Don had found them an excellent space in the parking garage, out of the rainy November night. Delighted, Myra opened her door.
"Wait! Just a sec, honey," her husband insisted. He checked the parking brake, then rushed around to her side of the car. Don not only opened her door, he bowed and offered his hand, so she could swivel and stand in the refined fashion her mother had tried with such limited success to teach in the days of bell-bottoms and miniskirts. Placing her hand in his, Myra saw the wrist corsage he'd given her slide from the sleeve of her winter coat. She giggled.
"What's funny?" Don locked the door behind her.
"I feel like a teenager on her first real date, not an old matron on her fifteenth anniversary."
"Oh, and she baits the hook and casts for a compliment! You are not 'old' anything, my marvelous, mind-blowing Myra." He saluted her with their rolled-up umbrella and offered his arm. Together, they started for the elevator. "But yeah, that's exactly the idea. Jenny is at her pal Susie's, we have reservations at Trattoria Roma for after the show, I am not on call—"
"Bless Nick for standing in for you."
"When Lipinski came down with the flu and tripped the scheduling dominoes, Nick said he owed me." Don frowned. "You know, I'm not sure I like the idea of keeping count."
"Maybe it was just a figure of speech."
"Yeah, maybe." He pressed the elevator button for the lobby level. "So are you ready for your surprise?"
Myra's eyebrows rose. "I've been ready since you told me last month that we would be going to the theater. I think the question is, are you ready to tell me which play we're seeing?"
"Oh, it's not just a play." The elevator doors opened, and they stepped into the grand lobby, facing a giant purple sign with white writing: The Fantasticks. "It's a musical."
"Donny!" Tears sprang to her eyes. Happy, touched tears, but stinging, too. It made her feel old, and young, and all confused. "You remembered. Or— did you?"
"How could I ever forget?" He put his arm around her shoulders. She leaned contentedly into the embrace. "Only you could be a beautiful enough Luisa to explain the drivel Matt sings to her."
An automatic defense of the show formed on Myra's lips, but she stepped back, shook her head and took the compliment as intended. The fact that Don knew "the drivel" in question said more than he might admit. "But you didn't even see the performance."
"You were still in costume when somebody called building security on your cast party."
Don had been working his way through school as a part-time guard, Myra remembered. She teased, "So brave of you, facing down eight giddy college actors on closing night!"
"Hey, eight actors and, like, fifty friends from the hockey team! I issued a warning and got the leading lady's phone number. Best night's work I ever did. Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but as I recall, she was this absolutely gorgeous girl, about yea high," he patted the top of her head, then glanced at her high-heels and adjusted his measurement to her nose. She scrunched it at him. He grinned. "About yea high, really, with a bouncy brown ponytail, in a flippy skirt just above her knees, and a white top that, uh, focused my attention." He winked suggestively at where her cleavage would be if her coat were not still buttoned up.
She laughed and kissed him. A quick, light, thankful kiss, less for the theater treat than for just being her impossible Donald G. Schanke. The arguments and stress of the past year — since he'd gotten a new partner and moved more and more to working nights — seemed very far away. "You were on night shift then, too, weren't you? I hadn't thought about that in ages."
"I was on days by the time we got serious."
"I remember. I was just thinking, if we managed it once, we'll manage it again." Myra leaned in, open-eyed, for another kiss, thinking of a lingering one this time, for fifteen years, for Jenny, and for her memory of the first time she saw Don, dignified in his uniform and firm but fair as he put bossy Bobby Payne — who really had been on the hockey team, come to think of it — in his place.
Before their lips touched, the elevator dinged. Myra realized that they were still standing right in front of it. Don dropped his arm from her shoulders and they crossed the atrium to the ticket window.
While Don claimed their tickets, Myra removed her coat. Don had clearly enjoyed surprising her, but she was glad he had told her enough so she would know how to dress. She would not have pulled out this green velvet gown for anything less. When she had purchased it for her youngest sister's wedding last winter, she had known she would never pull it off without rather grim foundation garments, but her reflection in the mirror had nerved her to it, and her reflection in Don's eyes more than repaid it.
They had had such fun the night of that wedding. She would not mind a rerun.
