The Ghost in the Third Row (10 page)

Things weren't improved any by the fact that Melissa was carrying on as though the little bruise she had on her elbow were a broken bone.

What finally saved us from all this was more trouble. I spotted Gwendolyn Meyer charging down the aisle. She had a large paper bag in her hand, and two policemen trailing along behind her.

I tried to let Edgar know what was coming. But he thought I was being sassy, and just got that much madder. He was interrupted by a bellow from Gwendolyn that probably shook the chandeliers.

“Don't anybody move!” she yelled, storming up onto the stage. “One of you people is trying to sabotage this show, and no one is going home until we find out who it is.”

The cop behind her looked as if he wanted to take charge of the situation but wasn't quite sure how to do it. The cast and crew began shouting angry questions.

Chris and I took that moment to slip out of Edgar's sight and into the group.

Using her bullhorn voice, Gwendolyn got everyone to sit down. Then she stood on the edge of the stage and turned over the bag she was holding. A soggy mass of blackened paper fell to the floor with a splat.

“That,” she said dramatically, “is all that's left of the publicity material for this show. Original press releases. Photographs. Scripts for television and radio spots. It was in my office, and it was fine at seven o'clock tonight when I locked the door. Half an hour ago I went in and found it on fire in my wastebasket. Now I want to know what happened, and I want to know now.”

She fixed us all with a stare. No one stood up, and confessed, which was hardly a surprise under the circumstances. Gwendolyn continued to glare anyway.

One of the cops stepped up behind her. “What I want to know is, who was out of this room for more than ten minutes tonight,” he said.

My stomach sank. I figured Chris and I would be the first ones accused. But as it worked out, our absence was no problem.
Everyone
had been out of the room at one point or another.

“Well, who else has a key to your office, ma'am?” asked the other policeman.

Gwendolyn looked frustrated. “No one,” she said. “There are only two keys. One is on my key ring, and the other is kept in my desk drawer. No one else has one.”

“I hate to ask this,” said Paula softly, “but doesn't Pop have a set of master keys for the whole building?”

“Of course he does,” said Gwendolyn. “But it couldn't have been him. He left the building at five o'clock to have dinner with a friend. I don't expect him back until after midnight.”

I looked at Chris. She looked back, and I could see that she was asking herself the same question I was. If Pop was out of the building, who had closed that door on us while we were downstairs?

Unaware of this new mystery, Gwendolyn and the police continued questioning the cast. They were also unaware of the murmur that was starting to ripple through the group. “It's the ghost,” people were whispering. “The ghost doesn't want us to do the show!”

Some people were saying it as a joke. But a lot of them really meant it.

I couldn't really blame them. After everything that had gone on, to have that material destroyed was just too much. Of course, it might not have bothered people quite so much if we weren't all aware of how secure Gwendolyn's office was. But we all remembered the night Lydia's dress got torn up and what Edgar had said about the street crazies who could get into the theater at any time. The whole situation had prompted Gwendolyn to take extra precautions to keep her office safe.

So in a way, she had set people up to believe it was the ghost when this happened. I guessed we would be losing a lot more cast members before another twenty-four hours went by.

Ken Abbott accidentally summed up the way people felt when he said, a little too loudly, “Well, it looks like the Woman in White has struck again.” He meant it as a joke, to break the tension. But from the murmur that swept through the rest of the cast, you could tell a lot of people were taking him seriously.

That was when Gwendolyn played her trump card. “Smarten up, people,” she shouted. “The Woman in White has nothing to do with this.”

“How do you know?” asked Marilyn.

“Somehow I just don't think ghosts use matches from local restaurants,” snapped Gwendolyn, holding up a half-empty matchbook. “Whoever started the fire in my office dropped this while they were there. And I'll eat my hat if it was a ghost.”

I was close enough to Gwendolyn that by squinting I could make out the design on the matchbook. It was from the Brass Elephant, the little bar and restaurant two blocks down from the theater.

