Viola Avenue, page 1part #9 of Rose Hill Series
by Pamela Grandstaff
For My Mom
This book is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogue are drawn from the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons living or dead is entirely coincidental. No part of this may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
Copyright © 2016 Pamela Grandstaff. All rights reserved.
Professor Alan Richmond was tidying the drinks cart in his small but well-appointed apartment when there was a knock on the door.
“You’re a bit early,” he said as he opened the door, but then did not see whom he expected to see standing on the small porch at the top of the stairs.
“This is a pleasant surprise,” he said. “Do come in.”
After his guest entered, the professor scanned the alley and the immediate neighborhood for anyone who might be watching, but saw no one.
“To what do I owe the honor of this visit?’ he asked.
“I didn’t get the job.”
“Well, keep your chin up, dearie. In our line of work one will always hear more nays than yeas.”
“You said you’d call him.”
“I did call him,” he said. “He said you were very charming and attractive but wrong for the job.”
“I did everything you said to do. You said I was perfect for it.”
“I promised I’d call, pet, but the rest was up to you. As I’ve said, you just didn’t suit. So pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and look for the next opportunity.”
“You just told me what I wanted to hear so I’d do what you wanted.”
“Quite possibly,” he said. “Some rise by sin, and some by virtue fall. The big fish devour the little fish, but one might also recommend the little fish to an even bigger fish. If you want to succeed in this business you have to take pains to please whomever is in a position to help you. It won’t always work out. You’re not a child anymore, my love, it’s time to open your eyes.”
“What am I supposed to do now?”
“If you need money, there’s always a market for photographs.”
“No. I’m sorry I let you take the first ones.”
“Ah, now, don’t fret. Those were only for my amusement, and no one else will ever see them.”
“Why should I trust you?”
“Because Uncle Alan would never steer you wrong, my dear. You’re special to me, a star in the making. You’ll be thanking me from a podium someday, televised to the world, wait and see. You can’t give up after one little rejection. You’ll have to be made of much sterner stuff than that if you want to make it in this business.”
“I want my pictures back.”
“Certainly,” he said. “Come back to the bedroom with me and I’ll retrieve them.”
“You’ll let me have them?”
“Of course, of course. Why would Uncle Alan lie to you? You’re my favorite, you know. My star of the north. I’ll be saying I knew you when someday. Now, do me a favor, pet, and fix Uncle Alan a nice big gin and tonic. I’ll go on back and tidy up for you.”
He hurried to his bedroom, and with a swift kick, slid the box of photographs back under his bed. He hadn’t much time before his guests arrived. Perhaps an hour and a half. If he could get the little fool out in under an hour, it would be best. He arranged the bedside clock so that he could see it more clearly even without his specs.
“What’s keeping you, darling?” he called out. “Uncle Alan doesn’t have a lot of time this evening and we must be discreet.”
He heard footsteps down the hallway and his guest entered the room.
“What’s wrong with you this evening? Your face is so flushed. You’re trembling. There’s nothing to be upset about; we’ve been here before, haven’t we? Give me my drink.”
He took a sip and grimaced.
“You’ve made it a bit strong, haven’t you, darling? Oh, well, there’s nothing for it but to suffer through.”
He sat down on the bed, took another sip of his drink, and patted the area beside him on the bed.
“Come along,” he said. “Let’s see if you learned any new tricks on your summer adventure.”
His guest hesitated, and then retreated back to the door.
“I want my photographs first.”
“In due time,” Alan said, and then paused to sip more of his drink. “I’d much prefer to have a look at you without all that claptrap. The hand that hath made you fair hath made you good.”
“No, not anymore.”
“Is this your fault or mine? The tempter or the tempted, who sins most?”
Alan downed the rest of his drink.
“That really was awful,” he said. “I don’t believe you used gin at all. What was that?”
“Where do you keep the photos?”
“Listen, darling, I don’t have much time and I’m losing patience.”
He suddenly felt as if he might swoon.
“Hang on,” he said. “I’m having a spell. Get me a wet cloth, will you, love? I seem to be having some sort of episode. Must’ve drunk that retched swill too fast.”
“Where are the pictures?”
“I don’t feel at all well,” he said. “I think I better have a bit of a lie down before my guests arrive. You run along, and we’ll get together soon. I have another opportunity I want to talk to you about. Something very exciting.”
“I want my pictures.”
“You really are the most irritating brat when you want to be,” Alan said. “Run along, do. I really am very, very ill.”
He felt as if he’d just downed a whole pint of gin. The room swam, and he thought he might be sick. He was also confused. What was he supposed to be doing? There was something he needed to hide before the guests arrived. What was that? Who were these guests?
He felt as if he were falling a great distance, down a bottomless well.
It was so dark, and bitterly cold. Unrelenting misery. He was chilled to the bone, his body wracked with aching pain. A dark, insidious smoke of depression infused his senses; it was so malignant that he longed for the numb, gray nothingness that seemed the only alternative.
