Twilight Times Books logo

 

 

Upstaged
cover art Ardy M. Scott.

 

Book Excerpt

Format: Trade Paperback
    Available now!
List Price: $18.95 USD

Reviews

 

 

Upstaged

mystery

Aaron Paul Lazar

 

 

Chapter One

The scream came from backstage. Prolonged and shrill, it forced the students from their seats and brought me to my feet in front of the piano.

Molly Frost, who’d been singing a lyrical rendition of Gershwin’s "Someone to Watch Over Me," whirled to stare down the dark hallway leading to the prop room.

Camille stood and took control, clapping her hands. "Okay, now. Everyone settle down." She turned to me, her eyes clouded. "Professor LeGarde? Would you check the—"

The scream came again, louder this time.

The hairs on the back of my neck rose. Who’s back there? Everyone auditioning for the musical should be sitting right here with us in the auditorium.

"I’m on it." I raced across the scuffed stage floorboards. Fumbling for the break in the heavy velvet curtain, I finally found it, and flew through the backstage corridor, past the chorus room, and into the prop room.

Mrs. Agnes Bigelow stood with her back to the wall, a yellow tie-dyed skirt crumpled at her feet. Her normally pasty complexion turned flour-white and her face worked in noiseless horror.

Racks of costumes lined the far wall. Cartons of props lay jumbled on the floor. Artificial swords protruded from a bucket and a procession of wigs lined two shelves. I scanned the room carefully, but saw nothing amiss.

I approached her like I would a nervous filly. "Mrs. Bigelow?"

No response.

I touched her sleeve. "Mrs. Bigelow?"

She gulped, sputtered, and stared at me with boggled eyes. Trembling, she pointed toward the bucket of swords. "Over there."

Puzzled, I walked toward the bucket, seeing nothing amiss. I half expected to find a dead body, but what reared its head was almost worse.

A red and white snake emerged, its head swaying toward me.

My heart skipped a beat and my skin grew clammy. As if under its spell, I stood stock-still.

The snake’s scales glistened and it corkscrewed around a crude wooden sword.

Camille appeared at the door with her entourage of drama students rubbernecking behind her. "Gus? What’s going on?"

I looked at my betrothed with false bravado. "It’s all right, honey. Just a snake." I figured if I said it out loud as if it were no big deal, my nerves would calm down.

I was wrong.

Camille’s hand flew to her mouth. "Did you say a snake?"

I glanced at the serpent, easing back a step. "Uh huh."

Her eyes widened, but she recovered and herded the clamoring teens back into the hall. They craned their heads and peered over her outstretched arms.

I surveyed the room. No outside doors or windows; a catwalk suspended overhead. It seemed improbable the serpent had slithered in from the outside. I wondered if maybe it had escaped from one of the terrariums in the elementary wing.

I turned to the teens. "Could one of you please get Mr. Marggrander? Last time I saw him, he was unloading lumber at the dock."

Tenth grader Candy Price shot her hand in the air, waving it with enthusiasm. She danced from foot to foot making her short red curls bob up and down. "I’ll go!"

Camille nodded her approval and the girl scampered off.

The snake suddenly rose to the top of the bucket and hissed. A shiver rippled along my spine. I vaguely wondered if it was a copperhead.

 

Chapter Two

The serpent reached toward me again, its hooded eyes glittering. Finally, I broke the trance and backed up to the wall beside Agnes, who slid into a crouch.

She shuddered, her eyes fixed on the snake. "Someone dropped it from the rafters. I heard them walking overhead on the catwalk, and then they lowered that bag. That thing slipped out right beside me." Her shrill voice rose to a painful pitch and she hugged herself.

The bevy of teenagers whimpered, chattering and pointing up at the catwalk.

Nelson Santos shimmied closer to Camille. "Is it poisonous?" His face had drained to chalk-white.

Camille dragged Nelson back several steps. "Gosh, I hope not. But just to be safe, everyone back up."

A burlap bag lay on the floor beside a loosely coiled nylon rope. I looked back at the bucket and was surprised to see the snake had vanished. Should I be relieved, or worried? It could have slid down into the bucket again—or—it could be gliding across the prop room floor toward us.

Lisa Bigelow, who had apparently lingered in the auditorium while the scene in the prop room was being played out, pushed through the group and ducked around Camille to join Agnes. "Mother? What happened?" Distracted, she glanced down at the skirt on the floor. "Is this gonna be mine? Oh, I love it!" She held the skirt to her waist and swished it back and forth.

I held my breath, hoping the snake wouldn’t drop from it, and motioned for Camille to move everyone out of the room.

Camille propelled mother, daughter, and fellow actors further back into the hallway. Agnes paused for a moment and looked directly at me. Some color had returned to her cheeks, and her voice was a little steadier. "I heard him run away. In that direction."