"I bought us one of the souvenir programs, hon, to go along with the regular ones," Don began as they moved toward the interior doors. Then he looked up from the papers in his hand. "Man oh man. Have I said 'wow' yet tonight?"
"Several times before we left the house, but I'll take as many as you've got."
"Then, wow, again. Seriously, wow." He offered her his arm, and the young woman at the door their tickets. An usher led them to their row. Myra looked up at the stage, exposed with a platform, poles and lettered drape, just as it should be, just as she remembered. "All I'm saying is, they'd better turn down the lights all the way, or I'm not going to be able to drag my eyes up to the actors."
"If you get scared of the dark, you can always hold my hand."
"Oh, don't think I'm not planning to. Now, let's see. We're 3D and 3E, right in here." The row was not quite empty, despite their early arrival. Don started up it. Myra bumped into him. He had suddenly stopped stock still.
"Sorry, honey," he apologized, turning sideways. Don looked from her to a regal young woman seated in the precise center of the row, 3F. And then looked again, back and forth. The beautiful, black-haired woman wore a midnight-blue, mandarin-necked dress with corded black clasps. It matched the shadows her long lashes cast on her blue eyes. "Uh, hi, Janet— I mean, Janette."
"Detective Schanke." The woman sounded dismayed.
Myra nudged her husband.
"Right. Uh, Janette, this is Myra, my wife. Myra, this is Janette Ducharme, owner of the Raven nightclub, and, uh, a friend of Nick's."
"I'm pleased to meet you, Ms. Ducharme." Myra extended her hand. So this was Nick's Janette! She did not look entirely like Don had described, but even allowing for Don's unique slant on feminine pulchritude, Myra supposed that what suited superintending a goth nightclub might not suit attending the theater.
"Mrs. Schanke." Janette shook her hand.
Myra held the grip for just a moment. "I've wanted to thank you for giving Don a place to stay while that monster Macavoy was after him last year. I was stuck up at our cabin, worrying, but you — well, I'm very grateful. Very. Thank you." She released her hand.
Janette looked at her oddly, then nodded and smiled. "You are welcome. And — it's Janette, please." Janette looked at Don as she pronounced her first name, her vaguely French accent coalescing for two careful syllables. Don shrugged, bemused.
"Janette. And it's Myra, of course." They all sat, with Don in the middle. Myra reminded him to take off his coat, and then needlessly adjusted his green tie that coordinated with her gown. She'd bought it for him for her sister's wedding, too, and wondered if he remembered.
"So I gather it is to this that I owe Nicholas's failure to escort me tonight?" Janette asked.
"Oh, man." Don winced. "You two had a date tonight? I had no idea. It's our anniversary, and he volunteered. Oh, man. Nick didn't stand you up, did he? I mean, not that anyone would stand you up!"
"Happy anniversary. And no, or yes, he did give notice." Myra heard in Janette's tone that Nick had barely met a minimum requirement. "He brought me the tickets — a gift from a friend of his in the cast — but he garbled his explanation. Still, I know better than to let Nicolas's inability to manage his life interfere with my life. I've been looking forward to this opening night."
"Have you seen The Fantasticks before?" Myra asked.
"Oh, yes. Once with Nicolas, in fact, rather a long time ago. And far away."
"In New York?" Don asked. "This is the show's thirty-third consecutive year there, you know. A world record."
"I know." Janette nodded toward the programs still in Don's hands, which said that on their covers. Oblivious, Don handed one of the standard programs to Myra and opened the thicker souvenir copy. Janette continued, "That is one reason I especially wanted to see this production. They are using the new 'Abductions (And So Forth)' song written for the thirtieth-anniversary tour in place of the original 'It Depends on What You Pay.'"
"I hadn't heard of that!" Myra said. "That's — well, my first thought is, it's disrespectful to the play."
"Nada!" interjected Don. "It says here that the original writer and composer knocked out this new song, so it's got the official stamp of approval. But, wait, it also says that they offer this as an alternate, just in case community sensibilities are offended by the original. Which was the original?"
"It's El Gallo's 'rape' song, Donny, the catalogue of clichéd theatrical abductions." Myra sang a few verses very quietly, just for his ears. "'We've the obvious open schoolboy rape / with little mandolins and perhaps a cape / The rape by coach; it's little in request / The rape by day, but the rape by night is best.'"
