(Note. I thought deeply on this one when I listened to a bit of Queen. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ADh8Fs3YdU.)
Jerome Kingsly watched as Vinne dropped in the middle of the performance. The director felt his heart drop, along with his lead actor. Luckily it was intermission.
Immediately Vinne was surrounded by concerned staff. “Somebody call an ambulance.”
“He’s not breathing.”
The stage doctor ran to the floor with his medical bag, “Out of the way. Give him some air.” he yelled before giving the raising star CPR.
The director held his head and felt like everything was going wrong, in a burst of frustration he let out a howl. Having done that a smoke was in order. “Somebody get him an ambulance. I might be joining him at the morgue.” Without another word the director waved at his staff in a tired manner and walked to the exit.
“Asshole.” Came from one of the stage hands.
Jerome heard but didn’t care, Vinne was dead, what could he do but sink into depression?
Taking out one of the cheapest cigarettes he could afford Jerome found himself out the emergency door, smoking right next to the railing.
Normally this would have been a minor set back as the understudy was already to slit somebody’s throat for the part, but before Vinne collapsed the dunce understudy had received an emergency phone call, something apparently happened to his family and it was too late to get him back.
Damn it, had all been going so well. “Just had to happen didn’t it?” Jerome asked the moth covered light above, “Probably got a brain haemorrhage up on stage and now we are so screwed.” he gave another curse as he threw his cigarette into the ground.
“Smoking is a bad habit Mister Kingsly.” Came a seductive voice at the back end of the alley.
Jerome looked to find a dark figure in the alley, “You want your money back? Go to the ticket office.” he was in no mood for an argument.
The woman stayed in the shadows, she seemed content to stand just outside of Jerome’s line of sight. “No no no Mister Kingsly. I have come to offer my help.”
Jerome laughed as he figured the only way she could help was if she was carrying a bottle of whiskey on her, “And how may I ask can you help me?” he gestures to the stage door. “My lead actor is lying down on the job. I’m telling you now. If he isn’t dead, he soon would want to be. I got a packed house and I have no understudy. So tell me how, besides putting me out of my misery. Can you help me?”
The figure took a step into the light. “Let’s just say I can provide certain services that can aid both of us.” In the dim light Jerome could make out that the stranger was dressed in a eighteenth century green dress with frilly lace, she wore white elegant gloves and looked amazingly petite, and in the figure’s hand was a set of antique opera glasses. The shadows still kept the woman’s face hidden in mystery.
Jerome smirked. “A little early for trick or treating isn’t it?” The woman looked like she was dressed up of a ball, or a historical movie.
The woman curtsied. ”I always wear this dress when I go out to the theatre. Since when is only the cast that get to enjoy fine tailors?”
Jerome shook his head at her, “You’re real crazy lady. Nice to look at though.” he said admiring her bust. “But I will say, you fill it out nicely.” He turned to leave the alley, “Now if you excuse me. I have to hang myself.”
The woman raised her finger. “Then perhaps you should listen to my proposal before you admit to the public something you don’t want to admit.”
Jerome looked at her. “Who are you lady?”
“I am simply a long-time fan of the more classical arts.” She took in a breath but there was no white stream as she exhaled. “I myself am putting together a play and planning special tour. A very exclusive, never before witnessed spectacle in my area. And I find myself in need of a shining new director.” She gestured to Jerome. “You have been on Broadway, your works have started countless careers.”
Jerome took in a breath of pride. Ever since he remembered he had worked in the theatre, starting as a sweeper and rising up through the hacks. Most stars in Hollywood knew his name and sent talented and non-talented teens his way. He had turned down reality TV shows, director spots on movies, and he was still going.
He knew his career could suffer this blow, an actor died in the middle of a performance, with the right journalist, Vinne could be more famous dead than he ever could be alive. It was more a blow to Jerome’s pride that hurt him. “The curtains are about to come up. Better speak fast.”
Jerome couldn’t see the ladies face, but could somehow tell she was smiling. “This is hard to say, but I can give you a… substitute actor.”
Jerome rolled his eyes. Ruined and a flop were two different things, you didn’t stay long in this business without learning the two. The woman sensing the irritation of the director spoke fast. “He will know the lines and no one but a few will tell the difference of your previous lead.”
Jerome gave her a sceptical look. It was possible that with the right costume Vinne could be replaced, of course the critics wouldn’t be so easy to trick but at least the show could go on. The problem was that it would takes weeks of rehearsals to get the feel right. It was easy to say that Jerome was sceptical. “Let me guess. He’s your relative and you want to give the little man a go?” That was always the case, even star actors would give their kids to him and give reassurances they were talented. He personally booted them off stage the moment they opened their mouth.
“No. I regret I do not know this man. But you will be pleased with the performance.”
The lady finally got Jerome’s attention but not in a good way. “And you want me to direct your play for you, if you pull this miracle out of your ass?” Jerome snorted and went inside. “You do that love, and I’ll do a hundred of your stupid screen writes. And I’ll even tap dance on stage.” with that, Jerome went to break it to the public that their lead was hospitalized.
