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Authors: Brent Peterson

Set the Stage for Murder

BOOK: Set the Stage for Murder
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Set the Stage for Murder


Brent Peterson

Copyright © 2012 by Brent Peterson. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission.


This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, publications, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.




The author wishes to acknowledge the following for their assistance and encouragement: Kim Ansolabehere, Kellie Bradshaw, Reagan Fletcher, Jeff Hamlin, Inge Heckel, Susan Packard, Carolina Marquez-Sterling, Rheda Moseley, Gillian Luongo, Bob Siegel, Dyane Sleeper, Megan Thompson, and, of course, Adam and Midge.


Cover by Matthew Giampietro


This book is dedicated to my mom, who started me on this path.




The current revival of
The Scottish Queen
will play its final performance at the Duchess Theater this Sunday, August 16. The highly lauded production stars Broadway leading lady Rosamund Whiting as Mary, Queen of Scots. Ms. Whiting is in negotiations to bring her Tony-Award-winning performance to the big screen sometime next year. On Sunday
The Scottish Queen
will have played for 27 previews and 293 performances.

Chapter 1


Her hand shook as she reread the note that had been taped to the mirror. The pen had been applied with such force that the expensive writing paper, her own engraved stationery that she kept on the side table by the telephone, was torn in more than one place. The message’s simplicity might have made it innocuous, almost laughable, were it not for the desperate energy emanating from the note and filling the star dressing room in the Duchess Theater. Thank God it was closing night; she wouldn’t be able to return to this room, not ever, not after this.

She thought she was going to be sick, but the moment passed. She folded the paper in half and then kept folding again and again, as if the smaller she made the paper would somehow diminish the horribleness that certainly was to come. She put it away so she didn’t have to look at it anymore, grabbed a cigarette from the pack in her purse, lit it and inhaled deeply. A tear ran down her cheek as she thought about the sins, past and present, which had led to the note and to this moment. “It shouldn’t be like this,” she thought, as her tears fell more steadily. “It isn’t fair.”

Ladies and gentlemen, the call is places.” The booming disembodied voice over the backstage address system caused her to jump. “Places, please, for the top of Act I.” She took another drag off the cigarette before stubbing it out in the small Baccarat bowl that served as her ashtray. Slowly, she looked up at her reflection in the mirror. The color had drained from her face and even to herself, she looked frightened; no, she looked terrified. “Pull it together, Roz,” she whispered in a voice that was barely there. “This is going to be the most difficult performance of your life.”


I suppose it would be bad form to shout

off with her head?

” Teddy McDowell murmured in his wife’s ear as they watched the final performance of
The Scottish Queen.

Shush!” Vicki whispered, pinching his thigh.

Nice try,” Teddy scoffed quietly, “but you’ll have to do better than that. I'm numb from the waist down. If I don’t stand up soon, I’ll never walk again.”

Victoria Locke couldn’t keep from smiling as she sat in the center of the fifth row and silently cursed the long-dead designers of the very cramped Duchess Theater. Her shapely legs were wedged firmly into the hard wooden seat in front of her and her husband, whose strong Scottish genes had supplied not only the obligatory black hair and blue eyes but a 6’5 frame as well, had contorted his body into an awkward and apparently painful position. Clearly, the actors strutting and fretting upon the stage of this 103 year-old theater were infinitely more comfortable than the audience members who had paid top dollar to watch them.

The numbness has spread,” Teddy whispered. “I’m dead from the waist down. I hope you aren’t set on having children; well, my children, at least.” Vicki fought back laughter and thought of ways to torture her husband when they got home. He really was behaving horribly. The fact that Teddy was talking to her during the performance and that she was thinking about her aching knees instead of the Scottish Queen’s imminent demise did not speak well of the night’s entertainment. Oh it was good, but Vicki had seen the play previously (from an opera box with plenty of leg room, thank you very much) and the leading lady, her occasional co-star Rosamund Whiting, had been much more on her game at that performance.

Vicki and her husband, producer Theodore McDowell, aka Teddy, as well as a veritable who’s who of the theatrical community, were in attendance tonight to witness Rosamund’s final performance in the play. The role had been yet another jewel in the actress’s crown, earning her a third Tony and garnering reviews which did everything but nominate her for sainthood. A team of young designers and an upstart British director had dusted off a tired, almost forgotten play from the 1930s and somehow made it relevant for a contemporary audience in a new century. But it was the leading lady’s explosive performance that had made it the not-to-be-missed event of the season. Tonight’s audience was there by invitation and all of them had jumped at the chance to see Rosamund’s portrayal of Mary, Queen of Scots, one last time.

Truth be told, however, Teddy and Vicki would have manufactured some sort of excuse to miss the evening’s festivities were Rosamund not the star of Teddy’s next show and, as a result, a houseguest in a few days. Rosamund was to spend the following weekend with the McDowells at their Upstate New York house, along with the other cast members and the creative team behind the new production. The gathering was no small undertaking and Vicki couldn’t help but wonder if she and Teddy had covered all their bases. Tomorrow, she would go over her lists, yet again, just to make sure everything was in order.

