Episode 8 - Who Will Sing... and Who Will Swing?
by Camille LaGuire
That bowled him over, and Casey jumped on top of him.
"Please! No! I won't say a word!" he cried, covering his face. "Don't shoot!"
"We ain't here to kill you," I said, and I kicked the door shut.
He didn't look like he believed me. He looked up at Casey like a mouse looks at a snake. Which, to be fair, was appropriate, since she was looking at him like a snake looks at a mouse.
"So what word won't you say?" I asked, as I picked up his suitcase and emptied it on the bed, and started poking through the contents. He didn't answer, maybe because he had just promised not to talk.
I found what I was looking for, hidden in the middle of a bundle of handkerchiefs. Two letters, a little rumpled. One for Miss Clarice and one for Madame Olenka. Addressed and in French. I held them up.
He kinda shrunk into his jacket like a turtle. Casey, who was still sitting on him, bounced on his chest hard, and he un-shrunk real fast.
"You can have those," he said. "I...I was going to burn them."
I squatted down next to him.
"What do these letters say?"
"Madame Olenka is from some little town in Indiana, and Mademoiselle Clarice is from Hatchetville, Missouri."
For a minute I couldn't see why that mattered, but then I figured it out.
"They ain't French!" I said.
"Clarice isn't French. Olenka isn't Russian. The letters are from the guy who teaches people to speak French and act like royalty. They're fakes."
"They ain't fake if they can sing," said Casey.
"I agree," said the piano man. "In regular show business, nobody's who they say they are. It's part of the act. But opera, that's almost society. The Great Henri is not interested in hicks who can sing."
"So which one's trying to kill you?"
"I don't know. I really don't," said the piano man, nearly breaking into sobs. "I only left them a couple notes in their music, telling them to leave money on the piano. I didn't even sign it. I didn't know they knew it was me."
"Where'd you get the letters?"
"I found them in Clarice's dressing room. The teacher gave them both to her. That letter to Olenka is a letter of introduction for Clarice, asking for a job for her. I don't think she ever used it. She just kept it to blackmail Olenka."
The piano man didn't know anything more, so we told him to keep the door locked until we got it sorted out, and left.
"It was Clarice," said Casey, "she was the one lying."
"Yeah," I agreed. Most likely it was Clarice. But I was thinking on all that confusion in the opera house. All those people running around, it was quite a trick to hide Rufus and stab him and not be seen. I stopped. "Or maybe both of them."
"How you figure that?"
"They had me chasing all over the opera house, all distracted. They couldn't have done a better job if they had been working together."
"They hate each other."
"They're fakes. Maybe that's fake too."
Casey let out a string of oaths that would take the paint off the walls. "If it's both of them, then nobody's going to sing!"
She stalked off down the stairs. I followed real quick, wondering if it was time to apologise, but she ducked past me before I could. Just then Mr. Henri came back from talking to the sheriff. He looked tired and distracted, but Casey jumped into his way.
"Can you sing?" she said.
He looked surprised and then gave us a little smile and a shrug, kinda smug like.
"Bien sûr," he said. "I have some talent, madame. But if you will excuse, I must rest. The sheriff is a difficult man. I am all of a frazzle."
Casey glowered at him as he trotted up the stairs. She grumbled something, but I wasn't really listening. All of a sudden, I had an idea floating in my head, but I couldn't quite grab on to it.
Casey had my arm and was hauling me toward the hotel parlor, saying something about wanting to get Clarice anyway. I pulled back and blinked at her, as my idea finally settled in and let me grasp it.
"What?" she said.
"Casey," I began, "if you were French...."
"Well I ain't French," she snapped. "And I never will be!"
I looked at her and spent a moment juggling my new idea with her reaction.
"That wasn't what I meant," I said.
"Oh," she said, settling down. Now I'd lost track of what I'd been about to say.
"Okay," I said. "If you was...American."
"I am American."
