The Ghost With Nine Fingers", a THREE LOVE A MYSTERY radio play, is copyright 1999/2000 by Brian Christopher Misiaszek.
SOUND (knife clattering to floor)
JACK: I thought that business about the knife sounded familiar... Careful, Reggie. Kick it over here, across the floor.
SOUND (knife sliding across wooden floor)
JACK: Got it!
SOUND (theatre lights being flicked on. Try to make them echo if possible)
REGGIE: Jack, the theatre is all lighting up!
JACK: It certainly is. Stage lights, spot lights, footlights, balcony, aisle...but I donít see anyone who could have turned them on.
DOC: Answer me Nasha, whereís the Maestro. Is it him monkeyiní with the lights?
JACK: Do you have a good grip on her, Reggie? It looks awkward with the two of you on the floor with those trestle legs and the coffin thrown together in a heap down there by the footlights.
REGGIE: I have her elbows pinned behind her back now, so she can't bite or claw me. (effort) Up you go, young lady!
NASHA: (panting) You will pay for this! First I shall speet on you, then I will keel you, then I will dance beautifully on your grave! Nasha has spoken!
REGGIE: Temper, temper, Nasha. !...ouch!...Now don't try that again, young lady, if you know what's good for you.
DOC: What's that sheís a weariní? It's all in black like a bathing suit!
JACK: Its those black tights that acrobats wore. You remember, she wore a pair just like them in Dry Gulch Mary's boarding-house.
DOC: Oh, yeah. I kinda forgot. Though its nice to re-remember, and nicer to see them again. How ya doing, Nasha?
NASHA: Dogs! I shall claw out your eyes and make you eet them if you do not let me go!.
DOC: Is that gratitude for you, Nasha? It was Jack Packard here who saved you from the hoose-gow when your boyfriend went to jail.
NASHA: (haltingly) Jack...Packard? Ees it...Meester Packard!
JACK: It is.
REGGIE: I say, she stopped fighting me, Jack!
BROWN: (off mike) Release the girl! (louder) I have a gun, and Iím not afraid to use it!
DOC: (blurts out) Jack, Reggie, what did I tell you? What did I tell you! It's the Maestro!
REGGIE: Jove, it can't be! The Maestro! The same steel grey hair, enormous bulk and all! This time in a black tuxedo and a red-lined cape, no less!
JACK: (grimly) I can see him. Off to the left side of the stage.
BROWN: And I can see all of you! No donít move, anyone. Release the girl, and raise your hands.
SOUND (Heavy footsteps moving across wooden stage, then stop)
BROWN: Nasha! Behave yourself!
NASHA: Yes Master. They think...they think you are the Maestro!
BROWN. So they do, do they? (Louder) Gentlemen! Can you please tell me why you have intruded on my show's rehearsal so rudely? Quickly now, before I ring for the police!
DOC: Careful Jack, he's got a shootin' iron in his fist!
JACK: (low voice) I can see that...and something else. (Louder) You won't be needing that, Mephisto, or whatever you call yourself.
REGGIE: Jack, what's going on here? What's the Maestro talking about, calling for the police?
JACK: Fellows, I think we've made a mistake here.
DOC: You mean about the Maestro?
JACK: No, I mean about Mephisto!
BROWN: (hearty laugh) Quite right my friend, quite right, but I'm afraid you have the advantage of me. But before you tell me who you and your clumsy companions are, again, could you please release my lovely assistant? Her flashing black eyes, black hair and slim figure are not meant to be framed in the arms of the young blonde Hercules.
JACK: Certainly. (low voice) Release the girl, Reggie.
REGGIE: (low voice) Are you sure that's wise, Jack?
BROWN: Oh yes, donít forget to raise your hands, gentlemen... (pause) Have you been hurt, Nasha?
NASHA: (Off mike) I am without harm, Master.
DOC: (Incredulously) Jack, have you gone plain loco fella? We just grabbed Nasha and the Maestro and you're rolling over and playing dead for these two ciffy cats!
REGGIE: Doc, the gun, remember?
DOC: Oh, only one of them has gotta gun, Reggie!
JACK: Certainly I'm sure, Doc, and I'll tell you and Reggie why in a moment, just after I make sure. But first, let Nasha go.
DOC: (anguished) But Jack...!
JACK: Just do it, Reggie.
REGGIE: (lower voice) I Bally well don't like this one bit. Not one bit, I say. First Nasha appears out of an empty coffin and tries to throttle me, next thing we are the best of friends with the Maestro.