I'd made a lot of mistakes that night. But I made the biggest one right then. The funny thing is, I didn't even know it at the time.

What did I do?

I gasped. That was all. Just a tiny little gasp. What's even stranger is that I wasn't even gasping about the matches. I was gasping because it had suddenly hit me who was causing all the trouble. Unfortunately, the reason didn't make any difference. That gasp, coming when it did, convinced the saboteur that I had figured everything out.

Actually, that was only half true. I knew
who
it was. But I still didn't know why.

But the mistake had been made. How serious was it? Fatal, as things worked out.

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

Balcony Scene

At six-thirty the next evening I stood outside the theater waiting for Chris to show up. She thought I was crazy when I told her who was causing all the trouble. But after I had told her my reasons, she agreed I might be right.

I opened the fat envelope I was holding and looked inside to make sure the papers were all there. It wasn't necessary, really. Nothing could have happened to them since the last time I checked. But it made me feel better to look. If I was going to take them to Gwendolyn as proof, I didn't want to take any chances.

I walked to the edge of the curb and looked in both directions. No sign of Chris.

I crossed back to the theater and stood reading the posters for the fifth time.

What could be keeping her? I wondered. I really wanted her to be with me when I turned my envelope of stuff over to Gwendolyn and told her what I had figured out.

I went back to the curb. No sign of her.

I couldn't stand out there any longer. I had to get someplace where I could sit and think. I wanted to make sure I had all my facts straight before I talked to Gwendolyn.

Pushing open the door to the lobby, I stepped into the theater. It seemed deserted. I knew that wasn't the case. I knew there were people working backstage, and at least one person in the box office. Even so, it seemed a little strange not to see anyone.

I decided to go up into the balcony. It was a good place to sit and think. I climbed the stairs and crossed the mezzanine without seeing anyone. Seconds later I was climbing toward the balcony. I remembered the first time I had gone up there. So much had happened since then!

Still clutching my envelope, I moved to the front of the balcony and sat down. I looked down at the stage, vaguely hoping I might spot the Woman in White. But she didn't seem to be around that evening.

Sighing, I pulled the papers out of the envelope and started going over them again.

They sure made it clear why Andrew Heron and Edward Parker had looked so familiar when I saw their picture in that old newspaper in Pop's office.

It was funny. Even though I had heard Paula mention it once, I hadn't realized how strong the ties between theater people were until I had called the library to ask for Sam, the hunk at the reference desk. Of course I gave him a powerful motive to help me out when I asked, “How would you like to catch the person who stole your microfilms?” But I had the feeling he would have been glad to do it anyway.

I spent the rest of the day sitting around, waiting for his call. When it finally came at four o'clock and he told me what he had found out, I let out a shout that should have rattled the windows. The last pieces had fallen into place. Finally, everything made sense.

I called my dad, then took the next bus downtown, where I hurried-to the library to pick up the copies Sam had made and go over the important points with him. Then, as I had worked out with my father the night before, I called Gwendolyn to ask if I could see her for a few minutes before rehearsal started. She was pretty cranky about it. But I think she was so happy I wasn't calling to quit that she agreed without too much fuss.

I looked at my watch. Just a few more minutes.

Where could Chris be?

Suddenly I heard footsteps behind me.

“It's about time!” I said, turning in my seat.

But it wasn't Chris. It was Lydia.

“Hello, Nine,” she said pleasantly. “What are you doing here?”

“Just waiting for rehearsal,” I said. “I got here a few minutes early. I like to come up here when I have the time. It's a good place to think.”

“I'm afraid you think too much,” said Lydia softly.

Her voice was perfectly sweet. But I knew from the look in her eyes that I was in trouble.

“I was hoping that when I locked you and your nosy little friend in that room underneath the stage, the two of you would get the message that so much snooping around could be bad for your health. If you had, we might not be having this unpleasant little meeting right now.”

Yep. There was no doubt about it. I was in
big
trouble!