She looked up at the catwalk and pointed toward the back of the building.

I peered into the blackness overhead. The double catwalk spanned the length of the stage in two parallel sections and traveled to twin stairways leading back to the basement of the huge building. The network of walkways also connected to small passages that spider-webbed over the theater’s domed ceiling where access to light fixtures eventually led to the lighting booths at the back of the hall. If the devil took off in the direction Mrs. Bigelow had indicated, there would be countless avenues for his escape.

I walked to the wall panel and flipped up all of the switches, flooding the room with bright fluorescent light. It would be futile to chase the phantom through the dark building. He’d have had plenty of time to disappear since we discovered his squirming souvenir.

Siegfried Marggrander’s massive frame filled the doorway. "Professor? Was ist los?

When my brother-in-law and best friend ducked to enter the room, his long blond ponytail swung over his shoulder. He glanced around the room, striding to my side.

"There’s a snake in here, Sig." I motioned toward the props. "It might still be in that bucket. I’m not sure. Be careful, it could be poisonous."

Siegfried pulled work gloves from his back pocket and slid his enormous hands into them. He calmly approached the bucket. Bending forward, he slowly reached inside and extracted the three-foot serpent. One hand grasped the snake about the head and the other held the tail. He turned toward me, smiling broadly. "He’s just a little milk snake. Look."

Alternating reddish-brown bands and white patches covered the snake’s body. I stepped back, unable to ignore the revulsion rolling in my stomach. The serpent twisted in Siegfried’s hands as he turned it around under the light to admire it.

"Mein Gott." His brow furrowed. He showed me a red gash on the snake’s underbelly.

"It’s a bad cut, Professor. I will bring him to the clinic, Ja?"

I motioned toward the sack on the floor. "Okay. You can use that bag."

Siegfried worked at my daughter’s veterinary office. His intuitive rapport with animals complemented Freddie’s brisk efficiency. His limited mental capacities, resultant from a boating accident when he was twelve, did not impair his ability to work with animals. The boat had struck him on the head as he swam across the lake at dusk, sending him into a coma for three long months. When he awoke, Siegfried was transformed from a gifted math genius to a mildly brain-damaged youth.

He carefully placed the injured snake into the burlap bag, cinched the rope around the open end, and turned his worried eyes to mine.

"I’ll take care of him, Professor."

I smiled at my behemoth friend and released a long sigh. "Thanks, Sig. I’m glad you were here."

"Ja. Me, too," he said.

The bag moved as the snake squirmed. Siegfried lifted it from the floor. He walked toward the door, speaking consoling words in German.

I was transported back in time. Siegfried’s murmurs of solace summoned the memory of his twin sister, Elsbeth, cradling our daughter in her arms, crooning soothing words to her. I sighed and felt the familiar touch of nostalgic depression wash over me. It had been five years since I’d lost my wife, but the memories remained vivid. The vision flashed across my brain, feeling so real. I envisioned Freddie at the age of two, in a pink blanket sleeper with wispy golden hair damp from her bath. I saw Elsbeth with her dark curls that undulated as she rocked our baby. She whispered soothing German words while nuzzling her cheek.

The images coalesced in my brain as a spurious thought flitted through me. The melancholy hit me hard, as if punishing me for ignoring it as I snatched moments of happiness with Camille. It was heavy, like black sludge that filled my heart. I miss Elsbeth. I miss her so much.

 

Chapter Three

I dragged myself back to reality, feeling guilty for thinking of Elsbeth while my fiancée, Camille, came back into the prop room. It was a crazy sort of duality. I’d loved my first wife with all my heart, but she’d been gone for five years now. Still, I felt guilty for having found my new love Camille, and yet felt equally guilty when I longed for Elsbeth when I was with Camille. A therapist would probably have a ball trying to figure me out.

I shrugged inwardly and waved in the high school maintenance crew, who followed Camille into the room armed with mops and shovels.

I recognized Frank Swensen, the lanky senior member of the group, from Freddie’s years at Valley High School. Flat graying hair, parted in the middle, fringed his high forehead. His honest brown eyes inspired confidence. I nodded and smiled. He waved back, as if he recognized me.

Frank introduced me to Cindi Fox and Jonesy. Cindi stood at four-feet-ten inches with short, spiky red hair. Her round face hosted a slightly flattened nose and a small pert mouth. Her clear green eyes slanted up with rounded folds of skin on the inside corners, characteristic of Down syndrome. She smiled broadly, shaking my hand with her wide callused fingers. I liked her immediately.

Jonesy, the newest member of the crew, stood at five-five with slightly stooped shoulders. His shaved, egg-shaped skull reflected the lights from above. Short fragments of wiry black hair poked over his ears where he’d missed a spot with his razor. He sported a squirrelly mustache and thick, horn-rimmed glasses. He nodded timidly and stared at the floor.