And then just when he felt he might succumb to the darkness and fall forever, the speed of his descent slowed, he stopped, and began to rise.
He looked up, then, and saw a light at the top of the well, at a great distance. Where before he had felt bleak with sorrow he now felt a glimmer of hope.
His ascent sped up at an alarming rate. He began to feel as if he were moving so fast the pressure might break up his bones and hurl pieces of him in a million different directions. The feeling of being torn apart under great pressure had become almost unbearable when he burst out of the well into a light so blinding that, although he closed his eyes, it still penetrated his eyelids, seemed to flood his mind with dazzling, searching warmth.
It was altogether too much joy flooding the place where only moments ago sorrow had gutted him. It filled this chasm and overflowed, through and out of him. This radiant, persistent light flooded his body with a feeling of well-being so unfamiliar it frightened him.
He was in the dark again, but it was the familiar, cool darkness of a theater. The air was permeated with the smell of fresh paint, sawdust, musty velvet curtains, the grease on the hemp fly, and dust burning on hot lights.
He took a deep breath.
It was, to him, the elixir of life, the most delicious perfume in the world.
The theater seemed quite old, with elaborately decorated plasterwork in a gilded Rococo style. He was quite sure he’d never been in it before. Was it Italian? German? The galleries rose up in so many luxurious tiers he lost count, and the ceiling was so accurately painted it looked just like the night sky.
Up on the stage, a man in Elizabethan costume was holding a script in one hand and gesticulating with the other to a group of similarly dressed actors. As the man was facing the other direction, the professor could not hear what was being said.
The man turned, as if surprised, and gestured toward the professor. His face was so familiar, as if he were someone seen quite frequently but never met. The professor was a keen appraiser of personalities. He knew instantly that this man was an intense person with razor sharp intelligence, radiant vitality, vicious wit, and a mischievous sense of humor.
“Good even, Robert,” the man said. “We’ll soon be started.”
The professor was startled at having been singled out by that name, and instantly felt anxious at not being prepared for whatever was expected. It reminded him of countless nightmares he’d had over the years, of being in the wings of a performance already in motion, knowing he was about to go on, but not knowing what play it was or what role he was expected to perform.
“Don’t be afraid,” someone said to him.
He was startled to find a small group of men, six in all, sitting in the theater seats that surrounded him. It was the man on his right who had spoken. He also seemed very familiar. His dark hair was brushed back from his high forehead, and he had a white silk scarf draped around his neck, the tasseled ends falling over the silk collar of an old-fashioned velvet smoking jacket.
“I daresay this all seems rather odd,” the man continued. “You needn’t worry; we’ve all been through it; it’s really rather pleasant. I’ve been looking over your career. Very impressive.”
The man held up a playbill with the professor’s photograph on the front; it was from a scene in Measure for Measure, in which he’d performed a small role in a West End production back in the early sixties. He’d received marvelous notices, quite gratifying. It had started his career.
The man to his left leaned in.
“You’ll love it here,” he said. “Any play, anytime, directed by the Bard himself.”
“You mean that’s …”
“Oh, yes,” the man said. “Mind you don’t fawn overly much or call him anything but Will; he abhors bootlickers.”
“So, he wrote them himself?” the professor asked, but then, in response to their disapproving facial expressions he added, “There was some doubt.”
A man sitting just behind him leaned forward.
“Just because a man isn’t well educated or of noble birth doesn’t mean he can’t be a genius in his own natural way.”
Another familiar looking man, seated ahead of him, turned around and looked him in the eye.
“You should know that better than anyone.”
The author and actors left the stage, the lights dimmed, and an immense screen descended. Upon it was then projected a scene from the production of Measure for Measure in which the professor had performed as a very young man. It was a scene between Isabella and Lucio.
“Edward Woodward,” the professor said. “He was marvelous.”
“Thank you very much,” the man behind him said, and clapped him on the shoulder.
The professor turned around, stunned, and immediately recognized the actor, although he appeared to be no more than thirty years old. He then looked at each of his companions and realized he was seated amongst the very best Shakespearian actors (now deceased) who had ever performed on a London stage during his lifetime.
He turned back to the screen with the delicious anticipation of seeing a very young version of himself perform well for these masters.
“This is heaven,” he said.
Claire Fitzpatrick hurried down the narrow dirt aisle next to the chain-link fence that separated the Knights of Columbus Community Baseball Field from the first row of bleachers. She was carrying a tote bag full to overflowing, a small cooler of drinks, and a beach towel.
It was the Saturday before Labor Day and the local Tee Ball League was playing a make-up game postponed from the previous spring due to a record snow fall. They had had to wait until just before school started to accommodate all the family vacations of the team members.
From the top row of the bleachers, her cousin, Hannah, stood up and called out, “Yo, Claire! Up here!”
She also heard her cousin, Maggie, say, loudly, “Late, as usual.”
