Final Curtain: An Original Mystery Short Story

Nov 10, 2012 | 2012 Articles, Mysteryrat's Maze

by Dorothy Francis

This story was previously published in Women’s World!

Squinting into the morning sunshine shining through the window of his Fifth Avenue apartment, J. Dekan Park III groped for the bedside telephone. Ten o’clock! Who’d be calling at this hour? Didn’t people realize a theater critic kept different hours than common folk?

“Hello,” his voice croaked.

“Mr. Park?”

“Yes?” He sat up as he responded to the throaty female voice. Few women called him these days. He smoothed his thinning hair as if she could see him across the wire.

“This is Tish Laymore. Perhaps you don’t remember me, but I had the lead in A Song for Midnight last year at the Odeon Theater. I said some insulting things to the media after reading your review of my opening night’s performance and I’m calling to apologize. Please listen to me.”

Tish Laymore. You bet he remembered her. Beautiful. Blond. And built. He recalled his scathing review. She’d really been quite good in the part, but beginners needed to pay their dues. They deserved to struggle. Quick success would spoil them. The play had closed after the first week, of course. That frequently happened when he wrote a negative review. He hadn’t seen her onstage since, but he read about her in the columns now and then as her romantic escapades with a succession of movie and TV stars made headlines.

“I remember you well, Miss Laymore. No apology necessary. It was all in a day’s business.”

“You’re so very kind, Mr. Park, but I’ve been carrying these guilt feelings for over a year. I’d like to make amends. I’ve been thinking about this for months, and I think I’ve found a way that will please both of us. ”

“Then drop please drop your guilt feelings immediately and tell me your plans.” So long after his harsh words, he could afford to be gracious. Good idea to keep his name intact. Tish Laymore was doing him a large favor by calling him even though it was early in his day.

“Would you let me rid myself of the guilt feelings by apologizing to you personally tonight?”

“What do you have in mind, Miss Laymore? My evenings are well planned at the present.” He congratulated himself. He hadn’t said yes, and he hadn’t said no. He leaned forward eager to her what she would say next.

“I hope you’ll join me for dinner. I have a little hideaway up in Danbury and there’s a marvelous chef at the Palace Armes Hotel. Would you drive up tonight and be my dinner guest?”

Dekan hesitated. Although her voice purred across the line, Danbury was almost a two-hour drive from midtown, and Days of Glory opened on Broadway at eight tonight, starring newcomer Ashley Titus.

“Please, sir. It would mean so much to me.”

He smiled. He already knew what his review of Ashley Titus would be, so why should he refuse an evening with the lovely Tish Laymore? With any luck at all, he would turn her guilt feelings into a memorable night.

“How utterly charming of you to think of me, Miss Laymore. I’d be pleased to accept your kind invitation.”

“I’m so glad. Shall we say eight-thirtyish? We’ll dine at the hotel then come to my place for dessert. I’ll make a chocolate-chip pie. I’ve read that’s one of your favorites.”

“Indeed it is, Miss Laymore. Thank you for your thoughtfulness.”

He replaced the receiver and lay back against the satin pillow, dreaming of the coming evening. Every now and then he wrote a review without actually seeing the performance. Some plays, some actors were so predictable—no point in wasting time watching such amateurish drivel. Rising, he enjoyed his usual champagne breakfast provided by his housekeeper before he settled at his desk to write his review of the night’s play.

After he finished, he keyed in Jack Orice’s cell number. He and Jack, his trusted messenger, understood each other.

“Jack, I have an envelope I want delivered to the Times tonight. See that it arrives at eleven o’clock. No sooner. No later.”

Good old Jack. Dekan smiled. His generous tips over the years enabled him to depend on Jack to do as he was told, keep his mouth shut, and ask no questions. They’d worked together for years.

Dekan spent the rest of the day preparing for his date.

He hurried to Henri for a hairstyling.

Cassi Jo gave him a supreme massage.

Monique spent many extra minutes on his special manicure.

He chuckled to himself. Whenever he said jump, these service people jumped.

Later, he stopped by the Gucci store to pick up a belt, a pair of shoes and an overnight case. Details were important and he intended this to be a big evening. He could hardly believe the lovely Tish Laymore had sought out his company for the evening, even remembering his yen for chocolate chip pie.

At six, the doorman brought his Porsche around, and Dekan relaxed against the luxurious suppleness of the leather driver’s seat as he threaded through the heavy traffic leaving the city. Once in Danbury he pushed a button and a throaty voice directed him to the hotel.