The director of the already dead play reached the stage and saw that all of the stage hands were looking depressed, some even looked at him with distaste. He was use to that, he knew he was a mongrel to work with. A perfectionist. That was why everyone wanted to work with him. Jerome went to the doctor, who had covered Vinne’s body with a cloth. “Do I even have to ask?”
The doctor sighed. “Dead as Shakespeare. Looks like he was poisoned.” Jerome laughed and the doctor did not appear to be pleased. “And what’s so funny? A man has died.”
Jerome had been in this business for a while. He dealt with everything from actors sabotaging cars, to vengeful lovers, to psychotic fans. Murder had only happened a few times with his career, but it wasn’t the first time. “Oh nothing. I’m just tired.” He gave an exhausted breath that actors try for years to get right. “When are they getting here?”
“The ambulance was called first. The second after I noticed the signs we called the police. You running off won’t help.”
Jerome shrugged, “They want to book me they can.” he leaned down to the corpse on the ground. “Couldn’t wait till your death scene to pop off, could you?”
Jerome thought he could see the fabric move but it was only the trick of the light. The director didn’t even take three steps when the doctor gasped and cursed. “Oh what is it?” Jerome turned, and took a step back as he saw his lead actor sit up right.
Vinne had this confused look on his face like he didn’t know what was happening. “Did I faint or something?”
Jerome was speechless and did a mental check. Vinne had crashed the moment he hit the ground. Everyone thought he was dead but here the drama queen was looking like he had just gotten out of bed. “Where is everyone?” Vinne asked and then he looked like he had a thought. “Did I faint? Did we get shut down?”
“Not bloody yet.” Jerome yelled before giving Vinne a smack across the head. “You’re on stage in five seconds. Get to make up now, or I’ll kill you for real.” Vinne ran to the other cast and a chorus of screams could be heard.
Jerome grabbed the doctor by the ear. “I thought you said he was dead?”
“He was. He didn’t have a pulse.”
“I’ll bloody have your medical degree after this. I swear.”
The doctor looked like he was thinking. “I.I… maybe the poison stopped his heart.” his eyes went large. “He could drop at any second. We have to stop him.”
Jerome was not about to have that. It was said he worked his staff to death and he was about to prove them right. It was too late anyway. The curtain was already rising.
Jerome Kingsly was enjoying his cigar. The performance went off without any further trouble, and Vinne dropped dead right in front of the police saying that he drank the poison deliberately.
No investigation other than a few questions and that was it. Jerome was free to enjoy the next few hours in piece. That was until a knock came to the door. “What is it?” Jerome yelled annoyed he was getting interrupted during a euphoric moment.
The door opened to reveal the woman with the porcelain mask. “Good evening Mister Kingsly. I hope all is well.”
Jerome sat up, it was the woman from the alley and he knew what was coming. “Real peculiar Vinne dropping like that and suddenly getting back up like a weed, after our little talk lady.”
“Is it?” She asked innocently. “I had to pull a lot of strings to make that little number work.”
He was sure this woman poisoned Vinne somehow, but that would mean that there would be an investigation, and that was something he couldn’t afford at the moment. Jerome knew this woman was trouble and ambitious, which he knew was a dangerous combination from experience. He needed to tread carefully. “And you want me to direct your little play?”
The woman gave a wave. ”Oh it’s just a small work of art. I know it is below your level, but you are the best. A man that could turn even a dump of a script into a blockbuster.”
Jerome smiled, she was playing all the right keys, “And if I don’t participate?” he said very carefully.
The woman stared at Jerome for a minute longer than he liked. “Are you the type of person that would back off on a deal?”
The director didn’t have much in the industry, but he still kept his word. He said there was going to be a show, there would be. If he promised someone rain, he would make the entire crew do a rain dance. However, this woman was crazy and he was sure that she had planted evidence of some kind that could frame him. Well, it wasn’t the first time he had been muscled into doing bad scripts, Why should now be any different?
He tapped the counter. “Fine. Show me the scripts and I’ll put them on top of the pile.” The woman bowed and turned to exit the room, before she did though. Jerome asked her a question. “Just what type of show is it?”
The woman turned around, “Oh. You’ll love it. I admit it might take a while to get use to the new ordinance and the accommodations, but you will find that it will grow on you. I just thought to give our new director a moment’s notice before you join us.” she shrugged. “And make you give a final grand performance. It is always good to have impeccable resume. You would be surprised at what one bad review can do to you afterword’s.”
Jerome felt his heart ache a bit and shook his head, “Final?” he asked feeling his shoulder ache.
She looked up. “Shakespeare is so old fashioned. I will love to see his face when we really… what do you upsiders call it? ‘Kill it?’ Honestly, the man should of quit decades ago.” Jerome felt pain intensify and he crashed on the floor breathing heavily.
The woman picked up the cigar and removed her mask, her face was covered in rotting flesh and her lips looked like she had kissed a bear trap but still had traces of two century old lipstick.
Jerome looked up and had a heart attack, his career ending in a final success.
“I told you Mister Kingsly. It’s a bad habit.” The walking corpse said and took a deep inhale of the director’s cigar.