But her mind was wandering again and she really should be paying attention. After all, she would be expected to deliver some sort of appraisal of tonight’s performance to the star and Rosamund was one on which pat phrases were totally wasted. “You were great!” or “That was incredible!” were not the sort of comments that would fly with Rosamund. She expected specifics and unfortunately, Vicki couldn’t think of anything positive to say that was exactly accurate. Rosamund had seemed off balance all evening, even stumbling over lines as if her attention were elsewhere. It was all very uncharacteristic of an actress everyone knew to be fanatical about her craft. Vicki couldn’t imagine what would cause her friend to behave like this, but as she watched Rosamund seemingly go blank on stage, she became alarmed. The audience around her held its breath until the star recovered and went on with the scene. Everyone relaxed, but any sort of spell they were under had been broken and it wasn’t long before bodies started shifting in creaky seats and throats demanded to be cleared.

Still, the curtain call was met with a lengthy and boisterous standing ovation and a florist’s shop supply of flowers was thrown at Rosamund’s feet, perhaps more out of respect for the actress’s stature than for the evening’s performance. Vicki suspected that Rosamund would sense this ambivalence and would probably be devastated. She had a knack for reading an audience and tailoring her performance to fit them perfectly. However, much to Vicki’s surprise, Roz didn’t appear to be devastated at all. In fact, she appeared to hardly notice much of anything, going through the bows as if by rote. It wasn’t until a small bouquet of black roses tied with black ribbon landed squarely in front of her that Rosamund Whiting showed much reaction at all and then it was the most dramatic thing she had done all night; she screamed and fainted.


What the hell was that?” William Putman asked, as he caught up with a hastily exiting Ted and Vicki. William, or Billy as he was known in the theatrical community, was an old friend of the McDowells’ and of Rosamund Whiting’s, as well as the director of Teddy’s upcoming play. At 43, Billy’s boyish good looks were mostly intact, which was a very good thing since they served to distract from a litany of insecurities and a complete absence of anything remotely resembling tact. “I’ve never seen anything like that.”

Well Billy, I think it’s pretty clear that she was terrified by those flowers,” Teddy said, as he took Vicky by the elbow and headed toward the stage door.

No. I’m talking about her performance. Honestly, I’ve never seen her like that.”

Neither have I,” Vicki agreed. “She was distracted the entire play. Something had her rattled long before that bouquet showed up on the stage.”

The three of them pushed their way through the near-manic crowd, which had erupted from the theater onto the sidewalk and even out into the street. There was electricity in the air and a palpable feeling that the drama wasn’t quite over, so no one wanted to leave just yet. What had happened tonight would be internet fodder for the theatre chatrooms in a matter of minutes and all over the papers tomorrow morning. This group of Broadway insiders, who so prided themselves on being in the know, wanted to make certain that they were just that. Soon, the beat cops would arrive and strongly start encouraging people to be on their way. The self-important among the group, which comprised approximately ninety eight percent of them, would be incensed and demand to speak to a superior. The question “Do you know who I am?” would be asked over and over again of the celebrity-weary officers.

Teddy wanted to make sure they were backstage before all hell broke loose. Fortunately, he had produced more than one show in the Duchess over the years and the stage doorman recognized him right away.

Mr. McDowell! Miss Locke!” he exclaimed excitedly. “Boy am I ever glad you’re here. She’s gone crazy! Locked herself in the dressing room and won’t let anyone come near her. Maybe she’ll listen to you.”

Which room is she in, Bob? Do you have the master key?”

Sure thing,” Bob said as he opened the top drawer of his tiny desk and pulled out the ring of master keys. “Funny, no one else has thought of that. I guess that’s why you are where you are, Mr. McDowell. Miss Whiting is in number three.” Eyeing Billy suspiciously, Bob asked, “Is this fellow with you, Mr. McDowell?”

Yes, Bob,” Teddy replied, suppressing a grin. “He’s with us.”

What the hell?” Billy exclaimed, as they hurried up the stairs, past curious dressers, cast members and a stage manager who all appeared too frightened to get very close to the dressing-room door. “Doesn’t that guy know who I am? I’ve directed two shows in this theater!”

That guy’s name is Bob, Billy, and I suspect he knows exactly who you are,” Vicki said, her brown eyes twinkling. “He probably just doesn’t care.”

After all, he’s seen your work,” Teddy chimed in as they arrived at Rosamund’s door.

The production stage manager, a man named Gilbert Percival, was outside the door speaking through it as if to a frightened child. “Rosamund, you need to let me in so that I know you are all right. We’re all worried about you. I’m going to have to call maintenance and have them remove the door if you don’t respond to me soon, Sweetie.”

Step aside, Percy,” Teddy ordered. With one swift move he unlocked the door, pulled Vicki and Billy inside the room behind him, and immediately locked the door again. They heard Walter Percival gasp like a startled girl on the other side. It was only a matter of time before he asked whoever was standing next to him, “Doesn’t he know who I am?”

BOOK: Set the Stage for Murder
7.31Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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