BROWN: Regardless of the fact none of you are making any sense, I still don't know who you three gentlemen are, and why you have attacked my assistant.
DOC: (low growl) As if he didn't know.
REGGIE: (low growl) And Iíll second that.
JACK: (low voice) Quiet Doc, Reggie. (Louder) My name is Jack Packard, and these two other men with me are Doc Long and Reggie York. We are private detectives, and our offices are just around the corner off Hollywood Blvd.
BROWN: Indeed? You wouldn't have any, let us say, credentials to that effect on your person?
JACK: We do. Not only Photostats from our California licenses, but papers also from the Hollywood Chief of Police.
BROWN: Credentials can always be forged. Yet, somehow you seem to know my assistant, Nasha, and she you. Nasha, what do you know about these three men?
NASHA: (reluctantly) They are, as they say, dee-tectives, Master.
BROWN: And when and how did you come to know these three men, Nasha?
NASHA: Six months, a year ago or so, I do not know. I met them when I was traveling with...with the Maestro. They were the ones responsible for sending him to prison. And it is Mr. Jack Packard I owe my freedom to. It was he who wrote a letter to the judge on my behalf.
BROWN: So you three know of the Maestro (pause) How very interesting. Very interesting indeed. You may lower your hands, gentlemen. As you can see, I have put my revolver away.
REGGIE: (low voice) And that makes me feel bloody well better.
DOC: (whisper) He's close enough now, and without his gun...Shall we jump Ďem now, Jack?
JACK (whisper) No! (louder) Thank you. I know who you AREN'T, but I'm not certain of your true identity. Mister...?
BROWN: My stage name is Mephisto, and my real name is Lester Brown. Mephisto is much more impressive than Lester, don't you think? (Hearty laugh). And there seems to be no need for me to introduce my stage assistant to you gentlemen.
NASHA: To have dared to lay hands on Nasha! (pause) But I will forget that insult, which was not intentional of the tall blonde one. You must forgive me for trying to defend myself in the dark.
REGGIE: Apology accepted, Nasha.
DOC: And what about me, Nasha baby?
NASHA: Bah! Always with the names! You do not speak to me in such famee-liar tones!
DOC: Now, take it easy Nasha, honey.
NASHA: You do not call me Nasha Honey!
DOC: Well if that's the way you want it, sugar.
NASHA: You do not call me shu-ghar, either, or I shall steek a knife in you!
DOC: Huh! Thatís some gratitude for you!
JACK: (low voice) Never mind the romancing Doc, that isn't getting us anywhere. (louder) What I want to know is why you are impersonating the Maestro, Mr. Brown.
REGGIE: Jove, impersonating?
DOC: Hey, whadja mean, Jack?
JACK: Just look at his hands, and youíll see what I mean.
DOC: Hands? I don't get you fella?
BROWN: (shorter chortle) And I am sure I don't understand your friend, either.
JACK: Never mind that. Just show us both your hands, with the fingers out, and I'll explain in a moment, Mr. Brown.
BROWN: If you insist. There you go, gentlemen.
JACK: Well Doc, Reggie, does that answer your question?
DOC: (counting slowly) ...seven, eight, nine, ten. Well spank me for a baby.
REGGIE: Quite. He has all his fingers, Doc.
JACK: Right. Meaning he can't be the Maestro, if none of his fingers were shot off!
DOC: (low voice) Say Jack, thereís no chance that he isnít using a rubber finger or somethiní, is there?
BROWN: (hearty laugh) Look closer, my Texas doubter and youíll see every joint is pink and intact. First finger, middle finger, ring finger, pinkie and thumb on both hands. (short laugh) They can wiggle, too, and are quite nimble at cards and sleight of hand..
SOUND (snap of a playing card)
BROWN: My card, gentlemen!
DOC: Hey, thatís pretty good, feller. That card appeared as if from thin air!
JACK: They are all his own fingers, Doc. And the card does say, ďMEPHISTO, with a Mr. Lester Brownís name below it in italics, along with a San Diego address. If itís a fake, itís a well prepared and rehearsed fake.
BROWN: (hearty laugh) Indeed both my fingers and my name are real, Mr. Packard. (pause) So you three men thought I was the Maestro, Nasha's old and somewhat sinister employer? Ah! That explains your wariness, but not precisely why you are here.
