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Chapter 1: The Role Players

Cover of The Role Players

Chapter 1

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players….” Shakespeare said that, of course, and you’ve got to admit the guy had a way with words. If you doubt him, just go to any bar on a Saturday night. As we go through life we all tend, consciously or not, to pick out some sort of role for ourselves as our way of dealing with the world—how well we play it varies from person to person.

I guess what Willie meant was that very few people, if any, are exactly who they appear to be on the outside; it doesn’t take a private investigator to figure that one out. But maybe that’s why people tend to be so fascinated with actors, who are people who are not who they seem to be pretending to be people who are not who they seem to be…well, it gets a tad confusing. How they can possibly keep track of who they’re supposed to be at any given time is beyond me.

Being in the company of someone who is really or has aspirations to be an actor is interesting enough, but when you’re surrounded by an entire theater troupe full of them, well, it’s really hard to pick out exactly who really are The Role Players.


* * *


“Wow,” Jonathan said softly to himself for about the thirtieth time, as he took yet another photo of the huge mounds of whipped-cream clouds surrounding us. This was his first time on a commercial flight—and first time in an airplane, as a matter of fact—and he, whom I often think of as a sensory sponge, was taking it all in with his usual enthusiasm.

Though I could tell he was a little nervous on takeoff, he was trying very hard to appear cool. But when I reached over to hold his hand as the plane began moving down the runway, he grabbed it tightly and gave me a quick smile of thanks. This elicited a stern look of disapproval from the business-suit type sitting in the aisle seat next to me. I merely stared at him until he gave a small “harumph” and turned his eyes back to his copy of Business Week. Jonathan was totally unaware, concentrating on listening to the roar of the engines (not that he could have avoided it) and watching the terminal and hangers passing by with increasing speed until the whole front of the airplane rose up, pushing us slightly back into our seats and the ground dropped away beneath us. Jonathan watched, transfixed, as we climbed out over the city and the hills that circled it to the north.

Whenever I flew, I always asked for a window seat and felt cheated if I couldn’t get one because, reluctant as I might be to admit it, I was always as fascinated with soaring through the sky as Jonathan was now. But this time I gladly deferred to Jonathan’s having the choice seat.

As always, I was secretly delighted by his ability to become so totally and unapologetically enthusiastic over things that pleased him. No halfway with Jonathan.

We were, in case you were wondering, on our way to New York (Jonathan insisted on adding ‘City’ whenever he mentioned it, probably lest someone think we were planning a vacation in Poughkeepsie) to visit Chris, my long-time ex, and his lover Max. They’d come out to visit us a while before, and invited us to come see them in return. The actual dates had been left open.

And then we got a call from Chris telling us that Max, who worked for a brokerage house on Wall Street by day, was going to be stage managing a new play for a small but rather well-known predominantly gay theater group he’d occasionally worked with before he met Chris. The company’s set designer had recently died of AIDS, and Max had agreed to do the stage managing only if Chris could apply for the set designer’s job. Since Chris was assistant to the head window designer for the flagship store of the Barton & Banks Department Store chain, he was asked to submit a few sketches and was hired. Chris’s excitement reminded me very much of Jonathan.

They’d insisted we come out for opening night and we could hardly refuse. Besides, I’d not had a real vacation in far, far too long, and Jonathan had never been to New York, and while I was perhaps a little better able than Jonathan to control my enthusiasm, we were both looking forward to it.

I’d been lucky enough to have been working almost steadily for the past month or so—nothing particularly exciting but at least I was paid promptly and fully for what work I did, which was something of a rarity for me, given my penchant for getting involved in cases for which I was neither hired nor paid.

And Jonathan had completed a full year at Evergreens, the landscape nursery where he worked, and got a week’s vacation with pay. He asked for and got a second week (no pay) to give us a little more flexibility in our length of stay. Chris and Max had timed their own vacations to include the week before the show’s opening and the week after. Because I knew that things would be pretty hectic for Chris and Max right up to opening night, we originally had planned to go for just one week, arriving the day before the opening. But they urged us to come for the same two weeks of their time off. Max especially, as stage manager, would be busy with the show nearly every night. Chris would be largely free, since the sets would already have been completed before the final week of rehearsals, and Max invited us to sit in on rehearsals any time we wanted.

