I laughed. “Just let me go and see why my dog seems to be sitting on the dining table. I’ll be right back.”

Inside, I did indeed find Fargo sitting on the table, nose stuck through the blinds like that of a curious old woman. The lamp was lying on the floor, and paw marks smudged the tablecloth. I shooed him off and quickly turned the tablecloth over, picked up the lamp, more or less smoothed out several small dings in the shade and put it back on the table. There! All good as new. I leashed Fargo and we went out. I wanted to be able to give Cindy as full a report as possible.

My next introduction was to Teri Malewski, who was to play Ophelia. She was a pretty blonde in her early twenties, standing beside her luggage, which consisted of a battered duffel bag and an obviously new and expensive suitcase. Her bags rather summed her up, I thought—newly into stardom, yet with personal experience perhaps far beyond her years. She was polite but distracted, obviously looking for someone.

Her search ended as a navy blue Porsche pulled up behind my car, and a tall, slender man got gracefully out. “Oh, Paul, thank God you’re here! For some reason they’ve put me way up on the third floor with Nick Peters, you know, that creepy stage manager. We’ve got the only two rooms up there, and I have to share a bathroom with him!”

She leaned her head against his chest. “Oh, Paulie, I’ll be way up there all alone with him, and he’s weird! Can’t you do something?”

“Yes, yes, darling, you’ll be quite . . . Don’t worry. Nick is sometimes just a little hard to . . . Stay cool, Paulie is here and you know

I . . .”

During all this, Paul Carlucci managed to absorb Noel’s introduction and offered me a firm warm handshake, topped off with a salesman’s smile. “Ms. Peres! Delighted . . . heard such lovely things about you from Ellen Hall. We must have you and your friend for drinks . . . getting settled today, but soon, soon . . . looking forward to it! Yessir, very soon . . .” And he was gone, still smiling and nodding, with a comet’s tail of people behind him asking questions and wailing problems. He must have infinite patience. The hullabaloo around him didn’t seem to bother him in the least.

My next introduction was to Elaine Edgewood. Both her name and face were familiar to me, but I couldn’t place her. She was fairly tall, with a long and graceful neck, and rather average looking at first glance—straight brown hair in a ponytail, but with lovely brown eyes and an expressive mouth that gave her an elusive beauty. I put her at plus or minus forty-five.

Noel gave her an affectionate hug. “Elaine is Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude—my inamorata in the play, by the way. Unfortunately, in our little play she’s usually called Queenie. Silly name.”

Elaine raised her eyebrows and grinned. “There are those who might say it’s a silly play. Not I, of course. I think we may present a Hamlet that will make more headlines than the original ever did.”

She and Noel laughed at some private joke, and I smiled politely. “Ms Edgewood, I’m sure I’ve seen you somewhere recently. You look very familiar, but I’m having trouble—”

“Please call me Elaine. I’m getting ancient enough, fast enough, as it is. Well, my most recent Broadway role was Sylvia, the older sister in Fondly Remembered. Or, a few months back on TV, I played Molly, the half-Indian woman in the Follow the Sun miniseries.”

“Oh, that’s it, I’m sure. Yes, I enjoyed your role. She was quite a character.”

“Thank you . . . oh, excuse me a moment.” She turned toward a rather short, almost pudgy man standing behind her, apparently listening to our conversation. “Nick.” She smiled. “I tried to shift your footlocker, but it’s a mite hefty. If you could just take it out, I could get my stuff out, and I think that would empty this van that’s blocking Alex’s driveway. The driver could take the van wherever they’re going to keep them, or you or Noel could just move it out of the way. At least let the woman get to her own garage and out of the rain.”

“You do love things neat and orderly, don’t you, Elaine? Anything to have everything in a tidy little box, so it looks like all’s well with the world.” He put out his hand to me. “I’m Nick Peters, the stage manager, the only plebian in this august group. I hope we’ll all make good neighbors.” His smile was sweet, contradicting his sarcastic speech, but I noticed his light blue eyes seemed watchful and did not warm up with the smile. Elaine looked pained and turned away.

“I’m sure you will make lovely neighbors.” I smiled back. “The problem may be the other way around. Just about everyone I know is all excited about having a theater group in town. By tomorrow, they may be lined up along my wall, hoping to meet you.”

“Oh, they won’t even notice me,” Nick almost simpered. “My name is in small print in the Playbill. But they’re sure to be begging autographs from our leading man, won’t they, oh, royal Prince Hamlet?”

“Not unless the weather improves.” The subject of Nick’s snipe sauntered across the lawn to us. The rain had dwindled to a fine mist, and he wore no hat, revealing blond curls flecked with raindrops. He was tall and broad-shouldered, with narrow hips clad in tight jeans. His tan flattered his deep blue eyes, and as he neared us we received the full brightness of his smile. He was quite gorgeous and well aware of it. “Hi. I’m David Willem.”

“Alex Peres,” I answered. “And trusty companion, Fargo.”

“Hello, trusty companion. I’ll bet you take very good care of your owner. Watch out, Elaine, there’ll be no sneaking over the wall at midnight with Fargo on guard,” he teased.

“Don’t be bitchy, darling. And if I go sneaking over walls I always carry a doggy biscuit.”

Well, that answered one question. I had thought Elaine might be gay. About the men, I wasn’t sure yet.

Carlucci appeared on the porch. “Sorry to interrupt, but I need you all inside for a moment. Let’s get things settled in here, and maybe go over a few ground rules. Come on, my happy band of brothers—and sisters. Dear Alex, you will forgive us . . . just dull, dull business . . . drinkies soon . . . perhaps tomorrow . . .” Did he ever finish a sentence?

Fargo seemed happy to get home. So was I. I felt some tension in the air, like an approaching electrical storm—not about me, but surrounding my new neighbors. They had all been very nice to me, except for the embedded journalist, and I felt I had handled that well. I was sure she considered me a dull and stupid local and wouldn’t bother with me anymore, which was exactly what I preferred. And once she found Harmon, she should have no trouble thinking up headlines.

As for the troupe in general, I wasn’t sure they were in the least a happy band.

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