JACK: We thought we saw the Maestro, who should have been in prison on a life sentence for murder, and followed you here. We were interested because we played a role in getting him sent to prison. Weíve also just learned he is dead, starved to death in prison some weeks ago. But it doesn't explain you, Mr. Brown or Mephisto, dressing and acting like the Maestro!
BROWN: (Hearty chuckle) Allow me to explain. I have been a stage magician for some time; very good, but also very hungry. One my magician role models was The Maestro, even though he trod the boards but rarely at the Magic Castle and other venues.
NASHA: Your star is rising, Master. Higher and higher!
BROWN: (Again, the beefy laugh). Thank you,
Nasha...I was working in a nightclub in San Diego, going from table to table performing small tricks of sleight of hand and legerdemain for the patrons when I recognized Nasha dancing in the chorus.
NASHA: I love the dancing. It is what I do best. But also a very good magician's assistant, I am!
BROWN: And indeed she is, gentlemen. You don't realize how valuable a good assistant is to a magician, gentlemen. Their speed and dexterity, their timing and knowledge of working a crowd. Suffice it to say, I convinced Nasha to give up her job in the night clubís chorus, and come work for me. With my costume I have a very similar build and appearance to her previous and deceased employer, a similar magical repertoire, and now with Nasha, I have created a show very much in the style of the Maestro, albeit with a slightly changed content.
DOC: So you ripped off the Maestro's act, huh, Mister Mephisto, if that's what your name is?
NASHA: That is an insult to Mephisto! Shall I claw his eyes out, Master!
BROWN: NASHA, behave yourself, and act like a lady! (pause, then painfully) I beg your pardon, Mister, umm.
DOC: Long; that is. Doc Longís my name!
BROWN: Mr. Long, uh...I didn't, as you so vulgarly put it, "rip off" his act, as much as I emulated its style and finesse. I must admit, I am using some of his original paraphenalia, but with with learning that the Maestro was dead, I thought no one would mind. (softer) But I was wrong.
REGGIE: I say, I don't understand, Mr. BROWN...or is it Mr. Mephisto, you prefer?
BROWN: Please, simply call me Mephisto, Mr. Yorke is it?
REGGIE: Well, Mephisto, what do you mean, someone minds you recreating the Maestro's act?
BROWN: Exactly what I said. Someone minds.
JACK: Youíve caught my curiosity, Mephisto. Could you explain yourself?
BROWN: Certainly. I've been having some good success in San Diego over the last three weeks with my act there with Nasha. Very good press, oh yes. With some columnists knowledgeable of magic acts comparing my show favorably with that of the Maestro's, which was even very flattering. I even managed to get a good booking here at the Hollywood Orpheum Theatre for two weeks, starting tomorrow night. Only...well, I started getting some threatening letters. But thatís another subject, and I hope youíll let me keep it to myself.
DOC: But looky here, Mephisto, if you wonít tell us about that, could you tell me how come you look so much like the Maestro we know and despise?
BROWN: Simply a costume, Mr. Long! My alter-ego, if you were. My original hair colour is brown, only now it is dyed steel grey. Iím wearing some colloidian over my face to make it look older, and this padded suit Iím wearing seemingly adds 50 pounds to my weight. Iíve taken to wearing this outfit every time I leave my hotel room in the guise of Mephisto.
DOC: Sort of a trademark, huh?
BROWN: (hearty laugh) Precisely. After all, as a stage magician, Iím first of all a performer! I have to stand out! I have to advertise! I have to stand out! In fact, I managed to scavenge some of the old artwork that the Maestro had used several years ago, and simply replaced my name MEPHISTO over his.
DOC: And I guess that explains the poster I found, too.
BROWN: That is correct.
JACK: And it was you and Nasha that Doc saw from the window of our office alighting from a taxi-cab.
BROWN: Exactly, my friend.
REGGIE: Well, what Iím dying to know, Mister, er, Mephisto, is how did you work it to get Nasha in the coffin under our very noses in the dark with a noisy and squeaky stage? We all looked inside, and one minute the coffin was empty, and the next she was inside?
JACK: Never mind that now, Reggie. More importantly, what I want to know Mephisto, is why you had Nasha hide in the coffin when we arrived in the theatre?
BROWN: Ah. You must realize, gentlemen, that both Nasha and I have been somewhat on edge, recently. When we heard intruders, we felt discretion was the better part of valor; I retreated to the light-panel, while Nasha stayed safely inside my magical paraphernalia.
JACK: You mean worried about your upcoming show, or some other stage magician stealing your act?
BROWN: Not exactly.
JACK: Go on, Mephisto. What do you mean?
