Master of the Opera, Act 4: Dark Interlude

BOOK: Master of the Opera, Act 4: Dark Interlude
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The Master of the Opera series
by Jeffe Kennedy
 
 
Act 1: Passionate Overture
(January 2, 2014)
 
Act 2: Ghost Aria
(January 16, 2014)
 
Act 3: Phantom Serenade
(February 6, 2014)
 
Act 4: Dark Interlude
(February 20, 2014)
 
Act 5: A Haunting Duet
(March 6, 2014)
 
Act 6: Crescendo
(March 20, 2014)
ACT 4
Dark Interlude
M
ASTER OF THE
O
PERA
jeffe kennedy
eKensington
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.
www.kensingtonbooks.com
All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.
1
S
unday could not have been a sunnier, more brilliantly beautiful day.
Everywhere the lilac bushes hung heavy with their panicles of sweet blossoms, lending a drowsy, syrupy feel to the hot June sunshine. Light poured through the stained-glass windows and open doors of the Basilica of St. Francis. Between the soaring music, the bright summer clothes of the people attending Mass, and the venerable beauty of the ancient cathedral, it seemed that nothing unsavory or violent could happen in the world.
But it had.
Christy clung to Roman’s hand, and he glanced down at her with a reassuring smile and slid a strong arm around her shoulders. He was happy with her. Pleased that she’d come to her senses and appreciated him and what he so generously offered her. She’d even worn the new dress he’d brought her as an apartment-warming present—without pointing out that a gift like that was supposed to be something for the home, not something to wear.
She copied him on the motions of Mass, murmuring the right sounds under her breath, a sotto voce chorus of general agreement. Overall it wasn’t so different from other church services she’d attended, with the possible exception of all the kneeling.
That reminded her, with a deep, painful twist in her groin, of kneeling in front of the Master, and the dark, sexual things they’d done together. She’d felt then that she’d crossed into another world, and now it seemed she stood on the other bank of the river. She had returned to the land of the living, where the sun dispelled the shadows, where nice people went to church on Sunday morning and your boyfriend gave you demure silk dresses to wear to visit the people who’d been friends of your family since you were a child.
Where women weren’t kidnapped and tortured nearly to death.
Carla was out of intensive care, at least, and was expected to recover. The doctors had managed to repair the worst damage to her internal organs, and the greatest concern now was the amount of skin disruption and the inevitable infection. Those were the words Charlie used, echoing what the docs had told him. It called images to her mind of the skin suppurating and separating, infection bubbling out, corruption of the flesh.
She hadn’t been back to the opera house since they’d found Carla, draped over Christy’s desk like an obscene offering.
None of them had. The police had sealed the place and seemed quite certain that what had happened to Carla had occurred on-site. Detective Sanchez had grilled Christy for hours on Friday, asking her over and over what she thought the note meant. As with the others—the ones the police still did not know about—it was direct and simple, cursive script on vellum.
For my love.
Was Christy the object of affection and Carla’s bloody, tortured body a tribute to her? Or was Carla the one who was loved? Why was she left on Christy’s desk?
She didn’t know. It made no sense to her either. The Sanclaro lawyers sat with her through the interrogation, cautioning her on which questions not to answer, insisting she be left alone, since she clearly could not have committed this crime and therefore was not a suspect, frustrating Sanchez to no end.
It had helped, though, to remind her of what truths she danced around.
Including the very real possibility that the Master had hurt Carla. That he’d tortured and murdered Tara, too. Christy rocked from side to side on the hard wooden pew, sure she felt the bruises he’d left on her and she’d enjoyed receiving. Beyond that—she had reveled in it.
She worried, now, that some deep fault in her character had been exposed, that she might be fundamentally wicked at some basic level. Was her ghostly lover truly a cruel and perverted murderer—and had she been so attracted to him for those very reasons? Like goes to like. She’d been running to that and away from Roman, who only wanted to protect her, to hide her from the cruelty of the world.
His arm slid away and he pulled down the kneeler so they could pray yet again.
Not knowing how else to ask for it, she wished to be cleansed of the taint. She eyed the wooden closets along one wall that Roman had said were the confessionals, longing to climb inside one, close the door, and spill out all the secrets she’d been keeping.