"No kidding. The song is jaunty, but the decades have really ground hard on that word-choice. Come to think of it, I wouldn't want Jenny hearing that without lots of explanation."
"It was hilarious when Fleming translated the Rostand in 1900," Janette sighed. Don glanced at her, then back at his program, doubtless scanning now for the names Fleming and Rostand. "But times change, and here we are."
"Is the new song good?" Myra asked.
"We shall find out." Janette shrugged. "I read the new lyrics when they were published in 1990, and I admit I found them lacking, especially without the 'you'll never ever forget' refrain matching El Gallo's later promise to remember Luisa's kiss, which of course, with the red necklace, is the symbolic rape — abduction, seizure, deception, however you choose. But the old is forever sweeping out. Now we have the new."
"Get this," Don said, reading from the program again. "The Mute is played by Bernice Applebaum!"
"I've heard of women playing the Mute before," Myra said. "Nothing in the script requires a male Mute."
Janette nodded. "And filmed versions dispense with the role entirely, though that does make one wonder whether they understand the play's exposed roots." The house lights flickered to indicate the show would begin shortly.
"No, see, Bernice Applebaum was the aerobics instructor from that way-out case last spring, with the plastic surgeon whose patients just snapped. It was when I had to — well, never mind. But look at this picture!" Don showed it to Myra. She saw a white-haired older woman with sharp eyes and a charming smile. She shrugged. His eyebrows rose, then fell. "Oh, right. Of course you never saw her. Take my word for it, this looks like her, but can't be her. I mean, it must be her grandmother or somebody."
Janette opened her own program. "Bernice Applebaum was a leading name in Canadian theater at one time. She disappeared from public view years ago. Supposedly, she lost a major role to a younger woman just after her husband left her for another younger woman. Spiraled into depression, they say — but what do they know? In any case, she resurfaced last spring. The Mute in The Fantasticks does not approach her heyday, but—" Janette shrugged eloquently.
"But it's something," Myra agreed. She knew even the biggest female celebrities struggled for stage and screen roles as they aged. It was one of the unfair things about being a woman. And Don wondered why she used sauna packs and sent him to the garage with his tempting triple-cheese pizzas! But perhaps it was generally about being an adult. The culture had put an unfair expiration date on useful life.
"So you're a theater buff, Janette?" Don asked.
"I pick things up. One outpost of the entertainment industry to another."
"Oh, that's rich!" Don laughed. "The Raven to the Globe!"
Janette looked at him.
"I mean, just, I mean," Don backpedaled. "Your customers don't seem the type." The house lights flickered again.
"I'm curious, detective. What is 'the type'? You?"
"Well, um—" He looked around, perhaps hoping a late-arriving audience member would need to squeeze by him at just that moment.
"Donny is more the album type," Myra offered. "I'm usually the one to drag him to live performances. But it's mostly the community theater down the street, or student concerts at the university. Tonight is extraordinary for us, and all his idea."
The lights went down firmly and the overture began. Don put his arm around Myra's shoulders. She smiled, letting herself waver between past and present as the actors rushed around with the last-minute preparations that were in fact the opening scene. She had done that; she had heard that; and now she was seeing it. The characters unfolded, song by song: the young lovers, the middle-aged parents, the old actors, and, ageless, the black-clad Mute and the red-kerchiefed bandit, El Gallo. The music and story swallowed her up.
Until the abduction scene.
Choreographed chaos exploded on stage as the musicians struck up the frenetic "Rape Ballet," now redubbed the "Abduction Ballet." But as the Mute rummaged in the trunk at the front of the stage for the wooden sticks El Gallo and Matt would use as swords, a man in the front row stood up, strode to the edge, and yanked the Mute down.
For just a moment, the play continued. Myra blinked. Had she seen what she thought she had? Then the young woman playing Luisa froze, grabbed the man playing Matt, and nodded toward the aisle. A few screams rang around the theater. Myra didn't blame them. She, too, saw the gun.
A shot exploded — into the ceiling, floor, catwalks, lighting booth, Myra didn’t know, couldn't see. Was someone bleeding on the other end?