"Okay, but if somebody who wasn't American came up to you and started speaking English, you'd know they weren't American, wouldn't you?"
I pointed up the stairs where Mr. Henri had disappeared.
"How come he didn't know Clarice wasn't French?"
Casey looked me straight in the eye for the first time in what seemed like ages.
"He ain't French."
"But why didn't the piano guy say anything about him?"
"Maybe he didn't know. He didn't sign the notes he left around for the ladies. So maybe he didn't put their names at the top either. Maybe Henri found one and thought it was for him."
Casey was already running up the stairs. I chased after.
* * *
Well, we caught Henri before he killed the piano man. He had talked his way in and nearly stuck a letter opener in the guy. And after Case took that letter open and started trimming Henri's mustache with it -- which must have hurt on account of it not being sharp, so most of those hairs were being pulled out by the root -- we got a full and tearful confession.
It was evening by the time we had got him to jail and everything sorted out with the sheriff. Casey slipped off somewhere. I knew that if she didn't want to be found, I wasn't going to find her, but I went looking anyway. I figured it was time for me to apologize, even if she didn't want to hear it. I'd rather have her pissed off than ducking me.
The opera house looked empty, but I checked the balcony and then backstage, and the dressing rooms. I was just about to leave when I heard her voice.
She was standing in the shadow of the curtains, her hands in her back pockets, looking at me from under her hat. She kept glancing down, and her face was kind of pink. I almost asked her if she had put some rouge on it, because her lips were a little more red than usual too, but I decided to keep my mouth shut. She was working herself up to something.
So I stood there with my hands in my back pockets, looking just as uncertain, but probably not as pink. Finally she sidled up closer, her arm just against mine. She didn't look up, and she still had trouble coming up with what she wanted to say. So finally I talked.
"I may get distracted," I said. "But nobody can distract me like you can. You don't even have to try."
She took a deep breath, and nodded. That was what she wanted to know.
"I love you," she said, flat, like how you'd tell somebody they had a spot on their shirt. It wasn't something she said very often. I would almost go as far as saying she never said it, but it wouldn't quite be true. She just had a real hard time with it. I smiled at her.
Then she punched me. Hard. In the pit of the stomach. I staggered back and she waited until I had mostly caught my breath again.
"Would you like me better in a dress?" she asked.
"In a corset...?"
"Would you like me in a dress at all?"
She waited as I considered my options.
"Sure," I said. It turned out to be the right answer. And it was particularly good because it was true. I like Casey any way she comes. But I kinda like that she doesn't know that, even if it does get me into trouble sometimes.
I straightened up, took her by the shoulders and showed her just exactly what I had learned about kissing from that pretend French woman. I think she liked it. She didn't punch me again, anyway.
"You still want to hear them sing?" I said.
"Don't matter," she said. "They won't."
"Sure they will." I pulled out the two letters from my pocket. "They don't want me sending these letters to that opera company in Chicago."
I didn't tell her that I had also told Clarice that she didn't have to sing, if she didn't want to, since Olenka had promised to give us the best singing anybody had ever heard. It wasn't true, but it was enough to get Clarice to declare she was going to be the star of the concert. And when Olenka heard that, she wasn't going to let anybody out do her.
So, in the end, we got ourselves a fine concert, with two ladies singing their hearts out. The most beautiful thing I ever heard, other than Casey saying "I love you." Even so, I suppose it wasn't really opera. Not a whole opera. One day we're going to hear that.
And that concludes our little story.
"Story Notes" about the writing of this to appear Thursday, April 4.
"Story Notes" about the writing of this to appear Thursday, April 4.
The next serial - The Case of the Misplaced Baroness - will start in late April.
If you're enjoying this Mick and Casey Mystery, check out their other stories, such as the first novel in the series: Have Gun, Will Play.
Available in paper or as ebook at: Amazon.com, Barnes and Nobel, as well as these ebook dealers: Kobo, Deisel, Apple iBookstore, Sony eReader, or get it in all formats without DRM at Smashwords.