It didn’t escape her that the only person she hid nothing from was the very being who sat at the center of her web of lies.
Everyone folded up the kneelers, then stood. She followed along, but Roman put a hand on her shoulder. “Just sit and wait,” he murmured. “This is communion and you can’t take it—you haven’t received absolution.”
“What?” She said it a little too loudly, and several heads swiveled in her direction with expressions of shock and disapproval.
Roman smoothed a hand down her back. “Just formalities. Don’t worry.”
She sat and he joined the line of people going up to kneel in front of the priest—God, would she ever rip from her mind the image of her kneeling, bare-breasted and aroused for her masked lover?—and receiving the wafer and a sip from the golden goblet. The altar boy had rung a bell when the priest held them up, declaring them the body and blood of Christ. The miracle of transubstantiation, Roman had murmured, the mundane transformed into the holy in an instant.
For a brief and terrified moment, when Roman said she hadn’t received absolution, she thought he knew, that he’d looked into her shadowed heart and seen where she’d been and what she’d done. Silly, because he’d explained it beforehand: Only Catholics in good standing could take communion.
Fortunately, after that the service wound up quickly. The priest stood outside the open doors, resplendent in his robes, as if he’d stepped out of one of the paintings in the basilica. Roman introduced her as his girlfriend and asked if the priest would be coming for dinner later. They beamed at each other, full of holiness and happy grace, anticipating Reina Sanclaro’s excellent recipes, and the priest enfolded her hands in his dove-soft ones and blessed her. She felt dirty and wretched and wrong.
This had been a bad idea.
Hally had tried to talk her out of it the day before, in between moving Christy’s things from storage into the apartment, which smelled of soot and the astringent flavor of recently disappeared mice.
“You’ve had a shock, finding a body.”
“Not a body, Hally. You only say that when the person is dead.”
“Did she sit up and say, ‘Oh, hi, Christy’?”
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
“Just trying to cheer you up. Why are you going to the Sanclaro shindig?”
“They’re family friends, and—”
“Read: your father’s friends. Does he even care? Besides, you said you were dumping Roman’s ass and now you’ve signed up to be trotted out for Sunday Mass and dinner?” Hally shook her head. “And you haven’t even gotten laid yet. This is all wrong, I tell you.”
Riding in Roman’s sexy car, with his favorite techno tunes blasting, she felt the wrongness.
“Maybe I should skip the family dinner this week,” she tendered. “I have so much unpacking to do, and—”
Roman stopped her with a hand on her thigh. “Don’t be nervous. And today is a special day, my parents’ thirty-fifth anniversary party—I really want you there. They do, too.”
“I know, but—”
He squeezed. “I don’t want to hear any more about it. You’ll have fun when you get there. You’ll see. I have a special surprise for you.”
They drove on a winding road through a long canyon and turned in to a drive guarded by an ancient stone wall and wrought-iron gates. The Sanclaro emblem, a cross speared by diagonal swords and encompassed by a circle, was split in two by the opening of the gates. They moved smoothly, powered by invisible electronics, a perfect melding of the old and the new.
Huge trees bordered the drive, adding their stately shade to the sense of deep history. They opened up to reveal a massive hacienda, with multiple wings, romantic balconies, and red-tiled roofs.
“It’s beautiful,” she breathed.
“Yes.” Roman beamed with pride, and she took his hand. “The Sanclaros trace their history back to the conquistadors. This land has belonged to us, always.”
“After it belonged to whatever tribe they kicked off of it,” she joked.
He gave her a sidelong glance. “I wouldn’t trot out any of that liberal claptrap around my family. Not unless you want a real history lesson.”
She frowned but decided not to argue.
Roman’s parents waited on the vast portico of the house, reminding her of the priest standing vigil at the church, side by side, with polite, formal smiles. Domingo Sanclaro was a more silvered, more distinguished version of his son, with a paternal smile and dark eyes. He was also more severe than she remembered.
Reina Sanclaro had the cheerful full-fleshed rosiness of a well-fed matriarch. She took Christy’s measure in one sharp glance, a pleasant hostess expression fixed on her face while she brushed imaginary dust from her black skirt.
“Christy!” Domingo held out his arms so she had no choice but to accept the embrace. “I haven’t seen you since you were a gawky preteen. You’ve certainly grown up since then.”
“Yes, she has.” Roman sounded proud.
“Remember how we used to tease you two about how you should get married so we could join the Sanclaro and Davis dynasties ?”
“Of course.” She forced a smile. She hadn’t been