Instantly, the screams became general. The crowd rushed the exits. The house lights came up, showing the gunman to be middle-aged and dark-haired, with his free hand choking the actress playing the Mute.
"Get down between the seats," Don ordered Myra. He stepped up onto the armrest of the next row, and then to the row in front of that. He came down in front of the gunman, arms raised. "So what do we have here, man? You got something against the play? 'Cause I gotta say, seemed fine to me."
"You can leave with the rest of the audience," the gunman said. "I only want this one."
"Why? What'd she do to you?"
Listening fiercely, Myra slipped out of her seat, leaving her coat and purse behind as she got on her hands and knees. Everyone in the row to her right had left except Janette, who had also ducked down, and seemed to be cursing under her breath. It sounded French. Myra touched Janette's shoulder and pointed to the aisle. Janette nodded, and they both began to creep down the row.
"Not you!" the gunman yelled wildly. "You, on the stage! Stay right there! Any of you could be like them. Don't you understand?"
"Hey, buddy, we're all here, okay?" Don was clearly trying to keep the gunman's attention on him. Myra silently repeated the prayer she usually made at the sound of sirens: God, please bless those who need help and those who give help. St. Michael, please pitch in. Amen.
"You stay right there!"
"Sure, sure. No problem, man. Why don't you tell us what's going on here, okay? We can help you, but only if you tell us what you want, right?"
"What do you care? What are you— a cop?"
Myra held her breath. If somebody asked, Don had to say. Otherwise, it was entrapment. But did that count when the guy had a gun and a hostage? She paused just a second to abandon the wrist corsage, which was getting in her way as she crawled. And she listened even harder.
"Yeah. Yeah, I'm a cop on his night off. Just let me help you. You know someone has called 911 by now, right? You know that officers and paramedics and even SWAT will be here any minute, right?"
"Oh, yeah. I was counting on it. But you'll do to carry the word. Expose them. Can you get me cameras?" Myra heard some movement and a muffled moan. "Bernice here killed my mother. I want justice!"
"I didn't kill anyone, Brian!" A new voice, female, high-pitched but mature. Myra assumed it was the Mute actress, Bernice.
"Yes, you did! You did!"
"A mall security guard shot her, Brian, not me!"
"She followed you into that treatment program! And then they called me to identify her body!"
"I'm so sorry, Brian. I miss Norma as much as you do. I would give anything to bring her back."
"Then do it! I know you can! Bring her back!"
Myra and Janette had reached the end of the row, and Myra was waiting for Janette to turn up the aisle. But at that, Janette stopped. Cold. Myra nudged her. Moving again, Janette gestured for Myra to head up toward the exit first. Myra didn't argue.
"Okay," Don said. "Brian, I can help you. I am exactly the right person to help you, pal. Just turn Bernice over to me, and I promise we'll investigate your mother's death."
"You already investigated last spring — and found nothing! Well I found something! Didn't I, Bernice?" More movement and another moan. Where was SWAT? Myra wondered. How many minutes had passed? "I saw my mom last winter — you didn't know that, did you? I saw her with Doctor Jurgen's treatments, and I've figured it out. I know what was going on. Eternal youth — eternal life!"
"I don't know what you're talking about," gasped Bernice.
"Neither does he," said Janette.
Myra ducked into a row, looked back, and prayed again. Except for Bernice, the actors huddled at the back of the platform that dominated the stage. The minimalist set cut them off from any route except past Brian. And Brian had perched himself on the edge of the short stage, holding Bernice around the neck with one arm and waving his gun with the other. In front of them, Don stood with his hands still in the air.
Next to him, Janette approached with her hands on her hips.
"Who are you?" Brian demanded. Even from here, Myra could feel the tension in Don's stance ratchet up as Janette joined them. What was the woman thinking?
"Who I am doesn't matter. But let's be frank. Does Ms. Applebaum look to you like someone with the secret of eternal youth?"
"She had it! My mom had it! The world deserves to know. Have you thought about what this could do, if everybody knows?"
"Have you?" Janette cocked her head. "Do you have any proof of what you say — photos, video?"