That cinched it for Jonathan, who of course needed very little cinching.

We arranged for our friends Tim and Phil to come over and feed Jonathan’s fish and water the 14,000 plants he had salvaged from the trash bins at his work and lovingly nursed back to health.

* * *


The other shoe dropped the night before our flight. We’d called Chris to confirm that they’d meet us at LaGuardia at 1:15 when our plane got in. I could tell in his voice that something was wrong, and when I asked, he said that one of the play’s two leading men had been found dead early that morning, apparently mugged and shot the night before while on his way home from the theater. The police were already beginning to question everyone who had been at the rehearsal the night before. Other than the natural shock of having someone you know murdered, it of course was a terrific blow for the entire show. The understudy could and would step in—there was, after all, a week of rehearsal time left before opening night—but the murdered man had been the production’s single best-known actor, who’d had a minor career in Hollywood and did frequent guest appearances on TV. And to complicate things even further, he was also, apparently, the lover of the play’s author.

Aside from the blow to the company’s morale, it wasn’t a direct problem for Chris since, again, the sets were already designed and up, but it put tremendous additional pressure on Max’s responsibilities for riding herd on just about every detail of the production. A “new” leading man meant an entire new set of things to keep track of.

I of course asked if we should cancel our trip, but Chris was adamant—as, he insisted, was Max—that we come out as scheduled.

“We’ll do our best not to let all this interfere with you guys’ vacation,” Chris said. “And we’ve been waiting too long to see you as it is.”

I suggested that we could at least find our way into the city by ourselves, but again Chris insisted that they would be at the airport to meet us.


* * *


And so there we were, on an airplane beginning its descent for its final approach to New York’s LaGuardia airport where the temperature, the captain informed us over the intercom, was 78. We fastened our seatbelts and Jonathan watched intently as we descended below the clouds and over the sprawling city. When the engines changed pitch and the cabin shuddered briefly with the “thunk” of the lowering landing gears’ locking into place, Jonathan again reached for my hand. I glanced quickly at the business type on the other side of me, who had not said a single word during the entire flight other than to order three Bloody Mary’s from the stewardess. He was studiously avoiding looking at us so I was not obliged to tell him to go fuck himself.

I could see, by looking past Jonathan, the ground rushing up to meet us, followed by the gentle jolt of landing and the quick screech of the tires as they made contact with the runway, then the roar of the engines going into braking mode. And then relative quiet as the plane moved smoothly down the taxiway to the terminal.

As usual, despite the “Please remain seated until the captain has brought the plane to a complete stop” caution, several people began getting out of their seats to reach into the overhead racks for their belongings.

The minute the “remain seated” lights went off, the business type unbuckled his seatbelt, stood up to open the overhead, pulled out a large briefcase and, after a momentary pause to glare quickly at Jonathan and me, his lip curling into a slight sneer, he disappeared into the crowd heading toward the front of the plane and the exit.

Jonathan, too, was like a racehorse at the gate, his seatbelt undone and sitting forward and sideways in his seat, one hand on the seat-back in front of him, eager to get up and get going. He was clearly impatient with me as I remained seated to allow those who apparently believed the plane was about to explode at any moment pushed and jostled their way to the front.

“They’re going to think we missed the plane!” Jonathan said, plaintively.

I grinned at him. “I doubt it,” I said, and was treated to one of what I have come to think of as “The Martyr’s Sigh.” He didn’t use them often, but they were quite effective when he did.

“Okay, okay,” I said, getting up only to be hit in the ass with a large makeup kit being wielded by a lady who looked as though she could desperately use its contents.

No “excuse me,” just a quick scowl for my having dared to get in her way and she swept imperiously up the aisle.

Jonathan grinned. “Nice try,” he said.

Looking carefully behind me, I opened the overhead and took out Jonathan’s book bag, which he’d crammed full of extra clothes that he couldn’t squeeze into our two regular sized bags.