Camille glanced nervously toward the props. "Is it still in the bucket?"

The janitors stirred behind her, shuffling from foot to foot and eyeing the room warily.

I patted her shoulder. "No, it’s gone. Siegfried took care of it. It was a harmless variety."

Relieved chatter washed over the group.

Frank stepped forward. "Must have been a prank, huh? Kids seem awful riled up these days. Never know what to expect next."

Camille turned to him. "It probably was, Frank. But for safety’s sake, could you folks take a look around? All of my kids are in the auditorium now. If you see anyone loitering in the halls, would you please send them on their way?"

"You bet, Miss Coté." Frank tipped his red baseball cap in Camille’s direction and backed away from the door. Jonesy and Cindi followed him, flashing their lights side to side while they walked.

Camille watched to be sure they’d left before she came to me with arms outstretched. I took her in my arms. She laid her head against my chest and sighed. I held her and stroked her hair, enjoying this rare moment of privacy. Her chest rose and fell against mine in a comforting rhythm. Pressing together in easy silence, I thanked God for bringing her into my life. After five years of aching loneliness, it felt good to love again. And although our relationship had been slow to start, it was blossoming into a soulful union.

"Quite an auspicious beginning to our production. I hope it’s not a bad omen," she whispered.

I lifted her chin and reached for her lips with mine. We kissed deeply, and I drew her tighter against me, tasting the honeyed sweetness of her mouth. When we reluctantly parted, I smiled down at her. "Don’t worry about it, love. It probably was a prank, like Frank said."

Her luminous eyes searched mine. "I sure hope so, Gus."

We separated for the sake of propriety and walked side-by-side back to the auditorium.

 

Chapter Four

"Okay, it’s all over. Let’s settle down!" Camille clapped her hands, trying to harness the students racing up and down the aisles.

The hubbub didn’t let up.

She shouted louder. "Time to get back to business, folks. Quiet down, please!"

A few of the students took their seats. Agnes Bigelow ran a brush rapidly through her daughter’s hair, her watchful eyes following Camille’s every move.

Lisa grimaced and pulled away. "Mother, geez. Stop already." She jumped up and trotted to Camille. "It was my turn, Miss Coté."

Molly Frost hadn’t finished, of course. Lisa knew it. Camille knew it. The whole auditorium knew it.

Camille started to roll her eyes, but caught herself and turned to Lisa with a neutral expression. I returned to my seat on the piano bench and lowered it half a turn.

The swelling enthusiasm crackling through the air prior to the snake incident returned and seemed to amplify. The room buzzed with electricity. The older students—the Drama Club veterans—joked and chattered. They removed their shoes, propped their feet on the seat backs, and flaunted their carefully tended, nonchalant attitudes.

Molly Frost sat with the advanced group of young actors. Her boyfriend, Armand Lugio, nuzzled her ear. She giggled and pushed him away.

Vying for her attention, seventeen-year-old Randy Sherman grinned at her. He pulled off his wool cap to reveal a mass of black curls.

The group went silent. Yesterday, his hair had been fluorescent orange.

Now that he had everyone’s attention, Randy began to parody a rock star. He gyrated his hips and pretended to hold a microphone, cavorting close to Molly. Next, he leaned over and crooned in her face, singing suggestive lyrics from one of the Spirit Me Away songs entitled, "Free To Love."

I cringed. When I’d written the musical in my days as a young masters student at the New England Conservatory, it had been intended as a poignant satire about the hippie world. I hadn’t imagined this twist on the words. He’d taken some outrageous liberties and had substituted his own creative debauchery. I pretended to cough to mask a laugh that erupted unexpectedly from my mouth.

Maybe if I’d been more daring with the content, it wouldn’t have fluttered so quietly into the dusty abyss of long lost shows that are performed a few times and then forgotten.

Randy sang another verse, this time worse than the first, and Molly turned away, blushing furiously.

Armand scowled and stood. He stepped toward Randy, closing in on him until their noses nearly touched. "Back off, pretty boy." Armand’s dark eyes glowered.

Randy made a face at him, gyrated a few more times in defiance, and plopped into a seat on the other side of Molly.

Camille shepherded the rest of the kids into their seats. She shooed Lisa back to her place, whispered something that apparently placated her, and hopped onto the stage. She shaded her eyes with her hand and looked out into the crowd. "Come on, now, guys. Let’s get focused."

Molly was the favored soprano who starred in numerous community theater productions throughout her childhood. Poised and well practiced, she’d been the first to audition for the lead role of Celeste Freespirit, the amnesiac flower child. Camille had already dismissed a number of hopeful actors who had tried out on the previous day. Today she would whittle down the crowd even further and decide which role to award to each youngster.