“Excuse me, I’m sorry,” Claire kept repeating to all the people she bumped with the tote bag or cooler as she climbed the rickety wooden bleachers. “Sorry, excuse me.”
When she finally reached the top bleacher, she found four female members of the Fitzpatrick family, including her mother, Delia, and Maggie’s mother, Bonnie.
“About time,” Maggie said.
Claire took off her sunglasses so Maggie could feel the full force of her glare. Maggie just laughed.
“It was quite a list you two gave me,” Claire said. “Plus, you kept texting to add to it. It took me a while to find everything.”
“Did you get the puff corn from the IGA?” Hannah asked.
“Yes,” Claire said.
“The donut holes from the bakery?” Hannah asked.
“Yes,” Claire said.
“The pepperoni rolls from the Gas and Sip?” Hannah asked.
“Yes,” Claire said.
“Then I’m good,” Hannah said.
Hannah, who was petite and thin, wore jean cutoffs, a tee shirt and holey canvas tennis shoes. Her dark blonde hair was scraped back into a stubby ponytail, anchored down by a baseball cap with “Fun Size” written on it.
“Did you bring my sunscreen?” Maggie asked.
“SPF 50 unscented,” Claire said. “It’s actually for babies, but it was the only one that was hypoallergenic, unscented, waterproof, and for sensitive skin.”
“Excellent,” Maggie said.
She took the tube from Claire’s hand and began applying lotion to her fair freckled face. Maggie’s wild curly red hair was barely controlled by a long French braid. She had on jeans and a long sleeved oxford shirt.
“I brought bottles of water for everyone,” Claire said. “I also brought a beach towel for us to sit on.”
“A few splinters never hurt anybody,” Bonnie said.
“What I want to know is why I’m suddenly the pack mule for this family,” Claire said.
“You’re the only one not working,” Hannah said.
“So, in essence, you’re working for us now,” Maggie said.
“How much am I being paid?” Claire asked.
“You’re paid with our deep, sweet family love,” Hannah said.
“In other words, bupkis,” Maggie said.
“I wonder if there’s a cheapskate family worker’s union I could join,” Claire said.
Claire spread out her beach towel and sat in the space provided between her mother and her Aunt Bonnie. Claire’s mother, who was tall and thin with dark hair streaked with gray, patted her leg and smiled at her from behind her dark sunglasses. Her Aunt Bonnie, sturdily-built and white-haired, had a bright white smear of zinc cream across her nose and cheeks, and was wearing big white-rimmed sunglasses and a wide-brimmed straw hat.
She pinched Claire’s other leg.
“When are you and Ed making it legal?” Bonnie asked.
Claire’s mother laughed, Maggie and Hannah snickered, and Cl
“Where are the men?” Claire asked.
“Patrick’s behind home plate and Sam’s on the pitcher’s mound,” Hannah said.
Patrick was Maggie’s brother and Sam was Hannah’s husband.
“Uncle Curtis is coaching first base and Ed’s coaching third,” Maggie said.
Curtis was Hannah’s father and Ed, well, Ed was Claire’s boyfriend, a term that made her cringe with embarrassment. She was forty years old, for crying out loud. What Ed really was, in her mind, was her best buddy, her boon companion, her rock, and a most excellent friend with benefits.
“Who’s watching Dad?” she asked her mother.
“Fitz,” Delia said.
Fitz was Maggie’s father, who was prone to drunk-nap this time of day. Claire lowered her sunglasses to give her mother a concerned look, but Delia just patted her leg.
“How does tee ball work?” Claire asked.
“See that stand on home plate?” Hannah asked, pointing to a cylindrical plastic pillar on a flat base.
“Yes,” Claire said.
“That’s the tee,” Hannah said. “They adjust it for the kid’s swing height, put the ball on top of it, and the little rug rats whack the crap out of it.”
“Occasionally they actually hit the ball,” Maggie said.
“Sammy’s been practicing,” Delia said. “Your father’s been working with him.”
“My father?” Claire asked.
“He may not remember to put his pants on in the morning,” Delia said, “but for some reason he can remember how to play baseball.”
Claire’s father, Ian, had vascular dementia, which seemed to be growing worse at an alarming pace.
“Who’s that in the outfield?” Claire asked, and then, “Is that Pip? Where’s all his hair?”
“Pip and Claire, sittin’ in a tree,” Hannah sang, “D.I.V.O.R.C.E.”
Pip was Phillip Deacon, Claire’s ex-husband, a handsome, bone idle, indiscriminately promiscuous profligate known for his long, golden dreadlocks, perpetual unemployment, and a predilection for the sweet, sweet weed.
PAMELA GRANDSTAFF SERIES:
Other author's books:
- Sunflower Street (Rose Hill Mysteries Book 8)Rose HillDaisy LanePeony StreetLilac AvenuePumpkin RidgeHollyhock Ridge
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