We were indeed among the last to get off the plane, and as we left the causeway and entered the main part of the terminal, Jonathan grabbed my arm and said: “There they are!” Sure enough, Chris and Max, grinning broadly, hurried up for an exchange of back-pat hugs, handshakes, and—after a quick dash to a concession stand for film—photographs all around.

Although we were among the last off the plane and took our time getting to the baggage area, when we found the carousel for our flight, the first bags were just starting to come off the conveyor and the feeding frenzy of passengers scrambling to retrieve their luggage and get the hell out of the airport had just begun.

“Give me the tags, Dick,” Jonathan said. “I’ll go get our suitcases. No sense all of us getting caught up in that crowd.”

“Okay,” I said, exchanging the tickets for his book-bag so he could wend his way through the mob more easily. Smiling broadly, Jonathan dove into the pack and expertly sidestepped and swerved and wriggled his way to the carousel.

As he disappeared momentarily into the crowd, Chris smiled and said: “Think he’s having a good time so far?”

I nodded. “He hides it well, doesn’t he?”

Since ours had been a non-stop flight, I was fairly sure there wasn’t much chance that our bags had gotten misdirected to Lisbon and I was right. Less than five minutes later we saw Jonathan retrieve one bag and set it at his feet between himself and the carousel. He reached for another, made a quick check of the tag in his hand, and let it go by. Almost immediately he spotted another, looked at the tags, and pulled it off the carousel. I handed the book-bag to Chris and moved forward to meet Jonathan as he wended his way back through the crowd.

“Ah, the luck o’ the Quinlans,” I said as I reached to take one of the bags. Rejoining Chris and Max, we followed them to the exit.

A friend in their building had lent them his car—like many New Yorkers, Chris and Max didn’t feel the need to own one themselves—and soon we were headed into the city, catching increasingly frequent glimpses of the impressive skyline across the river. As a special concession to Jonathan’s first trip to New York, Max took us over the Queensborough Bridge, which brought us onto Manhattan at the bottom of Central Park. Max turned up Park Avenue to 96th, then through the park to Central Park West. Chris acted as tour guide, pointing out various landmarks and points of interest as we drove by.

By the time we’d turned left on Broadway and were approaching Times Square—something I knew few New Yorkers in their right minds would ever do in their own car if they could avoid it—I was beginning to think Jonathan might be close to sensory overload. He’d been silent most of the trip (a pretty strong indication right there), and he just kept staring in apparent disbelief that he was actually there.

While we weren’t exactly from Hicksville Junction ourselves, it surely wasn’t New York, either, and for a kid who was originally from a small town in Wisconsin and who’d never been on an airplane until today, it was all pretty overwhelming.


* * *


As we entered Greenwich Village, Jonathan pointed to a street sign and said happily: “Christopher Street! The Christopher Street?”

“Yep,” Max said.

Jonathan turned his head to keep the sign in sight as long as possible, then turned back in his seat. “ Wow!” he said. “You’re so lucky to live in Greenwich Village!”

“Actually, we live in the West Village,” Chris said, “but close enough.”

Max and Chris lived on a narrow, tree-lined street less than ten blocks from Washington Square. Max pulled up in front of a very attractive four-story building which blended in perfectly with its three-and-four story neighbors. Chris, Jonathan, and I got out and retrieved our suitcases from the trunk, after which Max drove off to try to find a parking space. Jonathan slung his book-bag over one shoulder and picked up one of the suitcases as I took the other.

Chris led the way up the steps to the bright blue front door, taking out his key as we climbed. Like every other building on the block, the front entrance was raised above the street, allowing what might have been the basement in most buildings back home to in fact be a sunken apartment with its own steps leading down from a wrought iron gate.

The hall, when we entered, was neat, clean, and well lit. A stairway to the left led up, and we followed Chris to the second floor. We walked back past the stairs to a door close to the window overlooking the street. He took another key, unlocked the door, pushed it open and waved us in.

“Wow! Chris!” Jonathan said, looking around the high-ceilinged, cream-colored room, brightly lit from the large front windows. “This is fantastic! Look, Dick! They’ve got a fireplace!