"Molly?" she said. "You were interrupted, dear. Want to try it again?"

Lisa Bigelow sighed and pouted. She flounced back to a seat beside her mother, who cast a furtive glance in Molly’s direction. An expression of unguarded loathing flashed from Mrs. Bigelow’s eyes. She caught me watching her, masked the anger, and began to furiously braid her daughter’s hair.

Molly jumped back onto the stage and nodded to me.

I played the introduction to "Who Am I?" the opening piece to Act 1, in which Celeste Freespirit, the ethereal young flower child, is discovered wandering aimlessly in front of Ma and Pa Baker’s diner with her guitar case clutched in her hand. She has lost her memory, and as she sings on the bench overlooking the Boston Commons, the servers, short order cook, soda jerk, and customers inside the diner watch her and echo her questions in a syncopated chorus.

Her strong, lyrical voice floated over the crowd.

Where do I come from? Is it near? Does anyone miss me? Far from here?

A stranger looks out, from the looking glass. Questions in her eyes, Yet no one asks...

She rendered each note perfectly, with pure tones couched in a controlled, lovely vibrato.

Who am I? What will become of me? Will I drown in this sea of humanity?

Although several other girls would try for the part, Molly’s performance was absolutely flawless and I suspected Camille would once again cast her in the lead role.

When she finished, Molly went back to her seat. A smile played around her lips. She knew she was good, and we all knew it galled Lisa and her mother to compete with such perfection.

Sitting in the back row, Camille remained impassive, scribbling notes on the clipboard on her lap. "Thank you, Molly." When the enthusiastic applause was over, she looked up. "Lisa? Do you want to go next?"

Lisa Bigelow vaulted onto the stage before Camille finished her sentence. She wore the yellow tie-dyed skirt her mom had found in the prop room, and a white peasant blouse, and a blue bandana tied beneath her braids. She pranced toward the back of the stage and turned to the audience.

I restarted the introduction to "Who Am I?"

Lisa twirled, ran with open arms downstage, and began to deliver a strong but slightly nasal version of the song. She projected well and her expressions were animated. But she missed a few of the high notes.

Polite applause followed when she strutted off the stage, slightly breathless.

"Bravo! Bravo!" Lisa’s mother beamed and clapped so loud, I wondered about her stability.

When she arrived at her seat, Agnes tried to hug her. Lisa pushed her mother’s hands away and glared. "Geez, Mom. Back off a little."

Agnes sniffed, smoothed her hair to hide her embarrassment, and settled into her seat to keep a watchful eye on the competition.

 

 

bar

 

Author Bio

Aaron Paul Lazar writes to soothe his soul. An award-winning, bestselling Kindle author of three addictive mystery series, Aaron enjoys the Genesee Valley countryside in upstate New York, where his characters embrace life, play with their dogs and grandkids, grow sumptuous gardens, and chase bad guys.

Author web site.

TTB titles:

Green Marble Mysteries
   Terror Comes Knocking
   For Keeps

Gus LeGarde Mysteries
   Tremolo: cry of the loon
   Mazurka
   Firesong
   Don't Let the Wind Catch You

Tall Pine Mysteries
   Essentially Yours

 

 

###

 

Upstaged Copyright © 2013. Aaron Paul Lazar. All rights reserved by the author. Please do not copy without permission.

 

Format: Trade Paperback
    Available now!
List Price: $18.95 USD

 

  Author News

Double Forte' by Aaron Paul Lazar is a finalist in the 2012 ForeWord Book of the Year Award in the category of Mystery.

For the Birds by Aaron Paul Lazar is a finalist in the 2011 ForeWord Book of the Year Award in the category of Mystery.

Healey's Cave by Aaron Paul Lazar is the winner in the Commercial Fiction category for the 2011 Eric Hoffer award, winner in the Paranormal category for the 2012 EPIC eBook Awards and 2011 Global eBook Award Finalist in Mystery Suspense!

Tremolo by Aaron Paul Lazar is an Award-Winning Finalist in the category of Historical Fiction Contemporary in the 2011 Global eBook Awards.

 

  Reviews
 




 


 

bar

 

Back to the Featured books

Back to Twilight Times Books main page 

 

 

bar

 

  A special note to TTB readers. All contents of this web site are copyright by the writers, artists or web site designer. If you discover any artwork or writing published here elsewhere on the internet, or in print magazines, please let us know immediately. The staff of Twilight Times Books feels very strongly about protecting the copyrighted work of our authors and artists.

 

Web site copyright © 1999, 2000 - 2013. Lida Quillen. All rights reserved.

This page last updated 02-25-13.

Twilight Times Books logo design by Joni.

Cover artwork copyright © 2012 by Ardy M. Scott.

windy