that
gawky—and the way he was looking her over made her feel itchy. Had he always been this creepy?
“And look at you two now—this is a happy day for us! I’m so proud.” He looked between them fondly.
Uncertain how to reply to that, Christy, feeling much like Reina Sanclaro, who stared fixedly into the distance, kept a pleasant expression on her face.
“Will your father be visiting you in Santa Fe?” Domingo asked.
“I don’t know, Mr. Sanclaro.”
I hope not.
“He hasn’t said so.”
“He should, shouldn’t he, Reina? He’s hosted us in New York so many times. He’d be welcome to stay here at the Compound.”
The Compound.
The capital letter stood out in her head and she wanted to make a joke about multiple wives and where the captive cult children were kept. Roman’s hand settled on the small of her back, as if he could sense her irreverent thoughts. She suddenly looked forward to telling Matt about this. He’d appreciate the HBO-miniseries quality of this scenario.
Hally would say
I told you so
.
“What was that all about?” She muttered the question to Roman as he guided her to the ongoing party in the back garden.
He grinned at her, full of some simmering secret. “He’s just happy to see you again. To see us together.”
Together
. The way he emphasized the word niggled at her. It all felt so unreal. How could it be that this sunlit world of happy people seemed like the false one? Her head swam as Roman introduced her to innumerable relatives and family friends, including his very pretty younger sister, named Angelia, after her great-grandmother, Roman said, with an odd note in his voice.
They all looked her over, seeming to know something she didn’t, the women giving Roman nods of approval and the men whispering jokes that made him respond with snickers and shoulder punches. Roman gave her a glass of fruit punch to drink, and she wanted to say something about a culture that drinks wine in church but not at the party afterward. She was losing count of the number of things she had restrained herself from saying, but surely those should pile up into some nibble of absolution at some point.
Despite it all—the guilt, the uncertainty, the sinking fear that her grip on her life and sanity seemed to be slipping away—she wanted most of all to go to see the Master. To touch his skin, breathe his scent, drink in his kisses and, like some sort of polygraph, help her separate the truth from the lies. Though he might be the poison spider at the center.
Disaster.
“Here’s your plate.” Roman jerked her thoughts out of their sickening spiral. “I didn’t get you too much because I figure you’re like most girls–watching your weight.”
She’d never said any such thing, but she supposed most girls were. Roman had his own ways of being considerate. Besides, he was practically doting on her, bringing her food and punch, saying how pretty she looked, and seeming so proud to introduce her to everyone. Normal people acted this way, and something must be profoundly wrong with her—something deeply self-destructive—that she kept thinking she wanted something else.
Roman was tapping his glass with the side of his spoon, like at weddings, when people egged on the bride and groom to kiss. Everyone felt silent, looking toward him expectantly, and he rose, with a smile for her. She shifted, easing her bottom, uncertain what he was up to.
“We all know why we’re gathered here today—to celebrate the long and happy marriage of my parents. Let us toast in congratulations and to many, many years more!”
Everyone raised their glasses and voices in jubilant shouts. Christy joined in, relaxing into it and calling out congratulations. Of course, the anniversary.
“And, because today is such a special day, I’d like to commemorate it with my own milestone. Thirty-five years ago my parents married on my great-grandmother Angelia’s birthday. As is Sanclaro tradition, my mother has turned over Angelia’s ring to me, to give to my bride.”
Christy’s stomach clenched. Suddenly the sun felt far too hot.
“Christy?” Roman pulled her to her feet.
Oh, no, no, no.
This could not be happening.
He opened a ring box, the jewel flashing bright in the sun. “I know this is fast, but my great-grandmother Angelia would want it to be today. In some ways, even when we were kids, I think we always knew. Our fathers certainly did! Will you marry me?”
Everyone erupted into cheers again, applauding and shouting “Christy! Roman!” And other things in Spanish. No one could have heard her answer—nor did anyone seem to expect one of her, least of all Roman. This was like one of those awful flash-mob videos where a guy hires all his friends to do a dance routine in some public place while he proposes, and you can see the girl just staring in that frozen way, knowing she didn’t want it that way.
BOOK: Master of the Opera, Act 4: Dark Interlude
6.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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