I had to admit, Jonathan was right about the apartment. Chris’s decorating skills were clearly in evidence, and I thought back to the apartment we’d shared when we were lovers, fresh out of college and with very little money. Even then, Chris had done a great job with it. We’d actually built our first couch out of plywood and Styrofoam, and we haunted Goodwill for most of our other furniture, which we refinished ourselves.

Nothing Goodwill here.

“You like it?” Chris asked, smiling.

“I’m impressed,” I said. “You’ve done very well for yourself.”

I did notice several small pieces of artwork, a couple of sculptures, a crystal cigarette lighter and ashtray, and some other things I recognized immediately from our days together. An odd feeling, in a way. And I’m sure Chris must have felt the same when he and Max visited us. Though I’d moved from the apartment we’d shared, many of the…things…were the same.

Noticing we were still holding onto our suitcases, Chris said: “Come on; I’ll show you your room and the rest of the place, what little of it there is. I’m afraid the living room takes up most of the apartment.”

We followed him down a short hall. To the left was a very small kitchen, across from which was an open bedroom door.

“This is our room,” Chris said as we passed. Next to it, on the same side of the hall, was a bathroom with a claw-foot, bright white cast iron tub which had been retrofitted for use as a shower. Slightly opposite it, and behind the kitchen, was another small room with a comfortable looking couch, a desk, and several bookcases.

“The sofa’s a sleeper,” Chris said. “I hope you don’t mind. It’s really pretty comfortable. We needed a den, and there just wasn’t room for another full bed. I’ll pull it out for you later.”

Chris opened the door to a small, empty closet with lots of hangers. “I hope this will be big enough for your things,” he said. We assured him it would, and he excused himself to go off to start coffee while we unpacked.

As we walked into the kitchen—well, actually the kitchen was really too small to be practical for three people, so we stood in the doorway—the front door opened and Max came in. “I love New York,” he said, shaking his head, “but I’d never have a car here.”

We joined Max at the teak dining room table at the kitchen-end of the living room, and Chris came out with a tray with four mugs of coffee, an open carton of half-and-half, a bowl of sugar packets, and a couple of spoons.

“What?” I asked. “Not the good china?”

Chris grinned. “This is the good china,” he said. “At least for family…which includes you. I thought you might be insulted if we started treating you like guests.”

He had a point.

Max looked back and forth between Jonathan and me. “I see married life seems to agree with both of you,” he said. He looked at Jonathan appreciatively. “You, especially. What happened to that skinny kid we saw just a couple of months ago?”

I guess I hadn’t really realized it until now, seeing Jonathan every day as I did, but Max was right. Jonathan had filled out very nicely.

Jonathan blushed. “Well, when you haul trees and bushes and 50 lb. bags of mulch around all day.…”

“Well,” Max said, “whatever you’re doing, keep it up.”

We drank our coffee and small-talked about things that had been going on in our lives that we hadn’t covered in phone calls and letters. Max wanted to hear about the cases I’d been working on since their visit and I sketched in a couple of the more interesting ones. The conversation eventually got around to the play.

“Sorry to hear about one of the lead’s dying,” I said. “What do you know about it?”

“Not much,” Max said. “The police are on it—they’ve apparently contacted everyone who was at the rehearsal that night. A couple of cops stopped by here today just as we were getting ready to leave, and we told them what we could… which wasn’t much. Nobody’s heard anything more from them as far as I know. Given the neighborhood where they found Rod, and its proximity to a pretty notorious gay bar, Tait assumes they’re turning their focus there. Apparently there have been a lot of incidents around there, since bar neighborhoods make good hunting grounds for muggers.”

Max sighed, sitting back in his chair. “I gathered they’re pretty much convinced it was just a robbery gone wrong. But Rod’s death was a real blow. He was a recognizable name; he would have pulled in a lot of business.”

“You think the play won’t draw enough business on it’s own?” I asked, a little surprised that Max’s concern seemed to be more for the success of the show than for the poor guy’s death.

Apparently realizing what he’d said, Max did some quick back-peddling. “Sorry,” he said with a small smile. “I’m sure the play will do just fine. At least I hope so. It’s just that Rod was…well, he was kind of a…”

“I think ‘slut’ is the word you’re looking for,” Chris said with a very strange smile aimed directly at Max.