His shoes sank into the plushness of the amber-hued carpeting in the hotel lounge. On his right, a male vocalist was singing Moon River at the piano bar. He ordered a martini, carried it to a velvet-covered sofa where he had a clear view of the brass and walnut hotel door. He settled down to wait.

He wanted to see Tish before she saw him. He always felt seeing a woman first gave him a slight advantage and started their evening with him in total control. The dimly lit lounge offered a pleasant spot to wait. The vocalist was singing all the oldies that Dekan liked best. Night and Day. My Funny Valentine. Star Dust.

“Another drink, sir?” a waiter asked, suddenly at his elbow.

Dekan looked at the three empty glasses before him. Tish must be running late. Surely, he hadn’t missed her. He shook his head trying to clear it. Could she have had an accident? Anyone in her business knew the importance of being on time. He put the idea of an accident from his mind. No. No accident. He imagined her primping before her vanity mirror, adding the final touches she hoped would impress him.

He downed the fresh martini, and after waiting a few more minutes, he walked to the registration desk.

“Has anyone asked for me?” he queried. “J. Dekan Park the Third? I was expecting a lady.” He checked his watch. It was already nine-thirty. If there was anything he hated, it was a woman who kept him waiting. Even the lovely Tish Laymore had no right to take that sort of advantage of his good nature.

“Perhaps the lady has been delayed, sir,” the attendant said. “Is she a registered guest?”

“No. She’s a local Danbury resident. We planned to meet here for dinner. Bring me another martini please.” He turned to sit down again. “And do be quick about it. My patience is running a bit thin.”

He should have asked her for a phone number. After waiting a while longer, he rose and made his unsteady way to a bank of telephones where he tried to look up her number. Laymore. Laymore. He adjusted his glasses, unable to find her name. But, of course! She probably had an unlisted number to protect her privacy. He dialed the operator. “Miss Tish Laymore’s number, please.”

The wire hummed for a moment, then the operator said, “I’m sorry, sir, I have no Tish Laymore listed.”

Dekan slammed down the receiver. “Fool operator.”

He returned to the sofa, finished his new drink and ordered another.

“Sir,” the bartender said, “perhaps you’ll accept a cup of coffee on the house.”

“I know what I want and it’s definitely not coffee.”

The bartender left, and after a few minutes, the uniformed hotel manager approached Dekan. “Sir, I’m sorry, but we can serve you no more drinks this evening. I hope you’re not planning to drive.”

“I was planning to stay right here tonight,” he lied, thinking of the little hideaway Tish Laymore had mentioned.

“I’ll see that you have a room,” the manager said.

The bellhop brought Dekan’s bag from his car and helped him to the elevator, helped him get settled in the room.

“Call me if you need anything, sir.” He dimmed the lights and turned on the TV before he left the room.

Dekan didn’t reply. Stood up! So Tish Laymore hadn’t wanted to apologize. The silly twit had wanted revenge and this was her way of getting it. He felt a rush of heat to his cheeks. Women didn’t stand up J. Dekan Park, III. He swayed on his feet for a moment, trying to think of a way to retaliate. Then he collapsed onto the bed, ignoring the pajamas, robe, and slippers the attendant had laid out for him.

The next morning, he came to with a headache and with every muscle screaming. He rolled onto his back, listening to the irritating drone of a TV news announcer. Hmmm. He must have left the dratted thing on all night. He reached to snap it off, but couldn’t quite reach it.

“Actress Tish Laymore, returning for ten curtain calls, bowed to standing ovations following her performance in Days of Glory which opened last night at Broadway’s Festival Theater. Early yesterday morning, the star of the play, Ashley Titus, fell victim to laryngitis and understudy Laymore took over the lead role, proving herself to be one of the finest actresses theatergoers have seen in this decade.”

It took a few moments for the full impact of the announcement to sink into Dekan’s brain. Tish Laymore played the lead. Ten curtain calls. Standing ovation. He thought of his review, which people were at this moment reading over their morning coffee, the scathing review which suggested that even back-row seats were not far enough removed from Ashley Titus’s inept performance.

He rolled over. Maybe he’d move to some remote corner of the world. Some far away corner.

Dorothy Francis writes mysteries for children and adults. She’s a member of MWA, SinC, Short Mystery Fiction Society. and the Key West Writer’s Guild. Her current books available from Five Star/Cengage are KILLER IN CONTROL and DAIQUIRI DOCK MURDER. Her Derringer award winning short story “When in Rome” is available on her website.

1 Comment

  1. Excellent story, Dorothy. Loved it.


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