“But then, maybe it was already too late,” said Lydia, sliding into the seat next to me. “Tell me—what was it about that matchbook that tipped you off? Most of the cast hangs out at the Brass Elephant. I can't figure out why you connected it to me.”

“I didn't,” I said truthfully.

“Don't lie to me!” said Lydia, her eyes blazing. “I heard you gasp. I saw the look on your face.”

“But that didn't have anything to do with the matchbook,” I said. “I just happened to figure things out right then.”

What a mouth! I might have gotten away with it if I had just stuck with my story that seeing the matchbook hadn't tipped me off to anything. Which was true, almost: the matchbook made me think of Lydia, because of seeing her and Alan at the Brass Elephant earlier that day. But it certainly wasn't what solved the mystery for me.

Of course, with what Lydia had already said by this point, keeping quiet probably wouldn't have made any difference. I knew, and she knew that I knew, and so on.

I was getting pretty nervous.

“Well, what was it?” she asked persistently. “How
did
you figure out it was me?”

“Gwendolyn's office,” I said tersely.

“I don't understand.”

“You tried to blame the ghost one time too many. Since I knew it wasn't the ghost causing the trouble, it had to be someone human. So I asked myself who could have gotten into Gwendolyn's office besides her or Pop. It seemed that it was impossible—until I remembered the night your dress got ripped up. Or should I say the night
you
tore up your dress, and blamed it on the ghost?”

“Say whatever you want,” said Lydia. “Just get on with it.”

“Well, I remembered that Gwendolyn had asked Ken Abbott to take you to her office so you could lie down. No matter what else I think of you, I have to admit you're a pretty good actress. You had to be, to pull off all that screaming hysteria and make it seem real. Anyway, you were in there alone for a long time—plenty of time to get a key out of Gwendolyn's desk drawer.”

“Very clever,” Lydia said. “But that's not evidence. Someone else might have been in there that you didn't know about.”

“True,” I said. “But it all just fell into place after that. I might not have figured it out if I hadn't seen the ghost myself—”

“You didn't!” said Lydia sharply.

“Oh, but I did. Several times. So I knew what she was like. That was why I couldn't buy your story about all the trouble she was causing. Then I realized that all we had to go on was your word. You were the one who was disrupting things, with your claims that the ghost was after you. Who had a better chance to rip up that dress than you yourself? Once I figured out the bit about the key, it all fell into place.

“Except I still couldn't figure out why—until I thought about your name. Suddenly the coincidence seemed too much. Andrew Heron was convicted of the murder of Lily Larkin. Lydia Crane is starring in a play about that murder. Crane and Heron, Heron and Crane. The names went round and round in my mind, until I remembered that heron and crane are two different names for the same bird. But then, I'm sure you already know that, don't you—Lydia
Heron
?”

Lydia stood up. I thought she was going to hit me. Instead she reached for the envelope.

“No!” I said, without thinking how dangerous it might be to try to stop her. “You can't have it.”

“Oh, but I most certainly can,” Lydia said. She grabbed me by the arms and pushed me against the edge of the balcony.

“Let go!” I screamed. “Let go of me!”

She continued pushing me sideways over the balcony. I struggled, but I was afraid that even if I managed to break free I would lose my balance and fall over.

“Let the child be!” said a gruff voice from behind Lydia.

It was Pop. Chris was standing next to him, out of breath and looking terrified.

“You stay out of this, old man!” screeched Lydia.

“I said let the child be!” roared Pop as he came charging down the aisle.

Lydia pushed me aside and turned to face him. “Get away from me,” she screamed. “Get away from me, you murderer!”

Pop stopped in his tracks.

“It wasn't me, Lydia,” he said. “It wasn't me, and you know it wasn't. Your father was the man who killed Lily Larkin. He killed her and left me here to wait for her.”

“He didn't!” screamed Lydia. “He didn't! He didn't! You did it, and they blamed him! You ruined his life, and I'm not going to let this show stir all that up again.”

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