Max blushed. “Uh, yeah. I guess ‘slut’ would do it.”

Chris looked quickly from Jonathan to me. “Sorry,” he said brightly. “Just a little of the jealous lover cropping up in me, I guess.”

Jonathan and I looked at one another, not quite sure what to say, since neither of us had a clue as to what Chris was referring to.

Chris smiled sweetly at Max and said: “Tell them, Lamb Chop.”

Max shuddered and gave Chris a quick grin. “I hate it when you call me that.”

Chris returned the grin. “I know,” he said. “So tell them before they think we’re on our way to divorce court.”

Max gave another deep sigh. “Chris walked into the bathroom at rehearsal one night and found Rod putting his hand on my ass at the urinals. It’s not like I was standing there playing with myself just waiting for him to make a move!”

“I know,” Chris said. “Rod had the hots for Max from day one. The minute I saw him follow Max into the bathroom that night I knew what he had in mind.”

“Rod had the hots for everybody from day one,” Max amended. “You, too, if memory serves. Like the Sunday afternoon he showed up here when he thought I was at an A.A. meeting?”

Chris’ grin grew. “Yeah, that was kind of awkward, wasn’t it? But I’m sure it was just an innocent drop-by visit.” He leaned toward Jonathan and said in a stage whisper: “Actually, I gave him the wrong time by accident.”

“Uh huh,” Max said.

“Didn’t Dick tell me Rod and the guy who wrote the play were lovers?” Jonathan asked.

Chris and Max nodded in unison. “Yep,” Chris said, “which just adds to the general merriment.”

“How so?” Jonathan asked.

“Well,” Max explained, “Gene Morrison, the playwright, got his start here in New York, but then got lured away by Hollywood to write for the movies. That’s where he met Rod. I don’t know if you remember him—he went by the name Rod Pearce, though he’d changed it from something else.”

Jonathan’s eyes grew wide. “Rod Pearce? He played the soldier who got killed by that other soldier he made a pass at in…uh…”

War and Destiny,” I said. “Jesus, I thought I was the only one who remembered that movie. He really was a walking wet dream!”

Jonathan smiled. “Tell me!” he said. “On nights when my brother Samuel was away, I used to lie there in bed and think of Rod Pearce and…uh…” he left the sentence dangling, but we got the idea.

“Yeah,” I said, “me too.” Max, Chris, and I exchanged smiles.

“Anyway,” Max continued, “Rod had a short-term contract with one of the studios, but War and Destiny was the closest he ever came to making it big. He was a little too openly gay and refused to play the starlet-dating games the studio insisted on, so it didn’t renew his contract. He met Gene at a party just before his contract expired and recognized a good thing when he saw it. Gene is a great guy but, like a lot of writers, he’s basically pretty insecure and really, really quiet until you get to know him. So here we have quiet, shy Gene meeting Rod-the-never-shy hunk, and the rest is history.

“Gene hadn’t written a new stage play in nearly ten years, and he thought—or Rod convinced him—that writing one for Rod would be a way to help Rod’s career and get Gene back to doing what he loved best—theater.”

“Did Mr. Morrison know Rod was screwing around on him?” Jonathan asked.

Chris got up from the table to get more coffee, pausing behind Max to run one hand casually down under the front of Max’s shirt. Max reached up and held it through the fabric. It was a totally spontaneous gesture on both their parts, but it fairly well erased any possible thought of divorce court.

“I don’t know how he couldn’t have known,” Chris said. “But from what we can tell, he really loved him. He wrote Impartial Observer for him, I’m pretty sure.”

“Gee,” Jonathan sighed. “What a shame for Mr. Morrison.” He paused, then said: “What’s the play about?”

“It’s an allegory about society’s increasing loss of humanity, and where the world is headed. Rod, oddly enough, played the part of The Student, who is a time-traveler—neither one of the two primary leads has a name. It’s that kind of show.”

“So it doesn’t have a happy ending, then?” Jonathan said, trying to hide his disappointment.