"No. But I have her!" He tightened his grip on Bernice. A squeak escaped her. He pointed the gun at the actors behind him. "And any one of these could be one of them!"
"But they're not, are they?" Don asked, slowly dropping his hands. "The actors playing the girl and boy are just a girl and boy, right?" He took a step forward. "None of these are who you want — this Doctor Jurgen who treated your mom. We're looking for her, you know. RCMP, Interpol, FBI — the whole world is looking for her, I promise."
"But we don't need her! This one can do it for us!"
"All right, sure," Don agreed, keeping Brian talking as he stepped closer. Myra hoped his experience gave him a lead on this man's logic, because it escaped her completely. "You said you wanted justice. I really can help you, Brian, but you're gonna have to give me the gun."
"I just want my mom back." The childish plea sagged with adult understanding. "As long as there's a chance, I have to, you know?"
"I know, man. I know. But the gun's not gonna do that, right?"
"You don't get it. It wouldn't hurt her. In front of the cameras, it would just show everyone."
"But she's not one of them," Janette said. Brian aimed the gun at her. "Can't you tell? Come, now, what are the signs?"
Keeping the gun pointed at Janette, Brian changed the position of his other hand on Bernice's neck. It looked as through he was taking her pulse. His eyes widened. "No!" He pushed Bernice away, straight into Janette. "The others, then! She must have done it for one of the others! All these vain actors, twisting things for people like my mom."
Brian swung his legs up onto the stage, but had to put his gun hand down for balance. Don hit his wrist. Brian's fingers splayed, releasing the gun. Don yanked Brian back down off the stage, onto the ground, and pinned his arms behind his back. "Everybody out. Now. And don't touch that gun."
Myra saw movement from the corner of her eye. Sergeant Tom Dietrich tapped her arm and gestured for her to go up behind him, through a number of other uniformed officers, including several in riot gear. The cavalry had arrived.
Long after Brian Dean had been bundled off in a squad car and Bernice Applebaum in an ambulance, and most of the audience had given their phone numbers and been on their way, Myra lingered in the lobby. She was resigned to spending her anniversary evening down at the precinct, but she was not going anywhere tonight without her husband.
At last, Don, Janette and Tom Dietrich came out of the auditorium, leaving only the forensics technicians behind them. Don carried Myra's coat, purse and battered corsage. Somehow, that was the last straw. Myra started to cry.
"Hey, honey, hey," Don had his arms around her in a moment, and she sobbed into his lapel. "I'm fine. Everything's fine. They're just keeping Bernice for observation, you know. No one's really hurt, not even the nutball."
After a moment, Myra laughed, and then sniffled. "I know."
"No second act. We've missed our reservation at Trattoria Roma. And now I have to go downtown and fill out paperwork." Don looked abashed. "Not the anniversary we planned, is it?"
"You were married on Guy Fawkes Day?" Dietrich sounded amused.
"Ah, trivia! 'Remember, remember, the fifth of November.' Bonfire day, anniversary day." Don smirked. "Did you hear the one about—"
"Oh, don't encourage him." Myra swatted her husband. To Janette, she explained, "It was just the day the church was available. I had no idea what a library of dim-witted Guy Fawkes Day jokes was out there for him to collect. But I admit, it does help him remember."
Janette looked at her oddly, then smiled. It was the same expression Myra had seen when she thanked the nightclub owner for sheltering Don after the safe house blew up. Myra wondered how well you would have to know Janette to read that look. Did Nick know her that well? "Sergeant Dietrich," Janette turned to the uniformed man. "Detective Schanke is not even the official arresting officer. Surely, you won't need him until tomorrow?"
"I'm sorry, Ms. Ducharme, but I do need both of you to come down tonight."
"I'll come down, of course. But it's their anniversary. Perhaps you might reconsider?" Janette stepped closer to Dietrich. Her voice dropped almost an octave, and she spoke very slowly. "Surely you won't need Detective Schanke until tomorrow."
"I won't need Detective Schanke until tomorrow," Dietrich agreed, staring into her eyes.
Myra and Don shared a grin, and headed to the elevator before Janette's blast of feminine magnetism wore off. Myra made a mental note to thank Janette — tomorrow.
— End —