BROWN: Well, if Nasha trusts you, Mr. Packard...
NASHA: I trust Meester Packard. The red headed one, both his eyes and hands, they wander, but I trusy Meester Packard with my life!
DOC: (grinning) Insults after insult. Iím ashamed of you, Nasha!
BROWN: Well, if Nasha trusts you, I suppose I can too, Mr. Packard. (Pause) You remember, gentlemen, a little earlier, I was telling you about there being something disturbing that happened during our last few days in San Diego, before coming to our booking here.
JACK: I remember you mentioning that, then changed the subject.
BROWN: Well, as I said, I started getting threatening letters, warning me to stay away from Hollywood, and to quit my act. To elaborate, the letters promised if I didnít quit my act, both myself and Nasha would die horrible deaths.
DOC: Poison pen-pals, huh? Too cowardly to face you, so they pull this low down skunky trick.
BROWN: There were three letters in total, including the one I received today at my hotel room. Each arriving without a postage stamp, each printed with a black crayon.
SOUND (start sound of thunder and rain very low, and slowly bring to a rise)
JACK: Do you have any of these death threats on you now?
BROWN: No, I burned them, including the one I got today. I felt quite anxious about having them around, for I didnít want Nasha to see what they said, though I showed her the signature. You see, not only were they threatening death if I continued my act and my livelihood, they were all signed the same impossible way.
DOC: What do you mean, impossible, feller?
BROWN: They were all simply signed, THE MAESTRO.
REGGIE: (pause, then softly) Deja vu, eh Jack.
JACK: Forgeries, were they?
BROWN: No, I can assure they were not, Mister Packard!
REGGIE: Jove! Are you sure?
BROWN: Nasha was sure.
NASHA: It is true, Meester Packard. I recognized them as coming from my old Masterís. He has come back from the grave for revenge.
DOC: Revenge? Revenge for what?
BROWN: Nasha is somewhat superstitious, gentlemen. She has it in her head the Maestro is angry at me using his act and some of his equipment and gaining success and reknown where he did not. She also says he is very angry and vengeful because she has betrayed some of his magical secrets to me.
JACK: Is this what you think, Nasha?
NASHA: (breathless) Yes. In the old country, if one is not buried with their belongings, the dead come back to claim them. They cannot sleep if they think a thief has taken what is rightfully theirs.
JACK: Nasha, you donít really think that the Ghost of the Maestro has come back to punish you.
REGGIE: (low voice) Sheís shivering Jack...she really does believe!
BROWN: There there, Nasha.
JACK: I see she does...Nasha...NASHA, look at me!
NASHA: Oh oh...ye...yes Meester Packard?
JACK: Nasha, I knew that you were in the Maestroís powers for quite some time. But he is dead now. Heís dead. And no one can come back from the dead!
NASHA: (pause, then low) Are you sure, Meester Packard? I am so afraid that the Maestro has come back, theenking I have betrayed his trust. Wanting to keel me for betraying his magical secrets and routines. And there was another theeng about his magical para--.(loud gasp) What is that sound?
SOUND (thunder and lightning up to full now)
DOC: Hey, there must be a door or window open somewhere!
REGGIE: Quite...I thought I noticed the sound of the rain for the last few minutes now myself.
NASHA: No! Not the rain! I heard something moving above us.
BROWN: Just a moment, Nasha; thatís just the thunder you are hearing. I'm curious, though, Mr. Packard...how did you three men get inside the theatre?
JACK: We came in the side door. But I was careful to latch it shut when we entered. So it is unlikely to have become free on itís own. Is there another entrance to the theatre we donít know about, Mephisto?
BROWN: Well, besides the front and side doors, thereís the loading dock at back. But what--
SOUND (A shot rings out!)
NASHA: (A shrill curt scream!)
SOUND (the scream is immediately followed by the thud of a slumped body falling to the floor)
DOC: Nasha! Somebody just shot Nasha!
JACK: Down. DOWN AND BACK EVERYONE! THAT SHOT CAME FROM ABOVE!
SOUND (second and third shot)
SOUND (USE RECORD BELLS AND WIND)
ANNCR: You have just heard the third chapter of "The Ghost With Nine Fingers." The further adventures of the Jack, Doc and Reggie and the A-One Detective Agency will come to you tomorrow at this same hour. "Three Love A Mystery", by Brian Christopher Misiaszek comes to you Monday to Friday through the courtesy of Old Time Radio. This is the Unusual Broadcasting Company.