Chris, who had reentered the room with a fresh pot of coffee, grinned. “Well, let’s just say it isn’t a musical. But it’s a pretty powerful show.”


* * *


Max had to be at rehearsal by seven p.m. so we agreed to a very early dinner at a gay restaurant just down the block from the theater, which was itself within walking distance of the apartment. It was a nice, comfortable place that reminded me vaguely of our favorite restaurant, Napoleon, back home. But, of course, the fact that this was not back home lent it an air of mystery and intrigue. The food was excellent, although the portions were just a little small for Jonathan’s appetite; of course he didn’t say so. Max had to leave before coffee arrived, and when the waiter asked if we’d like dessert, Jonathan nodded eagerly. He couldn’t decide between the Bavarian Torte and the cherry cheese cake, so I told him to order one and I’d get the other. Chris had French Apple pie. When our orders arrived, I made sure I only took a couple of bites—it was delicious, but I was in one of my noble moods—and insisted I was full and that Jonathan should finish it for me.

“Are you sure?” he asked politely, but reaching for the plate even as he spoke.

Chris looked at me quickly and grinned, but didn’t say anything.

* * *


After dinner, Chris took us on a walking tour of the Village. We passed the theater, which, though it had no formal marquee, wasn’t hard to miss. The entire front of the building was painted a bright purple, and a large painted sign stretching across the width of the building said simply “The Whitman Theater Group.” Flanking the glass double entry doors were large posters announcing: ‘Impartial Observer, a new play by Gene Morrison.’ Jonathan immediately spotted and pointed to the smaller-font credits, which included: ‘Set Design by Chris Wolff.’ He turned to Chris, beaming.

“Hey, Chris, you’re famous!” he decreed. “This is terrific! You must be really proud!”

Chris shrugged and gave Jonathan a small smile. “Well, let’s wait until you see the play before jumping to any conclusions.”

Peering into the theater from the street, we could see a small, dark lobby behind the glass doors, lit only dimly by a light behind the ticket window. There was no evidence that there was a rehearsal going on inside. Chris moved on, and I had to grab Jonathan’s arm to pull him away from the poster.

“Isn’t this great?” Jonathan said to me in a stage whisper.

I grinned at him. “Yeah,” I said, “it is.” And we hurried to catch up with Chris.

I’d been to the Village a couple of times before, but it was really nice to be with a native, as Chris now considered himself. He pointed out the homes of several famous people, writers and actors and artists, and both Jonathan and I were duly impressed, though Jonathan didn’t even bother to hide it.

We did a casual walk-through of Washington Square, which I guess I’d forgotten was not wall-to-wall gay, though it wasn’t hard to spot a goodly number of fellow travelers.

We stopped off for drinks at a couple of bars along the way and, all in all, had one great time.

“This play thing must really take up a lot of your time,” Jonathan said, picking the cherry out of my Manhattan and tapping in on his napkin to eliminate any trace of alcohol, then dangling it by its stem like a goldfish by its tail and lowering it into his mouth, putting the stem carefully on his napkin.

Chris sighed. “Yeah, it’s turned out that way. Not so much my time, now that the sets are done, but for Max. He has to be there for every single rehearsal and that cuts way into the time we have for our regular life. He was single when he did it before, and it’s been a while, so I don’t think he actually realized how much time it would take away from us. We’ve talked about it, and I think maybe this will be the last time he’ll do stage managing for awhile.”

“How did you like set designing?” I asked.

“A piece of cake, actually,” he said. “The set didn’t require much “design” at all. The whole thing is black. Just black. The only props are chairs—plain wood-backed chairs painted medium grey, a medium-grey table, and a large light fixture—basically just a cube suspended by one corner—hanging down from center stage. All the costumes are in shades of brown, grey, and white. The hardest thing for me was the backdrops for the hydraulic platform…” he paused and grinned. “Well, you’ll see it for yourselves. Just be ready to use a lot of your own imagination.”

Jonathan had been taking it all in, wide eyed. “It sounds great!” he said. “I can’t wait to see it!”

“You can come to rehearsal Monday night, if you’d like. Tuesday you’ve got tickets for Cats,” he said casually, glancing at Jonathan for his reaction.

Really?” Jonathan asked, as if he thought Chris was just teasing him. “I thought they were sold out for years! That’s fantastic!” he said, looking to me for confirmation. Then his expression changed to mild concern. “What did you mean ‘you’ve’? Aren’t you and Max coming with us?”

Chris gave him a slightly-embarrassed smile. “We saw it about a month ago. I didn’t mention it because I knew you wanted to see it. And we’d had our tickets ordered even before we came out to visit you.”

“But then how…” Jonathan began, but Chris stepped in with the answer before he finished the question.

“Tait Duncan, who pretty much is The Whitman Theater Group, pulled a few strings for Max when we found out for sure you were coming,” he said. “You’ll be sitting close enough to the stage that you can almost reach out and pull the characters’ tails—and there are a couple of guys in the cast whose tails I’d love to pull.” He grinned then, looking at me, quickly added: “…Were I not a happily married man.”

Uh huh, I thought.

* * *


We returned to the apartment a little after ten and were sitting in the living room talking when Max came in at around 10:30. With a nod to Jonathan and me, he walked directly over to Chris and bent over to give him a peck on the forehead.

“Rough one?” Chris asked as Max stood up and, placing his hands on his hips, did a back stretch.

“What’s happening to me?” Max asked. “I used to be a kid!” He looked tired.

I moved closer to Jonathan to allow Max to join us on the couch, onto which he plopped down heavily. He turned to Jonathan with a weak grin. “Enjoy it while ya’ got it, kid,” he said. Then he looked at Chris and said: “Does that answer your question?”

Chris nodded. “Yep.”

Max sighed. “We did a complete run through with Cam—he’s Rod’s understudy—for the first time.”

“Problems, I gather?” I asked.

Max gave me the same weak smile he’d given Jonathan. “Can we say ‘train wreck,’ boys and girls? All the actors play two or three roles. When Cam stepped into Rod’s part, that meant we had to get someone to take his parts, and…well, there was a hell of a lot of shifting around. But as a result, everybody was about a quarter octave off pitch—or would have been if this were a musical, but you get the idea. I have to give Cam credit, though, he knew every single one of Rod’s lines by heart. And Gene was there, like Banquo’s ghost, pacing back and forth behind the last row and not saying a word, which made everybody as awkward as all hell, not knowing what to say to the guy, or if they should say anything at all. Tait went back and asked him why he didn’t just go home and get some rest, but Gene insisted he just wanted to be there.”

He sighed heavily. “Well, hopefully Monday will go better. It couldn’t get much worse. And we open next Friday.” Turning to me, he said casually: “Oh, and Tait has invited us all over to his place tomorrow for lunch. He wants to meet Dick and Jonathan.”

“That was nice of him,” I said. “Especially considering everything he’s going through.” Jonathan nodded in agreement.

From the expression on Chris’ face, I gathered this invitation had not been of long-standing duration.

“Does Mr. Duncan know what I do for a living?” I asked, sensing something Max wasn’t saying.

Max looked a little embarrassed. “Yeah, I think both Chris and I had probably mentioned it to him at one time or another, and then tonight he called me into his office and was asking some questions about you.”

Gee, one of my mind voices—the one in charge of skepticism—observed, I can’t possibly imagine why.

“So there might be something behind the invitation other than just his being a nice guy,” I said.

Max sighed. “Well…I wouldn’t be surprised. He asked me not to repeat our conversation to anyone involved in the play, so I get the feeling…” he paused.

“Yes?” I prompted after the pause exceeded my three-second patience limit.

Max seemed to be having second thoughts about whatever he’d started to say.“Well,” he said, “I mean, this is your vacation, after all, and we don’t have to go. Hey, I can call Tait in the morning tell him we can’t make it. I can tell him you’d already made plans for the day.”

“No, no,” I said. “After his having gone out of his way to help get us tickets for Cats it would be pretty rude to ignore his invitation.” Now it was my turn for a slight pause before:“So you were saying about this feeling you had…?”

He shrugged. “I get the feeling he thinks one of us involved with the play killed Rod.”

Cover of The Role Players

 

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